The Standard writes,
If we neglect our heritage and if we fail to teach sound doctrine, will our legacy be a generation that denies both?
It’s a deep and important question. And it’s too easy to blow it off by noting that our long insistence on “sound doctrine” has been divisive and ultimately ineffective. True enough, but there are doctrinal issues that matter and matter a lot.
I think the Standard‘s question is built on a false premise. I just don’t see us running headlong away from sound doctrine. Rather, the trend seems to me to be very much in the other direction! Of course, I write from my own perspective, the a cappella Churches of Christ. But the overall trend of the progressive Churches has been good.
We are heading to a place that’s just so much better than where we’ve been! I actually have a lot of confidence in our progressive thought leaders, our church planters, and our missionaries who are coming out of the progressive churches and universities.
But I agree to this extent — even though I like the direction on the whole, at the more detailed level, we can be doctrinally lazy and sloppy. I think we’re heading a good direction. I’m just not that impressed with the level of scholarship I’m seeing at times. I mean, I’m not surprised we’ve failed to convince so many on grace and the Holy Spirit. We just don’t do that good a job of explaining ourselves at times.
Some of this is due to our weak and collapsing institutions. I mean, if we were to actually have a worthwhile conversation about what to teach on divorce and remarriage, the role of women, or grace, where and how would we have it?
There’s not a single print periodical within the progressive Churches of Christ. Zero. There is no institution or publication where both conservatives and progressives share ideas.
The book publishers do a much better job, but books aren’t a great place for discussion and debate. Periodicals are better for that sort of thing, but it’s not happening. And book authorship seems reserved for just a few with the proven ability to sell books.
Which means that, interestingly enough, the best and most interesting theology is being done on the internet blogs and forums. And maybe that’s good. It’s certainly democratic! I mean, anyone can write a blog (even me!), and everyone seems to have one. And there’s some really good stuff being written.
Nonetheless, and maybe this is wrong, there’s no center of gravity. As an elder, I can’t count on my members as having read anything anyone has written. Therefore, whatever the issue is, we have to teach it from scratch in all our classes. Fortunately, we’re a big church with some great teachers and lots of resources. But where does a congregation of 100 turn for lessons that teach the theological issues of the day — divorce and remarriage? grace? baptism? the role of women?
And yet the internet is proving remarkably efficient. When Rick Atchley preached his “Both/And” series on instrumental music, I heard about it not only in the internet forums, but from several church members and staff members. CDs were being passed around in our hallways for weeks. The word spread with remarkable speed. So maybe this internet thing will catch on …
I’ve been astonished at how much good stuff is out there. Obviously, there’s lots of awful stuff, too, but most people can tell the difference. If you want to find good material on any topic, Google will get you more than you can possibly read, much of it better than what the book publishers offer.
This just means we church leaders need to learn this: we cannot count on the church’s institutions to teach our members sound doctrine. Rather, our members are going to buy the books they want to buy, read the blogs they want to read, and form their own opinions regardless of what we may prefer. Therefore, the task that befalls congregational leadership is to train the members on how to tell good theology from bad.
And the more good theology we teach them, the more they’ll be able to tell what fits well within that framework.
It’s a new way of doing church. It’s a new way of learning the Bible. But it seems pretty much inevitable.
Therefore, we need to help our members find good blogs, good forums, and good books. And we need to teach all of our members how to tell good from bad. And I think we can count of their good sense and God’s Holy Spirit to move us all in a good direction. It’s already happening, you know.