Making Sense of Church

Making Sense of Church
I just finished Spencer Burke’s “Making Sense of Church“.  I really enjoyed it.  It seems like Spencer is deeply involved in the emerging church conversation.  His tone is honest, open and mature.  He doesn’t give any concrete models or definitions but at the same time what he says reflects some very concrete experiences.  I came away from the book thinking that Spencer really had something he wanted to say and he wasn’t just writing a book.

His book looks at handful of necessary transitions.

Tour Guide to Traveler
Teacher to facilitator
Hero to Human
Consumer to Steward
Retailer to Wholesaler
Adversary to Ally
Warrior to Gardener

The teacher to facilitator section interested me the most.  I work at a Bible College and I believe strongly in effective bible teaching.   I would have used different words than Spencer to illustrate the contrast he identifies because the best teaching is inspiration and facilitation.  His main point is that we need to learn together.  Our sermons are just thinly disguised university lectures and aren’t particularly effective at fostering learning.  The acquisition of knowledge is only one piece of the puzzle and by itself isn’t terribly useful.

The retailers to wholesalers illustration is a great way to look at our partnership with God in ministry.  We are called to do our part, deliver the raw goods, and then God can do His thing.  Some churches over package everything shutting God out of the picture, and others expect God to making something out of nothing. 

The Hero to Human transition is one that I’ve personally encountered.  I’ve always wanted to be a hero.  That seems to work well until you realize you aren’t a hero, you’ve failed bitterly, and it seems like too much work to keep of the fa├žade.  I don’t know how one can be human in larger established programcentric churches, but in a house church I think revealing one’s weaknesses and humanity is essential. 

The Adversary to Ally transition is the one I struggled with the most.  Spencer describes a reshaping of Christian’s view and relationship with other religions.  He also carries the concept to different faith traditions that seemed to be at odds with one another.  I’m totally with Spencer when it comes to evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox starting up a real learning dialogue.  I’m less enthusiastic about approaching other religions with the same openness. 

I spent a lot of time in conversation with Mormons and JW’s.  Two groups which most evangelicals would consider outside the realm of God’s saving grace.  My conversations have forced me to rethink my prior assumptions.  I’ve had to ask myself “How much does God care about theology?”  If they follow Jesus, even if it’s a redefined Jesus, would God look past the heresy?  I honestly don’t know but I learned a lot about them and having a loving open relationship has certainly helped me share my perspective.

The danger I see, and it doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the emerging church circles, is that we may embrace error with the truth we take from other religions.  Paul was brave enough to redefine the unknown God, but he stood fiercely against gentile circumcision and the “empty deceitful philosophy” of his day.  How much does theology matter when it comes to salvation?  I don’t know.  I don’t know if God looks past deception.  How much does it matter in life of the church?  A lot!  There are a number of warnings in the scriptures about false teachers.  Paul speaks of doctrines of demons and Jesus speaks of the traditions of men.   I think the church can be discerning as they learn from others.

I recommend people pick up this book. 

  1. #1 by Kirk on September 28, 2003 - 8:00 pm


    I am glad to hear you’re comments on JW”S and Mormons. I must say this, I believe along with others that there are saved Mormons and JW’s. I have yet to find a group that hasn’t had some questionable teachings from time to time. I feel that there are false teachers in the evangelical church as well. I believe alot of people get deceived along the way though. I feel the initial conversion of an LDS person sounds very real but I think oftentimes they get deceived(or if I were to say they were likely a Christian I would say “we”) along the way. I think this is possibly similiar to what Christ referred to in Matthew 24:24

    For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible.

  2. #2 by Jer Olson on September 29, 2003 - 3:42 pm

    ” If they follow Jesus, even if it’s a redefined Jesus, would God look past the heresy?”

    To rephrase what Kirk said, if we follow jesus, even if it’s a redefined jesus, would God look past our heresy? Truly, which one of us doesn’t follow a redefined jesus? There is an assumption that the Christian church has the same image of jesus in their minds when in fact there are just as many heresies about jesus as there are people in the church.

    We all define jesus differently in some way, if God judges us on whether we are doctrinally correct then all of us are going to hell.

  3. #3 by LT on September 29, 2003 - 4:07 pm

    No ones knowledge of Christ is perfect. However it’s pretty clear that I can’t say Jesus is the Calgary Flames and worship the Calgary Flames. Even Jesus came against the doctrines and commandments of men.

    The question is how far off can we be before it would make a difference in terms of salvation.

  4. #4 by Karl Thienes on September 29, 2003 - 4:32 pm


    Nobody’s knowledge of God is perfect. It never will be since God, in His Essence, is infinite. However, what we can know is whether or not our experience/knowledge is consubstantial with holy Christians who have gone before us.

    In other words, does my belief/knowledge of Jesus accord with the Apostles? Does it contradict the experience of the Church Fathers and holy saints? Would “my Jesus” say one thing, but the Jesus affirmed in the Ecumenical Councils say something contradictory? Even St. Paul, after his revelation, checked with the Apostles before starting his missionary work. He wanted to make sure that “his Jesus experience” resonated with the rest of the Church.

    What does this mean in terms of salvation? Not sure; only God can judge. But any falsehood in our lives will bear corresponding fruit. In other words, heresy matters because it will hinder our ability to know and commune with God *as He really is*….

    Just some thoughts….

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