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 façade. 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.