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Official UM Clergy Mag Projects Condescending View Of Church Members And Traditional Clergy

From: John Miles smiles@ipa.net
Sent: Wednesday, September 05, 2001 10:14 AM
To: ucmpage@ucmpage.org
Subject: Circuit Rider

Dear Friends,

I had a little bit of a flash back last week when I got my "Circuit Rider" magazine. "Circuit Rider" is a magazine for United Methodist clergy. The September/October issue was on preaching. I have to admit, nearly all I found distasteful in seminary was summed up in my preaching class. It was too self-important, too heterodox, and most troubling too contemptuous of ordinary church people. Although there were some good articles in this "Circuit Rider", many sounded just like some sad loop that has been playing since the 70's or earlier.

In one article, a preaching professor recounts how a woman strode purposefully up to him after a sermon and said, "you teach preaching in the seminary." "Yes, Yes I do" I replied. "Well I have something I want to tell your students," she said. "All right I responded, wondering where this was going. "Tell them to take me seriously". The professor interpreted being taken seriously as meaning she wanted to be theologically challenged. He recounted how Sunday schools were studying the finding of the Dead Sea scrolls and the Jesus Seminar and often were more intellectually challenging than the sermon. I have been preaching for twenty years and no one has ever challenged me to be more theological. They have wanted me to be more spiritual, more biblical, more Christ-centered and mostly more inspiring. Never has anyone ever wanted me to be more intellectual. The idea that there is a market for intellectual theologizing, especially about most modern theology is as bogus now as when I heard the same stuff twenty years ago. That dog won't hunt.

There were also articles about how we can make palatable the difficult ideas of the incarnation, the trinity, the atonement and the devil. The only problem was when they got through with these topics they had pretty much explained them on natural rather than a supernatural foundations. One problem some seminary professors have with Christianity is that it is based on a supernatural revelation. However, when they try to rationalize it or demythologize it, it looses its meaning and power. People do not listen for sermons that explain away the very foundations of the faith. If you are going to preach like that you better be very good. Barry Bailey could pull it off but most people have not had much success. Effective preaching celebrates and articulates the doctrines of the church in ways that affirm their miraculous and mystic meanings.

Perhaps the most troubling thing about seminary and these articles were the condescending attitudes some articles took towards conservative Christians. I found two passages particularly galling and mean spirited. Both address questions that church members ask. "Some questions come to you right between the eyes at the church door after service. You've heard them: "Okay, pastor, where did you come up with the word in the epistle lesson that you made so much of in the sermon?" Your interrogator insists you were clearly mistaken, because the word's not in his zipper-girded, up-to-the minute translation of the Bible (the one he got free for a small donation to one of those late-night television evangelists). Such questions can be challenging, especially when pressed with finger-jabbing zeal while other parishioners stand patiently waiting for a word with you."

Yikes that sounds so condescending to me. How dare they question the preacher? Don't they know you have been to seminary? Why can't they all be liberal democrats who watch PBS late at night like you do? Okay I guess I am being mean spirted now.

The other excerpt is worse, "Not all questions are so poignant. Many are annoyingly banal. Instead of asking of the gospel, "Is it true?" We all have a handful of amateur theologians, spiritual denizens who grade the preacher, basically asking, "Is he right?" they have God all figured out, their dogma mastered long ago. Armed with Bible verses and catch quotes from grinning, spiritual writers you detest, they nod in beaming agreement on those rare occasions that you get it right, and wring their hands in anxiety when you veer from the narrow path of their orthodoxy, which God seems to have appointed them to defend at your expense."

Those bad ole narrow minded conservatives, why don't they just go and join the Baptist church were they belong?

With preaching professors like this and articles like this, it is no wonder so many of our young people are winding up in Bible churches.

Your Brother,

John Miles II



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