"Affirmations of Dissenter"
Dr. Joseph Sprague
Introduction: He has 27 years as a pastor and 7 years as an ecumenical officer. He combines academics, preaching, and social justice causes. He serves as a Bishop and in many other capacities. He is currently the president for the North Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops and chair of the board of the North Central Jurisdiction Korean Mission Council. He also serves on the Jurisdiction Commission on Religion and Race and works on the Council of Bishop's Initiative on Children and Poverty. He is a graduate of Ashland College and received a masters degree from Methodist Theological School in Ohio and was recognized in 1995 as Outstanding Alumni.
Grace to you and peace from the one who has created and is creating, from Jesus Christ our liberating Savior, and from the ever stirring life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. I am delighted to be here with you. It is a very distinct privilege to be in this place. I hold this school and many of its graduates with whom I've had the privilege of working in the highest esteem and to be here with my colleague. We are in a covenant group together. Each of us now knows more about the other then we are allowed to tell. It is a delight to be here, to see faces that have long been a part of the panoply that surrounds me. I see some with whom I have fought a few battles. We even won one or two. Not many, Sally, but we won one or two. But, nevertheless, it is good to be here.
"Affirmations of a Dissenter" is a title (a theme) that's been running around in my mind for about a decade. If I were to write a piece longer than Sunday's sermon or the weekly column for the perish or conference newspaper, it would I decided somewhere back there be entitled, "Affirmations of a Dissenter." Last summer during a portion of renewal leave, passion finally caught up with the intent, and eight chapters were drafted along with a prologue and an epilogue. "Affirmations of a Dissenter" will be published in the next year. That being the case, when invited to come and be with you I began to cogitate. I began to think about which chapter would be most appropriate. My first thought was to talk about the issue of Biblical authority which in my mind is the most divisive issue within United Methodism today. And then I thought well perhaps the chapter on the seamless garment dealing with how a number of the justice issues are woven together, how you cannot take one from the other, that perhaps that would be the chapter I would read given the fact that it carries in part a statement of why I oppose the present military operation in Afghanistan. But then as I received your brochure, noted the theme, "Passionate Christianity in a Multi-faith World," and looked at the titles of the other presentations it seemed to me that the more appropriate road to take was to share that chapter on Christology which in my mind is the second most divisive issue in the church today.
So I invite you to turn with me now to my discussion of a fully human Jesus. Next to the issue of Biblical authority, Christology is the second most divisive issue in today's church generally and within United Methodism specifically. Rather than probe this core belief by discussing the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Christ, the Jesus of history, and the Christ of faith as many scholars have done in quite helpful ways, I shall seek instead to confess as candidly and vulnerably as I can who Jesus the risen Christ is for me. What follows will offend some. This is neither my intent nor purpose. Rather, my hope is to encourage confused believers or those who yearn to believe, especially those who want to affirm Jesus but find little meaning in the stilted Christological language of the ancient creeds. Previous such efforts on my part have brought written complaints of heresy from a few neo-literalists, persons who fail to understand the symbolic nature of religious language. Neo-literalists do not accept the progressing presupposition that words describing matters of ultimate truth are by necessity primarily metaphorical. I can affirm the orthodox language of the ancient creeds regarding Jesus because I understand, at least in part, the symbolic nature of such religious, theological language. I affirm that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, very God of very God, begotten not made, in that he was different not in substance but qualitatively different from other humans in his relationship of ultimate trust and absolute obedience to the Holy One he called Abba.
I can affirm my faith through the symbolic language, the theological poetic utterances of the ancient creeds, but it is incumbent upon me as believer and evangelist to unpack this ancient, obtuse language about Jesus in order to make a semblance of finite sense out of infinite mystery on behalf of those who find the ancient creedal language confusing or implausible. This is an elitist or academic exercise. There are many thoughtful seekers looking to the church for help with a gnawing spiritual hunger in their hearts. We must open windows to help those people to see the essence of the one whose life, death, and resurrection, are the substance of the faith once delivered to the apostles. Anything else is either laziness or cowardice. Thus, for wheel or woe here is who Jesus the Christ is for me. I state it unequivocally. Jesus was in total fully human. His life was no masquerade. He was the child of human parents complete with bellybutton and genetic code, otherwise he could not be savior, let alone liberator. The gospel writers provide little in the way of detailed, biographical data about Jesus. This is understandable since they were writing theology, Christology in particular, and not history. Their mission was to solidify the church and evangelize others. They wrote accounts that would invite people to listen, believe, and follow - not a biography of Jesus.
The four gospel accounts vary in the person they present. Although the synoptics present a composite picture of an itinerant preacher, teacher, and healer who proclaimed and incarnated the reality that in and through him a new age had dawned. This age as the kingdom or reign of God long awaited by Israel's faithful. Jesus' primary message was of the present and future reality of this kingdom reign of God. In it the prophetic hopes and dreams of Israel were being realized as the poor received good news. The blind saw, the lame walked, captives were released from every form of bondage and believers became new people, transformed disciples, like Zachias, Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, the woman of Samaria and a whole host of others.
It is irrefutable as one searches the gospel accounts that Jesus was convinced that the new age of the kingdom reign had dawned and that his mission was to proclaim it, incarnate it, and invite others into it. For this vision, anchored by his trust in and radical obedience to God, Jesus was crucified, died, and was raised. To assist him in his mission Jesus called a core group of followers including the inner circle of 12 who were symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus and his followers lived as a covenant community symbolizing the new Israel a continuation and fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham and Sara. While the 12 were at the heart of this community many others including innumerable women were experiencing the excitement pointing to a new age.
But, Mark's account of the gospel in particular and the other synoptics in general do not hide the reality that the community, especially the twelve did not know who Jesus was or what he initiated until after his death and the emerging church's experience of his resurrected presence in their midst. The disciples simply did not get it when Jesus was physically present. Rather, it was only as they saw in faith the risen one that they came to understand, trust, and follow in his steps.
I have chosen here not to deal with John's account of the gospel since it is a later document which is more attentive to the needs of a developing church late in the first or early in the second century than to the person and actual ministry of Jesus. Compare for example John's "I am" sayings with the parables of the synoptics. Jesus simply did not preach, teach, or describe himself as John suggests. Rather John working in the midst of theological controversies arising in the early church as oppression mounted and dissention developed took the stories of Jesus including the witness of the synoptics and crafted his particular evangelistic offering for his community in his time and in his place.
The earlier synoptic gospels were written in similar fashion. Each was crafted theologically with a distinct literary style for a certain audience as each author employed oral and written sources both common to all three and unique at least to Matthew and Luke. Each gospel account presents a contextually relevant theologically informed, evangelistic witness for a particular group or congregation of believers. Nevertheless, despite each evangelists unique offering the composite picture of Jesus that emerges from the synoptics is that of a parabolic teacher , charismatic preacher, insightful prophet who was anchored in the covenant of God with Israel, and a healer of possessed souls and broken bodies whose words and deeds were in total congruence one with another. The complete manifestation of Jesus was claimed by the church after his death and resurrection as the fulfillment of Israel's hopes and dreams and the dawning of a new age. Jesus was affirmed as the expected Messiah, the Christ of God. I believe Jesus the Messiah, the Christ of God was fully human. The myth of the virgin birth is found neither in Mark (the earliest gospel account) nor in John (the latest). A theological myth as you know so well is not false presentation but a valid and quite persuasive literary device employed to point to ultimate truth that can only be insinuated symbolically and never depicted exhaustively.
The myth of the virgin birth was not intended as historical fact but was employed by Matthew and Luke in different ways to appoint poetically the truth about Jesus as experienced in the emerging church. The church believed that Jesus was the long expected Messiah, the Christ of God whose revelation was unique and normative. Said differently, in Jesus and him alone God's essence found confluence with a human being and the kingdom reign was incarnated and ushered into being. The theological myth of the virgin birth points to this wondrous mystery and ultimate truth. To treat this myth as a historic fact is to do an injustice to its intended purpose and to run the risk of idolatry itself (namely, treating a means to an end as an end in and of itself). Thus if the virgin birth did not occur in a historical sense, if Jesus was born to human parents as I affirm he was, and if Jesus did not possess trans-human, supernatural powers (as I do not believe he did) what sense can we make of the miraculous stories about him in the gospel accounts. Again, it is my intent to be candid and vulnerable in responding to these fundamental queries. God is not a supreme being out there in the beyond. Rather, the word "God" is the sound image we humans employ to point to the very essence of it all that is both in our midst and yet beyond the boundaries of time and existence. Symbolically, if we employ the spatial (S-P-A-T-I-A-L) metaphor developed by Paul Tillich, "God is not a being out there or up there, but the foundational ground of all being not limited by time or space, history or creation." God has been, is, and ever shall be. God is the essence of it all and is constantly, 'preveniently' (John Wesley said) at work, creating, loving, doing justice, calling humans and all creation into relationship by forgiving, reconciling, empowering, transforming, so that all human beings and the whole created order could be saved. God as ground of being never quits being God and does not cease from revealing the essence of it all. Given this all to brief description of who and what God is and is not it follows that Jesus who is the Christ in his full humanity did so trust and follow this loving essence he called Abba that he committed himself unequivocally to doing God's will in words and deeds, body, mind, and soul.
Jesus in his humanity could have done otherwise. He could have said no to God, but the confluence of God's grace and the human response of faith as trust and obedience found perfection in Jesus and the Christ was made manifest. Jesus was not born the Christ, rather by the confluence of grace with faith he became the Christ, God's beloved in whom God was well pleased. It was in Jesus total at-one-ness with God made possible by God's initiatory actions and Jesus response that Jesus revealed the heart, the very essence, of God. When the gospel writers wrote they sought to portray not merely Jesus of Nazareth but the Christ of God who was alive in their midst. When the faith community remembered Jesus they celebrated his resurrected presence in their midst through the breaking of bread, prayer, preaching, teaching, the gift of water, and by other means of grace.
The church came to confess Jesus not only as the human son of Joseph and Mary but also as the unique son of God, the political heir of David, the apocalyptic Son of Man, the fulfillment of all the hopeful prophesies from Israel's exile and Diaspora. From such understandings Jesus was portrayed as Bethlehem born, the virgin's child, the long expected Messiah born to set his people free. And therefore increasingly as time passed, as the only son uniquely endowed with those trans-human qualities assumed to be of God. More and more was said about Jesus as the Son of God after his death on the cross as the confused and frightened disciples who had not gotten it experienced the risen Christ in their midst. Profoundly they got it at last, so they sought appropriate means to tell the story of his unique presence that had transformed their lives and brought the church into being.
Interestingly, Peter, who is symbolic of the faith community, could not walk very far on the sea (that is in the midst of chaos and turbulence) in Jesus actual physical presence. But, he became so spirit filled, so Christ essence permeated on and after the day of Pentecost, that he became the titular head of the emerging church. Leadership he first shared with James and later with Paul. It was Peter who lead the church on to and across the sea that is to say into the world of turbulence and chaos. This community of faith was so spirit filled that in its faithful response of trust and obedience the church became in history the loving and living body of Christ. It was from their experience of the risen and ever present Christ spirit, God's powerful breath of life that the apostles and disciples came to see through their own trust and obedience that Jesus was not dead and buried but alive forever more. Calling them to pick up his mantle even to take up the cross and follow him.
Having said this much I must say more. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but I cannot believe that his resurrection involved the resuscitation of his physical body. The inconsistent reports in the New Testament of his several and initially unrecognizable resurrection appearances aid support to this point of view. A personal experience may help to illustrate. While the innocent, fragile body of our infant son, Mark, was not resuscitated when he died unfairly and far too early from Spinal Meningitis, I believe never the less that he and the risen Christ abide together. The essence of God, the eternal spirit of life that flowed completely in and through Jesus and abides from everlasting to everlasting holds Mark and all the little children of every age and every generation. This is the same resurrected Jesus power or Christ essence that infused the disciples and apostles, called the church into being, makes the wounded whole, forgives sin, reconciles and renews, guides history toward justice, drives creation's evolution, and is the foundation of the new age that both is and is to come.
I affirm resurrection, the resurrection of Jesus. God's essence cannot be killed, buried, or kept from being alive in creation or history. God is from everlasting to everlasting. But, resurrection, including that of Jesus, does not include bodily resuscitation. God does not work this way. The issue is not the absence of God's power, but God's own self-limiting role of revelation in history. God works within the boundaries God has established. While I do not pretend to know the limits of these boundaries and realize that we all see but through a glass darkly, I am certain that the miracle of the resurrection, preeminently that of Jesus is not tied to bodily resuscitation. The linking of resurrection with bodily resuscitation is to make a literal religious proposition of a metaphorical symbolic expression of truth itself. This is the kind of idolatry from which I dissent. I affirm that by God's graceful actions in confluence with the response of radical obedience and ultimate trust in Jesus, God was uniquely and normatively revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, and we who do so believe are mandated to follow in the way of Jesus. We are to grow toward perfection by the confluence of divine grace with human faith as modeled uniquely in the person of Jesus. We are called to be like Jesus in his at-one-ment with God. Just as God is active in us personally and among us as the church. God is calling us to that personal and collective perfection which signals to the world the presence of God's kingdom reign on earth as it is in heaven.
Having so affirmed Jesus as God's unique and normative revelation, I must dissent from Christocentric exclusives which holds that Jesus is the only way to God's gift of salvation. Such an arrogant claim stands over and against the inclusive Jesus of the synoptics and limits God in ways that humans cannot and must not. God is God, and all human knowledge of that God is limited at best. The Jesus revelation is primary for Christians, and while I affirm the Christ event as unique and normative, I cannot honestly limit God's ability to be God through revelatory offerings of the spirit as found in other monotheistic religions. After all, God's life giving experience and God's life giving spirit found expression in Israel and the Jews continue to be people of the covenant, they too are pilgrims on the way. So too is this the case with God's grace for the faithful followers of Islam.
Frankly, frankly, I am much more concerned with living out of Jesus revelation in my life and in the life of the church then with castigating other religions as being inferior and outside God's eternal plan for salvation. Evangelism is living the good news of Jesus and proclaiming in words and deeds that in Jesus we Christians see and know God. Our personal and communal lives will give credence or lack there of to our witness and call others to or repel them from the Jesus way, which I believe is unique and normative, but not the only way to salvation. The other ways may be more circuitous, bumpy even, but I trust God to call the family home by whatever means. In the end this mysterious will of God will prevail.
I affirm Jesus, the fully human one, as the son of God whose relationship of faithful trust and radical obedience to God gave to the church and through the church to the world the preeminent manifestation of at-one-moment-ness with God. Obviously, such an understanding of atonement leaves no room for me to affirm the substitutionary atonement theory that portrays Jesus blood on the cross as satisfying an angry deity through one majestic sacrificial human death much like sacrifices of unblemished sheep and goats in ancient Israel were understood to appease God and atone for the sins of all. I find this theory which is but one of five Christian theories of atonement to be at great odds with other images of God reflected by the witness of Jesus and experienced by this reader. In fact, I am convinced that such unexamined thought repels many intelligent, sensitive, searching people and drives some of them from understanding, accepting, and following the God revealed in Jesus who is the very one for whom their aching hearts yearn. How much more blood sacrifice is needed in a world saturated with blood and famished for a different understanding of salvation.
The concept of blood sacrifice is superstition and best and an idolatrous allegiance to a non-Jesus methodology of God - human relationship at worst. Historically and presently the church has other models of atonement theory to offer a hurting world. The time has come for progressives, courageously to advance other theories for consideration and to claim one as our own confession of the meaning of the cross. This I have done. I affirm the atonement theory I have described as truth for me and attempt to model my life and ministry after it, to understand God's -- Jesus' at-one-ness with God as the confluence of God's grace with Jesus radical obedience and complete trust that thus manifests the kingdom reign of God which is to be offered in inclusive hospitality by the church to the world presupposes an evangelistic mission that proclaims that in Jesus the fullness of God has been made manifest among us making eternal life, life with meaning and purpose available now. I believe that the gift of eternal life as relationship of at-one-ment with God continues after death, and that we Christians are to live and witness in such ways that God's gift of eternal life is available for all who being welcomed and coached, accepted and guided, and not judge and cast away by the church will dare in faith stimulated by grace to say yes to Jesus. This way of living is a life long process of total reorientation of will and being away from self and toward God and for all human kind in a life of internal piety and external unquenchable fire for justice, mission, and evangelism.
Undoubtedly, we progressives have been lax in our evangelistic zeal for fear of being misunderstood as proselytizer or because our trust and obedience have been found wanting. In either case to affirm Jesus as the Christ means believers commit to being radically obedient and ultimately trusting lives in response to Jesus the Christ who consummated his at-one-ment on the cross. This I affirm. I do dissent from neo-literalist Christology and the failure of progressives like many of us including yours truly to name the name of Jesus. Therefore, I urge neo-literalists to shun idolatry and progressives to awaken to the evangelistic task and opportunity God in Christ is presenting all of us for the living of these days. In conclusion, simply stated, Jesus was fully human and fully divine. His humanity was given in his conception and birth through the natural processes of procreation. His divinity was derived, given as a gift, from his relationship of trust and obedience with God. Jesus was unique. His way is normative for his disciples. The whole church is called to follow him by responding in trust and obedience to the divine initiative that yearns for relationship with humans and longs to make us aware of our identity as children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, and of all human kind now and always. Amen. Thank you.
Questions and Answers
Sprague: I'll be glad to receive any queries, comments, or questions that you might like to offer.
Q1: I noted your careful inclusion of Judaism and Islam among faithful pathways by which a person may find God. How do you react then to other inclusions?
A1: My experience is somewhat limited in terms of everyday practice to spending time with Jews and Muslims. But, surely I have been fed by and guided in some serious ways by practitioners of other faiths, and I surely do not rule them out. But, in a confessional document like this I wanted only to confess that which at this point is part not only of my mind but of my soul. But I surely did not mean to be exclusive in the way that I presented it.
Q2: How can Jesus be unique and yet not the only one?
A2: That is a wonderful question, and I continue to struggle with it, and I have struggled with it all of my life. Unique in that (this is a faith confession) the confluence of which I have spoken I affirm was most completely made in him. The only one? Is that possible? I think given what I have said I would have to say yes. Is it possible for another? I would have to leave that possibility open, but at this point my affirmation must be unique and hence normative.
Q2a: Unique and therefore best?
A2a: In the sense of most complete trust, yes, in that sense of best. Not best in terms of inherent qualities, but in terms of relational commitment, trust and obedience. That's why, for example as a youngster growing up in the center of the city as I was hearing about Ghandi (as a youngster I was Evangelical Friend steeped in the fundamentalism on the one hand of that movement and on the other hand the wonderful piety of that movement, I celebrate both of those gifts in a special way), but hearing as Ghandi was being talked about that he was outside (wasn't included) it wouldn't square with me even as an adolescent it just couldn't square because in off candor I saw then more Christ, more Jesus in Ghandi than in just about any place else I looked and I would still say that and I would add a myriad of others to that, to that, yeah.
Q3: I have not done all my homework on the atonement. Who has helped you work through these five atonement theories? I know the one I don't like, and I haven't done my homework to find one that makes sense to me.
A3: I'm a very eclectic reader. You talk to some people they know exactly where I am theologically and they know exactly where I am ethically and so forth. That's because they don't know me. Part of the time I don't know where I am myself in the sense that I've always read very, very widely. I was fortunate when I went through [seminary] that there were many different theological points of view not necessarily competing with one another but speaking to one another, particularly the Barthian School and the Bultmannian School. I had that wonderful experience of being caught in that cross-fire, and so from that kind of beginning just branched out over the years reading very widely and trying to integrate as I moved along. So, what names would I give you? Most recently I think (this is my prejudice) but since Tillich's three volume systematic I think Douglas John Hall's Thinking, Confessing, Teaching The Faith is the best systematic I've seen, and he gets at some of this in a very helpful way. That was the last piece, those three volumes, that we did at North Broadway with the laity there before I was elected, and I can report to you that the laity in that congregation once they got through the thinking and finally got to the confessing piece felt that that was most helpful. The black theologians, particularly the black preachers who also are preaching theologians, they've all formed me and I've picked Gustinsen whose understanding of a theistic ethic has been very helpful. When I was in seminary Ramsey was the rage, so kind of a wide panoply. I can't point one place, but just to several. My style has always been [and] it is a method of correlation, the source documents, and life, in this case the preacher, and struggling in community. That's why I'm so grateful I was a pastor for all of those years in community to correlate, to integrate, to test, and if that new synthesis begins to emerge then to stretch the dialectic again. So it's been an ongoing process. It is an ongoing process, and I say to our clergy that I'm convinced that we clergy ought to spend, particularly if we are in a pastorate, fifty percent of our time preparing for and doing the work of teaching and preaching. If we're doing that, if we're working at those disciplines that way, we will help with the ministry of the laity for the church to be revitalized and come alive. So, sorry I can't be more specific. It's a life long process.
A4: When they quote me they don't get charged with heresy [laughs]. That's because they don't know me and don't care. I've been greatly influenced by both of them more recently. I said in a group of several hundred laity in northern Illinois last week (oh, it was a rather hostile question about weather the Jesus Seminar had shaped me) that really I had come pretty much to where I am before yet another search for the historical Jesus unfolded. That I haven't changed greatly having read Spong and Borg. But, what I like about both of them is that they have taken what we have been trying to do in both the academy and the parish over the last hundred years, they've taken them and re-popularized them so that those who would check-out (and some have checked-out) have a hook on which to hang if not their hat at least their hopes that the church might be a place where they can be present. I'm not nearly as smart as either one of them. I don't think I'm quite as caustic as Spong and probably not as warm as Borg. But, I thought Spong's first book (the first book I read), Into the Whirlwind, (I don't think it's in print any more) which we introduced in a lay study group about fifteen or twenty years ago was just singularly persuasive. Where he talks about the concept of ruak (sp?) and dubar (sp?), the wind of God, a lot of that is in the theology piece you heard finding the occasion, the dubar, where the two come together and the ultimate is revealed or the old Bultmannian grace and faith in confluence that's the essential miracle everything else flows from that. Borg and Spong both help me to plug into some antecedents and at the same time, I think, make things available to my children. I suspect that many of us in this room worry about our children. That is to say, who can't buy the neo-fundamentalism that's sweeping the church today, and they have the same hungers in the heart that some of us had and have and they're looking, they're searching, and I think the Borg's and the Spong's and the Crosson's - and I don't know if you've seen this new piece out on, I'm loosing the names, I'm not very good with names, Rebecca, Rebecca and Rita, can somebody help me? Two women wrote together Prophesy from the Ashes where they take on substitutionary atonement out of women's experience. If you haven't seen that it's worth the read. It's just off the press. It's from Pacific Northwest [and] used to be at the school of religion. It will come to me.
A5: I'm convinced that there are four essential marks of the vital congregation, of the vital church:  passionate worship that is Biblically based venue doesn't matter as much as the basis, the foundation,  sophisticated adult education, believing that if you have that the work with youngsters will naturally follow,  intimate community, back to our roots,  what I would term, hands on, risk taking, holistic, social justice and mission. I cannot divide evangelism, social justice, and mission. It's part of the whole for me. It's part of the seamless garment. Evangelism for me is living and proclaiming the good news of God's unconditional love uniquely revealed in Jesus. Now, for some of us that's not as difficult to trust as it is for others because our life experiences have been full of trust producing situations. But, if you've been abused, if you're part of an oppressed group, if you've been marginalized, etc., etc., etc., or even if the affluence and apathy of this culture have seduced you, then it's difficult to trust the good news that we almost take for granted, unfortunately. Evangelism then, I believe, is taking off the blankets, it's raking the leaves away that preclude some folks from hearing and experiencing the good news. That comes in a myriad of packages. For some, particularly young adults, it means VIM and work camps and slinging paint, and for others it means research, action, reflection on systemic, deep social issues, for others it means Walk to Emmaus. Folks used to say, "Well, Joe, your not of that camp, why do you support Walk to Emmaus?" I said, "Meet them when the walk is over and walk with them the next leg of the journey. Meet them in Kairos Prison Ministry; walk with them the next step of the journey." It's all of that together as composite, and what we as preachers, and pastors, and key laity need to be able to do is read the signs of the time. We need to know what time it is and where we are and what plays here because what plays here won't play over there. I kind of flippantly used to say, and now that I'm doing it I think it's even truer, that we have this puncheon in the United Methodist Church of sending pastoral people to the suburbs and prophetic people to the inner city, when really we ought to turn it around. That is to say, with as many broken hearts and bodies as there are in most of our poor cities and rural countryside, that's where the really sensitive pastoral heart needs to be. And out where the comfort zone is so high that folks can't hear because they are hearing everything else, that's where the affliction of the comfortable needs to occur. All of that in my mind is evangelism, and mission, and social witness. So, it's the composite, and we need to think outside the box and color outside the line to do that and yet to hold the connection together. That's what keeps me awake at night, how do we embrace that kind of almost (I don't like the word, but let me use it), that almost entrepreneurial spirit that will move out and try the new and seek to go. How do we embrace that without loosing the connection that is so central, because no congregation can be church. No congregation can be church, all of our visions are too myopic. We need to be tied together to see the whole piece. So, that's where I struggle. I don't know if that's helpful or not.
Q6: ...the uniqueness of Jesus?
A6: When I said that Jesus fully manifested the essence or the complete nature of God that really is a wonderful critique of the Christology that I've laid out. And I thank you for that because it is an apt critique, and I hope, I hope, I try to be, I try to be honest, and I hope I'm not just wiggling. There is that, and maybe it's just who I am and the age I am, there is that within me that won't let go of the uniqueness of Jesus. And when I try to break that open theologically, yes, the affirmation, the trust and obedience of the human and the initiatory grace of God. Was that grace more fully active? I don't know. I don't know, and part of me doesn't want to say that, but the other part of me can't let go. So, you've pinched my Achilles heel, and why did I ask you to ask your question? [laughs] I'm struggling there.
A7: Again, I can't disagree with you, it is very close, where I make the separation, back to the comment I made about the work that Spong did with ruack and dubar. I would see the ruack of God, the spirit of God, as that which is, yes, manifested in Jesus, but yet not fully (maybe that's part of the response here), yet fully not resident there. But, that's as far as I can go. Yes sir, please.
A8: I had the very good fortune to have as professor a fellow who came out of retirement from Perkins to help anchor [Methodist Theological School in Ohio] when it was brand new. His name was Fred Gaily, and Fred would begin each New Testament class with these words, "Come boys," and of course we were all male in those days, "Come boys, and I'll tell you Bible stories you've never heard before." Now what Fred did was not throw the Bible away, not say that the stories were nonsensical, but take them very, very seriously and help us to get inside them. I can remember as if it were yesterday when he talked about the Matthew and Mark passages of Jesus walking on the turbulent sea, and he said, "Where else could the Savior walk but on the sea of life of turbulence and chaos?" And then he described the three levels of the world, the cosmology of the ancient world, the sea stretch between the earth and Sheol, how that was understood as the place where not only the battle for human beings, but where the cosmological battle raged and that was what the story was about. It began to sing at that point for me. I treasure the fact that I was raised in fundamentalism that taught me the stories. I know that at about the time of my physical maturation, when it began to move toward adolescence, that wasn't sufficient. And there was nobody there to help make the transition, to say, "It's not that they're not true, it's that they're true at a different level." So, how we on the one hand tell the stories, and I believe the stories need to be told (we need to know the pictures in the family album) over and over again, how and when is part I think of the challenge of children's ministry, youth ministry, etc. What I find reprehensible is that not only have we as United Methodists for too long (until Disciple came along) quit learning and telling the stories, many of us who knew better have not been willing to unpacking those stories. The timing? I'm not sure. I think it varies. I think in a congregation it's important to be able to meet the seeker and help the seeker get inside the stuff before we begin to get it open. Exactly when and where? I think it varies from person to person. A sensitive pastor, staff, lay people, will know when and where. It's both-and. We must know the stories. We need to tell the stories. I remember the old 'Sword Drills' we called them when I was a youngster. The Quaker preacher would stand up there and call out the passage, and we would all hustle to see who could get to the passage first. I though it was kind of stupid, but I'm glad now that I had it. But, I don't know what would have happened to me (I mean this very sincerely) I don't know what would have happened to me, if it had not been for Fred Gailey or Bogart Donne or others I could mention who stood there and opened those stories for me. I fear what would have happened. I was dancing, like a lot of folks in the early sixties, with staying in or getting out, revolution or reform, and thankfully the stories were opened up to me. That's why I have such a passion about opening it up. I always did at least three and often five adult groups in the perishes I served to do theology and Biblical studies because I think it is so important. That's not really an answer, it's just a dialogue. One last comment?
A9: Dick Looney and I remain friends, and I value that friendship. In fact, recently I reread the debate, and in some ways things haven't changed a great deal in terms of what each side said or each person said. One last thing, I had the good pleasure to help a couple of times to teach preaching when a preaching prof was on sabbatical, and either as a theological school student, or perhaps if you've helped students with sermons you know the query. "Well Joe, how long should it be? How long should I talk?" and I always said, "Talk just as long as you have something to say." And, I think maybe I've talked just a tad to long. Thank you.