Scot McKnight on ‘Faith Without Illusions’

The next post on my book is up at Jesus Creed.  As I have commented before, reading what others write about their reading of what I have written is both exciting and daunting.  But I really think I learn more about what God was doing with me during the writing process when I read many of the comments of my readers.  So thanks for reading, folks… and for writing!

To see Scot’s latest comments, click here.

Departing from Ministry Posts

I am in process of leaving a wonderful ministry position at a wonderful church for doctoral studies.  I will be writing a bit about leaving ministry posts in the coming week or two.  Below is a post I wrote a few years ago after leaving a small Baptist church.  It is one of my favorite pieces.  Hope it is a good read for you….

[From Summer, 2008]

I pastor a small Baptist church outside of Durham, NC.  A weathered sign at the corner of US HWY 70 and Old NC 10 points passersby our way.  It simply reads in faded Old English font:

Mount Hermon BaptistChurch

Est., 1848

When I came to Mount Hermon in September of 2006, it was after four years of campus ministry.  I went from the sound of drums and acoustic guitars to the sound of an organ… and the occasional hiss of Mr. J____’s oxygen tank.  The smell of coffee and burning candles at the college services was replaced with the scent of the perfume preferred by older ladies.  The reasons people missed worship services went from viewing American Idol to suffering with arthritis.

I fell in love this little church.

I came to Durham for a degree program, not for a pastorate.  But God divinely cornered me and I found myself under the employ of Mount Hermon.  For the past two years I have struggled to be somewhat decent as a shepherd.

Then I heard about this job in Birmingham.  The dream job.  Now, I was actually hoping to enroll in a doctoral program, but I had to take seriously this job opening.  A suburban church with which my wife and I had worked during my seminary years was looking for a College Pastor who would head up a large, vibrant campus ministry.  I knew the guy whose place I would be taking—he is one of my closest friends.

But I really love this little country church in Durham.

Weeks and months passed by.  I actually removed my name from the candidacy for that campus ministry position.  But when I was having doubts, they called back and asked if I would at least show up for an interview.

A week later, after long bouts of the kind of miserable prayer that precedes major decisions, we decided to move to Birmingham.

So I had to tell the little country church that I was leaving.

The Lord’s Supper had been scheduled for that Sunday (it was that time in the quarter, you know).  I chose as the text John 13-17, Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to His disciples (for John, the Passover meal is decidedly placed in the backdrop of this scene).  I told the congregation that the first Lord’s Supper was occasioned with the sadness of a departure, and that our morning of sharing in the same meal would be similar.  I did not view myself as Jesus and the parishioners as my disciples, but the situation was that of a minor shepherd leaving a precious little flock.

I carefully conveyed my story to them.  And since the disciples posed a number of questions in John’s Farewell Discourse, I gave them the chance to ask questions of me.  No one asked a question at first, but the sanctuary was not silent.  The sounds that accompany the use of a tissue sporadically echoed throughout the pews.

A few people made comments, and that was all I could take.  I broke down behind the pulpit.  I wept, tried to calm down and speak, only to make those terrible sounds one makes when they think they have calmed from weeping but haven’t (and the pulpit mic seemed to catch all those awkward sounds).

I finally escaped to play the piano during Communion.  But afterwards, friend after friend approached me with hugs.  These were people whose spouses, cousins, and even children, I had buried.  I knew where their bodies were scarred from recent surgeries.  I could not gather myself.  I was wrecked.

There is a lot of glitz and glamour attached to certain churches and certain positions in ministry.  I do think I am following God’s guidance in moving to the large suburban church with multiple services and video projection screens.  It is a wonderful church.  But I hope I never fail to forget what I told the little country church that day before we took the Lord’s Supper: “I am not moving on to bigger and better things.  They may be bigger… but they are not better.”

Nijay Gupta on starting and finishing a Biblical Studies PhD

I am excited to report that Wipf & Stock is mailing me a review copy of Prepare, Succeed, Advance by my friend Nijay Gupta.  Nijay has been a source of encouragement and wisdom for me over the past couple of years in my preparations for beginning the PhD at Durham University in New Testament.  Since I move to England in less than three weeks, the release of his book on starting and finishing a doctorate could not have come at a better time.  The book will take an oceanic voyage enshrouded in cardboard in the company of my other books that made the cut for my stint in Durham.  I will be offering a review of his material once I am settled in….

Ezra as a model for those who would teach Scripture

“…Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of YHWH, and to do it, and to teach his statues and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). 

I want to teach the Bible.  I am moving to England in 3 weeks for further training to this end.  The venture is so costly in every way—emotionally, logistically, financially.  It is also a venture fraught with temptations.  So many young pastors and students, smitten with the beauty and wonder of God’s self-revelation in Scripture, have waded into academic waters in which certain currents pull with riptide force in a number of hazardous directions.  One of the most dangerous (mis)directions one could take would be down a course that abstracts the subject matter.  Post-Enlightenment theological/biblical study can come with the temptation to professionally distance oneself from the potent content of the lessons and lectures.  This casual (and often unconscious) aloofness has led to much of the anti-intellectualism so strong in American religious life.

Ezra provides us an alternative model.

With an enormous sigh of a national relief, the Persian king Artaxerxes permitted him to return to Jerusalem, its walls freshly rebuilt, its ghost-town status recently annulled.  Out of the dust and ash of Solomon’s revered Temple, a new one had been constructed.  In Ezra 7:7 we read that out of Babylon came “singers” who had had no songs to sing (Ps. 137), “gatekeepers” who had had no gates to keep, and “temple servants” who had had no holy temple to serve.  They followed behind Ezra, known by Artaxerxes as “the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven” (Ezra 7.12, 21).

What had he been up to during all those years of exile in Babylon?  We know he had been studying.  Studying hard.  In a foreign land, there were surely late nights and early mornings spent before whatever scrolls had survived Nebuchadnezzar’s flames.  Work both wearisome and toilsome… and charged with the emotional pain of loss and remorse.  The man was pouring over the words of the Law which Israel had discarded and had in turn been discarded (seemingly) as a people, forcibly ejected out of their land.  We have little access (in the canon) to Ezra’s exilic life before taking on leadership in Jerusalem.  But we know this:

“…Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of YHWH, and to do it, and to teach his statues and rules in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). 

So there had to have been years of painstaking work in those precious, old texts.

But let’s notice that Scripture provides an interesting verbal order in 7:10, an order to emulate for any of us who would presume to crack open our Bibles for the purpose of study and teaching.  The verbal order in 7:10 is study – do – teach.

Many of us want to communicate God’s word.  We want to feel the edge of that pulpit or lectern in hand.  Many of us like a mic positioned before our lips.  But before teaching the word of God come preliminary disciplines.

Study.  Every now and then someone will preface their message to a congregation with something like this: “I think I just need to throw out my notes.  I’m just going to follow the Spirit.”  The Spirit of God will indeed guide us at times to make alterations.  I have no qualms with that.  But we have to admit that there is a strong tendency in evangelical circles for us to assign a superior status to un-manuscripted messages, as if an extemporaneous thus-sayeth-the-Lord message is more “spiritual” than a message that has risen from unseen hours of painful, arduous study.  Relying on the Spirit at the moment of teaching/preaching has become for some of us a spiritualized excuse for sloth in prayerful study.  If the Spirit is leading at the extemporaneous moment, is He not also leading us in the secret place of early morning and late night study?  Before Ezra stood before the people to teach them at a monumental turning point of Israel’s history, he had set his heart to study.

Do.  But Ezra was not just an intellectual bookworm more suited for a library than the marketplace.  Before he presumed to teach the Law, he performed the Law.  Study, do… then teach.  The anti-intellectualism in the evangelical church, though misguided, has some really solid grounds.  So many young men and women have left the workforce or the family farm for the seminary, only to return with impressive, esoteric verbage on their lips with very little to demonstrate with their actions.  Study, yes.  Study late into the night.  Rush to the text before the sunlight creeps out of the east.  But then doPerform the Scriptures as you ready yourself to teach the Scriptures.

Teach.  The need for vibrant, grounded teachers is always so dire.  But if I go to some foreign land, placing myself in some sort of an academic exile experience, yet I fail to embody Ezra’s example, then my teaching will be of little service to the church.  Teach, yes.  But not without serious studying and serious doing.

Singer-Songwriters in the Solar System

I was struggling over the sound and lyrics of a band called Vigilantes of Love while a Freshman at the University of Georgia.  My friend Joel Brooks finally succeeded in convincing that it is okay for me to look outside the standard “Christian” music genre for good tunes.  He played Shawn Mullins and VOL nonstop on a camping trip we took later in the year and my exclusive hand-holding with the Christian music industry ended. Since then, no song lyrics have lingered longer or more deeply in my mind than those of Bill Mallonee, VOL’s chief architect.  In Faith Without Illusions, I cite Bill with as much regularity as N.T. Wright, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Eugene Peterson.

Bill and Muriah Rose came to Birmingham for a concert at the UCF House last week.  Opening were four young singer-songwriter friends of mine who you have yet to hear about, but who you should certainly hear.  Along with the video of Bill and Muriah performing “Solar System” below, you gotta check out the music of Josh Brown, Justin Cross, Wilder Atkins, and Matt Sanderlin.

 

Solar System by Bill Mallonee

Matt Sanderlin

Josh Brown

Wilder Atkins

Justin Cross

 

 

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