Hearing iMonk: (1) Embracing the Church on the Corner


One of the treasures we have not tapped much in the past few years since Michael died has been his podcast ministry.

If you go through the archives, you will find posts that offer those podcasts, but the links no longer work. I am trying to get all the podcasts I can find into one location so that you can go there and download them. This task should be completed in the next few weeks.

Throughout this year I will also present posts that contain portions of the iMonk podcasts so that we can continue to literally hear Michael’s voice on various subjects.

Today, here are excerpts from podcast number 59 (May 2007). In this talk, Michael devotes the entire program to discussing a post he wrote called, “Going Back to an SBC Church” (I am trying to find this post and have thus far been unsuccessful).

Michael discusses his personal post-evangelical journey with regard to church affiliation. Post-evangelicals in general have embraced a wider vision of the church reflected in Ephesians 4: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” and they have been searching for pure expressions of this church. For Michael, this impulse was captured in a series of questions he found in reading Robert Webber:

  • Do you feel like you are in a journey in which you are embracing the church in the larger sense rather than in the narrower, denominational sense?
  • Do you feel yourself being drawn to traditions other than your own?
  • Do you feel yourself affirming things that you might have even been taught were bad or wrong or against the Bible?
  • Do you see value in other traditions that, while you may not fully identify with them, you believe that these are fellow Christians and that this is the Church?

To these questions, Michael enthusiastically answers, “Yes!” but then describes how he came to a point of seeing he had to “quit being bitter about the fact that the ideal church for my particular preferences is not there” and embrace the congregation down the street.

From Podcast #59: “Embracing the Church on the Corner”


Some pertinent quotes from the podcast:

“…coming to a point of seeing that my preference for a church was no longer going to be my guiding principle and that I was going to have to embrace the real church as I found it at my doorstep.”

“I gotta tell you folks, it is hard to embrace the church on the corner when you are as deeply in love with the Great Tradition as I am.”

“I am a Southern Baptist. I’m a post-evangelical. I’m a Christian. But this is my particular little piece of the farm, and I don’t I think I can personally go on as if it’s not there. Some people can. I can’t.”

“There’s a lot of good that can happen in my life as a follower of Jesus Christ if I’ll embrace this.” (not on excerpt)

56 thoughts on “Hearing iMonk: (1) Embracing the Church on the Corner

  1. Monday was crazy so I am still a day behind and likely no one will see this. I need to rant just a bit about a comment I see a bit too often here. That is comments that people just want a social club. Church is community, right? So where do you get off assuming that just because one wants a church where they can actually find friends, that said individual is not interested in God, worship together, bible study, service or any number of other things that make up Christian community? I don’t have an easy time making friends. I realized after disappearing from church for good reasons in my twenties, that I was happier and actually healthier emotionally when I attended church than when I did not.

    I love Jesus and believe I have gifts that are needed in my church. Why should I be accused of wanting a social club, simply because I have actually formed friendships with the people there? We pray together, we study together, we sing together, play bells together, knit together, and do any number of other things. We are all seeking to grow in our faith. Just because that community also meets a need for social interaction does not make us a “social club.”


  2. Robert. “dawning” being the key word. There was great expectation at the time Jesus walked the earth as well, it just didn’t turn out quite like folks thought it would. Probably so this time around as well. Major changes of age seem to take place roughly every two thousand years, something the ancients recognized in the reflection of the zodiac. There also seem to be lesser changes that come along every 500 years or so, the last one giving us the printed word, the New World, the Reformation, and the modern age, which isn’t really an age in the sense that Jesus and the New Testament writers spoke of a new age. In any case, I know you were only funnin”, but I’ll be surprised if a major signifying event doesn’t happen in my few remaining years, and I’ve got a front row seat.


  3. But Charles, I thought we entered the New Age back in 1969. I was only ten years old, but I remember everybody talking about it: This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and The times, they are a’changin and I hope I die before I get old….


  4. This whole discussion has reminded me of the “Young Man Blues.”

    A young man ain’t got nothing in the world these days…

    I guess it’s always been the case, huh?


  5. The young and thriving mainline churches that you mention, StuartB: they are very few and very far between. And so are the leaders like Keller and the guy at Coral Ridge (whose name escapes me); and, as you’ve noted, these few and far between young and thriving mainline churches and pastors are almost always conservative and, in addition, identify themselves as evangelical. Keller identifies as an evangelical, and so does the guy at Coral Ridge, and I’m not sure that the PCA, which both of them belong to, is really a mainline denomination. In fact, when you look up the wikipedia article for the PCA, it says that this denomination is a blend of Presbyterian and evangelical traditions. So none of the churches you mention as thriving and young in your comment are really mainline, and all of them have strong links to evangelicalism. I’m not sure this supports the point you are making about how evangelicalism is losing young people to non-evangelical mainlines, since all the churches and leaders you point to are within the camp self-identifies as evangelical. In fact, it tends to support the ideas I mentioned in some of my comments above about how it’s possible for evangelicals and their churches to seek and embrace formation from the Great Tradition, and to expand the identity of the Great Tradition in the process.


  6. Stuart the B sez, “That doesn’t mean we are looking for an old dying church to join . . .”

    As it happens that’s where I ended up this year after moving, my best choice of three within walking distance, if you can call a mile walking distance, which I do, but I don’t, walk that is, unless the snow is so bad I can’t get out my driveway, and maybe on a really nice day. All three are hurting but mine is the worst, terminal if something doesn’t change. The problem isn’t the church so much as it is the local demographics. Really hard to make a living here, so unless they find a niche, young people tend to go off to college and not come back. The only church in town attracting people with kids is the Covenant Evangelical, or is that Evangelical Covenant. It’s Evangelical but not obnoxious. There is absolutely nothing in my church for kids. A generation ago there were more kids in the Sunday School than the whole congregation now, probably three or four times more. I’ve helped at three funerals since I started attending, but only one baptism, and the parents rarely attend.

    I don’t think there is anything that can be done to change this other than pray. It’s a Lutheran church, ELCA, it has a good pastor, the people are loving and welcoming, the church building itself is a beautiful old country church that hasn’t been ruined by modernization. There just aren’t that many young people around to attract if we did something different. I look on serving there as hospice care, not that God can’t turn it around.

    My own take on the whole church situation is that we are entering a new age and things are going to be much different in times to come, whether we like it or not. Much of the problems I see in the church at large are caused in my view by folks hanging on to 20th century ways and thinking. You could say that the church I attend is solidly in the 20th century, but that isn’t because the people are sticks in the mud, nor is the pastor. If a bunch of young people showed up, I’m guessing we would adapt. They aren’t so we aren’t.

    Stuart, you would have a hard time here, tho it’s a great place to retire. Maybe you would have a hard time anywhere, but I have seen you making leaps and bounds lately toward healing and wholeness, and I am glad. Sometimes the Christian life seems to consist of hang in there.


  7. And so far, I just haven’t seen any kind of evidence that RHE is a keen observer of church trends with a track record of making correct observations of what will happen in the future based on those her observations; she just doesn’t seem that wise to me. And I don’t say that because of opposition to the kind of progressive theology she usually adopts; I’m not opposed. I tend toward progressive myself, and some here would say I’m a liberal Christian, fully meaning that as an insult. I just don’t have confidence in RHE’s prognostications.


  8. StuartB,
    I would love it if the mainline Protestant churches had a resurgence of the kind you’re describing, full of younger people leading and taking the lead, and older people not standing in their way. Hip hip hoorah!, I would say. That would be wonderful! I wouldn’t even care if they didn’t let us older folks in! Bar the doors and card the incoming, if you like; I’d take it.

    But I don’t see anything in it, so far, except wishful thinking, on the part of RHE and others (perhaps like yourself), feeding on non-substantial anecdotal evidence and trying to make wish-fulfillment out of that. That’s a recipe for a truly non-nurturing meal. I could be wrong, and I hope I’m wrong, but sociological research and observation so far indicate that I’m not. You can go against the science, and it’s possible the science may be wrong; but if I were a betting man, I would tend to stick with the science.


  9. It can be, but I don’t think she is.

    Speaking for myself, and realizing full well that just focusing on the negatives is not healthy, but if I were to join a church regularly again, the one thing I would be looking for is that it is not protestant evangelical in any flavor.

    What sort of church do you want? “…Not protestant evangelical.” Kinda like asking what do you want to do with your life? “Not what I’m doing right now.”

    That may be a big part of it. We want a church that looks nothing like our parents or maybe even our grandparents church. What will that look like? Well, maybe a body of 20s,30s,40 year old believers meeting in an older church building following liturgy and the church calendar and being/joining one of the mainline denominations…but with the focus on being that this is a young church.

    That’s where the disconnect may be, Robert F. There are plenty of those churches that are full of older people who want young people to join, but that’s part of the problem: they are an old church. Set in there ways, how they do things, what’s comfortable, etc. Staffed by older people more than likely as well. Not doing or looking in any way as if they are a church that wants those young people to stop in, merely hopeful that they will.

    I imagine a relatively young priest/pastor/rector(?) would do wonders to bring in younger people, and if they have the acceptance of the older, would work really well. I know several liturgical PCA churches here in the Twin Cities all staffed and pastored by men in their 30s or early 40s, and the congregation is a mix of both old as well as young, they bring in all the seminary students all the time. (Just tend to be too conservative/PCA for me, unfortunately.) Great people, great services, there’s lots I love about them (plus real wine at communion!). I’m sure if I lived in Florida I’d be going to Coral Ridge. And look what Timothy Keller has accomplished.

    Am I explaining myself a bit more clearly? There are definitely mainline churches that are old and dying. But there are also mainline churches that are young and thriving.

    Also, one good point RHE and one of the articles she links to does make is how many people may go to the mallchurch down the street in their 20s, but many of us, myself, some of the guys in my men’s group, friends from back in college days, etc, we tend to walk away from that after we’ve had our fill, and now we are looking for something more mainline and historical. That doesn’t mean we are looking for an old dying church to join, the one young person worshipping with the elderly saints because we believe so strongly we are getting it right…no, God, the christian life, is not worth that. But that same church may restructure, get new leadership, change things up, open the doors and let some air and sunlight in…and we’ll be there.


  10. Well, a person can work up a mean, mean thirst
    after a hard day of nothing much at all….


  11. “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.”

    I think it’s always awfully presumptuous to present yourself as the mouthpiece of an entire generation.


  12. Man, I’m breaking out the Courvoisier cognac tonight to celebrate that for once, some actually agreed with me! …………except Stuart. It’s Old English 800 for you young man!


  13. Neither am I trying to assess Christian belief or lack thereof by church attendance. But decreasing levels of attendance certainly bode ill for the well-being of any particular church body.


  14. Numo, I have great respect for you and your comments. The gist of my comment is that anyone should feel free to attend or not attend a place of worship. It’s not a reflection of where you are with Christ. I made the earlier comment that if you are done with any church or denomination that’s fine. They all have issues. But if you join another group, and it’s a church group that’s in decline, you shouldn’t toss grenades at your former group. I see that a lot.


  15. Seattle was a rock n’ roll poseur; Minneapolis was the real deal, and 15 years earlier.


  16. Well, StuartB, I’m in a traditional, mainline suburban church every Sunday morning. There are a couple 20-somethings, and a few more 30-somethings, but I know the older folks in the pews would just love to see a really significant influx of young people. Without a few of the older deep pockets, I’m not sure the church could keep financially afloat.

    So far it hasn’t happened; no flood of young. The pastor does his damnedest to be welcoming to the young folks who’ve gone off to college when they visit at the holidays, and to stay in touch with them. But the ones who keep churchgoing prefer the mega-church a couple of towns over, where their friends go.

    And don’t let me start talking about the choir; not a person under 55 there, and most in their late 60s and early 70s. If this keeps up, there won’t be a choir in 15 years.


  17. Sorry Stuart, I live in Cali. Traditional churches here are nit attracting young people at all.


  18. I am not at all certain that attendance or lack of it has anything to do with belief.

    Too many of us have been burned, sre being burned (and will be burned) in “traditional” churches, both liturgical and evangelical, and have had to walk away in ordrr to preserve our sanity. Yes, I’m Lutheran, but i don’t attend church. Haven’t done so since i was booted fro an evangelical church over a devade ago. It is oppressive to me, and i find it difficult to get through anything longer than the brief monthly communion services held for the elderly. If there was an Episcopal church nearby that observed some of the daily offices, i think i would go, since i like those kinds of services and they feel far less pressured for me than Sunday services.


  19. Yes, Robert. That’s true also. There’s no joy in this. Also, I’m sure that a lot if Evangelical growth is token, and theologically very shallow. And it is a truism that so much of the great truth and traditions of historic Christianity are disappearing.


  20. Relevant, but does require making the concession that Rachel Held Evans not only is a Christian but someone worth listening to.


    Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.

    But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.

    In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular.

    and the kicker

    What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.



  21. This is where I wish Mike Bell had more free time and energy to do an update to his statistical analysis, with some slightly tweaked focus areas.

    I don’t know about the evidence, I can just go off of people’s testimonies and the lives I personally observe. The overwhelming consensus I see online and around me is people wanting a more liturgical type of church service and faith, however that looks.

    So, while the mainlines may be declining, keep in mind that roughly 25% of people my age (sub 30) attend church regularly. Now, what percentage of that total is switching it up and going liturgical? I don’t know, but it appears to be significant. A sizable minority even.

    So, evangelicals and the pent/charismatic denoms may be growing, but I’m wondering in what age groups. Maybe our parents are just looking for a social club.


  22. Ever notice that the closing hymn in some services could be no different than an encore?

    Revivalistic tradition – bring them in with the musical numbers that evoke the spirit, the special music featuring the beautiful young female singers, bring out the preacher to persuade their minds, hold an altar call and evoke a decision along the sawdust trail, and then close the service out with an encore, mixing the spirit and mind, with some coffers at the back for collecting coin.

    It’s entertainment.

    Here we are now…entertain us.

    When was that written again?


  23. They know what the church teaches and don’t want to be hypocrites by showing up on Sunday morning and pretending that they’ve followed the rules or even agree with the rules.

    That’s a particular mindset I’ve seen many times in friends and former leaders/church members. That “people just want to sin Monday-Saturday” and be ok with God come Sunday. “Best get yourself to church and get right with Jesus!”

    Seems to be missing something. Maybe the Gospel. Maybe Jesus. Certainly any sense of “it is finished”. Also extremely lacking in grace for fellow believers, assigning the worse possible motive to them…but don’t worry, we’re hear to give you a new law and remind you that you fall short and aren’t perfect. Aren’t you so lucky for Jesus? You were bought with a price, better live up to it.


    I don’t think hypocritical has anything to do with it. I’ve known one person who legitimately did not go to church because he knew he was sinning during the week and thus was unworthy of church. That’s a theology and personality problem more than anything. I’ve always felt bad for him and tried to reason him away from it, but scripture can’t trump what someone already knows to be true, for good or for bad.

    So I doubt many fall into the “pretend to follow the rules” camp. Agree with the rules is a bigger camp, definitely, many put on the face and get asked then to lead small groups, our best and brightest, the hope for the future; the best ones go to seminary often and get good gigs in their small independent congregations.

    I think the majority have wokened up to realizing that the rules themselves are false or don’t exist. They learned quickly, quicker than many at least, that the rules don’t matter. There are no rules when there are so many rules.

    Freedom. Amen.


  24. Yes, traditional churches are dying out, OP, but I wouldn’t be too sanguine about the future of the evangelical churches in the US. The same research shows that many of them have plateaued, and some are beginning to lose number; oh yes, a trickle for now, but there are reasons to suspect that the trickle will start to grow in the next decade or so. Seems the market has reached saturation, and the customers are starting to lose interest.


  25. Thanks Robert of course there is no evidence that young people aren’t flocking to traditional churches It’s. Simply not true. Al the research such as Barna are clear, traditional churches are dying out, albeit slowly. So the real question is, if your denomination us losing members, how us that promoting the gospel? What does that mean? By the way, I once was involved in a “Remnant Church” group. That didn’t work out well for me


  26. Yeah, I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert circa 1978 during the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour; after that religious experience, any derivative second rate rock show put on in the local gospel hall would have paled, by far, in comparison. Rock n’ Roll, and its concerts, were my first religion; that’s probably why I have no interest in the use of rock music in worship, and even find it cringe worthy; it all seems like pretend to me, people pretending to be rock stars before a spiritually captive audience. No thank you. If I’d wanted to stay there, I would have stayed out of the Church altogether, and continued my worship in the concert halls.

    But aside from anecdotal evidence, I don’t see anything convincing me that there is, or is about to be, a huge influx of young evangelicals who have been alienated by the evangelical circus into the mainline churches. Where are the studies showing that? I think they’re non-existent. N

    Now, that’s not to deny there has been a trickle of vocal and articulate young evangelicals into Great Tradition churches; just like the trickle of evangelicals who left the evangelical world in the 80’s for the EO or RC Churches. But it remained a trickle, even though at first it seemed like a tidal wave. There is no research evidence to indicate that the mainlines, or the Roman Catholic Church, are suddenly being inundated by young people; just the opposite.


  27. there’s a wonderful sense of community and family when you see each usher/choir member/person on the stage as someone that you regularly sit in a pew or chair next to. you know them, they know you.

    but it’s a scale issue. the more seats, the lack of community and family. so the more it makes sense to have hired musicians and the like come in, do their set, and depart stage right before the encore.

    “you just hate new music and love hymns!”



  28. Side comment on my own comment, regarding my friend’s grandpa –

    churches are always looking for volunteers, yet so many services seem to be volunteer free, hired professionals, slick presentations, the works. nothing wrong with that in and of itself. but it removed so many avenues for faithful men and women to serve in the actual service itself.

    yet there is always a need for the behind the scenes workers, aren’t there. unseen. untouched. unfelt.

    the unhired help

    store up those treasures in heaven, after all…


  29. There should be room for both. Both for the Hillsong and the vespers crowd (or whatever the liturgical high church word equivalent would be).

    Liturgical + progressive seems like a good combo for me. God said grow, let’s grow.


  30. Good flavor, but poor meat and protein sources.

    Which may describe certain wings of Christianity since 1906.

    /pun sorta/not really intended, but it worked out deliciously


  31. I think that young people, on the whole, are not interested in any of that.

    Research, and personal experience, suggest otherwise. It’s been sad watching my church over the past two and a half years attempt to recapture that magic of the 80s and 90s, putting in more rock music, more stage shows, more flash and glitter. During the young adult service, we moved from a sparsely lit (but thoroughly modern) large meeting room into the old, traditional sanctuary, with it’s 2/3 story organ…which they then proceeded to keep dark, cover up in shadow, and block off the old choir loft with new reflective panels and scaffolding for stage lighting.

    Is it bringing in attendance? Sure, I guess. All the kids stuck in the fundgelical ghetto seem to really love it, but I wonder how many of them have been to an actual “secular” proper rock show. It’s having the side effect of smoothing out the worship services, so there aren’t “traditional or contemporary or young adult” anymore, just in tone and preaching style and antics. It’s removing the older generation from worshiping the way they always had, by getting rid of the choir and orchestra (one of my friend’s grandparents was “fired” from playing the trumpet, which he had done faithfully for decades).

    And then I go online and read stories from my whole generation heading away from that, into the smells bells and whistles or whatever. People like Rachel Held Evans and other thought leaders. I look at my veteran friends, making their way in a modern world post-PTSD and world experience, and seeing them turn towards the mainlines. I look at the young families in my life, and see them turning away from the more rockious worship sets and towards calmer, quieter churches, if not straight up liturgical. I look at other young married friends, who walked away from the fundygelical life, sold their businesses, and moved into seminary houses, so they can be ordained PCA or LCMS, with strong liturgical traditions.

    So, OP, I hate to disagree once again, but, in my experience, what you say is just not true. It’s a meme that keeps repeating. It’s leadership doubling down on what has led to the nones and dones. It’s not listening at all to any of us, and instead insisting, once again, that “we know better”. But they really don’t. So we’ll take our time and talents and tithes and go elsewhere.


  32. Another think I’ve learned from my Trinidadian friends: the parts that the rich neighbors throw out, the neck and wing tips and back meat, are the most flavorful of all.


  33. Not only the mainlines in the US, but the Roman Catholic Church is in decline, too, despite the fact that the numbers in the RCC are being bolstered by immigration from traditionally RC nations. Without this bolstering, the decline in the RCC is much greater, and similar to the mainlines. I’ve heard it said that the fastest growing religion in the US is that of alienated and ex- Roman Catholics.

    But in the Global South of poorer and developing nations, everybody’s boat is floating, with gains across the board for denominational/Great Tradition and non-denominational churches. Christianity is not in decline in Africa, China or Latin America; just the opposite, every kind of church is having significant growth (although the growth of the RC Church in places where it has been historically stronger has decreased, since it’s losing a significant part of its growth momentum to Pentecostal churches). In most places where this growth is occurring, however, it’s true that free church/evangelical/Pentecostal models of what the Church looks like are prevailing, even among the denominational/Great Tradition churches, and also to a lesser degree within the RCC in those places.


  34. Actually the smells and bells and statues etc. are popular among the artsy set. chant, too. They’re the ones that go to the Taize and labrynth services. So it does have its niche audience.

    My experience is that a lot of young people want to sleep in on Sundays and go out or devote themselves to family or hobbies on Saturday night. They know what the church teaches and don’t want to be hypocrites by showing up on Sunday morning and pretending that they’ve followed the rules or even agree with the rules.


  35. Before spitting out the bones, crack and suck them, because that’s where the marrow, and the flavor, is. That’s something I’ve learned from my Trinidadian friends.


  36. Chew the meat, spit out the bones. But when all they hand you is that part of the chicken wing everyone throws out…


  37. “Evangelicalism is in trouble”. I agree with that but more to the point, I think churches that embrace The Great Tradition are in trouble. I think liturgical churches are in big trouble. I think that young people, on the whole, are not interested in any of that. Loud music, flash, bang, image, cultural relevence, all that stuff; that’s what this generation wants. Robes, candles, smells and bells, statues, etc.not so much. Aren’t all the mainline churches in decline? Pentacostals and charismatics aren’t Understand that I’m just asking the questions, I’m not being critical. So many different expressions of faith are a great thing, God honors them all. Even those of you in the PEW, I think you’re in a small minority. 100 million Evangelicals in the US. Maybe 100,000 Orthodox. I don’t know, do numbers count? So many things about the Body of Christ trouble me as we try to relate to today’s culture.


  38. Ken,

    There needs to be movement on both sides of the Great Tradition divide. On the evangelical side, among other things this involves a recognition that those firmly within the Great Tradition are real Christians, not pretenders, and a willingness to learn from the various iterations of the Great Tradition how to read and interpret Scripture not as mere individuals but as the Church catholic. On the side of those within the Great Tradition, real movement involves the kind of movement you noted in your comment, in which much progress has been made by Roman Catholics and others, but also a recognition that what was called catholicity in the past was deficient and partial, and needs to be expanded to include more voices, not just as participants or observers, but also as contributors to the self-understanding and self-definition of the Great Tradition. Part of what that means is that those within the Great Tradition will have to find ways to acknowledge and affirm that those on the periphery are real, not second-class, Christians, and the bodies they belong to are real churches, not merely stations on the way to the real Church.


  39. Those are four dynamite questions, especially the third one. I’ve actually found a few people in my faith circles with whom I can openly discuss them, too, for which I’m very thankful.


  40. Ah, more of the Robert Webber influence…

    More than an understanding of the Great Tradition, he opened actual church history to me in a way I had not understood previously, and that made a great deal of sense.



  41. Robert:

    A few thoughts.I have been evangelical all my Christian life. It seemed to thrive as long as the culture around us tracked with it to some degree (that is kept a moral code that was Judeo-Christian). The past 30 years this has changed. And evangelicalism is in trouble. I believe that part of the reason is because there is no tradition to act as a ballast. Instead we said that everyone is a bible exegete and we need to reinvent interpretation every generation.

    As you said, there is a resurgence of people turning to the great Tradition to help, I am one of those. Dallas Willard was able to make some headway in setting out a theology that enables evangelicals to bridge to it. Of course Robert Webber is in there as well.

    I have been reading pope John Paul II encyclical Dominem et Vivicantem and must admit to being surprised on how I see movement from the Catholic side. In the overall scope of things I wonder how far we really are apart.


  42. The most important criteria when looking for a new church after spending 30+minutes driving across the city for 20 years was that we would no longer go outside of our community. I now feel a part of my local community and neighborhood. I am comfortable telling people where I go to church as they recognize the building, the pastor and often know someone else there. Our local church has made an effort to open its doors to the local community not for proselytizing but simply to say we belong to you, you belong to us. I don’t necessisarily believe what others in my church do or always appreciate a particular worship style, but we recognize we are on this faith journey together. It has been a good fit.


  43. My entire Christian life I’ve belonged to churches that embraced the central affirmations and practices of the Great Tradition. I say that with some hesitation, since I don’t believe the Great Tradition is a comprehensively defined thing, and I do believe that it has changed significantly down through time, and is expressed differently and variously in different times and place with much. I know that some Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox will disagree with me, since they believe that their traditions embody the Great Tradition in a comprehensive and authoritative way, but, though I was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, I’m Protestant now, and I disagree with them.

    However narrowly or widely we define the Great Tradition, one thing is certain: most of those becoming Christians across the globe today are at the very best on the periphery of the Great Tradition as it has been understood even at its most inclusive, and looking out from it edges rather in towards it center. Unless we intend to disenfranchise these new Christians by claiming that they are not really Christians, or that the bodies they belong to are not really churches in the full sense, the Great Tradition must somehow expand in its self-understanding to incorporate and include the them, so that even those who seem to be looking out rather than in may be seen and understood to be looking through eyes formed by the Great Tradition, and so to be within it.

    That is how expansive and inclusive I believe the Great Tradition must be to truly be great and catholic. Those, like Michael Spencer, who choose to remain in the places on the fringes of the Great Tradition, but who recognize the way the Great Tradition is forming them and are trying their best to live into that formation, help the Great Tradition to expand in its self-understanding and inclusiveness in a way that is essential to the well-being and thriving of the Church catholic in the future. Not all are called to this, but I believe many are, and more and more will be in the future.


  44. Imperfect people, imperfect churches, imperfect Bible. God seems to routinely work, and reveal himself, by way of flawed and imperfect means. But that doesn’t answer the question: How much imperfection is acceptable before the time arrives to move on? There’s no doubt that the time sometimes arrives when moving on is right, but most often only those standing inside have the necessary vantage point from which to be truly informed in making the decision. Michael Spencer seems, with great sobriety and self-knowledge, to have owned his vantage point when he made the decision to stay in place, even as his spirit wandered in the post-evangelical wilderness. His decision was right for him; much to his credit, he recognized that the decision that was right for him would be wrong for others.


  45. I’ve been visiting this site almost daily for 4 years (I rarely comment), and this post/podcast hits home with me perhaps more than any other. I resonate so much with what Michael is saying here. I have come to love the great tradition of the church, but yet there seems to be no other options in my rural area than for me to keep on returning to the Baptist church I grew up in. I decided months ago that I would return with my family, yet it still drives me crazy to sit through many of the services. I feel like I must check my brain at the door every Sunday, and forget everything I have learned about the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Am I being faithful to God’s church by participating in a church that is suspicious of most other parts of the church? I don’t know. Maybe the way I can be most truly catholic is to be faithful to the church I was baptized in, even though this church would have little to do with the church catholic.


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