Rude or direct?

Re “Menno-nice?” (Viewpoint, July). While I agree with Nikki White that our Mennonite politeness can be too insufficient a virtue in developing closer relationships in church, I question the statement that Jesus was “incredibly rude and insensitive at times.” Is she confusing being rude with being direct? Rudeness is based on an attitude of willful ignorance and disrespect. Directness, on the other hand, is based on courage and discernment. Jesus was direct with religious leaders of the time because he knew what they were thinking and what they needed to hear.

Perhaps Christians today need to learn how to be more direct. Otherwise, our “awkward encounters” may be more harmful for fellowship
than helpful.



Saddened by findings

Re H.M.R. Dueck’s “A disconnected family” (Viewpoint, August). As a formerly active participant in conference structures and work, I am saddened by Hilda Dueck’s findings of the state of the Mennonite Brethren conferences and churches in Canada. Are we witnessing changes that represent new inspiration and vision? Or are we experiencing the devolution of conference structures and institutions as the result of, or because of, dissipation of congregational loyalty, or because of the passing of corporate unity to another generation? Are we, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, growing in our understanding of our heritage and mission, or is our focus on the congregation and individualism at the point where the function of the conference becomes a fiduciary (as noted in “Meet your executive board,” Homepage) mechanism by which we maintain a semblance of corporate unity in the Confession of Faith and the eligibility to use charitable donations as income tax deductions?

Times change, and I want to be open to change. But change is not always easy or better. Please help this octogenarian to understand our times and to adapt to them in faithfulness to our Lord.



New technologies could help

In “A disconnected family” (Viewpoint, August) H.M.R. Dueck describes the silence and distancing the MB conference is noticing as churches seem to be pulling away on their own. She notes that fewer people are attending the annual conventions, nationally and provincially. She describes the Alberta conference’s efforts to figure out the situation using a strategic planning survey completed by only about a third of the churches.

I found myself thinking about the exponential increase in the rate of technological change in our society. Perhaps our MB conference could create a social networking website just for MB church members. This could help build connections and allow the conference to get a read on the feelings and opinions of the ordinary churchgoer.

Sending delegates to a convention can seem like a costly venture when video-conferencing is available. Perhaps it would be more practical to connect every church via the big screen in their sanctuary.

I would encourage the MB conference to look at ways to use modern technology to bridge the gap and build community.



Picking up the towel

Re “Servant development” (Editorial, August). How the Holy Spirit must have rejoiced in dictating his message to your readers through Karla Braun. In my assessment, most of our ministers preach the topic but don’t demonstrate it. One pastor said, “My ministry was to instruct the congregation to practice friendship evangelism. We have different spiritual gifts – mine isn’t in personal relationships.” Don’t we become more like “little Christs” by Jesus’ walking, talking, healing among people than by his sermons?

One indication of a congregation’s passion for a servant towel is when “positions” are easily filled and ministry programs like Sunday school, clubs, etc. are begging and being discontinued for want of personnel. A book that really charged my engine is The Volunteer Revolution by Bill Hybels. I highly recommend it.



Elephant in the room

The articles on the atonement (April, June) have been a blessing – well-written and instructive. And yet there is an elephant in the room. Why articles on the atonement? Why a seminar on the atonement at the study conference in October? What is really at stake?

I believe what needs to be addressed head-on is the attempt to do away with the teaching
that Christ died for our sins and took the punishment that we as sinners deserve.

Delores Williams, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, told the first Re-imagining conference in Minneapolis, “I don’t think we need a theory of atonement at all…I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses, and blood dripping, and weird stuff…we just need to listen to the god within.”

A quote at feminary.blogspot says, “As a feminist, I reject also this cemetery parade. Along with many other Christians, I do not subscribe to the beliefs that God sends death to punish personal failings…. I ask how one man’s death can be the solution to the continuing deaths of the weak. All this death gets us nowhere.”

Harold Jantz, then editor of ChristianWeek, picked up on this in 1994, in reference to speaker Virginia Mollenkott who told the [Re-imagining] group, “‘I can no longer worship in a theological context that depicts God as an abusive parent and Jesus as the obedient trusting child.’… She and others rejected the atoning death of Christ as an abuse of power which provides the undergirding for continuing abuse of the powerless.”

For many of us, how we came to know Jesus Christ as our Saviour rests on our belief in the atonement, even if we did not know what atonement means. What is the irreducible minimum belief or faith act to become a Christian?

Christ’s death truly was just so much foolishness and did not accomplish any recon-ciliation, should Delores Williams, Virginia Mollenkott, et al., persuade evangelicals.



Open to other views?

I read with interest the letters by Rob Thiessen and Harold Jantz and their understanding of the atonement (Letters, August). I do not know how open they are to the views held by others but for any readers who are interested I would strongly recommend The Nature Of The Atonement: Four Views, edited by James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy. Contributing their views are Gregory A. Boyd (Christus Victor), Thomas R. Schreiner (penal substitution), Bruce R. Reichenbach (healing view) and Joel B. Green (kaleidoscopic view). Each participant puts forth the case for their view as they understand the scriptural evidence, followed by a response from the other three. It is interesting how the church’s view of the atonement has changed over time.

Even if you do not change how you understand the atonement, you will at least know what others claim Scripture teaches and the evidence they put forward. You may be surprised by a new insight.



Weakening the case

I find it funny (not the ha ha kind) that James Toews would title an article “Getting to the Root” (Intersection, July) and then claim the basis of Anabaptist theology for pacifism is a Scripture taken out of context. In John 18, Jesus never rebukes Peter for having a sword, nor for using it. He only tells him to put it away so that he may “drink the cup the Father has given me” (verse 11). There are good arguments for and against pacifist theology, with Scriptures to support either side, but this is not one. It may seem I am picking nits, but the problem is, by proof-texting, the entire case is weakened.



Grand claim inappropriate

Re “The Great Emergence” (Interview, July). Phyllis Tickle claims that the Emergent movement is as momentous as the Protestant Reformation. Such a grand claim is inappropriate for two reasons.

First, it would be wiser to leave such a claim to future historians who will be able to judge the Emergent movement by its fruits.

Second, the Emergent movement is reversing rather than furthering the gains of the Protestant Reformation. The strength of Protestantism was not its rationalism, as Tickle claims, but its return to the authority of the Bible, as opposed to the authority of tradition and the church. Evangelicalism today is indeed in need of renewal, and this would again involve a return to the authority of Scripture. But this is not what the Emergent movement is offering. Its claim of not being “creedal” or not “based on a certain doctrinal system” represents a continued drift from the authority of God’s Word.



Zero impact

Re “A mind for the poor” (Intersection, August). James Toews’ view of the supply and demand laws are accurate, but it should be remembered that Dr. Friedman writes from a macro-economic point of view. His context is the whole economic process, in a nation [such as Rwanda] and what President Kagame is doing.

My second observation is: what kind of impact does one house have in a country of about 90 million people? Even if it’s lots of houses because many churches go build houses, [providing a house for] a person without money to buy a house will have zero impact on the labour market. I do see a moral issue however in the process of deciding who will be the proud owner of a house.

Also, when a team of 30 people goes to another country, they eat, they consume local products. I think building houses creates lots of employment.



Stumbling blocks to witness

The never-ending arguments presented by “creationists” and “evolutionists” regarding the origin and existence of everything have become great stumbling blocks in the Christian witness to the world.

If we truly believe that God in his power can use any method to start and sustain life, all arguments would end and we could use our differing views as opportunities to reach others, such as the apostle Paul did in Acts 17:22-25, as he witnessed to the Gentiles in Athens.


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