The first two articles in this series grew out of one extended conversation that I had with Anabaptist pastor and leader Bruxy Cavey. The seed of that conversation became the article on the doctrine of Scripture, which you can find here, and the article on the atonement, which you can find here. However, as we went back and forth together in the editing process we began to realize that there were a great many lesser issues and questions that couldn’t be easily addressed under either of those particular headings. Thus, we determined to have a subsequent conversation in order to discuss methods and miscellany.
Once again the dialogue is presented in stylized form – the seed of the initial conversation having grown through subsequent interactions into the substance of the dialogue now before you. In the conversation that follows “M” stands for “Me” and “B” stands for “Bruxy”.
This presentation has been reviewed, revised and finally approved by both parties.
Methods & Miscellany
M: Bruxy, we’ve mentioned several times now over the course of this conversation that some of the confusion we are sorting through here comes down to language. The majority side (traditional evangelicalism) has not always worked hard enough to understand the history, the context and the accent of our Anabaptist neighbours.
B: Yes. The apostle Paul warned pastor Timothy about “arguments about words” (2 Timothy 2:14), so it should be a high Christian value to press beneath the words we use to get to the substance of what we mean.
M: I agree. I do wonder however, whether or not, from time to time, you have intentionally chosen language that actually serves to exacerbate the perceived distance between yourself and your more traditional evangelical neighbours. Let me give you two examples and then you can take as much time as you want to respond. I’m thinking first of your church slogan – “a church for people who aren’t into church”. Now, that’s catchy and memorable – but it also serves to potentially exaggerate the differences between yourself and other churches. I’ve always heard that as meaning something like: “Our church is nothing like traditional evangelical churches. They are bad, stuffy, boring and dull – but we are super fun!” I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way, but that’s how it SOUNDS in a lot of our ears.
The same could be said about the phrase “we’re into Jesus, not religion”. On the face of it, that statement is contradictory. Jesus is the founder of the largest religion in the history of humankind. Therefore a person might hear that as if you were saying: “We’re into a Jesus that is not the Jesus of historic Christianity”. I’ve only just learned from you over the course of this conversation that you mean by “religion” roughly what I mean by “legalism and ritualism” and so now I’m on board – but for the last 20 years I’ve thought you were saying something completely different. So is there a sense in which some of this confusion has originated at your end?
B: Yes I’m happy to own that. Communication is not only what is being said, it is also what is being heard, and the communicator does have some responsibility for both. And I’m glad that you have raised that because we need to understand how we’re being heard by our fellow Christians and, where appropriate, to apologize for our contribution to the distance and lack of clarity that may exist between us.
So let me try and bring increased clarity here. We all know the word “religion” can be used positively or pejoratively. Positively, people use the word “religion” to speak of a genuine response to and connection with God. Pejoratively, a growing number of Christians, including leaders within the Reformed community, use the term negatively to refer to form without substance, a kind legalism and ritualism – roughly what Jesus meant when he talked about the old wineskins. I’ve heard Tim Keller for example use the term in approximately that way, so I imagine that we are both “for” and “against” the same things when it comes to “religion.” That being said, if a word can have more than one meaning, then both the speaker and listener should do their best to be both clear and charitable. For my part, I regularly explain why I use the word “religion” in a negative way when I speak, I’ve also included clarifying sections on word usage in both of my books, and also published a blog post on the different uses of “religion” here.
As for our slogan – “a church for people who aren’t into church” – please understand that this phrase is directed outward beyond the body of Christ to the nonbelieving world; it’s one of the ways we introduce ourselves to non-church people. I once had a person from another church approach me about our tag line and say, “But Bruxy, I like my church, and I’m into church.” And I responded, “Wonderful! And guess what – this motto isn’t for you!” Then I went on to explain that our outward facing promotion is not aimed at people who are already connected to a church – that would be awful! We are trying to fish for people who aren’t believers or who are church dropouts. Our motto isn’t “a better church than the one you are already going to.” I would hope other churches could catch on to this pretty easily and can cheer for and pray for us too. Lord knows we need it.
M: I want to come back to that, but before we do, I want to touch on a couple of other issues related to rhetorical language and self identification. You’ve spoken fairly critically about the way most evangelicals understand and preach the Gospel – even going so far as to say that you want to convert people away from PSA – doesn’t that add to or in some sense encourage an atmosphere of conflict and hostility? Isn’t that sort of waving a red flag in front of the eyes of your more traditional evangelical neighbours?
B: I understand what you’re saying, but let me also ask for understanding here: isn’t that true for all of us regarding every conviction we hold? If we believe we are right about something, and we believe that it is an important correction for the Church (as we talked about in our last discussion), then we want to convince others. That’s how conviction works. As I mentioned last time – just as the Church eventually modified the way it preached the Ransom Theory of atonement, I hope and pray for the day that the Evangelical Church modifies the way it preaches Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Christian leaders preach sermons, write books, and publish blog posts all the time in an effort to convince others of something they think is important. That process doesn’t have to be divisive, unless we make it so.
I think PSA is a sticking point for many Reformed Christians because they are used to equating this one Atonement Theory with the Gospel, and I do hope your community will address this unhelpful habit. On top of that, I often hear PSA preached as the Father pouring out his wrath upon the Son, so I say that PSA goes beyond what is written and conflicts with another biblical image that God wants us to have when looking at the cross – the image of God in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. I think someone could embrace a more biblical way of presenting the atonement and word it as disagreeing with PSA or as modifying the way they preach PSA. Either word choice could address the point I’m making.
For instance, here are two sentences that would be true for me to say, depending on how you understand PSA:
#1. I reject PSA as being unbiblical because I do not believe that the Father had to vent his wrath upon Jesus on the cross in order to enable him to forgive us, and that is how PSA is traditionally presented.
#2. I accept PSA as true because I believe that God placed our sin upon Jesus and Jesus took upon himself the penalty of death, but I also want to urgently encourage the broader Evangelical church to modify the way PSA is traditionally preached.
Both of these ideas are true, using different words and emphasis. I hope brothers and sisters listen to or read my work and the work of others with charity, rather than with a “gotcha” mentality because someone might sound different in different contexts.
As I said in the last interview, I think there is a way of describing PSA that I can’t and won’t endorse and I really do hope that the Church moves away from those ways and that more people will see that there are better ways of sharing the life changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I think that if you believe something strongly – as I do – then it is only natural that you would want other people to see that and believe in that as you do. I want people to see the love of God reconciling the world to himself through Jesus on the cross and I hope that the emphasis in our atonement conversation eventually swings that way.
(And by the way, it’s worth noting that, understandably given the context of this discussion, the agenda for this conversation that we are having right now has a Reformed ring to it. If I were the one interviewing you for an Anabaptist publication, we would be talking more about other aspects of the atonement, such as the inauguration of the New Covenant, the coronation of our King, becoming new creations, regeneration, and empowerment for holy living. These reflect a more Anabaptist emphasis, always wanting to stress that the cross is about more than mere forgiveness.)
I have a friend who likes to say, “Words make worlds” and I think he’s right on. God made this world through the power of his Word, and we also create realities through our words. So yes, I am committed to having this atonement conversation and being as persuasive as possible, but I don’t mean to denigrate or devalue brothers and sisters who are committed to other ways of communicating the Gospel. What a sad failure for the Church if we allowed the uniting message of the cross and crown of Christ to be the very thing that needlessly divides us.
M: I do think that it is important for us to press behind words and tribal terminology in order to truly understand what the other person is saying and I think it is fine to try and convert another brother or sister to your way of thinking provided you aren’t doing that in a disrespectful way – I think we should all be able to agree on that.
Let me switch gears here a little bit and ask you about Open Theism. I’ve heard many people say that Bruxy Cavey believes and teaches Open Theism – is that true?
B: No, I’m closer to classic Arminianism on this point, but as I often say, I’m open to Open Theism. Now maybe that fact alone is enough to disturb some Reformed Christians, but that’s the plain truth of it. I think it is important to explore ideas and test them against Scripture. I’m good friends with Greg Boyd, a proponent of Open Theism, and I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve rarely met a more Spirit-filled, Jesus-loving, biblically-committed person than Greg Boyd and I have really enjoyed our years of dialogue about Open Theism and other theological issues. So this may be a case of “guilty by association” which is not at all troublesome to me, because I’m happy to be associated with my friend Greg.
Questioning the theological status quo is what the first generation of Protestants did with ideas they had inherited from the Catholic Church. And Anabaptists went through the same process of questioning and challenging many Protestant assumptions, like infant baptism, the connection of Church and State, and the idea of Just War, all of which were embraced by both Catholics and Protestants. We only exist as a movement because we are open to the real possibility that long held beliefs within the Church might need significant correction.
Here is something worth helping our Protestant friends understand about us: most Anabaptists don’t just hold different theological tenants on some issues; we hold a different approach to theology all together than many Protestants. We don’t have a Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1647, or a Heidelberg Catechism of 1663, or a London Baptist Confession of 1689. These are bounded sets of theology that hold Protestant movements to a specific understanding and expression of what is orthodox. The closest thing in Anabaptism would be The Schleitheim Confession of 1527, and that is just 7 brief articles that focus mostly on Christian ethics, including a firm refusal to bear the sword in any and every situation.
Anabaptists are “stamped it, no erasies” sure and firm about Jesus as Lord and his call upon our lives to follow him and to teach one another to “obey everything I have commanded” as central to the process of discipleship (Matthew 28:28). But when it comes to the vast array of other theological issues, Anabaptists are more “centred set” than “bounded set” (an idea worth looking up if those phrases are new to people). So we don’t mind being theologically exploratory, as long as we’re exploring within the bounds of Scripture, doing it together (we have a strong “community hermeneutic”), and as long as desiring to know and follow Jesus better is the goal of it all.
M: What do you believe about hell? I know it’s a terrible topic, but it bears on how we share the Gospel and so I’m curious where you’ve landed on that.
B: You’re right, it is an important conversation, and we’ve taught our congregation about all views of hell in our services at The Meeting House. I think it would be fair to say that I align substantially with the position taken by John Stott, sometimes called “conditionalism,” although I’m not dogmatic on that and I try not to exclude other viewpoints. I believe in final judgement and in a very real experience of hell, but I also believe that eventually the unjust will perish (John 3:16), die (Romans 6:23), or be destroyed (Matthew 10:28). I tell my atheist friends that we both believe the same thing about their eternal future – eventual nothingness – but that Jesus offers them the hope of eternal life.
M: Alright, I want to shift gears here a little bit and talk about methodology. For the last 20 years I have thought of The Meeting House as a sort of younger, hipper version of Seeker Church. Ripped jeans instead of khakis, lattes instead of Maxwell House, Millennials instead of Baby Boomers – but otherwise, basically the model of church I abandoned in the 90’s. However in preparation for this series of articles I’ve been doing my research and you guys don’t quite fit my preconceived notion. You preach really long sermons and you quote an awful lot of Bible and you even use funny sounding Greek words – basically you do everything we were told not to do back in my Seeker Church days. And yet, you have great signage, colourful Children’s Ministry spaces, fantastic lighting, upscale coffee and a sound system that probably costs more than most church buildings – so help me understand what is going on over there; how would you describe The Meeting House model?
B: I’m glad you raised this issue. I hold the conviction that it is actually insulting to our non-Christian friends and family to think that they would be willing to change their entire worldview and life commitments, pick up their cross and follow Jesus, all because they finally found a church with better tasting lattes and snappier music packages. The truth about church style is this – it’s just style. And God can and does work through all kinds of styles. Over the years I’ve learned that traditional styled churches are not necessary legalistic, and contemporary styled churches are not necessarily shallow. At The Meeting House, our style reflects who we are and who we are here for. For instance, I often use movie clips as sermon illustrations in my teaching because I love movies. That’s me being me, not our church trying to be hip. I have long hair because my wife likes it this way, not because of some marketing strategy. We tend not to dress up for church because that reflects our theology of plain dress, putting a focus on dressing up our hearts with the fruit of the Spirit and our lives with the armour of God. And we meet primarily in neutral spaces (like community centres, movie theatres, renovated warehouses, and homes) which reflects our Anabaptist theology that the people are the church, and never any specific sacred structure. The earliest Anabaptists met in homes, barns, caves, and in the open air. Over time, homes became the default. Then when they build their first buildings specifically designated for corporate worship, they hesitated to call them churches, but instead called them “Meeting Houses” to remind them that the family is not the same thing as the house, and the Church is not the building.
When it comes to discipleship, we don’t have a separate “discipleship program” or “discipleship classes” because of our conviction that everything a church does should be geared toward making disciples. As for education and application, our Sunday service works in partnership with our weekly home churches. We sometimes say, “it’s the two-winged bird that flies,” meaning in our context that we want people to be fully engaged in Sunday services and mid-week home churches. It’s through our home churches, ideally, that many of the New Testament ideals of “church” really happen – Scripture study, fellowship, mutual encouragement, prayer, accountability, spiritual gifts, pastoral care, and also the practices of baptism and communion. The Bible study part of Home Church connects with the topic of the Sunday teaching that week, always with an emphasis on application. And, our Sunday sermon style is both exegetical and topical, depending on the series, teaching people how to use their Bibles in both capacities.
There was an older “seeker targeted” model of church that made Sunday services strictly about evangelism, and for richer discipleship believers had to attend an additional service or small group. At The Meeting House we believe it should be possible, even preferable, for believers and non-believers to learn alongside one another. Together we can better provoke one another toward spiritual growth in different ways – even just the questions that new believers and not yet believers bring help older Christians grow. And my sermons are better for it, knowing that I’m teaching believers for deeper discipleship but also explaining terms and concepts as we go for new Christians and not yet Christians. I want to shoot from both barrels when I teach (which I realize is a lousy analogy for a pacifist). We also include a “Q & Eh?” time in most of our Sunday services, which helps keep me on my toes and sets an example for believers and nonbelievers – questions are a valuable part of learning.
M: So everyone is on the same track learning together, Christians and non-Christians alike?
B: For the most part, yes. We believe that the best evangelistic tool in God’s hand is a well discipled believer – remembering that part of that discipleship will include me modeling evangelistic communication in Sunday sermons.
M: You mentioned a moment ago that a lot of your language and a lot of how you position yourself represents an intentional effort to reach unchurched people as opposed to dissatisfied Christians – tell me how that is working out in practice. Are you engaging successfully with unchurched people?
B: We’ve never been as successful at this as we would like. Over the years we have taken surveys to better discern what God is doing and how we can best partner with him and our stats suggest approximately 30 percent conversion growth with most of those people having some sort of Christian tradition in their background. Our goal now is to learn how to better communicate the gospel to people with zero Christian background, whether completely secular or coming out of a different religion.
M: Just to follow up on that, are you trying to be a church that will minister to these people over the course of their lives or are you just trying to be an on-ramp back into the wider evangelical world? Meaning, are you planning on discipling, say a Millennial convert, and then marrying them, baptizing their kids and doing their funerals or are you intending to reach the hard to reach and then to pass them off to more traditional churches?
B: We intend to be a full service, fully engaging, full life church. The feedback we receive suggests that long-time Christians continue to grow at our church, while together we reach out to share the gospel with new-and-non-believers. As the Roman philosopher Seneca said, “When we teach, we learn,” so having new believers around who need things explained to them doesn’t slow down the discipleship process for older believers – it enhances it.
M: Bruxy, I’d be curious to know how the polity works at The Meeting House. I’ve heard you talk before about your bishop so I’m assuming that things over there are a little bit different than they are in most evangelical churches. Tell me a little bit about how you do membership and how various leaders relate to each other over at The Meeting House.
B: I love this question! There is a perception (or misperception) of larger churches that they are all structured with a single, strong, alpha male leader at the top, someone who runs roughshod over everyone else as he imposes his vision and values. I don’t know how often this is the case, but we shouldn’t let that assumption blind us to the possibility that smaller churches can also be run by ego-driven alpha males whose leadership goes largely unchecked by others. Remember, most oppressive, pseudo-Christian cult groups start small, with a single unquestioned authoritarian leader. There are healthy and unhealthy versions of all sizes of churches. And that’s one reason why I want to be a champion for mutually submitted team leadership in all our churches. I cherish leading as part of a pastoral team and being submitted to that team. At The Meeting House we have reconfigured our leadership structure over the years as we’ve grown, but every version of it embeds me alongside and submitted to a team of pastors, overseers, and/or elders. In our current leadership structure, I am one of 3 senior pastors who shepherd different areas of church life in mutual submission, and we collectively submit to our overseers team, who represent various sites of The Meeting House.
And in addition, we are strongly submitted to the BIC (Be In Christ, formerly Brethren In Christ) Canada, a two hundred year old Anabaptist denomination, so my teaching is submitted to the scrutiny of my fellow pastors, my board, and my denomination. I never want to be, or want our church to be, a lone-ranger. Of course I can’t speak for all BIC leaders, but I am blessed to live as a submitted member of wider family that takes the time to know me and to love me, through correction as well as encouragement.
M: Tell me a little bit about how you do membership at the Meeting House.
B: We encourage our people to think of “membership” the way the New Testament writers thought of it – being a part of a local expression of the body of Christ. If someone is committed to Jesus as Lord, then they are a member of his body, and our church is one local expression of that. We have moved away from formal membership rosters and now invite people to show their membership in our church family through their commitment to things like baptism, serving, giving, and participation in church life, specifically through one of our home churches.
Having said that, we also put an emphasis on leadership, and our home church pastors (called “elders”) and ministry leaders (called “coordinators”) are the leaders who represent the congregation in business stuff and AGM voting. This, again, demonstrates our commitment to the plurality of leadership.
M: So practically speaking then, how many leaders and representatives are there relative to active attendees?
B: We have a few hundred serving leaders and about 5000-6000 weekly attendees, most of whom would consider themselves members of our church. All this is spread out over 18 sites and over 170 home churches.
M: So, let me ask you a practical question based on another one of those potential areas of conflict within the wider Christian neighbourhood. How do you handle the issue of same sex marriage and homosexuality with respect to membership and leadership in the church? Could a person in a same sex marriage be a member of The Meeting House? Could they lead a Home Church or be on staff?
B: No. We hold to a traditional understanding of what the Bible teaches about marriage. No surprises there. What makes us different and strange to some Christians is that we believe it is possible for good and godly Christians to disagree on this issue. True, some Christians embrace a progressive agenda out of a desire to be culturally relevant or because they see same sex marriage as a social justice issue first and a biblical issue second. They are following their heart, and if the Bible doesn’t support their conclusions, their heart wins. But there are other Christians who care deeply for being biblically aligned and genuinely believe that Scripture points toward same sex marriage being an accommodation that God might allow for such a time as this. I can disagree with them, but don’t have to conclude that they are not Christians because of our disagreement.
Let’s put this in perspective: I know you Reformed types think John Calvin was pretty special, but he supported the idea of killing people because of their unorthodox beliefs. I think he was deadly wrong and his position on sacred violence was sinful, horribly sinful, but I can still learn from him as a brother with a blind spot. (And don’t get me started on Luther!) I can have the grace to understand that Calvin’s significant blind spot was possibly due to his time and culture. So if we can be charitable with the Reformers, I hope more Christians can offer the same grace to fellow Christians today. In our time and culture, we should be able to disagree charitably with Christians we believe are not seeing clearly on a significant moral issue. How can we tell the difference between someone who is twisting Scripture to support their rebellion and someone who genuinely believes they are being biblical? Well, we can’t… from a distance. We need to get to know them, their thinking, their heart, and their fruit. And that’s done case by case, rather than writing off an entire group of people who hold a specific ethical or theological position. Church discipline is meant to be done locally, relationally, in submission to pastors who know their parishioners.
That’s one of the reasons why I so appreciate this dialogue between you and me, by the way. It’s amazing what we can learn about one another when we talk with the people we are used to talking about. We do well when we stop confusing acceptance with agreement, especially for those of us who agree about the central theme of our faith: Jesus is Lord.
M: I’d love to follow up on that if I could; you appeared in an online video apologizing to the gay community on behalf of the Christian community; did some people assume from that a change in your position on same sex marriage?
B: Yes, but I think that’s on them. My point was to apologize, as a theological conservative, for the unkind things fellow conservatives have said and the damaging attitudes we have sometimes portrayed. I feel a deep sense of sorrow for how so many gay people have been treated in our society – and in our churches – and I want to do better. The video only made sense because I was apologizing as a conservative, and I said so in the interview. There were two different cuts that made it online, and one might have been clearer than the other on this point, but if someone wanted to be publicly critical, it would have behooved them to do a little research first.
M: So a person in a same sex marriage or engaging in same sex activity could not be in leadership, say, leading a Home Church at The Meeting House?
B: Correct. Part of being a leader is representing the views of your church. A leader is by definition ready to represent, so we would say that if you are actively living in a way that contradicts our beliefs and values then you are welcome to be here and to learn with us and to grow with us but it would be disingenuous of us to appoint you as a leader and representative of our church. Leadership requires a greater degree of alignment.
By the way, this isn’t just about same sex relationships for us. We wouldn’t want someone in leadership who disagreed with us about the importance of believer’s baptism, or the nature of the Lord’s Supper, or a host of other distinctives, including if they lived contrary to our understanding of the peace teaching of Jesus. So we take this same stance with police officers and military personnel, for instance. Because we are part of the Peace Church tradition, it would be disingenuous of us to have police officers or military personnel representing us as leaders. In other words, if John Calvin were alive today and was unrepentant of his sinful support of violence in religious matters, he couldn’t be a leader at The Meeting House either, even though we would welcome him as an errant brother.
M: He couldn’t be a member of my church either because he hasn’t been baptized by immersion!
B: Hah. Maybe we should be investigating you!
M: That is quite probably true! But in all seriousness, you’re saying that a police officer or a soldier could not be the leader of a Home Church and could not serve as a leader in any formal sense?
B: That’s right. They are welcome to attend, to grow and to learn with us but they couldn’t honestly represent us or advocate for our beliefs and values. They have made a lifestyle choice that contradicts what we believe as a church.
M: Wow! You guys are really strict!
B: I know – surprise! (Big face, jazz hands.) You reformed guys seem way too liberal to us.
M: Shifting gears again Bruxy, you may or may not know that in my world there is a raging debate happening right now with respect to the value and costs associated with screen preaching. The preaching gift is a fairly rare gift and so there are churches who think that it makes sense to record a sermon from a gifted preacher and to show that at another campus at which a more pastoral type will be providing on the ground shepherding. Some folks think this is good stewardship. Other folks think this is a very unhelpful development because it contributes to a celebrity culture and it disembodies, as it were the preaching from the preacher. He becomes a voice on the screen instead of a person whose family you know and whose hand you can shake at the end of the service. Where do you stand on that because I am led to believe that you have been a pioneer in Canada in terms of the screen preaching model?
B: I share the same concerns, but I also believe that those concerns are not insurmountable. In fact, at The Meeting House our screen preaching has only worked because of our emphasis on Home Church and other relational expressions. Our Sunday services don’t bear the weight of being and doing everything we see the first-century church being and doing in the New Testament. I think the real essence of discipleship in any church happens when we turn our chairs to face one another rather than just showing up for a sermon on Sunday.
Each of our Sunday sites has their own pastor who is fully committed to that community. That pastor also teaches locally a few times each year. And every home church is shepherded by one or two elders within a home church leadership team who care for their little church. Whether or not an individual at The Meeting House has a meaningful one-on-one relationship with me as the Sunday teacher is less important given our discipleship model.
In fact, let’s be honest, even in a church where the teaching pastor is live and in person, once that church grows to over a couple of hundred people, it is sociologically impossible for everyone in attendance to be genuinely, authentically, relationally connected to that pastor. So in what sense are pastors of churches of, say, 300 people really doing pastoral care? They aren’t – they can’t! Something will break – the pastor’s marriage, mind, or ministry is going to suffer. Most often, the pastor feels the pressure to fake friendship well beyond normal human numerical capacity. This isn’t just true in really large churches; it’s as true in medium sized churches, and in fact, they may be less likely to realize it because they may still be functioning like a small church, where fellowship and accountability and personal encouragement can all happen on Sunday morning before, during, and after the service. There needs to be a way of breaking mid-sized and large churches down into smaller bite sized chunks, whether they hear their Sunday sermon on a screen or in person.
M: Bruxy, both of our movements are very young – in terms of demographics. My group is sometimes referred to as the YRR crowd – as in Young, Restless and Reformed. Your group is young as well. I think it would be fair to say these two groups represent the most vibrant and vital movements within the Canadian Christian scene – and yet they’ve come into existence at opposite ends of the old evangelical spectrum. Why is that? What do you see as being in common between these two groups and what would you say are the critical differences?
B: That’s a good question. I think that part of it has to do with the attraction of conviction and clarity. Conviction about everyone’s need for the good news of Jesus, and clarity about the Jesus we meet in the pages of Scripture. These are qualities I think our movements have in common. We’re tired of “business as usual” Christianity, and we attract people who share a passion for experiencing something better. There is a new generation that is tired of the mushy middle, who are either all in or all out. Both of our movements want to help them be all in for Jesus and his gospel, even if we land on different places along that evangelical spectrum.
M: I think you are absolutely right and I think that this only highlights the urgency of the present conversation.
B: Yes, agreed. I think we need to find a way to facilitate real conversation at the edges while celebrating the common things we hold at the centre. People who are attracted to conviction and clarity can come with a built-in problem – they like to fight. And that can be good if we fight alongside one another against the real enemy – the Accuser of the Brethren. It can be good if we fight for the same thing – a passionate oneness in Christ. You and I, representing our different Christian tribes, have things in common that should powerfully unite us. We both believe that “Jesus is Lord!” We both believe that people are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, who lived a perfect life and who died on the cross according to the Scriptures and who was raised again alive on the third day – that is the message of love and hope that we have in common and I think we have an opportunity to show the world that people from different sub-cultures and who have different styles and emphases can nevertheless consider each other family and can show a love that is bigger than tribal division and disagreement. There is nothing particularly noteworthy about a love that extends only to people that we agree with down to every minute detail – people in the same religion or political party can show that they get along when they agree about everything. But a love that is big enough to handle significant diversity and difference is very rare in this modern world, and I think, very attractive. One might even say that kind of love is miraculous. Perhaps that’s why Jesus considered this kind of unity-in-diversity the primary apologetic of the future Church in his John 17 prayer.
M: Amen. Bruxy, before I let you go, I think it would be appropriate for me to ask you if there is anything you think I’ve missed? Is there anything you would like me to pass on to folks in my world that I haven’t covered yet in my questions?
B: No… and yes. We both know there are a thousand and three conversations that could be on-going and tributaries that we could explore but given the current state of affairs I think you have done a great job of covering the most pressing questions from your camp’s point of view. And let me just say that I hope that this is the start of something, not the wrap up. I think we should do more “learning from” as opposed to “talking about” in the wider Christian world – and I think that goes both ways. I very much appreciate the attention to detail that you Reformed thinkers bring to the table, and your high view of Scripture, as well as your theological exactitude. We all have lots to learn!
M: Bruxy, once again, let me thank you for being so gracious and accommodating throughout the course of this dialogue. I have really enjoyed pressing behind the words and the terminology in order to understand what The Meeting House is all about and I look forward to continuing the conversation in the days ahead.
B: Thank you Paul and may God continue to bless you and the good work being done over at The Gospel Coalition Canada.
This series of articles has been an exercise in long form listening. I intend to take a few days to think and pray over what I’ve heard and then to write a follow up post providing my reflections and analysis.
God willing, I will have that ready a week from today and may God alone be glorified.
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes.