The Dishonest Church

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dishonest church largeThe conflict between an academic and a popular version of Christianity is the divide which exists between the clergy and the laity. It is his conviction that this divide threatens the “core of the church’s mission” and is a major cause of the loss of membership among the mainline Protestant churches. Jack Good has reached his judgement over a forty year period of serving as a pastor of The United Church of Christ.

It is the purpose of his book to describe and illuminate another style of faith which can bridge the divide between the academic and the popular. He calls it Progressive Christianity “which is the religion of scholars energized and refreshed until it becomes a lively faith for the masses.” He designates the pastor as the bridge over the divide and tells of his personal experience in this role.

Review & Commentary

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  1. Review

    It is the summary judgement of the author that mainline Protestant churches in the United States are dishonest because the clergy and laity do not acknowledge and deal creatively with a divide which exists between them. Clergy are trained in academic institutions which equip them with knowledge essential to communicating the message of the Church in the contemporary world. When they begin serving local churches, however, they do not challenge the laity by sharing their knowledge. They revert to the natural literalism of their childhood in order to develop a popular version of Christianity which will please. The conflict between an academic and a popular version of Christianity is the divide which exists between the clergy and the laity. It is his conviction that this divide threatens the “core of the church’s mission” and is a major cause of the loss of membership among the mainline Protestant churches. Jack Good has reached his judgement over a forty year period of serving as a pastor of The United Church of Christ.

    It is the purpose of his book to describe and illuminate another style of faith which can bridge the divide between the academic and the popular. He calls it Progressive Christianity “which is the religion of scholars energized and refreshed until it becomes a lively faith for the masses.” He designates the pastor as the bridge over the divide and tells of his personal experience in this role.

    If the pastor is to serve as a bridge, there must be clarity about honesty “to whom” and “about what.” The audience for honesty are people who are “chaos tolerant.” They are people who can live with some disorder and ambiguity, and want to be “partners in the exciting search for tentative but satisfying answers to the most pressing problems of existence.” The honest message is the Christian faith understood in “human context” which, in contrast to biblical literalism and theological dogmatism, recognizes ” the fingerprints of human kind on all religious documents and symbols.”

    The author then states that many pastors have fears of the laity which sets up resistance to establishing an honest relationship, thus perpetuating the divide between them. He offers guidelines for confronting the fears and moving toward affirmation. It is his experience that moving toward honesty is not without pain, but is endurable. He is convinced that the pastor is the key to easing the pain because , he/she can interpret both the faith world of the pastor and the faith world of the laity.

    There is a fascinating chapter entitled, “Jesus: Answer Man or Puzzle Maker.” The title points to a contrast between a Christianity which has been characterized as “individualistic self-serving redemptionism” and a Christianity which emphasizes “concern for others.” A dishonest church has made Jesus the answer man who appeals to “chaos intolerant” people who cannot live with some disorder and ambiguity and seek certainty. In contrast, the author sees Jesus as the “creator of puzzles” who “invited us to be part of a search – to accompany him on the way.”

    Then follows a chapter on God, in which the author uses the word Numen as an alternate way of pointing to the divine or the sacred, which avoids some of the unfortunate associations of the word ‘God,’ and points to the mystery of God. He writes, “Numen” refers to a “spiritual quality that permeates a space or a people.” It is his hope that his exploration will be helpful in stimulating ideas that are able to move us “beyond our childhood concepts of God.”

    The author concludes by pointing to some signs of hope where the divide between clergy and laity and between a staid faith and a searching faith is bridged. Major signs of hope are the interest of many people in a re-visioning of Christianity and the exploration of a new relationship between science and religion. Another sign of hope is the birth of organizations such as The Westar Institute, sponsor of The Jesus Seminar, The Center For Progressive Christianity, associated with the publication of this book, and Process and Faith Program of The Center for Process Studies of the Claremont School of Theology. And there are numerous local congregations dedicated to bridging the divide by being open and honest about the journey of faith in the twenty-first century.

    This book is a rich resource and a reliable guide for the journey!

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