Tuesday, May 31, 2005

"Perfected Through Suffering"

I have neglected my blogging for several days. I am in the midst of continuing an online conversation with two of my summer classes, and this keeps me busy (along with everything else that life brings me on a day to day basis). Nevertheless, I promised a note on some ideas that Rubel Shelly and I kicked around in the month of May during a Wednesday evening series. I will, of course, be responsible for these musings and they do not necessarily represent my friend Rubel, though he has been a partner over many years in thinking about these things with me (beginning with his classes at Freed-Hardeman in the 1970s).

"Perfected through Suffering" takes its cue from homily addressed "to the Hebrews". Specifically, Hebrews 2:10, 5:8-10, and 12:2-3.

This could be understood in a couple of ways. For example, a primary meaning might be something of the value of suffering as a refining fire in our lives, or a maturing of our faith. Our faith is "perfected" (made whole, complete) through suffering. This would be consistent with a kind of "soul-making" theodicy (such as that made famous by John Hick). Suffering shapes us, and has the potential to shape us into better people.

However, I think if we simply abstract "perfection" in terms of "character development" or "spiritual maturation" we will miss the more fundamental point. If the only function of suffering is to make us better people or that is the primary role suffering has in the lives of God's people, then I want to protest. Can we not be matured in ways other than suffering? Cannot our character developed in more positive ways? Is suffering necessary for our perfection? I don't think so--at least not as originally conceived by God in the Garden. Shalom without suffering; conformation into the image of God without death--that was the experience of the Garden.

I think we have to go a bit deeper here. Certainly, suffering does have the fucntion of "perfecting" or "maturing" us. God does use it to bear the fruit of righteousness in our lives (Hebrews 12:11). But there is more and if we stay here, I think we will miss the real point.

"Perfected through suffering" is explicitly Christological. It is directly connected with the fact that Jesus is the "author" (pioneer, pathfinder, frontrunner, path-maker) of our salvation and "perfector" of our faith. He has run the course ahead of us, and has plowed the ground of our own faith.

Christologically, the Logos follows us into suffering. We created the suffering; we created this world. But the Son becomes one of us to share our suffering to experience it alongside of us. Jesus took on an Adamic (fallen) body in order to join us in our suffering. He embraces the suffering for our sakes in order to overcome it, defeat it and liberate us. We fell and he became fallen. We brought death and he followed us into the tomb. He pursued us into the grave, even the death on the cross.

But Jesus suffered and death in order to create a path out of the suffering. He followed us into the suffering in order to lead us out of it. He suffered so that he might bring others to glory. He leads captivity captive, and shows us the way (by plowing the ground ahead of us, by being our pathfinder, by pioneering the trail) to glory. He is perfected through suffering so that he might perfect us.

Here is the basic Christological root. Just as Jesus shared our suffering, so our suffering is sharing Jesus' suffering. We suffer with him just as he suffered with us. Our ministry (discipleship) is a sharing of the affliction of Jesus. We know the fellowhsip of his suffering. But we will also share his glory just as he shared our suffering as we also know the power of his resurrection (not just in the future, but even in the presnt).

To think about "perfected through suffering," then, is not simply to think about how we are made "better people" through suffering. Rather, it also to think Christologically--to view our own suffering as sharing the suffering of Christ who suffered with us and for us. It is to see with "Jesus' eyes" the path of suffering as a way to glory. We follow Jesus who has pioneered a path to glory for us and he invites us experience the glory through suffering just as he did.

More tomorrow....on the eschatological (both present and future) dimensions of "perfection through suffering."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Joy of Remembering

"Does remembering you son cause you pain?"

That is a tough question to answer. Yes and No. Yes, to relive some of the moments of hurt is painful. To relive the moment the doctor told us that Joshua was not going to get better. To relive the moment his body was carried from our house to the funeral home. Those are painful memories. To walk through them in my mind is to generate tears in my eyes.

But also, No. To remember how Barbara rocked Joshua in the "big chair" and sang to him is to remember her love for him and his bright smile, looking into her eyes. To remember his loud laugh is to remember the joy he brought into our lives. To remember how we cared for him is to remember how God loves the weak. To remember such things also generates tears, but different kinds of tears, tears of joy.

So, I want to remember. Even the painful memories remind me of the authentic hurt that is part of this world. But, more importantly, to remember is to give value to Joshua's life and remember how his life shaped me. To forget him would be to negate his value and existence. To remember him is to value him.

I am part of an ongoing small group of parents who have lost children. One of the things I hear often in that group is how they love to talk about their children, and how much it means for someone to ask about them. Too often people are afraid (and understandably so) to remember with us since they are fearful that we might be hurt by remembering.

But actually one of the greatest joys of a parent who has lost a child is from someone to remember their child. We need people to "remember with us," share with us about our children, and walk with us. We love to remember our children, but we don't want to burden you with our pain. We don't want to hurt you, or perhaps worse bore you. And that is why we react so openly when you want to talk about our children. We love to remember--it renews their value in our lives.

When you meet someone who has lost a child, I know it can be awkward as to what to say or do or how to react. Let me offer a few suggestions. Ask, "What is your child's name?" [Note: "is" not "was". Our children still live!] To name a child is to give identity, reality and value. That you want to know their name says something about how you care. Ask a question about the child--it shows you are interested. Be willing to listen as we remember, and don't change the subject. Share our joy, and perhaps also our pain.

Thanks for remembering with me. It may hurt a little to remember, but it would hurt more if no one remembered.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Remembering Yesterday but Enjoying Today

May 22 was also a difficult day. Sheila and I married on that day in 1977, twenty-eight years ago. It would have been our 28th anniversary. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to be married to the same woman for 28 years. I must admit that I envy those couples that have had such a life-long experience and see their children grow up in the Lord together.

But May 22 was also the day I attended my 18 year old daughter's bacculaurete service. She graduates from High School on Friday. Rachel is not Sheila's child, but mine through my second wife--Barbara. How can I mourn Sheila and at the same time rejoice in Rachel? I do both. It does not seem "logical" but I gave up a while back on our experience of joy, sorrow and God as "logical." I just live, experience, relish, lament, mourn, rejoice and express my feelings to God...whether joy or sorrow. He gives both and I experience both, and I trust both serve ends to which he is leading me.

So, yesterday, I mourned and I rejoiced; I lamented and I celebrated. It was a good day for a tear but also for a smile. Life is like that. We experience the "evil and the good"--and we continue our journey of faith into the life of God.

And life moves toward someone...it moves toward God. And we enjoy God's new gifts--like the new gift God gave me in 2002, Jennifer. Her love as been a means by which God has comforted my soul and cared for my wounds.

The journey will yet have bumps, wounds and hurts....every journey does. But God is walking alongside and also standing in the future drawing me toward the fullness of his Triune fellowship. The future is the reality where full joy, renewal and healing awaits. I long for it, but as long as today is today, I will yet rejoice in God's gifts in the present....knowing that they will be carried forward into the future, consummated and enriched.

Shalom, my friends.

John Mark

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Four Years Ago Today

May 21, 2001 is the day Joshua Mark Hicks "went home." The quotations marks have significant meaning because I don't think Joshua went home. Home is with me; home is in this creation. God created this world as our home and death is an alien invader that disrupts the shalom of this world. But I do acknowledge "home" in the sense that home is authentically home with God--dwelling with God in his dwelling place; sharing in the perichoresis of the divine fellowship as face-to-face communion. So, Joshua "went home." But he is not fully at home as yet since God's intent has not yet been fully wrought--home is the new heaven and new earth where all the saints share the fellowship of the Triune God and with each other. And I yearn for that home.

Especially today, May 21. Four years ago I watched my son breathe his last breath on my living room floor as he laid there on his pallet. It had been a long ordeal--over ten years of living with his terminal genetic condition. The last six years he was unable to voice whatever his mind may have been thinking. It is painful to hold your son, express your love and not be able to hear him reciprocate that love except by--and it was wonderful to hear--his cooing and smiling.

The last six years he was also in a wheelchair of some kind and basically confined to that chair or bed for the last two years. He withered away in front of our eyes; sixteen years old and 40 pounds when he died.

So, today is a reminder, a remembering and a groaning for the future. My Joshua--the one whom we thought would lead God's people--is "home". He now experiences the meaning of his name as I wait to experience the fullness of that salvation and be at "home" with him.

I have not written much about the death of my son, though I have often spoken of it in churches across the world. But that experience, along with the death of my father and first wife, Sheila, has shaped my theology in significant ways. I breathe eschatology because of those experiences, I suppose.

Indeed, Joshua's death (and subsequent tragic events following his death) shaped the writing of Come to the Table. I wish I had been more explicit about it in the book, and if I were to rewrite it now, I would stress the eschatological dimension much more. The paper I am presently writing, which will be published in a book by IVP, will supplement the book in this key dimension.

You see, every Sunday--and as often as I partake--I experience the table as eschatological presence. The worship is "heaven on earth" (as our Orthodox friends like to say), and the table is a table in the presence of the heavenly realities. Around the table, the Lord Jesus serves me and, most significantly, my son. There--as the eschaton breaks into the present--I experience the joy of being "at home" with my son...and with Dad, and Sheila, and Barry, and.... The table is truly a table of joy.

Tommorrow, the table (surrounded by friends and family) will transform even May 21 into a joy as I experience "home" with my son.

Thanks for listening. Shalom.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Ketcherside on the Lord's Supper

While doing some reading in Stone-Campbell literature for a paper I'm preparing, I ran into this comment from Carl Ketcherside.

"The Lord's Supper is a feast, not a sacrifice; it is observed at a table, not an altar; it is eaten, not offered up; it is a communion of a congregation of priests, not an oblation of priests for a congregation. Jesus did not tell the apostles when he ordained the feast "I appoint unto you an altar at which you may officiate," but he did say at that time "As my Father hath appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom" (Luke 22:30). The apostle Paul in connection with the teaching about the Lord's Supper, declares, "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons" (1 Cor. 10:21). We conclude then that the expression "Do this in remembrance of me" does not refer to official authority to sacrifice at an altar, but to the partaking at a festal board of those emblems of our Lord's sacrifice once for all."

Ketcherside, Royal Priesthood, chapter 14

Sounds something like a major thesis in a book a few years back.

John Franke at the Emergent Conference

John Franke, theology professor at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, PA, co-authored Beyond Foundationalism with Stan Grenz. He is a Reformed theologian who seeks to "do theology" as a postfoundationalist in a postmodern context. Biblical Theological Seminary is consciously seeking to be a theological institution for the emergent church in a Reformed tradition. All of their faculty were at the Emergent Conference in Nashville. While confessionally I would not go with Reformed theology in its Westminster variety (I am much closer to a classic Arminian in terms of historical categories), I am appreciative of Franke's work.

One of the dimensions that I particularly enjoy about Grenz and Franke is their theological method. The task of theology is not merely to repeat the Bible, but to say what we must say based on the Bible. Theology is an interpretative, reflective discipline which engages in "world construction" based on the "constituting narrative" of Scripture as it interacts with tradition and culture.

What do Christians construct in their theologial thinking? It is not merely the reduplication of biblical practices. Rather, I think Franke is correct to say that the church is called to co-create with God a socially constructed reality that anticipates the eschaton which fulfills the intent of God in creation which is participation in the divine life. Theology serves the church by critically reflecting on the engagement of Scripture, culture and tradition toward that constructive goal. But it is a goal that must be embodied. The communally (church) constructed reality is not theoretical but practical and lived out. The present community envisions, through Scripture, the eschatological reality. We want to live out in the present the reality of the future (eschaton). So, theologically, we seek to envision what the future would look like in the present.

For example, and this is an easy one, the eschatological reality is diverse cultures, languages, tongues gathered around the throne of God in worship. Should not the present community of faith embody the future eschatological reality now?

As we engage this project of theological reflection, we must recognize that we are limited in at least two significant ways. Franke draws on the Fordham philosopher Westphal for this particular approach (see his Overcoming Onto-Theology. First, we are limited by the "hermeneutics of finitude." We are all situated, limited. We are creatures, not the Creator. Our creatureliness means that we have inherent limitations that are inherent in creation itself. This is where I appreciate James Smith's book The Fall of Interpretation where he argues that our finitude is part of the goodness of creation, and it is part of be-ing as humans. This finitude results in a natural plurality and diversity that is good. Indeed, it was the tower of Babel which saw how "unity" reflects human idolatry and becomes the basis for the exercise of dominating power and control. I would argue that this finitude continues into the eschaton and that the journey of eternity is ever new because God is new every morning to us as well journey into the life of God. Metaphorically, we fall into the bottomless well of God as we enter his infinite life. The journey never ends and thus it is exciting, joyous, fruitful.

Second, we are limited by "hermeneutics of suspicion." This is part of our fallenness. Fallen humanity uses "knowledge" for power. The claim to "know" in an absolute way and to know absolutely becomes the basis for the exercise of power and control over against groups that don't "know." When we reflect on our fallenness, we should be suspicious of claims to "know." Yet, we are not left in utter skepticism or relativism because the Spirit of God is at work through Scripture (as well as tradition and culture).

The work of God in the midst of these limitations is to speak. The Spirit speaks through Scripture, through culture, and through tradition. Though fallen, the Spirit can speak through culture because culture can mediate the good creation as well as the fallen creation. There is always the danger that we will accomodate to fallen culture (e.g., theologians under Hitler), but there is also the possibility that God will work through culture as the image of God emergest within culture by the work of the Spirit. The same is true of tradition--which can be fallen or good.

Scripture has the unique position as a "norming norm." It takes a central role in the discernment of the work of God and constructing the social (communal) reality of faith. Scripture, as Spirit-speaking through the instrument of this document, guides this "world-constructing" act of the church. The Spirit appropriates the text in order to speak to the church. And it speaks to the church in its social and contextual location. The church, then, "peforms" the drama (story) of Scripture as it emerges in new contexts, and it uses tradition and culture as part of the interpretative matrix of knowing what it means to "peform" the story of God in the present.

That we "perform" the story (from the script of Scripture) in new contexts means, given the hermeneutics of finitude and suspicion, means we will have a plurality of performances. This plurality is legitimate and valued as long as it remains consistent with the trajectory of the story as given in Scripture and guided by tradition. To this extent, as in creation itself, plurality is expected, and indeed intended. As situated finite humans, no one person nor any one community can fully embody and fully bear witness to God. A pluraity of witnesses are needed.

Given the plurality and the limitations of our human condition, how do we assess "consistency" in relation to our performances? Here Franke follows Newbigin. Monocultural performance is dangerous since it locks us into one way of thinking about the story. We critique ourselves (our own specific community, and we know it better than any other because we are participants within it) when we listen to others tell the story in their context. In other words, cross-cultural interaction is one way of "checking" our performance. We need a global community of faith rather than simply a monocultural community. In cross-cultural dialogue we see ourselves more clearly. The plurality cross-checks each other and holds us accountable to performing the story.

If you have read Beyond Foundationalism most of this should sound familiar. And there is much more to bring into play here in order to fully illuminate the points made above (creation, humanity, missional church, etc.). If you want to pursue this more thoroughly in terms of theological method, you might want to read Franke's new book The Character of Theology published by Baker (due out shortly).

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Classes, Classes, and more Classes

I appreciate Ken's comment on my previous post. I will post as often as I can and when I have something of weight to say. Of course, what is "weighty" for one person is "shallow" to another.

I hope to post some reflections on the "Critical Concern" course I took with John Franke at the Emergent Conference here in Nashville. It was a wonderful dialogue--particularly since there were only five attendees at this session which gave us an opportunity to think together in significant ways. I will cut out some time to post on that tomorrow.

Today, however, I am catching up on some classes. This summer I am teaching three graduate courses this summer. This will be the first time that I have taught Systematic Theology as an online class. But I enjoy the dialogue of the online environment where everyone gets to speak more often and more fully than in a classroom context. I am also teaching Postmodern Theologies for Lipscomb University as well. This is the first time I have taught this course, and it is consuming lots of time with reading in the postmodern literature more fully than I ever have before. I find it fascinating, illuminating and stretching. I am also teaching one class for Harding Graduate School of Religion which meets in early June. I have taught Providence and Suffering several times. It is always stimulating both intellectually and existentially, but it is also gut-wrenching as we relive stories, think theologically about them, and seek ways to "weep with those who weep" but weep with hope.

So much of my time is consumed with these three topics, but they are also interconnected. I want to think theologically in a postmodern context, particularly as people encounter evil, injustice and tragic suffering in their journey of faith. So the three classes form a kind of unit for me and I fully anticipate learning, growing and being enriched by my journey through these topics with students/friends.

Rubel Shelly and I have taught the last few Wednesdays together on the topic of "perfected through suffering." When I have opportunity, I will post something about what our discussion has been like.


John Mark

Monday, May 16, 2005

Emergent Conference

Tomorrow and the next day I will attend a "critical concern" pre-session of the Emergent Conference here in Nashville. I chose the one led by Stan Grenz, but due to his untimely death, John Franke will lead the discussion.

Grenz's death was a blow to postevangelicalism and the future of postmodern theology in an Evangelical mode. I have learned from Grenz since the late 1980s when I began to read his material, including his dissertation on the Puritan Isaac Backus. We will miss his insight. While, of course, not in agreement with everything Grenz wrote (who would agree with everything anyone wrote?), his theological leadership over the past ten years has been quite fruitful in my own life and thinking. I will continue to use his work in my theology classes for many years to come.

Nevertheless, John Franke is an equally gifted theologian and I look forward to spending time with him. He writes in the vein of a "postmodern Reformed" which runs parallel with my own training (though not necessarily my own particular theology). Consequently, much of his language, concerns, and interests are mine. It should be an interesting eight hours with him tomorrow and the next day.

I also spent this morning and early afternoon with a good group of ministers in Churches of Christ in the Nashville area. While probably most would see them as "moderate to conservative" (and perhaps see themselves that way), I enjoyed our time together. Their heart for Jesus, their concern for their people and their love for each other was evident. I thank God for these devoted ministers. May God bless their ministries.

Shalom, my friends

Sunday, May 15, 2005

One of My Favorite Texts: Isaiah 25

I had the joy of sharing one of my favorite texts with the Wisdom class at Woodmont Hills this morning. I love Isaiah 25. It excites me everytime I read it...and for several reasons.

While Isaiah 13-24 rehearses God's "woes" toward all nations due to their arrogance, injustice and evil, Isaiah 25 (actually beginning with the last verse of Isaiah 24) envisions the reign of God that (1) provides shelter for the poor and needy and (2) trumps death for all peoples and all nations. Mt. Zion, the center of God's reign in the earth, will be the place of a great feast. God will feed the poor and needy, establish justice upon the earth, and destroy death.

NT writers read this text eschatologically. They take us to the future where death will be swallowed up (1 Corinthians 15) and every tear will be wiped away (Revelation 7, 21). It is the Messianic banquet fully realized though we participate in it every time Jesus breaks bread with us at his table (Luke 13:28-30; 22:16, 18, 28-30).

So, the text does two things for me in the present, at least two things. It fills me with eschatological hope--but also eschatological presence. The eschaton is present now. We eat at a table with Jesus, the risen one. His presence brings the future into the present. I imagine (and it is a spiritual reality rather than pure imagination) sitting at the table not only with Jesus, but with Sheila, Joshua, Dad among others. The table is a present eschatological experience. The table is existential--now...the past and the future united and transformed with a vision of the fullness of God's kingdom.

But the text does more as well. It calls me to more. The table and the divine act that enables the table are oriented toward the poor and needy. The table is about justice, about social justice. The table is for the poor and needy, and it is God's act of kingdom righteousness that a table is spread for them. To sit at this table is to commit oneself to that kingdom justice. We cannot sit at the table of the Lord and exclude or excuse ourselves from the poor, needy and injustice of the world. The table is not a place where we hide from the world's evil and injustice, but where we practice justice and call each other to kingdom righteousness.

God spreads a table for the poor and needy. He uproots the rich and powerful. Which does our church table look like? Is our table one of wealth and priviledge, of power and nationalism? Is our table where we insolate ourselves from the poor and needy as we pretend there is no injustice in the land? If so, it is not the table of the Lord, and we are no better situated than the Corinthians whose own culture cloaked their table.

Isaiah 25 is a word of hope. It is a word that names the death of death. But it is also a word that calls us to justice for the poor and needy. At the table we celebrate the death of death but we also seek the kingdom of God and his justice.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Further Perspectives on "A Christian Affirmation"

Permit me a few more perspectives on the "Affirmation"and then I will let it go unless asked to comment further.....

I may be politically naive -- and there may good reason to think that of me -- but I did not see affirming the statement as somehow a negative statement about the 2006 healing initiatives with the Christian Church/Churches of Christ. It is rather discouraging to me to hear it set in that framework or read in that way. I am a supporter of the initiatives, and have a long history of support. I offer the following list, not to display my ego, but to signal that I pursue such initiatives in both word and deed.

a. I have long participated in the Stone-Campbell session of the Evangelical Theological Society along with my Christian Church brothers, and this fall will present a paper on the theology of the Lord's Supper.

b. I have published with College Press (e.g., Yet Will I Trust Him), and have written the commentary on Chronicles in the College Press Commentary Series.

c. I have participated in unity meetings from the Restoration Forums to local gatherings of ministers across the country. Indeed, this summer I will speak at some unity fellowship gatherings in Hawaii (I know, its a tough gig, but for the sake of unity...).

d. I support STADIA's efforts to plant churches across the country, have participated in some of their seminars, and help recruit church planters for them.

e. I have spoken and will speak in 2006 at the North American Convention.

f. I am on the editorial board of the Stone-Campbell Journal.

I don't think to affirm some ancient practices as viable ways to the future is necessarily antagonistic to those efforts of healing. The context of the affirmation was "The Christian Chronicle" not the "Christian Standard", that is, directed at Churches of Christ, not Baptists, Christian Church, etc. I signed it as an affirmation of our historic practices without seeking to deny or discourage more basic fellowship among Christians.

A cappella music, of course, is the weakest part of the document, and it should not (and cannot) stand on the same explicit theological grounds that baptism and the Lord's Supper do. I wish the document were more explicit about that, but again the context of the document is historic practices among Churches of Christ. And as our historic practices go, a cappella is one of them. I think most, if not all, the signers recognize this. Whether you agree with Jeff Peterson's theological/biblical rationale or not for a cappella music, you cannot miss that he does not put that rationale on the same level as other theological concerns. I wish, however, that had been clear in the Affirmation itself.

I am appreciative of Leroy Garrett's critique of the Affirmation. I am appreciative of his years of ministry and service to Churches of Christ for the cause of unity. But I think he misreads the Affirmation as drawing lines of fellowship rather than an affirmation of historic practices that are part of the dialogue toward the visible unity that is already spiritually present in and through Christ. It think he is also a bit too charitable with Campbell, for example. Campbell himself had as a standard of visible fellowship within the body of Christ, that is, his call for faith in one fact, baptism as one act, and the communal fellowship of the church on one day--"one fact, one act, one day". But I agree with Leroy that the confession of the one story of God in Christ and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is the core affirmation of the Christian faith. I don't read the Affirmation as a substitute for that. See also Jeff Peterson's response to Garrett's critique.

I will close with this. I affirm the practices of which the Affirmation speaks. I affirm them as means of grace for the people of God. They are practices which form us spiritually as a community. But I do not affirm them in ways that would hinder discussion or dialogue with people who also seek Jesus through the story we have been given.

Thanks for reading. Shalom,

John Mark

Friday, May 13, 2005

Concerning "A Christian Affirmation"

"A Christian Affirmation” is an occasional rather than comprehensive statement that affirms some traditional distinctives of Churches of Christ. I wish it contained more –and even more basic – affirmations (theology, Christology, pneumatology, discipleship, eschatology), but its limited scope (at least as I read it) is to affirm some traditional ecclesiological distinctives within the historic tradition of Churches of Christ.

While I do not understand all the possible contexts for the occasion of this document, the occasion I perceived was the potential loss of theological meaning attached to some of the historic practices of baptism, Lord's Supper and a cappella music among Churches of Christ.

If the document is read as giving equal weight to baptism, Lord’s Supper and a cappella music in terms of fellowship or soteriology, I think this would be a misreading of my intent in signing it. It is an understandable reading given that the document does not articulate any such distinctions. But I read the “Affirmation” in terms of our historic tradition rather than a flattening of theological values to the same level. The three are part of our history, but they do not have the same significance or importance theologically.

It concerns me greatly if the document is read as a litmus test of fellowship or if it is read as the “essence” of Christianity. It is neither in my estimation. Rather, it expresses conviction about three ecclesiological practices in terms of their importance to Churches of Christ and their rootage in early Christianity. Immersion for the remission of sins, weekly communion in the Lord’s Supper and a cappella music are historic practices not only of Churches of Christ, but of the ancient church as well.

I signed it because of what it affirms. I did not sign it as a document that sets the parameters of Christian fellowship or to hinder some of the healing initiatives with the Christian Church/Churches of Christ. Nor did I sign it as a document that affirms what is most important within the Christian faith or equalizes what it affirms. I am supportive of the "Affirmation" only to the degree that it encourages our historic practices of immersion as a means of grace, the centrality of weekly table, and the theological meaningfulness of a cappella music.

One further comment in the light of the many bloggers that have commented on the "Affirmation" (see, for example, Jimmy Shaw's blog). On the one hand, I embrace the move toward missional orientation, encourage the deepening of pietistic spiritual formation, move theologically in the circles of postmodern Evangelicalism (Grenz, Olsen, Francke, for example), and appreciate much of the concerns of the Emergent Church movement. On the other hand, I also appreciate the "Ancient-Future" dimension of Webber's work, and I see this statement as moving in that orbit for Churches of Christ. I don't think the statement is necessarily antagonistic to the first, but is expressive of the second. Can a signer live in both worlds? I think so, and I do.

I would see myself as affirming something of what Webber affirms--that is, the way to the Future is through the Ancient. But in affirming the Ancient, it does not discount the Future. Indeed, even the elements affirmed in this statement are affirmed at a basic level that leaves much for the Future to build on. How we experience Lord's Supper, for example, is subject to wide practices--small groups to assemblies, tables to prayer groups, etc. It simply affirms some continuities with the Ancient that are important or significant for the Future--they give connection to the heritage of the faith, and specifically Churches of Christ as well (though I would emphasize Ancient as well as Churches of Christ [who are definitively more modern in their practice of the Ancient faith]).

I believe the Future is open to diverse thinking and practices, but the Future should also convey the Ancient in continuity with the faith of all ages.

I don't think "original design" or "norm" are inconsistent with translating into "modern terms." There can be modern expressions and postmodern (emergent) expressions of "original design" and "norm." I would locate those in theological values more than any kind of "Command, Example, Inference" hermeneutic. But Scripture, nevertheless, functions a as a "norm that norms" (as Grenz and Franke are in the habit of reminding us). This is the "Ancient" dimension that the "Affirmation" affirms and is worth consideration.