Harvard’s Conference on “Finding Our Way Forward”

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“Finding Our Way Forward” is the name of a two day conference held by the Harvard Divinity School in December of 2007.

The initial reason for taking notes and turning them into a blog is that they have three speakers at their event, and all three are included in my list of Net Prophets. Harvard has, in effect, ordained them prophets by inviting them to share their ideas on the future of the Church. So this first set of four videos introduces you to three “major prophets” of our present day.

The second reason is my conviction that the topic is a central one today, given the decline of the church in the west: Europe, in North America, and in other English speaking countries.

The third reason is that it is easier to get the gist in a written summary of a series of videos than trying to find out about them from the videos. Videos, by their nature, are not subject to scanning them easily to see what they are about.

Harvard Conference on the Progressive Church Dec 6-7, 2007 4 parts

“Finding Our Way Forward”
Panel members: Marcus Borg, Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass

Part 1 Opening Panel  with all three 1:29:52

Part 2  Brian McLaren and Diana Butler Bass  2:00:42

Part 3 Marcus Borg   56:07

Part 4  with all three 1:40:03

Part 1

Brian McLaren, who led off, said the title “Finding Our Way Forward” implied that we are lost. He laid out eight reasons for being lost:

1 Religious right in retreat so new day for evangelicals.
2 Mainline churches have lost their privileged status.
3 Among Roman Catholics a widespread fear. Clergy abuse, hierarchy cover-up, and Vatican II aborted.
4. Secular world awakened by faith in Secular City to be a failure.
5 America aware of loss of being the only one on the block.
6 The West: despair over the shift in way we think.
7 Global South struggles in finding positive way after end of colonialism.
8 Global struggle with depletion of the planet.

Marcus Borg: A new form of Christianity is being born in North America.

1 It is more about centering in God than in believing.
2 More about this life than the after life.
3 More about a way or path of transformation than about sin, guilt, forgiveness.
4 More about religious meaning of language than a literal, factual meaning of language
5 Tends to be more political progressive than politically conservative or indifferent.

Diana Butler Bass: prepared to focus on congregations covered in her study of 50 vital mainline churches found in her “Christianity for the Rest of Us”. In preparation for this, she as a historian selected three time pictures of the state of the churches in the last 40-50 years.

1 1954: the time of the high water mark of the churches. It was the height of the power and privilege of the church.
2 1976: Evangelicalism comes to the fore, time of Liberation Theology, every denomination brought out new hymnals and prayer books, women ordained. Energizing time.
3. Present moment.

Part 2 Brian McLaren: Three world coexisting on the planet.

  1. Pre-modern or non-modern world.
  2. Modern world.
  3. Post modern or Emerging world.
    Between 1 and 2 Christianity (and Islam) is exploding.
    In 2 a steady modern world, Christianity is declining.
    Where people are entering 3 Christianity is practically non-existent. No one has translated the faith to their thought forms. Two responses to modern atheism.
    Changing the substance of our faith:

1 What is theology: timeless propositions mined from Text? Or an ongoing creative enterprise. C S Lewis poem “A footnote to all prayer.”
2 Nature of the church: Not saving individual souls for heaven, but making disciples for the Kingdom of God. Place for making change agents.
3 Eschatology: what would it look like to be a church that is not looking forward to the destruction of our space-time universe? Change from a religion that makes changes in the first 3 hard to deal with.
4. New reason for reading the Bible. Foundationalism vs post-foundationalism.

Diana Butler Bass Mainline problem is less theological, more structural/organizational. Our structures inhibit change. Four steps in looking at organizations not succeeding.

Example of managed change: video of Church of the Epiphany, Wash D C. The difference is not in programs but in practices.

Part 3 Marcus Borg: Major changes underway in emerging congregations, which are communities of transformation.

Shift from communities of convention to communities of intention. Before the 1960s it was expected that most Americans would be members of churches. Beginning in 1960 that cracked and people began to join the church intentionally.

Second meaning of convention to intention: in first phase the churches were accommodated to and comfortable with being part of the culture around them- from the time of the Empire until recent times. Now, increasingly, churches are uncomfortable with and challenge systems of domination- the dominating system they find themselves in. Examples  slavery: when culture supported slavery, the church supported slavery, segregation, patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc.

Churches of the new paradigm are churches of transformation.

1 Churches are communities of Adult Christian Theological Re-education: About the most vital task for the revitalization of the church in our time.
Crucial need for two reasons:
A. For present members living out past realities. a form of Xty that was persuasive for generations is no longer so.Need re-education.
B. For new Christians coming into the church as adults. 20 somethings and 30 somethings have grown up outside the church. Don’t know Bible or tradition. 75 % of his students have had all but no connection with the church. Can’t assume everybody has grown up in Sunday School.

2. Needs to be about the big topics:
A Word God. Interventionist figure. Biblical understanding encompassing Spirit in whom we move and live and have our being.
B Bible content. Origin and authority. Interpreting. Single source of conflict in church.
We have been more clear about what we don’t believe. We have left the Bible to conservatives.

C Jesus,

D Prayer,     

E Christian life.

Way to go about education

Book reading groups

Video series LtQ as one.

Xn formation

Part 4 consisted of dialogue plus Q and As.

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