Thursday at the Festival

One of the most beneficial and enlightening aspects of attending the Festival of Homiletics is that you can begin to get a sense, not just of what individual pastors and scholars are thinking, but of what the general trends are.  Several themes are coalescing for me as the Festival winds down.

I had a tough decision this morning:  to hear Adam Hamilton or Craig Barnes.  I heard Adam Hamilton speak last year at a conference in Ohio, so I elected to hear Craig Barnes, President of Princeton Theological Seminary.

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His sermon title was, “You Are Not Whole, So What?”  He preached probably the most original sermon about the Garden of Eden story I have ever heard.  His thesis was this — All of us have “holes in our lives” – grief, anxiety, regret, worry, problems…we try our best to cope, but our “holes” keep us up at night.  We generally assume (and pray) that God will fill those holes.

But in the Garden of Eden (before the fall, when everything was just as God intended it to be), there was a tree of whose fruit Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat.  That tree was their “hole.”  They looked at it every day, and complained about it, ignoring all of the other beautiful trees with delicious fruit.

What if God does not intend for our lives to be without holes?

We spend our lives trying to make everything perfect for ourselves.  The perfect college, the perfect mate, the perfect job, the perfect house, etc.  Always striving, never satisfied.  We strive to make our churches perfect.  But look at the Bible and you see people whose lives were riddled with holes.  God used them.  God didn’t fill their holes, but God used them, and they served God, holes and all.

He ended with this:  “You can spend your life consumed with yearning or you can choose gratitude.  The garden where we live is pretty good.  It’s not perfect.  There’s something missing, but you don’t have to obsess about it.  Choose gratitude for a garden that is pretty good.”

Very interesting sermon.

Next up was a lecture by Craig Barnes:  “The Soul of the Preacher.”  Solid, grounded wise advice for all the preachers in the room, served up with a fabulous sense of humor and empathy.  We were told, “The most important thing you can do for your congregation is to care for your own soul.”  (Put your own oxygen mask on first.)  He identified habits/attitudes that are toxic to the pastor’s soul and those that are generative.  “Feed the sheep because you love the shepherd.”

This afternoon, a sermon and lecture by Brian McLaren on what is undoubtedly his next book.

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Sermon title?  “Good News!  Christianity Is Pregnant.”  Lecture title:  “Pregnancy as a Christian Future.”  He identifies these signs of pregnancy which he is observing:  flexibility to think and structure in new ways, creativity, realism, restlessness, dreaming, anticipation, and discomfort.

He sees three possible futures for Christianity:  continued contraction (decline), conservative resurgence (this will most certainly happen if there is another mass terrorism event on our soil), and pregnancy – resulting in a renaissance in theology and liturgy, a missional reorientation, a post-national identity, and a spiritual-social movement with new alliances.  Which future will we have?  The conservative resurgence might be out of our control, but we can choose the pregnancy option over the narrative of decline.

Here are a few of the “big ideas” McLaren is calling for:

a convergence of four groups of Christians:  socially engaged peace and ethnic churches, progressive and post evangelicals, missional mainliners,  and progressive Catholics;

a coming together of institutions, movements, and communities;

do away with seminary debt so that new pastors can be bold and unafraid;

if you’re a part of a vibrant, progressive church, let the world know about it;

just as we’re paying close attention to our preaching, we should pay even closer attention to what we’re teaching our children and youth.

One of his more provocative statements:  “The most powerful religious authority in the U.S. today is Fox News.”  (In other words, preachers are terrified of saying something that will alienate the parishioners who are adherents of the Fox opinions.)

Also:  “I once asked someone in the media why progressive Christians aren’t in the news.  Answer:  ‘Progressive Christians aren’t interesting or creative.  Westboro Baptist:  now that’s interesting.'”

He and Diana Butler Bass are both calling for more interfaith dialogue.  Create all kinds of new alliances – work together to solve the problems of humanity and the earth.  Consider savvy economic strategies for social change.

“The future of Christianity will be what its adherents make of it.”

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