Book Review: The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World


As communities of faith continue to worry about the latest demographic studies documenting the decline of Christianity in the U.S., I’d like to call attention to Derek Penwell’s book, The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World (Chalice Press, 2014). While valued institutions may very well be declining, Penwell helps us see that this actually harbors the potential to provide an opportunity for churches to consider valuing the call of Christ over and above the call of Christendom, which is something that has been lacking in the churches for far too long.

Here is the review I did for Encounter magazine:

It’s no secret that Christian congregations and organizations have long measured their institutional health and vitality based on numbers, particularly in regard to members and finances. As such, success in ministry is frequently understood in terms that are quite similar to the consumeristic market-driven economy that in many respects is viewed as more sovereign than Calvin’s God, leading more and more scholars to assert that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world – atomically, biologically, chemically, etc. – than to imagine an alternative to the consumeristic market-driven economy in which we (and our churches) live and move and have our being. 

However, Derek Penwell refuses to play by these rules, and his book shows that churches can (and should) refuse to play by them as well.

Penwell begins in familiar territory, citing various statistics related to mainline denominational decline that in one form or another have been voiced for over two decades, the affects of which culminate in what he calls a “vortex of doom” that leads congregants and pastors to feel “mounting anxiety about the prospect of failure.” But instead of allowing such fears to consume congregations, Penwell changes the conversation: “The prospect of death need not necessarily imprison us; it could, if we were able to shift our thinking, liberate us.”

It is precisely here that we begin to see that Penwell isn’t interested in the typical remedies for so-called “revitalization” that have become a dime a dozen in the mainline publishing market, remedies which in sum generally offer little more than the peddling of snake oil to desperate congregations that are much more interested in renewing a mythic past than in moving into a transformational – albeit risky and uncertain – future. Perhaps surprisingly, Penwell doesn’t offer a clear and concise remedy at all. Rather, he invites churches to risk, to leap, to fail, and to do so by embracing the heart of the Christian story, for “the gospel is first about failure and death—because it’s only losers and corpses who’ve got nothing left to lose.”

Instead of primarily worrying about typical market-related signifiers, which lead congregations to constantly want a return on their investment (e.g., new members, young families, additional pledges, etc.), Penwell challenges churches to focus on the gospel as a gift to the world – a gift which, as Aquinas describes, “is literally a giving that can have no return.” Penwell’s approach to congregational faithfulness is reminiscent of St. Paul’s notion of kenosis, in which Christ empties himself for the sake of others.

To be sure, Penwell affirms, it would be nice for congregations to experience new life in the process. But the point is not to do what is right for the payoff; the point is to do what is right out of faithfulness to the gospel, no matter what the return might be. And in a world that is constantly trying to manipulate people in order to get something out of them, such faithfulness just might bring with it signs of resurrection.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Brentwood Christian Church & the Supreme Court Ruling on Gay Marriage

Originally posted on Brentwood Christian Church:

Two hands creating a heart
As those of us around the country await the Supreme Court’s ruling that could potentially legalize same-sex marriage nationwide (same-sex marriage isn’t currently legal in Missouri), the General Board of Brentwood Christian Church, at its meeting on May 4, 2015, officially gave its approval for same-sex weddings to be celebrated in our sanctuary. As an open and affirming congregation, Brentwood has consistently expressed its support for equal rights, and the Board wanted to explicitly state that this includes celebrating same-sex weddings as well, in the same manner that might apply to any other wedding viewed as sacred in the eyes of God.

View original

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Violence, fire, and fear: What is our responsibility?

Originally posted on Center for Diversity & Reconciliation:

By Cory Goode

At the time that I sat down to write this letter, the streets of Baltimore were being swallowed up by waves of violence, fire, and fear. Anger and frustration have again reached their boiling points following the death of Freddie Gray. A city—a community—is seeking answers as to what caused the injuries that led to Gray’s death while he was in police custody.

Earlier this morning, a friend shared the following quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., on her Facebook profile.

“It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I…

View original 275 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Reflections on Springfield’s nondiscrimination ordinance repeal (via Al-Jazeera America interview)

Here’s a link to the interview I did with Al-Jazeera America related to the repeal of Springfield’s nondiscrimination ordinance. This story was also picked up by the New York Times & Time.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Fact Check on Question 1: Ten Things You Need to Know


 In what will likely be my last post related to Question 1, which appears on Tuesday’s ballot in Springfield, I simply want to clarify a lot of the rhetoric that is going around Springfield right now, in large part because there is a lot of misinformation out there. (For those of you outside of Springfield, Question 1 asks Springfield voters if they wish to repeal the nondiscrimination ordinance that adds protections related to sexual orientation and gender identity.)

1. Fact: If voters choose not to repeal the non-discrimination ordinance, bathroom and/or locker room predators and all who invade the privacy of others will still be breaking the law. “The ordinance does not make any changes around criminal conduct. Criminal conduct will continue to be prosecuted.”[1] As such, “Anyone who tries to enter a woman’s restroom to harm, harass or invade the privacy of people will still be subject to arrest and prosecution.” In addition, among the 200 or so cities across the country (including 14 in Missouri) who have successfully implemented these kinds of laws, there has been no increase in public safety incidents.[2] “All the evidence suggests an assault or crime of some nature is highly unlikely because of the ordinance.”[3]

2. Fact: Religious organizations are exempt from this bill. As Springfield’s city attorney Dan Wichmer recently clarified, in contrast to what some religious leaders have mistakenly argued, “there’s explicit religious exemption for employment, for anybody that works for a religious entity or works for a religiously affiliated entity.”[4][5] Furthermore, “Religious institutions are exempt from all nondiscrimination laws–they can choose to hire and fire whoever they want despite race, creed, sex, handicap, age, national origin and ancestry.”[6]

3. Fact: Businesses will not be forced to hire lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender employees, and landlords will not be forced to rent to them.[7] Furthermore, this ordinance does not require businesses to provide services that are in conflict with their values for reasons unrelated to age, race, creed, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, or ancestry, sexual orientation or gender identity, nor does it require any employer to hire someone or to grant preferential treatment to any individual or to any group because of age, race, creed, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, or ancestry, sexual orientation or gender identity. It only provides protections related to employment (e.g., a person can’t be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity), public accommodations (e.g., a person can’t be kicked out of a restaurant because of their sexual orientation or gender identity), and housing (e.g., a person can’t be evicted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity). A business cannot be forced to close in any way whatsoever based on this ordinance.[8][9][10] An extended quote by one scholar commenting on federal law helps clarify this matter:

Businesses are free to discriminate for all kinds of reasons: you’re not wearing a coat and tie; the portraits you propose offend the photographer’s artistic sensibility, [etc.]…

Why is one kind of discrimination OK and the other is not?

It’s because we have a whole slew of federal and state laws that explicitly say that in public commerce, employment, and housing you can’t discriminate based on race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.

This list is not just randomly created to describe the glorious diversity of the human race.

Each of these categories is explicitly named because there’s an actual awful history of discrimination in commerce, employment, and housing for these specific reasons.

There’s also a long, tragic, brutal history of people losing jobs, housing, service, physical safety, and even life itself because someone else thought they were gay, lesbian, or transgender. So it’s not surprising that the federal government and a number of states and municipalities have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of categories explicitly protected against discrimination in commerce, employment, housing, and government services.[11]

4. Fact: The Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights DOES NOT have investigatory powers related to this ordinance in any way whatsoever, including search and seizure of any kind. To again quote Springfield City Attorney Dan Wichmer, this ordinance makes “the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights explicitly advisory.”[12]

5. Fact: Numerous cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity exist, but because there is no law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, there’s no way of documenting it in a court of law. Documented cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity are not on record in local courts of law because there is currently no law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.[13]

6. Fact: Pastors can still teach whatever they wish to teach about the Bible. “No ordinance restricts free speech for a pastor.”[14]

7. Fact: This ordinance has absolutely nothing to do with gay marriage. And even if it did, clergy members are free not to perform weddings that conflict with their values.[15][16]

8. Fact: This ordinance will not affect public school curriculum whatsoever. “Public school curricula is determined by the local school district. Private schools retain full control of their curricula. City ordinances do not have jurisdiction in the school system.”[17]

9. Fact: This ordinance does not provide extra rights for people who are gay or transgender. According to Missouri State University constitutional law expert, Dr. Kevin Pybas, “Opponents of the anti-discrimination ordinance want to cast it as special rights that gays and lesbians are getting something others don’t get, but that’s hardly the case.”[18]

10. Fact: No one will lose their constitutional right to freedom of speech. When it comes to legality, Dr. Pybas notes, this ordinance “is in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.”[19]

Lastly, it’s important to keep in mind that Question 1 on the Tuesday ballot asks whether or not Springfield shall repeal the ordinance. Therefore, a “yes” vote is for repeal, while a “no” vote is for upholding the ordinance.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Celebrate Easter at Brentwood Christian Church

Originally posted on Brentwood Christian Church:

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all darkness.” – Desmond Tutu

Traditional Worship – 9:00 a.m. in the sanctuary
Contemporary Worship – 10:00 a.m. in the downstairs Fellowship Hall
Progressive Worship – 11:00 a.m. in the sanctuary

The annual Children’s Easter Egg Hunt will begin at 10:00 a.m. in the west end of the building (rain or shine).

We are proud to be an open and affirming Disciples of Christ congregation that celebrates the dignity, equality and beauty at the heart of Christ’s unconditional love. Jesus didn’t exclude people, and neither do we.

View original

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Memory Eternal: Marcus Borg

Originally posted on WIT:

Marcus Borg Marcus Borg (1942-2015)

Today I attended the memorial service for the New Testament scholar Marcus Borg.  It was one of the most beautiful and moving celebrations of the life and death of a person I have ever been privileged to witness.  I have never experienced such a tangible sense shared love and joy.

I have never actually met Marcus Borg, but for the last few years, I have been regularly attending and teaching in the church where Marcus was appointed as a Canon Theologian, and Marianne Borg served as a priest for many years.  They both left and retired to their home in Eastern Oregon before I arrived, but the impression of their presence remains.  I cannot possibly count the number of times I have heard someone in this parish say, “Marcus allowed me to be a Christian again,” or “Marcus’s work was such a…

View original 1,139 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized