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Friday, April 24, 2015

STEWARDSHIP: God’s Way of Recreating the World (Steve Kindle) -- Review by Bob Cornwall

STEWARDSHIP: God's Way of Recreating the World. (Topical Line Drives volume 18). By Steve Kindle. Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2015. 44 pages

Every Sunday in my church one of the Elders will invite the congregation to consider their stewardship responsibilities. They may speak of the need to support the ministries of the church (though conveniently most leave out the fact that the pastor is a major expenditure), and perhaps they will expand the definition of stewardship to include our gifts and talents. The latter are non-monetary gifts, but they still largely benefit the congregation. Each year, in the month of November we will conduct a stewardship campaign. Normally I will begin and end the season with a stewardship sermon. I will talk about money but perhaps other elements of stewardship as well. We preachers dread the season of stewardship, because most of us don’t like to talk about money. Perhaps that is due in large part to the fact that we are the predominate beneficiaries of these gifts (that’s not a problem, it just uncomfortable to talk about). But is this all there is to stewardship?

My friend and Disciples ministry colleague Steve Kindle suggests that stewardship has a much broader definition. The subtitle of this little book (just 35 pages of text that can be read in about 90 minutes) hints at the breadth of this broader definition. Stewardship has to do with “God’s way of recreating the world.” Stewardship, as a biblical concept, is guided by our prayer to do the will of God on earth as in heaven. While churches are struggling with budgets, declining membership, and identity questions, while individual Christians are seeking closer connections to God and each other, Steve suggests that “stewardship, comprehensively understood and applied, will lead a congregation and individual Christians out of these problems and into mature and effective relationships and significant ministry” (p. 3). The way to do this is to think globally, to think in terms of our relationship to God in the context of creation. Rather than being a program of the church, stewardship becomes our lifestyle.

One of the key elements in this presentation, which could be transformative if taken seriously, is the message of Jubilee. Jubilee is Jesus’ own calling, as laid out in Luke 4, which picks up on the message of Isaiah 61, which is rooted in Leviticus 25. Jubilee is call for justice that lifts up the poor, the captive, and the imprisoned.

While stewardship messages often focus on giving, including tithing, Steve turns this message on its head. The question is not how much to give, but how much to keep. Wealth in itself is not the problem, it is the way it is understood and used. Are we hoarders or are we givers? Do we put our trust in God or in that wealth? Part of this conversation is rooted in the question of community, and how we not only understand it but practice it. That is, congregations are not teaching stewardship as a way of life. Our problem is that our culture is so individualistic, that we find it difficult to be in true fellowship with each other. True stewardship, however, has as its goal the development of a sense of community where we live our lives for the sake of the other. Thus, “when life is lived this way, everyone wins, and so does the earth.” He writes further that when we base our decisions on how they affect others, from family to the earth itself, “life will be lived on its highest level” (p. 28). If we continue to see stewardship as simply a program designed to benefit the institution then it will not lead to transformation. But, if we change our focus, something amazing might happen.

The book doesn’t have chapters in the traditional sense, but there are discernible sections that move us along toward the goal of seeing stewardship in its fullness. It closes with a stewardship sermon that takes up the insights and principles developed in the book to that point, including the principle of jubilee. For those of us who believe that government has an important role in bringing fairness to the world, Steve reminds us that as Christians, Jubilee is not a government program developed by politicians. It is a life we are called to live as followers of Jesus.

So, what shall we make of this little book? Could engaging with its message be transformative? The only way to truly answer that is to read it in community and ask the question of how we can move from stewardship as a program of the church to a way of life that calls for us to join with God in recreating the world. With that in mind, I would recommend this book be read in community, perhaps a small group or a bible study setting. It could be useful for church leadership to read (as a Disciple I’m thinking of our Elders who are charged with teaching on stewardship on a weekly basis).

There is a further benefit to be gained from broadening our understanding of stewardship—to do so can help overcome the belief among so many outside the church that all churches are concerned about is money. The offering we take, while essential to the ongoing work of the congregation, is not just a way of taking donations. It is more precisely a symbolic way of expressing our corporate commitment to joining in God’s work of recreating the world. To truly understand stewardship in this way can be transformative for church and Christian both, not to mention the earth!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

From my publisher: "A Congregational Game-changer!"

My latest book is now available. It's on stewardship, but not about money! Check it out here: http://direct.energion.co/…/author…/steve-kindle/stewardship

If your congregation reduces stewardship to a few weeks before pledge Sunday, this book will help reorient your mission to partnering with God to recreate the world. Here's a little taste of it from the Introduction:

There is little disagreement that our world is as close to self-destruction as it has ever been, humanity included. It is unnecessary to list the wars, political conflicts, diseases, ecological disasters, and the like; we are all too familiar with a daily rehearsal of our plight. What there is little or no agreement on is the way out. How will we, as the human race, (homo sapiens, or “the wise humans”) find our way out of our mutually shared predicament and into a world of wholeness and abundance that the Hebrews named shalom? Is there any wisdom available to us that can lead the way?

Jews and Christians have at their disposal a wisdom that is comprehensive enough to meet the challenges of our time. We understand this wisdom to be a gift from God as we have received it through the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.  The only problem is that we have abandoned it long ago. At least we in the West have, who traded in our bountiful inheritance for a mess of meager pottage known as the consumerist society, and the promotion of the individual over the greater good for all.
This book is a challenge and an appeal. Its challenge is to reconnect with the ancient wisdom that first conceived of a world after God’s own heart. Its appeal is to take up the mission we pray so often, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  God’s will for God’s creation is not hidden or kept solely for the initiate. It is not beyond the ability of the lowliest disciple or too inconsequential for the highest. To rediscover and then implement our sapiential heritage is not only vital, it is our highest calling as humans, and the way out of our current and continuing crisis.
It's a quick two-hour read, and only $4.99. Let me know what you think, and if it would be good for a congregational study. http://direct.energion.co/…/author…/steve-kindle/stewardship


Monday, April 06, 2015

Blogger Bob Cornwall Reviews My Book

I'M RIGHT AND YOU'RE WRONG: Why we disagree about the Bible and what to do about it (Topical Line Drives Book 16) By Steve Kindle. Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2015. 44 pages. 

                Why are there so many different Christian denominations and sects?  The easy answer is that while Christians generally affirm the authority of the Bible they disagree among themselves as to the meaning and the application of that text. While Billy Graham would often declare that "the Bible says" in reference to something he was trying to say or prove. The fact is, whatever it was he was trying to say it reflected not what the Bible “says” but his interpretation of the words of the Bible. Issue after issue has come up through the centuries and Christians have appealed to the Bible against each other.  Paedobaptists (those who baptize infants) have their texts, while believer Baptists (those who baptize persons upon confession of faith) have their texts.  Since I’m part of a denomination that practices the later, I’m a bit biased toward the biblical defense of believer baptism.
So, why do we disagree?  We can’t we just all read the Bible and agree to its meaning and move on?  Life isn’t that easy—just look at the different ways in which Americans read the U.S. Constitution. If you think that the Supreme Court simply reads the Constitution and applies it as it was originally intended without any bias present, then you may find it difficult to understand why we have all these 5-4 decisions that tend to be decided along ideological/partisan lines.  What is true there is true of the Bible. 

Steve Kindle takes up the challenge of trying to make sense of all of this in a very brief book that comes in at forty-four pages. While Kindle can’t cover every issue, he does provide the starting point for an important conversation about how we have come to read the Bible the way we do and how we might have more fruitful conversations as Christians.  He does this in two ways.  First he briefly takes us on a historical journey through attempts to read and interpret the Bible, introducing us to Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, and more—all the way to the present.  He brings to the reader’s attention the various ways scripture has been read, from literal (face value) to allegorical methods. He also notes the development and influence of historical critical methodology. 
Having shared this history with us, he moves on to the question of why we so often disagree in our interpretations. With this he lifts up the question of world views.  Again he must do this briefly, but one’s world view will have important implications. Thus, if we accept an evolutionary understanding of the universe’s beginnings and development, including our own evolutionary development, then that will influence how we read and understand creation stories and texts, among other things. In this section he also notes theological starting points—from evangelical to progressive. Of course, these categories often breakdown when applied, but they give us a sense of theological foundations and the way they influence our readings.  Fundamentalists may read the Bible with a greater degree of flatness than progressives, who differ from liberals in that they may not be quite as committed to the dominant world view of the day.  Of course, there are Denominational differences to take into account.  Conservative Presbyterians and conservative Baptists will differ on certain issues, despite their conservative, even fundamentalist understandings.  The same would be true of liberals in both streams.
The final chapter addresses the important question of how we might address these differences in a way that will facilitate more conversation and better understanding.  The starting point here is humility and a willingness to listen to the other.  Steve writes:
Truly listening to each other is a difficult task because it makes us vulnerable. Listening at its heart is opening up oneself to the possibility of change. If we are not vulnerable, we are not really listening. Humility is the willingness to learn, the acknowledgement that not all is known, and the mark of a true disciple. [Kindle Locations 562-565].
If we start with humility, then the next step is to commit one’s self to reading the biblical story in its complete context. With this in mind, Kindle offers these suggestions as a guide to our conversations:

  •  Adopt a prayerful attitude of listening to scripture: you are the disciple, it is the teacher. 
  •  Be open to discovery: Don’t tell the Bible what’s there; discover it for yourself. 
  • Leave assumptions aside.   
  • Reserve your judgment: Hold your conclusions tentatively and mull them over for a period of time before camping on them.  (Kindle Locations 616-627). 
If we can keep in mind these guidelines, then the final thing is to agree to live together despite our disagreements.  It is easier, of course, to be part of a denomination or congregation where everyone agrees on everything, but that may mean missing out on important insights. Serving as I do a congregation that has a pretty wide array of views makes for an interesting life, but perhaps that is a healthy place to be. 
It is important, as Kindle makes clear, that we acknowledge our biases when we come to the text. If we can do that then we might be able to move forward in fruitful dialogue. That might not end the differences, but at least it might lead to understanding. It may also allow us to be more attentive to the text of Scripture and its implications for today.
Steve Kindle has done us a great favor by putting together this book.  It’s brief, as are the other books in this series (I’ve contributed three of my own to the series), which are designed to be under fifty pages in length. Because it is brief it doesn’t exhaust the topic. There is plenty of opportunity to explore these issues further.  That said, it is a good place to start.

In conclusion to this review, let me say that I’ve known Steve Kindle for more than a decade. We don’t agree on every issue, but we’ve had many fruitful conversations. We’ve wrestled with texts together, suggesting different ways of reading the text. Sometimes I’ve offered a convincing perspective, sometimes he has. Often we end up agreeing to disagree. Steve and I both started out in very conservative contexts – he among the conservative wing of the Churches of Christ, while I was a conservative evangelical/Pentecostal. We both moved left, though in some ways he’s moved further left than have I.  Both of us agree that we need to listen to a wide spectrum of views, even as we hold to our own deeply held convictions.  So, what Steve and I have done in our conversations down through the years, he is suggesting that others can do as well.  In the end, we do need each other. Take and read; you will be blessed as a result.