Scott Kisker to United Theological Seminary

Just read it on Facebook.

Scott Kisker is joining the faculty at United Theological Seminary.

Great news for my school.

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Finding the market cross

Source: WikimediaIn his book Mainline or Methodist? Scott Kisker challenges the United Methodist Church to seek out the 21st century equivalent of the market cross.

In John Wesley’s day, the central market of the town was an open space where people came and went and congregated during their day. It was the place to buy food and other necessities. It was the place to gossip and share news. And it was the place where Methodist preachers would climb on the pedestal of the cross set up in the market and preach the good news.

The problem is that our world is so different from theirs. Folks in 1745 did not have cars or air conditioning or telephones or televisions or the Internet or text messages. They did not live in the suburbs or work in office parks. They had to get out in the open air on foot to do anything. They congregated in common spaces. We don’t even have common spaces anymore. About that only places we have that crowds gather are strictly controlled – sports stadiums, movie theaters, shopping malls.

If we had the boldness to “be more vile” like John Wesley, who would hear us?

Why did they throw rocks?

Scott Kisker on our mistaken understanding of evangelism and mission:

The assumption is that if we get our acts together, if we get our politics right, if we use the right business models, if we hire the right PR firm, if we do the right kind of motivation, we will solve our numbers problems. Mission becomes and exercise of noblesse oblige or of political coercion (however benevolent) in the name of God’s will for society. Evangelism gets reduced to technique, a “how to” cookbook to achieve a given result. The focus is on us. It assume we (privileged establishment people) have it in us to do what is expected of us. We don’t really need grace. It is, at root, heretical. Contemporary mainline Methodism has become Pelagian. (Mainline or Methodist?, p. 19)

This unacknowledged Pelagianism gets me thinking about the “offense” of preaching justification by grace alone.

I don’t know about you, but for a long time I could not figure out why that doctrine was considered controversial. I could not figure out why people threw rocks at John Wesley for preaching it.

How could people be angry by being told they don’t have to do anything to merit God’s favor? Isn’t that pretty much what we say all the time when we talk about how much God loves us? Why the anger?

My confusion comes because I do not understand what people heard then and still hear today.

Salvation by grace through faith means not only that I don’t have to do anything to be forgiven. It means I can’t do anything. All my efforts to be an upstanding citizen and a good church member are meaningless when it comes the most important issue in salvation. All my good deeds, all my offerings, all my prayers do not move the scales of God’s justice one fraction of a millimeter in my favor.

Being a honest citizen, a little league coach, and a member of the PTA have nothing at all to do with salvation. I cannot justify myself before God, no matter how hard I try to justify myself before my neighbor and my own guilty conscience.

I can only receive it from God. A broken spirit is the only offering I can bring to the altar. Faith that Jesus Christ went to the cross for me is my only claim.

This is a message good middle-class people like me would get mad about. What do you mean all my hours in the soup kitchen and serving on the finance committee don’t get me in the door? What do you mean my good manners and gentle nature don’t offset the rotting bones hidden inside this whitewashed tomb?

These days, I read a lot of words and hear thoughtful people talk about the need to make the gospel more accessible. I read people saying that people are put off by talk of sin and the cross. They say we need to repackage the message so people can hear it.

But I wonder if that is not just more Pelagianism. If we use the right words and the right metaphors, the offense of the cross will go away and people will come to Jesus. We have the power to do this. We don’t need the Holy Spirit to open people’s ears and eyes. We don’t need grace, just better communication technique, better packaging.

Will Willimon writes that preaching the gospel – the true gospel – is so offensive to the sensibilities of our world that it requires a miracle for it to be heard rightly. It takes God to the gospel to penetrate our defenses. I think that is what Wesley believed. I think that is what Kisker is saying in his book.