Monday, January 21, 2019

Book Review: Together: United Methodists of Temple, Tabernacle, and Table

Together: United Methodists of Temple, Tabernacle, and Table. Stanley R. Copeland and Scott Gilliland. 2018. 190 pages. [Source: Borrowed]

First sentence: "Where are we going?"

Together is a book specifically written to address controversial issues facing the United Methodist denomination--specifically in terms of the 'way forward' or future vision. Should the denomination stay united or be divided over issues of human sexuality? Should the denomination--as a whole--decide matters decisively or should local churches within the denomination be allowed to follow their consciences--to be as conservative, as moderate, or as liberal as they please? Can we all agree to disagree?

Two authors--both pastors at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church--argue that it is important to be united--to stay united.
Nothing you can make that can't be made
No one you can save that can't be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
It's easy
All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need ~ The Beatles
They argue that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are both fixed and free. In fact fixed and free is one of the mantras that is repeated--not only in this book but in the One Church Movement that they are advocating. But what does that mean exactly? Well, they use the example of how the Israelites had a FREE moving way to worship in the wilderness and a FIXED way to worship in the nation of Israel. Somehow the fact that one was made of cloth and one of stones is supposed to be a super-symbolic metaphor for how we are supposed to worship in the twenty-first century. I believe these three chapters showcase some mighty fine doublespeak.

God is God is God is God is God is God. God does not change, there is no fluctuation. He doesn't become more of this and less of that or more of that and less of this. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Israelites wandering in the desert weren't "free" to worship God as they saw fit. They weren't "free" to worship him on their own terms. They weren't "free" to reinterpret God's words to mean what they wanted them to mean. The rules and ceremonies regarding worship weren't more "fixed" and "absolute" and "determined" than they were in the desert. They weren't. The tabernacle was never a casual, free-and-easy, go-with-the-flow way to do church. One wasn't wearing jeans and flip-flops and the other wearing suit and tie. Both temple and tabernacle were holy and sacred, set apart. For at all times God was to be FEARED as the one, true God. God was holy, holy, holy no matter the outward appearance of the place of worship.

Sadly I am not even sure this is where the authors were going with all this "free" and "fixed" talk. Perhaps they are under the delusion that God is changeable and that he is changing all the time. Every single generation has the opportunity--the responsibility--to see where God is at now and what he's saying now. Where God was at ten generations ago--three generations ago--it doesn't matter. All that matters is what is God is saying now to you and me.

But the book goes beyond the "fixed" and "free" metaphor. That's only a tiny bit of what the book is about. The book is also about how we are to trust one another always. I am to trust that you are listening to the Holy Spirit in your life and you are to trust that I am listening to the Holy Spirit in my life. The same Spirit that is leading me to believe one way is also leading you to believe another way. But because we both love the same Jesus Christ it will all be okay. You are not to judge me and I am not to judge you. It doesn't really matter if we agree on this issue or that issue or even any issue so long as we agree that Jesus is great. The name of Jesus unites us all together and if there's one thing Jesus hates it's squabbling and fussing. Unity above all else. Love is all that matters.

Essentially the book seems to be arguing that there is no one right way to interpret any passage of Scripture. The Holy Spirit speaks to each one of us as individuals.

I can only imagine how much easier Paul's life would have been if he'd subscribed to this philosophy of doing church.

Hey brothers! How's it going?! I've been hearing some mighty strange stuff about you guys. But you know what? It's all good. All good, I tell you. No stress, no worries. Just sit back, relax, and keep rolling with the Spirit. Keep on keeping on! Aren't you glad that I'm no longer that judgmental guy who went around trying to force people to agree with me all the time?! But I've learned to relax and let go and let God! I'm cool, you're cool, we're all cool. Bye for now!

Paul could have avoided sending letters altogether and just sent postcards.

I won't address the issue of human sexuality here for the review. It's unnecessary. Their approach to interpreting any passage of Scripture--any practice or doctrine--is troubling enough without focusing in on one issue alone. The issue--as I see it--isn't about who you love or how you love.

It is simply this: what is truth? who determines truth? is truth absolute? is truth universal? does truth evolve and change? is truth determined person by person or by committee? who says what is true and what isn't true? is the Bible true? what do you mean if you say the Bible is true? do you mean my interpretation of the Bible is true and your interpretation of the Bible is false? do you mean that the Bible means exactly what God determines it means? do you mean that the meaning of the Bible changes, evolves, grows, expands over time as we do? do you read your interpretation into a passage? or do you draw your interpretation out of a passage? are you coming with a teachable spirit? are you willing to let the Spirit convict you--yes you--of sin? are you coming to the Bible looking to be justified? are you coming to the Bible looking for an argument? are you coming to the Bible with others in mind? are you looking for verses to shout at other people in arguments? are you willing to grow in the spirit even if it means countering culture? are you willing to let God be God? are you willing to allow that you may never understand or grasp God? is it up to us to keep the Word relevant? what is the gospel? what is sin? why did Jesus die? are we called to be holy? do doctrines ever matter?

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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