...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Is consensus truly possible?

This is largely inspired from a couple of posts over at Daniel's Neothelogue. One of his textbooks presents a method of determining Christian orthodoxy which uses the following definition of "Tradition": the consensus beliefs held in common by the early church fathers and the Reformers of the sixteenth century as expressed in common by the ecumenical creeds and Reformation confessions of faith.

On the whole, this is a pretty good definition of how Protestantism understands tradition. It is probably only absent a caveat about it being subject to Scripture and a good definition of "early fathers" (the cut-off date for acceptability could have massive implications for our theology). But the more I think about this, the more I think that this is actually an impossibility. There is no way to reconcile Patristic thought with the ideals of the Reformation. I say this as someone not intimately familiar with either, but I probably know just enough to be dangerous - so if I err in some regard, please correct me. And my full thoughts on this will probably take a few posts to explore, so bear with me.

Now, it may be possible to reconcile Reformation thought (RT) with particular Fathers, or Patristic thought (PT) with a specific Reformer. For instance, I know that Luther did not start out with the intention of splitting from the Roman Catholic Church, only correcting it. It is possible that within the time-frame he was still seeking reform from within the Church, his thinking was well in-line with PT. I have not read much Luther, so I honestly cannot say. And, of course, many of the Calvinists I have come across tend to look back to Augustine as support the antiquity of their theology, but if Augustine actually does agree with Calvinism (a point on which I remain skeptical), I dare say that it is an aberration in PT. If time permits, I will try to get into some direct comparisons between some Patristic authors and Reformation confessions to flesh this point out.

So why is a consensus impossible to achieve between PT and RT? Quite simply, in answering the question of orthodoxy, they are guided by 2 principles that are alien and antithetical to each other. In the Patristic witness, what is the norm and source of orthodoxy? The Church as she lives in faithful adherence to the Apostolic Tradition, which contains the Bible, and the Ecumenical Councils. An individual believer is called to obediently participate in that life, submitting to the Church in all areas of dogma & theology. In the Reformation ideal, what is the norm and source of orthodoxy? The Bible (sola Scriptura), guided by reason and tradition (though what exactly this tradition is may be a matter of some dispute). The individual believer is called to evaluate all that the church and her leaders say in light of the Bible and come to their own decision about whether it accords with Scripture. Thus, private judgment is able to trump everything - as long as it makes sense to the individual, no amount of tradition or the reasoning of others has the authority to declare a doctrine or belief incorrect.

It is this principle that is so foreign to PT. The ideal of private judgment effectively raises the individual above the Church, but it is clear in the Fathers that it is the Church that holds sway. I will develop this further, but this, in a nutshell, is why there can be no consensus between PT and RT.


How do you do it?

I had a good conversation with a regional youth-ministry guru. He's putting on a one-day training seminar on relationship building in ministry and has offered to let me ride up with him to talk about the ministry I lead. It was encouraging - at one point when I was describing the parent problems I've been having, he asked how long I had been here. I said "about 10 months" and he said "sounds about right then," meaning parent problems always crop up when the honeymoon is over. He asked me what my vision is for this youth ministry, which is honestly a little hard for me to articulate because that question almost always entails "what does the program look like?" and I neither know nor particularly care. That's not true - I care a great deal, I just don't know what external stuff is going to produce the internal results that I want. Which are, basically, a thriving, deep faith that is steeped in prayer, oriented towards true worship, well acquainted with the Bible and actively seeking to advance the Kingdom. I don't want to entertain and I certainly don't want the biggest program in town - I just want to take the kids who want to grow and fan their flames. And for those who don't, or are just sitting on the fence, I want to start sending some sparks their way to see if they're combustible.

So how would you do it? (Or how does your church do it?) What do you think would be the priority? How would you structure things? Where would you begin?


Something positive

I feel as though I've been doing a lot of complaining lately. Even though there has been some bad crap going at my job, I still shouldn't whine about it so much. So I'm going to try to refrain unless there is something just so mind-numingly horrific that I just have to get off my chest. Which means I need something positive to blog about...but honestly, I'm coming up blank. I just got a couple of books on getting parents involved in youth ministry and have started reading them, but they're nothing earth-shattering so they're not inspiring any posts. I've been greatly enjoying Fr. Schmemman's book, but haven't been able to touch it for over a week, so I'm also a little dry in that regard.

A couple of cool things: I also put together a weekly devotional blog for my youth, which was recently found by an old friend who left a comment. He used to be a volunteer youth leader and intern at my old church before he left for a full time youth-ministry position. I'm hoping he'll be able to offer me some good counsel on my current situation & ministry. I know the first church he was at was a very bad fit and he ended up leaving it after a relatively short time, so he probably has a good idea of what I'm going through.

On a related note, one of the parents of my kids talked to me and told me that she does web-design professionally along with her husband and that she would love to help with the youth blog. That is a real blessing - I'd like to make that page an outreach conduit. In the spring I want to start doing cook-outs at the local skate park. I figure free hamburgers and cokes might be a good way to meet some of those kids, and it might be easier to spark their interest by giving them the web address as I invite them to the youth service I'm hoping to start in March. Just something to catch their attention or make them think.


The weekend

This weekend the wife and I took several kids on a junior higher retreat to a camp in Michigan. The retreat was fun - plenty of snow made for good sledding & tobogganing, the boys & girls of our group got a long quite well in their respective parties (there was not much intermingling and after spending 48+ hours with a group of junior high boys, I can certainly understand why the girls might prefer their own company) and my wife got to see some old friends from the church she used to attend some years back. Only a few gripes - the speaker, though obviously a loving and dedicated youth pastor, just wasn't up to snuff. We had at 4 chapel sessions starting Friday night and ending Sunday morning, but there was little continuity between his talks and the kids just weren't engaged by them. What he said was good, it just wasn't well presented for this audience. They had a three person band performing and they were pretty good. However, they played the same set of worships songs with few changes for all 4 sessions. For me, a person not prone to get into contemporary praise choruses, having to sing "Even more undignified than this" that many times in such a short span of time was deeply frustrating.

Which brings me to the long-standing fascination I have with contemporary worship music. And this is not "fascination" in a particularly positive sense. At best it is neutral and more often than not, it borders on...not revulsion actually, but something close. See, a while back I started counting the "me/us:you" ratio; that is, the number of times a particular chorus uses the words "I/me/our(s)/we/us" versus a "you" (or other term, such as a name or honorific title) that refers to God. This weekend most of the songs hovered around a 2:1, which is the average ratio my independent research has uncovered. I think one song managed to get an entire verse out without once using a "you" or "God", but I was admittedly quite tired and trying to keep kids from messing around, so I could be mistaken. Needless to say, I think a 2:1 ratio is troubling and would prefer, at best a 1:1 ratio and probably one even lower on a consistent basis. I'm not sure how we can call singing about us, even an "us" as we relate to God, worship. It seems like it should be much more God-centered and a lot less emotion-driven. Several songs, for instance, had a line about dancing - implying that the congregation of singers should be dancing - but no one was. A small contingent was jumping up and down, but you see the same thing at your average secular concert, so I don't take that for anything significant. Other than that, most of the kids just stood there and sang, with varying degrees of emphasis and emotion I'm sure, lines that talked about being sooooo happy and sooooo excited, etc. The disconnect was profound.

Needless to say, this weekend was also a bit of challenge due to its coming on the heels of all the parental shenanigans of last week. In all honesty, I kept thinking in the back of my head "am I (or my senior pastor) going to get a phone call about this?" Can the kids have a snow ball fight? Can the kids go sledding without my immediate supervision? Can I let them participate in the camp tradition of making a toboggan run shirtless? (I did and much to their delight and the delight of the crowd, which joyfully pelted them with snowballs as they came down the course. Unfortunately, they were topped a few minutes later by a group of boys going down in just their shorts. How quickly our glory fades.) Can I let them dare each other to do stupid but non-dangerous things as part of some game? A few of the boys rode up with my wife and she inadvertently let them play "slaps" - a game similar to bloody knuckles - and one boy's hand swelled up like he had broken a bone or something. I was just praying it would be much better by the time we left. It was both a relief and scare when one of the boys immediately told his mother of the semi-nude toboggan run, which she laughed at and said "oh, they'll remember that forever!", but then also said, "they'll probably all get sick and the church will be sued!" Great. Thanks. Just what I needed to hear. I'm just pretty gun-shy right now and have some fears and doubts about moving forward here. I've had a variety of problems with this church since we came on staff and got to know things from an insider's perspective, but this feels like it could be the beginning of the end.



Mercifully, grace-full-y, the meeting went well. It was not punitive or accusatory - they simply addressed what some parents said while admitting that some things were probably taken out of context and that they were taking it all with a grain of salt. Some of the things were really isignificant - on the first camping trip I planned, the person who said they knew how to get to the campground (30 minutes away) showed up and said they didn't remember how to get there, so I had to run into the church and print off directions; at a 2 day outdoor concert I didn't take a parent's advice to put all of the kids into hotels because that would have prevented about 15 kids from coming, so we camped and got rained on. There were a few things like that. Other things were, however, valid - I guess I have a tendency to try too hard to be relateable to the kids, which some parents didn't like. Everyone in the meeting, though, admitted it is a hard line to walk between mentor/friend when working with high school kids. Too much in one direction will cause problems, and though I really didn't think I was crossing that line, that's the perception and Ijust have to accept that I did.

A good thing to come out of this - a big youth-ministry guru has offered to mentor me. I'm honestly a little leary about it, if only because I'm a pretty independent person, but I'm holding out hope that this will benefit me in this and future ministry positions - wherever they may be. Another good thing - the SP apologized for the way he acted in the meaning. I told him how I felt things went down and he said the main reason he didn't say anything was because he didn't want them to get the idea that this ministry's philosophy is up for public debate. So he apologized for not supporting me and I think his reason for not doing so was pretty good - would have been nice to have been told this immediately after the meeting, but oh well. He also said that he recognized this woman was causing most of this trouble - stirring her problems up with other people and that he told them in no uncertain terms to stop talking about this to other people. A very welcome directive in my book!

So thank you all for your prayers & support. God has definitely used this in a positive way for me personally, and I think for this staff. I think the SP realized that as a staff we are too uninvolved or unaware of what is happening in each other's ministries, so hopefully this will be a spur to greater unity.


The other shoe drops...

In approximately 1 hour I will have a follow-up meeting with the senior pastor, executive pastor and our elder (we have only the one!) to discuss the lively meeting we had on Sunday. The SP has also, apparently, contacted some other parents and kids to check up on me.

And I am of many different minds on how to go into this meeting. My wife and I went to Border's last night and I was reading through "The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers" by Thomas Merton, and was struck by their repeated warnings against pride and to control your tongue. Before going there, I was, quite honestly, livid about this whole thing but it seemed that God was speaking to me through those words. This was only reinforced this morning by a conversation with the church planter who had a long talk with the SP yesterday about it all. He recommended that I be contrite and listen to what they have to say with an open heart. I'm willing to do that - I want to do that. But at the same time, the way this whole thing is being handled - not just the Sunday meeting, but the follow-up too - is just wrong. And that bothers me. It bothers me that a set of parents that are admittedly "psycho" (in the SP's own words) can launch this kind of firestorm. It bothers me that I was ambushed at that meeting with the SP's full knowledge & consent. It bothers me that I'm being talked about behind my back. And from what I gathered from what the CP told me about his conversation, it bothers me greatly that a lot of this criticism is based on falsehood and misrepresentation. It bothers me that I have not been afforded the chance to defend myself or answer these accusations, because if I know this staff, today is not going to be about that. It also bothers me that the glowing reports from other parents are apparently not being taken into account. I want to have a godly attitude towards this, to accept the Lord's discipline, but I don't think I can just let all of this slide - it needs to be addressed if only so it doesn't fester inside me. I just hope I don't lose my temper because this has gotten me more angry than I've been in years.

Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.


Theological blinders

In our recent staff evaluations, I and the church planter both pressed for the staff to spend some time in the Word as a staff. This hadn't been happening ever, so the senior pastor started it last week with 2 Timothy. Today we covered verses 3-7 and in the course of the study, he asked what we thought the gift in verse 6 actually was. A couple of people thought it was Paul passing on his authority and/or calling - possibly something akin to an ordination. I pointed out 1 Timothy 4:14, which reads (in the NASB): "Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery." Now, I'm no trained exegete, but "the spiritual gift within you" sounds like a lot more than a mere ordination or "passing the baton" as the SP suggested. I raised this question and was told, quite quickly, that this could not, in fact, be a spiritual gift since Timothy already had the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it could only be an appellation or transfer of authority and nothing more.

Riiiiiiiight. Way to edit the text to avoid uncomfortable implications.

I am your leader...

...until the excrement hits the fan, and then I will abandon you just as fast as I can. Please excuse the following rant - I need to get it off my chest before I implode with frustration:

Had a meeting with 2 parents and the senior pastor Sunday afternoon. The parents had some complaints and concerns they wanted to air, and even though the mother had already talked to me, they thought it needed to be discussed with the SP. The initial impetus for this was that their son got his feelings hurt while we (me and a few students) were joking around. It was something I said that bothered him, so I took him out for a coke and apologized. I certainly didn't mean it to be hurtful and it was offered as an innocent joke, but was obviously not taken that way. This is not the first time I've had to apologize to the kid and will likely not be the last. So things are fine between me and the kid, but they still want the joint meeting.

The first hour or so was nothing but them offering up complaint after complaint. A couple were valid, but by far, the rest were the result of my style not fitting with their idea of how things should be run. For instance, a couple of kids have said that I don't care if they swear. In context, this is true. If I'm talking to a kid one-on-one about not sleeping with his girlfriend or helping them get through a tough time with school/family/sports/whatever, I really don't care if they drop a swear word every now and then. I'm focused on the bigger issue at hand. If, however, a kid swears in the youth meeting, I do care and I have corrected kids who have done so. The rest were similar things taken out of context and misrepresented as if they were constant issues. They even went so far as to suggest I should not have youth activities in my home because "an old pastor friend of ours said there needs to be a boundary there."

Being ripped on for over an hour is bad enough in itself, but what really made the meeting special was the fact that my SP did not say a single word on my behalf. He offered no defense, no statement that maybe these stylistic differences aren't substantive or that he thought I was actually doing a good job even though there might be some things I need to work on. Heck, I know there are things I need to work on - this is my first full-time ministry position; mistakes are inevitable. No, instead he said to me in front of these parents "I thought everything was fine in our evaluations [done at the end of the year], but I guess I've been too loose with you and will have to call other parents." Not only am I not defended, I'm undermined. Their differences in style & preference have just trumped mine no matter what reason I have for doing things the way I do. I mean, in all honesty, there isn't a whole lot I don't do with a specific reason in mind. The format, the scheduling, my style - all are meant to address particular areas of concern or respond to problems, but this doesn't matter.

Of course, it doesn't end there. In the midst of all of this, the SP actually distances himself from me and the alleged problems in the youth ministry by saying "I'm not involved in the youth program. We pay someone to do that." I am the hired gun for youth and if I've gone off the reservation that is in no way a reflection on his leadership. This in spite of the fact he knew I had no professional youth ministry experience when he hired, that the program was in bad disarray when I came on and that he has done absolutely nothing to mentor me in any way. In the 10 months I've been here, he has taken me out to lunch once to see how things were going. Other than that, nada. He hasn't attended a single activity, sat in on a single session, reviewed any of my lessons or talked about scheduling with me. The only time any of this came up was in the annual review, and he openly admitted he had a very limited basis for evaluating my performance this last year.

So I'm ripped on, undermined and denied. Undoubtedly there will be a follow-up meeting with the SP to talk about this stuff. I am just struck by the irony: this guy spends more time talking about leadership than anyone I've ever met - its almost fetishistic - and yet when it comes down to it, displays possibly the worst leadership I have ever seen.



My church participates in a program wherein we have access to a catalog of donated items that were overstocked by retailers. We just got in our latest order - I requested a couple of books; one on "moral realism, God's commands & human autonomy" and one on the war in Kosovo. As I have mentioned in the past, I spent some time in Bosnia with the Army Reserves, from Aug '00 to April '01, so the Balkans hold a certain - I suppose "fixation" is a good enough word - for me. I kind of have the urge to write something, but don't really have anything specific thats bugging me, so I'm just going to talk about my time in Bosnia.

A few background details: I was in counter-intelligence and my unit was jointly deployed with an intel batallion from Georgia. I was on a "force protection team." Our mission was pretty straightforward - identify, recruit & develop low-level sources with a primary emphasis on threats to US forces, and a descending list of other intel priorities that focused on the actual state of things in-country. My team consisted of 4 soldiers - me, my chief, and 2 "security" people. In other areas, security was provided by MP's or infantryman - you know, actual combat-arms types - but ours were Arabic linguists. I'm not sure how that came to be, but its what we had. We also had 2 private-contractor linguists. One was an American born Serb and the other was a Bosnian born American. Goran came from Chicago and was in his mid-20's, and Zoran was actually a Croat-Bosniak (Bosnian muslim) who had lived in Sarajevo during the siege. Between the 2 of them, we had excellent English and Serbo-Croat language skills, which was a huge help. Other teams were not so fortunate. We were stationed in a city called Doboj (pronounced 'dough - boy') in northern Bosnia, with the NORDPOL battle group - a mix of Norwegian, Danish, Polish, and other nations. My teams area was entirely within the Republika Srpska - the Serb Republic - and though there were some Bosniak and Croat returnees, the large majority of the people I dealt with were Serbian.

Being in the Serb area definitely changed the nature of my experience versus those of the other teams. The boundary between the Republika Srpska (RS) and the Bosniak-Croat Federation (BCF) region ran through the southern part of Doboj and once you went through a short tunnel, the transition was obvious. The Serbs were painted as the villains in the international media, and this negative portrayal resulted into far less international aid for the Bosnian-Serb areas. On a short ride from Doboj to Srpski Brod (formerly Bosanski Brod) of approximately 75km, we would see hundreds of destroyed homes. Just to the east of Srpski Brod was an area that had been part of the shifting front lines during the war and it was a wasteland. Mostly just dirt, a few trees, and mines everywhere. In most parts of Bosnia you didn't want to walk off the road or sidewalk, but here, you didn't even dare think about it. But when you went south and crossed that transition, most of the homes were rebuilt or repaired, roads were maintained and, perhaps most importantly, fields had been cleared of mines. Every 2 weeks we had to travel to Eagle Base in Tuzla to do maintenance on our vehicles, and we travelled through the BCF, so I was regularly presented with the huge difference in the lives of peoples in these different areas. In the 3 major towns in my team's area, homes that were not destroyed were riddled with pockmarks from bullet strikes. One day, in a town called Derventa, I was looking at a few buildings and realized that there was no pattern to these shots. This was not suppressive fire aimed at a specific window or doorway - there was no discernible concentration or pattern. It was just wild, sprayed at random across all the buildings in sight. I tried to picture this as it happened; a group of young men, probably about my own age, standing in the street with rifles and machine guns just shooting wildly. I couldn't get my mind around the sheer hateful madness of that act. It isn't human. The streets and sidewalks were also dotted with mortar strike-marks. There was even a school that had large mortar strikes on an exterior wall. On a daily basis, I was surrounded by evidence of the conflict, the very real, physical residue of hatred and death.

But it was more than damaged buildings - it was palpable in the air. It was like chewing on tin-foil all the time. It was a place bereft of hope and you could see it in the eyes of the people. Many had lost the understanding of what it meant to live, and those who hadn't, had left. They had fled into other parts of Europe, looking for a new life. I think the best example of this happened in Srpski Brod in early spring. There was a small carnival or fair that was passing through town and they had set up a little bumper-car rink. I'm sure part of it was just that these kids didn't know what bumper-cars are, but when we happened upon the scene, they were driving in joyless, unsmiling circles. We quickly remedied that - you should have seen the look of sheer schock, and yes, fear, when we hopped into those bumper-cars and actually started bumping them and each other. There were a few moments of confusion - were we mad? Were we crazy? Were we trying to hurt them? Understandably, a group of armed, foreign soldiers ramming you in a little electric car is a bit disconcerting. But they soon realized what those bumpers are for! We pooled our cash together and bought dozens of tokens to pass out to the kids, and all of a sudden there were hordes of kids eagerly waiting in line - waiting for their chance for a thrill, for the exhiliration of ramming each other in fits of giggles and playful shouts. After an hour or so we had to leave, but we left a scene of riotous fun, handing out all the remaining tokens before we departed.

When we were back in town 2 days later, they were again driving in circles.

Got a dog

The wife and I got a puppy on Sunday afternoon. We were bored after an interminable leadership committee meeting and, on a lark, decided to call a couple of adds in the paper. We found an add for German short-haired pointers, relatively cheap, and since my main concern is wanting a decent sized watchdog, we gave them a call. We were charmed by relativley large and laid back male, who is settling into his new home nicely. He is still a little freaked out by the snow in the back-yard, but housebreaking is coming along nicely and he hardly whines at night. I was raised with dogs, so to me, a home isn't really a home until a canine is in it.


Heretical Ice Storms

We are looking at a pretty serious ice storm in the very near future - freezing rain right now which should give us about an inch of ice and then 4 inches of snow later this afternoon/evening - so I will be leaving shortly to avoid the worst of the conditions and huddle snuggly in my home with my beautiful wife (I will also be praying that an ice covered branch from the tree in our back yard does not fall on our power line!). This has left met a bit short on time, so I won't be able to offer any thoughts or look for other relevant links.

Anyways, in line with recent thoughts & readings, I found a couple of posts on Tony Jones' blog. The first is about an email Tony received with some questions about the orthodoxy of someone who did not believe in the Trinity. There are a variety of responses that range considerably on thoughts in this regard, including several by Doug defending his position somewhat. It is noteworthy that he doesn't fully defend his thoughts or offer a taste of what he thinks would be a good alternative to this historic understanding of the Godhead. The second is a followup that introduces questions about the emerging movement's "open methodology" for doing theology. They are informative, if alarming, discussions.

UPDATE: I found Doug Pagitt's blog.

Could He have...

I'm going to work through Luke with my kids this semester and since we covered most of the birth narratives during Advent, we're starting in chapter 3. I'm looking at the temptations Jesus endured in chapter 4, and am wondering - could He have actually sinned? Could He have succumbed to the temptation?

Thoughts and on-line resources are greatly appreciated.


The Pastor's Arenas

In recent blog discussions and private readings, I have been confronted with a great deal of theological questioning and debate. In thinking about this, I've found it helpful to (artificially) divide the pastor's duties & obligations into 3 arenas - the doctrinal, the pastoral and the humanitarian.

The doctrinal arena is quite straightforward - a pastor is expected to know, practice and be able to effectively communicate "the mystery of the faith" (1 Tim 3:9) to those he shepherds. There is, I think, too strong a tendency in American Protestantism to put the emphasis on intellectual knowledge of the pastor without enough focus on personal praxis & devotion, but that is not entirely relevant to this discussion. This is arena is somewhat objective - does the pastor know and support the doctrinal positions of the church-body of which he is a member?

The pastoral arena includes all areas of pastoral care and duties. This would certainly include the communication of God's love & grace through visitation, preaching, teaching, counseling and personal availability to congregation members. Process evangelism would probably fall into this arena, as well as "spiritual friendships" with seekers. This arena is more subjective since it deals with interpersonal relationships and has a larger emphasis on communicating the love of God and shepherding believers.

The humanitarian arena focuses on the extra-church community - its emphasis is on evangelism and service. There is obviously some overlap with the pastoral arena. A person in the community may come to the congregation prior to coming to faith. Thus, the humanitarian arena may extend both into the church and into the external community.

So what does this have to do with theological debates? For those open to them, the primacy of an arena has much to do with the nature and content of their theological revisions. For conservatives of whatever Christian tradition, the doctrinal arena has clearly come first and not without ample biblical & patristic support for this position. In the discussion of pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3, one quickly notices that personal conduct & piety is the most oft repeated criterion. However, doctrinal fidelity receives strong emphasis in chapter 4, especially with the warning in verse 16 "Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you." It is Timothy's teaching of sound doctrine, as well as his personal walk, that will bring salvation to himself and to others. This is not to undermine the pastoral and humanitarian requirements that are obviously required by the Gospel, but it clearly shows that we have to, as pastors, first understand the Gospel and only then can we effectively communicate it to others.

But for the postmodern Christian, doctrine is up for grabs. As I posted earlier, there is a strong tendency to discount even the possibility that our theology has any correspondence to the reality of God. With that in mind, it is no wonder that the doctrinal arena loses its place of prominence and is instead replaced with the pastoral. And here, as Phil points out, the emergent church seems to be largely driven by a desire to be pragmatic, though I think he rightly posits they have not fully realized all that this pragmatism entails. In favoring the pastoral side, the question becomes "how can we best serve/reach the people?", which is obviously not a bad question. However, when that question is divorced from the priority of sound doctrine, it becomes a market-driven ideal. To illustrate; someone who is scared to death of going to the dentist will deny that dental care is the best possible treatment for their infected teeth. If we have moved away from a clear understanding of the need for proper dental & medical care, then we may be fooled into thinking another option - perhaps a different mouthwash or an electric toothbrush - might be the best treatment. Similarly, if we have moved away from a strong doctrinal understanding of the Gospel, we may be tempted to fall into the trap of "effectiveness." (And as I touched on earlier, this is not confined to liberal or emergent churches - I fear my evangelical seeker church has gotten mired in the same trap, though possibly for different reasons.) The reality is that the best thing we can offer to someone caught up in sin is the redemption offered through the grace of Christ. While this grace is free in that we can never earn it, it is not without its demands. As Paul clearly told Timothy, sound doctrine is almost sacramental; it is a vehicle for grace. If we have compromised or revised our doctrine, what does that do to grace?