Friday, September 29, 2006

"Durable Data" Cuts Straight to the Core of the Dispute

Most readers of His Barking Dog are probably also consumers of the constant comments of Durable Data's Dr. Glenn Layne. His post today was so outrageous and so interesting, that I am not only linking it, but reprinting it. Durable Data can be accessed at Sometimes people accuse us of making this stuff up. Even a satirist would have a difficult time conjuring up material this stereotypical! Glenn's evaluative comments are printed in blue and intersperse with the "straight news" report.

The question Glenn raises at the conclusion of his piece cuts to the heart of the current debate over "soul liberty" among Baptists. The traditionalists argue that soul competency was always cherished as a Baptist value, but never counterpoised to an overarching concern for biblical authority. Indeed, the "norming norm" of Baptist life was the "Book." For generations, the "Book, the Blood, and the Blessed Hope" were hallmarks of Baptist life in its manifold expression. Whether among the Particular (Calvinistic) or General (Arminian) wings of the movement, Baptists were agreed that a core of convictions provided the context in which soul liberty functioned and flourished.

The revisionist version of the Baptist heritage sees Christian experience as the "norming norm." Since E.Y. Mullins promulgated his reintegration of Baptist distinctives (closely followed in time by Walter Rauschenbusch) in the first decade of the 20th Century, soul liberty has emerged as a separate and virtually autonomous distinctive, unchecked by consensual commitments to a common core of orthodox values. Today, one can use the construct as a virtual key to open any Pandora's box of heterodoxy or rank heresy, as the following account testifies.

"When 'Soul Liberty' Attacks": Doctrinal Degeneracy in a Chicagoland Barely Baptist Church

OK, I'm experimental. This church, and this pastor, is not. Not unless you include hemlock drinking in the experimental category. Jesus didn't die to buy for Himself a bride who sleeps with other so-called gods. Read and weep...

Church to bring together 8 faiths in day of harmony
By Manya A. Brachear
Tribune staff reporter
Published September 29, 2006

In some ways, it was a traditional Baptist Sunday service. The pews creaked and groaned, and the congregation belted out a rousing rendition of "Down by the Riverside."

But when parishioners pressed their palms together and bowed their heads, it was not only a greeting to God but a gassho greeting to their neighbors in the pews--a Buddhist rather than Baptist tradition.

Blending Buddhist philosophy with the Baptist faith is not uncommon at Lake Street Church in Evanston, where followers of eight religious traditions--Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Ethical Humanist--will converge Sunday to celebrate their harmony as one in humankind and share Communion.

"Divinity is a mighty river that cannot be dammed up or stopped," explains irreverent Rev. Bob Thompson, 57, borrowing a quote from Meister Eckhart, a 14th Century Christian mystic. "We all do drink from the same river, but we package the water differently."

Celebrated by Protestant churches, World Communion Sunday calls for all Christians to commemorate their unity in Christ and the sanctity of the Communion table. Inaugurated by the Presbyterian Church USA in 1936, the worship service has been embraced by other denominations and is celebrated the first Sunday in October.

At Lake Street Church, a liberal congregation affiliated with the American Baptist Churches of America, Thompson broadened the scope of Communion Sunday after preaching a sermon about the tradition 10 years ago."

All of a sudden it struck me as so ironic the way we celebrate World Communion," he said. "Protestants get together in their own churches and think about each other while they're having Communion. What about the rest of the world? If we really believed in this stuff, we would invite the rest of the world in to share the Communion with us in the spirit of Jesus table fellowship."

[Note to Bob: please read again 1 Corinthians 10-11. Especially 10:20-22]

His approach reflects the autonomy that Baptists hold dear. They have what Thompson refers to as "soul liberty," freedom from a higher authority other than truth. But he acknowledges that Lake Street Church worships on the margins of the Baptist denomination.

"What we do here though on the margins is rooted in Baptist heritage, because soul liberty is inextricably part of our self-identity as Baptists," he said. "At least it was historically. Most Baptists have lost that awareness."

[Gasp! When 'soul liberty' attacks! Even Jesus must yield to the mighty god Soul Liberty!]

Rev. Larry Greenfield, executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, said Thompson takes interfaith relations to the next level.

['to the next level'= winner of the understatement of the day award]

He said that while joint worship services and community service projects are worthwhile endeavors, encouraging parishioners to examine themselves before examining other religious traditions can yield to a deeper connection.

"There is an interest on Bob's part about the deep wellsprings of every human being," Greenfield said. "He has explored that within himself and helps others within the congregation to do that.... That might seem unrelated to relating to other traditions. But if you go deep enough, you're going to find some connections. There's a kind of bonding between people at a greater depth than simply saying, let's do some rituals together or let's understand each other's teachings."

"Bob and the church understand they are part of a wider fellowship that doesn't necessarily do the ministry the way they do it," Greenfield added, referring to the 1.5-million member American Baptist denomination.

"But they are a very important part in contributing to our common life in dealing with interfaith sorts of issues."

Despite Thompson's unconventional ways, his path to the pulpit was common for clergy of his generation. His father, too, was an evangelical American Baptist preacher.

After college, Thompson entered seminary to avoid the draft, though he had no intention of following in his father's footsteps.

In the late '70s he landed at Lake Street Church. He opened a soup kitchen in the basement of the building and encouraged parishioners to form mini-communities that embraced other spiritual traditions.

A typical calendar includes Meditation Satsang, Explorations in Mysticism and Dream Sharing. The church's Light of the Moon Society meets monthly at the sight of the full moon.

[What? No Asherah Pole Dancing Night? No High Place Celebrations? As Jar Jar would say, "How rude!"]

In 1995, the name of the church changed from First Baptist to Lake Street Church. The congregation also welcomed gay and lesbian parishioners. Attendance has since tripled, Thompson said."People are here not because they resonate with [the Baptist affiliation]. We're in a post-denominational era anyway," Thompson said.

Cheryl Graham grew up Lutheran, studied in a Presbyterian seminary and dabbled in Buddhism, the Baha'i faith and the Unitarian Church before she heard about Lake Street. There she said she found a community of "Christian misfits" like herself.

"People come for Bob but stay because of the church," she said. "He tries to bring us as close to Christ as possible. He opens gates for all of us to be honest about our journey."

[Can there be any doubt that this church should be tossed out of the American Baptist Churches this time yesterday? If you even hesitate to say yes, you do not comprehend the role of fidelity to the teaching of Christ and His apostles.]

[His Barking Dog rides contentedly in the front seat of the car carrying historic Baptists, whether they be Calvinistic or Arminian. My tail wags approvingly at the common commitment to the Bible as the Word of God and the final authority for all matters of faith and practice. However, my ecclesiastical barking finds me chasing cars driven by the revisionists who would take "interfaith cooperation" to mean syncretism. Still, my yips and yaps are not the responsibility of my masters in the southwest; my barking is an artifact of my own personality only.]


Glenn Layne said...

Hey, you make me sound like a muckraker! Just a guy with Google News Alerts....

Dennis E. McFadden said...


Sorry! I changed the title. Better?

roy said...

hmmm... there is so much here Dennis.
first, as one whom you would not include among "traditionalists," I would say that the counterbalance of soul liberty is not Biblical authority. It is community. My soul liberty must always be exercised in the community of faith (and church autonomy must always be exercised within the associational priniciple). Biblical authority requires soul liberty or it cannot exist. As soon, as you or I can authoritatively declare what the scripture means, then the scripture can no longer speak for itself. The pandora's box must be present or the scripture is no longer free to speak. Is that a dangerous place to be? Yes, but less dangerous than allowing anyone to impose their interpretation on the rest of us.
As for the Lake Avenue Church being on the margins, there is no question. Still, for me the margins are important to keep the rest of us honest.
Do I believe that interfaith work is necessary? Absolutely. Would I share communion in an interfaith setting. Certainly not. And I don't know any authentic folk of other faiths who would want to share in an explicitly Christian celebration. Certainly no Jews or Muslims that I know would.
Would I attend that church. No. Does it scandalize me. No. Do I want to see them removed from my Baptist fellowship? No more than I wanted to see PSW withdraw.

Glenn Layne said...

If this doesn't scandalize you, you have no concept of the faith of the Scriptures. It is beyond the margins--as I like to say, not out in left field, but up in the bleachers.

roy said...

Boy Glenn, you aren't pulling any punches. I "have no concept of the faith of the scriptures"? Sorry... that is one of the most ignorant comments that anyone has ever made to me.

Jerry Graham said...

Interpret God's word? Forgive me Lord if I am trying to interpret your word rather than allowing your Spirit to reveal the truth to me. Soul Liberty? Lord make me your slave that I may deny myself, take up my cross and follow you alone.