Fred demonstrates that congregations (with some exceptions) have not been the place to explore conversation regarding new developments in theology, historical Jesus study, and Christian origins. While we might expect clergy to lead congregations in this direction, they appear resistant to do so (with some exceptions, of course). Even those who want to explore new theological ideas and scholarship have limitations set upon them or set these limitations themselves. Perhaps we clergy have become too institutionalized. Check this:
I suspect the reason may be that clergy do not want to create any unnecessary conflict nor do they want to risk the loss of any church members. But it seems strange to me that the latest thinking about the historical Jesus or about the sometimes twisted roots of the Christian church can be found on the front page of Time or Newsweek magazines and other national publications but these things are seldom being discussed in our churches. It is more than ironic that even though scholars are producing more books and articles challenging us to rethink what it means to be a Christian today, one of the last places you will hear these topics being discussed is in our churches.Why is this so? Here is my guess: Clergy are trained to be care takers not risk takers. We are chaplains to the flock. We think our task is to provide comforting faith not questioning faith. This is what we think we are paid to do. We are kept, fed, and housed by the same flock. Giving them anything but the same old message is considered either evil, irrelevant, or against our own interests.
Twenty-first century theology is a lay people's movement. I am proud of the courage of a layperson in my first congregation. She wasn't really sure about me but invited me to her home. After a few minutes she pulled her copy of John Dominic Crossan's Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography out of a desk drawer and showed it to me as if it were a nickle bag of Panama Red. "This is the first person who has ever made sense about Jesus," she whispered.
I wonder when we will reach the tipping point when we no longer have to whisper but can speak openly? It happens as laypeople have these conversations in book studies, retreats, and with their clergy.
It is the people in the pews (and who have left them) who will set the course for the next phase of the Christian tradition. One of the things that laypeople can do now is to encourage ministers to bring this information in their sermons and in their teaching and to support them as they take risks in this effort.
There are many great resources out there that are accessible for non-professionals. The Center for Progressive Christianity is a good place to start. You don't need a preacher to have a book study. Start your own.
Hat Tip to Revs Rumbles