Taken from September 2017 edition of “The Reflector” (a publication of the IL/WI Church of the Brethren District Newsletter)
I have an appreciation for the writings of Vernard Eller, one time professor of Religion at the University of LaVerne, primarily because his views are cutting edge and sometimes cutting. I never knew him personally, but I gather from his books that he was a person comfortable in his own skin even if what he said or wrote stirred thoughts and emotions in others.
Presently I’m reading a book Eller wrote entitled Towering Babble: God’s People Without God’s Word. I have a hunch this book, when it was published in 1983, raised some eyebrows. Eller speaks rather directly to the church that it was losing its grounding in theology. The church, in Eller’s mind, seemed to be moving more in the direction of anthropology. In other words, the church was becoming more human-centered
Eller wrote: “Above all, at the heart of our faith, we dare not allow the glorifying of the human to encroach our glorifying of God.” And then he proposed a minimum, core theology consisting of eight points. Point #5 rose to the surface for me. It says: “Human ego-assertiveness, any desire to look heroic in the sight of God, is sin.” This statement put
me in a state of reflection and I began to ruminate about the present state of our denomination.
A number of thoughts are suggested as reasons for our current state of uncertainty about denominational unity. We don’t agree on the authority and understanding of scripture. Matters of human sexuality become lines in the sand. Conservatism or progressivism is the problem. Various forms of theology take us in different directions. Whether we view scripture from a literal or a literary perspective is a key factor.
Is it one of the above reasons that cause disunity among us? Or is it all of the above and more? Or could it be something different?
Let me be clear that I don’t have the definitive answer. However, Eller has given me pause. Could his point #5 be a reason that has not been given attention in our 21st century dilemma? Does the possibility exist that heroism is a factor in our present situation? In efforts to make/keep the church “pure” or to offer a prophetic voice or to find the solution to our problems, are we in any way wanting to emerge as the hero who once and for all brings about a way forward which we can all agree on?
Are we expecting the answers/solutions to come from us rather than diligently seeking the mind of Christ to understand God’s purposes for us?
Could it be we have not found the way forward yet because our approach is too anthropological (heroic) rather than theological (God)? Are we expecting the answers/solutions to come from us rather than diligently seeking the mind of Christ to understand God’s purposes for us?
I am not suggesting that the questions I ask insinuate an answer. I simply offer the questions as another way to approach the problem, and to suggest that adequate time is taken to receive theology inspired responses rather than too quickly accepting anthropological solutions.
So thank you, Vernard Eller, for decades-old thoughts that have relevancy for our current situation.