25 Sep 2007

Seeking True Unity, Part 1, Edited by Dale Jenkins: A Review and Interaction, Part 1

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Church, Church History, Ministry, Preaching, Restoration History, Unity
Seeking True Unity:

A Review and Interaction, Part 1

I came across this little book (64 pages) at the ACU lectures. I recognized the names of Dale Jenkins and Phil Sanders and decided to purchase it. I had the book finished before I went to bed in my hotel room later that night. Of the writers I have only personally met Phil Sanders before but I have corresponded from time to time with Dale Jenkins. Of the seven contributors I have no doubt they are men of integrity with a passion for the Lord. As it turns out I probably have few problems of fellowshipping them than they will of me … but I would gladly concede being wrong on this one. 
First I want to begin with a commendation of these authors. Though it will be clear that I disagree on a number of minor and major points, I am gratified they affirm a passion for the unity of the body of Christ. Dale writes, “To a man the seven of us involved in this project want unity!” (p.7). He writes further, “We desire to reach across the years and reunite with those from whom we are divided. We desire to swim the channel – climb the steepest hill – we endeavor to achieve and to keep, to seek true unity.” (ibid). I can not tell you how thrilled I am by those words. The book brother Jenkins edits is a contribution to the ongoing dialogue of what “true unity” consists and how to achieve it. So brothers Jenkin(s), Sanders, Baker, Greene, Hatcher and Higginbotham I thank you for this small volume. I share your earnest desire to climb the steepest mountain to claim the right hand of my estranged brothers in the Lord. 
 I have contributed my own “book” with John Mark Hicks, to that conversation of unity and identity, Kingdom Come.  My interaction with and evaluation of the arguments of the book do not in anyway detract from our shared goal, desire or wish for unity. I pray that my words share in the worthy spirit of this little book. I will say, before I move on, that I think a richer and more healthy approach to this subject is presented in a masterful way by Monroe E. Hawley in his epoch book Is Christ Divided? A Study of Sectarianism (Howard Publishing, 1992)
Seeking True Unity  is well written and creatively designed around a theme as we will see. Each short chapter is divided up into six subsections: Opening Statements, Presenting the Evidence, Examining the Facts, Hearing the Testimony, Rendering the Verdict and Cross Examination (set of questions). One quickly sees that we have entered a courtroom – sort of a “Law & Order” approach to this subject of unity. And as we will see in any courtroom drama the evidence can be spun in many directions by the prosecution and the defense. As I read this book I came to the conclusion that what we are hearing from the prosecutions team of lawyers was a version of the evidence (I chose this language deliberately). I say version because the arguments are not dispassionate but come from vested interests and from folks with lots at stake. This is neither good nor bad just an important fact to remember and digest.

Counsel for the prosecution approaches the witness five times. Each time a lawyer well versed in his specialty leads the jury in a specific direction (we want no hung juries, 🙂 The voices we hear are

Dale Jenkins: Deja Vu All Over Again
Steve Higginbotham : Who Said You Could Do That?
Phil Sanders: Can’t We All Just Be Christians?
Mike Greene: How Did We Get Where We Are?
Jeff Jenkins: Same Song, Different Century
Mike Baker: What Do We Do Now?

Thus as I read and reflected on the prosecutions arguments, as a member of the jury, it occurred to me that what I was actually hearing was an apology for the status quo. For division. I kept hearing, through the testimony, why it is good for “us” to remain basically as “we” are. We are told that some “refreshing changes” are being made but we never find out what they are. The origins of this “case” (i.e. the book) we are hearing is almost surely the recent events with the Richland Hills Church of Christ, Tulsa Workshop and the North American Christian Convention.

My plan is to interact with each of the prosecutions key lawyers and their presentations. They are skilled and need to be taken seriously … and this we intend to do. We intend on asking our witness in the dock a few more questions and critiquing the argument of our panel of lawyers … for the sake of unity.
BTW it should be obvious, but sometimes it has to be pointed out, I am using the courtroom metaphor of lawyers and the like and am following the lead of the book itself and is not in ANY fashion meant to be derisive. It is simply a good metaphor …
Shalom,
Bobby Valentine

Seeking True Unity review Part 2 can be read HERE

11 Responses to “Seeking True Unity, Part 1, Edited by Dale Jenkins: A Review and Interaction, Part 1”

  1. Keith Brenton Says:

    I look forward to this. I’m acquainted with Phil Sanders only through his blog – and have a good deal of respect for the effort he has poured into a television outreach Web site linked there that focuses on the gospel with just a few “vested interests” insisted upon.

    But I can tell by the tenor of a few of his posts at his blog (Set Them Apart in The Truth, for instance), that if we can’t all agree on all the details of what has for him been defined as “the truth,” there can be no unity.

  2. Frank Bellizzi Says:

    I’m also looking forward to the cross examinations. (Lots of ways that phrase could go, yes?)

    Anyway, for way too long now Christian unity has been viewed as a desirable by-product of everyone lining up behind the truth. But then, one must get right every single aspect of what is regarded as the body of essential truth. Otherwise there can be no unity.

    This is precisely why many insist that the phrase “the doctrine of Christ” in 2 John 9 means something like “anything we can think of that others will have to agree to.” It’s ridiculous.

    The unity of all believers is not a by-product of the truth so much as it IS the truth, just as the oneness of Christ and the Father is the truth.

  3. Steve Puckett Says:

    Every time I attend an event like the National Pastors Convention and more recently, the American Association of Christian Counselors, I am deeply moved by the presence of the Spirit of God as he brings together those from all tribes and nations to honor and serve him within their own streams, hopefully with an attitude of humility that points to Christ and honors God.

    On Monday, I will join about 300 pastors/ministers in Winter Garden, Florida for the annual Pastors Appreciation Golf tournament. At this event, I generally meet the broadest number of ministers from the most varied backgrounds. What is neat about this event is that it is the brain child of one man who wants to do nothing more than to encourage those in ministry and at the event everything is free–food, golf, and numerous gifts.

    At the RM level, I have enjoyed good relationships with those in Christian Churches and at Florida Christian College.

    On the discussion level I have the paper that David Faust presented at Freed a few years ago on this topic if you would like to read it.

    Thanks for your spirit and your willingness to discuss these important ideas.

    Peace.

  4. Gardner Hall Says:

    Look forward to more comments about this little book. Regarding the search for unity I think there are two unrealistic extremes: (1) Demanding that all follow our own interpretations, even on matters of personal application or theory. (2) Demanding that we surrender convictions about important spiritual principles just to “get along.” Neither approach is pleasing to God. The former is that of the “Texas school.” The latter, of course, is what is fashionable now in some circles.

    The big challenge is to determine which matters are essential elements of the gospel and therefore worth defending at all costs, even the cost of unity. It’s the old categorization game.

    Another angle that needs to be considered is whether we consider the search for unity to be an effort to bond with mainstream evangelicalism, with disparate elements of the Stone-Campbell movement or simply with members of God’s body on a congregational level. The latter concern seems to be the one most emphasized in the scriptures.

  5. K. Rex Butts Says:

    If this book is presenting the ussual CoC means towards acheiving unity (as I suspect) then it seems doomed from the beginning. The traditional approach to unity within the CoC/Restoration M., has placed the burden of acheiving unity upon us (no doubt, influenced the the paradigm of modernism). The more I read books like the Gospel of John, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians the more I see how the burden of unity is placed upon God. And when it does come to our response the to the unity/reconciliation God is trying to remake us into, that response is not to adhere to a list of doctrinal propositions but instead to allow the cross of Jesus to become the metaphor that shapes our response (something we all truly fall short of).

  6. Falantedios Says:

    Bobby, I look forward to your brotherly conversations with the authors of Seeking True Unity. I know that that tract or pamphlet (I hate to call it a book) is all the rage here in Kentuckiana.

    Frank, many people also think the same way about Jude 3 (THE faith once for all delivered unto the saints). Why can’t context truly be king in our reading?

    Gardner, I think you have an interesting question that is challenging to answer. Jesus says unity already exists, and ignoring it tells the world that Jesus lies about who he says he is. The original plea for unity in the RM seems to have been one to shed ALL labels but Christian, and I think many have sought an easier route by encouraging others to remain divided by name.

    Rex, I agree, but we have to strive to find ways to communicate what you are saying in ways that do not alienate those who hear “cruciform hermeneutics” talk as “I want the Man, not the Plan” talk. Many people’s ears shut down when we start talking about Christ being the pattern because of the anti-church “spirituality”-type movements.

    I think we have to remember that direct instruction was only one of Jesus’ major teaching methods, and not the most common. We who plead for unity IN CHRIST have got to learn to craft meaningful parables and to do eloquent actions according to the teaching style of Jesus.

    in HIS love,
    Nick

  7. K. Rex Butts Says:

    Nick,

    I could not agree more. There is a place for confronting bad theology head on. But more often, it is easier to confront via another means — something I am still working on.

  8. Frank Bellizzi Says:

    Falantedios,

    I’m not sure I understand your comment directed to me. I agree with the emphasis on reading phrases of Scripture in context.

    Applying that idea to Jude 3 reveals that when people deny “the faith,” it doesn’t show up as merely a denial of doctrinal propositions. Rather, it shows up in anti-Christian attitudes (they “reject authority and slander celestial beings”); in sinful behaviors (“sexual immorality and perversion”); neglect (“shepherds who feed only themselves”). By their fruit you will know them.

    Also, it is a contextual reading of 2 John 9 that leads to the conclusion that “the doctrine of Christ” isn’t “all the doctrine taught by and about Christ.” In THAT context the phrase clearly refers to a particular doctrine about Christ; namely, that he came in the flesh (2 John 7; 1 John 4:2).

    I’m all for contextual reading. And that’s exactly what undoes so many stock assertions that have been repeated so many times that people think it’s Bible, even gospel.

  9. Falantedios Says:

    Frank…

    My fault for lack of clarity.

    I was doing three things:

    1) Agreeing with your lament about the misuse of 2 John 9;

    2) Pointing out another passage that gets mutilated in exactly the same way; and

    3) Pouting about the simple reason WHY those texts get misused. If context WAS truly king in everyone’s reading, then these two texts would not get loaded up and dropped on people’s heads as sectarian weapons.

    Sorry for the lack of clarity… I had absolutely no disagreement with you 🙂

    in HIS love,
    Nick

  10. Frank Bellizzi Says:

    Nick,

    Oops. Sorry, didn’t catch your drift. Thanks for writing back.

  11. Jim Martin Says:

    Bobby,
    A fine post and a wonderful spirit. I not only appreciate your keen mind but your gracious spirit as evident in the way you approach this.

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