I have an appreciation for the writings of Vernard Eller, long-time professor of religion at the University of La Verne in southern California, 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.
Recently I read Eller’s Towering Babble: God’s People Without God’s Word. I have a hunch that this book raised some eyebrows back in 1983. Eller told the church rather directly that it was losing its grounding in theology. In his mind, the church seemed to be moving in the direction of anthropology. In other words, the church was becoming more human-centered than God-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.”
Many people have suggested 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.
Is one of these the reason for our disunity? Is it all of the above and more? Could it be something different?
Eller gives me pause. Could his point 5 be a reason that has not been given attention in our 21st century dilemma? Is heroism a factor in our present situation? In efforts to keep the church “pure” or to offer a prophetic voice or to find the solution to our problems, are we wanting to emerge as the hero who once and for all brings about a way forward on which we can all agree?
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 solutions to come from us rather than from the mind of Christ?
Thank you, Vernard Eller, for decades-old thoughts that have relevance for our situation today.
Can members of the Church of the Brethren continue to live together?
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Kevin Kessler is district executive for Illinois and Wisconsin District