Will Willimon on The Parable of the Mustard Seed

“Jesus was preaching one day, preaching on the kingdom of God. ‘The Kingdom of God is like…It’s like a tiny mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds. but if you plant that tiny seed, water it, care for it, it will germinate and grow, and grow—and produce a weed about a foot high.’

The dumbfounded disciples surely said, ‘Well, Jesus, that’s really impressive. We don’t like thinking of the church as a weed.’

‘Pity,’ says Jesus, ‘I guess God is impressed by different things than you are.’

The challenge of being an evangelistic preacher is the precarious willingness to allow God to use us to assemble the church, which is often a church we would not have assembled if assembling a church were only a matter of methods of church growth rather than a matter of God’s grace.

One reason why I’m for growth is that evangelism has a way of making Christians out of those who are already in the church as we are shocked by the folk God calls to be the church.” – The Intrusive Word, 106

Win the Culture War, Lose the Soul – Who Gives the Labels?

In the Intrusive Word, Willimon tells the story of Duke Chapel holding a panel discussion on “The Church and Homosexuality” where a student came up to him after the discussion, told him he was a “baptized Episcopalian” and asked why there weren’t any homosexuals on the panel. Willimon asked him why that would matter. His response was “I have a right to define myself, to name the significance of my own experience as a gay person.”

Willimon writes,

“It seemed to me that, if his first designation of himself (‘I am a baptized Episopalian’) meant anything, it meant that he definitely was not to ‘define’ himself. I knew that his church was quite explicit in its service of baptism that the church was telling him who he was, not using the conventional labels of the wider culture, labels based upon gender, class, race, or sexual orientation, but rather on the basis of the gospel. He was someone, in baptism, named, claimed, chosen, called. His name was ‘Christian.'” (p39)

I am becoming more and more convinced that Willimon is a gutsy guy who isn’t going to pull any punches. This was probably easier to say in 1994 than it would be to say in 2012. The question is not whether or not it is easy or hard to say from the perspective of how people will respond to it…the question is, is this truth? His point is that church and the gospel should be defining these things over culture. It is not up to the world to define us by worldly categories and worldly ways of looking at things. Things in our society have changed since he wrote this in 1994. In 2003 the Episcopal church ordained their first openly gay, non-celibate clergy. That complicates things a bit further when there is diverse opinion on these issues within the denominations so that it depends on whose teaching on these matters you are going to go by. It becomes clearer and clearer that scripture defines this and the church should be taking every effort to conform to a biblical view on these things. Of course, there is even disagreement on what that would be.

I appreciate what Willimon is saying here. I think we have co-opted our faith, syncretized it and blended it with the labels, definitions and categories of the world that it is hardly recognizable who Christians even are any more. This is not just true when it comes to homosexuality. This is true is more areas of our lives than we would like to admit.

Later Willimon talks about the differences between evangelism and apologetics. He says,

“That’s why the gospel never asks for mere intellectual agreement. The gospel call is for conversion, detoxification, rebirth. The gospel cannot be mapped onto experiences that are already there, as if the gospel can be easily transposed onto the culture of the high-bourgeois narcissism. Apologetics is never as radical as evangelism because apologetics concedes too much intellectual territory to the enemy before the battle begins, adopting the culture’s self definition as the appropriate means of describing our condition. So we begin with  existentialism, or self-esteem, or Marxism, or some other culturally approved category of thought and attempt to work back toward a defense of the Gospel. I agree with Karl Barth that these homiletical tactics will not work because the gospel requires a severe epistemological reorientation. Our preaching to the unbaptized must aim for conversion rather than mere agreement, evangelism rather than apologetics.” (p.40)

Do you agree? In our discussions on faith with non-believers are we starting in the right place and aiming toward the right goal? How far do we allow the world to define our lives? Should our desires define us? Should our skin color define us? Should the Gospel and our creator define us and what do we do when the labels of the world don’t jive with the labels of our Lord? Who gives the labels and which labels are biblically acceptable and which are not?

Willimon’s Thoughts on Reaching Emerging Generations

I found this helpful as he cites a study done by Wuthnow and some statistics on demographics of congregations successfully reaching young adults. Here is the link. If I can get my hands on the study I will post more specifics on it here.

Christian Sermon Links

Here are the links I have compiled to 67 different Christian ministers and scholars. The majority of these are from the church of Christ and some from Christendom in general. What links would you add? Who has has helped you grow in your faith who has their sermons online? Feel free to add suggestions in the comments. The additions will be reflected in the link at the top of Kingdom Living.

Alister McGrath
Andy Stanley – Northpoint
Ben Witherington III

Bill Williams
Bobby Valentine – Palo Verde Church of Christ
Brian McLaren – Cedar Ridge Community Church
Brian McLaren – Allelon
Brian Nicklaus
Craig Blomberg
Chris Seidman – Farmer’s Branch
Curt Sparks – Overland Park Church of Christ
D. A. Carson
Dallas Willard
Dallas Willard – Veritas
Dallas Willard – Allelon
Dan Holland – Metro Church of Christ
David Shannon – Mt. Juliet CofC (Mt. Juliet, TN)
David Young – North Boulevard CofC (Murfreesboro, TN)
Don McLaughlin – North Atlanta Church of Christ
Erwin McManus – Mosaic
Eugene Peterson – Allelon
Faith Comes By Hearing
Gary Bradley – Mayfair
James Dunn
Jeff Walling – Providence Road Church of Christ
Jim Woodroof
John Alan Turner
John Dobbs
John Ortberg
John Piper
John Risse – North Boulevard Church of Christ
John Scott – Saturn Road Church of Christ
John Stott
John York
Joseph Shulam
Karl Barth
Larry Crabb
Mark Hurt – Cordova Community Church
Mark Taylor
Marva Dawn
Max Lucado
Mike Cope – Highland Church of Christ (Abilene, TX)
Mike Winkler – Madison Church of Christ
Miroslav Volf
N.T. Wright
N.T. Wright – Allelon
Noel Whitlock – College Church of Christ (Searcy, AR)
Parker Palmer
Philip Cunningham III
Prentice Meador
Ravi Zacharias
Rick Atchley – Richland Hills Church of Christ
Rob Bell – Mars Hill Bible Church
Rubel Shelly
Stanley Hauerwas
Tim Bulkeley
Tim Spivey – Highland Oaks Church of Christ
Tim Woodroof – Otter Creek Church of Christ
Tony Campolo
Trey Morgan
Wade Hodges – Garnett Church of Christ (Tulsa, OK)
Walt Leaver – Brentwood Hills Church of Christ
Walter Brueggemann
Wheaton College Chapel – miscellaneous
Will Willimon & Others
William Lane Craig
Wolfhart Pannenburg