Saturday, September 13, 2008

Part 5: Closer Look at the UCC's God Is Still Speaking Ads

The United Church of Christ is putting itself on television again and thereby launching a new phase of its "God Is Still Speaking" (GISS) advertising campaign. What is the theology behind the campaign and its three commercials, "Steeple," "Bouncer," and "Ejector"? That's the subject of this 5-part series. These observations are taken from a paper I presented at the 2006 National Gathering of Faithful & Welcoming Churches and again at a 2007 regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.

Today's post summarizes the critique of the UCC's "God is still speaking" campaign.

"Never place a period where God has placed a comma" is not only a foundational quote to the God is Still Speaking (GISS) campaign—it was a guiding force for this lengthy series of posts! It explored in depth the theological method to three basic questions that the “God Is Still Speaking” campaign raises: What is God saying? How is God saying it? And how are people hearing and responding to God’s message?

The following "comma-tary" is offered in summary about the Stillspeaking Initiative and its slogan, "God is still speaking:"
  • It is a good summary of the UCC’s history, yet it cannot prima facie validate that history as correct, nor guarantee future faithfulness on the part of the denomination.
  • It warrants the UCC's interest in God’s revelation today—in contrast to the pattern of all "new" revelation being evaluated in the sieve of sola scriptura.
  • It warrants the UCC's belief in an all-embracing, inclusive God—in contrast to the biblical witness of a God who transforms one's moral character by redeeming sinful humanity through Jesus Christ. Everyone is welcome, but not everyone will enter God's kingdom.
  • It warrants the UCC's "extravagant welcome" in all aspects of the church’s life—in contrast to the biblical preference for distinctions and holiness guidelines.
The lasting challenge of the "God is Stillspeaking" campaign is its call to think more deeply about what it means to be the Church and how its boundaries should be defined.

So instead of ending this series with a period, it will end with a comma--leaving you with a memorable metaphor from Caroline A. Westerhoff's excellent book, Good Fences that challenges us all to contemplate what it means to be a church of "extravagant welcome:"
Like a cell membrane, a boundary must be semi-permeable: admitting and containing what is necessary for sustaining and enriching life, discharging and excluding anything that does not belong within its borders. A membrane that allows anything and everything to enter and leave is a membrane that is no longer functioning. The cell—the system—is now dead or dying. A healthy boundary is firm enough to hold, but not so tight that it binds, confines, and cuts. It is flexible enough to allow movement and change within time and circumstances, but not so loose that it encourages sloppiness and aimless wondering. A boundary that is too rigid fosters still and brittle attitudes; it is always in danger of freezing and cracking. One that is too porous encourages attitudes of carelessness and disorder; it will rot and crumble.

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