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Growing Spiritual Redwoods Paperback – November 1, 1997
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Authors William Easum and Thomas Bandy argue that there are two types of churches in existence today--those that are perishing and those that are thriving. Growing Spiritual Redwoods pinpoints methods that sustain church growth and reveals how the archaic implementation of "dogma, doctrine, and historical knowledge" robs some churches from ministering to its members. According to the authors, putting aside "decision-makers" for "disciple-makers," church work for personal fulfillment, and hierarchy for organism are a few of the facets of change that will alter the leadership, worship, and methodology of any church, lending itself to further growth, evangelism, and outreach. While the authors are leading a growing trend of unconventional ways to church God's people, it is beneficial to remember that specific methodology is not necessarily capable of producing success--God's word has the capacity to change people no matter what the human motivation or program might be. Although Growing Spiritual Redwoods can seem like a business plan for church life, Easum and Bandy give substantial documentation and practical application for what works to make a strong 21st-century church. --Jill Heatherly
About the Author
Bill Easum is President of The Effective Church Group, a church consulting and coaching firm. One of the most widely sought advisers on congregational health and vitality in North America, he has over 30 years of congregational experience, with approximately 25 years' experience as a pastor. One of the most respected voices on emerging forms of ministry and congregational life, he is the author of several books, including Unfreezing Moves, Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First, Go Big!, (with Bil Cornelius), and Ministry in Hard Times (with Bill Tenny-Brittian), and Preaching for Church Transformation, all published by Abingdon Press.
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Who is this Relationship Jesus? The authors are not sure who he is, but they know who he is not. He is not Lord, or Messiah, or King, or Son of God, or even Savior because such titles "have become so laden with underlying nuances that seekers are too nervous to consider them." (p. 39.) And what of "Christ"? Easum and Bandy say that term "carries an enormous weight of complex dogma, and invites seekers into an arena of religious disagreement ... that is (to them) frightening in its irrelevance." (p. 39.) Under no circumstances must doctrine be allowed to frighten or unnerve the seekers as they experience Relationship Jesus. Seekers must be free to imagine this Jesus in any way they wish. The authors tell us that no less an authority than the Council of Chalcedon "resolved conflict about the person and work of Jesus by declaring that every perspective was both right and wrong." (p. 52.) Relationship Jesus is everything you want him to be and, apparently, he is also not everything you want him to be. Go figure.
There is one point of doctrine the authors tolerate and that is the Incarnation. But dogma-fearing North Americans need not fret, as the authors quickly assure them that: "Only the mysterious paradox of the incarnation is essential to Christian faith. All else is metaphor." (p.54.) That "all else" of non-essential metaphor would include, by the way, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.
This book thrives on the false dichotomy of "either doctrine or experience." Time and again the authors dismiss doctrine as an impediment to experience as shown in such statements as "Are you committed to Jesus Christ ... or to a particular doctrine" and "Do you speak of faith as an experience with Christ or as a heritage to protect" and "Understanding the saving grace of God in a rationally consistent, historically grounded way is not important to most Americans; Experiencing that saving grace ... is everything." (pp. 14, 41.)
Could it be that one can hold fast to that doctrine first delivered by the Apostles and still experience the Lord Jesus Christ? And by the "Lord Jesus Christ" I do not mean the amorphous, metaphorical, paradoxical Jesus of Easum and Bandy who is all things to all men, be they right or wrong. I mean the man who was born of a virgin, crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered, died and was buried, rose again in accordance with the Scriptures and ascended into heaven. That Jesus! The same Apostles who delivered the doctrine also experienced that Jesus. Paul, who warned the Galatians to not receive any other gospel than the one he preached, also prayed that the Ephesians would be inwardly enlightened so as to comprehend "what is the breadth and width and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up with all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:18-19.) Now that is an experience!
So doctrine and experience are not mutually exclusive. The real question is whether they are mutually dependent. That is, can someone experience Jesus, the real and true Jesus, without embracing sound Christian doctrine. Just as there is true doctrine and a true Jesus who can be experienced, there is also false doctrine and, the Lord warned, a false Jesus that can be experienced. Because Easum and Bandy reject sound doctrine and even reason itself, they have no ability to discern the true from the false.
Now, I know the postmoderns out there will shake their heads and say, "The poor boy just doesn't get it. Hasn't he heard? There are no absolutes, there are no meta-narratives, there are no universal truths. There is no true Jesus, there is no false Jesus. There is just 'Jesus', and those Chalcedons had it right, all perceptions of Jesus (and of everything else) are both right and wrong." Well, if the postmoderns are right, then their "Jesus" is nothing more than a contentless banner, to use Francis Schaeffer's phrase. It is just a label used to generate interest in an undefinable "experience." They could call it anything: Jesus or Buddha or Krishna or Mithra or Mothra or whatever. It doesn't matter. And they may actually have an experience, but ultimately their experience will not matter either because it is just as contentless as the label they put on it. The secular philosophers came to this dead-end conclusion long ago. The church philosophers like Easum and Bandy are lagging behind. But they will get there eventually. Its just a matter of time.
There is no meaning and there is no hope in Relationship Jesus, or in the experiences he might bestow. But there is meaning and hope in the true Jesus, a "living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (1 Pet. 1:3.) May you experience this Jesus soon.