Welcome to NEXT University! During the month of August, we are highlighting our most popular posts and videos on the NEXT blog from the past few years, with suggestions for how to use this content with church sessions, committees, staff and other leaders.
Of all the thoughtful speakers and provocative blog posts and videos we’ve shared over the years, whether at our conferences or on our blog, Stacy Johnson’s keynote address at our 2012 National Gathering in Dallas remains a highlight. Stacy Johnson is Arthur M. Adams Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and a member of NEXT’s advisory team.
Stacy’s remarks have been quoted and shared widely over the years. In today’s installment of NEXT U, we annotate this video and break it into topical sections. You’re invited to view some or all of the segments and engage the questions provided… or let Stacy’s words spark your own imaginations.
(all times below are approximate)
Introduction — The Logic of Survival v. The Logic of the Cross (1:50-5:05 on video)
- Where have you seen the logic of survival at work in your context? the logic of the cross?
- Jesus, according to Stacy, did not advocate fighting or giving in to the logic of survival, but rather to trust in a different reign. Where do you see that reflected biblically? What does that different reign look like right where you live?
The “Cultural Tsunami”: Technical and Adaptive Challenges (5:05-9:55 on video)
This section takes us through some of the statistics facing our denomination, as well as some of the attitudes of millenials and “nones.” Stacy also unpacks the difference between technical and adaptive challenges.
- How do Stacy’s comments about millenials and nones “wanting to learn the game” play out where you live?
- What are some of the technical and adaptive challenges in your congregation? To use Stacy’s analogy, have you found yourself treating a sprained ankle when in fact the leg is gone?
- Do you agree that “Christianity as usual is not working”? Why or why not?
The Gospel and Our Adaptive Challenges (9:50-15:10 on video)
In this section, Stacy argues that the adaptive work we need emerges from the gospel itself—that the biblical witness itself is a testimony to the need for constant reform, grappling and change (see shifting attitudes toward slavery, the role of women, and the place of torture).
- According to Stacy, theologians say christendom is on the decline and that we should find new ways of being church. But then their remedy is to repeat the same doctrinal structures of christendom. Do you agree? Where have you seen this play out, or resisted?
- Do you agree that we have “hardly begun” to understand the full depth of the gospel?
- According to Stacy, “We stand between reform and revolution.” Where do you see yourself and your congregation on this continuum? (Or do you?)
Where Do We Go from Here, Part 1: The Poetry of Ministry (15:10-21:00 on video)
- The word “poesis” means “to make or to create.” How does your congregation engage in poesis? What does your church “make”? As Christian communities, what should we be in the business of “creating”?
- What are some practical ways to engage in the “poetry of ministry” in your context?
- “The gospel is not a theory; it’s about a life.” What’s your response to this? If this is true, what does it mean for our life together? Our polity? Or way of “doing theology”?
- Bibliographical Note: Stacy references Craig Barnes’s The Pastor as Minor Poet and Walter Brueggemann’s Finally Comes the Poet. Both are worth checking out for further conversation.
Where Do We Go from Here, Part 2: Prayer (21:00-26:25 on video)
- Think about the ways we pray in our congregations. To what extent are we tending to God v. asking God to attend to us?
- Reflect on this definition of nihilism: “if a single standard is not good for everyone, then there is no standard good for anyone at any time.” How do you respond? Have you seen this principle play out in the church?
- Reflect on this comment from Gerald May, that it’s only when our beliefs crumble that we stop worshiping our beliefs and begin to worship God. Have you seen this process take place in your congregation? Has it ever taken place in your own life?
Where Do We Go from Here, Part 3: Prophetic Witness (26:20-30:30 on video)
- How do you see prophetic religion as distinct from liberal or conservative religion?
- The world is the arena in which God is acting.” Where have you seen God at work this week?
- Reflect on this statement: “We are not yet what we shall be.”
Conclusion (30:00-end of video)
Here Stacy revisits the “fear of perishing v. the logic of the cross” that he introduced in the beginning.
- How has the gospel “happened to you” lately?
- How can we tell those stories more fully in the congregations we serve… to make the gospel more “conspicuous”?