Does Your Board Know Its Business?

As the controversy continues surrounding Willow Creek Community Church’s pastor Bill Hybels, its Board of Elders has offered a public apology for how they initially responded.

Their response, as they outline it, was typical of embattled corporations: rallying ‘round the CEO (= senior pastor), denial of the validity of all accusations, denunciation of accusers, and insistence that their own lawyers entirely supported their position.

The Willow Creek elders now, to their credit, admit that they ought to have responded more pastorally, and are aiming to do better.

Having studied the governance structures of a number of Christian organizations, and having worked under, and consulted with, the leaders of a number of Christian organizations, my curiosity was piqued. I took a quick glance at Willow Creek’s website as it describes its elders.

From what I could read therein, the website indicates that the Board of Elders of this large, globally influential church features eight impressive people who are long-time members of Willow Creek and who bring a range of gifts and experiences to the Elder Board. All well and good.

Collectively, however, they list not a single year of theological education. Nor do any of them have experience in pastoral ministry.

One finds instead that most of them are executives and/or lawyers. And one begins to suspect that a certain mentality predominates on the board—a corporate one, rather than, say, a pastoral or theological or ecclesiastical one.

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The Ascension of the God Who Remains One of Us

Europeans do like their titles. And why shouldn’t they? They have some excellent ones. I was attending a meeting in Britain of university presidents from around the world. I served as one of the academic consultants to this august group, and on the conference table my placard identified me the way the Brits typically do: shortened given names and lengthened titles. So my little sign read, “Prof. Dr. J. G. Stackhouse, Jr.”

The pleasant fellow beside me, however, was the rector of a Polish university and thus had an appropriately grander title. His card read, “His Magnificence K. H. P—-.”

When Martin Luther made his defense before the assembled dignitaries at the Diet of Worms in 1521, he addressed the Holy Roman Emperor thus: “Your Serene Majesty.” Not just “Your Majesty,” as we are used to hearing in terms of our own monarch, but “Your Serene Majesty.”

Serenity in this context clearly suggests someone so powerful that he is utterly unruffled by that which troubles ordinary people. Serenity, which derives from roots meaning “clear and calm” (as in weather), marks a superb highness in one who has risen loftily above all that disturbs and darkens those of us below.

In its imperial heyday, the city of Venice itself was known as La Serenissima—“the most serene one.” For centuries, that is, Venice was prosperous, beautiful, and secure, while other, lesser, principalities struggled along.

This quality of imperturbability characterized ancient Greek notions of greatness as well. Aristotle attributed the creation of the world to an “Unmoved Mover”: one who influences, but is not influenced.

In the cultural shadow of this way of thinking, early Christian theologians sought to glorify God by attributing to God the highest qualities they could imagine. They thus declared that God must be utterly serene—although they used terms such as “immutable” (= God cannot change) and “impassible” (= God cannot suffer).

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Do Atheists Love as Well as Christians?

A self-avowed atheist correspondent challenged me on my last post for “Context,” the one that showed “Very Committed” Christians giving more to charity than does everyone else in Canada, even as the actual amounts of giving weren’t terribly impressive.

My correspondent understandably bristled at a possible problem in this comparison: “Is it fair to compare ‘very committed’ members of Cause X to the members in total of all other causes? Shouldn’t you compare the ‘very committed’ to the ‘very committed’?”

And, he continued, might it be the case that “joiners” just “join” things, “givers” just “give,” such that their behaviour is a function of personality type, not of the actual content of their ideologies, philosophies, or religions?

This question made immediate sense to me, and I’ve pursued it this past week. But I don’t know that my atheist friend is going to like what I’ve concluded.

The comparison of “very committed” Christians to everybody else does demonstrate what I wanted it to demonstrate, namely, that Christianity is not a parasite on the body politic. Serious Christians pull their weight (and more) in terms of social responsibility, as Christians don’t give only to their own causes, but to lots of secular ones as well. So far, so good.

My friend wondered, however, if I was also implying that Christians were more altruistic than atheists. Comparing the “cream of the crop” Christians with “run of the mill” people espousing “No Religion” seemed wrong. And he’s right.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]