For over thirty years, I have been part of an extraordinary community of theological friends. In our careers we were pastors, missionaries, seminary and college professors, and a university president. All of us were productive writers and thinkers and published individually a great deal over the years.
We began coming together during the time that the Southern Baptist Convention was imploding over politics and theological disagreement in the 1980s. It was formed with three members and they soon began to invite the rest of us to join . This group became a wonderful place of freedom and fellowship. We found that we were able to voice any thought without judgment and have it tested by our colleagues and friends, sometimes quite intensively.
As the years went on the group became more and more weighted toward deep friendship as we walked through losses, job crises, and suffering together. One of the founding members of our group passed away at age 60, but we have continued to meet for most of that time, twice a year and during Covid continued over Zoom because our relationships were a sustaining reality for us. But also we grew theologically by the instrument of mind sharpening mind.
It kept me alive as a pastor, made me read books I otherwise would not have known, and expanded my thinking which, I am certain, benefitted my congregations and listeners in various settings. There is something unavoidable in the statement of Jesus that “where two or more are gathered, there am I among them.” In the broadest sense, part of the defect of current Christian life is our compartmentalized and self-reinforcing orthodoxies that gather according to sameness and agreement rather than for genuine growth and maturity (which comes only through testing). Churches today look too much alike, conformed by politics, culture and a longing for security from the world instead of a fearless love for that world.
We do not agree with each other on many things theologically, but we are all Christians in our confession and the one unifying factor is that everyone in the group has a PhD degree and is a theologian by calling. We have also most interestingly published some books together.
The first one was at the time of the death of our founder and friend, Philip Wise, and it is called For Faith and Friendship. (Fisher Humphreys, T. J. Mashburn, Richard F. Wilson, Editors. Covington, Louisiana: Insight Press, 2010). It is a collection of essays on a wide variety of topics.
We so enjoyed the effort that some years later we worked together again with a book entitled, Encountering God in the Prayers of Others Paul Basden, Editor. Cleveland, Tennessee: Parson’s Porch Books, 2014). Each of us wrote several chapters reflecting on a written prayer from Christian history that had become meaningful to us in our spiritual lives. It is a wonderful book and the chapters of other members blessed me as much as I hope mine blessed those who read it.
Most recently, we had conversation with Pat Anderson, the wonderful editor of Christian ethics. Today, one of our members, Dr. Fisher Humphreys is on the board of CET and pitched the idea of our group writing an entire issue of the journal and Pat immediately accepted. We had also done this once earlier when we did an entire issue of The Theological Educator (Spring 1998 No. 57) on the theme of theology for the church. My article there was “Intersections of Grace: Theology and Pastoral Care in the Local Parish,” about the importance of theology for doing the work of pastoral care in ministry with integrity.
My own article in this issue is entitled, “Bridge Builders: Turning the Wedges in a World of Division.” It is an expansion of a sermon that I also shared as a commencement address at Samford University last December about the peril of division and the work of reconciliation for Christians, in this divisive time.
I have listed below the other titles in the issue and I would invite all of my readers, to take a moment, to go to the link, and become a subscriber. If you wish, there is no charge for either the online or receiving Christian ethics today, it’s always worth reading.
Sometimes CET will outrage you but it will always challenge your thinking. I hope you’ll go to the link and read mine and the other articles and thanks for being my readers. I would hope many Christian people would seek out the opportunity to grow through fellowship and gatherings that do not merely reinforce what we always think but by helping us to think more clearly, honestly, faithfully and humbly.
READ the issue free (click the link)
Introduction to the Trinity Group By Fisher Humphreys
The Dangers of Christian Nationalism By Paul Basden
Afghan Refugees and The Honor Deficit By Gerald Wright and Grayson Beemus
Bridge Builders: Turning the Wedges in a World of Division By Gary Furr
A Christian Understanding of Punishment By Fisher Humphreys
Approaches to Religious Dialogue (with Cautions) By Richard Francis Wilson
Seeking and Speaking the Truth: Descartes, the Kung San Tribe, and Readers of Christian
Ethics Today By T. J. Mashburn
Eating That Gospel Pie: Religious Rhetoric in the Songs of John Prine By Dwight A. Moody
When Life Takes Your Song By Roger Sullivan
Hospital Visits: A Primer By Paul Robertson
Practicing Hospitality By LaMon Brown