Don’t Call Me “Pastor”

Seth Merrin said that having no titles is symbolic, but it really works. (Earl Wilson/The New York Times)

When I talk to journalists, I regularly need to ask them not to refer to me as “Pastor Tony Jones,” or “Tony Jones is a Christian pastor…” That’s because I am not, currently, a pastor. Call me a “minister” or a “clergyperson” or a “theologian-in-residence,” but not a pastor.

“Pastor” is a role, not a title. Even better than a noun, it’s a verb, and if one is “to pastor,” then one needs a congregation to pastor. Deriving from the word for shepherd, a pastor needs sheep.

But, as you might guess, I’d rather do away with titles in church life altogether. I am firmly against hierarchies — bishops, synods, general assemblies, district superintendents, etc. — because they are bad for the gospel. They may be good for organizational proliferation, but the gospel has absolutely no interest in organizational proliferation.

Last weekend, the New York Times reported on Liquidnet, a brokerage firm that has recently done away with all titles. Seth Merrin founded Liquidnet, and the interview with him is fascinating — and should be studied by pastors, church council members, and denominational employees. Here are some money quotes:

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The Way of the Agnostic

How do you evaluate the claims of a religion? Many readers of this blog are agnostic or atheist (as witnessed in the comments of the latest Questions That Haunt (which I will answer in the next 24 hours!)). Well, Gary Cutting has some words of wisdom for you:

To evaluate a religion, we need to distinguish the three great human needs religions typically claim to satisfy: love, understanding, and knowledge.  Doing so lets us appreciate religious love and understanding, even if we remain agnostic regarding religious knowledge.  (For those with concerns about talking of knowledge here:  I’m using “knowledge” to mean believing, with appropriate justification, what is true.  Knowledge in this sense may be highly probable but not certain; and faith—e.g., belief on reliable testimony—may provide appropriate justification.)

A religion offers a community in which we are loved by others and in turn learn to love them.  Often this love is understood, at least partly, in terms of a moral code that guides all aspects of a believer’s life. Religious understanding offers a way of making sense of the world as a whole and our lives in particular.  Among other things, it typically helps believers make sense of the group’s moral code.  Religious knowledge offers a metaphysical and/or historical account of supernatural realities that, if true, shows the operation of a benevolent power in the universe.  The account is thought to provide a causal explanation of how the religion came to exist and, at the same time, a foundation for its morality and system of understanding.

He continues:

There remains much more to be said about the status of religious knowledge, looking in detail at the cases for and against various religious claims.  My own view is that agnosticism will often be the best stance regarding religious knowledge claims (both religious and atheistic).  But my present concern is to emphasize that, even if it falls short of knowledge, religion can be an important source of understanding.

Non-believers — and many believers themselves — assume that, without a grounding in religious knowledge, there is no foothold for fruitful religious understanding.  But is this really so?  Is it perhaps possible to have understanding without knowledge?  Here some reflections on the limits of science, our paradigm of knowledge, will be helpful.

Read the rest: The Way of the Agnostic – NYTimes.com.

I’d be keen to hear what some of you agnostic and atheistic readers think of his essay. (For the record, I’m currently somewhere on the Christian agnosticism/igtheism spectrum.)

John Piper, Doug Pagitt, and a Lame Duck

John Piper (StarTribune/Bruce Bispring)

Some interesting items in the news last Sunday. Rose French wrote a profile of the semi-retiring John Piper, in which Your Favorite Blogger was quoted:

Tony Jones, a theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch church in Minneapolis, is one of Piper’s frequent critics.

“I don’t think the fundamental nature of God is wrath at human sin,” Jones said. “I’m not going to say God isn’t disappointed by human sin … but at the very core of Piper’s theological vision is that God’s wrath burns white-hot at your sin and my sin. When I read the Bible, that’s not the God I find.”

Piper offers no apologies for his theology.

“If you try to throw away a wrathful God, nothing in Christianity makes sense. The cross certainly doesn’t make sense anymore, where [Jesus] died for sinners.”* His views of the tornado and bridge collapse, he said, “are rooted in the sovereignty of God. Even though people see them as harsh, negative, wrathful, whatever, they are good news.”

He said he considers himself a “happy Calvinist — which is an oxymoron. I’m on a crusade to make that not an oxymoron.”

Over in the New York Times, Doug Pagitt rated a quote in a story about church planting:

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Another Bad Argument against Marriage Equality

Andrew Rosenthal at the New York Times:

Perhaps the most ridiculous argument against marriage equality is the one voiced most recently by David Bates, a Republican member of the New Hampshire legislature – that homosexuality is a choice, and thus same-sex marriage is not a civil rights issue.

“Civil rights have to do with intrinsic qualities that a person just can’t change,” said Mr. Bates, the sponsor of a bill that would repeal New Hampshire’s marriage equality law. Being gay, he said, doesn’t qualify. “There’s no other example of any basis that we afford a civil right based upon a behavior or a preferential choice,” he said.

It’s astonishing that anyone in the 21st century would hew to the notion that humans choose their sexual orientation. I wonder when Mr. Bates made the affirmative decision to become a heterosexual.

But in any case, the preference issue isn’t sufficient to end the conversation. We choose our religious affiliations—or at least we have the freedom to choose—and yet it’s illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of religion.

READ THE REST: David Bates of New Hampshire Describes Sexuality as a Preference – NYTimes.com.


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