by Tim O'Donnell | April 6th, 2011
A respectful, give and take dialogue has ensued between Pastor Bob Cornwall of Central Woodward Christian Church and me. Now we just need to add your voice. Dr. Cornwall is a church historian and senior pastor of the Disciples of Christ congregation in Troy MI. He also writes almost everyday on his blog, Ponderings on a Faith Journey. He recently wrote a review of A View from the Back Pew, to which I responded. Pastor Bob is a good guy.
I don’t generally respond directly to reviews of the book, but sometimes it’s called for. In this case, Pastor Bob focuses his review mostly on a very important discussion that may be starting in our country and it would be remiss of me – irresponsible maybe – to ignore his invitation to dialogue.
I appreciate the leadership that Dr. Cornwall displays when he sees past the inevitable differences we will have about doctrine and seeks out the higher, more fertile ground for a meaningful discussion between a representative leader of organized religion (him) and a demographic sample from the loose but growing number of “spiritual but not religious” folks (me) scattered throughout society. This spiritual but not religious demographic is growing albeit without organization and is claiming people from nearly every brand or tradition of organized religion. Although I pretend no such leadership role for this “spiritual” group, Cornwall views the book as a potential illustrative voice of what may be happening on this front.
What’s most engaging to me about this man is his willingness to look at why people might end up outside the big box of Christianity instead of chastising them for being there. He considers, “What we on the institutional side of things can learn here is that there is a strong sense of disappointment and frustration among the populace. The traditional institutions aren’t speaking to their hearts or their minds. The question is why? Why do people feel the need to strike out on their own?” There is an undeniable and welcome sophistication and equanimity to his attitude not easily found in the Christian clergy. He does not however, betray his position within the institution as he continues, “At the same time, I wonder if this new movement pushes the pendulum of institutionalism too far in the other direction, and what that will mean for people’s journeys as they become less and less connected to traditions once held? These are all questions that I pose to further the conversation, and not cut it off.”
Pastor Bob Cornwall asks probing and productive questions of both sides and I’m pleased that the many sticky questions posited in A View from the Back Pew are getting thoughtful and learned men like him to think and reach out in the spirit of meaningful discourse. I’m very pleased to engage in the discussion, but I only intended to start the confab. I would love for the conversation to expand.
I think I speak for Pastor Bob when I encourage your comments; our dialogue becomes a conversation only when you engage it.