Tuesday, October 24, 2006

will willimon and social determination

I just picked up Will Willimon's book Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. Here's something to chew on about the way that our values are often chosen for us, without our permission.
We work within a culture of rugged individualists and fragmented communities. We are officially schooled in the notion that we are most fully ourselves when we are liberated, autonomous, on our own. We live under the modern myth that it is possible, even desireable, to live our lives without external, social determination. Ironically, that we think it desireable to live our lives without external, social determination is proof that our lives have been externally, socially determined by the culture of capitalist consumption. I did not on my own come up with the notion that I am a sovereign individual with no greater purpose in life than to live exclusively for myself. Rather, this culture has formed me to believe that I have no other purpose in life other than the purpose I myself have chosen. The irony is that I did not choose the story that I have no purpose in life other tha that which I have chosen.

The issue is not, Shall I be externally determined by some community of interpretation and authorization? The issue is, Which community will have its way with my life? Or perhaps more accurately, Will the community that determines, interprets, and authorizes me be worthy of my life? (19)


Anonymous said...


Apparently the Bishop just started a blog. I enjoyed reading his blog.


I didn't make any posts but I will continue to read him.
I may not agree with all UMC\Wesleyan theology. I had read some of Bishop Willimon's books and have been blessed by his teachings and explanations of Wesleyan theology.

Men like Bishop Willimon give a Southern Baptist, myself, a wake up call to be less legalistic. Yes, I will hold fast to doctrine, the faith passed to the saints.

But I have not love, I am a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal...
Sometimes I need to pipe down and listen to the what the Holy Spirit is saying to me.

Your brother in Christ,

John Flores
Frisco, Texas

Bill Byars said...

Now that quote I liked. We are constantly being told what we are to be like, by society as a whole, whatever that is, and by many many subgroups. I believe this bleeds down even to our church, friendships, family, and on and on.

I believe to a degree this is necessary, too. But most of all it is a sort of trap. It is a trap we either accept for one or more of many reason, or we reject for one or more of many reasons. Furthermore, the acceptance or rejection may be any shade of gray.

If one is aware of the social pressures of life, I believe it can near drive one mad.

It is therefore interesting that if one views all of these pressures in the light of the goal of Christlikeness in the power of the Spirit for the purpose of glorifying God, then these pressures being to change shape and color and sound and begin to orchestrate, rather than command and control.

Whew! I don't know what came over me! I became pompous there...just for a minute. Sorry! But I'll save this, just in case someone is paying people for pompuosity...

Sincerely, Because Others Are,

- Bill

Lon Alderman said...

There are some similarities between Willimon's thoughts and the Truth Project. It's good to see people of faith "pushing back".

Thanks for sharing your ongoing quest.


JD said...


With my background, and really, it is just my degree, but not my field, of Sociology, I can really understand and relate to Willimon's comments. Our mores and folkways, within the culture we live, have a great deal of influence on our decisions, whether we like it or not.

A perfect example is the struggle the UMC currently has with homosexuality. The churches in which the debates regarding homosexual ministers have occurred are in parts of the country that are a more liberal extension of the UMC. This discussion within most of the UMCs in Texas would be moot and distractions that it caused the UMC Annual Conference in those regions and the ripple affect across the UMC in America would have been minimized (there was a case similar to the northwest and it really did not go anywhere and the church discipline was followed in determining the outcome of the complaint).

Imagine yourself growing up in a country that does not allow the religious freedoms that are afforded to us in America. Would you be a UMC minister? I truly believe the Gospel will be spread to all the world and all peoples will be allowed the opportunity to chose or reject the truth of Christ, but would you step outside of the culture in which you live to accept an idea foreign to your culture? Would you be brave enough to accept the conviction of Christ and let the Spirit move within you in such a way that you have no fear in truly expressing your belief in Christ with the clear understanding of the outcome of that decision? I would hope that I would, but I know that the influence of our culture can be a POWERFUL detractor to living your faith. I have a great deal of respect for those in China, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the world where the profession of faith usually results in death. These places in the world allow Christians to truly live out Romans 10: 9-10. Their confession will be a true belief in their heart because it usually results in death or imprisonment.

Just a little more to chew on when looking at the "chewy" :) subject.


Jason Woolever said...

i like what you said bill about allowing those pressures to make us more like Christ instead of conforming to them. I think that's what you said!

Reminds me of Romans 12:2 "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

Thanks for the conversation everybody.

JD said...


Thanks for really noodling it down to a true call to all Christians, regardless of the "social mores and folkways." Romans 12:2 is somewhat of a challenge for every Christian, myself included, especially when it comes to trying to justify our behaviors that are not Christ like.

This concept of going against the flow is really well discussed in the book I recommended and have on the blog, Sinai Summit: Meeting God with Our Character Crisis by Rick Atchley. Things we think are "not so bad because I am still doing better than society" is a fallacy they we fall into every day.

Thanks for the discussion everyone.