September 4, 2018 Aaron Ross

Looking Back to Forge Ahead

With summer now over, college students everywhere groan as they readapt to the routine of early mornings, entirely too much coffee, and figuring out work / life / sleep balances. The view of college students slovenly walking in protest to classes at 7:35 am means that ECCLĒSIAM is back and in full swing! With the blog on hiatus during the summer months, quite a few noteworthy things happened within the church and around the world. We would normally have blogged about these instances, so we have in this post created a quick newsflash designed to bring you up to speed.

Bill Hybels, former senior pastor and founder of Willow Creek, was in the national news yet again as another former staff member brought sexual harassment allegations amidst the few allegations already declared. Sadly, Bill Hybels was not the only megachurch pastor to have this type of allegation against him this summer.

A megachurch pastor in California, Andrew Stoecklein, recently committed suicide days after speaking about mental health to his congregation, Inland Hills Church.

Hillsong Young and Free felt quite a pushback from many fans from their music video for their song “Peace” this summer. Many commentators expressed feeling uneasy, or “not at peace” because of the music video. Some commentators even called the video demonic. In response, Hillsong removed the video from YouTube.

In other Hillsong related news, Joel Houston kickstarted a bit of a science and faith firestorm when he tweeted this summer that “Evolution is undeniable. . . “. Houston tweeted this stark statement in response to questions he was receiving about using the lyric, “And as You speak / A hundred billion creatures catch Your breath / Evolving in pursuit of what You said” in the song “So Will I (100 Billion X)”.

Not quite so finally, Pew Research released a large study this summer on the reasons why Americans either go or do not go to church. The Church has a lot to learn from this study in order to recognize the culture and how it contextually relates to religious experiences.

Much else transpired this summer that will be discussed, dissected, and put into conversation with theological, biblical, and Christian praxis; however, we do not intend to purvey a bleak understanding and thought of the church. The Spirit is transforming unseen spaces throughout the world, which will lead us to engage in pivotal discussions surrounding the Kingdom of God’s manifestation within the modern century.

What ECCLĒSIAM seeks to do this semester is provide pensive, theological, and biblical answers forward through many struggles currently confronting the Church.

This year we will be attempting to tackle some of these big issues. Rather than provide another piece on the struggle of pastors in places of power and the abuse of that power (sexually, monetarily, etc. . .), what methods can the church employ to cultivate an accountability culture and a confessional environment that invites healing? How can the church not only hold necessary discussions on mental health topics but also provide safe spaces and support for those afflicted? Instances exist in which this process already thrives; however, do Christians, especially those in leadership and ministry positions, feel the need to hide their own struggles or temptations?

How do we foster church environments that celebrate artistic expression? While the church appears to be returning to a purveyor of good art, are congregants ready if Hillsong pushes the envelope yet again with their art that attempts to show more of God? Where can we find the balance of discussion between faith and science? Even more so, based on what Joel Houston’s tweets have aroused, is the church in need of both civilities amongst disagreements as well as encouragement in creating communities of deep learning and thinking?

Finally, what can research within American religious culture tell us about the church twenty years into the future?

What we hope to foster at ECCLĒSIAM is a learning environment born from Southeastern University’s Barnett College of Ministry and Theology. Through contemplative study, research, and creative theological thought, we desire these posts to help shape the church as it manifests the Kingdom by the Spirit.

Stay tuned, we think this is going to be the best year at ECCLĒSIAM yet.

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About the Author

Aaron Ross Aaron Ross is Assistant Professor of Theology at Southeastern University and a PhD student at the University of Birmingham (UK). He is also the senior editor of ECCLESIAM. In his spare time, Aaron enjoys running and being an avid movie watcher.