It is just possible that we might be starting to see positive change from Newfrontiers.
Following a significant speech from Dave Stroud at this years TOAM "Together On A Mission" which David Matthias describes as A very important 10 minutes we now have the first public challenge I have seen of Mark Driscoll from Newfrontiers. Also from David Matthias we have a call for an apology in A real shame.
Of course Christian repentance is not just about saying sorry but about a change of heart & direction, a desire for forgiveness and reconciliation. However, even a call for an apology from Newfrontiers is a step in the right direction and to be welcomed.
I have already mentioned Dave Stround's speech in 42: Newfrontiers want to welcome radical feminists. I have since listened to it (and it would be much easier to respond accuratelty and fairly if there was a transcript available). There are some welcome challenges to some of the attitudes that we have seen in the past. Many of the changes Dave Stroud talks about in a 10 minute section of his 80 minute speech are welcome. Hopefully it will result in a changes in the style of interactions we see from Newfrontiers bloggers for example:
- less ignoring women (deleting comments, ignoring emails and comments etc)
- less redefining evangelicalism to exclude others
- fewer accusations of blasphemy or heresy
- more willingness to challenge hatred from the likes of Mark Driscoll
Even more important would be some changes on the ground. Just one simple example is that I know many Methodist ministers, especially those that happen to be women, would appreciate a more generous, welcoming and inclusive approach from Newfrontiers.
However, just as I welcome the possibility of these positive changes so we need to recognise that there are still significant issues. 5 of the most obvious within Dave Stroud's speech are:
1. When he talks about scripture it really bugs me that the use of Scripture by Male Headship devotees is just so bad. This bad scholarship should not be a mark of Evangelicalism which has always held a high value on the authority of Scripture. As always for a Male Headship supporter Genesis 1 is ignored (because it totally contradicts Male Headship) and the exegesis of Genesis 2 never gets to grips with the reality of gender in Hebrew and so is a shaky foundation for Male Headship. See this excellent series
Then of course the way that he talks of all the women as leaders in the Church in Romans 16 while refusing to recognise that several of them are in roles that Newfrontiers denies for women. Junia as a apostle and Priscilla as the leader of a Church in her home are very obvious. For more detail (lots and lots of detail) see the excellent posts from Suzanne MacCarthy on Junia.
2. The way that Dave says that Newfrontiers theology is not going to change is a problem. He is making a mistake that many other Churches have made in the past. When we say that our theology is not going to change we suddenly elevate Tradition to a higher authority than Scripture. It is a vital key for all Churches to recognise that our Traditions (including our cherished understanding of Theology) must be subservient to the authority of Scripture. I was privileged to be in the Vatican some years ago and hear the head of their Biblical Studies (sadly can't remember the proper name of the group or the man in charge) say that the Catholic Church now recognised that all traditions needed to be subject to the final authority of Scripture (I know there is a debate on how real this has proved to be so far). Newfrontiers need to do the same.
3. I was saddened by the cheap accusation near the start of the talk that "the churches that we have left do nostalgia but we are different because instead we look back with gratitude". It would be good to see a more generous spirit here and for Newfrontiers to recognise is that other Churches change as well. As when the reformation is only remembered in terms of the start of Protestant Churches we miss the reformation within the Catholic Church that resulted. So for example some recognition that the Methodist Church is not the same as it was 30 or 40 years ago.
4. While the bit about engagement with social action was good it is sad that Newfrontiers don't recognise the work of others, still far too little attention paid to good work by others and to working together. For example why don't Newfrontiers start relating to JPIT or at least read their excellent stuff such as the paper (pdf) on poverty presented to this years Methodist Conference.
5. I also find the whole presentation of how decisions are made about the future of Newfrontiers bewildering. Why would anyone want to be part of a Church run by group of essentially self-selected, self-appraising and self-accountable men? Scary that this small group of men can decide anything they want about the future of the movement without needing any public accountability or even consultation except as they want it.
After Dave comments on the explosion of Methodism in the 2nd and 3rd generations. I find it very interesting to reflect that it was at that time that Methodism decided it did not want the brilliant but autocratic leadership of another John Wesley and went for Christian conferring within a democratic structure that has seen a deliberate shift of power away from individuals and the clergy. Yet Newfrontiers have chosen to stay with autocratic "Apostolic" leadership albeit now in a self selected team (which comes across as a friendship circle with the inner circle of people).
A curates egg that needs to be welcomed but watched.