When we moved to Atlanta four years ago, I joined one of the 140 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ministerial peer groups because I thought I needed to be around smart people. My peer group is excellent, but for a while I feared that we had lost our way.
We started out reading challenging theological texts. We asked, “What books will stretch us intellectually? What will keep us on the cutting edge of religious inquiry?”
Our meetings were the Harvard Divinity School faculty if they were talking about God at the Harvard Divinity School.
Michael Tutterow would exclaim: “Was zur holle! Why is Wolfhart Pannenberg so simple-minded?”
Greg Smith would bellow: “The Germans never say anything that isn’t obvious.”
We were C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien at that bar in Oxford, without the adult beverages.
Ron Grizzle would ask, “What difference would it have made to the Reformation if Martin Luther had been taking Prozac?”
Bill Bigger would wonder, “If an emerging church goes down is it a submerging church?”
We explored the theological implications of the work of Adam Sandler, Kanye West, and both Madonnas.
Our questions were stimulating. Our answers were provocative. Marcus Borg wanted to be in our group, but we weren’t sure he could keep up. We put Brian McLaren on the waiting list.
I knew we couldn’t keep it going forever. One meeting I noticed that my colleague Dock Hollingsworth was off his game. He wasn’t saying much. I wondered if perhaps extenuating circumstances had kept him from reading the entire book. I hoped no one else would notice. For a while you couldn’t be certain who had read the book. We were clearly on a slippery slope.
Randy Shepley prefaced a comment by saying, “I only read ¾ of the book.”
A few months earlier no one would have even considered publicly confessing such a horrible sin, but now people seemed impressed at his ¾ commitment. It was painful, like watching Elvis get fat.
David Sapp started saying things that didn’t add up. Jerusalem: The Biography is not about a guy named Jerusalem.
I began to suspect that some were trying to cover the fact that they hadn’t read the book by talking a lot.
The books got shorter. We went from Jürgen Moltmann to stuff that was perilously close to Joel Osteen.
Mimi Walker suggested some book that wasn’t at Cokesbury, Fifty Shades of Grey, something like that. I’d never heard of it.
We decided to take two months for each book.
Then Jim King said, “I saw an interesting article in the New Yorker. Let’s read that.”
It was over.
“Have you heard about the Comic Book Bible? That would be worth a look.”
“I saw a YouTube clip of funny baptisms. Let’s talk about that.”
“Have you seen The Lighter Side: Serving Up Life Lessons with a Smile? It’s available at Amazon.com.”
It took me a while, but I’m learning. Maybe when we get together we don’t have to impress one another with how smart we are. Perhaps we can simply ask, “What are you up against?” and “What are you celebrating?” When a brother talks about the difficulties he’s facing and we respond with a word of comfort, we can hear God offering us comfort. When a sister shares her joy at the way God is at work in her life, we can hear God inviting us to see the Spirit moving in our lives. That is more than enough reason to get together.