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Thinking the Faith, Praying the Faith, Living the Faith is written by the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship.

Thinking, praying, and living the faith is at the core of ministry in the Office of Theology and Worship. In the following videos, learn more about what thinking, praying, and living the faith means to the leadership of the Office of Theology and Worship. Discover why it matters and what difference it makes in our lives, work, and worship.  

Charles Wiley  
Barry Ensign-George
David Gambrell
Christine Hong 
Karen Russell

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March 21, 2013

Passing on the Faith

I'm throwing away a sofa this week.  I can't believe it.  It is a great sofa, except that it is 50 years old, has bad springs, and will cost $2000 to fix and reupholster.  And when we spend the $2000, it won't be worth $2000.  We tried giving it away, but to no avail, so now we will trash this treasure that we hoped to pass on to our kids.

As many of us were taught, the root meaning of the word tradition is handing over for safekeeping.  We pass on to others the best of what we have; we pass on the tradition.  In a really nice column on Huffington Post, Derek Penwell, in effect, asks the question, "what is the tradition that we hand over?"  What if the next generation doesn't want what we think is treasure?  What will they consider to be treasure?  My kids don't really want this sofa.  What will they want from my church?


  1. I first valued in the PCUSA tradition(s) the high place of learning and education. I think many early Reformers and their followers did not see that this value contains the risky seeds of great change. Now we tend to disregard scholarship (that we publish!) that finds problems in our history. Second, I valued the engagement with culture and politics (seen as the way we choose priorities to further justice). This tradition has cut two ways when used by left and right (and Calvin had his own troubles). Our tradition includes the Catholic, and a failed Reformation that brought continual schism rather than change in Rome. It includes the origins of fundamentalism, social gospel, and liberalism. Each of us and each congregation now seems more than willing to decide which traditions it will keep or jettison. A wisdom of the Catholic tradition that we lost was the ability to absorb groups with differences, giving them a legitimate place within the whole. In our tradition when someone no longer feels that he or she has a place within the whole (or that the whole should adopt his or her position), the church splits again. I think the current rise of the Nones is related to the rise of various (small) progressive movements within both mainstream and more evangelical groups. Some pastors are thinking about the old furniture in their minds and deciding they have to be honest about what they really believe and don’t. Just because it is tradition doesn’t make it true. More and more they are able to speak out and find support in the pews. I see further fragmentation and devolution in the immediate future, at least until the progressives in the mainstream denominations decide to join together and clear out some more old furniture to make something new. What prevents them from doing so, of course, is inability to agree on what to cast out, as they are each fighting rear-guard actions from the right in the midst of scary decline.

    by Dennis Maher

    March 22, 2013

  2. It was kind of sad yesterday when I drove away from the dump, looking at the couch in my rear view mirror . . . Dennis, I figure there are at least two categories of sofas out there: the kind of theological/biblical themes you mention (where I tend to be rather conservative in the strictest sense of that term, that is, wanting to conserve the tradition), and the kinds of Presbyterian church traditions that are more unique to us: everything from our buildings to our structure to our unspoken habits (here I am far less "conservative").

    by Charles Wiley

    PC(USA) Staff

    March 22, 2013

  3. These are great questions, but passing on "the faith" differs from passing on "the tradition." There was a time when I would not have even thought about not passing on the tradition. Now I think this is the root issue facing the PCUSA. Our problem is that we don't know what to do with our tradition. We need to ask "What is worth keeping and why?" E.g., I would propose keeping the table but let's be more clear about the nature of the communing that happens or might happen there. This is what the Reformers did. Should we keep the cross? Why? Is it because of some penal substitutionary theory of the atonement or more simply because it is a statement against violence? (Which few of our members would acknowledge or accept.) What about Jesus should we keep? Is he important because of what the gospel of John says about him, or because of his teaching in parable and aphorism? And what about all this language about Jesus coming from above and ascending to where? There are a lot of old sofas to put out on the curb.

    by Dennis Maher

    March 22, 2013

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