Bringing Home New Wine: Sharing the Successes and Failures of My Attempt to Get My Local Church Drunk on New Wine

By CJ Young

One of the difficulties we all face in being a leader in a local church is how to encourage movement from professed theological belief into day-to-day practice in the lives of disciples. Even if we are able to grasp the teachings in the Scriptures, as we seek to apply them to the cultural issues of our day, it becomes difficult and complicated. Topics such as immigration, gender issues, sexuality, racial reconciliation, healthcare, and disabilities can be extremely complex topics that impact every person sitting in our worship facilities. The church was never supposed to be an entity that distanced itself from cultural issues; it is the only place where these issues can be authentically engaged in light of real truth. Social media tells us that the answer to these issues is binary in nature- that the answers are this or that, Conservative or Liberal, Democrat or Republican. The reality is that the issues are complex, and our engagement with them will need to be complex as well, and deeply rooted in the mercy, righteousness, and justice we find in God Himself.  

As I got increasingly involved in working with New Wine, New Wineskins, I could not avoid trying to bring the conversations that I had at the retreats and conferences home. When I began to think about how to create space for these conversations, I realized that there were many barriers that I would face. The church where we were beginning these conversations was not at a point where there was no more avoiding these topics – in fact, avoiding them had gone pretty well for the church at large. If we have these conversations, there was some fear and reluctance when we realized that we might have to change how we do things. One of the biggest challenges that we faced is the apprehension the church leadership had because they did not feel equipped to have these conversations. Even with all of these challenges, we were essentially given enough rope to hang ourselves, and we set about trying to create contexts or opportunities to begin these cultural engagement conversations.

We started with casual conversations with individuals we thought might be interested in the topics and a leadership “book club” where people were invited to come and have discussions about New Wine topics. We invited speakers from New Wine to come and speak at Saturday Seminars where cultural topics were addressed. In our small groups, we made suggestions for books that engaged cultural topics with theology, and finally we would advertise NWNW retreats and conferences and get a team of people to accompany us when we went down to Oregon.

Our first year, we found a lot of success with all of our efforts but going into our second year, due to budget constraints, we had to cease doing Saturday Seminars and our Open Table Discussions. We kept up our other efforts, and we have seen certain LifeGroups lean into New Wine thinking and begin to engage more authentically with cultural issues and their own theology. One of the more exciting things I see happening is that there is becoming less of a “toe the line” mentality when it comes to cultural or theological topics. People are feeling freer to share their concerns, their questions, even their divergent beliefs about topics and the culture at large seems far less fearful about engaging them. I have seen humility come to the table in these conversations and a willingness to be convinced of a different theological/cultural response to an issue than previously held. Not that our historic theology was always changed, often it was confirmed and the conversation about how to apply it in our modern world was where the change and growth was had. While not voiced aloud, it seems as if the old “House of Cards” mentality of our shelved theology has been slowly fading away and as a community of disciples we are beginning to engage with our theology humbly, seeking to know and to live into the upside-down Kingdom Jesus illuminated.

It feels strange to be sharing our story at this time because I do not feel like we are far enough along to see all of the fruit I hope these efforts will bear. If I am honest, I feel like the movement for cultural engagement is still very grassroots in nature and has not influenced church leadership or the culture at large as much as I had hoped. We are very much still in process of adopting New Wine values in our local church congregation, but I think that is someplace we will always be. Looking at cultural issues through theological lenses is not a destination we arrive at, it is a practice we continually cultivate. As a church leader, as a pastor in a local church, I am excited to come to the table with my brothers and sisters in Christ and humbly seek to lean on Christ, and the illumination of the Holy Spirit as we seek to grasp the heart of His Kingdom and how we are to, practically, live it out in our modern world. New Wine, New Wineskins has been not only a resource to help us be able to lead this charge but also a place of respite for our leaders as we attend retreats and conferences, read blog posts and journals that encourage us, remind us that we are not crazy as we continue down this path and neither are we alone. If you are a church leader or a local church pastor, I encourage you to attend a New Wine, New Wineskins event and join in the conversation. I am certain it will be for you an encouragement, a comfort and a blessing as you seek to encourage those in your local context to take their theology off the shelf and, through it, engage with the world around them.

What are ways that you think we could support local churches in living out New Wine, New Wineskins’ values and more deeply engaging with cultural issues through Trinitarian lenses?

An End with No New Beginning

By Sara Mannen

For three years, the pace of my life was the equivalent of sprinting a marathon. I attended seminary full-time, wrote a thesis, worked three different part-time jobs, and cared for my daughters and husband. A couple of months ago, I crossed my finish line by receiving my hood and diploma. Just as inertia keeps moving a sprinter forward when they suddenly stop, I felt the whiplash of the sudden stop of the pace of my life. I cried on the way home from graduation. Not tears of joy or relief, but tears of sadness and grief.

I have reached the end of this race and there is nothing new on my horizon. No new mountain to ascend. No exciting ministry job. No idea of what my future might hold in the academic world. Instead of a new beginning greeting this end in my life, I stand on the edge of the abyss of what if? What if my corporate banking job is what I will do for the rest of my life? As I make these fears concrete by putting them on paper, the tears are starting to flow. What if I never get to teach in any capacity? What if I started down the road of following what I believe to be the Lord’s calling on my life to quit halfway? What if this is the end of the road for me?

As I stare into the depth of this unending abyss and feel the fears reverberate through the fibers of my soul, I am struck by my desire to escape the current monotonous nature of my life. Escapism doesn’t always manifest itself in a dreamy-eyed sigh longing for the world to come, but in the yearning for a new life now. While my hands become dirty from the filth of the money that I handle every day, I wrestle with the seeming unimportance of my job. My soul is discontented, and I wonder if my heart is as covered in grime as my hands. My job is tedious, boring, and menial. My fears are a reflection of my desire for a new adventure. A new direction in my life. Did Christ come to this earth and live a poor man’s life, laboring as a carpenter until he started his ministry so that I could have the career I desire? The Maker of the universe spent most of his time on this earth working an average, menial job. Why am I so terrified of the possibility that this might be my life too?

Ironically, as I struggle with no new beginning in my life, part of my thesis addresses what I really need. I need a new tropos (mode) of being, not an escape. Maximus the Confessor’s theology of deification or theosis states humanity’s central need in salvation is the restoration and healing of human nature: “For he did not come to debase the nature which he himself, as God and Word, had made, but he came that that nature might be thoroughly deified which, with the good pleasure of the Father and the co-operation of the Spirit.”[1] Christ did not become human to “abrogate the constitutive energy of the assumed nature. . . but he shows in both the newness of the modes [tropoi] preserved in the constancy of the natural logoi.”[2] Humanity needed a restoration of its nature to a new mode of being, not a destruction of its nature. The incarnation and the salvation Christ accomplished from his birth to death is not an escape from our humanity, including that which seems monotonous and unimportant, rather, it is a redirection to a new tropos (mode) of being human. I must learn a new mode of being. A mode of being that is content with whatever trial or struggle life brings—even if that trial is something as trivial as being stuck in a corporate job.

While in prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer elegantly states this in a letter to Eberhard Bethge. Bonhoeffer is comparing Christ’s resurrection with other mythological resurrections:

The difference between the Christian hope of resurrection and the mythological hope is that the former sends a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way . . . The Christian, unlike the devotees of the redemption myths, has no last line of escape available from earthly tasks and difficulties into the eternal, but, like Christ himself, . . . he must drink the earthly cup to the dregs, and only in his doing so is the crucified and risen Lord with him, and he crucified and risen with Christ.[3]

Bonhoeffer lived these words through to his death on the gallows. The Trinity’s work in our lives through the Spirit uniting us to Christ and enjoying the Father’s love does not always provide us with a completely new life (for the sake of clarity, I am not discussing our spiritual life which is renewed and redeemed). There is no reset button, but as Bonhoeffer says we are sent back to earth in a “wholly new way.” The life, death, and resurrection of Christ heal my human nature and provide a new mode or way of living the life I have right now. Not a life that is constantly looking forward to something new or better. For me, I must drink the dregs of my earthly life which means that I will live in content and joy even at my corporate job while I stand at the edge of the unknown. This is my new tropos as I face an end with no new beginning.

[1]. Maximus the Confessor, Opuscule 7, 77C.

[2]. Maximus the Confessor, Difficulty 5, 1052A. The term logoi is what Maximus uses to indicate nature.

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, New Greatly Enlarged Edition, ed. Eberhard Bethge (New York: Touchstone Book, 1997), 366–37.