Vantage Point
What we need is clarity about who we are and what we proclaim.

In May, The Banner published an advance report on the work of the Strategic Planning and Adaptive Change Team (SPACT). This group is one of several working on reorganizing the ministries of the Christian Reformed Church (see p. 24). The group plans to submit a full report to the Board of Trustees later in the year. Their analysis and recommendations are based in part on conversations between the members of SPACT and “key leaders and stakeholders throughout the denomination.”

My concern is the language that SPACT has brought to this process. The advance report makes quite a lot of a term of analysis that also appears in the group’s official name: adaptive. “Adaptive challenges” are contrasted with “technical problems.” Technical problems are problems we know how to fix; adaptive challenges are problems that are less easily defined and harder to fix. Fair enough.

What the SPACT report does not tell you (nor does the SPACT website) is that this language is borrowed from an organizational consultant, Ronald A. Heifetz, who has written (with collaborators) several books on the subject of change. A footnote crediting Dr. Heifetz might have been in order. But that’s not my concern.

My concern is that the language of organizational consulting may be the wrong tool of analysis for the problems facing the Christian Reformed Church. The problems facing the CRC are deeper, and, yes, they are “adaptive” in the Heifetzian sense. We have lost our way—not organizationally but theologically. We have lost our message, our identity, and our contribution to the larger Christian community.

Our denomination has gotten stuck theologically in old language and old controversies. As a result, our message has become muddled and our mission is often ineffective. Our congregations grasp at ideas that neither fit us nor help us. What we need in this environment are not more denominational reorganizations. What we need is clarity about who we are and what we proclaim.

This requires the courage on the denominational level to rediscover the core of who we are. We are, I think, people of the Bible but not fundamentalists, not those who would reject science in order to hold up a (false) idea of Scripture borrowed from the conservative Christian culture. We are, I think, people who believe that God acts first, not those who would put the burden of our salvation on ourselves.

These things must be said and more, not in language mired in 17th-century controversy or in the language of organizational consultants but in language that communicates clearly to those to whom we are called.

About the Author

Clayton Libolt was the long time pastor of River Terrace Church in East Lansing, Mich. Since his retirement, he has served in a variety of interim positions. He is presently serving as the interim senior pastor of Sonlight Community CRC in Lynden, Wash.

See comments (3)


Possibly Libolt is correct that the crc has lost its way theologically.  But perhaps he only assumes what the message is, what the identity is, and what the contribution is.  Yes, language does change, but we can assume that theology does not.  (or, should not follow language).  However, Libolt makes the mistake of using the borrowed term "fundamentalists", without defining it, and thus raising a red herring.   Fundamentalists do not reject science, and neither do people of the Bible.   Rejecting evolution is not rejecting science.   

As to the second point or example that we believe that God acts first;  I don't think this has changed.  However the false dichotomy which virtually forced us to hate those who maintained the necessity of making a decision and  following Christ in obedience is not a good quality of any denomination.  Those who maintain that we can only make a decision for Christ by the grace of God and by the gift of faith, are not as far from reformed confessions as we sometimes assume.  

The real issue of losing message and identity relates to whether we are "of the world" or "in the world" and to what degree.   This will be true no matter what the stated theology is.  

I appreciate these thoughts, Clayton. Thanks for sharing.

Agreed, the language of this report is very troublesome. However, I am disappointed with Libolt's statement: "We are, I think, people of the Bible but not fundamentalists, not those who would reject science in order to hold up a (false) idea of Scripture borrowed from the conservative Christian culture." I wonder how much 'science' he has actually read? Does he realize how much historical science is fundamentally different from operational science? One is forensic and conjecture and the later is based on repeatable experimentation. Consider this:
Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:
 “Who is this that questions my wisdom
    with such ignorant words?
 Brace yourself like a man,
    because I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.
 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know so much.
 Who determined its dimensions
    and stretched out the surveying line?
 What supports its foundations,
    and who laid its cornerstone
 as the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?
Job 38:1-7
It is tiresome to hear how Christians must keep to the Bible and scientists will use science to explain the beginning of things. But as a Christian, I believe the Bible still gives the best explanation of origins. Moreover, scientists cannot give an account of the origins of life. God has set the universe in motion, He called all life into being. He created baramin, (baramin means: the various kinds or species of creatures we see today). Some have become extinct: dodo birds and dinosaurs; but Evolution is bunk. Think about it, not one of us would be happy to hear "the foetus you are carrying has a mutation." Yet pagan scientists would have us believe time and mutations produce new species and improvements.  We observe genetic entropy, each generation there are more and more errors in our DNA. We are not improving, we are wearing out, like a garment. At the beginning, the simplest single cell would require mechanisms to deal with the toxicity of water, to deal with the harmful effects of UV and oxygen and somehow be able to reproduce itself. Yet pagan scientists would have us believe that life appeared "spontaneously", and all that was necessary for a fully functioning cell. Who is it that questions God's wisdom and His creation? The more I reflect on the Creator's magnificent work, the more I am inclined to join with the angels and shout and sing at the marvels of creation: six 24-hour days of creation with the seventh day the day of rest and joy. Glory be to God now and forever. Shalom. Richard