Previous | Next

April 1980 · Vol. 9 No. 2 · pp. 17–18 

A Pastor’s Response: Stories That Mystify Yet Help

Response to “Mores, Morals, Morale and Hard Cases or ‘Whatever Happened to Consensus’ ” by Delbert L. Wiens 9/2 (1980): 3–17. Response by Delbert L. Wiens 9/2 (1980): 21–22.

Marvin Hein

I have a haunting feeling, substantiated more by intuition than facts, that what Delbert Wiens has said is largely true. My initial response was to use the format of the article’s sub-title and ask: “Whatever happened to story-telling?” The article is woven around stories and yet I found myself not understanding the intent or lesson of the stories. Unless we have more philosophically minded persons among us than I suspect, only a handful will comprehend what he has intended to say. This is only to confess that my response to the article may well be askew, for no other reason than I have not understood it to any great depth.

In the early part of the article I sense some nostalgia for the past, which Wiens has admitted in previous writings. Perhaps that surrounds some elements in our history with a halo that is not completely justified. {18} For example, I do not recall the discipling community of my childhood being particularly marked by grace and healing (p. 6). My own recollections tell me that the sword of discipline wielded by the believing community often severed but rarely healed. Nor am I certain that the world outside the believing community today is as different from that same world back in the days when Mennonite Brethren lived within the “walls” (p. 4).

I respect Wiens’s unraveling of the process through which we have gone—from the security of the “walls” to the way of the creedalist, that emphasizes principles, to the unsteady “tourist” approach, where convictions originate more from spiritual gurus than from carefully considered bases for moral judgments. That analysis, in my judgment, is the most valuable part of the paper.

The section based on Geisler’s thesis on evangelical creedalism is helpful for understanding what we have done in the past and for pointing out how difficult it is in a complex, modern society to establish what is right and wrong. His alternative—the use of maps—begins to approach the problem with an answer, but leaves me grasping for solid, positive remedies. A sentence like, “Any rational systematics curves reflexively back upon itself to reveal its own limitations precisely at the point of its greatest sophistication” (p. 10) doesn’t help me clarify what Wiens is proposing in this section.

In discussing the contemporary “hard case” and the approach we use today (local churches appealing to Boards of Reference and Counsel and subsequent study conferences), there is truth to what is said. I sense, however, that a few years of pastoral experience, where one could witness and experience confrontation and healing might temper the implied criticism of our inability to deal with the hard cases.

I am interested in a strategy for allowing local congregations to “represent the process which could lead to the internalization of that rationale (that arrived at by a small group such as a board over-seeing spiritual matters) among a significant section of the laity” (p. 14). The lack of specificity in terms of solutions, after a rather keen analysis of the problems, is probably what troubles me most in the paper. Less than a page is given to what could be called a suggested solution. Even that last section, which speaks of a “larger” or “new synthesis” for doing ethics, Wiens admits, is not spelled out. In this respect the article is too typical of much that is written—an abundance of analysis but a scarcity of suggested remedies. That is the weakness, to which I am also prepared to plead guilty, that is all too typical of many today.

Marvin Hein is completing his twentieth year as pastor of the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church, Hillsboro, Kansas.

Previous | Next