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Scripture & Discernment: Decision Making in the Church [Paperback]

By Luke Timothy Johnson (Author)
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Item description for Scripture & Discernment: Decision Making in the Church by Luke Timothy Johnson...

This work is a revision and expansion of Luke Timothy Johnson's earlier work, Decision Making in the Early Church: A Biblical Model. Here he expands his earlier thoughts on the biblical text and decision making in the church. Often, churches simply attempt to turn to the Scripture for support of their decisions. Johnson argues, however, that there are so many complex issues that are not directly addressed in the Scriptures that a closer look at how decisions were made in the early church is needed for a complete picture of the decision making process. Looking, then, at the early events of Acts, Johnson shows how discernment is critical to correctly interpret Scripture for church decisions. Luke Timothy Johnson is Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Publishers Description

Luke Timothy Johnson begins his study of the practical issue of how decisions are made in the church by admitting to a bias: that there ought to be a connection between what the church claims to be, and how it does things. Because the church claims to be a community of faith, it does not reach decisions simply on the basis of good management policy, or the analysis of market trends, or efficiency, or even ideological consistency, but in response to God's activity in the world that presses upon us and urges us to decision.

Faced with how to respond to God's leading, the church decides what to do on the basis of two realities: Scripture and discernment. Because it calls the church into being Scripture is the fundamental authority in the church's life. Yet it is not enough for a congregation simply to turn to the Bible when a decision must be reached, for Scripture does not directly address all issues which face the church today, and those it does often reflect greatly differing historical and social contexts than our own.

Thus, added to the authority of Scripture in the church's decision making is a process of discernment, in which the members of the community--under the guidance of the Holy Spirit--recall how God has worked in their lives as individuals and as a community and discern together God's direction for the future. Johnson argues that this very pattern of decision making can be found in Scripture itself, notably in one of the central events of the book of Acts. Beginning with the conversion of Cornelius and culminating in the Apostolic Council of Acts 15, we see how a string of smaller narratives combine to tell the story of God's movement within their midst, and how this narrative became the basis for the reinterpretation of Scripture and the inclusion of Gentiles into the fellowship of the church.

Looking at a number of thorny issues facing the contemporary church, Johnson demonstrates how the interaction of Scripture and discernment can and must become the basis for how we respond to the decisions with which the church wrestles today.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Abingdon Press
Pages   166
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.2" Width: 5.96" Height: 0.51"
Weight:   0.65 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 1, 1996
Publisher   Abingdon Church Supplies
ISBN  0687012384  
ISBN13  9780687012381  

Availability  118 units.
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More About Luke Timothy Johnson

Luke Timothy Johnson Professor Johnson's research concerns the literary, moral, and religious dimensions of the New Testament, including the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts of early Christianity (particularly moral discourse), Luke-Acts, the Pastoral Letters, and the Letter of James. A prolific author, Dr. Johnson has penned numerous scholarly articles and more than 25 books. His 1986 book The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, now in its second edition, is widely used in seminaries and departments of religion throughout the world.

A former Benedictine monk, Dr. Johnson is a highly sought-after lecturer, a member of several editorial and advisory boards, and a senior fellow at Emory University's Center for the Study of Law and Religion. He received the prestigious 2011 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his most recent book, Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity (2009, Yale University Press), which explores the relationship between early Christianity and Greco-Roman paganism.

Luke Timothy Johnson currently resides in Atlanta, in the state of Georgia.

Luke Timothy Johnson has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Biblical Resource
  2. New Testament Library
  3. Sacra Pagina (Hardcover)
  4. Sacra Pagina (Quality Paper)
  5. Very Short Introductions

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Authors, A-Z > ( J ) > Johnson, Luke Timothy
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Bible & Other Sacred Texts
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living > Leadership
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Jesus
7Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Commentaries > Commentaries
8Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Concordances
9Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Criticism & Interpretation > Criticism & Interpretation
10Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Bible > General
11Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Catholic
12Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Ecclesiology

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Reviews - What do customers think about Scripture & Discernment: Decision Making in the Church?

Scripture & Discernment: Decision Making in the Church  Nov 4, 2006
A 'must read book for anyone involves in the ministry! The content was altogether helpful, not only in the preparation of sermons, but for Bible Studies.

Luke Timothy Johnson's methodology was easy to understand for church leadership, as he shows how to discern the Scriptures with authority for interpretation; reinterpretation and interaction. Making decisions are difficult when dealing with thorny issues that are ever present in all settings and have to be responded to because the issues are timely and are applicable to the decision-making processes today with the membership, in fellowship and with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Decisions, decisions...  Jul 15, 2003
Johnson begins conveniently by defining terms and concepts to be used throughout the book.

Johnson defines church as by various terms throughout, including an intentional community, a living organism (juxtaposed to an organisation), but perhaps the most fundamental is this: 'The church in the strict sense is found where there is a specific group of people who assemble together to call on the name of the Lord in prayer and fellowship.'

Key to the definition and existence of the church is faith. Faith is defined as the response in trust and obedience, a deeply responsive hearing of another's word or call. Faith in God, theological faith, the faith of the church, is therefore the hearing of the call of God. And the distinctiveness of the community called 'Church'

Johnson's definition of faith is different from many theologians in that is requires a recognition that God acts now, and continues to act. Johnson's faith is 'not attachment to a body of doctrines but a process of responding in obedience and trust to God's Word,' which continues to speak to us through the interpretive prism of community and experience.

Johnson then proceeds to discuss the normative use of scripture, which he returns to in each chapter. Two quotes are essential from the text here: 'It is an expression of the church's faith to regard these writings as prophetic for every age, and therefore as speaking God's Word.' Also, 'The theologian serves the church by allowing the text from the past and the text of the present to enter mutual interpretation.'

Johnson proceeds to discuss techniques to show how diversity of voices can be recognised and accepted without any single voice being dominant or neglected. These include typology, midrashic, and allegorical techniques in reading, which each have their own pitfalls. Johnson contends that the literary diversity of the New Testament provides a framework for a plurality of faithful responses, individual and communal, to the Word of God.

In the second and third parts of the book, Johnson moves beyond theory to talk about issues regarding specific applications and how they inform the general principles of decision making in the church.

In talking about difficulties, Johnson concentrates on Acts 15 as a model (often neglected, as he characterises it). He states that the narrative aspects of the prophetic witness is key to the process, 'because it gives the fullest picture in the New Testament of the process by which the church reaches decisions.'
Moving on to decisions, Johnson gives us examples of decisions that were made by the early church, but says that they do not provide a good model for decision-making, as they primarily concentrate on the outcomes rather than the process.
Discernment is described by Johnson as a vague but necessary and very real part of the decision-making process, akin to (and derived from the Greek words for) testing and judging, as well as understanding. Again, Johnson (interpreting Paul) is more concerned with 'the integrity of the ekklesia, God's convocation' than with individuals, who have a responsibility in discernment (in a later chapter he discusses the mutuality of responsibility of listener and speaker in this process), but not necessarily a decisive one. The goal for discernment is holiness and edification of the entire community.

Johnson proceeds under the Practice section to concentrate primarily on three topics as illustrative of his model of decision-making and discernment: the status of women (leadership), homosexuality (fellowship), and possessions and economics (stewardship).

In Johnson's final chapter, he discusses the need for a 'conversational model' of hermeneutics that involves leadership and fellowship in a broader and more listening mode than has existed, and that the responsibility for theological thinking and speaking needs to be carried to all members of the church.

The primary question I would ask of the book as a whole is, How do application of the principles of discernment and decision-making work for a church organisation that goes beyond the parish/local congregation level? Can the principles of listening and decision-making be applied to a macro-organisation such as regional/national/international churches in a constructive and thoughtful way in the same way they are applied at local levels? And what becomes of local discernment when it is out of line with the discernment and decision-making of the larger organisation?

Johnson gives many examples, again arising from the diversity of voices found in the scriptures, of different circumstances and applications, and looks for general principles that guide all decisions, which include a listening to narrative experience, leadership by the Holy Spirit, and discernment in community. Johnson admits that this is often a vague process, and that care has to be taken in making sure that 'the proper spirit' is being heard -- he even gives examples of how Paul seems to violate his own principles (leaving aside the possibility of later revisions/redactions of the text and such problems), which remind us of the passage read at the beginning of the course about listening to other gospels, even if taught by angels, etc. Johnson categorises the status of women as an issue of leadership and the issue of homosexuality as one of fellowship. I would argue that both could be reclassified under the other's heading. I would have liked for Johnson to expand upon the Devices section, and perhaps include more on how to reach those outside the church (if indeed the church is supposed to be evangelical -- calling out to the world to bring those outside in).

I am biased in that Johnson was a professor of mine during my undergraduate days at Indiana University, and I have read almost everything he's ever written. He is very consistent; many points will be made across chapters and books using the exact same language and construction. The readings for this evening will provide a good framework for further discussion of how communities form their identities, canons and codes of action.

Great resource for laity, students, and clergy  Jul 14, 2000
Dr. Johnson has updated this book, making it a fantastic resource for anyone interested in the ways the church should use scripture to discern the will of God. Johnson hits important issues, including the place of homosexual Christians in the church, but rather than using the book as a soapbox to take stands on issues, he uses the issues to demonstrate the way scripture is used and understood. The book is helpful to religion/seminary students and clergy, but is accessible to lay persons who care about making scripture the basis for their decisions and those of their church.
"Themes of Scripture guide us to God's Will"  Jul 4, 2000
The author joins several other modern scholars who point out quite rightly I think, that one must avoid the Biblical fundamentalism of proof texting the Bible. You can prove anything you want from the Bible if you simply pick your passages. Rather the person who is really seeking the Lord's will in modern life, should note the broad themes of scripture. We should see how God has dealt with His people in the past, and apply that learning to our present situation. The Word revealed in the words of scripture will guide us into all truth.

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