This is a series of blogs, over a couple of weeks, about James Houston, The Mentored Life. It is being written by both of us, Scot McKnight (at North Park University) and Brad Bergfalk (pastor of Zion Covenant in Jamestown, NY). Houston’s book has received some rave reviews and it can be of use to both pastors and especially to the emerging movement folk who want to see the gospel put on a more personal plane.
To begin with, here is a central concern of James Houston in the mentored life. In an interview he gave to Mars Hill Review, he said this:
MHR: What is the “need of the hour” in our churches today, in your estimation?
JH: To be a community of friends-to see the importance of living a deeply be-graced life-in the sense that we are living more honestly and intimately in relationship with God.
I think a higher priority is needed for prayer and worship in our church life. We have to be a real worshipping community. Often it is in the church that we are most unreal. I can be honest in the marketplace, I can be honest at home, but I can’t be honest at church. So the need for emotional honesty-personal honesty-is one of the great needs for ecclesial man today.
This book has an introduction and chapter one as an overview (both of which will be covered in our response today), and then seven more chapters. Three chapters on the “natural individual” and four chapters on the “Christian person.”
Summary of the Introduction and Overview (neither of which are written all that clearly). Houston believes there is a growing thirst for mentors in our culture and in Church life today.
Perhaps the following lines sum up what Houston is saying here:
“Likewise, human beings thrive best in following the paths of life already taken by others before them. None of us needs to reinvent the wheel of live as if no one has preceded us in the pathways of the wise” (10).
Humans are persons, not individuals. Person is a theological perception of who we are, while individual is a rationalistic, abstract perception.
He finds mentoring as something that was eclipsed by modernity when truth was abstracted. (Houston is against abstracting truth but he uses lots of abstractions himself. Not a criticism, but a warning on how to read this valuable book.) Four reasons for this: (1) alienation in society, (2) perception of teachers as “fixers” rather than “friends,” (3) the increasing isolation of the self within our society, and (4) the need for moral examples who integrate life and truth.
He sees three models of mentoring available today: the heroic (a warrior mentality), the Stoic (the deliberative model), and the therapeutic (health-conscious model).
Houston will explain a theological model in which the trinitarian God shapes our sense of identity as God mentors us. We need to be less “professional Christians” and more “friends of God.”
Response of Scot:
First, I struggled a bit with both the Introduction and the Overview because I’m not always sure what he is saying and where he is going. I’m confident this will soon disappear.
Second, I like very much his proposal that “friendship” is the appropriate model for “mentoring” rather than the professional, expert, rational model.
Third, I must admit that while I like the idea of “mentoring” I simply don’t see the raging need that he sees. Perhaps it is found in other terms, like the need or our generation for community and for friendship and for love, and if so then I agree with him.
Fourth, I really do like that he relates images of mentoring to the overall Zeitgeist of a given generation.
Response of BJBergfalk:
Houston begins his introduction with a pull-out quote from Ecclesiaste 4:10 which reads, “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” And then he proceeds to place his call to a return to mentoring in the renewal of “authentic personhood.” Houston identifies “alienation”, “isolation”, and inconsistency between our “walk and talk” as contributing factors for a return to mentoring as persons. The writer of Ecclesiastes so far says it with more clarity, but this is only the introduction.
I suspect the social factors Houston suggests all contribute in one way or another to a lack of mentoring relationships in and outside the church. I would also add that “pastoral identity” has something to do with it as well. As a pastor, I spend a great deal of my time in conversational relationships with a lot of people. But I must confess, I’ve often viewed this as peripheral to my primary responsibility and professional identity which I believed was to manage programs and balance budgets. I no longer believe this.
It isn’t until recently that I’ve come to understand that one of the principle activities that Jesus was engaged in throughout his ministry was the development of conversational relationships primarily about the Kingdom of God(mentoring?). The more time I spend investing my life in others as Jesus did, the more satisfaction I invariably have. What I can’t understand is why I didn’t think of this sooner?