Disciples News Service

Noted scholars update book on Disciples identity

Launching at the 2019 General Assembly, Disciples: Who We Are and What Holds Us Together is a substantial update to Rev. Drs. Michael Kinnamon and Jan Linn’s 2009 work (both published by Chalice Press).

While the content is certainly revised, so was the authors’ process. “We realized that, even more than in 2009, two white guys writing this book wasn’t ideal,” explains Kinnamon, former General Secretary of the National Council of Churches.

So, the authors asked Disciples from the communities served by National Convocation, Obra Hispana, and North American Pacific/Asian Disciples to review the 2009 book as they prepared the new one. Linn, former Lexington Theological Seminary professor, also conducted interviews with regional and general Church leaders.

These responses helped inform the 2019 book, which was also influenced by the writers’ varying opinions. “We have a wonderful partnership,” Kinnamon said, “in part because we don’t always agree. We’re not afraid to engage in that open disagreement until we find resolution.”

Still, Kinnamon suggests, Disciples isn’t intended to be the final word on any topic, but instead a conversation starter for classes and congregations across our Church.

The book is full of fruitful discussion topics, devoting each chapter to a tenet the authors determined to be central to our Disciples identity: covenant, scripture, the Lord’s Table, baptism, unity, mission, congregations, and leadership.

In both editions of Disciples, Kinnamon and Linn’s thesis remains: “Disciples have an identity that is recognizable across the years and across cultures, and a reclaiming of this identity can contribute to much-needed renewal of our denomination, while strengthening our witness as ‘a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world’” (ix).

The first chapter, “Covenant: Freedom with Accountability,” is crucial to the authors’ look at our Church in the 21st century, Kinnamon argues.

“The key tension for almost any Church is between unity and justice – we hope Disciples are committed in a big way to both. But how do you hold together in a community that includes those who are supportive of undocumented immigrants [for example], and those who oppose that immigration? That’s why we think the focus on covenant is particularly important. The way we approach diversity is to celebrate the diversity inherent in our unity.”

To further the conversations this book sparks, Kinnamon and Linn are leading General Assembly workshops, in which they’ll explore how congregations can implement the text’s suggestions, and engage a panel of leaders from Disciples’ racial/ethnic ministries to discuss how the book’s ideas manifest in different communities.

These sessions, on Monday and Tuesday of GA, will certainly be lively. After all, as the authors suggest in their first chapter: “If our reading of who we are is correct, then the least ‘Disciples’ thing a person or congregation could possibly say is, ‘I’m not like you, so we don’t belong together.’ ‘I disagree with you, so we are estranged from one another.’ After all, we are ‘a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world’” (10).