In 1999, I was one of 52 invited people from the US and Canada who gathered at Roxbury Camp with the goal of determining a set of core values for the Brethren in Christ Church. While I can’t remember a lot of the details from that Consultation on Core Values, I remember my overwhelming sense of amazement at the end of our days together that we had accomplished a great thing. The task seemed daunting, to say the least: fifty-two people from all over, each with his or her own experience in the Brethren in Christ Church and understanding of our history and doctrine, on a mission to narrow all that down to one mutually-agreed-upon set of core beliefs. I was excited at the prospect, but a bit fearful that the whole exercise would be a bit like the proverbial “herding cats.”
Yet, at the end of our time together, we did indeed leave with 10 core values that we all could affirm—each one a simple gerund phrase and a one-sentence explanation. Here we are, more than 20 years later, with what appears to be near-universal agreement that the core values have stood the test of time. Also, many new pastors and members have testified that they were attracted to the Brethren in Christ Church in part because of the core values. This was borne out in the five sessions of the November 2020 study conference sponsored by the Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies at Messiah University. The theme was “Refocusing Our Faith: Re-examining Brethren in Christ Core Values After 20 Years.” The study conference was virtual this time, due to the COVID pandemic, which allowed more speakers and attenders to participate. You can watch all five sessions online at (click on the session titles).
The presentations from the five sessions of the conference form the backbone of this edition of the journal. Preceding the conference presentations is a poem by Lois Saylor, inspired by the conference, and a foundational paper by Luke L. Keefer Jr. which was prepared for and delivered by Luke at the Consultation on Core Values in 1999 and later reprinted in the Evangelical Visitor. In addition, several writers reflect on the experience of planning the consultation, attending and participating in it, and editing the book, Focusing Our Faith: Brethren in Christ Core Values.
The core values were originally developed by the Brethren in Christ Church in North America (United States and Canada), with no input from Brethren in Christ conferences around the world. One of the questions about the core values has been whether they are relevant in other very different cultures. As it turned out, however, as Alan Robinson, national director of Brethren in Christ US, said: “They have been broadly adopted by the global Brethren in Christ. . . . This international adoption has created a need for resources that articulate and communicate the values in culturally relevant ways rather than from only a North American perspective” (see page 53). With that in mind, it is appropriate that the final article is the adapted manuscript of a Zoom presentation to the Brethren in Christ Church in Japan on the “living simply” core value. Recently, the Japanese church completed its translation of Focusing Our Faith.
The books reviewed in this edition time feature such diverse topics as God and farming; the gospel’s relevance for oppression and injustice; how global Christians are challenging American evangelicalism; and the discipline of prayer in an environment of the politics of fear and hate.