Publication:Johnson City Press; Date:Jan 20, 2007; Section:Faith; Page Number:1C


Area church leader says views result of personal growth, study, reflection

By JAMES BROOKS Press Staff Writer

    The Rev. John Shuck is that rarest of breeds, a liberal minister in a conservative Christian environment.

    “Part of a minister’s job is to offer people permission to grow and explore, and not necessarily end up in some predetermined place,” Shuck said. “Sometimes parishioners will come to me and say they wonder about the issue of virgin birth, and I encourage them to explore the issue.”

    That would be heresy in the Catholic Church and in many Protestant congregations, but Shuck isn’t worried.

    He followed a similar path growing up in a Southern Baptist home in Montana, and ended up as a Christian minister, after all. He says his views have come about as a result of personal growth, study and reflection.

    “As a kid I was bugged by this end of time idea, as well as evolution. It didn’t coincide with what I was learning in science and history classes, and I decided that this religion is not working well,” he said. “I followed my wife into the Presbyterian Church and decided to go into the ministry.”

    Presbyterians have a long history of social activism. During the early 19th century they were actively involved in the anti-slavery movement and the underground railroad. However, such activism stems from the will of individual congregations rather than doctrine coming from above.

    He graduated from the Princeton Seminary in 1992, and his view was heavily influ-
enced by two authors. Marcus Borg wrote “Meeting Jesus for the First Time, Again,” and John Dominic Crossan wrote “Jesus, a Revolutionary Biography.”

    “The picture I came out with of the historic Jesus was of a man who was informed about the poor, social justice and one who said we will discover the Kingdom of God within ourselves,” he said.

    As a rule Methodists and Presbyterians represent the middle of the road among Protestant congregations, more distinct due to their methods of church governance than by theological considerations. Shuck loves theology. He believes it is what the ministry is about, and he has a Web site ( where he posts extensive writings on every aspect of theology and invites readers to respond.

    His method is closer to the Symposium of Plato than the Council of Nicea. Like all blog sites, it is a work in progress. Currently, there are six Es under the heading of Context: Ecology, Energy, Economy, Entitlement, Exceptionalism and Empire.

    In the course of time other Es, such as Ethics, Earth or Extremism are likely to be developed.

    Also on the site is news of anti-war demonstrations and other community events of interest.

    Shuck’s philosophical and actual path has taken some twists and turns. His first congregation was in a small town in upstate New York near the Canadian border. After eight years he answered the call to a larger congregation in Billings, Mont., his home state, where he found a congregation of 500 members with what he describes as “a lot of theological differences.”

    “I took a position of open acceptance of gays and lesbians,” he said. “It was a learning experience. I began looking for a different congregation and decided to let them know up front where I am coming from. Of all the congregations, Elizabethton rose right to the top.”

    He discovered he was following John Martin, pastor at First Presbyterian for 33 years with a long tradition of talking and acting on social justice.

    “Every church has its resume and my criteria included a church that accepts anyone,” Shuck said. He felt right at home with this congregation of 250 members, which includes several scientists.

    “I like to write and share ideas,” Shuck said of the Web site. A current posting invites readers to explore the other books and epistles that didn’t make it into the Bible. “This is an important new area into the study of Christian origins,” he said. “When the Council of Nicea met and decided which writings should make up the New Testament it was only after centuries of discussion. We have to recognize that the authors of these other books were also Christians, and what they said and wrote had an impact into the molding of our faith.”

    He is using the text from the Gospel of Philip as a sermon text. “Our services are structured, as in any other church. We do have a period of silent meditation, but our discussions are centered around our classes. The theme is to present an idea for discussion and exploration, not to say here’s what you have to believe.”

    First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton is located at 119 W. F St.