While the title of this blog may conjure up memories of the waiting spot outside the principal’s office, or bleachers in high school or the final moments of the sport you once played (or still do), the name of this new blog, the Anxious Bench, has its roots in late 19th century Christian revivalists evangelistic tactics. The Anxious Bench was a particularly favourite tool of one Charles Finney. Finney was a 19th century church tactician (and preacher) who came up with all sorts of methods to affect spiritual conversion. The anxious bench was a particular favourite. People could come to the front of the church where the bench was and receive prayer. They could also enter into personal conversation with the preacher and the pressure of this public position would often cause people to “give in to Jesus.” Charles Spurgeon, a contemporary of Finney, rightly questioned the sincerity of such conversions in the long haul of faith. Today we might say that “the anxious bench” was a gimic and while there might be those who could trace their faith story through their “anxious bench” experience, the reality is that such a gimic cheapens faith.
So why is this blog called “the anxious bench?” I can assure you that it’s not because the authors of this blog are fans of Finney’s gimics (I hope I can speak on behalf of all the contributors). The name is the humourous title that seven graduates of Calvin Seminary gave to their yahoo group account when they were devising a way to remain connected and in contact upon completion of their seminary experience (Joel Renkema gets the credit or the blame depending on how you look at it). Over the years “the bench” (as we affectionately call it) has become a source of great strength to these seven ministry comrades. From seven different ministry locations in North America we share stories, questions, sorrows, laughter, insights and yes…anxieties. “The Anxious Bench” has bonded us together in ways we never could have guessed and we all give thanks to God for “the bench” and the way the Holy Spirit has worked through it to strengthen us, our families and the ministries God has called us to.
The Anxious Bench blog is an opportunity for the seven of us to work together and critically think and express matters of faith and life from each of our unique perspectives and invite members of our various constituencies to listen in and respond. At least once a week, one of us will provide some thoughts to consider. It may be things left out of a sermon. It may be a commentary on a current cultural phenomenon or event. It may be a Biblical devotion. It may be a reflection upon a difficult ethical conundrum. But we hope that as we write and read, a deepening of faith would would occur that would give glory to God and serve the greater good of God’s world. Welcome to “the bench.”