It’s remarkable to me that, when the original editors of New Wineskins decided to move on to other projects, Keith asked to take over as publisher of the E-zine. At the time, the Churches of Christ had hardly any Internet presence at all. Cecil Hook and few other intrepid progressives were making some headway. A few congregations had websites, but not many. And a few conservatives copied their print magazine materials to the Internet, but most saw the Internet merely as a place to take orders for new subscriptions.
Moreover, New Wineskins had attempted to make a go of it as a paid-subscription service, while nearly all the rest of the Internet was providing content for free. That’s a model that doesn’t work for many even today, and there were far fewer potential subscribers back then. I’ve not seen the books, but I’m sure the E-zine was bleeding red ink by the barrel.
Nearly singlehandedly, Keith kept New Wineskins alive for many years — long enough to convert to a free-subscription model and to build up its readership.
Why does this matter? Well, I’m no religious sociologist, but it seems to me that movements and denominations are largely defined by their institutions. Today, the more progressive Churches of Christ aren’t held together by editors and personalities but by loyalty to the affiliated colleges and universities, by attendance at the lectureships, and by shared para-church organizations, such as MRN and Kairos.
You see, as a non-denominational denomination, we have no headquarters, no one to whom we owe dues, and no official publishing house. We have the Christian Chronicle to report “our” news, even though we are increasingly unsure just who “we” are.
Ask one of our more prominent preachers or authors what it would mean to “leave the Churches of Christ,” and you’ll get a bemused, uncertain look — because you can’t leave what you never really joined. You can only stop going to the lectureships and cooperating through joint mission and benevolence programs. Indeed, we’re held together with little more than “strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff” — and memories of a common heritage.
Anthropologists like to speak of “culture” being defined by “artifacts.” That is, a culture creates long-lasting things that help define what that culture is all about — the culture creates the artifacts and the artifacts create the culture. Well, religious movements are defined by their institutions — their means of sharing ideas, of doing Bible study as a group, and of doing ministry together when the job is too big for a single congregation. And these institutions tell us what’s important to that religious group.
Wineskins is not a means for doing benevolence or mission work, although we hope to find ourselves helping out more and more in those areas. But it is a means of doing Bible study together. It’s a way to share (and not impose) ideas. It’s even conservative, in the sense that it reminds us of our Restoration roots and sometimes asks us to think long and hard before abandoning the good and holy within the Restoration Movement.
Wineskins has never had a huge subscriber base. It doesn’t command a massive readership. But it does serve as one of the very few things that remain that allow many of us with deep roots in the Churches of Christ to identify with our beloved nondenominational denomination, to remind us that we are a movement and not a museum, and to push us to continue talk to each other — because there’s something in the Church of Christ as a community worth preserving.
Keith carried the ball for years, paying most of the costs out of his own pocket, and doing much of the writing himself. And it’s thanks to Keith that this precious institution still exists and continues to provide a subtle but extremely important influence on us all.
He carried the ball too long and too alone, and it’s time for Keith to bask in the gratitude and applause of those he served so well and so long.
Note from Matt: As many of you know Wineskins has undergone some recent transitions. As we have discussed the future of Wineskins one of the things that has come up is the need to appreciate where we have come from. One of the great difficulties of the last year with Wineskins was the passing of Angie Brenton and the subsequent decision by Keith Brenton to stop editing Wineskins. We have decided to dedicate this issue to him and to her legacy as a token of our appreciation as Keith enters a new season of life.
Here are a few words of encouragement as we dedicate this issue to Keith Brenton, former editor of Wineskins.
Keith, for years you served the Churches of Christ quietly and behind the scenes, you pestered and dreamed and cared and recruited and prodded and helped and edited people who you thought might have a word for God’s people. You had a thankless job, but I’m very thankful you did it.
God spoke the world through words, I have no idea how many world were created or changed by your thoughtful prayer and consistent vision for what the Restoration Movement was and could be.
Thank you for your service and your humility,
Keith: For your years of faithful service – in time, in money, and in leadership – to the continuation of Wineskins magazine, many readers are thankful. For the hours spent commenting on blogs and articles, curbing less productive directions and encouraging more fruitful conversation, many writers are thankful. It is fitting that the issue whose theme is faith-shapers would be dedicated to you, since you have done just that for so many by helping to provide faithful and critical Wineskins content. Having passed the baton to the next runner, I pray that you have time to breathe, grieve, think, play, write, read, drink coffee, parent, walk the dog, laugh, cry, marathon-watch TV, or whatever else will bring you life. ~ Naomi Walters
“Keith, through hell and high water, you’ve kept a passion for Churches of Christ to be a relevant part of the kingdom conversations happening in North America.” – Josh Graves
Keith, I’m thankful God allowed our paths to cross. I remember your zeal to continue Wineskins years ago and grateful you allowed me to be a very small part of that. Thank you for your encouragement and for showing us all that pain and heartache don’t define us but our love for the Lord and his Kingdom do. Proud to be able to call you friend and brother.
Everyone who has enjoyed Wineskins these last several months and who anticipates a great future for Wineskins owes a debt of gratitude to my friend W. Keith Brenton. Owing completely to his selfless devotion to keeping the online magazine alive and thriving, we readers and contributors have been able to benefit from Keith’s untiring work.
Having observed brother Keith over time, he has earned my utmost respect. The way he dispatched himself as a webservant, the way he has dealt with the death of his dear wife, and his continuing ministry with his local church in North Carolina, make me happy to call W Keith Brenton my Christian brother and honored friend. I anticipate great things ahead for this good man.
When Keith responded to my first query with interest, I was ecstatic — no actually, I was like, jumping up and down with excitement. Keith was always appreciative of each article I submitted, and he was never critical. I felt blessed contributing to Wineskins because Keith made me feel like I could write well and like I was his friend. I will be eternally grateful for Keith letting me write for Wineskins. I was deeply saddened during Angi’s illness and by her passing, and my heart still goes out to Keith.
“Keith, I am deeply grateful for your untiring devotion to Wineskins. I have especially appreciated your dedication to the inclusion of women’s voices on the pages of Wineskins.” – Sara Barton
Keith, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you brother. You have been selfless, a visionary and a leader in helping to guide the conversation via New Wineskins over the last several years. You are in my thoughts and prayers and I can’t wait to see what God is going to do with you next.
Thank you, Keith, for the selfless nature of giving yourself to the ministry of the written word. For enabling and fostering encouragement, discernment, learning, and growth. You have worn your new wineskin well. – Les Ferguson, Jr.
In the magical kingdom called Internet one encounters all types of people. Over time you start to feel like you are ‘friends’ with these folks whom you’ve never met. Like the anonymous ‘pen pals’ of yesteryear (except much swifter) one comes to be known by their words and attitudes. I think it is fairly rare to find someone with such a genuine spirit that it shines through their posts and responses in such a consistently beautiful way. Keith Brenton is one of those rare finds. What good fortune (or blessing!) has been mine to become acquainted with this man of wisdom. I’m afraid he is a man of sorrows. He is a man of prayer; his tweets at the 3:00 hour reminding us to pray. He is also a man of humility who will eschew these words. His calmness when under fire reminds us to be patient. His self awareness in grief reminds us to hold our loved ones tightly. In many ways he reminds me of Jesus. His influence extends far, and that is a good thing for all of us. Through his tears and brokenness he continues to present to the electronic world, through which we are all connected, a peace that expresses the truth that this man has been with Jesus. And we all benefit from his faith. Thank you Keith. – John Dobbs