A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Love This Quote!...

...from Teddy Roosevelt:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Wednesdays With Wright: The Book of Acts, 1

To Cancel or Not to Cancel Worship on Christmas

Lifeway reports that from a survey conducted among 1000 Protestant pastors, 6% of churches have cancelled worship services on Christmas Day which falls on Sundays this year. Complete results of the survey can be found at Out of Ur.

The good news here is that the vast majority of Protestant Churches will be open for worship on Christmas Day (the Catholics and the Orthodox I'm sure haven't even raised the question). The bad news is that some churches have decided that the worship of God on the day in which we celebrate God's self-giving in Jesus Christ will get in the way of family plans, what Jim West calls family-olatry.

Some may think that Jim's words are too tough, but Jesus also had some difficult things to say about family loyalty when it got in the way of divine devotion (Matthew 8:20-22; 12:47-49; Luke 14:25-27).

What do you think? Is it acceptable for churches to cancel worship on Christmas Day? If so, why? If not, why not?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Has Been Cancelled...

...thanks a lot whoever you are!

The Dogma Is the Drama...

...so said Dorothy Sayers, the gifted novelist and poet. The website of the Dorothy Sayers Society posts the following:

Her theology was traditionally Anglican with emphasis on doctrine. Every available moment of her time was spent writing, to the small hours of the morning. Letters, articles and essays streamed from her pen. The war led her to write Begin Here, followed by The Mind of the Maker, in which she compares the human with the Divine creator. She explored by-ways of knowledge, delighted in puzzles and enjoyed many a fight which she conducted with wit and good humour. Her formidable presence, magnificent brain and logical presentation put her in great demand as a lecturer. She worked with the Rev. Patrick McLaughlin at the St Anne's centre for Christian discourse and became in 1952 churchwarden of her London parish, St Thomas-cum-St Annes.
For those of us who are always arguing for the significance of doctrine (dogma) and theological reflection, Sayers' words are a welcome breath of fresh air. Sayer's understood the singular necessity of such intellectual work and why it was important.

C.S. Lewis would have agreed. His biggest complaint in reference to modern theologians was that they lacked imagination in their work. Perhaps that is why more than a few contemporary Christians either do not care or completely disdain theological reflection seeming to imply that God created our hearts, but that our heads are an accident of uncontrollable forces. Perhaps the problem is not in the substance of Christian theology itself, but that those who have presented it have done so in such boring fashion. The boring quickly becomes irrelevant.

Both Sayers and Lewis understood that doctrine was the drama and it provided the narrative that gave coherence to Christianity.

And that's interesting.

Majoring in Minors

Jesus in Mark's Gospel, Chapter 7

When the Israelites returned from Babylonian Exile, they were so committed to refraining from the idolatry their ancestors had committed by not keeping the Law of Moses, that they put a "fence" around the Law; that is they formulated rules more strictly than what came from the Law itself. They reasoned quite logically that if someone did not climb over the "fence" of stricter regulations, she or he would certainly not violate the Law. The problem was that over time that "fence" had come to be viewed as a violation of the Law itself.

Time and time again in his ministry, Jesus shows that he is quite unconcerned with adherence to that "fence," what he will refer to as the Pharisees' "traditions." The Pharisees question Jesus on this in reference to the disciples' lack of scruples in eating with "unwashed hands," that is hands that are ceremonially unclean. It is interesting to note that they do not implicate Jesus in this practice. It could be they are not-so-subtly suggesting that Jesus, as his followers' rabbi, is leading his disciples astray, which is indeed a serious charge. It may explain, at least in part, why Jesus responds to the Pharisees in anger.

The purpose of the "fence" around the Law was originally to preserve the Law, but over time it had taken its place as equal to the Law. Thus, in the eyes of Jesus, it nullified the Law given to Moses. The "fence" around the Law had come to be used to neglect the weightier matters of the Law, such as care of the orphan and the widow, the protection of the powerless and elderly parents. The "fence" that was designed to safeguard the people from idolatry, in actuality, led them into it. If the Pharisees were accusing Jesus of leading his disciples astray, Jesus countered that they, the religious leadership, were guilty of sending the entire nation of Israel over a cliff.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Academics Can Be So Annoying...

...so says, Marc Cortez:
Academics annoy people. There's just no getting around it. We can be smug, self-righteous, know-it-alls. We don't mean to. But it happens anyway.

I’m sure we do this in lots of little ways that I never notice. But I think one of the more common mistakes is when we forget that what might be common knowledge to those with our particular research interests may not be (i.e. almost certainly isn't) common knowledge to everyone else. So we make some off-handed comment about something that "everybody knows," unintentionally making everyone around us feel stupid because they have no idea what we’re talking about.
For what it's worth, this academic, who is also a pastor, thinks Cortez is right.
You can read his entire post, here.

Amy-Jill Levine: An Orthodox Jew and New Testament Scholar

From Mark Oppenheimer, the New York Times:
SAN FRANCISCO — Growing up Jewish in North Dartmouth, Mass., Amy-Jill Levine loved Christianity.

Her neighborhood "was almost entirely Portuguese and Roman Catholic," Dr. Levine said last Sunday at her book party here during the annual American Academy of Religion conference. "My introduction to Christianity was ethnic Roman Catholicism, and I loved it. I used to practice giving communion to Barbie. Church was like the synagogue: guys in robes speaking languages I didn't understand. My favorite movie was 'The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima.'"

Christianity might have stayed just a fascination, but for an unfortunate episode in second grade: "When I was 7 years old, one girl said to me on the school bus, 'You killed our Lord.' I couldn't fathom how this religion that was so beautiful was saying such a dreadful thing."

That encounter with the dark side of her friends' religion sent Dr. Levine on a quest, one that took her to graduate school in New Testament studies and eventually to Vanderbilt University, where she has taught since 1994. Dr. Levine is still a committed Jew — she attends an Orthodox synagogue in Nashville — but she is a leading New Testament scholar.

To Baptize Infants or Not to Baptize Infants- That Is the Question

I was raised in a church tradition that did not practice infant baptism. I was dedicated as an infant and baptized when I was older and able to make a confession of faith. When I was fourteen I began attending a United Methodist Church which does practice infant baptism. As a college student I began the candidacy process to enter the ordained ministry in the UMC. I struggled over the issue of infant baptism. I read and I studied and prayed and pondered. I have been a UM pastor for twenty-seven years and have baptized many infants and am now a big believer in infant baptism. All four of our children were baptized as infants, which my wife, Carol says were the most spiritually meaningful moments in her life.

Katherine Willis Pershey writes on this issue and reflects upon her own personal experience as one who experienced the baptism issue in reverse order from me: she was raised in a tradition that baptizes infants, but became a pastor in a tradition that only practiced believers baptism. She now serves a congregation that practices both forms of baptism. She writes,
So what to do about our children? Do we request a baby blessing for little Genevieve, so her welcome matches her sister's? Or do we do as the Congregationalists do and have both girls baptized? Not having grown up in a context where adult baptism is normative, I have this feeling that they might have a hard time accepting immersion as anything other than this weird thing their preacher mother inexplicably wants them to do.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Comment Moderation Enabled (sigh)

For the time being I am going to moderate comments before they are posted due to the fact that this week I have had one commenter in particular who continues to post offensive material in spite of the fact that I keep deleting his comments.

99% percent of you who comment do so graciously and I appreciate what you contribute to our discussions. Unfortunately, rules have to be made because of a small fraction of people who either lack a sense of conscience or who are too emotionally immature to act in decent fashion.

So, until further notice, I will moderate comments and attempt to post them in timely fashion.

Have Yourself a Chi Rho Little Christmas

John Byron puts the contemporary debate into historical perspective. Check it out here.

A Prayer for the First Sunday in Advent

Merciful God, you sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation. Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Book of Worship (UMC)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Seven Habits of Highly Incompetent People

Number 1 – They Think, Say, & Do Negative Things.

Number 2 – They Act Before They Think.

Number 3 – They Talk Much More Than They Listen

Number 4 – They Give Up Easily

Number 5 – They Try to Bring Others Down To Their Level

Number 6 – They Waste Their Time

Number 7 – They Take the Easy Way Out

Bell elaborates on all seven habits here.

Newt Gingrich on Immigration

At the last Republican presidential candidate debate, former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, took a position on immigration that will no doubt alienate him from some conservative constituents. During the debate he said the following:
If you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home. Period. If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully, and kick you out.
Gingrich went on to say that the Republican Party, which upholds family values, should not be separating families because they originally came here illegally.

As is the case on so many issues, I find that both the Republicans and the Democrats have not got it completely right. I do believe that any nation has a right to secure its borders and I do not understand why the political left seems unconcerned about that. At the same time I strongly disagree with those on the political right that would separate families on account of illegal immigration to the United States. The right's concern with only securing the border doesn't go far enough in reference to what needs to be done. On the other side, the left's concern for comprehensive immigration reform appears to me to be nothing more than an excuse to whittle away at a nation's need to secure the border and is nothing more than a mantra for keeping everything as it is in order to secure votes from immigrant populations.

What do you think? All perspectives, expressed civilly, are welcome.

The Methodist Blogs Weekly Links of Note

This week's noteworthy posts from the Methoblogosphere:

Shane Raynor: Order and Chaos

Dave Warnock: How to do theology?

Michael Ledbetter: Idle Words

Dan Dick: Thanks Giving

Friday, November 25, 2011

Just How Puritannical Were the Puritans?

Stephen Prothero of Boston University dispels some myths:
When we think of the New England Puritans who gave to us Thanksgiving, we tend to run to predictable nouns, including killjoy and prude.

But Thanksgiving is a festival, which is to say it was made for fun. And New England's Puritans were by no means allergic to fun.

To be sure, they aimed (as their name implies) to "purify" the Church of England of every last vestige of Roman Catholicism. So they refused to celebrate Roman Catholic festivals, not least Christmas, which was banned by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1659.

These Puritans were not as puritanical as we imagine, however.
Read Prothero's entire post here.

A Soterian Gospel Test

Some folks have reshaped the Bible and the gospel so that it is driven by the plan for personal salvation. The Greek word for salvation is soteria so it is accurate to refer to such thinkers as soterians and their gospel as the soterian gospel. There are ways of detecting whether we are soterians or truly evangelical, and by that I mean letting the gospel be shaped by the gospel text 1 Corinthians 15 or the gospel sermons in Acts or the Gospels (which are in fact the gospel itself), but one rather simple way is to ask how one explains judgment texts.

Here's the thesis: No one in the Bible, when described in a judgment scene, is asked if they accepted, trust, or embraced the soterian gospel. In other words, "Did you accept Jesus into your heart consciously?" or "Did you walk the aisle to receive Christ?" or "Did you accept that Christ was your righteousness?" No one.

Is Black Friday a Sign of Ingratitude?

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. Today is Black Friday, the day when the Christmas shopping season officially begins.

When I was a boy, I remember that the Christmas season did not officially begin until the day after Thanksgiving. Nobody put up Christmas trees or any other Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. Most of the month of November was reserved for Thanksgiving Day preparations.

But something happened along the way—the season of Christmas slowly began to start earlier. It started with the retail establishments that began shelving Christmas decorations and items earlier. For several years now, stores have their Black Friday sales the day after Thanksgiving where people run and push and shove each to get some great deals that the stores purposely sell in short supply. Most will not get what they want, but they will get something to be sure. Now, some stores already opened their doors late yesterday on Thanksgiving Day to get a jump on their competitors.

This early Christmas shopping over the years has led to people decorating their houses and putting up their Christmas trees earlier and earlier. Municipalities are doing the same. Some radio stations are now playing nonstop Christmas music two weeks before Thanksgiving. It seems now that we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday each year amid the glitter and the lights of Christmas. Thanksgiving is now a kind of appendix celebration, an afterthought—it appears that Thanksgiving has been eclipsed.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Brief History of Thanksgiving

I'm Thankful that Ben Franklin Did Not Get His Way

Ben Franklin was very disappointed that the Bald Eagle was chosen as America's national bird. Instead, Franklin wanted the turkey as a national symbol. In a letter to his daughter he wrote,
For my own part I wish the Eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country...

I am on this account not displeased that the figure is not known as a Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the truth the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.
Whether or not Franklin made a good case for the turkey as America's federal fowl can be debated, but for my part, I am glad he did not get his way. I doubt that baked eagle is nearly as tasty and satisfying as a turkey deep fried in peanut oil.

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sorry, But It Ain't Gonna Happen...

...not on Thanksgiving anyway.

Scot McKnight Pays Tribute to Clark Pinnock

A special session of AAR/SBL paid tribute to the late theologian Clark Pinnock. Pinnock is one of my favorite theologians-- he was thought-provoking, delightfully controversial, and he posed and answered questions that others preferred to ignore. Scot McKnight was one of the persons who paid tribute to Clark. I quote only a portion of his remarks, but they are worth reading in full here:

...Clark Pinnock’s approach to the Bible was courageous. Evangelicalism is a wonderful group as long as you are safe, but the moment you wander outside that safety, which is protected by alarmists positioned everywhere, made even worse by the internet and blogs … once you wander outside you are susceptible to alarms and charges and trials, some of them apocalyptic. Clark somehow managed to sustain sanity while setting off alarms in all directions. Like Aslan, Clark was not a tame theologian. In A Wideness in God’s Mercy, when Clark explored the “Bible’s view of other religions,” he transgressed the boundaries the missionary movement had established, convinced as it was of a strong exclusivist posture toward all things religious. Having read Jean DaniĆ©lou’s Holy Pagans of the Old Testament, Clark feasted on the generosity of God at work in the world outside Israel, and then was willing to probe into the implications of those holy pagans for religions today. Thus, he can say, “Some [outside the church today] intend the same reality Christians intend when they believe in God (as personal, good, knowing, kind, strong etc.)” (96). And then this: “People fear God all over the world, and God accepts them, even where the gospel of Jesus Christ has not yet been proclaimed” (97). And he digs: “One can make a faith response to God in the form of actions of love and justice” (97). He then pokes evangelicalism in the eye: “We have tended to ignore this line of teaching in Scripture because of a control belief which blocks it out” (99). He pushes further: “World religions reflect to some degree general revelation and prevenient grace” (104). Yet, religions are part of a fallen human culture, but God uses them – and thus the Bible, Pinnock is claiming, opens up a more generous approach to the religions of the world.

Clark Pinnock’s approach to the Bible was comprehensive. In a Wideness in God’s Mercy, where Clark was examining the hopefulness of the Bible, we are treated not to a verse here and there and not to some theological deduction, as one finds in some less-than-biblical-focused theologians, but instead we are treated to a wonderful sketch in fifteen pages of the expansiveness of God’s vision and what Clark calls a “hermeneutic of hopefulness” (20-35). The election of Israel is not a soteriologically-obsessed election but an election unto mission, as Chris Wright has recently articulated in his magnum opus, The Mission of God. For Clark, “this election is for the sake of all peoples” (24). It is a “corporate election… and a call to service” (24). Then this: “This is the election of a people to a ministry of redemptive servanthood. Election does bring privileges, but primarily it carries responsibilities” (24).

One might be tempted to think Clark Pinnock was also creative, but as I read him he doesn’t offer brand new ideas, but he takes the old message of the Bible and gives it life for a new day when people are struggling with potent problems in a modern and postmodern context.... Clark had both an objective dimension and at the same time was unafraid of the subjective, which goes all the way back to his dissertation on the Holy Spirit in the New Testament in 1963. This subjective side made some nervous. I sort of think Clark liked that others were nervous about what he might say next, and in part this was because Clark was not afraid of pneumatology in his hermeneutics. Many are.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Internet Wanderings For You to Ponder

I have a full day at AAR/SBL in San Franciso, so I have little time to post. So, here are three links with good stuff to get those brain juices flowing:

Scot McKnight posts on N.T. Wright on Jesus and space, matter, and time. Intriguing indeed!

Amy-Jill Levine and Douglas Knight on biblical views of God. HT: John Byron

Jay Voorhees has been using the Common English Bible in worship.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's Amazing Who Crosses Your Path at AAR/SBL!

At breakfast on a rainy morning in San Francisco with Joel Watts (Unsettled Christianity) and his wife, I met the (in)famous Jim West who blogs at Zwinglius Redivivus. I also met Chris Tilling who blogs at Chrisendom. Here I am with  Jim. Chris is not in the photo. He wasn't feeling very well at the moment. I think my complimenting Jim made him queasy.

In any case it was good to meet them!

A Prayer for Christ the King Sunday

Almighty and merciful God, you break the power of evil and make all things new in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe. May all in heaven and earth acclaim your glory and never cease to praise you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Catholic Collect

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I Am an Unashamed and Unrepentant Bibliophile!

bib·li·o·phile [bib-lee-uh-fahyl, -fil] noun- a person who loves or collects books.
Yep... that's me. I love books! I still prefer the good old fashioned bound volumes with paper pages, but I also own a Nook and have come to appreciate ebooks as well. I love to walk into a home filled with books, I like bookstores and libraries, and I like my own library of over 3000 volumes. People ask me why I need more books? Any bibliophile knows that such a question makes no sense.

So, being at the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature conferences in San Francisco, I'm a kid in the candy store when I walk through the book exhibits with publishers giving up to 50% of all their titles. I stopped in this morning and purchased a few books I have been wanting, and will probably buy some more before I leave. I took the photo above this morning.

Perhaps as a bibliophile I should feel guilty. Perhaps, I should get help....

...I don't think so. I am unashamed and unrepentant... and I freely admit... I am a bibliophile.

Caption Contest 2011.15... And the Winner Is...

Nathan Nordine: "Birds of a feather travel in station wagon together."

Friday, November 18, 2011

On Making a Place for Introverts in the Church

Adam McHugh writes a guest post today over at Scot McKnight's blog, Jesus Creed. It is a must read, especially for all of us talkative extroverts who have a tendency to suck all the air out of the room. McHugh is primarily addressing the evangelical church, but his words are important for all churches, including my own mainline tradition. He writes,
Unfortunately, owing to a few antisocial types as well as to a general extroverted bias in our culture, introverts get a bad rap. Mainstream American culture values gregarious, aggressive people who are skilled in networking and who can quickly turn strangers into friends. Often we identify leaders as those people who speak up the most and the fastest, whether or not their ideas are the best.

As a result, introverts are often defined by what we’re not rather than by what we are. We're labeled as standoffish or misanthropic or timid or passive. But the truth is that we are people who are energized in solitude, rather than among people. We may be comfortable and articulate in social situations and we may enjoy people, but our time in the outer worlds drains us and we must retreat into solitude to be recharged. We also process silently before we speak, rather than speaking in order to think, as extroverts do. We generally listen a little more than we talk, observe for a while before we engage, and have a rich inner life that brings us great stimulation and satisfaction. Neurological studies have demonstrated that our brains naturally have more activity and blood flow, and thus we need less external stimulation in order to thrive.

Monday, November 14, 2011

There Are No Mustard Packets in Baseball!

One cannot step twice in the same river-- Heraclitus (circa 580-540 BC)

I grew up as a long-suffering Cleveland Indians fan. I remember going to the old Municipal Stadium as a boy in the late 60s and early 70s. It was difficult enough filling such a large stadium each game with 70,000 people, but with the consistently terrible play exhibited from the Tribe, it was quite easy to walk up to the ticket counter fifteen minutes before the game and get lower box seats.

Even though my hometown team often lost those games I attended when I was young, it was still great to go to the stadium on a warm summer evening and watch the boys of summer playing right in front of my eyes. And what made the game even more special was getting a hot dog delivered to me right in my seat and watching while the vendor took out that yellow plastic squeeze bottle of brown stadium mustard and loading my dog down with that spicy and tangy condiment. Over the years that moment became my favorite part of the game.

Fast forward over twenty years... and now as an adult attending a sold out ball game at a new stadium, Jacobs Field, and watching a real good Tribe team in the 90s... I sat there and did something I hadn't done since I was a boy. I ordered a hot dog from my seat. The vendor took the dog out of his case and asked me if I wanted some mustard. What a silly question! A hot dog at a ball game without mustard is a sacrilege. As I responded affirmatively, he reached into a pouch and took out, not a yellow plastic squeeze bottle, but two small packets of mustard, and he handed them to me. What? Mustard packets? Was he serious? This is baseball! There are no mustard packets in baseball! Where's the squeeze bottle? Where's the sound of the mustard layering my hot dog! And by the way-- why is the dog smaller than the bun? When did that happen? I was truly irritated for the rest of the game. That vendor was messing with my traditions! How dare he rob me of a precious childhood memory!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What Makes a Leader of Leaders?

From Artie Davis... What do you think? Is Davis on the right track? Did he miss something?
Leaders what to be influencers. We know that "Influence" is the basis of leadership. The team or group we lead, requires us to have influence with them. But what about other leaders…

Many leaders want to have influence with the influencers. What makes that happen? What makes a leader of leaders?

Battle Wounds

Leaders want to learn from the wounded ones that survived and thrived. Leaders don't want to just hear a bunch of ideas, we all have those. They want to hear from the ones that have fought and won.

Compelling Strategy

Leaders want to know the "how did you win that." How did you change that, what happened? They want a strategy that is transferable and customizable. They are different, but want to learn applicable elements.

A Prayer for Worship

Dear God, we have tried so many times to figure everything out on our own and do things our way. We have determined what we want and forced our will upon you. For those times we admit our failure to trust in you with all our heart and lean not upon our own understanding. We repent of those many times we have tried to usurp your authority and attempted to do what only you can do. We are truly sorry and humbly ask your forgiveness.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Lifecycle of a Pastorate

Thom Raynor has noted what he believes is the typical lifecycle of a pastor's tenure at a church:
Honeymoon: Years 0 to 1

The new pastor is perceived to be the answer to all the needs and the problems of the church. He is often viewed as a hero because he is not his predecessor. Though some of his faults begin to show during this period, he is often given a pass. Expectations are high that he will be molded into the image that each congregant would like to have.

Crisis: Years 1 to 3

It is now apparent that the pastor is fully human. He has not lived up to the precise expectations of many of the members. This phase includes a number of conflicts and struggles. Indeed it is the most common time that pastors choose to leave the church or they are force terminated. This single epoch of a pastoral tenure contributes more to short tenures than any other time.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Just because It's Perfectly Legal Does Not Mean It's Perfectly Moral

College football is mired in yet another scandal. Legendary Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno has been terminated by the university for failing to do more than report an alleged incident of child molestation by one of his assistant coaches in 2002. Paterno did report the incident a day after he was informed of what happened to the university's athletic director, which is what the law required, but the consensus has emerged that much more should have been done by Paterno and I agree.

There are those, however, who dissent. They believe that doing what the law requires is sufficient and that JoePa (as he is affectionately called) should not be so punished for failing to do more. Last night about a thousand college students took to the streets at Penn State to riot over Paterno's dismissal. I think it's safe to assume that these passionate and energetic students have not read the grand jury indictment containing the disgusting details of what happened to these boys who were helplessly subjected to the perverse desires of a powerful adult man. One of the student rioters acknowledged that their behavior was probably not casting the university in a good light, but he said that they were angry and just needed to let off some steam-- a kind of therapeutic vandalism. I suppose turning over vehicles on the street and pulling down lamp posts is acceptable if it calls attention to a believed injustice.

There are so many interrelated tragedies that come together in this scandal, it is difficult to sort through them. The injustice of the abuse these boys had to endure is the greatest tragedy of them all, of course, but there is also the tragedy of collegiate sports programs that are larger and more important than the university itself. There is the tragedy of the temptation to sweep scandalous behavior under the rug because the cash cow of some university sports programs bring in millions each year. There is the tragedy of alumni who are so hell bent on their team winning at all cost, that they have unwittingly created a situation where terrible behavior is either hidden or excused. And there is the tragedy of Joe Paterno, himself, a legend in his own time, and someone who made a difference in the lives of so many of his players and no doubt others. It is a terrible tragedy when a great reputation, which takes a lifetime to build, is irreparably marred in just a few moments in time. Earning respect is difficult and time-consuming; dishonor can be achieved almost instantaneously.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

It Is Hard to Argue on This One

Jesus on Divorce and Remarriage

Volume four in the Areopagas Critical Christian Issues Series has just been published-- Except for Fornication: The Teaching of the Lord Jesus on Divorce and Remarriage. Some will not agree with Van Parunak's conclusions, but his arguments cannot be ignored. I am pleased to a co-editor of this latest volume which explores important matters for Christian faith and practice.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Vatican Tells Priests to Spice Up the Sermon

The following article is from The Telegraph, UK. What do you think?
Catholic priests urged to liven up sermons

By , Rome
10:47PM GMT 06 Nov 2011

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi said preaching in churches had become so formulaic and boring that it risked becoming "irrelevant" to congregations accustomed to the excitement and immediacy of television and the internet.

"The advent of televised and computerised information requires us to be compelling and trenchant, to cut to the heart of the matter, resort to narratives and colour," said the cardinal, who as the head of the Pontifical Council for Culture is the Vatican's unofficial minister for culture.

Too many priests employed theological language that was "grey, dull and flavourless" and instead should spice up their sermons with graphic stories contained in the Bible, which used much more forceful imagery.

C.S. Lewis: The Myth of Myth As Myth

One of the themes that looms large in the writings of C.S. Lewis is myth. As a young atheist, Lewis assumed that the Christian story of Jesus was just one more religious myth (a fiction) among others. But, as Lewis continued to think and reflect and journey toward the Christian faith, he began to ponder instead of how the significance of myth might make a case for Christianity.

Lewis struggled with all the various myths, from different times and places, of a dying and rising god. Initially, he took a history of religions approach to Christianity, using these myths as proof that the story of the dying and rising of Jesus was just one more fiction. But then, he began to wonder if such an approach to myth was in actuality getting at the problem from the wrong direction. What if these various dying and rising god myths were in actuality "unfocused revelation," a kind of vague divine truth placed upon the human imagination? What if such unfocused revelation were one way God was preparing the world for myth to become fact in the coming of Jesus Christ?

Monday, November 07, 2011

Stanley Hauerwas on the Life of a Theologian

It Didn't Start with Us; It Won't End with Us

Yesterday at church, we celebrated our 175th anniversary of the church's founding. It was a wonderful time of worship. Our district superintendent, Valerie Stultz, gave a wonderful sermon, and we completed the festivities with a great dinner put on by our kitchen committee. Such occasions are reminder to me of the convergence of the past, the present, and the future, and how all three are necessary in the movement of time.

Unfortunately, we human beings all too often worship one kind of time to the exclusion of the others. We get so focused on the past that we hope and pray that, at some point, the good old days (which were not all that good) will return to us. Others are so obsessed with the present and the way things are, they have no vision for the future. And still others are so mesmerized by what is yet to come, they ignore the wisdom of the past and the practices of the present time as they move into the future.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Did Pelagius Get a Raw Deal?

In light of the series I have been posting on heresy, I think the following article from David Gibson and posted at  RNS is interesting. What do you think?
"Pelagius who?" you might ask. Answer: the fifth-century Christian writer, preacher and spiritual director who was declared a heretic by the Council of Carthage for denying the doctrine of Original Sin.

Pelagius was known as an ascetic and a holy man, but his alleged views that humans were not stained by original sin and did not need grace to work toward salvation made him anathema to the likes of Saint Augustine (and the Calvinists, later on). Other early church fathers and polemicists were not fans either.

Saint Jerome's arguments against Pelagius included the charge that the tall and corpulent Irishman (or "Scot," as the epithet then had it) was "stuffed with Scottish porridge" (Scotorum pultibus proegravatus) and therefore suffered from a weak memory.

A Prayer for All Saints Sunday

God of life, we praise you for your abiding presence from generation to generation, blessing your people, strengthening us to lives of service, empowering us to witness. Hear the prayers we offer on behalf of your creation. Grant that as we serve you now on earth, so we may one day rejoice with all the saints in your kingdom of light and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Don't Forget!

The Difficulty of Job Creation

by Adam Davidson, The New York Times:
Can Anyone Really Create Jobs?

The current economic downturn has been called a housing crisis, a financial crisis and a debt crisis, but the simplifying logic of the political season has settled on what is really more a result than a cause. We are now, according to nearly everyone running for office, in a jobs crisis. Every politician currently has a "jobs plan," very often a list of vague proposals filled with serious-sounding phrases like "budget framework" and "regulatory cap" that are designed, for the most part, to mean both everything and nothing at all.

Starting this week, I’ll be writing a regular column in the magazine that tries to demystify complicated economic issues — like whether anyone (C.E.O.'s, politicians, people running for the presidency) can actually create jobs. The fact is that creating them in a far-too-sluggish economy is practically impossible in our current capitalist democracy. No corporate leader is rewarded for hiring people who aren't absolutely required. Most companies hire only when its workforce can no longer keep up with the demand for its products.

Even with all the attention on hiring, the government’s ability to create jobs is pretty dispiriting, no matter who is in charge. The most popular types of jobs programs involve state tax breaks or subsidies that seek to seduce a company from one state to another. While this can mean good news for "business-friendly" states like Texas, such policies don't add to overall employment so much as they just shuffle jobs around. This helps explain Rick Perry's claim that more than one million jobs were created under his watch in Texas while the rest of the country lost more than two million.

The federal government does something similar when it decides, for instance, to regulate oil drillers and subsidize windmill makers. Such a policy might help the environment but it just moves jobs from one sector to another without adding any. And while both Perry and Mitt Romney propose that further oil and gas drilling in the U.S. will transform the jobs picture, only 30,000 Americans work in oil and gas extraction, and about another 125,000 in support occupations. With more than 25 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, it's unlikely that any changes in that part of the energy sector would make a real dent.

One reason we have so few ideas about job creation is that up until recently, the U.S. economy had been growing so well for so long that few economists spent much time studying it. (They're trying to make up for it now. See the chart on the next page.) With no new theories, Democrats dusted off the big idea from the Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes's view that government can create jobs by spending a lot of money. The stimulus, however, has to be borrowed, and it has to be really, truly huge — probably something like $1.5 or $2 trillion — to fill the gap between where the economy is and where it would be if everyone was spending at pre-recession levels. The goal is to goad consumers into spending again. And President Obama's jettisoned $400 billion jobs package, hard-core Keynesians argue, is nowhere near what it would take to persuade them.

Many Republicans follow the more fiscally conservative University of Chicago School, which argues that Keynesian stimulus can't heal a sick economy — only time can. Chicagoans believe that economies can only truly recover on their own and that policy interventions only slow the recovery. It's a puzzle of modern politics that Republicans have had electoral success with a policy that fundamentally asserts there is nothing the government can do to create jobs any time soon.

Of course, Romney, Perry, Herman Cain and the rest won't come out and say, "If elected, I will tell you to wait this thing out." Instead, Republican candidates fill their jobs plans with Chicagoan ideas that have nothing to do with the current crisis, like permanent cuts in taxes and regulation. These policies may (or may not) make the economy healthier in 5 years or 10, but the immediate impact would require firing a large number of America’s roughly 23 million government workers.

How bad might that be? The U.K., as part of its austerity measures, is in the process of firing about a half-million government workers under the notion that the private sector would be so thrilled by low taxes and less regulation that it will expand and snatch up all those laid-off public servants. But this plainly isn't happening. The British economy continues to grow slowly, if at all, and few former government workers have found new jobs in the private sector.

The Methodist Blogs Weekly Links of Note

This week's noteworthy posts from the Methoblogosphere:

Cathy Turner: Surrender

Richard Heyduck: Growth Drivers

Betty Newman: For All Saints Day

Friday, November 04, 2011

What Is Heresy? #6

Ebionitism: Jesus as Merely Human

Before we get directly into Ebionitism and its problematic nature, it is important to note what McGrath reminds us of in his book, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth. The church's examination of the "classic" heresies of the patristic period (the first five centuries) were motivated by the "genuine concern to ensure that the Christian faith was represented and articulated in the most authentic and robust forms" (p. 103). What most people think of when they hear the term "heresy" harkens forward from the patristic period to the Middle Ages where Heresy was dealt with in a legal sense and in which movements were not truly heretical theologically, but were declared as such because they presented a serious challenge to the authority of the pope. Inquisitions and burnings at the stake understandably has left a sour taste in the mouths of many people. But the rejection of the notion of heresy on account of this is to "throw the baby out with the bathwater." If there are no theological boundaries, then Christianity has no identity of its own that makes it Christianity. Thus, without the possibility of heresy, there is no orthodoxy, and there is no Christianity.

Like so many Christological heresies, the problem with Ebionitism was not so much found in what it affirmed, but in what it denied or failed to assert. In Ebionitism, Jesus was presented in typical Jewish categories-- he was a prophet, a new Elijah, a high priest of Israel. Recent scholarship has questioned the accuracy of the historical usage of the term "Ebionitism," but the bone of contention with Ebionitism was its "low Christology" where Jesus was asserted as human but not divine, though he was believed to be "spiritually superior to ordinary human beings but not otherwise distinct" (p. 106).

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Caption Contest 2011.14... And the Winner Is...

Sunshine: This was the day to wear my "I'm with stupid" shirt.

The Not-So-Flabby True Character of God's Kingdom

Once again, I link to my friend, Scot McKnight who posts today on what is and is not kingdom work and why. Scot and I are kindred spirits on these matters, though Scot is more articulate than I am on explaining them. So instead of offering my two cents, I quote a portion of Scot's post below. But make sure to go to his blog and read the entire post, "Steve Jobs' Legacy: Kingdom Work?"
The word "kingdom" is perhaps the flabbiest term being used by Christians today. In fact, many who like "kingdom" would rather they not be called "Christians." This good word of Jesus', which he inherited from his scriptures and from his Jewish world, has come to mean two wildly different things today: for some it means little more than personal redemption, that is, it means submitting personally to God as your king and Lord. Let's call this the redemptive kingdom. For yet others it means the ethics connected with the kingdom, that is, it means wherever there is peace, justice, goodness, freedom, liberation … you name it … there is kingdom. Let's call this the justice kingdom.

Before I raise my hand and speak from the floor in a way that many simply don't like, I want to make two things clear: Yes, the kingdom needs to be connected to the redemptive powers at work in this world, and this can be found at times in Jesus' teachings when he says things like "if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matthew 12:28). And Yes there is an ethical dimension to this term, besides ideas like righteousness and zealous commitment and joy (as in Matthew 13), but also flat-out ethical categories like justice, as in Romans 14:17: "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." So, Yes, it is reasonable to see a redemptive kingdom and a justice kingdom. (The latter has much less support in the language of the Bible.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Justice, Justification, and Jesus...

Once again, excellent words from Scot McKnight on the essence of the gospel.

Ten Commandments for Atheists

Penn Gillette, an atheist, has developed ten commandments for atheists in his new book, God, No. He writes that he came up with them after being challenged by radio and TV personality, Glenn Beck, to do so.

I list them below. I am curious as to what you think about these ten commandments for atheists. All are welcome to comment.-- (be civil).
1. The highest ideals are human intelligence, creativity and love. Respect these above all.

2. Do not put things or even ideas above other human beings. (Let's scream at each other about Kindlversus iPad, solar versus nuclear, Republican versus Libertarian, Garth Brooks versus Sun Ra— but when your house is on fire, I'll be there to help.)

3. Say what you mean, even when talking to yourself. (What used to be an oath to (G)od is now quite simply respecting yourself.)

4. Put aside some time to rest and think. (If you're religious, that might be the Sabbath; if you're a Vegas magician, that'll be the day with the lowest grosses.)

5. Be there for your family. Love your parents, your partner, and your children. (Love is deeper than honor, and parents matter, but so do spouse and children.)

6. Respect and protect all human life. (Many believe that "Thou shalt not kill" only refers to people in the same tribe. I say it's all human life.)

7. Keep your promises. (If you can't be sexually exclusive to your spouse, don't make that deal.)

8. Don't steal. (This includes magic tricks and jokes — you know who you are!)

9. Don't lie. (You know, unless you're doing magic tricks and it's part of your job. Does that make it OK for politicians, too?)

10. Don't waste too much time wishing, hoping, and being envious; it'll make you bugnutty.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Kingdom Without King, Kingdom Without Church: Manipulating Jesus to Serve Our Agendas

It's been a problem almost since the inception of Christianity-- the rejection of Jesus' agenda for us and the twisting of Jesus' message and ministry so that he might conform to our easier more palatable way of life. In a recent post, Carl Olson quotes atheist, Richard Dawkins who states that as intelligent as Jesus was, if he were here today, knowing what we human beings now know in the 21st century, Jesus would be an atheist.

Now, it is not the purpose of this post to respond to Dawkins' assertion. Olson does that quite well. What I want to highlight is the continual practice of Christians twisting Jesus to fit their particular political and social agendas. Since Dawkins is an atheist, he can be excused; but what is the excuse for those who claim to follow Jesus, those believers that insist Jesus follow them in support of their pet projects and sacred cow issues? There are those who think that if Jesus were here today he would be a conservative Republican and a Tea Partier. Others assume that since Jesus was concerned for the poor that automatically means he would be down on Wall Street with the Occupiers, as if there is an automatic straight line from one to the other. Yes, I have heard and read pastors say just that. I have to say that it is hard for me to understand the reasoning of any persons who believe the above. Apparently I must be reading a different New Testament.

Years ago I was at a church dinner during a presidential election season. I was sitting at one table with parishioners who were talking politics and like-mindedly saying that they could not understand how a good Christian could vote for the Democratic candidate for president. A few minutes later I was at another table as I was making my "pastoral rounds" that evening, and those folks, also talking politics, were having the same conversation... but they couldn't figure why any caring Christian would vote for the Republican.