Pastors & Power: What to do?

Theology Forum contributor Kyle Strobel co-wrote an important essay for Christianity Today about pastors and power. You can click here to read the whole essay. But I want to highlight an excerpt that stole my attention, and offer a few comments. Kyle and Jamin Goggin write:

While toxic power is surely a dangerous and corrosive agent in the church, there is another form of power we are called to embrace. Kingdom power is power in weakness for the sake of love. It is power grounded in humble dependence upon God and wielded in service and blessing. This is the power modeled by Christ. Therefore the cross defines kingdom power, and as such the world deems it foolish and weak (1 Cor. 1:18).

This is an important distinction. We cannot throw power out altogether, because that would be dishonest. “The Christian life,” they write, “is a call to power (2 Cor. 12:9–10), and more specifically, God has vested the pastoral office with authority.” The question is what kind of power do we have?  Continue reading

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Hymns of Resistance?

What are we doing when we worship? The answer to that question is multifaceted. According to Matthew Gordley, the New Testament hymns indicate one facet of Christian worship is to resist grand narratives, other than the Gospel, that “may have a claim on the lives of community members.” Read Colossians 1, Philippians 2, and John 1 as someone who is part of a fledgling community in the middle of a vast, tribalistic empire. They take on a slightly different tone, don’t they?

You can read my review of Gordley’s book over on Christian Century’s website. I’d be interested to know what hymns or songs your church sings that could be categorized, like the hymns found in the New Testament, as “resistance poetry.” Comment below!

Givenness and Revelation

“There is revelation not because paths have been made straight, the valleys filled, the hills made low, and everything straightened that was winding (Lk. 3:4, quoting Is. 40:3-5), as just so many preliminary conditions to be filled before God can manifest himself. No: there is Revelation precisely while these paths remain twisted—or even so as to show they are.”

Jean-Luc Marion, Givenness and Revelation, p. 59


Slowly, I am wading through a dense little book called Givenness and Revelation by Jean-Luc Marion (Oxford University Press, 2016). Marion is delightfully and unashamedly verbose. He expects of the reader a solid working knowledge of phenomenology and Aquinas, so I’ve put Google to work defining terms. I feel like I’m always several steps behind. So I read, and read again.

Despite my shortcomings, I have found myself scribbling notes, underlining phrases, and putting exclamation points next to striking sentences. The quote above received two exclamation points.  Continue reading

When the Author Predicts Your Question

[This post is one of several on Ben Myers’s new book, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Click here to order the book. Click here to read the other posts.

In an earlier post about this book, I asked a question similar to this: During congregational worship, is it better to confess “we believe” instead of “I believe” when reciting the creed? Ben Myers directly addresses that question in his final chapter. Continue reading

“They Will Forget to Die”

[This is one of several posts on Ben Myers’s new book, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Click here to purchase the book. Click here to read the other posts.]

Gerascophobia. Do you know what that word means? It is a fear of growing old. My beard hairs are turning gray, so I have entered a stage of life in which I can no longer pretend I won’t become old someday. Sometimes I am gerascophobic.

In his chapter on “the life everlasting,” Myers summarizes a story by Jorge Luis Borges, in which a man drinks from a stream and becomes immortal. Eventually, the man realizes that “without death, life lacks definition; it doesn’t mean anything.” This story sets Myers up to make a proverbial statement: “You cannot make life better just by increasing its quantity. What matters most is its quality.” Continue reading

Death is serious…

[This is the third interaction with Ben Myers’ new book The Apostle’s Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Click here to see more posts about this book.]

I am reading Ben Myers’s new book chapter by chapter, slowly and joyfully. In this brief book, a new believer will meet figures like Julian of Norwich, Karl Barth, and Athanasius. Yet these towering and often complicated thinkers are met as someone would meet a friend of a friend at a diner. We get a name and something witty or important they said. Just enough to make you say, as you sit down at your own table with your friend, “I’d like to get to know them more.”

The presence of important figures from church history is pertinent in Myers’s chapter on the Creed’s claim that Jesus “descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead.” In this chapter, Myers helps the reader get a sense of early Christians’ views of the dead, especially martyrs, by describing some of their practices. From teaching new believers in graveyards to singing during funerals, Myers suggests, Christian views and practices related to death would have offended pagan sensibilities. The practices revealed the Christian conviction that “death has been subsumed by life” (p. 79).

Myers’s use of dead theologians is pertinent because each time he quotes a dead person he resists Death’s attempt to silence the life of the faithful. So, among the many one-liners worthy of quoting (“Death is serious; but not as serious as life”), Myers includes several words of wisdom from various saints. Here are a few: Continue reading

“I” or “We” Believe?

[This is the second interaction with Ben Myers’ new book The Apostle’s Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Click here to see more posts about this book.]

Picture of Book2I worshipped for two years in a United Methodist congregation. City Well UMC was a diverse and joyful congregation. They prayed the traditional liturgical elements of the UMC Book of Prayer but with spirits of fire. During that time I learned that the prayers, songs, and sacraments all preach in their own way. “The Great Thanksgiving” was itself a blessed sermon, that came from somewhere in the past, but each week challenged me afresh.

So when I began an internship at a United Brethren church whose worship did not include elements like “The Great Thanksgiving,” I began to dream about including bits of the church’s beautiful traditions. The pastor, Kevin, was kind enough to let me try. On one of my first Sundays preaching, I invited the congregation to recite the Apostles’ Creed together. “I believe,” the congregation repeated. “I.” As I read through the creed with all of my brothers and sisters in unison, the “I” felt out of place. What does that word preach? Does it imply Christian faith is mainly an individual thing? Shouldn’t it be “we believe” instead? Continue reading