The “Untheological” Preacher

screen-shot-2018-02-26-at-12-18-23-pmIt’s not uncommon to hear preachers of a certain theological stripe say from the pulpit something like, “What I’m saying isn’t theological, it’s just biblical.” The sentiment is understandable even if the statement isn’t tenable. In many folks’ minds—both clergy and lay people—theology is a distraction from the real content of the Bible, from the real purpose of worship, or from the real goal of discipleship. 

Some of this sentiment can be chalked up to bad theology, written densely and in specialist language to no clear end. We might also wonder how the movement of theologians from the church to the offices of universities may have precipitated a sense of distance between theology and the church. Further still, theological debates often require an acceptance of nuance that is less than preferable when dealing with matters of salvation—in other words, people might chafe at theology because they feel it leads them to wonder if they can know anything for sure about God, life, or eternity. 

While I can charitably acknowledge these criticisms and concerns about theology, I think they reveal a narrow assumption about how theology works within the church. It seems that most people who think theology is more harmful than helpful assume theology works mostly to clarify (or confuse) matters of Christian belief that have little bearing on Christian life. If this assessment is on point, then it would take a substantial effort to redeem theology in the hearts and minds of everyday church folk, let alone the clergy who have taught them to think this way about theology. If that’s all it is, why do we need it at all? Continue reading

Advertisements

What is it that we truly are?

Paul prays for the Christians in Ephesus to know, along with a litany of other things, that God has made Christ “head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). In February 1922, Karl Barth lectured on this passage. His words, as usual, provoke us to recognize the vitality of the biblical text. The church, he writes, is Christ’s

pleroma, the filling up of the empty form, which he signifies, in contrast to all that is human and the true fulfillment of all that is human…Because they are in Christ, because they are the ekklesia, called together by him, they are truly the object of God’s blessing. Will the become what they truly are?

I can only imagine being a student at the University of Göttingen during this lecture. What would you say if Barth paused after that loaded question, looked at you, and asked, “And what is it, precisely, that we truly are?”  Continue reading

Gerard Manley Hopkins on a Sunday Afternoon

After a Sunday afternoon nap, I drank coffee and read Gerard Manley Hopkins. I am generally not much for poetry but this winter I am drawn to it. The poets I’ve been reading remind me that creation and faith cannot be fully settled down into the dust of reason. These subjects are opened wide when they not confined for argument’s sake. Today Hopkins offered me a description of the church that is, to my mind, as provocative as it is accurate. I hope you’ll enjoy it with me and, perhaps, share some of the poems, songs, or paintings that have helped you to think well about the life of faith.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Excerpted from “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Snow Day: An At-Home Liturgy

A beautiful covering of snow is being whisked hither and thither in Huntington, Indiana, tonight. Our church community will not be gathering tomorrow morning in order to prevent folks from unnecessarily driving in dangerous conditions. So, I created this liturgy to encourage them to worship together in the Spirit while physically at home.

I thought some of our readers may delight, whose churches may also not be gathering, would find it edifying so I’m sharing it here! You can click here to download the PDF which has all of the links (to the worship songs and the homily).

Every blessing to you all. Stay warm and give thanks!

Music and Emotion in Worship

Jeremy Begbie is a joy to read. A Peculiar Orthodoxy is a thoughtfully compiled series of lectures and essays that Begbie had created over the span of a decade and wished to share with a wider readership. These essays deserve to be widely read. Yet, most laity and many undergraduate students would find the essays difficult and, perhaps, irrelevant. This is precisely why pastors and professors should engage with Begbie’s work, inviting their congregations and classrooms into conversations around the “peculiar orthodoxy” Begbie finds through the theology of the arts.

In the chapter “Faithful Feelings,” for example, Begbie addresses worship, music, and emotions. It can be difficult, as a pastor, to grasp the fullness of worship, the place of music in worship, and the role emotions should play in leading and participating in worship. Advent highlights this difficulty well. What is a pastor to do when many folks in the congregation think Advent is simply “Christmas preseason,” and feel frustrated when the pastor preaches lectionary texts that are not filled with the holly jolly sentimentalities? What is worship for, they might ask, if it is not meant solely to cover the harshness of life with warm fuzzy feelings? What has worship to do with actually addressing our complex emotional lives? Continue reading

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