Don’t Say Nothing: Preaching and Racism

In the summer of 2015, I was a chaplain at a camp in North Carolina. I preached to hundreds of campers and mentored approximately fifty counselors. In the summer of 2015, about four and a half hours from my camp, Dylann Roof walked into a church and murdered nine black people who were praying. In my preaching and teaching at camp, I said nothing. I knew what happened and I chose to say nothing. Honestly, I cannot say whether I stayed silent out of fear or out of foolishness or, perhaps, because of my own inherent racism. None of those reasons are acceptable. Lord, forgive me for the things I’ve said and the things I’ve left unsaid.

In the summer of 2017, I’ve been gifted with another opportunity to preach. This time, the community is a wild group of all kinds of people called Anchor Community Church. And though Anchor is more diverse than many churches in Fort Wayne, racism is still alive in our neighborhood. Confederate flags fly from two different houses near to the church building. As I walk to my church’s building, those flags remind me that we need to keep preaching to confront racism. The question is how do we preach to confront racism?

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Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: A Review

One of my favorite classes at Duke was “Old Testament in the New Testament” with J. Ross Wagner. The question “How should Christians read the Old Testament?” has always intrigued me. We cannot simply seek the “original” meaning because Jesus seems to recast the original meaning. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus recasts the original meanings of several laws, saying “you have heard it said…but I tell you…” But then again, I recognized the importance of upholding the Jewish tradition that give the stories, poems, and laws their context. The class gave me an opportunity to reflect on the many ways New Testament writers engage with the Old Testament.

9780801098253Gary A. Anderson’s new book, Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in Service of Biblical Exegesis (kindly provided for review by the folks at Baker Academic), is asking a related, but slightly different, question. How can Christian doctrine, Anderson’s question could be formulated, “play a key role in uncovering a text’s meaning” (p. xi)? Having this question as a starting point is dangerous for the modern “biblical scholar,” as Anderson readily admits. The divisions between “theologian” and “biblical scholar,” and even “Old Testament scholar” and “New Testament scholar” are deep in the academic study of the Christian religion and its relevant texts. Anderson, following the lead of folks like Brevard Childs, makes a concerted effort to raise the valleys, if you will, between these fields of study. And I must say that he has offered the church an incredible example of how the worlds of biblical exegesis, theology, and historical theology work better when they are married than when they are divorced. Continue reading

Hermeneutics as Apprenticeship: A Review

Jessie and I have, once again, settled into a new city! This time around it is Greenville, South Carolina. We are here until at least February while I continue looking for jobs. In the meantime, some folks at a local bike shop have been kind enough to put me to work building and fixing bicycles. So now, I arrive to work early enough to do some reading in the cool morning air.

Cover image for Hermeneutics as Apprenticeship has been my morning read this week. (Many thanks to Baker Academic for providing it for review!) The author, David I. Starling, is a New Testament lecturer at Morling College in Australia. He was, before reading this book, unknown to me. I must say that I am now most excited to get my hands on more of his work.

The book attempts to broaden the meaning of Scriptura Scripturae interpres, Scripture interprets Scripture. The common understanding of Scripture interprets Scripture is that if something in the Scriptures is confusing, you can use the helpful cross-reference in the margin and simply find out what the passage might mean by reading another passage. In other words, the Scriptures can be read plainly and, if you read them all, then you will understand them all. Starling gives us a helpful quotation from another biblical theologian, Kevin VanHoozer: “The Reformers indicated that obscure passages should be read in the light of clearer ones” (p. 10). Starling is not at all saying that this method is wrong; rather, he thinks it goes much further than this. Continue reading

The Fourfold Gospel: A Review

The chaos of violence continues to swell, like a wave, thrashing upon our collective attention. Violence is nothing new, but it never loses its edge. I want to let those who have lost loved ones, and their sense of stability, to senseless violence know that I weep with you. For those in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Dallas, Orlando, Iraq, Turkey, and the world over, your tears and your weeping are heard and shared. Before diving into the review, it seems right to begin by praying a prayer from the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

God, we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus. Grant that we will love you with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, even our enemy neighbors. And we ask you, God, in these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, to be with us in our going out and our coming in, in our rising up and in our lying down, in our moments of joy and in our moments of sorrow, until the day when there shall be no sunset and no dawn. Amen.

Let us now turn our attention to Francis Watson’s new book, The Fourfold Gospel: A Theological Reading of the New Testament Portraits of Jesus. Watson is one of the world’s leading New Testament theologians. I was introduced to his work by a Duke professor who said, “If you want to read New Testament theology, then read Watson, read it again and again.” I took my professor’s advice seriously and, when Baker Academic agreed to send me a review copy, I was stoked.

Watson’s goal in this book is to offer an approach to answering the question, “What good is there in having four different Gospels?” Continue reading

Review of “A Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live?”

Ah, the summer heat. Recently, Jessie and I made the move from Durham, NC to Nashville, TN. If you get on Interstate 40 in Durham heading west, then eight hours later you will find yourself in Nashville. They’re nearly equidistant from the equator, which means the heat in Nashville bears striking resemblance to the heat in Durham — but we wait all winter for this, right? I won’t complain! Between planting some veggies in buckets and working with my buddy Jon, I took respite from the heat and read Robert Jenson’s recently published A Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live? (kindly forwarded to me for review by Oxford University Press).

Throughout my theological education, I had the opportunity to read a few essays by Jenson. His essay in The Art of Reading Scripture is still one of the most important pieces of writing I have ever read. But relative to the amount of writing he has done and his stature as one of America’s most significant Christian theologians, those few essays seemed inadequate. I wanted to learn more from him. The sheer volume of his work, however, made it difficult to find a good point of entry into his thinking. A Theology in Outline made the dive much easier. Continue reading

On Earth as It Is in Heaven: A Review

Hallelujah! After two years — full of reading and writing and reading and thinking and writing some more — I am officially a graduate of Duke University Divinity School. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to study with many great folks and to have fallen in love with the city of Durham. Jessie and I have some serious thinking and praying to do concerning whether or not a PhD is in the cards; for now, we plan to travel. To fill the time between wrapping things up here in Durham and beginning our season of travel (in Nashville, TN!), I requested a few books to review for the blog.

W.m. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. was kind enough to send along On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Cultivating a Contemporary Theology of Creation, edited by David Vincent Meconi,
SJ. This book is a collection of essays written by prominent Catholic Meconi_On Earth as it is in Heaven_wrk01.inddscholars and guided by a shared concern to theologically “resist the contemporary dangers of mindless acquisition and the consequent squandering of the earth’s rich resources” (p. 1). Each essay resists these contemporary dangers in a slightly different way. Some of the writing is quite dense, requiring a high level of attention and, for readers not trained in theology, perhaps a theological dictionary. The writers are masters of the theological craft. Agrarian writers, however, such as Wendell Berry, encourage interdisciplinary work, even at the risk of getting things wrong the first time around. I do not mention this to say that the writers of these essays have gotten things wrong. Rather, I mention it to note that many of these theologians are purposefully pushing themselves to think in new and exciting ways and that their thinking will only be refined as they become more comfortable writing at the intersection of Catholic theology and environmental matters. Continue reading

Book Review: From Nature to Creation

After a long holiday season, I am delighted once again to be immersed in reading and thinking. In four short months, Lord willing, I will be graduating from Duke Divinity School. In order to graduate, however, I must complete a thesis project. I have the great privilege to craft my thesis under the guidance of professor Norman Wirzba. Professor Wirzba is well known for his work in the field of theology, ecology, and agrarian studies. From Nature to Creation (Baker, 2015) is his latest addition to that field of writing.

The cover of From Nature to Creation by Norm Wirzba.In From Nature to Creation, Wirzba invites the reader to develop “an imagination for the world as created, sustained, and daily loved by God” (3). Few Christians would argue that we ought not to have such an imagination — nearly all Christians confess such a belief. So, the problem is, then, living as if that is true. In each chapter, Wirzba reviews certain characteristics of modern culture that make it difficult for Christians in the west to live as if God created, sustains, and daily loves the world and all in it. Once Wirzba has described the characteristics and their theoretical underpinnings, he presents a Christian theological response to the problem. These responses are founded upon biblical exegesis, theological traditions, and Christian disciplines. In all, Wirzba confronts five problematic characteristics of modernity.

First, Wirzba draws attention to Nietzsche’s now famous assertion that “God is dead.” What God’s death implies is not that God actually ceased to exist, but that God has been replaced by or, perhaps, misplaced into other things. Modernity is characterized by an infatuation with “scientific reductionism, the autonomous self, instrumental reasoning, unencumbered individualism, technophilia, and the dis-embedding of communities” (8). Such infatuation reduces things that were once meaningful, because God gave them meaning, into amoral, material elements. We no longer have reason to see nature as creation or people as creatures and thus intimately related to God. All things are, then, the result of meaningless, random events. In turn, it becomes difficult to see that we have certain innate, moral responsibilities related to creation and other creatures. Christian grammar, however, provides a powerful alternative to this description of the world. Instead of being random, meaningless, and amoral, Christian grammar teaches us that all that exists is created by God and imbued with God’s self-offering love. Drawing from Scripture (namely the Christ hymn in Colossians 1) and early Christian theologians, Wirzba concludes that Christians must name the world and all in it as Creation. Doing so will enable us to recognize that Christ’s participation in creating and redeeming the world gives all things inestimable value. Nothing is amoral and nothing is random; all is God’s beloved creation. Continue reading