A week ago, I shook everyone’s hand in the exit line after worship. Some of us lightheartedly joked about how, if we all wash our hands, everything would be fine. After that, things were like a whirwind.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.
What kind of theologian is a pastor?
For about a month this spring we (Kent and Zen) got together over lunch and wrestled with that question by discussing the book, The Pastor-Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision by Heistand and Wilson (Zondervan 2015). We come at the topic from slightly different angles, a college professor and a pastor respectively, but we both long for pastoral ministry that is theologically rich and pastorally wise. I (Kent) help train young theologians to envision their ministry along those lines, and Zen is trying to live it out in his congregation. So, what kind of theologian is a pastor?
Our conversations were rich and the book was rewarding, though it left us with some questions and a few critiques. We’re going to interact with the book in the form of a dialogue.
Zen: I remember reading Stanley Hauerwas’s essay “The How of Theology and Ministry” for the first time during my years at Duke. In that essay, Hauerwas gives a brief history of the fragmentation of theology from ministry. I was neck deep in academia and maintained a snooty disinterest in working in a parish. Hauerwas’s essay forced me to reconsider what I thought theology was and, more importantly, for whom it was practiced.
Now I’m a pastor. (God’s ways are higher than our ways!) Reading The Pastor Theologian gave me an opportunity to think about the fracture of theology from ministry again. This time, however, I read it with a deep interest in finding some way to help heal the fracture.
So what can I, as pastor for one hundred people in Huntington, Indiana, do to work toward healing? Continue reading
“Dear Pastor, you are not a business person…” Sincerely, St. Jerome
How does a servant of the church measure his or her success?
Every night the pastor lays their head on the pillow and measures the success of their day according to some criteria. What will those criteria be? The same criteria and standards are the measures by which the pastor marks the progress of those under their charge – other pastors or volunteers. Those standards also guide their daily work: in what should I devote my time and according to what methods should I do so?
Far too often I see pastors finding those standards and criteria in the world of business, the market economy. To the pastor who looks there, St. Jerome (AD347 – 420) would say this: “Pastor, you are not a business person! You must not let the standards and practices of the market economy set the terms for your success. Nor should you let the logic of marketing, sales, and distribution set the terms for where you and your partners in ministry devote your time, or the methods you apply in doing so.”
Consider the following selection from Jerome’s letter to Nepotian (Letter 52. AD394). Nepotian was once a soldier, but he left it for ministry in the church. Jerome wants to ensure that Nepotian does not look to his former career in order to find the standards and criteria for his vocation in the church. Jerome is so intent that Nepotian hears his plea that he shifts the formatting of his prose as he says, “Again and yet again admonish you…” Its an effective way of grabbing Nepotian’s attention before his main point.
5. A clergyman, then, as he serves Christ’s church, must first understand what his name means; and then, when he realizes this, must endeavor to be that which he is called. For since the Greek word κλῆρος means “lot,” or “inheritance,” the clergy are so called either because they are the lot of the Lord, or else because the Lord Himself is their lot and portion. Now, he who in his own person is the Lord’s portion, or has the Lord for his portion, must so bear himself as to possess the Lord and to be possessed by Him. He who possesses the Lord, and who says with the prophet, “The Lord is my portion,” can hold to nothing beside the Lord. For if he hold to something beside the Lord, the Lord will not be his portion. Suppose, for instance, that he holds to gold or silver, or possessions or inlaid furniture; with such portions as these the Lord will not deign to be his portion. I, if I am the portion of the Lord, and the line of His heritage, receive no portion among the remaining tribes; but, like the Priest and the Levite, I live on the tithe, and serving the altar, am supported by its offerings. Having food and raiment, I shall be content with these, and as a disciple of the Cross shall share its poverty. I beseech you, therefore, and
Again and yet again admonish you;
do not look to your military experience for a standard of clerical obligation. Under Christ’s banner seek for no worldly gain, lest having more than when you first became a clergyman, you hear men say, to your shame, “Their portion shall not profit them.” Welcome poor men and strangers to your homely board, that with them Christ may be your guest (Letter 52. Emphasis mine).
Jerome’s worry was specifically over worldly gain, money. He was writing three generations after the Edict of Milan (AD313). Now that Christianity was a tolerated religion in the Roman Empire, the profession of the clergy was being swamped by expectations and standards coming from outside the church and alien to the Gospel.
Is our situation different today?
I published an essay on new monastics this month in the journal American Theological Inquiry, “New Monastic Social Imagination: Theological Retrieval for Ecclesial Renewal.” The basic idea was to explore new monastic retrieval through the lens of social hermeneutics. Charles Taylor and Etienne Wenger were my principle conversation partners on the social hermeneutics side, and among new monastics I focused primarily on Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Here is an excerpt (read the entire essay here).
In order for new monastic retrieval to succeed on its own terms—to recover the monastic impulse from past monastic movements—new monastic imagination must be distinctly theological. That is, some imagination, Christian or otherwise, will invest the practices of new monastics with meaning(s); the issue is whether that imagination will be theological. This is not to say anything of the actual efficacy of such practices, in other words whether or not they achieve the “ends” or telos they are believed to serve (e.g. spiritual transformation, ecological stewardship, community formation, etc.). Rather, the issue at stake is the cultivation and maintenance of a theological imagination sufficient for the task of investing their practices with meanings broadly consistent with the Christian tradition and more narrowly with the monastic-like movements in which they see the monastic impulse and seek to retrieve it (p. 54)
When We Lack Ecclesiological Structures
I read here today that the NAE has developed a code of ethics for pastors. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with wanting to promote integrity and purity among pastors, but would this be necessary if evangelicals were properly rooted in ecclesial traditions and confessional frameworks that emphasized more than just Bebbington’s big four?
What do you make of the implications of this code? Is it an important corrective? A problematic development?
The Church and The Arts: Some Queries
It’s difficult for a student at St Mary’s College, which is home to the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts, and a husband of someone who is an artist to ignore questions about the relationship between the church and the arts (taken broadly to include painting, film, sculpting, dance, etc.). Indeed, even if one has no personal ties in this connection, it’s tough to avoid hearing the recurring calls for the church to ‘engage’ more robustly with the arts. A product of the Third Lausanne Congress, The Cape Town Commitment: A Confession of Faith and a Call to Action (Hendrickson, 2011) urges,
In the world of mission, the arts are an untapped resource. We actively encourage greater Christian involvement in the arts. We long to see the Church in all cultures energetically engaging with the arts as a context for mission by: (1) Bringing the arts back into the life of the faith community as a valid and valuable component of our call to discipleship; (2) Supporting those with artistic gifts, especially sisters and brothers in Christ, so that they may flourish in their work (p. 37).
I’d like to make two comments (with questions appended) and then hear some of your thoughts on these kinds of calls for Christian involvement in the field of art. None of this is meant to denigrate the role of art in human existence, for it is undoubtedly a wonderful gift of God. It is to probe a little as to whether (well-intended) calls for artistic engagement are appropriately directed toward the church and its pastoral leadership.
The Juvenilization of American Christianity (Part 1)
I introduced Tom Bergler’s new book on the influence of youth culture on American Christianity in a previous post (read it here). Chapters 1-7 chart juvenilization from the 1930’s through 1960’s, then Tom draws the argument together in chapter 8.
Chapter 1 traces the response of various American Christian denominations to what was being called the “crisis of civilization” during the 1930’s. As Tom describes it, “As the traumas of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War followed each other in quick succession, people started to speak of a ‘crisis of civilization.’ They had reason to fear that their children might see the end of economic prosperity, democracy, and religious freedom” (19). By focusing on the general fear about the youth of the day, Christian leaders focused their attention on young people to catalyze change in America. In doing so, Tom argues, “Youth leaders believed they were catching the wave of the future and channeling the innate power of young people.” However, they were inadvertently building “one of the engines that would drive juvenilization in subsequent decades.”
In addition to advocating to the wider public for the influence that youth can have to revitalize America, during the 1930s and 1940s Christians responded to the challenge of the youth problem in various ways. Evangelical groups like Youth For Christ responded by launching youth revivals. “Youth for Christ leaders considered their movement a success against the crisis of civilization. They modernized revivalism, won respect in the secular press, and appealed to young people by combining entertainment, an appealing spirituality, and the powerful language linking youth and the crisis of civilization” (32). In contrast, Roman Catholics attempted to mobilize youth to save America, “on the battlefield, in the factories, and in their schools” (32-36) and African American Baptists, unlike their white counterparts, focused on social justice but through integrating the youth into the life and mission of the church rather than start new youth organizations (36-39).
Tom describes the overall effect of these efforts during the 1930s and 40s as follows:
Youth leaders and those they influenced got in the habit of thinking of youth, not adults, as the most important reformers in church and society. The people who most often heard this message were the young Christians who participated in the many large youth gatherings of the era. These future leaders learned that youth would always be the most important political and social force in the world, and by implication, not to expect much from themselves or others once they reached adulthood. According to this line of thinking, if adults were to accomplish anything of value in the political realm, they needed to become more like young people (40).
I find Tom’s closing statement to be one of the more interesting observations in the chapter: “From then on, almost any innovation could be justified in the name of saving young people. Who could worry about the long-term impact of youth work on the church when the fate of civilization hung in the balance?”
In light of all this, here are a couple questions for Tom when he has the chance (feel free to pose your own): do you think today’s youth see themselves as forces for change because of the shifts in perception you trace here, or are there are more influential causes for the recent upsurge in youth activism? How does the mission of YFC during the 1930s and 40s shape YFC’s mission today? Should we see this as a strength or weakness?
The Juvenilization of American Christianity (Intro)
A colleague of mine at Huntington University, Tom Bergler, just published a book on the influence of youth culture on American Christianity, The Juvenilization of American Christianity. The next cover of Christianity Today will highlight the book and include an article by Tom. I am going to review the book chapter by chapter over the next few weeks, and Tom will join in to respond to questions and comments.
A good place to start: what does Tom mean by the term “juvenilization”? As he defines it in the introduction, “Juvenilization is the process by which the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for Christians of all ages. It begins with the praiseworthy goal of adapting the faith to appeal to the young. But it sometimes ends badly, with both youth and adults embracing immature versions of faith (4).” In other words, as the American church sought to reach young people in the 2oth century it incorporated aspects of adolescent development and culture that ultimately shaped the faith of adult Christians and the way the church today understands spiritual maturity.
The effects of juvenilization have not all been negative. Yet, with certain gains also came loses, mainly the exchange of spiritual maturity for adolescent immaturity. Tom describes it this way, “By personalizing Christianity and creatively blending it with elements of popular culture ranging from rock music to political protests, youth ministries helped ensure the ongoing vitality of Christianity in America. But these same ministries also sometimes pandered to the consumerism, self-centeredness, and even outright immaturity of American believers.”
It seems that Tom’s biggest worries have less to do with the pragmatics of contemporary American Christianity – like the elements of corporate worship or evangelism strategies – and more to do with how American churches of all denominations understand and seek spiritual maturity. “Maturity” has come to be understood according to the dynamics of adolescent spirituality, and this only inhibits the efforts of churches and individuals to foster maturity as it has been traditionally understood (something I wish Tom would have said more about in the introduction. What is the foil of “adolescent” spirituality we might call “maturity”?).
The argument seems to go something like this: the American church of the twentieth century (beginning in the 1930’s) juvenilized the Christian faith in order to reach adolescents, and that strategy has created the accepted norms for mature, adult faith.
For example, Tom singles out the emotionally charged nature of adolescent faith and suggests how this dynamic comes to be the norm for adults:
Adolescent Christians see the faith as incomplete unless it is affecting them emotionally. They are less likely than adults to settle for a faith that offers only a dutiful adherence to particular doctrines, rules, or institutions. On the other hand, they have a hard time keeping religious commitments when their emotions are not cooperating. They are drawn to religious practices that produce emotional highs and sometimes assume that experiencing strong feelings is the same thing as spiritual authenticity. They may be tempted to believe that God’s main role in their lives is to help them feel better or to heal their emotional pain. Juvenilized adults agree that a main purpose of Christianity is to help them feel better about their problems (12).
I am curious, have you experienced this in your church? What does it look like? How do you recognize it?
A Ministry of Self-Forgetfulness and Simplicity
I have been slowly journeying through the first volume of Iain Murray’s two-volume biography of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939 [Banner of Truth, 1982]) and have been at various points taken in by the Welsh preacher’s aversion to self-absorption and to ‘bells and whistles’ in ministry even in the midst of his apparent pastoral fervor and spiritual vitality. Indeed, in this aversion to anything like the personality-driven ministries that are so prevalent in our time, ‘the Doctor’ might have even resented this blog post, were he still alive. Nevertheless, certain dimensions of his story are, I think, remarkably suggestive for Christian ministry today and are worthy of our consideration.
A couple of the episodes recorded by Murray distill Lloyd-Jones’s commitment to getting himself out of the way in the proclamation of the gospel and to ensuring that the church was borne along by the power of God’s word and Spirit rather than by clever human devices. For Lloyd-Jones’s initial visit to preach at Aberavon, the site of his soon-to-be first pastorate, the church secretary (E. T. Rees) had put up a large poster to advertise the advent of the exciting prospective minister. Murray relates the Doctor’s response:
‘I don’t like that, don’t do it again,’ he told E. T. Rees in authoritative tones (p. 119).
Schism and Spiritual Unity
In one of his writings on the doctrine of the church in relation to ecclesial life in seventeenth-century England, John Owen makes what I think are a number of incisive and helpful comments on schism and unity. As a Congregationalist, Owen was susceptible to accusations of schism and divisiveness, but he suggests that a poor conception of church unity and a misguided zeal for that conception underlie the charges against the Nonconformists.
For Owen, the unity of the church is fundamentally spiritual, a function of believers being joined to Christ their head by faith. However, Owen argues, in his day many conceived of unity in terms of (humanly devised) external uniformity of order and liturgy and then sought to impose that uniformity on all churches in the land. This misconception generated charges of schism against Owen and his Puritan comrades and, intriguingly, was the principal cause of ecclesial disunity. Externalize unity and impose that external unity on others and those of a different ecclesiological persuasion will (justifiably) resist this. Hence those who are overzealous for unity are also the chief culprits in schism. Though Owen has in mind especially the Anglican leaders of the time, he mentions Rome as an egregious example of supplanting spiritual unity with an external unity ‘of their own invention’ (Works of Owen, 15:111-12):
Owen on Preaching
For John Owen (who is perhaps the most famous of all my friends on Facebook, though I know not who runs his Facebook page), ‘the first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the word’ (The True Nature of a Gospel Church, in The Works of John Owen, 16:74). Throughout The True Nature of a Gospel Church Owen insists that pastoral work is so taxing that God appointed elders who primarily rule in the church in order to enable elders who focus especially on the ministry of the word to keep doing just that. Owen enumerates five non-negotiables that render someone fit to stand in the pulpit.
First, the preacher needs to have ‘spiritual wisdom and understanding in the mysteries of the gospel’. In fact, says Owen, it is vital that the preacher should have ‘some degree of eminency therein’, lest they be unhelpful to those who are already fairly mature in the faith (16:76). Second, the preacher should have an ‘experience of the power of the truth which they preach in and upon their own souls’. Put forcefully,
[A] man that preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us….The want of this experience of the power of gospel truth on their own souls is that which gives us so many lifeless, sapless orations, quaint in words and dead as to power, instead of preaching the gospel in the demonstration of the Spirit (ibid.).
Sabbath and Lord’s Day
I’ll extend the Calvin kick for another post, one that centers on his view of the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day in the Institutes, one stemming partially from the tension I might experience on Sunday as I both engage in spiritual and ecclesial activities and also head out to the pub to take in a Liverpool match.
For Calvin, the fourth commandment has three main functions: 1) to foreshadow and to promise to Israel spiritual rest which God will bring as the sanctifier of his people; 2) to provide a day for the assembled worship of God’s people; 3) to prevent oppression and overexertion of laborers (2.8.28-9). In the old dispensation the Sabbath promoted meditation on the forthcoming ‘perpetual repose from our labors’. However, its figurative and ceremonial aspect is no longer in force after Christ’s resurrection (Col. 2:16-17). By participating in Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 6:1-14) we begin to participate in that promised rest and ‘[t]his is not confined to a single day but extends throughout the whole course of our life, until, completely dead to ourselves, we are filled with the life of God. Christians ought therefore to shun completely the superstitious observance of days’ (2.8.31). In this connection, Calvin also reasons that meditation on that transformation work spills over into the other days of the week (2.8.34).
Rome, Evangelicalism, and the Regulative Principle
In his theology of worship, Calvin was quite keen on simplifying the church’s weekly services and judged that Roman Catholicism’s elaborate ceremonies were a throwback to the old covenant era, a continuation of things now out of place in the worship of God’s people on this side of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension. With an eye to helping those less acquainted with spiritual matters, he writes,
As a child (says Paul) is guided by his tutor according to the capacity of his age, and is restrained under his tutelage, so the Jews were under the custody of the law (Gal. 4:1-3). But we are like adults, who, freed of tutelage and custody, have no need of childish rudiments….Therefore, if we wish to benefit the untutored [in this era of redemptive history], raising up a Judaism that has been abrogated by Christ is a stupid way to do it. Christ also marked this dissimilarity between the old and new people in his own words when he said to the Samaritan woman that the time had come ‘when the true worshipers would worship God in spirit and in truth’ (Jn. 4:23). Indeed, this had always been done. But the new worshipers differ from the old in that under Moses the spiritual worship of God was figured and, so to speak, enwrapped in many ceremonies; but now that these are abolished, he is worshiped more simply. Accordingly, he who confuses this difference is overturning an order instituted and sanctioned by Christ (Institutes, 4.10.14).