Weekender: May 27, 2017

Weekender: 05/27/2017

Welcome to the weekend! Each week, we like to offer a few quick highlights from our week that we think will give you something worthwhile to think about over the weekend. Enjoy this week’s Weekender and add to it in the comments below!

Quote Worth Repeating: “Preaching’s value is often in the subtle but powerful ways it forms us into people who have empathy for others, who assume responsibility for the needs of strangers, who feel that we are under judgment from a higher criterion than our own consciences, and who believe that, with the Holy Spirit set loose among us, we can be born again.” From Who Lynched Willie Earle? Preaching to Confront Racism by Will Willimon (Abingdon Press, 2017: review forthcoming).

Blog Post to Read: “Fear” by Marilynne Robinson is a thought-provoking essay on what motivates us and what should motivate us. “Fear,” Robinson writes, “is not a Christian habit of mind.”

Interesting Insight: Christianity Today reports on a study by LifeWay Research that seeks “to discover [American’s] feelings about fear, shame, guilt, and other issues.” The results are interesting and, potentially, insightful for practitioners within the Church.

After seeing the results, you might want to read Kent’s posts on shame. You can find them here and here.

Questions to Ponder: At the church where I’m interning, I’m helping with a small group about the Bible and Christian theology. A member asked an important question: Why does it matter what we call God? The question was in response to me, perhaps arrogantly, correcting what I saw as a flaw in the curriculum a week earlier. Under “Great Doctrines of the Bible,” the author lists “God,” “Jesus,” and “Holy Spirit.” I suggested that a more helpful naming would be: “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit.” “Each of them,” I explained, “are God, and all together they are God. One is not God and the others something else.” This must have jostled his thoughts throughout the week, so I pose the question, and some follow ups, to you now:

  • Why does it matter what we call God? Or, I think, why does it matter that we call God the Trinity?
  • How would you respond to that question pastorally? How do you encourage congregants to see the significance (i.e. not telling them, “You’ll never understand so don’t worry too much about it.”) without frustrating them?
  • Are there helpful resources you’ve found to assist congregants and students with a fairly basic theological vocabulary to better understand the Trinity?

Recent Posts on Theology Forum:

  1. We Are Here to Love by Kent Eilers
  2. Dear Publishers by Kent Eilers
  3. Ascension Thursday: Salvador Dali and Karl Barth by Zen Hess
  4. Baptism, Preaching, and Politics by Zen Hess

Weekender: May 20, 2017

Weekender: 05/20/2017

Welcome to the weekend! Each week, we like to offer a few quick highlights from our week that we think will give you something worthwhile to think about over the weekend. Enjoy this week’s Weekender and add to it in the comments below!

Quote Worth Repeating: “Frequently biblical scholars will claim a doctrine has no scriptural basis because they do not understand what is truly at stake in the doctrine itself.” From Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament by Gary Anderson.

Blog Post to Read: “Be Not Afraid” by Amy Laura Hall is an essay about fear and hope — among other things.

Old School Trending: One specific topic is garnering fresh attention from some renowned theologians. Fleming Rutledge, N. T. Wright, and Greg Boyd have all published books in the past couple of years about the crucifixion. Here is a collection of resources related to these publications:

  1. Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion was published (November 2015) by Eerdmans. Here is an interview with her regarding the book. You might also enjoy listening to her discuss preaching Christ crucified today.
  2. The Day the Revolution Began (Harper Collins) is N. T. Wright’s effort to “challenge commonly held beliefs” about Christ’s crucifixion. Here is an interview with Wright about his book.
  3. Fortress Press published Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God (two volumes) in April 2017. Boyd is responding to reviews of his book over on his blog ReKnew.

Wright and Boyd joined Dennis Edwards in a MissioAlliance webinar to discuss the crucifixion (it costs $3 to download the video). Perhaps we will be fortunate enough to see all three of these faithful theologians together for a discussion in the future.

Questions to Ponder: After preaching last week, I have continued to consider ways to introduce the movements of the liturgy into non-liturgical worshipping communities. I have some ideas, but I would be interested to hear some of your thoughts:

  • How have you creatively maintained liturgical movements in a church whose worship is more (for lack of a better term) contemporary?
  • How have you educated congregants about the liturgy so that they know what it is they’re doing?

Weekender: May 13, 2017

Weekender: 05/13/2017

Welcome to the weekend! Each week, we like to offer a few quick highlights from our week that we think will give you something worthwhile to think about over the weekend. Enjoy this week’s Weekender and add to it in the comments below!

Quote Worth Repeating: “As long as even a poor theologian is capable of astonishment, s/he is not lost to the fulfillment of her/his task. S/he remains serviceable as long as the possibility is left open that astonishment may seize her/him like an armed man.” From Evangelical Theology: An Outline by Karl Barth.

Blog Post to Read: Robert Jenson’s “How the World Lost Its Story” is over two decades old. Yet, in the past year, I’ve read it numerous times. Its relevance for today is striking.

Watch this: In this video, Yale professor Willie Jennings reflects on a theology of Joy. “I look at joy,” Jennings says, “as an act of resistance against despair and its forces. And joy in that regard is a work that become a state that can become a way of life.”

Questions to Ponder: Following the conversation between Jennings and Volf in the video:

  • What do you think joy is? Is it resistance to despair? Is it a gift? Is joy a virtue?
  • How do you cultivate joy? As a community? As an individual? As a pastor? A theologian?
  • How do we resist the commercialization of joy?
  • How is your joy shaped by your space, and the elements that make your space unique? And how does joy act as a unifier across spatial, and perhaps other, divisions?

Weekender: May 6, 2017

Weekender: 05/06/2017

Welcome to the weekend! Each week, we like to offer a few quick highlights from our week that we think will give you something worthwhile to think about over the weekend. Enjoy this week’s Weekender and add to it in the comments below!

Quote Worth Repeating: “To grow as a disciple is to take the journey from understanding into faith, from memory into hope and from will into love.” From Rowan Williams’s Being Disciples. Kent reflected on another quote from this book in his post “On Shame.”

Blog Post to Read: Mark Labberton’s post on Christian Century about the perspicuity, or plainness, of Scripture — or how it’s not so plain after all.“The great irony about the claim of perspicuity is that it is not perspicuous,” Labberton writes. “Or at least not as clear as it might sound. The greatest evidence that perspicuity is not self-evident is provided by Calvin himself, who argued for the perspicuity of the Bible while writing thousands of pages of commentary to help make plain to the ordinary reader what the scriptures were saying and teaching. What was plain and clear plainly needed some explaining.”

Reflecting with Images: William Blake’s Jerusalem, Plate 41, “Bath who is Legions”

William Blake's Jerusalem, Plate 41, "Bath who is Legion"

Questions to Ponder: Kent has been posting on shame this week. His posts have evoked a number of questions for me (Zen).

  • How does a pastor speak well about sin and forgiveness? That is, how does someone call a congregation to confession and repentance without leaving them with a sense of inadequacy? Is preaching forgiveness enough? Or should a call to repentance always begin with a reminder of Christ’s love? How does a thoughtful liturgy help guard pastors from perpetuating shame?
  • I wonder what percentage of Christians attend church because of shame? How many people think going to church is primarily about “getting right with God”? How do we alter the perception of what church is for to something more true, like we attend church to celebrate God’s love and faithfulness and to be nurtured through sacrament, prayer, and preaching?

Weekender: April 29, 2017

Weekender: 04/29/2017

Welcome to the weekend! Each week, we like to offer a few quick highlights from our week that we think will give you something worthwhile to think about over the weekend. Enjoy this week’s Weekender and add to it in the comments below!

Quote Worth Repeating: “In both roles, as a journalist and as an organizer, I’d learn that it’s possible to fall in love with a revolution — then doubt it, fight with it, lose faith in it, and return with a sense of humor and a harder, lasting love. I would have to learn the same thing about church when I was much older, and it would be no easier.” From Take This Bread by Sara Miles.

Blog Post to Read: Kent recommends Bishop Robert Barron’s “‘Grace Alone’ 500 Years Later” on Christianity Today. It is a thoughtful, not to mention timely, reflection on the difference between Luther’s theology of grace and a Catholic theology of grace.

Theology Forum Flashback: Steven Duby’s “Scooping Out the Moon” was posted in April 2010. In the post he shares a quote from Barth on the “knowability of the Word of God” and raises some tantalizing questions about popular evangelical assumptions about the pastor. Also in April 2010, Kent Eilers posed important questions about how we often move people quickly from profession of faith to baptism. His underlying question is this: do new Christians need theology?

Questions to Ponder: I have had several interesting conversations regarding politics and preaching this week. Here are a few questions I’ve been asking. Weigh in with your own questions or kindly offer your own insights below!

  • What do we mean when we say “politics” or “political”?
  • Is the church, local or universal, political?
  • How and when should preaching be political? Can preaching ever be apolitical?
  • Is it crossing the line for a pastor to take a side on a political issue from the pulpit? Why or why not? Another way of asking this questions could be: should a preacher risk upsetting congregants who may disagree for the sake of helping the congregation think theologically about current events?

Weekender: April 22, 2017

This is the first of a weekly post we are calling “Weekender.” It is a collection of things worth thinking about. Think with us or add to the list in the comments.


Quote: “Nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defense.” From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Theology Forum’s Kent Eilers recently published an essay, in the winter edition of the journal CRUX, reflecting on how God is imagined in Lila, one of Marilynne Robinson’s other books.

Blog Post to Read: “What’s Right With the Church” by Doug Haney on Will Willimon’s blog. This readable post gives a practical, positive approach to congregational ministry.

Interesting Insight: Sermon content is the “major reason” why 75% of Americans go to church, according to a recent Gallup Poll.

Fortunately, there are many great resources to help us reflect on what it means to preach faithfully. Recently, I (Zen) have been captivated by the collected sermons of Ellen Davis, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Hans Boersma. Others on Theology Forum have written about preaching too. Check out some of those posts here.

Surprisingly, good music comes in pretty far down on the list.

Questions: I spent Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Elkhart, IN) for their annual “Rooted and Grounded” conference. There were many thoughtful and provocative papers and conversations. So, questions this week are related to some of those presentations. If you’re interested in considering these questions more deeply, Wipf & Stock recently published a collection of selected essays from the conference’s inaugural year.

  • How does a congregation nurture sustained attention on and engagement with the practice of creation care?
  • Is the pulpit the appropriate place to address climate change or related matters? Why or why not?
  • What responsibility do contemporary Christian’s bear in making reparations for their tradition’s participation in historical sins? (Mennonites at the conference, for example, were raising this question related to Mennonites complicity in exiling indigenous peoples from their lands in northern Indiana.)
  • Do certain ways of reading Scripture lead to a more natural acceptance of Christian responsibility for caring for God’s creation? Do other ways lead to a greater resistance toward proactive care for the environment?
  • What are ways that we can practice evangelism that do not repeat the historical sin of colonialism?

Enjoy your weekend!