Kent’s book a finalist in Christianity Today’s 2023 book awards

Image from Kent Eiler's book Reading Theology Wisely. Illustration of man dancing.

Hey friends. Christianity Today released its 2023 book awards today. Some really great stuff there. But I want to draw attention to the Theology (Popular) section, where Kent’s book Reading Theology Wisely was a finalist! It truly is an exceptional book, one that Kent poured his heart into. Congratulations, Kent!!

Kent is one of the founding contributors of this blog. For more than a decade, he’s helped students at Huntington University learn to read theology wisely (as a former student, he does it well!). In Reading Theology Wisely, Kent gathers together the wisdom he’s gained from pouring himself into teaching theology in the classroom and other settings.

But it is not just a how to book, it is one meant to reorient the reader’s idea of what theology is. “Dear reader,” Kent begins, “I wrote this book so that when you read theology, you would come to see it as an activity of your Christian life–not separate from everything else you care about and do as a Christian.”

It’s a lovely little book, readable, and with outstanding illustrations by Chris Koelle, which enliven the experience of reading the book. If you haven’t gotten one already, pick up a copy today. You won’t regret it.

Again, congratulations, Kent. This is a well-earned confirmation of the work you’ve done. We’re proud of you!

Currents in Religion: A new podcast

Howdy all, Zen here. It’s been quiet around here, in part, because I transitioned into a Ph.D. program down at Baylor University (sic’ em, Bears!).

Part of my work over the last several months has included helping the Religion Department and Baylor University Press start up a new podcast. It will feature folks from the department, authors from the press, and, depending on the show, other guests that might help us have a good conversation. And I get the privilege of serving as the host. It’s good fun.

Anyhow, I thought I’d share the podcast with you all in case you’d be interested in listening. You can check it out using the player below or search “Currents in Religion” on Apple, Spotify, or Amazon Music. And follow us on Twitter at @cirbaylor!

Until next time,
Zen

Getting a Religion PhD at Baylor University: A Conversation with Katherine Ellis Currents in Religion

In this episode, I speak with Katherine Ellis about getting a PhD in Baylor's Religion Department. We talk about the various stages of the program, from course work to dissertation. We talk about funding and what it's like to be at an R1 institution in Waco. Katherine also confirms that I am the most fun person in the Department. This episode will be of interest to prospective students who would like to know more about our doctoral program. If you still have questions, send me an email at zen_hess1@baylor.edu. Katherine Ellis is a PhD student studying theology in Baylor's Religion Department. She is also a Religion representative to the Graduate Student Association.
  1. Getting a Religion PhD at Baylor University: A Conversation with Katherine Ellis
  2. Rotten Epiphany: Mikeal Parsons and Cody Sanders talk Corpse Care
  3. Should We Abandon Inclusion? Erin Raffety on Disability and the Church
  4. Amanda Tyler on Religious Liberty and Christian Nationalism
  5. Baptists in 2022 with Elizabeth Flowers and Doug Weaver
  6. Christmas Through History and Around the World
  7. Micheal O'Siadhail on Faith, Poetry, and Daring to Love
  8. An Era of Soft Eugenics? Devan Stahl on Disability's Challenge to Theology
  9. Mike Bird on Jesus Among the Gods
  10. A Grammar Lesson in Prayer: Bill Bellinger on the Psalms
Proving Resurrection? Thoughts on Easter Preaching

Proving Resurrection? Thoughts on Easter Preaching

As Easter is fast approaching, here’s a post from last year that, I think, is still quite relevant. From the post:

This year, as churches utilize livestreams and other digital options, Easter worship will be more public than any time in recent history. Preachers may have an opportunity to speak to people who otherwise would never hear them. Will you keep those people, who are likely desperate for the good news of the gospel, waiting in the tomb all morning? Or will you rush them out of the tomb in joy, taking them by the hand and leading them on a search for the living Lord? Will you make them turn over yet another stone in the grave or will you tell them with boldness that God raises life from the dead?

Theology Forum

Of late, I’ve loved to remember the stories of the woman/women at the tomb on Easter morning. I love the disparities between the stories which, among other more important things, give rise to the possibility of picking a favorite version. All things considered, Luke is my favorite. And it is so almost entirely because of the question asked of the women by the two glowing men: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

For some readers, however, the disparities generate concerns about the historical accuracy, authenticity, and inerrancy of the gospels. Can we trust a story if we aren’t confident about every detail?

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An Evening Prayer After the Capitol Riot

Hi all: like many of you I was glued to the screen yesterday afternoon. I was not sure what to do following the events that unfolded throughout the day. More sobering today, we now know four people died and fourteen police were injured. Beyond death and injury, people are unsettled for all kinds of reasons. I thought about releasing some kind of “pastoral wisdom” on the matter today but determined I might do better just to help people pray–not to avoid the pain and problems at hand, but to engage them more deeply. Prayer strengthens our spirit to engage the world with more love and wisdom.

So, here’s a common prayer you might want to use this evening (or at another time). The prayer is based loosely on Evening Prayer from The Book of Common Prayer (1979). Please contact me if I can offer you any pastoral care or support in this solemn moment of history.

— Zen

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Willie Jennings on Education

Willie Jennings on Education

“There is nothing inherently good about gathering people together,” writes Willie James Jennings, a professor at Yale Divinity School, “but there is something inherently powerful.” His new book After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging names the distorted powers at work in Western theological education (and Western education more broadly). More than naming the distorted powers, he tries to describe a way, a vision, a hope for a theological education healed from this distortion.

Jennings has written a book the academy and the church need right now.

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Philippians 2:1-13: Year A, Proper 21

Hey there! I’ve had a handful of posts sitting neglected in the drafts folder, several of which are working out some of the questions I was wrestling with when I preached on Philippians 2:1-11 a week ago. I’m not ready to post them yet, but I did come upon some resources that seem like they might open up some ideas for fellow preachers taking up the epistle this Sunday.

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Theological Knick Knacks

Theological Knick Knacks

Good evening, friends. I hope you’re hanging in there. All is well with us. As our tulips grow weary, the dogwoods, redbuds, some lilies, etc. are bursting forth in glorious color and aroma. What a gift.

Anyhow, I am also delighted by the magnificent bloom of opportunities to engage in worship and theological learning with folks who you would otherwise, most of the time anyhow, need to pay tuition or airfare to hang with. I thought I’d highlight some of those opportunities along with other resources I’ve been enjoying in these troubling times.

Enjoy. And, please, share more in the comments below.

Every blessing,
Zen

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Reading Barth Together

Reading Barth Together

Interested in reading Karl Barth with Will Willimon and Stan Hauerwas? Join their Zoom discussions every Tuesday throughout May! Click through to see more.

Peculiar Prophet

karl barth with pipe
Karl Barth with ever-present pipe

Perhaps intimidated by the imposing Church Dogmatics and unsure where to start, many would like to be more familiar with Karl Barth’s theology. My dear friend Stanley Hauerwas and I have have decided to do a series together on Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline to introduce folks to Barth’s thought in an accessible form and forum. Despite Dogmatics in Outline only being 153 pages (less than 2% the length of CD!), Stanley described as the most influential theological book of the twentieth century.

The sessions will be hosted each Tuesday in May from 10-11am on Zoom (details below). Stanley and I will talk about what Barth is doing in the chapters and what those chapters have to do with our theology today before taking whatever questions participants might have. All are welcome regardless of whether they’ve been reading Barth for years or this is their…

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Wheaton’s COVID-19 Church Online Summit

Hi all:

As a pastor, I am still daily rethinking my understanding of church and worship and pastoral ministry during this pandemic. I am sharing a link to Wheaton’s online summit, which is happening now. I think it could be helpful for others.

Here are a few other resources that have been helpful for me during this time.

  • Calvin’s Institute for Christian Worship put together resources here.
  • Christian Century has had some great posts for pastors and laypeople alike. I am especially eager to read Richard Lischer’s recent post. See more here.

A Collect for Pastors during Social Distancing

Oh Good Shepherd, You walk alongside us through every dark valley even when we cannot see You. May Your abiding presence with us in Spirit comfort us and teach us to abide faithfully with our beloved congregation, whom You have called us to serve, even when we are not physically present with them. Patiently show us a way where there seems to be no way. In Christ, through the Spirit, to You, Beloved Father, we pray. Amen.

Grace and peace,
Zen

A Punishment from God?

Is COVID-19 a punishment?

The question comes around as often as a new disease or tragedy makes its way into the headlines. “Is this a judgment from God?” No surprise, then, that I am hearing it again from folks worried that COVID-19 is a plague sent by God to judge an unbelieving world. 

Answering the question is not so simple since the biblical witness is itself not simple. Some passages in both testaments of the Bible reveal that God has used disaster—wrought by natural events and human agents—to judge individuals and nations. Yet, other passages, especially the Gospels, reveal God as the One who heals the sick, raises the dead, and turns the other cheek against enemies. This doesn’t give us a clear, once for all, way for understanding God’s responsibility or role in the spread of disease.

What are we to do? Hundreds of books have been written about this. All I want to do in this post is provide a short, Christ-centered reflection on the question. 

TL;DR

In Deuteronomy 28, God promises to curse those who are unfaithful, revealing that God is free to use diseases as judgment. But, in Galatians 3, Christ takes those curses upon himself. This seems to lead us to assume that, whenever disaster strikes, God is with us and for us, rather than apart from us and against us.

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A Theologian’s Digital Backpack: Stay Theologically Engaged While Physically Distancing Yourself

You know those questions that start with, “If you were stranded on an island…” Many of us who serve in universities, high schools, churches, etc. are finding ourselves at home, perhaps with family, but apart from beloved colleagues and friends with whom we are blessed to work, learn, and fellowship. We are on a kind of island.

But we don’t have to be alone and we don’t have to bring just one thing. Kent, another Theology Forum contributor, called me today just to check in. It made me feel loved and encouraged. Do that for someone else!

I thought you might also like to know what’s I’d put in my “digital backpack.” Enjoy! And share what you’d add to it in the comments below.

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