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?
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!
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.
Gary 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
Political tensions are continually on the rise. As a church, we must not get so lost, as I am sometimes tempted to do, in the turmoil of world affairs that we can no longer recognize ourselves as Christians, as Christ’s church. I preached at The 509 Community several years ago about Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus off. The way I see it, and I think I can still say this even on the other side of seminary, this story reveals two kingdoms at war. In the sermon, I admit that I am disenchanted with the concept of Jesus as “King” because I have only ever seen broken, corrupt, vicious political systems. I get it that Jesus will be King, is King. I just do not have a framework for understanding how he is King. So, in this sermon, I try to think of him as a conductor. This leads to a natural reflection on what kind of kingdom the church is to be. I hope that the words will encourage you, in our always trying times, to see Jesus as a King who will rule in peace, a king who lays his life down, for the world; not one who attacks his own people with chemical gas or threatens world powers to shore up his ego. Though this sermon was preached the Sunday after Christmas, it is an Easter sermon. Continue reading
How do Christian beliefs about Scripture, Creation, Jesus, and the Church correspond with recent White House climate and environmental policies?
Donald Trump said he would drain the swamp. Whatever swamp he drained, he seems eager to refill it with oil. From appointing former big oil executives to key administrative roles to making executive orders favoring fossil fuel lobbyists, Trump has pushed forward an incredibly anti-environmental responsibility agenda.
Most recently, Trump rolled back Obama-era legislation that favored cleaner forms of energy. Trump and his staff have suggested this is a wise move because it frees up industries to create more jobs. Of course, job creation is important. What they fail to acknowledge is that new pipelines do not create long-term jobs but pose very real threats to local ecosystems and communities, especially when mountaintops are blown up for coal or when vast tracks of land are mined for tar sand oil (like Keystone XL will transport). When the administration champions its “anti-regulation” approach to environmental matters, we must remember that what they are actually championing is an “anti-responsibility” agenda. Responsibility, in this case, is taking care to steward our environment for the sake of our neighbors (present and future).
I have written elsewhere about Christianity and caring for God’s creation. This time around I simply want to offer angles from which Christians might be able to recognize the connection between environmental policy and the Christian faith. In this article, I will present four angles for reflection. I do not suggest how Christians ought to respond in this article. Churches will need to have conversations in their own communities and respond according to the unique problems in their own cities. Continue reading
On the day that I read Professor Amy Laura Hall’s Writing Home, With Love, I was sent home three hours early from work. In Greenville, South Carolina, things start shutting down not when the snow starts to fall, but when people are adequately convinced that the snow might actually fall. This is also, more or less, true of Durham, North Carolina. I remember sitting in the Divinity Library one evening and receiving an e-mail informing the Duke community that classes were cancelled for the night and until 10AM the next morning. I looked out the window and, to my surprise, the snow had not yet started. In my hometown of Huntington, Indiana, school was only cancelled if the roads were basically impassable.
Hall’s new collection of essays is an important effort to remind those of us doing the work of theology that we must resist the desire to make our theology somehow universal — one size fits all, if you will. “Blizzard,” “white out,” and “treacherous conditions” do not mean the same thing to people in Greenville and Durham as they do to people in Huntington and Chicago. Likewise, our theology should be localized. If “local” is too much of a buzzword, perhaps I should say our theology should be “neighborly.” And, throughout this collection of essays, written for Durham’s local newspaper The Herald-Sun over the course of two years, Hall tries “to weave the gospel through all of the essays…in ways that will be useful politically and personally for my neighbors of faith and my neighbors who think faith itself is the primary problem” (p. 4). Continue reading
In anticipation of the release of new BBC Sherlock Holmes episodes, Jessie and I read a collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories. The collection includes the first twelve of Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories, originally published in Strand Magazine. While reading these stories, I began to recall an essay by David C. Steinmetz titled “Uncovering a Second Narrative” (in The Art of Reading Scripture edited by E. Davis & R. Hays). In that essay, Steinmetz uses detective novels to explain what he calls the “second narrative” at work beneath the story of Scripture. The second narrative, he says, can only be explained at the revelation of a detail previously unknown to the reader. Upon discovering that detail, the reader is able to fill in the blanks in the narrative, finally culminating in the mystery being solved. For Steinmetz, Christ is the detail that helped to reveal the second narrative that underlies the entire biblical drama.
What I found in Sherlock was perhaps less profound but no less helpful in our quest for learning to read the Scriptures well. So, let us ask, What may we learn from Sherlock Holmes about reading the Bible?