As a church historian, I'm always looking for good, well-balanced, and researched studies of Christian history. MacCulloch offers a masterful, and verAs a church historian, I'm always looking for good, well-balanced, and researched studies of Christian history. MacCulloch offers a masterful, and very readable, though massive narrative that takes us back not just to Jesus, but the origins of Christianity much earlier in Greco-Roman and Jewish thought and practice. From there, he traces the story up to the present, not neglecting the oft neglected stories of the church in the East, in Africa, and other places of the world. Of course, being British, the Brits figure prominently -- but that's to be expected. This is probably the definitive overview available today. ...more
I am enjoying this book. It is an excellent resource for prayer -- both personal and corporate. It's developed for use within the New Monastic CommuniI am enjoying this book. It is an excellent resource for prayer -- both personal and corporate. It's developed for use within the New Monastic Communities. I'll give a fuller review later....more
When we think of stewardship in the church, we're usually thinking in termsof the offering. We might add gifts and talents to the list. This is a rathWhen we think of stewardship in the church, we're usually thinking in termsof the offering. We might add gifts and talents to the list. This is a rather limited view of stewardship, according to my friend and Disciples ministry colleague Steve Kindle. In just a few pages, Steve calls on the church and Christians as individuals to think much larger, and consider our responsiblity before God for each other and the creation itself.
This is a book that could be transformative, because Steve roots stewardship in the work of creation He also roots it in the message of Jubilee, a call to justice that lifts up the poor, the captive, and the imprisoned. He takes note of the idea of giving/tithing but turns it on its head. The question is not how much to give, but how much to keep.
I would recommend this book for small group study, conversations among church leadership (Disciples Elders), and more. It could be transformative! ...more
In recent decades there has been a concerted effort to revitalize preaching and even theological discourse through the reclaiming of narrative. Much oIn recent decades there has been a concerted effort to revitalize preaching and even theological discourse through the reclaiming of narrative. Much of the Bible takes the form of narrative, but too often we have turned narrative or story into propositions. One of the foremost developers of narrative or inductive preaching was Fred Craddock. Among those who have embraced narrative preaching (and have done it well) is Mike Graves, who succeeded Eugene L. Lowry as preaching professor at Kansas City's St Paul School of Theology. Lowry was another innovator in inductive preaching.
Mike has written widely on preaching, but in this book, in which he explores the dynamics of narrative preaching he takes the bold step of using narrative to communicate the values and principles of narrative preaching. In the book Mike creates a fictional version of himself teaching a special preaching class on the use of short stories in preaching. Rather than directly tell us he shows us through interaction with a group of students, not all of whom are sold on the idea. In the course of the book we're introduced to short stories by persons such as Alice Walker and Flannery O'Connor, and we're shown how we might use them in conversation with the biblical narrative. Mike gives pointers and principles, but always in the context of a conversation within the class setting.
One of the key points that Mike wants to make is that when preaching takes place it's not a matter of choosing between exposition and narrative, but finding the balance. He notes that whereas Craddock could assume some sense of connection with the biblical story when he developed the method, today things are different. Many listeners to sermons don't know the story and so more explanation/exposition is needed.
Without taking too much away from the narrative, Mike wants us to embrace both exposition and experience in our preaching. In the mixture of the two lively preaching can emerge! I've been preaching for a long time, and I learned much in the course of reading the book. You might as well!...more
It's not cheap, and at times it's not easy reading, but it is the most up-to-date and comprehensive one-volume theological dictionary on the market. AIt's not cheap, and at times it's not easy reading, but it is the most up-to-date and comprehensive one-volume theological dictionary on the market. As with any multi-author dictionary it has its ups and downs. My full review will be posted in the Christian Century -- so watch for it....more
In this book I have collected sermons preached during the season of Lent using the alternative lectionary developed by David Ackerman. These texts takIn this book I have collected sermons preached during the season of Lent using the alternative lectionary developed by David Ackerman. These texts take us places we often don't go, especially as preachers. This includes the longer ending of Mark, where the news seems unbelievable -- and yet perhaps that's the point.
This can serve as a nice weekly study for a small group. ...more
Every Valley is a devotional book designed to be used during Advent that exlpores the biblical texts that Handel used to write his famed oratorio -- TEvery Valley is a devotional book designed to be used during Advent that exlpores the biblical texts that Handel used to write his famed oratorio -- The Messiah. Every movement is explored in relationship to the texts used. The essays that form the book are mostly drawn from the Feasting on the Word lectionary commentary series. That series, is of course, now a mainstay for many lectionary preachers. Thus, the reflections are thoughtful and informative.
We used the book for Bible study groups and it worked nicely. My group didn't use every movement or essay, but we used most and were very pleased. I would recommend it for either personal devotional study or congregational study. While it is set up as an Advent related work, the Messiah covers birth, death, resurrection and the eschaton -- so it is useful throughout the year....more
It is perhaps true that good worship is in the eye of the beholder. Some like liturgies that have ancient roots. Others like praise bands. Some preferIt is perhaps true that good worship is in the eye of the beholder. Some like liturgies that have ancient roots. Others like praise bands. Some prefer preaching while others could care less about preaching and focus on the Eucharist. Still others don't have much use for worship, and see the church as a social club or gathering to plan social justice activities. Those of us who are charged with planning and leading worship do have a vested interest in the issue, and one would hope that the way we envision worship doesn't simply reflect our own needs and biases.
"Rhythms of Worship" offers congregations a resource that is few in pages, but broad in coverage, that can stimulate a conversation about what vital and life-giving worship might look like. The two authors are Presbyterian pastors who are intimately involved in liturgical discussions within their denomination. As one might expect there is a Presbyterian feel to the book, but it will be of great use to many different faith communities.
The authors understand that there is much about worship that lies beyond our control -- for the Spirit is involved! But, they do believe that "there are things we can control, and plan, and manage -- and we should" (p. xi). You might chalk that up to the Presbyterian mantra to do things "decently and in order," but they are correct. It is no use justifying sloppy, ill-planned worship on the Spirit. Excellence requires thought and diligence. It involves understanding how things fit together and move people toward encounters with God. It's not a matter of manipulation, but understanding the ways in which worship flows. The way in which worship is developed -- it's order -- demonstrates what is most important in a community.
The book is laid out along fourteen brief chapters, which focus on liturgical order, elements, music and arts, and the liturgical/church year. They demonstrate the relationship between word and sacrament, along with the role that prayer and music play in the service. They show how the liturgical year functions to lead the church through the life and ministry of Jesus, along with exploring our own call to ministry in the contemporary age. With regard to music, they remind us that style and instrumentation are not primary. In fact, quoting from Tom Long, they note that vital congregations will be marked by their use of excellent and eclectic forms of music. Excellence is stressed -- musicians and leaders should practice and know the music. Since we have such a wonderful array of music available to us, they suggest we take advantage of it. That can be overwhelming, but also exciting (I am counted among those who enjoy an eclectic variety!).
The book closes by asking and addressing what might be the most essential question: "Is Worship important?" Does it matter in the larger scheme of things? It's not the elements themselves that are of utmost importance, but the act of worship itself. By affirming the centrality of worship, we heed a "correction of the view that the church is just a voluntary organization for the improvement of society" (68). Whatever work or service we do, worship grounds us in the work of God. They write: "To be the church is to be formed by the church's tradition of a life of faith through things we do individually and together, such as immersing ourselves in the message and thought world of the Scriptures and participating in the sacramental life of the church" (p. 68).
I can see this little book being used in a variety of settings. Since it includes discussion questions, it could simply be used in adult education. It would be of use to worship committees and other leadership groups. While at times the authors presume that there is a proper order, the many "shoulds" don't overcome the important conversation the book engenders. For the contemporary church, we need to have a conversation about worship because growing numbers of people have little or no engagement with the church and its traditions. It's time to refresh our understandings so we can sense of them and help others do the same. ...more
Fifty-four years ago the stated clerk (national administrative leader) of the United Presbyterian church was invited to preach at Grace Cathedral in SFifty-four years ago the stated clerk (national administrative leader) of the United Presbyterian church was invited to preach at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco by the Bishop of California, James Pike. In that historic sermon Eugene Carson Blake cast a vision of a new united Protestant church that would be both catholic and reformed. He suggested that the Presbyterians and Episcopalians invite the Methodists and the United Church of Christ to join in this venture (along with any others who might share that vision). Among those in the congregation that day was a young doctoral student at Pacific School of Religion. That student is the present author of this important history of what emerged from that sermon -- the Consultation on Church Union. Eventually nine churches ranging from the Disciples to the African Methodist Episcopal Church would join in a forty year effort to create a church that could give a united witness in a divided age.
Keith Watkins, the author (and a friend) shares the story that began with the sermon on December 4, 1960 onwards through years of study, conversation, debate, to that moment when COCU became Christians Uniting in Christ. The work of this consultation explored points of theological agreement and disagreement, considered ways of creating a structure that would facilitate this effort, while reconciling memberships and ministries, and largely due to the influence of three African American denominations focused their attention on racial reconciliation and social justice.
The conversations produced a number of important successes, including new liturgical expressions and a Protestant common lectionary -- the predecessor to the Revised Common Lectionary. While they largely agreed to use the primary creeds as a theological foundation and even agreed on the centrality of the two sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, they could not come to agreement on reconciling ministry. Episcopalians remained committed to the episcopacy (with a sacramental vision of apostolic succession), while others were willing to accept a version of episcopacy, as long as there was freedom to define that in non-sacramental terms. At the same time the Disciples wanted to keep the lay eldership in the conversation.
When it became clear that merger would not occur, the participants in COCU sought to reenvision their goal as one of covenant relationship. While softer than merger, this effort fell short as there was no binding commitment to continue in ministry together. While regular eucharistic fellowship across the traditions, even this did not work very well. As time went on the churches became more interested in bilateral conversations and partnerships rather than multilateral ones, and as interest waned the dream faded.
Today we live in a different time when institutions and structures are increasingly questioned. But, the work of COCU does invite us to consider how we can best express our unity in Christ in visible ways -- and recognize each other as true churches. And it is clear that we have a long way to go on matters of racial reconciliation.
Keith's book is a scholarly text. It is a work of historical scholarship that explores in great depth one of the most important ecumenical experiments in American history. It's eventual demise should not be taken as a sign that nothing of value occurred. Indeed, it maybe that this effort paved the way for the ease with which people cross denominational boundaries. Rarely if ever do we bar one another from the Table or require rebaptism. We still struggle, of course, with reconciling our ministries. That may never come, but some day we might make it easier to move across traditions, or at least preside at each other's tables.
I believe that this is an important book written with great care and passion by one who not only studied the movement, but participated in it (he served on the Commission on Liturgy for many years). This is history, but it has elements of memoir, even if often hidden below the surface. If you are clergy and committed to expressing a united faith visibly, then you will need to read this book. ...more
It's Calvin. It has good stuff, that I really like. And, well, there's stuff I just don't like. That's the thing, you don't have to swallow it all toIt's Calvin. It has good stuff, that I really like. And, well, there's stuff I just don't like. That's the thing, you don't have to swallow it all to benefit from the parts that continue to speak to the heart of Christian faith!...more
Ron Higdon is a retired pastor (although he continues to do interim ministries) and a member of the Academy of Parish Clergy (an organization of whichRon Higdon is a retired pastor (although he continues to do interim ministries) and a member of the Academy of Parish Clergy (an organization of which I am also a member). He is also a father whose son committed suicide. Writing as both father and as a pastor he has written a brief but compassionate book that speaks from the heart to those who also have suffered similar losses.
As I write in the blurb I provided the publisher for the book:
"It is always difficult to lose a loved one to death. When the loved one is your child, it is even more difficult, especially when death comes by suicide. Ron Higdon is a pastor who has experienced this very tragedy, and with this book he shares his own grief and wisdom. It is a wisdom he passes on to others, those who have experienced such a loss, those who want to be supportive, and those who are called to minister to and possibly within such a loss. It must be a difficult story to tell, but Ron shares with us what is helpful and what is not. Such a testimony will be a blessing to many."
In the course of the book, Ron addresses the realities of one's grief, one's feeling of responsibility, and a road to healing. So, if you or someone you know is a parent who has suffered from such a loss then I believe this is a book that will speak to the heart. If you're a pastor Ron's pastoral insights will prove invaluable. I invite you to pick up and read. ...more
What does it mean to be a Christian? Rowan Williams, the former Arch-bishop of Canterbury, seeks to answer that question with this brief book -- onlyWhat does it mean to be a Christian? Rowan Williams, the former Arch-bishop of Canterbury, seeks to answer that question with this brief book -- only 84 pages long -- by focusing ouir attention on Babptism, the Bible, the Eucharist, and Prayer. These are the essential elements -- the aspects of the Christian faith that mark one as a Christian. One begins the journey in baptism (as an Anglican infant baptism figures here, but whenever the sacrament takes places, the reflections are pertinent). There is also the Eucharist, which is the meal Jesus instituted to nourish the journey. There is the Bible, the Word through which God speaks to us. And there is prayer -- including the Lord's Prayer, by which we engage in a conversation with God.
It is brief. it doesn't cover everything. It is not focused on doctrines, but on practices. But there is clearly theology involved. As a pastor who seeks to share the gospel with the people with whom I minister, I found this little book to be an excellent introduction. The reflection/discussion questions at the end of the chapter make this even more useful.