As a successor to this legendary Disciples preacher, I found these sermons to be rather prescient. He speaks of the need for change and the need to beAs a successor to this legendary Disciples preacher, I found these sermons to be rather prescient. He speaks of the need for change and the need to be engaged in the world. There are hints of his liberal theology, but it is offered in a subtle way. It is a good reminder that there is treasure in sermon collections like this. ...more
Whatever your understanding of biblical authority, you still have to interpret the biblical text. That there are thousands of different denominationsWhatever your understanding of biblical authority, you still have to interpret the biblical text. That there are thousands of different denominations and sects existing across the world suggests that we don't all read the bible in the same way. To say, as Billy Graham often did, "the Bible says" doesn't get us very far.
In this very brief book Steve Kindle invites us to consider both the history of biblical interpretation and the way we approach the text. The key point that Steve wants to make is that our world view influences the way we read the Bible. None of us comes to the text with a blank slate. We all come with some "baggage." If we're going to have a fruitful discussion of the text then we need to acknowledge that baggage. Then perhaps we can begin to see how others read the text.
It's part of a series of brief books/booklets. It's under 50 pages, so it doesn't cover everything, but it does give a good starting point for evaluating the way in which we read the Bible. ...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
Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are two representatives of ancient Israel's wisdom literature. The two books of Scripture have similar roots, and yet they aProverbs and Ecclesiastes are two representatives of ancient Israel's wisdom literature. The two books of Scripture have similar roots, and yet they are also very different from one another. As Amy Plantinga Pauw, with whom I was a student at Fuller Theological Seminary in the 1980s, suggests these two books have been deemed by many as not being very promising for modern theological reflection. In the course of her work on these two books she found that while very different in their perspectives, the two books of Scripture lend themselves to contemporary reflection.
This commentary is another contribution to the Belief series, which she is also the editor (originally the co-editor with the late William Placher). It is a series devoted to theological interpretation of scripture. Of course the interpreters must engage the critical scholarship, but this is not the focus. As I've been impressed earlier contributions, I was disabused of that view in my reading of this commentary.
There are a number of reasons why we might want to attend to these works. First, Proverbs is key to understanding the role of Woman Wisdom in the formation of later Christological formulations. While the core of the book, the chapters from 10 through 30, represent a basic word of advice to people living practical lives, it is encased in this ode to wisdom. The danger is to read these words as if we are Job's friends, using them to beat down those who suffer. In conversation with theological interpreters, especially Augustine along with Bonhoeffer and the Niebuhrs, she helps us see a broader focus. There is more here than meets the eye. While it is a very patriarachal book, with the writer contrasting two kinds of women -- one to engage with (Wisdom) and one not to (the loose woman), it offers us a new vision of the role of women in the story.
Ecclesiastes is even more intriguing, and speaks clearly to the existential issues of our day. In her engagement with this text she turns to Kierkegaard as conversation partner. The key word in this text is "hebel" often translated as vanity. Life is vanity. It is, ephemeral. The word of advice here is to slow down and enjoy life. This is all there is. If there is more, well then so be it, but enjoy life now. That might be an important word for an age in which we find it difficult to slow down and smell the roses.
There is another reason why we might want to attend to these books. Pauw writes that "Proverbs and Ecclesiastes speak to our context of religious pluralism. They are both the products of a complex international quest for wisdom in the ancient Near East. The sages of Israel exhibited a willingness to learn from their cultural and religious others. In our own pluralistic context, it is a willingness that we need to cultivate as well." (pp. 1-2) These two books help us find ways of engaging the religious others, finding resources and conversation partners outside the faith tradition.
So, as I have we previous commentaries in this series -- this is a keeper. I especially believe it should helpful for preachers!
Can one forgive the murderer of beloved family members? Can one move beyond forgiveness to reconciliation and even restoration? Can the deaths of onesCan one forgive the murderer of beloved family members? Can one move beyond forgiveness to reconciliation and even restoration? Can the deaths of ones close to one's self lead to a transformation of one's life and vocation? The answers to these and other questions emerge from Jeanne Bishop's powerful story of how the senseless murder (as if any murder makes sense) of her pregnant younger sister and her husband by a young man -- just 18.
Bishop's story is rooted in her faith, and a growing sense that not only would she commit herself to making the world a better place to honor her sister's memory, but that it would transform her very being. A corporate attorney making a good salary and promotions in her future, after the shooting deaths she becomes a public defender, and from there is drawn into the movement to abolish the death penalty (for her on grounds rooted in her faith, especially Jesus' own execution), and finally to restorative justice. While for the first twenty plus years after the murders she served as an advocate for those seeking to abolish the death penalty and speaking of the importance of forgiveness, she had neither mentioned the name of the murderer nor visited him. Finally she realized through the influence of spiritual advisers that to forgive meant being able and willing to name the one publicly whom she was forgiving, and finally that she ought to pursue reconciliation. This led to the writing a letter to this man, which led to regular visits to the prison.
This is an extremely moving book. If, like me, you are an opponent of capital punishment on religious grounds (can we follow the crucified one and support the death penalty?), you will find yourself understanding even more clearly what is at stake. For those who are of a different view, Bishop may not convince you -- she has faced tremendous criticism and has taken a lonely path even among her family members, but hopefully she will raise important questions about the justice system and the way we treat one another.
One of the questions she raises in the book is a profound one for Christians -- and that has to do with whether we consider every person as being redeemable. If we do, then should we not pursue that possibility?
If you're a preacher -- this is a book you should read!
The times are changing. We have moved into a post-Christendom/postmodern age in which the possibility of certainity in matters of religion have been aThe times are changing. We have moved into a post-Christendom/postmodern age in which the possibility of certainity in matters of religion have been abandoned. We live with a much greater amount of gray area than before. Yes, there are those who want to hold on to long-since discredited ideas, but there's is an illusion and not reality.
Is Christianity as we know it based on an illusion? Peter Rollins believes this to be true. In fact, in his latest book he uses the analogy of the magician (a divine magician) to unveil the idol -- the sacred object hiding behind the curtain, the sacred object that is created through religious prohibition, but which when the curtain is drawn we discover that there is nothing there. While he uses the image of the magician's trick of making an object disappear, the religious version of this is the Temple Holy of Holies. There is supposed to be something behind the curtain, but when you pull it back you realize that not only isn't God not there, nothing is there.
Rollins' work is rooted in deconstructionist postmodernist philosophy. His purpose, it would seem, is to deconstruct traditional forms of Christianity both conservative and liberal, which he believes seek to help us hold on to beliefs, that no longer make sense either through narrow creedalism or through liturgical practices. He proposes instead a radical form of Christianity that appears to go beyond atheism. We need to let go of the illusion that there's something there and gather as a community to share not answers, but to try to live well.
His vision of Christianity is a radical one, that might look a bit like the Occupy Movement, a movement without leadership and without ultimate goals. There is no need for clergy, just agents of decay as he calls them. Could this be Christianity after religion? Perhaps.
So, why did I give the book just two stars? While I realize that Rollins speaks to many persons, most of whom are younger than me, I find him to be unsatisfying. Could it be that I fail to understand his message? That's quite possible. I do find reading him to be laborious. In the end, it seems to me that I am not a radical. It is like with the Occupy Movement, which he lifted up. While I agreed with many of the critiques offered by the movement, I didn't see it as a viable movement of reform. That is me. Others might find this enlightening. And perhaps that's okay!...more
The Christian religion, as a religion, is a historically rooted tradition. At the heart of the message is the historical Jesus. We might not be able tThe Christian religion, as a religion, is a historically rooted tradition. At the heart of the message is the historical Jesus. We might not be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he existed, but few scholars, Christian or otherwise, reject the historicity of his existence. As to whether he said everything and did everything recorded in the Gospels, that's a very different issue.
While there have been more esoteric movements within the tradition, often lying on the fringes, there has always been a desire to connect in tangible ways with the original story. This led not only to the writing down of the story of Jesus as seen in the Gospels, both canonical and non-canonical, but also the veneration of relics. While they may be forged and faked, they have served as markers and reminders of the message and person of Jesus.
CNN has created a mini-series that looks into the story of Jesus, using a set of six "holy objects" as the gateway into the story. These relics range from Gnostic gospels to the Shroud of Turin. The book "Finding Jesus" is a companion to that miniseries. Written by journalist David Gibson, who is well known for reporting on religious issues, including the Roman Catholic Church, and Michael McKinley, an author and film maker whose name was unknown to me prior to reading the book.
The authors take a journalistic look at the relics. While they conclude that most of these relics cannot truly be traced to Jesus or tell a story that doesn't hold up under scrutiny, they try to keep an open mind, letting both sides tell the story. For the most part the scholars they work with are mainstream, ranging from evangelical Ben Witherington to Catholic Candida Moss to agnostic Bart Ehrman. They don't show much confidence in the Jesus Seminar movement.
This is a nicely written, thoughtful look at the way that we have tried to anchor our faith in things tangible, even if those relics and holy objects in the end do not have true historical provenance. ...more
The rite of confirmation may not be a sacrament in the Anglican tradition, but it has generally had an important place in the life of that tradition.The rite of confirmation may not be a sacrament in the Anglican tradition, but it has generally had an important place in the life of that tradition. Reserved to bishops, confirmation allows for the reaffirmation of baptismal vows made on behalf of infants at the time of baptism. For some it is the moment at which the Holy Spirit is fully conferred upon a candidate, usually a person of the age 12 to 15.
Nineteenth century observers, especially of a Tractarian mindset would often point to apparent lapses in confirmation practice as a sign of the low spiritual quality of the church in the 18th century. Recent studies, including my own article in Church History (June 199), have sought to overturn this view. While recognizing important challenges, including large dioceses and aged bishops (there was no retirement, so you were a bishop till you died), there is evidence that Confirmation was taken seriously and that priests were encouraged and instructed to properly catechise. Yes, there may have been large numbers Confirmed at one service, but this is not a sign of a lack of concern, but recognition that people saw it as an important part of faith, and often the means of becoming a communicant.
Whereas I wrote an article of about 20 pages on the issue, Phillip Tovey has devoted an entire book to it. For the most part his conclusions mirror my own. He goes into much more depth, but like me he feels that the earlier interpretations were unfair.
This is an academic study, but it is quite readable. I will be writing a much fuller review for Church History (the same academic journal that published my article more than 15 years ago), so I will leave it at that. But, if you're interested in the nature of the 18th century Church of England -- in England and in the colonies -- this is a good place to go. I should note that Tovey has done the helpful thing of examining practices in the American colonies, which were without bishops until 1784, when Samuel Seabury was consecrated the first bishop in what was then the United States. Check out the book and my forthcoming review in Church History!...more
I could put this in the British History shelve, as it takes up the story of one of the most famous battles in British History. Bernard Cornwell remindI could put this in the British History shelve, as it takes up the story of one of the most famous battles in British History. Bernard Cornwell reminds us here that war is truly hell, told from the perspective of a grunt, an archer who tastes both the thrill and agony of war. As I'm coming to see as well -- the church doesn't come off well in Bernard Cornwell's novels, but that too is probably accurate. We are easily corrupted!
We are people of the Spirit. That has been a central theme for Christians since the day of Pentecost. What that means in practice is a different storyWe are people of the Spirit. That has been a central theme for Christians since the day of Pentecost. What that means in practice is a different story. For some it means exuberance. For others it means that no matter where we go, God is with us.
Jacke Levison is a biblical scholar who has focused his attention on the Spirit in a number of books. He may focus his teaching on the Hebrew Bible, but it is the Spirit that he is drawn to as a writer. Having read a number of his pieces, I was when Paraclete Press sent me a review copy of this book. I decided to use the book as my primary devotional resource during the Lenten season, reading one chapter a day. Each of the forty brief chapters begins with a text of scripture, a meditation, a space for reflection and then concludes with a prayer addressed to the Spirit. The forty chapters are set apart with seven verbs: Breathing, Praying, Practicing, Learning, Leading, Building, Blossoming -- and then concludes with a final meditation -- "Looking Ahead."
Jack writes with a deep abiding concern that our experience of the Spirit not devolve simply into exuberance. There may be a place for spiritual ecstasy, but that always needs to be tempered by a life of study and learning. The key is keeping things in balance.
While this makes for a most attractive Lenten devotional exercise, it can be used at any time -- perhaps the season of Easter or the days following Pentecost. It is a most worthwhile experience, that I heartily recommend. ...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
There was a time when Protestants and Catholics lived in their enclaves, knowing little about each other, and preferring it that way. It's always easiThere was a time when Protestants and Catholics lived in their enclaves, knowing little about each other, and preferring it that way. It's always easier to dislike someone if you can rely on stereotypes. Times have changed since the 1960 election when a Roman Catholic was elected President and the United States didn't turn into a vassal of Rome. Things have changed since Vatican II as well, even if there has been push back and roll back. But perhaps most important for us today, especially here in the United States, is that we're coming together due to family considerations. Intermarriage between Protestants and Catholics is rather common today.
So, what we need is a brief primer, something we can read in maybe an hour or so, that can give us the inside scoop of who the other really is. Bob LaRochelle has a unique perspective on this question, having been a Roman Catholic Perpetual Deacon (in other words a Catholic member of the clergy) and a United Church of Christ pastor. While he left the Catholic Church some years ago he has a certain affection for the church of his upbringing. This is written for Protestants. Bob has a second book written for Catholics.
I have been fascinated by the story of Aimee Semple McPherson since my days as part of the denomination she founded. I've read the many biographies, aI have been fascinated by the story of Aimee Semple McPherson since my days as part of the denomination she founded. I've read the many biographies, and even written an article about her understanding of restorationism. I've been fascinated by the way in which she overcame gender restrictions to become one of the twentieth century's great religious figures. How did she enter what was a male dominated profession and make such a big impression? At the heart of the question is gender and how it is understood and used.
Aimee wasn't the only woman to break through the barriers. Marie Woodworth-Etter was an important predecessor to Aimee, and among the founders of the Assemblies of God. Their lives and careers overlapped, with Aimee coming on the scene as Woodworth-Etter was closing out her years of ministry.
Leah Payne has done a marvelous job in this relatively brief, but densely packed book, on the relationship to gender and Pentecostal revivalism. The period of her focus is the 1890s throuh the 1920s, a time when America was emerging from the Victorian era and new understandings of gender were emerging. The idea that a woman was fragile and needed to be protected was transitioning to a new role. In this new era the emphasis would be on the "manly man," (think Teddy Roosevelt), and the "womanly woman." Each would have their own arena of activity -- the woman was to be educated and strong, but keep engaged in the home (at least for middle class white families).
Both of these women sought to enter the realm of the "manly minister," but did so by making use of aspects of expectations of women. Interestingly both women were married more than once, had to overcome scandal, as well as gender expectations. Making this more difficult for them was the perception that ministry was feminine-like (caring, visitation, home focused), and so the leading clergy of the day, including revivalists like Billy Sunday emphasized their virility and manliness.
So, how did they do it? Well, there were two visions of women in the day -- the educated mother and the companionate wife (the wife as the husband's best friend). Each of the women took up one of these personas -- with Woodworth-Etter taking on the role of the "mother of Israel." Her dress and persona was matronly. Aimee on the other hand took on the persona of the companionate wife -- of Jesus! She made great use of bridal imagery. Yes, the church was the bride of Christ, but the church was personified in her own life. Whereas Woodworth-Etter emphasized simplicity and matronliness, Aimee over time took on the imagery of a bride and even that of a beautiful Hollywood starlet. Interestingly neither woman sought to campaign for women's ordination or even women's rights. Instead they subverted or used existing visions to gain authority over men. Interestingly, Woodworth-Etter was accused of using hypnotism to control men, while Aimee was accused of hyper-sexuality.
This is a fascinating look at two women, whose star has faded, but whose influence was great -- as seen in the legacy of the denominations they helped found or did found. Aimee's influence has been felt in other ways including the use of media for religious use. If you're interested in gender and religion or in the early days of Pentecostalism, you ought to take a look at this book! ...more
Indeed, who is afraid of relativism? How we answer the question could depend on how we define our terms. Engaging Wittgenstein, Rorty, and Branscom, JIndeed, who is afraid of relativism? How we answer the question could depend on how we define our terms. Engaging Wittgenstein, Rorty, and Branscom, James K. A. Smith suggests that the best course for contemporary Christians is to recognize the value of the pragmatism of these philosophers. By relativism here, Smith doesn't mean anything goes, but rather that our understanding of reality is contingent/dependent. That is, it is relative. Instead of representationalist -- univocal ideas that insist there are accessible universals, he believes (and I agree) that our understandings are contingent on our contexts. We learn meaning and values in community.
It should not be surprising that he is attracted to the post-liberalism of George Lindbeck and his The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, who argues that truth is learned in community. Instead of believing in order to belong, we belong in order to believe. Instead of foundationalist apologetics, the faith is caught in community.
Interesting book that reminds us that we can find treasures in philosophies that are not necessarily in direct relationship to Christianity. As Augustine said -- plunder the Egyptians....more
To flip is to convert. Doug Pagitt is a thoughtful and generous spirit who experienced a theological conversion a few years back, and that set in motiTo flip is to convert. Doug Pagitt is a thoughtful and generous spirit who experienced a theological conversion a few years back, and that set in motion another series of conversionary moments, what he terms flips. That theological conversion is to what theologians would call panentheism, though Doug never names it. For more on a panentheistic or process vision check out Bruce Epperly. What Doug came to understand is that rather than God being in us, we are in God. This changes the dynamics of life, for all of life is taken up in God.
Thus, the God he encountered is not one who is in the judgment business, but the love business. Christian faith is relational not transactional -- if you do this, I'll do that.
This is a good starting point for exploring the question of what living in God might look like. It is written for the inquirer, the person who is new to faith or considering faith. The fact that the numbers of those outside the religious sphere of influence is growing fast, Doug has a ready audience. It is written in a breezy, often auto-biographical style. Doug is, after all, a good story teller.
If you find Doug intriguing, then maybe try out Bruce's smaller introduction to process theology....more