Thursday, February 22, 2018

Billy Graham -- A Remembrance

Billy Graham with Charles Fuller (L) and Edward Carnell (R) at Fuller Seminary -- circa 1960s

Yesterday we learned that Billy Graham died at the age of 99. His life stretched from the end of World War I to the second decade of the 21st Century. Yesterday Facebook and Twitter were awash of remembrances from people across the religious/political spectrum. Inn this day when we are extremely polarized in our politics and our religion, Graham has engendered respect and appreciation even from those who do not abide with his evangelical beliefs. Perhaps that is because he conducted himself in a manner far different from many religious figures of our day (including his own son).  Here is a man, who was theologically a conservative evangelical, and yet he partnered with Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Christians. He was committed to racial justice and the relief of the poor. 

If you are near my age, you grew up with Billy Graham crusades (that's what they called them back then) on TV. I was never in a position to hear him in person, but I remember him say simply "The Bible says." He would preach. He would offer an altar call. People would stream forward to the tune of "Just As I Am." Although he partnered with congregations, the criticism of his method was that it led to conversions, but not to discipleship. People came forward, but never joined churches. So how deep did the conversion go? Nonetheless, he was a man of faith, who seemed humble and gentle. He did fly close to the political fire, and he got burned by Richard Nixon. He was more careful after that to make sure he was not being used for political purposes. I read a headline yesterday that suggested that he was the last bipartisan evangelical leader. Hopefully that isn't true. But no one currently on the scene has his stature and ability to stand above the fray. 

Billy Graham wasn't perfect. Yet, he made some important moves that need to be affirmed. While he wasn't on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement, his decision to integrate his evangelistic meetings in the south at a time when the fight against segregation was in full force needs to be acknowledged. Could he have done more? By all means. Had he partnered with Martin Luther King, perhaps his legacy would have been even more powerful. Unfortunately, he was not alone in standing aloof from the movement. May we all do better.  

Billy Graham wasn't a theologian, but he respected theologians. As a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, I know of his influence and support of the seminary. He may have left the Board of Trustees long before my arrival (he served from 1959-1968), he always gave his support to the school, which was important as the school moved past its more fundamentalist roots and allowed for more expansive biblical interpretation and theological work. Ultimately, he was a preacher, whose audience stretched across the far corners of the earth. One need not embrace his rather simple theology to regard him fondly. I may have moved leftward theologically over the years (starting with my time at Fuller) he was my brother in Christ. Now, he has embraced by the one whom he served. May God bless his memory. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Evangelical Identity Crises -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

I am an ordained minister in a Mainline Protestant denomination -- read non-evangelical denomination. I am also graduate twice over of one of the flag-ship evangelical seminaries -- Fuller Theological Seminary. Mainliners have been having an identity crisis for some time, as revealed in our crashing membership numbers. Now, it appears evangelicals are having an identity crisis. What is a Mainliner with Evangelical roots to do? While we constantly hear that 81% of White Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, apparently a lot of "evangelical elites" have chosen not to join with this number. Martin Marty may have recently turned 90, but he's still adept at noticing trends and conversations. Here he notices a new book of essays edited by the President of my alma mater -- Mark Labberton --  that addresses this identity crisis. I've not read the book, but I've been feeling the angst. And, as usual Marty is worth reading!

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Evangelical Identity Crises
By MARTIN E. MARTY   February 19, 2018
Photo Credit: Zaprittsky/Flickr (cc)
The champion among contenders for a “crisis” of experience and identity these years is American evangelicalism, which was born from the crises of the eighteenth century, and has been part of the Protestant package ever since. Polls, the press, and folkways have uncovered some current versions of this, onto which any sentient and informed citizen can throw light through empirical research. Start with an authoritative update by Mark Labberton, who is well poised to witness these issues from his post as president of the landmark Fuller Theological Seminary. Labberton edited the new book Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning(InterVarsity Press, 2018). In his introduction, he writes: “In its current mode, Evangelicalism contains an amalgam of theological values, partisan political debates, regional power blocks, populist visions, racial biases, and cultural anxieties, all mixed in an ethos of fear. No wonder it can be difficult to know if one is still an evangelical.” Agreed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Covenant Promises - Lectionary Reflection for Lent 2B (Genesis 17)

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”


            We serve a covenant-making God. On the first Sunday of Lent, we heard the story of how God made a covenant with Noah, his family, and all the creatures of the earth. With the sign of the rainbow, God promised never again to destroy the creation with a flood. That covenant is often understood to have universal application. There are no stipulations. God regretted the flood and announces that such an action will never again occur. Now, several generations later, God chooses to make another, narrower, covenant with the couple from Haran—Abram and Sarai.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Myth of Equality (Ken Wytsma) - Review

THE MYTH OF EQUALITY: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2017. 216 pages.

We live in strange times. We hear conversations in certain circles about white privilege, while in other circles we hear complaints that white men face discrimination. Which is it? Standing at the center of the last Presidential election was the claim that the white working class was being ignored. The same arguments undergird the current immigration debates. When the Black Lives Matter movement emerged after the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer, many White Americans responded with a declaration that “All Lives Matter.” While this response sounded egalitarian, it failed to acknowledge that in our country the powers and principalities have valued white lives more than black and brown lives. We may have elected a Black President in 2008 and again 2012, but it’s clear from the rhetoric of the hour that we are not living in a “post-racial society.” In fact, even today we are living with the legacy of decisions made decades ago that privileged European-Americans over Americans from other regions of the world. Unfortunately, these patterns of discrimination, segregation, and racism have infected the church as well as the rest of the culture.

So, what should Christians do about the realities of our society? That is the question taken up in The Myth of Equality by Ken Wytsma, a White Evangelical minister and educator living in Bend, Oregon. Wytsma wrote this book because he sees unacknowledged white privilege infecting the white evangelical community. He is the founder of The Justice Conference and President of Kilns College and wrote this book at the request of an editor at InterVarsity Press who heard him address privilege in a speech. I am glad that the IVP editor made the request, because this is an honest and compelling look at a problem that will not go away. Indeed, my own denomination has pledged to be an “anti-racism, pro-reconciling” church. All clergy are required to receive anti-racism training. I’m glad the training is required, but it does suggest that even in a more liberal Mainline denomination with a General Minister and President who is African-American that problem still exists.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Making an Appeal to God -- A Sermon for Lent 1B

1 Peter 3:13-22

We began our Lenten journey on Wednesday by having our faces marked with ash as a sign of repentance and re-commitment to being Jesus’ disciples. This morning we hear a word from 1 Peter that invites us to share in Jesus’ life and ministry. The letter mentions baptism, making a defense of our faith, the suffering of the cross, and the resurrection. Each of these elements mark the life of Jesus’ followers.  

There is a lot going in this brief passage. It’s rich with theological content, which we can’t unpack in one sermon. So, I’m going to focus on the better story, which we have been given, and which Peter calls on us to share with the world. 

Before we move into Peter’s message, I would like to share the word from the Gospel of Mark that ushers in the season of Lent. As you’ll hear, Mark doesn’t waste time on details:
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  (Mark 1:9-15 NRSV)