Monday, April 27, 2015

PRE-POST-RACIAL AMERICA (Sandhya Rani Jha) -- Review

PRE-POST-RACIAL AMERICA: Spiritual Stories from the Front LinesBy Sandhya Rani Jha. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2015. 154 pages.

                When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in 2008 many Americans proclaimed that we had moved as a country into a post-racial era. They declared that we had finally crossed the river into a new land where Martin Luther King's vision of a day when people would be judged not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character. For many White Americans, this election meant that we no longer had to deal with issues of race. One more social issue had been crossed off the list. If you've been watching the news over the past six years you may have discerned that we may not have moved as far into this new land as many thought. While we’re not in the same place regarding race as we were in 1963—most of the legal barriers in place then have been overturned—our society remains largely segregated and racial tensions remain strong. This is especially in the church.

When I write on and reflect on issues of race and ethnicity, I must acknowledge my own social location. I am white, middle-class, male, and highly educated.  I benefit from certain privileges that others who don’t share my social location can’t take for granted. At the same time, it is important that I become sensitized about the realities that others do confront every day of their lives. While some proclaim that they are “color-blind,” that they don’t pay attention to the color of someone else’s skin, such is not the case. Besides, color-blindness isn’t seen as a normal/normative condition. It is a malady that some suffer from. As for being a “melting pot,” well isn’t it better to use an analogy that celebrates the gifts of our differences. One of the blessings of living in the United States is our diversity.  Of course, until recently diversity was tolerated by the majority because it was the province of a small minority. But that is no longer the case. We’re moving quickly to a time when European Americans no longer represent an absolute majority. That can be frightening for some.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Word of Healing -- Salvation Sermon Series #3

When we get sick, we may ask for prayers, but we probably will also go to the doctor. That’s probably a smart move. But, according to the letter of James, if you’re sick you “should call for the elders and have them pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and any one who has committed sins will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).

The Gospels tell us that Jesus was a healer. Morton Kelsey has pointed out that the gospel writers devote 20% of their accounts to Jesus’ healing ministry. When Jesus came to town it’s quite likely that he healed someone. That might make him a healing evangelist like Aimee Semple McPherson.

Friday, April 24, 2015

STEWARDSHIP: God’s Way of Recreating the World (Steve Kindle) -- Review

STEWARDSHIP: God's Way of Recreating the World. (Topical Line Drives volume 18). By Steve Kindle. Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2015. 44 pages.

                Every Sunday in my church one of the Elders will invite the congregation to consider their stewardship responsibilities. They may speak of the need to support the ministries of the church (though conveniently most leave out the fact that the pastor is a major expenditure), and perhaps they will expand the definition of stewardship to include our gifts and talents. The latter are non-monetary gifts, but they still largely benefit the congregation. Each year, in the month of November we will conduct a stewardship campaign. Normally I will begin and end the season with a stewardship sermon. I will talk about money but perhaps other elements of stewardship as well. We preachers dread the season of stewardship, because most of us don’t like to talk about money. Perhaps that is due in large part to the fact that we are the predominate beneficiaries of these gifts (that’s not a problem, it just uncomfortable to talk about).  But is this all there is to stewardship?

My friend and Disciples ministry colleague Steve Kindle suggests that stewardship has a much broader definition. The subtitle of this little book (just 35 pages of text that can be read in about 90 minutes) hints at the breadth of this broader definition. Stewardship has to do with “God’s way of recreating the world.”  Stewardship, as a biblical concept, is guided by our prayer to do the will of God on earth as in heaven. While churches are struggling with budgets, declining membership, and identity questions, while individual Christians are seeking closer connections to God and each other, Steve suggests that “stewardship, comprehensively understood and applied, will lead a congregation and individual Christians out of these problems and into mature and effective relationships and significant ministry” (p. 3).  The way to do this is to think globally, to think in terms of our relationship to God in the context of creation.  Rather than being a program of the church, stewardship becomes our lifestyle.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Disciples -- Are We Really Creedless?

I am a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  We claim to be a non-creedal church. Our founders were somewhat averse to creedal statements, believing them to be divisive. The "devil is in the details." One of our old slogans was "No Creed but Christ, No Book but the Bible."  It sounds good, but are we really creedless?

I recently finished reading George Lindbeck's post-liberal tome -- The Nature of Doctrine (a book I should have read long ago).  Lindbeck argues for the primacy of a "cultural-linguistic" understanding of Christian doctrine/theology -- in contrast to propositional and experiential-expressive versions. In the Cultural-Linguistic model, which appeals to me, doctrine is understood to be a set of grammatical rules that govern the way we speak of faith. Leaving aside propositionalism, which no one on the center-left spectrum embraces, whereas the experiential-expressivism of liberalism starts with the premise that there is a common religious spirit, which religions express in different ways. The cultural linguistic model differs from this model in that it assumes that Christian faith is formed/taught. Doctrine serves to guide this process.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Jesus, Healing, and Salvation

As I continue my sermon series on salvation, I will be turning to the idea that salvation includes healing. In preparation for that sermon, I thought I would share a few paragraphs that I wrote about healing in my book on spiritual gifts (Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening). The idea that God heals and that this is connected to the idea of salvation is not always an easy one to embrace for many modern Christians. When we get sick, we go to the doctor. We pray for healing, but do we really believe that God heals. I invite you to read these paragraphs and then pursue the question more fully in my book on spiritual gifts. This excerpt is found on page 147 of Unfettered Spirit. 


Healing is a sign of the reign of God present among us. Amos Yong, a Pentecostal theologian writes that healing not only leads to the restoring of human bodies, it serves as a sign that Jesus is “representative of the messianic promise to bring about the redemption, reconciliation, and release long associated with the year of the Lord’s favor.” [Yong, Who Is the Holy Spirit? 44.] Jürgen Moltmann suggests that healing serves as “signs of the rebirth of life and herald the new creation of all things.” They are tokens of “the resurrection world which drives out death.” [Moltmann, The Source of Life, 64-65]. Although such healings don’t forestall death as a human experience, they remind us that in ultimate terms the curse of death has been defeated and wholeness is possible.  
Every Sunday we gather in our churches and pray for the healing of our family, friends, neighbors. We pray in the belief that such prayers have an effect at the spiritual level, bringing wholeness to the recipients of our prayers. James told the sick to call for the elders to anoint with oil and pray that their bodies would be healed (James 5:14-15). 
As we see from the Gospels, healing played an important role in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, made the lame walk. A total of forty-one separate instances of healing body or mind can be found in the four gospels. Morton Kelsey has written “that Jesus’ ministry of healing is certainly in line with the constant emphasis in his teachings about compassion and caring about one’s neighbor.” [Kelsey,Healing and Christianity, 42-45].