Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Acts 29: A Never Ending Gospel (Bruce Epperly)

In last week's posting Bruce Epperly brought to an end our journey through Luke's Acts of the Apostles, a journey that reminds us that the Christian faith is an adventure.  It's not something to be taken lightly.  But, the Book of Acts ends with Paul in prison, but with the hope of release, perhaps to continue his planned journey to Spain.  In this final posting of this series, Bruce points us forward through history to our own day, where we continue writing the 29th chapter of Acts.  This may be the final contribution for a while, but it has been a blessing to have Bruce be a regular contributor to Ponderings on a Faith Journey.


Acts 29: A Never Ending Gospel

Bruce G. Epperly

The final words of Acts of the Apostles describe the Apostle Paul teaching and preaching from prison "without hindrance." The message of Acts from start to finish is that God's good news is unfinished and unhindered; it breaks down the barriers of alienation, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. The good news of God’s presence in the world breaks down the separation of mind, body, and spirit; of contemplation and action; of mysticism and mission; and of reason and ecstasy.

Today, we are writing our own Acts of the Apostles in the ongoing journey of Christian faith and mission. In partnership with God, we are the creators of an unfinished gospel that lives on in our lives and witness. For the author of Acts and for us, divine inspiration does not end with the closing of the canon. God is still speaking, still revealing, still inspiring, and still healing, and we are part of the never ending story of God's movements in our lives and in the world. Like those first Christians, we are making it up as we go along, creating our faith traditions in concert with divine inspiration and our personal, cultural, and planetary context. Like them, we – that is, progressive, moderate, and open-spirited evangelical Christians - are at the margins; our voices are seldom heard on network television or cable news, muted by our own reluctance as well as the strident voices of those who claim to represent Jesus today. But, our story goes on: in fact, the margins may in fact be the frontiers that call us to adventure.

Today, we are creating Christian faith as we go along - a new vision of faith, open to diversity, embracing pluralism, discovering the promise of post-modernism in small stories and life-changing experiences that evolve into a life-transforming faith. Our faith stories honor and nurture experience, but also balance experience with agile and innovative theological reflection in dialogue with the novelties of our time. Acts 29, the unwritten chapter of Acts, is our chapter. Just as God calls every generation to be faithful in its time, God calls us to be faithful "for just such a time as this." This is our time of possibility, adventure, risk, and vocation. This is our time to create, in the dynamic divine-human call and response, a lively spirited-centered, pluralistic, evolving and emerging faith. Our faith is not based on labels that confine, but stature that includes and our emerging and evolving faith embraces Pentecostal ecstasy, evangelical intimacy, moderate rationality, and progressive open-endedness. We are spirit-centered in our openness to following the Spirit's guidance and then creating along with the Spirit new circles of healing and transformation.

This morning, I heard Rev. Harry Knox of the, Director of the Religion and Faith Program of the Human Rights Commission speak of a "fourth great awakening" as the emergence of the gifts of LGBT people for the church. I agree with Rev. Knox’s affirmation, for this awakening of the gifts of LGBT people is emerging alongside a new integration of mysticism and mission, spiritual healing and medical accessibility, tradition and experimentation, theological reflection and emotional ecstasy; all elements of an ever-widening circle of love. These movements reflect a holistic vision of embodied, emerging, evolving, and liberating faith.

Yes, the story of Acts 29 is still being written. It is your story and mine - it is the story of all those who awaken to God's unhindered Spirit and claim our role as partners in the never ending divine-human journey that lies ahead.

Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of 17 books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Celebrating 400 Years of the King James Bible -- Sightings

In 1611 a new English translation of the Bible appeared.  It carried the authorization of the British monarch, King James 1.  James I was the son of the infamous Mary, Queen of Scots, the rival of Queen Elizabeth, and who had been raised Presbyterian.  When he became king of both Scotland and England at the death of Elizabeth there was great hope that he would side with those in the English church that wanted to abolish episcopacy, a party that came to be known as Puritans.  He was unsympathetic to the anti-episcopacy crowd, but he was willing to support the translation of a new bible, and so four hundred years ago one of the most influential books in the English language was published.  Over the next year we will likely have conversations about this version of the Bible and its influence.  I'm not of the view that we should use it as a primary translation (the English is majestic, but not current), nor follow the textual tradition (as does the New King James Version) as it is a deficient tradition.  That said, we should affirm its importance on a literary and even spiritual level.  More will be forthcoming as time goes by, but here I'd like to let Martin Marty have his say.


Sightings 11/29/2010

Celebrating 400 Years of the King James Bible
- Martin E. Marty

Thanksgiving weekend gave those who live off or for the media an excuse to slow down, turn off some signals, and settle back to football, turkey, and family—or to shop. For those who keep the Christian calendar, yesterday was also a significant change-of-pace day, since it was the beginning of a new church year. Readers of Sightings who are distant from Christian observances cannot have escaped the carols and wreaths which resound and decorate public spaces. Looking for ways to celebrate the season and anticipate 2011, we were aided by an editorial from the Observer in the UK.

Here’s the deal: 2011 is the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible, an event that merits observance far beyond the circles of librarians, antiquarians, and classicists. Anyone who keeps files on the fate of the KJV in the twentieth century and ever since will find many controversies to pass on the way to the book and its cultural import. Thus I have files, books, and personal recall of the way defenders of the King James edition fought off new translations. The Revised Standard Version, backed by the National Council of Churches, was scorned as “Stalin’s Bible” because it seemed to some to slight the virgin birth of Jesus. Burnings of the Bible at mid-century, when the Revised Standard Version appeared, drew attention just as the planned burning of the Qur’an recently did.

Expect debates all anniversary year over whether the authorizer of the KJV, King James I, was homosexual, bisexual, or falsely pointed to as “different” in his time as in ours. When fundamentalists have a slip of tongue or memory and speak of him as the “Saint James Bible,” selective readers of the evidence will pounce and proclaim him as a homosexual saint. This is a second distraction on the way to the celebration.

And there is much to celebrate, as the Observer editorial makes clear. More than any other writing, including the plays of Shakespeare, KJV did so much to formalize written English and do so with majesty. The Observer: “as well as selling an estimated 1bn copies since 1611,” it went into our literary bloodstream. Shakespeare needed 31,000 words to bless that bloodstream, while the KJV needed only 12,000.

Among the 12,000 words that the translating committee of King James adopted from the Hebrew and Greek were “long-suffering,” “scapegoat” and “peacemaker.” We might need all three as the antagonists line up on both sides of “Stalin’s Bible” and the sexually-complex battles mentioned above. Those who mourn the loss of the Version’s hegemony will side with Raymond Chandler, who said that the Bible was “a lesson in how not to write for the movies.” It was a lesson in how to write for elites and masses alike.

Although “secular, multicultural Britain” will celebrate the quartercentenary, Robert McCrum sounds rueful: “Some 450,000 people each month do google searches for King + James+ Bible, of which fewer than 10% originated in the UK.” The Observer editorialist looked west across the Atlantic and observed how the KJV was used by Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barack Obama. Theodore Roosevelt declared that “the King James Bible is a Magna Carta for the poor and oppressed: the most democratic book in the world.” One hopes that controversies of the sort I mentioned here will bring this Bible to front pages and prime time.


Robert McCrum, “How the King James Bible Shaped the English Language,” The Observer, November 21, 2010.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at http://www.illuminos.com./


Editor’s Note: Last week’s column referred to Dale S. Wright’s book as The Six Imperfections. The title of the book is The Six Perfections.


Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

America's Religious Identity -- Boom, Shocks, and After-shocks (Part 2 -- Long 1960s)

In the Post World War II era, religion boomed in America, along with all sorts of other service and fraternal organizations.  Their wives, many of whom had worked at America's factories during the war, returned home, had babies (remember Leave It to Beaver?).   This is the generation to which the famed Baby Boomer Generation was born, and as the War babies and post-war babies matured into adulthood, they encountered a new kind of world, and in many ways remade the world -- especially religiously. 

According to Robert Putnam and Dennis Campbell, writing in American Grace, there has been one major shock (the Long 1960s) and two Aftershocks since the religious boom of the 1950s.  Religious attendance among young adults reached its apex in 1957, when 51% of young adults claimed regular church attendance (growing from about 31% in 1950).  That number would fall just as quickly as it rose as the 1960s hit.   

This new era of "Shock" is labeled the "Long 1960s" by Putnam and Campbell, because it stretched into the early 70s. As for me, having been born in 1958, I was spending my days in elementary school and junior high.  This was a decade of exceptional change, as war babies and the first cohorts of Baby Boomers started coming of Age.  During this long "decade" we witnessed the full expansion of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, three assassinations (two Kennedys and a King), and the birth of the sexual revolution.  Yes this was the era of "Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll," and of course the period in which a group of theologians declared that "God is Dead."   Historian Sydney Ahlstrom is quoted by the authors:  "It was perfectly clear to any reasonably observant American that the postwar revival of the Eisenhower years had completely sputtered out, and that the nation was experiencing a crise de conscience of unprecedented depth" (p. 92). 

Of course not everyone joined in embracing this season of change -- it was the youngest of adults who came of age during this period -- the older generations continued attending church and doing what they had been doing, and many as we'll see in Part 3, were scandalized by what they were observing, especially regarding the change in understanding of the permissibility of premarital sex.  In the cohort that came of age in the 1960s 80% said it was only sometimes wrong or not wrong at all, and in 1970 nearly 50% of Americans reported that they were more liberal on this subject than were their parents.  Although we will witness a conservative reaction to the alleged excesses of the 1960s, even among younger adults (first aftershock) there would continue to be considerable liberality on this subject.  

But, our focus here is not on politics and sexuality, but on religion, and here things were changing as well.  The authors note that whereas huge numbers were heading off to seminary in the 1950s and early 1960s, a survey of clergy in 1971 showed that 40% of clergy under forty were considering leaving the ministry.  The sale of religious publications dropped by a third.  Oh, and this was also a period of religious experimentation -- the beginnings of what has become known as the "spiritual but not religious" group.  

Here is the kicker that I want to leave with you, before I turn to the first aftershock in the next posting.  Concerning the dramatic decline in religious observance that was seen in the 1960s, Putnam and Campbell write:
The fraction of all Americans who said that religion was "very important" to them personally fell from 75 percent in 1952 and 70 percent as late as 1965 to 52 percent in 1978, while the fraction who said that "religion can answer today's problems" dropped from 81 percent in 1957 to 62 percent  in 1974.  According to the Gallup Poll, weekly church attendance nationwide plummeted from 49 percent in 1958 to 42 percent in 1969, by far the largest decline on this measure ever recorded in such a brief period. (American Grace, pp, 97-98). 
What is most telling is that even as total attendance figures saw  a decline, this was most pronounced among young adults.  They note that "among twenty-somethings, the rate of decline was more than twice the national average."  For those fifty and over, there was no change recorded, but for those who were age 18 -29, the drop from 1957 to 1971 was from 51% to 28%.  This cohort is now in their late 50s to early 60s, and while some of them came back to church, not all did.    The reasons for the decline are many -- including reactions to war, civil rights, sexuality, and more. 

This was the period of Shock, there was an aftershock to follow, and we must move to it in the next posting.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Candle of Hope -- Advent Lectionary Meditation

Isaiah 2:1-5

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:36-44

A Candle of Hope

We begin the Advent journey by lighting a candle of hope, and hope is in the biblical scheme of things more than wishful thinking. The hope that the season of Advent holds out to us as we light this first candle is rooted in the promises of the God who is ever faithful. It is rooted in the covenant relationship that exists between God and humanity. Therefore, we can gather and sing with a sense of purpose the final stanza of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel":  "O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind; bid envy, strife and quarrels cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace. Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!” (Chalice Hymnal, 119). And so as we begin the journey we do so in the company of Isaiah, Paul, and Matthew’s Jesus. Each of these texts for the first Sunday of Advent speak to the hope that is present in us, and reminds us that we should continue to stay awake and live according to the promises of God.

The journey begins in Isaiah, where the prophet speaks in wondrous terms of the day that will come when the nations will stream to Zion, to God’s holy mountain, so that they might encounter the Lord, the God of Jacob. And the reason they will come is so that they might receive instruction (Torah). Yes, they’ll come in the hope that will learn of the ways of God so that they might walk in his paths of righteousness. Upon this basis God will judge, that is, God will rule over the nations. And as a result, the nations will commit themselves to peace. The fourth verse of Isaiah 2 is one of the most beautiful and promising of all texts of scripture, for it promises a war torn world a vision of peace. When God rules over the nations and therefore is the one who will arbitrate among them, then the nations will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. That is, in the days to come, instead of devoting our time, our energy, and our resources on keeping afloat a “military industrial complex,” the people will devote themselves to more productive work, such as providing food for their tables. It may sound utopian, and yet it stands before us as God’s promise, and it is a promise in which we have been called upon to place our hopes – not wishful thinking, but trusting our futures to the covenant-making God. Our lection ends with verse 5, which calls upon the house of Jacob to “walk in the Light of the Lord.”

Isaiah’s wondrous vision is paired with two texts that lack the grandeur of the Old Testament lesson, and yet they too speak to us in our day. Both remind us of the importance of being awake and living as people of the light. In his letter to the Romans, Paul rings the alarm and reminds the recipients of his letter that their salvation is nearer to them than when they first believed. The night is drawing to a close and day is at hand. Therefore, they are now to live as in the light, laying aside the works of darkness. The image here is clear, the criminal does his or her work under the cover of darkness so that they will not be seen, and such, the implication here is, once this was true for them. But now the light has dawned, the candle is lit, and so they’re to live honorably, putting aside the works of darkness including revelry, drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarreling (remember that in Isaiah, as a result of the Lord’s instruction in Zion the nations will cease their quarreling), and jealousy. Instead, they (us) are to put on Jesus Christ and make “no provision for the flesh.” There is in this word to us, that our hope in Christ should affect the way we live, especially as we move into God’s future.

Finally we come to the Gospel. With Advent we begin a new lectionary cycle, one that focuses on the Gospel of Matthew. And in this first gospel lesson of the new church year we find ourselves near the end of the Gospel, in Jesus’ eschatological discourse that comes near the end of his own earthly journey. It is a rather strong and even harsh word, one that even speaks in terms of eternal punishment. In this word about the future, Jesus lets the disciples know that the time and place of God’s judgment is known only to the Father – neither Angels nor the Son of Man know this information. And just as a word of warning, in case they get complacent (remember that Matthew is writing a half century following the death/resurrection of Jesus), on the day of his revealing, the people will be living rather normally. Indeed, the people will be eating and drinking (not necessarily in excess, just normally) and they’ll be planning weddings, just like normal. That’s the way it was when the flood hit in the days of Noah. Since they didn’t heed Noah’s warnings, they were caught unawares, and were swept away. The moral – you don’t want this to happen to you. To reinforce this message Jesus speaks enigmatically of pairs of individuals, one of whom will be taken and the other left doing their normal work – men in the field and women at the grinding stone. As to who is the one receiving judgment – that’s unclear. A recent book series might suggest that it’s the ones left behind, but it could easily be that the ones who suffer judgment are the ones being pulled out. There’s really way to know for sure. What is for sure, Jesus says, is that if a thief were planning to break into the house, and the owner knew the time of his coming, he would have been awake and would have foiled the attempt. Be awake at all times, Jesus says, for you never know when the thief is coming.

There is hope to be found in this life. We can live into the vision of God that Isaiah lays out for us, but we must be awake and attentive to the movement of God, and then live in ways that are in tune with this vision of the future. Therefore, we can affirm that Christian eschatology, that vision of God’s future, does have ethical implications, and so does the candle of hope that we light this first Sunday of Advent.

Reposted from [D]mergent

Friday, November 26, 2010

America's Religious Identity -- Boom, Shocks, and After-shocks (Part 1)

The 1950s saw one of the largest booms in religiosity that Americans have ever witnessed.  All you had to do was open the doors and the churches were full.  Liberal and conservative, Mainline, Catholic, Evangelical -- everyone was doing well.  And the key to success, interestingly enough, were the men returning home from the War.  Yes, it was the returning GI's and their wives, the so-called "Greatest Generation" that fueled this incredible spike in religious (and civic) involvement.   Robert Putnam and Dennis Campbell lay out this scenario in American Grace.

[T]he distinguishing features of the men now accompanying their wives to church were that they were mostly young fathers, mostly veterans, and mostly college-educated.  The postwar boom in church going was fueled above all by men who had survived the Great Depression as teenagers and World War II as grunts, and were now ready at last to settle into a normal life, with a steady job, a growing family, a new house, and a car, and respectable middle-class status.  Church going was an important emblem of that respectability. (American Grace, pp. 85-86).
Thus, between 1940 and 1960 church membership climbed from about 49% of the population to 69%.  My parents were part of this generation -- well, my father was in the war, my mother was still in her mid-teens when the war ended and the Baby Boom began.   During this period Mainline churches were out front, the bastions of religious respectability.  I remember growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and our Episcopal Church was full of families.  The Disciples of Christ, like many denominations, purchased land in new subdivisions and planted churches there, expecting them to boom.  Consider that, according to the authors, between 1945 and 1960, in inflation-adjusted dollars, church construction went up from about $26 million to $615 million dollars.  As the construction of churches expanded, people did come, at least for a time, but then as the 1960s set in things began to change.  A new generation came of age and they were looking for something else besides religious respectability.  But more about this "shock" generation in Part 2. 

What needs to be noted here is that this generation of joiners and builders, the men and women who provided the backbone for our religious institutions and "peopled" our churches with children, are passing from the scene, and they are being replaced by generations much less interested in sustaining religious institutions.  [To be continued]

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Please and Thank You -- A Thanksgiving Homily

Luke 17:11-19

We’ve gathered together to ask the Lord’s blessing and to give thanks for the bountiful gifts of God. Giving thanks is deeply rooted in our faith tradition, going all the way back to our Jewish ancestors who heeded the Psalmist’s call to make a joyful noise, worship with gladness, and come into God’s presence with singing, because the Lord is God. Yes, we’ve heard the call to “enter the gates with thanksgiving, and the courts with praise . . . For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100 NRSV).

1. Being Thankful

Thanksgiving is a national holiday, but it has a strong spiritual dimension. For some this is simply an expression of civil religion that can be quickly dispensed with before watching the game and digging into the feast. For some Thanksgiving will offer a rare opportunity to gather as family or with friends for a time of merriment and sharing, that may or may not have any spiritual dimension. But, it also could provide an opportunity to stop and give thanks for the blessings of life, even if done briefly. We’ve come here because we believe that giving thanks has a broader, more spiritual sense to it.

Tonight we gather as a Christian community, but I’d like to link this observance to another gathering that some of us participated in this past Sunday evening. That event was interfaith and it reminded us that ours is a diverse nation, made up of people who share many different faith traditions. That event reminded us to give thanks for the freedoms provided by this nation to people from a multitude of religious traditions to safely gather together for prayer and worship and service in a way that is appropriate to that tradition. Our gathering this evening may be a Christian one, but it shares in this broader dimension of freedom. Therefore, as we gather in the name of Christ, let us give thanks for the freedoms we share with fellow citizens whose beliefs are different from ours, knowing that around the world there are many who do not share in the protections of our nation’s Constitution.

But, whether or not there is government sanctioned freedom to worship, we still can give thanks that God is present in our midst. Our ability to give thanks doesn’t ultimately depend on such freedoms. Therefore, we gather to give thanks to the God we know in Jesus Christ for the steadfast love of God that endures forever, not just for Americans but for all of creation. And in that spirit, we’re able to sing the words of a Thanksgiving hymn:

Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done, in whom the world rejoices,
who, from our mothers’ arms, has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. (Chalice Hymnal, #15)

2. The Meaning of Thanksgiving

If our calling is to give thanks, then we must ask – what does this involve? As I considered this question, I realized that it would be easy to fall into a discussion of niceness and politeness. That is, I could focus my attention on the importance of saying please and thank you. Like many of you, I was taught as a child to even say thank you to Aunt Martha for that hideous sweater that you would never, ever wear in public. You see, if you use these words with practiced efficiency, you’ll be successful in life. Although, there’s nothing wrong with being polite or saying please and thank you, even to Aunt Martha for that sweater, I don’t think that is the point of this season of Thanksgiving?

I raised this question of politeness because tonight’s gospel reading for tonight is a bit odd. If we’re not careful, we could end up with an Emily Post kind of interpretation and use it to reinforce the principles of proper etiquette. But if we did that, we’d miss Luke’s point.

In this story, which appears only in Luke’s gospel, there are ten people with skin diseases, making them spiritual and social outcasts, who came to Jesus as he was wandering along the border regions of Galilee and Samaria. Wherever this village was located, it appears to be one of those places where Jew and Samaritan mingled, and where disease seems to have transcended ethnicity and religious observance. They cry out from a distance, because they knew that it wasn’t appropriate to approach people who weren’t infected: “Have mercy on us!” We’re not sure what they wanted. It could have been money, or maybe they’d heard rumors that Jesus was a healer and hoped he would heal them. Whatever the case Jesus simply tells them to go and show themselves to the priest, directions that they chose to obey. Now, the reason Jesus sent them to the priest, was that priests served not only as religious functionaries, like we clergy do, but they were also public health officials. Since the Temple was far off, maybe they headed off to a branch office to get their all-clean report, and in the moment that they left to see the priest, they were healed. And as Luke notes, while nine of them continued on, one returned to give thanks. That one person who turned back to Jesus was, Luke says, a Samaritan and a foreigner. When the Samaritan returns to Jesus and offers his word of thanksgiving, Jesus wonders out loud where everyone else had gone, even though they were doing what he had told them to do. Could it be that this man returned to give thanks to Jesus because he was a Samaritan and didn’t have anywhere else to go?

What should we do with this text? Should we use it to reinforce proper etiquette, using the Samaritan as our model citizen? Or do we take it a step further and deeper, and hear in this story a call to give thanks to a God whose love is inclusive, a God who reaches out and touches the lives of citizen and foreigner alike? It matters not to God whether, one is Jewish or a Samaritan, God’s bounty is poured out on both without discrimination. It’s this indiscriminate love of God, which draws us from the margins back into the center, that calls forth words of thanksgiving. It matters not to God, why society chooses to exclude us, whether it be disease, ethnicity, or religious differences, for God’s love covers us all, and therefore we can and should give thanks to God. And what better words to use in closing this meditation than the doxology, which so many of us sing each Sunday:

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church
Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service
Lutheran Church of the Master of Troy
November 23, 2010

Time to Give Thanks --Psalm 100

Psalm 100

Psalm 100 e-card sent by a college friend to share.  Click on the picture and then on the card, and give thanks to God for God's bounteous blessings.  

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reviewing of Books -- there is no End!

As anyone who reads this blog with regularity can attest, I review a considerable number of books.  I'll confess, I'm addicted to reading books, and reviewing forces me to complete the books I'm reading, well sort of -- I've got such a stack right now that I'm way behind!  Briefer versions will sometimes appear elsewhere, at places like the Christian Century blog (formerly Theolog), Progressive Christian Magazine, and at the Englewood Review of Books, among other places.  Chris Smith, editor of the Englewood Review of Books asked me to blog the newly published print edition of the Review, which I'm pleased to do.  And no, none of my reviews appear in this first edition of the Review, nor is there any quid pro quo for future inclusions (though who knows!).  

The print edition of the Englewood Review of Books, to which you may subscribe here,  is an extension of an online presence that began in January 2008.  The online review appears weekly and covers a wide range of books, from serious theology to books of poetry.  What is true of the online presence, is true of the new print review.  It covers a wide range of books under review, that include a book of poetry by Seamus Heaney to a review of Amy Hungerford's Postmodern Belief:  American Literature and Religion Since 1960 (Princeton University Press, 2010).  There is original poetry and interviews with authors.  

Something should be said about the ethos of the editorial team.  This review is a ministry of Englewood Christian Church of Indianapolis.  Englewood is rooted in the same Stone-Campbell tradition as the Disciples (my community).  This branch is generally more conservative and tied into evangelicalism than is true of the Disciples.  But, it is also a congregation that, due to changing neighborhood demographics, had to reinvent itself.  Instead of moving to the suburbs it chose to minister to the community, and created a Community Development organization to facilitate this.  Thus, it shouldn't surprise readers to find a preponderance of books published by IVP, Baker, or Brazos.   But it also means that you'll find them focusing on works by people like Shane Claiborne and the New Monastic Movement.  The evangelical orientation that undergirds the ministry doesn't keep Chris from using my reviews or including books and publishers from the more liberal end of the spectrum (I'm reading through John Dominic Crossan's The Greatest Prayer for the Review at this moment in time).   

Hundreds of books get published every year.  Some are wonderful and others are pure duds.  It's helpful to have guides that can help us ferret through the good, the bad, and the ugly!  One of those key contributors to this cause can be found both online and in the pages of this newly published print review!  It has my recommendation!

I will be attending in short order to the interview with Willie James Jennings of Duke Divinity School, for it deals with something close to my heart, and that is the engagement with the city.  It is entitled "Thinking Theologically About Space."  So, stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Adventurous Theology #10: A Never Ending Story (Bruce Epperly)

The journey through Acts is nearing its end -- that is, the exploration of the adventurous spirit that pervades Luke's description of the early church's journey comes to an end in this posting.  Bruce Epperly has taken us from Ascension to Paul's prison cell, noting here in the end that "God is still speaking."  There is one last post to consider -- next week -- that reflects on Acts 29, our continued writing of the story of this faith journey.  I invite you to consider with Bruce what the Spirit is doing in the world and in the church as, to quote (as Bruce does) Doug Pagitt, we live out a "Christianity Worth Believing."


Adventurous Theology #10:
A Never Ending Story
Acts, Chapters 21-28
Bruce G. Epperly

Acts of the Apostles comes to an end with a travelogue descriptive of Paul’s journey to Rome. But, the final words, describing Paul’s preaching from prison in terms of “boldness and without hindrance,” suggest that Acts is but the beginning of a spiritual adventure that shapes us today. What’s to hinder us from embracing God’s world of wonders, unity with strangers, mystical experiences, and unexpected power and energy in our time? Open to God’s spirit, we have everything we need to be God’s ambassadors and healers in our time.

Paul’s future, even in prison, and our own is open and undecided. We are making it up as we go along, beneficiaries of Paul’s innovative ministry to the non-Jewish world. Signs and wonders abound when we commit ourselves to going deeper in our experience of God and God’s mission in the world. God is alive, doing a new thing, and inviting us to be creative as well.

The final chapters of Acts could be described as “ponderings on a faith journey.” Paul travels from place to place, sharing the good news of the new beginnings, inspired and energized by the living presence of the Risen One. Christ’s resurrection is not only a past event to Paul, but the source of confidence and spiritual power in the present moment. Christ has brought a new energy and new possibilities into the world, spiritually, metaphysically, and physically. While we cannot fully assess the power of the resurrection, its impact on Jesus’ first followers was holistic; it created a new vision of reality that encompassed every aspect of life. Just as the enlightenment of Buddha injected new spiritual possibilities, the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus changed the course of history and God’s relationship to the world. God’s attitude toward the world did not change – as John 3:16 notes, the coming of Christ is the manifestation of God’s love, not its cause or inspiration. Rather, Jesus’ life opens the door for new divine possibilities in our world.

The final chapters of Acts join action and testimony. Paul’s theology is holistic: the author of Acts records Paul’s narrative of his encounter with the living Christ in these final eight chapters. Paul’s theology encompasses his whole being: it creatively synthesizes the Jewish tradition, his mystical encounter with the living Christ, and the emerging Christian understanding of the meaning of Jesus in light of God’s revelation in Judaism and in the wider world. Paul’s own synthetic faith encompasses body, mind, spirit, and relationships. It is far from being purely cerebral or intellectual, but integrates his Damascus Road experience with the ongoing movements of the Spirit in his life. This is the way good theology should be – the isolated academic discipline of theology would have been an anomaly to Paul and the Parents of Christian theology. For them, theology was rooted in and connected to vital Christian experience. Theology, indeed, gave meaning and context to experience, shaped experience, and was shaped by experience – personal and communal.

Today’s emerging Christianity is seeking to replicate this same theological-experiential dynamic in its quest to join “ancient” and “future” in an evolving “now.” Like the first Christians, many emergents are seeking to create a theology that gives meaning and provides an evolving context for their current faith experiences. Such a theology must include reflections on “a Christianity worth believing” (Pagitt) in light of the end of the American empire, the internet and beyond, and global spiritualities. This is theology in the making – highly experiential, yet in need of enough tradition and enough imagination to provide an evolving spiritual home for seekers within and beyond the church.

At times, Paul must have been astounded by his own journey – inspired at every step by a living Spirit, pushing the boundaries of past belief systems, and learning to adapt to the Gentile world. Paul brilliantly joined order and novelty in the creation a good enough theology for the Gentile world. Belief in the living Christ along with a handful of foundational Jewish behaviors was “good enough” to insure the well-being of new Christians and their communities. While he may not have intended it, Paul laid the groundwork for theological, liturgical, ecclesiastical, and experiential diversity by his innovative synthesis of tradition and novelty. Christianity no longer could be identified with a few sacred spaces and holy lands, now all lands could be holy and all spaces sacred. Accordingly, indigenous faiths of all kinds could emerge and have emerged throughout Christian history. Hardly a fundamentalist, Paul laid the foundations for the evolution of Christianity, emerging in time and place and embracing the Living Christ, the God of Christ, and the victory over death in dialogue with culture and community.

The final words of this “unhindered” gospel remind us that we are part of this story. As the United Church of Christ proclaims, “God is still speaking.” When we understand the word “speaking” holistically, we see God’s voice as more than a matter of word and doctrine, but an energy and vibration, creatively and intentionally moving through all things, personal and global, touching each thing in light of its responsibility to the whole. Many voices compose the chorus of revelation. But, the many are inspired by a personal voice that honors uniqueness yet pushes us toward community.

As we conclude our journey through the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear that God’s call is global as well as intimate. Paul goes out into the world; and faithfulness challenges us to be world-oriented as well. Just as Paul did not fully know where he was going, we must look in a mirror dimly as we consider the future of Christianity. We know that the future of our faith must be global, for the earth and humankind are in jeopardy. Salvation must heed the cries of creation (Romans 8) as well as our own inner urgings. Honoring one another, we must find our pathways into the world – pathways that join personal experience, encounters with the holy, agile theological reflection, and commitment to strangers, neighbors, and the good earth – as we seek to share life-transforming words of God in our time and place. We are God’s partners in a never-ending journey.

Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of 17 books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Buddhism and Violence -- Sightings

Last night the Troy-Area Interfaith Group held it's annual Thanksgiving Service at the local Hindu Temple.  It was good to gather together and affirm our common humanity, which transcends our religious and cultural differences.  One of the values of gatherings such is this is that they allow us to get to know each other as human beings, recognizing that each religious tradition has its positive and negative attributes.  In today's Sightings column, Martin Marty takes note of something pointed out in the book American Grace, which I myself am currently reading with great fascination.  As the title of the posting suggests, it has to do with Buddhism.  Robert Putnam and David Campbell in comments, which I've yet to come upon, note that Americans don't have very warm feelings toward Muslims, Mormons, and Buddhists.  The last might seem surprising since most Americans deem Buddhists a fairly peaceful group.  But then, they don't know much about them.  But, in the interest of having a balanced understanding of our religious professions, Marty notes that there is evidence that Buddhism also has a dark side -- just as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam do.  So, I invite you to read and respond.


Sightings 11/22/2010

Buddhism and Violence
- Martin E. Marty

Buddhism and Islam came off as the two “faith communities” to whom other Americans feel least warm, according to a Faith Matters survey of 2007. Robert Putnam and David Campbell ponder this in American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which Sightings has visited twice before. Mormons come in third as a stimulator of “least warm” feelings among others. The authors comment that negative media attention hurts Mormons and Muslims, but “Buddhists do not get the same negative media attention” as do those two. So something else must account for the negative ratings of Buddhism.

Reach for your search engine, Google or otherwise, and ask “which religion is most peaceful?” Once you get past the answers of apologists—of course, Muslims think Islam is, and Christians think Christianity is—it’s clear that Buddhism is seen as most peaceful. What gives? Read on in the polls and interviews and you will find that Buddhists are kept at a distance by some because they are at a distance from others. Buddhists profit from their distance. If familiarity breeds contempt against Muslims, unfamiliarity also does not help them or Buddhists. Despite this picture derived from those polls and interviews, one still has to ponder: Jews, Christians, and Muslims suffer in the media because their texts and traditions are often so warlike. Ask your friend who practices Buddhism why it does not suffer? Answer: Because its texts and traditions breed peace.

As an equal opportunity admirer and critic of the “faith communities” on this subject, I also have wondered how Buddhism gets its peaceful reputation. A review by Katherine Wharton of two books, Buddhist Warfare and The Six Perfections illuminates. Buddhist Warfare, says Wharton, “forms an accurate history of violence in the name of religion,” and cites sutras which shock, since they “justify killing with detailed reference to the Buddha’s central philosophical tenants. The book therefore presents a uniquely Buddhist ‘heart of darkness.’” Brian Victoria’s essay in The Six Perfections brings the issue to modern times: D. T. Suzuki (d. 1966), “the most influential proponent of Zen to the West in the twentieth century . . . gave his unqualified support to the ‘unity of Zen and the sword.’” Between ancient and modern times, as another contributor to these symposia finds and cites, was Chinese monk Yi-hiuan, who urged his hearers to “kill everything you encounter, internally as well as externally! Kill the Buddha! Kill your father and mother! Kill your closest friends!”

In the eyes of many apologists and observers, the Buddhist concept of “emptiness” is, from a distance, a guarantor of peace, over against the fullness of Warrior-God texts in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But Wharton is convinced by these books that “emptiness” can and does also promote violence, and is not by itself the solution.

Now, why does Sightings, which keeps track of celebrations of peace and reconciliation, so often point to violence in texts and traditions? To give aid and comfort to “the New Atheists,” who solicit our aid in killing all religion(s) to assure peace? Hardly. To suggest that condemning Muslims (or specific others) because of the violence of some among them is unfair? Partly. Most important it is to provide a basis for hope for those who work on ecumenical or interfaith grounds and to point to the reconciliatory texts and work on the basis of them, but without illusions. Respondent publics agree that the religious texts point finally to shalom, peace, reconciliation. Their final promise deserves attention all along the way. The final word might come first.


David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).

Michael K. Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer, editors, Buddhist Warfare (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Katherine Wharton, “Buddhists at war: The dark side of what is often thought to be the most peaceful of religions,The Times Literary Supplement, September 29, 2010.

Dale S. Wright, The Six Perfections: Buddhism and the Cultivation of Character (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.


Editor’s Note: Sightings will take a break for Thanksgiving and will return on Monday, November 29.


Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Give Thanks for God's Bounty -- A Sermon

Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21

We began our journey through the Stewardship Season on Halloween, and we end it today on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The first holiday suggested that stewardship might be a bit spooky! But, we haven’t let this spooky feeling keep us from hearing testimonies about the importance of stewardship. Each voice challenged us to consider the blessings God has poured out on us and they called on us to respond through the sharing of our lives and resources with others through the church. The Stewardship team led by Felicia sent out letters that invited members and friends to consider how they might give to the congregation’s ministries during the coming year. And, now it’s time to bring in the harvest!

A month ago, in that “spooky sermon,” I talked about God’s abundance that has touched our lives. I pointed out that this year’s stewardship theme is “More than Enough.” Of course, in these difficult economic times, not everyone feels like there’s “more than enough.” There’s a lot of anxiety out there, even if the stock market is up, the economy is growing again, and Michigan can expect to add more jobs than it loses for the first time in a decade. For many among us these continue to be lean times, and so it’s difficult to affirm the idea that there is really “More than Enough.”

Despite this sense of anxiety, this congregation has maintained a strong giving record. We’re holding our own, in part because we’re careful about what we spend, but also because you are faithful givers. And even as the pledges remain fairly steady, the amount of unpledged income has grown. That may mean that there are new people in the house who are contributing to the church’s ongoing ministry. All of this means that not only can we continue to maintain our ministries, but we can even expand them. We’re able to do this, not only because you believe in this ministry of this place, but because you also believe that God has blessed you and you want to offer a sign of your gratitude to God.

Yes, there is a practical reason for our annual stewardship “campaign.” We all know that there are bills to pay and that the Council needs to know how much income to depend on in the coming year. So, because you are faithful in your giving and others had the foresight to remember the church in their estates, we can pay salaries, maintain the building, offer programming for all ages, and engage in missional outreach, here in Troy, in Metro-Detroit, in Michigan, in the United States, and around the World. That’s the practical side of things, but that’s not the whole story. We take up the offering in the context of worship, because giving is an act of worship.

We bring this stewardship season to a close on the eve of a national day of Thanksgiving, but we also gather to bring closure to a liturgical year that begins anew every year with the first Sunday of Advent. Therefore, next Sunday, we’ll turn the page, and restart our journey with an Advent celebration that includes decorating the church in preparation for Christmas. But, before we do all of this, we need to first celebrate what is often known as Christ the King Sunday. We started this celebration of the reign of Christ with our opening hymn – “Rejoice the Lord Is King!” Listen again to the first stanza:

Rejoice, the Lord is King! The Risen Christ adore!
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing, and triumph evermore:
lift up your heart, lift up your voice
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice! (Chalice Hymnal, 699)
This message of thanksgiving comes through clearly in Psalm 145. The verbs are clearly stated: Extol, Bless, Praise, Laud, and declare. These are strong, active, verbs, but there is another verb that may not seem so active, but it’s the foundation for our ability to offer praise and thanksgiving to God. That word is “meditate.” As we meditate on the things of God, we’re able to discern God’s blessings, which in turn leads to praise and thanksgiving. Let us, therefore, look at three important verbs that emerge from this Psalm: Extol, Meditate, and Bless.

1. Extol

The Psalm begins: “I will extol you, my God and King” The verb “extol” carries the meaning: “to praise highly.” That is, when we extol someone or something, we’re not just offering half-hearted praise. No we’re offering the highest forms of praise, worship, and thanksgiving that is possible for us. Some of the synonyms for this word include to bless, to glorify, and to laud. Think of that Palm Sunday Hymn: “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.”

All glory, laud, and honor, to you, Redeemer king,
to whom the lips of children made sweet hosanna’s ring!
You are a child of Israel, Great David’s greater son;
you ride in lowly triumph, Messiah, blessed one! (Chalice Hymnal 192)
When we come to the 3rd verse in this Psalm, we get a sense of what the psalmist is after in extolling his God and King:

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, his greatness is unsearchable.
And that declaration leads to this one:

One generation will laud your works to another, and declare your mighty acts.
Each of these sentences gets at the heart of worship. We come into this place, not primarily to fellowship, or learn, or enjoy good music, though we do all of that. No, we come to this place to declare before the world that our God is great and wonderful, and we promise to pass this on from one generation to the next. Everything we do “in church” and “in life,” is caught up in this call to extol our God and King who provides us with “More than Enough!”

2. Meditate

We make this declaration – that the Lord our God is Great and that God’s acts are mighty -- because we have first meditated upon God’s “glorious splendor,” majesty, and wondrous works. If you go back and read the verses that we omitted from this Psalm in today’s reading you’ll find other reasons for giving thanks to God. These include Grace and mercy, God’s slowness to anger and steadfast love, as well as God’s goodness and compassion for all.

“All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, . . . They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power.” (Vs. 10-11).
We offer thanks to God, because God’s dominion endures forever and God is faithful, even lifting up those who are falling and those who are bowed down. Yes, “the eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season” (vs. 15). We give thanks to God, because we have meditated on the bounty that is God’s gift to us.

As you begin reading this psalm, your mind may drift off to a throne room scene. There, with the people singing out “All Glory, Laud and honor,” sits the King, high and lifted up. Every knee is bent and every head is bowed, for great is the Lord and greatly is God to be praised. And yet, we’ve also been asked to meditate upon this: “The Lord is near to all who call on him.”

If we were to use theological terms to describe these two very different visions of God, we would use the words transcendence and immanence. More often than not, our theologies ask us to choose between these understandings, but here in this Psalm we’re reminded that the great and wonderful Lord of all Creation, the one who sits upon the throne of heaven, is also present in our midst, sharing with us the bounty of creation, and if truth be told, this God is also sharing in our times of grief and suffering. Therefore, if we’re willing to attend to this message, if we’re willing to meditate on it, to chew on it, as some might say, then we’ll begin to recognize that not only is there “more than enough” to go around, but we’re also in a position to share our bounty with others. We can do this because God in Christ has already shared with us the abundance of heaven, providing us with the opportunity to share freely this abundance with our neighbors. Upon these things, do we meditate, day and night, so that our hearts might be transformed.

3. Bless

We started by extolling God because of God’s many great works, then we meditated upon God’s blessings, and now at the end, we stop to offer God a word of blessing. To bless is similar to extol. But, just maybe, the act of blessing someone or something, carries with it not just a sense of words expressed, but also actions directed toward the other.

In both word and deed, which includes our giving through the church, we offer a blessing, a word of thanksgiving, that extols God’s greatness. And we don’t do this alone. As the closing verse makes clear:

My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name for ever and ever!
Stewardship is an act of worship that brings blessing not just to God nor just to the individual, but it also brings a blessing to all flesh. Yes, we gather together in the presence of the living God, the God who is our creator, our provider, our protector, and yes, even our fellow traveler, to offer a blessing and in doing so offer praise to the Lord forever and ever.

May we meditate upon these things and then act in accordance with the leading of God. For as Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver!” Yes, “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:7-8).
Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Thanksgiving Sunday/Christ the King Sunday
November 21, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Envisioning the Reign of God -- Lectionary Meditation

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Colossians 1:11-20

Luke 23:33-43

Envisioning the Reign of God

There are very few true monarchs left in the world. Most are of the sort that “rule” in England. They’re mainly figureheads who are trotted out on special occasions. True power is held by someone else, whether Parliament or the Prime Minister. Americans don’t very much like monarchs, whether constitutional or not, though we seem to have an interest in things royal, as long as we don’t have to support them with our taxes. So, for moderns, the idea of observing Christ the King Sunday might seem rather odd. Yet, this is the Sunday in which we proclaim Christ as King, as the one in whom and through whom God creates, sustains, and rules the universe. In observing this particular Sunday, we conclude another liturgical cycle. When the church gathers a week later, it will begin the cycle once more with a season of waiting, a season waiting for a king to be born. These two realities – the hope and the fulfillment can be found present in these three texts that hail God’s king, the one who according to Jeremiah will execute justice and righteousness. One of the things that we must realize as we observe this particular event is that God’s idea of a realm or a kingdom often differs from what we might have in mind.

We begin with Jeremiah. His is the prophetic word that offers us a vision of what God desires. As we open to Jeremiah 23 we hear God cry out against the shepherds who have destroyed the flock and scattered the sheep. The identity of these shepherds isn’t revealed, but context suggests the rulers and authorities of Judah. It is their choices that have led to this day, when the nation will be destroyed and the people scattered. But God is not finished with this people, and so despite the realities of the day, God promises to gather up the remnant from the many lands to which they’ve fled, and then bring them back into the fold. There in the safety and security of God’s reign, the people will be “fruitful and multiply,” a promise is rooted in the very act of creation (Gen. 1:28), suggesting that what is promised is a day of new creation. In this new creation in which God will regather the people of God, there will be new shepherds, so that none will live in fear. Yes, the day is coming when God will raise up a righteous branch, whose reign will be marked by wisdom, justice, and righteousness. In that day Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety (yes, this is in this context a parallelism). And the one who will reign shall be known as “The Lord is our Righteousness.” That is, this one who will rule will rule according to the dictates of God’s covenant with the people.

From Jeremiah we move to that second generation Christian leader who writes to the churches in the name and out of the community that knew Paul as its founder and leader. If Jeremiah points us forward into time, offering a vision of God’s chosen representative, this passage from Colossians offers the reader a vision of enthronement. What was hoped for has now come to pass. In a word to people, whom the author believes, had been rescued from darkness so that they might live in the light that is found in the “kingdom of his beloved Son.” It is this beloved Son of God who provides redemption and forgiveness – or to put this in terms of Jeremiah’s vision, he is the one who will provide salvation and safety. Here in this letter we experience one of the great hymns of praise, a hymn that declares that Christ is the “image of the invisible God, the first born of creation.” In him everything is created, including the thrones and kingdoms of this world. Everything is created through him and for him. He is the agent of God’s creation and recreation. In him, the fullness of God has dwelt, and so it is in Christ that we may know God’s grace, mercy, justice, and righteousness. It is a most triumphant scene, worthy of setting to powerful music. By the end of this hymn you’re ready to tack on Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. But there is another text to which we must give our attention – Luke’s account of the crucifixion.

Luke’s account of the crucifixion isn’t a text that we might expect hear on a Sunday before Thanksgiving, especially when the Christmas shopping cycle has already begun in earnest. Spending time contemplating Good Friday doesn’t seem appropriate. Indeed, the Colossian letter seems more appropriate than does this one. And yet, this is the text for the day. Like the other two texts, however, it speaks to the question of kingship and kingdoms. But, the way in which this passage wrestles with the reign of God reminds us that God’s ways may be different from ours. Jeremiah envisioned a righteous and just ruler, a Messiah who would gather the people and save them. The passage raises the question – what kind of King will this Messiah of God be? The answer is found on the cross. Jesus is crucified at a place called the Skull, situated between two criminals. There are a number of onlookers. Some are gawkers, the kind that are attracted to spectacles, and public executions have always seemed to fill that need for entertainment. Others who have gathered are the religious leaders, who come to scoff and remind him that his path to messiahship has taken a rather wrong turn. Instead of glory, it is death and humiliation. So, if you thought you could save others, why not try to save yourself – that is, if you’re the Messiah. Finally, there are the soldiers, and they too join in the derision. So, they say, this is the “King of the Jews”? Not all that impressive is he, can’t even save himself! Yes, here he is the one who would be king, and all that we can say for him, is that he will die a failure in his task. Therefore, in the spirit of mockery they place above his head, a sign that reads “King of the Jews.” Such is the fate of Pretenders to the Throne!

I forgot to mention that there are two other characters in this story – men hanging to the left and the right of Jesus. One joins in the mockery, and why not? A bit of gallows humor might seem appropriate, would be a suitable distraction from the agony of crucifixion. That is one voice from the hill called the Skull. There is another voice, which comes from the other condemned criminal, and this voice first scolds the other victim of Rome’s “justice system,” admitting some guilt, but also insisting that Jesus did not deserve his fate. We could debate the reasons why Jesus may have gone to the cross, but that would miss the point of the hour. This man, experiencing the same agony as Jesus, offers a different assessment, declaring Jesus to be innocent. He offers God’s judgment upon Jesus, and then turns to Jesus and asks to be remembered in the Kingdom. Here from the lips of a condemned man comes Luke’s enthronement psalm. And Jesus responds: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Yes, you will enjoy the blessings of God’s reign, for your understand the truth. You understand that the kingdom of God differs from human kingdoms, which are built upon terror, fear, coercion, and injustice.

As we gather this Sunday, may we consider the true nature of God’s reign. It’s not a democracy, which can easily turn into the tyranny of the majority. Nor is it the tyranny of the one. Instead, it is a commitment to justice and righteousness – and the one who reigns will be called “the Lord is our Righteousness.”

Reposted from [D]mergent

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Emerging Evangelicals -- Sightings

Trying to define the true nature of evangelicalism has never been easy.  Consider that in the 18th century both Whitefield and the Wesley's were called evangelicals, but despite similar methodologies, their theologies were quite different.  One was Calvinist and the other Arminian.  In Germany Evangelical means Protestant.  And so, when pundits and critics of the Religious Right equate evangelism with either Fundamentalism or the Religious Right they're only getting part of the description correct.  There are many different varieties of evangelicalism, something that Donald Dayton has been proclaiming for several decades.   Being a product of Fuller Seminary, I knew quite clearly that there was a difference between the kind of evangelicalism that was present there and that found to the south at Talbot Seminary. 

In this edition of Sightings Jenny Rae Armstrong suggests that there is a movement underway in evangelicalism that has embraced not just salvation in the next world, but a commitment to social justice and systemic transformation in this world.  She calls them Emerging Evangelicals, though as many can attest, even that term is subject to controversy.  Nonetheless, her analysis of the current political climate and the changes that are going on within the evangelical movement are worth considering.  The point being -- not all evangelicals are Republicans, and that is especially true in the under 40 set!


Sightings 11/18/2010

The Emerging Evangelicals

- Jenny Rae Armstrong

The recent GOP rebound has been regarded by many as a victory belonging to rifle-toting, SUV driving, born-again Christians. But to oversimplify evangelicals in this manner is to ignore a growing rift within their ranks. Few mainstream evangelicals have attempted to link laissez-faire capitalism with the teachings of Jesus. Even though some claim to base their vote on issues such as abortion, single-issue voting doesn’t seem to be enough to keep younger evangelicals within the Republican fold.

Dubbed “The Joshua Generation” by the Obama campaigners who courted them vigorously, the voting practices of younger evangelicals have been shifting steadily to the left. One third of white evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 29 supported Obama in the 2008 elections, compared to the 16 percent who voted for John Kerry four years earlier, according to a Newsweek article published on January 17, 2009. Increased evangelical concern for social justice, coupled with growing discomfort with the “anti-gay, anti-poor, and anti-environment” stance of the religious right described by progressive Christian leader Tony Campolo, spurred many of them to vote for a democrat for the first time in their lives. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine and author of the book God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, expressed the growing discontent among his fellow evangelicals: “Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen (by the religious right), and it’s time to get it back… How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American?”

Self-described “Red Letter Christians” (social activists who take Jesus’s teachings on poverty, mercy, and justice literally) such as Campolo and Wallis have been making an impact, not just on evangelicals’ voting habits, but on their very self-image. A decade ago, if you asked an evangelical to sum up her faith, she likely would have quoted Romans 10:9: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Nowadays, if you ask the same question, you would be more likely to hear Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

This cultural shift is well-illustrated by the recent publication of the book Radical: Taking Back your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt. Social justice manifestos penned from the fringes of evangelicalism are hardly new fare for the Christian publishing industry (think Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution), but Platt is pastor of a Southern Baptist mega-church in Birmingham, Alabama. As unappealing as his hellfire-and-brimstone views may be to the less “radical,” it is difficult for even the most conservative Christians to brush off his equally fiery insistence on “taking up the cross” of sacrificial living and concern for the poor as bleeding-heart liberalism. Social justice has become a centerpiece of mainstream evangelicalism.

Ironically, the high-profile rise of economically-focused groups such as the Tea Party could drive an even greater wedge between the GOP and evangelicals, who were drawn to the Republican Party more as a reaction against legalized abortion than an affinity for libertarianism. In fact, evangelicals have always expressed concern for the less fortunate, and are among America’s most generous givers, with almost 24 percent of them donating at least 10 percent of their income to charity, according to the Barna Group. But a growing number of young evangelicals are coming to the conclusion that it is going to take more than a carefully calculated tithe dropped into an offering plate to effect real, positive change for the poor and oppressed, and are willing to think, act, and vote accordingly.


Tony Dokoupil, “Faith Beyond His Father’s,” Newsweek, January 17,2009. 

Barna Group, “Americans Donate Billions to Charity, but Giving to Churches has Declined,” April 25, 2005.

David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Multnomah, 2010).

Jenny Rae Armstrong is a freelance writer who writes about faith and social justice for a variety of evangelical publications.



Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.