Showing posts from May, 2014

What Christians Can Learn from Other Religions (Philip Wogaman) -- Review

By J. Philip Wogaman.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.  Xiv + 135 pages.
We live in a world in which it is increasingly likely that we will encounter someone of another faith tradition.  In the community in which I live, in Metro-Detroit, there are large numbers of Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Christians (of several varieties and ethnic backgrounds), along with the usual complement of Protestants and Catholics.  If you’re a student at a local school, the person sitting next to you quite possibly follows one of these “other” religions.  If you’re a Christian – as am I – is it possible to learn something from another religious tradition that can enhance your own faith?  That is the question posed by Philip Wogaman in this book. 
Philip Wogaman once served as senior minister at Washington D.C.'s Foundry United Methodist Church, a congregation whose members included Bill and Hillary Clinton along with Bob and El…

God Gives Us the Holy Spirit -- Alternative Lectionary Pentecost Sunday (David Ackerman)

I have a special affinity for Pentecost Sunday. It may have something to do with a bit of Pentecostal background (and the fact that I wrote a book on spiritual gifts -- Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening), but nonetheless -- Pentecost Sunday stands out as powerful witness to God's ongoing presence and work in the world.  The texts that David Ackerrman has chosen for Pentecost Sunday are intriguing.  In his Beyond the Lectionary: A Year of Alternatives to the Revised Common Lectionarywe start with a reading from Isaiah 60 -- a text full of promise of harvest blessings as the responsive Call to Worship.  From there we move to the reading from Deuteronomy, which  reminds us that Pentecost was  a harvest festival -- and such is the case with that first Day of Pentecost.  The reading from Galatians 3 reminds us that the Spirit of God comes to us as a gift.  We don't own the Spirit, control the Spirit, or even deserve it -- it is, after all a gift of gra…

The Rule of Faith and the Canon

One of the big ideas of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code concerned the canon of Scripture.  He picked up on a popular idea that Constantine brought to an end a free-flowing Christianity and imposed a certain orthodoxy on the church -- including a New Testament canon.  The truth is, that "official" list had been in the process of development for some time.  In fact, Marcion's attempt to create a canon served as the real impetus -- and his canon was much smaller than that embraced by the wider church.  In large part that was due to a strong anti-Judaism present in his theology and much of Gnostic thought.
So, how do you decide what belongs in this listing of authoritative books?  The early Christian leaders turned to a number of criteria, including apostolic authorship and perceived age.  Of course, since many documents claimed to be early and of apostolic origin, that proved insufficient.  Thus, creedal formulations began to emerge -- what have come to be known as the Rule …

Into Glory -- Lectionary Reading for Easter 7A/Ascension Sunday

John 17:1-11  (NRSV) 17 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people,[a] to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not askin…

Strangers and Pilgrims Once More (Addison Hodges Hart) -- Review

STRANGERS AND PILGRIMS ONCE MORE: Being Disciples of Jesus in a Post-Christendom World.  By Addison Hodges Hart.  Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.  148 pages.

AWhat does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus in a post-Christendom world?  This is a question that Christians living in the West are being forced to ask, because the old age of Christendom is crashing down around us.  This is happening whether we like it or not, and we’re past the point of no return.  We can try doing CPR on the old cultural and societal foundations of a “Christian civilization,” but the body is dead.  For many in our midst this is a crushing blow, and the grief is strong.  Others among us are cheering – either because they despised a Christianized civilization or because they deplored a Constantinian Christianity. 
Addison Hodges Hart, a retired pastor and college chaplain, as well as the author of the recently published The Ox-Herder and the Good Shepherd: Finding Christ on the Buddha's …

A Good Witness -- A sermon for Easter 6A

1 Peter 3:13-22

What makes for a good witness?  From Perry Mason to Law and Order, a good witness is one who promises to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, usually with the help of God. 
According to Peter, a good witness is one who gives an account “for the hope that is in you,” and to do so with “gentleness and reverence.”  This witness will be given even the face of suffering.  
As is often the case in Scripture, Peter tells his readers not to be afraid or intimidated by those who would oppose them.  Simply do what is right before God and you will be blessed.  Peter then points to Jesus, who endured suffering, died, but then God raised him from the dead and seated him at God’s right hand so that the one who was judged will sit in the judgment seat.  
Few Christians living in the United States have any need to fear suffering for our faith.  We might experience some inconveniences at times.  And, if you’re a pastor, some people believe that you will put a damper on a party. …

First Things -- Paul's Creed

Earlier this week I wrote a post that suggested that it might be valuable for us to consider the witness of the early creeds.   In making this suggestion, I was in no way implying that we should make creedal formulations tests of fellowship.  At the same time, I am concerned that one of the reasons why progressive churches are struggling is that we do not know how to speak our faith -- and that starts in the pulpit.  While I affirm the premise that the first witness we must make involves the way we live our lives, having the ability to say why we live the way we do is important.  Can God-talk get in the way of doing what is good and right?  Perhaps, but it's not necessary.  
Since my denominational tradition sees itself as non-creedal (we require only that one make the Good Confession -- Matthew 16:16),, but has historically sought to root itself in the biblical witness, perhaps we should start with the creedal statements found in scripture.  One of the clearest and earliest summar…

Blood Doctrine (Christian Piatt) -- A Review

BLOOD DOCTRINE: A Novel.  By Christian Piatt.  Portland:  Square Core Media/ Samizdat Creative.  186 pages.
Reviewing a piece of fiction is not easy, especially when you’re used to reading and reviewing non-fiction works.  This is just a feeling, but reading fiction is a more subjective experience.  You know what you like – genre wise – and that influences the way you read and respond.  I enjoy mysteries and science fiction, and I’m a theologian.  So, when you bring these together I’m happy.  At the same time, I tend to become anxious about the theological elements of a book that delves into theology.  I can become overly critical and miss the point of the book.   Oh, and you have to deal with the question of how much plot to reveal in the review!  If you like to go into a novel knowing little about the book you might want to wait, but if you'd like a little introduction keep reading.  I'll try to offer my reflections without ruining the joy of reading it.
            With that…

Good Lifts Us Up -- Alternative Lectionary for Easter 7/Ascension Sunday

The Easter Journey is coming to an end.  Over the course of seven Sundays we have contemplated the ongoing presence of Jesus.  But as the Gospel reading reminds us -- it is time for Jesus to complete his journey.  It is time for his ascension.  John doesn't have an ascension story like that found in Luke/Acts, but he is clear about there being both presence and absence, and we should not be afraid.  In these texts  chosen by David Ackerman for his alternative Beyond the Lectionarywe explore images of rescue (Jeremiah) and ultimate glory (Revelation).  John on the other hand seems to be a bit coy about his plans -- at least among those not ready to head his message.  The question then for us -- are we ready to receive the message, or we live in denial -- as was true for the advisers of King Zedekiah?

Easter 7/Ascension Sunday
“God Lifts Us Up”
Call to Worship:  Psalm 142
One:  With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my vice I make supplication to the Lord.  I pour o…