Showing posts from January, 2015

Why Talk about Evolution in Church? Creation and Christianity

Why talk about evolution in Church? Why not? If evolutionary theory poses a challenge to the Christian faith and our understanding of God, wouldn't it be dereliction of duty for a preacher not to talk about it from the pulpit. This is especially true at a time when science as a discipline is being called into question by religious people. I'm not a scientist. I'm a theologian and a pastor. There is much about science I don't understand, but I can't run from it. So, here is the fourth and final video excerpt from my conversation about such matters with fellow authors from Energion Publications. I invite you view all four and ponder the message. I also invite you to purchase and read my book Worshiping with Charles Darwin, (Energion, 2013).  Finally, I invite you to participate in the annual Evolution Weekend sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project.  That event is observed on the weekend closest to Darwin's birthday. I should note here that this will be …

Beware the God of the Gaps -- Creation and Christianity

For the past several centuries, Christian theology has seemingly been on the run from science. We try to stay a step ahead of science by filling in the gaps with God.  But it doesn't seem to work. This is the third of four responses to questions on Creation and Christianity that I gave as part of a panel of authors from Energion Publications.  I invite you to check out all of them.  This video addresses specifically the question of God and the Gaps.  I also invite you to check out my book that emerged out of my participation in the Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday.  It is entitled: Worshiping with Charles Darwin(Energion, 2013).

God Is Continually Creating

If we assume that evolutionary theory, which itself is continually being updated, tells us how the universe came into existence and developed over time, where does God fit? In this second except from a larger conversation about Creation and Christianity hosted by Henry Neufeld, the Publisher/Owner of Energion Publications, I add my thoughts on the idea that God is engaged in continual creation. Rather than taking Genesis 1 as one off event, might we see it as an invitation to consider how God continues to be engaged in the act of creation?
My involvement in the conversation stems from my involvement in the Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Sunday (now at ten years) and the publication in 2013 of my book Worshiping with Charles Darwin(Energion, 2013). 

Why Celebrate Evolution Sunday?

Can one believe in evolution and be a Christian?  Indeed, can churches set aside a Sunday each year with the express purpose of highlighting the compatibility of a rich and deep faith in God with an acceptance of the validity of the theory of evolution?  Here is my answer as shared in a conversation set up by the publisher of my book Worshiping with Charles Darwin, (Energion, 2013).  
Evolution Sunday (Evolution Weekend) is an outreach effort sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project, 2015 marks the tenth anniversary of this effort, which I've been part of from the very beginning.  
This is the first of four excerpts, which I invite you to consider what it means to worship God in the company of Charles Darwin.  

True Authority -- Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 4B

Mark 1:21-28 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He[a] commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
                Fred Craddock titled one of his books on preaching As One Without AuthorityIt is a book that explores indu…

RHYTHMS OF WORSHIP (Stevens and Waschevski) -- Review

RHYTHMS OF WORSHIP: The Planning and Purpose of LiturgyBy John G. Stevens and Michael Waschevski.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.  Xiii + 76 pages.
Christian worship comes in many different forms and styles. It can be rich and luxurious or austere. It can be joyful or somber. It takes on different guises in different eras. The Liturgical Renewal Movement, which burst forth from Vatican II and the ecumenical conversations of the Consultation on Church Union in the 1960s led to significant changes in both Roman Catholic and Protestant worship. On top of that the Charismatic Movement brought into the mainstream the exuberant worship of Pentecostalism. Added to that was more attentiveness to ethnic varieties. Then there is the whole discussion about music – whether we should go with praise bands or stick with the organ (as if every church had an organ a generation ago).  The result is that today there has been much cross-pollination and more diversity than ever. So, what…

Post-Christian Book Tour -- Christian Piatt in Metro-Detroit

It Begins Today, so join us if you can:  
Metro-Detroit Event – January 25-26, 2015 Author and thought leader among the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Piatt will be visiting Metro-Detroit on the weekend of January 25-26. Hosted by Central Woodward and First Presbyterian Church of Troy, there will be several opportunities to hear and engage with Christian on the question of the future of Christianity in what has come to be known as a “post-Christian age.” CHRISTIAN PIATT is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. Piatt has been featured on NPR's Morning EditionThe Washington PostHuffington Post, and Sojourners. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of the Banned Questions book series, including Banned Questions About the Bible andBanned Questions About Jesus.
Meet with Christian Piatt at these events: ·        Preaching             January 25, 2015 – 10:…

Relevancy of the Trinity?

Christians have traditionally named God as Trinity -- One substance, three persons. In the Creeds we name God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we have seen the masculine nature of this confession poses certain problems, especially if these names are taken literally -- so that God is literally a father and literally a son, with the Holy Spirit's nature a bit ambiguous. Some attempts at reimagining the Trinity have either left us with a modalistic vision (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer) or perhaps more often with Tritheism (three gods).  Perhaps because we struggle with naming God, the Trinity slips into irrelevancy for most Christians.

Remembering Marcus Borg

By now many readers of this blog will have heard through social media that Marcus Borg died on Wednesday.  He was only 72, but apparently died after a lengthy illness.  Like many I have found Borg to be an important companion in my faith journey, even if I often disagreed with his methodology and sometimes his conclusions.  From my own readings and through conversations with those who knew him well, I discerned him to be a man of faith, a man of humility, and a man of compassion.  
I have read many of his books, and have offered reviews of many of them (just search for them on the blog).  I first encountered him during the early 90s. I made use of his books while teaching at Manhattan Christian College -- a rather conservative institution.  I was offering a senior seminar on Jesus (I was going to say Jesus Seminar, but didn't want to confuse things) to Topeka to watch via video the proceedings of the "Jesus at 2000" conference, which Borg organized and appeared in.  I a…

Wounded By Truth--Healed By Love (David Cartwright) -- Review

WOUNDED BY TRUTH - HEALED BY LOVE: Reflections on the Paradoxical Teachings of Jesus By David R. Cartwright. Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2014. Ix + 110 pages.
The teachings of Jesus are not always easy to understand.  It’s not just the chronological distance between our age and the first century. Even the disciples of Jesus struggled to comprehend what he had to say. It’s not so much what he had to say as to the implications of what he taught. He often challenged cherished understandings of reality and even what many would call “common sense” reasoning.
Preachers, like me, often struggle with the question of how to engage the texts in ways that are true to its message while communicating that message in a new and different context. Because Jesus’ teachings are in the words from the title often paradoxical, they can be and often are manipulated by preachers who seek to support their agenda by claiming Jesus’ support. I probably am guilty of this myself, though I try to rest…

Theology Come of Age

At its base, theology is simply God-Talk. It is the process by which we seek to speak of the incomprehensible God. Throughout human history we as a species have tried to picture God so that we might control God. We create idols and place them in our human built temples (both ancient and modern) so that we might own them. By owning them, we can get whatever they stand for to do our bidding.  But is it not time to grow up, to come of age, and let go of this need to control the divine?  
I raise the topic in response to an important message from Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ, whose book She Who Is I have been reading and interacting with on the blog and in sermons.  With a sermon upcoming on the first Sunday of February that will consider the nature of God's revelation as embodied, I want to share this word from  Elizabeth Johnson.
Theology will have come of age when the particularity that is highlighted is not Jesus' historical sex but the scandal of his option for the poor and marg…

Gathering Kingdom Preachers --Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 3B

Mark 1:14-20 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

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.”16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

                The story is told, perhaps it’s apocryphal, that my grandmother spotted me preaching in my crib, and she told my mother that I would grow up to be a preacher.  While I spent my youth as first an acolyte and …

Remembering Martin Luther King

Across the nation there are those who are stopping to remember an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.  I use the word icon intentionally.  The Civil Rights Movement is broader than Dr. King, but he gave voice to the movement in a way that caught the ears of the nation.  His assassination at the age of 39 helped cement his status as symbol of a movement that transformed the American psyche. He played a significant role in the passage of two key pieces of legislation that guaranteed certain rights that had been previously denied to people of color, but it took a willing partner in President Johnson and leaders in Congress to make that happen.  With the election of President Obama, some in the United States felt they could declared Dr. King's dream fulfilled.  But, in the years since President Obama's election we have discovered that such a declaration of victory was much too premature.  
On this Day of observance of Dr. King's Birth, let us not forget that the journey is not…

Perfect Love Embodied -- Speaking of God Sermon Series

1 John 4:7-12

When I was in high school, we often sang a song in Bible study that drew from the Song of Solomon.  It went like this:
I am my beloved’s, and he is mine.
His banner over me is Love. (Song of Songs 6:3; 2:4)

Who is the beloved whose banner over me is love? If you read the Song of Solomon in a straightforward way, you’ll discover that this is a most explicit love song. But, down through the ages, Christians have read this song allegorically to describe Christ’s relationship with the church. Christ is the Beloved, and those over whom the banner of love flies belongs to him.     
In one of the weddings at which I officiated, the Scripture text was taken from the Song of Solomon. Among the words shared that day were these:

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. 
Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it 
(Song of Songs 8:6-7).

Two people in …

Jesus' Identity in a Multi-Polar Anthropology

In a previous posting I raised the question of Jesus' maleness and what that said about God.  I made She Who Is, I am currently reading.
use of the reflections on this matter made by Elizabeth Johnson. I want to press beyond this just a bit in a brief posting, again making reference to the work of Elizabeth Johnson, whose book
In a chapter in the book entitled "Jesus-Sophia," Johnson makes the point that while the New Testament speaks of Jesus both in terms of Word (logos) and Wisdom (Sophia), we have chosen to emphasize the incarnation of Logos (John 1:14) while pushing aside the witness to Jesus as Wisdom incarnate as well.  As Paul proclaims, Christ is both the "power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24).  
Moving further, regarding the question of whether maleness is determinative of Christness, Johnson suggests the adoption of a multi-polar anthropology that moves beyond the male-female dualism that we use to define humanity.  We are male an…

God, the Christ, and the Maleness of Jesus

As a Christian, I am by definition a follower of Jesus the Christ. With Peter, I confess him to be the Christ/Messiah and the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16).  Whatever else I might believe, it is filtered through this confession.
When speaking of Jesus I have in mind a particular person who hailed from the Galilean village of Nazareth and was born and lived and died as a Jewish man.  He lived in a particular part of the world in a very specific age in history. His cultural and social realities were very different from my own.  Despite the differences in culture and context, I look to him for a revelation of who God might be.  After all, John declares that the Word of God has taken on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).  
As I'm considering the question of the ways in which we speak of God (for we cannot fully know God in God's essence, which is mystery), I have to take into consideration the images and analogies that we use to speak of the unspeakable.  One of the qu…

Jesus Christ (Alister McGrath) -- A Review

JESUS CHRIST: A Guide for Study and Devotion (The Heart of Christian Faith) By Alister E. McGrath. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.  IX + 117 pages.
                “Who do you say that I am?” asked Jesus. Peter answered: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Whatever it means to be a Christian, Peter’s confession factors in as the central confession of faith. While Christians believe many different things, there is a common consensus that Jesus is at the center. Of course, that simple statement offered by Peter offers plenty of room for interpretation.
                Many a Christian theologian (professional or not) have offered a take on the question of who this Jesus might be. He could be a prophet, a healer, a good and decent man, a teacher, or the very incarnation of God. Among those who would want to lift up the premise that Jesus is the incarnation of God, who has revealed the true identity of God in his life, is Alister McGrath, And…

Come and See -- Lectionary Reflection for Epiphany 2B

John 1:43-51 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opene…

Analogies, Metaphors and the Incomprehensible God

How do we speak of God?  That is the question I'm asking in a series of sermons during this season sermon that began with "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and finished with a conversation about feminist theology.  Together with the sermon I've been posting pieces on our God-Talk, and will continue doing so over the next few weeks.
of Epiphany.  
In this posting I want to raise the question of theological language.  If God is incomprehensible -- that is, we do not have access to God in God's essence.  However, God is not without witnesses.  We see God in God's effects.  God has left us clues that allow us to envision God.  It is important that we acknowledge that we cannot speak in a univocal manner.  Whatever words and images we use are not one and the same as God.  Nor are left with ambiguous/equivocal language.  But we can use analogy and metaphor to speak of God in a way that is sensible and comprehensible.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (Speaking of God Sermon Series #1)

Luke 12:4-7

Several decades before the American Revolution, a preacher got up to preach a sermon that has lived on in infamy.  Some of you may have read it as a high school student.  Perhaps you liked what you read, but I expect that it didn’t resonate with most of you. That preacher was named Jonathan Edwards and the context was the First Great Awakening that shook the American colonies in the 1740s.  It was titled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
You might think that a sermon like this was preached by a backwoods fire and brimstone preacher.  The fact is, the person who delivered this sermon is one of America’s greatest intellects.  It was an expression of a revival that swept New England, dividing the region’s Congregationalists into Old Lights and New Lights.   The question of the day was whether the people and even their spiritual leaders were actually Christians.  Although Jonathan Edwards did speak of God’s mercy, what we remember is the description of God’s wrath and judg…

More God Talk

I am about to begin a series of sermons that focus on God?  Why am I doing this?  Shouldn't I assume that we're all on the same page when we come to church and talk about God?  Well, the fact is, we don't all come with the same conceptions of God.  We bring to church a variety of conceptions, many of which we developed when we were children, perhaps inheriting from our parents.  There is a reason why I'm starting out my series of sermons with a reflection on Jonathan Edwards's infamous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" -- you'll have to check that out tomorrow after it's posted.  There is also a reason why we'll sing the hymns "Immortal, Invisible, Only Wise God" (I thought about "A Mighty Fortress") and Ruth Duck's "Womb of Life, and Source of Being."
In preparing for this series I've been reading a variety of books, including Catherine Mowry LaCunga's God for Us: The Trinity and Christia…

MEETING GOD IN MARK: Reflections for the Season of Lent. (Rowan Williams) -- A Review

MEETING GOD IN MARK: Reflections for the Season of LentBy Rowan Williams. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.  IX + 86 pages. 

The Gospel of Mark is the briefest of the four canonical Gospels. It begins suddenly with an account of the ministry of John the Baptizer, who has been called by God in the Wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. His ministry culminates in the baptism of Jesus, who comes to the Jordan from Nazareth in Galilee.  The Gospel ends with an equally sudden visit to an empty tomb by Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, who see a young man at the entrance of the tomb, and then flee.  Mark has neither an infancy narrative nor resurrection appearances. It has few accounts Jesus’ teaching ministry, and focuses a third of its length on the passion narrative – a larger portion than any of the other Gospels.   So what do we make of this Gospel?  It is sparse and direct.  It has never had the popularity of Matthew and Luke, whose Gospels seem …


FEASTING ON THE WORD LENTEN COMPANION: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship.  Edited by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long.   Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.  Xi + 300 pages.

                The Lenten season, like the season of Advent, carries with it a certain penitential and introspective sense.  It is a season of fasting and prayer (even if we don’t all give something up, we understand that the season itself follows Jesus’ forty day sojourn in the wilderness, where he fasted and faced temptation).   However we choose to observe it, the season is an important part of the journey toward Easter.  Without it Easter comes off as merely a nice spring festival (at least in the northern hemisphere).
                The Revised Common Lectionary offers the preacher a set of texts that are designed to lift up relevant themes for Lent, beginning with Jesus’ time in the wilderness.  But, the RCL is not the only place to find relevant t…

Exceptionalism -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Everyone likes to think that they are exceptional or part of something exceptional.  Americans tend to think of their country (my country) as being exceptional.  Why is that?  What should we make of it?  Martin Marty interacts with an essay by William Galston at the Wall Street Journal that suggests that at the heart of this sense of exceptionalism is Christianity.  It's not because it is state established, but because it is chosen.  Marty note that part of the conversation however is the navigation between religious and secular concerns, and the ability to listen to all sides.  I invite you to read and consider and offer your thoughts.

Exceptionalismby MARTIN E. MARTY
Monday | Jan 5 2015                                                                                                              Image: Maria Dryfhout / ShutterstockFlashback: 75-plus years ago, growing up in Nebraska, my friends and I looked for something that might give us any kind of bragging ri…