Thursday, October 19, 2017

Saved by Faith and Hospitality (Joshua Jipp) -- A Review

SAVED BY FAITH AND HOSPITALITY. By Joshua W. Jipp. Foreword by Christine D. Pohl. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Xiii + 206 pages.

Sola Fide!  The declaration that we are saved by faith alone has been one of the hallmarks of the Protestant tradition. There has long been an aversion to “works righteousness,” but this too often has led to what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Perhaps, in our time, there is a need to reclaim a fuller biblical vision of salvation, one that is not merely individualistic, but that engages all of life, here on this planet. So, perhaps we would be well-served to speak of being saved by faith and “hospitality.” Such is the premise of Joshua Jipp’s profound and prophetic book.

Hospitality is a central theme in the biblical story, for good and for ill. Abraham and Sarah were commended for showing hospitality to the three strangers at the Oaks of Mamre, while the peole of Sodom and Gomorrah became known for their violent response to the strangers who came to their own community. Jesus' own ministry was defined by his Table Fellowship. Even when he was a guest, he became host. It was in the breaking of bread at Emmaus that the two disciples recognized him. Paul gave instructions to the church of Corinth so that they might show proper hospitality to all members, no matter their social class or gender. In Saved by Faith and Hospitality, Joshua Jipp, a New Testament scholar who teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, speaks to this core theme, shedding light upon it in a powerful way. Thus, he has written an inspiring treatise for the church in our times. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Killing Religion? -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

We've heard much about the disaffiliation of millennials from organized religion. Some have chosen to blame higher education. College professors, we're told, are out to destroy the faith of unsuspecting students. But is this true? Does college destroy faith? Or, could it be, that decisions about religious affiliation is made long before one enters college? This is the conversation that Martin Marty takes up. Apparently, scholarly studies suggest that college does little to affect religion. Instead, it lies dormant waiting to be awakened. This is an interesting piece, worth examining. I should note the reference here to the difference between attendance at a religious community growing up among Baby Boomers and Millennials. We Baby Boomers, it seems, did grow up going to church. We just didn't take our kids with the same regularity. Could that be a key difference? Take and read and respond.

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Killing Religion?
By MARTIN E. MARTY   October 16, 2017
Three famed former faculty members of the Divinity School: Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), Jerald C. Brauer (1921-1999), Paul Tillich (1886-1965) | Credit: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf1-05444], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library
 “College Professors Aren’t Killing Religion” reads a recent headline, whose claim is qualified by its subhead: “But college degrees certainly aren’t helping.” Daniel Cox “[f]iled under Religion” at FiveThirtyEight (October 10, 2017) to tell us this. He dealt with attacks by someone named Donald Trump Jr. from a speech at “an Alabama university.” Cox recognizes that many “claim that a college education adversely affects religiosity,” but points out that “[t]hough the U.S. is becoming less religious, college curricula have little or nothing to do with it.” He cites surveys about the decline in American religion and presents evidence that “[m]ost young people who wind up leaving their religious commitments do so before ever stepping foot on campus.” Further, “[r]eligious attendance is also falling precipitously among incoming students” (emphasis mine).

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Face to Face with God - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 20A (Exodus 33)

Exodus 33:12-23 Common English Bible (CEB)
12 Moses said to the Lord, “Look, you’ve been telling me, ‘Lead these people forward.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. Yet you’ve assured me, ‘I know you by name and think highly of you.’ 13 Now if you do think highly of me, show me your ways so that I may know you and so that you may really approve of me. Remember too that this nation is your people.” 
14 The Lord replied, “I’ll go myself, and I’ll help you.” 
15 Moses replied, “If you won’t go yourself, don’t make us leave here. 16 Because how will anyone know that we have your special approval, both I and your people, unless you go with us? Only that distinguishes us, me and your people, from every other people on the earth.” 
17 The Lord said to Moses, “I’ll do exactly what you’ve asked because you have my special approval, and I know you by name.” 
18 Moses said, “Please show me your glorious presence.” 
19 The Lord said, “I’ll make all my goodness pass in front of you, and I’ll proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord.’ I will be kind to whomever I wish to be kind, and I will have compassion to whomever I wish to be compassionate.20 But,” the Lord said, “you can’t see my face because no one can see me and live.” 21 The Lord said, “Here is a place near me where you will stand beside the rock. 22 As my glorious presence passes by, I’ll set you in a gap in the rock, and I’ll cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. 23 Then I’ll take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face won’t be visible.”
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                While Moses was up on the mountain conversing with God, Aaron created a golden calf so that the people of Israel could see and touch their God. They felt alone and abandoned and needed something tangible to go before them. They did have a party, but things didn’t go well afterward. God had given a set of rules that forbade the creation of images. They broke the law and it appears that God was ready to destroy the people and start over with a new covenant people.  When Moses went down to check things out, he was carrying the tablets of stone upon which was written the commands. Moses was so horrified, that he dropped the tablets, breaking them. Moses found himself in a difficult position. He had to plead with God not to destroy God’s people, even as he had to regain control of a people who were running wild.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Path of Christianity (John Anthony McGuckin) -- A Review

THE PATH OFCHRISTIANITY: The First Thousand Years. By John Anthony McGuckin. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017. Xviii + 1207 pages.

The history of Christianity is filled twists and turns that need to be documented, explored, and interpreted. One cannot understand church history outside the flow of history itself, because every religious act occurs within the broad stream of world history. That means even those of us who approach the history of Christianity from within, may believe that God’s providence plays a role in the story, but we still use the same principles and tools that any historian might use.  As a church historian myself, I appreciate those persons who write from within the faith community, but also have an appreciation for the complexity of the story and take their task as a historian seriously. Such is the case here with The Path of Christianity, written by John Anthony McGuckin.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Disciples Witness - A Sermon


John 8:31-36

What does it mean to be a Disciples of Christ Church in Michigan in the 21st Century? Who are we as a people, and what is our witness? I must confess that I am not a lifelong Disciple. My faith journey began in the Episcopal Church and it took a few twists and turns before the Spirit led me to a community of Christians that prizes unity, freedom, and the life of the mind. In the years that I’ve been a Disciple, I’ve come to believe that we have an important witness to share. I’d like to share a few words this morning about our witness as a community of faith. I’ll begin with our witness in unity, and then move to our witness in freedom and covenant. 
  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality (Tim Stead) - Review

MINDFULNESS AND CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY: Making Space for God. By Tim Stead. Foreword by Eden Koz. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. Xvi + 144 pages.

                How do we make space for God? Most of us living in the Western world always seem to be on the run. Americans are known for their “doing” not their “being.” As for Christians, it has been said that most of us are “practical atheists.” We say we believe in God, but we operate without giving much thought to God. I must confess, I am guilty of this myself, and I am a religious professional. So, how do we make space for God? What disciplines might help us focus our lives better?

                Although the practice of "mindfulness" is often seen as a Buddhist practice, many Christians have found that the principles of “mindfulness” can be of help to the spiritual life. It can help us make space for God. Tim Stead, an Anglican priest, serving a congregation in Oxford that once welcomed C.S. Lewis a member, has written a helpful guide to the use of “mindfulness” within the Christian community. He acknowledges the Buddhist connections, but suggests that many of the principles of “mindfulness” are deeply rooted in Christianity. Even as he is an Anglican priest, he is a teacher of mindfulness for the Christian community.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Who Is God? Part 2 - A Disciple Conversation about God's Triune Nature

Today, I am sharing part two of a two-part conversation about the nature of God. I take up what might be controversial in Disciples circles --- the doctrine of the Trinity. We are not of one mind on this topic, but the majority of our ecumenical partners embrace it. So, it's important that we be conversant. I will state up front that I am a Trinitarian, so much of what I share below reflects my own perspectives. I invite your contributions to the conversation. For that is what this is intended to be, a conversation starter about the key elements of Christian theology. 

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                The Christian understanding of God has been largely defined in Trinitarian terms.  The Trinity is the way in which most Christians have named God.  We maybe monotheistic, but Judaism and Islam have a much more consistent and narrow understanding of monotheism. While the majority of Christian traditions are Trinitarian, the Disciples have been largely ambivalent about the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, as Ronald Osborn notes:
The Disciples regarded themselves as neither Trinitarian nor Unitarian.  Alexander Campbell would not use the term Trinitarian because it did not appear in scripture.  He even changed one line in the great Trinitarian hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” so that instead of saying “God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” people would sing, “God over all, and blest eternally. [ Ronald Osborn, TheFaith We Affirm: Basic Beliefs of Disciples of Christ, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1979), p. 52.]
One could say that among Disciples affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity is not a test of fellowship.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Make gods to lead us - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 19A (Exodus)


 Exodus 32:1-14 Common English Bible (CEB)
32 The people saw that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come on! Make us gods who can lead us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t have a clue what has happened to him.” 
Aaron said to them, “All right, take out the gold rings from the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took out the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He collected them and tied them up in a cloth. Then he made a metal image of a bull calf, and the people declared, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 
When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf. Then Aaron announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!” They got up early the next day and offered up entirely burned offerings and brought well-being sacrifices. The people sat down to eat and drink and then got up to celebrate. 
The Lord spoke to Moses: “Hurry up and go down! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, are ruining everything! They’ve already abandoned the path that I commanded. They have made a metal bull calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it and declared, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I’ve been watching these people, and I’ve seen how stubborn they are. 10 Now leave me alone! Let my fury burn and devour them. Then I’ll make a great nation out of you.”  
11 But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, “Lord, why does your fury burn against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and amazing force? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He had an evil plan to take the people out and kill them in the mountains and so wipe them off the earth’? Calm down your fierce anger. Change your mind about doing terrible things to your own people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, whom you yourself promised, ‘I’ll make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky. And I’ve promised to give your descendants this whole land to possess for all time.’” 14 Then the Lord changed his mind about the terrible things he said he would do to his people.

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                Many of us are visual people. We need to see it to believe it. Moses may have seen the burning bush, but the rest of the people only saw Yahweh through the eyes of Moses. Now, Moses seemed to have disappeared. He had gone up the mountain to talk with God once again, but hadn’t returned, so the people became afraid. They needed something to reassure them that God was with them on this journey from slavery to a new life in the Promised Land. Yes, they had experienced God’s provisions, but how long would they last without some sense of guidance. What they needed, or so they thought, was a visual image of Yahweh. They needed tangible proof that God was with them. So, they asked Aaron, the brother of Moses, to create an image of Yahweh. Aaron, seemingly without giving any thought to the matter, agreed. Aaron instructed the men of the community to gather gold rings from their wives, sons, and daughters. He told them to bring these items to him, so he could create an image that would serve to reassure the people that the LORD was with them. He created a golden bull calf from the gold he collected, set up an altar on which he sets the image, and then tells the people—here is the Lord who led you out of Egypt. Yes, this golden calf is Yahweh, or so Aaron wanted to believe.  

Monday, October 09, 2017

Who Is God? Reflections for Disciples - Part 1 (Nature of God)

This week, as part of my effort to stimulate theological conversation among Disciples, I post the first of two reflections on the nature of God. I wanted to put forth some foundational issues, and will follow up later with a conversation about the Trinity. It should be noted that the Preamble to the Design places the conversation about God after the statement about Jesus, signalling that one encounters God first of all through the encounter with Jesus. But, with that said, who is God?

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                Having attended to the one Christians affirm as revealing the face of God, the person of Jesus the Christ, we come to the question asked for millennia: “Who is God?”  It is a question that has been pondered by many, with many an answer offered.  The answers include "the ground of being" (Tillich), the "soul of the universe" (pantheists), and “unmoved mover" (Aristotle). For some God is wholly other, distant and transcendent. For others, God is close at hand, immanent and relational. In popular culture, God is often referred to as the “Man Upstairs,” an image that conjures in our minds the picture of an old man with a long white beard. On the other hand, one can refer to God as the “womb of being.” While it’s quite understandable, we tend to envision God in our own image, with human traits and characteristics. 

                While Disciples, as a rule, do not treat the Preamble to the Design as a creedal statement, it does offer a confession of faith God, who is described as “maker of heaven and earth.” We are bound to this God and to each other through a covenant of love. Disciples traditionally look to the witness of scripture to discern the nature and character of God. While eschewing official creeds, the way Disciples understand God has been influenced by church tradition as well as philosophical insight. Many of our foundational beliefs have been influenced by Greek philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle. Many of the terms we use to describe God come from these philosophical traditions, terms like omnipotence, omniscience, possibility/impassibility. Each generation of theologians has engaged the philosophical systems of the day.  In other words, there is no purely New Testament understanding of God to be had.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Fruit of the Realm - A Sermon for Pentecost 18A

Matthew 21:33-46

Once again we find Jesus in the Temple. It’s Holy Week. Good Friday is on the horizon. We listen as Jesus continues to describe the realm of God through parables. Last Sunday we heard Jesus tell the parable of two brothers. One brother told his father he would go work in the vineyard, but never did. The other resisted, but finally went off to work. Which of the brothers did the will of the father, who asked them to tend the vineyard? Jesus then told another parable of the vineyard. In this parable, a landowner planted a vineyard and then rented it out, hoping to reap a profit from the renters’ produce. Unfortunately, when the time came to collect this produce, the renters violently resisted these efforts. Finally, in desperation, the landowners sent his son, hoping they would respect him. Instead of respecting the son, they decided to kill him and try to take his inheritance. How do you think the landowner will respond? Won’t the landowner respond in kind by punishing those who resisted? 

I expect that many of us struggle with the idea of divine judgment. It doesn’t fit our vision of a loving and merciful God. Yet, here we have a parable of divine judgment. God’s realm will be taken from the original renters and given to others who will produce good fruit for the realm. Those who reject the cornerstone of the realm of God, will be crushed on it. 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Freud and Other “God-Killers” Are Here to Stay - Sightings (Martin Marty)

Over the past two centuries a number of "God-killers" have arisen. They have challenged our belief systems. Over time we have discovered that there are holes in their visions, but these people or their identities don't go away. Freud might be a problematic figure, but he remains a point of debate to this day. The same is true of Darwin and Marx and Nietzsche, among others. Martin Marty takes up the topic in this week's Sightings post. He speaks of the need to engage critically, finding those places that provide fruitful conversation. I tried to do this very thing with Darwin in my book Worshiping with Charles Darwin.  I invite you to enter into the conversation with the "God-Killers," but do so with care!

                                                                                            
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Freud and Other “God-Killers” Are Here to Stay
By MARTIN E. MARTY   October 2, 2017
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Austrian psychoanalyst, in his office in Vienna, ca. 1930.
Darwin-Marx-Nietzsche-Freud—dubbable, and sometimes dubbed, “the four bearded god-killers”—who framed now-classic, career-long attacks on God and gods and religion and religions, enjoy and suffer successions of varying critical fates. We will save Nietzsche and his “death of God” for some future column. What prompts this week’s look at these titans is the headline—typical of many in recent weeks—“Why the Freud Wars Will Never End” in The Wall Street Journal. In a recommendable review by Adam Kirsch, Frederick Crews’s Freud: The Making of an Illusion and its subject’s ever-changing fate get full attention.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Christological Titles and their Meaning for Disciples of Christ

Note: This is part 2 of a chapter on Christology, which forms a chapter of a book on theology for Disciples that I have been writing for a number of years. I offer this and the other posts as a way of encouraging theological conversation among Disciples, but also across the Christian community and beyond.

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            Being that the Disciples have always focused on the biblical testimony, it would be helpful to consider the titles given to Jesus in the biblical text. As we ponder these titles we can ask what they say to us about who Jesus might be for us.

                Christ/Messiah

            The Greek word Christos is simply the equivalent of the Hebrew word masiah (anointed).  This word has a variety of meanings that refer to one who is anointed.  During the period following the Jewish Babylonian exile, the term Messiah took on a new identity.  It expressed the hope that Davidic monarchy might be restored (Hag 2:20-23; Zech 9:9-10; 12:7-13:1). Even here there seems to be some diversity of understanding.  The community of Qumran, the home of the Dead Sea Scrolls, appears to have expected two "anointed ones," one apparently royal and the other priestly, with the latter outranking the former. While there are a variety of images available the primary focus was on deliverance of the Jews from Gentile domination.  

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Covenant Rules - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecoste 18A (Exodus 20)


Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 Common English Bible (CEB)20 Then God spoke all these words: 
2 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 
3 You must have no other gods before me.
4 Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.
7 Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.
8 Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks,
12 Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 Do not kill.
14 Do not commit adultery.
15 Do not steal.
16 Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.
17 Do not desire your neighbor’s house. Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
 
18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the horn, and the mountain smoking, the people shook with fear and stood at a distance. 19 They said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die.” 
20 Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid, because God has come only to test you and to make sure you are always in awe of God so that you don’t sin.”
 
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                God is not my buddy. We need not be afraid of God, but we should stand in awe. Maybe it would be better to kneel or lay prostrate before God, our Creator. Be in awe of God, Moses declares, so that you don’t sin. What does this mean?  How does this call for us not to sin relate to God’s covenant with Israel? How does it relate to me, a Christian? In this reading from Exodus, designated for the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, the covenant-making God sets forth some rules that should define the relationship between God and God’s covenant partners.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Jesus for Disciples of Christ

For Christians, God’s identity is revealed in the person of Jesus. He is the one who defines for us God’s nature and purpose.  He is, the “human face of God,” or in John’s reflections, he is the Word of God incarnate. One might expect to find a discussion of the nature of God to precede a discussion of Jesus and his identity. But this placement isn’t unique. The Preamble to the Design, a brief confessional statement that introduces the governing document of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) begins with the confession that Jesus is the Christ. In the Preamble, we hear these words of confession:
We confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God,and proclaim him Lord and Savior of the World . . .
Through baptism into Christ we enter into newness of lifeand are made one with the whole people of God.

Therefore, question for Disciples is this: Who is this Jesus whom we confess to be the Christ, the Son of Living God, and our Lord and Savior? 

Sunday, October 01, 2017

By What Authority? A Sermon for Pentecost 17A


Matthew 21:23-32

Aimee Semple McPherson was a famous Pentecostal evangelist during the first half of the 20th century. I love talking about her because she was a pioneer in so many ways. I might not agree with her theology or her politics, but I have always admired her persistence in answering a call to ministry when very few women were given permission to preach. Not only did she preach, but she launched a radio station in the early days of radio, a denomination, and a college. When the religious authorities questioned her right to preach, and demanded she show them her “credentials,” she simply responded that God had called her, the Spirit had empowered her, and she had no choice but to preach. If the religious authorities had a problem with her call, then they should take up their concerns with God. 

After Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday to shouts of adoration from the crowd, he went to the Temple and began to teach and to heal. The religious leaders approached him and asked for his credentials to preach and teach. By what authority have you taken up residence in this holy Temple? 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Nonwhitesome Mormons - Sightings (Martin Marty)

Questions about white privilege and white supremacy abound. Charlottesville highlighted this reality. The NFL protests offer another vantage point. Much is made of the 81% of so-called white evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump. Even as Americans of European descent, especially Northern European descent, lose their dominance, we see great angst expressed. This leads us to the Mormon community, an American born religion, whose sacred book speaks of a "white and delightsome people." Martin Marty points us to conversations happening in and around the LDS community regarding their racial history, especially since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has become a global religion, whose membership is likely more non-white than white. I offer this up for your conversation. I need to add that as I grew up several of my friends were Mormons, and I always found them gracious and honorable. I share this because it reminds us that we all have histories that require our attention, and which might cause us grief.  Hopefully, in time we will find a better way forward. 
                                                                                                 
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Nonwhitesome Mormons
By MARTIN E. MARTY   September 25, 2017
"Mormon tabernacle camp on their arrival in Utah," from Charles Mackay's The Mormons, or Latter-day saints: with memoirs of the life and death of Joseph Smith, the "American Mahomet" (1851)
Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, represent only about two percent of the American people, but “everybody” knows something or other about them. Ask your neighbor to discuss the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) or the Moravian Church, or many others, and you will get a blank stare. But the Mormons? They are different. They have been visible as a persecuted minority. More happily, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is familiar to millions. Not a few Mormons are celebrities. Given their square and wholesome manner, many Saints have a good reputation, including as neighbors, even next door (if not as missionary ringers of your doorbell).

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Planetary Solidarity (Grace Ji-Sun Kim & Hilda Koster, eds) - Review

PLANETARY SOLIDARITY: Global Women’s Voices on Christian Doctrine and Climate Justice.  Edited by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Hilda P. Koster. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017. 392 pages.

As category 5 hurricanes rage and hills are alight with fire, as record temperatures strike and the seas warm, we hear voices loudly denying the reality of climate change. The science is rejected or belittled. At the same time voices arise calling for climate justice. These voices come in many languages, religions, and backgrounds. In my country these voices are being suppressed, but they persist. For those of us who recognize that we are careening toward disaster, it is important to amplify these voices. In this review of Planetary Solidarity, I seek to do just that. Here before us is a collection of essays written by women from across the globe. All are feminist in their orientation, who call for us to reimagine the Christian faith so that we might pay greater attention to the dangers facing us. They invite us to consider whether certain understandings of God and humanity pose a danger to our world. At the same time, they seek to offer us possible avenues of theological discourse that might prove transformative. That these voices come from across the globe—from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, North America, South America, and the islands of the Pacific—is a reminder that this is a truly global issue.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Principles for Reading Scripture for Disciples of Christ


This is the third in a  series of outtakes from an attempt at writing a book exploring theology in the context of the Disciples of Christ. This emerged from a "Theology 101" study we did at Central Woodward nearly eight years ago. This us the second excerpt from chapter two of the book titled: "Revelation and Our Knowledge of God." I am offering these as a discussion starter among fellow Disciples and others who are interested in the conversation (and perhaps I'll find the wherewithal to further develop the book). 
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            If the Bible is one of the normative resources for doing theology, then how should we interpret this ancient document? I found the following four principles, elucidated by the late Disciples of Christ historian/theologian Ronald Osborn illuminating and helpful. As a historian, Osborn had an excellent grasp of the Disciple understanding of its context and purpose. He suggested that historically, Disciples have read the Bible with four mindsets in place:  Reasonable, Empirical, Practical, and Ecumenical. Attending to these four mindsets should provide a way into the doctrinal and ethical conversations we are having as Christians.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Precious Water - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 17A (Exodus 17)


Exodus 17:1-7  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
17 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
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                Water is a precious resource. We cannot live for long without it. Perhaps that is because our bodies are largely composed of water. Many conflicts around the globe center on access to water, and with increasing desertification, drought, and pollution, this will become even more a problem in the days and years to come. Having lived in California much of my life, I’m only to aware of the issue of drought. For a moment there is a reprieve, but for how long? Now, living in Michigan, I’m well aware of the issue of water pollution. Not far from where I live sits the city of Flint, a community that has suffered greatly due to political decisions that led to a contaminated water supply that led to deaths from Legionnaires Disease and countless cases of lead poisoning.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Hearing God’s Voice – Disciples of Christ and Revelation

This is the second in what will be a series of outtakes from an attempt at writing a book exploring theology in the context of the Disciples of Christ. This emerged from a "Theology 101" study we did at Central Woodward nearly eight years ago. This excerpt and another to follow form parts of chapter two: "Revelation and Our Knowledge of God." I am offering these as a discussion starter among fellow Disciples and others who are interested in the conversation (and perhaps I'll find the wherewithal to further develop the book). 
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St. Augustine is credited with the phrase “faith seeking understanding.”  This phrase has important implications for the church at large, but especially for Disciples.  The Disciples are a rational people, who seek out a faith that is understandable and practical.  Ronald Osborn suggests that “the early leaders of the Disciples of Christ contended for a faith characterized as sane, scriptural, and practical.  They were motivated by a faith which, to them, “made sense.” [Ronald Osborn, The Faith We Affirm: Basic Beliefs of Disciples of Christ, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1979), p.  12].

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Fair Wages in God’s Realm -Sermon for Pentecost 16A


Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus’ parables are subversive, because they reveal things about the realm of God. They’re stories we can read in different ways. Sometimes parables clarify things, but they can also confuse things enough that they start important conversations about what it means to live in the realm of God. The realm of God doesn’t operate like other realms, which is  why Jesus told Pilate that “my kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Ever since Peter made the Good Confession and received his commission (Matt. 16:13-20), Jesus had been revealing things about the “Kingdom of Heaven” and the Church.  This parable is another contribution to that conversation. There is an important phrase that surrounds the parable: “The last will be first, and the first will be last.” 

The first instance of the phrase brings to a close Jesus’ conversation with the one we often call the “Rich Young Ruler” about what is required to enter the realm of God. That conversation centered around the hold our treasure has on our hearts and minds. In many ways, this parable is a continuation of that conversation. (Matt. 19:16-30)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Week in the Fall of Jerusalem (Ben Witherington III) - A Review

A WEEK IN THE FALL OFJERUSALEM. By Ben Witherington III. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017. 158 pages.

                It is the year 70 CE. The Roman general Titus, the son of Emperor Vespasian and a future emperor himself, is nearing the completion of a devastating war in Palestine, a war that would prove pivotal for the Jewish people, and in many ways, for Christianity. It was in that year that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, and with it the Second Temple, which had been expanded and rebuilt by Herod, making it one of the great marvels of the ancient world. The aftermath of the destruction of the Temple included a refocusing of Judaism away from the Temple and its priesthood, to the centrality of the Book and synagogue. There would be one last stand by the anti-imperial zealots at Masada, but for most Jews a new reality emerged. With the priestly ruling class and the zealots destroyed or sidelined, two groups strands of Judaism came to prominence. One group, which gathered at Jamnia and set parameters for the Hebrew Bible is known to us as the Pharisees. The other strand was the followers of Jesus, a community that was becoming increasingly Gentile, but which still had a significant Jewish component.

                In A Week in the Fall of Jerusalem, Ben Witherington, a New Testament scholar and professor at Asbury Seminary, imaginatively reconstructs what life was like during the week following the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem. He weaves the two strands together, the Jewish and the Christian, but the focus is on the Christian strand, which still abided in the region, a community that still might have included some of Jesus’ original followers. These would be names that someone familiar with the Gospels would recognize, people like Joanna, Mary and Martha, and Levi.