Monday, November 20, 2017

Building the Good LIfe for All (L. Shannon Jung) - A Review

BUILDING THE GOOD LIFE FOR ALL: Transforming Income Inequality in our Communities. By L. Shannon Jung. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. Vi + 125 pages.



The rich keep getting richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class is getting squeezed downward. The gap between the salaries of CEOs and the wages of workers is difficult to comprehend. Much has been said of late about income inequality and the growing gap between rich and poor in the United States. Politicians argue that tax cuts are needed for the “job creators” so they will be willing to invest in jobs in the United States, but there is little evidence that “trickledown economics” works as advertised. At the same time investment in infrastructure and education dwindles. Thus, the gap continues to grow wider every day, and we’re left to wonder if anything can be done to rectify the situation. More specifically, is there something that the church can do?

One who has some ideas that could bear fruit within the church is L. Shannon Jung, Professor Emeritus of Town and Country Ministry at Kansas City's St. Paul School of Theology. His focus is on the working poor, people who live paycheck to paycheck, and have little hope that the future is bright. Some are African American and Hispanic, but many are white men and women. This group of lower income people might not be officially listed as living in poverty, but its numbers are twice that of those officially defined as poor. He writes that “increasingly the middle class is becoming the working poor, and the economic plight of millions of Americans has become a major national concern” (p. 2). Jung refers to this group of people as Alec and Alice—with Alice signifying "Asset-Limited-Income-constrained, Employed." The implication of the book is that there are a lot of people working hard, but can’t seem to move beyond living amid economic uncertainty. The so-called American dream is further and further out of reach. People are angry. They’re “frustrated, overwhelmed, immobilized,” and politically, they are “encouraged to look after their own self-interest” (p. 3).

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Wise Investments - Sermon for Pentecost 24A/Thanksgiving Sunday


Matthew 25:14-30

Since today is Thanksgiving Sunday, we gather to “raise a song of harvest home” for “all is safely gathered in.” Yes, “God our maker does provide for our wants to be supplied.” So we “come to God’s own temple,” to “raise the song of harvest home.” [Henry Alford, "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come," Chalice Hymnal, 718]

We will have a number of opportunities over the next few days to give thanks for God’s abundance. Last night Brett and I attended the Turkish American Society of Michigan’s Thanksgiving Dinner. We got to share in fellowship with our friends from Turkey, and help them celebrate the season. Tonight there is the annual Troy-area Interfaith Group Thanksgiving Service, and then on Tuesday evening there is the Troy Clergy Group service. Then on Thursday many will gather with family and friends to share in fellowship, offering thanks for God’s provisions. Let us, therefore, “make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.” Let us “serve the LORD with gladness”; and “come into God’s presence with singing.” Why? “For the LORD is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, God’s faithfulness to all generations” (Ps. 100:1-2, 5). 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Calvin, for a Change -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

While we commemorate October 31, 1517 as the beginning point of the age of Reformation in Western Christianity, it was only a passing moment. Much more would come as time passed. Luther would be joined by others who often had differing emphases. Among them was John Calvin, the renowned Reformer of Geneva who has left his mark on not only Christian history, but also world history. Like Luther he has a complex legacy. My own tradition, the Disciples, are rooted in the Presbyterian tradition, a descendant of Calvin's movement. While the founders by and large rejected Calvin, we still bear many traces of his influence. Martin Marty, who is by tradition Lutheran, notes that his people stem from a community in Switzerland that was and is Reformed in orientation. Thus, he finds it appropriate to take note of Calvin's legacy as we continue our commemoration of the Reformation's 500th anniversary.  Take a read and offer your thoughts. If you find Calvin someone to honor, why?  If you think he should be criticized, why? 

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Calvin, for a Change
By MARTIN E. MARTY   November 13, 2017
John Calvin by Georg Osterwald (1803–1884)
Recovering, as many of us will and must, from massive doses of Lutherana—after media, scholars, and the pious both among them and beyond their range are doing following October 31 observances—we at Sightings do our scanning of headlines, twisting of dials, and conversing with kindred souls in order to locate and study new topics. One article, dated October 31 (“Reformation Day”), piqued interest: “Is Reformed theology for black people?” asked Jemar Tisby for Religion News Service, and the question he posed stays with us. Historically, black people have not found the Reformed—a.k.a. Calvinists—to regard them positively, we read and already knew; some, indeed, were slaveholders. But now, surprise! “The rise of Christian hip-hop has played a role in a recent surge of interest in Reformed theology among African-Americans,” a fact Tisby documents (see “Resources”).

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Disciples of Christ and the Problem of Sin – Part 2


      

    In part one of this discussion we looked at several texts that speak of the problem of sin within the human community. While the opening lines of Genesis declare that all of God’s creation is good, when we get to Genesis 3 the dynamics seem to change. The question is why?  One way to look at the question is to compare the differing perspectives of two theologians who lived at the turn of the fifth century CE, and who engaged in debate on the question of sin and free will. As Disciples, we might ask, which of these perspectives seem to be the most compelling? Do we lean in one direction or the other, and what does that mean for us when it comes to how we live in the world?  


Pelagius or Augustine?

            Pelagius (ca. 350-ca. 424) was a British ascetic and monk who came to Rome around 390. He was a strong advocate for moral reform and the value of asceticism. In espousing these two themes, he argued that humans have the freedom and the ability to choose the good. Not only that, but if humans are expected to change for the better, then they must have the ability to fulfill their moral obligations. That is, doing what is right is a matter of the will. Starting from the premise that the goodness of humanity is rooted in the premise that humanity has been created in the image of God, he believed that God gave humanity the ability to choose between good and evil. For Pelagius, sin consists of freely choosing to do evil. Since sin is a matter of the will, a person should be able to progress toward a sinless life; that is, if one chose to do so. Putting things in more modern terms, the universality of sin is explained environmentally, rather than genetically. We tend to sin, because we live in a sinful context.  [S.v. "Pelagius, Pelagianism," by Joanne McWilliam, in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, (New York: Garland Publishing, 1990). Pelagius, "Letter to Demetrius," in Theological Anthropology, J. Patout Burns, ed. and trans., (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), pp. 41, 48-49].

            Pelagius’ most significant opponent was Augustine. His response to Pelagius was rooted in his reading of Paul, but also his own struggle to live a holy life. Based on life experience, he came to believe that that holiness was a gift of God, and not a matter of human will. While Pelagius insisted on the perfectibility of humanity, Augustine could only think about his own inability to overcome temptation.  Although he longed to love and serve God, this always seemed out of reach. So, he writes:  
            Instead, the mists of passion steamed up out of the puddly concupiscence of the flesh, and the hot imagination of puberty, and they so obscured and overcast my heart that I was unable to distinguish pure affection from unholy desire. Both boiled confusedly within me, and dragged my unstable youth down over the cliffs of unchaste desires and plunged me into a gulf of infamy. Thy anger had come upon me, and I knew it not. I had been deafened by the clanking of the chains of my mortality, the punishment for my soul's pride, and I wandered farther from thee, and thou didst permit me to do so.  I was tossed to and fro, and wasted, and poured out, and I boiled over in my fornications--and yet thou didst hold thy peace, O my tardy Joy!  [Augustine, The Confessions, quoted in Hugh T. Kerr, ed., Readings in Christian Thought, 2nd ed., (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), p. 54.]
You might call Augustine something of a realist. He tried but failed to live a holy life. To give further definition to his struggles, he describes an incident from late adolescence.  He stole fruit from a tree, not because he was hungry, but for the fun of it.  He acted out of a "contempt for well-doing and a strong impulse to iniquity." 
There was a pear tree close to our own vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which was not tempting either for its color or for its flavor. Late one night—having prolonged our games in the streets until then, as our bad habit was—a group of young scoundrels, and I among them, went to shake and rob this tree.  We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden.  Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart--which thou didst pity even in that bottomless pit. Behold, now lit my heart confess to thee what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error--not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but the shame itself. [Augustine in Kerr, Readings, pp. 56-57.]
With a background such as this, having struggled long and hard against sin and temptation, yet failing to overcome sin, it’s not surprising that he found Pelagius' positive view of humanity unthinkable.    


            Pelagius and Augustine agreed on one thing—in the beginning, before the Fall, humans were endowed with free will. Adam could choose both good and evil. Augustine, however, did not believe that this freedom was a natural endowment; it was a gift of God, a gift compromised by the Fall.  
For it was by the evil use of his free will that man destroyed both it and himself.  For, as a man who kills himself must, of course, be alive when he kills himself, but after he has killed himself ceases to live, and cannot restore himself to life; so when man by his own free-will sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost.
Once Adam exercised his free will and chose to sin, that choice affected his descendants’ ability to choose. [Augustine, The Enchiridion of Faith, Hope, and Love, Henry Paolucci, ed., (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1961), pp. 36-37].

            This first act of sin removed the assistance of divine grace that enabled free will. Now humanity was unable to control the will and was driven toward the fulfillment of desire. Instead of desiring the good, humanity was compelled to sin. While Pelagius offered a rather positive picture of humanity, Augustine insisted on total human depravity. This inability not to sin was then passed on to the posterity of those who were “driven into exile.” Therefore, from then on, the whole human race experienced corruption and suffered a sentence of death. 
And so, it happens that all descended from him, and from the woman who had led him into sin--being the offspring of carnal lust on which the same punishment of disobedience was visited--were tainted with original sin, and were by it drawn through divers errors and sufferings into that last and endless punishment which they suffer in common with the fallen angels, their corrupters and masters, and the partakers of their doom. [Augustine, Enchiridion, p. 32].
Reading Romans 5:12, in light of his own life experience, he believed that Paul taught that that sin entered the world through one man’s disobedience, and then spread from there to all, therefore all sin. 

            While Augustine painted a dark picture for humanity, he also affirmed the reality of God's grace, which was revealed to humanity in Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus is the Second Adam, whose mediatorial work restores humanity's broken fellowship with God. While God's grace does not remove sin from human experience, by God's grace the rupture between God and humanity can be healed. While Pelagius believed that human merit might pave the way for salvation, Augustine believed that only God's grace could bring salvation to a depraved humanity. Though humanity can do nothing good without the assistance of grace, the regenerative work of the Spirit will enable a person to do what is good. 

            Because humans are unable to save themselves, God must act, and in Augustine’s mind – and that of many of his theological descendants – God chose to rescue some from the penalty of their sin, though not all. Therefore, God has predestined some to experience God’s grace and receive salvation.  Those who are so chosen will not fall away – those who are not chosen, even if they convert, they will eventually fall away.  Augustine defended God's righteousness in choosing some and not choosing others by pointing out that everyone stands under judgment. Therefore, God has chosen to have mercy on some of those under condemnation.  God needn’t do this, but out of mercy, God has chosen so to act.

Disciples and the Pelagius/Augustine Spectrum

            If we pursue this question of sin and free will as Disciples, it might be worth exploring how Alexander Campbell dealt with this question. He lived long after Augustine and Pelagius, but the debate continued to rage well into his day. As he approached this question, Campbell took into consideration the writings of John Locke on human nature. For Locke, humans are born with a blank slate, upon which experience and the senses write.  To Campbell, God created humanity as a "free and a responsible agent, capable of maintaining his estate and paying his rent; and consequently, was susceptible of virtue and of vice, of happiness and misery." Campbell went on to write that God placed a law on humanity to test its character—that is, humanity is to refrain from eating one particular fruit. [Alexander Campbell, Christian System, (New Salem, NH:  Ayer, 1988), pp. 26-27.]

            Campbell agreed with Augustine and with John Calvin that the Fall changed human destiny by allowing the animal within to triumph over the human. As the glory of God left Adam, he "felt his guilt, and trembled; he saw his nakedness and blushed." Campbell might not have gone as far as Augustine in affirming the principle of total depravity, but he did believe that Adam’s descendants are stained by sin and cannot attain to "primitive purity and excellence."
We all inherit a frail constitution physically, intellectually, but especially morally frail and imbecile. We have all inherited our father's constitution and fortune; for Adam, we are told, after he fell "begat a son in his own image”; and that son was just as bad as any other son ever born into the World; for he murdered his own dear brother because he was a better man than himself. [Campbell, Christian System, p. 27].
Campbell, however, broke with Augustine and Calvin, rejecting their definition of original sin. To Campbell, the universality of sin can be explained by the children of Adam choosing, of their own free will, to disobey God. He recognized that humans seem universally to sin, but he didn’t believe it was necessary.  At this point he almost embraces Pelagius: 
Still, man with all his hereditary imbecility, is not under an invincible necessity to sin. Greatly prone to evil, easily seduced into transgression, he may or may not yield to passion and seduction.  Hence the differences we so often discover in the corruption and depravity of man. All inherit a fallen, consequently a sinful nature, though all are not equally depraved. [Campbell, Christian System, 28-29].
All are fallen, but we don’t have to sin—we have a choice. Only those who with their own volition sin against "a dispensation of mercy" provided for them are condemned. The emphasis is on freedom of the will and the freedom of the individual to choose to follow or deny God. 


            The perceived danger in Pelagianism is that it downplays the seriousness of sin and that it gives a false hope to people. It can be overly optimistic and naive. Augustinianism, on the other hand, may be more realistic, but it can be seen as overly deterministic. In many ways Campbell tried to find a happy medium between the two. But, living as he did in the early years of the American republic with a vision of God’s realm being laid out in the American context, he might have been too optimistic. So, we might heed theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr who remind us that human nature has serious issues to deal with. Ronald Osborn picks this up clearly when he writes that “despite our sentimental self-esteem, human nature is seriously flawed by its innate tendency to self-love. We pursue our own interests at the expense of others.” [Osborn, The Faith We Affirm, p. 49]. As we move on to the question of salvation, it may be worth contemplating who had the better argument as to the extent of sin in our world – Augustine or Pelagius?  

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Disciples of Christ and the Problem of Sin – Part One

Below is the next offering in my attempt to forge a foundation for a theological conversation among members of the Disciples of Christ community and beyond. This is part 1 of 2, with a conversation about salvation to follow.

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The creation story begins with a resounding “It is good,” but what began well soon went off course.As we read the unfolding biblical story, we discover that humanity has chosen the wrong path, one that leads to alienation, death, and destruction. It is the story of sin.  As we read the story, we discover that God is not content to let humanity continue down the wrong path. Like a good parent, God seeks to restore a broken relationship. This is the story of salvation. Both issues stand prominently in the biblical story, though the various Christian traditions have placed differing emphases on them. For some, this is the primary issue, while for others it is just one aspect of the story. As Ronald Osborn notes, Disciples have, in general, put the emphasis elsewhere—on the goodness of creation rather than on the presence of sin. Thus, as Osborn writes:   
Without denying the reality of sin, they have usually given more attention to other aspects of the human condition which also indicate the need for God.  Often Disciples worship centers on one or more of these rather than always focusing on sin. [Ronald E. Osborn, The Faith We Affirm: Basic Beliefs ofDisciples of Christ, (St. Louis:  Chalice Press, 1979), p. 49].

But, even if sin, and thus salvation, is not a Disciple preoccupation, it remains part of the conversation— especially at a popular level. This is seen most explicitly in Disciple circles in the prayers at the Lord’s Table and in our hymnody. Sin is also an important topic of conversation in the biblical story.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Judge Deborah - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 24A (Judges 4)

Judges 4:1-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
4 The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. 2 So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. 3 Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years. 
4 At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. 6 She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. 7 I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”

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                Judge Deborah is not Judge Judy. She’s not a reality TV star. Judge Deborah is a prophet of God. She was counted among those who rose to leadership in Israel during the period between the death of Joshua and the rise of the monarchy. When Joshua died, he didn’t leave a designated heir. There was no Joshua to Moses, no specific leader to whom the tribes of Israel looked to for leadership. While we might be led to believe that the conquest of Canaan was completed under Joshua’s leadership, this wasn’t completely true. Israel lived in pockets in the land, but they shared it, and this was not always to Israel’s benefit. Thus, conflict was continuous. When the people cried out for relief, leaders would arise from within the community to lead the people to victory.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Martin Luther (Volker Leppin) -- A Review

MARTIN LUTHER: A Late Medieval Life. By Volker Leppin. Foreword by Timothy J. Wengert. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017. Xvii + 135 pages.

As a historical theologian by training, I am always looking for books dealing with theology and church history that are both scholarly and accessible to recommend to those who would like to know more about the church and its history. With the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation having arrived, and interest in Martin Luther and other Reformers of the sixteenth century peaking, all manner of biographies of the father of the Reformation have appeared. Knowing I could read them all, I chose to request review copy of Volker Leppin’s biography of Luther. Even though I didn’t know the author of the biography, it is written by a church historian, I knew of the author of the foreword, and it is brief. I’m glad I chose to order this biography, as it has proven to be the kind of read I look for when I’m thinking accessibility and reliability.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Be Prepared - A Sermon for Pentecost 23A


Matthew 25:1-13

Most of us have been to a wedding, and many of us have been in a wedding.  I’ve been a groom, a groomsman, usher, and co-best man. I’ve also officiated at a few weddings. Like most pastors who have officiated at a weddings or two, I have stories to tell. Most of these weddings went well, though I did have a wedding where the bride almost went up in flames. There was the time when the wedding was delayed when the bridal party was an hour late because one of the brides maids got sick on the way to the church. I don’t have too many horror stories, but there are plenty of them out there. I can say this, however, I’ve never been to a wedding where a group of bridesmaids got locked out of the church. 

In our reading from the Gospel of Matthew this morning, we again find Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple. It’s still Monday of Holy Week, and he’s teaching the people about the coming kingdom of heaven. As Jesus often did, he told  short stories that raised as many questions as they answered. This parable focuses on ten bridesmaids who are waiting for the coming of a groom, who is delayed. The parable seems fairly straightforward, at least at first glance. But maybe it’s more complicated than it looks.  

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Veteran's Day Prayer

I was asked to offer the invocation and benediction at the Troy Veteran's Day observance held at city hall. This is the third time I have been asked to do this, and the second as a chaplain for the Troy Police Department as well as local pastor. Below is the prayer that I offered. I also share a picture of my father, Robert D. Cornwall, Sr., who served during World War II in the Navy. He was probably only eighteen when the picture was taken. Though I am not a veteran, and I struggle with the question of war, I also believe it appropriate to remember those who have served, whether as volunteers, or as draftees. While I am not a veteran, I am a son and grandson of veterans.

With that, I offer this up as my prayer for the day.

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God of peace,

            We gather in this place to honor women and men who have served their country with dignity, honor, and courage. We do not come to glorify war or even heroism. We simply gather to recognize those who have shown a willingness to serve in difficult and often dangerous moments, whether they were drafted or volunteered.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Disciples, the Bible, and Human Creation


Note: This is part 2 of a conversation about God the creation and God's human creation. This duo of essays is part of a larger project intended to stir theological conversation among Disciples and beyond. 

            Any theological conversation about creation must include a conversation about the creation of humanity, and the starting point for any such discussion is Genesis 1:26-30. This passage makes three key points:  first, humanity has been created in the image of God; second, humanity was created as male and female, and third, God created humanity with a purpose—to take care of God’s creation. This passage, when taken together with the witness of Genesis 2, helps us understand God's intentions in creating humanity.

            The issues of dominion and what it means to be male and female can be best understood under the phrase “image of God.” This phrase has been understood in a variety of ways, often looking at certain qualities that humans are said to possess in contrast to the rest of creation—such as rationality or will. Other possibilities include the corporeal form of human beings— though that would seem to be precluded by the overarching biblical witness. Another possibility is the role of humanity as steward—as stand in for God. Whatever the exact meaning of this phrase, Victor Hunter has caught its essence: “Humans, created in the image of God, in relationship to the rest of creation, are to exercise beneficence, responsibility, and generosity to the whole of the created world” [Victor Hunter, “Creation,” in Chalice Introduction to Disciples Theology, (Chalice Press, 2008), p. 128].

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

God the Creator - A Disciples of Christ Theological Reflection



Note: This is part one of a two part reflection on creation and human origins written with Disciples of Christ members in mind. This contribution is part of an ongoing set of reflections meant to provoke theological dialogue within the community and beyond.  

    The Apostles Creed begins with the words: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” The Preamble to the Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) states: “We rejoice in God, maker of heaven and earth.” These theological affirmations reflect the intent of the opening sentence of Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heaven and the earth . . .” (Gen 1:1). At the very heart of each of these statements is the affirmation that God is by nature creative, and that we exist because God has created us.      

            In the past two centuries this affirmation of God’s vocation has experienced numerous challenges. In earlier ages the question was not whether God had created the universe, but which god was responsible for creating the world, and whether this creation was a good thing. Genesis stands as a witness to the principle that the created order is a good thing, and that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Creator.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

We Will Serve the Lord - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 23A


Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 Common English Bible (CEB)
24 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders of Israel, its leaders, judges, and officers. They presented themselves before God. 2 Then Joshua said to the entire people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your ancestors lived on the other side of the Euphrates. They served other gods. Among them was Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor. 3 I took Abraham your ancestor from the other side of the Euphrates. 
14 “So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord. 15 But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the Lord.” 
16 Then the people answered, “God forbid that we ever leave the Lord to serve other gods! 17 The Lord is our God. He is the one who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. He has done these mighty signs in our sight. He has protected us the whole way we’ve gone and in all the nations through which we’ve passed. 18 The Lord has driven out all the nations before us, including the Amorites who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” 
19 Then Joshua said to the people, “You can’t serve the Lord, because he is a holy God. He is a jealous God. He won’t forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you leave the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn around and do you harm and finish you off, in spite of having done you good in the past.” 
21 Then the people said to Joshua, “No! The Lord is the one we will serve.” 
22 So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.” 
They said, “We are witnesses!” 
23 “So now put aside the foreign gods that are among you. Focus your hearts on the Lord, the God of Israel.” 
24 The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and will obey him.” 
25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people and established just rule for them at Shechem.
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                Joshua has reached old age (Josh 23:1). Like Moses before him, he knows he must prepare the people for a transfer of leadership, though no successor is named, and the story gives way to the time of the Judges. Knowing that the end is on the horizon, he takes the opportunity to gather the people of Israel together for a final conversation. He needs to settle things, so that the people of Israel could live fruitful lives before the Lord in the Land of Promise.  The people of Israel have crossed the river, entered the land, and taken possession of it. But, the question still remains, will they serve the God of Israel? Or, will they remain susceptible to the lure of other gods, like the gods their ancestors served, and the gods of the peoples they had conquered? Yahweh is a jealous God, who refuses to share the throne. Now, that the land is at peace, and the people of Israel can settle into their inheritance, God asking the people to reaffirm the covenant relationship that was set in motion when God called Abraham to leave behind the gods of his family, cross the Euphrates, and enter a new land, in partnership with Yahweh. Yes, it’s time to choose whether to serve the Lord or not. Joshua, speaking on behalf of God, draws a line in the sand. He asks the people to decide whether they will choose the Lord or not.  It would seem that Joshua is asking the people to decide whether they will remain as residents of the Land of Promise.

Monday, November 06, 2017

The Pietist Option (Christopher Gehrz & Mark Pattie III) - A Review

THE PIETIST OPTION: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity. By Christopher Gehrz and Mark Pattie III. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017. 148 pages.

Earlier this year a book sparked much attention. The book, authored by Rod Dreher, is titled The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. I’ve not read the book, but based on conversations I’ve heard, along with an interview on NPR with the author, it appears that the book is a call for politically active evangelicals and Catholics to step back from the cultural fray and rebuild from within, much as St. Benedict did in the sixth century as the so-called Dark Ages began to fall on Europe of the Middle Ages. Since I’ve not read the Dreher book, I won’t try to engage his vision.  I mention it, however, due to the more recent publication by IVP Academic of a book with a seemingly similar title.  Titled The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity, this book is a manifesto calling for the renewal of Christianity through an embrace of the principles of Pietism. The Pietist Option is rooted in the work of seventeenth century Christian leaders including Philip Spener. Spener and his compatriots sought to renew and revitalize what they believed was a spiritually dry and sterile Protestant Christianity.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Martin Luther and Ethiopian Christianity: Historical Traces - Sightings (David Daniels)

While many congregations commemorated Reformation Sunday, and with it the 500th anniversary of the event we tend to use as the marker of the spark that ignited the Reformation, we do so today. I am not preaching today because we have with us at Central Woodward Christian Church Dr. Deanna Thompson, a Luther scholar. Deanna is with us as our speaker for the 2017 Perry Gresham Bible Lectures. Since I'm not preaching and therefore can't share my sermon (as I normally do on Sunday), I am sharing this essay by David Daniels concerning Martin Luther's interest in the Ethiopian Church. Apparently Luther saw that church as a precursor of reform, or at least the existence of a church that didn't follow the Roman Catholic trajectory. Dr. Daniels helpfully introduces us to interactions between Luther and an Ethiopian cleric. It's an intriguing article, which I commend to you. 


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Martin Luther and Ethiopian Christianity: Historical Traces
By DAVID D. DANIELS   November 2, 2017
Ethiopian Orthodox Church | Photo Credit: Rod Waddington/Flickr (cc)
How might Ethiopian Christianity have influenced the Protestant Reformation? Did Martin Luther make connections between his reforms and the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia, and could Ethiopian Christianity, as understood by Luther, be considered a “forerunner” of the Reformation? These are intriguing questions to ponder this week as we commemorate the Reformation’s 500th anniversary.