Monday, July 06, 2015

Envisioning the Congregation Practicing the Gospel (John W. Stewart) -- Review

ENVISIONING THE CONTREGATION PRACTICING THE GOSPEL: A Guide for Pastors and Lay LeadersBy John W. Stewart. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015. X + 226 pages.

The word on the street is that churches are not only dying, but they are irrelevant. Many are the diagnoses as well as the fixes for our predicament. Many of the fixes proposed depend largely on marketing gimmicks, and as is so often true of marketing gimmicks they become old hat very quickly. Most of them presuppose a consumerist mentality on the part of the church shopper. The solution is to become either a  Walmart or a Starbucks. Big Boxes or coffee bars. The focus is on the customer, who is, we’re told, always right. The problem for churches is that God doesn’t always test well as a consumer product. To give but one example—worship. Although you would think that God would be the one being addressed in sacred worship, more often than not it is the consumer who is being courted. It really doesn’t matter if the style is traditional or whatever we deem contemporary. Whether it’s an organ or a guitar led service, more often than not God is sitting on the sidelines.

Among those who have attempted to steer the church away from this consumer focus is John W. Stewart, a former Presbyterian pastor and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. Believing that things can be different; where consumerism isn’t the primary driver of church life, he offers pastors and lay leaders a guidebook that invites the church to practice the Gospel.  His goal is to empower church leaders so they can guide Mainline Protestant congregations toward an existence that is more firmly grounded in the Gospel. As others have, he focuses on specific practices; practices he believes are present in the New Testament.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Lord Was With Him -- Sermon for Pentecost 6B

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 

Life is messy, and as people of faith, we try to make sense of this messiness by seeking God’s guidance and wisdom. When we come to share in worship, we give thanks to God for being present with us through life’s ups and downs. Even when we’re not sure how God is present, we know in our hearts that God is with us. This may be the 4th of July weekend, but the message of Christmas in July is that Emmanuel – God with us – has come in the person of Jesus, so that we might experience that presence anew.

Our journey through 1 and 2 Samuel had brought us to a turning point in the history of Israel. The civil war that had engulfed David’s supporters and those who had gathered around Saul’s son Ishbotheth, had come to an end, and David was the last man standing.  The elders of Israel gathered at Hebron, and anointed David as their shepherd and ruler.  As Eugene Peterson puts it: “The shepherd boy of Bethlehem becomes the shepherd king of Israel.”   [Leap Over a Wall : Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians, p. 141]. It is this shepherd king who is inextricably linked to the most beloved of the Psalms. 

Saturday, July 04, 2015

The Declaration of Independence and the 4th of July

Independence Day has arrived in America. We will celebrate in many and various ways -- or not celebrate at all -- the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a document largely written by a young Thomas Jefferson. By signing the document the representatives of the thirteen British colonies formally separated themselves from the jurisdiction of the British government. The Revolutionary War was well underway by this time, but until this point no formal declaration had been made. With this document signed there was no going  back. Either Britain would subdue its colonies or they would emerge out of the war as a new nation. The document speaks of freedom, but also equality. While the Declaration of Independence is not our governing document, it is a formative document that needs to be heard a new on the 239th anniversary of its proclamation.  


From a transcription at the National Archives of the United States

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Friday, July 03, 2015


Tomorrow is the 4th of July (Independence Day). Many Americans will be celebrating with parades, picnics, and fireworks displays (oh how noisy the neighborhood will be tomorrow evening once the sun goes down). But what does it mean to be free? What responsibilities do we who are have for that freedom? Since many will be doing something other than reading my blog tomorrow, I wanted to share this excerpt from my book Faith in the Public Square: Living Faithfully in 21st Century America (Energion Publications, 2012). 


Every year, on the fourth day of July, Independence Day makes itself felt in the United States. It is a reminder that the United States was founded on the principles of liberty and happiness for all – at least in theory. In point of fact, we’ve not always lived up to our ideals, but in principle we are a people committed to equal justice and opportunity. These commitments are enshrined in the words of our founding documents. The Declaration of Independence insists that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Is America a Christian Nation?

It would seem that from the beginning of the American Republic a debate has raged as to whether the United States of America was founded as a Christian nation. With the Fourth of July on the horizon and recent Supreme Court decisions in mind, the fires of debate have been rekindled. With this in mind I thought I might share something I had written in the past, and which was published in my book Faith in the Public Square: Living Faithfully in the 21st Century, (Energion, 2012).  We need to distinguish, at least that's my feeling, between the religion of the majority and the laws of the land. So, as we contemplate the nation's birth, I invite you to consider this meditation.


          Is America a Christian nation? If one means by that question: Which religion is dominant in America? Then yes, one can rightfully say that America is a predominantly Christian nation, with a decidedly Protestant cast. But that’s not the way the question is usually asked. To put it more precisely, the question appears to be: “Is America a Christian nation the way Saudi Arabia is a Muslim one?” That may be putting it a bit too starkly, but the way the question is usually asked concerns the role Christianity should play in determining the cultural, legal, and political dimensions of American life. There are a great many Americans who believe that Christianity should have a privileged place in American society and that it should set the tone for American life. Others would disagree vehemently, even suggesting that religion should have no place in public life.