Showing posts from February, 2009

Critical Faith: Theology in the Midst of the Sciences –

Engaging Philip Clayton’s Adventures in the Spirit –
Thoughts on Chapter 1

As noted in a previous posting, I’m part of a theo-blog effort -- Transforming Theology -- and my assignment is Philip Clayton’s Adventures in the Spirit (Fortress, 2008). This book is divided into five sections, the first being entitled: “The Methods of Philosophy and Theology.” Chapter 0ne – my focus here – is entitled: “Critical Faith: Theology in the Midst of the Sciences.” A critical faith is one that is willing to engage the modern world, with all of its complexities and challenges. This will require adaptation and transformation if we are to successfully navigate this situation.

This discussion of the role of theology in the context of the sciences comes, for me, in the wake of our recent observance of Charles Darwin’s 200th Birthday. It also comes as I finish reading Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin (HarperOne, 2008). In the process of reading both books I’m reminded that I cannot do theology wi…

Transforming Theology -- Adventures in the Spirit: Introductory Thoughts

I have been asked to participate in a conversation concerning Christian theology, and its role in transforming the Christian faith and the Christian Community. It is a project that seeks to rekindle or reinvigorate the theological conversation in a way that will stimulate conversation in the church as well as the academy. The purpose of the Transforming Theology venture is seen in this statement:

“Our goal is an ambitious one: to create the intellectual framework for a progressive religious vision. By forming a broad alliance between the leading scholars and organizations in Christian religion today, we aim at nothing less than to ‘reclaim the progressive voice’. There are movements on the ground, active in various denominations and schools. Up to this point, however, what has been missing is a uniting intellectual and theoretical vision, comparable to what has emerged from the conservatives.”

As I embark on this journey, I do so with a degree of reticence. While I resonate with …

Steps to Ending Torture

In his speech to the nation on Tuesday, President Obama categorically renounced torture. He has signed an executive order laying out a timetable to close Guantanamo, has ended the CIA's use of other methods not outlined in the Army Field Manual, and abolish secret prisons.

George Hunsinger of Princeton Seminary and founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, writing in the blog Progressive Revival, commends the new administration for the steps it has taken, but he also urges additional steps be taken. He'd like to see loopholes closed, the speeding up of the closing of Guantanamo, and the explicit ending of the practice of extraordinary rendition. In other words, he wants the Geneva Conventions to hold for us as well.

He expects resistance and efforts to evade these new rules. But he wants the leaders of the nation to hold firm:

In short, the new executive orders are full of promise, They overturn illegal and immoral tactics in thedefense of national securi…

The Scope of Evolution

In reading Karl Giberson's Saving Darwin, which I shall shortly review in full, I was struck by the possibilities presented by Evolution as an explanatory mechanism. I've already noted how Evolution is more complex and difficult to integrate with a definition of the scientific method that is rooted in physics, but the question is: how does this complexity manifest itself?

The amazing thing is the explanatory scope of Evolutionary theory. Giberson writes:

The theory of evolution is a vast and complicated network of interlocking explanatory concepts tying together everything from the age of fossil bones to similarities between human and chimp DNA. There is, quite simply, a mountain of evidence from multiple sources supporting evolution. Organized by evolutionary theory, this mountain of evidence becomes a comprehensible and manageable landscape. Without evolutionary theory, it disappears into the clouds, a hidden and impenetrable mystery of unexplained patterns. (Karl Giber…

The Hidden Dialogue -- Sightings

Is the existence of God reasonable? That is the question that folks like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris ask. Their answer is no. Of course, when it comes to the definition of God provided, many of us believers answer -- we don't believe in that God either. So part of the question has to do with something other than existence, it has to do with the nature of God.

In today's Sightings posting Thomas Zebrowski, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Chicago, interacts with a recent book by Michael Novak, which appeals to the God of "ancient deism." Apparently Novak thinks this God is thoroughly reasonable (it's the God of Plato and Aristotle), but is it the same God as the one found in the biblical faith. Zebrowski isn't convinced by Novak's case. Are you? Take a read and offer a thought.


Sightings2/26/09 The Hidden Dialogue --Thomas Zebrowski The public debate about God in which the writings of Christopher…

About that Waste

It's interesting to watch Republican lawmakers chant the "wasteful spending" mantra. Those evil Democrats, they say, they want to just "spend, spend, spend." Somehow they forget that George W. Bush, a Republican, was President for the past 8 years. Barack Obama, last I knew, had been in office for all of one month, and five days. So, much of the problem isn't of his making.

The question is, where were those fiscal hawk Republicans during the Bush era?

I didn't watch the Bobby Jindal rejoinder to Barack Obama's speech. Of course, I never watched the Democratic response to GW's speeches. Most of the time they're forgettable. Apparently this one was memorable for how bad it was. His only rejoinder, apparently was -- there'll be wasteful spending, pointing to a volcano monitoring station in Alaska. And who is governor of Alaska? Oh, it's Sarah Palin!

Gail Collins has written a great column about dead trees. It's about waste …

Turn Around -- An Ash Wednesday Sermon

Joel 2:1-2, 12-19

Perhaps you’ve driven down a road to nowhere. You think you know where you’re going, but then the road runs out, and you find yourself sitting in a field. You’ve taken a wrong turn, and now you’re lost. At that point, you don’t have any other choice, except to turn around and retrace your steps, hoping that you’ll find your way home.

When we hear these words of Scripture from Joel, what we hear is a wake up call. Joel says to the people of Israel on behalf of God:
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming it is near — (Joel 2:1).

As we begin our Lenten journey tonight, we start with an invitation to reconsider the direction of our lives. Joel calls on us to think about whether or not we’re heading in the right direction. And then, should we discover that we’re heading in the wrong direction, we find ourselves being called upon to turn around and head the other direction.

Thoughts on a Presidential Address

I watched Barack Obama's Address to the Joint Session of Congress -- and to the people of the United States. I've not looked closely at what the pundits have to say. I've not checked the Dow. So, these thoughts are mine.

I know that not every one agreed with his thoughts and statements. It was, for him, an opportunity to lay out his vision and agenda. It is a lofty one, full of peril and promise. But at a time like this, what else can a President do? To sit back and let the market run its course could lead to disaster. Of course, taking a more activist course could also do damage. Only time will tell. He needed to do two things last night. He needed to acknowledge the depths of the problems and then reassure the nation that our best days are ahead of us. He had to be both prophet and cheerleader. I expect that each of us will interpret the words and the tone and the expressions differently, but I felt he did what he needed to do. In the very beginning, he came…

A Reflection for Ash Wednesday

Each year John McCauslin, a member and elder of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), edits a Lenten Devotional, drawing from the members and friends of the congregation. I'd like to share one of today's reflections -- there is another inside the document -- and invite you to make use of this thoughtful resource in your Lenten Journey. This reflection is written by Elmer Morehouse, an elder and leader and friend. Click here to go to the document. I believe you will be blessed by your time spent here.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Ash Wednesday
1 Thessalonians 1—5 (all) and Philippians 4:4–7 (Next Page)
1 Thessalonians 1:1-7

1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Fatherand the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope i…

An Ash Wednesday Prayer

O Jesus, you place on my forehead
the sign of your saving Cross:
“Turn from sin and be faithful
to the gospel.”

How can I turn from sin
unless I turn to you?

You speak, you raise your hand,
you touch my mind and call my name,
“Turn to the Lord your God again.”

These days of your favor
leave a blessing as you pass
on me and all your people.
Turn to us, Lord God,
and we shall turn to you.

By Victor Hoagland, CP

Clip art link

A rant against the poor

As a new first time home owner part of me isn't sympathetic to those who bought larger than they could afford. But then we were told that America was supposed to be an ownership society. The economy seemed to be heading endlessly upward. The Dow reached nearly 15000. Bank stocks, two of which we owned, were heading upwards. We continued renting because buying in Santa Barbara is an impossibility for the middle class. The 40 year old 1500 square foot house we were renting would have gone for probably 800,000 as a fixer upper.

We bought at just the right time, when prices were tumbling but the credit had yet to freeze. We refinanced because the value of our house remained stable, but had you bought a house, lets say 2 years ago, the value of your house may have dropped 30 or 40%. You can't refinance, because the house isn't worth what you paid for it. If you lost your job, how do you make the payments? I'm fortunate. I have a stable job that pays enough to pay the house…

Franciscans -- 800 years of ministry

Whether or not you're Roman Catholic, you probably have a positive view of St. Francis. He's a saint for us all. He speaks to our sense of mercy and grace. His view of creation is inviting and empowering. Well, today marks the 800th Anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan Order -- February 24, 1209.

This description is found at Wikipedia:

At the end of this period (according to Jordanus, on 24 February 1209), Francis heard a sermon that changed his life. The sermon was about Matthew 10:9, in which Christ tells his followers that they should go forth and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, that they should take no money with them, nor even a walking stick or shoes for the road.[2] Francis was inspired to devote himself to a life of poverty.[2]Clad in a rough garment, barefoot, and, after the Evangelical precept, without staff or scrip, he began to preach repentance.[2] He was soon joined by his first follower, a prominent fellow townsman, the juristBernar…

Change and Transition in the Church

Gary Nelson writes in his book Borderland Churches (Chalice, 2008) that the only people comfortable with change are those in control of it. That's why clergy often, but not always, tend to be ahead of the curve on change -- we have more control over it.

As a pastor I've been open to change and have tried to lead change in my congregations. In my first congregation the change that occurred was my finding a new position. The second congregation was ready for change -- but not sure what that meant. They had had a bad experience and much of what had been was coming to an end and we had to rebuild -- which we did. Now, in my new congregation, there is openness to change, but wariness as well. They too had been hurt, but not only that, they were and are having to let go of what was once a great metropolitan ministry. Fifty years ago they were the megachurch, with a nationally known preacher. Things don't stay the stay the same. Today's mega-church may be tomorrow'…

Commodification -- Sightings

A new source of pride is hitting the nation -- in these dark and dismal times -- it's called "frugalism." Martin Marty opines today!

Sightings 2/23/09

-- Martin E. Marty

The Pope (John Paul II) was right. The World Council of Churches was right. The preacher down the block was right. The "moderate evangelicals" were right. The first had a perfect record against collectivization; the second had a mixed record, but was positive on this; the third reached a hundred or half a thousand per week preaching "You cannot serve God and Mammon;" the fourth were buffeted in response by evangelical kin who preached "the prosperity gospel" or the "gospel that God blessed only 'free enterprise.'" In their own ways their criticisms and warnings were directed against "commodification", whether of labor, leisure, or life. They were not whiners or grumps…

Star Trek Returns

Okay, I may not go to Star Trek Conventions, nor do I wear those funny ears, but I have long been a Star Trek fan. I even liked Star Trek 1, which wasn't all that good. Still, as much as I like Star Wars, nothing beats Star Trek.

So, I am excited about the upcoming prequel to the 60's era show. In the next edition of Star Trek we meet James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock -- in the early days, before the 5 year mission. Below is the trailer, and if the movie is half as exciting as the trailer -- we're in for a great movie. Well, at least for us Trekkers!

H/T to Connexions

Reforming a Tradition of Transformation

I've not gotten very far in my responsibilities as a "theo-blogger" for the Transforming Theology Project. But, I'm trying to understand the principles and processes of this project by listening to and responding to the thoughts of Philip Clayton, which have helpfully been placed on YouTube and thus on the transforming theology blog!

In this brief posting Philip Clayton wrestles with reformation and tradition. He suggests that church history is really the history of a series of challenges, which no one at the time knows how to resolve, and yet works to find a solution. That is the principle of the Reformation -- Semper Reformata, "always reforming." The foundation of the Progressive Christian project is to take this to heart.

Take a listen and offer your thoughts to this question of reforming the tradition, so that theology and the church might be transformed!

Defining Science

There is this constant argument going on between pro- and anti-evolutionist groups. That argument centers around the definition of science, with both sides charging the other with trading in ideology rather than science. Standing at the center of the debate is the nature of scientific study itself.

I am not a scientist, though I like reading about science. That means that there is much I don't know. So, I hadn't thought about it before reading Karl Giberson's Saving Darwin (HarperOne, 2008), but I think I finally understand why we keep having such unfruitful discussions about evolution. The problem is that our definition of the scientific method essentially derives from physics, but biology, and with it evolution, isn't quite the same thing as physics.

Giberson notes that many creationists and Intelligent Design theorists like to point to a definition set out by Karl Popper, the philosopher of science, and a method modeled by Einstein's theory of relativity. …

Biology and Belief -- Reflections

With Charles Darwin's 200th birthday just barely in our rear view mirror, it is useful to contemplate the connections between science and faith. I've just begun reading Philip Clayton's Adventures in the Spirit: God, World, Divine Action (Fortress, 2008). Clayton posits a new context for theology, a context in which there are significant questions about the viability of the Christian tradition (p. 23). Science plays a significant role in this conversation -- and it would appear that for Clayton the dialogue with science is an important one.

With that as a back drop, Time Magazine published an intriguing article last week entitled "The Biology of Belief: Science and religion argue all the time, but they increasingly agree on one thing: a little spirituality may be very good for your health," by Jeffrey Kluger. In the article Kluger explores the ongoing research that suggests that religious people are much more likely to live longer and healthier lives. Now…

Netanyahu: Ideologue or Pragmatist

The immediate future for the middle east remains a bit cloudy. We don't know what will happen in Iraq or Iran in the near or long term. Pakistan really isn't part of the Middle East, but it is a player.

But at the center of the Middle East is and always will be Israel and its erstwhile Palestinian partner/enemy. Benyamin Netanyahu has long had a hard edged perspective on the issues. As leader of Likud he has opposed the current negotiations, favored expanding West Bank settlements, and opposed a 2-state solution. Now, he's suggesting that he, like Barack Obama, is a pragmatist.

In an article in the New York Times today, reporter Ethan Bronner writes:

But when he was prime minister a decade ago he explored the issue through an American intermediary. The Israeli election campaign in recent weeks tilted rightward after the war in Gaza, so he may have been campaigning rather than revealing his true intentions. Those on the left who dislike Mr. Netanyahu say they hope he is…

My name is Origen!

I think I did this one before -- or at least I've done several like it. If I were a Church Father who would I be?

Well, apparently Origen, that 3rd Century liberal and allegorist.

You’re Origen!
You do nothing by half-measures. If you’re going to read the Bible, you want to read it in the original languages. If you’re going to teach, you’re going to reach as many souls as possible, through a proliferation of lectures and books. If you’re a guy and you’re going to fight for purity … well, you’d better hide the kitchen shears.
Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

Jazz Spirituality -- Reflections on a Theme

I love jazz! I'm listening to Coltrane and Monk as I write. It is an idiom that is dynamic and innovative. It takes from the past and reinvents it. Coltrane, Monk, Davis, Rollins, Brubeck, Desmond, just to name a few who have blessed us with music that is unforgettable and challenging.

This morning I spent time with my minister of music -- who is a master of the organ and the piano, and willing to go where the Spirit is leading us as a congregation -- and the representative of a company that builds and rebuilds pipe organs. Our organ, which dates back to 1928, though only the console and half the ranks of pipes remains from what was one of the grand church organs of Detroit. It is in need of something to be determined. Our hope (our minister of music and me) is that what emerges from this effort is an instrument that is versatile enough that it will support a truly modern or contemporary worship -- not contemporary in the sense of a praise band (though I'm not averse to …

Israeli Right Turn Confirmed

Well the news is in -- Benyamin Netanyahu has secured the necessary votes to become the next Prime Minister. It is a Right Wing coalition, with the fascist like Avigdor Lieberman as his primary junior partner. Netanyahu wants Kadima and Labor to join him, but Tzipi Livni has signaled she has no interest in joining such a coalition -- better for her to go into opposition than give moderate cover to a right wing agenda. Now, Netanyahu will have to decide how he'll approach the Palestinians -- he has no interest in a two-state solution or talking with the Palestinians -- and Iran -- he sounds quite provocative on that point.

Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now have a major choice ahead. Do they give a green light to whatever Israel wants to do -- as the Bush Administration did -- or do they say no to expansion of settlements and abandonment of talks with the Palestinians? To give some teeth to this we must cut off military aid if Israel goes in a direction co…

Hyper-Muscular Christianity -- Sightings

For years we've been hearing about the feminization of religion. Go to any church and you're more likely to find women than men. Groups like Promise Keepers were designed to help counteract that image, to put the manliness back into Christianity. Real men, we were told, go to church. Of course, part of the message was a reinforcement of traditional patriarchal structures. Men were encouraged to become the "spiritual leaders" of the house, etc. Such groups generally oppose women in ministry -- how can a man experience a masculine faith if the preacher is a woman?

Of course, historically, while church leadership has generally been male, it has been women who have kept the spiritual home fires burning. Women generally were the ones who passed on the faith to the next generation -- while the men were off hunting/working.

More recently we've begun to see the emergence of a what Joseph Laycock calls here a "hyper-muscular Christianity," a muscular Chris…