Showing posts from March, 2009

America's Apocalypse

Did I get your attention?

No, I don't mean apocalypses of the Hal Lindsey variety, which involve armies fighting it out on the plains of Megiddo (don't know who the latest combatants are supposed to be), haven't been paying attention. And, I don't mean the kind of apocalyptic mumbo jumbo being spewed out by Glen Beck (who is now at Fox) or Sean Hannity.

No I mean an apocalypse of a different sort -- America's declining fortune. Now I don't think America is in dire straights, in fact, I think it can rebound, but there are some disturbing trends that need to be addressed.

There is a connection between the financial meltdown and the situation that the auto industry faces. America started its rise as a manufacturing base -- like China is today -- but in time we let the manufacturing sectors decline, and rose to power on the back of our financial systems (like Britain did in an earlier day). Now, two of the former Big 3 are on short life lines. Hopefully, they&#…

I Want to Walk With Jesus --

For your listening pleasure -- Jazz singer Dennis Rowland sharing "I Want Jesus to Walk With Me"

We're going to use it for the closing hymn on Sunday! Love to have the backup band, but we'll make do!

The Decline of Denominational Publishing -- Sightings

Martin Marty reports that the recent Christian Book Expo in Dallas, expecting about 15000 customers drew in only 1500 -- and this was designed to attract conservative Christian/evangelical customers. I can say this -- regarding Christian books/bookstore situations. Most Christian bookstores (now Christian stores) are more about Jesus junk than books.

Anyway, he uses this report to draw our attention to a larger issue -- the decline of denominational publishers -- etc. My own denominational press, once published largely denominationally affiliated materials, but no more. Instead, to survive, it has sought partnerships that have saved it, for now, but things are changing, and who knows what this portends.

So, with these questions swirling in our minds, see what Marty has to say:


Sightings 3/30/09
The Decline of Denominational Publishing-- Martin E. Marty

"Christian Book Expo Attracts Few Customers," headlines Marcia Z. Nelson in the March 2…

A Tribute to the Spartans (MSU that is)

One a day when more bad news was delivered to the people of Michigan (the Obama administration has laid down tough new terms for aiding the auto industry), the Michigan State Spartan men's basketball team overcame the odds and knocked off the overall number one seed Louisville Cardinals -- 64-52.

Although I'm a Pac10 guy -- today I stand with my adopted home and celebrate the MSU trip to the Final Four -- which will be held down the road at Ford Fieldhouse in Detroit!

So, in the midst of the bad news, there's a glimmer of hope!

Priests and Marriage -- more stories

As a pastor who is married, I understand the stresses that ministry places on family. I also understand that if one is not married and doesn't have a family to be concerned with, may make one more available for service to the church. I think that's what Paul had in mind when speaking celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7. He also understood that celibacy is a gifting, and not all of us are called to that life. But, should that be a bar to the pastorate?

For Protestants that question was resolved at the very beginning. Martin Luther married early on, and other Reformers followed suit. As Diana Butler Bass points in her latest book, A People's History of Christianity, (Harper One, 2009), that decision not only changed the church but family life. She writes:

For early Protestant preachers marriage was both a pleasure and a way of defying Catholic authorities. But more than anything, clerical marriage embodied Christian freedom -- its right to choose to be celibate (if God had so …

Afghanistan -- Remembered too late?

It's hard to believe that it's been seven years ago that the US entered Afghanistan. I was in my early 40s back then -- serving as pastor of First Christian Church of Santa Barbara and my son, now in college, was still in elementary school. We went into Afghanistan to deal with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. We did manage, with the help of allies and Afghan rebel groups, to push the Taliban out of power, killed some of their leaders, but both groups -- who helped plan and support the 2001 World Trade Center attacks -- remain alive and seem to have restructured themselves. Afghanistan remains much as it had been -- a failed state. There is a government but it is holed up in Kabul and is corrupt.

Yesterday, Barack Obama took on this issue and proposed a sweeping new strategy that involves not only military options, but also diplomatic and development support. Afghanistan is a not a modern state. It is tribal and riven with rivalries that not only lead to corruption but make g…

Academic Theology for the Populace?

Tony Jones, former leader of Emergent Village and participant in the recent Transforming Theology event in Claremont, has written a post wrestling with the question: "Are Academic Theologians Useless?

He tells of a statement made at that conference, which had drawn together a number of progressive theologians.

Last week, Jonathan L. Walton blogged here on RD about a conference that he and I recently attended at Claremont School of Theology. He mentioned my charge, to the collection of two score “progressive” theologians, that they be more savvy about how they market themselves.

More specifically, I accused those theologians of falling asleep at the wheel, of giving up the populist agenda bequeathed to them by William Jennings Bryan, and of caring more about tenure and academic guilds than about changing the minds of the people in the checkout line at Walmart.

Now, I've read enough Tony's stuff and listened/watched others, to know that he can be exaggerate things just a bi…

A Plan for Peace

Middle East Peace, specifically Israeli-Palestinian peace, seems to be a Utopian vision. We've been talking about since long before I was born. We've seen wars of words and missiles, but no real resolution. The United States has been involved more or less in this process from the beginning, but for a variety of reasons we've not been able to broker a true and lasting peace.

Richard Cohen speaks today in an op-ed piece entitled "The Fierce Urgency of Peace," about a plan drafted by a group of eminent American leaders and given to President Obama late last year by Paul Volker, a senior economic advisor. It was developed by such figures as Brent Scowcroft (a Bush senior adviser that Bush junior ignored), along with "Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Senator Chuck Hagel, former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, former Congressman Lee Hamilton and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering."

Irenaeus and the Covenant with Christ

The Covenant with Christ

The culmination of Irenaeus’s system was the revelation of Christ, the second Adam, the one who restored what had been lost by Adam, but “recapitulating” human life. By being born, living sinlessly, and dying, Jesus undid what Adam had done, and by rising from the dead conquered death for all. While we needn’t buy into Irenaeus’s system in its entirety, it does offer us a different way of looking at the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. What is interesting also is that he finds a way of including Mary in this system – for Mary recapitulates the story of Eve.

Christ, the second Adam

Christ, as the second Adam, summed up all history since the Fall, thereby reversing the effects of the fall of the first man, Adam (I Cor. 15:45-49; Rom. 5:17-19). As we have seen Irenaeus believed that Christ, the last Adam, was the founder of a new human race. While Adam's disobedience brought destruction, Christ's obedience brings salvation. While Adam yielded…

Irenaeus, the Law and Salvation

Irenaeus believed that humanity had come under the dominion of sin, because it had rejected the Law that God had written on the hearts of humanity at the beginning. Therefore, God decided to make a new covenant with humanity. By making the covenant with Moses, God provided a way of discipling humanity.

3. Why, then, did the Lord not form the covenant for the fathers? Because “the law was not established for righteous men.”399439941 Tim. i. 9. But the righteous fathers had the meaning of the Decalogue written in their hearts and souls,39953995 [Hearts and souls; i.e., moral and mental natures. For a correct view of the patristic conceptions of the Gentiles before the law, this is valuable.] that is, they loved the God who made them, and did no injury to their neighbour. There was therefore no occasion that they should be cautioned by prohibitory mandates (correptoriis literis),39963996 i.e., the letters of the Decalogue on the two tables of stone. because they had the righteou…

Irenaeus, Creation and Salvation

Creation and the Covenant of Adam.

Irenaeus speaks of three covenants – one made with Adam, one with Moses, and one with Christ. As for the first of these covenants, that with Adam, he begins by noting that God created humanity in the "image and likeness” of God. Remember that when writing this, Irenaeus is writing with a 2nd century science and psychology in mind. In this act of creation, God created Adam with free will and endowed him with reason. However, Irenaeus did not believe that Adam, being a creature, was endowed with divine perfection. Instead of perfection, Irenaeus suggested that God created the first humans in a state of innocence. That is, God created Adam as a child, morally, spiritually, and intellectually. While, in Irenaeus’s estimation, God could have created a perfect human being from the start – after all God can do whatever God wants – God chose to create the first humans in this way because God's creations needed to be of a lesser level bec…

Christian Faith and theories of Atonement

As a Disciple, I am a member of a non-creedal tradition. Our statement of faith is simple -- Peter's confession in Matthew 16:16. No more, no less.

Since I'm engaging in this conversation about the atonement, I thought I might put out something that would explain the "position" of our people. In that regard, I pulled out a a little book by British Disciples theologian William Robinson. Robinson has had an important influence on our movement, and continues to do so even though he's been dead for a half century. In this little book written for the British Churches of Christ and published in 1946, he writes:

So far as the work of Jesus Christ, accomplished through the Incarnation and the Cross, is concerned, emphasis has always been placed on His redeeming work. But Churches of Christ have refused to make theories of the Atonement part of the Faith. The fact that Jesus died for our sins has been accepted by all, but no theories have been advanced. (Robinson, What Chur…

Irenaeus and Salvation -- Introductory Comments


Irenaeus laid out his theory of salvation in the way he did in large part because of the threat he perceived coming from Gnosticism, a philosophical position that in his mind denigrated the material world and with it the incarnation. In the course of several postings I will lay out something of his understanding of salvation (soteriology) as a way of showing how the early church wrestled with its biblical inheritance.

He strongly opposed the Gnostic claim that the world, as originally created, was the work of the demiurge (a secondary god) and that this world as created was less than perfect.Through his doctrine of creation and then through the doctrine of recapitulation, Irenaeus affirmed the goodness of God's creation. He insisted that the reason humanity is less than perfect now was not the result of a failure in the creation of humanity or because of a failure of God's love. Although humanity is caught in sin, God has provided a way of s…

Living With the Cross of Jesus

In a couple of recent posts I've raised the question of the meaning of the cross. This is due in part to my response to Daniel Bell's essay "God Does Not Demand Blood." I'm in agreement with Bell, but his essay raises the question in the minds of many, what does the cross mean. I've posted a quote from Irenaeus, who offers a picture of Jesus' living and dying for humanity, recapitulating and hallowing each dimension of human life as he lived and died with and for us.

I'd like to offer a piece from another 2nd Century Christian, Melito of Sardis. This is a Passover Homily that links Moses and Jesus. There is, in this early Christian sermon, no sense of Jesus satisfying God's wrath. Instead, there is at most a description of a ransom theory. I invite your reflections on this paragraph or two.

He is the Passover of our salvation. He is the one who in many folk bore many things. He is the one who was murdered in the person of Abel, bound in the…

The Decline of the Culture Wars -- Sightings

Could it be? Could we be moving on to other things besides constant debates about abortion and homosexuality (and teaching creation in the schools)? Is the religious right in decline?

Well it's too early to tell, but as Martin Marty points out, Frank Rich seems to believe that this is true. Rich believes that economic issues have taken center stage and so we're less focused on the other issues. I think he's probably correct, but the question is -- will they heat up when the economy begins to settle down (after all today the Dow went up nearly 500 points). These debates are cyclical and likely will come back, but in our economic doldrums we get a respite! Take a look, add a comment.


Sightings 3/23/09The Decline of the Culture Wars -- Martin E. MartyEight days ago columnist Frank Rich in the New York Times joined the company of those who note, as his headline says, that “The Culture Warriors Get Laid Off.” He wrote…

Now the Green Glad Rises

A song for Spring and for Easter --words by John M.C. Crum, tune Noel Nouvelet
Played by Brian Sondahl

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
love lives again, that with the dead has been;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

In the grave they laid the love by hatred slain,
thinking that Jesus would not wake again,
laid in the earth like grain that seeps unseen;
Love is come again like wheat a rising green.

Christ come forth at Easter, like the risen grain,
who that for three days in the grave had lain;
raised from the dead, the risen Christ is seen;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
your touch can call us back to life again,
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

Why Emergence Matters -- Transforming Theology

Why Emergence Matters:
A New Paradigm for Relating the Sciences.

We hear a lot about emergent and emergence. We have evangelicals using such language and non-evangelicals as well. Phyllis Tickle speaks of the Great Emergence, that paradigm shifting event that happens every half-millennium or so when the way we think and practice our faith changes dramatically. Of course, nothing happens that quickly – it’s something that happens over time – building on what came before, but then perhaps in the twinkling of the eye everything appears to have changed.

As I pick up the Second Section of Philip Clayton's book Adventures in the Spirit(Fortress, 2008), for the Transforming Theology project, the book moves into a more specific area of exploration, a new paradigm for doing science called "emergence." Clayton believes this new paradigm has the potential to be transformative for theology and for the practice of Christian faith.

We are told by the New Atheists, such as Richard Da…

Good Friday Resource

Good Friday is on the horizon, and whether you're a preacher or not, you may wish to reflect on the cross and its meaning. Last year I published a book of sermons on the Seven Last Words of Christ -- the traditional texts for Good Friday. This is a relatively brief book, but it reflects my own sense of the cross and of Good Friday.

I invite you to pick up one through

What is atonement?

The definition of this word in the Westminster Dictionary of Theology (Westminster Press, 1983) begins:

The English word "atonement" originally signified the condition of being "at-one" after two parties had been estranged from one another. Soon a secondary meaning emerged: "atonement" denoted the means, an act or a payment, through which harmony was restored." (p. 50).

The author of this definition notes that the word for atonement -- katallage -- is translated in the KJV as atonement only once (Romans 5:11), and elsewhere is translated as reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18ff). The author notes too that in the OT the Hebrew word translated atonement "frequently occurs in a ceremonial context" and speaks of actions taken to remove guilt (Leviticus 23:26ff) -- a ceremony that is reflected upon in Hebrews 9. The issue here is removal of guilt -- perhaps by satisfying a divine requirement. The question before us, however, has to do with t…

Jesus's Mission -- Irenaeus's View

In reviewing the book God Does Not . . . I commented on Daniel Bell's attempt to deal with the atonement. His point is that God doesn't demand blood -- that is Jesus didn't die so as to appease God's wrath or satisfy some need for blood to resolve legal issues. It is a challenge to traditional penal substitutionary atonement theology. I applaud him for the attempt, but feel it needs more work!

As we contemplate the biblical understanding of the Cross -- something that we will be doing soon on Good Friday (see my reflections in my book A Cry from the Cross) -- it is proper to remember that in the early years of the church there were a number of attempts to understand the cross and Jesus' life and death and resurrection. One of the most important early theologians was Irenaeus, whose Adversus Haereses (Against Heresies) attempted to refute Gnostic attempts to separate Jesus Christ from his body. In developing his defense of Christianity, he described Jesus' …

Condoms, AIDS, and a Papal Misstatement

Pope Benedict XVI made comments that strain the margins of credibility. Beginning a trip to Africa, a continent ravaged by AIDS (most of which coming through heterosexual contact), he made a pronouncement on the use of condoms that stands in stark contrast to the facts. He suggests that condoms, rather than helping to alleviate the situation, encourage and expand the problem. Now it's true that condoms aren't perfect, and they can break, but this isn't why the Pope is against the use of condoms. He's against them because they are a form of birth control. Now, had he said, that condoms are a form of birth control and we don't allow for any form of birth control, even if it will help prevent the spread of an epidemic that might kill millions, then I'd disagree with him, but at least he would be honest. But, from the standpoint of being "pro-life," how ironic it is that the prevention of pregnancy is worse than preventing an illness that could k…

A Time to Rejoice -- Lenten Reflections

Friday, March 20, 2009
1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.

A Time to Rejoice

“Rejoice always!” That is a difficult command to obey. There are indeed times to rejoice: The birth of a child, the graduation of that same child. A Wedding Day, surely that is a day to rejoice. But can we rejoice always? Even as he presents this request, which seems so unrealistic, Paul goes on to suggest that we pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances. Surely, these are difficult commands to hear and to abide.

The life of faith is not always easy. It can be full of challenges, as Paul himself knew. Even as he wrote these words, he would have had in the recesses of his mind memories of beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonmen…

A Crackdown on Miracles? -- Sightings

As a Protestant, especially as one who is ordained and ministers in a denomination long known for its rationalism, articles about Vatican difficulties dealing with claims of the miraculous can stir up a bit of a chuckle. But, then again, I must remember from whence I've come. I was once a Pentecostal -- member of the church founded by none other than Aimee Semple McPherson. Aimee was a healing evangelist, whose fame centered not just upon her stirring preaching, but also on the basis of her healing ministry.

We Progressive Christians struggle with the biblical miracle stories -- we try to find rational answers, though sometimes we just have to stop and say -- not sure how that happened. As a Progressive, with an Evangelical streak I give some credence to the unexplained, believing that God can act, even in ways I can't explain. Anyway, in today's edition of Sightings, Dr. Heather Hartel explores the Vatican's attempt to control reports of the miraculous in the age…

The Science of Emergence -- Transforming Theology Project

Could science and theology have a mutually beneficial conversation? That's the question we have long been pondering, since too often we hear only that science and religion are at war. From the religious side we often hear about alternative views of science, from Creationism to Intelligent Design. My review of Karl Giberson's Saving Darwin deals with some of that discussion.

Philip Clayton, a theology professor at Claremont School of Theology, is deeply engaged in a conversation with science as a theologian. I'm reading, as I've pointed out earlier, his Adventures in the Spirit (Fortress 2008), as part of the Transforming Theology project. Clayton speaks of emergence -- a term that is similar in nature to that used by Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and others. In some ways they mean something different, but in others, they are closing in on similar understandings.

The clip below introduces the content of the second section of Adventures in the Spirit. I'll be posting…

I believe in Christ

I opened up a volume of sermons written and preached by the founder of this congregation that I'm privileged to serve as pastor. Dr. Edgar Dewitt Jones was a man of his day, and likely very different from me (so say those who knew him). He retired decades ago and yet his shadow continues to rest upon the congregation -- though it has receded some in recent years. Still, as his successor, I'm cognizant of the tradition he set forth. I expect that on many points we would agree theologically and politically, and differ at others. The sermon I opened up was his "Personal Confession of Faith," and in it he sets out what he personally believed. I'd like to put out her his first paragraph and then comment on it.

I believe in Christ! You would expect me to say this, Christ is the center of the Christian faith, and it would indeed be strange and sad if a teacher of the Christian religion disbelieved in the Founder of the faith. I cannot recall a time when I did not think o…

Don't Be Afraid -- I'm With You -- A Lenten Reflection

Posted below is a reflection for today as published in Central Woodward Christian Church's 2009 Lenten Devotional


Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Isaiah 43:1-7

1 But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 W hen you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6 I will say to the north, "Give them up," …