Showing posts from October, 2009

The Nature of Faith -- Luther's version

Since today is the anniversary of Luther's nailing those 95 theses to the wall of Wittenburg Castle, it might be worth posting a bit about him. I was looking through my lecture notes, which I had used a number of years ago when teaching for Fuller, and found these reflections on Luther's vision of faith. Now, it's important to note that these views emerged after 1517. It was only later that he came to view faith as the key to understanding justification.

Luther started with the premise that we are justified by God's grace, received from God by faith -- but what is faith. The Swedish Lutheran historian Bengt Hagglund suggested that the Reformation doctrine of faith was very different from that espoused by the scholastics. The Scholastic writers thought of faith as a level of reason acquired through instruction and preaching. They distinguished this from infused faith which was a gift and involved full adherence to revealed truth. Luther rejected this distinctio…

Reformation Sunday or All Saints Day?

Tomorrow we have our choice -- we can go with Reformation Sunday or All Saints Day. We can sing "For All the Saints" or "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." Being that I pastor neither a Lutheran nor a Presbyterian Church, and thus my connections as a Disciple to the Reformation of the 16th century are more derivative than direct, and perhaps because my sermon tomorrow has to do with the Worship of God, we'll take the All Saints Day route. But, instead of For All the Saints, we'll be singing Holy, Holy, Holy.

But, it would be appropriate to note that it was on October 31, 1517, that Martin Luther launched the Reformation of the 16th century by publishing his "95 Theses," inviting a debate on matters of reform within the Catholic Church, with special attention given to indulgences and purgatory. It's only later that he is evicted from that church and helps found a new community of faith.

One principal of the Reformation that would be appropriate …

Halloween Treat -- the Monster Mash

It's Halloween -- or if you'd like, All Hallow's Eve -- when the souls arise -- and apparently scare all the little boys and "ghouls." My favorite Halloween song is Bobby Pickett's "The Monster Mash." So, for a little change of pace, here's an animated version from YouTube!

The Past Meets the Future -- The Future of Faith #12

Transforming Theology Project
Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith, Harper One, 2009

Chapter 12: Sant’Egido and St. Praxedis:
Where the Past Meets the Future

The message that Harvey Cox wants us to hear as we read his latest book is this: we are entering a new age, what he calls the "Age of the Spirit." If we're entering a new age of Christian existence, then that means we're exiting another -- the "Age of Belief." If he is correct, and only time can truly tell us, then we are at a transitional moment, that is, we're living out our faith commitments with one foot in the old age and another inside the new one. Even if the ultimate outcome is certain, these remain uncertain times. But, perhaps there are hints of trajectories from the ancient church, and even from this middle age of belief, that can give us a sense of where we're going.

As an illustration of how the new can be born out of the old, Cox points to a community of lay Christians that in 19…

The Worshiping Body -- Review

THE WORSHIPING BODY: The Art of Leading Worship. By Kimberly Bracken Long. Louisville: WJK Press, 2009. ix + 130 pages

The church as the “body of Christ” is an important image. It reminds us of not only how connected we are to Christ, but the degree to which he should define us as a community of faith. Kimberly Bracken Long, Assistant Professor of Worship at Columbia Theological Seminary, has taken the image of the body and used it to inform a wonderfully written look at worship leadership. Near the close of the book, Long notes the lament of many pastors, that they simply can’t worship and lead at the same time. This book is an answer to their dilemma, for how can we lead the body in worship, if we are not at the same time worshiping ourselves?

The book is organized around parts of the body – Eyes and ears, mouth, hands, feet, and heart. Under each of these images, Long explores aspects of worship, and the leadership that is given to that worship. Thus, under eyes and ears, …

For all the Saints -- Sine Nomine

In preparation for All Saints Day -- on Sunday -- here is the hymn "For All the Saints." It's sung by the Scottish Paisley Abbey church.

Which Bible do the Bible Believers Believe? Future of Faith #11

Transforming Theology Project
Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith, Harper One, 2009

Chapter 11: Meet Rocky, Maggie, and Barry:
Which Bible Do the Bible Believers Believe?

Conservative Christians are clear on one thing. They believe in the Bible. Cox doesn’t mention it, but just a few decades ago Harold Lindsell made much ado about a supposed battle for the Bible. Among his targets was my alma mater, Fuller Seminary, a school Lindsell helped found. They weren’t strict enough, having traded inerrancy for a more flexible infalliblist stance. The battle continues to rage to this day. The question that Harvey Cox raises in this chapter is a good one – which Bible are we talking about? After all, a church in North Carolina is burning bibles, except the divinely authorized KJV. And a Right Wing activist is going to publish a conservative Bible, which corrects the text so it fits conservative Republican ideology.

So, when we say that we follow the Bible, which Bible is it? Is …

Back to the Twelfth Century: Peter the Venerable and Benedict XVI -- Sightings

Yesterday I posted on Harvey Cox's views of interfaith dialog. Today, Lucy Pick, a lecturer in the history of Christianity at the University of Chicago, comments on Benedict XVI's remarks about a 12th century Benedictine being an exemplar of faith and practice -- especially in regards to conversations with other faith traditions. Pick suggests that this choice is a bit odd, for while Peter the Venerable did seek to engage Jews and Muslims in conversation, the assumption was that if the other did not agree then the other wasn't human. So, what is Benedict trying to say by lifting up this medieval abbot?


Sightings 10/29/09Back to the Twelfth Century: Peter the Venerable and Pope Benedict XVI-- Lucy K. Pick In his general audience in St. Peter’s Square on October 14th, Pope Benedict gave an address in which he held up the twelfth-century monk and abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable, as a model for contemporary Christians, la…

Sacred Space, the Pulpit and the Sacrament of the Word

I've written a rather long title for this post, in part because I want to connect a couple of things. I return again to Kimberly Bracken Long's fascinating book The Worshiping Body: The Art of Leading Worship, (WJK, 2009). In a chapter entitled "Feet" she works with the concept of sacred space.

There is a trend today to de-sacralize worship space. It's true that in the earliest days of the church, the people met in homes and gardens, but as Long notes, no matter where we gather, there is a sense that when we gather for worship, that space, no matter its normal use, becomes sacred space. Although I have no need for grand cathedrals to be my base of worship, I wonder if we sometimes take little concern about the space and its use.

But, that leads me to the pulpit and its place in worship. We recently moved from a split chancel arrangement to a center pulpit one. Part of this was a practical need to better connect from the pulpit. I realize I could move out of…

Worship -- what is the vision it evokes?

This Sunday I will be concluding a six week sermon series focusing on six core values, the last of which focuses on worship. As we consider what it means for us to be missional, we must ask the question how does worship fit? My fear is that in many descriptions of missional congregations worship is either left out of the equation or is seen as means to something -- a tool. But is that worship is about?

I've been reading Kimberly Bracken Long's book The Worshiping Body (WJK, 2009). It's quite a good book, one that pastors and worship leaders probably ought to read. She speaks of the "vision we enact whenever we gather for worship." She notes that in worship we come as equals and are made equals in worship through our baptism. Listen to these words, which I believe should have great meaning for us as people of faith.

In other words, we enact a vision in worship where all are equal in the sight of God, and all are treated as such, with dignity and love. We ac…

Get Them into the Lifeboat -- Future of Faith #10

Transforming Theology Project
Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith, Harper One, 2009,

Chapter 10: Get Them into the Lifeboat:
The Pathos of Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism is a variant of creedalism, one that equates faith with the unwavering affirmation of certain fundamental beliefs. It is an obsession with belief, which according to Harvey Cox, makes faith itself more elusive. This concern for right doctrine creates a defensiveness and spiritual pride that isn’t “in keeping with the love ethic of Jesus” (p. 141). Cox speaks of fundamentalism with a certain level of personal experience – even if not long in duration. Like many college young people he got drawn into a conservative Christian community – his encounter was related to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the late 1940s. In telling his story, he notes that the IVF people were sincere, friendly, and inviting. They were also concerned for intellectual rigor – except that they rejected any critical study of scripture and lacke…

Who Was John the Baptist?

This is the question asked by the Rev. Katherine Willis Pershey in an article for Disciples World. The subtitled gives us a clue -- "Understanding the 'Wild Man of the Bible'."

During Advent we are introduced in several Gospel accounts to the forerunner of Jesus, the one who baptizes Jesus, but who according to the Gospels is unworthy to tie Jesus' shoes. But, who is this enigmatic man who eats wild locusts and dresses in fur? Katherine's excellent article offers us some clues, not just to how the Bible answers the question, but how art, literature, and other religious communities have answered it.

To read the article, click here

Living in Haunted Houses -- Future of Faith

Transforming Theology Project
Harvey Cox, Future of Faith, Harper One, 2009

Chapter 9: Living in Haunted Houses:
Beyond the Interfaith Dialogue

As someone who has been actively involved in interfaith conversations for sometime, I would agree with Harvey Cox that it’s easier (and a lot more fun) to talk with more liberal-minded members of other faith communities than it is to talk with more conservative members of my own faith community. It is important to note that these days interfaith dialogue goes beyond Protestants talking with Catholics and Jews. Interfaith dialogue is important to the future of our world, although Eboo Patel has pointed out in Acts of Faith that too often high level interfaith conversation leads to little more than talk. That is why the Interfaith Youth Core has taken a different tactic – putting more focus on doing things together rather than talking about either commonalities or differences.

The reality is that the world has grown smaller and that what w…

All Politics is Local -- Thoughts on an upcoming election

In a week from now, the citizens of Troy (at least some of them) will go to the polls. They'll elect school board members at a time when schools face massive reductions in state support. They'll also elect three new city council members -- one candidate is an incumbent -- and the Council faces major financial issues. What is true for Troy is true elsewhere, the question is -- will those running for office provide leadership at a difficult time?

Over the past few weeks I've posted some on this issue. I've spoken out about a City Council that is controlled by a right wing cabal, that is more ideologically driven than concerned about solving problems. They chant an anti-tax mantra, but fail to recognize that when revenues are falling its generally a good thing to find new sources of revenue. Citizens understand this -- if they're given the relevant information -- and will support new revenue sources, even if that means paying more in taxes. In this case, the fal…

No Lunch with the Prefect -- Future of Faith #8

Transforming Theology Project
Harvey Cox,Future of Faith, Harper One, 2009

Chapter 8: No Lunch with the Prefect:
How to Fix the Papacy

It is intriguing that non-Catholics find the papacy intriguing. Indeed, it’s even more intriguing to see someone who has strong anti-clerical, anti-hierarchical, anti-creedal, anti-imperial predilections find great value in the papacy. Yet, that is the message of chapter 8, which begins with an account of Harvey Cox’s meeting with the current Pope, Benedict XVI, back when the pontiff was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. According to Cox's account, it wasn’t a long meeting, but it was an opportunity to explore the possibility of a reform of the papacy for the purpose of giving leadership to a new age of Christianity.

Cox has had the opportunity to meet several Popes, including Paul VI, who spoke kindly of his book The Secular City (I guess I need to read the book!). He asked the c…

Constantine's Last Supper -- Future of Faith #7

Transforming Theology Project
Harvey Cox, Future of Faith,Harper One, 2009

Chapter 7: Constantine’s Last Supper:
The Invention of Heresy

Events had been set in the preceding centuries that were the prelude to the triumph of hierarchy and creedalism in the church. Now, with Constantine’s embrace of Christianity – in principle if not in general practice – the possibility of enforcing belief became possible. Before this, the church could use only excommunication, but state support and patronage would give power and authority to the church that it had never before experienced. The church, which had contained within its membership few among the elite, now became exceedingly popular. The elite quickly joined the religious community in great numbers that was patronized by the emperor.

An important and intriguing component of the chapter is Cox’s discussion of the cross and how it became the primary symbol of the church. He suggests that prior to Constantine’s “conversion,”this had not …

Anglicans and Rome -- Sightings

The recent overtures from Rome to disgruntled Anglicans, making it easier for them to join up with the Catholic Church -- allowing these priests to marry and even use a more Anglican liturgy -- has caused some eyebrows to be raised. The issues that seem to be causing issues between Rome and Canterbury are things like women priests and gay bishops, but are there other issues here?

Martin Marty, with his usual discerning eye, takes a shot at the question in today's Sightings column.


Sightings 10/26/09Anglicans and Rome -- Martin E. MartyThe top ecumenical – some are saying un- or anti-ecumenical – news of the year occurred October 20th with a Vatican announcement. Bypassing forty years of Anglican-Roman Catholic conversations-cum-negotiations and blindsiding Archbishop Rowan Williams, the head of the seventy-million-member Anglican Communion, Vatican officials announced that they were taking steps to receive Anglican (in the…

The Bishop is your high priest and mighty king -- Future of Faith

Transforming Theology Project
Harvey Cox,Future of Faith, Harper One, 2009.

Chapter 6: “The Bishop Is Your High Priest and Mighty King”:
The Rise of the Clerical Caste

If creeds are the topic of chapter five, the clerical hierarchy is the focus of chapter six. Cox, who likes to consult his Harvard colleagues, notes that Helmut Koester has written that Paul’s letters were ad hoc political/administrative works, and not doctrinal/theological. Although there is a lot of the administrative, there is also a lot of theological work – especially in Romans. And, while not taking authority over the broader church, he does seem to suggest that the churches he founded should follow his teaching. To say that Paul didn’t demand uniformity might be a rather naive reading of his letters.

The point that’s made here is that the early leaders, as they organized, felt the need to create the illusion that their positions were deeply rooted in the founding era. Thus, Tertullian suggests that the here…

Bearing Witness to the Good News -- Core Values #5

Number 5 in a 6 sermon series on Central Woodward Christian Church's congregational core values. Reposted from Words of Welcome


Acts 1:6-14

There’s a little old song that we’ve all probably sung, and it goes like this:
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
When we sing this song, we know that it’s not talking about lighting candles or turning on flashlights when the electricity goes out. This little light that we’re supposed to let shine is our own life that serves as a sign of God’s presence in the world. It reminds us that what we do and what we say bears witness to the grace and love of God. And as Jesus said, don’t hide your light under a bushel or in a cellar – instead, put it on a lamp stand where it can be seen (Luke 11:33; Mk 14:21; Mt. 5:15).

Back in February as we discerned Go…