Displaying items by tag: Theology http://baptistnews.com Sun, 03 May 2015 04:21:41 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb When boundaries don’t behave http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/29907-when-boundaries-don-t-behave http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/29907-when-boundaries-don-t-behave Christians must learn to see Jesus as the well in the center of a pasture more than belief as the fence around a pasture.

By Corey Fields

Fields Corey ColumnI have a childhood memory of driving with my family across state lines and, in bewilderment, asking my mother where the line was.

That may have been my first introduction to the arbitrary and human-made nature of many of life’s boundaries, some of which are defended in violent and tragic ways.

I can’t help but see irony (and theology?) in the fact that most of the straight boundaries on a map are human-drawn, while the ones that are jagged and irregular are God-drawn (e.g., rivers).

In one sense, boundaries are necessary. We humans can’t function without them, neither in the physical nor conceptual world.

When it comes to how we perceive things, Teller the Magician explains it well: “Our brains don’t see everything — the world is too big, too full of stimuli. So the brain takes shortcuts, constructing a picture of reality with relatively simple algorithms for what things are supposed to look like.”

These “simple algorithms” that we use to understand and categorize the world can quickly become what Chimamanda Adichie called “the single story.” The problem is that these algorithms and boundaries can quickly trip us up. Life is complicated, and these boundaries often don’t behave. As Adichie put it, “Stereotypes are not necessarily untrue, but they are largely incomplete.” Herself from Nigeria, she tells of the confusion some experience upon learning that not all Africans are poor.

We struggle to understand our world and see complexity. CNN anchors didn’t seem to grasp it when Reza Aslan told them that there are some “Muslim countries” that honor civil rights, while some “Christian countries” oppress women. Last week, some U.S. lawmakers were clearly confused upon learning that the Iranian government has joined the fight against ISIS.

The namesake of St. Patrick’s Day was a fifth-century missionary and bishop in Ireland who didn’t keep his boundaries straight. Not himself Irish, he transgressed the boundaries of privilege and culture to bring the message of Christ to a country in which he had earlier been enslaved for six years. According to his letter Confessio, his Christian peers in Roman Britain would ask, “Why does this man want to work among these barbarians who don’t know God?”

Boundary keeping is a staple in religion. People have been marginalized, jailed and killed for falling outside determined limits — limits which are usually set by those in power. Boundaries play a role in aiding our understanding but all too often serve to shield us from having to engage with changing circumstances.

Theology must always have a context. The context for theology is always a human context, and the human context is fluid. Reality does not operate by “the single story” or simple algorithms.

This is why some contemporary Christian authors have latched onto Paul Hiebert’s distinction of bounded sets vs. centered sets. Hiebert was a missionary to India in the early 1960s. In his work, he encountered a lot of boundaries that didn’t behave, and he drew on this distinction from set theory and applied it to the question, “Who is a Christian?”

Bounded-set thinking sees things in clear categories. Criteria determine who is in and who is out. You are in if you meet the criteria, possess certain characteristics or believe certain things. In centered-set thinking, the question is not whether one is in or out but rather what one’s orientation is in relation to a central focal point.

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch explain the difference with an analogy from ranching. They noticed that in the United States, fences are erected to keep livestock within boundaries (bounded set). In Australia, however, ranches tend to be too big for a fence to be practical, and they instead have a well that is central to the property. Though there is little to restrict animals’ movement, they eventually return to the water source and their grazing habits begin to revolve around it (centered set).

In short, bounded sets are about criteria. Centered sets are about values and orientation.

Contemporary missional church authors have picked up on this shift and see something much more true and helpful in centered-set thinking. In fact, it’s how Jesus himself seemed to operate (making it hard for him to get along with the bounded-set religious authorities).

He said that the law could be summarized by the commands to love God and love neighbor (Matthew 22:40). In the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3ff), Jesus held up the values and orientations of the kingdom of God: peacemaking, mercy, thirsting for righteousness. Jesus looked at people who thought they were well within the boundaries and said, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31).

Christians must learn to see Jesus as the well in the center more than belief as the fence around the pasture, because immediately the question becomes, “Who gets to put up the fence?” Roger Olson of Truett Seminary, though he has previously signaled a preference for centered-set thinking in his work, recently tried to fence off moderates and liberals in the CBF pasture.

I suppose any of us can succumb to the temptation. As Hiebert has written, bounded sets are “fundamental to American understanding of order.”

What might it look like for the United States to explore a more centered approach to foreign policy? Much of how we relate to the world seems to involve criteria and boundaries instead of values and orientation. Our loyalties remain static even as circumstances and leaders change. What would it look like to center ourselves around the peacemakers and the merciful, wherever they may be? What if we shifted our gaze to those who mourn or are persecuted for righteousness?

Perhaps that’s naive. But I know that, as a Christian, I have been called to follow Jesus into this world that doesn’t behave according to my boundaries and singular stories. Neither does God.

]]>
Christians must learn to see Jesus as the well in the center of a pasture more than belief as the fence around a pasture.

By Corey Fields

Fields Corey ColumnI have a childhood memory of driving with my family across state lines and, in bewilderment, asking my mother where the line was.

That may have been my first introduction to the arbitrary and human-made nature of many of life’s boundaries, some of which are defended in violent and tragic ways.

I can’t help but see irony (and theology?) in the fact that most of the straight boundaries on a map are human-drawn, while the ones that are jagged and irregular are God-drawn (e.g., rivers).

In one sense, boundaries are necessary. We humans can’t function without them, neither in the physical nor conceptual world.

When it comes to how we perceive things, Teller the Magician explains it well: “Our brains don’t see everything — the world is too big, too full of stimuli. So the brain takes shortcuts, constructing a picture of reality with relatively simple algorithms for what things are supposed to look like.”

These “simple algorithms” that we use to understand and categorize the world can quickly become what Chimamanda Adichie called “the single story.” The problem is that these algorithms and boundaries can quickly trip us up. Life is complicated, and these boundaries often don’t behave. As Adichie put it, “Stereotypes are not necessarily untrue, but they are largely incomplete.” Herself from Nigeria, she tells of the confusion some experience upon learning that not all Africans are poor.

We struggle to understand our world and see complexity. CNN anchors didn’t seem to grasp it when Reza Aslan told them that there are some “Muslim countries” that honor civil rights, while some “Christian countries” oppress women. Last week, some U.S. lawmakers were clearly confused upon learning that the Iranian government has joined the fight against ISIS.

The namesake of St. Patrick’s Day was a fifth-century missionary and bishop in Ireland who didn’t keep his boundaries straight. Not himself Irish, he transgressed the boundaries of privilege and culture to bring the message of Christ to a country in which he had earlier been enslaved for six years. According to his letter Confessio, his Christian peers in Roman Britain would ask, “Why does this man want to work among these barbarians who don’t know God?”

Boundary keeping is a staple in religion. People have been marginalized, jailed and killed for falling outside determined limits — limits which are usually set by those in power. Boundaries play a role in aiding our understanding but all too often serve to shield us from having to engage with changing circumstances.

Theology must always have a context. The context for theology is always a human context, and the human context is fluid. Reality does not operate by “the single story” or simple algorithms.

This is why some contemporary Christian authors have latched onto Paul Hiebert’s distinction of bounded sets vs. centered sets. Hiebert was a missionary to India in the early 1960s. In his work, he encountered a lot of boundaries that didn’t behave, and he drew on this distinction from set theory and applied it to the question, “Who is a Christian?”

Bounded-set thinking sees things in clear categories. Criteria determine who is in and who is out. You are in if you meet the criteria, possess certain characteristics or believe certain things. In centered-set thinking, the question is not whether one is in or out but rather what one’s orientation is in relation to a central focal point.

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch explain the difference with an analogy from ranching. They noticed that in the United States, fences are erected to keep livestock within boundaries (bounded set). In Australia, however, ranches tend to be too big for a fence to be practical, and they instead have a well that is central to the property. Though there is little to restrict animals’ movement, they eventually return to the water source and their grazing habits begin to revolve around it (centered set).

In short, bounded sets are about criteria. Centered sets are about values and orientation.

Contemporary missional church authors have picked up on this shift and see something much more true and helpful in centered-set thinking. In fact, it’s how Jesus himself seemed to operate (making it hard for him to get along with the bounded-set religious authorities).

He said that the law could be summarized by the commands to love God and love neighbor (Matthew 22:40). In the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3ff), Jesus held up the values and orientations of the kingdom of God: peacemaking, mercy, thirsting for righteousness. Jesus looked at people who thought they were well within the boundaries and said, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31).

Christians must learn to see Jesus as the well in the center more than belief as the fence around the pasture, because immediately the question becomes, “Who gets to put up the fence?” Roger Olson of Truett Seminary, though he has previously signaled a preference for centered-set thinking in his work, recently tried to fence off moderates and liberals in the CBF pasture.

I suppose any of us can succumb to the temptation. As Hiebert has written, bounded sets are “fundamental to American understanding of order.”

What might it look like for the United States to explore a more centered approach to foreign policy? Much of how we relate to the world seems to involve criteria and boundaries instead of values and orientation. Our loyalties remain static even as circumstances and leaders change. What would it look like to center ourselves around the peacemakers and the merciful, wherever they may be? What if we shifted our gaze to those who mourn or are persecuted for righteousness?

Perhaps that’s naive. But I know that, as a Christian, I have been called to follow Jesus into this world that doesn’t behave according to my boundaries and singular stories. Neither does God.

]]>
Corey Fields Columns Tue, 17 Mar 2015 06:05:00 -0400
There’s no danger in raising questions http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/29854-there-s-no-danger-in-raising-questions http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/29854-there-s-no-danger-in-raising-questions Too often, the church is seen as allergic to them.

By Starlette McNeill

McNeill Starlette ColumnThis week, I presented on the topic “The Double-Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race” at ChurchWorks, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship conference for ministers of education and spiritual formation. I know. The title is a mouthful, and though it may take longer to say, it will take even longer to think about because it is also a mind-full. It’s hard to get our heads around race and God.

Still, we gathered to put our heads together, to bow in prayer, to listen and think through our theology and why it matters when it comes to race and spiritual formation, children and youth ministry, adult education, pastoral ministry and church starts. Persons gathered at the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., to rest and reconnect with friends, to reassess and remember their call to ministry. It was a time of discernment in order to reignite our passion for theology, to listen for direction in order to stop going through the motions of ministry, to heed the warning to slow down less we be crushed to spiritual death by the machinery of ministry and its demand for more and more fun and exciting programs.

Dr. Andrew Root, an associate professor at Luther Seminary, the author of several books to include Christopraxis: A Practical Theology of the Cross and the featured speaker, challenged us to wrestle with God, to get in the ring with the heavyweight champion questions of our ministry and world and to go a few rounds. He was our boxing coach, yelling at us from the corner to get back in there, to swing, to “bob and weave,” to stay on our feet, to keep fighting. But, he did it with Powerpoint slides and stories, lots of movie references and comically irreverent commentary, scriptures and prayers. He then asked us to quiet our minds, to listen and confess deeply about our theological ways.

And we did it again and again because the match was not over; we had simply ended a round. Ding. Ding. It was time for more questions.

Questions. That’s not a word that I was raised to believe in. There was no faith in questions. I was taught not to ask them of adults or God, to simply do as I was told and because “the Bible tells me so.” Consequently, questions were viewed as a sign of deafness and disrespect as “faith comes by hearing” (Rom. 10.17). Maybe you had the same teacher.

For many believers and nonbelievers (who chose not to believe because they could not ask questions), the Church is often seen as a place that is adverse to them, allergic to inquiry. Right after baptism, we are seemingly expected to be expert believers. No questions asked.

Still, I have heard my share of stories from those who were given the troublemaker treatment or asked to be quiet because they asked “too many” questions. “Shhh. Please keep your questions down.” I guess that there is an understood limit. You only get two. After that, you are a heathen.

These teachers seemed to be asking, “Why can’t you just accept the answer? Why can’t you just believe?” But, those are questions too. So, they can ask questions of you but you cannot ask them of God? And why do our questions imply doubt? Why can’t they suggest interest and investment in our faith?

Were they saying that we should not think about our theology, that we should think that God is good but not ask why the world can be such a bad place? Were they suggesting that God’s commands or callings are unquestionable, that God is certain so we should know, that because we believe we should be beyond the shadow of doubt, that there is no place for questions in Sunday school or Bible study? That we should easily and simply sign on the dotted line before understanding what we are agreeing to? I know. More questions.

Questions in many churches are treated as the opposite of faith. Raising a question in a business meeting could be dangerous. Put your hand down less you draw it back withered and we need a miracle not a motion. Though we are called to search and seek and knock, we often don’t find what we are looking for because the door of knowledge is closed on Sundays.

However, I was reminded this week of the importance of the unknown, the place and work of mystery in the life of the believer. I was reminded that we lose more when we hold tightly to our key to knowledge and that questions are evidence of wrestling, proof that God is present with us. And yes, I understand that asking questions means that we must admit that we don’t know it all though we serve the God who knows it all. Maybe that’s what needs to be pinned down, counted out. Perhaps, we need to lose our pride and pretentiousness. Drop the act that we have it all together and all figured out.

I think that our renewal comes not in the lowering of our theological expectations but through serving the Lord with our minds by raising the questions. I believe that our questions must grow up or we will remain an immature Church. They must move beyond the dependency of infancy, the awkwardness and uncertainty of puberty toward the accountability and responsibility of theological adulthood. Our questions must be allowed to develop and change or the Body of Christ will remain childish, pointing figures and placing blame instead of raising our hands, getting in the ring and double-teaming the questions.

]]>
Too often, the church is seen as allergic to them.

By Starlette McNeill

McNeill Starlette ColumnThis week, I presented on the topic “The Double-Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race” at ChurchWorks, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship conference for ministers of education and spiritual formation. I know. The title is a mouthful, and though it may take longer to say, it will take even longer to think about because it is also a mind-full. It’s hard to get our heads around race and God.

Still, we gathered to put our heads together, to bow in prayer, to listen and think through our theology and why it matters when it comes to race and spiritual formation, children and youth ministry, adult education, pastoral ministry and church starts. Persons gathered at the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., to rest and reconnect with friends, to reassess and remember their call to ministry. It was a time of discernment in order to reignite our passion for theology, to listen for direction in order to stop going through the motions of ministry, to heed the warning to slow down less we be crushed to spiritual death by the machinery of ministry and its demand for more and more fun and exciting programs.

Dr. Andrew Root, an associate professor at Luther Seminary, the author of several books to include Christopraxis: A Practical Theology of the Cross and the featured speaker, challenged us to wrestle with God, to get in the ring with the heavyweight champion questions of our ministry and world and to go a few rounds. He was our boxing coach, yelling at us from the corner to get back in there, to swing, to “bob and weave,” to stay on our feet, to keep fighting. But, he did it with Powerpoint slides and stories, lots of movie references and comically irreverent commentary, scriptures and prayers. He then asked us to quiet our minds, to listen and confess deeply about our theological ways.

And we did it again and again because the match was not over; we had simply ended a round. Ding. Ding. It was time for more questions.

Questions. That’s not a word that I was raised to believe in. There was no faith in questions. I was taught not to ask them of adults or God, to simply do as I was told and because “the Bible tells me so.” Consequently, questions were viewed as a sign of deafness and disrespect as “faith comes by hearing” (Rom. 10.17). Maybe you had the same teacher.

For many believers and nonbelievers (who chose not to believe because they could not ask questions), the Church is often seen as a place that is adverse to them, allergic to inquiry. Right after baptism, we are seemingly expected to be expert believers. No questions asked.

Still, I have heard my share of stories from those who were given the troublemaker treatment or asked to be quiet because they asked “too many” questions. “Shhh. Please keep your questions down.” I guess that there is an understood limit. You only get two. After that, you are a heathen.

These teachers seemed to be asking, “Why can’t you just accept the answer? Why can’t you just believe?” But, those are questions too. So, they can ask questions of you but you cannot ask them of God? And why do our questions imply doubt? Why can’t they suggest interest and investment in our faith?

Were they saying that we should not think about our theology, that we should think that God is good but not ask why the world can be such a bad place? Were they suggesting that God’s commands or callings are unquestionable, that God is certain so we should know, that because we believe we should be beyond the shadow of doubt, that there is no place for questions in Sunday school or Bible study? That we should easily and simply sign on the dotted line before understanding what we are agreeing to? I know. More questions.

Questions in many churches are treated as the opposite of faith. Raising a question in a business meeting could be dangerous. Put your hand down less you draw it back withered and we need a miracle not a motion. Though we are called to search and seek and knock, we often don’t find what we are looking for because the door of knowledge is closed on Sundays.

However, I was reminded this week of the importance of the unknown, the place and work of mystery in the life of the believer. I was reminded that we lose more when we hold tightly to our key to knowledge and that questions are evidence of wrestling, proof that God is present with us. And yes, I understand that asking questions means that we must admit that we don’t know it all though we serve the God who knows it all. Maybe that’s what needs to be pinned down, counted out. Perhaps, we need to lose our pride and pretentiousness. Drop the act that we have it all together and all figured out.

I think that our renewal comes not in the lowering of our theological expectations but through serving the Lord with our minds by raising the questions. I believe that our questions must grow up or we will remain an immature Church. They must move beyond the dependency of infancy, the awkwardness and uncertainty of puberty toward the accountability and responsibility of theological adulthood. Our questions must be allowed to develop and change or the Body of Christ will remain childish, pointing figures and placing blame instead of raising our hands, getting in the ring and double-teaming the questions.

]]>
Starlette McNeill Columns Thu, 26 Feb 2015 06:34:57 -0500
SBC leader says Marcus Borg redefined Christianity http://baptistnews.com/ministry/people/item/29765-sbc-leader-says-marcus-borg-redefined-christianity http://baptistnews.com/ministry/people/item/29765-sbc-leader-says-marcus-borg-redefined-christianity Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler says efforts by “progressive” scholars like Marcus Borg to rescue Christianity from irrelevancy wind up watering down the fundamentals of the faith.

By Bob Allen

The liberal, intellectual approach to Christianity pioneered by recently deceased Jesus scholar Marcus Borg isn’t the Christianity taught in the Bible, a Southern Baptist theologian and seminary president said Jan. 28.

Marcus-BorgBorg, 72, a driving force in a movement known as “progressive Christianity” challenging fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible advanced by the Religious Right, died Jan. 21 at his home in Powell Butte, Ore., after an illness.

He was among a group active in the 1980s and 1990s known as the Jesus Seminar, in which scholars voted with colored beads to decide their collective view about the historicity of sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the New Testament.

Though controversial, their thinking paved the way for a new wave of progressive Christian authors like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell and Diana Butler Bass questioning church dogma they believe hinders many people from taking Jesus seriously in a postmodern world.

“It may well be that Marcus Borg was in no sense an atheist, but he was also in no sense an orthodox Christian,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., commented on Borg’s passing in a podcast briefing at AlbertMohler.com. That is in part, Mohler said, because he doubted that Jesus literally rose from the dead.

“Anyone who rejects the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is not meeting the very clear statement of the apostle Paul in Romans, chapter 10, when he says that salvation comes to the one who confesses with the lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believes in the heart that God has raised him from the dead,” Mohler said, “a point that Paul, we believe, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit made emphatically in First Corinthians, chapter 15, as well.”

“But here you have evidence of the redefinition of Christianity into what is called Progressive Christianity,” Mohler said, repeating his recent claim that “when you’re looking at liberal Christianity and biblical Christianity, you’re not looking at two variants of one religion, but two very different religions.”

“The same is true of biblical Christianity and what is now called Progressive Christianity,” Mohler said.

Borg, an Episcopalian who taught religion and culture for 28 years at Oregon State University, wrote or co-wrote 21 books, including the 1994 Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, the single best-selling book by a contemporary Jesus scholar.

His Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary is a New York Times bestseller. The Heart of Christianity, published in 2003, has been a group study book in hundreds of churches.

In his last book, the memoir Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most written on the occasion of his 70th birthday, Borg reflected on awareness of his own death. “Imagine that Christianity is about loving God,” he wrote. “Imagine that it’s not about the self and its concerns, about ‘what’s in it for me,’ whether that be a blessed afterlife or prosperity in this life.”

In a November 2013 Patheos blog titled "What is a Christian?," Borg said Christianity is not about “right beliefs” but rather “a changed heart.”

In a follow-up post titled "What is the Gospel?," he noted that Jesus’ first followers described the “good news” not in terms of the afterlife but instead “the coming kingdom of God.”

“Importantly, ‘the kingdom of God’ was not about life in the next world, not about heaven, but life on earth,” Borg wrote. “The coming of the kingdom of God on earth was about justice and peace. Justice: that everybody should have enough (‘daily bread’) of the material basis of life. Peace: the end of war and violence.”

“Jesus’ passion — what he was passionate about — was God and the kingdom of God,” Borg continued. “It involves a twofold transformation: of ourselves and of ‘this world.’”

In a January 2014 blog on "What the Bible is," Borg said arguing over biblical authority with literalists always ends in an impasse over the question, “If all of the Bible isn’t inerrant, how do we decide what parts are inerrant and what parts are not?”

Borg said choosing between the “all the Bible is inerrant” or “some of it is, and some isn’t,” isn’t the only option. He said he viewed the whole Bible as “a human product” passing on the shared experience of spiritual forbears in the sense that Paul described his own proclamation of the gospel as a “treasure in earthen vessels.”

“So it’s not that the Bible is inerrant, or parts of it are and parts of it aren’t,” he explained. “It is all a human product. And yet it is ‘treasure’ in an earthen vessel. It is the witness and testimony of our spiritual ancestors.”

Previous story:

SBC leader sees ‘chasm’ between liberal, evangelical denominations

]]>
Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler says efforts by “progressive” scholars like Marcus Borg to rescue Christianity from irrelevancy wind up watering down the fundamentals of the faith.

By Bob Allen

The liberal, intellectual approach to Christianity pioneered by recently deceased Jesus scholar Marcus Borg isn’t the Christianity taught in the Bible, a Southern Baptist theologian and seminary president said Jan. 28.

Marcus-BorgBorg, 72, a driving force in a movement known as “progressive Christianity” challenging fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible advanced by the Religious Right, died Jan. 21 at his home in Powell Butte, Ore., after an illness.

He was among a group active in the 1980s and 1990s known as the Jesus Seminar, in which scholars voted with colored beads to decide their collective view about the historicity of sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the New Testament.

Though controversial, their thinking paved the way for a new wave of progressive Christian authors like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell and Diana Butler Bass questioning church dogma they believe hinders many people from taking Jesus seriously in a postmodern world.

“It may well be that Marcus Borg was in no sense an atheist, but he was also in no sense an orthodox Christian,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., commented on Borg’s passing in a podcast briefing at AlbertMohler.com. That is in part, Mohler said, because he doubted that Jesus literally rose from the dead.

“Anyone who rejects the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is not meeting the very clear statement of the apostle Paul in Romans, chapter 10, when he says that salvation comes to the one who confesses with the lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believes in the heart that God has raised him from the dead,” Mohler said, “a point that Paul, we believe, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit made emphatically in First Corinthians, chapter 15, as well.”

“But here you have evidence of the redefinition of Christianity into what is called Progressive Christianity,” Mohler said, repeating his recent claim that “when you’re looking at liberal Christianity and biblical Christianity, you’re not looking at two variants of one religion, but two very different religions.”

“The same is true of biblical Christianity and what is now called Progressive Christianity,” Mohler said.

Borg, an Episcopalian who taught religion and culture for 28 years at Oregon State University, wrote or co-wrote 21 books, including the 1994 Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, the single best-selling book by a contemporary Jesus scholar.

His Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary is a New York Times bestseller. The Heart of Christianity, published in 2003, has been a group study book in hundreds of churches.

In his last book, the memoir Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most written on the occasion of his 70th birthday, Borg reflected on awareness of his own death. “Imagine that Christianity is about loving God,” he wrote. “Imagine that it’s not about the self and its concerns, about ‘what’s in it for me,’ whether that be a blessed afterlife or prosperity in this life.”

In a November 2013 Patheos blog titled "What is a Christian?," Borg said Christianity is not about “right beliefs” but rather “a changed heart.”

In a follow-up post titled "What is the Gospel?," he noted that Jesus’ first followers described the “good news” not in terms of the afterlife but instead “the coming kingdom of God.”

“Importantly, ‘the kingdom of God’ was not about life in the next world, not about heaven, but life on earth,” Borg wrote. “The coming of the kingdom of God on earth was about justice and peace. Justice: that everybody should have enough (‘daily bread’) of the material basis of life. Peace: the end of war and violence.”

“Jesus’ passion — what he was passionate about — was God and the kingdom of God,” Borg continued. “It involves a twofold transformation: of ourselves and of ‘this world.’”

In a January 2014 blog on "What the Bible is," Borg said arguing over biblical authority with literalists always ends in an impasse over the question, “If all of the Bible isn’t inerrant, how do we decide what parts are inerrant and what parts are not?”

Borg said choosing between the “all the Bible is inerrant” or “some of it is, and some isn’t,” isn’t the only option. He said he viewed the whole Bible as “a human product” passing on the shared experience of spiritual forbears in the sense that Paul described his own proclamation of the gospel as a “treasure in earthen vessels.”

“So it’s not that the Bible is inerrant, or parts of it are and parts of it aren’t,” he explained. “It is all a human product. And yet it is ‘treasure’ in an earthen vessel. It is the witness and testimony of our spiritual ancestors.”

Previous story:

SBC leader sees ‘chasm’ between liberal, evangelical denominations

]]>
Bob Allen People Wed, 28 Jan 2015 13:17:51 -0500
Beyond belief http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/29733-beyond-belief http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/29733-beyond-belief Ryan Bell says he spent a year without God. I would suggest that such an experiment is not possible.

By Corey Fields

Fields Corey ColumnLast month, former Seventh-day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell (not to be confused with Rob Bell) dropped the bombshell: he doesn’t believe in God anymore.

His story has hit national media outlets such as NPR and the Huffington Post. Bell was the pastor who tried the experiment he called “a year without God,” blogging through the experience.

He sought to “live as if God doesn’t exist.” In a post dated 12/31/13, he tried to explain what this would mean. "I will 'try on' atheism for a year,” he wrote. “I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene. … I will read atheist ‘sacred texts.’ ... I will also attempt to speak to as many actual atheists as possible.”

Apparently, after “trying it on,” it fit. In an interview with Chris Stedman of Religion News Service, he said that his stance remains “provisional,” but said, “The intellectual and emotional energy it takes to figure out how God fits into everything is far greater than dealing with reality as it presents itself to us.”

Despite hoping that Bell doesn’t use such criteria to determine if other things in life are worth it, I did find some of his insights helpful and appreciate the bridge building he’s already doing between believers and atheists. He said he wishes “more Christians knew that atheists are not nihilists who have no meaning to their lives or people with no moral compass.” Conversely, he wishes “more atheists knew that Christians care very deeply about knowledge and truth … [and] are not stupid.” Amen to both.

I honor and appreciate his experience. I do not wish to dismiss his journey and I applaud his vulnerability. I simply wish to make an observation.

Ryan Bell says he spent a year without God. I would suggest that such an experiment is not possible.

There is no such thing as life without God. When I speak of God, I’m speaking of a Spirit that is so fundamental to existence, a reality so fundamental to life, that talk of believing or disbelieving is ultimately nonsensical. It’s our own beliefs that we disbelieve in, not God.

“In him, we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). To say that one is living without God is not very different from saying that one is swimming without water or breathing without air.

In Joining the Dance, Molly Marshall notes that even though we readily affirm that God is omnipresent, “the way we often speak about the Spirit seems to deny this reality. We locate the Spirit in rather specific, at times restrictive, places.”

In The Spirit of Life, Jurgen Moltmann says that the “possibility of perceiving God in all things, and all things in God, is grounded theologically on an understanding of the Spirit of God as the power of creation and the wellspring of life.”

I like the analogy of a ship sunken in the ocean. We are the ship, God is the ocean. While the ocean fully contains the ship and much more, the ship only contains a small piece of the ocean.

We need to remember that God is “beyond belief.”

It is necessary and natural that humans rely on metaphors, images and names to speak of God. We have to. What’s important is to realize that, as long as we are human, they will be limited. When we put too much stock in them, we’re headed for trouble. Agnosticism and atheism boil down to not having a metaphor, image or name that meaningfully speaks to one’s experience of the divine in our current context.

In his book Long Ago God Spoke, William Holladay put it well: “Theology is learning to say the least wrong thing about God. All God talk is wrong to some degree. The trick is to reduce the wrongness to a minimum.”

Our beliefs, creeds and confessions all play a vital role in grounding our faith and seeking to understand how God relates to us, but, as Peter Rollins put it, “Naming God is never really naming God but only naming our understanding of God.”

In recent years, so-called “new atheists,” authors like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, found a niche shooting fish in a barrel; i.e., pointing out the inadequacies of particular concepts of God and expressions of belief. The works of these authors rely on a surprisingly elementary conflation of God and religion or God and Scripture. Again from Peter Rollins: “God is not the name. God is that which generates the name.”

It’s noteworthy that Bell spent much of his introductory blog post on 12/31/13 talking about the issues he had with his church and denomination. “Things I was most proud of in my ministry earned me rebuke and alienation from church administrators,” he wrote.

Before Bell’s “year without God” began, it’s clear that he had already begun to feel a disconnect with the culture of church. “I struggle to relate to church people, preferring the company of skeptics and non-church-goers.”

It comes as no surprise to me that Bell found the culture of church to be an unwelcoming place for skepticism and doubt. This is an unfortunate reality we’re still dealing with. Like Bell, I too find a lot of common ground in the company of skeptics who like to ask questions and refuse to take things at face value.

But none of that poses any threat to the reality of God.

Bell’s experiment included “talking to as many atheists as possible” and reading certain books from which he had previously steered clear. I certainly hope such actions don’t constitute “life without God”?

For me, it’s just the opposite. Like many, I’ve had to navigate doubts and questions in my own journey. But I have begun to see new questions and new insights as that which brings me closer to the heart of God, not further away. From Moses to the psalmists to the disciples and Paul, Scripture tells the story of God surprising people, taking them beyond where they thought they would go, and revealing God’s self as bigger than they thought.

I have a hunch that still happens today.

]]>
Ryan Bell says he spent a year without God. I would suggest that such an experiment is not possible.

By Corey Fields

Fields Corey ColumnLast month, former Seventh-day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell (not to be confused with Rob Bell) dropped the bombshell: he doesn’t believe in God anymore.

His story has hit national media outlets such as NPR and the Huffington Post. Bell was the pastor who tried the experiment he called “a year without God,” blogging through the experience.

He sought to “live as if God doesn’t exist.” In a post dated 12/31/13, he tried to explain what this would mean. "I will 'try on' atheism for a year,” he wrote. “I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene. … I will read atheist ‘sacred texts.’ ... I will also attempt to speak to as many actual atheists as possible.”

Apparently, after “trying it on,” it fit. In an interview with Chris Stedman of Religion News Service, he said that his stance remains “provisional,” but said, “The intellectual and emotional energy it takes to figure out how God fits into everything is far greater than dealing with reality as it presents itself to us.”

Despite hoping that Bell doesn’t use such criteria to determine if other things in life are worth it, I did find some of his insights helpful and appreciate the bridge building he’s already doing between believers and atheists. He said he wishes “more Christians knew that atheists are not nihilists who have no meaning to their lives or people with no moral compass.” Conversely, he wishes “more atheists knew that Christians care very deeply about knowledge and truth … [and] are not stupid.” Amen to both.

I honor and appreciate his experience. I do not wish to dismiss his journey and I applaud his vulnerability. I simply wish to make an observation.

Ryan Bell says he spent a year without God. I would suggest that such an experiment is not possible.

There is no such thing as life without God. When I speak of God, I’m speaking of a Spirit that is so fundamental to existence, a reality so fundamental to life, that talk of believing or disbelieving is ultimately nonsensical. It’s our own beliefs that we disbelieve in, not God.

“In him, we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). To say that one is living without God is not very different from saying that one is swimming without water or breathing without air.

In Joining the Dance, Molly Marshall notes that even though we readily affirm that God is omnipresent, “the way we often speak about the Spirit seems to deny this reality. We locate the Spirit in rather specific, at times restrictive, places.”

In The Spirit of Life, Jurgen Moltmann says that the “possibility of perceiving God in all things, and all things in God, is grounded theologically on an understanding of the Spirit of God as the power of creation and the wellspring of life.”

I like the analogy of a ship sunken in the ocean. We are the ship, God is the ocean. While the ocean fully contains the ship and much more, the ship only contains a small piece of the ocean.

We need to remember that God is “beyond belief.”

It is necessary and natural that humans rely on metaphors, images and names to speak of God. We have to. What’s important is to realize that, as long as we are human, they will be limited. When we put too much stock in them, we’re headed for trouble. Agnosticism and atheism boil down to not having a metaphor, image or name that meaningfully speaks to one’s experience of the divine in our current context.

In his book Long Ago God Spoke, William Holladay put it well: “Theology is learning to say the least wrong thing about God. All God talk is wrong to some degree. The trick is to reduce the wrongness to a minimum.”

Our beliefs, creeds and confessions all play a vital role in grounding our faith and seeking to understand how God relates to us, but, as Peter Rollins put it, “Naming God is never really naming God but only naming our understanding of God.”

In recent years, so-called “new atheists,” authors like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, found a niche shooting fish in a barrel; i.e., pointing out the inadequacies of particular concepts of God and expressions of belief. The works of these authors rely on a surprisingly elementary conflation of God and religion or God and Scripture. Again from Peter Rollins: “God is not the name. God is that which generates the name.”

It’s noteworthy that Bell spent much of his introductory blog post on 12/31/13 talking about the issues he had with his church and denomination. “Things I was most proud of in my ministry earned me rebuke and alienation from church administrators,” he wrote.

Before Bell’s “year without God” began, it’s clear that he had already begun to feel a disconnect with the culture of church. “I struggle to relate to church people, preferring the company of skeptics and non-church-goers.”

It comes as no surprise to me that Bell found the culture of church to be an unwelcoming place for skepticism and doubt. This is an unfortunate reality we’re still dealing with. Like Bell, I too find a lot of common ground in the company of skeptics who like to ask questions and refuse to take things at face value.

But none of that poses any threat to the reality of God.

Bell’s experiment included “talking to as many atheists as possible” and reading certain books from which he had previously steered clear. I certainly hope such actions don’t constitute “life without God”?

For me, it’s just the opposite. Like many, I’ve had to navigate doubts and questions in my own journey. But I have begun to see new questions and new insights as that which brings me closer to the heart of God, not further away. From Moses to the psalmists to the disciples and Paul, Scripture tells the story of God surprising people, taking them beyond where they thought they would go, and revealing God’s self as bigger than they thought.

I have a hunch that still happens today.

]]>
Corey Fields Columns Tue, 20 Jan 2015 06:05:00 -0500
Gaining theological heft http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/29700-gaining-theological-heft http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/29700-gaining-theological-heft Without the discerning guidance of the Holy Spirit, we cannot both conserve and innovate.

By Molly T. Marshall

Marshall Molly ColumnThis time of year is a “come to Jesus” season for many of us as we assess our need for better health, which usually includes weight loss for the more sedentary among us. We weigh hopes of illusive silhouettes against inscribed habits and gain data about the disparities. Which is not enough.

I recently met with a pastoral friend to commiserate about such concerns. Forced to early retirement because of chronic back pain, he has found a way to include consistent exercise in his daily regimen. I asked him to pray for me in this. He responded by saying, “Only you can be the answer to this prayer.” I wanted more empathy in the struggle to lose weight, but his perceptive interpretation calls me to new resolve.

Another form of gaining and losing is on my mind these days as I consider how Baptists can devote more intellectual rigor to clarifying our theological and missional posture. I am concerned that over the years, some of our tribe has been more focused on articulating what we are against rather than what we are for. Which is not enough.

It is important, of course, to not believe some things are an affront to conscience and reason. For example, to believe in a “young earth” in order to support a literalistic reading of Scripture is sheer nonsense in the face of credible scientific research. We gain insight as we read the Book of Nature alongside the Book of Scripture.

Losing the patriarchal bias when reading Scripture or ordering ecclesial life is, in my judgment, a gain for hermeneutics and congregational practice. Over the past 40 years I have seen a remarkable shifting of the horizon for women in ministry. Barriers yet remain, but many Baptists have made it a defining conviction; they believe God is calling women as well as men to be pastoral leaders. Which is not enough.

Belief matters — inescapably so. Part of the challenge in many congregations or schools that fashion themselves as “progressive” is that we fail to convey with clarity our understanding of the creative and redemptive work of God, the desperate human condition that requires such divine agency, and the critical role of the church as instrument of grace in the world. What then is the gospel we are proclaiming? Too often it is theology lite, with its self-help affirmations, buttressing our insularity with divine comfort in a world rife with war, persecution and economic genocide. Which is not enough.

Belief invites conversations that matter. Contemporary data about church participation and enrollment in seminaries are teaching us that persons are not interested in a diffuse sense of identity or a less than compelling mission. If nothing is really at stake, why bother? If we have only a utilitarian view of God — one who is at our disposal for self-enrichment — we have not understood how treacherous our sinful lives are without a Redeemer. Which is not enough.

Theological heft requires cogent belief accompanied by incarnational ministry. Actions that demonstrate theological conviction are even more significant than confessional verities, for they exegete intellectual assent through praxis. Most people act their way into belief, anyway. Through patient and formative practices of mercy, service and justice, we learn that “our life and our death is with our neighbor,” as Abba Anthony observed, and the community of broken people becomes our teacher about our need of God and one another.

Gaining and losing are a part of the paschal rhythms of life; dying and rising shape the contours of faith and mark our progression into God’s dream for this beloved creation. Some things have to die — a false sense of self, a xenophobic grasp for identity, a disregard for the fragile and threatened creation — in order for God’s reign to be realized.

The process of stripping away corrupting accretions to Christianity, a grievous loss for some, is necessary, and it allows us to determine what should remain at the heart of faith and practice. Every season of renewal in the church involves winnowing indispensable wheat from inconsequential chaff. Without the discerning guidance of the Holy Spirit, we could not both conserve and innovate.

It is time we seek greater depth in understanding the mission of the Triune God, who reaches toward the world as Son and Spirit, and thereby is making all things new. Playing our roles in God’s drama will grant us our greatest dignity, for we are destined for redemption.

Our lives in faith depend upon a continual sifting of our imbedded theology and the intentional movement toward deliberative theology. Gaining theological heft requires the responsiveness of the inherited faith to the urgent interrogation of the present generations. Out of this interface of heritage with contemporary insight, a fresh theological vision will come, one weighty enough to invite full-bodied participation.

]]>
Without the discerning guidance of the Holy Spirit, we cannot both conserve and innovate.

By Molly T. Marshall

Marshall Molly ColumnThis time of year is a “come to Jesus” season for many of us as we assess our need for better health, which usually includes weight loss for the more sedentary among us. We weigh hopes of illusive silhouettes against inscribed habits and gain data about the disparities. Which is not enough.

I recently met with a pastoral friend to commiserate about such concerns. Forced to early retirement because of chronic back pain, he has found a way to include consistent exercise in his daily regimen. I asked him to pray for me in this. He responded by saying, “Only you can be the answer to this prayer.” I wanted more empathy in the struggle to lose weight, but his perceptive interpretation calls me to new resolve.

Another form of gaining and losing is on my mind these days as I consider how Baptists can devote more intellectual rigor to clarifying our theological and missional posture. I am concerned that over the years, some of our tribe has been more focused on articulating what we are against rather than what we are for. Which is not enough.

It is important, of course, to not believe some things are an affront to conscience and reason. For example, to believe in a “young earth” in order to support a literalistic reading of Scripture is sheer nonsense in the face of credible scientific research. We gain insight as we read the Book of Nature alongside the Book of Scripture.

Losing the patriarchal bias when reading Scripture or ordering ecclesial life is, in my judgment, a gain for hermeneutics and congregational practice. Over the past 40 years I have seen a remarkable shifting of the horizon for women in ministry. Barriers yet remain, but many Baptists have made it a defining conviction; they believe God is calling women as well as men to be pastoral leaders. Which is not enough.

Belief matters — inescapably so. Part of the challenge in many congregations or schools that fashion themselves as “progressive” is that we fail to convey with clarity our understanding of the creative and redemptive work of God, the desperate human condition that requires such divine agency, and the critical role of the church as instrument of grace in the world. What then is the gospel we are proclaiming? Too often it is theology lite, with its self-help affirmations, buttressing our insularity with divine comfort in a world rife with war, persecution and economic genocide. Which is not enough.

Belief invites conversations that matter. Contemporary data about church participation and enrollment in seminaries are teaching us that persons are not interested in a diffuse sense of identity or a less than compelling mission. If nothing is really at stake, why bother? If we have only a utilitarian view of God — one who is at our disposal for self-enrichment — we have not understood how treacherous our sinful lives are without a Redeemer. Which is not enough.

Theological heft requires cogent belief accompanied by incarnational ministry. Actions that demonstrate theological conviction are even more significant than confessional verities, for they exegete intellectual assent through praxis. Most people act their way into belief, anyway. Through patient and formative practices of mercy, service and justice, we learn that “our life and our death is with our neighbor,” as Abba Anthony observed, and the community of broken people becomes our teacher about our need of God and one another.

Gaining and losing are a part of the paschal rhythms of life; dying and rising shape the contours of faith and mark our progression into God’s dream for this beloved creation. Some things have to die — a false sense of self, a xenophobic grasp for identity, a disregard for the fragile and threatened creation — in order for God’s reign to be realized.

The process of stripping away corrupting accretions to Christianity, a grievous loss for some, is necessary, and it allows us to determine what should remain at the heart of faith and practice. Every season of renewal in the church involves winnowing indispensable wheat from inconsequential chaff. Without the discerning guidance of the Holy Spirit, we could not both conserve and innovate.

It is time we seek greater depth in understanding the mission of the Triune God, who reaches toward the world as Son and Spirit, and thereby is making all things new. Playing our roles in God’s drama will grant us our greatest dignity, for we are destined for redemption.

Our lives in faith depend upon a continual sifting of our imbedded theology and the intentional movement toward deliberative theology. Gaining theological heft requires the responsiveness of the inherited faith to the urgent interrogation of the present generations. Out of this interface of heritage with contemporary insight, a fresh theological vision will come, one weighty enough to invite full-bodied participation.

]]>
Molly T. Marshall Columns Thu, 08 Jan 2015 05:32:39 -0500
Bodies in motion: Some Baptists are recovering the physical in worship, prayer http://baptistnews.com/faith/item/29651-baptists-urge-churches-to-put-bodies-in-motion-for-worship-prayer http://baptistnews.com/faith/item/29651-baptists-urge-churches-to-put-bodies-in-motion-for-worship-prayer Kneeling to pray or receive communion can make one feel like more of a participant in worship, some observers say. (Creative Commons photo)
Seen as too charismatic or Catholic by some, the use of physical movement to enhance spirituality is catching on at more and more churches. But there is a long way to go, experts say.

By Jeff Brumley

Baptists have historically minimized bodily movement in worship and prayer out of concern for appearing too charismatic or Catholic, scholars and spiritual formation ministers say.

Baptisms and altar calls and the occasional layings-on of hands are accepted, but kneeling and prostrations and the lifting of hands in praise are frowned upon, said Michael Sciretti, minister of spiritual formation at Freemason Street Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va.

“In the typical Baptist church it sounds a little strange to talk too much about the body,” Sciretti said. “Baptists and other Protestants threw all that out during the Reformation.”

And that’s the case despite numerous references in Scripture — both Old and New Testaments — to God’s faithful who worshiped and prayed not only with words but also with physical postures and movement.

Brett Younger remembers noticing the contradiction once in a Baptist worship service.

Kneeling Knight“Someone was reading a litany of the Psalms, ‘lift up your hands’ and ‘shout to the Lord,’ and we are reading it in a monotone voice,” said Younger, associate professor of preaching at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology. “I’m thinking, we are not doing any of this stuff — and we’re the ones who claim to believe in the Bible.”

But there are signs — generational and liturgical — that suggest those attitudes are gradually changing in Baptist life, Younger and other experts say.

They are seeing a push from younger Christians and even some older ones who want to more fully embrace what it means to worship God and pray. And for many of them, that means using not only the intellect that God gave them, but the body as well.

Kneeling for the Lord’s Supper

One person who sees the spread of physical movement in worship is Kenneth Meyers, faith formation specialist for the Alliance of Baptists.

Using the physical to experience the spiritual is occurring in those churches that are starting to become more liturgical in worship, Meyers said.

It may look, here and there, like processionals, more standing while singing and rising for the reading of the Gospel.

Meyers Kenneth“Some churches are kneeling for the Lord’s Supper,” he said.

The move toward intentional liturgy has invited Baptists to explore ways to more fully engage the body, along with the mind, in worshiping God.

Meyers said the move toward movement isn’t meant as an attack on sitting still during services. On the contrary, physical movement is complemented by stillness.

The idea is to use it all in a balanced way, Meyers said.

“Igniting any and every sensory perception we have is another invitation to engage the Spirit,” he said. “Let’s be open ... to all the ways we can experience God.”

‘A complete disconnect’

The use of movement and posture in worship and prayer opens additional channels for engaging the Divine, Sciretti said.

It works that way because God provided people with bodies — which Paul directed Christians to present as living sacrifices.

People also have two other “centers” that can be used in connecting to the Spirit: thinking and feeling. Now the body must be brought back into worship, said Sciretti.

“To be fully human, we need to be up and running in all three of those centers”

Doing so makes one fully present during worship.

Sciretti Michael“In worship and prayer, when you’re present, that’s when you can be present to ... the Divine presence,” Sciretti said.

The Bible offers plenty of examples of this, he added.

There are images of Christ kneeling in the garden and references in the Psalms to ecstatic worship in the Jewish temple.

“How can you read about all this happening in the temple, but you’re reading about it in a very monotone way while sitting down,” Sciretti said. “There’s a complete disconnect.”

Developing spiritual muscles

But there seems to be less of a disconnect among youth, Younger said.

“Young people are not going to put up with sitting and watching,” he said.

Already many have adopted practices atypical to their Baptist upbringings. They are writing confessions on paper and burning them, or having their hands ritually washed after asking for forgiveness. Some are eating grapes along with communion.

Younger Brett Mug“They recognize they are to be giving their whole” being over to God, Younger said. “That’s happening and that’s going to be really good for the church.”

Older adults are seeing it, too.

“Communion at the railing is different from sitting in a pew,” he said. “Walking to the front is an act of commitment, while sitting in a pew can be like waiting for a gift without actively participating.”

Those still suspicious that such practices smack of Catholicism or Pentecostalism will continue to miss out, Younger said.

“Some of us are jealous of Pentecostals because we grew up so afraid of that this spiritual muscle will never develop.” 

]]>
Kneeling to pray or receive communion can make one feel like more of a participant in worship, some observers say. (Creative Commons photo)
Seen as too charismatic or Catholic by some, the use of physical movement to enhance spirituality is catching on at more and more churches. But there is a long way to go, experts say.

By Jeff Brumley

Baptists have historically minimized bodily movement in worship and prayer out of concern for appearing too charismatic or Catholic, scholars and spiritual formation ministers say.

Baptisms and altar calls and the occasional layings-on of hands are accepted, but kneeling and prostrations and the lifting of hands in praise are frowned upon, said Michael Sciretti, minister of spiritual formation at Freemason Street Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va.

“In the typical Baptist church it sounds a little strange to talk too much about the body,” Sciretti said. “Baptists and other Protestants threw all that out during the Reformation.”

And that’s the case despite numerous references in Scripture — both Old and New Testaments — to God’s faithful who worshiped and prayed not only with words but also with physical postures and movement.

Brett Younger remembers noticing the contradiction once in a Baptist worship service.

Kneeling Knight“Someone was reading a litany of the Psalms, ‘lift up your hands’ and ‘shout to the Lord,’ and we are reading it in a monotone voice,” said Younger, associate professor of preaching at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology. “I’m thinking, we are not doing any of this stuff — and we’re the ones who claim to believe in the Bible.”

But there are signs — generational and liturgical — that suggest those attitudes are gradually changing in Baptist life, Younger and other experts say.

They are seeing a push from younger Christians and even some older ones who want to more fully embrace what it means to worship God and pray. And for many of them, that means using not only the intellect that God gave them, but the body as well.

Kneeling for the Lord’s Supper

One person who sees the spread of physical movement in worship is Kenneth Meyers, faith formation specialist for the Alliance of Baptists.

Using the physical to experience the spiritual is occurring in those churches that are starting to become more liturgical in worship, Meyers said.

It may look, here and there, like processionals, more standing while singing and rising for the reading of the Gospel.

Meyers Kenneth“Some churches are kneeling for the Lord’s Supper,” he said.

The move toward intentional liturgy has invited Baptists to explore ways to more fully engage the body, along with the mind, in worshiping God.

Meyers said the move toward movement isn’t meant as an attack on sitting still during services. On the contrary, physical movement is complemented by stillness.

The idea is to use it all in a balanced way, Meyers said.

“Igniting any and every sensory perception we have is another invitation to engage the Spirit,” he said. “Let’s be open ... to all the ways we can experience God.”

‘A complete disconnect’

The use of movement and posture in worship and prayer opens additional channels for engaging the Divine, Sciretti said.

It works that way because God provided people with bodies — which Paul directed Christians to present as living sacrifices.

People also have two other “centers” that can be used in connecting to the Spirit: thinking and feeling. Now the body must be brought back into worship, said Sciretti.

“To be fully human, we need to be up and running in all three of those centers”

Doing so makes one fully present during worship.

Sciretti Michael“In worship and prayer, when you’re present, that’s when you can be present to ... the Divine presence,” Sciretti said.

The Bible offers plenty of examples of this, he added.

There are images of Christ kneeling in the garden and references in the Psalms to ecstatic worship in the Jewish temple.

“How can you read about all this happening in the temple, but you’re reading about it in a very monotone way while sitting down,” Sciretti said. “There’s a complete disconnect.”

Developing spiritual muscles

But there seems to be less of a disconnect among youth, Younger said.

“Young people are not going to put up with sitting and watching,” he said.

Already many have adopted practices atypical to their Baptist upbringings. They are writing confessions on paper and burning them, or having their hands ritually washed after asking for forgiveness. Some are eating grapes along with communion.

Younger Brett Mug“They recognize they are to be giving their whole” being over to God, Younger said. “That’s happening and that’s going to be really good for the church.”

Older adults are seeing it, too.

“Communion at the railing is different from sitting in a pew,” he said. “Walking to the front is an act of commitment, while sitting in a pew can be like waiting for a gift without actively participating.”

Those still suspicious that such practices smack of Catholicism or Pentecostalism will continue to miss out, Younger said.

“Some of us are jealous of Pentecostals because we grew up so afraid of that this spiritual muscle will never develop.” 

]]>
Jeff Brumley Faith Mon, 22 Dec 2014 14:26:15 -0500
Authors say worship’s revival could be key to revitalized churches http://baptistnews.com/faith/theology/item/29592-experts-see-worship-s-revival-emerging-from-christian-past http://baptistnews.com/faith/theology/item/29592-experts-see-worship-s-revival-emerging-from-christian-past Two authors say intentionally recapturing historic worship forms may reverse declining church attendance. (Creative Commons photo by Ashley Campbell)
And they predict those turned off by Christianity may be attracted to congregations that are more intentional about worship.

By Jeff Brumley

Worship wars have existed throughout Christian history — the experts will tell you that.

They’ll also tell you that the debate has increased in significance as the modern church struggles to attract and retain members in a postmodern and post-Christian culture.

But two authors also say they’re seeing signs that church leaders are embracing ancient forms of worship that transcend cultural fluctuations — and that may be key for the church’s survival at a time when those who shun faith outnumber those who embrace it.

‘That ancient stuff’

Though many of the recent worship battles have focused on style, style doesn’t really matter, said J. Daniel Day, retired senior professor of Christian preaching and worship at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, N.C., and author of the 2013 book Seeking the Face of God: Evangelical Worship Reconceived.

“Worship can be facilitated and used around any kind of style,” says Day, a former pastor of First Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. The music and sanctuary decorations can be tailored to fit the tastes of the congregation. “But the question becomes … ‘where’s the beef?’”

By that, Day says he means the object of worship, which should be God. But over the centuries, the purpose of worship in many evangelical churches has been to attract and evangelize new members.

Day DanielThat means turning the focus away from the Body of Christ and God, he warns.

That approach had its birth in American revivalism and lives today in worship that often ignores the historic Christian view of the church as a body of believers focused on God.

“The gathering of the people becomes about the outsider rather than the community of faith,” Day said. “It becomes effort to evangelize rather than to worship.”

Another major shift away from historic Christian worship came even earlier, he added.

“The whole emphasis coming out of the Reformation was to convert worship into an educational experience,” Day said. “So you had these didactic, Calvinist lectures that became the models for today’s teaching sermons that go on for 45 minutes to an hour.”

At that point, churches ceased being places of worship. “The sanctuary becomes a lecture hall.”

Or they become entertainment centers, Day says, where worship is about “being impressed by the magnificence of the place, the costumes and the jumbo screens.”

Rather than just being an annoying difference of opinion with those who think differently, Day says these trends are damaging and contribute to the exodus of Millennials and others from American churches.

It’s fine to hold a service for seekers, but worship itself should not cater to a demographic, he says.

A growing number of scholars from a variety of traditions are exploring the value ancient approaches to worship can have in modern times, he adds.

One is to provide a sense of authenticity and rootedness in the history and practice of the ancient church. It’s a value many of the so-called “nones” and “dones” say they find attractive — and often unavailable — in evangelical churches today.

“Can’t we go back,” Day asks, “and appropriate some of that ancient church stuff?”

‘Why did we lose that?’

That’s precisely what is happening in many Baptist and other Protestant traditions, says Derek Hatch, assistant professor of Christian studies at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, and co-editor of the 2013 book Gathering Together: Baptists at Work in Worship.

Hatch Derek with book WebThe growing embrace of historic worship forms is evidenced by the number of Baptist seminaries founded in the past 25 years. Most of those schools have encouraged deep explorations of Baptist and Christian history and practices.

“It’s not just Baptists telling Baptists what Baptists have always said,” Hatch says. “There is a sense that we are participating in something bigger.”

And that includes the liturgical and sacramental ways in which Christians historically worshiped.

“Worship classes aren’t just about [teaching] three songs, a sermon and an invitation,” he says.

Hatch says such coursework opened his eyes to a wider range of approaches to connecting congregations with God. He knows of many others who have had the same experience.

One important way is by re-visioning worship as an act that shapes belief, instead of the other way around.

Such an approach can actually end up drawing visitors to the faith.

“There’s sort of an opening there — a fellowship — that can open doors down the line.”

Baptists in the 21st century aren’t the only ones to have experimented with liturgical worship. A decade ago, Hatch says, the emergent church movement introduced “postmodern worship” characterized by candles, darkness, colors, images and smells.

“That’s not entirely different from what the church did before,” Hatch says. “Why did we lose that?”

Regaining liturgical worship and intentionality around baptism and communion could help the church reverse declining attendance trends.

“It’s really not about style, it’s about thinking intentionally about a seamless garment — a unity of word and deed in which all these things tie together,” Hatch says.

]]>
Two authors say intentionally recapturing historic worship forms may reverse declining church attendance. (Creative Commons photo by Ashley Campbell)
And they predict those turned off by Christianity may be attracted to congregations that are more intentional about worship.

By Jeff Brumley

Worship wars have existed throughout Christian history — the experts will tell you that.

They’ll also tell you that the debate has increased in significance as the modern church struggles to attract and retain members in a postmodern and post-Christian culture.

But two authors also say they’re seeing signs that church leaders are embracing ancient forms of worship that transcend cultural fluctuations — and that may be key for the church’s survival at a time when those who shun faith outnumber those who embrace it.

‘That ancient stuff’

Though many of the recent worship battles have focused on style, style doesn’t really matter, said J. Daniel Day, retired senior professor of Christian preaching and worship at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, N.C., and author of the 2013 book Seeking the Face of God: Evangelical Worship Reconceived.

“Worship can be facilitated and used around any kind of style,” says Day, a former pastor of First Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. The music and sanctuary decorations can be tailored to fit the tastes of the congregation. “But the question becomes … ‘where’s the beef?’”

By that, Day says he means the object of worship, which should be God. But over the centuries, the purpose of worship in many evangelical churches has been to attract and evangelize new members.

Day DanielThat means turning the focus away from the Body of Christ and God, he warns.

That approach had its birth in American revivalism and lives today in worship that often ignores the historic Christian view of the church as a body of believers focused on God.

“The gathering of the people becomes about the outsider rather than the community of faith,” Day said. “It becomes effort to evangelize rather than to worship.”

Another major shift away from historic Christian worship came even earlier, he added.

“The whole emphasis coming out of the Reformation was to convert worship into an educational experience,” Day said. “So you had these didactic, Calvinist lectures that became the models for today’s teaching sermons that go on for 45 minutes to an hour.”

At that point, churches ceased being places of worship. “The sanctuary becomes a lecture hall.”

Or they become entertainment centers, Day says, where worship is about “being impressed by the magnificence of the place, the costumes and the jumbo screens.”

Rather than just being an annoying difference of opinion with those who think differently, Day says these trends are damaging and contribute to the exodus of Millennials and others from American churches.

It’s fine to hold a service for seekers, but worship itself should not cater to a demographic, he says.

A growing number of scholars from a variety of traditions are exploring the value ancient approaches to worship can have in modern times, he adds.

One is to provide a sense of authenticity and rootedness in the history and practice of the ancient church. It’s a value many of the so-called “nones” and “dones” say they find attractive — and often unavailable — in evangelical churches today.

“Can’t we go back,” Day asks, “and appropriate some of that ancient church stuff?”

‘Why did we lose that?’

That’s precisely what is happening in many Baptist and other Protestant traditions, says Derek Hatch, assistant professor of Christian studies at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, and co-editor of the 2013 book Gathering Together: Baptists at Work in Worship.

Hatch Derek with book WebThe growing embrace of historic worship forms is evidenced by the number of Baptist seminaries founded in the past 25 years. Most of those schools have encouraged deep explorations of Baptist and Christian history and practices.

“It’s not just Baptists telling Baptists what Baptists have always said,” Hatch says. “There is a sense that we are participating in something bigger.”

And that includes the liturgical and sacramental ways in which Christians historically worshiped.

“Worship classes aren’t just about [teaching] three songs, a sermon and an invitation,” he says.

Hatch says such coursework opened his eyes to a wider range of approaches to connecting congregations with God. He knows of many others who have had the same experience.

One important way is by re-visioning worship as an act that shapes belief, instead of the other way around.

Such an approach can actually end up drawing visitors to the faith.

“There’s sort of an opening there — a fellowship — that can open doors down the line.”

Baptists in the 21st century aren’t the only ones to have experimented with liturgical worship. A decade ago, Hatch says, the emergent church movement introduced “postmodern worship” characterized by candles, darkness, colors, images and smells.

“That’s not entirely different from what the church did before,” Hatch says. “Why did we lose that?”

Regaining liturgical worship and intentionality around baptism and communion could help the church reverse declining attendance trends.

“It’s really not about style, it’s about thinking intentionally about a seamless garment — a unity of word and deed in which all these things tie together,” Hatch says.

]]>
Jeff Brumley Theology Thu, 04 Dec 2014 14:05:30 -0500
Advent: Jesus’ DNA? http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/29588-advent-jesus-dna http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/29588-advent-jesus-dna Once more, that divine-human dilemma.

By Bill Leonard

bill.leonard“What was Jesus’ DNA?” That’s a question my Wake Forest University colleague, physics professor Jed Macosko, says someone once asked him. Macosko mentioned it while concluding a superb lecture on DNA, Darwinism and evolution offered in the School of Divinity as part of a new grant to promote dialogue between science and religion.

His presentation included animations depicting cell formation and function — visual replications of the organisms that appear to move in amazing symmetry within us, even locking out harmful organic “enemies” sustaining themselves by infecting us. While confessing my science-related awe and ignorance, the unanswered question about Jesus’ DNA captivates me, deepening with the Advent season.

The “Genetics Home Reference” webpage says that “DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus … but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria …. Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people.” DNA is communal.

“Genome.gov” adds that DNA “contains the biological instructions that make each species unique. DNA, along with the instructions it contains, is passed from adult organisms to their offspring during reproduction. … In sexual reproduction, organisms inherit half of their nuclear DNA from the male parent and half from the female parent. However, organisms inherit all of their mitochondrial DNA from the female parent.”

And then there’s Jesus. “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” John’s Gospel declares, “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Luke says the angel Gabriel tells a virgin named Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Matthew is even more graphic, noting, “When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). St. Paul doesn’t reference the birth narratives, but asserts, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Two millennia before DNA discoveries, early Christians struggled with the Incarnation dilemma by asking: Cur Deus Homo? Why the God-Man?

• Some (Justin Martyr) believed that Jesus completely incarnated the Logos, that eternal word that “enlightened” certain Jews — Abraham, the prophets — and certain pagans — Socrates, Plato — with divine but partial truth.
• Others (Arius) labeled him a “created being,” lacking eternal presence with and subordinate to the “Father.”
• Still others (Paul of Samosata) taught that Jesus was a “mere man” who was “adopted” into the Godhead at his baptism (“This is my beloved son ….”)
• Some (Eutyches) thought the divine DNA ultimately won out, that Jesus’ divine nature absorbed his humanity “like a drop of honey in the sea.”
• Ultimately, the Nicene Creed offered a kind of DNA orthodoxy by affirming that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”

And what of Mother Mary’s DNA amid the “science” of original sin? If Jesus received a human nature from Mary, how could he be sinless, since original sin contaminated the entire race? As John Calvin wrote, “Therefore original sin is seen to be an hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature diffused into all parts of the soul.”

Roman Catholics answered biological predicament with doctrinal immunity — the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who, “by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God,” was “preserved untouched by any taint of original guilt,” from “the first instant of her conception.” Even Mennonites protected Jesus’ unique DNA through the doctrine of “celestial flesh,” by which his human and divine natures came completely from God. Jesus received no physical components from his mother, but passed through Mary “like water through a tube,” a fascinating bit of theologized biology then and now.

The Incarnation surely engages biology and theology, a paradox of redemption filled with questions of flesh and spirit, nature and grace, law and gospel, heart-pounding mystery and mind-expanding reason. Indeed, the postmodern among us might ask if the church and its innumerable dogmas have finally taxed even the Jesus Story to the limits.

Suppose we could discover Jesus’ DNA and it was indeed unique? Might he say, “See, I told you so?” But what if Jesus’ DNA turned out exactly like our own, and he said the same thing? “God was in Christ,” St. Paul wrote, “reconciling the world.” That possibility alone is worth one more trip to Bethlehem, bringing our rather unoriginal sins with us.

]]>
Once more, that divine-human dilemma.

By Bill Leonard

bill.leonard“What was Jesus’ DNA?” That’s a question my Wake Forest University colleague, physics professor Jed Macosko, says someone once asked him. Macosko mentioned it while concluding a superb lecture on DNA, Darwinism and evolution offered in the School of Divinity as part of a new grant to promote dialogue between science and religion.

His presentation included animations depicting cell formation and function — visual replications of the organisms that appear to move in amazing symmetry within us, even locking out harmful organic “enemies” sustaining themselves by infecting us. While confessing my science-related awe and ignorance, the unanswered question about Jesus’ DNA captivates me, deepening with the Advent season.

The “Genetics Home Reference” webpage says that “DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus … but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria …. Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people.” DNA is communal.

“Genome.gov” adds that DNA “contains the biological instructions that make each species unique. DNA, along with the instructions it contains, is passed from adult organisms to their offspring during reproduction. … In sexual reproduction, organisms inherit half of their nuclear DNA from the male parent and half from the female parent. However, organisms inherit all of their mitochondrial DNA from the female parent.”

And then there’s Jesus. “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” John’s Gospel declares, “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Luke says the angel Gabriel tells a virgin named Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Matthew is even more graphic, noting, “When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). St. Paul doesn’t reference the birth narratives, but asserts, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Two millennia before DNA discoveries, early Christians struggled with the Incarnation dilemma by asking: Cur Deus Homo? Why the God-Man?

• Some (Justin Martyr) believed that Jesus completely incarnated the Logos, that eternal word that “enlightened” certain Jews — Abraham, the prophets — and certain pagans — Socrates, Plato — with divine but partial truth.
• Others (Arius) labeled him a “created being,” lacking eternal presence with and subordinate to the “Father.”
• Still others (Paul of Samosata) taught that Jesus was a “mere man” who was “adopted” into the Godhead at his baptism (“This is my beloved son ….”)
• Some (Eutyches) thought the divine DNA ultimately won out, that Jesus’ divine nature absorbed his humanity “like a drop of honey in the sea.”
• Ultimately, the Nicene Creed offered a kind of DNA orthodoxy by affirming that Jesus is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”

And what of Mother Mary’s DNA amid the “science” of original sin? If Jesus received a human nature from Mary, how could he be sinless, since original sin contaminated the entire race? As John Calvin wrote, “Therefore original sin is seen to be an hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature diffused into all parts of the soul.”

Roman Catholics answered biological predicament with doctrinal immunity — the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who, “by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God,” was “preserved untouched by any taint of original guilt,” from “the first instant of her conception.” Even Mennonites protected Jesus’ unique DNA through the doctrine of “celestial flesh,” by which his human and divine natures came completely from God. Jesus received no physical components from his mother, but passed through Mary “like water through a tube,” a fascinating bit of theologized biology then and now.

The Incarnation surely engages biology and theology, a paradox of redemption filled with questions of flesh and spirit, nature and grace, law and gospel, heart-pounding mystery and mind-expanding reason. Indeed, the postmodern among us might ask if the church and its innumerable dogmas have finally taxed even the Jesus Story to the limits.

Suppose we could discover Jesus’ DNA and it was indeed unique? Might he say, “See, I told you so?” But what if Jesus’ DNA turned out exactly like our own, and he said the same thing? “God was in Christ,” St. Paul wrote, “reconciling the world.” That possibility alone is worth one more trip to Bethlehem, bringing our rather unoriginal sins with us.

]]>
Bill Leonard Columns Wed, 03 Dec 2014 05:04:19 -0500
Amid wars, rumors of wars, Baptist leaders voice hope http://baptistnews.com/ministry/organizations/item/29401-amid-wars-rumors-of-wars-baptist-leaders-voice-hope http://baptistnews.com/ministry/organizations/item/29401-amid-wars-rumors-of-wars-baptist-leaders-voice-hope Directors of the Alliance of Baptists have countered doomsday prophecies with a “Statement of Hope for a World in Crisis.”

By Bob Allen

Rather than speculating about end-times theology, directors of the Alliance of Baptists issued a statement Oct. 17 framing world events like ISIS, Ebola and protests in Ferguson, Mo., in a message of hope.

Meeting amid headlines including ongoing war in Syria, violence in Ukraine, non-combatant deaths in Gaza, mass protests in Hong Kong and the spread of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, the Alliance board of directors urged Christians to respond not by idle despair but to persevere and work together “to bring about the healing of the nations.”

alliance of baptists logoFor many Christians, Alliance leaders said, such events are seen as “signs of the times,” ushering in a catastrophic conclusion to the world predicted by studying Bible prophecy. “Idly awaiting their own removal and redemption” from the world, the statement said, such Christians leave behind ”biblical and faithful teachings of stewardship and commitment and love.”

As Baptists, however, Alliance leaders joined together “to witness to the hope we embrace.”

“Our faith in the redemptive power of God to heal the earth from its tragic wounds is biblical in its roots and resilient in times of crisis,” board members said a statement adopted at their fall meeting in Dayton, Ohio.

“We are reminded by our sacred texts of our core values of justice, reconciliation, compassion and mercy -- to love our neighbors and our enemies alike,” the statement said. “We search for the presence of Christ, not in the thundering clouds of judgment and fear, but in the faithful heroism of those who heal, not harm.”

The statement called on Alliance members and churches “to remember that Christ took on the sufferings of our world and carried its sorrows."

“Thus, we will continue to do so in his name by investing ourselves in effective ministries of peacemaking, racial justice, interfaith education and engagement, human rights advocacy, medical intervention, development and compassionate service with the intent to respond redemptively to what has been lost,” the statement said.

The Alliance of Baptists began in 1987 to defend moderate and progressive views perceived at the time as under attack by conservatives seeking to reform the Southern Baptist Convention. Today 123 churches, individual members and partner organizations partner in ministry and advocacy for social causes including gun control, immigration reform and LGBT equality.

The group’s 2015 annual gathering is scheduled April 17-19 at Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Previous story:

Alliance of Baptists gets grant for LGBT initiative

]]>
Directors of the Alliance of Baptists have countered doomsday prophecies with a “Statement of Hope for a World in Crisis.”

By Bob Allen

Rather than speculating about end-times theology, directors of the Alliance of Baptists issued a statement Oct. 17 framing world events like ISIS, Ebola and protests in Ferguson, Mo., in a message of hope.

Meeting amid headlines including ongoing war in Syria, violence in Ukraine, non-combatant deaths in Gaza, mass protests in Hong Kong and the spread of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, the Alliance board of directors urged Christians to respond not by idle despair but to persevere and work together “to bring about the healing of the nations.”

alliance of baptists logoFor many Christians, Alliance leaders said, such events are seen as “signs of the times,” ushering in a catastrophic conclusion to the world predicted by studying Bible prophecy. “Idly awaiting their own removal and redemption” from the world, the statement said, such Christians leave behind ”biblical and faithful teachings of stewardship and commitment and love.”

As Baptists, however, Alliance leaders joined together “to witness to the hope we embrace.”

“Our faith in the redemptive power of God to heal the earth from its tragic wounds is biblical in its roots and resilient in times of crisis,” board members said a statement adopted at their fall meeting in Dayton, Ohio.

“We are reminded by our sacred texts of our core values of justice, reconciliation, compassion and mercy -- to love our neighbors and our enemies alike,” the statement said. “We search for the presence of Christ, not in the thundering clouds of judgment and fear, but in the faithful heroism of those who heal, not harm.”

The statement called on Alliance members and churches “to remember that Christ took on the sufferings of our world and carried its sorrows."

“Thus, we will continue to do so in his name by investing ourselves in effective ministries of peacemaking, racial justice, interfaith education and engagement, human rights advocacy, medical intervention, development and compassionate service with the intent to respond redemptively to what has been lost,” the statement said.

The Alliance of Baptists began in 1987 to defend moderate and progressive views perceived at the time as under attack by conservatives seeking to reform the Southern Baptist Convention. Today 123 churches, individual members and partner organizations partner in ministry and advocacy for social causes including gun control, immigration reform and LGBT equality.

The group’s 2015 annual gathering is scheduled April 17-19 at Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta.

Previous story:

Alliance of Baptists gets grant for LGBT initiative

]]>
Bob Allen Organizations Tue, 21 Oct 2014 11:32:02 -0400
Wolfhart Pannenberg, R.I.P. http://baptistnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/29192-wolfhart-pannenberg-r-i-p http://baptistnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/29192-wolfhart-pannenberg-r-i-p The influential theologian’s death Sept. 5 is a loss to Christian academia.

1 large roger olsonBy Roger E. Olson

One of the last theological giants passed away Sept. 5. Wolfhart Pannenberg was without doubt one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He was born in Stettin, Germany, (now part of Poland) in 1928. He was in poor health for the past several years.

I had the privilege of studying with Pannenberg in Munich, where he taught theology at the University of Munich, during 1981-1982. I wrote a major part of my Rice University Ph.D. dissertation under his supervision during that year. (I finished it back in the U.S. and received my Ph.D. in 1984. The dissertation is titled “Trinity and Eschatology: The Historical Being of God in the Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg.”)

Pannenberg, of course, was noted for his lifelong opposition to “subjectivism” in theology. He believed that existentialism and Pietism were diseases of Christian, and especially modern Protestant, theology and needed correction. He opposed dialectical theology, eschewing what he called “special pleading” for theological conclusions. He wanted theology to be “Wissenschaftlich” (scientific) and thus engaged in “Fundamental Theology” (not fundamentalism but a type of natural theology rooted in human experiences such as “exocentrism”).

Many people, such as Pannenberg’s student Philip Clayton (whose obituary of Pannenberg you can read at Tony Jones’s blog), will describe Pannenberg’s theology in more detail. My friend Stanley Grenz (who died in 2005) wrote one major book about Pannenberg’s theology which remains, I believe, one of the best.

Here I will instead tell stories about Pannenberg the man. I not only knew him well during the year I studied under him in Munich but also served as his “agent” for two lecture tours around the U.S. in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I had many one-on-one conversations with him in restaurants, in my home and his and elsewhere. Sometimes others were present, too.

Pannenberg was not an easy man to know. He was, by most accounts, a typical German professor — a bit distant and aloof. Sometimes he could be sharp but never snarky or mean. My first personal experience of him was in his office in Munich in the late summer of 1981. I talked with him about my dissertation project. I had planned to compare his theology of the Trinity with Moltmann’s. Pannenberg told me to drop the comparison with Moltmann and just write about his own theology, so I did.

During that year, which was a most beautiful time for me, my wife and our 4-year-old daughter, I had many conversations with Pannenberg. Often they took place during the “Pause” in the middle of his 90-minute lectures. He would ask me to walk with him and I tried to keep up as he walked quickly around the building’s large lobby area. He spoke German to me and I spoke English to him. He said my German wasn’t good enough yet. I was fine with that.

During one of those 10-to-15 minute walks I asked him about paradox. He was generally critical of theological reliance on paradox and yet certain points in his own theology seemed paradoxical (such as his “eschatological ontology”). He told me that certain paradoxes were unavoidable but that they always remained “tasks for further thought.” In other words, never settle comfortably with them.

During that year Pannenberg was lecturing on the material that became the first volume of his Systematic Theology. I also sat in on two of his seminars — one of them an evening ecumenical discussion between himself and a Catholic professor and their students. The topic of discussion was the “Reformation anathemas” (Catholic against Luther and his followers) and whether they could be lifted. Eventually, of course, they were.

There were other American students studying with Pannenberg the year I was there — Phil Clayton and George Garin. We had many good times together, often discussing Pannenberg’s theology. One time we hatched a plan to invite Pannenberg to lunch to ask him what he meant by “the future ‘bestimmt’ the present.” (Bestimmen can mean either “define” or “determine.”) We agreed that I would pose the question, so I did. His answer didn’t surprise me: “Both, of course.” In other words, at least at that time, he believed that the future kingdom of God, the reign of God, determines the past retroactively — an ontological and not merely hermeneutical idea.

One idea that came out clearly in his lectures, that I had not paid attention to before, was what I later labed “Pannenberg’s Principle” — that “God’s deity is his rule.” So we also asked him during that lunch if he would still say, then as before, that “God does not yet exist.” He said “Yes, with the proper qualifications.”

Several times I heard Pannenberg say, “There is one thing I am not — a Pietist.” Since I was (and am) a Pietist (hopefully in the best and truest sense) I did not find Pannenberg’s approach to faith and spirituality especially agreeable. In my opinion, he tended to reduce faith to assent to what is reasonable. While I agree that Christian belief is (at its best) reasonable, I do not think reason is the basis for what is believed. Pannenberg’s spirituality was, by his own admission, “sacramental spirituality,” so our approaches to many things about Christianity were at cross purposes.

In spite of that, I owe a real debt of gratitude to Pannenberg for inviting me into his lectures and seminars and for giving me full access to the Protestant faculty library at the University of Munich and for taking time to have many conversations with me.

Overall and in general, I would say, my theological journey has been shaped more by Moltmann than by Pannenberg. Still and nevertheless, it was a great privilege to study under him and to get to know him. His departure from this life is a great loss especially to the scholarly and academic side of Christian theology.

]]>
The influential theologian’s death Sept. 5 is a loss to Christian academia.

1 large roger olsonBy Roger E. Olson

One of the last theological giants passed away Sept. 5. Wolfhart Pannenberg was without doubt one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He was born in Stettin, Germany, (now part of Poland) in 1928. He was in poor health for the past several years.

I had the privilege of studying with Pannenberg in Munich, where he taught theology at the University of Munich, during 1981-1982. I wrote a major part of my Rice University Ph.D. dissertation under his supervision during that year. (I finished it back in the U.S. and received my Ph.D. in 1984. The dissertation is titled “Trinity and Eschatology: The Historical Being of God in the Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg.”)

Pannenberg, of course, was noted for his lifelong opposition to “subjectivism” in theology. He believed that existentialism and Pietism were diseases of Christian, and especially modern Protestant, theology and needed correction. He opposed dialectical theology, eschewing what he called “special pleading” for theological conclusions. He wanted theology to be “Wissenschaftlich” (scientific) and thus engaged in “Fundamental Theology” (not fundamentalism but a type of natural theology rooted in human experiences such as “exocentrism”).

Many people, such as Pannenberg’s student Philip Clayton (whose obituary of Pannenberg you can read at Tony Jones’s blog), will describe Pannenberg’s theology in more detail. My friend Stanley Grenz (who died in 2005) wrote one major book about Pannenberg’s theology which remains, I believe, one of the best.

Here I will instead tell stories about Pannenberg the man. I not only knew him well during the year I studied under him in Munich but also served as his “agent” for two lecture tours around the U.S. in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I had many one-on-one conversations with him in restaurants, in my home and his and elsewhere. Sometimes others were present, too.

Pannenberg was not an easy man to know. He was, by most accounts, a typical German professor — a bit distant and aloof. Sometimes he could be sharp but never snarky or mean. My first personal experience of him was in his office in Munich in the late summer of 1981. I talked with him about my dissertation project. I had planned to compare his theology of the Trinity with Moltmann’s. Pannenberg told me to drop the comparison with Moltmann and just write about his own theology, so I did.

During that year, which was a most beautiful time for me, my wife and our 4-year-old daughter, I had many conversations with Pannenberg. Often they took place during the “Pause” in the middle of his 90-minute lectures. He would ask me to walk with him and I tried to keep up as he walked quickly around the building’s large lobby area. He spoke German to me and I spoke English to him. He said my German wasn’t good enough yet. I was fine with that.

During one of those 10-to-15 minute walks I asked him about paradox. He was generally critical of theological reliance on paradox and yet certain points in his own theology seemed paradoxical (such as his “eschatological ontology”). He told me that certain paradoxes were unavoidable but that they always remained “tasks for further thought.” In other words, never settle comfortably with them.

During that year Pannenberg was lecturing on the material that became the first volume of his Systematic Theology. I also sat in on two of his seminars — one of them an evening ecumenical discussion between himself and a Catholic professor and their students. The topic of discussion was the “Reformation anathemas” (Catholic against Luther and his followers) and whether they could be lifted. Eventually, of course, they were.

There were other American students studying with Pannenberg the year I was there — Phil Clayton and George Garin. We had many good times together, often discussing Pannenberg’s theology. One time we hatched a plan to invite Pannenberg to lunch to ask him what he meant by “the future ‘bestimmt’ the present.” (Bestimmen can mean either “define” or “determine.”) We agreed that I would pose the question, so I did. His answer didn’t surprise me: “Both, of course.” In other words, at least at that time, he believed that the future kingdom of God, the reign of God, determines the past retroactively — an ontological and not merely hermeneutical idea.

One idea that came out clearly in his lectures, that I had not paid attention to before, was what I later labed “Pannenberg’s Principle” — that “God’s deity is his rule.” So we also asked him during that lunch if he would still say, then as before, that “God does not yet exist.” He said “Yes, with the proper qualifications.”

Several times I heard Pannenberg say, “There is one thing I am not — a Pietist.” Since I was (and am) a Pietist (hopefully in the best and truest sense) I did not find Pannenberg’s approach to faith and spirituality especially agreeable. In my opinion, he tended to reduce faith to assent to what is reasonable. While I agree that Christian belief is (at its best) reasonable, I do not think reason is the basis for what is believed. Pannenberg’s spirituality was, by his own admission, “sacramental spirituality,” so our approaches to many things about Christianity were at cross purposes.

In spite of that, I owe a real debt of gratitude to Pannenberg for inviting me into his lectures and seminars and for giving me full access to the Protestant faculty library at the University of Munich and for taking time to have many conversations with me.

Overall and in general, I would say, my theological journey has been shaped more by Moltmann than by Pannenberg. Still and nevertheless, it was a great privilege to study under him and to get to know him. His departure from this life is a great loss especially to the scholarly and academic side of Christian theology.

]]>
Roger Olson Commentaries Wed, 10 Sep 2014 13:54:26 -0400
Eyes wide open http://baptistnews.com/opinion/item/29116-eyes-wide-open http://baptistnews.com/opinion/item/29116-eyes-wide-open Did Jesus learn something the day he encountered a Canaanite woman? Maybe.

By Amy Butler

Last Sunday all over the world lectionary preachers were handed a challenging text from Matthew’s Gospel. The text was that little part of chapter 15, where Jesus is busy just doing his thing: using gardening metaphors to see if he can get anywhere with his hardheaded disciples and generally trying his best to manage the increasing demands of publicly saying things people find distasteful. 

You know, the usual.

The way Matthew tells it, Jesus was headed out of town, away from the press of the crowds and the demands of constant lesson planning, when he’s stopped in his tracks by a Canaanite woman shouting at him.

The disciples worked hard to try to keep her protestations contained, civil and orderly, but she wouldn’t give up. She kept shouting, trying to get his attention. In fact, she was really starting to annoy the disciples, so much so that they asked Jesus if they could employ some harsher crowd control to get her gone for good.

Still she persisted. When she finally got his attention, the Canaanite woman and Jesus had a pretty tense exchange, where he called her a dog and she shouted back at him.

This is a difficult text, there’s no way around it. In my imagination I could hear the collective groans of pastors everywhere when they began sermon preparation last week. Where is the blue-eyed blond-haired gentleman who gives people snacks and plays with children? Why is Jesus rewarding someone who is making a scene? How do we explain Jesus being pretty mean to a desperate woman who needs help?

As is the case every week, there are nearly as many interpretations of this text as there are pulpits. Some preachers say Jesus planned the exchange just that way: he was trying to give his disciples an object lesson. Some said that while the Canaanite woman was not as polite as she should have been, Jesus overlooked her rudeness and cut her some slack. 

I imagine a whole host of preachers decided to go with the Genesis text. Or on vacation. 

But when I read the text, I’m curious about this: what if Jesus was wrong? I mean, what if Jesus, distracted by his less-than-stellar disciples and stressed out by the Pharisees’ ongoing attacks, just wasn’t thinking about his choice of words or behavior? 

What if he’d become such an important voice in the Jewish community that he just forgot that the typical response of a well-known Jewish man to a desperate, shouting Canaanite woman was not the response that exemplified the gospel he came to teach?

Some people will certainly take issue with this idea because, well, we wouldn’t want Jesus to be wrong about anything. I myself, however, find the notion of the Son of God learning to see the world through new eyes rather refreshing.

Jesus, the person of privilege in this exchange, learned a lesson from a Canaanite woman, who had lived for so long in the shackles of societal constraint that it took utter desperation to make her raise her voice.

Maybe the lesson Jesus learned was this: the Canaanite woman needed something in her life to change. Jesus could enact that change, but she knew that no real change ever happens without love and compassion. And love can’t show up until we know each other, until we look each other straight in the eyes and really see one another. The Canaanite woman made Jesus look at her and really see her, person to person, a shared humanity.

I think Jesus had his eyes opened wide that day. And, reading this text with modern eyes, I’m wondering if maybe we could tag along for the lesson.

Is there anything around here that needs to change? As a matter of fact, there is.

Following the recent shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., our whole country is asking hard questions about unjust systems we have tolerated and continue to prop up, systems that, among other things, make being a young African-American man in our country a fear-filled and dangerous prospect.

People are dying. We’re fueling hatred and violence in an attempt to maintain the status quo, and voices of protest are finally loud enough to catch our attention.

Something needs to change. But where to start?

Mike Trautman, pastor of Ferguson’s First Presbyterian Church, reflects: “If this incident has shown us anything, at the very least it’s that we need to be doing more outreach to one another. We reach out now in a time of trouble? We should have been doing it 10 years ago.”

“We don’t know each other well. When things were good, we just did our own thing,” he said. “Do we really know each other? Do we really trust each other? Have we worked together to make Ferguson a better place? The answer is unfortunately in front of us. We haven’t done the kind of work we need to do.”

Mike Trautman is right. Change doesn’t happen without love. You can’t love anything or anyone you don’t know. It all starts with eyes locked, hands clasped, me seeing you and you seeing me, a shared and common humanity in which we are bound together by our shared experience of grace. 

It seems to me that if Jesus could learn to see the world through new eyes, we might want to give it a try, because when we begin to look at each other differently, hearts change, behaviors change.

Even systems change.  

]]>
Did Jesus learn something the day he encountered a Canaanite woman? Maybe.

By Amy Butler

Last Sunday all over the world lectionary preachers were handed a challenging text from Matthew’s Gospel. The text was that little part of chapter 15, where Jesus is busy just doing his thing: using gardening metaphors to see if he can get anywhere with his hardheaded disciples and generally trying his best to manage the increasing demands of publicly saying things people find distasteful. 

You know, the usual.

The way Matthew tells it, Jesus was headed out of town, away from the press of the crowds and the demands of constant lesson planning, when he’s stopped in his tracks by a Canaanite woman shouting at him.

The disciples worked hard to try to keep her protestations contained, civil and orderly, but she wouldn’t give up. She kept shouting, trying to get his attention. In fact, she was really starting to annoy the disciples, so much so that they asked Jesus if they could employ some harsher crowd control to get her gone for good.

Still she persisted. When she finally got his attention, the Canaanite woman and Jesus had a pretty tense exchange, where he called her a dog and she shouted back at him.

This is a difficult text, there’s no way around it. In my imagination I could hear the collective groans of pastors everywhere when they began sermon preparation last week. Where is the blue-eyed blond-haired gentleman who gives people snacks and plays with children? Why is Jesus rewarding someone who is making a scene? How do we explain Jesus being pretty mean to a desperate woman who needs help?

As is the case every week, there are nearly as many interpretations of this text as there are pulpits. Some preachers say Jesus planned the exchange just that way: he was trying to give his disciples an object lesson. Some said that while the Canaanite woman was not as polite as she should have been, Jesus overlooked her rudeness and cut her some slack. 

I imagine a whole host of preachers decided to go with the Genesis text. Or on vacation. 

But when I read the text, I’m curious about this: what if Jesus was wrong? I mean, what if Jesus, distracted by his less-than-stellar disciples and stressed out by the Pharisees’ ongoing attacks, just wasn’t thinking about his choice of words or behavior? 

What if he’d become such an important voice in the Jewish community that he just forgot that the typical response of a well-known Jewish man to a desperate, shouting Canaanite woman was not the response that exemplified the gospel he came to teach?

Some people will certainly take issue with this idea because, well, we wouldn’t want Jesus to be wrong about anything. I myself, however, find the notion of the Son of God learning to see the world through new eyes rather refreshing.

Jesus, the person of privilege in this exchange, learned a lesson from a Canaanite woman, who had lived for so long in the shackles of societal constraint that it took utter desperation to make her raise her voice.

Maybe the lesson Jesus learned was this: the Canaanite woman needed something in her life to change. Jesus could enact that change, but she knew that no real change ever happens without love and compassion. And love can’t show up until we know each other, until we look each other straight in the eyes and really see one another. The Canaanite woman made Jesus look at her and really see her, person to person, a shared humanity.

I think Jesus had his eyes opened wide that day. And, reading this text with modern eyes, I’m wondering if maybe we could tag along for the lesson.

Is there anything around here that needs to change? As a matter of fact, there is.

Following the recent shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., our whole country is asking hard questions about unjust systems we have tolerated and continue to prop up, systems that, among other things, make being a young African-American man in our country a fear-filled and dangerous prospect.

People are dying. We’re fueling hatred and violence in an attempt to maintain the status quo, and voices of protest are finally loud enough to catch our attention.

Something needs to change. But where to start?

Mike Trautman, pastor of Ferguson’s First Presbyterian Church, reflects: “If this incident has shown us anything, at the very least it’s that we need to be doing more outreach to one another. We reach out now in a time of trouble? We should have been doing it 10 years ago.”

“We don’t know each other well. When things were good, we just did our own thing,” he said. “Do we really know each other? Do we really trust each other? Have we worked together to make Ferguson a better place? The answer is unfortunately in front of us. We haven’t done the kind of work we need to do.”

Mike Trautman is right. Change doesn’t happen without love. You can’t love anything or anyone you don’t know. It all starts with eyes locked, hands clasped, me seeing you and you seeing me, a shared and common humanity in which we are bound together by our shared experience of grace. 

It seems to me that if Jesus could learn to see the world through new eyes, we might want to give it a try, because when we begin to look at each other differently, hearts change, behaviors change.

Even systems change.  

]]>
Amy Butler Talk With the Preacher Thu, 21 Aug 2014 12:43:39 -0400
Vital Christianity: As I see it http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/28856-vital-christianity-as-i-see-it http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/28856-vital-christianity-as-i-see-it An effort to describe vital Christianity in 12 key characteristics, beginning with passionate love of God and neighbor. 

By David Gushee

Follow David: @dpgushee

Here on the eve of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly meeting in Atlanta, and with other national religious conventions recently in the news (for better or for worse), I choose to articulate what I think vital Christianity looks like, that version of Christianity to which I am drawn and which I think might have a future in post-Christian America. What follows are my top 12 proposed characteristics of vital Christianity. Of course, this is an invitation to dialogue. Here goes: 

1. Vital Christianity looks like people who love God-in-Christ with all their hearts. It is characterized by spiritual passion, heartfelt worship and unashamed devotion to God (Mt. 22:37).

2. Vital Christianity looks like people who seek to love their neighbors as themselves (Mt. 22:39). It overflows with such love and related virtues like compassion, mercy and kindness (Col. 3:12-14), directed not just toward others as individuals but as advocacy in the public arena.  

3. Vital Christianity looks like people who want to see God’s transforming reign take hold on this suffering planet. It fosters holy dissatisfaction with the unjust and violent kingdoms of this world and a desire to participate as Christ’s body in the work of God’s reign of justice, peace and reconciliation (Mt. 6:33).

4. Vital Christianity looks like people who humbly yearn to grow in Christlikeness and are willing to work at it with discipline and sacrifice. It has a holistic personal transformation agenda, pursued together in meaningful Christian community (Rom. 12:1-2).

5. Vital Christianity looks like people who attentively and regularly listen for God’s Word and seek to do God’s will, gathering in communities where the Bible is both revered and authoritative, preached, read and studied with responsive and teachable minds and hearts (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

6. Vital Christianity looks like people who do not accept worldly social divisions, prejudices and stratifications as immutable givens, but instead seek to build boundary-crossing communities as modeled by Jesus and commanded in scripture (Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28).

7. Vital Christianity looks like people responsive to human need and eager to go, and to serve, where the need is greatest, seeing in the suffering “least of these” Jesus himself (Mt. 25:31-46).

8. Vital Christianity looks like people who commit to full participation in some (flawed but beloved) local expression of the body of Christ while aware of and acting on their connection to the (flawed but beloved) church universal (Heb. 10:24-26).

9 Vital Christianity looks like people characterized by the disciplined practice of prayer as taught in Scripture and practiced in historic Christianity (Lk. 18:1-8).

10. Vital Christianity looks like people who are convictional and correctable; that is, who want to study and understand the most important historic doctrinal and moral traditions of Christianity, in order to be firmly grounded in the intellectual heritage and core commitments of the church/es, even while aware that church tradition is neither infallible nor immutable (cf. 1 Cor. 15:2-4).

11. Vital Christianity looks like people who are most deeply shaped by their Christian commitment rather than casually integrating churchgoing into a life primarily about other goals (Ex. 20:2).

12. Vital Christianity looks like people who value their freedom, and that of everyone else, to seek truth and live life with integrity, while recognizing that for Christians freedom is in and for Christ and one another, not merely about personal autonomy (Rom. 14).

In short, vital Christianity as I see it is Christ-centered and wholly committed, passionate, loving and just, personally and socially transformationist, missional, public, and global, biblically serious, boundary-crossing and countercultural, attentive to those on the margins, committed to the local and universal church, prayerful in service to others, theologically informed, convictional, correctable, and free-in-radical-obedience-to-Christ. 

Which means vital Christianity is not: thinly universal or rigidly dogmatic, mushily lukewarm, merely casual, or coldly doctrinaire, too cool to be passionate about Jesus or angrily pounding people with loveless judgmentalism in Jesus’ name, satisfied with the personal, social and ecclesial status quo, parochial or centered just on serving the people within the church walls, loosely tethered to Scripture or brutal and authoritarian in its reading of Scripture, anti- or post-church or post-prayer, squeamish about believing in something strongly or unteachable because it already knows everything, all about personal autonomy or all about crushing legitimate Christian freedom through power plays.

Here’s to vital Christianity and a vital Christian future.

]]>
An effort to describe vital Christianity in 12 key characteristics, beginning with passionate love of God and neighbor. 

By David Gushee

Follow David: @dpgushee

Here on the eve of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly meeting in Atlanta, and with other national religious conventions recently in the news (for better or for worse), I choose to articulate what I think vital Christianity looks like, that version of Christianity to which I am drawn and which I think might have a future in post-Christian America. What follows are my top 12 proposed characteristics of vital Christianity. Of course, this is an invitation to dialogue. Here goes: 

1. Vital Christianity looks like people who love God-in-Christ with all their hearts. It is characterized by spiritual passion, heartfelt worship and unashamed devotion to God (Mt. 22:37).

2. Vital Christianity looks like people who seek to love their neighbors as themselves (Mt. 22:39). It overflows with such love and related virtues like compassion, mercy and kindness (Col. 3:12-14), directed not just toward others as individuals but as advocacy in the public arena.  

3. Vital Christianity looks like people who want to see God’s transforming reign take hold on this suffering planet. It fosters holy dissatisfaction with the unjust and violent kingdoms of this world and a desire to participate as Christ’s body in the work of God’s reign of justice, peace and reconciliation (Mt. 6:33).

4. Vital Christianity looks like people who humbly yearn to grow in Christlikeness and are willing to work at it with discipline and sacrifice. It has a holistic personal transformation agenda, pursued together in meaningful Christian community (Rom. 12:1-2).

5. Vital Christianity looks like people who attentively and regularly listen for God’s Word and seek to do God’s will, gathering in communities where the Bible is both revered and authoritative, preached, read and studied with responsive and teachable minds and hearts (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

6. Vital Christianity looks like people who do not accept worldly social divisions, prejudices and stratifications as immutable givens, but instead seek to build boundary-crossing communities as modeled by Jesus and commanded in scripture (Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28).

7. Vital Christianity looks like people responsive to human need and eager to go, and to serve, where the need is greatest, seeing in the suffering “least of these” Jesus himself (Mt. 25:31-46).

8. Vital Christianity looks like people who commit to full participation in some (flawed but beloved) local expression of the body of Christ while aware of and acting on their connection to the (flawed but beloved) church universal (Heb. 10:24-26).

9 Vital Christianity looks like people characterized by the disciplined practice of prayer as taught in Scripture and practiced in historic Christianity (Lk. 18:1-8).

10. Vital Christianity looks like people who are convictional and correctable; that is, who want to study and understand the most important historic doctrinal and moral traditions of Christianity, in order to be firmly grounded in the intellectual heritage and core commitments of the church/es, even while aware that church tradition is neither infallible nor immutable (cf. 1 Cor. 15:2-4).

11. Vital Christianity looks like people who are most deeply shaped by their Christian commitment rather than casually integrating churchgoing into a life primarily about other goals (Ex. 20:2).

12. Vital Christianity looks like people who value their freedom, and that of everyone else, to seek truth and live life with integrity, while recognizing that for Christians freedom is in and for Christ and one another, not merely about personal autonomy (Rom. 14).

In short, vital Christianity as I see it is Christ-centered and wholly committed, passionate, loving and just, personally and socially transformationist, missional, public, and global, biblically serious, boundary-crossing and countercultural, attentive to those on the margins, committed to the local and universal church, prayerful in service to others, theologically informed, convictional, correctable, and free-in-radical-obedience-to-Christ. 

Which means vital Christianity is not: thinly universal or rigidly dogmatic, mushily lukewarm, merely casual, or coldly doctrinaire, too cool to be passionate about Jesus or angrily pounding people with loveless judgmentalism in Jesus’ name, satisfied with the personal, social and ecclesial status quo, parochial or centered just on serving the people within the church walls, loosely tethered to Scripture or brutal and authoritarian in its reading of Scripture, anti- or post-church or post-prayer, squeamish about believing in something strongly or unteachable because it already knows everything, all about personal autonomy or all about crushing legitimate Christian freedom through power plays.

Here’s to vital Christianity and a vital Christian future.

]]>
David Gushee David Gushee on Faith, Politics & Culture Mon, 23 Jun 2014 20:21:27 -0400
Southern Baptists say Holy Writ, not Hollywood, proves heaven is for real http://baptistnews.com/ministry/organizations/item/28804-southern-baptists-say-holy-writ-not-hollywood-proves-heaven-is-for-real http://baptistnews.com/ministry/organizations/item/28804-southern-baptists-say-holy-writ-not-hollywood-proves-heaven-is-for-real Southern Baptists believe heaven is for real, but not because they saw it in a movie.

By Bob Allen

The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution June 10 warning against books and movies suggesting that near-death experiences prove the existence of heaven or hell.

heaven-is-for-realA resolution on “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” says many books and movies purporting an experience of the afterlife “cannot be corroborated” and “contain details that are antithetical to Scripture.”

“Many devout and well-meaning people allow these to become their source and basis for an understanding of the afterlife rather than scriptural truth,” the resolution states.

Because “the doctrines of the afterlife are critical to a full understanding of salvation and repentance,” Southern Baptists “reaffirm the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential explanations to guide one’s understanding of the truth about heaven and hell.”

Resolutions committee member Chris Osborne, senior pastor of Central Baptist Church in College Station, Texas, said the resolution was a general criticism not directed to any particular book or movie title.

During an earlier business session, however, Thomas McCracken, pastor of Community Church in Salem, Va., brought a motion asking that LifeWay Christian Resources “cease all sales, support and distribution” of Heaven is for Real — a 2010 best-selling Christian book and 2014 movie starring Greg Kinnear about the true story of a 4-year-old son of a Nebraska pastor who reported that he visited heaven during a near-death experience in 2003 — “for theological reasons.”

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Southern Baptists believe heaven is for real, but not because they saw it in a movie.

By Bob Allen

The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution June 10 warning against books and movies suggesting that near-death experiences prove the existence of heaven or hell.

heaven-is-for-realA resolution on “the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the afterlife” says many books and movies purporting an experience of the afterlife “cannot be corroborated” and “contain details that are antithetical to Scripture.”

“Many devout and well-meaning people allow these to become their source and basis for an understanding of the afterlife rather than scriptural truth,” the resolution states.

Because “the doctrines of the afterlife are critical to a full understanding of salvation and repentance,” Southern Baptists “reaffirm the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential explanations to guide one’s understanding of the truth about heaven and hell.”

Resolutions committee member Chris Osborne, senior pastor of Central Baptist Church in College Station, Texas, said the resolution was a general criticism not directed to any particular book or movie title.

During an earlier business session, however, Thomas McCracken, pastor of Community Church in Salem, Va., brought a motion asking that LifeWay Christian Resources “cease all sales, support and distribution” of Heaven is for Real — a 2010 best-selling Christian book and 2014 movie starring Greg Kinnear about the true story of a 4-year-old son of a Nebraska pastor who reported that he visited heaven during a near-death experience in 2003 — “for theological reasons.”

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Bob Allen Organizations Wed, 11 Jun 2014 15:58:19 -0400
Baylor prof questions popular views of heaven http://baptistnews.com/faith/theology/item/28685-baylor-prof-questions-popular-views-of-heaven http://baptistnews.com/faith/theology/item/28685-baylor-prof-questions-popular-views-of-heaven Ceiling painting of peace and heaven by Daniel Gran. (WikiMedia Commons)
Author and pop culture critic Greg Garrett ponders what it says about someone who believes heaven includes none of their enemies or is merely a continuation of life on earth.

By Terry Goodrich

“Heaven is for real,” according to the new movie by that name. But which vision of heaven is true?

Several versions of heaven are depicted in art, literature, music and pop culture — some of which don’t mesh with Christian doctrines, said author and pop culture critic Greg Garrett, a professor of English at Baylor University.

Actually, the Bible gives little detail about heaven, and many people rely on imagination, he said.

greg garrett300In the movie Heaven is for Real — which is based on the bestseller about a real-life family — a little boy who undergoes an operation for a ruptured appendix takes a trip to heaven, walking hand-in-hand with Jesus and spotting a rainbow horse before returning to earth.

Consider these variations of heaven, Garrett suggests:

Paradise. This is a place where dreams come true, as in the movie Field of Dreams — or perhaps Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues, with photos of lovely women in idyllic locations and the headline “Paradise Found.”

Heaven as haven. This is a place where human beings are reunited with the people they love. At the end of the movie Titanic, Rose passes through the ranks of passengers lost on the ship, ascends the stairs and takes the hand of her beloved Jack, Garrett notes. This vision of heaven is compatible with such hymns as When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.

Zion: No enemies allowed. “The closing scene of Les Miserables shows the Paris barricades populated by all who have died and gone before us, singing about how the fallen ‘will live again in freedom in the Garden of the Lord’ — all, that is, except for that miserable Inspector Javert,” Garrett said. Then there’s the cabbie in a Marc Cohn song. He looks forward to heaven, where he won’t have to listen to tiresome passengers.

Earth 2.0. Consider it a place where we go on doing what we do. In Heaven Can Wait, Warren Beatty, cast as a player for the Los Angeles Rams, dies before his time, thanks to an over-eager guardian angel. He is cremated, and the search begins for a new body, which turns out to be that of a murdered millionaire who buys the Rams, then pursues Beatty’s dream of leading the Rams to a Super Bowl victory.

Garrett questions what such views of heaven say about those who hold them.

Why would Paradise be a place where people simply achieve what they’ve always wanted, whether keeping off the pounds or taking a permanent vacation? And sure, he said, reuniting with friends and relatives would be wonderful, but shouldn’t union with God be the primary attraction?

And a heaven that allows no one in whom we despise is just as questionable.

“We seem to want to go on building little gated communities, even in the next life,” Garrett said. But where does “love your enemies” fit into that picture?

He added that heaven should be more than just a change of address, with life going on as it does now — albeit happier.

Garrett will explore depictions of death and the afterlife in religious and popular literature, film and TV in his upcoming book Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Literature and Popular Culture, to be published in the fall.

Garrett is the author of several nonfiction books, among them The Gospel According to Hollywood and We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2. He also wrote the novels Free Bird and Cycling, and memoirs titled Crossing Myself and No Idea.

]]>
Ceiling painting of peace and heaven by Daniel Gran. (WikiMedia Commons)
Author and pop culture critic Greg Garrett ponders what it says about someone who believes heaven includes none of their enemies or is merely a continuation of life on earth.

By Terry Goodrich

“Heaven is for real,” according to the new movie by that name. But which vision of heaven is true?

Several versions of heaven are depicted in art, literature, music and pop culture — some of which don’t mesh with Christian doctrines, said author and pop culture critic Greg Garrett, a professor of English at Baylor University.

Actually, the Bible gives little detail about heaven, and many people rely on imagination, he said.

greg garrett300In the movie Heaven is for Real — which is based on the bestseller about a real-life family — a little boy who undergoes an operation for a ruptured appendix takes a trip to heaven, walking hand-in-hand with Jesus and spotting a rainbow horse before returning to earth.

Consider these variations of heaven, Garrett suggests:

Paradise. This is a place where dreams come true, as in the movie Field of Dreams — or perhaps Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues, with photos of lovely women in idyllic locations and the headline “Paradise Found.”

Heaven as haven. This is a place where human beings are reunited with the people they love. At the end of the movie Titanic, Rose passes through the ranks of passengers lost on the ship, ascends the stairs and takes the hand of her beloved Jack, Garrett notes. This vision of heaven is compatible with such hymns as When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.

Zion: No enemies allowed. “The closing scene of Les Miserables shows the Paris barricades populated by all who have died and gone before us, singing about how the fallen ‘will live again in freedom in the Garden of the Lord’ — all, that is, except for that miserable Inspector Javert,” Garrett said. Then there’s the cabbie in a Marc Cohn song. He looks forward to heaven, where he won’t have to listen to tiresome passengers.

Earth 2.0. Consider it a place where we go on doing what we do. In Heaven Can Wait, Warren Beatty, cast as a player for the Los Angeles Rams, dies before his time, thanks to an over-eager guardian angel. He is cremated, and the search begins for a new body, which turns out to be that of a murdered millionaire who buys the Rams, then pursues Beatty’s dream of leading the Rams to a Super Bowl victory.

Garrett questions what such views of heaven say about those who hold them.

Why would Paradise be a place where people simply achieve what they’ve always wanted, whether keeping off the pounds or taking a permanent vacation? And sure, he said, reuniting with friends and relatives would be wonderful, but shouldn’t union with God be the primary attraction?

And a heaven that allows no one in whom we despise is just as questionable.

“We seem to want to go on building little gated communities, even in the next life,” Garrett said. But where does “love your enemies” fit into that picture?

He added that heaven should be more than just a change of address, with life going on as it does now — albeit happier.

Garrett will explore depictions of death and the afterlife in religious and popular literature, film and TV in his upcoming book Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Literature and Popular Culture, to be published in the fall.

Garrett is the author of several nonfiction books, among them The Gospel According to Hollywood and We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2. He also wrote the novels Free Bird and Cycling, and memoirs titled Crossing Myself and No Idea.

]]>
Terry Goodrich Theology Mon, 12 May 2014 12:10:28 -0400
In sermon and blog, preacher laments 'lily white' Jesus http://baptistnews.com/ministry/people/item/28384-preacher-laments-lily-white-jesus-in-sermon-blog http://baptistnews.com/ministry/people/item/28384-preacher-laments-lily-white-jesus-in-sermon-blog Susan Sparks, left, at the Clinton Presidential Center. (SusanSparks.com)
In writing and in the pulpit, Baptist Pastor Susan Sparks argues that the church and Hollywood have done the world a disservice by depicting Jesus Christ as a white man, when in fact he was a Jew from Palestine.

By Jeff Brumley

As both a writer, comedian and a pastor, Susan Sparks knows how to work an audience and a congregation. And whether on stage or behind the pulpit, she also knows how to raise eyebrows and a temper here and there.

She proved that this month with a Feb. 16 sermon she titled “Mini Me Jesus,” a play off the villain and his tiny protégé in the Austin Powers films.

Sparks, the pastor at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York, said she was inspired by Black History Month to challenge her congregation and her Facebook following to consider the deeper, insidious meaning behind depictions of Jesus Christ as a white man.

The topic generated even more interest when Sparks published the sermon as a Feb. 19 Huffington Post blog. It topped that organization’s religion page all day Thursday.

“I grew up with the whitest Jesus you have ever seen,” Sparks writes on the blog. “A Vitamin D deficient, sickly looking Jesus; a sort of Don Knotts meets Gary Busey kind of Jesus.”

susansparksmugShe adds that her entire congregation, “of course,” looked largely the same.

Sparks said Hollywood was just as much to blame as the white church for depicting an Aryan Christ emanating from Palestine. Those include Jeffrey Hunter in King of Kings, Max Von Sydow in The Greatest Story Ever Told and William Defoe “even though Defoe is from Appleton, Wisc.”

Sparks spared some time this week to answer questions via e-mail from ABPnews/Herald about her sermon and specifically about her belief that Jesus was not a “comfy” savior but came to challenge, not comfort, and that he should be depicted as he was: a Palestinian Jew.

So, is it also wrong for Asians or African-Americans to think of Jesus in their color, and to depict him that way?

This sermon/blog was primarily targeted at white readers and the white members of my congregation. The point is that a savior who came to free the oppressed shouldn't be made to reflect the color of those who are historically the oppressor.  

You say Jesus didn’t come to make us feel comfortable. But can seeing him in our own color make him more accessible to us, and easier to identify with?

If that’s the argument, then I need to image Jesus as a red-headed, cowboy-boot wearing Southern woman.

Ultimately, does it really matter what Jesus’ race and skin color were?

Yes. It is important from a historical-accuracy perspective as well as a larger justice perspective. Even [with] the literal interpretation Christians will agree that the historical Jesus was a Palestinian Jew born in Bethlehem. Yet for hundreds of years, he has been bleached lily white. It is one of the most obvious signs of racism in our society, yet it is something we as Christians rarely unpack or discuss — a sad irony, given that we worship a savior who was “anointed to free the oppressed” (Luke 4:18).

How was your ‘Mini Me Jesus’ sermon received?

Very well. White and black members commented that it was a brave sermon to give and words that needed to be heard. I had some visitors on Sunday from outside Versailles, France, who are sharing it on French social media.  

How is it being received in blog form?

So far, great. Getting a lot of shares on social media and today it is being featured on the front page of the Huffington Post Religion Section. That said — I posted the idea for the sermon last week on Facebook and got some push back — things like “if Jesus is your Lord and Savior, color doesn’t matter.” Of course those making the comments were white.

]]>
Susan Sparks, left, at the Clinton Presidential Center. (SusanSparks.com)
In writing and in the pulpit, Baptist Pastor Susan Sparks argues that the church and Hollywood have done the world a disservice by depicting Jesus Christ as a white man, when in fact he was a Jew from Palestine.

By Jeff Brumley

As both a writer, comedian and a pastor, Susan Sparks knows how to work an audience and a congregation. And whether on stage or behind the pulpit, she also knows how to raise eyebrows and a temper here and there.

She proved that this month with a Feb. 16 sermon she titled “Mini Me Jesus,” a play off the villain and his tiny protégé in the Austin Powers films.

Sparks, the pastor at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York, said she was inspired by Black History Month to challenge her congregation and her Facebook following to consider the deeper, insidious meaning behind depictions of Jesus Christ as a white man.

The topic generated even more interest when Sparks published the sermon as a Feb. 19 Huffington Post blog. It topped that organization’s religion page all day Thursday.

“I grew up with the whitest Jesus you have ever seen,” Sparks writes on the blog. “A Vitamin D deficient, sickly looking Jesus; a sort of Don Knotts meets Gary Busey kind of Jesus.”

susansparksmugShe adds that her entire congregation, “of course,” looked largely the same.

Sparks said Hollywood was just as much to blame as the white church for depicting an Aryan Christ emanating from Palestine. Those include Jeffrey Hunter in King of Kings, Max Von Sydow in The Greatest Story Ever Told and William Defoe “even though Defoe is from Appleton, Wisc.”

Sparks spared some time this week to answer questions via e-mail from ABPnews/Herald about her sermon and specifically about her belief that Jesus was not a “comfy” savior but came to challenge, not comfort, and that he should be depicted as he was: a Palestinian Jew.

So, is it also wrong for Asians or African-Americans to think of Jesus in their color, and to depict him that way?

This sermon/blog was primarily targeted at white readers and the white members of my congregation. The point is that a savior who came to free the oppressed shouldn't be made to reflect the color of those who are historically the oppressor.  

You say Jesus didn’t come to make us feel comfortable. But can seeing him in our own color make him more accessible to us, and easier to identify with?

If that’s the argument, then I need to image Jesus as a red-headed, cowboy-boot wearing Southern woman.

Ultimately, does it really matter what Jesus’ race and skin color were?

Yes. It is important from a historical-accuracy perspective as well as a larger justice perspective. Even [with] the literal interpretation Christians will agree that the historical Jesus was a Palestinian Jew born in Bethlehem. Yet for hundreds of years, he has been bleached lily white. It is one of the most obvious signs of racism in our society, yet it is something we as Christians rarely unpack or discuss — a sad irony, given that we worship a savior who was “anointed to free the oppressed” (Luke 4:18).

How was your ‘Mini Me Jesus’ sermon received?

Very well. White and black members commented that it was a brave sermon to give and words that needed to be heard. I had some visitors on Sunday from outside Versailles, France, who are sharing it on French social media.  

How is it being received in blog form?

So far, great. Getting a lot of shares on social media and today it is being featured on the front page of the Huffington Post Religion Section. That said — I posted the idea for the sermon last week on Facebook and got some push back — things like “if Jesus is your Lord and Savior, color doesn’t matter.” Of course those making the comments were white.

]]>
Jeff Brumley People Fri, 21 Feb 2014 13:26:41 -0500
McAfee prof brings Baptist insights to Iranian talks http://baptistnews.com/ministry/people/item/28315-mcafee-prof-reflects-on-being-a-baptist-in-iran http://baptistnews.com/ministry/people/item/28315-mcafee-prof-reflects-on-being-a-baptist-in-iran Robert Nash, fourth from right, with scholars of Al-Mustafa University in Tehran.
Rob Nash participated in an academic peace delegation to Iran, spending several days last month meeting with Iranian government, academic and religious leaders, often drawing on his Baptist faith to answer questions about religious liberty. 

By Jeff Brumley

A lot of things surprised McAfee School of Theology’s Robert Nash during an academic delegation to Tehran Jan. 21-23.

Surprises included being served name-brand American soda, feeling safer there than some places in the United States, and just how much being Baptist would help him during discussions with Iranian religious scholars.

But maybe the most astonishing was learning that the nation’s top cleric, Ali Khamenei, had issued a religious decree, or fatwa, prohibiting the creation or use of nuclear weapons.

“I don’t think most Americans know that,” said Nash, former global missions coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and associate dean and professor of missions and world religions at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology.

NashTehran3He participated in a delegation of American scholars to Iran led by Conscience International founder James Jennings.

The purpose was to meet with Iranian counterparts to discuss a wide range of topics and to make arrangements for future academic exchanges. The visit was made possible by recent diplomatic breakthroughs between Iran’s more moderate government and the United States.

Nash said he arrived home Jan. 26 encouraged that there are government and university officials in Iran who seem inclined to build on improved relations with the United States.

“I was surprised at the number of officials in the Iranian government that were trained and educated in American universities, with PhDs from places like UCLA, Boston University, Notre Dame — one after another,” he said.

RobNashMUGNash spoke with ABPnews\Herald about his experiences in Iran. Here is some of what he had to say.

How was the trip, overall?

It was absolutely unbelievable on so many levels. You can start with just the beauty of Tehran itself. You have these huge mountains with snow on them rising behind the city. It was immaculate. We were warmly greeted by people on the street. The program that the [Iran-based] Institute for Political and International Studies set up for us was amazing. This was a branch of the foreign ministry. We spent three hours with the chief Iranian negotiator in Geneva for controlling their nuclear program.

Did you ever fear for your safety?

Absolutely not. I felt safer in Terahn than I do in Atlanta. I felt comfortable venturing out on the street by myself. Most Iranians are younger than the ‘79 revolution, so their memory is sort of like the Vietnam is for us. Most folks were glad to see us and curious where we were from.

What was the most shocking or surprising thing you saw there?

I had the sense that the U.S. and UN sanctions would have had a profound effect on Tehran. I’ve been to Havana and I’ve seen pictures of North Korea and I sort of assumed in Tehran you would sense this economic oppression. But what we discovered essentially is a city that reminded me of Bucharest and Romania, an Eastern European capital. We were served Coca-Cola and Fanta orange .... Although in health care and social services for the poor folks — that is where the sanctions were having an impact.

And no harassment of any kind from authorities?

Not at all, but we were guests of an official government think tank and we had people with that think thank with us. Anything we asked for we were pretty much given.

What were the topics and frequency of the meetings you attended?

The first four days were pretty meeting intensive. We met with primarily think tanks and universities .... One interesting meeting was with the folks ... charged with how to understand the Iranian revolution in history, so their questions have to do with the American Revolution .... They asked how do we give meaning and purpose to our identity as a nation, and what role did religion play in that.

How did you respond to that?

I talked about the Puritans and those Puritan mythologies of a chosen people, a city set on a hill, and how these mythologies have helped us to keep our moral compass.

Did your Baptist faith ever come to play a part in those discussions?

I mentioned Roger Williams a couple of times because Williams based his notions of religious freedom upon the sovereignty of God. I said because God is sovereign, I can’t violate God’s sovereignty by telling you what to believe. My point to them was that there is room for freedom of religion even if you espouse the sovereignty of God, and even if you hold the belief that your understanding of God is the right understanding.

Will there be future visits?

Yes. They are very interested in having religious leaders from the United States come out. So one of the things I am going to try to do is arrange a visit by U.S. religious leaders, and I am hoping to get a sampling of conservative and liberal religious leaders.

What's your feeling about Iranian intentions on nuclear power and nuclear weapons?

That this is a moment of opportunity. [President] Hassan Rouhani is a moderate. He has a window of time, but there are forces in Iran who are ready to step in and fight against this opening and efforts to control its use of nuclear energy. On the U.S. side we have a president and secretary of state ... who are willing to do things that no one has been willing to do in the past .... So there are also forces in favor of this peace and we have the opportunity to work alongside them to make it happen.

]]>
Robert Nash, fourth from right, with scholars of Al-Mustafa University in Tehran.
Rob Nash participated in an academic peace delegation to Iran, spending several days last month meeting with Iranian government, academic and religious leaders, often drawing on his Baptist faith to answer questions about religious liberty. 

By Jeff Brumley

A lot of things surprised McAfee School of Theology’s Robert Nash during an academic delegation to Tehran Jan. 21-23.

Surprises included being served name-brand American soda, feeling safer there than some places in the United States, and just how much being Baptist would help him during discussions with Iranian religious scholars.

But maybe the most astonishing was learning that the nation’s top cleric, Ali Khamenei, had issued a religious decree, or fatwa, prohibiting the creation or use of nuclear weapons.

“I don’t think most Americans know that,” said Nash, former global missions coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and associate dean and professor of missions and world religions at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology.

NashTehran3He participated in a delegation of American scholars to Iran led by Conscience International founder James Jennings.

The purpose was to meet with Iranian counterparts to discuss a wide range of topics and to make arrangements for future academic exchanges. The visit was made possible by recent diplomatic breakthroughs between Iran’s more moderate government and the United States.

Nash said he arrived home Jan. 26 encouraged that there are government and university officials in Iran who seem inclined to build on improved relations with the United States.

“I was surprised at the number of officials in the Iranian government that were trained and educated in American universities, with PhDs from places like UCLA, Boston University, Notre Dame — one after another,” he said.

RobNashMUGNash spoke with ABPnews\Herald about his experiences in Iran. Here is some of what he had to say.

How was the trip, overall?

It was absolutely unbelievable on so many levels. You can start with just the beauty of Tehran itself. You have these huge mountains with snow on them rising behind the city. It was immaculate. We were warmly greeted by people on the street. The program that the [Iran-based] Institute for Political and International Studies set up for us was amazing. This was a branch of the foreign ministry. We spent three hours with the chief Iranian negotiator in Geneva for controlling their nuclear program.

Did you ever fear for your safety?

Absolutely not. I felt safer in Terahn than I do in Atlanta. I felt comfortable venturing out on the street by myself. Most Iranians are younger than the ‘79 revolution, so their memory is sort of like the Vietnam is for us. Most folks were glad to see us and curious where we were from.

What was the most shocking or surprising thing you saw there?

I had the sense that the U.S. and UN sanctions would have had a profound effect on Tehran. I’ve been to Havana and I’ve seen pictures of North Korea and I sort of assumed in Tehran you would sense this economic oppression. But what we discovered essentially is a city that reminded me of Bucharest and Romania, an Eastern European capital. We were served Coca-Cola and Fanta orange .... Although in health care and social services for the poor folks — that is where the sanctions were having an impact.

And no harassment of any kind from authorities?

Not at all, but we were guests of an official government think tank and we had people with that think thank with us. Anything we asked for we were pretty much given.

What were the topics and frequency of the meetings you attended?

The first four days were pretty meeting intensive. We met with primarily think tanks and universities .... One interesting meeting was with the folks ... charged with how to understand the Iranian revolution in history, so their questions have to do with the American Revolution .... They asked how do we give meaning and purpose to our identity as a nation, and what role did religion play in that.

How did you respond to that?

I talked about the Puritans and those Puritan mythologies of a chosen people, a city set on a hill, and how these mythologies have helped us to keep our moral compass.

Did your Baptist faith ever come to play a part in those discussions?

I mentioned Roger Williams a couple of times because Williams based his notions of religious freedom upon the sovereignty of God. I said because God is sovereign, I can’t violate God’s sovereignty by telling you what to believe. My point to them was that there is room for freedom of religion even if you espouse the sovereignty of God, and even if you hold the belief that your understanding of God is the right understanding.

Will there be future visits?

Yes. They are very interested in having religious leaders from the United States come out. So one of the things I am going to try to do is arrange a visit by U.S. religious leaders, and I am hoping to get a sampling of conservative and liberal religious leaders.

What's your feeling about Iranian intentions on nuclear power and nuclear weapons?

That this is a moment of opportunity. [President] Hassan Rouhani is a moderate. He has a window of time, but there are forces in Iran who are ready to step in and fight against this opening and efforts to control its use of nuclear energy. On the U.S. side we have a president and secretary of state ... who are willing to do things that no one has been willing to do in the past .... So there are also forces in favor of this peace and we have the opportunity to work alongside them to make it happen.

]]>
Jeff Brumley People Mon, 03 Feb 2014 10:18:37 -0500
Rethinking the sacredness of marriage http://baptistnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/28199-rethinking-the-sacredness-of-marriage http://baptistnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/28199-rethinking-the-sacredness-of-marriage It is not unusual for a celebrity’s short-term “hook up” to be considered a marriage, while a 35-year committed relationship between two persons of the same gender is not.

By Colin Harris

The closing days of 2013 saw two more states gaining approval for marriage equality, bringing the total to 18, suggesting a clear political momentum that will not likely be reversed.

Around and beneath this legal process has been a thoughtful and often contentious atmosphere of reflection and discussion about the institution of marriage. Traditional assumptions long relatively unquestioned have been analyzed and debated on legal, social and moral grounds; and all indications suggest that significant changes in the way marriage has been understood are taking place.

These changes have not been without strong resistance, often dressed in theological clothing.

Responses to the issue often make a theological appeal to God’s intention that marriage be between one man and one woman, noting the Adam and Eve narrative of Genesis and the practice of monogamous marriage in the context of the New Testament, reflected in the reported teachings of Jesus and the letters of Paul.

We don’t see in such appeals quite as much notice of the family structure of the patriarchs or the marital arrangements of a Solomon.

Most “defense of marriage” suggestions focus on the form of marriage more than its meaning, and given our history and social practice, it is an understandable stretch for many to consider marriage in a different form from the traditional one.

It is easy to assume that what is customary and generally accepted as the norm is the way God intended it. It is not unusual for a celebrity’s short-term “hook up” to be considered a marriage, while a 35-year committed relationship between two persons of the same gender is not.

I have wondered if debates focused on the form of marriage and the sexual orientation of the partners might reflect a misplaced emphasis that distorts the nature of marriage and its sacredness, when seen through a lens of covenant faith.

In our over-sexualized world, it is not surprising that marriage gets defined in terms of sexuality. But from a covenant faith perspective, marriage might need to be defined more in terms of the profound level of intimate and committed relationship that it can find and nurture.

Can a theology of marriage and reflections on its sacredness, based on the relationship of a covenant faith, help us refine the focus of our understanding of marriage in a way that does not exclude significant numbers of people from its blessing?

Theologically, marriage is an image of the covenant bond between God and God’s people — the analogy often chosen to point to the nature of covenant faith. It is the nature and character of the relationship that makes it so, not the particular sexual orientation of the participants.

If marriage is sacred, as we have so long affirmed that it is, is its sacredness identified by the sexual orientation of the partners or by the quality and the depth of the relationship it embodies?

The biblical narrative reflects an interesting evolution in the understanding of marriage. From early concerns for procreation and family survival, to a basis for economic stability and division of labor, to political alliance, to evidence of prosperity, to the kind of domestic partnership and meaningful personal relationship we associate with “traditional” marriage, the understanding of the form and purpose of marriage has changed over time along the human journey.

Is it reasonable to expect that such an evolution of understanding might continue as new discoveries and insights are found about human experience?

We have learned that one’s sexual orientation is a “given” and not a choice, and we have gradually grown in acceptance of the full humanity of persons once thought abnormal or defective.

Like the racial attitudes of a half-century ago, these fading understandings will likely be the subject of future contrition and explanation to our succeeding generations.

I suspect that an emerging understanding of the sacredness of marriage will be in terms of its relational, rather than its sexual, dimensions. If this is the case, then another area of life will have been redeemed from its bondage to a limited understanding based on what we have seen “through a glass darkly.”

]]>
It is not unusual for a celebrity’s short-term “hook up” to be considered a marriage, while a 35-year committed relationship between two persons of the same gender is not.

By Colin Harris

The closing days of 2013 saw two more states gaining approval for marriage equality, bringing the total to 18, suggesting a clear political momentum that will not likely be reversed.

Around and beneath this legal process has been a thoughtful and often contentious atmosphere of reflection and discussion about the institution of marriage. Traditional assumptions long relatively unquestioned have been analyzed and debated on legal, social and moral grounds; and all indications suggest that significant changes in the way marriage has been understood are taking place.

These changes have not been without strong resistance, often dressed in theological clothing.

Responses to the issue often make a theological appeal to God’s intention that marriage be between one man and one woman, noting the Adam and Eve narrative of Genesis and the practice of monogamous marriage in the context of the New Testament, reflected in the reported teachings of Jesus and the letters of Paul.

We don’t see in such appeals quite as much notice of the family structure of the patriarchs or the marital arrangements of a Solomon.

Most “defense of marriage” suggestions focus on the form of marriage more than its meaning, and given our history and social practice, it is an understandable stretch for many to consider marriage in a different form from the traditional one.

It is easy to assume that what is customary and generally accepted as the norm is the way God intended it. It is not unusual for a celebrity’s short-term “hook up” to be considered a marriage, while a 35-year committed relationship between two persons of the same gender is not.

I have wondered if debates focused on the form of marriage and the sexual orientation of the partners might reflect a misplaced emphasis that distorts the nature of marriage and its sacredness, when seen through a lens of covenant faith.

In our over-sexualized world, it is not surprising that marriage gets defined in terms of sexuality. But from a covenant faith perspective, marriage might need to be defined more in terms of the profound level of intimate and committed relationship that it can find and nurture.

Can a theology of marriage and reflections on its sacredness, based on the relationship of a covenant faith, help us refine the focus of our understanding of marriage in a way that does not exclude significant numbers of people from its blessing?

Theologically, marriage is an image of the covenant bond between God and God’s people — the analogy often chosen to point to the nature of covenant faith. It is the nature and character of the relationship that makes it so, not the particular sexual orientation of the participants.

If marriage is sacred, as we have so long affirmed that it is, is its sacredness identified by the sexual orientation of the partners or by the quality and the depth of the relationship it embodies?

The biblical narrative reflects an interesting evolution in the understanding of marriage. From early concerns for procreation and family survival, to a basis for economic stability and division of labor, to political alliance, to evidence of prosperity, to the kind of domestic partnership and meaningful personal relationship we associate with “traditional” marriage, the understanding of the form and purpose of marriage has changed over time along the human journey.

Is it reasonable to expect that such an evolution of understanding might continue as new discoveries and insights are found about human experience?

We have learned that one’s sexual orientation is a “given” and not a choice, and we have gradually grown in acceptance of the full humanity of persons once thought abnormal or defective.

Like the racial attitudes of a half-century ago, these fading understandings will likely be the subject of future contrition and explanation to our succeeding generations.

I suspect that an emerging understanding of the sacredness of marriage will be in terms of its relational, rather than its sexual, dimensions. If this is the case, then another area of life will have been redeemed from its bondage to a limited understanding based on what we have seen “through a glass darkly.”

]]>
Colin Harris Commentaries Fri, 03 Jan 2014 12:05:11 -0500
‘Duck Dynasty’ and the struggle over Christianity http://baptistnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/28190-duck-dynasty-and-the-struggle-over-christianity http://baptistnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/28190-duck-dynasty-and-the-struggle-over-christianity Recent controversy over a TV reality show is part of a battle that has been going on throughout Christian history.

By Thomas Whitley

There is no such thing as Christianity. Let me repeat myself so you know I really meant to say it: There is no such thing as Christianity.

What we have instead are reifications and definitions. As with all definitions, the various definitions offered of “Christian,” “Christianity” and the like are exercises in limitation. That is, they necessarily draw boundaries to say what the thing is and what the thing is not.

The recent “Duck Dynasty” controversy has only made this truth more clear. Those in support of Phil Robertson have made claims that his expression is the “true” expression of Christianity because he simply shared the message of the Bible. Robertson is being lauded as a “hero” and as a good, Bible-believing Christian. Those who think that comparing homosexuality to bestiality is bad are “a bunch of anti-Christian bigots” and “intolerant leftwing bullies.”

Many Christians who are opposed to Robertson’s views on homosexuality have argued that “true Christians” follow Jesus’ teachings on social justice and offer the reminder that we have no traditions of Jesus saying anything about homosexuality.

The argument goes back and forth, and the shouting just gets louder. But homosexuality is simply the latest site of contestation over the identity “Christian” in this country. Each side — or, more realistically, every side, since there are countless “sides” — though, has failed to see that they are fighting over who gets to offer a normative definition of “Christianity.”

These definitions are always self-serving. I have never seen a definition offered that left its proponents on the outside looking in. In other words, the fight is necessarily contrastive, it necessarily pits “us” against “them.”

The end goal is not truth or piety; it is power. “We” are the “true Christians,” while “they” are “backsliders” or “idolaters” or “non-Christians.” “We” possess the “truth,” while they are only ever characterized by “falsehood.”

This is far from new. Paul fought fiercely against the Jerusalem Church in the 1st century to define the terms under which Gentiles could enter into the fold. The Jerusalem Church and other “Judaizers” held that Gentiles needed to be circumcised and follow the whole Jewish law (i.e. become Jewish) before they could be a member of The Way.

Paul held that circumcision was not necessary for Gentiles because of the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15. We can fast forward a few years to the promulgation of the words “heresy” and “heretic” in the writings of Irenaeus and Epiphanius. They both engaged in projects to identify and define the “heretics.” The underlying struggle was again one of definitions and power.

The same can be seen in the numerous theological controversies in the 4th and 5th centuries. Was Jesus fully God? Fully human? Both? Is there such a thing as the Trinity? If so, what is its nature? History teaches us that ultimately these decisions were made on the basis of who had the power. The views of those with the power and resources (e.g. access to the emperor, control of trade routes, etc.) won the day. Many will see this as a cynical look at the history of Christianity. Others will see it as heresy and blasphemy. And that’s okay.

My point is simply this: from the beginning, this movement that many today call Christianity, and that many of its earliest adherents appear to have called The Way, has been characterized by struggles over who gets to determine what is “right” and what is “wrong,” what is “true” and what is “false,” what is “orthodox” and what is “heresy,” what is “Christian” and what is not.

And nothing has changed. While the battle lines have shifted some and the sites of contestation have moved, we are still fighting the same war. Everyone still believes and argues that it is their definition that is right while every other definition is wrong. And, as has been true throughout history, it is those with the power and the resources that are controlling the conversation.

All we have are definitions and reifications. There is no such thing as Christianity.

This commentary appeared previously in the ABPnews blog.

]]>
Recent controversy over a TV reality show is part of a battle that has been going on throughout Christian history.

By Thomas Whitley

There is no such thing as Christianity. Let me repeat myself so you know I really meant to say it: There is no such thing as Christianity.

What we have instead are reifications and definitions. As with all definitions, the various definitions offered of “Christian,” “Christianity” and the like are exercises in limitation. That is, they necessarily draw boundaries to say what the thing is and what the thing is not.

The recent “Duck Dynasty” controversy has only made this truth more clear. Those in support of Phil Robertson have made claims that his expression is the “true” expression of Christianity because he simply shared the message of the Bible. Robertson is being lauded as a “hero” and as a good, Bible-believing Christian. Those who think that comparing homosexuality to bestiality is bad are “a bunch of anti-Christian bigots” and “intolerant leftwing bullies.”

Many Christians who are opposed to Robertson’s views on homosexuality have argued that “true Christians” follow Jesus’ teachings on social justice and offer the reminder that we have no traditions of Jesus saying anything about homosexuality.

The argument goes back and forth, and the shouting just gets louder. But homosexuality is simply the latest site of contestation over the identity “Christian” in this country. Each side — or, more realistically, every side, since there are countless “sides” — though, has failed to see that they are fighting over who gets to offer a normative definition of “Christianity.”

These definitions are always self-serving. I have never seen a definition offered that left its proponents on the outside looking in. In other words, the fight is necessarily contrastive, it necessarily pits “us” against “them.”

The end goal is not truth or piety; it is power. “We” are the “true Christians,” while “they” are “backsliders” or “idolaters” or “non-Christians.” “We” possess the “truth,” while they are only ever characterized by “falsehood.”

This is far from new. Paul fought fiercely against the Jerusalem Church in the 1st century to define the terms under which Gentiles could enter into the fold. The Jerusalem Church and other “Judaizers” held that Gentiles needed to be circumcised and follow the whole Jewish law (i.e. become Jewish) before they could be a member of The Way.

Paul held that circumcision was not necessary for Gentiles because of the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15. We can fast forward a few years to the promulgation of the words “heresy” and “heretic” in the writings of Irenaeus and Epiphanius. They both engaged in projects to identify and define the “heretics.” The underlying struggle was again one of definitions and power.

The same can be seen in the numerous theological controversies in the 4th and 5th centuries. Was Jesus fully God? Fully human? Both? Is there such a thing as the Trinity? If so, what is its nature? History teaches us that ultimately these decisions were made on the basis of who had the power. The views of those with the power and resources (e.g. access to the emperor, control of trade routes, etc.) won the day. Many will see this as a cynical look at the history of Christianity. Others will see it as heresy and blasphemy. And that’s okay.

My point is simply this: from the beginning, this movement that many today call Christianity, and that many of its earliest adherents appear to have called The Way, has been characterized by struggles over who gets to determine what is “right” and what is “wrong,” what is “true” and what is “false,” what is “orthodox” and what is “heresy,” what is “Christian” and what is not.

And nothing has changed. While the battle lines have shifted some and the sites of contestation have moved, we are still fighting the same war. Everyone still believes and argues that it is their definition that is right while every other definition is wrong. And, as has been true throughout history, it is those with the power and the resources that are controlling the conversation.

All we have are definitions and reifications. There is no such thing as Christianity.

This commentary appeared previously in the ABPnews blog.

]]>
Thomas Whitley Commentaries Tue, 31 Dec 2013 13:45:14 -0500
The spiritual test the church is failing http://baptistnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/16349-the-spiritual-test-the-church-is-failing http://baptistnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/16349-the-spiritual-test-the-church-is-failing There is hope for forgiveness and racial reconciliation in this country. But if it’s going to happen, it will take courageous action from God’s church to change the tide.

By Trey Lyon

A recent study reported last week in ABPnews pointed to a growing gap in racial attitudes and experiences in the United States. This report was deeply disturbing, but not all that surprising, and I suspect the predominantly white church in America is largely to blame.

Not long ago I attended a conference where a number of Baptists were invited, including leadership from both majority-white and historically African-American denominations. The meeting was exciting and there was some real enthusiasm about the chance to come together and chart a spiritual way forward together.

During a panel discussion, an African-American denominational leader born in 1950 spoke of growing up in racial isolation in California, only meeting a white male when he was 18 as part of a “Brotherhood Exchange” between the high schools where they each served as student body president. He said when they got back in the car his teacher told him Martin Luther King was shot and killed earlier that morning.

Listening to this, I considered my own context — a church that is culturally diverse but hails from a denomination that was created because slaveholders in the South wanted to keep their slaves. We’ve made some progress, though I’m not exactly sure how, and there are many places where, to paraphrase Dr. King, “11 a.m. is (still) the most segregated hour in America.”

The panel offered a few suggestions, but it was the honesty of this panelist that most struck me: “I don’t think my generation can do it.”

He explained that after experiencing firsthand the atrocities of the Jim Crow South and hatred and vitriol spewed from white Christians during the Civil Rights Movement, he doubted his generation could get past those memories toward a fully integrated vision of church.

His children and grandchildren, he continued, not only could, but are. He spoke of the variety of shades and colors, ethnicities and cultures, represented in his grandchildren. Though I’ve never seen their faces, it sounded like what some would call the Beloved Community.

A few weeks later my wife and I saw “12 Years a Slave,” a film both brilliant and disturbing. No cinematic punches are pulled. The horrors of slavery are gruesomely depicted, along with the frequent complacency of supporting characters. More than once a drunken plantation owner lashes a slave while quoting Scripture that enshrines his power to hold slaves as property and treat them accordingly.

The film’s protagonist, a free musician who is drugged and hauled off to a slave market, never joins in the spirituals the other slaves sing until the burial of one of his fellow slaves who was tortured to the point of death. His pain, grief and sorrow wells up and he begins singing about “the river Jordan.”

The scene is staggering, and a crystallization of something I have wrestled with my entire life, and continue to struggle to understand. How did Christian faith, which was often wielded simultaneously with the oppressive lash of the white slaveholder, also become the faith of the oppressed slave receiving the sting of that whip?

It is a difficult and painful question, but one we must ask. The genius of the African-American faith tradition is that it heard a subversive message beneath the distorted use of Scripture. With their promise of deliverance and idea of a Savior “well acquainted with sorrow,” these courageous men and women were better theologians than their plantation-owner counterparts could ever be.

Out of this robust religious tradition grew a movement, the African-American church, that was to be further forged in the fires of civil rights struggles and movements for equality.

It is tempting to view this as all in the past, focus on “how far we’ve come” or think we are on the verge of a new post-racial era, but not so fast. Make no mistake, the reason our denominational divisions exist in this area is because of a legacy of slavery and domestic terrorism against African-Americans most often carried out by whites claiming to be Christians.

Many white Christians reading these words will say, “That isn’t me or the type of faith I represent.” For that I am grateful, but what that means is it is time to do something about it.

In calling out the predominantly white American church as a reason for this widening gap, I am not just naming an institutional evil. I’m talking about our direct complicity.

The survey said 10 percent of surveyed white respondents think about their race daily, while 52 percent of African-Americans every day consider the implications of their race. The best definition of privilege is the thing you don’t know you have. The fact that as a white male I do not have to consider my race places me in a majority culture and a place of privilege, whether I acknowledge it or not.

So if you are reading this and worship in a predominately white church, let me be as explicit as possible. It is time to do something. Your neighborhood, your child’s school, the supermarket, the passengers next to you on that business flight all likely reflect a greater racial diversity than the sanctuary space you occupy one or more times a week.

Don’t hire a consultant. Don’t go look for a book or call the local college or seminary and get a Wednesday night speaker. Find an African-American leader in your community and set a lunch date. Build a relationship. Listen. Seek to understand rather than to be understood.

You might forge a relationship where you can share your own vulnerabilities and stories of race and find a place of true reconciliation and forgiveness. Then help your congregation find similar ways to do it.

Remember Dr. King’s words: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

The Kingdom of God was never a monolithic group. That first group of disciples included both a tax collector for the Romans and a Zealot who carried a knife to kill any Roman soldier he could get near. Yet we find them eating, laughing, learning and sharing life together alongside Jesus.

There is hope for forgiveness and racial reconciliation in this country. But if it’s going to happen, it will take courageous action from God’s church to change the tide.

Related news story:

Study says race perception gap widening

]]>
There is hope for forgiveness and racial reconciliation in this country. But if it’s going to happen, it will take courageous action from God’s church to change the tide.

By Trey Lyon

A recent study reported last week in ABPnews pointed to a growing gap in racial attitudes and experiences in the United States. This report was deeply disturbing, but not all that surprising, and I suspect the predominantly white church in America is largely to blame.

Not long ago I attended a conference where a number of Baptists were invited, including leadership from both majority-white and historically African-American denominations. The meeting was exciting and there was some real enthusiasm about the chance to come together and chart a spiritual way forward together.

During a panel discussion, an African-American denominational leader born in 1950 spoke of growing up in racial isolation in California, only meeting a white male when he was 18 as part of a “Brotherhood Exchange” between the high schools where they each served as student body president. He said when they got back in the car his teacher told him Martin Luther King was shot and killed earlier that morning.

Listening to this, I considered my own context — a church that is culturally diverse but hails from a denomination that was created because slaveholders in the South wanted to keep their slaves. We’ve made some progress, though I’m not exactly sure how, and there are many places where, to paraphrase Dr. King, “11 a.m. is (still) the most segregated hour in America.”

The panel offered a few suggestions, but it was the honesty of this panelist that most struck me: “I don’t think my generation can do it.”

He explained that after experiencing firsthand the atrocities of the Jim Crow South and hatred and vitriol spewed from white Christians during the Civil Rights Movement, he doubted his generation could get past those memories toward a fully integrated vision of church.

His children and grandchildren, he continued, not only could, but are. He spoke of the variety of shades and colors, ethnicities and cultures, represented in his grandchildren. Though I’ve never seen their faces, it sounded like what some would call the Beloved Community.

A few weeks later my wife and I saw “12 Years a Slave,” a film both brilliant and disturbing. No cinematic punches are pulled. The horrors of slavery are gruesomely depicted, along with the frequent complacency of supporting characters. More than once a drunken plantation owner lashes a slave while quoting Scripture that enshrines his power to hold slaves as property and treat them accordingly.

The film’s protagonist, a free musician who is drugged and hauled off to a slave market, never joins in the spirituals the other slaves sing until the burial of one of his fellow slaves who was tortured to the point of death. His pain, grief and sorrow wells up and he begins singing about “the river Jordan.”

The scene is staggering, and a crystallization of something I have wrestled with my entire life, and continue to struggle to understand. How did Christian faith, which was often wielded simultaneously with the oppressive lash of the white slaveholder, also become the faith of the oppressed slave receiving the sting of that whip?

It is a difficult and painful question, but one we must ask. The genius of the African-American faith tradition is that it heard a subversive message beneath the distorted use of Scripture. With their promise of deliverance and idea of a Savior “well acquainted with sorrow,” these courageous men and women were better theologians than their plantation-owner counterparts could ever be.

Out of this robust religious tradition grew a movement, the African-American church, that was to be further forged in the fires of civil rights struggles and movements for equality.

It is tempting to view this as all in the past, focus on “how far we’ve come” or think we are on the verge of a new post-racial era, but not so fast. Make no mistake, the reason our denominational divisions exist in this area is because of a legacy of slavery and domestic terrorism against African-Americans most often carried out by whites claiming to be Christians.

Many white Christians reading these words will say, “That isn’t me or the type of faith I represent.” For that I am grateful, but what that means is it is time to do something about it.

In calling out the predominantly white American church as a reason for this widening gap, I am not just naming an institutional evil. I’m talking about our direct complicity.

The survey said 10 percent of surveyed white respondents think about their race daily, while 52 percent of African-Americans every day consider the implications of their race. The best definition of privilege is the thing you don’t know you have. The fact that as a white male I do not have to consider my race places me in a majority culture and a place of privilege, whether I acknowledge it or not.

So if you are reading this and worship in a predominately white church, let me be as explicit as possible. It is time to do something. Your neighborhood, your child’s school, the supermarket, the passengers next to you on that business flight all likely reflect a greater racial diversity than the sanctuary space you occupy one or more times a week.

Don’t hire a consultant. Don’t go look for a book or call the local college or seminary and get a Wednesday night speaker. Find an African-American leader in your community and set a lunch date. Build a relationship. Listen. Seek to understand rather than to be understood.

You might forge a relationship where you can share your own vulnerabilities and stories of race and find a place of true reconciliation and forgiveness. Then help your congregation find similar ways to do it.

Remember Dr. King’s words: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

The Kingdom of God was never a monolithic group. That first group of disciples included both a tax collector for the Romans and a Zealot who carried a knife to kill any Roman soldier he could get near. Yet we find them eating, laughing, learning and sharing life together alongside Jesus.

There is hope for forgiveness and racial reconciliation in this country. But if it’s going to happen, it will take courageous action from God’s church to change the tide.

Related news story:

Study says race perception gap widening

]]>
Trey Lyon Commentaries Mon, 30 Dec 2013 10:13:12 -0500
Practicing peace http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/9114-practicing-peace http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/9114-practicing-peace Christmas celebrates a world that is better than it is.

By Brett Younger

The tree in my living room, which went up the day after Thanksgiving, is starting to shed like Charlie Brown’s. I only enjoyed singing “Last Christmas (I Gave You My Heart)” the first time it came on the radio. Apparently I should have bought an Elf on the Shelf for my niece a few weeks ago. By the time Feliz Navidad arrives, I will be tired of some of the yuletide.

In our cynical moments we wonder if Christmas gets old because we weary of wishful thinking. In December we act as if the world is better than it is. Families pretend they get along better than they actually do. Throughout the Christmas season we attempt to be friendlier than we really are. Much of what we do is superficial.

We go to church to imagine the world better than it is. We light the candle of peace and act as if it makes a difference. We pray for the “wolf to live with the lamb, and the leopard to lie down with the kid,” but we are not betting on it. The world is not what it should be and we have little evidence that it will change. The hope beneath our play-acting is that we are not just pretending, but rehearsing.

We understand that in spite of our festivities the world rejected the Prince of Peace. We are never without multiple major military conflicts. Most of these are civil wars fueled by racial, ethnic or religious animosity. We hardly pay attention because every day’s news is overwhelming.

On Sunday, Dec. 15, militants seized the Christian Syrian village of Kanaye, forcing the population to obey sharia law. Women must wear the Islamic veil or be subject to immediate execution.

The same day in the Kokrajhar district in India, police reported that one person was killed and four others injured by insurgents who exploded five grenades and fired indiscriminately at a market.

On Monday, the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir declared a curfew in Juba, accusing soldiers allied with the former vice president of attempting a coup. At least 500 people have been killed in South Sudan since Sunday.

On Tuesday, two groups claimed responsibility for rocket attacks on the Lebanese city of Hermel. The groups cited “Hezbollah’s military intervention, the continued killing of Sunni youths” for the rocket attacks.

Also on Tuesday, six American soldiers were killed when their Army helicopter crashed in Afghanistan. A Taliban spokesman claimed militants shot down the helicopter.

Meanwhile, two bombings in and near Baghdad killed 10 Shiite pilgrims making their way to the holy city of Karbala. The attacks were the latest in a wave of violence.

On Wednesday, the hospitals in Aleppo in Syria were overwhelmed with casualties. Government war planes killed more than 100 people over three days.

On Thursday, the United States ambassador to the United Nations visited the Central African Republic. Fighting between Muslims and Christians has killed nearly 1,000 people.

Christmas always takes place in the midst of terrifying violence. The first Christmas was King Herod’s soldiers with swords in the streets, mothers clutching their babies, hiding in the cellar, trying not to breathe too loudly and begging their infants not to cry.

Christmas is for frightened, hurting, war-torn people. Far from a call to pretend to be jolly, Christmas invites us to recognize that God has come to share our sorrows. Christians believe that God will set things right in a way that we will never accomplish on our own.

We practice peace, but we do so even as we recognize that ultimately peace does not depend on the meager peace we can and should share, but on God coming with peace that will last forever.

So we live as if the world is better than it is. We live rehearsing in the hope of peace.

]]>
Christmas celebrates a world that is better than it is.

By Brett Younger

The tree in my living room, which went up the day after Thanksgiving, is starting to shed like Charlie Brown’s. I only enjoyed singing “Last Christmas (I Gave You My Heart)” the first time it came on the radio. Apparently I should have bought an Elf on the Shelf for my niece a few weeks ago. By the time Feliz Navidad arrives, I will be tired of some of the yuletide.

In our cynical moments we wonder if Christmas gets old because we weary of wishful thinking. In December we act as if the world is better than it is. Families pretend they get along better than they actually do. Throughout the Christmas season we attempt to be friendlier than we really are. Much of what we do is superficial.

We go to church to imagine the world better than it is. We light the candle of peace and act as if it makes a difference. We pray for the “wolf to live with the lamb, and the leopard to lie down with the kid,” but we are not betting on it. The world is not what it should be and we have little evidence that it will change. The hope beneath our play-acting is that we are not just pretending, but rehearsing.

We understand that in spite of our festivities the world rejected the Prince of Peace. We are never without multiple major military conflicts. Most of these are civil wars fueled by racial, ethnic or religious animosity. We hardly pay attention because every day’s news is overwhelming.

On Sunday, Dec. 15, militants seized the Christian Syrian village of Kanaye, forcing the population to obey sharia law. Women must wear the Islamic veil or be subject to immediate execution.

The same day in the Kokrajhar district in India, police reported that one person was killed and four others injured by insurgents who exploded five grenades and fired indiscriminately at a market.

On Monday, the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir declared a curfew in Juba, accusing soldiers allied with the former vice president of attempting a coup. At least 500 people have been killed in South Sudan since Sunday.

On Tuesday, two groups claimed responsibility for rocket attacks on the Lebanese city of Hermel. The groups cited “Hezbollah’s military intervention, the continued killing of Sunni youths” for the rocket attacks.

Also on Tuesday, six American soldiers were killed when their Army helicopter crashed in Afghanistan. A Taliban spokesman claimed militants shot down the helicopter.

Meanwhile, two bombings in and near Baghdad killed 10 Shiite pilgrims making their way to the holy city of Karbala. The attacks were the latest in a wave of violence.

On Wednesday, the hospitals in Aleppo in Syria were overwhelmed with casualties. Government war planes killed more than 100 people over three days.

On Thursday, the United States ambassador to the United Nations visited the Central African Republic. Fighting between Muslims and Christians has killed nearly 1,000 people.

Christmas always takes place in the midst of terrifying violence. The first Christmas was King Herod’s soldiers with swords in the streets, mothers clutching their babies, hiding in the cellar, trying not to breathe too loudly and begging their infants not to cry.

Christmas is for frightened, hurting, war-torn people. Far from a call to pretend to be jolly, Christmas invites us to recognize that God has come to share our sorrows. Christians believe that God will set things right in a way that we will never accomplish on our own.

We practice peace, but we do so even as we recognize that ultimately peace does not depend on the meager peace we can and should share, but on God coming with peace that will last forever.

So we live as if the world is better than it is. We live rehearsing in the hope of peace.

]]>
Brett Younger Seriously Funny Fri, 20 Dec 2013 13:32:58 -0500