The Beautiful Gospel Conference official web page is complete and registration has just gone live. Join Brian Zahnd, Brad Jersak, Brian Doerksen and the Shiyr Poets -- Oct. 1-3 in Abbotsford.
Catch the early-bird price if you can. http://thebeautifulgospel.wix.com/thebeautifulgospel.
Our British Columbia media recently jumped all over the situation of a sitting MP speaking in her Vancouver Church. From the pulpit she proclaimed that her party’s creation of bill C-51 on fighting the specter of terrorist activity in Canada reflected the courage and will of Jesus (Scott Brown. MP Compares government to Jesus in comments on anti-terrorism bill, Vancouver Sun, July 15, 2015, A 5). She had to sheepishly recant factual errors later, however, and there was considerable debate about the legal appropriateness for her exhort as she did as a sitting MP as well as questioning role of the church as a charitable organization to host the partisan speech. The situation does reflect the fact that both churches and MPs often have religiously-political shaped opinions, either explicitly or implicitly. Absolute subjective neutrality is humanly impossible, but as a public servant, an MP should know better than to be openly religiously partisan, especially regarding a specific bill; professional discipline as public servant is necessary, unless of course she, or he, is simply interested only in votes, knowing that both the spoken religious convictions and the partisan political references resonate with the audience. The wider public might not be so impressed with the specific partisan identification of party courage with the “courage of Jesus”; a bit self-righteous or grandiose in my opinion.
But should not the Church be a passionate voice in its political interests and perspectives with its belief in Jesus Lordship over all of life? Does the separation of church and state doctrine mandate our being atheists or a-religious in the full spectrum of our public lives? The fundamental issue in my opinion is not whether the church should have a voice in the political arena, but rather just how it actually expresses its voice publically: passive aggressively; anti-intellectually moralistic; or, prudently wise and respectfully prophetic?
In a The Vancouver Sun issue a few months ago, Katharine Hayhoe, Canadian born climate scientist and professor of political science in Texas, speaks of the high incidence of human caused climate change denial in the American Evangelical church. Hayhoe, suggests that, in the US where she works at present, political partisanship has taken over the church, and that especially in the evangelical church, it is actually political ideology that guides the faith, rather than faith guiding politics (William Marsden, A believer among skeptics, The Vancouver Sun, April 25, 2015, p. B 5). Hayhoe implies that when evangelicals generally think and act politically about climate change they do so according to the political ideology and policies of the political party they support, generally the Republican Party. Also implied, however, is that that political party’s platform is parochial on this issue, nuanced and manipulated by specific evangelical beliefs. There is a kind of reciprocal, double-hermeneutic, at work here of faith being shaped by party ideology, and ideology shaped by the religious doctrines of the party’s supporters. Douglas Todd acknowledges that Canadian evangelical perspectives on climate change have a partisan basis was as well. He also implies that Harper’s reluctance to get serious about climate change action is influenced by his evangelical beliefs. In general in the evangelical mind, human causes are either impossible, or of no consequence because of the belief in hard determinism, God absolutely controls everything; and believers will be raptured from the sorry consequences of global destruction anyway (Douglas Todd, Evangelicals get real about climate change. Vancouver Sun, May 9, 2015, F 5).
Lately I have been especially struck by the destructive practice of labeling, and how widespread it is in our time. In America these days racial profiling seems to be on the rise. Partisan political categorizing and outright hatred towards people of different persuasions are increasing as we move towards a national election. I regularly hear people refer to others as right-wing republican, liberal, fundamentalist, illegal, racist, evil, terrorist or jihadist.
Around Tierra Nueva people struggle with labels continuously. Some seek to remove tattoos that mark them according to their gang affiliation. Others seek to find employers who will hire them in spite of their felon or ex-offender labels. Many of the people we serve have been diagnosed as ADD, psychotic, bipolar, borderline, and many others labels, and told by mental health professionals that their conditions are permanent, requiring them to be on meds for the rest of their lives.
I have grown to hate the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and our current penal code. Labeling dehumanizes people, reducing them to something that is much easier to incarcerate, medicate, deport, hate or even eradicate. Labels categorize, entrap, curse and brand us in ways that are nearly impossible t shake. Thankfully when we find ourselves before Jesus there is hope. He can remove labels and undo “permanent” conditions!
Mary DeMuth and Frank Viola have written a fascinating book — The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels (Baker Books 2015). Recently I was able to interview Mary about this book and also ask her some questions about the role of women within Christianity and the church. Here is our conversation.
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BZ: In The Day I Met Jesus you tell fives stories of women who encountered Jesus. You do this in the form of first person diary entries. I love this imaginative approach. Could you talk about your process of creating the back-stories for these five women?
MD: Sure, first off, this idea was Frank’s. I’m grateful he pulled me in on this project. As a novelist, I tried to walk around in these women’s sandals, hoping to understand their dreams, the possible plight they were in, and what it must’ve been like to actually meet Jesus in the midst of their stories. I also did research about First Century Jerusalem as well as biblical research about the five women. And then I prayed. Actually I prayed throughout the entire process. What resulted? Gritty, real stories about actual women who were never the same after they encountered Christ.
BZ: Do you feel that the evangelical church has perhaps under appreciated the power of story?
MD: I think we’re getting better about this. Things like Donald Miller’s Story conference and the proliferation of YouTube (where we see millions of stories) encourage me. And when I go to church on Sunday I’m seeing more pastors tuck story into their narratives and theology. The human heart and mind better understand truth when wrapped in a story.
In April 2015 fifty people from all over the world join Peter Rollins in the cultural heart of Belfast for four days full of talks, music, art, drinking, conversation and conspiring. This is a short talk from one of the afternoon sessions in which John Caputo reflects on Radical Theology and asks the question, "can it preach?"
I am frequently asked how to interpret 2 Cor. 5:21. So today I will exegete this text so that if others want to know all I have to do is reference this FB post! (I don’t apologize for its length, this kind of work is necessary when one is overturning an 1,800 year old reading of a text).
2 Cor 5:21 is part of the larger context about reconciliation. Verses 14-17 state “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died. 15 He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised. 16 So then, from this point on we won't recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn't how we know him now. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” (CEB)
Notice it is the love of Christ which controls, not the fear of God’s wrath, hell or punishment. Why does this love control Paul’s message? He concludes that with the death of Jesus something happened that included all humanity. As the True Human (‘ho huios tou anthropou’ in the Gospel tradition) or the Second Adam (in the Pauline tradition), Jesus is representative of all humanity. His death is the death of all. Even as he was raised so also, his resurrection brings life to all. Inasmuch as he did this for all, all may now live in him, through him and for him. Paul avers that he once judged Jesus ‘kata sarka’ (after the flesh or according to human standards) by which he means as one who was justifiably executed as a lawbreaker. Finally verse 17 is a first class condition; it is not a conditional ‘If’ but rather ‘since.’ In Christ, the eschatological horizon has been breached and the person whose identity is in Jesus smile emoticon all) is part of the new promised creation of God.
Verses 18-20 then form why the theme of reconciliation is announced: “All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people's sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ's representatives, "Be reconciled to God!" (CEB) Verse 18 states that it is God who has taken the initiative for our salvation by reconciling us to God’s self. Nowhere is there any language of penal substitution or satisfaction, no mention of the wrath of God or the threat of hell. As those who have recognized this reconciliation, God has entrusted this message: “You are reconciled. From God’s perspective there is no distance, no abyss that must be crossed or bridged. The apostolic message is thus one of recognition. “God has reconciled you to God’s very self. It is a done fact, a fait accompli. It is Reality, capital R. You haven’t heard? Come then, turn and walk into the open loving arms of God.”
There are reasons to question the sequential and hierarchical nature of structural stage theories of faith development, especially in regard to adults. This article suggests a conceptual, two-dimensional model of spiritual development. The first dimension is the continuum of maturity defined as increasing complexity held together by integrity and is exemplified by the metaphor of a mosaic. The second dimension is a series of “facets” or themes that are understood to exist simultaneously, though one or more facets are typically highlighted during any particular season of a person’s life. A highlighted facet will often give shape and content to the growing edge of spiritual maturity.
The four facets of the second dimension are characterised by the central themes of 1) Chaos and Order, 2) Love, Forgiveness, and Community, 3) Freedom and Change, and 4) Mystery, Peace and Trust. These facets unpredictably recurthroughout a person’slife, and it issuggested that the third facet has a tendency (though not a necessity) to bifurcate into one of two pathways: a) Revolution and Resistance or b) Imagination and Hope. This model, though untested by formal research, is offered in the hope that it more functionally represents the varied complexity of human experience and can be taught in a manner that is free from some of the biases and elitism which are difficult to avoid with structural models.
Since 1981, James Fowler’s faith development theory (FDT; 1981, 2001) has largely held the imagination of practical theologians and developmental psychologists as the best model for understanding how we approach faith differently over the course of a life span. This has not been because FDT has been free of criticism or has silenced all of its critics; rather, as Stephen Parker (2010) concluded, in spite of mixed levels of support for components of FDT, “those inclined to look elsewhere for models of spiritual or religious development with more empirical support will not find the picture any better, and often not as well supported as Fowler’s model” (p. 246). And so it has remained the theory that underlies a variety of more popularized models (Peck, 1987; Schmelzer, 2008; McLaren, 2012).
The full article appears in the EMCAPP Journal, July 2015, page 57-66.
The discovery by Don Grayston in the summer of 2008 of the forgotten correspondence between, primarily, Thomas Merton and Anselmo Giabbani in the years 1952-1956 can be read and studied at a variety of levels. There is, at the simplest and most elementary level, the struggle of Merton to find his contemplative vocation in a Cistercian monastery (Gethsemani) that had, in many ways, forfeited its contemplative heritage---the letters can be seen as a clash between a monk seeking greater vocational liberty in contrast to ecclesial authority—freedom versus order—Camaldoli contra Gethsemani. If this is the only level that the issue is approached from, the core of the dilemma will be missed.
The title of the book captures the deeper essence of the issue and, in many ways, makes Merton’s struggle a more complex perennial and contemporary one. What is the noonday demon that Merton and other desert mothers and fathers (and equally pertinent for our time conscious spiritual seekers) must face and not flinch from? What does the metaphor of the noonday demon reveal to us and why is this angel of light such an alluring tempter for today? The honeymoon phase of the spiritual journey often begins with much hope and many possibilities, but the time comes, when the deeper journey of transformation must be faced. Often such a place of transformation begins and ends by being grounded and rooted in a specific place and community—for Merton, of course, it was the monastery of Gethsemani. But, for many who are not monks and nuns, the lived reality can be family, community and parish life. Needless to say, such realities are imperfect and can become sites of frustration, irritation, betrayals, disappointments and strained relationships—this is where and when the noonday demon arrives. The tempter comes and suggests we go to a better place with more sensitive people (more like ourselves). Our place of transformation is demonized and the other places, people, teachers are idealized and romanticized. The noonday demon, through a variety of hints and tantalizing whispers, also, suggests we leave the very inner place God is working in us to transform us. This inattentive and predictable tendency flee from the inner and outer places where the process of deification can be done is the work of the noonday demon—all sorts of elevated promises offered if we but heed the tempter’s sweet and alluring voice.
Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of Thee,
And Thou, O Lord, art more than they.
Alfred Lord Tennyson (Poet Laureate 1850-1892)
There are moments in history in which seismic shifts take place that alter the landscape of thought and public life—such was the 16th century and the complex nature of the Reformation. There are many towering and significant thinkers and activists in the early decades of the 16th century, but there can be no doubt that Martin Luther towers above many theologians, exegetes, ecclesial activists and public intellectuals of his time. Luther is often seen as the prime mover and shaker of the protestant reformation and the multiple fragments that emerge post Luther are part of his line and lineage. There is much to ponder in the complex life and writings of Luther, but stepping inside the head of Luther (and how he dealt with opposition) is more than worth the meditation for a variety of reasons. Luther and His Opponents: Ink Against the Devil is a must read tome by Harry Loewen as we inch ever closer to 2017 (500th anniversary of Luther’s 1517 launch of the Reformation).
Jesus’ calling of fishermen has struck me afresh as I’ve read Luke 5:1-11 with inmates in Skagit County Jail and Washington State Reformatory and our faith community at Tierra Nueva. Before reading aloud the text, I introduce the topic of shame, and ask people to describe situations where they experience shame. I define shame as the feeling of being irreparably faulty and visibly lacking—like a beat up car that has so many things wrong that it beyond repair.
Inmates talk about being escorted by guards in their red jail-issue clothes with leg irons and handcuffs into court before the judge, the public, prosecutors and other attorneys and court personnel in their suits and ties. Their inability to bail out gives them the appearance of being failures, guilty of charges before they even plead. Someone else mentions groups of citizens on official jail tours looking in on them through the glass of their cellblocks. “It’s like they’re viewing us like animals in a zoo except worse- because we have obviously failed.”
We read together Luke 5:1, which describes Jesus as standing by the lake of Gennesaret surrounded by a crowd of listeners. The men are intrigued that Jesus is not teaching in an official religious location but outside in nature, at the jobsite of fishermen who are men at the margins of Galilee, which is already at the margins of Israel. Jesus goes to where people are, not expecting them to come to him or to religious places.
Jesus’ entrance into the world of ordinary, working-class people has inspired me over and over, and most notably when I was first called into ministry. This inspired Gracie and my move to Honduras to work with peasants in their fields and homes, and our move to Skagit County 21 years ago to ministry to migrant farm workers in the fields and migrant camps and inmates in our local jail.
Jesus sees two boats lying by the edge of the lake there at the jobsite of fishermen. We observe together that in contrast to the crowds “pressing around him and listening,” the fishermen are washing their nets. We imagine them off to the side checking out Jesus from a distance, a posture that most everyone I’m reading with can relate to. We soon learn that they hadn’t caught anything in spite of toiling all that previous night, making Jesus present there in the place of their shame.
Derek Vreeland, Through the Eyes of NT Wright: A Readers Guide to Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Doctrina Press, 2015).
I am a fan of N.T. Wright. I've even actually read carefully (footnotes and all) some of his monstrous works and use them as texts in a few of my NT courses. So it was with glee that I pre-ordered Paul and the Faithfulness of God so I could dive in as soon as it was released. And dive in I did! That first bit on Philemon was profound and accessible. I learned worthwhile things and received great takeaways.
Then I paused and picked up another book. And another. So there N.T. Wright sits on my shelf, gathering the dust of my good intentions. How might I get unstuck and move forward. Staring at it doesn't seem to help at all.
Good news! Derek Vreeland to the rescue! Vreeland, in my opinion, is an expert on Wright (earned through study and synthesis of Wright's work into real pastoral contexts). He offers himself as a guide to the N.T. Wright / Pauline experience. And he will come to your home if you like ... at least through the pages of a 'Readers Guide.'
In a brisk 100 pages, Vreeland sums up Wright's main arguments and conclusions (yes! - like 'Coles Notes' or 'Wright for Dummies') in a readable roadmap with which to navigate Wright's gargantuan tome on Pauline theology. You could just read Vreeland and get the gist of Wright, but my sense is that the reader will also find themselves launched back into Wright with new confidence ... thus justifying the original purchase. But seriously, with Vreeland's guidance, readers will be reminded that Wright (and Paul, for that matter) are not just about academic forays into theology. This is about having our understanding deepened, our faith nourished and our churches helped--Paul's intent in the first place.