Sunday, February 26, 2012
Thursday, February 23, 2012
One is struck by the desultory quality of the Methodist church's political choices over the past century. Bishops reacted to one world crisis after another with lagging responses that often appeared designed to please political allies. Even occasional dalliances with communism (both Soviet and Chinese) were, at the time, regarded as prophetic and forward thinking. Now they seem shockingly short-sighted.
Tooley shows that the Methodists' high point of political power came in enacting what became the great failed policy of Prohibition. For the better part of the past century, some in the Methodist hierarchy have been scrambling to recover that lost political influence.
The American Methodists' experience of decline is a cautionary tale for all churches, including conservative ones. Evangelical church membership in America today is only holding steady, at best, and we may well look back in a generation and see a story of American evangelical decline similar to that which the mainline churches have experienced in the last forty years.
Especially those evangelical churches that position themselves effectively as a wing of the Republican Party might expect the same descent as the mainline. Obviously, there are politically-relevant doctrines concerning the biblical view of life, marriage, and sexuality that remain essential for evangelical Christian teaching. But seeking to fulfill the church's mission primarily through political advocacy appears to be a key historic ingredient in denominational decline.
Monday, February 20, 2012
OK House Considers Bill Allowing Pastors To Use Guns In Church
OKLAHOMA CITY - The state house is considering a bill to allow pastors in their churches to protect themselves like citizens do in their homes, vehicles and businesses.
A state house committee approved the legislation Tuesday that would make it legal to use deadly defensive force if there's a fear of imminent death or bodily harm.
The representative who wrote the bill sited several cases of violence inside Oklahoma Churches in the last decade.
The bill now goes to the house floor for a vote.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
If anyone asks what the Lord's garments, which
became white as snow, represent typologically,
we can properly understand them as pointing
to the church of his saints [who] . . . at the
time of the resurrection will be purified from
every blemish of iniquity and at the same time
from all the darkness of mortality.” Concern-
ing the Lord's garments the Evangelist Mark
remarks that ‘they became as bright as snow.
such as no bleacher on earth can make them
It is evident to everyone that there is
no one who can live on earth without corrup-
tion and sorrow. So it is evident to all who are
wise, although heretics deny it. that there is
no one who can live on earth without being
touched by some sin. But what a cleansing
agent (that is. a teacher of souls or some
extraordinary puriﬁer of his body) cannot do
on earth, that the Lord will do in heaven. He
will purify the church, which is his clothing.
‘from all deﬁlement of flesh and spirit,"
Bede, Homily 1.24 On the Gospels. in ACCS, NT, Vol. II, 118.
Monday, February 13, 2012
For whomever might find it useful ... here is an essay of mine published in the Concordia Theological Quarterly last year (Vol. 75, 180-183). The CTQ publishes on its own peculiar schedule so it came out in September in the middle of the Pentecost season.
The article connects the first chapters of the Book of Genesis and the role soil and dirt plays there with the application of ashes at the beginning of Lent.
Ash Wednesday is the story of a marriage. It is the account of an unlikely union. Humanity and the soil are the improbable partners. The tale of these Ash Wednesday nuptials stretches back to Genesis, chapters two through eight. The earth is the silent but crucial character in these opening chapters. The key to each of these stories and the key to Ash Wednesday is the dirt.
Thursday, February 09, 2012
Wednesday, February 08, 2012
Tuesday, February 07, 2012
God no longer requires the feet or hands or any other member; He requires only the ears ...
For if you ask a Christian what the work is by which he becomes worthy of the name "Christian" he will be able to give absolutely no other answer than it is the hearing of the Word of God, that is, faith.
Therefore, the ears alone are the organs of a Christian.
Luther, LW 29: 224. (Thanks to Bayer, Martin Luther's Theology, p. 21)
Thursday, February 02, 2012
2. The church is not in decline because of the gospel’s timeless truths. The church is in decline because we are afraid to live the gospel, and that gospel is about unconditional love.
3. The series of ideology-trumpeting customer service models and business-style “coaching” lacks theological vigor and depth. Customers receive services for a price. There is nothing wrong with this when it applies to legitimate economic transactions, but it is hardly the logic of grace.
4. Most of the trendy approaches to revitalization of the church are inherently conditional—meaning people are valued as long as they advance the agenda of someone in power. That just doesn’t sound like the gospel.
5. The fixation on outcomes, metrics and measurement distorts our theology and gives it a very conditional quality. In an attempt to grow the church, we risk losing the truth our world craves.
I know, movements that are threatened with extinction tend to chase fads. It sounds proactive, bold and edgy, but a lot of these so-called leadership initiatives are little more than warmed-over tripe from the business world. Additionally, much of the “latest” thinking among the church has already been discredited in the business world.
My critique may sound like sour grapes—the rant of one imprisoned by the past, one unwilling to change or face the future. The opposite is the case. The church is not in decline because of the gospel’s timeless truths. The church is in decline because we are afraid to live the gospel, and that gospel is about unconditional love.
We should think very carefully before giving ourselves to ideas that dominate corporate culture. Instead of demonstrating foresight and courage, the series of ideology-trumpeting customer service models and business-style “coaching” lacks theological vigor and depth. Customers receive services for a price. There is nothing wrong with this when it applies to legitimate economic transactions, but it is hardly the logic of grace.
Most of the trendy approaches to revitalization of the church are inherently conditional—meaning people are valued as long as they advance the agenda of someone in power. That just doesn’t sound like the gospel.
Sure, we can write off this analysis as retrenchment, but before we do, let’s consider a beautiful irony. Only by living with abandon for the Lord of unconditional affirmation will we grow. The fixation on outcomes, metrics and measurement distorts our theology and gives it a very conditional quality. In an attempt to grow the church, we risk losing the truth our world craves. By losing ourselves in unconditional love, we will find a church bursting with people and grace. As I recall, Jesus said something like that (Matthew 10:39).
I work as a college professor and chaplain. I live among the self-styled hip and au courant. Young adults do not ask me if I am following some method for growing the church, implementing “best practices,” or demonstrating worth according to a bottom line. I am asked about the nature of love, the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, the value of all people. And I am swamped with young adults who want to get in on the action. They believe the gospel and (like me) are desperate to throw themselves upon the power of something more substantial than business theory.
We have a saying in our ministry: People possess an “intrinsic worth” regardless of performance, usefulness, mistakes or accomplishments. In other words, the worth of all is unconditional. We did not make this up. Our indigenous source of inspiration can be found in the personal papers of Adrian College’s founder, Asa Mahan.
The “Old Doctor” (as students called him) was a philosopher and teacher of ethics who helped lead the Underground Railroad and the mid-19th-century movement for women’s rights. His 150-year-old notebook underscores the worth and dignity of everyone. Few would dispute his claim, but that does not mean we always live according to his insight. I actually thought this emphasis might have been overplayed in our chaplaincy until I received a surprise gift from a huge crowd of college students.
The gift? A custom coffee mug imprinted with the words: “intrinsic worth.” They get it. I hope the rest of us will before it is too late.