Thomas Oden, ex-liberal theologian turned classical Christian, has died

Thomas OdenThomas Oden has died.  A prominent liberal theologian who replaced pastoral care with psychotherapy, Oden converted to classical, historical Christianity when he read the church fathers.  An Oklahoman (whose life in many ways paralleled mine), Oden gave us the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, insightful work on postmodernism, and much more.

Please read my review of his autobiographical memoir, A Change of Heart:  A Personal and Theological Memoir.  Then read that book for an inside look at how liberal theology took over the mainline denominations and how he broke free through the Gospel of Christ.

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The Christmas wars throughout history

Christmas in the CrosshairsA new book by Gerry Bowler entitled Christmas in the Crosshairs:  Two Thousand Years of Denouncing and Defending the World’s Most Celebrated Holiday points out that the “Christmas wars”–the conflict between secular and religious observances of Christmas–have been going on throughout the history of Christianity.  The Bishop of Amasea complained in 400 A.D. about how Christmas presents make children greedy.  St. Augustine complained about the commercialization of Christmas.  And Christians have long complained about the conflict between the drunken revelry once Theassociated with the day and its true meaning.

Meanwhile opponents of Christianity have tried to either suppress or co-opt the birthday of Christ.  At one point in the Soviet Union, children had to be told that their presents came not from St. Nicholas but from Stalin.  And Nazi Germany sang a revised version of “Silent Night” that replaced Jesus with Hitler.

After the jump, an excerpt from a review of the book.

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Conversion as sacrament

The-dew-638110BreakPoint editor G. Shane Morris, who now believes in infant baptism, explains why most of his fellow evangelicals don’t.  He says that the reason is not so much differences in Biblical interpretation, but rather the tendency to understand a conversion experience in sacramental terms.  Thus the sacrament of conversion replaces the sacrament of baptism as the rite of Christian initiation.  He goes on to discuss the difficulties with that.

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Explaining Advent

photo-1421906375741-f6bda4abe433_optHappy New Year!  That is to say, Happy Advent, the beginning of the new church year.

Many Christians, including those from churches that haven’t usually done much with the church year other than Christmas and Easter, are discovering Advent.  (See, for example, this piece from the evangelical radio program Breakpoint.)

After the jump is an excellent explanation of the season from the website of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

The meaning of Advent has some specific content beyond just getting ready for Christmas.  As the website says, the season–in the Bible readings and the devotions for the days–the season reflects on the “advent” or “coming” of Christ in three senses:

  1. In the past (the prophecies of Christ’s coming)
  2. In the future (Christ’s second coming)
  3. In the present (How Christ comes today)

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Australian Lutherans: Wine and Confession

Hill_of_grace_wineyardIn the late 1830s, the British colonial government of Australia had a problem.  There was a continual stream of settlers–the ex-convicts who had served their time in the prison colonies–but they were nearly all from the city.  What was needed for Australia to become a self-sustaining colony was farmers.  Colonial officers heard of a group of skilled farmers from Germany who wanted to emigrate due to religious persecution.  These were “old Lutherans” who refused to go along with the liberal theology of the state church in Prussia and other principalities.  (Others went to North America where they founded the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.)

The colonial government offered these Lutheran immigrants good farmland along the Murray River in South Australia, in the country surrounding Adelaide, including the Barossa Valley.  These farmers soon realized that the soil and climate were just right for growing grapes.  Thus began the Australian wine industry.

Others too began making wine, and today big corporations are sending rivers of Australian wine throughout the world. But the best wines are made by small, family-run wineries, many of which are still made by Lutherans who go to churches that are sometimes built right next to the vineyards.  (As in this photo of Zion Lutheran Church next to the Hill of Grace vineyards.)  There are some 50 wineries in the Barossa Valley in an area of just 352 square miles, as well as some 550 vineyards that supply grapes for 170 other Australian wine companies.  Nearly all of the wineries are open to visitors and offer free samples.  (Check out this page on Lutheran winemakers and see some of the wines they make.  This organization, started by TV wine expert Tyson Seltzer, himself an active Lutheran, supports Lutheran congregations.) [Read more…]

Confession app

hand-apple-iphone-smartphoneA Scottish diocese has released an app that will help someone in urgent need of confession to find forgiveness.  Not that users can type in their sins and receive a text of absolution.  The app shows the nearest Roman Catholic Church.

Actually, the description in the press sounds rather sensationalized.  I think what we have is a church-finder, something every denomination should probably have.

Do you know of similar church-related apps?  What others would be useful?  (I am open to both serious and humorous suggestions.) [Read more…]