In Praise of Empires

Courtney and I are in Rome this week, compliments of Focus Features and A Different Drummer, to visit the set of a movie based on Anne Rice’s novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. We are embargoed from writing anything about the movie (yet), but my fifteenth trip to the Eternal City has brought on some thoughts.

Among Christianity’s critics from within — especially my own tribe of progressive Protestants — it’s fashionable to disparage empire at every turn. Empire, it seems, is responsible for everything that ails our faith.

Oh, and Constantine was an asshat.

As it turns out, that’s not exactly true.

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The Emerging Church Is What It Says It Is

Malaysia Emerging

On Friday I covered the first of two articles by political scientists Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University and Paul Djupe of Denison University. In that article, they used their research to show that emergent are not universally liberal, as opponents claim, but are really rather diverse when it comes to politics and theology.

Today I turn to their second article, “Emergent Church Practices in America: Inclusion and Deliberation in American Congregations,” published in the Review of Religious Research. Here’s the abstract of the article: [Read more...]

Study Shows Emergent Is Not As Liberal As You Thought

Photo by Courtney Perry

Photo by Courtney Perry

Just when you thought emergent was dead, scholars are showing that it’s very much alive and kicking. I will soon write about the excellent full-length book, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity by Gerardo Marti and Gladys Ganiel. That book came out earlier this year.

Now, two political scientists — Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University and Paul Djupe of Denison University — have co-authored two academic articles about the Emerging Church. Each article shows some fascinating insights into the movement, and each upsets some of what we think we know. I’ll post about one today and the other on Monday.

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Doctrine DOES Change

Pope Francis arrives at the Synod on the family.

Over the last two weeks, Pope Francis made some courageous steps in dragging the Catholic Church into the 21st century. First, he called a Synod to discuss non-traditional family arrangements, including divorces, those raising children outside of wedlock, and gays and lesbians. Then he began the synod by telling the assembled bishops to speak their minds honestly, not holding anything back.

Halfway through the synod, the Vatican released a provisional report on what they were discussing, and it contained language so welcoming to gays and lesbians that it ignited a global debate. After another week, the final report was released, and it lacked much of the language that welcomed gays, lesbians, and those who choose to raise children without getting married. Andrew Sullivan called it, “Two steps forward, one step back.”

What has most surprised Sullivan and others who watch the Vatican closely is that instead of just releasing the final report, the entire report was released — including the defeated paragraphs — along with the vote tally for each paragraph. This kind of transparency from the Catholic magisterium is a revolution itself, and its possible significance should not be underestimated.

Sullivan concludes his post on the Synod, [Read more...]

Nadia Brings Queers, Gays, and Lesbians To an Evangelical Party

The above video was posted by Nadia on her Facebook page (If you can’t see it, click on “Post” above; WordPress doesn’t always load Facebook videos correctly). It’s her submission to The Nines, a online “conference” hosted by Leadership Network. In their request for submissions, LN wrote this:

There is no greater and faster shift in culture today than the swing towards the acceptance of same-sex marriage. Church leaders need to determine the right path moving forward; loving and ministering to the LGBT community, while at the same time holding-fast to a theological position (held by most)  that prohibits the practice of homosexuality.

So, as you can see, Nadia is cutting against the grain on this.

Kudos, friend.

Postmodernism Is Dead (Again), and Its Successor Is Worse

derrida

Postmodern philosophy saved my faith. Of that there is no doubt, and I’ve not been shy about asserting that fact. Surely I was immersed in postmodernism in college — one of my vividest memories is a classics professor mockingly reading a course description for comparative literature as our class laughed uproariously. But it wasn’t until I arrived at Fuller Theological Seminary in the fall of 1990 and fell under the sway of Nancey Murphy and Jim McClendon that I put words to it. The slipperiness of meaning, the impossibility of objectivity, the incommensurability of truth claims — these themes of postmodernism appealed to me and gave my faith room to grow.

Many times in the years since, I’ve been told that postmodernism is dead. Most recently, Alan Kirby has said it, this time in Philosophy Now. Postmodernism is alive and well in university course catalogs, he concedes, but if you look beyond the walls of the academy, it’s already dead. But don’t dance on its grave just yet, he warns, because the heir apparent, critical realism, is in no better shape.

As evidence, Kirby points to the cultural artifacts that are currently being produced — in film, fiction, and visual art, postmodernism is non-existent: [Read more...]

Rob Bell’s Atonement

Marc Chagall's "Yellow Crucifixion," which hung on Jürgen Moltmann's wall as he wrote The Crucified God.

Marc Chagall’s “Yellow Crucifixion,” which hung on Jürgen Moltmann’s wall as he wrote The Crucified God.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (a rock without internet), you probably know that I’m nearing the completion of a book on the atonement. It’s called Did God Kill Jesus?, and it comes out in March. (It’s the wrong subtitle, and the cover isn’t done yet, but you can preorder it!) I’m fortunate to have the same editor and publisher as authors I admire like Barbara Brown Taylor, Lauren Winner, and Rob Bell.

Speaking of Rob Bell, he continued his hilariously long Tumblr series on the Bible last week with a post entitled, What is the Bible? Part 72: The Question That Keeps Coming Up. He begins the post by listing five reader questions, each of which is basically asking, Why did Jesus have to die?

To that question, Rob has a two-part answer:

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New Feminist Christianity [Book Week]

new feminist christianity

This fall I’m teaching Introduction to Theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Over the past decade, I’ve taught about a dozen different courses at half-a-dozen different schools. I’ll say that halfway into the semester, this is one of my favorites. I’ve been loving the task of introducing incoming seminary students to the richness of the theological task.

Having queried existing students at UTS about their experiences, I got the sense that they were well versed on contemporary contextual theologies (feminist, black, liberation, queer), but maybe weren’t so informed about the overall landscape of theology. Mine is a hybrid course — meeting half online and half in-person, with three all-day sessions, separated by a month. That meant that the course naturally divided itself into three parts.

Traditionally, those three parts would have been trinitarian in nature, encompassing what seminary profs like to consider the three volumes of the theological encyclopedia. When I took my three required classes in systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary back in the day, they broke down along these very lines: [Read more...]

Did You You Know that Dietrich Bonhoeffer Was a Youth Pastor? [Book Week]

bonhoeffer

Last Friday I was wandering through my old stomping grounds, the National Youth Workers Convention, in Sacramento. Beside me was Andrew Root, a friend since we were both Ph.D. students at Princeton Theological Seminary. Later that day we would sit together on a theological panel considering the state of the science-and-religion dialogue, but at that moment we were wandering through the conference book store.

Andrew Root

Andrew Root

Root is among the top rank of theologians working in youth ministry today, and he is undisputedly the most prolific author in the field, often publishing two books per year. Virtually an entire table was committed to his books, but one book was no where to be found. Root’s latest book, Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together was sold out, and the conference wasn’t even 24 hours old.

The popularity of Root’s new book is testament to a couple things, not least of which is the ongoing interest in Bonhoeffer, a 20th century theologian, activist, and martyr. Root has long studied Bonhoeffer, and he’s used the content of Bonhoeffer’s unfinished masterpiece, Ethics, to argue that relationship is not a means to an end in Christian ministry — relationship is the telos of ministry, since that’s where Christ enters the human situation.

[Read more...]

Moltmann’s Masterpiece [Book Week]

In completing my forthcoming book, Did God Kill Jesus?, I was driven back time and time again to the masterpiece by Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God. Moltmann is my theological muse, and, as Miroslav Volf says to him the in the above video, The Crucified God is his most important book.

For one thing, Moltmann followed up on his earlier Theology of Hope by continuing what today we’d call theopoetics. That is, Moltmann broke away from the staid German prose of theologians like Karl Barth and Wolfhart Pannenberg, choosing instead to write in a more freeform and experimental style. This, I think, set the stage for many Western theologians — particularly feminist theologians like Catherine Keller and Kathryn Tanner, who have written in even more open, experimental ways.

Most significantly, CG emphasized the pathos of God. For Moltmann, the Trinity is a dialectical event, and the death of Jesus causes a rupture in the eternal relationality that defines the godhead. In turn, “we participate in the eschatological life of God by virtue of the death of Christ. God is, God is in us, God suffers in us, where love suffers.”

[Read more...]


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