Saturday, April 28, 2007

Realizing Eschatology

Theologians often critizice forms of "realized" eschatology. What if the proper form of eschatology were "realizing" eschatology? James Alison provides this parable.

Please go back in your memory to 1989. Now please imagine that you are in Albania. November comes along, and through the ether comes news that maniles to the north, in Berlin, the wall has come down. You know exactly what this means: it means that it’s all over, the beast which ran your lives is mortally wounded, has lost its transcendence, is dead. It’s all over bar the shouting It may take some time for the thrashing about of the beast in its death throes to calm down. It may take some time for the effects of that to trickle down through Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, but fundamentally it’s over. You and some friends begin quietly to dance and celebrate in Albania. The very fact that you are dancing and celebrating is itself not only a sign that the beast has lost its transcendence, but is something which is, itself, helping the loss of transcendence, because you can have a party in its face. Something has been undone, somewhere else, and this means that you don’t need to undo it yourself, the rejoicing in its being already done is part of what universalizes the undoing so that you do find yourself participating in the undoing, but as a recipient who is spreading the effect.. Some people, of course, do not accept that the coming down of the wall means that the beast is dead. They want to say: no, that’s a temporary blip, and we’re in charge here. So they turn up grunting and shouting and bullying to try and make it look as though nothing has changed. But it has, and even they are losing faith in the old order. Part of the celebration may be learning to help the apparatchiks of the old order discover themselves a place in the new one Giving them a soft landing: something the old order, built on revenge and triumph over enemies, couldn’t possibly understand. While they’re around, of course, your celebration will look like, and be made to look like, dancing in the face of the evidence. And that is what True Worship implies: the beginning of the celebration of a new regime even while the old regime hasn’t yet grasped the news of its own fall (Undergoing God, 40-41)


Peterson also includes a section on askesis . He writes, "The basic necessity for and nature of askesis has been badly obscured in our time by chatty devotionalism and the hawking of spiritual "disciplines," as if spirituality were a mood that we can self-induce and spiritual disciplines were techniques that we can put to use to tend to the well-being of our souls." "We begin by insisting that askesis is not a spiritual technology at our beck and call but is rather immersion in an environment [the belly of the whale, in Jonah's case] in which our capacities are reduced to nothing or nearly nothing and we are at the mercy of God to shape his will in us" (90).

I think Eugene's definition of askesis may chart a middle way between the technologizing of the spiritual life that leads to a new legalism, and the overly zealous Lutheran approach that tends to argue that there is no "shape" to the Christian life ala spiritual disciplines.

Askesis in Eugene's sense is the imputation of passive righteousness in its sanctificatory significations.

Vow of Stability

Have been spending the past couple of days reading Eugene Peterson's Under the Unpredictable Planet. The book has been healthfully clarifying. Thank you, Eugene!

Eugene argues early in the book that pastoral "stability" is an important commitment in our day. He writes, "20, 30, and forty-year-long pastorates should be typical among... far too many pastors changes parishes out of adolescent boredom, not as a consequence of mature wisdom" (29).

I tend to agree. I think pastor's changing calls too frequently is a result of careerism, as well as congregational and pastoral inability to actually struggle through conflict and relational issues. I know that, at least for myself, staying in one place and one call for a length of time will be important for growth in maturity and wisdom.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

Global Days for Darfur

Since February 2003, the Sudanese government's genocidal campaign in Darfur has claimed over 400,000 lives and driven two million people from their homes. Further tragedy could be averted if the United Nations would take a more active role in establishing peace.

April 23-30, activists around the world will come together for the Global Days for Darfur. We urge all those concerned to lend your voice to the United Nations in New York.

Sometimes it can feel like nothing we do makes a difference. But simple prayers and conversations between people who care should never be underestimated. In the global age, geographical distance does not vitiate moral responsibility. Our letters to congressional leaders, the UN, and the president, do make a difference. If we lift our voices together, our nation's leaders WILL do more for the people of Darfur.

Web Exclusive at The Lutheran

I have a brief article published as a web exclusive in The Lutheran.

Click here to read the article.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I might add that I then started reading Alan Hirsch's new book, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, the first chapter of which further sparked my curiosity about this topic and the paradoxes attendant to it.

Discipleship and Freedom

Was talking with a pastor yesterday, currently on sabbatical, who noticed that many if not most of the church growth churches, have as their model for preaching and ministry a focus on "practices"- do the Christian life this way, and you will have more purpose, deepen your faith, etc. Evangelicals have one shape for this message, but the whole Dorothy Bass "practices" approach emphasizes Christian works, as do some ELCA models for "discipleship."

The alternative, lifted up especially by some significant Lutheran theologians, emphasizes the freedom established by the gospel in the Spirit. So, to oversimplify, you simply proclaim the pure gospel--you are forgiven, saved by faith--and the preacher/church/whoever leaves it at that, taking a stance of trust or faith that the Spirit will be alive in that proclamation, and that God's Word will not return empty.

Different models of grace are operative here. In the first model, grace gives a shape to Christian existence. The emphasis is on "Jesus as Lord", but Lordship guides us into practices. In the second model, Jesus is also Lord, but in the sense of "in Christ you are free indeed- therefore no longer...".

I'm not convinced the two need to be opposed to each other per se, but on the other hand, each would offer up significant critique of the other.

My response in conversation was to envision a third way, Irenaeus or whomever, the way of participation, perichoresis, divinization, which I tend to think encompasses Jesus as Lord both in the declarative as well as the descriptive mode. Inasmuch as we are being made into Christ's body, the church, we are both prescribed a set of practices and set free to live as that body, a body that will have a peculiar freedom in the world in the power of the Spirit that may ever again stand at odds to any prescriptions.

I'm not convinced my third way is completely convincing, but it does seem to have some merit.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Fuller Doctor of Ministry

It's official. After an enjoyable and inspiring process of applying for grant money from the Siebert Lutheran Foundation, and filling out the necessary application materials, I'm going to work on earning my Doctor of Ministry degree at Fuller Theological Seminary beginning this fall, 2007.

The courses are available on-line, or through two-week residential classes each year. I'm quite excited for the program. It should be an intense and rewarding form of continuing education.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Earth Day Message from Bishop Hanson

Earth Day 2007

April 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

God's Easter promise of new life in Christ, made for all of humanity, also holds promise for God's creation: all the Earth and its creatures that God made and pronounced "good." In our celebration of the Good News of the Resurrection, we should remember that Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God's love and care for the world; that "things were created through him and for him" (Colossians 1:15-16); and that in caring for creation we honor Christ.

On Earth Day, April 22, I urge you also to remember God's exhortation to us to till and keep the earth (Genesis 2:15) in the face of a growing body of evidence from scientists around the world that global warming is threatening the future of creation and the health and well-being of all living things.

Recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of the world's preeminent scientists studying our planet's climate, make it clear that earth's climate is warming, largely due to humanity's use of fossil fuels. This phenomenon is likely to lead to disastrous consequences for all of creation, and particularly for "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40). The poor and hungry of the earth are most vulnerable to rising sea levels, the spread of infectious disease, extending areas of drought, and other impacts of rising temperatures, many of which are already occurring.

In the 1993 social statement, Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice, the ELCA recognized that "the buildup of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide" threatens our planet. It urges us to accept responsibility for our sinful treatment of God's gift of the earth. A substantial part of the problem is our use of fossil fuels to run our homes, our churches, our cars, and our places of business. Those of us who live in the United States produce one-quarter of the world's carbon emissions, even though we are only five percent of the planet's human population. Although we are complicit in the evil that we see, we can repent of our own sinful misuse and abuse of the Earth, direct and indirect, when we confess our sins. We do this especially for the sake of the poor of the earth, working on their behalf even as we contend with entrenched political, economic, and social forces.

Caring for Creation also urges us to advocacy and action, both as individual Christians and as a church body. On this Earth Day, I urge each of you to take up the challenge presented to us as a people of hope and conviction by the threat of global warming. Consider contacting your elected officials to urge them to address this problem. Look for ways to reduce your use of fossil fuels. Walk when you can, use public transportation if it's available, and change your light bulbs to energy-efficient compact fluorescent light sources. Ideas for other actions you can take in your homes and in your congregations can be found at on the ELCA Web site.

"When we face today's crisis, we do not despair. We act." (Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice)

Living in God's amazing grace,

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Making of American Liberal Theology

Gary Dorrien has written a massive three volume history of the making of American liberal theology, and I'm currently working my way through the final volume in the series. It's a solid education reading his books. The most recent volume, for example, has an extensive opening chapter on the influence of personalism (personalism was influential in the life and work of MLK Jr. and our current pope, to name a few significant influences).

In any event, here's Dorrien's working definition of liberal theology:

Fundamentally, liberal theology is the idea of a Christian perspective based on reason and experience, not external authority.

It would be interesting to hear comments just on that definition, but to expand:

"Specifically it is defined by its opennes to the verdicts of modern intellectual inquiry, especially historical criticism and the natural sciences; its commentment to the authority of individual reason and experience; its conception of Christianity as an ethical way of life; its advocacy of moral concepts of atonement or reconciliation; and its commitments to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to contemporary people."

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

An Advocacy for and the Practice of the Communion of All the Baptized

From the ELCA's "The Use of the Means of Grace"

The Holy Communion is given to the baptized

Principle 37

Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized.65

Application 37A
When adults and older children are baptized, they may be communed for the first time in the service in which they are baptized. Baptismal preparation and continuing catechesis include instruction for Holy Communion.

Background 37B
Customs vary on the age and circumstances for admission to the Lord’s Supper. The age for communing children continues to be discussed and reviewed in our congregations. When “A Report on the Study of Confirmation and First Communion”66 was adopted, a majority of congregations now in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America separated confirmation and reception of Holy Communion and began inviting children to commune in the fifth grade. Since that time a number of congregations have continued to lower the age of communion, especially for school age children. Although A Statement on Communion Practices67 precluded the communion of infants, members and congregations have become aware of this practice in some congregations of this church, in historical studies of the early centuries of the Church, in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and in broader ecumenical discussion.

Application 37C
Baptized children begin to commune on a regular basis at a time determined through mutual conversation that includes the pastor, the child, and the parents or sponsors involved, within the accepted practices of the congregation. Ordinarily this beginning will occur only when children can eat and drink, and can start to respond to the gift of Christ in the Supper.

Application 37D
Infants and children may be communed for the first time during the service in which they are baptized or they may be brought to the altar during communion to receive a blessing.

Application 37E
In all cases, participation in Holy Communion is accompanied by catechesis appropriate to the age of the communicant. When infants and young children are communed, the parents and sponsors receive instruction and the children are taught throughout their development.

Background 37F
Catechesis, continuing throughout the life of the believer, emphasizes the sacrament as gift, given to faith by and for participation in the community. Such faith is not simply knowledge or intellectual understanding but trust in God’s promises given in the Lord’s Supper (“for you” and “for the forgiveness of sin”) for the support of the baptized.

Application 37G
When an unbaptized person comes to the table seeking Christ’s presence and is inadvertently communed, neither that person nor the ministers of Communion need be ashamed. Rather, Christ’s gift of love and mercy to all is praised. That person is invited to learn the faith of the Church, be baptized, and thereafter faithfully receive Holy Communion.

An Advocacy for and the Practice of the Communion of All the Baptized (excerpted from Maxwell E. Johnson’s The Rites of Christian Initiation)

The recovery of a baptismal spirituality calls the churches to a thorough reevaluation of communion practices. If it is nothing other than the inseparable unity of water and the Holy Spirit that makes Christians, that initiates people into the Body of Christ, the Church, then it should be clear that the very means by which the church sacramentally and liturgically expresses its self-identity as Church, that is, in the Eucharist, is for all the baptized, all who are initiated into the Christian community, which, at heart, is nothing other than the continuation of the table companionship of Jesus himself… In the words of the LBW, “Holy communion is the birthright of the baptized.”

It is precisely within what some have called the “first stage of faith,” that is, ages two to six, where children possess the greatest and most lasting responsiveness to images, rituals, and symbols. Given this, it should become increasingly clear as well that the denial of the Eucharist to the youngest of baptized children is nothing other than the denial of the primary way in which they actually can participate in the symbolic, ritual, and image-laden liturgical self-express of the faith community. If we wait until age seven or later to introduce them to Eucharistic participation, that is, until a time in which they can be catechized, prepared, and begin to “understand” the implications of the Eucharist cognitively and rationally, we have waited too long. Eucharistic faith is not equal to cognitive understanding. Faith is not only rational but unrational and prerational as well. In the Pauline New Testament sense, faith is not intellectual acceptance of or assent to propositional revelation, but trust. And such trust develops, it seems, only in relationship, only in an environment, in a community of trust such as the family or the church…

My own experiences of children and Eucharist have convinced me completely not only of the desirability but of the sheer rightness of communing all the baptized. My own daughter, age two at the time, who had been a regular communicant—although secretly—from the time of her infant baptism, surprised me greatly during dinner one Sunday noon. After we worshiped at a nearby parish that used a style of bread for Eucharist closely resembling id-eastern pita bread, our dinner that day, although unintentionally, included pita bread as well. I remember my daughter holding a piece of bread in her hand, and, pointing both to a Byzantine icon of Christ above our table and to that piece of bread, she said something like, “Christ Jesus there, Christ Jesus right here.” In her own way, she had some some rather interesting and proper theological-liturgical-sacramental connections. Similarly, in a parish I once served, where we had moved from once-a-month to every Sunday Eucharist, I remember a young mother telling me of the influence this had begun to have on her own preschool daughter, who, without any prompting, had suddenly begun to recite the words of institution aloud as she rode along in the car. Alternatively, I was recently told by one of graduate students of her experience where a young child she knew flatly refused to go forward any longer for a “blessing” at the time of communion distribution. When asked why, the child responded that the last time had had gone he had been “Xed” out by the communion minister, who, instead of giving him bread, had traced an “X” over him (obviously the sign of the cross in blessing), telling him by this gesture that he did not belong.

As Gerard Austin says:

“Such a practice [i.e. the uniting of all three sacraments whenever baptism takes place] would underscore the reality that God takes the initiative, that baptism-confirmation-eucharist form an essential unity, and that admission to eucharist is built on incorporation into Christ and not upon something extrinsic such as knowledge or age…Such an approach would not destroy programs of religious catechesis; rather it would base such programs on personal development and needs and would be ongoing, rather than coming to a halt after the reception of confirmation.”

Perhaps then the churches can get busy on life-long mystagogy and the life-long return to the font as Christians seek to live out in the Spirit the implications of their new birth.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Da pacem Domine

I've checked out the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir's recording of some music of Arvo Pärt directed by Paul Hillier, and it is wonderful. The opening song is this text that I somehow feel would be worth praying and singing much more often in our churches these days:

Give peace in our time,
O Lord,
because there is none other
that fighteth for us,
but only thou, O Lord.

The Latin:

Da pacem Domine
in diebus nostris
quia non est alius
qui pugnet pro nobis
nisi tu Deus noster.