Category : Theology

Must-not-Miss Story from NPR’s Only a Game–Shirley Wang: My Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley

When Charles Barkley’s mother, Charcey Glenn, passed away in June 2015, Barkley’s hometown of Leeds, Alabama, came to the funeral to pay respects. But there was also an unexpected guest.

Barkley’s friends couldn’t quite place him. He wasn’t a basketball player, he wasn’t a sports figure and he wasn’t from Barkley’s hometown. Here’s what I can tell you about him: he wore striped, red polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts and got really excited about two-for-one deals. He was a commuter. He worked as a cat litter scientist in Muscatine, Iowa. In short, he was everyone’s suburban dad. More specifically, he was my dad.

“You know, it was obviously a very difficult time,” Barkley told me recently. “And the next thing I know, he shows up. Everybody’s, like, ‘Who’s the Asian dude over there?’ I just started laughing. I said, ‘That’s my boy, Lin.’ They’re, like, ‘How do you know him?’ I said, ‘It’s a long story.’ ”

Read or listen to it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Children, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Sports

From the Morning Scripture Readings

For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people call conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary, and a stone of offense, and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble thereon; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.

–Isaiah 8:11-15

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(Regent World) Seven Scholars Share Their Favourite Moments Of Biblical Humour

Iain Provan:

The book of Jonah provides one of the most effective examples of humour in the Old Testament. “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it,” God commands his prophet (Jonah 1:2)—but “Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish” (1:3). In the ancient world, this is just about as far as one can go in the opposite direction. “Get up and go,” God tells Jonah in the Hebrew—but Jonah goes down to Joppa, down into the ship (both in v. 3), and down into the ship’s hold (v.5). His lack of piety contrasts starkly with that of the pagan sailors, who end up fearing the Lord greatly (v. 16). They know better than Jonah, who claims to “worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land” (v. 9), but is trying to escape from him on both. The sovereignty of God over the sea is soon demonstrated, as a great fish astonishingly shows up to rescue Jonah from his watery grave. He thanks God for saving him (2:7-9), but he takes a very different view when God later saves the people of Nineveh, who repent—hilariously and unexpectedly—upon hearing Jonah’s ridiculously brief sermon (3:4). By the end of the book, Jonah—“displeased and … angry” (4:1)—is the only creature who has not repented, including the Assyrian cows (3:8)! The humour presses home the message that the people of God are characteristically much less interested in the lost than God is—the God who is “gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity”(4:2). They prefer judgment to redemption, whereas God’s preferences are the other way around.

Read it all.
Posted in Humor / Trivia, Theology: Scripture

(Church Times) Suzanne Cooper reviews Emma Mason’s ‘Christina Rossetti: Poetry, ecology, faith’

Emma Mason’s new critical study of Christina Rossetti’s poetry and prose is the latest in the Oxford University Press’s series Spiritual Lives.

Mason looks closely at her “contribution to emergent environmentalism”, reading Rossetti as a poet who “gentles” her audience into finding Grace through a recognition of the “kinness of nature”. Her poems of swans and stars, lilies and rainbows are reinterpreted in the light of Rossetti’s Tractarian faith.

Keble, Pusey, and Newman all privileged poetry as an art that could conjure the “world out of sight”, and represent the intercommunion of all Creation. The notion of “reserve”, within the Tractarian tradition — the unfolding of divine truth gradually, delightfully — seems particularly relevant with Rossetti. She exemplifies Keble’s ideal, crafting poetry at once “fervent yet sober, . . . neither wild and passionate, nor light and airy.”

Mason also highlights Rossetti’s family connections with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which her brother Gabriel’s described as an “Art-Catholic”.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History, Theology

From the Morning Scripture Readings

But I trust in thee, O LORD, I say, “Thou art my God.” My times are in thy hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors! Let thy face shine on thy servant; save me in thy steadfast love!

–Psalm 31:15-16

Posted in Theology: Scripture, Uncategorized

(Psephizo) Ian Paul–Wisdom and folly: the bishops’ guidance on transgender welcome

Why the collapse of Christian language of initiation into cultural memes? The problems with the guidance begin with its opening line:

The Church of England welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people, within the body of Christ

Since when was the gospel of ‘repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mark 1.15) reduced to ‘unconditional affirmation’? If the point is that trans people shouldn’t be treated as a different class of humanity, then that would be hard to disagree with—so why not simply say that? All the debates around sexuality become mired in impossible ambiguity because of different construals of what it means to ‘affirm’ people. Jesus welcomed the marginalised, and called them to repent along with everyone else (Luke 5.32) and so should we.

Why the misuse of biblical texts? In reading Scripture, context is everything, and the listing of passages where God’s redemptive action leads to a change of name, in the context of a service which appears to be celebrating the transition of name and identity, has strong echoes of Tina Beardsley’s proposed trans liturgy, misreads these texts badly, and overlays on the scriptural narrative a particular ideology of sex identity.

Why the complete absence of reference to biological reality? One of the heated debates around trans ideology and advocacy relates to biological reality—what is actually going on in the transition process? The medical journal The Lancet just this week made an impassioned appeal for proper engagement with biological reality:

Sex has a biological basis, whereas gender is fundamentally a social expression. Thus, sex is not assigned—chromosomal sex is determined at conception and immutable. A newborn’s phenotypic sex, established in utero, merely becomes apparent after birth, with intersex being a rare exception.

Distress about gender identity must be taken seriously and support should be put in place for these children and young people, but the impacts of powerful, innovative interventions should be rigorously assessed….

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Theology, Theology: Scripture

From the Morning Scripture Readings

In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzzi′ah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remali′ah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but they could not conquer it. When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with E′phraim,” his heart and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.

And the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go forth to meet Ahaz, you and She′ar-jash′ub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, and say to him, ‘Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remali′ah. Because Syria, with E′phraim and the son of Remali′ah, has devised evil against you, saying, “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Ta′be-el as king in the midst of it,” thus says the Lord God:

It shall not stand,
    and it shall not come to pass.
For the head of Syria is Damascus,
    and the head of Damascus is Rezin.

(Within sixty-five years E′phraim will be broken to pieces so that it will no longer be a people.)

And the head of E′phraim is Samar′ia,
    and the head of Samar′ia is the son of Remali′ah.
If you will not believe,
    surely you shall not be established.’”

–Isaiah 7:1-9

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(AM) Andrew Symes–Transgender liturgies and the secular, postmodern re-shaping of church and society

I was alerted to a major new development in the Church of England: the publication of liturgies to mark ‘gender transition’. (Press release, and my comment here.) Well that wasn’t such a surprise, as this was accepted by General Synod last year, and then agreed again in February 2018. What is alarming is that the new services, which have been developed by clergy who are transgender activists, have been commended for use by a leading evangelical Bishop. No doubt he will argue that while he believes that God created us male and female, this is a way of offering welcome to those who don’t feel they fit into the traditional gender categories. But in speaking about ‘trans people’ and supporting the liturgies in this way, this Bishop has inevitably accepted the validity of the new ideology of gender, which is incompatible with Christian anthropology, colluding with a fiction which cannot ultimately be pastorally helpful, and based on propaganda and fake science rather than evidence.

Should faithful Christians just accept the decisions of their leaders in these matters, and keep quiet, perhaps focusing on evangelistic courses and foodbanks? Or can we counter this trend? If so, perhaps our challenge is to tell a “better story”. We know that heterosexual marriage and sexually abstinent singleness, living within the physical sex God gave us, are the most effective ways of living a flourishing life as individuals and communities, and for our future. Numerous studies prove that stable marriage and family life, and sexual self-control are beneficial for individuals and society; likewise it is clear that family breakdown is linked to crime and mental health issues, and immorality to sexually transmitted disease. The Judaeo-Christian ethic is commanded and explained in Scripture and has been taught by Christians and Jews for millennia. It makes sense. It is the truth. Surely, if the church demonstrates an attitude of love, and tells a positive and exciting counter-story, society will be convinced of the truth of the gospel and how we are supposed to live our lives?

In this paradigm, ‘truth’ is contained in God’s word, backed up by scientific research based on observation of an ordered world. Truth must be communicated clearly, imaginatively, winsomely with love, but it exists as an entity in itself, like a Platonic ideal, or indeed God himself. God exists and his word is true whether or not we communicate it effectively with love. One plus one equals two, regardless of how effectively and relationally it is taught, or how I feel about it and about myself.

But in the secular postmodern paradigm, things have changed. God, and truth, do not exist outside of the reality which is the interweaved matrix made up of millions of human beings’ individual consciousness and experience. The personal story, and the emotions it evokes, is not just a method of communicating truth. It is truth. If feelings of same sex attraction or gender dysphoria lead someone to embrace a gay or trans identity, this is a discovery of truth, and the church’s job is to affirm it through liturgies. To suggest that someone with these feelings might be able to explore a different direction is seen as hurtful, even abusive, and should be suppressed by law. 

Because of this tendency in us to be drawn to personal constructions of reality and reject Reality, the biblical writers insist that it’s not enough to simply repeat God’s true message, and to find better ways of communicating it, including demonstrating God’s nature through acts of love and mercy. It’s also necessary to enable the faithful community to reject the false messages they are being fed constantly in the world around them.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(CaPC) Kaitlyn Schiess–Advent Is Actually Quite Political

One of my favorite hymns, “O Holy Night,” for example, has explicit political implications: it connects the arrival of our Savior with these deeply political actions:

“Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease.”

This is the version we’ve sung since 1847, when the original song was altered slightly by American writer John Sullivan Dwight in order to reflect abolitionist beliefs during the Civil War. What once focused merely on Christ’s view of humanity—“He sees a brother where there was only a slave”—the updated lyrics reflect a more active role of Christ’s work of redemption. Yet when we gather together during this season and sing this song, once used in the deeply political fight against slavery, the churches that “don’t get political” try to convince themselves that being apolitical is (and had always been) the proper orientation of the church. But nothing could be as perpetually relevant or beautiful than the radical and eschatological idea that Jesus came to end oppression. In his book Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear, Dr. Matthew Kaemingk asks, “What should we the church do in the emerging age of fear and reactionary politics? We should sing old hymns and wrestle with their subversive political implications.”

Perhaps we should even take a cue from abolitionist Christians and be unafraid of writing political hymns and sermons for our own era. It is easy to look back on past political issues and claim that they were merely “moral” or “theological,” but in the midst of the controversy, they were deeply political. Our theological convictions have political weight, and holy indignation is an appropriate response to chains that enslave and systems that oppress. By acknowledging the injustices of our own day, we can mourn the state of our fallen world and confess the ways we have been complicit in them. Awareness of what’s broken is the first step toward subverting it.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Advent, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Religion & Culture, Theology

From the Morning Scripture Readings

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering– since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

–2 Thessalonians 1:5-12

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(Church of England) Guidance for gender transition services published

New guidance for parishes planning services to help transgender people mark their transition has been published by the Church of England.

The pastoral guidance, which will be incorporated into Common Worship*, encourages clergy to be “creative and sensitive” in using liturgy to enable people to mark a major transition in their lives.

It formally commends the incorporation of the existing rite for the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith into services which mark gender transition.

It details how elements including water and oil can be incorporated into the service and, crucially, makes clear that trans people should be addressed publicly by their chosen name.

As part of the service they could also be presented with gifts, such as a Bible inscribed in their chosen name, or a certificate.

It is important, the guidance adds, that the occasion should have a distinct “celebratory character”.

Read it all and make sure to follow the link and read the full text of the guidance itself.

Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Theology

(1st Things) Helen Andrews-Shame Storm

After a lifetime of impeccably correct opinions, Ian Buruma found himself on the wrong side of the liberal consensus in September 2018, when he was forced to resign as editor of the New York Review of Books for having commissioned a piece called “Reflections from a Hashtag” from the disgraced Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi. One does not get to be editor of the NYRB without having filament-like sensitivity to the boundaries of acceptable opinion. Buruma’s virtuosic handling in 2007 of the controversy over his New York Times Magazine profile of Tariq Ramadan, in which he wrote indulgently of his subject’s radical Islamic views—and scathingly of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s secularist opposition to them—was a model of politically correct equipoise. If Buruma was caught flat-footed this time, it must be the times that have changed.

Unlike Leon Wieseltier, Lorin Stein, ­Garrison Keillor, John Hockenberry, Ryan Lizza, Glenn Thrush, or any of the other editors and journalists who have lost their jobs in the last twelve months due to the movement known as #MeToo, Buruma was not accused of any sexual misconduct. His crime was to give space in his magazine to a man who had been accused (but not, in any of four court cases, convicted) of sexual harassment and non-consensual roughness during sex. Buruma told Slate in an interview five days before his resignation, “I think nobody has quite figured out what should happen in cases like his, where you have been legally acquitted but you are still judged as undesirable in public opinion, and how far that should go, how long that should last.”

Too true, as Buruma found out to his cost. No one has yet figured out what rules should govern the new frontiers of public shaming that the Internet has opened. New rules are obviously required. Shame is now both global and permanent, to a degree ­unprecedented in human history. No more moving to the next town to escape your bad name. However far you go and however long you wait, your disgrace is only ever a Google search away. Getting a humiliating story into the papers used to require convincing an editor to run it, which meant passing their standards of newsworthiness and corroborating evidence. Those gatekeepers are now gone. Most attempts so far to devise new rules have taken ideology as their starting point: Shaming is okay as long as it’s directed at men by women, the powerless against the powerful. But that doesn’t address what to do afterward, if someone is found to have been wrongfully shamed, or when someone rightfully shamed wants to put his life back together.

In the essay that got Buruma fired, Ghomeshi claims to have been a pioneer in online shaming. “There are lots of guys more hated than me now. But I was the guy everyone hated first.” Actually, a better candidate for original victim is Justine Sacco, the PR executive who tweeted to her 170 Twitter followers before getting on a plane to Cape Town, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” It was during the Christmas holidays when news is always slow, so a Gawker post about the tweet quickly went viral. People around the world were soon enjoying the suspense of knowing Sacco was on a plane with no Internet access and no way to know that she had become an object of global ridicule. That was in December 2013, almost a year before the Ghomeshi story broke.

And before that, in the Precambrian era of online shaming, there was me….

The more online shame cycles you observe, the more obvious the pattern becomes: Everyone comes up with a principled-sounding pretext that serves as a barrier against admitting to themselves that, in fact, all they have really done is joined a mob. Once that barrier is erected, all rules of decency go out the window, but the pretext is almost always a lie.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(CT Women) Elisabeth Kincaid–Bonhoeffer: Advent Is Like a Prison Cell

When we consider this second double movement of Advent—the coming of the Lord in judgment and the coming of the child Jesus—we realize that God demands more than we could ever imagine or accomplish. We also realize that, by becoming one of us in the Incarnation, Christ has already accomplished all.

Finally, what do we do during this waiting? Bonhoeffer identifies Christians with the servants in Luke 12 who keep their lamps burning while waiting for the bridegroom. Because we know the bridegroom will come, our waiting is not passive or resigned. Rather, like Joseph and the servants, we learn to wait actively for God’s promises to be fulfilled.

We also learn how to live out the radical freedom that comes from God’s promise already being fulfilled. Most fundamentally, we are set free from captivity within ourselves. This freedom, says Bonhoeffer, releases us from “thinking only of [ourselves], from being the center of my world, from hate, by which I despise God’s creation. It means to be for the other: the persons for others. Only God’s truth can enable me to see the other as he really is.”

Bonhoeffer lived out this Advent waiting in his own prison cell. Although the door was locked and his life was collapsed in rubble around him, he still clung to the knowledge of his freedom in Christ, and he did so through the practice of Advent. In a letter sent to his parents, he described how an Altdorfer Nativity scene “in which one sees the holy family with the manger amidst the rubble of collapsed house … is particularly timely.” Amid the upending of the world, the fear of death, and the knowledge of our own failings and captivity, “even here one can and ought to celebrate Christmas.”

Read it all.

Posted in Advent, Theology

Kendall Harmon’s Sunday Sermon–Will We be Ready When he Comes (Luke 3:1-6)?

You can listen directly there and download the mp3 there.

Posted in Ministry of the Ordained, Preaching / Homiletics, Theology: Scripture

From the Morning Bible Readings

But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Brethren, pray for us.

Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss.

I adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the brethren.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Posted in Theology: Scripture