Category : Theology

Paul R. Hinlicky–Why Virtual Communion Is Not Nearly Radical Enough

Now to return to virtual communion and the recommendation for Eucharistic fasting during this divine judgment on our social greed. Let’s take an exemplary proponent, Lutheran theologian Prof. Deanna Thompson, who is now at St. Olaf College. She is a personally credible interlocutor on the question of “virtual” ministry, as she writes out of her excruciating experience of life-threatening cancer in the prime of life. She’s published a book, The Virtual Body of Christ, in which she makes the case for employing the new social media technologies just as the Lutheran Reformation employed the Gutenberg press. I agree with much of this, as I said above. Nevertheless, I respectfully and yet sharply disagree with her urging in the present pandemic crisis that people at home should set up bread and wine, as if to participate via the Internet in the live streaming of the Lord’s Supper liturgy. As I’ve listened and pondered the arguments being made in favor of this proposal, I have come to a certain realization which I would like briefly to argue here.

Let me begin, by affirming that Christ is “really” in the preached word which can be conveyed through these media. He is really present to offer himself in his righteousness, life and peace for the auditor’s sin, death and disease. Long ago, however, I discovered that in the Lutheran confessional writings what was at stake was never this so-called “real” presence but rather the “bodily” presence of Jesus Christ according to his word and promise. What difference does this apparently subtle distinction make? Answer: historically it excluded the so-called “spiritual” (or “real”) presence as the specific blessing or benefit of the Lord’s Supper just as it excludes notions of “invisible” church as the “real” church as opposed to the visible assembly gathered around Word and sacrament. By the Holy Spirit the word of the gospel awakens faith and if we want to speak of “spiritual presence,” we are talking about this ministry of the Holy Spirit who makes Jesus Christ “real” to us. But what differentiates the Lord’s Supper is the promised presence of Jesus Christ personally in his own body-and-blood, so that the blessing is not merely privative, the forgiveness of sins, but also positive: life and salvation on account of this specific union with Christ that consists in physical eating and drinking in the common meal of the Lord.

Why does this specificity of Jesus’ bodily presence matter? For one thing, it concerns the identity of Jesus Christ as the very body born of Mary and crucified under Pontius Pilate but vindicated and exalted to be present in his glorified body for the gathering of his faithful. This act of identification is precisely what the Lord’s Supper liturgy depends on, the specific act in the gathering as the church when a specific loaf is picked out with the words, “this is my body given for you….”

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Eucharist, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Sacramental Theology, Science & Technology

(NYT) Holdout States Resist Calls for Stay-at-Home Orders: ‘What Are You Waiting For?’

A stretch of Interstate 40, which runs from downtown Memphis across the Mississippi River into Arkansas, has come to illustrate the patchwork of rules restricting movement in the United States. On the Arkansas side of the river, where the governor has resisted a statewide mandate, some “nonessential” businesses remain open. On the Tennessee side, a stay-at-home order went into effect this week, closing stores.

Now, the owner of a chain of clothing stores called Deep South located on both sides of the Mississippi is operating under two different sets of rules. The company’s owner, Munther Awad, a 47-year-old immigrant from the Middle East, said he owned two stores in Arkansas, which are open, one in West Memphis and another in Little Rock. And he owns a third store in Memphis, which is now closed because of a local mandate last week.

“I feel like if you would have just went ahead and put the whole nation at the same time on a lockdown, we could have got some control over it,” said Lavanda Mayfield, 33, who was waiting to serve takeout to customers at the Iron Skillet restaurant at a truck stop near I-40 in West Memphis on Friday.

“But now it’s just out of control,” she said, “because you did state-to-state.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, State Government

From the Morning Bible Readings

And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimae′us, a blind beggar, the son of Timae′us, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; rise, he is calling you.” And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Master, let me receive my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

–Mark 10:46-52

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(Regent College) [Church Historian] Bruce Hindmarsh–Coronavirus And The Communion Of The Saints

At the beginning of June, Carolyn and I were supposed to be leading a travel course for Regent College in Italy, “Martyrs, Monks, and Mystics,” but we sent a note to all the participants in mid-March to cancel because of the coronavirus. This seemed a judgment call at the time, but within days it became clear that it was the right decision: Europe went into lockdown and the grim statistics of the growing number of dead were reported each evening.

As a historian, it has given me pause. I remember that we have been here before.

It is as though the clock has been turned back several centuries. I was struck by the comment in the Financial Times of the famous virologist Peter Piot (who discovered Ebola): “All we have is medieval ways of containment: isolation, quarantine, contact tracing.” We have gone back in time.

As we were canceling our Italy trip, I was reminded of the early medieval bishop of Rome, Gregory the Great. He was called to lead in the hardest of times. We were hoping to park the tour bus by his family estate at the present church of San Gregorio Magno al Celio before we left Rome for Assisi. We would have told everyone that from his home on the Caelian hill, he could literally have looked straight across the little valley (as we can today) to the Palatine hill to see the crumbling palaces of past Roman emperors. To Gregory’s right was the already decaying Colosseum and ruins of the Forum. Repeated sieges of Rome had left famine and disease in their wake. Large areas of the city were destroyed by fire, and civil society stopped functioning altogether.

And that is not all: plague was pandemic during Gregory’s whole adult life. Something like a third of the population was wiped out during these years by their version of the coronavirus.

In this situation, what did Gregory do? He served his generation. He fed the poor, clothed the naked, and ministered to the sick. He devoted himself to prayer, supported the new Benedictine communities, sent out missionaries, promoted high standards for pastoral care, and took over the running of the city.

The pressures of his life meant that he could write eloquently of what it was to balance a life of active service with a life of prayer. He found inspiration from the example of the ministry of Christ himself.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Pastoral Theology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

A S Haley–The South Carolina Supreme Court Rebuffs TEC Again

How do ECUSA and its attorneys manage to contend that there are any “rulings” in the August 2017 decision capable of being enforced? By vastly oversimplifying the jumble of five separate Justices’ opinions, that’s how.

I have demonstrated in earlier posts just how divided and disunited were the individual Justices (including especially Justice Hearn, who had not yet seen fit to disqualify herself — on the ground that she was an active member of one of the parishes whose property was at stake in the case, and had earlier underwritten the effort by dissident Episcopalians to remove Bishop Lawrence from his position). It is logically impossible to derive any legal result from the five opinions other than that three of the Justices (including the one now disqualified) voted to reverse the trial court’s judgment.

So Judge Goodstein’s judgment awarding the property is now reversed. What comes next? Ah, that is the question — and one looks in vain for a mandate (direction) from any three of opinions as got what the Circuit Court should do on remand towards entering a new judgment. As Judge Dickson said at the outset of the arguments on the motions before him:

The Court: The first motion that I have today, going through the list that y’all gave me the last time y’all were here, and I think the one I am most interested in is the motion to decide what I am supposed to decide. The clarification motion, okay.

In response to the contention by ECUSA’s attorney, Mary Kostel, that the Court’s ruling as to who owned the property was “clear”, Judge Dickson responded: “We would not be here if it was clear.”

And indeed, as pointed out in Bishop Lawrence’s response to the petition for mandamus, just one day before filing its motion for enforcement with Judge Dickson, ECUSA had filed a brief in opposition to Bishop Lawrence’s petition to the United States Supreme Court for a writ to review the August 2017 decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court (p. 4):

On May 7, 2018, Petitioners [in the Circuit Court, i.e., ECUSA and its diocese] argued to the United States Supreme Court that it should not grant Plaintiffs’ Petition for Certiorari because the Collective Opinions were “a poor vehicle for review.” Brief of Respondents in Opposition to Petition for Writ of Certiorari, 2018 WL 2129786 at 23-26. Petitioners [ECUSA and its diocese] contended this was so because the Collective Opinions are based on an “incomplete record”, which “contains significant ambiguities.” Id at 2, 23. The Collective Opinions are “fractured not only in rationale but even on facts.” Id at 2, 9. The absence “of a majority opinion on the standard of review” creates “ambiguities” making it “difficult to discern which of the trial court findings stand.” Id. at 23-24.

This is just another example of ECUSA’s unabashed hypocrisy in making diametrically opposed arguments to different courts, depending on the occasion. (For another egregious example, see this post.) For the US Supreme Court, the jumbled South Carolina opinions were “ambiguous” and “difficult to discern”, but in the South Carolina Circuit Court, just one day later, all was suddenly “clear.”

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Parish Ministry, Stewardship, TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: South Carolina

From the Morning Bible Readings

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways; we refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

–2 Corinthians 4:1-2

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(Mere Orthodoxy) Brad East–Sacraments, Technology, and Streaming Worship in a Pandemic

What does that mean for Christian life under quarantine? Might not a pandemic call for emergency measures, even granting the sacramental character of the church’s worship? Isn’t abstention from the bread of life too much to ask, too painful to endure for weeks or even months?

It is indeed a great deal to ask. It is very painful. But that does not resolve the issue. If a thing is unwise or impossible, we do well to resist the temptation to recast it as unavoidable or necessary. Better by far to acknowledge the pain and lament it together, albeit apart. As Chris Krycho has written:

We are eager to return to gather with God’s people. We are eager to come to the Table again. This eagerness, this longing, is a pointer just in the same way that the weekly gathering and Communion are in ordinary time: to the consummation of all things when Christ comes again. The hunger we feel keenly now for the gifts of God in this age can remind us to hunger more deeply for the gifts of God in the age to come — the gathering of all the saints, the feast of the ages, and both unbroken and unending. Temporary loneliness can point us to final fellowship. Temporary fasting can point us to final feasting.

Or in Scott Swain’s words:

Our inability to celebrate the Lord’s Supper for a season can only be, should only be, cause for sorrow and tears. For now, we are not able to celebrate this remembrance of the Lord by “tasting” and “seeing” his goodness (Ps 34:8). But this does not mean we are consigned to a state of utter forgetfulness. No. There is a kind of remembrance that accompanies exile from the city of God (Ps 137:5-6), the remembrance that leads to faithful tears (Ps 137:1-2) and that cultivates hopeful longing for restoration (Pss 63:1; 143:6), the remembrance of those who have once tasted and who, by God’s grace, know they will once again taste and see the Lord’s goodness, whether it is at his table in the covenant assembly or at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). This is the kind of remembrance that we are called to cultivate in ourselves and in our flocks in this season.

American Christians desire instant gratification. We expect technological fixes to temporary glitches. But this pandemic is not a glitch. It is a trial, and one that has no quick solution. It can only be endured. Instead of living in denial, we should allow the terrible burden of our endurance to make its mark on our habits of worship during this time. The liturgy ought not to carry on just as before, hastening to distract us from the danger around us. Let it instead bear the imprint of our moment. Life is not as it was. Worship shouldn’t be either.

Read it all.

Posted in Health & Medicine, Sacramental Theology

From the Morning Bible Readings

A Song of Ascents. Of David. O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and for evermore.

–Psalm 131

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(Anglican Diocese of SC) South Carolina Supreme Court denies Petition for Writ of Prohibition by The Episcopal Church

The South Carolina Supreme Court announced yesterday that it has denied the Petition for a Writ of Prohibition submitted on February 21st by The Episcopal Church (TEC) and The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC), which sought to prevent Judge Edgar W. Dickson from ruling on the Diocese’s and parishes motion to clarify the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling. If granted, the petition would have prevented Judge Dickson from ruling on the case as he has indicated he was about to do. The Supreme Court’s order succinctly states: “Petitioners seek a Writ of Prohibition to prevent the circuit court from clarifying this Court’s decision in Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of S.C. v. Episcopal Church, 412 S.C. 211, 806 S.E. 2d 82 (2017). The petition is denied.”

This ruling by the Supreme Court allows Judge Dickson to proceed with clarifying the Court’s earlier August 2017 ruling, which was comprised of five separate opinions. That situation is unprecedented in the history of the court. This open-ended denial of the petition by the Supreme Court places no restrictions upon the appropriateness of Judge Dickson’s work in interpreting the meaning of the original ruling.

Ironically, this ruling comes almost exactly a year after TEC and TECSC filed a similar Petition with the high court for a Writ of Mandamus meant to force Judge Dickson to rule in the case. The Mandamus Petition asked the Supreme Court to require the Circuit Court to interpret the Supreme Court’s August 2, 2017 ruling favorably for TEC and TECSC. That petition was also denied by the Supreme Court in July of last year.

As before, the Prohibition Petition was an attempt to end run Judge Dickson’s exercise of his discretion in interpreting the August 2, 2017 decision in a manner that may differ from TEC and TECSC’s interpretation.

The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina welcomes this decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court affirming that the Circuit Court is the proper venue to resolve the many uncertain issues arising from the August 2, 2017 decision.

The Rev. Marcus Kaiser, President of the diocesan Standing Committee observed, “In this time, our focus is on caring for our people and praying for a world deeply rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, we are profoundly grateful that the Supreme Court has denied the request for a Writ of Prohibition, and hope this ruling helps move things along. We pray for Judge Dickson and the complex issues he has to deal with, even as we continue to focus on concerns far more pressing to most people.”

The brief in support of the motion by the Diocese to dismiss this Petition can be found on the Diocesan website, along with further background on the earlier Petition for Mandamus. The August 2, 2017, ruling by the Supreme Court may also be found here.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * South Carolina, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, TEC Conflicts: South Carolina

(Reformed Blogmatics) Renewing theological anthropology

In his contribution to The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, Reinhard Hütter describes two approaches to the Christian life. One approach views God as standing behind the human being, with the world lying before him as his ultimate field of engagement. The other approach views the human being as standing before God, with the world coming to him as a gift from God’s fatherly hand in order that it, along with the human being, might ultimately be ordered to God.

In too many cases, contemporary Reformed and evangelical approaches to anthropology exhibit the former approach rather than the latter. Renewing theological anthropology will, above all, require recovering the latter approach, which locates human beings where they should be located: a little lower than the angels, over the animals, in Christ, in the presence of God, from whom and through whom and to whom are all things (Rom 11:36).

This, in the end, is the awe and wonder of what it means to be human. “What is man?” The psalmist asks. Following Scripture, the Westminster Shorter Catechism answers: man is the creature whose chief end it is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

From the Morning Bible Readings

But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them.

–Mark 10:14-16

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(9 Marks) Colton Corter–4 Reflections after Listening to 18 Hours of Sermons in America’s Biggest Churches

1. The gospel at best assumed; most of the time, it’s entirely absent.

Let me begin with the most important observation: in 36 sermons, the good news of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was unclear 36 times. Often, some or all of these facets of the Christian gospel were left out. “No gospel” became a common note. (Here’s an answer to the question you’re probably asking: What content is necessary in order to communicate the gospel?)

I don’t mean to say various elements of the gospel weren’t occasionally mentioned; they were. Todd Mullins (Christ Fellowship Church) mentions in his sermon series, “What Do You See Next?, that faith is believing in what Jesus did for you—carrying the cross, rising from the dead, etc. But none of those elements are articulated or explained. It’s unclear exactly why we need Jesus to do anything for us. Furthermore, it’s unclear exactly what he did by doing the things Mullins mentions. Isolated phrases here and there without much reference to how the Bible puts them together was the norm.

In his sermon, “The Robe of Righteousness,” Robert Morris (Gateway Church) provides a happy exception. He mentions the doctrine of imputation, stating that we aren’t worthy of God and are in need of a “balancing (of our) . . . account.” Morris goes on to say that in the gospel we get Jesus’ assets while Jesus receives our debts. That’s as close to the gospel that any of these sermons gets—and even in this instance, the true things Morris mentions are isolated from the rest of the truths that make up the gospel message. (Neither God’s holy judgment, sin, nor repentance is mentioned.)

But here’s what’s even more disheartening: in his next sermon, Morris says the Jesus who accomplished all this for us “lays down all his divinity” (“The Ring of Authority). Conspicuously missing from Morris’ explanation of what he calls “substitutionary, propitiatory, blood-bought salvation” is the response one must have to this message in order to be saved, which leads us to our next observation.

2. Repentance rarely comes across as something urgent and necessary; instead, it’s either optional or not worth mentioning at all.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Christology, Preaching / Homiletics, Religion & Culture, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

A paper from the London College of Bishops:The Eucharist in a time of Physical Distancing

Consistent with this position, we offer several options for parishes as long as the current physical distancing restrictions apply:

  1. Some parish churches may wish temporarily to suspend the celebration of Holy Communion until they are able to meet together in person again. We are already having to cease the practice of public Baptism for the duration due to the restrictions placed upon us, and so a church may choose to do the same with the other dominical sacrament. As one incumbent put it recently: “We will take this opportunity to fast from the Sacrament while we feast on the Word.”
  1. To ensure congregational involvement, where a parish church wishes to continue to celebrate the eucharist within the current advice issued by the London College of Bishops, and only the priest can be present, it should, whenever possible, be livestreamed, so that others can at least (as Cranmer put it) “see with our eyes” even if they cannot “smell with our noses, touch with our hands and taste with our mouths.” This enables the kind of spiritual reception that is at the heart of the sacrament, even if physical partaking is not possible.
  1. If that is not feasible, at the very least, it should be clearly advertised in the parish and among the congregation when the Holy Communion is to be celebrated in the home of the priest, with or without the presence of another member of that household. Such public advertising is insisted on in the ‘Exhortations’ in the BCP that are inserted between the Prayer for the Church Militant and the Confession. This way, others can be invited to pray and perhaps read the Scriptures at that time, so that the service takes place within some kind of extended communal act of worship in that parish, even if dispersed, and does not become merely a private act of devotion. Some prayers that would enable people to take part in such a celebration might be prepared.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Eucharist, Sacramental Theology

John Donne’s Batter My Heart for his Feast Day

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to’another due,
Labor to’admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly’I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me,’untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you’enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

–Holy Sonnet XIV

Posted in Church History, Poetry & Literature, Theology

(CH) John Donne–Thanksgiving in the Midst of Fear

These poems speak, as [Philip] Yancey says, to “the guilt and fear and helpless faith that marked [Donne’s] darkest days.” They also answer one of the toughest questions we can face, “In the midst of plague times, how can we give thanks?”

Here are the three poems excerpted by Yancey, with his clarifying revisions of Donne’s eighteenth-century language…

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Poetry & Literature, Theology

From the Morning Scripture Readings

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved, he who keeps you will not slumber.

–Psalm 121:1-3

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(Al Mohler) Obedience to God and Love of Neighbor in the Face of a Coronavirus: A Christian’s Mandate

But then, quite unexpectedly, Jesus said, “The second greatest commandment is like unto it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We should note that Jesus drew this from the book of Leviticus 19:18. The very same Book of Leviticus that included the quarantine of the diseased.

Love of neighbor means that we would not do anything to compromise, weaken, or endanger our neighbor—and that certainly includes our neighbor’s physical health. Applying all of these passages—Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Matthew, and Romans—we come to understand that faithfulness today means full and unwavering compliance with all rightful orders seeking to control the spread of COVID-19.

Interestingly, the command to “love your neighbor” ends with two words of enormous significance: “as yourself.” We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Often, we are told to not think about ourselves—that true virtue is found in self-sacrifice and having no regard for our own lives. That is true, but in this command from the words of Jesus himself, we are told to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Actually, endangering ourselves also endangers others. We regard our own lives, so we must regard the lives of others. We protect our lives, so we protect the lives of others. In the context of this pandemic, if we do not comply with the government’s guidelines and fall ill, then someone will have to take care of us. We will tie up resources, time, and put others at risk of catching what could be for some people a deadly virus. Furthermore, we are not able to contribute to the commonweal—to the larger community.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Christology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Pastoral Theology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(Time) Tom Wright–Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To

The point of lament, woven thus into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it’s an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments. Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in his world. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.

God was grieved to his heart, Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of his human creatures. He was devastated when his own bride, the people of Israel, turned away from him. And when God came back to his people in person—the story of Jesus is meaningless unless that’s what it’s about—he wept at the tomb of his friend. St. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit “groaning” within us, as we ourselves groan within the pain of the whole creation. The ancient doctrine of the Trinity teaches us to recognize the One God in the tears of Jesus and the anguish of the Spirit.

Read it all.

Posted in Health & Medicine, Theodicy

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

From the Morning Bible Readings

It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.
All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees, they blazed like a fire of thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
Hark, glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
the right hand of the LORD is exalted, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”

–Psalm 118: 8-16

Posted in Theology: Scripture

From the Morning Scripture Readings

He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants. He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there he lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in; they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield. By his blessing they multiply greatly; and he does not let their cattle decrease. When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, trouble, and sorrow, he pours contempt upon princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes; but he raises up the needy out of affliction, and makes their families like flocks. The upright see it and are glad; and all wickedness stops its mouth. Whoever is wise, let him give heed to these things; let men consider the steadfast love of the LORD.

–Psalm 107:33-43

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(Sightings) Evan Kuehn–Measuring the Apocalypse

The tension between eschatology and banality defines the current moment for many of us who are both reacquainting ourselves with home in a period of shelter-in-place orders, and facing the reality of being laid off, or of having access to our loved ones in prison or long-term care suddenly shut off. The big numbers of COVID-19 are almost a backdrop, even while they determine most of what we do (and don’t do).

This past week, the American psyche has also seen a shift of the object of our apocalyptic fears from the big numbers of COVID-19 mortality to the big numbers of a market economy in crisis. The President is calling for a “resurrection” of the economy on Easter Sunday. This combination of market panic and an aching desire for getting to the truth of the moment has even led one prominent Christian writer, well known for his critique of modern secularism’s supposed “culture of death,” to conclude with no sense of irony that “there is a demonic side to the sentimentalism of saving lives at any cost,” and on this basis oppose public health measures that threaten our commercial wellbeing. How on earth did we get here?

We are flailing because we need the world to be meaningful, but the fact of a pandemic is not something from which we can easily extract meaning and truth. We are awash with data being updated from a global array of regional and local reporting centers in real time, and the smart visualization of this data often fools us into thinking that we are looking at the meaning of COVID-19. These numbers are one way of seeing the virus, and epidemiologists can interpret the data through computational models that give us a picture of what the pandemic means for human populations right now and in the immediate future. Likewise, economists can interpret the human toll of strained social systems as they are modeled from unemployment claims data. All of this is important for policy decisions, and meaningful in its own way, but the pandemic itself resists our attempts to make sense of it.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Eschatology, Health & Medicine, History

(WSJ) Robert Nicholson–A Coronavirus Great Awakening?

Could a plague of biblical proportions be America’s best hope for religious revival? As the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II approaches, there is reason to think so.

Three-quarters of a century has dimmed the memory of that gruesome conflict and its terrible consequences: tens of millions killed, great cities bombed to rubble, Europe and Asia stricken by hunger and poverty. Those who survived the war had to grapple with the kinds of profound questions that only arise in the aftermath of calamity. Gazing at the ruins from his window at Cambridge University, British historian Herbert Butterfield chose to make sense of it by turning to the Hebrew Bible.

“The power of the Old Testament teaching on history—perhaps the point at which the ancient Jews were most original, breaking away from the religious thought of the other peoples around them—lay precisely in the region of truths which sprang from a reflection on catastrophe and cataclysm,” Butterfield wrote in “Christianity and History” (1949). “It is almost impossible properly to appreciate the higher developments in the historical reflection of the Old Testament except in another age which has experienced (or has found itself confronted with) colossal cataclysm.”

Americans, chastened by the horrors of war, turned to faith in search of truth and meaning….

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Eschatology, Health & Medicine, Religion & Culture

(Church Times) Stephen Torr–The right way (and some wrong ways) to be the Church in a pandemic

FOR many people, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought and will bring seemingly meaningless destruction to their lives. To explain too much is to offer nothing of use to them and us.

In time to come, we can reflect on how this experience may change how we treat each other and creation. But for now, what the Church needs to be is a people who, empowered by the Spirit, can live with the paradox of simultaneously affirming the core testimony in word and deed, as well as offering our laments to God about the world’s pain. Anything else would be less than the honest and open relationship that God desires with us.

The practical challenges are many, if we take this seriously. We have had a day of prayer in which we put candles in our windows as a hope-filled reminder of Jesus, the light of the world. How might we do something that creates national space for lament as well?

We created hope-filled collects for people to pray; but where are the collects that are inspired by the psalms of lament and Book of Job — prayers that have teeth, and bring honest, raw language to God about what many feel as we try to work through this time.

In order to aid the world, the Church must embody an honest relationship with God and lead others to do the same. Senior leaders and all others in the Church must not overlook the lament genre, which has such an important place in scripture for just such times as these.

So, as we walk this road together, let us think afresh how we might enable a deeper, richer level of honesty with ourselves and with God, as we cling to the hope of the resurrection that reaches into eternity.

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Posted in Church of England, Health & Medicine, Parish Ministry, Theology

From the Morning Bible Readings

And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away, and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son; and she named him Moses, for she said, “Because I drew him out of the water.” One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together; and he said to the man that did the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh, and stayed in the land of Mid’ian; and he sat down by a well.

–Exodus 2:9-15

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(NYT Op-ed) Russell Moore–God Doesn’t Want Us to Sacrifice the Old

A generation ago, the essayist and novelist Wendell Berry told us that the great challenge of our time would be whether we would see life as a machine or as a miracle. The same is true now. The value of a human life is not determined on a balance sheet. We cannot coldly make decisions as to how many people we are willing to lose since “we are all going to die of something.”

A life in a nursing home is a life worth living. A life in a hospital quarantine ward is a life worth living. The lives of our grandparents, the lives of the disabled, the lives of the terminally ill, these are all lives worth living. We will not be able to save every life. Many will die, not only of the obviously vulnerable but also of those who are seemingly young and strong. But every life lost must grip us with a sense of lament, that death itself is not natural but is, as the Bible tells us, an enemy to be withstood and, ultimately, undone.

That means we must listen to medical experts, and do everything possible to avoid the catastrophe we see right now in Italy and elsewhere. We must get back to work, get the economy back on its feet, but we can only do that when doing so will not kill the vulnerable and overwhelm our hospitals, our doctors, our nurses, and our communities.

And along the way we must guard our consciences. We cannot pass by on the side of the road when the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and the vulnerable are in peril before our eyes. We want to hear the sound of cash registers again, but we cannot afford to hear them over the cries of those made in the image of God….

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Aging / the Elderly, Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Politics in General, Theology

Roland Allen in his own words on Mission and Saint Paul

In little more than ten years St. Paul established the Church in four provinces of the Empire, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Before AD 47 there were no churches in these provinces; in AD 57 St. Paul could speak as if his work there was done, and could plan extensive tours into the far west without anxiety lest the churches which he had founded might perish in his absence for want of his guidance and support.

The work of the Apostle during these ten years can therefore be treated as a unity. Whatever assistance he may have received from the preaching of others, it is unquestioned that the establishment of the churches in these provinces was really his work. In the pages of the New Testament he, and he alone, stands forth as their founder. And the work which he did was really a completed work. So far as the foundation of the churches is concerned, it is perfectly clear that the writer of the Acts intends to represent St. Paul’s work as complete. The churches were really established. Whatever disasters fell upon them in later years, whatever failure there was, whatever ruin, that failure was not due to any insufficiency or lack of care and completeness in the Apostle’s teaching or organization. When he left them he left them because his work was fully accomplished.

This is truly an astonishing fact. That churches should be founded so rapidly, so securely, seems to us today, accustomed to the difficulties, the uncertainties, the failures, the disastrous relapses of our own missionary work, almost incredible. Many missionaries in later days have received a larger number of converts than St. Paul; many have preached over a wider area than he; but none have so established churches. We have long forgotten that such things could be. We have long accustomed ourselves to accept it as an axiom of missionary work that converts in a new country must be submitted to a very long probation and training, extending over generations before they can be expected to be able to stand alone. Today if a man ventures to suggest that there may be something in the methods by which St. Paul attained such wonderful results worthy of our careful attention, and perhaps of our imitation, he is in danger of being accused of revolutionary tendencies.

–Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours; A Study of The Church In The Four Provinces, Chapter One

Posted in Church History, Missions, Theology: Scripture

From the Morning Scripture Readings

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.

–Psalm 69:1-2

Posted in Theology: Scripture

A Look Back to 1918–Francis James Grimké–“Some Reflections: Growing Out of the Recent Epidemic of Influenza that Afflicted Our City”

So Jehovah sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even unto the time appointed; and there died of the people from Dan even unto Beersheba seventy thousand men. And when the angel stretched forth his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, Jehovah repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough; now stay thy hand.
—Samuel 24:15–16

We know now, perhaps, as we have never known before the meaning of the terms pestilence, plague, epidemic, since we have been passing through this terrible scourge of Spanish influenza, with its enormous death rate and its consequent wretchedness and misery. Every part of the land has felt its deadly touch—North, South, East and West—in the Army, in the Navy, among civilians, among all classes and conditions, rich and poor, high and low, white and black. Over the whole land it has thrown a gloom, and has stricken down such large numbers that it has been difficult to care for them properly, overcrowding all of our hospitals—and it has proven fatal in so many cases that it has been difficult at times to get coffins enough in which to place the dead, and men enough to dig graves fast enough in which to bury them. Our own beautiful city has suffered terribly from it, making it necessary, as a precautionary measure, to close the schools, theaters, churches, and to forbid all public gathering within doors as well as outdoors. At last, however, the scourge has been stayed, and we are permitted again to resume the public worship of God, and to open again the schools of our city.

Now that the worst is over, I have been thinking, as doubtless you have all been, of these calamitous weeks through which we have been passing—thinking of the large numbers that have been sick—the large numbers that have died, the many, many homes that have been made desolate—the many, many bleeding, sorrowing hearts that have been left behind, and I have been asking myself the question, What is the meaning of it all? What ought it to mean to us? Is it to come and go and we be no wiser, or better for it? Surely God had a purpose in it, and it is our duty to find out, as far as we may, what that purpose is, and try to profit by it.

Among the things which stand out in my own mind, as I have been thinking the whole matter over, are these…

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Posted in Church History, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Theology

From the Morning Scripture Readings

Joseph’s…brothers also came and fell down before him, and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he reassured them and comforted them.

–Genesis 50: 18-21

Posted in Theology: Scripture