Daily Archives: November 6, 2019

(TGC) Stephen Witmer: Small-Town Pastor, Preach Bespoke Sermons

Small-town pastor, you have the privilege of preaching bespoke sermons. “Bespoke” is a word often used to describe clothing or furniture carefully crafted for a particular customer or user. It’s not mass-produced. It’s not off-the-rack. It’s made with a particular someone in mind. It fits that person perfectly. You can preach like that.

Good sermons that stay small can go where a big sermon never could. If your congregation has 85 people and you’re an even reasonably faithful pastor, you’ll know every one of them with a significant degree of familiarity. You’ll know their histories, griefs, struggles, insecurities, weaknesses, joys, and aspirations. You’ll also be attuned to how they relate to one another—where the tensions and stress points lie, what the relationships are like. You’ll have the kind of granular and overall understanding of your congregation that a big-church pastor never could. And you can preach to that. Your sermons can fit.

You can preach a sermon that would never work as a podcast. It wouldn’t fit someone living on the other side of the country, working a job that doesn’t exist in your small town. It wouldn’t fit someone with a different educational level from the people sitting in front of you. You can preach a sermon that will only fully serve these particular people in your life and in your church. In Love Big, Be Well, Winn Collier’s fictional small-town pastor Jonas McAnn says he wants to preach sermons that fit only in his town, to live a life that wouldn’t make much sense except in his own place. That’s a bespoke ministry.

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Posted in Parish Ministry, Preaching / Homiletics

(Premier) Colin Fletcher, One of longest-serving bishops, to retire

Bishop Colin added one the great challenges he’s had over the years is to do with appointments.

“I’ve now appointed a huge percentage of the clergy who work in this part of the world and something I’ve come to recognise is that you make a good appointment, both the parish the person concerned flourish,” he said.

“Make a bad appointment and both the individual and the parish suffers as a result. One of the great challenges is to really focus on those appointments and try as best we can to use prayer and discussion to get them right for all concerned.”

Bishop Colin’s work involves him supporting about 200 churches in Oxfordshire. He also has strong links with a variety of groups, such as Creation Theatre Company, Oxford Inspires and Bible Reading Fellowship.
He said one of the beauties of serving in the area is the variety of the job.

“Oxford includes areas of considerable deprivation in places like the edge of Banbury, as well as places of huge wealth in many of our villages and towns, and of course beautiful countryside all around. So every day is different,” he said.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops

(OUP Blog) Heretics to demigods: evangelicals and the American founders

As political conservatism became more secular and more wedded to classical liberal principles at the close of the nineteenth century, evangelicals left behind some of these theological scruples and lent their voices to laudatory hymns to the Founders. Their approach to the Founders became less nuanced and indistinguishable from the generic civil religion espoused by political conservatives by the mid-twentieth century.

This historical backdrop helps illuminate the bizarre spectacle of best-selling evangelical author David Barton recently maintaining that Jefferson was a bona fide evangelical. In short, two developments (among other factors) help explain the evangelical change of heart regarding Founders like Jefferson and Paine. First, evangelicals came to embrace uncritically the minimalist, laissez-faire model of the state championed by many Founders. Second, theological commitments became less important to conservative Protestants as pragmatic concerns about securing and protecting their political influence prevailed.

Uncritical nationalism and partisanship have long been temptations for Christians of every sort. Still, reflecting on their past critical engagement with the Founders can bring greater clarity to how evangelicals envisage their role in the public square today and their distinctive contribution to the larger American experiment.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Church History, Evangelicals, History, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(1st Things) John Waters–Defending the Religious Sense

I do not think that, as a community, Christians have been reflecting adequately upon what is lost in the promotion of the secular-liberal anti-ethos. In light of Smith’s and Giussani’s observations, it is notable that, whereas the neo-pagan dispensation extends maximum indulgence to certain kinds of human characteristics (sexual preference, gender “choices,” race, etc.), it increasingly withholds approval for this other “layer” of human identity. This denial is justified implicitly on the basis that religion is a “software” issue, a matter of choice, whereas the others—sex, race, etc.— are “hardware issues,” outside the control of the implicated person.

To see religion as “software” is to see things from the perspective of the skeptic, the unbeliever, from a position of hostility. We know why neo-pagans might choose to see things in that way, but more mysterious is why religious people increasingly limit their pleading to petitions for tolerance, space, freedom-to-practice, etc.

By Giussani’s analysis the religious sense is concerned not just with membership in a church, or with prescribed lists of dogmas, rules, beliefs, or theologies, but with the notion that there is an element of the human person to which only transcendent concepts are capable of providing a correspondence. Recently, Pope Francis compared the hope offered by faith to “the air we breathe,” an apt metaphor. When religious rights are suppressed, so too is the capacity of the human being—including the secular human being—to breathe fully in reality.

Religion deals with those aspects of the human that concern imagining ourselves before, during, and after our earthly existence—in and on either side of the “tunnel” of the earthly trajectory. Neo-pagan culture cherishes the human in the tunnel of this existence only. When we are dying and frightened, society offers to sedate us but refuses to do any more than “tolerate” notions of a further journey beyond this dimension. In the pope’s metaphor: Our breathing becomes subject to cultural constriction.

If the idea of “live and let live” is applied only to the right of Christians to privately believe in daft ideas, there will come a time when each of us is excluded from the protection of the human community in the context of its institutions, laws, and enabling ideas.

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Posted in Anthropology, Philosophy, Religion & Culture, Theology

(CT) The New ‘Harriet’ Biopic Is Faithful to Tubman’s Faith

Harriet Tubman is one of America’s most iconic figures, as evidenced by the proposed (and still delayed) Harriet Tubman 20-dollar bill and the new biopic Harriet, produced by Focus Features.

After she escaped slavery in 1849, Tubman worked as the only female conductor on the Underground Railroad, assisting escapees along a short route through free states. She was one of the few who at great risk entered slave-holding states to extract slaves and lead them north to freedom. Nicknamed “Moses” by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, very few knew Harriet’s real identity; most assumed a man was making these voyages. Tubman also served in the US army as a nurse, advisor, scout, and spy. Her greatest feat in the service was leading the charge that freed over 750 slaves in the Combahee River Raid in South Carolina.

The film, which covers her life from 1849 to 1864, releases nationwide this weekend. Jenny McGill spoke recently with Kate Clifford Larson, author of Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero, about the historical accuracy of the film, Tubman’s deep Christian faith, and the African American spirituals that were key to her rescue missions.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Church History, Movies & Television, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

(DMN) Joshua J. Whitfield–Are we are no longer bound together by religion, but by vacuous consumption addictions?

If religion is that which holds our attention and which binds us together, then it’s not Christianity. Christianity today is mostly just sentimentality, escapist devotion, mere identity politics and mere posture. It’s no longer religion in any genuine sense. Because what holds our attention today, what binds us together, are no longer dogma and precepts, but instead all those decadent diversions, customs and conventions of our rich but interiorly vacuous society. This is our religion today: binge-watching Netflix, consumption addictions to various social media, pornography, and the litanies of endless news, fake or otherwise. This is what we relegit, what we re-read, what holds our attention, not God or the good, the true, or the beautiful. This is the new religion, homogenizing imagination and sedating moral impulse, rendering us more pliable to the free movement of capital. This is the economic spirituality of “influence.” This is the theology of advertising.

Likewise, we also see our new religion in what schedules us. No longer rhythmed by the worship of our gods or by the earth’s seasons, now our lives are paced by the quarters of our fiscal year, by our Black Fridays, for instance, and no longer our Thanksgivings. Add to this, especially among the middle classes, the religion of sports, that countless meaningless practices and games now set the schedules for innumerable families, no longer Sabbaths or Sundays or family ties. That is truly religare. This is what binds us, not holy days, rituals or quaint moralities. More than any persecutions, these have displaced the old religions: these new screened, advertised, unstable rites and less any incarnate, old, fickle gods.

And it’s why the question for me is not how we’ll live in some new non-religious world, but about what piety and devotion looks like in this new emerging religion. But of course, this, I admit, I can’t begin to imagine, tied, as I prefer to be, to my ancient God. I just wonder if it will be a religion of charity, a religion that will either cherish or kill the poor. I wonder if it will restore or ruin the earth, if it’s a religion of equality or elites. These are the questions that haunt me as I wonder what the “nones” with their “nothing in particular” will become.

Because they must become something. I’m just frightened by what that may be.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Religion & Culture, Secularism

William Temple on Worship for His Feast Day

Both for perplexity and for dulled conscience the remedy is the same; sincere and spiritual worship. For worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of the mind with His truth; the purifying of the imagination of His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love, the surrender of the will to his purpose and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin. Yes, worship in spirit and truth is the way to the solution of perplexity and to the liberation from sin.

–William Temple Readings in St. John’s Gospel (Wilton, Connecticut: Morehouse Barlow, 1985 reprint of the 1939 and 1940 original), p. 67

Posted in Church History, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Theology

A Prayer for the Feast Day of William Temple

O God of light and love, who illumined thy Church through the witness of thy servant William Temple: Inspire us, we pray, by his teaching and example, that we may rejoice with courage, confidence and faith in the Word made flesh, and may be led to establish that city which has justice for its foundation and love for its law; through Jesus Christ, the light of the world, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Posted in Church History, Spirituality/Prayer

A Prayer to Begin the Day from Christina Rossetti

O Lord God of time and eternity, who makest us creatures of time that, when time is over, we may attain thy blessed eternity: With time, thy gift, give us also wisdom to redeem the time, lest our day of grace be lost; for our Lord Jesus’ sake.

Posted in Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Scripture Readings

And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

–Revelation 12:1-6

Posted in Theology: Scripture