“‘Study Theology, Even if you don’t Believe'”

It seems that wherever I move a certain catalogue eventually finds me. There aren’t many of these anymore, but this one, selling ‘Christian books’, shows up without fail. From it one can buy shelves of Patristic theological works for some shockingly low price. One could, though I’m not sure that it’s available, buy all of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics for less than $200 US. The sections peddling biblical commentaries have more options than a seed catalogue. That’s the exciting stuff. But along with it comes page after page selling faddish, in-substantial books written by the oddest of creatures–the Christian celebrity. CBDThe trend now seems to be that some pastor writes a popular bit of whimsy and then, when that sells well, publishes a study guide to that whimsy, and if that also sells, releases a video series. I’m biased. I admit it. I wish much of this material didn’t exist. I wish the ‘masses’ were more theologically literate; I wish theology still had a place in North American universities; I wish pastors were more apt to see theological work as a part of their calling. I wish there were more grass-roots intellectuals comfortable speaking of God and the important things of life. Tara Isabella Burton explores the value of studying theology, whether one believes or not, in The Atlantic (Oct. 30, 2013). Describing her own experience pursuing such study against the wishes of her mother, Burton writes, Read more

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Not Just another Revolution (SD #77)

The author of the Gospel according to Mark had short, stumpy fingers. At least that’s what a second-century introduction to the text said. Mark’s fingers were out of scale with the rest of his body. (He probably wasn’t much a guitar player.) These days, in the part of the world at least, we consider it bad manners to publicly describe someone by their physical appearance. The fact that the writer of the gospel according to Mark was called Stumpfingers is interesting for another reason though. It is interesting because it builds the case for the story’s authenticity. If an ancient author was going to make something up they would probably attribute it to someone more ‘perfect’—someone more ideal, someone more obviously authoritative. Read more

Speaking of God with Words and Silence (SD #76)

We had seen them going from one door to another and not getting any response. They weren’t well-dressed or enthusiastic enough to be canvasing for political reasons. They moved slowly. It was hot. They had long pants and serious faces. Then they turned and headed up our driveway. drivewayI leaned on my shovel. Already, inexplicably annoyed. The mulching would have to wait. We greeted each other solemnly, as though we each knew that eternity was at stake, life and death and God. Then came the hook, heavy, somber: one of them said, “We want to talk to you about something important, about the death of a loved one. Have you ever . . . .”

“I can see where this is going,” I interjected. “Look, I’m a pastor, I’ve thought about these things before. Your time is probably better spent with other people.” I was more than annoyed now. What right did they have to use the death of someone I loved as a sales pitch for their brand of God talk? Read more

Do We Really Need Institutions?

I’ve just completed a review essay of Jim Reimer’s book Toward an Anabaptist Political Theology: Law, Order, and Civil Society. toward and anabaptist politicalReimer didn’t complete the book before he died in 2010, but Paul Doerksen collected the essays Reimer was working with and published them in 2014 (Cascade). Reimer tries to do several things in the essays Doerksen collected. One of them, though, was to push back against the idea that institutions are unnecessary. We see this idea crop up in Christian anarchist circles, in some emergent conversations and in the suggestion that relationship with Jesus can somehow be distinguished from the practices of  ‘religion.’ Read more

Working out (of) our Calling: SD #75

Much of our lives are spent working. We are gathered at church to do the work of worship. Part of that work is to remind each other that the nightly news and the newspaper headlines fit within the world of the Bible. This week Turkish police recovered the body of a three year old boy from the beech near the town of Bodrum. This is on the eastern shore of the Agean Sea. Some two thousand years before just north of the Agean in a town called Philippi, in what is now Greece, Paul met a woman named Lydia. Shortly after Paul and his traveling companion were illegally apprehended, stripped naked in public, severely beaten and imprisoned. Read more

When it Feels like Make Believe: SD #74

Sometimes in our conversations there is a moment when someone says: Jesus“Now, let’s be honest . . . .” Have you had this happen to you? It makes you wonder about the other stuff the person has said. Is it reliable? Is it not honest? Jesus cautions us about this way of speaking in Matthew chapter five. He says, Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” Jesus’ teaching here is one of the reasons Anabaptists have been against taking oaths. If we have to “swear on a stack of Bibles” it undermines the rest of what we say. Read more