Here's an announcement about Theology After Google, a conference in March that will be of interest to progressive Christians and churches communicating theology through blogs, social networks, etc.
"Progressive Christian theologians have some vitally important things to say, things that both the church and society desperately need to hear. The trouble is, we tend to deliver our message using technologies that date back to Gutenberg: books, academic articles, sermons, and so forth. We aren't making effective use of the new technologies, social media, and social networking."
Tony Jones gives us some insights into why new technologies are important for theology.
If you plan on doing Old Testament Studies this upcoming year, let me strongly recommend The Torah: A Women's Commentary edited by Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Rabbi Andrea L. Weiss. Here is the link to three comprehensive reviews of the volume at the Review of Biblical Literature. Three characteristics that make this volume unique are:
It follows the liturgical division of Torah into 54 sections (parashah) for the public reading of Torah in they synagogue during the year (all of Torah is covered during the annual cycle of reading)
It is written by scholars who are all Jewish and who are all women
Contributors represent a variety of approaches (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, as well as unaffiliated and secular)
There are five elements that make up the commentary of each Torah portion:
The Central Commentary - scholarly exegesis of the biblical text
Another View - a short essay that supplements or challenges the central commentary
Post-biblical Interpretation - rabbinical teachings on the text
Contemporary Reflection - a section by a rabbi or adult education expert on the meaning of the text for Jews today
Voices - creative responses to the Torah section (mainly poetry)
Thanks to Judy Hancock for sending along this link to a fascinating article on the background of Nicholas of Myra and the reconstruction of his appearance by facial anthropologists using the latest in computer technology.
The Excavation Director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority said: "The discovery is of the utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth and thereby sheds light on the way of life at the time of Jesus. The building that we found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of the dwellings in Nazareth in that period. From the few written sources that there are, we know that in the first century CE Nazareth was a small Jewish village, located inside a valley. Until now a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth; however, no settlement remains have been discovered that are attributed to this period."
James Tabor from the University of North Carolina has an article up at The Bible and Interpretation on the origin of December 25 as the birth date of Jesus. And it has nothing to do with the Winter Solstice or pagan holidays. Read here.
Jewish scholar Martin Lockshin at My Jewish Learning writes about what Jews can learn from the New Testament. He writes: "It is a rich source of Jewish history, Jewish thought, Jewish law, and the history of anti-Semitism."
It is helpful to see how those outside the Christian faith tradition perceive the foundational documents of our faith. To read Martin's complete essay, click here.
We are studying portions of Torah in our Sunday morning church adult education class. Bibledex, a project of the University of Nottingham's Department of Theology and Religious Studies, now has video introductions up on each of the five books that comprise the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Take a look.
Julia O'Brien teaches at Lancaster Theological Seminary. Her website is one to bookmark. One of the features on her web page is Reading the Bible as an Adult, an ongoing series of articles on how to read the bible as a literate adult. She also blogs regularly. Make a visit when you've got a moment.
Yes, that's my excuse, and I'm sticking too it. Between the two Hs, Helzberg and Hillside, it's been difficult to find time for blogging.
At Hillside, two year end courses are finished - a four week brown bag series on 1 Corinthians and a three-week class How In the World Did Jesus Become God using Larry Hurtado's video series produced by the Wesley Ministry Network.
At Helzberg, it's December in the retail business. Enough said. But now its back to blogging.
For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.
Dr. David Allan Hubbard, former president of Fuller Theological Seminary, pointed me to the dark side of wisdom; it can and does increase sorrow.
Consider the CFO who recognizes the financial condition of her company and knows that bankruptcy is sure to follow. Or the cancer specialist who sees his own test results and the implications of what is to come.
And consider the Christian who decides to venture into the world of biblical scholarship? The same holds true. Long cherished beliefs will end. New insights will take their place. And increased sorrow is likely in relationships that won't or can't process the results of historical-critical studies.
The Nova series on PBS is running a three-part series on evolution entitled Becoming Human. If you're like me and haven't been able to catch any of the episodes, you can watch them here.
The three episodes are: 1. First Steps: Six million years ago, what set our ancestors on the path from ape to human. 2. Birth of Humanity: New discoveries reveal how early humans hunted an formed families. 3. Last Human Standing: Many human species once shared the globe. Why do we stand alone?
Old Testament professor Chris Heard at Pepperdine University is now doing podcasts on Old Testament subjects. Here the link to his blog site, Higgaion, and two podcast links to his YouTube videos. How many time do you get two free lectures on the Deuteronomisic Historian?
The first resource is the SBL's Review of Biblical Literature. It's been around for awhile, but if you haven't visited there, check it out. This site provides book reviews that cover a variety of scholarly and noteworthy studies. The reviews are substantial, usually 4 or 5 pages, and can help you determine if you should consult the book for research or add it to your library.
The second, a newer resource, is the Review of Biblical Literature Blog. Add this to your Google Reader and get a notice when new books are reviewed. When you click on the book link at this blog, you are taken to a second page with a link that will take you to the Review of Biblical Literature. You can also post a comment about the book on this second page.
I am really excited about this resource. The Society of Biblical Literature is now doing a monthly e-publication directed at teachers who teach the Bible as an elective in high school settings. This is a resource that all of us engaged in teaching the Bible should know and consult. Click here to see the first issue and make sure you save it as a favorite.
Here's a project with promise called Bibledex. Nottingham University is producing videos for YouTube on every book of the bible. Below is the one on 1 Corinthians featuring Anthony Thiselton who has written one of "the" major commentaries on the book. This short clip of eight minutes includes a look at the ruins at Corinth and some helpful insights into chapter 13, the "love chapter."
Tomorrow at Hillside we begin a four week study of 1 Corinthians. The historical importance of this book is hard to overstate. One of the apostle Paul's earliest and longest letters, the epistle shows us at mid-first century (circa 54 C.E.) what an early Gentile church was like, the problems they faced and the issues they struggled with. It provides us with the earliest account of the resurrection of Jesus and the earliest account and meaning of the Lord's Supper. If you had to pick one Pauline letter to study, this would be it.
Yesterday at Hillside, like many other congregations, we did not focus on All Saints Day. At the Progressive Revival Blog on Beliefnet, Diana Butler Bass makes the case for why progressive Christians should celebrate the day. How did your church approach All Saints Day?
I haven't mentioned a favorite CD for a while. So right now while I'm listening to "The Boss" and a group of first class musicians due folk music "Bruce style" is a good time to mention The Seeger Sessions. With accordions, fiddles, banjo, upright bass, and washboard, spirituals, Dixieland, and folk standards come together in a listening experience that gives new life to these old classics. Here's a sample from YouTube with Bruce's translation of O Mary Don't You Weep. Enjoy!
I absolutely love this quote attributed to Martin Buber at C. Orthodoxy.
What is the difference between Jews and Christians? We all await the Messiah. You believe He has already come and gone, while we do not. I therefore propose that we await Him together. And when He appears, we can ask Him: “Were you here before?”… And I hope that at that moment I will be close enough to whisper in his ear, “For the love of heaven, don’t answer.”
In one of our recent Sunday morning adult education classes, we discussed the difficulty of getting to the actual words of Jesus. Here is a short clip from National Geographic with some familiar scholarly faces to comment on Jesus, the Preacher.
Two books particularly caught my attention. The first is Richard Hughes' Christian America and the Kingdom of God. Richard, now at Messiah College and formerly at Pepperdine University, is an astute historian and one of the most knowledgeable Stone-Campbell scholars in the country. I had the pleasure of getting to know Richard many long years ago when we attended the same church in Springfield, Missouri.
The second book, The Future of Faith,is by retired Harvard professor Harvey Cox. Cox believes that fundamentalism around the world is dying and sees spirituality replacing formal religion.
Work travel and vacation have kept me away from the blog for the past three weeks. But now I should have a more regular schedule and opportunities to share. Below are links to an article that I came across in the current issue of Discipliana, published by the Disciples of Christ Historical Society.
The author is John Mark Hicks, Professor of Theology at Lipscomb University, a Church of Christ institution. The complete title of the article is Quiet Please: Churches of Christ in the Early Twentieth Century and the "Woman Question." I found the online version at the author's blog site.
The heart of the article is how the Tennessee Stone-Campbell Churches (in the process of separating from Northern Disciples) was significantly shaped by the "Cult of True Womanhood" or "Cult of Domesticity" that influenced large segments of the American population in the late 19th century. It became the dominant view in Churches of Christ, having first been baptized in the selected proof texts from Scripture.
Here is John's blog site. An here are the links to the five segments of his article: Part 1; Part 2; Part3; Part 4; Part 5. This is an excellent article and a vivid reminder of how culture can shape our understanding of scripture.
. . . a Biblical Studies Carnival that is. A Carnival provides links to many of the key articles on the web related to biblical studies during the month. This is a great way to catch up with current discussions and find new blogs to explore. Hosted by rotating bibliobloggers, Carnival #46 is found at the Hebrew and Greek Reader site.
Mark Goodacre calls attention to the Oxyrhynchus Hymn, the earliest known manuscript of a Christian hymn containing lyrics and musical notation. It dates to the 3rd century. The initial post is credited to the Perspective blog of Crystal.
This video is showing up on a number of sites. I first saw the post on James McGrath's Exploring Our Matrix blog. Watch the video and in 4 minutes you'll be prepared to write your own systematic theology to rival that of Barth or Brunner or even revJohn!
If you have access to a copy of the JPS Study Bible, make sure you read the essay by Jonathan Klawans entitled Concepts of Purity in the Bible. These ritual impurity laws are found primarily in Leviticus and Numbers and are baffling to most modern readers.
Klawans helps distinguish the concepts of holy, common, pure, and impure, often radically misinterpreted in Christian circles. According to Klawans, there are three distinct characteristics of ritual impurity:
The sources of ritual impurity are natural and more or less unavoidable.
It is not sinful to contract these impurities
The impurities can convey an impermanent contagion to people and to many items within close proximity.
These laws were not a primitive desire to avoid dirt or disease. Those who contacted the impurity were not considered dirty and were not socially stigmatized.
Today's Parade Magazine asks the above question and goes on to answer it based on a poll of over 1,000 adult respondents. Here is the online article and the detailed results. A few statistics that caught my eye:
The validity of religion 12% said that their own religion was the only true faith 12 % said no religion has validity 59% said all religions are valid
Attends a religious service 27% - Weekly 14% - A few times a year 50% - Rarely or never
Why communion weekly? For Disciples, it just something we do, almost intuitively.
Bill Tammeus, former Faith columnist for the Kansas City Star, has a recent post on the role of communion in the Reformed Tradition. He makes a plea for weekly communion to his own denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA.
To see his argument reminds those in the Stone-Campbell tradition that this part of our theology we got right!
No, not the movie with Charlton Heston as Moses. It's a new series on Nightline about the commandments with a website you might find interesting. Here is an example of the various video segments - this one on keeping the Sabbath, featuring the Chick-fil-A franchise. It's quite the combination of business acumen, evangelicalism, pietism, and the bible. Watch the video here.
The book of Exodus has three distinct parts: 1) Escape from Egypt(the Exodus); Giving of the Law (the national covenant); and 3) the Tabernacle. Two concepts that surface in Exodus are the notions of sacred time (sabbath, passover) and sacred space (tabernacle).
This lead me to Ken Burns. I hope you got to see his opening episode on PBS of The National Parks: America's Best Idea. That opening episode was called The Scripture of Nature. It looks at how the idea of national park was in many ways a religious quest. John Muir, founder and first president of the Sierra Club, wrote of Yosemite Valley (circa 1870) that it was "by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature that I was ever permitted to enter . . .the sanctum sanctorum of the Sierra"
So are there holy places in this world. Christians have affirmed that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, but beyond that do believe that there is sacred space in this world? And have you experience sacred space?
The covenant with Abraham is not the earliest covenant recorded in Torah. An earlier covenant is found in Genesis 9, one made with Noah and his descendants. This covenant is for all time and is for all humanity. And it includes every living creature.
*According to the Talmud, all humanity is obligated by seven commandments: 1)establish courts of justice; 2)refrain from blaspheming the God of Israel; and refrain from 3)idolatry; 4) sexual perversion; 5) bloodshed; 6) robbery; 7) and not eat meat cut from a living animal. Gentiles who honor these commandments can meet with God's approval. (*From the Jewish Study Bible, p. 25)
Perhaps Christian who operate under Grace are also to operate under at least some Law as well.
Today at sunset marks the beginning of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Here is the biblical injunction:
Mark, the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: you shall practice self-denial, and you shall bring an offering by fire to the Lord; you shall do no work throughout that day. For it is a Day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God. (Lev 23:27-28)
As a devout Jew, this would have been the holiest day of the year for Jesus of Nazareth. Would you assume that he believed, based on the Torah passage above, that expiation for sin was made on his behalf on this day?
We are one class away from completing our Wednesday evening class on reading the bible with Jesus. We are looking at Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Here is a quick look at Genesis. The book is often read for it's account of creation or the story of Noah. But it is really is a book about a covenant. God and Abraham enter into a covenant, an everlasting covenant. The promise associated with the covenant includes descendants and land (Canaan). Here then is the basic structure of this Genesis six-pack:
When the book of Genesis ends, the descendant of the promise are enslaved in Egypt. The sequel is Exodus.
Why does love fade for some but endure for others? Perhaps we have unreal expectations about love and our beloved, not seeing the person for who s/he really is (warts and all). Singer/songwriter John Prine teams with the marvelous Iris DeMent to show how love can triumph in spite of ourselves. Hope you're not offended by some of the lyrics! O well, that's love.
Judy Hancock contributes another post on the Stone-Campbell Movement, this time with brief sketches of a few of the women who contributed to the growth and vitality of the movement during the early years. How many of these women and their contribution have you heard of?
Even before the union of Stone and Campbell, widely differing practices existed regarding the roles of women in the church. The recognition of women ministers and evangelists may seem to us like a recent phenomenon, but our early leaders discussed the subject endlessly, passionately debating hard-to-interpret biblical passages. Though we rarely hear their stories, women in the earliest years of the tradition preached, exhorted, taught, and testified, especially among those Churches of Christ associated with Barton Stone.
Nancy Towle, a young New Hampshire schoolteacher, was such a woman of faith. Without support from either family or friends, she set out in 1821 as an itinerant evangelist, traveling over 10,000 miles in fourteen years of preaching. “I have ever believed that in Christ Jesus they are one, both male and female,” she explained, “and that according to both the Old and New Testaments, holy women, as well as holy men of God, were wont to speak as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Toward the end of her ministry, Towle reflected on the “growing evils” in the world, one of which she saw as the “excluding of female gifts from the Church of God, which I view as an occasion of great provocation and immense loss to the Church of the Lord Jesus throughout.”
Nancy Cram, originally a missionary among the Oneida Indians, became a successful and well-known “female preacher” of her day. At least seven of her male converts went on to become respected preachers in the Stone Movement. Abigail Roberts, a convert of Nancy Cram, began her own preaching ministry in 1816. She preached in out-of-the-way places, often every day for weeks at a time, sometimes against bitter opposition. Once a woman became so angry with her that the woman urged her husband to seize the “female preacher” and gag her, so that she might be tarred and feathered.
Nancy Mulkey, the daughter of Kentucky preacher, John Mulkey, joined the Stone Movement shortly after the turn of the 19th century. Nancy served as an exhorter in her father's congregation but soon became well known for her own powerful sermons. Isaac Jones described how, “she would arise with zeal in her countenance and fire in her eyes, and with a pathos that showed the depth of her soul and would pour forth an exhortation which neither father nor brother could equal.” In 1810 Joseph Thomas also witnessed her powerful preaching and declared it to be “surely by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
Mary Graft, Mary Morrison, and Mary Ogle, lovingly known as “The Three Marys,” also hold a respected place in Stone-Campbell history. Soon after the three women were baptized, they resolved “to make the Word of God their only rule of life and faith.” They began meeting together regularly for prayer, singing, and the study of Scripture. Following a visit from Thomas Campbell in 1828, they adopted the name “Disciples of Christ” and set out to evangelize their community of Somerset, Pennsylvania. Devoting themselves to preaching the gospel and baptizing converts, they established the Somerset Christian Church, which grew to over 500 members by 1840.
Alexander Campbell, himself, opposed female preaching, but reluctantly agreed that women did have a role in “the ancient order” of the church. In 1835 he wrote, “From Romans 16:1 and 1 Timothy 3:11, it appears that females were constituted deaconesses in the primitive church.” It followed, then, that they should have a place in the restored church. Campbell's editorial associate, W. K. Pendleton, wrote in 1848 that it was “generally regarded, among our brethren, as an essential element in the restoration of primitive order, to ordain, in every church, both deacons and deaconesses.” Deaconesses were also included in John R. Howard's list of “original marks” of the true Church of Christ. In addition to serving as deaconesses, women also participated in the worship service of some of the early Campbell churches. Alexander Campbell's own “Model for Worship,” directs the worship presider to call on either a “brother” or a “sister” at the appropriate time to lead congregational prayer or give the scripture reading.
Churches of Christ have lost touch with this part of their history. While churches in the north began to ordain female ministers beginning in 1888, the southern part of the movement, being more agrarian, has resisted this. Southern churches almost universally accepted the place assigned to women by the dominant culture of Victorian America rather the biblical presentation of women in charge of both the home and the family business.
Last evening at sunset began Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. To learn more of the significance of this day, check out Judaism 101 here. The origin of the holiday is found in Leviticus 23:24-25. One of the customs associated with this day is eating apples dipped in honey, a symbol of the hope for a good new year.
The work of older scholars are seldom talked about. This past Sunday our adult education teacher, Bill Geary, mentioned the name of German scholar Joachim Jeremias. Jeremias, a Lutheran, was appointed to the chair of New Testament studies at the University of Gottingen in 1935 and taught there until his retirement in 1968. His writings have greatly influenced New Testament studies and anyone interested in "Jesus studies" should know his work. Three books in particular that Disciples should have in their library include:
The Eucharistic Words of Jesus
New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus
Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus: An Investigation int Economic and Social Conditions During the New Testament Period
You have only to read Jeremias' Theology to be convinced that Jesus used 'Abba consistently as an address to God.
At the heart of the synoptic question is the discussion on the hypothetical source document "Q." Did it exist or is it a scholarly construct? Here are two contemporary scholars who come to completely different conclusions: John Kloppenborg (Q - Yes) and Mark Goodacre (Q - No).
Our Sunday morning adult education class has spent several weeks thinking about the literary connection between the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Here are two excellent online resources for synoptic studies: 1. Stephen C. Carlson's Synoptic Problem Website, see especially his FAQ section 2. Mahlon Smith's A Synoptic Gospel Primer
Our Wednesday night adult education is called Reading the Bible with Jesus. The idea is to take a look at the meta-narratives of the first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament and to think about how a devout Jew such as Jesus would understand those stories. Last week we looked at Genesis and the Abraham saga. The primary theme: covenant.
What would belief in the Abrahamic covenant mean to Jesus? Circumcision. Yes. What else? How about the concept of "being chosen." Take a look at the three key narratives about Abraham in Genesis: Chapter 12:1-8, Chapter 15, and Chapter 17.
Walter Brueggemann in his Genesis commentary speaks of "vertical exclusiveness" and "horizontal inclusiveness." Abraham committed to the God of the covenant, and he was to be a blessing to the nations. Sound a lot like how Jesus responded to the question: What is the greatest commandment: #1 - Love God (vertical) and #2 Love your Neighbor (horizontal).
What does it mean for Christians to understand themselves as chosen?
April DeConick is "mad as hell" and she's "not going to take it any more." A comment about how few women are doing blogging on the bible really upset her. She comments here on gender bias in the workplace, the church, and the world of scholarship. I'm especially interested in her comments on the apostle Paul, who she sees as engaging in a form of patriarchy in Corinth that attempted to subordinate women to men. Having just taught a Sunday adult class on 1 Corinthians in which I defended Paul against the charge of sexism, I'm wondering what others think of Paul's remarks at Corinth. I took his remarks both to the men and women at Corinth as an attempt to protect them from the danger of disregarding Roman cultural standards.
Judy Hancock provides a second installment on the Stone-Campbell Movement with a sketch of Barton W. Stone.
Barton W Stone would become another principal leader of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Stone was already deeply involved in his own reform movement in western Kentucky several years before the Campbells arrived in America. Born in Port Tobacco, Maryland in 1772, Stone grew up on the Virginia frontier, where he experienced the religious revivalism that broke out periodically on the American frontier. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister at the age of 26, he was assigned to a church at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, where he organized and participated in the largest and most famous camp meeting revival of what American historians call the Second Great Awakening.
As Scotch-Irish Presbyterians immigrated to America, they brought with them the practice of the communion festival. These communion festivals became the highlight of the church year, with people coming from miles around to attend. A wave of such revivals swept through southern Kentucky in the early 1800s, culminating with a camp meeting near the small community of Cane Ridge on August 7, 1801. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people of all faiths converged on the area, where fiery sermons were preached day and night, often simultaneously, at different stations throughout the neighboring woods. The revival continued for almost a week with nearly a 1000 conversions. Stone, who had participated in the preaching, became convinced that it was the direct work of the Holy Spirit that moved men and women to put aside denominational divisions and join in Christian unity. Unity would emerge, he believed, only as the Holy Spirit worked in human hearts, transforming people into God's new creation.
In the years following Cane Ridge, tensions over revivalism escalated as conservative members of Stone's sect deemed the revivals disorderly and excessive. In late 1803, Stone and five other pro-revival ministers broke away to form their own association, the Springfield Presbytery. Nine months later, however, they disbanded, publishing a declaration of their intention to put aside all denominationalism in order to merge into the universal body of Christ. The declaration, entitled The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, reads in part, "We will that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body and one spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling." In that spirit, they formally renounced all names but "Christian" and all creeds but the Bible.
Three central themes marked Stone's vision of non-denominational Christianity. First was the restoration of simple New Testament Christianity. Second was the unity of all believers based on a return to the Bible and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Third was the freedom of individuals to understand Scripture for themselves, free of all coercive human creeds and traditions. Stone suffered a great deal of persecution from his Presbyterian friends because of his innovative ideals, but under his leadership, the new "Christian" movement grew substantially throughout Kentucky. By 1823 it numbered over 15,000 members.
At that time, Stone's "Christians" knew little or nothing of Alexander Campbell's "Disciples." Later that year, however, Campbell's movement entered Kentucky, where he preached at one of Stone's churches. Soon after, in 1824, the two men met for the first time. Although they would have lasting doctrinal differences, Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell held each other in high esteem. Both sought a pure faith grounded in the Bible alone; both abhorred division among Christians. On January 1, 1832, the two groups came together in Lexington, Kentucky, where they issued a declaration of unity and thus began the Stone-Campbell Movement.
New Testament scholar and self-designated agnostic, Bart Ehrman, has a new web site. Check out the multi-media tab that includes a number of items of interest. Two of note: 1. An audio of Ehrman's debate here in KC at Midwestern Baptist on the topic: "Is the Resurrection of Christ Provable?" Bart doesn't think so. 2. A video interview at U C Berkley on his book on suffering - God's Problem.
Phil Harland at Religions of the Mediterranean has a near-complete Series on the Historical Jesus, with episodes conveniently gathered into a single post. Two episodes of particular interest for me are on the differing portraits of Jesus by scholars E. P. Sanders and John Dominic Crossan. Check out the series here.
You may not want to read 800,000 pages on Alexander Campbell (see previous post). So here guest blogger Judy Hancock provides a brief sketch. This, and a future post on Barton Stone, comes from a series of articles for the Tammany Oaks Church of Christ in Madisonville, LA, as they prepare to host a Great Communion service on October 2 for local Stone-Campbell churches, including Disciples of Christ.
Twenty-one-year-old Alexander Campbell joined his father in America in October, 1809, just as the Declaration and Address went to press. Like his father, Alexander had become increasingly dissatisfied with the sectarianism he saw dividing the church. Under his father's guidance, he plunged into an intensive study and pledged himself to the unifying principles set forth in his father's document. The Declaration and Address would become the driving force of his life's work.
Licensed to preach by the Brush Run church in Pennsylvania, Alexander had already be-come a recognized leader of the reform movement by 1815. His work centered on the foundational principles initiated by this father: 1) that the church ought to be without sectarian divisions, and 2) that the church was divided because “human opinions” had been added to the practice of the early church as revealed in the New Testament. Like his father, Alexander believed that the restoration of simple New Testament Christianity (primitive Christianity) was the only means to unify all Christians. Wanting to abandon denominational labels, they used biblical names for followers of Jesus that they found in the Bible. Among these names, Campbell preferred to call his group the “Disciples of Christ.”
Both father and son, as did many in colonial America, accepted the thinking of John Locke and other philosophers, who championed empirical reason and the scientific method. Thus Campbell believed that by applying this method to the Bible, religion could be “reduced to a set of essentials upon which all reasonable persons might agree.” “The Bible,” he argued, “is a book of facts, not opinions, theories or abstract generalities.” In his view, the young Campbell saw the Bible as a kind of scientific manual or technical blueprint, laying out in precise, factual detail the structure of church order. History shows how problematic this approach is, but it was Campbell’s starting point.
Because he focused on the order and worship of the primitive church (the “ancient order of things,” as he called it), Campbell did not center his study on Jesus and the Gospels. In-stead he majored in the latter part of the New Testament, the Book of Acts and especially Paul’s letters as these seem to provide more information useful to the reconstitution of the New Testament Church. Over time, the “gospel” began to be defined in terms of law and pattern for the organization and worship of the church. Not everyone within the movement agreed. Campbell's close friend, Robert Richardson, lamented that “people confuse trust in a living savior with belief in certain doctrines.” Robertson's words still ring true today as he reminds us that “Christ is not a doctrine, but a person, and at its heart, Christian faith centers on a person, not a body of doctrines.”
As the pivotal leader of the movement his father started, Alexander Campbell never lost sight of the hope that the restoration of primitive Christianity would bring Christian unity, which, in turn, would hasten the return of Christ. By the end of his life, he had shifted his direction and embraced an even broader vision of unity, seeking “a common Christianity…in which all good men of all denominations agreed.”
Eva Jean Wrather was Alexander Campbell's modern-day biographer. At her death in 2001, she had written over 800,000 words about Campbell, covering over 3,200 pages. Duane Cummins, past president of Bethany College and past Moderator of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), acted as her editor, before and after her death, to structure her research and writing into a three-volume work entitled Alexander Campbell: Adventurer in Freedom.
I received an email notice this week from Amazon saying that Volume 3 has now been published. Here's the ground covered in each: Volume 1: the early years Volume 2: the Christian Baptist years - 1823 to 1830 Volume 3: Campbell's later years
Want to know what Disciples are thinking and writing about around the country? Disciple World has a listing of approximately 50 DOC bloggers. If you don't have time for the entire list, here are a few samples of Disciple diversity:
Thinking of web sites, here is a reminder to visit Disciple World, A Journal of News, Opinion, and Mission for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) See there, the article by Verity Jones called "A Beautiful Tapestry of Diversity."
Jones and Disciple World co-editor, Sherri Wood Emmons, also have a new blog called Between the Lines. Check it out here.
Thanks to Tony Karrer at eLearning Technology for posting this YouTube video on Social Media. It speaks to the communication revolution happening around us and to us. And of course there are major implications for the church.
Excavations at Masada found 11 inscribed potsherds (ostraca) containing individual names. One of the names, ben Ya'ir, is believed to be that of Eleazar ben Ya'ir, leader of the Masada defenders (see above).
Josephus provides an account of how the defenders and their families chose to take their own lives rather than submit to the Romans who were on the verge of taking their stronghold. Lots (potsherds with names printed on them) were cast to determine which Jewish soldiers would take the lives of the others. This decision technique provides insight into Luke's account of the selection of the replacement for Judas through the casting of lots in Acts 1.
For more about the last days at Masada, including part of the Josephus account, read Ehud Netzer's article from Biblical Archaeology Review by clicking here.
Garr Reynolds' book, Presentation Zen, has had a big impact on how I think and use PowerPoint. Reynolds, like most of us, has experienced "death by PowerPoint" and his book is a call to recognize basic design principles, focusing on concepts, not bulleted lists. On Sunday, I used PowerPoint and Reynold's ideas in delivering the sermon at Hillside. Here are a few slides that supported the scriptural exposition of Acts 1:21-26:
The graphics seemed to help listeners to follow my presentation. But I'm not the best one to judge.
April DeConick has begun her new series on Christological development during the 2nd and 3rd centuries called Jesus on the Road to Nicaea. In this initial installment, she summarizes the three earliest paradigms discussed in her previous series on Creating Jesus.
I'm always delighted when one of the biblioblogging professors provides us with course outlines and reading resources. James McGrath has links to his courses on the Bible and the Historical Jesus. It's always helpful to see the reading lists and course structure. And the Historical Jesus syllabus is quite extensive with lecture notes and links to online resources.
Gary Hamel, best-selling business writer and Wall Street Journal blogger, recently spoke at Willow Creek Community Church's Leadership Summit. There he suggested that organizations lose their relevance when their rate of internal change lags the pace of external change.
In the above titled blog post, Hamel argues that the church's problem is not atheism, materialism, skepticism, etc. Rather the church's "management problem" is INERTIA!
And he rhetorically asks what forces of inertia are keeping us (organizations) from changing as fast as we need to. What would be my congregation's response? Our Disciple leaders' response? Your response?
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one of the major mainline Protestant denominations, voted on Friday, August 21, at their national Assembly to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in a committed relationship. The vote was 559 to 451 or approximately 55% of the total. (See details here.)
It remains to be seen if this vote will prove as divisive to the Lutheran community as it has in the Episcopal fellowship.
If your church should vote on the issue, what do you think the percentage for/against would be? If Disciples had voted on the issue at our recent General Assembly, what would have been the result?
Jim Burklo at The Center for Progressive Christianity asks "Who is your Jesus" in light of the difficulty in ascertaining the "historical Jesus." Whether you agree or disagree with his historical skepticism, his musings on how we give meaning to Jesus in our present day is worth pondering.
One of the values of blogging is that you can get immediate feedback. Indirectly, a reader who is a minister suggested the post on Apostolic Succession did not properly account for the role of prayer in the selection of Matthias. And I would agree with him. Here's why.
A well documented characteristic of Luke's writing is his emphasis on prayer. A generalizing summary in Acts 1:14 is designed to show the early community's devotion to prayer, and this is followed by another summary in Acts 2:42 that also includes prayer.
Since these summaries do not provide specifics, the historical context and manner of their prayer life is difficult to judge. What did Luke have in mind when he composed these summaries? Did he think of private prayers (Mt. 6:6)? Corporate prayers as in the synagogue? Recitation of the Lord's prayer (as in in Luke 9:2-4)? Temple prayer at the time of sacrifice (Acts 3:1)? All of the above?
Luke surely wanted us to see the devotion of these first disciples. That's what makes the "casting of lots" episode in Acts 1:21-26 all the more interesting. No specifics of prayer are provided other than 1) it is addressed to the Lord and 2) it is offered in conjunction with the casting of lots. And the story concludes with the lot falling on Matthias.
Luke seems to witness to a time when the use of lots was still seen as a viable way of discerning the will of God (Proverbs 16:33), even a community who devoted themselves to God in prayer.
Question: Is the "Lord" in Acts 1:24 a reference to Jesus or God?
Scholars are trained to communicate what they "think" about the Bible. Rarely do we get know what they "feel" about scripture. So here's a chance to have one biblical scholar, James Tabor, share his appreciation for our ancient texts and why he is drawn to the Hebrew prophets and put off by early Christianity, especially the systematic interpretations of Paul and the Gospel of John.
The Disciples of Christ Historical Society has established a task force and an official website to promote the celebration of World Communion Day on October 4 in a special way. The plan is for all three wings of the Stone-Campbell movement to share communion, worship together, and remember our common heritage. In this video clip, Doug Foster from Abilene University who chairs the task force shares the history and significance of this opportunity.
Here is a very insightful map that shows clearly where Stone-Campbell membership reside. Click here to see a larger image. Restoration Christians includes Disciples of Christ, Churches of Christ, and Christian Churches. It's clear that we haven't progressed all that much geographically from our frontier days.
One of the odd stories about the origin of the Christian Church that is provided in the Book of Acts is the selection of a replacement for the traitor, Judas. The story found in Acts 1:21-25 narrates the importance of choosing a replacement, and the process to choose the new 12th man. There appears to be only one criteria for selection--the individual must have been a disciple of Jesus who had been with him from the time of his baptism to his ascension.
Two men were brought forward, Matthias and Justus, and Matthias was selected by casting lots. No prayers, no fasting, no spiritual discernment. He was selected rather by a game of chance. And the outcome was deemed the will of God!
In my opinion, the law of probability was at work here, not the will of God.
Post Script: I should point out that there was really a second criteria for apostolic succession in the Acts account--the candidate must be "male." Again, in my opinion, that was a cultural criteria and had nothing to do with God's will. In other words, the Bible neither teaches that "rolling dice" is a method for strategic decision making in the church nor that only men are qualified to hold leadership positions in the church of Christ.
Because of the focus on right and wrong in many Cowboy songs, Bill G. asked in the comments of the previous post: "Are cowboys Calvinists?" While Calvinist traces are certainly evident as Bill has noted (think of the Calvinist work ethic in When the Works All Done Next Fall), the evidence suggests a broader ecumenical outlook, tinged with Eastern mysticism. For your consideration:
1. Many cowboys eschewed instrumental music, even the lowly harmonica, and instead utilized the acapella yodel to calm a restless herd. This suggests a close connection with the Church of Christ. 2. Tyin' Knots in the Devil's Tail shows an affinity with Assembly of God theology. 3. Happy Trails seem a clear tie to the positive thinking of the Unity movement here in Kansas City. 4. Cool Water, when read metaphorically, is a Baptist song, calling for water sufficient for total immersion. 5. Open fellowship around the campfire (Blazing Saddles anyone) is certainly an inclusive approach fostered by Disciples 6. And finally, this poem by Wallace McCrae called Reincarnation shows how cowboys could incorporate Eastern religious thinking into their view of life and death:
"What is reincarnation?" A cowboy asked his friend. His friend replied "Well Son, it happens when your life has reached its end. You see, they comb your hair and they wash your neck and they clean your fingernails. And they put you down in a batted box far away from life's prevails. Now the box and you goes in a hole that's been dug into the ground. And reincarnation starts when you're planted beneath the mound. You see the box melts down just like the clods with you who is inside. And then, you're just beginning your transformation ride".
"Well, in a while some rain's gonna come and fall upon the ground. 'Til one day on your lonely little grave, a little flower will be found. And say a hoss should wander by and graze upon the flower that once was you but now becomes a vegetative bower. That little flower that the hoss done ate up with all his other feed becomes bone and fat and muscle, essentials for the steed. But some he's consumed, he can't use. So it passes through. Finally it lays there on the ground, this thing that once was you.
And then say that I should wander by and gaze upon the ground. And wonder and ponder on this object that I've found. Well it sure makes me think of reincarnation, of life and death and such. And I ride away concludin' - You ain't changed all that much"
This leads me to believe that cowboys were not Calvinist! But I could be wrong.
BluefishTV has a great video clip that Ben Witherington has posted. What if ESPN covered church services. Here's just what it might look/sound like. I especially like the introduction of ministers. Perhaps we should consider this at Hillside. (Hope you're ready for a chuckle.)
In 1959, Marty Robbins released Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, an instant classic. The cut, El Paso, was a big hit, but for my taste Big Iron was the better song. So with that in mind, what are the greatest Western songs of all time. Here's my top ten (in no particular order):
1. Big Iron - Marty Robbins 2. Cattle Call - Eddie Arnold 3. Back in the Saddle Again - Gene Autry 4. Tumbling Tumble Weed - Sons of the Pioneers 5. Ghost Riders in the Sky - tie Johnny Cash and Riders in the Sky 6. Charlie and the Boys - Sons of the San Joaquin 7. My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys - Willie Nelson 8. Cowboy Logic - Michael Martin Murphy 9. San Antonio Rose - Bob Wills 10. I Want a Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart - Patsy Montana Bonus: Mommas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys - Waylon and Willie
Since cowboy songs are the purest form of theological reflection, let me hear your list. Be prepared to defend your cowboy theology!
The Jesus Creed has started a multi-part series on Genesis 1 based on the new book by Wheaton professor John Walton entitled The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Walton asks and attempts to answer the question: "What did the text mean in context?"
He sees evangelical creation science as misguided and rightly suggests that this text reflects an ancient cosmology and should not be taken as a scientific explanation for the origin of the universe. Walton is an evangelical and his criticism of much evangelical thinking in regard to Genesis is interesting to observe.
Here's the bad news. April DeConick is bringing to an end her Creating Jesus series. Number 24 is simply titled "Transmutative Soteriology." OK it may not be simple, but it's helpful in tracing the development of Christological thinking in the early church.
Here's the good news. Jesus on the Road to Nicea, a new series of posts, will give us April's take on theological reflections on the person of Jesus in the second century through the Council of Nicea (325 CE).
Bob Cornwall is a Disciples pastor at Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Troy, Michigan. He is an active blogger, and his Ponderings on a Faith Journey is worth keeping in touch with. This post on Wholeness and Unity will give you a flavor for his work. I think it's helpful to check in with other Disciples in the "blogosphere" to better gauge what's going on in our denomination.
As many students head back to school, this chart of miscellaneous facts about the current state of public education by the folks at Good seems timely. Among the interesting facts, Louisiana has the worst 8th grade reading scores among the states. 83% of students were in the "below proficient" category. Another: the smallest statewide enrollment goes to Wyoming with 84,409 students.
How did you spend your day? A couple of hours studying theology? Yeah, me neither. But the American Time Use Survey asked thousands of Americans to examine how they spend their time. Check out the results by various demographics at this very interactive New York Times post. While you're there, read the related article.
Michael Kinnamon used the words of Peter Ainslie in addressing the Council of Christian Unity and the Disciples of Christ Historical Society at the 2009 General Assembly. Kinnamon fears we are in grave danger of losing our identity as Disciples. According to Disciples News Service, he called on Disciples to do the following:
1. Model our beliefs in our life, especially our justice and anti-racism beliefs 2. Welcome all brothers and sisters, including the gay and lesbian community 3. Teach our beliefs to future generations 4. Support and lift up our identity
If you're not familiar with the Progressive Revival blog, here's a chance to check it out. Diana Butler Bass co-authors the posts there. You may know her from her books. Get to know her better and learn more about a progressive Christian approach to faith, values, and politics. This post looks at the value of "slow words" in light of the recent Gates affair.
Scott McKnight begins an extended look at Acts and Mission at the Jesus Creed blog. He promises that the study could last months. Sounds like some of the bible studies I've been a part of or taught. Stone-Campbell churches love to study Acts. Let's check on Scott periodically to see how he handles some of our favorite passages from Luke's second volume.
Cox is a Christian and teaches at Harvard Divinity School. You may member his best seller from many years ago, The Secular City. After a failed first marriage, Cox remarried a Wellesley professor who was Jewish. They both retained their respective faith traditions and decided to raise the child from their marriage in the Jewish faith.
In Common Prayers, you hear the reflections of a Christian theologian who, through his personal life, comes to new insights into Jewish tradition and the lessons they provide to Christians. Organized around the major Jewish holidays, each chapter is a stand-alone essay on faith that helps us to better understand Judaism and our own Christian journey.
How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Lamentations 1:1-2
Last Thursday on Jewish calendars marked Tisha B'Av (the 9th of Av). Both the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE by the Babylonians and the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in 70 CE are believed to have occurred on this date. To understand the significance of this event for modern Jews, see these links to Judaism 101 and My Jewish Learning.
It's almost time for school to begin. Hard to believe. So to get you into a back-to-school mind frame, click here to see Learn-gasm's list of 100 Ivy-League literature courses we can take for free online. Note #9 on the list--The Bible, offered by MIT. #23 seems interesting. Which one would you consider taking?
In the near future, I would like for us to look at 1 Corinthians 15. Here Paul discusses his understanding of resurrection, one of the central tenants of the Christian faith. As a precursor to this, here is a helpful podcast by Duke professor Mark Goodacre on resurrection and the after life in Paul. It's about 9 1/2 minutes long and provides a good jumping-off point for our study.
Want to read one of the classic documents from the Stone-Campbell movement? Or check out a portrait/picture gallery of leading Disciples? Maybe peruse a biography? Then visit the Restoration Movement website and discover a wealth of historical treasures. Let me know what you found interesting in your visit.
Dale Allison's new book is a gem. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus is not another scholarly "Jesus book," providing a "new" portrait of the real Jesus. Rather he asks: What is the religious implications of the quest for the historical Jesus.
This is no sappy "just read your bible." After all he is one of the premier critical New Testament scholars. And his three volume work on the Gospel of Matthew is at top of most commentary recommendation lists. Nor is this a" faith is foolish" tome. Rather, reading this book is like sitting around a cracker barrel at an old general store and listing to wise old expert tell you "what s/he has learned over the years.
It is, Allison, says "my personal testimony to doubt seeking understanding." And again: "the unexamined Christ is not worth having." The open chapter provides a warning to those who put the historical Jesus of modern scholarship to theological use." And it only get better from there. At only a little over 100 pages, this is a reminder that book does not have to have 800 page in order to challenge and inform. I highly recommend this book!
Here' s one good reason why I'm glad to be a Disciple. Yesterday at Hillside's 10:30 am worship:
At the Communion Table . . .
Melissa led the prayer for our offering
Sue handled the communion meditation and words of institution
Sheryl offered thanks for the bread and cup
Three women lay members led the congregation in celebrating the Lord's Supper. It was not a special occasion; it was not lay Sunday; it was not because ordained minsters were missing. It was just Sunday, and those asked to serve just happened to be women, just happened to be lay members.
It was an ordinary Sunday for a fellowship that really believes in the priesthood of ALL believers!
Here are three graphs I created from the data utilized by David Edwin Harrell to demonstrate reasons for the Church of Christ - Disciples of Christ division in 1906. From my vantage point, these statistics give clear indication of the social pressures that manifested themselves in the theological wranglings of the division. Besides the North-South polarization, economics and rural/urban dynamics surely played a significant role.
The first chart looks at average church building value:
The second looks at the average value of property in five selected states:
The third chart looks at rural verses urban membership percentages:
I'm writing this blog entry while listening to Rhonda Vincent and similar bluegrass artists on Pandora. Here's the concept: create an account (email and password) and then enter an artist or song. Pandora will steam music of the chosen artist along with similar artists in that musical genre.
What could be better? Reading revJohn and listening to your favorite music. Check out Pandora here, pick an artist, and come back for some exciting blogs. While you're gone, I'll finish listening to Ricky Skaggs.
In 1966, David Edwin Harrell, Jr. published Volume One of his social history of the Disciples of Christ. Entitled Quest For a Christian America: The Disciples of Christ and American Society to 1866. Looking at factors that would lead eventually to the rending of the Stone-Campbell Movement into Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ, Harrell shows how economic issues, slavery, and sectionalism led to church schism. Harrell argues convincingly that the division was "basically a North-South division (although rural-urban and other factors are important." (p. 132)
From Harrell's view and against many Disciple historians before him, the Civil War played a major role in the rupture of the fellowship. The church in the North (Disciples) following the war "committed to a more denominational and socially active concept of Christianity." The church in the South (Churches of Christ) emerged from the war "more strongly than ever committed to the extreme sectarian emphasis in Disciples thought." (p. 173)
1973 saw the publication of Volume 2, The Social Sources of Division in the Disciples of Christ, 1865 - 1900. Both volumes provide a wealth of information and illuminating insights into our heritage. Members of the Stone-Campbell tradition still have much to learn from Harrell's work.
I want you to know the name David Edwin Harrell, Jr. He is arguably the premier historian of the Stone-Campbell Movement. His work focuses on what Disciples thought and did on social subjects, unlike most Disciple histories which examine our theological convictions. In 1964, his article, The Sectional Origins of the Churches of Christ, appeared in The Journal of Southern History. An abridged version of the articles was subsequently published in Mission Journal in 1980. Here's how the latter begins:
One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Churches of Christ from their beginning has been the marked sectional distribution of the membership. According to the 1906 religious census, 101,734 of the churches 159,658 members lived in the eleven former states of the Confederacy. Another 30,206 lived in the four border states of Kentucky, West Virginia, Missouri, and Oklahoma. The only state north of the Ohio River to have a membership of over 5,000 was Indiana. . . .
These statistics are even more striking when compared with the membership distribution of the more liberal wing of the movement, that listed in the 1906 census as the Disciples of Christ. Only 138,703 of the total Disciples' membership of nearly a million lived in the eleven southern states. Excluding Virginia and North Carolina, where the liberal Disciples won virtually all of the churches, the group had a total membership of only 99,233 in the remaining nine states. . . .
The sectional bifurcation of the Disciples of Christ - using the name to refer to the whole movement - is one of the most vivid American examples of the bending of the Christian ethos to fit the presuppositions of the community. All of the complex antagonisms in nineteenth-century America society - North and South, East and West, urban and rural, affluent and dispossessed - left their marks on the theology and institutional development of the group. Schism was a result of differences far more complex than doctrinal disagreement - far more than the simple statement that "the 'Christian Churches'. . . took their instruments and their missionary society and walked a new course.". . . The obvious fact that the Churches of Christ are sectional (and, for that matter, so is the Northern-oriented Disciples church) leads to the obvious question: What are the sectional origins of the group?
If denominational identity matters, Harrell's question is well worth pondering. We'll do that in our next post.
Note: A copy of Harrell's complete article can be obtained from JSTOR.
2009 marks the bicentennial of the publication of Thomas Campbell's Declaration and Address, one of the foundational documents of the Stone-Campbell movement. Here is his opening proposition:
That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.
Believing division among Christians "a horrid evil," Campbell's vision of unity continues to influence present-day Disciples.
I am an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). My day work is designing and developing sales and management programs for Helzberg Diamonds. Evenings are spent in Adult Education ministry at Hillside Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), teaching classes in biblical studies and theology. My seminary degrees are from Harding Graduate School of Religion and Fuller Theological Seminary.