For my church‘s monthly Theology Book Club, we’ve been spending the Fall exploring some of the distinctive beliefs of Reformed Theology.
Well, if there’s any set of ideas Reformed Theology is most known for (and controversially so), it is surely that cluster of doctrines known collectively as “Calvinism”. That’s what we’re exploring this month through Richard Mouw’s amazing book, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport.
To be clear, “Reformed Theology” is a lot bigger than Calvinism. You can agree with Calvinistic thought and not be Reformed, and you can have a huge range of opinions on Calvinist doctrines while still being Reformed. And yet, it is so connected to the thought of my church’s tradition that it deserves a deep dive. Continue reading →
A couple of weeks ago, I got to finish up our church’s series going through the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon was such an experience to prepare and give. For one, this was my first time ever preaching two weeks in a row (if your pastor does this regularly, give him or her a hug for me–it’s hard!)
Second, this was my firs time preaching on a text I previously preached on. This text was the same as my first ever “real” sermon. It was the oddest experience diving back into this text and it feeling so new–as if I’d never read or studied it previously.
And lastly, this is the shortest set of verses I’ve ever been able to preach on–5 verses! This gave me the freedom to slow down, and experiment with how I wanted to structure this and go about writing the sermon.
This sermon tries to serve both as a summary of the entire Sermon on the Mount as well as a conclusion and call to action for those of us who have sat under it all Summer. If that piques your interest, feel free to listen to or read the sermon below. The text is Matthew 7:24-29. Here’s the audio:
One thing I appreciate about my church is that we don’t wear our labels on our sleeve. That does mean, however, that a lot of people can go to our church for quite a while and not know that there is a very real theological ethos woven into everything we do.
We belong to the oldest American denomination–the Reformed Church in America–which ascribes to a theological tradition called “Reformed Theology”. And because many, many people in our church likely have little idea of what that especially means within the broader Christian family, we’ll be spending this Fall exploring these ideas in our monthly Theology Book Club.
So how are we going to do this? Well, I really struggled with this one, because though Reformed Theology has some general contours, there really is quite a bit of diversity and flexibility within that definition of being “Reformed”. In looking for a good book, the problem I kept finding was that most books on this topic tend to define Reformed Theology very narrowly and very dogmatically. I don’t think this is helpful. Continue reading →
As part of my church’s series on The Sermon on the Mount, I got to preach this past week on the Golden Rule, as well as Jesus’ call to action at the end of the Sermon.
For many of us, when exploring Christian faith, what we’re really looking for is what makes Christianity distinctive. What does it have to say that any other perspective on existence doesn’t—or can’t? I can imagine many people see Jesus offer the Golden Rule and think that he is acting as just one more ethical teacher repeating this ethical principle that most anyone who wants to be a nice person knows about. And it’s true: much of what Jesus says is, technically, not new in human history.
But here’s the trouble: as a human race, we’ve had a lot of practice with the Golden Rule. It’s in us. It’s in our laws. It’s in our societies. It’s in our intuitions that guide and shape how we move through the world. It shapes our sense of justice and morality. And yet we still fail it every day. We’ve had so much practice legislating it, commanding it, manipulating it, teaching it, and hoping for it. And yet it is not the predominant reality in our world or relationships.
That’s why when Jesus comes on the scene, it’s not enough for him to simply repeat the same old teachings in the same old ways. We need more than that if we have any hope for living his vision out. And in this sermon I argue that what Jesus offers here is an entirely new framing and context of the Golden Rule. What Jesus offers here is so much more than a simple ethical maxim. It’s not even Ethics at all! Further, if we see Jesus as just one more religious authority trying to tell people how to act, then we’ve profoundly missed Jesus’ point and what he’s trying to offer us here.
So feel free to listen to or read the sermon, and let me know what you think. The sermon text is Matthew 7:12-23. Here’s the audio:
Last month, I led a Book Club through James K.A. Smith’s How (Not) To Be Secular, itself a summary of the much larger book, A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. There were so many lessons culled from those pages–most of which I am still processing and will be in the months and years to come. And yet, the biggest takeaway for me was how Taylor described the “feel” and cause of our current secular existence.
Taylor challenges the story of our cultural and philosophical moment, affirming that we did not stumble or trip into our secular age. Secularity is not the “neutral” space of human existence once all forms of power, influence, control, and superstition are done away with. Rather, secularity is a cultural and philosophical achievement. The gravity of human progress does not necessitate secularity. We’ve had to build it.
Secularity: A Fall or Climb?
We first need to remember that when we talk about “secularity”, we’re not talking about some sort un-religious, “neutral” public space. A society is “secular” (in our sense) when disbelief in God becomes a viable option. We take for granted that the vast majority of humans in history (and even in the non-Western world today!) have no comprehension of such a world. Continue reading →
Last night’s book discussion went really well, and it makes me even more excited for this month’s meeting.
For my church‘s monthly Theology Book Club, I’m excited to have us read an especially timely and important book, Divided by Faith by sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith. The opening lines of the Preface summarize their purpose beautifully:
To learn more about American life, this book examines the role of white evangelicalism in black-white relations. Our argument is that evangelicals desire to end racial division and inequality, and attempt to think and act accordingly. But, in the process, they likely do more to perpetuate the racial divide than they do to tear it down.
In America, we have a problem with race. White Christians, I think, genuinely act in good faith to play a positive role in race relations in America. And yet, they often end up unintentionally exacerbating some of the broader cultural problems that feed into racial injustice. Continue reading →
We live in a time and place that is happy to tell us all the things we need to do to be the kinds of people we want to be. And churches are good at telling us more things to do and occupy our time with in order to live in greater closeness with God.
But there are some parts of being human and knowing God that don’t involve doing more, but rather stopping and doing less.
At my church, over the summer, we want to try and create space where people can come and just stop; to experience silence, reflection, prayer, meditation, and a little guidance in those things. This is a spiritual muscle we don’t exercise much, but it’s an essential one to work out if we are to become more human and know God more deeply.
So starting tonight, from 6:30-8pm and every Thursday in July and August, we’ll be having an open, unstructured time for prayer, reflection, contemplation, journaling, and meditation.
A few times I’ll get up and read some Scripture, but outside of that, it’s a space people are free to come and go, lie down, walk around, sit on the floor, or whatever they need to connect with themselves and connect with God. No matter your church home, religious tradition, or lack of belief, feel free to use this space in whatever way you need.
So feel free join us at 17th and Sansom St in Center City Philadelphia between 6:30 and 8, and each subsequent Thursday.
Last week I led a prayer service of lament at my church for the racial injustice and violence experienced in our country. I put together the below order for the prayer service and it ended up being a helpful expression for us. I wanted to share this with anyone else interested in using it in their own contexts.
Another benefit of this service is that the contemporary prayers below are not mine or any other white males, but were written by women of color and slightly modified for our context. I hope this acts as a helpful outlet to give voice to our hearts as brothers and sisters.
Encourage other voices that are not typically heard at your church to read the Scripture sections. In the times of silence, encourage open prayer from those sitting in the pews. Allow space for up to 5-10 minutes of silence, and be sure to let people know beforehand to expect such long silence.
For those of us that are Christians, we come to church on Sundays to get re-grounded and re-oriented in the rhythms and truths of the Christian life.
Many of us also try and live life in various small groups and Bible Studies throughout the week in order to press these truths all the more deeply in our hearts and communities.
But still, some of us are wired to wrestle with big ideas in a different way. That’s why at my church we’re starting the Liberti Theology Book Club: a way to walk with others through different perspectives and insights on theology, the Bible, and Christian thought.
It’s been designed to take up as little of your time as needed, while also letting us really work through some deeper and harder parts of faith. Also, because of the decentralized nature of it, anyone across the country can join in!
During my tenure as a coordinator of Christian education, I heard a lot from people about their hunger to know the Bible, so I hired professors from a nearby seminary and offered regular courses on the Old and New Testaments. People told me the descriptions sounded like just what they needed, but that was usually the last I saw of them. The classes were small and sporadically attended…. Yet every quarter, people asked for more Bible courses. They said they wanted more; they were not getting enough. So I offered more Bible and still no one came.
Finally I got the message. “Bible” was a code word for “God.” People were not hungry for information about the Bible; they were hungry for an experience of God, which the Bible seemed to offer them.
The above quote was so insightful and helpful to me. At my church, we’ve spent years hearing people talk about wanting more “meat” or wanting to be “fed” more. When they say that, they often are thinking they need to feel cognitively challenged and stretched by information about the Bible or Theology.
It is important that aging adults are able to overcome any barriers affecting their ability to participate in church and church activities. The church and its parishioners can help senior members overcome these obstacles. First, however, they need to recognize what obstacles aging members may be facing, and implement strategies to ease their burdens or boost their involvement.
The past few weeks (heck, the past several years) have exposed so many fissures in the fabric of American society. It has shown how power, politics, and the invisible structures and systems around us have attempted to paper over real divisions that still remain. Last week, especially, showed us how these divisions can overflow into violence and cut to the core of the American psyche.
And the Christian Church ought to be there to give voice to this pain.
Tonight at 7p at Liberti Church‘s Center City Campus (17th and Sansom St), I will be leading a service of lament for our country, our cities, and our hurting black communities experiencing injustice. There will be time to hear Scripture, reflect, sit in silence, and also offer prayer from those in the pews. We will ask hard questions, sit in the pain, and not settle for easy answers. It is open to the public and all are welcome, no matter your religion, political persuasion, or personal opinion in this national discussion. I hope to see you there.
As I prepare for ordination in the Reformed Church in America, I am wrestling with the documents, Creeds, and Confessions to which I will be committing myself. I invite you to reflect alongside me.
In the Belgic Confession, one of the most foundational documents of the Reformed tradition, there is an incredibly odd Article towards the end–number 36. It is about the Civil Government and it says, among other things:
We believe that because of the depravity of the human race, our good God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers. God wants the world to be governed by laws and policies so that human lawlessness may be restrained and that everything may be conducted in good order among human beings….
And the government’s task is not limited to caring for and watching over the public domain but extends also to upholding the sacred ministry, with a view to removing and destroying all idolatry and false worship of the Antichrist; to promoting the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and to furthering the preaching of the gospel everywhere; to the end that God may be honored and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word….
The whole of the Confession is worth your time and reading. It is beautiful and ecumenical. Its desire is to bring people together and articulate the Reformed tradition in a charitable and loving way. And yet, this Article–the next to the last one in the whole writing–sticks out like a sore thumb in both tone and content. It’s so confusing. Why is it written this way? What do we make of it today?
Yes, I graduated from seminary, and yet I still have a couple more classes I’m finishing up. One of them is going through the documents, Creeds, Confessions that define the theology of my denomination, the Reformed Church in America. I’m having to write a bunch of reflections on differents aspects of these writings, and I offer them here.
Every way of understanding the world involves creeds and confessions. “Creed” comes from the Latin word meaning “I believe”, and a Confession from the Latin for “acknowledge”. A Creed or Confession, then, is simply a distillation of what you acknowledge and believe. There’s nothing weird or particularly “Catholic” about it.
From Creeds to Trinity
If you are a Christian, no matter which part of the family you call home, your beliefs almost certainly fall in line with what have been called the “Ecumenical Creeds”, which are the oldest and simplest articulations of the Christian essentials. They include the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds.
Now, if you were going to start writing out the core of what you believe, where would you begin? The interesting thing about these Ecumenical Creeds is that they are built entirely, both in foundation and structure, around the doctrine of the Trinity. Why? Continue reading →
I was also proud and humbled to have been voted by the faculty to receive the Stanley A. Rock award in Pastoral Care and Counseling, “for outstanding work in pastoral care and counseling courses and formation for ministry assignments”.
So what now? Well, first I have to finish my last six weeks of classes before actually getting my actual degree. Then I will need to finish my requirements for ordination as a minister in the Reformed Church in America. After that? I’m still figuring it out.
I’ll still be in Philadelphia. I won’t be looking for a ministerial job outside my own church. I’ll continue my job in social work while other opportunities work themselves out. I still hope to do Ph.D. work in the future, but I’m taking a breather for the immediate moment.