Two weekends ago was the birthday of my late grandfather, who died a decade ago. I just finished a social work class on end-of-life issues, and that class had me thinking a lot about him, the impact of his death, my own life and legacy, and how that has all changed and morphed over these past ten years.
So I’m going to spend a few posts reflecting on this. Today I wanted to share how the experience of his death shaped my life personally and professionally.
But first, a little about him. Due to a mispronunciation by the first grandchild, we called my grandfather “Peep”; and Peep and Mammaw’s house was where the entire family came for weekly dinners and holidays. He was the quintessential man of his age: the quiet, stoic, Texas man’s man. He was my mother’s father, the patriarch of the family, and exerted a great centrifugal force in the system. His death left a large hole which I don’t know we’ve recovered from, honestly.
This blog is not usually a place for commentary on the niche politics, scandals, and squabbles in Christian subcultures. However, I wanted to post an email I wrote to Reformation21, a media outlet for those, like me, in the “Reformed” family of Christianity.
Recently, theologian Aimee Byrd, one of their contributors, wrote the book Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, in which she challenges the way women are viewed, treated, taught, and trained differently than men in conservative Christian circles.
For this, she has been the subject of mysogyny, onlinetrolling, mischaracterizations of her work, gaslighting, charges from her denomination’s leaders that she should be disciplined, as well as other bad faith indignities.
Most recently, she was presented with a list of 9 questionsfrom an anonymous group of men. Many of these questions are distorting and patronizing, come from an uncharitable reading of her text, or are more about ensuring she’s “in-bounds” to them than actually engaging her arguments.
What does one do with anonymous bad faith interrogators insisting you submit to their questioning? Aimee answered some of the questions and left others unanswered until such a time genuine and open debate could be held
So how did Reformation21 respond–this outlet for which she has written and podcasted for years? They removed her from contributing to their site. They did not defend her nor stand their ground. You can read Aimee’s account here.
In a statement they said this decision was not made by contributors, but by the board, and not because of outside pressure. Yet they said they dismiss people who cause “our audience to respond in a largely negative way”. Further, they said it was fundamentally about Aimee’s not answering these other questions from the anonymous group.
I wrote the below email to them in response. I have edited it for clarity. I’m open to being wrong with more information, but this is my evaluation best as I can see based on the public facts.
When looking through old seminary research, I ran across some quotes I pulled out from Karl Barth, my favorite theologian (hands down), and got to soak in the beauty of his words. I wanted to share them. Now, for people that don’t read academic theology, this is it. It’s circular, it repeats itself, and it’s unnecessarily complicated and unclear. I know. I get that. But I promise, if you can spend a few minutes, quiet yourself, and focus, the pay-off is huge. This guy stands as a tower over all of modern theology and deserves more mainstream attention than he gets. I’ve done slight edits to some of the wording and paragraph breaks for clarity. Enjoy.
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God’s direction is an all-powerful decision, His own divine act of lordship. By this means, too, God vindicates His honor and maintains His glory. By this means, too, He exercises authority….
God’s direction is the directing of humans into the freedom of His children. It is this which has taken place in Jesus Christ no less uniquely than the once-for-all fulfillment of the divine sentence on all humanity. In suffering in our stead the death of the old nature, and bringing in by His resurrection the life of the new, He has made room for the being of all humanity to be at peace with God.
On the basis of what we are and is not by virtue of the divine sentence passed and revealed in Jesus Christ… we have no other place but this—the kingdom in which God can be at peace with us and us at peace with God. Jesus Christ…is the all-powerful direction of God to us to occupy this place, to live in this kingdom. If we are told in Him who we are and are not, we are also told in Him where we belong, where we have to be and live.
Inspired by last month’s Theology Book Club, I want to spend some time on the blog reflecting on baptism. Today, I want to tell you the story of how I changed my views on baptism to be in favor of baptizing babies.
I was raised a good Bible Belt Southern Baptist. I was so immersed in this language and perspective on the Bible, that even now that I totally buy into the reasoning and Scripture behind infant baptism, it still “feels” more natural to read the Bible with my Southern Baptist eyes. I get why people would absolutely disagree with infant baptism.
Having come from the Baptist perspective (called “Believer’s Baptism”) gives me some added insight (I hope) into this discussion. It also has helped me see how people can get so insulated in the way they are raised that they can get really wrong impressions of the “other side”. I remember all the beliefs I had about those that baptized infants and now, on the other side, I see how wrong I was.
The Fateful Turn
I got all the way through college and entered a Presbyterian seminary, all while still holding to my theological roots. These Presbyterians spoke as if it was soooo obvious that infants should be baptized, and thought any other way of thinking was pretty silly and naive. I couldn’t have disagreed more. Continue reading →
This month, our Theology Book Club is going through Richard Mouw’s remarkable book Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport, in which he articulates a vision for how Calvinists might understand and hold their doctrinal convictions.
But first, what is this “Calvinism” thing I’m talking about?
Every school of thought has some core foundation on top of which they build every thing else–some assumption that guides and shapes the rest. In that sense, Calvinism is a cluster of beliefs that are centered around the idea that Jesus is Lord, or (in more traditional language), that the Triune God is uncompromisingly sovereign and has no competition in this area. That is the center of Calvinism from which everything else fans out. As Mouw summarizes:
“Unlike other traditions, Calvinism rigorously guards this emphasis on divine sovereignty by refusing to allow any other theological point to detract from it. [So] when Calvinists get around to attempting to explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom, we are so concerned to protect the former that we are willing to risk sounding like we are waffling on the latter rather than to imply in any way that God’s power is limited.” (p.27)
If you’re only somewhat familiar with Calvinism, you likely think it was some archaic belief mainly held by cranky medieval Christians and Puritans that said God was in absolute control of every little thing and human free will was largely an illusion. Further, you may also have some vague sense that it’s super depressing, focuses almost entirely on how bad and useless humans are, and had some role in creating the American work ethic.
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.
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?
My go-to Bible Study software of Logos. They have some amazing sales every once and a while and right now they are having a great sale on the New International Commentary Series (popularly known as NICOT and NICNT). They are selling each volume at $19.99 a pop, which is amazing. I am really picky about commentaries, but I know a good deal when I see it. So, I’m enlisting your help to help me pick out a few of these for my library.
So…for those of you that have had experience with these, which would you say are really good and why? Which would you say are definitely not worth one’s time?
So you know what I’m looking for: I go to commentaries more for biblical critical scholarship, not systematic theology. Even though I am theologically conservative, I really do not enjoy commentaries by conservative Evangelicals that spend most of their time grinding their conservative axe against all those “big bad liberals”. Those commentaries end up being more about conservative theological apologetics than the text. For that reason, I find it far more helpful to engage with commentaries that have an openness and sympathy to critical (“liberal”) scholarship.
In short, if one of the primary selling points for a commentary is that it is “conservative”, then it’s probably not for me. I can think of so many other adjectives I would prefer came to one’s mind first to describe a good commentary. If a commentary writer is conservative, great! But breathlessly defending that dogma at the expense of the text isn’t helpful to me.
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.
Saint Teresa of Avila was a 16th-century mystic and Carmelite nun who traveled around teaching and writing mystical treatises on the interior life of maturing Christian spirituality and contemplative practices. (Here’s a great intro on her life.)
To read her writings and to read about her life is one of the most powerful testimonies to a woman’s place in the Christian church. She constantly rubbed the male power structures the wrong way and in many of her writings one can see how she bends over backwards to accommodate their concerns about a powerful woman, trying to demonstrate how a woman can teach and lead while also living in accordance to the doctrines of the scriptures. And yet, more than any intellectual argument, it is her grace, maturity, and powerful insight into the Bible, the Christian Life, and the human soul that are some of the greatest apologetics for a woman’s full right to teach and preach and lead in the Church. I am currently reading through her magnum opus, The Interior Castle, and it is breathtaking. I ran across this brief passage and lamented along with Teresa… Continue reading →
We have but to get quiet, recollect our thoughts, wait for the mild excitement within us to subside, and then listen closely for the faint cry of desire. Ask your heart, “What would you rather have than anything else in the world?” Reject the conventional answer. Insist on the true one, and when you have heard it you will know the kind of person you are.
I am back from Israel-Palestine, but the effects of this trip are still lingering with me, both emotionally and spiritually (and physically). I still want to share this trip with all of you. My time in this land will be popping up in many thoughts, reflections (and pictures) from here on out on this blog, but first, I want to keep documenting the basic schedule and images of what we did during the trip.
One key thing to remember about this trip was that it was not a vacation or tourist time. It was part of an “Intercultural Immersion” seminary course. Throughout our weeks here, our guides and professors repeatedly brought us to these moments of dwelling with the “Living Stones” of Israel-Palestine, and not just being enamored with the Dead Stones of ruins and biblical history.
This means that, in the days to come, you will see me write about our times hearing speakers and learning lessons about the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as time we spent at sites that have little to nothing to do with “Bible stuff”, but have a deep and visceral place in the minds and culture of contemporary Jewish and Arab peoples.
So… things have been crazy enough that I have not been able to regularly update this blog like I would have liked to. Tomorrow is our last day making visits in Israel, and then we fly back on Saturday, so any more updates from me are unlikely. But (somehow), one of my friends on this trip has been able to regularly update his blog about what we’re doing. So I want to send you there. He has great stories, reflections, and gorgeous photography from all over Israel-Palestine. Enjoy and leave a comment for him!
Both wifi and wakefulness are hard to come by on this trip. My body is still trying to get used to being 7 hours off. Anyway, my biggest lesson on this day was a small, but profound one: I’m having to repaint the mental images of the entire BIble in my mind. Israel is in the Middle East, right? The Middle East is desert and barrenness, right?
Wrong. I can see why this was the Promised Land. It (so far) has been nothing but lush and beautiful. We’ve yet to see sand anywhere. If this were a movie, the overall color palette would not be a dry, arid yellow, but green, grey, and black. It lush and rocky. The beaches are gravel-grey, not yellow and sandy. It is beautiful. Hopefully my pictures can convey some of this. On this rainy day, we spent it around the area around Northern Galilee.
Starting tomorrow, we will be staying with Palestinian Christian families in their homes in Bethelehem, and we’ll likely not have much access to internet and modern conveniences. Don’t know when I’ll put another post up (I’m already a day behind in writing! We had a crazy day today!), but keep up in your prayers, and enjoy the pictures. Continue reading →