“Darkest Before the Dawn” [a sermon]


church-philly-bw-cross-market-eastDuring the Advent and Christmas season, my church did a sermon series going through the key texts of Handel’s Messiah.

I got to preach during that series and only recently realized I never posted it here.

I’m beginning to see that light and darkness are constant themes through my preaching, and in this sermon, those themes are explicitly in the text. God’s people have returned from exile to their homeland, but it still hurts. Things aren’t the way they remembered, and they keep encountering difficulties and old temptations at every turn.

And so God acknowledged the darkness, but promises light. Is that enough, though? How do we not just sit back and say, “yeah, yeah yeah–I’ve heard this all before” and then continue on steeped in our cynicism? In this sermon (as with others I’ve preached), I try to press more deeply into the darkness to see what God might say. The text is Isaiah 60.1-3, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here are my notes for your perusal. Continue reading

November Book Club: All Your Questions on Baptism, Answered


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The Promise of Baptism: An Introduction to Baptism in Scripture & the Reformed Tradition
by James Brownson

Our discussion on Calvinism this past Sunday was really great. Our exploration of Reformed Theology continues, however.

For November, in my church‘s monthly Theology Book Club, we’re going to be looking at that significant distinctive of Reformed thought: Baptism. And to wander into this potential minefield, we’re going to follow an amazing guide, Dr. James Brownson in his incredibly helpful book, The Promise of Baptism.

Seriously, this book is amazing.  It covers everything in relation to baptism. It starts with the big picture and starts to zoom in into specific biblical, historical, theological, and practical questions. Every chapter is built around a question. And this book goes through every question you may have had about baptism, and a bunch you may have never had. Some of the chapter topics:

  • Should infants be baptized?
  • Sprinkling or Immersing?
  • Can someone be saved without being baptized? What about baptized without being saved?
  • What happens to baptized infants who die before they can give a profession of faith?
  • What about baptized people that leave the faith?
  • Is “Re-Baptism” allowed?
  • Is “dedication” an appropriate substitute for infant baptism?
  • Does it need to be the parents who offer an infant to baptism, or can grandparents or close family friends?

There are 30 such chapters, so I’m only barely scratching the surface. Really, this is a great book. And it’s very charitable, meaning it doesn’t demonize any side. It clings to Scripture and recognizes there are different legitimate opinions on many of these issues. It does argue for infant baptism, but it’s topics are much bigger than that, so even if you don’t leave convinced on that point, you will have learned so much more about what the Bible and the Church tradition have to say about the essential sacrament of the Christian Church.

NOTE: Because the last Sunday of the month falls right after Thanksgiving, our discussion will be on the first Sunday of December, the 4th, at 5:30pm.

As usual, even if you don’t live in Philadelphia, feel free to join us in reading the book. I’ll try and blog about it through the month. You can use this blog or the Facebook page to offer your thoughts, questions, critiques, and concerns. Happy reading!

So pick up the book, read it, keep up with the discussion, and join us on December 4th at 5:30pm at Liberti Church.


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Philly Peeps: Join us for our Calvinism discussion!


calvinism
This month, as part of my church’s Theology Book Club, we’ve been reading Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport in order to spur a broader discussion of Calvinism and Reformed Theology. Tomorrow, Sunday 10/30, we’ll be gathering in person in Center City Philadelphia to have a discussion on this controversial topic.  RSVP at the Facebook page.

You do not have to have read the book. Just show up.

We’ll have some wine and some snacks, but feel free to ring whatever you like. Hopefully, I’ll see you tomorrow at Liberti Church, 17th & Sansom in Rittenhouse.


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“The End & The Beginning”: On Houses, Wise & Foolish [sermon]


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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:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here is my manuscript for your perusal. Continue reading

“Do Unto Others”: The Golden Rule of God’s Kingdom [a sermon]


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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:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here is my manuscript for your perusal. Continue reading

Developing Ancient Creeds & The Trinity


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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?
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“Rage Against the Dying of the Light”: My Good Friday Sermon


job-silohetteI had the honor of giving the reflection at our Good Friday service this year. For the service, we did a series of extended readings, from Luke 22.39-23.56, from Jesus praying in Gethsemane to his burial.

Preaching on this passage was a unique privilege for me, having recently returned from Israel. I walked these very steps that Jesus takes in our story. I prayed in the shade under the Olive Trees in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. I walked down the Kidron Valley to the place where it’s actually quite possible Jesus was imprisoned overnight, beaten, and mocked. I walked through Old City Jerusalem to the fortress of Pilate. Our hotel was right outside the old city walls near the place of Crucifixion.

This passage therefore, especially in light of that trip, was so rich with meaning throughout. Nevertheless, the focus of my message was living in the darkness and tension between Good Friday and Easter.

Here’s the audio:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here (and below) is my manuscript for your perusal. Also, here is a picture of the cemetery I reference in the sermon:
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My Sermon on Christ in the Darkness (John 1)


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During the Advent season, I preached a sermon on John 1.1-5,10-18, the famous Logos. In the sermon, we talk about Jesus revealing himself in the midst of the darkness of this world and our hearts, and so encouraging us to press all the more deeply into darkness rather than running from it. Looking back on it, I think it’s a very “Lent-y” sermon and so I’d like to throw it up here this week during Holy Week. It was my first sermon I preached without a manuscript, so there’s no version to read (sorry). But here it is for listening:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast here.

[Image credit: “Exodus”, by Marc Chagall]

Good Friday Creation & Re-Thinking “The Fall”


Bosch-Garden-Earthly-Delights-Outer-Wings-Creation-WorldEach year during Lent, I press all the more deeply into a motif that appears throughout the Bible: that in some mysterious way, the God of the Universe has had a “slain” and “suffering” aspect to his nature for all eternity–even before the world came into being.

When this world did come into being, the Bible says that it came to exist “through” this suffering and slain Jesus. Therefore the rhythms of Christ’s own nature and life are written into the very DNA of the world. All of our history is an echo of Jesus’ life, both from eternity past and while on earth.

I’ve written before about what this means for the world and what this means for us, but what might this mean for the entire history of God’s work in this world?
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Advent and… (the series)


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This is the dedicated post page for the Advent series “Advent and…”. In it, we looked at the various ways Advent connects to seemingly unrelated parts of our life and existence.

Welcome to Advent, 2012.
This was the series introduction. I looked at how Advent speaks to our whole selves, including a whole host of “un-Christmas-y” kinds of things.

Advent & Sex: we are holy ground
When you think of Christmas time, you don’t often think about sex. This post talks about the implication of Christ’s arrival for our sex lives.

Advent & Sex-lessness: here’s to singleness & celibacy!
The Advent story is a notably sex-less affair. What this means for us is huge. This was by far the most widely read post of this series, and in the top five most widely read posts in this blog’s history.  Continue reading

Oh no! What’s a Feminist Fundamentalist to Do?


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This post is part of our on-going series about Male Feminist Theology.

Yesterday I wrote about my fears of hypocrisy when it comes to Church and Theology in relation to Women and their experience in the world. I talked about how some people see the Bible as a product of patriarchal culture, and therefore is simply wrong when it comes to women. Others (like myself) try and argue that the Bible is itself in favor of women exercising full authority and presence in the Church and Theological consideration.

But when I do this, is it just another form of fundamentalism to doggedly refuse to let go of my belief that the Bible “has” to be right in this area? Here are a few things that have at least helped me sleep at night and move forward in this pursuit of a Male Feminist Theology.
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A Male Feminist Wrestles with the Bible (come watch!)


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This post is part of our on-going series about Male Feminist Theology.

When we last met, I tried to lay out a theology of the Bible that makes sense when we take into account the experiences of women–an experience that is marginalized, embodied, and connected to the earth itself. When you do that, you realize that a top-down understanding of the Bible is inadequate. The way God reveals himself is primarily from the bottom-up.  And that is how we should see the Bible–not as a divine dispatch from the heavens, but as an emerging reality out of the embodied, painful reality of human existence.

My argument was that the top-down idea that God spoke from on high and people wrote down his words in the Bible, is actually a patriarchal view that concentrates power and knowledge at the top and restricts it only to those with the privilege of being “in the know”.

Whether you agree with all that or not, there’s actually a bigger elephant in the room than our theological ideas about the Bible: the actual contents of the Bible itself. If you want to be sensitive to the realities of women in the world, what should you do when you approach passages (both Old Testament and New!) that disregard, demean, and disempower women?
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What Should a Male Feminist Think of Our Messy Bible?


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This is part of our series on Male Feminist Theology.

First, I have to say up front: this has been the hardest post of this series (so far).  Today we’ll talk about the theology of the Bible, in the next post we’ll talk about the actual content of the Bible. But first, let’s get the big picture again (because it’s been a while). 

There’s no such thing as a “neutral” theology. All articulations of theology are more sensitive to certain assumptions and concerns than others. What we historically conceive of as “regular ol’ theology” is, historically speaking, White Western Male Theology.

This series is an attempt to sketch a theology attuned to the heart of God towards our sisters all over the world who suffer more than any other single group. Women are (and always have been) by far the most abused, oppressed, poverty-stricken, and marginalized people globally. Therefore, I think there is a need for theology that speaks to this and frankly, our classical Western theology has come up short.

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A Systematic Male Feminist Theology: Table of Contents


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This is the dedicated post page for the Male Feminist Theology Series on this blog.

Male Feminist Theology: a Vision; a Proposal

This series is based on a white paper I wrote. It is more technical than these blog posts are and cites sources without giving introduction or explanation. The blog posts break it up into bite-sized chunks, and are heavily edited to (hopefully) make them more accessible to the casual reader. The full paper is posted below.

Background: Fear & Loathing
The How (and Why) of Christian Male Feminism

This series has been a long time in development and preparation. This was a post that summarizes the whole path leading to thought and process behind it.

God & Her Glory: A Table of Contents

Before we began, I felt I needed to explain why I, at times, would choose to use feminine pronouns for God. This caused such an uproar in my social media sites, it led to several posts in which I went more in-depth about this.

On Theology: Choose Your Own (Feminist) Adventure

This whole series employed a very particular perspective on theology, in which we can freely choose what true things about God to emphasize depending on our context and concern in the moment.

I. Passion: A Theology of God, Creation, & Humanity
The Suffering & Reconciling Feminist God

This whole Male Feminist Theology begins with laying out a doctrine of God that would motivate us to solidarity and action with women. This opening post lays out a vision in which God’s own nature is Suffering-Unto-Shalom/Goodness/Life

The Dying & Rising Christ

This Suffering-Unto-Life Nature of God extends from the Godhead and is exhibited in each of its Persons. In this piece, we talk about the centrality of Jesus, the Incarnate God, as the center of our theology, and what he can teach us about God.

The Grieving & Comforting Holy Spirit

In this post, we talk about how the Holy Spirit–within Herself–also suffers-unto-life, moving into the brokenness and injustice of the nitty-gritty of the world, to bring healing, life, and wholeness.

THESE BROKEN & GOD-BREATHED SCRIPTURES

Here we articulate a theology of Scripture, and how revelation flows from God the Spirit and not God the Father. We also deconstruct how this acts to liberate women in Christian community.

A Male Feminist Wrestles with the Bible [PART 1] [PART 2]

In these posts, I ask hard questions about how we deal with the patriarchal texts of Scripture. Do we just say the authors were “wrong”, or are we wrong in how we’re reading these texts?

A Groaning & New creation

Coming up next!
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The Grieving & Comforting Holy Spirit // #MaleFeminism


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This is part of our series on Male Feminist Theology.

I’ve been arguing, at the outset of this journey into forming a Male Feminist Theology, that the way we think about God shapes and forms how we then live our lives. Further, God’s nature and character is so multifaceted that as theological musings enter new cultures, times, and situations, we must use particular language for where we are today. Just this weekend, I was reading Andrew Walls’ remarkable essay, “The Ephesian Moment”, where he talks about how this worked in the early church.

The transposition of a message about the Messiah to a message about the “Lord Jesus” must have seemed an impoverishment, perhaps a downright distortion. [But] Christian theology moved on to a new plane when Greek questions were asked about Christ and received Greek answers, using the Greek scriptures. It was a risky, often agonizing business, but it led the church to rich discoveries about Christ that could never have been made using only Jewish categories such as Messiah…. Crossing a cultural frontier led to a creative movement in theology by which we discovered Christ was the eternally begotten Son; but it did not require the old theology to be thrown away, for the eternally begotten Son was also the Messiah of Israel.

I see a similar thing today. Many issues of global injustice, the failure of 20th-century Enlightenment idealism, and (for our purposes) the abuse and marginalization of women gives a new prism through which to ask questions about God. We are not leaving old creeds and confessions behind; we are turning the Divine diamond of God’s nature and character to see through additional facets.

To this end, I have found it greatly helpful to focus on this idea that God’s very nature is one of Suffering-Unto-Life, or Suffering-Unto-Shalom. We’ve used these past few posts to talk about how we see this in each member of the Trinity, and today we turn our attention to the Holy Spirit. I’ve written about this before in general, but today we try to think of this in light of our sisters and their experience.
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