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Just in time for Lent, we’ve put together a little book of homilies by yours truly on the seven last words of Jesus from the cross.

You can order the book, hard copy or digital here.

From the Amazon Description:

The reticence of the New Testament to explain the mechanics of salvation leaves us with questions: Does Jesus die for us? As in, does Jesus die in our place? As a substitute for you and me? Or does Jesus die because of us? As in, is death on a cross the inevitable conclusion to the way he lived his life? Does Jesus die because our sinful lust for power, wealth and violence kills him? As though our world has no other reaction to a life God desires than to eliminate it? Does Jesus die to destroy Death and Sin? As in, does Jesus let the powers of Sin and Death do their worst so that, in triumphing over them, he shatters their power forever? Does Jesus die with us? As in, does Jesus suffer death as the completion of his incarnation? Is death the last experience left for God to be one of us, in the flesh? Was it necessary for Jesus to die? Or was his incarnation, his taking our nature and living it perfectly, redemptive in itself? Did Jesus have to die on a cross? And how does Easter relate to Good Friday? Such questions are possible, indeed they get asked all the time because the New Testament never singles an answer to how Mary and Joseph’s son lives up to his name. For over a century, Christians have recalled the crucifixion of Christ’s death on Good Friday by reflecting on Jesus’ seven last words from the Cross. In this tradition, for Lenten prayer and reflection, Jason Micheli offers seven homilies connecting these questions and contemporary events to the final words of God’s Son from the Cross.

Fresh off Donald Trump blaspheming at the National Prayer Breakfast and dismissing Christ’s Sermon on the Mount to nary a complaint from the evangelical pastors in attendance, we’ve got Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove on the podcast to talk about his latest book, A Revolution of Values: Reclaiming Public Faith for the Common Good.

The religious Right taught America to misread the Bible. Christians have misused Scripture to consolidate power, stoke fears, and defend against enemies. But people who have been hurt by the attacks of Christian nationalism can help us rediscover God’s vision for faith in public life. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove explores how religious culture wars have misrepresented Christianity at the expense of the poor, and how listening to marginalized communities can help us hear God’s call to love and justice in the world. He highlights people on the frontlines of issues ranging from immigration policy and voting rights to women’s rights and environmental stewardship. Through these narratives, we encounter a recovery of values that upholds the dignity of all people. Rediscover hope for faithful public witness that serves the common good.

God is using this time to remind the Church that Christianity is unintelligible without enemies. Indeed, the whole point of Christianity is to produce the right kind of enemies. We have been beguiled by our established status to forget that to be a Christian is to be made part of an army against armies. It has been suggested that satisfaction theories of the Atonement and the correlative understanding of the Christian life as a life of interiority became the rule during the long process we call the Constantinian settlement. When Caesar becomes a member of the Church the enemy becomes internalized. The problem is no longer that the Church is seen as a threat to the political order, but that now my desires are disordered. The name for such an internalization in modernity is pietism and the theological expression of that practice is called Protestant liberalism.

In the latest installment of You Are Not Accepted, Johanna gets hot and bothered over Stanley’s address, “Preaching as Though We Had Enemies.” Originally delivered to the homiletics guild, this address is found in his collection, Sanctify Them in the Truth: Holiness Exemplified, and also at First Things:

What if we reconsidered Calvin and Calvin’s prioritizing of God’s power and sovereignty from the perspective of what Calvin was, a refugee, and from the hermeneutic of what his context makes his work, liberation theology?

Our episode today is with a classmate of Jason’s from Princeton, Dr. Jennifer Powell McNutt.

The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Powell McNutt is the Franklin S. Dyrness Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College, a Fellow in the Royal Historical Society, and a Parish Associate at First Presbyterian Church of Glen Ellyn. Dr. McNutt received her Ph.D. in History from the University of St. Andrews (Reformation Studies Institute, 2008), M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary (2003), and a B.A. in Religious Studies from Westmont College (2000).

She is the recipient of several academic awards including the Overseas Research Student Award (Universities, U.K.) for her doctoral research and the Sidney E. Mead Prize (American Society of Church History) for her first published article. Her first monograph, Calvin Meets Voltaire: The Clergy of Geneva in the Age of Enlightenment, 1685-1798 (Ashgate, 2014), was awarded the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize by the American Society of Church History. In 2013-2014, Dr. McNutt was awarded Wheaton’s Leland Ryken Award for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities (2013) for exemplifying excellence in the classroom, a deep commitment to inspiring students to realize the ideals of careful scholarship in their own work, and the integration of the Christian faith and learning in the Humanities. In 2017, Westmont College honored Dr. McNutt with an 80th Anniversary Alumni Award for her work as a professor at Wheaton in cultivating “thoughtful scholars, grateful servants and faithful leaders for global engagement with the academy, church and the world.” In 2017, she was one of the Reformation experts interviewed for “A Call to Freedom” documentary that was produced to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In 2018, that documentary was awarded three regional Emmys including Outstanding Historical Documentary.

Dr. McNutt’s research specializes in the history of the church and Christian Theology from the Reformation through the Enlightenment with particular expertise in John Calvin and his clerical legacy, the Reformed tradition, the relationship between Christianity and science, and the history of the Bible and its interpretation. Current contracted projects include co-editing The Oxford Handbook of the Bible and the Reformation (OUP) with Prof. Herman Selderhuis and editing the 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude volume for the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series (InterVarsity Press Academic). She recently published the co-edited volume, The People’s Book: The Reformation and the Bible (IVP, 2017), for the Wheaton Theology Conference series. She is currently researching and writing two monographs: the history of the French Bible from the early-modern period through the Enlightenment and a social history of John Calvin’s thought. Her research has received international grants including the Andrew Mellon Research Fellowship (2015-2016) at the Huntington Library and the Huntington Trinity Hall Exchange Fellowship at the University of Cambridge (2015-2016). Her publications include academic journal articles and book chapters as well as popular ecclesiastical pieces for Christianity Today and Christian History Magazine. In 2017, Dr. McNutt was awarded first place in Christianity Today’s essay contest for her article on how clergy during the Enlightenment contributed to the advancement of modern science.

Dr. McNutt is also an ordained Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and is co-president of McNuttshell Ministries, Inc. with her husband, Rev. Dr. David McNutt. She enjoys preaching at churches and on college campuses, writing for popular outlets, and conducting podcast and video interviews.

“Christians often fail to get in touch with the shocking message that can lie at the heart of evangelism: “I am here to change you, and I’m going to change you so that you become like me.”

Our guest today is Douglas Campbell, Professor of New Testament at Duke. His new book, Pauline Dogmatics unpacks the eschatological heart of Paul’s gospel in his world and its implications for today

Drawing upon thirty years of intense study and reflection on Paul, Douglas Campbell offers a distinctive overview of the apostle’s thinking that builds on Albert Schweitzer’s classic emphasis on the importance for Paul of the resurrection. But Campbell—learning here from Karl Barth—traces through the implications of Christ for Paul’s thinking about every other theological topic, from revelation and the resurrection through the nature of the church and mission. As he does so, the conversation broadens to include Stanley Hauerwas in relation to Christian formation, and thinkers like Willie Jennings to engage post-colonial concerns.

But the result of this extensive conversation is a work that, in addition to providing a description of Paul’s theology, also equips readers with what amounts to a Pauline manual for church planting. Good Pauline theology is good practical theology, ecclesiology, and missiology, which is to say, Paul’s theology belongs to the church and, properly understood, causes the church to flourish. In these conversations Campbell pushes through interdisciplinary boundaries to explicate different aspects of Pauline community with notions like network theory and restorative justice.

The book concludes by moving to applications of Paul in the modern period to painful questions concerning gender, sexual activity, and Jewish inclusion, offering Pauline navigations that are orthodox, inclusive, and highly constructive.

Beginning with the God revealed in Jesus, and in a sense with ourselves, Campbell progresses through Pauline ethics and eschatology, concluding that the challenge for the church is not only to learn about Paul but to follow Jesus as he did.

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Grace does not name an ontological possibility available to anyone apart from God’s self-disclosure and the mediation of God’s elect people. More is at stake in God’s Kingdom than accepting acceptance. The poor do not want God to accept the oppressor; they want God to destroy the oppressor. They know we are at war with powers who know nothing of a God who would rule the world from a cross.

— Stanley Hauerwasw

For our third episode, Dr. Johanna, Jason, and Teer talk about Stanley Hauerwas’ essay whence the pod series name came, “You Are Not Accepted.” The piece is Stanley’s rejection of Paul Tillich’s famous sermon “You Are Accepted” and featured in his book, Unleashing the Scriptures. This provocative critique of the uses and abuses of Scripture in the American church shows how liberal (historical-critical) and fundamentalist (literal) approaches to biblical scholarship have corrupted our use of the Bible. Hauerwas argues that the Bible can only be understood in the midst of a disciplined community of people, where the story is actually lived out by dedicated practitioners.

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“Separation is tragic because we thereby shut out some of our most challenging interlocutors.  When the IRD (in those rare moments when they talk theologically) tells me that I am soft on scripture, they are right.  Who among my progressive buddies is going to challenge my biblical interpretation?  (And who is the IRD going to have fun kicking around once I’m gone and they are hunkered down with their boringly homogeneous buddies in Good News and the WCA?)  

Go ahead. Get your church all cleaned up. Have everyone swear to your cherished ideology. What are you going to do about Jesus? Our Lord refuses to keep reaching out and bringing in the ‘wrong’ people making my church more complicated than I would like it to be. Just wait until the progressive UMC pastor discovers that she’s got folks in her congregation who are just as sexist, racist, and homophobic as the people who walked out? Cure them of their homophobia; next Sunday Jesus will demand that you work on their greed.

If I know anything about Jesus, he’ll show up at the inaugural Sunday of the doctrinally-sound, Bible-believing. WCA-approved congregation with the nicest same-sex couple and their two children. Then what?”

Friend of the podcast and mentor in mayhem, Bishop Will Willimon joins Jason and Teer to talk about the most recent divorce proposal in the UMC, the Protocol for Reconciliation through Grace— a proposal that manages both to sound like a creepy measure in a dystopian science fiction novel (“protocol”) and like a sad euphemism for a break-up.

To read more about the protocol:

Willimon’s piece, “Separation Sadness,” will be available soon at Ministry Matters.


“There was no good for the Episcopal Church that came from the schism over the LGBTQ issue. None at all.”

That’s almost as good as her line about the Enneagram being astrology for Episcopalians.

Back on the podcast at last, the peerless Fleming Rutledge joins me to talk about the 20th Anniversary Edition of her book, Help My Unbelief. In addition to her book, Fleming reflects on the conservative/progressive divide in the Church, the LGBTQ debate in the UMC, the Christianity Today editorial advocating for the removal of President Trump, praying for social justice issues and preaching that incorporates current events. Oh, she also prays at the end.

Fleming’s my favorite and she should be yours too.

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“When you dumb things down for your hearers, you only end up with dumb people.”

For the second installment of our new podcast series, You Are Not Accepted: Engaging Holiness with Stanley Hauerwas, Dr. Johanna, Teer, and I talked with Stan the Man about his essay “Without Apology. Stan shares with us why sermons should be arguments and why listeners should be respected enough to give them the Gospel rather than something allegedly “relevant.”

Before you listen, go to where you can become a patron of the pod, get your very own Stan the Man t-shirt, or order a copy of our new book, Crazy Talk.

Dr. Johanna Hartelius, host of Hemeneutics, is hosting a new podcast series for Crackers and Grape Juice called “You Are Not Accepted: Engaging Hauerwas on Holiness.” Every other Wednesday Johanna, Jason Micheli, and Teer Hardy will discuss a writing by the theologian Stanley Hauerwas and oftentimes with Stanley Hauerwas. For our first episode, we talked with Stanley about his essay in Minding the Web entitled “Preaching in the Ruins.”


Top Episodes of 2019

Jason Micheli —  December 28, 2019 — Leave a comment

Crackers and Grape Juice will celebrate it’s fourth birthday this spring, cranking out a new episode every Friday. As we close out 2019, here are the most popular episodes from the past year.

Barbara Brown Taylor — Holy Envy

David Bentley Hart — That All Shall Be Saved

Phillip Cary — The Meaning of Protestant Theology 

Steve Harper — Holy Love

Emma Green — Because Beth Moore is Their Pastor

Mark Galli recently set off a Twitter war and a media feeding frenzy for his editorial in Christianity Today, of which Galli is editor-in-chief, arguing for the removal of President Donald Trump. While Trump labled CT a “far-left” magazine, it is in fact the National Review of conservative Protestants. Galli is also the author of a number of books. His most recent, Karl Barth for Evangelicals, is the topic of our conversation.


You can find Mark’s editorial here

Fr. Robert Hart is the Rector of Saint Benedict’s Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, NC, a contributing editor of Touchstone, A Journal of Mere Christianity, and frequent contributor to The Continuum blog. He’s an incredible music fan, and Robert graciously agreed to share an original Christmas composition as a part of the podcast.

The brother of Addison Hart and David Bentley Hart, Robert Hart is a good follow on social media. In this conversation, Robert talks with us about the Christian vocation to be with the poor, how the pro-choice language of “personhood” is the language of slavery, and the priesthood.

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It’s in Advent when we look with the prophets to the abolition of war and the return of the Prince of Peace. So what better time to talk again with Dr. Amy Laura Hall of Duke University?

I’m thrilled to have made friends with Amy Laura Hall. Not only is she back on the podcast to talk about Stanley Hauerwas’ influence on her work and theology, she’ll be our special guest in June at our annual live podcast at Annual Conference in Roanoke, Va.

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Amy Laura Hall was named a Henry Luce III Fellow in Theology for 2004-2005 and has received funding from the Lilly Foundation, the Josiah Trent Memorial Foundation, the American Theological Library Association, the Child in Religion and Ethics Project, the Pew Foundation and the Project on Lived Theology.

At Duke University, Professor Hall has served on the steering committee of the Genome Ethics, Law, and Policy Center and as a faculty member for the FOCUS program of the Institute on Genome Sciences and Policy. She has served on the Duke Medical Center’s Institutional Review Board and as an ethics consultant to the V.A. Center in Durham. She served as a faculty adviser with the Duke Center for Civic Engagement (under Leela Prasad), on the Academic Council, and as a faculty advisor for the NCCU-Duke Program in African, African American & Diaspora Studies. She currently teaches with and serves on the faculty advisory board for Graduate Liberal Studies and serves as a core faculty member of the Focus Program in Global Health.

Professor Hall was the 2017 Scholar in Residence at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington D.C., served on the Bioethics Task Force of the United Methodist Church, and has spoken to academic and ecclesial groups across the U.S. and Europe. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, Hall is a member of the Rio Texas Annual Conference. She has served both urban and suburban parishes. Her service with the community includes an initiative called Labor Sabbath, an effort with the AFL-CIO of North Carolina to encourage congregations of faith to talk about the usefulness of labor unions, and, from August 2013 to June 2017, a monthly column for the Durham Herald-Sun. Professor Hall organized a conference against torture in 2011, entitled “Toward a Moral Consensus Against Torture,” and a “Conference Against the Use of Drones in Warfare” October 20-21, 2017. In collaboration with the North Carolina Council of Churches and the United Methodist Church, she organized a workshop with legal scholar Richard Rothstein held October, 2018.

Amy Laura Hall is the author of four books: Kierkegaard and the Treachery of Love, Conceiving Parenthood: The Protestant Spirit of Biotechnological Reproduction, Writing Home with Love: Politics for Neighbors and Naysayers, and Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich. She has written numerous scholarly articles in theological and biomedical ethics. Recent articles include “The Single Individual in Ordinary Time: Theological Engagements in Sociobiology,” which was a keynote lecture given with Kara Slade at the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics in 2012, and “Torture and American Television,” which appeared in the April 2013 issue of Muslim World, a volume that Hall guest-edited with Daniel Arnold. Her essay “Love in Everything: A Brief Primer to Julian of Norwich” appeared in volume 32 of The Princeton Seminary Bulletin. Word and World published her essay on heroism in the Winter 2016 edition, and her essay “His Eye Is on the Sparrow: Collectivism and Human Significance” appeared in a volume entitled Why People Matter with Baker Publishing. Her forthcoming essays include a new piece on Kierkegaard and love for The T&T Clark Companion to the Theology of Kierkegaard, to be published by Bloomsbury T&T Clark.

Laughing at the Devil was the focus of her 2018 Simpson Lecture at Simpson College in Iowa and has been chosen for the 2019 Virginia Festival of the Book. She continues work on a longer research project on masculinity and gender anxiety in mainstream, white evangelicalism.

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The podcast posse at Crackers and Grape Juice has a new book out. To all of you who kvetch that we need to pay our producer, Tommie Marshell, this is your chance to support the show. Plus, it’s actually pretty good. We got a professional editor to edit it this time. Don’t take our word for it. This is what author, Sarah Condon, has to say about it:

“The Church has done more damage to the power of the parables than any other category of scripture. We have moralized them and purposed them for our own agendas. We have hoisted them onto children and told them to “be good.” We have called ourselves Good Samaritans and Eldest Brothers like a Biblically uneducated clown parade. They were never intended for any of that nonsense. The Parables are intended to be void of morality and only consumed with the agenda of Jesus, who came only to save us. Buy this book. Jason, Teer, and the other yahoos will remind you just how bizarre, compelling, and truly unfair the parables really are. Thank God.”

You can order the book here:

Thomas Lecaque teaches Religious History at Grand View University in Iowa. He recently authored an article in the Washington Post that caught our attention, entitled “The Apocalyptic Myth that Explains Evangelical Support for Trump.”

You can find the article here:

I had a blast talking with him, and I hope you enjoy listening along with us.

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Turns out, DT isn’t the OG.

Harding and Trump have much in common. They are among the most allegedly corrupt presidents in U.S. history. Their Cabinet teams have been racked by scandal. Like Harding, Trump’s personal morals are the antithesis of what religious Christians profess to demand.

But, like Harding, Trump maintains the support of the faithful because of his policies and the attention he lavishes on Christian voters and their faith leaders. Both presidents sought religion-based immigration bans. They criticize international organizations, avoid broad alliances and insist on America first, last and only.

And they use the Bible to justify their policy proposals. Trump, like Harding, praises the devout, advocates policies consistent with evangelical readings of the Bible and seeks to use his office to advance evangelicals’ theological agenda.

Donald Trump isn’t the first President with whom Christians went all in, using their mutual fear of the other to justify and excuse all manner of corrupt behavior. Before there was The Donald, there was Warren G.

Dr. Sutton recently wrote an article in the Washington Post that got our attention for this episode.

You can find it here:

Matthew is the Edward R. Meyer distinguished professor of history at Washington State University. The author of award-winning books, including American Apocalypse, and the recent book, Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States During the Second World War, he lives in Pullman, Washington.

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In many ways, Advent is a season that pivots not only between two aeons, the old and the new, but between testatments, old and new, and faiths, that of Christianity and Judaism. After all, Advent is largely the time when Christians anticipate the second coming by rehearsing the anticipating of the first coming found in Israel’s prophets. Therefore, this might be the perfect time to release our conversation with Jewish author and financier, Scott Shay.

The son of Holocaust survivors, Scott A. Shay has had a successful business career spanning Wall Street, private equity, venture capital, and banking. He co-founded Signature Bank of New York and has served as its Chairman since its formation. He has been a provocative commentator on many financial issues, including among others, how the banking system should best function to help society, the implications of a cashless world, and tax reform. Scott called for the re-imposition of Glass-Steagall and breaking up the big banks at a TEDx talk at the NY Stock Exchange in 2012. Throughout his life, he has been a student of religion and how religion ought to apply to the world outside of the synagogue, church, or mosque. In addition to authoring articles relating to the Jewish community, Scott authored the best-selling Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry (Second Edition, D evora 2008).

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Our guest this week is United Methodist pastor Parker Haynes who joins us to talk about his essay “Remember Our Story: Is the Future of Methodism, Anglican?” in which he argues that United Methodism has run aground not because of disputes over sexuality but because, in many core ways, the story of Methodism has come to an end. Our reason for being, that is, is no longer a reason to be a distinct set apart from the Church whence we came.

Here’s Parker’s piece here:

Does our future as United Methodists lie in returning to the global Anglican communion whence we came?

Here’s a reflection that comes to us from a friend of the podcast, Reverend B. Parker Haynes:

As The United Methodist Church has been consumed by an idolatrous focus on sex over the past decade, the Church has failed to see that in a few years this conversation will be null and void. The future of The United Methodist Church is in doubt, not because it is considering moving from an orthodox position of sexuality to a heretical one (the traditional view), or because it has oppressed LGBTQIA Christians and its position on sexuality is antiquated, patriarchal and hetero-normative (the liberal/progressive view). Instead, I offer that the future of our Church is in doubt because we have forgotten who we are. That seems like an overly simplistic and naive statement that cannot possibly get at the heart of the issue. But let me suggest that the central reason we are where we are is because we can no longer identify what it means for any of us to be a distinctly United Methodist Christian. What is at stake in the 2020 General Conference and beyond is not whether we will take a traditional or progressive position on sex, but whether or not we can reclaim our story as United Methodists.


The Church in the Modern Age: A Story Forgotten

Perhaps the most significant reason we have forgotten our story is because of the rise of modernity. Former United Methodist and now Episcopalian theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, has said that the project of modernity is an attempt to produce a people who have no story except the story they chose when they had no story. In other words, modernity is an attempt to convince people that since we are rational, enlightened and autonomous individuals, there is no story, no narrative and no tradition that determines our lives except the one we choose for ourselves. Yet despite modernity’s attempt to be story-less, it too is a story. Modernity did not arise out of darkness ex-nihilo; it is a tradition that traces its roots to Christendom. But it is a story and a tradition that is false because human beings do not get to make up their own story; we have been “storied” through being formed as a community called the Church. We have been created, redeemed and sustained by the Holy Trinity. Our past, present and future have already been decided for us.


Ronald Beiner has sought to articulate the way liberalism, which is produced by modernity, has been able to convince us that we are a story-less people whose only identity is the one we create for ourselves. In his book “What’s The Matter With Liberalism?” he argues that in liberalism, we cannot distinguish between what is good and what is bad because human beings are reduced to individual consumers in which the freedom to choose is itself “the good,” meaning the true way of living our lives to the fullest. Therefore, nothing should restrict my freedom to choose how I live my life, including my own sexual preferences.


At first glance, this seems to be a traditionalist victory in the opening skirmish. But the problem is that liberalism is the air we breathe; we are all liberals. We all make up our lives believing we can define for ourselves what it means to be Christian. Conservatives, traditionalists, progressives and liberals all live in what Charles Taylor calls “The Age of Authenticity.” No one can tell me how to live my life or what to believe. In order to be authentic to who I am, I must figure those things out on my own. Even those of us who claim orthodoxy and submit to the Church’s teachings and the Book of Discipline first came to this understanding through a liberal trajectory. Traditionalists, like progressives, choose the ethics and biblical interpretations that fit their narrative rather than a wholesale subscription to historic orthodoxy. The reality is that we cannot go back to the pre-liberal, pre-modern era. To believe that we can defeat liberalism and reestablish the traditional values of the premodern church is exactly to believe the lie of modernity. We are not in control, we do not make up our lives and we cannot go back in time.


Virtue As A Way to Remember Story

This is not to say that all is lost. The true liberation of our enslavement to liberalism is not tighter restrictions, or more rules about who can do what as the Traditional Plan lays out. Liberation will only come through a return to the practice of virtue in the Church. As Christians, it is Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit who unites us into a common life and has given us shared practices that compose our fundamental identity as a whole, which we call the Church. The penalties and restrictions of the Traditional Plan cannot form us into a common life because we no longer acknowledge or render authority to the Church as our common life. One of Methodism’s best theologians, Stephen Long, professor of ethics at Perkins School of Theology, has done much critiquing of liberalism, but has also noted that the Traditional Plan turns the Church into a nation-state that attempts to enforce laws, which are then enforced by authorities. However, the Gospel of Jesus is not a coercive message that forces others to believe in God; it is a persuasive one that seeks to articulate God’s love for the world. We cannot participate in a common life together through coercion. Relearning virtue, on the other hand, can reconstitute us as a community with shared practices that united us as the Body of Christ.


Aristotle first articulated the idea of virtue thousands of years ago in Athens. For Aristotle, the virtues were the practices that held together the common life of all Athenians. Rather than trying to determine how you would act in a certain situation (the starting place for most modern ethics), Aristotle believed you should focus on developing character through habituated excellence (virtue) that would give you the skills necessary to act rightly in that situation. Furthermore, this character would help you to lead a truly good life, good not only for yourself as an individual, but good for the community as a whole. For Aristotle, the individual and the community did not have a different telos, as if what is good for me is not necessarily good for all, but rather what is good for me is good for all and vice versa. Thus, our chief end is to develop the kind of character through the practice of the virtues so that, rather than competing against one another through violence, we might engender a common life together.


In modernity, we do not live in a world that values virtue, much less one that cultivates it. Such a statement is proof since Aristotle had no conception of “value” as we use it today. That we use the word “value” to describe the things that are important to us demonstrates that modernity has created a world in which everything can be seen as an investment that has a price and can be bought and sold as a commodity in a liberal market economy. Thus we cannot even begin to return to virtue unless we, The United Methodist Church as a whole, can form the kind of habits that will produce people who can articulate that rather than being creators of our own story, we have been storied through the tradition of the Church of Jesus Christ. We did not make ourselves Christians, we were made by others. We did not make up the tradition, we received it from others. Our belief in God is not an individual choice that gives meaning and value to our life. Instead, since God raised Jesus from the dead, we cannot do anything but believe and live in the community of saints.


Formed Through Liturgy

In order for us to cultivate virtue that will allow us to engender a common life as the community of saints, we need to first develop habits that will lead to the development of virtue. I suggest that these habits must be most significantly developed through our worship. James K. A. Smith has written extensively on worship as the arena through which our desires are properly shaped and directed toward God. There is no more effective habit-producing mechanism than liturgy. Liturgy is not only found in the Church’s worship, but everywhere from an NFL football game to a presidential address at a U.S. military base to a concert of a popular rock band. The liturgy found in the Church’s worship as the gathered Body of Christ centers around the eucharistic table to consume the Lord Jesus must be the liturgy that habituates us, shapes our desires, and lays the foundation for our story as United Methodists.


Unfortunately, in The United Methodist Church today, a majority of us have forgotten why the celebration of the eucharist is central to our community. Liturgy is a bad word in some congregations, and at the very least an outdated term that will hinder church growth. It is argued that today our worship needs to be relevant, entertaining, or a “fresh expression,” not boring, old or traditional. Most of our churches continue to celebrate the eucharist only once a month even though modern transportation has long allowed ordained clergy to lead worship every Sunday. When we shape our worship to be exciting, entertaining and only occasionally include the eucharist, we are creating habits that shape our story as a people who worship the god of modernity who caters to individualistic desires and provides optimism in a world of suffering.


One possibility of cultivating the kinds of habits through worship that would develop virtue might be to emphasize services of Word and Table with weekly communion. I would also suggest an emphasis on the Book of Worship or the Book of Common Prayer as a whole as a way to pattern our worship. Although it has been argued that one of the beauties of Methodism is our diversity in worship and style, I would argue that is an attempt to allow entertainment or excitement to form us. In actuality, there is much flexibility and room in the liturgy and a service of Word and Table can be adapted to appropriately reflect culture or the season of the year.


A counter argument might be that more liturgical traditions like Catholicism or Anglicanism are suffering decline similar to The United Methodist Church, and we must not be foolish enough to think that we will instantly be sucked out of our denominational struggles. Modernity and liberalism have formed us so deeply that it will be a long and difficult journey home and we will lose many along the way. But if we can develop the habits and virtues the early Church once had, maybe when we get to the end of all this chaos, we will at least be formed enough to know how to move forward and where the God of Jesus Christ is calling us.


The Future of Methodism: Returning to the Fold

As Methodists, we rightly celebrate John Wesley as the leader of our movement. Despite the number of references to Wesley today among Methodists, we forget many of the most important aspects of his ministry. Wesley remained an Anglican priest until he died and never wanted to start a new church outside of the Church of England. His intent was to reform the Church and reinvigorate it with the Holy Spirit. The question must be asked: When will the reformation be over? Where we stand today, we have lost more than we have gained. For most of our Methodist Christians in America, our Anglican heritage is unknown. Our distinctive theological emphases, worship practices, ecclesiology and social ethics are so muddled that most of our seminary students should not pass board examinations, but they do because of our growing need for clergy. How many of us can articulate what is it that makes Methodists distinct from Anglicans? In what ways are we more aligned with the Spirit, faithful to God’s call or ethically pure? We have lost sight of Wesley’s vision and forgotten our story as Methodists.


Our future lies in returning to the fold of the Anglican Communion. This does not mean that we must abandon all Methodist distinctives or emphases; we can seek ways to rejoin the family that allow us always to remember our heritage. But we can no longer remain separated and divorced from the Church that birthed us. We have forgotten our story because in many ways it has come to an end. Many of our protests against the Church of England have been heard and acted upon. There is no reason to continue protesting when the reforms have been conceded. Wesley never desired for us to exist as an end unto ourselves. It may be argued that the Episcopal Church has suffered a church split and declining membership so why would a move toward liturgy and unity better our chances? If our greatest need is numbers and increased church membership, then unity will not help. But if our greatest need today is remembering our story, who we are and why we began, then unity is the only answer.


In the past half-century, few theologians have shaped the landscape of American belief and practice as much as Stanley Hauerwas. His work in social ethics, political theology, and ecclesiology has had a tremendous influence on the church and society. But have we understood Hauerwas’s theology, his influences, and his place among the theologians correctly? Hauerwas is often associated―and rightly so―with the postliberal theological movement and its emphasis on a narrative interpretation of Scripture. Yet he also claims to stand within the theological tradition of Karl Barth, who strongly affirmed the priority of Jesus Christ in all matters and famously rejected Protestant liberalism. These are two rivers that seem to flow in different directions.

In this episode, theologian David Hunsicker offers a reevaluation of Hauerwas’s theology, arguing that he is both a postliberal and a Barthian theologian. In so doing, Hunsicker helps us to understand better both the formation and the ongoing significance of one of America’s great theologians.

You can find the book here.

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