Archives For homebrewed christianity

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No, the title isn’t an appeal to my ego. The Home-Brewed Christianity #LectioCast was kind enough to invite me as a guest for the next two weeks to talk about my new book, Cancer is Funny, and discuss the Advent lectionary readings.

Hosted by Dr. JR Daniel Kirk, #LectioCast aims to get preachers’ jumpstarted on their prepcrastination by honing in on issues and themes in the scripture passages assigned for the upcoming Sunday and to do so in a way that is sharp, practical, and seasoned with a bit of snark.

Daniel credits me with a “fascinating” interpretation of the Matthew 24 lection. “Fascinating” is most likely NT scholar speak for “incorrect” but I think it’ll preach all the same.

You can listen to the podcast here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

homebrewed-christianityBo Saunders’ and Tripp Fuller’s Homebrewed Christianity TNT Podcast has gotten me through many a long run. Listening to their theological nerd throw-downs always proves a helpful distraction from my huffing and puffing and creaking.

Their most recent TNT episode dealt with the viral reaction to theologian Roger Olson’s no-holds-barred dismissal of Process Theology.

For you lay people, Process Theology is a 20th century theology that, until I listened to Homebrewed, I thought had never made it out of the 20th century. I can still recall the rather small paragraph devoted to it in Alistair McGrath’s Introduction to Christian Theology.

In a nutshell, Process Theology holds that God affects- and this is the big point- is affected by creatures and time.

Process Theology thus contradict’s the most basic, consensus understanding of God in all the ancient theistic traditions that God is eternal, immutable, and impassible.

In other words, God changes.

Is changed.

Process Theology would argue that relationship between two requires the possibility that the two will change and be changed by the other. While I have sympathy with such a view, I still believe the ancient theistic view that God, who is not an object in the universe, is unchanging.

God is Love itself. Goodness itself.

Without deficiency or imperfection- which is just what a change implies.

I don’t want to get too far into the finer points of Process Theology.

I just want to note that Bo Saunders posted a reflection on their recent episode in which, in the name of cultural relevance, he (IMO) dismisses the ancient Christian tradition:

What I am saying is that we don’t need to understand Aquinas better or deeper. 

We are to do in our day what Aquinas did in his.

Call this dismissive if you will but  The Church’s future is not to be found in Europe’s past. I say it all the time.

Historic thinkers like Aquinas never saw what I call the 5 C’s of our theological context:

• post-Christendom

• Colonialism

• global Capitalism

• Charismatic renewal (especially Pentecostalism in the Southern Hemisphere)

• Cultural Revolutions (from Civil Rights in the 60’s to the ‘Arab Spring’)

Who am I to criticize someone else for making wild generalizations, right?

Admittedly, I’m a huge aficionado of Aquinas and an even bigger fan of contemporary Thomists like Stanley Hauerwas, Alistair McIntyre and Hebert McCabe, but Bo’s argument initially struck me as incredibly modern in a bad way.

There is no better modernist impulse than to deconstruct and dismiss the past tradition, myopically assuming that our cultural moment is unique and beyond analogy such that the tradition can shed a helpful light.

While I agree with Bo that Christians need to do what Aquinas did not merely genuflect the received tradition, I don’t think Bo articulates how

it’s impossible to do what Aquinas did without first mastering the skills and habits that empowered Aquinas to do what Aquinas did.

Flannery O’Connor once lamented how the reason the quality of contemporary literature was so poor was because too few contemporary authors had been trained in the great literature of the past. The same critique could be leveled at much contemporary theology too.

What’s more, I think Bo’s point neglects the fact that many of the Church Fathers did live and work in moments with parallels to the 5 C’s Bo highlights.

Irenaeus, for example, lived BEFORE Christendom and thus can help us see how theology is to be done apart from Empire. (To equate all ancient and classical theology with capitulation to Caesar is both ungenerous to our forebears and a misreading of history.)

Augustine, for another example, witnessed the collapse of the Roman Empire, a cultural devolution that speaks volumes about our own cultural permutations.

Thomas Aquinas meanwhile shows us how to synthesize the best of cultural wisdom into a coherent Christian worldview, a helpful model for us at a time when Christians are rapidly disappearing from the arts and other culture-shaping disciplines.

 

Above all, however, I think Bo’s argument is negated by the nature of the most innovative contemporary theology today.

I think Tony Jones rightly points out that Process Theology has really never gained traction in either the ivory tower or the pews and pulpits. Meanwhile (and again, I’m showing my personal preferences) the most important, game-changing theological work is being done by theologians who are the very contradiction of Bo’s perspective, theologians like William Cavanaugh, Rowan Williams, John Milbank, Stanley Hauerwas and Robert Jenson. All of them et al are deeply rooted in the ancient historic tradition but all of them exemplify how that ancient tradition can speak creatively to our context.

David Bentley Hart, for a final nail in the coffin, is without doubt the most innovative, important young theologian today, and the bulk and best of his work (not so) simply puts the ancient Orthodox tradition into conversation with the challenges of postmodernity.

It’s cliched to say that those who don’t know the past are doomed to repeat it, but maybe the opposite is true in theology: those who don’t study the past are doomed not to come close to the wisdom of it.

 

 

 

Christian Piatt, from the Homebrewed Christianity Culture Cast, is curating an online list of the Best Christian Blogs and, yep, your’s truly is hovering steady around #60.

This isn’t (just) shameless self-promotion.

The analytics tell me I started this blog about this time last year, and, 12 months later, I’m actually quite humbled and grateful for comments like the below:

Tamed Cynic: The Blog of Jason MicheliAdded by Bobby Ray Hurd on Aug 21, 2013The best Christian blogger you don’t know about; Jason explores the faith through a radical lens as a repentant cynic offering hopeful commentary on the Church’s witness in our world through current events, sound theology, and compelling/accessible scholarship that challenges all Christians no matter where they are at. My highest recommendation.

 You can vote too!

Just a handful of votes can thrust me from near anonymity to slight obscurity.

Just click here then scroll down in the 50’s-60’s to find me (or do an Alpha Search) and click the ‘vote up’ icon.

Share the love.

Au Contraire

Jason Micheli —  July 22, 2013 — 1 Comment

Raised to Life PicWe continued our sermon series through Paul’s Letter to the Romans this weekend with 8.12-17. Paul structures his letter along a diatribe style; that is, Romans is a sustained argument with a hypothetical opponent or interlocutor. Because Romans takes this debate posture, I thought it would be good to mimic the text’s form by engaging in a diatribe of my own during the sermon. We did so by playing a little game called ‘Au Contraire.’

For the sermon time, the worshippers were seated at round tables. Each table had an assigned number and a printed assertion. We pulled numbered balls from a bingo tumbler. When a table’s number was called, the assertion was read and then Dennis Perry and myself had to agree or disagree with the statement- but not before being randomly assigned a pro or con position.

It was fun for us. The extemporaneous nature of it made it refreshing I think, and, perhaps more importantly, it demonstrated how believers can turn to scripture and the Christian tradition to arrive at different conclusions to questions, a fact which should encourage charity towards those with whom you disagree.

Here’s the audio from the last 2 of our 4 weekend services. We ranged around the room a bit so the sound isn’t as strong as I’d like.

      1. Au Contraire- 9:45 Service

 

      2. Au Contraire- 11:15 Service

Chagall-1I’d been a candidate in the United Methodist ordination process for a year and a half. I’d been a seminary student for two semesters, and I’d been a solo pastor for three months when a member of my tiny little congregation at Linvale United Methodist Church outside Princeton, New Jersey went home one Sunday after the 10:00 worship service, climbed downstairs to his basement, spread out the plastic tarp that was still dirty from a long ago family camping trip, unlocked the deer rifle with which he’d once taught his son to hunt in the Pine Barrens, sat down in a wrought iron lawn chair, and killed himself.

It had been seven years since I’d given my life to Christ. I had ten ‘Master of Divinity’ courses notched on my transcript. I’d been a minister for a dozen or so Sundays. And, suddenly, one of my first tasks in that role was to minister to the family of a church member who had taken his own life.

The man was elderly, and he was terminally ill with cancer, painfully so. This was my second direct experience with suicide.

The first came had come at the church at which I’d interned just a few months previous.

A friend recently lost a good friend the same way and asked me the question that always comes up in those situations:

What does the Church believe about suicide?

 Is suicide really an unforgivable sin?

Before anyone goes about answering such a question to distinguish suicide as a rational choice and suicide as the result of mental or emotional illness.15-Javert-commits-suicide-because-he-has-lost-his-hat

There is a deep difference between, say, Inspector Javert and Rick Warren’s who tragically suffered mental illness and recently sucumbed to it.

With the former example in mind, the Christian tradition has historically held suicide to be morally wrong because the act of suicide represents a refusal to live moment-by-moment. In this sense, in suicide, the creature seeks to exercise the autonomy of the creator. Thus suicide marks a rejection of our status as finite creatures made by God. Because it’s not solely “my” life that I’m taking, suicide can, theologically speaking, be understood as an assault or affront to God, the One to whom “my” life belongs. For Christians, this kind of suicide is an attack on someone else’s property.

Suicide is an issue around which many painful myths cohere so it’s important to point out that, from a Christian viewpoint, suicide does not necessarily condemn one to irretrievable punishment.

God no more judges a person on the single sinful act of suicide than God judges any one else solely on a single sinful act.

Rather the Christian understanding that even with those commit suicide God takes the measure of a whole life and judges based on the sum of that life.

When it comes to the first sort of suicide, the sort I encountered in my first parish difficult though it was, what is important for a Christian ethical perspective is that Christians refuse to speak the culturally dominant language of independence. This is hard.

The language of individual autonomy, though common, is deceptive. It may sound true that my life is my life, yet a family’s experience of suicide proves just how false a claim that really is. The language of individual autonomy is limiting because the fact is our lives are bound together with family and friends in a number of ways.

My life is not just my own because it’s a life that exists in relationship with scores of others: many who love me, many who depend upon me, many who understand their life in relationship to my own.

I learned this fact firsthand while ministering to the church member’s family I mentioned above. His suicide was hardly a solitary act with limited consequences. On the contrary it caused pain to all those others to whom his life belonged.

Christian tradition, then, defines suicide as a moral wrong first because it’s a rejection of our created-ness and hence an assault on God and, secondly, Christian tradition defines it as a moral wrong because, whether it’s intended or not, it’s an assault on others too.

Having said all that, it’s critical to stress that most of us have more experience with examples like the heartache Rick Warren and his family are presently enduring.

To listen to a very good and pastoral conversation about this topic, I’d encourage you to take a listen to the recent podcast at Homebrewed Christianity.

logoTo take a step back, I think what’s critical to remember in all cases is that suicide isn’t so much a question what a person will suffer in God’s eternity rather suicide is but one example of how God’s creation continues to suffer- groan, Paul says- under the power of Sin and Death.

The saving power of the cross is both perfect and yet mysteriously it’s still most definitely NOT YET.

karl_barth_1167312313122810As in most things, I think Karl Barth puts it well.

This is from Church Dogmatics 3.4:

“Sickness, like death itself, is unnatural and disorderly. It is an element in the rebellion of chaos against God’s creation. It is an act and declaration of the devil and demons. To be sure, it is no less bound to God and dependent on Him than the creature which He created. Indeed, it is impotent in a double way. For like sin and death, it is neither good nor is it willed and created by God at all, but is real, effective, powerful and menacing only in its nullity, as part of that which God has negated, as part of His kingdom on the left hand.…

“The realm of death which afflicts man in the form of sickness … is opposed to His good will as Creator and has existence and power only under His mighty No. To capitulate before it, to allow it to take its course, can never be obedience but only disobedience towards God. In harmony with the will of God, what humans ought to will in face of this whole realm on the left hand, and therefore in face of sickness, can only be final resistance.… Those who take up this struggle obediently are already healthy in the fact that they do so, and theirs is no empty desire when they will to maintain or regain their health.”

“When one person is ill, the whole of society is really ill in all its members. In the battle against sickness the final human word cannot be isolation but only fellowship.”