Archives For Kendall Soulen

“Christians must guard against the assumption that when the Qu’ran differs explicitly from biblical revelation it is therefore false.”

Last week I posted an essay from my teacher, theologian Bruce McCormack, thinking through possible Christian responses to the question: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

061213soulenTo continue that conversation, my friend, theologian Kendall Soulen, offered me his essay below which reflects on the very same issues. In it, Soulen points out the tradition among the Church Fathers of typological reading to inform theology and, as an example of such reading, uses the short story of Jonah to suggest three varying types of conversion to God. Each of these types, Soulen suggests, can correspond to how we conceive each of the Abrahamic faiths worshipping God.

It’s a PDF so just click on it below.

Soulen – The Sign of Jonah

 

Untitled44There’s no better time than the Advent season of ‘holy anticipation’ to reflect on what I think is the most important question for Christians to ponder:

Why does God takes flesh in the first place?

Does God become incarnate in Jesus in order to die upon the cross; so that, we can be saved from our sins?

Is Christmas merely instrumental? Is the Incarnation just the means by which humanity pays the sin-debt owed to God, satisfying God’s wrath against us in the process?

Or is the Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas itself salvific in some way?  Is humanity in some measure saved simply by God assuming our humanity?

And what do we mean by ‘salvation?’

For all you theology nerds, church geeks and preachers desperate for sermon ideas, I invite you to join me this Advent in reading and reflecting upon the Church Father Athanasius’ short essay On the Incarnation.

A bishop in the early 4th century and a leader against the Arian heretics (those who did not believe that the fullness of God dwelt in Christ) at the Council of Nicaea, Athanasius’ work On the Incarnation is one of the very first texts of developed Christian theology.

Plus, its short. 40 pages.

Even better, it’s free. Right here: Athanasius’ On the Incarnation of the Word

Print it out and after you’ve stuffed your face like the pilgrims of yore, get to reading.

Starting the week of 12/1 we’ll go at a 10-15 page pace a week.

Each week of Advent I’ll post my thoughts on what we’ve read, the context behind it and why it matters for thinking about and following Christ today.

Plus, each week I’ll post a podcast conversation about On the Incarnation between me and some special guests:

061213soulenDr. Kendall Soulen, Professor of Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary

Michael Harden, a Rene Girard scholar, author of The Jesus Driven Life and Executive Director of Preaching Peace

Bobby Ray Hurd, House Church Planter at Simple Church and the smartest dude I ‘know’ on the interwebs.

So read, listen, and send me a thought or question via email or the Speakpipe on the screen.

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To wet your whistle, here’s this money quote from Athanasius:

“Because the true story of the world has been lost in the seemingly endless epic of sin, Christ must retell- in the entire motion and content of his life, lived both toward the Father and for his fellows- the tale from the beginning.

The Logos became flesh in order to reestablish the original pattern after which the human form was crafted in the beginning, and to impress upon creation the beauty of the divine image.”

Want to know just how important those two sentences are for making sense of Christmas, Good Friday, the teachings of Christ and our hands-on embodiment of them for others?

Read.

Listen.

Ask.

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Do it.

 

Theologian Kendall Soulen was our guest this week for Pub Theology.

Kendall is the author of The God of Israel and Christian Theology and The Divine Names(s) and the Holy Trinity. He teaches theology at Wesley Theological Seminary here in DC. Most importantly, he’s a Karl Barth fanboy too.

A special thank to Andreas Barrett who hosted this installment at his home with his exceptional home-brew.

Mark your calendars. Next installment is December 11 with Rabbi Brett Isserow: ‘Putting the מָשִׁיחַ Back in X’mas.’

Over 30 people came out to talk with Kendall. After beginning with a gloria toast to the Holy Trinity, I asked Kendall to answer the first question he asks his students on their midterm: Evaluate the following statement. Faith is personal; it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere.’

You can listen to it all here below or in the sidebar to the right. You can also download it in iTunes here.

If you’re receiving this by email, you’ll probably need to click over to the blog to listen.

PastedGraphic-1Next Tuesday, 11/11 at 7:00 Dr. Kendall Soulen, Professor of Theology at Wesley Theological Seminary, is our guest for a special Home-Brewed Edition of Pub Theology.

Local brew-meister, Andreas Barrett, will host us in the bosom of his home and Kendall will lead us in a conversation about brewing your own faith and theology.

You can RSVP here.

So I don’t broadcast Andreas’ address all over the internet, RSVP and we’ll email you with the directions.

To get ready, here’s a listen to Kendall’s last Pub Theology with us.

Kendall-Soulen

Kendall Soulen is one of the most significant theologians the United Methodist Church can claim as our own. You can find his books here. I highly recommend his book on the Trinity and think any pastor is irresponsible if they don’t own a copy of the God of Israel and Christian Theology.

After a bedroom voice intro by Teer Hardy, the Pub Interview lasts about 45 minutes with another 45 of Q/A from the crowd. Be sure to listen to Kendall answer the 10 Questions at the end, my theologically spin on James Lipton’s questions from the Actors Studio.

If you like what you hear, come out to future Pub Theology events.

The Ten Questions

Jason Micheli —  February 19, 2014 — 1 Comment

nup-154296-0005-jpgLast night interviewed Dr Kendall Soulen, theology professor at Wesley Seminary, as part of our Pub Theology event at Forge Brew Works. To end the interview, I put a theological twist on James Lipton’s 10 Questions from Inside the Actors Studio.

 

 

Lipton’s questionnaire concept was originated by Frenchtelevision personality Bernard Pivot on his show Apostrophes, after the Proust Questionnaire.

I’ll post the audio to Kendall’s answers to the tweaked questions soon, but I thought I would offer my own rapid-fire responses to the 10 Questions:

 

  1. What is your favorite word? Grace.

  2. What is your least favorite word? Should.

  3. What turns you on? A wry, knowing smile.

  4. What turns you off? Silence.

  5. What sound or noise do you love? My son’s belly laugh.

  6. What sound or noise do you hate? My wife’s hairdryer.

  7. What is your favorite curse word? Son of a bitch!

  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Cooking.

  9. What profession would you not like to do? Dancing.

  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? Just by the skin your teeth.

Who’s brave enough to answer them too?

1551602_768095979874489_1306517654_nCome on out for Pub Theology this Tuesday night at 7:00 PM.

Once again, we’re meeting at Forge Brew WorksForgeHeader-258x210-1

You can find them on Facebook too, here.

It’s just off the Fairfax County Parkway on Terminal Road. You can find directions here.

This week our Pub Theologian in Residence is Dr. Kendall Soulen, who teaches theology at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Kendall-SoulenWithout exaggeration, Dr Soulen is one of the most significant Methodist theologians in the world.

His work has focused in particular on Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations. His book The God of Israel and Christian Theology is one of the most powerful books I’ve read; it’s argument is the spine of my sermon ‘The 614 Commandment’ which you can listen to on the sidebar.

His other books include Abraham’s Promise (coedited with Michael Wyschogrod) and, most recently, The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity.

Different from weeks’ past, I’ll begin this Pub Theology by interviewing Dr. Soulen and hopefully my questions for him will trigger some of your own.

To wet your whistle, here’s a couple of videos of Kendall in action.

So come on out tomorrow night- you won’t be sorry

 

PastedGraphic-1I invite you to come on out tonight at 7:00 @ King Street Blues.

Ward off the cold with a warming brew and conversation.
There is something about gather around a table of food and drink that allows everyone to lower their guard and be honest with each other.

In a nutshell:

Pub Theology is…
Open and honest conversation with friends (new and old!) about things that matter.

The format is simple.
Beer, conversation, and God. Everything is up for discussion, no assumptions, no barriers to entry. If you are going to get upset because someone questions something that is important to you maybe this isn’t for you, but if you think that whatever might be true ought to be able to stand up to being questioned maybe it is.

We will resume by choosing our topics (from a beer growler) at random, so if you have a topic suggestion please submit it on Twitter to @aumckingstowne with the #pubtheology.

And mark your calendars. Next month our guest pub theologian will be Kendall Soulen, professor of theology at Wesley Seminary.

His book the God of Israel and Christian Theology is quite simply one of the most important books I’ve ever read. 

Come on out.
First round is on Teer Hardy.

 

white-crucifixion-1938-1Here’s the Sunday sermon from this weekend on Romans 10 (but really Romans 9-11). I say Sunday sermon because Saturday’s sermon was…ahem…a disaster and required massive rethinking. Apologies to all the kind, patient people in the Saturday congregation.

For the sermon, to illustrate the damage we do to scripture when we summarize the biblical story in a way that replaces Israel with the Church I tore the pages out of two different bibles. You can follow the notes to see where that happened.

I should add that I’m indebted to the work of Kendall Soulen for charting new possibilities in how theology can be done in a way that’s faithful to Christ and allows God to keep faith with his People Israel. Check out his book, The God of Israel and Christian Theology.

Here’s the audio. It can also be played on the widget to the right of the blog or you can download it in iTunes under ‘Tamed Cynic.’

      1. The 614th Commandment

     

“I ask you, then, has God rejected his People?”

That’s Paul’s first question immediately following today’s long, thick passage: Has God rejected the Jews?’

     (Because they reject God in Christ?)

You shouldn’t answer too hastily.

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A couple of years ago, Ali and I were traveling in Southern France, and one hot, sunny day we toured a museum in Nice devoted to Mark Chagall, the Jewish artist who was born in Russia and fled to France before the outbreak of World War II.

The museum is a series of large, round rooms with Chagall’s boldly colored art displayed against spartan white walls.

Because of the diversity of tourists, there was no single ‘tour guide’ per se.

Instead everyone was given a hand-held radio each set to a specific language with numbered buttons that corresponded to the numbers next to each section of paintings.

Holding the radio next to my ear, I worked my way through the museum in no particular order. After a while, because my feet were sore, I sat down on a long leather bench in the middle of a gallery floor next to an old man.

He had a yarmulke barretted to his white, wiry hair and, faintly, I could hear that his radio was set to Hebrew.

Like the old man sitting at my left, I stared up at the painting on the front of today’s bulletin, Chagall’s White Crucifixion.

I pressed the button on my radio, button #14, and I listened as the GPS-sounding voice explained how Mark Chagall, who’d studied Torah before he’d studied art, saw in Jesus of Nazareth the ultimate symbol for the suffering of all the Jewish people.

When the GPS-sounding voice went on to mention how earlier versions of the painting depicted soldiers in black with swastikas on their arms burning down a synagogue- when the GPS-sounding voice said that, I heard the old man next to me start to cry.

     His palsied hand was holding the radio up to his left ear.

     Just underneath the cuff of his white sleeve I could see the numbers tattooed on the inside of his left wrist.

     Like a tag on an animal. Or a barcode on a piece of supermarket meat.

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Paul’s whole letter to the Romans has been building to the question.

From: I am not ashamed of the gospel” to: “nothing shall separate us from the love of God.”

All of it.

All of Paul’s memory verse rhetoric and every bit of his dense, theological argument- for 11 relentless chapters, it’s all been driving to this question:

“Has God rejected his People?’

The Jews.

      Just take another look at Chagall’s painting and you know: it’s a question we should not ask or answer carelessly.

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fackenheimOn November 9, 1938- Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass- a 22 year old boy named Emile Fackenheim managed to escape as Nazi storm troopers ransacked and burned Jewish homes and businesses and synagogues and then took 30,000 men to concentration camps.

Emile Fackenheim went on to become the most important Jewish theologian of the 20th century.

He wrote a book of post-holocaust philosophy called To Mend the World.

In that book, to all those who worship the God of Abraham, Fackenheim issues what he calls the 614th Commandment.

The rabbis always believed the Hebrew Scriptures- the Old Testament- contained 613 Commandments.

But because of the enormity of the Holocaust, Fackenheim says that those who worship the God of Israel should add one more commandment to the list, a 614th Commandment.

Commandment #614 goes like this: Thou shalt not give Hitler any posthumous victories. 

For Jews, Fackenheim says, the 614th Commandment means they should not despair.

They should not despair that this is God’s world and they are God’s Chosen People.

     And for Christians, the 614th Commandment means we should rethink how we answer that question of Paul’s.

      For us, the 614th Commandment means that we who live after the Holocaust must learn to tell a story of the Bible different than the one that led to the Holocaust.

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For nearly 2 millennia, the Christian Church’s answer to Paul’s question was an unflinching and uncritical and unbiblical: ‘Yes.’

‘Yes, God has rejected his People.’

But behind that ‘Yes,’ what made that ‘Yes’ possible, is a very particular way of summarizing and interpreting the Bible as a whole.

Behind that ‘Yes’ is a very selective way of mapping the plot of the biblical story.

It’s a way that’s probably familiar to all of you.

It breaks all 66 books of the bible into 4 main acts.

It goes like this:

[HERE, TEAR OUT FROM THE BIBLE THE CREATION STORIES, THE FALL ACCOUNT AND THEN THE REST OF SCRIPTURE]

2517-3-four-spiritual-laws-bible

     Act 1 

In the beginning God created humanity, Adam and Eve, to share eternal life with God- a goal humanity could attain by relying upon God’s grace and obeying God’s commands.

That’s Genesis chapter 1 and a sliver of chapter 2. That’s it and that’s Act 1.

But what happens next?

     Act II

The bible’s storyline hits a catastrophic snag.

Adam and Eve don’t trust God’s one and only command.

Adam blames Eve. They both hide from God.

They sully the image of God in which they were created.

They forfeit the goal of eternal life and they bring upon themselves and their children sin and death to such a degree it’s beyond any human power to heal.

That’s what Christians call- but Jews never have- the Fall.

That’s Genesis chapter 3. That’s just one page; that’s Act II.

     Act III

This is the longest act in the biblical story.

It’s the central drama: the rescue of humanity from Sin.

The undoing of what was done in what Christians call, but Jews never have, the Fall.

But before God redeems all people, God first calls a particular people to point forward to the salvation that comes in Christ.

So God chooses Abraham and Abraham’s children and God promises to them: ‘I will be your God and you will be my People.”

And so, according to Act III, what we find in the Old Testament is God giving Israel land and lineage; so that, they will be the place and people from which Christ will come.

And what we find in the Old Testament is God giving Israel law; so that, they will be prepared for the new spiritual law that will come with Christ.

And what we find in the Old Testament is God giving Israel prophets; so that, they will foreshadow the arrival and atonement of Christ.

And what we find in the New Testament is testimony that redemption from sin has been fully and finally enacted in Jesus Christ and that redemption is now available to us through the Holy Spirit.

So now, according to Act III, all the prophecies and prefigurements of the Old Testament are fulfilled.

Grace replaces the Law.

Baptism replaces circumcision.

Eucharist replaces Passover.

Church replaces Synagogue.

And, because they do not confess faith in Jesus the Messiah, God breaks his promise to Abraham and Christians replace Jews as God’s People.

Finally, comes Act IV.

Act IV is the time we’re in now, awaiting the second coming of Christ when will God will fulfill his purpose and bring humanity to eternal life.

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That’s the standard way of telling the basics of the biblical story.

It’s the story the Apostles’ Creed tells: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…” SKIP OVER THE ENTIRE STORY OF ISRAEL  TO SAY … ”I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord.”

And then we go on to say how we believe in our forgiveness of sins and our life everlasting…

It’s the standard way of telling the story. It’s the bible tract way of telling the story. It’s the 4 Spiritual Laws way of telling the story. It’s the only way of telling the story that’s make possible something like the Gideon Bible.

And the tragic irony is:

It should not take a holocaust to point out the problems with that way of telling the story.

[HERE, START TEARING PARTS OF THE BIBLE, A SECTION AT A TIME, TO ILLUSTRATE HOW THE STANDARD SYNOPSIS OF THE BIBLE EVISCERATES THE NARRATIVE] 

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The first problem, the beginning problem, is that it makes the entire biblical story exclusively about our sin and redemption from it.

Everything hinges on Genesis chapter 3, on just the second page of your bible.

Everything in scripture is a reaction to Adam and Eve’s sin, a reaction to what Christians call, but Jews never have, the Fall.

But there’s a whole lot of other stuff in the Old Testament that God seems to care about besides just foreshadowing Christ- 1340 pages in my bible.

     The prophet Micah didn’t just predict where Christ would be born; he told us what God requires of us: ‘to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with God.’

God didn’t give the law to Moses just to prepare us for Christ; God gave the law so we would do things we would never do unless God told us like ‘care for the immigrants in our land because once we were immigrants in Egypt.’ 

The prophet Isaiah didn’t just foresee the suffering servant’s wounds by which we are healed; Isaiah foresaw that Day when ‘no more shall an infant live but a few days,’ a Day not when God will whisk our souls off to heaven but a Day when God will come down and make this Earth new again.

The first problem with the way we summarize the bible story is that there’s a whole lot of stuff God cares about other than just our redemption from sin.

The second problem in the standard way we summarize the story is that once Christ comes Israel has no other role to play in God’s work in the world.

God’s People, Israel- they’re like a boat that takes you across to your destination and once you arrive the boat’s no longer necessary.

And since you’re not going back, the boat’s obsolete.

You can leave it behind. Leave Israel behind.

And really you can leave Israel’s bible behind too.

Which leads then to the third problem.

When you leave the Old Testament behind, you make Jesus’ preaching in the New unintelligible.

Because once you’ve forgotten about all that other stuff in the Old Testament that God cares about, then everything Jesus says about poverty, deliverance, forgiveness, healing, debt, salvation, and Kingdom- it all starts to sound spiritual and other-worldly and the exact opposite of what Jesus actually meant.

When we leave the Old Testament behind, we’re just left with a Jesus who died so we can go to heaven when we die instead of a Jesus whom God raised from the dead as the first sign that God was bringing Christ’s Kingdom of Heaven down to earth.

When we do away with Jesus’ Bible we make everything Jesus said unintelligible.

And that leads the fourth and final problem with the way we summarize the bible story.

When we suggest that God has replaced Israel with the Church, what we’re really saying is that God has broken his unconditional, no-strings-attached promise to Israel: ‘I will be your God and you will be my People.’

And if God will break that promise to them, what about all the promises that God in Christ makes to us?

What about when Christ promises to us that God’s love is like a Father who never stops waiting for his wayward child to come home from the far country?

If God will break his first promise to Israel, then how do we know the Prodigal’s Father won’t just say to his child: ‘Nah, you should’ve come home earlier.’

Just follow the logic: if that first promise is conditional, then all the others are up for grabs too.

If God will break that first promise, then Paul has no basis on which to promise that ‘there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.’ 

If God will go back on that first promise to Israel

Then we have no reason to look forward to Revelation’s promise that one day God will come down and make his creation new again and dwell with us so that there will no more mourning, no more tears, no more pain.

     If God breaks God’s promises, we’re really not left with much

[Hold Up Bible Cover with Nothing Left In It]

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There’s got to be a better way to understand the story.

And there is.

It’s the way that Jesus would’ve understood the story.

It’s the way that Paul would’ve learned the story.

Because we should never forget that Jesus and Paul were Jews, and because they were Jews, Jesus and Paul never would have referred to Adam and Eve’s sin the garden as ‘the Fall.’

And so as Jews, Jesus and Paul never would have seen Genesis 3 as the hinge around which all of scripture revolves.

As Jews, as people of the People of Israel, when it comes to the hinge of the story, when it comes to the core of scripture, Jesus and Paul would have pointed not to Genesis 3, not to Adam’s sin and our redemption from it.

As Jews, Jesus and Paul would’ve pointed to Genesis 12, to God’s unconditional promise to bless Abraham and Abraham’s children: ‘I will be your God and you will be my People.’

     For Jews, that’s the hinge of the biblical story.

And as Jews, Jesus and Paul would’ve known that that’s only part of the promise God makes to Abraham.

Jesus and Paul also would’ve known that God promises that through Abraham and Abraham’s children, through them, somehow, God would find a way to bless all the nations of the world.

Gentile nations.

Jesus and Paul would’ve known that from the very beginning of scripture God’s promise, God’s desire, was to have two different families, two different people, Jews and Gentiles, blessing one another and blessing the God of Israel.

Maybe that’s why when Jesus comes back from grave, he tells his disciples to make disciples not of all Jews but of all the nations.

Gentile nations.

     And maybe that’s why when Paul writes here in Romans chapters 9-11, when Paul speaks of God, he uses only active verbs.

     As though to remind you that God’s in charge. God’s behind all this.

     And when Paul speaks of Israel and their lack of belief in Jesus Christ, all the verbs are in the passive voice.

    As though, Israel, the Jews, are not in control at all.

    As though God’s People haven’t done anything to reject belief in Jesus Christ.

    As though instead God has done everything- everything, even make them not believe- in order to welcome other people into God’s People through Jesus Christ.

    As though instead God has done everything- even make them not believe- in order to welcome other people-like you into God’s People.

     Through Jesus Christ.

      M4_68 Aluminium NOWA dated 1939 FrontNot long ago, knowing this section of scripture was looming on the preaching schedule, I decided to tour the Holocaust Museum, for the first time since I was a student.

At the start of the tour, I was handed an identification card.

Every ID Card has the name and biography of a Jewish child who experienced the Shoah.

The ID Cards are meant to personalize the events described in the exhibits, to boil down the unimaginable scale of tragedy and make you feel invested in just one life out of millions.

The ID Card in my hand felt like a millstone around my neck. On it was the name of a 10 year old boy, גַּבְרִיאֵל, Hebrew for ‘strong man of God.’

My son’s name.

They handed me the ID Card and I looked at the name and I immediately flipped to the end of the bio.

He didn’t make it.

The place that day was crowded with tourists and field trips.

The whole way through I trailed behind a group of Hebrew School kids. At one point, in the middle of the tour, I stood next to the school kids as we looked at black and white photographs in an exhibit.

You could just make out our reflections, Gentile and Jew, staring back at us in the display glass case.

     Behind our reflections was a picture of two soldiers- Gentile soldiers- posing proudly in front of a cattle car filled with Jews.

     The exhibit noted how the inscription on the soldiers’ belt buckles- the inscription on all German soldiers’ belt buckles- read: ‘Gott mit uns.’ 

     Which is German for ‘Emmanuel.’

     Which is Hebrew for ‘God with us.’

     I stood there in front of the glass next 3 Hebrew School 5th graders.

Two girls and one boy.

Maybe it was because of the angle of the lights or maybe it was because of where we were standing or maybe it was because of the thickness of the glass but, looking in, I could see our reflections on the display case glass.

Gentile and Jew.

And as though written across all four of our chests I could also see the written translation for the those belt buckles: God with us.

As though it were tattooed on all of us.

And I thought to myself, that’s exactly right.

 

     

white-crucifixion-1938This weekend I (attempted to) unpack Paul’s dense prose in Romans 9-11, the historically fraught section where Paul ponders why the Jewish Messiah has come yet Jews do not recognize him.

Here are two quick videos that are well worth your time. Kendall Soulen, a Methodist who teaches at Wesley Seminary. takes the new ground toward Israel that Karl Barth opened up and he charts a way forward (a non-supersessionist way) for Christians to think about their brothers and sisters of God.

Folks who endured my sermon this weekend will no doubt wish I’d just played these videos…