I was camping this weekend, so the roundup is coming at you a little late…
First up, an excellent piece on civility, blogging, and social media, reminding us that being kind is far more important than being right, especially if we claim to represent Jesus.
Second, a pair of solid articles from two sources I follow quite closely:
- The Jesus Creed blog takes a the Day of the Lord in 2 Peter 3 (“The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare…”) arguing for an ecological reading of the text, and also offers up a provocative piece on whether or not personal Bible reading is destroying the church.
- Over at Relevant, there’s an article calling on churches to make great art again, and another with 7 ideas for Christian tattoos. That second piece is making me think about resurrecting an old series on this site where I offered reflections and explanations on my own tattoos. We shall see!
As you know if you read my last post, the church lost a great theological mind recently with the passing of Wolfhart Pannenberg. The Hombrewed Christianity podcast has a great episode reflecting on Pannenberg’s impact, along with links to some excellent memorial pieces.
Last but not least, here’s a video that brings together equal parts humor, classical music, and girl power:
“Wolfhart Pannenberg is not an attractive man.”
That’s how I would typically introduce Pannenberg the first time his name came up during a lecture. It was a way to get the class to chuckle a little, breaking them from any distractions and getting their minds to stop wandering so that they’d hear the important content from his thought that followed.
On September 5, that “is” became a “was.”
I began using the picture of Pannenberg to the right when some students complained that he looked too harsh in other photos. It’s true — do a Google image search for his name and you won’t find many pictures of him smiling. He looks rather severe… but he was German, so we can’t really hold that against him.
I’ve been knee-deep in Pannenberg for about two years now, trying to read and re-read the bulk of his writings before I start my dissertation focusing on his work. And now that he’s gone, my mind goes immediately to that picture.
But the truth is, the first time I read Pannenberg he scared the hell out of me.
His theology is written in an impersonal tone, with nary a use of the word “I.” He was indifferent to so-called “contextual” voices — overlooking contributions from women and Majority World scholars in favor of dead white men like Barth and Hegel.
The first time I read Pannenberg, it was a selection from his pivotal Anthropology in Theological Perspective where he declared that truth, in order to be true, had to be universal. It could not be “my truth” or “your truth,” or else it would be no truth at all. It was a declaration that offended and shook me, right down to my tidy little postmodern foundations.
But then something happened — I kept reading Pannenberg.
Like many others, I marveled at the breadth of his knowledge and the strength of his logic. I came to admire how every piece of his system cohered with the whole. I had read theologians in the past who were interesting, a few who were convicting, and even a handful who were compelling [Moltmann]. But for the first time in Pannenberg, I had discovered theology that was truly and thoroughly convincing.
Wolfhart Pannenberg believed that if God was the all-determining reality, then everything human beings hold to be true about reality had to cohere with our understanding of the divine. Thus, he called theologians to be masters of everything, and to bring insights from the natural sciences, metaphysics, philosophy, history, psychology, etc. together into a cohesive whole that made sense in light of God.
He did his theology by starting from below and then looking up, making sense of the world in relation to God.
Classical liberalism lost sight of the divine object generations ago, reducing theology to reflection on subjective human religious experience. Conservative theologians responded by clinging foundationally to man-made doctrines and traditions, understood as epiphanies from the divine.
Pannenberg challenged both camps — reinstating God as the object of theological investigation and utilizing theology to challenge and assess the truthfulness of doctrine.
Wolfhart Pannenberg also resurrected my belief in truth.
Because of him, I now view truth not as a weapon utilized by those in power to oppress and silence the powerless, but a tool for challenging our own biases. Truth is not something that affirms the meta-narratives we weave, but a destabilizing force that helps us correct them.
Truth is universal in the sense that it originates in and directs us to the one divine reality that is the basis for everything, and manifold due to its embodiment in a plurality of contexts. It is a property of God about which human beings may hypothesize, not merely out of curiosity, but as an expression of worship.
I never met Wolfhart Pannenberg, but that’s the impact his work has had on me (so far) and I am grateful for it.
Since the last two months have been a bit short on weekend roundups, I’ve decided to pack this one with plenty of goodies. Here is an assortment of news articles and blog posts I’ve found interesting, important, and/or insightful over the last week:
First up is an article from Salon on the decline of home ownership in America. While many are concerned by this development, others are beginning to see the benefits of the shift toward renting. I for one am firmly in the second group — now if we could only get rid of that pesky mortgage interest tax deduction to get more people renting. From the article:
“[A]s a long-term development, [the shift toward renting] signifies an emerging model of American life released from the cult of homeownership. It would make Americans more mobile (as we once were), and more able to adapt to economic changes… It will shift consumer demand away from goods and services that complement large indoor space and a backyard toward goods and services more oriented toward living in an apartment. Similarly, the possible shift toward city living may dampen demand for automobiles, highways and gasoline but increase demand for restaurants, city parks and high-quality public transit.”
War and Violence Around the World
Another topic in the news right now is America’s gradual descent back into war in Iraq to counter the rapid advance of ISIS. While the public remains war weary, opinions are beginning to shift after the gruesome beheading of two American journalists by ISIS militants. Even isolationists like Rand Paul are now calling for intervention to “destroy” ISIS.
In spite of such calls, many of us are not convinced that ISIS poses an immediate threat to the American mainland. The group did not even seem all that interested in striking the US prior to our recent airstrikes in Iraq, and a story this week from ABC News points out that ISIS is not nearly the threat to America that al Quaeda was pre-9/11.
MennoNerds has hosted a great series featuring Christian perspective on the situation with ISIS, favoring nonviolence. A post from a few weeks ago by Andrew Klager puts forward some concrete steps Christians can take to educate themselves and respond constructively to the situation in Syria and Iraq. (Spoiler: Posting hateful, anti-Islamic propaganda on social networks is not one of them).
Fake War for American Culture
The Christian Right is hard at work embarrassing Jesus with its boycott of the Dallas Cowboys due to their signing of Michael Sam, the first openly-gay player in the NFL. As Christian lobbyist Jack Burkman explains, “We cannot just stand idly by as Christian values and morals are trampled.”
So let me get this straight — of all the terrible things happening in our country that fly in the face of the way of Jesus, you’re devoting your time and resources to a professional football signing?
Meanwhile, a group of Christians who take seriously Jesus’ command to love thy neighbor (and his example of solidarity with social outcasts) have launched a petition supporting Michael Sam and opposing the boycott.
It’s a silly thing to be so focused on from either side, but I signed the petition and you probably should too.
Spiritual but not Religious?
A few months ago I came across this 2011 article from the Huffington Post on why being “spiritual but not religious” is boring and a cop-out. In spite of its polemical tone, the article really resonated with me. I was reminded of the piece because of an even better post on the same subject this week by Glenn Packiam.
To his credit, Packiam not only addresses those who are spiritual but not religious but also those Christians who absurdly claim that Christianity is not a religion at all. As he writes:
“Some Christian writers are convinced that the best thing to do is to stop talking about Christianity and to emphasize following Jesus and not any sort of organized religion. But this won’t do because there is no unscrambling this egg: Christianity as an organized Way of following Jesus exists, and has existed for a couple of millenia… Others say, just leave out ‘the Church’, because, after all, Jesus didn’t come to start an institution. Other than a re-reading of a key speech Jesus gave to Peter, this view ignores (either out of ignorance or otherwise) that the four Gospels came to us out of early Christian communities. They were some of the last New Testament books to be written, and the stories in it were preserved by…wait for it…churches. So if the Gospels contain some sort of anti-Church or anti-organized religion message, it would be news to the writers!”
Greg Boyd wrote a solid and accessible article this week critiquing divine determinism (a.k.a. predestination) in favor of free will. From the post:
“This belief in fate or divine determinism is as tragic as it is unbiblical. Among other things, fatalism inevitably leads people to blame God for evil. If God is the ultimate cause of everything, how could this conclusion be avoided? Moreover, by undermining our freedom of choice, determinism strips us of our dignity and moral responsibility. It reduces us to pawns of fate and robs us of our potential to love. In other words, it destroys the beauty of the biblical proclamation that we are made in the image of God.”
In other makings for good theology, here’s a compilation of biblical teachings on wealth entitled: “The Gospel of the Comfortable.” Warning: this one might sting a little.
Life and Faith
The folks over at Relevant offered up a bunch of great articles this week, including:
- “Four myths Christians need to stop believing about depression” — an article I’ll be recommending to a number of friends (both depressed people and people who need to stop being asses to depressed people).
- “Seven truths about marriage you won’t hear in church” — including that sex is awesome, there is no Mr. or Mrs. Right, and (*gasp*) marriage is not for everyone!
- “Signs you might be addicted to busyness” — an article which hit a little too close to home for me.
And finally, Scot McKnight has a great post over at Jesus Creed about making faith stick for young adults. He’s actually engaging with the book Embedded Faith by Carlton Johnstone, and there is a lot of truth there. Check it out!
As always, here’s a funny video. This one is a 13 minute clip recounting all of the problems with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (WARNING: contains SPOILERS). It’s quite thorough. Funny story — I discovered the clip because the embedded clip from last week’s weekend roundup somehow changed to this. Perhaps it was fate?
So if you already saw the video below in last week’s post, go back and check out the clip you were supposed to see:
About a month ago, I stepped into the role of interim coordinator of youth ministries at my church in Pasadena. It’s been about three years since I worked extensively with youth, and about five years since I last served in youth ministry. So, naturally, I went into this role with one question on my mind:
Do I still have it?
Do I still have what it takes to relate to youth? Will they laugh at my jokes? Will they catch my references? Will I be the cool guy with tattoos who is close enough in age to understand what they’re going through, or will I be a creepy old guy who talks and thinks like their parents?
I’m happy to report that all of these questions quickly became irrelevant once I started serving in the ministry. The truth is, all that stuff I was worried about — all of my reservations — are pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
These students, much like the ones I served not so long ago back in Pennsylvania, are just looking for someone who will listen to them — someone who cares. It’s not about being cool or relevant. The key is being willing to invest.
Now that I can do.
This good news was followed by another realization. Getting back into the fold of youth ministry, I quickly discovered a deeper problem that I might not be able to overcome. A change in my own outlook over the last half decade or so that doesn’t fit with 98% of the youth ministry resources and philosophy out there: I had become a progressive minister.
In my early days in ministry, I operated without a whole lot of convictions. I believed in the gospel, the importance of following Jesus, and the need to disciple young Christians, but I wasn’t very opinionated when it came to certain hot button issues. It didn’t really bother me if another leader thought women shouldn’t lead in ministry, or that the earth was only 6,000 years old — those weren’t my opinions, but to each their own.
I was a bit of a relativist. The problem is — I’m not anymore.
This came into play last week when I went online to book a location for the youth winter camp. Our church usually sends the kids to a popular Christian youth camp in the area. It’s trendy, with a hip band, fun activities, and energetic speakers. But in the past, our leaders have had to do damage control after evening sessions in which the theology offered up by the hip speakers clashed with our church’s convictions. I was warned to look very carefully into the backgrounds of the various speakers. What I found was terrifying.
One speaker is the owner of a gun manufacturer. His twitter feed was a mix of Bible verses, new gun reviews, and insensitive tweets in the wake of the Fergusson shooting about how guns save lives.
Some of the other speakers had websites with videos of past sermons. I discovered hours of quality content that included:
- Mocking other religions
- Christian triumphalism
- American exceptionalism
- Vicarious atonement theory
- Anti-scientific nonsense
- Apologetic arguments so flimsy, they make the New Atheists sound logical
I don’t know about you, but I’m not looking to instill pride and ignorance in the next generation of Christian disciples. I want the students in my church’s youth group to be captivated by the love of God. I want them to be hope-filled, subversive followers of Jesus.
So, why the hell would I ever let these people influence our kids?
It took a while, but I finally happened upon a camp that doesn’t look to be propagating theology from the 1950s. Problem solved… except that I’m beginning to realize that this is just the beginning. I may only be serving for a short time in this interim capacity, but pretty soon I’m going to need to purchase curriculum, train volunteers, book summer camp, etc.
There are very few sources for training and support for progressive youth ministry — but they are out there. The Progressive Youth Ministry Conference is a great starting point, and I plan to take a few of our volunteers there if I’m still serving come March.
Chalice Press is another great resource — a progressive Christian publishing house with curriculum for all ages.
Are there other progressive youth ministers out there? Hit me up. Comment on this blog post. And feel free to share other resources you know about. Let’s cultivate a generation of Christians that follow Jesus out of love rather than fear.
It’s good to be back.
For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been knee-deep in comprehensive exams over the past few weeks, which has kept me from updating the blog as frequently as I would have liked.
I’ve missed a lot during this hiatus from the internet — ISIS, Ferguson, ice buckets, etc. Maybe I’ll be able to comment on some of these happenings in future posts. For now, I don’t have much of an roundup to share… just a heads up that I’m back and a promise of future posts to come.
I will leave you with a funny clip, as I often do in these weekend posts: the latest honest trailer from the folks at Screen Junkies. It’s pretty awesome.
Until we meet again…