Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Imitation of Christ (reprise)

I know there's much good to be found in Thomas A Kempis' classic The Imitation of Christ with the overarching themes of discipleship and humility. But I think it is incomplete in some vital ways, having only a partial view of Christ's work.

To imitate Christ more fully, a few more things need to be recalled in the picture of Christ's life: celebrating at weddings, welcoming sinners, eating with tax collectors and prostitutes, taking little children in his arms. Our idea of the imitation of Christ must grow beyond the medieval ascetic framework in which the author wrote. Our idea of imitating Christ must remember not only how much time he spent in solitude and prayer, but also how much time he spent with friends, how often he was seen at someone else's house for dinner, that he had even been known to invite himself over to an outcast's house. Christ's life did not consist solely of the quiet solitude of meditation, but also included the joyful and the friendly and the active.

We are not merely freed from worldly pursuits for our own sake to enable a withdrawal from the world. We are freed for a greater thing, to take up Christ's task of seeking and saving the lost, serving Christ in the redemption of the world. Christ went out in the world seeking and saving that which was lost. He saved that which was lost first of all by loving that which was lost. A fuller imitation of Christ includes time among the unloved and unlovable -- and particularly those in our own lives we have difficulty loving. The imitation of Christ brings us to learn love and joyfulness, hospitality and friendship from Christ, and to frame them as part of the redeeming work he has sent us to do.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is dieting an eating disorder?

I know that dieting is not typically listed among the eating disorders along with anorexia and bulimia. But after years of watching some friends, and after talking with another friend, I'm starting to suspect that dieting is a low-grade eating disorder.

What counts as an eating disorder? I think it's anything that does not fit into a sustainable and healthy eating plan. And sometimes elements of self-abuse creep into diets, as people punish themselves for being overweight or withhold their favorite foods from themselves.

The only person I know who successfully lost weight long-term (without resorting to surgery) decided to skip dieting and to think only in terms of the "sustainable and healthy eating plan". He made several small but permanent adjustments to his normal eating plan (diet in the old sense of the word) and his weight slowly adjusted itself for what he was eating.

So there it is, my thoughts on why dieting is a low-grade chronic eating disorder, the socially acceptable eating disorder.

(Why post this on my blog? In case it might help someone ...)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Crucified God: Patristic Examples

No topic reveals peoples' images of God quite so quickly as the mention of God crucified, God suffering, God dying. Interestingly, some scholars have considered this to be a late invention. This post is no comprehensive survey but only a sampler of the theology of the crucified God in the early church.

From the late 100's A.D.:
The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel. - Melito of Sardis (died circa 180 A.D.), Paschal Homily

From one of the Desert Fathers:
He (Paul) then employed no subtlety or circumlocution, nor did he when he preached the gospel of the Lord blush at the mention of the cross of Christ. And though it was a stumbling-block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Gentiles to hear of God as born, God in bodily form, God suffering, God crucified, yet he did not weaken the force of his pious utterance because of the wickedness of the offence of the Jews: nor did he lessen the vigor of his faith because of the unbelief and the foolishness of others: but openly, persistently, and boldly proclaimed that He, whom a mother had borne, whom men had slain, the spear had pierced, the cross had stretched—was “the power and wisdom of God, to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Gentiles foolishness.” - John Cassian (circa 360-433 A.D.), On the Incarnation of the Lord (Against Nestorius) 3.8

As I have mentioned before, I believe that the apostolic church was divided at Chalcedon (451 A.D.), and that synods since then have not necessarily spoken for the whole apostolic church but only for parts of the church. With that in mind, it is interesting to see the official stand taken by the Chalcedonian churches (among these all the Western churches, plus the Eastern Orthodox). In the Second Council of Constantinople (often reckoned the 5th ecumenical council, 553 A.D.), the Chalcedonian churches sought to clarify the earlier findings of Chalcedon, whether the two natures of Christ were divisible (a semi-Nestorian construction possible under Chalcedon). The council's findings were:
If anyone does not confess that our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified in the flesh is true God and the Lord of Glory and one of the Holy Trinity: let him be anathema. (Canon X, Second Council of Constantinople, 553 A.D.).

If anyone shall say that the wonder-working Word of God is one [Person] and the Christ that suffered another; or shall say that God the Word was with the woman-born Christ, or was in him as one person in another, but that he was not one and the same our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, incarnate and made man, and that his miracles and the sufferings which of his own will he endured in the flesh were not of the same [Person]: let him be anathema. (Canon III, Second Council of Constantinople, 553 A.D.).
In this age, the church is re-examining the early church and early doctrines to ensure everything is on solid ground. That is always the call of the God's people: to examine what we knows of Christ and to proclaim Christ to the world. The point of this post is simply that the proclamation of the Crucified God traces back to the early church and has been quite mainstream in the history of our proclamation of Christ.

To some it seems strange -- genuinely beyond understanding -- to proclaim God's suffering and death. To clear up this point so far as is possible, I will end where I began with Melito of Sardis from the late 100's A.D.:
When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity, and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer, and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and had been judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of the one who was buried, he rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: Who is he who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free; I gave the dead man life; I raised up the one who had been entombed. Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ.

Therefore, come, all families of men, you who have been befouled with sins, and receive forgiveness for your sins. I am your forgiveness, I am the passover of your salvation, I am the lamb which was sacrificed for you, I am your ransom, I am your light, I am your saviour, I am your resurrection, I am your king, I am leading you up to the heights of heaven, I will show you the eternal Father, I will raise you up by my right hand. - Melito of Sardis (died circa 180 A.D.), Paschal Homily

That is why we proclaim Christ crucified.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Any Moltmann fans out there?

Theology is about God and our salvation, our cause for hope in the world, and therefore there is no such thing as merely academic theology. Jurgen Moltmann was a thought-provoking theologian who understood that well. As with anyone publishing a number of books, he left himself open to criticism in some places and likely even deserved it on occasion. With that in mind, I'd like to respond to certain criticisms against Moltmann which have been reviewed recently on Peter Leithart's blog -- but only those criticisms that seem somewhat unjust. Given the practical and hope-giving nature of Moltmann's work, I hope that the discussion may also be in that same vein. With thanks to Peter Leithart for the discussion of the pro's and con's of Moltmann, here is a brief review of some of the criticisms against Moltmann.

How do we know the Trinity?

An objection was made to Moltmann's studied emphasis on the "economic Trinity" (Trinity as known through action in the world, the Trinity of salvation history) as opposed to the "immanent Trinity", or the Trinity as it is in itself. How we should know the Trinity as it is in itself is a bit of a mystery. This was part of Moltmann's theological background and why many Lutherans stick with the economic Trinity as the only Trinity we actually know.

Leithart, quoting Pannenberg:
This steals from the Trinity of salvation history all sense and significance. For this Trinity has sense and significance only if God is the same in salvation history as he is from eternity.
On the other hand, if God really is the same in salvation history as he is from eternity, this objection is answered. In that case, it is the objection which is based on faulty premises, namely the premise that God is not the same from eternity.

Did God die on the cross?

From Leithart's blog again:
Moltmann has also been unclear about what he means by talking about the death of God. Karkkainen again prefers Pannenberg: "the Son of God, though he suffered and died himself, did so according to his human nature."
I do not see that "the death of God" is actually unclear; it seems more the case that we balk at it not because it is unclear but because it radically challenges our assumptions about God. This challenge to our ideas about God is inherent in the incarnation itself, in which the finite bears the infinite, the omnipotent takes up weakness, and the Immortal takes up a mortal body. Here Pannenberg, against Moltmann, refers Christ's death to Jesus but not to God, splitting Christ at the moment of death so that the divine and human natures are no longer united. I think Pannenberg's rejoinder shows that it was clear enough what Moltmann meant by the death of God, just that Pannenberg might rather cut some corners of his Christology and separate the divine and human natures of Christ rather than consent to what Moltmann meant by the death of God.

How does God overcome evil and suffering?
Others have criticized Moltmann for robbing God of any real ability to overcome the evil and suffering that He enters into out of love for us. Moltmann is so fearful of domination and any theology of lordship that he presents a God who can only endure with us, but cannot really deliver.
Is it really appropriate to characterize Moltmann as being "fearful of domination and any theology of lordship"? Or is more appropriate to notice that in Christ, God himself radically challenged our fondness for "domination" and "lordship" precisely in his incarnation and crucifixion? If this is the case, then Moltmann drew proper notice to the fact that, in Christ, in King Messiah, God himself chose weakness, even if that should seem foolish rather than wise in our human judgment. In his lordship and triumphal entry, Christ rode into town on a donkey. Then he took up a servant's garb and washed feet as a slave would do, and gave that as an example of lordship.

On that basis it seems that Moltmann has tried to give proper notice to Christ's radical challenge to our concepts of glory and lordship, our typically misguided quests for "domination". As Christ has demonstrated his lordship through weakness, so Moltmann has taken up the themes proper to Christ's incarnation, the themes which Christ himself put forward as essential to understanding his work. He met the disciples' human ideas of lordship and domination only with rebukes. Yet this did not make Christ one who "cannot really deliver", but instead one whose weakness was stronger than our strength.

Is it patripassian to say the Father suffered at the death of his Son?

The patripassian heresy from early Christianity is one that maintains that the Father suffered the crucifixion. Again from Leithart's blog:
I wonder with some others whether the charge of modalism lurks behind his program in the form of patripassianism. When the Son suffered and died on the cross, the Father did so with him. Moldmann is aware of patripassionist leadings, and, against Christian tradition, does not necessarily consider it heretical.
On the basis of the quotes provided, that criticism seems to be a little bit misleading. "Patripassian leadings", as best I can gather from what was quoted of Moltmann, is simply Moltmann's insistence that the Son's death grieved the Father deeply and the Father suffered, not from being personally crucified, but from grief over Christ's crucifixion, from love of him who died. This is not at all "patripassian" in the original heretical sense of the Father being crucified. As such the criticism does not hit the mark of Moltmann's teachings as quoted. It does serve as a way to bring the words "against Christian tradition" and "heretical" on stage in loose connection with Moltmann, despite the fact that Moltmann is not quoted as teaching the Father's death on the cross, merely the Father's suffering from his great love for Christ at Christ rejection and death.

Moltmann's theology has its faults. Still, his works raise the most important questions: Is God really impassible in the face of suffering? What is the nature of Lordship? How do we know God? Is God the God of domination who cannot suffer, cannot die? Is it possible to know God through speculation about his eternal nature apart from what is revealed in salvation history, especially in the cross of Christ? Is God as revealed in Christ radically different from God as he is in himself from all eternity? Or is the way to know God through Christ: the crucified God who has a radically different idea of lordship than we do, the God who takes up the cause of the godless at his own expense, who calls us not to have dominion but to take up the cross and follow him? That is why I enjoy Moltmann. The man does have a way of getting at the questions.

Announcement: Blog Summit on the Trinity

Nick Norelli is soliciting posts for a Blog Summit on the Trinity. All theology / biblical studies scholars please stop by and let him know if you're interested in submitting a piece on the Trinity.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Christian Reconciliation Carnival #9

Updated 10/25/2007 7:50am Central.

Welcome to the 9th edition of the Christian Reconciliation Carnival.

Topic of the Month

Several people wrote on the suggested topic for the month:
If you had to choose one thing that you believe your church or tradition does the best, or one contribution you believe your church body makes to Christendom as a whole, what would that be?

Dr. Pursiful presents Religious Freedom? This Baptist says, "You're Welcome!" Here Dr. Pursiful highlights the strong Baptist influence on religious freedom in the U.S.A.
I would argue that Baptists’ greatest contribution to the church is our pioneering work in the cause of religious liberty for all.

Mark Olson of Pseudo-Polymath praises the Eastern Orthodox liturgy, and with good reason. As anyone who has participated in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy knows, it is a service of exceptional beauty and depth.
Orthodoxy makes the claim that the essential and ‘best’ thing about their tradition is the liturgy.

Yours truly, from the Lutheran tradition, submits The Cross Is Our Theology. The Lutheran tradition's most sustained and deliberate contribution to Christianity is to keep the focus on Christ's crucifixion and resurrection as the center and wellspring of Christian life.

Update: Proclaiming Softly also has an entry from the Lutheran tradition: Living in the Questions, where she notes the "tensions" in the Bible which lend richness to all Christian theology, but in which Lutherans have made a deliberate theological decision to leave the tensions open. She also notes that the largest provider of social services in the U.S.A. is Lutheran Social Services.

General Discussion

John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry considers the wedding of God and humanity, along with the wedding of a human bridgroom and bride, with insight from different Christian traditions and in Hebrew thought. It's his first submission to the Reconciliation Carnival. Welcome!

David Schutz of Sentire Cum Ecclesia requests help on a timeline of what I consider to be the second great schism in the church, Roman Catholic / Eastern Orthodox schism. He also expresses his distress as a Roman Catholic in watching the Eastern Orthodox courting Lutherans in ways that highlight the common differences with Rome that are shared by the Lutherans and the Eastern Orthodox.

iMonk continues his ecumenical series, asking Lutheran guest-blogger Josh Strodbeck (Fearsome Pirate) about God's sovereignty in the face of disaster such as the I-35 bridge collapse. (Watch for Josh's application of that old Luther saying, "a theologian of glory calls evil 'good'" ... Bullseye.) iMonk also asks 5 questions of Roman Catholics; answers are in the responses.


We're looking for one more person to host the Carnival this year, either right around Thanksgiving or early December. If you're interested, please drop an email to the carnival mailbox.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The cross is our theology

The cross alone is our theology. -- Martin Luther
By claiming that God himself was on the side of the godless, he (Christ) incited the devout against him. -- Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God
Every Christian theologian has a place for the cross. One theologian has a place for the cross while focusing on human merit, another has a place for the cross while focusing on attaining holiness, another has a place for the cross while focusing on God's sovereignty, another has a place for the cross while focusing on the church or the unmoved mover or some other driving force.

Lutheran theologians, on the other hand, have no place to speak of the cross in a theology about merit or about attaining holiness or about sovereignty or about the church. Instead, we have a place for speaking of holiness in a theology about the cross. We have a place for speaking about the church in a theology about the cross. Whatsoever thoughts come into our theology are arranged around the cross, rather than the other way around. To be sure, we use "the cross" as shorthand for all that went with it: the incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the restoration of fellowship between God and man. These are the driving force of Lutheran theology.

The vital questions of theology are all answered at the cross. Does God exist? You can point to him on the cross. Does God care? There he is on the cross. Am I forgiven? Look at the cross. Could God love a sinner? How can God be known? Does God abandon us in our suffering? Is suffering a sign of God's hatred towards us? How far would God go to save us? How much could God forgive? If the answer is not found in the cross, then it never was a life-and-death question to start with.

The cross breaks us out of our self-centeredness. Many Christians spend lives looking inward and agonizing about whether we are good enough. We can never look at ourselves and know that we are good enough. But we can look at God and know that God is good enough.

Every Christian tradition has a place for the cross. If we Lutherans have contributed anything, it is that we have carefully guarded the central place of the cross, the driving force of the cross, the ability to say "I resolved to know nothing except Christ and him crucified." Some of the best Lutheran theology books of modern times are On Being a Theologian of the Cross and The Crucified God. The Crucified God is the one who has the ears of the suffering world.

Jurgen Moltmann, author of The Crucified God, read Eli Wiesel's Night, the harrowing account of his times in concentration camps. Here is an excerpt from The Crucified God, beginning with his quote of Wiesel.

The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour. 'Where is God? Where is he?' someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment in the noose after a long time, I heard the man call again, 'Where is God now?' And I heard a voice in myself answer: 'Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows ...' (Wiesel as quoted by Moltmann)
Any other answer would be blasphemy. There cannot be any other Christian answer to the question of this torment. To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon. To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness. To speak here of an indifferent God would condemn men to indifference. -- Moltmann
The cross is seen as more than mere fodder for atonement theories, more than any payment and satisfaction scheme could ever imagine. In Lutheran theology, the cross did not merely fill in the blank in some theory about atonement whereby man could be reunited to God if only he believed the right thing. The cross did more than pay the price which would make a satisfaction theory work and thereby entitle man to be reconciled to God. Instead, the cross actually accomplished that reconciliation, actually accomplished the reunion of God and man, broke the boundaries separating us, and put God on the side of the godless.

In a sense, this gives Lutherans few "distinctives": what is our most cherished possession is the most treasured possession of all Christians together: God's grace, his gift of himself to the world through Christ. But it does give us cause to be glad of Martin Luther's legacy which has lived on with such a rich stream of theology.
The cross alone is our theology. -- Martin Luther

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Christian Sinners: Hallowed Be God's Name

I internalize and cover up my sin and weakness because I fear that any failure on my part implies a failure of Christianity.
Of all the ways in which we Christians discredit Christ, our failure to forgive non-Christians may be the most serious; our failure to confess our own sins is part of the same mindset.

When we Christians sin -- when we morally fail -- we do bring public discredit on Christ's name because we bear his name. But hiding the sin restores nothing; it just adds deception and hypocrisy to our repertoire of familiar sins. The way to restore God's honor is to confess, to publicly humble ourselves, to publicly exalt his forgiveness. When we hold up our sins as ours alone and take responsibility for them, when we hold up his mercy as his alone and publicly praise and glorify him, then even our failures announce the good news. When we exalt ourselves, even our successes bring no credit to God.

Time after time we lose our opportunity to announce the gospel to the world: the good news of forgiveness for precisely times like these, times when we have humiliated ourselves and failed painfully and lost all claim to be trusted or seen as worthy. These are the times when people outside the church can best relate to us, times when we could really explain Christ in a way that makes sense to the world at large. And we do not.

Sometimes cover-ups are made rather than firm condemnations of wrongdoing, as with Rome's approach in the notorious "pedophile priest" scandals. In a case with no humility and no accountability, the so-called forgiveness seems anti-justice and hopelessly self-serving.

The evangelical camp has known its secrecy and hushed-up sins too, but has often gone to the opposite extreme: when someone sins and falls publicly, there has at times been a rush to condemn not only the sin but also the fallen person, even in cases of genuine repentance. For people who say we bet our lives and eternities on God's forgiveness through Christ, who count on being redeemed and our sins forgotten, we don't always act like it.

In this age where a lax attitude towards sin is part of the culture, where upholding the reality of right and wrong is part of our struggle, I have to wonder: has forgiveness been a casualty of the culture war? Have we upheld grace and mercy in the same way we have upheld the law? I wonder how much of the hesitancy to proclaim forgiveness to the sinners within our own ranks is because we fear being seen as self-serving, because we fear the abuse of forgiveness, or because we fear being weak in our stand against sin.

Repentance and forgiveness separate the sinner from the sin. Repentance allows us, when we are guilty, to give up excuses and be adamant that our own sin was wrong. It allows us to once again say that right is right and wrong is wrong, abandoning the deception that comes with defending or hiding our mistakes. It is a return to honesty, a freedom from blame-shifting. In repentance we separate ourselves from our own sins, gaining the moral courage to denounce our own sins.

Forgiveness allows us to show that hope to a sinner. It shows freedom from deception. It shows how to condemn the wrong that we did without abandoning all hope for ourselves. It gives hope for redemption and restoration. More than that, forgiveness is an opportunity for us to show love: to show that a human being made in God's image is valuable in our sight, better to be redeemed than condemned.

There is a "gotcha" mentality in the media, where the press goes back and forth like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Next time our enemy falls into the lion's mouth, that would be a really good time for us to offer a word of redemption. Hallowed be God's name.

H/T to Mark at Pseudo-Polymath for a good read of the article containing the lead quote by Matt K. at Common Grounds. As they say, read it all.
I had put on a glossy fa├žade, feigning invincibility and faultlessness. I never revealed my weakness and humanness and thus was not a real person. He saw me as a fake, like a mannequin in Christianity’s window display. My friend’s assessment was right on- my pride and fear kept me from really loving him at all.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ambassadors in chains

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the good news, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly as I should. (Eph. 6:19-20)
It's hard to watch people turn against you. It's hard to watch people being unreasonable or unjust. The early church had a lot of practice with that, being slandered and opposed at every turn. The unjust treatment we Christians have today from an ever-growing crowd of ever-more-hostile opponents could grind anyone's nerves: the mockery, the snideness, the arrogance, the complete unwillingness to engage in serious discussion but only in ridicule.

How do we respond? We can return the favor: repay mockery and contempt with more mockery and contempt, repay media bias here with media bias there. Sometimes we do, to our shame and discredit. Are we willing to be ambassadors in chains? Are we willing to rebuke or even be slandered rather than repay evil for evil? Much has been said of the current culture war. All I know is this: if the problem is the prevalence of evil, then repaying evil with more evil compounds the problem and guarantees a loss. If we repay evil for evil, we're fighting against ourselves.

As for those who mock us, their conscience may or may not be troubled by harrassing people who are kind. But they probably won't be bothered by harrassing people who are hateful towards them.

If we are no different, we've already failed as witnesses, as ambassadors of a kingdom where the laws are both more just and more merciful, as followers of a different ruler than the ruler of this world.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Is there a sacred/secular divide?

The sacred/secular divide that we hear about so often is a thing that exists only as a result of sin. In a world without sin, whether we think of Eden or of the world to come, everything is filled with the glory of God, and there is no "secular." The earth is holy. Again, when Christ was in the world bodily, the kingdom of heaven was breaking in and the divide between the sacred and secular was breaking down. Sin and disease and hard-heartedness struggled for existence in the face of God's presence.

One call we Christians have in this world is to carry God's presence with us wherever we go, not as a hidden presence but as a redeeming presence. We know what God's presence does because we saw it in Christ: welcoming sinners and seeking out the outcasts, binding up the brokenhearted, comforting the afflicted but troubling the self-righteous and the complacent. God's presence welcomes the stranger, it creates brothers and sisters for us all, and it shows us a face by which we will know we are home. By love it creates a place where people gather for the hope that someone there will hear them, someone there will know them, someone there will call them by name and treasure them.

The sacred/secular divide breaks down whenever we dare to really know another person.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Why Hymns Do More Good Than Sermons

Four short reasons why I think that on the average Sunday the hymns do more good than the sermon.

  • Even the most attentive church-goers won't remember much of a sermon, but they will memorize a good hymn.
  • A person has to go out of their way to hear a sermon, but hymns stay in our minds and go with us into the world.
  • In sermons, the pastor lifts up the name of God in church. In hymns, the believer lifts up the name of God wherever he goes.
  • The shelf life of a good sermons is fairly short. Some of the best hymns have been around for centuries.
Of course that only applies to the good hymns, not the ones C.S. Lewis calls "fourth rate sermons set to fifth rate tunes."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Christian Reconciliation Carnival News

Our Christian Reconciliation Carnivals have been drifting later in the month due to various other commitments. I would like to schedule two more Reconciliation Carnivals this year: one for late this month and one for late November/early December, for a total of 11 rather than 12 carnivals this year. And I hope I'm not being a terrible Carnival hog, but I would like to host this upcoming Carnival because I have a topic I'd like to suggest and it would be really horrible of me to suggest the topic for someone else's carnival. So with that much said:

The next edition of the Christian Reconciliation Carnival will be hosted here, with posts due by 10/21/2007. The topic will be: If you had to choose one thing that you believe your church or tradition does the best, or one contribution you believe your church body makes to Christendom as a whole, what would that be? (The point of choosing one thing is to get a focus rather than a laundry list.)

The last 2007 edition of Christian Reconciliation Carnival is still available for anyone wanting to host in late November or early December. New hosts are encouraged and are always welcome. Then in December at some point I'll send out a notice for us to regroup for 2008, and people who intend to host a Carnival in 2008 can put in their requests for the month(s) most convenient to them. Thank you!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Praying for Sodom

In the last couple of weeks I've seen more than one piece around the blogosphere about Sodom and Gomorrah. It seems to be on peoples' minds lately. Recently I taught a teenage Sunday school class on one of the texts neighboring to that. We're studying times in the Bible when God revealed himself directly to people; God revealed himself directly to Abraham just previous to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Does everyone remember that scene in the Bible where Abraham argues with God and bargains with God and haggles with God? Do you know what Abraham was trying to do? He was trying to save Sodom. He was praying for Sodom, begging for Sodom, pleading for Sodom. He did not ask for the wicked to be counted righteous. He asked that the city be spared ("forgiven" in some translations) because of the righteous people who lived there. Abraham was counted not only prophet, but also a friend of God.

I can't help but notice the contrast between Abraham and all the rest of us. Abraham did not excuse the wickedness of the city; he did not define one sin as greater and another as lesser; he did not exult over the bad guys getting blasted. He considered it his moral obligation to contend for what was right, and it made him bold before God.

I know there is a lot to be said about Sodom and Gomorrah, and most of us have already studied and taken notes. All I ask is that we add one mental image to that set of notes: the mental image of Abraham, from whom we all reckon our spiritual heritage, praying for Sodom ...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Patristics Carnival #4

Welcome to the 4th edition of the revived Patristics Carnival with posts through 09/30/2007, organized by Phil Snider of hyperekperissou. For all of us who love early church history, drop him a post for the next carnival or let him know if you'd like to take a turn as a host.

In a month filled with commemorations of St. John Chrysostom, Phil -- the organizer of the Patristics Carnival -- contributes St. John Chrysostom and the Problem of Wealth.

Fred presents Rebirth of the Eagle posted at Deep Furrows. An ancient and patristic fable is still circulating online. Why? Because folks still find it helpful.

Gregory Alms of incarnatus est considers ancient Christian worship in Sunday liturgy in 150 A.D. and in Hippolytus on the Eucharist containing part of an order of service dated to the mid-100's.

The Way of the Fathers considers Secret Mark and methods for detecting ancient document forgeries Archko Forgery Fingerprint.

Aardvark Alley commemorates Gregory the Great, doctor of the church.

Ex corde ecclesiae presents John Chrysostom: Coherence between Ideas and Real Life.

Continuing with the commemorations of Chrysostom, Mike Aquilina pays his own respects. He also relays Pope Benedict's recent homage to Gregory of Nyssa.

John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry reflects on the interplay between the Word of God and the people of God in Did the Church create the Bible, or the Bible create the Church?

Biblicalia presents some useful excerpts on patristic use of Scripture and other ancient writings from Lee Martin McDonald's book, The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority.

Mark Thoma reviews two church fathers' comments on usury and economic justice.

My own modest contribution is a brief introduction to the early church's views on authorship, pseudo-authorship, and acceptance in the canon of Scripture.

Apocryphal Corner
Apocryphicity considers orthodoxy and heresy in earliest Christianity.

April DeConick of the Forbidden Gospels blog considers rewriting early Christianity and whether Luke is a trustworthy historian.

That's all for this month's Carnival. Keep the church fathers in mind for next month's Carnival due out the begnning of November.