Saturday, July 28, 2007

Brain Fart

Have you ever had a big, fat brain fart? I've experienced a few really toxic brain farts myself. In fact, I'm working on putting together an application for a PhD program in Christian Theology and I seem to be experiencing a prolonged flagellants in the cerebrum area. I have to develop a short summary of my research proposal and send in a writing sample. I know what I'm going for, but for some reason all that I can get out seems to have a foul odor hovering around it. Any suggestions on how to clear the air? Do they make a gas-x for the mind? Words of wisdom or encouragement in this area would be much appreciated. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Monday, July 23, 2007

Tagged Again

Well, I've been tagged again. This time Monty tagged me with ten books that have influenced me in a major way. For me it seems nearly impossible to narrow the list down to ten - so I'm going to cheat a little bit. I'm going to list ten authors that have had a major influence on my life and thinking - and a few of the books that have been a part of that influence. Here goes:

1) Colin E. Gunton - His work began a theological revolution in me. In effect, I experienced a metanoia (a literal change of mind) that has influenced my entire theological reflection and articulation. Some of his books that have shaped me are: Enlightenment & Alienation; The Actuality of Atonement; Father, Son & Holy Spirit; The Triune Creator; Theology through the Theologians. Everything that I have read by Gunton I've found immensely valuable and thought provoking.

2) T. F. Torrance - The new journey that Gunton opened up to me has lead me to T. F. Torrance. I'm making preparations to pursue a PhD and my research will focus on Torrance's work. Needless to say, he's had a huge impact on me. The important works I've investigated so far: The Mediation of Christ; Theological Science; God & Rationality and related works: T. F. Torrance by Alister E. McGrath; How to Read T. F. Torrance by Elmer M. Colyer; Science, Faith and Society by Michael Polanyi; Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy by Michael Polanyi.

3) Karl Barth - Torrance has forced me to read more and more Barth and one cannot walk away from Barth unchanged. Barth's works that have influenced me thus far: The Epistle to the Romans; Dogmatics in Outline; The Call to Discipleship; I'm slowly working on the 14 volume Church Dogmatics and related work: Karl Barth's Theological Exegesis by Richard E. Burnett.

4) St. Athanasius - T. A. Noble, theology professor at NTS, introduced me to the work of Athanasius. I love reading about this patristic theologian and of all the early Christians (apart from the New Testament writers) he's had the biggest influence on me. On the Incarnation of the Word is the work to which I keep returning. Torrance has a few good articles on Athanasius and most accounts of Christian history tell some of his story - I primarily rely on Justo Gonzalez A History of Christian Thought and The Story of Christianity but Jaroslav Pelikan and Kenneth Scott Latourette are good resources as well.

5) St. Augustine - Is another early Christian thinker that has influenced me in some very positive ways, but also in reaction against aspects of his theological articulation. Various works like: Confessions; De Libero Arbitrio; Morals of the Catholic Church; On the Trinity; On Christian Teaching; and related works like: Augustine A Very Short Introduction by Henry Chadwick; The Richness of Augustine by Mark Ellingsen.

6) C. S. Lewis - Has been an influential voice in my life for some time. Mere Christianity was my first encounter with some in depth theological thinking. I've also listened to: The Chronicles of Narnia (I usually read through them every couple of years); Till We Have Faces; The Screwtape Letters; The Dark Tower; Surprised by Joy; and his various poems.

7) N. T. Wright - Continues to be a major influence in my life. Books like: What St. Paul Really Said; The Challenge of Jesus; The Resurrection of the Son of God are part of that influence, but I also like to read his articles and sermons.

8) Charles Dickens - I simply love reading Dickens and I don't know why. It is a family tradition that my wife and I read A Christmas Carol every year around Christmas (none of the modern renditions can really compare). A Tale of Two Cities is probably my favorite, but I enjoy most of his novels.

9) Elie Wiesel - Night, I read this book in undergrad and it was a powerful experience. It is a personal account of the evil experienced in a Nazi death camp which forces one to the very heart of theodicy.

10) Fyodor Dostoevsky - The Brothers Karamazov, I worked through this novel a few summers ago and have never regretted it. I enjoyed the entire story and it forced me to expand my thinking.

I really couldn't stop at ten so I want to offer a few honorable mentions:

11) Walter Brueggemann - The Prophetic Imagination; Old Testament Theology; and his various commentaries and articles.

12) Henri Nouwen - The Wounded Healer; Here and Now.

13) Ludwig Wittgenstein - Ifluenced my early philosophical thinking: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; On Certainty; The Blue and Brown Books; Lectures & Conversations; Philosophical Investigations; and related works: Wittgenstein A Very Short Introduction by A. C. Grayling; Ludwig Wittgenstein the Duty of Genius by Ray Monk.

14) Lesslie Newbigin - Foolishness to the Greeks and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

15) Ronald Sider - Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger; Just Generosity; The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.

There are so many others that I could list, but I better stop at 15. I would love to hear your top books or authors - let me know who has influenced you. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Friday, July 20, 2007


Prayer. It is something that seems common among all the major "world religions." I find that fascinating - but if John Stott is right, it makes a lot of sense. When asked, in an interview, if he was worried about the future of the church, he responded by saying - all human beings are engaged in a quest for at least three things: transcendence, significance, and community. This isn't just a desire, every human being has the need to connect with the transcendent, to feel significant and to experience community. If the church is faithful to its calling it will meet all of these needs and will continue to reach a secular society. (I simply summarized Stott's response. He says it so much better. You can check out the article here.)

I believe that this need to connect with something beyond ourselves is innate - something common to every human being. As Augustine once said, "O Lord, you created us for yourself and our hearts are restless until we find rest in you." We were created with a need and desire to connect relationally with the Transcendent One. That is my very simple understanding of the ubiquity of prayer. However, the human practice of prayer doesn't necessarily mean that we are connecting relationally to the Triune God. Not every human practice achieves its intended goal. In this case there are many factors that might hinder us from a genuine encounter with the Living God.

The Scriptures have much to say about prayer. Paul instructs us to "pray continually" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and to "be anxious about nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:6) There are so many other passages about prayer that we could list - but I'll get to the point because I'm beginning to ramble. I've been thinking about prayer lately and have a couple of questions: 1.) What are those factors that might hinder us from a genuine encounter with the Mystery? 2.) Based on your experience, do Christians pray enough and/or are our prayers genuine, passionate, meaningful and real? (I'm thinking of my own context in the United States.) I'm just wondering if we're actually facilitating this connection with the Transcendent Mystery. If we're not touching these human needs - people will look elsewhere. What are your thoughts? Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Criticism & The Kingdom

We live in a critical society. There's no denying it. All one has to do is look at one of the most popular American television shows - American Idol not to mention all the spin-offs. The show is all about judgment and criticism. Even if the most critical judge is is evident that we love to measure, compare, judge and criticize. It's a part of human nature.

I've been wondering lately, is there any room for criticism in the Kingdom? There is certainly admonition in Scripture that we correct, rebuke and hold each other accountable to a Kingdom way of life. But, is that the same as criticism? Is there a difference between a critical spirit or judgment and correction or accountability? If so, what constitutes the difference? And, what about the prophetic voice? Where does it fit into the life of the Body?

I have a few thoughts on the matter, but I'd like to hear what others have to say.

Thursday, July 5, 2007


Okay, I've been tagged by Jason (The Shire) to list the first 10 songs that come up on my iPod when I hit shuffle. The only probably is I'm not cool enough to have an iPod (or I'm just too cheap). Anyway, I hit shuffle on my lowly Samsung Mp3 player and here are the first 10 songs that came up:

1) God of Wonders - City on a Hill CD

2) Merciful Rain - FFH

3) Where You Are - FFH

4) In the Name - Jennifer Knapp

5) Love Song - Third Day

6) Praise Song - Third Day

7) Marvelous Light - Derek Webb

8) Table of the Lord - FFH

9) Hallelujah Never Ending - Caedmon's Call

10) Diamond in the Rough - Jennifer Knapp

As you can tell, I primarily have Christian music on my player. I typically listen to either NPR or Christian music - it's a habit that's hard to break. I could only think of a couple of people to tag, who haven't already been tagged. So I tag Jeremy (Still Learning) and Brian (Urban Monk).


For some odd reason our celebration of national independence often forces me to reflect on authentic worship. Just like the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well, I'm often perplexed by the whole concept of worship and the conflicting messages we receive through religious authorities. But the True Authority responds: "The day is coming, indeed it has already arrived, when the true worshipers will worship God in Spirit and in Truth."

I suppose that it is during this celebration when I'm really confronted with various forms of idolatry which almost imperceptibly fly under the banner of patriotism, in addition to our sometimes conflicting allegiances as citizens of the Kingdom of God and of earthly nations that causes this "worship" question to come again to the forefront of my mind. It could also be the inverted allegiance that I've experienced in some Christian communities, leaving an indelible impact on me, which makes this such an important issue for me. As I've distanced myself further and further from these negative experiences, I've come to a more mediated position on this whole matter - after getting over the initial emotional reaction.

Some might consider this blasphemy and pronounce me anathema for expressing it, but I do believe that there is an appropriate level of "worship" one might give to their national heritage. That is if we take N. T. Wright's definition to heart: "But the word 'worship' means, literally, 'worth-ship': to accord worth, true value, to something, to recognize and respect it for the true worth it has." In that sense, there is much of immense worth and value in the heritage of this nation (and of other nations as well) that should be recognized, respected and to which we should respond. It is a good thing, a wonderful thing, a valuable thing to celebrate our national heritage and the liberties we experience as citizens of the United States of America.

However, we should be very careful that this genuine appreciation and appropriate response does not evolve into a form of idolatry. All of the good things that we value ultimately derive from and have their source in God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we fail to recognize this fact then other allegiances quickly take first place in our lives - whether it is nation, wealth, power, recognition, could be anything and we're enslaved again to worshipping false idols.

As N. T. Wright says in another place: “People often quote Oscar Wilde’s dictum, that a cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. We live in an age of cynics, where ‘worth’ means ‘price’ and ‘price’ means money and money means power. But the gospel of Jesus Christ puts worth back into the world, worth beyond price, worth beyond worldly power; for the gospel of Jesus Christ summons us to worship, to worth-ship, to lay our lives before the one true and living God, to worship him for all he’s worth. Give to this great and loving God the honor, the worship, the love, due to him; celebrate the goodness, the worth, the true value, of the created order, as his gift, his handiwork; and allow that celebration to lift your eyes once more to God himself, to his glory and beauty.” The time is coming, indeed it is already here, when true worshippers will worship God in Spirit and in Truth. Lord may our worship always be through Your Spirit and in Your Truth. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

N.B.: In light of Jason's important comments, I've decided to add a link that I received through Sojomail. It is a link to Michael Gerson's op-ed piece for the Washington Post on July 4th. I don't agree with everything he has to say, but it does express something of a mediated position that I was also attempting to approach here. We do need to appraoch our national story with a good bit of humility; however, that doesn't mean that there is nothing of value in our collective narrative.