Sunday, October 28, 2007

Just for Cat People

We have three cats and this video seems to be a pretty accurate portrayal of the general feline personality. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Gravitas is a quality of substance or depth of personality. (Wikipedia) This has recently become a popular word to describe persons who have a personality and presence that draws people in - it is as if they have a gravitational pull all around them.

In my mind, Billy Graham is a man with an enormous amount of gravitas. It is not surprising that he became a world renowned evangelist. This two part interview with Woody Allen is such a treat to watch. Graham had an ability to engage his obvious opponents - ultimately making his enemies into friends. It seems that Christians in the public eye are more polarizing figures these days.

What a great model of genuine evangelism...we may do things a bit differently in our context, but I hope that we engage others with the same kind of spirit - a spirit that has a gravitational pull of it's own that's difficult to resist. Enjoy!

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Conversation with Brian McLaren - 1

Allelon has some great resources for "missional leaders," which essentially describes those attempting to respond to the immense cultural shift we've been experiencing for some time in the West. They have recently posted a video interview with Brian McLaren that I found quite insightful. In fact, it really spoke to some issues that I've been dealing with in recent days. Check it out.

Here is their description of the video:

We live in a time “betwixt and between” – a liminal space. As N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham so succinctly put it, “even change is changing”. Millions of Christians are wrestling with what this means for the church, for the communities they find themselves in and for the Globe. Brian McLaren is one of those folk and his writing continues to challenge the church as we attempt to create new maps for this constantly changing world.

Alan Roxburgh sat down with Brian in a hotel room in Toronto at the end of September, days before the publication of Brian’s new book, Everything Must Change. In this first of a three part interview series about his book, Brian talks about dealing with the passionate responses his writing often elicits.

Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fair Trade Month

October is Fair Trade Month. Most of us have probably heard about fair trade at some point and I readily admit that there are a few people with mixed reactions. However, with the ever increasing global market structure, we must make sure that all human beings are treated with dignity as God's valued children.

Justice and righteousness are two of the primary themes woven throughout Scripture. Justice = our right relation toward one another in love and Righteousness = our right relation toward other words, loving the Lord our God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as ourselves. With the onset of globalization, we can no longer think of our neighbors as simply those who live in close proximity to us - our neighbors don't just live down the street - they live all over the world.

You may already be convinced that buying fair trade products is a good idea but you just don't know where to begin. Here is an article on 12 Ways to Shop Fair Trade. You can also check out this Fair Trade Guide. Even our small acts of grace, empowered by the Spirit, have a transformative impact on our world. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


This is a pretty funny parody on the 'spiritual gift' of dodgeball. Just thought it might bring a smile to your day. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Saturday, October 13, 2007

John Wesley and the Emerging Church

Hal Knight, the professor of Wesleyan Studies at Saint Paul School of Theology, has been at the forefront of the Wesleyan exploration into postmodernity and the emerging church. He has recently written an interesting article that was published by Nazarene Publishing House in the Preacher's Magazine. It is a well written, easily digestible article. For those who are interested in this ongoing conversation, here is a link to an online version of that article.

Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Friday, October 12, 2007

Robert Jenson Lectures

It may be silly of me to assume that this is of interest to those out in the blog-o-sphere, especially since I didn't get any comments on particular questions to ask Jenson, but on the off chance that it might be interesting or beneficial to someone out there, I've decided to post my notes on Jenson's Grider-Winget Lectures in Theology given at NTS this week. Unfortunately, audio files are not available to the general public since he already has a deal with a publisher to put these lectures in a book format. Otherwise, I would have linked the lectures to this blog.

Two preliminary words. First, these are my notes, which means they are my interpretation of what Jenson said, not necessarily a verbatim dictation. There is a good chance I could have misunderstood him at various points. Secondly, again these are simply notes so they are somewhat cryptic in nature and lack the sense of coherence and clarity that one might get from listening to the entire lectures, or from reading them in the book format, I would assume. Yet, for whatever they are they are.

Notes: Robert Jenson’s Grider-Winget Lectures in Theology
October 9 – 11
Topic: The Inspiration of Scripture

October 9th: If we are to think of our current theological house, we have some inappropriate presuppositions banging around in our basement. He focused his assessment of these inadequate presuppositions on our understanding of inspiration and relation to Scripture.

1.) We’ve gone about the matter backwards. We tend to bring our needs to the text in search of an answer. This is ultimately an anthropocentric move, which lends itself to human-centered readings of the text. Thus it ceases to function as Scripture for us. Instead we must begin with a doctrine of the Spirit – his entire lectures tended toward a pronounced pneumatology that brings coherence to this particular theological framework. We must find our base and foundation for the interpretation of Scripture in the doctrine of the Trinity.

2.) In Western Trinitarian theology we’ve taken a wrong turn with respect to our pneumatological language. The problem was set out in Peter Lombard’s Sentences when he asked, “Is the gift of the Spirit the Spirit’s own self or something other than Himself?” Standard Western theology chose the second path. That is to say, we’ve understood the gift of the Spirit as something other than the Spirit Himself – typically understood in terms of virtues or power or life. However, we must begin to think more in terms of the first way. That is to say, if the Spirit gives us the virtue of love that is because the Spirit is love or joy because the Spirit is joy, etc. The Spirit does not have an extrinsic relationship with us, but the Spirit gives Himself internally.

3.) We have tended to draw to divisive a line between the Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture and the Spirits inspiration of the community.

4.) We have supposed that the notions of both “inspiration” and of “Scripture” are univocal notions. That is we have supposed that they always mean the same thing. This supposition can hardly be right. Even early Lutheran theologians understood at least two notions of inspiration – The Spoken or Living Word and The Written Word. We should not flatten out the robust meanings of these words.

The Church depends on the existence of Scripture in different ways – the two testaments are different. The Church’s dependence on the OT is absolute, but the NT is God’s gift to the Church in a special historical circumstance. The NT is an emergency substitute for the living voice of the Gospel through the Apostles.

October 10th: Jenson through his theological articulation has continued to demonstrate what Rahner proclaimed: “The eternal mission of God cannot be disconnected from the incarnate mission.”

The paradigmatic image for Biblical inspiration is that of the OT Prophets. The NT writers understood this. Thus the OT is interpreted at narrative – that is in line with something of a ‘Salvation History’ understanding of Scripture.

First Century Judaism was much like protestant denominationalism today. However, the only groups that survived after the destruction of the Temple were those groups who could get along without the Temple, which were Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Rabbinic Judaism – as descended from the Pharisaical sect – was based primarily on the text and not the temple. They added the Mishnah to the TANAK and understood the text primarily in terms of Torah.

Christians, on the other hand, had a portable temple in the Risen Christ. They added the NT narrative to the TANAK and therefore understood the text primarily in terms of narrative – the Prophetic narrative to be more precise. We must understand this development as the work of the Spirit in the Church. This narrative or historical reading of the text puts the prophets at the forefront, since they point toward the culmination of the story. Therefore, prophecy became a paradigm for Israel’s Scripture – all Scripture is given by Prophets and Apostles in a Christian understanding of the text. Thus, the OT prefigures Christ, the Church and the Kingdom.

We might use the analogy of reading a mystery novel to describe early Christian interpretations of the OT. If you are like me, you’ll peak ahead to the end of the story to find out what’s going on. In light of the end all of the other pieces of the story make sense. Christians believed that through the Resurrection of Christ they had been given a glimpse of the End, thus the rest of the story had to make sense in light of that reality.

The other genres of the OT text had to fit into this paradigm. Thus the prayers of the Psalms become the prayers of Christ and as the Body of Christ sings the Psalms we join in with the songs of Christ and thus become in Augustine’s words the totus Christus.

Christ is present in the OT as a dramatis personae. The Word who speaks in the OT is Jesus Christ. One cannot refer to the Word of the Lord without referring to Jesus or vise versa.

If the OT Prophet is our paradigm for the inspiration of Scripture, then we must ask, how does the OT describe the Spirit’s inspiration of the Prophet?

What the Spirit does with the prophets is to make them prophets. That is to say, the Spirit opens one up to God in such a way that they might say, “Thus says the LORD!” The second person of the Trinity is the Logos; the Spirit then is the Freedom for the Word to be the Word of the Father. In other words, Jesus is, ontologically speaking, the Son and the Word, but the Spirit enables Jesus to remain the Son and the Word of the Father. In turn the Risen Jesus gives the Spirit to others. OT prophecy is a joint work of both the Spirit and the Word.

The Word is a person. This personal Word comes to someone who is so opened to the Word by the Spirit that He may speak to and through the prophet. The Spirit thus opens a person or frees a person to receive the Word.

Scripture is the written version of the Prophets and Apostles verbal teaching – so that it is materially the same. As Christians we read the OT from the NT or we wouldn’t be able to read the OT as Scripture at all. The distinction that we all tend to make, when it is proposed that an OT text has a Christological or ecclesial sense, is to then bring up the ‘original’ or ‘historical’ sense that we fear may be forgotten in light of this ‘other’ meaning. (This is akin to Krister Stendahl’s proposed dichotomy between what a text “meant” and what it “means” – following the logical conclusion of Gadamer’s work, among others. It seems to me that Barth has clearly dealt with this false dichotomy in his preface to the second and following editions of Der Römerbrief.) When this type of distinction or dichotomy happens, a Christian reading of the text seems imposed from the outside.

A proper understanding of the Spirits role in the text and community – that is the Spirits role in interpretation rebuffs this sort of distinction. Ecclesial unity in Christ unifies us in the interpretation of the OT as Scripture – thus we cannot make a sharp distinction between the ‘original’ community and our current community.

October 11th: He proposed two assignments with this final lecture. 1) To determine the particular relation of the Spirit to particular creatures who are to speak God’s word. 2) To then get into our understanding of the NT.

If we were to disassociate the Father from the other persons of the Trinity, which is obviously an impossible proposal, but one he wanted to explore nonetheless, then we end up with something like a modern philosophical or Platonic image of “God”. However, the Father with the Spirit is the Living God – the Triune God is living and moving…not the static arche of ancient philosophy or Aristotle’s unmoved mover, etc. Thus, where the Spirit is among us there is freedom, possibility, future.

Our fallen condition is precisely the lack of that future – we are closed to it. The Spirit acts as our liberator to the lack of possibility or the lack of hope. The Spirit brings us freedom because the Spirit is freedom.

The Spirit is also the bond of love (in Augustinian language). This sometimes sounds impersonal to us, but that is not the case with the Spirit. He is the active personal love, who gives himself to the Father and to the Son. As Hegel seemed to indicate that genuine loving relations require a third party, otherwise they may denigrate into a will to power relationship. (I’m not quite sure of this proposal, but in the life of the Trinity it seems to be the case, and if we are to use the Trinity as are paradigm of loving relations then I suppose the analogy fits.) The Spirit is freedom and love, thus if the Spirit comes to creatures we in turn love God and one another.

On to the analogy of the Body – because that it what the community that has received the Spirit that they might love God and others is referred to. How are we to understand the body? We tend to initially think of our physical bodies, but it seems that Paul had a broader understanding of that term – especially if we think of his proposal that we might one day have “spiritual bodies”, though whatever he meant by that is unclear. It seems that a person’s body is the person himself or herself as he or she is available to other persons. So body and in some way personhood is defined by our availability to other persons (definitely a relational concept of the body). Thus, the Body of Christ is only the Body of Christ if Christ is available to ‘others’…to the world.

Again the Spirit gives the Gift of Himself – and does not externally give us virtues, but instead takes up residence within us and makes us part of the Triune life.

Therefore, the Spirit makes a prophet by so opening a person to the Word and by so binding the two in love that the prophet and the Eternal Word of God can speak for each other. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t false prophets, but it does describe true prophets. The analogy of marriage may be somewhat helpful in this case. It doesn’t always happen this way, but there are times in marriage that one spouse may speak for the other. That spouse doesn’t have to ask the other what he or she might say, but they are so united in the bond of love, in a relationship over time that they might speak for one another. In this way, Jenson’s wife, Blanche, should be understood as a co-author of all his work…not that she told him what to write, but that their covenant relationship freed him to think and write as he has.

Because the Spirit gives Himself in person, when the Spirit binds the prophet and the Word together He does this within the prophet himself. Thus, they are distinct but bound together so that the Word speaks from within the prophet. This internal union is again kin to the albeit imperfect analogy of the marriage covenant. This describes the OT paradigm for the inspiration of Scripture in the Prophets.

Something is different with the NT. First, the NT is not essential to the existence of the Church, since we know that the Church got along for some time without the existence of the NT…so the relation to the NT is not timeless for the Church. The NT is a historical phenomenon of the Church. That is to say, that it’s relationship is mediated through history. (My only question is – does this not propose the distinction that we just denied between the original community and us?) In the NT Christ is something like a prophet, but He is a peculiar one – since He is the Son and the Word. In a sense we might say that He is the Prophet, but He is distinct from the other prophets. More so in the NT Mary is the epitome of the prophet – the Spirit works in her to bear the Word to the world.

Ecclesially speaking, Christ gathered with the Church, His Body, is the Prophet (totus christus). The Church is the Spirit’s work to make the final prophet. One might then ask, well can the Church be wrong? That depends on what you mean by the Church. When the Church speaks out of her reality as the One Body of Christ (catholic and apostolic) in conjunction with her Head, then we must say, “No, she cannot be wrong.” Speaking out of her brokenness, she may and does obviously speak wrongly. Therefore, we must work toward ecumenism – this is not an option, it is a command of the Lord.

The Apostles are analogous to the prophets, but in a limited way…there is also a historical difference between the Apostles and us – since none of us are eyewitnesses of the resurrection. It is not nearness to the historical event itself, but nearness to the Spirit’s inspiration of the whole prophetic event.

This entire paradigm for the inspiration of Scripture might align more with our Wesleyan tradition than his own Lutheran tradition. He’s not asking that we give it immediate acceptance as the right doctrine of inspiration, but only that we think about it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Need or Quest

I went back and re-read a post that I wrote many months ago and it seemed extremely relevant for me today. Where we end up has a lot to do with where we begin...if we begin with the focus on our needs - we'll eventually become human-centered or self-centered...but if we begin this journey as 'faith seeking understanding' then we might just end up somewhere else. Enjoy.

In a recent seminar at NTS titled "Is the Reformation Over? A dialogue among friends," Father David Burrell, C.S.C., proposed a dichotomy that stuck with me. He suggested that all people might be divided into those who "need certitude" and those who "seek understanding." This is a summary that he has taken from the work of Bernard Lonergan.

At first, it seemed like an overly simplified platitude to describe the human condition. However, the more that I thought about it, the more this simple division made sense. Can the world truly be divided into two camps - those who need certitude (a psychological need) and those who seek understanding (an intentional quest)? And if this division is true, which camp do I belong to?

As I contemplated these questions more and more, it became evident that my life has been a process of wavering back and forth between these two spheres. There have been times when my need for certainty dominated everything (typically in times of change or transition). But there have been other times when I was on a journey toward deeper understanding. This dichotomy is quite telling of our spiritual condition. Further, I would suggest that the overarching forces in our culture impress upon us a deeper need for certainty than encouraging us in the open-ended quest for meaning. A pressure that, I believe, stunts our growth in Christ and impedes our ability to be obedient to Him.

Our need for certitude is a natural human response to fear. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27) Again and again, Jesus comforts us with these words "Do not be afraid." Yet, I think our desire for certainty is deeper than simply our response to fear - I think it actually comes out of our desire to control. We want to master and control all of life, rather than walking into the unknown trusting in the Lord of life. Especially in the West (modern post-enlightenment world) we have an overarching need for certainty and control, illustrated by our ubiquitous use of mechanistic rather than organic metaphors. This vision leaves us without the understanding or language to engage the mysteries of life and more importantly the mystery of God. Ultimately, this need for certitude is rooted in the primordial human sin - our attempt to replace God.

Yet, it seems to me that when we truly come into the presence of the Holy One all of our false certainties unravel and our true condition is illumined. Think of Isaiah's encounter with the Lord in the temple. Here is Peterson's translation of that encounter:

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Master sitting on a throne—high, exalted!—and the train of his robes filled the Temple. Angel-seraphs hovered above him, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew. And they called back and forth one to the other,

Holy, Holy, Holy is God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
His bright glory fills the whole earth.

The foundations trembled at the sound of the angel voices, and then the whole house filled with smoke. I said,

"Doom! It's Doomsday!
I'm as good as dead!
Every word I've ever spoken is tainted—
blasphemous even!
And the people I live with talk the same way,
using words that corrupt and desecrate.
And here I've looked God in the face!
The King! God-of-the-Angel-Armies!"

Then one of the angel-seraphs flew to me. He held a live coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with the coal and said,

"Look. This coal has touched your lips.
Gone your guilt,
your sins wiped out."

And then I heard the voice of the Master:
"Whom shall I send?
Who will go for us?"

I spoke up,
"I'll go. Send me!"

Everything that Isaiah might have been certain of as a member of the "Chosen People" was revealed to be empty and void in the presence of the Wholly Other. His very life and existence was even called into question. But, in this unraveling he is called into a deeper understanding of God, himself, the community, and creation. His life swept up into the theological quest.

Let me explain what I mean by that last sentence. You see, theology is simply our "God-talk." It literally comes from the Greek words: Theos = God and Logos = word or rationality. So, we might say that theology is a word about God. However, a better way to think of theology is to think of it as the science of God, which is one way that St. Thomas Aquinas describes theology in his Summa Theologica (I just began reading through the Summa this week. It is fascinating and I would encourage anyone with even a minimal interest in the history of Christian thought to pick up a recent translation of this monumental work). What he means by science, though, is not the way that we tend to think of science today. We tend to narrowly define "science" as only referring to the "natural sciences" and those fields of study that are limited by the "scientific method." The word that Aquinas is using, is actually the Latin term scientia meaning "knowledge" and the ways human knowledge is received and formed is in no way limited to the so called "scientific method" from his perspective.

A better definition for theology or the science of God might be "the articulation of our knowledge of the Lord God as He has revealed Himself to us." (T. A. Noble) The theological quest that Isaiah is compelled to embark on is the quest to truly encounter and know the Lord. It is then our desire to seek understanding and articulation for this relational knowledge that we might engage one another along the journey. As Augustine and Anselm both said in various ways, theology is "faith seeking understanding."

We will never truly achieve certainty as we encounter the mysteries of life and a fortiori (even more so) as we encounter the mystery of God. If we allow the need of certitude to consume us it will hinder and quite possibly destroy our engagement with the Creator. Instead, I invite you to join me on the theological quest to release our need for control and manipulation and instead open our lives up to the Mystery! As we go deeper into the life of mystery may we seek understanding and articulation for that which we cannot "fully" know. It is a risk, that is to be sure, because we don't know what we will find, but if Jesus is who He said He is then it is a risk worth taking. Step out of the boat leaving certainty behind and join us in the adventure of following Christ.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Church Shopping

I haven't posted for a while...I do have a number of things on my mind in these days...actually, too much to sort through at this time. So just for fun, I thought that I'd include this comical commentary on contemporary church shopping. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS