“The devil has had all the best liturgies.”

Sometime in the near future, a few of my friends and I will be reviewing James K.A. Smith‘s newest book, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. (I’m rather excited about this as we are three church planters from different parts of the US – Los Angeles, Syracuse, and Burlington, Vermont – with different communities, different contexts, and different backgrounds. Through this diversity, however, we have some strong commonalities, which should make for an interesting time of review and discussion.) It is his second volume in what will eventually be a trilogy aptly named “Cultural Liturgies.” The first volume, Desiring The Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, gave feet to a lot of things I was noticing and working on at the time of its publication. I’ve been anticipating this volume, and now that I have read some of it, haven’t been disappointed in his picking up of where he left off.

Below is a short excerpt that scratches at some of the more central elements of this follow up volume. Without going into all the details, which will happen at a later time and date, may it be suffice to say that I think he is rather correct in his assessment. Having spent my entire life in the Evangelical, conservative Christian world – those who have done the same will know what I mean – his indictment of the rampant intellectualism found at the core of much Christian discipleship is spot on. To borrow from his initial volume, we have become a people with “big heads and tiny bodies” meaning we have overemphasized, in our Protestant, Enlightenment tradition, on the intellect, leaving affect, imagination, and our bodily habits/desires rather untouched. As this excerpt illuminates, the devil has not done likewise.

Having fallen prey to the intellectualism of modernity, both Christian worship and Christian pedagogy have underestimated the importance of this body/story nexus – this inextricable link between imagination, narrative, and embodiment – thereby forgetting the ancient Christian sacramental wisdom carried in the historic practices of Christian worship and the embodied legacies of spiritual and monastic disciplines. Failing to appreciate this, we have neglected formational resources that are indigenous to the Christian tradition, as it were; as a result,we have too often pursued flawed models of discipleship and Christian formation that have focused on convincing the intellect rather than recruiting the imagination. Moreover, because of this neglect and our stunted anthropology, we have failed to recognize the degree and extent to which secular liturgies do implicitly capitalize on our embodied penchant for storied formation. This becomes a way to account for Christian assimilation to consumerism, nationalism, and various stripes of egoism. These isms have had all the best embodied stories. The devil has had all the best liturgies. (p. 39-40)

I hope you’ll join my friends and I as we dive into this important work. See you then.


Ecclesia and Ethics: An Eco-friendly and Economically-feasible Online Biblical Studies and Theology Conference

Well, this looks very, very interesting.

N.T. Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Michael Gorman, and Northeastern Seminary‘s very own newly appointed Professor of Biblical Studies, Nijay Gupta are among the presenters of this “eco-friendly and economically-feasible online biblical studies and theological conference.”

From the site:

Ecclesia and Ethics: An Eco-friendly and Economically-feasible Online Biblical Studies and Theology Conference is an academic and ecclesial conference taking place on Saturday May 18th and Saturday May 25th 2013 in real-time via the high-tech Webinar site http://www.gotomeeting.com. No software will need to be purchased by presenters or attendees, and Webinar access is provided entirely for free due to a generous Capod Innovation Grant through the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Participants and attendees will be able to sign on, present, and listen to or watch presentations from anywhere in the world with reliable internet and a computer. Registration for the conference consists of a $10/£7 (minimum) donation to one of our Recommended Charities. We invite participants to give according to their means above the $10/£7 to one or more of our charities if they feel led and are able.

Main papers will be presented by our Main Speakers: N.T. Wright, Michael Gorman, Dennis Hollinger, Shane Claiborne, Stanley Hauerwas, Brian Rosner, Mariam Kamell, Nijay Gupta, Michael Barber, and Sungmin Min Chun. Additionally, we will have five Multiple Paper sessions throughout the conference, via five Virtual Rooms which will feature papers from a total of 20-25 selected papers. Interested parties are invited to submit an abstract to ecclesiaethics@gmail.com for consideration from January 2013-March 2013.

To whet your appetite, here is a video interview with N.T. Wright regarding his take on “Moral Formation, the relationship between the Church and the Academy, and the relationship between Theology and Exegesis.”

And here is an interview with Nijay Gupta, our newly installed Professor:

Looks promising, to say the least.

Go here for more.

New Creation: An Interdisciplinary Theology Conference at Northeastern Seminary

I am excited to announce that Northeastern Seminary has teamed up with the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association in order to bring about New Creation: An Interdisciplinary Theology Conference. The theme for the conference is taken from J. Richard Middleton’s newest book, A New Heaven and A New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology and he will serve as the main presenter. Middleton is Northeastern’s Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis, a renown scholar, author of The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1, and co-author of both The Transforming Vision: Shaping A Christian Worldview  and Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age with Brian Walsh [He can be seen here, here, and here discussing a theology of place].

The call is now out for papers centering on the theme of new creation:

This Call for Papers goes out to established scholars or practitioners in the theological disciplines, as well as to graduate students, post-docs, and pre-tenured faculty.

We encourage submission of high quality papers on any topic of theological relevance to the broad theme of “New Creation.” Papers should be scholarly but not highly specialized presentations of about 25 minutes, aimed at an audience of students, pastors, and faculty from across the spectrum of theological disciplines. We are interpreting theology to include biblical studies; theological readings of Scripture; historical, systematic, philosophical, moral, and pastoral theology; theology that engages culture, the church, other academic disciplines, etc.

Proposals should be approximately 250 words in length and should be accompanied by a short CV. To facilitate anonymous review of proposals, please include your name, paper title, institutional affiliation, and contact information on a separate page from your paper proposal.

Read the rest here.

I am seriously contemplating writing a paper on a theology of place using the likes of Wendell Berry, Craig Bartholomew, and Norman Wirzba. We’ll see.

Regardless if you write or not, I highly suggest you make plans to be there for this gathering. It’s on a Saturday and it is one day. Nothing should be stopping you. I hope to see you then.

“I wish I had studied _________ in seminary.”

I have been done with seminary for a few years now. I graduated from Northeastern Seminary, which is about an hour and a half away from my house. It was an unbelievable experience of gaining knowledge, being spiritually formed, and connecting with others. If you happen to live in upstate NY and are contemplating attending seminary or furthering your education, Northeastern may be for you.

Since I’ve been done I’ve helped out with a church plant, begun a faith community, and was an interim pastor at a local church. I’ve also continued my full-time gig as a Special Education teaching assistant. I’ve had so many great conversations with fellow pastors, spiritually sensitive people, co-workers, and friends in all of these forums. One thought that has come up recently has had me thinking.

I recently was emailed a document written by someone critiquing a Christian college’s website and curriculum. He asked me to check out the missional language and trajectory within his remarks. Then I saw on J.R. Briggs’ blog a post concerning what ten books every seminarian should read. There has also been the ongoing conversation over at J.R. Rozko’s blog (a lot of J.R.s, I know) on the ever changing structure, content, and importance of theological education.

Part of the issue is our cultural context and its discontinuous change. Things are constantly in flux affecting people and institutions, including church leaders and communities, thus making understanding our context all the more difficult. Many people are saying we’re at a point in history that is  unprecedented and what works today will not work tomorrow. These factors, and many, many more, make theological education at the seminary level challenging in preparing men and women for the future. This is especially true in light of the time spent in seminary. For some, by the time they finish their degree, the information they’ve learned may be invalid.

All of this has made me wonder the following question: What would you change or add to your seminary education?  This goes for people done with seminary and those in seminary. Or maybe you’re a leader in some fashion but haven’t gone to seminary. What would you look for in a seminary or wish you could study at a seminary? Or perhaps you’re not in a leadership position and wish your leaders had studied something in particular. Anything goes.

Any thoughts?

The Road to Emmaus: Wordle Style

This is the text from the Gospel Lesson for tomorrow’s worship gathering at St. Andrew’s Anglican. In my studies for this Sunday I always read the appropriate texts several times over. From there I check things out in books, online articles, different blogs, commentaries, etc. It’s a good thing to know the proper historical context, narrative context (both in Scripture in its entirety and its specific book), any linguistic clues, among other details.

The image above is another tool that can employed. Wordle allows you to copy and paste any text you want in order to create a Word Cloud, like the one above. From there you are able to get a great visual display of the written text. The larger words mean they show up more frequently, indicating what the main idea/person/place might be. Now, this isn’t always the case, and it doesn’t replace good exegetical study, but it can help us imagine what might be going on. Hopefully, it helps a bit.

The End of Evangelicalism?: An Interview with David Fitch

Over at The Other Journal is an article (found here) with David Fitch, a pastor and professor in the Chicago area. I’ve been blessed to spend some time with Fitch, as he is heavily involved with the Ecclesia Network. The interview deals with his newest book, The End of Evangelicalism?: Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission, his use of Slavoj Zizek’s cultural critique and political philosophy, and Rob Bell’s Love Wins among other things.

Below is the first paragraph in the interview, which will hopefully whet your appetite, and curiosity, to give the rest of it a look. Enjoy.

The Other Journal (TOJ): Your newest book, The End of Evangelicalism?, uses the thought of the iconic cultural critic Slavoj Žižek to look critically at the public presence of evangelicals. Your book was released just a couple of days before Rob Bell’s book on heaven and hell, Love Wins, a book that has generated national attention on the evangelical world and its fissures. Let’s say Žižek spent a couple hours reading the blogs on Rob Bell from his detractors—what do you think he would say about the media storm associated with Love Wins?

David E. Fitch (DF): Žižek would probably notice the extreme amount of media activity surrounding the prerelease of Love Wins and the Neo-Reformed response to Bell. He’d suggest that there is almost a perverse enjoyment in John Piper’s saying “farewell Rob Bell?” the kind of enjoyment that says more about us than the person we are targeting. Žižek would perhaps note that in finding a heretic, we found a reason to feel validated in our beliefs, and boy does that make us feel good. Of course, along the same lines, he would take notice of how the publishing world is creating this swirl of activity to ask, who is the church? Is not the church being shaped around these crazy discussions that are generated by publishing empires? Is this not a sign that evangelicalism has become a groupthink that generates no real activity for change in real life? He would note that we are, in essence, having discussions that allow us to be complicit with the ways things are, the status quo.

“The parish preacher must speak whether he is inspired or not.”

This page is taken from Reinhold Niebuhr’s small book Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic.  It was written in 1915, not too long after Niebuhr finished seminary and entered into a pastoral job. I suggest it as a great read on seeing how a pastor and intellectual dealt with the changing dominant culture simultaneously with the church culture.

I was re-reading portions of this book the other day and ran across this section. As a young seminary grad who preaches quite often, I find myself resonating with what he says. I don’t want to add or subtract with commentary on it; rather just post this as something I find interesting.

Any thoughts on his statement?