Archives for April 2015

Lectionary Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 22:

Psalm 22 is a poignant individual lament and cry for help (vv.1-21), which, after a dramatic pivot, concludes with hymn of praise (vv.22-31).

This hymn is a beautiful psalm in itself, paying special attention to God’s provision for the weak and needy (vv. 24, 26) and speaking of the praise of God that future generations will offer (v. 31).

Psalms 22 and 23, when taken together, form a beautiful triptych that moves from restless lament through restorative praise to calm trust.

Christians frequently approach Ps. 22 Christologically, especially because two of its verses are quoted in the gospel narrative of Jesus’ suffering and death (vv. 1,18).

 

Prayer for reflection:
Merciful God, some of your children are joyfully singing your praise.
Others are languishing in despair.
Through Jesus you are acquainted with our grief
and in him we have resurrection hope.
Bind up those who are broken, bless those who are dying, shield those who are joyous,
and lead us all to your house, where we may feast together at your table. Amen.

 

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Sex, Discipleship, and Intentionality about the Church as a Formative Community – James K. A. Smith on Divine Sex by Jonathan Grant

The following is an excerpt from James K. A. Smith’s Foreword to Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age by Jonathan Grant (releasing summer 2015).

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Grant sympathetically recognizes the ways in which Christians are embedded in cultural patterns that shape us without our realizing it. We have to appreciate, he rightly points out, “the extent to which the modern self, with its focus on being free in the negative sense of being free from other people, has seeped into the Christian imagination and distorted our vision of sexuality and relationships.” Or as he puts it a little later, “The red thread running throughout this book is the conviction that we are, more than we realize, made by our context.”

This is why the first half of Divine Sex is focused on a diagnosis of the cultural milieu that forms and shapes our imagination—including how we imagine sex in ways we might never articulate. And Grant’s analysis is stellar: it is pointed and honest without being alarmist and despairing.

Drawing on (and lucidly translating) the important work of scholars and social scientists like Charles Taylor, Christian Smith, and Mark Regnerus, as well as engaging some of my own work, Grant helps us understand how and why the world that forms us has changed—and hence what effective Christian counterformation would look like.

The diagnosis of our cultural condition is not then taken as license for revision of biblical norms; instead, it provides the impetus for a fresh articulation of why those norms could be received as liberating us from the enslavement that parades itself as sexual “freedom” today.

The result is pastoral theology as ethnography, written from the front lines of our secular age and growing out of ministry in London and elsewhere. Grant isn’t writing from some protected enclave where traditional plausibility structures are alive and well. No, this book is written from the trenches of ministry in some of our most pluralistic—and hedonistic—global cities. Its voice is at once theological and pastoral: a brilliant work of cultural analysis that seems to always keep embodied names and faces in view.

(I also have to admit that I am jealous of Grant’s uncanny facility with metaphor, simile, and the word pictures that paint his argument. As my Pentecostal sisters and brothers like to say, “This stuff will preach!”)

This is a book that needed to be written. I pray that it will make its way into the hands of not only pastors and parents but also the wide array of those leaders who care for the body of Christ in the twenty-first century.

It speaks both to those who are single and to those who are married. And it is a must-read for anyone working with young people today; it should be read by youth pastors and university chaplains as well as by student-life divisions at Christian colleges and universities.

Absorbing Grant’s insight, analysis, and constructive argument should not only deepen how we are talking about sex and discipleship; it should also give us new intentionality about the church as a formative community, enabling us to live into a different script that is good news: our sexual lives are hidden with Christ in God.

 

©2015 by Jonathan Grant. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: April 24, 2015

Eve Tushnet wrote about Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship for The American Conservative.

Hill explores how our cultural expectations affect people who, for whatever reason, don’t expect to marry or have kids. How do we give and receive love? How do we lead lives which are fruitful and not just lonely expanses of time-before-death?

So often gay people in the “traditional” (for lack of a better word) churches receive no hint that we, too, have vocations—that we, too, are called to love specific other people. So Hill is trying to restore “spiritual friendship”—intimate, lasting friendship which draws the friends closer to God—as a vocation for gay or same-sex attracted Christians.

Read the rest of “No Marriage Is an Island” here.

 

Other Spiritual Friendship Media:

Stephen Shaffer reviewed Spiritual Friendship.

Patrick Schreiner reviewed Spiritual Friendship.

Adam Shields reviewed Spiritual Friendship.

 

 

The Drama of Living by David F. Ford was recommended and reviewed by D. Brent Laytham for The Christian Century:

This rich, relevant volume, a sequel to Ford’s stunning The Shape of Living, is an author’s report on his past books, a participant’s report on Scriptural Reasoning meetings, an annotated anthology of the poetry of Micheal O’Siadhail, and a dramatic reading of the Gospel of John.

The surprising thing about the book is its wholeness, as Ford seeks to draw readers (and rereaders) to wiser living.

 

Quick Hits:

Traces of the Trinity by Peter J. Leithart was reviewed by James Matichuk.

Evangelicals for Social Action shared an excerpt from Nonviolent Action by Ronald J. Sider.

Nonviolent Action by Ronald J. Sider was reviewed by Bob Trube.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory by Jerry L. Walls was reviewed by David Baggett.

Scot McKnight discussed Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.

 

Ebook Specials:

A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis by Devin Brown is on sale for $2.99 (82% off) from participating retailers through April  26.

Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 23:

Psalm 23, like Ps. 16, is a psalm of trust. It is filled with memorable imagery: grassy pastures, restful waters, dark valleys, the protecting and correcting rod and staff, sumptuous feasts, and fragrant oil.

It makes a journey from “rest” to “shadow” to “feast,” narrating God’s presence in moments of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.

 

Prayer for reflection:
Jesus, loving shepherd, we hear your voice,
and we know the price you paid because of your love for us.
Help us to move beyond hearing and knowing
to accepting the life you offer us and committing ourselves to serving others,
giving you all honor, glory, and praise. Amen.

 

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Ebook Special for A Life Observed by Devin Brown

Now through April 26, the ebook for A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis by Devin Brown is only $2.99 (82% off) from the following participating retailers:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

CBD

 

“Lewis believed that Christianity was first and foremost about experiencing God in one’s life. . . . Quite appropriately then, Brown’s biography recounts events from Lewis’ life and quotes from his books, letters, and diary in order to tell the story of his spiritual journey. And it’s a fascinating tale, especially when one considers that Lewis was not always a Christian. . . . Fans of Lewis will find much here to savor. So, too, will those interested in a man’s lifelong attempt to live out his faith.”
Booklist

“[Brown] chronicles Lewis’s journey from atheist to Christian, tracing Lewis’s lifelong search for his mysterious object of desirejoy. He provides a close reading of Lewis’s writings and an examination of Lewis’s friendships with J. R. R. Tolkien and the rest of the literary circle known as the Inklings. . . . [This book] perform[s] the task that all critical books should and also plant[s] a desire in readers to pick up and read Lewis’s own work. . . . [It] illuminate[s] this gifted author, whose passion for good writing and deep desire to bring pleasure to readers make his work timeless.”
Publishers Weekly

 

C. S. Lewis is one of the most influential Christian writers of our time. The Chronicles of Narnia has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide and all Lewis’s works are estimated to sell 6 million copies annually. At the fiftieth anniversary of his death, Lewis expert Devin Brown brings the beloved author’s story to life in a fresh, accessible, and moving biography through focusing on Lewis’s spiritual journey.

Although it was clear from the start that Lewis would be a writer, it was not always clear he would become a Christian. Drawing on Lewis’s autobiographical works, books by those who knew him personally, and his apologetic and fictional writing, this book tells the inspiring story of Lewis’s journey from cynical atheist to joyous Christian and challenges readers to follow their own calling. The book allows Lewis to tell his own life story in a uniquely powerful manner while shedding light on his best-known works.

Devin Brown (PhD, University of South Carolina) is a Lilly scholar and professor of English at Asbury University. A C. S. Lewis aficionado, Brown has written, taught, and lectured on Lewis extensively for more than ten years. He has authored a number of books related to Lewis, including Inside Narnia and Inside Prince Caspian, and lives in Kentucky. In 2008 Brown was invited to serve as scholar-in-residence at the Kilns, Lewis’s home in Oxford.

The Weekly Hit List: April 17, 2015

Congratulations to Wendy VanderWal-Gritter! Generous Spaciousness is a finalist in the 2015 Word Awards in the Christian Living category.

Focusing on the church’s engagement with gay and lesbian Christians, this book invites readers into a gracious conversation regarding human sexuality.

The Word Awards are designed to bring attention to excellence in Canadian Christian writing in all genres.

Award winners will be announced at a gala on June 13, 2015, in Toronto, Ontario.

The complete shortlist is available here, and a complete press release can be found here.

 

Amy Plantinga Pauw reviewed and recommended Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings for Christian Century.

Buoyed by the psalmists, who trusted God in the midst of their anxiety, joy, anger, and suffering, Billings wrestles theologically with the daily realities and implications of his cancer diagnosis.

His honest witness can help Christians avoid glibness or sentimentality in supporting those facing serious illness.

 

Other Rejoicing in Lament Media:

Todd Billings appeared on Connecting Faith with Neil Stavem (Faith Radio network).

Paul Nierengarten reviewed Rejoicing in Lament.

April Fiet referenced Rejoicing in Lament.

Ted Schroder reviewed Rejoicing in Lament.

 

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory  (Jerry L. Walls) Media:

Scot McKnight discussed Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory in several posts: April 10; April 14April 16

Drew McCarthy reviewed Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory for Seedbed.

Joshua Torrey reviewed Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.

Matthew Manry reviewed Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.

 

Spiritual Friendship (Wesley Hill) Media:

Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds Books recommended Spiritual Friendship:

It is one of the most important books of our time, vital, important, rare, wise, exceptional.  It is exactly about our embodiedness, yes, even about the redemption of our sexuality.

It is beautifully written, exquisite at times, and more candid then one might expect in an evangelical Christian book.  We are proud to carry it, and eager to commend it to one and all.

Matthew Loftus reviewed Spiritual Friendship for Mere Orthodoxy.

Wesley Hill will be appearing at Christ Church Anglican on May 2 with Tim Otto and Julie Rodgers.

Conciliar Post reviewed Spiritual Friendship.

Dr. Conrade Yap reviewed Spiritual Friendship.

Tim Perry reviewed Spiritual Friendship.

 

Quick Hits:

Traces of the Trinity by Peter J. Leithart was reviewed by Tim Perry and recommended by Kuyperian Commentary.

Scot McKnight, author of Kingdom Conspiracy, will appear at Lipscomb University on April 23.

The (Un)Common Good by Jim Wallis was reviewed by Conversation in Faith.

Real Sex by Lauren Winner was mentioned by Publishers Weekly.

Lectionary Reflection for the Third Sunday of Easter

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 24:36b-48:

After the Lord has left them, at “that very hour” the pair return to Jerusalem, presumably arriving later in the same evening, to find “the eleven and those who were with them gathered together [athroizō]” (24:33), already talking in amazement about the Lord having appeared by now to Simon Peter (24:34). And so Cleopas and the other tell their story too, notably “how he was known to them in the breaking of bread” (24:35).

But even while they are in this joyous exchange, flushed with the excitement and wonder of it all, suddenly Jesus is standing “in the midst of them” and saying, “Peace to you” (24:36).

Despite the collective witness of previous encounters with the risen Lord, they are “terrified and affrighted” (ptoeō and emphobos—the doubling indicates extremity of apprehensive emotion) and think he is a ghost (24:37).

As so often, he calms them down: “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (24:38). He points to his hands and his feet, inviting them to touch him, “for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (24:39). When he does this (24:40), they can scarcely believe for their joy and wonderment (thaumazō has the sense we employ when we refer to something wonderful as “fantastic” or “incredible,” not meaning the word literally but hyperbolically for something so marvelous our minds cannot take it in).

Luke here is as emphatic about the physicality of the resurrected body of Jesus as Paul will be later (1 Cor. 15:35–49); it is of the essence of what he is showing to have happened that every expectation of mortal nature in death has been broken through, the corruptible body having been restored and now, recognizably flesh and bones, yet an entirely new phenomenon.

It can scarcely be overstressed how contrary Luke and Paul are to modernist metaphorizing and sidestepping of this absolute foundation of Christian faith and hope.

John Updike, himself a modern and no pietist, nevertheless underscores this point beautifully in a poem directed against the evasive liberalism of many theologians when he insists that Jesus’s bodily resurrection is the lynch-pin of any plausible Christian future: “if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules / reknit, the amino acids rekindle,” he says, “the Church will fall.”

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

 

The Power of Nonviolent Action (an excerpt from Nonviolent Action by Ronald J. Sider)

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really Tried by Ronald J. Sider.

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Too often, power is understood only in terms of lethal coercion. Mao Zedong said that power is what comes from the barrel of a gun. Certainly power includes the ability to control people’s actions by the threat or use of lethal violence; however, the people also possess nonviolent collective power because they can choose to withdraw their support from rulers.

Nonviolent activists possess strong moral power. Praying, reconciling teams of Christian peacemakers risking their lives for others would share something of the moral power that Jesus exercised in the temple. He was able singlehandedly to drive the crowds of angry, oppressive moneychangers out of the temple, not because he was stronger or his disciples were more numerous. It was because deep in their hearts they knew that he was right.

International public opinion would also be influential. The daring of the teams of Christian peacemakers would sometimes make headline news around the world. Any group or nation that battered or killed prominent, internationally famous Christian leaders or even ordinary peacemakers would suffer substantial international disapproval.

A mandate also provides authority and therefore power. A mandate to intervene internationally, if issued by an organization such as the Organization of African States or the United Nations, could legitimize nonviolent teams of peacemakers. So too—at least to a certain, if lesser, degree—would an invitation by prominent Christian leaders and established churches, as well as recognized leaders of other religious groups.

Self-sacrificial love has innate power. It often weakens even vicious opponents—though not always, of course. People ready to suffer for others sometimes get crucified. But often, too, they evoke a more human, loving response, even from brutal foes.

The discipline, training, and coordination of an organized body with visible symbols of identity and cohesion are also powerful. Part of the power of a large group of police or soldiers lies in their uniforms, careful coordination, and ability to act quickly, decisively, and collectively. Highly trained and disciplined peacemaker teams would possess some of this same power.

Finally, there is the divine power of the Lord of history. What the Almighty will do if thousands of praying, loving Christians nonviolently face death in the search for peace and justice will remain shrouded in mystery—at least until we have the courage to try it. But what believer will doubt that there may be surprises ahead?

Death will be tragically intertwined with any serious test of the effectiveness of nonviolent action. But that will not prove that the effort has failed; it will only underline the depth of human sin, and also the fact that Christians are willing to imitate the One they worship. Nor is that all. The death of courageous nonviolent activists will also lead to the birth of a more powerful belief in and practice of successful nonviolent movements for peace and justice.

 

©2015 by Ronald J. Sider. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: April 10, 2015

Wesley Hill, author of Spiritual Friendship, was interviewed by Jonathan Merritt for his Religion News Service blog.

RNS: How do you hope reimagining friendship will help shape the debate over same-sex erotic behavior?

WH: My sense of the debate in the Christian churches is that many people think there are two options: Be gay and celibate and therefore lonely, or be gay and partnered and therefore not alone. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think those are the only two options. I’m trying to live in a different place: openly acknowledging that I’m gay, pursuing a life of sexual abstinence in obedience to what the Bible teaches, and seeking to fill that life full of friendship and community.

How would our debates about how to love gay and lesbian people in our churches look different if celibacy seemed like a viable option, because deep friendships were a normal part of the Christian life, rather than the bleak occasion for marginalization that it so often appears to be now?

Read the entire article, “Celibate gay Christian leader urges faithful to ‘normalize’ committed friendships,” here.

 

Quick Hits:

Wesley Hill was mentioned by Ross Douthat in The New York Times.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory by Jerry L. Walls was reviewed by Dr. Conrade Yap and discussed by Scot McKnight.

Nonviolent Action by Ronald J. Sider was reviewed by Elliot Ritzema and Andrew Spencer.

Rejoicing in Lament by J. Todd Billings was quoted by Together for Adoption.

Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday of Easter

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 133:

Psalm 133, the fourteenth of the Psalms of Ascents, is a celebration of the unity of God’s people, a unity that is not to be taken for granted as the history of Israel attests.

The psalm uses dramatic imagery to convey the beauty of unity, comparing it to fragrant oil and mountain dew.

 

A prayer for reflection:

O God, let the overflowing of your Holy Spirit
cover your church with the blessing of unity
and the anointing of your peace,
through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.