Archives for October 2015

Lectionary Reflection for All Saints’ Day

This excerpt comes from Psalms 1-50 (BTCB) by Ellen Charry, commenting on Psalm 24:

While it opens proposing a grand view of divine sovereignty, Ps. 24 sets aside the view of God as distant as it moves quickly to moral exhortation with the explanation that abiding in God is not the side effect or reward for the pursuit of a pure way of life but is the ascent to that holy dwelling of God.

God’s power in establishing the cosmos may make him seem distant, but an excellent life will enable those who desire God to experience him as nearby. By drawing near to God, those who seek him will be blessed, and that blessing will infuse community life by their participation in it.

For the distant God of creation to enter the human heart as more than the idea of majestic power, heads must lift and gates of the hearts must open to make room for God to enter one’s life. Taken together then, the questions posed in Ps. 24 can be reduced to the question of how the transcendent creator who is also the commander in chief of armed battalions finds his way into human lives to lift them to himself.

Theodoret and Augustine read the upward-turning images in this psalm in terms of the ascension and resurrection of Christ. For us, “up” is moral-spiritual improvement. The exhortation of the psalmist and later Christian interpreters adjure readers to lift their sights to morally uplifted lives. It is a poem of possibility and encouragement.

For the Christian writers, to look up is to be brought near to God by the incarnate one who leads by going on ahead, first in resurrection and then in ascent to God. Both the psalmist and his Christian readers want to expand the self upward, thus giving hope.

©2015 by Ellen T. Charry. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

This Just In: Free to Serve, by Stephen Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies

Cover ArtWhat do Hobby Lobby, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Wheaton College, World Vision, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the University of Notre Dame have in common? All are faith-based organizations that have faced pressure to act in ways contrary to their religious beliefs.

In this book, two policy experts show how faith-based groups–those active in the educational, healthcare, international aid and development, and social service fields–can defend their ability to follow their religiously based beliefs without having to jettison the very faith and faith-based practices that led them to provide services to those in need. They present a pluralist vision for religious freedom for faith-based organizations of all religious traditions.



Matthew L. Skinner Stephen V. Monsma (PhD, Michigan State University) is a senior research fellow at the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and professor emeritus of political science at Pepperdine University. He is also a fellow at the Center for Public Justice.

Matthew L. SkinnerStanley W. Carlson-Thies (PhD, University of Toronto) is director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, a division of the Center for Public Justice (CPJ), in Washington, DC. He is a senior fellow at CPJ and at the Canadian think tank Cardus. Carlson-Thies served with George W. Bush’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and served on a task force of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.


Praise for Free to Serve:

“We have to protect the rights of everyone in our society if we are to protect the rights of anyone. This is an important book for our times.” – Richard Stearns, president, World Vision US

“A must-read for anyone interested in preserving our country’s historic stance on religious freedom.” – Ronald J. Sider, Palmer Seminary, Eastern University

“A timely and compelling case for how the United States can navigate the current changes to social norms.” – Shirley V. Hoogstra, JD, president, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities

“A clarion call and prophetic prescription for those committed to never sacrificing truth on the altar of expediency.” – Samuel Rodriguez, president, NHCLC/CONELA, Hispanic Evangelical Association

“Anyone who cares about the state of religious freedom in America should read this book.” – David Nammo, executive director and CEO, Christian Legal Society

“Monsma and Carlson-Thies offer proactive remedies that nourish the hope of principled pluralism and promote a civil society in which people of all faiths, or none, enjoy expansive freedom.” – Philip G. Ryken, president, Wheaton College

“[A] timely, readable, and intellectually serious book.” – John J. DiIulio Jr., first director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

“If you believe your faith should extend beyond the walls of your place of worship, you simply must read this outstanding book.” – Peter Greer, president and CEO, HOPE International

Free to Serve examines the unintended consequences of violating religious freedom and offers hope for a society where individual beliefs are fully expressed.” – Tami Heim, president and CEO, Christian Leadership Alliance

“An important and timely book. The authors’ call to principled pluralism…is a vital message.” – Alec Hill, president, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA

The Weekly Hit List: October 23, 2015

Free to Serve: Grand Rapids EventJoin us Monday the 26th in Grand Rapids, for a special launch event for Free to Serve! The author and practitioner panel will continue a conversation launched by Free to Serve — on how faith-based organizations can meaningfully relate to one another, community leaders, government, and the media as we serve.

Jonathan Grant’s Divine Sex was reviewed at AJ Cerda.

This is the best book on Biblical sexuality that I have ever read….Jonathan Grant has done the Christian community a gigantic favor by meticulously pealing apart the layers of the modern sexual imaginary to expose the pathologies which are at the heart of the secularization of sexuality. This will satisfy the intellectual curiosities of your inner philosopher; but Grant does not leave the reader with a philosophical assessment of the sexual imaginary, he offers a solidly Biblical and deeply profound vision for the future of sexuality. The church, for her part, would be wise to listen.

Quick Hits:

Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians, by Chris Armstrong, appeared in the Publishers Weekly article Exploring C. S. Lewis’s Lasting Popularity—52 Years After His Death.

Drew McIntyre, at Plowshares Into Swords, reviewed Darkness is My Only Companion, by Kathryn Greene-McCreight.



Lectionary Reflection for the Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Psalms 1-50 (BTCB) by Ellen Charry, commenting on Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22):

The opening salvo (34:1–2) is two clipped declarations of what the speaker is doing now: blessing and praising the Lord continually, with words and in silence. He immediately turns to invite his audience to join his doxology and share his joy by magnifying and praising God together (34:3). Psalm 34:4 explains this praise and adoration of God in terms of the speaker’s own experience and uses it as an offering of encouragement. He sought the Lord, and the Lord relieved his terror.

Again, the speaker stares intently at his hearers. If they will also look to God (by living a wholesome life), their faces will not flush with shame. Perhaps he is implying that they will not be ashamed when trouble strikes because no one will say that their trouble is justly deserved. While it is clear that the speaker’s enemy is terror, he does not explain what causes it. However, he turns to his auditors and assures them that their confidence in God (literally “radiant faces”) will protect them from the comparable emotional distress of shame. A face radiant with confidence in God will not flush, for the person has nothing to hide and so nothing to fear, shame being the object of fear.

Another interpretation might be that no manner of humiliation can touch the radiance of those whose moral strength comes from their confidence in God. The speaker is building up his hearers’ confidence in their ability to withstand trouble by assuring them that they already have the strength they need, for they share the humble, reverent life that God favors. Psalm 34:7–9 offers protection for these pious ones.

The scene changes, or rather emerges. Until now there has been no scenery, no images to locate the narrative spatially. With 34:7 the reader finds herself encamped. It might be in a military theater, or, as 34:10 suggests, the jungle; it does not matter. The place is danger-filled. The pious who have heeded the singer’s advice are protected by an angel (their humility?) and saved, whereupon a peal of rejoicing goes up in one of the most famous lines in the Psalter. The poet applauds his audience: “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy is the one who takes refuge in him”.

©2015 by Ellen T. Charry. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Jim Wallis on NPR

Cover ArtJim Wallis, author of the forthcoming America’s Original Sin, was recently interviewed on NPR by Michel Martin.

You can read an excerpt of the interview below, and find the full text and audio here: Parables For Understanding A Nation’s Racial ‘Sin’

WALLIS: When Trayvon Martin was shot and killed, I felt – you might call it the lament of a white father. I knew and the whole country knew that my son Luke – six-foot-tall baseball athlete, going to college next year – had been walking and doing the same thing, same time that Trayvon was doing in Sanford, Fla., everyone knows he would’ve come back. But Trayvon didn’t come back, and so it was a parable. Jesus talked about parables. They teach us things. Michael Brown – Ferguson – was a parable. Charleston was a parable. The parable about where we are as a nation – we have to see our original sin and how it still lingers in our criminal justice system.

MARTIN: And what is the original sin?

WALLIS: Well, the original sin is – I have this sentence in the book – the most controversial sentence I ever wrote – this nation was founded by the near genocide of one people and the kidnapping of another people to build this nation. So slavery and the indigenous destruction of those who were here – that was our original sin. And it still lingers in our criminal justice system – in most of our systems.

And so the book talks about how to go deeply into that to understand what’s happening here and then to see how these events – these shootings of young black men and women losing their lives in custody – are parables. They have to teach us what repentance doesn’t mean just saying you’re sorry. Or feeling guilty means turning and going in a whole different direction.

The Weekly Hit List: October 9, 2015

Cover ArtRejoicing in Lament, by J. Todd Billings, was reviewed by Don McKim at The Presbyterian Outlook

By all means, read this book. It speaks to a range of Christians — caretakers, counselors and those experiencing cancer or loss. It witnesses to faith in the midst of deep lament.

Quick Hits:

Roger Olson continued his series on Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight.

Wesley Hill, author of Spiritual Friendship, discussed what happens When Friendships Fail.



Lectionary Reflection for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Psalms 1-50 (BTCB) by Ellen Charry, commenting on Psalm 22:1-15:

The pleader knows himself to have been cared for by God all his life. The complaint is that God is now shirking the responsibility that he took on at the onset of human life itself. The suppliant is not pointing to any virtue or merit of his own but to God’s role as giver and provider of life. The assumption is that God has no right to “slumber or sleep,” as Ps. 121:4 puts it. His watch does not end at midnight or at dawn. The poet reminds God that caring for people is a full-time job. Again one can see theism hiding behind the translucent curtain of theodicy.

The theology presented here is the precise opposite of the idea that suffering is punishment for sin or that God is angry and justly punishes in order to humble rebellious people. On the contrary, God is responsible for failing to alleviate the suffering. His love for the sufferer is so obvious to both the speaker and the human audience that it does not need to be stated but can be called upon to embarrass God into acting. The deep trust in God’s providential care attests palpably to the inability of the speaker to actually believe the words he spoke in 22:1. He cannot believe that God has or even could abandon him. The opening verse is an attention-getting device set against the deeper revelation that the speaker cannot abandon God, believe that God has abandoned him, or embrace the skeptical alternative.

In contrast to much Christian psychology, which holds that suffering should stimulate introspection on one’s sinfulness to generate humility and a turn to God in self-despair, the poet believes that celebrating God’s powerful deeds of rescue in the past will arouse confident devotion whatever one’s personal circumstance. The psalmist’s interest is not in fostering humility but in energizing devotion and praise. In a striking essay on Ps. 22, Ellen Davis argues that it is fundamentally a psalm of praise. The old mythos of salvation—that God will simply make bad circumstances go away—lies in the dust. It has been supplanted by a stronger resymbolization facilitated by poetic language that enables faithful suffering even in the absence of material rescue.

©2015 by Ellen T. Charry. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: October 2, 2015

Cover ArtAt Acts and More, Steve Walton shared a review of Matthew Skinner’s Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel.

This book will be eminently helpful to a church Bible study group working through Acts. It will also inform and help preachers or teachers engaging with Acts, and students who want to see ways in which the book’s themes and issues relate to Christian life and experience today. I commend it very warmly.

Spiritual Friendship, by Wesley Hill, was a featured review at The Englewood Review of Books.

Wesley Hill’s spectacular new book, Spiritual Friendship, explores one way gay Christians—especially those who embrace the traditional teaching of the church—are a gift to the church….Spiritual Friendship displays Hill’s considerable intellect, pulls from an astonishing variety of sources, and inspires with its beautiful prose.

Quick Hits:

The Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance announced the forthcoming Free to Serve, from Stephen Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies.

Monsma and Carlson-Thies were interviewed about Free to Serve in the latest issue of Christianity Today.

The Christian Examiner reviewed Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel.



Lectionary Reflection for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Genesis (BTCB) by R. R. Reno, commenting on Genesis 2:18-24:

All of us feel the divine pronouncement “it is not good.” We can walk a beautiful beach or hike a stunning wilderness path, but even as we rejoice in the natural beauty, the canker of unmet desires and unfulfilled hopes irritates and intervenes.

People make mountains of money and surround themselves with every good thing, and still the human heart will not rest. Our children are charming and successful, but we nonetheless pine for what they are not. We look at our no doubt imperfect society, but instead of sober criticism, we rise up in moral indignation and denounce it as corrupt.

At every point, we come up against the limitations of reality, and rather than appreciate the finite goods we truly enjoy, we rebel. The lure of something greater, the attractive possibility of more, the shadows of things not only set right but fulfilled—we gaze upon that which God creates with a dissatisfaction that we cannot understand and cannot justify, but nonetheless feel too strongly to deny or set aside.

The atmosphere of felt incompleteness is not unique to the Gen. 2 creation account. It runs throughout scripture. The sense of incompleteness is a function of the substantial purpose of self-donation that God has in mind “in the beginning.” Things exist for the purpose of being brought into the Sabbath rest of fellowship with God. For this reason, the scriptural witness is structured by a movement from very good to better still. All finite existence is complete and good on its own.

But when that existence is brought into relation to the infinite existence of God, it becomes supernaturally incomplete; it becomes palpably “not God.” For this reason, creation yearns to be more than itself—to be no longer itself, alone, and without fellowship with God. This is especially true for human beings. The most teachable of animals, and therefore the most plastic and changeable of creatures, we feel the alluring possibility of moving from what is very good to something better still. Because we sense what we can become, we regret what we are not.

©2010 by R. R. Reno. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.