Archives for March 2016

Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday of Easter

This excerpt comes from Revelation (BTCB) by Joseph L. Mangina, commenting on Revelation 1:4-8:

The words “grace . . . and peace” begin this process. Grace and peace! These are words we do not often associate with the Apocalypse. Many would say that there is more divine wrath than divine mercy here, more violence and bloodshed than peace. Nevertheless, I think we need to take John at his word. Even if the usage is a borrowing from the conventions of early Christian letterwriting, it says something important.

John does not write with hostile intentions toward the churches. He is but an ambassador of the one who is the source of all grace and peace and who—in another performative utterance—bestows these gifts upon the listener. Grace and peace are the very content of this apocalyptic irruption into our world.

This ultimate sender of the letter is now named. In other New Testament letters, such as Paul’s, the formula “grace and peace” would be followed by “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” These expected words do not appear, however. Instead, John offers greetings:

from him who is and who was and who is to come,

and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,

and from Jesus Christ

the faithful11 witness,

the firstborn of the dead,

and the ruler of kings on earth. (1:4–5)

A moment ago we were hearing a letter being read aloud, John offering greetings to the churches. We now learn that John is only penultimately the source of this communication. The real source of the letter is God. Even this turns out to be more complicated than we might think, for alongside God we also hear of Jesus and of the mysterious “seven spirits.” Each of these three elements, in turn, is internally complex.

The Father is named with reference to his relation to present, past, and future; Jesus is called witness, firstborn, and ruler of kings; and the spirits are seven rather than simply one. John has not simply expanded the Pauline greeting, he has deepened and enriched it in puzzling ways. The first thing we notice is a proliferation of threes. Beyond the ones just cited, the ascription of Christ shifts into a doxology (1:5b) that yields three further sets of three:

him who loves us

has freed us from our sins by his blood

has made us a kingdom

he is coming with the clouds

every eye will see him

all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him

All this is rhetorically powerful. The number three is a universal element in myth and folklore. In fairly tales there are always three sons, three trials, three rings of power. But there is more than simply folklore going on here. As the doxological language and the liturgical “amen” (1:6–7) suggest, we find ourselves in the atmosphere of early Christian worship, an eschatological atmosphere permeated by a longing for Christ’s future coming. At the heart of Christian worship is the God who is one, but one by being three—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Worship is the primordial home of the Christian confession of God as Trinity.

As Robert Jenson remarks, the “habit of trinitarian naming is universal through the life of the church. How far back it goes we cannot make out. . . . It appears to have been an immediate reflex of believers’ experience of God. It is in liturgy, when we do not talk about God but to and for him, that we need and use his name.”

©2010 by Joseph L. Mangina. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: March 18, 2016

Miroslav Volf, author of A Public Faith and the forthcoming Public Faith in Action, joined David Brooks for a conversation about human flourishing.

Brazos Press is pleased to announce we are working with Karen Swallow Prior on a forthcoming book. Releasing in early 2018, Prior’s book will model the exercise of virtue through the reading of classic works of literature, works that navigate the universal themes that inform and shape human life in all its moments, both bright and dark.

Quick Hits:

At, David Roark’s discussion of Terrence Malick drew on James K.A. Smith’s concept of “cultural liturgies” in books like You Are What You Love.

Bryan at The Happy Alternative reviewed Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship.

Moroslav Volf’s A Public Faith was reviewed at BLOGEGESIS.

Jim Wallis, author of America’s Original Sin, was part of the conversation What’s Happening to “Value Voters?” at To The Point on KCRW.

Lectionary Reflection for Palm Sunday

This excerpt comes from Psalms 1-50 (BTCB) by Ellen Charry, commenting on Psalm 31:14-18:

Of all the commentators, Theodoret alone recognizes the distinction the psalmist makes between sin and impiety. The speaker, while admitting his sin, still counts himself among the faithful. The belief that sin cannot efface faithfulness is the basis for the speaker’s appeal:

Then he shows the form of the redemption: Lord, let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your mercy [31:16]: when you make your appearance, gloom is immediately lifted. Lord, let me not be confounded, because I called upon you. Let the ungodly be put to shame and cast down to Hades [31:16–17]. From this we learn that the sin is very different from impiety; hence the mighty David beseeches that he be freed from the shame caused by the sin, but those addicted to impiety be sent in shame to their death.

Although all are sinners, it may be that not all sinners put themselves in God’s hands, feeling shame before God. Those who look for relief may seek release not from divine disapproval but from the public shame that accrues from public misbehavior.



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

The Latest on The Justice Calling

Kristen Deede Johnson discusses the passion for justice she sees in her students, and asks what it might look like for them to still be that passionate when they are 40 with a mortgage.

Bethany Hanke Hoang wrote “one key to walking through suffering” for Ann Voskamp’s blog, A Holy Experience.

“Lament is a gift.

In the midst of everything going wrong around us – whether in the world at large or in the lives of people whose names and faces we know and hold dear – lament is a gift given to help us hold fast to God.

God invites lament because He knows our temptation to turn away rather than toward Him in the heat of hardship.

The more we probe Scripture to see how prophets and leaders and ordinary people lamented their circumstances, the more it becomes clear that God invites our questions and pleadings rather than our despair and silence.”

Quick Hits:

Kristen Deede Johnson and Bethany Hanke Hoang wrote “Live As Saints (Not Heroes)” for Perspectives Journal.

Lived Theology featured The Justice Calling on its reading list, and will host a book launch on Thursday, March 17.

We created a series of sharable graphics for The Justice Calling. You can see an example below, and find the rest here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Feel free to share them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.


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Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

This excerpt comes from Psalms 1-50 (BTCB) by Ellen Charry, commenting on Psalm 32:

The repeated opening word of the first two verses of this psalm carries the reader back to the first word of the Psalter and forward to the Matthean Beatitudes. One who believes that one’s sins are not held against one is truly blessed by God’s grace. This thought is the heart of Luther’s doctrine of justification by grace through faith. However, it is also quite close to Luther’s doctrine of imputed righteousness, which might be better called a doctrine of imputed sinlessness when one considers the phrase, “blessed is the person whose sin (ʿāwn) God does not think about.” God ignores it.

The idea is not that God himself has paid what one owes, as Anselm of Canterbury would formulate atonement soteriology for the West at the end of the eleventh century; Psalm 32:1–2 makes no mention of a price needing to be paid.  Still, the opening verses explain forgiveness as having one’s sins covered (ksûy), with the parallel in 32:2 being that sins are ignored by God.

In his core text on justification, Paul quotes Ps. 32:1–2 in Rom. 4:7–8 to advance the position that uncircumcised gentile men may benefit from the forgiveness the psalm promises “apart from works [of the law],” that is, without having to undergo surgery or even symbolic circumcision. The move is to encourage gentiles to become children of Abraham whose righteousness is reckoned to them, just as “David” speaks of having received it and offered it to the whole people of God.

Certainly the point is central to Luther, who wrote on it voluminously. In his 1521 comment on Ps. 32 he writes, “Here David says, in plain words, that all the saints are, and still remain sinners; and that they are justified and sanctified in no other way than this;—God of his free mercy, for Christ’s sake, is pleased not to impute their sins unto them, nor to judge them, but, to forget them.” Calvin cites 32:1–2 (often together with Paul’s use of them in Rom. 4) numerous times in his Institutes, in support of the Protestant doctrine of justification.

It may be noteworthy that Theodore of Mopsuestia, a Greek-speaking contemporary of Augustine, presents a rather “Protestant” view of these verses a millennium before the Protestant Reformation. In Ps. 32, David “teaches everyone, even if they are righteous, that they ought not trust in the merit of their actions nor attribute to themselves any good work. Rather, whatever good work they perform they should ascribe to divine grace and confess that God’s mercy is necessary for them, and should believe themselves blessed if they deserve to have God well disposed toward them.”

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

This Just in: The Future of Our Faith

Cover ArtYounger Christians are leaving the church in droves, frustrated and disillusioned by the track record of American Christianity. Older Christians, who still lead most churches, are concerned about this trend. But the generations don’t see eye to eye on many things. There is a lot of talking and writing about the other instead of working to build bridges between generations so they can learn from each other.

In The Future of Our Faith, two evangelical leaders forty years apart in age discuss some of the biggest issues challenging Christianity today and into the future. The authors model and cultivate an intentional, charitable, and much-needed intergenerational dialogue as they discuss key issues that will define the church’s faithfulness in the next generation. Each chapter includes sidebar reflections from notable Christian leaders, including Christena Cleveland, Jim Daly, Jason Fileta, Christopher A. Hall, Jo Anne Lyon, Gabriel Salguero, Carol and Peter Schreck, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Jenny Yang. The book also includes individual and small group study questions.

Christians who care about the future of American Christianity will value this work, as will pastors, chaplains, and youth ministers who work with college and young adult ministries. It will also be useful in practical ministry classes.


Ronald J. SiderRonald J. Sider (PhD, Yale University) is the founder and president emeritus of Evangelicals for Social Action and senior distinguished professor of theology, holistic ministry, and public policy at Palmer Theological Seminary at Eastern University in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

Ben LoweBen Lowe is actively engaged on a number of justice issues and is the founding spokesperson of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. A graduate of Wheaton College, he has spoken on over fifty college campuses and is the author of Green Revolution and Doing Good without Giving Up. Visit his website at



Praise for: The Future of Our Faith

The Future of Our Faith is simultaneously an invitation to accept the church as it is and to dream of the church as it could be.”—Shane Claiborne, author and activist

“I have long looked to Ron Sider for his wise counsel, and I increasingly look to Ben Lowe for his leadership on issues of faith and justice. At this critical time in the church’s history, I am grateful for their new book….An invitation and a challenge for us to partner across generations for the sake of the kingdom.”—Noel Castellanos, CEO and president, Christian Community Development Association (CCDA)

“A blessing to the church today and a model for the church to come.”—Karen Swallow Prior, author of Booked and Fierce Convictions

“If you care about the future of Christian witness in a post-Christian America, you’ll read The Future of Our Faith.”—Katelyn Beaty, managing editor, Christianity Today

The Future of Our Faith is a multifaceted examination of the hazards and hopes of our time across generational lines. Ron Sider and Ben Lowe are two of the best Christian thinkers I know. I can’t imagine a more dynamic duo to write a book like this.”—Jonathan Merritt, author of Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined

“While I don’t agree with everything in this book, the conversation here is thought-provoking and a great help for Christians seeking to analyze the world around us. The discussion between Ron Sider and Ben Lowe ought to remind us of what we are often sadly lacking in the evangelical church—cross-generational connection. I pray this book sparks many more conversations between older and younger Christians about the future of our faith.”—Russell Moore, president, Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission