What the World Needs Now – an excerpt from Human Being and Becoming

The following is an excerpt from Human Being and Becoming by Dr. David Benner.

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Given the potency of love for healing, growth, and transformation, what could possibly be more important for the world than humans learning to give and receive love? The love we need to learn to give and receive, however, is not the soft, sentimental kind of love associated with Valentine’s Day but the hard, unflinching kind associated with loving those who will not or cannot return our love.

Love has become a transaction rather than a gift. But the only love that can ever be transformational is love that is given away, not exchanged. The only love that can ever truly make us and others whole is the love we give and receive as a surprise, even to ourselves.

Cover ArtBut notice that I speak of giving and receiving love—not receiving and then giving. Love has not only become a commodity of transaction, but it has also become something we have come to believe we must store up and pass on only after our own supplies are at a high enough level to warrant the risk of depletion. We think that the love we have to give to others is the excess of what we have received and hoarded. But this misses the whole point of love.

Love is like a stream: it is meant to flow. Once you block the flow, it begins to go stagnant. Love that is hoarded is no longer life-enhancing. It quickly becomes toxic. Wounds don’t heal by soaking in love but by passing love on.

Hoarding love always means that at least two people lose. The person who hoards love loses it because it is in the giving of love, not simply the receiving of it, that life is nurtured. And the person who was deprived of love because someone else hoarded and didn’t pass it on to him or her is robbed of the chance to pass love on to others.

The world’s great spiritual teachers have always challenged us to do exactly this. Jesus taught by word and example to love one’s enemies, not just one’s friends. He was clear that love given in exchange—that is, given so it will be given back—is not love at all. Love that is not freely given is not love at all.

©2016 by David G. Benner. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Eating with Intention – an excerpt from To the Table

The following is an excerpt from To the Table by Lisa Graham McMinn.

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Most of us conform a fair bit to the norms of our culture; we can’t help it—norm conformity helps us fit into a community. As a result, most of us twenty-first-century Westerners struggle to balance norms that demand a high level of commitment to work and activities we value for ourselves and our children with a desire for communion and opportunities to forge bonds over food with our family and friends.

Cover ArtHowever, any and all of us can accept the invitation to eat at a common table by being more intentional about what we are eating, more attentive to those who share our table, and more grateful for God, others, and God’s creation that sustains us.

We move toward intention when we do some sleuthing and then make informed and life-giving choices about food we purchase (more on this to come). We move toward attention when we slow down, value, and engage those in whose presence we are eating. We move toward gratitude through the simple discipline of saying grace before a meal and saying thank you afterward.

Being intentional is being neighborly—an outward expression of our faith. It can mean committing to eating only fair-trade chocolate or going without it; it can mean buying eggs produced by pasture-based hens or going without them. Being intentional means learning the true cost of food and then choosing compassion and justice over convenience or thrift.

Being intentional is also about thinking beyond what we eat as individuals to the eating needs of others. I’m not as good at this practice, but I want to stretch toward reflecting what the church has embraced since the beginning: feeding the hungry, eating with the lonely, and taking food to families with new babies or who may be dealing with illness, death, or grief.

©2016 by Lisa Graham McMinn. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

A Surprising History of Evangelical-Catholic Dialogue – an excerpt from Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty

The following is an excerpt from R. R. Reno and Kevin Vanhoozer’s epilogue “The Continuing Importance of Evangelical-Catholic Dialogue” in Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty, edited by Timothy George and Thomas Guarino.

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ECT is no novelty. We are not the first to walk the road to Emmaus. There have been previous attempts by Evangelicals and Catholics to come together to discuss “the things about Jesus of Nazareth” (Luke 24:19 NRSV).

Largely forgotten in the annals of religious conflict is one fleeting bright spot: a two-year period in mid-sixteenth-century Germany when Catholics and Protestants engaged in serious dialogue under the watchful eye of Emperor Charles V.

Cover ArtEvangelicals may be surprised to learn that the Protestant Reformers made a sincere yet ultimately unsuccessful effort to preserve communion with the Roman Catholic Church through a series of dialogues from 1536 to 1557. Evangelicals may be even more surprised to learn that Calvin was one of the Protestant participants in a number of these meetings, including the Regensburg Colloquy (1541), where he represented the city of Strasbourg.

Catholics may be surprised to learn that, prior to the Council of Trent (1545–63), a number of Catholic theologians were sympathetic to Protestant understandings of original sin and other doctrines. Protestant and Catholic theologians reached agreement on the doctrine of justification at the Regensburg Colloquy, some 450 years before ECT did it again in 1997 with The Gift of Salvation. Both sides at Regensburg consented to article 5 on “The Justification of Man.”

Calvin did not have high hopes for the colloquy in general, but he was positive about article 5, which he believed preserved “the substance of the true doctrine.” Peter Matheson’s verdict is therefore unnecessarily harsh: “The dialogue between Protestantism and Catholicism at the Diet of Regensburg in 1541 did not fail. It never took place.”

In the end, it was not the doctrine of justification by faith—the doctrine on which Luther said the church stands or falls—that derailed the Regensburg Colloquy. Rather, it was the nature of the authority of the church that proved a hurdle too high to jump. So it remains today, perhaps, in which case we should not tire of theological discussion but rather do as did those at Regensburg.

ECT, far from being a novelty, is another lap in the good race that seeks the prize of Christian unity. We should not disguise or distort the differences that divide us, but we are duty bound to preach in deeds of dialogue the unity Christ promises.

©2015 by Timothy George and Thomas G. Guarino. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

First Things features Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty

Cover ArtAn excerpt from the forthcoming Evangelicals and Catholics Together at Twenty was recently featured at First Things.

This one-volume guide, the first collection of the ECT statements, explores the key accomplishments of this groundbreaking, ongoing dialogue. Introductions and notes provide context and discuss history and future prospects. The book also includes prefaces by J. I. Packer and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a foreword by George Weigel, and an epilogue by R. R. Reno and Kevin J. Vanhoozer.

You can read the excerpt in full here.

“Since the founding of ECT more than twenty years ago, Evangelicals and Catholics have learned much from one another and our joint commitment to biblical and doctrinal truth. We live in an age when the very idea of truth is often called into question. And yet we believe that the Bible teaches God’s truth, a truth that is able to be known and understood, appropriated and lived, under the agency of the Holy Spirit. It is the task of ECT to formulate that truth in a way that assists contemporary men and women to live as committed disciples of Jesus of Nazareth.

Not long before his death in 2009, Richard Neuhaus made clear that he wished to see the important work undertaken by ECT continue. Chuck Colson, too, just months before his own passage to God in 2012, was insistent that ECT was one of the most powerful initiatives in the United States for communicating the truth of the gospel. No matter the obstacles, he said, Evangelicals and Catholics must stand side by side in their public witness to biblical truth. The intention of ECT is to continue the prophetic mission of its founders.

Evangelicals and Catholics do not know how or when Christian unity will come about but look forward to that day when we are fully united in the common witness for which Jesus Christ himself prayed. Our prayer is that God may continue to bless the work of Evangelicals and Catholics Together.”

 

Principled Pluralism – an excerpt from Free to Serve

The following is an excerpt from Free to Serve by Stephen Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies.

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Principled pluralism—or “civic pluralism” as it is sometimes called—is a political principle, a design for how a diverse people can live together in one political system. It requires neither that we agree completely with each other about our deepest beliefs (we don’t) nor that we stop trying to convince each other about what we think is best (we shouldn’t).

Cover ArtInstead, principled pluralism simply asks us to agree to respect each other’s convictions not only in private life but also in public life. Just as we ask for freedom to live our lives according to our convictions, we believe others with different convictions should be free to live their lives according to their convictions.

This means the public realm, our common life, will be neither Christian nor secular. The public realm ought not to privilege those of us who hold to Christian beliefs (or those of other religious traditions). Nor should secularism be imposed on all by banishing religion to the private world of congregational worship and personal devotions.

Doing so would show little respect for people of faith—people for whom faith is relevant not only for worship but also for how they educate their children, heal the sick, serve the needy, and run a business. People of faith would then not be treated in a neutral, evenhanded manner. But the answer to such favoring of secularism cannot be to favor those with religious convictions and their organizations. That too is wrong.

Central to our position is the basic fact that a thoroughly secular world does not occupy neutral ground between belief and nonbelief. Instead, a nonreligious, secular perspective is a distinct perspective, or worldview, that is in competition with religious perspectives.

Political scientist A. James Reichley was exactly correct when he once wrote, “Banishment of religion does not represent neutrality between religion and secularism; conduct of public institutions without any acknowledgment of religion is secularism.”

This means a thoroughly secularized public realm has taken sides in the contest between religious and nonreligious organizations and their differing views of life and the world. This is why principled pluralism not only seeks public policies that are evenhanded among the faith-based organizations of various religious traditions but also between faith-based organizations and secular organizations. Neither should be favored over the other.

©2015 by Stephen V. Monsma and Stanley W. Carlson-Thies. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Jesus and His Church – an excerpt from Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel

The following is an excerpt from Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel by Matthew Skinner.

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Cover ArtThe close associations Acts makes between Jesus’s influence and the activities of his followers should make us less inclined to embrace a religious view in which God exists somewhere “out there” while we human beings hope to make an occasional connection.

The Gospel of Luke characterizes Jesus’s life as a prolonged “visitation” (see Luke 19:44). Acts implies the visitation continues; Jesus has settled in among humanity—still working, still saving. We can find him manifest in Christian communities. Or at least we are supposed to.

If Jesus’s connection to his followers exists today in ways similar to what Acts suggests, then Acts encourages me to see churches (the people, not the buildings) as vital communities, crucial for the gospel of God’s salvation to remain known and attractive for generations to come.

This connection also raises cautionary red flags, given that many people have long catalogs of instances in which churches (the institutions and their members) have been abusive, selfish, or apathetic. Or simply boring.

When Acts ties Jesus and his people together in such tight knots, its theological vision can spawn idealism or cynicism, depending on my perspective and how motivated I am to get out of bed on a given Sunday morning.

The communities of believers that spring into being in Acts exist as the products of some major disruptions: Jesus visited, he was resurrected, and the Holy Spirit came. The Christian communities that exist now have organic connections to those disruptive experiences from long ago. But smaller, less perceptible disruptions also hold these communities together. To see them, we need to peer deeply into these groups and consider the individuals who compose them.

What troubles, determinations, or longings make a person participate in a community of faith? What kind of salvation draws her in? How does she hope her involvement might affect the wider world? Ask these questions of enough Christians enough times, and we may begin to see signs of Jesus in the experiences of his followers even now.

Finally, God is not limited to the communities we encounter in Acts. Later in the story, further disruptions will come. Many of these shocks to the status quo will convince members of those communities that God is also busy elsewhere, accomplishing salvation and occasionally directing Jesus’s followers to catch up and recognize other ways of doing things and other places to do them.

These parts of Acts remind readers that the communities of Jesus’s followers, although they are crucial means for people to experience salvation, are not exclusive or required means. God works in other settings too. The plan of God remains much grander, and more spread out. It remains so today.

©2015 by Matthew L. Skinner. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Feeling, Memory, and Personality – an excerpt from Darkness Is My Only Companion

The following is an excerpt from Darkness Is My Only Companion by Kathryn Greene-McCreight.

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I find that many people think of God as a self-help device we can use to improve our personality. To help us quit smoking, drinking, overeating. To help us be nicer people so we can stand to live in our own skin. To help us win more friends and influence more people. Or maybe even to be more affluent.

The drive to improve ourselves, personality included, motivates much religion in America. Many of us Christians are functional atheists, even though we may be quite pious indeed. We often can’t imagine how our religion would require anything of us that would not be directed solely to our own betterment. Even working toward justice and peace can sometimes be a veiled attempt to make us feel less unacceptable to ourselves, easier to live with.

But if God is really the God of the Bible, then he demands our worship and obedience despite how we feel about it, or about ourselves, or others.

Of course, it is always pleasant to feel good. And it would be especially nice not to go through life wanting to end it. But even this doesn’t separate us from God. Even wanting to return the gift of life does not damn us. “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Even before we make the slightest move out of our sloth to reach out to God this is true. The hard part when one is mentally ill can be choosing life. It is ever that, though, which is demanded of us. This is the hard part. How we feel does not change anything objectively about our life before God.

What will allow for our survival is not how we feel but what we remember, what God did for us and does for us. The Baʽal Shem Tov (1698–1760, founder of the Hasidic movement in Judaism) once said, “Exile is caused by forgetfulness, and the secret of redemption is memory.” I must remember, even if I don’t feel it, that I am part of a people of faith, of hope, of love. I cannot doubt or question that memory, even though all evidence would lead me to conclude that I never really did trust, never really did hope, never really did love.

I may feel like a hypocrite now for even pretending to pray. But how I feel, after all, is not that important. If I can do nothing else, I must simply remember that I am a part of the community of faith, the body of Christ, that I was once able to participate in the praises of Israel. “Put your trust in God; for I will yet give thanks to him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God” (Ps. 42:7).

©2015 by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Making the Perfect Woman: Consumerism as a Religious Narrative – an excerpt from Divine Sex

The following is an excerpt from Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age by Jonathan Grant.

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Jesse Epstein’s short documentary 34 x 25 x 36 provides a philosophical window into a company that makes female mannequins. As the firm’s owner declares at the outset, “There are no perfect bodies out there . . . we make the perfect body.”

The goal, he says, is to “stir up the adrenaline in the buyer to say, hmmm, I could look like that.”

Describing a sculptor creating a template from a real human model, the chief designer says, “He’s taking the essence of her [the human model] and capturing what her features are about into an image that is actually more than what she is. We have the ability to alter things.” Comparing his work to medieval religious art, which captured the form of saints, he goes on:

We replicate what the perfect girl is for the times because actually it’s a continuation of the same thing [i.e., religious art]. I can see where it would be believing in something or, in a way, worshiping something because it’s something that you aim for. Do we worship perfect women? Do we worship people that dress in very expensive clothes? It’s playing with people’s minds about what their ideal is. In religion the ideal is salvation. What is salvation in our current society? Is it being looked upon, being photographed everywhere you go? To some people it is very important. People have to believe in something.

This modern “religious art” presents idealized saints to be emulated, and yet they are always out of reach. Whereas the purpose of medieval art lay in spiritual emulation, salvation within the lower horizons of the modern world is now found through embodied perfection.

This notion points to the myth of attainability within consumerism. Although this myth seeks to mimic and displace the religious narrative, there is a critical difference between them. Whereas Gregory’s vision is fueled by the progressive satisfaction of our spiritual yearning, which spurs us on to experience more of God, consumerism—like all forms of idolatry—is driven by intensifying promises that end up giving us nothing. Happiness and fulfillment always lie just out of reach.

In contrast to the progressive fulfillment of the Christian journey, consumerism is a form of institutionalized dissatisfaction that whets our appetite but leaves us hungry, revealing the myth of freedom within consumerism.

Having presented themselves as priests offering salvation, consumption and acquisition become gods in their own right. As we follow these false gods up the mountain, they offer us progressive self-realization and control through personal choice. In reality, we are caught in a downward spiral of provisional commitments.

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

God goes on Loving – Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, on Darkness Is My Only Companion

The following is an excerpt from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s foreword to Darkness Is My Only Companion by Kathryn Greene-McCreight.

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Cover ArtI must begin with a confession. I only began to read Kathryn Greene-McCreight’s book because my friend and colleague N. T. (Tom) Wright asked me to do so.

Since one of my own children began to blog and tweet about her own experience of mental illness, the daily experience has been of strangers writing and suggesting that they have come up with the book, treatment, diet, or other solution that solves the problem right away. One begins to get a little cynical. And so when Tom wrote to me asking me to look at this book, I felt that he might have been succumbing to the same problem.

How wrong I was. Kathryn Greene-McCreight does not set out to provide solutions but writes one of the most profound and eye-opening reflections on the grace and love of God, and above all on the nature of human relationships, that I have had the pleasure of reading.

….For me, that has been the greatest blessing of this book, a new understanding of what it means to say that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It has also renewed in me hope in the reality of Christian healing. Kathryn discusses the nature of prayer for healing and recalls her own experience of a moment of being prayed for as—to some extent and without great drama—a turning point. I found my own faith renewed—deepened—and my own hopes expanded through the beauty of her writing.

So, this is in the end a book about relationship. Full relationships are those of love that does not change when the one loved is profoundly altered. In such relationships we see most deeply the nature of God. They draw us out of ourselves and perhaps begin in a strange way to give faint echoes of a response to the troubles and divisions of the church in a multicultural world.

What does God do when we fail? God goes on loving. What does God do when the church collectively appears to be ill? God goes on loving. The reconciliation of God, I have learned afresh from this book, is overwhelmingly more powerful than all the brokenness of my humanity.

And so I am grateful to Tom for suggesting the read, to Kathryn for her beautiful book and for inviting me to write its foreword, and above all to the God who unexpectedly has renewed in me his perfect love and grace.

 

 

©2015 by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

David the Priest-King (an Excerpt from 2 Samuel by Robert Barron)

The following is an excerpt from the Introduction to 2 Samuel (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) (April 2015) by Robert Barron.

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King David is one of the most pivotal persons in the entire corpus of scripture. He is the terminus of a trajectory that runs from Adam through Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and Samuel. Many of God’s promises to those patriarchal and prophetic figures seem to come to fulfillment in David’s rule over a united Israel.

At the same time, David looks beyond himself to a new David, one who would definitively fulfill what he himself left incomplete and unfinished. In a word, he is perhaps the cardinal point on which the biblical revelation turns both backward and forward.

One of the themes that emerges most clearly in 2 Samuel is that of kingship. On the biblical reading, the bad rule of Adam in the garden led to the disaster of the fall, and ever since that calamity, humanity has been in search of right rule. At the heart of the Old Testament sensibility is the conviction that God chose a people, Israel, whom he would shape according to his own mind and heart so that they might draw all of humanity into right relationship with God. Hence, they would be a kingly people.

But this holy nation would endure only in the measure that they themselves were rightly ruled, and therefore the search for a righteous and godly king of Israel—an Adam who would properly govern a reconstituted Eden—became a preoccupation for biblical Israel. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Judah, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, and Samuel were all, after a manner of speaking, kings of Israel, but they ruled to varying degrees of adequacy. Having united the northern and southern tribes, established his fortified capital at Jerusalem, and subdued the enemies of Israel, David emerged as the most stirring and successful king of Israel.

Adam was not only a king; he was also a priest, which is to say, someone who affects a mystical union between divinity and humanity. After him, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and Samuel were also, to varying degrees of intensity, priests.

Wearing the sacred vestment of the priesthood and dancing before the ark of the covenant, King David emerged as David the high priest and hence recapitulated and brought to full expression the priesthood of the work of his predecessors. Samuel’s anointing of David the shepherd boy could thus be seen as both a kingly and priestly designation. When the first followers of Jesus referred to him as Christos (anointed), they were appreciating him as David in full. The Christian reader will thus see in David the most compelling anticipation of Jesus, the definitive priest-king.

 

2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.