Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sneak Peak: A Reading List for Advent 2016

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and forever. Amen.

What I'm (re)reading (though maybe it's a little ambitious):

Karl Marx. The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, ed. by Dirk J. Struik (New York: Internaitonal Publishers, 1963).

William Stringfellow. Essential Writings, ed. by Bill Wylie-Kellerman (New York: Orbis, 2013).

Bayard Rustin. Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin, ed. by Devon W. Carbado and Donale Weise (San Francisco: Cleis Press, 2003).

H. Richard Niebuhr. The Kingdom of God in America, (Hanover, NH: Weslyan, 1988).

John Bunyan. The Pilgrim's Progress, (New York: Pocket Library, 1957).

Ἀμήν· ἔρχου, κύριε Ἰησοῦ.

William Blake, The Great Red Dragon the the Woman Cothed with the Sun (1805).
(Via Wikimedia Commons, PD-1923)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Yes, the Reformation Still Matters

Luther before Cardinal Cajetan (Holzschnitt, 1557)
(PD-old, via Wikimedia Commons)
"Does the Reformation Still Matter?" So asks the headline of an RNS from earlier this week by Jacob Lupfer. The author lifts up shifts in society and culture, especially recent developments in U.S. cultural history, that pose the question whether the Protestant Reformations (not the plural) that began 499 years ago are still germane to Western Christians today.

For example, according to Lupfer, ecumenical relations between Rome and Protestant bodies have warmed under the pontificate of Pope Francis (I welcome this development, by the way). What's more, markers of identity have shifted in recent decades, such that like-minded Protestants and Roman Catholics are more likely to find common cause politically and socially across the confessional divide than they are to do so with members in their own respective communions with whom they clash ideologically. Lupfer also quotes Stanley Hauerwas, who alludes to the ways Roman Catholic theologians have creatively rethought their doctrinal tradition to answer the critiques of the early Protestant movements. One thinks, for example, of promising ecumenical statements between Lutheran and Catholic theologians on the question of justification. Again, all this is true, as far as it goes, and I wouldn’t want to minimize or dismiss any of it.

This is a brief piece, of course, aimed at a popular audience. Still, it invites response. My answer is "Yes." From where I sit, the Protestant Reformations indeed still matter. Lupfer doesn't address what is, for me, the decisive area: Ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church.

It's a much more complicated question, of course, than I can deal with in a little blog post, but here is the rub for me: The Roman Catholic Church -- much as I love, admire and (indeed!) envy its richness, its traditions, the better aspects of its socio-political witness and spirituality, and its inimitable, trans-cultural global reach -- still holds that the church is infallible -- that, in some way, there is some corner of its life and witness that are beyond human error (of course, through the power of divine providence, and not from its own finite resources).

Note what the Catechism says about the Magisterium, about the authority of its historic teaching office:

(889) In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a "supernatural sense of faith" the People of God, under the guidance of the Church's living Magisterium, "unfailingly adheres to this faith.”

And again:

(891) "The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. . . . The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an Ecumenical Council.418 When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine "for belief as being divinely revealed,"419 and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions "must be adhered to with the obedience of faith."420 This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.

The retort, for example, that papal infallibility rarely has been invoked -- though that is fortunate, indeed -- is not to the point. The claim, if I understand it correctly, is that Jesus Christ has endowed his earthly body with a share of the infallibility that is proper to his Lordship to his human followers, whether collectively, as a whole, or to some portion of it.

I cannot accept this doctrine. To that extent, count me still a "Protestant." That makes me and my community vulnerable – absolutely defenseless, in fact, under the Word of God who is Christ himself. Devastatingly vulnerable, under the sign of the cross. But what can I do but cling to that Word?

"Hier stehe ich!"

Monday, August 1, 2016

Orange You Glad I'm Not a Scientist?

In writing, as in life generally, it's felicitous to branch out on occasion.
Today, therefore, on this blog (where I hardly post anything anymore anyway), I'm going to take a short break from theologizing and explore a field of inquiry that's always interested me: Natural science.

My young son enjoys "fact books." In perusing one of these recently, we came across this factoid: It is possible to start a fire using only the contents of an orange

Really? I wonder how that's even possible.

(One caveat: Many of the purported "facts" in these books are undocumented and remain, on the face of it, suspicious to me -- for example, this notion that the earth spins on its "axis," whatever that might be. When in doubt, this is my fallback rule: If an ostensible scientific fact is not affirmed in the national Republican Party platform, I don't buy into it.)

(Another caveat: Need I say, don't try this at home, unless you happen to be a Girl Scout, duly supervised, and your parents have signed all the requisite medical release forms?)

But let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that it is indeed possible to start a fire using an orange. When pondering this, something struck me, and I flipped to another page in the book, where we learn that a grape, sliced in half and cooked in a microwave will burst into flames.

Boom. There you have it.

I freaking love science!

Monday, July 11, 2016

The "Good" Samaritan as Antiracist Parable: A Bishop's Sermon, Ripped from the Headlines.

My bishop, the Right Rev. Douglas J. Fisher of Western Massachusetts, has posted this sermon, which we heard at the Episcopal cathedral in Springfield yesterday. The title is: "There is no 'us' and 'them'. There is only 'us.'"

The main text for the homily is the parable of the Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37.

Bishop Fisher writes
By telling the story that he does, about a man beaten, robbed and left to die in a ditch, Jesus changes our question about Eternal Life by “plugging us into a world of violence.” Following Jesus will not mean escaping violence – it will mean engaging it. Sound like 2016 yet?
Read the rest here.

Le bon Samaritain (1880), by Aimé Nicolas Morot
Image in public domain in USA
(via Wikimedia Commons)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tributes to Professor John Webster (via DET)

I have not posted here in a while. Unfortunately, this is a sad post . Last week Professor John Webster, an inimitable scholar and constructive thinker in the field of Reformed systematic theology -- and, I would also point out, an Anglican clergyman -- died suddenly at the age of 60. He was one of the greatest interpreters of the work of Continental theologians Karl Barth and Eberhard Jüngel.

May light perpetual shine upon him.

I commend to you this post, compiled by W. Travis McMaken, which links to numerous online tributes to Prof. Webster, including remembrances from colleagues and students of his.