Sunday, July 31, 2005

Texts and Traditions

While reading Romans 12 recently, I tried to count how many sermons I heard on this Living Sacrifices passage. I lost count pretty quickly. And in the midst of my religious nostalgia I was reminded that many Christian traditions do not have the same fondness for this text as my holiness peeps do. Not that they ignore it. They just emphasize other passages more. Maybe even read a text like Rom 12 through the lens of these other texts. So I started a list of different Christian traditions and their favorite texts. I have some of the easy ones already: Lutherans and Rom 4 / Gal 3; Pentecostals and Acts 2; Mennonites and Matt 5-7.

This little excercise left me with three questions:

(1) Do you have any to add?

(2) Can the so-called "emergent church" be characterized by any particular text?

(3) Can we get any ecumenical use out of these various "faves", a.k.a. are they a good starting point for dialogue?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Maddox Joins Duke Faculty

Big news for Duke fans (academics, not athletics).

Can anyone guess why I'm still happy - even relieved - to be at PTS?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mystery and Ministry

Clergy burnout is more rampant than ever. The stats bear this out. But pastors are also far better equipped, educated and resourced than ever. Despite the calls for intellectual, psychological or administrative increases in the ever-lengthening list of “ministerial” skills, pastors receive far better practical training than they used to. Yet well-trained clergy are leaving the ministry in droves.

I wonder whether an aspect of the problem lies in the very idea of ministerial training as the acquisition of aggregate skills. “If you have an intermediate skill level in these twelve loosely related areas, you will be qualified for a successful ministry.” Now I certainly want pastors to be good exegetes, good listeners, good preachers, good at running stuff, etc. But there must be something beneath all these skills that ties them together. There must be something that grounds them, motivates them and gives them life.

A clue to this puzzle dawned on me while reading Romans 10. The famous passage of the necessity of preachers for the salvation of the world actually follows directly Paul’s strange interpretation of the ascending and descending mentioned in Deut 30 as the death and resurrection of Christ. It is only on the heels of this elusive exegesis that Paul move into his praise for the necessity of preaching. He moves from the greatest mystery into the need for ministry, without a pause or transition. Mystery (typically reserved for ivory tower theologians) and ministry (the practice of those aggregate skills) stand side by side. And if you think this is just a fluke, then check out Ephesians 4 where Paul moves comfortably from a similar mention of the descent and ascent of Christ to the giving of gifts to the various ministers in the church. Apparently, it is the mysterious cosmic Lordship of Christ that unites, grounds and motivates a minister’s preaching, leading, listening, etc.

In other words, when asked why we do what we do as ministers, the short answer might go something like this: "Jesus is the resurrected Lord of the universe and I am pressed into his service."

Will this simple thought alone prevent clergy burnout? Certainly not. But maybe it can help us begin to think through the unity of theological education (both initial and continuing) that gets beyond the "grab bag of skills" mentality. Because being good-at-stuff won’t get one through a dark night of the soul.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Second Thoughts on “Salvation”

I have tended to use the term "salvation" as an umbrella term for all three tenses of Christ's work (past, present, and future). In other words, salvation is "the entire work of God, from the first dawning of grace in the soul, till it is consummated in glory” (John Wesley, “The Scripture Way of Salvation” I.1). Although I still agree with the implications of this broad use, I no longer consider “salvation” to be the best all-encompassing term.


Because of the way Paul uses the term salvation generally in his letters and specifically in Romans 5. In verse 8 he utters that classic insight that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. That’s in the past tense. Then he goes on to say in verse 9 that all the more now we have been justified. That’s a perfect tense, which always has a present effect. Plus there’s the “now”. Finally, Paul goes on to say in verse 9 that we will be saved through Christ from the wrath. There’s the third tense: future.

Will be saved? What? I thought you are supposed to get saved (past tense) or be saved (present tense). Salvation isn’t something we wait for, Paul. Or if it is, that is certainly just one aspect, just one tense of the whole work of God from past through the present into the future, right? It looks like Paul uses the term "salvation" in the narrow sense I’ve been trying to flee: being saved from the wrath of God at the end of time. And he and the rest of the NT authors seem to use it in this sense consistently.

What’s the alternative?

The idea that Christ’s work includes all three tenses is a good idea. I think it is worth keeping. And it seems to be a biblical pattern as the above notes suggest. But if “salvation” is not the big umbrella term for the whole of Christ’s work, what is? I submit that we simply follow Paul’s pattern here too. Throughout this very passage, as well as in the rest of his letters, Paul repeatedly uses a term that is not temporal specified: reconciliation. Reconciliation. Now that’s a term that can hold the weight of “the whole work of God”: atonement, justification, salvation. Reconciliation. That’s a word that can naturally be formed into all three tenses: past, present, future. Reconciliation. That’s Paul’s “big word” for the whole work of God from beginning through the middle to the end.

May I dare suggest we use it too?

Are there reasons not to?
Has it fallen out of common usage for a reason?
Are there reasons I missed for retain the broad sense of “salvation”?
If neither is good as an umbrella term, what other terms could be used?

selling out / buying in

Greetings. Have I sold out or bought in?