Category Archives: Religion

Good… Wednesday?

Over at ITA, Joshua Claybourn wonders if we should be remembering Jesus’ death on Wednesday of Holy Week instead of Friday. Some modern scholars think the Sabbath celebrated that week might have been a special annual Sabbath rather than the regular Friday Sabbath. Figuring out this issue might put to rest questions of whether Jesus was buried for three “full” days (Wednesday) or parts of three days (Friday), and which better satisfies prophesy.

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Lutheran College Goes Kosher

My little Lutheran liberal arts college, Muhlenberg College, is now one-third Jewish, according to this Wall Street Journal article. This has forced some reasonable accommodations from the administration, as you would expect. Apparently the school has a great reputation for Jewish community in the northeast, which has fostered the growth particularly in the last five years.

Lord knows when I was there, the official ELCA chapel didn’t do much to preserve or grow a Lutheran identity. They had their groups and activities, but if you wanted serious religious fellowship you had to hang with Hillel or the evangelical Christians as I did.

I also noted Muhlenberg is now up to $47,000 a year tuition, which is ridiculous for a liberal arts degree. My proverbial children are going to Virginia state schools.

Outrage! Scandal!

The banned John 3:16 Super Bowl ad is below. I happened to see it because I was in one of two television markets—Washington, DC and Birmingham, AL—that showed it. Worth getting upset about? It strikes me as fairly harmless, like the Tebow ad from last year.

C.S. Lewis on Christmas

Or the three Christmases, to be more precise. As found on the blog of the late Zac Smith, who died on May 16th of this year from colon cancer… at age 33.

“Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making. If it were my business to have a ‘view’ on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business.

I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. Neither of these circumstances is in itself a reason for condemning it. I condemn it on the following grounds.

1. It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to ‘keep’ it (in its third, or commercial aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out — physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.

2. Most of it is involuntary. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?

3. Things are given as presents which no mortal ever bought for himself—gaudy and useless gadgets, ‘novelties’ because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?

4. The nuisance. For after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labour of it.

We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write it off as a charity. For nothing? Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance.”

Lewis, C. S. Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces. London: HarperCollins, 2000. (Originally published in Twentieth Century, Volume CLXII, December, 1957.)

Collect for Advent

From the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1662) courtesy of John H:

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,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Jesus Shaped: Michael Spencer’s Mere Churchianity

I discovered the late Michael Spencer’s blog, Internet Monk, maybe 6 or 7 years ago–ancient history in internet terms. I was initially brought in by a rant against cheesy Christian music that I completely sympathized with. In the following years I became a regular reader of Internet Monk and his Christian group blog, the Boar’s Head Tavern (BHT).

Michael’s writings were pastoral and deeply personal. His most popular (and controversial) essays were personal ruminations on what was going on in evangelical Christianity and reflections on his own struggles with things such as depression, inadequacy, weight, doubt, fear of death, and other personal issues. His personal issues tied closely to his takes on grace and faith (see, for example, the classic “When I Am Weak“). His theology it seems started as pretty standard John Piper-loving New Reformed, but evolved into a thoroughly ecumenical (post-)evangelical Christianity with a deep appreciation for Martin Luther (Michael was easily the most Lutheran Baptist ever), Episcopalian Robert Capon, and Catholic monk Thomas Merton (towards the end, his handle on BHT was TommyMertonHead). This especially after some run-ins with the internet Flying Monkeys of Reformed Orthodoxy for suggesting things like someone with Piper’s influence needs to be held accountable and for essays like “I Am Not Like You.” Michael would accuse his critics of misreading his confessional essays working through personal doubts as theological treatises, while his critics would say he took their comments too personally and defensively (which he did on occasion). The tag line from his podcast–“The internet’s longest-running theological soap opera”–was close to the truth.

But there’s little self-defensiveness in Michael’s first and only book, Mere Churchianity:Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality, which came out earlier this summer. The book takes as its starting point Michael’s 2009 article, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse,” and speaks mostly to people who have left–or are ready to leave–the church, yet still find Jesus compelling. He tries to untangle the person of Jesus Christ from the American and church cultures (churchianity) we wrap him in, obscuring the far more radical implications of His message. Those familiar with Michael’s takes on “christ-less preaching” might be familiar with the argument–that instead of Christ churches preach culture war, politics, The American Way of Life–but it’s far more unpacked here (see pages 70–73 for a fun list of the uses and abuses of Jesus’ name). Churchianity promises Christ, but delivers something far different, and eventually when people pick up on this as it fails them, they start to leave.

Sometimes the healthiest thing a person can do for their faith is leave a church, he says, especially if it preaches churchianity. Get your hands on a Bible, read a gospel, and find out for yourself who this Jesus person is. Instead of taking an authority’s word for it, read what Jesus says and try to figure out what He means. Ask questions of the text and of spiritual leaders (good churches equip disciples and form welcoming communities, he says, while bad churches preach churchianity and are closed to those who are different). Updating WWJD for the 21st century, Michael re-uses a phrase that appeared on his blog from time-to-time that can help guide the thought process: If I’d just followed Jesus in the desert for three years, what would I think about this issue? At the core of Mere Churchianity is an attempt at a deeper look at the incarnate life of Jesus, trying to get below the layers of ideology and theology.

Mere Churchianity is a pastoral and ecumenical book. Sectarians will not appreciate portions of it (I think Lutherans and Baptists will agree in disagreeing with Michael that mode of baptism is a minor issue). But it is thoroughly Christ-focused and you can feel the ministerial heart he had for those upset or disappointed with the church. Also, I do think Michael was smart enough to realize that being perfectly “Jesus-shaped” is impossible on this side of paradise, though for those of us with little inclination to leave the church the book might serve as a warning to look out for creeping nationalism, consumer culture, and so on in our own faith communities.

You don’t need to have been a reader of Michael’s blog to appreciate Mere Churchianity; he re-introduces the concepts enough that you won’t get lost. But for those of us who did read iMonk–myself especially, facing the same disease that took Michael’s life in April 2010 after just four months–it’s a sweet nostalgia trip that occasionally brings tears to the eyes. The closing paragraphs especially got me:

As I have come to discover that Jesus’ Kingdom is a far more diverse and interesting movement than I realized when I was growing up in a narrow fundamentalism, I’ve come to understand that what Jesus is doing in the world is exactly what his parables described: the smallest of seeds growing into a great tree.

Many of us will meet one another on this journey. We may share the same story or the same pain, or we may be so different that we keep looking, again and again, to recognize the family resemblance. It is my hope that the time we have spent together will encourage you to keep pursuing Jesus, no matter where you are in your journey. Don’t neglect the search for authentic, Jesus-shaped spirituality.

And finally, when we come home, we will find that Jesus has made us like himself, and yet, amazingly, we will have remained in every way ourselves.

I hope that means he still has the Kentucky accent in Heaven.

8 Simple Reasons

Jim at Stones Cry Out posts 8 reasons why he won’t be watching Glenn Beck’s god-and-country show tonight. I’m glad other Christians are having issues similar to mine with this syncretistic event. I don’t need politics to “heal my soul,” thank you very much, I have my local church for that. And it’s funny how Beck’s Mormonism doesn’t bother his evangelical fans too much (somewhere Mitt Romney is seething). That said, I can only agree with 6 of Jim’s 8 points. #7 doesn’t apply to me because I’m single, and #8 doesn’t apply because my one team just had its 18th consecutive losing season and my other team just lost its stud rookie pitcher until this time next year.