February 2008


Via the WebElf Report, I ran across a quote that is meant to provide “homiletical background” for preachers writing sermons for Transfiguration Sunday. Without checking on Binky’s links, and with no hint from me, I’d like to challenge readers to 1) identify the author; or 2) at least identify the denominational affiliation of the author. I’ll reveal the answer tomorrow. Remember–no peeking.

The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus in today’s gospel is one of the stranger stories in any of the Gospels. Evidently Jesus had a powerful “religious experience” at some point in his public life, an experience which had a profound effect on him and on the apostles who were with him. As the story of this experience was related among the early Christians it took on a heavy overlay of theological symbolism. In the context of St. Matthew’s Gospel it becomes a turning point in Jesus’ life, an experience in which he saw that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die while he was there. Since Jesus was human he was fated to die just as all of us are fated to die. In his death, however, there would be something more. Since God was present in Jesus in a special way, God would also go down into the valley of death to show us how great was his love for us, to assure us that He would be with us at the time of our own deaths, and how all of us should face death. The manner of Jesus’ death was not fated. He could have declined to go to Jerusalem without sin. Yet he came to see that he had to go there and so he did.

Comments from preachers about the usefulness, helpfulness, or accuracy of this “background” is also welcome. Fire away, pastors.

UPDATE: Well, I think I’ve tortured you all long enough. The answer is…

The Rev. Andrew Greeley, Roman Catholic priest, sociologist, writer of sleazy novels, and really, really, REALLY bad interpreter of Scripture. From the sounds of it he may be a heretical theologian as well, but since he isn’t employed as a teacher of theology I doubt that anyone, including his bishop, cares much about that.

The quote above comes from Diogenes of Catholic World News, who in turn got it from here. Diogenes introduces it with this, to which I think a lot of Protestants whose pastors came out of mainline seminaries can relate:

It’s a fine illustration of progressivist discourse, and will explain the dread that grips believing Catholics whenever their pastor climbs into the pulpit.

Marcus Borg, the Oregon State University professor who has devoted much of his career to deconstructing Jesus, is part of a Washington Post “On Faith” panel that was asked about the findings of a recent Pew Foundation study on American religion. The study found that more than 4 in 10 Americans “have switched their religious affiliation since childhood or dropped out of any formal religious group.” The question then posed to the panel is this: “Is this a mark of the health or sickness of American religion?” Borg thinks it’s peachy, but get a load of his reason:

As the survey itself indicates, most who have changed their religious affiliation have done so within Christianity, changing from one denomination to another.

The percentage may be even greater among people who are commonly known as “progressive” Christians. My experience as a lecturer in all regions of the United States suggests this. Most of my audiences are progressive Christians (or they wouldn’t come to hear me). I often ask my audiences, “How many of you are in the same denomination that you grew up in?” The average: 40 percent. Over half–around 60 percent–have changed their denominational affiliation.

Not real surprising when you consider that the average Borg fan is either a Unitarian, an atheist, an agnostic, or a very liberal Episcopalian, UCC, etc., and there just weren’t all that many of them when his audiences were kids.

I think this is healthy. It suggests that many people have moved beyond their socialization within a particular form of Christianity to a thoughtful (and sometimes agonizing) re-assessment of what it means to be Christian.

And I suspect that most of these have moved from a more conventional and conservative form of Christianity to a more progressive form. This is encouraging.

Let me get this straight. “Many people” have thoughtfully re-assessed what it means to be Christian. “Most of these” have moved from historic Christianity to the New Age, content-free, identity politics-based version. I’m sure Katherine Jefforts-Schori, John Thomas, Mark Hansen, Clifton Kirkpatrick and other “progressive” church leaders will be delighted to hear that.

Well, you know, I learned from Star Trek that the Borg inhabited a different quadrant of the galaxy than the rest of us, one where life was extraordinarily different. Maybe it’s true….

Another break in the scientific consensus that It’s the End of the World As We Know It, from Watts Up With That:

January 2008 was an exceptional month for our planet, with a significant cooling. January 2007 started out well above normal.

January 2008 capped a 12 month period of global temperature drops on all of the major well respected indicators. I have reported in the past two weeks that HadCRUT, RSS, UAH, and GISS global temperature sets all show sharp drops in the last year.

Here is a quick comparison and average of ∆T for all metrics shown above:

Source: Global ∆T °C
HadCRUT

- 0.595

GISS - 0.750
UAH - 0.588
RSS - 0.629
Average: - 0.6405°C

For all four metrics the global average ∆T for January 2007 to January 2008 is: – 0.6405°C

This represents an average between the two lower troposphere satellite metrics (RSS and UAH) and the two land-ocean metrics (GISS and HadCRUT). While some may argue that they are not compatible data-sets, since they are derived by different methods (Satellite -Microwave Sounder Unit and direct surface temperature measurements) I would argue that the average of these four metrics is a measure of temperature, nearest where we live, the surface and near surface atmosphere.

To which Daily Tech says:

Scientists quoted in a past DailyTech article link the cooling to reduced solar activity which they claim is a much larger driver of climate change than man-made greenhouse gases. The dramatic cooling seen in just 12 months time seems to bear that out. While the data doesn’t itself disprove that carbon dioxide is acting to warm the planet, it does demonstrate clearly that more powerful factors are now cooling it.

This doesn’t prove anything definitive, nor would I claim that it does. It is simply another piece of evidence that things aren’t nearly as crystal clear, black-and-white as many in the church, both mainline and evangelical, are assuming it is.

Well, that’s a first. It seems I’ve been “tagged” by Kate at The Hairy Eyeball to provide “six unimportant facts/quirks/habits about myself” (only six?). It’s one of those Internet things. But I do appreciate her thinking of me. So here goes:

1. I have a collection of over 250 pieces of apocalyptic fiction.

2. I was the 1993 Class B United States Chess Co-Champion.

3. I worked as a part-time intern in the New Jersey Legislature in the mid-1970s, and never had to enter a witness protection program.

4. My favorite music is Gregorian and Byzantine chant.

5. I missed getting into the Ph.D program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill back in 1986 by a 3-2 vote of the admissions committee, mostly because I was too up front about my desire to use the degree to help prepare future pastors by teaching church history in a Christian seminary–and I’m still bitter about it. :-)

6. I have no known quirks except blogging.

Now, Kate went on to list six bloggers, including me, whom she “tagged,” so I reckon I need to do the same. Those would be:

Toby Brown, the Classical Presbyterian

Benjamin Glaser, the Backwoods Presbyterian

Will Spotts, the Recovering Presbyterian

Bill Crawford, the Bayou Christian (who is also a Presbyterian)

Chris Larimer, the Greek Deacon (who is not Eastern Orthodox but Presbyterian)

Viola Larson of Naming His Grace (ditto)

The Rev. Janet Edwards, descendant of Jonathan Edwards and PCUSA minister, is going to soon be facing new charges resulting from her 2005 performance of a same-sex wedding, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

A Pittsburgh Presbytery committee plans to pursue new charges against the Rev. Janet Edwards for officiating a wedding between two women in June 2005, a spokeswoman for the Oakland minister said Tuesday.

Edwards and Pittsburgh church officials are negotiating to reach a resolution and the Presbytery could decide to not pursue the charges before Edwards’ case goes to trial, said Ashley Harness of New York-based Fenton Communications.

In case you’re wondering why a Presbyterian minister needs the services of a PR firm, I’d urge you to check out Fenton in general and Harness in particular.

Edwards, a parish associate at Community of Reconciliation, did not return a phone call. Harness released a statement from her.

“While another trial now seems inevitable, along with it comes an opportunity for meaningful dialogue about how we can truly open our hearts and our doors to our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters,” Edwards said in the statement. “I know these conversations will not be easy, but I am hopeful because my Presbyterian tradition teaches me that it is only through dialogue and struggle together that something more beautiful and more pleasing to God can be born.”

Translation: I am hoping that my fellow Presbyterians will ignore the PCUSA constitution, just as I did, and thereby allow me to avoid the consequences of my actions. I will make any trial a political circus in which I will put the constitution on trial, and hope that one result will be that my blatant disregard for the standards I vowed to uphold when I was ordained will be overlooked among the general uproar. I am going to do this because I know that I cannot win on the merits, nor will my position prevail in fair and honest debate across the denomination, so I am trying to change the facts on the ground. And with any luck, I’ll get away with it.

It’s actually pretty easy to translate these kinds of statements. You just have to speak the language.

(Via Layman Online.)

UPDATE: According to the Presbyterian News Service, one of the two women Edwards “married” (Nancy McConn and Brenda Cole) has weighed in:

McConn, a longtime Presbyterian and former member of Dallas Presbyterian Church in Dallas, WV, currently worships at a Unitarian congregation. Cole was raised Methodist but now is a practicing Buddhist.

“The church’s actions are extremely hurtful toward me and Nancy and toward other gay couples,” Cole told the Presbyterian News Service. “We’re determined to stand by Rev. Edwards as she faces these charges and continues to speak the truth about our marriage. And we’re quite determined that no matter what the church’s actions are they in no way undermine the sacredness of our marriage.”

Whatever. I’m sorry they’re feeling hurt, but I also don’t understand why a Christian denomination should take advice from non-Christians about the meaning and definition of marriage according to the teachings of Christianity. Given that they are not, in fact, married, apparently the state of Pennsylvania isn’t interested in their views, either.

First Things editor Anthony Scaramone sat down with New York City pastor Tim Keller to talk about the latter’s new book entitled The Reason for God, and I recommend the interview to anyone who is interested in the work of reaching out to an increasingly secular and skeptical society. Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA), one of the city’s largest, is best known for his book Ministries of Mercy, an excellent treatment of the Christian responsibility for the “least of these.” In The Reason for God, Keller sets himself the task of writing a new sort of Mere Christianity for 21st century America. Scaramone asks him, “What would you say is the greatest difference between how someone must approach apologetics today as opposed to when Lewis was doing it in the 1940s and 1950s?” Keller responds:

First of all, I’m inspired by Lewis, and my book is inspired by his book, but I’m a preacher first of all, not a writer, and I don’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as a writer like C.S. Lewis. And yet everybody’s doing that, and I take it as a compliment, but it’s pretty unjustified. However, he’s the benchmark, so everybody’s going to be compared.

Lewis definitely lived at a time in which people were more certain across the board that empirical, straight-line rationality was the way you decided what truth was, and there’s just not as much of a certainty now. Also, when Lewis was writing, people were able to follow sustained arguments that had a number of points that built on one another. I guess I should say we actually have a kind of rationality-attention-deficit disorder now. You can make a reasonable argument, you can use logic, but it really has to be relatively transparent. You have to get to your point pretty quickly.

In New York City, these are pretty smart people, very educated people, but even by the mid-nineties I had found that the average young person found Mere Christianity—it just didn’t keep their attention, because they really couldn’t follow the arguments. They took too long. This long chain of syllogistic reasoning wasn’t something that they were trained in doing. I don’t think they’re irrational, they are as rational, but they want something of a mixture of logic and personal appeal.

I know for a fact that Lewis was just heavy sledding for even smart Ivy League American graduates by the mid-nineties. One of the reasons I started doing this was I thought I needed something that gave them shorter, simpler, more accessible arguments.

There’s a lot more in the interview. Check it out.

One of the most important Americans of the last two generations has passed from the scene:

William F. Buckley Jr., the erudite Ivy Leaguer and conservative herald who showered huge and scornful words on liberalism as he observed, abetted and cheered on the right’s post-World War II rise from the fringes to the White House, died Wednesday. He was 82.

I can only imagine what he’d have to say about that first sentence of the AP obituary.

I was kind of a weird kid. I became a politics junkie at an early age, and went on to major in political science at Rutgers. I was also a debater in high school and college. Those two things meant that when I was a teenager, one of my favorite programs on television was Buckley’s “Firing Line.” I was not at all conservative, but that was beside the point. Buckley was so engaging, so skilled at verbal repartee, and so charming even toward those he disagreed with that I found myself sucked in, Sunday afternoon after Sunday afternoon. I’ve missed it, especially since so much of what has replaced it has been so vapid, uncivil, and mindless. I can’t believe Buckley thought much of what today passes for political discourse, given that so much of it is just plain coarse.

Whether you thought him a Neanderthal or a prophet, there have been few public intellectuals who have had more of an impact on American society. He will be missed.

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