Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How Is The World To Be Judged

Earlier, I posted about trying to teach theology with my youth. I do a weekly newsletter. Here is my reflection on the lectionary reading: Acts 3:12-26. What are your thoughts?

How Is The World To Be Judged?
Acts 3:12-26

Do you remember a time when you thought your parents were absolutely going to kill you? Have you ever had that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that you have just made a dreadful mistake that will hurt someone else severely? How did you feel as you faced your parents or the person you wronged? Do you remember those tense moments as you waited for them to respond?
One of the biggest words thrown around in Christian conversation is judgment. As our denomination argues over issues such as the war in Iraq, homosexuality, who can receive communion, and how we should worship, there is always a powerful tendency to draw lines in the sand and pronounce God’s judgment on those deemed outside the boundary lines. Liberals and conservatives are both quick to pronounce God’s judgment on the other. In doing so, they miss out on how God actually judges the world. As an Easter people, we must remember that our understanding of judgment begins with Jesus’ death on the Cross. As the soldiers were nailing him to the cross, Jesus did not condemn them but instead declared, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). After his resurrection, he sent for Peter, who denied him three times, and for the disciples who largely abandoned him (Mark 16:7). In Christ’s resurrection, God pronounces judgment on sin, death, and evil. His judgment is forgiveness!

Forgiveness, though, is the scariest form of judgment imaginable. We expect punishment, wrath, and anger when we hurt someone. It is always easier to receive forgiveness with conditions. That way, we feel as though we earn our forgiveness. What do we do when it is given to us as a gift? Think about what Peter reveals to the crowd gathered after the lame man is healed. He states, “You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:14-15). At this point, you would expect Peter to call down the wrath of God on the evil ones who killed Jesus. Instead, he urges them to “repent...[to] turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord...”(Acts 3:19-20)! In response to his crucifixion, Jesus offers forgiveness to those who conspired to crucify him. There are no conditions, save for one. All we must do is turn again and live in the constant refreshment and blessings of God. The only requirement for us is to return to God and live in his superabundant blessings, grace, and love! This is God’s judgment. In the face of sin, even the murder of his Son, God pronounces forgiveness. Thus, the way of Christian judgment is the way of forgiveness.

Think about how this would radically change our lives together. Imagine a church where we forgave our enemies. Here is the scariest part, though. Imagine how this would change your life. What if you realized that having been forgiven of your sins, you were called to forgive actively the sins of others? What if you began to realize that rather than judging others harshly and condemning them for what they had done to you or your friends, you were called to judge them with love and forgiveness? Imagine what it must be like to be an Easter person in an Easter church living to see the entire world receive and enjoy the wonderful blessings of a God who judges not with hate and condemnation, but with love!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The System, or just Sin?

Back in November I noted some comments by Thomas of Endlessly Rocking regarding the genealogical method insofar as its used in theology and/or philosophy (Scott had some helpful thoughts in the comments of that post).

In the February issue of First Things, Fr. Neuhaus quoted from an article by Christopher Insole, in which the latter takes issue with the RO critique of political liberalism. In his own comments, Fr. Neuhaus states,

There is among ideologues, including Christian ideologues, a propensity for attributing to a disfavored “system” the failings and frustrations of the human condition. For Marx it was capitalism, for conservatives of a libertarian bent it is socialism. In this country, Stanley Hauerwas and his disciples, who are usually on what is perceived to be the left, share with Theonomists, usually on the right, a passionate animus against the liberal democratic order. Theonomists—a.k.a. Dominionists or Reconstructionists—share with the late R.J. Rushdoony a belief that our constitutional order is fundamentally misbegotten and the nation should be reconstituted on the basis of “Bible law.” (See my article “Why Wait for the Kingdom? The Theonomist Temptation,” May 1990.) While proposing very different alternatives to our putatively misbegotten political order, the anti-liberals of the left and right are both lacking in an Augustinian sense of our creaturely limits within a fallen creation that is far short of the historical realization of the promised Kingdom.

I'm wondering what those more versed in RO than I think about these comments. Between these comments and Thomas' post referred to above, I've been prompted to wonder whether or not the problems which I've attributed to modernity/liberalism are more appropriately attributed to our fallen condition, i.e. to sin. I don't like this idea (and I can't quite put my figure on why), but I need to be honest with myself and ponder whether or not it is the case.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Not a Happy Musical

This weekend, I went to see a play that one of my teens was in, Urinetown. The strange name aside, this play is very interesting in light of many of our conversations here. To summarize briefly, Urinetown is a Tony-award winning play about the effects of overconsumption of resources. In the play, the city has suffered a 20 year drought that forces the Urine Good Company to take over public restrooms. Money, power, and monopoly contribute to twist UGC into a corrupt company bent on exploiting the poor, who can afford only one of the town's public restrooms. The government acts to enforce the interests of the company by banning public urination (No pee for free). The threat that lies behind the law is banishment to Urinetown, which is a euphemism for death. To be sentenced to Urinetown is to be sentenced to death.

However, the musical itself is a parody of other musicals, deconstructing itself as it pokes fun at other popular musicals like West Side Story and Le Mis. In the apparent end, Hope, the good daughter of the evil tyrant, appears to lead the people to victory and reform. She proclaims, "Now you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, with whomever you want, wherever you want." This is the beginning of an era of joy and justice. However, the play does not end but then very quickly shifts to its darker ending:
"Of course, it wasn't long before the water became silty, brackish, and then dried up all together. Cruel as Caldwell B. Cladwell was, his measures effectively regulated water consumption, sparing the town the same fate as the phantom Urinetown. Hope, however, chose to ignore the warning signs, choosing instead to bask in the people's love as long as it lasted... Hope eventually joined her father in a manner not quite so gentle. As for the people of this town? Well, they did the best they could. But they were prepared for the world they inherited, weaned as they were on the legend born of their founding father's scare tactics. For when the water dried up, they recognized their town for the first time for what it really was. What it was always waiting to be...
This is Urinetown!
Always it's been Urinetown!
This place it's called Urinetown!"
In dramatic fashion, the play ends with all the characters paying homage to Thomas Malthus, proclaiming, "Hail Malthus!"

Thus, hidden behind the satire, comedy, and rousing musical numbers is a deep commitment to a nihilism that declares that death can only be staved off and will eventually come for us. No matter what we do we always live in the shadow of the Abyss. Every town will eventually become Urinetown.

The end of the play thus becomes a tribute to death. Or, in the words of Officer Lockstock, "This is not a very happy play." Sadly, this appears to reflect the viewpoint of much of pop culture.


Friday, April 21, 2006

Evidence of Easter

"But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw
the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed atwhat had
(Luke 24:12, NRSV).

One of my favorite shows is CSI. I love to watch how they take miniscule pieces of evidence and then determine how a crime was committed and who the probable offender was. We live in an age where we believe science can and will solve our problems. We believe in an age where seeing is believing, and, as shows like CSI reveal, we can see into even the most minute aspects of human life. At the same time, our ability to see has not aroused in us a deep sense of awe and wonder at the world God has created. We are not moved to tears as we watch an unborn child yawn in her mother's womb. Instead, we are strangely preoccupied with death. The ongoing high ratings of shows like CSI and Law and Order reveal that we are a culture that finds death much more interesting than life. PArt of the reason is that the evidence of death is everywhere. It is not hard to understand the "natural" process of birth, maturity, decay, and death. We see it in the seasons, in animals and insects, even in our own bodies. In an empirical era, it is a slam dunk case. There is no need for DNA testing.

The disciples in today's reading also understand death. When the women return, out of breath and in a state of shock, telling a wild story about an empty tomb, bolts of lightning, and angelic visitors, the disciples dismiss it as an "idle tale" (NSRV) or "nonsense" (NIV). No one survives crucifixion. The women must be hysterical and just made this tale up. They did not believe the women. However, Peter leaves on a dead run, hurrying to the tomb to see exactly what has happened. He bends down, peers in, and sees that the linen clothes are there by themselves, empty with no body. Then, Peter does something interesting. After an unimaginably crazy week, after a week of scurrying, hiding, denying, and running around, Peter goes home. Yes he is amazed, but his response to the evidence of Easter is just to go home.

I wonder how similar we are to Peter. The church gathers together on Easter Sunday, having finished a Lenten fast and rehearsed Jesus' Last SUpper and crucifixion. We enter on Easter SUnday and find all the evidence of Easter given to us by the tradition- a white cloth on the cross, lillies, hallelujahs, reports that Christ has risen, hymns that announce the revelation of a new world. All the evidence is there, and then we all too often go home, amazed but largely unchanged. The good news of this story is that Peter did not stay at home. He continued the journey of Eastertide and found himself dramatically transformed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Having seen the evidence of Easter, will we go home- back to lives lived under the dominion of death, habituated by the practices of surviving another day, or will we be caught up in the life of Easter, a strange journey for a peculiar people that announces that the empty linens are all the evidence that we need that death, sin, and evil have been defeated and that God has delivered salvation to his creation?

Grace and PEace,

Monday, April 10, 2006

New Discussion Forum for the Theology & Philsophy Centre

The Centre of Theology & Philsophy now has a blog/discussion forum! What does that mean? Well, it means that this is the forum/blog for Dr.'s John Milbank, Conor Cunningham, Philip Goodchild, Karen Kilby, and potentially even those listed as fellows on their site. I'll be sending them their logins shortly so that they can begin posting (hopefully -- we'll see!).

In the meantime, I've created the first post to get things going. Feel free to drop your thoughts, questions, or whatever over there.

Without further ado, here's the forum I designed for all those cats:

(cross-posted to ericisrad.com)

Friday, April 07, 2006

Please Be In Prayer

Please be in prayer for Middle Tennessee, especially the Gallatin, Hendersonville, and Goodlettsville areas as an F4 tornado swept through the area killing a number of people and destroying a number of homes. The area most devastated is where I grew up. All of my family is safe, but a number of them were just a little ways from the devastation. By the grace of God, the tornado did not hit any of the school buildings, but almost hit three.

I would appreciate your prayers for this area.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Youth Ministry & Radical Preaching

Wow, the past two months have been a blur! Sorry I have been absent from all conversation over this time period.

I am now a youth pastor, and I no longer preach every week. Since I began my new ministry, I have read a number of youth ministry related books and articles. Interestingly, many youth pastors are searching for practices that will ground their youth in the Christian faith and help to move beyond a youth "program" centered on entertainment for a vision of the youth as a vibrant part of the life of the church.

What I do see missing is a Trinitarian theology that will give meaning and direction to the very good practices being introduced and cultivated in youth ministry today.

What I am proposing is a series of posts that could potentially turn into a book proposal where we seek to explain Trinitarian theology in such a way that our youth workers, leaders, and youth themselves can understand and begin to embody. I guess what I am imagining is a chapter on the Triune God and the superabundant economy of Triune love. What is the place of the Church in the Triune God? What is our place in the Church? Then, I would like to see a chapter on how worship (specifically the Eucharist) is the grammar of the church. Then, I would like to explore how the very specific practices of the faith emanate from this Trinitarian logic. In all of these discussions, I would like to keep things very specific to avoid the flight into the obscure that Trinitarian theology often staggers into.

Is anyone interested in such a conversation/project?


Performing the Faith

From Alastair comes this excellent post called "How Gutenberg Took the Bible from Us: Some thoughts on the Ontology of the Scriptures." A choice snippet:
The ubiquity of the printed text makes it very difficult for us to recover a more Christian engagement with the Scripture. Even within the gathered worship of the people of God, people are incessantly reading their printed Bibles. This is akin to someone attending a production of Hamlet and paying little attention to what is taking place on the stage because he is too busy reading along in the text.

Here's the rest, which is highly recommended.

For more on this topic by Alastair:

For more on this topic by others:

(Hat tip for the original post, if I wore hats: Reformed Catholicism. Also, apologies to Stanley Hauerwas for the name of this post -- it just seemed to fit so well :)