Tag Archive: Duke


Today in the Wall Street Journal Brett McCracken writes an opinion piece on The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity. In the article he chastises pastors and churches who have attempted to make Christianity “cool” in their efforts to attract and keep young believers.  He summarizes, “If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.”

In general, he’s right.  “Cool” Christianity is really no Christianity at all.  Jesus wasn’t “cool” or “hip.”  He hung out on the margins calling people to the radical practices of repentance, forgiveness, love, and grace.  Jesus surely had friends, but not many in the popular and fashionable crowd.

However, I take issue with one area of McCracken’s piece.  He highlights contemporary church leaders’ use of sex as a “hip” selling point for Christianity.  He mention’s Rob Bell’s “Sex God” and Oak Leaf Church’s (Cartersville, GA) website  yourgreatsexlife.com as signs that “sex is a popular shock tactic.”  Many churches, he believes, “are finding creative ways to use sex-themed marketing gimmicks to lure people into church.”

He then lumps Lauren Winner’s “Real Sex” into the cool and gimmicky sex tactics used by Christians to attract new, youngbelievers.

Huh?  Has he read Winner’s book?  If so, did he take the time to digest it?

“Real Sex” is hardly a hipster, young adult-friendly take on sex.  In fact, Lauren calls for something extremely un-hip and un-cool…she argues for chastity!  In “Real Sex” she talks about her sexual adventures during her college years in which she wasn’t a believer (Jewish background).  However, after her conversion she began to see sex/chastity in a new light.  Long story short, she argues in “Real Sex” that chastity for non-married persons is the most faithful Christian view of sex.

Winner’s call for chastity maybe a shocking view, but it’s hardly a hipster, cool take on the subject!

(Full disclosure: Lauren Winner is one of my professors at Duke Divinity School.)

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In an article that may surprise some, Christianity Today recently proclaimed a promising start for Obama’s faith-based office.

Initially, traditional readers may be skeptical of the evangelical magazine’s positive endorsement of Obama’s initial religious platform.  However, I see CT’s position as nothing more than “holding to their values.”  In the article, CT praises the many evangelical leaders sitting at the Obama table.  Also, the article points out that many of Obama’s stances maintain the status quo; which could be labeled as friendly to evangelical beliefs.

However…

I wonder…is CT shifting into a new niche?  Do they have a “new” audience in mind?  Does the magazine desire to be sen as more moderate on the religious landscape?

OR…are evangelicals (and not CT) in a period of transition?  Has the evangelical base become the home of “reluctant Republicans” (Rick Warren’s term)?  As one of my professors, David Steinmetz writes in the News & Observer: Reluctant Republicans “agree with Republicans on abortion and gay rights, but agree with Obama on other issues, such as care of the environment, global warming, the AIDS epidemic, world hunger, and even (gasp!) the more just distribution of wealth in an often unjust and greedy world.”  Is CT using the new administration as a bridge to connect with a changing demographic?

For all the graduate students

This is for all those grad students out there.  Whether you’re in Law, Medical, Business, or Divinity (like me)…you can relate to Bart!  Hilarious!

Have you heard this sentiment recently?

“United Methodists can believe anything.”

Sometimes, the proclaimers follows his our her proclamation with, “And I love it that way!”

As a pastor, I hear this “fact” from many members.  Even more, I frequently encounter this attitude in the hallways of Duke Divinity School (where I am a student).

While, we (Methodists) are not typically known as theological giants, we certainly do not hold to a theology that allows for anything.  We have the Book of Discipline, the Articles of Faith, and orthodox Church creeds.  Even more, one might say that the UMC Social Creed and the General Rules also captivate the spirit of Methodist “beliefs.”

As Craig Groeschel points out, and Matt Judkins comments on, Methodists are often commended for their “social consciousness.”  While Methodists are to be lifted up for their work in the social sphere, relegating their theological convictions to the background casts aside the other half of the story.

We are Methodists, and we do believe in something…specific…Scriptural.

It’s time we recover (and promote) our theological depths…which are partially the impetus behind our social consciousness.

19For the past 10 weeks a group of church members have been studying with A Short-term Disciple Bible Study: An Invitation to Psalms. While the sessions have proved incredibly educational, inspiring, and transformational, there have certainly been a lot of questions.  Last night, the discussion centered around the imprecatory Psalms.  There’s nothing better to get people talking than to mention “the wrath of God.”

Together, we raised many interesting and curious questions.  What does God’s wrath look like in today’s world?  How do we compare and contrast the wrath of humanity with the wrath of God?  How does righteousness and justice fit into the love of God? While we ca begin to answer these questions faithfully, the question that remained most perplexing was How do we understand the psalmist’s portrayal of God as wrathful and vengeful?

As the Divinity School Student Pastor, they look to me for answers!  I wish that I had more answers.  Some mysteries of God just get us every time!

Still, when I got home last night I did a little reading to examine what others have said about the Psalms of imprecation.  Also, I looked back at lectures from the my Fall 2007 Old Testament class with Dr. Stephen Chapman at Duke Divinity. (Some of what is below came from D. Chapman’s lecture.)

As expected, the range of interpretations varied greatly.  Here’s a few nuggets of thoughts for you to ponder:

Just to make clear, we are only talking about the imprecatory psalms/prayers against enemies: Psalms 59, 64, 69, 83, 94, 109, 140.

One one end of the spectrum:
James Luther Mays, The Lord Reigns: A Theological Handbook to the Psalms (2004):   Mays claims that Christians can no longer read and/or understand the imprecatory literally by because they violate Jesus’ command to love enemies (see Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 9:51-56; Romans 12:14-21).  However, Mays does believe that these psalms can still be read allegorically as about sin, death, and the devil.  In some ways this view sounds almost like Marcion.  Although Mays is not rejecting the OT God entirely, he seems to want to rewrite it in light of the NT.

On the other end of the spectrum:
John Calvin (16th century): Calvin claims that the enemies in the Psalms not merely personal enemies, but enemies of God.  Therefore, these psalms can be prayed so long as the worshiper is free from self-interest (see 1 Corinthians 16:22).  So, Christians must pray these Psalms with a heart of humility.

Another view in the spectrum:
Walter Brueggemann, “Vengeance” in Praying the Psalms (2007):  Brueggemann argues that he Psalms present a realistic and honest dialogue about anger in human experience.  If we treat the Psalms in this we we make ourselves available for more authentic worship.  (The prophets also reinforce this connection between emotion and right worship.)  He also states that imprecatory psalms can function as a way to transfer human anger to God (Psalm 69:13; 76:10).  Consequently, our own desire for vengeance is ruled out as an option for our emotions (Psalm 94:1; Deuteronomy 32:35; Isaiah 63:4; see also Hebrews 10:30).  Brueggemann further claims that such psalms, rightly understood, might reduce violence.

As I discovered, our Disciple calss is not alone in our curiosity/confusion/deliberation over the Psalms; it is a centuries old discussion. Overall, I am not sure any one view is correct.  On one hand we can not simply cast off the Psalms/images of God we don’t like.  Yet, on the other hand, we can not be consumed with only one Biblical representation of God (God of love in NT).  In the end, we must strive to be aware of the different interpretations, and attempt to hold them together in faithful tension.

How beautiful, that issues such as these continually remind us of God’s Holy mystery, and force us back to our Holy Scriptures.
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