• A Second Century Christian Creed by Irenaeus of Lyon

    by  • October 15, 2013 • 0 Comments

    Irenaeus of Lyon included a version of the “rule of faith” in his late 2nd century summary of the Christian faith, On the Apostolic Preaching, I.1.6.

    Here it is; I added the text in brackets and removed a few phrases that Irenaeus used to introduce each ‘article’ so that, in the form below, it reads more like the classical creeds.

    [We believe in] God, the Father,
    uncreated, uncontainable, invisible,
    one God, the Creator of all.

    [We believe in] the Word of God,
    the Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord,
    who was revealed by the prophets
    according to the character of their prophecy
    and according to the nature of the economies of the Father,
    by whom all things were made, and who, in the last times,
    to recapitulate all things, became a man amongst men,
    visible and palpable, in order to abolish death, to demonstrate life,
    and to effect communion between God and man.

    [We believe in] the Holy Spirit
    through whom the prophets prophesied
    and the patriarchs learnt the things of God
    and the righteous were led in the path of righteousness,
    and who, in the last times, was poured out in a new fashion
    upon the human race renewing man, throughout the world, to God.

    This is remarkable for a number of reasons. Here are a few:

    1. Irenaeus has a lot more to say about the Holy Spirit than either the Nicene (with the additions from 381) or the Apostles’ Creed. The way a lot of people talk about the historical development of doctrine you would think no one had an articulate and distinct understanding of the Holy Spirit until the late 4th century, but this was written about two hundred years before that.

    2. The major creeds make very few references to the Hebrew Scriptures. Irenaeus, on the other hand, is all about articulating how the Word and the Spirit relate to ‘the prophets’ (who revealed the Word and spoke through the Spirit), but he also mentions the patriarchs (who were taught by the Spirit). The fact that he goes out of his way to describe the Christian faith in terms of its relationship to the Old Testament is significant. The God-Man Jesus Christ stands in continuity with the God of the prophets; this is a crucial point for Irenaeus as it was, for instance, in the great speeches of Acts of the Apostles.

    3. There’s no explicit Virgin Birth. Irenaeus elsewhere talks about the Virgin Birth of Jesus, so his failure to mention it here isn’t because he didn’t believe it or think it was important: according to Irenaeus, Mary the obedient virgin recapitulates Eve the disobedient virgin, in a similar fashion to Christ’s recapitulation of Adam. But it is interesting that it doesn’t make it into his creed – instead he focusses on his understanding of incarnation, recapitulation and communion between humanity and God.

    4. Christ didn’t just defeat death; he demonstrated life. I love that phrase. Is this a reference to his teachings, miracles, etc.? The major creeds are silent on these things, and there is at least a chance that they might be part of what is intended here. But the main thing this phrase drives at is the bigger picture: that Christ puts on display what a real, fully actualized human life looks like. He recapitulates, or ‘re-heads’ humanity, being the Adam that Adam could never have been. Or, as one of the teenagers at my church likes to say, Christ was “Adam 2.0″.

    5. There are several different articulations of the shape of salvation and one mention of righteousness, but no talk of sin. The cross is given a gloss from the point of view of the resurrection as having abolished death, but there is no mention of sin or the forgiveness of sins. The classical creeds mention the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead. Irenaeus is singularly occupied with an account of the latter, and he does more than just mention it – he fleshes it out.

    6. Irenaeus’ creed leads to a form of oneness with God. The Word effects communion between humanity and God, and the Spirit renews humanity to God. This creed is much more specific about the actual shape of the gospel than the classical creeds.

    Jonah and the Patience of God

    by  • October 8, 2013 • 0 Comments

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    I’ve always loved the story of Jonah. I think this is because Jonah is a story about a man with a calling, a man who has a clear vocation, but who happens to have a complicated relationship to that calling.

    I think that’s where my connection to Jonah’s story has always started. I too hear silent rumblings and inner twists of passion that call me to get up and go. But where I’ve connected with Jonah in the past is in my fear that I will misunderstand these nudgings of the Holy Spirit, and will accidentally go down to a seaport and board a boat headed in the wrong direction. In previous seasons of life this anxiety around calling, this fear of missing the calling, of accidental disobedience because of misread signals, slowed my responses to the calling in attempts to avoid what I took to be the punishment of violent storms and of having to camp out in the belly of a fish for three days.

    But this is not that great of an interpretation of the story of Jonah.

    Jonah is definitely a story about conflicted calling, but the way his story is told Jonah doesn’t misread God’s signals: we are made to understand that they were as plainly before him as they are to us in the text itself. Jonah doesn’t board the boat headed to Tarshish because of a misunderstanding – Jonah boarded the boat exactly because he fully understood what he was supposed to do but was intent on not doing it.

    Jonah’s actions, unlike mine described in the previous paragraph, were decisive and determinative – even bold or bordering on admirable. Jonah was called to get up and go, and he got up and went with a sense of purpose, if in the exact wrong direction. Jonah’s disobedience was that of a good Lutheran: he sinned boldly, he took a leap of (un)faith. And then the storm came, not exactly as an act of the punishment of God, but as an example of God’s patience with his prophet, of God’s invitation to the sailors to worship him, and ultimately (through the fish) of God’s salvation of Jonah and, ultimately, of the “great city” of Nineveh.

    This is a much more helpful and a much more interesting reading of Jonah’s story, and, happily, it’s also much more faithful to the story itself. The story as it is doesn’t address accidental disobedience, and in whatever sense such accidents are even possible this is a book that should be read as good news over those situations too.

    Instead of accidental disobedience, Jonah is primarily a book about direct and purposeful, strong-willed disobedience. Jonah is an anti-type of Abraham in that regard. Abraham displayed a profound, even disturbing obedience as he was willing to sacrifice his son to God. Thankfully that story had a happy ending: it turns out that God is more interested in this kind of crazy faithfulness than he is interested in blood.

    But Jonah as an anti-type of Abraham demonstrates a kind of anti-faithfulness. The fact that God wills to save all the nations of the world through the descendants of the faithful Abraham seems to be made problematic in the person of one of Abraham’s own descendants, Jonah. Jonah, who was given an opportunity to reach out to one of these nations whose salvation is his people’s raison d’etre. Jonah, who was faced with such an opportunity to fulfill his people’s destiny, and who ran the other way instead.

    But the surprising good news in this story is that God is not so much interested in wooing-the-nations-through-human-obedience as God is interested in just wooing-the-nations. And so the disobedient chosen one descends into the belly of a ship set out to carry him away from his calling, only to discover that the ship is destined to carry him further and more deeply into his calling. Jonah’s ship purportedly on its way to Tarshish is headed away from the letter of his calling, but in spite of Jonah and the ship itself, this boat is actually on its way more fully into the spirit of his calling.

    The hellish storm comes, and the first chapter of Jonah ends with God’s prophet descending into the depths: God’s man, the one God called to preach to the nations, is hurled into the chaos for the literal salvation from the storm of the ethnically and religiously diverse panoply of sailors who remain on board, sailors who then praise God, the God of Israel, the God whose prophet sinks deeper still.

    This alone would be an interesting story, full of fantastic irony – God called a person from his chosen people to preach to the nations so they wouldn’t get destroyed, but God’s chosen one tried as hard as he could to avoid this task only to have great success in it, just in the wrong place, and then finally in the end it is the disobedient prophet instead of the nations facing destruction and judgment. God takes his chosen people’s disobedience and turns it into praise; God transforms the unfaithfulness of his people into praise on the lips of pagans; Jonah’s unorthodoxy becomes the Gentile sailors’ orthodoxy. All that while the unfaithful chosen one sinks to the deepest depths.

    Until.

    Until out of those depths comes salvation. Out of those same depths that would swallow the unfaithful one up as a sign of his unfaithfulness there comes a fish who swallows the prophet and keeps him safe as a sign of God’s grace. The fish keeps him safe in the bowels of death and, after a time, places him back on track, nudges him back toward his calling.

    We suspect that God could easily find another preacher for the city of Nineveh. Jonah has objectively been a huge jerk and obviously doesn’t want the job. Jonah has done everything in his power to disqualify himself from keeping the job. And God can do anything he wants – clearly there must be some better, more efficient, less messy way, some way that leaves Jonah out of it. Surely God can save Nineveh some other way.

    But God chooses not to. He chooses the disobedient one to preach his word to the people. He is patient with his people in their mission to invite the nations to worship him, the patient God. God through this patience wants to save the world, and save he surely shall do. But this God doesn’t just want to save the world: he wants to do so through, with, in and in spite of our obedience and our disobedience, our understanding and our misunderstanding. And, beneath the Sign of Jonah, he wants to use even me.

    Ignatius and the Hebrew Bible

    by  • September 30, 2013 • 0 Comments

    Ignatius vs. the LionsIgnatius of Antioch is a fascinating figure from the early 2nd century. Famous for encouraging Christian unity through obedience to bishops and for getting eaten by lions, he also had a helpful and balanced, if not much elaborated, view on what it means for Christians to read the Hebrew Bible on this side of the Christ event.

    In his Letter to the Philadelphians, Ignatius confronts ‘Judiazing’ Christians, probably not too dissimilar from those Paul confronted, though Ignatius does so with noticeably more gentleness than Paul does in his letter to the Galatians.

    After offering his trademark prescribed cure for disunity – stand by your bishop – Ignatius proceeds to attack what appears to be the greatest risk to brotherly love within the church in Philadelphia.

    He explains that although he is in chains and on his way to his death, he nonetheless has hope because of the gospel message proclaimed by the Apostles. But this message was also proclaimed proleptically by the Hebrew prophets, who themselves “have obtained salvation within the unity of Jesus Christ” and “are included as participants in the universal Gospel hope” (IPhil 5).

    But this doesn’t mean, for Ignatius, that Christians should practice Judaism. Without Christ we’re dead (cue tombstone metaphor), so avoid these kinds of teachings so they don’t “weaken your love” (IPhil 6). Instead, cling to the unity of the church.

    Ignatius works for unity in the church, because, he tells us, that’s the kind of church that God lives in and where forgiveness reigns. So the Philadelphians need to avoid the teaching of factions and instead cling to the teachings of Christ. Ignatius seems to have come across some people when he was in town who told him they couldn’t believe any teaching unless it was explicitly written in the “ancient records”, the Hebrew Scriptures. They were using the prophets as the measure of the apostolic teaching, and where they didn’t find clear precedent for a doctrine in the scriptures they refused to believe it. Ignatius counters:

    But for my part, my records are Jesus Christ; for me the sacrosanct records are his cross and death and resurrection, and the faith that comes through him. (IPhil 8)

    For Ignatius, that is his justification, that is his proof text, that is his Scripture: the narrative of Jesus, especially his death and resurrection, and the faith – the life of the ecclesia, the church – that springs forth from that Christ event.

    Early Christians slowly and organically developed what was called the regula fidei, or rule of faith, which they used as the guideline for interpretation and the development of doctrine. Think of it as an early edition of the Apostles’ Creed. But for Ignatius, Christ is the rule of faith. The narrative of Christ is the essential condition of Christian faith and teaching. While Judiazing Christians insist that all belief and practice pass through the litmus test of the Law and the Prophets and the Writings, for Ignatius Christ takes priority as the only litmus test needed. This represents not just a high understanding of the person of Christ, but a profound Christocentrism. The good bishop understood the story of Jesus to be the story through which all other stories are illuminated.

    Revelation, with tears

    by  • April 20, 2013 • 1 Comment

    Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, from a blurb on the back of Michael Gorman’s Reading Revelation Responsibly:

    “Sometimes I think there are only two kinds of Christians in America: those who’ve never read Revelation and those who read almost nothing else.”

    John Wesley, from his Explanatory Notes:

    “The Revelation was not written without tears; neither without tears will it be understood.”

    In spite of it all, Christmas comes anyways

    by  • December 24, 2012 • 0 Comments

    On the Sunday before Christmas in 1930, Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached at a German church in Cuba while on holiday there. Here’s an excerpt from his sermon, as quoted in the biography Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945 by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen:

    It is probably correct to say that each of us who has looked around a bit in the world perhaps finds it particularly strange to be celebrating Christmas this year. Before our eyes stand hordes of unemployed persons, millions of children throughout the world who are hungry and miserable, people starving in China, the oppressed in India and other unfortunate countries, and in everyone’s eyes we see despair and perplexity. And despite all this, Christmas is coming. Whether we want to or not, whether we are in the mood for it or not, we must hear once again: Christ, the Saviour, is born … (DBWE 10, 589)

    Take away China; insert North Korea or any number of other places. Take away India; insert Syria, Mali, or any number of other places. Or maybe even just set aside starvation and oppression and look at the overwhelming violence in our world. The violence of unmanned American drones, the violence of Israelis and Palestinians, the violence of the pursuit of nuclear weapons by those who don’t have them, the violence of flexing those nuclear arms by those who already do have them, or the violence of a young man with a gun against a handful of adults and twenty bright-eyed elementary school students. Just as easily as Brother Dietrich did in 1930, we can claim that it is awfully strange to be celebrating Christmas this year.

    In the presence of so much hunger and pain, fear and isolation, resentment and revenge, there is plenty of cause for cognitive dissonance this season. And yet here is Christmas nonetheless: a light, a stable, a baby. Joy. Peace. Hope. Love. God coming to earth in all the power and glory of helplessness and poverty. Here it is, ready or not. So no matter what you do or how you feel, allow yourself to be confronted today and this whole season with the material fact of Christmas, the fact that unto us is born this day a Savior who will be for all people.

    So for all the broken and weary, all the hungry and afraid, all the angry and hurting, and especially all the people who are under the impression they aren’t invited: may we all come and seek his peace against our world’s turmoil. Amen.

    Toasting Matt Leung

    by  • December 10, 2012 • 0 Comments

    This is the toast I gave this past Saturday as the best man at Matt Leung’s wedding reception.

    I’ve known Matt for just over 10 years. We met in 2002 at the Freshman Campout for the college ministry we were both a part of. I was the awkward 19 year old who was made somewhat more awkward by a recent injury that broke my jaw. And Matt was the only person there who was lame enough to bring his guitar on the campout. I guess he was trying to impress the ladies.

    We hung out for only a short time that night. He played 90′s alternative songs on his guitar, and I clumsily tried to sing along with my jaw wired shut. Even then we made an odd pair. We also probably had an interesting conversation or two, and maybe even got into a friendly argument – those things are pretty par for the course with Matt. A few years later we were roommates during a short mission trip overseas, then shared a house in North Campus for two years with three other dudes. And somewhere along the way we became best friends.

    We became best friends for a lot of reasons. For one thing, Matt is a lot of fun to argue with, because he’s wicked smart, very logical, and maybe a little bit stubborn. Matt loves to argue because he has a knack for understanding people, and a passion for pushing people to grow. He’s also a brilliant encourager. Matt has been my loyal friend during some of the darkest, most difficult days, and at crucial forks in the road Matt has been the one I could count on to help me discern which direction God is calling me to go.

    And he’s been all that in spite of the fact that we haven’t even lived in the same city in over six years. During that time period our friendship has grown largely over email. Matt is incredibly talented at goading me into debates, most of which happen over email, and most of which include one or two other friends, friends who typically don’t respond much because normal people don’t have the energy or the inclination to engage in our friendly but often heated diatribes. We debate politics and war, religion, theology and morality. And occasionally we even talk about really tough issues, like during which season did The Office start to go downhill, and what exactly was the nature of its decline? Innocent bystanders often mistake us for enemies, but disagreement and nuance is just how we work out our friendship.

    Matt, our friendship has been filled with more verbal competition than most of our mutual friends can stand, but none of it has ever been about winning, at least not for me. Our debates don’t really ever end with a clear winner (when they end at all), but they do end with me being better, sharper. Arguing with you has sharpened me as a thinker, as a Christian, and as a human being: like iron sharpens iron.

    And then there’s Nataly. She might be the only woman in the world that can handle Matt, other than his mom. So it’s good that we got the two of them married – it’s too late for her to back out now. Nataly, when I first heard Matt talk about you, I was listening to the words of a man who was grappling for the first time with truly falling in love. My old friend had finally met his match: a woman who can not only handle Matt in all of his idiosyncrasies, but can encourage them, overcome them – even fulfill them.

    So let’s raise our glasses to Matt and Nataly: In your life together, may you be one as Christ and the Church are one, may your love and faithfulness ever increase, may your patience and your hope be long, and may you sharpen one another in your gifts and encourage one another in spite of your weaknesses. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you, all your days. Amen.

    Bonhoeffer: the church is Christ existing as Gemeinde

    by  • December 1, 2012 • 0 Comments

    From the Editor’s Introduction to Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 1: Sanctorum Communio:

    When Bonhoeffer says, “the church [Kirche] is Christ existing as Gemeinde,” this does not mean that an institution calling itself church defines where Christ is communally present. On the contrary, it is not a church organization that defines Christ, but Christ who defines the church. In other words, it is precisely where, and only where, ‘Christ-exists-as-Gemeinde’ that we find the ‘church’ (Kirche).

    Now that’s an interesting test for ecclesiality.

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    Re-Think Missional

    by  • October 1, 2012 • 0 Comments

    Vital Congregation?A few weeks ago I went to a forum for everyone who holds a formal leadership position (mostly members of the myriad of committees)  in the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The conversations were mostly interesting and fruitful, but I did notice one recurring theme that I found disappointing: most of the discussions of what it meant to be missional – a popular buzzword at this and other recent conference gatherings – were aimed primarily at how to get more people to come to our churches. The watch-word of the day was, “Why?”; indeed, that’s the watch-word for the next four years in our conference. But the big ”Why?” question that remains unexplored is why are the most interesting things we can think about to make our churches more ‘missional’ basically directed towards getting more ‘butts in the pews’? We would be much more interesting and much more faithful if we concerned ourselves a little more with how we send our members out into the world than how we get more members in. And then, when we do actually get new members in the body, we can actually invite them to join us in doing something other than just expanding membership.

    Then last week I went to our conference United Methodist Women’s fall festival, where I was invited to lead a ‘focus group’ about how that storied ministry could better reach out to youth and other young people. But most of the ideas that came up and generated excitement had to do with sometimes creative ways of getting youth and young people to one way or another come to their ‘circles’ or their churches. The thought was that if we could just get more young people to come to us, then we might be able to figure out what to do with and for them. Ideas included inviting local teens who like basketball to come play basketball on the church grounds, or to come to a free community meal and stick around for Bible study. I pointed out that these attempts at outreach were really more like ‘in-reach’, and challenged them to think about ways they could go out and meet youth on their home turf. Someone commented that youth who come to in-reaches like those listed above probably feel really awkward, and we made the connection that in legitimate outreach it would be the church who would have to surrender home field advantage and meet youth where they already are, and thus bear the bulk of the discomfort.

    Also within the last month, as if to remind me that this is not a distinctively Methodist problem, at an ecumenical, community-wide gathering the preacher’s basic message was that Christians need to be more bold in their faith. How? By inviting their friends to church. Now hopefully when people come to church they hear Good News about God’s great love and mercy, and about his bottomless grace. And hopefully when people come to church they hear the story of how God’s love came down to save the world. But the teachers and preachers responsible for sharing that News and that Great Story in the context of a church worship service aren’t the only ones allowed to tell people these things. Wouldn’t it be so much more interesting if we encouraged Christians to really own and live out their faith among their friends and neighbors? And wouldn’t their friends and neighbors be more likely to find the story of God and humanity more interesting if they initially heard about it from a peer instead of from some professional stranger who has no idea who they are? And think about this: if you hadn’t heard this Story and didn’t know this News, wouldn’t it just seem odd to get invited to a place where the central activity is to sit and listen to a guy tell you that you need to invite more people to that place?

    All of these stories share the same fundamental misconception about the kind of thing a church is. They all see church primarily as a place or an institution. If church is first of all thought of as a place or an institution, then people associated with that church will attempt to live out the church’s mission within its geographical boundaries and institutional parameters. This is actually really comforting to such people, because it takes a huge load off their backs: they can think, “The church needs to do more _____,” as if the church were some kind of reality external to themselves that they have basically no responsibility for. Or they can safely avoid risk, discomfort and awkwardness by staying within the safety and familiarity of literal and/or metaphorical church walls by doing outreach that is really more like what I’ve called in-reach. Or they can through inviting their friends to church take comfort in the idea that they are let off the hook for telling their friends the story of God’s love for the world, because that’s the preacher’s job.

    But the church is not primarily a place or an institution. The church is a people shaped by God’s story and sent out to show and tell that story for all the world. If the church is more people-on-a-mission than place or institution, then when one realizes that the church needs to do something, they can’t avoid a fair share of ownership of the problem and should thus be more motivated and empowered toward a change. If the church is more people-on-a-mission than place or institution, then risk, discomfort and awkwardness are things that all in the church will have to bear together as this people-on-a-mission bears God’s love outside church walls to a hurting world. If the church is more people-on-a-mission than place or institution, then instead of the first ‘evangelical’ move being to invite people to come to a worship service at church, worship services can be about shaping pew-sitters into people who will go out and be the church for their friends and neighbors.

    The primary point of church as place or institution is to get more people to come be members. But ‘members’ here is more analogous to members of a country club than members of a living body. But if the church was really that called out people-on-a-mission for God the Biblical metaphor of the living body of Christ (unified in its mission but diverse in its gift and activity) becomes a more sensible metaphor for our churches. And then, almost as if by accident, churches would actually have become the kind of thing worth inviting people to come and be a part of anyways – not just for a few hours a week, but in every waking moment of their lives.

    Speaking of the Word: Who Jesus is for our Youth

    by  • March 19, 2012 • 2 Comments

    After sharing with my pastor the results of a little two year ‘experiment’ I did, he asked me to type up a report to share with our Parish Council. I presented the following on Sunday, March 18. 

    On a Wednesday night in February of 2010, I asked our youth a seemingly simple question: Who is Jesus? They answered with things like, “best guy in the entire universe,” “awesome,” “ultimate psychiatrist,” and “helps me play video games.” The most popular answer was “my best friend,” given explicitly by at least three youth before we all just kind of agreed that Jesus was all of our best friend. These answers all show that our youth had a generally positive impression of who Jesus is, which is good, but they are not particularly biblical, nor are they spiritually or theologically deep answers.

    They also gave some standard, ‘textbook’ answers, but were unable to speak about them at any length. They said that Jesus is, “the Son of God,” “our Savior,” “Son of David,” “miracle worker.” These answers are obviously much more biblical and have some theological and spiritual depth to them, but further conversation revealed that our youth were unable to elaborate, explain or articulate what these answers mean or why they were significant for their day-to-day lives. Our youth seemed to be quoting “right answers” as if they were learned by rote rather than personally held convictions that they truly owned. The only possible exception was one girl who said that Jesus “saved my life by dying on the cross and forgiving my sins.” She said that in the middle of everyone claiming Jesus as their best friend, and right afterwards our conversation quickly steered back in that direction. But that evening I wrapped up our discussion by highlighting this answer, and wondering aloud why only one of them had given it.

    Two years later, in February of 2012, I asked the same question again: Who is Jesus? Answers included “The Son of God,” “Savior,” “the only pure one,” “makes us whole,” “the one through whom God completes our lives and relationships,” “fills our emptiness,” “makes our lives whole.” But more importantly, our youth were able to elaborate on all of these answers, giving them much more color and demonstrating a deeper kind of knowledge. This time around they weren’t talking about Jesus as their best friend or psychotherapist, and they weren’t just rattling off textbook answers either. But even that wasn’t quite enough for them: the conversation pushed onward to what it looks like to follow him. “Jesus gave it all, so we should be willing to give it all…following Jesus looks like the cross.” “Following Jesus looks like love – Jesus on the cross is ultimate.” We had a real, substantive conversation about who Jesus is in which our youth demonstrated the ability to talk about Jesus at length, and in their own words!

    Two years apart, same question, totally different conversation. The National Survey of Youth and Religion, conducted just a few years ago, found that while adolescents in the United States are eager to share their opinions on a wide range of issues, almost all of them are incredibly inarticulate when it comes to their faith. I am really excited to report that our youth are growing in this area. Don’t get me wrong – we’ve still got a long way to go. We’re learning to “talk the talk,” but that doesn’t mean much if we’re not also learning how to better “walk the walk.” But regardless I think our church has something to celebrate – our youth are asking great questions and they’re really seeking God as their Answer. We’re making some observable strides along the road from faith learned by rote to faith they can really own as truly and authentically their own – what some people call “sticky faith.” This can only be described as an act of God’s grace. And by God’s grace we’ll continue learning and growing together toward the kind of Christian faith that lasts.

    UMC Candidacy Questions: My Beliefs

    by  • February 21, 2012 • 0 Comments

    As a part of the candidacy process for ordination in the United Methodist Church one is required to type up and submit answers to a number of different questions and prompts. As I approach my meeting with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry on Thursday, February 23, I will be posting a few of my responses here. The third of these responses (and the last one I intend to post on this blog) follows, below. 

    ¶ 311.2.a.iii Write about your beliefs as a Christian.

    I believe that the God who created all things took on flesh and walked the earth in the person of Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus is the Word of God, the fulfillment of the Old Testament’s history of Israel, the full enactment of God’s faithfulness to the promises he made to his people, the assertion of God’s Reign on earth. I believe that Jesus displays the power and the wisdom of God in the weakness and foolishness of his death on the cross. I believe that Jesus’ innocence, his faithful obedience, was affirmed when he rose from the dead. I believe that in Jesus’ death and resurrection sin was defeated and death itself died. I believe that God has poured out his Holy Spirit on the whole world to bear witness to this Good News about what God has done in Jesus.

    I believe that God has called-out the church to be witnesses of these things —- to partner with him in the sharing of this News and in the performance of this Reign through the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that to bear witness to Jesus as Lord means to renounce all other lords as ultimately false and to follow after his pattern of Lordship by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, showing hospitality to strangers, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned. I believe that living life towards this God who has come to love us his enemies in the person of Jesus means to live by a similarly radical kind of love toward God, toward neighbor, and toward our own enemies. I believe that holiness is becoming consumed by this kind of love, overwhelmed by its fulness and completeness, and graciously perfected and overcome by its practice. I believe that the Holy Spirit works on us through certain ‘means of grace’, central among them being the practice of baptism, whereby the church welcomes one into its covenant community of worship and witness, and holy communion, whereby the church takes up particular discrete acts of Jesus, gives thanks to God through them, breaks bread to remember what Christ has done for us and to rehearse for the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, and shares a common table as an act of holy hospitality and as spiritual food to empower our ongoing worship and witness. I believe that to follow after this Jesus, to walk on his way, is the only good and true and beautiful way to live, the only genuinely, fully and originally human way to be.

    I believe that the same Jesus will one day bring his Reign into its fulness, at which point we will answer for our sins, but he will wipe away our tears, make all things new, and come to dwell fully and completely with humankind in a New Earth. I believe that whatever this looks like, however God freely determines to wrap this whole drama up, it will be Good, and Holy, and Righteous, and True. And I believe that living our lives together and with the fellowship of the Holy Spirit between the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of all things that his own resurrection foretells is what gives us the courage to live counterintuitive lives of faithfully hopeful love as described above.

    UMC Candidacy Questions: My Calling

    by  • February 20, 2012 • 0 Comments

    As a part of the candidacy process for ordination in the United Methodist Church one is required to type up and submit answers to a number of different questions and prompts. As I approach my meeting with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry on Thursday, February 23, I will be posting a few of my responses here. The second of these responses follows, below. 

    ¶ 311.2.a.ii & ¶ 311.2.a.v: Describe God’s call to licensed or ordained ministry and the role of the church in your call. Describe your present understanding of your call to ministry as elder, deacon, or licensed ministry.

    My calling is to be a servant of Christ’s church -— to nurture the church and to call it to live more fully into its mission as God’s embassy in word and deed to a broken and hurting world.

    My whole life I’ve imagined that one day I would become either some kind of pastor or some kind of scientist. As a kid, most of that imagining took place with Klein United Methodist Church as my primary spiritual point of reference. Sunday School and worship, Weekday Ministries and VBS, Klein is the main community through which God began to work in my life. I learned about the Bible, how to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and I learned the Apostle’s Creed, the Gloria Patri and the Doxology. We took communion together, celebrated baptisms together, and for the most part we loved each other, with Jesus at the center of it all. I went through Confirmation and MYF and flesh was put on some of these things that I’d done for years without full understanding. I was taken by the beauty of it all, the fantastic drama of God’s love for us and his invitation for us to join him in the sharing of that love.

    While growing up in that environment, I waffled wildly about what I thought I’d do when I “grew up.” Most of those occupations were scientific, but ministry was in the back of my mind from a very early age. Even as I went to college to study physics the thought of some kind of vocational ministry steadily grew and grew, until I was unable to imagine studying anything other than theology. After a brief post-graduate stint in corporate America as a software consultant I did the only thing that seemed good and right and holy and sane. I went to seminary.

    After a season of prayer and discernment God called me to a small seminary in Seattle, Washington. But the longer I was up there, the more I longed to come back to my old spiritual family in the Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. I fell under the influence of some of Wesley’s influences on the topic of sanctification (Anabaptism and Eastern Orthodoxy), rediscovered Paul through the writings of a few Methodist New Testament scholars (Richard Hays and Michael Gorman), and fell in love with high-church liturgy. I met several times with an associate pastor from FUMC Seattle to discuss what the ordination process looks like in the UMC. She was kind and encouraging. So, after another season of prayer and discernment, God called me to come back down to Houston and follow him by serving his church among the people called Methodists.

    And so again, my calling is to be a servant of Christ’s church -— to nurture the church and to call it to live more fully into its mission as God’s embassy in word and deed to a broken and hurting world.

    I would be greatly humbled at the opportunity to live that out as an elder in the United Methodist Church. But given the complications primarily involving my education** I’m not entirely sure how all of this is going to play out. For some time I’ve been in conversation with my pastor and others about tweaking my current job in a few ways and turning it into a Licensed Local Pastor position. The thought of that is exciting for several reasons, but more recently as I’ve struggled with where I’m at, where the UMC says that I need to be at, and what God’s will might have to say about all that, I have come to the decision that I probably need to take a year to discern. So at present my understanding is that I’m called to seek certified candidacy while I seek God’s will, hopefully in continued holy conversation with our District Committee on Ordained Ministry and other trusted mentors, colleagues and friends. I’m not sure what God has for me in the medium to long-range future. But I am hopeful that God will see me through, and regardless of what happens my prayer is that God would bless the United Methodist Church and form it more and more into a body oriented toward the worship of and the witness to Jesus Christ our Lord.

    **The United Methodist Church requires that Candidates receive a Masters of Divinity degree from a seminary approved by the University Senate of the UMC, or its equivalent. My seminary is not on the University Senate’s list, and in spite of the phenomenal amount of assistance I’ve received we have not been able to find someone willing and able to determine what “or equivalent” means. One can also take an alternative route involving what’s called “course of study”, but this route has a built in age requirement: 40 years old. This 28 year old tends to think that’s a bit of a reach. This difficult dynamic made the last paragraph of this response by far the most difficult to write. Nonetheless I remain hopeful, albeit a bit discouraged of late.

    UMC Candidacy Questions: Most Formative Experience

    by  • February 16, 2012 • 2 Comments

    As a part of the candidacy process for ordination in the United Methodist Church one is required to type up and submit answers to a number of different questions and prompts. As I approach my meeting with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry on Thursday, February 23, I will be posting a few of my responses here. The first of these responses follows, below.

    ¶ 311.2.a.i: What is the most formative experience of your Christian life?

    I could answer this question by talking about my church growing up, or the amazing and encouraging friends that God has blessed me with, or my experience in seminary and how it was probably exactly what I needed right when I needed it – all are wonderful gifts from God. But I think at this point I’d like to say that the most formative experience of my Christian life has been my current job as director of youth ministries at Aldersgate UMC in Santa Fe, TX.

    This charge is strengthening my faith. I loved seminary, but writing an exegetical paper on a passage from Isaiah (for instance) is much easier to me than convincing a roomful of skeptical 9th graders that God has done something dramatic and beautiful -— even exciting -— for us and for our world, and that God wants us to participate in the continuation of that drama, beauty and excitement that he’s still doing today. It’s not that I don’t already have faith, or that I don’t already believe these things that I teach. I most certainly do. But the exercise of having to explain my faith and why I’m so excited about it, and having to do so in different words and from different angles, has been deeply formative for me. It’s as if my mouth having to form the gospel is teaching my heart all over again how to love it. Having to explain why the good news is so good enhances and enlivens that goodness for me. Talking about how exciting God’s reign is has made God’s reign even more exciting.

    Further, being at Aldersgate encourages me to pray. There’s nothing that has encouraged prayer more consistently and humbly in my life than my being responsible for the spiritual formation of this small band of young people. Jesus claims that there’s a lot at stake here. Evidently messing this up might end worse for me than if I had a millstone tied around my neck at the bottom of the sea. But I’m also humbled and driven to prayer by the simple fact that I love these teens that I get to work with, and I care deeply for the families with whom I interact. And so I give thanks often, and I intercede on their behalf. What a gift!

    Lastly, my time at Aldersgate continues to grow my love for Christ’s church. Churches are messy. Sometimes we fight or bicker. Sometimes we spend way to much time talking about things that are really just silly distractions. And sometimes we do a terrible job of loving each other, not to mention our neighbors and our enemies. But sometimes the church gets it. Sometimes we catch a vision, if only a fleeting one, of God’s mercy and grace, and sometimes we even act on that vision. Sometimes we live out our allegiance to God’s Reign instead of trying to fortify our own reigns. Sometimes, if just for a moment, the church lives into her calling by really and truly worshipping God, and by really and truly living into God’s mission for which he’s sending us out into the world. Church is messy, sure. But by a miracle of grace God nurtures and shapes these messy bodies into what will become his bride. Aldersgate can be messy. And yet somehow God still manages to offer us his Sanctifying grace. And that has been deeply formative for me.