Blueprint 1543 – A New Science & Theology Venture – Launches

Justin Barrett and Rebecca Dorsey Sok have co-founded a new venture, Blueprint 1543, with a mission to integrate Christian theology and the sciences to answer life’s biggest questions. The Knoxville-based organization is focusing on three broad initiatives—leadership development, sciences-engaged theology, and science stewardship—supported by a portfolio of programs and projects. Blueprint 1543 will be developing their own projects, as well as consulting and coaching for partner organizations. Sok and Barrett have managed over $16 million in grants with multiple funding partners (such as the AT project, and TheoPsych: Bringing Theology to Mind). This new venture signals their exit from running Fuller Theological Seminary’s Office for Science, Theology, and Religion (STAR), which also supported interdisciplinary research and programs in faith-science integration. Sarey Martin Concepción joins Barrett and Sok as Blueprint 1543’s Director of Communication. BP1543 is currently building its roster of partners from the fields of theology, philosophy, and the sciences. To stay up to date on projects and opportunities, follow on Facebook, Twitter, or sign up for their newsletter. More information at www.blueprint1543.org.

Angels – The Andrew Fuller Virtual Conference

Among the fascinations of western culture in the early twenty-first century are angels and extra-terrestrial beings. Yet the church, which has a rich history of reflecting on such beings, especially angels, is virtually silent about the subject. This is especially true of those people who prize the Bible, namely, Evangelicals, who have largely ceded this subject to Western culture. This conference is nothing less than an opening exercise in the retrieval and recovery of a biblical angelology from some of the great Christian thinkers of the past–Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards–as well as a study of how popular Christian culture has shaped thinking about angels. Come and join us for a day of intellectual feasting and delight!

SCHEDULE

Friday, September 25, 2020 

9:00 AM Augustine & the Patristic Tradition  | Corneliu C. Simuţ

10:45 AM John Calvin | Herman J. Selderhuis

12:00 PM Lunch

1:30 PM    Jonathan Edwards & Evangelical Tradition | Dustin Benge

3:15 PM    Isaac Ambrose & the Puritan Tradition | Tom Schwanda

4:30 PM Dinner

6:30 PM    Charles H. Spurgeon & the Baptist Tradition | Tom Nettles

8:15 PM    C.S. Lewis & Billy Graham | Michael J. Plato

REGISTRATION

COST | $35REGISTER

The Gospel as Prisoner and Liberator of Culture

Missiologist and church historian Andrew Walls begins his classic essay, “The Gospel as Prisoner and Liberator of Culture,” with a fascinating thought experiment. An extraterrestrial who is a “Professor of Comparative Inter-Planetary Religion” has come to earth to study the Christian religion. The alien visits Christian gatherings across various times and places.  He finds that there is historical continuity but he also discovers that these groups have significant differences. Some emphasize Jewish law, some put an emphasis on Greek metaphysics, others use rather extreme ascetical methods for sanctification, still others gather in large groups to hear individuals speak, and some seem to be fixated on invisible realities. Despite these differences there is a lot of continuity regarding some foundational beliefs, for example the centrality of Jesus, the use of Scripture, and the taking of the Lord’s supper. Yet the alien concludes, “these continuities are cloaked with such heavy veils belonging to the environment that Christians of different times and places must often be unrecognizable to others, or indeed even to themselves, as manifestations of a single phenomenon” (Walls 1996, 18).

What explains these similarities and differences? Walls suggests that there are two principles underlying Christian history: an Indigenizing Principle and a Pilgrim Principle. He says that “Church history has always been a battleground” for these two tendencies. By the “Indigenizing Principle” Walls means to say that every human being is conditioned by their historical and cultural context. Because of this, every expression of Christianity will be culturally contextual, it will be indigenized. On the other hand there is the “Pilgrim Principle.” This principle leads Christians to believe that “he has no abiding city and wars him that to be faithful to Christ will put him out of step with society… there will be rubs and frictions—not from the adoption of a new culture, but from the transformation of the mind towards that of Christ” (Walls 1996, 19).

There is a danger when Christians live out the Indigenizing Principle or the Pilgrim principle improperly. When Christians lean too heavily into the Indigenizing principle the gospel becomes a prisoner of culture. When they lean too heavily into the Pilgrim principle they lose their sense of responsibility for the culture in which God has placed them. When this happens then the gospel does not bring any transformation to society.

To be honest I see many Christians in my American context leaning towards these divergent ends of the spectrum. Perhaps this extremism is a symptom of the kind of polarization that marks our culture, I don’t know though. Regardless of why Christians are currently leaning into each principle in such extreme ways, instead of finding the appropriate response that takes into account both of these principles, the fact is that the reputation of the gospel suffers and society suffers because of this.

Future Glory in Heaven and Future Justice on Earth

I planned this discussion forum for my “Orientation to Theological Studies Course” many months ago… but the topic is especially relevant this week.

One key aspect of Derek Hicks’s essay, “Eschatology in African American Theology” was the notion that for African American theologians “eschatology is woven together by thoughts of future glory in heaven and future justice on earth.” (250)  This idea is eloquently expressed by Martin Luther King Jr. when he said that, “It’s all right to talk about ‘long white robes over yonder,’ in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! Its alright to talk about ‘streets flowing with milk and honey,’ but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.” (247)

1) If you could categorize the eschatology expressed in Martin Luther King’s quote, how would you categorize it? Why? (I.e. consistent, realized, inaugurated?)

2) In conversation with the readings and videos, reflect upon, and defend your own understanding of the balance/tension between the already-not yet of the eschaton and how that impacts our call to ministry, service, and justice.

Review: Insider Jesus by William Dyrness

William Dyrness’s book, Insider Jesus, is an attempt to provide a theological framework for evaluating “insider movements.” He adopts Scott Moreau’s definition of insider movements as, “movements to obedient faith in Christ that remain integrated with or inside their natural community.” (Dyrness 2016, 133) While Dyrness does not attempt to evaluate insider movements he presents an account of contextualization and the relationship between culture and religion that should help missiologists make decisions about how God is at work in these movements.

The book focuses on contextualization. Old forms of contextualization he says “do not capture the hermeneutical and dialogical character of missions.” (Dyrness 2016, 4) A proper understanding of contextualization will understand that religion is a part of culture and that religion forms the hermeneutical spaces for understanding the gospel. Thus he says, “Religion, then, in its basic sense represents the practices associated with the human search for God, ad the times and spaces they employ in this search.” (Dyrness 2016, 101) These hermeneutical spaces are the places where people work out the meaning of God’s presence in their own culture. They are where God comes to the people he is drawing to himself.

By making use of case studies he shows that the gospel always comes to people in these hermeneutical spaces. There has never been any culture which has received the gospel outside of a religious hermeneutical space. By my lights this seems correct, however, I think that Dyrness’s thesis about the role of religion as a hermeneutical space needs to be modified in light of secular humanism. Either he will have to deny the claim that the gospel has always come to people in the context of a religion or he will have to redefine what is meant by religion in order to account for the non-religious secular humanists.

William Dyrness, Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2016).

Review: Walking with the Poor

In Walking with the Poor, Bryan Myers presents theoretical background as well as practical direction for doing the work of “Transformational Development.” The book begins with a survey of scholarship regarding theories of development. From there Myers provides a biblical theology of development. This section surveys Roman Catholic thought on the topic before explaining how the entire narrative of scripture informs transformational development. One key idea in this section is that the story which ought to frame our understanding of development is not the story of capitalism or modernity, rather it is the story of the gospel. The individuals who take part in development also have stories; the development workers have stories, the community in which development takes place has stories. The biblical story reorients all these stories, provide a picture of what reality actually is like.

Bryant then transitions from thinking about the theology behind development to thinking about the nature of poverty. He draws upon the work of Jayakumar Christian, a PhD graduate from Fuller and a colleague of his while at World Vision, to argue that the nature of poverty is relational. He says, “The poor are poor largely because they live in networks of relationships that do not work for their wellbeing.” (Myers 2011, Kindle Loc 779) Yet it is not only the materially poor who ought to be considered poor. The “non-poor” are also poor in another sense. They are not who God created them to be. They fail to live out their God-given identity and vocation because they embody a god-complex.

One key idea in the practice of development is “transformational development.” This is a holistic approach to the development of the entire person in the context of their community. By helping people to discover their true identity as children of God and by empowering them to fulfill their vocation—originally given in Genesis 1 as the cultural mandate—developers can help take the poor out of poverty.

Myers does a good job of articulating a gospel-centered account of transformation. If understanding one’s identity and one’s vocation is a crucial step in coming out of poverty then this means that the gospel will need to be clearly articulated. There needs to be a clear explanation—in terms of life, word, and deed—that explains God’s good design for humanity, it’s fall, and its rescue through Christ.

Overall, this book serves as a great introduction to the idea of development. It provides a history of the practice, a theology that undergirds it, and practical steps for doing it well as Christians.

Review: Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions – Anthony Bradley

Anthony Bradley’s edited volume, Aliens in the Promised Land, is a collection of essays on the topic of minority leadership in evangelical Christian churches and institutions. These essays were complied so that evangelical institutions might learn how to adequately address issues of race that often lie underneath the surface. On the surface, it seems as though there has been much progress in the area of race and leadership in evangelicalism. Despite appearances, however, what seems like progress, Bradley explains, is actually tokenism. Amos Yong, in an essay titled “Race and Racialization in Post-Racist Evangelicalism” summarizes the situation well. He says that, although it appears that “evangelicals live in a post-racist world—at least in the sense that racism is illegal in this country…there are strong undercurrents of racialization that persist.” (Yong, 45) What is racialization, he defines it as “the social process of devaluing nonwhite ethnicity and culture, of subordinating the latter to the dominant white regime, and in some cases, even seeking to eliminate such from the contemporary cultural landscape.” (Yong, 45) One example of devaluing nonwhite ethnicity—an example provided by Ralph Watkins in his essay—is the fact that in many schools the theological curriculum excludes voices of nonwhite scholars. (Watkins, 126)

In the afterword Anthony Bradley describes four changes that will need to happen in evangelical churches, colleges, and seminaries if they are going to produce the kind of racial solidarity that ought to mark the church. First, there is a need to “situate discussion of race within an understanding of white privilege.” (Bradley, 153) Second, these institutions need to “Advance racial solidarity in ways that do not require minorities to conform to white evangelical cultural norms.” (Bradley, 154) Third, there is a need to, “Understand that multiethnicity is not necessarily progress. Fourth, there needs to be an attempt to “Develop leaders who are not white males.” (Bradley, 154) Finally, these institutions need to, “Recognize the necessity and importance of homogeneous ethnic churches because of the reality of white dominance in American society.” (Bradley, 155)

There are a number of elements that I appreciated in this book. Carl F. Ellis Jr’s essay on discipling urban men is especially helpful for my own ministry context working among a (primarily) urban Latino population. As an aspiring theologian and teacher I found it very helpful that a number of the essays addressed the issue of race in educational settings. I can affirm first hand the observations of Vincent Bacote that institutions like ETS—while not explicitly trying to do so—can feel alienating to minorities and to women. I found Ralph Watkins’ essay and his stress on thinking carefully about what our curriculum speaks to students to be very insightful as well. The most helpful part of the book was the appendix which contained the report on “Racism and the Church” that was formulated in 1994 by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. This report provides a number of definitions including: racism, race, culture, ethnic group, ethnocentrism, prejudice, and power. Naturally one can dispute specific definitions, nevertheless, they serve as a helpful starting point for discussions about race and theology. Conspicuously absent from this book, however, are the voices of minority women. This absence is especially surprising given that Bradley calls for the development of “leaders who are not white males.” (Bradley, 154)

Call for Papers: The Jonathan Edwards Miscellanies Companion, Volume 2

Call for Papers: The Miscellanies Companion, Volume 2

Call for Submissions

Students and scholars are now invited to contribute essays for publication in The Miscellanies Companion, Volume 2, Foreword by Kenneth P. Minkema, Executive Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. Click here for details about the previous Miscellanies Companion.

Participants in this project must have at minimum a master’s degree in history, theology, philosophy, religious studies, literature, or related fields, or be able to demonstrate their qualifications to contribute to the project.

Topic Selection

The first step for contributors will be identifying their topics of interest.

  • Peruse the Table to the Miscellanies for subjects of interest.
  • Select a topic (not the Miscellanies numbers).
  • Complete the submission form.
  • Upon approval, contributors will be contacted with next steps and essay guidelines.

For more information see here: https://www.jesociety.org/2020/04/07/call-for-papers-the-miscellanies-companion-volume-2/ 

Call for Papers: Christian Theology in the Midst of COVID-19 – Society for the Study of Theology

Christian Theology in the Midst of COVID-19
Online conference: Wednesday 17th June, 12:00-18:00 British Summer Time

Invitation and call for papers

It is planned that the conference will take place online on Wednesday 17th June from 12:00 to 18:00 British Summer time. Details of the online platform to be used will be confirmed later.

This online conference is an attempt to stimulate some initial theological reflection on the global COVID-19 pandemic. Topics for discussion could include: reading the Scriptures in a time of pandemic; historical Christian responses to plagues and pandemics; divine providence, justice and mercy in relation to COVID-19; politics, economics and the common good; ecclesiology, liturgy, worship and mission; ethical questions; questions about trauma, suffering and loss; how to resource the churches’ responses.

Proposals for papers of up to 3,000 words are invited on any of the topics outlined above, or others related to the theme. Since this is an initial exercise in theological reflection, it is recognised that papers might present first thoughts rather than definitive conclusions about the topics addressed. However, academic rigour and potential to make a valuable contribution to the discussion will nonetheless be the criteria used to selecting papers for presentation.

It is anticipated that each paper will have a 30-40 minute time slot. The presenter will have up to 10 minutes to give a brief introduction to the paper, and the remainder of the time will be for discussion. Papers will be circulated to all participants one week before the conference, and presenters should therefore submit them two weeks before the conference date (i.e. by 3rd June).

To submit a paper proposal, please e-mail an abstract of up to 250 words by Thursday 30th April to the organiser, Prof. Neil Messer: Neil.Messer@winchester.ac.uk

To register for the conference, please send your name and email address by Wednesday 27th May to:Neil.Messer@winchester.ac.uk.

For full details, please follow this link.

The Enduring Validity of Cross-Cultural Mission

I recently read an article by Lesslie Newbigin titled, “The Enduring Validity of Cross-Cultural Mission.” It was originally presented as an address at the dedication of the new location of the “Overseas Ministries Study Center” on October 5, 1987. In this essay he discusses some of the sentiments that lie behind the center’s former use of the word “foreign missions” to “overseas ministries.” Behind this change, in part, was that the old term carried with it a hint of arrogance. (50) The term “foreign missions” connoted expansionist, colonialist, and primarily Western notions. Also behind this change was contemporary embarrassment about the missionary movements of the past century. (50) In some ways, Newbigin explains, the shift in terms is welcome. After all, the “gospel escapes domestication,” it is “universal, supranational, [and] supracultural. Yet, despite these shifts, he argues, “the foreign missionary is an enduring necessity in the life of the universal church.” (50) Increasingly these foreign missionaries are coming from the global south to the West.

Although Newbigin’s article focuses quite a bit on the shift in attitudes about mission, the heart of this essay seems to be about how the reality and truth of the gospel clash with Western pluralistic values. Thus, he says, “If there was a danger of arrogance in the call for the evangelization of the world in that generation, there is a greater danger of timidity and compromise when we lower our sights and allow the gospel to be domesticated within our culture, and the churches to become merely the domestic chaplains to the nation.” (50) One of these contemporary dangers is pluralism. Pluralism undermines the missionary task. If the gospel simply becomes statements about religious experiences, rather than statements of truth, then the gospel cannot be announced as the good news that it actually is. The kind of relativism that has taken hold of Western society not only undermines the missionary task. It undermines the gospel itself. The gospel has a particular narrative. It includes an account of what it means to be human, what God intended for humans. The gospel tells us how this story of God and humanity hinges on the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (52) If this is not a universal story, but merely one story among billions of other individual (relativized) stories, then why should Christians be concerned to share it with others?

The fact that the gospel is a story that is universal in scope, he argues, also has implications for ecumenicism and inter-religious dialogue. The church across time and space bears witness to this story, thus it can engage in dialogue despite differences. On the other hand, there is what can be called “the larger ecumenicism,” which is not simply inter-religious dialogue, it is the thought that all the religions of the earth can and should move to form one fellowship across doctrinal differences. (52) Such a possibility is pluralistic and reveals a source of unity besides God himself.

There are a missiological implications that come to my mind when I read this particular essay: 1) how the gospel presents a metanarrative that clashes with other narratives, 2) how pluralism undermines the preaching of the gospel, and 3) the need to discern how particular cultural narratives fit into the larger narrative of the gospel.

You can read the essay here: http://www.internationalbulletin.org/issues/1988-02/1988-02-050-newbigin.pdf