Archive for the ‘Nonviolence’ Category

My Spring Course on N.T. Wright

Friday, November 30th, 2012

If you are anywhere in the Baltimore–DC–Wilimington–York, PA–Northern Virginia area and you appreciate the work of N.T. Wright, you may wish to consider my spring course at the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University. This is a graduate course, but there are no prerequisites other than having a bacherlor’s degree with a decent GPA. The course is available for credit or audit.

BS/ST509/709 The Writings of N.T. Wright

Thursday, 6-9 p.m., January 14-March 21 (3 graduate credits)

[This is a combination biblical and systematic theology course offered at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.]

Course Description:

An exploration of some of the biblical, theological, and pastoral writings of the contemporary British Anglican scholar N.T. Wright, with attention to the significance of his work for the life of the church.

Course Requirements for all students:

1. Regular attendance and prepared participation in class discussion.

2. Five 100-word reaction posts online (not due when doing discussion-starter paper).

3. Two one-page discussion-starter papers, with summary and discussion questions.

4. One book review of 2,000 words.

5. Class presentation and final, synthetic paper of 2,000 words on some aspect of N. T. Wright’s writings.

Additional Requirement for 700-level students (matriculated degree and certificate candidates):

Same as above plus one additional book review on an additional book by N.T. Wright.

For C.A.S. (Certificate of Advanced Studies) students, the additional book must be a major work approved by the instructor.

Required Texts:

Kurt, Stephen. Tom Wright for Everyone: Putting the Theology of N.T. Wright into Practice in the Local Church. 978-0281063932.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). For All God’s Worth: The Worship and Calling of the Church. 978-0802843197.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. 978-0061920622.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. 978-0062084392.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. 978-0061551826.

Wright, N.T. (Tom). What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? 978-0802844453.

Some additional online reading and video viewing.

Recommended:

Perrin, Nicholas and Richard B. Hays, eds. Jesus, Paul, and the People of God. 978-0830838974.

Applications for the Ecumenical Institute’s 2013 spring term are due by Monday, December 3, though late applications will be considered. For admission requirements, go to http://www.stmarys.edu/ei/ei_adm_overview.htm, or contact Zenaida Bench at zbench@stmarys.edu or 410/864-4202. Registration continues until spring-term classes begin. See the course brochure at http://www.stmarys.edu/ei/ei_semester.htm for an overview of all of next term’s course offerings.

We believe there is no better way to begin study at the Ecumenical Institute than walking and talking with a friend (see Luke 24:13-14). To encourage that, we offer a one-time tuition incentive for new students who begin together: a tuition remission of 50% for both of you on your first “E.I.” course.

If you and someone you know are considering theological study, this is your opportunity to encourage one another to explore and discern together. You can take the same class or try different courses and compare notes.

Your walk begins with just one course… and may lead to…

  • more courses…
  • or perhaps a certificate in Biblical Studies, Faith Community/Parish Nursing, Religious Education, Spirituality, Urban Ministry, or Youth and Family Ministry…
  • or even a Master of Arts Degree in Theology or Church Ministries.

For more information, please contact the Ecumenical Institute office at ei@stmarys.edu or 410/864-4200.

Justice and Nonviolence Lectures at Eastern Mennonite

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

If you happen to live anywhere near Harrisonburg, Virginia, do come to Eastern Mennonite University for the annual Bible and Religion Department Justice Lectures, which I will give on Tuesday, November 8. The two lectures will be as follows:

  • Lecture One: 3:30 p.m. Paul, Apostle of Nonviolence
  • Lecture Two: 7:00 p.m. Paul, Apostle of Justification and Justice

On Misreading “Greater love…” (John 15:13)

Monday, May 30th, 2011

In my previous post, I counseled preachers not to apply John 15:13 to war-deaths. Of course I know it is done all the time. By coincidence, an old (very old!) set of friendships is being renewed on Facebook over this issue. Below is what has transpired in the last 24 hours among me (MJG), old friend #1 (FB1), and old friend #2 (FB2).

FB1: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13


This Memorial Day weekend, take time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, thank those who served and serve today to preserve that freedom, and pray “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”

MJG: With all due respect, FB1, wasn’t our Lord in John 15 talking about his disciples abiding in him and imitating his radical love, rather than patriots??

FB1: ?”By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:35. I choose not to dwell on the distinction between discipleship and patriotism at this time, but rather on the intersection of the same.

MJG: Once again, with all due respect, I would suggest that that is one of the most serious–and potentially dangerous choices–one can make. It’s worth thinking through again, IMHO.

FB2: Actually, Mike, Jesus was equating what he was about to do (willingly get crucified) as setting an example of the ultimate sacrifice one can exhibit. Whether for your country or your beliefs, willing offering your life still fits the example.

MJG: FB2, I would agree that Jesus is setting an example, but he is speaking to his disciples about their willingness to die for one another and for him, as disciples, in their mission in the midst of a hostile world. (See the rest of John 13-17.) He is not enunciating a general principle but articulating a potential consequence of being his friend in the world that killed him. Applying this to other kinds of deaths robs it of its meaning for mission and discipleship. Jesus is not creating a proverb (“dying for friends is a loving thing to do”) but borrowing and radically redirecting one.

FB1: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14

To expand upon my admittedly oblique point, I believe it is easier (the broad road) to compartmentalize our faith. In so doing, many have isolated themselves to some extent from the world and the issues of the world. But I make the more dangerous (narrow road) choice of integrating my faith with my life to the extent that God grants me courage, so that all of my words and actions may be brought under the Lordship of Christ. Thus, I focus on the intersection of my faith and my patriotism.

MJG: FB1, I certainly agree that our lives should not be bifurcated, and that all of life is to be brought under the Lordship of Christ. But as a good friend of mine says, “If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.” Or, to put it differently, the reign of God and the Lordship of Christ challenge all our other allegiances. More to the contextual point about the quote from John, I think Jesus is telling his disciples (and therefore us) that his kingdom is indeed worth dying for. But other kingdoms do not have the right to demand our bodies and ultimate allegiances, at least in part because their claim on our dying includes a corollary, inextricable, and ultimately unChristian claim on our killing. In other words, the church is called to make and honor martyrs, not soldiers.

Memorial Day Preaching Suggestions

Friday, May 27th, 2011

This weekend, in the U.S., churches will be filled with civil religion as the civil part of the liturgical year (Memorial Day to Thanksgiving), as practiced here, kicks off.

Suggestions for what not to do this weekend if you are among those who will be preaching and choose to make some reference to the U.S. holiday/ holy-day:

1. Do not glorify war. Consider using a quote from a war-seasoned expert about war. Eisenhower, for instance, said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

2. Do not sacralize war. War is not a holy enterprise, a crusade led by God and God’s representatives on earth, but a human project caused by failures and full of evils, no matter what its rationale or outcome.

3. Do not make war salvific or Christian  by misapplying Jesus’ statement in John 15:3 about his own loving death and about radical discipleship (“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”) to war-deaths.

4. Do not let anyone leave the church thinking that any nation is the kingdom of God, or that any nation deserves the unqualified allegiance and praise due to God alone.

5. Do not let anyone leave the church thinking that there is anything more important than worshiping God and following Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.

6. Do not let anyone leave the church thinking, “Man, that was a great sermon about this great country and our great wars!”

And one thing to do:

Make sure everyone leaves the church knowing it is Easter season and Pentecost is around the corner! It is the season of life and peace and promise.

Must-See Film: “Of Gods and Men”

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

If you have not yet heard of this film, it is the story of a small monastery in Algeria that lives among and serves the local Muslim population, including the provision of medical treatment. When terrorists come into the region in 1996, the eight men must decide whether to flee or stay.

Their work, struggle, and witness, both before and during the crisis, are stirring examples of cruciform love that expresses itself in interfaith sensitivity, solidarity, and courage. My advice: find it and see it–now.

Obama at Tucson: A Christian Response

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

I have finally found the words to say something Christian (cruciform and anastiform) about Tucson and Obama–but they are someone else’s words! They are a blog post for the religion page (I think) of a Kansas newspaper. The writer is Tim Suttle, a former student of my good friend Andy Johnson at Nazarene Seminary in Kansas City, and can be found here.

A couple of excerpts:

Cultivating a Christian response to tragic events such as those in Tucson can be tricky business. The emotions are immediate, of course. We feel pain, grief, even fear. We look at the pictures of the warm, vibrant 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green and wonder why this happened to her. We hear the story of how she was born on 9/11; her destiny, it seems, is to be given to the world and taken from it in the midst of national tragedy. Once the emotions begin to ebb, we move past them as we to try to make some sense of what has happened and formulate our response.

That those who were killed and wounded by the shooter were attempting to participate in the grassroots of American political discourse makes the Christian response even more challenging. We Christians struggle with our involvement in the political realm. Too often we conflate our ideology, be it liberal or conservative, with our faith, baptizing our political beliefs with Christian language and attacking those who disagree. Perhaps this is because we have not realized that our faith is itself a politic — a way of organizing our common life together — meant to transcend typical left-right distinctions. Our faith is meant to define the way we interact with the world, the way we meet all reality, even pain and death.

The most basic tenet of Christianity is that the future of God has broken into the present time through Jesus Christ. Thus we are not victims of the way things are, but we are now free to participate in God’s redemptive project. We may have limited capacities, but we have the ability to choose the future we wish to enact. Our response to tragedy cannot be one of cynicism, skepticism or despair. It must be the response of hope and healing. Our participation in the national discourse at this or any other time should not be infused with the rhetoric of the right or the left because this is not the future to which we are committed. Our words call into being a certain kind of future — one which transcends national politics. Embracing words that heal and eschewing words that wound is a Christian response.

That we are now becoming what we shall one day be eliminates the cynical Christian response. If we are cynical we will enjoin a world of cynicism. If we are skeptical we will no doubt engender a world of skepticism. When it comes to cynicism and despair, there are no victims; there are only willing accomplices. Christians can afford to be peaceful in a world with too much violence. We can be hopeful in a world with too much despair. It is a deeply Christian act to use words that heal, and healing needs all the words it can get.

Two Swords? Ben Witherington and A-J Levine Clarify

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

On his blog, Ben Witherington quotes from his forthcoming commentary on Luke, co-authored by Jewish NT scholar A-J Levine, to lay to rest the misinterpretation of Luke 22:38 as support for Jesus’ disciples taking up arms. Particularly important is his reminder that the Greek text does not say “Two swords are enough” but merely “Enough!”–end of discussion!

Paul’s Letter to American Christians, by Dr. M.L. King, Jr.

Monday, January 17th, 2011

In 1956 and again in 1963 Dr. King delivered a powerful sermon in the form of a letter from Paul to American Christians, which can be found here. (Please note that his remarks about the Catholic church, which may offend some, were made pre-Vatican II.) There it can be read or listened to. (Note: the script does not correspond word for word to the audio.) A few excerpts from the written text:

[Concerning general morality:]

“You have made tremendous strides in the area of scientific and technological development.

“But America, as I look at you from afar, I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress. … You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood. So America, I would urge you to keep your moral advances abreast with your scientific advances.”

[Concerning allegiance:]

“I am impelled to write you concerning the responsibilities laid upon you to live as Christians in the midst of an unChristian world. That is what I had to do. That is what every Christian has to do. But I understand that there are many Christians in America who give their ultimate allegiance to man-made systems and customs. They are afraid to be different….

“But American Christians, I must say to you as I said to the Roman Christians years ago, “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Or, as I said to the Phillipian Christians, “Ye are a colony of heaven.” This means that although you live in the colony of time, your ultimate allegiance is to the empire of eternity. You have a dual citizenry. You live both in time and eternity; both in heaven and earth. Therefore, your ultimate allegiance is not to the government, not to the state, not to nation, not to any man-made institution. The Christian owes his ultimate allegiance to God, and if any earthly institution conflicts with God’s will it is your Christian duty to take a stand against it. You must never allow the transitory evanescent demands of man-made institutions to take precedence over the eternal demands of the Almighty God.”

[Concerning capitalism:]

“I understand that you have an economic system in America known as Capitalism. Through this economic system you have been able to do wonders…. But Americans, there is the danger that you will misuse your Capitalism. I still contend that money can be the root of all evil. It can cause one to live a life of gross materialism. I am afraid that many among you are more concerned about making a living than making a life. You are prone to judge the success of your profession by the index of your salary and the size of the wheel base on your automobile, rather than the quality of your service to humanity.

“The misuse of Capitalism can also lead to tragic exploitation. This has so often happened in your nation…. God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty. God intends for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life, and he has left in this universe “enough and to spare” for that purpose. So I call upon you to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth.”

[Concerning segregation:]

“May I say just a word to those of you who are struggling against this evil. Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

“In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself. Let him know that the festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. With this attitude you will be able to keep your struggle on high Christian standards.”

[Concerning the goal of life:]

“I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may….

What is the summon bonum of life? I think I have an answer America. I think I have discovered the highest good. It is love. This principle stands at the center of the cosmos. As John says, “God is love.” He who loves is a participant in the being of God. He who hates does not know God.”"

[Concerning love, the cross, and power:]

“You may have the gift of prophecy and understanding all mysteries. You may be able to break into the storehouse of nature and bring out many insights that men never dreamed were there. You may ascend to the heights of academic achievement, so that you will have all knowledge. You may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees. But all of this amounts to absolutely nothing devoid of love.

But even more Americans, you may give your goods to feed the poor. You may give great gifts to charity. You may tower high in philanthropy. But if you have not love it means nothing…. Without love benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.

“So the greatest of all virtues is love. It is here that we find the true meaning of the Christian faith. This is at bottom the meaning of the cross. The great event on Calvary signifies more than a meaningless drama that took place on the stage of history. It is a telescope through which we look out into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking forth into time. It is an eternal reminder to a power drunk generation that love is most durable power in the world, and that it is at bottom the heartbeat of the moral cosmos. Only through achieving this love can you expect to matriculate into the university of eternal life.”

No Time for Birth: Incarnation and the Messy Subject of Abortion

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that Christians are not talking much about abortion lately, or doing much about it either. As some of you know, I have written two books on the topic, though it is not something anyone enjoys writing or talking about.

However, as we are in the season of Advent and Incarnation, a poem by Madeleine L’Engle recently came to mind as I was asked in an email, by a young public-school student (I’m guessing middle school) writing a report, what Christians think about abortion. (My response to him is printed below.)

The Irrational Season
This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.

Dear ________,

Thank you for your message and your interest in this important topic.

The answers to your questions are very complicated, because different kinds of Christians have various approaches to abortion. I will try to give you an overview of the subject.

The basic Christian view of the world is that God is the creator of all life.That gives, or should give, Christians a strong presumption against destroying any kind of life. Christians also believe that humans are made in the image of God and are special forms of creation, so that destroying human life is especially serious. Furthermore, Christians believe that God became human in and through a young woman’s womb (uterus), so that should give Christians great pause when they think about destroying human life in the uterus–abortion. Abortion, then, it would seem, is prohibited by the commandment against taking human life/murder, and is a serious form of failing to love one’s neighbor.

The earliest Christians who wrote about abortion did so less than 100 years after the time of Jesus, and they began a tradition of Christian opposition to abortion for the reasons stated above. Of course, even then, some Christian women procured abortions, but it was still seen as a grave sin. Christian women who contemplated abortion were encouraged to find other solutions, with the help of their Christian family. The same has been true for almost 2,000 years and is still true for many Christians today.

However, in the last 50 years, a growing number of Christians have gone along with the cultural attitude that because sexual activity is a right and is not necessarily connected to having children, continuing a pregnancy is a matter of choice. Many Christians just take this secular attitude for granted, while others have thought about it carefully. Today, there are basically four Christian views of abortion:

1. Abortion is never permitted.

2. Abortion is permitted only in rare circumstances (it threatens the life of mother or baby; the child will likely be seriously deformed; the pregnancy is due to rape).

3. Abortion is permitted as a last resort, for good reasons (broader and more vague reasons than those in #2), if all other options (adoption or keeping the baby) seem unworkable.

4. Abortion is permitted for any reason; it is a woman’s free choice, though the decision should be taken seriously.

The majority of practicing Christians in the world who have thought seriously about abortion probably hold to #1 or #2. Those who advocate #1 or #2 (most Catholics, evangelicals, and Eastern Orthodox, as well as many others) often try to help women in problem pregnancies by providing clothing, medical care, and/or adoption services. There is also a growing emphasis on the responsibility of Christian individuals and churches to care for such women. Pregnancy is not something to go through by oneself.

Position #3 is the basic position of many so-called “mainline” denominations, the Protestant churches that have been losing members for the last few decades Position #4 is held by a few Christian individuals and by one religious organization. Although it is not the official position of many churches, some people think it is the normal Christian position.

Much more could be said (I have written two books on the subject), but I hope this is helpful.

War is a Red Horse

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

The absence from blogging is due to my intense efforts to conclude the semester while also finishing some articles and my book on Revelation. Most posts in the immediate future will likely be related to those projects, especially the book.

One of my very favorite interpreters of Revelation is Eugene Peterson in his book Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination. If you have not read it, do so immediately. Commenting on the second horse in Revelation 6, the red horse, Peterson writes (p. 77):

For a time, writ large in the headlines, war is perceived as an evil, and there are prayers for peace. But not for long, for it is quickly glamorized as patriotic or rationalized as just. But war is a red horse, bloody and cruel, making life miserable and horrid…. The perennial ruse is to glorify war so that we accept it as a proper means of achieving goals. But it is evil. It is opposed by Christ. Christ does not sit on the red horse, ever.


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