The Emperor and the Empty Tomb

A fascinating and engaging essay from the LA Review of Books (HT: Matthew Loftus):

When Wilhelm Froehner died in 1925, at the house on the Rue Casimir-Périer where he had lived since the reign of Napoleon III, he left behind among his possessions a curious inscription that might be the oldest surviving artifact of Christianity.

Froehner, sadly, took to his grave all but the most exiguous details about how he came into possession of the stone, putting us at one further remove from being able to grasp its meaning. The Greek text of the Nazareth inscription is easy enough to interpret. But the origin of the stone, and its historical significance, are puzzles that remain both unresolved and tantalizing.


The Emperor and the Empty Tomb: An Ancient Inscription, an Eccentric Scholar, and the Human Need to Touch the Past

Chaplain Mike: Exiting the Evangelical Wilderness

Oh man, I really appreciated this summary from Chaplain Mike over at InternetMonk.com today. While my path isn’t exactly the same as his has been, I resonate strongly with several of the moves he describes. He summarizes his move from the left-hand column to the right-hand column in a little table:

It’s worth reading Mike’s little summaries of each of those movements, but I found his concluding thoughts particularly interesting:

Here is what hit me earlier this week. The differences can be summed up in two letters. “J” and “P”. You may recognize them as the final letters in the Myers Briggs personality type indicator. While Myers Briggs has been somewhat discounted, it got me wondering. Have my theological choices been largely been a product of my personality or personal preferences? Is it just coincidence that many denominations are largely in one column or the other?

Then Wednesday’s Post came along with this humdinger.

Haidt (along with Richard Beck) have convinced me that when we take a stand for “truth” or “morality,” we are primarily revealing deep, fundamental visceral and emotional feelings and then using rational arguments to justify our “righteous” position. Furthermore, those who are on the more “liberal” end of the spectrum react intuitively to different things than those on the “conservative” end. (Chaplain Mike)

[I]t makes me wonder if most of my reasons for the theological changes I have made are because of the way I am wired. If I had been wired differently maybe I would have been quite happy to stay in the church of my youth. Conversely, perhaps those who are raised in traditions like the one I am currently in, and who crave certainty in their innermost being end up in those churches that promise more of that. And perhaps there are those who find they do not fit, and chose to chuck the whole church thing altogether.

Lots for me to consider there.

A night with Bruce Hornsby’s brain

Last Friday night my wife and I had the opportunity to go hear Bruce Hornsby play a solo show at the Paramount Theater in Cedar Rapids. Hornsby is an interesting character – a fantastically talented pianist who has made his fame and fortune in rock and jam band genres, but who has made multiple bluegrass records with Ricky Skaggs and drops classical music into the middle of pop tunes.

When I first heard Hornsby’s stuff probably 10 years ago, I quickly recognized that my own piano styles and harmonizations aren’t too far away from what he plays… to the point that it was almost uncanny. So the chance to see him play in person was not one I was going to pass up.

Hornsby’s current tour is just him with a microphone and a piano (a Steinway concert grand), but with those two tools he commanded the stage for just over two hours. He set the tone by starting the concert with his biggest hit, “The Way it Is”, into which he dropped a long improvisatory section, morphed it into a couple minutes of a Bach something-or-other, and then morphed it back into the close of the song. Later on in a jam section he dropped in an avant garde ‘perpetual motion’ piece by American composer Elliott Carter. Even if he did spend the majority of his years with The Grateful Dead, the dude has serious piano chops.

When we got to our seats on the right-hand side of the theater, my wife lamented that we should’ve gotten seats on the other side so she could see his hands as he played. And I get the fascination with seeing those fingers fly over the keys. But for me the fascination was entirely a mental one.

To sit in the auditorium and engage with Hornsby’s brain as he improvised long sections was an amazing experience. I’m not a jazz player, but I hear and read jazz players talk about listening to and interacting with other jazz players, and after this Hornsby concert I finally think I understand what they’re talking about.

When you really understand the playing technique, the harmonies, the nuts and bolts of the music, then you can start to engage at a deeper level – the progressions, the expression, the choice to go around again or branch off somewhere new… it’s really quite a head trip.

I’d love to see Hornsby play again – preferably with a band next time, to experience all of those interactions. Playing good music in a talented group is a intellectually pleasurable exercise for me almost as much as a musical exercise. Sitting in the audience last weekend wasn’t as good as being in the band, but it got pretty close.

A good word from Jonathan Martin

From a recent sermon on his Son of a Preacher Man podcast:

The fake good news only sounds like good news to me and my tribe. The fake good news only sounds like good news if you go to my church. If they’re in another village, it’s bad news for them. But the real good news is not just good news for us, it’s good news for them.

It’s a sermon worth 40 minutes of your time.

You are always more ready to hear than we are to pray…

Wow, Proper 22 from the BCP this week:

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us of those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worth to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Being Christians above all else

Really good piece from Father Thomas McKenzie yesterday about living as a Christian in these divided American times. This bit is worth it alone:

Have your political opinions. Seriously, you have the right to your opinions. You also have the right to voice them. Remember that other people have the same right.

Challenge your own opinion. Where does your opinion match up with Scripture or the teachings of the Church. How does Jesus inform your opinion? Be humble enough to change your mind to match your faith.

Because someone has a different opinion, they are not your enemy. They aren’t stupid, heartless, or evil. They are likely a normal person, a sinner, just like you. They may well be someone who loves Jesus, someone you’ll live with forever in Heaven. Treat them as you would like to be treated, remembering Jesus words to “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” and “do to others as you would have them do to you.”

His call for us to be Christians first, striving for healing and peace above all else, is a challenge to me. Worth reading the whole thing.


Living as a Christian in our Divided Nation

Social media exhausted me again

Social media exhausted me again.

If I’m more self-reflective I guess I have to say I exhausted myself on social media again.

Back a year ago in November I did a social media fast. For two months I was off Facebook and Twitter altogether. When I came back to it I pared back my Twitter follows, from ~600 to ~300.

In March, after the latest Facebook privacy mess, I decided it was time to be done with Facebook. And so I deactivated my Facebook account.

But over the last few months I’ve let them sneak back up on me.

I had the best intentions – my church’s online community (mid-week announcements, reminders, prayer requests, etc) are all on a closed Facebook group. I also enjoy the Christ and Pop Culture Facebook group. But it turns out I don’t really enjoy Facebook that much, and if I have it on my phone it keeps sucking me in.

Twitter I’m more attached to. I have friends that I’ve made and kept in contact with almost exclusively on social media, and I keep thinking how much I don’t want to lose track of them. But then Geof deleted his Twitter account, and Stephen and Misty are rarely on it anymore, and Dan much more rarely, and John almost never. I feel there’s an opportunity here to still have interaction with online and distant friends… but we’ve apparently all decided as a group that Facebook and Twitter aren’t the right thing for it anymore. (If you guys are all running some Friends and Family Slack group and you haven’t invited me…)

I still do find some value on Twitter, but I’ve gotta cut my follows hard again. The Kavanaugh thing sucked me in again to where politics attained an outsized priority compared to everything else. I know better… but wow it sucks me in.

So, here’s to less frenzy on social media, and more focus on things that matter (acknowledging that some of those things might actually still happen on social media!). Maybe I’ll do some more blogging. And if we need to resurrect a phpBB forum or something to interact with distant friends, maybe let’s do that, eh?

Three dimensions of salvation by allegiance

I’m reading Matthew W. Bates’ Salvation By Allegiance Alone this week, in which he argues that the word the Apostle Paul uses that is usually translated “faith” (pistis in the Greek) is better understood as “allegiance” in relationship to salvation. It’s an interesting way to look at things.

Bates argues that the essential proclamation of the Gospel in the NT doesn’t culminate in Jesus’ death and resurrection but rather continues to his ascension and reign as king and lord. He outlines it in eight points:

Jesus the king

  1. Preexisted with the Father,
  2. Took on human flesh, fulfilling God’s promises to David,
  3. Died for sins in accordance with the scriptures,
  4. Was buried,
  5. Was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
  6. Appeared to many,
  7. Is seated at the right hand of God as Lord, and
  8. Will come again as judge.

This is pretty well in line with NT Wright, not an uncommon take. Bates then outlines three “dimensions” of allegiance that he contends are components of salvific allegiance:

  • Intellectual agreement – basic assent that those eight components of the Gospel are true statements;
  • Confession of Loyalty – leaning heavily on Romans 10:9-10 here
  • Embodied fidelity – what he describes as “practical fidelity” to Jesus as Lord, referencing heavily to Matthew 7 and the “not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord'” text.

None of this appears to be hugely controversial at this point, but the reframing is helpful to me to get my head around how we might articulate salvation by grace through faith and yet still say that faith without works is dead.

More to come, I’m sure.

Biblical intersectionality

“Intersectionality” is a concept that has been a popular punching bag of many conservatives, including evangelical Christian ones, in the past year or two. But today, in the midst of a post responding to John MacArthur and co’s statement on social justice, Dr. Joel McDurmon provides an example of the principles of intersectionality right out of the book of Acts:

For example, “intersectionality” in its most general form refers to how different classes of people in society experience power or the lack of it differently, and how belonging to multiple classes can compound that one way or another.

That may lead to all kinds of Marxist claptrap about class warfare, etc., but it is not an illegitimate idea altogether. If you were a helpless widow in first century Israel, you would not have judged it illegitimate at all. If you crossed multiple social classes and were, for example, a Greek-speaking widow in the first century church, you may have been the first to recognize you were being overlooked, neglected, left out, and you may have complained about it in those terms. This is exactly what happened (Acts 6:1–7).

When faced with just such an example of intersectionality in the early church, the Apostles went the extra mile to make sure the marginalized group was cared for. The church met this intersectional social concern directly and ordained six Greek­-named deacons to serve the Greek speaking widows among their Hebrew society.

Fascinating insight.


Response to “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel”