Williams v. Spong

bls at The Topmost Apple blog has a timely reminder that not all, or even most, progressive Anglicans derive their theology from the writings of the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, retired Bishop of Newark.

The former Bishop of Monmouth, for example, had this to say about one of Spong's theses:

[Spong's] objections seem to be to God as a being independent of the universe who acts within the universe in a way closely analogous to the way in which ordinary agents act. The trouble is that, while this might describe the belief of some rationalist divines in the modern period, and while it might sound very like the language of a good many ordinary religious practitioners, it bears no relation at all to what any serious theologian, from Origen to Barth and beyond, actually says about God - or, arguably, to what the practice of believers actually implies, whatever the pictorial idioms employed.

Whatever their disagreements with Rowan Williams in his role as the Archbishop of Canterbury, many progressive Anglicans still revere him as a theologian.

Religion in apes?

Christian Sheppard, who holds a doctorate in divinity from the University of Chicago, and is working on a book about "King Kong" and religion after Darwin, has a fascinating essay about evidence of religious activity in apes in Sightings, the online journal of the Martin Marty Center.

He describes the evidence, and suggests some larger implications for our own faith:

Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo recently hosted a conference on chimpanzee cognition and culture, "The Mind of the Chimpanzee." The most recent research confirms that chimpanzees possess a sense of self, a theory of mind, strong memory, empathy, politics, and culture. One further question to ask is whether our fellow apes also possess religion.

Jane Goodall has posed this question. She observed long ago that, during the rainy season, male chimpanzees display before the storm's thunder, lightning, wind, and rain by beating their chests, pulling down branches, and shaking the limbs and trunks of trees while hooting and screaming. Such displays usually mean to convey strength to rivals. Goodall speculates that this "rain dance" behavior might be an attempt to get the storm to stop. Chimpanzees in different communities exhibit behaviors that are unique to their time and place, for example, fishing for termites with sticks or using stones to break branches. Ethological observations of such cultural behavior have been corroborated by laboratory experiments. The rain dance behavior has since been observed in other, though not all, wild chimpanzee groups, and so is properly considered cultural. Might it also be religious?

For humans, thunderstorms are a traditional inspiration for religion. Giambattista Vico speculated that religion began with our early ancestors' terror at the lightning and thunder of Zeus. In the summer of 1505, Martin Luther, terrified by a lightning storm, cried, "Help, Saint Anna, I will become a monk" and, true to his word, entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt. James Joyce, when asked why he was afraid of thunder when his children weren't, said, "Ah, they have no religion." In this spirit, Lucretius asserted that religion begins in fear.

Goodall, however, offers an alternative beginning: "With a display of strength such as [the rain dance], primitive man himself might have challenged the elements." The chimpanzees' response, courageously facing the fearful unknown of the storm, is exemplary. As Aristotle observed, courage is the first virtue, without which all others are moot. Jane Goodall showed personal courage in facing dangerous apes in the wild as well as in working in an African political climate that was not always safe. Goodall also showed intellectual courage in resisting the biases of her contemporaries, and holding to her own observations and the resulting intuitions that apes possess intelligence and emotion akin to our own. She persevered with groundbreaking work that has found its fruition in the research results and the careers exhibited at the Lincoln Park Zoo conference.

With the kind of courage exhibited by Goodall -- physical, intellectual, and spiritual -- a better kind of religious sensibility may be cultivated. We need a piety that seeks greater understanding of our essential links to nature, a piety that fosters wonder. Wonder, as Plato said, is the beginning of philosophy, and philosophy yet may be the handmaid of religion.

Freud, the second large male in Goodall's group in Gombe, may be our guide. Freud was observed "rain dancing" furiously not in a storm but in front of a powerful waterfall. Afterwards he sat still for a long time and seemed to contemplate the torrent. Might Freud after his courageous display be in his way wondering at the fall's ceaseless and mighty torrent?

Goodall has eloquently argued that religion and science need not be separate; indeed, they must inform one another. The scientific study of chimpanzees allows us to reflect upon a kind of consciousness akin to our own. When those intelligent and passionate fellow apes look up at a random and violent force and challenge that force with their own strength, we can recognize and ought to respect a better part of ourselves that still has the courage to face the always wonderful but often terrifying unknown in nature.

Evolutionary biology has demonstrated how great a role random violence has played in creating our current nature's order, however beautiful it is. We are a part of this natural world. It is this essential connection to the natural order that makes it intelligible to us. We can come to understand it better if, to our ape brethren, we may be brave enough to say: I will praise thee, for I too am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Read it here..

Jane Goodall's article "Rain Dance" (Science and Spirit) can be read here..

Information about the Lincoln Park Zoo's "Mind of the Chimpanzee" conference can be found here.

Cruelty to animals linked to violence against humans?

Absent the influence of certain longtime friends of this blog (and they know who they are), it is unlikely we would have contemplated the theological significance of animals, largely because we are insufficiently fond of vegetables. But several regular readers have persuaded us to contemplate anew the relationship of humans to other creatures, and what our attitude toward helpless animals tells us about our attitude toward peole over whom we exercise power. In that spirit, we offer the press release hidden under the Read more tag. Click to see it all.

Read more »

God and evolution

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., the Laurence J. McGinley Chair in Religion and Society at Fordham University, has a long essay in the latest issue of First Things about the various ways Christians have reconciled their faith with neo-Darwinian evolution. He offers three prevalent ways Christians have done so. The first group are theistic evolutionists, which would include Dr. Francis Collins:

As I have indicated, one group, while explaining evolution in terms of random mutations and survival of the fittest, accepts the Darwinist account as accurate on the scientific level but rejects Darwinism as a philosophical system. This first group holds that God, eternally foreseeing all the products of evolution, uses the natural process of evolution to work out his creative plan. Following Fred Hoyle, some members of this group speak of the “anthropic principle,” meaning that the universe was “fine-tuned” from the first moment of creation to allow the emergence of human life.

. . .

Theistic evolutionism, like classical Darwinism, refrains from asserting any divine intervention in the process of evolution. It concedes that the emergence of living bodies, including the human, can be accounted for on the empirical level by random mutations and survival of the fittest.

But theistic evolutionism rejects the atheistic conclusions of Dawkins and his cohorts. The physical sciences, it maintains, are not the sole acceptable source of truth and certitude. Science has a real though limited competence. It can tell us a great deal about the processes that can be observed or controlled by the senses and by instruments, but it has no way of answering deeper questions involving reality as a whole. Far from being able to replace religion, it cannot begin to tell us what brought the world into existence, nor why the world exists, nor what our ultimate destiny is, nor how we should act in order to be the kind of persons we ought to be.

The second group are proponents of Intelligent Design:

An important school of scientists supports a theory known as Intelligent Design. Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University, contends that certain organs of living beings are “irreducibly complex.” Their formation could not take place by small random mutations, because something that had only some but not all the features of the new organ would have no reason for existence and no advantage for survival. It would make no sense, for example, for the pupil of the eye to evolve if there were no retina to accompany it, and it would be nonsensical for there to be a retina with no pupil. As a showcase example of a complex organ all of whose parts are interdependent, Behe proposes the bacterial flagellum, a marvelous swimming device used by some bacteria.

At this point we get into a technical dispute among microbiologists that I will not attempt to adjudicate. In favor of Behe and his school, we may say that the possibility of sudden major changes effected by a higher intelligence should not be antecedently ruled out. But we may take it as a sound principle that God does not intervene in the created order without necessity. If the production of organs such as the bacterial flagellum can be explained by the gradual accumulation of minor random variations, the Darwinist explanation should be preferred. As a matter of policy, it is imprudent to build one’s case for faith on what science has not yet explained, because tomorrow it may be able to explain what it cannot explain today. History teaches us that the “God of the gaps” often proves to be an illusion.

The final group accepts evolution, but reject that organisms can be explained solely by materialism:

Darwinism is criticized by yet a third school of critics, one which includes philosophers such as Michael Polanyi, who build on the work of Henri Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin. Philosophers of this orientation, notwithstanding their mutual differences, agree that biological organisms cannot be understood by the laws of mechanics alone. The laws of biology, without in any way contradicting those of physics and chemistry, are more complex. The behavior of living organisms cannot be explained without taking into account their striving for life and growth. Plants, by reaching out for sunlight and nourishment, betray an intrinsic aspiration to live and grow. This internal finality makes them capable of success and failure in ways that stones and minerals are not. Because of the ontological gap that separates the living from the nonliving, the emergence of life cannot be accounted for on the basis of purely mechanical principles.

In tune with this school of thought, the English mathematical physicist John Polkinghorne holds that Darwinism is incapable of explaining why multicellular plants and animals arise when single cellular organisms seem to cope with the environment quite successfully. There must be in the universe a thrust toward higher and more-complex forms. The Georgetown professor John F. Haught, in a recent defense of the same point of view, notes that natural science achieves exact results by restricting itself to measurable phenomena, ignoring deeper questions about meaning and purpose. By its method, it filters out subjectivity, feeling, and striving, all of which are essential to a full theory of cognition. Materialistic Darwinism is incapable of explaining why the universe gives rise to subjectivity, feeling, and striving.

In the end Dulles leans toward the third school, but argues that all three approaches are consistent with a Christian faith:

These three schools of thought are all sustainable in a Christian philosophy of nature. Although I incline toward the third, I recognize that some well-qualified experts profess theistic Darwinism and Intelligent Design. All three of these Christian perspectives on evolution affirm that God plays an essential role in the process, but they conceive of God’s role in different ways. According to theistic Darwinism, God initiates the process by producing from the first instant of creation (the Big Bang) the matter and energies that will gradually develop into vegetable, animal, and eventually human life on this earth and perhaps elsewhere. According to Intelligent Design, the development does not occur without divine intervention at certain stages, producing irreducibly complex organs. According to the teleological view, the forward thrust of evolution and its breakthroughs into higher grades of being depend upon the dynamic presence of God to his creation. Many adherents of this school would say that the transition from physicochemical existence to biological life, and the further transitions to animal and human life, require an additional input of divine creative energy.

Read it all here.

What do you think? Do you fit in any of these three schools of thought?

James Alison on the Atonement

The Café's video blog features a brief interview with Catholic priest James Alison this week. The conversation it has engendered is worth a look, particularly Donald Shell's comments on Alison's book about the Atonement, Raising Abel.

Tobias Haller on True Union

Tobias Haller is in the midst of a writing an intellectually rigorous, yet, stylistically accesible defense of same-sex relationships. It's must reading for anyone who argues on behalf of the full sacramental inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the Church. Parts one through six are available here:







Ten propositions on Richard Dawkins and the new atheists

Ken Fabricius is famous on the web for his "Ten Propositions" series on various theological topics. They are always illuminating and often quite entertaining. Ken's most recent list of propositions on the "New Atheism" is no exception.

After arguing that the New Atheist display a lack of understanding of theology, Ken than wars against two common responses:

8. There are two reactions to this sort of illiteracy that must be avoided. The first is the response of the right, which, when not hysterical, simply confirms the unquestioned assumption of the New Atheists that God is a huge and powerful supernatural being whose ways with the world are, in principle, open to empirical discovery and verification. This is the God of Intelligent Design. If ID is science, it is either bad science or dead science. “Bring it on!” cries Professor Dawkins, gleefully rubbing his hands together. But even if it were good science (and, by the way, weren’t driven by a political agenda), it would be dreadful, indeed suicidal theology, for the god of ID is but a version of the “god of the gaps”, a god deployed as an explanation of natural phenomena, a hostage to scientific fortune, in short, an idol. The operation of ID can be successful only at the cost of the patient.

9. The second response is the response of the left, the liberals. On this Enlightenment view, science is given its due in the realm of “facts”, while religion is cordoned off from the New Atheists in the realm of “values”. There is a superficial attractiveness to this division of territory – Stephen Jay Gould called it “NOMA”, or Non-Overlapping Magisteria, separate but equal – but in the end it amounts to theological appeasement. For the realm of “facts” includes not only the empirical, natural world but also the embodied, public, political world, while religion becomes the sphere of the “spiritual”, the interior, and the private. The church cannot accept this partition for Leviathan, the nation state, is a violent and voracious beast. Nor, however, is the church called to become the state: theocracies are inevitably gross distortions of power, whether the flag bears a cross or a crescent. Rather the church is called to be a distinctive polis forming citizens for the kingdom of God and sending them into the kingdoms of the world as truth-tellers and peacemakers.

And Ken highly recommends that we read two atheist authors: Phillip Pullman and Ian McEwan:

10. The New Atheists don’t only have a dashing if reckless officer leading an army of grunts, they also have their aesthetes, a brilliant novelist in Ian McEwan, a master fantasist in Philip Pullman. Are they dangerous? Of course! Yet if the Russian expressionist painter Alexei Jawlensky was right that “all art is nostalgia for God”, there is nothing to fear and something to gain from them, their didacticism notwithstanding. Unlike atheist writers such as Camus or Beckett who (if you like) have been to the altar but cannot kneel, McEwan and Pullman are unacquainted with the God of Jesus. Nevertheless, McEwan, in novels like Enduring Love, Atonement, and Saturday (titles freighted with theological irony), so elegantly probes the human shadows, and Pullman, in the His Dark Materials trilogy (the title drawn from Paradise Lost), so imaginatively narrates the themes of innocence and experience and exposes the corruptions of false religion, that we feel at least that we have been in the outer courts of the temple. It is certainly better to read this outstanding literature and be disturbed by it than not to read it at all.

Read it all here. Hat tip to Nicholas Knisely.

Gerson on evolution, naturalism and faith

Michael Gerson, who worships at Falls Church, offers some very thoughtful observations in his Washington Post column on the conflict over evolution. First, he offers reasons why the faithful should not be afraid of the scientific evidence of evolution:

But whatever the scientific objections, it is the theological objections to evolution that are weakest. Critics seem to argue that the laws of nature are somehow less miraculous than their divine suspension. But the elegant formulas of physics, and the complex mechanisms of evolution, strike me as an equal tribute to the Creator.

Critics also assume that humble evolutionary origins undermine human dignity. But the Bible's description -- creation from the "dust of the earth" -- is no less humiliating than descent from primates. Men and women have an elevated value because they are known and loved by God, not because of their genetic pedigree.

Historically, it is usually an error for religious people to fill scientific holes with supernatural explanations, because those holes often are filled eventually by the progress of knowledge. A "god of the gaps" is weaker and less compelling than the God of all creation.

And there is little need for such explanations, even for those who take the Bible seriously. Leon Kass, in his masterful work "The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis," observes, "The biblical account is perfectly compatible with the fact of a slowly evolving cosmos, with life arriving late, beginning in the sea and only later emerging on earth, progressively distinguished into a variety of separated kinds."

But Gerson also warns us not to accept the view that evolution and other science supports a belief that God does not exist:

Some scientists claim that a belief in evolution and orderly material laws somehow disproves the existence of immaterial things such as God and the soul -- as if biology or physics could refute concepts they don't even examine. There is no telescope that reveals the absence of the divine; no MRI that yields a negative test for the soul. G.K. Chesterton summarizes this naive theory as follows: "Because science has not found something which obviously it could not find, therefore something entirely different . . . is untrue. . . . To me it is all wild and whirling; as if a man said -- 'The plumber can find nothing wrong with our piano; so I suppose that my wife does love me.' "

There is a large distinction between the scientific theory of evolution and naturalism. Naturalism -- the belief that the material world is all that is or ever will be -- is a philosophy, and a dangerous one. As C.S. Lewis points out, this belief system begins by denying the existence of God, but it cannot end there. "The masters of the method soon announce that we were just as mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed 'souls' or 'selves' or 'minds' to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. . . . Man is indeed akin to the gods: that is, he is no less phantasmal than they."

. . .

The belief in an orderly universe does not require belief in an empty universe. And science does not even address the most important questions about human destiny.

"Let us assume that creation is evolution," argues Leon Kass, "and proceeds solely by natural processes. What is responsible for this natural process? . . . Can a dumb process, ruled by strict necessity and chance mutation, having no rhyme or reason, ultimately answer sufficiently for life, for man, for the whole? . . . And when we finally allow ourselves to come face-to-face with the mystery that there is anything at all rather than nothing, can we evolutionists confidently reject the first claim of the Bible -- 'In [the] beginning, God created the heavens and the earth'?"

Read it all here.

Abraham's Curse

Author Bruce Chilton, an Episcopal priest and chaplain at Bard College, writes of human sacrifice in an excerpt from his new book, Abraham's Curse:

As Judaism has praised the sacrifice of Abraham, and Islam the offering of Ibrahim, Christianity since the first century has contended that Jesus accomplished in action the offering that Isaac only symbolized. The key Christian belief in Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God reinterprets and recasts the image of Isaac in Genesis.

Abraham's story has never been ours more than it is now. Naming the compulsion to take innocent life in the belief that sacrifice is noble goes beyond the incidents of any single crime, and takes us into the foundations of human culture and of how people understand the divine.

The Christian soldier, the Israeli conscript, and the Muslim jihadist are all poised for conflict and prepared for death, armed by their training and motivated by an ethos that is thousands of years old. The impulse to praise martyrdom, and therefore to encourage susceptible adolescents to become martyrs, is embedded in our cultural DNA.

We live on the edge of a prolonged sacrificial commitment, in a war on terror whose end is as obscure as its purposes and whose methods are ill defined. Understanding what it is we're talking about when we speak of human death as a "sacrifice" has become crucial to us.

Read it all.
(Our thanks to The Chronicle Review for taking this piece out from behinds its subscription wall.)

Bridging science and theology

Polish theologian, cosmologist, and philosopher Michael Heller, who lived through both Nazi and communist rule and has long sought to reconcile science and religion, has won the 2008 Templeton Prize.

The £820,000 prize (more than $1.6 million) is awarded "for progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities."

"He's one of the key contributors in the international scholarly community dedicated to the creative dialogue on science, theology, and philosophy," says Robert John Russell, founder and director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, Calif. "He's a great example of someone who bridges these fields."

The Christian Science Monitor has it all.

The curious idea of the resurrection

Larry Hurtado has an interesting essay on Slate this week noting that from the very early days of the Church Christians and non-Christians alike have grappled with how to understand the resurrection:

Easter Sunday represents the foundational claim of Christian faith, the highest day of the Christian year as celebration of Jesus' resurrection. But many Christians are unsure what the claim that Jesus had been raised to new life after being crucified actually means—while non-Christians often find the whole idea of resurrection bemusing and even ridiculous.

These differences over what Jesus' resurrection represents and discomfort with the whole idea are nothing new, however: Christians in the first few centuries also had difficulty embracing the idea of a real, bodily resurrection. Then, as now, resurrection was not the favored post-death existence—people much preferred to think that after dying, souls headed to some ethereal realm of light and tranquillity. During the Roman period, many regarded the body as a pitiful thing at best and at worst a real drag upon the soul, even a kind of prison from which the soul was liberated at death. So, it's not surprising that there were Christians who simply found bodily resurrection stupid and repugnant. To make the idea palatable, they instead interpreted all references to Jesus' resurrection in strictly spiritual terms. Some thought of Jesus as having shed his earthly body in his death, assuming a purely spiritual state, and returning to his original status in the divine realm. In other cases, Jesus' earthly body and his death were even seen as illusory, the divine Christ merely appearing to have a normal body (rather like Clark Kent!).

. . .

Historically, then, how Christians have understood Jesus' "resurrection" says a lot about how they have understood themselves, whether they have a holistic view of the human person, whether they see bodily existence as trivial or crucial, and how they imagine full salvation to be manifested. Does salvation comprise a deliverance from the body into some sort of immediate and permanent postmortem bliss (which is actually much closer to popular Christian piety down the centuries), or does salvation require a new embodiment of some sort, a more robust reaffirmation of persons? This sort of question originally was integral to early Jewish and Christian belief in the resurrection. In all the varieties of early Christianity, and in all the various understandings of what his "resurrection" meant, Jesus was typically the model, the crucial paradigm for believers, what had happened to him seen as prototypical of what believers were to hope for themselves.

Read it all here.

Old sins for a new age

Eduardo Porter observes in the New York Times the difficulties of bringing forward ancient teachings to modern realities, when Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, regent of the Vatican Penitentiary, said that globalization might perhaps need new ways of thinking about sin in more social terms.

“If yesterday sin had a rather individualistic dimension, today it has a value and resonance that is above all social, because of the great phenomenon of globalization,” Monsignor Girotti told the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

Sin, however, doesn’t take well to tinkering. Many Catholic thinkers reacted strongly against the idea that new sins were needed to complement, or supplement, the classical canon. They accused the press of exaggerating Monsignor Girotti’s words. Their reaction underscored how tough it is for the church to manage a moral code grounded in eternal verities at a time of furious change.

Here is an article from the LA Times describing what Girotti said.

NYTimes: The Vatican and Globalization: Tinkering with Sin.

Wright versus Ehrman on evil

Theologians have grappled with the issue of why God allows evil and suffering in the world since the book of Job--and likely before. Beliefnet is hosting a very interesting debate/dialogue on the problem between Bart Ehman and N.T. Wright. Ehrman is James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the author of God's Problem , which argues that the Bible fails to answer the problem of suffering. Wright is the Bishop of Durham for the Church of England and has written Evil and the Justice of God.

Ehrman begins by explaining how the problem of suffering caused a loss of faith:

Suffering increasingly became a problem for me and my faith. How can one explain all the pain and misery in the world if God—the creator and redeemer of all—is sovereign over it, exercising his will both on the grand scheme and in the daily workings of our lives? Why, I asked, is there such rampant starvation in the world? Why are there droughts, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes? If God answers prayer, why didn't he answer the prayers of the faithful Jews during the Holocaust? Or of the faithful Christians who also suffered torment and death at the hands of the Nazis? If God is concerned to answer my little prayers about my daily life, why didn't he answer my and others’ big prayers when millions were being slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when a mudslide killed 30,000 Columbians in their sleep, in a matter of minutes, when disasters of all kinds caused by humans and by nature happened in the world?

. . .

About nine or ten years ago I came to realize that I simply no longer believed the Christian message. A large part of my movement away from the faith was driven by my concern for suffering. I simply no longer could hold to the view—which I took to be essential to Christian faith—that God was active in the world, that he answered prayer, that he intervened on behalf of his faithful, that he brought salvation in the past and that in the future, eventually in the coming eschaton, he would set to rights all that was wrong, that he would vindicate his name and his people and bring in a good kingdom (either at our deaths or here on earth in a future utopian existence).

N.T. Wright responded:

In a sense, you simply bring us back to where western Europe found itself after the Lisbon earthquake on All Saints Day 1755. Up to then some had said, ‘Look at the world, think about it, and you’ll see that God exists and that Christianity is true.’ The earthquake was a wake-up call to casual western religion, and precipitated the whole Enlightenment revolution, first towards a detached Deism and then into agnosticism or atheism. Have you done anything other than recapitulate that moment? And, if you haven’t, I guess I want to ask: were you not aware, earlier, of the scale of evil in the world – the Holocaust, the dying babies, the inexplicable ‘natural’ disasters, and so on? You’re not implying, are you, that people (like me, for instance) who still hold to Christian faith are somehow failing to notice these horrors, or to reflect soberly and deeply on them? And if, as you say, your book (and your blog posting) do not actually constitute an argument against Christian faith (‘If you reflect on these issues you’ll see that the Christian claim is incredible’), might it not seem that the shift in your own position which you have described is a shift which came about, not because of logical argument, but because of other (unspecified) factors, with the problem of suffering providing a kind of intellectual backdrop to a journey whose main energy was supplied from elsewhere? I’m not saying the arguments are unimportant. But I’m trying to understand what you’re saying when you deny that they constitute an appeal to anyone else to follow your journey.

The second large, general point concerns your handling, and description, of the Bible and Christian faith. I want to take issue with your analysis of the biblical material. This is where I must refer to my own treatment of the same problem in Evil and the Justice of God, which forms part of the groundwork for my new book Surprised by Hope. I don’t know if you’ve read either of them, but in the former I give a very different account from you of the Old Testament material, seeing the call of Abraham not (as on your p. 66) as God simply calling Abraham ‘to be in a special relationship with him’ but as the moment when God launches the long-range plan to rescue the world from its misery. In other words, I read the story of Israel as a whole (not merely in its individual parts, which by themselves, taken out of that context, might be reduced to ‘Israel sinned; God punished them’, etc.,) as the story of theodicy-in-practice: ‘this is the narrative through whose outworking the creator God will eventually put all things to rights.’ Hence the promises of Isaiah 11 and so forth.

The dialogue continues. Read it all here.

Black liberation theology

Michael Powell provides a useful tutorial on black liberation theology in today's New York Times:

As a young, black and decidedly liberal theologian, James H. Cone saw his faith imperiled.

“Christianity was seen as the white man’s religion,” he said. “I wanted to say: ‘No! The Christian Gospel is not the white man’s religion. It is a religion of liberation, a religion that says God created all people to be free.’ But I realized that for black people to be free, they must first love their blackness.”

Dr. Cone, a founding father of black liberation theology, allowed himself a chuckle. “You might say we took our Christianity from Martin and our emphasis on blackness from Malcolm,” he said.

Black liberation theology was, in a sense, a brilliant flanking maneuver. For a black audience, its theology spoke to the centrality of the slave and segregation experience, arguing that God had a special place in his heart for the black oppressed. These theologians held that liberation should come on earth rather than in the hereafter, and demanded that black pastors speak as prophetic militants, critiquing the nation’s white-run social structures.

Black liberation theology “gives special privilege to the oppressed,” said Gary Dorrien, a professor of social ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York. “God is seen as a partisan, liberating force who gives special privilege to the poorest.”

. . .

“The black church has always existed along a continuum, from a focus on healing to a focus on liberation,” noted Dwight N. Hopkins, a professor of theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. “The liberationists emphasize this earth and the more fundamentalist emphasize the resurrection and the life after.”

Language, too, has defined the black church from slavery to liberation theology. Pastors, whether prophetic or fundamentalist, drew unambiguous inspiration from the diamond-hard words of the Old Testament, in which little store was placed in talk of man’s innate goodness. God might love, but He was a deity of forbidding judgments and punishments.

“The Old Testament God is a God who addresses nations, and judges nations and holds them to account,” Professor Noel said. “The prophets are concerned about social sin and God judges nations for their unrighteousness.”

Nor can black liberation theology be divorced from its historical moment. Throughout the 1950s, black church leaders like Dr. King, often steeped in white liberal Protestantism, led the fight for civil rights. But as the struggle turned violent, as black leaders perished and riots swept American cities and revolutions upended third world nations, black religious leaders sought new answers.

Even as Dr. Cone and others such as the Rev. William A. Jones at Bethany Baptist in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, crafted a theology of black liberation, Catholic theologians in Central and South America crafted their own liberation theology, arguing that God placed the impoverished peasants closest to his heart.

There is little evidence that one liberationist talked to another; rather, these were cornstalks rising in a fertile and revolutionary field. “These were remarkable similar arguments, that oppressed people have their own way of hearing the Gospel,” said Dr. Dorrien of the Union Theological Seminary.

Read it all here.

Hooker on Romans 1

Most every Anglican knows that Richard Hooker was the founding theological visionary of Anglicanism. But many have not read his writings nor sought to apply his insights to the present controversies in the Communion. The Archbishop of Armagh luckily has risen to the task.

In an address to the USPG Conference in Swanick today, the Archbishop AET Harper OBE traces the primary lines of Hooker's thinking on the ways that scripture and reason can serve as theological norms. (Norms are the tools that we use to make decisions between two competing ideas or claims.)

You can read Ruth Gledhill's take on this paper here.

The full text is found here.

It's a very long and densely written lecture, but well worth the time to read.

Read more »

Proofs of God

Christianity Today's July cover story is about modern Christian apologetics; i.e.,, the use of philisophical arguments for rational arguments in favor of the existence of God. The article, by William Lane Craig, research professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, begins by arguing that theists are once again at philosophy departments:

Back in the 1940s and '50s, many philosophers believed that talk about God, since it is not verifiable by the five senses, is meaningless—actual nonsense. This verificationism finally collapsed, in part because philosophers realized that verificationism itself could not be verified! The collapse of verificationism was the most important philosophical event of the 20th century. Its downfall meant that philosophers were free once again to tackle traditional problems of philosophy that verificationism had suppressed. Accompanying this resurgence of interest in traditional philosophical questions came something altogether unanticipated: a renaissance of Christian philosophy.

. . .

The renaissance of Christian philosophy has been accompanied by a resurgence of interest in natural theology, that branch of theology that seeks to prove God's existence apart from divine revelation. The goal of natural theology is to justify a broadly theistic worldview, one that is common among Christians, Jews, Muslims, and deists. While few would call them compelling proofs, all of the traditional arguments for God's existence, not to mention some creative new arguments, find articulate defenders today.

Professor Craing then describes and defends various traditional proofs of God. Here is an example:

The cosmological argument. Versions of this argument are defended by Alexander Pruss, Timothy O'Connor, Stephen Davis, Robert Koons, and Richard Swinburne, among others. A simple formulation of this argument is:

1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.
4. Therefore, the explanation of the universe's existence is God.

This argument is logically valid, so the only question is the truth of the premises. Premise (3) is undeniable for any sincere seeker of truth, so the question comes down to (1) and (2).

Premise (1) seems quite plausible. Imagine that you're walking through the woods and come upon a translucent ball lying on the forest floor. You would find quite bizarre the claim that the ball just exists inexplicably. And increasing the size of the ball, even until it becomes co-extensive with the cosmos, would do nothing to eliminate the need for an explanation of its existence.

Premise (2) might at first appear controversial, but it is in fact synonymous with the usual atheist claim that if God does not exist, then the universe has no explanation of its existence. Besides, (2) is quite plausible in its own right. For an external cause of the universe must be beyond space and time and therefore cannot be physical or material. Now there are only two kinds of things that fit that description: either abstract objects, like numbers, or else an intelligent mind. But abstract objects are causally impotent. The number 7, for example, can't cause anything. Therefore, it follows that the explanation of the universe is an external, transcendent, personal mind that created the universe—which is what most people have traditionally meant by "God."

Read it all here. Is it just me, or is the defense of premise 2 quite weak? In any event, do these examples of traditional Christian apologetics still have value?

Barring Yahweh

Christianity Today notes that the Roman Catholic Church will no longer pronounce the name Yahweh in worship, and explores the debate whether Protestants should do the same:

Observant Jews have traditionally not used the name Yahweh, refusing to pronounce the so-called proper name of God out of respect, or to be sure they do not misuse it. Now neither will Roman Catholics, at least in their worship services.

"In recent years the practice has crept in of pronouncing the God of Israel's proper name," said a June letter from the Vatican. "As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: Adonai, which means 'Lord.'" In August, U.S. bishops were directed to remove Yahweh from songs and prayers.

Protestants should be following their lead, said Carol Bechtel, professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. "It's always left me baffled and perplexed and embarrassed that we sprinkle our hymns with that name," she said. "Whether or not there are Jewish brothers and sisters in earshot, the most obvious reason to avoid using the proper and more personal name of God in the Old Testament is simply respect for God."

While refusing to write or say Yahweh aloud is a long-standing Jewish tradition, the Bible does not forbid its pronunciation.

"I don't have an issue with the use of that word in the worship context," said Mike Harland, director of the Southern Baptist Convention's LifeWay Worship, which released the new Baptist Hymnal in August. "It's a transliteration of one of the names of God. It wouldn't be off-putting to me at all."

Read it all here.

What do you think?

Previous coverage here.

"The defense of liberal theology"

From Episcopal News Service

The council of the Modern Churchpeople's Union (MCU) met November 6 in London's Docklands to develop a strategy for the defense of liberal theology.

Firmly opposed to the proposed Anglican covenant, the group plans to extend its network beyond England, improving links with the Episcopal Church, building branches in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, recruiting a range of ages and denominations, and increasing support among bishops and academic theologians.


Among MCU's many supporters is the Most Rev. Barry Morgan, Archbishop of the Church in Wales, who chaired the July conference in Hoddesdon, England, and is one of the organization's vice presidents. Speakers included the Rev. Canon Professor Marilyn McCord Adams, of Oxford University; the Rev. Canon Dr. Charlotte Methuen, of Oxford University; Bishop Michael Jackson of Clogher, Church of Ireland; Bishop Frank Griswold, 25th presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church; and Bishop Trevor Mwamba of Botswana.

Griswold told the July gathering that the search for truth is a communal one, and that "the Holy Spirit can do different things in different places."

Mwamba spoke of "delusions of grandeur" among some of the African primates and noted that many church members throughout the continent had not been consulted about issues of human sexuality, and were "frankly not bothered with the debate."

"Some of our primates act like ecclesiastical Mugabes," he said, making reference to Zimbabwe's tyrannical president who has led his country into a humanitarian crisis and financial collapse.

The Abbot on "Temperance"

Christopher Jamison, the Abbot of Worth, in the Inaugural "Noah Lecture" has spoken about ways that people of faith might act to lead society out of the present financial and global climate crises. He points the finger of blame at our willingness to start believing that "greed is good" and says that we need to return to the basics of moral theology.

From a report in the Church Times today:

"Fr Jamison argued for a revival of the cardinal virtues: fortitude, justice, temperance, and prudence. ‘We need rules and laws aimed at reducing climate change, but they will not be enough.’

[...]He argued that the four virtues could be applied to the practicalities of energy policy and consumer choice. Thus, for example, the question needed to be asked: ‘Are human beings capable of running a virtuous nuclear power industry?’

The Abbot was critical of the way in which greed had infiltrated people’s mental image of their life and its needs. The commercial version of Christmas was a good example. ‘So Nike and the other great corporations now inhabit our imagination, the place where greed is generated. Once planted there, they can make us endlessly greedy. And that is what they are doing.’"

Read the short article here.

The full text of the Abbot's lecture is posted here.

Choose to choose hope

Howard E. Friend, Jr. says there is a "hope-based" movement that is reaching a crecendo among a wide variety of groups around the globe.

There is a movement arising and gaining momentum that is without precedent in human history, a movement grounded in hope. I believe we are graced with the opportunity and challenge to live the most significant and meaningful lives ever lived because we are faced with history’s most extraordinary threats to life on earth. Unplanned and unnoticed by most, even by those within it, this is nevertheless a movement whose time has come. A movement without a name, not even approaching “ism” status, it eludes being manipulated or marketed. It is a movement without visible spokespersons, charismatic leaders, or dominant figures, so it avoids becoming cultish and personality-centered. Those drawn into this movement do not shy from harsh realities, but refuse to surrender to discouragement and hopelessness....

...Tony Campolo, a well-known author and speaker and a longtime colleague and friend of mine, has spoken thousands of words, but a single sentence, a line from a sermon I’d heard him preach, is etched in my memory: “Frankly, the argument against believing in God or against placing one’s trust in Jesus is every bit as persuasive as the argument for it. So I chose to choose to believe and trust. And that choice has made all the difference.” “Choosing to choose” can seem awkward and redundant, but it may be a necessary first step in the search for a genuine hope. This is not splitting hairs or playing word games. Choosing to choose is different from merely choosing. It evokes a sturdy intention, flexes against doubt and resistance, hones resilience, and sends down hearty roots. It has stamina and longevity, poised for a long-distance run. It is resolute and determined. Merely choosing can be unreflective and impulsive, while choosing to choose is reasoned and measured.

A two-word imperative—“choose life”—concludes Moses’s final speech on the banks of the Jordan (Deut. 30:19). After a long season of divine patience, Elijah announces that a time of choosing is at hand: “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” Elijah asks. “If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). “You cannot serve God and money,” Jesus proclaims succinctly; a choice must be made. Be hot or cold, but not lukewarm; hear the knock and open the door (Rev. 3:15–16, 20). It is a matter of choice. Choose to choose hope.

See The Alban Institute: Hope: A Matter of Choice.

The best-ish of all possible worlds

The brilliant Michael Dirda writing in the most recent issue of The Washington Post's book review:

The attempt to justify the ways of God to men -- theodicy, a term coined by Leibniz -- lies at the heart of the matter: "Why is there any evil at all in God's creation?" Essentially, Leibniz's answer is: Consider the whole. Explains Nadler, "It is not that everything will turn out for the best for me or for anyone else in particular. Nor is it necessarily the case that any other possible world would have been worse for me or for anyone else. Rather, Leibniz claims that any other possible world is worse overall than this one, regardless of any single person's fortunes in it." What is good for the whole isn't necessarily good for every one of its individual parts or components. As Nadler emphasizes, summarizing Leibniz, "all things are connected and every single aspect of the world makes a contribution to its being the best world."

That includes what we call evil. However, Leibniz offers no explanation of just how evil assists the overall goodness of things. (Sometimes he even seems to suggest that it serves to bring the good into greater relief.) We cannot penetrate so far into the Creator's mind or plan. Still "it is inconceivable . . . that an infinitely good and perfect God could choose anything less than the best." This conclusion may satisfy a devout Christian philosopher, but it offers scant consolation when we are in pain, or see the wicked succeed and the worthy fail, or when we face death.

Advice for theology students

With his tongue firmly in his cheek, Ben Myers of the Faith and Theology blog offers advice to theology students:

1. As a theological student, your aim is to accumulate opinions – as many as you can, and as fast as possible. (Exceptional students may acquire all their opinions within the first few weeks; others require an entire semester.) One of the best ways to collect opinions is to choose your theological group (“I shall be progressive,” or “I will be evangelical,” or “I am a Barthian”), then sign up to all the opinions usually associated with that social group. If at first you don’t feel much conviction for these new opinions, just be patient: within twelve months you will be a staunch advocate, and you’ll even be able to help new students acquire the same opinions.

. . .

4. Every successful theological student must master the proper vocabulary. All theological conversations should be peppered with these termini technici (e.g. “Only a demythologised Barthian ontology can subvert the différance of postmodern theory and re-construe the analogia entis in terms of temporal mediation”). The less comprehensible and more sibylline the sentence uttered, the better. There are some stock-in-trade terms that are de rigueur (e.g. perichoresis, imago Dei, Heilsgeschichte, Bullsgeschichte), but the really outstanding student should find creative ways to deploy a wide range of foreign polysyllabic words. Phrases of Latin, Greek or German derivation are particularly prized. (Those of Hebrew of Syriac extraction should be used more sparingly – they are usually greeted with some puzzlement, or with cries of “Gesundheit!”)

Read all ten pieces of advice here.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit

Matthew 5:3 says "Blessed are the poor in spirit." For Anne Sutherland Howard this reveals a "third way" to approaching the questions of poverty and wealth, a way that does not make absolute the divide between rich and poor, nor in spiritualizing poverty. Instead, she says we can choose a spirituality of abundance in the face of a culture of scarcity.

Writing in this weeks Alban Institute e-newsletter, Sutherland Howard tells the story of a new parish priest, Christopher Wendell, in a wealthy Boston suburb which by any measure, particularly a global perspective, is "a wealthy congregation in a wealthy community in a wealthy state in a wealthy country."

But instead of haranguing people for their wealth, or denying the reality of even nearby poverty to keep people from feeling uncomfortable, he "sees spiritual poverty as an avenue for the materially rich to recognize their relationship to the materially poor--the third way."

Wendell says that the poor and wealthy interact all the time, the question is how do we Christians respond to the disparity?

For those in the "upper bands" of the spectrum of wealth--that is, anyone with education, work, enough to eat, and a place to sleep--Chris sees three possible choices.

"First," he says, "There is denial. You can deny that the poor exist, you can turn your back. You can reduce yourself to living only within your own economic band; you can keep with 'your kind.' You can say: 'I do the best I can within my band.'

"A second possibility is that you are unable to deny the difference in economic disparity, but you don't know how to engage it. You are aware of inequality, you are aware of suffering, and you experience a sense of responsibility for this system in which you see the suffering of many. You know that you are not 'the many,' but you don’t know how implicated to feel, how responsible for it you are. This whole can of worms can be overwhelming. You can choose whether to enter or not, so you choose not to."

"But there is another possibility, a third way," he says. "You can respond with awareness to the spectrum of suffering--identification with people who are suffering to the point that you can’t choose not to be implicated. This identification is the opposite of guilt or shame. It is rooted in a sense of solidarity with everyone who suffers at the hands of forces they cannot control--in the recognition that we are part of everyone.

"I think Christianity invites us into that third way of being. It's a way of being connected, a way of starting to close the distance in life experience between our own sufferings and the sufferings of the poor. It's acknowledging that suffering is real and I'm part of it: both creating it and experiencing it. I call that third way 'poverty of spirit.' I want to help wealthy persons understand this third way so that they don’t jump back to denial or think that they have a choice about getting involved. I want to help people get from step two to step three, to see that as members of the human family we don’t really have a choice but to acknowledge our connections to each other."

Wendell decribes his calling as an invitation for "people to recognize their spiritual poverty and start telling stories not only about their affluence but also about their need. That's the first step toward justice."

God's love for all, the beloved community, is revealed in the beatitudes, says Chris. "The real purpose of the beatitudes is to reveal the solidarity among all people, despite the vast differences in human circumstances on this planet. The beatitudes aren't just about 'those other people' who are different because they are poor or hungry or persecuted. They are also about how our own lives are made spiritually poor by the suffering of others."

Read the rest here.

The PB reflects on the relationship between religion and science

The world is marking the two hundredth anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. Anniversaries are often an opportunity to take stock of where one is and how one arrived there, and this anniversary is not an exception. There's been a number of pieces published online all week discussing how Darwin's work that laid the basis of the modern theory of Evolution has caused a rethinking of the role of God within the natural order.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, a research oceanographer by training, is particularly well suited to speaking to this taking stock. There's a long article on the Religious News Service's site that is based on an extensive conversation with her on this topic.

She speaks of how she struggled to make her faith fit with her scientific training and interesting how her scientific training has informed her theological reasoning:

"‘How to make sense of the wonders of creation and the scientific descriptions of how they came to be,’ Jefferts Schori recalled in an interview in her office here, ‘I hadn’t had any conscious assistance in how to deal with that as a child.’

[...]Her election was a seminal moment for the worldwide Anglican Communion, in which the vast majority of countries do not have women bishops. Yet Jefferts Schori said her scientific training, not her gender, is more unique and pertinent to her current job.

‘It’s been a long time since somebody trained in the way I have been has held an office in the church like this,’ she said. ‘My way of looking at the world is shaped by my training as a scientist—to look carefully, and collect data and make hypotheses.’"

Read the full article here.

Who says we haven't done the theology?

The Anglican Theological Review has made its Summer 2008 issue available online, thanks in part to a grant from the Chicago Consultation.

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Bishop-elect Kevin Thew Forrester speaks for himself

The Rev Kevin Thew Forrester, Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Northern Michigan, has released this statement in reference to questions about his views on Christology. Cafe readers have been discussing those views here.

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Thinking theologically about a pandemic

Bishop Linda Nicholls of the Church of Canada wrote this reflection on her Church's Pandemic Preparedness Plan. It seems timely:

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How our images of God help and hurt

There's a very provocative article by Wesley Wildman and Stephen Chapin Garner posted on the Alban Institute's site. It discusses the harm that our over-attachment to certain images of God can cause. They point the finger at both "sides" of the contemporary church.

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What does the failure to consent to an election tell us?

Late Thursday last week, the news was released that the Diocese of Bethlehem's Standing Committee had voted to decline to consent to the election of the next bishop of Northern Michigan. With that vote, it became apparent that Thew Forrester would not be confirmed as the new bishop.

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The wages of sin is ... whatever?

Jessa Crispin at The Smart Set:

Western society does not have much time for sin. Not the sins themselves, of course – those we like very much. We pursue them, wrap our arms around them, brag about how Courtney Love we got the other night. But when it comes to the idea that fornication or ditching work or imbibing excessive amounts alcohol should bring spiritual guilt, confession, and penance, that’s as outdated as the whole masturbation-will-send-you-straight-to-hell thing. ....

Sin is a cultural construct, and what is considered a sin in one time or place seems like a good time in another. As much as the Church has used the idea of sin as a form of control, it’s hard to take the idea seriously much anymore. So if I vote for a pro-choice candidate, I’ll suddenly lose the ability to receive the sacrament of communion and therefore go to hell? Yeah, right. Embracing sin is instead seen as freeing and, in its way, a form of spiritual evolution. As Aviad Kleinberg writes in his new book Seven Deadly Sins: A Very Partial List, “Sin can be the expression of an ardent desire for freedom, for liberation from any rules but the rules of our own desire. In its most heroic manifestations it becomes an act of creation – creation of the individual self at the price of being cast out of the common paradise.”

Ms. Crispin's essay is bracing, yet there are those who argue, persuasively, that the docrtinre of original sin is validated simply by reading a daily newspaper.

Report on communing the unbaptized released

The House of Bishop's Theology Committee has just released their report on question of sharing Holy Communion with people who are not baptized. The report was requested by the 2006 General Convention.

Of some interest might be the names of the committee members which are found at the end of the report, the full version of which follows. The chair is Bishop Henry Parsley who notes in his letter introducing the report, "To date we know of no resolution on this subject coming before this convention."

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Homosexuality and the Anglican debate

"Off the Cuff" is a blog on the website "The Immanent Frame" that poses a question to a handful of leading thinkers and ask for a brief response. They ask what it is with homosexuality that has caused it to become such a persistent and divisive issue for Anglicanism and other religious traditions?

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Should you care who will care for your pets after the Rapture?

It all depends on where you are headed. Until now.

Coakley to give Paddock lectures

Dr. Deirdre Good, professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, says on her blog that the Paddock Lectures at GTS this year are to be given by The Rev. Dr. Sarah Coakley from Sepember 23 and 24th. The lectures are titled: Beyond “Sexuality”: A New Christian Theology of Desire.

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Obama preaches the moral "we" - Diana Butler Bass

The Constitution of the United States begins with "We the people," and the the Nicene Creed begins with "We believe." Seeing the world through eyes that recognize our interconnectedness is a deep one in political and religious life. Episcopalian Diana Butler Bass notes that President Obama urged the nation to see health care through the lens of the "moral we""

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Philip Pullman and "the Scoundrel Christ"

Alison Flood in The Guardian:

He enraged America's religious right with his portrayal of God as a senile old man in the His Dark Materials trilogy, and now Philip Pullman is set to court more Christian controversy – this time with a novel about "the Scoundrel Christ".

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Learning to pray

The Right Way to Pray

from the New York Times

The Brooklyn Tabernacle, a 3,500-seat evangelical prayer palace in downtown Brooklyn, was built in 1918 as one of the largest and grandest vaudeville houses in North America. It is still a hot ticket. Its youngish, racially diverse congregation packs the pews each week to praise God and bask in the sounds of a Grammy-winning 250-voice gospel choir. But the tabernacle is more than just a popular church. It is also a destination for evangelicals from all around the United States and beyond, laymen and ministers alike, who come as acolytes to study prayer.

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Man v. God

Karen Armstrong in the Wall Street Journal:

Richard Dawkins has been right all along, of course—at least in one important respect. Evolution has indeed dealt a blow to the idea of a benign creator, literally conceived. It tells us that there is no Intelligence controlling the cosmos, and that life itself is the result of a blind process of natural selection, in which innumerable species failed to survive.

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Question of the day: The Fall

Let's say that you neither read the story of Adam and Eve as a report on a historical incident, nor believe in the inherent goodness of human nature. What is your concept of The Fall?

(A lifetime ban for anyone who says it is the season between summer and winter.)

Living full lives to the end

Two stories of living a life of service in the face of death:

A Good Life to the End, Forrest Church, Death and Dying -- AARP
Source: www.aarp.org
Can a minister follow his own advice about embracing life in the face of death?

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Dr. Jane Williams says women are beloved and chosen

While the Church of England debates the "place" of women in the church, which we reported HERE, and Lauren Stanley responded to in her Daily Episcopalian piece, "I am not a nobody", Dr. Jane Williams, known as "A theologian in her own right" and also as the spouse of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke with women in Pennsylvania and encouraged them to tell their stories and to " 're-imagine' themselves within the body of the people of God."

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What is a "former Anglican"?

Fr. John D. Alexander is a rector in the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island who blogs at Videtur Quod where he offers a close reading of the Vatican's recent statements. In particular, Father Alexander wonders about the use of the term "former Anglican." If you're wondering what to make of all this Roman Catholic / Anglican news buzz, you might want to explore his questions.

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"God said it..." Erm, what comes next?

We love this t-shirt. (Hint: We at the Café mostly wear size large.)

Dolly, Tony & Tutu on faith

Wisdom (and a good TV rating) happens when diverse people are brought together to discuss faith and religious belief. Coming up on the BBC will be a wonderful, and surprising lineup: Dolly Parton, Tony Blair and Desmond Tutu who will discuss their religious beliefs.

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Thanksgiving Haikus

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Every year Heidi Shott, Canon for Communications and Social Justice in the Diocese of Maine asks the members of the Episcopal Communicators Lis-Serv to write a Thanksgiving haiku. These are this year's results.

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Pope Pius XII moves closer to sainthood

Despite criticism from Jews and other groups, the Vatican continues to move the WWII Pope Pius XII toward sainthood:

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A few words about what Episcopalians actually believe

The Rev. Leo Joseph knows that the opponents of women's ordination and the blessing of same-sex relationships have portrayed the Episcopal Church as unduly experimental. In the column excerpted below, he argues that is not not the case, leaning on an essay by our friend Bishop Pierre Whalon:

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Why would laypeople want theological education, anyway?

Writing for the Alban Institute, Sally Simmel asks one of the most important questions facing the Church:

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Where was God in all of this?

At his blog, Metanoia, the Rev. Craig Uffman has a particularly helpful and challenging answer to the most difficult and haunting question of "Where was God in the earthquake?"

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Lenten resources on Haiti

LeaderResources has published a resource for Lent on Haiti entitled Searching for God in the Rubble of Haiti. The program explores where God is in this devastating tragedy:

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Have we not "done the theology," or not owned what we've done?

Bishop Pierre Whalon has written a thoughtful essay for Anglicans Online arguing that while blessing gay and lesbian relationships and consecrating LGBT candidates to the episcopacy may be a good thing, the Episcopal Church has not yet explained why it is a good thing.

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Roger Ebert on God

"At the Movies" reviewer Roger Ebert reflects on God. No, not the George Burns "Oh God," or the Jim Carrey "Bruce Almighty," actually his belief in God:

How I believe in God
By Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times

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Ignatian Spirituality for Inmates

Having entered the season of Lent last week, many Christians are taking up the challenge and opportunity of a deepened prayer life to cultivate the awareness of God's presence in our lives. In one LA correctional facility, seminarian Karri Backer, is leading Ignatian Spirituality groups in the midst of a most distracting and challenging context.

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Reflection on the life of Edward Schillebeeckx

The Guardian (UK) offers a fascinating obituary on theologian Edward Schillebeeckx:

Edward Schillebeeckx obituary
His influential but low-key theological dissent inflamed the Vatican
From the Guardian (UK) online

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A fool for Christ in Durham (NC)

Durham (NC) priest dons a fool's costume to be a "fool for Christ"

Cleric plays the fool
From the Durham (NC) Herald-Sun

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Anglican theologian skeptical of secular reason

The Immanent Frame has an interview today with John Milbank. IM describes Milbank as "an Anglican theologian whose ideas, distinguished by a profound skepticism of secular reason, have given shape to Radical Orthodox theology (in opposition, Wikipedia says, to Radical Theology à la Spong) and provided the underpinnings of the Red Tory and Blue Labour movements in British politics."

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David Norgard on "The future of inclusion"

The president of Integrity recently offered a lecture entitled, "The Future of Inclusion" at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS). We commend it to you.

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Heaven: what, where, why is it?

In the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog some notable writers and thinkers answer the question, "What (or where, or why) is heaven?" What's your answer?

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Your comments requested on the Bishops' report

It's time to "read, mark, and comment upon" the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops' report titled, "Same-Sex Relationships in the Life of the Church".

Take some time to read it and comment on it here. Here is the entire report.

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Let the scientists lecture us on science

From "The Friends of Jake" blog comes this response to the Bishop's report...why exactly are theologians lecturing the wider church about science?

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Sin is the closet

The Rev. Dr. Patrick S. Cheng of the Episcopal Divinity School says that we need to turn from a legalistic notion of sin to a Christogical one. He believes that sin is more than just an excess of pride but is also an excess of shame.

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A meditation on Holy Saturday

Canon Giles Frazier was deeply moved by Bishop Pierre Whalon's account of his recent visit to Haiti on behalf of the Episcopal Church. Canon Frazier used a detail of the eyewitness account as the jumping off point for a meditation of the work of Christ during the most Holy Sabbath of the Triduum, and the need for new understandings of the Atonement.

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Echoes of the resurrection on the farm

Over at Roger Ebert's blog, you can read the simple account of an animal lover, Tom Dark, and his dying horse Clay. Having done all the things that Episcopalians tend to do from the middle of Holy Week through to Sunday, we bet you'll find redemption and delight in it.

Here's a taste.

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Patrick Cheng reflects on the real sin of Sodom

Professor Patrick Cheng reflects on the "Real Sin of Sodom" over at the Huffington Post:

What was the real sin of Sodom?
By the Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Ph.D in the Huffington Post

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Theologically, a Lost cause

Am I the only one who though that Lost came nowhere near delivering on its theological and philosophical pretensions? Did the character John Locke behave according to the writings of John Locke? Or did the creators of the show just drop his name to cultivate a little intellectual cachet?

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Good theology 'does' as well as thinks

Perhaps it's no mere coincidence that on a week in which preachers were sweating over how to make sense of the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Trinity out of their pulpits - a task that seems to turn theology into an unhappy sausage-making exercise - The Guardian asked a few theologians how to define the substance of their work.

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Fifty years on, her theological influence remains

Religion Dispatches notes it's been 50 years since Time carried reference to Valerie Saiving Goldstein's groundbreaking piece "The Human Situation: A Feminine View."

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It takes an opposable mind to live the gospel

The phrase "living in the tension" has its purposes, and has been given an undeserved bad name. It's not relativism.

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Hauerwas on "America's god"

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas reflects upon "America's god" at ABC Religion and Ethics:

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Spiritual but not religious?

Prompted by the oft-stated explanation (excuse?) for not joining a worshipping community, "I'm spiritual but not religious," the Washington Post's "On Faith" takes on the question:

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Christian family values (are rotten?)

Is Christianity in conflict with "Family Values"? What are the "Family Values" of the Christian Tradition? An interesting article at Counterlight's Peculiars explores these questions:

Christianity is a Rotten Family Values Religion
From Counterlight's Peculiars

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Institutional bias and universities: anti-theological?

Is theology so obscure an object that theological departments at universities have become an easy target for budget-trimming?

In The Guardian online, Sophia Deboick notes the tension:

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Learning to speak Christian

Stanley Hauerwas reflects on the challenges of learning how to "speak Christian" at the ABC News Religion blog:

By Stanley Hauerwas
Posted at ABC News's Religion and Ethics

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Avoiding Facebook adultery

What are the theological and ethical conundrums inherent in friending (or ignoring) old flames on Facebook?

Avoiding Old Flames on Facebook
That it's only a virtual friendship is all the more reason to stay away from it.

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Early AA document displays debate over religion

Early documents of Alcoholics Anonymous displays "profound debate over religion" as the founders of the group discussed how to refer to God and decided on language inclusive of many faiths.

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Do human rights exist? A satire.

Andrew Brown is up to some wonderful mischief in this essay on whether human rights exist.

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Does Buddhism avoid the science vs. religion debate entirely?

The Dalai Lama, as part of an interview, remarks about the ways that the conflict between the scientific and religious worldview simply isn't an issue in Buddhism the way it's perceived to be in Christianity:

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Unemployed? How to keep the Sabbath?

How does one honor the Sabbath when you're out of work? How might we read the text, and live it out, considering that we might be reading it from a cultural or economically-biased perspective. Miguel De La Torre, writing in EthicsDaily.com asks, how we might "Honor the Sabbath when you're out of work?"

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Conflating mental illness with evil

I'm filing this in our Theology category. If the Tucson shootings were evil, who is the sinner?

Melinda Henneberger, editor-in-chief of PoliticsDaily.com, calls out those who conflate mental illness with evil.

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Evil II

Mark Ralls writes that Christians surrender the vocabulary of evil at our peril:

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Thank God for the new atheism

By Alister McGrath in ABC Religion and Ethics website

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Catholic theologians advocate major changes

The Catholic Herald in the UK reports:

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Rob Bell: Will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell?

I read Rob Bell's Wikipedia entry this morning, and therein lies a bit of a tale.

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Rob Bell on Hell continued

The controversy over a still mostly unread book by a preacher who questions whether or not Hell still exists, or is populated, has continued all week. Folks all across the spectrum have been reacting, some with shock and anger, some with bemusement, some with welcome to a fellow believer.

The New York Times has an excellent summary:

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Familiarity breeds something more than mere contempt

Russell Jacoby says violence is more often found between parties more at home with one another than it is between strangers.

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Bosco on lay presidency

Bosco Peters writes on his blog Liturgy about the proposal to institute lay presidency of the eucharist in the Diocese of Sydney of the Anglican Church in Australia.

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Biblical truth?

Is the biblical narrative true in the same way that a mathematical theorem is true? Is it true in the same a natural law is true? What about a historical account of an event? What about an eyewitness account?

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Science and religion in conflict? Maybe not so much.

The recent award of the Templeton Prize (which is given to a person who has made an "exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension") to Lord Martin Rees, the former president of the Royal Society, was deemed controversial in that Lord Rees, an atheist, has never explicitly written about spiritual matters.

But James Hannam, a expert in the History of Science, points out that the controversy presumes that there's a fundamental distinction between scientific and religious thought. According to Hannam that distinction doesn't exist.

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Has the cult of Mac been upgraded to a religion?

Like Richard Dreyfuss over his mashed potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I pondered this video, realizing "This means something" without being able to really put my finger on what it was.

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Co-opting the Church?

Like the author of a piece posted on Ekklesia, I too am finding myself more and more influenced by the anabaptist understandings of non-violence, the rejection of privatism of belief and the discomfort with the co-option of the Church to the Empire. And so as much as I reveled in the essential Anglicanism of the wedding events, I like Simon Barrow, the author of the essay, had a sort of disquiet as I watched the wedding yesterday.

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Inside the Bishops' theology group on same-sex relationships

A year ago the bishops of The Episcopal Church received a report from a group of eight theologians commissioned by the bishops to provide their perspectives on same-sex relationships. That report appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of Anglican Theological Review.

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Lady Gaga and the Gospel of Judas

The Rev. Dr. Patrick Cheng, theologian and professor at Episcopal Divinity School reviews Lady Gaga's latest song and video "Judas":

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David Bentley Hart wins Michael Ramsey Prize

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, awarded the 2011 Michael Ramsey prize to 'Atheist Delusions' by David Bentley Hart. "The Michael Ramsey Prize is intended for theological writing which, by freshness and originality, somehow changes the theological landscape, and also serves the needs of the Church."

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Technology and Christian practice

It's been argued by people this week that we're moving rapidly into the realm of the cyborgs and androids, living lives that can't be managed except by using technology. From always connected pocket computers, to a global web of relations, to robotic limbs and eyes, the future is breaking upon us.

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Bad theology leads to bad art

Writing for the blog of the Image journal, Tony Woodlief says:

I’m convinced that bad art derives, like bad literary theory, from bad theology. To know God falsely is to write and paint and sculpt and cook and dance Him falsely. Perhaps it’s not poor artistic skill that yields bad Christian art, in other words, but poor Christianity.

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Grappling with patriarchal language: Father's Day edition

A good Trinity Sunday to you, and happy Father's Day from Episcopal Café.

In the Huffington Post, Brian D. "Generous Orthodoxy" McLaren says referring to God as Father, or using "father" language at any rate, is of course shaped by one's relationship with one's own father.

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The demonic in everyday life

Richard Beck starts by reflecting on an interaction with a Utility worker sent to shut off his electricity, continues by asking himself about why it is that he had trouble seeing the humanity of prison guards and then suggests that perhaps the pace and lack of human interaction of modern life is leading us to dehumanize one another.

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Our post-denominational future?

It's pretty common to hear people opine that we are living into a post-denominational future. There are fewer differences between many main-line denominations than there are within them. So, rather than work at propping up structures who's usefulness has passed, why don't we just chuck the whole mess, save ourselves some money and move bravely into this future?

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Marcus Borg: "Sometimes the words in the Bible are wrong."

Marcus Borg, interviewed online at the Progressive Christian Portal has something to say about how we read the Bible today. And he encourages clergy to be honest about their own stance when it comes to passages of the Bible with which they disagree.

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Bishop Beckwith on scarcity and abundance

Bishop Mark Beckwith of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark reflects on scarcity and abundance in our own time and in the time of Jesus:

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Sabbath and vacation

The Washington Post's OnFaith blog is asking for people to reflect on the practice of Sabbath and vacation:

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The top 25 progressive theologians

Who do progressive clergy read? A group of thirty United Church of Canada clergy listed their top 25 theologians. There are a number of Episcopalian and Anglican writers in the mix. Marcus Borg tops the list which includes Barbara Brown Taylor, John Spong and even N.T. Wright.

Take a look at the list here. Who's missing? Has there ever been a similar study done in the U.S.? Me, I'd add in James Alison to start.

Theological fortitude in a meteorological and emotional maelstrom

File under Practical Theology: Rev. Marian Windel told her earthquake- and hurricane-battered Virginia congregation today that God wasn't "mad at us in any way."

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But God was not in the whirlwind

Stephen Prothero at the CNN Belief blog writes:

Hurricanes and earthquakes are one arena, however, where the language of science has almost entirely routed the language of theology.

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Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating

Norman Wirzba's new book, Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating was reviewed by Mary Bowling on Englewood Review of Books.

Bowling writes that the new book is more of a Christian theology book than a book for foodies:

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The role of doubt in science and religion

There's a well known saying that doubt isn't the opposite of faith, certainty is. (It's generally attributed to Anne Lamott, but there are versions traced back to Voltaire.) Science is about finding certainty, or something close to it at any rate. Christian faith would seem to then to be a whole different sort of thing. Can the two talk to each other?

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Is Constantinianism all bad?

"Is "Constantinianism" all bad?" asks this provocative blog piece over at The Christian Century...

Is Constantinianism all bad?
By David Heim in The Christian Century

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A new black theology that recovers ancient texts and forumlae

Jonathan Tran reviews three books that he says redefine both black theology and challenges many assumptions white theologians hold about the relationship between race and the theological enterprise.

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What's happening in feminist liberation theology?

A report from the Feminist Liberation Theologians’ Network:

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The truth about orthodoxy

Bosco Peters writing at Liturgy points us to a fascinating lecture by Fr. John Behr, Dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary in New York. Behr believes that the early church communities that were the most diverse--catholic--were what came to be known as orthodox.

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Same Bible, differing interpretations

When President Obama endorsed same-sex marriage this week, he cited his faith, and this highlighted the fact that different Christians read the same Bible differently and see different implications. The Rev. Canon Susan Russel talked about this on NPR's Morning Edition today.

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No basis in the Bible for an afterlife

N.T. Wright and other scholars think our concept of heaven is all wrong. The Bible does not support some heavenly afterlife but a renewed life on earth. Huffington Post reports:

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Presiding Bishop on communion and baptism: 'Don't separate them.'

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori believes that the sacraments of communion and baptism should not be separated. At a townhall meeting in North Carolina a few months ago, she said, "If we're aware that there are people coming to the table who have not been baptized, it's time to do something.

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Evil: cosmic, systemic, personal

The Rev. Gary Hall, rector of Christ Church, Cranbrook recently taught a course on the problem of evil at Cranbrook School, Mitt Romney's old stomping grounds. Here is what he concluded:

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Eternal life: bad idea?

Steve Cave thinks immortality is a bad idea. Ronald Bailey, reviewing Cave's new book Immortality for Reason magazine writes:

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A dumb question I have been meaning to ask

I have had question on my mind for a few weeks that I have only recently decided is worth asking.

Is it important that we speak compellingly about Jesus?

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"That's why they crucified him."

Joe McKnight, an student at Union Theological Seminaryinterviewed the Rev. James H. Cone, Charles A. Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary, on black liberation theology, among other subjects, for The Revealer. (The text of the interview begins about two thirds of the way down the page.)

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Did early Christianity betray Jesus?

Archbishop Rowan Williams reviews Geza Vermes new book Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea, AD 30-325 which asks the how much the early church changed the teachings of Jesus.

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The misapplication of the theology of the cross

I imagine many of you heard or preached sermons yesterday about Jesus' invitation to pick up one's cross and follow him. Whenever I listen to this passage from Mark's gospel, I am reminded how dangerous it is. I think about all of the times that I picked up the wrong cross, and what it cost me to do so. I think about all of the people who theologize their victimization by assuming that being beaten or cheated or deprived of basic human needs is their "cross to bear." Applied to the wrong situations, the theology of the cross is an invitation to pointless human suffering.

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Is the Good News bad news?

In the Comment is Free section of The Guardian's website, Theo Hobson has a few things to say about Francis Spofford' new book Unapologetic. He writes of Christian faith:

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Happy Monday morning. Let's discuss the problem of evil.

Like so many of you, I woke up this morning wanting to discuss the age-old question of why God allows there to be evil in the world. (I'm right about this, aren't I? I mean, the Emmys are so last night.) Anyway, unlike most people, I had the advantage of reading "The Problem of Evil" by Sister Bernadette Reis at Busted Halo. She writes:

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Why did Jesus have to die?

Derek Flood, the author of a new book on the death of Jesus, talks about the meaning of that death in the Huffington Post:

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"The arithmetic of good things cancelling out bad things"

Andrew Brown of The Guardian has written a column that people who wrestle with questions of faith and doubt and who try to make sense of justice and suffering, might well find useful. It doesn't submit easily to the taking of excerpts, but here is a bit that conveys something of his approach.

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The death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern of The New York Review of Books offer an in-depth account of the last days of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi. These two excerpts touch on the influence that his involvement in the plots against Adolph Hitler had on Bonhoeffer's theology.

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God and the Bible in the news

New York Times essayist Yoram Hazony offers the idea of An Imperfect God:

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Original sin = original helplessness

Giles Fraser, writing in The Guardian explores Augustine and Freud and the concept of original sin:

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Ray Lewis, good linebacker, bad theologian

Updated: Tim Schenck's column has been picked up by the Huffington Post.

In the wake of the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl victory, Ray Lewis the great Ravens' linebacker who had just played his last game invoked the Letter to the Romans to explain why his team had won. "If God is for us, who can be against us," Lewis said in response to a question from Jim Nantz of CBS Sports.

Leaving aside the question of whether God cares who wins the Super Bowl, the notion that winners win because it is God's will that they win is dangerous in all kinds of ways, not least that it excuses all manner of structural injustice. Lewis' remarks created an opening for Christians who believe he is mistaken about the nature of God's favor to tell a different kind of story, and the Rev. Tim Schenck stepped up to it quickly, writing this column this morning:

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Garry Wills asks: "Why priests? A failed tradition"

Garry Wills new book "Why Priests? A Failed Tradition" is getting significant airtime from The Diane Rehm Show to The Colbert Report.

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God is dead. Can God rise?

David Creech, a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the humanities at Loyola University Chicago, offers a challenging essay titled "Good Friday. God is Dead"on this blog Dying Sparrows.

He begins:

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Are there required Christian beliefs?

John McQuiston II, writing at Building Faith asks if there are any required beliefs to be a Christian?

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Help for Trinity Sunday...

...or perhaps not. On Twitter @LutheranSatire , The Lutheran Satire, created by Rev. Hans Fiene, is a project intended to teach the orthodox Christian faith by making fun of stuff.

(Fiene earns special props in my book for the Voltron reference)

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What is an authentic liberal Christianity?

In the first of a two-part series, Theo Hobson looks at the tensions between the rational and ritualistic traditions of liberal Christianity in The Guardian:

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A God of the grime

I've been reading the novelist Colum McCann recently. Impressed by TransatlanticI moved backwards to Let the Great World Spin and found this passage:

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What will become of work?

Bishop Nick Knisely wonders what will become of work--and our human need to be creative and productive-- in a world where more and more stuff is made by fewer and fewer people.

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A Calvinist revival?

Mark Oppenheimer writes that evangelicals are in the midst of a Calvinist revival.

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GTS embarks on the 'way of wisdom.'

Believing that the ways of academic specilization and business-style management is leaving the church bereft, the Dean and faculty of General Seminary are embarking on an experiment to integrate theological education with the daily, lived experience of the church. They are calling this exploration "The Way of Wisdom."

A statement from the faculty:

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Must a Christian believe Jesus rose bodily from the dead?

"On the third day, he rose again."

Must one believe that Jesus literally rose from the tomb to be a good Christian, or can one believe there was an "Easter event" that his disciples interpreted as a resurrection? Kimberly Winston explores this question in an article for Religion News Weekly.

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The geography of evil

The Rev. Dr. Roger A. Ferlo, president of the Bexley Seabury Federation and professor of biblical interpretation and the practice of ministry, preached this sermon at Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer, Chicago.

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Through the darkness of Holy Saturday, we wait

Cafe contributor Fr. Andrew Gerns offers this wisdom on Holy Saturday:

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A theology of abundance. What exactly is that?

I have worked in the church for more than 10 years now, so you'd think I would understand the terms that church people use. But sometimes I don't.

Take for instance the frequently-stated sentiment that the church must "transform a theology of scarcity into a theology of abundance."

I have no idea what this means, and the recent article on this topic at Faith Street didn't help me.

Who can help me?

"All y'all come unto me": Bishop Curry talks about the Eucharist

The Scholar Priest Initiative is producing a series of videos "to communicate -- clearly, compellingly -- what The Episcopal Church believes and does, to 'show and tell' our way of faith and our way of life." The series will feature "everyday Episcopalians addressing and exemplifying what we believe and how that belief shapes they way we live."

The first video, on the Eucharist, features Bishop Michael Curry. We will have another one, featuring Ellen Davis on Scripture, this evening.

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Ellen Davis: Scripture makes a claim not objectively provable

In the second video of the New Tracts for Our Times series from the Scholar Priest Initiative, Ellen Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke University Divinity School, talks about how Episcopalians encounter Scripture.

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Do miracles happen?

Reform magazine, the journal of the United Reformed Church, asked four people to respond to the question of miracles.

Maggi Dawn, associate professor of theology and literature, and dean of Marquand Chapel at the University of Yale, says:

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