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Friday, July 3, 2015

Independence Day - 2015

O ETERNAL God, through whose mighty power our fathers won their liberties of old; Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Theology as Retrieval" by W. David Buschart and Kent D. Eilers. A Review

Theology as Retrieval: Receiving the Past, Renewing the ChurchTheology as Retrieval: Receiving the Past, Renewing the Church by W David Buschart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Much of the early Reformation theologians and pastors followed a trail that had been cut out before their day; ad fontes (to the sources). It wasn’t just a hip renaissance slogan, but had been pursued by earlier generations, with sometimes more and sometimes less reliability. The sources that were returned to were the church’s pastors and theologians from bygone eras. The goal was to look back for the sake of the church’s present and the direction of the church’s future. This procedure now has a name: retrieval. W. David Buschart, associate dean and professor of theology and historical studies at Denver Seminary, and Kent D. Eilers, associate professor of theology at Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, have pulled together a fine work to help guide in this process, “Theology as Retrieval: Receiving the Past, Renewing the Church.” Their 319 page paperback is a book written by theologians that will be enjoyed by theologians and the theologically trained. The authors repeatedly remind their readers that retrieval “entails the church of yesterday helping the church of today to think, speak and act rightly” (32), and those who pursue it are “attending to the past as they respond to the needs of the present. In one way or the other, each looks back to move forward” (257).

“Theology as Retrieval” examines three broad areas where the method of retrieval is being worked out: “formal matters—Scripture and the task of theology; the inner life—worship and spirituality; and the outreach of the church—mission and presence in the world” (39). In each of the subcategories the authors engage with those who are focused on practicing retrieval in a given topic. The purpose is not to create a rigid template for doing retrieval, but to “uncover the logic of retrieval in six areas of contemporary theological reflection in order to cultivate discernment about the use of tradition in Christian theology today” (14). With regard to Scripture, Buschart and Eilers look into John Webster, Kevin Vanhoozer, Matthew Levering, Darren Sarisky, in addition to R.R. Reno and J. Todd Billings as they practice various versions of Theological Interpretation of Scripture. Likewise, when addressing theology for the Christian life and life in the Trinity, the authors examine Ellen Charry, Matthew Boulton, Hans Boersma, Fred Sanders and Douglas Fairbairn. Then they move on to consider worship, and worship architecture, with Robert Webber, Shane Clairborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Enuma Okora and others, while reviewing four case studies of retrieval in worship. Next, the subject of spirituality brings the reader to hear from a host of authors, including Bruce Demarest, Glen Scorgie, Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe, and to explore Tom Schwanda’s “Soul Recreation” and Gary Neal Hansen’s “Kneeling with Giants.” Next comes mission, and specifically, five expressions of the new monasticism, listening to Scott Bessenecker, Michel Casey, Dennis Okholm, Benet Tveldten, Aaron Milavec, Andy Freeman, Peter Grieg, Jonathan Wilson-Hardgrove and Etienne Wenger. Lastly, Buschart and Eilers tackle the cosmos – “the entire created realm in its relation to God and all the varied  instances of meaning-making that spring from embodied human life” (222) – with a concentrated gaze on the way Radical Orthodoxy, and especially John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock play tradition like a jazz improvisation.

After scrutinizing the numerous authors who are employing retrieval in specific theological loci, “Theology as Retrieval” concludes with some lessons learned. First, retrieval is motivated because of the corrosive effects of modernity on genuine Christian faith and practice and the perceived inadequacies in current resources (258-9). Next, history is viewed as an arena of divine action, which means that there are resources in our Christian past that can be recruited to aid the Christian present (259-60). This leads to the confident conclusion that the specific language and “conceptual resources” that the church formulated throughout the millennia deserve, at the very least, respectful and thoughtful regard (260-2). Subsequently, those who inhabit retrieval seek to perform theology by being shaped, coached, guided and sustained from the life, liturgy and multigenerational and ecumenical intercommunity of the church (262-6). Finally, practitioners of retrieval recognize the continuity and discontinuity between the Christian past, present and into the future (266-9)

“Theology as Retrieval” works from the premise that “theology always begins in the middle” (278). Wherever we are in the timeline of God’s story, we need the aid of the past to reinforce our confidence in the Faith, release us from our modern captivities, and re-center us on the liberating Gospel of Christ in the present, so that we can profitably pilot a course through the prospective future. Though this is a seminary level resource, the material will benefit most thoughtful readers. It is a book worth purchasing and reading!

My thanks to IVP Academic and InterVarsity Press for the free copy of “Theology as Retrieval’ used for this review.

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

"O God, the Father Almighty..." - 28 June 2015 PM

O God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, you are infinite, eternal and unchangeable in your being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth (from Westminster Shorter Catechism 4), a Father who is able and ready to help us. Therefore, through your Son, Jesus Christ, we make free to approach you with our prayers.

We pray for your Church throughout the nations, Southern Hills Christian Church; Village Christian;  Western Oaks Christian; Forest Hill Christian; and Northside Christian Church. Guide your children in their deliberations and actions in ways that are in line with your statutes and ordinances; providing all that we need to go further in your work. May we fully embrace the fullness of the Gospel of your Son, Jesus Christ and his kingdom, growing in all godliness and joy. Cause us to be people of our word, to be truth-bearers and vow keepers, that our integrity may reflect your own fidelity. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We remember before you those whom we know who need to repent of their sins and believe in Christ, as well as those who have strayed away and need to be restored…Show them the direness of their state, the hope and delight that can only be found in union with your Son, and rouse their hearts to call on the name of the Lord to be saved. O Lord, hear our prayer.

O Lord God, be with our nation, our governmental leaders, or citizens and all inhabitants of this land that godliness, righteousness, and mercy will run through our country like mighty rivers. As we contemplate this coming anniversary of our independence, help us not to take it for granted, not to be shallow or slipshod in our liberties and responsibilities. Bring us again to hold these truths as self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator (not by the State, not by legislation, not by supreme judicial decisions, but by their Creator) with certain unalienable Rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Hear us, O Lord, as we petition your most holy, wise and powerful governing and preserving of the nations of this world. Please bring under control the warring factions and chaotic turmoil plaguing many countries, restore peace and wholesome order, right all wrongs and stop evil dead in its tracks so that all may rejoice in your goodness and your Church be unharmed, and your Gospel unhindered. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We intercede on behalf of those who are troubled and careworn by physical, financial, emotional and spiritual distresses…Lord, we’re not always sure how to pray for those in these circumstances. We do ask that you would provide them what is most needful, help them to not waste their difficulties, but to grow in them and that they would let steadfastness have its full effect in them, that they may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1.4).  O Lord, hear our prayer.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

"We pray for..." 21 June 2015 PM

O our Lord and our God, we pray for your World and your Church; we pray in the name of your Son Jesus Christ; we pray knowing that you have promised to hear us. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for the distressed and the self-confident nations of this world, that you would preserve your Church in every land by granting each realm your peace and prosperity, while restraining war, blood-feuds, graft and corruption; O Lord, hear our prayer.

Almighty God, give ear to our spoken and unspoken worries, misgivings and doubts about the economic, political and legislative future of our country. Grant what is best for the good of the citizens of this land and for the peace of your Church; O Lord, hear our prayer.

O our God, we remember these who are in need…turn their sorrow into celebration, their suffering into strength, their anger and pain into wholeness and health, and their worries into faith. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for the people in our lives and in our hearts who are experimenting and flirting with dangerous actions, actions that may well lead them astray; we also pray for those who have never repented of their sins and trusted in Christ Jesus your Son…..May they see their peril and call on the name of the Lord, and be saved; O Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for Your Church throughout the world, for these churches…..Hillcrest Christian Church; Memorial Christian; New Covenant Christian; New Hope Christian; Northwest Christian; Putnam City Christian Church and this congregation. By your holy Word and Holy Spirit, guide each and every one in your way of truth and righteousness, and take care of all their financial and physical needs. Please be with our brothers and sisters of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston S.C. Comfort them, holding together their shattered hearts. Help them to not be overcome by evil, but to continue to overcome evil with good (Romans 12.21). O Lord, hear our prayer.

We are grateful, O God our Father, for the fathers in our lives who have exhibited, in some way, your own fatherhood; may godly fatherhood increase in this church and in our land. But we also know that there are many whose memories of fathers are shadowy, or worse, that are very dark. We pray for them that you would draw near and fill up what is lacking – that your fatherly hand would be on them, strengthening, assuring, healing, restoring. And we pray for those fathers who have betrayed their trusts in some deep way, that you would recall them, bring them forgiveness, and help them to own their faults, seek reconciliation, and find resolution. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Thank you, Father, for the way things unfolded in Carnegie; the closeness of our team, watching over us, giving us the joy of your Spirit to hold us and help us. Thank you for the kids and adults we were able to work with, sing with, and talk with. May the work you gave us to do bear beautiful and bountiful fruit. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"Joy in the Journey" by Steve and Sharol Hayner. A Review

Joy in the Journey: Finding Abundance in the Shadow of DeathJoy in the Journey: Finding Abundance in the Shadow of Death by Steve Hayner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Joy in the Journey” came in the mail yesterday and I plowed through it in three hours. It was a fertile piece that brought me to tears in places, made me stop and ponder in spots, and cheered my heart in other locations. With my own father-in-law’s death not too far past, I reflected on how there were similarities and differences between his and the Hayners’ situation. But I also mused over my own inevitable demise. It truly was a fertile piece.

The story is about one life, Steve Haynor’s, being quickly enveloped by cancer, decline and death. The stages are chronicled from the first of May 2014 till the thirty-first of January 2015, and a couple of weeks beyond. Each entry is drawn from Steve and Sharol’s CaringBridge notes, as well as their grown daughter’s, which give them an “in-the-moment” urgency and authenticity. The up-and-down, step-by-step development brings the reader into the emotions, hopes, disappointments, prayers, expectations, let-downs and surrenders that course through each page. Not long into the book, and one begins to think of close family members who have gone, or are going, through similar circumstances. This little book pulses and throbs with hope at every turn, the hope that can only come through Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. The gospel of Christ is the sun around which each part of the journey revolves; and is the fountain from which the Hayner’s joy is drawn.

“Joy in the Journey” would be a helpful tool for preparing family members of cancer patients preparing to enter their treatment regimen, or who have moved into palliative care and hospice, as well as for use in grief counseling. The Hayner’s story will touch readers in places they didn’t know could be touched. I highly recommend the book.

My deep thanks to InterVarsity Press for the free copy of the book used for this review.

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Sunday, June 7, 2015

"Arise, O LORD" - 7 June 2015 PM

Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before You (Numbers 10.35). We pray for Your Church throughout the nations, for Britton Christian Church; Crown Heights Christian; Del City Christian; East 6th St. Christian; and Edmond Trinity Christian Church: That you would kindly smile upon them and prosper their work that is being done for your honor, for Christ’s reign, and according to your will. Fill them with your Holy Spirit; guide them along your ways of truth and righteousness; and deliver them from the evil one. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Be with us in this congregation, Good Lord, and help us to count it all joy when we fall into various trials, so that as our faith is being tested it might be strengthened, and patient endurance would grow large, and we would, one-and-all, increase in godly maturity. Assist us in becoming makers of disciples of Christ, adding to our number such as are being saved. And go before our team as we head to Carnegie, paving the way and prospering the work. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We call out to you the names of people we know who need to repent of their sins and believe in Christ, as well as those who have strayed away and need to be restored, and those whose faith is shaken…. Lord God, bring them with penitent hearts and steadfast faith, to embrace and hold fast to your Son, Jesus Christ; to the unchangeable truth of your word; and into the fellowship of your church. O Lord, hear our prayer.

O Lord God, we pray for our nation, that you would lead our leaders and govern our governors so that they would walk wisely, defeat evil, and advance true justice for all – born and unborn. We pray for Edmond, Putnam City, and Oklahoma City, that you would steer our mayors and city councils in ways that would be honorable and beneficial for all the citizens of our cities. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Hear us, O Lord, for we desire your leadership over the nations of this world. Please bring under control the warring factions and chaotic turmoil plaguing many countries, and restore peace and wholesome order. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We intercede on behalf of those who are troubled and beleaguered by physical, financial, emotional and spiritual distresses….those recovering from birth…those presently pregnant…Have mercy on them all, lift their spirits, and grant them health. O Lord, hear our prayer.

“Return, O LORD, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel” (Numbers 10.36).

Saturday, June 6, 2015

"Renewing Moral Theology" by Daniel A. Westberg. A Review

Renewing Moral Theology: Christian Ethics as Action, Character and GraceRenewing Moral Theology: Christian Ethics as Action, Character and Grace by Daniel A. Westberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How do you get people to do the “right thing”? Much of the business ethics market, educational character building schematics, and even Christian moral instruction focuses on the “do this, don’t do that.” Whether it has to do with federal regulations and EEOC guidelines, scholastic programs, or religious teaching, most agendas aim at reaching the cerebral and external. Daniel Westberg (DPhil, Oxford University), professor of ethics and moral theology at Nashotah House, Nashotah, Wisconsin, approaches the subject from a more comprehensive position that encompasses the rational, applicable, volitional  and emotional in his new 281 page paperback, “Renewing Moral Theology: Christian Ethics as Action, Character and Grace.” The book is informed and shaped by Thomistic, Augustinian, Catholic, and Protestant (especially Anglican) ethical theologies to “provide for the general Christian public a blending of the strengths of the Catholic tradition with evangelical emphases and convictions” (10). Westberg seeks to renew Christian confidence in “the area of moral convictions” (Ibid.), and writes for thoughtful Christian readers, parishioners, pastors and seminarians.

“Renewing Moral Theology” unfolds in two parts, the first laying the case for, and shape of, moral theology, especially from an Anglican perspective, that brings together and harmonizes “Catholic and Protestant traditions in a helpful way” (27). The second part of the book walks the reader through the seven classic virtues; prudence (wisdom in action), justice, fortitude, self-control, faith, love and hope. The underlying principle throughout the work is that all of “our genuine actions ( . . . ) have moral import and are moral actions. That is, they are expressions of purpose, desires and attitudes revealed in decisions to do something.” Therefore the book is “unabashedly teleological,” that is, our actions flow toward, and flow out of, an “ultimate end or purpose ( . . . ) that can be described as the supreme good, sheer joy and complete fulfillment” (31). In other words, don’t skip to the second half of the book (the virtues) until you have grasped the first part (purpose, reason and action).

In the beginning portion of “Renewing Moral Theology” Westberg, learning from Augustine, Aquinas and Scripture, maps out an ethical model that pulls together the combined roles of human reasoning and willing, attraction and action in moral direction. The author moves the reader away from the primacy of obligation in moral motivation, to the predominance of attraction to joy and the good; “it is easier to see that the more fundamental picture of being attracted to good things ( . . . ) and through them to the good itself is sounder philosophically, psychologically and biblically. The sense of duty is secondary to overall purpose. ( . . . ) the motivation prompting action is a desire for fulfillment – to achieve a more complete level of being ( . . . ) perfect well-being and happiness” (33). He then adds to motivation the importance of thoughtfulness in morality, for actions “are the result of desire guided by reason” (35). This place of motivation will show up throughout the book as the author will make, in a clearheaded way, claims such as this; "It is hope and motivation that underlie human actions, and our motivation increases with hopefulness, and more hopeful people are motivated to attain more challenging and fruitful goals" (207).

Westberg delves further into the how and why of good engagements and judgments, bringing in the significance of habitus (a developed dispositional trait), conversion, and the Law. He rightly perceives that we “need to realize that the goal of the moral life is to attain that state of harmony between intention, attitude and emotion, so that it will become natural and joyful for us to perform what we know is right and good” (80). That goal of what is right and good is lucidly defined with the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, as “to glorify God, and enjoy him forever”.

The second segment of “Renewing Moral Theology” uses, and thoughtfully reflects on, the seven classic virtues. Westberg assures the reader that though this looks more like a check list approach, he is simply doing it for the purpose of analyzing and describing (142). To compartmentalize each virtue as a stand-alone character is an impossibility, for in truth “a person cannot have any of the moral virtues without having them all” (143). The author then launches into the four cardinal virtues and the three theological qualities, examining what they are and repeatedly displaying the interdependence of each with the others. Westberg does not necessarily remain within the fence line of staid and sterile definitions for each characteristic, but will pleasantly and biblically surprise readers here and there by stretching and molding each quality so that new contours stand out, where once they may have been overlooked. Probably the most pronounced, for me at least, was his description of love, where he shows that the primary definition of agape moves from (though it is still included) self-sacrificial love “to the concept of friendship or union with God” (235). It is interesting, and surely intentional, that the final three chapters are faith, love and hope – in that order, so that the book ends with hope; the hope that will find its maximum pleasure in the return of our Lord and Savior, when we will finally be all we were meant to be, enjoying God in unrestrained fullness.

“Renewing Moral Theology” holds together the classic Protestant distinctive of justification by grace alone through faith alone, while learning from more traditional Catholic sources, and it seems to me that Westberg has achieved his Anglican via media. This material would be a great asset for fathers and mothers as they think deeply about the morality they desire for their children. Pastors, priests, seminarians, and attentive Christians of all stripes will benefit immensely, especially if this work is read and discussed with others. It is not a simple read written in a popular style, yet with some intentionality, it is definitely manageable and understandable.  Westberg has done a masterful job. I highly recommend the book.

Thanks to InterVarsity Press for the free copy of the book used for this review.

[If you like it, repost it or republish it. But as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike]
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