Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Making College/University Affordable for the Poor

I was the first member of my family to get an education beyond high school–which, perhaps, explains why I kept getting degrees.  I did fairly well in high school, but because of all the moves and drama in our family, didn’t achieve top grades–and my guidance counselors gave me lousy advice.  I didn’t even know that one was supposed to take the SAT or ACT in one’s junior year and apply for universities, then. I thought one finished high school and then looked for colleges. I knew that scholarships existed, but had no idea how to find out who offered them, never mind apply for them.  My parents (who later went to university themselves) had no idea how to advise me.  I joined the army partly because I had no idea how else to pay for college.  In my experience, many bright teens from poor or working class families are in similar situations.  Even if they have top grades and better guidance counselors, they often fail to prepare to apply for top level colleges and universities because they assume that they are out of reach.

In the middle of my doctoral work, I met Emilio Castro, who was then the Secretary General of the World Council of Churches and had been exiled from his home country of Uruguay for years while it was controlled by a military dictatorship.  Castro spoke to my class of doctoral students and reminded us that most people in the world never have a chance for even one year of university study.  We were blessed and had a responsibility to work to be able to provide more education to more people.  I took it to heart.

Education is the most proven path out of poverty.  The gospel is on the side of the poor and churches need to be working more strenuously to provide high quality education opportunities to more of the poor.  Some churches are working with after school programs and mentoring for “at risk” children and teens.  This is good.

One thing churches can do is to provide more information to those who think their options are more limited then they are.  For extremely bright, talented, and motivated students who are poor or working class, the options and opportunities are often much greater than they know–or than guidance counselors tell them about.  For instance, Questbridge is a program that helps  top-notch students whose families make under $60 thousand per year gain needs blind admission to elite U.S. colleges and universities.  They can apply to up to 8 schools (ranked) with one application fee.  Accepted students attend with full scholarships at one of the most oexclusive colleges or universities in the U.S.  Other elite schools, such as Harvard University, which are not part of the Questbridge program, have also taken major steps to become far more affordable for working class students.  Pastors and youth ministers can inform talented youth about such programs, encourage them to apply, even recommend them to such programs.

I would like to see the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities develop a similar program to Questbridge.  Few, if any, of their member schools or affiliates have huge Ivy League endowments that can be used for as generous financial aid packages. But they can partner with churches and denominations (are often already in such partnerships) to fund major scholarships. 

Churches must work harder to make quality education available to all who can benefit from it.


October 25, 2010 Posted by | education | 2 Comments

Slavery as a Crisis of Biblical Authority

I have mentioned that Cynthia R. Nielson has been posting a series of brief guest-bloggings on “Violence and Holy Writ” on her wonderful blog, Per Caritatem.  I am the guest-blogger for the third installment, on slavery and the crisis of biblical authority in 19th C. America.  See that post here.

October 17, 2010 Posted by | Biblical interpretation, blog series, church history, hermeneutics, human rights, slavery | Leave a comment

Christian Colleges Making a Real Difference #2 Eastern University

I have made the charge that most Christian colleges and universities in the USA are not adequately doing the work of the Kingdom of God.   This series is about the real exceptions to that charge.  All the schools in this series (1)are  academically challenging; (2) strongly promote service learning and promote non-market values of service to others and work for the common good; (3) are serious about their Christian identity, but in a fashion that promotes tolerance, diversity, openess, and respect for others; (4) cultivate global awareness through both recruitment of international students and strong study abroad programs; (5) reject the dominant cultural values of consumerist materialism, nationalism, and militarism (points are taken off if the school has an ROTC progam and points are added if they have a peace studies program); (6) promote peace and social justice strongly as part of their core Christian identity and mission.

Eastern University, St. Davids, PA (a suburb of Philadelphia).  Founded in 1925 as Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the college division began in 1932 and was chartered as a four-year liberal arts college (Eastern Baptist College) in 1952.  Because both the faculty and the students were increasingly drawn from a much wider constituency than Baptists, the school was renamed Eastern College in 1972 and, when a small number of graduate programs were added in 2001, became Eastern University.  The seminary was renamed Palmer Theological Seminary in 2005.  Both institutions are still voluntarily (but strongly) related to the American Baptist Churches, USA the current name of the old Northern Baptist Convention.

Eastern University is an evangelical institution with a progressive vision and a strong social conscience.  In some ways this is surprising, because it was founded as a reaction to liberal and secularizing trends.  The seminary (which will not be discussed much since this series focuses on undergraduate, liberal arts, education) was founded as a conservative alternative to Crozier Theological Seminary, a liberal Baptist seminary in the Social Gospel tradition then-located in Chester, PA. (Crozier was the seminary where Martin Luther King, Jr. earned his ministerial credentials and is now moved to Rochester, NY and merged as part of Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School.)  Eastern Baptist College was founded specifically as an alternative to Temple University (which had been founded by Philadelphia Baptists, but had become a secular or “non-sectarian” institution).  So, Eastern (and Palmer) could have become reactionary, fundamentalist institutions.  But the founders combined a commitment to Protestant orthodoxy with a strong vision for justice and peacemaking. In 1925 and 1932, you could have accurately called the faculty, administration, and trustees “social gospel fundamentalists” and as the term “evangelical” became distinct from “fundamentalism,” Eastern’s people and ethos were always clearly with the broader evangelical ethos. 

    There is a brief doctrinal statement which faculty, administrators, and trustees must sign annually (non-Baptists are exempt from the specifically Baptist articles on baptism and ecclesiology), but it is a basic Trinitarian statement with a classic Reformation soteriology.  Scripture (Protestant canon) is named as the supreme and final authority in matters of “faith and life” (i.e., doctrine and ethics), but the document does not demand adherence to inerrancy. Other than a commitment to Christ’s Second Advent, there is no specific eschatological position demanded. Other than a reaffirmation of Christ as only Mediator, no specific view of the atonement is demanded.  The statement is brief and, though traditional, broadly ecumenical.  I could sign it without any qualms and hold several views that many U.S. evangelicals consider suspect.  There is no doctrinal commitment required of students. 

An early motto (still used at the seminary) of the school was, “the whole gospel, for whole persons, to the whole world,” and this is still part of the core commitment of Eastern University.  The university’s motto is “faith, reason, and justice.”  Faith:  Eastern is a specifically Christian university, though welcoming students of all faiths and no particular faith.  It’s curriculum and campus life is shaped from an evangelical Protestant perspective, seeking to blend faith and scholarship seamlessly. But faith is more than doctrine and Eastern emphasizes the “whole gospel,” including evangelism and holistic mission, and commitment to social justice. One does not work for “saved souls while bodies go to hell.”   Reason: St. Augustine is famous for saying that “faith seeks understanding,” and Eastern believes that. It’s academic standards are high and it works hard to promote the life of the mind. Below we will examine the university’s Templeton Honors College, but, for now, it suffices to note the presence of several honors societies, standards of admission that are higher than most Christian colleges, and a strong commitment by the university to create lifelong learners of all students and graduates.  Justice:  The commitment here is especially to social justice–to economic justice, racial equality, equality of the sexes, and care for the earth.  The campus is green and getting greener.  There is a strong commitment through many academic and service programs to urban renewal, to education for the rural and urban poor, and a resistance to the culturally dominant messages of consumerist materialism.  Esperanza College, is Eastern’s junior college run in Philadelphia’s Hispanic Community. They also have an accelerated program for adult, non-traditional students working on undergraduate education in mid-life.  Eastern’s Campolo College of Graduate and Professional Studies works for social workers, business leaders who, as social entrepeneurs, will seek to transform late post-modern capitalism from within–forging companies that do justice, not just make money.  All students, through both hands-on service learning and traditional classroom work, are encouraged to become active citizens who seek to change public policies to promote greater economic and social justice and greater environmental responsibility.

From my perspective, it is unfortunate that the university (and the seminary) takes a traditional view of “homosexuality,” so that gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered persons would probably feel like second class citizens.  Many faculty openly admit that neither gender identity nor sexual orientation is chosen, but the institution still promotes the view that the only morally permissable context for sexual expression is in heterosexual marriage.  This is a negative strike in an otherwise strongly positive institutional commitment to social justice and GLBT prospective students (and parents and friends) are hereby warned of this weakness.

It’s a strong plus that there is no ROTC program or “military science” major, but I would like to see the foreign languages and international relations programs strengthened.  Eastern is very strong in Spanish, but that is the only modern foreign language offered and the strong political science major focuses only on the U.S., without even a minor in international relations, never mind programs in peace and conflict studies.  These are programs that would not need to be “grafted on” to Eastern’s core values and commitments, but would be strong outgrowths of them.  Since the school is currently growing, I’d like to see the administration seek to add to the foreign languages department–not only traditional options such as French and German, but languages in high demand for both global citizens and Christian mission workers (including aid and development workers): e.g., Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Modern Hebrew, Farsi.  The Communications Studies department should seek to expand to include journalism (we certainly need more journalists with commitments to justice and with interfaith sensitivity!) and film studies.  I’d also like to see the Christian Studies department take the philosophy minor and expand it to include a major as well as offer more courses in world religions and interfaith dialogue.  I’d like to see a Classics Department added with concentrations either in Classical Languages (learning two of the following three: Classical and Hellenistic Greek, Latin, and Biblical Hebrew) or Classical (Mediterranean and North African) Civilizations.  These are expansions that I think fit well with Eastern’s history, commitments, and traditions. 

Beginning in 1999, Eastern University created the Templeton Honors College, through grants from the Templeton Foundation.   This is a program open only to gifted and highly motivated students and competition to enter it is severe.  The curriculum is based on The Great Books of the Western World which once formed the core curriculum of the University of Chicago and is still the ONLY curriculum of the St. Johns Colleges. Students in the Templeton Honors College pursue individual majors, but, in place of the traditional Core Curriculum Requirements, substitute a four year series of seminars and colloquia, study abroad, a senior thesis and a capstone course.  This program is more specifically Christian than the St. John’s College curriculum or the old University of Chicago curriculum, and includes courses on the question of “The Good Life,” “Justice, the Common Good, and Contemporary Issues” in addition to biblical, theological, and Christian spirituality courses, but students still read large sections of the Great Books.  There are also additional cultural events and opportunities as well as service opportunities and internships.  This is a program that will produce persons of character and leadership and (in many cases) faith in numerous fields after graduation.  It’s an excellent program that is rightly highly acclaimed–and could only be improved by requiring at least one ancient language (Hebrew, Greek, or Latin) and one modern language (Spanish, French, or German) of all students in the program as it expands.

Academic support and counseling is offered with every major and every program.  There are no teaching assistants and student development is a priority for all faculty and staff.  Generous financial aid programs, including grants, scholarships (merit based and need based) and loans are available and the university is committed to making certain that no student is unable to enroll or continue because of financial need and that all graduate without being saddled with decades of student debt.  The university has also long recruited a multi-cultural student body, though its faculty is less diverse. 

Students are supported by a campus wide “Office of Faith and Practice” consisting of the University Chaplain, the Director of Christian Formation, and the Chapel Worship Advisor.  Weekly mid-week chapels are offered, and no conflicting classes scheduled, but they are not mandatory or coerced.  The religious life of students is also helped by student chaplains, mission trips, service learning requirements, and ministry groups.  The names and directions of numerous nearby churches are provided all prospective and new students.  I would like to see intentional support programs for Jewish and Muslim students and believe that this could be done without compromising the university’s specific Christian identity and mission. I understand the hesitation:  church-related colleges and universities that have provided such services have often soon after cut their church-ties and moved from being Christian insitutions to “non-sectarian” schools with a Christian heritage.  (Most private, secular universities in the U.S. began as church-related, specifically Christian, schools, including all the Ivy League colleges and universities.  The story of higher education in the USA, except for the land-grant state colleges and universities, is largely the story of the secularizing of once-Christian institutions.) But such a progression is not inevitable and offering such support, especially in a large, multi-cultural city like Philadelphia, should flow from Christian hospitality, from welcoming strangers as guests and neighbors. 

I count it a great plus that Eastern has no “Greek Life,” i.e., no fraternites and sororities promoting drunken debauchery and undermining both the Christian identity and academic mission of the school.  Far too many church-related colleges and universities have undermined their mission by inviting “Greek Life” in the form of non-academic fraternities/sororities and their residence houses to take up residence on their campuses. Eastern does well to keep such elitist cliques far away from it forever.  The university has also chosen not to have a “College Democrats” or “College Republicans” chapter.  Social justice, service, and political awareness clubs and activities abound–but without specific party ties. This decision probably works to promote greater dialogue and less fractious division on campus.  (It is definitely superior to the decisions by some conservative Christian colleges to permit a College Republicans chapter but NOT a College Democrats chapter!  For any Christian college that allowed such chapters, I would advise promoting student awareness that other options exist, by encouraging the formation of College Green Party, College Libertarians, Natural Law Party, or even Socialist Party chapters. Reality is more pluralistic than “Republican vs. Democrat” even in the USA.) Faculty, administrators, and students belong to various political parties, but are united by the deeper bonds of Christ.

Eastern University isn’t perfect.  I have mentioned the areas I would like to see expanded, improved, or, in the cases of sexual minorities, even reformed.  But it is an excellent Christian college that is actually doing the work of the Kingdom of God.  It has made a good beginning and I would love to see it continue to improve.  I think many of its strengths can be traced to the influence of Dr. Antony (Tony) Campolo, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, also an alumnus of the college and seminary.  But the core values were there from the beginning and others had to share and commit to the parts of the Eastern vision that do stem from Campolo.  All evidence points to a bright future for Eastern University as it builds on the vision and commitments that have brought it thus far.

October 11, 2010 Posted by | blog series, education | 4 Comments

Peacemaker Profile # 4 Liu Xiaobo

  As announced yesterday, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for 2010 will be Liu Xiaobo, a human rights and free speech activist in China.  So, he seemed to be an appropriate choice for the next entry in this random series of peacemaker profiles. 

First of all, the Nobel Committee in Oslo (chosen by the Storting or Norwegian Parliament, per Alfred Nobel’s will) has a mixed record in choosing recipients of this most prestigious peace award.  But, in general, when they have chosen peace and human rights activists, and avoided sitting politicians, their choices have held up well to the verdict of history.  All the Nobel Peace Laureates have been controversial to somebody (FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was livid in 1964 when Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel & South Africa called the choice of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 1984 “a weird insult from Norway”) , but the choice last year of U. S. Pres. Barack Obama more for his potential as peacemaker than for any deed yet done, probably shaped the decision this year to go back to human rights activists. (It didn’t help the controversy that Obama decided to “surge” in Afghanistan right after the announcement of the Nobel Committee.)  China, who had long threatened economic and political consequences if the Nobel Committee ever chose a dissident human rights activist, was predictably furious at the choice of Liu Xiaobo.  But making governments angry while drawing the world’s attention to areas of conflict and/or human rights abuses, is one of the traditional jobs of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Liu Xiaobo is a writer who took part in the 1989 Tienenmen Square nonviolent protests for democracy in China–protests that were brutally suppressed by the Chinese military in the Tienenment Square massacre.  He was a major organizer of “Charter 08” a manifesto by human rights activists worldwide calling for free elections (with multiple parties), free speech and freedom of the press.  China has imprisoned him for 11 years on a bogus charge of “attempting to subvert the government and the Communist Party.” (The Chinese Communist Party may only be “Communist” in name these days, but it remains totalitarian.  The claim by Reaganites in the ’80s and by Bush I in the ’90s that capitalism would automatically bring democracy to China has proven to be the illusion that many of us named it at the time.)

Although it is unlikely that Xiaobo will be released to receive the Nobel in December (it is always awarded on 10 December, the day on which Alfred Nobel died), I hope his wife will be permitted by the Chinese govt. to travel to Oslo and receive the award. It is already having an effect. Rallies for Xiaopo’s release have happened in China and around the world.  European leaders and Pres. Obama have called for Xiaopo’s release–a move that could lead to further deterioration of relations between China, Europe and the U.S. 

Congrats to Liu Xiaopo.  All of us who love justice and who know that peace is always built on justice–never on covering up injustice–are praying for you.

October 9, 2010 Posted by | blog series, heroes, human rights, Just Peacemaking, peace | 1 Comment

Theological Mentors #4 E. Glenn Hinson

One of my teachers whom I have not mentioned frequently is E. Glenn Hinson, church historian, contemplative & advocate of strong, disciplined practices of spiritual formation, ecumenist, peacemaker, and advocate of the liberal strand of Baptist theology. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Hinson grew up on a farm in the Missouri Ozarks near Sullivan. A poor Baptist farmboy growing up in the Great Depression and WWII, his path to success began with a scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis where he earned a B. A. in history mathematics (correction from Sallie Lanier). As with many of us, university tested Hinson’s faith and he credits a wise counselor at the Baptist Student Union (BSU) on campus for showing him that if “all truth is God’s truth,” and if Christian faith was a relationship with the living God, then one could fearlessly investigate anything, test everything, and trust God through it all. That orientation led Hinson to reject fundamentalism and to see it forevermore as a kind of fear or even a “works righteousness” that desires to earn God’s favor through holding “right beliefs” and being intolerant of all, even other Christians, who see things differently.

Hinson took this new orientation and a call to ministry to the mother seminary of his denomination (Southern Baptist Convention), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. There he finished his B.D. near the top of his class (earning several awards) and took a Th.D. in New Testament, writing a dissertation in which he concluded that the Apostle Paul did not write the pastoral epistles–a daring conclusion for a Southern Baptist in the 1950s.

SBTS wanted to recruit the brilliant student from Missouri, but needed church historians more than Neutestamentlers. Hinson switched gears and pursued a second doctorate, a DPhil. at Oxford University in early church history. (He studied, of course, at Regent’s Park College, the Baptist theological college at Oxford.)  His background in New Testament has allowed him over the years to make many careful connections between the Apostolic era and the Patristic writings.

Becoming friends with Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and spiritual writer whose abbey (Gethsemani) was near Louisville, Hinson became deeply involved in the ecumenical movement of spiritual renewal–connecting the revivalist spirituality of most Southern Baptists to ancient and medieval spiritual practices. His ecumenical efforts included participation in the Faith & Order Commission of the World Council of Churches at a time when his branch of the Baptist movement was not a member of the WCC. He has lectured in Catholic, Orthodox, and many different Protestant institutions.

For 30 years, Hinson taught Church History at Southern Seminary, becoming one of the most published faculty members. He has written major works in early Church history (e.g., The Evangelization of the Roman Empire; The Church Triumphant; The Early Church: Origins to the Dawn of the Middle Ages) , biography (e.g., Seekers After Mature Faith; Love at the Heart of Things: A Biography of Douglas V. Steere); religious liberty(e.g., Soul Liberty; Religious Liberty: The Christian Roots of Our Fundamental Freedoms); spiritual formation (e.g., A Serious Call to a Contemplative Lifestyle; Spiritual Preparation for Christian Leadership), over 30 books and contributions to books in all.

Hinson has even used his NT scholarship and written Jesus Christ for the “Faith of Our Fathers” series in the early 1960s. This work was later to be the cause of some controversy, although the series died and few noticed Hinson’s volume at the time. The assignment by the publishers was for Hinson to write a “biography” of Jesus that included only what historians could prove or be reasonably sure of as historians. So, Hinson summarized the major conclusions of “historical Jesus” research at the time. He noted that the tools of historiography did not allow him as a historian to affirm Jesus’ resurrection, although as a believer Hinson could and did affirm Jesus’ resurrection.

Years later, in the 1980s, when Hinson was a major critic of fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist Convention, Hinson’s enemies used that book to claim that Hinson did not believe in the resurrection–which is false. One can debate whether or not Hinson is right about the limits of historiography, but that is an argument about what historians can reasonably assert, NOT an argument over the resurrection itself. Trustees at SBTS repeatedly cleared Hinson of any charges of heresy, but one of the injustices of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention was that there was no such thing as protection against double jeopardy: Hinson and other professors could be cleared one semester only to face another individual or group putting forward the SAME CHARGES with NO NEW EVIDENCE the next semester.

When Pres. Roy Honeycutt retired from SBTS, Hinson retired rather than attempt to teach under a fundamentalist administration. From 1994-2000, Hinson was Professor of Church History and Christian Spirituality at The Baptist Seminary in Richmond (BTSR) and an Adjunct Professor at Union Theological Seminary of Virginia/Presbyterian School of Christian Education. He has also held many visiting professorships. Currently, he is Visiting Professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Senior Professor of Church History and Christian Spiritual Formation at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky (a non-fundamentalist alternative to the now fundamentalist-controlled SBTS), and Visiting Professor at Lexington Theological Seminary (Disciples of Christ). During this post-SBTS period, Hinson has affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

As with anyone, I haven’t always agreed with my beloved professor: Hinson denies the Anabaptist roots of Baptists, for instance, seeing English Puritanism as the sole root of the Baptist movement–a view I contest. I find less value than he does in the works of Teilhard de Chardin, whereas Hinson finds Teilhard’s work to provide a philosophy of history. But I have learned from him to appreciate the history of the entire church as MY history and learned steep myself in the “classics of Christian devotion” as guidance in spiritual formation and discipline. We share a deep commitment to Christian nonviolence (Hinson’s is more Quaker-influenced while mine is more Anabaptist in shape) and the work of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. Hinson was the original editor of The Baptist Peacemaker.

His personal faith has also long been a source of personal inspiration: Hinson suffered a stroke and loss of some hearing in the late 1960s, but has persevered in service to Christ and the church despite this and much other adversity. I am glad to have been taught so much by this great mentor and friend.

Note: The Fall 2004 issue of the Review and Expositor (the oldest faculty journal of theology founded by Baptists in North America) is devoted as a Festschrift to Hinson.  The Spiritual Formation Network, dedicated to helping all Christians become spiritually mature, has created (in 2007) the E. Glenn Hinson Five Day Academy for Spiritual Formation Scholarship.

October 8, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, biographies, blog series, history of theology, theologians | 3 Comments

Essential Theology Books of the Last 25 Years (1985-2010)

The Christian Century has asked a range of prominent contemporary Christian theologians to list their top 5 works in theology for the last 25 years.   CC  polled Stanley Hauerwas, Amos Yong, Emilie M. Townes, Lawrence S. Cunningham, Sarah Coakley, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, George Hunsinger, and Willie James Jennings.  Their results are here

It’s a good selection of thinkers and a good list, but I thought it’d be fun to poll the theoblogging and biblioblogging world for their picks.  Below are mine in no particular order.

  • Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Abingdon Press, 1996).  Won the Grawemeyer Award for religion.  Written in the wake of the Los Angeles uprising over an all white jury’s cynical aquittal of the racist police officers who beat Rodney King and in the wake of the ethnic cleansing in the civil war of the former Yugoslavia. (Volf is a Croatian-American.) Though not every part is equally satisfying, this is a powerful account of the necessity and difficulties of forgiveness.
  • J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account (Oxford University Press, 2008).   Even though modern theology and philosophy (since the days of European colonialism) are deeply involved in the construction of the flawed notion of race, the topic is usually ignored. Carter not only tackles it, but does it with more depth than I would have believed possible.  NO pastor (especially in the USA), evangelist, missionary, theologian or student of any theological discipline can afford to ignore this book.
  • Catherine LaCugna, God For Us: The Trinity and the Christian Life (HarperOne, 1993).  The late Catherine LaCugna gives one of the most powerful accounts of the Trinity I’ve ever read and shows how deeply important it is for Christian living. Far too many Christians (whether liberal or conservative) think of the Trinity as a “numbers game” which is abstract and remote and of no essential importance for Christian faith–whatever lip service they give to it.  All of them should read LaCugna and reconsider.
  • John Howard Yoder, For the Nations:  Essays Evangelical and Public (Eerdmans, 1997; repr. Wipf and Stock, 2002).  The last book Yoder published before his untimely death in December 1997.  Demonstrates clearly that the Anabaptist engagement with the state and the wider culture is anything but a “sectarian withdrawal.”
  • James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Systematic Theology (3 vols.) (Abingdon Press, 1986; 1994; 2000).  In 3 concentrated and dense volumes (Ethics, Doctrine, Witness) McClendon forges a Baptist (and baptist) theology for the new millennium that is both deeply catholic and which explains and defends the (Ana)baptist perspective to those trained in mainline (Constantinian) theology–whether liberal or evangelical, Catholic, or Orthodox.

I look forward to your picks and reasons.  Yes, it’s hard to limit to just 5, but that is part of the challenge.

October 4, 2010 Posted by | book reviews, books, history of theology | 18 Comments

Under-Credited Theological & Spiritual Influences

We all have people who have been theological influences or influences on our spiritual lives whose names don’t show up much in our footnotes (if we are writers). They don’t get quoted much in our sermons.  We may acknowledge them, but strangers examining our work wouldn’t quickly detect their influence–either because their influence is subtle, because it came at an earlier stage, because it is overshadowed by the large presence of other influences, or even because we’ve mentioned disagreements in print or sermon and this has masked the areas of agreement.  For whatever reason, these “under-credited” influences can be unacknowledged, too–and that can be mistaken for ingratitude.  Lest I be guilty of ingratitude–of failing to be thankful to God for the gift of these influences–I want to acknowledge as many as possible today in one blog post.  The tributes are brief–maybe too brief–but the “thank-yous” are very large, I assure you.  There is no conscious ordering of the names that follow.

  • Lynsey Ray White & Jean Marie (neé Coddington) White.  My adopted father and my late mother nurtured my rebellious self in a Christian home–at least from my early teens onward.  My biological father was not Christian (his religion was alcohol and chasing other men’s wives!) and our church attendance prior to his divorce from my mother (when I was 11) was sporadic.  But after he left, my mother took us to a United Methodist congregation and she always modeled a life of prayer and faith and caring toward others.  My adopted father taught me that being a man didn’t mean hurting women (or anyone!) and that God wasn’t just for sissies.  Papa practiced “Christian hospitality”–sharing our home with others until they could afford to move out on their own (the only rent was contributing to the grocery bill of our large family!)–long before I knew it had a biblical name.  Both my parents stood up for racial justice in the South when that was neither easy nor typical of Southern white folk. Both stood up for the poor and marginalized and taught us to put others and the common good ahead of personal gain. I owe them more than I can say.
  • Rev. O. R. Rice.  My pastor during my late teens and earliest 20s (after I had returned to the church as a convert from agnosticism), he was pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville Beach.  A native of Eastern KY, his thick accent couldn’t hide his love of God.  He first saw in me a calling to the ministry–long before I did.  He  connected me to Southern Seminary (he was an alumnus) by bringing in some of its stellar faculty to preach our revivals–Frank Stagg, Dale Moody, Penrose St. Amant.  He also first connected me to Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Partners in South Georgia.  He practiced a grassroots ecumenism in an anti-ecumenical denomination, since one of his closest friends and fishing buddies was the local Methodist minister and he attended the Jacksonville and Florida Councils of Churches when many Southern Baptists boycotted them. He promoted choir and pulpit exchanges with African American churches when this was unpopular, too.  Even my FIERCELY Methodist mother (who always had a negative view of Baptists) liked O.R., despite her views about “swimming pools in church sanctuaries!” (This was how my mother referred to baptismal pools in Baptist churches.) O. R. gave me my first preaching opportunity (I presented some warmed over version of Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship which was doubtless more sincere than deep), too.
  • Dr. Craig L. Blomberg, now Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, Denver, CO.  Craig was my undergraduate advisor, Greek and NT professor.  Here is one of those cases where someone might be forgiven for failing to see Blomberg’s influence.  A casual glance could reveal our differences more than our agreements:  Though holding a very nuanced definition, Craig uses the term “inerrancy” to describe the Bible’s authority, whereas I have always found the term misleading and unhelpful. Craig restricts this to the lost “original autographs” whereas I don’t.  He defends “historic premillenialism,” while I am basically an amillenialist, but think that the main point is an inaugurated (not overly “realized” or overly futuristic) eschatology. Craig believes the NT restricts the roles of women in ministry (though not as much as many evangelicals believe it does) whereas I believe in biblical egalitarianism.  But these differences mask our greater agreements: We both hold high views of biblical authority as the final norm for faith and practice in the church combined with an openess to all useful methods of scholarly study of the same. (Craig deepened my love for the Greek NT.) We both are horrified at the Scripture-twisting of Dispensationalism and its militarist-nationalist offshoot “Christian Zionism.” Craig’s actual marriage to Fran is one of the most egalitarian in practice, I’ve ever seen, and Fran has held missions-related church staff positions and is pursuing a doctorate in missiology.  And far more: Craig was one of two college professors who introduced me to Liberation theology and he has defended some forms from evangelical caracatures. A centrist in politics, he pushes evangelicals to care more for the poor, for justice, for healthcare, and for peacemaking than is typical of U.S. evangelicals from the ’80s onward.  Blomberg doesn’t just defend biblical authority–but clearly places himself under that authority.  I have adopted his classroom method of using at least one “conservative” or traditional text and one more “liberal” or boundary-pushing text and having students wrestle with them directly.  Too many evangelicals critique liberal theology or biblical scholarship at second-hand, repeating a list of talking points. Craig is clearly a conservative evangelical, but he reads and learns from the likes of Bultmann, Marxsen, Dibelius, Conzelmann, and their more recent counterparts without defensiveness–and without reading just to look for places to play “gotcha” games.  In fact, Craig models for his students a rigorous intellectual honesty that says whenever one is expositing the views of an opponent or adversary one must bend over backwards to make sure one is correctly expositing those views before rendering any critique.  He also shares with the best of my other teachers the admirable trait of always seeking to make disciples for Jesus Christ–and not of Craig Blomberg.  Our differences never disturbed him. I never felt that I was expected to become an echo of his views.
  • Dr. James (“Jim”) Gilman, now Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, who was my college philosophy professor (obviously not at Mary Baldwin since it is a historic women’s college!). Jim introduced me to Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky and he took a group of us to hear a speech by Gustavo Gutierrez–thus beginning my encounter with Latin American Liberation Theology. (Now that I think about it, I think he also took us to hear Fr. Daniel Berrigan, too!)  In a very conservative setting, Jim introduced students to Evangelicals for Social Action and to Sojourners and The Other Side (sadly, now defunct).  Jim came from the Conservative Baptist Association, but studied with Edward LeRoy Long at Drew and is now an Episcopalian–one of the evangelicals who traveled the Canterbury Trail.  I haven’t followed that route, but I appreciate it.  Along with Craig Blomberg, Gilman had me read Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger during the time of the Ethiopian famine of the early ’80s.  That was one of the few books that literally changed my life. I’d always been against greed and hoarding wealth, but my eyes were opened to the sinful opulence of most U.S. Christians in the presence of the abject poverty and starvation of so many of God’s children globally.
  • Dr. David Kling, now Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Miami (FL), teaching courses in the history of Christianity and American religious history.  Kling was one of my history and church history professors as an undergrad, introducing me to the concepts of “civil religion,” the cultural captivity of churches (especially through Rufus Spain’s At Ease in Zion which showed that Southern Baptists seldom challenged the social mores of the South), H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture (despite the many flaws Yoder and others later taught me to see in this book, it focused for me the question of the relation between discipleship and citizenship with which I have wrestled ever since).  I had been interested in early Church history and Reformation history already, but Kling showed me that American religious history was also interesting–and illuminating for the problems of contemporary U.S. Christianity. (Bill Leonard would later reinforce that for me.) Kling also helped me get past the stereotypes of Jonathan Edwards and encounter the theologian of the Great Awakening. I also learned from Kling both HRN’s motto that “history is the laboratory of ideas” (a motto my Doktorvater, Glen Stassen greatly reinforced) but also the limits of historiographical methods–so that faith may have to confess things which historians cannot prove.  (This prepared me for the Barth/Bultmann debate, the debate of Barth’s followers with Pannenberg over the limits of historiography, the skepticism of Van Harvey’s The Historian and the Believer and much of the entire debate over objectivity and perspective in the “postmodernism wars” of the ’90s. Thanks to David Kling, I already had a place to stand in wading through all that!)
  • Dr. Ronald J. Sider, Professor of Theology, Wholistic Ministry, and Public Policy, Palmer Theological Seminary (formerly known as Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Director of the Sider Center for Faith and Public Policy, and founder of Evangelicals for Social Action.  My  rather large fight with a person who no longer works at Evangelicals for Social Action in the mid’90s put a real strain on my relationship with Ron Sider (as well as putting me at odds with others, which was my antagonist’s intention) and my eventual, reluctant, decision not to renew my membership in ESA because I can no longer unequivocally call myself “pro-life” on abortion, has masked how much I owe to Sider.  As mentioned above, his Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger changed my life.  I have continued to try to balance personal piety and evangelism with passionate work for social justice as Sider models.  I am glad that the 2000s allowed for Ron and myself to heal our friendship, though we continue to disagree on the meaning of religious liberty and church-state separation.
  • Dr. Anthony “Tony” Campolo, Associate Pastor of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, West Philadelphia, PA, founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE), and Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Eastern University (formerly Eastern Baptist College), St. Davids, PA.  As my friend, Michelle Tooley, says, Tony Campolo fits political philosopher Michael Walzer’s definition of a “connected critic,” a social critic who is not “above it all” but who deeply identifies with the place/group/movement which he criticizes.  In Campolo’s case, he is deeply connected to the American Baptist Churches, USA (since childhood), yet critical of the way it, like many mainline denominations, is declining. He is deeply connected to the evangelical subculture of the USA, but a major critic of its social and political conservatism, it’s lukewarm response to Jesus and the prophets’ call for social justice and peacemaking, and its self-righteousness. (Campolo’s book, A Reasonable Faith led Campus Crusade for Christ to cancel his speaking engagements and led to an evangelical parachurch “heresy trial” conducted by conservative Anglican theologian J. I. Packer! No heresy was found.)  In addition to being a popular speaker and author, Campolo is both a traveling evangelist and a sociologist and social work professor deeply committed to America’s inner cities and crafting strategies for suburban and urban churches to partner in renewing the cities. He is deeply committed to the world’s poor and to Christian care for the environment.  I share most of his commitments, but I did not get them from Campolo.  What Campolo did give me was a roll model for effective evangelistic preaching.  I am not among the millions moved by Billy Graham–but Tony Campolo demonstrates a seamless union of evangelism and social justice that I have adapted–though doubtless not as effectively. ( I also love his humor.)

I notice that, except for my mother, no women are in this list. I hope that’s because I usually acknowledge the female influences on me.  This is illustrative, not exhaustive, and I may do a similar post at another time.

October 2, 2010 Posted by | testimony | Leave a comment

Christian Colleges/Universities Making a Real Difference 1) Berea College

I have made the charge that the majority of the the numerous Christian and church-related colleges and universities in the U.S.A. are failing the Kingdom of God. They should be producing “creative malcontents,” or, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “transformed nonconformists” who are “creatively maladjusted” to the world and work to transform in it in line with the values of the Rule of God.  I heard one president of a Christian liberal arts college brag about how many graduates were accepted in the top medical schools, law schools, M.B.A. programs, and how many went on to work at Fortune 500 companies.  But if the school was really about the work of the Rule of God, that president would have said something like this, “Our graduates who go on to law school are troublemakers in the profession, insisting that the practice of law work to promote justice for poor and marginalized.  They can be found taking unpopular cases and working to get better representation for the poor and they are suing the pants off the Fortune 500 companies that violate worker or product safety or harm the environment.  Our graduates that go to medical school are equally troublemakers, working to provide quality healthcare to all, with no regard for profit, insisting that nurses be treated as amazingly dedicated professionals who deserve incredible respect, rather than as drudges for doctors. They open free clinics around the world and are disproportionately found in the ranks of Doctors Without Borders and Physicians for Social Responsibility.  Our business graduates not only go on to achieve MBAs at top-ranked schools, but continue to push the frontiers of business ethics, seeking to transform capitalism from within so that commerce serves the common good.” 

Far too often in these United States (I don’t know enough about how this works elsewhere in the world to comment), the leaders of movements for injustice for the poor, the immigrant, the marginalized, for profit above people, and above the health of the planet ARE ALUMNI OF CHRISTIAN AND CHURCH-RELATED COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES.  It’s a crime and should be a cause of shame.

But there are major exceptions.  There are Christian colleges and even universities which are amazing gems.  This blog series of occasional posts will highlight ones that I know personally.  If they are highlighted on this series, they meet several criteria:  (1) They are academically challenging. It is shameful that too many Christian colleges give the impression that a Christian education is an inferior education and that a school must break from it’s church connections to become a decent institution of higher learning.  The schools I will highlight cultivate the life of the mind, with heavy emphasis on the liberal arts  and on life-long learning. (2) They have strong elements of hands on “service learning” and promote the values of service to others and work for the common good throughout the curriculum–instead of the service learning standing in contrast to what is taught in business or economics classes, for instance. (3) Christian identity is taken seriously, but in a fashion that promotes openess, respect, and tolerance, not a sense of narrow pride or exclusion.  Non-Christian students are welcomed and not treated as second-class.  They are invited, not coerced, into faith. (4) A global awareness is cultivated throughout the campus–in recruitment of international students and international faculty, in study abroad opportunities and mission trips and in work/experience among the poor of the U.S. (5) I take off points for the presence of an ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program, but, since the majority of the Church universal has not been pacifist since the 4th C., such a program will not automatically eliminate the school from this list–but heavy atmosphere of uncritical nationalism and militarism will. (6) The presence of programs in peacemaking, international relations, conflict transformation, and/or a heavy emphasis on social justice greatly enhance the chances of the school making my list.

Berea College, Berea, KY.  I begin this series by highlighting a hidden gem here in my state of Kentucky.  If I could “clone” Berea 10 times and scatter it strategically across the U.S., it would greatly change the country for the better.  Berea is the product of an unlikely 19th C. alliance between a fiery abolitionist preacher and a wealthy landowner and leader of the “gradual emancipation” movement.  In 1855, John G. Fee, a Kentucky native and longtime fiery preacher against the evils of slavery, started a one-room school which he hoped would grow into Kentucky’s equivalent of Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio “anti-slavery, anti-caste, anti-rum, anti-sin.”  Fee dreamed of a college that would give an excellent education to men and women (the abolitionists were the first to argue for co-education of the sexes) of all races and available to those without wealth.  Cassius M. Clay, wealthy landowner and moderate “gradual emancipationist” donated 10 acres to Fee on a mountain ridge that they called “Berea” after the biblical town that was more open to the gospel message (Acts 17:10).  Clay also raised funds for the school and tried to run interference for it in the state legislature.

Berea had its trials. The initial articles in 1859 established the school’s interracial character and the commitment to provide enough work to students that they could attend regardless of ability to pay.  That same year, pro-slavery forces in the state chased Fee and his initial faculty from the area.  The Civil War years (1860-1865) were spent raising funds for Berea College, which re-opened in 1869. From its opening until the turn of the century, Berea’s students were divided equally black and white, but it was not to last. In 1904, Kentucky’s Jim Crow legislature passed the notorious “Day Law” forbidding black and white students to be educated in the same buildings or institutions.  Reluctantly, Berea went along rather than close, and changed it’s focus to the education of poor Appalachians.  When the Day Law was amended in 1950 to allow interracial education above the high school level, Berea was the first college in Kentucky to re-open its doors to students of all races.  College faculty and students participated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march of the Civil Rights Movement.  The late Alex Haley, author of Roots, became a trustee of Berea College during the 1970s. Berea’s commitment to enroll a minimum of two Tibetan refugee students per year grew from the friendship of a former college president with the Dalai Lama.

Today, Berea continues to stress “Learning, Labor, and Service.”  Committed to providing quality education for students that cannot otherwise afford it, students are turned away if they or their parents make too much money! Every student is on full scholarship–a scholarship that includes part-time work. All students must work throughout all four years of instruction.  Students are assigned jobs their first year, but after that choose their own path.  They are also given job counseling and taught habits for success–since more than 50% come from homes in which they are the first generation to go to college!  Students are taught the dignity of labor and to respect persons in difficult or dirty jobs that few want and to treat them with dignity.  Students also have numerous service learning opportunities throughout their stay.

Berea’s faculty are committed to strong liberal arts education.  It is an undergraduate, liberal arts college that has refused to become a university or seek to offer graduate programs in order to keep focus on excellent undergraduate education.  The student-faculty ratio is 10:1 and average class size is 16 ensuring personal attention to each student.  Current enrollment is around 1,600 students.   Faculty promotion is based on teaching excellence, not on publications or luring government research contracts to campus.  Majors include the usual suspects (biology, chemistry, economics, mathematics, etc.), but also African and African-American Studies, Asian Studies, Women’s Studies, and Child and Family studies.  There is a peace and social justice minor, an environmental studies minor, and a minor in Appalachian studies.  Pre-Dental, Pre-Med, Pre-Vetinary Med, Pre-Engineering, and Pre-Law programs are strong, majors in Spanish, Franench and German flourish.  There are numerous study-abroad programs and financial aid is available for them, so that over 50% of the student body study abroad at some point during their Berea education. Global citizenship is emphasized.

The school’s character is Christian and ecumenical.  The current president is a United Methodist minister (Dr. Larry Shinn) and the religion and philosophy faculty include two Baptist ministers, a Lutheran minister, a Presbyterian, a Friend/Quaker, an Episcopalian, and a member of the United Church of Christ.  This same broad ecumenical Christian presence is found throughout the faculty and staff.  There are numerous churches in the area.  The one adjacent to the campus, Union Church, was founded by John Fee and is today a part of the United Church of Christ.  The Campus Christian Center employs 3 professional chaplains (who also hold appointments in the faculty of the religion department) and numerous student chaplains.  There are numerous student religious organizations:  Baptist Campus Ministries, Chi Alpha (Assemblies of God), Canterbury Fellowship (Episcopal/Anglican), International Christian Fellowship, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, InterVarsity Fellowship, Newman Club (Roman Catholic), as well as a Buddhist Student Fellowship, and Muslim Student Fellowship.  There is support to help faculty integrate their faith with their academic disciplines. There are numerous annual lecture series and events that help explore dimensions of Christian faith.  There is a specific program in African-American religion and spirituality run from the Campus Christian Center.  Internships in Christian Ministry and Service are promoted. Non-Christians know they are at a school that is Christian in more than name, but they are not made to feel like second class citizens.  They are respected and interfaith dialogue is encouraged at all levels and is facilitated by program initiatives.  Worship services are available to all, but not compulsory.

Intramural athletics, performing arts, student government, the Appalachian Center and Black Cultural center and numerous student organizations make for a well-rounded education and nurture leadership abilities.  The opportunities are greater than with a large university where most students are lost in the shuffle.  There are no sororities or fraternities having drunken orgies, engaging in dangerous hazing, or promoting cliquish insularity on Bearea’s campus. 

The Alumni network program does more that seek donations for the college.  The alumni continue service projects together in ways that continue the traditions they learned while students at Berea.  Likewise, faculty spend leaves and sabbaticals not just in writing new scholarly works (though they do that, too), but in local and global service programs.

Here is one college with a truly Christian outlook and mission which is making a difference in the world.

October 1, 2010 Posted by | blog series | 2 Comments

Happy Birthday, Jimmy Carter!

Today. 1 October, is the birthday of James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr. (1924-) who turned 86 years young this morning.  I make no secret of the fact that Carter is the U. S. president during my lifetime whom I admire the most.  Born and raised in rural South Georgia, Carter earned a B.A. from the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1946, graduating near the top of his class. Later, as part of his work in the nuclear submarine program for the Navy, Carter did graduate work in nuclear engineering at Union College.  He rose to the rank of full Lieutenant in the Navy (a higher rank than Lieutenant is in the Army, Air Force, or Marines) before his father’s death led him to resign his commission, return to Georgia, and take over the family farm and farm supply business.

In 1971, he became the 76th Governor of the state of Georgia. He had allowed voters to assume he would continue racist policies and the “states’ rights” resistance to desegregation, but announced at his inauguration that the era of segregation and racism was over–and followed through with his actions in office.  On 02 November 1976, Carter was elected the 39th President of the United States of America having run on a platform of honesty (“I’ll never lie to you!”), government integrity and responsibility, and a foreign policy to be guided by the promotion and defense of universal human rights, democracy, and self-determination.

He was President of the U. S. from 20 January 1977 to 20 January 1981. During his time in office, he granted amnesty to most Vietnam War resisters who had fled to Canada or Europe to avoid being drafted to serve in an imperialistic war;  created the U.S. Department of Education & the U.S. Department of Energy; strengthened environmental laws;  negotiated the renewal of the Panama Canal Treaty; negotiated the Camp David Accords which led to the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty (not one line of which has ever been broken); promoted human rights around the world; boycotted U.S. participation in the Moscow Winter Olympics to protest the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR; tried to solve the energy crisis, and–after the Iranian revolution, successfully worked to free all American hostages captured when armed Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy–though the crisis cost him his presidency.  In November 1980, Jimmy Carter, evangelical Christian and Baptist Sunday School teacher, was abandoned by the majority of U.S. evangelicals who, instead, elected a divorced former B-grade actor who drank like a fish and ran his White House by astrology!

In the years since the Presidency, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter opened the Carter Center for peace, democracy, and human rights on the campus of Emory University.  Through the Carter Center, they have monitored elections for developing democracies, negotiated peace in conflict areas, worked to eradicated preventable diseases, promoted mental health, and much more.  As a prominent board member of Habitat for Humanity, Carter has helped build homes with and for the working poor throughout the U.S. and in several foreign countries.   In 2002, Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

A “born again” evangelical Christian and active Baptist layperson, Carter regularly teaches adult Sunday School classes at Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA.  He has worked to try to heal divisions among differing Baptist groups and has been especially active in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance.

Jimmy Carter is the author of 23 books, 21 written since leaving the White House.  They have ranged from a children’s book illustrated by his daughter, Amy, to a novel about the path of the U.S. Revolutionary War in Georgia, to meditations on favorite Scripture passages.  Most, however, have addressed public policy issues and peacemaking.

Can a Christian, a real, follow-Jesus-seriously-Christian lead a nation with an imperial military presence the world over?  Maybe not–but at least one (not a pacifist, but a strong peacemaker) tried to do so.

October 1, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, biographies, heroes | 1 Comment