During John Paul II’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000, the frail pontiff visited the Western Wall, the remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple. With quivering hands he placed in a crevice of the wall a piece of paper on which he had written a prayer.
To reimagine Christian ethics, Samuel Wells draws on the liturgy as his chief resource. That he does so in accessible prose without pausing to wrangle with other ethicists is welcome enough—all pastors and many laypeople could read this book profitably.
On a recent trip to Jordan, no one directing my tour group objected to my meeting with Christian evangelicals. But the evangelicals were nervous. They are carefully conforming to the role that Jordan has given them: providing social services and avoiding activities that could invite government suspicion—like preaching or distributing Bibles. Publicly they state, “We’re not here to change anyone’s religion, we’re here to help people.”“Still,” one of them added later, “If I get five minutes with someone I’m going to share the gospel.” There are few stories of Jordanian Muslims converting to Christianity. Evangelical missionaries explain that it takes time, but they also seem frustrated that the Jordanian government hasn’t recognized their efforts to moderate their language and behavior.
Pity the poor book. Its obituary has been written many times as prognosticators glance over the horizon and predict that the Internet and downloadable literature and e-books will soon replace pages-between-covers.
There is something charmingly quaint about Sam Harris’s new book, Letter to a Christian Nation. If not for religious belief, he says, this country would be pouring resources into such worthy efforts to alleviate suffering as stem cell research, not indulging in hand-wringing over preposterous moral qualms about the destruction of embryos.
What is missing from the camp portrayed in Jesus Camp, or at least from the film account of it, is the fun. In my church camp days, I enticed non-Christian friends to go to my camp by telling them how much fun it would be. My counselors taught me how to canoe, how to fake fart, how to belay up a rope and how to flirt with girls. The counselors were college kids who were “on fire for Jesus,” but they loved me for myself—not as a future foot soldier in the jihad for America. That’s why I accepted their faith. If it was faith in Jesus that made them love me and others and allowed—no, encouraged—an unbridled pursuit of fun, I wanted in and I wanted to tell others about it. I still do.
In one of those neglected corners of scripture that must scare those brave enough to think about it, Jesus promises an unpleasant future for those who would not visit him in prison: “Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matt. 25:45).
Reading the Bible with the Damned. By Bob Eckblad. Westminster John Knox, 2005.
A stunning book about how studying scripture with the poor, with illegal immigrants, and especially with the imprisoned can produce extraordinarily beautiful readings—and hopefully, more redemptive politics.
Discipline and Punish. By Michel Foucault. Vintage, 1995.
If yesteryear’s evangelical church was a castle in the exurbs, Jacob's Well is a rehabilitated loft in the city. Evangelical churches attract young people with spaces stripped of Christian symbols and tradition; worshipers at JW like its dark wood, stained glass and high ceilings. Other churches would be thrilled to have 1,000 attenders; JW worries that it will lose the intimacy that nurtures community and friendship. And stewardship? Jacob's Well urges members to give time or money only out of gratitude.
Last year six men joined a string of theologians who are leaving their Protestant denominations for the church of Rome. They included three Lutherans, two Anglicans and a Mennonite. All of them had strong connections to mainline institutions. All fit the description “postliberal”—accepting such mainline practices as historical criticism and women’s ordination while wanting the church to exhibit more robust dogmatic commitments. All embraced an evangelical, catholic and orthodox vision of the church. And none of them could see a way to be all those things within mainline denominations.
Reading this book prompted a minor conversion on my part. You can hardly be a member of my generation and not love the rock group U2, but I’d found the enthusiasm about its theological significance annoying. The rush to baptize the band seemed to me a matter of Christians’ desperation to be cool.
There are a priori reasons to dislike Superman Returns. Superman is always a little campy in his tights and red Underoos. And how can the film measure up to such cool and thoughtful superfare as X-Men or Spider-Man? Improved computer graphics and younger, handsomer heroes do not a great superhero film make.
In the fourth century, a Spanish monastic named Egeria made an arduous pilgrimage to the Holy Land and left behind a diary that is the chief source of what historians know about early Christianity in the Middle East.
That a mosh pit of reviewers would fall over each other to pan the The Da Vinci Code is puzzling. It’s not a great film, but then it isn’t a great book. If you want car chases, go see Mission: Impossible III.
At a family gathering I was teased for reading a recondite book titled Theologians Under Hitler. Who but a theological nerd would choose such a book for vacation reading? I could have replied: “I read the book, now you can see the movie.”
When United Methodist Church bishops condemned the U.S. military presence in Iraq, a fax arrived almost immediately at the Century from the Institute on Religion and Democracy's top Methodist watchdog, Mark Tooley. Like some kind of Methodist pope perched over the bishops, Tooley dressed down the bishops: "How woefully absurd that church prelates condemn the United States for attempting to build democracy in Iraq."For three decades Tooley and others at the IRD have been monitoring mainline churches for political statements that are out of step with the views of their rank-and-file members. When there's a gap between the views of church leaders and people in the pews the IRD steps in to take advantage of the controversy.