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  • Roger Wolsey shared the above on Facebook. If Jesus were living in our world today, how do you think he would have responded to the ice bucket challenge? Living in a world without modern medical research possibilities, he did what he could. What would he do today?

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  • I’m delighted that St. Martin’s Press sent me an advance reading copy of Joel M. Hoffman’s book The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scriptures Missing From Your Bible. The book is due out September 2nd, and will be of interest to many readers of this blog. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon in both hardback and Kindle formats.The title is a clever one (and may remind you of this Non Sequitur cartoon). But it does need to be clarified from the outset that Hoffman takes a broad approach to things that are “missing” or “left out” from today’s Bibles. Some of the works he considers were never, as far as we know, considered for inclusion in a canon of Scripture – for instance, the works of Josephus. In other cases, the material in question, such as the distinctive content in the Septuagint, made it into “Bibles” – just not ones that most modern readers of the Bible in English are aware of, much less likely to...

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  • The death of a great franchise, courtesy Blastr. I try to be an equal-opportunity critic of both ends of the Christian spectrum.  That’s not to say I don’t have friends on both ends that I love and respect (I certainly do), and it’s not to say I haven’t found myself on both ends of the spectrum (I have).  But there comes a time when the ideological leanings become more important than the faith; the tail wags the dog, and little identifiably Christian substrate remains.   Conservative Christianity can, if unchecked, devolve into fundamentalism or state religion.  Progressive Christianity, on the other side of the coin, can devolve into paganism or mere activism.  It is the latter I wish to address here, using two examples that recently came to my attention. Exhibit A: The “8 Points of Progressive Christianity” Found at ProgressiveChristianity.org, these 8 points offer a rallying cry for at least one brand of Christian progressivism (more on that...

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  • Head and Heart

    Morningside Baptist Church / flickrParent overheard son as he packed for college, "Goodbye God I'm going to college!"The following letter was sent by a college student to her parents, "Dear Mom and Dad, I'm sorry it has taken me so long to write, but my stationery was destroyed the day my dorm burned down. I'm out of the hospital now, and the doctors said my eyesight should be back to normal--sooner or later. That wonderful boy, Bill, who saved me from the fire, kindly offered to share his cozy little apartment with me until the dorm is rebuilt. He comes from a good family, so you shouldn't be too surprised to learn we're going to get married. In fact, you always wanted grandchildren, so you should  be happy to learn you're going to  be grandparents--next month."P.S. MOM AND DAD, there was no fire, I haven't been in the hospital, I'm not pregnant, and I don't even have a boyfriend. But I did get a D in chemistry and an F in French, and I wanted to make sure you received...

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  • Allan R. Bevere

    Twelve brief essays from twelve different persons with differing answers can be found here.

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  • I recently became aware that Frauke Uhlenbruch, who chairs the EABS program unit on science fiction and the Bible, has a blog, gods and machines. It will obviously be of interest to academics who study sci-fi, comic books, and/or fandoms.Also of interest is a site connected with the “Fan Studies Network” which works to keep scholars who study fandoms connected, and aware of upcoming conferences and events. 

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  • Alyce McKenzie, in her weekly post at Edgy Exegesis, points out that Paul must have chosen the image of the Church as a body very intentionally.  Knowing what I know about Paul based on his corpus of letters, I think he chose the body image because it would be “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1.23).  Having spent 11 chapters dealing with the internal struggles of the Church in Rome, specifically spending extra time to help smooth the riff between the Jewish Christians on the one hand and Gentile Christians on the other, Paul calls them both to unity through the image of the body. Judaism was, and is, a very incarnational religious tradition.  The Torah is full of rules that deal with real life: how to plant and harvest; what to eat; how to wash the dishes; what to wear; and so on.  This was necessary in those days because of the fragility of life.  There were constant threats against one’s body in first century Palestine.  Pregnancy and...

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  • I wrote last week that throughout human history, and in much of the world today, the “given” is violence and poverty and sickness. The variable is, how do we human beings respond to it, and whose side is God on when we do? – on the side of murderers, exploiters, and illness, or on the side of peace-makers, the poor and the oppressed, the healers, and their allies? The radical claim of Judeo-Christianity, so wonderfully encapsulated in the Magificat, is who God sides with. Who God intervenes for: “God has shown strength with his arm;he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,and lifted up the lowly;he has filled the hungry with good things,and sent the rich away empty.”But if we’re honest, it begs some questions, doesn’t it? Where is this saving God for those fearing for their lives on the mountaintops in Iraq who’ve fled the so-called “Islamic State” fascists? Where is this healing God in Africa, where people are...

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  • Brian McLaren

    Folks in the US are learning about the Wild Goose Festival (if you don't, check it out here). It was modeled largely on Greenbelt, a huge and wonderful festival in the UK. That's where I'll be for the next several days. Looking forward to seeing many of my UK (and US, and other) friends there!

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  • Tamed Cynic

    The word to which Inigo Montoya refers in the Princess Bride is ‘inconceivable.’ For many people outside the Kingdom of Florin, it’s inconceivable that another Word doesn’t mean what they think it means. From the Christmas creche to Christ’s Cross, many of the Bible passages so near and dear to our (the-Lord-laid-it-on-my) hearts don’t mean what we think it means. Very often it means exactly the opposite of what we think it means- an impressive feat, no? Sometimes Christians read into biblical passages something that is not remotely there at all, what biblical scholars call eisegesis. Other times Christians miss, almost willfully, what is right there in front of them on the page. From cliched, Christian-speak catch-phrases (‘wherever 2 or 3 are gathered’) to familiar flannel-graphed VBS stories (‘Truly, this was God’s Son’), Christians are guilty of routinely misunderstanding, misquoting, misapplying or just plain MISSING verses of scripture. So I offer you (in the name of the...

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  • This past Sunday in my Sunday school class, we dived back into the Letter of James after a long break.We didn’t get far.We were up to James 1:17, and I decided not to let the cosmological and theological assumptions behind the notion of good gifts coming down from above, and God as the “Father of lights,” pass by without comment.For most ancient people, the lights in the sky were the hosts of heaven, celestial beings which were far above us but near enough to see. Placing God above them, unchanging, was often coupled with the view that matters in our realm are overseen directly by celestial subordinates.Talking about God as “up there” situates God much further away, if one’s view of how far one can go in that direction is informed by the Hubble telescope.James Adamson renders the entire phrase in James 1:17 in the following interesting way: “the Father of lights, whose nature suffers neither the variation of orbit nor any shadowing out (as in...

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  • John Vest

    Like youth workers around the country, I’m busy making final plans for the beginning of a new youth ministry program year: recruiting volunteers, putting together calendars, planning curricula. This will be my fourteenth year of youth ministry, and it gets harder every year. Youth and adults keep getting busier. Each year there are more and more conflicts and competing activities. The big surprise this year is a high school admissions test that will take up two fall Saturdays for many of the eighth graders entering our confirmation program, wreaking havoc on our fall retreat. (Don’t get me started on the insanity of getting into a good high school in the city of Chicago.) These are all symptoms of the growing post-Christendom realities I have been talking about for the past several years. This is precisely why we need new approaches and models to youth ministry in post-Christendom America. In fact, we need new approaches and models for all aspects of church in post-...

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  • Edges of Faith

    I’m not going to mince words about this. Heaven is For Real and God’s Not Dead are not Christian movies. They are not even religious movies. They are schmaltzy, vacuous, “inspirational” movies. If a film leaves viewers with a fist full of answers rather than questions, with declarative reassurances that heaven is real and God is alive, then it’s [Read More...]

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  • Beloved Spear

    I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy the other night with my sons, as the summer of twenty-fourteen wound its way to a close.  It was a Tuesday night at the local theater, meaning it was student night. Cheap tickets, free popcorn, bottomless sodas, and a hoo-hah comic-book space-opera?  Those are all the ingredients for a perfect summer moviegoing experience.Did I enjoy it?  Sure.  It was totally enjoyable.  Of course it was enjoyable.  It was made to be enjoyable, a spun sugary confection carefully calibrated for the consumer palate.  Wham bam zap, went the movie, pitching out bright colors and bathos, like carnival cotton candy and the tilt-a-whirl. What's not to like?  Carnivals are fun.And because as a pastor I always, always, always have my theologian hat on, I found myself with my antennae up for those blessed teachable moments.Lord, did I have my antennae up.  It's what's expected, right?  I mean, seriously, these sorts of blog...

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  • Mark 10:2-12            In his words about divorce, Jesus takes us beyond what the law allows, to what we might call the ideal for marriage.  Looking back to Genesis 1 and 2, Jesus says, "from the beginning of creation `God made them male and female'."  And, "for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."   But what does it mean to be one flesh?  Well, it could mean that the man and woman are exactly alike, duplicates of each other, or it could mean that one spouse controls the marriage.  These are possible definitions, but there is no mutuality in them.  Then there is the popular fifty-fifty marriage, but as Walter Wangerin points out, when we think of ourselves as fractions we will discover that "these two halves don't fit perfectly together."  There is, however, another possible definition.  Wangerin suggests that in a marriage,...

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  • Today marks the final installment of my summer blog series on Pentecost with a fabulous word from my seminary classmate and friend, Dana.Dana has a powerful story to tell and I’m glad to have her words to share with you here.  If you’ve missed any of these posts, might I suggest catching up before you start with this post one explaining the series.  The Turning Point: How the Spirit Changes Everything  I was baptized on Pentecost by an ordained woman serving south of the Mason-Dixon line, a miracle for Baptist churches of the 1990s. At that time, only the most progressive worshiping communities were hiring female ministers to serve in a capacity other than serving as Christian educators. That Pentecost morning, I was born into the Christian community with water and Spirit. But my baptism sparked a chain of events that would, ultimately, reach beyond the membership of Christ’s Church. It would lead to my early Christian formation, my decision to attend seminary, my...

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  • Journeys Home

    Off to the coffee shop this morning to do some writing. I like the place, which is a national chain, but I miss the independent coffee shop that operated in our town for a while. Eventually I may branch out to an independent shop that I've heard about in nearby Maplewood, MO.When we lived in Akron, OH, I loved going to the Nervous Dog Coffee House. I wrote there a lot, sometimes a couple hours a day if I was in the midst of a writing project. One of my books contains an acknowledgment to that coffee shop, though at that time it was called Coco's under earlier management. When I'm back visiting friends, the coffee shop that was a different kind of friend is a fun stop.It is wonderful that some pastors whom I know are doing office hours in coffee shops and similar places. To me, that's being out there were the people are. Just hanging around the coffee in case someone dropped by seemed, to me, a less effective approach to ministry.One of J.S. Bach's cantatas is "Schweigt stille, plaudit...

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  • It took him three times to accomplish what he announced to be the big finish. It wasn't smooth as silk in other words, twice he fell off the rope. Because it didn't work, he had us all on the edge of our lawn chairs. He'd pulled out a big steel frame maybe 12 feet wide, the kind of gizmo people put up in their back yards if they don't have a couple of trees for a hammock. I have no idea what kind of rope he had strung between the ends because he wet it down with something akin to lighter fluid. There was going to be fire. Then he got up on that rope, a tightrope walker, and actually climbed an aluminum ladder set ON THE ROPE (I'm serious!) and started into juggling burning torches while a hastily drafted volunteer from the crowd--a young lady!--lit the whole blasted rope up beneath him. Got it? Listen, fire is lapping at him, running up and down the rope and even up the sides of the ladder (how'd he do that?)' and all of us, a whole park full, are guessing he's got asbestos shoes...

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  • Journeys Home

    I live in the St. Louis area, where the local news has been dominated by events in Ferguson. Community groups have been pulling together to help within the community, and some groups have been collecting donations for Ferguson persons who haven't been able to get to stores because of the discord during several recent evenings. This article from one of the local TV stations describes the kinds of protesters in the community: http://www.ksdk.com/story/news/local/2014/08/20/two-teams-of-protesters-ferguson/14366151/ Pastors have been working toward reconciliation: http://www.ksdk.com/story/news/local/2014/08/20/pastors-team-up-to-provide-positive-place-for-ferguson-kids/14360075/ The New Yorker has an interesting article about the movement that is growing as an outcome of Michael Brown's shooting. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/movement-grows-ferguson US Attorney General Eric Holder has arrived in town, and meanwhile a grand jury Holder's visit came as a...

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  • Larry Patten

    Hospice ADLs:  My Adventures of Daily Learning.83 70-90% of the population is right-handed. I’m one of them. When recovering from carpal tunnel surgery on my right wrist in 2013, I was confronted with complicated obstacles like . . . Negotiating all aspects of being on or near a toilet (I’m keeping descriptions G-rated). Zipping any zipper. Tucking in my shirt. Brushing my teeth. Washing my left hand. Putting on my dog’s collar. Taking a shower. Many other commonplace movements became a chore, an hourly and daily obstacle course of once “thoughtless” activities. Fortunately, I have a wife willing to lend a hand. Unfortunately, I’m a stubborn guy. She offered to help with my shirt-tucking endeavors. No thank you. Can I help you zip that zipper? I’ve got it! I relented on the shower. There’s only so much time in the day and who wants to spend significant clock time air-drying rather than using a towel? My ordeal lasted barely a week. After the surgeon removed the bandages and stitches...

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  • Allan R. Bevere

    "He took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them." -- Mark 10:16We pray for the children   Who sneak popsicles before       supper,   Who erase holes in math       workbooks,   Who can never find their shoes.And we pray for those   Who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,   Who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers   Who never "counted potatoes,"   Who are born in places where we wouldn't be caught dead,   Who never go to the circus,   Who live in an X-rated world.We pray for children   Who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,   Who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.And we pray for those   Who never get dessert,   Who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,   Who watch their parents watch them die,   Who can't find any...

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  • Jerry Coyne shared the cartoon below, which illustrates the tendency we have to consider that the culture, religion, species, and everything else we are brought up with is the best, rather than the more likely scenario which is that we think they are the best because they are what we were brought up with. Ironically, some atheists assume that what is sometimes called the The Outsider Test for Faith (as in the title of the book by John Loftus) leads naturally to atheism. But for some of us, the attempt to look at our own inherited religious tradition as well as atheism from the outside suggests that both have their weaknesses because they are inevitably human worldviews reflecting our limited perspective. I’d argue that the appropriate response to taking the outsider test is to inhabit some human worldview more humbly, with greater respect for those of others (because you understand what they are), rather than adoption of the stance that you have now found the one correct...

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  • A Wee Blether

    I’m not sure what constitutes the official “end of summer” these days, but I think it’s here for me. Faculty workshops have replaced writing time. Syllabus prep has replaced reading time. New, longer lists of to-dos have replaced my unfinished lists of summer projects. Ready or not, it’s back to school. I’ll hopefully have a less me-focused post for you next week, but I’d like now to reflect and share a bit on the past few weeks of travel and writing. International Society for Media, Religion, and Culture (ISMRC) In early August I attended a conference of the ISMRC in Canterbury, England. My paper presentation, Analyzing the Spiritual Rhetoric of Kickstarter.com in Theory and Practice was slated first in the first panel, so I got it out of the way and was able to thoroughly enjoy the rest of the conference. Beyond the charm Canterbury itself, and the amazing cathedral, I was really thrilled to be able to hang for a few days with a group of scholars—young and old—who like to study what...

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  • Brian McLaren

    A reader writes: I recently finished your book "The Secret Message of Jesus" and I wanted to send you a short "thank you" note. I really enjoyed this book. As a "spiritual but not religious" person it was really refreshing to hear a pastor look a little deeper at the life of Jesus. Although I don't consider myself religious or Christian I have loved Jesus since I met him in Sunday School as a child. There's something wonderfully intriguing about him and his teaching. And I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about his teaching style being intentionally vague. He wants to draw you in slowly. He wants you to work. As a former philosophy/religious studies major I have always felt the need to look deeper and you have helped me with your book. Additionally, it's just refreshing to hear a Christian (and a pastor) elucidate the teaching beyond the Beatitudes. There are still so many that can't and won't settle on believing, they need to see! And those with eyes to see do see...

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  • Abraham was born to wealthy parents in the 12th century, so you might say hewas fortunate. However, his parents died when he was very young and he was left to live with others in Smolensk, Russia, who loved him but who could never replace his father and mother in his life. Abraham was raised in the Church and was familiar with its teachings from a young age. Perhaps, his guardians thought that the Church, with all its many brothers and sisters, could be the family that Abraham needed so desperately. In many ways, it was, but it never made up for his deceased parents and their absence in his life. When he was deemed "old enough" to make decisions about his family fortune, he could only think of one thing to do with all that wealth--he gave it to the poor, took up the life of a monk, and moved to the Bogoroditskaya Monastery. He grew into his calling and vocation and was known as a forceful and convicting preacher, as well as being a scholar of the scriptures and the...

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