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Archive for March, 2011

After reviewing the articles from the Spring edition of the Center for Theology the last several days, I would like to review some of the defining articles from past issues–articles that define the mission, vision, and character of the Center for Theology.

First, John Pryor discusses the three main criteria that make for a “good” theology.

Next, check out the series of articles by professor Timothy Sherratt entitled “The Mission and the Crisis,” which discuss the recent history of the controversy embroiling the global Anglican Communion.

Megan DeFranza then explores God’s desire for human sexuality in a series of two articles discussing the biblical testimony on sexual relations.

Adam D. Rick describes “The Christian Difference,” or, how the Holy Spirit makes believers a new creation that distinguishes them from the “old” creation.

Megan Pryor reflects on the ways in which Anglican liturgy unifies all worshippers in the blog post “Liturgy as the Work of the People.”

Finally, Megan DeFranza offers a reflection on the power of the Eucharist, seen through the eyes of her young daughter, in the blog post “More Jesus Bread, please Mama?

 

 

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Ever wonder what’s behind all the rituals in the Anglican church?

Fr. Jürgen Liias, former rector at Christ the Redeemer church in Danvers, MA and currently serving as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese in New England (ADNE), has provided a wonderful series of articles explaining the spiritual and theological meaning behind the liturgy of the Anglican church. Please take some time to read through his brief articles.

Fr. Liias focuses on 5 aspects of Anglican worship.

First, he explains why churches emphasize the sacred in their sanctuaries, since they serve as the Holy Temple and dwelling place of the Lord.

Second, he shows why Anglicans are always bowing–since they desire to show God his due respect.

Third, he discusses the Breaking of the Bread or the Fraction during the Eucharistic rite, the moment when the Body of Christ is broken by the priest over the communion altar.

Fourth, he describes why Anglicans are always participating in either a fast or a feast, explaining the importance of the liturgical calendar and the fast and feast tradition in the church.

Finally, Fr. Liias presents us with a wonderful description of the nature and importance of the Stations of the Cross.

Fr. Liias’ contribution to the Spring edition of the Center for Theology is a helpful introduction to the tradition of worship in the Anglican church. Please take some time introduce (or remind!) yourself to the Anglican way.

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Dr. Paul Aganski, head of the Adult Education Council at All Saints’ Anglican Church in Amesbury, MA, has provided an exhortation to the church to become a people living into the whole story of God. Find out more from his article in the Spring edition of the Center for Theology.

As a teacher of the church, Paul has noticed that most in the church are “people of the middle,” organizing their devotion around only two of the four main chapters in God’s story of Redemption. If there are four main chapters in God’s story (being Creation–Fall–Redemption–Judgment), the church usually just focuses on the Fall and Redemption parts of the story. We tend to focus on ourselves as sinners and God’s grace in saving us, but often fail to appreciate our role in Creation or the fact the we ourselves will face judgment at the end of all things. Thus, the church often practices an incomplete spirituality.

Paul exhorts the church to live into the whole story of God, incorporating the themes of Creation and Judgment into their devotional lives. Initially, he recommends all of us to spend more time in the opening chapters of Genesis and the book of Revelation, in order to remind ourselves of God’s full redemptive plan. In later articles, Paul will explore more fully how to become “People of Complete Story.”

Please take some time today to read Paul’s article.

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“God is in heaven and you are on earth.”
– Ecclesiastes 5:2, ESV

The doctrine of revelation within the Church provides the very possibility for Christians to know, love, and experience God.  Without the doctrine of revelation, it would be impossible for the individual to say anything about God or His identity.  Therefore, the very existence of the Christian life depends upon the concept of revelation!  As Trevor Hart notes, “The question of revelation in Christian theology is finally no less than the question of theology’s own ultimate source and norm, of the conditions for the possibility of theology itself as a human activity.”[1] If these bold and rather dramatic claims are correct, what exactly is revelation?  And why is it so essential for the Christian confession?

Revelation is the event in which God reveals Himself to His creatures.  The necessity of revelation rests upon the understanding that since God’s being, action, and thought far exceed humanity (i.e. His transcendence), we are unable to have any comprehension of God apart from God’s decision to reveal Himself to us. God is infinite, and human beings are finite.  The prophet Isaiah highlights God’s magnificence when he testifies “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (Is. 55:8, ESV).  The truth that God’s thoughts and ways far exceed those of humanity necessarily means that no amount of human effort or energy can alter this state of dependency and helplessness.  As my theology professor loves to say, the single-prerequisite for theology (i.e. any speech about God) is a self-revealing God.  Thus, Christian theology is made possible solely by God’s initiation.  Despite the truth that God is totally transcendent, God truly desires for His creatures to have knowledge about His identity and loving disposition towards us.  We know this because God has graciously revealed Himself in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ.  This reality becomes all the more unfathomable when the Church recognizes that humanity is sinful and stands in judgment before a holy God.  In effect, revelation is nothing short of the miraculous.  When the impossibility of knowledge of God becomes possible through God’s revelation, a miracle occurs.  Therefore, revelation is a miracle that the Church continually witnesses in its midst whenever creatures have knowledge of God.

Few theologians in the history of the Church understood the need for a robust doctrine of revelation more than Karl Barth.   In The Epistle to the Romans, Barth famously and bravely declares that “… ‘God is in heaven, and thou art on earth.’  The relation between such a God and such a man, and the relation between such a man and such a God, is for me the theme of the Bible and the essence of philosophy.”[2] For Barth, this eternal and infinite difference between God and humanity enabled Barth to understand and value the indispensable role of revelation.  The distinction between God and humanity is so great that only God can provide knowledge of Himself by choosing to reveal Himself to humanity.  Barth maintained that such a gap is ever-present due to the sinfulness of human beings.  Since God’s being is holy and set-apart, sinful humanity is unable to comprehend His identity.  Rather than possessing the natural capacity for faith and knowledge, human beings only have ignorance and doubt to offer.  But God does not leave His children in ignorance.  Rather, God pours out the gift of His Holy Spirit upon his people in order for them to have the freedom “to be the children of God and to know and love and praise Him in His revelation.”[3] The Holy Spirit gives God’s children the freedom to recognize and know God in His revelation.  At this point, it is important to note that simply because knowledge of God is possible through revelation does not mean that revelation becomes an ordinary event; revelation should always be understood “precisely as miracle, the restoration of life to that which otherwise was doomed to corruption.  It is not an inherent human possibility or capacity which simply needs to be realized and embraced, fertilized and nurtured, or tweaked and reconfigured.”[4] Thus, for Barth, the only place where knowledge of God can occur is where faith and obedience are both present as gifts from God.  Faith trusts in the holy and transcendent God who has truly revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Scriptures and offers obedience to the Word heard and found therein.

In closing, the reader might be asking at this point where God has revealed Himself.  First and foremost, God fully revealed Himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Through the event of the incarnation, God stepped into the world and dwelled among us as fully human while never ceasing to be fully God. Second, since Jesus’ ascension into heaven following His resurrection, God continually reveals Himself to His Church by the Holy Scriptures through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  In Jesus Christ and by the Holy Scriptures, God’s identity and gracious disposition toward humanity is truly disclosed.  Such revelation is continually made a reality by the Holy Spirit who opens up the new possibilities for every Christian to know and experience the Incomprehensible and Infinite God.  When we as the Church attempt to speak about God, we must always remember that such speech only occurs through God’s merciful self-disclosure.  In recognizing our dependence and helplessness, the Church remains open to receive afresh the revelation that God has for us as He meets us through the reading and preaching of His Word.


[1]Trevor Hart,  “Revelation”, in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, ed. John Webster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 37.

[2]Karl Barth.  The Epistle to the Romans.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968, 10.

[3]Barth, Church Dogmatics, I.2. Edited by G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance.  (New York: T&T Clark, 2009), 203.

[4]Hart, Revelation”, in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, 43, emphasis added.

To read the next post in this series, “Imago Dei with Meredith Kline” by Adam D. Rick, click here.

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The Rev. Jack King, a new Writer for the Center for Theology, provides the church with a personal reflection on C. S. Lewis’ explanation of  rightly ordered desire, explained in the book “The Four Loves.” Take some time to read Jack’s excellent piece in the Spring edition of the Center for Theology.

Jack relates Lewis’ understanding of rightly ordered passion to the Anglican tradition of lex orandi, lex credendi–the law of prayer is the law of belief. The Anglican tradition emphasizes that our beliefs should be shaped by our prayer and common worship, which molds our hearts and minds to become authentic believers. Rather than allowing our hearts or authentic feelings to govern the themes of our prayers and worship, Anglicans submit themselves to a tradition of prayers, confessions, creeds, and worship so that our minds, hearts, and feelings are ordered rightly unto God.

Jack shows how the proper ordering of our hearts, loves, and passions is vital to fulfilling our callings as Christians. While our creative energies, talents, and gifts come from God, they cannot realize their potential unless they are continually submitted to Christ’s authority and open to the refining work of the Holy Spirit. The submission to a right ordering of our desire does not stifle our affections or relationships; rather, submission to God increases our love, desire, and affections so that our lives are actually improved and our loves intensified. As Jack says:

Not only is God the supreme love above all other loves, He orders the affections of our hearts.  Without the ordering of our loves and affections, anyone may become a rival for our supreme love of God—our spouse, our child, our dearest friend.  More than once in the Gospels do we hear Jesus requiring total allegiance of one’s heart above any other human relationship.  Yet the mystery we discover through the sanctification of the Spirit is that our relationships are not lessened when they are ordered in Christ—they are enriched and fulfilled.

Please take some time today to read Jack’s thoughtful piece.

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What is our Treasure?

Among the great mysteries we take time to ponder with children in Atrium 1 are the Parables of Kingdom of God: the Precious Pearl, the Yeast, the Mustard Seed, the Growing Seed, and the Hidden Treasure. Regrettably, this last lesson is often overlooked, since we usually introduce it into the busy third year, with the “oldest of our youngest.” The lesson builds on ideas we first explore about the merchant who “went and sold everything he had to buy that pearl.” In both the Pearl (Matthew 13 v 45) and the Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13v 44), we think more about the joy found than the things given up.

Recently, one of our catechists had the opportunity to present the Hidden Treasure parable to one of our 6 year olds. They thought again about why Jesus gave us this parable to describe the Kingdom of God. This pair, adult and child, had the time to think about what defines “treasure” and how valuable treasure must be.

“What could this treasure be?” they pondered together, this treasure that Jesus is talking about. The child answer was, “To give, to love. God is in my heart.”

They remembered a song from a recent prayer time:

“The Kingdom of God is not over here, nor over there. No the Kingdom is among us.”

Luke 17:20-21

The child went on to say  ”His love is in our hearts.” The catechist asked, “Do you suppose that is the treasure? And is it worth more than gold or jewels?” (the other kind of treasure they had discussed.) The child nodded, and a comfortable, joyful silence ensued. No further words were needed. Adult and child shared a moment of recognition of something, of Someone, who was at work between them and between them and His Word.

Surely one part of our treasure is that God graciously reveals His truth and love to all of us, no matter our age or stage in life. Those who put themselves in the path of children are able to   glimpse His work with them firsthand. To see it is to walk away changed, and blessed forever.

Dear Reader, if you don’t have children at home or close by, haven’t you signed up to do this work yet?  🙂

 

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Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, which celebrates the life and work of Saint Mary, the Mother of God. Due to some incredible doctrinal developments in the Catholic church in the 19th century and before, many non-Catholics pay little attention to the example of faith Mary established. Thankfully, Leah Easley helps us understand how Mary can be properly honored as a stellar witness to faith in Jesus, in her piece for the Spring edition of the Center for Theology, entitled “Beyond Christmas: Honoring Mary During Lent.

Leah shows us how Mary’s perspective as the “daughter of her Son” (Dante Alighieri) provides a fresh take on the salvific work of Jesus Christ. We are shown something about the character of God’s love, in which a perfect Jesus is born of an imperfect Mary, revealing God’s willingness to take on our shamed and cursed humanity in order to transform it.

Additionally, Leah reminds us that Mary was one of the few who witnessed the torture and death of Christ from beginning to end. Leah encourages the church to take some time during Lent to “stand with Mary” at the cross, suffering with Jesus so that, like Mary, Jesus will comfort us.

As Leah concludes, she points to Mary’s role in the participatory work of Christ’s salvation. Mary faithfully completed the genealogical line that started with Eve and ran through Abraham, Jacob, and David. As she says:

Mary is rewarded for her faithfulness through Jesus’ passion and death by an eternal dwelling with Jesus in heaven. Through her Son’s death and resurrection, Mary has victory over the dragon that plagued her at her Son’s birth, as described in Revelation 12. Mary participated in the salvation of the human race by completing the line Eve began when she gave birth to Seth: begetting children in anticipation of the coming seed who would crush the head of the serpent.  Eve and Mary are saved from Satan’s clutches forever because of their trust in the seed who “makes all things new.” Thus, with Mary, we end our the Lenten journey with cries of “Alleluia! He is risen indeed!”

Please take some time to read Leah’s valuable contribution to our Lenten devotions.

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