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“Listen, Smith of Heaven!” | An Ancient Icelandic Hymn

In 1208, an Icelandic poet named Kolbeinn Tumason wrote Heyr Himna Smiður, which would become a stalwart piece of Icelandic Christian tradition. Its imagery is dynamic to these northern peoples, using  the terms “Smith of the Heavens” to convey the craftsmanship and attention that God shows to creation; “mild one” which is a play on the word that means the generous tribal leader, or king; and “King of the suns”, capturing the spiritual significance of solar seasonality to the island just south of the Arctic Circle.

Listen to the poem sung in it’s original language with an English translation, performed by Ellen Kristjánsdóttir. (more…)

Good News for the City: Urban Apologetics

Friend of the blog, Ramon Mayo of Urban Ministries Inc. and UrbanFaith.com has an interview with Chris Brooks about his new book, Urban Apologetics: Answering Challenges to Faith for Urban Believers. In the interview, Mayo and Brooks explore the need for thoughtful articulation of the faith to respond to the distinct questions that people are asking. Doing Apologetics from an Urban Perspective opens a conversation about how best to engage the living contexts of our cities with the gospel–acknowledging that both the questions and responses may differ from those of prior generations of apologists.

Chris Brooks is the senior pastor of Evangel Ministries and also the founder and president of the Detroit Bible Institute. He also hosts a Detroit-aired daily radio show, “Equipped For Life,”and is the newly appointed Campus Dean of Moody Theological Seminary-Michigan. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Chris over about his new book “Urban Apologetics” and apologetics in general.

What inspired you to write a book on apologetics?

Two things. First it comes from a passion for the gospel in the urban community. People have intellectual barriers and need answers to their questions about life, so I wanted to provide the answers from Christ and scripture because most people assume that we don’t have answers.

Secondly it stems from our members being sent out to do evangelism and coming back with the questions and objections of the urban community they were sent to. I took it upon myself to develop a specific ministry of equipping Christians to answer people’s objections regarding the faith.

Why do you believe apologetics are important for the urban context? (more…)

My Problem with The Lord’s Prayer

We recently began attending a church that recites The Lord’s Prayer each Sunday as a part of their liturgy. We have never been a part of church that practiced this weekly–participating more in communities that place spontaneity over ceremony. While I do appreciate the intentionality of a liturgical church, there is something specific that bothers me every time we pray these words together.praying

The English translation which we use is based on the text of Matthew 6:9-13 that depends on an outdated form of language, namely the “King James” English. See the chart below for words and phrases no longer in common usage:

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Not a single sentence can be understood with contemporary usage!

Why do I have a problem with the Lord’s Prayer? Two reasons… (Click to Tweet) (more…)

How the East Sees the West

The presence of multiple perspectives within the Christian faith is not a new invention of the 20th century. The split between the Western (Roman Catholic, then Protestant) church and the Eastern Orthodox church is well traveled by Christian historians, yet an understanding of the churches which grew from this cultural differentiation is not as common. In the infograph below, several theologians who are considered to be pillars of Western Christian thought are examined through an Eastern Orthodox perspective. (One of these three pillars is so esteemed, he even garnered an entry in our recent World Cup of Theologians – Augustine of Hippo!)UnsungInTheEast1-514x1024This infographic originally appeared at www.russianchristianclassics.org, a blog exploring Russian church history, the relationship between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Christianity, and introducing Russian Christian leaders to an English-speaking audience.

For more information about a leader in the Orthodox church, see our post on an interview with Thelophilus III, the Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and all Palestine.

World Cup of Theologians: Belgium – Edward Schillebeeckx

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

schillebeeckxEdward Schillebeeckx (1914-2009) was a member of the Dominican Order and a professor of Theology until his death in 2009. Schillebeeckx was also closely involved with several topics of the Second Vatican Council.

Because of his work with Vatican II, Schillebeeckx is well known for his strong arguments for a more reconciling ecclesiology, celibacy, and the sacraments. He often came under fire from the Catholic Magisterium because of his ideas, with the most volatile clash happening in the early 1980’s with the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (CDF). Schillebeeckx’s passion for the Church can be clearly seen in many of his writings, but especially in this excerpt from The Church with a Human Face: A New and Expanded Theology of Ministry (1985):

The crucified but risen Jesus appears in the believing, assembled community of the church. That this sense of the risen, living Jesus has faded in many [churches] can be basically blamed on the fact that our churches are insufficiently ‘communities’ of God…. Where the church of Jesus Christ lives, and lives a liberating life in the footsteps of Jesus, the resurrection faith undergoes no crisis. On the other hand, it is better not to believe in God than to believe in a God who minimizes human beings, holds them under and oppresses them, with a view to a better world to come. (34)

Schillebeeckx was a respected Catholic theologian, and one who has strongly influenced both the direction of the Church and of various forms of theology including liberation, European political, and systematic Catholic Theology

Zane Ridings is a Masters of Divinity student at Brite Divinity School. As an undergraduate at Eureka College, he completed an honors research thesis titled: Walking Alongside the Least of These: Liberation Hermeneutics and Praxis-based Missions in Guatemala. This work has been part of Zane’s theological exploration of questions concerning justice, politics, and Christian fellowship and ethics.

World Cup of Theologians: USA – Cornel West

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

westCornel West (1953- ) is the Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at the Union Theological Seminary and an outspoken public academic, philosopher, and activist.

He uses philosophy, Christian practice, and Marxist thought to bear witness and influence in love and justice. Much of his work has grown out of studies on race, class, and gender within American society, as well as the ways in which people interact based upon racial conscientiousness.

As a public intellectual, West’s dream of keeping alive the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. takes shape in the ways in which he writes and participates in current events, asserting that theology must be expressed in one’s social and political life. In Race Matters, he examines moral authority and racial debates regarding skin color in the United States and focuses on progress through what unites man in love and justice as he points out the differences that divide humanity.

In these downbeat times, we need as much hope and courage as we do vision and analysis; we must accent the best of each other even as we point out the vicious effects of our racial divide and pernicious consequences of our maldistribution of wealth and power. We simply cannot enter the twenty-first century at each other’s throats, even as we acknowledge the weighty forces of racism, patriarchy, economic inequality, homophobia, and ecological abuse on our necks. We are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation–and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately. Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.

Currently, Cornel West contributes to the radio show Smiley and West and has authored a memoir, entitled Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. For more information, you can find his official website here.

Phillip Sturgeon is a graduate of Chapman University. He writes at his personal blog, phillipotamus.com and lives in Southern CA, where he almost always drives with the windows down.

World Cup of Theologians: Switzerland – Karl Barth

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

barthKarl Barth (1886-1968) was a 20th century Swiss Protestant theologian within the Reformed tradition who has come to be referred to as the Father of Neo-Orthodoxy. His father was a minister, and his mother was a minister’s daughter. In his early education, he studied within the theology of German liberalism, yet when introduced to Immanuel Kant, and leaned away from his father’s influence.

However, in his early pastoral career, he saw that the political conditions surrounding him contradicted many ideas that he was learning and teaching. Within his church, the factory owners were exploiting many of the industrial workers and Barth encouraged the workers to unionize. When World War I broke out and many of his theological peers and mentors supported the German war effort, Barth was struck by what he deemed as a lack of strong theological foundation to separate a nation’s action from the church.

In this context, he authored his commentary on Romans in which he tried to articulate what he saw as Paul’s vision of Rome turned upside down and to counter the theology of his contemporaries.

The descriptively thorough essence of Barth’s theology is the person of Jesus Christ. This forms the center of Barth’s theology which is expounded in his infamous tome, Church Dogmatics. (Click here for Reading the Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth: A Primer, by David Guretzki, PhD). This emphasis upon the person of Christ is seen in his work, The Humanity of God:

This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.

Thus in this oneness Jesus Christ is the Mediator, the Reconciler, between God and man. Thus He comes forward to man on behalf of God calling for and awakening faith, love and hope, and to God on behalf of man, representing man, making satisfaction and interceding. Thus he attests and guarantees to God’s free grace and at the same time attests and guarantees to God man’s free gratitude.

[Editor's note: Gender-exclusive language expressed in the quotation is consistent with the source material.]

Phillip Sturgeon is a graduate of Chapman University. He writes at his personal blog, phillipotamus.com and lives in Southern CA, where he almost always drives with the windows down.

World Cup of Theologians: France – Jacques Ellul

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

French Historian Jacques Ellul TalkingJacques Ellul (1912-1994) was a sociologist who wrote extensively on the creation and effects of propaganda. The passion for this work came from his experiences with the French resistance to the Nazis during World War II (which earned him a commendation as Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem) and outrage at the injustices levied during the Algerian War of Independence.

As a theologian, he is most well-known for his contributions to Christian Anarchism and the assertion that allegiance to a political party or state makes one complicit in the oppression of others through violence and power.

In The Subversion of Christianity (1986), Ellul expands on this concept, writing,

The biblical teaching is clear. It always contests politicalpower. It incites to “counterpower,” to “positive” criticism, to an irreducible dialogue (like that between king and prophet in Israel), to antistatism, to a decentralizing of the relation, to an extreme relativizing of everything political, to an anti-ideology, to a questioning of all that claims either power or dominion (in other words, of all things political), and finally, if we may use a modern term, to a kind of “anarchism” (so long as we do not relate the term to the anarchist teaching of the nineteenth century). (116)

The reflection along Ellul’s theory and work continues on in the International Jacques Ellul Society, a multi-disciplinary group whose objectives are to preserve and disseminate his literary and intellectual heritage, to extend his penetrating social critique, especially concerning technology, and to extend his theological and ethical research with its special emphases on hope and freedom.

Michael Shepherd is the editor of GlobalTheology.org. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and Hope International University in southern California, USA, where he lives with his wife and son.

World Cup of Theologians: Germany – Johann Metz

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

metzJohann Baptist Metz (1928- )is a unique German theologian who learned first-hand both the devastation of human suffering and the furtherance of suffering caused by the silence of Christians. After World War II, in which he was an American prisoner of war, he returned to Germany and studied at the University of Innsbruck under Karl Rahner. He was a primary voice in the development of Political Theology, working to find meaningful theology after the collapse of humanism ideals seen in the Holocaust.

Metz is best known for his concept of the dangerous memory of suffering, an element of the Theology of Hope that stresses the role of Christian’s creating spaces for stories of suffering. Dangerous memory is also an essential part of our Christian experience because the memory of Christ’s suffering is one of our key catalysts for our salvation and the justice for all peoples that comes with that salvation. His ideas have been used to argue for an increased Christian presence alongside those with mental illness, survivors of abuse and genocide, and alcoholism.

Metz writes of the way memory is destroyed, in this instance for the survivors of the El Mezote Massacre in En Salvador in 1981:

The destruction of memory [in situations of injustice and violence] turns out systematically to hinder identity, to prevent people from becoming subjects or continuing to be subjects in their social-historical contexts. Uprooting slaves and deporting them always tends to destroy their memories, and precisely in this way serves as a powerful reinforcement of their state of being as slaves, their systemic disempowerment in the interest of effecting their complete subjugation. On the other hand, the formation of identity always begins with the awakening of memory.

Metz’s classic work, Faith in History and Society. Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology, expands on his understanding of political theology, with special attention to the implications of living out this distinctive expression of faith.

Zane Ridings is a Masters of Divinity student at Brite Divinity School. As an undergraduate at Eureka College, he completed an honors research thesis titled: Walking Alongside the Least of These: Liberation Hermeneutics and Praxis-based Missions in Guatemala. This work has been part of Zane’s theological exploration of questions concerning justice, politics, and Christian fellowship and ethics.

World Cup of Theologians: Netherlands – Henri Nouwen

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

NouwenHenri Nouwen (1932-1996) was a Dutch priest whose extensive written works and participation in the L’Arche communities contributed to a profound influence upon both Catholics and Protestants. Writing from a background of both psychology and theology, Nouwen’s insight upon Christian spirituality repeatedly drew on themes such as inner rejuvenation and the contemplative life of faith. His most popular work, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming explores the spirituality of plumbing the depths of the Jesus’ parable (Luke 15), borne from a captivating encounter with Rembrandt’s painting of the same.

…But the father couldn’t compel his son to stay home. He couldn’t force his love on the Beloved. He had to let him go in freedom, even though he knew the pain it would cause both his son and himself. It was love itself that prevented him from keeping his son home at all cost. It was love itself that allowed him to let his son find his own life, even with the risk of losing it.
Here the mystery of my life is unveiled. I am loved so much that I am left free to leave home. The blessing is there from the beginning. I have left it and keep on leaving it. But the Father is always looking for me with outstretched arms to receive me back and whisper again in my ear, “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” (44)

The parable of the prodigal son is a story that speaks about a love that existed before any rejection was possible and that will still be there after all rejections have taken place. It is the first and everlasting love of a God who is Father as well as Mother. It is the fountain of all true human love, even the most limited. Jesus’ whole life and preaching had only one aim: to reveal this inexhaustible, unlimited motherly and fatherly love of his God and to show the way to let that love guide every part of our daily lives. In his painting of the father, Rembrandt offers me a glimpse of that love. It is the love that always welcomes home and always wants to celebrate. (108)

As inspiring as his books have been, his participation in the L’Arche communities to restore the dignity of people living with intellectual disabilities brought awareness to how differently-abled people are excluded from society and the church. Though the dedicated work in communities around the world, a new way of life is imagined and lived based on mutual respect, recovering a valued identity, and each person discovering their giftedness and intrinsic worth.

Michael Shepherd is the editor of GlobalTheology.org. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and Hope International University in southern California, USA, where he lives with his wife and son.

World Cup of Theologians: Colombia – Consuelo Vélez

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

Consuelo Vélez is professor of Theology at the Pontificia Universidad Xaveriana in Bogota, Colombia. She has earned a PhD in Theology from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with post-doctoral studies at Boston College.velez

She writes about the issues facing women in the Roman Catholic Church and what Pope Francis is doing to bring awareness to this issue. Here is an excerpt from an interview with Biblioteca Amerindia, translated to English by Barefoot Voices.

In [theological] topics, the feminine face of God –so often forgotten — and God’s saving message for men and women concretely and according to their specific reality, are reclaimed. For example, it’s not the same to speak of gift and sacrifice to women as to men. In a patriarchal society such as the one that still persists, that argument has led some women to the “servitude” that Pope Francis is criticizing, denying their dignity and suffering the tragedy of domestic violence, among others. Women’s theology works to regain the dignity of women so often denied by patriarchal society and supported in some ways by a “distorted” religious view, and it substantiates that this is not God’s will but that, on the contrary, God’s plan of salvation proposes a “community of equals” where gender differences would not be the reason for the subordination of either of the genders to the other one.

It has always been said that change comes from the grassroots. But in this case it seems that the roots of the Church are very passive and that it’s the will of a leader — the Pope — that is raising awareness and making us see that things could be different. In any case, change will come from working together and that’s why we have to be responsible in the face of these challenges and ask ourselves sincerely: What is the effective participation of women in decision-making positions in our local communities? How much credibility are they granted? Are the theological works of women taught in the seminaries and schools of theology? Is there enough humility to acknowledge the difference between what ought to be and the reality of women in the Church? Will we review our praxis and correct the mistakes?

This is a task we have pending in this Church we love and that needs to be renewed according to the will of God, in this specific case, seeking to make effective that in Christ Jesus “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free person, there is not male and female.”(Gal 3: 28)

(more…)

Misusing Christianity to Change Cultures

In his article, 10 Ways Christians Misuse Christianity, by Stephen Mattson (Author’s Blog@mikta) describes areas that have been inappropriately conflated with a “Christian” identity. To value and celebrate (not simply reluctantly accept) cultural identity is an area that is difficult to succinctly communicate to people who do not already have a frame of reference for diversity appreciation. Readers of this blog are probably already on board with this concept, but it is refreshing to see it expressed in the larger, Christian media and targeted to a rising generation of church leaders and engaged Christians. (Relevant is an online platform that engages 20-30somethings around issues of “faith, culture, and intentional living”.)

10. To Change Cultures

Christianity isn’t meant to erase or change a cultural identity. Christianity is amazingly complex and diverse, and it was never intended to be a uniform religion of ethnocentric beliefs.

Many mistakenly perceive that a “correct” Christianity will exactly mirror all their own traditions, beliefs and lifestyles. Thus, instead of introducing people to Jesus, they attempt to change and conform people to their own cultural preferences. When people inevitably don’t conform, they’re often unfairly accused of being sinners—condemned to hell.

Questions to go deeper:
Historically, we see examples of a cultural imprint tied to Christianity actively erasing culture (colonialism, conversion to European cultural expression), but how does contemporary Christianity change cultures today?
What does it look like to celebrate cultural diversity within a local church?

Revelation in Creation – Seeking the Harmony Way

Photo Credit: Prism Magazine

Photo Credit: Prism Magazine

One of the strengths of many theological perspectives outside of the Western tradition is attentiveness to the revelation the comes from creation. This is especially evident in the viewpoint of North American indigenous peoples (also called, generally, First Nation or Native American; or by their specific lineage association) who are Christian.

Prism Magazine, an online publication of Evangelicals for Social Action, published an article with Randy Woodley, founder of Eagle’s Wings Ministry, Inc., a largely Native American community in Newberg, OR, USA, in which he expands on how he finds the value in the revelation of creation. (more…)

The History and Future of Womanist Theology (Video)

Union Theological Seminary recently hosted a documentary about the origin of Womanist Theology through the perspective of some of its early adherents. The 12-minute video below is a preview of the full documentary, Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology and Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, which will be shown at the American Academy of Religion meeting this fall in San Diego, California, USA.

A social and spiritual look at female theologians and ethicists of African descent…Union Theological Seminary will premier Journey to Liberation, a 50-minute documentary on the founding of Womanist theology, an African-American feminist liberation movement. Filmmaker Anika Gibbons takes a deeper look at the radical spirituality and scholarship within the lives of the founding mothers of Womanist theology and Womanist ethics. She focuses on their significance as figures in African-American theology and history, and on the role played by Union in that founding.

For a summary and commentary on the event, see Womanist Theology at Union: A Past, A Present– A Future? by Jamall Calloway (H/T to Jason Harris and Postcolonial Theology Network Facebook Group)

For more videos, including an introduction to the film and resulting panel discussion about the current state of African-American women in theology and Womanist perspectives, follow this link.

 If you are interested in sharing your perspective and becoming a writer with GlobalTheology.org, find more information on our Get Involved Page!

Michael Shepherd is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and Hope International University. He is the editor of GlobalTheology.org and lives in Fullerton, CA, USA with his wife and son.

Black History Devotional: His Story, Our Story

hsosIt is my firm belief that God works through all cultures of the world and uses them to reflect his attributes and ways. This is definitely true in the case of African American culture. In writing this book, I have written about the journey of a people as they have sought freedom and equality in a land that was not their own. In spite of all this, they maintained a level of dignity and humanity in the face of suffering and showed the world that tragedy can be turned into triumph. I wrote this book because I love two things: God and myself. I am an African American male and the product of the black church. One thing that frustrates me is the lack of literature and resources that highlight my heritage and my faith. Black History month has been a time to celebrate the rich legacy of African Americans and their contribution to the world, but it has been divorced from one of the things that has made that contribution so rich: the faith of African Americans, which is largely found in Jesus Christ.

This book is for all those who have an interest in African American culture and history. It can be used to enlighten and give understanding to African Americans and it also can serve as an introduction to Black History for those who are not African American. So if you are curious about Black History then this is a small taste of the historical figures and accomplishments that have made a great impact in the world.

Secondly, it is for those who are hungering for a way to integrate their faith with their heritage. This is to show the ways in which God is not divorced from the African American experience and he is not divorced from your life as a black person in the United States. In the same way that he was with your ancestors he will be with you when you face the fiery trials and weighty burdens of life. Your faith is not “the white man’s religion ” but something that is uniquely yours.

Lastly, this is for all those who are on a spiritual quest. Wherever you are on your journey this book has something for you. If you are spiritually curious then you will find in these pages something that will get you thinking and meditating. The Christian faith of African Americans provides a unique spiritual legacy. It was a resource that helped to bolster them in the harshest conditions . This rich spiritual tradition is something that can benefit anyone who is spiritually hungry or curious.

(Introduction. Mayo, Ramon. His Story, Our Story)

His Story, Our Story is a 31 day Black History devotional. It is a collection of biographical sketches on great figures in African American history along with devotional thoughts, discussion questions and prayers on themes from the Bible. It connects the journey of African Americans with the God who sustained and liberated them. Containing biographical information on a variety of different characters in Black History, His Story Our Story uses the heritage of African Americans to help you go forward in your spiritual journey.

His Story, Our Story is available in paperback and as an ebook download. You can find out more about Ramon Mayo and his work at his website.

Football and Faith in Cascadia

I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago to come across an online journal called Christ and Cascadia, which “explores the cultural challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities for Christianity in Cascadia. The journal is committed to cultivating thoughtful conversations that are contextually aware, theologically rich, and culturally creative”. It is the online journal of the Fuller Institute of Theology and Northwest Culture, who also hosts conferences and creates courses designed to raise the dialogue for engaging with these communities.

Proposed flag for Cascadia

Proposed flag for Cascadia

“Cascadia” is the name of the bioregion shared by Oregon and Washington (sometimes Northern California, Alaska, Idaho, and Montana), USA and British Columbia, Canada. At times a political movement, the name has come to refer more generally to the culture of the peoples that live in the Pacific Northwest of North America. You can read more about that culture here- Cascadian Culture: Grasping a Slippery Salmon.

As an example, the blog titled “God and the Seattle Seahawks” uses distinctive facets of a professional American Football team to illustrate Cascadian culture. (more…)