Friday, November 9, 2012

Division Is Not the Answer

There is, among Protestants, a seemingly unavoidable urge to divide. The Reformation did not so much Reform as it did fracture the Church, and like a glass bowl breaking in slow motion we continue this process even today, five hundred years later. I’m certainly not suggesting that the protests of the Reformation were illegitimate, but the principle of sola Scriptura, intended to reform the Church by prying authority away from the magisterium, created a situation in which communities quickly began to split off from one another over matters related to scriptural interpretation. Ever since, we who participate in the Protestant traditions of the Christian faith have split off from one another, seeking the ever-elusive ideal of a church that finally gets it right. At some point, however, we have to ask, “When does it stop?”

Recently, Jack Jackson of Claremont School of Theology argued for a division of the UMC over the issue of homosexuality. Dr. Jackson is not the only such voice calling for division. Many other people believe that our differences over this issue are irreconcilable. I don’t know what the future holds regarding this debate, but I believe that dividing the UMC, and thus further dividing Christ’s holy Church, is the wrong answer.

On both sides of this debate, people quote scripture selectively in order to legitimate their positions. What I don’t hear in this debate are the numerous NT passages, particularly in the letters of Paul, urging unity among Christians. Paul upbraids the believers in Corinth for dividing into factions: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Cor 1:10). In response to reports that the Corinthians have divided into factions, Paul asks facetiously, “Has Christ been divided?” In Ephesians believers are urged “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (4:1-6). And the point of quoting the beautiful kenosis hymn of Phil 2:5-11 is to urge believers to unity. The NRSV translates 2:5 as “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” but in translating the passage in this way we may miss the point. Paul is urging them to “Let the same mind be among you [pl.] that was in Christ Jesus.” Among Christ’s followers, we are to share the mind of Christ, which will lead us to live out Paul’s instructions to the community: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves” (2:3).  

There are many other passages in the NT expressing the same idea. God’s will for the Church is not division, but unity.  In our attempts to be  faithful in the UMC, let us bear in mind that whatever God’s will around issues of human sexuality, the unity of the Church is a scriptural theme that is as important as any other moral virtue. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Calling out dehumanization

Language is powerful. Language shapes the way in which we view the world, other people, and ourselves. Recently, Ann Coulter tweeted regarding the presidential debate and used the word “retard” with reference to President Obama. There are, of course, the problems of the sophomoric level of political discourse that this demonstrates and the total disrespect of the office and person of President Obama. The larger issue is the ongoing dehumanization of persons with cognitive disabilities. Many people with cognitive disabilities are not able to advocate for themselves. There are of course exceptions, such as John Franklin Stephens, who wrote an open letter to Coulter appealing to her to stop using this demeaning term. To his credit, he was much more charitable than I would have been.

The issue here is not political correctness. It is about rejecting dehumanization. When we reduce people to one word or one characteristic, we do not acknowledge their full humanity. This is particularly the case when we reduce people to a single demeaning term. People with cognitive disabilities such as Down Syndrome are fully human, deserving of the same rights and respect as every other human. It is only in recent decades that we have really begun to acknowledge this in our society, as we have moved away from the widespread practice of institutionalizing such people and regarding them as unable to learn or to contribute to society. We still have a long way to go, and comments such as Coulter’s represent a big step in the wrong direction. If we could learn to see people as God sees them, how much better off would we all be? 

I'm the father of a child with Down Syndrome. I honestly do my best to remain cognizant of the fact that most people are not like my son, Sean, and most people aren't used to interacting with someone with Down Syndrome. But when an inappropriate action is not accidental, but fully intentional, and carries dehumanizing consequences, it is incumbent upon Christians to call this out. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wesley, Wesleyans, and Scripture

I just received an advance copy of a book that Joel Green and I edited called Wesley, Wesleyans, and Reading Bible as Scripture. It is scheduled for release later this month. The idea for this book came out of a meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society a few years ago, the theme of which was "The Future of Scripture" (thank you, Rob Wall). Within this book, the writers look not only at the ways in which Wesley understood the nature and function of the Bible, but also the ways in which scripture functions in various Wesleyan communities today, and the constructive appropriation of scripture for Wesleyan theology and practice. 

The contents are as follows: 


1. John Wesley—"A Man of One Book" (Randy L. Maddox, Duke Divinity School)
2. Scripture as a Means of Grace (Kenneth J. Collins, Asbury Theological Seminary)
3. Reading Scripture, the Literal Sense, and the Analogy of Faith (Robert W. Wall, Seattle Pacific University)
4. Wesley as Interpreter of Scripture and the Emergence of "History" in Biblical Interpretation (Joel B. Green, Fuller Theological Seminary) 


5. Scripture among African American Methodists (Reginald Broadnax, Hood Theological Seminary)
6. Scripture among Hispanic Methodists (Justo L. González)
7. Scripture among Korean Methodists (Meesaeng Lee Choi, Asbury Theological Seminary; and Hunn Choi)
8. Scripture and Divine Revelation (William J. Abraham, Southern Methodist University)
9. A Wesleyan Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (Douglas M. Koskela ,Seattle Pacific University)
10. The Holiness of Scripture (Jason E. Vickers, United Theological Seminary)
11. Scripture as Canon (David F. Watson, United Theological Seminary)

12. Scripture and Social Ethics (D. Brent Laytham, North Park Theological Seminary)
13. Can We Speak of a Wesleyan Theological Hermeneutic Today? (Steven J. Koskie)
14. Reading Scripture for Christian Formation (Elaine A. Heath, Southern Methodist University)
15. The Place of Scripture in Worship (Karen B. Westerfield Tucker,Boston University School of Theology)
16. The Place of Scripture in Preaching (Michael Pasquarello III, Asbury Theological Seminary)
17. Scripture and Evangelism (Laceye Warner, Duke Divinity School)


I am most grateful to Joel and to all of the contributors, and I hope this volume makes a helpful contribution to our Wesleyan communities of faith. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jesus Conference

Just a reminder.... Don't forget about our upcoming conference called, "Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity," to be held on October 4 and 5 at South Park United Methodist Church, near the University of Dayton. This is going to be a very fine event and a great opportunity to explore some of the core issues of historical Jesus scholarship. To learn more about the conference, click here

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Body in Luke-Acts

I've been working my way through Luke-Acts for a research project related to the Bible and disabilities. In so doing, I've been struck by the extent to which Luke is concerned with bodies. Time and again, Luke stresses the physical, corporeal nature of human existence, and God's concern for us as embodied beings. 

If you'd like a good book on the topic, I recommend Mikeal C. Parsons' Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity

Physiognomy is the practice--which was quite common among the ancients--of linking physical appearance and character. In other words, you could draw conclusions about a person's character by observing his or her appearance. Sound strange? It has a long history, and still carries (normally unacknowledged) currency today. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Conference: Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity

United Theological Seminary and the University of Dayton's Center for Scriptural Exegesis, Philosophy, and Doctrine will host a conference on October 4 and 5 called "Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity." Speakers will include: 

Dale C. Allison Jr. 
Mark Goodacre 
Chris Keith 
Anthony LeDonne 
Loren T. Stuckenbruck
Jens Schroeter
Dagmar Winter
Rafael Rodriguez 

The conference is based on a book by the same title, edited by Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne. 

You can learn more about the conference and register by clicking here

The conference will be held at South Park United Methodist Church, near the University of Dayton. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

UMC health care coverage for mental illness

This one seems to have gotten in under the radar in the furor of GC: UMC health care coverage for people with mental illness extends only for two years, after which benefits cease. 

Rationale? It is very likely financial. Never mind that we spent almost 9 million dollars at a GC where we seem to have accomplished almost nothing (besides cutting health care benefits to people with mental illness). 

This must have gone through on the consent calendar, but it's still pretty stunning. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

New UM Certification in Ministry with People with Disabilities

Some great news.... United is working with GBHEM to offer the first United Methodist certification in ministry with people with disabilities. This is a long overdue addition to the UM certification offerings. This fall I'll be teaching the first course in the certification program, Disability, the Bible, and the Church, working off of Amos Yong's book of a similar title. You can register for the certification offering by calling United's Institute for Applied Theology. Many thanks to Dr. Peter Bellini, Laura Weber, and Anita Wood of GBHEM for their work on moving this forward. 

Scholarly Events for the Church at United

Folks, October is going to be a busy month at United. First, Jason Vickers is bringing together a group of young(er) scholars to produce a volume on the renewal of doctrine in United Methodism. Since I am invited, I am grateful to Jason for the very generous definition of "young" that he is using. 

Shortly thereafter, on Oct 4 and 5, United is partnering with the University of Dayton's Center for Scriptural Exegesis, Philosophy, and Doctrine to host a conference called "Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity." It is related to a book of the same title. Most of the contributors in the book will also be presenters at the conference. 

On October 15 United will partner again with the University of Dayton along with Wright State University to host the Ryterband Symposium, a yearly event to discuss relationships between Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Our speaker this year is Richard Elliott Friedman, who is the Ann and Jay Davis Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia. 

Finally, on October 17, United will hold our annual J. Arthur Heck Lecture Series. Our speaker this year is Amos Yong, the J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology and Director of the Doctor of Philosophy Program at Regent University. Yong is, in my opinion, one of the finest and most important theologians of our time. His topic is, "Christians and Disability: Renewing the Church and Healing the World." 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Theology, Eucharist, and Ministry Conference

United Theological Seminary will hold a conference called "Theology, Eucharist and Ministry" on May 17 of this year. This conference is in honor of Kendall K. McCabe, a retiring professor who has taught at United for 35 years. Speakers and participants are as follows:

William J. Abraham is the Albert C. Outler Chair in Wesleyan Studies at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.  He is the author of Wesley for Armchair Theologians and Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology: From the Fathers to Feminism.

Ron Anderson is Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Worship at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL.  He is the author of Taught by God: Teaching and Spiritual Formation and Worship and Christian Identity: Practicing Ourselves.

Daniel Castelo is Associate Professor of Theology at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, WA.  He is the author of The Apathetic God: Exploring the Contemporary Relevance of Divine Impassibility.

Paul W. Chilcote is Professor of Historical Theology and Wesleyan Studies at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, OH.  He is the author of Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision.

John Drury is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ministry at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, IN.

Richard Eslinger is Professor of Homiletics and Worship at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH.  He is the author of Web of Preaching: New Options in Homiletic Method and A New Hearing: Living Options in Homiletics. 

Elaine Heath is McCreless Associate Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.  She is the author of We Were the Least of These: Reading the Bible with the Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community.

Sarah H. Lancaster is Professor in the Werner Chair of Theology at Methodist Theological School of Ohio in Columbus, OH.  She is the author of The Pursuit of Happiness: Blessing and Fulfillment in Christian Faith and Women and the Authority of Scripture: A Narrative Approach. 

Matthew Levering is Professor of Religious Studies at The University of Dayton and the author or editor of numerous books, including The Betrayal of Charity and The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity. 

Rebekah Miles is Associate Professor of Ethics and Practical Theology at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.  She is the author of numerous articles and books, including The Pastor as Moral Guide and Wesley and the Quadrilateral: Renewing the Conversation.

Andrew Sung Park is Professor of Theology and Ethics at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH.  He is the author of Triune Atonement: Christ’s Healing for Sinners, Victims and the Whole Creation and From Hurt to Healing: A Theology of the Wounded.

Brent Peterson is Associate Professor of Theology at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, ID.  He is the promotional secretary of the Wesleyan Theological Society and the author of Created to Worship: God’s Invitation to Become Fully Human.

Don E. Saliers is William R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship, Emeritus, at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta Georgia.  He is the author of Worship as Theology and Worship and Spirituality.

Jason E. Vickers is Associate Professor of Theology and Wesleyan Studies at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH.  He is the author of Minding the Good Ground: A Theology for Church Renewal and Wesley: A Guide for the Perplexed.

Geoffrey Wainwright is Robert Earl Cushman Professor of Christian Theology at Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC.  He is the author of dozens of books and articles, including Doxology: A Systematic Theology and Lesslie Newbigin: A Theological Life.

Robin Knowles Wallace is Professor in the Taylor Endowed Chair of Worship and Music at Methodist Theological School of Ohio in Columbus, OH.  She is the author of The Christian Year: A Guide for Worship and Preaching and Worshipping in the Small Membership Church. 

Karen B. Westerfield Tucker is Professor of Worship at Boston University School of Theology in Boston, MA.  She is the author of American Methodist Worship and editor of The Sunday Service of the Methodists.

Edward P. Wimberly is Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost of the Interdenominal Theological Center in Atlanta, GA.  He is the author of African American Pastoral Care: The Politics of Oppression and Empowerment and Moving from Shame to Self-Worth: Preaching and Pastoral Care. 

Joyce Ann Zimmerman is a Sister of the Precious Blood, Dayton, OH, the founding Director of the Institute for Liturgical Ministry, and the author of The Ministry of Liturgical Environment.

To learn more about this event or to register, click here

Friday, May 4, 2012

Annual Conference Sessions Dedicated to to Disability Awareness

The following petition was approved at the 2012 GC to raise awareness of people with disabilities in the church: 

Each Conference shall designate that at least one Annual Conference session during the 2013-2016 quadrennium will have a theme centered on Disability Awareness to set an example for each District and Local Church.  Resources and guidance are available from the Committee on Disability Ministries (currently the United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries – see separate petition for name change) and UMCOR Health/Health and Welfare Ministries.  

This is a very important step forward in raising awareness about issues related to people with disabilities. 

New UM Certification Course: Ministry with People with Disabilities

A few years ago I received a message from Bishop Peggy Johnson regarding seminary offerings related to ministry with people with disabilities. While I had done research in this area, United, like many other schools, was lacking with regard to educational offerings in this area. This fall I will teach a course called Disability, the Bible, and the Church, using Amos Yong's book with a very similar title as the primary textbook. Bishop Johnson has kindly agreed to produce a video for the course and to have discussion with us via Skype. 

This course is being folded into a brand new United Methodist certification in Ministry with People with Disabilities. I am very pleased that my seminary is working to provide education regarding this much-neglected area in the life of the church. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Plan UMC passes

"Plan UMC," a plan to restructure the UMC, has passed on the floor of GC. You can learn more about the plan here. This could end up going to Judicial Council, though. 

Update: It did go to the Judicial Council, which struck it down. So, no restructuring at this time.... 

New restructuring plan being debated

With the demise of the Call to Action legislation, a new plan is being debated. There was a move to refer restructuring plans for further study, but it was voted down. And this means... something is probably going to happen here. To be continued....

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Full communion with historically black Methodist denominations

The UMC General Conference has voted to approve full communion with the historically black Methodist denominations. This is an important and historic event. Hopefully it will lead to more substantive cooperation between denominations. At least it's a step in the right direction. 

Secured Appointments

The "guaranteed" appointment of UMC elders was passed as a calendar item approved overwhelmingly in legislative committee. In the plenary session there was a motion to reconsider, but the motion failed. So... no more secured appointments for elders. This is a huge change in our polity with far reaching consequences.... It's just not clear what all of those consequences are yet. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

University Senate Elections

Congratulations to Jan Love, Kasap Owan, William J. Abraham, and Bill Arnold on their election to the University Senate of the UMC at the 2012 General Conference.

General Conference 2012

GC 2012 has been.... eventful. It looks like the Call to Action legislation will not go through in anything like its original form. In all likelihood some much less drastic changes to the denominational structure will go through. 

I met with Bishop Peggy Johnson today. She is perhaps our most significant and visible denominational advocate for people with disabilities. United has a new UM certification course in Ministry with People with Disabilities, so some collaboration down the line seems likely. 

Wendy Deichmann, President of United, has been nominated for a spot on the University Senate. She would be a great addition to this important body of the UMC. Keep her in your prayers and pray for a positive outcome! 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Nice N. T. Wright Video

I have a lot of admiration for N. T. Wright. If you're not familiar with Wright's perspective, this a nice lecture which touches on some of the major themes of his recent work. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Book on Wesley and Scripture

Joel Green and I have edited a new volume on Wesleyan readings of scripture. The idea for the volume came out of a Wesleyan Theological Society conference a few years ago, the theme of which was "The Future of Scripture."

The book is structured as follows:

Section One: Wesley on Scripture

1. Randy L. Maddox, "John Wesley—'A Man of One Book'"

2. Kenneth J. Collins "Scripture as a Means of Grace"

3. Robert W. Wall, "Reading Scripture, the Literal Sense, and the Analogy of Faith"

4. Joel B. Green, "Wesley as Interpreter of Scripture and the Emergence of 'History' in Biblical Interpretation"

Section Two: The Nature and Authority of Scripture among Wesleyans

5. Reginald Broadnax, "Scripture among African American Methodists"

6. Justo L. González, "Scripture among Hispanic Methodists"

7. Meesaeng Lee Choi and Hunn Choi, "Scripture among Korean Methodists"

8. William J. Abraham, "Scripture and Divine Revelation"

9. Douglas M. Koskela, "A Wesleyan Understanding of the Authority of Scripture"

10. Jason E. Vickers, "The Holiness of Scripture"

11. David F. Watson, "Scripture as Canon"

Section Three: Wesleyans Working with Scripture

12. D. Brent Laytham, "Scripture and Social Ethics"

13. Steven J. Koskie, "Can We Speak of a Wesleyan Theological Hermeneutic Today?"

14. Elaine A. Heath, "Reading Scripture for Christian Formation"

15. Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, "The Place of Scripture in Worship"

16. Michael Pasquarello III, "The Place of Scripture in Preaching"

17. Laceye Warner, "Scripture and Evangelism"

The contributors to this volume did excellent work, and I think the discussions therein will make very helpful contributions to the fields of Wesleyan studies and biblical interpretation. The volume probably won't be published until this fall, but if you are interested you can pre-order it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Human Trafficking/Domestic Violence Podcast

I was recently asked to speak at a conference on human trafficking and domestic violence. Shannon Sellars at United was kind enough to record a podcast of the lecture after the fact. If you're interested listen to the podcast here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

World Down Syndrome Day

Today, 3/21, is World Down Syndrome Day. The date was chosen to represent the third copy of the twenty-first chromosome that causes Down Syndrome, or Trisomy 21.

People with Down Syndrome most often experience learning disabilities that create difficulties in advocating for themselves. In part it is up to us, the church, to advocate for such people. Unfortunately, the church doesn't do much of this--at least not yet. There is, however, a growing awareness both in the church and the academy related to people with disabilities, their sacred worth before God, and steps able-bodied and able-minded Christians can take to be in ministry with them. See, for example, Amos Yong's recent book, The Bible, Disability, and the Church (Eerdmans, 2011).

To learn more about World Down Syndrome Day, click here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Faith Healers Banned From Advertising

Britain's Advertising Standards Authority has banned a Christian group from advertising faith healing. You can read an article about this here. The Authority claims that this type of advertising is misleading and could generate false hope in people. (I guess that never happens in advertising otherwise.) This, folks, is interesting. Often people have indicated that Christianity in the United States could go the way of Western Europe. It gives us something to think about as we contemplate how we are to move forward in faith.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Great Article By Bishop Timothy Whitaker

Please take some time to read Bishop Whitaker's blog post on our thinking through church decline theologically, rather than simply sociologically. This is an insightful post and I think he's hit the nail on the head.

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Book on Bible and Disability

Candida R. Moss and Jeremy Schipper are the editors of a new volume called Disability Studies and Biblical Literature (Palgrave Macmillan), 2011. This one is a bit hefty in price (it lists for $90 on the Macmillan website), but it looks like it may well be worth a trip to the library. The fields of Disability Studies and Biblical Studies are coming together in some remarkable ways in contemporary scholarship, and this volume looks to provide several more examples of that fruitful convergence.

The book comprises twelve chapters which are as follows:

1. Joel S. Baden, "The Nature of Barrenness in the Hebrew Bible"

2. Susan Ackerman, "The Blind, the Lame, and the Barren Shall not Come into the House"

3. T. M. Lemos, "'Like the eunuch who does not beget': Gender, Mutilation, and Negotiated Status in the Ancient Near East"

4. David Tabb Stewart, "Sexual Disabilities in the Hebrew Bible"

5. Saul M. Olyan, "The Ascription of Physical Disability as a Stigmatizing Strategy in Biblical Iconic Polemics"

6. Rebecca Raphael, "Whoring after Cripples: On the Intersection of Gender and Disability Imagery in Jeremiah"

7. Sarah J. Melcher, "A Tale of Two Eunuchs: Isaiah 56:1-8 and Acts 8:26-40"

8. Warren Carter, "'The blind, lame and paralyzed' (John 5:3): John's Gospel, Disability Studies, and Postcolonial Perspective"

9. Mikeal C. Parsons, "His Feet and Ankles Were Made Strong: Signs of Character in the Man Lame from Birth"

10. Adela Yarbro Collins, "Paul's Disability: The Thorn in His Flesh"

11. Meghan Henning, "In Sickness and in Health: Ancient 'Rituals of Truth' in the Greco-Roman World and 1 Peter"

12. Nicole Kelley, "'The punishment of the devil was apparent in the torment of the human body': Epilepsy in Ancient Christianity"

As you can see, this is heavy stuff, but the topic is a serious one and deserves serious attention. There are a number of outstanding scholars in this volume.

More to come after I've finished reading it....