Against Treating the Prayer Book as Theology

4F80E739-7A47-4C7C-BFC0-2AFC64D9C313One of the latent questions in  discussions around prayer book revision centers on the Book of Common Prayer’s theology, or theologies. The claim might be that Episcopalians haven’t lived into the theology of the current prayer book sufficiently, or that this theology has harmful consequences. Revision can be an opportunity to alter, augment, or newly introduce certain aspects of prayer book theology; preservation can retain a concrete and clear theology that has stood the test of time. In the midst of this, I want to argue that the prayer book shouldn’t have a theology at all.

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Chris Pratt, Colin Kaepernick, and the Christic Image of the American Soldier

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I really like Chris Pratt. I liked his ‘9 rules,’ which used a platform given by MTV (of all places) to deliver a few simple Christian messages—a person is of more than material value, embarrassment is nothing to be afraid of, kindness matters, and we are beloved of God.

Right at the end, though, there was a moment that my ears prick up: “grace is a gift. Like the freedom that we enjoy in this country, that grace was paid for with somebody else’s blood. Do not forget that. Don’t take that for granted.” The idea that American freedom was paid for in military blood is, of course, ubiquitous—throughout the controversy over Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests, no-one in mainstream discourse has questioned the idea that the freedom to protest is enjoyed because of military sacrifice. But before Pratt’s speech, I’d never realized this was an atonement theology.

Continue reading “Chris Pratt, Colin Kaepernick, and the Christic Image of the American Soldier”

Some Quick Thoughts about Responding to Trumpian Exegesis

6DF67959-05AA-4218-B0F3-FD4E5734418EJeff Sessions and Sarah Sanders’ invocations of Scripture to justify separating children from parents has rightly provoked uproar in a number of Christian circles. This is a good thing. As far as I can tell, it’s awful exegesis (for a number of reasons), and it’s important for non-Christians to see a public demonstration that many Christians disagree about how to read the Bible. Continue reading “Some Quick Thoughts about Responding to Trumpian Exegesis”

How My Conversion Shapes the Way I Study Theology

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It’s the end of an academic year. Quite apart from the fact that I didn’t get into various PhD programs, this has invited reflection about why and how I’m trying to do what I’m trying to do—namely, study theology for the foreseeable future. Writing often helps me with this kind of reflection. And it’s my experience that reading another’s reflection can sometimes help one process one’s own thoughts. So, at the risk of self-indulgence, here’s a blog post reflecting on why and how I am so wrapped up in all this. Continue reading “How My Conversion Shapes the Way I Study Theology”

Forms Passing Away: Berkeley Senior Sermon

B31A18BE-F1A5-4A3F-8060-6F5BA2CA68CFHere’s my Berkeley senior sermon. It’s a bit different to the kind of thing I usually preach. It’s one of the few things I’ve put together which was very much designed to be spoken, rather than read. I also made the conscious decision to dive into a conceptual reading of Corinthians 7:26-29, and so preach from an explicitly philosophical/theological perspective. With that said, I hope it’s worth the read, and I hope that the pastoral import of the philosophical/theological manifests itself.

A dear friend described it—paraphrasing slightly—as articulating a ‘practice of how we might regularly evaluate what we presume to be normative, and why those presumptions might be what get in the way of our ability to experience mystery, chance, surprise, hope, grace.’ I think that’s exactly what I was trying to do.

For the present form of this world is passing away.

In our second reading today, Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that “the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none.” In other words, given everything’s going to get apocalyptic soon, be as if you weren’t what you are. In itself, this seems simple enough. It is complicated, however, by the verses right before, not included in our reading today. There, Paul writes that, “in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.” In verse 26, then, ‘are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free.’ In verse 19, ‘let even those who have wives be as though they had none.’ Be married, and be as if you were not. Be—and be as if you weren’t.

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Why Should Episcopalians Bother with Systematic Theology?

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Rublev’s Trinity with cover

The Episcopal Church and systematic theology are divided.1 They have been for a long time, and there are reasons for this on both sides. The problem I’m going to focus on in this post is a belief that abstract theological statements—about the Trinity, for example, or what it means to say Jesus Christ is very God and very Man—are irrelevant to Christian life. I’ve heard this belief expressed in myriad ways. In church, it’s not uncommon to hear things like “it doesn’t matter whether your believe Jesus is divine, only that you follow his teachings.” This is a ‘life not doctrine’ approach. In seminary, it’s not uncommon to hear the question “when am I ever going to use this? It’s of no use for pastoral ministry.” This is a theory/practice distinction. Continue reading “Why Should Episcopalians Bother with Systematic Theology?”

An Amateur’s Guide to Reading Wittgenstein

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Wittgenstein in 1950.

If you’ve met me, you probably know I enjoy reading, writing, and talking about Ludwig Wittgenstein. It’s one of those strange things where a system of thought and the personality behind it combine such that reading him becomes a matter of compulsion. Strangely enough, however, I’ve only ever had one week of reading for one class where Wittgenstein was a set reading. He’s a name that lurks in the background, popping up in introductions, in comparative studies, in his unspoken influence on recent thinkers, or in the explicit rejection of what he’s supposed to represent. But he himself rarely appears on syllabi outside of introductory surveys. Continue reading “An Amateur’s Guide to Reading Wittgenstein”