Theology Feed

The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time against the Speed of Modern Life

The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time Against the Speed of Modern LifeThe Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time Against the Speed of Modern Life by Andrew Root
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last week, and much of it while I was in a monastery on retreat experiencing the rhythms of prayer in monastic time, I was coincidentally/serendipitously reading this book. Root identifies the core problem facing contemporary churches and church people to be time related. This resonated with me. I've long enjoyed exploring the topic of time (you can find a number of my sermons that approach this theme). And how often in the pandemic years have we heard people focus on losing a sense of time?

Root writes, "We long to find a true fullness that draws us not through time, into some future time, but more deeply into time itself. We long to live so deeply in time that we hear and feel the calling of eternity. We yearn to find once again the infinite in time, to find the sacred in the present, and therefore to be truly alive!"

Yes.

The opening chapter on depression is so excellent. He writes that most depression in the 21st century is actually related to time--that we can't keep up the pace of living our best lives. I've copied this chapter to share with someone I thought needed to read it.

This is the sort of book that had me really thinking of how to apply it to my personal life and how to engage its themes as a pastor for my congregation. I think there will be a future worship series formatted around it. Also, at least four books that he references I plan to read, so it will likely lead to intellectual fertility.

My only criticism was that Root summarizes his points so many times that in some places it becomes very repetitive to the point of tiresome. So it could have used some editing. But that overall does not diminish the book too much.

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The Love that Is God

The Love That Is God: An Invitation to Christian FaithThe Love That Is God: An Invitation to Christian Faith by Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An eloquent and literary reflection on key elements of the Christian faith, primarily focused on love. Here is an example, "To love our enemies is to renounce the idea that we have it in our power to make history turn out right, to end all suffering, to banish all evil. To love our enemies is, in the end, to disarm ourselves of any weapons except the cross and the Spirit's gifts of faith, hope, and love."

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Galilean Journey

Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American PromiseGalilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise by Virgilio Elizondo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Fiesta is the mystical celebration of a complex identity, the mystical affirmation that life is a gift and is worth living."

In this powerful and innovative theology, Elizondo draws connections between the Mestizo experience of Mexican-Americans (being neither and both and something third) and Jesus being a Galileean. For him, Christianity creates the opportunity for a new humanity. The poor and the marginalized will lead us is into this new reality. And it will be universal and cosmopolitan, mixing together and drawing elements from various cultures, all in a spirit of celebration.

I found this liberation theology to speak powerfully to our present moment, despite it being forty years old. Its reflections on identity and culture could help to guide us in our present moment when those categories are dominating so much discourse and action.

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Jesus in Asia

Jesus in AsiaJesus in Asia by R.S. Sugirtharajah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Asian quest for Jesus did not see him as a unique person, but perceived him as one who was engaged in work similar to that of the Asian seers, and welcomed him and such teachers 'as God's revelation in history.'"

Sugirtharajah writes about a number of Asian Jesus scholars whose contributions have been overlooked by the Western theological academy. Some of these Asian scholars were Christians, but some of them were Hindo, Jain, or Buddhist and were writing about Jesus from those religious perspectives.

Much of the material was completely new to me. I was very fascinated by the chapter on Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's work on Jesus from a Hindu perspective. Sugirtharajah writes that for Radhakrishnan "what was attractive about Jesus . . . was his ability to awaken an awareness of the divine in oneself." Radhakrishnan saw Jesus in the tradition of the Upanishads.

I learned the most from the chapter on the Korean theologian Ahn Byung Mu. Ahn argued that to understand Jesus you had to understand who he kept company with and the status of those people in their society. Here's an example of Ahn's ideas as discussed by Sugirtharajah:

"What counted most were the lifestyle choices Jesus had made, such as forgoing all material possessions and securities of life, cutting himself off from family attachments, and more crucially, overturning the value system so that those who exalted themselves were humbled, and the humble were exalted."

One common theme among all these Asian scholars is emphasizing that Jesus was Asian and should be interpreted in the broader context of Asian religious culture rather than the Hellenistic and Roman interpretations because Jesus rejected and seemed to have so little in common with those cultures.

In the conclusion Sugirtharajah uses these scholars as a means of criticizing the search for an historical Jesus and identifying how even Western academic approaches are emotional, imaginative constructs--"The so-called historical Jesus is invariably an idealized picture drawn from the interpreter's fancy and from fads."

But what we learn from these Asian scholars is that maybe we shouldn't center our faith on the history of one individual person. Rather, shouldn't we focus on the values Jesus taught and the kind of life he modeled as a way of awakening spirituality within humanity?

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The World Come of Age

The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation TheologyThe World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology by Lilian Calles Barger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very thorough intellectual history that situates the first generation of liberation theologians within their context, demonstrating the various streams of thought that gave rise to this hemisphere-wide movement and how it responded to the immediate concerns facing oppressed peoples. The end of the book evaluates the movement, show how it did not achieve its stated aims of a revolution of the political order, but that it has had broad influence throughout the Americas and far beyond theology.

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Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition

Seeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian TraditionSeeing God: The Beatific Vision in Christian Tradition by Hans Boersma
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"Indeed, whenever and wherever we see truth, goodness, and beauty, it is as though the eschaton comes cascading into our lives and we receive a glimpse of God's beauty in Christ."

That's a fine sentence. I can imagine it will appear in a sermon sometime.

This book is a thorough (sometimes too thorough I think) review of the theology of the beatific vision, focused on a handful of key figures in Christian history. The most interesting, to me, chapters were on Protestant versions, as one doesn't usually think of this as a prominent Protestant doctrine. Chapters on Calvin, the Puritans, and Edwards showed that Protestant theology has neglected an important idea.

By the end Boersma seems to be supporting an idealistic metaphysics that I find odd. But the book was substantive and informative.

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Landscapes of the Sacred

Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American SpiritualityLandscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality by Belden C. Lane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this calamitous year our connections to places and spaces have been heightened.  We were/are isolated in domestic spaces.  We walked our neighborhoods.  Many of us gardened and landscaped.  We also couldn't go to places that we enjoyed, found meaningful, that inspire or comfort us.  In religious communities there was the acute realization of the importance to many of us of the places we worship and fellowship and that online versions were but a pale and inadequate shadow creating significant spiritual loss.

I had enjoyed another Belden Lane book and this one has been sitting on my shelves to-read for a while.  This year seemed fitting.  I grabbed it and began it while three days of spiritual retreat in the Nebraska Sandhills at Kamp Kaleo, our denominational campground.

In this book Lane explores the particulars of American spiritualities of place and space. He opens with a discussion of how all sacred spaces are storied spaces. The vast middle section of the book examines various spiritual approaches to place from Native American to Catholic Worker. In this section I found two things particularly lacking--no examination of place/space in African-American spirituality or any discussion of what Eastern Religions have contributed to a sense of place (surely a discussion of Gary Snyder would have been easy?). I personally most enjoyed the chapter on the Puritans.

The book then concludes with the tension in Christian spirituality between a sacramental sense of place and an apophatic tradition that emphasizes transcendence of place. In this section he discusses the need to deconstruct the ways in which landscapes are always constructed (a brief discussion of Simon Schama's wonderful book Landscape and Memory). And how Christianity disciplines us to see the sacred in the places we want to ignore.

As I contemplate how to spiritually direct my people this winter, building on some work I did last spring, I can imagine a pilgrimmage in place, focusing on the interior life and attention to the details in our ordinary spaces. My mental wheels are turning.

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Divine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology

Divine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive ChristologyDivine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology by Tripp Fuller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tripp has written a fine book. He's pulled together so many different theological threads and made sense of them.

The first chapter conscisely and straightforwardly summarizes some of the key themes of Process thought. The second chapter is the best summary of the current state of historical Jesus research I've read. Subsequent chapters review major developments in Christology and places differing voices in conversation with one another developing from them the major themes that a contemporary theology should have. And the conclusion draws it all together to present a fresh and inspiring picture of the Christ.

I know I'll find it helpful for teaching and preaching for years. Thank you Tripp.

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