The more I pray the more difficult I find it to pray. I was taught to pray spontaneously, as if this were the only kind of prayer that was authentic. Written and rote prayers were almost automatically condemned as mere ritual without heartfelt meaning. I admire the concern for authenticity, but I must admit that I lack the imagination, the vocabulary, often the enthusiasm and desire to conjure up new words for God every time I want to pray or am called to pray.
The trait that captures the essence of Churches of Christ most, for so long is the exclusivist or sectarian spirit. In short, we have thought we were the only ones who got Christianity right, and that if you didn’t agree with us, then you were not only mistaken, you were condemned. Yet this is only one side of the debate in our church.
All of us have felt our peers’ desire to do things differently, to see church in a new light; to work towards what we feel like is a real glimpse of the kingdom of God. We are not apologists of the “old ways” or fanatics for everything novel. We found ourselves in traditional ministerial contexts, and not elsewhere, and are trying to live faithfully and authentically in the church contexts that raised us to live faithfully and authentically. David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me is one part explanation, one part hopeful dreaming about the phenomenon of us Mosaics/Millenials and our beef with churches.
It is against this unrealistic elitist conception of sanctity that Plekon tries to construct a better understanding of what it means to be a saint, a holy person (hagios). The brilliance of this book is that it is not an academic diatribe, neither is it a sustained theological treatise (though it is both academically sensitive and theologically deep). The method that Plekon chooses to think through sainthood is by thinking about actual saints as he sees them. Thus the book takes us through a host of biographies from persons across the theological and ecclesial spectrum—some living, some having entered their rest.
As I’ve suggested in some earlier book sketches, I think Protestants like myself have a lot to gain by learning from the Eastern Orthodox Church. One of the ways I’ve grown the most by listening to the Orthodox voice is the way I think about salvation. The way I typically heard the story growing up made salvation a matter of alignment, like applying for membership in the right club, and then a lifetime’s work trying not to get kicked out. And salvation was taught this way because of our underlying theological assumptions. Now, I’m not saying this is completely wrong, but I do think there’s some serious gaps and even errors in that way of thinking.
Last week we faced a set of issues that seem to require us to think along the same lines. Is a deep, radical love compatible with an (albeit partially) socialized healthcare system? Is a deep, radical love compatible with a heritage haunted by racism and slavery? Is a deep, radical love compatible with embracing or excluding homosexual marriage—or indeed, homosexuals in the Church? I offer no answers here, and I’m not interested in hosting or sparking political debates. What I do suggest is that this book offers a great methodological starting-point for thinking through these questions. My suspicion is that, if we follow Jackson’s example of charitable thought, that our answers will resemble love in better and truer ways than they did before–no matter which side one lands on any given issue.
Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code vividly depicts the Council of Nicaea as a chaotic shouting match in which several ‘Gospels’ were rejected. This may have been the first time many ever realized other ‘gospels’ were produced at all. What do we make of this? If not through some inane conspiracy, how did the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and New Testament get to its present form? What of these other ‘gospels’? These are questions about which Christians should have a basic understanding, and Lee McDonald’s book aims to help.
Addiction is a part of our modern worldviews. It is a concept we use to describe a relatively wide range of behavior. Certainly coffee “addiction” is nowhere near the same level as addiction to, say, meth. Often we use the term in a trivial kind of way to describe behavior that’s more along the lines of short-term obsession. One could say they are “addicted” to the show Grey’s Anatomy and, besides their obliviousness to the shame they should be feeling for saying such a thing, they could not really mean something along the lines of alcoholism.
This illustrates an important point that Paul Ramsey and other defenders of Christian violent resistance argue: the right thing to do changes when it’s not just me alone in the equation, but also our neighbor. We might be able to stomach turning our own cheek, but are we called to turn our neighbor’s cheek also? My last post was on a book about Christian nonviolence, in the spirit of fairness this book is a defense of violent resistance from a Christian perspective.