Westminster Theological Seminary: Can Institutions Respond to Controversy in Radical Love? (Part One)

220px-Machen_Hall,_Westminster_Theological_Seminary,_Glenside_PA_01In early June I commented on my Facebook wall about the “retirement” of Old Testament professor Dr. Douglas Green at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia (WTS). You can read the official Westminster announcement online. The seminary says that Dr. Green is leaving for early “retirement.” But Doug Green is not of retirement age in the normative use of this word, meaning he is not 65 or older. The school says that he will honorably retire next year, on October 1, 2015. But he left his teaching position as of the end of the last term (2014). I commented on my Facebook wall about this departure in a manner that challenged this statement. I also questioned the integrity of the investigation and the final decision made by the board. (My words were not as charitable as they should have been and I noted that within a few hours of posting my short comment.) While I confess that I know a great deal about this decision, and much which gives me genuine pause (none of which comes from Dr. Green who

Jefferson and Hamilton: The Greatest American Rivalry

UnknownJohn Ferling, professor emeritus of history at the University of West Georgia, is a wonderful writer of history and biography. I know his name through his evocative treatments of major figures in early American history. His special interest has always been the War of Independence, and the more prominent figures of early American history. He has done it again in a new book that I find quite exciting.

I recently began working my way each day through Ferling’s newest book, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013). The book can also be purchased in a Kindle version for less than $10. For many years I realized that a number of our modern political debates have their real origin in the views, and even the temperaments, of these two giants of early America. But I had far too little comprehension of just how true this observation was until reading Ferling’s excellent book.

The decade of the 1790s has been called “the decade of passion” for good reason. Fervor for the new

The Emotive Cry for Community

UnknownMichael Novak, in his stirring memoir of a journey from left to right, devotes an entire chapter to community, as I noted yesterday. He writes: “One of life’s most time-consuming tasks is to achieve disagreement with an ideological opposite. Without blinking, you might object; ‘It’s not had to disagree. Heck! Most people do it all the time” (282). But aren’t disagreements really inevitable? After all we have different understandings of terms, widely varying perspectives on history, and unique sets of fears and rosy scenarios that we all entertain? But, says Michael Novak, “We are most often like two ships passing in the night” (282). Is he right? Could this really be true? I think so.

One of America’s most wise and important Catholic thinkers in the last century was the Jesuit John Courtney Murray. Novak says that Murray once said two people cannot (to use Novak’s description of Murray’s point) come to a “real disagreement without sticking to the argument for a very long time–maybe long enough to work through a case of brandy together as they ruminate.

Michael Novak’s Liberal Origins and Friendships

UnknownYesterday I gave an overview of Michael Novak’s superb new memoir, Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative (Image: New York, 2013). For me, a teenage in the 1960s, this wonderful memoir seems like a political and economic account of an extraordinary life well-lived through a time of social and political turbulence, the times in which I was coming of age and growing older.

Walter Isaacson, the former managing editor of TIME, and certainly no social or political conservative, says, “Whether or not you always agree with him, you will see in this book why Michael Novak is considered one of our most profound thinkers on the relationship between democracy, capitalism, and freedom. The memoir of his intellectual odyssey is both a compelling personal narrative and a provocative intellectual history of our times” (italics are mine, taken from the back jacket of the book). Another intriguing endorsement, one which reveals why I like Novak as a person and as an intellectual of deep importance, comes from Tom Fox, the publisher and former editor of

Sandy Hook School One Year Later

Unknown-1The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was one year ago today. The horror was unimaginable. The pain altered our nation, at least on one level. We must not forget this day. We must pray for those   who will live with this grief for the remainder of their days. We must pray for our nation, gripped by violence and fear as never before.

Sandy Hook was the second deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history! The legacy of this event holds many meanings for so many people. Does it move your heart and soul?

Unknown-2Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of St. John of the Cross, a mystic and doctor of the church (1542-1591). St. John became a Carmelite at the age of twenty-one. John’s life was altered when he met Teresa of Avila, leader of the Carmelite reform movement and one of the greatest figures of this age. (This was an age in which division, and low spiritual practice by the baptized, was

Philip Schaff and The Unity of Christendom – Part One

Unknown-2In the year in which he died (1893), Philip Schaff wrote what I take to be an extremely important piece on ecumenism with the title “The Reunion of Christendom.” It begins by quoting John 17:20–21 and then states the difficulty of the ecumenical problem by saying that the answer to the question the disciples asked Jesus, when they said – “Who then can be saved?” – may well be applied to the question, “How shall the many sections of the Christian world be united?” Schaff answers this query by quoting Matthew 19:25-26, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Make no mistake regarding Philip Schaff’s view of the subject of Christian unity. He believed that “in a manner far better than we can devise or hope, he [God] will, by the power of his Spirit, unite all his children into one flock under one Shepherd.” Schaff said that this reunion “presupposes an original union” which was marred and obstructed.

I concur with Schaff in this belief and passion. I also agree with him that

The Mercersburg Movement: How Reformed Theology Helped Me Become a Missional-Ecumenist

Yesterday. I quoted nineteenth century theologian-historian Philip Schaff (1819–1893), a Swiss-born, German-educated Reformed Protestant minister who became a widely regarded church historian at the end of his life. Schaff spent most of his adult life living and teaching in the United States. His works are still read though his history is now dated by the simple fact that he died in 1893.

Phillip_SchaffPhilip Schaff, along with John Williamson Nevin, were the highly regarded leaders of what became known as Mercersburg Theology. This Mercersburg Movement began in the mid-nineteenth century in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, the home of Marshall College from 1836 until its merger with Franklin College (Lancaster, PA), in 1853. It was the home for the seminary of the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) from 1837 until its relocation to Lancaster in 1871. This seminary was connected to what was known as the German Reformed Church, a church family that eventually merged into a union that became the Evangelical and Reformed Church. In 1957 the Evangelical and Reformed Church merged with the Congregational Christian Church, a decision

The Moment That Changed America: My LIfe Fifty Years Later

1101131125_600TIME magazine’s November 25 (2013) cover story says it as well as any single storyline I’ve read the last two weeks: “The Moment That Changed America.” That moment, the assassination of our 35th president, John F. Kennedy, occurred fifty years ago today at 12:30 p.m. CST in Dallas, Texas.

If you were alive at the time, and old enough to have a memory of that incredible day, you will never, never forget it. It seemed impossible to comprehend at the time. In many ways it still seems impossible to comprehend, now fifty years later. I think, for example, that we comprehend 9/11 far better. We can fairly easily picture how and why radical terrorists would strike us. We also know who did this, or at least we are fairly certain that we know since someone claimed it and defended it.

Fifty years after the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories are still contentiously debated and the national psyche seems permanently impacted by the tragedy that unfolded in Dealey Plaza on that sunny day.

The death of our young president was captured on

“As Darwin Is My Witness”

Unknown-1The title of my blog today was given to me by a new friend, Paul Miller, who lives in the Seattle area. Paul recently came to spend a day with me in Chicago. We talked about a wide-range of issues, particularly relating to missions, culture and the power of the gospel. We talked briefly about the failure of Prohibition in America. We both expressed reservations about imposing our evaluations of this failed experiment upon other nations. Paul made particular reference to the strictness with which the early 19th Puritan missionaries pushed temperance on Hawaii’s natives. Paul and I both observed that given the scourge liquor has often been on nations that received it from the West the missionaries just might have been right to teach temperance and take such a firm stand against Western lands that were importing alcoholic beverage into other cultures.

Paul said:

Here I call Charles Darwin to the witness box! While not a great fan of his biological theories, I find myself warming instantly to his cultural anthropology . . . and toward his open

By |November 7th, 2013|Categories: Culture, History, Missional Church|

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama – The Legacy Lives (1)

pic--facade-370x250-72ppiOrganized in 1873, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was the first black church in Birmingham, Alabama. Initially, the congregation worshiped in a small building but in 1880 the church’s meeting place moved to its present location at 16th Street and 6th Avenue North in downtown Birmingham.  A modern brick building was erected in 1884 that established the church’s presence in the city.

Over time the City of Birmingham ordered the congregation to tear down its building. The church commissioned the state’s only black architect to design a new building.  A new church was completed in 1911 at a cost of $26,000.

Because of segregation Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and other black churches in Birmingham, served many purposes. This facility functioned as a meeting place, a social center and a lecture hall for a variety of activities important to the lives of black citizens.  W.E.B. DuBois, Mary McLeod Bethune, Paul Robeson, and Ralph Bunche were among the  noted black Americans who spoke at the church building during its early years.  African-Americans from across the city, as well as neighboring towns, came