Thursday, January 31, 2008

Olaudah Equinao: Born Free

Olaudah Equinao: Born Free

“I . . . acknowledge the mercies of Providence in every occurrence of my life.”[i] These words from the pen of the Christian Olaudah Equiano might seem trite until we realize that they introduce the narrative of his harrowing kidnapping and enslavement.

Equiano was born free in 1745 in the kingdom of Benin on the coast of Africa, then known as Guinea. The youngest of seven children, his loving parents gave him the name Olaudah, signifying favored one. Indeed, he lived a favored life in his idyllic upbringing in a simple and quiet village where his father served as the “chief man” who decided disputes and punished crimes, and where his mother adored him dearly.

Bathed in Tears: Weeping with Those Who Weep

At age ten, it all came crashing down. “One day, when all our people were gone out to their works as usual, and only I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both; and, without giving us time to cry out, or make resistance, they stopped our mouths, tied our hands, and ran off with us into the nearest wood: and continued to carry us as far as they could, till night came on, when we reached a small house, where the robbers halted for refreshment, and spent the night.”

His kidnappers then unbound Equiano and his sister. Overpowered by fatigue and grief, they had just one source of relief. “The only comfort we had was in being in one another’s arms all that night, and bathing each other with our tears.”

Equiano and his sister model a foundational principle of sustaining empathy: weeping with those who weep. Far too often we rush in with words, and far too often those words are words of rescue. Our hurting friends need our silence, not our speeches. The shed tear and the silent voice provide great enrichment for our spiritual friends.

[i] Equiano, The Interesting Narrative, p. 4.
[ii] Ibid., p. 24.
[iii] Ibid., p. 25.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Is This All There Is?

Is This All There Is?

Tom Brady.

If you know anything about sports, then the name Tom Brady jumps out at you.


Starting quarterback for New England Patriots.

A 60 million dollar contract.

Dating whatever super model he wants to date.

Well, watch this interview and seem Tom Brady struggle with life's core question: "Is this all there is?"

Use the video to reach others who long to know if there's more than fame and fortune.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Changeless Truth for Changing Times: Discerning How to Be Discerning

Changeless Truth for Changing Times: Discerning How to Be Discerning

Looking at African American History through the Spirituals

Looking at African American History through the Spirituals

*A Review of: Nikki Giovanni, “On My Journey Now.”

With her opening words, author Nikki Giovanni imparts truth needed by all readers as a context for the spirituals. “We say that the slavers went to Africa to get the slaves, which is far from true. The slavers went to Africa to get Africans to make them slaves.”

How did free people, with their own cultures, their own families, their own everything survive and remain sane when overpowered and raped of everything? Captured and ruptured, how did they survive and even thrive?

Giovanni, award-winning author of “Rosa,” and University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, provides a core answer. It was through the co-created, spontaneous spirituals by which African Americans proclaimed, “I’m a child of God!”

As her aptly chosen subtitle suggests, “On My Journey Home” looks at African American history through the spirituals. Giovanni takes her readers on a journey from capture, to auction block, to daily hardships, escape, community building, the Invisible Institution, Sunday worship, heavenly hope, Emancipation, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the present, and even to the future.

Giovanni makes the vital point that we sing the slave spirituals as “cute children’s songs,” forgetting the depth, the pain, the passion, and the meaning that drove their creation and their singing. Build through the blending of Old Testament deliverance themes, New Testament redemption themes, and the pressing need for shared hope, these songs of Christian faith were anything but cute, though they did evidence the trusting faith of a child in a good Father.

Nor were these songs “polite.” Often, subtly so, they challenged the hypocrisy of their Christian masters with words such as “Everybody talkin’ ‘bout heaven ain’t going there.”

Giovanni has it right. The African American Christians “didn’t just write the songs, they lived them.” To understand African American history is to understand the slave spirituals and to understand the slave spirituals is to understand African American history. This is the gift of “On my Journey Now.”

Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of “Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction,” “Soul Physicians,” and “Spiritual Friends.”

Sunday, January 27, 2008

God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life

God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life

*A Review of, Paul Kengor, "God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life."

Let's state this clearly from the beginning. Whether you embrace Hillary Clinton's politics or not, whether you embrace Hillary Clinton's beliefs or not, her beliefs are a critically important issue, for they deeply impact her political convictions.

Here's another fact to clarify. The author, Paul Kengor, is not an apologist for Hillary Clinton. He has written similar books on Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. His aim in all three books is to write an accurate spiritual history of these three important political figures.

In "God and Hillary Clinton," Kengor excels at revealing to readers the spiritual shaping factors that brought Hillary Clinton to embrace the beliefs and practices she does. If you want insight into who she is, what she believes, who influenced her personally, who she read, and why, then this is the book to read.

What's more, Kengor's writing style, his first-hand interviews, and his access to letters and other documents, make this a well-written, creative, captivating history book--no easy task.

Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, Spiritual Friends, and Soul Physicians.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Discerning How to Be Discerning

Discerning How to Be Discerning

*A Reivew of: Tim Challies, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment

Tim Challies is well known to the blogosphere and to the world of Reviews. John MacArthur has it right when he says of Challies, “His weblog is a favorite stop for thousands of Christian readers every day.”

On his weblog and in his Amazon reviews, Challies seeks to assess how well or how poorly a book thinks biblically about life. In “The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment” he offers a practical theology of how to develop the spiritual discipline of discerning truth from error, right from wrong. Or, as he puts it, this book “is written for all those who believe that it is the duty of every Christian to think biblically about all areas of life so that they might act biblically in all areas of life.”

The current historical context for Challies’ work is vital. We live in a day and age where, because of information technology, everyone can write, and, everyone can write against everyone else. Thus, we find a plethora of counterfeit truth claims in Christianity today while at the same time finding an excess of self-proclaimed prophets of discernment whose main task in life seems to be exposing the supposed duplicity of false prophets, sheep-in-wolves clothing, and Trojan Horsemen sneaking heresy into the church.

Obviously, both of these extremes harm the cause of Christ. Counterfeit theology fails to speak the truth. Counterfeit “discernment ministry prophets” fail to speak in love, and, nine times out of ten, also fail to speak the truth about those they critique.

Into this vast wasteland Tim Challies speaks. His ten chapters should be required reading for both groups. Those who claim to teach newly emerging ideas of Christianity need to learn from Challies how to erect biblical theologies for their ministry models. Those who claim to have cornered the market on spotting counterfeits need to learn from him how to develop true, biblical, loving, humble discernment.

Chapter by chapter, Challies calls readers to guard the deposit of the pure Gospel of Christ’s grace. Quoting author J. C. Ryle, Challies notes that we spoil the Gospel through substitution, addition, interposition, disproportion, and by confused and contradictory directions.

The heart of the book addresses the question of how we really know truth. Challies challenges readers to the highest possible view of the sufficiency of Scriptures, which he defines as forsaking all subjective means of supposedly knowing God and instead founding spiritual discernment upon God’s objective revelation of himself in Scripture. While agreeing totally with this foundational concept, it would be interesting to hear Challies and the authors of “Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit” (Wallace and Sawyer) engage one another. While Wallace and Sawyer believe 100% in the sufficiency of Scripture, they eschew the idea among many Evangelicals who seem to make the Trinity: “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Scriptures.” This overly rational, Princetonian, modern, Enlightenment mindset often seems to eliminate the work of the Spirit in illuminating believers, replacing it with a mindset that seems to equate one’s interpretation of Scripture with the Scripture’s own inerrancy and inspiration. It confuses biblical, humble, openness and dependence upon the Spirit with “mysticism.” It confuses the use of God-given reason with the worship of rationalism. Saying that we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture is not enough. We must all acknowledge that we inevitably bring our self, our personality, our culture, and our experience to the text. How the Spirit works in the full human personality (relational, rational, volitional, and emotional) to help us to discern truth is perhaps a deeper issue that Challies might explore further in future works.

It is in chapter three that Challies defines discernment. “Discernment is the skill of understanding and applying God’s Word with the purpose of separating truth from error, and right from wrong.” Personally, I would add, “for the purpose of exalting and enjoying God by loving God with our whole heart and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.” This last part of the definition oft seems missing by some in the so-called modern “discernment” movement who seem to speak more to attack, than to attract, who seem to speak more to expose error without the commensurate motivation of restoring others to truth and reconciling relationships.

Challies further highlights our need to discern in the areas of doctrine and life: what is true about God and what is true about how we live for God. Spiritual discernment enlightens us to know who God is and to know the will of God for life—in terms of right and wrong behavior.

Since Challies states that discernment is a spiritual gift, in chapter seven he exegetes 1 Corinthians 12:10 and “the ability to distinguish between spirits.” He concludes that one cannot conclude whether this gift today is exactly the same as the gift of discerning of spirits in the early church. He concludes, based on a more expansive study of discernment throughout the Bible (rather than just based on 1 Corinthians 12:10), that there is a gift of discernment today. He notes, “People with this gift will have special ability to separate truth from error and to discern whether something originates with God or with Satan.” He further notes that even though not all have the gift, we all are to pursue this discipline.

One wonders if Challies were discerning this view from another author, if Challies might not chide that author somewhat. If we can’t demonstrate exegetically that it is a modern-day gift, then perhaps it is better not to call it a special spiritual gift given to certain saints, and rather do what Challies does in his last sentence of chapter seven and simply say it is a discipline that all should develop. It seems that some have jumped on this concept of a special, enduring spiritual gift for today (which may not be exegetically supportable), and concluded that they have been given the almost exclusive mantle of the prophet to expose error in a superior way to others in the Body of Christ.

Because of much current misuse of so-called “discernment,” I find chapters eight through ten the most crucial. In chapter eight, Challies exposes the dangers of discernment. Among these he lists items such as guilt by association and honor by association. These are two false, illogical, and ill-theological methodologies (mis)used extensively in the “discernment” movement. He also lists the error of failing to distinguish between the critical and the disputable. This is where “prophets of discernment” call others heretics because they disagree with them on an issue that the church has never labeled as one of the fundamentals of the faith. Witch hunting is another danger of discernment that Challies eschews. Challies rightly observes how “insufferable” such a process becomes and notes that “a person who continually stirs up anger and disagreement is committing an offense that the Lord hates.”

Challies also lists relying unduly on others, simplicity, pride, withdrawal, and truth without love as additional errors/dangers. This chapter is the proverbial “must read” for anyone who feels the subjective call to the ministry of “discernment.” Coming as it does from one of the young leaders in the area of true biblical discernment, it has a wonderful possibility of being heard and heeded.

Chapter nine is valuable for all readers—especially since God calls everyone to be discerning. Here Challies provides wisdom principles for developing wisdom. You can’t beat that.

While chapter nine highlights movement toward developing discernment, chapter ten emphasizes how to practice the ministry of discernment. Taken together, chapters eight through ten should become the manual for the discernment movement. Consecutively, they teach what not to do, how to mature in discernment, and how to practice the art of discernment: how to study the Bible, how to use the mind (reason), how to depend upon the Spirit, and how to read fairly other authors to discern truth from error. These three chapters are worth the proverbial price of the book.

Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of “Beyond the Suffering,” “Soul Physicians,” and “Spiritual Friends.”

Thursday, January 24, 2008

African American Theology

African American Theology

*A Review of: Thabiti M. Anyabwile, The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity

“The Decline of African American Theology” is an important contribution to the ancient/modern study of African American Christianity. Author Thabiti Anyabwile, Sr. Pastor at First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands, writes from his perspective as a founding member of the Council of Reforming Churches (CRC).

The CRC is an association of churches subscribing to the historic five solas of the reformation, the core doctrines of grace commonly known as the five points of Calvinism, and the system of theology summed up in such catechism/confessions as the historic Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, The Westminster Confession of Faith, and Heidelberg Catechism. Their purpose is to see biblically reformed theology sown, take root in, flourish among and eventually become the dominant theology within the black church and African-American community. Understanding this framework is essential for understanding Anyabwile’s writing.

The book itself attempts something that has rarely been pursued: a full account of the course of African American Christian theology. Anyabwile organizes his historical survey according to six core theological/doctrinal categories: revelation (bibliology), God (theology proper), man (anthropology), Christ (Christology), salvation (soteriology), and the Holy Spirit (pneumatology). Additionally, each chapter is organized into five periods: early slavery era through abolition (1600-1865), Reconstruction to the “New Negro” movement (1865-1929), depression to WW II (1930-1949), the Civil Rights Era (1950-1979), end of century to post-modern era (1980-present).

The book’s premise is to trace the development of African American theology from its earliest manifestation to the present. The premise continues by stating that secularization overtook the Black Church replacing its evangelical and Reformed theological upbringing. Finally, the book purposes to call the black church back a proper theocentric (as defined from a Reformed perspective) view of itself and the world.

Each of Anyabwile’s chapters starts strong with in-depth, primary source material on a rather diverse group of African American believers from the North and South during the slavery era. Having examined the identical terrain in my book “Beyond the Suffering” related to African American soul care, I can attest to the thorough research work the author does. However, at times it seems that evidence that supports the premise of an early, almost exclusive Reformed theology among African Americans is presented in the absence of evidence for a less Reformed, more “Arminian-Wesleyan” early perspective.

As Anyabwile moves through each subsequent era in each of the six doctrinal categories, the coverage becomes somewhat less extensive and somewhat more selective. That is, examples from later areas are selected that exclusively highlight the movement away from the early, Evangelical, Reformed theology proposed in early African American church history.

While not disputing or doubting that the African American church has to some degree moved away from its early Evangelical roots, this selective presentation tends to minimize the many ongoing historical examples of stalwart Evangelical and/or Reformed theology in black church history. In other words, by a somewhat selective citing of negative examples, the reader is left with the impression that few if any African American churches/pastors/denominations have remained true to their Evangelical theological legacy. In fact, in these five later eras, and in the current era in particular, only one positive example (Tony Evans—and he is somewhat chided for his somewhat non-Reformed theology) is cited.

My own study of the current theological scene in the African American church, and my own engagement with a plethora of African American pastors, counselors, lay leaders, and churches indicates that there is no one monolithic non-Evangelical, non-Reformed stereotype of the modern black church. A countless number of examples of current black pastors, some well known and many others ministering in obscurity, could be provided to counter the sense that the typical modern black church has lost its theological moorings.

The final chapter does something that books like this often fail to do—it provides suggestions and solutions for moving forward. All too often historical books like this, especially those critical of the current scene, focus on the negative without any input on how to make positive changes. Anyabwile is to be commended for going far beyond that and offering a constructive agenda toward greater theological fidelity in the African American church.

“The Decline of African American Theology” should be read by anyone concerned with the current state of African American theology. In my opinion, it should be read with the realization that “another side” could be presented that perhaps provides a more balanced and fair perspective of the overall picture of black theology today. That said, this is still a well-written, necessary, engaging, and thought-provoking work.

Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, Soul Physicians, and Spiritual Friends.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hillary, Huckabee, and Obama: Assessing Three Politicians' Use of Religion

Hillary, Huckabee, and Obama:
Assessing Three Politicians’ Use of Religion

Some of my more recent blogs may leave some of my readers scratching their heads. You may be asking, “How is the pro-life movement related to the purpose of this blog?” And you may ask today, “How are politics related to the purpose of this blog?”

Changeless Truth for Changing Times

The purpose for the blog “Changeless Truth for Changing Times” is to ponder how the ancient paths of biblical wisdom, and the wisdom gleaned from church history, can make a relevant difference in our lives today.

To date, many of my blogs have focused on applying ancient truth specifically to relational life—counseling, spiritual growth, multicultural relationships. I intend to keep this focus.

I also intend to expand my focus. The Bible and church history have relevance for how we view slavery, racism, abortion, and protecting the unborn. And, the Bible has relevance for how we view politics—which is people—how people are governed by other people.

Now, before you wonder if my blogs are going to veer off into political-speak or become focused on recommending a candidate—there’s no need to fear, balance is here!

My Purpose and Plan

This article will not be recommending a candidate for president or even a party for the presidency. Rather, I want to do three things:

1. I want to summarize quite briefly a few statements by Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, and Barack Obama about their view of religion and the political process.

2. Then I want to summarize how the media has covered their statements.

3. Finally, I want to critique the media for failing to be fair and balanced in their coverage and statements about these three candidates.

This is really the heartbeat of all my blog posts: presenting the best I can one biblical perspective (not the right perspective, but my current best attempt) that is as fair and balanced to the biblical, historical, and current realities as possible.

A Very Brief Summary of Some of Mike Huckabee’s Statements about Religion and Politics

Likely you have read political columnists and heard arm-chair pundits excoriate and rip to shreds Mike Huckabee for a statement that he made ten years ago at the National Pastors’ Conference explaining why he entered into politics.

“I got into politics because I knew government didn’t have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives. . . . I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.”

Governor Huckabee was not making a political speech. He was not at a political event. He was making a religious speech at a Christian event—a pastor’s conference. And, he was not running for president in 1998. In fact, he was not running for anything when he spoke. He made a statement that most Evangelicals would identify with—final answers to life issues are not found in human political solutions but in the life of the Spirit brought by a personal relationship to Christ. Admittedly, the intent of this statement was to indicate that his views of politics and political answers were shaped by his Christian faith (more on this in a moment).

But . . . to read his critics, you would think that Huckabee wanted to be Pope Huckabee now instead of President Huckabee.

Yet, his critics refuse to hear his follow-up and refuse to examine his record.

Huckabee said on NBC’s Meet the Press in December, 2007,

“It was a speech made to a Christian gathering, and, and certainly that would be appropriate to be said to a gathering of Southern Baptist.”

Asked further about his comments, he stated in a December 30, 2007 issue of Time,

“The key issue of real faith is that it never can be forced on someone. And never would I want to use the government institutions to impose mine or anybody else’s faith or to restrict anyone,” Huckabee said. Those skeptical of the role of faith in his presidency, he said, should look at his record in Arkansas. “I didn’t ever propose a bill that we would remove the Capitol dome of Arkansas and replace it with a steeple. You know, we didn’t do tent revivals on the grounds of the capitol.”

Have you noticed that when people write and speak about Huckabee, they always introduce their words with, “Mike Huckabee, former Baptist Pastor . . .”

Mike Huckabee served as Lt. Governor and then as Governor (ten years) longer than Bill Clinton served as Governor of Arkansas, and longer than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton served in the Senate. So why don’t the pundits introduce him as, “Mike Huckabee, long-serving Governor of Arkansas . . .”?

My point is not to support Huckabee’s statements or to endorse his candidacy. My point is to examine how the secular elite media respond to his views of politics and religion compared to how they respond to similar such statements made by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

A Very Brief Summary of Some of Hillary Clinton’s Statements about Religion and Politics

Biographer Paul Kengor has written a well-research spiritual biography of Hillary Clinton: God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life. In his book, Kengor quotes Hillary’s own words and the words of her spiritual mentors to demonstrate that her liberal United Methodist religious views thoroughly shape her political views.

Here’s one example. Note that it took place in a political arena, not in a religious arena as a religious speech. Mrs. Clinton gave a major address in April 6, 1993 (while Bill was President and while she was charged with the political role of developing a national health care plan), at the University of Texas at Austin, as part of the college’s annual Liz Carpenter Lecture Series.

It was at this speech that Hillary introduced the phrase to the public: “the politics of meaning.” Where did she learn this concept? From her liberal Christian spiritual mentor Don Jones who in turn learned it from liberal theologians like Tillich.

What did she mean by the “politics of meaning”? In her speech she noted that America was trapped between two great political forces: Republican market economics and Democratic governmental policies. She noted that missing in these equations was an adequate explanation for the challenges facing the nation.

What then, would provide adequate political answers? She was asked that question in an article written by Michael Kelly in the New York Times Magazine that ran on May 23, 1993. She eventually acknowledged to Kelly that her source for a “politics of meaning” arose out of her Christian Methodist heritage.

“The very core of what I believe (about the politics of meaning) is this concept of individual worth, which I think flows from all of us being creatures of God and being imbued with a spirit. Some years ago, I gave a series of talks about the underlying principles of Methodism. I talked a lot about how timeless a lot of scriptural lessons were because they tied in with what we now know about human beings. If you break down the Golden Rule or if you take Christ’s commandment—love your neighbor as yourself—there is an underlying assumption that you will value yourself, that you will be a responsible being who will live by certain behaviors that enable you to have self-respect, because out of that self-respect comes the capacity for you to respect and care for other people.”

At this point, Hillary then offered Kelly specific political examples and applications. These political solutions based upon Methodist biblical convictions included policies such as increasing the minimum wage, governmental run and paid for day care, and tax code changes. While Hillary, in a political forum, did not say, “Let’s take the nation back for Christ,” she surely was saying in this political forum, “My liberal Christian Methodist convictions lead me to suggest that we govern the nation according to my view of Christ’s Golden Rule.” How is that so different from what Mike Huckabee is crucified for by the media?

Again, this is not to criticize or to praise Hillary Clinton and her views. This is to raise a question. How is it okay for Hillary to base her political philosophy on liberal Christian Methodist positions presented in a political forum at a political speech, but it is wrong of Mike Huckabee to say in a religious forum in a pastoral sermon that his life views have been shaped by conservative Christian Baptist thinking?

Does anyone else see the unfairness here in the media’s responses to these two candidates and comments they made in the 90s?

And why is Hillary not introduced as, “The United Methodist Sunday School teacher who was mentored by the liberal Christian Don Jones . . .”?

A Very Brief Summary of Some of Barack Obama’s Statements about Religion and Politics

On January 21, 2008, the Associated Press reported on a political speech given by Barack Obama at a rally kicking off a weeklong campaign for the South Carolina primary. He tried to set the record straight from reports circulating on the Internet that he is a Muslim.

Here’s how the AP reported it.

“I’ve been to the same church—the same Christian church—for almost 20 years,” Obama said, stressing the word Christian and drawing cheers from the faithful in reply. I was sworn in with my hand on the family Bible. Whenever I’m in the United States Senate, I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America . . .

His aides, according to the AP story, “decried an incorrect news report that Obama was educated in a Muslim madrassa.” Additionally, his “campaign representatives blanketed South Carolina churches Sunday with literature that touted Obama’s Christian faith.”

According to the AP, “One piece features photos of Obama praying with the words ‘COMMITTED CHRISTIAN’ in large letters across the middle. It says Obama will be a president ‘guided by his Christian faith’ and includes a quote from him saying, ‘I believe in the power of prayer.’”

A second campaign piece includes photos of Obama with his family and a caption that says they are active members of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. It explains how as a young man Obama “felt a beckoning of the spirit and accepted Jesus Christ into his life.”

Need I say it again? My point is neither to praise nor to criticize these statements by Barack Obama. Instead, my point is to contrast how his statements are reported compared to how those of Mike Huckabee are reported.

When Huckabee ran a commercial in Iowa that ran on Christmas day wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” the media went nuts. You would have thought that he had just said, “If I am elected then every person must bow down and worship Jesus.”

And yet, in a political piece, Obama can say in all caps, “COMMITTED CHRISTIAN” and not once did the AP report this as a bad thing.

Obama’s campaign literature even touts that fact that if elected president he would be “guided by his Christian faith.” Imagine if Mike Huckabee said the same thing tomorrow!

The Point

Somehow in our society it is now all right for liberal Democrats to blatantly say in the political arena that their liberal Christian faith will guide their presidency and be the foundation for their governmental policy making. Yet, somehow in our society is it now all wrong for conservative Republicans to say in a religious arena that their conservative Christian faith will impact their thinking on answering the problems people face today.

Does anyone else think that there is something wrong with this picture?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Scholar's Treasure Hunt

A Scholar’s Treasure Hunt

*A Review of, Thomas C. Oden, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity

Thomas Oden’s How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind was not the book I expected when I read the title. It was different, it was more, it was less, it was challenging, and it was and is important.

Oden, recently retired after a distinguished professorial career, is perhaps one of the most renowned Church historians of our day. His four-volume opus on the history of pastoral care is a classic, for instance.

Oden now sees as his life’s work, for the remainder of his life, the uncovering of the buried treasure of African Christianity. Of course, what one means by “African” is crucial. Oden wisely steers clear of much modern and post-modern imbalance here. He avoids the Euro-centric approach that diminishes anything African as being simply borrowed from European culture and thinking. On the other hand, he equally avoids an “Africa first” framework that presumes that everything has its roots in Africa.

For Oden, and for How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, the “Africa” he speaks of is anything that happened on the African continent and anyone who lived and ministered on that continent. This avoids the endless debate, for instance, about which Church Father was or was not “African.” How does one define that? By skin color? And by what amount of pigmentation? By nationality? Why wouldn’t any nation in Africa be by definition African? By ancestry?

The ancestry issue coupled with geographical/cultural impact is Oden’s most important contribution. In sum, he argues that even if Augustine, for instance, had a father whose ancestry was Greco-Roman, would that mean that Augustine, living his entire life in Africa was not African? Additionally, given that his famous mother, Monica, was almost definitely of Berber (north African) descent, would that not make Augustine African? And just as important to Oden, can we wipe out the impact on Augustine’s parents and on Augustine of living in the African geography and partaking of the African culture?

So, for Oden, “African Christianity” is the Christianity of any person who was born and/or lived on the African continent. Thus, for Europeans to claim Augustine, Origen, Tertullian, and others is a robbery of immense proportion in Oden’s thinking.

Given this perspective, Oden’s entire book is actually a call for others to build upon his small start. It is a call to take seriously the oral and written tradition of material spoken and penned on the African continent. It is then a call to explore the past, present, and future impact of that legacy.

For the past impact, Oden wants to examine how African Christian theology and practical Christianity shaped and interacted with non-African Christianity. For the present and the future, Oden hopes that such increased understanding of the enduring African Christian legacy will validate and encourage modern African Christians regarding their heritage, will open the doors for African seekers to understand that to convert to Christianity is not betraying their heritage, but returning to it, and to encourage all Christians to learn from and with modern day African Christianity.

Some will find in How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind more ecumenism than they find palatable. However, one does not have to agree with Oden’s entire perspective or agenda to learn from him and appreciate his fair and balanced historical perspective.

For anyone wanting to sort through the current debate in a scholarly way, Oden is the person to read. For anyone wanting to enliven their appreciation of the ancient African Christian faith, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind is the book to devour.

Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction, Soul Physicians, and Spiritual Friends.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Who's Alive to the Holy Spirit?

Who's Alive to the Holy Spirit?

*Review of: Daniel B. Wallace, and M. James Sawyer, editors, "Who's Afraid of the Holy Spirit?"

In 1993, Chuck Swindoll authored “Flying Closer to the Flame: A Passion for the Holy Spirit.” What that book was for the general non-charismatic Protestant lay person, “Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit?” is for the scholarly non-charismatic Protestant pastor, professor, and student.

The co-editors, Wallace and Sawyer, along with the nine other contributing authors, all write from the cessationist theological camp. Cessationists believe that the Bible teaches that the sign gift ministry of the Holy Spirit ceased at the close of the New Testament canon. These sign gifts (such as the gift of healing, miracle working, speaking in tongues, prophecy, etc.) were given to authenticate the apostolic ministry and message of inspired Scripture and not meant to be ongoing aspects of the Spirit’s ministry in the believer throughout church history.

The purpose of “Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit?” is not to provide theological support for that view. Instead, that view is assumed. Rather, the purpose is to stretch their fellow cessationists to consider the ongoing, active, powerful, personal presence and ministry of the Spirit today in the experiential life of the non-charismatic Christian.

Wallace and Sawyer launch their edited work with candid narratives of their personal experience in the cessationist camp. When life crisis struck, their personal, academic approach to the Spirit was found wanting. At the same time, their theological convictions did not allow for a charismatic experience of the Spirit. Out of that tension, this book was born. How does a non-charismatic cessationist experience the power and presence of the Holy Spirit?

The eleven assembled cessationist scholars address that question theologically, historically, and personally. As with any collaborative book, the linkage between various chapters can be choppy and the value of diverse chapters varies. However, over all, readers are exposed to a wide assortment of important theological examinations.

Before a summary overview, readers should understand, as noted in the opening paragraph of this review, that this book is not for those disinclined toward scholarly detail. Swindoll’s book, though fifteen years old, is still the place to go for the lay non-charismatic wanting a practical theology of the Holy Spirit.

One of the central issues addressed is summarized by several of the authors in the disturbing picture of the cessationist “Trinity”: Father, Son, and Holy Scripture.” Yes, you read that right—Holy Scripture. Wallace and his co-writers sense that for many non-charismatics the Holy Scriptures have replaced the Holy Spirit. The authors ask readers to consider what the role of the Spirit is in their lives now that the canon is completed.

Wallace’s chapter on the witness of the Spirit in Romans 8:16 is core to that discussion. In a nutshell, Wallace presents a joint ministry of Spirit and Scripture. Believers have confidence that they are Christians based upon the objective testimony of Scripture and the subjective witness of the Spirit. This dual, mingled role of Spirit and Scripture is emphasized throughout “Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit?”

Richard Averbeck, in his chapter on “God, People, and the Bible,” does a fine job exploring the relationship between illumination and biblical scholarship. He also does an excellent job convicting the typical evangelical scholar of his/her failure to be dependent upon and open to the Spirit in the scholarly process.

“The Spirit in the Black Church” by Willie Peterson is one of those “worth the price of the book” chapters. For anyone wanting a handle on how black cessationist evangelicals handle the “tension” between the experience of the Spirit and the cessation of the sign gifts, this is the chapter to read. Peterson’s blending of history, theology, culture, and current ministry is example-setting.

David Eckman’s chapter on “The Holy Spirit and Emotions” should be required reading for all seminary professors, students, pastors, and Christian counselors. It provides the seeds for a much needed evangelical theology of emotions. Emotional intelligence has been a buzz word in secular writing for nearly two decades. Yet the Christian community still has not offered a practical biblical theology of emotionality. Eckman has laid the foundation.

Co-editor James Sawyer’s concluding chapter “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Scriptures?” powerfully encapsulates the message of the book. Sawyer journeys with readers on an important historical trek which opens eyes to why cessationists have become so afraid of the Holy Spirit. His fascinating and ironic premise is that the same evangelicals who decry how the Enlightenment influenced liberal Christianity, were themselves influenced by Enlightenment rationalism. Ouch. You have to read it to appreciate it.

Overall, “Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit?” is a timely book that has already stirred up much needed conversation. Admittedly, a few chapters were uneven at times—seeming not to fit the overall flow of the book—as if they had been written for other venues (which is most likely true) and woven into the fabric of this book. Yet, that is minor in the overall scope of this important contribution to the field.

Perhaps the true “criticism” I have about this book is its failure to provide a “spiritual theology of the Holy Spirit.” Before I explain that, I should say that in fairness to the authors, that was not the full intention of this book. So, my encouragement would be that they rejoin to write “volume two.”

As I think about the theological process, I see at least four “types” of theologies: academic, historical, practical/pastoral, and spiritual. Academic theology (including systematic, biblical, exegetical, and lexical) explores the “What?” questions. As the label suggests, it is academic in nature. This book does a splendid job exploring the academic theology of the Holy Spirit from a cessationist perspective.

Historical theology explores the development of doctrine over time. It asks the “What then?” questions. This book also does an excellent job uncovering and presenting the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the evangelical tradition.

Spiritual theology asks the “So what?” questions. What are the implications for our lives of the academic truths discovered in the text? “Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit?” did a commendable job challenging readers to consider such implications. It presented many categories for the cessationist Christian to think through.

Practical/pastoral theology asks the “What now?” questions. How do we personally apply and how do we disciple, mentor, and guide others in the application of the text? Here is where I felt a level of disappointment with the book. As a pastor/counselor/professor/soul physician, I wanted more practical direction. We learned what not to do. We even learned what areas to think through. But we readers were not given many pictures of what this actually looks like in daily existence. We were not given many models of discipleship ministry. What exactly does it look like to equip and empower cessationist Christians to be filled with the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, to express the fruit of the Spirit. While some of these topics were broached, the focus often failed to address fully the practical “what now?” questions. Again, no one book can “do it all.” But a book emphasizing how cessationists can and should experience the empowering presence of the Spirit could “go there.” I hope the next volume does so to a greater extent. That said, I still highly recommend this book. It deserves all five of its stars.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sanctity of Life Sunday: The Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Slavery Movement, and the Pro Life Movement

Sanctity of Life Sunday:
The Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Slavery Movement,
and the Pro Life Movement

Yesterday in my blog I reminded people that this weekend is Martin Luther King weekend. A friend reminded me in return that this weekend is also Sanctity of Life weekend.

The Civil Rights Movement: A Voice for the Voiceless

I was struck by that confluence of events.

And I was reminded again that being a voice for the voiceless is a common thread in this joint remembrance. Martin Luther King was a voice for Civil Rights—a voice crying in the wilderness pleading that we all fight for the rights of African Americans in American society.

Sanctity of Life Sunday is a voice for the voiceless—a voice for the unborn human being who can cry, but who cannot yet speak. Sanctity of Life Sunday is a civil rights voice—a voice pleading that the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness be extended to all living beings.

The Anti-Slavery, Abolitionist Movement: The Pursuit of Happiness

In yesterday’s blog, I linked Martin Luther King, Jr. and his predecessors—people like the Reverends Richard Allen and Absalom Jones. Allen and Jones emphasized the biblical, universal truth that all people are created in the image of God and therefore have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The pro-life movement is the modern anti-slavery movement. The identical arguments are and should be used to support both convictions. Every human being, including the unborn, has rights that the powerful must protect. The most powerless in society—unborn children—must be protected from the ultimate abuse and the ultimate denial of rights.

Somehow in some twisted, distorted thinking the argument has pitted women’s rights and unborn children’s rights against each other. How sad, tragic, immoral, and a-historical.

Historically, some of the greatest anti-slavery advocates, some of the greatest abolitionist voices, were the women’s rights activists. As an example, white women in the North during the days of slavery fought back to back with blacks for the dual rights of women and of blacks.

Today, women, of all people, resonate with the fight for the rights of the unborn. For women still know what it is to be voiceless and powerless—to have their rights trampled upon by men with louder voices and stronger bodies.

How did this travesty of pitting women’s rights against the right to life occur?

It occurred partly because of our modern reinterpretation of the right to “happiness.” We hear the phrase, “the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and we think of the modern definition of “happiness” which means to us some silly, misinterpreted right to be giddy, to feel good, to be “up” all the time.

Our founding fathers, steeped as they were in ancient Greek philosophy and ancient Roman political thought, had a very different view of “happiness.” For them, happiness was the right to pursue a purposeful life for the good of society.



Ponder that definition: the right to pursue a purposeful life for the good of society.

That is not simply an individualistic right but a plural responsibility.

That is not the right to feel good, but the right to do good.

How Will History Judge Us?

Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement, Richard Allen’s Anti-Slavery Movement, the Abolitionist Movement, and the modern day Pro-Life Movement all share the common denominator of speaking as a voice for the voiceless and insisting that the powerless be empowered and freed to live. All these movements share the insistence that all people be granted the same universal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—the right to pursue a purposeful life for the good of society.

We look back now and wonder how anyone could have ever supported the rights to slave ownership. The supposed right of the white slave owner to own blacks was pitted against the contested right of blacks to the same status as human, the same human dignity and equality, and, therefore, the same right to life, liberty (freedom), and the pursuit of happiness.

Even as I pen that previous paragraph I am sickened. Where in our constitution, where in biblical thinking, where in universal common law can anyone find a right for one person to own another person? Where can anyone find the right for one human being to enslave another human being? Where can anyone find the mentality that a human being’s skin color makes that human being a non-human being?

What outrage we should have as we reflect back on that hideous past way of thinking!

One hundred years from now will history look back and wonder in horrified bewilderment at how we could have been so cruel to so many unborn children? Will people of the 22nd Century be confounded when they try to figure out by what twisted logic millions of people were murdered every year—and unprotected by the powerful? Will they ask, “Where were the Civil Rights voices?” “Where were the Anti-slavery voices?” “Where were the Abolitionists voices?” “Where were the Pro-life voices?” “Where were the right to life voices?”

Will people of the distant future look back and be sickened by 21st century Americans? Will they wonder with righteous indignation and outrage where in our constitution, where in biblical thinking, where in universal common law anyone could find a right for one person to end the life of another person? Where anyone could find the mentality that a human being’s residence in a mother’s womb makes that human being a non-human being?

God’s Affectionate Sovereignty

Yes, it is no coincidence that we celebrate Martin Luther King weekend and Sanctity of Life weekend together.

In God’s affectionate sovereignty, He wants us to link civil rights and the right to life. He wants us to link the rights of African Americans, of women, and of unborn children. He wants us to be a voice for the voiceless, wherever and whenever the powerful attempt to silence their still, small voices.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Martin Luther King's Predecessors

Richard Allen and Absalom Jones:
The Martin Luther King, Jr. of Their Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was, of course, one of the main leaders of the American Civil Rights movement. What is lesser known today is King’s training and ministry as a Baptist pastor. Even fewer people know the long history of African American ministers promoting civil rights.

That history begins with the Reverends Richard Allen (1760-1831) and Absalom Jones (1746-1818). Allen and Jones were foremost founding fathers of the African American independent churches and of the American Civil Rights movement.

Allen’s Ministry

Allen traveled extensively, preaching in Delaware and Pennsylvania. In February, 1786, he preached at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Thinking that he would be there one or two weeks, ministry needs led Allen to a settled place of service in Philadelphia.

Concerned for the wellbeing of African Americans in this parish, he established prayer meetings. “I raised a society in 1786 of forty-two members. I saw the necessity of erecting a place of worship for the coloured people.”

It was at this time that the Rev. Jones united with Rev. Allen. Their little band met great opposition, including “very degrading and insulting language to us, to try and prevent us from going on.”

Notwithstanding, they established prayer meetings and meetings of exhortation, with many people becoming Christians. Their growing congregation, still without a building, often attended services at St. George’s Church. When the black worshippers became more numerous, the white leaders “moved us from the seats we usually sat on, and placed us around the wall.”

Jones’ Convictions

It was at this juncture that one of the most noteworthy events in the American Civil Rights movement occurred. Taking seats that they thought were appropriate, prayer began. Allen describes the scene.

“We had not long been upon our knees before I heard considerable scuffling and low talking. I raised my head up and saw one of the trustees, H. M., having hold of the Rev. Absalom Jones, pulling him up off of his knees, and saying, ‘You must get up—you must not kneel here.’ Mr. Jones replied, ‘Wait until prayer is over.’ Mr. H. M. said ‘No, you must get up now, or I will call for aid and I will force you away.’ Mr. Jones said, ‘Wait until prayer is over, and I will get up and trouble you no more.’”

By the time the second usher arrived, prayer was over, and, according to Allen, “We all went out of the church in a body, and they were no more plagued with us in the church. This raised a great excitement and inquiry among the citizens, in so much that I believe they were ashamed of their conduct.”

The Birth of the Black Church

As a result, Allen and Jones birthed the first independent Black Church in the North when they hired a store room and held worship by themselves. Facing excommunication from the “mother church,” they remained united and strong.
Allen stirringly recounts the situation. “Here we were pursued with threats of being disowned, and read publicly out of meeting if we did continue to worship in the place we had hired; but we believed the Lord would be our friend. . . . Here was the beginning and rise of the first African church in America.”

Some twenty years later, when increasing numbers of African Americans could not worship without harassment in the Methodist Church, Allen and others called a conference which established the first African denomination in America. It was resolved, “That the people of Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc., should become one body, under the name of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.”

While Americans rightfully pause to remember the historic work of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is equally important to reflect on precursors to his work. The Revs. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones paved the way for heroic African American ministers to pursue civil rights, equality, and religious freedom for all Americans.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Freedom's Eve--Watch Night Service

Freedom’s Eve—Watch Night Service

Many of us, regardless of race, are familiar with the tradition of a New Year’s Eve Watch Night Service. However, few of us know the true history behind it.

We can trace the history of the Watch Night Service all the way back to 1862. December 31, 1862, was a very special evening for the African American community. It was the night before the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, freeing all the slaves in the Confederate states.

Thus, on New Year’s Eve 1862, many African American churches held prayer and worship services from the late evening until midnight when they welcomed the new year with praise, thanksgiving, prayer, and confession. They called these services Watch Night Meetings. And now you know the rest of the story.

Heard and Moseley.
Waiting for the Hour [Emancipation], December 31, 1862.
Carte de visite.
Washington, 1863.
Prints and Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-6160 (4-21a)