The Gravity of Sin: Some Thoughts on Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion

the crucifixionIn chapter four of The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, Fleming Rutledge sets out a theology of sin that is focused primarily on Sin as a power, rather than sin(s) as misdeeds. This is not to say that sin(s) as misdeeds is irrelevant or unimportant, rather Rutledge argues that there is a specific relationship between the two, in which Sin as a power is the cause and sins as misdeeds are the consequences.[1] In other words, Sin is “an active malevolent agency bent upon…the utter undoing of God’s purposes” and sins are “signs of that agency at work; they are not the thing itself.”[2] Sin has two aspects: it is a “responsible guilt” and an “alien power.”[3] These two aspects require atonement and liberation, respectively. These two aspects of Sin parallel Rutledge’s overall thesis of the book, in which she proposes a two-part approach to understanding the crucifixion: the death of Christ is both “God’s definitive action in making vicarious atonement for sin” and “God’s decisive victory over the alien Powers of Sin and Death.”[4]

According to Rutledge, any discussion of Sin (and sins) can be done only in the light of an awareness of God’s prevenient grace. This grace “precedes our consciousness of sin, so that we perceive the depth of our own participation in Sin’s bondage simultaneously with the recognition of the unconditional love of Christ, which is perfect freedom.”[5] Rutledge demonstrates this by analysing Psalm 51. In this penitential Psalm, she notes that there is a definitive “relationship between understanding sin and knowing God.”[6] In other words, “sin can be understood only from the vantage point provided by God.”[7] The Psalmist’s confession of sin and cry for forgiveness stems from a relationship and knowledge of God and his laws.[8]

Next, Rutledge surveys the New Testament and lays out the biblical texts that speak of the relationship between Christ’s death and Sin. She sees several prominent themes. First, there is an emphasis on the forgiveness of sins and the overcoming of Sin. Second, there is an emphasis on Sin as a Power, particularly in Paul where Sin is both a verb and a dominion.[9] This then has implications for a robust doctrine (and practice) of repentance; so much so, that repentance functions significantly differently in the Christian tradition than in the 2nd Temple Jewish tradition that Paul inhabited.[10] According to Rutledge’s reading of the Pauline texts, repentance is not the first action to secure forgiveness of sins. Instead repentance is the response to God’s first action. In other words, “for Paul, the sequence is not sin-repentance-grace-forgiveness, but grace-sin-deliverance-repentance-grace.”[11]

Rutledge emphasizes that there is nothing inherent in the human condition that can make the reality of Sin disappear; not sentimental approaches to the atonement,[12] and not overly optimistic understandings of human progress.[13] Nothing that humans do can overcome the gravity of Sin[14] because it is more than just misdeeds; it is a Power that rules over all of humanity. It is from this Power that God has liberated humanity, through the atonement by Christ on the cross, and it is in light of this first act of grace that the gravity of Sin is realized, and that “the people of God go to their knees to acknowledge their need for a deliverance from Sin that they have already received.”[15]

There are two practical applications for the life of the church that we can extrapolate from Rutledge’s understanding of the gravity of Sin in light of God’s prevenient grace. First, attempts to tell society that it is sinful, or to preach a ‘sinners in the hands of an angry God’ type of message is not necessarily going to work in a post-Christian society that has either a poor concept or no concept of sin. Rutledge argues that the predominant North American model of convincing people of their sins so that they will come to Jesus is backwards. It is only in light of the message of salvation that “the sense of sin will come as a consequence” and it is only then that “the knowledge that the danger [of Sin] is already past will result in profound and sincere repentance.”[16] This has implications not only for preaching (preachers are one her key audiences in this volume), but also for evangelism and discipleship. So, adapting and translating Rutledge’s examples into a Canadian context, practices like the evangelical tent/church revival meetings of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the “Heaven’s Gate and Hell’s Flame” [17] dramatic presentations of the late 20th century, for example, only worked because the culture at the time was culturally Christian at least in worldview or culture, though not necessarily in practice. The preacher, then, is to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, including the forgiveness of sins, and it is from and through that proclamation that the hearer may be convicted, by the Holy Spirit, of both the great mercy of God and then of the grave reality of their sin. In other words, sin is not the starting point; God’s abundant love, mercy and grace is.

Changing the starting point does not mean that the language and theology of sin should be eliminated from Christian discourse, because the second practical application that can be extrapolated from Rutledge’s chapter is the need for a robust practice of confession of sin. This practice is done by Christians who stand in the light of this prevenient grace, and is itself a form not only of discipleship, but also of witness and evangelism. By regularly confessing and acknowledging sin, praying for forgiveness and mercy, and hearing the words of absolution, the Christian community is testifying to the work of Christ, and to the prevenient grace of God’s justice and mercy. As Rutledge notes in her conclusion, confession is the sign, rather than the cause of God’s reconciling work with humanity.[18]

Throughout this book, Rutledge critiques contemporary Episcopalian liturgies which have omitted or glossed over key biblical and theological statements concerning the doctrine of the atonement. In this chapter, Rutledge laments the omission of the classic phrase “there is no health in us” because it was through this form of the General Confession that the Church was able “to teach that sin is not individual transgressions, but a universal malady.”[19] In confessing our corporate sins, Christians are evangelizing and testifying to the world to show how deficient modern North American conceptions of Sin (and sins) can be.[20] This same critique can be applied to the Book of Alternative Services in the Canadian Anglican context. Like the American Book of Common Prayer, the BAS downplays the language of sin. In the service of Morning Prayer, for example, the Penitential Rite is entirely optional, and when it is used, it does not contain the General Confession (including the line “there is no health in us) from the original BCP. Instead, the confession of sin emphasizes sin as misdeeds with no reference to Sin as a universal malady or a Power.[21]

This robust practice of confession of Sin (and sins) can also be strengthened by the observance of Lent. While Lent is an ancient Christian practice, it has only been in the last twenty-five years that low churches (particularly evangelical) have embraced this portion of the church year.[22] The rhythm of forty days set aside prior to Easter, allows the Christian community to not only acknowledge the Power of Sin and Death (starting with Ash Wednesday’s declaration of death’s inevitability), but also to learn more deeply how to pray, how to repent, and to better understand the gravity of Sin. It is in this context, then, as a form of discipleship, that the pastors and leaders of the church can move between proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel and teaching about the pervasive destruction of Sin in such a way that calls the gathered Christians to confess, repent and respond to God’s gracious act of Jesus’ atoning and liberating work on the cross.

This chapter (and the entire book) serves as a good introduction, that pastors, preachers, and teachers can use as a way to frame sermon series, Bible studies, and introductory theology classes on the doctrine of sin and salvation in a way that is both faithful to the biblical and theological witness and accessible and applicable for a church serving and living in a 21st-century post-Christian culture.

Rutledge’s chapter, “The Gravity of Sin” serves as a helpful reminder to the preacher of how and why to preach the Gospel. It serves as a helpful reminder to theologians that any theological and philosophical analysis of the doctrine of sin can only occur in light of the Gospel which illuminates, identifies, and names our sins. Finally, this chapter serves as a reminder to the church that there is no way to escape either the universal human question of justice (the topic of chapter three), nor the centrality of Christ’s death and the myriad of biblical motifs used to explain and describe the atoning and liberating work of the cross (chapters five thru twelve) because Sin rules and defines human existence apart from Jesus Christ.

[1] Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2015), 168.

[2] Ibid., 175.

[3] Ibid., 181.

[4] Ibid., 209.

[5] Ibid., 171.

[6] Ibid., 183. Emphasis in the original.

[7] Ibid.

[8] This emphasis on the necessity of a relationship and revelation of God’s grace prior to understanding sin was a completely new idea for me. But looking back at my conversion experience, it does appear to fit Rutledge’s ordering. It was a full year of encounters with Christians and the Bible before my conversion, and it was only after I had personally encountered Christ in an act of mercy (literally, a miracle), that I could surrender and confess my sins and my utter and complete need for salvation and forgiveness.

[9] Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, 189.

[10] For example, Rutledge discusses the difference between the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and the Christian understanding of atonement that takes place in Christ’s crucifixion. Ibid., 171–172.

[11] Ibid., 192.

[12] Ibid., 195–197.

[13] Ibid., 197–200.

[14] Ibid., 202.

[15] Ibid., 204. Emphasis original.

[16] Ibid., 173.

[17] I am not dismissing the “Heaven’s Gate and Hell’s Flame” drama productions outright. It was through one of these at a Pentecostal church twenty years ago that I came to faith in Christ.

[18] Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, 204.

[19] Ibid., 194.

[20] See for example, Rutledge’s humorous example of the “Sindex.” Ibid., 193.

[21] “We confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”

[22] This is due in large part to the work of Robert Webber. See, for example, Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999).

A Liturgy of Holy Moments


Waking up, on my first morning back from a semester away at school, to Chuck and the kids doing Morning Prayer together. ~ Lord, open our lips; and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

N, at 4 years old, trying to help me process the cross at the start of the service. ~ God rules over all the earth: O come, let us worship.

Hearing M, at 2.5 years old, recite his first memory verse. ~ The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

N, at 2 years old, pointing to the stained glass window hanging above our pew, declaring, “That is Jesus dying on the cross for us.” ~ May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our all hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.

B, at 2 years old, reciting the Apostles’ Creed for the first time without any help. ~ I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

B, at 4 years old, excited because she got help baptize a college student. It was shortly after that that B was baptized into the faith. ~ I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church…

Cal dedicating N at 3 months old, and then almost 5 years later, standing up with her at her baptism. ~… the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

B & N, at 6 and 5 years old, sitting in the back of the van singing “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord” while Grumpy Cook and a camp leader drove to get groceries and talk through our struggles, worries, and dreams. ~ Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.

N, at 2 years old, singing “The Lord’s Prayer” louder than anyone else in the congregation. ~ As our Saviour taught us, let us pray.

B & N receiving their vitamins each morning like they receive communion: palms up, crossed and slightly cupped. ~ The body of Christ broken for you.

B’s face puckering the first time she drank the wine. ~ The blood of Christ shed for you.

All 3 kids attending Christmas eve services in their new flannel pyjamas and fuzzy socks. ~ Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.

B, at 6 years old, “I’m glad you get to write about Jesus, Momma.” ~May the God of peace enable us to do his will in every kind of goodness, working in us what pleases him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.

Amen.

Worship Music Carries Prayer and Promise

Nearly 20 years ago, I came to a faith in a Pentecostal church’s youth group. For the first few years, I was discipled in three places: in that church’s Friday night youth group; in that church’s Sunday evening “relaxed” service; and in a tiny, tiny congregational church on Sunday mornings. I am grateful for all three spaces and opportunities.

This week has been an especially hard week, and as I lean in to Scripture, prayer and worship, I have been reminded of those “relaxed” Sunday evening services from so very long ago. Unlike the morning service, the evening service was very open to letting the Spirit work as long into the evening as was needed. There was no rushing away from the altar, from the sanctuary, from prayer. The worship leader would stay and play so long as people were still in worship. It was in that space that I learned how to pray through singing. When my words failed, when my prayers were muddled, unclear, or too complicated to express, my heart and soul could be carried on the wings of the music.

I have, in a modified way, fallen back into that pattern this week. While I may not be sitting in a church sanctuary, laying down at the altar or raising my hands in utter surrender, I am worshipping through song as much as possible. If I’m walking, my earphones are in. If I’m home, my iTunes is up and running on the computer. If I’m in the shower, my Spotify app is running.

These are just a few of the songs that are ministering to me this week, as they all point to the promises and faithfulness of God.

 

 

My Heart is Heavy: Some Reflections on My Journey in Anglicanism

Last night, I attended a special meeting at St. Aidan Anglican Church with Bishop Rob Hardwick of the Diocese of Qu’appelle. I was there to listen to his explanation of his vote at Synod, and to discern his vision for the diocese over these next several years.

Bishop Rob, in a move that surprised many lay people, voted in favour of the motion to change the marriage canon to allow same-sex marriage. While he did say that to do so meant that he had removed “himself” from the vote (i.e., he voted against his conscience), to vote for the good of the church, he would not say explicitly that come 2020, our diocese would not authorize SSM. He did emphasize that at a diocesan level he has the right to veto, but he did not say whether he would veto any diocesan level endorsement of SSM.

On the one hand, I do see Bishop Rob making an effort to protect clergy who hold to a traditional understanding of marriage. His support of the “opt in” amendment included an emphasis on allowing a priest who chooses to refuse to perform a SSM to use the Bishop as the excuse: “My Bishop has not authorized me to do this, you may talk to him.”

On the other hand, the subtext of the conversation seemed to clearly point to the likelihood that come 2020 Bishop Rob will authorize someone in the diocese to perform SSM. There are several reasons why I see this. First, Bishop Rob is a moderate and is trying very hard to hold two sides together, in a “Third Way” type of dialogue. (I am not convinced that this will actually work, see the GAFCON statement). Second, when asked about the statement from the seven conservative bishops, Bishop Rob, instead of expressing support and solidarity for that statement upholding the traditional view of marriage, expressed his anger at their statement, likening them to flipside of the bishops who have vowed to go ahead with SSM without waiting for the next vote. Third, the dean of our cathedral in Regina (which is usually a very powerful/influential position in the diocese) is very much in favour of the motion, and if anyone were to be authorized it would probably be him.

Archdeacon Dell Bornowsky noted that part of the problem with the motion at Synod is that the commission behind “This Holy Estate” was tasked with presenting an affirmation/rationale for SSM, but no document was commissioned presenting a rationale against SSM. His hope is to write one. He also expressed interest in partnering with the Dean of the Regina Cathedral to create a dialogue between the two positions, possibly even having himself and Dean Mike Sinclair “flip” positions and argue for each other’s side.

 

If you had asked me three weeks ago, I would have said that ours is a mostly conservative/evangelical diocese, not just related to issues of sexual ethics, but related to scripture and tradition. Given my week at camp, I have to come to see that our diocese is not really as conservative as it seems, and that it only appears so because we are small, mostly rural, and rapidly aging. When the vote came down and then was reversed the next day, I was at our diocesan camp, cooking for the pre-teen camp. Several of our volunteers were ordained clergy. It became apparent quite quickly that the clergy on camp were in favour of the motion to authorize SSM, some excitedly so. As the conversation progressed into the evening, including the boasting about all the clergy in the diocese who are in favour of the motion, it became abundantly clear that the evangelical/traditional position on marriage was, at best, on its way to being irrelevant within a generation or two, or at worst, a supposed detriment to the gospel and example of the church being on the “wrong side of history.”

 

What is the future of the Anglican Church of Canada?

From what I see, the second vote to amend the marriage canon is inevitable. Schism is also inevitable. And schismatics are not necessarily the ones who leave. The Church is fractured. At the very least, the Anglican Church of Canada as a whole, with a general Synod, has become irrelevant, given that several bishops have chosen to thumb their nose at the process and do their own thing anyway. The Anglican Church in Canada cannot hold together nationally, and is headed to a loose federation of dioceses. This actually works, ecclesiologically, as the Bishop is usually the final authority. If we end up having these regional centres of Anglicanism, based on bishop’s authority, then this gives space for the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) to be a viable alternative for evangelical, traditional, conservative Anglicans. There can be loose affiliations/networks of dioceses working together based on theological commitments, social justice projects, proximity, and distinct community needs.

It will be impossible for a diocese to hold a third way and have priests and parishes teaching that both traditional and progressive understandings of marriage are equally valid. It will create theological whiplash, to have one church teach a traditional view of marriage, while another church teaches the opposite. It will create a pastoral care crisis, because a person who comes for care (or who ends up being under discipline) at either church could simply go to the opposite church to hear what they want to hear.

While I appreciate the calls for unity, the reality is that unity is meaningless without discipline. And in several parishes, and even at the national level, unity is being used as a bullying bludgeon, where unity means “you have no choice, you have to let us do what we are doing.” The call to unity is one sided and there is no attempt for the progressives to say, “maybe we shouldn’t do this, for the sake of unity.”

 

So what does all of this mean for the Hackney family?

We love St. Aidan. It has been a wonderful place for our family. Two of our kids were baptized in that congregation. It is because of St. Aidan that we do morning/evening prayer together as a family. The rhythms of liturgy have shaped us, as has the weekly participation in communion.

If this was just about St. Aidan, we would stay. Dean Pinter preached a fantastic message out of Colossians on Sunday morning about being rooted in the Word and faithful to the Gospel. But the reality is, St. A is not Pastor Dean’s church. As was noted at the introduction of Bishop Rob’s talk, St. A is the Bishop’s church. So can we sit under a bishop who will not affirm explicitly the traditional view of marriage as the view for this diocese?

For the past several years I have been trying to find a place to serve. As St. Aidan toyed with the idea of being an abbey (sending) parish, there was talk of me becoming a licensed lay reader (i.e., lay preacher) and the possibility of doing pulpit supply across the diocese. But when it came to be commissioned, Bishop Rob decided it was not the right time. I am not faulting him for this. He wants to commission a group of lay readers simultaneously, which means I have to wait 17-24 months for others to go through the training (which I basically have on account of my 2.5 theological degrees). But this has felt like an inexplicably closed door. At one point, while I was at Wycliffe, I was asked why I am not on the ordination track and my response, jokingly, was “I can’t even get licensed as a lay reader in my diocese!” It was then that I learned that me being licensed as a lay reader should not be as difficult as it has been, and thus I realized that God was keeping the door closed, for some reason.

At one point in the discussion with the Bishop last night, it was mentioned that there is a lot of theological work to do in the diocese concerning this issue, and that not much had been done, theologically, scripturally, etc. I raised my hand to point out that we need to be careful to say not much has been done, and to think that we have to start from scratch, when in fact there are incredible theological resources available. Here I referenced Wycliffe and its faculty who have offered to be a theological resource for dioceses across Canada, the series of essays at the Living Church that examined several faulty exegetical and theological assumptions in This Holy Estate, and even my own availability to serve as a resource.

Part of the decision to attend Wycliffe over McMaster’s Religious Studies program was because I am convinced that theology is done in and for the church. But two completed theological degrees, and now working on a terminal degree at an Anglican seminary does not appear to be sufficient to do anything more than carry a candle once every six weeks. My continued cries of “here I am, use me!” appear to be bouncing off a closed door.

If we didn’t have children, we would probably be able to stay, and be salt and light. But we have our kids to think about. As parents we cannot raise our children in the faith alone. We need the church to come alongside us to help us catechize our kids. But, given what I have seen this week, there are leaders/teachers in our parish who hold to a very different understanding of marriage and sexual ethics, sometimes aggressively so. As a parent, I need to be able to trust my children to the care and teaching of their Sunday school teachers, and I don’t know that I can at St. Aidan at this time.

Our family is in an interesting position. I have been confirmed in the Anglican church, but Chuck and the kids have not. I am studying at an Anglican seminary. I am in love with Anglican liturgy.

So what do we do? Do we stay? Do we go? Where do we go? (There is no ANiC church in Moose Jaw.) Can I be an Anglican in exile, until such time as we are living somewhere that has either an ANiC church, or are living in the diocese of one of the seven orthodox bishops? Or is it time to close the door on our Anglican journey and appreciate the season that it was? What does this mean for when I return to school in September?

It has been an extremely hard week. The Synod vote was not unexpected, but Bishop Rob’s vote was a shock. I needed to hear him say that he voted no. I needed to hear him say that he stands with the seven bishops, that he affirms traditional marriage, and that our diocese will not be authorizing a change to the canon at a diocesan level come 2020. The thought of leaving St. Aidan is gut-wrenching, and I have cried all week. This whole situation is not unlike grieving a death in the family. And at a spiritual level, my soul feels like it wants to throw up. But here’s what I know: Jesus is faithful. The Church is larger than our parish, diocese, or the Anglican Church of Canada. God is at work, and God works not just in blessing, affirmation, and comfort, but also in judgment, discipline, and punishment. Through the Holy Spirit, our Triune God tends the branches, pruning, propping up, fertilizing, and re-planting.

 

Pray for me. Pray for my family. Pray for my pastor. Pray for my bishop. Pray for my church. Pray for the Church.

 

Amanda

Ephesians 6:10

Wycliffe Women’s Breakfast

This morning,  Wycliffe College is having a women’s breakfast to raise funds for bursaries for female students. I have been invited to share briefly about why I’m at Wycliffe. What follows is the manuscript of my talk. (update: the audio file is now available.)

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When I started seminary in Saskatchewan my daughter Beth was 6 months old. During the four years of seminary work, she was joined by Nora, and Malcolm. It was, to say the least, an extremely busy time.

And yet, through my time at seminary, several wise mentors suggested that I had a gifting for teaching and theology. My husband saw this vocation as well, and after much prayer and reflection, we decided that my educational journey wasn’t done quite yet.

As we considered PhD programs, I was looking for a school that understood that theology is done in and for the church and because of that, it is, at its very core, a discipline of prayer. Wycliffe embodies this both in its deep desire to serve the church, and in its commitment to creating a space for prayerful theological reflection in the classroom and in the weekly practice of community Eucharist.

I was looking for a school that understood that academic rigour and the Christian faith are not inimical. The quality of scholarship offered by the professors at Wycliffe is probably the best of all theological institutions in Canada.

My husband and I were also trying to figure out how we could be good stewards of God’s resources. PhD studies are expensive, and we knew that we would need my husband’s pay cheque to cover the costs of raising 3 kids and paying for PhD tuition. And, my husband loves his job, and has his own callings and giftings. If we all moved to Toronto, not only would the cost of living be significantly higher, but it was highly unlikely that he would be working in his field.

And so, with prayer, and faith, and my husband working two jobs to support us, it was decided that the best way to steward all of God’s gifts was for us to become a bi-provincial family. My husband and the kids (who are now 6, 4 and 2) would stay in Saskatchewan, and I would live on the 3rd floor of Wycliffe during the school year. I skype in for dinnertime every day, and Chuck puts my skype face where I would normally sit at the dining room table. Yesterday, when I skyped in, Nora, who is now 4, was sitting at the dining room table, frantically writing. I said to her, “Nora, what are you doing?” “Shhhh. Momma I’m busy doing my homework. I have a class to teach in 5 minutes and I have a paper to write.”

The women at Wycliffe all have their own challenges (some even more complicated than mine) and yet they all have a deep sense of God’s calling in their lives to study the Word of God.

There’s a collect or prayer in one of the Anglican prayerbooks that is assigned for this Sunday (November 8th) that I think perfectly encapsulates the heart’s cry of the women at Wycliffe as we are here at seminary. Will you pray this for these gifted and called women?

Eternal God, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning,

grant us so to hear them,

read, mark, learn, and inwardly ingest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast

the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

 

 

A Reflection on the Desiring the Kingdom Conference

tyndale chapelWhen I was in seminary, my professor had us read James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom as part of our course on Spiritual Formation. This book, as I have posted previously, would have a profound influence not only on my personal faith journey but also on my hesitant and wobbly first steps into college teaching. But just because I found it incredibly insightful (or may I say “thick”?), many of the students struggled with the book, and asked questions like:

 

 

Why read this?

Is this just an attempt to convert us to Anglicanism?

Why isn’t it more practical?

What is the relevance of endless conversations about liturgy for low-church evangelicals?

What does this have to do with the nuts and bolts of life in the trenches of every day pastoral ministry?

conference programThis week I have been privileged to sit in a three-day conference devoted to exploring the practical outworking, as we considered the question: what does this discussion of thick practices, secular vs. cultural liturgies, and humans being primarily creatures of worship and creatures of desire, mean for Christian formation in our churches?

Together with people from a variety of academic, pastoral and lay backgrounds, we gathered at Tyndale University College for the Desiring the Kingdom conference. James K.A. Smith led us through a variety of plenary sessions where he explained his premise in non-academic, accessible language. And we had a variety of breakout workshops that attempted to look at the practical implications and methods of incorporating these ideas about human flourishing and formation into the various ministries.

We have people working with children’s ministry; youth ministry; catechesis; seniors’ ministry; worship; and intercessory ministries.

We had lifelong Anglicans who are asking what role does the Book of Common Prayer have in the 21st century, especially in reaching disenfranchised cradle Anglicans who have walked away from the church and want nothing to do with what they perceive to be “lifeless, repetitive, empty and rote” liturgy.

We had evangelicals, both on and off the Canterbury trail, who are drawn to the richness of liturgy but who are unsure how to incorporate it and/or prevent it from becoming “lifeless, repetitive, empty and rote.”

We had teachers and pastors who are trying to figure out how to teach the faith to unchurched or dechurched people (and let’s face it, even most of the Christians in our pews are more like dechurched people given how little Scripture and theology they know).

We had people from dioceses where there hasn’t been active, intentional children’s ministry in their churches for years and now they are ill-equipped to teach children the Gospel.

We had people who are raising children and have thought that it was primarily the church’s job to teach their kids about Christianity, and have no resources for beginning to incorporate formation and teaching in their homes.

And I’m participating as both a PhD student, with an eye to how this applies to an educational context, and as a layperson (training to become a licensed lay reader), wanting to serve my church in the areas of catechesis and worship.

The message, the examples, and the strategies that have been offered in this gathering of Christians boil down to this: Christianity has something to offer to a broken and hurting world. It may not be flashy. It may not be “relevant” in the way that culture shallowly defines it. It may not be pretty. It may not be easy. But, the practices of Christian formation, of gospeling, of praying, of gathering as a community to worship, of practicing hospitality, of reading Scripture, of discipleship and teaching, offer a vision of the world and of humanity that the world is desperately seeking.

And, there are people, brothers and sisters in Christ, who are willing to serve, to minister, and to lean into these thick practices so as to participate with the Holy Spirit in pulling back the curtain and allowing the world to glimpse the amazing event of God revealed in Christ.

If you’d like to a peek at some of the discussions, check out #DesKingdomConf.

 

 

 

#TBT Immersed By Scripture

The following is adapted from a post I wrote in 2012.

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It’s been an interesting transition from studying the Reformation to backing up fourteen hundred years and studying the Church Fathers. One thing that is common to both eras is how the writers from both eras used Scripture. In their writings, Scripture is quoted and when it’s not quoted it’s alluded to,  and when it’s not alluded to it is fully exposited. It doesn’t matter if it is Marie Dentiere, Argula von Grumbach, St. Clement, Barnabas or Justin Martyr. These writers are immersed by Scripture.

If I wrote a paper the way they wrote their treatises, one of two things would happen:
1. The professor would inevitably charge me with proof-texting
2. The professor would inevitably dock me points for not citing enough “academic” sources

What if bloggers wrote like these writers from the Reformation or Patristic period? Would we even read the posts? What would happen if we allegorically interpreted Scripture to comment on the latest “mega-pastor says something controversial” video clip? Honestly, I don’t know that I would continue reading blog posts that were made up of nothing but a series of quotations, allusions and expositions of Scripture the way that some of the writings of Church Fathers are.

How bad is that?

I admire how Scripture immersed these writers. It informed everything they wrote, said, did, and prayed. And even though I am a seminary student, I can’t really say that Scripture so fully immerses me. Why is that? Is it symptomatic of our 21st century Christian culture? Is it because I’m lazy?

Wouldn’t it be interesting, if instead of arguing over whether the Bible is inerrant, inspired, infallible etc. our concern was whether and to what degree the Bible immerses us?

In our efforts to assign the Bible authority, by developing statements regarding inerrancy and infallibility, we still seem to keep the Scripture at arm’s length. We can talk about the importance of Scripture, but the discussion is almost abstract. So what if the Bible is inerrant? If it doesn’t transform us what does it matter that the Bible is “fully without error?”

The liturgy that is used at the church I attend is an example of this immersion. As it tells the grand narrative of God’s redemptive work, it continually quotes, paraphrases, or alludes to Scripture. And yet, I have had a conversation with a couple of different people who have been in this tradition all their lives, and yet do not recognize the references to Scripture. They are just words on a page, and as far as they know the editors of the liturgy drew them from thin air. So this then raises another question: if people don’t even realize that Scripture is being quoted, does it matter?

With immersion comes transformation. And with transformation comes passion, a new perspective and a new posture. And this is what the Holy Spirit does as he illumines the Scriptures to point us to the Risen and Exalted Jesus. And of course, as you will notice, I didn’t quote, allude to, or exposit a single verse of Scripture in this post. Oops.

O Lord, may Your Word immerse me.

The Practice of Rest

The following is adapted from a paper I gave at a colloquium last spring entitled: Towards a Theology of Rest: Using the Language of Sacrament and Ordinance to Understand the Christian Practice of Rest. See also my earlier post: Enforcing Rest?

 

sabbath british

We live in a culture of busyness. Sometimes this busyness is constructed by the program-oriented ministries of the church, with families having some sort of church activity and obligation (kid’s club, Bible study, worship practice, not to mention Sunday worship) three or more days a week. Sometimes this busyness is constructed by life outside of church, and pastors have to recognize that very often families are too busy with work, extra-curricular activities and family obligations to participate in all (or even just one) of the activities in the life of the church. Congregations, eager to keep people plugged into the life of the church, have adjusted to the reality that Sunday morning services are competing with Sunday morning soccer practices in the summer and Sunday morning hockey games in the winter, and have begun to offer mid-week church services for those who are too busy on the weekend to spend an hour or two in corporate worship.

How does rest fit into this life of busyness? More specifically, why do we practice rest? Often, the primary answer is the pragmatic answer: because it is good for us. Rest is often framed within an individualistic context in the Christian literature; though couched in Scripture proof-texts, the thesis is still the same: practising rest is good for me, therefore I will rest. And of course, there are plenty of resources for Christians on how to practice rest, with suggestions and strategies for even the busiest of people.

But what if, in trying to address the necessity of practicing rest, and in exploring the reason why we rest, the theological answer is not framed around us and how it benefits us, but around God and how rest is his work, into which he invites us to participate?

I want to suggest that rest is more than a commandment or ordinance to follow; rest is sacramental. The activity of rest becomes an outward sign of inward grace that points us not only to our present rest that we find in Christ, but also forward to the future rest that is promised in the eschaton. It is the tension between the present reality of rest and the eschatological one, between the “now and not yet,” that Christians testify to, participate in, and give thanks for, in their regular practice of rest. Rest is a practice that pulls back the curtain of the heavens and reveals the reality of how and why God is at work in the world.

“Sacraments are material things that point beyond themselves to their creator. They are windows into divine reality.”[1] All of creation can be sacramental, as the material world points to and gives hints to the mystery that is behind it. To think sacramentally is to understand that creation, created things, and physical practices (like the Lord’s Supper or Baptism), point to something larger than themselves. To think sacramentally is to acknowledge that God’s working in creation is mysterious and that humanity “cannot fathom how [sacraments] work or trace the lines form physical element to spiritual power and action.”[2]

The physical practice of rest, in which Christians participate, points to the mystery behind the practical: that God created rest, not as negation of work, but rather as the fulfillment of work. Just as God resting on the seventh day of creation was a sign that God was satisfied with His creation,[3] so too the Christian practice of rest is a sign that we acknowledge that Christ’s work was and is sufficient. God’s salvific work of sending Jesus is more than sufficient, it is also good, and there is nothing that we, as humans, can do, through working or striving, to improve it.

The practice of rest, the visible action of spending time in ceasing to work, points to the promises found in Scripture. In God’s instituting Sabbath at the creation of the nation of Israel, the practice of rest became a visible sign to remind the people that God had indeed delivered them from bondage in Egypt.[4] Entering the Promised Land became a powerful promise and image of rest that God would bestow on Israel, historically, soteriologically and eschatologically.[5] This rest was not an abstract, impersonal reality, instead, it is His rest,[6] given by and owned entirely by God Himself.

It is also important to note that just as sacraments not only have a vertical dimension, but also horizontal dimension,[8] so to the practice of rest is not solely about reconnecting the believer with God, but also about the reconnection of the believer with other humans. The day of rest has built into it a chance not only for Christians to gather in worship, but also for families to spend time together in a way that does not happen during the busyness of the rest of the week. In the Old Testament, Sabbath days, Sabbath years (e.g., the Year of Jubilee) and Sabbath feasts were communal practices, drawing the nation of Israel together to celebrate the goodness of God, and to practice hospitality, to acknowledge and allow the land to lay fallow, and for debts (and indentured persons) to be forgiven (Leviticus 25).

[1] Leonard Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Recovering the Sacraments for Evangelical Worship (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 17.

[2] Vander Zee, 54.

[3] Pipa, 121.

[4] Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

[5] Kaiser, 138.

[6] Psalm 95:11; Hebrews 4:3.

[7] Hebrews 4:11.

[8] White notes that sacraments are inherently communal in nature, and “overcome corrosive individualism,” James White, The Sacraments in Protestant Practice and Faith (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 28.

 

Canadian Christianity — The Anglican Church of Canada General Synod

The Anglican Church of Canada just completed their General Synod. One of the resolutions presented at this synod was for the 2016 General Synod to consider amending canon XXI on marriage to include same-sex marriage. At the moment there are nearly a dozen dioceses that have authorized same-sex blessings, viagra and while it has been repeatedly emphasized that the blessings are not the same as marriage, critics have pointed out that it’s only a matter of time before the blessing ceremony is replaced with a marriage rite.

Malcolm, who attended the synod, notes that the process for voting on the resolution “went sideways”:

We had earlier dealt with a motion directing the Council of General Synod to initiate a process leading to a draft canon permitting Anglican clergy to solemnize same sex marriages. Several things went or nearly went sideways during the debate. Very conservative bishop Stephen Andrews and very liberal dean Peter Elliott combined to propose an amendment that outlined the consultative and theological work required. A brilliant bit of drafting, it offered some assurance to conservatives that their concerns would be heard. Unfortunately the original mover and seconded did not immediately understand what was being proposed and offered up a subamendment that would have cut the guts out of the very eirenic amendment. The subamendment, fortunately, was defeated.
After a very rational debate, the amendment passed. Then things decided to go sideways again.  A very few people called for question after almost no debate at all on the resolution as amended, the Primate called for the vote and off we went for a break.  When we returned, the Primate acknowledged this error, and also that he’d missed a valid request for a vote by orders….

The Anglican Journal has reflections from both sides, including Gene Packwood’s concern:

…changing the marriage canon to allow the marriage of same-gender couples in church would only hasten the decline in membership and revenues of the church. “I come from Alberta, and when the ELCIC [Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada] made a decision just for the same-sex blessings, 35 congregations left in Alberta alone and their budget declined by 25 per cent.”

Also, two blogs (Anglican Essentials and Anglican Samizdat) associated with Anglicans who are affiliated with the Anglican Network in Canada, have posted comments, including Peter’s observation that:

I do remember how many folk on the other side of the argument about 10 or so years ago were at pains to point out this was about blessings, not marriage – marriage was not going to be touched. We were not fooled by that, even then.

As someone who is new to the Anglican tradition, I find all of this fascinating and perplexing. I’m left with so many questions.

Is it truly inevitable that the definition of marriage will be altered?

Is it possible to have two definitions of marriage on the books? Or does that become a logistical, theological and pastoral minefield?

If the resolution passes in 2016 and 2019, and the definition of marriage is changed, what does this mean for the conservative parishes and dioceses? Will more churches decide to align with either the ANiC or the Catholic Ordinariate?

What does this mean for the relationship of the ACoC with the broader Anglican Communion? Will this hasten the acceptance of the ANiC as a valid Anglican tradition in communion with Canterbury? Or will it further fracture the cracks in the broader Communion?

Is the definition of marriage merely a “non-essential” or does it in some way reflect larger, “essential” theological disagreements?

I’d love to hear thoughts from Anglicans from both sides of this issue.

 

Canadian Christianity — C&MA Ordain First Female Pastor

On Sunday, cialis the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination in Canada ordained their first female pastor, unhealthy Eunice Smith. Last year, malady the denomination voted to change the bylaws regarding ordination to allow for women to be ordained. From the news release:

Eunice has served the C&MA for more than sixty years. She has served in the Canadian Midwest District, the Caribbean Sun Region and the Canadian Pacific District. Eunice was ordained in Richmond Alliance Church, in Richmond, B.C., the church that she currently serves and calls home.

Rev. Jon Coutts, lead pastor of Richmond Alliance Church, deemed Eunice’s ordination “a celebration of God’s faithfulness to and through her over the years, as well as a meaningful, formal affirmation of her gifts and calling for ministry in the church.”

Eunice’s son, Rev. Dr. Gordon Smith, President of Ambrose University College, declared that Eunice’s ordination affirms the seeds planted through her teaching and preaching of the Scriptures, anointed by the Holy Spirit.

Eshet Chayil! A woman of valour!