Archive for April, 2011

Resurrection Hope: What Easter Means for the Everyday-Life of Christians

Sunday, April 24th, 2011 by Antipas Harris

John 11:25a records Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  In a time of wars, terror threats, various earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, political unrest and social mayhem, it is imperative that preachers emphasize the existential hope extended to humankind in Christ’s resurrection. Year after year, Easter sermons have de-emphasized the bloody cross and the heinous events that constitute the celebration of “Good Friday.” But we must not cater to the romantic end of the story without giving sufficient gaze into the painful process prior to Easter. The actual events prior to Easter impact the hope we find in Easter. Over the anuls of Hebrew history, Jews have celebrated “Passover.” Passover emphasizes the blood of the lamb that gives hope to Israel in the middle of a night of death. Passover in the first century was when Jesus was crucified.

That Passover, moreover, Jesus became the bloody Lamb. He experienced a night of merciless beatings, an unfair trial, a struggle to carry the burden of the cross up Calvary’s hill, a torture of nails, thorns and a piercing in the side. Easter is triumph through death, hell and the grave. Easter is triumph through torture, injustice, pain and agony. Easter, therefore, is life breaking through death, triumphing pain and agony. Easter is victory in spite of oppression. Easter is victory through the cross.

Liberation theologian and archbishop Paulo Evaristo Arns’s article “Easter and the Hope of Victory” sheds light on the existential implications of Easter. Yet, he does not go far enough into the practical dynamics worth exploring.  He writes, “A people liberated from bondage were to remember that God saw their misery and descended to free them in order to give them the possibility of living another social model based upon equality, justice and solidarity. Easter is the memory of the liberating transit of God who of a slave people made a free and equal people.” As we observe our times, watch the news and engage ministry to the broken, one admits that even in the “land of the free and home of the braves” people are not always free. People, here, are not always brave. Over the past 10 years events in our history such as 9/11, other terror attempts, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and oil spills (to name a few) have challenged our freedom and cast a shadow of fear over our former bravery.

A few days ago and in my neighborhood, a young man attempted to rob the bank in the broad daylight. The police caught him. Yet, out of fear for his own life, the police shot the robber and landed him in the hospital. The situation impacted our community such that people are more protective. Unlike the late eighties/early nineties in Manchester, Georgia, I am careful to lock my car and house doors — even in the middle of the day. Things have changed! We seem to fear each other more than we help each other. Read the rest of this entry »

Grading Time

Thursday, April 21st, 2011 by Wolfgang Vondey

It’s a difficult time: grading time at seminary. It’s not a time I enjoy. Grades divide.

Grades divide students into the good, the bad, and the ugly. Well, that’s tongue in cheek. But there are the groups of the A-students, the B-students and so on. Or sometimes just the geeks and the rest. More often than not, the students who excel in all areas find it difficult to join the majority groups. Jealousy, envy, and admiration form a complex divide.

Grades divide students from their teachers. The one gives the grade and the other receives. I would not give my wife or son a grade, but as a teacher I have to grade my students. Sure, my three-year old is not in a graduate degree program, but there is a similarity in relationship. I love my students. Well, most of them. Teaching theology is a significant responsibility. It is always as a person teaching persons that I engage my class. That can be parental love or brotherly love. Sometimes it’s tough-love, but nonetheless, it’s love. Sometimes grades tell the unpleasant story that a student may not be equipped for the graduate program at this time. Grades put everyone back in their place at the end of the semester. No matter how much you got around the table, in the end grades define your relationship.

Grades divide us from our calling. I have a standard question for students: what do you want to achieve in seminary or in my class? The answer is often associated with grades: I want to get an A. When I ask how the class was or the seminary experience as a whole, the evaluation often comes in terms of grades: I didn’t do as well as I wanted or I managed to keep a 4.0 GPA. That’s not what I mean, though. I am not at seminary to give grades but to teach. Students should not be at seminary to get grades but to learn.

Now that it’s grading time, I get numerous emails by students who want one or two or more points in their grades. Some ask to get a better grade or a specific grade. I wish I had received similar emails throughout the semester from students wanting to learn more, wanting clarity on ideas, theological constructs, doctrines, asking for a better understanding even (or especially) if their grades did not reflect their knowledge.

Now that it’s grading time, I wish I could go back and encourage students where I did not, critically engage them where I simply moved on, or question things I left open. I feel reduced in my relationship to numbers or letters. How can I preserve the relationship? How can students engage me without looking for a good grade? How can they give critical feedback without fear of retribution or positive feedback without coming across as wanting a good grade? How can we be persons in a shared journey of faith?

In the end, reviving seminary depends much on our attitude toward grades. I have to give them. Students have to get them. It’s in the manner we give and get that defines us.

Evangelical Purgatory: Towards A Post-Reformation View of Purification

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 by Jason Wermuth

Evangelical Purgatory. The words flow together like the words “fire” and “water”, Calvin and Arminius or Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll. Nevertheless, some evangelicals have put forth proposals for a new vision of post-mortem purification which I think demands our attention. Please note that I am only proposing an imaginative hypothesis and am not setting forth my own theological conclusions on this matter. Nevertheless, I will attempt to argue in the affirmative for a kind of evangelical purgatory in what follows. Please engage respectfully in the comments section below.

By evangelical purgatory, I do not mean years of suffering whereby God forces Arminians to read Calvin’s Institutes for thousands of years… (me genoito). Nor do I mean the traditional Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Rather, what I mean to discuss is a purification of the character and heart of a person which begins now, but may continue on into the afterlife. This need not be a punishment per se, but an act of divine pedagogy which takes place in the presence of God. I call it “Evangelical” to distinguish it from Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, because I consider myself an Evangelical Charismatic, and to reflect that it is not indeed in conflict with what I understand to be the central tenants of evangelicalism, namely the reformation ideas of sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus and soli deo gloria. Furthermore, I do not believe what has been and will be proposed below violates the following evangelical sensibilities: a strong emphasis on evangelism, the need to be born again, a high regard for scripture, and a Christocentric and cross-centered theology (Defining the Term, Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals). Read the rest of this entry »

Revival at Seminary

Monday, April 4th, 2011 by Wolfgang Vondey

What exactly is seminary education? If you asked me, I would say it is characterized by two key elements: ministry and academics. The question is how well these two elements are brought together. Too much ministry, and the seminary experience is not much more than an average Sunday School; too much academics, and students will find it difficult to connect the content of their classes with everyday life. There are many students who only know the ministry side of the faith, and who struggle with the academic dimension, just as there are those who come to seminary from an academic career and have little practical experience in church ministry. Renewing the seminary experience must speak to both groups! But how?

Increasing the academic side will perhaps nurture in some students interest in pursuing an academic career, perhaps in college teaching and scholarship. Increasing the ministerial dimension will likely challenge those academically trained to consider the practical implications of their knowledge. And yet, I do not believe that we should overemphasize seminary education as offering “practical theology” degrees as if there were such a thing as “impractical theology.”  In turn, we hardly want to encourage programs in “theological ministry” as if there were such a thing as ministry that is not-theological. A first step in the right direction is certainly to stop perpetuating the division of theology, academia, and praxis. Such language only leads to internal tensions and creates a mindset that artificially divides subject matter, classrooms, disciplines, and interests. Not to mention what kind of graduate would leave seminary if ministry and academics were not integrated holistically. Some may argue that this is precisely what is happening and that the seminary experience needs an overhaul. But little is offered to move forward.

The mindset of many seminary students, particularly in pentecostal and charismatic circles, may be that seminaries need revival. Okay. Let’s do it! But how exactly is it going to happen? What exactly do we mean by revival at seminary? Who would participate in such a revival? Where would it originate?

I am envisioning that some of you are now thinking of revival in the classrooms. So let’s stick with that image. What would that kind of revival look like? Do we envision worship music and praying, sermons, dancing, shouting and prophecies? What exactly is revived by that experience? I think if we drive these questions further, we discover that seminary is a place where revival must integrate ministry and academics and that it is precisely in these two aspects that the difficulties reside. Anyone who has ever been in an academic classroom and has sensed the prophetic or perhaps convicting or just simply gripping reality of a discussion knows how difficult it is to integrate the ministerial dimension in that moment without going fully to a revival experience that effectively marks the end of the class time. And yet, at such moments, we cannot simply carry on business as usual. And if we manage to move to a different level, perhaps a prayer or simply a moment of silence or a time of ministering to one another, how difficult is it to move back to the classroom? At the heart of these difficulties, is it not the tension we have created between what we call “ministry” and “academics” (as if one could exist without the other)? If I am right, then this is where revival at seminary begins. Not in chapel but in the classrooms. Who is going to initiate it? Who will recognize it when it happens? Where is it going to take us? These are not rhetorical questions. Unlike church, revival at seminary requires more careful planning. So perhaps that’s where we need to start?