Justo Gonzales, on The Changing Shape of Church History

Justo Gonzales closes his book The Changing Shape of Church History:

No longer can the church claim the religious hegemony it once had… Many Christians think that thIs means that the church is losing is power, and yearn with nostalgia for the old times of Christendom. But if I understand correctly the message of Jesus, that marginality, whether imposed or voluntary, is to be received as an opportunity to recover an essential dimension of that message:

“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”

Lk. 22:25-26

The church of the future, that Catholic and universal church that I have just described, will be a church of service, but of service from the margins. It will not be the church at the center, as in the paradigm of Eusebius. It’s great temptation will be to become a purely spiritual church, claiming to be above the vicissitudes of human history, as in the paradigm of Augustine. However, if it is obedient to the gospel of Jesus Christ, it will be a church incarnate, present, a participant of human life, but present above all at the margins, without pretending or even seeking to be at the center or to control, and with a clear call of service to all mankind.

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Quaker Meetings in John Woolman’s Time

While perusing John Woolman, American Quaker, a biography of John Woolman by Janet Whitney published in 1942 that Fred Newkirk asked me to order for him, I ran across a description of what Quaker meeting for worship was in those days. It so happens to also be what meeting for worship in the “waiting worship” approach can be in some Quaker circles still today. While perhaps Whitney idealizes a bit, I have experienced Quaker worship in this way – entering into God’s undeniable presence quietly and powerfully covering all in attendance in a manner I’ve not experienced in other forms of worship. It is most assuredly not merely worship in silent individual meditation; God moves some to speak powerfully – even to preach. Whitney knits through her description of worship a number of characteristics of early Quakers that convey the simple, humble attraction of the movement even in prose exhibiting the limitations of past colonial perspectives. It seemed worth excerpting for those who wonder at Quaker waiting worship to perhaps get a feel for what such worship and the broader Quaker approach to following Christ can be like. So, here’s an excerpt taken in pieces from pages 24-27.

On Sunday and on Thursday they went to meeting “first days  and week days meeting.” …Going to meeting was an outing and a social occasion, as well as a sacred necessity…. Silence spread around the meetinghouse, broken only by the song of birds, the chatter of squirrels and insects, or the stamp of a restless horse. Meeting “began” when the first persons entered the meetinghouse, and the deep silence was the chief part of the ritual. Although to the Quakers no one place was more holy than another, and they never had their meetinghouses dedicated or sanctified, nor their burying places consecrated, they had yet chosen for the site of their first meetinghouse in this neighborhood a place hallowed to the Indians for long past as a burying ground.

It seemed to the simple Quakers that a burying ground already established in a central spot was a suitable place to use for their own dead. God was everywhere and the Father of all. …the body of the first to die, Mary Kendal, was laid to rest by her husband and friends in 1687 in the Indian burying ground… and many more. The Indian dead, sitting upright in their barrows with their pottery and dried corn and bows and arrows beside them for use in the Happy Hunting Grounds, mingled their dust with that of the Quakers who lay reposeful and empty-handed, trusting God for provision in the future life as in the past. …no monuments above ground distinguished the one from the other. Gabriel, if he came with his trumpet, could not read the list of names otherwhere than in the Lamb’s book of life. It was against Quaker custom in those early days to have so much as a headstone. The meeting minute-books and individual family records alone furnished the information. So when the Quakers on the Rancocas were ready to build a meetinghouse, its site was a foregone conclusion. Convenience and habit dictated that it should stand beside the burying ground.

To little John Woolman the meetinghouse was as familiar as his own home. He could not remember any time when he did not go there, for he had been taken before memory became conscious. There was no symbol inside, no cross or altar, to mark the house as a temple, but yet it was solemn in there, it was different. When one entered the dim interior from the outside brightness, one felt a hush. On one side of the center aisle sat the women, on the other the men; and the same division was maintained on the two raised facing benches, where the elders and ministers sat. Behind the elders’ bench, to the southeast, was a small window made of four panes of bull’s -eye glass, and in the southwest wall, on the women’s side, was a large fireplace. In winter when the door was shut, most of the light in the meetinghouse came from the leaping fire that roared bravely in the brick chimney, and in extreme weather the women and children whose seats were furthest from it would move closer and gather near the warmth with decorous informality. In summer most of the light came from the open door…

At times another shadow silently appeared, the black silhouette of a man half-naked with a single feather upright in his hair. The Indian peered in to see the white man’s doings, and never needed telling it was worship. Only the movement of his shadow told his entrance, to take his place among the silent forms and share their inward salutation to the Great Spirit in a language which he too could understand.

It was a heavy responsibility to break that hush by speech. Although there were some who rushed readily into the vocal ministry, an opportunity open to all, a sensitive spirit trembled and forbore. Yet the ministry, by sermon or by prayer, was a necessary part of the perfect meeting, and meetings held for long periods in a silence that was never broken were found to become weak and dead. For this reason a definite “call to the ministry” was favored by Friends, and after a few spontaneous “appearings in the ministry” of one whose words seemed to feed the spiritual life of the rest, encouragement was given by making a minute recording “the recognition of their gift.” This recording minute of the Monthly Meeting, the local executive of the church, was all that it meant to be a minister among the Quakers. It did not in any sense appoint a minister to preach, much less pay him for doing so; and it did not release those not recorded as ministers from the duty of obeying a rare call to speak in meeting when the Divine impulse was felt. The Spirit of God  knew no distinction of persons in this service, neither of age nor of sex, of wealth nor of poverty. Recorded ministers sat on the facing benches with the elders simply because to one more likely to speak than others it was an advantage to be slightly raised and to face the company.

…”We being A large Family of Children,” wrote Woolman in his Journal, “it was customary with my parents after meeting on first  days to put us to read In the Holy Scriptures or Some good Books, one after Another the rest [sitting] without much Conversation; This I think was of Some use.”

John Woolman: American Quaker
by Janet Whitney, 1942, pp. 24-27
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Dallas Willard, on his impending death

Gary Moon wrote in his recent biography of Dallas Willard, Becoming Dallas Willard, about J.P. Moreland’s visit after it became clear Willard would not live for much longer. “Are you afraid of dying?”

Willard smiled as he responded, “No, J. P., I actually believe the things I’ve been teaching all these years.”

Moon reports that Dallas Willard spoke about joy for his own funeral: “It’s really important to understand how joy cuts through everything. It cuts through everything. And to anticipate that your moment of passage from this earth will be one of great joy.”

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Dallas Willard, asked why he follows Jesus

Because I make my living as a university professor and philosopher I am frequently asked, in so many words, “Why do you follow Jesus Christ?” My answer is always the same: “Who else did you have in mind?”

— Dallas Willard

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Ministry Motivation

Ministry is too sacred to be motivated by gain and too difficult to be motivated by duty. Only love can sustain us.

– Warren Wiersbe
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Resources on Origins and Christian Faith

Do you know a student who is trying to work out how to reconcile the latest science on human origins with their Christian faith and biblical teaching? Allow me to recommend that you refer them to works by John Walton, Iain Provan, or Tremper Longman. (I’m sure there are others; but these three I have found particularly helpful.)

For example, John Walton’s book The Lost World of Adam and Eve is very helpful in clarifying how the accounts of human origins in Genesis should be received in their historical and literary context and then what that means for us today. It’s available in paper, on Kindle, and as an audiobook. Walton also has many lectures available online via youtube and other sources.

For a wider scope, try Iain Provan book Seriously Dangerous Religion, which is quite a seriously good book for Jesus-followers who want to understand how to think of Christian faith in relation to the wider world.

I highly recommend both.

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Unconditional Love or Unconditional Affirmation

Unconditional affirmation and unconditional love are not the same thing. To demand the former is to actually exclude the latter.

Sam Allberry

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antichrist church

The cultivation of consumer spirituality is the antithesis of a sacrificial, “deny yourself” congregation. A consumer church is an antichrist church.

Eugene Peterson
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Isaac Newton’s Great Ocean of Truth

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Isacc Newton
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Design Patterns in the Bible

Tim Mackie of The Bible Project explains design patterns in the Bible in two episodes of the Bible Project podcast. You can listen to them here (part 1) and here (part 2).

The idea of design patterns is quite familiar to me as a software engineer. But the concept is widely useful and being applied in many areas of study these days. Noting patterns in their design deeply aids the study and understanding of the texts of the Bible. It is very helpful, revealing an interplay and awareness of the later texts for the earlier that may just revolutionize your understanding of what the biblical authors intended to say. The closest I’ve heard to this in the past is the concept of types – but types are sort of a really “blunt object” in the wider, more subtle space of design patterns – not that they are unimportant. I highly recommend these two Bible Project talks on design patterns. (And the Bible Project podcast in general…) There is enough in these two talks to get the careful reader started in ruminating over the deeply meaningful common patterns and repeated wordplay between Bible texts. Mackie gives a few links to resources in the show notes, too.

An obstacle, however, is reading the Bible in English translations of the Hebrew or Greek. In the original languages, patterns are more evident and artfully presented. Mackie recommends the NASB translation as being fairly accurate at reproducing “Hebrew in English”, which makes the English horribly awkward reading but nevertheless a good study resource for seeing these patterns. While it is not exactly oriented toward design patterns, I’ve also found Everett Fox’s The Five Books of Moses to be illuminating, particularly when read aloud. His notes are very helpful. The design pattern idea is more tuned in to Robert Alter’s literary analysis than they are tuned to Fox; but I find Fox helpful in detecting patterns – perhaps because Fox is quite gifted at translating the Hebrew of the ancient biblical texts into modern English while retaining much of the artistic and literary integrity of the Hebrew. I’ll have to think about that. Suffice it to say that there is a linguistic barrier to appreciating the fullness of the text of scripture when one reads neither Hebrew nor Greek. Detecting the design of the text and how it relates to other biblical texts is one area where we must do some extra work, at least. And pray.

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