Category Archives: Theology

AM I WOKE?

Danny Akin is the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Danny and I are bound together (literally) because his commentary on Song of Solomon and mine on Ecclesiastes were matched together in B & H’s series of commentaries on the whole Bible.

Danny believes the shocking truth that the gospel of Jesus speaks to all of life.

Some within the Southern Baptist “denomination” (see my post on June 15, 2021) dubbed Danny a “woke liberal.”

If shrewdly “plundering the Egyptians” and seeking to have an irenic spirit makes one a liberal, then I guess many of us must wear that moniker. 🙂

And by the way, before you are tempted to sling out the word “woke” ask yourself whether you have done the hard work of lots of biblical and theological study along with ample historical work. If not, it would be better to ask questions than make confident pronouncements of who is and who is not “woke.”

If you want to better know history, here is a pretty good book to get you oriented:

 

INTERVIEW WITH EUGENE PETERSON’S BIOGRAPHER

Winn Collier is director of The Eugene Peterson Center for Christian Imagination at Western Theological Seminary.

The following interview revolves around Collier’s highly anticipated book, A Burning in My Bones: The Authorized Biography of Eugene H. Peterson.

Moore: Give us a bit of the backstory of how you came to be the person to write this biography of Eugene Peterson.

Collier: Well, I began reading Eugene over 20 years ago, when a generous church elder, who apparently knew I needed help, handed me a copy of Working the Angles. I was only paragraphs in when this pastoral vision Eugene described detonated in my soul. Eugene described what my soul ached for—but didn’t have any language to describe. I began to write Eugene letters, and remarkably, he wrote back. He became my pastor. In January 2017, after a trip to Montana that I assumed would be my last time to see him, I wrote Eugene and asked him about writing his biography. He hated the idea. But we kept talking, and eventually he warmed to it.   

Moore: I have read several books by Peterson. All were terrific. I also read his 2012 book simply called, The Pastor: A Memoir. How is your book different than The Pastor?

Collier: The Pastor is a beautiful memoir (though he also resisted this and only wrote it after years of cajoling), but Eugene really didn’t enjoy talking about himself. So, there were lots of interior places he shied away from and numerous rabbit trails that he never considered interesting enough to follow (“why would anybody be interested in my life,” he’d often say to me). But like a bloodhound, I couldn’t help but follow the scent, sniffing my way to fascinating revelations and numerous insightful dimensions to his life. Also, he wrote his memoir through the lens of being a pastor, but I was far more curious about the fulness of Eugene as a person. And of course, Eugene’s memoir ventured little into the years after he left his church in Bel Air, MD—and Eugene had so many remarkable years after this, some of his best stuff really.

Moore: The physicality or materiality of spirituality captivated Peterson, though I know he did not like the word “spirituality.” Would you describe why physical spaces and material realities so captivated Peterson?

Collier: If we separate the material and physical from our encounter with God, then we’ve amputated a massive part of the gospel. Eugene insisted you could never separate geography from theology. The entire story of Scripture reveals God acting in particular moments, with particular people, in particular places. Jesus was born a Jew, to one mother named Mary and spent his childhood tucked away in one dusty village, surrounded by the troubled history of the tribe of Judah. If we ignore any of this, we misunderstand Jesus. The same way, Eugene was born under the shadow of the Swan Mountain Range, for years inhaling the scent of blood and wax paper in his dad’s butcher shop, feeling his mind and heart swell as he spent Saturdays alone in the rugged vastness of that Big Sky country. To miss any of this would be to miss part of Eugene…and to miss the particular ways that God’s grace surrounded and shaped Eugene. The whole earth—every osprey and sunrise and Appalachian hollow, every painting and carpenter’s angle and every loving kiss—declares the glory of God.

Moore: What do you think are Peterson’s best three books, or at least the ones that have spoken most powerfully to you?

Collier: Let me just stick with the ones that have meant the most to me. Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity names the poison in the pastoral stew better than anything I’ve read, and with precision that is both simple and daring, offers us the cure. Then either Leap Over a Wall or A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (sorry, two here) both offer artful guidance into life with God. As a third, I’d say Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, where Eugene sketches a panoramic, breathtaking vision of God’s presence in the world and with us—I don’t think this work has fully detonated in our imagination yet. There’s three (or 4). Ask me on another day, though, and I might give a different answer.

Moore: I think your book strikes a wise balance in not getting into prurient details about personal matters while still describing important details like the hurt Peterson experienced in his relationship with his dad. How did you decide what was appropriate to include and what was not?

Collier: That was tricky. I didn’t want to play into sensationalism or voyeurism. However, nothing would be more dishonoring to Eugene’s way that to stick him on a pedestal. He was human, flawed. For me, this is what makes his story so compelling. To encounter a person so fleshy and human, yet someone being transformed by holy love—that’s beautiful, that’s important for us to encounter. I wanted to include everything necessary to make it true and a well-crafted story but nothing that would merely serve as bait—that would only cheapen the story.

Moore: One disappointment I (and others) have had with Peterson is how he steered clear of what is called “polemics.” I certainly appreciate Peterson’s penchant for being irenic and avoiding nasty fights where pedantic points dominate the debate. It seems that Peterson’s desire to avoid the fleshly fray may have caused him to overreact. What do you think?

Collier: Perhaps due to my own disposition (or maybe overreaction), I tend to get more where Eugene was coming from—and operate mostly the same way myself. For Eugene, it was more about ways and means. It wasn’t at all that Eugene didn’t want to say hard things (he could light some fires, if you were paying attention), but rather Eugene felt that the way we go about polemics typically undermines whatever truth we were trying to get at. Also, he often simply distrusted the framing of the debate, the binaries, the assumptions. It wasn’t so much that Eugene refused to answer the question that was being asked—it was simply that Eugene was asking different questions. A friend once got frustrated with Eugene and accused him of being “coy.” Eugene winced at that criticism, and thought it was to some degree unfair. However, he took it to heart, and in his following book tried to be more direct in a few areas where he had something direct to say (the Christian misuse of power and the church’s idolatrous political alignment). However, I think his friend still found him coy.  

Maybe we should handle this now. What nasty fight should we wade into?

Moore: Your well-crafted words honor your subject. You did a terrific job conveying a wide range of emotions from the humorous to the poignant. What are a few things that you hope your readers will take from your book?

Collier: I hope they will encounter Eugene, what it was like to sit with him (both in laughter and silence), to watch for the osprey to swoop into the bay, to hear his raspy voice, to sit at the table after dinner and share a bowl of butter pecan ice cream, to linger with a friend whose life has become a prayer. I hope a few readers will find hope again, just knowing that there are people like Eugene and Jan who’ve lived good lives, faithful lives, artful lives—people who are far from perfect, but people who are true and trustworthy. I hope a few readers will become more curious: what could my life, lived with such receptivity to God’s love and presence, be like? or maybe: what good story is God writing with my own ordinary days and years?

NOTES ON THE TRINITY

A few years back, I listened to theologian Miroslav Volf’s talk at Wheaton.  Many things struck/troubled me, but here are a few:

*It seems his theology has collapsed into ethics.

*I would love to hear his exegesis of John 8.

*He says rightly that Muslims reject a conception of the trinity that is not the one of orthodox Christianity.  He says the reason Muslims have done this is because most Christians can’t articulate the orthodox doctrine of the trinity.  That is also correct in a way, but Volf makes no mention that Muhammad was reacting to the worship of many tribal deities not the trinity.  I found this amazing.

MAKE THE TRINITY GREAT AGAIN!

I find the trinity attractive, compelling, and there are desires we all have for community and individual impact that showcase we are created in the image of a triune God. My next door neighbor who is not a Christian said this made sense to him. 

Our culture emphasizes a faux unity that kills true diversity or a faux diversity that kills true unity. The trinity elevates both in glorious splendor. There is much Christians have to offer our chaotic culture. Sadly, I’m not convinced many Christians are that interested in having both diversity and unity.

Sadly, I’ve found many Christians confused in their thinking about the trinity. Here are five errors I’ve heard the most in my conversations with a number of Christians:

Thinking that the incomprehensible nature of the trinity means I can’t say anything meaningful about the trinity. 

Thinking the trinity is illogical.

Thinking the trinity is impractical.

Thinking the trinity is something Christians can disagree about like other unimportant matters such as the proper mode of baptism.

Thinking the trinity is simply a river in Texas.(HT: To my friend, Helen Reeves!)

MAKE THE TRINITY GREAT AGAIN! Hey lawyer friends: Can I copyright that?! 🙂

SOME ENCOURAGEMENT/FINAL REFLECTIONS

Some Encouragement/Final Reflections

Like you, I have plenty to do, so will make this my final (at least for the time being) post on the racial crisis. My correspondence was heavy these past days. I am grateful for all those conversations but must pivot to other matters including the final edits of a book my publisher is waiting on.

Here you go…

I reject Critical Race Theory (CRT). Full stop. For those who know me, that will come as no surprise.

When I use “white privilege” I don’t have in mind the various tenets of CRT. I am a Christian who is seeking to think biblically and theologically about this issue. And historically. No claims to perfection about my reflections, but I am trying to make sense by writing (Augustine said writing clarified his thinking and writing showed him what he thought).

I’ve had many good conversations in the last couple days. Some have helped me to think in clearer ways about this issue. Some have shown me that there are differences of emphasis, and some have reminded me that complex issues are not resolved overnight.

One difficulty with any complex issue is that groups are hardly monolithic. Saying all people in a certain group believe x is not reflective of what exists in any group: a myriad of perspectives.

My use of “white privilege” as I mentioned in a quick blog post on June 6 was “not a punt to liberal, political ideology, but rather the manifest witness of God’s Word.” Manifest may be the wrong word because we can disagree how clear that emerges from the pages of Scripture. 

Here is where I should say more about “white privilege.” As one friend said, since the term is used in a certain way by those who hold to CRT, perhaps another term is needed. I think that is good counsel. I am looking for a way to communicate that some/many (certainly not all) of us white people can be oblivious at times to the struggles those from other backgrounds face.

Making sweeping assertions is a constant temptation but should be resisted. If you are familiar with the conditions of many whites in Appalachia, you will know that they have less “privilege” than affluent African Americans in the suburbs. Class is not being talked about enough these days, but it is also worthy of our attention. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a good reminder of this reality.

One last word for all of us: Let’s not get weary in well-doing. That is clearly biblical! See Gal. 6:9. We must fight the tendency to hunker down in our own world and so leave the messy problems for others to address.

In modern life there are more controversies than any one person can address. You may be called to other things. All of us need great wisdom to discern where and how our time should be spent.

We Christians have a huge advantage because we have God’s Spirit to empower and direct us. We don’t go it alone. We also can shout the glorious truth that our God is triune. The beauty of true unity, but never at the diminishment of diversity, really does exist and is worthy of emulation. 

I’m planning to design a t-shirt that says, “MAKE THE TRINITY GREAT AGAIN!”

 

WHAT WHITE CHRISTIANS CAN/SHOULD DO

I am sixty-two years old. I am white. I was not responsible for either of these two things, but I am responsible for many other things.

A good friend asked me what we as Christians in the majority culture here in America can do with respect to the racial crisis. There are many things, but here are a few in no particular order, except for the last which is of first importance.

*We Christians need to stop being so consumed and/or afraid with how terrible we believe America is at this point in its history. Instead, we should spend our time making sure we are clear on all of God’s truth, compassionate to every person, and courageous even if it is costly. This will keep us Christians plenty occupied. It is animated by the reality that “judgment starts with the household of God.” (I Peter 4:17)

*It is great to have African American friends, but you will not have much to offer any friend if you are not grounded theologically. I used to give disclaimers whenever trying to promote the study of theology for all Christians. No longer. Knowing what and why you believe the Christian faith to be true is the most practical pursuit of life. This leads to my next thought.

*If you unable to give compelling reasons for why the trinity has much to offer not just with the racial conflict in America, but with many other pressing matters, please study up before you go out representing what Christians believe. The unity and diversity of the trinity has far-reaching implications for all sorts of things. Again, get studying if you can’t articulate in compelling and clear language all that the trinity (and other Christian beliefs) has to offer.

I have asked several Christians why the trinity is compelling including a Dallas Seminary trained pastor. Except for my wife and a handful of others, I typically do not receive a great response. Most Christians sign their church’s doctrinal statement with a thin understanding of what they are agreeing to. I concur with J.I. Packer that the most pressing issue for the church is robust education. Again, no apologies.

*We must make concerted efforts to get out of our echo chambers. Most of us live in some sort of echo chamber. In addition, we should avail ourselves of theological education that is increasingly aware of two thousand years of Christian reflection not just what happened after the Protestant Reformation. All the major Protestant Reformers would agree with me on this!

*There is a good chance many of us have significant homework to do. Homework is another word I used to apologize for when talking with adults! To quote President Bush #41 “Not going to do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.”

If you have not read it, begin with reading Narrative of a Slave by Frederick Douglass. There are many more things I would add, but that is a good place to start.

*Be aware of false dichotomies. Believing that people need to trust Jesus as Savior is not at odds nor diminished by acknowledging “structures of evil” or “institutional racism.” Or “white privilege.” If we want to be biblical, we will need to juggle many truths at the same time.

We Americans do not tend to be the most thoughtful people. The great observer of American life, Alexis de Tocqueville, appreciated several things about America. However, he saw the problem of superficial thinking in our country almost two hundred years ago. American Christians are not immune from the tendency to emphasize one (many times valid) truth at the expense of other truths.

*Last, but obviously most important, we will need God to convict, direct, and motivate us to do these things, things many of our fellow Christians either denigrate or worse still, do not think about at all.

I am grateful to my friend, Dr Vince Bacote of Wheaton College, for his input on this post. As it is always said at such points, but with good reason, I alone am responsible for the content. I am glad that Vince agreed that what I wrote should be “common sense” among Christians. Sadly, foundational truths should not be assumed in our day and age.

 

 

                                                                                                                                   

MORTALITY

This is the second book I’ve read by the happy atheistic gadfly, Christopher Hitchens.  His writing is beautiful, funny, and makes you think, even, perhaps especially, when you disagree with him.

This was his last book.  He was dying of esophageal cancer.  

Read to find out how an atheist can have better theology than the silly notions of too many Christians.  Read for the enjoyment of engaging great writing.  Read to consider what kind of friend you want to be to your atheist friends.  I hope you have some!