September 22, 2003

Would Jesus be happy here at Westmont?

Why? Why not?

I think these are questions we should be asking ourselves – in public.

(For "Westmont" feel free to substitute the institution, fellowship, or family of your choice, dear readers.)

10:56 AM

September 17, 2003

Ugh. This is the time of the semester when my students' pipeline starts backing up. I could feel it in class discussion yesterday: a palpable resistance borne not of considered intellectual opposition but the beginnings of fatigue.

The written assignments have now begun in earnest. Students now feel the crunch. First year students know the crunch from high school, but they are shocked by its college-level intensity.

In financial terms, this is when the second credit card statement arrives, with last month's interest charges now reflected in this month's minimum payment.

The instinct kicks in to make the minimum payment rather than change the spending pattern – to go for the grade rather than the learning, to subordinate today's reading and class discussion to the most imminent due date, to write off tomorrow and do an all-nighter. And so the educational experience begins its familiar spiral downward into servitude and bankruptcy.

Or – since it is not really so late in the semester, not yet too late to turn things around – we can all take a long, hard look at our schedules, appreciate the ways we have been squandering our time, and change the way we live. In other words, we can repent.

There is still time, folks. But there won't be time forever. Judgment Day is on its way.

10:35 AM

September 16, 2003

On my way to school today I met a new neighbor. (Being a good Republican, I walk to work.) When she found out I teach theology, she asked, "So what do you think of The Da Vinci Code? I hear it's factual."

Well, here is what I think:

1. Why are people suddenly talking about this book? I mean, I had never heard of it until two weeks ago. Since then three different people have asked me what I think of it.

So I looked it up on and found out – this on five minutes' "research," okay? – that it is a thriller that presumes a gigantic conspiracy of some sort or other involving the Holy Grail and Jesus getting married to Mary Magdalene and secret organizations in a Catholic Church bent on keeping it all under wraps.

2. So it sounds like a hoot – not just because well written convoluted mysteries are often a hoot, but also because it is more evidence that our culture still finds Catholic conspiracy theories plausible enough to turn into realist fiction.

That says a lot more about the post-Christian west than about both history and Catholicism.

3. I am encouraged that people have found some way to respond to my profession besides changing the subject, but more than a little discouraged that this is the best way they have to respond. I mean, if you have just found out your conversation partner is a medical doctor, do you ask whether she thinks the AMA and FDA are just fronts for pharmaceutical companies who don't want us to know The Truth About Echinacea? When you discover you are talking to an astrophysicist, do you inquire whether the Apollo program really was just a bunch of camera tricks like in Capricorn One and that Fox TV special? When you discover your conversation partner is a rabbi, do you ask what he thinks the Mossad was really behind 9/11?

And with a straight face?!

Is Christian theology really taken this unseriously? Do my fellow citizens really expect me to offer a scholarly assessment of a mystery thriller that gets its facts wrong, revels in speculative fantasy, and indulges in the centuries-old security blanket of modernity that is anti-Catholicism? We theologians deserve a lot of criticism for the ways we have abused our discipline, but this is literally ridiculous.

4. I take heart in discovering that Catholics still turn up in liberal nightmares. That is more than mainline Protestants can say. Looks like we evangelicals have some competition after all!

10:56 AM

September 11, 2003

This morning I overhead Kim talking to Jeremy our fourth grader: "At school your teacher might mention that today is September 11. Do you know why he might do that?"

"The planes?" Jeremy answered.

He remembers.

A year ago I wrote explicitly on the topic. I brought the country's struggle to remember into the history class I was teaching. I attended a special chapel service at which we read accounts from the event. Some wept as they read.

This year Westmont had a moment of silence at the moment of the first plane crash, but today's faculty forum topic is the California recall. This year I won't be writing a reprise of "How September 12 Destroyed my Faith".

It is not so much that we are getting over it. To be "over it" is not really to have been in it in the first place. But we are adjusting to what 9/11 inaugurated. Al-Qaeda, militant Islamism, Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the "new" New York skyline are part of our world. Two years in, the anniversary seems less important than the continuing legacy.

For the first year after the attacks, that continuing legacy drove my research and writing agenda ("Jonah", "January 2002: a Resolution", "After 9/11: Ups and Downs in the Public Square", "Divided Loyalties", "Wars and Rumors of Wars").

In the second year it has still driven me forward, but in a different way. It framed the first chapter of a book in progress on theology through the Lord's Prayer. It haunted my blogging of Genesis and Exodus. It set the agenda for an article on the evangelical use of Scripture.

As time has passed, 9/11 has moved from the foreground towards the horizon. It no longer dominates, but it is still all around.

In class today I prayed that God would lead us in the Church to repentance when either we let September 11 dominate us, or when we run away from it. As time passes the threat shifts from the first temptation to the second. Neither act is fitting for us witnesses to the victory over all evil that Jesus won on the cross and at the tomb.

Even so, to be able to shift from the first to the second is a luxury that deserves thanks – both to the eternal power that wages war against principalities and powers through the weapons of the Spirit, and the temporal powers that hold them in check through the weapons of the flesh.

May your September 11 be an occasion for faith in, gratitude for, and recommitment to the good news.

12:15 PM

September 10, 2003

Here is the first draft of my latest theological FAQ: "Does the Bible really affirm the ordination of women?" I am sure I will be editing it – it is too long and its prose needs to be a lot simpler. But I thought I would offer a sneak peek and invite your suggestions or objections. Since the question came up at the class I taught at church last Sunday, I would like to have something ready by this Sunday.

10:11 AM

September 8, 2003

Anyone out there still reading? Have patience. I'm having fun working on a theological FAQ on women's ordination. The issue has come up rather forcefully this semester, for a variety of reasons (not all of which I have mentioned below). I have done substantial thinking but little secondary source research on the issue; so far my argument is mainly drawing on my own theological conclusions and my own readings of the relevant biblical texts. Fresh new thinking or reinvention of the wheel? Time will tell.

In the meantime, two Westmont alumni have begun a promising theological blog, Blip. Check it out. They will surely be posting more than I will in the coming weeks.

10:47 PM

September 7, 2003

This week I met a student who has grave misgivings about Westmont's toleration and promotion of women's full participation in leadership in both the Church and Christian collegiate education. She knows the texts that forbid women from leading, speaking, and teaching, and she believes Westmont's policies respect neither the clear meaning of Scripture nor Westmont's own statement of faith, which claims the Bible is without error in all it teaches.

This morning I led a class at First Presbyterian Church in which we read and discussed Genesis 2-3, the very source on which those New Testament texts repeatedly draw in order to subordinate women to men in the life of the Church. The lively audience was a joy to interact with. As we moved to the ways the New Testament uses the Eden story, one elderly woman raised the complaint – much more common in mainline Protestant circles than the evangelical circles I usually travel in – that Paul was simply at fault for using Genesis 2-3 as he did.

Two strong women – one coming back for another year to a school that rejects her own subordinationist theology, the other participating in a church governed by a New Testament dominated by letters from the apostle Paul. One is young and profoundly uncomfortable with our world of uncritical egalitarianism. The other is elderly and seems free of bitterness after suffering what I imagine are decades of condescension and dismissal from men.

I admire them both. They are sticking with institutions with which they have grave problems. They aren't giving in and they aren't giving up. Theirs is the kind of faith that energizes churches and colleges, that keeps them communities in which people can grow.

Now I think they're both wrong – Paul is not a misogynist, the Scriptures are indeed free from error in all that they teach (even 1 Cor. 10, 1 Cor. 14, and 1 Tim. 2), and they in fact encourage women's full participation in every church office. Making that case calls for more than a casual post. Perhaps I will add it to my growing list of Theological FAQ's to write in my "spare time." Here I just want to hold up two women of faith who have already shown me something beautiful in my first week of teaching. Grace has made them sisters and made me their brother. We may be opposed to each other on this issue, but we sup at the same table of Christ. And sharing his peace means we can and will work out our differences.

Happy Lord's Day!

4:57 PM

I figured out Friday why after Blogger's "upgrade" every post I write generates an error when I try to send it. The new Blogger only supports passive FTP and secure FTP, not the traditional FTP that my website's server supports. Though I can get posts across, it is inelegant and time-consuming.

The alternatives before me are to switch to another server with another address, to move from Blogger to something else, or to live with it. I'm taking option three while I decide on how to take option two.

4:26 PM

September 1, 2003

Classes started today. If you are new to all this, welcome!

It seems apt to commemorate the occasion with an entry, in the form of a pointer to a new Theological FAQ on the difference between church conformism and truly Christian conformity. If you feel like you don't fit at your church (or any church) – or if you are a new student who either does or doesn't have the feeling of belonging that we all crave, then perhaps it's worth a look.

5:20 PM


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