Resources on the Life, Writings and Legacy of John Calvin Print E-mail
The 500th Anniversary of John Calvin's birth (2009) has given rise to a flood of new books on the life, thought and legacy of the reformer.  Below is a list of some suggested reading – some new works, and some of enduring value. More introductory-level suggestions are at the top, followed by some more advanced suggestions for those already familiar with Calvin and the Reformed Tradition.
Building Neighborhood Relationships: Lent in the Living Room PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 18 January 2009 13:41
Lent in the Living RoomOne of the greatest needs of the church in North America is to develop deeper relationships with our neighbors -- in the usual sense of "neighbors," as in those who live near to us. We often live private lives and don't even know that the other Christians in our neighborhood are Christians, since denominationalism has resulted in two Christian families next door to each other worshiping and fellowshiping with different congregations.  So, it's tough to build Christian fellowship that will impact one another -- and impact those who are not yet believers -- right where we live.

In an age when the "unchurched" are less and less likely to "go to church" looking for spiritual nourishment, it's important that we be pro-active and bring it to them where they live. To that end, one idea some churches are exploring is called "Lent in the Living Room." It's a special initiative, for a special time of the "church year," to encourage the members of our congregation to host small groups in their homes. Hopefully, this will catalyze the development of new and deeper relationships that will continue well beyond the season of Lent.

If you're interested, check out how my own congregation, Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, TX, is exploring this way of building "neighborhood relationships" this year. It may give you some ideas for what could work in your own congregation, too.
A Faith's Dwindling Following PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 19 October 2008 22:52

George Will had a nice piece in the Washington Post today about mainline denominations, the Episcopal Church's experience in particular: "A Faith's Dwindling Following."  I take that back.  It wasn't 'nice.'  But it was honest.  The last paragraph captures the bottom line quite well:

"The Episcopal Church once was America's upper crust at prayer. Today it is 'progressive' politics cloaked -- very thinly -- in piety. Episcopalians' discontents tell a cautionary tale for political as well as religious associations. As the church's doctrines have become more elastic, the church has contracted. It celebrates an 'inclusiveness' that includes fewer and fewer members."
Is the Financial Crisis of the U.S. Divine Retribution?: Providence in a Global Economy PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 10 October 2008 20:49
In the U.S., investors are panicking, polls say the average working person believes we may be headed for another Great Depression, and those close to or in retirement are scrambling to stabilize the future of their fixed income in order to continue making ends meet.  Yet the woes of the U.S. economy appear to be good news to some of the "enemies" of the U.S.  In the Middle East, many appear to view the troubles of the U.S. economy as the latest in a series of events they describe as divine retribution.  According to the Financial Times, "Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, an influential hardline figure in Iran, has described the crisis as a punishment. 'As Americans are happy to see problems in Iran we are happy to see the US economy disturbed and problems extended to Europe,' he said recently. 'They see the results of their vicious acts and God is punishing them.'"

Christians and Cremation PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 September 2008 10:52

Richard Mouw offered some brief and helpful thoughts on cremation on his blog, and it's resurrected some of my own recent wrestlings with this issue.

I think there are good “arguments” for and against the practice of cremation from a Christian perspective. I worry less about whether cremation poses any obstacles for God’s power to resurrect the dead, and more about how the practice can impact our attitude toward the physicality of life in the present. We do tend to treat our bodies as objects apart from ourselves, rather than part of our-selves. Pressing issues in bioethics offer plenty of good examples, and in the evangelical community it tends to be part and parcel of the larger world-denying rather than world-engaging spirituality. If ultimately, God's plan is to redeem our bodies and indeed all creation, how should that impact the way we treat our own bodies and the creation now?  (Gilbert Meilaender has an interesting article on this issue, and he touches on cremation, in the February 2007 issue of Touchstone, called “Broken Bodies Redeemed.”)

Benedict XVI: Christian faith is personal encounter, not moralism PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 September 2008 10:16
In an address to a group at the Vatican yesterday, Benedict XVI, while reflecting on Paul's conversion, noted that Christianity "is not a new philosophy or a new form of morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ, even if He does not reveal Himself to us as clearly and irresistibly as he did to Paul in making him the Apostle of the Gentiles. We can also encounter Christ in reading Holy Scripture, in prayer, and in the liturgical life of the Church - touch Christ's heart and feel that Christ touches ours. And it is only in this personal relationship with Christ, in this meeting with the Risen One, that we are truly Christian."

Though in some ways this is an unremarkable statement of mere Christianity, I think this succinct statement is a nice contradiction of the impression one can get of the Pope from American media.  The composite picture of the Pope gleaned from mainstream media can make it seem as though he thinks of Christianity first and foremost as a set of moral restrictions.

There are a few reasons why the media focuses on the Pope's comments on the conflict between mainstream Christian ethics and western libertarian morals.  Obviously such comments seem newsworthy because they speak into the "culture war."  And the continuity of basic Christian ethics across the Protestant-Catholic divide has, of course, been one basis for recent rapproachment between evangelical Protestants and Catholics.  On that score, see the nice editorial from Richard Mouw in the New York Times, written during the Pope's visit to the U.S. last Spring.

The audio of the Pope's brief comments yesterday can be heard here.
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