Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Peace Church Influences on My Thought: Mennonites, Brethren, Quakers

I’m working on the next installment of the series on pacifism and the Bible, but here is a small interlude.  I have on this blog tried to describe major people who have influenced my life and thought, both from within my Baptist tradition, and from other traditions in the Body of Christ (and, indeed, Jewish influences, too).  But as a Christian pacifist from a branch in the Believers’ Church family, I have been more influenced by people from the Historic Peace Churches (Mennonites, Brethren, Friends/Quakers) than any other segment of non-Baptist theologians.   I owe special gratitude to Mennonites–I feel very close to Mennonites.  This is a small token of my deep gratitude.

Mennonite Influences:

I am probably one of the few Baptists to have read the collected works of the Dutch Anabaptist leader, Menno Simons (1496-1591). I’ve actually read through Menno’s works 3 times.  He has areas of weakness, such as his strange adoption late in his life of Melchior Hoffmann’s “celestial flesh” theory of Jesus’ virgin birth.  But Menno’s Foundation of Christian Doctrine, which was deeply influential on first generation Particular Baptists in England, is absolutely brilliant.  I have not studied other 16th C. Anabaptists as deeply as with Menno, but I have read parts of the works of Conrad Grebel and Michael Sattler, Balthasar Hubmaier (whose defense of believers’ baptism and theological repudiation of the persecution of heretics is brilliant), and Pilgram Marpeck.  I have not been influenced by later Mennonite thinkers between the 16th and the 20th centuries.

Of course, the strongest Mennonite influence on me has been from the late John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) but I have written on that elsewhere. I first encountered Yoder’s works in 1982, shortly after leaving the U.S. army as a conscientious objector.  Yoder was my introduction to Anabaptists and Mennonites–so, for the longest time, I thought that Yoder was typical of Mennonites and did not realize that he was somewhat controversial within his own tradition–though also a major influence on that tradition.

Other Mennonite influences include:

Ronald J. Sider, Mennonite from a Brethren-in-Christ background, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry, and Public Policy at Palmer Theological Seminary, Wynnewood, PA (formerly known as Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary).  Sider first radicalized me in my concerns for the global poor.

Perry B. Yoder (Yoder is a common name among Mennonites), Professor of Old Testament, Emeritus at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary first helped me to find the strong peacemaking (with justice) theme in the Old Testament.  Other Mennonite Old Testament scholars who have been helpful to me include Jacob Enz, Millard C. Lind, Waldemar Janzen, Elmer A. Marten, and Ben Ollenburger.  Lind’s work on the Holy War texts has been very helpful (if not completely satisfying at every point),  and Janzen’s “paradigmatic” approach to Old Testament ethics makes a great compliment to that of Methodist OT theologian Bruce C. Birch. (Get both Birch’s and Janzen’s works on Old Testament ethics–and ignore that of Christopher Wright.)

Willard Swartley, is the Mennonite NT scholar who has influenced me the most (though I disagree with him on “homosexuality”).  Other Mennonite NT scholars with whom I regularly interact include Tom Yoder Neufeld, Lois Y. Barrett, Dorothy Jean Weaver, William Klassen, Donald Kraybill,  and David Rensberger.

Among Mennonite theologians and ethicists who have had major impacts on my thought are: J. Denny Weaver (especially for his rethinking of atonement in light of Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence), Clarence Bauman, Ted Grimsrud (whom I think is fast becoming a major theologian among Mennonites whom non-Mennonites need to hear), Thomas Finger (who interacted with the eschatological theology of Moltmann in a VERY helpful way), C. Norman Kraus (missionary cross-cultural dialogue that keeps Jesus at the heart of theology), my friend Mark Theissen Nation (who, in addition to being one of the leading experts on the thought of John Howard Yoder, also interacts helpfully with Stanley Hauerwas, Nancey Murphy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, my own teacher, Glen Stassen, and with his own teacher, James Wm. McClendon, Jr.), my friend Duane K. Friesen (especially for using conflict resolution studies, and the work of Gene Sharp to forge a post-Reinhold Niebuhr realist form of Christian pacifism, and for his more recent work on theology of culture beyond Troeltsch and H.R.Niebuhr), my friend Ted Koontz (for his interactions with Just War thinking and his helping to forge the emerging ethic of Just Peacemaking) and his better half, Gayle Gerber Koontz ( for Mennonite feminist theology, for several collaborative works and for helping disciples of H. Richard Niebuhr and disciples of John Howard Yoder better understand each other).

The African-American historian (and friend of Martin Luther King, Jr.), Vincent G. Harding, is a Mennonite historian who has influenced my view of both U.S. history and the civil rights movement.

I need also to briefly mention such friends as Leo Hartshorn, Susan Mark Landis, Gerald Schlabach, Keith Graber Miller, John K. Stoner (who was also my employer for a time), Ray C. Gingrich, Marian Franz, and Joseph Kotva.  I am doubtless forgetting many.  Suffice it to say that, as an “Anabaptist-Baptist,” Mennonites have given me a second spiritual home.  During my time as a Visiting Professor in far-off Pasadena, CA, I split my church attendance between First Baptist of Pasadena and Pasadena Mennonite Church.  I have also been welcomed into the congregational hearts (and sometimes the pulpits) of Peace Mennonite Church in Dallas, TX, First Mennonite Church, Allentown, PA, Lancaster Mennonite Church, Lancaster, PA, College Mennonite Church, Goshen, IN, Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, IN .

Church of the Brethren influences:  Smaller in number, but still significant.  I love the blending of German pietism with Anabaptism in the CoB.  I am still reading the great founders of the Dunker/Brethren movement, Alexander Mack, Sr. and Jr. 

The C o B. church historian, Donald Durnbaugh wrote a study of the Believers Church tradition that I continue to use in courses on ecclesiology and ethics.  I am deeply impressed by the feminist C o B theologian, Lauree Hersch Meyer and by philosopher of religion, Nancey Murphy, who was raised Catholic and converted as an adult to the Church of the Brethren after a course on 16th C. Anabaptism. Widow of the late Baptist theologian James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Nancey is a friend and a powerful scholar who does much work on the interaction of science and faith and on post-liberal approaches to theology and ethics.

Vernard B. Eller was very wrongheaded in his attack on all feminist-inspired inclusive language for God, and his laudable efforts to communicate to non-experts could sometimes give his writings a non-scholarly look and feel, but he introduced me to the importance of Jacques Ellul and “Christian anarchy,” and he showed how to re-think Kierkegaard in a direction more appropriate for a more communal, less individualistic, ecclesiology.

Dale W. Brown has continued to be a model of communicating Biblical pacifism to mass audiences.

Dan Ulrich in New Testament and Stephen Breck Reid in Old Testament both are Brethren biblical scholars who deeply influence me.  Reid, who is African-American, is a major voice in cross-cultural biblical interpretation.

I doubtless need far more contact with scholars in this Historic Peace Church.  The first peace studies program in North America came from a Church of the Brethren college and one of the C o B programs inspired the birth of the Peace Corps.

Influences from Friends/Quakers:  The early 17th C. Friends, growing out of a radical Puritanism, combined a high Christology with a mystic theology. I identify with those Christocentric early Quakers. But the movement splintered (especially in the U.S.) in the 19th C. between liberal (Hicksite) Friends who kept the unprogrammed meetings and resisted conforming Friends to the rising evangelicalism, but which seemed, in many cases, to lose the Christocentrism of George Fox, Margaret Fell, Barclay, Woolman and others.  Many in today’s liberal Friends (part of the Wider Quaker Fellowship) embrace a relativistic form of universalism that is not concerned that Quakerism remain Christian.  On the other hand, Evangelical Friends have programmed meetings, pastors, and look and feel much like evangelical churches (hymn singing, lack of silence) that simply do not practice water baptism or physical eucharist.  These evangelical Friends have lost much that is distinctively Quaker, including, in many cases, the peace witness.  In between are Conservative (Wilburite) Friends which attempt to hold onto the original Quaker ethos, but which are very tiny in number.

All this unhealed division has affected Quaker theology and scholarship:  Liberal Quakers often dismiss theology altogether and Evangelical Friends are simply apologists for the creed known as the Richmond (IN) Declaration.  All this is distressing to this outsider who believes that without a vibrant Friends’ testimony, the wider Body of Christ will be the poorer.

George Fox’s Journal is very influential on my devotional life as is John Woolman’s Journal.  I admire the deep abolitionist witness of the Grimke sisters and Lucretia Mott.  Among modern Quakers, my spiritual life has been enlivened by the late Thomas R. Kelly, and the late Douglas V. Steere.

Bayard Rustin, an African-American Quaker who played a tremendous role in the Civil Rights movement was behind the scenes for much of the movement because he was gay.  Rustin had flaws, but I find his witness compelling.

I find the theological writings of Chuck Fager (peace activist and editor of Quaker Theology), to be helpful in many cases, along with the different emphases of co-editor, Ann K. Riggs, (who directs the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches, USA).  I am just discovering the theological emphases of Rachel Muers, Douglas Gwyn, and Stephen W. Angell, along with the New Testament studies of former Baptist-turned-Friend, Michael W. Newheart.


October 15, 2009 Posted by | ecumenism, theology, tradition | 15 Comments

Dialogue Partners in the Wider Evangelical Tradition

This is a long overdue contribution to my series on Dialogue-Partners in Theology.  I first wrote a post on My Favorite Liberal Theologians outlining those theologians in the liberal/modernist tradition that I find to be indispensible conversation partners in my theological reflection.  I then did the same for Conservative Evangelicals and for Jewish theologians and philosophers.  But I had promised to list my conversation partners in the wider use of the term “evangelical,” (gospel centered) where the term “conservative” might not apply.  I have neglected this now for too long.  Part of the neglect was because it is impossible to define the term “evangelical” in a way that invites consensus–and the term has different connotations in the U.S. than outside it. 

So, I here refer to those theologians (and theological ethicists) and biblical scholars who are rooted deeply in the Protestant Reformation (both Magisterial and Radical Reformations), Puritanism, Pietism/Wesleyanism, and/or 19th C. Revivalism (and/or the way any and all of these movements have made encounters in Asia, Africa, indigenous cultures in the Americas, etc).  They are “gospel centered” in their approach to theology, rather than deliberately beginning with human experience as with liberals. (This is not to say that experience plays no role: the experiences of conversion and/or later “baptisms” or “fillings” with the Holy Spirit play major roles.) The centrality of Scripture for the life of the church is assumed–whether or not a term like “inerrancy” (by whatever definition) is used.  There may be correspondences between such theologians and persons in Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditions, but there are also differences in both style and substance.

Now, since I have already described my major dialogue partners among  “Conservative Evangelicals,” who are within shouting distance of Protestant fundamentalism–at least at times, I am here not including them. Rather these individuals either moved away from conservative evangelicalism or (as in the case of many “post-liberals”) began with another tradition and moved in a more evangelical direction–or simply always had a more mainstream, or ecumenical,  or “catholic” perspective on “the evangel,” the Good News of Jesus Christ for the beautiful but sad world. What follows is not an exhaustive list of such persons, but merely the ones who are the dominant conversation partners in my own theological reflection: MY favorite non-conservative evangelicals, if you will. Lack of inclusion should not be seen as a judgment on merit–but no one can seriously engage ALL the important thinkers in any adequate fashion.

For the sake of limiting the size of this post, I will omit all thinkers before the late 19th C. when liberal and evangelical theologians began to diverge sharply in methodology, at the least.  (This means I’ll need another post on Voices from the Reformation to the late 19th C. Sigh.)  I will include some (not all) of those otherwise  classified as “Neo-Orthodox” or “Post-Liberal.” I no longer find either term especially useful.

I. “Non-Conservative” Evangelical Dialogue Partners No Longer Living.

  • Karl Barth (1886-1968). Arguably the most important theologian since the Reformation and EASILY the most important theologian of the 20th C.  Raised in the household of a conservative Swiss Reformed pastor, Barth studied with the great 19th C. German liberals and initially was one of them–but rejected their entire program when he saw almost every professor he knew sign a statement in support of the Kaiser’s war aims at the beginning of WWI. This crisis in faith led him to rediscover the Reformers (especially Calvin), the Church Fathers, and the “strange new world within the Bible.”  Barth was almost the first theologian I read when I started trying to read serious theology. (I think I first encountered him through the essays in The Word of God and the Word of Man and then in Evangelical Theology.) Eventually, in seminary, I would study with David L. Mueller, a brilliant Barth scholar who published much less than I wish he had.  I took his Barth seminar and we read most of The Church Dogmatics–Barth’s unfinished masterpiece which is sprawling and not without its faults, but attempts to think through everything from the standpoint of God’s freedom to love the world and humanity through Christ.  I have not remained everywhere a Barthian–I especially find his reworked divine command ethics to be greatly wanting–but my view of Scripture remains thoroughly Barthian and my Christology at least largely so. I thought Barth should have taken the plunge to embrace pacifism (he hovered at the edge), but appreciate his caution on universal salvation. Like Barth, I WANT to be a universalist, but I have a real sense of God’s judgment on an unjust world.  See further The Karl Barth Society of North America and the Center for Barth Studies.  
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) unites life, faith, and theology in a way that convinces me over and over again of the reality of God in Jesus Christ.  A German pastor from a secular university family, who himself encountered Barth in his studies, Bonhoeffer was a major figure in the church struggle against Naziism as well as one of the plots against Hitler–despite having described himself as a pacifist.  Nachfolge  -badly translated as The Cost of Discipleship–(See Discipleship in the new Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Works, English Edition, for a much better translation.) laid the basis for my first sermon at 19, “Are You Prepared to Live or Die for the One Who Died for You.” (Bonhoeffer is great. I can’t vouch for my teenaged sermon all these years later!) He began my lifelong wrestling with the Sermon on the Mount in a world of war, street violence, injustice, domestic violence,  economic violence, and terrorism.  Bonhoeffer’s Creation and Fall allowed me to read Genesis theologically–without needing stupidities such as “creation science” or “intelligent design.”  His Christ the Center continues to orient my Christology and his Life Together ended the individualism of my ecclesiology. I wrestle with many great concepts in the unfinished Ethics, but find the result (perhaps because it  was never finished) to be unsatisfying in several places, but Letters and Papers from Prison continues to serve me as a better devotional guide than most books on “spirituality.”  As a pacifist, I disagree with Bonhoeffer’s participation in an attempt to assassinate Hitler, though Bonhoeffer himself didn’t know one end of a gun from another–but even more do I dislike the way many war-loving Christians (and violence prone Christians) have used Bonhoeffer as an excuse–never wrestling with his assertions that there were no exceptions to the ban on killing and that those involved in the plot would have to deal with both God’s judgment and mercy.  Here, Bonhoeffer was more honest than Barth–not seeking some general Grenzfall or emergency escape clause from the call to nonviolence–honestly seeing the desperate plot against Hitler not as a “lesser evil,” much less a real good, but as a failure to find another way that was more faithful to Christ.  See further, the  International Bonhoeffer Society.
  • Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), the greatest theologian of the Social Gospel, certainly had one foot in liberalism–especially having been influenced by Albrecht Ritschl.  But he remained an evangelical and is still a prophet of Christian work for social justice.
  • Dale Moody (1915-1992) the Texas Baptist giant.  Moody was raised in a fundamentalist setting (combining elements of dispensationalism, free-will Arminianism, and semi-pentecostalism) that could not contain him. A genius I.Q. had this dirt poor farm boy memorizing the Greek New Testament as he plowed the field.  Educated at Baylor University, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, and Regent’s Park College, Oxford, Moody became the second Protestant and first Baptist to lecture at the Gregorian University in Rome.  An eclectic thinker who once spent a sabbatical living with Emil Brunner in Zurich while commuting daily to Basel to hear Barth lecture, Moody came even more under the influence of Oscar Cullmann and the “Biblical Theology Movement.” Moody’s systematic, The Word of Truth, was an attempt to  do biblical theology AS systematic theology.  It doesn’t entirely work–but where it breaks  down, it usually gives hints at  the way forward.  Moody’s major influence on me was to reinforce my view that Baptist biblicism could be completely united with critical scholarship and ecumenical concerns.
  • Letty Russell (1916-2007) was one of the first women ordained in the United Presbyterian Church, ancester body to today’s Presbyterian Church, USA.  She served for years as one of the pastors of East Harlem Protestant Parish, and taught theology at Yale University Divinity School.  She was a major voice in ecumenical studies and in connecting first world movements for social justice to those in the Third World.  A product of the encounter of Barth and Moltmann with feminism and liberation movements, Russell was a pioneer in feminist biblical studies and feminist theology.  I encountered Russell’s work thanks to my own feminist theology mentor, Molly Marshall (now  President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary).
  • John Howard Yoder  (1927-1997).  The most important Anabaptist theologian since Menno Simons, it is not true that Yoder’s writings convinced me of gospel nonviolence/Christian pacifism. But his The Politics of Jesus (1972, rev. 1997) was the first theological reflection I read after becoming a pacifist and leaving the U.S. army as a conscientious objector. Yoder CEMENTED my Christian pacifism (c. 1983).  I have written deeply on his influence elsewhere.  As I predicted at John’s funeral, many secondary studies of Yoder have begun to emerge. Most have serious flaws.  I do recommend two secondary studies as showing particular insight, however:  Mark Theissen Nation, John Howard Yoder:  Mennonite Patience, Evangelical Witness, Catholic Convictions. Eerdmans, 2005 (which is the long awaited publication of Mark’s Ph.D. dissertation done at Fuller Theological Seminary) and Earl Zimmerman, Practicing the Politics of Jesus:  The Origin and Significance of John Howard Yoder’s Social Ethics. Cascadia, 2007.  I also recommend both these Festschriften or books of celebratory essays, Stanley Hauerwas, Chris K. Huebner, Harry J. Huebner, and Mark Theissen Nation, eds., The Wisdom of the Cross:  Essays in Honor of John Howard Yoder. Eerdmans, 1999 and Ben Ollenburger and Gayle Gerber Koontz, eds., A Mind Patient and Untamed:  Assessing John Howard Yoder’s Contributions to Theology, Ethics, and Peacemaking. Cascadia Publishing House, 2004.

II. Living Dialogue Partners in Wider Evangelicalism

  • Juergan Moltmann (1926-).  A German Reformed theologian who has been in major dialogue with Mennonite scholars, Latin American liberation theologians, feminist and Black Liberation theologies, Moltmann has greatly modified my Barthianism.  During my first semester of seminary, I read Moltmann’s The Crucified God (1972, ET, 1974)–and would never be the same.  For one thing, although  I have always believed in the Trinity (because the alternatives, tri-theism or modalism, were so bad), I never gave it much thought. But in The Crucified God, Moltmann shows that only the Trinity can adequately deal with Jesus’ crucifixion–and so it has been central to my theology ever since.  Second, Moltmann made  me a profoundly eschatological thinker because he showed me that eschatology was not escape from social  action.  Third, despite his Reformed viewpoint, in The Church in the Power of the Spirit, Moltmann reinforced by Free Church (baptist) ecclesiology–and made me a “near Pentecostal.”  Most importantly, Moltmann made me a liberation theologian. I had already read Gustavo Gutierrez and recognized the importance of liberation theology–but Moltmann showed me that I could be a liberation theologian in a First World context.  Moltmann had been drafted into the German army in 1944, and surrendered to the first British soldier he saw 6 months later, and spent time in a prison in England, not repatriated until 1948. I have never known  whether this former prisoner of war completely embraced pacifism (his statements seem ambiguous), but he reinforced my own commitment to gospel nonviolence.  He also showed me how to be an ecological theologian without embracing some “New Age” nonsense like Matthew Fox.
  • Stanley Hauerwas (1940-) is the greatest living theologian in the U.S.  He grew up in a blue-collar evangelical United Methodist home in Texas and went to Yale Divinity School (and is still angry about Yale).  At Yale, James Gustafson mal-formed Hauerwas’ view of the work of H. Richard Niebuhr.  Despite Yale, Hauerwas somehow came under the influence of Karl Barth, interested in work on the virtues (which led to dialogue with Catholics for the rest of his career), and narrative theology. Teaching at Notre Dame, he encountered John Howard Yoder and, against his will, almost, became converted to Christian pacifism.  He has spent most of his life teaching at Duke University Divinity School weaving these various influences together–and leading a one-person charge against Enlightenment modernism, against democratic liberalism (thinking wrongly that Yoder iss completely on his side there) and insisting that the church become, once more, a counter-cultural community (he’s right about that part).  I have a love-hate relationship with Hauerwas.  When he’s wrong, he’s very wrong, but when he’s right, he’s excellent. Because he writes “combat theology”–with passion and fury–he’s often sloppy and makes what I consider to be large mistakes. But he gets more right by accident than most do on purpose.  Siblings often fight more than strangers. 
  • Walter Brueggeman (no dates found) is a retired Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary (Decatur, GA), and a minister in the United Church of Christ, having previously taught at Eden Theological Seminary.  Educated in the “Christian realism” of Reinhold Niebuhr, Brueggemann has been brought into a counter-cultural evangelicalism by Scripture itself.  He is the most fascinating and provocative OT scholar living.  The Word comes alive with Brueggemann and he  sees all of it as relevant for re-shaping the church in  a profoundly pagan, post-Christian world.  Influenced both by Karl Barth and by German critical scholarship, Brueggemann is good at making people uncomfortable with the Word.  My teacher, John D. W. Watts, a brilliant Old Testament scholar in his own right, assigned me Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination and I’ve never been the same–and a good deal of disposable income has gone toward purchasing many of Brueggemann’s books.
  • J. Deotis Roberts( 1927-) is often overshadowed among Black Liberation theologians by James H. Cone, the other pioneer in the field, but in my humble opinion (as a white dude), Roberts is by far the better theologian.  He combines traditional (evangelical) Black Church theology with classic philosophical training and a very wide ranging ecumenical and multi-cultural engagement.  His contention that liberation and reconciliation must be worked on together has made many think him “less radical” than Cone, but it seems to me that it simply makes him more thoroughly gospel-centered.
  • Desmond Tutu (1931-) retired Anglican Archbishop of Capetown, South Africa and former Primate of the Province of Southern Africa (now called the Anglican Church of South Africa), the Most Rev. Tutu came to prominence during the struggle against apartheid as a leader in the nonviolent church struggle against white oppression.  Since the end of apartheid, Tutu has led the South African Commission on Truth and Reconciliation and continued to be a global worker for justice and peace. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.  I have found his theological works, particularly Hope and Suffering and No Future without Forgiveness to be deeply moving.
  • N. T. Wright (1948-). Nicholas Thomas (“Tom”) Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham, is one of the finest New Testament scholars living.  Since I had already encountered the “new perspective on Paul” through others and not found it controversial, I have most been influenced by Wright as a Jesus scholar.  I have said more about this here.  I’d also like to recommend the online N. T. Wright page
  • Elizabeth Moltmann-Wendel (1926-) was the second woman (the first single woman) to receive a doctorate in theology from the University of Gottingen–a year before her fellow student and soon husband, Jurgen Moltmann.  She has been a pioneer in feminist theology. I have especially enjoyed I Am My Body (a theological anthropology) and Rediscovering Friendship as well as The Women Around Jesus.
  • Nancey Murphy( no dates found) is Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary and an ordained minister in the Church  of the Brethren.  Raised Catholic, she has a B.A. in physics from Creighton University and a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science from the University of California at Berkeley.  She has a Th.D. in Modern Theology from the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley where she met her late husband, James McClendon (see above). She has become a major voice in the dialogue between science and theology, and is a feminist pacifist theologian.  She has been a devastating critic of the “Intelligent Design” movement  and a major voice in showing how different fields require different canons of reason. She has tried to rework Yoder’s thought into an overall ontology–something Yoder himself resisted.
  • Willard Swartley (no dates found) is Professor Emeritus of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and also a former dean of the school. He is a brilliant NT professor whose work  has encompassed hermeneutics, interaction with the anthropology of Rene Girard, editing a dialogue between Mennonites and Juergan Moltmann, and a huge amount on the theme of peace within Scripture. He also has written on homosexuality and hermeneutics, where I find him less helpful.
  • J. Denny Weaver (no dates found) is Professor  of Religion Emeritus at Bluffton College, a Mennonite liberal arts college in Bluffton, OH.  He is probably the most important Mennonite theologian since John Howard Yoder. He advances Yoder and the Anabaptists into the post-modern context.  Especially helpful to me is Weaver’s The Nonviolent Atonement which argues for a narrative reworking of Christus Victor as an atonement theology which is not at odds with the commitment to nonviolence of the NT.  Weaver objects to those theologies which, while claiming that Christians must commit to nonviolence, ultimately have a violent view of God.
  • Paul Fiddes (1947-) is a British Baptist theologian, formerly Principal of Regent’s Park College and a Professor of Systematic Theology, Oxford University.  In conversation with Moltmann and with liberation theologies, Fiddes has written some profound works that explicate the heart of the gospel, including: Past Event and  Present Salvation; The Creative Suffering of God; Participating in God:  A Pastoral Theology of the Trinity; Tracks and Traces: Baptist Identity in Church and Theology; Reflections on the Water; and Under the Rule of Christ:  Dimensions of Baptist Spirituality.
  • Walter Wink (1935-) is a United Methodist theologian and Professor Emeritus at Auburn Theological Seminary in NY.  A New Testament theologian and committed pacifist, Wink has one foot in the liberal tradition (including membership in the Jesus Seminar), but was profoundly influenced by the biblical witness of the Episcopal lay theologian William Stringfellow–and through Stringfellow, Jacques Ellul, Karl Barth, and John Howard Yoder.  Wink is most famous for his work on the Powers in NT theology and their implications for contemporary church life–in which he proposes not simply capitulation or resistance, but engagement, holding out hope even for the redemption of the Powers.  Wink has also been a strong voice for full  GLBT inclusion in the church.
  • Thomas Oden (1931-) is a United Methodist theologian who, during the 1960s and 1970s, poured himself wholeheartedly into every new theologically liberal fad that came along. Burned out by that experience, he reclaimed his faith from the brink of extinction by rediscovery of the the ancient church theologians, the Fathers (and Mothers) of the Church from the post-apostolic era to Chalcedon.  Thus, Oden proposed a return to orthodoxy, but not “neo-orthodoxy,” but paleo-orthodoxy–including a recapture of pre-critical exegesis and an immersion in the consensus theology of the early Church before the split into East and West. He has been also rediscovering Wesley and classic, pre-Freud resources for pastoral care.  There is much in Oden’s work I like, including the dismissal of inerrancy as a modern doctrine (it is) and immersion in the work of the Church Fathers (and Mothers).  But Oden is a dialogue partner and not a mentor because he seems to see theology as an ivory tower existence–in overreaction to his earlier faddish social activism.  Let me put if provocatively:  Stanley Hauerwas has often been accused of having a “separationist” or “withdrawal from culture” ethic or ecclesiology.  While I think this is a misreading of Hauerwas (a fairer charge would be that those with a tendency toward withdrawal ethics take too much comfort from overly quick readings of Hauerwas’ work), it strikes me as right on the money concerning Oden–which seems odd in an heir of John Wesley whose passion against slavery and against oppression of the poor are a matter of record.  Then, too, paleo-orthodoxy strikes me as “fossilized theology.” Like it or not, each age, each cultural context, brings new questions to the tasks of theology that cannot be ignored–although they need not be capitulated to and certainly one might want to address those questions with voices from the far past and not just the recent past.  Immersion in Christian classics is never a bad thing–but I don’t see enough in Oden of turning from that immersion back to the world.
  • Justo Gonzalez (no dates found) is one of the best church historians and historical theologians living. In his work, I find exactly what I am missing with Oden, the relation of all that went before, and a global  awareness of the multicultural church, to today’s questions. (Interestingly, I saw a panel once on “post-modern theologies” which agreed that Gonzalez and Yoder, who were both present, were not post-modern precisely because they had never bought into Enlightenment modernity. Thus, they were not in wholehearted rejection of the Enlightenment,either. )
  • Richard B. Hays (no dates found) is a United Methodist theologian and a New Testament scholar at Duke University Divinity School, previously having taught at his alma mater,  Yale.  Hays began as primarily a Pauline scholar, especially engaging the wok of E. P. Sanders and James D. G. Dunn.  But his fame (and infamy) came with the publication of his The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Cross, Community, New Creation a contemporary work in New Testament ethics. In scope it is the most powerful work of its kind currently in print.  I loved his defense of Christian pacifism and of sharing possessions, the equality of the sexes, and much else. My disagreement with Hays over same-sex matters (excellent exegesis, but hermeneutics that are inconsistent with his principles and practice throughout the rest of the book) has been well aired on this blog in the series on GLBT inclusion in the church. (It was painful. I like Hays’ work and I didn’t want to be that critical publicly.)
  • Miroslav Volf(1956-) is a Croatian by birth and ordained in the Evangelical Church of Croatia, though now a member of the Episcopal Church, USA.  He is a professor of theology at Yale Divinity School. A former doctoral student of Juergan Moltmann and a former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary.  Volf is immensely helpful in theological reflection on the pain and tragedy of the world.  His Exclusion and Embrace written in Los Angeles in the wake of the riots after the aquittal of the police who beat Rodney King, and written while the massacres in the former Yugoslavia were still happening, argues profoundly for Christians as peacemakers in this world–but disturbingly does so by projecting vengeance onto God.  (Volf’s views are the kind that disturb Denny Weaver.) He has moved further in his reflections on nonviolence since 9/11 and the declaration of a “global war on terrorism.” 

I could add others to this list, including Gabriel Fackre, the late Hans Frei, the late Jaroslav Pelikan, the late Orlando Costas,  but these are my major dialogue partners in “wider evangelical circles” except for my personal teachers, but I have spoken elsewhere of the influence of my teachers Glen Stassen, Molly T. Marshall,  Dan R. Stiver, and –in my posting on conservative evangelicals, of Craig Blomberg and George R. Beasley-Murray.  I think the next installment in this series will focus on Catholic dialogue partners, both ancient and contemporary.

August 23, 2009 Posted by | autobiography, theology, tradition | 11 Comments

Did Cheney Just “Come Out” as a Racist?

The 24/7 Dick Cheney interview tour keeps defending torture–and keeps giving evidence that could be used in future trials against him and his regime.  The blogs are abuzz because he said Sunday that Bush authorized the torture programs.  When will he be confronted with these claims under oath in a court of law?  Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who has enormous contacts deep in the intelligence community and has broken many a govt. conspiracy  over the years, has claimed that high-ranking intelligence officials have told him of a Bush-era “assassination squad” that ran directly out of Cheney’s office.  I wish he could get them to go on the record, publicly.  Could others in Congress or the Dept. of Justice know of these squads? Do they fear that they still exist and still report to Cheney? Is this why Obama and Congress are so reluctant to hold the Bush admin.  accountable?  Did even G.W. Bush keep going along with Cheney out of fear for his life? I don’t know. I do know we ordinary Americans have to keep pushing for real investigations and prosecutions by a special prosecutor.

But Cheney’s bold defense of his lawbreaking is not new. What was new Sunday was that he seemed to “come out” as a racist.  We have long known of the deepseated ill will between Dick Cheney and former Sec. of State Colin Powell, dating back to before Powell was Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Personal animosity between two people of different races is no proof of racial prejudice.  I don’t like RNC Chair Michael Steele (though he’s entertaining), but it has nothing to do with his race. If he knew me, I assume he’d dislike me, too, but I wouldn’t attribute it to any anti-white feelings on his part.  Sometimes folks just clash.  So, Cheney’s Sunday claim that the GOP should stick with Rush Limbaugh as its voice and reject that of Powell need not, on its face, be racist.

But. . . .

Limbaugh has claimed repeatedly that Powell, perhaps one of the most widely respected Republicans beyond GOP circles, had no other reason for his endorsement of Barack Obama for Pres. last Fall than race.  He repeated that recently and Powell told Republicans that Rush is a poison to their party.  So, in endorsing Rush over Powell–and questioning whether Powell was still a Republican–was Cheney also claiming that Powell had been motivated strictly by race in his late Fall endorsement of Obama? (Remember, grassroots Republicans tried to draft Powell as a presidential candidate in 2000.  Had they succeeded, they might have had a black presidential nominee BEFORE the Democrats.  Among young Republicans and conservative independents I know, Powell is their favorite Republican.)

Still, agreeing with a radio loudmouth that a former 4 star general (one who served for years in Vietnam while both Cheney and Rush, huge supporters of that war in theory, sought and received numerous deferments), former Chair of the Joint Chiefs under both a Republican and Democratic administration, and former Secretary of State is a black racist doesn’t AUTOMATICALLY make Cheney himself racist–just a fool. 

So, are their other indications that Cheney is racially prejudiced?  Well, in 1986, Cheney, then a Rep. from Wyoming, voted AGAINST a Congressional resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa. Cheney, like Pres. Ronald Reagan, supported the deeply racist SA Pres. P.W. Botha and considered Mandela a terrorist.  (In 1986, Botha ordered the bombing of the headquarters of the South African Council of Churches, but MANDELA was a terrorist?) 

Cheney also voted against making Martin Luther King’s birthday a  holiday when he  was a Republican Congressman (1979). He voted against Head Start which, though facially race neutral, helps out African-Americans and Latino children disproportionately because they are more likely to come from the impoverished backgrounds that need the extra help to be ready for Kindergarten. (It is significant that Rep. Linda Chavez (D-CA), the first Head Start grad to become a sitting member of Congress, is also sometimes mentioned as a possible Obama nominee to the Supreme Court. Would Cheney have apoplexy?)

Cheney has generally hated the press.  He has given more interviews since leaving the Vice Presidency than in his  entire career as a legislative aid,  Deputy Chief of Staff for the Ford White House (during which time he tried to get the DoJ to perform the kinds of illegalities it eventually got caught doing under Ashcroft and Gonzalez–which always led me to think Cheney was behind it all), 5 term Republican Congressman from WY, Secretary of Defense for George H.W. Bush or VP under Bush II.  So, there’s not a lot of verbal record to compare and say conclusively that Cheney is a racist.  But neither is there anything in the record to refute the claim.  The evidence is slim, but it all points one way.

We might add one more piece of evidence:  Cheney’s endorsement of the “Shock and Awe” strategy in the Iraq war–his complete disregard for civilian life.  (Bush I had to reign him in during Gulf War I and insist on the standards of international law.) Was this because Iraquis are generally darker skinned?  Would Cheney have endorsed such tactics if the U.S. was at war with a white majority society like France? (Some would say that Cheney only cares about his own life.) This, too, is not conclusive.

But I think the evidence is definitely starting to pile up that Dick Cheney is a racist bigot.

May 11, 2009 Posted by | prejudice, race, tradition, U.S. politics | 24 Comments

Progressive Christianity Today

Progressive Christianity is a movement within Christianity that is willing to question tradition (both traditional practices  and traditional beliefs). If progressive Christians reaffirm a particular traditional belief or practice, it is after having wrestled with it; it’s affirmations are post-critical, not pre-critical and never with unquestioning acceptance.  Progressive Christian faith embraces doubt and ambiguity.  It accepts human diversity:  intentionally building racial/ethnic and economic diversity into its congregations. It also embraces diversity of sexual orientation.  Progressive Christians firmly defend religious liberty and church-state separation and they are committed to social acceptance and partnership with persons of other faiths. (Progressive Christians differ among themselves as to evangelism, the possibility of salvation in other faiths, and related questions, but they are united in working for social equality and tolerance among differing religions.  In other words, whatever the make-up of any heavenly city, the peace of the earthly cities demands respect for alien belief systems–or,  at least, for the persons who hold those belief systems.)

Progressive Christians have a strong emphasis on social and economic justice and care for the poor and oppressed and marginalized.  They also have a strong ecological emphasis:  a focus on care for the Creation.  For Progressive Christians, the life of Jesus as a model for discipleship, and the teachings of Jesus (especially the Sermon on the Mount) are at least as central salvifically as his death and resurrection. This leads them to an ethic that emphasizes love, compassion, promoting justice and mercy and to social action to end poverty, discrimination, and heal the earth of human-caused environmental degradation.  It also leads to work for peace in the world and many progressive Christians are complete pacifists.

The majority of Progressive Christians today fully accept biological evolution as completely compatible with their faith.  Many are deeply influenced by process philosophies and theologies.

Progressive Christianity is largely a movement within Protestantism, but it also embraces a significant minority of Catholics who have been shaped by the emphases of the Second Vatican Council.  (As such, progressive Catholics have found themselves on the defensive  as first Pope John  Paul II and now, even more, Pope Benedict XIII, have rolled back the progressive changes that sprang from Vatican II and are reaffirming a traditional, authoritarian Catholicism.) It is a diverse movement:  Many of its most prominent leaders come from the liberal strands of mainline (now oldline) Protestantism, but it also has roots in 19th C. evangelicalism (which led the movements to abolish slavery and child labor, the first modern feminist movement, peace and anti-imperialism).  Other roots for contemporary Progressive Christianity include the Social Gospel (late 19th/early 20th C.), mid-20th C. Neo-Orthodoxy, various liberation theologies.  It includes the rediscovery of the vibrant dimensions of 16th C. Anabaptists and overlaps the “emergent church” movement within contemporary evangelicalism.

Regular readers of this blog will quickly realize that I consider myself a progressive Christian.  I am a Baptist who draws more from the Anabaptist side of my tradition than from the Puritan side or the later Revivalist strain.  I come from within American evangelicalism and still embrace the best of evangelical Christianity:  deep biblical literacy (increasingly absent in Christians of all stripes, sadly) and a reverence for the Bible’s position as Scripture  and Canon–though rejecting “inerrancy” theories. I also celebrate the traditional evangelical emphasis on conversion (personal, communal, societal) and the need for new birth, but reject the common idea that this makes discipleship optional.  My own doctrinal convictions are more traditional than many other  progressive Christians: I can affirm the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed without crossing my fingers and my mental footnotes are few. (However, I  share the traditional Baptist aversions to creeds as tests of orthodoxy, much less as infallible statements.  All statements of faith, or confessions of faith, are human and limited and flawed and must be open to revision.) I have been far more influenced by Neo-Orthodox  and Liberation theologies than by theological  liberalism–though I have dialogue partners among the liberals.  More than most white Christians in the Anglo-American world, I have been deeply influenced by the Black Church and African-American and Latin American liberation theologies. (African and Asian liberation theologies have played a much smaller role, though I continue to try to broaden my exposure to them, as well as Afro-Caribbean liberation theologies.) I was raised by a feminist mother and married a woman Baptist minister and one of my favorite  theology teachers is a feminist theologian–and all this has had an impact on me, too.

Progressive Christians are not all liberal or progressive in politics, but most are.  I am a democratic socialist in political philosophy–and find the idea that Barack Obama is a socialist to be laughable.  (In fact, I think that Obama’s economics are not much more progressive than Bill Clinton’s–except on financial regulation and certainly not as progressive as FDR, LBJ, Bobby or Ted Kennedy.  His foreign policy is also very Clintonian, not even as progressive as Jimmy Carter’s– a LONG way from anything a democratic socialist would embrace.  As with FDR and LBJ, contextual matters and people movements may push Obama into a more progressive stance than his cautious self would otherwise embrace–on a range of issues.  And the rightwing fearmongers who use “socialism” as a swear word may push him and the country into a more progressive stance  than if they had cooperated with his initial modest reforms.  But no one who has any notion of what socialism, even in democratic form, is could ever label Obama as a “socialist.” It’s laughable.)

For those who would like to explore Progressive Christianity further, here are some links:


For the most part, these days debates between conservative, traditionalist forms of Christianity and progressive ones go on WITHIN denominations  rather than between them.  Most denominations have conservative and progressive wings.  There are exceptions: The Southern Baptist Convention managed to expel  its progressives and most of its centrists or “moderates” during its internal feud in the 1980s and early ’90s.  The Missouri Synod Lutherans did the same in the 1970s.  Other examples could be multiplied.  The  following U.S. denominations are ones where at least 70% of leadership and membership is progressive.

  • The Alliance of BaptistsThis is a small network of progressive Baptist Christians (individuals and congregations) seeking to respond to the call of God in a rapidly changing world.  It began in 1984 as “The Southern Baptist Alliance,” the first organized resistance movement to takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention by fundamentalists. (I was a charter member of the student branch of the SBA at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1986.) Originally, it was dominated by centrists, but as the SBC purge began in earnest most self-described “moderates” ( a term which always struck me as a synonym for “lukewarm”) formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1994.  Many Alliance congregations are also CBF churches, and other Alliance churches are also aligned with the American Baptist Churches, USA (contemporary form of the old Nothern Baptist Convention).  The Alliance of Baptists is the newest member body of the National Council of Churches of Christ, USA, the mainline ecumenical body.  We were sponsored by two other progressive denominations, the United Church of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with whom we often partner in mission work.
  • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  In the 19th C., the American frontier experience gave birth to a renewal movement led by Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone that hoped to Restore New Testament Christianity in pristine condition. It also hoped to heal denominational divisions by rejecting creeds and holding only to the final authority of the New Testament (never realizing that it was reading the NT through a particular lense shaped by Scottish Common Sense philosophy and the American frontier experience).  These Restorationists broke into  several groups and the Disciples became the progressive denomination of the Restoration or Stone-Campbell movement.
  • Church of the Brethren.  Originating in 18th C. Germany and originally called the “Dunkers,” the Church of the Brethren was formed by the creative merging of Anabaptist (German Mennonite) and Pietist theologies.  Despite the name, the CoB have long ordained women.  They retain the pacifism of their Anabaptist roots and an orientation toward service.
  • Episcopal Church, U.S.AThis is the U.S. branch of the global Anglican communion and, of course,  it has its traditionalist side.  But in recent years, the progressives have led the Episcopal Church. It was the first Anglican communion to ordain  women and has become the first one to consecrate an openly gay priest as bishop. (Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire.)
  • Friends United MeetingThis is the largest of Quaker denominations in the U.S. and includes both progressives and traditionalists, but even most traditional Quakers are progressive Christians.
  • Metropolitan Community ChurchesThis denomination was founded by Rev. Troy Perry in the 1970s as the first denomination to be fully inclusive of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender persons.  The MCC’s members are mostly GLBT folk, but also friends and families that do not feel accepted in other denominations.
  • Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of FriendsThis is the most progressive branch of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
  • United Church of Christ.  The UCC comes from the liberal end of the Reformed tradition. It is a 1957 merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church with the Congregationalist Christian Churches.  Both those were the result of earlier mergers:  The Evangelical and Reformed Church was the combination of two immigrant (ethnic German) denominations which had used the Heidelberg Catechism as a mediating stance between Lutherans and Calvinists:  The German Evangelical  Synod and the Reformed Church in the United States.  The Congregational Christian Churches was a merger of Congregationalists (descendants of the Puritans and Pilgrims) with a minority of independent Christian (Stone-Campbell) congregations. 

Denominations with Strong Progressive Wings:  These denominations are not as fully progressive as are the ones listed above. But in each of these denominations, the progressive wing at least approaches 50% of the denomination. 

  • African Methodist Episcopal (AME) ChurchAfrican Methodist Episcopal Church-ZionBoth these Methodist/Wesleyan denominations were formed by African-Americans during the days when slavery was legal in the United States because they refused to be treated as second class Christians in the white Methodist congregations.  Both the AME and AME Zion denominations have always been strong social progressives and rich sources of Black liberation theology.
  • American Baptist Churches in the USAThe contemporary form of the old Northern Baptist Convention, the American Baptists have always had strong leaders in progressive theology, but have always also had a strong traditional, evangelical wing.  The mix has often been unstable and various conservative groups have split off of the ABC through the years while others have remained within the ABC and formed their own seminaries. 
  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA)Formed in 1988 by a merger of three Lutheran denominations  which had previously been divided mostly by immigrant/ethnic history: The American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and the Lutheran Church in America.   The ELCA has strong traditionalist features, but also many progressive leaders and congregations.
  • International Council of Community Churches (ICCC)The Community Church movement has always represented Christians who are ecumenical and freedom-minded. In 1950, two networks of such community churches, one predominantly white and the other African-American, united to form the ICCC.  The ICCC stresses racial reconciliation, equality of the sexes in all aspects of church life, ecumenical Christian witness, and unity within diversity in the Body of Christ.  Publishes the Inclusive Pulpit. The ICCC is a member communion of the National Council  of Churches, the World Council  of Churches, and Churches Uniting in Christ.
  • Presbyterian Church (USA).  This is the mainline branch of Presbyterianism in the U.S. (There are more conservative branches.) Rooted in the 16th C. Reformed tradition (Zwingli, Calvin, etc.) as mediated through the Scottish Reformation of John Knox, and the English Westminster divines, Presbyterianism in the U.S. has played a major part in the nation’s history.  The PCUSA is about evenly divided between progressives and traditionalists.
  • The Reformed Church in America. Originating as an immigrant denomination of mostly Dutch and Swiss Calvinists, the RCA is increasingly multi-racial and multi-ethnic and represents the more progressive of the non-Presbyterian Reformed denominations in the U.S.  (The Christian Reformed Church has a similar Dutch Calvinist background, but is much more conservative.) The RCA is more progressive on social and political matters than on theological  ones in which it is fairly traditional, bound by the historic ecumenical creeds of early Christendom (Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian) and by several 16th C. Reformed Confessions of Faith.
  • The United Methodist Church was formed by the reuniting of the Methodist Church with the United Evangelical Brethren.  This followed a previous (1939) merger of Methodist Episcopal Church  and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, which had been severed by the U.S. Civil War.  Today, the UMC is a global denomination in the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition.  Since the early 20th C., it has rotated between periods when its progressive wing was strongest and others when its conservative evangelical wing was strongest.  Today these seem balanced, but also in very uneasy tension.  As my friend, UMC minister Jonathan Marlowe, points out, today’s UMC also contains severe criticisms of progressive Christianity by “postliberals,” something that is also true  in other denominations.

In future posts, I will link to some major organizations and representative individuals in the Progressive Christian movement in the U.S.  However, this is not just a U.S. or North American phenomenon. I invite readers from other nations to email me with their impressions of the shape of progressive Christianity in their respective nations. I think that is better than an American (me) outlining my perspective on progressive Christianity elsewhere, don’t you?

It is worth repeating at the conclusion:  Many Christians who are quite traditional or conservative in matters of doctrine or church practice are liberal or progressive (or socialist or revolutionary, etc.) in matters of politics.  Likewise, many Christians who are theologically progressive or liberal are centrist or conservative in politics or economics, etc.  The idea that these line up in a neatly predictable fashion is wrong.  I am centrist in doctrinal matters, but progressive in social and political matters. (In my progressive congregation, among those with theological training, I am considered “square” doctrinally, but few are to the left of me politically–as just one example.)

March 22, 2009 Posted by | Christianity, progressive faith, theology, tradition | 9 Comments

20th C. Shapers of Baptist Social Ethics: Chapter by Chapter

Longtime readers may remember my book review of  Twentieth-Century Shapers of Baptist Social Ethics, ed. Larry L. McSwain and Wm. Loyd Allen (Mercer University Press, 2008).  If not, read it here.   Because of my intense desire to give a different picture of the Baptist tradition (which turns 400 in 2009) than that promoted by fundamentalists and the Religious Right, I have decided to review each chapter of this edited work, separately. This will give mini-profiles of some very important Baptist thinkers and activists of recent history while also assessing the adequacy of the analyses offered in these pages, following the order of the McSwain/Allen volume.

I have already expressed disappointment at some of those left out, so I will follow this series with a series of profiles on figures I would like to see in any kind of sequel to this volume.    I hope readers will not see this as overly provincial.  I have great respect for many Christian traditions outside my own (Baptist) one:  I have taught briefly at 3 different Catholic institutions, one Presbyterian institution, and have been a Visiting Professor at a multi-denominational Evangelical seminary.  I have also been on staff of one ecumenical and one interfaith peace group.  My influences include Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim thinkers, as well as some who profess no religious faith.  My global prayer partners include a Palestinian Jesuit and a Palestinian Baptist, a Pentecostal theologian trying to revive the pacifist roots of his denomination, several Mennonites, 2 Quakers, lots of Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, a Moravian couple, many non-denominational Christians, several Anglican/Episcopalian folk, people in various branches of the Stone-Campbell movement (especially, but not only, liberal Disciples), and a Greek Orthodox priest.

But I deeply value the historic strengths of my particular (Baptist) branch of the Body of Christ and I hate the distortions in the popular mind caused by right-wing, fundamentalist pseudo-Baptists.  So, blogging on this is one way that I can help correct these distortions (and keeps me from worrying that I will wake up to find that the auto industry in the U.S. has either been destroyed or that it’s “salvation” has been purchased at the cost of destroying organized Labor).  I’ll begin with the first chapter, tomorrow.

December 17, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, Christianity, church history, ethics, tradition | 3 Comments

Invitation to Guest Series: Recovering Neglected Theologians

Okay, theology bloggers.  I hereby invite entries for a series of guest posts on Recovering Neglected Theologians.  What theologian (perhaps especially from your own denomination or theological tradition) has lapsed into obscurity–or is in danger of such–and deserves to be more widely read and appreciated–and why? Each entry should be submitted to my email. I will go to several theo-blogs and biblio-blogs and invite people to participate, but don’t wait for an invitation if you are interested.

For the purposes of this series, we can define “theologian” rather broadly: Not just academics who teach/have taught systematic theology (dogmatics, constructive theology), but also pastor theologians if they have a body of publications and have been influential beyond their local congregation.  Biblical scholars count if they attempt biblical theology instead of only writing as historians or philologists or archeologists or literary critics.  Likewise, with church historians who write as historical theologians (e.g. Jaraslov Pelikan, Geoffrey Bromiley, Justo Gonzalez, Timothy George, etc.) instead of simply as antiquarians or social historians.

I strongly believe in interfaith dialogue, but for this series, I am not interested in submissions about non-Christian theologians. This is to be an in-house discussion among Christians, although interested outside observers are always welcome.

Each entry should name the neglected theologian, describe their work and context in 2-4 brief paragraphs, and say why you think said person should be rediscovered by the Church universal or even by those in her or his own tradition who are now neglicting her or him.  I have in mind primarily figures from 19th C. onward (the modern and “postmodern” eras), but will take entries from the 2nd C. onward throughout the history of the Church and in any cultural or denominational context.

This was inspired by Ben Myers’ series a few years ago, “For the Love of God,” and by some recent reading I’ve been doing. I hope entries will be lively, humorous, and upbeat–the intention is not to put down others as we build up our neglected favorites.  Even the most influential theologians (e.g., the Cappadocians or John of Damascus in the Eastern Churches, Augustine, Thomas, Calvin, Wesley, Barth, etc. in the West) go through periods of neglect–and sometimes periods of revival. The “revivals” can take a “fundamentalist” form (for lack of a better term) in which one tries to simply demand that the church today believe every word of said bygone saint or creative retrievals in which certain features of said theologian’s work are highlighted and reexamined in light of new challenges in new contexts. It will come as no surprise that I think the latter is more fruitful.

I hope this will be fun and profitable. If I participate myself, it will be after others have taken the lead–giving readers a break from my voice all the time on this blog.

UPDATE: Please, do NOT use the comments section to ask me about certain theologians. Just submit an entry to my email. Try for 1,500 to 2000 words as a rough length.  It’s not up to ME to judge if so-and-so neglected theologian is worthy of recovery. YOU who submit entries will make that judgment–and give an argument for why they need to be recovered to readers of Levellers–and your own blogs if you reprint them. Clear?

August 1, 2008 Posted by | church history, testimony, theology, tradition | 12 Comments

Index of Posts on Theological Mentors

Since I have now been blogging long enough that more than 100,000 people have visited this site (something I still find amazing), I am going to create some indices of popular series I have done for the benefit of new readers. This will enable me to refocus for new efforts, such as continuing my case for GLBT inclusion in churches (with a single-standard sexual ethic), etc. This is stock-taking.

Realizing that we all stand in particular traditions, I have written a fairly popular series on my theological mentors–one that I may soon resume.

  1. The late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder (1927-1997).
  2. Baptist ethicist and peacemaker, Glen H. Stassen (1936-).
  3. My eldest daughter’s namesake, Baptist theologian and seminary president, Molly T. Marshall.
  4. Baptist historian and mystic, E. Glenn Hinson.
  5. The late Baptist theologian James Wm. McClendon, Jr. (1924-2000).
  6. The late philosopher and French Reformed Christian Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005).
  7. Baptist philosophical theologian Dan R. Stiver.

Well, this is obviously incomplete and I clearly haven’t added to it recently. I need to write posts on my college NT. prof., Craig Blomberg, on George R. Beasley-Murray, Clarence Jordan, Henlee Barnette, Dorothy Day, Letty Russell, Paul Fiddes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., J. Deotis Roberts, Muriel Lester, Walter Brueggemann, Daniel Berrigan, S.J., & William Stringfellow. At least.  (I have written on some of these, but not as personal mentors.) I hope people continue to enjoy this series.

July 14, 2008 Posted by | heroes, mentors, theology, tradition | 7 Comments

Encountering Tradition

I have mentioned that Ben Myers has been hosting a series of guest posts called “Encounters with Tradition” over at his Faith and Theology blog. The series is by and about Christians who have moved from one tradition to another. Well my contribution, “Becoming a Global Baptist,” is now up.  To see all the entries to date, click here.

June 28, 2007 Posted by | Baptists, Christianity, testimony, tradition | Comments Off on Encountering Tradition

2 New Series on Tradition

Two new series are beginning in the blogosphere that will help us understand theological traditions better, one hopes.  Over on Ben Myers’ great Faith and Theology blog, he is beginning a new series called “Encounters with Tradition.” Guest bloggers will contribute who have moved from one Christian tradition to another (i.e., Catholic to Protestant, Protestant to Eastern Orthodox, etc.) and thus encountered the traditioning process differently than those who have remained in the traditions in which they were born and raised.

And on the group blog, Mainstream Baptists, I have begun a series highlighting influential Baptists from around the world, so that we U.S. Baptists begin to have a more global picture of our tradition, to see “being Baptist” in more multicultural terms. 

If either of these series interests you, I hope you’ll give them a look from time to time.

May 28, 2007 Posted by | blogs, theology, tradition | 1 Comment