And the winners are…?

Cover ArtCongrats to Dustin T, Brian R, and Spencer C, who each won a copy of The Gospel according to Heretics, by David Wilhite.

You will each be contacted to arrange shipment.

Beyond the Book – Defining Heresy (and Orthodoxy)

BeyondTheBookBA

Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month David Wilhite discusses the development of orthodox Christology in light of early heretical movements.

***Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of his book The Gospel according to Heretics. The winners will be announced at the end of the month, and you can enter here.***

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From a historian’s vantage point it is obvious that orthodoxy was not a pre-packaged set of doctrines. This is not news, but it needs to be clarified. J.N.D. Kelly describes Christianity on the eve of the Council of Chalcedon (451) in ways that could probably be applied to many other contexts, “The Church at this epoch was feeling its way towards a balanced Christology.”

Many Christians would wish to exchange Kelly’s “feeling its way” language, which sounds too much like unguided groping in the dark, for a more pious description: the Spirit leads the church into all truth (John 14:17). Nevertheless, whether one sees this as a quest or a guided tour, the attempt to express Truth doctrinally, it must be admitted, was the practice of a pilgrim church, a people of “the Way” (Acts 24:14). The doctrinal formulations never were clearly articulated in a primal creed, catechism, or Summa by Jesus or his original followers. Instead, orthodoxy as doctrinal proposition is a response to heresy.

Cover ArtEven ancient writers admitted to this way of thinking about orthodoxy. In a mock dialogue between an “Orthodox” (dyophysite) and a heretic, Theodoret has the protagonist back the antagonist into a corner, so that the heretic has to change his preferred terminology. When the Orthodox protagonist outs the heretic for the semantic flip-flop, we hear the following admission from the heretic: “The struggle with our adversaries forces me to do this.” The Orthodox, it turns out, agrees and does the same: “What you say is true, for it is what we say, or rather what everyone says who has preserved the apostolic rule intact” (Eranistes 2). In other words, theological terms, statements, and doctrines develop over time and in response to other terms, statements and doctrines.

While this book is focused on “heretics,” the nagging question throughout is what is the definition and criterion for orthodoxy. Several things need to be said about this (see both the intro and the conclusion), but for now we can note that Christian orthodoxy, in terms of doctrine, is something that emerges in response to its structural other, heresy.

While such a notion will be controversial in some circles, I would like to table the debate for one moment in order to identify one surprising effect of studying heresy. In presenting heretics from the first eight centuries of Christianity in this book, I frequently had to offer the rationale of the heretics’ opponents, the orthodox. Therefore, this book ended up explaining many classical Christian doctrines that are often misunderstood, if not maligned, today, such as the pre-existence of Christ, the incarnation, the Chalcedonian Definition, and the divine attributes (immutability, impassibility, etc.).

While the audience is not asked to agree with either the heretics or their opponents, both sides are presented on their own terms so as to provide a more informed understanding of their theological developments. Augustine would say it more strongly: “The rejection of heretics brings into relief what your Church holds and what sound doctrine maintains” (Confessions 7.19.25).

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David E. Wilhite (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is associate professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University. He is the author of Tertullian the African: An Anthropological Reading of Tertullian’s Context and Identities and coauthor of The Church: A Guide for the Perplexed. He is the coeditor of Tertullian and Paul and The Apostolic Fathers and Paul in the Pauline and Patristic Scholars in Debate series.

Beyond the Book – Later “Heresies” and Schisms

BeyondTheBookBA

Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month David Wilhite discusses the development of orthodox Christology in light of early heretical movements.

**Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of his book The Gospel according to Heretics. The winners will be announced at the end of the month, and you can enter here.**

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Whereas the first five chapters of my book are devoted to early Christological heresies, the last few chapters continue to explore “heresies” (now an unacceptable label) that survive to this day.

Some of the early heretical groups, such as the Marcionites, Ebionites, and Gnostics (all of which are problematic categories), call into question the nature of early Christianity itself. Just how diverse was it? Can any of these groups claim a legitimate line to the original Jesus community? Etc., etc.

Cover ArtThen, there are groups like the modalists and the “Arians” (more problematic categories), which had largely moved past some of these foundational questions, and instead raised questions about how the various Christian teachings fit together. Is there more than one God? Is Jesus the one God in the flesh? Etc., etc.

All of these are treated as Christological controversies in the early Christian sources, but then, after these questions are largely settled, new Christological debates emerge.

When we turn to Apollinaris, who himself was responding to Arius, we mark a turning point in theological history. Apollinaris (allegedly) taught that the Word of God came in the flesh, but was not fully human. Christ had no human soul, or at least no rational mind (depending on the source), but instead he was merely God tabernacled in human flesh (cf. John 1:14).

Apollinaris marks a turning point because his is the last major heresy treated in this book eventually abandoned by all as untenable. Even the later Alexandrian tradition which wished to stress the oneness and the divinity of Christ in the flesh would reject Apollinarianism because it makes Jesus’ human experience a farce.

The alternatives to Apollinarianism, however, have their own problems, or at least they will prove less than persuasive. What we will see, therefore, is that none of the post-Apollinarian options can claim absolute victory. The Nestorian option (chapter seven) will be denounced by the Christian empire, but the so-called Nestorian church, the Church of the East – as it calls itself, will thrive for generations even until the present.

The Monophysite option (chapter eight) will likewise continue in sectors outside of Byzantine control, such as Egypt’s Coptic Church that is still active today. The Chalcedonian option, known to Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant Christians simply as orthodoxy (see conclusion) will claim a clear majority, but it cannot claim to be unrivaled nor to be the only truly Christian option.

What to make of all this is beyond the scope of this book, since my primary aim has been a historical investigation. Nevertheless, these historical schisms raise questions for our present situation, especially at a time when these Oriental Orthodox communities are coming into our western Christian conscience more and more due to the political upheaval in the Middle East. Any present dialogue will need to be well informed by the history, and it is a history rooted in the Christological debates themselves. In my conclusions, therefore, I offer some possible ways to think of “heresy” and schism in terms of historical theology.

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David E. Wilhite (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is associate professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University. He is the author of Tertullian the African: An Anthropological Reading of Tertullian’s Context and Identities and coauthor of The Church: A Guide for the Perplexed. He is the coeditor of Tertullian and Paul and The Apostolic Fathers and Paul in the Pauline and Patristic Scholars in Debate series.

Beyond the Book – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

BeyondTheBookBA

Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month David Wilhite discusses the development of orthodox Christology in light of early heretical movements.

*Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of his book The Gospel according to Heretics. The winners will be announced at the end of the month, and you can enter here.*

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Is Christianity a heretical sect that broke from Judaism? Or, did the religion of Israel effectively end with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, resulting in two sister religions? Questions about the parting of the ways have proved to be some of the most difficult in the field of early Christian studies. Two heresies in particular bring this question to the forefront: the Marcionites and the Ebionites.

Marcion (allegedly) denounced the God of the Old Testament; thereby rejecting the Jewish scriptures, and sharply dividing Christianity from Judaism. Marcion’s teachings, therefore, represent a form of supersessionism. Marcion’s opponents, however, accept that Jesus is Yahweh incarnate who fulfills the Law both physically and spiritually, so that Yahweh’s word in the Old Testament must be embraced as well (e.g. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho).

Cover ArtGod’s people were to offer clean hands and a pure heart; the circumcision was always to be understood as indicating a circumcision of the heart; the whole nation of Israel itself was to be a kingdom of priests, for not all Israel according to the flesh is truly Israel. The key in all of these interpretations is to listen to the Word of God, whether he spoke to the prophets of old or in the flesh.

No supersessionist reading is permissible in light of the belief that there is but one God whose fullness is revealed in Christ. Marcion’s allowance for the Creator to be “superseded” by a second god, Christ, results in a radical departure from what the majority of Christians had known in their faith and practice. In this light, Christology and Christianity as a religion were understood very differently by most early Christians: Christianity is not merely a sect within Judaism, although it was so according to a sociological model; it is an affirmation of the God of Judaism, now said to be known in Christ. That at least is the response to Marcion. What about the Ebionites?

The Ebionites (allegedly) taught that Jesus was a godly prophet. God in a sense adopted Jesus as a son. After Jesus was crucified, God raised him, carried him to heaven, and seated him in the seat of honor. But Jesus was not God. Ironically, even though the Ebionites differed drastically from Marcion by adhering to the Old Testament, they still made the same mistake as Marcion by saying that Jesus was not the Creator-God. Marcion thought the Creator was evil, but that Jesus was a different God. The Ebionites believed the Creator was good, but that Jesus was merely a man.

The Ebionites’ opponents rejected this adoptionistic Christology (real or rumored), along with its implications about the religion of Israel. For the wider Christian movement – even though it consisted mostly of “gentiles,” Jesus fulfills the Law (Matt. 5:17) because he is “more than” a mere prophet or earthly king (Matt. 12:41-42). The LORD himself promised to save us in person (e.g. Isaiah 49:7-26), and Jesus saves because Jesus is LORD (Phil. 2:11).

One last point that can only be mentioned here: a parallel set of questions will arise in the sixth century with the emergence of Islam. How did the earliest Christians and Muslims understand each other in terms of their religion? That is a question that is addressed in the tenth chapter of this work, and the answers given by Christians at that time were far different than the way most Christians think of Muslims today.

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David E. Wilhite (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is associate professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University. He is the author of Tertullian the African: An Anthropological Reading of Tertullian’s Context and Identities and coauthor of The Church: A Guide for the Perplexed. He is the coeditor of Tertullian and Paul and The Apostolic Fathers and Paul in the Pauline and Patristic Scholars in Debate series.

Beyond the Book – The Gospel and Heresy

BeyondTheBookBA

Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month David Wilhite discusses the development of orthodox Christology in light of early heretical movements.

Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of his book The Gospel according to Heretics. The winners will be announced at the end of the month, and you can enter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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The “Gospel according to…” theme stems back to the earliest collections of Gospel texts. The fact that there were four canonical Gospels, and the fact that readers had to understand that any one “Gospel” had to be clarified as “according to” someone in particular, bothered some ancient Christians.

Around 170 a Christian writer named Tatian called into to question the validity of having multiple Gospels – after all, could not God have given one authorized version? – and in order to solve the problem Tatian created a sort of “Super-Gospel” (called the Diatesseron) which harmonized all four. To be sure, Tatian was not the first or only Christian to see the Gospels as texts that could be reworked, but for now let us acknowledge that, unlike Tatian, most early Christians saw no problem with the “according to” aspect of “the Gospel.” For the majority of Christian tradition, any retelling or recording of “The Gospel” will always be a version “according to” someone. Jesus apparently set up what we call evangelism (notice the borrowed Greek word for “Gospel,” euangelion; i.e. “Gospelization”) so that the Good News would be dispersed in this “according to” strategy (see Acts 1:8). The Gospel would always be according to various witnesses.

Cover ArtThe four canonical Gospels were not the only ones, and beyond Gospel texts there were numerous expressions of the Good News of Jesus Christ, such as oral proclamation, letters, and apocalyptic literature.

But what about the so-called heretics, who may or may not have written a Gospel text, but who nevertheless always had their own particular understanding of the Gospel? My book is an attempt to hear what the heretics preached about Jesus.

 What if the “orthodox” version of the story has misled us? What if people like Arius were misrepresented and maligned? What if the Gnostics were not wolf-like philosophers in sheep’s clothing, but well intended disciples who utilized a different conceptual and imaginative approach to their theology? I could go on and on with such What-ifs.

These questions are not simply intellectual gymnastics, much less are they conspiracy theories in the making. The best historical studies of the last century have found evidence to suggest that our understanding of the “heretics” is so one sided as to need revising. This book is an attempt to take this scholarly reassessment seriously. Such reassessment has been done extensively for each individual heresy, but a study of the various unorthodox alternatives that shaped traditional Christian thinking offers those who wish to understand their own orthodoxy a more complete picture.

If our orthodoxy was forged in the fires of heretical debate, then we had better understand what these heresies taught. On the other hand, some heresies offered untenable versions of the Gospels. Exactly what was their heresy and why was it untenable is something that I try to unpack fully in the body of this study.

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David E. Wilhite (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is associate professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University. He is the author of Tertullian the African: An Anthropological Reading of Tertullian’s Context and Identities and coauthor of The Church: A Guide for the Perplexed. He is the coeditor of Tertullian and Paul and The Apostolic Fathers and Paul in the Pauline and Patristic Scholars in Debate series.

Beyond the Book – “Beyond the Surf in Santa Barbara”

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Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month Charles Farhadian discusses the importance of studying world religions, and reflects on what we can gain by learning to see life from another perspective.

Our giveaway for September ended Tuesday night. Congrats to Corey P, Jason G, and Andrew H. You will each be contacted to arrange shipping.

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Jurgen Habermas just couldn’t deny it, even after wishing it to be otherwise. What captured his attention in his lifelong intellectual journey was the persistence of religion. Habermas’ term, “post-secular” (also used by Charles Taylor), conveyed his recognition that both religion and secularism were gaining ground. In his appraisal of religion Habermas argued, in fact, that religions help us to look beyond ourselves for rescue, from ourselves, our human predicament, and even our natural world. In Habermas’ words, “Among the modern societies, only those that are able to introduce into the secular domain the essential contents of their religious traditions which point beyond the merely human realm will also be able to rescue the substance of the human.”

Where I live, in Santa Barbara, a town with less than 100,000 residents, lie a plethora of religions, beyond the beach and mountain culture that attracts people from around the world to surf, paddle board, kayak, bike, and hike. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Church of Scientology, Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other religious traditions have a brick-and-mortar presence that contributes to the Mediterranean architectural landscape.

Cover ArtFurthermore, religious conversion is happening in every direction. Catholics are becoming Pentecostals and then moving to historical Protestant churches. Mainline Protestants are leaving their churches and entering a stream of Hinduism. Some university students are becoming Muslim or members of a Buddhist path. In Santa Barbara, for instance, the Shia Muslim population, the majority of whom trace the history of their immigration to the post-1979 demise of the Shah of Iran, is larger than the Sunni Muslim population. However Shia tend to shy away from the communal Friday prayers. While an elderly World War Two generation of Japanese make up the assembly of Amitabha Buddhist worshipers, Soka Gokkai and zen meditation is populated by converts. Beyond the surf are also ad hoc religious movements that seamlessly blend elements of these many formalized religious traditions.

One of the most significant Hindu temples in North America is located just down the road, a few miles from the iconic beaches of Malibu. The local Vedanta Society consists mostly of American converts, some who were leaders in their mainline Protestant churches but eventually left due to the vapid spirituality they encountered. Greek Orthodox believers worship at Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church. The Antiochian Orthodox church, which has attracted numerous American converts, sits across the street from a Roman Catholic parish, which serves a mostly Hispanic population. The history of Antiochian Orthodox church here is unique in that the church started when the 900-member Campus Crusade movement at University of California Santa Barbara converted en masse into Eastern Orthodoxy. What’s the religious make up of your city?

If you were to dig a bit deeper into these religious assemblies, you would discover that these religions are connected to larger movements that orient believers in several directions at once: to one another, to the natural world, to the Divine, and to a global networks that often span the globe. These orientations provide people with new meaning and direction, motivation and self-understanding. Beyond the surf in Santa Barbara lie religious assemblies oriented through its teaching and learning toward Europe (e.g., Vatican), the Middle East (e.g., Mecca), East Asia (e.g., Japan and China), and South Asia (e.g., India). For this reason, learning about the religions of the world helps us to engage our own localities more deeply as well as to appreciate the global realities represented through these religious traditions.

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Charles E. FarhadianCharles E. Farhadian (PhD, Boston University) is professor of world religions and Christian mission at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is the editor of Introducing World Christianity and Christian Worship Worldwide and coeditor of The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion. He has done fieldwork in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, where he has investigated themes of worship, social history, and nation making.

Beyond the Book – “Three Idiots at the Taj Mahal”

Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month Charles Farhadian discusses the importance of studying world religions, and reflects on what we can gain by learning to see life from another perspective.

Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of his book Introducing World Religions. The winners will be announced at the end of the month.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Breaking all opening box office records at the time of its release in India, the film Three Idiots was a spectacular Bollywood hit worldwide. Three Idiots presents the struggles and antics of three close male classmates as they survive the challenges and humiliations of studying at a prestigious and ruthlessly cutthroat engineering institute in India, mirroring the pressures of student life at the world famous Indian Institutes of Technology.

Cover ArtOne of the “idiots,” first-year student Rancho, captures the attention of the entire student body of engineers when he outsmarts upper-class students and, eventually, even the headmaster. Rancho’s endearing qualities of self-sacrifice, wisdom, and love for the two other “idiots,” amaze his peers, who have no category for someone with such great brilliance, inspiration, sagacity, and love. It is clear. Rancho is a redemptive character. He’s a savior. His role is to restore and guide the other two “idiots.”

Students in my Theology in Film course chose Three Idiots as their favorite film of the many international films we watched over a semester. Students laughed and cried as they watched the three-hour film that featured Bollywood dancing, upbeat songs, and tales of love and loss and a kind of redemption they thought they recognized. Students remarked that Rancho was a Christ-like character, since he saved others and was referred to by the other “idiots” as “His Holiness Guru Rancho.” Everyone seemed to agree – Rancho was like Christ.

Fair enough. But what struck me was that students were bringing their own perceptual grid, intellectual and narrative framework, to their analysis of the film. I teach at a Christian college, and the majority of my students are Christian, so the “Christ-like” interpretation was not surprising. Most of my students have inherited Christian categories. However, when I pointed out that perhaps Rancho was not a Christ-like character, but rather probably a Krishna-like character, I had to unpack that statement for those without knowledge of Hindu tradition. Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, comes to earth to save when truth and wisdom have been lost. Whether or not the Rancho character was intentionally created as a Krishna-like persona, the class discussion reminded me of the importance of trying to see the world through others’ perspectives. At the least, learning about other perspectives adds richness to our lives and opens up the world in new ways.

A few years ago I led students on an educational trip to India, where we visited the famous Taj Mahal. While standing on the footsteps of the Taj Mahal with my students, two muscular Indian guys approached our group. They seemed friendly enough but I wanted to make sure so I struck up a conversation with them. I invited them to be in a photo with some of our group, and they complied without hesitation. Before I captured the photo I thought I’d go out on a limb. I yelled, “Hey, you look like idiots,” thinking I would either be pummeled or we’d all have a good laugh. Thankfully, we all laughed. They got it. We got it. And I took the photo at the height of our laughter.

Learning about other cultures and religions opens us up to the world and each other; it allows us to share in other’s joys and sorrows. That day, on the steps of the Taj Mahal, we enjoyed brief friendship and mutual connectedness. That connection began with viewing a film and learning something about Hindu tradition. We have everything to gain by learning to see life from another perspective. We might be surprised how enjoyable that encounter can be.

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Charles E. FarhadianCharles E. Farhadian (PhD, Boston University) is professor of world religions and Christian mission at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is the editor of Introducing World Christianity and Christian Worship Worldwide and coeditor of The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion. He has done fieldwork in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, where he has investigated themes of worship, social history, and nation making.

And the winners are…?

Cover ArtCongrats to Brian L, Aaron R, and Christopher J, who each won a copy of Fieldwork in Theology, by Christian Scharen.

You will each be contacted to arrange shipment.

 

Beyond the Book – “Critiquing”

BeyondTheBookBA

Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month Christian Scharen reflects on issues of race and justice, and argues that theology does (and must!) have something to say about the pressing concerns of contemporary society.

**Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of his book Fieldwork in Theology. The winners will be announced at the end of the month, and you can enter here.**

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BtB 4Like most of America, a year ago in August of 2014 I was trying to make sense of the uprising in Ferguson Missouri. Tensions were high, with large groups of mostly African-American protesters in the streets each night and squads of mostly white militarized police seeking to keep control. Part of what was disturbing was, of course, recognition of a persistent pattern of disproportionate police violence towards African Americans. But also disturbing to me was the huge disparity between how my white friends and family viewed the police and how my African Americans friends and colleagues did.

At the time, a Pew survey reported, that overall Americans were split on whether Blacks and other minorities receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system. However, the Pew survey and other similar surveys found that when the population is broken down into white and non-white, the disparity is stark, with nearly 50% of whites agreeing Blacks and other minorities receive equal treatment but only 16% of non-whites agreeing to the same statement.

A friend of mine, Robert P. Jones of Public Religion Research Institute in Washington D.C., wrote a telling article in The Atlantic which he titled, “Self-Segregation: Why It Is So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson.” His basic answer, drawn from PRRI’s annual American Values Survey, reports that overall the social networks of white people are more than 90% white. A full three-quarters (75%) of whites have entirely white social networks. Thus, the perspectives and experiences of Black Americans remain opaque to many white Americans simply by virtue of their assumption that their privileged experience is in fact reality. Jones’ points out that one consequence is white people not ever hearing the litany of coaching and concern passed from parents to children in African American families.

Cover ArtTo many readers of Fieldwork in Theology, chapter two on the French historian and philosopher of science Gaston Bachelard will be most unfamiliar. Yet his idea of the epistemological rupture or break has influenced many of the most important French intellectuals of the 20th century, including not only Pierre Bourdieu but also Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. The concept, as Bachelard conceived of it, is simple. The fundamental move of scientific research ought to be to break with the illusion of immediate knowledge.

I connect the Christian concept of sin with the epistemological break to point out how our basic understanding is so often biased, blinded by the very real divides and divisions which split apart creation, humanity, and God. Without such a “break” in white everyday assumptions, it is very difficult to hear and make sense of African Americans’ negative perceptions of the criminal justice system. White people, like the priest and Levite in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, need to travel to the other side of the road if we are to learn the actual circumstances of our African American neighbor. Fieldwork in theology ought do no less.

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Christian Scharen

Christian Scharen (PhD, Emory University) is vice president of applied research at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. He previously taught at Luther Seminary. He has authored a number of books, including One Step Closer and Faith as a Way of Life, and is the book review editor of Ecclesial Practices. An ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Scharen has served congregations in California, Georgia, and Connecticut.

Beyond the Book – “Performing”

BeyondTheBookBA

Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month Christian Scharen reflects on issues of race and justice, and argues that theology does (and must!) have something to say about the pressing concerns of contemporary society.

**Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of his book Fieldwork in Theology. The winners will be announced at the end of the month, and you can enter here.**

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I mention in my book, Fieldwork in Theology, that I spent time doing research in an African Methodist Episcopal church in Atlanta. It was Big Bethel, on historic Auburn Avenue, and I was working on my dissertation at Emory University. I loved learning about and worshiping with the AME church, and listening to the lives and experiences of its members as I did interviews.

I remember vividly my interview with the elderly Mrs. King, the informal church historian of Big Bethel. She told me the story of the infamous KKK leader and owner of Stone Mountain, a Mr. Venable. Since men of the congregation worked as laborers in his granite quarry on Stone Mountain, he gave the church a “deal” on granite—any broken pieces, $20 a wagon load. Looking today, you can see the variable granite pieces which make up this citadel for the mercy and love of God in the world. The story is a parable for God’s power of salvation: the stone which the builder rejected became the cornerstone” (Psalm 118; Matthew 21).

Btb 3Founded as a church because of white supremacy, the AME has never been far from the costs of the struggle for freedom and dignity. Yet when I heard the horrible news of the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston SC, and that the shooter, Dylann Roof was a young member of my own Lutheran denomination, I cried out in anguish. A pastor-activist I greatly admire, the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, pastor of Middle Collegiate Church in New York, went to Charleston to deliver some of the thousands of prayers and words of comfort generated by a national campaign in support of the congregation.

Her words captured in a simple phrase what I and so many others were feeling, and it became a popular hashtag for expressing a faith-rooted response to the shooting: #PropheticGrief. She spelled it out by naming the two sides of her complex emotions: tears falling heavy, and activism that ends racism. For me, the grief was over the senseless loss of more innocent African American lives and over the depth of divides between peoples in this nation which claims to offer “liberty and justice for all.” The divides are very personal. I am, after all, a white man, a member of the same denomination as the shooter, and it struck me how profoundly our worlds shape our perception, our ability to really love our neighbors as ourselves.

Cover ArtHere, my book might help as it unpacks Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s concept of “having a world” and the way such formative experiences of our world as we are taught by our family, friends, and local culture, shapes our living in that world (53). Bourdieu picks this up in his notion of the social embodied within my habits of living.

Racism is a prime example here—Dylann Roof may have had personal racist beliefs, but those beliefs were formed in him by virtue of being formed by a white supremacist world he inhabited. While such habits are anything but natural, they seem natural—that is, as “the way things are”—until they are challenged. Unfortunately, for white people in the United States, habits of white privilege that seem natural are the result of a world which is stacked in our favor, one which treats African Americans as plunder (on how African Americans have been seen as plunder, see Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, Between the World and Me).

My first two blog posts in this series, on “waking” and “listening,” both prepare the way for this post on “performing.” I don’t mean preforming in the sense of doing something false or inauthentic, as in: he’s just performing. Rather, I mean it in the sense of the deeply true ways we perform our social world and its patterns and practices in our own lives.

Rowan Williams argues that what Jesus offers us is a performance of God’s love for the world so compelling, so true, that in his person we meet God’s love and are transformed in the encounter (59). In the end, my broken, sinful, racist performance can be transformed into one in which God’s justice and mercy for the those on the margins become my own. I hope Fieldwork in Theology will help the church to be more deeply transformed its performance of Jesus’ way of self-giving love so that the world would know, through the church, the beating heart of God.

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Christian Scharen

Christian Scharen (PhD, Emory University) is vice president of applied research at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. He previously taught at Luther Seminary. He has authored a number of books, including One Step Closer and Faith as a Way of Life, and is the book review editor of Ecclesial Practices. An ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Scharen has served congregations in California, Georgia, and Connecticut.