Archive - April, 2010

Liberal Arts Without Religion?


I sat through a discussion recently about whether a church-related college or university should require a course in religion as a part of a liberal arts education. Science classes, fine arts classes, language classes (to mention a few) are a required and expected part of a liberal arts curriculum. The required religion course was not a required course in Christianity (or any other particular religion); it was simply a required course in religion – period. The faculty voted to eliminate a required course in religion.

It is incomprehensible to me that religion per se is not a basic and foundational part of any truly comprehensive liberal arts education. The historical and contemporary importance of religion (not just the Christian religion but religion as a broader category of inquiry and study) is self-evident in a world torn by religious conflict, competition and claims. And yet, the skeptical gods of the Enlightenment reign triumphant in the academy. Religion is to be suspect on principle. In much of “so-called” higher culture in Western civilization (Europe and North America), religion (and especially the Christian religion) is rejected out of hand as some form of corrupted superstition. It is no longer seen as the queen of academic inquiry but rather treated as the dreads of mere opinion and ignorant opinion at that.

And yet, those same gods of the Enlightenment, so eagerly embraced, are challenged across the landscape by religious climate to truth with a capital T. Two colleagues of mine commented on the subject: “How can your education be liberal if it has no exposure to religion?”(Rev. David McNitsky) “The need for intentional examination of the religious dimension of life is imperative to any first-rate liberal arts institution. As important as open inquiry is in the area of the humanities, arts, and sciences, fine arts, etc. is, I contend, that any complete education must address the religious dimension of life. Religious dimensions of life contextualize all other areas of inquiry.” (Dr. J. Eric McKinney)

Well spoken gentleman!

The Open Conspiracy of the Forgotten Way

The open conspiracy of the forgotten way of discipleship lifts my life and haunts my steps. That open conspiracy is to be, as the ancients put it, “little Christs.” Alan Hirsch writes: “This notion of the imitation of Christ is one of the undisputed central tenets of both Jesus’s teaching and that of the Apostles.” (Alan Hirsch,The Forgotten Ways, p. 113) Or, as Mother Teresa put it: “We must become holy not because we want to feel holy but because Christ must be able to live his life fully in us.”

Such a notion lifts me because I am inspired and pulled forward to my better self through discipleship. Two recent experiences of worship come to mind. One at a small church and the other at a large church. In very different ways (and yet oddly similar) both worship services ushered me into the presence of the living Lord. It haunts me because I know how often and how far I can miss the presence of Christ in my life.

As I visit around the Conference I am increasingly convinced of the utter centrality of a transformational relationship with Christ in making disciples of Christ. I am also convicted that the most foundational place of such formation is in the local church. I am furthermore committed to the belief that the most important way the Central Texas Conference can aid this process is by energizing and equipping local churches.

Walter Russell Mead wrote in a March 14 blog “Sometimes mainline church leaders remind me of the Pope who showed St. Francis around the Vatican to see the many treasures of the church. “Peter can no longer say ’silver and gold have I none’,” chuckled the pontiff.

“Neither can he say ‘rise up and walk’,” snapped St. Francis.

I [writes Mead] can only imagine what Francis Asbury would say to a Methodist convention today.

The mainline churches do a lot of good, but the long inexorable decline both in numbers and in the influence of Christian ideas in modern American life show very plainly that something critical has gone wrong. In attempting to reconcile classic Christian ideas and standards with modernity, the mainline has somehow lost American Christianity’s characteristic and most vital strength: the ability to electrify generation after generation with the call to begin a transformational encounter with the person of Christ.

This ability can’t be regained by committee. There is no diocesan or denominational planning process that can knit the dry bones together.

But the mainline churches will dwindle and diminish if they don’t somehow reconnect with the enthusiasm and charisma that once made them great.” (http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2010/03/14/wanted-a-mainlinegelical-church)

Let me be like Christ and share Christ with others by word and deed!

The Cross of Life

For a couple of years my wife and I have attended Good Friday services at St. John the Evangelist Monastery (an Episcopal Church monastery located in Cambridge Massachusetts). The quiet contemplative service centers on an adoration of the cross. At the appropriate time, following the monks lead, participants are invited to approach the cross solemnly kneeling and bowing to the ground three times as they move closer to the cross. The third station of adoration is at the very foot of the cross where participants either kiss or touch the cross in some manner.

There is something deeply moving about this strange and ancient service. Good Friday invites us to come to the cross. It beckons us to stand or kneel in awe before the reality of this night. The words of John Bowring’s great hymn portray the essence: “In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time” (The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 295, verse 1.

I must confess that often, too often, I have attempted to sanitize the cross. In doing so I have diminished its power in my life and the life of my congregations. A common lectionary text for Good Friday comes from Hebrews 10:16-25. A fair reading of the text prohibits any “cleaning up” of the crucifixion. Incontestably the employment of the Old Testament image of Jesus as a “blood sacrifice” (verse 19) is anchored in the cross. In a world that knows bombs and IEDs, violence and heartache, a sanitized Jesus will not do. “By the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),” (Hebrews 10:20) we come to a cross of life. Jesus’ physical death on the cross is a metaphorical tearing of the temple curtain in two. (See Matthew 27:51) Previously the curtain kept the common believer separated from God. Now, on this day we dare to call good, because of our great priest Jesus, the sacrifice has been made that opens our way to God. We are reconciled to God through the cross of life. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase translation catches the essence: “So, friend, we can now – without hesitation – walk right up to God, into ‘the Holy Place.’ Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God.” (The Message, Eugene Peterson, Hebrews 10: 19-20, p. 2193) From this towering conviction we claim a cross of life amidst death’s rubble.

I like that phrasing “without hesitation — walk right up to God.” As I knelt on the marble floor in the Chapel of St. John the Evangelist, I was forcibly struck again by my need to cling to the cross of Christ. Embracing Christ on the cross I find I am connected to the cross of life.