Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Covenant Seminary websites

Today, we launched three new websites in place of our previous websites. We know have a new Covenant Seminary-specific website with new faculty pages; a redone "Worldwide Classroom" site (that replaces our Covenant Worldwide site); and a new Living Christ360 website, which is the media ministry of the Seminary with daily broadcasts and devotionals from Bryan Chapell. Obviously with any new website, we have some kinks to work out; still, they are wonderful upgrade over what we had previously.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

American Denominational History

Yesterday, in my mailbox, a copy of a new book arrived to which I contributed an essay, American Denominational History: Perspectives on the Past, Prospects for the Future, edited by Keith Harper (University of Alabama Press, 2008). These are mainly historiographical essays on denominational history that chart the past fifty years and propose new directions for the future:
  • Catholic Distinctiveness and the Challenge of American Denominationalism by Amy Koehlinger
  • New Directions on the Congregational Way by Margaret Bendroth
  • Presbyterians in America: Denominational History and the Quest for Identity by Sean Michael Lucas (you can read this essay here, here, and here)
  • From the Margin to the Middle to Somewhere In Between: An Overview of American Baptist Historiography by Keith Harper
  • "Everything Arose Just as the Occasion Offered": Defining Methodist Identity through the History of Methodist Polity by Jennifer L. Woodruff Tait
  • Black Protestantism: A Historiographical Appraisal by Paul Harvey
  • Mormon Historiography by David J. Whittaker
  • Interpreting American Pentecostal Origins: Retrospect and Prospect by Randall J. Stephens
  • "We're All Evangelicals Now": The Existential and Backward Historiography of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism by Barry Hankins

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Seen on the web

This is a new semi-regular installment of things (TV voice, please) "SEEN...ON THE WEB":

Carl Trueman's brilliant piece on Machen's Christianity and Liberalism, especially the end: "Theological students should reach for Machen's little book every year to remind themselves that orthodoxy does not equate to obscurantism, but that there is something really at stake here in the struggle between orthodox, supernatural Christianity and everything else. Indeed, I would venture to say that this is the second most important book that theologians could ever read."

The online conversation over the Denenominational Renewal conference talks, which on the whole has been wonderfully civil thus far. Yours truly posted today in response to Jeremy Jones' thought-provoking piece on "Renewing Theology."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Culture Making

A couple of days ago, I had some time to read on a flight to Philadelphia, and so was able finally to finish Andy Crouch's new book, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling. I have to admit that the pre-pub buzz around the book didn't make me very hopeful; as I've noted before on this blog, I'm a bit of a contrarian when it comes to various cultural phenomenon. If people tell me that something is a must-read, I tend to be a bit skeptical.

That said, I was pleasantly blown-away by Crouch's book. Several quick thoughts:

Divided in three major sections (Culture, Gospel, and Calling), he covers all the major ground in ways that surprise and often delight. For example, his working definition of culture ("culture is what we make of the world" p. 23) is helpfully teased throughout the book, especially in the "Gospel" section where he provided a biblical-theological telling of culture.

Not only this, but it strikes me that seeing culture as a human artifact coheres nicely with anthropological and various theological understandings of culture (thinking of Clifford Geertz and H. Richard Niebuhr). Thankfully, Niebuhr's taxonomy doesn't appear in the book until the book is 2/3rds through; this has the salutary effect of actually doing "new" and helpful work on the issue outside of the conventional wrestling with the classic taxonomy.

I loved the approach of talking about "postures" and "gestures" toward culture. To me, this seems to incorporate George Marsden's observation (to which more people need to pay attention) that the Niebuhrian taxonomy is limited because the various "Christ v. culture" approaches can actually occur at the same time. Crouch recognizes this when he talks about postures as our "learned but unconscious default position" and gestures as an appropriate move or response toward particular opportunities and/or challenges. And so, condemning, critiquing, copying, or consuming culture can all be appropriate gestures or even postures depending on circumstance and the cultural good considered.

One of the best sections on the book was the chapter on "power." So many unconsciously imbibe the postmodern critique of power without recognizing the reality of power and authority when it comes to culture. Not only does Crouch defend well cultural power as a "good," granted by God, but also suggests a Christian approach to the use of power, namely service. Helpfully juxtaposing Princess Diana and Mother Teresa as types of power, I found this to be an extremely helpful and important chapter.

One last thing to praise was the chaste humility of the book. The chapter, "why we can't change the world," was exactly the right tonic for so much of evangelical (and Reformed/Kuyperian) cultural transformation rhetoric. Rather, God is the one who is transforming culture; that is his mission, not ours. [One place that is starred in my copy: "Beware of world changers--they have not yet learned the true meaning of sin" p. 200] God's call to us is to pay attention to what the Maker of the world is doing in his world and to join in his culture making. While some may find this chapter deflating, it was actually quite encouraging to me--I could never figure out how to change the world anyway.

All to say, Culture Making probably is one of those rare must-read books that comes along every so often. A book of rare learning, helpful and accessible synthesis, and godly humility, it might actually change the evangelical culture on how to make and engage culture. If so, all I can say is thanks be to God.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rock n' Roll and Redemption

In yet another book that attempts to find all the redemption offered beneath a dirty hood, here is a new book on The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen (somewhere my dad is groaning). Although I'm not sure how much a Unitarian Universalist minister-author really gets "the Gospel," these ten themes look intriguing enough to make me buy the book. I've done a talk on a similar topic, "A Reason to Believe: Spiritual Longing in the Music of Bruce Springsteen," so I think there is something to do this. Suffice it to say, I'm intrigued.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Keller and Edwards

If one needed more proof that Tim Keller has undeniable links with Jonathan Edwards, (try to) read his sermon notes here. Trying to discipher this reminded me of many hours trying to figure out JE's abbreviations and other preaching "symbols." (to put it kindly).

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Observations from the BMW Champsionship, no. 2

Some observations from being at the BMW Championship yesterday:

Cool: old skinny guys wearing slouch hats with logos from tournaments thirty years ago; players who are willing to sign autographs during practice rounds; people who know who Bubba Watson is (unlike the guy I was sitting next to on the second hole); BMW owners (they get to park very close to the entrance); tournament planners (the first thing you walk into past the entrance is the merchandise tent--cha-ching).

Drool: tee-shirts; untucked shirts (this is a golf tournanment; tuck your shirt in and wear a belt); people who don't know anything about golf (I think it should be a requirement for people to know the four most recent major winners to go to a golf tournament); people who press up against the lines while sitting on the fairway so that you can see the tee box.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Observations from the BMW Champsionship, no. 1

Instead of buying Cardinals tickets this year, I dumped the whole amount into buying a week pass to the BMW Championship, which is being played in St. Louis this year. For those of you who follow golf, you know that the BMW is the renamed Western Open, which had been played in Chicago from 1962 to 2007. Now, it is a rotating tournament, moving between Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis.

I thought that buying the tickets was a no-brainer. They were allowing juniors to go free with a paying adult and this would be our big chance to see Tiger Woods (I followed Tiger and Jack at Jack's last PGA Championship in 2000 at Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky). Well, obviously, following Tiger is not possible this year.

And it struck me that if Tim Finchem (commissioner of the PGA Tour) wanted to know what life would be like in professional golf without Tiger Woods, he is discovering it right now. Once Tiger had surgery on his knee in the days after his ridiculous victory at the US Open, it sucked the life out of the golf season. And it sucked the life out of important tournaments like the BMW Championship.

I mean, this should be important--the third of four playoff tournaments for the FedEx Cup with $10 million in the balance, tickets should have continued to sell, buzz should still have been generated, etc. But wandering around the golf course today, I was struck by how few people there really were there for a practice round and how little buzz there was on the course. Granted, the Deutsche Bank Championship just got done last night; the players arrived last night and this morning; and perhaps over the weekend, people will get into it. And granted, it is not fair to compare this to a major championship--I went to the Monday practice round for the 2000 PGA and the excitement was palpable.

Still, I couldn't help but wonder if Tiger were coming, whether it would have been different. I think it would have been: St. Louis has never seen Tiger up-close and personal (we would have in 2001, but the AmEx Championship was canceled because of 9/11). We would have gone crazy with Tigermania. There would have been 40,000 tickets sold (as opposed to 25,000) and people would have wanted to be there, even for a practice round.

Instead, it felt less like an important tournament and more like a side tour stop, less playoff and more John Deere Classic. It is a shame, really. I'll still be going to as many tournament rounds as possible. But it would have been great for St. Louis golf if it had been what we thought it was going to be.