Mark Buchanan on Liturgy

In his wonderful book, The Rest of God:  Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath, Mark Buchanan muses on the meaning of “liturgy”:

“I was converted within a Low Church tradition … Yet over time I began to realize that the Low Church is just as bound by liturgy as any church, and maybe more so because we think we’re not.  The Low Church enshrines–makes a liturgy of–austerity, spontaneity, informality.  And we have our unwritten but nonetheless rigorously observed codes and protocols.  We love our traditions, even our rigmarole, every bit as much as the next guy, only ours is earthy, rustic, folksy.

“So I changed my mind about liturgy.  It certainly can become dull and rote, but so can anything … At its best, liturgy comprises the gestures by which we honor transcendent reality.  It helps us give concrete expression to deepest convictions.  It gives us choreography for things unseen and allows us to brush heaven among the shades of earth.

“Our most significant relationships and events have a liturgical shape to them.  They have rites of passage.  Birthdays and homecomings, graduations and good-byes.  Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter, birth and death and marriage:  all are marked by words and actions, songs and symbols, customs and traditions that enact them and complete them.  And all these things also provide us with a means of entering them.  What is a birthday without a cake, at least one candle burning on it, and a huddle of well-wishers, wearing clownish hats, singing in their ragged, hoary voices?  What is a birthday without a liturgy?

“What liturgy accomplishes is nothing short of astonishing:  It breaks open the transcendent within the ordinary and the everyday.  It lets us glimpse the deeper reality–the timeless things, the universal ones, the things above–within this particular instance of it” (The Rest of God, 8-9).

Buchanan goes on to explain meaning of the Greek word for “liturgy” in its ancient context, and why it was “odd” for the early church to use it to describe its public worship. But, you’ll just have to get the book and read it for yourself.  It’s well worth it!

People and Place – Good Quotes

I’m simply loving every page of Michael Horton’s People and Place:  A Covenant Ecclesiology!  Horton weaves Biblical theology, the Reformed tradition, patristic insights, and critical engagement with modern theologians into a dramatically compelling narrative.  I’ll probably be posting my favorite quotes for a while …

“But because of Pentecost, even we who were previously aimless characters in the dead-end and insignificant plots of this passing age become part of the growing cast in the supporting role of witnesses to the God of promise.  Because of the Spirit, the church’s performance here and now is not ‘based on a true story,’ but is part of it:  a living liturgy of covenantal action and response.  It originates in the heart of the Father, unfolds in the life of the Son, and is brought to fruition by the graciously disruptive power of the Spirit” (pg. 30).

A lot of what Horton says about the Holy Spirit and Christ’s Ascension is complemented by Julie Canlis in her profound study, Calvin’s Ladder:  A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension.  This is also a rich theological feast, and a balanced treatment of several key themes in Calvin’s theology.

The King Jesus Gospel – Review

The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News RevisitedThe King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, is a keeper. In fact, I would say it’s one of the best theological books I’ve ever read. Part of what makes it exciting is that McKnight is excited himself! You can sense his energy and his joy in his subject, as he leads us step-by-step through his own theological development. It takes some work to read Jesus in his own context, and McKnight is patient with us.

I used this book in my classes at a Christian school, to help bolster my case that Christians should read the Old Testament more. My students were honest in their admission that they don’t read the Old Testament much, and don’t see the point. McKnight argues that, unless we understand the story of Israel, we cannot really understand Jesus.

I appreciated his critique of the Reformation, his insistence that we learn about the early church, and his endorsement of prayer-books and creeds. If you don’t see how those are connected with Jesus in first-century context, you’ll just have to buy the book and find out for yourself!

My only real question concerns the “contextualization” question. McKnight presents a solid case that Apostolic preaching looked like thus-and-such. Basically, the preaching of Peter and Paul was dramatically different than our “four spiritual laws” presentations and arm-twisting methods of “gospel” persuasion. Granted. But, Peter and Paul were preaching to a largely Jewish culture. Even when Paul is writing to sort out problems between Jews and Gentiles, he’s still working within Jewish categories. When we take the Gospel to Africa, do we still stress every aspect of Old Testament history as much as the Apostles did? Stephen’s speech in Acts wouldn’t seem to work so well in remote jungles. I hope McKnight will take this up in another book.

Overall, this is a splendid book, and I hope it will help to shake up the anemic and shallow American church!

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Zondervan book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)

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Name-Calling Irony

As I reviewed Lee Palmer Wandel’s The Eucharist in the Reformation, something jumped out at me–the Calvinistic evangelicals of the sixteenth century were called “Sacramentarians” by their Roman Catholic and Lutheran opponents (Wandel, pg. 177).  Now, just type in “sacramentarian” + “federal vision” on Google, and see how the label has switched.  Funny how labels morph over time …

The Sacred Meal – Review

The Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices SeriesThe Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices Series by Nora Gallagher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found Gallagher’s book simultaneously illuminating and infuriating. To start on a positive note, Gallagher definitely has a gift for writing. I’m used to reading fat books by scholars on this subject, but Gallagher brings a lot of wit and earthy wisdom to this topic. And, I’ll certainly agree that the scholars have muddied the waters quite a bit. Jesus told us to do something really simple, but we’ve managed to fragment this sacrament of unity into a hundred thorny questions. Gallagher’s catchy metaphors appropriately turn our attention away from whatever might be going on “inside” the bread, and she exhorts us to remember that “we” are the Body of Christ, when we gather as the Church. When we take communion, she exhorts us to “Look around you,” something I’ve said when I’ve administered communion. Don’t try to conjure up some deep, mystical experience–just look around at all other messed up people that God is in the process of healing. Gallagher has many wonderful stories about her experiences with partaking, and administering, communion–stories about real people being transformed by ancient rite. She helps us to look at this “ancient practice” from lots of new angles, and I think much of what she says is spot on and quite helpful.

But … there were a few parts which made me gag a little. I think Gallagher is far too quick to buy into the neo-liberal reading of Jesus which highlights Jesus’ supposed critique of “empire.” Now, I freely confess that we should do more to care for the poor. I confess that our government is not righteous. I acknowledge that there are more than a few unsettling analogies between America hegemony and the pagan Roman Empire. But, I’m just not convinced that this is the right way to read the Jesus narratives. However, I will agree enthusiastically with one of Gallagher’s conclusions: “So part of waiting in Communion is examining what we did last week to find the kingdom of heaven in our midst and to help others find it” (pg. 37).

A quibble–I didn’t really buy her imaginative reconstruction of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:21-28). I find Kenneth Bailey’s interpretation much more convincing (see Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, ch. 16).

Lastly, I believe Gallagher goes too far in her desire to be inclusive and welcoming. She writes: “Communion is so important to me that I don’t think there should be rules about who can take it and who cannot” (pg. 88). Now, I fully applaud the motive here. I’m trying to write a dissertation on some of the reasons why churches should celebrate the Supper more often. It’s important to me. But not more important than the Word of God. Gallagher doesn’t want to create “rules” about who can, and who can’t, take Communion (pg. 89). The only problem is that the Apostle Paul lays down some pretty tough rules in 1 Cor. 11:27-32. Perhaps Gallagher has some exegetical reasons for why Paul isn’t setting up some sort of “fence” around the Table. If so, it would have been nice to have those reasons summarized. She also appears to drive off the cliff of tolerance when she writes: “Thieves are welcome here, and embezzlers; so are murderers and prostitutes and sex abusers and those who have been or are abused … Everyone.” (pg. 92). Now, I agree that no sin should keep us away from the Table, but I would add that no sin we “repent” of, should keep us away. What about 1 Cor. 5:11? When Jesus refused to condone the stoning of the woman caught in adultery, he did not just dismiss her sin. He commanded her, “Go, and from now on sin no more.” (Jn. 8:11). The Eucharist is medicine for sick souls, and repentance (the process of turning away from sin) must be part of how approach the Table (Ro. 6:22).

I’m thankful to Gallagher for writing this book, and for forcing us to re-think a ritual that so many of us take for granted.

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(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

 

Does Unity Matter?

As a follow-up to my review of John Armstrong’s new book, Your Church Is Too Small, here are some verses to provoke more discussion, prayer, and concrete actions towards visible church unity:

Jn. 17:20-23

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (ESV, emphasis added)

Now, some maintain that Christians already have “spiritual” unity, and that is all the Bible requires. My big question is, “How will an unseen, spiritual unity convince an unbelieving world?!”

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Review – Your Church is Too Small

Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ's Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church by John H. Armstrong

I have an advance copy of John Armstrong’s newest book. It looks spot on so far. Armstrong is a Reformed teacher, with over 20 yrs. of pastoral experience. He now heads ACT 3, and I really need to check otu their web-site.

I haven’t read much of the book, but I like it already. Here’s the outline of Par 1 to whet your appetite:

PAST
The Biblical & Historical Basis for Christian Unity
1. the road to the future
2. my journey to catholicity begins
3. searching for the elusive truth
4. the jesus prayer for our unity
5. our greatest apologetic
6. christ the center
7. the four classical marks of the church

It looks like Armstrong is going to present a clear brief on what “reformed catholicity” might look like. Check back for reviews!

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Stop Child Trafficking Now!

Stop Child Trafficking Now! – Slavery still exists. Sexual exploitation of children is rampant throughout the world. Each year, thousands of enslaved and sexually exploited children are brought into the USA! Virtually no one in the US has been convicted of child trafficking in the last 10 years. Get involved–your salvation may depend on it (Matt. 25:31-46; Rev. 20:11-13).

(Regular readers know I don’t often post on topics outside the parameters of our mission statement, but I thought the magnitude of the problem deserves the widest possible exposure.)