Monthly Archives: December 2008

Great Christmas prayer

The following is a repost of a Christmas prayer I found several years ago (Dec. 2004).  Enjoy:

I found this awesome Christmas collect to include in my Christmas cards. Check it out (its from the little book I found this summer called “Ancient Collects.”):

Blessed be the Lord God, Who cometh in the Name of the Lord, and hath dawned upon us; Whose Coming hath redeemed us, Whose Nativity hath enlightened us; Who by His Coming hath sought out the lost, and illuminated those who sat in darkness.  Grant, therefore, O Father Almighty, that we celebrating with pious devotion the day of His Nativity, may find the day of judgment a day of mercy; that as we have known his benignity as our Redeemer, we may feel His gentle tenderness as our Judge.

goodness. . ..

Someone Else’s SongWilcoBeing There (Disc 2)3:21

The Tennessean: Southern Baptist growth plan teeters

Coming from a Southern Baptist background, I still keep up with what is going on among my brothers and sisters in that association. I think Christians today need to learn from one another’s mistakes and work together as much as possible to address the challenges we face. I think people need to wake up and realize that there are cultural shifts taking place that are far beyond the simple “liberal/conservative” calculus that has dominated the interactions we’ve had with one another (and with the unchurched) since, I don’t know, the fundamentalist/modernist split. The evidence that those categories are breaking down and are no longer especially helpful (if they ever truly were) can be seen in the fact that Christians of every stripe are struggling to find ways to share the Good News to a society that has been inoculated by the dead faith of a post-Christendom world.

For the Southern Baptist Convention, 2008 was filled with bad news.

Baptisms reached a 20-year low. Church membership dropped, prompting fears the Nashville-based Baptist body was on a downward slide. And its outgoing president warned that within 20 years, more than half of Southern Baptist churches could die off.
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In response, the Baptists announced a new national evangelism strategy called “God’s Plan for Sharing.” Nicknamed “GPS,” the new strategy would spread the Gospel throughout the U.S. and Canada by 2020, said Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board.

“Just imagine if every believer in North America started sharing the Gospel and every person heard that Gospel by the year 2020,” Hammond said at the convention’s annual meeting.

But critics within the denomination say the new initiative is in danger of failing. Some blame a lack of funding. Others wonder if the mission board leadership is up to the task.

The agency’s 2009 budget seems to support the first group’s concerns.

Among $130 million in planned expenses are $367,000 in travel for board trustees, $975,000 for technology upgrades and $250,000 for mission board headquarters near Atlanta.

And the national evangelism initiative? That line is blank.

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FIRST THINGS: On the Square>>Anglican, or Episcopalian?

By Jordan Hylden

“Are you Anglican, or Episcopalian?” As an Episcopalian interloper studying at a Methodist seminary, I get the question a lot from my puzzled friends. Each time I’m asked, part of me wants to launch into a mini-primer on Anglican ecclesiology–to wit, that Episcopalians are Anglicans, since the Episcopal church is just the American province of the global Anglican communion. Which means that, technically, the question shouldn’t even make sense–it’s sort of like asking, “Are you American, or Texan?” But, of course, I know just what the question means; it does make sense, because it reflects the sad divisions that have roiled the church over the past five years. Quite simply and sensibly, my Methodist friends want to know whether I’m a member of the liberal Episcopal church, or one of the conservative Anglican groups that broke off. And as saddening as it is to admit, I’ve come to think that their common-sense perception is more accurate than my attempts at ecclesiological theory. Their question can only be asked, and answered, because of the reality on the ground in the United States: Episcopalians are one thing, and Anglicans are another.

Popular understanding is usually much wiser than theoretical wishful-thinking, and nowhere more so than here. The divisions in the church have led the American public to attach the meanings to the words Episcopalian and Anglican that they actually bear in their usage–namely, that to be an Episcopalian means to be a member of an pro-gay, autonomous American denomination, more liturgical than most churches but firmly within the theological orbit of liberal Protestantism. To be an Anglican, by contrast, means to be part of a conservative evangelical church with bishops, connected somehow with Africa and opposed to homosexuality. The definitions have by now become quite distinct and firmly fixed in the national lexicon–ask almost any church-going American what the words mean, and you will get an answer something like the above.

Some Episcopalians and Anglicans (myself included) strongly dislike these characterizations…

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The Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas Message

Human beings, left to themselves, have imagined God in all sorts of shapes; but – although there were one or two instances, in Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt, of gods being pictured as boys – it took Christianity to introduce the world to the idea of God in the form of a baby: in the form of complete dependence and fragility, without power or control. If you stop to think about it, it is still shocking. And it is also deeply challenging.

God chose to show himself to us in a complete human life, telling us that every stage in human existence, from conception to maturity and even death, was in principle capable of telling us something about God. Although what we learn from Jesus Christ and what his life makes possible is unique, that life still means that we look differently at every other life. There is something in us that is capable of communicating what God has to say – the image of God in each of us, which is expressed in its perfection only in Jesus.

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Ross Douthat: Is Planned Parenthood Pro-Life? | The Atlantic

If you want a reason why an abortion compromise isn’t possible, try this contrast: My idea of a plausible middle ground on the issue requires the overturning of Roe v. Wade, followed by a move toward a system in which abortion is legal but discouraged in, say, the first ten weeks of pregnancy, and basically illegal thereafter. Whereas Will Saletan and Freddie De Boer, both serious-minded pro-choicers, are convinced that a plausible middle ground would involve pragmatic pro-lifers throwing their support (and tax dollars) behind America’s largest abortion provider, on the grounds that its commitment to preventing unplanned pregnancy makes Planned Parenthood “the most effective pro-life organization in the history of the world.”

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Where was I last week

Covenant in Dallas
Covenant in Dallastop row from left to right: Craig Uffman (founder of Covenant and on the leadership team of Fulcrum), Dale Rye, Damon McGraw, Ephraim Radner, Christopher Wells (founder of Covenant), Matthew Olver, Jody Howard, Nathan Humphrey, Dan Martins, Will Brown, Sam Keyes bottom row from left to right: Doug LeBlanc, Victoria Heard, Graham Kings, Jean Meade

This is a little late in coming, but I wanted to share some information with you all about the retreat and conference I participated in last week. Fellow Covenanter Doug LeBlanc wrote the following introduction to our time together as well as the reflections and papers which were delivered over the course of the retreat and conference.

When more than a dozen Covenant writers traveled to Dallas this past weekend, we were united by varying degrees of friendship and a shared loyalty to our theologically inclined weblog that’s only 16 months old. We gathered with no plans for issuing a declaration or forming a strategy to save the church.

Instead, six of our number agreed to present short papers on the meaning of Christian communion. We worshiped God together in morning and evening prayer and the Holy Eucharist. Catholic scholar Damon McGraw of The National Institute for Newman Studies joined us for a one-day retreat on December 5, helping us reflect on John Henry Newman’s writings about the church.

Other than one informal dinner in the home of Carrie Boren, the Diocese of Dallas’ missioner for evangelism, and a celebratory meal at St. Martin’s Wine Bistro, we spent all of our time at congregations.

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Can you imagine how it felt to be full of milk and have no child to suckle?| Appalachian History

I find it very interesting that the list you cite in “125 reasons you’ll get sent to the lunatic asylum” doesn’t include what would have been a very common event in the mid-1800s: loss of a child. Today, psychologists recognize the loss of a child or a spouse to be two of the five most devastating life experiences a person can experience.

Yet then, when both experiences were far more common, they did not seem to be commonly accepted reasons to suffer extended anguish. Your list did mention “loss of a son in the war,” but that’s a loss limited in two ways, by gender/age and by circumstance.

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Unintended consequences: Bishop Nolbert Kunonga & Robert Mugabe

More developments from Zimbabwe.  For those of you who don’t know, Bishop Kunonga has been removed by the province of Central Africa because of his unflinching support for Robert Mugabe.  His replacement is Bishop Sebastian Bakare.  However, Bishop Kunonga has refused to recognize the judgement of his province and has instead formed a break-away group loyal to president Robert Mugabe while using the Anglican Communion‘s sexuality debates as a convenient cover, and one that fits nicely with the regime’s anti-western propaganda.

This is a good illustration of something that Americans are mostly clueless about, i.e. the unintended consequences of our actions on our brothers and sisters around the world.  All one has to do is talk to Archbishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt to learn how Anglicans were treated by Muslims and even other Christians–many of whom openly called Archbishop Anis and his flock heretics because of the actions of The Episcopal Church in the USA (whcih of course had been trumpeted as an example of western decadence in Muslim newspapers).  On the other hand, conservatives have set the stage for movements such as Bishop Kunonga’s.  All of this demonstrates why Archbishop Williams’ warning that if the Anglican Communion were to break up it wouldn’t merely break into two factions, instead it would fracture into inumberable fragments of varying degrees of legitimacy.  The ramifications of such a fragmentation would obviously be more keenly felt in the developing world.  Something for American Episcopalians/Anglicans whether liberal or conservative to consider as we sit self-rightiously in the  midst of our comfortable opression.

THE Anglican Province of Zimbabwe yesterday ordained 33 bishops and deacons to serve in its dioceses.

The province is made up of dioceses that broke from the Church of the Province of Central Africa early this year following disagreements over homosexuality.

Of those ordained, 23 were serving deacons with the remainder being new office-bearers.

Archbishop Nolbert Kunonga said the deacons and bishops should truthfully serve the province and not tolerate homosexuality within the church.

“This is confirmation that we are going ahead with the building of the new province after breaking away from the Province of Central Africa.

“As the Anglican Province of Zimbabwe, we stand guided by the scriptures and will not sympathise with homosexuals.

“I am happy that sanity is returning to the province. This has also seen more people joining the new province upon realising the reasons for us breaking ties with the Anglican Province of Central Africa,” he said.

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Philip Turner: The Subversion of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church: A Response to my Critics | Covenant

I am pleased that my article “The Subversion of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church” has generated the discussion it has.  A number of the responses simply display the toxic atmosphere that sadly prevents the blogs from realizing their potential for furthering genuine debate.  There have, however, been a number that are serious in their intent and deserve a measured response.

I would particularly like to thank those who, like Bishop Pierre Whalon, recognize that the very survival of both The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Communion is at issue in the crisis brought on by the Gene Robinson affair.  Meaningful debate on the issues both TEC and the Communion now face is of vital importance if either or both are to emerge from the present conflicts as coherent expressions of Catholic Christianity.

Unfortunately, meaningful debate receives little support from the current atmosphere in the church—an atmosphere that does little to encourage either a careful and informed reading of TEC’s history or of its Constitution and Canons.  It is also an atmosphere that produces unrealistic assessments of our present circumstances, often accompanied by wishful thinking and uninformed speculation about possible future states.

As much as I appreciate the tone of Bishop Whalon’s response to my paper, I am forced to say that it evidences both wishful thinking and uninformed speculation.  Having said that, however, I wish to add that, in an odd way, his comments both tend to support my basic conclusions, and (even more oddly) indicate that there is more common ground between us than one might initially think.

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Graham Kings: News Worth Sharing | Covenant

“The Shack” is still on my reading list, so I can’t really say much one way or another about it, but I think Graham Kings has hit upon some important themes in the book in this brief review:

But I always liked Jesus better than you. He seemed so gracious and you seemed so … ‘

‘Mean? Sad, isn’t it? He came to show people who I am and most folks only believe it about him. They still play us off like good cop/bad cop most of the time, especially religious folk. When they want people to do what they think is right, they need a stern God. When they need forgiveness, they run to Jesus.’

This is a key conversation concerning the heart of God in the American novel The Shack, by William Paul Young. It has sold nearly 2m copies, having been rejected by about 30 publishers, and is recommended by prominent evangelicals in the US and Britain.

The Shack has been at the top of fiction bestseller lists and is hailed as a modern day Pilgrim’s Progress. It explores the mystery of personal suffering in dialogue with God the Trinity. Intriguingly, the “Father” is portrayed as an African American mother, the “Spirit” is an east Asian woman and Jesus as a not-particularly-handsome Middle Eastern Jew.

This is a novel way of exploring the first essential belief of evangelicals, the intrinsic dynamic of God’s life in Trinity. The second is that our good works are a “thank you” rather than a “please”. They are offered to God in gratitude for the salvation he has already freely provided for us in Christ, which we have received by faith. They are not a plaintive plea directed at him for our acceptance, on our own behalf.

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