Archive for the ‘Evangelicalism’ Tag

False Teachers, Part III   Leave a comment




2 Peter 2:1-22


The second chapter of Second Peter expands on the Epistle of Jude.  Almost all of the points in Jude exist in 2 Peter 2.

One may recognize the thematic relationship of 2 Peter 1 to Jude and 2 Peter 2.  False teachers, evil desires, and spiritually undisciplined lives provide the connective tissue.

We also read another repetition of the Biblical motif that divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  In other words, we will reap what we have sown.  Grace is free, not cheap; it mandates a faithful response.  Yes, God imposes mandates.  Freedom is a gift to use properly, not to abuse and misuse.

References to the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha abound in Jude and 2 Peter 2.  I choose to explain the references:

  1. Jude 5 refers to Numbers 14 and 26:64-65.  Apostasy is possible, and carries with it the loss of salvation.
  2. Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4 refer to Genesis 6:1-4.  An elaborate version of the story of the “watchers” exists in 1 Enoch 6-19 (especially chapter 10).
  3. Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6-7 refer to Genesis 19:1-25, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The “unnatural vice” is rape, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and of a person or an angel.  Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6-7 present the scenario opposite of Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4, in which angels lusted after human women.
  4. The combination of the preceding two points indicates the grave consequences of violating God’s intended order for creation.
  5. Jude 9, drawing on Exodus 2:11-12, indicates familiarity with the Assumption/Testament of Moses, a text from the first century C.E.  Between one-third and one-half of that text is missing.  The lost portion includes the section depicting St. Michael the Archangel disputing with Satan over the body of Moses and quoting Zechariah 3:2:  “May the Lord rebuke you!”  Even angels do not rebuke Satan in Zechariah 3:2, Jude 9, and the Assumption/Testament of Moses.  The lesson in Jude 9 is that, if we mere mortals revile angels, we sin.
  6. Jude 11 refers to Cain (Genesis 4:8-16), Balaam (Numbers 16:1-25), and Korah (Numbers 31:16).  2 Peter 2:15-16 refers to Balaam and his talking donkey (Numbers 22:28-33).  Rebellion against God leads to punishment and reproof.
  7. 2 Peter 2:5 refers to Genesis 6:17.
  8. Jude 14-15 refers to 1 Enoch 1:9.

These false teachers did more than teach falsehoods; they behaved scandalously at agape meals (Jude 12, 2 Peter 2:13-14).  These false teachers doomed themselves and disrupted faith community.

I approach Jude and 2 Peter 2 from a particular background.  I grew up feeling like the resident heretic.  My heresies were asking “too many” questions, being an intellectual, accepting science and history, harboring Roman Catholic tendencies, and not being a Biblical literalist.  Some in my family regard me as a Hell-bound heretic.  I embrace the label “heretic.”  I even own a t-shirt that reads,


I approach the label “false teacher” cautiously.  One ought to make accusations with great caution, and based on evidence.  False teachers abound.  I am not shy about naming them and their heresies.  These include the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, Prosperity Theology, and the excesses of Evangelicalism.  The list is long.  The standards of orthodoxy and orthopraxy are as simple and difficult as the Incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus; the Atonement; and the Golden Rule.  Proper love–in mutuality–builds up.  It does not tear people down.  Proper orthodoxy maintains divine standards and is generous, not stingy.  It is loving, not hateful.  And it leads to humility before God and human beings.

I affirm that I am doctrinally correct about some matters and wrong regarding others.  I also affirm that I do not know when I am wrong and when I am right.  The life of Christian discipleship is about trust in God, not about certainty.  The quest for certainty, when faith–trust–in God is called for is an idolatrous and psychologically comforting effort.  Proper Christian confidence–grounded in Christ alone–says:

I may be wrong, but I act as if I am right.  I can neither prove nor disprove this article of faith, but I act as if I am right.

May you, O reader, and I trust in the faithfulness of God.  May we walk humbly with God and live with our fellow human beings in loving, respectful mutuality.  We can do all of the above only via grace.








The Power of the Divine Word, With the Second Servant Song   Leave a comment

Above:  Martin Luther

Image in the Public Domain




Isaiah 48:1-49:26


Before I get to the meat of this post, I must clarify one point:  the meaning of “word of God,” in the context of Isaiah 48:1-49:26.  Pay attention to the difference between “word of God” and “Word of God” in writing, O reader.  I live in the Bible Belt of the United States of America.  Here, many fundamentalists (fun-damn-mentalists) and Evangelicals mistake the “Word of God” for being the Bible.  I, with my Barthian tendencies, affirm that Jesus is the “Word of God” and that the Bible is the “word of God,” in the broad sense.  Yet, in the narrow sense–in the context of Isaiah 48:1-49:26, for example–the “word of God” is whatever God says in a particular setting.  One of the highlights of Reformed (Christian) theology is the concept of the “book of nature,” by which God also speaks.

In Isaiah 48, Hebrew exiles (in general) were faithless people who swore insincerely and falsely in the name of YHWH.  Their word was not reliable and powerful.  The people were stubborn and prone to commit idolatry.  Yet God’s word was faithful and powerful.  And, as in the Book of Ezekiel, God was faithful not for the sake of the covenant people, but for God’s own sake (48:11):

For My sake, My own sake, I do act–

Lest [My name] be dishonored!

I will not give My glory to another.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

We also read the Babylonian Exile was punishment the population earned, and that God (for God’s own sake) balanced judgment–and mercy–did not destroy the rebellious Hebrews (48:9-11).  We read that the exile was a form of education in the ways of heeding divine commandments (48:17-19).  We read, too, that the Babylonian Exile was about to end (48:20-22).

What I wrote while blogging through the Book of Ezekiel holds.  I still find this self-centered God-concept repugnant.  I understand the cultural-historical context.  I know that Ezekiel and Second Isaiah asserted the sovereignty of God in the context of the widely-held assumption that Marduk and the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian pantheon had conquered YHWH in 586 B.C.E.  Yet I am also a Christian.  As one, I affirm the Incarnation, that Jesus of Nazareth (who lived, who breathed, and who dined with people) was God with skin on.  I affirm that the real, flesh-and-blood person, Jesus, being God (however the mechanics of the Incarnation worked) revealed the character of God.  I recall reading in the four canonical Gospels about Jesus healing and feeding people out of compassion and pity, not concerns about burnishing his reputation.

Isaiah 49:1-6 is the Second Servant Song.  The servant speaks.  The servant’s mission predates the servant’s birth.  The servant’s mission is to announce the divine restoration of the covenant relationship with YHWH, by YHWH, that the covenant people may be a light to the nations.  Salvation will, therefore, reach the ends of the earth via the covenant people.  As with the First Servant Song, the identity is not a matter of unanimous agreement.  Most likely, as in the case of the First Servant Song, the servant is the covenant people–the exiles, about to be free to go home.  The idea is that the end of the Babylonian Exile will lead to all the (known) world recognizing YHWH.

That prediction proved to overly optimistic.

The covenant people’s mission is to model a just society grounded in divine law.  The Law of Moses contains timeless principles and many culturally-specific examples of those principles.  Legalism results when people mistake culturally-specific examples for timeless principles.  Context is also crucial, as it always is.  Many people neglect or misunderstand context when interpreting verses and passages.  They mean well, but miss the point(s).  Mutuality, in the context of the recognition of complete dependence on God, informs many of the culturally-specific examples in the Law of Moses.  We human beings are responsible to God, to each other, and for each other.  We have a divine mandate to treat one another accordingly.  Creating and maintaining a society built on that truth is a high and difficult calling.  It is possible via grace and free will.

The prediction of the Jewish homeland as paradise on Earth after the Babylonian Exile also proved overly optimistic.  Dealing with disappointment over that fact was one of the tasks of Third Isaiah (24-27, 56-66).

The people were faithless, but God was faithful.  Martin Luther, counseling practicing, baptized Christians concerned they would go to Hell for their sins, advised them to trust in the faithfulness of God.  he was correct about that.









Prophecies During the Syro-Ephraimite War   1 comment

Above:  King Ahaz of Judah

Image in the Public Domain




Isaiah 7:2-9:1 (Anglican and Protestant)

Isaiah 7:1-8:23 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)


The Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.E.) constitutes the background of Isaiah 7:1-8:23/7:1-9:1 (depending on versification).  Read 2 Kings 15:27-31; 2 Kings 16:1-19; and 2 Chronicles 28:1-26.  A brief summary of that war follows.

Aram was the chief rival to the Assyrian Empire.  King Rezin of Aram (r. 750-732 B.C.E.) and King Pekah of Israel (r. 735-732 B.C.E.) had formed an anti-Assyrian alliance.  King Ahaz of Judah (r. 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.) refused to join this alliance.  Israelite and Aramean forces waged war on Judah and besieged Jerusalem.  They wanted to depose him and replace him with a monarch who would join their alliance.  Ahaz turned to the Assyrian Empire, not God.  The Assyrian Empire conquered parts of Aram and Israel in 732, and reduced those kingdoms to vassalage.  Then, in 722 and 720 B.C.E., respectively, the Assyrian Empire conquered Israel and Aram.

Isaiah 7:16, often reduced to a prophecy of the birth of Jesus and removed from historical context, is most likely a prediction of the birth of the future king Hezekiah, in historical context.  The young woman (an almah) of 7:14 was of marriageable age.  Almah (not “virgin” in Hebrew) became parthenos (“virgin”) in the (Greek) Septuagint.  New Testament writers who quoted the Hebrew Bible quoted it in Greek, not Hebrew.

“Emmanuel” means “God with us.”  God is with us even when we are not with God.  God is with us even when we pretend to be pious, and thereby weary God (7:10-16).

Recognizing subsequent layers of editing in 7:1-8:23/7:1-9:1 (depending on versification) ought not to obstruct understanding of messages for today in these verses.  King Ahaz, who had allied himself with the Assyrian Empire, became a vassal of the Assyrian monarch, King Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745-727 B.C.E.).  King Ahaz, despite himself, should have trusted in God.  King Ahaz had gravely erred, and he and his subjects suffered because of his faulty judgment.  (The imagery of shaving “the hair of the feet” in 7:20 refers to pubic hair, by the way; “feet” is frequently a euphemism for genitals in the Hebrew Bible.)  The disgrace of the people in the latter verses of Chapter 7 and throughout Chapter 8 will be great.  Yet a remnant would survive and return from the Babylonian Exile.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance in Isaiah 7:1-8:23/7:1-9:1 (depending on versification).  Divine fidelity to divine promises does not prevent punishment of populations for violations of the covenant.  That divine fidelity does, however, prevent complete destruction of the Hebrew people for violations of the covenant.

I am a Gentile and a Christian.  I know some fundamentalists and Evangelicals who doubt my Christian bona fides, but I am a Christian.  The covenant with the Jews remains in effect, I contend.  I, as a Gentile, come under a separate covenant, one defined by Jesus.  These Old Testament principles about covenant-related responsibilities apply to Christians, also, via Jesus.  We Christians are a branch grafted onto the tree of faith, and the Jews are, as Pope John Paul II called them, our elder siblings in faith.

These chapters also recognize that people benefit from the good decisions of their rulers and suffer from the bad decisions of their rulers.  The emphasis is on the latter, of course.  Leadership matters.  May those who can choose their leaders, do so wisely, in all places and at all times.  And may all leaders decide wisely, whenever and wherever they are.

God is with us.  We can never escape from the presence of God.  Yet are we with God?  We all benefit from grace.  We all depend upon grace.  How many of us also accept the moral responsibilities that accompany grace?  Grace is free yet not cheap.










Christ and the Syrophoenician Woman   Leave a comment

Above:  Jesus and the Woman of Canaan, by Michael Angelo Immenraet

Image in the Public Domain


For the Second Sunday in Lent, Year 1


Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)


Almighty God, who seest the helpless misery of our fallen life;

vouchsafe unto us, we humbly beseech thee, both the outward and inward defense of thy guardian care;

that we may be shielded from the evils which assault the body,

and be kept pure from all thoughts that harm and pollute the soul;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 148


Isaiah 45:20-25

Psalm 32

Romans 2:1-10

Matthew 15:21-28


Repentance is the theme of Lent, historically a time during which notorious sinners, penitent, prepared to return to the full fellowship of the church.  Changing one’s mind and turning one’s back on sins, barriers we erect between ourselves and God, is essential before one can deepen one’s relationship with God and grow into one’s potential in God.  The readings from Psalm 32 and Romans 2 cover that material more eloquently than I can paraphrase them.

Another theme in this week’s collection of pericopes is Gentiles worshiping the one true God.  We read about this in Isaiah 45 before we move along to the frequently misinterpreted story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Matthew 15:21-28.

I realize that my orthodoxy resembles heresy to many in the Bible Belt of the United States.  (I live in the Bible Belt.)  I stand within the larger Christian tradition–one that embraces critical (in the highest meaning of that word) analysis of the Bible and that accepts both science and history.  My heroes include Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who said,

The Bible tells us the way to go to Heaven, not the way the heavens go.

I consider fossils, rock layers, and other scientific evidence, and understand that the universe and this planet are much older than six millennia, and that we human beings, in all our stages of evolution, are recent, in terms of geological time.  I cannot imagine a few million years.  Neither can I imagine many millions and billions of years.  I like to ask questions, especially those that prompt many fundamentalists and evangelicals to give me hard stares and become concerned about my salvation.  Nevertheless, I am fairly orthodox.

I, as an orthodox Christian, acknowledge the sinlessness of Jesus.  I also affirm that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, not God with skin on, without any humanity.  Furthermore, I read Matthew 15:21-28 not only in the context of the consensus of ancient ecumenical councils, but also in the context of the rest of Matthew 15 and of the Gospels as a whole.  He liked to dine with outcasts, notorious sinners, and other “bad company,” did he not?

Consider, O reader, that, in the narrative, Jesus had recently argued with some Pharisees and scribes in Jerusalem about ritual purity functioning as a distraction from moral responsibilities to relatives.  In that context, our Lord and Savior had decreed that what comes out of one’s mouth makes one’s defiled–common, as J. B. Phillips (1906-1982) translated the germane Greek verb.  To be pure was uncommon.  Impurity was ubiquitous; rituals for becoming ritually pure were also ubiquitous.

In narrative, Jesus then voluntarily withdrew to Gentile territory.  He was not trying to avoid Gentiles.  Our Lord and Savior’s seemingly harsh words to the Syrophoenician woman were not insults, and she did not change his mind.  No, Jesus tested her verbally; he wanted her to reply as she did.  Her answer pleased him.  I understand that “little bitch” (a literal translation from the Greek text) does not sound nice.  It is certainly rude when one intends to insult.  I argue, of course, that this was not the case in the story.

In the rest of Matthew 15 Jesus healed people before conducting another feeding of the multitude–4000 men, plus women and children–for the Gentiles.

…and they glorified the God of Israel.

–Matthew 15:31d, The New American Bible (1991)

I, standing in a tradition that dates to the Church Fathers, affirm that the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus meant, among other truths, that the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity did not know all that the pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity did.  This is an orthodox Christian position.  So is my interpretation of Matthew 15:21-28.

The Gospel of Matthew makes clear that Jesus was of Israel and that the proclamation of the message was first to Israel.  The Gospel of Matthew also includes the Great Commission (which includes Gentiles) in Chapter 28.

Jesus handled the Syrophoenician’s woman’s case better than his Apostles did; they wanted to send her away.  Christ commended her–a foreigner and a Gentile–for her faith and healed her daughter.

I wish that, in passages such as Matthew 15:21-28, the author had mentioned tones of voices, which can change the meaning of words.  Perhaps, if the author (“Matthew,” whoever he was; probably not the apostle) had done so, many generations of Christians would have avoided bad sermons on this pericope, as well as misinterpretations in commentaries and Sunday School lessons.

[Aside:  Today, March 24, 2020, I consulted N. T. Wright’s Lent for Everyone, Year A (2011), focused on the Gospel of Matthew.  Even he thought that Jesus was insulting the woman.  How did I, of all people, become more orthodox than N. T. Wright on a point of interpretation? (Start playing the theme to The Twilight Zone now.)]

All may come to God through Christ.  All need to repent.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in a balance only God understands; so be it.









“United as Members of One Body in True Brotherly Love”: The Reformed Church in America, 1628-1857   10 comments


Above:  Marble Collegiate Church, New York, New York, 1901

Publisher and Copyright Claimant = Detroit Publishing Company

Image Source = Library of Congress


Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-det-4a08186




Besides, that we by the same spirit may also be united as members of one body in true brotherly love….

–The Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, 1789



There is a long-running conflict between the quest for doctrinal purity (according to whatever standard one measures that) and the desire for ecclesiastical unity.  The former flows from an exclusive spirit, but the latter indicates an inclusive impulse.  The names, dates, places, and issues change, but people repeat the old pattern.  I have studied these matters closely and long enough to recognize without surprise that breakaway groups frequently suffer from schism.  Apparently many of the self-identified pure are impure according others among the self-identified pure.  What else is one supposed to expect when setting out on the schismatic enterprise?  The quest for doctrinal purity is the road to a series of schisms, for each of us is somebody’s heretic.

I write as one outside the Reformed camp.  My initial theological formation occurred inside The United Methodist Church.  At age eighteen I became an Episcopalian.  Since then I have never looked back.  The mix of my Anglicanism has become more Lutheran in recent years, but I have collection of Madonnas and crucifixes.  I am, in order, an Anglican-Lutheran-Catholic.  Thus I approach this material as an outsider–an intellectually curious one committed to the idea that, despite the plethora of small theological differences among we Christians, more unites us than divides us.  We ought, therefore, to focus on the latter, not the former.


The saga of Dutch Reformed Christians in the United States of America is a fascinating one.  This series of blog posts, focused on liturgical matters, requires a certain amount of historical background for comprehension.  So this post will provide much of it.  I will not attempt to recreate books I have consulted while preparing this post or will consult while preparing subsequent ones.  Therefore I refer anyone who seeks more details to the books in my bibliography and to the links I have embedded and will embed in the text.

The Reformed Church in America (RCA), one of the oldest denominations in the United States, is among the smaller of the mainline Protestant bodies.  It is a denomination with a mixed identity, for its shrinking Eastern branch is more progressive than its growing Western arm.  The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA or just CRC), the RCA’s more conservative offshoot, is moving to the left while the RCA is moving to the right.  The two denominations are converging, even sharing a hymnal, Lift Up Your Hearts, since 2013.  Nevertheless, substantial differences remain.  The continuing saga of the evolving relationship between these two bodies will remain a story worth monitoring for some time to come.

One storytelling technique is to start at the end then move to the beginning and move forward.  I have given you, O reader, a glimpse of the end of the story.  Now I take you to the beginning and move forward.


Our story begins in New Amsterdam, the capital city of the colony of New Netherland (New Jersey, much of New York, and parts of Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland).  In 1628 the congregation known today as Marble Collegiate Church came into being.  From that event the present Reformed Church in America (RCA) dates its beginning.  For a few decades the Dutch Reformed Church was the religious establishment in New Netherland, enjoying all the benefits which come with that status.  Then, 1664, forces of the British Empire seized the colony.  New Amsterdam became the City of New York and the slow process of the Americanization of the Dutch Reformed Church in the territory which would become the United States of America began.

This was an emotionally and theologically difficult transformation, for the question of identity was at stake.  Dutch Reformed adherents settled on ethnic loyalty to their church, keeping it distinct from other Calvinist groups, such as the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians.  “Dutch” mattered more than “Reformed.”  That was how the former establishment adjusted to its demoted status.  Few liturgical issues have proven thornier down the corridors of time than the language of worship.  That language remained Dutch among the Dutch Reformed for a long time.  The Marble Collegiate Church installed its first English-speaking pastor, Archibald Laidlie, in 1764.  Many congregations used a variety of English-language psalters, none of which the Dutch Reformed Church had authorized, prior to the publication of the official and English-language Psalms of David in 1789.

Those who study the immigrant experience know that the process of adjusting to and accommodating another culture is difficult.  In the case of the Dutch of the former New Netherland this process played out on home turf.  I have mentioned some changes they made.  Here are two more:

  1. A church in New York City installed a pipe organ in 1727.  This proved quite controversial.  The organist, however, did not play the instrument on Communion Sundays.
  2. The practice of separating men and women during Sunday worship became less frequent during the 1700s.

And here is a third.  The (First) Great Awakening also proved controversial in Dutch Reformed circles.  Not only did it shape the Dutch Reformed Church, but that denomination influenced it.  Two components of Dutch Reformed theology clashed.  The experiential aspect of the religion told people that ought to have a personal experience of salvation and emphasized personal piety, often at the expense of sacraments and other “externals.”  Thus Pietism and Revivalism occupied the minds of one wing of the church.

There was a very different camp of Dutch Reformed Christians, however.  They looked back to the Canons of Dort (1619), from which we receive our explanation of the five points of Calvinism:

  • Total depravity,
  • Unconditional election,
  • Limited atonement,
  • Irresistible grace, and
  • Perseverance of the saints.

Some especially strict Dutch Calvinists regarded the Canons of Dort as not only accurate but divinely inspired.  Back in the old country

The Dutch Calvinists came to consider themselves as the new Israel, a chosen people under God, country, and the house of Orange.

–Elton  J. Bruins and Robert P. Swierenga, Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches of the 19th Century (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), page 9

And many Dutch Calvinists in America, part of a church still part of the Dutch national church, agreed.

The Reverend Theodorus J. Frelinghuysen (1691-1748), a leading light of the pro-(First) Great Awakening wing of the church, struggled with the conundrum of affirming both Predestination and the message that people must be born again.  Many of his critics thought that emphasized the latter too much and the former too little.

From 1747 to 1771 the colonial Dutch Reformed Church had two warring factions:  Coetus (Frelinghuysen’s camp) and Confertentie (traditionalists).  Coetus partisans favored not only Pietism and Revivalism but American control of the American church.  No longer should candidates for the ministry have to study in The Netherlands, they insisted.  And, they said, the time to cut the umbilical cord had come; the American church should cease to answer to the Classis of Amsterdam.  Confertentie partisans, being traditionalists, favored a stricter reading of the Canons of the Dort as well as maintaining the status quo with regard to the church in The Netherlands.  They were, relatively speaking, the more orthodox Calvinists.

The Reverend John H. Livingston (1746-1825) became the Father of the Reformed Church in America.  In 1772 he reunited the Coetus and Confertentie factions.  For the rest of his life Livingston shaped the denomination liturgically and theologically.  That body achieved independence from the mother church in 1772, becoming the Reformed Dutch Church in North America (RDCNA).  Later it became the Reformed Dutch Church in the United States of America (RDCUSA).  In 1819 the denomination became the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in North America (RPDCNA).  Finally, in 1867, it took its current name, the Reformed Church in America (RCA).

Both Frelinghuysen and Livingston felt the irenic influence of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563).  Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate, a German state, had commissioned the writing of the catechism, designed to be agreeable to Lutherans and Calvinists alike.  That theological generosity was evident in Livingston’s emphasis on the unity of church as it continued to adapt to changing political and social conditions.  That theological generosity marked the denomination’s leadership even as forces within the body tore it asunder in subsequent decades.


The Psalms of David (1789), The Psalms and Hymns (1814), and Additional Hymns (1831 and 1846)

The Reverend John H. Livingston (1746-1825), Father of the Reformed Church in America, presided over the denomination’s continued Americanization and edited its earliest service books-hymnals The Psalms of David (1789) and The Psalms and Hymns (1814).  He adapted the Canons of Dort for the American scene in 1792, accepting voluntary church membership, for example.  And his Psalms of David (1789) broke with the already weakened Reformed tradition of singing only Psalms and rejecting hymns, “the compositions of sinful men,” as many said of them.

I plan to avoid the trap of attempting to do too much in this post.  Therefore I will discuss the 1789 Psalms of David and 1814 Psalms and Hymns in detail in the next post in the series.  In this post I remain committed primarily to providing historical background information.  Nevertheless, I do offer a brief summary of the those books here.

The table of contents for the 1789 and 1814 books was identical:

  1. The Psalter;
  2. Hymns and spiritual songs “faithful to the Heidelberg Catechism” and pegged to it;
  3. A Compendium of the Christian Religion, a catechism;
  4. The Confession of Faith and the Canons of Dort;
  5. The Liturgy; and
  6. The Nicene and Athanasian Creeds.

The Liturgy came in six sections:

  1. Public Prayer;
  2. The Administration of the Holy Sacraments;
  3. The Exercise of Church Discipline;
  4. The Ordination of Church Officers;
  5. The Celebration of Marriage; and
  6. Comforting the Sick.

The thoroughly Reformed liturgy fell into widespread disuse in the early 1800s.  Proponents of the liturgy lamented this fact, but their protests changed nothing.  Liturgical differences proved pivotal in preventing an attempted union of the Reformed Church in America and the German Reformed Church, for the latter U.S. denomination was undergoing a liturgical revival due to the Mercersburg Theology of the Reverends John Williamson Nevin (1803-1886) and Philip Schaff (1819-1893).  They called the Reformed Churches back to their Protestant Reformation liturgical roots and away from Revivalism and Pietism.  Along the way Nevin and Schaff faced charges of heresy–Romanism, specifically.  That was strong language in those days.  Yet Nevin and Schaff won the argument in their denomination.  The Reformed Church in America, however, was not yet ready for the Mercersburg Theology.

The Reformed Church in America, in its post-Livingston phase, embraced the Second Great Awakening, which was at its height after his 1825 death.  Two hymnals, both named Additional Hymns and bound with both separately and with The Psalms and Hymns, proved indicative of their times.  Additional Hymns (1831) abandoned the practice of pegging hymns to the Heidelberg Catechism in favor of a topical arrangement.  Most of the content of this revivalistic hymnal came from Pietists.  The largest category was “Revival,” focused on individual believers struggling with adversity.  Most of the 172 new hymns in the book were about people, not God, in true Pietistic fashion.  Additional Hymns (1846), also Pietistic, went further, adding 340 new hymns.  “Particular Duties” was among the largest categories.  The sense of social responsibility which the Heidelberg Catechism engendered and which had influenced the 1789 and 1814 collections, although present, was weaker.  The authorized texts indicated an emphasis not on God or on social improvement, but on judgment, the uncertainty associated with death, human responses to grace, and how individuals should live faithfully each day.  The first person singular was prominent, consistent with much of Evangelicalism.

I feel the need to make a point plainly:  another aspect of Evangelicalism encourages social responsibility.  At the time of the Second Great Awakening many Northern Evangelicals became deeply involved (or more so) in the movement to abolish slavery.  Many Southern Evangelicals, however, quoted the Bible more vigorously to defend slavery.  The Second Great Awakening encouraged many people to join social reform movements.  It fostered a sense of social responsibility in many people, but not in all whom it influenced.

Hopkinsian Theology and the Secession of 1822

Tensions focused on the question of how strictly Reformed to be and to remain resurfaced in the early 1800s, as the Reformed Church in America engaged in ecumenical efforts related to Sabbath observance, temperance, the abolition of slavery (some people were for it, others against it), and frontier evangelism.  The church was expanding westward.  But what was the best way to do so?

This question began to flare up in the second decade of the nineteenth century and led to a minor schism in the third.  The General Synod of 1814 questioned the practice of receiving Congregationalist clergymen without doctrinal examination.  The trigger for the dispute was the Reverend Jonathan Hopkins, a student of Jonathan Edwards.  Hopkins, however, emphasized free will more than his teacher did.  Was Hopkins too Arminian?  Was Arminianism infiltrating the Reformed Church in America?  This was a major issue.  The Synod of Dort (1618-1619), after all, had convened to refute Arminianism and produced the Canons of Dort.

Two synods were the chief ecclesiastical bodies involved in the conflict internal to the Reformed Church in America.  The Synod of New York favored relaxing Calvinist orthodoxy in the name of winning converts on the frontier, but the Synod of Albany preferred the old orthodoxy.  This dispute of 1822-1824 rehashed an ecclesiastical altercation from 1747 to 1771.  Abstract theology, however was not the major issue for the Synod of New York.  The Dutch Reformed of southern New York, having lost their establishment status in 1664, had retained numerical strength for a long time.  Yet, in the early 1800s, that was changing due to changing demographics and to intermarriage with descendants of English people.  The Synod of New York was playing catch-up.

Some of the stricter members of the Reformed Church in America broke away in 1822, forming the True Reformed Dutch Church (TRDC), also known as the True Protestant Dutch Reformed Church (TPDRC).  (Was the parent body false?)  The new denomination formed with twenty-six congregations and twenty-four ministers.  Some of the churches of this body joined the Christian Reformed Church in North America (founded in 1857) in 1890.  The first of the three U.S. Dutch Reformed schisms had occurred and presaged the second.

The General Synod of 1824 addressed the dispute with the theological generosity.  It reaffirmed the Canons of Dort and permitted participation in revivalism.  The True Reformed Dutch Church was not impressed.

The Secession of 1857 and the Christian Reformed Church in North America

The Secession of 1857, which created the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA or just CRC), had its roots in The Netherlands.  The National Synod of 1816 had altered the church-state relationship by making King Willem I the highest authority in the church.  Later that year he had mandated the singing of hymns–an affront to many strict Calvinists.  An ecclesiastical resistance movement ensued and culminated in the Secession of 1834.  Religious persecution–fines, imprisonment, et cetera–followed.  The persecution, although over in 1848, had convinced many of the Seceders to emigrate to the United States, with encouragement from the Reformed Church in America.

There were several factions of Seceders in The Netherlands.  All agreed that they wanted nothing to do with the Dutch national church, but they disagreed regarding what should replace it.  One camp argued for a return to the Canons of Dort in lieu of the national church.  Another favored congregational independence and an experiential Gospel in that place.  A third faction, that of the Reverend Albertus C. Van Raalte (1811-1876), supported defense of liberty and the separation of church and state in lieu of the national church.  Van Raalte’s mentor was the Reverend Hendrik P. Scholte (1805-1868), who emigrated to the United States and remained within the Reformed Church in America from that point to his death.

Van Raalte led an exodus to the United States.  He arrived in late 1846; many others followed.  The Reformed Church in America sponsored their journeys westward and financed the construction of houses of worship.  These new congregations formed the Classis of Holland (as in Holland, Michigan), which joined the Reformed Church in America  (RCA) in 1850.  This merger proved crucial to the Reformed Church in America, for it gave the denomination an anchor for expansion into the Midwest and the West.

Van Raalte had found his ecclesiastical home in the New World.  He began to Americanize, something which some of those who had followed him to the United States never did.  Van Raalte, ever grateful for all the Reformed Church in America had done for him and his partisans, remained within it for the rest of his life.

Some of Van Raalte’s fellow emigrants disagreed, however.  No matter how generous the Eastern establishment of the Reformed Church in America was, that amount of money proved to be less than some had expected.  Regardless of how orthodox the RCA was, it proved to be too liberal for some people.  Emigrants had broken away from a national church they considered too liberal, formed more orthodox churches, moved to the United States, and affiliated with a denomination considerably more conservative than the Dutch national church.  Yet, for some, the Reformed Church in America was still too liberal–apostate, even.

There was a litany of complaints.  The singing of hymns proved unacceptable to many.  Some RCA congregations in the East used choirs in worship and/or practiced open communion.  Freemasonry was a widely accepted secret society (albeit less so than before the late 1820s).  Many RCA congregations permitted Freemasons to join.  None had to do so, however.  And sermons based on the Heidelberg Catechism were less frequent than in former times.

Purity of doctrine was only one issue, though.  It was not even the major one.  Cultural differences took center stage.  Those who formed the Christian Reformed Church in North America (five congregations and one minister at the beginning) in 1857 were thinking as transplanted Europeans, not as Americans.  They reacted against the Dutch national church and took out their frustrations on the Reformed Church in America.  They did  not make the distinction between European Freemasonry and American Freemasonry.  And they resisted Americanization, clinging to their Dutch identity, language, and Psalters in the wilderness of the Midwest.  They, Van Raalte said, fought ecclesiastical battles from the old country.

What separated the seceding emigrants from the non-seceding ones in 1857?  As Elton J. Bruins and Robert P. Swierenga wrote:

The RCA members acted like immigrants and the CRC members acted like colonists.

Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches of the 19th Century (1999), page 103

The deed was done.  The Christian Reformed Church, initially weak, became a major force via the third secession of the 1800s.

That, however, is a story for another post.


The past, in a real sense, is present.  This is especially true in ecclesiastical groups with origin stories which many well-informed adherents have come to regret.  The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, came into existence in 1845 in defense of slaveholding missionaries.  That, like so much else which almost nobody in the Western world defends these days, seemed like a good idea at the time.  That denomination, to its credit, has apologized for the conditions of its founding.  The Christian Reformed Church came into existence for reasons which many of its leaders these days admit were dubious at best.  I have read criticisms from prominent contemporary CRC figures of the founders of that denomination.

The previous owner of my copy of Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches of the 19th Century resisted agreeing with those leaders.  He, a member of the Christian Reformed Church, underlined much and wrote fascinating marginalia.  He suspected an anti-CRC bias in the book, to which a prominent Christian Reformed pastor wrote the Preface.

We humans form attachments to organizations, about which we prefer to hold the best possible opinions.  We tend to be loyal to these groups.  That can be laudable, but somber honesty is a higher virtue.



Benedict, Philip.  Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed:  A Social History of Calvinism.  New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 2002.

Bruins, Elton J., and Robert P. Swierenga.  Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches in the 19th Century.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 32.

Brumm, James Hart, ed.  Liturgy Among the Thorns:  Essays on Worship in the Reformed Church in America.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 57.

Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), The.  Part I.  Book of Confessions.  Louisville, KY: The Office of the General Assembly, 1996.

Lift Up Your Hearts:  Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2013.

Our Faith:  Ecumenical Creeds, Reformed Confessions, and Other Resources; Including the Doctrinal Standards of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2013.

Smidt, Corwin, et al.  Divided by a Common Heritage:  The Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America at the Beginning of the New Millennium.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 54.









Deuteronomy and Matthew, Part III: For the Benefit of Others   1 comment


Above: The Arch, The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

Image Source = Josh Hallett


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 1:37-2:15

Psalm 62 (Morning)

Psalms 73 and 8 (Evening)

Matthew 6:1-15


Some Related Posts:

Matthew 6:


Jesus, in Matthew 6:1-15, sets the tone with the first verse:

Be careful not to parade your religion before others; if you do, no reward awaits you with your Father in heaven.

The Revised English Bible

This does not mean that religion is or should be a purely private matter, for the truth remains that as one thinks, so one behaves.  The point pertains to motivation.

Aside:  Purely private religion is the opposite of theocracy, of which I am also very critical.  

Evangelicalism, as I have experienced it, is very extroverted.  I, on the other hand, am introverted.  So I have felt out of place around many Evangelicals  much of the time for this and other reasons, including rampant anti-intellectualism (not on my part) and discomfort (also not on my part) with the number and nature of theological questions I am fond of asking and exploring.  I am an Episcopalian, so I like to ask questions.  And I, as an introvert, am especially loathe to wear my religion on my sleeve, but am obviously not reluctant to be openly religious in public.  I do prefer, however, to be so in a generally quiet manner.  And I will not knock on doors as part of an effort to convert others, for I dislike it when others knock on my door for that purpose.  Besides, many people whom I have encountered do not know how to take “no” for an answer; their bad manners offend me.  (Certain Mormons have been especially guilty of such rudeness at my front door.)  That which I do not like others to do to me I try not to do them.  How is that for attempting to live according to the Golden Rule?

One problem of which we read in Deuteronomy 1:37-2:15 is flouting the commandments of God.  There was no public-private distinction in this case, for the the flouting was both public and private.

Doing good deeds in secret, for the benefit of another or others, not for one’s own glory, is righteous and selfless.  It is pure, or at least as close to pure as a human act of kindness can be.  Being sincere before God and not showing off one’s religiosity is honest.  And it does not constitute flouting the commandments of God.

I choose to write about one more aspect of the Matthew lection.  One command of God I have experienced great difficulty in not flouting is forgiving certain people.  It is easy to forgive some yet not others.  But my mandate is is not to make such distinctions.  This struggle continues for me, but spiritual progress has occurred, by grace.  I detect much room for further progress, but I take this opportunity to rejoice in that spiritual progress which has taken place.

It can be difficult to forgive those who have harmed us.  I have my own list of such people; it includes a small group of professors at the Department of History of The University of Georgia.  Their deeds were perfidious; I will not claim otherwise and nothing can change the reality of their perfidy.  But they have only as much power over me now, years after the fact, as I grant them.  And I grant them none.  I refuse to carry grudges against them, for the burdens have proved too heavy for me to shoulder.  I do hope and pray that these professors have, for their sake and those of others, abandoned their perfidious ways.  If they have not done so, that is a matter for God and others to address; my own issues fill my time.

As I think so I am.  As I think, so I behave.  As you think, O reader, so you are and behave.  May we, by grace, be and behave as God approves, for the benefit of others.




[Update: Those negative emotions washed out of my system years ago.  I would not have been human had I not had such emotions, but I would have been foolish not to drop that burden years ago.–2017]


Adapted from this post:


This is post #800 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.


A Preacher’s Kid’s Defense of Clerical Continence   3 comments

Above:  A Pulpit

I begin with definitions, for the meanings of words matter to me very much.  The question of factual accuracy is vital, especially when building a subjective case.  One might disagree with my opinion, but may my facts be iron-clad.  As the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, everybody is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.  So, courtesy of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, here are some definitions.

  1. Clerical.  adj.  2.  Of, relating to, or characteristic of the clergy or a clergyman.

  2. Celibacy.  n.  The condition of being unmarried, especially by reason of religious vows.

  3. Continent.  adj.  2.  Partially or completely abstaining from sexual activity.

A person can be celibate while not being sexually continent.  And two people can be married while being sexually continent, as in the case of “white marriages.”   So sexual continence (often paired with celibacy) pertains more to the case I will make than does celibacy.

I support widespread and affirmed sexual continence among members of the clergy of various denominations.   This might be an ironic case for me to make, one might argue.  I am, after all, a Preacher’s Kid, albeit one who predates his father’s clergy status.  My experiences explain why I affirm clerical continence, for I know what it is like to live under unrealistic expectations of lay people.  And I do not argue for mandatory continence, for allegedly one-size-fits-all solutions do not work for all affected people.  Yet I do state that nobody should look askance at a member of the clergy who has chosen to live as a single and continent person.

Some people do look askance at them.  Many Evangelical and Fundamentalist congregations expect their pastors to be married.  So many single Evangelical ministers have difficulty getting hired.  Homophobia plays a role in some of these attitudes, for the suspicion among some is a single man of a certain age must be a homosexual.  But another factor is acclimation to a certain religious subculture, complete with a certain common pattern of human relationships.

Marriage is a sacrament, one to which many members of the clergy have a vocation.  But many also have the opposite vocation.  Both come from God.  I will not chase a rabbit too long here and now, but the biblical teachings regarding sexual activities are not a clear-cut as many people think.  Read Genesis 38, for example.  And, for orders to stone people who have committed various sexual infractions, read Deuteronomy 22:13-30.

I grew up in a series of United Methodist parsonages in rural southern Georgia.  Each house was more like a fishbowl than a home.  The expectations of many church members was that I ought to be super holy.  (It is difficult to grow up with those unrealistic expectations.)  And people volunteered me for more Christmas plays and other church activities than I counted.  Would it have been too much to ask that people ask me, not assume?

Even worse, the frequent moving (about every two or three years) was devastating.  The causes were issues pertaining entirely neither to my father or to certain lay people, but I did know of some individuals who had been primarily responsible for moving successive ministers.  Having to start at a new school and to meet new people was painful for me, an introvert.  So I withdrew into my own head after a little while; life was easier that way.  I have spent the last few years  unlearning those emotional self-defense tactics I adopted as a child and adolescent.  They had their time and places; what else was I supposed to do?

Yet circumstances have changed.  As I type these words I have lived in the same town for almost seven years.  I have lived in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, longer than I have lived anywhere else.  And I want to remain as long as that is prudent, which will hopefully be for a long time to come.

These have been my reflections; I have spoken only for myself.  My mother had a different yet overlapping set of issues, to which I do not presume to speak.  When I reached adulthood I flirted briefly with clergy status.  For a time I pondered the Episcopal priesthood.  Indeed, I would be more likely to succeed as an Episcopal priest than as a United Methodist minister, especially in Georgia–and especially in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, as opposed to the more conservative and less cosmopolitan Diocese of Georgia.  But I chose not to pursue the clergy path, even as an Episcopal deacon.  The liberation of being among the laity has long appealed to me.

My most basic argument for widespread and affirmed clerical continence is that is generally better that parsonage families not exist than that they do.  The price members of parsonage families pay is too high.  That has been my experience.

The statistical likelihood is that you, O reader, are a lay person if you are a Christian.  (Indeed, this blog is unapologetically Christian.)  I hope that, if your priest or pastor is married, you will consider these perspectives from a Preacher’s Kid and act toward your parsonage or rectory family as an angel, not one who lays unrealistic expectations on them.  They face challenges with which you might not be able to identify.  Yet you can support your parsonage or rectory family with words, deeds, and prayers.  And you can prevent some needless relocations.  Please do that in any situation.  An unnecessary move is rough on a family and a single person alike.

I conclude with a reading recommendation.  For a glimpse into being a collar-wearing member of the clergy read Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church.  It describes another set of challenges to which I do not presume to speak.  Yet, based on my experiences, I relate to the memoir.






Something Old, Something New–Yet All For God   1 comment

Above:  Construction of the Tabernacle, by Gerard Hoet (1728)


Exodus 40:17-21, 34-38 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

And it was:  in the first month, in the second year, on the first day of the month, the Tabernacle was set up.  And Moses set up the Tabernacle and put on its bases and set its frames and put on its bars and set up its columns.  And he spread the Tent over the Tabernacle and set the Tent’s covering on it above, as YHWH had commanded Moses.  And he took the Testimony and put it into ark, and he set the poles on the ark, and he put the atonement dais on the ark above.  And he brought the ark into the Tabernacle and set the covering pavilion and covered over the Ark of the Testimony, as YHWH had commanded Moses.

And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and YHWH’s glory filled the Tabernacle.  And Moses was not able to come into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled on it and YHWH’s glory filled the Tabernacle.  And when the cloud was lifted from on the Tabernacle, the children of Israel would travel–in all their travels–and if the cloud would not be lifted, then they would not travel until the day that it would be lifted.  Because YHWH’s cloud was on the Tabernacle by day, and fire would be in it at night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel in all their travels.

Psalm 84 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!

My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD;

my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

The sparrow has found her a house

and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;

by the side of your altars, O LORD of hosts,

my King and my God.

3 Happy are they who dwell in your house!

they will always be praising you.

4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you!

whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs,

for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.

6 They will climb from height to height,

and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;

hearken, O God of Jacob.

8 Behold our defender, O God;

and look upon the face of your Anointed.

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,

and to stand in the threshold of the house of my God

than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

10 For the LORD is both sun and shield;

he will give grace and glory;

11 No good thing will the LORD withhold

from those who walk with integrity.

12 O LORD of hosts,

happy are they who put their trust in you!

Matthew 13:47-53 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

[Jesus continued,]

Or the kingdom of Heaven is like a big net thrown into the sea collecting all kinds of fish.  When it is full, the fishermen haul it ashore and sit down and pick out the good ones for the barrels, but they throw away the bad.  This is how it will be at the end of this world.  The angels will go out and pick out the wicked from among the good and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be tears and bitter regret.

Have you grasped all this?

They replied,


Jesus returned,

You can see, then, how everyone who knows the Law and becomes a disciple of the kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who can produce from his store both the new and the old.

When Jesus had finished these parables he left the place, and came into his own country.


The Collect:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The Book of Exodus with an emphasis on Moses.  Yet, at the end, Moses does not speak.  God once spoke to Moses in the leader’s own tent.  But, in Chapter 40, there is a new Tabernacle.  The emphasis is moving away from Moses to God.  The people are not to move until the cloud of YHWH moves; they are to follow God in more way than one.

If you are reading these words, O reader, you probably agree that you ought to follow God.  But what does that mean?  Jesus, in Matthew, provides a partial answer.  The parable of the fish in the net points toward an inclusive church, one that does not take upon itself the task of labeling some fish “bad” then throwing them back.  This is a repeated theme with Jesus.  For another example, consider the Parable of the Mustard Seed.  The mustard plant, a weed really, provides shelter to a wide variety of creatures.  Think, too, about the tares and the wheat.  The weeds and the wheat must grow up together until harvest time, and God will oversee the separation.  To do otherwise would damage valuable wheat.  Chapter 13 contains these parables, too.  The grouping is not accidental.

And, Jesus continues, coming to him does not mean beginning at square one, or forgetting all that one used to be.  Transformation follows, but one brings oneself–complete with one’s knowledge, skills, and abilities–to the spiritual journey.  The old has its proper uses, just for different purposes.

I know something about transformation.  I have never had a dramatic conversion experience of the “born again” variety, as many North American Evangelicals understand it.  Nor do I seek one, for it is not necessary.  I have a long-standing relationship with God which has grown during a long process, not from an event.  My life as I knew it collapsed in late 2006 and early 2007, resulting in a traumatic crisis, a death of sorts, and a resurrection in an altered form.  My former self ceased to exist, and a new self with the same outward appearances came into the world.  I became a better person by grace alone, and those who perceived this the most were those who knew me the best.  I am a new person, but all the knowledge, skills, and core personality type of the former self carry over.

Yet there are key differences.  I am more patient and kind than before.  Leniency comes more easily to me, and I am far less likely to despise unpopular and accused people.  As a recipient of grace, which is inherently extravagant, I am more likely to extend it to others.  I have not “arrived” spiritually, but I am closer to my destination.  God is responsible for this.  I draw upon the best of the former self, as well as the unpleasantness which constituted my death-resurrection crisis, to inform the new man.

And I hope that I follow God more often than not.  May you, O reader, do the same.








Adapted from this post:


Regarding Faith and Reason I   Leave a comment

Above:  Richard Hooker, Who Gave Us the Anglican Three Legged Stool:  Scripture, Tradition, and Reason

Image in the Public Domain


I have observed over the years how, particularly in Bible Belt, my geographical context, many people suspend critical thinking in matters of faith and religion.  This is an unfortunate human tendency.  We are the species Homo sapiens sapiens.  Our Latin name indicates that we think.  So, why do so many of us choose not to do this?

One reason is the power of tradition, doctrine, and dogma, which combine to induce the fear of an unpleasant afterlife in many.  A common characteristic of many religions is the injunction to believe X, Y, and Z…or else.  This, I think, is mostly a social control mechanism of human origin.

I do not say, however, that we should believe just anything.  My library contains many books that contain theology I describe charitably as “interesting” because that term is polite compared to my actual opinion.  (“B.S.” is the abbreviation for my actual opinion of certain theology.)  The Book of Mormon, for example, is “interesting.”  Also, it contradicts archeology.  I side with the archeologists.  Yet one aspect of Mormonism is the downplaying of critical thinking (and the emphasizing of having faith) in cases of conflicts between Mormon teaching with science and history.

I cannot divorce faith and reason, however.  So I reject The Book of Mormon as rubbish and a bad forgery.  So I accept the reality of the biological processes of evolution through natural selection.  So I accept the fossil record and recognize that the beginning of Genesis is not a science text.  (The first few chapters of Genesis teach me profound truths about human nature and divine nature–that God is one and possessed of a stable personality; that we bear the image of God, with some free will–and that is wonderful. )

The Episcopal Church, to which I belong, has a poster bearing an image of Jesus.  It says, “He died to take away your sins, not your mind.”  This summarizes much of what I like about my adopted denomination.  Anglican teaching rejects the broad meaning Sola Scriptura, or scripture alone, the (false) standard of many Protestants.  Rather, we learn that we must use tradition and reason in addition to scripture.  I agree with this position, consistent with the narrow meaning of Sola Scriptura:  Nothing outside of scripture is necessary for salvation.

My intellect constitutes an essential element of my life of faith.  There I recognize part of the image of God within myself.  There I see what separates me from many other sentient species.  So I refuse to discount the importance of the intellect in relation to tradition, scripture, dogma, doctrine, or emotion, the latter of which is especially popular among many Evangelicals.

No, I prefer a cooler, more intellectual Christianity, in contrast to an ecstatic, experience-oriented variety.  This is who I am.  Here I stand.  I will do no other.   I can do no other.

Faith and reason are different ways of knowing.  Reason carries me far–to the foot the cross, in fact.  There faith takes over.  The resurrection of Jesus is an essential element of Christianity.  Without it I would have belong to another tradition.  I cannot prove that the resurrection occurred, nor can I prove that it did not occur.  It resides in the jurisdiction of faith.  Through faith I believe–I trust–that it happened.  Through faith I interpret its meaning.  The fact that the resurrection is a matter of faith, not documented history, does not bother me.

I have harbored more doubts that certain answers for years.  This does not concern me, for asking questions increases the probability of finding answers.  And even if I do not find certain answers that is fine, too, for I do not need to know everything or most things.  God knows them, and I am content with that.

Years ago, when I was an undergraduate at Valdosta State College, Valdosta, Georgia, two dorm mates (of Evangelical persuasions) told me that I think too much.  I should be content to believe–just believe–they said.  One of these individuals informed me that my excessive thinking was sending me to Hell.  I restrained my tongue and did not offer to save her a seat, but I had no more substantial conversations with her.  I had nothing else to say to her.

I reject all forms of fundamentalism.  They shut down debate and ignore evidence that runs afoul of the fundamentalists’ established worldview.  Religious fundamentalism is just as bad as atheistic fundamentalism, such as that of Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, or Richard Dawkins.  All these varieties represent extremes, and truth, I have found, is seldom at the extremes.


SEPTEMBER 29, 2009