Reflections from Seminary Students

GCHI: Beginnings and Ends of Humanity

October 27th, 2010 § 0 Comments

Below is an excerpt of a paper that recently I wrote for my Global Christian Heritage I class. The excerpt is actually the portion of the paper that is answering the question: “How is Maximus the Confessor’s chapter on “The Beginning and the Ends of Rational Beings” applicable to the Church?” By “beginnings” Maximus is referring to humanities’ ontological beginnings (i.e. from where does humanity come and for what were they created?). By “ends”, Maximus is referring to humanities’ eschatological ends (i.e. what future hope can humanity have for the end and, again, for what were they created?). If you are interested in reading the chapter after reading this blog, click here.

“After giving the text a thorough read, I realize that Maximus the Confessor’s argument has a very pertinent application for ontological and eschatological theologies in the church today. Speaking plainly, western Protestantism endorses a faith that persuades people to simply be kind to one another, encouraging convenient niceties to each other in order to feel good about themselves. The costly commandment to “love your neighbor” has been replaced with a new one: “be nice to one another when it is expedient for you.” This fickle kind of Christian faith is not just due to a skewed understanding of humanities’ beginnings and ends; it has more to do with the fact that our culture does not care to know and/or acknowledge who we are as a creation and what exactly is the ultimate fulfillment in this life.
We live in a world that expects us to “die and live in the now” repeatedly every single day; forgetting our past and forsaking the future for the sake of the present moment. “The moment” is so sacred, that if you are not facebooking, you are anti-community; if you are not tweeting, you are un-celebratory; if you are not blogging, you are irrelevant; if you are not branded, you are unknown. The world fights fiercely regarding the protection of the modes that provide moments of instantaneous gratification, that there is no interest left in attempting to recover who we are, from where we came, and to where we are ultimately returning. There is no curiosity left for these things because they are seemingly irrelevant and not as pleasing as getting instant reward for one’s momentary efforts.
This outlook is not a pagan view either; it is the cultural view of churchgoing twenty-somethings and younger generations who are natives to the internet. Instilled with a lack of conviction about what the Christian faith really demands of and offers them, a lack of consideration exists among these young people about why should live for anything other than what their culture says they should live for: the moment.
The purchase power of Maximus’ argument is easily understood laid-out as a four-point sermon. First, God has no beginning or end, but all that is (creation) has its beginnings in God (Creator). Second, since humanity had holy beginnings in God, only holy ends in God will fulfill humanity’s desires to be known. Third, by acting in accordance with the will and word of God, humanity becomes an instrument in God’s hand here on earth, correspondingly making them more God-like. Fourth and finally, God became human so that humanity could become God.
I can practically see the congregation mobbing the pulpit screaming “Heresy!” for the assertions that we are made in the image of God and that through Christ those that fully give themselves to the word and will of God, are being made God by God. By Maximus’ argument, it is seen that our ends are our beginnings and that the image that we are created in infinitely determines who we are being made to become at the final consummation with God.

In this way, truthfully, the moment is not done away with; The Church must realize that the world consists of image-bearers with ends as valuable as God, and that every moment has the potential for the Church to be, see, or become-more-like God. The key difference here is that the Church cannot forget those moments just like the fickle culture overlooks those moments. The Church cannot forsake the future hope of Godly-ends for instantaneous gratification. The Church must grip tightly to every moment of communal interaction believing that when it remembers its neighbor both in their needs and in their joys, it embraces the moment humanity was created in God’s image and every moment thereafter that God is making them Godlike.”

 -Raoul Perez

Segregation in the Church

October 25th, 2010 § 0 Comments

Often labeled taboo, discussions concerning ethnicity rarely find acceptance in public or at the dinner table.  Most people carry the generally accepted premise that segregation is a past problem, solved and swept under a rug. However, a glance across the pews of most American churches portrays a strikingly different story.

The article titled, “Race, Diversity, and Membership Duration in Religious Congregations” from Sociological Inquiry finds that 90% of America’s churches are segregated, defined as a single racial group composing at least 80% of the overall congregation and a quick glance at Sunday morning pews completely confirms the findings. The bigger question is why? With advances in diversity in many facets of American culture, it stands to reason that the American Church should soon follow.

Segregation, however, was not an early hallmark of the Church. A recent CNN blog post argues,

“The first Christian church was known for its diversity. Jews, Gentiles, and Greeks mingled alongside women and slaves. Biblical scholars have long maintained that the early church’s diversity was one of the reasons it became so popular.”

So then what must the Church accomplish in order to resemble the diverse community of its past?

Clearly, no singular approach conclusively solves this deeply rooted issue. Dr. David Leong – the assistant professor of missional theology at SPU – adds,

“I’m hopeful that people would begin to recognize that a variety of approaches are needed to move toward dismantling oppressive or unjust power structures within the Church (and in the culture at large) that have for too long enabled, stratified, and upheld a status quo of segregation in American society.”

Understanding the issue as stated, the School of Theology seeks to resolve it by launching ethnic-specific ministries (like the Asian-American ministry program) and cultivating more multicultural communities through the Perkins Center or the new Reconciliation minor. Dr. Leong declares,

“We ourselves (in the SOT) are a plurality of stories and backgrounds, and we want to see that diversity cultivated, represented, and expressed in the students we serve, the churches in which they worship, and the larger world that is becoming more of a diverse, globalized, multicultural and multiethnic context every day,”

Just as the gospels present diverse views on the life of Jesus, it is imperative that people observe the diverse views of Christians in different cultures.

Considering the volatile nature of the subject, segregation often goes unmentioned and when addressed, it is often done through a one-size-fits-all lens. The School of Theology at SPU, however, acknowledges the deep roots of the issue and hopes to reconcile diverse cultures under the multicultural banner of Christ.

– Donovan Richards

GCH-II: MY Study on John Henry Newman

October 18th, 2010 § 1 Comment

During my second class of three courses in Global Christian Heritage, I had the privilege of studying John Henry Newman.  Most known for his shocking conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism, John Henry Newman was tabloid fodder in his native England, a country openly opposed to Roman Catholicism.  Responding to these allegations, Newman wrote his ground-breaking autobiography, Apologia Pro Vita Sua.  While most of the content is devoted to Newman’s state of mind as he struggles between Anglicanism and Catholicism, I found the defense of Church infallibility in the concluding section of Apologia Pro Vita Sua to be fascinating.

The particular Protestant objection to the doctrine of infallibility is that it curbs ideas.  Anything that is not one, holy, catholic, and apostolic is heretical.  How could people think for themselves if any random idea could potentially be branded heretical?  Newman responds to this objection by explaining the purpose of infallibility.

First, Newman believes that the infallibility of the church exists as a response to the wickedness wrought from original sin.  Since humanity is plagued by the brokenness of sin, infallibility serves as ruling marker, keeping lives in check.

Second, infallibility is not an external source that makes judgments on affairs; it is, instead, confined to make decisions within the realm of law, natural religion, and apostolic faith.  Thus, Newman can state that the belief in infallibility is

that I have only been holding all along what the Apostles held before me (227).

Third, Newman argues that infallibility does not control the freedom for individuals to pursue religious thought; it exists merely to limit the extravagance of theological inquiry.  In light of this argument, Newman expands his case by writing,

It is individuals, and not the Holy See, that have taken the initiative and given the lead to the Catholic mind, in theological inquiry (235).

Simply put, if the doctrine of infallibility restricts open thought in the Church, theological inquiry would be impossible.  Since the Catholic Tradition is full of intellectual heavyweights who have greatly contributed to the Church as a whole, it is obvious that the doctrine of infallibility allows free thought.

Even though modern congregations seem to react negatively to the doctrine of infallibility when applied to Rome, they are more than willing to claim the infallibility of Scripture.  I would argue that if Rome was exchanged with Scripture in Newman’s work, many evangelical Christians would champion John Henry Newman as a sound theologian.  This assertion partly illustrates the compelling nature of Newman’s argument; many Christians today do not consider the bible to restrict theological inquiry, they believe that Scripture enhances it.  So then why is the doctrine of infallibility demonized by Protestants and the doctrine of Scriptural inerrancy unquestioned?

– Donovan Richards

Newman, John Henry. Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Ed. Ian Ker. London: Penguin, 1994.

The Life of a Graduate Assistant

October 13th, 2010 § 0 Comments

As everyone knows, students are broke. Taking full-time classes costs money and devours most of the time that one would use working another job. Luckily, the School of Theology offers graduate assistantships which help ease some of the financial burden. While blogging is one of my responsibilities as a graduate assistant, it would be rather boring to read a blog entry about writing a blog, so let me tell you about another aspect of my job. Though research is one responsibility among many duties I have in the Dean’s office, I particularly enjoyed hunting down a citation for Earl Marlatt’s hymn, “Are Ye Able?”  Dean Strong wanted to use the hymn in a paper since it represented Boston Personalist Theology, the foundational belief system of Boston University professor, Borden Parker Bowne.

With this in mind, I walked to the library and talked to Steve Perisho, our diligent Theology Librarian, asking where we could find the earliest copy of this hymn. A quick search on the WorldCat System gave us contradictory results.

One the one hand, we found two hymnal companions, one of which references a broadsheet in the Bridwell Library special collections titled “Challenge” with the same lyrics as “Are Ye Able?” dated to 1926. On the other hand, a 1928 Methodist hymnal edited by Earl Marlatt specifies 1924 as the date of composition for “Challenge,” the first occurrence of the hymn in any source.

Using my detective’s intuition, I contacted Bridwell about the inconsistency. After some digging, Bridwell found the broadsheet in question signed by Earl Marlatt in 1926. They scanned the notated music, attached it to an email, and it landed in my inbox. Conclusive proof! Earl Marlatt originally wrote “Are Ye Able?” in 1926 and the mistaken date of 1924 in his later hymnal references the composition of the melodic tune written by Harry S. Mason. Dr. Strong’s paper on Boston Personalist Theology now contained proper references! Despite the fact that this story is a fun anecdote and not indicative of everyday work, it was an enjoyable part of my first-year graduate assistantship.

– Donovan Richards

The Gift of Reconciliation

October 11th, 2010 § 0 Comments

Editor’s Note: The Gift of Reconciliation is a guest blog post from fellow School of Theology graduate student, Jessica Portwood. This article was originally posted at – Donovan Richards

As I’ve talked with kids as a volunteer chaplain at King County’s Juvenile Detention Center, I’ve heard countless stories filled with details so appalling that I have a hard time even imagining them.

The pain and the brokenness in the faces of the kids I meet often feels heavy and lethal. In many regards, I come from a different world than most of the kids there. I grew up in the suburbs of the South with a loving family and more privilege than most, while the majority of these kids know a childhood marked by hateful judgments and harsh abandonment.

Yet I am finding more and more that these kids and I need each other. We need the gift of one another’s presence, complete with the reality of our differences and the beauty of our commonality — a commonality that reminds us that we are all God’s children in great need of his love and reconciliation, both to himself and to each other. Our meetings are a costly endeavor on both sides; they demand us to surrender our time, vulnerability, pride, and assumptions.

I think our tendency is to avoid reconciliation — and sometimes even run from it with a pressing immediacy — because reconciliation implies that we must give something up. And we assume that we necessarily lose when something is relinquished. In our consumer-driven society we constantly weigh the costs and benefits of our decisions, whether we realize it or not. But I am not convinced that a comparison of pros and cons is an appropriate way to approach reconciliation. Instead, I am finding that the blessing I receive and the cost I forfeit are more harmonious than they seem.

What we surrender in reconciliation and the pain we feel as a result are as much a part of the gift as the joy and the reward we find through the process. And really, I’m discovering that the further I enter into the gift of reconciliation, the more difficult it is to distinguish the sorrow from the joy, the pain from the glory. They’ve somehow all become part of the same beautiful, messy, God-given blessing that I can’t resist. They all play a role in God’s reconciliation as he brings us into the fullness of who we were created to be and also teaches us how hope for that fullness in one another.

This recognition blurs the lines of harsh dichotomies we oft assume, and it gives me freedom to ask the questions that loom in my heart. Rather than just asking God why he allows the suffering, I can also ask God why he has gifted us with such fullness and joy. I am invited to discover God’s movement in this world and ask how I can participate.

It hurts to enter into the pain of those around us, and it hurts to let others into the depth of our own pain. However, as we seek each other out, facing our own depravity, we receive a profound blessing — the blessing of reconciliation that draws us nearer to our Creator and nearer to each other.

– Jessica Portwood

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