Friday, June 30, 2006

A Time to Reflect

Thankfully, one of the earthly benefits of life as a Presbyterian pastor is four weeks of vacation and two of study leave every year. Well, I'm about to use a third of that bounty, hanging out with my family, swimming, reading, mountain biking, and pondering the inscrutable azure of Lake Tahoe. I will plunge deeper into Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics IV/3.1 as he continues to develop the missional church (without ever employing that word, of course) as it follows the God-Man Jesus Christ, who, as Prophet, is sent out by God. I'll also begin sketching a book that retells the history of Christianity focused on Christ and how we, as a Christian community, have responded or rejected Jesus' ministry and mission. I'm pretty sure I'll discover that Jesus has plenty of surprises for the people who call on his name.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Karl Barth and the "Missional" Church

My wife (an irreverent theologian, to be sure) asserts that "missional" is not an English word, but some theological babble that people noise about today. Yes, I admit that the word doesn't appear in my Webster's 10th edition, but contemporary writers are using it to describe the basic theological conviction that God sends the church into the prophetic task of witness and service. ("Missional" comes from the Latin missio, which means "to send.") More importantly, these writers are drawing us back to what Jesus directed us to do: To live for the benefit of others, not ourselves. Too often, the church is pathetic and not prophetic.

Thankfully, when I turned to Karl Barth (the greatest theologian of 20th century), I found all the theology I needed and nothing called "missional." Barth believed that in Jesus' role as Prophet, he sends his community into the world in service (Church Dogmatics IV/3.2).

I'll let the Swiss theologian Barth speak for himself (though translated, of course): "The Holy Spirit is the enlightening power of the living Lord Jesus Christ in which He confesses the community called by Him and His body, i.e., as His own earthly-historical form of existence, by entrusting to it the ministry of His prophetic Word...."

I'd let to know what you think of them Apfels.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Prayer and the Mathematics of Technology

6 June 2006, Metanexus Conference, University of Pennsylvania
This morning I led Protestant Prayer at the Metanexus Conference on science and religion. It was filmed by a crew whose director determined that this could be “the highest level academic conference in which prayer was actually on the agenda." That fact, in his estimation, made the prayer time worth digitally recording and presumably broadcasting. Ironically, it didn’t seem to make it worth attending since only about 1/30th of the conference attendees were there.
I need to be clear: I’m not complaining. Within the logic of faith, the number of human attenders didn’t matter, of course. For one thing, I was happy that there were enough pray-ers to join during in the intercessions so that my voice didn’t simply ricochet off the walls. It seemed like we even “had church” to some degree. I’m not complaining because it’s the audience of the One to whom we pray that ultimately matters.
That somehow brings me to reflect on technology and faith. The computations of technology (a child of science) and those of faith are quite different. Not at all impugning the motives of the film director (actually, his motives seemed quite commendable), I still know that the mathematics of technology is based on tangible numbers and the prestige of those in attendance. The mathematics of prayer is counted by the degree to which God enters. God + impressive crowds is no greater than God without anyone. It's that math which makes prayer imminently worthwhile.

Monday, June 05, 2006

More from Metanexus Conference on Religion & Science

5 June 2006, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Today the science and religion conference will focus on contributions from European scholars. (It'll be interesting because it might help me put together a "study trip" to Italy... for entirely scholarly purposes, of course) Yesterday, we looked at the nature of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement from an impressive variety of perspectives. ID didn't fare very well, to be honest. One of the more powerful presentations came from Jeffrey Schloss at the evangelical school, Westmont College in Santa Barbara. As a biologist, he carefully noted the deficiencies of the ID paradigm from a scientific perspective, all the while critiquing it thoughtfully and charitably, never resorting to caricatures or truthiness (because I say it loudly, it has to be so). That combination, to my mind, represents Christian scholarship.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Live from Philadelphia on Science and Religion

4 June 2006, "Continuity and Change: Perspectives on Science and Religion" (Metanexus Conference)
This morning finds me not at 208 West First Street in Chico, but in Houston Hall on the University of Pennsylvania campus. (See this link.) Something like 300 participants from 30 countries (I'll get the exact numbers later) are meeting to hear lectures and to generally interact on topics in the dialogue of science and religion. Last night's best moment was a rousing and thoughtful talk by Robert Putnam of Harvard on "Social Capital." A true public intellectual, Putnam dynamically unfolded this notion which emphasizes not what we can save in a bank (economic capital), but what happens when we bond together, when we have dinner parties, when we attend worship, and when we know our neighbor's first name. Social capital, he asserted, is more important for our kids and thus our society than economic capital. (You can find some of these ideas in his book, "Bowling Alone.") Finally, he exhorted the audience of religious and scientific scholars, pastors, professors et al. to work on "bridging social capital," which brings together groups that aren't connected through "bonding social capital." I'd put it this way: it's what happens when people come from east and west, south and north and sit at the Kingdom of heaven.