Friday, January 18, 2013

Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement

Foster, Douglas A., Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams, eds. The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.

This is a fairly comprehensive reference work about the ecclesiastical traditions tracing their roots to Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) and Barton W. Stone (1772-1844). These traditions include the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, and Churches of Christ. The editorial board may be commended for bringing these divergent branches of the movement together, at least in book form.

The essays range from a few paragraphs for Enos Dowling (1905-1997) to 21 pages for Alexander Campbell. Topics include biographical figures like Dowling and Campbell, institutions like Phillips Theological Seminary and Harding University, publications such as Millennial Harbinger and Restoration Review, agencies such as the American Christian Missionary Society and the Ladies' Aid Society, discussions about the movement in relation to historical events such as the Civil War and Temperance, discussions about world missions in various parts of the world such as Latin America and the Carribbean, discussions of theological doctrines such as Grace, Christology, and Lord's Supper, and places and objects important to the movement such as the Cane Ridge Meetinghouse.

The essays are authored by prominent researchers across the three main branches of the Stone-Campbell Movement.The tone is generally nonpartisan and informative. Most essays are readable but dry. They provide a surprising amount of depth about their subjects.

The work is a large, single volume of 854 pages, which includes a thorough index. The work include occasional black and white sketches and photos.

If you've ever wondered about what would possess a Christian movement to divide itself over musical instruments, or wondered what Campbellites mean by "restoration," or wondered why 18th century Presbyterians would start baptizing by immersion and take on a generic identity as "just Christians", then you might find this resource informative and interesting.

The real beauty of this work is that it encompasses the whole Stone-Campbell movement, and you will not sacrifice detail by selecting this reference work over works produced within each of the major branches. It appears to be out of print, but is still widely available. Used prices are beginning to escalate, probably owing to the usefulness and thoroughness of this work.

Rest in peace, Tony Dunnavant!


Steve

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

This They Believed: A Brief History of Doctrine in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church

Irby, Joe Ben. This They Believed: A Brief History of Doctrine in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Memphis: Cumberland Presbyterian Resource Center, 1997.

It seems appropriate, as I move into reference sources about various denominational traditions, that I include at least one from the Cumberland Presbyterian Tradition, with which my employer, Memphis Theological Seminary is affiliated. I can say with pride that Joe Ben Irby (1915-2007) made use of materials from the MTS Library when producing this excellent work. Dr. Irby was still writing actively at the age of 88 when I began my work here, and I miss his weekly visits to our library.

The subtitle of this book is somewhat of a misnomer in that Cumberland Presbyterian Doctrine is not presented chronologically here. However, Dr. Irby does draw from the full breadth of Cumberland doctrinal history. The contents are presented topically, along major areas of Christian doctrine such as the "The Scriptures," "God," "The Human Being," "The Person of Christ," "Salvation," "The Church," "Ministry," and a few others. Some divisions are distinctly reformed in character, such as "The Confessions" and "Predestination." One, "A Medium Theology" is distinctly Cumberland Presbyterian in nature. In each of these chapter divisions, Dr. Irby provides quotes from the major Cumberland confessions and major theologians about the doctrinal topic at hand. The theologians range from the founders of the Cumberland Presbyterian movement in the early 19th century, such as Finis Ewing and Richard Beard, to writers who are still living, such as Virgil Todd and Clinton Buck.

In this way, Dr. Irby has created a work that remains close to primary sources, providing relevant quotes, that also accounts for the full range of Cumberland Presbyterian doctrine. Dr. Irby's ethos is that of a knowledgeable, impartial, and unobtrusive guide to Cumberland Presbyterian sources and beliefs. His writing is clear and readable if one is familiar with basic theological terminology, or if one has a source such as McKim's Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms handy. This They Believed can provide enjoyable browsing or a useful research tool for anyone curious about the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination. This work is still available from numerous used book sources or from the Cumberland Presbyterian Resource Center.

Peace,
Steve


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies

Abraham, William J. and James E. Kirby, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

I have so far resisted posting about works related to specific branches of the Christian family. Perhaps it is time for me to begin to do so. It seems natural for me to begin with an excellent new source about my own tradition, especially when the editors contributed to my own theological education: Abraham as my evangelism instructor, Kirby as the dean of my seminary: Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. I am grateful for their contributions to my life and ministry.

Books and reference books about Methodism are countless. The tradition has been examined from many angles and perspectives. Most sources either cover a wide range of topics in a cursory way, or they make a case for a particular perspective about Methodism or one of its key figures. This work is unusual in that it achieves a degree of depth and multiple perspectives on Methodist history, doctrine, and church life and governance, and that it manages to condense these into a single, manageable, readable volume.

Forty two essays are arranged into six major divisions that include "History of Methodism"; "Ecclesial Forms and Structures"; "Worship: Sacraments, Liturgy, Hymnody, Preaching"; "Spiritual Experiences, Evangelism, Mission, Ecumenism"; "Theology"; and "Ethics and Politics." Some examples of essay titles include "Methodism in Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries," "Methodism in Latin America," "Methodism and Pentecostalism," "Ministry and Itinerancy in Methodism," "Liturgical Revolutions," "The Quest for Holiness," "Christian Perfection," and "Methodism and Politics in Africa." As these titles suggest, the work is not limited in scope to a particular ecclesial body such as the United Methodist Church, nor is it limited to North America and Britain.

As one might expect, the book is 761 pages long including a thorough index. Nevertheless, the paperback version is convenient to carry in one hand. It is no larger than most paperback Bibles, but it does not have the thin paper and tiny print.

 If you would like to gain more than a superficial knowledge about Methodism, but have time to explore only one book, this may be the best selection you could make. The only thing this work does not provide is primary source material. For those purposes, there are plenty of excellent anthologies and "complete works" editions available to supplement this excellent volume.
Friday, September 21, 2012

Reader survey

Dear "Hilkaiah's Scroll" readers,

I'm interested in knowing more about who is reading my blog and why, so that I can tailor future posts for my readers. I'm asking you to take a minute and answer seven easy multiple choice questions that will help me with this. Just follow this link to take the survey http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/3XJG8P2. I should add that this survey is completely anonymous. I do not collect your name or any other identifier.

Thank you,
Steve
Friday, September 14, 2012

How to Be a Perfect Stranger

Magida, Arthur J., ed. How to Be a Perfect Stranger: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People's Religious Ceremonies. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1996.

This week, much violence has taken place over religious intolerance and misunderstanding. It is clear that more violence is to come. I don't know how much it will help to blog about a book like this, but I feel the need to do something. This situation came about first, because a small number of foolish Americans, acting as free agents, created an unfair, cartoonish, and bigoted movie about the central human figure in a religion that provides stability and meaning for millions of people worldwide. In response, a small number of Muslims, rightly offended by the movie, and acting as free agents, committed foolish acts of violence against American citizens who had nothing directly to do with the production of this film. Both were acts of intolerance and misunderstanding. In both cases, stereotyped actions of a few extreme individuals were attributed to a much larger group and its central symbols: in one case, to an entire religion and all of its adherents; in the other case, to an entire country and all of its citizens. In the wake of this week, I feel the need to do something to promote tolerance.

More is at stake even than stopping violence. Right now, a militant atheist is waving around a newspaper and saying "See? Religion needs to be suppressed! Religion needs to be abolished! It just breeds violence!" I know with certainty that some of my readers live in countries where such suppression already takes place. This is a thought that ought to be more troubling to Muslims and Christians alike than the major differences between these two sister religions.

I do not, of course, know if the people who made the ignorant movie call themselves Christians. If they do, then they have much to learn about the teachings of Jesus. Obviously, they have much to learn about the teachings of Mohammed.

Before some of my devout Christian audience checks out, however, I need to assert that tolerance and understanding need not imply a relativistic stance. I am not about to suggest that all religions are equally true, or equally just, or equally relevant. This can not be the case. Yes, at times, opposite metaphors can communicate a single, coherent truth, and it is language itself that divides us. At other times, opposite metaphors communicate opposite truths that may not be reconciled. Whether we agree with each other or not, we do live on this planet together, and we may do so in a state of peace and even friendship, or we can bring misery on each other, as is happening this week. I'm preaching aren't I? Bear with me as I get this sermon out of my system. I will get to the book review.

Sure, we Christians still have an imperative to bear witness to our faith. Tearing down somebody else's cherished beliefs and insulting the objects of their piety is not an effective way to do this. When Paul entered Athens, he was troubled by all the pagan idols and altars. However, he did not attack the Greek Olympian religion. He did not mock Athena or even Theseus. He did not tell the Greeks they were destined for damnation. In fact, he pointed to one of their altars, and quoted some of their mythic poetry, and actually made use of elements of the Olympian religion to make his case for the Christian God. Paul had to have done his anthropology. He had to have done his listening and learning and seeing things through Greek eyes.

Paul also waited for a moment when the Athenians wanted to hear what he had to say. He did not impose his sermon on them. Of course, Athenians had always thought of the marketplace as a place of philosophical and theological discussion. They took Paul from there to the Areopagus or "Mars Hill", which was in earlier times a law court and the seat of a governing council. From here they could overlook the marketplace. Below is a picture of the marketplace, or Agora, from the top of the Areopagus, that I took in 2009.




That this took place on the Areopagus hints that Paul was being placed on trial. If he had bashed the Olympian gods, they might have ordered him a hemlock cocktail, like the one Socrates drank for his "impiety." Paul walks away from this encounter, however, having made his case for the gospel and having won a few converts. Paul had been a perfect stranger. This is all recorded in Acts 17.

...which brings us to a useful reference book. This week's violence underscores more than anything else the need for us to learn to be perfect strangers: to listen, observe, and learn from other faiths, to see things through their eyes before we open our mouths to bear witness to our own tradition. Wait, that reminds me of another good source along these lines. I'll blog about that next. For now, let me introduce to you a two-volume reference book that is a guide for attending and visiting ceremonies and services other religious traditions. After all, the best way to gain understanding of another tradition is to actually attend and observe one of its services.

These opportunities come along in everyday life. A Jewish friend's daughter celebrates her Bat Mitzvah. Your young son is invited to attend church with his Christian Scientist friend. Your Methodist sister marries a Catholic guy in a service conducted by an Anglican priest, and you're supposed to read the scripture. You attend a joint Baptist-Lakota funeral ceremony for a half-Cherokee friend who was once a Pentecostal minister, whose brother is a Baptist minister, and who prayed in a Lakota medicine tradition. These things happen all the time, right?

Actually, I did experience these last two events. I can't say that I've ever been to a Bat Mitzvah. This guide would be useful in most situations like these, as a guide for how to act and what to expect. I'm not sure the editors could have anticipated the Baptist-Lakota joint funeral, however. If you read about these two traditions in this book, you realize that such an event is highly unlikely. Only my late friend could have brought about something like that. She had a way of bringing very different people together. The service was clearly awkward for everyone, but it was also a thing of beauty, as everyone made the effort.

Even though it comes from a Jewish publishing house, this book is divided in a way that hints that it is written with North American Christians in mind. Of the 37 chapters in the two volumes, 30 are about Christian traditions, defined in the broadest sense. Only seven chapters are about non-Christian religions: Buddhist, Hindu, Islam, Jewish, Baha'i, Native American, and Sikh.Christianity is broken down into flavors such as Methodist, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Foursquare Gospel, and Seventh Day Adventist. Judaism is not even broken down into Reformed, Conservative, and Orthodox. Islam is not broken down into Sunnite and Shiite (it seems to assume a Sunnite mosque). Native American traditions, and there are many, are all lumped-in together. African traditional religions don't even have a chapter.

It would be easy to find fault with this, except that this is probably the way most North Americans encounter religion in daily life. Invited to a Buddhist wedding, most North Americans would probably not even know whether to turn to a Theravada chapter or a Mahayana chapter. They would know to turn to one entitled "Buddhist". On the other hand, a Baptist invited to a Greek Orthodox wedding would have no doubt about which chapter to read.

Each chapter includes a brief historical summary of the religion or denomination, a summary of major beliefs, doctrines, and practices, a description of a typical place of worship, expected behavior of guests, appropriate attire, and special vocabulary. Each chapter includes major sections about birth ceremonies, initiation ceremonies, marriage ceremonies, and funeral customs, and proper etiquette and attire for each of these. In the case of widely varying or broadly-defined traditions, the book provides a set of questions that it might be useful to ask.

As a final note, I wish to add that maybe it is a good idea to allow our children to experience ceremonies of other religions, or to occasionally attend services with their friends. This can often be done as a "we'll visit you, you visit us" kind of experience. Because we have such a strong separation of church and state in the U.S., our children don't learn about religions in school. This results in the kind of ignorance that produced the movie. I don't mean to recommend indoctrination in any particular tradition, I mean learning about the major religions of the world and a sampling of "primal" religions, since they are a particularly important aspect of human experience, and a powerful force in history and politics.

It is up to the family to provide such learning experiences, and this book would be a valuable resource for that. Such learning even provides the opportunity to help our children more clearly define who they are in relation to their own religious traditions. It provides parents with an opportunity to speak about why they choose their particular tradition and what is important about it, while also teaching a respectful, inquisitive approach toward others. We can teach our children to be perfect strangers, even as they learn to be faithful believers.

I certainly hope that one day my children will have the opportunity to observe prayers in a mosque, and to hear an Imam make a case for Islam. This is not, of course, because I hope they become Muslim, even if that is a real risk that I take. It is because I hope they will grow up with some respect for and knowledge of Muslim worldviews, and that they will not grow up to make any offensive movies. As for their own faith, I must simply trust that the seeds we have planted in their hearts for the Christian gospel may take root and grow.

The stupid movie and the violence we saw this week result from a lack of understanding between traditions. Let's do what we can to make sure the next generation handles this better than we do.

I certainly apologize if I have stupidly said anything offensive here. I've been revising this post incessantly, trying to make sure that I have not. But I have to admit, I don't read things with Muslim eyes.

Peace,
Steve
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Figures of Speech Used in the Bible Explained and Illustrated

Bullinger, E. W. Figures of Speech Used in the Bible Explained and Illustrated. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003.

This classic reference source was originally published in 1898 and it has been reprinted regularly ever since. Its longevity may be attributed to its usefulness in Biblical interpretation, along with its irresistible appeal to lovers of words and expression, who happen to be Christian, and to lovers of the Bible who appreciate a well-crafted turn of phrase.

So many times interpreters miss out on the spiciness of a playful use of words in the Biblical text, on the richness of multiple meanings embedded in the text, and on the fragrance of intentionally metaphorical language. Attention to a thorough and accessible work like this one can add these complex flavors back into one's interpretive work.

The book is arranged in the spirit of the ancient Greek techne, textbooks that catalog stylistic elements for use in rhetorical instruction. Aristotle's Poetics, Demetrius' On Style, and Longinus' On The Sublime come to mind as ancient works along these lines that provide profuse examples from the literature of the time. However, this one is more clearly focused on figurative language. A secular equivalent today would be Arthur Quinn's exquisite work Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase. Like Quinn's work, Bullinger's book is organized by the Latin and Greek names of figures such as "Epanadiplosis" (repetition of the same words at the beginning and the end of a sentence), "Hendiatris" (three words used for one thing), "Antimereia" (exchange of one part of speech for another), "Prolepsis" (anticipating an argument), and "Irony" (in its true meaning, as an expression of thought in a form that naturally conveys its opposite). Actually, Bullinger's work is more comprehensive than that of Quinn.

Unlike these works that are primarily about style and figurative language however, Bullinger's work draws all of its examples from the Bible, and it has a thorough index of scripture references that makes it accessible as a Biblical studies reference work. To be certain, this is its primary purpose, and it is useful to sort out odd things in the Bible.

Take, for example, Genesis 29:31 "And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated...".
Or, John 7:25 "He that loveth his life shall lose it...".

Bullinger points out that these are metonymies of loving or hating. Just knowing the word "metonymy" may be less than helpful, but these Bible texts do need some explanation, don't they? Jacob probably doesn't hate Leah, he just prefers Rachel. At worst, he might see Leah as "the old ball and chain" but "hate" is a bit strong, and deliberately so. In John, Jesus doesn't mean it is bad to love being alive, and he is not recommending suicide here. Don't let anyone with a pitcher of kool-aid tell you otherwise. We are simply not to value life more than Christ. Both phrases are written as superlative, but the meaning is comparative, and this increases the force of what the writer is conveying. They speak very much of the messiness and unfairness of everyday life and the need for a transcendent God that even breaks into our world in all of its messiness, either with an unexpected baby or as an unexpected messiah.

Can you see here how much it adds to an interpretation to know that? Many of us have been trained, either consciously or unintentionally, to take the Bible only at face value. We lose so much of its richness if we do so, and this work goes a long way toward helping us see past that face value.

If you happen to be a rhetoric nerd who is also Christian, like Saint Augustine and yours truly, this reference work can provide for hours of fascinating word play.

Peace,
Steve

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Quote worth sharing

Dear friends,

I just wanted to share something my pastor said Sunday.

"The only part of the Bible that will help you is the part that you know and the part you believe."
-Rev. Santiago Shol

Peace,
Steve

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