Wednesday, September 18, 2013

For the feast day of Dag Hammarskjöld

Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-1961)
The following is the essence of an unscripted devotional reflection I shared at a School of Divinity faculty meeting at Gardner-Webb University this morning.

Today is one of those unorchestrated happy coincidences of the Scripture text specified by the Daily Office Lectionary, the commemoration of a saint whose life strikingly embodies that text, and the occasion for reflecting on these things that makes possible serendipitous connections between them.

Today's Epistle Lesson is 1 Corinthians 2:1-13:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

The Word of the Lord; thanks be to God.

Today is the feast day of Dag Hammarskjöld, at least in the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Many of you know something of his story (I first learned about it from James Wm. McClendon Jr.'s Biography as Theology, in which Hammarskjöld is one of McClendon's chapter-length test cases of what he proposes; I'm currently reading the new Hammarskjöld biography by Roger Lipsey). Hammarskjöld was Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1953 until his untimely death on September 18, 1961 in a plane crash near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, with perhaps sinister causes, while he was en route to negotiate a cease-fire agreement in the civil war in the Congo during that era of the Cold War proxy conflicts on the African continent. (The BBC recently reported on calls for the U.N. to re-open its investigation of the crash.)

In the aftermath of the crash two things were discovered that documented a rich personal Christian spirituality few had known about. His briefcase, thrown clear of the plane's wreckage, contained a yellow legal pad on which Hammarskjöld had been working during the flight on his own translation into Swedish of Martin Buber's I and Thou. Later in his New York apartment a journal was discovered in which Hammarskjöld had been recording his spiritual musings dating back to the completion of his undergraduate studies in 1925, with the last entries recorded a few days before his death. The journal, later published under the title Markings, revealed a long period of doubt and searching that continued until 1952, when not long before his surprise election as U.N. Secretary-General he experienced a profound personal re-embrace of the Christian faith in which he had been nurtured during his childhood and youth.

Three brief entries from that journal, the first dated New Year's Day in 1953, not long after his experience of owned personal faith and only a few months before his election as U.N. Secretary-General:

For all that has been--Thanks!
To all that shall be--Yes!
(Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings, trans. Leif Sjöberg and W. H. Auden [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964], p. 89)

From later in 1953, sometime not long after his election as U.N. Secretary-General:

Not I, but God in me. (Markings, p. 90)

And this, from still later in 1953:

He who has surrendered himself to it knows that the Way ends on the Cross--even when it is leading him through the jubilation of Gennesaret or the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. (Markings, p. 91)

What one encounters in this last passage and elsewhere in Markings is remarkably similar to the understanding of the cruciform character of the Christian life in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer--that to follow Christ is to take up the cross, to come and die, to die to self, and to open up oneself even to death at the hands of the powers that be who, not understanding the cruciform wisdom of God revealed through the Spirit, thus crucify the Lord of glory and those who follow his Way.

Hammarskjöld was reticent about his spirituality in his public role, but he hinted at how it shaped his work in a speech during his first year in office as Secretary-General: "We cannot mold the world as masters of a material thing. Columbus did not reach the East Indies. But we can influence the development of the world from within as a spiritual thing."

Where did Hammarskjöld acquire the faith that seems to have guided his service to the world? One of the few other times he hinted at it publicly was when he addressed the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches that met in Evanston, Illinois in 1954. His host had offered to explain to Hammarskjöld the history of the WCC, and Hammarskjöld replied, "Oh, I know all about that! I was brought up under Söderblom" (quoted in Roger Lipsey, Hammarskjöld: A Life [Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2013]). Hammarskjöld was referring to Nathan Söderblom, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Archbishop of Uppsala who was an influential shaper of the institutions of the modern ecumenical movement in the 1920s and 1930s that led to the founding of the WCC. Söderblom was a neighbor and family friend of the Hammarskjölds during Dag's childhood and youth. In 1926 Dag served as a French translator for the landmark Stockholm Conference on Life and Work planned and led by Söderblom.

And that leads us to the occasion on which we reflect on these things, at a faculty meeting for discussing our ministry of theological education. We are entrusted with the task of forming the future Nathan Söderbloms--who may become known or may remain obscure--who in turn will influence the future Dag Hammarskjölds, who, whether noted by others or not, will have opportunities to "influence the development of the world from within as a spiritual thing." That can happen if we are faithful in forming our students in the cruciform wisdom of God revealed by the Spirit.

Let us pray toward that end:

Heavenly Father, who have taught us that the peacemakers shall be called the children of God: Grant that, like your servant Dag Hammarskjöld, we may always seek to live at peace with our neighbors, and to reconcile those living in strife and enmity; so that in this way we may follow in the footsteps of your beloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect by James Kiefer)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Associated Baptist Press on Baptist reception of the liturgical riches of the whole church

Photo by First Baptist Church,
Dayton, Ohio
A story published yesterday by Associated Baptist Press explores the growing phenomenon of Baptist churches doing intentional retrieval and reception of the liturgical practices that belong to the whole church in its historical and contemporary expressions. A previous post on Ecclesial Theology called attention to the book Gathering Together: Baptists at Work in Worship referenced in the story. I granted an interview for the ABP story, which includes a couple of quotations from me. Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the article:

Pastors and scholars familiar with a new book about liturgical worship say its publication signals the practice’s spread in Baptist churches who realize ancient Christian practices are inherently missional and may lure younger generations to the faith.

Gathering Togther: Baptists at Work in Worship is a collection of essays with an index containing resources including creeds and procedures for employing sacraments.

“It represents an increasingly widespread Baptist recognition that our tradition by itself is not sufficient,” said Steve Harmon, an adjunct professor of Christian theology at the Gardner-Webb University divinity school and author of Towards Baptist Catholicity: Essays on Tradition and the Baptist Vision.

Harmon, who also endorsed the new book of essays and practices, said its release this month coincides with growing enthusiasm for liturgical practices among divinity students and reports of churches blending contemplative forms into existing worship styles.

“My sense is it’s slowly picking up steam instead of being in the same churches,” he said.

Harmon isn’t alone in his intuition....(read the full story on Associated Baptist Press)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Gathering Together: Baptists at Work in Worship

Over the weekend I received in the mail my copy of Gathering Together: Baptists at Work in Worship, edited by Rodney Wallace Kennedy and Derek C. Hatch, a new release from the Pickwick Publications imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. I provided one of the back-cover endorsements for the book:

"Free churches are increasingly finding their way to the liturgical riches of the whole church and finding there the resources they need to form faithful followers of Christ. The contributors to this volume have drawn on a wealth of pastoral experience and theological expertise to provide ministers of such churches with invaluable guidance in this journey."
—Steven R. Harmon, Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity

The co-editors of Gathering Together have connections with the congregational life of a Baptist community that has undertaken the sort of liturgical retrieval and renewal their book advocates. Kennedy is Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dayton, Ohio. Earlier this year Associated Baptist Press reported on the Eucharistic hospitality FBC Dayton extended to a neighboring Episcopal parish during renovations to its church building in the story "Baptists host Episcopalians, wine. " Hatch, now Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, was a member of FBC Dayton during his Ph.D. studies at the Catholic-affiliated University of Dayton; a previous post on Ecclesial Theology called attention to Hatch's doctoral dissertation there examining critically the Baptist perspectives of E. Y. Mullins and George W. Truett on nature and grace in light of the work of Catholic theologian Henri de Lubac.

The book's Table of Contents appears below:

Derek C. Hatch and Rodney W. Kennedy

1 Worship and Becoming the Body of Christ
Kyle Childress

2 The Christian Year: Practicing the High Priesthood of
Michael D. Sciretti, Jr.

3 Liturgical Ties of Community
Amy Butler

4 Pastoral Prayers in Worship
Sharlande Sledge

5 Creeds and Freedom: Another Baptist Witness
Philip E. Thompson

6 Reclaiming the Liturgical Heart of Preaching
Rodney W. Kennedy

7 Communing Together: Baptists Worshiping in the Eucharist
Scott W. Bullard

8 Baptism: The Substance and the Sign
Elizabeth Newman

9 Music as Liturgy
Randall Bradley

10 The Missional Heart of Liturgy
Cameron Jorgenson


I Worship Resources
II Occasional Services

Gathering Together: Baptists at Work in Worship may be ordered from the publisher in paperback and in a Kindle e-book edition from Amazon.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Announcing the Baptist World Alliance-World Methodist Council dialogue

On September 6 the Baptist World Alliance issued the following press release regarding plans for an upcoming series of international bilateral ecumenical conversations between the BWA and the World Methodist Council:
BWA to dialogue with Methodists

Washington, DC (BWA)--A planning meeting for the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) international dialogue with the World Methodist Council (WMC) took place at the Wesley Chapel in London in the United Kingdom, from August 28-29.

The BWA Executive Committee and General Council, in March and July of this year, respectively, endorsed a proposal that the BWA begin the process of preparation for a theological dialogue with the WMC.

The dialogue is planned for 2014-2018 and will explore the theme, Faith Active in Love: Sung and Preached, Confessed and Remembered, Lived and Learned.

"Participation in bilateral dialogues is an expression of BWA's commitment to continue the mission of God whose Messiah prayed for the unity of the church so that the world might believe," BWA General Secretary Neville Callam said, extrapolating from the Gospel according to John. "In asking how we might manifest this oneness, we are drawn to the words of the apostle Paul that 'the only thing that counts is faith working through love.'"

The preparatory meeting agreed that the dialogue should aim at: a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, one another; mutual exchange of gifts for the enrichment and renewal of Baptist and Methodist churches; increased participation in a common mission and witness in the world; and deeper fellowship and cooperation by identifying and overcoming barriers. "We believe that we can move toward the fulfillment of these aims by focusing on the agreed theme," Callam declared.

"Now that the focus of the dialogue has been identified, the international team to represent BWA will soon be appointed," the BWA leader announced. The teams for the dialogue will comprise six persons from each of the two communions.

The BWA team for the planning meeting in London was Callam, Timothy George, chair of the BWA Commission on Doctrine and Christian Unity, Stephen Holmes and Curtis Freeman.

Baptist World Alliance®
© September 6, 2013

Friday, September 6, 2013

Introducing the Pacific Journal of Baptist Research

I’m pleased to announce that the Pacific Journal of Baptist Research, a peer-refereed journal for which I serve on the Editorial Board, has made the transition from print subscription journal to fully open-access online journal under the leadership of new Senior Editor Myk Habets, who is Lecturer in Systematic Theology, Head of  the Carey Graduate School, and Director of the R. J. Thompson Centre for Theological Studies at Carey Baptist College in New Zealand. While based in New Zealand, the Pacific Journal of Baptist Research has been broadening its scope beyond Australasia to include Baptist and Anabaptist communities in the Pacific Rim nations and beyond. Toward that end, the journal has added American and European representation to its Editorial Board, moved from print to online, and published work of international interest such a recent article on “The baptist Imagination of James McClendon.” I hope readers of Ecclesial Theology will visit the new web site of the journal and read new issues as they are published.

I also hope that scholars working on article-length projects with connections to Baptist studies will consider responding to the call for manuscript submissions. For those so interested, here's some information on the journal and submissions from the PJBR masthead:

The Pacific Journal of Baptist Research (PJBR) is an open-access online journal which aims to provide an international vehicle for scholarly research and debate in the Baptist tradition, with a special focus on the Pacific region. However, topics are not limited to the Pacific region, and all subject matter potentially of significance for Baptist/Anabaptist communities will be considered. PJBR is especially interested in theological and historical themes, and preference will be given to articles on those themes. PJBR is published twice-yearly in May and November. Articles are fully peer-reviewed, with submissions sent to international scholars in the appropriate fields for critical review before being accepted for publication. The editor will provide a style guide on enquiry. All manuscript submissions should be addressed to the Senior Editor:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Funding the formation of the called

Students at Gardner-Webb University
School of Divinity
This post appeared last week on the Associated Baptist Press ABPnews Blog. It addresses a looming crisis regarding the theological education of ministers for churches affiliated with my own ecclesial communion, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, but the problem it addresses is not unique to the CBF, and its recommendations are applicable to other denominations and their institutions, mutatis mutandis.

Robert Dilday’s article on the educational indebtedness of the church’s future ministers published last Friday by Associated Baptist Press, along with the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education paper “The Gathering Storm: The Educational Debt of Theological Students” referenced in the article, should be pondered deeply by anyone who cares about the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and its future.

The CBF owes its very existence to concerns about the sort of theological education that would be received by the future ministers of moderate-to-progressive Baptist congregations that did not identify with the hard-right turn of the Southern Baptist Convention. During CBF’s first decade the Fellowship increasingly lent financial support to what it now describes as “the 15 seminaries, theology schools or Baptist studies programs in CBF’s network of ministry partnerships.”

As a teacher of theology in CBF partner schools, I’m grateful for the financial support my students have received from Fellowship Baptists. But in light of the realities described in Dilday’s ABP story, I’m convinced that it’s time for us to give renewed attention to increasing scholarship funding of students who receive theological education at our partner institutions.

I propose four ways we can do this, starting with the grassroots of CBF local congregational life:

1. Each CBF-affiliated congregation can fund a scholarship at a CBF theological education partner school. This might be the school nearest geographically to the church, or perhaps the school that educated its ministers or in which members are currently pursuing degrees. Each of the 15 divinity schools, seminaries, and Baptist studies programs has its own unique channels through which scholarships may be funded. The deans, presidents, or program directors of partner schools will be glad to supply information and guidance for next steps.

2. Individual members of CBF-affiliated congregations with the means to do so can fund a scholarship at a CBF theological education partner school. Some potential donors may happen to read this blog post. Other potential donors may come to the minds of other readers who can make them aware of this way to make a significant difference in the life of the church.

3. State CBF organizations can increase their scholarship funding for students attending CBF theological education partner schools. My own state organization, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, has long provided scholarship funds for students from its churches and in recent years has increased this funding. But in North Carolina, where there are more CBF theological education partner institutions than in any other state, other sources of scholarship aid available to students in the early years of these schools are now being phased out, and students are bearing ever-larger portions of the cost of their theological education, often in the form of debt—the repayment of which will be more expensive as the interest of loans for graduate education is no longer federally subsidized. In North Carolina and beyond, the health of CBF life at the state level will depend in no small measure on funding the theological education of the particular ministers most likely to serve churches in their states.

4. CBF national can increase its funding for scholarships for students attending its theological education partner schools. As I’ve written in a previous ABPnews Blog post, I’m enthusiastic about the direction of CBF national life under the leadership of our new Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter. The near future of CBF is one of re-visioning, reorganization, and realignment of resources. It represents a timely opportunity for all involved in the renewal of CBF life at the national level to recover a sense of the importance of theological education to the future of CBF and to address as an urgent matter the funding of students preparing for ministry.

In recent years many have spoken and written of the need to create a “culture of call” to cultivate the ministers the church needs to lead it into God’s future. If that culture is to be sustainable, it must be supported by renewed efforts to fund the formation of the called.