“The Spirit… is no redundant third, no hypostatized afterthought, no cooing ‘feminine’ adjunct to an established male household. Rather, experientially speaking, the Spirit is primary, just as Pentecost is primary for the Church; and leaving non-cluttered space for the Spirit is the absolute precondition for the unimpeded flowing of this divine exchange in us, the ‘breathing of the divine breath’, as John of the Cross put it.”

~Sarah Coakley, The New Asceticism: Sexuality, Gender, and the Quest for God, p91

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“Bad citation formatting is a bit like going to a business meeting wearing a shirt with a big ketchup stain on it. It’s not essential for the content of the meeting, but it always help to look as neat as possible.”

A comment I just wrote on a student’s paper.

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“We can be perfect here and now by being exactly as God wishes us to be here and now: perfection is not an aim to be realized in a dim and doubtful future, but it is for this minute”

~Dom John Chapman

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Curiously finding the book of Philemon to be entirely relevant to my current project. Don’t think about Philemon very much, now I find it’s tying a lot together in one distinct package. The liberation of Philemon comes alongside the liberation of Onesimus. Will Onesimus be willing to let go his legal rights for the sake of community and the Gospel?

Good thing I did an exegetical paper on Philemon back in the day…

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Spending the morning reading and working through the writings of Anthony of Egypt is like spending the morning with an exercise trainer for the soul. Not easy, a fair bit exhausting and provoking, but pointing towards greater health.  Speaking of the ways of evil, he writes in his Letter Seven:

“Truly, my children, they are jealous of us at all times with their evil counsel, their secret persecution, their subtle malice, their spirits of seduction, their fraudulent thoughts, their faithlessness which they sow in our hearts every day, their hardness of heart and their numbness, the many sufferings they bring upon us at every hour, the weariness which causes our hearts to be weary at all times, all their wrath, the mutual slander which they teach us, our self-justifications in our deeds, and the condemnations which they sow in our hearts, so that we, when we are alone, condemn our fellows, though they are not with us, the contempt they send into our hearts through pride so that we become hard-hearted and despise one another, becoming bitter against each other with hard words, and troubled every hour accusing each other and not ourselves, thinking that our struggle comes from our fellows, judging what is outside while the robbers are all inside our house, and [furthermore, with] the disputes and divisions we have with each other until we have established our own words so that they seem justified in the face of the other, and they incite us to do things which we are unable to do (and whose time it is not), and makes us weary of things we do and which are good for us.”

As I was walking to work, and as I was getting started in my tasks, I was struggling with these exact thoughts, and so was heartily reminded and encouraged to retune and refocus, seeking after the goodness and benevolence of God that Anthony goes on to highlight, who doesn’t lead us away from our true self, but gives us a freedom to truly be who we have been created to be in a context of loving others around us.

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In talking about the church of his era (around 200) an African writer notes: “But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death.”

~Tertullian, Apology, ch.39

See, how they love one another.  Is this what people think of Christians in our era?  If we take the Bible seriously, then it should be.  Indeed, as 1 John writes most clearly,  “The person who does not love remains in death.”

John doesn’t mention anything about doctrinal disagreements and preciseness as being a marker of a good Christian.  No doubt, he forgot to add that. Fortunately, the later churches were able to correct his work in their actions and behavior. Taking the Bible seriously came to mean emphasizing a great many elements the original authors didn’t feel inclined to highlight.

Which is where Fundamentalism got it wrong. They emphasized the debates not the love, the division not the hope.

Love is the fundamental element of Christian theology. God is love.  “This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us.” 

Without love, theology and churches are just clashing cymbals of dysfunctional religion.

There should be a neo-fundamentalism, where the marker is radical love and inviting hope.  There certainly is this, examples abound, but the other kind, the angry and frustrated and divisive kind, gets a lot more press.  How do we change that in our lives?

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“As we have long ago pointed out, what we propose as our subject is not the discipline which obtains in each sect, but that which is really philosophy, strictly systematic wisdom, which furnishes acquaintance with the things that pertain to life. And we define wisdom to be certain knowledge, being a sure and irrefragable apprehension of things divine and human, comprehending the present, past, and future, which the Lord has taught us, both by his advent anClement alexandriad by the prophets.

And it is irrefragable by reason, inasmuch as it has been communicated. And so it is wholly true according to God’s intention, as being known through means of the Son. Ad in one aspect it is eternal, and in another it becomes useful in time. Partly it is one and the same, partly many and indifferent–partly without any movement of passion, partly with passionate desire–partly perfect, partly incomplete.

This wisdom, then–rectitude of soul and of reason, and purity of life–is the object of the desire of philosophy, which is kindly and lovingly disposed towards wisdom, and does everything to attain it.”

~Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 7.7

I like the idea of “systematic wisdom”.  That seems a grand task and a noble goal.  A  long road to be sure.  I’d like to think that’s what I’m trying to accomplish in my present pursuits.  Is someone who pursues that a Systematic Wisdomian?

Also, I like the word ‘irrefragable’ and am going to try to use it in conversations this week.

I’ve been digging deeply into Clement’s work the last few weeks as I work on a new chapter. I’m very taken by him–once again.  I first read his work as an innocent pre-seminary student and it’s interesting to see how what I read then really shaped how I entered later study.  It’s always good to read an author before you know how you’re supposed to read them.

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Transformative Church on sale!

My book Transformative Church is currently on sale at Amazon, $26 for a print copy and only $7.99 for a kindle version.

RThe Transformative Churchegularly goes for $69, so that’s a very good deal!

Scott Daniels had this to say about it:

“Transformation takes not only a new way of thinking but a new way of living. For that reason, a transformative congregation needs not only the right theological vision but also the right practices to be conformed to the kingdom of God. Patrick Oden beautifully and thoughtfully brings together theology and practice in ways that should be read by every church leader. The church can’t just think like a people of hope but must also learn to live as a community of hope in the world. The Transformative Church is a great place to start.”
–T. Scott Daniels

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sit right back and you’ll hear a tale about the Apostle John


Excerpt from “Who is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved” by Clement of Alexandria

Ch. 42

And that you may be still more confident, that repenting thus truly there remains for you a sure hope of salvation, listen to a tale, which is not a tale but a narrative, handed down and committed to the custody of memory, about the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit.

stJohntheApostleWhen he had come to one of the cities not far away (the name of which is given by some ), and had consoled the brethren in other matters, he finally turned to the bishop that had been appointed, and seeing a youth of powerful physique, of pleasing appearance, and of ardent temperament, he said, `This one I commit to you in all earnestness in the presence of the Church and with Christ as witness.’ And when the bishop had accepted the Charge and had promised all, he repeated the same injunction with an appeal to the same witnesses, and then departed for Ephesus.

But the presbyter taking home the youth committed to him, reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord he had given him a perfect protection.

But some youths of his own age, idle and dissolute, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime.

He gradually became accustomed to such practices, and on account of the positiveness of his character, leaving the right path, and taking the bit in his teeth like a hard-mouthed and powerful horse, he rushed the more violently down into the depths.

And finally despairing of salvation in God, he no longer meditated what was insignificant, but having committed some great crime, since he was now lost once for all, he expected to suffer a like fate with the rest. Taking them, therefore, and forming a band of robbers, he became a bold bandit-chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all.

Time passed, and some necessity having arisen, they sent for John. But he, when he had set in order the other matters on account of which he had come, said, `Come, O bishop, restore us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to you, the church, over which you preside, being witness.’

But the bishop was at first confounded, thinking that he was falsely charged in regard to money which he had not received, and he could neither believe the accusation respecting what he had not, nor could he disbelieve John. But when he said, `I demand the young man and the soul of the brother,’ the old man, groaning deeply and at the same time bursting into tears, said, `He is dead.’ `How and what kind of death?’ `He is dead to God,’ he said; `for he turned wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber. And now, instead of the church, he haunts the mountain with a band like himself.’

st johnBut the Apostle rent his clothes, and beating his head with great lamentation, he said, `A fine guard I left for a brother’s soul! But let a horse be brought me, and let some one show me the way.’ He rode away from the church just as he was, and coming to the place, he was taken prisoner by the robbers’ outpost.

He, however, neither fled nor made entreaty, but cried out, `For this did I come; lead me to your captain.’

The latter, meanwhile, was waiting, armed as he was. But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame to flee.

But John, forgetting his age, pursued him with all his might, crying out, `Why, my son, do you flee from me, your own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; you still have hope of life. I will give account to Christ for you. If need be, I will willingly endure your death as the Lord suffered death for us. For you will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ has sent me.’

And he, when he heard, first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his arms, and then trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, making confession with lamentations as he was able, baptizing himself a second time with tears, and concealing only his right hand.

But John, pledging himself, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness with the Savior, besought him, fell upon his knees, kissed his right hand itself as if now purified by repentance, and led him back to the church. And making intercession for him with copious prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various utterances, he did not depart, as they say, until he had restored him to the church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of regeneration, a trophy of a visible resurrection.”

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