Friday, March 30, 2012

Easter: Christian Holy Day or Pagan Holiday?

(The following was originally posted last year.  However, I thought it worth re-posting.):

Facebook is an interesting phenomenon. A number of you know well about the pros and cons of it. On the one hand, people can let it become a royal waste of time. They can be consumed by a “virtual world” and sink further and further away from the real world. On the other hand, it can be a great place to keep up with friends from high school, college, church and work. It can be a way to keep in touch with people from around the country and even the world. Facebook can be a great place to encourage people in their faith and find encouragement in your own faith. - And, apparently, Facebook can be credited (or blamed) for resulting in this article!

You see, this article is my response to two different posts from my Facebook “friends.” The first post was one of those “copy this and post it to your status” type of posts. - By and large, I don’t really like those. Much of the time they imply or out and out declare that if you don’t copy and paste it, somehow you aren’t really a Christian, or you’re ashamed of Jesus. - By God’s grace, I am a Christian, and I am not ashamed of Jesus . . . but I don’t like those types of posts, and I don’t copy, re-post, or forward them. - Having said that, I’m about to re-post it here(!):

Facebook challenge. . .During this couple of weeks before Easter, I am out to prove that my friends will repost, I hope I am right!!! Easter is not about bunnies and chocolate eggs. Let’s lift up God’s name and make a statement!! When Jesus died on the cross he was thinking of You and Me. If you are not ashamed to call Jesus Christ your savior, copy and repost. I’m not ashamed.

The second Facebook post comes from a friend from high school. In this post, she is responding to everyone who has been copying and re-posting the post, above. And, oh yeah, I should mention, on her Facebook profile, under “Religious Views,” she self-identifies as “Wiccan/Pagan.” And, unlike some, it seems that she has read a bit on the subject, and she is, therefore, often able to offer some informed critiques (sometimes stinging critiques!) of some who claim to be Christians. - Here is her response to the post, above:

For those posting the thing about Easter not being about bunnies and chocolate, you’re half way right. It’s not about the chocolate, even though the ancient Azte[c] people thought of chocolate as an [aphrodisiac]. Easter is a Pagan fertility holiday meant to celebrate the return of life to the earth during Spring. Rabbits, bunnies if you like, are extremely fertile, and eggs are also symbols of fertility.

She goes on to comment: “In particular, it is a Celtic Pagan holiday, though other ancient civilizations around th[e] world have had their own version of it.”

So who’s right? What are we to make of this? Is Easter really a Pagan holiday, or a Christian Holy Day? What about all of those bunnies and Easter eggs? Are they Pagan or Christian or secular?

When we take a good, hard, honest look at it, I would suggest that both, those who have made the first post, and my friend from high school, are correct. - “But how can they both be correct?” you may ask. And am I, a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, saying that Easter is a Pagan day? - Well, let’s take a look.

“Ben” Obi Wan Kenobi once told Luke Skywalker (in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi) that, “. . . many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” - It really sounds a lot like a post-modern denial of any absolute truth. Nevertheless, our position (our point of view) and the position (or point of view) of the person we are addressing does make a difference.

It is clear that the original Facebook post was intended to address the issues of the secularization and the commercialization of a Christian Holy Day, viz., Easter.

Most of us like candy, I think. It may not be good for you, but, often times it sure tastes good! However, for a number of people, especially children, Easter is looked at solely as a time when they get Easter Baskets filled with candy. It is a time for hunting eggs filled with . . . candy, and, also, the possibility of winning prizes. Then, of course, for those who do attend worship on Easter Sunday, there is the “need” to purchase new, Easter clothes. - Easter has become a huge money making event. It has become commercialized.

Likewise, it is a fact that many families, inside and outside of the Church, celebrate Easter. This is the case, very much like it is the case for Christmas. You see, just as one can celebrate Christmas with trees, decorations, reindeer, Santa Clause and presents, one can celebrate Easter with bunnies, Easter baskets, and eggs; all without the mention of Jesus (save in the name “Christ-mas”). Easter, like Christmas, has not only become commercialized, it has also become secularized.

To this reality, a number of people on Facebook have declared, “Easter is not about chocolate and bunnies, it is about the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!”

But then, in walks my friend and a growing number of people just like her. She is not the secularist, or the one promoting commercialization. She hears the protests of my other Facebook “friends,” but she hears it from the “point of view” of a Wiccan/Pagan. And, in doing so, she brings to light certain aspects of the Easter celebration about which many Christians may not even be aware. Why is there such a thing as an Easter Bunny? Why Easter eggs, and why do we even call it Easter? She wants us to know the answer to these questions. In fact, reading between the lines, it maybe that she (or, at least a number of contemporary Pagans) is not too happy that we Christians have “stolen” this “Pagan celebration.”

Is she right in her claims? - Well, to large extent, she is! - But before you pull out those stones, let me talk a bit about it.

First, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus by the Church was not “stolen” from any Pagan group. Since the resurrection of Christ is central to the Christian faith, there should be no surprise that its celebration has existed from the earliest days of the Church. In fact, even in the New Testament, we see evidence of the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ in Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians (5:7-8). In this passage Paul makes the connection between Christ’s passion/resurrection and the Jewish Passover, or Feast of Unleavened Bread. There, Paul says, “. . . For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival” (NRSV)1.

In fact, it should be noted that, outside of the English speaking world, the celebration is still called by the ancient name which Christians used for centuries. It is still referred to as the Pascha. Pascha is the Hebrew word for Passover. The Greek and Latin languages continued with that same word. Other European languages have used titles derived from it, as well (e.g., French: paques; Spanish: pascua; Dutch: pasen; and Scottish: pask). They can all still proclaim, with Paul, in the midst of the Eucharistic Sacrament, “Christ our Pascha (Passover) is sacrificed for us.” It makes no sense to declare, “Christ our Easter is sacrificed for us.”2

As you might be able to tell, I would highly agree with those who would argue that Christians ought to reclaim the ancient terminology over against the English term, Easter. - So, where did this term, Easter, come from, and why does the English speaking world use it in reference to the celebration of Christ’s victory of sin, death, hell and the grave?

Well, back to my friend’s post. She is, indeed, correct that the term, Easter, originates from within the Pagan world. It comes as an Old English adaptation of Eastre, which, according to George Gibson, is the name of the Teutonic goddess of spring and dawn.3 In other words, it was connected to a Pagan Spring festival that did focus on the return of life to the Earth. So, what about some of the symbols of Easter?

We know that eggs were used in rituals and ceremonies. They were sometimes hung in pagan temples and used for mystical purposes. However, when Christians adopted them as a symbol for the Paschal (Easter!) celebration, they took on new meanings. For some they symbolized eternal life, because they hold the hope of things to come. For others, they symbolized the tomb, which was emptied when Jesus was resurrected. In fact, it is said that early Christians made it a rule that eggs could not be eaten during the 40 days of Lent. It also became customary to decorate the eggs and prepare them as gifts to be given on Easter Sunday. When an egg was exchanged, the giver would say, “Christ is risen,” and the receiver would respond, “Christ is risen indeed!”4

My guess is (without doing all of the research) my friend is probably essentially correct about the use of “bunnies,” etc. Certainly, she is correct that ancient civilizations from around the world have celebrated, not only the spring, but also the times of harvest. Perhaps some of those celebrations could be rightly considered Pagan, but some were simply seasonal/cultural celebrations. Even Jewish religious celebrations included seasonal celebrations, as well.

But why would Christians take on Pagan practices?

To begin, let’s recognize that Easter is not the only example of this practice. A good example (and explanation) is found in the practice of St. Patrick. Patrick was taken as a slave to Ireland. After his escape, he entered holy orders and returned to Ireland as a bishop and a missionary. As the Pagans of Ireland converted to Christ and the Christian faith, Patrick did some very interesting things. He “Christianized” or “sanctified” a number of the things that had previously been associated with their Pagan culture. For example, Patrick built Christian churches for those converts on sites that they had viewed as sacred prior to their conversion. He placed Pagan, “holy” wells under the protection of Christian saints. And he carved crosses on what the former Pagans previously considered to be sacred symbols. - As I said, he “Christianized” or “sanctified” certain aspects of the old, Pagan life of these newly converted Christians.

One can look at this practice, to use Obi Wan Kenobi’s words, from more than one “point of view.” From a Pagan point of view, what Patrick did (and what the Church has done) may be viewed as “stealing” their sacred objects, symbols and celebrations (though I would suggest that, in Patrick’s case, the missionary efforts of one former slave resulting in the transformation of a nation could not be construed as “stealing,” but as an example of the grace of God). On the other hand, from the Christus Victor point of view, Patrick’s practice (and that of the Church throughout history) was a demonstration of Christ’s victory over the various gods, which are really no gods at all. And from a pastoral point of view, Patrick (and the Church) assisted the new converts in their new found faith by affirming that God had been at work even in the midst of their previously Pagan (mis)understandings.

I would suggest that these types of approaches to various faiths can be seen, even in the pages of the New Testament. St. Paul’s approach to the people of Athens, as recorded in Acts 17:16-34, is a great example. While in Athens, Paul discovered, among the various idols, temples and altars, an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” Paul responded by declaring to the people, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you,” and he went on to proclaim to them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He even quoted of their own poets in an affirming manner, pointing them ahead to God in Christ Jesus. In fact, the New Testament, itself, demonstrates that Jesus not only fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, but “filled them full” of new and added meaning.

What Paul did, and what the Church has done, fits nicely with what we Wesleyans refer to as Prevenient Grace (the grace that goes before). We believe, as one of my seminary professors used to say, that “God is at all times, in all places, calling all people to be reconciled to God.” Paul recognized, not only in the Athenians desire to look beyond themselves and to worship, but especially in this altar to an unknown god, the Prevenient Grace of God reaching out and drawing them to God’s self.

We Christians, especially we Wesleyan types, would do well to look and try to discern where God is at work drawing people by grace. What can we affirm? What is there in other faiths, sincerely held, that we see pointing ahead to Jesus?

It seems obvious that Christians encountering certain Pagan objects and practices would see in them the voice of God pointing ahead to Christ, and that many of these various things that were formerly a part of the new Christian convert’s “old life” would be adapted with new, added meaning and significance in Christ. Of course, Christians would see anything that pointed to new, or renewed life, as being symbols of the One who is the Author of Life; the One who promises to us a new life; life abundant and life eternal!

Unfortunately, much of the Church (at least, here in the U.S.) has lost this perspective of Prevenient Grace. The first of the Facebook posts, above, demonstrates that our mindset has been to defend and argue against the encroaching secularism and consumerism of our age. I think that there is validity in this. However, I think that the Church can do other things to “keep Christ in Christmas” and Easter. For example, I suggested, last winter, that one way to keep Christ in Christmas is to observe Advent as a season of preparation (rather than being sucked into the secular celebration of Christmas beginning even before Thanksgiving), and then celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas leading to Epiphany. Another suggestion was to “keep the Mas(s) in Christmas,” a well. That is, gather with the Church to worship on Christmas (Eve and/or Day), rather than treat it as just a “family holiday.”

For Easter, I would suggest the same kinds of things. Observe the season of Lent. Participate in the Holy Week services of Passion/Palm Sunday, Maundy (Holy) Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil/Sunrise service. In the ancient Church’s great paschal celebration, they viewed the services of Thursday through Easter morning, as one celebration. And then, since Easter is not just one day, celebrate the Great Fifty Days from Easter morning until Pentecost Sunday. - And, of course, reclaim the Paschal terminology. (A bit of a pet peeve of mine is that the Christian radio stations do not seem to help, but rather hinder us in this effort!)

Beyond “keeping Christ in” the various Christian holy days, we Christians are going to have to realize that the post-modern, twenty-first century in which we now live is becoming more like the days of the ancient Church than the days of the modern Church. We will encounter, more and more, those around us of various faiths; some are those that we are somewhat familiar with (e.g., Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.), but others are newer to us, though with their own ancient origins (e.g., Wicca and the various forms of Paganism).

As we encounter these friends, neighbors and even family members, we are going to have to learn to prayerfully discern where God is already at work drawing them. What can we affirm? At what points can aspects of their faith be seen to point ahead to Christ who is the fullness of God? That is to say, where/what is their “altar to an unknown god,” and where is God’s Prevenient Grace already at work? By prayerfully discerning where God is already at work, we will be in a better position to be able to share with them our faith in Jesus Christ. (And, it should be noted, “sharing” one’s faith with friends, neighbors, family, etc. implies a relationship of love, not an argumentative “drive-by” encounter.)

So, what do we conclude? Is Easter a Christian holy day or a Pagan holiday? It “depends greatly on our own point of view.” For my “Pagan” friend, it is, indeed a Pagan celebration. But, for those of us who have experienced new life through the grace of God, by faith, it is the glorious celebration of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Therefore, let us be bold to proclaim: “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Hallelujah!!!”

1. Cf., While, James F. Introduction to Christian Worship. Revised Ed. Abingdon P. Nashville. 1991.

2. Cf., Duba, Arlo. “Recovering the Word Pacha” in The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Vol. V: The Services of the Christian Year. Robert E. Webber, Ed. Star Song P. Nashville. 1994.

3. Gibson, George M. The Story of the Christian Year. Abingdon-Cokesbury P. Nashville. p. 79-81.

4. Faith Connections, Bible Curriculum, Preteen Teacher’s book. Vol. 10, Number3. Bristol House (Word Action). p. 45. 2011.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Recent Reads

I believe the last book that I talked about on the blog was John Wigger's, American Saint: Francis Asbury & the Methodists.  That was an excellent read!  However, I have recently read some other good books that I thought I would share.
First is Christian Preaching: A Trinitarian Theology of Proclamation by Michael Pasquarello III.  It was originally published by Baker Academic in 2006.  It has since been picked up by Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011.

This is not a simple "how to" book.  This is, as the subtitle indicates, a Trinitarian theology of proclamation.  It is a strong and needed corrective to much of what has passed for Christian preaching in the modern age.  Pasquarello swims in the historical theology of the Church.  He compares modern preaching to the preaching of folks like Irenaus, Augustine, Luther, Wesley and others, and he finds much of modern preaching lacking.  -  There are many who will not like this book.  They will not like his critiques or his "closed mindedness."  Readers of this blog, however, will likely love the book.  My one criticism is that Pasquarello, at times, becomes a bit like St. Paul in terms of his sentence length.  :0)  -  (I should say, Michael was one of my professors during my doctoral program, and I took his Trinitarian Preaching class.)

After reading Pasquarello's book, I read the late Robert E. Webber's Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God's Narrative.  It was published by Baker Books in 2008.  -  This is Webber's final book and the final book in his Ancient-Future series.

It is a bit of an embarrassment to admit that I had not read this book, prior to now.  I have read lots and lots of Webber's writings.  And I have used his Ancient-Future Worship video curriculum while teaching on worship.  Webber has made a HUGE impact on my life and ministry.  I readily admit that I am an "Evangelical on the Canterbury Trail."  However, this is the first time I have read this particular book. -  Having said that, like most things "Webber," I loved this book!

I am, now, close to finishing Christopher A. Hall's Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, InterVarsity P, 1998.

This is a companion book with Thomas Oden's Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (which I also love).  There is another companion book, which I own but have not yet read, on Worshipping with the Church Fathers, also by Christopher Hall.

If you choose to read this book (i.e., Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers), it is important to know that this is an introduction book.  It introduces us to the fathers and the way that they read the Scriptures.  That is to say, if you already have a familiarity with the fathers, this may not be the book for you.  If, however, you don't really know the fathers, this may be a good place to begin.  -  Hall is good about pointing readers to other sources for further reading.

After I finish Hall's book, I will be picking up something new.  I have narrowed it down to three books.  (I don't think I will be moving to Hall's other book, at this time).  -  Here are the books I am thinking about:

Created to Worship: God's Invitation to Become Fully Human by Brent D. Peterson, Beacon Hill 2012.  -  This is "hot of the presses."  It is written by the only Nazarene with a PhD. in Liturgical Studies (to my knowledge).  (My degree is a D.Min.)

I am anxious to read this book, and for good reasons.  I know Brent.  He is a Nazarene, and there is very little out there about worship from Nazarenes, and even less that is really informed by classical and Wesleyan liturgical studies.  Also, if one looks at his "Acknowledgements" page, one will see a name familiar to the readers of this blog!  -  Brent had me read a portion of his book and make suggestions, prior to his final draft.

The second book that I am thinking about is A Holy Purpose: Five Strategies for Making Christlike Disciples edited by Bill Wiesman, Beacon Hill 2011.

This, too, is a Nazarene produced book.  I have been thinking about this book for a while, now.  One of the draws to this book is that it will be a change of pace.  I have read about preaching (anchored in classical Christian theology), about worship (anchored in classical Christian theology), and about reading the Scriptures with the Church Fathers (anchored in . . . well, you get the picture).  The subjects of the last three have been different from each other, but they have all drawn from common sources.  -  While I am sure this book is theologically informed, I do not anticipate that it will be anchored in the classical Christian theology of the ancient Church in the same way that the other three have been.  Yet, my anticipation (hope) is that it will be anchored in the Wesleyan tradition, and especially in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition.  -  Then, of course, is the immediate subject, which is discipleship.  I think that this book could be a timely read.

Finally, there is Orthodox and Wesleyan Spirituality edited by S.T. Kimbrough, Jr., St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 2002.

This book has been on my shelf for a number of years, and my recent attendance at the Climacus Conference at St. Michael the Archangel's Orthodox Church, has put it back on my radar.  Plus, this book is edited by Kimbrough.  A few years ago I read, and thoroughly enjoyed, his article (chapter?) titled  "Wesleyan Hymns As Icons of the Wesleyan Tradition" in Charles Wesley's Hymns: "Prints" and Practices of Love Divine, edited by Maxine E. Walker, Monograph Series: Number Seven, Point Loma Nazarene University, Point Loma P. 2007.

So, those are the three books that I am considering for my next read.  -  What do you think?  Make a comment and let me know.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Process for Appointing the Next Archbishop of Canterbury

Most readers of this blog will be interested in following the process for the appointing of the next Archbishop of Canterbury.  That process is outlined, here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

New Appointment

Well, it is now official!  I have been appointed, beginning July 1, 2012, to serve as pastor of the two point charge consisting of Centenary (upper left corner) and Main Street (upper right corner) United Methodist Churches.

I have been serving as pastor of Centenary UMC since August 2010.  However, Centenary and Main Street voted, this past December, to enter into a two point charge alignment beginning in July of 2012.

I am looking forward to getting to know the people of God at Main Street and to see what God has in store for all of us in the ministry to which God has called us!  -  In all things, may the name of Christ be lifted up in the power of the Holy Spirit, and may God be glorified!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Feast of St. Patrick

March 17 is the Feast of St. Patrick. Most people know it as a day when we celebrate all things Irish and when everyone gets to wear green, my favorite color. However, there is much more significance to the day.

The real reason we celebrate is because of the amazing missionary work of Patrick during the 5th century. - As a boy, Patrick was kidnapped and enslaved as a shepherd in Ireland. After his escape several years later, he entered Holy Orders in Britain. He was ordained a Presbyter (i.e., Elder or Priest) and consecrated a Bishop. God called Patrick back to Ireland, where, by the grace of God, Patrick brought about, in large part, the conversion of Ireland. In the process, he Christianized Pagan sacred places and objects (an approach I think would be helpful for evangelicals to embrace).

Additionally, Patrick provided a great means of speaking of the Holy Trinity by use of the three-leafed clover.

One of the most powerful prayers attributed to Patrick is The Lorica, or St. Patrick's Breastplate. While there is some doubt that it was actually written by the good bishop, it certainly expresses his faith.

May God make this a reality for us all.

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
his baptism in the Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spiced tomb;
his riding up he heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet “Well done” in judgement hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,and purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
the vice that gives temptation force,
the natural lusts that war within,
the hostile men that mar my course;
of few or many, far or nigh,
in every place, and in all hours
against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
against false words of heresy,
against the knowledge that defiles
against the heart’s idolatry,
against the wizard’s evil craft,
against the death-wound and the burning
the choking wave and poisoned shaft,
protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Annual Nazarene Reports

Reports from the various departments and organizations of the Church of the Nazarene were recently given at the annual meeting of the General Board.  Those reports, including denominational statistics, can be viewed, here.

Board of General Superintendents Support Statement

Nazarene General Superintendents
Recently, I emailed our jurisdictional general superintendent to ask if the Board of General Superintendents had made any statement concerning the President's health care plans and the Roman Catholic Church.  I encouraged them to make a statement in support of our sisters and brothers from Rome, sending a letter to their bishops and to the President and other leaders in Washington.

Today, the Nazarene Communications Network has reported that the BGS has issued a statement supporting the statement made by the National Association of Evangelicals (the Church of the Nazarene being a member denomination of the NAE).

That story, and the statement, can be read, here.

I am thankful that the BGS took up this issue in their February meeting.  It is unclear (to me), however, as to whether any letter of support will be sent to anyone.  It is my hope that such a statement of support would be generated to the NAE, the Roman Catholic Bishops, the President, etc.

Archbishop of Canterbury to Step Down

++Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, has announced that he will be stepping down from his position at the end of December.  In its place, he has accepted the position of Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, effective January 2013. 

++Rowan has served as Archbishop of Canterbury since 2002.  The Archbishop of Canterbury serves, first of all, as the bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury.  He is also the Primate of All England.  He is seen as a "metropolitan" - the first among bishops of the region.  He as authority/jurisdiction in the 30 dioceses of his province.  (The Archbishop of York has the same authority/jurisdiction in the 14 dioceses of his province.)  And, the Archbishop of Canterbury became the original sign of unity among the bishops and churches of the Anglican Communion (though he has no formal authority in this role, except in his invitations to Lambeth, he is, nevertheless, seen as a spokesperson and sign of unity for the Communion).

It will now be up to the Queen, who is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, to appoint the next Archbishop of Canterbury. 

More information about the Archbishop and his resignation can be found on the Archbishop's website, here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wesleyan Theological Society

I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society.  Though I have been a member of the Society since my days in college, I only occasionally have the opportunity to attend the meetings, since they are held at various colleges and seminaries across the country.  It was the 2009 meeting at Anderson University where I presented my paper on Wesley's criteria for authentic Christian worship.  Thankfully, this year's meeting was held at my alma mater, Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee (just a few hours away).

Trevecca Nazarene University
While at the meeting, I had a wonderful time getting to see some of my former professors, as well as colleagues.  It was great to be with Dr. Ray Dunning (my Systematic Theology and Holiness Theology prof. at Trevecca), Dan Spross (my New Testament prof. at TNU), Tim Green (my Old Testament prof., who is now the Dean of the School of Religion at Trevecca), and Dr. Dan Boone, who was my pastor and field mentor at College Hill (now Trevecca Community) Church of the Nazarene and who is now the president of Trevecca.  I saw, but did not have the opportunity to talk with two of my seminary professors (viz., Al Truesdale and Harold Raiser) from Nazarene Theological Seminary, and it was good to catch up with Michael Pasquarello, one of my doctoral profs. from Asbury.  -  Then there were other friends and colleagues:  Brent Peterson, Brannon Hancock, David Busic (newly elected president of NTS), Mark Lindstrom (a fellow Order of the FLAME member), and Thomas Oord.  It was also good to meet a Wesleyan/Anglican facebook friend, Carl Campbell and the Director for Trevecca's Center for Worship Arts, Heather Daugherty. -  As a cousin of mine would say, "good times!"

Nazarene Theological Seminary
The topic of the meeting this year was "On Faith(s): The Wesleyan Tradition and the World's Religions."

The first section of papers that I attended was Systematic Theology: The Conditions of Salvation.  Thomas A. Noble, who teaches at Nazarene Theological Seminary and (I believe) has been commissioned to write a new, mult-volume Systematic Theology for the Church of the Nazarene, presented a paper called Only Exclusivism Will Do.  -  The paper looked at Gavin D'Costa's change of mind concerning exclusivism.  The paper explored exclusivism (concerning salvation) from the position of solus Christus, on the one hand, and sola fide, on the other hand.  In other words, does one hold that only those who have faith (in Christ) shall be saved, or does one hold that those who are saved will only be saved through Christ

Noble concludes that we Wesleyan's would hold much in common with the Catholic theologian, D'Costa, and he puts together a "firm Trinitarian base for a Christian theology of religions" within which we can develop a position "which holds firmly to the exclusivism of the solus Christus but which holds a carefully modulated inclusivism with respect to the sola fide.  -  Yes, I know, this is much more academic than what I usually present, and this blog is not a good place to flesh all of this out.  Suffice it to say, I agree with much that Noble said as he presented a position that really does mediate between those who think "all will be saved" or "all religions lead to God," on the one hand, and one must be a creedal Christian to be saved, on the other hand (even those who hold the latter, often have to make room for infants, mentally challenged people, etc.).

Dr. Noble's paper can be contrasted with the next two papers in this section.  The first was by William Curtis Holtzen from Hope International University.  It was titled, Universal Love - Particular Knowledge: In Search of an Open and Inclusive Theology.  Dr. Holtzen is an "Open Theologian," and believes that God does not know the future, but only that which is "knowable."  This is in contrast to classical Christian theology which holds that God does "foreknow," but does not predetermine or cause everything (at least that would be an Arminian version of it).  Or, one might say that God does not "foreknow," but only "knows," because God exists outside of the time-space continuum, so everything for God is in the present.  (Much like the "prophets" or "worm-hole aliens" in Stark Trek: Deep Space Nine!)  -  Anyway, Holtzen argued from God's desire that all be saved that God will continue to work until all are saved.  I do not believe that he concluded that all would be saved, but I believe he thinks all most likely will be saved because God desires such and will not give up.  -  I disagreed with him from the beginning, because I hold to the more classical Christian view concerning God's knowledge.

The next paper in this section was given by Mark Bird of God's Bible School and College.  It was titled Mere Christianity: What is the Bare Minimum that One Must Believe to be Saved?  -  Dr. Bird's paper really seemed to be coming from a very different position than the other two.  With the exception of infants and the mentally-disabled, Dr. Bird, to use Dr. Noble's terms, would fit firmly in the sola fide exclusivist position.  Actually, one might say that Dr. Bird's position (much like the first two lines in the Athanasian Creed) insists that we are not simply saved by faith, but we are saved by knowledge.  That is, we have to know certain things and believe them in order to be saved.

As I said, of these three papers, I resonated much more with Dr. Noble's.

I will refrain from talking about each paper in the way that I have, above, but I will mention them. 

The Plenary Address was given by Amos Yong from Regent University School of Divinity.  He is a Pentecostal "cousin" to the Wesleyan tradition.  His paper was titled, A Heart Strangely Warmed on the Middle Way? The Wesleyan Witness in a Pluralistic World.  -  In it, he talked about dialogue between Wesleyan Christians and other faiths.

The Presidential Address was given by Elain Heath, a United Methodist elder who serves as Associate Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.  Her paper was titled, I Believe: Creedal Evangelism in a Pluralistic World.  -  I enjoyed the way that she spoke about the lived out faith of the creed and her statement that "I believe" meant for the early Christians "I love and trust."  It was about becoming a "living icon."

The next section of papers I attended was in the area of Science and Theology, on the topic of Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Critical Thinking.  In this section, there was actually only one paper presented.  It was by Kenneth Collins from Asbury, but responses to Ken were given by Thomas Oord of Northwest Nazarene University and Maynard Moore of the Wesleyan Nexus (which sounds like a cool Star Trekish kind of name, doesn't it?!).  -  Interesting in all of this is that all of the presenters (I believe this is the case with Maynard Moore, and I know it is the case with the other two) accept the concept of evolution.  Dr. Collins struggled with much of what Theistic Evolutionists have argued, though.  It was pointed out that he is, by definition a Theistic - Evolutionist.  He recognized that, but he disagrees with those "in that camp."  -  He is struggling (as best as I could understand it) with the question of what God actually does in the evolutionary process.  -  As a side note, I would surmise that the vast majority of those who were at WTS (with the exception of Mark Bird from God's Bible School!) would have little problem with (at least) the possibility of Theistic Evolution.  (Which, by the way, is not at all inconsistent with the position of the Church of the Nazarene in its Manual.  A fact that has caused some in the church much frustration.)

I attended two sections on the last day.  The first included a paper by Karen Strand Winslow of Azusa Pacific University on The Fathers on Circumcision.  The second paper in this section was done by Scott Dermer from Saint Louis University and Stephen Riley of Northwest Nazarene University.  It was titled, Interpreting Idolatry: Reading Scripture with the Fathers, Wesley, and Contemporary Exegesis.  (This paper was timely in that I am currently reading Christopher Hall's Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers.)  The final paper in this section was by Frank Spina from Seattle Pacific University.  It was called Joshua in the Lion's Den: God's Elect and the 'Other' in the Old Testament's Most Theologically Inconvenient Book.  -  I found this paper to be interesting, because it placed the biblical book within its own context and highlighted the themes which the book, itself, highlights.  Thus, it served as a corrective to those who have tried to read it with an emphasis on aspects which the book, itself, diminishes.

The final section that I attended focused on the future of Theological Education.  It included a presentation by David McAllister-Wilson, president of Wesley Theological Seminary, The Future of Theological Education.  Next, Jay Akkerman and Thomas Oord from Northwest Nazarene University presented a paper titled, Seeing Is Believing: Lessons Learned from Online Theological Education.  And, finally, Michael Pasquarello from Asbury spoke about God is our Teacher: a Wesleyan Vision of Theological Education (a theme that I recall him talking about in one of my doctoral classes at Asbury).

This year's meeting concluded with worship lead by Trevecca's Tim Green.

Next year's meeting will be a joint meeting between the Wesleyan Theological Society and the Society for Pentecostal Studies.  The theme is Holiness.  The meeting will take place March 21-23, 2013, at . . . Seattle Pacific University . . . which is highly unfortunate for me!  I think that this would be a great meeting, and I already have an idea for a paper.  However, Washington State is a bit too far (and expensive) for me  (unless God decides otherwise!).

For readers of this blog who are not currently a member of the Wesleyan Theological Society, I would encourage you to check out the site (linked above, or on the side bar) and consider becoming a member.