Friday, November 16, 2007


As great as Blogger has been for the past year and a half, I've finally migrated elsewhere in search of a bit more professional look and an easier address to spell. My new blog is at . It's the same title (for now, at least), and I'm still in the process of updating links and such. If you're linked to me, please update to the new one. Goodbye Blogger and thanks!

Grace and Peace!!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Presbymergent Article in Presbyterian Outlook

An article I wrote about the recent Presbymergent event in Pittsburgh for The Presbyterian Outlook is available online at this page . (Yes, it requires a password to login, but it's free!) There are also several articles in current issue by Presbymergent personalities like Adam Walker Cleaveland, Bruce Reyes-Chow, and Neal Locke. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

An Experiment in Exercise and Prayer

Yesterday afternoon, for the first time in weeks, I had time to go for a run. I started running regularly during my junior year of college as a way to get in shape (having previously never been very athletic), and kept with it throughout my senior year, even running in the Bolder Boulder in May of 2005. During that time, my runs became a place for me to clear my mind, think, and sometimes pray while I exercised. Sadly, the busy schedule of seminary has made this a hard discipline to squeeze into my schedule.

Recently I've also been doing some reading on the topic of contemplative prayer . My morning devotional times are usually filled with reading the daily lectionary and then a time of intercessory vocal prayer. Though I've sensed the need to become more meditative in my devotions, I've been hesitant to move in that direction - the length of the lectionary doesn't lend itself to pondering particular verses and I sometimes feel guilty spending time in prayer that doesn't include intercession for others. Still, I feel like my devotional times are more work a time a basking in the presence and love of God.

As I stepped into the workout room at the seminary yesterday, I was thankful that there was no one else around. I chose not to turn on the TV or any music, deciding to take this opportunity to try to contemplate and meditate and pray while I ran. I climbed onto the treadmill, got up to a decent pace, and then let my body settle into the rhythm of the run. After a moment, I started to repeat a simple one sentence prayer, over and over while I ran: "Jesus, fill me with Your love. . . . Jesus, fill me with Your love. . . . Jesus, fill me with Your love." After a full minute of repeating that prayer while I ran, I changed the words: "Lord, fill me with Your Spirit. . . . Lord, fill me with Your Spirit." Recalling an argument I'd had with Eileen earlier in the day, I next prayed, "Jesus, melt my anger. . . . Jesus, melt my anger. . ."

For 25 minutes, I ran at the same pace, the same rhythm, changing these short mantras ever minute or two. Eventually I thought of words and illustrations that came directly from the experience of running. When I was out of breath, I found myself praying "Give me new lungs to breathe Your Spirit." When I was tired, I said "Lord Jesus, finish the race." This ended up being the most calming, peaceful, and concentrated time of prayer I've had in months - just the sound of my feet on the treadmill, the rhythm of the run, and the repeated words of these short prayers.

I was hesitant to post this for two reasons: the first is Matthew 6:6, "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." This command of Jesus has been one of the easiest for me to obey, simply because I pray best when I am alone. It's uncomfortable for me to publicize my prayer-life, but as a soon-to-be-pastor, I know I'll have to learn to be open about my own spiritual disciplines if I'm going to one day model them for a congregation. The second reason is that I know some of seminary friends may read this and then it would feel awkward if we ever ran into each other in the workout room. Nevertheless, I thought this might be a helpful idea for anyone who comes across it and I hope the idea proves valuable for anyone who reads it. And I'm curious, has anyone out there had similar experiences or found other ways to integrate exercise and prayer? What other practices like this lend themselves to a holistic view of our relationship to God?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Unforgivable Sin of Presbyterianism

Tonight I preached at The Open Door. All went well - the sermon was fine, the rest of the service worked out alright, no major technical problems. But I made one major mistake: I forgot to read the scripture passage!!

Here's the explanation: Reformed theology says that a prayer of illumination should always come before the scripture reading in a worship service. We do this because we acknowledge that without the Holy Spirit's help, we cannot understand scripture. I, however, in past preaching experiences had fallen into the bad habit last year of always reading the scripture passage, then praying, then moving into the sermon. So tonight I decided to make a conscious attempt to place a prayer for illumination in the correct place. So I prayed before the scripture reading, and then because I'm in the habit of moving straight from the prayer to the sermon, I completely skipped over the scripture reading! I was completely oblivious to this until Eileen tried to explain it to me when we got home tonight. She even tried to interrupt the sermon to tell me to "read the passage". I thought she just meant the verse I was referring to at that particular portion of the sermon, so I re-read verse 25 and moved on. Only now, an hour and a half too late, am I realizing that I actually omitted the core portion of the worship service. John Calvin would role over in his grave. I talked about the Word in my sermon, but failed to read the Word of the Bible. Praise God for grace - now let's hope no hardcore Presbyterian pastoral nominating committees find this out.

For those of you who were there tonight, the full passage was Ephesians 4:17-32 -
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who
listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (TNIV)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thoughts on Amos Yong's "The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh"

For the past two weeks I've been working my way through Amos Yong's book The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh for my "Readings in the Theology of the Holy Spirit" class. It's my first experience reading Pentecostal theology, and I have to say that I've been quite impressed. It's been a joy to read, and has in many ways been an exercise in learning from the theology of the "other". Last weekend at the Presbymergent event we helped organize at PTS, John Franke gave an incredible lecture about our need to become more multicultural in our theology. In order to be true to the Gospel as it is manifest in various cultures and contexts, we have to decenter traditional Euro-American theology and start learning from other ethnic and cultural and denominational theologies. So, I'm considering this reading a chance to learn from a different part of the Christian tradition - one that makes up the bulk of Christians in the global South today.

Points I appreciate:
  • Yong's theology is in dialogue with post-modernity. Rather than taking a modernist or foundationalist approach to theology, Yong privileges scripture, tradition, the community of the church (over individual interpretation), and (obviously) the leading of the Holy Spirit over reason. As a result, truth is contextual to the worshipping community in what he calls a "shifting foundationalism that recognizes all truth claims as historically embedded without having to locate their ground on any one undeniable foundation" (p. 156). Yong's theology is also post-colonial. As an attempt at global theology which embraces the pentecostal traditions in Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia, Yong is working with theology that has grown in the wake of receding imperial power.
  • Yong's theology includes a holistic view of salvation, including social justice within the Gospel. On pages 91-98, he lists and discusses the "multidemensionality of salvation" in Christ: personal salvation, family salvation, ecclesial salvation, material salvation, social salvation (subcategorized as racial, class, and gender reconciliation) and cosmic salvation. The cosmic aspect of salvation values Creation, seeing God's redeeming work in Christ as extending to the entire earth. Through examples like that of the Association of African Earthkeeping Churches (see previous post), Yong shows how Pentecostals are recognizing the responsibility we have to shamar the earth, to care for it as we were commanded by God to do. Lastly, this holistic view of salvation shows that Yong (and other Pentecostals like him) are not separating evangelism from social justice. He is careful to show how the Azusa St. Revival in 1906 brought together people of various races in a way which became a distinguishing characteristic of early classical Pentecostalism.

Places where I have reservations:

  • The hermeneutical privilege of Luke-Acts. Yong treats the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts as the lenses through which all the rest of scripture is read. . . . To what extent can or should we have a canon within the canon? It's safe to say that many Protestants already do practice this to some extent: The principle that scripture is authoritative as it bears witness to Jesus Christ gives privilege to the Gospels in general, placing the teachings of Jesus as the control over all other parts of the Bible. Thus we read the Pentateuch through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount - Jesus' authoritative interpretation of the Law. But can we safely isolate just the Gospel of Luke and its sequel as more authoritative than other Gospels because of the emphasis Luke gives to the Holy Spirit?
  • The expectation of charismatic gifts. While this is thought by most outside of Pentecostalism to be the hallmark of the movement, Yong actually does not place too strong an emphasis on charismatic gifts such as speaking in tongues. They are not required for salvation, but at points he does say they are to be expected. If charismatic gifts such as tongues are to be expected, doesn't this place Christians without such gifts in a second-tier? This expectation is also in tension with Yong's own emphasis on ecumenical dialogue and theology; the goal of the book is one sense to provide foundations for a "global theology". Altogether, I would say that this expectation should be read in the light of 1 Corinthians 14, both for the sake of recognizing the function of spiritual gifts and for the sake of ecumenism.

I look forward to finishing the book in the next couple weeks, and may try to post more reflections. (I can already tell that his chapter on other religions is going to inspire some creative thoughts.) More to come . . .

Monday, October 15, 2007

Environmentalist African Pentecostals

Going along with Blog Action Day, I wanted to put up a quick post about an interesting eco-theology phenomenon I just learned about. In my reading for my Theology of the Holy Spirit class, I came across a denomination called the Association of African Earthkeeping Churches. They're a Pentecostal group in South Africa and Zimbabwe that sees the work of Holy Spirit as extending healing to all of Creation. They have a complete eco-theology and even have a liturgy for tree planting ceremonies which is similar to the eucharistic liturgy. Their bishop was quoted as saying, "Deliverance, Mwari [God] says, lies in the trees. Jesus said: 'I leave you, my followers, to complete my work.' And that task is the one of healing! We the followers of Jesus have to continue with this healing ministry. So let us all fight, clothing, healing the earth with trees!" [quoted in Amos Yong; The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh [Baker 2005] p. 62.)

How cool is that?! It may sound strange to some folks, but it at least highlights the importance of caring for Creation. It's encouraging to see evangelical books like this coming out now as well. Perhaps we should take a lesson from our African Pentecostal brothers are serve God by planting a few trees?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Why I'm Excited for the Next Two Weekends . . .

This fall is already turning out to be incredibly busy for me, so much that I'm wondering if I need to drop things to have more free time. The problem is, these are all things that I'm passionate about, especially the things that are happening over the next two weekends:

Tomorrow I'll be heading to Louisville, KY, for a retreat with the Company of New Pastors, a PC(USA) program designed to help seminarians transition into ministry. I'm excited about the trip for two reasons: (1) there are going to be amazing people there from seminaries across the country, and (2) there is built-in "free time" to rest and relax during the weekend.

Next weekend (the 12th and 13th) is also the Presbymergent: Always Reforming conference here at Pittsburgh Seminary. It's going to be a great event, featuring some wonderful people from the Presbymergent community. Plus, I'm going to be leading a fun "unconference" (see here) seminar on Friday night. Here's the description:

"Presbymergent Poetry Party: This is a chance for Presbymergents with proclivities for producing poetry and prose to share our work and ponder the use of creative literary arts in worship. Bring something for a casual open-mic reading, or just come and chat about how we can more creatively use our words to convey the Word."

Registration's still open, just go here!