Volume 4, No. 2: Summer 2008


This issue includes the following articles plus book reviews and more:

Editor’s Introduction


At Cultural Encounters, we talk of the need to be biblically informed and Christ-centered. While that certainly involves knowing biblical information, it ultimately entails the scriptural formation of all of life so that we engage culture truthfully, righteously, and meaningfully for Christ’s sake.

Thus, it is significant that the opening essay begins with the Lord’s statement: “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” It is not enough to teach people what the Lord says. It is crucial that we go much further and teach believers to obey what he says. Thus, we need to wed orthodoxy to orthopraxis. Nowhere is this need more keenly felt today than in the area of economic obedience. Evangelicals have largely failed to speak out against consumerism; instead, we find a kind of “tacit acquiescence to consumerism through silence,” argues Michael Andres. As a result, we are in danger of turning the Great Commission into the grand consumption— ‘Go into all the world and buy, sell, and consume.’ It follows from the contemporary distortion of the Great Commandment: ‘Love yourself above all else.’ We settle for being consumed by so little when God calls us to be consumed by so much more. His holy love alone can liberate us from our bondage to stuff so that we can love others freely and live fully—with no fear of late payment fees.

It is hard to find much prophetic talk coming from evangelical churches on materialism and consumerism, but there is a lot of talk about how to turn a profit in religion. You might think that with all our marketing tricks and religious trinkets we are back in Luther’s day. While we are not buying and selling literal indulgences or bits of Christ’s cross and saints’ bones, we are marketing the gospel, indulging in things that will help us advance our spiritual and material estate. While we could certainly learn a great deal from significant Catholic critiques of consumerism and materialism, given our Reformation heritage, it would also be wise for us to take another look at Luther and his Protestant impulses.

From Luther’s perspective, the church does not replace Christ or subsume Christ. And the Scriptures serve as a prophetic witness that reminds us that Christ is the transcendent ground of our faith. The doctrine of sola Scriptura for Luther did not signify the absence of tradition, but rather that all human tradition is subject to Scriptures as the voice of the living Lord. Kimlyn Bender’s remark on Baptists and evangelicalism in his article on the Reformation heritage is fitting here: “It is one of the tragic ironies of history that one of the Baptists’ most important contributions to the church universal in its witness to God’s lordship, sovereignty, and freedom over all earthly powers and authorities has been replaced in much of Baptist thought today with an emphasis upon the authority of the individual and its freedom from the communal ties that bind, and certainly this trend is reflected in broader evangelicalism as well.”

When we fail to submit all human traditions and individual preferences to Scriptures’ critique and free ourselves from authentic communal ties, we are in danger of being imprisoned and imprisoning others. All too often, the Bible has been used for colonizing, subjugating, and oppressing others rather than for freeing individuals and people groups from imprisonment. Derek Alan Woodard-Lehman speaks of how Europeans gave Africans the Bible but took their land in return. In this light, it is important that we heed his advice to submit our readings of Scriptures to the global church for critique so that we come to read the Bible as “postcolonial subjects.” Along similar lines, not only must the church disciple the nations, but a truly missional theology will involve the conviction that “Christian disciples must be discipled by the nations” if we are to move beyond Western and dominant cultural forms of syncretism. I would add that the Reformation impulse concerning the need to be reformed daily by the Word involves engaging others from diverse traditions whose own readings reveal to us our cultural blind spots in hopes of hearing God’s life-giving Word anew.

The privatization of the Bible and the Christian community in the West has fueled the colonization of the nations, leading one of this issue’s contributors, John M. Perkins, to declare elsewhere: “We have evangelized the world too lightly.” When we fail to see the church as a public alongside other publics and subject to all of God’s mandates disclosed in Scriptures, it is very easy for us to see the church as a voluntary association of religious individuals whose true allegiance lies elsewhere—namely to the state, the market, or some other institution. In her interview with Matt Jenson, Kristen Deede Johnson calls for an understanding of the church as a public that can in no way be confused with such organizations as the PTA, for “the church is meant to fully inform and shape its people, to be their primary allegiance, in ways that other organizations are not trying or are not supposed to be.” This will entail an awareness of the church’s Scriptures as definitive for shaping its life as a distinct public conversing with other publics as salt and light in the world.

In a letter to his professor, Marcus Borg, written after his evangelical conversion experience, Patrick Williams speaks of Scriptures’ authoritative shaping of his new life in Christ. While Williams does not espouse Protestant Orthodoxy’s doctrine of inerrancy espoused at such evangelical institutions as Multnomah, hopefully we all share his appreciation for historic evangelicalism’s emphasis on Scriptures’ authority in the believer’s life. As Williams says, “I have needed this focused evangelical orientation in order to break through the bonds of my ego so as to find real life, the truly meaningful life of following God in Jesus Christ.”

The Bible has served as an energizing force for liberation in the life and ministry of John and Vera Mae Perkins and their family. In this issue, their daughter, Elizabeth Perkins (the Executive Director of the John M. Perkins Foundation), speaks of how God used people in her life to restore her hope in humanity when she almost lost hope because of her home being vandalized on more than one occasion. In addition to hope-filled personal encounters, her vision for building strong communities from the ashes of communities in disrepair in the inner city of West Jackson, Mississippi based on Zechariah 8 also sustains her. When God’s word takes root in concrete communities like hers, there’s no telling what God’s people might do. The Perkins Foundation’s work serves as a prophetic and public witness against the individualistic and consumeristic forces so prevalent in our culture today.

The last two articles in this issue address the plight of the prison and ex-offender populations in our country. Both articles also speak to the captivity of the culture at large. In response to the Lord’s questioning, “Did you visit me in prison? Were you concerned about the prisoners?” John Perkins declares that in our society today, “We are here dealing with our own failures! And we are here to free ourselves—from our own captivity. That captivity is materialistic captivity! We have the resources, but we are captive to our own selfishness. We are captive to our own individualism. We are captive to our own meanings in life, our own jobs—we are captive to culture.” Only God’s holy love and Word can free us from our imprisonment. Only then will we move beyond building more prisons and move beyond charity to building authentic community.

In my essay titled “‘Folsom Prison Blues’ Revisited,” I employ cultural icon Johnny Cash to speak a word of judgment, comfort, and hope to the American church. In the consumer church culture, churches are enslaved to church growth and marketing forces that lead us to compete with other churches to own “bigger and bigger market shares and portions of the religious pie.” Only as we gain a fresh vision of Johnny Cash’s ‘Personal Jesus’ will we become truly a missional community. Only as we are captured and consumed by Scriptures’ declaration of God’s glorious love and mercy and grace will we be freed from our Folsom blues spiritual imprisonment and work to free those behind bars: “Not to us, O LORD, not to us [nor to our respective churches] but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness” (Ps 115:1, NIV).

We have our work cut out for us as Christ’s community, as we seek to engage our contemporary culture truthfully, righteously, and meaningfully—teaching our disciples to obey everything Christ has commanded us. In God’s grace, he has not left his church alone, for the Lord himself will be with us always, loving, leading, guiding, and directing us through his Word and Spirit to pastures in the Promised Land far greener than anything our market economy can provide. Then we can say with all God’s saints throughout the ages, “Free at last!” As a community reformed daily by God’s Word in the power of the Spirit, we can be a reforming force for good, no longer remaining silent in the face of Mammon, but serving as a redemptive voice crying out in the consumer wasteland, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

Paul Louis Metzger, Editor

Will Evangelicals Teach Them Economic Obedience or Consumer Theology?

By Michael Andres

There are many biblical commands regarding economic justice, limiting material possessions, and resistance to covetousness. However, evangelicals have been unduly influenced by an American culture with a pervasive ‘will to have’ and consequent consumptive practices: by remaining largely silent on matters of economic obedience and justice, mimicking the economic practices of the prevailing culture of acquisition, and holding uncritical and unbiblical attitudes towards material possessions as evidenced by the role of the Christian cultural products industry. Instead, evangelicals should be wary of using consumerist methods to further the faith and oppose the deleterious effects that consumerism has on beliefs, practices, theological reflection, and power. Finally, I try to show that a consumer ‘theology’ is fundamentally at odds with the evangelical theological tradition, particularly its notion of sanctification as theocentric, gracious and sufficient.

The End of the Reformation Has News of Its Demise Been Greatly Exaggerated?

By Kimlyn J. Bender

In light of recent ecumenical discussions and achievements, many are asking to what extent historic theological divisions between Catholics and Protestants have now been overcome. This essay approaches this question by examining the recent study by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom entitled Is The Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism. The present essay argues that while much progress has been made in the dialogue between Roman Catholics and Protestants in general and evangelicals in particular, issues of ecclesiology will continue to divide the communions for the foreseeable future, and that these issues resist resolution precisely because they are ultimately Christological as well as ecclesiological. This essay attempts to shed light on these Christological and ecclesiological differences.

Through a Prism Darkly: Reading with Musa Dube

By Derek Alan Woodard-Lehman

Though outright imperialism has been declared passé, the present era of globalization nonetheless remains implicated in the colonial project, as do the Church and the Bible. Within such conditions Christian theology and biblical interpretation must be(come) actively postcolonial, or else remain culpably, if passively, neocolonial. Thus Musa Dube asks, “Given the role of the Bible in facilitating imperialism, how should we read the Bible as postcolonial subjects?” In answering her own question, Dube develops a postcolonial feminist “reading prism” with and from the ordinary reading practices of African women. This essay explicates her hermeneutics and explores the possibilities of reading the Bible with and through Dube’s prism as a white Western male. In so doing, it argues that white Western Christians must attempt such readings and engage in postcolonial struggle.

Beyond Tolerance and Difference: An Interview with Kristen Deede Johnson

By Matt Jenson

Contemporary political discourse tends to either languish under lazy appeals to tolerance or devolve into the violence of irreconcilable difference. In her recent book, Theology, Political Theory, and Pluralism: Beyond Tolerance and Difference, Kristen Deede Johnson examines the tradition of political liberalism exemplified by Rawls and its recent post-Nietzschean critics whose agonistic political theory finds conflict basic to politics. Proposing a constructive model of ‘conversation’, Johnson calls for a more deeply Christian political engagement that resists a privatization of belief in the name of ‘tolerance’ while
refusing to resort to the rhetorical violence of a triumphalism that would equate state and church.

One Seeker’s Spiritual Pilgrimage

By B. Patrick Williams

This is an abridgement of a letter that I wrote to my major advisor at Oregon State University, Professor Marcus Borg, October 2002, relating key events of my journey to a personal relationship with God in Christ. Marcus Borg was a great mentor, encouraging me to find my own way and supporting me in the process. It felt right to share with him my transition into a divergent way of thinking and being. Included are the ways in which working at Starbucks, studying literature and religion (to include C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien), and developing friendships shifted my focus off of myself and onto God and others. In doing so, I left behind a liberal Christian agnosticism preoccupied with intellectual satisfaction in order to embrace a Christianity grounded in my need for Jesus Christ and His Grace.

Hope for Humanity

By V. Elizabeth Perkins

The essay reflects on the way the transforming love of God has broken into the depressed neighborhood of West Jackson to offer the hope of beloved community in the face of human depravity. Elizabeth Perkins shares her own struggle to find “Hope for Humanity” after experiencing two burglaries in the midst of her work with the Zechariah 8 Community in Jackson, Mississippi. The essay presents a striking vision where young and old participate in the kingdom of God through living for one another in community. A vision Perkin challenges us “to cuddle up to,” so we can discover, with her, through this “our lives become so rich!” While a thief may be able to steal our possessions, as Perkins reminds us, “No thief can steal God’s love from us.”

Freeing the Captive and the Captive Church

By John M. Perkins

In his sermon, Dr. John Perkins focuses on how the church should engage critical problems in the cultural foundations of family and community—especially as those problems affect those in prison, and those at risk for future incarceration. He states that the church has often ignored prisoners as victims of their own failures; but the church ought to recognize that prisoners’ failures are just reflections of our own failure as Christians—failure to be salt and light in the world’s individualistic and materialistic culture. Perkins draws on the example of Psalm 11 and David’s own struggle with captivity to outline what the church ought to do in light of the worldly influences in culture. He asserts that, “the Church must be the driving force behind changes in culture. We must be a worshipping, nurturing community, allowing people to move forward with dignity.” Only through the church acting on Scripture’s directives, and truly serving Christ through serving others, can we help to free the captive and work together for God’s Kingdom.

Click HERE to view the full article.

“Folsom Prison Blues” Revisited

Multnomah Biblical Seminary

In his essay, Paul Louis Metzger utilizes the lyrical imagery of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” to relate to the personal and structural barriers that many ‘prisoners’ experience both within the church and outside it. He states that the church often cultivates exclusionary and elitist attitudes toward ‘outsiders’ and even toward other churches. On the other hand, Cash related to those who were ‘imprisoned’ either literally or spiritually—and he also understood the liberation that Christ offers to the saved. “Before Jesus freed him from his ‘imprisonment’, [Cash] was inside longing to get out. After his turning point, he was outside longing to get in—to help free other slaves.” Paraphrasing Jesus’ words, Metzger states that, “those like Cash who are forgiven much, love much; those who are forgiven little, love little.” We in the church often play down our own sins while labeling those who ‘get caught’ as the real villains—when, in fact, we are all sinners, in need of Christ’s transforming love. Metzger emphasizes that Jesus came to free the captive (whatever form that captivity may take) and he believes that, “we all need a fresh vision of the ‘Personal Jesus’, whose glorious love and mercy and grace are the only things capable of breaking us out of our Folsom blues imprisonment.”

Venturing out of the Comfort Zone

By Zach Dundas

Dundas offers a personal narrative of how writing a feature on evangelicals took him, as a writer for an alternative newspaper, out of his own comfort zone and into an important insight. The narrative becomes emblematic of the social challenges we face in America: we exist in a diverse society full of segmented pods of special interest, with a perpetual invitation to cocoon ourselves with others who share our values, interests, and tastes. This, Dundas remarks, is okay—as long as we remember there are other worlds out there, just as valid and rich as our own. Every one of us should make periodic efforts to learn a little bit about people who are not like us. Dundas winsomely reveals how researching the story helped him recognize the limits of his own preconceptions through an experience of diversity.

Volume 4, No. 1: Winter 2008


This issue includes the following articles plus book reviews and more:

Editor’s Introduction


One thing that stands out to me as I read this collection of articles is that Christ’s church is much bigger than you and me. Contrary to inflated popular opinion, the church did not begin with us; and it won’t end with us either. As the church presses onward toward its destiny in Christ, we need to be sensitive and receptive to the wisdom that can be gleaned from the church in its diverse historical and contemporary contexts if we are to contend for the one true and historic faith against “isms” and ideologies aligned against the church in the present setting. While two heads are better than one, a multitude of sanctified imaginations are better than two. That being said, this issue introduces us to the wisdom of Celtic Christian practices, the present Pope, the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, diverse worshiping communities, mainline Protestant pastors, and a young emergent-evangelical activist. Let’s see what our conversation partners throughout the ages and across the ecclesial spectrum have to teach us.

Rodney Clapp’s discussion of “green martyrdom” leads off this collection of essays. Clapp argues that consumer capitalism competes with the nation state as one of modernity’s most imposing leviathans. While consumer capitalism contends against classical Christian faith, the modern church in the West has largely surrendered to it. Clapp says of consumerism: “Consumerism inculcates desire for desire’s sake, in fact, a kind of deification of insatiable and free-ranging desire. Ever new experiences and goods are demanded. The perfect consumer is an addict who can never rest and never has enough.”

If the Western church is to have any hope of rising up and rebelling effectively against consumer capitalism, it must embrace martyrdom, which was esteemed by the ancient church. However, given the sophisticated and ever-adapting nature of consumer capitalism—realizing that it is more advantageous to seduce and utilize Christians than to kill them—Christians in the West must embrace green martyrdom, just as Christians in other times and places have embraced red (bloody death) martyrdom and white (suffering short of death) martyrdom.

Clapp stretches the use of “green martyrdom” beyond its Celtic origins, where believers withdrew to Ireland’s wilderness for solitary lives of prayer. Clapp speaks of green martyrdom for three reasons: first, green is the color of money, subverting capitalism’s fixation with money; second, green is the color of the earth, as in the case of the Celts, challenging consumerism’s reduction of the creation to a base commodity; and third, green is the church’s color for “ordinary time,” signifying that we must always be mindful of the ever-seductive presence of consumer capitalism. Characteristic traits of green martyrdom include laying our lives and bodies on the line for our way of life rather than making others suffer for it, as well as challenging idolatry and specifying greed as a chief manifestation of it. Among other things, green martyrs will remember “that early Christian martyrdom was a head-on confrontation of idolatry—a refusal to name and treat Caesar, rather than Christ, as Lord.”

We Christians can never reasonably claim to be on Christ’s side with all that his lordship entails if we succumb to consumer capitalism’s reign; nor can we ever claim in our intercultural discourse that God is on our side if we take seriously the claim that the Word became flesh. We now turn from consideration of ancient and Celtic Christian practices to the present day pope. Peter Casarella weighs in on Pope Benedict’s controversial speech at Regensburg and its importance for a post-September 11 world. The intent of the Pontiff’s address was to foster intercultural dialogue rather than hinder it, especially with the Muslim world. In his own interpretation of the Pope’s address, Casarella draws attention to the significance of the Word becoming flesh for intercultural dialogue.

Casarella puts the dialogical significance of the incarnation of the Word beautifully: “It requires the courage to do more than to be tolerant of the other just by virtue of the different viewpoint. Love comes into the equation, a love incarnated in the person of Christ. When we love with the logos, we are not abandoning our principles. On the contrary, we show our cards, so to speak, so that they can be tested by the public scrutiny of rational discourse. . . .”

Intercultural dialogue is the task of the university today; we cannot relegate the importance of such dialogue to a few special courses and lectures on the subject. Casarella shares from his own personal experience how important dialogue became to the faculty and students at Catholic University in Washington, D. C., in a post-September 11 world. While the current setting makes it clear why such dialogue is important, the incarnation provides the basis for such discourse in the university: “. . . if dialogue takes place within the broad expanse of the logos that takes on flesh, then there is no way that we can act with this logos to advocate that God must be on our side because he contravenes the normal rules of civil discourse. . . . Faith in Jesus seeks understanding, and this search is the authentic basis for intercultural dialogue.”

The Christian community’s needed opposition to consumer capitalism and pursuit of authentic dialogue find profound resources for meaningful engagement in ancient and medieval practices centered in the eternal Word made flesh. Our sanctification as Christians which includes confrontation of the fallen powers and charity in authentic dialogue is itself centered in Christ, according to Luther and his expositor, Olli-Pekka Vainio. While many will consider this point to be a no-brainer, it does not take much to think through how little consideration is given to Christ as the center of the Christian life, ethics, and sanctification. All too often in our discussions of such matters as ethics, interfaith dialogue, and the environment, we miss the forest while looking at the trees. Fortunately, this is not the case with Casarella, Clapp, and Vainio.

Over against those who would focus consideration of the Christian life in ethics or sanctification—giving rise to the moral matrix whereby we gauge how good or bad people are based simply on what they do or don’t do—Vainio’s Luther would have us see that “the Christian life is structured by the notion of transformation according to the image of Christ. This transformation is essentially Christological, where everything is managed by Christ present in faith.” Christ is not simply an exemplar for our sanctification; he is also the agent and content of our sanctification. This leads us to participate in a matrix of a completely different kind. Only after Christ is formed passively by faith in the believer does the believer actively engage through faith the law and society in a profoundly transformational manner.

As with most things, Luther got to the heart of the matter, not concentrating his attention simply on the external form. He was after the spirit of the law, not the law as an end in itself. No wonder then that Luther was determined to translate the Word of God into the language of the German people (rather than leave it in Greek, Hebrew, or the authorized Latin translation) and turned bar tunes into hymns. Luther understood the need for contextualizing the Gospel to diverse cultural settings. The same holds true for Stephen Bailey, who helps us see the importance of content being wed to cultural context in view of the Spirit’s particularization of Christ’s work and his message in diverse settings.

Bailey argues that worship styles mirror the social experience of God’s people to a greater extent than we may realize. He employs Mary Douglas’s “grid and group theory” to analyze the relation of worship preferences to their cultural sources. In the end, Bailey hopes to help Christ-followers see how God’s Spirit bears witness to Christ in a diversity of cultural forms and identities. Bailey’s insights can assist us in getting beyond our worship wars in the States, where we often measure spirituality based on conformity to the dominant style (whatever that may be), and aid contextualization of the gospel overseas where so often the dominant Western culture globalizes its form rather than globalizes the gospel in terms of local cultural mediums. Bailey helps us get beyond the Babylonian Captivity of the church’s worship to imperial forms so that God’s people can move in keeping with the harmony birthed at Pentecost—where everyone praised God in Christ in their own tongue.

Just as those in the dominant culture often fail to listen to marginalized voices, all too often professors in the academy fail to listen to the voices of pastors and their people. Not so with Michael Jinkins, who provides us with much needed reflections on current issues facing the church by those with the greatest investment in the church’s life—the clergy. Jinkins asked those he interviewed the following two questions: “What are the two or three biggest challenges facing your congregation as it looks to its future?” “How do you go about reflecting theologically on these challenges?”

The five issues Jinkins explores as a result of his investigation are pluralism, stewardship, “therapeutism,” consumerism, and Pelagianism. What is surprising is the shape the meaning of these terms take in view of the contexts of those interviewed. I will leave it to the reader to discover their surprising shape. The reader should not be surprised, however, by the significant reflections provided by those surveyed. What should be surprising is how seldom those of us in the academy take to heart the questions and considerable practical wisdom of those in the church. Perhaps if we did, those in the church would take to heart our theological musings a bit more? Jinkins helps us—if we are listening—get beyond this gulf. While he claims his methodology is unscientific, his findings hardly lack significance for scientific investigation on behalf of the church in our seminaries and universities.

Academics must learn to listen to all voices—including those from within the young emergent crowd. In our “Cultural Reflections” essay, Brandon Rhodes reflects upon the shattering of long-standing religious and political allegiances and theological claims; many young evangelicals like himself are looking instead to center their faith in an embodied politic grounded in a missional theology of hope. In place of understanding the gospel as focusing primarily on “how to get into heaven after you die,” Rhodes and his comrades are seeking to live out an understanding of the gospel as more prominently emphasizing “how to share little bits of heaven here on Earth before you die.”

In reacting to an all-too future eschatology, the young emergent crowd must guard against an overly-realized future where the kingdom is completely present and where sight is lost of the transcendent ground and goal of our faith, which can never be reduced to the political systems of this world or to church practices. This being said, Rhodes’s reflections provide important safeguards against both extremes, namely, his call for an embodied faith grounded in a missional theology of hope. Without such embodiment, the vacuum exists whereby the state or market can so easily replace and displace the church as the alternative politic and economy of the kingdom. Without such transcendent hope, the church will tend to take matters into its own hands, and as a result will not have the strength or resources to contend against communal and kingdom counterfeits in the here and now.

At the outset of this editor’s introduction, I remarked that one thing that stands out to me as I read this collection of articles is that Christ’s church is much bigger than you and me. In conclusion, I would add that Christ is much bigger than his church, though united to her for all eternity. Far from leading to escapism or paralysis, our hope rooted in faith in God’s loving wisdom poured out through the incarnate Christ in the Spirit makes it possible for the church to move forward from ancient times into the future of this new millennium. This collection of essays gives us food for thought and strength for the journey, as we become sensitive and receptive to the wisdom that can be gleaned from the church in its diverse historical and contemporary contexts, even as the church herself bears witness to Christ’s inexhaustible wisdom that serves as a light for our path until our faith in Christ becomes sight and we reach our eternal home.

Paul Louis Metzger, Editor

Green Martyrdom and the Christian Engagement of Late Capitalism


Consumer capitalism rivals–and perhaps surpasses–the nation-state as one of the two most powerful and formative “leviathans” of modernity. Though consumer capitalism in central aspects contradicts and obstructs the convictions and practices of classical Christianity, the modern church in affluent countries has largely capitulated to it. This essay suggests that purchase for real and really Christian engagement of consumer capitalism may arise from returned attention to one of the crucial aspects of New Testament and classical Christian witness—martyrdom. But capitalism, in contrast to communism, has learned that it is more effective to seduce and co-opt Christians than to kill them. So there is needed an account of martyrdom that does not entail physical death by violence (red martyrdom), but which, after the way of the cross of Christ, resists personal and corporate formation as self-interested, addicted, envious, and un-self-controlled consumers. White martyrdom, recognized particularly in the monastic movement, is one historical manifestation of such an account. Another and lesser known is the Celtic-based green martyrdom. This essay briefly reprises green martyrdom’s origins, then concentrates on playfully but seriously imagining how green martyrdom might embody a true faith of the cross in our day, when the excesses of consumerism threaten not only Christian formation but the very fate of the earth itself.

Click HERE to view the full article.

“The Great Task of the University”: Reflections on the Regensburg Address of Pope Benedict XVI


Pope Benedict’s address at the University of Regensburg created a firestorm. But far from trying to incite controversy, the Pontiff outlined a cogent argument for intercultural dialogue. This essay examines the theology of dialogue in the address, including Benedict’s claims regarding the real basis for dialogue between Christians and Muslims, the violence implicit in certain forms of nominalism, and the practical foundations for dialogue in the modern university. By interweaving experiences with students at The Catholic University of America during the attacks of September 11, 2001, the author of the present essay proposes his own interpretation of the infamous speech. He argues that if genuine intercultural dialogue takes place within the broad expanse of the logos that takes on flesh, then there is no way that Christians acting with this logos can reasonably advocate that God must be on our side because he contravenes the normal rules of civil discourse.

Imitatio Christi in Late Modern Culture: A Late Medieval Contribution


A religious conversion raises always a question on how the religious identity should be articulated in the given culture. In the late modern culture, typical choices are rugged individualism, which sets only very abstract, if any, directives for a genuine Christian way of life, or authoritarian conformism. The question is: How should the identity of a follower of Christ be articulated in our culture while avoiding both too severe and too vague expressions? In the Bible and in the subsequent spiritual tradition, conversion was understood as imitatio Christi. The reformer Martin Luther understood conversion as transformation into the likeness of Christ. This transformation is depicted through Christological rules and language, which then are linked to concrete forms of life. His account of conversion provides a well-developed and creative articulation of redeemed human agency, informed by Christological reflection, for late modern age.

Social Life and Worship Preferences: “And Now,…Here’s God”


This article suggests that worship styles reflect the social experience of God’s people to a greater degree than we may think. Using Mary Douglas’ grid and group theory, the author looks at four basic types of worship in an attempt to trace worship style preferences to their social roots. The goal is to enable the Church to have a deeper appreciation for the diversity of worship in the Church and to help us understand how God incarnates Himself in the midst of our social/cultural identities.

Theology in the Twenty-First Century Church: Or, A Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Last Century


Based on a presentation for the Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton, this essay profiles major theological, social, and cultural challenges confronting the Church today in North America. Using an informal and thoroughly unscientific survey of a small group of respected congregational leaders (the survey was conducted by the author in preparation for the presentation), the paper allows two questions to focus attention on concerns facing contemporary Christian communities of faith. The questions asked were: “What are the two or three biggest challenges facing your congregation as it looks to its future?” and “How do you go about reflecting theologically on these challenges?” Five challenges emerged and are explored in the paper: pluralism, stewardship, “therapeutism,” consumerism, and Pelagianism. The meaning of each of these terms takes a sometimes surprising shape because of the particular contexts of the congregational leaders surveyed.

Writing with Both Hands: Reflections on What’s Moving Under the Church Carpet


Old political allegiances and loudly-thumped theological maxims are being shaken to their core as younger Christians imagine an embodied politic rooted in a missional theology of hope. Rhodes muses that the “post-Republican” winds whirling through American evangelicalism has a lot to do with cultural forces, but also explores the theological underpinnings of that transformation. Near the heart of the matter is an understanding of the gospel message shifting from “how to go to heaven after you die” toward “how to bring heaven to earth today.” There are many beautiful ways to live that gospel out; he concludes with an exhortation to embody a Kingdom politic before (and for) the watching, wailing world.