He he… there is no theological depth to this at all but its sort of funny
Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich are taking a break together, fishing on Lake Geneva. They are having a lovely time, smoking their pipes, chatting idly. It’s hot and they are getting thirsty. So Karl Barth gets up, steps out of the boat, and walks across the water to the shore, grabs some pepsi and returns. It’s quite hot so the drinks doesn’t last long. Barth tells Tillich: “your turn, Paul”. Tillich gets up, steps outside the boat, walks across the water, and fetches some fresh water. It is getting really hot now, and the water is finished once again. Bultmann is beginning to sweat particularly profusely… and finally Barth asks him too: “Come on, Rudolf, your turn now.” With a slight tremor in his knees, Bultmann gets up, steps out of the boat, and sinks like a stone. Fortunately he is a good swimmer; he drags himself back into the boat and sulks at the far end. Tillich turns to Barth and says: “Do you think we should have told him where the stepping stones are?” Barth looks at him in astonishment and replies: “What stones?”
Today an article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette highlight Dr. Sam Calian’s retirement as the President of Pittsburgh Seminary. The article, on the whole is well-written and does highlight Dr. Calian’s role in the development of our present faculty (in the past praise of Dr. Calian has focused on the massive increase in our endowment).
But one line in the article really stood out to me. Arguing that PTS has taken a shift from the “left” to the “right” former theology professor George Kehm gives as evidence this statement:
“The student body has also changed. Even students from conservative schools such as Geneva College are represented there now,” he said.
I laughed when I read this. I laughed really hard actually. Let’s be honest – Mr. Kehm might have a point (in fact I would agree with him that PTS has shifted to the “right”), but I think some perspective is needed.
I am a graduate of Grove City College which I imagine Prof Kehm would include amongst the “conservative” schools now represented at Pittsburgh Seminary. The problem is this: “conservatives” don’t really think Pittsburgh is all that conservative. Seriously. No lie. When I was looking at seminaries I talked to some of my professors at Grove City (who I respect a great deal to this day) and they recommended that I consider schools such as Trinity Evangelical, Gordon-Conwell, Westminster, or Reformed Seminary. When I talked to people in my home Presbytery (who I also respect a great deal), they often recommended schools such as McCormick or Columbia Seminaries. Seldom mentioned was Pittsburgh. When I would suggest it the response was usually “Well yeah, Pittsburgh is okay too…” It was never included as one of the good conservative schools, or one of the good liberal schools.
Want some evidence that Pittsburgh isn’t that conservative? In “conservative” (not fundamentalist circles mind you) circles the ordination of women is a hot topic of debate. At PTS? The ordination of women is a foregone conclusion – it may be discussed occasionally, but there is at most one professor who would go on public record as opposing the ordination of women (in some form). In fact, one of the “standard bearers of traditional Presbyterian theology” (to use Rodgers’ phrase) Andrew Purves has gone as far as to call the non-ordination of women a great sin of the church. (It’s in his most record book, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology. I can’t give the exact reference because I’ve loaned my copy to someone for the term). If one of the more “conservative” faculty members is calling the non-ordination of women as a “great sin” I don’t think that PTS is now considered a “conservative” institution.
What’s actually funnier is that there is a decent population of people who wouldn’t consider Grove City and Geneva all that conservative, honestly. I remember talked to students at Grove City who were a little uncomfortable coming to Grove City because it wasn’t conservative enough. Why? 1) We only had to go to chapel 16 times per semester 2) We didn’t have to sign a code of conduct or statement of faith 3) We could consume alcohol off campus 4) We could dance on campus 5) Girls were allowed in the guys dorms and vice-versa at limited times 6) We could listen to whatever music we wanted to. We even had students who transferred to Grove City from other schools such as Bob Jones, Liberty, and Cedarville because Grove City was “more liberal”.
Just some food for thought.
Location: Northmont SON Service
Texts: Mark 1:14-15
Sermon Text: PDF
So I was trying to find a comment that someone made on my blog (turns out it was from way back on September 4th) and I realized that I haven’t posted in forever. So here’s some new thoughts…
Lately I’ve been focused heavily on school work, as the end of the term approaches. I’ve also been “distracted” by this new thing called “searching for a call”. I should be formally “Certified Ready Pending Call” which is fancy Presbyterian language for “Is ready to be hired by a church for gainful employment.” It’s getting quite interesting thus far and I’m intrigued to watch what opens up. It’s also a little unsettling because unlike industry, where it can be six weeks from initial interview to start date, in the Presbyterian church its more like six months from initial interview to start date, at a minimum.
I’ve got my course line up for next term and it looks pretty good. I’m taking my last term of Hebrew (Hebrew Exegesis) where I think the languages finally become useful because you focus on utilizing your knowledge of Hebrew when it comes to understanding and interpreting the text, rather than just translating it. In other words, the shift moves from words to their meaning really. I’m also taking Church and Society: Local which is a study of theology from the African-American context, which also looks quite interesting. I’ll also be taking Theology/Pastoral Care with Dr. Purves (which is, no lie, my 5th full class with him, excluding three one-credit independent studies that I’ve been doing this year which would bring the grand total up to 18 credits, of the equivalent of six full classes, or a full term and a half). In Theo/Pastoral Care we’ll be reading his book, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology, and then examining the major influences on him, including Athanasius, Calvin, Milligan, McLoed Campbell, Torrance, and Moltmann. I’ll also be taking the last of my one-credit independent studies in Scientific Theology with Dr. Purves, Matt Bell, and Rev. Jim Mead. Finally, I’ll be auditing Doctrine of the Trinity with Dr. Cole-Turner, focusing on Moltmann’s work in the Trinity and the Kingdom and The Crucified God. All in all, I think it’ll be good final term.
Today we’re off to go snow tubing with the Sr. High kids, which should be fun as always. Then tonight I’m going to A) Finalize my sermon for tomorrow B) Make my PowerPoint for tomorrow night’s service C) Finalize the guest list with Renee. Fun times!
Monday Renee and I are meeting our parents in Grove City and we’re doing the whole “picking out” the food for our reception.
Off to tubing!
Racism isn’t pleasant, is that an understatement or what? Two thoughts from this past weekend.
The first was seeing the movie, Glory Road. First of all, this is a wonderful movie, even better than Remember the Titans (Glory Road was made by the same people). The second thing is that anyone my age (and maybe older) should go see this movie because it helps bring to life a history, a shockingly recent history, that we need to know in order to understand our world today. Racism as a cancer was/is too powerful of a force for those of us born in a post-1980’s world just to ignore. So go see Glory Road, because it’s a great movie, but also very informative.
The second was a sermon I heard from De Niece Welch (Associate Pastor @ Shadyside Presbyterian Church and an African-American) discussing talking about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and where we are in society. I won’t be able to get this quote right because I didn’t write it down but here’s the jist.
“So where are my people [The African-American people] today. Well, the emancipation proclamation got us off the cotton fields. And Martin King and his followers got us civil rights and equality. So what now? Well, the hardest battle is ahead, because it’s easy to change laws, but now we need to change hearts”
A couple things for me really rang true here. From my side (Euro-American) I believe that racism is alive and well. While laws, etc. have been changed to reduce racism, institutional racism still exists although not as widespread as it once was, but personal racism is all too alive and well. While there might be segments of the population who hate solely on the basis of race but I think for a lot of people it’s out of ignorance. As I reflect on my high school experience, the racism that I held (and still hold, although to a lesser degree now) was and is based on ignorance. I didn’t grow up around African-Americans and my high school was only 10% African-American, 89% Euro-American, and 1% other (primarily Asian) and therefore my discomfort with them was out of unfamiliarity and a fear of the “violent city”. When I came to seminary I moved into an area that is between two communities in Pittsburgh: affluent Highland Park, and East Liberty, which is predominantly African-American and violent. From my side moving into this neighborhood has exposed some of my “ignorant racism” for me and I can see signs that I’ve moved past it. For example, there is a Giant Eagle that I can get to in two minutes in the East Liberty area, but when I began seminary I didn’t like going there – it wasn’t in as nice of a part of town as the one across the river @ Waterworks. Sometime last year I realized that was stupid and started going to the Giant Eagle closest to me when I needed something quick (I do my main grocery shopping in the North Hills because I go right past a Giant Eagle on the way to and from church). In retrospect I realize how stupid I was being in not going someplace because I felt “uncomfortable”. Seminary also gave me a chance to become friends with African-Americans which I had never really had before (or if I had had it, I didn’t take advantage of it). Now, I can affirm unequivocally I regard African-Americans in every way equal to any other person, regardless of race. But while I can affirm that at face value, I’ve learned that overcoming racism requires breaking through barriers into friendship.
A second thing that has stood out to me is when I tell people where I live in the city. I’ll often get responses, “Oh wow, you live down there? Aren’t you worried about violence?” People are right to ask this question, after all, on at least three occasions there have been shootings right near the seminary that I’ve heard. And, last week one of my classmates was mugged by four young people right near the seminary. But what really drives the question is a racism of ignorance, because people just don’t know what life is like in the city (not that I really do either, but I have a better idea). They immediately associate the city with African-Americans and thus associate African-Americans with violence. It’s not that they think African-Americans are less human or of lesser worth, but those perceptions drive them. I can’t fault them though; I had those same perceptions prior to living here.
While it is nearly certain that I will end up pastoring in a predominantly Euro-American context what these events have underscored for me is two things.
- The importance of education: The church has a responsibility to teach our history, one that is sadly marked with racism, in order to help today’s youth understand why things are the way they are
- The importance of partnership: I will make it a point to ensure that the church that I work with partners with a church that is comprised of predominantly of people of another race. This can include many things (pulpit exchanges, joint mission trips, joint service projects, etc.).
God and Pronouns
Last night during an online conversation, the discussion of pronouns and God came up once again. While I fully affirm that the Trinitarian language, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I do understand well that the use of male pronouns, he, he, he, he, he, him, himself, he, he, he… can be misleading. I affirm two things
- God is not male or female – God is not gendered. (The only exception to this rule is that if we understand Jesus as living and reigning in ascended body, then one aspect of God, that of the human side of Jesus is male. But, generally speaking, God has no gender)
- God however is not an “it” – Never in the bible does God come across as merely an impersonal force. Hence why I believe that the formula “Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer” falls well short of the acceptable, because it turns God into a force, not a person.
So, what is one to do? What about the use of the pronouns “they” and “them” and “themselves”?
Traditionally the Western tradition has affirmed articulations such as “One God in three persons”. Our Eastern sisters and brothers critique this because they see the Western tradition as elevated one God over the three. One Eastern Theologian has even charged the western tradition with making God four. The Eastern tradition has favored articulations of the Trinity such as “Three persons of the same substance” which emphasizes the three-personhood of the Trinity while maintaining the unity through the “one substance”.
What makes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit God is the relationships between the three persons of the trinity. If the Father were not in relation to the Son and the Holy Spirit, he would not be good (note the bad pronoun use). The same goes for the Son and the Holy Spirit, they are not God apart from their relationship with the other two members of the trinity. So to truly speak of the Christian God we must speak of God as plural.
So is it fair to use plural pronouns? Are the following sentences acceptable?
“I asked God to show me where they wanted me to serve…”
“In the person of Jesus Christ God revealed themselves to the world…”
Where I see the strength of using plural pronouns is that it is faithful to God’s Trinitarian nature and avoids gendered statements. The downside is that can come across as polytheistic. Thoughts?
For those of you outside of Pittsburgh, if you don’t believe me how seriously people here take their football, here’s some proof.
But here’s a story to illustrate what I’m talking about. On Sunday afternoon the Steelers (excuse me, Stillers) played the Colt. Because neither Renee or I particularly care about the Steelers I got us tickets for the afternoon show of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the church where I work. Afterward I pointed out to Renee that for a Sunday afternoon, the streets of Pittsburgh were deserted. We made record time getting home because there simply was no traffic whatsoever. Then we went for a walk and sure enough, few cars and even fewer people. But, as soon as the game was over, East Liberty came back to life…
One thing I can say, “yinz guyz” take their football seriously.