According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Immigration & the ReAwakening of Christianity Around the World - Findings by the Nagel Institute of Calvin College

I recently have been taking classes from the director of Calvin College's Nagel Institute, Joel Carpenter, and have been pleasantly surprised by the many startling movements occurring in Christianity across the world. I will share these through two observations below. The first observation is an introduction of sorts and is quite short. The second observation is much long and will break every Western Christianity stereotype I grew up with as an American Christian - though I suspected as much, which is why I wanted to take the seminar in the first place. As I have time I will see if I can download with permission Joel's PowerPoint presentations (4 parts) when the class concludes in two weeks. I think you'll enjoy reading through them as much as I did as it de-Westernizes Christian growth from a non-American perspective. Here then is a picture of Christianity's worldwide growth and movement through the fates and lives of its immigrant stories full of hope, tragedy and resurrection for this year's Easter meditation.

R.E. Slater
April 15, 2017

First Observation - Introduction

Some may find this following statement remarkable but in fact "the Christian faith moves similarly with eras and cultures." If it does not there can be no witness or mission. It's one of the keys to Christianity's appeal - it's adaptability and transportability into societies.

Christianity moves with people by allowing adaptable thoughts and ideas to meet specific needs and wants. In this century the ideas of peace and love has gained a lot of traction especially in areas of the world where there is none. But hope and doubt can also be centers of appeal as well as innovation and survival where deep disruption is occurring through technology, war, and population movements.

With these changes also will come challenges to previous faith-and-belief sets... either because they are not transportable or not true to the circumstances being experienced by new believing groups. There abounds many examples here but generally the character of Westernized or Americanized Christianity has lost ground to a Christianity that is becoming more Asian, Indian, Middle-Eastern, African, or Latin.

There are more Second and Third World Christians than there are First World Christians. Of the Muslims immigrating to America 60% are Christians. Why? Because of persecution and targeted death-killings. And there are also more missionaries being sent from Non-Western countries into the Westernized lands of Christianity. Without immigrant growth in Western lands such as America, Christianity would have stopped growing upwards and would by now be losing ground. But with a new revival of immigrant growth Christianity has grown by leaps and bounds and has entered into "The Fourth Great Awakening".

Second Observation - What Worldwide Christianity Looks Like

We live in a world of stereotypes but the movement of world Christianity is breaking everyone of them. In our second class yesterday we looked at the 2010 US census findings (a census is taken every 10 years in America) related to faith and immigration. The findings were profound. Here are some of them - in no particular order - and remember these figures are 7 years old!

We are living in a time of the world's greatest migration every witnessed. Some 150 million souls now live outside of their homelands.

Syria has lost half of its population - Out of 10 million citizens 4 million have fled, 1 million have been killed over the past decades, and 1 million live in Lebanon as refugees.

What puts people in motion? Wars, Natural disasters, Poverty, Education, Political asylum (unwanteds), Economic opportunities, and persecution.

Of Muslims entering into the US 60% of them are Christian! Why? Because they are unwanted and being heavily persecuted in their own homelands for their faith. So when you think of Muslim think Christian. How odd!?!

In West Michigan there are many more non-white Christian congregations than you would think. Between GRR (Grand Rapids) and the lakeshore (Lake Michigan, which is more like an ocean of freshwater than it is a lake) there are approximately 50-60 Hispanic congregations and 40-50 Afrikkan congregations besides many, many more minorities from across the world.

In 1924 Immigration quotas were placed by American law on Asia and Mexico. In 1965 those quotas were removed because of blatant racism and discrimination. After nearly a 100 years Discrimination and Racial Redistricting are now under review by the courts as to their unconstitutionality and need to be removed (2017).

Immigrants come to America with the training and knowledge they have (or have never received). 75% of Indians come with advance degrees; Hispanics come with nearly none showing the poverty of education and training in their countries due to many reasons; and Africans come with the same poverty - BUT because they come on student Visa's they use these to earn degrees from American universities to then rival Indian immigrants in skills and trades in the job markets. (This seems fairly typical of the Chicago cab drivers I speak too as they both work and go to school).

Every state in the US has seen a 20 year growth of population diversity over traditional white populations. Currently, Texas and California have more non-whites as a majority population. America is quickly catching up. By 2050 America will no longer have a majority population but be a patchwork of many tongues and nations.

This is development is known as pluralism - thus placing strategic importance on the need to think critically in globalistic terms as versus setting up nationalistic barriers to globalism as presently occurring across Westernized nations.

We all know the dictim that with immigration comes religious change. This is true. There will be more non-Christian faiths coming into America as more immigrants pour into a land begun by dispossessed people groups. BUT, because of immigration, Christianity is growing again. Without the influx of immigration into America and across the world Christianity in America was going the way of Europe into non-existence. So the additional adage: "Immigrants bring to America their Christian faith but there will also be more diversity within the Christian faith as a result of its many kinds of believers and their Christian beliefs." In summary, there will be more religious diversity in America but there will also be more diversity within Christianity as it continues to grow from immigrants coming into America.

What does this mean? Respective to America, the people of this land are witnessing yet another Great Awakening. This would be the fifth spiritual revival to date beginning in the early colonial days with activist-preachers demanding spiritual reform: #1 - Jonathan Edwards, #2 - George Whitfield, #3 - D.L. Moody, #4 - then, starting in the 1960s with Billy Graham and going forward, an awakening within Protestant Bible churches as they split off from their Mainline Denominations in rapid evangelical growth; and, finally #5 - by immigrant populations spreading the gospel as they come into America and across the world having become dispossessed of their own homelands by incessant war, persecution, drought or other natural crisis, lack of education and opportunity, etc! (cf.

A final observation to conclude all: The three largest Christian countries are America #1, Brazil #2, and China #3. Of the three China will shortly take over the #1 spot in the next decade or two.

On the docket for next week's third discussion: a Nigerian born Pentecostal pastor living in GRR and planting a dozen Afrikkan congregations. Week four will conclude with how denominational and creedal theology is changing and perculating under challenging new ideas. Over the past six years I have been writing of these deep fundamental changes here at this blogsite of Relevancy22. Thank you for your engagement over this time!

R.E. Slater
April 15, 2017
edited April 16, 2017

Saturday, April 8, 2017

R.E. Slater - The Ever-Promise of Palm and Easter Sundays

Jesus enters Jerusalem 

Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love toward mankind hast sent thy Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. - The Methodist Church, Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965)

As a little boy I came to especially love Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. On these high, holy days of the church's calendar year I would witness the depth and richness of the church's traditions - the beautiful worship ceremonies that accompanied the prayers and bible readings on those days with great songs of rejoicing and thanksgiving. By now the winter sun had been replaced with the warming breezes of spring laden with birdsong filling the air and with the boyish promise of a beautiful year ahead. My spirits soared during these days and as much as I loved Christmas (as all good Swedes do) I came to realize that Christmas led to Easter; that a baby's birth led to crucifixion; that an Incarnate God would sacrifice Himself for man's deep sins. A sacrifice that became both God's "Christmas-present" and life-giving "Easter-sustenance" to any penitent willing to abandon self and find all in the Messiah Christ come as atoning Lamb to the altar of God's mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus speaks to old men, women, and children
And so my boyhood images slowly changed. They once were richly imaged in my heart by the pictures shown here from "the bible of my youth" thinking all was right and good in the world when in reality, a week later, from the space between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, the spiritually ugly and horribly unthinkable came to be at the hands of the very celebrants who shouted "Hosanna" not many days earlier. "How? How can this be, I would ask myself?" And even now I still utter these thoughts in my heart six decades later with deep dismay. "How can such a grand faith with such a grand nobility of peace, love, and goodwill to all men seemingly lose its humanity at the drop of a bomb, a political vote, an inane immigration banning, or so soon find itself shouting ungodly epitaphs to one another?" This isn't the Christianity I thought I saw as a boy. But it is the Christianity that is lived out by too many of God's "faithful" unable to see where Christ's path led - from the waving Palm Branches of His adoring masses to the Altar of God - as those same masses began shouting "Crucify Him!" even as they do today with unseeing eyes and blinded hearts. Yet here lies a heavenly altar where atonement would be made for all men and women who, like little children, misunderstood where Palm Sunday truly led. To the place where Peace and Reconciliation must be made between God and man and to all creation. A baneful peace dearly paid for - and made most necessary by the world's sin - if redemption was to become complete in the deep heart and fellowship of God.

Many years later, on a late March morning, in my freshman year of university, I rose up quite early eager to read my bible, pray, and get ready for church. I had joined a wonderful college fellowship that year which fervently rejoiced to serve the Lord with heart and soul, body and mind. I would soon join this warm group of devoted students but needed to get ready so I could catch the church bus working its way across the sleepy city streets. A rusty vehicle grinding its gears as it wended its way through the school's large campus filled within with a growing chorus of joyous singers as it picked up by-ones-and-by-twos the several of us waiting outside our college dorms, fraternities, and campus housing. Here I stood under a semi-darken streetlamp each Sunday waiting for the bus while many thousands of my classmates slept in from a long night of partying hours earlier. Across the street lay another large dorm where my Jewish friend would join me as we together patiently waited the church bus. He was far more knowledgeable than I in his Christianity even as my own story betrayed itself as one growing in the Lord by leaps and bounds this past Spirit-led year.

And so we stood together waiting and talking knowing the church had decided to celebrate Easter Sunday this year outside in the cold parking lot before commencing its regular worship services. When we arrived I immediately began helping to set up the several hundred chairs needed to host our auspicious group of worshipping believers. I pitched in readily to the task making a mighty clatter-and-a-clang with all the other servants of the Lord working together with one another at the same task. And when done, sat down next to any worshipper with whomever I ended up while wishing the morning cold would soon lift. Very soon our South African Jewish pastor rose up at the choir's singing and began our Easter morning service as only a zealous, God-fearing Jew can, by proclaiming with strong shouts of praise and soaring rhetoric the rising of our Lord from the cold tomb of his grave. As we sang songs of resurrection and glory God's Word seemed to soar even as my spirit did in hope and celebration as the warming early spring sun rose in the distance from behind the woodlands beyond to fill us with good cheer. It was beautiful and I could wish these kinds of days lasted forever.

Jerusalem erupts in joy at Jesus' coming
And they will some day. But not just yet, as these next high, holy weekends in the Church's calendar will again bring to its fellowship the truth of its psychotic worship - that what is believed, and sung, and read, holds only for a time until the political or societal winds of fickled change blow hellward in witness to man's confrontation of his plaguing arch nemesis of sin and hate. That it is here, in this hard, harsh world of baleful choices where men and women must confront themselves daily as to their real beliefs and truer actions. If we, as Christians, be for God, and for His love, and for His reconciliation, than as God's faithful we must stand against all else that is not this. And yet the easier road is to party into the wee hours of the morning to then sleep away our stupors thinking there is no more we can do but live without impact, refusing the trouble of faith's fickleness, or its commensurate difficulty of service to others, as too often we become unwilling emissaries of the Lord when called upon to serve.

This is the sleep of Palm Sunday. It betrays the Easter Sunday to come even as it predicts its results. That with any rebirth into the life of God there must be a similar altar we lay our faith upon to take a stand that God's reality is more real than the reality we are living in this stupor called life. That it is God's truth that is more important to us than the ugly truths of unlived faith mired deep in our heart full of hatred and racism. It is here, on the altar of God, we wish only to be awaiting for the morning's warming dawn of redemption's promise to ourselves and to all who would hear and obey at the call of the Lord to rise up and begin the hard journey of redemption. Peace, my friends.

R.E. Slater
April 8, 2017
revised, April 10, 2017

Psalm 51
English Standard Version (ESV)

Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the
prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

51.1 Have mercy on me,[a] O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right[b] spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Psalm 51:1 Or Be gracious to me
Psalm 51:10 Or steadfast

* * * * * * * * * * *

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in each of the four canonical Gospels.

In many Christian denominations, worship services on Palm Sunday include a procession of the faithful carrying palms, representing the palm branches the crowd scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem. The difficulty of procuring palms in unfavorable climates led to their substitution with branches of native trees, including box, olive, willow, and yew. The Sunday was often named after these substitute trees, as in Yew Sunday, or by the general term Branch Sunday.

Biblical basis and symbolism

In the accounts of the four canonical Gospels, Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem takes place about a week before his Resurrection.

Christian theologians believe that the symbolism is captured prophetically in the Old Testament: Zechariah 9:9 "The Coming of Zion's King – See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey". It suggests that Jesus was declaring he was the King of Israel to the anger of the Sanhedrin.

According to the Gospels, Jesus Christ rode a donkey into Jerusalem, and the celebrating people there laid down their cloaks and small branches of trees in front of him, and sang part of Psalm 118: 25–26 – ... Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord ....

The symbolism of the donkey may refer to the Eastern tradition that it is an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war.[1] A king would have ridden a horse when he was bent on war and ridden a donkey to symbolize his arrival in peace. Jesus' entry to Jerusalem would have thus symbolized his entry as the Prince of Peace, not as a war-waging king.

In Luke 19:41 as Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he looks at the city and weeps over it (an event known as Flevit super illam in Latin), foretelling the suffering that awaits the city in the events of the destruction of the Second Temple.

In many lands in the ancient Near East, it was customary to cover in some way the path of someone thought worthy of the highest honour. The Hebrew Bible (2 Kings 9:13) reports that Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat, was treated this way. Both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John report that people gave Jesus this form of honour. In the synoptics the people are described as laying their garments and cut rushes on the street, whereas John specifies fronds of palm (Greek phoinix). In Jewish tradition, the palm is one of the Four Species carried for Sukkot, as prescribed for rejoicing at Leviticus 23:40.

In the Greco-Roman culture of the Roman Empire, which strongly influenced Christian tradition, the palm branch was a symbol of triumph and victory. It became the most common attribute of the goddess Nike or Victory.[9] For contemporary Roman observers, the procession would have evoked the Roman triumph,[10] when the triumphator laid down his arms and wore the toga, the civilian garment of peace that might be ornamented with emblems of the palm.[11] Although the Epistles of Paul refer to Jesus as "triumphing", the entry into Jerusalem may not have been regularly pictured as a triumphal procession in this sense before the 13th century.[12] In ancient Egyptian religion, the palm was carried in funeral processions and represented eternal life. The palm branch later was used as a symbol of Christian martyrs and their spiritual victory or triumph over death.[13] In Revelation 7:9, the white-clad multitude stand before the throne and Lamb holding palm branches.

Eastern and Oriental Christianity

Palm Sunday, or the "Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem," as it is often called in some Orthodox Churches, is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the liturgical year. The day before Palm Sunday, Lazarus Saturday, believers often prepare palm fronds by knotting them into crosses in preparation for the procession on Sunday. The hangings and vestments in the church are changed to a festive colour—gold in the Greek tradition, and green in the Slavic tradition.

The Troparion of the Feast indicates the resurrection of Lazarus is a prefiguration of Jesus' own Resurrection:O Christ our GodWhen Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion,Thou didst confirm the resurrection of the universe.Wherefore, we like children,carry the banner of triumph and victory,and we cry to Thee, O Conqueror of love,Hosanna in the highest!Blessed is He that comethin the Name of the Lord.

In the Russian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Catholic Church, Ruthenian Catholic Church, Polish, Bavarian and Austrian Roman Catholics, and various other Eastern European peoples, the custom developed of using pussy willow instead of palm fronds because the latter are not readily available that far north. There is no canonical requirement as to what kind of branches must be used, so some Orthodox believers use olive branches. Whatever the kind, these branches are blessed and distributed together with candles either during the All-Night Vigil on the Eve of the Feast (Saturday night), or before the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. The Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy commemorates the "Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem", so the meaningfulness of this moment is punctuated on Palm Sunday as everyone stands, holding their branches and lit candles. The faithful take these branches and candles home with them after the service, and keep them in their icon corner as an evloghia (blessing).

In Russia, donkey walk processions took place in different cities, but most importantly in Novgorod and, since 1558 until 1693, in Moscow. It was prominently featured in testimonies by foreign witnesses and mentioned in contemporary Western maps of the city. The Patriarch of Moscow, representing Christ, rode on a "donkey" (actually a horse draped in white cloth); the Tsar of Russia humbly led the procession on foot. Originally, Moscow processions began inside the Kremlin and terminated at Trinity Church, now known as Saint Basil's Cathedral, but in 1658 Patriarch Nikon reversed the order of procession. Peter I, as a part of his nationalisation of the church, terminated the custom; it has been occasionally recreated in the 21st century.

In Oriental Orthodox churches, palm fronds are distributed at the front of the church at the sanctuary steps, in India the sanctuary itself having been strewn with marigolds, and the congregation proceeds through and outside the church.

The congregation in an Oriental Orthodox church in India collects palm fronds for the Palm Sunday procession (the men of the congregation on the left of the sanctuary in the photo; the women of the congregation are collecting their fronds on the right of the sanctuary, outside the photo).

Western Christianity

In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness and victory. They were often depicted on coins and important buildings. Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple (1 Kings 6:29). Again at the end of the Bible, people from every nation raise palm branches to honor Jesus (Revelation 7:9).

Palm Sunday commemorates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9), when palm branches were placed in his path, before his arrest on Holy Thursday and his crucifixion on Good Friday. It thus marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent.

In the Roman Catholic Church, as well as among many Anglican and Lutheran congregations, palm fronds (or in colder climates some kind of substitutes) are blessed with an aspergillum outside the church building in an event called the "blessing of palms" if using palm leaves (or in cold climates in the narthex when Easter falls early in the year). A solemn procession also takes place, and may include the normal liturgical procession of clergy and acolytes, the parish choir, or the entire congregation.

In the Catholic Church, this feast now coincides with that of Passion Sunday, which is the focus of the Mass which follows the service of the blessing of palms. The palms are saved in many churches to be burned on Shrove Tuesday the following year to make ashes used in Ash Wednesday services. The Catholic Church considers the blessed palms to be sacramentals. The vestments for the day are deep scarlet red, the colour of blood, indicating the supreme redemptive sacrifice Christ was entering the city to fulfill: his Passion and Resurrection in Jerusalem.

In the Episcopal and many other Anglican churches and in Lutheran churches, as well, the day is nowadays officially called "The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday"; in practice, though, it is usually termed "Palm Sunday" as in the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer and in earlier Lutheran liturgies and calendars, to avoid undue confusion with the penultimate Sunday of Lent in the traditional calendar, which was "Passion Sunday".

In the Church of Pakistan (a member of the Anglican Communion), the faithful on Palm Sunday carry palm branches into the church as they sing Psalm 24.

In many Protestant churches, children are given palms, and then walk in procession around the inside of the church .[citation needed] In traditional usage of the Methodist Church, The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965) provides the following Collect for Palm Sunday:
Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love toward mankind hast sent thy Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The God of Creation Creating Everlastingly in Love - creatio ex creatione sempiternaliter en amore

Seminar: A New Doctrine of Initial Creation
Date: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 2:30pm to 4:00pm
Location: Haddon

Event Description:

A growing number of scholars are criticizing the idea that God created the universe from nothing. The idea has little to no biblical support. It supports a view of omnipotence that makes the problem of evil unsolvable. But few alternative views of initial creation have been offered. Thomas Jay Oord offers a new view in this seminar, a view that champions God as creative love.

Presenter Bio: Thomas Jay Oord is a theologian, philosopher, and scholar of multi-disciplinary studies. Oord is an award-winning author, and he has written or edited more than twenty books. A ten-time Faculty Award winner, Oord teaches at institutions around the globe. Oord is known for his contributions to research on love, open and relational theology, science and religion, and theologies exploring the implications of freedom and relationships for transformation.

* * * * * * * * * *

Photo Credit: Thomas J. Oord

My Alternative Theory of Creation

by Thomas J. Oord
April 3, 2017

In three previous blogs, I explored 9 reasons many Christians affirm the theory that God initially created our universe from absolutely nothing. Although some of the reasons have validity, I found none of them to be ultimately convincing.

In this blog, I want to offer my alternative to creation from nothing.

The Basic Idea: creatio ex creatione sempiternaliter en amore 

My new theory of creation says God, in love, always creates out of what God previously created. As the ever Creator, God has everlastingly been creating.

That’s it in a nutshell. But there’s a lot packed into those phrases. So let me explain a bit more…

My theory says God never creates out of absolute nothingness. Each moment of creation history begins with God creating something in relation to what God previously created. God always creates something new from something old and never ex nihilo ["out of nothing"].

This theory says God has always been creating. God’s work to create in relation to what God previously created has always been going on. To put it another way, God’s creating is everlasting. That’s why I call God the “ever Creator.” God’s creating activity had no absolute beginning and is new every moment of a history without beginning or end.

This implies that God has never existed absolutely alone. God has always related to creatures, whether those creatures be complex or simple, whether creation be ordered or disordered. In fact, I believe God essentially relates to creation. God does not just relate within Trinity but also with the creaturely entities God creates. God’s relationality derives necessarily from God’s essence.

My theory says God must create. Creating is a necessary activity for God, because creating is an essential attribute of God’s nature. God has always existed and always creates, because creating is indispensable to the necessarily creative God.

Perhaps most importantly, my theory says love is God’s motive for and means of creating. And love is God’s creative goal. God’s nature is first and foremost love, which means God always loves, and this love is creative, self-giving, and others-empowering. To the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” my theory says, “because God always loves, and this love always motivates God’s creating.” From my perspective, love is the key to understanding reality.

One could describe my alternative theory with the Latin phrase creatio ex creatione sempiternaliter en amore. This phrase means “creating out of creation everlastingly in love.” To put it differently: God always and lovingly creates out of that which God previously created, and this creating has always been occurring.

What My Theory Does Not Mean

My creation theory that God always and lovingly creates out of what God previously created needs further explanation. Like all theories – especially new ones – it is prone to misunderstanding.

In my next blog, I’ll address four misunderstandings. As a teaser for that blog, I’ll conclude by mentioning the four misunderstandings I suspect many will have when first encountering my alternative theory of initial creation:

  • My theory does not say or imply that our universe is eternal.
  • My theory does not mean God is without freedom.
  • My theory does not mean creation pre-exists God.
  • My theory says that for God to exist, God does not need creation.

I’ll explain each statement in my next blog essay…

Photo Credit: Thomas J. Oord

Monday, April 3, 2017

Finding Redemption & Resurrection in Disney's 2017 Remake of "Beauty & the Beast"

The Bigger Reason You Should Be Worked Up
About Beauty and the Beast

by John Elton Pletcher
March 27, 2017

I heard all the hoopla leading up to its release. Segments of conservative Christianity were crying, “BOYCOTT!” because of the inclusion of a gay character. I’ve never been one for blindly joining anti-cultural bandwagons, so naturally I concluded I would need to see for myself. “What’s the big scuttle? Is there actually reason to be worked up?”

I went curious but prepared for some level of humdrum. I anticipated saying to myself, “They [Disney] took the oh-so-familiar story and dressed it with ultra-realistic techno wizardry. Okay. That was kind of cool. And oh yea, they pushed the gay agenda.” I expected to be underwhelmed.

Instead, as our family settled in for the late-afternoon show, I found myself marvelously entertained, enthralled by the amazing cinematography. I was thoroughly captivated by characters, color, musical score, and brilliant pacing. Yes, a character was portrayed as ever-so-subtly gay, but I found myself wondering, “Would I really pick up on that if I wasn’t looking for him?” In actuality, this 2017 version seemed less sultry in male-female interaction than the old cartoon. I thought, “Wow! Less cleavage and sexual innuendo—why weren’t Christians applauding this cleaned up rendition?”

But there’s actually a bigger issue that deeply disturbed me. I’m stunned no one has yet cried out about such a pressing, flagrantly obvious theme.

All across this “tale as old as time,” the castle’s one-time-workers—now cursed household furniture, décor, and dishware—have been actively serving to orchestrate true love, attempting to reverse the curse, both for the Beast and their own existence. Toward the climax, the final rose petal has dropped, the Beast has been shot, and the great castle’s curse is culminating. Very soon, all will be permanently immobile and forever lifeless. The scenes are heavy, dark, and sad with regret. Love has not been found. The characters will be trapped, frozen in place, and lost forever.

With just moments remaining, Cogsworth the Clock and Lumiere the Candlestick realize the end is near. All along, they have been gradually losing their humanity, becoming harder, less functional and life-like. As they are about to lose all mobility and their ability to speak, Lumiere proclaims, “It’s been an honor to serve with you, Cogsworth.” In the next beats, every character stands still. All faces and motion vanish. The Beast has died, and his entire household is now still as stone.

Must confess, I was gushing tears in the theater’s darkness. (Yes, I can be a sentimental schmuck if a story deeply grabs me.) Truth be told, my soul was ambushed by the parallels, having said goodbye to several close family and friends in recent years. Such depiction of the solemnity of the curse caught me off guard. Suddenly, I was crying all over again about losing Dad, losing Grandma, as well as just recently saying farewell to Sherilyn and Bob in our church family. And I was also deeply soul-moved - extremely worked up by something bigger. I knew what was coming.

So do you. As Belle weeps over the Beast and confesses her true love, Agathe the Enchantress revives the rose. Love wins, blowing the mighty winds of change. The Beast rises and is marvelously transformed into the Prince once again. Then one by one, every character including Cogsworth and Lumiere come back to glorious life, now fully human once again. People who had been estranged for many years are reunited, now fully alive and joyfully dancing.

In the theater’s darkness, I was bawling once again. As tears gushed, I felt my chair shaking. These were tears of triumph, born of oft-forgotten, albeit vitally important workplace theology. Truth be told, this scene marvelously portrays a dusty concept known as transformatio mundi. It’s Latin for the eschatological belief that with the end-times arrival of New Heavens and New Earth, all will be cleansed, fully transformed. All of “the house” will be renewed, gloriously redeemed—all of Creation, including the servants, believers in Christ Jesus along with their grace-motivated, God-glorifying work (Ephesians 2:8-10; Romans 8). Very closely related is the marvelous concept of resurrection. Christ rose in his new, physical body, fully alive. His own work of gracious salvation and bodily resurrection supply the first taste and the precious promise of such bodily resurrection for every human who by faith trusts in Him (1 Corinthians 15).

Gracious, selfless love. The curse reversed, resurrection, and powerful transformation. Please tell me again why conservative Christians cried, “Boycott!” Hours after seeing the movie, I’m still gloriously disturbed. Instead of sporting a grumpy outlook over a possible gay character, I wish we would be worked up by the resurrection message so marvelously portrayed by such a movie. We could be motivated to persevere in our daily good work in God’s kingdom. After all, we know what’s coming. The house and servants will not stay cursed. It’s Gospel. Gracious love wins. There’s glorious transformation yet to come.

But thanks be to God! Who gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)

*For further reading on these provocative concepts, grab a copy of Darrell Cosden’s The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Sudan: An Ancient Country with more Pyramids than Egypt - But No Tourists

The wonder among wonders – the pyramids at Meroë
 Photo Credit: Galyna Andrushko / Galyna Andrushko

The surprising country with more pyramids than Egypt –
but no tourists

by Chris Leadbeater, travel writer
March 24, 2017

The wooden door of the tomb is pulled back, and the underworld reaches up to drag us into its dark grip. Holding a low-intensity torch, my guide Hatim El Nour goes first, the meagre beam identifying rough “stairs” in the soil whose edges have been eaten away by the millennia. We choose our footsteps carefully, the air noticeably cooler as we descend into the burial chamber – where nothing, and nobody, awaits us. Not even the dead.

The keepers of keys at a tomb in El KurruPhoto Credit: Alamy

King Tanutamun – the 17th-century BC monarch who once resided in pyramid K16 of the El Kurru necropolis – is long gone, his sarcophagus vanished. His only presence now is on the walls, in the elegant paintings which depict his achievements. There he is, recreated by a masterful artist, being helped into the afterlife by gods and goddesses of the Egyptian pantheon. Hatim traces them with the torch – Isis, the mother goddess; Anubis, the jackal, the guardian of the departed; Thoth, the baboon, the god of wisdom. Together they convey Tanutamun towards the powerful figure of Osiris, who weighs and measures his soul. “The verdict is a good one,” Hatim says, turning to the mural on the other wall, where the king is seen moving back towards the exit, on into the “next world”.

Inside the burial chamber of the tomb of Tanutamun | Photo Credit: Getty

To glimpse these Egyptian deities, portrayed so clearly in the grave of a man who died in 653 BC, is an utter privilege – but, without context, also misleading. For El Kurru lies not in Egypt, but in Sudan – 275 miles north of the capital Khartoum. Strange? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Because the realm of the pharaohs reached far south of what is now delineated as Egypt – along the Nile, past what is now the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser, and a considerable distance across the modern border. Here, in North Sudan, the Ancient Egyptians left behind a wealth of temples and pyramids – and, 42 centuries on, precious few tourists.

That one word, “Sudan”, is the reason for the low traveller numbers at sites which, in a country with a less hair-raising image, would be a blur of coach parties and queues. But this nation has a reputation for trouble which may even stretch back to the Egyptian invasion of its territory by Mentuhotep II in the 21st century BC – but which certainly colours its last 200 years: Ottoman annexation in 1821; coming under the thumb of colonial Britain in 1882; independence in 1956 and a subsequent slump into civil war that eventually sparked the birth of a separate state, South Sudan, in 2011; a dabbling in violence in the Nineties that saw the United States decry it as a sponsor of terrorism, to the point where bombs were dropped on Khartoum. Even now, Sudan’s citizens have been listed in the divisive travel bans put in place by the Trump administration. Tourists? It’s amazing there are any at all.



River boats on the Nile at Khartoum
Khartoum characters | The capital’s colourful history
If the Kushite era is the prime reason to visit Sudan, its capital provides echoes of a more recent period – one that caused problems for Britain, whose intervention in Sudanese affairs started in earnest in 1879 with the demise of Ottoman rule in the “country”. This, though, coincided with the rise of Muhammad Ahmad, a talismanic figure who styled himself as the “Mahdi” (“Guided One”) and began an ascent to power that ended with the siege of Khartoum, the city’s fall in January 1885, and the slaying of the colonial governor – the fabled Victorian Major-General Charles Gordon. 
Reprisals and conquest would be meted out from 1896 to 1898 by Herbert Kitchener, but not before the city had spent a decade under Mahdist control. Both the Mahdi’s Tomb (an ornate domed edifice) and the home of his successor, Khalifa Abdullah (preserved as a museum), are key stops on any tour of Khartoum – offering something a little different to the National Museum (where exhibits include frescoes rescued from the seventh-century Faras Cathedral – now lost under Lake Nasser) and the clutter and commerce of the Omdurman Souk.
Khartoum is also the city where the Blue and White Niles meet, in a calm collision that begs to be photographed.

The reality, as is often the way, is more pleasant than you might expect. Hatim and I continue 15 miles north-east, along the leafy corridor daubed on to this aridity by the Nile, to the town of Karima. Around us, all is motion – cattle, conversation and a cavalcade of tuk-tuks in the market square; a contrasting silence beyond at the railway station, built by “civilising” Victorian hands, but bereft of trains for a decade now. It adds up to a North African everydayness which helps explain why – in contrast to some areas of Egypt – the Foreign and Commonwealth Office considers much of Sudan safe to visit. Over coffee – strong, thick, aromatic, brewed on a charcoal burner in a rudimentary “café”, and served in tiny glasses – Hatim dissects the intricacies of the heritage that has brought me here.

As a historian and PhD-level expert in ancient Sudan, as well as a guide, he baulks at the word “Nubian” – the term often used to denote the Sudanese who tussled with the warlords of Luxor and Giza. It relates, he says, to a people who would not appear until 300AD. He talks instead of the Kingdom of Kush, which took shape in the Bayuda Desert around 2500BC. Its fortunes waxed and waned according to Egypt’s strength, weathering Mentuhotep II’s incursion (in 2032BC) and striking back in the eighth century BC, when the mighty King Kashta strode north with intent, and the Kushite kings became the pharaohs of the 25th Dynasty, ruling both “countries” between 760BC and 656BC. These men were no footnotes. They were warriors and empire builders, and they left their imprint across this dusty landscape.

The realm of the pharaohs reached far south of what is now
delineated as Egypt | 
Photo Credit: Alamy

El Kurru was just one of the Kushite royal necropolises. It was in use between 795BC and 315BC – but posterity has not been kind to it. Archaeological study has still to fill all the gaps in the timeline: there is no consensus on who was buried in K1, the biggest of the site’s 22 pyramids (which is currently under excavation). And many of its tombs were pared back to rubble by military magpies in the 19th century. On the outskirts of Karima, Hatim shows me Al Teraif – an agricultural village in the Nile greenbelt which would be unremarkable but for its Ottoman fort. This once-colossal stronghold is also now a ruin, and in the crumbling of its walls, the thievery from which it is born is laid bare. There, in its flanks, are slabs of Kushite masonry, adorned with carvings of kings, queens and gods.

Staring back at Karima from the opposite bank of the Nile, Nuri has fared better. In use from 664BC to 310BC, it superseded El Kurru as royal graveyard – thanks to the status of the men and women who were committed to eternity here. It has 73 pyramids, most of them intact – but the keystone is the earliest, built for King Taharqa, a titan of the 25th Dynasty who wanted his tomb to be a new headline statement befitting his pomp as a ruler of Egypt. Around him grew a Valley of the Kings, a Westminster Abbey – and again, I have it to myself. Aside from Hatim and me, there is nobody here but for the farmer who wanders by as the sun is setting.

Nuri superseded El Kurru as royal graveyard | Photo Credit: Getty

I am agog at the pyramid of King Aspelta, a structure of symmetrical perfection, and there are amused observations from Hatim on the number of photographs I am taking. It dawns on me that, for this Sudanese man, the note of fascination is not the ancient joys he has ambled past every day since childhood – but that anyone would come to see them.

It has 73 pyramids, most of them intact | Photo Credit: Getty

We return to Karima and the comforts of the Nubian Rest House, an Italian-run boutique property of 10 rooms, which overlooks the glue that held this region together. I wake before sunrise to climb it – Jebel Barkal, a sandstone monolith which, although just 322 ft tall and simple to ascend, was regarded as sacred by the rulers who held sway here.

Once I reach the summit, I can appreciate why. On the south-east side of the butte, gazing towards the coming sun, is a column of rock. At this elevation, its resemblance to a rearing cobra – a symbol of Egyptian royal strength – is obvious. So is the outline of the Temple of Amun, constructed circa 1400 BC, below this serpentine pinnacle (probably to harness its imagery), by Egyptian pharaoh Thutmosis III, a miracle of lion statues and tumbled pillars, heavily expanded by Taharqa around 680 BC. Near the sanctuary, a wall of hieroglyphics reveals the skill of the Egyptian craftsmen – and the lesser abilities of the Kushites in later centuries.

Metres away, the fertile tranche of mud provided by the Nile is extra evidence as to why ancient leaders would have built here. We follow it upstream, cheating by forging south-east through the unforgiving Bayuda sandscape, clipping off the curve of one of the river’s loops, to the railway town of Atbara – then flitting down to the endgame for the kings of Kush, to the wonder among wonders – the pyramids at Meroë.

Meroë is the mother lode of Kushite heritage | Photo Credit: Galyna Andrushko - Fotolia

Here is the mother lode of Kushite heritage. It was used from the ninth century BC to the fourth century AD, but especially from 300BC onwards, in an era of diminished circumstances, when the 25th Dynasty had fallen, the new players of Assyria (modern-day Iran and Iraq) and (later) Rome had wrested control of Egypt, and safety was to be found further south.

Some 177 pyramids stand here, the majority in the Northern Cemetery, in various states of preservation and glory. They could easily have been lost. One notable destroyer was Giuseppe Ferlini, an Italian medic and amateur treasure-hunter who, accompanying Ottoman forces in 1834, decapitated several structures in his lust for gold. Even now, the devastation he wrought on the first-century BC tomb of Queen Amanishakheto is visually shocking, a cultural rape of brute ignorance which left much of the brickwork spilt over the dunes. Thankfully, he did not desecrate the whole area. Adjacent, the tomb of Naherka (built in 140 BC) is a proud survivor, its “H-shaped” entrance – so distinctive of the Meroë pyramids – opening on to a funerary chapel where fine etchings of Isis and Osiris greet the dead king. Above both, Jebel Barkal is visible on the wall.

Two doorways along, the final fate of the Kushite kingdom is embodied in the pyramid of Queen Amanirenas. A Sudanese Boadicea, she took the fight back to Egypt – and to the Romans who were now in charge – in 27 BC. She met with partial success in a war that lasted five years, and was concluded by a favourable treaty, negotiated with Emperor Augustus. This was, though, the last defiance of a civilisation that would fade in the next 300 years, condemned to irrelevance by a new world order on the Mediterranean.

I take my leave too, to Meroë Tented Camp, a luxury retreat a mile away. Here, I look back at the pyramids and decide the Kushites would be pleased with the song they sing of their former greatness. Even if, for now, so few are listening.

How to get there

Cox & Kings (020 3411 1707; is offering an 11-day Treasures of Ancient Nubia trip through Sudan which visits the pyramids at El Kurru, Nuri and Meroë, as well as Khartoum.

Prices start at £2,845 per person for a group tour, or £3,745 per person for a private journey – including high-end accommodation, international flights, chauffeured internal travel and guides. Ethiopian Airlines (0800 016 3449; flies to Khartoum daily from London Heathrow, via Addis Ababa.