According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, 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
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Upshot - Where Are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.?

From The Upshot...

Green means life is good and orange means not so good according to a collection of data points by The Upshot.

If you live in the Midwest, or on either coast, or even in parts of Texas and Florida you may be better off than the rest of the country.

See what you think and then ask why?

Are there more opportunities for reform in government, education, the labor market, earth-care, and transportation?

Do they work well together in open communities that communicate well with one another?

Has weather been a contributing factor to these areas? If not, then why?

Have the green population areas worked harder at assimilating disparate people-groups and cultures to achieve this success? Are they less boundary-oriented?

Are the green areas more open-minded, less traditional, more progressive?

As you can tell from the data points below the sociological interpretation of the map of America to these and other questions remains silent.

Nonetheless, they are intriguing questions to ask of communities re how they tick and what makes them tick so successfully.

R.E. Slater
September 30, 2014
* * * * * * * * * * * *


A composite ranking of where Americans are healthy and wealthy, or struggling.
Interactive Map link

June 26, 2014

Annie Lowrey writes in the Times Magazine this week about the troubles of Clay County, Ky., which by several measures is the hardest place in America to live.

The Upshot came to this conclusion by looking at six data points for each county in the United States:  education (percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree), median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity. We then averaged each county’s relative rank in these categories to create an overall ranking.

(We tried to include other factors, including income mobility and measures of environmental quality, but we were not able to find data sets covering all counties in the United States.)

The 10 lowest counties in the country, by this ranking, include a cluster of six in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky (Breathitt, Clay, Jackson, Lee, Leslie and Magoffin), along with four others in various parts of the rural South: Humphreys County, Miss.; East Carroll Parish, La.; Jefferson County, Ga.; and Lee County, Ark.

SLIDE SHOW|12 Photos: The Hardest Place to Live in AmericaCredit: Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

We used disability — the percentage of the population collecting federal disability benefits but not also collecting Social Security retirement benefits — as a proxy for the number of working-age people who don’t have jobs but are not counted as unemployed. Appalachian Kentucky scores especially badly on this count; in four counties in the region, more than 10 percent of the total population is on disability, a phenomenon seen nowhere else except nearby McDowell County, W.Va.

Remove disability from the equation, though, and eastern Kentucky would still fare badly in the overall rankings. The same is true for most of the other six factors.

The exception is education. If you exclude educational attainment, or lack of it, in measuring disadvantage, five counties in Mississippi and one in Louisiana rank lower than anywhere in Kentucky. This suggests that while more people in the lower Mississippi River basin have a college degree than do their counterparts in Appalachian Kentucky, that education hasn’t improved other aspects of their well-being.

As Ms. Lowrey writes, this combination of problems is an overwhelmingly rural phenomenon. Not a single major urban county ranks in the bottom 20 percent or so on this scale, and when you do get to one — Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit — there are some significant differences. While Wayne County’s unemployment rate (11.7 percent) is almost as high as Clay County’s, and its life expectancy (75.1 years) and obesity rate (41.3 percent) are also similar, almost three times as many residents (20.8 percent) have at least a bachelor’s degree, and median household income ($41,504) is almost twice as high.

Wayne County may not make for the best comparison — in addition to Detroit, it includes the Grosse Pointes and some other wealthy suburbs that could be pulling its rankings up. But St. Louis, another struggling city, stands alone as a jurisdiction for statistical purposes and ranks even higher over all, slightly, with better education and lower unemployment making up for a median household income ($34,384) that is lower than Wayne County’s but still quite a bit higher than Clay County’s $22,296.

At the other end of the scale, the different variations on our formula consistently yielded the same result. Six of the top 10 counties in the United States are in the suburbs of Washington (especially on the Virginia side of the Potomac River), but the top ranking of all goes to Los Alamos County, N.M., home of Los Alamos National Laboratory, which does much of the scientific work underpinning the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The lab directly employs one out of every five county residents and has a budget of $2.1 billion; only a fraction of that is spent within the county, but that’s still an enormous economic engine for a county of just 18,000 people.

Here are some specific comparisons: Only 7.4 percent of Clay County residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, while 63.2 percent do in Los Alamos. The median household income in Los Alamos County is $106,426, almost five times what the median Clay County household earns. In Clay County, 12.7 percent of residents are unemployed, and 11.7 percent are on disability; the corresponding figures in Los Alamos County are 3.5 percent and 0.3 percent. Los Alamos County’s obesity rate is 22.8 percent, while Clay County’s is 45.5 percent. And Los Alamos County residents live 11 years longer, on average — 82.4 years vs. 71.4 years in Clay County.

Clay and Los Alamos Counties are part of the same country. But they are truly different worlds.


Four Teachings of Jesus That Everybody Gets Wrong



The Parables of Jesus by James Christenson


4 teachings from Jesus that everybody gets wrong
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/09/21/four-teachings-from-jesus-that-everybody-gets-wrong/?sr=fb092114jesusteachings7pstorylink

by Amy-Jill Levine, special to CNN
September 21, 2014

(CNN) – It was once said, “religion is designed to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”

Jesus’ parables – short stories with moral lessons – were likewise designed to afflict, to draw us in but leave us uncomfortable.

These teachings can be read as being about divine love and salvation, sure. But, their first listeners – first century Jews in Galilee and Judea – heard much more challenging messages.

Only when we hear the parables as Jesus’ own audience did can we fully experience their power and find ourselves surprised and challenged today.

Here are four examples of Jesus’ teachings that everybody gets wrong:


Return of the Prodigal Son to the Father


1. The 'Parable of the Prodigal Son'

This parable is usually seen as a story of how our “Father in heaven” loves us regardless of how despicable our actions. This is a lovely message, and I would not want to dismiss it.

It is not, however, what first-century Jews would have heard. Jesus’ Jewish audience already knew that their “Father in heaven” was loving, forgiving, and compassionate.

It is Luke who sets up a message of repenting and forgiving. Luke prefaces our parable with two shorter ones: the Parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.

The evangelist concludes them with, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

But is this really what the parables are about? Jesus was not talking about ovine sin or coinage cupidity; sheep don’t feel guilty and coins don’t repent.

Moreover, the man loses the sheep; the woman loses her coin. But God does not “lose us.”

The first two parables are not about repenting and forgiving. They are about counting: The shepherd noticed one sheep missing out of 100, and the woman noticed one coin missing from 10.

And they searched, found, rejoiced, and celebrated. In doing so, they set up the third parable. The Prodigal Son story begins: “There was a man who had two sons … ”

If we focus on the one prodigal son, we mishear the opening. Every biblically literate Jew would know that if there are two sons, go with the younger: Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Ephraim over Manasseh.

But parables never go the way we want. We cannot identify with junior, who “squandered all he had in dissolute living.”

Next, if we see the father as surprising when he welcomes junior home, we mishear again. Dad is simply delighted that junior has returned: He rejoices and throws a party. If we stop here, we’ve failed to count.

The older brother – remember him? – hears music and dancing. Dad had enough time to hire the band and the caterer, but he never searched for his older son. He had two sons, and he didn’t count.

Our parable is less about forgiving and more about counting, and making sure everyone counts. Whom have we lost? If we don’t count, it may be too late.


The 'Good Samaritan' by David Teniers the younger after Francesco Bassano.


2. The 'Parable of the Good Samaritan'

Our usual understanding of this famous story goes astray in several ways. Here are two.

First, readers presume that a priest and Levite bypass the wounded man because they are attempting to avoid becoming “unclean.” Nonsense.

All this interpretation does is make Jewish Law look bad. The priest is not going up to Jerusalem where purity would be a concern – he is “going down” to Jericho.

No law prevents Levites from touching corpses, and there are numerous other reasons why ritual purity is not relevant here.

Jesus mentions priest and Levite because they set up a third category: Israelite. To mention the first two is to invoke the third.

If I say, “Larry, Moe …” you will say “Curly.” However, to go from priest to Levite to Samaritan is like going from Larry to Moe to Osama bin Laden.

That analogy leads us to the second misreading.

The parable is often seen as a story of how the oppressed minority – immigrants, gay people, people on parole – are “nice” and therefore we should check our prejudices.

Samaritans, then, were not the oppressed minority: They were the enemy. We know this not only from the historian Josephus, but also from Luke the evangelist.

Just one chapter before our parable, Jesus seeks lodging in a Samaritan village, but they refuse him hospitality.

Moreover, Samaria had another name: Shechem. At Shechem, Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped or seduced by the local prince. At Shechem, the murderous judge Abimelech is based.

We are the person in the ditch, and we see the Samaritan. Our first thought: “He’s going to rape me. He’s going to murder me.”

Then we realize: Our enemy may be the very person who will save us. Indeed, if we simply ask “where is Samaria today?” we can see the import of this parable for the Israeli/Palestinian crisis.


Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, c.1769
Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna


3. The 'Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard'

This parable tells the story of a series of workers who come in at different points of the day, but the owner pays them all the same amount.

The parable is sometimes read with an anti-Jewish lens, so that the first-hired are the “Jews” who resent the gentiles or the sinners entering into God’s vineyard. Nonsense again.

Jesus’ first listeners heard not a parable about salvation in the afterlife but about economics in present. They heard a lesson about how the employed must speak on behalf of those who lack a daily wage.

They also discovered a prompt for people with resources: Attend to those who do not have jobs, and make sure everyone has what is needed.

Jesus does not invent this idea of advocating for the unemployed and sharing resources. The same concerns occur in Jewish tradition from King David onward. But, unless we know the biblical and historical sources, again we will mishear the parable.


Domenico Fetti - The Parable of the Precious Pearl or The Pearl of Great Price


4. The 'Parable of the Pearl of Great Price'

This parable describes a man who sells everything in order to obtain his prized pearl. It is usually allegorized to tell us about the centrality of faith, or the church, or Jesus, or the Kingdom of Heaven. But commentators cannot conclude what the pearl represents.

Perhaps they are looking in the wrong place.

We don’t recognize the parable’s initial absurdity today – the merchant (a wholesaler who sells us what we don’t need at a price we cannot afford) sells everything he has for a pearl.

He can’t eat it, or sit on it; it will not cover much if it’s all he wears. But, he thinks this pearl will fulfill him.

What if the parable challenges us to determine our own pearl of great price? If we know our ultimate concern, we should be less acquisitive. We won’t sweat the small stuff.

More, we become better able to love our neighbors, because we will know what is most important to them.

Jesus’ short stories provoke us because they tell us what, somehow, we already know to be true, but don’t want to acknowledge.

I am not a Christian, but I hear profound messages in these parables. If I as an outsider can be so moved by Jesus’ stories, surely people who worship him as Lord and Savior can appreciate them even more.

---

Amy-Jill Levine is the author of "Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi," and a professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and College of Arts and Sciences. The views expressed in this column belong to Levine.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Reviews - Theologies of Creation, edited by Thomas Jay Oord


Nightmare, Jessica Ball, Artprize 2014 entry

Introduction

A friend of mine, Nazarene and Wesleyan theologian Thomas Oord, has recently edited a book delving into the dark territories of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) and its newest theological rivals. If one concedes that the creation story of Genesis is served neither by a literalistic interpretation nor a scientific one (Christian Intelligent Design or Young Earth creation theories) but must be read from within its ancient culture and mindset, then at the lowest level of argumentation is that of one's hermeneutic. Meaning, how does the biblical reader approach the bible to most appropriately interpret it pages within its contextual, grammatical, and linguistic vernaculars. And subsequently, having done the best one can do in these areas, how may the bible's ancient pages then be read for today's contemporary, post-modern societies.

How Do We Read the Bible?

When it comes to the creation story of the universe, earth, its life forms, and particular of Adam and Eve, the older "biblical" non-scientific theologies can no longer bear up under the burden of scientific discoveries as related to the formation of our cosmos, earth-and-biological sciences, and the time structures earlier ancients had once assumed. Evolutionary science has changed the theological landscape demanding that the classically trained theologian must elevate and better inform his or her's theology if the Bible is to remain relevant to today's more sceptical audiences. If not, the pages of Scripture will quickly slip into the realm of disbelief, myth, and magic.

As a result, what has more recently arisen within theological disciplines have been studies into (i) narrative theology drawing upon biblical theme and story development; (ii) a reappraisal of how biblical myths and parables are positioned within the general arguments for faith and belief of the Bible; (iii) a deep and pervasive questioning of the church's most basic doctrines and dogmas compared to contemporary history, event, and the social sciences; (iv) a reappraisal of human culture itself from the aspect of its religious drivers and existentially held beliefs and religious traditions; (v) a likewise reappraisal of even the cultural drivers of philosophy from its earlier Enlightenment traditions of proof v. counterproof, logical statements, and deduction, towards a greater realization that human interaction, language, and even thought forms are imperfect, metaphorical, symbolic, relational to time and things, and linguistically ambiquous; and lastly, that (vi) global events and technology itself has forced societies to relearn how to communicate with one another in a rapidity of exchange of ideas that are fluid, errantly premised, semi-permeable, a/temporal, and without commonality of background and experience.

Consequently, the biblical reader must contend with his or her own social and personal backgrounds, life experiences, knowledge, and training that certainly have questioned the most basic approaches to the Christian faith and its ground of belief in the God's Word. So then, does one defend the Bible? Does one contend for the Bible? Do we give up and consider it simply a fallible human document with lots of warts and wear to its hidebound spine over the past many centuries of the ernest church? Or do we perhaps question our own needs for the kind of Bible that we must insist upon reading when approaching God and His holy revelation to mankind? Perhaps the best answer is "all of the above."

As the reader can plainly see then, the questions, problems, and logicisms of religion can create a confused mass of words and ideas, thoughts and beliefs, that can break up the unity of the church and its assemblies of faith around the world and within nations themselves. Pitting denomination against denomination. Bible groups against traditional Protestant and Catholic grounps. Literalists against revisionists. Classicists against newer theologies and traditions. And all of a sudden what should have been a unified fellowship centered in Christ has become disenchanted, divested, and destroyed. What once was considered plain has become darkened causing many Christians to give up and created their own boundary-line rules for faith and life.

Which of course, is no answer at all, and is actually worse in many cases when falling back upon one's own desired outcomes that themselves require a deep re-righting of own "Christian faith." A faith that pretends to be real when in reality it has become unreal, unbiblical, mythical, and magical itself. And for those wishing to depart from a society for whatever reason into a form of Quakerism is to refuse God's presence and power in contemporary life. To refuse God's gift of life and persistence by moving backwards towards unloving judgments and actions, unjust behaviors, and unrighteous beliefs distrusting God's power to change our hearts and lives, heads and beliefs.

But this is hard work. And it is rightly the hard work of the Spirit upon our hard hearts. But the Scripture says again and again to not give up the faith in despair but to live unto our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and in the redemption that He has brought into this life we now live. Not later but now. For God's Kingdom reigns now as later and we are encouraged to live within its reality all the days of our earth-bound, present-day lives.

So How Do We Read Genesis 1-2?

To approach Genesis 1 and 2 is to ask the most fundamental questions we may have... Is there a God and how can we hear/know Him? The Bible itself assures us that there is a God and that He has spoken. And that we must be a little more sophisticated as postmodern-day readers 2000 to 4000 years removed from the actuality of the events themselves.... (Say, from Genesis 12 forward beginning with Abraham if we discount the ancient (or mythic) re-telling of earth's primordial histories of earth and mankind.)

Which brings us back to today's subject... just how do we read Genesis 1 and 2?

For this author here, if I were to lead out with a desire to remain theologically orthodox then I might read Genesis 1-2 from the perspective of creatio Dei, meaning God my Creator. If I wish to lead out with a theology of fellowship and love towards my fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord then perhaps I read of God's creation in terms of creatio amore, or created in love, empahsizing the love of God for man, and man's responsibility to love each another (which may then help us with difficult subjects like enslaving, impoverishing, oppressing, or despising others).

And if one wishes to be more scientifically attuned to the quantum sciences of today that deal with chaos and disorder then creatio ex continua, or creation that continues, that is, one that re-orders chaos towards redemption and shalom, may be the way to go. This was the German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg's position. (For the science behind this please refer to the article The Science Behind "Creatio Continua" versus "Creatio Ex Nihilo" (Process v. Classical Thought) as perhaps a beginning place).




So then, why are many Christians rethinking the old medieval arguments of creatio ex nihilo? A quick search of Wikipedia under the title of the same reveals the following:

Wikipedia

Opposition within modern Christian theology

Bruce K. Waltke wrote an extensive biblical study of creation theology that argues creation from chaos rather than nothing based on the Hebrew Torah and the New Testament texts. This work was published by the Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in 1974 and again in 1981. On a historical basis, many scholars agree that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was not the original intent of the Biblical authors, but instead a change in the interpretation of the texts which began to evolve in the mid-second century A.D. in the atmosphere of Hellenistic philosophy. The idea solidified around 200 A.D. in arguments and in response to the Gnostics, Stoics, and Middle Platonists.

Thomas Jay Oord (born 1965), a Christian philosopher and theologian, argues that Christians should abandon the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. Oord points to the work of biblical scholars, such as Jon D. Levenson, who points out that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo does not appear in Genesis. Oord speculates that God created our particular universe billions of years ago from primordial chaos. [Philosophically,] this chaos did not predate God, however, for God would have created the chaotic elements as well. Oord suggests that God can create all things without creating from absolute nothingness.

Oord offers nine objections to creatio ex nihilo:

Theoretical problem: One cannot conceive of absolute nothingness.

Biblical problem: Scripture – in Genesis, 2 Peter, and elsewhere – suggests creation from something (water, deep, chaos, etc.), not creation from absolutely nothing.

Historical problem: The Gnostics Basilides and Valentinus first proposed creatio ex nihilo on the basis of assuming the inherently evil nature of creation, and in the belief that God does not act in history. Early Christian theologians adopted the idea to affirm the kind of absolute divine power that many Christians now reject.

Empirical problem: We have no evidence that our universe originally came into being from absolutely nothing.

Creation-at-an-instant problem: We have no evidence in the history of the universe after the big bang that entities can emerge instantaneously from absolute nothingness. As the earliest philosophers noted, out of nothing comes nothing (ex nihilo, nihil fit) [not something].

Solitary power problem: Creatio ex nihilo assumes that a powerful God once acted alone. But power, as a social concept, only becomes meaningful in relation to others.

Errant revelation problem: The God with the capacity to create something from absolutely nothing would apparently have the power to guarantee an unambiguous and inerrant message of salvation (for example: inerrant Bible). An unambiguously clear and inerrant divine revelation does not exist.

Problem of Evil: If God once had the power to create from absolutely nothing, God essentially retains that power. But a God of love with this capacity appears culpable for failing to prevent evil.

Empire Problem: The kind of divine power implied in creatio ex nihilo supports a theology of empire, based upon unilateral force and control of others. [as vs. free will theology]

Process theologians argue that humans have always related a God to some “world” or another. They also claim that rejecting creatio ex nihilo provides the opportunity to affirm that God has everlastingly created and related with some realm of non-divine actualities or another (compare continuous creation or steady state theory). According to this alternative God-world theory, no non-divine thing exists without the creative activity of God, and nothing can terminate God's necessary existence.

- Wikipedia

And with that let me introduce Tom's newest 2014 editorial work based upon the thoughts and pens of many different authors. I have also included his earlier 2009 work dealing with the same subject which lately has gone out of print.

Shalom.

R.E. Slater
September 29, 2014


How Time Began (Time Arrows)

Inflation Theory




* * * * * * * * *

Creatio Ex Nihilo and Its New Rivals
http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/creatio_ex_nihilo_and_new_rivals/#.VCl5GvldUy4

by Thomas Jay Oord
September 26, 2014

Routledge sent copies yesterday of a new book I edited, Theologies of Creation: Creatio Ex Nihilo and Its New Rivals. It explores current thinking about creation out of nothing, and several essays propose alternative theories of creation.

Of course, humans have long wondered about the origin of the universe. And such questions are especially alive today as physicists offer metaphysical theories to account for the emergence of creation.

Those who believe in God have attributed the universe’s origin to divine activity. Many claim God created something from absolute nothingness: creatio ex nihilo. The venerable doctrine of creatio ex nihilo especially emphasizes God’s initial creating activity.

Some contributors to this book explore new reasons creatio ex nihilo should continue to be embraced today. But other contributors question the viability of creation from nothing and offer alternative initial creation options in its place. These new alternatives explore a variety of options in light of recent scientific work, new biblical scholarship, and both new and old theological traditions.

I especially want to thank those who contributed essays to the book, which include Philip Clayton, Catherine Keller, Michael Lodahl, Richard Rice, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Marit Trelstad, Eric Vail, Stephen Webb, Michael Zbaraschuk. I also contributed an essay to the book. Please consider getting a copy and wrestling with the issues of creation from nothing (or something)!


Amazon link

Amazon Book Description

Humans have long wondered about the origin of the universe. And such questions are especially alive today as physicists offer metaphysical theories to account for the emergence of creation. Theists have attributed the universe’s origin to divine activity, and many have said God created something from absolute nothingness. The venerable doctrine of creatio ex nihilo especially emphasizes God’s initial creating activity. Some contributors to this book explore new reasons creatio ex nihilo should continue to be embraced today. But other contributors question the viability of creation from nothing and offer alternative initial creation options in its place. These new alternatives explore a variety of options in light of recent scientific work, new biblical scholarship, and both new and old theological traditions.

Biography

Thomas Jay Oord is a theologian, philosopher, and scholar of multi-disciplinary studies. He is the author or editor of about twenty books, and he is professor at Northwest Nazarene University, in Nampa, Idaho. Oord is known for his contributions to research on love, altruism, open and relational theology, issues in science and religion, Wesleyan/Holiness/Church of the Nazarene thought, New Evangelical theology, and postmodernism. He is or has been president of several scholarly societies. Oord blogs frequently at his website: http://thomasjayoord.com


Amazon link

Amazon Book Description

For Christians, a strange dislocation often seems to exist between the ecological crisis and a heritage that includes a Creator God. This book turns to the prophetic tradition - a tradition generated in the dislocation of crises in the past. Drawing this tradition into engagement with the ecological humanities, and with ministry studies, the author discovers root memories that hold. Here is wisdom and that could unleash our passion and energy by challenging us to attend to Earth's cry.


Wipf and Stock Publishers Description
https://wipfandstock.com/store/Divine_Grace_and_Emerging_Creation_Wesleyan_Forays_in_Science_and_Theology_of_Creation

Wesleyans and Wesleyan theology have long been interested in the sciences. John Wesley kept abreast of scientific developments in his own day, and he engaged science in his theological construction. Divine Grace and Emerging Creation offers explorations by contemporary scholars into the themes and issues pertinent to contemporary science and Wesleyan Theology.

In addition to groundbreaking research by leading Wesleyan theologians, Jürgen Moltmann contributes an essay. Moltmann's work derives from his keynote address at the joint Wesleyan Theological Society and Society for Pentecostal Studies meeting on science and theology at Duke University.

Other contributions address key contemporary themes in theology and science, including evolution, ecology, neurology, emergence theory, intelligent design, scientific and theological method, and biblical cosmology. John Wesley's own approach to science, explored by many contributors, offers insights for how two of humanity's central concerns—science and theology—can now be understood in fruitful and complementary ways.


Rachel Held Evans - God and the Gay Christian, Part 2


'God and the Gay Christian' Discussion, Week 2
http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/god-gay-christian-celibacy

by Rachel Held Evans
September 24, 2014

Over the next few weeks, on Wednesdays, we will be discussing Matthew Vines’ book,

God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.
(Read Part 1.)
I chose this particular book because I think it provides the most accessible and personal introduction to the biblical and historical arguments in support of same-sex relationships, and because Matthew is a theologically conservative Christian who affirms the authority of Scripture and who is also gay. His research is sound and his story is compelling. And he’s a friend—someone I like and respect and enjoy learning from. 
Today we look at what is perhaps the most controversial and intriguing chapter in the book—Chapter 3, in which Matthew argues that Scripture does not support mandatory celibacy for gay and lesbian Christians. (Note: As a complement to today’s discussion, look for “Ask a (Celibate) Gay Christian…” next week. I want to make sure our brothers and sisters coming from that perspective get a fair hearing as well.)
***

Definition of Terms 

Before we get into today’s discussion, I want to backtrack just a bit to the section in Chapter 2 where Matthew defines his terms, as this is particularly important to today’s discussion. Acknowledging that labels like conservative and liberal,evangelical and progressive, pro-gay and anti-gay all fall short in these conversations, he suggests that identifying Christians as either affirming(supportive of same-sex relationships) or non-affirming (not supportive of same-sex relationships) can be helpful.  So, both Matthew and I are affirming,in the sense that we do no consider monogamous same-sex relationships to be inherently sinful (though, as you will see, we have slightly different reasons for arriving at that belief!). However, someone like Wesley Hill, a celibate gay Christian, or Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics &Religious Liberty Commission believe any same-sex relationship is inherently sinful and are therefore considered non-affirming.  Obviously, no labeling system is perfect, but for the purposes of this particular discussion, these may be (at least momentarily) helpful. Make sense? 

Celibacy 

There seems to be an increasing consensus, even among non-affirming Christians, that some people simply experience fixed attraction to members of the same sex. And thankfully, efforts to “correct” this orientation through “reparative therapy” are falling out of vogue, as they have been shown to ineffective and damaging. 
The predominant view among non-affirming Christians regarding gay and lesbian Christians is that if they wish to remain faithful to Scripture, they must pursue celibacy.  “According to non-affirming Christians,” writes Matthew, “gay people’s sexuality is completely broken, so mandatory, lifelong celibacy is their only real option.”  (You see this position reflected in a recent Gospel Coalition post, where those with fixed, same-gender attraction are described as “having SSA”—same-sex attraction—and encouraged to pursue celibacy.) 
 “Celibacy has a long, honored history in the church,” writes Matthew. “We associated it with Jesus and Paul, with Mother Teresa, and with thousands of dedicated brothers and sisters serving Christ in far-flung corners of the world.But there’s a problem. Christians throughout history have affirmed that lifelong celibacy is a spiritual gift and calling, not a path that should be forced upon anyone. Yes, permanently forgoing marriage is a worthy choice for Christians who are gifted with celibacy. But it must be a choice. Jesus and Paul both taught this view, and the church has maintained it for nearly two thousand years.” 
Then Matthew unpacks this argument…

Creation

Non-affirming Christians generally argue that the creation of Adam and Eve reveals the limits of God’s blessing for sexual relationships: one man and one woman. As an opposite sex couple, Adam and Eve were best suited to fulfill God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” 
But Matthew argues that 1) the account of Eve’s creation does not emphasize Adam’s need to procreate; it emphasizes his need for relationship (“it is not good for the man to be alone”), 2) the concern for procreation with this particular couple is obvious, as they are the first couple and need to populate the planet! and 3)  the Genesis 2 text does not emphasize the gender differences between Adam and Eve but rather their similarity as human beings.
 (There will be more on the creation narrative in subsequent chapters.)

Jesus on Celibacy

In Matthew 19:11-12, when Jesus spoke about celibacy he said, “Not everyone can accept [the decision not to marry], but only those to whom it has been given. For there are  eunuchs who were born that way, and there were eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept this.” 
Writes Matthew: “Notice that none of the three categories Jesus mentions describes what we would call gay men. Instead he describes three types of men who do not marry: men who are sexually impotent, those who are castrated, and those who pursue a call to celibacy. In light of the stringent restrictions Jesus places on divorce, his disciples suggest they would prefer to be celibate. But Jesus says celibacy can only be accepted by ‘those to whom it has been given.’” 
Celibacy is a gift, Matthew argues, and those who do not have the gift should feel free to marry. 
Now, some will certainly notice that this teaching by Jesus is immediately followed by a reference to creation: “Haven’t you read,” Jesus said, “That at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?” 
But according to Matthew, this reference does not address, specifically, gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians. “When we study biblical writings about marriage and celibacy the question is not whether Jesus, Paul, or anyone else endorses same-sex marriage,” he writes, “or whether they instead enjoin gay people to lifelong celibacy. They don’t directly do either one…Our understanding of same-sex orientation is uniquely modern, so the question we face is how to apply the basic principles of the Bible’s teaching to this new situation. And what we do see in Jesus’ teaching is a basic principle: celibacy is a gift that not all have.” 

Paul on Celibacy 

The apostle Paul was a big, big fan of celibacy. He even said he wished all men could be like him—celibate and happy about it (I Corinthians 7:6-7). BUT, he says, “each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” 
“It is better,” Paul writes, “to marry than to burn with passion.” 
(Boy was that verse a favorite one on my Christian college campus!) 
In his letter to Timothy, Paul (or whoever is writing as Paul…I know, I know) warns against false teachers who, among other things, mandate celibacy. “They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods,” said Paul, “which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth” (I Timothy 4:1-5). 
Once again, a New Testament writer speaks of celibacy in terms of a gift for those called to it, not a mandate. Even for a big fan of celibacy like Paul, celibacy does not appear to be mandated for any group. 

Church History

Matthew works in some solid research here, which suggests the tradition teaching on celibacy, for most of Christian history, is that it was a calling, not a mandate. 
Augustine wrote that “no one can be continent unless God give it,” Ambrose that “virginity cannot be commanded” but “is the gift of few only.” Calvin went so far as to say that Matthew 19 “plainly shows that [celibacy] was not given to all, so if anyone “has not the power of subduing his passion, let him understand that the Lord made it obligatory on him to marry.” Even Pope John Paul II in his landmark Theology of the Body argues that celibacy cannot legitimately be forced on anyone. In his view, even clerical celibacy is not forced, because Catholics who feel called to marriage are not obliged to pursue the priesthood. And Karl Barth, in the 20th century, wrote that “a suspicion of or discrimination against sexual life” is not a valid reason to avoid marriage. 

Sexuality is Good 

Here, drawing from the creation account, the incarnation and resurrection, and even church history and the rejection of Gnosticism, Matthew makes the case that— though broken and imperfect—“creation is good. The body is good. Sexuality, as a core part of the body, is also good.” Therefore, any doctrine that teaches Christians to detest their sexual desires is unorthodox, contrary to the most central teachings of the Church.*
(*Matthew has offered further clarification on this in the comment section.) 

The Meaning of Celibacy

Matthew concludes that “the purpose of celibacy is to affirm the basic goodness of sex and marriage by pointing to the relationship they prefigure: the union of Christ and the church. Mandatory celibacy for gay Christians does not fulfill that purpose. It undermines it, because it sends the message to gay Christians that their sexual selves are inherently shameful. It is not a fulfillment of sexuality for gay Christians, but a rejection of it.” 
Matthew will go on to address, in subsequent chapters,  the question of whether same-sex marriage can fulfill the meaning and purpose of Christian marriage, but his point in this chapter is rather straightforward: Throughout the New Testament and church history, celibacy is set apart as a special calling and never mandated for a specific group of people. 
Of course, let’s face it. There are also no examples in Scripture (or, to my knowledge church history) explicitly supporting same-sex relationships.  So it seems these are the two uncomfortable realities we hold simultaneously…at least for now. 
***
Note: Matthew sent me a message this morning pointing me to an article he recently wrote responding to a review that was critical of this particular chapter.   Writes Matthew:  “In short, the main misreading of my argument is that I'm saying that celibacy, for LGBT or straight people, necessarily involves a rejection and hatred of one's sexuality. As I explain in my blog post, I only think that celibacy requires a devaluing of one's sexuality when at least one of the reasons someone is celibate is because they believe all of their sexual attractions are temptations to sin. That's what non-affirming readings of Scripture require gay Christians to believe about their sexual orientation, but that's quite different from orthodox understandings of celibacy, and quite different from how celibate gay Christians can view their sexual orientation if they affirm at least some same-sex relationships.”  Read the whole posthere. 
***
Also, if you want to learn more about the Bible and sexuality, check out the Reformation Project conference in Washington D.C., November 6-8. Speakers include David Gushee, Allyson Robinson, Gene Robinson, Justin Lee, Jane Clementi, Danny Cortez, Frank Schaefer, James Brownson, Kathy Baldock, Alexia Salvatierra, and Amy Butler.
***

Questions for Discussion: 

- I'd be interested to hear from those readers who, for whatever reason, have chosen a vocation that involves lifelong celibacy. How did you know that this was your calling? Why did you choose it? 
- I'd also welcome the stories of those gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians who have chosen to pursue relationships. Did you struggle at all to feel free to follow that path? 
- Finally, what do you think of Matthew's argument here. Do biblical and historical prohibitions against mandated celibacy apply to those gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians trying to decide what their sexuality means for their faith? 

Rachel Held Evans - God and the Gay Christian, Part 1


“God and the Gay Christian” Discussion, Week 1
http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/god-gay-christian-week-1


by Rachel Held Evans
September 17, 2014

Over the next few weeks, on Wednesdays, we will be discussing Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships
I chose this particular book because I think it provides the most accessible and personal introduction to the biblical and historical arguments in support of same-sex relationships, and because Matthew is a theologically conservative Christian who affirms the authority of Scripture and who is also gay. His research is sound and his story is compelling. And he’s a friend—someone I like and respect and enjoy learning from. 
Today we look at the Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2.

“Reclaiming Our Light” 

Right from the start, Matthew shares with the reader two important elements of his identity: 1) that he is gay, and 2) that he is a theologically conservative Christian who holds a “high view” of the Bible. 

“That means I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life,” Matthew writes of the second. “While some parts of the Bible address cultural norms that do not directly apply to modern societies, all of Scripture is ‘useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’ (2 Timothy 3:16-16).” 
Now for some, this may seem like a conflict. I remember being told by pastors and church leaders that “gay Christian” (or "bisexual Christian" or "transgender Christian") is an oxymoron and that no one who holds a high view of Scripture can support same-sex relationships.  But Matthew’s aim with God and the Gay Christian is to show that “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.” 
It’s an ambitious goal, and it’s one that Matthew tackles by bringing his story and insights alongside the research of dozens of scholars whose work on the topic he studied meticulously for four years, dropping out of Harvard so that he could devote himself to learning what it meant for him to be gay and Christian. 
“My prayer,” he writes, “is that [the book] opens up a conversation in the Christian community that is truly in the spirit of Jesus. The fiercest objections to LGBT equality—those based on religious belief—can begin to fall away. The tremendous pain endured by LGBT youth in many Christian homes can become a relic of the past. Christianity’s reputation in much of the Western world can begin to rebound. Together, we can reclaim our light.” 

A Tree and Its Fruit 

Matthew speaks highly of his Christian upbringing, his loving parents, and the conservative Presbyterian church “filled with kindhearted, caring Christians” in which he was raised. Like a lot of us, he asked Jesus into his heart when he was very little—just three years old. And like a lot of us he, “recommitted” a few times before middle school….just to be safe. 
Matthew loved God, loved his family, loved Scripture, and loved the Church. And yet, for years, he held on to a secret that he knew might very well jeopardize his relationship with them all: he knew he was gay. 
This reality generated a lot of anxiety in Matthew’s life. He had observed what happened to a friend of his who also attended his church, a young man who often shared his musical talents with the congregation on Sunday morning and was celebrated as bright, committed, and kind—a beloved member of the community…until he came out as gay. Matthew’s friend encountered stigma and shame regarding his “decision” and eventually gave up on church, Scripture, and his faith.  
matthew.jpg
But Matthew didn’t want to give up on his faith. 
Even Matthew’s father once told his son that he assumed that if God was against homosexuality, then God wouldn’t make anyone gay, so those who “struggle with same sex attraction” could develop heterosexual attractions over time with enough effort and prayer. 
But Matthew couldn’t change his sexual orientation. 
Finally, Matthew worked up the courage to come out to his family.  When I saw that Matthew had titled this section of his book “My Dad’s Worst Day,” tears gathered in my eyes. It breaks my heart that we have created a culture in which a son or daughter bravely telling the truth about his or her sexuality can bring such devastation to a family.
You have to read the story for yourself to catch the full impact, but I’m happy to report that, after many months of struggling, questions, and tears, Matthew’s parents came around to supporting their son, fully. The testimony of their love for him shines through the pages of this book in a way that makes me both hopeful and sad because not every gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender child is this fortunate. For many, simply telling the truth is the beginning of a nightmare. 
Along with his parents, Matthew began carefully studying the Bible’s few references to same-sex behavior (which will be examined, at length, throughout the rest of the book), and rethinking his position on the matter. 
Though he had always been taught by his church that homosexuality was a chosen and sinful “lifestyle,” this teaching did not match up with Matthew’s lived experience. 
“As I became more aware of same-sex relationships,” he wrote, “I could not understand why they were supposed to be sinful, or why the Bible apparently condemned them. With most sins, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the damage they caused. Adultery violates a commitment to your spouse. Lust objectifies others. Gossip degrades people. But committed same-sex relationships did not easily fit this pattern. Not only were they not harmful to anyone, they seemed to be characterized by positive motives and traits instead, like faithfulness, commitment, mutual love, and self sacrifice. What other sin looked like that?” 
This led some in Matthew’s church (he had come out to a small group) to accuse him of “elevating his experience over Scripture.” But as Matthew points out, he wasn’t asking his friends to revise the Bible based on his experience, he was asking them to reconsider their interpretation of the Bible. 
Christians have often had to reconsider their interpretation of the Bible in light of new information, he argued, just as many did when they concluded slavery was immoral in spite of biblical instructions that seem to support it.  Furthermore, while Scripture tells us not to rely solely on our experiences, it cautions Christians against ignoring experience altogether. The early Church decided to include Gentiles without requiring them to undergo circumcised or obey kosher, a controversial conclusion based largely on Peter’s testimony and experience. In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus says that believers will recognize false teachers by the fruit in their lives. If something bears bad fruit, it cannot be a good tree. And if something bears good fruit, it cannot be a bad tree. This assessment is typically made based on experience. 
“Neither Peter in his work to include Gentiles in the church nor the abolitionists in their campaign against slavery argued that their experience should take precedence over Scripture,” writes Matthew. “But they both made the case that their experience should cause Christians to reconsider long-held interpretations of Scripture. Today, we are just as responsible for testing our beliefs in light of their outcomes—a duty in line with Jesus’s teachings about trees and their fruit.” 
…Which raises a few questions. 
If same-sex relationships are really sinful, then why do they so often produce good fruit—loving families, open homes, self-sacrifice, commitment, faithfulness, joy? And if conservative Christians are really right in their response to same-sex relationships, then why does that response often produce bad fruit—secrets, shame, depression, loneliness, broken families, and fear? 
Eventually, after careful study and in light of new information, even Matthew’s father changed his mind.  Matthew writes: “Instead of taking the references to same-sex behavior as a sweeping statement about all same-sex relationships, my dad started to ask: is this verse about the kind of relationship Matthew wants, or is it about abusive or lustful behavior? Is this passage about the love and intimacy Matthew longs for, or does it refer to self-centered, fleeting desires instead? After much prayer, study, and contemplation, Dad changed his mind. Only six months before, he had never seriously questioned his views. But once he saw the fruit of his beliefs more clearly, he decided to dive deeper into the Bible. In that process, he came to what he now regards as a more accurate understanding…” 

Telescopes, Tradition, and Sexual Orientation 

Before getting into a more detailed analysis of the various biblical passages involved, Matthew takes Chapter 2 to argue that new information about sexuality ought to compel Christians to rethink their interpretation of Scripture. He reminds readers that Galileo was accused of heresy by the Church when he presented evidence that contradicted centuries of tradition and accepted biblical interpretation regarding the earth’s place in the universe. It would take Christians many years to change their minds, but eventually they did. 
“Christians did not change their minds about the solar system because they lost respect for their Christian forbearers or for the authority of Scripture,”he writes. “They changed their minds because they were confronted with evidence their predecessors had never considered. The traditional interpretation of Psalm 93:1, Joshua 10:12-14, and other passages made sense when it was first formulated. But the invention of the telescope offered a new lens to use in interpreting those verses, opening the door to a more accurate interpretation.” 
Similarly, in recent generations, our understanding of sexuality has radically changed. 
For example, for most of human history, homosexuality was not seen as a different sexual orientation but rather as a manifestation of normal sexual desire pursued to excess—a behavior anyone might engage in if they let their passions get out of hand. Matthew highlights multiple examples from history and literature to show that this was simply the assumption for many centuries. 
“I’m not saying gay people did not exist in ancient societies,” Matthew writes “I’m simply pointing out that ancient societies did not think in terms of exclusive sexual orientations. Their experience of same-sex behavior led them to think of it as something anyone might do….No ancient languages even had words that mean ‘gay’ or ‘straight.’” 
Of course now we are beginning to understand that, while human sexuality is complex and is perhaps best understood as existing along a continuum, many people report having fixed same-sex orientations that do not change. (Others experience sexual attraction to both men and women. Still others lack sexual attraction altogether.)  “Reparative therapy,” which seeks to change sexual orientation, has been shown to be ineffective and potentially dangerous, discouraged most notably by many of the very Christian leaders who once promoted it within the Church. 
In addition, in the ancient cultures from which the Bible emerged strict, patriarchal gender roles were the norm and where procreation was a matter of survival.  Because women were presumed to be inferior to men, nothing was more degrading for a man than to be seen as womanly. (Guess some things never change, huh?) So in Rome, it was considered acceptable for an adult male citizen to have sex with slaves, prostitutes, and concubines regardless of gender, but only if he took the active role in the encounter. A same-sex encounter that placed a man in a passive (considered “womanly”) role would be considered humiliating. (This explains why same-sex rape was—and is— sometimes used to humiliate an enemy after defeat.) 
All of these ancient understandings of sexuality affect how same-sex behavior discussed in Scripture, and all of them should call into question the notion that people—and the Church—have a held just one single “traditional” view of same-sex behavior. 
In light of new information and experience, maybe it’s time to reexamine some of our assumptions and interpretations. 
...Next week, we'll look at just a single chapter from God and the Gay Christian, which addresses celibacy. 

Questions for Discussion: 

1.    How have your experiences—or those of friends and family—shaped how you are approaching this conversation?  
2.    What do you think of Matthew’s response to the challenge that he is “elevating his experience over Scripture.” 
3.    Is it helpful or fair to compare evolving understandings of human sexuality to evolving understandings of, say, the solar system or slavery? 
I will be monitoring the comment section closely over the next 24 hours, after which the thread will be closed. Thanks for your participation!