Some Brief Reflections on Christian Leadership

In many circles, leadership is a common buzzword. Politicians, company executives, social scientists, pastors, teachers, professionals, generals, people who give TED talks, and seemingly everyone else is talking about leadership—what it means and how it works.

I must confess that I too am interested in leadership; from my desk, I count no fewer than seven different books with “leader” or “leadership” in their title.1 While I’ve found such books to contain much valuable information, I’ve recently been reminded of my need to revisit the Scriptures in order to learn what it means to be a God-honoring leader.2

In particular, I’ve been reading and reflecting on three passages in the New Testament on the expectations and qualifications for Christian leadership: 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4.3 Through these reflections, I’ve come to understand Christian leadership as involving four primary characteristics: service, order, holiness, and confession. Let me explain each. Continue reading

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On the Misuse of Christian Tradition: A Response

sola_scriptura_forumsThe proper relationship between the authority of Christian Scripture and authority of Christian Tradition avails itself to no easy answers. From a historical viewpoint, much of the early development of both remains hotly debated. From a theological perspective, centuries (and sometimes millennia) old debates continue to shape thinking and lead toward answers long before any explicit consideration of this relationship comes into focus.

Yet there seem to be boundaries—a “highway of orthodoxy” if you will—which suggest (or perhaps demand?) a certain perspective on the Christian understanding of the interplay between Scripture and Tradition, a stance which holds a) Scripture as inspired and authoritative (overly precise definitions aside); b) Tradition as important for properly interpreting Scripture (or, if you prefer more Protestant phrasings, “interpreting within the community” or even “Scripture interpreting Scripture”); and c) both Scripture and Tradition as necessarily in conversation with one another (i.e., neither allowed to dominate the other). Continue reading

MHT: Assessing Historical Metanarratives (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting on the appropriate approach to and method for historical theology.

Church-HistoryThe metanarrative that seems most appropriate as the general approach to the history of Christianity is that of development. An approach seeking authentic developments—those which retain the first principles of a tradition throughout their entire development—appears to find that delicate balance between the errors of the changeless and the ever-changing. The willingness to locate the movements of history through the dialectic of opposites, the alternations back and forth between extremes in order to locate the truth of the middle ground, also seems sagacious given the example of the past. The developmental possibility for the assimilation of new ideas and contexts is also of great importance, especially given the advances of technology and geography in recent centuries. The principle that developments should build upon and not replace earlier doctrines especially illuminates the possibilities for both continuity and improvement, that the present is neither supremely dictated by the past nor lived in isolation from its effects. As Newman rightly indicated, true growth is that which “illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds.”[35] Continue reading

Book Review: The Gospel of the Lord (Bird)

The Gospel of the Lord, BirdGospel Studies exists as a relatively neglected filed which has long taken a back seat to the study of the Historical Jesus or perspectives on Paul. Yet—argues Michael F. Bird—this realm of study stands ripe with opportunities for research and theological growth. To begin addressing the historical problem of how the life and teachings of Jesus became the four-fold gospel accounts of the New Testament, Bird offers The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014. 394 pp). Driven by four guiding questions—Why pass on Jesus stories? How was the Jesus tradition transmitted? What is the gospel and what are the sources behind the gospels? Why four gospels and why the four gospels that we have?—this historical, literary, and theological study provides offers readers rich perspective into some of the most pressing questions of this important area of Early Christian Studies. Continue reading

The Value of (Television) Narratives

TelevisionsAt the risk of shocking some of my readers, I want to start this article with a confession: I was raised in a household that did not watch television. Or, at least, did not watch television that was anything other than the Olympics, Presidential speeches, or the occasional Chicago Cubs playoff collapse. Although the primary reason for our not watching television was because of scheduling (we simply were too busy with other things to make watching TV any sort of a priority), we would also occasionally hear about the dangers of watching TV, especially the immoral values that it promoted. Continue reading

Book Review: Firsthand (Shook)

FirsthandNFL quarterback Robert Griffin III, speaking about Christianity, once said that “There comes a time when you can no longer cling to your parents’ coattails and you have to chose to make it your faith.” In Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own Ryan and Josh Shook tackle the issue of transforming the secondhand faith that many American Christians grow up with– their parents’ faith– into a vibrant firsthand faith of their own. Ryan and Josh grew up as preacher’s kids, got to a point where they were tired of Christianity and set out on their own, only to later realize that they needed an authentic relationship with God– not merely secondhand religion that had grown up with. Continue reading

The Importance of Narrative in the Axial Age

This post is the first in a series of reflections concerning “Conceptions of the Ultimate”, the ways in which various world religions conceive of and interpret the Ultimate Being of the cosmos. In today’s reflection I consider some of the implications of the “Axial Age”, a term first coined by Karl Jaspers to designate the period of development among the major world religions, wherein these movements transitioned from “primitive cultures” to developed religions.

World ReligionsIn “What is Axial about the Axial Age?” Robert Bellah argues that the central development of the Axial Age involved the transition from mythic culture to theoretical culture with second-order thinking and ideas concerning transcendence (78). Perhaps the most critical point from this article concerns the ongoing connection between theoretical culture and mythic culture. Throughout the “Axial Age” Bellah argues for a shift from thinking in terms of myth and narrative to analysis steeped in reflexivity and logic, a shift from primarily oral narrative to the use of external memory and graphic invention (79). However, this theoretical turn did not dispense with narrative and mythic culture entirely; indeed, analytic and theoretical thinking were added to the existing narrative worldviews and modified them. Thus, while second-order thinking during the Axial Age gave rise to considerations of the transcendent, these conceptions were ultimately born out a worldview that contained mythic narrative as well as analytical insights. It is within this context of the “radicalization of mythospeculation” that transcendental breakthroughs occurred, not merely with the insights of the theoretical (81). Recognizing the centrality of this point remains key for the study of conceptions of the Ultimate both because it touches upon the cumulative effects of ideas of the transcendent as well as because it notes the centrality of narrative within axial worldviews. Continue reading

Book Review: Religion in Human Evolution (Bellah)

Religion in Human EvolutionRobert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution stands as magnum opus of breathtaking proportions. Developed from the Merlin Donald’s work on cultural evolution, Karl Jasper’s insights on the axial age, and drawing upon a range of historical, anthropological, and biological sources, Bellah traces the evolution of religion within human culture from its origins in primordial play to the theoretical turns of the Axial Age. Central to this argument is that nothing is left behind during the evolution from episodic to theoretical culture through the mimetic and mythic. As a result of this massive study, Bellah argues that the evolution of human religion, which culminated in theoretical religious discourse in axial cultures and refigured preceding mimetic and mythic culture, continues to influence human religion and culture today. Bellah’s latest monograph stands as in-depth treatment of the evolution of human culture that is a must read for those involved in the study of the history and sociology of religions. Continue reading

Living Conciliarly

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”–Stephen R. Covey

Conciliar PostI have forgotten where I first saw that quote, but I do remember that I was immediately impressed with its accurate assessment of contemporary culture and discourse. How often do we listen, discuss, or read with the intention of learning? How much worse do those skills become once we’ve opened our web browser and entered the world of 140 character Twitter interaction, sound-bite news, rhetoric-oriented politics, #hashtagactivism, internet forums, Facebook statuses, and polarizing worldviews? In my assessment, Covey is right–today, people don’t seriously, thoughtfully, and civilly dialogue, we have it out in the comments section, we engage so that we may “show” people where they are wrong. Does it really have to be this way? Continue reading

Speaking Through Stories

This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

BooksA friend of mine recently commented that he sees too many references to C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien in the blogging world. As someone who tries to stay connected to the conversations of the interwebs, I can confirm that there are indeed a plethora of perspectives penned on these great 20th century authors. Indeed, hardly a week goes by without seeing an article evaluating what Lewis would have thought about this, or the implications of Tolkien’s writings for that. Even here at Conciliar Post there have been a number of recent posts concerning these literary giants (see here, here, here, and here, for example). Clearly there is no lack of contemporary admiration for Lewis and Tolkien (and the rest of the Inklings). This friend’s comment, however, got me thinking: What is it about Lewis and Tolkien that cause us to revisit their works again and again? Continue reading