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Choose Your Shape!

Choose Your Shape!

Well, perhaps, “choosing” should be “recognizing.” Weird? Doesn’t make sense? Read on!

In the late 1990s I participated in a program here in Escambia County called CommUNITY Dialogues, led by a creative and interesting communications specialist (and I had not, up to that time, used “creative” or “interesting” with regard to such people!) named Dr. Dolly Berthelot.

It was a great program, and I learned a great deal. The reason I’m writing about it, however, is that it was the first diversity training program I’d experienced that I considered personally valuable.

While I valued and value diversity, I felt that many interfaith and diversity programs negated their own value by asking people to give up their own beliefs on entry. The result was a debate largely centered around whether divesting oneself of one’s own “diverse” views was a good idea or not.

What Dr. Dolly did was invite us to explore our beliefs and those of others and to look at ways in which we could understand one another and work together by celebrating and taking advantage of our differences. I have always believed that this would be valuable, but in my experience people of strong convictions tend toward excluding others, and those advocating diversity want to diminish the value of one’s own values.

You may, in fact, decide to change your belief on some topic as a result of dialogue, but eliminating the differences before they are experienced and understood is, in my view, suboptimal. (I like that word!)

I say all of this to bring us to the present, and some of the work of Dr. Dolly Berthelot. I publish her book PERFECTLY SQUARE, and I have spent some time looking at a training program she has developed, SELFSHAPES. She has developed a simple quiz based on this program, and I have implemented it on our web site.

I’m not going to discuss it in detail here, because it is best experienced first. I have commented before that I have found things I’ve learned about human nature, including sociology and psychology, and definitely about different personality characteristics more helpful in Bible study and teaching than learning biblical languages. (I in no way regret learning the languages. I say this to emphasize the extreme value of learning to understand people for biblical studies and theology.)

And, of course, for life.

So head on over to the Energion Publications retail site and check out the quiz. It’s called Dr. Dolly’s SELFSHAPES. There are no pop-ups, and very little advertising. At the end we offer you the opportunity to share on social media and to sign up for an e-newsletter to keep up with developments.

Enjoy!

Hangout on Air Tonight: Salvation (Universalism, Pluralism, Inclusivism, Exclusivism)

Hangout on Air Tonight: Salvation (Universalism, Pluralism, Inclusivism, Exclusivism)

On the Energion Hangout tonight I’ll be hosting Dr. Bruce Epperly and Dr. Allan Bevere to discuss salvation in Christian theology and the terms I’ve listed. Doubtless many others will come up.

The Energion Discussion Network resource page for this discussion is Soteriology. Click here for the Google+ Event Page.

 

The Relevance of Atonement Theories

The Relevance of Atonement Theories

Discussion Ahead traffic sign in woman's hand on a white background
Discussion Ahead traffic sign in woman’s hand on a white background

On the Energion Discussion Network we have two essays posted in answer to the question “Do atonement theories continue to speak to the human condition?” The “yes” answer, written by Dr. Allan Bevere appeared yesterday. The “no” answer appeared today, written by Rev. Steve Kindle. I find both of these articles well worth reading.

In the past I have been accused of rejecting penal substitutionary atonement because of the fact that I don’t see it as central, or as the explanation of the atonement. In fact, I don’t see any theory of the atonement as a single explanation of the atonement. Our theories of the atonement are metaphors, used to carry across some of the meaning to us.

As does Allan Bevere, I do find pretty much all theories of the atonement relevant in one way or another. Where I tend to be concerned is where a metaphor begins, in some people’s minds, to become the reality, i.e. that rather than believing in the cross of Christ we believe in our particular metaphor, the one that may best speak to us. I recall a professor from whom I took a class in exegesis of Romans from the Greek text. What was remarkable about the class was that his favorite theory, or metaphor, for the atonement as the moral influence theory. Now I have a bit of a liking for that metaphor myself, but it is not the metaphor Paul uses in Romans. There is some overlap. But this professor, because that was his very most favorite metaphor, taught nothing but, twisting Paul considerably in the process.

I’d add one more caveat. Relevance is a word that points both ways. A metaphor, to be relevant must communicate to one who hears. If it doesn’t, it isn’t working as a metaphor. I think quite often we need to correct the presentation of some metaphors to make them function better. If they don’t carry something over, they aren’t relevant in that case, however great they might be otherwise.

On Moderating a Political Discussion

On Moderating a Political Discussion

One of the great joys of being a publisher is that I’m able to meet and work with some very intelligent and interesting people. As the election comes up, I find that my company, Energion Publications, has two authors who have written books for our new politics category, one a progressive and one a conservative. What does this suggest? Let’s have an election related discussion!

Of course I have commercial goals for this discussion, so let’s get those out of the way. I’d love to sell books by these two men. You can find out more about that on Energion.net. In addition, as these are the only two books in the politics category, I’m anxious to discover new authors who will write new books to fulfill the mission of this category. Note that while the current two books focus on American issues, that is not a requirement for this category.

Having gotten that out of the way, let me get back to the fun. This is my personal post on how I’ll moderate this particular discussion. The two authors are progressive Bob Cornwall, who is a Disciples of Christ pastor and the author of Faith in the Public Square, and Elgin Hushbeck, Jr., an engineer, Christian apologist, and author of Preserving Democracy. Elgin blogs at bobcornwall.com and Elgin blogs at hushbeck.com/blog.

I’m excited about this discussion because I know that both of these men are committed Christians who are passionate about their political positions, but are also willing to discuss them in a civil manner. I edited both of their political books (as well as several others for each), and I know that they will hold many contrasting positions. It’s rare that we get to see civil discussions of widely differing points of view.

My role will be to propose questions. Each Saturday I will propose a question to both men. The question will be posted on Energion.net. They will post their answers on the following Wednesday and then each will respond to the post written by the other. I will post links to their responses over on Energion.net. I certainly have enough questions to ask them, but I’d really love to hear from any readers. Either comment or email me with things you would like to see discussed.

Is anyone welcome to get involved? Are you kidding? This is the blogosphere! Not only are comments permitted on either Elgin’s or Bob’s blogs, they are also permitted on Energion.net. There are reasonable rules for civil behavior in all these locations. In addition, however, we would welcome more bloggers to post on the questions raised, and provided the posts remain reasonably civil, I will link to those as well, also from Energion.net. So get ready to get involved.

My plan is to stick primarily with issues and policy. There is plenty of discussion going on about ads and the process. These are valid points to discuss. I’ve certainly seen plenty of ads that I think could bear serious examination and critique. But that takes time, so we’ll generally avoid it, and concentrate on specific policy issues.

So send me your questions and I’ll pick one for each week. Then get involved in the resulting discussion.

Ephesians: A Participatory Study Guide

Ephesians: A Participatory Study Guide

I try to publish some reflections on each book that my company, Energion Publications, releases. Sometimes it takes me  few months after release, but I try to get to it sooner. Please be aware that while I will say some things I might say in a review, this is not a review, and is intended to be subjective. It’s my reflections on publishing this book, why I did it, and what I hope for it.

This week, we’re releasing Ephesians: A Participatory Study Guide, by Robert D. Cornwall. Bob Cornwall is actually author of two releases in close succession, the other being Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord’s Prayer. Note that while you will not see it in stock at Amazon.com on Monday, January 3, you should see it at some point during the first week of January.

Ephesians: A Participatory Study Guide

This book is a milestone both for Energion and for the Participatory Study Series, and it’s especially gratifying to me. When I first started the participatory series (for which this blog was named), it was a way for me to publish notes and handouts. I looked at what I was doing to provide materials for my classes, then at the costs involved in printing, and gathered the material together. I thought I could sell enough just for classes I taught to pay the expenses, and indeed I did. But I also sold quite a number more. (My study guides are to Revelation and Hebrews.)

Then my former student, Geoffrey Lentz, now a minister at First United Methodist Church in Pensacola suggested adding a study guide to the book of Luke. As a publisher, this meant some considerable changes. I’d put the whole series on the back burner. I was much more interested in publishing things written by others than my own work. But after some thought Geoffrey signed a contract and duly produced the study guide to Luke.

While Geoffrey followed the outlines of the method I had created and written about on the web, he also added some nuances, especially in terms of making the study guides reflect the emphasis on prayer. If anyone compares one of my guides to his, they will note that while I emphasize prayer while talking about the method, I don’t do as much to make it part of the structure of each lesson. Geoffrey also added a certain amount of art and iconography, amongst other things.

To summarize, I was much happier with his study guide than I was with my own, and I invited Geoffrey to join me in writing a basic guide to the method used in the series. I’d had a manuscript gathering the cyber equivalent of dust for a couple of years, so I dusted it off, and sent it to Geoffrey. We passed it back and forth several times, added many pages of his work, deleted some of mine, and I think the results were good. The book is Learning and Living Scripture: An Introduction to the Participatory Study Method.

The foundation was laid to make this a real series, with the vision of making guides that will help individuals, but especially small study groups dig into the Bible and study it for themselves, while at the same time not studying it in isolation.

Besides Ephesians, there are currently two other study guides in progress, and we’re looking for more authors who would like to write one of these guides. The method gives considerable leeway for individual approaches, while setting broad boundaries in terms of the level and the overall approach. (If you’re interested in writing a guide contact me, pubs@energion.com.)

Bob Cornwall has taken hold of the vision of the series and produced a study guide that is thoughtful and challenging. He’s set a new high standard for what this series should produce. I hope some time to revise my two guides, and I’m planning on borrowing ideas from him (as well as from Geoffrey) when I do so.

Bob’s study guide plows head-on into the major issues raised by Ephesians, not in a destructive way, but in an open and honest approach that will allow groups to discuss and come to their own conclusions about many of the issues in the book. What about submission, gender roles, spiritual warfare, the demonic realm, and authorities in the heavens? They’re all here, and you’ll have a chance to think seriously about them and share.

One of the great distinctive features Bob has added is a historical reflection with each lesson. I wanted this series to emphasize looking at the history of interpretation, i.e. not seeing the community in which one studies as just contemporary Christians, but rather as those who have read, interpreted, and applied the book since it was written. These historical reflections are an extraordinarily effective approach to accomplishing this goal.

There is always a struggle in a study guide to decide what is included. Huge amounts of material ends up cut, either due to space, or because you don’t want to overburden or distract students who may be studying a book for the first time. In his introductions, Bob has chosen carefully and introduced issues that are profitable and more importantly that will tend to help build dialog.

One of the elements of the participatory study method is sharing, by which we mean not just (or even primarily) telling other people what you learn, but also listening to the community of faith and to others throughout history. If you are going to conduct dialog across various denominational and theological lines, you have to know what the issues are. A good example of this is the issue of pseudonymity. Was Paul the author, and if he was not, does it matter? Many church members are not aware of the alternatives on this issue. Bob gives them a good introduction. Whatever you believe regarding this issue, it’s a good idea to be aware of the possibilities.

This guide shares with the other guides good exercises and challenging thought questions. I think it’s “further reading” section is again exceptionally good.

I hope many church education coordinators and other leaders and teachers in the church will give strong consideration to using this guide in their teaching. I’m gratified and blessed that Bob Cornwall has been willing to offer his expertise to this series, and I am excited about seeing new volumes as they develop.

I should write one final general note about the series. This isn’t your “Bible in five minutes a day” series. Members of the class need to commit to reading the material in the guide and the scriptures for each lesson. It is also useful if they study the questions and are prepared to discuss. These questions are not designed for a quick sharing of existing opinions; they’re designed to challenge your existing opinions. I hope that you’ll come away from sharing with a group using these questions and reflections better informed, and better able to express and support your understanding.

Finding My Way in Christianity

Finding My Way in Christianity

Finding My Way in Christianity: Recollections of a Journey

I’ve tried to make a habit of writing some personal reflections on the books my company, Energion Publications, publishes. That doesn’t usually involve that many posts, but I got behind earlier in the year, and I’m catching up. This one is going to be longer than usual because these are personal reflections, and this book gets rather personal for me.

Finding My Way in Christianity leads me to some very personal reflections, so you can expect me to talk about myself a great deal here. While all the books I publish will connect in some way with my own spiritual life and experience, this one connected very directly with my personal experiences. The author, Herold Weiss, taught at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, and while he left about 10 years before I arrived as a student, a number of names he mentions are very familiar. I knew some of his colleagues, and he also had some of those who would later be my professors in his classes.

In particular I noticed the name Sakae Kubo, who became the dean of the School of Theology at Walla Walla College while I was a student there. I studied epistles in Greek with Dr. Kubo for two years, and he was the one who encouraged me to apply for a fellowship to study at Andrews University, where I subsequently received my MA. Amongst other people mentioned are Earle Hilgert, whose name I heard repeatedly, Siegfried Horn (though I studied under his successor, Dr. Larry Geraty), and many others.

By the time I was at Andrews, the controversy had moved on to different names, but the same issues were involved. There was a great deal of controversy around Dr. Desmond Ford’s teachings at the time I was there, and there were still many people demanding that one accept the interpretation provided by Ellen White as definitive regarding any particular scripture.

Let me start with a couple of stories from my time at Andrews University that seemed small at the time but have turned out to be pivotal for me in my own journey of “finding my way in Christianity.” The first was when I was invited to watch an Assyriologist at work in the Horn Museum at Andrews. I had no idea where anyone got the idea that I wanted to be an Assyriologist. I was taking Akkadian, but only as one of the languages, not my major language. (I took a concentrated quarter of study in that language.) Nonetheless I went to observe this man at work. Now it was fascinating to watch him. He was transcribing tablets and his skill and speed at drawing the signs was impressive. He asked me why I wanted to be an Assyriologist, at which point I told him I didn’t. He had apparently been told I was interested in doing my doctoral work in that area.

What that session actually accomplished was to crystallize for me the work I really wanted to do, which was to be able to talk about the issues of history, language, and background to non-specialists–to be a popularizer. Now I suspect that I was sent to watch this man and encouraged to think about a specialized career partially because of the dangers inherent in being an SDA scholar interpreting biblical scholarship to the people in the pews.

I had come from Walla Walla College where I found the attitudes of the professors universally helpful. At least in private, people were willing to discuss just about anything with me. In classes, they were more careful, though I thought they were generally quite honest. There was a view I learned first from my uncle, Don F. Neufeld, who was an associate editor of the Review and Herald at that time, which suggested you didn’t need to tell people everything you knew. The phrase my uncle used was “pastoral concern.”

So out of pastoral concern you wouldn’t discuss the problems with a literal interpretation of Genesis with people whose faith might be shaken by such ideas. I had many personal conversations in which he acknowledged that the earth really couldn’t be 6,000 years old, and that the Geoscience Research Institute’s tours were really exercises in futility. He wasn’t sure that even the folks who led them really believed what they were teaching.

I was reminded of those conversations when I read Dr. Weiss’s comment that these presentations sounded to him like “special pleading,” and that he “got the distinct impression that the presentations were efforts at treading water in order not to sink.” That is indeed the feeling one gets in such presentations. I remember seeing GRI ads offering grants to do scientific study to prove the young age of the earth, surely a case of putting one’s conclusion ahead of the evidence.

I noticed a change when I went from Walla Walla College to Andrews University. None of my professors in either place challenged major SDA doctrines in their teaching. But questions were heard and discussed at Walla Walla, even if not all of them were answered. (One can hardly expect answers to all questions.) At Andrews, I found it easy to discuss languages and history, but questions on broader issues were much less welcome. The atmosphere was different.

But a second experience reinforced this view. One of my professors recommended that I submit a paper I had presented in his class to Andrews University Seminary Studies for publication. I naively did so, not really thinking about the result. One of the reviewers for the paper was another professor, one with whom I was not nearly so much in tune theologically. According to the editor, who discussed the result with me, this reviewer said I was “trying to be a second Wellhausen.”

That was, of course, both very flattering for a mere MA student, and also very dangerous in Adventist circles. The professor himself, who started avoiding me on campus, never commented on this to me until after I had graduated, at which point he stopped me to warn me of the dangers of the course I was following. I had benefited greatly from his linguistic knowledge, but had found that he would always choose the interpretation that supported traditional Adventist theology, whether or not the text supported that.

The article was not published, and I didn’t bother submitting it elsewhere. By that time I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to manage to make a career as a Bible teacher in the Seventh-day Adventist Church even though I did try for another couple of years.

Now let me turn to the book. No, I haven’t forgotten the book on which I’m supposed to be reflecting. Receiving manuscripts is an interesting experience. I started Energion Publications, and for some time it was a part time job for me. We’ve moved beyond that point in the last couple of years. The first several things I published were solicited. It’s not that I didn’t receive manuscripts; it’s just that I didn’t receive publishable manuscripts in the early days without going out and asking for them.

Over the last couple of years I’ve had to put together a good process for selecting manuscripts because I’ve been receiving many that require more than five minutes to reject, and a few that I can accept. One part of that process is that I have specific people to read manuscripts so that I don’t just publish what interests me.

Now getting a manuscript from a Seventh-day Adventist writer brings out mixed emotions. The first question is whether it is a manuscript that addresses specifically SDA issues. The second is whether it maintains an attitude of Christian charity towards the SDA church. Those are two hurdles that must be overcome in my mind. The third question is whether it is of interest to a more general audience.

This manuscript met the first two tests. Dr. Weiss speaks directly and forcefully on occasion, but no more so than his subject demands. I think some people will be unhappy with the stories that are told, but even though I was not at Andrews at the time in question, the stories ring true and mesh with what I learned of these things when I was in school. Dr. Weiss is calling for dialog; for an attitude that allows questions to be asked and the evidence to be examined.

I would contrast this to the idea of “pastoral concern.” As much as I learned from my uncle, this is an area where I disagree with him profoundly. I think that the unexamined question is an accident waiting to happen. I know people who have studied these questions and come to conservative conclusions. I know others who have come to more liberal conclusions. I respect both those groups and the many between. But I have a problem with those who won’t face the questions in the first place, or who don’t allow others to do so.

I have encountered many, many young people who say that their pastors and Sunday School (or Sabbath School) teachers have deceived them. It’s not that these people gave them the wrong answers. It’s that these people didn’t admit the questions even existed.

Such theological journeys do not occur in a vacuum, however, and I think that is the great strength of this book. Dr. Weiss recounts a cross-cultural journey that merges with the theological journey. This part of the book was another very attractive point for me. I grew up partly in Mexico and in South America myself, though I was the son of missionary parents, and I lived in the one English speaking country on the mainland of South America – Guyana. But friends and associates came from or served in many of the places mentioned in the book. The story, with each chapter titled after a geographical location, put theology in the context of a person and a community, as it should be.

There remains my third question regarding a book about the Seventh-day Adventist church, whether it is of interest to a broader audience. For this I had to get the opinions of others. Those opinions were favorable. On the one hand, this is because the experience of a spiritual journey in the Seventh-day Adventist church is not so different from such an experience in any other denomination as one might imagine.

On the other hand, this is because, contrary to my initial expectations, this is not a story about the SDA church. It is the story about a believer encountering his faith, and the challenges to it that we must face. Those challenges come both from the information and views that we encounter that might not fit, and also from those in our faith community who find the very idea of a spiritual journey threatening. I find this latter group most dangerous. Those who believe they have arrived will quit trying to travel.

I was thinking about the desire of some in the SDA church to avoid literature written by people from other denominations and to halt the inquiries of young minds who might look outside of traditional channels for information, answers, and new questions. This couldn’t happen in, say, the United Methodist Church, could it? (For anyone who missed it, I’m now a member of a United Methodist congregation.)

A church with which I’m acquainted was having trouble, as many churches do, keeping its college age young people. They started a young adult class. The teacher, not herself college age, went out of her way to discover what the two or three young people wanted to study. They ended up reading books of theology and philosophy from a variety of perspectives and discussing them in class. The class grew, even attracting a number of adults in the church to join. Young people were coming back to the church.

Then the complaints began. Some were not happy that some of these young people didn’t attend the church services. But the big complaint was that they were not using “approved curriculum.” They started an “official” college age class to replace it, using approved young adult curriculum. That new class lasted about a month and then it was over. Those young people who had attended just Sunday School but not church continued not to attend church. They just didn’t attend Sunday School either.

The problems described in this book can happen anywhere. It’s not just about SDAs. It’s about Christians–people–gathered into the groups we call denominations.

When I was struggling with my own faith following completion of my degree at Andrews, I was frequently told to “just have faith.” Others would ask me how I could question the faith of the pioneers, meaning, of course, the Adventist pioneers. But I find an appeal to numbers or an appeal to history pretty weak, especially if the numbers are small and the history short. To remain a part of Adventism, one has to have a personal conviction, and such conviction is not fostered by telling the questioner to believe and shut up.

I would address four groups of potential readers.

First, there are those who are in the Seventh-day Adventist church, whether you are a conservative Adventist or liberal. This book will give you some insights into the joys and difficulties of those who work within Adventism, yet want to be open, examining all things, keeping what is good, and rejecting what they find to be wrong. I wish I had been able to read something like it when I was going through Andrews. I doubt it would have kept me in Adventism–I lack the patience. But it might have spared me some of my detour away from Christianity.

Second, there are ex-SDAs. If you are angry at your former church, you will find that others have walked this road, and that there are many there who are, in fact, sincere seekers for truth. This book is encouraging to me, because I know that in my former denomination there are folks like Herold Weiss.

Third, there are those in the broader Christian world who face similar situations. Some of the particular doctrinal issues (the investigative judgment, the role of Ellen White) will be different, but others (verbal inspiration, creationism) will be very familiar. Some of you may be walking that kind of a road right now. How do you respond to the challenges to your faith? How do you respond to new knowledge that might make you reassess some of what you have believed?

Fourth, there are the heresy hunters. There are many divides amongst those who grew up in the SDA church but later left. One of those is between those who turn to a very conservative evangelical Christianity and those who take a more moderate or liberal route. Many who leave to join conservative evangelical communities become harshly critical. Many of these treat the entire SDA church as a cult. I think this book is a good read for these folks as well.

I’m glad I chose to publish this book, both from the personal perspective and as a publisher. I think it will be of value to the body of Christ.

Note: There are still advance copies available to reviewers, including those in our blogger review program. E-mail pubs@energion.com for information, or request your copy via our convenient request form.

Contest and Possible Blogswarm

Contest and Possible Blogswarm

Well, it may not be as spontaneous as all that.  And with that, commercial warning …

My company, Energion Publications, is sponsoring a contest and inviting people to blog about Christianity during Consider Christianity Week,  (March 21-27) which is the project of one of my authors, Elgin Hushbeck, Jr.  You can get full details on Energion.net.

For the blogswarm, we will link to each post of which we are notified that fits into a Consider Christianity Week topic from both the company blog and from Energion.net.  This means at least two links for each post.  In addition, I personally will be trying to link to each from this blog and my Threads blog with some sort of classification and a bit of commentary.

Please note:  This isn’t just for Christians.  We will link to posts opposing Christianity as well as to those supporting it.  When I link here, my preference will be for posts which are in conversation with one another.

The contest involves one particular question, with a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card to the best (by popular vote) post in the affirmative, and another to the best post in the negative.  Again, see Energion.net for details.

I know the fact that this is company sponsored may keep some folks away, but I would certainly appreciate any publicity you can give.  I’d like to see a good number of posts on Christianity linked together.