Reading Theology vs. Reading About Theology

September 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

One of my old avoidance tricks when given a subject that has the potential to be daunting is to read about the subject, as opposed to actually reading the subject.

I did a lot of this as an undergraduate in philosophy. I spent an inordinate amount of time learning about a given philosopher’s background, how he came to write his major philosophical works, and finding juicy little anecdotes about his life. The result of all of this activity was that I ended up dancing around a lot of philosophical reading without actually diving in to the texts in any depth.

I’m trying to avoid this as much as possible with my current renewed interest in reading dogmatic theology. I don’t want to fall into the trap of reading about theology at the expense of actually reading theology. Starting with Volume One of Staniloae’s Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, I’ve actually avoided reading any of the prefatory material at the front of the book or doing random google searches to get more background on Staniloae. I’m sure this will come, but not until I’ve actually digested a good portion of the theology I’m currently reading.

Thinking About Theology

September 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

This blog has been on hiatus for a long time, but I have been thinking recently about getting back to it.

Just a brief thought for this morning. I’ve been spending some more time as of late doing theological reading and reflecting. Part of this is a consequence of feeling that my preach and teaching have taken the character of feeling somewhat stale to me.

As I’ve opined elsewhere, I’ve had this nagging sense that I’m doing the theological equivalent of talking about Washington chopping down a cherry tree. We may hear this story in elementary school, but don’t we move past it at some point? Can’t my preaching/teaching move past the same standard Orthodox theological clichés?

I’ve recently begun participating in a group that is doing some (for me) pretty dense reading and reflecting on Orthodox dogmatic theology. I’ve found the experience invigorating, even thrilling, but the reading, learning, and experience of the group far outclasses what I am capable of at this point. I can’t belabor my shortcomings in that group and don’t want to slow it down with my own work at “getting up to speed.” I think that labor might better fit with what I could post here.

With that in mind, my plan is to re-boot this blog as a place to dust off my theological thinking and to start sorting out what I don’t know that well.

Evangelism as Personal and Relational

November 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Evangelism as Personal and Relational
A Sermon on St. Andrew the First Called (11/30) 

(originally posted last year on St. Andrew’s Day)

Reading from Wednesday of Bright Week (John 1:35-51)

We have an opportunity today to talk about evangelism. The story of St. Andrew the First-Called, as given in the Gospel according to St. John, provides us with a model of how to approach evangelism.

What happens in our story? Andrew and another are introduced to Jesus Christ. Christ invites them to “come and see” and spend the remainder of the day with him.

As a result of this encounter, the first thing Andrew does is:

  • Finds his brother Peter
  • Tells Peter that Jesus is the anticipated Messiah
  • Brings Peter to meet Jesus for himself

What follows is Peter’s own conversion to become a follower of Christ.

We see in the remainder of the Gospels that Andrew does not play any other outstanding role in the accounts of the apostles’ ministry with Christ during His public ministry. Peter is made “first” among the Apostles. Peter, along with James and John, are counted as the “inner circle” of the 12 Apostles.

To be sure, Andrew is counted among the 12 Apostles, but we don’t hear anything distinct about him from this point on. He does have the distinction of being the “first called” and as the one who introduced Peter to Jesus as the Messiah.

Often, the mistake is made to think that evangelism consists primarily of particular techniques, approaches, or methods. We can get caught up in discussions of how we do or don’t advertize, what kind of pamphlets we have for visitors/inquirers, how or who follows up with visitors, what we say, what we don’t say, etc., etc., etc.

There can also be the mistaken notion that the priest possesses some specific formula or technique for successful evangelism, i.e., that there is some specific evangelism “switch” that the priest can flip and get masses of people to come to church. This is simply not true.

To be sure, the elements of methods and approaches are needed and important. Those who are looking for the faith need to know that we are here and how to find us. Those who are looking for us need to have the means to access us from where they currently are at.

The priest is important in the work of evangelism. He is the one who follows up with guests and can nurture their interests and involvement in the parish. He is the one who can do a significant portion of the administrative “leg work” on the methods and approaches. The priest is one of the ones who can keep the parish community focused and on-task with the parish ministry of evangelism.

But the priest, ultimately, is not the primary evangelist of the parish. The primary evangelists of the parish are the members of the parish.

How is this possible? Look at the story we have of St. Andrew. He is the evangelist in the story. He introduces Peter to Jesus. Andrew shares with Peter that Jesus is the Messiah. Next, Andrew brings Peter to meet Jesus as the Messiah. Finally, Andrew steps back and allows Jesus to take over the work of forming Peter as an Apostle.

Andrew does this work in three steps: (1) he finds Peter, (2) he tells Peter about Christ, and (3) he brings Peter to meet Christ.

This highlights Andrews approach, but a more important element needs to be emphasized: Andrew’s work as an evangelist was personal and involved someone he had an existing relationship with. Peter is his brother. Andrew had a face-to-face discussion with his brother, then brought him to meet Christ. There was no brochure, flier, or newspaper ad involved.

As such our work as evangelists needs to be personal and relational. It is personal in that we speak with people directly about the faith and it is relational in that it involves people that we have an existing relationship with:

  • our friends and neighbors
  • our family members/relatives
  • our coworkers or classmates

As you can see, we shouldn’t think of this in terms of “beating the bushes” to find strangers that we have to make a “sales pitch” to. Instead, we should approach our faith as a cherished gift that we have and desire to share with those we know, but don’t have that gift:

  • we find those we already have some relationship with
  • we tell them about the gift that we have received
  • we bring them to “come and see” the gift as expressed in our Sunday Divine Liturgy.

Starting to Read Your Bible

October 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Probably the most common response people initially have to reading the Bible for themselves is being overwhelmed with where to start. This is a natural response when presented with a book that’s over an inch thick, printed on very thin pages, and with a page count of over 1,800 pages long.

Part of being overwhelmed can also be the assumption that one needs to start by picking up the Bible and reading it from cover to cover like any other book. Instead, it should be thought of as a companion who will be a constant part of your life from here on out. As with any new “friend,” your initial steps should be introductory, becoming acquainted with the Bible and its contents.

  1. Purchase your own copy of the complete Orthodox Study Bible. It’s not enough for your household to have a family copy; you should have your own personal copy.
  2. Pick a quiet time when you have no distractions and 15-30 minutes uninterrupted time. Sit down with your Orthodox Study Bible and browse through the contents. Don’t worry about jumping in and reading. Simply skim through to familiarize yourself with the various contents and features.
  3. After this initial session, pick another quiet time with the Orthodox Study Bible. Read Bishop KALLISTOS’ article “How to Read Your Bible” (pgs. 1757-1766) for a treatment of the Orthodox approach to studying the Bible.
  4. After this second session, pick another quiet time with the Orthodox Study Bible. Read Bishop BASIL’s article “Overview of the Books of the Bible” (pgs. xv-xx). This article will give you an overview of each specific book and the entire scope of the Bible.
  5. Each week, use your church calendar and spend the week reading and re-reading the two lessons prescribed for the upcoming Sunday’s Liturgy. Read the study notes associated with the reading. This will prepare you for hearing Sunday’s homily.
  6. Once you’ve started, speak with the priest for advice on a next step in reading and studying the Bible.

(Originally posted August 31, 2010)

Fallow Fields

September 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

This blog has been fallow since this past January. I’ve been chewing on getting it started again in the near future, but re-casting it in a slightly different direction. More to come in the next few days…

Gospel/Epistle for this coming Sunday (29th Sunday after Pentecost/12th Sunday of Luke) – 01/15/12

January 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

THE EPISTLE (For the Twenty-Ninth Sunday after Pentecost)

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians. (3:4-11)

Brethren, when Christ, Who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices, and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.

THE GOSPEL (For the Twelfth Sunday of Luke)

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (17:12-19)

At that time, as Jesus entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And He said to Him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Gospel/Epistle for this coming Sunday (The Sunday after Theophany) – 01/08/12

January 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

THE EPISTLE (For the Sunday after Theophany of Christ)

The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians. (4:7-13)

Brethren, grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that He had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is He who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

THE GOSPEL (For the Sunday after Theophany of Christ)

The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (4:12-17)

At that time, when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulon and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

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