Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The “Social Creed” of the Methodist Episcopal Church, adopted in 1908

Here’s an interesting historical tidbit for you that I came across recently. It is a “creed” adopted by Methodists in 1908 that addresses socio-economic conditions. As such it is part of the Social Gospel movement, which was recently the subject of a series from contributor Scott Jackson entitled “Rauschenbusch and the "Kingdom of Evil”.

When reading this I noticed with gratitude that a number of points in this creed have been achieved, with chagrin that a number of the points are clearly relics of their own historical context, and with shame that so many of these points remain even today the stuff of dreams for social progressives.

As quoted in Rosemary Radford Reuther, The Radical Kingdom (Harper & Row, 1970), 90.

The Methodist Episcopal Church stands:
  • For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life.
  • For the principle of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissensions.
  • For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery, occupational diseases, injuries and mortality.
  • For the abolition of child labor.
  • For such regulation of the conditions of labor for women as shall safeguard the physical and moral health of the community.
  • For the suppression of the “sweating system.”
  • For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of labor to the lowest practical point, with work for all, and for that degree of leisure for all which is the condition of the highest human life.
  • For a release from employment one week in seven.
  • For a living wage in every industry.
  • For the highest wage that each industry can afford, and for the most equitable division of the products of industry that can ultimately be devised.
  • For the recognition of the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the supreme law of society and the sure remedy for all social ills.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Upcoming Interview with DET Founder & Editor, W. Travis McMaken

Good morning, gentle readers, or good whatever-the-time-of-day-is-that-you-read-this.

I thought that I would post briefly to let you know that on Thursday October 23rd, at 10pm CST, I will be participating in an online interview with the mind behind “Karl Barth for Dummies” (twitter / facebook). KBfD has done a handful of these interviews before, most recently with Kait Dugan who curates the Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary (click here to read that interview).

Long-time readers may recall that David Congdon and I participated in a similar sort of thing (a reddit AMA) a couple of years ago (click here if you’re interested).

It should be a good interview. KBfD will have a set of questions for he and I to work through, and there may also be time for questions submitted “by the audience” (as it were), and I’ll certainly be dropping back around in the following days as much as I’m able to field such questions.

So mark your calendars if you’re interested, and I’ll look forward to having some of you along for the ride on Thursday night!


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend…

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Ok, it has been more like a month since the last link post. It’s a very busy time of year. But then again, what time of year isn’t very busy these days?

Anyway, we’ve had some good posts here at DET, including the beginnings of a pair of new series by contributor Scott Jackson. So be sure to check those out. In any case, here is the full list:

Here’s some interesting stuff for you from elsewhere:


Monday, October 13, 2014

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: Malachi 2.6–9

Malachi 2.6–9

[6] “True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was on his [Levi’s] lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. [7] For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. [8] But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,” says the LORD Almighty. [9] “So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.”


COMMENTARY: Calvin is preoccupied in his commentary on these verses to explain the failings of the priests against whom Malachi’s prophetic word comes and, as the flip-side of that indictment, to sketch a picture of what a proper priestly ministry looks like. Implicitly – and explicitly at various points – this material is a criticism of Roman Catholic clergy. The central factor that Calvin focuses on, taking his cue from the passage, is the teaching office that accompanies proper priestly ministry.

Calvin begins by emphasizing the “mutual” or “reciprocal” (523) character of the covenant made between God and Levi (who stands in for the hereditary line of the Jewish priesthood). Calling back to verse 5, Calvin points out that this covenant was one of “life and peace, because the Levites had found that God was in every respect kind and bountiful, whenever they performed their parts” (523). Things can change, however, if the priests fail to keep their end of the deal. But what does it mean for the priests to do their part? Moving to verse 6, Calvin writes that “the chief duty of a priest is to show the right way of living to the people” (525). This does mean simply living a proper life; rather, “Levi taught the people” (my emphasis, 525). To faithfully exercise the office of priest and thereby to maintain the reciprocal covenant with God must include providing instruction to the people. As Calvin elaborates: “nothing is more preposterous, or even more ridiculous, than that those should be counted as priests who are no teachers. These two things are, as they say, inseparable – the office of the priesthood and teaching” (525). This is a clear assault on the medieval status quo since the majority of Roman clergy did not teach. Mass would be said in Latin and generally without a homily. If commoners heard sermons, they would have been delivered by members of the different mendicant orders who would travel around preaching. For his part, Calvin understands preaching and teaching to be the central task given to church leaders.

This emphasis continues in the discussion of verse 7. Calvin understands this verse to mean that the priests’ lips should act as a “store-house” of truth, not in the sense that it should stay locked up there but in the sense that everyone comes there to get it. The image that Calvin paints is of a pantry or wine-cellar in the house where victuals are stored by the house’s master so that all those in the house can be nourished. Furthermore, this verse speaks of priests as messengers of God. Calvin takes this opportunity to further emphasize that being a priest and engaging in teacher are inextricably linked. Indeed, “it is a monstrous thing when any one boasts himself to be a priest, when he is no teacher” (528).

A negative shift occurs in verse 8, moving from the positive depiction of Levi to the indictment of the priests in Malachi’s day. Calvin likewise makes a negative shift. He identifies how verse 8 mirrors in negative fashion what have been said positively about Levi: Levi enjoyed peace and righteousness while these priests depart from the path; Levi turned many from sin while these priests cause many to stumble.

The problem, identified in verse 9, is that the priests had “shown partiality in matters of law” (above trans.). In my mind, given the context of Malachi, this suggests that they did not apply the law equally to all people but perhaps favored the wealthy and oppressed the poor. This would fit with the material at the end of chapter two and beginning of chapter three. Calvin instead argues that the partiality in play here is preference for themselves, that is, the priests have elevated their own status and arrogated to themselves the prerogatives of God: “the priests in vain glorified in the honour of their office, for they had ceased to be priests of God” (529).

I think Calvin gets a little too far from Malachi in this train of thought, but it makes sense in his context. For Calvin, as for Luther, the problem with Roman Catholicism is the way that clergy had taken it upon themselves to bind the people’s conscience with laws and observances, purgatory, indulgences, etc., holding one’s salvation hostage at gun-point (as it were). As a counterpoint, Calvin and the Reformation maintain that only God can bind consciences and that clergy have only subordinate authority. So Calvin in the present discussion: “Priests are not to abuse their right, as though the highest power were granted to them; for God will not have his Church subject to tyranny, but his will is to reign alone in it through the ministry of men” (530).


(Calvin concludes each of his lectures on Malachi with a prayer.)
Grant, Almighty God, that since thou has deigned to take us as a priesthood to thyself, and hast chosen us when we were not only of the lowest condition, but even profane and alien to all holiness, and hast consecrated us to thyself by the Holy Spirit, that we may offer ourselves as holy victims to thee, - O grant, that we may bear in mind our office and our calling, and sincerely devote ourselves to thy service, and so present to thee our efforts and our labours, that they name may be truly glorified in us, and that it may really appear that we have been ingrafted into the body of thy only-begotten Son; and as he is the chief and the only true and perpetual priest, may we become partakers of that priesthood with which thou hast been pleased to honour him, so that he may take us as associates to himself; and may thus thy name be perpetually glorified by the whole body as well as by the head. - Amen


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rosemary Radford Reuther on Counterrevolutionary Latitudinarianism

I believe I told you before, gentle readers, that I’ve been buying and reading a lot of used theology books from the mid 20th century. Well, the below passage is another fruit of such labor that I thought you might be interested in. So without further ado…

Rosemary Radford Reuther, The Radical Kingdom (Harper & Row, 1970), 39-40:
The earliest school of rationalism arose in England after the Restoration when, wearied of religious controversies, she tried to pull herself together around her traditional religious and national institutions. The mood was summed up by the term “latitudinarian”; a mood not so much of toleration as of narrowly rationalistic prejudices about what was, in fact, “tolerable.” What was intolerable was the enthusiasm and fanaticism, the bickering over points of religious doctrine, the apocalyptic messianism that had characterized the period of the Puritan revolution. What was cultivated was a pedestrian sort of Christianity in which the watchmaker God, who was the architect of the Newtonian universe, served as sanction for the decent-law-abiding morality of the English possessing classes. In fact, the traditional Christian distinction between reason and revelation was commonly interpreted in this period as a class distinction. It was said that the content of Scripture and revelation was essentially identical with that of reason and natural religion, but, for the sake of the ignorant masses, God has revealed this religion of nature in a simple colorful form complete with miracles to impress their imaginations, whereas the enlightened classes did not stand in need of this revelation, being able to attain this knowledge by their own intellects. In effect, the Christian doctrine of the Fall and the debasement of man’s reason had here become a doctrine applicable only to the lower classes.

Such latitudinarianism, far from being revolutionary, was in a sense counterrevolutionary, and was not infrequently espoused by the most impeccable of English high-churchmen. . . . In the hands of these latitudinarians, rationalism did not so much challenge as it sought to bulwark traditional religious and political institutions, and its energies were expended in proving the full and complete harmony of traditional revealed religion with reason and natural religion.
One wonders how far we’ve really come . . .


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend…

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Ok, so it’s been nearly a month since the last link post. I’ve been busy with a new semester, and am enjoying introducing my students to “Religious Upheaval in 16th Century Europe.” This past week was on Erasmus, who I think deserves more attention these days. But that’s another story . . .

There have been a lot of interesting and thought-provoking posts here at DET in the past month. Here’s the list in case you missed any:

And here’s some of what’s been going on elsewhere in the blogosphere:


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Covenant vs. Cultural Religion - Paul M. van Buren’s “Austin Dogmatics”

One thing that I really appreciate about van Buren in these lectures is the way he constantly refers back to the religious dynamics of his socio-historic location, i.e., late 1950s USA. Given that, it’s just gravy when the issues that he saw so clearly then happen still to be significant issues in our own time and place. We already saw a bit of this in my post on PMvB and the necessity of prolegomena in North American theology. Well, here’s another bit.

These paragraphs come at the end of PMvB’s discussion of “Creation and Covenant” as part of his larger doctrine of creation. This whole section is well worth your time to read, but I’ll tap in here at the end to the payoff. Bold is mine.

Paul M. van Buren, The Austin Dogmatics: 1957–1958, (Cascade, 2012), 151–52.
In Christ, the fullness of the covenant is realized and knowable, and from the knowledge of Jesus Christ we know the Creator. If the Yahwist, the Priestly doctrine, Second Isaiah, and the Psalms all express faith in God as Creator as a consequence of their faith in him as the God of the covenant, all the more does this become the true order of knowledge in the New Testament. For there the covenant reaches its telos in Christ, in whom also it had its basis from eternity by God’s decision.

It is well for us of the church today, in the face of the cultural religion that is all about us, to be very clear about the biblical road to the knowledge of God the Creator: by way of the covenant, and ultimately by way of Jesus Christ. The culture has made serious inroads on the inner life of the church—with its talk about a creator god who is not a god of any covenant, who has made no decision, and so who does not place us in need of making a serious decision. If we fail to make this distinction clear, then we will be allowing our people to slide slowly (and today it is not such a slow slide) into thinking that they have the blessing of the church on what is in reality only another form of Baal worship.