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The Pulpit is the Prow

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When I was four years old, I would (so I’m told) stand the ottoman in the living room on its end so that it could serve as a pulpit. I would place my mother’s hardback copy of The Living Bible on it, opening it at the middle, to a passage I couldn’t read. And I would arrange a few stuffed animals in a semi-circle, stumped as to how to provide them with pews but willing to make do regardless. There is still a recording of one of these sermons that my parents have on a cassette tape, that they delight in playing at inopportune times. On that recording I sound emboldened, fiery; I am quoting Bible verses from memory. And that, I think, was the beginning of my devotion to preaching—to the proclamation of the Christian gospel. The ardent, authoritative preaching I heard at First Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas, where my newlywed parents attended, must have prompted my childhood sermonizing. A recent alumnus of Dallas Theological Seminary, the pastor of First Baptist had been marinated in dispensational theology, a method of biblical interpretation that—its serious (and bizarre) flaws notwithstanding—made for Scripture-centered, whole-canon-focused sermons. I must have absorbed his passion, and I must have admired it. Why else would I perform such an elaborate flattery of imitation? Buried somewhere in my attic is a sheaf of drawings I made as that pastor preached, week after week—a three year-old’s scrawled renditions of David and Goliath, Daniel in the lion’s den, and Jesus hanging on the cross. And these were the stories I spoke about when I addressed my congregation of plush toys from behind the ottoman pulpit. Continue Reading »

In Praise of Irrelevant Reading

From Web Exclusives

When I moved to England to start a Masters degree in theology, I knew I wanted to study St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Like many of my counterparts in the Reformed theological orbit, I was enthralled with questions of law and grace, election and final judgment. During my first year of undergraduate study, I’d sat out on the front lawn of the college green, sweating in the spring sunshine, reading N. T. Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said. I was certain that the most important questions I could write about in my postgraduate study would have something to do with Jews and Gentiles in Christ in those dense later chapters of Paul’s Romans. Continue Reading »

My Year in Reading

From Web Exclusives

Every December since my college days a few friends and I have started an email thread to swap stories of our reading experiences over the course of that year. We follow a typical top-ten format, often mimicking the two or three-sentence recap style of similar lists that appear increasingly early, like the post-Halloween Christmas marketing blitz they augment, in periodicals and websites. But we go deeper than that, too, trying to discern patterns in our interests and correlating our reports with what we’d enjoyed or endured outside the pages of books in the intervening months. Continue Reading »

The Way God Conducts Us

From Web Exclusives

At an academic conference not too long ago, I delivered a paper on St. Paul’s view of marriage and celibacy. In my paper, I took Paul’s side, extolling his vision of marriage and celibacy as interlocking, mutually reinforcing Christian vocations. On the one hand, I said, marriage can be a melody hummed by any pedestrian Christian couple that still calls to mind the full grandeur of the symphony of Christ’s love for the Church. Likewise, the Christian celibate can bear witness to that same love. By giving up the solace of an earthly spouse and the prospect of birthing heirs, the celibate gestures with her very body to a future time when “they neither marry nor are given in marriage . . . because they are equal to angels” (Luke 20:35, 36). Continue Reading »

To Substitute Another Thirst

From Web Exclusives

If there’s one theological commitment that unites both sides of the same-sex marriage debate, it’s semi-Pelagianism. Taking its name from the fourth-century monk Pelagius, semi-Pelagianism may be thought of as a theological mood or a set of impulses that’s opposed to a strong doctrine of original sin. Fearing that talk of our broken wills may hamper moral striving, the semi-Pelagian stresses perfectibility as a motive for action. Continue Reading »