First Buds of the Church

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Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are over now, but the melodies linger on—not only for those who observe the full twelve days of Christmastide, but also for others for whom the season has been mostly about lots of good food, good cheer, and the feel-good sentimentality of “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.” . . . Continue Reading »

Bringing Mary in from the Cold

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It is that season of the year when the Blessed Virgin Mary takes center stage—at least for a brief while—among almost all Christians everywhere. She does this because she has to. No Mary, no Christmas. No Christmas, no Christ. No Christ, no Christianity. Even John Calvin, the chief pioneer of Reformed Protestantism, recognized this. “We cannot enjoy the blessing brought to us in Christ,” he wrote, “without thinking at the same time of that which God gave as adornment and honor to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of his only begotten Son” … Continue Reading »

A Thirty-Day Friendship Fit for Eternity

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How much can one learn about another person in slightly less than one month—especially a person never seen before nor met again? “Not very much,” would be a reasonable answer. Yet that was not true of a special friendship I developed with AME Bishop Sarah Frances Davis during the month of October 2012. Bishop Davis died last month in Houston at age sixty-five… . Continue Reading »

Giving Thanks in Hitler’s Reich

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Paul Robert Schneider (1897-1939) was the first Protestant pastor to die in a concentration camp at the hands of the Nazis. His story is one of unmitigated courage, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom. Only in recent years has he begun to receive some of the recognition he deserves… . Continue Reading »

Strange Friendly Fire

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I do not possess the gift of healing, nor have I ever spoken in tongues—although when I was a high school student a charismatic Methodist friend of mine prayed that I would do so. Back then, in the 1960s, the charismatic renewal was still a new phenomenon in the mainline Protestant churches and virtually unheard of in the Southern Baptist Convention to which I belonged. Of course, the historic Pentecostal churches had been around since the Azusa Street revival of 1906, but the lines between them and other evangelical Christians were fairly hard and fast. . . . Continue Reading »

The Gospel of Ghoul

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I believe in hell. Not only the hell within, for there are those “private devils that hang like vampires on the soul,” to use the language of Thomas Merton”and not only the metaphorical hell around evident in war, violence, and destructive evil on a global scale”but also the hell to come… . Continue Reading »

The Awesome Disclosure of God

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American evangelicals and serious theology are not terms that just naturally snuggle up to one another with easy equipoise. That, despite the fact that Jonathan Edwards, the greatest theologian America has yet to produce, stands at the headwaters of the evangelical tradition. The diminution of the evangelical mind since Edwards”and not only in theology”has been often rehearsed… . Continue Reading »

From Crystal to Christ: A Once and Future Cathedral

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“America loves success stories.” This is how a 1983 admiring profile of the famed Robert Harold Schuller began. And back in 1983 “Bob” Schuller, as his friends called him, was certainly successful. The son of pious Dutch Reformed parents, Schuller was born on a farm in Sioux County, Iowa, in 1926. That was one year before Sinclair Lewis published Elmer Gantry, a satirical novel about a ne’er-do-well preacher from Kansas. Though Schuller would match Gantry in exuberance and flamboyant style, he was no charlatan… . Continue Reading »

While the World Watched: Carolyn Maull McKinstry and the Birmingham Bombings

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It was called “The Magic City,” “The Pittsburgh of the South” (because rich ore deposits had led to the development of a strong steel industry), the most segregated city in the country. After 1948, Birmingham, Alabama was increasingly called “Bombingham.” That was the year several African-American families moved into a hitherto whites-only neighborhood called Smithville, soon to become known as “Dynamite Hill.” … Continue Reading »

No Squishy Love (Part II)

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I really did not intend to ignite a theological firestorm when I wrote my On the Square column, “No Squishy Love.” I simply pointed out that the committee preparing a new hymnal for the Presbyterian Church (USA) had voted to omit the much loved hymn “In Christ Alone,” because of its offending line, “Till on that cross as Jesus died / The wrath of God was satisfied.” I tried to place this decision in a wider historical context. But then “No Squishy Love” went viral generating thousands of comments and spin-off articles not only on the Internet and in religious publications but also in USA Today, The Washington Post, and even The Economist! What’s going on here? … Continue Reading »