Every week, we sit around a virtual table and talk about the reading for the upcoming Sunday. This week, we visit Matthew 16:13-20. In front of an ancient shrine to local gods and, more recently, the Roman Emperor, Jesus asks Peter the question on everyone’s minds: “Who do you say that I am?”
Please join the conversation! You can leave your own thoughts on this important passage in the comments below.
Every week, we sit down around a virtual table and talk about the readings for the upcoming Sunday. Today’s episode of the Hope Canteen podcast is on Luke 9:28-36, the Transfiguration. For a moment, the veil is pulled back and three of Jesus’ disciples see him as he really is, shining with the glory of God.
Please join the conversation! You can leave your own thoughts and reflections in the comments below.
When we look at the world in the 21st century and ask, “What is the fastest growing and most dynamic group of Christians in the world?” The answer is simple: the Pentecostal churches. There are a half billion Pentecostals around the world, and their number is second only to the Roman Catholics.
According to Christian History magazine, Pentecostal churches are growing at a rate of 13 million worshippers a year. The largest church in the world is a Pentecostal church in South Korea, where, before Covid, they would have a weekly worship attendance of 240,000. Areas such as Latin America and Asia, which were Roman Catholic strongholds, are rapidly turning Pentecostal. As this series of reflections is about 20th century events and movements that deeply affected our understanding of the Christian faith, we must include Pentecostalism. In fact, The Dictionary of Christianity in America wrote that Pentecostalism is perhaps “the single-most-significant development in twentieth-century Christianity.”
Every day in every way things are getting better and better.
Popular saying before World War I
World War I marked the beginning of a new era. In Europe and North America before the war, there was a general feeling of optimism about the future of humanity. Because of the success of the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution and the hope of the various revolutions of the 19th century, people anticipated the eventual creation of a just society on earth.
The ferocity of the Great War chastened that optimism. Many people were surprised at how strong the call of nationalism was on the human psyche. The Western Liberal project had to rethink the question of human nature and society. The same introspection had to happen within the Liberal theological project begun by Friedrich Schleiermacher as well. The person who threw the bombshell into Schleiermacher’s project was the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968). (Note: Barth is pronounced as if it had no ‘h.’ It rhymes with ‘part.’)
By 1925, Modernism had fundamentally changed the world. It changed our thinking, our politics, our everyday life. In this series, I am trying to show how it has also changed our faith. This is more than just historical interest. These events are the reason we think and approach faith the way we do today. Today, we’re looking at the fundamentalist controversy and how it continues to influence conversations within the church.
This change didn’t happen easily. As we saw in the reflection on the Roman Catholic Church, there was a strong backlash. This backlash happened in the North American Protestant church as well. Today, I want to look at one figure at the heart of these controversies in the early 20th century: Harry Emerson Fosdick, a New York City pastor who sought to answer the fundamentalist controversy. In the next one, we will turn to a man who influenced Fosdick: Walter Rauschenbusch, the founder of the Social Gospel Movement.
Harry Emerson Fosdick
Whenever such a [new] situation has arisen, there has been only one way out—the new knowledge and the old faith had to be blended in a new combination
Harry Emerson Fosdick
Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) is best remembered for a famous sermon that got him thrown out of his church. Even so, this sermon moved John D. Rockefeller so much that he had thousands of copies published and built a new church for Fosdick to preach in.
Is it possible to disagree with someone and still appreciate their work and the project they engaged in? I believe that it is, and this is the spirit in which I write the next two reflections. In this reflection, I will be looking at the pioneer of liberal Protestant theology, Friedrich Schleiermacher. Next time, I will examine the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy, looking specifically at Henry Emerson Fosdick and Walter Rauschenbusch.
I don’t agree with any of these figures. I believe that their answers were limited and perhaps naïve. (Of course,I write that in full knowledge that many people will read my own reflections as limited and perhaps naïve.) However, I think their project was extremely important at a time when Christian faith could have faltered,being abandoned altogether or retreating into an anti-modernist fundamentalism.
They chose a third way. As Stanley Grentz put it: “While agreeing that theology could not simply return to pre-Enlightenment dogmatic orthodoxy, they refused to accept post-Enlightenment skeptical rationalism as the only alternative. For this new breed of intellectuals the only way forward in the aftermath of the Enlightenment lay in incorporating its basic thrust and engaging in a search for new ways to understand the Christian faith.” In other words, they were tryingto articulate a vibrant Christian faith in serious conversation with Modernism. This is my own project in this series of articles. It is important to know about these thinkers because they set the agenda for all subsequent mainline Protestant engagement with Modernity. In many ways, we are still answering the questions they raised.
Moving Faith from the Head to the Heart
Have you ever felt that faith was so much more than creeds and doctrines and dogmas? That faith was more a matter of the heart than the head? Have you ever felt that you were deeply connected to God and the world in ways you couldn’t explain? Have you ever thought that maybe you don’t need all of the clergy and church stuff, and that you could just go out into the woods and commune with God? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you have probably been influenced by a theologian you may never have heard of before: Friedrich Schleiermacher.
Most people understand vaguely that Christianity in the 21st century is in a different world than it was a hundred years ago. In this series of articles, I hope to highlight the story of how and why we find ourselves in a different world. These are meant to be short reflections about what I believe are key moments when we learned something new and important about the Gospel.I believe that the lessons learned are the tools we need to move forward in this odd time of being church.
This crisis of Biblical criticism was a crisis of assumptions. People who start reading the Bible for the first time often express surprise at its messiness. Because the Bible is inspired by God, we often assume that the message of the Bible should be clear and straightforward, that the stories should be simple and full of wisdom, that the application to help people lead meaningful lives and answer their questions should be obvious.
When they crack open the cover of the scriptures, they express confusion and frustration. Inside, they find four different accounts of Jesus that sometimes match and sometimes don’t. There are long meandering genealogies, laws given by God that make no sense, seemingly interminable poems about other places, terms they haven’t heard of, and disagreement within the Bible about important things. If a perfect God were going to write a perfect book, it shouldn’t be this messy! When I talk to be people about this, I find they struggle with their assumptions about how God SHOULD write the Bible, rather than their acceptance about how God ACTUALLY wrote the Bible.