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The Pastor's Life Newsletter

This e-newsletter arrives every two weeks as our gift to help your ministry. Each issue contains a brief reading, along with links to a helpful resource or video. Readings include book reviews, theological reflections, quotes from popular novels (think sermon illustrations), and wisdom for preaching and teaching. The Pastor’s Life is compiled by Dr. Joe Small and occasional guests.

Deep reading: thoughts on theology from fiction
These contemporary novelists sometimes have thoughts that dovetail with theology and emphasize religious themes. This month's selections are from Emily St. John Mandell, Neil Gaiman and Philip Roth. Read more.


 

   
Suggestion for December reading
Princeton University Press is publishing an imaginative series: "Lives of Great Religious Books." Each book in the series is a "biography," not of the author, but of the book itself. Once published, books take on a life of their own, no longer the private possession of the author. Read more.





   
Video Series Commemorates the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

October 31, 2017, marked 500 years since Martin Luther published his 95 theses disputing the practice of selling indulgences as a substitute for true repentance. This action by an obscure monk in a remote town in Germany helped ignite the massive shift in church practice which has come to be known as the Reformation. Read more

 

   
A rich tradition of education and continually learning

Isadore believed that only an educated clergy could ensure the theological, liturgical, moral, and missional fidelity of the church. He established the first "seminary system" in Europe, requiring that each diocese have a school for the training of priests. Presbyterians can find in Isadore a forerunner of our insistence on seminary education for "teaching elders/ministers of Word and Sacrament." Read more.



From the bookshelves: theological wisdom from novelists

Provocative insights on religious themes from contemporary novelists … Read more.

 

   
Suggested reading for September: When in Romans

Beverly Gaventa’s engaging book is not a commentary on Romans or a survey of the letter. Instead, it focuses on four central themes: "When in Romans ... Watch the Horizon, Consider Abraham, Give Glory to God, Welcome One Another." She discusses each of the themes in the context of the whole letter, avoiding technical matters in order to keep readers’ visits free from unnecessary detours. Read more.



Parables that have lasted the ages

Søren Kierkegaard used literary "indirection" as a theological stratagem. He regularly employed pseudonyms, irony, misdirection, and parables to engage his readers. The following parables (think "church," not "state" or "philosopher") are as timely today as they were 165 years ago. Read more.

Resources and wisdom for pastors

Theological wisdom (and theological foolishness) is not the private preserve of professional theologians. Many contemporary novelists deal sensitively with religious themes, often offering provocative insights that pastors can use to good effect in preaching and teaching. Brief quotes do not do justice to the novels from which they are taken, but they can provide wise, often startling, sometimes humorous, but always thought-provoking resources within sermons and adult education. From time to time, the Presbyterian Foundation shares some wisdom from novels as a small contribution to pastors who seek to proclaim the gospel faithfully week in and week out. Read more.


Grace and Gratitude

The necessary pairing of grace and gratitude is often skewed by focusing on the character and forms of gratitude while settling for a generic understanding of grace. God’s loving favor is simply assumed while we concentrate on the proper response: stewardship of time, talents, and (of course) treasure. The result is placing ourselves at the center of the action while relegating God to a supporting role, a necessary presupposition. Read more.


Reflecting on the Confession of Belhar

Lenten Reflections on the Confession of Belhar is an excellent way to introduce Presbyterians to our newest confession. The book takes us through the confession in 47 days. Each small section from Belhar is accompanied by a brief two-page reflection, most by pastors and other teaching elders. The confession’s Scripture references and a brief prayer are also included.
Read more.


Radical accountability

Søren Kierkegaard used literary "indirection" as a theological stratagem. He regularly employed pseudonyms, irony, misdirection, and parables to engage his readers. The following parable is as timely today as it was 165 years ago. Read more


   
Provocative insights on religious themes from music

For decades, Bob Dylan has been an endlessly interesting, surprising, and provocative songwriter, musician, and singer. Religious (Christian?) themes have been present from his earliest albums. "Listen" again to one of his most well-known songs, but this time do not think drugs but rather Acts 7:54-60 (as Dylan himself has said repeatedly).
Read more.

Take and Read

Augustine heard the voice of a child saying, "Take and read, take and read." He opened a Bible, began to read, and was set on the path of committed discipleship and faithful pastoral ministry as the Bishop of Hippo and a theologian for the ages. Let’s assume that pastors do not need to be encouraged to read the Bible. But what else can we read that will enhance our preaching, teaching, and pastoral care? Read more
   
Grace and Gratitude

Prayer is both God’s gift and our gratitude. In his little book, Prayer, Karl Barth says, "Prayer is a gift, an offer of God," and so, "To obey grace – to give thanks – means that prayer is also an act on the part of human beings." Prayer is human gratitude for the grace of God. Read more.

   
Faith and faithfulness in First John

The first letter of John is a well-loved New Testament book. Whether read devotionally, analyzed in a Bible study, or proclaimed from the pulpit, 1 John builds faith and faithfulness. It sets out the shape of Christian life in a bold, down-to-earth, hope-filled way that remains forever fresh. Read more.

Wisdom from Novels for Sermons and Adult Education

Theological wisdom (and theological foolishness) is not the private preserve of professional theologians. Many contemporary novelists deal sensitively with religious themes, often offering provocative insights that pastors can use to good effect in preaching and teaching. Brief quotes do not do justice to the novels from which they are taken, but they can provide wise, often startling, sometimes humorous, but always thought-provoking resources within sermons and adult education. From time to time, the Presbyterian Foundation shares some wisdom from novels as a small contribution to pastors who seek to proclaim the gospel faithfully week in and week out. Read more.

   
Grace and Gratitude

"Grace" is more than a theological platitude, and "gratitude" is more than a casual "thank you." Both "grace" and "gratitude" are verbal entrances to a mansion of meaning that can be explored, but never owned. British philosopher Roger Scruton’s 2010 Gifford Lectures, published as The Face of God (Bloomsbury, 2012) includes a perspective on grace and gratitude that may display a room previously unexplored. Read more.


The First 50 Psalms

Ellen Charry, professor of systematic theology at Princeton Seminary, has provided the church with a marvelous theological commentary on the first 50 psalms, part of the Brazos Theological Commentary series. William Brown of Columbia Seminary writes in his Forward that, "Ellen Charry’s commentary on Psalms is like no other ... Her keen interest in ethics and historical theology, matched by her command of the Hebrew language and Jewish tradition, have equipped her well for engaging these highly charged texts ... Charry has produced a theologically robust, morally nuanced honest-to-God kind of commentary." Read more

Lenten Reflections, February 21, 2017

Two-year-old Ruthie and her father were enjoying a morning outing at the local donut shop. At the adjacent table, kids were being unruly and their mother’s voice was tense. “She’s frustrated,” Ruthie told her father, referring to the frazzled mom. Finally, the situation at the next table reached critical mass and the mom lost it – loudly.
Ruthie turned in her chair and declared, “No shouting! That’s a sad choice!” And with that, she turned back to her dad who was frozen in awkward silence – as was the rest of the donut shop crowd. Read more. 

Looking Ahead to Lent, February 7, 2017

I keep hoping to persuade folks that difference does not have to equal division and unity does not have to equal uniformity. I have frequently appealed to our “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I have preached that we have been made the one body of Christ, and God did not ask our opinion before God did it. Therefore, it really does not matter if we like one another or not (though we usually do!).

For Teaching, Reproof, Correction and Training in Righteousness, January 19, 2017

Ezekiel was surrounded by the ‘likeness’ of the glory of the LORD, and he heard ‘someone’ speaking: “eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 1:28, 3:1). Each week, pastors continue to eat what is offered to them, and continue to speak to the community of faith. From time to time, the Presbyterian Foundation offers brief studies of Scripture that may be useful to pastors in teaching and preaching God’s word. Read more.


Theological Wisdom for Preaching and Teaching, January 6, 2017

On God:

Instead, one found natural catastrophes. Children mistreated. Kidnappings. Loneliness. Separation of people who love each other. His anger increased. The problem with anger against God is that it’s impossible to go higher in the system to complain. - Peter Høeg, The Quiet Girl
Read more.
 
 

 
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