Take and Read, Issue 109

May 2, 2017 by Presbyterian Foundation

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?

Suggestion for May reading:

Robert W. Jenson, A Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live? New York: Oxford University Press. 2016.

This little book – only 115 pages long – is a joy, by which I mean pleasurable, exhilarating, insightful, gratifying, and more. The book originated in a course that Jenson was asked to teach at Princeton University. Over 50 students registered for the class, and even more attended as auditors. Why were they there? An “introduction to Christian theology” for undergraduates requires an approach different from a similar course taught in a theological seminary. Faith cannot be assumed. Even rudimentary knowledge cannot be assumed. What do the students know, or think they know, about Christian faith? What do they believe, or doubt, or reject? Who knows?

Jenson’s lectures, delivered more or less extemporaneously, assume nothing. He is not trying to convince, but only to explain, as clearly as possible, the broad outline of Christian faith and life. He acknowledges doubts about Christianity’s truth claims and its relevance, but his task throughout is not to convince, but to describe and clarify the faith of the church. The first lecture alludes to the question in Ezekiel, can these bones live? Jenson asks, “can the church and its theology live? Is Christian theology itself a pile of dried up bones?” His final lecture begins, “We must now confront the possibility that what we have been talking about is a pile of dead bones.” In between, it is always clear that Jenson believes that the bones do live, but it is also clear that he is teaching, not preaching.

Stanley Hauerwas says that, “We now have a book we can give to friends who ask, ‘What is all this Christian stuff about?’” We also have a book that parents can give to their children and churches can present to college students. (Why should Jenson’s wisdom be restricted to a handful of Ivy Leaguers?) We have a book that pastors and sessions can read together, a book that adult classes can study, perhaps even a book that provides the outline for a communicants’ class. A Theology in Outline is a book to be read, savored, and re-read from time to time. In other words, a classic.

Wills Emphasis is Sunday May 7
The Presbyterian Planning Calendar is filled with special emphases for churches to consider celebrating. One you may have wondered about is Wills Emphasis – coming up on the first Sunday of May. Whether you raise the issue on this particular weekend, or use it as a reminder to tend to the end-of-life needs of your congregation – the Presbyterian Foundation has tools to help. Check out the Live Forward, Give Forward toolkit with suggestions to help broach this sometimes uncomfortable topic. Among the resources is this video to inspire you and potentially your members too.

Live Forward Give Forward: Chaplains to the Community from Presbyterian Foundation on Vimeo.

Resource: Restoring Creation Loans
Is your congregation looking for a way to reduce its energy bills and provide care for God’s creation in the process? A Restoring Creation Loan from the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program can help you do just that. Replace your aging boiler with a high-efficiency HVAC system; update your lighting or windows to reduce energy consumption; or perhaps add solar panels to the roof of your education building. These and other projects to reduce your church’s power consumption could be eligible.