I’ve completed my first semester of the doctorate program at Union Presbyterian Seminary. Thank you for your support and encouragement. I want to give you a brief recap of what I’ve been studying.
I completed two courses— The World In And Around The Church and Ecclesiology in World Christian Perspective. Both courses focused heavily on studying the way the church interacts with the world. They were informative, challenging, and very enjoyable.
These courses involved a lot of reading. Allow me to highlight four of the books that impacted me most.
Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
This book is widely considered to have provided the theological basis of the civil rights movements. Martin Luther King Jr. was said to have kept a copy of this book with him whenever he traveled, and had a copy with him when he was assassinated. Thurman writes from the perspective of the disinherited. This group has been given numerous labels over the years: the oppressed, the poor, the lower-class. Regardless of the label, this group is at a significant disadvantage in life in regards to economic opportunity and basic human rights. What does Jesus have to say to the disinherited? It is this question that Thurman explores in this incredible book.
Favorite Quote— “A man is a man, no more, no less. The awareness of this fact marks the supreme moment of human dignity.”
Moral Man and Immoral Society by Reinhold Niebuhr
Niebuhr’s premise is that people are more likely to act morally and with good intentions as individuals, and less likely to do so when a part of a group. In a person’s individual life, that person will generally seek to do right by their neighbor and make the moral choice when given the option. When individuals are formed into groups, the moral compass begins to sway. Niebuhr believes that for lasting justice to be achieved, one must work through reforming groups, not solely individuals. In particular, one must proactively force immoral systems, structures and organizations to become more just. Niebuhr speaks of the tragedy of the human spirit as one’s “inability to conform its collective life to its individual ideals.” For Niebuhr, the collective life must be the focus for change.
Favorite Quote– “The society in which each man lives is at once the basis for, and the nemesis of, that fullness of life which each man seeks.”
Pia Desideria by Philip Jacob Spener
Written in 1675, Spener wrote this book in hopes of showing the church how it must reform. During this time period, the church was not living up to its biblical ideals, so Spener wrote a roughly 100 page book outlining the ways the church could reclaim its biblical roots. Spener eventually become the founder of the Pietism movement, an early form of Puritanism.
Favorite Quote— “Again, you hear the Word of God. This is good. But it is not enough that your ears hear it. Do you let it penetrate inwardly into your heart and allow the heavenly food to be digested there, so that you get the benefit of its vitality and power, or does it go in one ear and out the other?”
Christ and Culture by H. Richard Niebuhr
Niebuhr’s classic book Christ and Culture explores five possibilities for how a Christian can relate to one’s culture. I’ll briefly describe each category with a quote from the book.
Christ Against Culture— “The first answer to the question of Christ and culture we shall consider is the one that uncompromisingly affirms the sole authority of Christ over the Christian and resolutely rejects culture’s claims to loyalty.” Christians in this category seek to be completely removed from their culture (i.e. only listen to Christian music, read Christian authors, have Christian friends, etc)
Christ Of Culture— Christians in this category “feel no great tension between the church and the world, the social laws and the Gospel, the workings of divine grace and human effort, the ethics of salvation and the ethics of social conservation or progress.” Culture is not inherently bad, so Christians should live in partnership with it.
Christ Above Culture— “For the fundamental issue does not lie between Christ and the world, important as that issue is, but between God and man. The Christ-culture problem is approached from this point of view and with this conviction.” Christians in this category will ignore culture as best they can, because the most important relationship to consider is with God.
Christ Transforming Culture— The Christian in this category has a positive and hopeful outlook when considering society and culture. They recognize the brokenness of the world, but also see God’s transforming and redeeming power at work within the world. Christ is the transformer of one’s culture.
Christ and Culture in Paradox— In this category the Christian “cannot speak otherwise than in what sounds like paradoxes; for he is standing on the side of man in the encounter with God, yet seeks to interpret the Word of God which he has heard coming from the other side. In this tension, he must speak of revelation and reason, of law and grace, of the Creator and Redeemer.” Those in this category understand that life is paradox. Humanity is created in God’s image and yet humanity is sinful and broken.
Favorite Quote— We make decisions “in view of the fact that the world of culture— man’s achievement— exists within the world of grace— God’s Kingdom.”
I’m looking forward to my next semester beginning in January. And I’m looking forward to this Sunday, the second Sunday in Advent.
See you on Sunday!