Abilene Christian University

CHRISTIANS CAN ENGAGE IN CIVIL POLITICAL TALK, EVEN WITH OPPOSING VIEWS, SUMMIT TEACHERS ASSERT

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Cole Bennett, standing, and Scott Self, lead a class at ACU’s Summit 2017 on “The Christian Citizen.” Photo by Loretta Fulton

By Loretta Fulton

Scott Self and Cole Bennett are about as different politically as can be.

This is by their own admission. But, they are best friends, they are united in Christ, and they talk.

“How did this happen?” Self asked.

It happened–and happens–because both men are willing to try to understand where the other is coming from. Bennett knows that Self is a man who loves Christ first, and Self knows that about his friend.

“That makes a difference in who we are,” Bennett said.

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Cole Bennett

Bennett is a professor in the Language and Literature Department at Abilene Christian University and Self is director of ACU’s University Access Department.

The two friends took a tag team approach to leading sessions at ACU’s Summit 2017, held Sept. 17-20. The class, taught in two parts, was titled, “The Christian Citizen: Christianity and Public Policy.”

Bennett projected a graphic on a screen from a 2013 book titled, “Three Languages of Politics” by Arnold Kling. The graphic showed three axes, with “Progressive” as the label for the first axis, “Conservative” the second, and “Libertarian” the third.

Each axis had words on each end with opposite meanings. The “Progressive” axis had  “oppressed” and “oppressor” on opposite ends, “Conservative” had “savage” and “civilized,” and “Libertarian” had “coerced” and “free” on the opposite ends of its axis.

Whenever hot button political issues arise, it’s best to be aware of when you aren’t listening to someone on a different axis.

“We need to be able to talk on all three axes,” Bennett said.

Bennett listens to a particular podcast because of the civil conversation, as opposed to the strident voices on one side or the other that are usually heard on talk shows. There is a simple reason that the conversation is civil, Bennett said.

“It’s because they move on all three axes,” he said.

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Scott Self

Likewise, Self and Bennett move on each other’s axis when talking about the size and role of government. It would be inappropriate, Self said, for him to say that Bennett doesn’t care for the poor just because their political views differ.

“How he does (care) is very different from how I care,” Self said.

People have the resources needed to try to understand another person’s point of view and to engage in civil discourse, the friends agreed. They are blessed with the capacity for compassion, forgiveness, joy, peace, and patience.

Bennett said that no matter what form the government takes, as a Christian he has duty to live according to the teachings of Jesus.

“I still have a responsibility to the poor,” he said, no matter how the government views assisting the poor. “I can’t ever give up my responsibility to God and my neighbor.”

‘GOD DOESN’T KNOW BOUNDARIES, JUST POSSIBILITIES,’ LECTURER REMINDS

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By Loretta Fulton

“You were a stranger in the land of Egypt.”

“You were an alien in their land.”

Why does God insist on saying that?

Because God wants his people to remember that they were aliens once and to feel empathy toward the aliens among them. He wants his people to look at those who are different and say, “Here is somebody just like me” because they share a common experience.

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Mark Hamilton

That is a lesson from Deuteronomy that can’t be ignored, Mark Hamilton, an Abilene Christian University professor of Old Testament, said during a session at ACU’s Summit 2017, held Sept. 17-20.

Theme for Summit was “Ancient Scripture, Future Church,” based on reflections from Deuteronomy. If anyone is tempted to dismiss the Old Testament as “old,” Hamilton has a reminder–Christians are a community that inherited Deuteronomy, and other Old Testament writings, as part of their value system.

“We take these texts very seriously,” Hamilton said.

So, what does that mean for today’s Christians? Hamilton recalled that when he was a 12-year-old living in western Arkansas, Fort Chaffee became the home to 25,000 refugees from the Vietnam War, which ended April 30, 1975.

“We came face to face with the reality of immigration,” Hamilton said.

The church he and his family attended worshipped with the refugees in old World War II barracks at Fort Chaffee. As a 12-year-old faithful Christian, Hamilton said he felt an obligation to meet with the strangers, worshipping, singing, and sharing the gospel. He thought that’s the way it was supposed to be.

“And, I still think that’s just the way it’s supposed to be,” Hamilton said.

His belief jibes with the texts in Deuteronomy that he cited. The book is filled with examples of how God intends for his people to interact with the aliens among them. There is nothing vague or abstract about them, Hamilton noted.

“You don’t get to oppress people simply because you can, because they’re an outsider,” Hamilton said.

With so much migration today, churches most likely will have an opportunity to be a host to refugees or immigrants in their community. What, Hamilton asked, does it mean to be the host of migrants?

First, ask questions like, “What do you know about God?” rather than making statements like,  “Let me tell you about God.” Both the migrant and the host can learn from that kind of interaction.

The good host isn’t controlling nor does he blame migrants for the problems in his own community or country.

There is challenge, Hamilton said, but also great opportunity with so much migration in the world today. Hamilton told of a friend in Austria who attended a church that was dwindling in numbers. The church prayed for new people, new workers in the life of the church. And, just like that, an influx of Nigerians filled the pews.

“God doesn’t know boundaries,” Hamilton said, “just possibilities.”

 

‘ENCOUNTERING SCRIPTURE WITH THE CHURCH FATHERS’ ADDS DEPTH OF UNDERSTANDING TO READING THE BIBLE

 

SOME QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN READING SCRIPTURE, COURTESY OF:

ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA

  1. What’s the obvious meaning?
  2. How does this impact how I live my life?
  3. How does this connect with or shape what I believe as a Christian?

JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

  1. When I imagine myself in this situation or scenario, what do I notice?
  2. What does the text say that shapes my imagination of the situation or scenario?
  3. What does the text NOT say about the situation or scenario, such that I need to fill in the gaps with my imagination?

AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO

  1. How am I (or are we) the subject of this text? How are we the ones doing the things done  or saying the things said there?
  2. How am I or are we the object or addressee of this text? How might it be talking to us today?
  3. How am I or are we the topic of this text? How is it discussing me or us? How would I respond if I overheard that conversation?

Source: David Kneip, for Summit class on “Ancient-Future Reading: Encountering Scripture With the Church Fathers.”

By Loretta Fulton

Who better than the church fathers to help today’s readers get a more in-depth understanding of ancient scripture?

In an easy-to-understand and enjoyable presentation, David Kneip offered some insight into their thinking and understanding during a track on “The Ancient-Future Bible,” a part of Summit 2017 at Abilene Christian University.

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David Kneip

For those trying to take notes, Kneip, an assistant professor in ACU’s Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry, handed out a helpful “cheat sheet,” which is printed above.

It doesn’t take special skills to read and appreciate the Bible, Kneip said. It’s like “an amazing, intricate pop-up book,” he said, and as you get deeper into it, “you see more detail and more beauty.”

But, reading the scriptures like the church fathers did can add an extra layer of understanding. Like a good professor trying to go easy on his freshman class, Kneip was reassuring about plumbing the depths of the minds of the church fathers.

“They’re not all that different from us,” Kneip assured.

Take Origen of Alexandria, for example.

“He was a guy who loved the Lord a lot,”Kneip said,

Origen, who was born in 185 and died in 254, believed that the Bible, like humans, had a body, soul, and spirit. The body is that part that is detectable or touchable, the soul is the seat of moral life, and the spirit allows ascension to God.

Correspondingly, the body of the Bible is its plain meaning, which may be obvious or it might be mysterious. The soul of the Bible is the moral meaning of the text: “What does this mean for how I live my life?” The spirit of the Bible is how it connects to God. He cited Numbers 33, but with a light-hearted preface.

“That was the book where I quit when I tried to read the Bible all the way through,” Kneip joked.

But seriously, Origen believed that when the scripture says the Israelites went “up out of Egypt,” it meant more than literally going “up” from sea level. It also has a metaphorical meaning.

Likewise, Kneip said, humans go “up” when they leave vices behind in pursuit of virtue or leave behind a life of sin and death to a life in Christ. Origen invites asking questions about deeper meanings of scripture than meets the eye.

John Chrysostom, whose name literally means, “Golden Mouth,” lived from 349 to 407. He was a monk who was drafted into church leadership, eventually being appointed Archbishop of Constantinople. He didn’t read the Bible as allegory but rather tried to amplify or magnify a text, Kneip said.

Chrysostom was so taken with the story of Lazarus and the rich man, as told in Luke 16: 19-31, that he preached a series of at least seven sermons on that scripture, Kneip said.

Chrysostom asked the people of his day if they did not see the situation in the text “as if it were present,” Kneip pointed out. And that leads to the questions for today’s reader, Kneip added.

“What do I notice when I imagine this situation? Are there clues in the text that help me imagine? What silences are there in the text?”

Augustine of Hippo, who lived from 354 to 430, was extremely influential on the Western church, Kneip pointed out. He wanted believers to become “more deeply Christian” as they gathered around the Bible as a community. He invited the use of imagination in reading scripture by alternately seeing ourselves as the subject, the object, and the topic of the text.

For example, Augustine asks the question of why did Jesus quote Psalm 22, verse 1, from the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

“For what other reason was this said, than that we were there?” Augustine asks. “For what other reason than that Christ’s body is the church?”

‘You can’t think your way into holiness,’ Summit speaker advises

 

By Loretta Fulton

The Russian movie “The Stalker” isn’t nearly as creepy as it sounds, a speaker at Summit 2017 ensured, but its premise is pretty scary.

The movie isn’t about the kind of stalker we normally think of, James K.A. Smith, an author, speaker, and philosophy professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said. Instead, “the stalker” is a guide through a mysterious room in a post-apocalyptic world where wishes are granted.

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James K.A. Smith

In the movie, the stalker is guiding two people into the room, a writer and a professor, when a question comes to the writer.

“What if I don’t know what I want?” he asks.

The scary part is that “the room” does know what he wants, even if it’s not what he thinks.

“Would you want to step into that room,” Smith asked, “the room that reveals what you really want?”

Smith spoke in four sessions Monday as Summit 2017 got into full swing at Abilene Christian University. Before Summit opened, David Wray, director, predicted that Smith would be a popular speaker.

“He’s one of the ones that young ministers read a lot,” Wray said.

He didn’t disappoint. ACU’s large Chapel on the Hill was packed with students, faculty, and guests for Smith’s first talk, titled, “You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.”

“What we really want” can be shaped through practice, Smith said. Practicing “doing good” turns “doing good” into a habit.

“It has become part of who you are,” Smith said.

Just like breathing is automatic, virtue can become automatic through practice. But it takes actual practice, not thinking about doing good in order for virtue to become “second nature.”

“You can’t think you’re way into holiness,” Smith said. “It takes practice.”

Smith urged taking a “liturgical audit” to see what influences your life. Liturgies are not just those practiced in church, he said, but “something you do” that in turn “does something to you.” Liturgies are “heart-calibrating practices,” Smith said.

We need to be attentive to how our hearts are shaped, Smith said. The Apostle Paul got it right, Smith noted, when he gave the Corinthians a bit of advice.

“Be imitators of me,” Paul said, “because I am an imitator of Christ.”

Summit 2017: At ACU lectureship, it’s in with the new, in with old

SummitProgramCoverRead Loretta Fulton’s story in the Abilene Reporter-News about what’s coming this week at Abilene Christian University’s annual Summit. The three-day event features sermons, classes, special events, fellowship and entertainment. The theme this year is based on passages from Deuteronomy. Read more 

Does the church still matter? The world had better hope it does

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ACU professor Randy Harris speaks to a large luncheon crowd at ACU on Aug. 26 about whether the church still matters in today’s culture.

By Loretta Fulton

Does the church still matter?

Despite evidence that it doesn’t–judging from the number of “nones” or those who check “none” on religion surveys–people in need know better. Just ask people along the Texas coast who are looking for Good Samaritans, Randy Harris advised during a program he led Aug. 26 on whether the church stills matters in today’s culture.

“The people who will rebuild those communities will be the church,” Harris said, “because they always are.”

Just try imagining what would happen in the world if all the churches disappeared. It wouldn’t be pretty.

“You would see a collapse that would just be stunning,” Harris said.

Harris, an Abilene Christian University religion professor and spiritual director, addressed a large crowd of ACU faculty and staff, as well as members of the community at a luncheon Aug. 26. (more…)

ACU instructor brings humor, insight into ‘A World Gone Mad’

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(Editor’s Note: Randy Harris, an instructor at Abilene Christian University, led a two-day seminar Aug. 4-5 on Christian ethics. Always entertaining and insightful, Harris didn’t disappoint. He invites anyone interested to a “Ministers’ Lunch Hour with Randy Harris”, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Aug. 29, in the Hunter Welcome Center on the ACU campus. His topic will be “Does the Church Matter?” Cost, including lunch, is $15. To register, go to www.acu.edu/siburt and click on “Events” by Aug. 22)

By Loretta Fulton

The title of the two-day seminar was “Christian Ethics in a World Gone Mad: How to Cope and Even Thrive.”

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Randy Harris

By the time it was over, some in the sessions may have suggested a name change to: “Solving Christian Ethical Problems Can Drive You Mad.”

Such is the nature of Christian ethics–it ain’t easy. Thankfully, the leader for the Aug. 4-5 seminar at Abilene Christian University was Randy Harris, a popular instructor at ACU, who made the sessions not only informative and enlightening, but also entertaining.

If you want to be driven truly mad, and entertained at the same time, read “ The Trolley Problem, or Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge” by Thomas Cathcart. Harris suggested everyone attending the summer short course read the book beforehand. Those who did realized that spending just two days pondering ethical issues could be maddening.

An example of the ethical dilemmas thrown out by Harris for the participants to ponder:

  1. God wills it because it is good.
  2. It is good because God wills it.

Answer: “Not exactly.”

Scholarly types might want to know that the brain-teaser officially is known as the Euthyphro Problem, first posed by Plato. Don’t worry–even Harris had trouble spelling it. (more…)