Abilene Christian University



Richard Beck talks about his new book with guests at a lecture Feb. 7 at First Central Presbyterian Church. Beck is chairman of the Department of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. Photo by Loretta Fulton


“The battle to be like Christ is won or lost in a millisecond.”

It happens as quickly as looking away from someone in need–or looking at them. Everyone knows the story of the Good Samaritan, Richard Beck said to a group Feb. 7 at First Central Presbyterian Church. But we don’t become the Good Samaritan ourselves because we don’t notice. Seeing “Good Samaritan opportunities” takes intentionality and sometimes a change of heart

“To rewire one’s heart is hard,” Beck said, but worth the effort.

Beck, chairman of the Department of Psychology at Abilene Christian University, was guest speaker for the Feb. 7 Wednesday evening program at First Central Presbyterian. He based his talk on his new book, “Stranger God: Meeting Jesus in Disguise.” A promotional blurb for the book says that when Beck first led a Bible study at the maximum-security French-Robertson unit north of Abilene, he went to meet God.

Beck’s faith was flagging, but he still believed the promise of Matthew 25, that when we visit the prisoner, we visit Jesus. And sure enough, God met him in prison. In his talk and in his book, Beck talks about how psychological experiments show how we are predisposed to like those who are similar to us and avoid those who are unlike us.

The call of the gospel, however, is to override those impulses with compassion, to “widen the circle of our affection.” In the end, Beck turns to the Little Way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux for guidance in doing even the smallest acts with kindness, and he lays out a path that any of us can follow.

The Bible is filled with stories of “radical hospitality,” which Beck called “God’s thermometer,” and that is what the church should practice. We may be good at welcoming people into the church, he said, but there is a bigger question.

“Will we welcome people into our hearts?” Beck asked.

“Radical hospitality” calls for widening our moral or “affectional” circle, Beck said. That circle includes people who are like us. Expanding that circle to take in people we sometimes turn a blind eye to is what Jesus calls for.

“That’s a challenging practice for all of us,” Beck said.

Beck not only is popular guest speaker, he also is extremely popular with ACU students. He is an award-winning author, speaker, blogger and professor. During his tenure at ACU, Beck  has been selected Teacher of the Year, Honors Teacher of the Year, McNair Mentor of the Year and has won the College of Arts and Sciences Classroom teaching award.







By Darryl Tippens

One might suppose that a Christmas concert in Abilene, Texas, would be a very different thing from what one experiences in London; but for me, the experiences are similar. Last Christmas my wife Anne and I traveled to London to attend a Christmas concert in Royal Albert Hall. But it was more than a concert; it was also a rousing carol sing-along with thousands of voices joined together.

Royal Albert Hall is one of the great performance venues of the world. At Christmas each year it becomes this astonishing location for some of the greatest Christmas music imaginable—with full orchestra and renown vocalists. Yet the performance is punctuated with moments when the conductor turns to the audience and invites everyone to join in the singing. The English dearly love their Christmas carols. There’s nothing quite like joining in with all these 5,000 hearty souls to sing “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.”

Anne and I love the experience of singing carols in Royal Albert Hall. We have done this twice, and I hope we’ll manage to do it again sometime. Yet we’ve found a similar experience right here in Abilene. Every advent season, the ACU Music Department conducts its Christmas musical vespers at First Baptist Church. As in Royal Albert Hall, attendees are treated to extraordinary vocal and instrumental renditions of great Christmas music; and as at Royal Albert Hall, the house lights come up at certain intervals, and the conductor turns and leads the audience in rousing renditions of glorious songs.

What I love most about the Royal Albert Hall experience is how participatory it is. It’s not just about listening. It’s about joining in. Everyone sings. Oddly, in many churches today congregational singing is fading away. It’s dying in part because churches have chosen complex melodies people don’t know or can’t easily sing; in part because musical notation is no longer taught nor made available; and in part because the decision has been made to amplify and spotlight the voices of a few over the congregation. But singing at Royal Albert Hall and at ACU’s vespers service is different in that the people are not relegated to darkness and silence. These are concerts of the people, not just of the practiced professionals.

Last year at Royal Albert Hall the conductor did something simple at the beginning of the program. He asked everyone present, all 5,000 of us, to turn to others sitting nearbyperfect, ordinary strangers—and to tell them what wonderful voices they had. Stranger turned to stranger and complimented their beautiful singing voices! It was an odd exercise, but effective. Strangers, Brits and foreigners alike, melded into a choir of harmonious, vibrant voices. No one cared about my average, unprofessional voice. Everyone’s voice was an important part of this instant mass choir. As the shared singing washed over us all, we were transformed. Royal Albert Hall, though normally a “secular” space, became that night a sanctuary.

I wish everyone could experience Christmas carols in Royal Albert Hall, or a midnight mass at Westminster Abbey, or a Christmas day service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. But the truth is you don’t have to travel 5,000 miles to enjoy such experiences. At this time of year, they happen all over Abilene—at First Baptist, at Church of the Heavenly Rest, at First Central Presbyterian, at Highland Church of Christ and countless other places throughout the cityas churches, university choirs, orchestras, and their directors invite the peopleall the people—to sing. You don’t have to go to London to experience this seasonal transformation. All you have to do is show up. And sing.


Darryl Tippens is University Distinguished Scholar at Abilene Christian University. 



Dr. Mark Goodacre, left, visits with Dr. Jeff Childers, center, and Dr. Robert Rhodes Nov. 9 during the Carmichael-Walling Lectures at Abilene Christian University. Goodacre, a religion professor at Duke University, was guest speaker for the lectures. Photo by Loretta Fulton

By Loretta Fulton

There is a reason Dorothy L. Sayers chose the gospel of John when she wrote her series of 12 radio plays in 1943 depicting key events in the life of Jesus titled, “The Man Born to Be King.”

And, there is a reason that director Franco Zeffirelli, who co-wrote the script to the 1977 television series, Jesus of Nazareth, chose the gospel of John for the script. In fact, the gospel of John is used as the basis for the script of most movies and television shows about the life of Jesus.

The reason that the gospel of John, not the gospel of Matthew, Mark, or Luke is most often used was at the heart of of Mark Goodacre’s first of two talks Nov. 9 during the annual Carmichael-Walling Lectures at Abilene Christian University.

“John,” Goodacre said, “more than the other three is a drama.”

Goodacre is professor of New Testament and Christian Origins in the Department of Religious Studies at Duke University. Born in England, Goodacre earned two master’s degrees and his doctorate at the University of Oxford and was a senior lecturer at the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham (England) until 2005, when he joined the faculty at Duke.

In his first lecture, Goodacre spoke on, “John’s Dramatic Transformation of the Synoptics.”  Title of the second lecture was “John’s Christological Transformation of the Synoptics.”

Goodacre distributed a handout with parallel passages from John and the other gospels that proved his point. For example, Mark 6:42 reads, “And they all ate and were satisfied.”

The parallel passage in John, Chapter 6, verse 26, reads, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, ‘You are seeking me not because you see signs but because you ate from the bread and were satisfied.'”

Another way John shows his dramatist side is by reducing anonymous people or crowds to a named person. An example is Matthew 28:17, which reads, “Some doubted,” compared to John 20:24-28, which reduces that to “Thomas.”

“John, like a good dramatist,” Goodacre said, “makes sure his characters have names.”

Goodacre also addressed the question of whether John presupposes that the readers of his gospel were familiar with the synoptic gospels. Goodacre suggested that John is best read alongside the other gospels for that very reason. In fact, he said, some of John only makes sense if the reader already knows details from the other gospels.

As an example, he cited John 11:1, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.” The verse presupposes that the reader knows who Mary and Martha are from reading the synoptic gospels.

In a question and answer session following the lecture, a man asked whether, because of its dramatic style, the gospel of John was meant to be performed. Its wording has been used, sometimes in whole, by script writers, but Goodacre stopped short of saying it was written to be performed.

“I don’t think they acted it out,” he said.





McGarvey Ice, left, and Amanda Dietz, brought part of the Martin Luther collection from the library at Abilene Christian University, to the Abilene Public Library Nov. 7 to display during the annual volunteer luncheon. These works, and more, all are available in the ACU library. Through the end of the fall semester, they will be gathered in one collection called, “Here I Stand: Martin Luther’s Reformation at 500.” Photo by Loretta Fulton

By Loretta Fulton

Many words have been spoken about Martin Luther’s defiant act during the 500th anniversary of his historic deed that marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and many more will be.


Dr. Robert Ellis

But perhaps none will sum up the action, and the consequences, quite as well as Robert Eillis’ words at a luncheon Oct. 31 at Hardin-Simmons University, the actual date of Luther’s act.

“It was the Post-It Note heard around the world,” said Ellis, interim dean of HSU’s Logsdon School of Theology.

Every speaker points out that what Luther did in one sense was quite ordinary. He posted a notice on a church door, something as common in 1517 as sticking a Post-It Note on the refrigerator is in 2017.

But the consequences were extraordinary. His “Post-It Note” was a list of 95 theses arguing that the sale of indulgences or pardons from sins, a practice adopted by a few priests, was wrong and should be banned.

Luther wanted reform, and he got the Protestant Reformation, plus a church named for him. He also got excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

Ellis was one of a long list of people who have spoken about the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation at Hardin-Simmons this semester. This semester’s Spiritual Formation Colloquium was titled, “Crises and Reform,” with weekly speakers. The colloquium started Aug. 31 and continues through Nov. 30.

Abilene Christian University will host a two-man panel at 4 p.m. on Nov. 14 in the Chapel on the Hill of ACU’S Biblical Studies Building. “The Reformation at 500 Years: Necessary Correction or Divisive Mistake: How Should it Shape Christians Today” will be the topic of the debate between John Armstrong, president of ACT3 Network, and Ryan Rojo, parochial vicar of the Cathedral Church of the Sacred Heart in San Angelo. Armstrong, a historian and ecumenist, participated in the production of the video documentary on the Reformation, “This Changed Everything.” The event is free and open to the public.

And, Abilene Christian University’s Doug Foster, professor of church history, presented two talks at First Central Presbyterian Church. Each of the talks has brought new insight.

MartinLutherThe presentations at Hardin-Simmons were based on Luther’s “solas,” which included “sola scriptura,” “sola fide,” “sola gratia,” solus Christus,” and “soli deo gloria,” or “scripture alone,” “faith alone,” “grace alone,” “Christ alone,” and “to the glory of God alone.”

On Sept. 28, Mary Alice Birdwhistell, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, spoke on the precept of “grace alone.” She said that at times, ministers feel the weight of the world is on their shoulders. They carrying the weight of what people say about them, the church’s finances and polarizing issues, plus the weight of the people’s concerns.

“Friends, ministry is heavy,” Birdwhistell said. “It is too much for any of us to carry on our own.”

Then, Ephesians 2:8 came to mind, “For it is by grace you have been saved.” The pastoral implications are great,  Birdwhistell said. Pastors can run their lives and their churches like they depend on works, but there is always more work to be done.

Birdwhistell urged the future pastors at the forum to pay attention to the moments when grace shows up “and we have nothing to do with it.”

And, she urged them to take care of themselves and to nurture their own relationship with God. Ministry is not a to-do list, she reminded.

“Ministry is so much bigger than we are,”  Birdwhistell said.

creed_photo (1)

Dr. J. Bradley Creed

On Oct. 30 and 31, Dr. J. Bradley Creed, a church historian and president of Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, gave two lectures at Hardin-Simmons on the Reformation and also spoke at a luncheon.

Luther had a good sense of humor, Creed said, but suffered from a troubled soul. He was looking for peace and forgiveness. He was looking for a gracious, forgiving God in the church and couldn’t find him.

“He had a hard time with God,” Creed said.

Luther couldn’t find the God he was seeking in the church, but he did find him in the Bible, Creed said.

Five hundred years later, we might ask, “So what?” in terms of the consequences of the Reformation.

First, we take for granted we can own a Bible written in our own language.

“Martin Luther is partly responsible for that,” Creed said.

Luther was hidden in a castle for a year by friends who feared for his life. He was a marked man because of his rants against church practices. He didn’t waste the year feeling sorry for himself. Instead, he spent it translating the Greek New Testament into the German language.

Second, Luther may have been responsible for the first sexual revolution, Creed said. He broke from the church, married a nun, and became a matchmaker.


Dr. Douglas Foster

Doug Foster, church historian at Abilene Christian University, distributed a worksheet on a remarkable document at his concluding talk at First Central Presbyterian Church Nov. 1. The document was the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” signed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church in 1999.

The doctrine of justification was of central importance in the Reformation. Luther argued that humans were justified by the grace of God, through Christ. In the 16th century, the church’s position was that people were saved by good works.

The joint declaration stated that, “In faith we (Lutherans and Catholics) together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God.”

It further stated that, “We confess together that good works–a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love–follow justification and are its fruits.”

The last article of the joint declaration, Number 44, stated, “We give thanks to the Lord for this decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church. We ask the Holy Spirit to lead us further toward that visible unity which is Christ’s will.”

It took 482 years for Luther’s 95 Theses to result in the joint declaration, with numerous monumental reforms along the way, but it did, indeed, turn out to be the “Post-It Note heard around the world.”




Full text downloadable issues of Christ History Magazine on Luther are available at: https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/issues/
Issue 34 Martin Luther: The Early Years
Issue 39 Martin Luther: The Later Years and Legacy
Issue 115 Luther Leads the Way
Many of Luther’s writings are available in full text at http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/luther.htm

Martin Luther Changed Everything

By Douglas A. Foster
Professor of Church History
Director, Center for Restoration Studies
Abilene Christian University

“The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 9, p. 24)


Doug Foster

On October 31, 1517, a thirty-three year old Catholic priest named Martin Luther posted a notice on the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. The heavy wooden door was used for posting announcements for Wittenberg’s church and university communities, which Luther served as both minister and professor of theology. That notice has become one of the most important and widely known documents in history—the Ninety-Five Theses.

The Theses were propositions for debate with other scholars about the legitimacy of “indulgences.” He saw that this teaching on penance (or repentance) and forgiveness, rather than a way to help people “show fruit worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8), had become a money-raising scheme to build a magnificent cathedral in Rome for the apostle Peter.

Luther’s training, sermon preparation, and teaching of theology classes gave him the opportunity to spend countless hours in studying scripture. This constant immersion in the Bible led him to see abuses he believed tended to obscure the gospel.

In the years that followed, Luther wrote hundreds of sermons, biblical commentaries, books and tracts, launching the Age of Reformation. He regarded his most significant work to be translating the Bible into ordinary German. He was convinced that the scriptures should be in the hands of all the people in a form they could understand instead of the Latin used by scholars. His own experience had shown him the vital importance of the scriptures for revealing the heart of God and the grace of Christ.

Sometimes we in the Stone-Campbell Restoration movement have been reluctant to acknowledge the great debt we—and all Christians—owe Martin Luther. Not so the founding leaders. In Alexander Campbell’s Christian System, he points out the tremendous debt we owe to the “intelligence, faith, and courage of Martin Luther and his heroic associates in that glorious reformation. He restored the Bible to the world and boldly defended its claims against” all perversions of the gospel. (The Christian System, 1871, p. 3.)

In his 1843 debate with Presbyterian minister and theologian Nathan Rice, Campbell described Luther and the other reformers as “God’s chosen vessels to accomplish at the proper time a mighty moral revolution,” the impact of which had “not yet been fully appreciated.” Alexander Campbell, 1844, A Debate Between Rev. A. Campbell and Rev. N. L. Rice, p. 587.

In many ways, Campbell saw his “current reformation”—the term often used for the

movement—as a continuation of Luther’s work. He believed those who followed Luther had succumbed to the temptation to obscure the gospel of grace—the very thing Luther fought against. Yet ironically, Campbell came to witness the same powerful tendency in his own reform.

We owe much to the courageous and flawed Martin Luther. I for one, also flawed and saved by God’s grace, look forward to seeing him in heaven.


By Loretta Fulton

“What Makes Us Orthodox” could be read as a question, or it could be taken as an affirmation.

The speaker for a forum at Abilene Christian University Oct. 12 chose to make it both. The Rev. Dr. Anton Vrame, director of the Department of Religious Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, described some of the tenets of Orthodoxy, as well as some of the “Nots” of Orthodoxy, as in “Not living in the past.”

He also joked that because Dr. Philip LeMasters, priest at the local St. Luke’s Orthodox Church, was in the audience he could use the word “us” in the title of his talk. Usually, Vrame said, when people think of the Orthodox, they think of the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” or of icons or of lovely vestments.


Anton Vrame

Vrame led off with what the Orthodox are “not.” They aren’t living in the past, they aren’t defined exclusively by ethnicity, they are not new-age or neo-gnostics, and they are not a church that does not change–although that change may be slow in coming.

Vrame noted that it took the church 120 years to define the appropriate use of art in the church.

As to what the Orthodox are, Vrame said that above all else, they are Christian.

“We fundamentally are Christian,” he said. “We are Christian 24/7.”

The Orthodox also place a high value on the scriptures, church fathers, church councils, and theology.

“We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church,” Vrame said. “You can not be a Christian alone.”

The Orthodox believe that the world is a gift from God and therefore is good and that humanity essentially is good. Both are fallen, but both are good. The Orthodox also believe that they are called to serve their neighbors and the world, healing and reconciling.

Orthodox Christians can be found in every part of the world, Vrame said. They are one faith, one church, with many cultures.

“We are truly a global church,” Vrame said.

And wherever the Orthodox have settled, they have adapted to the world around them. An example can be found in the food items that the Orthodox have found to be acceptable during Lenten fasting, including peanut butter in the United States.

“The Americanization has taken place,” Vrame joked.

In a question and answer session following his talk, Vrame was asked about the role of women in Orthodoxy. No women are in leadership roles, he said, but women are involved in all other aspects of church life and many of the church’s icons are of women saints.

For women to be permitted to take leadership roles would require a major shift in the Orthodox church, Vrame said, but isn’t out of the question.

“It’s an ongoing debate,” he said.






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.


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.”