November Perspectives Journal now online

The November issue of Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought is now available online. Take a look at this month’s offerings, including:

Subscribers, your hard copy will arrive soon. Wish you were a subscriber? It is simple and inexpensive!


Resurrection City

From Jes Kast-Keat

Dr. Tricia Sheffield (minister at Middle Collegiate Church), Dr. Cornel West, and me - Rev. JKK (minister at West End Collegiate Church)

Last night was theological Christmas!

Living in New York City affords me the opportunity to rub shoulders with theological and philosophical giants on a regular basis. One of the cool things about these events is that most of the giants that I enjoy meeting have heard of The Collegiate Church of New York City which allows for some wonderful partnerships at our congregations. As a progressive/Reformed/feminist minister, I totally dig these theological converstaions.

The Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary hosted a conversation with Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Peter Heltzel on Heltzel's book Resurrection City: A Theology of Improvisation (Prophetic Christianity). Heltzel explores and calls forth the prophetic voice of Christianity that is boldly rooted in love of neighbor and actively addresses racism, inequality, injustice, and embraces the poor and marginalized as seen by the example of Jesus. He focuses on the ways Jazz is a metaphor for seeking Shalom Justice in the city today. West and Heltzel are spirited pilgrims of the faith, one can't help but be inspired in their presence and to be bold while creatively seeking the common good of the beloved city.


Grading Grace (or Grace Grading)

From Scott Hoezee

I envy math teachers.  I mean, when they have to grade a test or a quiz, they know at a glance whether it's right or wrong.  Shoot, they can sometimes feed quizzes into a machine that scores the thing for them.   Of course, no doubt the art of such tests and quizzes lies in the designing of them, and that is no easy task I am sure.  And, of course, grading such things takes time.  A while back I traveled with a colleague who teaches Astronomy and Physics and she had a goodly stack of tests with her that she scored in the airport and on the plane--it was clearly a lot of work.  Still, once she looked at the bottom line, she knew at a glance whether the student got it right or whether the student had carried the wrong number or multiplied by the wrong percentage and so got it wrong.

Last week as I labored my way through 35 student sermons, I thought of that.   Often.   My task was to read the sermons, figure out what worked and what didn't (and determine also how or why it worked or didn't work), make meaningful comments so the student could understand my thought process, and then--last and most agonizingly of all--put down a letter grade.   And the thing is, you know full well that a different teacher or evaluator might well come to a different conclusion--maybe only slightly but possibly also more substantially.


You're getting warmer

From Jeff Munroe

How did belief in climate change become political?

Have you noticed that generally people who vote Democratic believe in climate change and people who vote Republican don’t? The devastation of super-storm Sandy a few days before the election led me to do my own informal research. I simply asked people whom I knew were very conservative if storms like this made them wonder if the climate is indeed changing.

The first person I asked is a farmer and he said, “No, the weather’s always unpredictable.” Sounds like what a farmer should say, and being the all-around nice guy that I am, I didn’t engage him in a discussion about the difference between weather and the climate. I could have, but I didn’t want to be in his face about it.

Next I asked a pastor. He said, “I’d need to see a lot more data to be convinced there is something special going on.” Again, being the nice guy I am, I didn’t say, “Pull your head out of the sand. There is an enormous amount of data available. Why not take to look at it?”


Christ the King, November 25

Prayer: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, whose Son ascended on high to rule in sovereign love over all the earth and to gather for himself a Church chosen to eternal life, grant, we pray thee, that with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we may laud and magnify they glorious names, evermore praising thee and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory; glory be to thee, O Lord Most High. Amen.

This prayer was written for the 1968 Liturgy and Psalter of the Reformed Church in America. For the coming Sundays I plan to offer a prayer from that book, which was rich treasury of prayer, and then a hymn by Charles Wesley, with some commentary on the hymn.

The Feast of Christ the King is a late and problematic addition to the church’s calendar. For Reformed Christians, at least, Ascension Day is the true Feast of Christ the King. So let me offer you Charles Wesley’s great hymn on the Ascension.

1 HAIL the day that sees him rise,
Ravished from our wishful eyes!
Christ, awhile to mortals given,
Reascends his native heaven.

2 There the pompous triumph waits:
“Lift your heads, eternal gates;
Wide unfold the radiant scene;
Take the King of glory in!”

3 Circled round with angel-powers,
Their triumphant Lord, and ours,
Conqueror over death and sin;
“Take the King of glory in!”

4 Him though highest heaven receives,
Still he loves the earth he leaves;
Though returning to his throne,
Still he calls mankind his own.

5 See, he lifts his hands above!
See, he shows the prints of love!
Hark, his gracious lips bestow
Blessings on his church below!

6 Still for us his death he pleads;
Prevalent he intercedes;
Near himself prepares our place,
Harbinger of human race.

7 Master, (will we ever say)
Taken from our head today;
See thy faithful servants, see,
Ever gazing up to thee.

8 Grant, though parted from our sight,
High above yon azure height,
Grant our hearts may thither rise,
Following thee beyond the skies.

9 Ever upward let us move,
Wafted on the wings of love;
Looking when our Lord shall come,
Longing, gasping after home.

10 There we shall with thee remain,
Partners of thy endless reign;
There thy face unclouded see,
Find our heaven of heavens in thee.

Let me offer you some commentary on the hymn. Wesley has woven in scriptural imagery from Psalm 24:7-10, Acts 1:6-11, Ephesians 1:19-23, and Ephesians 4:7-13. In stanza 1, the word ravished originally meant something like “siezed.” The picture here is of the disciples gazing upward, losing him to sight. His native heaven reminds us that Christ was pre-existent eternally in heaven before his incarnation. In stanza 2, the word triumph connects us to Ephesians 4:8, where St. Paul compares the Ascension to a Roman general’s triumphant entry into Rome, accompanied by all the captives taken in battle, and giving out his war-booty as prizes to his friends. The glory of the scene is amplified by repeating the last lines of stanzas 2 and 3.

The hymn shifts, in stanzas 4 through 6, to celebrate the Ascension’s benefits for us. These benefits are guaranteed by the nail-prints in his hands; Wesley regards these as Our Lord’s most glorious prizes, and because they are so precious to us, he calls us to See and See again. It is on the basis of those scars that he pleads his death on our behalf and intercedes for us. He is our friend in high places. The most important blessing he bestows on us is the forgiveness of sins. Another blessing is our future inheritance, as he promised to his disciples in John 14:2-4, when he said he is preparing a place for us. The word harbinger is an old word for the “ambassador” or “herald” who announces the coming arrival of somebody important who is still on the way.

In stanzas 7 through 10 the hymn shifts back to us, who are still below and gazing upward. Only now the hymn becomes a prayer of petition to the Ascended Lord. And this is what we’re praying: “Take us with you, Lord, when it is time.” We are reminded of that stanza from Wesley’s great Easter hymn, “Soar we now where Christ hath led, Following our exalted head; Made like him, like him we rise, Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.” We are also reminded that in Acts 1:11 the two angels admonished the disciples, saying, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring into heaven? Do you not know that this same Jesus will come back in the same way that you saw him go? So now we are gazing upward for a different reason, not as if we’re saying goodbye, but in anticipation of his coming back, or as the hymn says, we are Looking when our Lord shall come, Longing, gasping after home.

This hymn is in one of Wesley’s favorite meters, Most churches sing it to LLANFAIR, adding Alleluias. But that makes for a long hymn. You can combine the ten stanzas into five and sing it to MENDELSSOHN (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”). Use the Metrical Index of Tunes in the back of your hymnal and try some other tunes in or D (for Double).

Daniel Meeter is pastor of the Old First Reformed Church of Brooklyn, New York. His most recent book is Why Be A Christian (If No One Goes to Hell).