The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg w/ Philip Clayton

Bonn, CDU-Friedenskongress, PannenbergLet’s talk about Wolfhart Pannenberg!

The planet lost one of the greatest theologian this past week & in this episode Philip Clayton and I discuss his amazing career.  Philip Clayton is a professor of theology at Claremont School of Theology and former student of Pannenberg.  He recently wrote a beautiful tribute to his former mentor you can read here.  We thought it would be fun to remember Pannenberg by discussing his theology and we did.  We went through a bunch of different topics he covered and yet after 70 minutes we barely discussed a third of my list of ‘Pannenberg’s big ideas.’  I hope you enjoy this half as much as I did.

Check out this collection of Pannenberg remembrances and resources.

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Wild Goose or Mild Goose?

This past weekend I got to participate in one of best and most interesting experiences of my christian life – Wild Goose West. This was the festival’s first venture to the left coast and it did not disappoint!   Billed as an intersection of ‘Art, Justice, Music and Spirituality’, the Goose brought its unique blend of expression and conversation over the Mississippi River and across the Rocky Mountains to County Fairground near Corvallis, Oregon. Folks from all over the western states migrated – and some dedicated veterans of Wild Goose East (held in NC) flew in.  It was quite a mix of people.

I was delighted by this first Wild Goose West. I had a hundred great conversations, listened to amazing speakers and interesting musical acts, as well met dozens of new friends. I was also challenged in areas of artistic expression, racial reconciliation and both sexual and gender justice.

 If I didn’t know better, I would say that this was the best spend of a Labor Day weekend in my adult life.

But alas I have a wrinkle that some others may not have had. I used to live in the Pacific North West and while I was there I both went to an evangelical school and ministered at an evangelical church. I have since migrated geographically south and theologically left. As a progressive-emergent type who continues to passionately hang onto my evangelical roots, I have plenty of friends who still live in the PNW and who are still solidly evangelical.  And no-one will tell ya the behind the scenes scoop like good friends.

Apparently not everyone was as thrilled with the Wild Goose experience as I was! Here were the four complaints that I heard:

  • “I thought it would be wilder.”
  • “I thought this would be more progressive. This is just a bunch of evangelicals with dreadlocks or hipster glasses.”
  • “The LGBTQ emphasis seems to be presumed that we are all coming from the same perspective. There is no room for disagreement.”
  • “I thought this was an open conversation but I don’t hear any conservative voices”

 Here are my four actual responses: 

  • Wilder? Short of LSD and nudity I’m not sure what more you were looking for. This is about as wild as a christian festival can get and still be christian. I mean, this isn’t Burning Man! Did you camp here last night? (It turned out that they had not)
  • Evangelicals with dreadlocks or hipster glasses? Really? I’m not sure how widely you are circulating or how big your sample size is but I am bumped into people of every stripe, color, economic background, family configuration, age and persuasion. I’m not sure what you were expecting but there is a fairly progressive tinge here – sure there are lots of emerging evangelicals … but I don’t think your characterization is fair.
  • The LGBTQ emphasis is part of the stated justice platform. In order for this to be a safe place for everyone there has to be some assurance that those who have been injured by the church before – and many have – that they are not re-injured here. So no, it is not an ‘open ended’ conversation where we start with a blank slate and see what everyone thinks about the issue. It is an aspect of the justice concern to have a stated inclusion policy from which to launch the conversation. But I think that people are allowed to disagree.
  • Having a conversation does not imply that every perspective will be represented in every exchange. It is not the host’s responsibility the make sure that every position of the spectrum is present. Here is how I look at it: the established church is like the city. It is institutionalized and has all the media (like Christian radio). The city is like a stream with a definite current – it predominately flows one way.  So we come out of the city to camp together in the country for a weekend. We are not responsible to bring the city with us and make sure that it gets a fair shake in all conversations. That city have the privilege of being the establishment and the benefits that come with that. The city can fend for itself. We came out of the city to engage justice, art and spirituality.

As I was flying home I got thinking “How could we make the Goose wilder?” I came up with three suggestions. The first two go together, the third is just for fun: 

 1. Move from the printed schedule being celebrity centered to question centered. 

So instead of it saying “Richard Rohr: contemplative practice”, Rohr would be given a question to answer “Does prayer get us there in the 21st century ?”

2. Move from solo presentations to conversations.

I don’t want to hear Richard Rohr. I want hear Richard Rohr in conversation with Nadia-Bolz Weber.  So the schedule would say “Does Prayer do anything in the 21st century? : Richard Rohr and Nadia Boltz-Weber.”

All of these marquee speakers has a schtick. We could still provide a time for the likes of Brian McLaren, Rachel Held Evans and Bruce Reyes-Chow to do their amazing (and polished) one hour presentations on the main stage if we wanted. But every other venue would be a conversation built around a question.

We did this with our Homebrewed Christianity Podcast each of the two nights and it was incredible!  As much as I love listening to Rachel Held Evans’ talk (and she could still do her solo thing) It was so interesting to hear her in conversation with J. Daniel Kirk the evangelical biblical scholar on the question “What does it mean for something to be ‘biblical’ ? ”

The night before we had Melissa Marley Bonnichsen (a Lutheran) in conversation with Eliacin Rosario-Cruz (an Episcopalian) on the question “How does liturgy, sacrament communal practice get us our of the rhythm of Hallmark holidays and the consumer calendar.

We also Brian McLaren, author of Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World in dialogue with Philip Clayton – provost at the new Claremont Lincoln University – the first inter-religious university in the world.

I loved Bruce Reyes-Chow’s session built around the question “Are we still talking about Race?”  But I would have loved it more if he was in conversation with Randy Woodley or  Richard Twiss.

3. Have the Hymns & Beer Tent every day (instead of just one) and don’t have anything else going at the same time.

At some point each day (one in the afternoon, one evening) folks will only have three options  sing at The Tent, take a nap, or have a side conversation with a friend.

I loved Wild Goose West. I can’t wait for next year. Those who organized and planned the gathering did an incredible job and I could not be more impressed. I know that normally a 96% approval rating would be enough … but those four comments really got me thinking and so I just wanted throw this out there in case anyone wanted to make the Goose a little wilder.

Let me know your thoughts on my suggestions or offer some of your own! 

-Bo Sanders 


Party Time with Philip Clayton for “The Predicament of Belief”

What happens when Homebrewed Christianity throws a party for the best book of the year? You don’t have to guess, ya just gotta listen!  Be prepared for metaphysics, skepticism, atheism, Christology, religious experience, doubt, the death of God, Process thought, and all the theological hype money can buy!

This week you get to visit the home of Philip Clayton, Dean of the Claremont School of Theology, where a bunch of theology nerds packed in and more streaming online while we celebrated the launch of Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp’s book The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, and Faith.

Philip has been on the podcast before live with Caputo, talking Jesus from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation, debating Creation, and 3-Ding at the American Academy of Religion.  Below is his co-author and friend Steven Knapp introducing the book and telling us a bit about its endeavour.


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Reflecting on the Resurrection part 2

Resurrecting space for belief

Easter is a big deal. Passages like Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians 15:13-15 (NIV) tell us:

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.

As I a pastor I looked forward to Easter so much. I knew, however, that we would have  visitors, family members, and friends who would come to our services out of relational obligation or for social interest in the event. I knew that some of these would not believe in the literalness of the resurrection of Jesus’ body. 

I always had to think through how I was going to talk about this in a way that was both faithful in proclamation for us as a community of faith, while also attempting to be invitational and sensitive to potential objections or barriers from our guests.I have no interest in apologizing for what we believe as a faith community. But neither do I want to dogmatically push an ancient worldview that may, to the listener, be suspicious at best and incompatible at worst.
In light of the conversation that we have been having with Philip Clayton [around his new book] and my articulation between the miraculous and the ‘super’natural-  the resurrection takes on an interesting twist.

Here is the thing: as in so many aspects of our modern life, we exist in a world dominated by dualism and presentation designed for polarity.  The resurrection is no different. The two options seems to be:

A) it happened literally just like the Gospel accounts portray
B) the laws of physics can not be broken by even God and so the Gospel accounts are literary creations designed to portray theological themes.

I get both of those perspectives. I myself have no problem with the bodily resurrection as a miraculous event that carries deep theological implications (like prolepsis, ontological priority of the future, etc.)

But … in the same way that Jesus’ walking on water is not the POINT of that story. The point was to hear the word of Christ “be not afraid” . It was not simply to understand the physics of how Jesus might have walked on the water or to add it to a checklist of things you must believe even if you don’t understand them.

This is where Clayton’s idea is so powerful. 

In  Acts 9, Paul experienced Jesus post-ascension and he was also powerfully changed. It was that same guy (now named Paul) who penned the words that I quoted earlier (1 Cor. 15) .  But Paul did not encounter the biological body of Christ. He experienced something we can call the ‘real presence’ of Christ.


Various options are open to those who accept this hypothesis, which we might call the personal but nonphysical theory of Jesus’ post-mortem presents. There can be no talk of proof here, but there may be ways of showing that, at least in principle, a real albeit nonphysical presence of a person after death is compatible with the presumption against miracles to which the problem of evil let us in chapter 3.

One of these approaches involves postulating that the early disciples must have experienced a certain kind of event that no longer occurs today. Advocates of this view seek to do justice to the indications in the New Testament texts that, even if Jesus remains somehow present, the nature of his presence changed radically after the finite series of events that occurred soon after his death. They reason that something must have been different in the days or weeks after Jesus’s death, even if what occurred did not involve the resuscitation (even in some significantly transform condition) of the physical body.  – Predicament of Belief p. 97

My question is ‘why could that not have been what the disciples experienced?’ I know full well that the more progressive members of the Homebrewed community will say ‘Duh – we have held this for a long time.’ Please understand A) I was certainly not raised to think this way and did not know it was even an option B) most of the people I know and talk to panic when something like this is proposed.
I want to be clear: I am not trying to get everyone to believe this option. I am simply trying to highlight an alternative to the modern either-or argument that is stuck in an endless round-and-round stand off.

My only point is that those who buy into this third (real presence) option count as “believing in the resurrection”.  Those who subscribe to a literal-physical option often claim that only their option (#1) counts as legitimate. Those who hold to option #2 roll their eyes and look down their nose (not easy to do at the same time) at those who have not accounted for the literary devices employed in the Gospel accounts.

I’m interested in the ‘Big Tent’ here. To get there we must first concede that the point of the text is not about physics or biology. Even if we hold to that element of the story, we  have to remember that understanding or believing in the physics is not the point. To experience the risen Christ and be changed by that presence is the point.

So I wanted to ask
  1. What have you found helpful to include in the conversation that I am leaving out?
  2. What seem to be the sources of folks’ major hesitations that I have not accounted for?

I could really use some help thinking this through. Since I left behind my Josh McDowell evidence that demands a verdict and my Lee Strobel case for the resurrection, I am working diligently to both think and present a broader approach without going all the way to Marcus Borg-land.


[part 1 can be found here] 



Reflecting on the Resurrection part 1

He is risen! … now what?

Several of my mainline friends get to preach this coming weekend – as do I. The conversations have been great as we compared notes. The first question is usually “are you using the lectionary text?” (which I am not) and then the question of post-Easter themes as we round the corner toward Pentecost come up.

I was looking for something on my old blog and stumbled upon two posts from an Easter past. I thought it would be fun to edit them and put them up again.

The central question is “what do we do with this?” – also known as the so what question. People want to know because there are 3 key passages in the New Testament that say Jesus’ resurrection has consequences for what we as believers can expect after our death.

Here are the 4 layers of thought that seem to come out of the Resurrection conversation.

  • Layer 1: The disciples experienced Jesus after his death and that indicated two major things A) death is not the end and B) the Roman empire was not the final authority.

I like this interpretation. If this were all that there was, it would be enough for me. I often hear that this is nothing more than a ‘ghost story’ and offers no hope. I don’t see it that way, and have written about it often.

Let me just add that North Americans are good at focusing on the first implication – that death is not the end – but often struggle with the second implication because, as I have learned, we assume that the as is structure of modern existence is the final ordering. Both the Nation State and Capitalism are given realities and so the best that can be hoped for is for the system to be tweaked in order to bring about a slightly kinder, gentler, more fair, and just version of the structures as it currently is configured [as Jeremy and Tripp outline in their TNT episode breakout session entitled “Occupy Theology”]

Christian implications of the resurrection should enable us to imagine a re-ordering of this world’s governors and empower us to dream of and participate in our ordering of life to display a different operating system and demonstrate a pronounce protest to the powers the be.

  • Layer 2: At the end of our life, we are taken into (or absorbed back into) the life of God. This position holds that life after death is total and absolute communion with God and acknowledges that all the ‘streets of gold’ and ‘pearly gates’ stuff is a result prophetic language and poetic imagining- not a material (physical) rendering.

I like the language of this view. It also helps that I think the book of Revelation is a political critique of the Roman empire and has nothing to do with the end of the world and is therefor not instructive in the least about life after death. So I don’t have to worry about the personification stuff. It frees me to enjoy the thought of release and embrace: release from this life and embrace by the divine other.

The way we read the book of Revelation now is killing our political imagination. The lesson of Revelation is not what will happen in our lifetime or in history – but to model for us how to speak to our time like the author spoke to his time! We are faithful to the book of Revelation not when we take it literally (as if one even could) but when we critique our Imperial structures and imagine a different way of ordering the world in order to bring about different and better outcomes.

Critics of this view say that it is too spiritualized and not specific enough and doesn’t give dignity to the existence of the individual. I hear what they are saying, but it opens us up the to anthropomorphic critique again.

  • Layer 3: Jesus was resurrected with a trans-physical body. So we can expect a glorified – bodily – spiritual/physical existence in kind.

This is the classic reading of the text. Jesus both interacted with the physical (making breakfast on the shore and letting Thomas touch his wounds) while also not being limited to the physical (walking through walls, etc.)

I am, of course, comfortable with this view as it is what I was raised with and ordained into. The only downside is that it desperately needs to humbly engage the gaps that emerge in Biblical scholarship instead of arrogantly raising it’s voice to anyone who dares question any aspect of the accounts that were written so much later and which vary from each other. We have to be honest about the literary aspect of the Gospel accounts.

  • Layer 4: Some really thoughtful modern theologians have put forward some new theories or vocabularies with which to have this conversation. Notable are N.T. Wright, John Cobb, and the new book by Philip Clayton.

I was listening to an interview with John Polkinghorn and he said something that caught my attention.

“What is the real me? It is certainly more than the matter of my body, because that it changing all the time. The atoms are always changing – but in some sense it is the pattern of how the atoms are formed. That,I think, is what the soul is (agreeing with Thomas Aquinas).
It is an immensely rich pattern that doesn’t end at my skin. It involves my memories, my character, my personality. I think it involves all the relationships I take on. It is complex and we struggle to even say something about it. But I do not think that God will allow that pattern to be lost and I think that God will recreate that pattern after resurrection.
Faith and Science are in conversation about what could be the continuity between this world and world that has yet to come.”

I love this language. It gets away from the historical argument of only literal vs. merely spiritual and points to the possibilities of a preferable future – but does so without being dogmatic, wooden interpretation or concrete physics. It leaves the door open for faith and invites us into a conversation. In my mind, that is better than rote regurgitation repetition of old formulations. It encourages us to think biblically and explore theologically the possibilities of a new reality.

We just can’t afford for Christ’s resurrection to be a promise of escape from this present world and a subsequent passivity toward the as is structures of our existence.


Proposing an Alternative to the Predicament

Part 1 of Peter Bannister’s review is here.

Sketching an alternative proposal

What options then may be open to readers who share Clayton’s and Knapp’s concern for a dynamic Christology, but who want to retain a more traditional theological framework?

Here I can of course only offer the briefest of sketches, but you might call my tentative proposal ‘semi-adoptionist’, for want of a better term, drawing on Philip Clayton’s former Doktorvater Wolfhart Pannenberg. What if we retain the pre-incarnate Logos – it is absolutely the Second Person of the Trinity who takes flesh -, but radicalize the kenosis of Philippians 2 by taking seriously the free acceptance by the Logos of subjection to physical and mental developmental processes (from conception to Cross) including all they entails in the light of our limited but real scientific knowledge of human physicality. Jesus as divine Son is united to the Father ontologically throughout his earthly life, but is not necessarily consciously aware of it; the Logos rather ‘starts again from zero’ in accepting the limitations imposed by inherited human DNA, neurological structure, cognitive development, development and obedience to his earthly parents (Luke 2:51-52), having to learn a human religious tradition in its particularity, and the unavoidable reality of spending around one-third of his life snoring (yes, Jesus slept as well as wept!).

In this scenario Jesus is not ‘adopted’ at Baptism or Resurrection in the sense of crossing a threshold between a ‘non-divine’ and a divine nature, but certainly attains to a new intensification of his Sonship in a ‘functional’ sense. He is anointed with the Spirit at Baptism, raised through the Spirit at Easter and exalted as Kyrios  at his Ascension by virtue of having defeated the Powers in his self-emptying death on the Cross.  Appropriating The Predicament’s language of emergence theory, these are real events in Jesus’s life where a new ‘emergent level’ is reached. In this scheme there is therefore authentic becoming without the radical discontinuity suggested by all-out adoptionism. At the same time this ‘becoming’ is not restricted to the humanity of Jesus; as long as we regard Christ as one person and not two and remember that his indwelling by the Spirit, his earthly life is simultaneously the experience of a human being and the life of humanity experienced by God.

To use Irenaeus’s framework of seeing Jesus’s life as a recapitulation of what it is to be a human being, I would like to suggest that the mission of his earthly existence is in some way to become in time, through a life of self-giving love and perfect obedience to the Father, the Son that he is from all eternity.

As to how it is possible to keep the notion of the eternal Son while admitting real development in Jesus’s life, I would suggest that the idea of ‘Sonship’ has two aspects which, while obviously related, are conceptually separable. This was already explored by Pannenberg in Jesus, God and Man when trying make sense of Paul’s affirmation on the one hand of Christ’s pre-existence found in expressions such as ‘God sent his Son’ (Galatians 4:4) and formulations such as Romans 1:3, where Jesus is ‘designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead’, which has sometimes been interpreted in adoptionist fashion.  Pannenberg’s position is that while adoptionist language is undoubtedly Biblical, ‘the idea of Jesus’ adoption by God says too little’ and that – quoting Paul Althaus – ‘Jesus was what he is before he knew about it’.

One aspect of the Divine Sonship is filiation, i.e. the Son as the ‘only-begotten’ of John 1:18, a status which obviously cannot be ‘renounced’ kenotically. If we are using the title ‘Son’ in this way, it seems wholly reasonable to assert that Jesus was God’s ‘Son’ even in Mary’s womb. However, once the word ‘Sonship’ is used in its second sense, invested with real content in terms of the outworking of Jesus’s character rather than merely denoting filiation, things look different; if what we talking about is Jesus’s path of self-emptying love, this inevitably requires the trajectory of a life lived. It simply can’t happen by magic.

Being a composer, let me conclude with a musical analogy. Imagine the Son’s eternal Divine nature ‘vertically’ in terms of harmony, as a chord you could strike on a piano or a guitar. Now take those same notes into the world of ‘melody’ where things happen in time, i.e. horizontally, and play them in succession from the bottom up. But don’t dampen the strings of the guitar, and leave the piano pedal down. What happens is that you arrive at the same chord. In our temporally-structured world of earthly existence, it is such a ‘melodic’ unfolding which is the only means of the ‘composing-out’ of Jesus’s Sonship (Auskomponierung in the German technical jargon of which music theorists are just as fond as systematic theologians). Something really happens. But the notes are the same as those of the chord, and the listener’s experience is enriched by the melody. Not only enriched, but hopefully inspired for her own melodic journey through life.

The project represented by The Predicament of Belief  is surely an excellent and important one; Steven Knapp and Philip Clayton deserve our congratulations and gratitude for the considerable service that they have rendered both to the academy and the Church in undertaking it. But I think that I am not misinterpreting the intentions of the authors themselves in saying that their book is best taken as a starting-point and not as a final destination.


To be continued.



Doubly trained in music and systematic/philosophical theology, Peter Bannister is Associate Artistic Director and Composer-in-Association of SOLI DEO GLORIA Inc., a Chicago-based organization devoted to furthering sacred music in the Judeo-Christian tradition. He also co-directs the American Church in Paris’s participation in the John Templeton Foundation’s ‘Scientists in Congregations Ministry Initiative’, and is the author of the Music and Theology blog ‘Da stand das Meer’.


Considering Clayton’s Conundrum

Guest post by Peter Bannister

 The Predicament of Belief  by Philip Clayton and Steven Knapp is a first-rate book – both highly thought-provoking and courageous. Philip Clayton has consistently shown himself to be one of the Church’s most creative thinkers and is perhaps unequalled in offering imaginative tools for re-invigorating our approach to Christian faith ‘after Google’. For catalyzing and hosting constructive debate with a combination of intellectual vigour and graciousness there simply seems to be no-one better on the horizon of the contemporary theological landscape. So I’m a fan.

The first philosophical chapters of The Predicament of Belief, making a powerful case for the rationality of believing in a personal, benevolent Ultimate Reality, are ones with which I find myself agreeing without reservation. I start getting nervous when the authors’ ‘Christian minimalist’ position is taken as more than a pragmatic expression of what can be adduced without stepping beyond rational justifiability. When minimalism becomes a preferred option in the search not merely for human consensus but for truth about Ultimate Reality, my theological nerve-endings start jangling.

Adoptionism – the only solution ?

Here I would particularly like to focus on Christology. I’m torn between admiration for the authors’ brave attempt at a minimal ‘core Christian proposal’ that can function as a rallying-point for the contemporary Church and ambivalence towards their constructive suggestion. Is it a) the only viable truth-claim available in the present climate or b) a simple working hypothesis whose interest lies in its usefulness for stemming the decline in American mainline Protestantism, an attractive proposition to those alienated by traditional dogma? While I agree that sensitivity to those suspicious of doctrine in general is highly desirable, I find The Predicament overly pessimistic about rationally justifying anything approaching an orthodox theological viewpoint: their assumption that such a position cannot stand in the 21st century seems a little hasty. Especially as my experience is that the ‘spiritual but not religious’ constituency which minimalism hopes to attract is just as resistant to the ‘left-brain’ logical argumentation represented by The Predicament as to an insistence on literal adherence to ancient creeds.

In the book, adoptionism is presented as an option ‘that does not include the claim that the same person who became the man Jesus already existed in divine form before Jesus was born’.  Instead, ‘after Jesus’s death, God somehow took this individual’s subjectivity into the divine subjectivity, commingling them in such a way that they came to dwell within each other and even to become identical to each other.’ This supposedly offers a way out of the ‘dichotomy that either Jesus continues as the identical person within the godhead or Jesus is a merely human model for others to emulate.’ This ‘may be attractive to those contemporary Christians who can’t quite believe (even if they have no way of definitively denying) the complicated assertions of classical Trinitarian thought, but who nevertheless find themselves believing in Jesus’ continuing personal presence’.

Towards the end of his concise Emergent Village presentation of the book  (around the 30 minute mark on the HBC podcast), PC puts his theological hands up and admits that his preference goes to ‘adoptionist’ Christology because the alternative of an eternal preexistent Logos is not persuasive now that static Greek metaphysics have landed in the trash can of history. Not unless you believe in a ‘three bears with three chairs’ Trinity (don’t worry, you’ll understand if you listen to the audio…).

The pre-existent Logos: an obsolete accessory ? [Read more…]


The Predicament of believing Philip Clayton

This is a difficult era for those who find themselves committed to the values of scientific rationality and yet moved by the claims of a religious tradition.

That is how the preface to Philip Clayton’s new book The Predicament of Belief  begins.

I am always a little jealous of people who have a scientific background or who have a comprehension of philosophy. Don’t get me wrong, I read books like Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Green and dabble in Tillich or Moltmann. I love reading that stuff and get a lot out of it … but it is never comfortable or familiar. I was raised as a Billy Graham evangelical and have a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies. I have a Masters in Theology and in 20 years of ministry  I have preached over 1,000 sermons. I am a pastor. I adore the church. I think in community. It is both how I am built and how I have been groomed. This is part of why I wrote my thesis in Contextual Theology and am now pursuing a degree in Practical Theology.  I am obsessed with the church. 

“… It is hard to decide what parts of one’s tradition it makes sense to reject or retain.”

Here is the thing:

But can I go with Philip’s brand of Adoptionism (in Christology)?

But can I go with him when he talks about the 5 layers of the Resurrection?

[Keep in mind that I said in a post last week that I could never imagine saying 3 things:  A) Paul didn’t write that book B) Jesus probably didn’t say that sentence and C) the Bible is wrong about that ]

It is interesting to me that Philip comes from much the same background as I do. It was because of his work that Claremont School of Theology first came onto my radar. I love his vision as the new Dean for the school and have gone on to read several of his books. His conversation with Tony Jones at an Emergent Theological cohort gathering is something I still reference monthly. I get what Philip is saying and I am down with what Philip is up to. Clayton speaks to me. I quote him often in sermons and coffee-shop conversations.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have no affection for tradition-for-tradition’s-sake and I don’t even have one conservative bone in my body. I have no affinity for ceremony, ritual, sacrament, or obligation apart from their narrative value. But as I read Clayton’s newest book, I am confronted on nearly every page with the question “do you know what this would mean?”  This is edgy stuff. His work is innovative and daring and would be well over the line for those that I report to for ordination and accreditation.

 So I am left with two questions:

  • How does one preach this stuff?
  • What would it look like to let go and fall all the way down the rabbit hole of this kind of thinking?

 I am saved from too much torment by two entirely different convictions.

  • The world is changing.
  • As people of truth, we need to deal in what is true.

 The first reminds me that the world has always changed – which is good and healthy and necessary. Some say that the only difference is that we have moved,in human civilization,  from incremental change to a period of exponential change.

The second reminds me that we can say things like “You shall know that truth…” or “All truth is God’s truth” and then act like they had it right in the 3rd century. No, if we are to be people of truth, then we need to pursue truth – wherever it leads.

Pursuing truth may lead us to conclusions that are different than our traditions have expressed. It may lead to us revisiting some things that we have held dear.  But what is the alternative?  To hang on to outdated and outmoded sentimentalities that have little to do with reality and the world as-it-is? Or to continue to play word games in our ecclesiastical silos that have little bearing on the real way people live outside our theological conclaves?

No. We need this. We must to do this. We have to take seriously the landscape that is in front of us and navigate the actual terrain that we occupy. Otherwise we risk living in the conceptual map and never walking on the land as it really is.

That is the predicament of believing Philip Clayton.

you can also check out this earlier post & video (and podcast)  for a great discussion 



Ready for the Road Trip? process prep

in just a few shorts days folks will start to wander on down to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, to the Claremont School of Theology for the 2012 Emergent Village Theological Conversation.

You can follow along and ask questions on Twitter at #EVTC where the main sessions will also be streamed live.

Some of you will be looking to download some last minute audiological goodness for your journey.
Here are some suggestions:

Philip Clayton was interviewed on Doug Pagitt’s radio show. Link is here [all of these are also available on I-tunes]

 Process Poetics with Catherine Keller

John Cobb on Christology (an early HBC interview)

Monica A. Coleman  on Process and Pluralism

Bruce Epperly on Process 101

TNT: Conversation Preparation all about the conference.

Robert Mesle introduces Whitehead’s thoughts


If you are looking for some reading on the flight here is Epperly’s Guide for the Perplexed on KINDLE!!  available for instant download for 9.99.