I didn’t have a chance to blog yesterday for several reasons, not least of which was that yesterday I handed in the final paper of my first summer as a Doctor of Ministry student at The School of Theology at The University of the South. The assignment for this paper in Dr. Chapman’s “Types of Anglican Theology” course was to “put the insights of one of the historical figures or movements we have studied into conversation with a contemporary concern.” If the topic is approved, my DMin thesis will be a study of William Augustus Muhlenberg and William Reed Huntington as an historical starting place for the ongoing conversations around an emerging Christianity for the 21st century (see Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass and Tony Jones, among many others).
I decided to write a micro thesis for this paper, taking Huntington’s 1870 book of essays, The Church-Idea, and comparing it to Diana Butler Bass’ most recent book, Christianity after Religion, looking at the theme of death and resurrection, especially as it played out around The 77th General Convention. What struck me in my study was that even the most faithful Christians fear death. We hold tightly onto dying bodies for as long as physically possible, instead of embracing the model of our Savior who dead and was raised.
“I tell you for certain that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat. If you love your life, you will lose it. If you give it up in this world, you will be given eternal life.” (John 12:24-25, CEV)
The paper is available for download, here, but if you aren’t into 12 pages of block quotes, I’ll give you the conclusion.
As we have seen, when the Church finds herself in the throes of death, her leaders are often called to find the first principles. In the eighth chapter of Acts, the fleeing disciples preached the word. In 1870, William Reed Huntington sought to create A Quadrilateral. In 2012, Diana Butler Bass wrote of practicing the art of imitating Jesus. At the 77th General Convention, a group of leaders gathered to say, in this moment of perceived death, we will seek resurrection. We will not let fear motivate us, but rather will seek the Spirit. We will not be ashamed of the Gospel, but rather will seek the share the Word of God with a world desperate to be loved.
The eighth chapter of Acts gives us the example of Philip who, in the hostile environment of Samria, under fear of persecution “told the people about he Messiah.i” He performed miracles, cast out demons, and healed the lame. “There was great joy in that city,ii” Luke tells us, and this author hopes that you are convinced that even in our time of great hardship, of fear, of transition, and, in some ways, of death, here too, through the power of the Risen Lord, with humility and elasticity, with practice and a sense of humor, there can once again be great joy in The Episcopal Church. Our hope finds all its meaning in the resurrection and is based “in the certainty that ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’iii”
iActs 8:5 (NRSV)
iiActs 8:8 (NRSV)
iiiThe Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 507.