Remembrances Fit for a King

A TRULY TRAGIC EVENT occurred just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot while standing on the second-floor balcony near his Lorraine Motel room in Memphis, Tennessee. Rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital less than ten minutes away, King was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m.

Now, a half-century later, King’s legacy lives on and his words and deeds still inspire people of all races and in countries around the world.

At the age of 25, King was called to the pastorate of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He delivered his first sermon there as pastor on May 2, 1954. (In 1978 the name of that church, which was founded in 1877 in a slave trader’s pen, was changed to Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.)

Since he accomplished so much, is remarkable that King’s tragic assassination was less than fourteen years later.

After the Rosa Parks incident in December 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was soon organized under King’s leadership in the basement of his church. A year later, King began expanding the nonviolent civil rights movement throughout the South, and in 1957 he became the founding president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

That pivotal period of time in the 1950s was also a time of racial segregation in Missouri Baptist churches and institutions. I was a student at Southwest Baptist College (now University) in 1955-57, but I have no memory of any public discussion on campus of what was going on in Alabama. There were no African-American students at SWBC then. The same was true when my wife June and I were students at William Jewell College from 1957 to 1959. It was not until 1961 that the first African-Americans student, an outstanding athlete, enrolled at WJC.

By that time I was a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville—and had the privilege of being in the unforgettable April 1961 chapel service in which MLK, Jr., spoke. Unfortunately, but maybe not surprisingly, the seminary suffered financially because of its invitation to King.

Fifty-five years ago, 1963, was a most significant year for King—and the nation. As a leader of the civil rights activities in Birmingham, Alabama, he was arrested on April 12, which happened to be Good Friday, and placed in solitary confinement. Four days later his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written on scraps of paper, was smuggled out and it subsequently became one of King’s best-known and most influential writings. Then just four months later, King led the March on Washington. Standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most powerful speeches in American history.

Because of his unswerving commitment to nonviolence, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. At that time he was the youngest person ever to receive that prestigious award.

Partly because of King’s untiring and courageous leadership in the struggle for civil rights, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The latter was largely due to the march of King and his allies from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama, in March 1965. (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend the 2015 movie “Selma.”)

Although there was much more needing to be done to improve the lot of African-Americans, King began to speak out publicly about human rights and not just the civil rights for people of color. On April 4, 1967, he delivered a speech titled “Beyond Vietnam” at Riverside Church in New York City. About 3,000 people gathered at that historic church for his talk sponsored by Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam. In that address King spoke pointedly of “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.”

At the end of August that year, King delivered a speech titled “The Three Evils of Society”—and, again, he identified those triple evils as poverty, racism, and militarism. His concern for the former led him in early December to launch the Poor People’s Campaign. His trip to Memphis was related to concerns about the Memphis Sanitation Strike, which began in February in protest of racial discrimination, dangerous working conditions, and poor pay. King flew to Memphis on April 3, 1968; late that evening he delivered his seemingly prescient “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech to the thousands of people gathered at the Church of God in Christ headquarters auditorium.

King was killed early in the evening of the next day as he was preparing to go to dinner with friends and colleagues. He was only 39 years old.

In the April 5 issue of the New York Times, Murray Schumach began his lengthy obituary of King with these notable words:

To many million [sic] of American Negroes, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the prophet of their crusade for racial equality. He was their voice of anguish, their eloquence in humiliation, their battle cry for human dignity. He forged for them the weapons of nonviolence that withstood and blunted the ferocity of segregation.

Those were words of remembrance fit for a king—this King!

In spite of King’s tragic death, the Poor People’s Campaign continued. On Mother’s Day, May 12, just over a month after MLK’s funeral, thousands of women led by Coretta Scott King, Martin’s grieving wife, formed the first wave of demonstrators. The following day, Resurrection City, a temporary settlement of tents and shacks, was built on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

That movement still goes on. This past November, on the anniversary of the announcement of the King-led Poor People’s Campaign, William Barber II, the dynamic North Carolina pastor, announced the launching of the new Poor People’s Campaign. Starting next month on Mother’s Day, it will begin in earnest with forty days of “direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience.” Plans and training for the upcoming events are currently taking place in many states, including Missouri and Kansas.

King’s influence has extended far beyond the borders of the United States. For example, in the fall of 1968, I began teaching Christian Studies at Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka City, Japan. I soon became aware of the high regard for King among Japanese people. Many of my students were critical of the racial prejudice they knew that existed in the United States, which they thought of as a “Christian nation.” Many of them, though, were impressed with and inspired by King—especially by his “I Have a Dream” speech, which was often used by students in speech contests sponsored by the English Speaking Society. And many of them began to look upon Christianity more favorably when they learned that King was a Baptist preacher. (Some Baptist churches in Japan have sought to gain public understanding of and appreciation for their churches by referring to their indirect connection to King.)

At the 70th anniversary of Seinan Gakuin, the school system which was founded by Southern Baptist missionaries in 1916, Coretta Scott King accepted our invitation to be the guest speaker. Some 4,000 people gathered to hear her speak at the public auditorium we rented in downtown Fukuoka City for that special occasion.

So both in this country and abroad, Christians and non-Christians alike have been inspired and energized by the remarkable life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. As he is being widely remembered this month because of his tragic assassination 50 years ago, let’s join together in the ongoing struggle against racism, militarism, and poverty, the still-prevalent triplet evils he fought against so valiantly.

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Remembering L.J. Farwell

Until I read the April 16, 2014, issue of my hometown newspaper, I don’t think I had ever heard of Leonard James Farwell. I knew there was a Farwell Street in my hometown of Grant City (Missouri): that is the street on which June’s and my good friend Carmetta Jackson lives.

Through the years I have known of others who lived on that street, which I assume was named for Farwell, one of the most prominent men ever to live (and die) in Grant City. (The picture below is the picture I took of a Farwell street sign in Grant City.)

Farwell St..jpg

L.J. Farwell was born in New York in 1819 and moved to Milwaukee in 1840 just prior to Wisconsin becoming a state. Later, he became a wealthy man in Madison, and in 1852 he was elected the second governor of the state.

Several years after serving as governor, he moved to Washington, D.C., taking a job offered by the Lincoln Administration at the U.S. Patent Office.

And so it happened that Farwell was in Ford’s Theater in view of Abraham Lincoln on that fateful night of April 14, 1865, when the President was shot by John Wilkes Booth.

Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s Vice-President, was a personal friend of Farwell. So the former governor rushed to the nearby Kirkwood House, which was Johnson’s residence and where he took the oath of office after Lincoln died.

The press declared Farwell a hero, crediting him with saving the life of the Vice-President by alerting him to the possibility of an assassination attempt on his life also. Such an attempt certainly seems to have been feasible, as on that same day George Atzerodt, a cohort of Booth, took a room almost directly above the ground-floor suite occupied by the Vice-President in the Kirkwood House, which was a four-story hotel.

(It has been reported that Atzerodt decided to get drunk rather than carry out the planned assassination of the Vice-President.)

Turning down a position offered him by the new President, Farwell left Washington in 1870 and started his own private patent office in Chicago. But the October 1871 Great Chicago Fire destroyed his business—and led (for reasons I have been unable to discover) to his moving to Grant City in March of the following year.

(Mrs. Catherine O’Leary became famous when it was alleged, probably incorrectly, that her cow kicked over a lantern, starting that 1871 Chicago fire that destroyed some 17,500 buildings and left about 100,000 people homeless.)

Having moved to Grant City, Farwell and Henry Benson Munn went into the real estate business, operating under the name Munn & Farwell. Thus, it seems quite certain that Farwell Street was named for the former governor.

Munn (1826-1910) had been a teacher, lawyer, and politician in the East and in Wisconsin. After several years in Grant City, he married Farwell’s daughter Cornelia (1861-1942) before moving back to Washington, D.C., to practice law.

The History of Gentry and Worth Counties, Missouri, published in 1882, includes a two-page write-up about “Hon. Leonard J. Farwell.” The article concludes,

The Governor is still [at age 63] an active, enterprising man, and has assiduously devoted his time, talents and money to the building up of Worth County, and through his exertions much has been done to advertise Northwest Missouri and to bring the emigrate to this section of the state (p. 730).

And so it was that a former governor and personal friend of President Andrew Johnson died in Grant City on April 10, 1889, and is buried in Grant City Cemetery.

Here is the link to a 9/10/2012 article about Farwell.

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Review of “A Palestinian Theology of Liberation”

[This is a book review I wrote for the Englewood Review of Books; it was posted online, here, in January 2018.]

Naim Stifan Ateek, A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict (Orbis Books, 2017; 172 pp.)

Naim Stifan Ateek (b. 1937) is an ethnic Arab Palestinian, a citizen of Israel, and an Anglican priest. His slim but highly significant book is the fruit of decades of theological thought and praxis.

Nearly thirty years ago Ateek wrote a closely related book, Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation. In that same year, 1989, he founded Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. That organization has continued to grow in influence through the years with chapters in several countries. One such chapter is FOSNA (Friends of Sabeel North America).

Ateek ends the introductory chapter of his new book with a clear statement of its purpose: “The intention of this book is to provide an understanding of Palestinian liberation theology that will challenge readers to active participation in the work of justice, peace, and reconciliation” (7). Throughout his book, it is clear that Ateek wishes not merely to inform his readers about the plight of the Palestinians and their need for liberation but also to stir his readers to action.

Following the introduction there are ten chapters: the first four are largely historical, the next four biblical/theological, and the last two about taking action in the present.

The first chapter gives a very brief summary of liberation theology as first articulated by Gustavo Gutiérrez and as developed among some Latin Americans, black South Africans, and feminists. The common emphasis in all of these is that the central Christian message is one of freedom and justice. Thus, “Within this global liberation movement, Palestinian liberation theology was born when faith confronted the injustice of the conquest of Palestinian land by the government of Israel and its oppression of the Palestinian people” (11).

Since Ateek realizes that one important characteristic of liberation is “the way it takes seriously the context of liberation” (15), the second chapter sketches the historical story of Palestinian Christians. “Today,” he writes, “more Palestinian Christians live outside Palestine than inside. It is estimated that fewer than 200,000 Christians live inside historic Palestine, while over 200,000 are living in the diaspora” (23).

This is a part of the larger “Nakba,” the Arabic word for “catastrophe,” which is used to refer to what happened in 1948 when “approximately 750,000 Palestinians fled in fear or were driven out by force from their country because of the brutal onslaught of the Zionist militias” (25). Accordingly, the third chapter is “The Threefold Nakba,” the human, identity, and faith catastrophe for Palestinians in general and especially the latter for those who were Christians.

In addition to Nakba, according to the author there are three other historical events that led to the emergence of Palestinian liberation theology: the Holocaust, the War of 1967 and the rise of religious Zionism, and the first intifada (1987-91). Akeem’s fourth chapter succinctly explains the significance of those events.

The fifth chapter begins the theological/biblical section of the book. It is about Jesus and makes the highly significant point that Jesus is “the lens or principle of interpretation” by which we Christians should interpret the rest of the Bible (44).

The next chapter deals with the Old Testament and especially with some of the difficult passages found there. Based on his assertion of the previous chapter, Ateek insists that all those passages must be interpreted from the hermeneutic (method of interpretation) based on Jesus and the centrality of love. Further, he emphasizes that in the Old Testament there is a progression from a tribal and exclusive theology to a theology of inclusion. The former is seen clearly in Leviticus, the latter especially in Ezekiel and Jonah. Concerning the latter, the author writes, “With the story of Jonah, the Old Testament reaches a theological climax” (82).

The New Testament is considered in the seventh chapter, and a major emphasis is on how Jesus “rejected exclusivity and emphasized inclusivity” (90). That same emphasis is found in the writings of the Apostle Paul.

In his brief summary of key biblical themes, the next chapter begins the primary assertion of the book: “Justice is foundation for the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” (105). In seeking justice, though, Ateek makes “a plea for a strategy of nonviolence” (117-9). This emphasis on nonviolence is seen throughout the book and stands in stark contrast to the common charge that Palestinians are terrorists.

The ninth chapter is about Sabeel, the organization the author started in 1989. The core objective of that movement and its chapters in many Western countries is stated clearly: “to see the end of the illegal occupation of Israel of the Palestinian territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel, so that a just and secure peace can be achieved for all the people of Palestine and Israel” (131). To this reviewer, that sounds like a goal worth being sought by people of goodwill everywhere.

The main emphases of Palestinian liberation theology are reiterated in the final chapter. From that perspective he emphasizes “three essentials that must be realized in order for a genuine peace to be achieved: justice, peace, and reconciliation” (142). So, to the end there is stress on justice linked to love (“When there is genuine love, justice is done. When justice is done, there is love,” 148), on peace sought by nonviolent means, and on reconciliation that is linked to forgiveness. This is an outstanding vision of a man who represents a people who have been severely mistreated for decades. That vision is based upon and due to the author’s superlative Biblical interpretation and theological acumen.

The impact of this book is heightened by Walter Brueggemann’s fine foreword, which ends, “This important book will be a great learning among us to which Western Christians of every ilk should pay attention” (xix). Of course, those who should especially pay attention to this book are those who are least likely to read it: Christian Zionists and Christian conservatives or fundamentalists who are greatly pro-Israel because of their eschatological views. But this book is one that those of us on the other side of the theological spectrum can recommend to those who do not have strong opinions about—or much knowledge of—the history of the mistreatment of the Palestinians. Perhaps some who are now “neutral” will be convinced that the gross injustices being experienced by Palestinians need to be addressed along the lines suggested in Ateek’s work.

This book should be especially significant now in light of the hoopla surrounding the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the formation of the State of Israel in 1948. The content of this book can—and should in the opinion of this reviewer—be shared without hesitation. It is highly readable, informative throughout, and consistently irenic.

In short, I highly recommend reading this book and sharing it, or at least its ideas, with others, and the more the better.

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What Belongs to Caesar?

[Manuscript for the sermon preached by Leroy Seat at the Lawson (Mo.) United Christian and Presbyterian Church on October 22, 2017.]

Matthew 22:15-22

It is a delight to be with you here in Lawson this morning, and I am grateful for Pastor Molini asking me to supply for her this morning. I have preached for her a couple of times at her previous church and am very happy to do so today here at Lawson United Christian and Presbyterian Church.

I have been through Lawson before, but this is the first time I can remember ever being to Lawson. Do you know that the name Lawson is known all across Japan? It is the name of a konbini (convenience store) chain with more than 11,000 stores in every prefecture in Japan.

So not only is this is my first time to worship with you—it is the first time to attend a United Christian and Presbyterian church. I was impressed when I learned that the Presbyterian church here was started in 1849, many years before the town of Lawson was founded, that the Christian (Disciples) church was established in 1881, and that the two churches were united in 1969 to form your present church.

I have, however, attended, and preached in, a United Baptist-Presbyterian church. That was in Mt. Ayr, Iowa. Most of you perhaps don’t know where Mt. Ayr, Iowa, is, but Roy and Jean Rinehart do, for they are from Worth County, Mo., as I am. Worth County borders Ringgold County, Iowa, of which Mt. Ayr is the county seat. It is about 110 miles due north of here.

You may find it hard to believe, but I first met Roy Rinehart and Jean Brown, as she was then, over 70 years ago. We rode the same school bus from 1945 or 1946 until they graduated from high school in Grant City, the county seat of Worth County. I learned early on that Roy Lee, as we called him back then, was one of the smartest students in Grant City High School. He is a few years older than I, and I looked up to him in admiration when I was a boy. So I am delighted to see them again today—as well as to meet most of you for the first time.

Beginning when I was 18 years old, I preached almost every Sunday for eight years before my wife and I went to Japan as Baptist missionaries. I was a full-time university professor there for 36 years, but we started a bi-lingual church in 1980. For 24 years I was a part-time pastor there, usually preaching twice a month. In all that time, I never used the lectionary for selecting Bible passages or topics for my sermons. But since retiring in 2004 and preaching in various churches from time to time in the years since then, I have often used the lectionary for choosing the text and topic for my sermon. So, soon after Pastor Molini asked me to preach for her today, I looked up the lectionary Bible passages for today and soon decided to use the Gospel reading: Matthew 22:15-22. This is a passage most of you have heard many times, but listen to it again as I read from the new Common English Bible, the new translation completed in 2011 for use by both Protestants and Catholics:

15Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. 16They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. 17So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. 20“Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked.

21“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 22When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.

Many of you remember well the words of verse 21 of the older translation: “Render . . . unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (KJV). My sermon title, “What Belongs to Caesar?” comes from that verse, of course.

(This same event/conversation is also recorded in Mark 12:13-17 and Luke 20:20-26.)

Jesus’ statement comes at the end of a passage about taxes—which is usually a debatable subject. You have heard that nothing is certain except death and taxes. Those words were by Benjamin Franklin, who wrote in a 1789 letter, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Currently, there are highly diverse views about taxes here in the U.S. Some people lament that taxes are a form of theft, while there are some who speak about “taxpayer pride.” Just last month an article was posted on the Internet with the title “Taxation is Nothing More than Legalized Robbery.” On the other hand, Sister Simone Campbell is one such person in the latter group. (Some of you will remember her as “the nun on the bus.”)

The question that Jesus’ opponents asked him, though, was not about paying taxes in general. It was paying taxes to Caesar, and the Roman government under him. The Jewish people had long paid what was called the “Temple tax,” and there seemingly wasn’t any question about that. But Caesar was the Roman emperor whose forces had subjugated the Jews under their jurisdiction. Caesar even demanded religious-like adoration: he wanted to be called “Lord.”

Those who were seeking to trap Jesus in order to silence him and his movement posed this question to him: “Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Some of the Jewish people wanted to follow the Torah rather than Roman law much the same way that strict Muslims want to follow Sharīʿah rather than the law of the non-Muslim countries. Of course, there are some in our day, such as Roy Moore of Alabama, who seem to think that the Bible should be followed rather than U.S. law in some cases. (That may be all right for private citizens, but it is a question when such a person seeks election as a U.S. Senator.)

So, the question posed to Jesus was a trick question—like the proverbial “when did you stop beating your wife?” There seemed to be no good answer. His answer would ignite explosive opposition whether it was affirmative or negative. The strict Jews would have strongly disapproved of Jesus sanctioning paying the Roman taxes; the Romans would have condemned non-payment of the imposed taxes. Jesus was clearly put between a rock and a hard place.

The Romans had long sought to get taxes from the Jewish people who had come under their jurisdiction. Remember that according to Luke 2:1, shortly before the birth of Jesus, “Caesar Augustus, [the emperor] declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists.” That was the reason Joseph and Mary made the long, hard trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.

So now Jesus asked for a coin that was used for the taxes, noted the image (Greek: eikon) on the coin, and then made the oft-quoted statement about rendering to Caesar what belongs to him and to God what belongs to God.

Jesus’ answer was a brilliant one. It got him off the hook: neither the strict Jews nor the Romans could find his answer to be one they could criticize or attack him for. Moreover, it left a statement that Christians have followed with good reason for all the years since Jesus first spoke those words in verse 21. So jump with me now from first century Palestine to these past few days in Kansas City.

Since Thursday evening a symposium titled “Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance and Civil Liberties in World War I Through Today” has been held at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. (Many of you have no doubt been there.) I went to the opening activities on Thurs., attended some of the sessions on Fri. and Sat., and came here this morning straight from the 8:00 memorial service at which Rev. Ruth Harder, my pastor, spoke. (Some of you may have seen her “guest commentary” that was in last Wednesday’s Kansas City Star.)

One feature at the symposium was the premier of the traveling exhibit “Voices of Conscience: Peace Witness in the Great War,” developed by Kauffman Museum, which is affiliated with Bethel College in Kansas. From this Tuesday through Sunday, this exhibit will be at the Pastor Ruth’s church, the Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kansas. If any of you should happen to be in the area, I hope you will stop by to see that exhibit.

Conscientious objectors, as you know, are people who refuse military service—or at least refuse to bear arms—because of their belief that killing other humans being in any way is wrong. This has been the position of the Quakers from their beginning in England in the 1740s and from the Anabaptists who are descendants of the small group of Swiss Brethren who organized in 1525.

From the beginning, the Anabaptists thought allegiance to God always took precedence to allegiance to the state—to “Caesar.” And since Jesus clearly taught that we are to love our enemies, they thought there was no justification for trying to kill them. Jesus clearly said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you45so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5).

Although there is no stated link, we can assume that Jesus said what he did partly because he knew that all people were created in the image of God. In Genesis 1:27 we read (and I am once again reading from the Common English Bible), “God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.” This doesn’t mean that we humans look like God the way Caesar looked like his image on the Roman coin. Rather it means that we have a “likeness” to God that makes it possible for us to know God, to love God, and to have a personal relationship with God.” Among all of God’s creation, only humans have that possibility; only humans are made in the image of God.

“Caesar” may legitimately claim our coins—or our checks by April 15—but never our allegiance or our obedience, which belong only to God in whose image we are made. Thus, many of us in the Anabaptist tradition are reluctant to pledge allegiance to anything (or anyone) other than to God as known through Jesus Christ.

I don’t want to get into the “take the knee” protest by the pro football players—or the opposition to that protest led by the President—that has been going on. But long before that protest began last year—which was entirely about the problem of racism in our country—in 2004 two professors at the Mennonite seminary in Indiana wrote what they call “A Christian Pledge of Allegiance.” It goes like this:

I pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ,

And to God’s kingdom for which he died—

One Spirit-led people the world over,

Indivisible, with love and justice for all.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying: I am not saying that you who are American citizens should not pledge allegiance to the flag. But I am saying that if you are a Christian, your first and primary allegiance ought to be to God as known through Jesus Christ. There are things you own Caesar or your country. But you belong to God.

I wonder what difference it would make in our communities—in your town of Lawson—and in the world if we Christians all started pledging our allegiance to Jesus and to God’s Kingdom. If we belong to God, shouldn’t we do that?

Do you know the hymn “I Surrender All”? It doesn’t seem to be in your hymnals, but it is one I remember well from my boyhood. It was written by a Methodist layman named Judson Van Deventer and first published in 1896.

All to Jesus I surrender
All to Him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him
In His presence daily live

I surrender all
I surrender all
All to Thee my blessed Saviour
I surrender all

We don’t surrender our all to Caesar – or to anything or anyone else. We don’t belong to Caesar. We belong to God and our lives belong to God. When we surrender our all to Jesus, we come to love God will all our heart and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

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What about Penal Substitutionary Atonement?

There will be decidedly different reactions to the main topic of this article. Some readers no doubt think that the Christian doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is of utmost importance. Others, however, think that such a doctrine is wrongheaded and should be opposed. So, which side is right?

Read this article here

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A True(tt) Baptist

[The following article, in a slightly edited and shortened version, appears in the June issue of Word&Way, the historic journal for Missouri Baptists. I enjoyed working on this article and appreciate Editor Brian Kaylor using in the Word&Way.]

Later this month the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention will be held in Phoenix, Arizona. Ninety years ago, in 1927, the annual meeting was held in Louisville, Kentucky. At that meeting, George Washington Truett, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, was elected president of the SBC.

Truett was one of the most outstanding Baptist pastors in SBC history. His life and legacy are well worth reviewing and honoring now, 150 years after his birth in May 1867, which was just 22 years after the birth of the SBC.


Most of you who read this journal know of Clay County, Missouri, where William Jewell College and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary are located. But George Truett was born in Clay County, North Carolina, near the town of Hayesville in the western tip of that state. If you look up Clay Co., N.C., on Wikipedia, you will find Truett’s name is the only one listed in the section titled “Notable People.”

George was the seventh of eight children born in a log cabin to Charles and Mary Truett, a farm couple. Although his parents were faithful Baptists, George did not make a profession of faith and receive baptism until 1886, when he was 19 years old. At that time he was already teaching in a one-room school. The following year, he traveled a few miles south into Georgia and established a new school, where he taught and served as principal until he moved with his parents to Texas in 1889.

Truett’s life journey in Texas was soon filled with momentous events. He was ordained to the ministry in 1890. The next year he was employed by Baylor University to help raise $92,000 to pay the school’s debt—an endeavor that was successful. Then in 1893 he entered Baylor as a student. In June of the following year, he married Josephine, who was his wife until his death 50 years later. Soon after his graduation in 1897 Truett was elected president of Baylor—but he turned down that position because of his commitment to the pastoral ministry. Later that year he was called to be pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas. He accepted that call and served in that position until his death on July 7, 1944.


George W. Truett was a masterful preacher and an exemplary Christian. Louie D. Newton, who was 25 years younger than Truett and an outstanding Baptist pastor in Georgia, wrote, “I say without hesitation that Dr. Truett was the most effective preacher I ever heard and the most inspiring Christian I ever knew.” With that combination of piety and talent, Truett led his church to become the largest Baptist church in the world in both membership and financial strength.

Truett’s ministry was centered in Dallas, of course, but it extended across the country and into much of the world. In 1920 the Southern Baptist Convention assembled in Washington, D.C. On Sunday afternoon, May 16, Truett stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and spoke to a crowd of around 15,000 people—with no PA system! In addition to the Baptists who had come to the convention, there were many government officials in that crowd. His address was titled “Baptists and Religious Liberty.” It became his most famous and most often-quoted talk.

As noted above, he was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1927 and held that position until 1929. Then five years later he was elected to a five-year term as president of the Baptist World Alliance and traveled to a number of the world’s countries during that time.

Because of his highly successful ministry, Truett left an outstanding legacy. Perhaps because of that Capitol sermon in 1920, he became so widely known in Baptist circles that when a baby boy born into Joseph and Lilla Cathy’s Georgia home in March of 1921, they named him Truett. Some of you may recognize his name: Truett Cathy became the founder of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain.

Back in the early 1960s, Truett Baker was pastor of my home church in Grant City, Mo., and I still have contact with him. Recently he wrote in an email that his father was a personal friend of the noted pastor of FBC, Dallas. So when Rev. W.D. Baker’s son was born in 1934, he chose to name him Truett. (On a personal note, it was of special interest to my parents when Truett Baker was called to be pastor in Grant City. In 1935 his father had performed their wedding ceremony in Patee Park Baptist Church in St. Joseph where he was a member while he served as Enlistment Evangelist for the Northwest Mission Group of Missouri Baptists from 1930 to ’36.)

George Truett’s legacy is seen many others ways other than people named for him. For example, there are Truett Memorial Baptist churches in Hayesville, Ga. (Truett’s hometown); Long Beach, Calif.; and Pearl, Miss. In 1950 the George W. Truett Memorial Hospital opened on the Baylor University campus. Then in 1994 Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary began classes. Prominent Missouri pastors who are graduates of Truett Seminary include Jason Edwards, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Liberty, and Carol McIntyre, pastor of First Baptist Church, Columbia


Robert Jeffress is the current pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, and he is a present day advocate of “religious liberty.” He sat at table in the White House with President Trump on May 3 and rejoiced when the executive order titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” was signed the next day. But for him and other conservative evangelicals, the religious freedom they want seems to be the freedom to use the pulpit for political purposes and for denouncing others, such as LGBT people.

George W. Truett’s emphasis on religious liberty in 1920 was markedly different from that now sought by Jeffress. As a Baptist rooted in the thought and actions of Roger Williams, John Leland, and other Baptist leaders of the past, Truett emphasized the separation of church and state, or “a free church in a free state,” as he articulated it.

Truett espoused religious liberty that meant freedom from government control and freedom to preach the good news of salvation in Christ. This is far different from wanting “free speech” and “religious freedom” to endorse political candidates and to run roughshod over the civil rights of other people.

Baptists today who espouse the historic Baptist tradition find inspiration from the life and ministry of George W. Truett, a true Baptist.

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What about the Benedict Option?

Have you heard of “the Benedict Option”? It has been emphasized for years by Rod Dreher, and his new book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, was just published on March 14. On that very day, David Brooks wrote in the New York Times that Dreher’s work was “already the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade.” Continue reading

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A Book Not Written

There is no date on any of the pages, but recently I ran across the outline for a book that at one point I had hoped to write. The tentative title was An Apology for Christian Mission in the Modern World: The Particularistic/Universalistic Paradox. 

The outline I drafted for the book appears below. Reading through it makes me sad that because of the pressure of other responsibilities I was not able to do any more on this book other than make the outline. It could have been a good book, I think. But perhaps my teaching and administrative activities made more of a contribution to individuals and the school system than a book with a fairly limited audience would have.


  1. Who Is Writing?
    • My vocational situation (missionary by call, choice, & commitment
    • My educational background (Christian philosophy / apologetics; dissertation on the meaning of paradox)
    • My social concern (Christian social ethics).
  2. Why Is This Written?
    • The problem
    • An attempt to justify my commitment and my career; many others as well; who we are & who support missionaries; an apology for missionaries.
    • How Will This Be Done?
    • A paradoxical understanding is a way to solve the problem
    • A contribution I can make: no conflict between being a missionary & working with others, dialogue, recognizing God’s universal love, tolerance, etc.
  3. How Would This Be Done?
    • Ch. 1 – The Problem
    • Chs. 2-5 – Positive & Negative Analyses
    • Chs. 6-7 – The Paradoxical Situation
    • Chs. 8-10 – Some ramifications

I. The Problem

  1. The Fact of Plurality
  2. The “Failure” of Christianity
  3. The Results
    • Condemnation of others, conflict, divisiveness
    • Rejection of evangelism, cross-cultural mission

II. The Truth of Particularism (Uniqueness)

  1. The Meaning of Particularism
  2. Jesus as the Special Revelation of God
  3. The Decisiveness of Christ (Braaten: Jesus Christ is “the concrete embodiment of universal meaning.”)

III. The Falsity of Particularism (Uniqueness)

  1. Ethnocentric/Religious Pride
  2. Intolerance (religious wars, racial & cultural prejudice/discrimination
  3. Exclusiveness (divisiveness)

IV. The Falsity of Universality

  1. The Meaning of Universality
  2. The Error of Relativism
  3. The Rejection of Special Revelation & the Decisiveness of Christ

V. The Truth of Universality

  1. The Creator God
  2. The Cosmic Christ

VI. The Category of Paradox

  1. The Meaning of Paradox
  2. The Promise of Paradox
  3. Beyond Either/Or Logicality

VII. The Particularism/Universalism Paradox

  1. Affirming the Truth of Both
  2. Rejecting the Errors of Both
  3. Maintaining the Balance

VIII. The Place of Dialogue

  1. The Meaning of Dialogue
  2. The Value of Dialogue
  3. The Limitations of Dialogue

IX. The Place of Ecumenicity

  1. Mutual Respect
  2. Mutual Sharing
  3. Mutual Action (Cooperation)

X. The Place of Witness

  1. Humility in Approach
  2. Boldness in Word & Deed
  3. Faithfulness to Christ
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Quotes from “The Shack”

{On March 5, I posted an article on my regular blogsite about “The Shack” (see here). I noted the following quotes when I read the book again just before seeing the movie by the same name which was released on March 3.}

William Paul Young, The Shack (2007), 250 pp. (This is the paperback by Windblown Media.)

Much of the book is a response to Missy’s question about “how come [God’s] so mean” (33).

Chapter 5 begins, “There are times when you choose to believe something that would normally be considered absolutely irrational. It doesn’t mean that it is actually irrational, but is surely is not rational. Perhaps there is suprarationality: reason beyond the normal definitions of fact or data-based logic; something that makes sense only if you can see a bigger picture of reality. Maybe that is where faith fits in” (69).

Mack meets Elousia (“Papa”), Jesus (Yeshua), and Sarayu (the Hindi word that means the same as ruach, the Hebrew word for wind/air/spirit/Spirit). Mack asks which one of them is God. “‘I am,’ said all three in unison” (89).

When Mack first talks with Elousia about Missy, she said, “I want to heal the wound that has grown inside you and between us.” And then, “Life takes a bit of time and a lot of relationship” (94). The importance of relationships is stressed a lot in this sixth chapter.

In some ways the book is quite Jesus-centered. Elousia tells Mack that “the truth shall set you free and the truth has a name; he’s over in the woodshop right now covered in sawdust. Everything is about him. And freedom is a process that happens inside a relationship with him” (97).

Elousia tells Mack, “I am far more . . . above and beyond all that you can ask or think” (100). A little later, “To begin with, that you can’t grasp the wonder of my nature is rather a good thing. Who wants to worship a God who can be fully comprehended, eh?” (103).

The Incarnation is presented on page 101: “When we three spoke ourselves into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations this entailed.” And then, “Jesus is fully human. Although he is also fully God he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human [p] being.”

Then Elousia talks about Sarayu: “She is creativity; she is action; she is the breathing of life; she is much more. She is my Spirit” (112).

In the eighth chapter, Elousia explains to Mack, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it” (122).

Elousia also talks about human freedom, and she says to Mack, “But your choices are also not stronger than my purposes, and I will use every choice you make for the ultimate good and the most loving outcome” (127).

Chapter 11 is a pivotal one, and a type of universalism is presented in it. Mack is brought before a “judge” [and I was not clear who she was or represented, but in the next chapter she is identified as Sophia, “the personification of Papa’s wisdom” (173)]. She says to Mack, “You believe [God] will condemn most to an eternity of torment, away from his presence and apart from his love. Is that not true?” (164). Mack agrees that it is—and then she goes on to emphasize how God loves all his children just like Mack loves each of his children. She says, “You have judged them [his children] to be worthy of love, even if it costs you everything. That is how Jesus loves” (165). Shortly after that she says, “Nothing is as it should be, as Papa desires it to be, and as it will be one day.”

There is a definite “other-worldly” emphasis. Near the end of the eleventh chapter, Mack gets to see Missy in the “afterlife,” although she cannot see him. The judge says to Mack, “This life is only the anteroom of a greater reality to come. No one reaches their potential in your world. It’s only preparation for what Papa had in mind all along” (169).

Jesus says to Mack, “I’m not too big on religion, and not very fond of politics or economics either. . . . What mental turmoil and anxiety does any human face that is not related to one of those three?” (181).

At the end of chapter twelve, Jesus says, “Remember, the [p] people who know me are the ones who are free to live and love without any agenda” (183-4). When Mack asks, “Is that what it means to be a Christian?” Jesus replies, “Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian” (184). Then in references to others, Jesus says, “I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my
Beloved” (184).

“Does that mean,” said Mack, “that all roads will lead to you?” – “Not at all.” Jesus smiled . . . . “Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you” (184).

In the next chapter Papa says to Mack, “Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes” (187).

Mack admits to Papa that he “always liked Jesus better than you. He seemed so gracious and you seemed so . . . “And then Papa breaks in, “Mean? Sad, isn’t it? He came to show people who I am and most folks believe the qualities he portrayed were unique to him. They still play us off like good cop/bad cop most of the time, especially the religious folk” (188).

A little later Papa states, “Faith does not grow in the house of certainty” (191).

Then as a part of the book’s theodicy, Papa explains to Mack, “All evil flows from independence, and independence is your choice. If I were to simply revoke all the choices of independence, the world as you know it would cease to exist and love would have no meaning. . . . If I take away the consequences of people’s choices, I destroy the possibility of love. Love that is forced is no love at all” (192).

At the end of the 13th chapter, Papa emphasizes that “through [Jesus’] death and resurrection, I am now fully reconciled to the world.” Then, in responding to Mack’s rejoinder, Papa says, “All I am telling you is that reconciliation is a two-way street, and I have done my part, totally, completely, finally. It is not the nature of love to force a relationship, but it is the nature of love to open the way” (194).

In the next chapter Sarayu says to Mack, “I have a great fondness for uncertainty. Rules cannot bring freedom; they have only the power to accuse” (205).

In the 16th chapter Papa explains to Mack, “I don’t do humiliation, or guilt, or condemnation. They don’t produce one speck of wholeness or righteousness, and that is why they were nailed into Jesus on the cross” (225).

When Mack talks about his wanting to get revenge on the man who killed Missy, Papa talks about redemption and says, “Forgiveness is not about forgetting, Mack. It is about letting go of another person’s throat” (226). She also explains, “Forgiveness does not establish relationship.” And she says that forgiveness is first of all for him, “to release you from something that will eat you alive, that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly” (227).

In talking more about forgiveness, Papa says that “forgiveness does not excuse anything” (228).

Later Papa says to Mack, “Don’t ever discount the wonder of your tears. They can be healing waters and a stream of joy. Sometimes they are the best words the heart can speak” (230).

Not long before leaving the shack, Sarayu says, “Mack, if anything matters then everything matters. Because you are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again” (237).


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“The Post-American”

After nearly five years in Japan, my family and I came back to the U.S. in 1971 for a year’s furlough from our missionary work there. During those years I had been a full-time faculty member at Seinan Gakuin University for five semesters. There was considerable student unrest on campus, much of it protest against the war in Vietnam.

Since we lived in southwest Missouri during our year back in the States, I saw little student unrest in the U.S. directly, but I saw and heard about that unrest on TV and radio. I also read about anti-war protests and other student activities in newspapers and magazines.

During that academic year of 1971-72, I somehow heard about a new movement that called themselves the People’s Christian Coalition. And early on I became a subscriber to their publication which they called The Post-American. The editor of the new 16-page tabloid-style quarterly periodical was Jim Wallis, who was a 23-year-old student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School at the time.

A few years later I purchased a bound copy of the first twelve issues of The Post-American, and it was very nostalgic for me this evening to run across it and to look through it again. Here is a picture of the first page of the first issue.


Last month I posted an article on this blogsite (see here) about how I was influenced by the book The New Left and Christian Radicalism by Art Gish. I was likewise influenced by The Post-American–and there is an advertisement for Gish’s book in the second issue, so that is probably how I learned about it.

When the first issue of the second volume of the publication was published in Jan. 1973, there were 18 people listed as contributing editors. Gish, who had an article in three of the first four issues, was one of them. You may have heard of some of the other 17, people such as Sen. Mark Hatfield, Richard Mouw, Clark Pinnock, William Stringfellow, and John Howard Yoder.

Later, Wallis and some of his People’s Christian Coalition friends moved from the suburbs of Chicago to Washington, D.C. They changed the name of their community and the publication to Sojourners. And now over 45 years later, Jim Wallis is still Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, which continues to have influence across the nation and the world.

I remain grateful for The Post-American/Sojourners. From  its beginning to the present my understanding of the meaning of Christian discipleship has been and continues to be very favorably impacted by its ongoing emphasis on faith in action for social justice. 

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