An Apology for Ecumenism: Pax Nashotah

St. Mary's Chapel

Inside St. Mary’s Chapel

Ecumenism between the Anglican Church of North America and The Episcopal Church, when rancor abounds.

A firestorm has surrounded my beloved Nashotah House about the invitation of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori. You may ask, so what? What does this invite have to do with apologetics or ecumenism…

Well, Bishop Schori is actively suing members of Nashotah’s Board of trustees, and several faculty lost their priest credentials in the Episcopal Church. She holds some questionable, if not outright heretical theology. So WHY invite her?

The idea was the brainchild of a few students, particularly Deacon Terry Starr, who was told by Schori not to go to Nashotah, because Nashotah taught hate. The invitation was issued to prove her wrong and model Christ’s love. At its heart it is ecumenism at its finest.

Yet the firestorm, and blowback arose because the internet began circulating that she was going to preach, and even celebrate Communion. That is FALSE!

To quote an article from VirtueOnline:

“The thought of her preaching at Nashotah is beyond reasonable, like inviting the fox into the hen house. Hence, two bishops have publically vocalized their disdain and have used their feet to distance themselves from the Wisconsin seminary. As the story continued to unfold, it was learned that in actuality the XXVI Presiding Bishop was not being invited to preach at The House because of her questionable theological stances, her lack luster preaching ability, or her embracing the hot button issues which have divided the church. Instead, after discernment with the Board of Trustees, the three inquiring students and select faculty members with soul searching prayer, Bishop Salmon determined that the prominent Wisconsin seminary could reach out to Katharine Jefferts Schori with the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ being presented in a graceful, non-judgmental loving manner thus graphically showing that her misconceptions and negative opinions about Nashotah House are unfounded. ”

To prove her misconceptions wrong…sounds like apologetics and ecumenism at its finest to me. Sadly, in the firestorm and upheaval, we lost our brother, Deacon Terry Star. He died of a heart attack. To read more about Deacon Starr go here.

I can only say what I believe. Spiritual warfare was ongoing. Ecumenism and apologetics are of God. When we cut off dialogue, we prevent healing.

For this reason I pray…

As I sit, in silent contemplation,

I pray to thee, heal thy nation.

Like branches, grafted on the tree are we.

Yet, trembling and bending, some are breaking free.

Help us now, before we dost prune,

to see thee in them, erst callously we not commune.

Thou art God, and thee alone,

Jesus for all, our cornerstone.

In fertile soil the tree is planted.

Aid our arguments, so that thou art not supplanted.

Faith, Hope and Love, I know these to be true.

For love of Christ, I will dialogue with you.

What do hot coffee lawsuits have to do with apologetics?

What does a “frivolous” lawsuit have to do with apologetics? As it turns out, a lot!

Stella Liebeck spilled 8 ounces of McDonald’s coffee on herself and awarded $2.9 million from a lawsuit. If you’re like me you remember this case well. It was on every talk show and news station, and even Seinfeld and Toby Keith made a joke about it…What a ridiculous, frivolous lawsuit…or was it?

I came across this video from Upworthy, that tells the other side of the case. The side no one heard was that this woman needed skin grafts to cover over burns from super-heated coffee. In the video, John Llewellyn, a Professor of Communication at Wake Forest University had this to say:

“Vey much like urban legends, It is a very compelling story, once everybody decides what is true about something, and the media has been sort of an echo chamber for it, then how do you deal with the fact that they might be wrong.”

This got me thinking about another thing people and the media get wrong: the idea that God is obsolete and Science can explain everything. If you’re like me you’ve heard this repeated, A LOT! But is it really true?

Science has made God obsolete and irrational…

Alister McGrath sets out to challenge this view in his book, Intellectuals Don’t Need God and Other Modern Myths. He states that the view of God as obsolete has itself become obsolete. It is a myth founded in rationalism, the idea that you can know everything by reason alone. Yet in our modern and very scientific day we still can’t prove the sun will rise tomorrow, we take it on faith, based on history.

Is faith in God, based on the history of the life of Jesus Christ really any different? The intellectual and media would say, Yes! Faith is irrational! But what if they’ve got it wrong? Just like we were all wrong about poor Stella Liebeck.

So in John Llewellyn’s words, “how do you deal with the fact that they might be wrong?” And the answer is…apologetics. Apologetics does not create faith. “The aim of apologetics is to create an intellectual and imaginative climate favorable to faith; it does not itself create that faith.”[1]

[1] McGrath, Alister E. (2010-12-21). Intellectuals Don’t Need God and Other Modern Myths: Building Bridges to Faith Through Apologetics (Kindle Locations 782-783). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.


Sensus divinitatis and Reformed Epistemology

The sensus divinitatis means we all have an innate sense of God, and this sense leads us to seek God. Does this mean if we don’t hear the gospel we were ignoring our sensus divinitatis? In other words, is someone who has never heard the gospel news damned? Wow, what a loaded question…

As I continued my reading of Colin Brown’sbook, Philosophy and the Christian Faith Philosophy and the Christian Faith: A Historical Sketch from the Middle Ages to the Present DayColin Brown; InterVarsity Press 1980WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder I have to make a break with him.  Last week, I said here, that Brown made a persuasive case for the presuppositionalist approach to apologetics. He does do that, but in his final chapters an conclusion he goes beyond presuppositional apologetics to a Reformed Epistemology approach.

What is the difference between presupposition and reformed epistemology?

A presuppositionalist begins with the assumption of God’s existence and argues from that perspective to show the validity of Christian theism. The reformed epistemology approach is quite similar, but includes something called the sensus divinitatis, or an innate sense of the divine.

Steven B. Cowan gives an excellent overview of the 5 most common apologetic approaches in the the book, Five Views on Apologetics.  According to Cowan’s typology, the reformed epistemology method states that it is reasonable for a person to believe in things without objective evidence.[i] This does not mean that positive arguments for belief in God are not useful; they just are not necessary.[ii] Rational arguments are not necessary because, according to Calvin, all human beings are born with an innate sense of the divine.[iii] Thus the proper focus of reformed apologetic is defensive, countering challenges to theistic belief.[iv]

This sounded like an ok perspective to me until I read Brown’s amplification of it. According to Brown all people have a sensus divinitatis, or an “awareness of God regardless of whether they have heard the gospel and regardless of whether they respond or not.”[v] This awareness is the point of contact for believers to share the Christian message, and is what “clinches man’s guilt in his persistent turning away from God.”[vi]


I have two problems with Brown’s assertions. 1: A person’s innate sense of the divine can be distorted both by their own sin, or by another’s sin. For example, during the years I was abused I lost faith in a God that claimed to love me, but didn’t protect me. Was this my own fault? Would I, if I had died during this time have been damned?

The 2nd problem is that the reformed epistemology approach limits apologetics to a purely defensive discipline.  According to Colin and others, the effects of sin are so strong  that we cannot possibly build common ground with a non-believer. Our presuppositions are opposed.

I will grant that most people do not come to faith by a reasoned and well thought out logical argument, but some do. My Christian Philosophy professor did. My own mother did as well after years of struggle with the  tension she imagined between a scientific and a Christian worldview.

So what do you think of the sensus divinitatis? This week I have only been exposed to Brown’s ideas about Calvin’s idea of sensus divinitatis. Next week, we will go straight to the source, Calvin himself, and see what he had to say.

[i] Cowan, Five Views on Apologetics, 20.

[ii] Ibid., 20.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Brown, 272.

[vi] Ibid., 273.

The Case for Presuppositionalism

Is presuppositionalism circular? Can you assume that Christianity is right? Can you argue the truth of the Bible from the Bible?  Is an apologist obligated to use the two step approach?

If you’re new to the realm of apologetics it is important to realize there are a variety of approaches. The approach I have favored is the two-step approach. The two step approach first establishes God’s existence. The moves to establish the truth and rationality of Christianity. My reason for favoring the two step approach over presuppositionalism  is simple. It is the approach that helped bring my skeptical family to faith.

Recently, however, I have been converted more towards presuppositionalism. A presuppositionalist begins with the assumption of God’s existence and argues from that perspective to show the validity of Christian theism.

This change was prompted in part by been reading Colin Brown’s, Philosophy & The Christian Faith. 

Philosophy and the Christian Faith Philosophy and the Christian Faith: A Historical Sketch from the Middle Ages to the Present DayColin Brown; InterVarsity Press 1980WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

Brown is not intentionally creating a presuppositionalist apologetic. Instead he sums up the traditional arguments for God throughout history. He then points out they all have flaws and are all capable of being refuted. A philosopher refuting an argument, however, does not refute the faith. The Christian faith does not depend on arguments for proof.[1] Modern skepticism tells us we must understand something in order to believe it. The problem with evidence is we are always going to want more time, or more compelling evidence to make up our minds. The evidence some find convincing will leave others totally unconvinced.

Brown sides firmly with presuppositionalism quoting  Anselm, who stated, “I believe so I may understand.”[2]

Brown offers us this logic for presuppositionalism, “Does it not make better sense of the world- and of our thought about it and our behavior in it- if we presuppose the biblical view of God as its author and sustainer?”[3]

If we accept Browns view that we should presuppose the truth of Christianity, the purpose of apologetic philosophy then is the explanation of the grounds for and the nature of the Christian faith, and that the investigation of these grounds strengthens and enriches the committed Christian’s faith.[4]

Brown, finally, offers an important critique of the two-step approach, If we first wait to establish objectively that God exists, will we ever get to the second step of presenting the truth and validity of Christianity?

For more information on  about what pressupositionalism is check out
Christianity Today also has an excellent post that looks at the common objections to presupposing the existence of God in apologetics. You can find it here.
For another look about  why I think apologetics matter check out Apologetics in an Unapologetic World.

[1] Brown, 29.

[2] Anselm, Proslogion, i.

[3]  Brown, 30.

[4] Ibid., 29.

[5] Ibid., 47.

[6] Ibid., 48.

Us vs. Them or Us. FOR Them?

I had the wonderful opportunity to preach at my home Church, Church of the Messiah this past Sunday. If you would like to hear my sermon you can check it out by following the link below…The sermon reflects on the purpose of confession and absolution in the Sunday Service in light of sin in the world.

Us vs Them?

The lessons were Gen 2:15-17, 3:1-7 * Ps 32 * Rom 5:12-19 * Mt 4:1-11


Are Convicted Sex Offenders the modern leper?

Warning: This post may trigger traumatic memories and contains details about my familial experience with sexual violence, verbal abuse

This audacious suggestion that sex offenders are the modern leper is how a presentation in my class, mentored ministry:outside parish walls began. At first I listened in stoic silence as a UMC Pastor explained her ministry context and how she began working with sex offenders. The presentation ultimately asked us to answer, “Can Jesus truly change and heal hearts and minds?”
Of course he can…but…As a convicted sex offender stood up and told his story tears began streaming down my face…you see I’m a victim. Not in the classic sense. I wasn’t abused, but a member of my family was.

This family member was my dearest friend, confidante, and partner in crime until I turned age 7. She had just turned 12 and her life was going all kinds of crazy. She was molested at her daycare as a toddler. Now as she began to develop sexually she began acting out. This acting out put her at greater risk of further abuse. At age 13 she was raped, although I wouldn’t find out until much later.

I then became her victim of choice. Everyday my former best friend called me fat, ugly, worthless. She caught me experimenting with my body once and making out with a pillow. She told me I was going to hell. She threatened to kill herself once in front of me, and when I stopped her she threatened to kill me instead. Occasionally the abuse turned physical when I attempted to call parents or authorities she would wrestle and bite me to make me drop the phone. Once she chased me around the house with a knife.Periodically she would go away for awhile to “get better.” But really she just got better at hiding it.

The abuse continued until at 14 I tried to kill myself. I was hospitalized, and suddenly my parents began taking me seriously. Somehow they’d turned a blind eye to what had been going on. Many, many years of therapy later (both hers and  mine) I can say I’m ok, and I’ve forgiven my victimizer and am back on good terms with her. She is some of the only family I have left. But until, Friday I’d never thought of her victimizers, and it certainly hadn’t occurred to me to forgive them…

I sat there listening to this man talk about growing up in the church and having no one to talk to about sex or sexual thoughts, and eventually losing a wife and 2 children because of his public exhibitionism and being forever labeled as a sex offender. He brought up several valid points…

  1. Jesus can save and change lives
  2. the sex offender label is so broad it lumps in urination in public, being 18 and having sex with a 15 year old (in some states), and being a child molestor and murderer.
  3. These people are forever stigmatized even though they are not out patrolling the park in a trenchcoat looking to kidnap your children.

BUT and here’s my problem with the leper analogy.

Leprosy was a physical ailment that was greatly feared would spread and infect the community. Lepers could only rejoin the community after presenting themselves to the priest and being certified as clean.

Sexual offenders have a mental disease or defective coping cycle that results in them acting out in ways that harm the community and (as in my case) spiral out into cycles of abuse.

Can Jesus heal this? Absolutely! BUT, we don’t see a physical manifestation that complete healing has been achieved. We as priests, and pastors are responsible for the safety of those under our care. An alcoholic can be clean and sober for 40 years and then suddenly fall into a bender. Who is to say that a “healed” sex offender won’t also relapse at the sight of someone that looks exactly like one of their victims or under times of great stress.

As I sat in the classroom, traumatized by this flood of memory and emotion, my classmate thanked the man for coming and dug this verbal knife into my side “I was molested by a man at a young age, but I’ve been fully healed by Christ.”

I wanted to punch him! To me his statement seemed to belittle my pain into not being fully healed, and not having a full faith in Christ. You can have forgiveness and healing and still have scars that are painful to the touch.

Any headway the man had made with me in his presentation disappeared as he talked about how resistant some people were to having sex offenders at church. It seems their most vocal opponent was victimized when she was young, and some people take it harder than others. So WAIT WHAT?!?!?! It’s the victims fault if they let it continue to affect their life?

Ultimately yes, the sex offender is the modern day leper, and I believe they deserve to stay that way. The labeling may need to change so that public urination doesn’t get the same label as a molester, but the label is there for the community’s safety. Just like the lepers of old that Jesus healed, some may have faith make them well, but in the absence of clear testable evidence that they will never offend again I believe we are justified in our excluding them from the regular worshiping communities.

Jesus told the parable of a shepherd leaving his flock of 99 sheep to go after the 1 lost sheep. I’m not advocating we leave sex offenders as lost sheep. I’m saying that they, like a leper need to stay in quarantine. Christian communities of sex offenders do exist. The man spoke of one called Miracle Village that houses over 120. Yet they are also integrating into this UMC pastors church with a buddy system pairing of offender with non-offender for safety and no Sunday School or youth ministry contact. But are these safeguards enough? I would say no. The cycle of abuse is too devastating. Jesus told us to not prevent the little children from coming to him. The abuse of and in my family prevented us from truly coming to Christ for a long time.



Can you find the gospel?

Perhaps it is my many years working for Disney, but I cannot stand bad show. Bad Show at Disney is any element that is out of place that detracts from the whole experience. At Disney, Bad Show was rigidly prevented and disciplined with extensive handbooks on employee and park appearance, as well as guidelines on the closing of attractions based on whether certain key Show elements were functioning…So how does this relate to the Episcopal Church?

Is worship a show? yes and no. Hear me out… Last Sunday, I was serving at the altar, and one of my roles, in the absence of a deacon, was to carry the gospel book for the gospel processional and recessional. I was a little nervous because I had never done this at St. Benedict’s before, but I had done it at other churches. And so I felt reasonably confident I could do this.

At the proper time during the gospel anthem, I went and retrieved the golden gospel book. I bowed with it facing the altar, and then turned and with the priest in my wake held the book aloft as we processed with crucifer and torchbearers preceding me into the congregation. The theological reasoning here is that the gospel is proclaimed among and for the people.

As I turned and opened the book the torch bearers gathered in close. This is so that the priest can see to read the book, and is a leftover from the days of dim chapels without electric light, but also symbolizes Christ the light of the world.

The priest read the gospel. I closed the book and began the solemn recessional back up to the altar with the book held aloft, when suddenly I felt a tugging at my sleeve. This tugging causes me to fumble a bit as he pulls me and instructs me to step off to the side so that the cross, then the torches and then FINALLY little old me with the gospel book is allowed to go.

My initial reaction is “what?!?” this is horrible show. How tacky to have the gospel stand to the side while we re-line up the parade in the order “we prefer”.  I spoke to the master of ceremonies (yes our church has a master of ceremonies to corral the acolytes), and he explained this is just the way we do it at St. Benedicts. My question here is “Why?”

Aside from it not flowing smoothly when you have to rearrange elements in full view of the congregation, what is it saying about our theology. What we do visually indicates what we hold most important. Is the cross always the most important element? I would say “No.” Look back to the featured image at the top of this post. This is a gospel processional…Can you find the gospel? Go on and look, I’ll wait….Did you find it yet? Tip: look 3 people back from the front.

At the processional and recessional of the gospel the focus is on the teachings of Christ. They should be the “star of the show.”

Howard E. Galley, in his bookThe ceremonies of the Eucharist The ceremonies of the Eucharist: a guide to celebrationHoward Galley; Cowley Publications 1989WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

thinks the presence of the cross isn’t appropriate at all in the gospel procession.

“The two lights carried at the gospel are both a token of joy and a symbol of Christ, the light of the world (John 8:12). The use of incense is also appropriate. The use of a processional cross at this point is not desirable. The original purpose of the lights was to accompany the gospel book, a purpose that is obscured when a cross is carried, since they appear to be accompanying it instead. A cross, moreover, tends to call attention away from the book.”

So thinking theologically…

  1. Is show, or the way we do things important theologically?
  2. If we believe, as I do, that show is important how do we handle it when things go wrong. Do we correct in the midst of the worship service? or Do we wait until later? I tend to lean towards the latter. Correcting (like pulling on the sleeve of a person) during the service only compounds the issue of things not going according to plan.
  3. Finally, what do we do when we disagree, theologically, with how worship is run?


The trend of Young Anglicans

I read a great article about a trend towards younger clergy in the Anglican church in England. From my own experience in the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Florida I can definitely say this holds true here as well as across the pond.

The biggest factor in this trend that I can see is moving away from the idea that clergy is a second career calling.

Check out the original article…


Funerals in Gangland and the Role of the Gospel

In my various experiences in the Episcopal Church I’ve been to a lot of funerals. Up until now the experience has always been only slightly uncomfortable. The Congregation has always played the part: Dressed usually in black, or occasionally brightly colorful as befitting the celebration of an older member’s passing. Intellectually though, I knew the funeral this past Saturday was going to be different.

As part of my mentored ministry, I am currently engaged in a cross-cultural setting, and I was asked to help out at the funeral of a 17 year old young man that was killed in a drive by shooting. He was a baptized and attending member of the congregation, and I envisioned him as an innocent bystander. There was no real official information about his death to respect both the ongoing investigation

Rosa Parks Funeral, source:

and the family’s privacy. Nevertheless, I expected the funeral would be a lot like the ones I’d experience in the past, only this time with an all Black congregation.

Visually I was expecting the funeral to look a lot like this, and initially it did. I arrived early to help set up, and offer my condolences to the grandmother who was the matriarch of the family. Her side of the family was all turned out in suit and tie, or their Sunday best dresses. She then warned me that the boy’s mother’s side would probably arrive late, and there would be a lot of them. To my surprise, a few young people began to show up dressed more for the club than church.

My surprise grew as a few turned into at least 60 of the young man’s friends and acquaintances. The thing I found truly shocking was they were all wearing a screen printed shirt in addition to their bling, sagged pants, or revealing attire. The shirt had a caricature on the front depicting a dread-locked man with a side cocked hat, gold grill and the caption

Soulja Boy and Mr. Thug in 2013.
Image Source:

“RIP Bobo.” I found out Bobo was the young man’s street name.

My first thought was, “Oh my God,  How can they glorify the life that got him killed like that?” “How disrespectful to the family?”

As the small church was packed to overflowing, folding chairs were added to all the aisles, and a pew that normally sat 4 or 5 was wedged in with 7. Even still the crowd spread to standing room only in the back with a few of the “young thugs” not even coming into the church.

Despite this unexpected audience, the funeral began like all in the Episcopal Church do…The cross processed, a few hymns were sung, and the Bible lessons, including the ubiquitous Psalm 23. Then the young man’s Uncle stood up to deliver the eulogy.

Here the real curveball began. The deliverer of the eulogy was a Baptist Minister by trade. He began by apologizing to the family, because he was going to step on some toes, and then proceeded to throw out his prepared statement and address the young crowd and give them a “come to Jesus” talk, and tell them that death was coming for them. It’s coming for us all, and if they weren’t prepared they were going to hell.  At first my reflection was positive, these people may never come to a church again, so they need to hear the gospel.

The Pastor began to talk about when you find Jesus, you can still go out, you can still have fun, and you can still get high only its high on the Holy Spirit. I heard a lot of “amens” from the congregation.  As he continued preaching, I became more and more uncomfortable. The sermon had become and “us” vs. “them” all about how they needed to change their lives and get what we had, or end up dead like their friend there. Not only that but it seemed to trample on the needs of the family.

The grandmother had partially raised this boy. He was baptized as an infant, raised in the church, and had been to church the Sunday before he died. This woman was in agony, wondering whether her grandson was in heaven, and here the pastor began using his life as a case study. I don’t know the full circumstances of this young man’s life, but I do know this. Even after I became a Christian it was a long time before I stopped doing stupid stuff.

Reflecting Theologically, Is Evangelism ever appropriate at a funeral?

  1. It’s an emotionally charged situation. These people are not coming there to be converted.
  2. It’s patronizing. People need to reach rock bottom, and want to receive help and want to change. The church becomes yet another nagging voice.
  3. We need to preach the gospel that God is love, merciful. This 17 year old’s death was not just a part of God’s plan to provide the opportunity to witness to his unsaved friends.
  4. We are saved by faith not works. Hammering away at people to “come to Jesus” and “turn their lives around” misses the point that none of us are righteous by our own merit.

Given these factors should we never evangelize at a funeral…Despite the potential for it to go wrong, I say No. A funeral is an opportunity to share the very heart of the gospel of God’s love, and to show that love to others. It’s an opportunity to invite people to reflect on life, and how short it is.  The role of the gospel here is consolation for the family, despite any setbacks or relapses into sin this young man was washed clean in the blood of the lamb, and we trust that he has eternal life.



Broken Ministers

What a beautiful thing to sit in a mentored ministry class…The room is full of broken people. Recovering porn addicts, recovering drug addicts, survivors of abuse, 2 former correctional officers, a psychologist, and me…Me in the midst of my struggles with depression, body image and past mistakes.

Yet here we all are teaching each other about how to minister to those traditionally looked on as “outside the church”. Ministering in brokenness…Jesus was the only perfect child of God, because we can’t be.

How do we bring the outsider in? By recognizing that their brokenness may be different, but no worse or better than mine. We need to stop expecting people to “act Christian” before they even come into Church.