Monday, September 26, 2011

Book of Note: The History of Christian Thought

Over the last few weeks I've been lecturing on key thinkers throughout the history of Christianity in my Introduction to Theology course. It is a real whirlwind tour from the earliest days of the Church to the Second World War. My course is primarily on Contemporary (post-WWII) theologies so this quick survey allows the students to see how we get so many approaches to Christian theology. It is the ground out of which all contemporary theology has grown - both in appreciation of and reaction to what has already been done. To my delight a colleague at the school mentioned a book that had been used in a previous iteration of this course (this is my first time teaching it): Jonathan Hill's The History of Christian Thought. Jonathan covers quite a bit more ground than I am able to in a few lectures - but his focus is the same. He briefly, but substantially, documents key thinkers and events throughout the history of the Christian Church. Beginning with the influence of Greek philosophy and the work of Justin Martyr (where I started as well) he weaves a historical trail all the way to Postmodernity and important theological voices like Moltmann, Pannenberg and Rahner. While he is a bit light on the North American context there is a small section on Pentecostalism. He even includes a small glossary at the end of this 340 page book!

I heard about the book a few days before my own class was about to leave the Scholastic period and run headfirst into the Reformation. I sat down that night with the book starting from Luther (a bit less than half way) and just ate it up. I was done early the next morning (and yes I did sleep a full 7 hours!). Hill's style is not to get tied down in the technical and to balance the thought he is tracking with details about the lives of the individuals he highlights. I wish I had known of this book before, it would have made for an excellent textbook choice for my students! I think this book is a must for any church library or anyone just wanting to understand the twists and turns that Christian theology has taken as it tries to understand faith in an ever changing culture.

Do yourself a favour and let Hill guide you through the History of Christian Thought.

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard

Monday, September 19, 2011

Following Christ as the Heart of Theology

I've been teaching an Introduction to Theology course at Saint Paul University. I have almost forty students joining me on a journey through the history of Christian thought. It is amazing when you look at all the shifts and turns, conflicts and breakthroughs that mark the 2000+ years of Christianity. One thing is consistent throughout - other than the constancy of God's love that is - that is that God's people are able to find a relevant and profound voice of Christian faith in every shift of culture. It is not done through naive constancy, assuming Christianity never changes (only God has guaranteed to never change). Nor is it best found in our ever multiplying convictions to have found THE authentic (in our age this often means we believe it is historically authentic) expression of Christianity. It happens often in spite of our needless justifications. It happens because at the heart of every expression of Christianity is a desire to be faithful followers of Christ.

When we follow Christ we gain the courage (which I believe comes to us through the Holy Spirit) to seek understanding of what our faith means to our world today.

This is no small thing. It is how we partner with God in the project of declaring Good News to all of creation. It also should hearten us that God is never surprised by the changes in culture, nor is God ever afraid. Rather God finds amazing ways to accomplish God's redemptive purposes throughout all the earth - and God invites us to share in this work. When we follow Christ we participate with God in all that God is up to in the earth today. How exciting is that!

My hope for my class is that I will be able to convey some of the excitement I feel for deliberate theology. My hope for you all is that you will take the task of theology to heart and commit yourself to doing theology well - wherever God has placed you to be Good News. With courage, follow Christ into culture my friends, and be prepared to marvel at all God wants to do.

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughtworks Assignments

With every Thoughtworks course we have provided an assignment. These assignments are meant to help you anchor the ideas you have learned through each course. Some are very practical, getting you to act on what you have learned. All include a short written piece. I wanted to say a few words about the written assignments.

First these assignments are meant to be the starting point of conversations between you and a mentor. It could be your pastor or another local Thoughtworks representative. Their role is not to correct or critique, but to foster a continuation of the faith seeking understanding mandate of our program. Often when we are reading these assignments we can see the questions that the student has made and maybe get a sense of ones they haven't. Your mentor can encourage you both in what you have explored and in what you can explore next. Learning to think theologically is not about settling the answers for a set of problems, but of exploring the gift of faith that has the potential to throw mountains into the sea! Which I think is meant for us to not limit faith, or stop trying to understand how our faith can lead us into deeper understandings of all God wants to do in our world.

Second is that these assignments are not meant to be academic papers. No one is going to assign you a letter grade or criticize your writing ability. It is meant to help you articulate what it is you were engaging with during the course or readings. It is really just a starting point to continue the journey of growth that these courses open up to each of us. Our passion at Thoughtworks is to make equipping resources that will be both accessible and practical for everyone in our congregations.

I hope that you will give one of our programs a try.

Frank Emanuel, Ontario Thoughtworks Representative, Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Community - It's a Value

Recently my wife and I have been chatting about community. Specifically what it is we are wanting from the communities we participate in. This summer our church, Freedom Vineyard, decided not run any small groups - a tough decision but it has been really worthwhile having a break and a chance to reflect on the last ten years. During those years there are things we've done well and things we've not done well. Important stuff to reflect on, hard as it was to step back in order to do that. One of the ideas I keep coming back to is that of community. Community to me is a place where it is not just one or two people doing everything, but a group of people who together shape and enact what it means to them to be the Church. Sure I love the worship aspect, and even teaching on a regular basis - but without a strong community those things can too easily become a burden to the few. I'm convinced that running church like that is not sustainable in the long run, the burnout I was feeling at the start of the summer was testimony to this being true.

I'm about to invite folks to gather and pray about what God might want to do with Freedom Vineyard this fall. While I am confident that God has no end of great plans for each of us individually - I am open to the idea that this might not be enough to run another small group just yet. Actually in the past many of our groups literally formed themselves as people gained a vision for what God was inviting them into as a community. We've had some really amazing groups over the years and I am sure we will have more in the future. But most of all I want to participate in communities that are gathered around God's purposes, especially in participating in God's redemptive work of grace throughout the world. That's the stuff that gets me excited!

Part of what sparked the conversation was meeting up with a couple who had been part of one of our early Freedom Vineyard communities. A really great couple who had moved over from England after being part of the Vineyard there. This weekend I could sense in them the same longing for community that I saw in myself. It renews in me a sense of what is possible from the Church, that is fostering communities with Kingdom purpose. It also restores in me a determination to not settle for less than community that follows God's invitation to Kingdom works. When I call for our people to gather and pray I will ask them what is God calling them listening for the common threads that might knit together another community and small group.

My prayer at this time is for God, in God's time, to draw the right people together to create community in which me and my family can thrive. A community that will allow us to become all that God wants us to be. After all that is the mission that has been at the heart of Freedom Vineyard since the beginning - helping you become all you can be in Christ.

What kind of community are you longing for?

* The images are from Freedom Vineyard gatherings. The first is a conference we put on back in 2004. The second is from a wedding for a couple who have been long time members of Freedom. Many of the face have changed over the years, when I reflect back there are so many amazing people we've had the privilege of walking with. My hope is that there will continue to be many more.