Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Ash Sunday"

In response to a request for a "linkable" version of a brief meditation I posted on Facebook this morning, here it is on Ecclesial Theology:

Advent has been called the "winter Lent." That makes today something like "Ash Sunday," for it begins a penitential rather than festive season--not yet "the most wonderful time of the year," though it should lead to wonderful things. Advent is a season of soul-searching, of serious reckoning with our failures, personally and corporately, to participate in God's ever-present Advent toward the world. Let us prepare the way of the Lord--which is to say, let us remove the impediments to our participation in this way.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Curtis Freeman to speak at Gardner-Webb University Oct. 26

Dr. Curtis Freeman, Research Professor of Theology and Baptist Studies and Director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke University Divinity School, will present a lecture titled "Undomesticated Dissent" on Monday, October 26, at 7:00 P.M. as part of the Joyce Compton Brown Lecture Series sponsored by the Life of the Scholar program at Gardner-Webb University. The lecture will be held in Faith Hall in Tucker Student Center on the Gardner-Webb University campus in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. A reception with light refreshments will follow.

Dr. Freeman is the author of Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Baylor University Press, 2014) and editor of A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth-Century England (Baylor University Press, 2011), Baptist Roots: A Reader in the Theology of a Christian People (Judson Press, 1999), and Ties That Bind: Life Together in the Baptist Vision (Smyth & Helwys, 1994). (Copies of Contesting Catholicity will be available for purchase and signing after the lecture.) Dr. Freeman is currently co-chair of the commission to the international ecumenical dialogue between the Baptist World Alliance and the World Methodist Council and has also served on the commissions to the international ecumenical dialogues the Baptist World Alliance has held with the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church.

The point of departure for Dr. Freeman's lecture "Undomesticated Dissent" is Bunhill Fields cemetery in London, where there are stone memorials to John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and William Blake. The lecture focuses on three narratives of dissent: Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and Blake’s Jerusalem. According to Freeman, "By telling the story of dissent in this way, it will become clear that the voices of dissent are always subject to the forces of domestication, by becoming 'hand-tamed' to the powers that be. At times the radical spirit slumbers away in uncomfortable dreams while the nations rage or becomes gentled to the touch and taste of polite culture, only to rise again unexpectedly in all its undomesticated fervor. Perhaps by remembering these stories of those memorialized in stone, the slumbering saints may be awakened and the voices of undomesticated dissent may arise yet again."

Dr. Freeman will also serve as guest preacher for the Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity chapel service earlier that day (Monday, October 26) at 1:00 P.M. in Dover Chapel on the Gardner-Webb University campus. His message, titled "Beastly Powers," will be based on Revelation 13:1-18. The public is invited to attend both the School of Divinity chapel service and the Joyce Compton Brown lecture (free of charge, no reservations required).

Auxiliary aids will be made available to persons with disabilities upon request 48 hours prior to the event. Please call 704.406.4264 or email with your request.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Judson University Founders' Day address

This Friday (October 16, 2015) I will deliver the Founders' Day Convocation Address at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois. I'll speak on the theme "Judson, Baptists, the Whole Church, and God's Mission." Information about the day's events is posted on the Judson web site in the linked articles below:

Judson University to Celebrate History and Heritage During Founders’ Day 2015

Founders' Day 2015 Featuring Dr. Steven R. Harmon

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope invokes MLK, a Baptist, as a Christian life to emulate (Baptist News Global)

Today Baptist News Global published the article "Pope invokes MLK, a Baptist, as a Christian life to emulate," which includes quotes with some of my reflections on Pope Francis' address to Congress yesterday (follow hyperlinked title to read the story at Baptist News Global)::

Pope invokes MLK, a Baptist, as a Christian life to emulate

Related post:

Baptists excited and hopeful about papal visit (Baptist News Global)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Baptists excited and hopeful about papal visit (Baptist News Global)

Last week I granted a telephone interview to Jeff Brumley of the Baptist News Global staff regarding Baptist perspectives on this week's papal visit to the United States. Some quotations from that interview appear in this story released today (follow hyperlinked title to read the story at Baptist News Global):

Baptists excited and hopeful about papal visit

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A benediction

As you go to worship, to study, and to serve, take with you these words of benediction:

May the maker of heaven and earth fulfill God’s creative purposes in you and through you;

May the Christ who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven extend God’s presence in the flesh in you and through you;

May the Spirit who gives us life breathe new life in you and through you;

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

---Steven R. Harmon, benediction for the School of Divinity Convocation Luncheon, Gardner-Webb University, Boiling Springs, North Carolina, September 7, 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Common story, community, and Christian higher education

(The following are my prepared remarks delivered as a devotion for the President's Prayer Breakfast at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina on September 2, 2015.)

The one unalterable date on our family’s summer calendar is the third week in July. That’s when Duraleigh Presbyterian Church in Raleigh hosts Camp Moo Gung Hwa each year. Named for the national flower of South Korea, Camp Moo Gung Hwa is a Korean Culture Camp for Korean adoptees and their families. It’s become one of the most important things our son Timothy, my wife Kheresa, and I do together for our family life.

When we first arrived at Camp Moo Gung Hwa three years ago, we didn’t know anyone. But that first day as our children played with kids who looked like themselves and who had parents who looked like their parents, and as we parents began talking with each other, we had the most profound experience of instant community we’ve ever known.

We lived in different parts of the country. We had different levels of education, widely varying professional lives, diverse religious commitments, and for all we knew divergent political inclinations. But we bonded immediately because for all our differences we knew that we shared a common story: struggles with infertility for many of us, the long roller coaster ride of the adoption process, the joy of our children and our pride in them, the challenges of being transracial families, the hope that we might help our children embrace their Korean heritage and grow into confident Korean-American adults.

Not all of us were Christian. But when Kheresa and I debriefed that first experience of Korean Culture Camp, we both said out loud, simultaneously, “That was like church.”

It was like church, because the church too is a diverse community bound together by a common story that relativizes all the other things that make us different. The Apostle Paul wrote about that in Galatians chapter 3, verses 28 and 27:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (NRSV).

In my church circles we often quote that text in support of the full equality of women and men in church, family, and society. I think that’s a good and proper application of the text. But in context Paul’s main point is that our baptism creates a new reality, a new basis for community in which all the ways the world categorizes people are no longer our primary identities. In baptism the story of the Triune God, made known to us by the story of Christ, becomes our story. The ancient baptismal confessions of faith were brief recitations of that story. All of us who have been baptized into Christ share that story in common, however different our individual stories may be. It’s what makes us church. “All of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

A Christian university like Gardner-Webb isn’t a church, strictly speaking. Gardner-Webb is not a baptizing community, but it is a community of the baptized. And in the Baptist understanding of the essence of church as happening wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Christ, we can recognize that something church-like happens when the baptized gather in a Christian university to engage in learning “for God and humanity.”

All of us who engage in learning for God and humanity—faculty, staff, and students—are different. In our differences, we’re going to disagree. And that’s a good thing—unless we earnestly contest our disagreements, our movement toward God’s truth is hindered. We can embrace our differences and debate our disagreements without demeaning each other when we remember that we share a common story—the story we claim and that claims us in our baptism, the story that makes us all one in Christ Jesus. May God help us remember that in this new academic year, through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Loving God, who desires to draw the world to share in your love: may your Spirit empower our work of fostering learning and leadership for God and humanity, so that division is overcome and true community established, on our campus, in your church, and in your world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

David Carter on "Baptist-Catholic Dialogue Today"

The current issue of the journal Ecumenical Trends published by the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute features an article titled "Baptist-Catholic Dialogue Today" by David Carter, a British Methodist church historian and member of the joint commissions of the British Methodist-Catholic dialogue and the international Catholic Church-World Methodist Council dialogue (Ecumenical Trends 44, no. 7 [July/August 2015]: 6/102-13/109). The article surveys the context and contributions of the second series of international conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Catholic Church that took place from 2006 through 2010 and issued the joint report "The Word of God in the Life of the Church."

This issue of Ecumenical Trends also includes Edward C. Andercheck's article "Methodist-Catholic Dialogue: Ut Unum Sint and Geoffrey Wainwright's Response" (1/97-5/101, 14/110). While both articles and the issue in which they appear are available online only to subscribers, a subscription to either the print ($30 per year, including digital access) or digital-only version of the journal ($15) includes online access to the past two years of back issues.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Religious and theological studies books by Gardner-Webb scholars

Members of the Gardner-Webb University faculty have published several books in various disciplines of religious and theological studies during 2014 and 2015.

Oxford University Press has published Founding Sins: How a Group of Antislavery Radicals Fought to Put Christ into the Constitution by Joseph Moore, Assistant Professor of History in the Department of Social Sciences at Gardner-Webb. The book will be released in hardcover on September 15, but its Kindle edition is available now. According to the book overview on the Oxford University Press, Founding Sins "argues that America's original religious right, the Covenanters, shatter the conservative logic that America was founded as a Christian nation." Here's the full book description:

The Covenanters, now mostly forgotten, were America's first Christian nationalists. For two centuries they decried the fact that, in their view, the United States was not a Christian nation because slavery was in the Constitution but Jesus was not. Having once ruled Scotland as a part of a Presbyterian coalition, they longed to convert America to a holy Calvinist vision in which church and state united to form a godly body politic. Their unique story has largely been submerged beneath the histories of the events in which they participated and the famous figures with whom they interacted, making them the most important religious movement in American history that no one remembers.

Despite being one of North America's smallest religious sects, the Covenanters found their way into every major revolt. They were God's rebels--just as likely to be Patriots against Britain as they were to be Whiskey Rebels against the federal government. As the nation's earliest and most avowed abolitionists, they had a significant influence on the fight for emancipation. In Founding Sins, Joseph S. Moore examines this forgotten history, and explores how Covenanters profoundly shaped American's understandings of the separation of church and state. 

While modern arguments about America's Christian founding usually come from the right, the Covenanters have a more complicated legacy. They fought for an explicitly Christian America in the midst of what they saw as a secular state that failed the test of Christian nationhood. But they did so on behalf of a cause--abolition--that is traditionally associated with the left. Though their attempts to insert God into the Constitution ultimately failed, Covenanters set the acceptable limits for religion in politics for generations to come.

In March 2015 Fortress Press published The Divine in Acts and Ancient Historiography by Scott Shauf, Associate Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy at Gardner-Webb. The following book description is provided by Fortress Press:

Scott Shauf compares the portrayal of the divine in Acts with portrayals of the divine in other ancient historiographical writings, the latter including Jewish and wider Greco-Roman historiographical traditions. The divine may be represented as a single deity (in Judaism) or many (in Greek and Roman traditions) and also includes representations of angels, God’s spirit, Jesus as a divine figure, or forces with divine status such as fate, chance, and providence. Shauf’s particular interest is in how the divine is represented as involved in history, through themes including the nature of divine retribution, the partiality or impartiality of the divine toward different sets of people, and the portrayal of divine control over seemingly purely natural and human events. Acts is shown to be engaging historiographical traditions of the author’s own day but also contributing unique historiographical perspectives. The way history is written in Acts and in the other writings is shown to be intimately tied to the understanding of the role of the divine in history.

In June 2014 Pickwick Publications released The Topos of Divine Testimony in Luke-Acts by James R. McConnell, Jr., Assistant Professor of New Testament Interpretation in the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb. Here's the description of the book on the publisher's site:

In this study James McConnell addresses the concept of authoritative testimony in Luke-Acts. Specifically, he argues that particular elements in the narrative of Luke-Acts can be understood as instances of the topos of divine testimony through utterances and deeds, considered in some ancient rhetorical handbooks to be the most authoritative form of testimony when seeking to persuade an audience. McConnell claims the gods' testimony was used in ancient law courts and political speeches to persuade a judge of a defendant's guilt or innocence, and in attempts in public forums to convince others of a particular course of action. Similarly, the topos is used in ancient narratives and biographies to legitimate certain characters and discredit others. The instances of the topos of God's speech (both oral and through OT citations) and deeds in Luke-Acts are functioning in the same way.

In March 2014 Wipf and Stock issued How to Read the Bible Without Losing Your Mind: A Truth-Seeker's Guide to Making Sense of Scripture by Kent Blevins, Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy at Gardner-Webb. From the book description:

Does reading the Bible sometimes leave you confused? Do you have difficulty seeing the relevance of the Bible to modern concerns or to important issues in your life? Do you believe Bible reading and intellectual inquiry are mutually exclusive? This book explores how the Bible can serve as a resource for discovering truth. It provides a method that accepts and incorporates the knowledge gained from modern scholarship while also recognizing that truth-discovery is a personal, multifaceted journey. It honors the integrity of Scripture while remaining open to insight from additional truth-sources. In exploring what we mean when we speak of the Bible's authority, it is honest about the challenges presented to modern readers by the cultural chasm separating the biblical writers from today's world. How to Read the Bible Without Losing Your Mind shows how the Bible can be read with full engagement of both mind and heart.

Gardner-Webb alumni have also been making notable contributions to scholarship in religious and theological studies. In November 2015 Fortress Press will release Making Love with Scripture: Why the Bible Doesn’t Mean How You Think It Means by 2001 Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy graduate Jacob D. Myers, newly appointed as Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. Fortress Press provides this description:

Nothing has been more contentious in the history of Christianity than the meaning of the Bible, and that debate continues today. Arguments over Scripture have divided denominations, churches, and families, and these squabbles have led many to abandon the faith altogether. Jacob D. Myers, a rising young scholar, has a solution to the problem with Scripture. The instability of the Bible’s meaning, he argues, is not a weakness but a strength, and it can benefit conservatives and liberals alike.

In a conversational style peppered with pop culture references, Myers provides a variety of tools for readers of the Bible, helping the experienced and inexperienced alike appreciate the sacred text in new ways. Finally, he proposes the intriguing alternative of an “erotic” interpretation, one that makes love with the Bible and opens new vistas of understanding.

In June 2013 Oxford University Press published Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution by James P. Byrd, who graduated from Gardner-Webb in 1988 with a double major in Religious Studies and English and is now Associate Professor of American Religious History and Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee. From the OUP site:

On January 17, 1776, one week after Thomas Paine published his incendiary pamphlet Common Sense, Connecticut minister Samuel Sherwood preached an equally patriotic sermon. "God Almighty, with all the powers of heaven, are on our side," Sherwood said, voicing a sacred justification for war that Americans would invoke repeatedly throughout the struggle for independence. 

In Sacred Scripture, Sacred War, James Byrd offers the first comprehensive analysis of how American revolutionaries defended their patriotic convictions through scripture. Byrd shows that the Bible was a key text of the American Revolution. Indeed, many colonists saw the Bible as primarily a book about war. They viewed God as not merely sanctioning violence but actively participating in combat, playing a decisive role on the battlefield. When war came, preachers and patriots alike turned to scripture not only for solace but for exhortations to fight. Such scripture helped amateur soldiers overcome their natural aversion to killing, conferred on those who died for the Revolution the halo of martyrdom, and gave Americans a sense of the divine providence of their cause. Many histories of the Revolution have noted the connection between religion and war, but Sacred Scripture, Sacred War is the first to provide a detailed analysis of specific biblical texts and how they were used, especially in making the patriotic case for war. Combing through more than 500 wartime sources, which include more than 17,000 biblical citations, Byrd shows precisely how the Bible shaped American war, and how war in turn shaped Americans' view of the Bible. 

Brilliantly researched and cogently argued, Sacred Scripture, Sacred War sheds new light on the American Revolution.

Also in 2013, Faithlab published Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow: What All Christians Can Learn from LGBTQ Lives by Cody J. Sanders, a 2005 graduate of Gardner-Webb in Religious Studies and Psychology who now serves as Pastor of Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here's the book description from

Winner of the National Bronze Medal for Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans Non-Fiction in the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Awards, Queer Lessons for Churches on the Straight and Narrow is about changing the questions we ask about sexuality, gender identity, and faith. Sanders helps us imagine new pathways into old conversations by shifting our attitude from one of suspicious scrutiny toward LGBTQ people to one of compassionate curiosity. Less concerned with answering questions, it aims to cultivate our imagination for asking new questions. Sanders asks, "What can all Christians learn from LGBTQ people that will enhance our lives and strengthen our communities of faith?" Lessons are offered on the themes of relationship, community, faithfulness, love, violence, and forgiveness.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Radner on Freeman's Contesting Catholicity

First Things has posted on its web site a two-paragraph teaser snippet from Ephraim Radner's review of Curtis Freeman's book Contesting Catholicity: Theology for Other Baptists (Baylor University Press, 2014) in the magazine's August 2015 issue. Non-subscribers and those without library access to First Things may purchase the full article for $1.99. Here's part of the review preview:

When I’m in a gloomy mood, sometimes I’d like to be a Baptist. Instead of all the venal bishops, political synods, and ignorant commissions, I’d have some controllable integrity to my church life: a good congregational polity with the folks in the pews in charge, Bible reading and preaching at the center, no-apologies evangelism and church planting, a limit on the intrusion of self-important experts and their crazy ideas, no liturgy to mess up, and (unlike their Pentecostal brethren with their shamanistic temptations) good old-fashioned fundamentalist biblical rationalism that makes it easy for most people to smell a pastoral rat in their midst when they have one....(continue reading at First Things)