“The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within these articles but have found them thought-provoking.
“The Cure of Souls: Theory of Change in Christian Ministry” – Simeon Zahl at Mockingbird: “What is the relationship between theology and day-to-day Christian ministry? I’ve been reflecting on this question for over twenty years, and I’ve become convinced that few questions are more important, either for theologians or for the church. To start, we need to recognize that every ministry makes basic theological assumptions about human nature and about how God works in people’s lives. In more theological terms, you could say that every form of ministry has an implicit theological anthropology and an implicit theology of grace. These assumptions are not always conscious or clearly articulated, but they have huge effects on pastoral practice — and on Christian experience. Indeed, I am convinced that few things have a greater effect on the success or failure of a ministry than these theological assumptions. To explain what I mean, let me borrow a term from the world of philanthropy and development. My wife Bonnie works in philanthropy, and over the past few years I became struck by a term she often uses in her work: theory of change. What is ‘theory of change’? Basically, it’s the strategy that an organization uses when it wants to make some change in the world through its activities. Asking an organization about its theory of change is a way of getting it to articulate more explicitly (a) what outcome the organization wants to achieve in the world, (b) what strategy it is going to use to accomplish that outcome, and (c) what assumptions the organization is making that lead it to think that strategy X will result in outcome Y. The whole idea of ‘theory of change’ emerged as a term when people who consult with organizations realized that human beings are bad at doing this. We do X in hopes that Y will happen, but amazingly often we don’t think through how strategy X will plausibly lead to outcome Y. Having a ‘theory of change’ forces you to think the steps through and to realize where you are making weird or implausible assumptions, so you can then alter your strategy to make it more effective. I realize that may all seem very abstract and, let’s face it, more like something you would learn in business school than in a theology department. But over the past few years I’ve found it to be a helpful way of thinking about the relationship between theology and ministry. Let me give a few examples from the life of the church.”
“Humanitarian project work suspended in Sudan as Christian agencies evacuate staff” – In Premier Christian News: “Continuing fighting in Sudan’s capital Khartoum has led aid agencies to suspend their work and for governments to hasten their plans to evacuate foreign nations. The British government estimates that even before the current outbreak of violence, over 15.8 million people were in need of assistance. With heavy artillery and air bombardment affecting civilians in built-up areas, Relief International personnel and three World Food Programme (WFP) staff members have been killed, according to the FCDO. The WFP has now suspended operations. ‘Aid agencies aren’t able to get unhindered access,’ former Africa minister Vicky Ford MP told Premier Christian News. ‘They can’t deliver life-saving assistance and people desperately need that assistance,’ she added. Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organisation, has relocated its staff based in the capital, with seventeen staff members, including four Americans, moved to safety outside the immediate conflict zone. With a request to Premier supporters to ‘Please pray for peace in Sudan,’ Samaritan’s Purse said they had been ‘working in Sudan since 1993, helping hundreds of thousands of people by setting up hospitals, opening schools, distributing food, providing agricultural supplies, and rebuilding hundreds of churches that were destroyed during the civil war.’ Conservative MP Vicky Ford is Chair of the APPG on Sudan in Westminster and also urged Premier: ‘Please, people, please, first of all, will you pray for a ceasefire, pray for the weapons to be put down. And for people to start talking again.’
“Once One People of One Book” – Thomas S. Kidd reviews Mark Noll’s America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794–1911 in Religion and Liberty: “Mark A. Noll, professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame, is among the most prolific and accomplished historians of American religion ever. I once imagined that the 2002 book America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln was Noll’s magnum opus. With the recent appearance of America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794–1911, I am no longer sure whether to view America’s God as a standalone volume or as a sort of companion to America’s Book. In any case, Noll has shown himself capable of extending and even accelerating his scholarly output well into his 70s. Noll has the proverbial fire in his bones; he can’t suppress his desire to understand the complex relationship between Christianity and American history. A more recent companion volume in Noll’s vast corpus is In the Beginning Was the Word, his 2015 history of the Bible in colonial and revolutionary America. But that book (comparatively slender at 431 pages, compared to 846 for America’s Book and 622 for America’s God) now seems more like a prelude to America’s Book. In the Beginning explained how the Bible became a distinctly American volume, which readers approached through the lenses of republican ideology and commonsense literalism. Not coincidentally, these intellectual trends profoundly shaped the Revolution, too. America’s God, as its subtitle (“from Edwards to Lincoln”) suggests, covered the same chronological range as In the Beginning and America’s Book. But America’s God was more of an intellectual history of theologians and politicians than America’s Book is. I expected Noll to cover a lot of the same ground in America’s Bookas he did in America’s God, and he does so to a certain extent. But America’s Book is more of a social and cultural history of the “rise and decline” of America’s “Bible civilization” than a tracing of elite theologians’ ideas about the Bible and America. Having established the “Christian republicanism” argument of America’s God, Noll examines the on-the-ground fate of that idea in America’s Book. Both books (like all of Noll’s works) fully reward close readings.”
“Church leader is finally buried” – In Christian Solidarity Worldwide News: “Pastor Tesfay Seyoum, the founder and leader of Meserete Kristos Church who died on 9 April and was denied a burial place in his home area due to his religious beliefs, was finally buried on 22 April. Pastor Seyoum was laid to rest at 5pm in St. Teklehaymanot Cemetery in the HazHaz suburb in the north of Asmara. He had been detained in Mai Serwa prison near the capital, Asmara, for ten years, but had recently suffered a brain haemorrhage. The pastor was sent to hospital for treatment, but died two months later, leaving behind his wife and daughter. According to a CSW source, Eritreans are traditionally buried in their home areas. Consequently, following his death, Pastor Seyoum’s body was taken to his house in the Godaif neighbourhood, his home area in the south of Asmara, in preparation for burial. However, permission for a site was denied, reportedly by officials and members of the local community, on account of his Evangelical beliefs. In a departure from traditional norms which require a body to be buried as close to the time of death as possible, the pastor’s remains lay unburied for 13 days, occasioning distress for his family, friends and congregation.”
“Filth Therapy: A Cunning Word: A question in the novels of Robertson Davies: What ways of Wisdom have been discarded by modern Knowledge?” – Alan Jacobs in Comment: “Long ago every village in England had a cunning man, or woman—an untrained but intuitive healer, a person with a good nose for other people’s troubles and a tactical shrewdness about how to handle them. If your problems were simple and obvious, if you needed a broken bone set or a bad tooth pulled, you’d go to the surgeon. Everyone knew that. But what if you weren’t quite sure what was wrong with you? What if your spirit was troubled but also your digestion, and you didn’t know which was causing which, or if they were separate miseries? Then you needed to consult the cunning ones. The Cunning Man is the last novel by the great Canadian writer Robertson Davies, and its titular figure is a man of the late twentieth century named Jonathan Hullah, who grew up in a remote outpost in northern Ontario and got his first ideas about healing by hanging around with Elsie Smoke, an Ojibwa herbalist and healer, a ‘wise woman’—a cunning woman. Hullah ultimately becomes a doctor and a practitioner of what some now call ‘holistic medicine,’ though that term is not used in the book by Hullah or anyone else. Hullah thinks of himself as a disciple of the great Renaissance physician Paracelsus— the first person to theorize that physical disease can be the product of what we now would call psychological distress. As Hullah comments, ‘The problem for a Paracelsian physician like me is that I see diseases as disguises in which people present me with their wretchedness.’ It is a problem because people are happy to speak of their diseases but reluctant to acknowledge their wretchedness. Hullah’s creator almost certainly learned about Paracelsus through reading Carl Jung, who was perhaps the most important guiding figure of Davies’s intellectual and religious life. From my point of view, which is that of a generally orthodox Christian, Davies’s embrace of Jungian ideas is a convenient way to get all the benefits of belief in transcendent order with none of the obligations of obedience to a personal God. Nevertheless, there is much in Davies’s picture of the cunning man—and in closely related ideas that he developed in the latter part of his career as a novelist—from which thinking Christians can and should learn. Above all, I think, we should adopt a kind of historically aware intellectual pluralism, a willingness to learn from and make use of the past, and especially those elements of the past that have been discarded by modernity as refuse and waste. The thoughtful Christian should be a cunning practitioner of filth therapy.”
“The Origins of the English Parish” – Micah Mattix in Prufrock: “I have been reading through Nicholas Orme’s Going to Church in Medieval England, and it is one of the best works of history I have picked up in the past ten years. It is full of lots of little details that bring churchgoing to life, which Orme somehow manages to organize into a coherent story. I was particularly interested in the section on the formation of parishes since I have been thinking about T. S. Eliot’s defense of the parish as the foundational unit of a flourishing Christian society in The Idea of a Christian Society. Orme makes a couple of interesting observations about the parish. First, a single church—a minster—initially covered a very large area, making regular churchgoing impossible for most English people. Weddings and funerals didn’t regularly take place in a church until the middle of the tenth century. But as smaller communities grew, and craftsmanship and writing became more available in rural communities, smaller churches were planted in these communities, often at the request and expense of local landowners…For Eliot, the parish is a community unit that was not ‘solely religious and not solely social . . . in which all classes, if you have classes, have their center of interest.’ What parish does, according to Eliot, is bring different classes together—a touchstone of civilization—in a single place with shared interests”
Music: Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, “Conversion,” from Texas Sun EP