Skip Navigation

Recent Articles

Holy Saturday & the Hell of Coming Home: Caring for War Wounded Souls by Adam D. Tietje
In Packing Inferno, Iraq War veteran Tyler Boudreau describes his experience of going to war and of coming home: They say war is hell, but I say it’s the foyer to hell. I say coming home is hell, and hell ain’t got no coordinates. You can’t find it on the charts, because there are no charts. Hell is no place at all, so when you’re there, you’re nowhere—you’re lost. The narrative, that’s your chart, your own story. There are guys who come home from war and live fifty years without a narrative, fifty years lost. They don’t even know their own story, never have, and never will. But they’re moving amidst the text every day and every long night without even realizing it. … They live inside the narrative like a cell, and their only escape is to understand its dimensions. Spring 2019, Theology Matters, Pg. 1

Invitation to a Pillar Fight by Charles Partee
Preamble: Beyond the blue horizon an even-keeled professorship goes into dry dock claiming that (1) doctrine unites, (2) reason divides, and (3) bondage frees. Winter 2019 Theology Matters, Pg. 1

Recovering the Office of Elder The Shepherd Model, Part III by Eric Laverentz
In the last two editions of Theology Matters we have examined the historical and biblical role of elders as shepherds of the people rather than primarily as leaders of a corporation. The former expression was standard among Reformed and Presbyterian congregations from the 16th century until the early 1900s. Of course, our society has changed dramatically since then. But might it still be possible to recover this former understanding of the office of elder, which is so central to our history, identity, and being as Presbyterians? Winter 2019 Theology Matters, Pg. 5

The Call to Love the Small by Tee Gatewood
Every year from Advent to Christmas, Christians tell a story of small things. We often begin with Zechariah and Elizabeth and Gabriel. God is doing something new and the action begins when the struggle of an insignificant, old couple is taken up and used within God’s big salvation drama. God sends Gabriel to Zechariah in the temple and then to a small town in Galilee. Gabriel goes to appear to a young woman who may or may not be of the tribe of David. We do not know much about Mary, but we do know that she is of no or very low social standing. She is small in many ways, yet it is through her tiny ear that the great God is inaugurating his everlasting kingdom. And all of this is prologue to the manger where the Mighty One will be
made small. Year after year, we retell this story. We help our children produce it in pageants. We host live nativities and decorate our houses with smaller, more predictable versions. At each step along the journey, we are invited to wonder at the mystery of Christmas that God is with us. Year after year, twist after turn, the call of the Lord is to enter the story and ponder it in our hearts. And yet, all too often, we miss one key detail: that the God of the Bible loves to use what is small. The Lord of creation chooses to use Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary and the manger. In freedom and infinite power God uses what is small to do something huge. Winter 2019 Theology Matters, Pg. 13

Preparing for Baptisms And Supporting the Baptized by John P. Burgess
Opening prayer: Great God, we thank you for the gift of baptism, in which Jesus forgives us our sins yet lays your mighty claim upon our whole life. Call us back to the identity that you gave us at the font, that we would be free for grateful service to you and all your creatures. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Fall 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 1

Recovering the Office of Elder The Shepherd Model, Part II by Eric Laverentz
In 1898, the ruling elders of the Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Missouri, became aware through local media that one of their members, Dr. H.S Lowry had become sexually involved with one of his employees. Dr. Lowry repented of the sin and admitted his offense in writing to the Session. However, the elders of Second Presbyterian Church sought further to set the matter straight between the couple. They spelled out their terms. Dr. Lowry was forgiven, but to regain full “communion and privileges of membership” he would have to marry the woman. They made it clear: “An adequate repentance it seems to us can only be fully evinced by giving to the young woman you have wronged the right to bear your name and to look to you for the protection which a husband alone can afford a wife.” Fall 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 6

Returning to the Basics by Eugene H. Peterson
Sixty miles or so from where I live there is a mountain popular among rock climbers––Stalamus Chief. It presents itself as a vertical slab of smooth granite, 2,000 feet high. On summer days rock climbers are spread out in varying levels of ascent up and down its face. Occasional climbers spend the night in hammocks (they call it bivouacking), hanging like cocoons attached to barn siding. It always strikes me as a might dangerous way to have fun. Fall 2018 Theology Matters, Pg. 14

Rediscovering the Office of Elder The Shepherd Model by Eric Laverentz
At the center of our name, tradition, identity, and ethos as Presbyterians is a term that has lost almost all connection with what it meant to most who have called themselves Presbyterians over the last five centuries. Even to many of our parents and grandparents being a “presbyter” or “elder” meant something quite different than it means to most of us today. Summer 2018, Theology Matters, P. 1

Luther, Calvin, and the Recovery of Congregational Singing Is the Reformers’ Legacy at Risk? by Robert P. Mills
From the earliest days of the church, Christians who gathered for corporate worship spent at least some of their time together singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16). However, in Roman Catholic churches at the outset of the Protestant Reformation, “priests chanted in Latin, and choirs of professional singers predominantly sang polyphonic choral music in Latin.” As Paul S. Jones writes, “there was neither congregational song nor any church music in the common tongue.” Summer 2018, Theology Matters, P. 9

Are You Ready For a Real Theologian? by Richard Burnett
Few in our generation have written more perceptively about the challenges of ministry than Eugene Peterson. In a creative but lesser known work, The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends, Peterson writes to an old college friend, “Gunnar,” who contacted him after forty years of “virtual silence.” Summer 2018, Theology Matters, P. 15

John Calvin on Death and Grief by Sara Jane Nixon
It is difficult for many of us to imagine John Calvin doing something so human and vulnerable as grieving. Nor is it any easier to picture him being interested in compassionate pastoral care to bereaved friends or to members of his flock. Often, our mental image of him is of a cold, academic man, interested in God’s glory in a way that excludes too much kindness or tenderness towards fellow human beings. This is not an accurate image: as will be shown, Calvin felt his grief intensely and wrote long letters to bereaved friends and acquaintances in order to comfort them. But be as that may, it is not part of our cultural picture of Calvin or his tradition. Spring 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 1

The Reformed Pastor Confronts the “Last Enemy” by Allen C. McSween
Every aspect of pastoral ministry can and should be viewed as an occasion for theological witness and reflection. Nowhere is that more important than in the face of death with the depth of the issues it raises and the intensity of the grief it provokes. The stark reality of death blows away our empty clichés like an umbrella in a hurricane. In this essay I will focus primarily on the theological significance of the funeral service and sermon. That is not meant to denigrate other aspects of the church’s pastoral ministry on the occasion of death which are vitally important, but it is to insist that in the work of comforting the bereaved the pastor on behalf of the Church universal has a unique Word to proclaim that is and always will be “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1). Spring 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 6

Finding Joy on the Journey of Grief By Peter B. Barnes
“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but I’m experiencing the sensation of being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.” “At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.” Spring 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 13

When Theology Burns by Richard A. Ray
So here is the dare. An historical text unknown to you in the past lies within reach. You pick it up, begin to read it, plug it into your brain, and jolts from the literary lithium-ion battery begin to do some strange things within your mind and your social world. It is the gift of an electric intellectual arch. You walk beneath it into a different world. You complete your reading, begin again, and more curious possibilities come to your attention. One thing becomes completely clear in the process. Christianity has always been mesmerized by words. Winter 2018 Theology Matters, Pg. 1

Orthodoxy at Stake by Joseph D. Small
“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and revealed to us ––we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have communion with us, and truly our communion is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things to you so that our joy may be complete.” 1 John 1:1–4 “In general, the churches . . . bore for me the same relation to God that billboards did to Coca-Cola: they promoted thirst without quenching it.” John Updike, A Month of Sundays1

For over a century, a small gem has been embedded in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order: the “Great Ends of the Church.” Six great purposes of the church’s life––the life of every congregation and of the whole denomination––present Presbyterians with markers for the character of our life together, pointing to basic works of the church that are foundational to who the church is and what the church is called to do.

The Great Ends of the Church are:
• proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;
• shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;
• maintenance of divine worship;
• preservation of the truth;
• promotion of social righteousness;
• exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. Winter 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 5

Martin Luther: A Moment to Remember by Richard Gibbons
Recently I received an email along with a photo of a cute puppy. It read: “This is Buddy. I bought him as a surprise for my husband, but it turns out he’s allergic to dogs. So unfortunately I have to find a new home for him, and am wondering if anyone out there can help. His name is Allen. He’s 61, great at DIY projects, drives a nice car, and plans wonderful holidays.” Winter 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 11

A House Divided: What Presbyterians Might Learn From Jacob and Esau by D. Matthew Stith
That the Presbyterian family in America is a house divided is neither a new phenomenon nor a particularly original observation. For reasons that have seemed good (or at least sufficient) to us, we find ourselves broken into what are functionally separate clans, with all of the characteristically “clannish” behavior that one would expect in such a situation. Winter 2018, Theology Matters, Pg. 12

Calvin and Barth on the Unity of the Church by Richard Burnett
The unity of the church concerned John Calvin so much that he wrote to Thomas Cranmer on April 1552: “The members of the Church being severed, the body lies bleeding. So much does this concern me, that, could I be of any service, I would not grudge to cross even ten seas, if need were, on account of it” (Letters 2:348). Winter 2018 Theology Matters, Pg. 15