Bryan C. Hollon

Occasional Thoughts and Links of Interest

Catechesis: Handing on the Form of Christian Faith

Sticky post

This essay has been slightly edited and was originally published in the C.S. Lewis Institute’s online quarterly, “Knowing and Doing.” You may find the original article at this link

Introduction

If you were asked to articulate the contemporary church’s greatest weakness, what would you say? Would you point to the tendency among so many Christians to continually conform to the surrounding culture on issues like marriage and sexuality? Would you argue that evangelicals and mainline Christians have both become too captive to political ideologies and failed to remain faithful to the King of kings and Lord of lords? Perhaps you would mention the prosperity gospel or the multi-billion-dollar Christian entertainment industry rendering so many churches chronically shallow. Others have made those arguments, and I am in many ways sympathetic. However, it seems to me that there is a deeper, more foundational problem that is too often overlooked. I suggest that the eclipse of catechetical discipleship ministry is among the greatest threats facing the church today.

Pandemic and “The Prayer of Humble Access”

Just recently, I read an essay in First Things by a Presbyterian theologian named Carl Trueman. The essay was titled “A Protestant Apocalypse?’ Trueman has been talking to protestant pastors and church leaders, and they are concerned about the long-term effects of this pandemic season. Some of them are making dire predictions and may have some reason to be concerned. 

One denominational leader said they expected perhaps a third of their churches to close in the coming months (he did not mention which denomination this was). Another predicted that as many as 30% of Protestant churchgoers may not return to church gatherings, after all, is said and done. 

“Death on the Pale Horse,” painted by the American artist Benjamin West in 1796.

People seem to have figured out that it’s much easier to do church at home. You switch on the Livestream, get an hour’s worth of uplifting music and inspirational teaching, and you don’t even have to take a shower or get dressed. 

Henri de Lubac, the Bitter Fruit of Old Atheism, and Christian Humanism

Unknown-2Henri de Lubac lived and worked during some of the most violent and confused years in modern European history. In addition to the losses caused by the several wars that ravaged Europe, the violent events of the early twentieth century led to an acute emotional and intellectual anxiety for many citizens of the continent. The First World War, in particular, brought European confidence in unending technological and moral progress to a halt.[i] In 1922, the French poet Paul Valéry wrote,

The Storm is over, and yet we are still uneasy . . . anxious . . . as though it were just now going to break. Nearly all human affairs are still in a state of terrible uncertainty. We ponder on what is gone, we are almost ruined by what has been ruined; we do not know what is to come, and have some reason to fear it. We hope vaguely, but dread precisely; our fears are infinitely clearer than our hopes; we recognize that pleasurable living and abundance are behind us, but confusion and doubt are in us and with us.[ii]

Although war and atrocity are not recent inventions, there was something distinctive, and even surprising, about the violence witnessed during the European wars of the past century. On the one hand, people were surprised by the scale of those wars. Modern technology, which held such promise in agriculture, communications, medicine, travel, and more, also enabled the production of much deadlier weapons than previous eras had known, and the millions of soldiers and civilians killed during the first half of the twentieth century were unprecedented.[iii] On the other hand, the World Wars were shocking because they “contrast[ed] with the expectations, at least in Europe, with which the twentieth century began,” expectations of unrestrained social progress.[iv] Those expectations were inspired, in large part, by a philosophical revolution that took place during the nineteenth century.

Why Emphasize the Psalms?

Like all liturgical traditions, Anglicans read from the book of Psalms at every eucharistic service. Our liturgy generally includes readings from an Old Testament book, a Psalm, an Epistle, and a Gospel. What this means is that we spend more time in the book of Psalms than in any other book of the bible. Have you ever wondered about this? Why so much emphasis on the Psalms in worship?

Christmas Changes Everything

The image featured in this post is from the famous, and highly complicated, 20th-century English artist, Sir Stanley Spencer. The work is titled Travoys Arriving with Wounded at a Dressing Station at Smol, Macedonia. I first encountered this painting reading a book by a Cambridge theologian named Michael Banner. It has stuck with me ever since, and I often think of it around Christmas time because it suggests that Jesus’ birth changes everything. 

Marriage & The Common Good

Last month, I submitted a teacher/scholar proposal for a small grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, which is funded by the Lilly Endowment. If you are interested, you can read a little bit about the proposal below. Regardless of whether we receive the funds, I am planning to develop a ministry focused on the good of christian marriage at St. John’s beginning next year. 

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