Posted on: May 3rd, 2012 “So you wanna be a Doctor?” (PhD FAQ’s)

What follows is an article I wrote for The Crucifer, the bi-weekly newsletter of Christ Church (Episcopal) in Tyler, Texas.

As many of the good people at Christ Church already know, I (Matt) have been admitted to the PhD program in philosophy at the University of Dallas (a Roman Catholic school about 80 miles down the road), to begin formal study this fall. Since many folks have been asking me about this development, I thought it would be a good idea to address some of these issues in this issue of The Crucifer.

Why in the world would you want to enter a PhD program? In Ephesians 4:11, St. Paul looks at the elders in the church at Ephesus and says, “Some of you are called to be prophets and apostles, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” Ever since my college years at the University of Texas at Austin, I have had a burning passion for what I can only call “evangelism.” By this, however, I really don’t mean standing on a street corner and preaching (although I have done this!). I don’t mean handing out tracks to strangers. I don’t mean inviting people to come forward in a worship service or a “revival” to “make a decision” for Christ. Rather, what I am referring to is a deep desire to engage the secular mind. This is why I want to do a PhD, and this is why I want to do it in philosophy (as opposed to, say, theology). Where did the secular world come from? How did it come about that most Americans assume that “religion” is a private matter of one’s own inner emotions and preferences? If people in our culture view themselves primarily as autonomous consumers, is this the best way to live? These are the kinds of questions I hope to discuss and to write about, in a more rigorous and public way than I could without this degree program.

Why the University of Dallas? There are two reasons, primarily. First, UD is one of a handful of universities left in the US which emphasizes the “great books” of the western canon of thought. As a doctoral student in the humanities at UD I will take six core courses with grad students from the politics department and the English department in areas such as Plato and Aristotle, Homer and Virgil, and Augustine and Aquinas. Since I firmly believe in the importance of tradition, this opportunity is very appealing to me. Second, in PhD studies it is definitely true that what matters is not only “what you know, but who you know.” What matters more than anything else is who your advisor / mentor is. Enter Professor Philipp Rosemann, who I met “randomly” at a party in Dallas two summers ago. Rosemann is a well-published medievalist in the same post-structuralist vein as I, and for some reason he took an immediate interest in me, inviting me to converse with him in his office, assigning me books to read and discuss, and offering to support me in my doctoral application and research.

What does this mean for your role at Christ Church? One of the most amazing aspects of this opportunity has to do with my work as Assistant to the Rector at Christ Church here in Tyler. The bottom line is that my doctoral work will not affect my role at Christ Church and in the Epiphany Community. Beginning in the fall, I will commute to Dallas for classes twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and my studying will (in the main) be limited to those days. It will be a grueling routine, but I feel confident that it will be well worth it. Father David (along with Bishop Doyle) has been very supportive in this decision, and in fact I think that for our ministry here locally it will have no downside. On the contrary, I think I will find it so rejuvenating that it will fuel and inspire my ministry in all sorts of ways.

How long will this program take you to complete? My anticipation is that I will be taking classes for four years, followed by preparing for comprehensive examinations, followed by writing and defending my dissertation. So I predict that I will be finished with my coursework at the end of the spring semester of 2016, at which point I will have much more flexibility.


Share Button

Posted on: February 15th, 2012 Rite of Burial: an Easter Liturgy

I had a powerful experience this past week.

You see, I am an Episcopal priest. It is no secret that the average age of the Episcopal Church is significantly older than the average age of the population in general.

And so it is that I do lots of funerals. “Lots,” here, means perhaps one every six weeks.

Last week I performed a burial service for a man who was baptized at my parish many years ago but was living in Dallas. He was in his early 60’s and died from a sudden heart attack while jogging.

At his funeral in Tyler not one family member was present; instead I was surrounded by about fifty friends who came to grieve and celebrate. Fifty friends together with his 9th grade Sunday School teacher from our parish.

Today I received a letter from his brother, his brother who has been incarcerated for years. He thanked me for performing the service, and went on to explain that, at the exact time of the service, he was reading the Order for Burial, worshipping with us, hundreds of miles away from his prison cell.

And here is how he closed his letter: “There is a little noticed page in our Book of Common Prayer that is really helping me get through this, page 507. Check it out. May the Lord be with you.”

Here is what appears on page 507 of the Book of Common Prayer:

The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.

The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from teh love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn.

Share Button

Posted on: December 2nd, 2011 PhD App: Intellectual Autobiography (rough draft)

Dear scholarly friends, I would invite your critique and assessment of this, below, as a part of my application to begin PhD studies in the Fall of 2012. Thanks in advance.

Had one asked me in the early 1990’s why I wanted to study philosophy as an undergraduate at the University of Texas I probably would have responded (having been raised in a fundamentalist environment but having cut my teeth in high school on CS Lewis) with an answer having to do with wanting defend the truth of the Bible.

At some point, however, during my junior year of college, in the middle of Louis Mackey’s class on Kierkegaard and Derrida, I began to realize that my entire paradigm of truth and reality needed reframing. Up to that point I had assumed (or been taught to think) that “the good guys” where those who, like Plato and Aristotle, Descartes and Kant, could be construed as affirming some theory of “absolute truth” … which meant that the “bad guys” were the detractors of absolute truth: those evil “relativists.”

What Mackey’s class showed me is that, in fact, both “absolutism” and “relativism” are human constructs, and, as such, are open to deconstruction. That is, both are susceptible to relativization in light of what Kierkegaard calls the Absolute Paradox. Both are equal and opposite instances of a false dichotomy, what Aristotle calls “contrary propositions within a common genus.” For this (at the time) 21-year old Texan, this was an earth-shattering realization, one which would serve as a “litmus test” for all subsequent philosophical and theological considerations.

My desire to “defend the truth of the Bible,” in other words, overlooked the necessity of interpretation as itself an issue. My stance was too simplistic.

In exposing this false dichotomy Professor Mackey (author of Kierkegaard: a Kind of Poet and Peregrinations of the Word: Essays in Medieval Philosophy) showed me the power of “tertium quid thinking.” As for relativism and absolutism so also for socialism and capitalism, idealism and realism, liberalism and conservatism, etc. In this way Mackey set me up perfectly for the study of both Reformed theology and Radical Orthodoxy, and by the end of his class I knew that was I needed to do next was to study theology.

At Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in the late 1990’s I was immersed in the biblical texts (in Greek and Hebrew) and in the venerable, rigorous tradition of Reformed theology. It was there and then that I began deeply to reflect on the relationship between diachronism and synchronism, between the “messiness” of biblical testimony and systematic theology, between God’s unfolding actions in history and God’s extra-temporal life. I am forever grateful for the Reformed emphasis on covenant as a structuring device for the relationship between God and God’s people. To this day I stand in deep respect of Calvin, while at the same time distancing myself from (historic) Presbyterianism’s affirmation of Augustine’s “soteriology” over his “ecclesiology.” Even at Westminster I was beginning to see that ecclesiology (and therefore liturgy and sacrament) are central.

Both in terms of covenant and ecclesiology I began to discern a certain priority of the corporate over the individual. John Zizioulias and others convinced me that, in fact, there is so such thing as a solitary human individual, but that, rather, we are all persons, by definition structured for relationship and community.

Near the end of my time at Westminster I was introduced to Radical Orthodoxy. Both as a non-fundamentalist critique of secular modernity and as a “non-identical repetition” of ancient and medieval tradition (most notably Augustine and Aquinas), this movement continues to display the necessary resources to move theology into the post-Christendom future, thereby creating the conditions (to invoke Alasdair MacIntyre) for a new Saint Benedict-like culture which could provide a beautiful and compelling alternative to the secular, market-driven nihilism of our disenchanted world.

Most of my grappling with Radical Orthodoxy has occurred in the context of pastoral ministry, thinking about the church’s role in the world we inhabit. I am convinced that what the world needs to see is a community whose life has been made more human by Christ. This involves what Milbank describes as “a more incarnate, more participatory, more aesthetic, more erotic, more socialized, even a more ‘Platonic’ Christianity.”

Over the decade (roughly) since seminary, I have stayed fresh intellectually, not only in an intentional effort to remain viable in light of desired PhD work, but also simply because it is the only way I know to live. I must be reading; I must be learning; I must be dialoging with others. Hence, in the intervening period since my M.Div. I have learned two classical languages (I find that language learning provides one with a certain heuristic insight into all sorts of connections in a way that few other endeavors do). I have studied at an Episcopal seminary as a part of my transition from Presbyterianism into Holy Orders as a Priest. I have read MacIntyre, Hauerwas, Milbank, Hadot, Foucault, Marion, Zizek, Peter Candler, and Judith Butler, along with many others. I have interacted, in person and electronically, with renowned scholars and movement leaders. All along the way, I have blogged, not so much to reach others but for my own cognitive wellbeing. My blog has proven a powerful way for me to process my thoughts, to chronicle my journey, and to interact with others who are grappling with similar issues.

Finally, I must stress my liturgical formation in the catholic tradition, particularly as a priest at the altar. If Catherine Pickstock is correct that, at the end of the day, liturgical language “saves” all human language, then surely the practice of the liturgy is paramount. Serving at the altar, performing the liturgy, celebrating the Eucharist over the last year has habituated my total person in deep and mysterious ways. It has allowed me to participate in the ecstatic life of God not only with my mind but also with my body. Liturgical language is “system” of signs performed in and with our bodies.

If Pierre Hadot is correct that – for an important stream of tradition which weaves its way from the pre-Socratics, through Plato and Aristotle, through Neo-platonism (Plotinus, Proclus, Iamblicus), and finally into the Church (East and West, ancient and medieval) – philosophy is “a way of life,”  then truly to be a philosopher commits one to concrete habits, material practices, and spiritual exercises. This, then, is the philosophico-liturgical life into which I have been called, from which I explore the world, and in which I continue my journey of fides quarens intellectum.

Share Button

Posted on: November 3rd, 2011 Becoming Like Jesus (Renovare & Spiritual Formation)

Note: this article is also on the Epiphany Tyler website.

Do you desire to be more holy? Do you have a longing to be more like Jesus?

My wife Bouquet is from a land locked country (Laos). I myself grew up in the Texas Panhandle, a region about as remote from the life of sea and sailing as I can possibly imagine. Therefore neither my wife nor I have much experience at all in sailing (although the idea of sailing quite intrigues me!).

When Canon John Newton (our Diocesan Canon for Lifelong Spiritual Formation) was at our parish a few weeks ago, he used an excellent analogy to describe the life of the Christian. He likened our spiritual life to sailing on the open sea. No matter how hard the captain of a vessel wishes that the wind would blow, there is absolutely nothing he can do to make it blow. So what does he do? The only thing he can do is to put of the sails, and create the right conditions for wind-propelled motion.

In the same way, Canon Newton reminded us, in our spiritual lives, we cannot force the Holy Spirit to do his work of transformation in our lives, changing us into the likeness of Christ. Rather all we can do is to “put up our sails” and let the Spirit blow. After all, it is the nature of the open sea for the wind to be blowing. It happens naturally, organically.

Now, of all the amazing speakers I heard at our diocesan clergy conference last week, none was more thought provoking, none more deeply encouraging, than Christopher Webb. Chris, the President of Renovare, spoke to us of the “means of grace.” After, all, in our office of Morning Prayer, we read “We bless thee for … the redemption of the world … the means of grace, and the hope of glory.”

What are these “means of grace?” Much like the action of “putting up our sails,” when we practice the means of grace (prayer, bible study, fellowship, worship, and various other disciplines) the wind of God, the breath of God, begins to move in our lives.

Webb clarified: “The means of grace are not disciplines that make us into more holy people. They are disciplines or practices that make our lives as open possible to the grace of God, so that we can stop trying to make ourselves into more holy people, and let God do it instead.”

Such is the deep, rich, practical theology behind spiritual formation. Would you like more of this? I have two invitations for you.

    1. Consider joining a Christ Church neighborhood group in the Spring. In those groups we will be going though the book of one of Chris Webb’s colleagues at Renovare: The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith. These books are packed with wisdom and practical steps to make us more like Jesus. When read in community … sit back, and feel the Spirit blow.
    2. Consider attending (and bringing a friend or two!) my Christian Formation class on Sunday, November 13. The title of this event is  “Christian Spiritual Formation: Becoming Apprentices of Jesus – A Conversation with Fr. Matt and Lyle SmithGraybeal, the coordinator of Renovare, on small groups and the theology behindThe Good & Beautiful book series by James Bryan Smith.”


“Becoming Apprentices of Jesus.” This is what we are about at Christ Church, under the leadership of our Bishop and our Rector.

Our Sunday morning classes, our emerging small group ministry, our worship, our prayer, our fellowship … transformative means of grace which allow the Spirit “naturally” to blow through our lives!

Share Button

Posted on: April 6th, 2010 Gospel is Politics (again)

Graham Ward concludes his Cities of God with this paragraph:

We constitute and continue to prepare for what the Psalmist in Psalm 107 calls a “city of habitation.” The city of habitation gathers out of every land, receives those spirits who have sunk, rescues the troubled from their distress, satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. We make visible a theological statement about embodied redemption. The body on the street of [Austin] accuses me, calls out, not like the blood of Abel, for vengeance, but like the blood of Christ for justice, for a new relationality. Alone I have no answer to give to my accuser. I cannot begin to conceive how I alone can change the economic, the political and the cultural promotion of social atomism. And I am as seduced by the next person by the bright new goods in the tastefully lit windows — the calls to how I should look, should dress, should accumulate, should spend, should protect my own best interests. The theologian’s task cannot be one which provides the solutions. The matrices of power — economic, cultural, and historical — that brought about and continue to produce alienation, solipsism, incommensurate and unequal differences, are complex. The theologian’s task is to keep alive the vision of better things — of justice, salvation, and the common good — and work to clarify the world-view conducive to the promotion of those things. As such, the theologian prophesies, amplifying the voice of the accuser. But the theologian is also mother, brother, friend, lover, son, child, church member, neighbor, cousin, taxpayer, resident, colleague. Alone I have no answer to give to my accuser, and because of his or her own silence, his or her own degradation, then I can pass by and, muttering an apology, pat my pockets of loose change. But something in me dies with such a denial. And so I must find a way not to be alone before that accusation. I must find a way of not being paralysed by the accusation, and frozen into the condition of being permanently accused. I must speak. I must respond. I must not be afraid of the differences. And I must find a way of joining with those who are also ashamed. There is the beginning: the reappropriation of analogical relations, the delineation of a theological cosmology, the constitution of cities of God, the recognition that I only belong to myself insofar as I belong to everyone else — insofar as I have been given to this situation, in this context, with these questions, and this task saeculum saeculorum. Given, thank God, by God, in God, suspended….

Share Button

Posted on: February 15th, 2010 Ordination to the Priesthood

God willing

The Right Reverend Dena Harrison

Suffragan Bishop of Texas

will ordain

Matthew Rutherford Boulter

to the Sacred Order of Presbyters

in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church

Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 7:00pm

Saint Richard’s Episcopal Church

1420 E. Palm Valley Blvd., Round Rock, Texas


Your prayers are requested Your presence is desired

Clergy White Stoles


Reception following in Saint Richard’s Narthex

Share Button

Posted on: February 5th, 2010 Bishop Doyle on the Ministry of the Priesthood

This is just the latest reason I am so proud and grateful to be a (potential) priest in the Diocese of Texas, under the leadership of our pater familias, Andy Doyle.

I hope you will take time to read this (all of it), especially if you are skeptical (as are many of my good friends) of the spiritual vibrancy of this church of mine.

Share Button

Posted on: December 31st, 2009 The Current Reality of the Anglican Covenant

See here for ++ Rowan’s explanation of the Covenant, and its final form which is now being disseminated to all provinces in the Communion.

See here to read my bishop’s comments in support of the Covenant and the Windsor Process.

Share Button

Posted on: December 15th, 2009 Questioning our Worship (intro): Why Liturgical Worship?

The following is an article I wrote for the people of my church.

As a relative newcomer to the “Anglican Way” and the Episcopal Church, I have lots of friends and loved ones who view the liturgical worship of the Episcopal Church with puzzlement and confusion (sometimes mixed with boredom). “Why all the pomp and circumstance?” they often ask, with glazed over eyes, perhaps in not so many words. Some of these friends are still in more “evangelical” churches such as non-denominational “megachurches” or the Baptist church like the one just around the corner from your house. Some of them, quite frankly, are not in any church at all (hence I think of them as more “secular types”).

Perhaps you can relate to this experience of mine. Perhaps you have brought friends to Christ Church and they have been confounded by (what they perceive to be) the lofty pageantry our worship. Whether it is the bishop’s mitre (one friend at my ordination service exclaimed, “I can’t believe bishops nowadays really wear those hat thingies!”) or the procession of the choir and altar party at the beginning of the service, the liturgical aspects of our worship can seem deeply foreign to modern people.

So why do we persist in doing these strange things? After all, perhaps our church would grow faster if we focused more on entertaining people. Maybe if we stopped fussing about all this liturgical stuff, we could get busy doing “real work” like feeding the hungry or assisting the poor.

Good questions, all. And I think that if we are not asking them and struggling with the answers, then our Baptist and megachurch friends might actually be in a more healthy place spiritually than we are!

In light of all this, I want to introduce you to a series on liturgical worship which I will be doing in The Crucifer during 2011, called “Questioning our Worship” (see below). I hope that you will take the time to engage in these and other questions you have about our worship at Christ Church.

  1. Question #1: Why come on Sunday if I can read my Bible at home? (The role of community in worship.)
  2. Question #2: Why ruin my weekend (I need to sleep in on Sunday morning!)? (Sunday as Day of Resurrection.)
  3. Question #3: Why is Worship so boring sometimes? (The role of discipline in an entertainment culture.)
  4. Question #4: Why all the standing & kneeling? (Worshipping with our Bodies).
  5. Question #5: Why all the Words, Scripture, & Creeds? (Anamnesis as re-membering the Story.)
  6. Question #6: Does the Bible tell us to worship this way? (Worship as prior to Scripture.)
  7. Question #7: Why Sacraments? (The Importance of Christology in Worship.)
  8. Question #8: C’mon, is the Bread really the Body of Christ? (Anglicanism on the Eucharist).
  9. Question #9: Why water in baptism, and why babies? (Anglicanism on Baptism.)
  10. Question #10: Why so much repetition? (Worship as the development of habits which train us in virtue.)

For now, though, I wanted simply to discuss this strange word “liturgy.” What exactly does this word mean, and where does it come from?

The word “liturgy” comes from two Greek roots. The “lit” part comes from a Greek word that means “people.” The “urgy” part derives from the Greek ergon (think of an “ergonomic chair” which helps one perform work more effectively). So “liturgy” means, literally, “the work of the people.”

This idea reminds us of the words of I Peter 2:9: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood.” When St. Peter wrote these words, he was not writing to some elite class of “super spiritual” people, and he was not writing only to priests or bishops. He was writing to “ordinary” Christians just like you, who have been baptized into Christ, and who are members of his body by virtue of that baptism and your faithful participation in the Gospel.

As priests, as a priestly people, our primary work or service, then, is to worship God, and this is why we worship the way we do.

Share Button

Posted on: November 19th, 2009 Ordination this Sunday

God willing

The Right Reverend Andrew Doyle

Bishop of Texas

will ordain

Matthew Rutherford Boulter

to the Sacred Order of Deacons

in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church

Sunday, November 22, 2009 at 3:30pm

Saint Richard’s Episcopal Church

1420 E. Palm Valley Blvd., Round Rock, Texas

Your prayers are requested Your presence is desired

Clergy White Stoles

Reception following in Saint Richard’s Narthex

Share Button

Posted on: October 15th, 2009 The Trisagion

During Advent at St. Richard’s we will be using the hauntingly beautiful words and melody of the Trisagion (“Thrice Holy”) during the first portion of the service of the Word (ie, during the synaxis)  in our Eucharistic services.

Quoting from Howard Galley’s The Ceremonies of the Eucharist (p. 81):

The Trisagion is a text drawn from the entrance rite of the Byzantine liturgy. It became widely popular, and was taken into regular use by many other liturgies, both eastern and western. The chief exception is the Roman rite, in which it is used only on Good Friday. The present Prayer Book is the first Anglican liturgy to include it. The rubrics (p. 406) provide that it may be sung three times, which is recommended here, or antiphonally, which is the traditional western method….

Share Button

Posted on: June 23rd, 2009 Deacon’s Vows

This past Saturday I had the joy of attending an ordination service at (beautiful) Christ Cathedral in Houston, at which several good friends were ordained to the diaconate. (I myself am supposed to be ordained to the diaconate sometime this fall.)

There were several strking ocurrances during the service, but one of the most poignant for me was when Bishop Doyle asked each ordinand, one by one,

Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?

After which each individual ordinand responded,

I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.

Share Button

Posted on: April 27th, 2009 Sexuality & Divorce in the Contemporary Church

Many people who keep up with me will know that, in my new role as candidate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, I am in the process (it will surely be a life long process) of trying to think more deeply about issues surrounding human sexuality.

Talking about this recently with a fellow seminarian (actually, a friend in the Lutheran program here at my seminary) I was confronted with a really good point.

Many conservative types (such as myself) who perhaps have a more “traditional” opinion regarding homosexuality become quite silent when the topic of divorce comes up. My friend suggested (though I don’t think I agree with him) that the Scriptures are more clear on this issue than on homosexuality.

What is true, however, is that Jesus explicitly addresses divorce, and not homosexuality, in the gospel narratives (Matt 19). Why is this important? Because, as another friend pointed out, Anglicanism has always followed “the catholic tradition” of seeing the Gospels as having a certain priority over other parts of the Christian Bible, and this view is embodied in our liturgy. For the classic statement of this by Origen, see here.

Joel at Living Text has a post on divorce which I find quite compelling.

Share Button

Posted on: March 9th, 2009 The Inbreaking of the Kingdom – Acts 3:11-26 (Class #9, 3/8/09)

Here is the summary of our discussion for class #9 in our Acts study at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX.  The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest” (see blog categories below). For the outline of Acts we are using, see here, and for more info please contact Matt.

“Peter’s interpretive word”

In our previous discussion(s) of the event of Pentecost, we paid close attention to the character that the Jewish Feast of the same name. In particular we noticed that at the heart of this feast was the idea of “first fruits,” a term which occurs several places in the NT, in particular in Paul’s writing. The idea here is that the Feast of Pentecost was a time for the people of Israel to offer back to God the initial portion, the “first fruits,” of the harvest. In doing this they were saying two things: “Thanks, God, for this gift,” and also, “Now, please, God, may there be much more of this harvest to follow.”

There is a very important word in this current passage we are considering, Acts 3:11-26, which occurs in verse 15. It is the word archegos, which is very cognate with the Greek word for “first fruits,” (aparchen). These words share a common root: the word arche, which has a wide semantic range which can include “ruler” or “beginning.”

In this verse Jesus is referred to as the archegos, or the Pioneer, or the Founder, of the Author, of life. What it is saying that Jesus in the first human to “bust out: into the new realm of “heaven,” into the new realm of “the Kingdom of God,” into the new realm of “universal restoration,” which very term (Gk. apocatastasis) occurs in 3:21.

So in this passage Peter is interpreting the meaning of the healing of this crippled man. According to Peter,  Jesus, as the Pioneer of the Faith, has entered into the new world of total restoration and holistic shalom by his resurrectin and ascension, and therefore his followers Peter and John, who have Jesus’ same spirit, have been agents through which this “perfect health” (verse 16) was given or restored to this crippled man.

Share Button

Posted on: March 9th, 2009 Tanner on Open Communion in the Episcopal Church

What follows is a summary of the article of “In Praise of Open Communion: A Rejoinder to James Farwell” by Kathryn Tanner which appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of the Anglican Theological Review. I wrote this piece for my “God and Creation” class at the Seminary of the Southwest.

In this article Kathryn Tanner attempts to respond to James Farwell’s article which argues against the practice of open communion in the Episcopal Church. The article is, indeed a rejoinder to Farwell.
Her initial foray into what turns out to be the bulk of her argument is that, while Farwell is correct in pointing out that many or most advocates of open communion, following the consensus of the Jesus Seminar, deny the historicity of the account of Jesus’ Last Supper meal with his disciples, this move need not be made by advocates of open communion. Rather, all that must be argued is that the last supper account be read in light of Jesus’ larger food ministry, both his lavish, unconditionally inclusive table fellowship with sinners and outcasts, as well as his ministry of feeding the crowds. When one does this one quickly realizes that the last supper is not really that different from the latter: in both cases Jesus is dining with sinners (in the case of the last supper, with a Christ-denier and a Christ-betrayer) who are ill-informed about Jesus and his Kingdom designs and purposes. Tanner thinks that this undermines Farwell’s argument, since she thinks, for reasons unknown to this writer, that Farwell’s argument relies on the commitment of the participants in the Eucharist as well as their status as well-informed. (This is not Farwell’s argument.)
Tanner also accuses Farwell of portraying the Eucharist as nourishment for mission, but this, she says, encourages “the corrupting disjunction between worship and mission to which Christians everywhere seem prone.”
While Farwell does not claim that baptism is about commitment, Tanner does make this claim, by emphasizing that the baptismal covenant calls for radical commitment on the part of the baptized. (But what about the repetition of the baptismal covenant by the already baptized? one is led to ask.) Because of this, and because the 79 prayer book supposedly sees baptism and eucharist as part of a larger, complex rite of initiation, one can argue that the Eucharist, in giving the person the shape of the Christian life, can precede and prepare for Baptism.
One way of seeing what Tanner is trying to do here: she is applying the same “logic” which the framers of the 79 prayer book used for baptism (in our post-Constantinian context) to the eucharist. If the wider world is no longer Christian, there are many reasons to admit them directly to the table, she thinks.

Share Button

Posted on: March 9th, 2009 Farwell on Open Communion in the Episcopal Church

What follows is a summary of the article “Baptism, Eucharist, and the Hospitality of Jesus: On the Practice of ‘Open Communion'” by James Farwell which appeared Spring 2004 issue of the Anglican Theological Review. I wrote this piece for my “God and Creation” theology class at the Seminary of the Southwest.

In the first, introductory section of the article Farwell summarizes the basic argument which advocates of open communion put forth. The line of reasoning  goes something like this: “(the historical) Jesus would not have engaged in a ritual meal which in any way excluded anyone, and therefore it is unfaithful to the example of Jesus to do so. On the contrary, the Jesus of history went around and scandalized the Jewish leaders of his day by feasting lavishly with ‘sinners:’ prostitutes, tax collectors, and outcasts. The practice of ‘closed communion’ in which baptism is a ‘gateway’ to the table is exclusionary in a way which contradicts the gospel of Jesus.” Farwell, however, views this is a prima facie argument which lacks systematic rigor and makes arbitrary presuppositions, which need further scrutiny and clarification, especially given so central a matter for the life of the Christian Church. Farwell suggests that the failure to engage in this deeper reflection might lead us to give in to the dangerous “the seduction of relevancy.”

In the second section of the article, “The Argument for Open Communion,” Farwell digs deeper into one  of these presuppositions, namely that “the restriction of the eucharist to the baptized was not an early practice, and, therefore, is insupportable,” a claim made by the Jesus Seminar, seen in the work, for example, of John Dominic Crossan.
Farwell responds to this claim in the third section by saying that, according to many biblical historians such as John Koenig,  “it is not clear that the origins of the eucharist cannot reside with Jesus” (italics his, 220-221). Many scholars, for example, argue that “open meal ministry and the more focused supper with the disciples lie alongside one another in a non-dualistic relationship.” (221) It is true, Farwell grants, that Paul’s teaching on the common meal in I Corinthians does not explicitly state the necessity of baptism; however, “there is in the … passage a clear logic of participation” which requires that at least two conditions be met in order to “participate in the table of the Lord” (I Cor 10:21), the “Lord’s supper” (I Cor 11:20): embrace of “the little ones and the outsiders,” and forsaking idolatry.  This law of participation, which is for St. Paul participation in “the future that animated Jesus himself,” is “consistent with” the practice of baptism. (223) If all of this is so, then the post-apostolic documentary evidence (Farwell quotes from the Didache 9.5; Justin Martyr’s First Apology, Cyril of Jerusalem’s Mystagogical Catechesis, Theodore of Mopsuetia’s Third Baptismal Homily, and Augustine’s Sermon 272) must be reconsidered not necessarily as “the accretion of ecclesiastical exclusivity,” but rather “the deepening of the participatory logic of the NT: eucharist completes the initiation and fires the remembrance of the disciple in a pattern of life suitable to the kingdom, to which he or she has joined himself or herself in baptism” (223).  This logic characterizes participation in the death of Christ (I Cor 11:26) and so it is perhaps “disingenuous to offer this meal as if it requires nothing but the desire to participate out of curiosity, custom, or an unformed sense of spiritual longing, however sincere” (224).
In the next section of the essay, Farwell argues that “there is a classic soteriology enacted in the connection of baptism and eucharist on which the practice of open communion may have a serious impact” (228) by spelling out the “both – and” theology of baptism and eucharist. Taken together, they narrate or display both the “gift” aspect of the Christian life  and the discipleship aspect of the Christian life.  It is true that baptism explicitly centers on and embodies more of the gift element, but it also set forth the trajectory and the content of the Christian life of discipleship and obedience (as, for example, is seen in our Baptismal Covenant). Baptism “carries the weight of clarifying the life for which eucharist strengthens us,” something which the eucharist does not do in an explicit way. Rather, it is as if the eucharist is “the performed shorthand for this divine life that we both receive and adopt through baptism” (emphasis his, 226). In other words, the eucharist presupposes baptism since it is there where the content of the Christian life is most fully described.  The eucharist fortifies us and nourishes us to live the life we were initiated in by baptism. But “open communion threatens to short-circuit this enacted “both-and” soteriology of the sacraments by collapsing the entire practice in the direction of divine gift.” (227)

Next Farwell deals with two pastoral issues. He notes that, when it comes to folks wanting to approach the Altar in Communion, there is a huge pastoral opportunity to shepherd people through the whole ordeal of dealing with desire or longing. If, however, we simply and hastily bring them to the table, we cheaply shortchange them of the opportunity to learn from their longing(s). Second, Farwell suggests that advocates of open communion are falling into our modern society’s priority of the individual, a priority which leads to the loss of the common good. This, too, presents a pastoral issue which is shortchanged if we simply rush ahead with open communion.
Finally, boundaries can be hospitable: “good fences make good neighbors.” Farwell’s point is analogous to my saying that it would be inhospitable for me to invite every stranger who knocks on the front door of my house to spend the night with my wife and me in our marriage bed.

Share Button

Posted on: March 1st, 2009 Entering the New Community – Acts 2:37-47 (Class #7, 2/22/09)

Here is the outline for class #7 in our Acts study at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX.  The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest” (see blog categories below). For the outline of Acts we are using, see here, and for more info please contact Matt.

Acts 2:37 – 47 (Sunday, February 22, 2009)

“(Entrance into) the New Community”

I. Review: “these last days” from Holy Eucharist Rite II, Prayer B.

II. Repent & be baptized.

A. Repent, or turn, from what?[1]

B. Baptism: comparison with John’s baptism

1. Repentance in Lk 3 (vv 3, 8)

2. “What should we do? (Lk 3:12)

C. Baptism: contrasts with John’s baptism

1. Name of Jesus

2. Reception of HS

3. John’s baptism not sufficient: 18:24-26;19:4-5

III. Life in the New Community

A. Teaching

B. Fellowship / koinonia

C. Breaking of Bread

D. “The Prayers”

· Rather than look at all four of these separately and in depth, I want to suggest that this is a picture of a “worship service” in the early church. The key to this is to see that it was the breaking of bread which is central (perhaps because tactile and concrete) to the worship service: see Lk 22:19; 24:30-35; Acts 20:7,11.[2]

[1] NTW, 40 – 41.

[2] For some background on “first day of the week,” see John 20:1,19. Here John is stressing that it was on the first day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead.

Share Button

Posted on: March 1st, 2009 Pentecost as New Creation – Acts 2:1-36 (Class #6, 2/16/09)

Here is the outline for class #6 in our Acts study at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX.  The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest” (see blog categories below). For the outline of Acts we are using, see here, and for more info please contact Matt.

Acts 2:1-36 (Sunday, February 15, 2009)

“The Beginning of the New Creation”

I. The Phenomenon of Pentecost: Thinking Typologically (2:1-4)

A. Holy Spirit as first fruits.

1. Some NT uses of this word.

a. Rom 8:23

b. Rom 16:5

c. I Cor 15:20

d. James 1:18

2. First fruits of what?

B. Holy Spirit as new law.

II. New Words for New News (2:5-13)

A. Blessing the World through Israel.

1. Reversal of Babel

2. New house / oikos.

B. Deed à Question à Word (NT Pattern of Mission)

III. Words of Explanation: Peter’s Sermon (2:14-36)

A. Prophecy of Joel: Now Being Fulfilled (2:14-21)

1. “Last Days”

2. “Day of the LORD”

3. Earth-shattering events.

4. Radical Inclusivity (& Political Discomfort)

5. “Salvation”

B. King of Israel, for the World.(2:22-36)

1. Ps 16: King of Israel

2. Ps 110: for the World

Share Button

Posted on: February 11th, 2009 Theology Class (#1 & #2): Williams, Augustine, Chesterton

For background on my reasons for posting this, see here.

Readings we discussed in class today (Tue, 2-10-09):

– Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology, prologue & ch. 1

– Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching, prologue

– St. Augustine, Confessions, Bk. I.

– Chesterton, GK. “The Blue Cross” (from The Essential Father Brown).

Summary of Augustine’s Confessions, ch. 1.
God has created us with desire, desire for him. To desire is at the very depths of who we are as human persons, but only God can satisfy this desire. Which is why it is frustrating and destructive when we try to satisfy our deep desire for God with anything that is “less” than God, ie, the creatures which God has made. Christ makes it possible for our desires to be satisfied in the world, by Christ, in and even through the creation, which is intended by God to be an icon to God, and not an idol which is a (dead) end in itself.

Summary of prologue to Rowan William’s On Christian Theology. There are three registers of theology: the celebratory, the communicative, and the critical. The celebratory is the language of praise or worship of God. The communicative is the attempt to pursuade those not in the faith / tradition / church to accept the claims of theology. The critical is the church’s attempt to critique its own discourse throughout history in order to make it more honest and integral.

Summary of chapter 1 of Rowan William’s On Christian Theology. Any discourse lacks integrity when it is not really about what it claims to be about. In advertising, for example, a “text” might claim to be about the safety of your children or the attainment of satisfaction but it is really about the sale of cars or the sales of a new restaurant chain. Many theological texts claim to be about God or some aspect of God’s economy or dealings with humanity, but in fact they are really about power.

Summary of Chesterton’s “Blue Cross.” forthcoming.

Share Button

Posted on: February 11th, 2009 “Systematic” Theology, Anglican Style

This blog is about my theological pilgrimage (Lt. peregrinatio), and so I am going to blog about an experience I am having which is profoundly important for me. I am finally experiencing, in a formal way, one way to do (“systematic”) theology postmodern, Anglican style.

I am going to try to summarize, in one paragraph each, each of the texts we read in our “Theology I: God and Creation” class taught by Tony Baker at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX.

I do want to call attention to the selection of the texts we are reading in this class (which is sort of the first forray into theology which MDiv students at this Episcopal seminary are getting). I am grateful for my training at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, but it is interesting to compare in contrast the assigned readings in this this class versus what we were assigned to read at Westminster. I am pretty sure that, at Westminster, we did not read anything older than the reformation (in formal theology classes), and nothing from outside the Reformed tradition. (I will get back to this point and confirm it or correct it later.)

First Summary: here.

Here is the assortment of texts, portions of which we are assigned in this theology class at SSW:

Augustine, The Confessions.

Chesterton, GK. Father Brown: The Essential Tales.

Floresky, Pavel. The Pillar and Ground of the Truth.

Pickstock, Catherine. Asyndeton: Syntax and Insanity: a Study of Revision of the Nicene Creed.

Origen. Commentary on the Gospel of John.

De Lubac. Henri. Medieval Exegesis.

Augustine. On Christian Doctrine.

Hooker, Richard. Ecclesiastical Polity.

Maurice, FD. Theological Essays.

Solovyov. Vladimir. Lectures on Divine Humanity.

Florensky, Pavel. The Pillar and Ground of Truth.

Von Balthassar, Hans urs. Theo-Drama: Theological Dramatic Theory, Volume IV: The Actions.

Gregory of Nyssa. Concerning We Should Not Think of Saying That There are Not Three Gods.

Johnson, Elizabeth. Basic Linguistic Options: God, Women, Equilavence.

St. Anselm: Proslogium.

Gutierrez, Gustavo. On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent.

Borges, Jorges Luis. Funes, the Memorious.

Bonhoeffer, Deitrich. Letters and Papers from Prison.

Weinandy, Thomas G. Does God Suffer?

Edwards, Jonathan. Ethical Writings.

Sayers, Dorothy. The Mind of the Maker.

Gregory of Nyssa. On the Making of Man.

Williams, Rowan. On Christian Theology.

Bauerschmidt. Holy Teaching.

Tanner, Kathryn. God, Jesus, and the World.

Share Button

Posted on: February 5th, 2009 Acts 1:6-8 (class #4: Feb 1, 2009)

Here is the outline for class #4 in our Acts study at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX.  The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest” (see blog categories below). For the outline of Acts we are using, see here, and for more info please contact Matt.


“A Question about the Kingdom”

I.      Is it bad to be a child?

II.    Why were they[1] still like children? 

III.  OT Precedents

  • A.   Ps 72
  • B.    Ps 89
  • C.    Isa 40 – 55

IV. Kingdom Dreams Transfigured

V.   Didn’t Jesus basically answer, “No”?

VI. Not just a trip, but a journey (1:8)

VII.  “My witnesses: King Jesus. We have a job to do.

Share Button

Posted on: February 3rd, 2009 Eucharistic Donation: a Fly in the _Oinos_

For the last few months I have been serving as an LEM (Lay Eucharistic Minister) at our home parish, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in South Austin. I have served the chalice at Communion before, but it is always, it seems, an ongoing learning process. This last week I had some questions and so I called our church’s curate to talk them through with him.

After doing a great job answering all my questions, he volunteered something very interesting to me. He said, “Oh, and if a fly were to happen to fall into the wine, what you should do is use a clean wafer to dig the fly out, and then immediately eat the wafer and the fly.”

Unfortunately, nothing of the kind happened this last Sunday at the rail, much to my chagrin. However, when I was talking about these instructions with another friend of mine, he looked at me, rolled his eyes, and asked with something like quizzical disgust, “Why in the world would you eat the fly? Why not just throw it away or something?”

Why in the world, indeed. I thought back to a conversation Bella (my five year old) and I had recently had about the three “givings” or donations which occur in the Eucharist.

First, God gives to us, God gives to Adam, creation in the form of wheat and grapes.

Then, priestly Adam receives the creation, under the species of wheat and grape, from God. We then transform it from glory to glory, turning it into bread and wine, which we offer, give, or sacrifice, together with our tithes and offerings, and “our selves, our souls and bodies,” back to God in the Eucharist.

God then receives this offering (which is sacramentally and / or symbolically the whole creation) from us and transforms or transfigures these creatures of bread and wine into the body and blood of his Son Jesus Christ, bringing them to a new state of glory. God then gives them back to us, the new Adam, and we feast on, and become, the body (and blood) of Christ.

Now, back to the fly. Without needing to buy into any particular theory of “what happens” to the elements of bread and wine, this rendition of the “three givings” has something really important to say what is going on in the eucharist. In particular, it shows how the eucharist is a symbol, or a microcosm, or a “microchron,” or indeed a sacrament(al sign) of the whole creation.

In the Eucharist, all of creation is transfigured into Jesus Christ, the firstborn of all creation, Christ becoming all in all. Everything is changed: trees, rocks, people, etc. What is in the chalice is (a sacramental symbol of) the whole world.

So it makes sense that if anything were to fall into that chalice, we would consume it. In so doing we would be consuming the whole world which is the body and blood of Christ.

Share Button

Filed under: Austin (and Tyler), liturgical theology, political theology, Radical Orthodoxy, the Christian Life / Prayer, theology / ecclesiology | Comments Off on Eucharistic Donation: a Fly in the _Oinos_

Posted on: January 31st, 2009 Commuter Rail in Austin (finally)

Finally, on March 30, Austinites will be able to enjoy the benefits of commuter rail. Good timing, too, because my car is on its last leg. My hope is that this will be another key to making this even more of a bikeable city than it already is.

For the long range plan Cap Metro is working on, see here.

Share Button

Filed under: Austin (and Tyler) | Comments Off on Commuter Rail in Austin (finally)

Posted on: January 23rd, 2009 Approaching Acts: Historical Perspective (Class #2)

This is the outline for class #2 in our Bible Study in Acts at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX. For more info contact Matt. The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest.” For the outline of Acts we are using, see here.

Today’s Thesis: If the Gospels are about a different kind of king, then Acts is about a different kind of conquest.

I. Jerusalem to Rome (1:8)

“In the Acts of the Apostles we find a highly evocative story of the church’s beginnings that traces its dramatic growth from sacred Jerusalem to imperial Rome.”[1]

a. Jerusalem: 1:4

b. Rome: 28:16

II. A different kind of conquest (I Mac 1:1-4).

“After Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated Darius of the Persians and the Medes, he succeeded him as king. (He had previously become king of Greece.) 2 He fought many battles, conquered strongholds, and put to death the kings of the earth. 3 He advanced to the ends of the earth, and plundered many nations. When the earth became quiet before him, he was exalted, and his heart was lifted up. 4 He gathered a very strong army and ruled over countries, nations, and princes, and they became tributary to him.

a. Canonical context: kingdom, king.

b. Historical context.

i. Imperial Hellenism

1. Philip II (d. 336 BCE)

2. Alexander (d. 323 BCE)

3. Ptolemy / Seleucid

4. Antiochus IV Epiphanes[2] (d. 164)

ii. Jewish Revolt / Independence

1. Desecration of the Temple

2. Hasmonean Dynasty

3. Judas Maccabeus[3]

iii. Roman Rule (63 BCE)

the point: feelings of exile / bondage

III. Discussion: What kind of conquest is this? A new conquest for today?

[1] Robert Wall, The Acts of the Apostles, 3.

[2] Seleucid King (not Ptolemaic).

[3] Judas took back control of the Temple in 164. His brother Simon expelled the Seleucid army in 142.

Share Button

Filed under: Austin (and Tyler), Bible, History / Genealogy, New Kind of Conquest, the Christian Life / Prayer, theology / ecclesiology | Comments Off on Approaching Acts: Historical Perspective (Class #2)

Posted on: January 23rd, 2009 Approaching Acts: Canonical Perspective (Class #1)

This is the outline for class #1 in our Bible Study in Acts at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Austin, TX. The title of the course is “A New Kind of Conquest.” For more info contact Matt. (For the outline of Acts we are using, see here.)

Theme: If the Gospels are about a new kind of King, then Acts is about a new kind of conquest.

I.    A window onto the larger narrative (of Scripture & liturgy)

II.    The Deeds and Teaching of King Jesus, Part II

III.    Kingdom of God

Share Button

Filed under: Austin (and Tyler), Bible, History / Genealogy, New Kind of Conquest, the Christian Life / Prayer, theology / ecclesiology | Comments Off on Approaching Acts: Canonical Perspective (Class #1)