The Next Step

This last couple months have been a point of transition for me in my work on the Dinner Church Movement. Previously, I was kept busy identifying and sharing the Dinner Church sites that were popping up and also in continuing my reading on the two recent Biblical threads of research that relate to the DC (Dinner Church): namely the Greco-Roman meals and the significance of the Roman Empire on the New Testament writings and the early church.

However, the DC sites are popping up with less frequency. I will, of course, continue to keep track of new Dinner Churches.  And, though there are continuing to be more books written on the two biblical threads, I’ve read a good share of those available. This includes a pleasurable amount of time using the facilities of the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. There are still material in the two threads that I will be blogging about.

But recent reading I’ve done has made me begin to see other areas of research that are a follow-up to what I have done so far. Though this research is helpful for the DCs, it has relevance for any congregation. When one becomes aware of the effect of Empire on the followers of Jesus in the early centuries, it raises questions: 1. In what way is the early church’s struggle with the conflict between between Kingdom of God and Empire relevant today? 2. If it is, then what is the nature of Empire today? 3. Next, how can congregations today be moved to see themselves as alternative communities in today’s world to the pervading Empire? 4. Finally, how many congregations see their major role already as in opposition to the Empire in the name of the Kingdom?

I’ve already posted blogs on the Empire theme on the Dinner Church blog site.

First, there is the extensive bibliography I have assembled of over 100 books on the Kingdom versus the (Roman) Empire. (here)

Then there are the posts about some of the books in the bibliography. There are two on Warren Carter’s “The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide”. (here and here)

Another blog looks at two collections of articles which cover the influence of the Roman Empire on distinct books of the Bible, “In the Shadow of Empire” and “Empire in the New Testament”. (here)

Several different reading resources have moved me in this present direction. One was the book “Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now” by Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther. They not only did the first century work of pointing to the Empire as foreground for the Christ groups then. They also draw conclusions about the relevance to the twenty-first century church. Certainly more that many of the Empire critique books on my list have done. Most of them are written by academics who, pretty much, write for academics. While reading their book, I was introduced to the name of an author I had not known: David Korten.

Where ‘Unveiling’ and the many other books helped me to understand the early church’s attempts to negotiate the Roman Empire, Korten’s focus is to help his readers get their minds around Empire today. He is an activist as well as an academic.

One of his early books begins the picture: “When Corporations Rule the World”. It is in the global corporations of today, he says, that we see today’s Empire. I know I’ll be spending time writing about one of his later books “The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community.” His thesis in that book is that the last 5000 years of human history is the story of empire, one after the other, where competition, not cooperation, has been the approach.

Also, I have been rereading books and watching videos of lectures by Robin Meyers. Robin is minister of Mayflower UCC church in Oklahoma City. He has written “The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus” and “Spiritual Defiance: Building a Beloved Community of Resistance. (The latter contains his Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale.) What the church needs today are other pastors who will move their congregations to become communities of resistance. What we all need is to know what it takes to move a church that is “of but not in the world” to become “in but not of the world”. I’m interested in developing a list of ministers and churches that have reclaimed the subversive way of Jesus. I’m interested in learning from these ministers just how they were able to change their congregations.

For clarity, I’m planning to keep the Dinner Church Movement Facebook group page focussed on dinner churches and the Greco-Roman Meal biblical research that undergirds them. At the same time, I am beginning a new Facebook group page and a blog that will focus on Empire, which I title “ Subverting Empire”. I invite you to join that Facebook page found here:

“Table Talk”: Just off the press

 Table Talk Mike Graves

Food for Thought

Dr. Mike Graves writes:

“What if I told you that the way Christians worship and eat Communion today is not just 2,000 years removed from the first century but in many ways light years removed, that those earliest followers of Jesus might not even recognize our worship services?

 What if I told you they gathered primarily to eat, and when those earliest house churches started to grow, they made more room by converting the dining room into meeting space and the loss was more catastrophic than we ever could have imagined?

 What if I told you that their Communion meal was more of a festive dinner party, celebrating and enjoying the presence of the resurrected Jesus?

 What if I told you that the first followers of Jesus had extended conversations over wine after dinner, valuing the voices of everyone present, and that conversation was their notion of preaching?

 What if I told you that in churches everywhere, new ways of eating Communion are enlivening congregations, giving them reasons to celebrate together in festive joy?

 What if I told you that a new movement of God is afoot in our day, a movement called dinner church at which people gather around a meal and have a conversation as they remember Jesus and celebrate their part in God’s family?”

Amazon site for “Table Talk”: here
Buy the Kindle copy or get the free Kindle sample here

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Note: to be notified of new postings of books, articles, or new sites about Dinner Church, go to the Dinner Church Movement Facebook page and click ‘like’ or ‘follow’.


There are two recent studies by Biblical scholars that give undergirding to the Dinner Church Movement (DCM). One of them is the work done by the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) subgroup on the first century Greco-Roman Meals. Whether those who are giving leadership to the burgeoning dinner church sites are aware of these academics is not clear to me. But by developing congregations that worship in a full meal setting they portray some of the results of this SBL group, whether they are aware of that scholarship or not.

But the results of the research done by the second SBL group is less evident in what I have seen in the on-line material of DCM sites. To their detriment, I might add. The first study focusses on the internal, community aspect of the faith. My own denomination, the United Methodist Church, has had its purpose statement read something like: “Making disciples for Jesus Christ”. Then they realized they hadn’t specified why they were to create disciples. At a later General Conference they corrected that by adding a phrase so that it now reads: “Making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Likewise, the second SBL study, when understood and used, adds the larger frame, the purpose for which the community meets and worships. For the second study sets the external setting in which the early church existed: the Roman Empire. As Warren Carter, one of the second SBL group puts it, “The Roman Empire is not the background of the New Testament, it is the foreground… Rome’s empire does not disappear or go away when it is not explicitly mentioned. It is always there. It forms the pervasive context of New Testament writings.”

Since the beginning of this twenty-first century there has been a tsunami of material spelling out the effect of the Empire Study on the New Testament and the New Testament church. I have developed a bibliography of this material and to date it contains over 100 books. For your convenience, I’ll try not to recommend all of the books! I have said elsewhere that there are only two books I know of that cover both the academic studies, Alan Streett’s “Subversive Meals” and Hal Taussig’s “In the Beginning was the Meal”. Personally, I think Street’s book title is brilliant in that in two words it encapsulates the heart of the two SBL studies. The noun, ‘meals’, tells us what was at the center of the early community’s meetings. And the adjective, ‘subversive’, informs us of the relation of that community to the world in which it found itself.

If I were asked to recommend only one book for understanding the Roman Empire, I would name Carter’s book from which the above quotation was taken, “The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide”.

In this posting, though, I’m going to focus on two books which show how the Empire Study affects our reading of the New Testament. The effect of this study on me reminds me of the day I got my first eye glasses. The optometrist’s office was on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa, California. I recall vividly walking westward on the sidewalk, alternately putting on the glasses and looking, saying to myself, “Amazing!” ; taking off the glasses and looking. Putting on the glasses and saying “Amazing”! It was the same world I was looking at, glasses on or glasses off. But with them on I was seeing that world with a new clarity.

So it is in looking at the Bible after reading these books on Empire Study. It makes you see Biblical books and passages in a different way than before, with a new clarity. One of the books to which I want to make reference is from Canada, the other one is from “Southern Canada”, which is a euphemism I sometimes use to refer to the United States.

The first book is “Empire in the New Testament”, and is co-edited by Stanley E. Porter and Cynthia Long Westfall, who both teach at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario. The second book, with its full title, is: “In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance”, edited by Richard Horsley. The latter title combines two realities. The first, already stated earlier, is that the New Testament is written and the early Christians lived their lives under the oppression of the Roman Empire. The second reality is that the early Christians were not simply helpless victims of the Empire. With the teaching of Jesus on God’s Kingdom and through the example of his life, death, and Resurrection, they had resources which they used to resist the Empire.

Here we have an example right away of a different view of the New Testament by looking through the lens of their lives lived in the midst of the Roman Empire. When Paul speaks of Christians being “in but not of the world” he was not speaking of a Gospel whose goal was just to transport them to a heavenly world beyond their present time and space. He was telling them that they were to live by values of a different empire in the midst of the Roman Empire. That is what Jesus had asked in his prayer: that God’s Kingdom might come “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Let me set before you the table of contents of the two books to give us a framework for my discussion.

IN THE SHADOW OF EMPIRE (Published: 10-2008)

Introduction: The Bible and Empires  by Richard A. Horsley

  1. Early Israel as an Anti-Imperial Community  by Norman K Gottwald
  2. Faith in the Empire  by Walter Brueggemann
  3. Resistance and Accommodation in the Persian Empire  by Jon L. Berquist
  4. Roman Imperial Theology  by John Dominic Crossan
  5. Jesus and Empire  by Richard A. Horsley
  6. The Apostle Paul and Empire  by Neil Elliott
  7. Matthew Negotiates the Roman Empire  by Warren Carter
  8. Acts of the Apostles: Pro(to)-Imperial Script and Hidden Transcript by Brigitte Kahl
  9. The Book of Revelation as Counter-Imperial Script by Greg Carey

EMPIRE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT (Published: 01-2011)

Introduction: Empire, the New Testament, and Beyond

1.    The Old Testament Context of David’s Costly
       Flirtation with Empire-Building- Douglas K. Stuart
2.    Walking in the Light of Yahweh – Mark J Boda
3.    Matthew and Empire – Warren Carter
4.    King Jesus and His Ambassadors – Craig Evans
5.    “I Have Conquered the World” – Tom Thatcher
6.    Paul Confronts Caesar with the Good News – Stanley E Porter
7.    “This Was Not an Ordinary Death” – Matthew F Lowe
8.    Running the Gamut – Cynthia L Westfall
9.    The Church Fathers and the Roman Empire -Gordon Heath

Both books have an introduction followed by nine chapters. Both cover Old and New Testaments. The first tends to be more thematic; the latter sticks closer to the books of scripture. I’ll begin with Horsley’s book as it was the earlier published.

“In the Shadow of Empire” devotes three chapters to the experience of empire by the Israelites. That is followed by three, one each on the Roman Empire, Jesus and Paul. It ends with three chapters on N T books, a Gospel: Matthew, the book of Acts, and, finally, Revelation.

“Empire in the New Testament”, perhaps building upon but not including subjects covered in ‘Shadow’ hews more closely to covering specific Biblical books. After covering one chapter on the Hebrew empire: David, the next chapter matches the three sections in Isaiah with Israel’s periods under foreign empires. The last seven chapters cover sections of the N T and beyond: Ch. 3, Matthews Gospel (Here we find the only overlap of authors in the two books with Warren Carter repeating his research of Matthew); Ch. 4 Luke-Acts; Ch. 5 John’s Gospel; Ch. 6 Paul and Empire, more specifically his letters to Rome and Corinth; Ch. 7 Paul on atonement and empire in Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Titus and Timothy, and Philemon; Ch. 8 includes a number more of N T books, the General Epistles, Hebrews, and Revelation. Finally, Ch 9 serves as a responses and interaction with the previous chapters by making use of the early church fathers’ reaction to the Roman Empire. Thus, the theme of Empire is related to the O T in a more general way but covers most of the N T.

The two books are, to a great extent, complementary. The first was published first and gives a more general introduction to empires and their effects on the Old- and New Testaments. The second book zeros in more specifically to the relation between empire and particular scripture books. Depending upon what your own need and interest, you may find one of the books to more helpful than the other. But if you are tempted by both, you can own them in the Kindle format for slightly under $20.00.

There is so much material in the two books that could serve to function as source for the content of the symposium segment of the dinner meetings. You will recall in other postings where I have focussed on the structure of the early Christian gatherings that their evening had two parts: the deipnon or the meal proper, and the symposium. The latter included readings, prayer, singing, and conversation. I could see an evening focussed on a chapter or part of chapter from these two books. Let me choose one of the chapters to show what I mean.

I’m going to choose the eighth chapter in “Empire and the New Testament” by Cynthia Westfall. The first reason for this chapter is the intriguing fact that, with the many books covering a segment of the New Testament for showing how they can be read in light of an Empire setting, no other book or writer has covered this particular section of the Scripture. I have seen, for instance, about a half dozen books that cover the Gospel of Luke or Luke-Acts.

The second reason is that Westfall includes some questions to be asked that are appropriate to hone in on this new perspective of seeing the N T through the lens of Empire. I have a personal reason for finding her questions relevant. For the last decade I have lived half the year in England. As such, I have become part of a congregation of English Methodists. The church is in a town half way between the university city of Oxford and the major science research facility in the United Kingdom called Harwell. It means having a group of new friends whose educations and professions have shaped them to ask questions about any new approach.

So when I have presented a program on this new approach to the N T, to the mens’ group for instance, there is a good deal of rational skepticism. “We’ve spent years hearing sermons without mention of the Empire setting. Why this change and why now?” One dear friend, who I’m sure votes Conservative, cringes every time I use the word ’subversive’!

At the outset, Westfall presents three questions that ask readers to consider.

  1. “Did the author intend to interact with the Roman Empire either in accommodation or confrontation in what is written?”
  2. “Would the recipients read a given passage or phrase as a negotiation or confrontation of empire?”
  3. “Would the Roman authorities perceive a passage or phrase to be addressing empire; especially, would a given statement offend the authorities or be considered subversive to the empire?”
          (Empire in the New Testament (Kindle Locations 5805-5809).)

Beginning with those questions, Westfall’s chapter is begging to be made into a series of discussions. Her material could begin with an analysis of the interaction between the New Testament church with the Roman Empire. It would then be easy to pivot and reflect on the conflict that the church of today needs to consider in relating to contemporary aspects of empire.

For instance: the book of James and the Economic Control of the Empire

“Its scathing critique of economic conditions under the Roman Empire is consistent with the tensions among the peasants in Palestine that eventually provoked the war against Rome and preceded the destruction of the temple in 70 CE.”

One needs only to read the news today to see articles speaking about the effects of the free market economy, or the Citizen’s United court decision on money influencing elections, or see the influence of the gun lobby stifling any reform, or the wealth inequality and the collapse of the middle class. What a need there is for the church to lift up a different Kingdom with its focus on economic justice and on the poor!

I could go on, but hopefully, these two books, “In the Shadow of Empire”, and “Empire in the New Testament” will help you see the necessity of seeing the New Testament books through the lens of the early Christians living out their lives in the omnipresent, oppressive Roman Empire.


dopnamedatum: 2006-04-18

(Rembrandt: Christ before Pilate 1636)

In the first part of a review of Warren Carter’s The Roman Empire and the New Testament*, the focus was on the Empire. I began with the reality that we were raised thinking the Roman Empire was a “good thing”. Carter made clear this is no longer the case with present biblical scholars. (Compare this with SPQR the book by renowned classics professor of Cambridge University, Mary Beard. With all the careful scholarship she exhibits in her almost 600 page tome, she  still reflects the old view of the Roman Empire seen from the lofty chair of an academic elite.)

The core of that previous article was to spell out what the structure of Rome’s empire was. Hence, I titled it Empire: Foreground of the New Testament.

In this article I want to deal with the different views that Carter says can be found the New Testament toward the Empire. So what follows is what he says were the different strategies the different New Testament writers proposed in dealing with the Empire. I’ll conclude with focussing on the role of the church as providing an alternative community to that posited by Empire. In the title I use empire in the plural. My conviction is that, whether they have been faithful to that call, a main mission of the Church has always been to provide a counter to Empire. This should be true today whether we are talking about the Dinner Church or any other current form of the church. This conviction comes not just from reading Carter’s book. In fact, for whatever reason, he seldom uses the word “kingdom”. (A word search showed fewer than 30 references to ‘kingdom’ and over 100 to ’empire’. This is not true of other authors in the section of my bibliography labelled “Kingdom versus the Empire”.

To pick just two examples: on the theological left- J. D. Crossan and J. L. Reed in their book on Paul. They spell it out in their subtitle to the book: In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom. On the theological right- Subversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation, by Ed Setzer.

This blog has been a struggle for me to write. I have finally decided the reason for it is that Carter is not clear about drawing conclusions to help today’s church. But let me put this caveat in context. His view of the reality of Empire for the first century is first rate. Yet after laying out the different evaluations the New Testament writers, his assessment as to which of these can be applied to the contemporary situation and which can’t seems a bit vague. This is partly due to the structure of the book. What should I expect? He spends eight chapters incisively explicating the dark side of the Empire and only one chapter on the several ways the New Testament writers evaluate the Empire!

As I have time, I probably need to check out his other books to find the same meticulous scholarship in this issue as he has done on the nature of the Empire here. And he does, after all, show as he says that: “This book recognizes that Rome’s empire does not disappear or go away when it is not explicitly mentioned. It is always there. It forms the pervasive context of New Testament writings.” That is a trenchant insight.

I will need to delve into more of the books on Empire and the New Testament to spell out the theme of “Kingdom: Alternative to Empires” more clearly. In re-reading Crossan’s “God and Empire” I have found he is more helpful here. His book will be the subject of my next blog post.

I The New Testament’s Evaluations of the Roman Empire

Let’s begin with with the church before it called itself church: the first two centuries.

After his first chapter in which he lays out the nature of the Roman world and its dominating and exploiting Empire (which was covered in the previous blog posting), Carter turns in the second chapter to what he call, “Evaluating Rome’s Empire”. This is not abstract and general. It is evaluating the Empire through the New Testament texts. He finds five different ways the scripture views the Empire. He begins with the most negative and proceeds through to the most benign. According to the different New Testament writers, the Empire is:

1.  Under the devil’s control; As one example, “Both accounts (Matthew and Luke)  identify the devil as controlling the world’s empires.” Both present the devil, in the Temptation passages, as having the power to allocate the world’s empires as the devil wishes.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms [or empires] of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matt. 4: 8-9)

 Hence, the power behind Rome’s throne is the devil. “Jesus asserts God’s claim of sovereignty over the world under Satan’s control and manifested in Rome’s rule.”

Other Gospel passages are similar. Mark identifies the Empire with the devil in his story of the man who is demon possessed by giving the demon a name, ‘legion’, the term used for a unit of the Empire’s military power. (Who says there is no humor in the New Testament?)

2. Under God’s judgment;  “Various New Testament texts assert that God will end Rome’s rule by judging and condemning Rome’s world. This declaration counters Rome’s propaganda claim that it is the “eternal city” with an “empire without end.”

The sense of the Empire being under God’s judgment is underscored when the writers employ the idea of two ages, one of which is under the Empire. But the age to come will be under God’s judgment.

In 1 Thessalonians 5, we find Paul writing: “1 Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

3. In the meantime, the Empire is needing transformation; “A third evaluation refuses to accept Rome’s imperial order as the way that God intends the world to be structured and urges followers of Jesus to adopt practices of (limited) transformation shaped by God’s purposes. Luke presents Jesus’ public ministry as one of transformation”

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
 and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Lk. 4

4. In the meantime, shaping alternative communities with alternative practices; In the Empire the political life was closely controlled and those who lived in it. had no means to affect issues or make any significant changes. “There were no opportunities to intervene in the political process, to put amendments on ballots, to form political parties, to sign petitions, or to lead mass reform movements. And the elite was certainly not going to surrender its power and wealth voluntarily.”

Therefore, New Testament writers often urge readers to form alternative communities with practices that provide life-giving alternatives to the empire’s ways. Hal Taussig in his In the Beginning Was the Meal adds an additional dimension of what the alternative community could contribute to its participants. No where else in the closely controlled hierarchical empire could individuals receive personal affirmation. They were pretty much reduced to being cogs in a well oiled machine. In their community they were affirmed as children of a caring God.

5. To be submitted to and honored; “The so-called Pastoral Epistles, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, and letters such as Colossians and Ephesians, generally take an accommodationist approach to society, imitating cultural practices like patriarchal-dominated households where women are required to submit to their husbands.” Crossan and Borg in their The First Paul distinguish the epistles of the original Paul from the later epistles. The earlier ‘Paul’ affirms the equal value of persons- in Christ Jews and gentiles, male and female, slave and free are all of worth. The later epistles, not written by Paul, reflect the empire’s hierarchical values which see persons having different worth.

“The hierarchical social interactions and exploitative structures of the Roman Empire fostered social resentment, anger, and hostility. There were no democratic processes of reform. Instead, New Testament writers offer, as we have seen, various ways of negotiating Rome’s empire.”

Parenthetically, I should note that Carter’s schema of the five approaches of New Testament writers reminds me of H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, where Niebuhr, as a historian and sociologist of religion, finds five different ways that theology has evaluated culture.

II Relevance for today.

In what he calls a Postscript, Carter reflects on how this study of the Roman Empire and the New Testament might have relevance for our own time.

  1. The New Testament Is a Very Political Document “Our discussion of numerous New Testament texts shows how deeply intertwined are matters of religion and politics. We cannot dismiss the questions of how we live in a world of empire. We cannot ignore these questions by claiming that following Jesus concerns religion, not politics.”

With this affirmation, Carter joins just about every biblical scholar who has a book in my bibliography. The understanding of Jesus as a religious, spiritual leader does not find much support especially among contemporary scholars of Scripture that take seriously the role of the Empire in the life of the early church. In the Empire, crucifixion was only used on those who were guilty of crimes against the state, such as sedition.

2. Negotiating Empires Is Complicated

“If we want a single formula to fit all situations, we won’t find it in the New Testament… These writings from early Christians show how difficult it is to live in/ with/ under/ against empires. My choice of four prepositions in this last sentence alone hints at the diverse negotiation that is needed to be faithful. The difficulty with empire arises in part because empires often make totalizing claims. They claim to exert complete sovereignty.” Further: “They have the means to accomplish their will regardless of what anyone else thinks… They cannot tolerate dissent.”

3. Unquestioning Submission Is Not the Bible’s Only Way
Constant Opposition Is Not the Bible’s Only Way

In academic fashion, Carter contends that the Bible does not speak with a single voice nor does it opt always for the extremes.There is validity here, in that the Empire did not allow for the non-elite to have much voice in their lives. The top elite decided; the non-elite were expected to obey.

5. Active Nonviolence, Not Violence

“But the absence of violence does not mean the absence of dissent and opposition. The third way comprises active, nonviolent, calculated interventions that reverse the destructive impact of empire. These emphases raise huge questions about the use of military violence in our contemporary world as an instrument of empire.”

6. Alternative Worldviews and Communities

“Perhaps this element forms the most frequent recurring theme throughout this study of the New Testament texts. The New Testament writers offer followers of Jesus an alternative understanding of the world as belonging not to an empire or political party or system, but as belonging to God.”

“They challenge and invite and shape Christian communities to become places that embody God’s purposes and that embody an alternative way of being human in the midst of the empire. These strategies of reconceptualization and of alternative social experiences and relationships result, in part, from the early Christians not having any access to power and no opportunity to make systemic changes.”

I will be exploring the theme if Kingdom: Alternative to Empires further. I will be using the thought of John Dominic Crossan in his book God and Empire to do this.

*The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide (at Amazon here)

Bibliography: The Kingdom versus the Empire

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Books on EMPIRE AND THE NEW TESTAMENT Study by American Academy of Religion

I There are books that help us understand what living in the Roman Empire was like.

+The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide,  Warren Carter  2009

God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, then and now, John Dominic Crossan 2009

Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse, Averil Cameron 1991

II There are those that deal topically, and, generally cover Jesus or Paul in relation to the Empire.

Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary, Marcus Borg 2000

Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder,  Richard Horsley 2002

Jesus and Spiral of Violence, Richard Horsley 1993

Jesus and the Politics of Roman Palestine, Richard Horsley  2013

Jesus and the Powers: Conflict, Covenant, and the Hope of the Poor, Richard Horsley 2010

Jesus in Context: Power, People, and Performance, Richard Horsley  2008

The Prophet Jesus and the Renewal of Israel, Richard Horsley 2012

The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted, Obery Hendricks  2006

Jesus, Justice and the Reign of God, William Herzog II 1999

The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder 1972

Jesus and Politics: Confronting the Powers, Alan Storkey  2005

The Social Gospel of Jesus, Bruce Malina  2001

ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church, Frost and Hirsch, 2008

Prophet and Teacher: An Introduction to the Historical Jesus, William Herzog 2005

In Search of Paul, John Dominic Crossan, Jonathan Reed  2009

The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative  Icon, John Crossan and Marcus Borg  2009

Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society, Richard Horsley 1997

Paul and the Roman Imperial Order, Richard Horsley 2004

Reading Paul in Context: Explorations in Identity Formation, Kathy Ehrensperger 2013

Apostle to the Conquered: Re-imagining Paul’s Mission (Paul in Critical Contexts), Davina Lopez 2008

Transient Apostle, Timothy Luckritz Marquis 2013

The Colonized Apostle: Paul Through Postcolonial Eyes (Paul in Critical Contexts), Christopher Stanley 2011

Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N T Wright 2013

Paul: In Fresh Perspective, N. T. Wright  2009

Liberating Paul, Neil Elliott 2006

The Politics of Heaven: Women, Gender, and Empire in the Study of Paul (Paul in Critical Contexts), Joseph Marchal  2008

John, Jesus, and the Renewal of Israel, Horsley and Thatcher 2013

Being the Church in the Midst of Empire, Karen L. Bloomquist 2005

III The third are those that show the effect of the Empire on the New Testament or on particular books of the New Testament.

Theology of the Old Testament, Walter Brueggemann 2012

A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, Bruce Birch Editor 2011

The Tribes of Yahweh: A Sociology of the Religion of Liberated Israel, Norman Gottwald 1979

The Bible and Liberation, Gottwald and Horsley 1993

+In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance, Richard Horsley editor 2008

+Empire in the New Testament,  Stanley Porter and Cynthia Westfall eds 2011

Matthew and Empire: Initial Explorations, Warren Carter 2001

Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading,  Warren Carter 2013

Mark and Empire: Feminist Reflections, Laurel Cobb, 2013

Discourses of Empire: The Gospel of Mark from a Postcolonial Perspective, Han Leander, 2013

+Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, Ched Myers 1987

Luke’s Jesus in the Roman Empire and the Emperor in the Gospel of Luke, Pyung Soo Seo, 2015

The Roman Empire in Luke’s Narrative (The Library of New Testament Studies), Kazuhiko Yamazaki-Ransom 2010

Luke-Acts and Empire: Essays in Honor of Robert L. Brawley,  David Rhoads and David Esterline 2011

World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age, Kavin Rowe 2009

Acts of Empire: The Acts of the Apostles and Imperial Ideology, (Sino-Christian Studies: Supplement) Christine Petterson 2012

John and Empire: Initial Explorations, Warren Carter  2008

Greater Than Caesar: Christology and Empire in the Fourth Gospel, Tom Thatcher 2009

The Arrogance of Nations: Reading Romans in the Shadow of Empire (Paul in Critical Contexts), Neil Elliot 2008

Paul and the Politics of Difference: A Contextual Study of the Jewish-Gentile Difference in Galatians and Romans, Jae Won Lee 2014

Paul and Politics: Ekklesia, household, and empire in 1 Corinthians 1-7., Ok-Pil Kim 2011

Picturing Paul in Empire: Imperial Image, Text and Persuasion in Colossians, Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles, Harry O Maier 2013

+Galatians Re-Imagined: Reading With the Eyes of the Vanquished, Brigitte Kahl 2010

Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, Walsh and Keesmaat 2004

Paul’s Macedonian Associations: The Social Context of Philippians & 1 Thessalonians, Richard S. Ascough 2003

Onesimus Our Brother: Reading Religion, Race and Culture in Philemon (Paul in Critical Contexts), Matthew Johnson 2009

Resisting Empire: Rethinking the Purpose of the Letter to “the Hebrews”, Jason Whitlark 2014

What Does Revelation Reveal? Unlocking the Mystery, Warren Carter  2011

Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins, Steven Friesen 2006

Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation, Michael Gorman 2011

Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now, by Howard-Brook and Gwyther  2013

No Longer at Ease: Seven Churches and the Empire: A Study of Revelation 1-3, Kent Ulery 2011

Still being Categorized

Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most, Marcus Borg 2014

The First Christmas, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, 2009

The Practice of Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann  2012

Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann (revised) 2012

Sabbath as Resistance, Walter Brueggemann 2014

Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination, Walter Brueggemann, 1993

Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture, Walter Brueggemann 2013

Render to Caesar: Jesus, the Early Church, and the Roman Superpower, Christopher Bryan  2005

Seven Events That Shaped the New Testament World, Warren Carter  2013

The Reemergence of Liberation Theologies: Models for the Twenty-First Century, Thia Cooper, Ed

Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Revised), Hauerwas & Willimon 2014

Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed, William R. Herzog, 1994

Hidden Transcripts And The Arts Of Resistance: Applying The Work Of James C. Scott To Jesus And Paul, Richard Horsley  2004

Message and the Kingdom  by Richard Horsley  2002

The Church Before Christianity, Wes Howard-Brook 2013

Come Out, My People! God’s Call out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond, Wes Howard-Brook 2012

+Empire Baptized, Wes Howard-Brook

Empire and the Christian Tradition: New Readings of Classical Theologians, Pui-lan Kwok and Don H. Compier 2007

Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies,  Scot McKnight and Joseph B. Modica 2012

The Underground Church: Reclaiming the subversive way of Jesus, Robin Meyers 2012

Subverting the Devil’s Kingdom 24/7 , Jared Moore 2012

+Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture, Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts 2012

Faith in the Face of Empire: the Bible Through Palestinian Eyes, Mitri Raheb  2014

Imperialism and resistance, Rees, John, 1957

Christ and Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times, Joerg Rieger, 2007.

Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude, Joerg Rieger  2013

Religion, Theology, and Class, Joerg Rieger  2013

Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, James C Scott 1992

Subversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation, Ed Setzer 2012

Renegade Gospel: The Rebel Jesus, Mike Slaughter, 2014

Subversive Meals: An Analysis of the Lord’s Supper under Roman Domination during the First Century, R. Alan Streett 2013

To Caesar What Is Caesar’s: Tribute, Taxes, and Imperial Administration in Early Roman Palestine, Fabian Udoh  2005

Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals, Trevin Wax 2010

Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus Christ, Klaus Wengst 1987

+ Books to be reviewed in the DCM blog

Empire: Foreground of the New Testament


Carter RE & NT

(This is the first part of my review of Warren Carter’s book: The Roman Empire and the New Testament.)

“The Bible was written by a minority group that had been conquered by one military superpower after another, so they’re highly suspicious of empires built on wealth and weapons because they’ve been on the receiving end of so much horrific violence,” said Rob Bell, recently an evangelical megachurch pastor and more recently at a lecture given in Atlanta. “So if you’re a citizen of the most powerful global military superpower civilization has ever created, there’s a chance you might miss some of its most central themes.” (From a CNN article July 28, 2017.)

The books written in the last couple decades on the New Testament and the Roman Empire are many. In my bibliography I list nearly a hundred books on the topic. They break down into three main categories. There are books that help us understand what living in the Roman Empire was like. There are those that deal topically, and, generally cover Jesus or Paul in relation to the Empire. The third are those that show the effect of the Empire on the New Testament or on particular books of the New Testament. I’ll be dealing with each of the three categories

In this blog I want to focus on the first issue- understanding the Roman Empire itself. It is impossible to understand Jesus or Paul, or, for that matter any Christian of the first two centuries, or the church of the time period, without understanding the Roman Empire.

Most of us have grown up with basically a benevolent feeling toward the Roman Empire. The English village I’m currently living in produces a publication of news monthly. As this month is August, they have an explanation for the month’s name. It is on the local parish church’s page, so it gives insight not only for the average English person’s view of the Empire; it also shows how the Empire was ‘helpful’ in early church history.

“August is named after Augustus Caesar…(who) brought peace and prosperity to the Roman Empire…The extensive network of Roman roads made travel much easier and thus [helped] the spread of Christianity.”

What the explanation leaves out, as Carter will show, is that this benevolent view of the Empire was held by the 2 or 3 percent of the elites who controlled the Empire, for whom was there ‘peace and prosperity’. The roads were built not for ordinary travel; that was incidental. The roads were built to insure that the Roman legions could travel anywhere there was civil unrest by the oppressed 90 to 98 percent and squelch it. All most all early Christians were non-elites. The peace of the Roman Empire was at the expense of oppression and exploitation of the 90-8 percent.

Other sources of the Empire I have read explain the reason for this benevolent view. Those who wrote the histories and understanding of biblical times in the 17th to 19th centuries were academics who were part of the elite of their day and in projecting themselves back, saw the Empire through the eyes of the elite. They were also academics in a time when their countries controlled empires, German, British, etc., and, of course, their empires were a ‘good thing’, bringing peace and prosperity to the benighted natives. It was because of view through their books and their successors that we miss what it was really like to live in the time of the Empire.

Even one of Rome’s own historians, Tacitus, was more perceptive: “They make a desolation and call it peace”

Interestingly, the epitome of comic cynicism of out time, Monty Python, buy into the benevolent view of Empire. See “What have the Romans ever done for us?” With the sophistication of their humor coming to a great extent because of their first class education at Cambridge University, it is strange to see how they still simply reflect and re-enforce the popular view by perceiving Empire as ‘a good thing’.

For anyone alive in that time, including our religious forebears, the Empire was the ubiquitous, oppressive reality. From when they woke up and ate the meager rations that the Empire’s exploitative economics allowed them, to when they went to bed tired by the work the oppressive Empire required of them, the Empire determined the practicalities of their day-to-day living.

In his book “The Roman Empire and the New Testament”, Warren Carter writes:
This book is not about “Roman backgrounds” to the New Testament, because it understands Rome’s empire to be the foreground…. This book recognizes that Rome’s empire does not disappear or go away when it is not explicitly mentioned. It is always there. It forms the pervasive context of New Testament writings.”

As the focus of this blog posting is Carter’s book, I should tell a bit about him. Warren Carter was born in New Zealand, did his theological training for the Methodist ministry in Australia, and then did his doctoral work in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. Following a period of teaching at St Paul School of Theology, a Methodist institution in Kansas City, he became professor at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, a Disciples of Christ seminary. As such, he is almost a neighbor to Dr Alan Streett, author of the important, nay, critical, book, “Subversive Meals’, who teaches in Dallas. Streett is about the only biblical scholar who sees the relevance of this understanding of empire in the context of Christian gathering and worship in the first two centuries.

If scholars are ranked by the number of books they have produced on the Empire and the New Testament topic, Carter would be exceeded only by the prolific Richard Horsley. The books Carter has authored include this book- The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide, 2009, and as well these books: John and Empire: Initial Explorations, 2008; Matthew and Empire: Initial Explorations, 2001; Matthew and the Margins: A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading, 2013; The New Testament: Methods and Meanings, 2013; Seven Events That Shaped the New Testament World, 2013; What Does Revelation Reveal? Unlocking the Mystery by Warren Carter. 2011.

In addition there are two major books with multiple authors covering a wide number of individual books of Old and New Testament, which I will be subsequently covering in a later blog (In the Shadow of the Empire and Empire in the New Testament). Carter is significant in being the only scholar who has contributed a chapter to each of the two books.

With those kinds of credentials, you might see why it is a book by him that I select for the best understanding of Empire among the number available.

Why is it that the crucial role of the Empire has escaped our recognizing it? Carter says two things contribute toward it.

First: has to do with the relation of religion and politics. Since the Enlightenment we have viewed the two as separate. That concept has values because of problems that had come from centuries of religion and state being fused into one entity. It is epitomized when kings have claimed that their authority came from God. But this fusion of religion and politics had (and has) the effect of kings and clergy enjoying the increase of power that came from it.

But the post-Enlightenment separation of the two has had the effect on Christianity of assigning the role of Jesus to the spiritual realm, safely out of the issues of politics. It turns Jesus into a ‘spiritual’ leader whose kingdom is safely kept separate and pure from the realm of politics. Jesus’ message has often been seen as other-worldly, and the purpose of Christianity is thus seen as removing the Christian from this world and primarily aiming him or her toward a post-death heaven.

Second: because we have not thought of the Roman Empire affecting the New Testament or early Christians, we haven’t bothered to become familiar with it. We know very little about its oppressive and exploitative role on the lives of those of the first couple centuries, especially.

“The texts don’t stop to explain it to us. They don’t spell it out for us. Instead we are expected to supply the relevant knowledge the texts assume, since these folk shared the same world as the authors. But it is difficult for us who read them some two millennia later and in a vastly different world. Without understanding the Roman imperial world, we will find it hard to understand the New Testament texts.”

With the exception of the second one, subsequent chapters of the book attempt to give us detailed knowledge of the Empire. That second chapter recognizes that there are different ways to deal with the Empire. It lays out those different ways and the discusses how the different writers negotiate the empire.

The Roman Imperial World

What then was the structure of the Roman imperial world?

“In the first century, Rome dominated the territory and people around the Mediterranean Sea. Its empire extended from Britain in the northwest, through (present-day) France and Spain to the west, across Europe to Turkey and Syria in the east, and along North Africa to the south. Rome ruled an estimated 60 to 65 million people of diverse ethnicities and cultures.”

“The empire was very hierarchical, with vast disparities of power and wealth. For the small ruling elite, life was quite comfortable. For the majority non-elite, it was at best livable and at worst very miserable. There was no middle class, little opportunity to improve one’s lot, and few safety nets in adversity.”

The Roman Empire was an aristocratic empire. This term means that a small elite of about 2 to 3 percent of the population ruled. They shaped the social experience of the empire’s inhabitants, determined the “quality” of life, exercised power, controlled wealth, and enjoyed high status”.

“The Roman Empire was also an agrarian empire. Its wealth and power were based in land. The elite did not rule by democratic elections. In part they ruled by hereditary control of the empire’s primary resources of land and labor. They owned its land and consumed some 65 percent of its production.”

The Roman Empire was also a legionary empire. In addition to controlling resources, the elite ruled this agrarian empire by coercion. The dominant means of coercion was the much vaunted Roman army.” The presence of the legions throughout the empire and the threat of military action ensured submission and cooperation.

Divine Sanction
In addition to ownership of resources, military force, and working relationships with the elite, emperors secured their power by claiming the favor of the gods. Their imperial theology proclaimed that Rome was chosen by the gods, notably Jupiter, to rule an “empire without end” (Virgil, Aeneid 1.278-79). Rome was chosen to manifest the gods’ rule, presence, and favor throughout the world. Religious observances at civic occasions were an integral part of Rome’s civic, economic, and political life.”

The Non-elite
“This is the world that most of the population, the non-elite, negotiated every day. Since the non-elite comprised about 97 percent of the population, it is not surprising that most early Christians belonged to this group. An enormous gap separated the non-elite from  the elite’s power, wealth, and status. There was no middle class and little opportunity for improving one’s lot. More often it was a matter of survival. There was no “Roman dream” of pulling oneself up by one’s sandal straps. Degrees of poverty marked the non-elite. There was little safety net. Many knew regular periods of food shortages. Poor health was pervasive. Infant mortality was high, with perhaps up to 50 percent not reaching age ten. Most non-elite adults died by age thirty or forty. Elite life spans were longer. Urban life for non-elites was crowded, dirty, smelly, and subject to numerous dangers.”

Domination and Resistance
“Elites exercised material domination over non-elites, appropriating their agricultural production and labor. The hard manual work of non-elites and the coerced extractions of production sustained the elite’s extravagant and elegant way of life. There was a further, more personal, cost to non-elites. Domination deeply influences personal well-being and feelings. It deprives people of dignity. It is degrading and humiliating. It exacts not only agricultural production but an enormous personal toll of anger, resentment, and learned inferiority.”

I found this pyramid graph from Karl Allen Kuhn’s book, “The Kingdom According to Luke and Acts”, helpful in understanding the Empire.

Kuhn Pyramid

As mentioned earlier, Carter’s is not the only book covering the centrality of the Empire to understanding the New Testament and the early church

To give another example, John Dominic Crossan in Chapter 1 of his “God and Empire” delineated four characteristics:

Rome’s military power was based on the legions, each with six thousand fighting engineers at full complement. They were stationed along the Rhine, the Danube, the Euphrates, and the North African frontiers. The twenty-eight (and then only twenty-five) legions built well-paved all-weather roads (no mud) and high-arched all-weather bridges (no flood); with this infrastructure, they could move with all their baggage and equipment at a guaranteed fifteen miles a day to crush any rebellion anywhere. It was not nation-building but province-building, and the idea that such was not the military’s job would have seemed ludicrous to the legions.

Rome’s economic power grew along and upon that same infrastructure. Built for military use, it was thereafter available for travel and trade, contact and commerce. Furthermore, the cash payments to the legions along the frontiers helped to monetize the periphery. After military conquest, the imperial program was Romanization by urbanization for commercialization. And of course, those who oppose your globalization, then and now, come violently or nonviolently against you along the global arteries you have created.

Rome’s political power was established through a self-consciously Romanized aristocracy created across the entire empire that allowed some high local elites to be members of the Roman Senate. It was even eventually possible for a Romanized provincial to become emperor. “The Roman landholding elite,” concludes Michael Mann, “was about as ‘class-like’ as any group in any known society, past or present”. Local elites saw very clearly what they got in return for imperial loyalty.

Rome’s ideological power was created by Roman imperial theology, and it is not possible to overestimate its importance. Military power certainly secured the empire’s external frontiers, but ideological power sustained its internal relations. Do not think of it as propaganda enforced by believing elites upon unbelieving masses. Think of it as persuasive advertising accepted very swiftly by all sides. I return later to look at the content of that theology—in written text and on carved inscription—and at how it worked as the ideological glue that held the Roman world together.

Harvard’s Conference on “Finding Our Way Forward”

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 3.07.46 PM

“Finding Our Way Forward” is the name of a two day conference held by the Harvard Divinity School in December of 2007.

The initial reason for taking notes and turning them into a blog is that they have three speakers at their event, and all three are included in my list of Net Prophets. Harvard has, in effect, ordained them prophets by inviting them to share their ideas on the future of the Church. So this first set of four videos introduces you to three “major prophets” of our present day.

The second reason is my conviction that the topic is a central one today, given the decline of the church in the west: Europe, in North America, and in other English speaking countries.

The third reason is that it is easier to get the gist in a written summary of a series of videos than trying to find out about them from the videos. Videos, by their nature, are not subject to scanning them easily to see what they are about.

Harvard Conference on the Progressive Church Dec 6-7, 2007 4 parts

“Finding Our Way Forward”
Panel members: Marcus Borg, Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass

Part 1 Opening Panel  with all three 1:29:52

Part 2  Brian McLaren and Diana Butler Bass  2:00:42

Part 3 Marcus Borg   56:07

Part 4  with all three 1:40:03

Part 1

Brian McLaren, who led off, said the title “Finding Our Way Forward” implied that we are lost. He laid out eight reasons for being lost:

1 Religious right in retreat so new day for evangelicals.
2 Mainline churches have lost their privileged status.
3 Among Roman Catholics a widespread fear. Clergy abuse, hierarchy cover-up, and Vatican II aborted.
4. Secular world awakened by faith in Secular City to be a failure.
5 America aware of loss of being the only one on the block.
6 The West: despair over the shift in way we think.
7 Global South struggles in finding positive way after end of colonialism.
8 Global struggle with depletion of the planet.

Marcus Borg: A new form of Christianity is being born in North America.

1 It is more about centering in God than in believing.
2 More about this life than the after life.
3 More about a way or path of transformation than about sin, guilt, forgiveness.
4 More about religious meaning of language than a literal, factual meaning of language
5 Tends to be more political progressive than politically conservative or indifferent.

Diana Butler Bass: prepared to focus on congregations covered in her study of 50 vital mainline churches found in her “Christianity for the Rest of Us”. In preparation for this, she as a historian selected three time pictures of the state of the churches in the last 40-50 years.

1 1954: the time of the high water mark of the churches. It was the height of the power and privilege of the church.
2 1976: Evangelicalism comes to the fore, time of Liberation Theology, every denomination brought out new hymnals and prayer books, women ordained. Energizing time.
3. Present moment.

Part 2 Brian McLaren: Three world coexisting on the planet.

  1. Pre-modern or non-modern world.
  2. Modern world.
  3. Post modern or Emerging world.
    Between 1 and 2 Christianity (and Islam) is exploding.
    In 2 a steady modern world, Christianity is declining.
    Where people are entering 3 Christianity is practically non-existent. No one has translated the faith to their thought forms. Two responses to modern atheism.
    Changing the substance of our faith:

1 What is theology: timeless propositions mined from Text? Or an ongoing creative enterprise. C S Lewis poem “A footnote to all prayer.”
2 Nature of the church: Not saving individual souls for heaven, but making disciples for the Kingdom of God. Place for making change agents.
3 Eschatology: what would it look like to be a church that is not looking forward to the destruction of our space-time universe? Change from a religion that makes changes in the first 3 hard to deal with.
4. New reason for reading the Bible. Foundationalism vs post-foundationalism.

Diana Butler Bass Mainline problem is less theological, more structural/organizational. Our structures inhibit change. Four steps in looking at organizations not succeeding.

Example of managed change: video of Church of the Epiphany, Wash D C. The difference is not in programs but in practices.

Part 3 Marcus Borg: Major changes underway in emerging congregations, which are communities of transformation.

Shift from communities of convention to communities of intention. Before the 1960s it was expected that most Americans would be members of churches. Beginning in 1960 that cracked and people began to join the church intentionally.

Second meaning of convention to intention: in first phase the churches were accommodated to and comfortable with being part of the culture around them- from the time of the Empire until recent times. Now, increasingly, churches are uncomfortable with and challenge systems of domination- the dominating system they find themselves in. Examples  slavery: when culture supported slavery, the church supported slavery, segregation, patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc.

Churches of the new paradigm are churches of transformation.

1 Churches are communities of Adult Christian Theological Re-education: About the most vital task for the revitalization of the church in our time.
Crucial need for two reasons:
A. For present members living out past realities. a form of Xty that was persuasive for generations is no longer so.Need re-education.
B. For new Christians coming into the church as adults. 20 somethings and 30 somethings have grown up outside the church. Don’t know Bible or tradition. 75 % of his students have had all but no connection with the church. Can’t assume everybody has grown up in Sunday School.

2. Needs to be about the big topics:
A Word God. Interventionist figure. Biblical understanding encompassing Spirit in whom we move and live and have our being.
B Bible content. Origin and authority. Interpreting. Single source of conflict in church.
We have been more clear about what we don’t believe. We have left the Bible to conservatives.

C Jesus,

D Prayer,     

E Christian life.

Way to go about education

Book reading groups

Video series LtQ as one.

Xn formation

Part 4 consisted of dialogue plus Q and As.

“NET PROPHETS”: Adult Christian Education on Youtube

Harvard Conference Future Church

Several years ago while looking on Youtube I found an interesting video. It was on a conference that had been held at Harvard Divinity School. They had brought together what they considered to be three significant contemporary Christian thinkers. They wanted these three to reflect on the Future of the Church. Under the video was an explanatory paragraph:

“On December 6-7, 2007, the Office of Ministry Studies, Harvard Divinity School, held a conference on the progressive church at the First Church in Cambridge, 11 Garden Street. The conference program included an evening opening panel, with three featured speakers, and a full day of presentations and discussions. Speakers included: Marcus Borg, Brian D. McLaren, Diana Butler Bass.”

The videos had only been put up on Youtube on May 27, 2014. I ran into it less than 2 months after it had been posted. It hadn’t drawn many viewers; I think I was about number 36. Even to date, three years later, only about 600 people have watched it since I had.

There were two things that came together that set me off in discovering what other good material might be found on Youtube. The first was my surprise that so few people had found and watched this video of an important issue even though in had been produced by such a prestigious institution. The second came when the three panelists were asked to say what they thought was the greatest need of the church for the future.

Marcus Borg responded saying that for him the greatest thing needed for the renewal of the church today was adult Christian nurture.

What came to me at that point was that there must be talks and lectures on Youtube which could serve that need. If one searched for them, would it not be possible to find material available to any church or church leader? Here were lectures available to anyone who had a computer!

A pastor could select several videos on a topic. No need to take class time to show a lecture, or part thereof, and then have just a few minutes left to discuss it. Church members could watch the videos whenever was convenient, say while sitting in their recliner. Then, having seen the material, they would be prepared to launch into an extended discussion when they gathered for a weekly class.

Someone needed to make an archive of a number of these lectures now available because of computers and Youtube. As far as I can tell, no one else had done it yet. I decided to do so and spent lots of hours searching, watching, and collating. At one point, as I am one who loves puns and acronyms, I first decided that, as these were lectures of contemporary prophets that were found on the internet, I would call the project “Net Prophets”. (That took care of the pun dimension.) Next, I thought of making a structure the videos that would be a program of Christian education and creating what might be called a “Youtube Ecumenical Seminary”, or “Y. E. S.” (That would take care of the acronym.)

The list of twenty persons would make an interesting theoretical faculty for YES.

Old Testament: Walter Brueggemann

New Testament: Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Selby Spong, N T Wright

World Religions: Karen Armstrong

Theology: John Cobb, Alister McGrath

Ethics: Stanley Hauerwas

Sociology of the Church: Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass

Parish Practics: Robin Meyers, Rowan Williams


However, one of the lectures I watched was by Walter Brueggemann. In the Q and A at the end in response to someone’s question he mentioned two books he would recommend: “Subversive Meals” by Alan Streett, and “Galatians Reimagined” by Brigitte Kahl. I made the mistake of buying and reading the “Subversive Meals” book. Since then, my Net Prophet project had been terribly neglected, lying unused. I got into this Dinner Church thing and the Net Prophets have been ‘without honor’, in the words of the Bible.

So, before getting into blogs on Dinner Church, I want to resurrect my lists of videos of the Net Prophets to let you know about them. They are available for your use. Let me know if you find them helpful in your ministry. They can be found here.

Link to Net Prophet list:

Link to Borg’s lecture:


Resuming Posting

In the objectives for this Dinner Church Movement I state two. The first is presenting the sites of Dinner Churches that have sprung up in the last few years. We have archived many to date, as found on this page and in the map of Dinner Churches.

Now, perhaps, it is time to develop more fully the second objective, which is to show the First Century antecedents to this Twenty-first phenomenon. What I plan to do is repost the historical and biblical articles that I have written before on this page, and, at the same time, post new ones I am currently writing. This will begin on Monday.

They will be archived here on this blog I maintain at Word Press



(Pulpit Castle Church, Wittenberg Germany. Used by Martin Luther.)

When Oxford University Press decided to publish a research Encyclopedia of Religion on-line they began a search for a group of editors to oversee, and in some cases, write the articles on the topics of their expertise. I can imagine what took place when they looked for someone for the History of Christian Worship. As this was Oxford they didn’t want some ‘wild colonial boy’ to oversee the field. No, instead someone solid and respected by his peers.

Notre Dame University in South Bend Indiana was mostly colonial boys but a prestigious institution. A safe place to look; lots of folk in liturgy to choose from. One emeritus professor is Paul Bradshaw. He had taught the subject for years and had written numerous books in the field. He was up to date in his subject; and a safe choice. He knew that few actually liturgies existed before the 7th century. He wasn’t one of the gang of these wild members of the SBL workgroup on Greco-Roman Meals.

O K, he went along with some of their speculation they had drawn, which had to do with looking at early worship and gatherings through the idea that they used the pattern of the banquets that everyone else in their time used. Namely, that of the ubiquitous association dinners, small groups reclining for leisurely meals followed by a symposium of entertainment or conversation.

But as the wise old man of liturgy he felt it his responsibility to remind this gang that no new textual sources for the early liturgy had been unearthed, like at Nag Hammedi or the Dead Sea Caves which had added materials on the scriptures. They were teasing out more than the data available justified, he felt.

Countering that, Andrew Magowan has interwoven scripture sources looked at through the lens of the association meals with a result that seems not only convincing but provides valuable insight for the contemporary church. Magowan says “Paul’s attempt to coax the fractious Corinthians into better liturgical manners provides the earliest surviving account of a “ministry of the Word” in a Christian assembly: ‘When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.’”

Further, Magowan points out that the sharing of conversation of the Corinthian church is parallel to what took place in many of the symposium parts of those ancient banquets or dinners. The group would have chosen someone to be the ‘symposiarch’, the master of ceremonies for the evening. The symposiarch was responsible to keep order for the conversation. Not all meals had a conversation. Some were mainly entertainment of one sort or another, but when you add that the drinking of wine was done primarily in the symposium half, in many meetings, it took some effort to keep order.

This is all introduction to the discussion of the Church of the Pilgrims, our focus of attention these weeks.You may recall that the write-up of the Church’s worship by the folk from Duke Divinity School was headed by “D C Church changes worship from passive to participatory”.

That could have been Magowan’s title about the ‘worship’ of the Corinthian church. I put the word worship in quotes to be a warning about trying to equate their first century activity with what we point to as worship today. One difficulty we have in looking at an activity or idea in a different century is that of anachronism: believing there is a one to one correlation of what we do or think with what they do or think.

Should I remind us that the meeting of the Corinthians was not only before we had pulpits and altars, but before we had ministers or priests- or scripture, hymn books and the like. The person in charge was responsible for keeping order, not for saying all the words or doing all the liturgy. WHAT A REVOLUTIONARY IDEA FOR THE CONTEMPORARY CHURCH.
As well, I don’t know what your definition of ‘traditional worship’ is, but I think what occurred in the second half of the first century can’t be trumped.

The first characteristic of the early gathering was participation. How you do it well in today’s church is as hard as Paul discovered it was for the early church. Church of the Pilgrims has been trying it. We’ll need to find out how they do that.

McGowan, Andrew B. Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical, and Theological Perspective (p. 74). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.