Thursday, May 29, 2008

Book News Flash

I just noticed that Amazon applied its regular book discount to A Place at the Table. If you click the link to the right you can save $9 on the price of the book.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Lady Margaret

In 1996 I bought my first house in Burbank, and as a single guy I decided to add a dog to the mix. That alone was a big thing. I didn't exactly grow up in a family that had a lot of pets. My dad didn't like dogs very much (though strangely, he has one now), and even though we tried a few times to add dogs into our home they never lasted long.

When my sisters brought new guys into the family, they both had big dogs that went with them everywhere. Dan had Sid, who was already getting old when he met Gina, and Travis got Hershey as a puppy while he was still dating Angie. It took a while for me to appreciate having a big dog around all the time, but those were some great pets--more than that, actually. They were parts of the family.

So I went out and got myself a purebred yellow Labrador Retriever. She was beautiful. I named her Maggie, though her papers really said Lady Margaret of Argyll. I took her everywhere--when I'd had her for a week or two I put her in a box with a blanket in the front seat of my car and took her camping at the beach. We went to the mountains, the beach, and to the local park for regular runs. I took her to my softball games and the fans took care of her while I played. She slept on the floor at the foot of my bed.

It's funny. When I decided to get a dog I think Dan and Travis didn't think it would work out. As much as I liked their dogs, I didn't exactly like having them on me. There was even a rumor that they had flipped a coin to see who would take my dog when I got fed up with her.

But that didn't happen.

When Julie and I got married she was a little concerned about having a big dog. But when Ian came along he loved her, and they played together at our house on Reese Place. One time when Ian was a toddler we were having a backyard barbecue. There were plenty of people around, and Ian was in no danger, but still when he walked toward the pool Maggie scooted in front of him and herded him away from the edge. Maggie was a part of our family, and a part of my life for more than 10 years.

Part of taking this job in London meant that we had to find a new home for Maggie. My mom's friend Cynthia loves dogs and already knew Mags, and so she decided to take her for us. She gave Maggie a great home with a big yard and another dog to play with. I've been so grateful to Cynthia for making room in her life for my dog--it's nice to be able to say so in front of all of you.

I'm writing about Maggie today because she died last week. It's been a year and a half since I saw her, but I think about her all the time. Her death hit me harder than I thought it would. Ian and I have both been choked up as we talk about her. We've been having memories of playing with her, of listening to her snore, and just hanging around with her. We've already decided that we want to have a dog again when we move back to Burbank.

So...this is my little tribute to Maggie. I don't have a digital picture of her, though I do have a framed shot of her in my office. Ian was feeling sad this week and made his own little tribute to her. I'll let him have the last words (almost).

Me too.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Lovely Wedding

When I served at St Giles Cathedral back in 1992-93, I made some great friends. Mike and Cath Grieve have been such gracious hosts to me and to my family, and we've had the privilege of having all of them with us in California at one time or another. Mike and Cath have stayed with us in London, too--it's great to have them so close by.

Last week Neil Grieve (Mike and Cath's son) married Kelly, and I got to assist in the service. It was a pleasure and an honor to be a part of their big day. Here are some shots from the wedding.

Kelly looked beautiful on her wedding day.

Signing the registry.
Leaving the church.

Arriving at Dynamic Earth, where the reception was held.
Ian made a friend...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Very Special Visit

The two Ians...

We've been up in Edinburgh for the last few days. The son of some very good friends of ours got married today (Sat.), and I got to assist in the service. I'll have some pictures of the big event soon.

We went up on Thursday so we could visit with some other old friends, and spent a lovely few hours with Ian and Jean McCallum. This saintly couple was so good to me when I worked at St Giles Cathedral and lived across the street from them. They've visited us in California and hosted us in Scotland more times than I can remember.

Both have OBE honors from Queen Elizabeth herself. Jean worked in social services in Northern England for years, primarily placing babies with adoptive families who wanted children. They raised four kids of their own, and adopted one of Jean's charges, too.

Ian was a professor of medicine at Newcastle University, in the middle of England's coal industry, and wrote some of seminal literature on black lung. As the energy industry shifted to the search for offshore oil, Ian started researching the impact of the bends on divers in the North Sea. He was honored for his work in occupational health. In retirement, over the last 20 years or so, Ian has published several books and journal articles at an astounding rate of one per year. He's written a catalogue of Scottish silver hallmarking, a history of medical uses of antimony, and is one of the few people in the world who has handled and read every existing scroll related to alchemy. Lately he's been slowed by Parkinson's Disease, though he proudly showed me an article he just published in a collection of essays on alchemy.

I say all this because these two, no matter how much they have achieved, have always been so hospitable to us. I have pictures of Ian with my Ian over the last 8 years, including the one from this weekend. There are friendships that I cherish in this life, and this past weekend gave me a chance to enjoy several of them (the Grieves will get a tribute soon...). Ian and Jean continue to teach me so much about welcoming guests, about being parents and grandparents and spouses, and about how to get everything possible out of life.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Something for Absolutely Everyone

(If you're looking for posts about the book, please scroll down.)

Acts 2:1-13

I was back in Southern California last week for an event, and it was great to be back in my hometown. I got to eat at my favorite places with some of my favorite people: Mexican food with my pastor, breakfast at the local coffee shop with my dad and also my oldest friend, my mom and I had lunch at In-N-Out and a dinner at a great new place in Burbank called Granville Café.

I dropped in on my father-in-law on afternoon (my mother-in-law was in London with Julie and Ian), and when I left his place I had an interesting experience. Roger and Carol live in a large condo complex in Glendale—three or four stories on a large footprint. It’s a big place. It was warm as I left, so a lot of the residents had their doors open for air. As I walked down the hallway I heard a different language coming from each open door: Spanish, Armenian, Korean, Tagalog, and even (strangely) English. It was amazing.

1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11(both Jews and converts to Judaism Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?"
13Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine.

In our passage this morning we’re still in the beginning stages of the development of the church. The remaining disciples have been waiting in Jerusalem. They’ve heard Jesus’ final teaching and seen him taken up into heaven. They’ve stood around looking up at the sky, only to be told to get ready for something really great. They’ve prayed together, read Scripture together and even replaced Judas so they’d have 12 members again.

They did everything they were supposed to do, and so they were just waiting.

Remember that Acts is the second volume of Luke’s story of Jesus and his impact on the world. In his gospel Luke told the story of Jesus from birth to ministry to death to resurrection. Acts tells us what that story means for the world.

So we pick up the story 50 days after Easter—that’s what Pentecost means: 50 days. So we’re 7 weeks or so after the miracle of the resurrection and about 120 people are gathered together…waiting…when this wind kicked up and the people looked like they had flames on them and they started speaking in different languages. There were faithful Jews from all around the world there, and they were shocked to hear the locals speaking their languages perfectly. The reference to Galileans is similar to what you might call in the States, ‘hillbillies’ or ‘yokels.’ Galilee just wasn’t known for producing special or important people, but now these guys turn out to be UN quality translators, speaking and sharing the gospel in real languages from around the world.

Did you catch the responses from the onlookers? I love this part. Some of them are amazed and perplexed, Luke tells us. They look around at what’s happening and ask each other ‘What does this mean?’

But the other group of onlookers has a different reaction. They see the wind, maybe even see the flames, and they hear the jumble of languages all being spoken at the same time. What was their reaction? Those guys must be drunk. They’re hammered. You can see them shaking fingers at their kids and saying: ‘See? That’s why you shouldn’t drink too much.’

The question asked by the first group is the same one we have to wrestle with: What does all of this mean?

Well, something has clearly happened to these people. The scene is pretty dramatic, with all the wind and flames, but it’s also amazing that when the faithful spoke in those foreign languages, they were declaring the wonders of God.

Even Peter—the same guy who denied Jesus and demonstrated in dozens of ways that he wasn’t ready for the responsibility he was given—even Peter stands up, recites the same passage from Joel that you heard Connie read earlier, and then he preaches the first real sermon of Christian history.

And it’s a Doozey. He goes back into Israel’s history and brings them all the way up to the present time. He links Jesus to King David and shows how the smart people of the day managed to miss the point about who the Messiah was, and what the Messiah would do. The listeners, it says later on, were ‘cut to the heart’ by Peter’s words, and came to faith by the thousands.

What is it that happens in our text this morning? The disciples and the hundred or so people who were with them were given the gift of the Holy Spirit of God, just as Jesus promised, and the gift changed them—it changed their abilities and values and goals and courage.

In Shakespeare’s Henry V, when the crown is placed on Henry’s head, he changes. In Henry IV parts 1 and 2 he’s Prince Hal, the wild party boy who drinks and carouses and never takes anything seriously. But when he becomes king he changes. Shakespeare wanted us to believe that kingship was divinely ordained, and that God somehow prepared him for his role—for his responsibilities.

That’s what’s happening in our passage. The Holy Spirit comes, and suddenly Peter can explain the gospel of Jesus Christ using the entire narrative of the Bible. The Spirit comes, and Peter becomes the rock the church will be built on.

But I like the part about the languages. I like that bystanders and immigrants could suddenly hear the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that made sense to them. I like that when the Spirit came, those people could hear how much God loved them in the same language they learned from their mothers and fathers.

That’s meaningful in a place like London, or Los Angeles, or any other major city where people from all over the world live side by side. At this church, when I taught a Bible study last year, we had 12 people come to explore the Scriptures together. Out of those 12 people there were 8 countries represented, and it was wonderful.

But you know, the idea of God’s Spirit inhabiting us individually and as a community—the idea of God entering into us and changing us from the inside is hard for us to comprehend. But think of this passage a different way. Think of this as a message of hope and a challenge to all of us to remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone—for every nation, tongue and tribe. The message we’re called to share comes in unlimited sizes and colors—it fits for everyone when it’s communicated in a way that makes sense—and it’s God’s Holy Spirit that does the heavy lifting.

Remember our working definition of the church as we move through Acts: A true church will be engaged in the culture, grounded in the Scriptures, and alive to the Spirit.

That’s the miracle of Pentecost. The faithful are gathered, praying and reading the Scriptures, when the Holy Spirit comes and brings them new power—new strength for the task ahead. Notice the first thing they do. They don’t sit around looking at the wind and the fire. They don’t argue about who got the biggest flame. They don’t even pause to make plans or sing songs or schedule a Council meeting.

When the Spirit comes they start sharing the gospel in the language of the world—they start engaging the culture. And not just their own culture, they engage cultures they didn’t even know or understand before that moment. They were engaged in the culture, grounded in the Scriptures, and alive to the work of the Holy Spirit in each one of their lives.

Does that model for the church make more sense now that we’ve reached the Pentecost story? It does for me.

The gift of the Holy Spirit makes everything different for those who are open to it. The Holy Spirit empowers us to live, love, spend, give, invest, risk and connect differently. The Spirit empowers this group of very different people to gather together as a community of shared faith, no matter where we’re from or what we have or even who the heck we think we are.

It’s the Holy Spirit that takes us in all of our flawed splendor—in all of our brokenness—in spite of all of our resistance to his love. It’s the Spirit that takes us as we are and empowers us to be the church.

That’s what we celebrate today. That’s why we wear red and sing a little louder and pray just a little harder for the future of Christ’s church in the world. From Burma to Burbank and from London to Lebanon, the message of the gospel has a place in every human heart and in every human culture.

The call to us is to allow the Spirit to speak through us and share that message in meaningful ways.

When I think back on my walk down the hallway of my in-laws’ apartment complex, I think that that’s what it might have sounded in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. People from every corner of the globe talking, sharing, arguing, living. I wonder what it would be like to knock on their doors and share the gospel with them in their language—perfectly and without accent. I wonder if they would enjoy that, or if they’d think I was drunk.

This weekend we’ve been a part of a celebration of Pentecost all over London, and today we’ve had a baptism and we’re about to join together in Communion. If we take anything away from the Pentecost, make it this: As a part of a worldwide family of faith we have a call on our lives both as individuals and as a community to share our faith stories with other people in meaningful ways. The Gospel has something for absolutely everyone, and has something for absolutely everyone to do.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Fuller Seminary Press Release

(There are pictures and other details in the post below this one.)

Lecture Explores Life and Legacy of George Eldon Ladd

“Whatever else George Eldon Ladd accomplished or attempted . . . he led the way for later generations of evangelical students to use critical methods in their study of the Bible, and this was an enormous achievement.” Thus said John A. D’Elia, senior minister of The American Church in London, in a lecture he delivered at Fuller Thursday evening, May 1, on the legacy of former Fuller faculty member George Eldon Ladd. D’Elia, who has studied Ladd’s life extensively, spoke from his just-released book, A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America (Oxford). Inaugural copies of the book were on hand at the lecture, one in a series of events commemorating Fuller Seminary’s 60th anniversary year.

George Eldon Ladd, who served on Fuller’s faculty from 1950 to 1980, was one of the most important authors in the evangelical scholarly resurgence of the mid-twentieth century, D’Elia began, and “he spent his life trying to accomplish one goal: rehabilitating evangelical scholarship—and evangelicalism itself—in both content and image.” He strived to do this, D’Elia explained, in two ways: first by “raising the level of discourse within evangelicalism—to improve the quality of its scholarly content,” and secondly in external image, by working “for evangelical scholars to be accepted as equals in the best institutions and societies.”

D’Elia offered examples of Ladd’s work in these areas, including his influential speech “Renaissance and Evangelism,” which called conservative evangelicals “to understand their beliefs in a deeper way, to demonstrate Christian love to each other more consistently and meaningfully, and to strive to understand the nature of the church in such a way that they didn’t damage each other into cultural impotence.” Ladd also, D’Elia explained, contributed substantially to the development of Fuller Seminary “into a place that remains a flagship institution of progressive evangelicalism”—and was the encouraging voice behind many doctoral students who went on to become notable evangelical scholars themselves.

Yet Ladd’s life and work took a tragic turn, D’Elia recounted, when his 1965 book Jesus and the Kingdom—his life’s “magnum opus”—received a scathing review from theologian and critic Norman Perrin, attacking both Ladd’s methodology and conclusions. “It is no exaggeration to say that this was the turning point for Ladd’s life and career,” stated D’Elia, and “the last 15 years of Ladd’s life, while giving the appearance of being productive, saw the man tumble through a process of emotional, physical and spiritual disintegration.”

Despite this tragedy, however, Ladd’s contributions to both Fuller and the larger evangelical world were powerful and enduring, D’Elia emphasized in conclusion. “His call to evangelicals to demonstrate intellectual excellence in all fields, to show Christian love for each other, and to cultivate a healthy understanding of what the church should be and do, remains an important lesson for all of us.”

D’Elia’s lecture was followed by commentary from three former students of Ladd: alumnus and theologian David Wallace, and Fuller faculty members Marianne Meye Thompson and James E. Bradley.

D’Elia, who is former director of development in Fuller’s School of Theology, holds an MDiv and ThM in Church History from Fuller and a PhD in History from the University of Stirling in Scotland

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Big Event

Last night was pretty amazing...

Here’s the recap: There was an event at Fuller Seminary last night to launch my new book on George Eldon Ladd, an American biblical scholar who taught at Fuller from 1950-80. It’s a reworking of my doctoral thesis, and because of the link with Fuller’s history they added the launch to their series of events celebrating the seminary’s 60th anniversary year. The event involved me giving a 45 minute lecture, followed by three responses from scholars who were somehow connected with Ladd.

I went to Pasadena to have dinner with Richard and Phyllis Mouw (Rich is the president of the seminary). All of the panelists and spouses were there, and it was a good time of fellowship and conversation. They wanted to know about my work in London, and everyone seemed to have a story about being there.

At a little before 7pm we walked back to the campus. People were already milling around—there were friends from the church where I grew up in Burbank, some members of our last church in Glendale (including most of our small group), former colleagues from Fuller and the Presbyterian Foundation, and yes, most of my family (Mom, Dad, daughter, father-in-law, an aunt…you get the idea). The minister who married Julie and me drove more than three hours to come with her husband (thanks, Luanne). An intern from my church in London, who just came back to the US a week or two ago, drove up from Orange County with a minister from his church. There were also about a dozen of my former professors there, and every one of them came over to say congratulations and comment on the book.

The bookstore had a table set up where they were selling some of Ladd's books, and also mine. While I was standing around enjoying the scene, someone tapped me on the back and gave me a copy of my book and a pen. He very politely asked me to sign it, and proceeded to tell me an old story about George Ladd. The man was Colin Brown, a professor of systematic theology, and author of the three-volume Dictionary of New Testament Theology, owned (and used) by every minister I’ve ever known. I suppose I knew that I would be signing books at the event, but I never thought that the first autograph I ever gave would be for Professor Brown.

Rich Mouw called the event to order and then I gave my paper (see above), which took about 45 minutes. It was well-received (an enormous relief)—people seemed to enjoy it a lot. After a break there were three short papers: The first was by Dr. David Wallace, a former student of Ladd and a key interview in my research. The second was by Marianne Meye Thompson, the George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament. The final response was by James Bradley, the Geoffrey Bromiley Professor of Church History. We had a time of Q&A after that, and I got some good questions and a chance to talk a little more.

That's me with Richard Mouw.
Wrapping up the panel discussion.
The participants: Dave Wallace, Jim Bradley, Marianne Meye Thompson, myself and Rich Mouw (notice the book in Rich's hand...).
People milled around for a long time afterward. I got a chance to chat with all of them, sign a few more books, and generally bask in a great evening. Fuller sold out of their shipment, and there were a handful of orders placed for future copies. Afterwards I went to a restaurant across the street with some good friends and continued the party.

Like I said, last night was pretty amazing.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Latest Update (Until the Next One)

I had lunch today with Jim Bradley, my church history professor from Fuller. He's one of the panel that will respond to my book and lecture tonight, and it was good to catch up. It turns out that he was one of the readers of the manuscript of the book who recommended it to Oxford Press--I didn't know that until today.

On the way to my car I stopped in again at the Fuller Bookstore to see if my book had made it from the printer. Turns out that it was delivered today, and I got to hold one for the first time. That was a nice feeling.

So I'm watching an old episode of The Sopranos and getting ready to go. I'm having dinner with Richard Mouw, the president of the seminary, along with the members of the panel.

More later.