Monthly Archives: June 2011

Convictions About Jesus 1996/2011 (1)

[This is the third of a series of six posts on how my faith convictions have changed (or not) in the past 15 years that I have been a college professor. Not long before leaving congregational ministry to begin teaching I did a series of sermons trying to state in concise terms what I understood to be key Christian beliefs. I am posting an excerpts from my sermon on Jesus here. I will follow this post from 1996 with a post looking briefly at changes (and the lack thereof) in my convictions about Jesus in the past 15 years. Here are links to the first two posts—one on my views of God 15 years ago and the second on present-day thoughts about God.]

What Do We Believe About Jesus Christ?

Ted Grimsrud—January 14, 1996

Years ago, I had a memorable experience—though not a memory I recall fondly.  I had been pastoring long enough in my first pastorate to be considered for ordination.  Our congregation asked the conference to process my ordination.  That led to me meeting with the conference leadership committee for an interview.

The interview was generally a positive experience, at least most of it.  The committee was made up of three pastors and the conference minister, all people I knew fairly well and a couple of them pretty good friends.  But one of the pastors was not particularly friendly.  He asked some questions in a kind of suspicious tone, and near the end of our time came to one of his big concerns.

He referred to the time Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him, who people said that Jesus was.  Then Jesus asks the disciples directly—“Who do you say that I am?”  The pastor asked me the same question—“Who do you say that Jesus is?”  I responded with a lengthy answer.  I had been reading a lot about the life of Jesus and theological understandings of Jesus, what is called “christology”.  I was ready for the question and enjoyed talking about it.  It became clear, though, that my response was not what this guy was looking for.  He had something else in mind.

This is a basic question, for sure, one which continues to be addressed to all of us.  Who do we say that Jesus is?  What do we believe about Jesus Christ?  I want to suggest that Mennonite Christians believe three central things about Jesus Christ.  First, we believe Jesus is God’s messiah who brings salvation through his suffering and death.  Second, we believe Jesus is the model human being, who asks us to follow his way of living.  And third, we believe that Jesus is God-with-us, who shows us that the power of love is the most important kind of power. Continue reading

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Changing Convictions About God? 1996/2011 (2)

Ted Grimsrud—June 26, 2011

[This is the second in a six-post series reflecting on how my mind has changed (or not) over the last 15 years that I have been a college professor. Shortly before I finished my tenure as a congregational pastor in 1996, I preached a series of sermons on core beliefs. Here I will post segments of three of those sermons followed by reflections on what I think about the main ideas today. The three themes are “God,” “Jesus,” and “the Holy Spirit.” Here is the first post, from my 1996 sermon about God.]

I don’t think that my views about God have changed a great deal in the past fifteen years. Looking back at my 1996 sermon, I find much that I affirm. In fact, I am a bit surprised to see how much the emphases I made back then remain the emphases I make now.

This is the biggest change, I think: I would be less comfortable today simply jumping into a discussion of what God is like without first making the point that theological reflection in any area, but certainly in relation to direct reflection about God, is human reflection. We are not talking about God-as-such, we are talking about our understanding of God.

This acknowledgement that theology is always about us and how our convictions concerning God (or whatever other theological theme we are focusing on) may seem like an obvious truism. But it is significant, nonetheless, and not actually taken serious enough.

When we acknowledge that we are doing human work at least a couple of elements then enter into our theologizing. One is a sense of the relativity, the subjectivity, the finitude and fallibility of what we are doing. The second is a sense that all theology serves particular interests, is shaped by some human agenda or other, in reality has political ramifications. Continue reading

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Convictions About God 1996/2011 (1)

[Back in the mid-1990s, I co-pastored with my wife Kathleen in a rural Mennonite congregation in the Midwest. Not long before we moved to Virginia for me to begin teaching I did a series of sermons trying to state in concise terms what I understood to be key Christian beliefs. I am going to post excerpts from those sermons here as an exercise in reflection. I will follow each post from 1996 with a post looking briefly at changes (and lack thereof) in my convictions in the past 15 years.]

What Do We Believe About God?

Ted Grimsrud—January 7, 1996

At our 1995 General Assembly, North American Mennonites approved a confession of faith.  The Apostle Peter wrote that we are responsible “always to be ready to give an answer to anyone who demands from us an accounting for the hope that is in us” (1 Pt 3:15).  We are responsible to explain about our faith.  Use of our new Confession of Faith can help us to answer for our faith.

For us to be able to talk about our convictions with others—be it our children and grandchildren, our neighbors who are Christians and those who are not—we need to have clarity within our own hearts and minds about those convictions. Here are some of the most basic questions for Christians: What do we believe about God?  What do we believe about Jesus Christ?  What do we believe about the Holy Spirit? These are the questions I will be dealing with.

What do we believe about God?  That is today’s issue.  I will read from the very first paragraph of our Confession of Faith.  “We believe that God exists and is pleased with all who draw near by faith.  We worship the one holy and loving God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally.  We believe that God has created all things visible and invisible, has brought salvation and new life to humanity through Jesus Christ, and continues to sustain the church and all things until the end of the age.” Continue reading

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Why Pacifism?

Ted Grimsrud—June 21, 2011

In many Mennonite churches, the first Sunday in July is designated Peace Sunday. In recognition of that important upcoming “church holiday” (more important to me than about any other), I am posting some appropriate reflections.

As I think about pacifism these days, often my dad comes to mind.  At one point in his life, my dad was a warrior.  In 1940, more than a year before Pearl Harbor, he chose to enlist in the Army.  He certainly wasn’t a warmonger, but he felt a strong sense of loyalty to his country.

My dad spent four years fighting against the Japanese.  He was wounded, contracted malaria, and saw his best friend (whose name was Ted) killed before his eyes.  And he was proud of his service.

Only one time did he speak of the war to me, when I was 17 and facing the likelihood of being drafted myself.  My dad told me his Army experience had been good; he encouraged me to attend a military academy so I could go in as an officer.  I wasn’t tempted, he didn’t push me, and we never talked about it again.

As I reflect on this now, I find it interesting that my father grew up in a good Christian home—his father and one of his grandfathers were pastors.  Apparently, my father never saw a tension between being a warrior and being a Christian.  I think it never occurred to him that God and Caesar might be competitors for his allegiance….I wish it had. Continue reading

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Filed under Biblical theology, Empire, Jesus, Pacifism, Salvation, Theology, World War II

Grandchildren and Hope

Ted Grimsrud—June 18, 2011

When our grandson Elias entered our lives in June, 2006, we could feel the stakes increase immediately. Lots of things mattered more than ever before. This is even more the case since his little sister, Marja, joined him in March, 2010.

I have to be honest and say I simply can’t imagine what their lives will be like when they reach my age. The trends in the wider world certainly are not encouraging.

Yet, how can I be around these two oh-so-beautiful children, so full of life and curiosity and, yes, joy, and not be hopeful? When I see Elias, in many ways as energetic and healthily self-absorbed a pre-schooler as I have ever been around, show such patience and kindness toward his little sister, I imagine anything is possible.

Folksinger Jim Page, in his song “Whose World is This?” raises some of the most profound of questions: “What kind of world will our children receive, after all is said and done? What kind of creed have we come to believe that they may never receive one? What kind of world will our children receive, after all is said and done? What kind of creed must we come to believe if they are to receive one?”

Obviously, the “creed” we must believe—and practice—is the one Jesus insisted summarized the law and prophets: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

As I said, the big picture is not encouraging. As we hurtle down the path of environmental devastation, big media and big politics (funded by those who profit from the devastation) act as if we can keep exploiting the earth forever (“drill, baby, drill!”). The U.S. wins the Cold War—and embarks on a two-decade-long expansion of our military to the point now where we spend more on weapons of war than the rest of the world combined.

But the “little picture” seems extraordinarily hopeful. Elias and Marja witness to the power of love in ways that melt my heart, over and over.

I confess that I am unable to hold the big and little pictures together. But somehow, it seems we must find a way. We dare not despair—Elias and Marja forbid that. But we dare not act like all is well—the screaming of the earth forbids that.

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Defending Yoder: Part Two—Earl Zimmerman’s Account

In response to a critical review of his book Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom by John Nugent that challenged his reading of John Howard Yoder, Peter Leithart suggests that it is important not to read his book as mainly about Yoder but mainly about his effort to rehabilitate the image of the Emperor Constantine. I certainly defend the right of an author to try to set the frame for how her or his writings should be read. However, I do tend to think the main point of Leithart’s book is to challenge Yoder’s influence among contemporary evangelical Christians. Or at least this is a main point.

In Part One of these blog posts on “Defending Yoder,” I critiqued Defending Constantine and gave reasons for why I see it as a flawed book. I will return to Leithart in Part Three and discuss several of the reviews I have read that also challenge his perspective. In this post, though, I want to step back and reflect on Yoder’s project.

The best study dealing with Yoder’s thought that I have read is my friend Earl Zimmerman’s book, Practicing the Politics of Jesus: The Origin and Significance of John Howard Yoder’s Social Ethics(Cascadia Publishing House, 2007). I think this book deserves more attention than it has gotten (Leithart shows no evidence of being acquainted with it); hopefully as Yoder’s stature continues to grow, those interested in his theology will recognize the importance of Zimmerman’s contribution. Continue reading

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Filed under Jesus, John Howard Yoder, Mennonite, Moral philosophy, Pacifism, Peter Leithart, Theology