Grace and peace be with you!
Many of you have encouraged me to continue blogging so that you are able to get a glimpse into my field of study (liturgical studies and preaching), a field that is the “road less traveled” in contemporary theology. Others of you want me to write so that you can stay up-to-date with my academic pursuits. Either way, I owe you both an apology since it has been too long since I last posted.
To bring you up to speed here, let me list the two classes I am taking and try to explain what they are about.
1. Early Christian Ritual and Symbol: This course is part of my Christian Worship major and deals with the evolution of early Christian rituals (namely baptism and the Lord’s Table) and symbols (we’ve discussed literally dozens of symbols ranging from the Cross to the peacock). The main point here is that the way in which early Christians chose to practice baptism and the Lord’s Table (two sacraments for which there is little practical instruction in Scripture) tells us a great deal about what they believed. Likewise, the symbols that Christians used in their primitive art tells us something about their belief. An example of this is the prevalence of the symbol “Chi-Rho” (as seen below).In this symbol, the two Greek letters “Chi” (the X) and “Rho” (the P) are placed on top of one another. These two letters are the first two letters in the Greek word Christos, which translates the Hebrew meshiach, which means ‘Anointed One.’ We commonly refer to Jesus as the ‘Christ’, which is the English equivalent of these terms. The fact that this symbol appears often in many places in antiquity speaks to the fact that these early Christians placed the most emphasis on Jesus Christ as they distinguished themselves from the rest of the culture.
Though symbols like these are interesting, I am writing my final paper on an early Christian ritual that we still practice today: Baptism. There was a Christian pastor named St. John Chrysostom who lived in Antioch and in Constantinople in the mid-fourth century. As the local pastor, he was responsible for guiding and teaching those who wanted to become part of the Church. Many months before they were baptized, they would come to church and listen to sermons that taught them the meaning and implication of baptism. Then they would be dismissed from the sanctuary before the Eucharist was celebrated since only the baptized could see and participate in the Eucharist. This would happen week after week during the season of Lent. Then, on Easter morning, those who remained in the group would be baptized as the Church remembered the resurrection of Christ. My paper for this class is on St. John Chrysostom’s sermons that he preached to the soon-to-be-baptized. I’m interested in how he communicated what actually happens during the baptism.
2. Knowledge Claims in the Ministry of Preaching: Okay, that’s a mouthful. This class is basically a toned-down philosophy class dealing with the way we know things. Every preacher who gets into the pulpit to preach claims to know certain things that are based on different foundations. Some base their knowledge in the words of the Bible, others in their day-to-day human experiences. Many preachers are unaware that they do this, and often their preaching suffers because of it.
This class has introduced us to many different approaches to “epistemology” (the study of knowledge) and how they encounter Christian faith. For this class, I am writing a paper on the preaching of John Calvin, the sixteenth-century reformer of Geneva, Switzerland. In this paper, I am reading sixteen sermons that Calvin preached on the Ten Commandments and analyzing how Calvin thought the Law helped us know God and God’s will.
I am taking two classes this quarter, which is one more than is normal for doctoral students. I’m having a difficult time keeping up with all the work, but I think it makes the most sense with what is coming up next for Katie and me, namely, having a baby. At this rate, assuming I can fulfill my second language requirement (Ecclesiastical Latin) in due time, I will be in a good position to finish my first round of coursework this time next year and be ready for my comprehensive exams next Spring (2011). I would appreciate your prayers and your comments.
God be with you.