My 2007 Lenten Discipline

Books / Religion

It’s getting to be time to start planning how I shall observe Lent. Usually I try to pick up an extra spiritual habit rather than put something aside – though I’ve made exceptions over the years.

This year I’ve pretty much decided that I’m going to focus on two books for the six weeks of Lent and make my way through them in a very careful and thoughtful way.

The first is St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. We’ve been reading from this epistle the past couple of weeks in Morning Prayer and I’m finding myself more and more intrigued by Paul’s critique of Peter’s actions regarding accommodation of the circumcision party’s observance of the Law in the early Church. I’m just finishing up Gary Wills book “What Paul Meant” and I’ve rekindled my fascination with St. Paul. It was my reading Paul’s writing in a good translation (the Revised English Bible) years ago that formed my understanding of what it means to be a “centrist” or moderate in the Church. But the Letter to the Galatians gives evidence that there are things upon which the Apostle would not compromise. I think…

Anyway, I’m off to find a really good commentary on Galatians. Any suggestions?

Secondly I’m going to read through William Webb’s book “Slaves, Women and Homosexuals”. (I’ve already blogged about this book before.) The point being that anyone who wants to make a case for the acceptance of women into the clergy, gay and lesbian people into the full life of the Church and the absolute prohibition of slavery can’t easily make a proof-text based scriptural argument. Rather the argument has to be focused on the full teaching of the Bible, the characteristics of the Kingdom of God and the development of God’s self-revelation to humanity. This book is supposed to be one of the best places to encounter such a line of reasoning.

A friend of mine told me a year ago that the Archbishop of Canterbury had remarked to him that the Episcopal Church has yet to make a fully convincing argument that there is scriptural warrant for our actions to fully embrace the ministries of women and gay and lesbian Christians. According to his report, the Archbishop says that such an argument can be made, but we’ve not yet done it. I’m not sure that what the Archbishop is true about us not making the argument but if there’s a way to make our presentation to the rest of the Communion stronger, then I’m very interested in learning how to make that happen. Hence the choice of this book for Lent.

What about you all? Have you planned your Lenten disciplines yet? What are you going to be doing?

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. What Paul and Barnabas were doing in Antioch (welcoming the Gentiles into the complete fellowship of the Church and recognizing the work of the Spirit in them) could not have been done without, as you put it, a full understanding of the Kingdom of God and its claim upon human endeavour. The ‘men from James’ who came out from Jerusalem to put a stop to all this inclusion would have had the proof texts on their side – traditional custom such as it was – previous agreements and accords. Paul maintained, however, that faithfulness to the Gospel required exactly this departure from the known into the unknown.
    I wouldn’t dream of trying to say what I thought the Archbishop of Canterbury meant by saying the TEC had not yet made a case for inclusion of women in ministry and attempts to include Gays and Lesbians. What I would say, however, is that recognizing that God has opened an avenue of ministry which is above and beyond what we already know and permit is a very different thing from holding to the ‘self evident truth’ that all inclusion is necessary right and good in and of itself. We tend towards the latter – like a slogan that we repeat to ourselves or a flag that we fly. There is a case yet to be made boldly for putting into effect not only what is said by the four Evangelists in their Gospels but what the Gospel means. We don’t always explain ourselves well. Coherent Christian apologists from the progressive side of the church are terribly few in number.

  2. Paul Martin says

    I hope your Lenten discipline includes blogging about the books as well as reading them. If so, I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts.

  3. Thanks Paul. It does include writing (and probably preaching) on them. I can’t imagine how I’d be able to help myself. Grin.

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