Theology Update for the Week of September 9

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Dear friends in Christ,

Out of Egypt: Reading Exodus Theologically

On September 9 at 10 a.m., the Sunday class continues its study of the book of Exodus in the Old Testament. The Ten Commandments were only the first of a series of laws, given by the Lord, that were to be observed by the Israelites. Laws about the altar, about slaves, which crimes received which punishments, treatment of children, treatment of elders: over the course of several chapters, the Lord lays out the proper functioning of a community of the chosen people. Though far removed from the present-day concerns of contemporary Christians in a practical sense, the laws nonetheless make clear the Lord’s abiding love for, and engagement with, his people, a loving presence fulfilled in the one we call Emmanuel, God-with-us.

In addition to being a record of the central event in Jewish history – the exodus from Egypt and journey toward the Promised Land – Exodus also provides a prime case study of the benefits of a utilization of the traditional “four senses” of scripture: the literal, the typological, the moral, and the mystical.

How to be a Sinner

On Thursday, September 27 at 6:30 p.m., Dr. Peter Bouteneff of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary reflects on the language of guilt and sin common to much Christian prayer. While not without its risks, a faithful Christian understanding of a “sinner identity” is in fact a prerequisite for the good news of the gospel message, and can help lead the believer into the way of Christ’s mercy, grace, and salvation. Of Dr. Bouteneff’s book on the topic, Rowan Williams writes, “This excellent book combines a solid theological perspective, fully informed by the depths of the Christian spiritual tradition, with a vigorous and very contemporary insight into a culture that has largely forgotten what sin means.” A reception follows. (This event was originally scheduled for March 7 but cancelled due to a snowstorm.)

What type of religious person are you? A survey for Saint Thomas

The Pew Research Center is a polling and demographic research organization that studies, among other things, the religious beliefs and practices of people in the U.S. and around the world.

Last week, a parishioner alerted me to a new “religious typology” of American adults that Pew recently created, based on a survey of 4,729 people. (The full report is here.) As the authors put it, this classification system “sorts Americans into seven groups based on the religious and spiritual beliefs they share, how actively they practice their faith, the value they place on their religion, and the other sources of meaning and fulfillment in their lives.” The resulting groupings run the gamut from the Sunday Stalwarts, who are actively involved in their faith communities (17% of Americans), to the Solidly Secular, who hold no religious or spiritual beliefs (interestingly, also 17%).

The overview of the report is worth checking out; I learned some things about the beliefs, and non-beliefs, of my fellow Americans. However, I am more intrigued by the opportunity that Pew provides for us to run our own religious typology poll. If you click here, you will be taken to a Pew Forum page especially set up for Saint Thomas Church. There are 16 multiple choice questions in the survey and it only takes a few minutes to complete. In addition to contributing to our own self-awareness, the site will give us a group analysis if there are more than five participants in the poll. I will pass on the general results of the Saint Thomas mini-poll in a few weeks if there is sufficient participation. What kind of religious person are you? What kinds of religious people are we?

I have my own reservations about the poll’s categorization scheme, but that is probably inevitable with a 16 question poll, which is a fairly blunt instrument to measure as complex a phenomenon as religious beliefs and practices. Still, it’s interesting to read about the current state of religion in America generally and to see where we fit in.

Yours in Christ,
Joel