The inaugural issue of the Journal of Christian Studies arrived in my mailbox two weeks ago, the entire issue is now free online, and I’m eager to share it with you today. The Journal is a thrice-yearly publication of the Center for Christian Studies in Austin, of which – full disclosure – my brilliant brother Keith is the Executive Director. In keeping with the long tradition begun by Austin Graduate School of Theology, the Journal of Christian Studies wants to make biblical scholarship accessible and practical for the local church. They’re going to use each issue to focus on a particular topic or theme and unpack it in a way that benefits ministers and lay leaders in their congregations. Keith describes the Journal of Christian Studies as “more accessible than the purely academic journals but more rigorous than the popular-level magazines,” a venue for “thought-provoking writing that instructs and encourages the church at large.”
This vision captures the very essence of the old Austin Graduate School of Theology, where serious scholarship intentionally moved smoothly from the ivory towers into the trenches of church leadership. I remember well my professors at Austin Grad – mainly Michael Weed, Alan McNicol, and Jeff Peterson – after 30-minutes of tough sledding through some complicated theology, taking a deep breath and saying, “Okay, here’s how the Church needs to hear this” or “Okay, here’s why this matters to your church,” then spending the next 30-minutes in very practical and helpful guidance. That’s what Keith and the Center for Christian Studies is attempting to continue, by offering biblical and theological education and training for local churches and church leaders. And this initial edition of the Journal of Christian Studies is a very good sign that they’re really onto something.
This first issue tackles the topic of the Church’s response to COVID-19 and the multiple challenges that lie ahead. It opens with Ed Gallagher’s piece on the local church as a worshiping and serving community of God’s people in which the author reminds us why regularly coming together in the same place at the same time is so important to the formation of Christian character. Relationship, reconciliation, bearing one another’s burdens – God is at work in the hard work of being community together. This is something I believe we have failed to adequately communicate in our churches and the current times demand we step up our teaching.
Keith compares the emergency procedures our churches enacted during the COVID lockdowns to similar emergency situations that forever altered the practice of Christian baptism and the communion meal. He cautions us to engage in serious thought and reflection when it comes to our language and our rituals, especially as it concerns our rapid move into live-streaming our Lord’s Day worship assemblies.
Todd Rester provides some helpful historical reminders that our current day is not the first in which God’s Church has dealt with a global health crisis. It’s almost refreshing to read that church leaders in the Middle Ages also took steps to mitigate the spread of the plague and other horrible diseases, while still maintaining pastoral duties to the flock. At the same time, it’s almost depressing to realize that they were more faithful and brave than we seem to be. There are lessons to be learned from looking at the history.
Todd Hall completes the issue with a focused look at the pandemic’s effect on spiritual formation. How do we recover our spiritual disciplines? How do we deliberately move away from the screens and the earbuds, scrolling through Facebook and binging the latest Netflix drama, isolation and fear of the other, toward more intentional time with God in Word and prayer and with his people in service and worship?
I can’t recommend enough to you this issue of this brand new journal. It’s deep and serious theology of the Church and what our God is doing in and through his gathered people, and how the pandemic has impacted our expectations and experiences. It’s a call to pay closer attention to what we do and why we do it when we come together. Read the whole thing. Start with Keith’s article first.