May 21, 2020

Renewal Past and Present

Filed under: Spiritualty,Trinity School for Ministry — William Witt @ 5:56 am

The following appeared in Trinity School for Ministry’s Seed & Harvest Spring/Summer 2020.


Why renewal? Because the Christian church has been around for over 2,000 years, renewal becomes necessary as each generation must once again claim the faith for itself, but also must address the changes and challenges of a surrounding culture that may or may not be sympathetic to the Christian gospel. As the upcoming generation encounters the challenges of its own culture, it has to be faithful not only to what has come before, but also to address new challenges in new ways.

A renewal movement took place in the Episcopal Church in the 1970’s that had its roots in the charismatic movement that began in the 1960’s, characterized by the experience in mainline Protestant denominations of charismatic gifts that earlier had been characteristic of Pentecostalism. The renewal emphasized an experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit in worship that had been lacking in mainline denominations.

This renewal movement has continued to have an influence on the contemporary church. Many later church leaders got their starts or came to faith then. Charismatic renewal had a significant effect on styles of (contemporary) worship music. Within Anglican and Episcopal circles, charismatics are regularly included as one of the “three streams” of conservative Anglicanism identified as not only Evangelical and Catholic, but now also Charismatic.

While this renewal movement of the 1970s played a significant role in bringing revitalization within the mainline churches, it was only one of several renewal movements of the previous century. In what follows, I will mention three other renewal movements, and how they led me to become an Anglican.

Contemporaneous with charismatic renewal was the rise of “Evangelicalism” (as distinct from Fundamentalism) in denominations that were predominantly baptistic or revivalist, – “born again” Christianity. Evangelicalism likely reached its cultural high point when Newsweek recognized the election of Jimmy Carter as President by designating 1975 as the “Year of the Evangelicals.”

During my high school and college undergraduate years, my family were members of an Evangelical megachurch with a large youth group that became the center of my social circle. While other teenagers went to prom or played high school sports, I spent my time with my church friends. It was through this youth group that I became convinced that I had a vocation to some kind of Christian ministry, and I ended up doing my undergraduate studies at a local Evangelical liberal arts college. My Evangelical upbringing gave me a spirituality that focused on a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ, a knowledge of and love for the Bible, and a way of responding to certain types of worship. Hymns like ‟Amazing Grace” still move me in ways that are hardly rational.

A second renewal movement took place during the twentieth century in the area of academic theology. (more…)

February 11, 2019

American Evangelicalism and Anglicanism

Filed under: Anglicanism,Ecumenism,Theology,Trinity School for Ministry — William Witt @ 11:20 pm

(The following is based on a talk I gave as part of a TSM panel, addressing the question “What is Evangelicalism?)

River Baptism

I teach at “Trinity School for Ministry: An evangelical seminary in the Anglican tradition.” What does that word “Evangelical” mean? In what sense am I an Evangelical Anglican? There are at least three ways in which the word “Evangelical” could function in relationship to Anglicanism. First, it could simply be pointing to the Reformation heritage of Anglicanism. Like Lutheranism or the Reformed tradition, Anglicanism traces its roots to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, including such definitive markers as the three (or five) solas: sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria. The term could also refer to a particular movement within Anglicanism that focuses on Anglicanism’s Reformation identity. An extreme version of this kind of Evangelical Anglicanism would understand pristine Anglicanism to have existed for the short number of years during the reign of Edward VI between Cranmer’s second Prayer Book of 1552 (definitely not the 1549), and the beginning of the reign of Queen Mary. Definitive identity markers would include the 1552 BCP, the 39 Articles (1563) and the Book of Homilies (1547, 1562, and 1571). Much later Anglicanism (beginning with the Caroline Divines and perhaps Richard Hooker) would be interpreted as a “falling away” from these original pristine touchstones. I intend rather to use the term to refer to a more recent distinctly American phenomenona – North American Evangelicalism of the mid-20th and early 21st centuries. This is the context of my own upbringing, but also the church background of the majority of TSM’s faculty and students. What might an orthodox 21st century North American Anglicanism have to offer this American version of Evangelicalism?

I will begin with a bit of autobiography. I was raised a Southern Baptist. During my high school years, I got involved for a short period of time in what was then called the “Jesus Movement,” and attended a Friday night service every week where people raised their hands and sang in tongues. I was also involved in the youth group of a Southern Baptist megachurch. At the same time, I discovered the writings of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, and in a two-year period read all of Lewis’s major published writings.

I attended an Evangelical liberal arts college in Denver where I majored in philosophy. Evangelicals were not writing theology at this time, but they were interested in apologetics, and I thought that philosophy would be a handy tool for apologetics. I discovered Thomas Aquinas, but Aquinas at this time was being read primarily as a philosopher. During my senior year in college, I discovered the writing of Wolfhart Pannenberg, but I was interested in Pannenberg because of his value for apologetics. Pannenberg defended the historical verifiability of the resurrection of Jesus. Pannenberg was the first “real theologian” I ever read, and I called myself a “Pannenbergian” for awhile. I used terms like “proleptic anticipation of the eschaton.”

Toward the end of my time in college, a number of theologians produced a document called The Hartford Appeal, a criticism primarily of trends in liberal Protestant theology. In the collection of essays that the participants entitled Against the World For the World: The Hartford Appeal and the Future of American Religion, Peter L. Berger and Richard John Neuhaus, eds. (NY: Seabury, 1976), Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary contributed the essay, “New Alignments: Hartford and the Future of Evangelicalism.”

In that essay, Mouw identified three groups of American Evangelicals existing at the time.

1) Fundamentalism was a group that came into existence in the early twentieth century in opposition to and as a rejection of Liberal Protestantism in the mainline churches.

2) NeoEvangelicalism was identified with successors of Fundamentalism who broke with its narrowness in the mid-twentieth century: Billy Graham and the journal Christianity Today were two of its cultural identifiers.

3) In contradistinction from both Fundamentalism and NeoEvangelicalism was “Confessionalism,” identified with members of historic Reformation denominations who did not trace their roots to American sources: Lutheran, Reformed, Episcopal, Mennonite. These groups sometimes formed an uneasy alliance with Evangelicalism although they did not share its historic roots, and each had its own distinctive confessional identity. (more…)

November 26, 2010

How NOT to Attract Young People

Filed under: Anglicanism,The Episcopal Church,Trinity School for Ministry — William Witt @ 1:51 am

Over at StandFirm, they linked to this article from the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona about “How to Get More Young People in Church.” This is the liberal TEC diocese that I found so attractive that for the six months I lived in Arizona about five years ago, I worshiped in a Lutheran church. (But, of course, I’m not a young person.) Anyway, the article prompted me to think about how one might go about not attracting young people, and it occurred to me that where I teach has figured that one out just about right.

How NOT to attract young people:

1. Build a seminary in a rundown former steel town outside Pittsburgh. This will discourage the hip and trendy.

2. Design a curriculum that is centered around biblical theology and creedal orthodoxy. This will discourage the progressive and relevant.

3. Require every faculty member and incoming seminarian to sign a doctrinal statement affirming the essentials of creedal orthodoxy.  Make sure the statement is detailed enough that it is impossible to fudge. This will discourage the open-minded.

4. Require every incoming seminarian to learn the basics of biblical Hebrew and Greek their very first semester. This will discourage those who hate hard work. (more…)

September 28, 2009

The Wisdom From Above: A Sermon for New Seminarians

Filed under: Sermons,Trinity School for Ministry — William Witt @ 5:26 am

Morning Prayer
Psalm 37
1 Kings 11:1-13
James 3:13-4:12

When I looked at the passage about King Solomon from 1 Kings this morning, I was very tempted to preach a very short sermon with some concrete applications. So, first, for those of you who are men, and who are beginning your studies here at Trinity School for Ministry—if you can manage to get through seminary with no more than one wife, and no more than one god, you’ll be better off in the long run. For the women, if the guy you’re interested in already has 700 wives, he’s probably not that into you.

On a more serious note, there really does seem to be a common theme uniting all three of the passages we’re read from the Daily Office lectionary this morning. All three passages have something to do with Wisdom.

So, beginning with King Solomon. Solomon is an ambiguous figure in the biblical canon. On the one hand, he is associated with Wisdom. At the beginning of Solomon’s reign as King, God appears to him in a dream, and gives Solomon the option to “Ask what I shall give to you.” In response, Solomon asks for an “understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil.” (1 Kings 3:5,9) Then follow several stories in which Solomon’s great wisdom is demonstrated. There is the story of the two women with one dead child and one living one who ask Solomon to decide which of them is the mother of which. There is the story of Solomon building the temple, and the prayer in which Solomon prays: “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or one earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart.” There is the story of the covenant that God makes with Solomon, promising to establish his royal throne forever. There is the story of the Queen of Sheba who visits Solomon and tells him: “Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard.” (1 Kings 3-10)

Canonically, Solomon has historically been associated with three Wisdom books in the Old Testament canon – Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes. So Solomon is associated with Wisdom the way that Moses is associated with Law or David with Kingship.

And then there is this morning’s passage, where we are told that Solomon “loved many foreign women,” and had 700 wives, and 300 concubines, that his wives “turned away his heart after other gods,” that he sacrificed to Chemosh and Molech. This is a far cry from the Solomon who prayed at the dedication of the temple, “ there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath.” (1 Kings 8:23) This is very different from the advice we find in Proverbs, where the young man is told to “rejoice in the wife of your youth.” (Proverbs 5:18) So the reading about Solomon raises the question, “What is wisdom?”

In the Psalm and in James, we also find ourselves asking the question, “What is wisdom?” The Psalm gives a practical definition of wisdom: “Trust in the Lord, and do good, dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37: 3-4)

James asks the question right off the bat: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” (James 3:13) So, there is a common theme this morning, that of wisdom. What is it? How do we find it? And, in only the few minutes I’m allowed for a sermon this morning, how does that apply to students who are beginning their studies in seminary? (more…)

January 31, 2009

An Unfulfilled Promise

Filed under: Trinity School for Ministry — William Witt @ 7:21 am

I had posted what follows below shortly after having arrived at Trinity School for Ministry.  I was just adjusting to the new life of faculty and was disappointed at how little time this left for blogging.  I have since discovered that there is no letup to the responsibilities of teaching at a seminary.  Some of us have suggested that this has something to do with the Calvinist heritage of the place.  We’re all trying to prove we’re elect by putting in as many hours as we can.

Seriously, in some ways teaching in a seminary is more time consuming than teaching at a university or college,or doing full-time IT support.  There are a lot more responsibilities besides teaching classes.  All the faculty preach in chapel.  All the faculty are advisors to students.  All the faculty participate in the day to day governing of the seminary–from discussing curriculum, to student evaluations, to discussing finances.  We all promote the school in various ways.  We go to conferences. We contribute to the Theological Journal, and other publications. We have responsibilities connected with the current Episcopal Church/Anglican Communion crisis.  We teach not only on campus, but online as well.  It is a lot to do.  But I think we all love it.  And we love the students.  Or we wouldn’t do it.  But it makes blogging difficult.

I decided to add a blog to my website last January after having received complaints that people would like to be able to comment on what I had written. I had hoped that blogging might become a regular discipline. Shortly after my first few posts, however, my life was interrupted first by the unexpected death of my father, and then, by the more happy request to interview for a teaching position at Trinity School for Ministry. Since that interview, the last several months have been consumed with preparing to teach two courses I had never taught before, packing up and saying goodbye to old friends, moving to Ambridge, unpacking, saying hello to new friends, and now, the first few weeks of teaching.

So far TESM has exceeded my wildest expectations. Despite the general craziness that comes with moving to a new place–one of the movers commented while unloading one of my dozens and dozens of boxes of books, “You sure must like to read”–being here has brought me almost unmitigated joy. There are new surprises every day. This morning we heard Bishop Mouneer Anis preach in chapel, and then speak afterwards to the faculty and student body. He is the Primate of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East. His diocese includes not only Jerusalem, but also Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, Tunisia, and Algiers. He brought greetings from the Global South Primates and assured us of their support for the “remnant” of faithful Anglicans/Episcopalians in the United States. When I was a child I used to dread the Sundays when the missionaries brought in their slideshows, but Bishop Mouneer visibly moved a packed auditorium as he talked about the work of Anglican Christians in an overwhelmingly Muslim part of the world. I was moved. My jaded cynicism is having to fight hard to stay alive here.

Now that I am a little more settled I’ll try to do more to keep in touch with my readers.

Grace and Peace,


Originally published September 19, 2007

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