Charles Marsh Delivers DuBose Lectures at Sewanee University

Can I Get a Witness? Explorations in an Amen

On September 26 and 27 Charles Marsh delivered three lectures at the School of Theology at Sewanee University as the 2018 DuBose Lecturer. Marsh built upon the theme of witness by presenting three different lectures.

The first lecture “Aristocrats of Responsiblity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Quest for a New Nobility” details the theology and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Marsh collects Bonhoeffer’s theological journey from gatherings in the dissident Church in Germany, his spiritual awakening during his trip through the Jim Crow south, and his late writings from Gestapo prison. “Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to a heightened and expansive sense of God’s presence and of what he called the ‘polyphony,’ the great richness and depth and textures of Christian faith.” Watch the first lecture here.

The second lecture”‘Better than Church’: The Civil Rights Movement and Religionless Christianity” explores the theology of the Civil Rights Movement, drawing on stories of Fannie Lou Hamer, Dr. Martin Luther King, SNCC, and other pivotal figures. Marsh highlighted Hamer’s role in the movement: “She gave voice to an exuberant love of Jesus of Nazareth, an immersive intensive incarnational spirituality. I would say evangelical in the most important and robust sense of the word. A parable of God’s resounding yes and Amen spoken in Jesus and to be shared with everyone. And a love of the whole miraculous story, of the death and burial and resurrection of Christ. And her love, because of that particular conviction, was a great big open love, open to anyone who cared for the weak and the poor.” Watch the second lecture here.

The third lecture “Visions of Amen: On the Judgment of God and the Splendor of the World” draws on Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and delves into the complicity of the white churches’ response to the Civil Rights Movement. “Wandering in wastelands of our own design, we wonder, has not the judging, righteous God traveled to save us as well? Isn’t this the message of the gospel? There is a place beyond judgment and wrath? This place of course, cannot be reached without repentance, metanoia, beyond judgment and wrath is the forgiveness of sin. Attention to the sacrifices of Jesus and the excellences of Christ. Attention to the christological incognito, to the distressed and excluded. And the hope for the return of splendor in the world.” Watch the third lecture here.

Find more information on Marsh’s DuBose Lectures on Sewanee University’s website here. For a full listing of our spring speaking engagements with Charles Marsh and others, visit our events calendar here.

Charles Marsh is the Commonwealth Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and the director of the Project on Lived Theology. His research interests include modern Christian thought, religion and civil rights, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and lived theology. His publications include Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (2014) and God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights (1997), which won the 1998 Grawemeyer Award in Religion.

For more event details and up-to-date event listings please click here to visit the PLT Events page. We also post updates online using #PLTevents. To get these and other news updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Laughing at the Devil

Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich, by Amy Laura HallSeeing the World with Julian of Norwich

In Laughing at the Devil, Amy Laura Hall invites people to see the world through the eyes of a medieval visionary now known as Julian of Norwich, believed to be the first woman to have written a book in English. Although we don’t know much about Julian personally (we don’t even know her given name, because she became known by the name of the church she lived in), she left behind a wealth of writings to study.

Julian “saw our Lord scorn [the Devil’s] wickedness” and noted that “he wants us to do the same.” In this impassioned, analytic, and irreverent book, Amy Laura Hall emphasizes Julian’s call to scorn the Devil. Julian of Norwich envisioned courage during a time of fear, and Laughing at the Devil describes how she transformed a setting of dread into one of hope, solidarity, and resistance.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Laughing at the Devil with these two exceedingly clear-eyed women—Julian of Norwich and Amy Laura Hall—is compelling, enlightening, and joyous, all in one. The two have created texts, each for their own time, that together bear witness, at points defiant, at points mischievous, to a profoundly God-sustained world. What a wonderful, grace-filled vision.” — Teresa Berger, author of @ Worship: Liturgical Practices in Digital Worlds

“Amy Laura Hall’s masterful Laughing at the Devil is a rewarding joy to read, at once a profound dialogue with the great mystic Julian of Norwich, and a beautiful, raw, funny, audacious, and insightful invitation to the contemporary audience. We laugh with Hall and Julian, and we too yearn to pull closer to God not through fear and trembling, but through an aching heart bursting open with joy. This is the kind of raw, gritty, grounded, and real spiritual exploration that calls to all Christians, and to all people of faith. Strongly recommended!” — Omid Safi, author of Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition

“You might not expect to find references to Game of Thrones, West Texas, barfing bears, divorce, and Machiavelli in a book on Julian of Norwich, but you will find all these and much more in this volume. Julian of Norwich is a most unusual theologian, and Amy Laura Hall has given us a most unusual book: it is engaging and illuminating, a personal, passionate, and political reflection on and with Julian.” — Karen Kilby, coeditor of The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology

For more information on the publication, click here.

Amy Laura Hall is an associate professor of Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Love Without Limits

Love Without Limits: Jesus' Radical Vision for Love with No Exceptions, by Jacqueline BussieJesus’ Radical Vision for Love with No Exceptions

In Love Without Limits, Jacqueline Bussie imparts practical solutions for people of faith who yearn to love across division and difference in these troubled times. Every day, millions of people lament the loss of civility, respect, and hope, and they wonder if it’s possible to cultivate a love big enough to overthrow hate and heal our hurts. Bussie says yes, it is possible, and shows how to do it in this engaging book about life and love. Through poignant personal memoir, engaging theological reflection, inspiring true stories of boundary-busting friendships, creative readings of scripture, and surprising shout-outs to some of love’s unsung heroes, Bussie challenges readers to answer God’s call to practice a love so deep, it subverts the social order; so radical, it scandalizes the powerful; so vast, it excludes no one. She urges readers to widen love’s wingspan and to love as God loves–without limits or exceptions.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“If you believe, as I do, that love is the heart of Jesus’ message and should be the point of the Christian life, then you’ll be surprised to see how few books there are that aim specifically to help you become a better practitioner of love. And you’ll be thrilled when a book like this comes along—super well-written, really inspiring and practical, deeply engaged with scripture, and joyfully celebrating the primacy of love.”—Brian D. McLaren, author of The Great Spiritual Migration

“This is a book about love, but not just any love. It’s about cosmic love, deep-faith love, break-down-walls love. Every page pulses with that same radical love. Read it and let the contents pour into you and make you better.”—Eboo Patel, author of Acts of Faith

Love Without Limits is more than a book; it is a profound and witty guide to a way of life—no, not just a way of life, but the way of life Jesus outlined for us in his life and teachings, if we would only pay attention. Over and over again this gracious book reminds us that “love without limits” is not only our goal, but is possible if we have the courage to attempt it and to pay, if necessary, the price. I love this book. It has become part of me.”—Anthony S. Abbot, author of The Angel Dialogues and winner of the North Carolina Award for Literature

For more information on the publication, click here.

Jacqueline Bussie is a professor of religion at Concordia College and is the director of the Forum on Faith and Life.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Summer Internship in Lived Theology Celebrates 2018 Season

The Project’s ninth class of interns partnered with organizations in Charlottesville, DC, and Southern California

On October 3, the 2018 class of summer interns in Lived Theology gave their final presentations at a celebration of the program’s 2018 season.

Jon Deters, a government major, worked with Wesley Theological Seminary’s Center for Public Theology in Washington, DC. He spent time working with organizations such as Bread for the World, New Baptist Covenant, and the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, and he visited important sites such as the Newseum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Jon also observed and participated in protests, lobbying, and letter-writing. You can read about his summer work on the internship blog, and view his final project, a photo collection with written reflections, here.

Isabella Hall picking strawberries

Isabella Hall, a Perkins House resident studying social ethics, community development, and religious studies at UVA, spent the summer interning with The Abundant Table, a grassroots, nonprofit organization that seeks to change lives and systems by creating sustainable relationships to the land and local community. Isabella’s summer work included farm labor, community development, and participation in the Abundant Table’s liturgical community. Read her reflections on our blog, and view her final project, a liturgy for the winter solstice, here.

Kate Badgett, who is studying religious studies and bioethics, worked this summer at The Haven, a multi-resource day shelter in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. She joined volunteers for kitchen work and led a writing group for guests.

The application for the 2019 season of the Summer Internship in Lived Theology will be available in December. Please visit the internship page to learn more, or contact us.


On the Lived Theology Reading List: One in Christ

One in Christ: Chicago Catholics and the Quest for Interracial Justice, by Karen J. JohnsonChicago Catholics and the Quest for Interracial Justice

In One in Christ, Karen J. Johnson tells the story of Catholic interracial activism through the lives of a group of women and men in Chicago who struggled with one another, their Church, and their city to try to live their Catholic faith in a new way. It started when black activists joined with a handful of white laypeople who believed in their vision of a universal church in the segregated city, and began to fight to make that vision a reality. In the end, not only had Catholic activists lived out their faith as active participants in the long civil rights movement and learned how to cooperate across racial lines, but they had changed the practice of Catholicism. They broke down the hierarchy that placed priests above the laity and crossed the parish boundaries that defined urban Catholicism. In this book, Johnson shows the ways religion and race combined both to enforce racial hierarchies and to tear them down, and demonstrates that we cannot understand race and civil rights in the North without accounting for religion.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Karen J. Johnson’s One in Christ has it all: white versus black and white with black; Catholic versus Protestant and Catholic with Protestant; Catholic versus Catholic and Catholic with Catholic. Widely researched, analyzed with precision, and focused on the magical messiness of everyday life, this book is necessary reading for anyone interested in race, religion, and justice in the past and present.”—Edward J. Blum, co-author of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America

“Karen J. Johnson has made a remarkable contribution to scholarship on interracial civil rights activism in the Northern United States. One in Christ is balanced in its attention to clergy and laity, and innovative in its intersectional placement of religion, race, gender, sexuality, class, and place at the heart of its analysis. Rigorous and passionate in its research and presentation, One in Christ will be appreciated as a cornerstone achievement in the history of the Catholic interracial justice movement.”—Omar M. McRoberts, author of Streets of Glory: Church and Community in a Black Urban Neighborhood

“A tour de force. One in Christ takes us into the streets and parishes of Catholic Chicago, richly exploring the much understudied work of the laity-particularly women-in shaping, defining, and acting for interracial unity and justice. In a delightfully engaging text, Johnson draws us into the messiness of human interaction for change and resistance during the long civil rights movement of the 1930s to the 1960s. Her findings and interpretations have deep meaning for our current times. A must read for anyone wanting to understand civil rights and racial change.”—Michael O. Emerson, author of Divided by Faith, United by Faith, and Transcending Racial Barriers

For more information on the publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

We Need Each Other – More Than Ever Before

German Observations on the Current American Situation

In these days of considerable turbulence and uncertainty in the United States, we at the Project on Lived Theology have found ourselves hungering for the voices of our sisters and brothers around the globe. We invited Bishop Wolfgang Huber, a prominent German theologian and ethicist, to write a theological response to the current American political situation. In his piece, he reflects on Donald Trump as “a new focal point for the well-known phenomenon of ‘German Angst’” and finds hope in the lived witnesses of American citizens. Read his essay here, and watch this space in the coming months for more reflections from our fellow travelers around the world.

Excerpt: “Therefore it is a central task of Christians to speak frankly about our doubts, our anxieties, our xenophobia. Only in addressing those feelings do we have the chance to develop a realistic picture of our situation. Only if we learn to express our fears can we develop hope. Only if we address the reasons for mutual distrust can we develop trust. To develop the strength for such an approach we need each other. We need each other even more than ever before. Our understanding of the human person created into the image of God is at stake.”

To read more Wolfgang Huber, we recommend this excellent article: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Christian Existence on the Edge of the Future.”

To browse our PLT resource collection, click here. Updates on our resources can be found online using #PLTresources. To get these updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology.


On the Lived Theology Reading List: The Year of Our Lord 1943

The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis, by Alan JacobsChristian Humanism in an Age of Crisis

In The Year of Our Lord 1943, Alan Jacobs explores the poems, novels, essays, reviews, and lectures of five Christian intellectuals who wrote about what the world would look like after World War 2. It had become a common thought among Christian intellectuals that the Allies were not culturally or morally prepared for their success, and a war won by technological superiority merely laid the groundwork for a post-war society governed by technocrats. Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil, sought both to articulate a sober and reflective critique of their own culture and to outline a plan for the moral and spiritual regeneration of their countries in the post-war world. Jacobs has now brought all of these writings into one coherent narrative, as each person presents their views of the very different paths now set before the Western democracies.

Although all five thinkers worked separately, they developed a strikingly consistent argument that the only means by which democratic societies could be prepared for their world-wide economic and political dominance was through a renewal of education that was grounded in a Christian understanding of the power and limitations of human beings. In this book, Jacobs masterfully shows why they all thought it vital to restore Christianity to a leading role in the renewal of the Western democracies.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Alan Jacob’s prose wears immense learning lightly, with great grace and to great effect. To think alongside these writers, under Jacobs’s stage direction, to hear them across a gap of three-quarters of a century think with gravity and sincerity, pondering the nature of the human soul, palpably straining toward the ideal of the common good, feeling the pull of their religion’s perennial pitfalls, in a situation and language different from and yet not wholly unlike our own, is riveting, challenging, and life-giving.”—Lori Branch, author of Rituals of Spontaneity

“Alan Jacobs has written an elegant and deeply learned book on Christian humanism in the critical years of the Second World War. He opens a window into some of the most luminous and profound thinking about the nature and possibilities of civilization during those troubled years. By doing so, has opened a window for thinking about our own troubled times.”—James D. Hunter, author of To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World

“Jacobs seems to have written this with an eye to the time between the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and the events of 9/11, when it seemed that democracy had finally achieved peace, only to find it widely rejected. His look at how these five figures struggled with similar turns of events is worth pondering.” —Library Journal

For more information on the publication, click here.

Alan Jacobs is a distinguished professor of the humanities in the honors program at Baylor University. His work revolves around multiple interests, primarily literature, theology and technology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

PLT Alum Nathan Walton Defends Dissertation on Prosperity Gospel

Nathan WaltonDissertation Entitled Blessed and Highly Favored

On May 16th, PLT alum Nathan Walton, successfully defended his dissertation: “Blessed and Highly Favored”: The Theological Anthropology of the Prosperity Gospel.  This project examines Prosperity Gospel Pentecostalism, also known as the Word of Faith movement, which is the fastest growing Christian movement in the world.  Addressing the relationship between health and wealth within the Prosperity Gospel is at the heart of this dissertation’s central thesis.  It argues that the Prosperity Gospel presents a form of Christian individualism that is harmful for those who experience ongoing poverty or continue to lack robust health.  Promises of personal financial gain are preferred without adequate attention to the various systemic barriers to socioeconomic equality, and approaches to healing quite often lack a framework for affirming the integrity of those with ongoing sicknesses or disabilities.  This dissertation identifies the implications that this form of individualism has for those who remain financially and physically dependent.  In response, this dissertation affirms interdependence as a more ethically responsible value than independence.

The methodology of this dissertation draws from both qualitative research approaches and theological frameworks.  Through in-depth interviews, content analyses of sermons, and participant-observation research in two megachurch communities, it grounds its description of the Prosperity Gospel within ethnographic fieldwork.  Subsequently, it brings this research into conversation with the theological writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr.  This dissertation then offers a more theologically robust and ethically responsible vision of Christian identity and practice that has implications for both academic discourse and the church.

While this project offers several important interventions into broader theological discourse, most importantly, it directly engages a movement largely ignored by academic theology.  By focusing on the Prosperity Gospel, as well as drawing from qualitative research methods, this dissertation contributes to the growing corpus of theological works which take the religious and quotidian lives of faith communities seriously.

PLT Director Charles Marsh posed a series of questions for Walton on his research:

1.      What is the prosperity gospel?

The Prosperity Gospel, the fastest growing segment of Christianity in the world, claims that God desires for all believers to live in financial abundance and robust physical health.  Its proponents teach that poverty and sickness are both spiritual curses that have been defeated by Christ’s sacrificial death.  Together, health and wealth are understood as spiritual realities that Christians can bring into concrete manifestation through faith and verbal affirmations.  Today the Prosperity Gospel flourishes in Protestant (and increasingly in Roman Catholic) churches, especially among the poor in the United States and the Global South, promoting a vision of the good life that valorizes wealth and health.

2.      What drew you to the project?

I initially became interested in studying the Prosperity Gospel because a family member became involved in the movement.  Their embrace of Prosperity Gospel teachings raised a lot of theological questions for me, particularly as it coincided with my own academic work in religious studies.  As an undergraduate at UVA, I wrote a thesis on the Prosperity Gospel, focusing primarily on its use of scripture.  After completing a master of divinity degree, my academic questions about the Prosperity Gospel eventually grew beyond hermeneutical questions about scripture to then encompass broader sociological questions about why the Prosperity Gospel remained such a widespread phenomenon as well as questions about the broader impact of its teachings on adherents.  At the same time, I became fascinated with the interplay between these sociological realities and their theological roots.

3.      Kate Bowler has written a definitive history of the movement. Your paths may have crossed at Duke. What distinguishes your study from her account?

Kate Bowler’s Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, offers a compelling and illuminative account of the Prosperity Gospel.  She effectively traces this movement’s inception and history, while drawing out several of the dominant themes that have shaped its development.  As a historian, Bowler’s approach is largely descriptive.  While my dissertation provides a brief historical description of the movement, it is primarily informed by a theological analysis with specifically normative aims.  My work not only assesses the Prosperity Gospel, but offers a constructive theological response that draws from the theological and ethical reflections of 20th century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr.  This theological lens and response is the fundamental difference in my account.

4.      Your dissertation is engaging, carefully argued and accessible to non-scholars. What do you hope this contributes to academic theology? What do you hope this contributes to the life of the church?

This project addresses a current gap in scholarship by directly engaging a movement largely ignored by academic theology.  By focusing on the Prosperity Gospel, as well as drawing from qualitative research methods such as ethnography, this dissertation contributes to the growing corpus of theological works which take the religious and quotidian lives of faith communities seriously.  In addition, this project has implications for the church because it illumines the ethical issues at stake in some of Christianity’s most dominant theological claims.  Perhaps most importantly, it provides next steps for Christians both within and beyond the Prosperity Gospel movement, liturgically and socially.

5.      Why is attention to the Prosperity Gospel important at this time in our nation’s history?

Attention to the Prosperity Gospel is important because it is a significant case study in the relationship between American religion and culture.  As the Prosperity Gospel has appropriated and interacted with social realities such as capitalism, consumerism, globalization, and American individualism, its ability to impact the economic and even political sensibilities of Americans has become increasingly apparent.  In addition, attention to the Prosperity Gospel is crucial for our historical moment because it also functions as a globally significant American cultural export.  As adherents from South Korea to Nigeria to Brazil embrace this movement, there is an argument to be made that they are also embracing many aspects of what it means to be an American.

6.      You’ve decided to pursue a theological vocation, at least for now-in a non-academic setting. Can you talk about the challenges and joys that you’ve discovered so far in doing theology in community development?

I derive great joy from witnessing how theological assumptions provide many of the parameters for how we do community development work, even as theological claims find expression in that work.  Some examples that I’ve witnessed include our incarnational emphasis that manifests in programs that are neighborhood-based, a commitment to discipleship that fundamentally shapes our youth programs, or a commitment to reconciliation that informs the type of witness we seek to provide for our city.  One of the challenges in doing theology in community development is that the collaborative nature of community development inevitably involves navigating non-Christian perspectives and expectations.  Yet rather than being an obstacle, this is simply an opportunity to model what it means to pursue faith-informed social engagement in an ideologically pluralistic world.

Nathan graduated and is currently serving as executive director of Abundant Life Ministries in Charlottesville. His interests include community development, theology, and parish ministry. In addition to his role with Abundant Life, Nathan serves as Community Life Pastor at Charlottesville Vineyard Church.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more news from PLT fellow travelers, click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #PLTfellowTravelers. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.