Culture and Christianity

Flourish: Concepts, Commands, and Conversations for Common-Good Faith and Politics in the Church

Jonathan M Romig D.Min.
The author hypothesized that the direct teaching and discussion of the biblical concepts and commands of human flourishing and the common good would give Cornerstone Congregational Church in Westford, MA a theological framework for engaging civilly in faith and politics. To test this hypothesis, the author taught a non-partisan ten-week sermon series on religion and politics and led an accompanying class discussion. Research study participants completed a pre-and-post survey to gauge effectiveness. The author concluded that all participants developed more of a theological framework for engaging in politics, some more than others. The author recommends pastors and churches engage in political discipleship.

A Training for Missio Seminary Staff, Faculty, and Board of Trustees to Begin the Process of Contextualizing the Move from Suburban Hatfield to Urban Philadelphia

Ryan Nicholas Egli D.Min.
Missio Seminary moved from Hatfield Pennsylvania to Philadelphia in 2019. This project aims to contextualize that move from a rural and suburban setting to an urban setting for the staff, faculty, and Board of Trustees of the seminary. The author, who was previously employed at Missio Seminary, performed a training workshop, multiple interviews with key faculty and staff, and surveys to support the findings. The author concludes with multiple recommendations for the future of multicultural urban theological education as it applies to Missio Seminary in Philadelphia. While this project is specific to one medium-sized North American seminary, the steps and tools can be implemented in other situations, in education, and churches, and families, to successfully introduce and compassionately integrate people or institutions into a new urban home

"Is it a savior?" : finding salvation in Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Batman

Marjory Jean Roth
This paper explores how the theological idea of salvation takes shape in pop culture, specifically through the superhero films, Aquaman (2018), Wonder Woman (2017), and the Dark Knight Trilogy (2005, 2008, and 2012). I analyze how the films' main characters embody the role of savior and what their narratives might contribute to the Presbyterian understanding of salvation. I am not simply looking at where or how pop culture uses theological or Biblical parallels, but instead asking what these characters contribute to the broader conversation about salvation. The paper asks three questions of each film: what in the film's world needs saving; what about these superheroes or their actions make them a savior; and what, if anything, is changed within that fictional world, as a result of their actions? In asking these questions, we explore how an understanding of salvation emerges from within the film and later compare that to the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s teaching on Jesus as Savior.

How christologies may be shaped by the broader visual cultural environment

Jason Andrew Leader
How Christologies May Be Shaped By The Broader Visual Cultural Environment investigates how the recent explosion of two and three dimensional images of Jesus, ranging from those placing him in the historically accurate setting or period during which he actually walked the earth, to Jesus in a contemporary society dressed and involved in a 21st century activities setting, may impact a congregant's belief structure or shape the formulation of a Christology of a non-believer. Protestant pastors seemingly have neither given attention to nor engaged in theological discussion concerning what impact such radically differing images may have.

Research was conducted using a literature survey along with a survey of commercially available images of Jesus. An over-arching historical survey was provided of how art and theology influenced each other beginning with Old Testament prohibitions against the fabrication of images to the wealth of Jesus images available in 2010. Based on the research it was concluded that the image of Jesus and how he is portrayed does have an impact on how an individual understands the person and work of Jesus.

A paradigm was developed that enables a pastor to analyze popular visual images of Jesus circulating in the United States and to analyze their theological significance so that they can be more intentional about their own use of images of Jesus and more aware of the ways an individual's Christology may be influenced by the broader visual cultural environment. The model also serves as an excellent teaching tool to help a congregant understand the Christological implications of various images of Jesus.

Developing a Biblical Response to the Providence of God and Natural Disasters at First Baptist Church of Collinsville, Mississippi

Wade Lee Ricks D.Min.
This project evaluated whether an introductory curriculum on the providence of God could equip a select group of First Baptist Church of Collinsville, Mississippi to respond biblically to God’s providence in natural disasters.

Chapter 1 introduces the need to reexamine the theology of the providence of God as a result of scientific discovery. Additionally, the project's thesis, rationale, purpose, methodology, and goals are also presented.

Chapter 2 presents the theological background with an exegetical analysis of three major texts detailing the foundation for the theology of the providence of God.

Chapter 3 outlines the project description, scope, design, and weekly progress report.

Chapter 4 presents the project analysis gathered from both a pre- and post-study survey.

Chapter 5 concludes with an administrative summary and suggestions for further implementation of the project.

Wade Lee Ricks, D.Min.
The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2022
Supervisor: Dr. Thomas Kiker, Ph.D.

Embodied Spiritual Practices for Brown and Black Bodies Exploring Sabbath Rest

April Rae Gutierrez
“Embodied Spiritual Practices for Brown and Black Bodies Exploring Sabbath Rest” addresses spiritual formation, discussing an approach to Sabbath Rest for healing and restoration that is countercultural on personal and societal levels. Through a retreat, participants engaged in embodied spiritual practices that promote rest as a tool for spiritual formation and transformation that is rooted in decolonizing theology and spiritual practices. Working in collaboration with The Board of Young Peoples Ministry and the Hispanic /Latino Ministry of the Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church, the retreat model was reviewed by the committees for use in the work of spiritual formation for Black and Latinx Young Adults. The implementation of this project and retreat shows that culturally relevant spiritual practices that honor Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) stories and spiritual practices may deepen the encounter with God and relationships with participants within the retreat setting.

Asian Immigrant Women Building Spiritual Resilience Amidst Cultural Loss

Eugenia Wei-Kuen Lai D.Min.
In Asian cultural contexts, women's voices are often neglected, unnoticed, or actively suppressed in church and society. This thesis-project aims to examine the relationship between the spiritual well-being and the praxes of resilience engaged in by Asian immigrant women to the United States in the context of cultural loss. The interview outcome revealed the praxes of spiritual resilience of Asian immigrant women through their integration of faith and culture. Spiritual resilience is an ongoing living praxis that calls men and women to their prophetic calling in building up the kingdom of God, in whom Jesus is the Triumphant Living Praxis.

Comparison of Luther and Calvin on Sunday observance

Harry Buis
How should a Christian sanctify the Lord's Day? What principles should direct him in making use of this day according to the will of God? This problem has become increasingly perplexing in our nation today. It is a problem which is especially acute for many people in the Reformed Church in America. Many of these people came from a background of strict Sunday observance. Is this observance primarily cultural or is it biblical? If it is a combination of the two, on what basis can one untangle these

This problem is especially critical because today, as never before, the Reformed Church in America is reaching out into the typical American community with an evangelistic approach. As she does so, she must not lose her rich heritage; rather she must share it. On the other hand, she ought not to impose upon others any part of that heritage which is culturally conditioned rather than essentially Christian. Even those aspects of that culture which are commendable ought not to be made requirements for membership in the Church of Jesus Christ.

In dealing with Americans of many different cultural and religious backgrounds, one finds no greater variety of viewpoint than that toward the proper use of the Lord' s Day, for America itself is undergoing a great change in its attitudes toward the use of Sunday. In a few generations, this day has been changed from one largely used for rest and worship to one used largely for work and leasure. The Puritan Sabbath, which had a large influence in earlier American history, has given way to a far different viewpoint. The result is confusion of thought on the subject, and therefore prevailing practices are based on expediency rather than on definite principles.

Seeing and believing : using visual art in spiritual formation in the local congregation

Philip G Schairbaum
The purpose of this project is to explore how visual art can help individuals and local congregations move in some new directions as they seek to reclaim the essence of their calling--namely, the life-long process of growth toward the fullness of Christ.

Part One is a general inquiry into the place of aesthetics in the Christian life. Its conclusion is that art is a gift which God has given to humankind in order to glorify God and to refresh and strengthen the Christian life. A case is made that we are called to seek out and involve ourselves with works of art as they inform us theologically, enrich us spiritually, and serve as channels through which God may speak.

Part Two addresses how spiritual formation takes place in individuals and congregations. The work of Urban T. Holmes and Corrine Ware is used as a foundation for identifying different types of spirituality and for exploring how visual art can assist people in their spiritual journeys. The spiritual discipline of "Lectio Divina" is re-defined and re-interpreted as "Visio Divina" for use with visual art.

Part Three is a presentation and analysis of actual experiences individuals and the congregation at large in Charlevoix have had using visual art in religious education, corporate worship, personal prayer, and outreach--categories that parallel the spiritual components of Holmes' Circle of Sensibility. Some examples are offered as to how visual art has been used to enhance spiritual formation in the First Congregational UCC in Charlevoix.

This project gives evidence that utilizing visual art in more intentional ways will not only bring a renewed sense of spiritual vitality to those individuals who engage it directly, but can move whole congregations through its power to awaken, inform, illuminate, and deepen our life in the Spirit.

Dialogues to foster interreligious understanding

Dorothy Yoder Nyce
This project provides a dozen dialogues created to assist North American Christian readers to better understand effective exchange between people of diverse living faiths. While proximity of religions provides natural occasions for and urgency of open dialogue, partners anywhere benefit from increased respect and understanding achieved through knowledge, convictions, and attitudes expressed. Since religion and culture directly overlap, interreligious conversation is a cross-cultural exposure of faith issues.

The geographical focus of the dialogues centers in India, with aspects of the dominant Hindu religion intersecting with the small, minority Christian presence. While attention to the Mennonite denomination reflects the writer's Protestant connection, principles apply to any Christian engagement with other religions. Assumptions that undergird discussion include: religious plurality is a given; active interreligious exchange is inherent to being religious; Christian commitment is to God through Jesus Christ; to love the neighbor is a privilege.
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