I’m Todd Risser, and I’ve served as a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene for 23 years (on the coast of Maine, in NE Ohio, and 19 years with the same congregation in rural Pennsylvania). Pastoring has been a fantastic experience for me. I have a BA in Philosophy & Religion from Point Loma Nazarene University (1989), a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Missiology from Nazarene Theological Seminary (1994), and an MA in International Development from Eastern University (2015). Before pastoring, I enjoyed a variety of fun and interesting jobs running the gamut from environmental biology and endangered species to teaching in a Navajo school to youth ministry in beach towns to collecting on past due gasoline debts in multiple languages! I’ve had the fun of working in the Caribbean, SE Asia, Europe, Central America, and with the Navajo Indians. My wife and I have 2 daughters and 4 sons, ages 14 to 26, and a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law, and a grand-daughter. Some of the things I am fascinated with include ecology, hunting, fishing, backpacking, canoeing, gardening, tinkering with and shooting 19th century infantry rifles, the beach, Mars, Jewish/Christian/Muslim theology, wilderness survival, and building a sustainable/durable civilization for the future.
WHY THIS BLOG?
I believe that Christianity in the West is once again moving through a phase change, shifting, morphing, as it has many times in the past 20 centuries. At this intersection of the modern and postmodern ages, many people are trying to reassemble a Christian theology that makes sense to them and takes into account the new things we are learning (as happens in every century of rapid discovery). They are trying to hold onto (or find for the first time) a Christian faith that has new answers because the answers we inherited from modern evangelicalism do not actually work satisfactorily. Doctrines like original sin, hell, the Bible, other world religions, predestination, Greek ideas about omniscience, what the Gospel is, atonement, eschatology and many more are all in play. And they need to be, because this is what Christianity does, it responds in new ways of faithfulness to the time in which that group of Christians is living.
The idea that Christian theology has always been this beleaguered set of doctrines, now under attack from liberals is simply untrue to history. Christian theology has morphed and changed dramatically down through the centuries, always integrating new insights, new things learned by experience, in symbiotic relationship with the culture around us or the new ones we enter, just like Jewish theology was doing before and after the time of Jesus. An easy example is atonement theory. Western Christianity has cycled through at least six major atonement theologies in the past 20 centuries. Each of them made plenty of use of Scripture and each of them made sense to the culture of their time. Old ones gave way to new ones when the old ones no longer made sense in the culture of the day. Wherever Christian theology ends up in 50 or 100 years, it is of course not the end of the process. We are simply swimming in the part of the stream we are in at this time in history.
And that’s the point of this blog. To be part of that discussion, part of the conversation, give people a chance to read and think through some of the things that friends and colleagues of mine are talking about these days. It’s part of loving God with all our mind.
Some Christians will refuse. They will plant stakes in the ground and hold to whatever theology was last compiled in their tradition, as if it were the finale, the sin qua non, the age-old perfect expression of True gospel (even though it was compiled 500, 200 or 100 years ago!) That’s ok, no use fussing with them – they too are our brothers and sisters. But for many people I know, these questions are important, central to their identity as people following Jesus. This blog is simply part of that discussion.