C. S. Lewis and “mere” Christianity

Despite my failures to comprehend C. S. Lewis’s argument for the existence of God, I have always appreciated his account of common Christian beliefs and practices: that’s what he meant by “mere Christianity.” Lewis wrote Mere Christianity at the zenith of twentieth-century optimism about Christian unity. He arrived at his conclusions about common Christian beliefs and practices partly by intuition, partly by his immense knowledge of medieval European culture, and partly by running his stuff about common beliefs by Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist clergymen. Originally a series of radio talks that aired during the Second World War, the book was published in 1952, four years after the organizational meeting of the World Council of Churches. Lewis was not directly in touch with leaders of the movement for Christian unity, the ecumenical movement, but he seems to have imbibed the ecumenical spirit of the age and he thought he could write something up, run it by four clergymen, and then present readers with the essence of common Christianity. In my estimation he did a good job of that.

We do not live in such an age. Optimism for Christian unity has long since faded. The ecumenical movement now appears as a Christian expression of a particular era in western culture that valued modern visions of global unity, stripped of their moorings in traditional cultures, in art and architecture and music and political organization. That vision is now deeply suspect and likely to be seen as a relic of a bygone era even as ugly buildings in the “International Style” grow increasingly decrepit. Some of its most obvious expressions, like the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, have altogether disappeared. Others persist, like the United Nations and the World Bank, but today these groups project more the aura of staid institutional structures than that of vibrant and popular movements for human progress. Theologians and historians today speak readily of multiple and divergent “christianities,” presupposing or stating as a dogmatic principle that there are not and have never been common Christian practices and beliefs except perhaps at the most superficial level. So discerning “mere” Christianity isn’t as easy today as C. S. Lewis imagined it to be in the 1940s.

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Posted by on July 15, 2015 in Ted Campbell


Coffee and Belief in God (It Helps. Me.)

C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (1952) begins with an argument for the existence of God, and I feel bad about the fact that I never have really comprehended it. I received a copy of the book in the fall of my senior year in high school and I trudged dutifully through the chapters that presented Lewis’s argument for the existence of God. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on July 12, 2015 in Ted Campbell


Affirming the Discipline “in Its Entirety,” or Our Promises at Ordination?

The decision of the Eastern Pennsylvania Board of Ordained Ministry today to “deem the clergy credentials of Rev. Frank Schaeffer to be surrendered” was based on a previous challenge the Board gave Rev. Schaeffer to indicate to them within 30 days that he could “affirm the UM Book of Discipline in its entirety…” (cf. I think we know what they meant, but why put it like this? Is this an unprecedented request? I can’t recall other instances where clergy (much less church members) have been asked or required to “affirm the UM Book of Discipline in its entirety.”

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Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Ted Campbell


Faith Confronts Tragedy: Recalling 22 November 1963

Meditation at Renew Service, Lovers Lane United Methodist Church, 20 November 2013

Psalm 127:1

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This Friday marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Although I will be flying away to Baltimore to attend the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, the City of Dallas will be holding a commemorative event in Dealey Plaza. They will unveil a new plaque that I personally voted to approve as a member of the Landmark Commission, a plaque that gives the conclusion of the speech that Kennedy had written and had planned to give that afternoon at the Trade Center in Dallas.

The conclusion of his speech reads as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on November 20, 2013 in Ted Campbell


Is Jesus Christ the Savior of Klingons?

Sure, right?

But this might be like the Children’s Minister who starts the children’s sermon with, “Hey kids! What’s grey and has a bushy tail and eats nuts?”

And a sullen kindergartener says, “Well I know you want me to say Jesus, but…”
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Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Ted Campbell


Why Manischewitz is the Perfect Wine for Methodists

I was with an Episcopalian one time and this was no ordinary Episcopalian this was a Dean and that means a Very Reverend and that means a Very Serious Episcopalian so I committed the faux pas of ordering White Zinfandel and he proceeded to give me a Very Reverend Lecture about how “White Zinfandel is wine for people who really don’t like wine.”

The truth is that I grew up as a Methodist drinking sweet iced tea and Kool-Aid and the taste of Merlot remains a bit weird to my mouth and the fact that a wine tastes a little more like Kool-Aid than Merlot is a plus. Don’t tell the fine-wine cops. But despite the Kool-Aid-ical virtues of White Zinfandel, I want you to introduce you to the Perfect Wine for Methodists.

It’s called Manischewitz, and it’s a sweet kosher wine which means they probably didn’t make it with Methodists in mind. Actually there seems to be some debate about its kosher-osity because it’s sweetened with corn syrup which is apparently kosher all year long except for Pesach (Passover) when corn is off the kosher list so the Manischewitz folks make up a special batch with cane syrup for Pesach.

There are three principal reasons why Manischewitz is the Perfect Wine for Methodists.

1. It’s cheap. I mean, it’s really cheap, like you can get a 750 ml bottle at Target for $3.59. Think about that the next time you’re staring at a bottle of Pinot Noir for $11.99 that you know you are not going to like. You could have a Manischewitz and donate the remaining $7 to Nothing But Nets or the UMCOR Haiti relief fund. What would John Wesley do? All the good he can!

2. It’s sweet. I mean, it’s really sweet, almost as sweet as my mother’s iced, tea and she was one of those southern ladies who sweetened the tea while it was hot so as to increase massively the amount of sugar that could be dissolved into iced tea. I told you it has corn syrup. It’s like Grapette with a kick. You’re going to like this; I promise you.

Finally and most importantly, 3. it’s made with Concord grape juice which means that with the slight alteration involved in fermentation, it tastes for all the world like Welch’s Grape Juice, which of course is what Methodists have served up for the Lord’s supper since the time of Thomas Welch himself.

Thomas Bramwell Welch (1825-1903) is not be confused with a latter-day Welch who founded the John Birch Society. Thomas Welch had grown up in the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion in Britain before relocating to Vineland (appropriately) New Jersey. In 1869 he invented his method of pasteurizing grape juice to preserve it unfermented. Despite the fact that John Wesley drank wine and ale, and the fact that the old Methodist General Rules only forbade “spirituous liquors” (i.e., distilled liquor), Methodists were moving in the direction of advocating total abstinence from alcohol in Thomas Welch’s day, and eventually required the use of “the pure, unfermented juice of the grape” in the Lord’s supper. We call that requirement the Welch Rubric. It means that whether Methodists are teetotal or not, they have a fine, discerning taste for the Concord grape and its derivatives.

In 1888, 19 years after Welch’s discovery, the Manischewitz company began manufacturing its kosher wine from Concord grapes. Concord grapes both for Welch’s and for Manischwewitz are cultivated in the Chatauqua region of western New York. So there’s a reason why Manischewitz tastes right. It’s a miracle. It’s Manischewitz. It’s the Perfect Wine for Methodists.


Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Ted Campbell


Where Do Saints Come From?

Yes, I know, it should be “Whence Do Saints Come?” but hey it’s a blog.

I’ve been thinking about that company of people, in heaven and now on earth, who reflect the glory and the holiness of God. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on October 21, 2011 in Ted Campbell


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