Abide In Me

The collaborative Christian Ministry of
Wes Howard-Brook and Sue Ferguson Johnson




The Gospel of Luke: ongoing

Thursday mornings in Issaquah (80 6th Ave SE) 9:30-11:30 a.m.

Yearning for more in-depth Bible study than can be experienced in a limited-length series? Seeking to let God's Word find a home deep in your heart and in your life? Join us for our ongoing, living-room based, small group study of Luke's's gospel. This is a rare opportunity to take our time and move as the Spirit guides rather than as the calendar dictates. Each gathering takes time for coffee and greetings; prayer in silence, in song and in word; and an expansive period in which we listen with our minds, hearts and bodies to each word, phrase and verse of the gospel.

Whether you can only join us once in a while or would like to come every week, consider taking a taste of this special way to be formed together in the Word.

Here's a link to a recording of us offering an overview of context and themes in Luke's Gospel.

Donation only. For more information, call 425-369-8735 or email.


Starting Fall 2016

EB cover

Empire Baptized:
How the Church Embraced What Jesus Rejected (2nd-5th centuries)

10 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Second Saturdays, October 8, 2016 - May 13, 2017

Abide in Me
80 6th Ave SE, Issaquah

Have you ever wondered about how and why Christianity is generally so different from the Gospel of Jesus? For instance, consider:


·         Why do so many Christians focus on “saving my soul,” when Jesus prayed for God’s kingdom to come “on earth, as it is in heaven?

·         Why have so many churches emphasized “right doctrine,” when Jesus emphasized “right living”?

·         Why has Christianity so often gone to war in the name of God, when Jesus preached and practiced love of enemies?

·         How did the church become so misogynist, when Jesus and Paul included women in the discipleship community?

·         Why have so many churches focused on renouncing sexuality, when Jesus called for renouncing wealth and privilege?

·         Why is it so challenging for churches to care for nonhuman creation, when Jesus so often encountered God in rivers, mountains and desert?


Come join us this year, as we address these and other questions in our series, Empire Baptized: How “Christianity” Embraced What Jesus Rejected, 2nd-5th Centuries.

We’ll be engaging Wes’ new book (publication date: 9/15) as we explore how a handful of elite writers in the Roman Empire invented a new religion, “Christianity,” which they overlaid upon the message and life of Jesus. We will engage the early church writers not for their own sake, but so that we can move more faithfully into becoming a community grounded in the unadulterated Good News of Jesus.

This Saturday offering is like a series of monthly retreats, with a wide range of people of all ages coming from a variety of religious contexts.


We prepare for each session by sending an email to all participants with reflection questions designed to help you enter the month's texts and follow up each session with an email summary. The presentation portion is recorded and posted online in MP3 format in case you have to miss a session or want to listen again. 


Each session follows this rhythm:


9:45: Gathering for coffee and greetings

10:00: opening prayer

10:30: triads

11:00: EB presentation

11:20: break

11:35: EB presentation

12:00: lunch

12:45: What stayed with you

1:00: Gospels and group prep

1:45: silence

2:05: Small groups

2:35: Regathering

2:45: Closing prayer

3:00: Close

Session 1:Religion of Creation and Religion of Empire overview

We will begin by introducing the paradigm we’ll be using this year, taken from “Come Out, My People!:” God’s Call Out of Empire In the Bible and Beyond (Orbis, 2010): the “religion of creation” vs. the “religion of empire.” What do we mean by “religion”? We’ll expand the usual, restricted sense of this concept to include the worldviews and practices that generate a “people” from of a group of individuals. We’ll see briefly how this paradigm played out in the Hebrew Scriptures and how Jesus sided with the religion of creation in proclaiming his Good News of liberation and jubilee.

Session 2: Introducing Alexandria and North Africa: our test cases for exploring how “Christianity” came to be

Many of us come to our explorations with an idea of “universal” Christianity, built up from the writings of “church fathers” in the centuries after Jesus. However, the reality is that each early church writer saw the world from a specific vantage point in terms of geography, class and other socioeconomic factors. We’ll introduce the two regions from which so many church writers saw the world: the philosophically-trained elite from two of the Roman Empire’s most important regions: the Latin-speaking area of North Africa and the Greek-speaking area in and around Alexandria, Egypt. We’ll also explore how our own geographic and cultural “homes” affect how we hear texts, both ancient and contemporary.

Session 3: How should Christians read the Bible: the “rule of faith” and the influence of Platonism

Early Christian writers insisted that the Scriptures of Israel were to be part of the eventual “Bible” for Christians. However, they could see as easily as we can the many contradictions found within the collection of texts. The “religion of creation vs. religion of empire” paradigm is one way to interpret this conflict. However, early church writers, under the influence of Roman and Greek cultural presuppositions, resolved this problem very differently. We’ll explore how Ireneaus, Justin Martyr, and Origen of Alexandria (later, Caesarea), established the way to read Scripture that has shaped Western history and society. The result has been disastrous for Christianity’s engagement with social justice.

Session 4: Alexandria, 150-22 CE:
Clement and Origen
Themes: economics and the earth

We’ll build on the foundation we’ve established so far by exploring how specific writers engaged the cultures of their times and places around specific themes. This session, we’ll work with two writers who epitomize the Alexandrian milieu of the second and early third centuries, Clement and Origen. We’ll look at how their Platonic presuppositions and personal social location among the philosophical elite shaped their attitudes about “Christian” economic practice. We’ll also look at how their assumptions about what it is to be “human” pushed them away from reverence for or concern with the fate of nonhuman creation. We’ll contrast their views with those found in the New Testament on these central themes.

Session 5: North Africa, 150-250 CE: 
Tertullian and Cyprian
Themes: places of sacred encounter; engagement with “the other”

Now we turn to a very different place: North Africa in and around the city of Carthage. The period we’ll explore this month began and ended with martyrdom, as Christians, voluntarily and otherwise, put their lives on the line for the “crime” of claiming to be “Christian.”  We’ll look at how the polemical writer Tertullian and the bishop Cyprian each embodied Roman assumptions about power and authority in this challenging milieu and moment. We’ll see how Tertullian sought to draw sharp lines between “Christians” and others, while Cyprian sought to establish the person and office of the bishop as the basis for church authority. Again, we’ll see how these views contrasted with the Gospel of Jesus and the message of Paul.

Session 6: Eusebius and Constantine: Celebrating the first “Christian” emperor
Themes: Narrative and counternarrative

It’s easy to understand why the bishop, Eusebius, wanted to celebrate Constantine’s embrace of the Christian god. He had seen his fellow bishops hideously tortured to death for being “Christian,” and now, Constantine had ended the persecution. For many centuries, however, both Eusebius’ narrative of Church History and Constantine’s “conversion” have been taken at face value as descriptions of events. We’ll explore how both the life of Constantine and Eusebius’ church narrative were rhetorical constructs designed to legitimize a particular set of church institutions and practices embedded within empire. We’ll contrast this with Jesus’ vision of the “reign of God” in parable and story.

Session 7: Athanasius and the desert fathers: establishing institutional Christianity
Themes: Creeds and renunciation of the body

With Christianity firmly established as the emperor’s (if not the empire’s) religion, we see two opposing movements that clashed in Egypt in the fourth century. On the one hand, we have the “monastic” movement, in which people turned to the desert in rejection of the indulgent luxury of imperial life for the elite. On the other, we’ll meet one of the most powerful bishops in church history, the cantankerous urban “boss,” Athanasius, who sought mightily to rein the desert dwellers into subservience to urban church structures. We’ll engage the dynamics of the countless creedal councils at which bishops from around the empire gathered to work out “right words” with which to express “catholic” Christianity. We’ll also look at the ambiguous legacy of the monastic communities and their renunciation of both wealth and sexuality.

Session 8: Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine:
 setting the themes of Catholic Christianity for the next millennium
Themes: misogyny/virginity and “just war”

We’ll conclude with an overview of three official “saints” from the late fourth and earth fifth centuries: the monk/writer Jerome; the powerful bishop of Milan, Ambrose; and the perhaps most prolific Christian writer of all time, Augustine of Hippo. We’ll see how these very different personalities each generated a legacy that became “sanctified” at the heart of Christian “tradition,” as we engage attitudes toward women and sexuality in Jerome’s life and work, and questions of power, violence and war in the work of Ambrose and Augustine.

Fee:$200 suggested for the entire series. However, no one is ever turned away for lack of money! You are welcome to pay in installments of whatever amount works best for you. You can pay by check (made out to "Wes Howard-Brook" or "Sue Ferguson Johnson") or by PayPal via the button at the bottom of this page.


Questions? Please email us.