Saturday, December 30, 2006

New York Times on Guantánamo Bay

The New York Times has just published an incisive critique of the way our current administration in the United States is handling the affairs of Guantánamo Bay, particularly since passing the horrendous Military Commissions Act of 2006. This is a must-read for anyone who feels a sense of responsibility for the world and wishes to be active in shaping this country into a place where truth and justice really are upheld.

The article focuses on the review board at Guantánamo Bay, which reviews the cases of the people held in its prisons. Here are some choice quotes:
“Some limitations have long been evident. The prisoners have no right to a lawyer, or to see classified evidence, or even to know the identity of their accusers. What has been less visible, however, is what many officials describe as a continuing shortage of information about many detainees, including some who have been held on sketchy or disputed intelligence.”

“Still, a recent study of the review process found that detainees arguing their innocence were routinely denied witnesses they tried to call, even when the witnesses were other prisoners at Guantánamo. Lawyers for the detainees complain that the government has made almost no effort to have the panels consider information they have gathered and has often blocked their attempts to learn the accusations against their clients.”

“Even before Mr. Bush decided in February 2002 that the United States would not observe the Geneva Conventions in fighting terrorism, Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, dismissed the idea of Geneva-style hearings for the detainees, maintaining that they would never be entitled to the prisoner-of-war status that such tribunals could grant them in other conflicts. ‘There is no ambiguity in this case,’ Mr. Rumsfeld said.”

“‘It wasn’t the job of the intelligence community to verify their guilt or innocence,’ said Col. Brittain P. Mallow, a retired Army investigator who led a task force that gathered evidence for war crimes tribunals that are expected to prosecute about 50 to 70 of the remaining 396 detainees.

Who’s afraid of the analogia entis?

Millinerd, a former Wheaton and Princeton Seminary graduate—has written an insightful and helpful post on the analogia entis for those interested. His post is a response to the AAR/Karl Barth Society meeting in which George Hunsinger and David Bentley Hart held a debate over the analogy of being. To formulate his response, Millinerd uses the quote from Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address—the same quote I posted on this site for discussion. While he acknowledges that Barth was right to emphasize the sole mediation of Christ between God and humanity—so that “natural theology” as the attempt to speak of God apart from Jesus Christ is ruled out completely—Millinerd uses Benedict’s statement on analogy to broker a kind of ecumenical agreement between Bonaventure, Barth, and Benedict. He articulates three main arguments:
    1. First, the analogia entis as articulated by the Fourth Lateran Council emphasizes a still greater dissimilarity in the midst of a great similarity, or as Benedict puts it, “unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness.” Thus, the analogy of being does not obscure the transcendence and otherness of God.

    2. Second, the analogy of being protects against the temptation to overemphasize the infinitely great transcendence of God at the expense of affirming a proper relation between God and humanity.

    3. Third, the analogy of being, according to Benedict, is intrinsically connected to the logos (reason) and thus to the Logos, Jesus Christ, as the one in whom “all things hold together.” Because God “has revealed himself as logos” (Benedict), our reason is capable of contemplating God. In other words, the analogy of being is an analogy between human reason and divine Reason mediated by the Logos.
In closing his reflections on the analogy of being, Millinerd makes a very interesting and helpful statement: “The matter is not whether there is more than one mediator or more than one foundation, but just how big that mediator and foundation is. The question is not which of the two analogies is true. They both are (with priority, I would submit, going to the analogia fidei). The question is in which can we afford to neglect. The answer is neither.” Millinerd sides with Barth over von Balthasar in giving priority to the analogia fidei over the analogia entis, but he nevertheless keeps the two in a kind of dialectical tension. I admire this position, but I think the question is whether or not the two positions can sustain such a dialectical unity. Barth was dialectical through and through, but he was adamantly non-dialectical on a few positions—one being the “triumph of grace” (Berkouwer) and another being the analogia fidei. I would agree with Millinerd’s statement insofar as we cannot afford to neglect the analogia entis as a subject of discussion in Christian theology, but I would not be so quick to assert that both are equally “true.” I will explain why by addressing the three aforementioned points.

1. Numerous theologians after Barth have criticized him for misunderstanding the analogia entis, and in a way, they are all right. The analogia entis does not undermine the transcendence of God; if anything, it (over)emphasizes God’s transcendence. Eberhard Jüngel makes this argument cogently in his magnum opus, God as the Mystery of the World. However, Jüngel flips the argument around and makes the “infinitely greater” transcendence of God precisely the reason why the analogia entis is wrong, or at least misguided. Why? Because it fails to understand the being of God—and thus the divine-human relation—out of the being of Jesus Christ. Transcendence and immanence are terms, for Jüngel, that must be understood in light of the coming of God in Christ. In this, Jüngel is simply operating under Barth’s own christocentric logic. For defenders of the analogy of being, such terms are defined on metaphysical grounds (starting from our general human condition and reasoning toward God) and/or on faulty biblical grounds (e.g., the imago Dei abstracted from the imago Christi). Consequently, Jüngel wishes to reframe the discussion of analogy in terms of an analogia adventus—an analogy of advent. The advent of God in Jesus Christ is the norm for our understanding of God’s being and human being, and thus the nature of the God-human relation. The point of all this is that while we can affirm Pope Benedict and others in correcting Barth’s misunderstanding of the analogia entis, we must still question the attempt to formulate an analogy of being between God and humanity which fails to think this analogy through a center in christology.

2. The analogy of being is not necessary to hold together mysticism and subjectivism, i.e., the transcendence and immanence of God. The two are held together much more appropriately in Jesus Christ as Immanuel—God with us. He is the unification of divine transcendence and human immanence. He is the ontological unity of divinity and humanity, who is apart from us as the divine Judge and near to us as the one judged in our place. Jesus Christ is thus both God and humanity, the one in whom we discover both an asymmetry and an analogy. If we think through the divine-human relation in light of Christ, we have a way of sustaining a kind of analogy of being but in a radically different form. The analogy is one that exists in Christ alone, not in general humanity. Jüngel understands his analogia adventus to be ontological in nature, but the ontological analogy is found in the being of Jesus Christ. Human being thus corresponds to divine being only by faith alone (sola fide). There is no general analogy between humanity and God, because that analogy is given to human persons; it is not possessed by them. Thus, if we wish to hold together mysticism and subjectivism, we are far better off locating that dialectic in the being of Jesus Christ, not in ourselves as those who attempt to speak of God on our own rational terms.

3. The grave mistake in considering Jesus Christ independently as the Logos—in whom we find the link between God and the general human logos—is that such a theology effectively separates Christ as Logos from Christ as Salvator. The mediation of Christ is thus understood on two separate planes: one understands him as the mediator between prelapsarian creation and God, and the other understands him as the mediator between postlapsarian creation and God. The former views Christ as the one who holds creation together; the latter views Christ as the one who redeems creation and brings about a “new creation.” To use the formulations of Bruce D. Marshall (presented to me by George Hunsinger), the former position understands Christ as “materially decisive” but not “logically indispensable,” while the latter position understands Christ as both “materially decisive” and “logically indispensable.” That is, for the former position, Jesus Christ is presented as the one through whom the world is created, and thus is materially decisive for a created analogy to exist between God’s being and human being. But he is not logically indispensable, in that he does nothing which God the Father or God the Spirit could not do, in that they too are involved in sustaining the world and holding all things together. Christ is only logically indispensable as the savior of the world, as the Judge judged in our place, as the one in whom God reconciles the world. He alone can do this work, and in fact has done it.

I suppose one could argue that Jesus Christ is logically indispensable to the analogy of being, because Christ alone is the Logos. But it remains the fact that this analogy of (created) being is established and sustained apart from the work especially appropriated to the Son: the work of reconciliation. By separating Logos and Savior, creation from new creation, the analogia entis ends up undermining the unity of the person and work of Christ and thus fails to think through all the “ways and works of God” from a center in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, we cannot speak of creation apart from our affirmation of the reconciliation accomplished in Christ. We do not know Christ as Logos apart from our knowledge (in faith) of Christ as Salvator Mundi.

In conclusion, just how big is the mediation of Christ? It is indeed all-encompassing, universal, holistic. And yet there are not multiple mediations of Christ but just one. Jesus is the sole and exclusive mediator between God and humanity, in whom we are reconciled to God and, by faith, brought into ontological correspondence (Entsprechung). That ontological analogy is not natural to the created world but always remains a gift of faith. We are not free to reason our way to God apart from “the way and the truth and the life” that is Jesus Christ. He alone is the Mediator, and his role of mediation encompasses our reason, but not apart from our need for a Redeemer. Christ thus liberates us from our bondage to sin and death in order that we might correspond to God anew. In Christ alone there exists an analogy.

ADDENDUM: Why speak of analogy at all? Why is a doctrine of analogy essential to the Christian faith? What does it accomplish? The doctrine of analogy has two components—ontic and noetic. Our being in relation to God and our knowledge of God are wrapped up in the question of analogy. The classical formulation of analogy as analogia entis located both elements, ontic and noetic, in our created state in the image of God. By defining this “image” in terms of our reason, the old analogy of being understood our ontic correspondence to God in terms of our original created state (which was only partially lost due to the fall) and thus understood our noetic correspondence in terms of our reason which remained intact and free to think metaphysically from our creaturely state to God. The Barthian attack essentially argues that this doctrine of analogy fails to understand humanity in light of Jesus Christ. What Barth and his followers insist upon is the notion that our ontic and noetic correspondence to God is found in Christ alone. Or, to put the matter differently, we are dependent upon Christ alone for our being in the image of God. The imago Dei is not a mediator between God and humanity apart from the sole image of God, Jesus Christ. We are in the imago Dei in that we conform to the imago Christi, and thus we exist in analogical correspondence to God in that God existentially conforms our being in correspondence to Christ. We are conformed to Christ (conformitas Christi) and thus conformed to God. The doctrine of analogy in light of this christological reformulation affirms our true humanity and our certain knowledge of God in light of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. The doctrine of analogy is thus a correlate of christology. Analogy clarifies the significance of God’s coming in Jesus Christ. In conclusion, the revelation of God in Jesus—and the reconciliation between God and humanity actualized in him—is the sole criterion for our ontic and noetic correspondence to God.

Saddam Hussein executed

Read the BBC article here.

This execution accomplishes nothing. We are no safer with Saddam dead. In fact, we may be even less safe. Moreover, his death itself lacks justification for any person who confesses that Jesus died in our place and on our behalf. “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died” (2 Cor. 5:14).

For more on the subject, I commend the recent posts by my friend, Chris of Disruptive Grace.

Friday, December 29, 2006

On the Virgin Birth: Tertullian

§5. Tertullian

The Five Books Against Marcion: Book IV, Chap. 10
Concerning the Son of man our rule is a twofold one: that Christ cannot lie, so as to declare Himself the Son of man, if He be not truly so; nor can He be constituted the Son of man, unless He be born of a human parent, either father or mother. And then the discussion will turn on the point, of which human parent He ought to be accounted the son—of the father or the mother? Since He is (begotten) of God the Father, He is not, of course, (the son) of a human father. If He is not of a human father, it follows that He must be (the son) of a human mother. If of a human mother, it is evident that she must be a virgin. For to whom a human father is not ascribed, to his mother a husband will not be reckoned; and then to what mother a husband is not reckoned, the condition of virginity belongs. But if His mother be not a virgin, two fathers will have to be reckoned to Him—a divine and a human one. For she must have a husband, not to be a virgin; and by having a husband, she would cause two fathers—one divine, the other human—to accrue to Him, who would thus be Son both of God and of a man. Such a nativity (if one may call it so) the mythic stories assign to Castor or to Hercules. Now, if this distinction be observed, that is to say, if He be Son of man as born of His mother, because not begotten of a father, and His mother be a virgin, because His father is not human—He will be that Christ whom Isaiah foretold that a virgin should conceive, on what principle you, Marcion, can admit Him Son of man, I cannot possibly see. If through a human father, then you deny him to be Son of God; if through a divine one also, then you make Christ the Hercules of fable; if through a human mother only, then you concede my point; if not through a human father also, then He is not the son of any man, and He must have been guilty of a lie for having declared Himself to be what He was not.

On the Flesh of Christ: Chap. 17
[L]et us confine our inquiry to a single point—Whether Christ received flesh from the virgin?—that we may thus arrive at a certain proof that His flesh was human, if He derived its substance from His mother’s womb, although we are at once furnished with clear evidences of the human character of His flesh, from its name and description as that of a man, and from the nature of its constitution, and from the system of its sensations, and from its suffering of death. Now, it will first be necessary to show what previous reason there was for the Son of God’s being born of a virgin. He who was going to consecrate a new order of birth, must Himself be born after a novel fashion, concerning which Isaiah foretold how that the Lord Himself would give the sign. What, then, is the sign? “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” Accordingly, a virgin did conceive and bear “Emmanuel, God with us.” This is the new nativity; a man is born in God. And in this man God was born, taking the flesh of an ancient race, without the help, however, of the ancient seed, in order that He might reform it with a new seed, that is, in a spiritual manner, and cleanse it by the removal of all its ancient stains. But the whole of this new birth was prefigured, as was the case in all other instances, in ancient type, the Lord being born as man by a dispensation in which a virgin was the medium. The earth was still in a virgin state, reduced as yet by no human labour, with no seed as yet cast into its furrows, when, as we are told, God made man out of it into a living soul. As, then, the first Adam is thus introduced to us, it is a just inference that the second Adam likewise, as the apostle has told us, was formed by God into a quickening spirit out of the ground,—in other words, out of a flesh which was unstained as yet by any human generation. But that I may lose no opportunity of supporting my argument from the name of Adam, why is Christ called Adam by the apostle, unless it be that, as man, He was of that earthly origin? And even reason here maintains the same conclusion, because it was by just the contrary operation that God recovered His own image and likeness, of which He had been robbed by the devil. For it was while Eve was yet a virgin, that the ensnaring word had crept into her ear which was to build the edifice of death. Into a virgin’s soul, in like manner, must be introduced that Word of God which was to raise the fabric of life; so that what had been reduced to ruin by this sex, might by the selfsame sex be recovered to salvation. As Eve had believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other by believing effaced. But (it will be said) Eve did not at the devil’s word conceive in her womb. Well, she at all events conceived; for the devil’s word afterwards became as seed to her that she should conceive as an outcast, and bring forth in sorrow. Indeed she gave birth to a fratricidal devil; whilst Mary, on the contrary, bare one who was one day to secure salvation to Israel, His own brother after the flesh, and the murderer of Himself. God therefore sent down into the virgin’s womb His Word, as the good Brother, who should blot out the memory of the evil brother. Hence it was necessary that Christ should come forth for the salvation of man, in that condition of flesh into which man had entered ever since his condemnation.

On the Flesh of Christ: Chap. 18
In order, therefore, that He who was already the Son of God—of God the Father’s seed, that is to say, the Spirit—might also be the Son of man, He only wanted to assume flesh, of the flesh of man without the seed of a man; for the seed of a man was unnecessary for One who had the seed of God. As, then, before His birth of the virgin, He was able to have God for His Father without a human mother, so likewise, after He was born of the virgin, He was able to have a woman for His mother without a human father. He is thus man with God, in short, since He is man’s flesh with God’s Spirit—flesh (I say) without seed from man, Spirit with seed from God.

On the Flesh of Christ: Chap. 19
What, then, is the meaning of this passage, “Born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God?” I shall make more use of this passage after I have confuted those who have tampered with it. They maintain that it was written thus (in the plural) “Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” as if designating those who were before mentioned as “believing in His name,” in order to point out the existence of that mysterious seed of the elect and spiritual which they appropriate to themselves. But how can this be, when all who believe in the name of the Lord are, by reason of the common principle of the human race, born of blood, and of the will of the flesh, and of man, as indeed is Valentinus himself? The expression is in the singular number, as referring to the Lord, “He was born of God.” And very properly, because Christ is the Word of God, and with the Word the Spirit of God, and by the Spirit the Power of God, and whatsoever else appertains to God. As flesh, however, He is not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of man, because it was by the will of God that the Word was made flesh. To the flesh, indeed, and not to the Word, accrues the denial of the nativity which is natural to us all as men, because it was as flesh that He had thus to be born, and not as the Word. Now, whilst the passage actually denies that He was born of the will of the flesh, how is it that it did not also deny (that He was born) of the substance of the flesh? For it did not disavow the substance of the flesh when it denied His being “born of blood” but only the matter of the seed, which, as all know, is the warm blood as convected by ebullition into the coagulum of the woman’s blood. In the cheese, it is from the coagulation that the milky substance acquires that consistency, which is condensed by infusing the rennet. We thus understand that what is denied is the Lord’s birth after sexual intercourse (as is suggested by the phrase, “the will of man and of the flesh”), not His nativity from a woman’s womb. Why, too, is it insisted on with such an accumulation of emphasis that He was not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor (of the will) of man, if it were not that His flesh was such that no man could have any doubt on the point of its being born from sexual intercourse? Again, although denying His birth from such cohabitation, the passage did not deny that He was born of real flesh; it rather affirmed this, by the very fact that it did not deny His birth in the flesh in the same way that it denied His birth from sexual intercourse. Pray, tell me, why the Spirit of God descended into a woman’s womb at all, if He did not do so for the purpose of partaking of flesh from the womb. For He could have become spiritual flesh without such a process,—much more simply, indeed, without the womb than in it. He had no reason for enclosing Himself within one, if He was to bear forth nothing from it. Not without reason, however, did He descend into a womb. Therefore He received (flesh) therefrom; else, if He received nothing therefrom, His descent into it would have been without a reason, especially if He meant to become flesh of that sort which was not derived from a womb, that is to say, a spiritual one.

On the Flesh of Christ: Chap. 20
Now it is easy to see what was the novelty of Christ’s being born of a virgin. It was simply this, that (He was born) of a virgin in the real manner which we have indicated, in order that our regeneration might have virginal purity,—spiritually cleansed from all pollutions through Christ, who was Himself a virgin, even in the flesh, in that He was born of a virgin’s flesh.

*Click here for the full outline of posts

Top 5 Musical Surprises in 2006

1. Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds. The new King of Pop? Yes.
2. TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain & The Decemberists, The Crane Wife. These two albums have received their just praise already, which wasn’t really surprising. What makes them surprising is the fact that switching to a major record label did not hamper their creativity in the least. These two albums are thus representative of those artists who produced great music this year after signing with a major label. Some switches were not successful (e.g., Death Cab for Cutie’s Plans), but the ones that were turned out to be the best of the year.
3. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere. Along with Timberlake, Gnarls Barkley is a sign of hope for the pop industry. When good music like this becomes so popular among listeners, we can be sure that great things are still to come.
4. Sonic Youth, Rather Ripped & Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Kick Your Ass. These albums were not surprising in that they both came from great artists who have produced consistently excellent music. What is surprising is simply that both bands are still kicking after so many years. Not only that, but both show signs of being in top form.
5. Spank Rock, YoYoYoYoYo. Spank Rock are surprising for numerous reasons. Their scandalous lyrics are shocking, but they also make some of the best dance music in the world.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Saddam’s execution upheld

Read more about it here. Click here to read why I think this is theologically misguided and ought to be opposed by the church.

UPDATE: Execution will take place within the next 30 days following the rejection of his appeal. Moreover, according to this BBC article,
[F]ormer US Attorney General Ramsey Clark was ejected from the courtroom before sentencing after handing the judge a note in which he called the trial a "travesty".

Saddam Hussein's defence team has also accused the Iraqi government of interfering in the proceedings - a complaint backed by US group Human Rights Watch.

India urged clemency - expressing concern over any delay to the restoration of peace in Iraq. The EU has also called on Iraq not to carry out the death sentence.
Hmm ... where is the voice of the church? Where has the voice of the church been throughout the entire US involvement in the affairs of the Middle East, besides chanting “Go Bush!”?

Here are the verdicts thus far:

Saddam Hussein, former Iraqi president: found guilty and sentenced to death
Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam Hussein's half-brother: found guilty and sentenced to death
Awad Hamed al-Bandar, Chief Judge of Revolutionary Court: found guilty and sentenced to death
Taha Yasin Ramadan, former Iraqi vice-president: found guilty and sentenced to life in jail
Abdullah Kadhem Ruaid Senior Baath official: found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail
Abdullah Rawed Mizher, Senior Baath official: found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail
Ali Daeem Ali, Senior Baath official: found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in jail
Mohammed Azawi Ali, Baath official: acquitted

Monday, December 25, 2006

Pope Benedict: Urbi et Orbi, 2006

“Salvator noster”: this is our hope; this is the message that the Church proclaims once again this Christmas Day.
Pope Benedict gave his Christmas Urbi et Orbi address at Saint Peter’s Basilica today (see the BBC article). He spoke very pointedly about certain sociopolitical issues—including the conflict in Darfur and the Middle East crises. According to the BBC,
He lamented the many deaths from hunger and disease around the world in “an age of unbridled consumerism”. The Pope noted man's scientific advances in the modern age, but added that in the 21st Century “perhaps he needs a saviour all the more” because so much of humanity was still suffering. ... The Pope contrasted scientific breakthroughs such as the internet and decoding of the human genome with what he called the “heart-rending cry” for help from those dying of hunger, thirst, disease and poverty.
The Pope spoke of the especial need today for a Savior:
Today “our Saviour is born to the world”, for he knows that even today we need him. Despite humanity’s many advances, man has always been the same: a freedom poised between good and evil, between life and death. It is there, in the very depths of his being, in what the Bible calls his “heart”, that man always needs to be “saved”. And, in this post-modern age, perhaps he needs a Saviour all the more, since the society in which he lives has become more complex and the threats to his personal and moral integrity have become more insidious. Who can defend him, if not the One who loves him to the point of sacrificing on the Cross his only-begotten Son as the Saviour of the world?
Finally, near the end of his short address, he spoke words that should resound in churches everywhere and with which I can only heartily concur. These words should stand as a banner over each Christian community:
Our Saviour is born for all. We must proclaim this not only in words, but by our entire life, giving the world a witness of united, open communities where fraternity and forgiveness reign, along with acceptance and mutual service, truth, justice and love.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

It’s Christmas Eve and the celebration of Advent comes to its climax on this Sunday morning. I wish all a blessed and joyous Christmas. Let us remember that Christ came to the margins of his society and he continues to reach out toward those marginalized and oppressed in society today.

Also, if you are so inclined, I recommend Chris Tilling’s “Father Christmas Challenge” for lots of laughs and even more sinister fun.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Top 10 Tracks of 2006

1. “Swans (Life After Death)”
Islands
Return to the Sea

2. “Wolf Like Me”
TV on the Radio
Return to Cookie Mountain

3. “Objects of My Affection”
Peter Bjorn and John
Writer’s Block

4. “The Funeral”
Band of Horses
Everything All the Time

5. “Like U Crazy”
Mates of State
Bring It Back

6. “O Valencia!”
The Decemberists
The Crane Wife

7. “The Zookeeper’s Boy”
Mew
And the Glass-Handed Kites

8. “Rubies”
Destroyer
Destroyer’s Rubies

9. “The Mistress Witch from McClure”
Sufjan Stevens
The Avalanche

10. “Make Out Fall Out Make Up”
Love Is All
Nine Times That Same Song

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Dragon virgin birth and the immaculate conception

For some reason, religious holidays bring out the odd news stories. Today, in the Times online, there is an article about a Komodo dragon who had a “virgin birth”—also known in the world of science as parthenogenesis. I am not interested in the story itself so much as in the way it is presented by the Times.

The opening sub-headlines are as follows: “Female Komodo doesn’t need a mate”; and then “Scientists say it is truly immaculate.”

Now the average person would say, OK, so? But that’s because the average person does not understand mariology in the Catholic Church. The virgin birth is about the birth of Jesus. The immaculate conception concerns Mary’s birth, in which, according to Catholic dogma, Mary was protected by the Holy Spirit from the ravages of original sin. That careful distinction was apparently lost on the Times. To confuse the virgin birth and the immaculate conception is to confuse Mary and Jesus.

As for the validity of the doctrine of the immaculate conception? None whatsoever. I find it repugnant, and just above the evangelical doctrine of inerrancy, one of the worst infiltrations of docetism into the Christian church. But that’s for another time.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Top 25 Albums of 2006

This year has been a great year for me in terms of music. While I have gradually come to enter the indie scene with the help of college friends Tom Lundin and Luke Paradise, this year I think I have come into my own. For the first time, I kept up with the music scene throughout the year, tracking each new release as it came out and checking my thoughts against my most trusted site, Pitchfork Media. (See, especially, their own list of the Top 50 albums of 2006.) It has been a lot of fun, and listening to so much good music has helped a great deal in the midst of a tough academic semester.

The process 0f compiling a list of the top 25 albums of 2006 has been a painstaking but exciting process. The list itself has gone through so many revisions, even up to the final moments before posting, and I suspect I may change my mind about a few choices in the weeks to come. Before I get to the actual list, it is important that I explain a few things first:

(1) There is always a tension in every list between choosing what is the most accomplished versus what is the most enjoyable—between what deserves to win and what I want to win. I have tried to honor both sides of this tension, though only those albums which fall into both categories to some expect will appear on this list. Consequently ...

(2) You will notice that no rap albums appear on this list. For some, that is simply inexcusable. And to an extent, I would agree. Ghostface Killah, Clipse, and Lupe Fiasco put out three of the greatest rap/hip-hop albums of the decade, or rather of any decade. But my interest in that genre is still rather low, despite such excellent releases. That said, it may well be the case that with more listens to each of these and other artists, my tastes will broaden.

You will also notice that Bob Dylan’s 2006 release, Modern Times, is not on this list. Again, for some, this is inexcusable. I will be the first to admit that Bob Dylan is the greatest living songwriter and a 20th century American prophet. His music is rich and profound in ways that few artists can even begin to approach. Even so, I do not enjoy listening to his music as much as these other artists. He does not have a major appeal to me, despite his obvious greatness. Moreover, I do not find anything strikingly original in his releases, excellent as they may be. I will be the first to defend him against any detractors (as I have in the past on numerous occasions), but on my “Top Albums” lists, he does not appear. If it helps, think of him as being so far above the rest that he does not warrant being placed on the same level as other artists.

(3) There are a number of albums that I hope to listen to in the next several weeks which may demand changes to this list. Should that happen, I will post a revised list in the comments. These albums include but are not limited to the following: Tim Hecker, Harmony in Ultraviolet; Subtle, For hero: for fool; Beach House, Beach House; Annuals, Be He Me; Man Man, Six Demon Bag; and LCD Soundsystem, 45:33. Should you wish to grace me with any of these releases, I would greatly appreciate it.

(4) If you want any information on these artists and albums, I recommend checking out allmusic.com for all your music info needs. This saves me the trouble of putting in a bunch of links.

With that, here are my top 25 albums of 2006!


1. TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain

Almost exactly three years after releasing their exciting and auspicious debut, Young Liars, TV on the Radio have come out with their best and most polished album to date—not to mention the best album of the year. Return to Cookie Mountain bristles with infectious energy, starting right away with the hip-hop-influenced beat of “I Was a Lover” that grabs your attention and refuses to let go. The musical climax comes near the middle of the album with “Wolf Like Me,” and by the time we reach “Wash the Day,” one is left with the unshakable feeling that this is one of the great musical accomplishments of the still-young 21st century.

Best tracks: “Wolf Like Me,” “Hours”

2. Peter Bjorn and John, Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block is by one of Sweden’s indie rock stars and remains one of the most overlooked albums of the year. Peter Bjorn and John have crafted a beautiful and richly layered power pop album that has some of the catchiest melodies of the year. What makes this album great is not its surprising creativity but simply its consistently great pop music that pays great dividends with each new listen.

Best tracks: “Objects of My Affection,” “Young Folks,” “Up Against the Wall”

3. Girl Talk, Night Ripper

DJ Girl Talk (aka Gregg Gillis) of Pittsburgh is the King of DJs, and his 2006 album defies all categories and explodes every DJ stereotype. Night Ripper is a prodigious and dizzying potpourri of R&B, hip-hop, and pop-rock tracks from well over a hundred artists. Girl Talk virtually defines the genre of “mashup”—and then he does it so well that he almost seems to deserve his own category. Night Ripper is perhaps also the greatest dance club album of the year, second only to Spank Rock’s YoYoYoYoYo. Choosing a single track to highlight, though, is an impossible task, since the album is one seamless experience without breaking between tracks. So press play and get ready to dance.

Best tracks: “That’s My DJ,” “Hold Up”

4. Love Is All, Nine Times That Same Song

Few albums burst with more energy than Nine Times That Same Song, the debut LP release by Love Is All. The Swedish post-punk group are relentless in their irresistible exuberance. Every song is like a caffeine injection into the world of everyday indie rock, which seems utterly humdrum in comparison. But it’s not just their energy that captures people’s attention. Nine Times That Same Song is also beautiful and catchy, and with “Turn the Radio Off,” Love Is All have crafted one of the greatest ballads of the year. The bonus second disc has four extra singles which are of the same very high quality, making the two-disc release a 2006 must-have.

Best tracks: “Make Out Fall Out Make Up,” “Turn the Radio Off,” “Felt Tip,” “Ageing Had Never Been His Friend”

5. The Decemberists, The Crane Wife

The Decemberists are on the path toward becoming musical legends. Of their last three albums—Her Majesty, Picaresque, and now The Crane Wife—each has been better than the last, demonstrating a growing maturity in their songwriting and musical creativity. Their latest is the first on a major recording label, and it is also their most accomplished to date. Moreover, it is the most pop-inspired without losing of any its indie edge. The Decemberists have crafted a unique and recognizable sound, one that always feels fresh even while giving the listener the warm sensation of coming home.

Best Tracks: “O Valencia!,” “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then),” “The Crane Wife 3”

6. Liars, Drum’s Not Dead

Liars have made what is probably the most inaccessible album this year—which is quite a feat considering Ys. In Drum’s Not Dead, Liars sound like an artful combination of Animal Collective and Radiohead, except that they have rigorously rejected all the “normal” elements of melody and rhythm to create a truly unique sonic experiment and the most fully “conceptual” concept album. Liars have a pension for exploring abstract themes with seriousness and creativity, and here they present a struggle between two characters, Drum (representative of creativity, dynamism, and productivity) and Mt. Heart Attack (who embodies stress, stasis, and insecurity). While Liars may seem pompous and esoteric to many music listeners, there are very few artists working at the same level of musical genius. In the age of the single, Liars craft complete albums in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Best tracks: “Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack,” “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack”

7. Mew, And the Glass-Handed Kites

The Danish quartet Mew create sprawling space rock which defies classification. Their sound could be described as atmospheric dream pop, but however one defines them, what is quite clear is that Mew makes fantastic, gorgeous music. The glistening, sublime vocals transport listeners to a celestial location where guitar licks and harmonic symphonies are free to roam in a world of vertiginous heights and unexplored depths. Few bands create such vivid musical landscapes.

Best tracks: “The Zookeeper’s Boy,” “Chinaberry Tree”

8. Joanna Newsom, Ys

Yes, Joanna Newsom plays the harp. Yes, she is weird. Yes, her music is off-putting to the Billboard Top 100 listener. But Newsom is also one of the smartest, most talented songwriter/composers working today. Her 2004 debut, The Milk-Eyed Mender, demonstrated great promise, and here in Ys that promise is realized in ways that are both ambitious and at the same time immensely listenable. The album has only five tracks that range from seven to over sixteen minutes and tells an epic story through well-crafted lyrics and beautiful orchestration (thanks to the legendary Van Dyke Parks). Newsom may be categorized as “freak folk,” but she remains its most endearing and winsome representative.

Best tracks: “Sawdust & Diamonds,” “Monkey & Bear”

9. Hot Chip, The Warning

All in all, 2006 was a great year for indie electronic music (though 2005 may be slightly better still). Hot Chip, Junior Boys, The Knife, and Herbert were all in top form, releasing the albums of their careers. The Knife were rightly praised and Junior Boys released one of the most consistently great albums all year, but Hot Chip’s The Warning shines through as an album that is both innovative and eminently enjoyable. The album overflows with creative energy and employs a rich and diverse palette of sounds that seems almost to exhaust every sonic possibility. Hot Chip sound like a mature Postal Service, and their electro-pop similarities are most evident in the track “Colours,” which would not have been out of place on Give Up (even with the vocals). For all that, Hot Chip remains a talented indie pop band producing their best music to date.

Best tracks: “And I Was a Boy from School,” “(Just Like We) Breakdown”

10. Mates of State, Bring It Back

Every person has a guilty pleasure, and this year mine was Bring It Back by Mates of State, a husband-wife duo whose music consists simply of a keyboard/synth and a drum kit. I cannot think of a more catchy pop album in my life. Granted, the musical talent on display here probably does not belong in the Top 10, but the sheer gratification I received from hearing this album (and I heard it a lot) forces me to place it among the best of the year. This album brims over with a romantic giddiness that pulls you in with its indie pop perfection. Each song could be a single, and if I could lodge a complaint, it would be that each song vies for my attention so strongly that I lose a sense of the album as a whole. But complaining about the warm, heartfelt, exuberant life exploding out of each song is really just a compliment to their incredible songwriting ability.

Best tracks: “Like U Crazy,” “Running Out,” “So Many Ways”

11. Band of Horses, Everything All the Time
12. Junior Boys, So This Is Goodbye
13. Herbert, Scale
14. Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Kick Your Ass
15. Sunset Rubdown, Shut Up I Am Dreaming
16. Destroyer, Destroyer’s Rubies
17. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America
18. Grizzly Bear, Yellow House
19. Sufjan Stevens, The Avalanche
20. Tilly and the Wall, Bottoms of Barrels
21. Islands, Return to the Sea
22. Jens Lekman, Oh You’re So Silent Jens
23. M. Ward, Post-War
24. The Knife, Silent Shout
25. Regina Spektor, Begin to Hope

2006 music wrap-up

Now that Pitchfork Media has come out with their end of the year lists, it’s time I unveil my choices for the best music of the year. 2006 has been a great year for me. For the first time, I have kept up with the music scene in the midst of a very busy academic schedule. I have yet to post any music reviews on this site simply because I lack the history of music. I am a Johnny-come-lately to the impossibly large world of music. But I know what I like, and why not have one more list?

So, over the next couple days, I will post my lists of the best music of the year, as well as a list of the biggest disappointments. You can expect the following to appear, which I will post in this order:

Top 25 Albums of 2006
Top 10 Tracks of 2006
Top 5 Surprises of 2006
Top 5 Disappointments of 2006
Top 5 Most Highly Anticipated Albums of 2007

Happy Birthday

My wife, Amy, turned 24 yesterday, so we went out for dinner to celebrate. We decided to go to Mediterra, a wonderful seafood-themed restaurant in downtown Princeton. Without question, it was one of the best meals I have ever eaten. For those in the Princeton area, I recommend it highly.

Monday, December 18, 2006

On the Virgin Birth: Irenaeus

§4. Irenaeus

Against Heresies: Book I, Chap. 26
Cerinthus, again, a man who was educated in the wisdom of the Egyptians, taught that the world was not made by the primary God, but by a certain Power far separated from him, and at a distance from that Principality who is supreme over the universe, and ignorant of him who is above all. He represented Jesus as having not been born of a virgin, but as being the son of Joseph and Mary according to the ordinary course of human generation, while he nevertheless was more righteous, prudent, and wise than other men. Moreover, after his baptism, Christ descended upon him in the form of a dove from the Supreme Ruler, and that then he proclaimed the unknown Father, and performed miracles. But at last Christ departed from Jesus, and that then Jesus suffered and rose again, while Christ remained impassible, inasmuch as he was a spiritual being.

Against Heresies: Book III, Chap. 16
… that the Son of God was born of a virgin, and that He Himself was Christ the Saviour whom the prophets had foretold; not, as these men assert, that Jesus was He who was born of Mary, but that Christ was He who descended from above. Matthew might certainly have said, “Now the birth of Jesus was on this wise;” but the Holy Ghost, foreseeing the corrupters [of the truth], and guarding by anticipation against their deceit, says by Matthew, “But the birth of Christ was on this wise;” and that He is Emmanuel, lest perchance we might consider Him as a mere man: for “not by the will of the flesh nor by the will of man, but by the will of God was the Word made flesh;” and that we should not imagine that Jesus was one, and Christ another, but should know them to be one and the same.

Against Heresies: Book III, Chap. 19
But again, those who assert that He was simply a mere man, begotten by Joseph, remaining in the bondage of the old disobedience, are in a state of death having been not as yet joined to the Word of God the Father, nor receiving liberty through the Son, as He does Himself declare: “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” But, being ignorant of Him who from the Virgin is Emmanuel, they are deprived of His gift, which is eternal life; and not receiving the incorruptible Word, they remain in mortal flesh, and are debtors to death, not obtaining the antidote of life. …

He therefore, the Son of God, our Lord, being the Word of the Father, and the Son of man, since He had a generation as to His human nature from Mary—who was descended from mankind, and who was herself a human being—was made the Son of man. Wherefore also the Lord Himself gave us a sign, in the depth below, and in the height above, which man did not ask for, because he never expected that a virgin could conceive, or that it was possible that one remaining a virgin could bring forth a son, and that what was thus born should be “God with us,” and descend to those things which are of the earth beneath, seeking the sheep which had perished, which was indeed His own peculiar handiwork, and ascend to the height above, offering and commending to His Father that human nature (hominem) which had been found, making in His own person the first-fruits of the resurrection of man.

Against Heresies: Book III, Chap. 21
And when He says, “Hear, O house of David,” He performed the part of one indicating that He whom God promised David that He would raise up from the fruit of his belly (ventris) an eternal King, is the same who was born of the Virgin, herself of the lineage of David. For on this account also, He promised that the King should be “of the fruit of his belly,” which was the appropriate [term to use with respect] to a virgin conceiving, and not “of the fruit of his loins,” nor “of the fruit of his reins,” which expression is appropriate to a generating man, and a woman conceiving by a man. In this promise, therefore, the Scripture excluded all virile influence; yet it certainly is not mentioned that He who was born was not from the will of man. … Let those, therefore, who alter the passage of Isaiah thus, “Behold, a young woman shall conceive,” and who will have Him to be Joseph’s son, also alter the form of the promise which was given to David, when God promised him to raise up, from the fruit of his belly, the horn of Christ the King. … If, then, the first Adam had a man for his father, and was born of human seed, it were reasonable to say that the second Adam was begotten of Joseph. But if the former was taken from the dust, and God was his Maker, it was incumbent that the latter also, making a recapitulation in Himself, should be formed as man by God, to have an analogy with the former as respects His origin. Why, then, did not God again take dust, but wrought so that the formation should be made of Mary? It was that there might not be another formation called into being, nor any other which should [require to] be saved, but that the very same formation should be summed up [in Christ as had existed in Adam], the analogy having been preserved.

Against Heresies: Book V, Chap. 19
And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin [the virgin Eve], so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way the sin of the first created man (protoplasti) receives amendment by the correction of the First-begotten, and the coming of the serpent is conquered by the harmlessness of the dove, those bonds being unloosed by which we had been fast bound to death.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

On the Virgin Birth: Justin Martyr

§3. Justin Martyr

First Apology
And hear again how Isaiah in express words foretold that He should be born of a virgin; for he spoke thus: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a son, and they shall say for His name, ‘God with us.’ ” For things which were incredible and seemed impossible with men, these God predicted by the Spirit of prophecy as about to come to pass, in order that, when they came to pass, there might be no unbelief, but faith, because of their prediction. … This, then, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive,” signifies that a virgin should conceive without intercourse. For if she had had intercourse with any one whatever, she was no longer a virgin; but the power of God having come upon the virgin, overshadowed her, and caused her while yet a virgin to conceive. … It is wrong, therefore, to understand the Spirit and the power of God as anything else than the Word, who is also the first-born of God, as the foresaid prophet Moses declared; and it was this which, when it came upon the virgin and overshadowed her, caused her to conceive, not by intercourse, but by power. (Ch. 33)

Dialogue with Trypho
Now it is evident to all, that in the race of Abraham according to the flesh no one has been born of a virgin, or is said to have been born [of a virgin], save this our Christ. But since you and your teachers venture to affirm that in the prophecy of Isaiah it is not said, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive,’ but, ‘Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son;’ and [since] you explain the prophecy as if [it referred] to Hezekiah, who was your king, I shall endeavour to discuss shortly this point in opposition to you, and to show that reference is made to Him who is acknowledged by us as Christ. (Ch. 43)

“Moreover, the prophecy, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,’ was uttered respecting Him. For if He to whom Isaiah referred was not to be begotten of a virgin, of whom did the Holy Spirit declare, ‘Behold, the Lord Himself shall give us a sign: behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son?’ For if He also were to be begotten of sexual intercourse, like all other first-born sons, why did God say that He would give a sign which is not common to all the first-born sons? But that which is truly a sign, and which was to be made trustworthy to mankind,—namely, that the first-begotten of all creation should become incarnate by the Virgin’s womb, and be a child,—this he anticipated by the Spirit of prophecy, and predicted it, as I have repeated to you, in various ways; in order that, when the event should take place, it might be known as the operation of the power and will of the Maker of all things. (Ch. 84)

Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection
And we see men also keeping themselves virgins, some from the first, and some from a certain time; so that by their means, marriage, made lawless through lust, is destroyed. And we find that some even of the lower animals, though possessed of wombs, do not bear, such as the mule; and the male mules do not beget their kind. So that both in the case of men and the irrational animals we can see sexual intercourse abolished; and this, too, before the future world. And our Lord Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, for no other reason than that He might destroy the begetting by lawless desire, and might show to the ruler that the formation of man was possible to God without human intervention. And when He had been born, and had submitted to the other conditions of the flesh,—I mean food, drink, and clothing,—this one condition only of discharging the sexual function He did not submit to; for, regarding the desires of the flesh, He accepted some as necessary, while others, which were unnecessary, He did not submit to. For if the flesh were deprived of food, drink, and clothing, it would be destroyed; but being deprived of lawless desire, it suffers no harm. And at the same time He foretold that, in the future world, sexual intercourse should be done away with; as He says, “The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage; but the children of the world to come neither marry nor are given in marriage, but shall be like the angels in heaven.” Let not, then, those that are unbelieving marvel, if in the world to come He do away with those acts of our fleshly members which even in this present life are abolished. (Ch. 3)

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

“You” are “Person of the Year”

Time magazine has named the 2006 “Person of the Year” — and it turns out it’s you! Time praised the internet and the web-surfing public for creating a networked society that connects people through blogs, web pages, video (e.g., YouTube), and other online media. So I guess this blog and its readers, in their own small way, have contributed to Time’s award. *Collective pat on the back*



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On the Virgin Birth: Ignatius of Antioch

§2. Ignatius of Antioch

The Epistle to the Ephesians
There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible,—even Jesus Christ our Lord. … But our Physician is the only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son. We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For “the Word was made flesh.” Being incorporeal, He was in the body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts. (Ch. 7)

… For the Son of God, who was begotten before time began, and established all things according to the will of the Father, He was conceived in the womb of Mary, according to the appointment of God, of the seed of David, and by the Holy Ghost. (Ch. 18)

… Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence, but have been revealed to us. (Ch. 19)

The Epistle to the Magnesians
I desire to guard you beforehand, that ye fall not upon the hooks of vain doctrine, but that you may rather attain to a full assurance in Christ, who was begotten by the Father before all ages, but was afterwards born of the Virgin Mary without any intercourse with man. (Ch. 11)

The Epistle to the Trallians
Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly begotten of God and of the Virgin, but not after the same manner. For indeed God and man are not the same. He truly assumed a body; for “the Word was made flesh,” and lived upon earth without sin. For says He, “Which of you convicteth me of sin?” He did in reality both eat and drink. He was crucified and died under Pontius Pilate. He really, and not merely in appearance, was crucified, and died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. (Ch. 9)

I do not place my hopes in one who died for me in appearance, but in reality. For that which is false is quite abhorrent to the truth. Mary then did truly conceive a body which had God inhabiting it. And God the Word was truly born of the Virgin, having clothed Himself with a body of like passions with our own. He who forms all men in the womb, was Himself really in the womb, and made for Himself a body of the seed of the Virgin, but without any intercourse of man. He was carried in the womb, even as we are, for the usual period of time; and was really born, as we also are; and was in reality nourished with milk, and partook of common meat and drink, even as we do. And when He had lived among men for thirty years, He was baptized by John, really and not in appearance; and when He had preached the Gospel three years, and done signs and wonders, He who was Himself the Judge was judged by the Jews, falsely so called, and by Pilate the governor; was scourged, was smitten on the cheek, was spit upon; He wore a crown of thorns and a purple robe; He was condemned: He was crucified in reality, and not in appearance, not in imagination, not in deceit. He really died, and was buried, and rose from the dead, even as He prayed in a certain place, saying, “But do Thou, O Lord, raise me up again, and I shall recompense them.” And the Father, who always hears Him, answered and said, “Arise, O God, and judge the earth; for Thou shall receive all the heathen for Thine inheritance.” The Father, therefore, who raised Him up, will also raise us up through Him, apart from whom no one will attain to true life. For says He, “I am the life; he that believeth in me, even though he die, shall live: and every one that liveth and believeth in me, even though he die, shall live for ever.” (Ch. 10)

*Click here for the full outline of posts

On the Virgin Birth: Readings from the History of Christian Theology

§1. Introduction and Outline

Over the next couple weeks I will post selections from theologians throughout the history of Christianity on the subject of the virgin birth of Jesus. The goal of this series is not to come to a conclusion regarding the veracity of the stories that we find in Matthew and Luke (though I may offer my own thoughts at the end of our endeavor together). The goal is rather to listen to the diverse range of voices who have spoken about this mystery of the faith. In listening to the myriad views throughout the complex history of the Christian church, I hope we will come to appreciate the rich and living character of the gospel that proclaims boldly: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.”

While we proclaim this gospel—that in Jesus, the triune God entered human history as a truly human being and lived and died ‘for us and for our salvation’—it is not altogether clear how the story of the virgin birth is integral to the overall narrative. What is the significance, if any, of Mary’s virginity? Does it belong in the creedal confession of the church, and if so, why? Does the confession of the virgin birth even make sense to us today? Is it in any way necessary to the story of reconciliation?

These are the questions which I hope the upcoming posts will address, if not always directly, at least indirectly. I will try my best to post them in the order in which they were originally written, so I hope to begin with the early church fathers and work my way up to the present. If you wish to contribute a selection to this series, by all means e-mail me passages from those theologians I may unintentionally ignore. The richer and more diverse range of writers, the more useful this series will be as a resource for us in our thinking about the Incarnation.

I welcome people’s comments along the way. In fact, the comments will make this series interesting, as we critically reflect upon the theological statements by those who came before us. Some things may surprise us, others may even shock us, still others may open our eyes to new horizons that remain unexplored. I look forward to the insights we will gain in our reading together from the works of faithful Christians past and present.

Outline of Readings

What follows is the outline of readings I have planned. I will update this outline as I gather more sources for this series. If there are readings that I am missing, please let me know. If you can email those readings to me, I would greatly appreciate it.
  • Ignatius of Antioch
    • The Epistle to the Ephesians
    • The Epistle to the Magnesians
    • The Epistle to the Trallians
  • Justin Martyr
    • First Apology
    • Dialogue with Trypho
    • Fragments of the Lost Work of Justin on the Resurrection
  • Irenaeus
    • Against Heresies
  • Tertullian
    • Against Marcion
    • On the Flesh of Christ
  • Lactantius
    • The Divine Institutes
  • Pseudo-Clement
    • The Apocryphal First Epistle of the Blessed Clement
  • New Testament Apocrypha
    • The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary
    • The History of Joseph the Carpenter
  • Augustine
  • Chrysostom
  • Athanasius
  • Gregory of Nyssa
  • Jerome
  • Cyril
  • Basil
  • Ambrose
  • Leo
  • Gregory of Nazianzus
  • Thomas Aquinas
    • Summa Theologica
  • Karl Barth
    • Credo
    • Church Dogmatics I/2
  • Paul Tillich
    • Systematic Theology
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar
    • Credo
  • Wolfhart Pannenberg
    • The Apostles’ Creed
  • Hans Frei
    • The Identity of Jesus Christ
  • Jürgen Moltmann
    • The Way of Jesus Christ

Friday, December 15, 2006

Levertov: “Misnomer”

This next poem in the series of anti-war poetry by Denise Levertov attacks the romanticizing of warfare. She refers implicitly to the famous work by Sun Tzu, The Art of War, and attacks the very idea that war can be a kind of art form. And, of course, there is a great difference between the true aesthetics of games like Chess and Go, and the corrupt “aesthetics” of actual warfare, in which innocent people are slaughtered for the sake of political and economic gain. At the end of her poem, he vividly compares the “life of art” to a child: both are full of life, peace-loving, and innocent of any destruction of life. In this negative critique of the so-called “art of war,” Levertov is preparing the ground for the positive development of an “art of peace.”

Misnomer

They speak of the art of war,
but the arts
draw their light from the soul’s well,
and warfare
dries up the soul and draws its power
from a dark and burning wasteland.
When Leonardo
set his genius to devising
machines of destruction he was not
acting in the service of art,
he was suspending
the life of art
over an abyss,
as if one were to hold
a living child out of an airplane window
at thirty thousand feet.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

New semester, new classes

The fall semester is not yet over (ours actually ends in mid-January), but registration for the spring semester commenced this evening for us middlers (i.e., second-year seminary students). The spring semester at PTS seems to be when most of the Major League courses are offered, which usually means smaller classes that are harder to get into.

This year, Bruce McCormack is offering his most highly sought after seminar on “The Theology of Schleiermacher.” The class was originally limited to 18 students, bumped up to 19 yesterday. Of those 19 slots, 15 were filled by the seniors, who began registration on Monday. The final four slots were snatched up in the first minute or two of registration for the middlers. I was one of them!

My spring classes are as follows:
  • Theology of Schleiermacher (Bruce McCormack)
  • Theology of the Lord’s Supper (George Hunsinger)
  • Paul and Karl (Bruce McCormack, Beverly Gaventa; yes, that’s St. Paul and Karl Barth on Romans)
  • Aesthetics (Gordon Graham)
  • Exegesis of Galatians (Shane Berg)

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

My Dream Christmas List

1. Nintendo Wii. You know you want one.

2. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. The greatest theologian of all time? If not a clear yes, at least a tie for first.


3. Any of the classic film trilogies. Can you believe I don’t have any of them? That needs to change. (You can help!)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Calvin: the wonderful exchange

Godly souls can gather great assurance and delight from this Sacrament [of the Lord’s Supper]; in it they have a witness of our growth into one body with Christ such that whatever is his may be called ours. As a consequence, we may dare assure ourselves that eternal life, of which he is the heir, is ours; and that the Kingdom of Heaven, into which he has already entered, can no more be cut off from us than from him; again, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from whose guilt he has absolved us, since he willed to take them upon himself as if they were his own. This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness.

—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Ch. 17.2.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Levertov: “Tenebrae”

Denise Levertov is one of my favorite American poets, and recently I purchased a new selection of her anti-war poems, Making Peace. I hope to post several of these poems and offer a few comments of my own. Levertov is a beautiful writer and her poems are more relevant now than ever before. To commence this series of poetic reflections on peace and war, I offer a poem not included in the collection, Making Peace. The following poem, “Tenebrae,” was published in her 1970 collection, Relearning the Alphabet.

Tenebrae

Heavy, heavy, heavy, hand and heart.
We are at war,
bitterly, bitterly at war.

And the buying and selling
buzzes at our heads, a swarm
of busy flies, a kind of innocence.

Gowns of gold sequins are fitted,
sharp-glinting. What harsh rustlings
of silver moiré there are,
to remind me of shrapnel splinters.

And weddings are held in full solemnity
not of desire but of etiquette,
the nuptial pomp of starched lace;
a grim innocence.

And picnic parties return from the beaches
burning with stored sun in the dusk;
children promised a TV show when they get home
fall asleep in the backs of a million station wagons,
sand in their hair, the sound of waves
quietly persistent at their ears.
They are not listening.

Their parents at night
dream and forget their dreams.
They wake in the dark
and make plans. Their sequin plans
glitter into tomorrow.
They buy, they sell.

They fill freezers with food.
Neon signs flash their intentions
into the years ahead.

And at their ears the sound
of the war. They are
not listening, not listening.

The certainty of faith and the knowledge of God

Over the past few weeks, some of my friends and I have been vigorously discussing the nature of theological knowledge and the conflict between theology and philosophy. As a way of moving the dialogue forward, one of them has posted a very helpful articulation of the “Barthian” side of this debate. I recommend taking a look at his post on theology as a science.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Bonhoeffer: Life together comes from outside of us

Christian community means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. There is no Christian community that is more than this, and none that is less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily community of many years, Christian community is solely this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.

What does this mean? It means, first, that a Christian needs others for the sake of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that from eternity we have been chosen in Jesus Christ, accepted in time, and united for eternity.

First, Christians are persons who no longer seek their salvation, their deliverance, their justification in themselves, but in Jesus Christ alone. They know that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces them guilty, even when they feel nothing of their own guilt, and that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces them free and righteous, even when they feel nothing of their own righteousness. Christians no longer live by their own resources, by accusing themselves and justifying themselves, but by God’s accusation and God’s justification. They live entirely by God’s Word pronounced on him, in faithful submission to God’s judgment, whether it declares them guilty or righteous. The death and life of Christians are not situated in a self-contained isolation. Rather, Christians encounter both death and life only in the Word that comes to them from the outside, in God’s Word to them. The Reformers expressed it by calling our righteousness an “alien righteousness,” a righteousness that comes from outside of us (extra nos). They meant by this expression that Christians are dependent on the Word of God spoken to them. They are directed outward to the Word coming to them. Christians live entirely by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. If they are asked “where is your salvation, your blessedness, your righteousness?,” they can never point to themselves. Instead, they point to the Word of God in Jesus Christ that grants them salvation, blessedness, and righteousness. They watch for this Word wherever they can. Because they daily hunger and thirst for righteousness, they long for the redeeming Word again and again. It can only come from the outside. In themselves they are destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside; and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing us redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol. 5, ed. Geffrey B. Kelly (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1996), pp. 31-32.

Welcome Wagon and Sufjan Stevens at Princeton

Last night, The Welcome Wagon put on an intimate concert in Miller Chapel at Princeton Seminary. Welcome Wagon is Rev. Vito and Monique Aiuto, a husband-and-wife group who are part of Asthmatic Kitty records and live in Brooklyn. Rev. Vito is the pastor of Resurrection Presbyterian Church in Williamsburg. He got his seminary degree at Princeton Seminary, and this was the first time he had played any music at the seminary since graduating in 1998. As a result, the two of them told me that this concert was very special for them. It was clear that, for both of them, the church comes first and music second.

In concert, Vito plays guitar, and Monique the glockenspiel and harmonica; both of them sing. They do not have their own album, but you can find tracks by them on a couple compilation records. They were accompanied by Jay and Alex Foote, two extraordinarily talented brothers—Jay on the upright bass and Alex on the guitar and lap steel. Finally, accompanying them on piano and banjo was none other than their very good friend, Sufjan Stevens! I had the opportunity to shake hands with Sufjan and introduce myself and Amy to him. He definitely did not want to attract any attention to himself, though a significant number of the people in the room were there to see him. He added quite a bit musically to the show, and his prodigious talent was on clear display.

Welcome Wagon played a beautiful set of songs, all but one written by other people. They covered songs by the Danielson Famile and Morrissey and played several hymns appropriate for the season. Near the end, they had us all sing along to “Once in royal David’s city.” Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of the evening was the fact that they gave away homemade food, including two large pies, a Polish poppyseed cake, and a Polish sausage dish. Chris and Anneli got the cake and had some of their friends over to eat it after the concert. It was delicious.

Blogger Beta

I’ve converted. Finally. Blogger invited me to make the change yesterday and so I decided a little overhaul was in order. Unfortunately, I need to figure out how to make my numerous add-ons work (e.g., Google search, Amazon Associates, SiteMeter, etc.). That could take awhile. (Any help would be appreciated.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Markus Barth: on demythologization

Bultmann’s program of demythologization is based on a peculiar definition of myth which baffles the reader at the same time by its simplicity and by its disregard of the involved history, development, and scholarly discussion of the myth. According to him, myth is present wherever the unworldly is spoken of in a worldly way, where one speaks of the gods in a human way, where the transcendental is objectivized. It seems as if the whole problem of myth were narrowed down to a specific way of thinking and speaking.

—Markus Barth, “Introduction to Demythologizing,” The Journal of Religion 37:3 (1957), 148.
I think it is worth pointing out that, while Markus Barth is correct in criticizing Bultmann’s limited rather unusual understanding of myth, what Barth demonstrates is precisely why Bultmann should be taken much more seriously than he is. Bultmann is not simply a pawn of the scientific Enlightenment; he is concerned about proper speech about God. Myth is improper because it confines and objectifies God. Myth, in other words, is for Bultmann what metaphysics is to theologians post-Karl Barth. This is why Jüngel is quite right to see a deep correlation between Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity and Bultmann’s program of demythologization: both are concerned about proper talk of God.

My wife speaks about teaching

Last month, my wife, Amy, spoke at our church about her experience as a first-year teacher in inner-city Philadelphia. She is currently teaching 8th grade math via the Teach for America program. You can hear what she said by clicking here.

(Can I just say what an awesome wife I have?)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Just vs. Justified War

At the AAR Annual Meeting, there was a well-attended debate on the subject: “Just War Theory Versus Just Peacemaking Theory: Which Produces the Better Answer to Terrorism?” The debate was between Jean Bethke Elshtain, author of Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World (Basic Books, 2004), and Augustine and the Limits of Politics (Notre Dame, 1998) and Glen Harold Stassen, author of Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace (Westminster John Knox) and editor of Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices to Abolish War (Pilgrim Press, 1998 and 2004).

I was unable to attend the debate, but I want to comment briefly on the title in light of an insight I gained from George Hunsinger in my current course with him on a theology of nonviolence. The insight is this: there is a significant difference between “just” and “justified” which we must keep in mind in order to understand the term “Just War.” To call an action “just” is to say that this action contributes to justice—i.e., something positive is ascribed to this action. A just act is one that contributes to the right ordering of the world; it moves society towards a positive, peaceful telos. To call an action “justified,” however, is to affirm that there is a legitimate reason for carrying out this action. A “justified” action is not a positive contribution to the world but rather, at best, a necessary action. Such an action may be negative, in fact, though still necessary according to the particular historical circumstances. Something may be “justified” with being “just”—there may be rational, legitimate reasons for acting thusly, even though the action itself may not be one that contributes toward the realization of “the best of all possible worlds.”

Along with Prof. Hunsinger, I would want to suggest that a war may possibly be justified, but war in general is never just. The term “Just War” cannot mean that this or that war is actually an event contributing to the divine ordering of the world in accordance with the gospel; it can only mean that this or that war is justified based on certain strict criteria. (Of course, I presuppose the idea that justice is only properly defined for the Christian by the gospel of Jesus Christ.) Thus, I wish to suggest further that the title of the debate is quite misleading. The word “just” is used to describe both war and peacemaking, and this is misleading because the former is only ever “justified” while the latter is “just”—the former is negative though necessary, while the latter is positive and unnecessary (meaning it is done freely as an act of conscious or principle, not as an act of external necessity).

Now as to the actual content of the debate, I will not offer any arguments here. Suffice it to say, a strict adherence to traditional “Just War” criteria would be more than sufficient to rule a high majority of wars throughout history quite “unjust.” And, to be honest, such criteria render modern warfare a near impossibility. Surely events like the dropping of the atomic bomb cannot find any inkling of support, nor would the Iraq War have any rational or moral basis. That said, my vote is with just peacemaking.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Stephen Colbert on Joel Hunter and “American Orthodox”

Last night (Monday), Stephen Colbert opened his show with a topic I have been meaning to mention on this blog ever since my pastor brought it to my attention. The story concerns the Christian Coalition’s newly elected executive director, Joel Hunter, who immediately caused an uproar within the Coalition for wanting to take the organization in a new direction. What was this controversial new direction? According to a press release given with his appointment, he said, “I look forward to expanding our mission to concern itself with the care of creation, helping society's marginalized, human rights/religious issues and compassion issues.

According to the Associated Baptist Press article, “But that goal did not sit well with some rank-and-file supporters. Representatives of several statewide Christian Coalition groups that have separated themselves from the national body in recent years cited Hunter's comments as emblematic of their tensions with the national organization.” Consequently, just weeks after his appointment, Hunter has been forced to step down.

Colbert offered up an incisive and timely critique of the Religious Right—in his usual, subversive way—in the evening’s WØRD: “American Orthodox” (unfortunately, thanks to Viacom, I cannot link to a copy of this video clip on YouTube). The segment was brilliant, as always. At the end, he went straight for the jugular. He said that the Christian Coalition (and the Religious Right in general) finds its strength from working on the issues of reproductive rights and gay marriage. But since Jesus never said anything about these issues, the Coalition can have Jesus say whatever they want him to.

I could not agree with him more. The Coalition should be ashamed of themselves for rejecting a man who stands for exactly the kinds of issues that Jesus himself stood for—the poor, the needy, and the marginalized. Isn’t this exactly what we have come to expect? If you say you are fighting against global warming, you get sacked. But if you say you are fighting against the homosexual agenda, you are welcomed as a hero for our times. How pathetic.

Update: Here’s the Colbert clip from YouTube: