Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Barth: “the world must become light”

It is not only ‘we’, that is to say, our souls, our inner and personal life which must become light. Rather, the world must become light; everything around us must become light. We must not separate the two from one another. Unbelief is hidden in this separation . . . You may not say and think: I do want the light to apply to me personally and will strive to be subject to the will of God even in the small things. But what does it matter to me whether self-interest and stupidity and animal instincts rule outside, in the world of commerce, in public morality, in politics great and small? Let it be so! so long as I save my soul in this evil world. To speak or think that way is to speak or think in large measure as one who does not know God.
—Karl Barth, Sermon of Feb. 23, 1913, qtd. in Bruce McCormack, Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development, 1909-1936 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 96.

Top 5 Musical Disappointments of 2006

1. Arctic Monkeys, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. This album is just awful. How it sold so many copies and received such glowing reviews from so many is simply baffling to me.

2. The Flaming Lips, At War With The Mystics
. The Flaming Lips are one of the greatest bands working today. That said, compared to their previous two efforts, this album was rather weak. The first few tracks are strong, but the rest of the album was lackluster and uninspired.

3. The Killers, Sam’s Town. The first album by The Killers is not great, but it is definitely enjoyable. I had hopes that with the ’80s dance rock explosion, The Killers would strive for innovation to keep pushing the genre forward. These hopes were not realized. Instead, The Killers produced some of the worst songs I heard all year—insipid, inharmonious, and superficial.

4. Swan Lake, Beast Moans. When the masterminds behind Frog Eyes, Destroyer, and Wolf Parade join forces to make an album, I expect greatness. In retrospect, it seems that the collaboration between three musical geniuses is a detriment. There is a little cohesion between songs, and rather than a complete album with an overarching artistic vision, one instead hears individual songs crafted by individual musicians. Overall, the idea is potentially a good one, but in the future, they need to craft an album which is truly the joint product of three fantastic talents.

5. Death Cab For Cutie, Plans. Death Cab has gone mainstream. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing (e.g., Ben Folds), but in this case, it has only done them harm. Transatlanticism was their best album to date. Plans, however, lacks both creativity and musicality—and it’s not even very enjoyable to listen to, which is real shame.

* Thom Yorke, The Eraser. As a bonus, I will mention Thom Yorke’s solo project. If you are a huge fan of Kid A, then perhaps The Eraser is for you. But there is almost nothing here that you haven’t heard already. Yorke offers very little that is new, and if this is all that we can expect from the next Radiohead album, I suspect that many will be quite disappointed.

Congress and the Constitution

An excellent editorial at the NY Times.

(HT to WTM)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A happy day

Shane has returned with a new blog, Situs pro theologia scholasticae, intended “to gather together helpful resources and to spark interesting conversations about scholasticism.” I look forward to many fascinating discussions in the future.

A sad day

The blogosphere is sorely in need of clear philosophical voices willing to examine the important issues of our time with intellectual rigor and historical consciousness. We have one such voice today.

My friend and colleague, Shane Wilkins, has left the blogosphere with a possible return in the future. This is a great loss. I for one hope that he will return soon. For now, let us mourn the loss of shanewilkins.blogspot.com.

Monday, January 29, 2007

On the full inclusion of homosexuals

I do not wish to offer any opinions here for or against the position of full inclusion of homosexual persons in the church. I simply wish to point people to the informative and worthwhile posts over at Levellers on this subject.

So far, Michael has written four posts on the subject: one, two, three, and four. Check them out.

And if you have not yet read Kim’s latest post, 12 propositions on same-sex relationships, then you should read those and peruse the lengthy comment section.

New PTS Library Website

Thanks to the work of my friend WTM, Princeton Seminary has a new library website. Check it out here.

Doug Pagitt on creeds

In his recent video podcast rant, Doug Pagitt makes the point that creeds are not summations of the Christian faith but rather contextual responses to particular theological questions in the history of the church. I do not necessarily disagree, but Pagitt makes a false dichotomy. He assumes that something contextual cannot also function universally. In making this statement, Pagitt is following a long tradition of theological liberalism, deeply indebted to Schleiermacher, which argues that what is primary is what is true for you. In other words, personal experience is the criterion for the validity or relevancy of something. Pagitt seems to be establishing a reason for why a church need not bother with the creeds. When a creed is simply a contextual problem, and not a summary of something essential to the faith, then the groundwork is laid for leaving the creeds behind.

Pagitt’s argument is problematic for a number of reasons. (1) First, the problems that the creeds (particularly the Nicene Creed) address are universal problems: the divinity of Jesus Christ, the triunity of God, the union of divinity and humanity in Jesus, the divinity of the Holy Spirit, etc. These were all contextual situations, but the problems and the answers are universal. Thus, the Nicene Creed remains necessary for the church today—not only because it addresses are perennially an issue, but because it is the defining creed of orthodoxy. With the Nicene Creed, Christianity as we know it today came into existence, because only with its formulation was the centrality of Jesus Christ affirmed for the church. And if we wish to be a church centered on the gospel of Jesus, then we cannot have any doubts about the relevancy of this creed for us today. (2) Second, Scripture itself is a contextual writing, but we do not circumscribe its validity for today. (3) Third, Pagitt seems to forget the Apostles’ Creed. While we should not be naive about its appropriateness as a summary of the faith (e.g., there is no mention of Israel), I do think we should acknowledge that if there ever was a summary of Christianity, it could be found there. Moreover, the Apostle’s Creed was not a response to a particular theological heresy, but instead arose as a baptismal liturgy. Its context is positive, not negative. (4) Fourth, Pagitt seems dangerously close to the sentiment of Hegel, who wrote in his Jena diary: “In Swabia people say of something that took place long ago that it is so long since it happened that it can hardly be true any more. So Christ died for our sins so long ago that it can hardly be true any more.”

But perhaps I heard Pagitt incorrectly. Perhaps he only meant that the creeds do not summarize all that we must affirm in the Christian faith. To which I wholeheartedly agree. Perhaps he only meant to remind people that creeds are historically conditioned and not some abstract textbook answer or an appendix to the Bible. To which I also wholeheartedly agree. Whatever the case, it is important to affirm the living importance of the creeds. Bonhoeffer once asked, “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” And I would ask, “What are the creeds for us today?” This is a question we in the church need to ponder long and hard.

H/T to Chris of Disruptive Grace for pointing out Pagitt’s podcast.

Blogger Hacks

Thanks to Hackosphere, I now have a recent comments section and a really cool label/archive section. There’s a lot of other great stuff there, so check it out.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Webster: “God’s repleteness ... is not a closed circle”

The identity of God of which Christian dogmatics is the rational articulation is the identity of God the Holy Trinity, freely presented in the works of God’s triune being. God becomes a matter for human thought and speech because he makes himself present to his creatures. God is present to himself in the fullness and inexhaustible sufficiency of his triune being, and in this fullness he has need of no other and owes nothing to any other being. But the fullness which is proper to him includes (though it is not exhausted by) the willing, executing and completing of a repetition of his presence to a reality which is not himself. The circle of God’s repleteness, the whole and integrated fellowship which he is as Father, Son and Spirit, is not a closed circle. In its very completeness, it is a life-giving movement, bestowing, guarding, healing, restoring and perfecting the life of what is not God, as its lordly creator and preserver. Thus: ‘God is who He is in His works’ (Barth, CD II/1, 260). But to say this is not in any way to empty the doctrine of God of reference to everything apart from the economy of the opera dei ad extra, because these opera are the opera dei, the works of God’s utterly sufficient being. Thus: ‘In His works He is revealed as the One He is’ (ibid).

The formal consequence of this is that, because God the Holy Trinity is the agent of his own presence, he does not become a matter for human consideration because the creature makes God present by a speculative or religious or poetic act. The presence of God is never a function of the self-presence of the creature, but is always pre-eminent, self-moved, commanding, absolutely original. Consequently, the attributes of God are not labels attached to a deity called into the creature’s presence, but are indicators of the name of the one who summons the creature to account for itself and its thinking in his presence.
—John Webster, Confessing God: Essays in Christian Dogmatics II (London: T&T Clark, 2005), 114-15.

Knowledge ≠ Piety

“Quantity of knowledge is not quantity of piety”
— F. D. E. Schleiermacher, On Religion, Second Speech

Raised, as I was, in pietistic evangelicalism, a statement like this was preached to me many, many times. And Schleiermacher is right, as were my youth leaders and pastors. It is a warning that always needs to be heard anew, particularly for those of us who live and breathe in modern academia.

Sermon on John 16:5-33

You can now listen to my second sermon at The Well titled, “Trilingualism: The Paradox of the Kingdom” on John 16:5-33. The sermon begins at around 1:30 and ends at 24:30. I welcome your feedback.

NYT Editorial: “our” commander-in-chief?

This is superb editorial. Here’s a bit of it:

WE hear constantly now about “our commander in chief.” The word has become a synonym for “president.” It is said that we “elect a commander in chief.” It is asked whether this or that candidate is “worthy to be our commander in chief.”

But the president is not our commander in chief. He certainly is not mine. I am not in the Army. ...

The president is not the commander in chief of civilians. He is not even commander in chief of National Guard troops unless and until they are federalized. The Constitution is clear on this: “The president shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States.”

H/T to WTM.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Barth and the analogia relationis

In Church Dogmatics III/2, Karl Barth presents what he calls the analogia relationis in two places within §45. The two are worth examining in detail. Here I will post the two quotes and offer a few thoughts in reflection. The first passage:

[T]here is disparity between the relationship of God and man and the prior relationship of the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father, of God to Himself. But for all the disparity . . . there is a correspondence and similarity between the two relationships. This is not a correspondence and similarity of being, an analogia entis. The being of God cannot be compared with that of man. But it is not a question of this twofold being. It is a question of the relationship within the being of God on the one side and between the being of God and that of man on the other. Between these two relationships as such—and it is in this sense that the second is the image of the first—there is correspondence and similarity. There is an analogia relationis. The correspondence and similarity of the two relationships consists in the fact that the freedom in which God posits Himself as the Father, is posited by Himself as the Son and confirms Himself as the Holy Ghost, is the same freedom as that in which He is the Creator of man, in which man may be His creature, and in which the Creator-creature relationship is established by the Creator. (220)

The second passage is rather different and comes exceedingly close to affirming the analogia entis:

It must be pointed out in conclusion that if the being of man in encounter is a being in correspondence to his determination as the covenant-partner of God, the statement is unavoidable that it is a being in correspondence to God Himself, to the being of His Creator. The Initiator, Lord and Sustainer of the covenant between God and man is God Himself, and He alone. If man is ordained to be God’s partner in this covenant, and if his nature is a likeness corresponding to this ordination, necessarily it corresponds in this respect to the nature of God Himself. God has created him in this correspondence, as a reflection of Himself. Man is the image of God. . . . As man generally is modelled on the man Jesus and His being for others, and as the man Jesus is modelled on God, it has to be said of man generally that he is created in the image of God. . . . God created him in His own image in the fact that He did not create him alone but in this connexion and fellowship. . . . God exists in relationship and fellowship. As the Father of the Son and the Son of the Father He is Himself I and Thou, confronting Himself and yet always one and the same in the Holy Ghost. God created man in His own image, in correspondence with His own being and essence. He created Him in the image which emerges even in His work as the Creator and Lord of the covenant. Because He is not solitary in Himself, and therefore does not will to be so ad extra, it is not good for man to be alone, and God created him in His own image, as male and female. . . . Quite obviously we do not have here more than an analogy, i.e., similarity in dissimilarity. We merely repeat that there can be no question of an analogy of being, but of relationship. God is in relationship, and so too is the man created by Him. This is his divine likeness. (323-24)

A few things become clear when we place these two passages in juxtaposition. First, Barth defines the analogy of relation, the analogia relationis, in two different ways within this one paragraph. The first analogia relationis posits an analogy between God ad intra and God ad extra; that is, the internal relation between the Father and the Son is analogous to the external relation between God and the human person. In this analogy, the similarity is in the active, initiating subject (the triune God) and the dissimilarity is in the passive recipient of this divine action (God the Son, humanity). As Barth puts it, “the eternal love” between the Father and the Son “is also the love which is addressed by God to man” (III/2, 220).

The second passage is much more complex. Barth offers what any reader unaware of the debate would call an analogy of being—an analogy between the relational being of God and the relational being of humanity. In that God exists in relationship to what is external to Godself, so too God creates human persons who naturally relate to what is external to themselves. Barth explicitly states that human nature “corresponds . . . to the nature of God Himself” (323). Perhaps the most striking sentence is when he writes: “God created man in His own image, in correspondence (Entsprechung; analogy) with His own being and essence.”

Whereas the first passage presents a correspondence between Deus ad intra and Deus ad extra, the second passage presents a correspondence between God’s essential nature and humanity’s essential nature. Barth insists that this is no analogy of being, but in saying this he reveals that the analogy of being means something very specific: not the correspondence between divine and human being, but a correspondence that exists apart from the exclusive mediation of Jesus Christ. In other words, the danger of the analogia entis (as Barth understands it) is that it posits a relation apart from the covenant of grace.

Both forms of the analogia relationis are centered in Jesus Christ: in the first, Deus ad extra is Jesus Christ, and in the second, divine and human nature are defined by God’s self-revelation in Christ alone. By emphasizing the centrality of divine self-revelation, we are able to hold together both forms of the analogy of relation without falling into error. Even apart from the covenant of grace, however, Barth wishes to affirm that humanity is a being-in-encounter whose very identity is teleologically ordained for covenant with God. Thus, there is an analogy of being, but it is only known from within the context of the covenant of grace—i.e., within the purview of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. If we do affirm an ontological correspondence between God and humanity, we do so only within the constraints of God’s self-communicative presence: both in the Word incarnate who establishes the covenant of grace toward which all human being is teleologically oriented and in the revelation of Christ through the sanctified witness of Holy Scripture, which alone makes known the basis of this correspondence in the gracious activity of God ad extra.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Can we still speak of the soul?

There are two distinct questions at stake: (1) can we speak of the soul? and (2) must we speak of the soul? The latter implies the former; the former does not, however, imply the latter. Conversely, if we deny the former, then we must deny the latter; and denying the latter does not rule out the former. I have chosen to title this post in terms of possibility rather than necessity, simply because in our age, it is the very possibility of talk about the soul that is in dispute. The necessity of such talk is more complex. We speak of the soul often, but most have little idea what the word actually denotes and they use it out of habit. I suspect most people probably feel that the word is unnecessary and we could get along without it, but we still use it nonetheless. Why exactly do we use it? Is such use necessary? Is such speech even possible? Where to begin?

The Christian tradition—since I presuppose this starting-point—is resolutely in favor of the soul. The ancients, particularly Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria, understood the soul as the bearer of the imago dei. The tradition was mostly unanimous in defining the soul as the center of reason and immortality (Tertullian). Everything essential to the human person is to be found in the soul. The Reformation played with the tradition and augmented it, but did not depart from essentialism. Calvin calls the soul an “immortal essence,” the “seat of the divine image,” and the “seat of intelligence” trapped within the “prison” of the body. Protestants basically stuck to the classical bifurcation between the soul and body—in which the soul (as the seat of reason) rules over the body (as the seat of emotions and appetites).

I do not have time to traverse the modern terrain of the soul. Karl Barth famously defined the human person as the “soul of the body,” by which he maintained the elevation of the soul as the center of human identity, but all while insisting upon the closest unity of soul and body. Barth rejected any kind of bifurcation, and he explicitly rejects Calvin’s anthropology by denying that the soul is connected to divinity and the body to earthly material. Rather, both soul and body are earthly and temporal, and there is nothing divine located it the human person.

Since then, the attack against the soul has become standard fare. Dualism itself has been severely censured in this age of late modernity. We live in a time of fragmentation, in which both unity and dualism are hard to sustain. Our scientific frame of reference has analyzed the human person biologically to discover the material origins for all the impulses that ancient writers attributed to some “spark of divinity” within us. The soul is no longer necessary to explain morality or feelings of the divine presence. The human person has been demythologized, and reason is no longer seen as some divine gift—now that we know the abysmal depths to which it can lead us.

So where are we now? For all the intellectual arguments against the soul, we still live in a culture that finds use for the term. See, for example, the Harry Potter series. In the most recent book, we discover that Voldemort has divided up his soul and placed it in various hidden objects in order to keep him alive on earth beyond the death of his body. This is fascinating. The soul is a kind of rarefied matter capable of being (physically?) split up. It is entirely separate from the body, nor is it identifiable with any rational faculty; the soul is not the mind, as in much of the Christian tradition. The soul, in this story, is essentially a material conscious—the center of morality, rather than the seat of intelligence. Voldemort is capable of thinking and acting perfectly fine, while his soul is split up in different physical locales. Moreover, to split up the soul, one must commit murder. The connection between the soul and the moral faculty is presumed here. Perhaps Rowling has Kant on her mind.

In his recent article for Books & Culture, entitled, “A New Way to Be Human,” Kevin Corcoran sketches out what he calls a “Christian materialist alternative to the soul.” He rejects soul/body dualism, and he also rejects the false dichotomy “that if we're not immaterial and immortal souls, then we must be nothing more than human animals, physical organisms, or biological beasts.” He then proposes that there is “a materialism available that accounts for our being animals without being merely animals.” What is his proposal?
How can one be an animal without being identical with an animal? Think about it this way. I am willing to bet that most of you believe that a particular copper statue is constituted by a particular piece of copper. But I'm also willing to bet that you agree that the piece of copper could conceivably outlast the statue, that is, that the piece of copper could continue in existence even if the statue should not. Suppose, for example, that the piece of copper composing the statue is hammered flat. This would cause the statue to cease to exist but not the piece of copper. Moreover, the piece of copper could have existed for some time before the statue came into existence. The statue is a piece of copper even if it is not identical with the piece of copper. The statue can't be identical with the piece of copper because the piece of copper can exist without the statue existing.

Here is my proposal. I propose we think of the relationship between a particular human person and his or her biological body in the same way. We are animals in the sense that we are wholly constituted by our bodies; every material part of me is a part of the biological body that constitutes me and I have no immaterial parts—just like the statue and the copper. We human beings are wholly physical creatures constituted by our bodies without being identical with them. To borrow words U2's Bono used for more poetic ends, "We are one, but we're not the same."

The materialist view of human persons I am proposing is compatible with every important Christian belief related to human nature, including beliefs about the afterlife and the claim that human beings have been created in the image of God. Indeed the Christian doctrines of creation and incarnation are actually more hospitable to a materialist view of human nature than they are to the more extreme versions of dualism.
I do not wish to analyze the details of his argument; I leave that to you. I simply want to suggest that perhaps the word “soul” needs to be redefined. Or perhaps it has already been redefined through its contemporary use.

Bruce McCormack says that the word “soul” simply means that we are more than the sum of our biological parts. This could be taken in a number of different ways, but in the end, it is most compatible with Corcoran’s suggestion. McCormack identifies the center of our identity in the soul, but that merely indicates the extension of our unique identity beyond the particular embodied form in which we presently exist. There is nothing immaterial or divine within us; but we are not defined solely by this particular material body. In other words, to use the Latin phrase associated with the extra Calvinisticum, our identity extends etiam extra carnem—also beyond the flesh.

There is more that needs to be said concerning nominalism and essentialism, as well as the various kinds of Christian materialism. I should also point out that Richard Beck of Experimental Theology argues in one of his posts on universalism that with the demise of Cartesian soul/body dualism, there will be an attendant demise of the notion of free will. As he states:
The doctrine of the soul is only important in that it allows a mechanism for free will. For what other reason would we care if the soul existed or not? If I have no soul why should I care? Immortality isn't really an issue, because the vision in the bible is of a bodily resurrection. No, the fear of not having a soul isn't about immortality, it's about free will and moral accountability.
With the demise of free will, the best soteriological explanation—the one that will still make sense after the death of the soul—will be universalism. I leave you to ponder the merits of Beck’s suggestion.

Questions to ponder:
  • What is the function of the word, “soul”? What does it actually accomplish?
  • Is there a need for talk about the soul?
  • Can we speak of the soul today in light of current neuroscience, psychology, and the Darwinian revolution?
  • Is Corcoran’s proposal attractive? Is Christian materialism the way of the future?
  • If McCormack is right, that the soul simply indicates that we are more than the sum of our parts, what then is the relation between the “we” and the “parts”?
  • Is free will doomed to extinction? Are we on the verge of seeing the demise of talk about free choices along with the demise of the soul?
  • Is immortality itself a notion that still makes sense? What about the resurrection of the body?
  • Even if we do not know what is “true,” can we make an argument for which position is best for the church today?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

On the Virgin Birth: Pseudo-Clement

§7. Pseudo-Clement

From The Apocryphal First Epistle of the Blessed Clement
For [the virgin] who covets for himself these things so great and excellent, withdraws and severs himself on this account from all the world, that he may go and live a life divine and heavenly, like the holy angels, in work pure and holy, and “in the holiness of the Spirit of God,” and that he may serve God Almighty through Jesus Christ for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. On this account he severs himself from all the appetites of the body. … If so be, then, that thou longest for all these things, conquer the body; conquer the appetites of the flesh; conquer the world in the Spirit of God; conquer these vain things of time, which pass away and grow old, and decay, and come to an end; conquer the dragon; conquer the lion; conquer the serpent; conquer Satan;—through Jesus Christ, who doth strengthen thee by the hearing of His words and the divine Eucharist. … For whosoever walks perfect in faith, and not fearing, doth in very deed receive the crown of virginity, which is great in its toil and great in its reward. Dost thou understand and know how honourable a thing is sanctity? Dost thou understand how great and exalted and excellent is the glory of virginity? The womb of a holy virgin carried our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and the body which our Lord wore, and in which He carried on the conflict in this world, He put on from a holy virgin. From this, therefore, understand the greatness and dignity of virginity. Dost thou wish to be a Christian? Imitate Christ in everything. John, the ambassador, he who came before our Lord, he “than whom there was not a greater among those born of women,” the holy messenger of our Lord, was a virgin. Imitate, therefore, the ambassador of our Lord, and be his follower in every thing. … For, if a man be only in name called holy, he is not holy; but he must be holy in everything: in his body and in his spirit. And those who are virgins rejoice at all times in becoming like God and His Christ, and are imitators of them.

*Click here for the full outline of posts

Back in the Blogosphere

I have been absent for awhile now due to finals. I am back, but I am out of shape. So I will try to re-enter the blogosphere in healthy increments. I look forward to many more theological dialogues in the coming months.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Barth: the Church must stand for social justice

The Church is witness of the fact that the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost. And this implies that—casting all false impartiality aside—the Church must concentrate first on the lower and lowest levels of human society. The poor, the socially and economically weak and threatened, will always be the object of its primary and particular concern, and it will always insist on the State’s special responsibility for these weaker members of society. That it will bestow its love on them, within the framework of its own task (as part of its service), is one thing and the most important thing; but it must not concentrate on this and neglect the other thing to which it is committed by its political responsibility: the effort to achieve such a fashioning of the law as will make it impossible for “equality before the law” to become a cloak under which strong and weak, independent and dependent, rich and poor, employers and employees, in fact receive different treatment at its hands: the weak being unduly restricted, the strong unduly protected. The Church must stand for social justice in the political sphere. And in choosing between the various socialistic possibilities (social-liberalism? co-operativism? syndicalism? free trade? moderate or radical Marxism?) it will always choose the movement from which it can expect the greatest measure of social justice (leaving all other considerations on one side).

—Karl Barth, “The Christian Community and the Civil Community,” Community, State, and Church: Three Essays (New York: Anchor Books, 1960), 173.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Time Magazine: Republican Revolt

From the start of an article on Time Magazine online:
As George Bush takes the lectern in the House chamber for his State of the Union address, he can finally claim that he is fulfilling the promise of his 2000 presidential campaign to be a uniter and not a divider. With his proposal to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, Bush is indeed bringing Democrats and Republicans together.

Evangelicals and scientists together

In the past several years, evangelical Christians in America have adopted the environment as a central issue in their social agenda. The two sides came together this week in talks and are pledging joint involvement to pressure Washington. The two main representatives from each side include Eric Chivian, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, and Rich Cizik, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals. Chivian and Cizik had a joint interview on CNN this morning, and you can read about their collaboration from earlier this week.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Barth: the mission of the church

‘God so loved’—not the Christian, but—‘the world’. ‘I am the light of the world’, says the Lord, and by His own self-giving He passes the light on to His disciples: ‘Ye are the light of the world!’ It is the duty of the real Church to tell and show the world what it does not yet know. This does not mean that the real Church’s mission is to take the whole or even half the world to task. It would be the servant of quite a different Master if it were to set itself up as the accuser of its brethren. Its mission is not to say ‘No’, but to say ‘Yes’; a strong ‘Yes’ to the God who, because there are ‘godless’ men, has not thought and does not think of becoming a ‘manless’ God—and a strong ‘Yes’ to man, for whom, with no exception, Jesus Christ died and rose again. How extraordinary the Church’s preaching, teaching, ministry, theology, political guardianship and missions would be, how it would convict itself of unbelief in what it says, if it did not proclaim to all men that God is not against man but for man. It need not concern itself with the ‘No’ that must be said to human presumption and human sloth. This ‘No’ will be quite audible enough when as the real Church it concerns itself with the washing of feet and nothing else. This is the obedience which it owes to its Lord in this world.

—Karl Barth, “The Real Church,” Against the Stream: Shorter Post-War Writings 1946-52 (London: SCM Press, 1954), 73.

Barth and Jüngel on the two kingdoms

I have finished three sit-down exams and two papers, and now I have just one final paper to go. My topic is the relation between anthropology and the doctrine of the two kingdoms in the theology of Karl Barth and Eberhard Jüngel. If you have any particular insights on this subject that you think I should consider, by all means, let me know.

The paper is due Friday. After that, there shall be much rejoicing.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Toward a Christological Aesthetics: A Paper Proposal

Yesterday I found out (rather late) that I will be presenting a paper at the regional AAR meeting on March 1-2 in Baltimore, Maryland. I will be going with a couple friends from PTS, including WTM. Below is my paper topic and abstract. Any feedback you have to offer is always appreciated.

==================================

PAPER PROPOSAL

Title: “A Pre-Appearance of the Truth”: Toward a Christological Aesthetics

PROPOSAL:
Virtually all written work in the rapidly growing field of theological aesthetics remains grounded either in the first or third articles of the creed, that is, either in the Father who creates and preserves or in the Spirit who re-creates and energizes. A properly developed theological aesthetics must attend to the dogmatic claim that the person and work of Jesus Christ forms the center of Christian theology. Hence, contrary to most theological aesthetics which find their grounding in who God is in se—e.g., God’s beauty, perfections, creativity—a truly dogmatic theological aesthetics must find its primary starting-point in who God is pro nobis. We may appropriately identify this perspective on beauty as a christological aesthetics. Such an aesthetics reflects upon the categories of art and beauty in light of the corporal and temporal reality of the Son of God.

This paper will consist of four major sections. The first will be a brief critical engagement with certain missteps in contemporary theological aesthetics, epitomized by the work of David Bentley Hart. The second section will explicate the doctrine of justification in light of the theology of Eberhard Jüngel as the key to the person and work of Christ, according to which justification is a two-fold ontological event: (1) an objective christological event of reconciliation extra nos and (2) a subjective existential event of interruption and reunion. The third part will sketch an aesthetics rooted in this two-fold event in which beauty, theologically understood, is a “pre-appearance of the truth” (Jüngel) that is both anamnestic and proleptic. In other words, beauty forces the beholder to look back upon the christological reconciliation and forward to the eschatological reunion of beauty and truth. In distinction from the event of justification, beauty does not fashion ontologically new persons; rather, it functions as an iconic “pre-appearance” of justification’s ontological work.

The final section of the paper will offer some reflections on how a christological aesthetics rather than a creational aesthetics would advance the conversation in fruitful ways. These reflections will briefly comment on the ability of a christological aesthetics (1) to develop an aesthetics of the “death of God” in Jesus, (2) to situate the beauty of creation within the doctrine of reconciliation, and (3) to establish a more fully trinitarian aesthetic in which the beauty of God and the beauty of the world are united in the event of Jesus Christ. Finally, I will offer a few remarks regarding the relation between theological aesthetics and natural theology, with the purpose of articulating how a christological aesthetics might benefit both theology and philosophy in their respective treatments of art and beauty.

ABSTRACT:
Contemporary theological aesthetics generally connect the exploration of beauty to the Father or the Spirit, without giving aesthetics a properly christocentric orientation. This paper aims to develop a christological aesthetics in which the person and work of Christ provide the starting-point. The first section critically engages some recent attempts to develop a theological aesthetics. The second section explores the doctrine of justification as “the heart of the Christian faith” (Jüngel) in terms of its christological and existential dimensions. The third section constructs the basic contours of a christological aesthetics as both anamnesis and prolepsis. Beauty is the “pre-appearance” of the truth, which does not fashion ontologically new persons, but rather functions as an iconic “pre-appearance” of justification’s ontological work. In the fourth and final section, the paper offers several reflections on the ways a christological aesthetics would benefit the doctrines of the Trinity, creation, and natural theology.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Editorial on Bush’s speech

The New York Times published an editorial about last night’s cliché-ridden speech that is well worth reading.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Exodus and Revolution: A Review Essay

I. Summary of Exodus and Revolution

In his insightful retelling of the Exodus narrative, Michael Walzer attempts to “give a reading of the Exodus that captures its political meaning” (133).¹ He accomplishes this task by examining the archetypal story from the following different angles: (1) the uniqueness of the Exodus history, (2) the nature of Israelite oppression in Egypt, (3) the aftereffects of oppression upon the Israelites, (4) the distinctiveness of Israel’s covenantal identity, (5) the this-worldly goal of the Exodus from Egypt, and (6) the struggle between Zionism, messianism, and the realism of an Exodus politics. I shall briefly treat each in that order before offering some reflections on how Walzer’s account of the Exodus might inform the political vision and involvement of socially conscious individuals, particularly Christians, in America today.

First, what uniquely distinguishes the narrative of Exodus from other ancient narratives is its progression from Point A to Point B, or more accurately, from Point A to Point Z—since it is the goal of Israel to reach an end that is “nothing like the beginning” (11). Moreover, the Exodus history is important in that it offers a “narrative frame” within which later historical movements can find a place; other stories take shape in light of this particular story (7). Right from the start, Walzer emphasizes that the Exodus is a narrative within time and space. The Exodus is a grounded, earthly, historical story—regardless of its historicity—and thus it provides a model for later political thought.

The second and third sections of the book both deal with the nature of tyrannical oppression as we see it described in the biblical testimony. The second part specifically deals with the Israelite enslavement in Egypt as something which the book of Exodus roundly condemns; there is no Stoic resignation or sense of destiny, but instead the real hope of a better life “here and now” (22). The pharaonic regime is marked by repression, “rigorous service” (27), and the bondage of a whole people “to the arbitrary power of the state” (30). While the portrayal of tyrannical power is important in order to understand liberation, Walzer makes the interesting point that the Israelites have a strange and even simultaneous attraction and revulsion to Egypt. As part of the psychological effect of slavery, the people of Israel waver between longing and resentment, temptation and anger (36-37). Egypt begins to take the form not only of savage oppression but also of wealth and luxury, a kind of alluring “decadence” (39). In the third part, then, Walzer teases out this tension between a desire for the goods of Egypt and a desire for the promised land—which cannot be so easily split up so that the former is physical and secular, while the latter is spiritual and religious. Walzer instead interprets the tension as between materialism and idealism, between the impulses of the present and the patience for the future. The “vanguard” of Moses and his followers represent the idealists, while the “masses” of those who simply want the “fleshpots” of Egypt represent the materialists. When these two groups clash, the result is bloodshed, which leads to one of the hard, unanswered questions: “When can the sword rightly be used?” (62).

Fourth, after examining the negative results of liberation (murmuring, infighting), Walzer next examines the positive outcome of liberation: the covenant. What makes this covenant distinct is its stark contrast to slavery: the latter is enforced by coercion, the former by communal consent (74). Moreover, the covenant is “radically inclusive,” in that all the people of Israel are involved in the ratification of this new, positive form of bondage (75). This leads to perhaps the central thematic tension with Walzer’s book, which can be looked at in a few different ways. It is the tension between an unconditional liberation and a conditional covenant, between past passivity and future activity, between what “has happened to them” and what “they make themselves” (76). The tension is even larger, for Walzer also frames it in terms of the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant: the former is unconditional and from God alone, while the latter is conditional and demands the faithful response of the people. If we bring this into the political sphere, the tension is between “Exodus politics,” rooted in the Sinai covenant, and “apocalyptic and millennialist politics,” rooted in the Abrahamic covenant (79). The question is, when it comes to radical politics, which covenant ought to be the foundation? Walzer makes it clear that the Abrahamic covenant leads toward eschatological, Last Days expectations, while it is only the Sinaitic covenant which inspires human action here and now.

In the fifth section, Walzer examines the continuing struggle between materialism and idealism, between a land of “milk and honey” and “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” But, of course, “the material and the ideal, the carnal and the spiritual are not so easily separated” (105). Nevertheless, “it makes a difference whether one emphasizes the milk and honey or the divine commandments”—and so the political tension between materialism and idealism remains (108). The materialistic vision of “milk and honey” seeks a negative equality by ensuring that there will be enough for all and oppression will be no more; the idealistic vision of “a holy nation” then “aims at positive equality” by seeking a people shaped by divine law (109). The other major struggle occurs when the promise is not fulfilled as one might expect. The promise is not myth but reality, and the land is not Eden but Canaan. We find that liberation remains incomplete, and the fulfillment of the promise is now postponed. The story of Exodus must go on. Out of this disappointment arises the messianism which conditions apocalyptic and Christian thinking and has political ramifications.

Thus, in the final sixth section, Walzer examines the broad political tension between an Exodus politics and a messianic politics. Both are “radically entangled in Zionist thought” but have very different approaches—the former takes its bearings from the wilderness training and embraces the ambiguity of a liberationist politics, while the latter takes its bearings from the apocalyptic “end of days” and allows no ambiguity (136, 139). In other words, the distinction between conditionality and unconditionality remains fully operative. Exodus Zionism is realistic and aware of limitations; messianic Zionism is utopian and aware of no limitations (141). The one is “cautious and moderate”; the other is absolute (147). In the end, what the Exodus teaches us is that the “door of hope” remains open, that there are other alternatives beyond the black-and-white options we are often given, but that such alternatives require “the hard and continuous work of men and women” who must go on marching in the wilderness (149).


II. A Christian Reflection on Exodus and Revolution in Light of the Contemporary Situation

While there is much in Walzer’s account that lends itself well to our contemporary political landscape, I wish to focus primarily on how this book might inform political discourse and action from within the framework of the Christian gospel. In particular, I wish to comment on the tension between the unconditionality of liberation and the conditionality of covenant and the corresponding tension in humanity between passivity and activity in relation to the promised land. In light of this tension, we might ask, what is the role of the messiah? What is the role of the church as the covenantal community of those who confess that the messiah has already come? What then is the relation between Christians and the sociopolitical realm?

At times, Walzer seems to play the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants against each other, as if they represent two mutually exclusive positions struggling for prominence. The former tends toward radical messianism while the latter tends toward radical politics. Since he writes from a Jewish perspective, the messianic position is one that looks entirely to a future “end of days” reality. Millennarian radicalism seeks an edenic paradise; Exodus radicalism seeks the promised land. The former is located “at the very end of human history,” while the latter is “firmly located within history” (120). The Christian narrative changes things decisively. What the New Testament gospel proclaims is that the messianic event has arrived within history; the tension between an Exodus historicism and messianic utopianism is effectively nullified—at least potentially. Walzer points out that “Christian writers tended to spiritualize the Last Days and to describe redemption as a state of the soul, not of the world” (123). This, of course, is reinforced by the fact that Jesus as the confessed Messiah did not bring his people to any this-worldly promised land. He was no Moses in that respect, and spoke instead of the “kingdom of heaven.” Seen from this angle, Jesus is the source of this spiritualization of redemption. On the other hand, the Gospel of Luke portrays a Jesus who explicitly adopts the mantle of Isaiah 61 and proclaims himself a liberator of the captives, which directly echoes the Exodus account (Lk. 4). Moreover, the Christian gospel stands or falls with its confession that Jesus is the promised messiah, and thus, as Walzer states, “the material and the ideal … are not so easily separated” (105).

So should Christians emphasize the “milk and honey” or the “divine commandments”? That is, should they stress a spiritual liberation or a this-worldly hope? Walzer says that “Christian revolutionaries … are plausibly called judaizers: they defend the ‘carnality’ of the promise; they seek a worldly kingdom” (123). The question must be asked: is it really either-or? Must a this-worldly hope exclude spiritual redemption? Walzer stresses that the messianic-paradisal visions of the Last Days “do not invite anything like the ongoing human effort required in the Exodus story,” and thus the importance of an Exodus politics is precisely its ability to inspire human action (122). Again, though, does a spiritual hope rule out this-worldly involvement? I suggest that the distinction between unconditionality and conditionality holds open an alternative to the false dichotomy (which, I should add, Walzer more often undermines than upholds, though it remains effective in spite of his attempt to question many of these black-and-white dualisms).

The unconditionality of liberation and the conditionality of the covenant must be read christologically, so that both the unconditional grace of liberation and the conditional response of the covenant are embodied in the mission of Jesus. Because the church confesses that he is both the divine liberator and the human who is liberated, the Christian community is then freed for sociopolitical action by an unconditionally established covenant of grace. In other words, this-worldly involvement no longer stands at odds with a spiritual redemption; the two, in fact, go hand-in-hand within the framework of the Christian narrative. Passivity and activity are no longer connected to liberation and covenant, respectively, because both are located in the mediation of Jesus Christ. This thoroughly Christian account stands at odds with the notion of a messiah seemingly put forward by Walzer. He writes that had the people of Israel “not chosen them a captain—here, a king—back for Egypt, the messiah would not be necessary.” The messiah “will merely establish what the people could once have established for themselves” (129). The Christian narrative would read this as essentially Pelagian, since the need for a messiah is spiritual as well as physical—we need a savior from sin as well as one who will bring us to the promised land. The messiah is not potentially unnecessary, but essentially necessary.

How, then, does this Christian reading of the Exodus liberation inform ecclesial involvement in the sociopolitical realm? First, Walzer’s distinction between prophet and priest—the “priests act for the people” while “the prophets call upon the people to act” (91)—must be located within the christological triplex munus, in which Jesus both acts on behalf of humanity and also calls humanity to action. (The third aspect of the triplex munus is that Jesus also reigns as king, which has important political ramifications that cannot be elaborated on here.) Second, it has been my contention that a Christian account of the Exodus does not necessitate a spiritualizing of liberation, but rather frees the Christian community for a proper pursuit of this-worldly goals—ones which unite the material and the ideal. The covenantal community (which extends beyond the visible church) must have the two promises of Exodus in mind: a land of “milk and honey” for all people, and “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Not either one or the other, but both-and.

As I stated in my summary, Walzer quite helpfully points out the important distinction between an Exodus politics and a messianic politics: the former is “cautious and moderate,” while the other is absolute. The former allows for compromise and ambiguity, but “within the world of political messianism the argument is foreclosed” (140). We see this play out in contemporary political and religious discourse, in which certain this-worldly goals are equated with religious redemption. The identification of Zionism with messianism, which Gershom Scholem so adamantly rejected (140-41), not only affects the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The messianic idolization of this-worldly, material goals conditions much of our contemporary secular politics. Of particular relevance to North American Christians is the current black-and-white unconditionality that idolizes American security and precludes any possible political compromise. Those of Arab heritage are immediately suspect, and many are arrested outright and detained without trial. In a way, the situation in the United States is a replication and secularization of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The imaginary borders that define the United States are, in a way, not unlike “the newly conquered territories” which Israel must hold “against all opposition” (140). Thus, Muslims, like the Canaanites, “are explicitly excluded from the world of moral concern” (142). The American media counts the dead American bodies but not the dead Iraqis. Those who perpetrate anything against the United States, or simply could perpetrate anything, fall under a secular form of the “ban.” As Walzer notes, “right-wing Zionists who cite the biblical passages are practicing a kind of fundamentalism that is entirely at odds with the Jewish tradition” (144). The same could be said of right-wing Americans who idolize national security at the expense of Exodus 23:9: “Thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (140). The Christian stance in such a situation can only be the kind of judgment against such absolutism and idolatry that Exodus has against slavery. An Exodus ethic combined with a christocentric unconditionality of grace can and should result in the pursuit of historical, this-worldly justice for all people in light of the divine justice accomplished in Christ.

In conclusion, I wish to look more closely at a comment by Walzer regarding the stark difference between Eden and the promised land. He writes that “they are not identical at all, for … Eden is a mythical garden while the promised land has latitude and longitude” (120). This is surely correct and helpful, but Walzer does not scrutinize the statement by Northrop Frye which he quotes directly before this statement, that for the Christian, “Eden, the Promised Land, Jerusalem, and Mount Zion” are all “interchangeable synonyms” (119-20). Frye is quite wrong about this, and W. H. Auden shows why. Auden writes in his essay, “Dingley Dell & The Fleet,” about the difference between Eden and the New Jerusalem, between what he calls Arcadia and Utopia. Both are the same in that each finds the present world unbearable, but each presents a different alternative: “Eden is a past world in which the contradictions of the present world have not yet arisen; New Jerusalem is a future world in which they have at last been resolved.” The messianic New Jerusalem is not the same is Eden, but Walzer is correct that the vision of Exodus liberation falls somewhere in between—though leaning toward New Jerusalem.

In his mature writings, Auden composed a lengthy poem entitled, “Horae Canonicae,” which closed with a meditation on the distinction between Arcadia and Utopia, this time, however, focusing on the Christian foundation for all radical politics, secular or otherwise. At the very end, he speaks of the messianic “victim,” the one “on whose immolation … arcadias, utopias, our dear old bag of a democracy are alike founded.” Both Arcadia and Utopia, Eden and New Jerusalem, are grounded upon this “one Sin Offering.” Moreover, since Walzer demonstrates that the early American political leaders drew heavily upon the Exodus narrative for their new democratic vision, the mention of democracy means that the middle ground of the Exodus is also established on this foundation. Auden then closes with these profound words—words that effectively bridge the religious and the secular, the material and the ideal, by locating them both properly in the person of Christ, whose self-offering on the cross is the basis for all radical this-worldly politics here and now:
For without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be
innocent) no secular wall will safely stand.
¹ Michael Walzer, Exodus and Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 1985). All parenthetical citations are from this book.

² W. H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand (New York: Vintage International, 1988), 409.

³ Auden, Collected Poems (New York: Vintage International, 1991), 639.

College presidencies no longer secure

This article gives me hope that things might change at Wheaton College.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

PTS finals & Ben Myers

I have been on a bit of a posting hiatus while I work diligently on my finals here at Princeton Seminary. My finals include a paper on Calvin’s theology, another paper on Barth and Jüngel on the two kingdoms, and exams in Hebrew exegesis, systematic theology, and philosophy of religion.

Starting Saturday, January 20, I will return to my regularly scheduled posts on topics of greater interest and existential importance.

Also, Ben Myers is flying in tomorrow evening, and I will be picking him up at the Princeton station if all goes as planned. This is a meeting I have been looking forward to for some time. He will be researching at the Center for Barth Studies, where I work on occasion as part of the Special Collections staff.

Neon Bible: March 6!

For the past week I have been on an Arcade Fire kick, and it just keeps getting better. As announced in a cheeky YouTube video and explained further on Pitchfork Media, the band has released the tracklist for their forthcoming LP, Neon Bible, and announced that the album will arrive in North American stores on March 6.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Web help

Ever since I converted to Blogger Beta, I have had nothing but trouble with the layout of this blog. Some of you have probably noticed that my buttons do not line up with the sidebar, and that I have part of my Technorati link up next to my Google search bar (which has caused me plenty of trouble as well). A number of other things are missing, etc., etc.

So I am wondering ... does anything have any ideas about how to fix some of these problems? I don’t have the time or energy to go looking on the web for answers. I’ll probably ask my web-savvy friends for some help, but I thought I would make a public plea. I just hate the look of a messy web page.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Arcade Fire in NYC ... and how I'm not going

I write this post with a very heavy heart. Today at 9am the tickets for five consecutive Arcade Fire shows in New York City went on sale. The problem is, I had no idea. I had heard some vague rumors about the show, but I foolishly did not follow them up. And now here I am, a very sad fan waiting for news of the next show.

Seriously, the Arcade Fire is the best indie rock band in the world right now. There are other great bands for sure, but this group is doing for indie music what The Matrix did for action films — taking the best elements in their artistic medium and then reshaping them into something original, beautiful, and breathtaking.

To get your Arcade Fire fix, see the following:

Arcade Fire Home
Us Kids Know (official fan site; free registration)

Thus far, we know of three tracks from their forthcoming LP, Neon Bible: “Intervention” (available on iTunes), “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations,” and “Black Mirror.”

(If you want to hear “Black Mirror,” do the following: Click on the Arcade Fire Home page, then click on “Win” to go to “Win’s Scrapbook,” then click on the “black mirror” journal entry and go to the second page.)

Sufjan Stevens on horror films

I talk about Sufjan Stevens a lot, but that’s because among twenty-something, indie-lovin’ Christians, his music is the closest thing we have to a modern-day lingua franca. I really mean that. And he’s amazing—probably the most talented young artist today.

That said, I should have posted this back in early November, but better late than never. Anyway, for those who do not keep tabs on the Asthmatic Kitty web site, Sufjan posted a list of his favorite horror(ible) films. Some of them are well-known B-movies; others are highly deserving classics.

Two of his picks especially interested me:
3. An Inconvenient Truth—I couldn’t sleep for days. Melting ice caps, receding glaciers, New York City submerged in water, Al Gore and his gruesome pie charts. He’s like Darth Vader armed with a Power Point presentation. Yikes.

4. Eraserhead—It’s an art film, horror film, student film, philosophy film, whatever you call it. I like to think of it as the only horror film that doubles as a form of birth control.
I have already posted a reflection-review on An Inconvenient Truth, and while it has been awhile, I plan on posting my review of Eraserhead in the near future after it was requested that I do so. Unfortunately, Sufjan stole the essential elements of my review in his two-sentence summary. His remark about birth control will be all too understandable after watching the movie.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Calvin, the possibility of good actions, and the doctrine of the two kingdoms

My good friends, Travis and Shane, are currently embroiled in a heated debate over a long-standing point of contention between the three of us over the possibility of “good actions” by people outside the church, meaning those who are not existentially oriented to God by faith. Shane’s original post sparked a response post by Travis, and now I am throwing my two-cents in to the discussion, though I will have to be brief. In this debate, I mostly side with Travis, who affirms the standard Protestant position that our relation to God is primary and essential for anything to be truly “good” (theologically defined, of course). Shane thinks that any theology which refuses to identify as “good” what he believes are self-evidently “good” actions (e.g., loving your wife, helping another person, etc.) is simply “morally repugnant.”

I am sympathetic with Shane’s position for a number of reasons (see below). However, it is my opinion that Shane fails to understand the role played by Calvin’s doctrine of the two kingdoms (operative as well in Luther). This doctrine, according to David VanDrunen, is central for understanding the whole of Calvin’s theology. He makes the following statement regarding Calvin’s position which is germane to our current debate:
In the civil kingdom, where issues of salvation are not concerned, natural law plays its positive role, enabling even non-Christians to achieve various impressive accomplishments in fields such as law, science, and the liberal arts. In the spiritual kingdom of Christ, on the other hand, where issues of salvation are indeed at issue, the cultural accomplishments enabled by natural law are judged worthless for attaining eternal life. The very same action of the unbeliever performed according to the light of natural law, therefore, at one and the same time, may be admired and provoke thanksgiving from the perspective of the civil kingdom and may be judged of no value whatsoever for advancement in the spiritual kingdom of Christ.¹
Now I have serious misgivings about the dualism that is operative in Calvin’s theology of the two kingdoms (as with Luther), but I think the overall point is well stated by VanDrunen and is worth keeping in mind when discussing Reformation theology. The distinction between civil and spiritual, between earthly and heavenly, is at the heart of this debate. An action like loving one’s spouse is, in terms of the earthly realm, entirely “good”; but that same action, performed by the unbeliever, has no eternal value in the sense that it contributes nothing to her salvation, it remains earthly and temporal. Calvin and Luther restrict truly “good” actions to Christians, because they are now freed for obedience to God—and it is obedience to God within the realm of Christian liberty that makes for “good deeds.” The actions of non-Christians are “good” only in the limited, civil sense; they are “good” within the strict parameters of the earthly sphere. Whether we agree with this theological dualism or not, it is nevertheless the case that any attempt to explicate the Reformers on this point must take the two kingdoms doctrine into account.

I think the distinction between civil and spiritual is helpful for us in that we must distinguish between actions that are good in a general sense and good in a theological sense. People who have not yet encountered the grace of Christ are still capable of performing good actions, but the “goodness” of these actions is strictly circumscribed by their finite origin and end. What makes an action truly “good” is when an action’s origin and end are oriented by and toward God. That is, a “good” action is one which has its proper place within the kingdom of Christ.

So do Christians “have a monopoly on moral goodness” (Shane)? No, God does. Is God pleased with the actions of an unbeliever? I would argue, yes and no. Yes, in that all created reality is “good,” in that it has its own integrity. But no, in that this integrity alone is not the teleological end of creation. Creation may have integrity, but it lacks its proper identity as the “new creation.” I find Eberhard Jüngel’s three theses from God as the Mystery of the World to be quite helpful in affirming both the goodness of creation and the true goodness of the “new creation”:
  1. Man and his world are interesting for their own sake.
  2. Even more so, God is interesting for his own sake.
  3. God makes man, who is interesting for his own sake, interesting in a new way.²
The distinction Jüngel makes is between a creation that is interesting (good, valuable) for its own sake and the new creation which is given a new level of interest (goodness, value) by God. There is goodness in the former, but “true goodness” is found in the latter. We can say the same about humanity. We find humanity in the former but “true humanity” in the latter. We find creation in the former but “new creation” in the latter. This distinction is one that I think holds together Shane’s good points within the theological framework of the Reformers. We need not place a wedge between Christians and non-Christians. The wedge belongs between a “good creation” and a “new creation.”

¹ David VanDrunen, “The Two Kingdoms: A Reassessment of the Transformationist Calvin,”
Calvin Theological Journal 40:2 (2005).

² Eberhard Jüngel,
God as the Mystery of the World, trans. Darrell Guder (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1983), 34.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Princeton Theological Review: Theology and Global Conflict

The new Fall 2006 issue of the Princeton Theological Review is available free online. The title is, “Theology and Global Conflict: Beyond ‘Just’ War.” We have articles by Daniel Bell, Gordon Brubacher, and Mary-Jane Rubenstein, all excellent and well worth reading. We also have a substantial interview with George Hunsinger, and a book note by yours truly.

I and most of my PTS (and blogging) friends were involved in putting this issue together. I am the co-general editor of the PTR; Travis is the book review editor; Chris, David, and Adam are associate editors. And there are plenty of other friends whom I know from my years at Wheaton, including David and Han-luen Komline (the other general editor), Peter Kline, Colleen Nelson, and Chris Griswald.

All in all, I think this is one of the very best PTR issues ever produced. If you are interested in contributing to the spring issue on “Theology and Art,” please contact me right away. Our deadline for spring submissions is Jan. 15. Our issue for next fall is on the doctrine of the atonement, and we will accept submissions through Sept. 15, 2007.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

On the Virgin Birth: Lactantius

§6. Lactantius

The Divine Institutes: Book IV, Chap. 12
Therefore the Holy Spirit of God, descending from heaven, chose the holy Virgin, that He might enter into her womb. But she, being filled by the possession of the Divine Spirit, conceived; and without any intercourse with a man, her virgin womb was suddenly impregned. But if it is known to all that certain animals are accustomed to conceive by the wind and the breeze, why should any one think it wonderful when we say that a virgin was made fruitful by the Spirit of God, to whom whatever He may wish is easy? And this might have appeared incredible, had not the prophets many ages previously foretold its occurrence. Thus Solomon speaks: “The womb of a virgin was strengthened, and conceived; and a virgin was made fruitful, and became a mother in great pity.” Likewise the prophet Isaiah, whose words are these: “Therefore God Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son; and ye shall call His name Emmanuel.” What can be more manifest than this? This was read by the Jews, who denied Him. If any one thinks that these things are invented by us, let him inquire of them, let him take especially from them: the testimony is sufficiently strong to prove the truth, when it is alleged by enemies themselves. But He was never called Emmanuel, but Jesus, who in Latin is called Saving, or Saviour, because He comes bringing salvation to all nations. But by this name the prophet declared that God incarnate was about to come to men. For Emmanuel signifies God with us; because when He was born of a virgin, men ought to confess that God was with them, that is, on the earth and in mortal flesh.

The Divine Institutes: Book IV, Chap. 13
Therefore the Most High God, and Parent of all, when He had purposed to transfer His religion, sent from heaven a teacher of righteousness, that in Him or through Him He might give a new law to new worshippers; not as He had before done, by the instrumentality of man. Nevertheless it was His pleasure that He should be born as a man, that in all things He might be like His supreme Father. For God the Father Himself, who is the origin and source of all things, inasmuch as He is without parents, is most truly named by Trismegistus “fatherless” and “motherless,” because He was born from no one. For which reason it was befitting that the Son also should be twice born, that He also might become “fatherless” and “motherless.” For in His first nativity, which was spiritual, He was “motherless,” because He was begotten by God the Father alone, without the office of a mother. But in His second, which was in the flesh, He was born of a virgin’s womb without the office of a father, that, bearing a middle substance between God and man, He might be able, as it were, to take by the hand this frail and weak nature of ours, and raise it to immortality. He became both the Son of God through the Spirit, and the Son of man through the flesh,—that is, both God and man. The power of God was displayed in Him, from the works which He performed; the frailty of the man, from the passion which He endured: on what account He undertook it I will mention a little later.

*Click here for the full outline of posts

Arcade Fire: “Intervention”

There is a new Arcade Fire track. Enough said. Listen to it here. Read about it here and here. The new album, Neon Bible, comes out sometime in February or March, and if you are not waiting with bated breath, maybe you should check your pulse.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

It’s 2007 and a new year full of possibilities awaits! The year 2006 saw my entry into the world of online theological discourse, and this year will be much more of the same. Readers of this blog can look forward to posts on the following topics:
  • Relation between theology and philosophy
  • Theological anthropology
  • Sacramental theology
  • Scholastic theology
  • Aesthetics
  • Schleiermacher
  • Colin Gunton
  • Hans Frei
  • R. S. Thomas
  • And, of course, more posts on universalism as I attempt to finally finish up the series!