Thursday, May 31, 2007

From evangelical to post-evangelical: a “conversion” story

Over at Faith & Theology, you can find my contribution to the new series, “Encounters with tradition”: from evangelical to post-evangelical. My post discusses the transition—even conversion, of a sort—from a fundamentalist evangelicalism to a broad “post-evangelicalism” (a term I explain at the end of my post).

At the start of my brief autobiography of faith, I list the ways in which I grew up in your textbook evangelical home. In retrospect, I think it works better if I paraphrase St. Paul:
If anyone has reason to be confident in the evangelical flesh, I have more: strong nuclear family, large extended family (presently over 50 first cousins), rooted in Scripture (devotions every night; Bible memory verses at every dinner), committed to biblical inerrancy and a male-female complementarianism (i.e., hierarchicalism), avid believers in six-day creationism, distrustful of anything related to the secular academy, loyal Republicans, Baptist heritage, descendants of Jonathan Blanchard (founder of Wheaton College), homeschooled, raised with strong moral principles; as to zeal, an active leader in our local nondenominational church at every level of ministry; as to devotion to evangelicalism, blameless.
To hear the rest of the story, check out the full post over at F&T.

Sam Brownback on faith and reason

In a New York Times op-ed piece published today, Kansas senator Sam Brownback writes about how he views the relation between faith and reason, between science and Scripture. The op-ed is titled, “What I Think About Evolution,” and in it he speaks frankly about his desire to avoid both a fundamentalist creationism and an atheist evolutionism. Instead, he wishes to affirm both that God is the creator of the cosmos and that evolution is a helpful explanation of the scientific evidence. Faith and reason are not in conflict, but are complementary.
People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.
I have nothing but positive things to say about this piece. Sen. Brownback wishes to avoid letting faith or science subjugate the other—in which science becomes a tool for preserving faith or faith becomes obsolete in the face of science—and instead he affirms a kind of theistic evolution which upholds the centrality of God’s providential activity without denigrating modern scientific discoveries. Perhaps most admirable of all is Sen. Brownback’s ability to do all this without once mentioning Intelligent Design.


“As Barth”: Entry #5

The fifth entry in the “As Barth” contest comes from Jon Mackenzie, a third-year theology student at St Andrews University who admires the work of Karl Barth and his pupil, Eberhard Jüngel. Check out the nascent website created by Jon that is devoted to Jüngel’s theology.

An Ode to Clarity
Make of me no Barthian
With crazy jargon overlaid
But make me more like Eberhard
Who likes to call a spade a spade.

Help me to not use vocab like
e.g. Urs und Grundentsheidung
Instead, stay simple, don’t go mad
Use words that do not twist the tongue

And also words like “that-ness”, “what-ness”
Don’t make sense - they drive me witless.
Try to make me understand;
Inventing words is underhand.

So make of me no Barthian
or even aesthetician
But make the words I write to be
Wonderous in their clarity

The contest will end on July 4, at which point we will have a poll to decide who is the winner. If you wish to enter the contest, email me here. See the original post for more information.

Interview with William Cavanaugh

The folks over at Godspy have an excellent interview with William Cavanaugh as first installment in its series of interviews with “innovative and doctrinally orthodox” Catholic theologians. Godspy is a kind of subversive forum where Catholics discuss frankly with each other about where the Catholic Church needs to go in the 21st century.

In this interview, Cavanaugh presents a number of his most important and penetrating insights, which are grounded in his deep love for the church and his unsettledness regarding the current sociopolitical situation in America today. As a theologian schooled in the Reformed tradition, I differ with Cavanaugh regarding his wholehearted affirmation of communio ecclesiology (and the problematic dictum: the eucharist makes the church). I find Henri de Lubac and Stanley Hauerwas to be interesting but often misguided theologians. That said, Cavanaugh is one of my favorite contemporary thinkers; he is one of the few theologians whose works I always await in eager anticipation. Cavanaugh is best as a political theologian, and this interview shows him in top form.

The following is a section of the interview that I find particularly compelling. I have recently been thinking quite a bit about the relation between the church and the state, and I find Cavanaugh’s endorsement of the church as a kind of tertium quid to be right on target.

You’ve written that Catholics should draw on the liturgy to inform how they participate in political life. How does that work?

I gave a talk at Notre Dame last year on the social meaning of the Eucharist. The first thing I said was, “If I tell what the social meaning of the Eucharist is, you have to promise me you won’t stop going to Mass.” The point being, if you reduce the liturgy to a meaning, why keep doing it once you‘ve got the meaning down?

Unfortunately people fall into a “this means that” sort of approach when they’re trying to connect the liturgy to everyday life. Like the Offering means we should give of our gifts, and that kind of thing. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the liturgy as a deeper formation of how we see the world and how we act in the world. It’s also an invitation to see the Church as a body, the Body of Christ, which is a kind of political and public body in the world, not just a private club.

One example might be the way the Body of Christ transcends national boundaries. We should come to see people all over the world as fellow members of the Body. We should understand that this is more determinative than the borders of whatever nation we happen to live in. For us, it’s more determinative that we’re members of the Body of Christ, not citizens of the United States of America. Our primary loyalty is to Christ. All other loyalties are secondary, like our loyalties to the nation we live in and all those other things.

It almost sounds like you’re advocating a kind of Catholic theocracy. Isn’t our loyalty to the Church on the level of faith and morals, and doesn’t the political sphere have its own autonomy, “render unto Caesar” and all that?

No, nothing like a theocracy, if that means Church control of the state. The Church should not seek the means of coercion, and should do penance for seeking it in the past. The only proper sense of “theocracy” is the simple recognition that God rules the world.

I think people misread the “Caesar’s coin” episode in the Gospel as if Jesus were setting up some kind of modern division of labor between God and Caesar. The coin Jesus was looking at, after all, would have borne the inscription “Tiberius, Son of the Divine Augustus.” That is, the emperor claimed to be Son of God. Jesus did not wish to divvy the world up between two Gods. “The whole earth is mine,” says the Lord (Ex. 19:5). As Dorothy Day said, “If you give to God what is God’s, there is nothing left for Caesar.”

How can Catholics witness fully to the spirit and letter of the gospel as they should and also be fully involved politically in this two-party country—not just voting but running for office—when it seems that more and more neither Republicans nor Democrats fully reflect Catholic teaching?

I know what you mean. It always reminds me of that scene in The Blues Brothers when they go into Bob’s Country Bunker and the woman says, “We’ve got both kinds of music here: country and western.” We’ve got both kinds of politicians here: Republicans and Democrats. There’s just got to be something more. I think Catholics are really starting to feel this, to feel left out of the process. They just don’t find their values resonating with either party.

But I think this is one of those teachable moments. The Church needs to see itself as a kind of tertium quid. Christians ought to feel that they don’t quite fit in with politics as usual. That realization can be a good thing.

Do you mean that Catholics should come together so there’s finally an authentic “Catholic vote” or are you suggesting they form a third political party?

No, not a voting bloc or a third political party, but an independent presence in the social and political arena. The Church should, for example, decide for itself which wars are unjust, and not defer that decision to the state.

H/T Douglas Knight

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Creation Museum: a $27 million response to evolution

On May 28 in Petersburg, Ky., a new museum will open with the express purpose of wowing audiences into creationism. According to the Creation Museum website, the museum offers a “walk though history” which “brings the pages of the Bible to life.” The museum combines state-of-the-art design with your run-of-the-mill fundamentalism to create a $27 million spectacle in which visitors can see life-size dinosaur animatronics side-by-side with the Garden of Eden, Noah’s ark, Moses and Paul teaching the masses, and even Martin Luther scolding Germans for their lack of knowledge of the Bible. The anachronisms aside, it appears to be a rather bewildering amalgamation of religion and science, the likes of which have never been seen before. The intention is clear: to show the secular, atheist evolutionists that fundamentalists are not only just as serious about their museums as they are, but also just as serious about their beliefs.

The New York times review of Creation Museum is generous and fair. Edward Rothstein notes the impressiveness of the museum’s technology and design, concluding: “For the skeptic the wonder is at a strange universe shaped by elaborate arguments, strong convictions and intermittent invocations of scientific principle. For the believer, it seems, this museum provides a kind of relief: Finally the world is being shown as it really is, without the distortions of secularism and natural selection.” I wish to use this opportunity to explain why I think this museum is a great mistake, and thereby address creationism itself as one of the greatest blunders in modern Christian history.

1. A museum replaces hard science with eye candy. Creationism is not taken seriously because it is incapable of explaining the vast majority of scientific evidence for (1) an old earth/universe and (2) evolution. Answers in Genesis (AiG), the group responsible for Creation Museum, has made the smart but telling move of building a museum instead of trying to defend its position. It’s smart because museums appeal to the masses, and the masses do not care about scientific evidence (or theology, for that matter). It’s telling because it is just another indication that creationism is built upon shallow “science” and shallow “theology,” depending instead upon special effects, animatronics, and life-like exhibits.

2. The wedding of religion and “science” in Creation Museum demonstrates that AiG has a lot more than scientific findings at stake in this debate. The new museum seamlessly weaves together exhibits on dinosaurs and Mt. St. Helens with displays of Eden, Moses, Paul, and Luther. On one level, this demonstrates that these are definitely fundamentalist Christians. But on another level, it shows what undergirds this whole mess. Creationists are so ardent about creationism because, in their minds, their faith depends upon it. It is not a reading of the scientific evidence that they are defending; it is in fact their entire belief-system which depends upon this unity of religion and science. If science can disprove the first few chapters of Genesis, then the entire house of cards falls to the ground, since the authority of Genesis is made to rest upon its scientific historicity. The motto of AiG makes this scientific source of authority very clear: “Upholding the Authority of the Bible from the Very First Verse.” When the authority of Scripture and the basis of Christianity itself is made to rest upon scientific confirmation, the only option then is for science to prove the account in Genesis as scientifically accurate. And when so much is at stake, a person will go to any length to ensure that their position cannot be undermined. That is why, in the end, I trust the atheist-evolutionist-with-an-agenda more the creationist-with-an-agenda. At least the evolutionist does not think the reliability of God depends upon her research.

3. The wedding of religion and “science” in Creation Museum demonstrates that AiG has a confused understanding of the relation between Scripture and science. Of course, this whole house of cards depends upon the prior assumption that the biblical text is a scientific text—in other words, that the source of the Bible’s authority is found in the correspondence between text and scientific history, between the words on the page and the reality established by modern science. It’s not enough to say that the Bible is a historical text. Christianity is a historical faith, and without the affirmation of at least one particular historical reality—viz. the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—the entire faith would be meaningless. But there is a qualitative distinction between the historicity of Christianity propounded universally by the church and the scientific historicity propounded by creationists.

Creationism thus rests upon a strange relation between Scripture and science, in which Scripture pre-determines the conclusions of science (since the Bible is inerrant in all matters, including modern science), but science confirms the authority of Scripture. Of course, since the Bible is assumed to be authoritative in all matters, science has no choice but to confirm the biblical texts. Science and Scripture are viewed as entirely complementary, in which no contradiction can possibly exist between the two, since Scripture is inerrant on all matters. On one hand, creationists believe that the Bible is the arbiter of what is true; that the Bible trumps any and all scientific evidence; that the Bible is the primary determination of all human knowledge. And yet, on the other hand, by elevating Scripture so highly—so high that it becomes an idol—creationists have in the end determined the Bible rather than allowed the Bible to determine them. Instead of letting the narrative of the gospel become their narrative, creationists have possessed and manipulated the biblical text so that it is now a scientific text. It is no longer the gospel of Jesus Christ but rather the scientific historicity of the biblical narratives which undergirds the Christian faith. Fundamentalism is thus a foundationalist faith: a faith whose foundation is Enlightenment scientism, not the love and grace of the triune God.

Protestant evangelicals, like every decent reader of Scripture, allow their reading of the Bible to be controlled by prior theological commitments. No one is free from this; no one reads the Bible with completely new eyes unaffected by confessional commitments. If anyone says that he or she is reading the Bible without any baggage getting in the way, they are lying. Protestant evangelicals read John 6 and the Synoptic institutions of the Lord’s Supper in light of a prior theological rejection of Catholic transubstantiation, even those evangelicals who have no idea what transubstantiation is; they are still reading Scripture as part of an interpretive community, i.e., within a particular tradition of interpretation. Similarly, evangelical fundamentalists read Gen. 1-3 in light of a prior theological rejection of modern liberal theology and scientific atheism—the former is represented well by a person like Rudolf Bultmann and the latter by someone like Richard Dawkins; the former says that science forces us to re-interpret or discard certain passages while the latter says that science forces us to discard religion altogether. Creationists try to respond to these two threats by subordinating science to the Bible such that the Bible determines what must be true, and science is then brought on the scene in order to corroborate what they “find” in Scripture.

A couple things are worth pointing out here. First, the three general positions—modern liberalism, scientific atheism, and fundamentalism—all share one basic commitment to Enlightenment scientific rationality. Modern liberalism thinks that we can “de-mythologize” on the basis of modern science; scientific atheism thinks that we can bury God once and for all on the basis of modern science; and fundamentalism thinks that we can confirm and support Christian faith on the basis of modern science. All three of these positions share faith in a particular god: the god of scientism, the god of Enlightenment rationality.

Second, creationism has the ironic effect of subordinating the Bible to science even while trying to subordinate science to the Bible. By making science the necessary means of ratifying the truth of Scripture, science becomes the master of the text instead of its servant. In the end, fundamentalism commits two major errors, which seem to be contradictory but end up being complementary: (1) manipulating science according to the biblical text (so that science does not have the freedom to differ from the Bible), and (2) manipulating the Bible according to science (so that the authority of the Bible rests upon the confirmation of modern science, but of course this science has already been pre-determined by the biblical text).

Fundamentalism thus establishes a vicious circle that denies the freedom of science and Scripture to stand over against one another. Science is not free to confirm evolution, nor is Scripture free to disaffirm scientism. The reason for this wedding of science and religion is not because the text affirms this wedding (no one can possibly find modern science prefigured in the pages of the Bible), but because fundamentalism depends upon this wedding. In face of the challenges of modern liberalism and scientific atheism, fundamentalism felt and feels a real threat to its faith. In response, fundamentalism decided to fight fire with fire—viz. to fight the fire of atheistic modern science with the fire of a “biblical” modern science.

It’s worth noting that Catholicism felt the same threat in the late 19th century, and the First Vatican Council was a loud denunciation of modernism. Whereas Catholicism, at the time at least, rejected modernism altogether, fundamentalism responded to the same threats as Vatican I by using modernism to confirm a pre-modern Christianity. Catholicism at Vat I rejected modernity; evangelical fundamentalism, however, is deeply modern through and through, not only because Protestantism itself is a modern form of Christianity, but because fundamentalism accepts the basic modern priority of Enlightenment rationality which Catholicism was keen to denounce (though it was also mistaken in going the opposite direction, creating a pre-modern enclave within a decidedly modern world). Fundamentalism is thus cut from the same cloth as liberalism and atheism; they are all modern, rooted in modern science, but fundamentalism intends to uphold the faith through modernism whereas the other two either radically qualify it or discard it altogether.

All this is to say, the three options of liberalism, atheism, and fundamentalism are all wrong, and more or less for the same reason: each subordinates the Bible to modernity, to Enlightenment rationality, to the scientistic god of the “present evil age” (to use Paul’s phrase). Creationists think they are supporting Christian faith, but they are in fact undermining it, manipulating and conforming it to the mold of modernism. They think they are preserving and affirming the biblical text, but they are in fact perverting it. They think they are challenging the gods of this age, but they are in fact bowing down and worshiping them. They think they are denouncing the Babylonian captivity of the academy, but they are in fact encouraging the Babylonian captivity of the church.

4. Finally, the Creation Museum is a poor witness to the gospel. Inevitably, people are going to ask why people who claim to be Bible-believing Christians felt justified in spending $27 million when that money could have gone a long way in providing food, medicine, and clothing for many people around the world. Certainly, that is a question that should be aimed at Christians all over the world, and not simply to AiG. But the Creation Museum is a rather ostentatious display that intends to attract attention, so it seems only fair to direct the ethical question toward these fundamentalists who apparently think that defending their form of pseudo-science is worth the expense. Regardless of its technological merits, I cannot shake the conclusion that this museum is an ethical as well as intellectual failure on all counts.

Update: See the Salon article, “Inside the Creation Museum,” for more about this fascinating new tourist trap. H/T to Johnny Ramirez

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Would Jesus vote green?: a series by Byron Smith

Byron Smith (of Nothing New Under the Sun) has posted the index to his series, “Would Jesus vote green?” on the Christian’s proper response to the current environmental disaster. In this series he focuses on the reactions which inhibit positive action—viz. skepticism, sorrow, anger, guilt, and fear. I can only hope he follows it up with another series on how the church should respond with some more theological reflection on how the church can serve as a witness to the world regarding its care for the earth. For now, this series is a good first step.

“As Barth”: Entry #4

The fourth entry in the “As Barth” contest comes from Kerry Walters, who ran the now-retired blog, Subversive Christianity.

3 Haiku on Barth
Karl, Christ’s question mark,
kerygmatic herald
slayer of hubris.

Thirteen well-fed tomes
and more, all to persuade us
that God won't be tamed.

Mighty ambition.
But why not alpine silence?
We need fewer words.

The contest will end on July 4, at which point we will have a poll to decide who is the winner. If you wish to enter the contest, email me here. See the original post for more information. If you have a blog, please pass along the information about the contest!

Posts on Eberhard Jüngel

I have compiled a list of my posts on Eberhard Jüngel. More posts on Jüngel’s theology can be found at my other site, God as the Mystery of Theology, a blog dedicated to the discussion of Jüngel’s works. I offer these in the hope that Jüngel will gain a wider English-speaking readership.

Bibliography of Works in English
Eberhard Jüngel: Bibliography of Works in English

On the Doctrine of Justification: A Series
Eberhard Jüngel: On the Doctrine of Justification

Quotes from Jüngel
Eberhard Jüngel: Faith as Life Lived Extra Se
Eberhard Jüngel: God is only made known by God in God's Word
God’s Being Is in Becoming: God’s Passion
Eberhard Jüngel: A more natural theology
Eberhard Jüngel: I believe, therefore I suffer
Eberhard Jüngel: I believe, therefore I am
Eberhard Jüngel: I believe, therefore I act
Eberhard Jüngel: theses on eternity

“As Barth”: Entry #3

The third entry in the “As Barth” contest comes from Guy Davies, a Welsh preacher living in England who serves as pastor of Penknap Providence Church and Ebenezer Baptist Church. Guy is also the South West of England representative of the Protestant Truth Society.

As Calvin, not Barth
Make of me no Barthian,
On some things he was quite wrong,
I don' t want to follow his lead
Proper Calvinism's what I need.

Church Dogmatics don't make me read,
Those tomes will make my fingers bleed,
I haven't time to read that stuff,
Dogmatics in Outline is quite enough.

Like John Calvin I'd rather be,
He taught electing grace so free,
For sound doctrine he's the one,
Calvin's the better theologian.

Make me like Calvin, Lord,
A man who loves your holy Word,
I offer my whole heart to you,
Give me grace your work to do.

The contest will end on July 4, at which point we will have a poll to decide who is the winner. If you wish to enter the contest, email me here. See the original post for more information. If you have a blog, please pass along the information about the contest!

Evangelism reconsidered

John Stackhouse of Regent College has written a marvelous article for the latest Books & Culture answering the timely and important question: What must we learn, and unlearn, to be agents of God's mission in the world? His response is summarized in the title, “A Bigger—and Smaller—View of Mission.”

Mission must be bigger in two important ways: (1) first, individual conversion to Christianity is not the only way a person can be saved, and (2) second, evangelism is not the only form of mission. The first point is the most significant argument in Stackhouse’s article. He argues for an inclusivist position on salvation, one that recognizes the centrality and priority of evangelism and conversion, but refuses to limit the scope of God’s salvation to those who say Yes to God in this life.
Does this mean that other religions are salvific? Certainly not. No religion is salvific: not Hinduism or Shinto or Islam, but also not Christianity. God is salvific. Practicing religion, however correct it is and however correctly one practices it, will not save you. That is basic Christian conviction. It is trusting God that will save you—that also is basic Christian conviction.
The second point is a rejection of the notion that salvation is about getting people out of hell—fire insurance, as some put it. Salvation along this line of thinking involves a gnostic separation between body and soul, ignoring the fact that God “wants human beings, body and soul. Furthermore, he does not settle for saving human beings, but the whole earth.” Stackhouse goes on to argue that mission must involve “education and environmentalism, and cooking and cleaning, and farming and family life. God cares not only about eternity but about the welfare of his creation now.” The gospel does not merely concern spiritual, invisible things; it rather embraces all of creation. The Christian story encompasses the whole of reality, because God seeks to redeem everything that God created “very good.”
The Christian gospel therefore is not a narrowly spiritual one, but literally embraces everything, everywhere, at every moment. Every action that brings shalom—that preserves or enhances the flourishing of things, people, and relationships—is the primary will of God for humanity. Christians ought therefore to recognize and affirm anything our neighbors do to make peace, whether those neighbors intend to honor God or not. Indeed, we can cooperate with them in those ventures, since we see in them the divine agenda of shalom.
In the second half of his article, Stackhouse addresses the ways in which our mission should be smaller, i.e., more humble: (1) first, Christians need not feel that their witness to the gospel requires a corresponding rejection of all other religions, (2) second, Christians need to drop all binary thinking and adopt a more humble stance toward others, and (3) third, Christians need to unlearn their reliance upon techniques for conversion. First, on a practical level, it’s impossible for any person to know that Christianity provides the best possible existence. Nor are Christians called to act this way. The early apostles did not attempt to demonstrate that Christianity was better than the pagan religions in the Roman empire. On the contrary, they simply witnessed to the reality that Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the promised Messiah in light of his resurrection from the dead. We are called to testify to the truth, not denounce other competing claims of authority.

Second, on a more theological level, Christians must abandon a binary view of the world which divides everything into pairs: “lost/saved,” “darkness/light,” “paganism/ Christianity,” and so on. Such thinking easily leads to the subjugation and colonization of other cultures at the hands of the white missionaries come to bring light into darkness. We need to drop the black-and-white thinking that views the Other as utterly lost and views Us as wholly right, bearers of truth in a world of complete darkness.
As Solzhenitsyn reminds us, furthermore, the dividing line between good and evil runs right through our own Christian hearts. And as recent events remind us (as recent events always do), we are individually simul justus et peccator (simultaneously justified and yet sinners) and our own churches and cultures have plenty of lostness, darkness, and paganism in evidence.
Third and finally, we need to avoid the adoption of techniques for conversion that employ whatever means necessary to get someone to convert. I experienced this myself as a high school youth group leader. The adult leader of our youth group was trained in street evangelism, and he would spend hours with me, training me in the best rhetorical techniques to get someone from ignorance to conversion in five minutes or less. Seriously. I soon realized how manipulative this was. Stackhouse warns against this as well.

I find Stackhouse’s article a breath of fresh air. He articulates much that needs to be heard in the evangelical world today. I can only hope his article finds a wide readership.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Spirit of the Lord, §6: Israel’s Messiah

When we separate freedom-from and freedom-for, when spiritual freedom is not necessarily connected with the life and obedience of the whole person, then we are on the verge of committing the gravest and most common error throughout the history of Christianity: the separation of the Old Testament from the New Testament, Israel from the Church. The strict distinction between the New Testament and Old Testament, however unintentional, forms the basis for the internal-external, spiritual-physical split that ends up dematerializing the gospel. We must beware of the all-too-common spiritualization of Christianity which, disconnected from the radical this-worldliness of the Hebraic covenant, leads to disastrous misunderstandings of the gospel hope.

The division between spiritual and physical thus tends to deemphasize the influence of the gospel upon the whole human person, stressing our internal purity of heart rather than our external pursuit of justice—emphasizing the right state of our soul rather than viewing righteousness in the proper messianic context of wholeness, shalom. In a way, then, this dualism is a kind of hyper-Lutheran, quasi-Gnostic division between gospel and law, in which the gospel only concerns the heart’s sense of security before God and the law merely convicts us of our need of the gospel. When spiritual and physical are divided in this way—when the Prince of Peace only offers inner peace—then we come all too close to the heresy of Marcion, who felt that Christianity had no need of the Hebrew Scriptures and ought to concern itself only with a few select books from the New Testament. More importantly, by failing to hold spiritual and physical together, we obscure the very foundation of the faith: the eternal and intrinsic relation between Jesus and the Messiah. The very confession that Jesus is the Christ (Greek for “messiah”) means that we must interpret the saving significance of Immanuel, the being of God with humanity, in accordance with the Old Testament witness.

At the heart of this whole reflection upon the meaning of ‘God with us’ is the relation between the Old and the New Testaments. If indeed Israel’s longing for a Messiah who would reign on David’s throne “from this time onward and forevermore” (Isa. 9:7) was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, then we cannot separate internal and external. For the Messiah is the one who unites spiritual and physical redemption, who restores creation and inaugurates the kingdom of God upon earth. The Messiah is the mediator between God and humanity, and not only as prophet and priest, but also as king—not only as Christus Magister and Christus Vicarius, but also as Christus Victor. The Messiah is the one who “will establish and uphold” the just kingdom (Isa. 9:7) and who “shall repair the ruined cities” (Isa. 61:4). The Messiah is the promised ruler, the Prince of Peace, the Wonderful Counselor come to “judge between many peoples” and “arbitrate between strong nations far away.” The Messiah “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks,” so that wars shall be no more and shalom shall reign for eternity (Mic. 4:3). The Messiah is the one who “has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases,” who “was cut off from the land of the living … although he had done no violence,” and who “made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich” in order that his life might become “an offering for sin” (Isa. 53:4, 8-10). The Messiah is the one upon whom God has laid “the iniquity of us all” in order that we might become children of God (Isa. 53:6).

Notice, again, that in Isaiah 53, sin and iniquity are intimately connected to physical death; sin concerns the whole human person. The passage makes this point rather dramatically in the image of the Suffering Servant bearing not only “the iniquity of us all” (v. 6), but also “our infirmities” and “our diseases” (v. 4). This famous passage emphasizes the mediating role of the Messiah as the one who lives and dies as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 Jn. 2:2, 4:10). The Suffering Servant is set apart by God for the purpose of bearing the sin of the world and bearing it away. His righteousness and life becomes the righteousness and life of others: “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:11b). What is also interesting is the connection between the act of mediation and the descent into Sheol (hell). The Servant-Messiah makes his “grave with the wicked” and his “tomb with the rich,” meaning that he goes to be among those consigned to the depths of Sheol. The Messiah descends into the abyss of death. But this is not all. At the end of this hymn to the Suffering Servant, we read: “he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (vv. 12b). Not only does the Messiah number himself with the transgressors by making his grave with the wicked and the rich, but the Messiah also bears their sins away, thus mediating on behalf of the rich and wicked who otherwise reside in the depths of the pit. No person, no matter how lost that person may seem, is out of reach of God’s scandalous grace. Why so scandalous? Because Immanuel, ‘God with us,’ means that God is with the wicked, the unjust, and the oppressors; moreover, the Messiah reconciles them to God by bearing their iniquities and blotting out their transgressions. God’s grace reaches into the pit and redeems those lost in the depths of Sheol.

“As Barth”: Entry #2

The second entry comes from Theodora Hawksley, a postgraduate student at Durham University who is working on the ecclesiology of Stanley Hauerwas. According to Theodora, her poem is in the style of John Donne, to which I’ll add that it is a Petrarchan sonnet.

As Barth
Oh, teach me Barth, three person’d God; for, as
He sought, strove, taught and struggled to the end
That he might preach: so take me, Christ, and send
Me out, all joyous in Your headlong grace –
Yes! Let me work as Barth did: pipe in teeth,
Dogged, chuckling, indexing Your beauty,
With You still striding on before, for he,
Thirteen stout volumes deep, found hushing peace.
I cherish him, but let my vision be
Not his rimmed spectacles and rumpled hair
But You, my God; I ask you make of me
More than books can: oh Lord, create anew
Not just a Barthian, but one who’d dare
To seek you and then, as I find, declare.

The contest will end on July 4, at which point we will have a poll to decide who is the winner. If you wish to enter the contest, email me here. See the original post for more information. If you have a blog, please pass along the information about the contest!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

“As Christ”: Wildcard Entry

Aric Clark has written a poem that takes the “As Barth” contest to its logical conclusion. I have decided to enter the poem as a wildcard entry. At the very least, it is well worth reading. Aric has certainly offered a timely and necessary reminder, and I am glad he took the time to compose this poem.

As Christ
Make of me no Christian,
God of Israel and of all,
Endlessly debating doctrine,
Instead of rising at your call.

Make of me no Christian,
Counting angels on a pin,
Make me salt with robust flavor,
Make me light outside and in.

Make me, God, as Jesus was,
Unafraid to break the rules,
To eat with outcasts, talk with sinners,
And show the righteous to be fools.

Make me like your son, O God,
Prophet and beloved child,
Give me courage to live justly,
Following your spirit wild.

Make me like the Christ, O Lord,
He who saw the hungry fed,
So when my work for love is finished,
Like him you’ll raise me from the dead.

The Spirit of the Lord, §5: Euangelion of shalom

The prophets describe the Messiah as one who comes on behalf of the oppressed, the marginalized, the brokenhearted, the exiles, the prisoners and captives, the living and the dead. The Messiah comes to “bring good news to the poor” (Lk. 4:18) and “to provide for those who mourn in Zion” (Isa. 61:3). The Messiah comes to announce the “good news of peace,” the euangelion of shalom (Acts 10:36). The Messiah brings this evangel to those who are caught within the creaturely tension between life and death, in the bitter estrangement between essence and existence. The “good news” is given to the poor and the oppressed: they are promised justice in which economic and political disparities are abolished by the righteous reign of the Messiah. The “good news” is given to the captives and prisoners: they are promised freedom for the full enjoyment of creation. The “good news” is given to the exiles: they are promised land where their “heart shall thrill and rejoice,” where their “gates shall always be open,” where life may flourish in peace (Isa. 60:5, 11). The “good news” is given to the valley of dry bones: they are promised flesh, sinews, skin, and breath (Ezek. 37). The “good news of great joy” is given to all humanity: they are promised “this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11).

If the mission of the Messiah is to redeem those who have gone down to the pit—to rescue those lives caught in the abysmal grip of Sheol (cf. Job 33:8, Psalm 30:3, Isa. 38:17)—then all who confess the Messiah as their Lord must also be those who seek to be agents of life in the midst of death and of justice in the midst of oppression. While the unique mission of reconciliation belongs to Jesus alone, the message of reconciliation—the euangelion of shalom, the gospel of peace and the promise of salvation—belongs to us and requires evangelists who themselves opt for the poor and embrace the rejected (2 Cor. 5:18). Since the gospel proclaims that God has come in Jesus, the promised Christ, to liberate the exiles, the marginalized, and the captives, it follows that the people called to be bearers of this gospel must also welcome home the exiles, humanize the marginalized, and restore the captives—while always identifying themselves with those who desperately need liberation, remembering that God alone is the one who liberates and has indeed liberated us in Jesus Christ. Those freed by God from captivity are now freed for a life of faithful witness to this freedom. Those reconciled to God are reconciled not only on a forensic level, but also on the levels of ontology and morality—we have a new identity, one that demands fidelity and obedience. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Friday, May 25, 2007

“As Barth”: Entry #1

We have our first entry in the “As Barth” poem contest, submitted by Dan of On Journeying with those in Exile!

As Barth

Make of me no Barthian
God of Tri-dash-Unity,
Cause me not to speak of him,
But, like him, speak of Thee.

Make of me no Barthian,
Obsessing over Church Dogmatics,
But let me see what Karl knew,
Prayer as theology’s true radix.

Make me, God, as Karl was,
Dependent and yet confident,
That our Lord will ever guide us,
In his action-as-event.

Make me like thy Triune Self,
Give me not a Barth’s verbosity,
Instead of writing thirteen volumes,
I’d be happy writing three!

Make me like a Barth, O God,
A witness to both Church and State,
Reminding all that in thy love,
Thou art truly great.

The contest will end on July 4, at which point we will have a poll to decide who is the winner. If you wish to enter the contest, email me here. See the original post for more information. If you have a blog, please pass along the information about the contest!

Thinking Bloggers Meme

After being nominated here, here, and here as a ‘thinking blogger,’ I think it is about time that I mention five thinking bloggers who challenge me to think more critically and deeply about theology. Of course, naming only five bloggers is a rather arbitrary task, since there are far more than five blogs worth placing in such a list. I will not include Faith & Theology (the fabulous blog by Ben Myers), since this blog need not be nominated for such an award; it should already be a given that Ben's blog is the standard by which the rest of us measure ourselves.

That said, here are five ‘thinking blogs’ that I enjoy. Granted, this list is a bit nepotistic, but I honestly think these are five of the best thinking blogs on the web.

Inhabitatio Dei
Halden Doerge is a fellow Portlander who is a sharp thinker and one of the most well-read persons I have ever met in my life. He was reading theology before I even knew what theology was, and yet we’re the same age! His blog focuses especially on ecclesiology and the relation between theology and culture (not surprisingly, he is involved in the journal, Cultural Encounters). On a side note, he also enjoys craft ales and pipe tobacco, two of my favorite pleasures in this world. I look forward to chatting about theology with him this summer at a local pub.

Der Evangelische Theologe
WTM is fellow PTS student and one of the most promising young theologians that I know. He is a very clear, direct thinker who is rooted in the Reformed tradition (his interests include Calvin, Vermigli, Turretin, and Barth). I go to him when I need to gain clarity in my dogmatic thinking. WTM is especially interested in the work of T. F. Torrance and in the conception of theology as a science.

Disruptive Grace
Chris TerryNelson is a PTS student who has done work on the Barth and Brunner debate over natural theology and hopes to continue working on Barth’s theology. He is particularly interested in the relation between theology and politics, but his posts run the gamut from the eucharist to epistemology. Chris and I first “met” online, and it has been a rewarding friendship ever since.

John Drury is a PhD student at PTS who writes weekly posts on important aspects of the Christian faith with the intention of sparking discussion. His posts always end with questions; they encourage dialogue rather than shutting it down, which is an indication of his character. Two of my favorite series at Drulogion are Bible Brain Busters and Attributes of God. All of his posts are well worth reading.

Shane Wilkins is a young philosopher who knows scholastic thought like the back of his hand. He is particularly interested in the work of Henry of Ghent, Thomas Aquinas, and John Duns Scotus. His blog includes many fascinating explorations of scholastic theology and philosophy with an eye toward contemporary problems. We can expect much from him in the years to come; at the very least, I can always expect extremely well thought out arguments whenever he leaves a comment online.

This is a lamentably short list. Other ‘thinking bloggers’ that merit attention include: Without Authority by Thomas Adams, On Journeying with those in Exile by Dan O., Millinerd by Matthew Milliner, Levellers by Michael Westmoreland-White, Historical Theology by Darren Sumner. All of these other blogs were in my top five list at some point, and I recommend them just as highly as the ones above.

The Spirit of the Lord, §4.5: God in the Abyss

Fifth, and finally, Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah who came to accomplish the work of redemption which only he could accomplish. Consequently, his coming is no Gnostic liberation from our physical bodies or from the material world itself; rather the coming of God in Jesus Christ is a messianic liberation which, in accordance with the whole biblical witness, encompasses the fullness of our creaturely reality. The advent of Christ embraces, disrupts, liberates, renews, and proleptically resurrects the whole realm of created being; no aspect of our actuality, no matter how nugatory, is neglected by the interruptive presence of God with humanity. Immanuel is a divine being-with the ignored, the abandoned, and the oppressed. The advent is a divine ‘option for the poor,’ a messianic embracement of those who are disappeared by the world. Immanuel is ‘God with us,’ but especially with those whom society overlooks, who have no entitlement to divine attention, who linger on the edge of nothingness. Immanuel is God in the abyss.

This is nowhere more evident in Scripture than in the cry of abandonment by Jesus on the cross before he died (Matt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34). Some have tried to lessen the weight of these words by noting that Jesus is quoting the opening line of Psalm 22. Because this psalm ends with a statement of confidence in God, perhaps Jesus actually means to imply his confidence in God the Father. If that is indeed the case, one must wonder why Jesus does not quote from a more confident psalm, like the opening line of Psalm 21, “In your strength the king rejoices, O LORD,” or the opening of Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” But Jesus chooses Psalm 22 to express his suffering on the cross.

In order to rightly interpret the cry of Christ on the cross, we must understand the mission of the Jesus as the sole unique mediator between God and humankind. In the mystery of the cross, we encounter the mystery of reconciliation between a loving God and a God-forsaken world. In Genesis, God commands the first humans to not eat of the tree of knowledge, saying, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen. 2:17). But when they do eat of this tree, they continue to live. They don’t die, at least not biologically. Instead, they are exiled from the garden and sent out into a world bereft of God’s presence. This is true death, spiritual death. It is death in God-forsakenness. And it is into this God-forsaken world that Jesus came to live and die in order that we might have life—true life, eternal life. So we read in Romans 5 that “sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin . . . Therefore, just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one’s man act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all” (Rom. 5:12, 18).

But there is still more to be said. The spiritual death that entered through Adam is what some have called the “second death.” The first death is biological, but the second death is spiritual. In the first death, we descend into the earth. In the second death, we descend into hell. The God-forsaken world of death into which Jesus came as our savior is a world falling over the edge into the abyss of hell. And on the cross, when Jesus cried out to God, we come to understand that Jesus has not only defeated the first death, but the second death as well. The death of Christ is the death of death. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:22). Unlike us, who descend into hell and are helpless to escape, Jesus Christ went to the fullest depths of hell in order to rescue us, in order to liberate us from our bondage to sin and death. This is what we confess when we say, along with the creed of the church, “He descended into hell.” In the cry of God abandonment, Jesus confirmed that he died in the place of the greatest sinner in order to rescue even this one from hell’s grasp. In his death in God-forsakenness—as one abandoned by God—he accomplished our freedom from God-forsakenness, our adoption as the children of God.

As we know all too well, however, in the absence of God’s presence, hell makes its presence felt all too often in this world. But the power of the cross extends even here. In his death in God-forsakenness, Jesus died in solidarity with those who felt forsaken in the death camps at Auschwitz, in the killing fields of Cambodia, in the lynchings here in the United States. On the cross, Jesus went to the very depths of forsakenness. He descended into the abyss. He experienced the darkness of damnation, the horrors of hell. But precisely here the mystery of the cross is demonstrated most vividly, in that Jesus not only died in the place of the ones tortured and murdered; he also died in the place of the torturers and murderers. Jesus demonstrated the extent of God’s love in that he died the death—the second death—of all sinners. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). His death is the death of all death. His descent into hell is the destruction of hell. In the cross of Christ, in his death in God-abandonment, “the power of Hell is already broken (down), the locked door of the grave is already burst open” (von Balthasar).

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

“As Barth”: A Poetic Challenge

I have a challenge to give to theo-bloggers with a creative side. It involves the following poem, “As Calvin,” written by Albert Piersma and published in The Calvin Forum II:2 (1936), p. 39.
As Calvin

Make of me no Calvinist,
God of Calvin and of me,
Cause me not to follow him
Who would follow only Thee.

Make of me no Calvinist,
Swallowing each word he penned,
Make of me a thinker, God,
As was he, Thy intimate friend!

Make me, God, as Calvin was,
Now, while yet in days of youth,
Delving from the Depths of Thine,
Sovereign, soul-exalting truth.

Make me like the Christ, O God,
Give me not a Calvin's ire,
But withhold from me the spark
For a new Servetus-fire.

Make me like a Calvin, God,
Just as humble, just as brave,
Like a Calvin who refused
E'en a stone upon his grave.

--Albert Piersma
So here is the challenge: write a poem like this, but about Barth instead of about Calvin. In other words, it should follow the basic form: Make of me no Barthian . . . Make me like a Barth. The poem need not be five stanzas, but it should at least get the essential aspects. I will publish all submissions on my blog, and at the end there will be a poll for people to vote on whose poem is the best.

Are you willing to give it a shot? The contest will be open until July 4, which is six weeks from today. All submissions should be emailed to me. My address is available by clicking on the link to my complete profile. Let the writing begin!

First update: I received 16 excellent entries for the contest! Here are the links to each one:

Wildcard Entry: “As Christ” - Aric Clark
Entry #1: “As Barth” - Dan
Entry #2: “As Barth” - Theodora Hawksley
Entry #3: “As Calvin, not Barth” - Guy Davies
Entry #4: “Three Haiku on Barth” - Kerry Walters
Entry #5: “An Ode to Clarity” - Jon Mackenzie
Entry #6: “Barth’s Grandeur” - Ben Myers
Entry #7: “Not I But Christ” - Charles Cameron
Entry #8: “As Charles Wesley” - Richard Hall
Entry #9: “As Barth” - Chris Tilling
Entry #10: “Four Limericks on Karl Barth” - Kim Fabricius
Entry #11: “Make of Me No Barthian” - Peter Kline
Entry #12: “The Tome of Barth weighs down my head” - Mykel Larson
Entry #13: “Barth & Rumi Advise the Theologian” - Ann Chapin
Entry #14: “As Barth” - Michael Pailthorpe
Entry #15: “Bonhoeffer Argues with Barth Over Heaven and its Songs” - David Wright

Second update: After two rounds of voting, Ann Chapin took home the “As Barth” prize. David Wright and Kim Fabricius were the two runners-up. Many thanks to everyone who entered the contest!

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Spirit of the Lord, §4.4: Munus triplex

Fourth, Jesus Christ’s work of reconciliation is not only forensic but also ontological and moral. This thesis regarding the doctrine of the atonement summarizes the previous theses by explicating the work of Christ according to the three categories of forensic, ontological, and moral: (1) as a forensic transaction in which the Christus Vicarius bears the divine judgment upon our sin so that we might be pronounced righteous extra nos in him; (2) as an ontological event in which the Christus Victor destroys our ontic estrangement from God and corresponding bondage to sin so that we might become new creatures who exist in union with God; and (3) as a moral example in which the Christus Magister exemplifies divine love and forgiveness so that we might live in moral correspondence to his prototypical life in the Spirit. The Protestant tradition emphasizes the forensic dimension over the others, sometimes exclusively, and thus often obscures the interrelation between the three ways of interpreting the reconciling work of Christ. A solely forensic account of atonement will tend toward a strictly spiritual interpretation of Immanuel and miss the ontological and moral implications of Christ’s advent. An account of the atonement, therefore, which holds all three understandings together will be superior to any one of the accounts singled out on its own.

While it is not our concern here to present a constructive doctrine of the atonement, it will be sufficient to point out the implications of understanding the reconciliation accomplished in Jesus Christ in ontological and moral terms, in addition to forensic. To put it simply, the primary implication is that our whole being is involved in the event of reconciliation. Our ontological identity and moral activity are defined by the actuality of the atonement in Jesus Christ. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation”: in the coming of Immanuel the new reality of resurrection irrupts into the world as a proleptic event which is constitutive of the reality of those who are “in Christ” by virtue of God’s election of humanity into the covenant of grace. Our very identity—understood in ontic and ethical terms—is defined by the event of Jesus Christ. What Christ accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection determines not only our status before God, but also our being and our life, both of which are brought into correspondence to God in him.

The munus triplex outlined above and central to Reformed dogmatics provides an essential framework for interpreting the reconciliation accomplished in Jesus Christ in terms that are forensic, ontological, and moral. The legal or forensic imagery which is at the heart of Western theology focuses primarily on Christus Vicarious: Christ as the High Priest who, according to the author of Hebrews, accomplishes the once-for-all sacrifice for sins on the cross in the place of humanity. The sacrifice of Christ is generally spoken of in forensic terms as the establishment of sinful humanity’s justification before God. According to Paul, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God” (Rom. 5:6, 8-9). The Eastern tradition, however, tends to focus on Christus Victor: Christ as the King who liberates enslaved humanity from the powers of sin and death. The emphasis is not on a legal transaction but on an ontologically new reality; humanity is redeemed from its enslavement and freed for a new existence as the children of God. The final aspect of Christ’s atoning work is traditionally expressed by the Christus Magister: Christ as Prophet who proclaims a new way of life which does not negate the law and the prophets but instead fulfills it. Christ inaugurates a moral framework controlled by love of God and love of neighbor—and not just love of one’s neighbor, but in fact love of one’s enemy.

The munus triplex has been critiqued by numerous theologians from Schleiermacher to Barth to Pannenberg. But regardless of the merits of these criticisms, the “threefold work of Christ” remains an important reminder both of the multivalent nature of the atonement—forensic, ontological, and moral—and of the close connection between Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on the cross and the Old Testament sacrifices of Israel. The former ensures that we do not reduce the cross to a legal transaction which has no necessary impact upon our being or our lived existence. The latter ensures that we do not disconnect the cross from its historical-cultural moorings in the Hebraic understanding of sin, sacrifice, and atonement. The importance of this rootedness in the Hebraic tradition is felt especially in the concern of this essay: that we cannot understand the peace of Christ, the peace of Immanuel, apart from the Israelite context in which the prophecy of this Prince of Peace was made known to God’s chosen people. We cannot speak of the shalom which Christ accomplished in his death and resurrection as if it is unrelated to the ontic and ethical dimensions of human existence, or as if it is unrelated to the Hebraic conception of atonement found through the Old Testament scriptures. The munus triplex provides a way of speaking about Christ’s atoning work that takes the Old Testament into consideration, and this is an essential component in combating modern Gnosticism.

Barth: theology is for the whole church

[H]ow disastrously the Church must misunderstand itself if it can imagine that theology is the business of a few theoreticians who are specially appointed for the purpose, to whom the rest, as hearty practical men, may sometimes listen with half an ear, though for their own part they boast of living “quite untheologically” for the demands of the day (“love”). As though these practical men were not continually preaching and speaking and writing, and were not genuinely questioned as to the rightness of their activity in this regard! As though there were anything more practical than giving this question its head, which means doing the work of theology and dogmatics! Again, how disastrously the Church must misunderstand itself if it can imagine that theological reflection is a matter for quiet situations and periods that suit and invite contemplation, a kind of peace-time luxury for which we are not only permitted but even commanded to find no time should things become really serious and exciting! As though there could be any more urgent task for a Church under assault from without than that of consolidating itself within, which means doing theological work! As though the venture of proclamation did not mean that the Church permanently finds itself in an emergency! As though theology could be done properly without reference to this constant emergency! Let there be no mistake. Because of these distorted ideas about theology, and dogmatics in particular, there arises and persists in the life of the Church a lasting and growing deficit for which we cannot expect those particularly active in this function to supply the needed balance. The whole Church must seriously want a serious theology if it is to have a serious theology.
—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1, trans. G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975), 76-77.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Recap of the spring 2007 semester

In my return to blogging after a hiatus due to finals, I would like to recap my semester in terms of the most important insights I gained theologically or academically. The spring 2007 semester brings my second year at Princeton Theological Seminary to a close, during which I co-helmed the editorship of the Princeton Theological Review, presented a paper at the regional AAR meeting, and took many more theologically stimulating courses from some of the great professors at this institution. In the midst of this environment, here are just three of the things I learned over the past several months:

1. The centrality of theological exegesis for the church today. Two of the courses that I took this semester dealt with relation between systematic theology and biblical exegesis—one in terms of how Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans holds up in light of scholarship on Paul’s epistle to the Romans, and the other examining Galatians with an eye toward theological scholarship. These two courses revealed two important things for me: first, that I love theological exegesis, and second, that theological exegesis is of central importance for the church today. The former was clear in how much I enjoyed writing my papers for those two courses, but the latter is much more significant. The church today suffers from a lack of biblical knowledge and a complacency regarding the core doctrines of the church. The Bible has become a dead letter due to the failure of churches to ground their identity in the gospel, and theology has become a dead letter due to the failure of theologians to escape from the academic ghettoization of theology. Theological exegesis holds a lot of promise for the church as an enterprise which seeks to reinvigorate examination of the Bible without losing sight of the central dogmas of the church. At the same time, theological exegesis engages in rich theological exposition while attending to the texts that shape the life of the church community. Hopefully, the current interest in theological exegesis is a sign of great things to come.

2. The significance of Schleiermacher today. A course on Schleiermacher this semester with Bruce McCormack was especially instructive. It is difficult to read Barth without understanding Schleiermacher, and this course was particularly helpful in elucidating the central theological insights of the great Berlin theologian. It was helpful to see how Schleiermacher upholds the insights of Chalcedon while dismissing Nicaea, how he grounds election in a single, eternal divine decree (anticipating Barth’s later christological grounding of election), how he dialectically interrelates the natural and the supernatural, and how his system expands upon his basic foundation in the feeling of absolute dependence (not always consistently, as his doctrine of creation demonstrates). For me, especially, having grown up in American evangelicalism, the connections to Schleiermacher’s theology are manifold, and hopefully I will have a chance to explore these later.

3. The ecumenical possibilities in a theology of the eucharist. I truly enjoyed my course on the eucharist with George Hunsinger, where we explored the ecumenical possibilities of a theology of the Lord’s Supper which seeks to faithfully uphold the central insights of the major traditions in the Christian church. The course was both historical and systematic, and throughout we sought to identify the key elements of each tradition in order to see how they cohered with other articulations of the eucharist. In the end, we went back to the Reformers—Peter Martyr Vermigli, in particular, but Luther and Calvin as well—to uncover some obscure connections with Orthodox sacramentology which may prove to be ecumenically fruitful. In the end, I find myself quite optimistic about the theological possibilities, but much less optimistic about the ecumenical possibilities. In my study of Hans Urs von Balthasar for this paper, and having read some thoughts by Orthodox leaders, it is clear that simply articulating a theological position on the eucharist which is acceptable to all will not bring about a common table—though I can certainly hope and pray that such a theology will be the first step toward such a reality.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


My absence from blogging as of late is a consequence of the fact that I am in the midst of finals. But the end is in sight. Less than a week and I will be finished.

There will be much rejoicing. (And blogging.)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Spirit of the Lord, §4.3: Yes and No

Third, while Jesus Christ frees us from sin, guilt, and death, liberation is always a dialectical event. Freedom is always freedom-from and freedom-for: from the No and for the Yes, from the old and for the new, from the past and for the future, from sin and for righteousness, from death and for life. Freedom from our bondage to sin results in freedom for our bondage to righteousness. Freedom from sin results in freedom for obedience. Now that we are new creatures, God calls us to live new lives. Now that “there is a new creation” and “everything has become new” through the reconciling work of Christ, God implores us: “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor. 5:17, 20). The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus thus has important and necessary ramifications for the shape of our life here and now on earth. We are called to be “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pet. 2:9). We are commanded to present our bodies to God as “a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). We are no longer slaves to sin, but instead we are now “slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18). We no longer belong to ourselves but to God alone.
We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal. (John Calvin, Institutes 3.7.1)
Any attempt to sever freedom-from and freedom-for, or emphasize one to the exclusion of the other, imposes a dualism where a dialectical tension ought to exist. The No and the Yes necessarily belong together; a negation demands a corresponding affirmation. And in the word of the cross, we find that God’s No and God’s Yes are the same divine event of love in Jesus Christ. The No of judgment is circumscribed by the Yes of grace; the negation of sin is enveloped within the affirmation of new life. God was in Christ for the purpose of bringing about a positive act of new creation while negating the forces of sin and evil. To put it another way, in the cross of Christ, God negated the negation of sin, thereby accomplishing the positive reality of reconciliation. Consequently, the communion of saints (communio sanctorum) lives as a community shaped by this positive new actuality. The church is the community of those liberated from sin and death for a new existence defined by righteousness and life.