Friday, December 31, 2010


When I was in the Barth seminar at HDS, my professor made a comment during one of the beginning lectures that he hasn't published much about Barth to date. He expressed that this lack of publishing was intentional since it takes a long time to fully appreciate and understand the corpse of Barth's work.

Another professor at GCTS told me that some people believe a scholar shouldn't publish until they are in their 50's. I couldn't help but think those people are onto something.

I often wonder how anyone could want to read academic work that is published by young scholars (or budding scholars). If I had a choice, I would wait for at least twenty years before I started publishing because I often find that I make assumptions and decisions too quickly. My views are formulated prematurely. However, most teaching jobs require publishing.

I simply pray that if I get the chance to publish anything I write, the grace of God will be near. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Creaturely Freedom.

"The clue it seems to me basically is getting our heads out of the idea that God's freedom and our freedom are antithetical. There are not inversely proportional, they are directly proportional. Therefore, the more God acts upon us, the more we ourselves are able to act. God's acting upon us is not the suppression of our agency but its the creation of our agency.

The difficulty we have is that most of the time when we think about freedom, we think in terms of spontaneity. So my freedom has to be the absence of external causality upon my acts. But the Christian tradition just doesn't think like that or at least it didn't until the later 17th century. For Augustine, God causes all that is and that is why we are free. It is not in opposition to our freedom, it is precisely the cause of our freedom. What we find difficult to get our minds around is the idea that there could be a freedom which is caused or given to us because we think that the only kind of freedom that we can have is either pure spontaneity or what is sometimes called contra causal freedom. In other words, our freedom to act against a cause acting upon us. And that picture is not, it seems to me, part of the way that Scripture and the Christian tradition has thought. It is that which is often at play in debates about open-theism or whatever - the fear that if we talk about God's sovereignty we must therefore be talking about something which is a subtraction from creaturely freedom to which the answer is no it isn't."

- John Webster, Kantzer Lecture #3, Question and Answer session

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Impossible for God?

After completing the Early Christian Thought: the Greek tradition class at HDS and theological hermeneutics at GCTS this semester, my mind is constantly pondering Karl Barth's christology. I figured that George Hunsinger's chapter concerning Barth's christology in Disruptive Grace would be the best place to start (return?) as I have found the clarity and forthrightness of this book to be rather comforting in the past few years (though I can only find my copy of the Cambridge Companion to KB at the moment). The basic idea of the following quote struck me as quite profound and seems to capture my hesitations with the entire presupposition of negative theology as well as many modern theologians:

"The Novum of the incarnation is so unique that (contrary to someone like Kierkegaard) it cannot even be explained as an absurdity, for that would imply not only that the limits of our minds can circumscribe God's rationality, but also that we are in a position to know in advance what is possible or impossible for God."
- G. Hunsinger, "Karl Barth's Christology: Its Basic Chalcedonian Character" in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, 131.

Photo credit: My beloved friend, Jillian Snyder

Sunday, December 5, 2010

What Child Is This?

I'll never forget my first semester of Gordon-Conwell. I took a systematic theology I class for fun and was forced to switch into a particular section because of my schedule. I gave up a class at HDS because the reading list for this systematic class looked too good to pass up. I remember sitting in this class all semester and most of the time, I just listened. I didn't take my laptop into class, and I only wrote in the margins of the handouts. It was quite the life-changing semester for me. And then Christmas immediately followed the end of this class. When I heard this classic Christmas hymn entitled "What Child is This?" a few days after the class final, I remember the tears that seemed as though they'd never stop. For the first time, it was as though I recognized, in some small part, the depths of the message of Christ's birth. This is truly God who comes to save His people by uniting Himself to flesh! And every time I hear this song, it brings me back to the truth of the theologia crucis. Here God is revealed, yet so hidden.

What child is this, who, laid to rest,

On Mary’s lap is sleeping,
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary!
Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!
So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
Come, peasant, king, to own Him!
The King of Kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him!
Raise, raise the song on high!
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy! joy! for Christ is born,
The babe, the son of Mary!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I must confess that ever since taking the Calvin seminar my second year at Gordon-Conwell, I remain unconvinced that the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of theosis and the ontological change within the human subject championed therein does not compromise the distinction between Creator and creature (CCD hereafter since I'm tired).

My professor, during discussion today, asked me why I would find it hard to believe that deification would not compromise CCD if I accept the Incarnation. If I believe that the CCD was not compromised by the eternal Son uniting Himself with human flesh, why would it be a problem for me to accept that God would be able to make deification possible without compromise as well?

Whether or not the Eastern tradition believes that the human subject participates in the essence or the energies of God (my professor said some support the belief that the human subject participates in the essence - gasp!), I keep coming back to Barth's famous thesis (?) in the second preface to the Epistle to the Romans:

My reply is that, if I have a system, it is limited to a recognition of what Kierkegaard called the 'infinite qualitative distinction' between time and eternity,and to my regarding this as possessing negative as well as positive significance: 'God is in heaven, and thou art on earth.' The relation between such a God and such a man, and the relation between such a man and such a God, is for me the theme of the Bible and the essence of philosophy (pg. 10)

Like I said, I'm really tired. It probably wasn't wise to post these thoughts since I'm simply putting forth statements and opinions without defending them. However, I felt the need to record my continued dissatisfaction with the doctrine of theosis. And for the record, I can't help but think that many in the Protestant church are leaving their churches for the East because they long so desperately for a robust account of sanctification. This makes me incredibly disappointed, because Calvin is clear that even though justification is never contingent upon sanctification, the two are never separated in the life of the Christian.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

And so it begins ...

Tonight, as I made my way through Blockbuster, I was dismayed by the lack of quality movies to rent. And since I've seen almost every movie that has come out in the past ten years, I decided it was a bit hopeless to expect anything promising to come from the new release section.

Well, I made my way to the other sections and I figured it would do me best to start with drama. There are so many movies I haven't seen. There are more movies than I'd like to admit that I haven't seen which are basic and necessary for any serious film viewer. So, after facing the truth, I decided it was time to rent the Godfather Part I. About four years ago, I tried to watch the first installment. However, it was really late at night, I was home alone, and by the time that I got to the part where the dead horse's head ends up in the bed, I chickened out. But not this time. I made my Dad watch it with me and I quickly became enthralled. I no longer question the brilliance, on any level, of Al Pacino. His role as Michael Corleone was impeccable. I can not wait to watch the second part; I read that it received more acclaim that the first. I am also hoping that Diane Keaton surfaces more and that her character develops. I have a feeling that her relationship with Michael will truly shape his role as the head of the family business, but I could be wrong.

After realizing that I needed to buckle down and finish the Godfather trilogy, I decided to make a list of other movies I must see over the next year. The following is the modest list I compiled. Suggestions are more than welcomed:
Lawrence of Arabia
Star Wars (I know, please don't condemn me.)
The Graduate
Taxi Driver
Out of Africa
The Mission
Raging Bull
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Annie Hall
The Deer Hunter
Pulp Fiction (Again, I know. Apply the personal testimony of the first viewing of the Godfather part I above to this film as well.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Apophatic Theology.

In my HDS class, we've been discussing the eastern fathers and their understanding of apophatic theology. The discussion began in some depth when the class started reading Psuedo Dionysius. During the particular lecture on Psuedo Dionysius' writings, particularly "The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy", I was struck by the almost unquestioned assumption that God does not and can not become an object of human knowledge. Since God is totally transcendent for Dionysius, one must fall back upon this type of ecstatic experience via contemplation. It is a rather complicated cycle that I feel wholly inadequate to describe. Sidenote: this entire discussion made me realize the importance of the filioque clause even though I think Spain could have been a bit more tactful about it!

Anyhow, I raised my hand and asked why this assumption is made and why we are just accepting it. To increase my concern, my professor said that the encounter one has with God is void of all epistemological content. Back up a bit, and in the beginning of the chapter we were assigned to read for Dionysius, he states that Scripture is divine revelation. Through Scripture, God has revealed Himself to humanity. I take no issue with this belief. However, I began to wonder how Dionysius can then go on to have any confidence that the God he encounters via contemplation is the God revealed in Scripture if 1) the encounter is void of all epistemological content - i.e. no propositional knowledge 2) God is not an object of knowledge. It seemed unclear to me how Dionysius could be confident that the God revealed in Scripture, the Christian God, would be the same God that is "unknowable." How would Dionysius be able to say that this God he is encountering is not Buddha, Krishna, or any other god for that matter? To me, the rejection of the idea that God can be and does become an object of knowledge and that encounters with him are void of all epistemological content lead one into complete skepticism. There is no confidence to be had.

My question was brought up again during class today. Most everyone agreed that God can't be an object of knowledge. However, I became rather concerned. Isn't it by faith that the Church confesses that God has become an object of knowledge in Jesus Christ? Isn't Jesus Christ homoousia with the Father and hasn't Christ stepped into time and space, uniting himself with human flesh? Post council of Nicaea, doesn't the Church believe that Jesus Christ is the objective reality of revelation? In a way, the idea that God becomes an object of knowledge is a miracle because the Incarnation does not compromise His transcendence at all. I admire the eastern commitment to God's transcendence - I think it is totally correct. However, precisely because God is transcendent, He can then become the God for us, the God revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ via the Incarnation. It seems that God does not want us to tell Him what He is able to do - He makes it possible to become an object of knowledge in Christ.

I realized, as I was explaining all of this to my dear Mom on the phone this afternoon, that the understanding of God making Himself an object of knowledge in Christ is truly radical to believe! While Barth certainly wasn't the first theologian to confess this, he did deny the modern Christian belief that God is epistemologically unknowable since for Barth, God has made Himself an object of knowledge in Christ. Furthermore, for Barth, God remains in control of the knowing event. In this way, God's sovereignty is not compromised. For this reason, I'm excited to read Church Dogmatics I.2 next semester. We didn't touch volume one in the Barth seminar at HDS. This might be why I'm having great difficulty understanding this conversation to a certain extent.

More personally, I also came to understand in an entirely new way how this sort of confession has claims upon the individual's life. The evangelical theological orientation in this way is truly radical! To confess that Jesus Christ is the eternal begotten Son of God, homoousia with the Father, that He lived, died on a cross, and rose again from the dead is not a simple nodding of the head. To believe all of this and to understand that God has become an object of knowledge in Jesus Christ necessarily means that I am called to be an obedient witness to this Gospel message. That is quite a humbling reality, to say the least.

Photo credit: David Richards

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

At Last!

I don't have time to be writing this, but I had to commemorate the day when the younger generation will now have no excuse to not own a Beatles album. The Beatles officially made it to iTunes! This is truly cause for rejoicing! If you don't own an album, please know that you are woefully impoverished. Let the light shine upon you by simply paying $12.99 for one of their masterpieces such as "Abbey Road" or a mere $19.99 for "The White Album" ... your life will never be the same.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


For whatever it's worth, sometimes Over the Rhine feels like they are the only musicians currently making music who understand what sanctification means -- or the pain in what seems like the lack thereof.

Friday, November 12, 2010


"The triune God is one simple indivisible essence in an irreducible threefold personal modification. That is, God's unity is characterized by modes of being in each of which the entire divine essence subsists in a particular way; this simultaneous, eternal existence in these three modes is the one divine essence. Accordingly, the persons of the godhead are not distinguished from the divine essence realiter; there are not three eternals, or three incomprehensibles, or three uncreated, or three almighties, or three gods. This is not to reduce the persons back into some anterior unity (that is, this does not 'confound the persons'), but simply to state that the persons are inseparable from the essence, and the essence inseparable from its threefold personal modification. Pater et filius et spiritus sanctus unus deus est: the singular verb is telling."

- John Webster, "Trinity and Creation", International Journal of Systematic Theology, Jan. 2010, 8.

Next Year, Baby.

I've adored this song for years. The only difference now is that it seems a bit more descriptive of my life these days than years past.

Next Year,
Things are gonna change,
Gonna drink less beer
And start all over again

Gonna read more books
Gonna keep up with the news
Gonna learn how to cook
And spend less money on shoes

Pay my bills on time
File my mail away, everyday
Only drink the finest wine
And call my Gran every Sunday

Well Baby they come and go
Will I do any of these things?
The answers probably no

But if there's one thing, I must do,
Despite my greatest fears
I'm gonna say to you
How I've felt all of these years
Next Year

I gonna tell you, how I feel

- Jamie Cullum, Next Year, Baby

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I have long been in need (or want, whatever your perspective) of new music. While my friends zip by me with the latest albums, I've got Steely Dan's "My Old School", the Allman Brothers "Midnight Rider", or Crosby, Stills, and Nash's "See the Changes" (or anything by the Beatles for that matter) coming through my speakers. I often become embarrassed by the fact that I haven't heard a single song by some of the most famous current bands. I have some newer stuff that I've added (the obligatory Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, to name a few). However, my iTunes isn't hip by any means.

Despite my love for all things that came out of 1969 (Woodstock) to the late 70's, I find that my real love surfaces in Mo-town, Soul, and Jazz.
Blame it on my Dad, but nothing brings more joy than hearing "Mercy, Mercy Me" playing or Nina Simone's "Love Me or Leave Me" ... And I don't care how overplayed it might be, Aretha Franklin's "Respect" gives you chills every time. Even some of my favorite artists today like John Legend and the Roots say that they draw constant inspiration from towering figures such as Gaye, Simone, Wonder, Franklin, and the like.

I guess the reason I am so drawn to this type of music is because of its honesty. More than that, it has a sense of hope and activism laced throughout the lyrics. While I'll probably never understand the racial obstacles that many of these figures had to fight against, I find their stories to be fascinating and heroic. There's a story behind the progression of their musical genre. And I can't get enough.

Monday, November 8, 2010


As an evangelical that once became an Eastern Orthodox catechumen (though in the Antiochian wing), this little excerpt is all too familiar yet also a bit comforting.

"There is something of a difference between British and North American evangelicalism. As Mark Noll made clear, evangelicalism, particularly in England, has tended to be a trend inside the mainline denominations, particularly, of course, the Church of England. We find similar patterns in Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and other parts of Europe, and this gives a significantly different aspect to European evangelicalism. There is a strong sense of a family history, a sense that evangelicalism did not begin this century or last century, but that is goes back to the evangelical revivals of the eighteenth century, to the European Reformation of the sixteenth century, and even beyond that to the patristic heritage itself. There is a sense of belong, of being rooted in history, of doing what James Packer calls "great-tradition Christianity." In North America, many evangelical choose to become Greek Orthodox, feeling there is a strong sense of history in that tradition that is lacking in evangelicalism. In European evangelicalism, because of its strong sense of being rooted in history, that trend simply isn't present to anything like the same extent." - Alister McGrath, "Trinitarian Theology" in Where Shall my Wander'ng Soul Begin?, 51.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Barth on Personal Conversion.

I found the following passage from this blog today and decided to look up the excerpt for myself. It is really encouraging. Barth's unwavering and unprecedented soteriological objectivism makes many evangelicals nervous since he seems to make personal conversion experiences irrelevant. In some ways, I think they are irrelevant to the objective reality that takes place in Christ. Still, even though I might be hesitant to fully embrace his soteriological objectivism (since I'm not ready to throw the subjective experience out the window though I don't think he does either!), I think it is a helpful corrective to the obsession that the evangelical Church has with one's own subjective conversion experience.

"It is said that H. F. Kohlbrugge once answered the question: When was he converted? by the laconic reply: On Golgotha. This answer, with all its fundamental implications, was not the witty retort of an embarrassed and unconverted man, but the only possible and straightforward answer of a truly converted Christian. The events of faith in our own life can, in fact, be none other than the birth, passion, death, ascension and resurrection of Jesus, the faith of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, the exodus of Israel from Egypt, its journey through the desert, its entrance into the land of Canaan, the outpouring of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost and the mission of the apostles to the heathen. Every verse in the Bible is virtually a concrete faith-event in my own life. Whether this is actually the case, whether with my own life I have been present at this or that event here testified to me, this and this alone is what I am asked by the Word of God which bears witness to me of God's revelation in and through all this, and in every single verse of Scripture. In comparison with this, what can be the value of the various more or less reliable insights which, apart form these testimonies, I may have on myself? Is there a miracle story that I can relate from my own life, which, especially if it is genuine, will not be totally dissolved in this divine miracle story, and which therefore will hardly be worth relating in abstracto? Have I anything to testify about myself which I cannot testify infinitely better if I make my own the simplest ingredient of the Old Testament or New Testament witness? Have I experienced anything more important, incisive, serious, contemporary than this, that I have been personally present and have shared in the crossing of Israel through the Red Sea but also in the adoration of the golden calf, in the baptism of JEsus but also the denial of Peter and the treachery of Judas, that all this has happened to me here and now? If I believe, then this must be the right point of view. If this is the right point of view, what other faith-events in my life should I and could I wish to seek? What, then, becomes of the bold assertion with which I claim first this and then that crisis and turning-point, and then gradually my whole life, as a sacred history? And what becomes of the defiant and shrinking doubt and despair about all exalted and exalting moments, and finally about my whole life? However high may rise or however deep may fall the waves of life's events, as they are perceptible to us form within and below, the real movement of my life, the real events in which it is clear to me that in the whole dimension of my existence I belong to God, both at the flood and ebb, are secured from the other side, by the Word of God Himself."

- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II.2, 709-710.

Monday, November 1, 2010

First Book Review

I just finished my first book review. It is simultaneously a relief and fear that this review is finished. I have posted it below.

Twentieth-Century Theologians: A New Introduction to Modern Christian Thought, Philip Kennedy, I. B. Tauris 2010 (ISBN 978-1-84511-956-0), xvi + 368 pp., pb £17.99 and hb £54.50

Twentieth-Century Theologians: A New Introduction to Modern Christian Thought by Philip Kennedy offers a rare and accessible overview of the most influential theologians within a century that witnessed an unprecedented amount of both human suffering and progress. With clear and concise prose, this book includes helpful summaries of the lives and theologies of select twentieth-century theologians. The list includes the prominent and classic figures such as Harnack, Barth, Tillich, Rahner, and Moltmann. In an impressive manner, the text also covers less frequently discussed thinkers such as D. Day and M. Daly. Even more importantly, Kennedy takes great care to offer a global theological perspective throughout the last century by discussing the theology of the Rainbow Spirit Elders of the Aboriginal people, Mercy Amba Oduyoye of Ghana, and Tissa Balasuriya of Sri Lanka. This book serves as a useful resource for the classroom as well as the everyday reader who wishes to gain a greater understanding of theology throughout the past century. With an inclusion of Roman Catholic, Jesuit, Anglo-Catholic, and Protestant thinkers, this book does not emphasize any specific Christian tradition. Those who possess little to no theological education will appreciate Kennedy’s indispensable definitions of the most common theological terms weaved throughout the chapters as well as the short glossary at the end.

Kennedy’s main project is to set these theologians within the context of the war, famine, disease, and brutal hardship that was all too familiar to the twentieth century. The harsh realities in which they lived deeply impacted their theology. This influence, Kennedy believes, reveals a trend throughout all the works of the theologians discussed. His thesis is clearly stated: ‘the greatest theologians of the twentieth century were the most negative’ (p. 11). This negativity surfaced in two ways. First, the theologians of the twentieth century were apophatic in that they believed God could only be described using negative propositions. God can only be understood by what He is not rather than what He is. Second, theologians of this time period were ‘acutely aware of the bleak and harrowing negativity of human (and animal) suffering’ (p. 11). Theologians who found the most reception were those most concerned about the suffering of their time period while simultaneously offering a modest account of one’s ability to speak about God. Keeping these two directions in mind, Kennedy evaluates each theologian in the proceeding chapters through this specific lens of negativity in relation to statements about God and humanity.

While much ink has been spilled concerning the theologians of the twentieth century, few books emphasize the particular events within their lives. Kennedy notes that his book intentionally offers ‘an impression of the kinds of people who articulated theologies in the twentieth century, and the historical circumstances that determined the ways they spoke … texts are always tinctured by their contexts’ (p. 306). This book is not only theological but also biographical. In every chapter, Kennedy offers helpful insights into the lives of each theologian before accessing their theology and key works. As such, this book properly understands that the events and actions of each individual theologian are directly and explicitly connected to their beliefs. This holistic account helps readers to gain a fuller grasp of each theologian discussed. On a minor note, while each chapter contains such an all-encompassing picture of various theologians, they are not altogether random and disjointed. Upon a cursory glance, most might assume that Twentieth Century Theologians is an assortment of separated essays. However, Kennedy subtly inserts crucial transitions and informed remarks that aid the reader in piecing together a narrative of twentieth-century theology.

There is only one criticism necessary to mention. Kennedy’s ‘working hypothesis’ of this book is to boldly argue that the greatest problem for theology is human suffering (p. xi). In the third sentence of the preamble, Kennedy ironically writes that ‘a theologian is someone who tries to talk about God – always without success’ (p. vii). Rather than highlighting the inability of theology to adequately speak about its object and content – the Triune God – Kennedy prefers to maintain that the essential problem for theology is to give an answer for the abused, neglected, and suffering people within the world. Despite this position, Kennedy fails to argue how this is a particular problem for Christian theology in particular rather than all religion in general. Kennedy goes further to warn that in order for theology to be relevant, it must attend to the issues of suffering and injustice that plague humanity. If any theology is ‘indifferent to the poor’ then it will be ‘irrelevant to God as well’ (p. 315). Kennedy is right to emphasize the importance of suffering and injustice to the Christian God as witnessed in the person and work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures. However, these concerns are a consequence of theology rather than a condition for its existence. Otherwise, there would be nothing particular about the Christian religion. If the essential concern of theology is human suffering, it cannot rightly be called theology but rather ‘theodicy’, ‘apologetics’, or ‘anthropology’. When the primary task of a discipline is to speak about human beings, it cannot claim to be theology. If theology is to remain true to its definition, it must always stay concerned with tending to what God has said about Himself. Even though one might disagree with Kennedy’s basic presuppositions regarding the nature of theology, every reader will find both challenge and benefit from his unwavering concern for the suffering of humanity.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

East and West.

I've been doing some outside reading for my Early Christian Thought: Eastern Fathers class at HDS. After reading the letters of Cyril of Alexandria which respond to the (heretical) teachings of Nestorius, my questions seemed endless. I've picked up Justo Gonzalez's A History of Christian Thought and Jaroslav Pelikan's Christianity and Classic Culture; The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Helenism. I know some might scoff at Gonzalez's work, especially for its simplicity, but I like to think of him as accessible. Nothing that I have read thus far has even remotely failed to offer great insights into the development of Christian doctrine, despite his narrative-like prose. I want to get more deeply into J.N.D. Kelly's classic text Early Christian Doctrines, but I only have so much time for outside reading.

Anyhow, I enjoyed the following excerpt from Pelikan this evening. Enjoy.

"It has become a truism of the comparative intellectual history of the Middle Ages to observe that Byzantium never had an Augustine and that this constituted a fundamental difference between East and West. Whether that represents a disadvantage or an advantage for the East is a matter of considerable dispute in both East and West. Although no one figure among later Greek Christian thinkers occupied the same heights that Augustine of Hippo did among the later Latins, the truism needs qualification in important ways. For if it means that there has never been in the Christian East a theological-philosophical genius worthy of being placed alongside Augustine for sheer creativity and power as an individual intellectual virtuoso (whether heretical or orthodox), it is mistaken, because Origen of Alexandria, who was born circa 185 and died circa 254, does deserve to be counted as his peer. But if the chief emphasis lies, as it probably should, on Augustine's position in the century after the "peace of the church" under Constantine and after the codification, at the Council of Nicaea in 325, of the faith that Augustine transmitted to the Latin Middle Ages with his own special stamp upon it then his place in Western Christian history has its counterpart in the joint achievement of three Eastern Christian thinkers belonging to the generation immediately following that of Nicaea and preceding that of Augustine: Basil of Caesrea, who died in 379; his brother Gregory of Nyssa ("Nyssen"), who died circa 395; and Gregory of Nazianzus ("Nazianzen"), who died in 389 - often grouped as the Three Cappadocians. Together the Cappadocians did occupy a place in what Endre von Ivanka has called "early Byzantine intellectual life" - after Constantine, Nicaea, and Athanasius but before Justinian, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, and the Iconoclastic controversy - that suggests intriguing analogues to the place of Augustine in the Western Middle Ages."

- Pelikan, Christianity and Classical Culture, 5-6.

Photo Credit: here

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Barth, Politics, and Tanner.

"...Just as God is love does not mean love is God, God's kingdom may be the basis for a Christian identification of socialism with it without that implying that socialism on its own merits is to be identified with the kingdom.

This irreversibility is no more than assertion, however, unless one can materially show the way the gospel message suggests of itself something like socialism, unless one can demonstrate that the gospel contains within it definite direction of some sort or other for Christian political decision in particular circumstances. One has to turn one's attention to dogmatics, in short, as the starting point for distinctively Christian political judgments, if the claim of irreversibility is to hold water. And this would seem to be at least one intent of the whole project of the
Church Dogmatics after its aborted start:

I am firmly convinced that, especially in the broad field of politics, we cannot reach the clarifications which are necessary to-day, and on which theology might have a word to say, as indeed it ought to have, without first reaching the comprehensive clarifications in and about theology which are our present concern. I believe that it is expected of the Church and its theology - a world within the world no less than chemistry or the theatre - that it should keep precisely to the rhythm of its own relevant concerns, and thus consider well what are the real needs of the day by which its own programme should be directed [CD I/I, p. xvi.].

Only by proceeding in this way can one prove that Christianity offers on political questions anything more than "the secret power of giving to man the inward capacity to seek and attain the aims and purposes which he has independently chosen" [CD I/2, p. 336]. If the goals, content, and direction of human action are not to appear to be imported from elsewhere for simple Christian ramification, if they are not to seem to be based on an autonomous, and what Barth would judge to be sinful, estimation of our own about how to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, then the substance of the Christian position on political questions has to be thoroughly grounded theologically."

- Kathryn Tanner, "Barth and the Economy of Grace", Commanding Grace: Studies in Barth's Ethics, 181-182.

This portion of the article is at once very important to understanding the whole and also only stands as introductory remarks; her main argument goes on to critique Barth's appropriation of capitalism (or lack thereof), among other things. She ultimately proceeds to offer a "Christ-centered dogmatic foundation for ethics" (p. 193) specifically in relation to private property and competition.

I found the above excerpt to be incredibly beneficial and refreshing. As a political science major during my time as an undergraduate, I made the conscious decision to temporarily forgo my future in politics in order to attend seminary. My desire was to gain a robust theological education. When I started seminary, I was a church history student. I had no idea what theology was exactly since all I was given in undergraduate were biblical studies, apologetic, philosophy, and brief church history classes. Dogmatics was an unknown word that I associated with men like Sean Hannity. I became a church history major because I was desperate to gain a deeper foundation for my Christian faith. I hoped that understanding the confessions of the Church would provide an identity, new categories, and tools for future political endeavors. After a systematic theology class, I quickly became a theology student. I didn't know what would become of my interest in politics or broader ethical questions for that matter. All I knew was that the only way forward was to be trained theologically. Ironically, my interest in political thought and ethics has decreased considerably. However, I think this has more to do with previous negative experiences in certain circles where such aspects of thought were prominent. I wonder how (and if) my deeply held political and ethical interests will be weaved into my newfound love for dogmatics. But one thing is true - the decision to gain theological literacy has been one the greatest privileges I've ever been given. I only pray that if I do seek to engage political and ethical questions, that I will be a faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Theologies of Retrieval

I picked up The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology today from the library for fun. I started to read the chapter concerning biblical studies by C. Kavin Rowe and Richard B. Hays. However, as I tried to find that chapter while eating lunch, I found a chapter by John Webster entitled "Theologies of Retrieval." If I'm understanding him correctly, he uses this provisional title in reference to the following theological groups: post-liberal, post-critical, restorationist, palaeo-orthodox, intratextual, and ("even") postmodern. At the end of the chapter, he offers a conclusion with some critical remarks. I believe he articulates the weaknesses of these theological groups very well and in a balanced/fair manner.

"A further temptation for theologians of retrieval is to subscribe to the myth of the fall of theology from Christian genuineness at some point in its past (fourteenth-century nominalism, the sixteenth-century Reformation, seventeenth-century Cartesianism, or whatever 'modernity' is considered to have first presented itself). The oversimplifications which attend epochal interpretations of history are well known. But there is a deeper point here. However necessary 'anti-modern' protest may be on certain occasions, however much it may empower the re-engagement of neglected constructive tasks, it should not betray theology into the illusion that all that is required for successful dogmatics in the present is the identification and repudiation of an error in the past. Such a stance can indicate the same illusion of superiority as that sometimes claimed by critical reason. Moreover, it can fail to grasp that the problem is not
modern theology but simply theology. All talk of God is hazardous. Modern constraints bring particular challenges which can be partially defeated by attending to a broad and wiser history, but there is no pure Christian past whose retrieval can ensure theological fidelity.

This does not in any way call the project of retrieval into question or minimize its impact. The recovery of the present ecclesial vocation of systematic theology, as well as the renewal of its public functions, surely require persuation of the weightiness of the past. But however basic a task, retrieval cannot constitute the entirety of theological work. 'In ... obedience to the church's past it is always possible to be a very
free theologian. But it must be borne in mind that, as a member of the church, as belonging to the congregatio fidelium, one must not speak without having heard ' [Barth 1962:181]."

- Webster,
The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, 596-597.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


More from John Webster ... I particularly appreciated the parts concerning the resurrection. It reminded me a bit of this post a while ago. Read that post I linked if you have time. It is one of my favorites.

"A second example of the same process is theological talk of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In a fashion similar to what took place in the doctrine of revelation, the resurrection shifts from being an
object of belief to being a ground of belief. That is to say, the resurrection comes to perform a function in an apologetic strategy as part of the endeavor of fundamental theology to defend the possibility of revelation and special divine action. And as its role changes, so also does its content. Extracted from its proper Christological home, it is no longer considered part of the Credo. Instead it is handled evidentially, as furnishing extrinsic grounds for subsequent attachment to the Credo. As a result, the more obviously evidential aspects of the resurrection - notably, of course, the empty tomb - come to occupy centre stage, precisely because they can most easily be assigned a job in the search for transcendental foundations for Christian doctrine.

Neither of these moves could have taken place without a certain forgetfulness of the inner structure and dynamic of Christian doctrine, and without the adoption of intellectual procedures which are themselves seriously underdetermined by doctrinal considerations. The effects of this reach deep into theology's self-understanding and practices, and can be seen both in the literary forms of modern theology as well as in the ways in which it has construed itself."

- John Webster,
Confessing God, 20.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The alienation of theology.

"Tracing the history of that alienation of theology from its own habits of thought would mean identifying how it came about that Christian theology began to argue for its own possibility without appeal to any specific Christian content. In his quite wonderful study At the Origins of Modern Atheism, Michael Buckley suggests that the alienation of theology begins in the very early modern period, when theology left its own ground in order to debate with natural philosophy over the existence of God. He argues that '[i]n the absence of a rich and comprehensive Christology and a Pneumatology of religious experience Christianity entered into the defense of existence of the Christian god without appeal to anything Christian'. The result of this concession, Buckley suggests, was the production of 'an emancipated philosophy which eventually negated all religion'. And so, '[a]s theology generated apologetic philosophy and philosophy generated Universal Mathematics and Universal Mechanics, and as these in their co-opted theology to become foundations of theistic assertions, theology itself became a disciplina otiosa in the justification and establishment of its own subject matter'. ... Far from ensuring the survival of Christian theology in the face of challenges to its plausability, the relinquishment of specifically Christian doctrine in favour of generic theism in fact hastened its demise."

- Dr. John Webster,
Confessing God, pg. 18.

In short, the above quote is spot-on. As a philosophy major during my time as an undergraduate, I have seen firsthand the fruits of Christianity seeking to justify its existence via Christian philosophy and apologetics. Still, I wonder if there is any way to agree with the critique Dr. Webster has given without falling into certain (negative) reactionary aspects of postliberal theology.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gregory of Nyssa.

For my Early Christian Thought class, we've been assigned to read "An Answer to Ablabius: That We Should Not Think of Saying There Are Three Gods" by Gregory of Nyssa. This little section included in volume III of Christology of the Later Fathers has been particularly helpful to read. Gregory wrote this brilliant work in order to answer the charges of tritheism. At the end of the introduction, the translator writes the following:

“It would be difficult to find a Church father who so admirably expresses the full round of Eastern Orthodox teaching: its clear Trinitarianism, its mysticism, its asceticism, its realistic sacramentalism, its ideal of man’s deification, and its blending of Platonic and Aristotelian forms of thought. In Gregory, too, is to be seen the weakness sometimes apparent in Eastern theology:
its failure to grasp the meaning of history and its difficulty in freeing itself fully from Hellenic elements in its approach to creation, sexuality, and death” (p. 250).

Among other reasons, I wonder if this is partly why Barth never found Eastern Orthodoxy fully convincing? Just a small observation.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I'm not entirely sure if I should be mortified or excited. Nonetheless, it's quite the honor to represent such an extraordinary institution in this small way.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Theodicy and Inerrancy.

In Early Christian Thought class today, we discussed the primary text of St. Basil's which we are currently reading entitled On the Human Condition. Our professor distributes an outline of the lecture before every class. During this class period, we specifically reflected upon Basil's "Homily Explaining that God is Not the Cause of Evil." Due to the title and the content of this homily, my professor outlined the nature and history of theodicy. My professor's outline states that theodicy is a Greek word, created by the German philosopher Leibniz, meaning "the justice/justification of God." The outline goes on to say that such justification is sought in light of the reality of evil. Human beings throughout the centuries have tried to reconcile the "existence" of evil with the following three propositions:

1. There is one God, creator of all
2. That God is good
3. That God is all-powerful

My professor writes that "a commitment to the previous three tenets is often said to lead to a 'normative ontology' whereby whatever
exists must be good (since the one, good, omnipotent God created it such)."

I found this very interesting. Since God is the author of creation, the previous quote assumes that there is some sort of necessary identity between an omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent God and said creation. In short, creation should have the same attributes of the creator, including goodness and an absence of evil. Since the world obviously includes evil and suffering, many philosophers have concluded that the one who has created the universe (aka God) must either not be all-good, or He doesn't exist.

It seems to me that the same sort of assumption (at least loosely) is present in the evangelical doctrine of inerrancy. In the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy, Articles VI-VIII affirm the divine inspiration of
every book and word within the canon. It then states in Article IX, "we affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write." It seems that the authors of this statement are making the argument that since the Bible is inspired by God (though they also rightly affirm that human authors were definitely active in the process), it must necessarily reflect the identity of God in guaranteeing truth and trustworthiness in "all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write."

Unless I'm entirely misunderstanding the classic objections to Christianity based on the problem of evil (most notably set forth by David Hume) and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, I'd say that these two camps share one major thing in common - if God is the author of something - either creation or the Bible - those creations must reflect his character of goodness, truth, and perfection. Otherwise, the conclusions are that either God didn't inspire the Bible and it can't be trusted (the inerrantists), or God is either not all-good or He doesn't exist (those stating that the existence of evil is incompatible with God's being).

While I'm not quite prepared to formally and publicly deny biblical inerrancy, might there be some sort of expectation here that is unwarranted? Why do Christians say that the creation of God does not necessarily need to reflect His character in order for it to serve as revelation but the Bible does?

Some biblical inerrantists might reply that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is not merely an abstraction but rather based upon what the Bible says about itself (though I find this a bit interesting considering the statement only cites two small biblical phrases, 1 Peter 1:21 and 2 Tim. 3:15, both of which are NOT within the articles themselves nor are any other biblical passages present). The passage most often quoted in support of biblical inerrancy is 2 Tim. 3:16 which affirms that "all Scripture is God-breathed." But I often wonder if that truth, the doctrine of divine inspiration, necessarily entails biblical inerrancy. Furthermore, I question if such an assumption is the same that is made by men like David Hume who were skeptical about the existence of God in light of the existence of evil.

I'm completely open to being corrected. I'd appreciate any thoughts you might offer, dear reader!

Monday, October 4, 2010


I babysit. A lot. I love all the families for whom I babysit. Especially the Spater family - they have the most incredible kids. But I often think to myself that I don't want that kind of life. Not yet. I can't imagine having kids, staying at home, and being a wife.

Then I ask myself what is wrong with me? Did God seriously mess me up? I see all these happy women who are stay-at-home moms on-campus, or in the grocery store, or at Starbucks. I love kids. I am the first to gawk at the cuteness of little Johnny that screams and yells and runs through Starbucks as everyone else thinks "where the heck are that creatures's parents?" But I'm not ready to go there yet.

To make me feel even more abnormal, I read all these cheesy Christian books which try to tell me that all i want is for someone to come rescue me, and lead me, and provide for me and my role is to support them in everything they do. I should happily do the laundry, be the homemaker while they go and do the manly work! And I think to myself, "Wait, what? Do women really feel like this?! Did I miss something? Why do I feel guilty that I am even disagreeing?!"

The three women that are my heroes are all, surprisingly for my readers, stay-at-home Moms. Two of them blog and I love their stories. I admire their courage, patience, wisdom, grace, not to mention their humor. Oh my word, sometimes I choke after laughing so hard at their inner-dialogue posts that are finally typed for the world to read. They are geniuses. They represent every character trait that I can only hope to embody someday. But I'm just not ready.

A lot of my friends, if not most of them, are either engaged or married. I'd be telling a bold faced lie if I said that I want to be single forever. But honestly, I still feel like I'm a high-school graduate. I can't believe I'm already 26. I still feel 18.

The desire to pursue a PhD makes the above struggle even more difficult. There are few men in my field. I found out there are ZERO women in the doctoral program I want to go to in Scotland. All of the men in the program, from what I can tell, are married. And when people find out you are a 26 year-old Christian female wanting to get a doctorate, they make assumptions about you. Is she a feminist? Can she just not find a husband? Will she ever find her true calling and have kids? But the truth is, I'm just a human being that loves theology and has become deeply fascinated with Karl Barth. It is that simple. Why must I have an agenda? Why must I be married? Why must I get the hidden looks of suspicion? Why must I even think about this?

So as I write my applications for doctoral programs and read my Barth books, I'll be happily babysitting every Friday or Saturday night just thankful I'm still only 26 and single.