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.