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.