Friday, 31 March 2006

A day with N. T. Wright

Here in Brisbane, I’ve spent a very enjoyable day listening to N. T. Wright lecturing on the historical Jesus. These lectures were a sort of one-day summary of Wright’s great book, Jesus and the Victory of God (1997), along with a closing lecture on the resurrection.

During one of the coffee breaks, Wright also kindly allowed me to interview him for Faith and Theology. I asked him: “Who do you think is the greatest modern New Testament scholar?” (naturally I was hoping he’d choose Bultmann). He had an interesting response, and I’ll post it tomorrow, along with some highlights and quotes from the lectures.

But for now, here’s just one highlight. Wright related the following anecdote about Karl Barth, and the room erupted in laughter:

After a lecture, a woman asked Karl Barth: “Is it true that the serpent really spoke?” And Barth replied: “Madam, it does not matter whether or not the serpent really spoke; all that matters is what the serpent said.”

Hans Küng and divine intervention

Via Pontifications, check out this interview with Hans Küng about theology and science.

When asked about the concept of divine intervention, Küng explains: “The word ‘intervene’ is not very good because it means to come in between. An intervention is usually something violent or aggressive. What I would reject is the idea that God could intervene against the laws of nature. I would even go further and say that for science, God is not a category because God by definition is a reality beyond time and space, and therefore does not belong in the world of our scientific experience.”

What do you think about the concept of “divine intervention”? I hope to post a series on this topic one of these days; so in the meantime, I’d be interested to know what you think about it.

Barth on gratitude

On his always-superb blog, Peter Leithart posts a very nice summary of Karl Barth’s teaching about gratitude. For Barth, gratitude is “the genuine being of the human person”—to be truly human is to be grateful. Moreover: “Radically and basically, all sin is simply ingratitude.”

Thursday, 30 March 2006

The title says it all

I spend a lot of time reading old books, especially theological books from the seventeenth century. And one of the most charming things about reading books from this period is the entertaining discovery of long, meandering titles. Here’s an example that I came across yesterday; it’s an anonymous book written against the sect of charismatic Quakers in 1655:

The Quakers fiery beacon: or, The shaking-ranters ghost: being a new relation, and further discovery of their strange and sudden agonies, trances, quakings, shakings, raptures, visions, apparitio[n]s, conflicts with Satan, revelations, illuminations, instructions in new divine mysteries, and seraphicall divinity; their several callings, missions, messages, orders, sects, places, and persons; their inchanted potions, ribbons, and bracelets; their declaration in Westminster-Hall, touching Heaven and Hell: and a narrative of their present actings and extasies, for the sweeping away of our good fundamental laws like so many old cobwebs. (London, 1655)

And here’s one more—this one’s also anonymous, and it’s written against the sect known as Ranters (this title was so long that I actually had to edit out several phrases—but you should get the general idea):

The Ranters declaration, with their new oath and protestation; their strange votes, and a new way to get money; their proclamation and summons; their new way of ranting, never before heard of; their dancing of the hay naked, at the white Lyon in Peticoat-lane; their mad dream…; the mad-ranters further resolution; their Christmas carol, and blaspheming song; their two pretended-abominable keyes to enter heaven, and the worshiping of his little-majesty, the late Bishop of Canterbury: a new and further discovery of their black art, with the names of those that are possest by the devil, having strange and hideous cries heard within them, to the great admiration of all those that shall read and peruse this ensuing subject. (London, 1650)

You can see why they didn’t need publishers’ blurbs in those days: the title says it all.

Quote of the day

Now the preacher looked so baffled
When I asked him why he dressed
With twenty pounds of headlines
Stapled to his chest

—Bob Dylan, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” (1966)

Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Chatting with iGod

Following Chris, I decided to have a chat with the new iGod. It was an entertaining experience—but if this character is responsible for running the cosmos, I think we might all be in trouble. Here’s a transcript of the conversation:

Me: Hello, sir.
God: Hello there. What do you have that is?
Me: Pardon?
God: You’re excused.
Me: I’m sorry, what do you mean?
God: There is no need to apologize. Maybe I didn’t understand your meaning.
Me: No, mea culpa, mea culpa.
God: Are you serious? That is a very original thought.
Me: So anyway, have you had a nice day running the universe and all that?
God: Excuse me! Doesn’t everyone have a day running the universe and all that? I have a whole lot of original answers.
Me: Yes, you seem remarkably clever for a deity.
God: OK. You think I am remarkably clever for a deity.
Me: Pardon?
God: You’re excused.
Me: Excuse me?
God: You’re excused.
Me: I’m sorry, what was that?
God: There is no need to apologize. Does it have anything to do with mea culpa mea culpa?
Me: Good Lord, no—it couldn't be your fault!

Filipino theology

I have just stumbled upon an excellent new theological blog, Philippine Theo Law Gee. The writer is a lawyer and theologian from the Philippines—and he has honoured me by saying some very kind things about Faith and Theology. Thanks!

Tuesday, 28 March 2006

Inerrant autographs?

The latest post in Chris Tilling’s excellent series on biblical inerrancy is particularly good. Here’s my own comment in response:

On the one hand, the concept of inerrant autographs is irrelevant, since it refers only to hypothetical artefacts that don’t actually exist. And on the other hand, the concept of inerrant autographs doesn’t really explain away any of the Bible’s most interesting problems, such as the conflicting theologies within the New Testament, and the interpretations of natural phenomena based on pre-scientific worldviews.

More than all this, though, I think the doctrine of inerrancy is a gigantic distraction from the really important matter of the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ and in the gospel (both preached and written) that witnesses to him.

When we have grasped (or rather, been grasped by) God’s faithfulness, then all the anxious hand-wringing about inerrant texts suddenly seems like a child begging her father for a stone, when she has already been given bread.

The becoming of Holy Scripture

“The Bible is God’s Word to the extent that God causes it to be his Word, to the extent that he speaks through it.”

—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1, p. 109.

Monday, 27 March 2006

Quote of the day

"We do not have the Spirit of God; rather, he has us."

—Karl Barth, Der Römerbrief (Erste Fassung) 1919 (Zürich: TVZ, 1985), p. 307.

Johann Baptist Metz

The influential Catholic "theologian of hope" Johann Baptist Metz (Universität Münster) will be the keynote speaker at Villanova University's October 26-28 conference, Religion and Postmodernism 5: Athens and Jerusalem on the Polis.

The conference describes itself like this:

Modern political thought emerged out of the crucible of European religious conflict and issued in a new, religiously neutral, notion of the secular. Postmodern political thought is in some cases the worry, in other cases the hope that the modern notion of the secular has become unworkable and perhaps wholly anachronistic. As the space for politics becomes increasingly contested in religiously plural civic communities, old questions about the division of labor between philosophical, religious, and political pursuits return with a new urgency.

Sunday, 26 March 2006

Scripture, tradition and gospel

In Crete in 1987, international Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox theologians produced a consensual statement on the question of “Scripture and Tradition.” It included the following:

“This 'gospel' of salvation is the content of the Holy Tradition, preserved, confessed and transmitted by the Scriptures, by the lives of the saints at all times, and by the conciliar tradition of the church.... Holy Scripture, since it is the work of the Spirit within the tradition, has as the criterion of its appropriate comprehension Jesus Christ himself in the life and teaching of the one church.”

—“Ecriture et Tradition,” Episkepsis 18 (1987), 381:17.

Why men should not be ordained

Maggi Dawn has a wonderfully humorous post outlining ten reasons why men should not be ordained. Have you heard these arguments somewhere before...?

Saturday, 25 March 2006

Conference: Preaching, Teaching and Living the Bible

My own approach to the doctrine of Scripture has been deeply shaped by the work of America’s great theologian, Robert W. Jenson. So I’m delighted to hear that Jenson will be the keynote speaker at an ecumenical conference on “Preaching, Teaching, and Living the Bible”. His address will have the nice Barth-inspired titled, “The Strange New World of the Bible.”

The conference will be presented by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology in cooperation with the Duke Divinity School, and it will be held at Duke University, from 21 to 23 May. This will be a very stimulating three days of plenary lectures and discussions about how to read the Bible theologically and how to preach and teach it in our contemporary context. Along with Jenson’s keynote address, the banquet address will be given by Cardinal Francis George, and there will be plenary papers by Thomas Breidenthal, J. Kameron Carter, Ellen Davis, Richard Hays, Amy Plantinga Pauw and R. R. Reno.

The Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology generally publishes its conference papers as nice, affordable Eerdmans volumes—so hopefully the material from this conference will also end up in print.

If you happen to attend the conference personally, you might like to send me an email with some details about the papers or some of your own impressions, so that I can post an update here after the event.

Robert W. Jenson: Trinity, time and sacrament

The excellent online journal, Journal for Christian Theological Research, has just released a new article: Jason M. Curtis, “Trinity, Time and Sacrament: Christ’s Eucharistic Presence in the Theology of Robert W. Jenson.” Here’s an abstract:

Some of Jenson’s most stimulating theological themes are those surrounding his trinitarian ontology, where he combines a thoroughgoing knowledge of the tradition with biblical exegesis and philosophical reasoning. What emerges is a trinitarian theology dominated by the concern to overcome any vestige of divine timelessness and replace it with a biblical doctrine of the God who is temporal, yet overcomes temporal contingencies. The manner in which he does this is to link the divine identities with the temporal “moments,” and by maintaining the priority of the future over the past. I argue that this move bears directly upon his view of Eucharist and forces it in a direction that is problematic, namely, that Christ’s presence must be temporally—and by consequence, physically—located.

Friday, 24 March 2006

Here and there

At Pontifications, there is a sharp and insightful Catholic critique of my recent post on fundamentals of faith. Chris Tilling continues his helpful series of posts on the question of biblical inerrancy, Douglas Knight discusses Robert W. Jenson, and Aaron Ghiloni has another interesting poll, this time on the strengths and weaknesses of Pentecostalism. And Rory Shiner suggests that theologians need to write more clearly (although I took a slightly different view in my comment to his post).

Meanwhile, I’ve been noticing some excellent new theological blogs. Christopher Petersen has started one with the great title Resurrection Dogmatics, James Willis has started The Truth Will Set You Free, Will Kirby has started Another Faith Blog, and Jason Goroncy has started the nicely-designed P. T. Forsyth Files.

But best of all this week, Thomas Adams from Without Authority has been posting on some of my favourite topics: first a post on Bob Dylan’s masterpiece, “Idiot Wind”, and then two great posts on Eberhard Jüngel’s masterpiece, God as the Mystery of the World. Clearly, Without Authority has earned the title of the new blog of the week.

The eternal Word of the Father

"And as the speech is in the mind & the mind in the speech, so the father is in the sonne, & the sonne in the father."

—William Perkins, An Exposition of the Symbole or Creede of the Apostles (Cambridge, 1595), p. 138.

Thursday, 23 March 2006

N. T. Wright in Brisbane

The Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright, is currently on his first lecture tour in Australia. Fortunately, although we Protestants were slow to act, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane has kindly persuaded Wright to visit Brisbane as well.

So he’ll be here in Brisbane for two full-day seminars on Friday 31 March and Saturday 1 April. On Friday his topic will be “Jesus’ Mission,” and on Saturday it will be “Christian Mission in a Postmodern World.” I have the greatest respect for Wright’s scholarship (in spite of my loyalty to Bultmann), and I’ll be going along on Friday to hear him talk about the historical Jesus. I’ll be sure to post something about the seminar afterwards.

If you’re in the Brisbane area and you’d like to come along, then you need to register by 24 March (see the details here).

Faith and Theology word cloud

Thanks to Maggi Dawn for this.

Wednesday, 22 March 2006

More about fundamentals of faith

For those who read Portuguese (or who use Babel Fish), a theological student from Rio de Janeiro has just written a detailed critique of my recent "neo-ortodoxo" post about fundamentals of faith.

Rowan Williams against creationism

In a very interesting, wide-ranging interview at Lambeth Palace, Rowan Williams has spoken out against evangelical schools that teach creationism in the classroom. Williams is exactly right when he says that creationism “can end up reducing the doctrine of creation rather than enhancing it.” What Christian groups need is a deeper understanding of creation—which in itself would simply overturn the whole misguided project of creationism.

For more about Rowan Williams’ interview, see the news report here or the full transcript of the interview here.

Tuesday, 21 March 2006

Cyclone Larry and the Aussie spirit

Thanks to all those who have sent in emails and expressions of concern—we are fine down here in Brisbane, but Cyclone Larry has given a real pummelling to some of the towns further north. In the lovely farming town of Innisfail (near where I used to live), about half of all buildings have been damaged, and our farmers have suffered a terrible blow, with $300 million worth of bananas destroyed. Over 120,000 homes are without electricity, and some of them might be without power for a week.

Through it all, what has impressed me most is the laconic “Aussie spirit.” When news reporters go around interviewing the battered farmers and residents, they naturally hope for emotional or sensational remarks. But instead, here are some of the humorous comments I’ve heard on the news:

When asked what it was like to endure the fierce storm, one man said: Well, there’s nothing much you can do really, except sit back and wait—and have a couple of beers.

Another man said: We have no power but grog on ice, which is the important thing.

Someone else said: The power’s gone, but we’ve got gas at home. So we’re gonna go home and cook up a nice meal of bacon and eggs—and then we’ll start the clean-up.

Prevenient grace descending

In case any of you are interested in obscure Puritan controversies regarding prevenient grace, regeneration and conversion, I have just published an article about all this in the new issue of Milton Quarterly: “Prevenient Grace and Conversion in Paradise Lost,” Milton Quarterly 40:1 (2006), 20-36.

Here’s a few lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost, on the conversion of Adam and Eve after their fall:

Thus they in lowliest plight repentant stood
Praying, for from the Mercy-seat above
Prevenient Grace descending had remov’d
The stony from their hearts, and made new flesh
Regenerate grow instead, that sighs now breath’d
Unutterable, which the Spirit of prayer
Inspir’d, and wing’d for Heaven with speedier flight
Than loudest Oratory. (11.1-8)

Ah, the experience of reading Milton’s poetry is like being born again!

Monday, 20 March 2006

John Bunyan conference

The Fifth Triennial Conference of the International John Bunyan Society will be held at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, from 15 to 19 August 2007. The conference theme is "Early Modern Religion and Literature in Old and New England." This promises to be a splendid conference. The president of the Bunyan Society, Thomas Luxon, is an excellent person whom I met last year during an afternoon ramble through the French Alps.

The conference website has more information about the programme, as well as a call for papers.

The footnote controversy

Here at Faith and Theology, we have recently been discussing the various forms of referencing—footnotes, endnotes, sidenotes, in-text references (and we forgot to mention a fifth option, no notes—I know of one prestigious historical journal that has a strict policy of “no notes or references”).

To settle the controversy, my friend Aaron Ghiloni has just created a new poll where you can vote on your preferred method of referencing. I have just cast my own very emphatic vote—for footnotes, of course!

Sunday, 19 March 2006

Quote of the day

I watch and I wait
And I listen while I stand
To the music that comes
From a far better land

—Bob Dylan, “Cross the Green Mountain” (2003), from the Gods and Generals soundtrack

Balthasar: the science of theology

“[I]t belongs to the essence of this and only this science that its scientific objectivity rests on the decision to believe, and that there can be, therefore, … no neutral objectivity, no consideration of the object of belief without belief, or apart from belief and unbelief.”

—Hans Urs von Balthasar, Convergences: To the Source of Christian Mystery (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983), p. 51.

Note: See also the brief introduction to Balthasar at Per Caritatem.

Saturday, 18 March 2006

Thiselton on hermeneutics

On 28 March, Eerdmans will release the new volume Thiselton on Hermeneutics, an 800-page collection of Anthony Thiselton’s hermeneutical writings (first published in February by Ashgate). I have the deepest respect for Thiselton’s work on hermeneutics. Together his books The Two Horizons and New Horizons still offer the best general guide to hermeneutic theory.

Most of all, though, I admire the fact that Thiselton has put his hermeneutic theory into practice in his massive and brilliant commentary on 1 Corinthians. Thiselton on Hermeneutics is sure to be essential reading.

Friday, 17 March 2006

Podcast: Karl Barth's witness

I have just added a new podcast about the theology of Karl Barth. It’s about 13 minutes long, and you can listen to it here, or you can get my podcast feed here.

Footnotes or endnotes?

I agree with Rory Shiner when he laments the triumph of endnotes over footnotes in contemporary publishing. I love reading notes, and in a footnoted book I generally read all the notes—but in an endnoted book it’s just not worth the effort. In spite of the ubiquity of endnotes today, and in spite of their typesetting convenience, have you ever met anyone who actually preferred endnotes?

Research query on Luther

I’m currently rushing to meet a publishing deadline, and I need to check a few things in Luther’s De servo arbitrio (“On the Bondage of the Will”). I wonder if anyone happens to know of an online edition of the Latin text of this work? If you do, I’d be very grateful to know about it! (My apologies for posting this kind of personal query here.)

Thursday, 16 March 2006

Are there "fundamentals" of faith?

Chris Tilling has a thoughtful post on the fundamentalist controversy of the early 1900s. The fundamentalists claimed that there were five “fundamentals” of Christian faith: the verbal inerrancy of Scripture; the divinity of Christ; the virgin birth; the substitutionary theory of atonement; and the bodily return of Christ. Needless to say, these polemical points can hardly qualify as the “fundamentals” of faith.

The most serious error of the early fundamentalists was that they tried to turn faith into a law, into a set of doctrines that must be believed—but faith is only ever a matter of freedom and permission, not of law or obligation. That's why I myself could never be comfortable using the term “fundamentals.”

So when Chris asks whether there are any true “fundamentals,” I would have to answer No. But perhaps instead of speaking of “fundamentals” (i.e. things that you have to believe in order to be a Christian), it would be better to speak of “identifying beliefs” of Christian faith (i.e. beliefs which are essential to the identification of faith as Christian faith). In this case, there’s no question of trying to impose certain beliefs on others or of turning certain doctrines into laws that must be obeyed, but only of describing those beliefs that distinctively mark out Christian communities and traditions from other communities and traditions.

So what are the “identifying beliefs” of Christian faith? It seems to me that there are two related ones: Christian faith is identified both by its christological character and by its trinitarian character. And at the core of both of these identifying characteristics is a single, central belief: a belief in the unity between Jesus Christ and God.

This, then, is what I would highlight as the central “identifying belief” of Christian faith: that in Jesus Christ we have to do with God himself. This belief itself can be (and has been) expressed with many different doctrinal formulations. And the formulations themselves are less important than the underlying intuition that our encounter with Jesus Christ is an encounter with the reality of God.

Templeton Prize: John Barrow

The 2006 Templeton Prize has just been announced, and it has been awarded to Cambridge cosmologist John D. Barrow. The prestigious prize is awarded for a contribution to the dialogue between science and religion, and it comes with 795,000 pounds sterling (about US $1.4 million).

In his nomination of Barrow, Thomas Torrance described Barrow’s contribution: “The hallmark of his work is a deep engagement with those aspects of the structure of the universe and its laws that make life possible and which shape the views that we take of that universe when we examine it.... [This] has lead to a huge expansion of the breadth and depth of the dialogue between science and religion.”

For more details, see the report here; and you can read Barrow’s own reflections here.

Wednesday, 15 March 2006

Karl Barth and the Enlightenment

Many scholars have explored Karl Barth’s relationship to the Enlightenment. Barth’s admirers (e.g. T. F. Torrance) have often argued that he entirely repudiated the Enlightenment, while some of his critics (e.g. Bultmann) have argued that Barth simply retreated behind the Enlightenment, back into the theology of Protestant orthodoxy.

But one of the most interesting and most provocative essays on Barth’s relationship to the Enlightenment takes a different approach: the essay is Trutz Rendtorff, “Radikale Autonomie Gottes: Zum Verständnis der Theologie Karl Barths und ihre Folgen,” in Theorie des Christentums (Gütersloh, 1972), pp. 161-81.

Rendtorff argues that Barth built on the Enlightenment’s ideas about human autonomy, but directed these ideas towards God in order to develop a new emphasis on the autonomy of God. Thus, according to Rendtorff, Barth neither rejected the Enlightenment nor retreated behind it, but instead he ushered in “a new Enlightenment”—an Enlightenment whose focus was the “radical autonomy of God.”

Was Paul Tillich an atheist?

An excellent post at Without Authority discusses this question.

Tuesday, 14 March 2006

Miroslav Volf

At Metalepsis, Bryan Lee is offering 40 days of Lenten reflections on Miroslav Volf’s new book, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. And Chris Tilling points out a great podcast conversation with Volf. I’m embarrassed to say that I still haven’t gotten around to reading Volf’s new book, but hopefully I’ll get to it soon!

Book buying

Thanks to all those who have been using my Amazon.com search-box for their book, music and DVD purchases. I get a small commission whenever you use this box to make a purchase, and it all adds up nicely (meaning an occasional free book for me). In appreciation for these commissions, I have just moved the box towards the top of my sidebar. I hope this doesn’t look too tacky—if you think it does, let me know, and I'll consider moving it down again to a more obscure location.

Jean-Luc Marion

Jean-Luc Marion is perhaps the most profound philosopher working today. Marion is both a devout Roman Catholic and a disciple of Jacques Derrida, and he has explored in great depth the post-metaphysical meaning of “God,” especially in his brilliant book God without Being.

So it has been a real delight to read Cynthia Nielsen’s current series of posts on Marion’s book Being Given (here, here, here, here and here). It’s an excellent series—and I hope it inspires you to read Marion’s work for yourself.

For this great series, Cynthia’s Per Caritatem is also our new “blog of the week.”

Monday, 13 March 2006

Rowan Williams and Lambeth 2008

In spite of his personal views about human sexuality, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is making great efforts to avoid a split in the Anglican Communion. According to this news report, Williams has said that the 2008 Lambeth Conference should not re-open the 1998 resolution about gay relationships. Williams says: “Despite the levels of bitter controversy over sexuality in the [Anglican] Communion, I do not hear much enthusiasm for revisiting in 2008 the last Lambeth Conference’s resolution on this matter. In my judgment, we cannot properly or usefully re-open the discussion as if Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998 did not continue to represent the general mind of the Communion.”

Brokeback Mountain

“There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it you’ve got to stand it.”

—Annie Proulx, “Brokeback Mountain,” in Close Range: Wyoming Stories (London: Fourth Estate, 1999), p. 318. [The film is based on this short story.]

The gulf between means and ends

“Before we can take the right way we must know what it is. Before we can mobilise our forces to put justice into action we must know what we ought to want. The specific malady of our age, as compared with earlier ages, is groping in the dark and confusion of thought. At the very time when people have means of realising their aims such as they never had before, they are utterly at a loss as to what those aims should be. In their preoccupation with discovering and devising those means they have forgotten even how to inquire into their aims. The way in which the gigantic forces of technology, formerly unknown, have been harnessed to the purpose of destruction in war is the perfect expression of the gulf between the means and the end of intention. The condition of the world at the end of this war [i.e. World War II] will provide the dreadful proof ... of the primacy of ends over means.”

—Emil Brunner, Justice and the Social Order (London: Lutterworth, 1945), p. 227.

Sunday, 12 March 2006

Fast and feast: prayer

In homage to George Herbert’s poem “Prayer,” our friend Kim Fabricius has written this hymn entitled “Prayer the Church’s Fast and Feast” (to the tune of England’s Lane / Heathlands):

Prayer the church’s fast and feast,
recipes for grief and praise;
prayer the creature’s common speech,
mind and soul in paraphrase:

Father God, how good to share
all our love and pain and care.


Prayer the land of sun and spice,
hearts on holiday abroad;
prayer the blood of sacrifice,
blessed spear that pierced our Lord:

Prayer the compass of desire,
pointing to the promised rest;
prayer the truth against the liar,
passing all the devil’s tests:

Prayer the token of the best,
poetry of cheerful rhymes;
prayer the sound of deep unrest,
thunderclaps for tempest-times:

Prayer the ear that hears the tones,
sounding from angelic spheres;
prayer the voice that moves the stone,
pressing on the tomb of years:

Prayer the raising of the dead,
turning evil into good;
prayer the way the world is read,
sense of something understood.

Heaven in ordinary: prayer

One of the most profound depictions of prayer that I know of is George Herbert’s poem, “Prayer,” published in 1633:

Prayer the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;

Engine against th’ Almighty, sinners’ tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days-world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;

Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well dressed,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.

Saturday, 11 March 2006

Idiosyncratic dogmatics

As well as reading the works of the great systematic theologians, I enjoy reading and collecting strange, unique or idiosyncratic systematic theologies. Here are four examples from my own library:

J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988-1992). This was the first full systematic theology to be written from a charismatic-Pentecostal perspective. Although it’s not a particularly good work of theology, the sections on charismatic themes are interesting.

Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing, 1966). This is the twentieth century’s only “hyper-Calvinist” systematic theology. The book’s theories of double predestination and of God’s hatred for sinners are enough to give you nightmares.

Frank Lake, Clinical Theology: A Theological and Psychiatric Basis to Clinical Pastoral Care (London: Darton Longman & Todd, 1966). As the title suggests, this one isn’t really a systematic theology (although at 1282 pages it definitely looks like one), but it does explore a great range of theological themes. This was the first attempt at a systematic integration between theology, psychiatry and psychoanalysis.

Hans L. Martensen, Christian Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1898). This is actually quite a good systematic theology, written by one of the “mediating theologians” (i.e. mediating between Schleiermacher and Lutheran orthodoxy). But today the author is remembered only as the Danish Lutheran bishop who was passionately attacked and denounced by Kierkegaard.

Creation from the future

“Creation is not to be understood as an act that happened one time, ages ago, the results of which involve us in the present. Rather, the creation of all things, even including things that belong to the past, takes place out of the ultimate future, from the eschaton, insofar as only from the perspective of the end are all things what they truly are.”

—Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus—God and Man (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968), p. 230.

Friday, 10 March 2006

Reader demographic

Thanks to the 141 people who voted in the latest poll. The results show that 29% of the readers of this blog are graduate/postgraduate students, 25% are ministers or fulltime Christian workers, 11% are academics, and 11% are undergraduate students. Since these were the only categories included in the poll, naturally a lot of readers (24%) responded that they are “none of the above.” I was very interested to discover that such a large proportion of readers are ministers and graduate students. So thanks for participating!

Critiquing systematic theology

This week there have been two interesting critiques of systematic theology—one at Weekend Fisher, and another at Biblia Theologica. I agree entirely with both these posts, although in both cases it is not really systematic theology itself, but only bad and dilettante systematic theology that is being critiqued. Good dogmatics does not aim either at system-building or at constructing a “harmony” of the biblical witness. Instead, guided by the witness of Scripture, good dogmatics attempts to speak faithfully of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, 9 March 2006

Who is my neighbour?

Here in Brisbane last week, there was a shocking contemporary version of the Good Samaritan parable—except that in this case, there was no Good Samaritan to lend a hand.

A 62-year-old woman, Delmae Barton, collapsed with a stroke at a busy university bus stop. She lay vomiting on the ground beside the bus stop, passing in and out of consciousness, while people walked past and ignored her—for five hours. (See the news report here.)

The parable of the Good Samaritan was Jesus’ answer to the question, “Who is my neighbour?” It seems this woman had no neighbour. None except the crucified Christ, who is himself the friend and neighbour of all those whom the world forgets.

Theology and GM foods

This article reports some differing theological opinions about the question of genetically modified foods. Have you given any consideration to this important contemporary problem?

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

Karl Barth on justification

“There is no room for any fears that in the justification of man we are dealing only with a verbal action, with a kind of bracketed ‘as if,’ as though what is pronounced were not the whole truth about man. Certainly we have to do with a declaring righteous, but it is a declaration about man which is fulfilled and therefore effective in this event, which corresponds to actuality because it creates and therefore reveals the actuality. It is a declaring righteous which without any reserve can be called a making righteous.”

—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1, p. 95.

A new job

This week I have started my new job here at the University of Queensland; for the next three years, I’ll be a postdoctoral research fellow in one of the university’s splendid research centres. So I’ll be working on various publications relating to the history of Christian theology. In the future I might try to post further details about some of my research projects.

Tuesday, 7 March 2006

A sinless city?

I loved the film Sin City. But what about a sinless city? Over at Connexions, Richard points out that developers in Florida are planning to create a town based on “Catholic principles.” The news report is here. The project will be funded by none other than Domino’s Pizza.

An endeavour like this has nothing whatever to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ, or with the Catholic faith. Apart from every ethical and theological objection, all good Catholics should know that Domino’s Pizza is a very far cry from real Italian food.

500th post

This is the 500th post here at Faith and Theology. Thanks for visiting!

Monday, 6 March 2006

Oxford scholarship online

My university library has recently subscribed to Oxford Scholarship Online—a marvellous database for theological research. There are currently over 1100 books in the database, and about 200 new books are added each year.

The religion section of the database contains numerous searchable full-text works, including books by (among many others) James Barr, David Brown, Owen Chadwick, Avery Dulles, Bruce McCormack, Mark Noll, David Steinmetz and Maurice Wiles; and including scholarly editions of works by Augustine, Charles Wesley, and others.

The database is beautifully designed—you can do excellent advanced searches, link directly to online material from footnotes, automatically export citations to Endnote, and more.

If your library isn’t yet a subscriber, then you should ask them to consider it, or to take out a 30-day free trial.

Colin Gunton blog

I recently discovered an excellent new theology blog: Nate Suda’s Gunton Research.

Nate is a PhD student under John Webster at Aberdeen, currently completing his dissertation on Colin Gunton’s theology. His blog is a forum for the discussion of Gunton's work, and it includes superb research bibliographies (both primary and secondary sources), articles and conference papers on Gunton, and various other goodies. Of particular interest is the recent post on Gunton’s unfinished dogmatics and his unpublished Barth lectures.

Thanks to Nate for providing this valuable scholarly forum. If you’re interested in Colin Gunton or in British systematic theology, then you should be sure to visit Gunton Research—and if you’ve written a paper or given a conference presentation on Gunton, then you might like to consider posting it on this blog as well.

Sunday, 5 March 2006

The justification of worship

O Trinity uncreated and without beginning,
O undivided Unity, three and one,
Father, Son and Spirit, a single God;
Accept this our hymn from tongues of clay
As if from mouths of flame.

—from the Lenten Triodion of the Orthodox Church

Icons, theology and literature

The new issue of the excellent journal Literature and Theology is specially devoted to the topic of icons in relation to theology and literature.

A lecture by Robert W. Jenson

At Princeton’s Centre for Theological Inquiry, Robert W. Jenson will be giving a public lecture on the doctrine of atonement. If you’re in the Princeton area this week, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to hear one of the world’s finest theological thinkers.

Saturday, 4 March 2006

A three-year-old's sacramental theology

Yesterday my three-year-old daughter approached me with a small cup of water, and asked if she could baptise me. I agreed, but said that she would have to dry my hair afterwards.

So with great pleasure and solemnity, she proceeded to pour the cup over the top of my head. When it was over, I asked: “Do you have a towel to dry my hair?”

She thought for a moment, and then replied: “No, this is actually a Baptist church, so we use a blow dryer.”

Night of the encyclopedia

Recently the two great theological encyclopedias, Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE), and the 4th edition of Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (RGG), were finally completed. To celebrate, the two publishers, Mohr Siebeck and Walter de Gruyter, held a “Night of the Encyclopedia.”

At this event, Rudolf Smend gave a lecture on the important place of these encyclopedias in twentieth-century theology. The lecture is now printed in the new issue of the Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche: Rudolf Smend, “Zur Vollendung der Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart und der Theologischen Realenzyklopädie,” ZThK 103:1 (2006).

Friday, 3 March 2006

Favourite Bob Dylan albums

Bob Dylan has released dozens of albums—and again, I must admit I like all of them. Even the notoriously bad albums like Self Portrait and Empire Burlesque give me a great deal of enjoyment. But there are five albums which, for me, stand out above all the rest. Here are my five favourites:

1. Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
2. Blonde on Blonde (1966)
3. Blood on the Tracks (1975)
4. The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 (1991)
5. Love and Theft (2001)

If we were to include live albums, then of course I’d also be mentioning the incomparable Live 1966—an album that can never be praised highly enough.

Biblical Studies Carnival III

The new Biblical Studies Carnival has been posted at Ricoblog. Rick has done a great job with this one, and he even kindly mentions my recent podcasts—so make sure you head over to Ricoblog for a look.

New poll

Out of curiosity about the people who read this blog, I have added a new poll which asks whether you are a student, a minister, an academic, etc. So come and add your vote—even if your answer is simply “None of the above”!

Thursday, 2 March 2006

Some favourite Bob Dylan songs

If you’ve been visiting Faith and Theology for a while, then you’ll know that I’m something of a Bob Dylan enthusiast.

Bob Dylan is our greatest songwriter. He has written over 500 songs, and, personally, I like just about all of them. But I do have a few favourites. Here are my five personal favourites—these are five songs that I come home to, songs that I inhabit, songs that I can’t imagine ever being without. Here they are, listed chronologically:

1. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (1963)
2. Desolation Row (1965)
3. Visions of Johanna (1966)
4. Tangled Up in Blue (1975)
5. Mississippi (2001)

And here are 20 of my other favourite Bob Dylan songs, selected broadly from across his career (and listed chronologically):

1. I Was Young When I Left Home (1961)
2. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (1964)
3. To Ramona (1964)
4. Mama, You Been on My Mind (1964)
5. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (1965)
6. Mr Tambourine Man (1965)
7. Like a Rolling Stone (1965)
8. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again (1966)
9. Million Dollar Bash (1967)
10. Nobody ‘Cept You (1973)
11. Idiot Wind (1975)
12. Shelter from the Storm (1975)
13. Isis (1976)
14. Angelina (1981)
15. Jokerman (1983)
16. Blind Willie McTell (1983)
17. Brownsville Girl (1986)
18. Dignity (1989)
19. Highlands (1997)
20. Things Have Changed (1997)

Rowan Williams on freedom

“Real choice both expresses and curtails freedom—or rather it should lead us further and further away from a picture of choice that presupposes a blank will looking out at a bundle of options like goods on a supermarket shelf.”

Rowan Williams, Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement (London: Continuum, 2000), p. 32.

Milton's theology of freedom

My book on Milton’s Theology of Freedom is due for release in July, and details are now available online. Obviously monographs like this are too expensive for most individuals to buy; but you might like to ask your library to get a copy.

Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Online theology conference to discuss "Deus caritas est"

The Vatican has organised an online videoconference of leading theologians to discuss Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. You’ll be able to follow the conference live (in Real Player) via the website of the Congregation of the Clergy, and the texts of the addresses will be posted later on the site.

For more details, see ZENIT.

The meaning of freedom

(I wrote this post yesterday for Lyn Perry’s “Daily Brew” column, and I’m reproducing it here.)

In the history of the church, human “freedom” has often been understood simply as the ability to choose between alternative options. I can choose either A or B, and therefore I am “free.” But such an understanding of freedom is absurd: merely standing at a crossroads does not make me free. Freedom is not the abstract ability to choose between two paths—rather it is the concrete choice of one particular path.

Indeed, the mere ability to choose can lead to unfreedom. Just think of our consumer culture, our supermarket shelves lined with a thousand possibilities. I may experience such possibilities not as an enlargement of my personal life, but as a confinement—I may find myself paralysed by choice. In this case, the ability to choose between alternative options has become enslavement, paralysis, unfreedom.

But according to the New Testament, true freedom is not an abstract ability to choose. It is not the state of the consumer in a supermarket of possibilities; it is not the motionless state of a traveller at the crossroads. Rather, freedom is a specific movement of my personal life—it is an act in which my whole self goes out of itself towards the other. Or, to put it simply, freedom is love—not love as a static possibility, but love as an act and movement of my life in one very specific direction, in relationship to another person.

I am not free in relation to my wife if I am standing at the crossroads, able to say either “Yes” or “No” to her. I am free in relation to her only when I go out of myself towards her with a decisive and unqualified “Yes.” Similarly, freedom before God is not the ability either to choose God or to reject him. Freedom before God is the movement of life in which my whole being responds to God with an unqualified “Yes.” As long as this “Yes” is merely one possibility alongside others, I am not yet free. Only in the act of saying this “Yes” do I enter into the life of freedom.

This is the freedom of self-giving obedience, the freedom of joyful service, the freedom of love.

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Pope Benedict XVI has exhorted believers to face the Lenten season “not ... with an ‘old’ spirit, as if it were a heavy and tedious obligation, but with the new spirit of the one who has found in Jesus and his paschal mystery the meaning of life, and feels that everything must make reference to him.”

There are also some valuable reflections on the meaning of Lent over at utownchurch.

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