Tuesday 31 January 2006

The winner: T. F. Torrance

My “greatest living theologian” poll seemed to attract more comments than votes. But although only 37 people voted, a clear winner emerged: T. F. Torrance, the only English-language theologian on the list, who claimed 35% of the votes. In second place was Jürgen Moltmann (27%), followed by Wolfhart Pannenberg (22%), and then Hans Küng (8%) and Eberhard Jüngel (8%).

What the hell?

Over at Connexions, there is a provocative list of Ten Propositions on Hell, supported by quotes from Dante, Milton, Barth and Balthasar. The Balthasar quote is one that I have often pondered: “I can speak of hell only in relation to myself, precisely because I can never imagine the possible damnation of another as more likely than my own.”

God knows

God knows it’s fragile,
God knows everything,
God knows it could snap apart right now
Just like putting scissors to a string.

—Bob Dylan, “God Knows” (1990)

Monday 30 January 2006

God's new man: John Paul II and Benedict XVI

I have just put down Paul Collins’ new book, God’s New Man: The Election of Benedict XVI and the Legacy of John Paul II (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2005). It’s a very readable and engaging narrative about John Paul II and the rise of Ratzinger, and it also contains a good deal of informed theological discussion. I was especially interested in the account of Ratzinger’s development in the 60s and 70s, and in the comments on his theological relationship to contemporaries like John Paul II, Karl Rahner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Hans Küng, and the liberation theologians.

If you’re interested in the new pope’s biographical and theological background, then this book is well worth checking out.

Moltmann's theological method

“For me, theology was, and still is, an adventure of ideas. It is an open inviting path. Right down to the present day, it has continued to fascinate my mental and spiritual curiosity. My methods therefore grew up as I came to have a perception of the objects of theological thought. The road emerged only as I walked it.”

—Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), p. xv.

Sunday 29 January 2006

Who is the greatest living theologian?

I’ve just added a new poll to the sidebar—have your say!

Essential travel for theologians

Old Testament scholar Joe Cathey has travelled extensively, so I asked him to come up with a list of “essential travel for theologians,” based on his own experience. Joe divides his recommendations into four main sections: Africa, the UK, Europe, and the Middle East. Obviously this is not intended as an exhaustive list—so let us know if you have any other suggestions to add.

1. Africa
In Africa, first visit Tunisia—this lovely area in North Africa is the birthplace of much of the Early Church (Augustine and Tertullian). Then go to Kenya, which is a lovely spot, especially on the coast. It is caught up with both the Old and New Africa. You should also visit Tanzania in order to see the poorer areas of Africa. If you visit one of the poorer countries, you have a sense of what Africa is really like.

2. United Kingdom
In England, visit St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Wesley’s Chapel, Salisbury Cathedral, St Mary de Crypt Church, Oxford University, Cambridge University, The British Museum, and The Cambridge Museum.

3. Europe
In France, visit the Louvre (and eat in the nice restaurant “Brasserie de Louvre”), and make sure you spend at least a whole day at Notre Dame.

In Switzerland, go first to Geneva. Visit the St Pierre Cathedral (the high point in French Gothic architecture) and the Lausanne Cathedral (one of the most beautiful of all gothic cathedrals). You must also take a trip up to Jungfraujoch while in Interlaken.

In Italy, the first place to visit is of course St Peter’s in Rome. You should take the tour of the Vatican; my favorite is of course the Sistine Chapel—absolutely splendid! Go also to the Roman Colosseum and the Catacombs of Callixtus. There are Roman cathedrals by the hundreds, so for these you should consult a reputable online guide or book. I had to see the Abbey at Mt Cassino, because it is where my Grandfather accepted Christ as his savior during the Second World War.

4. The Middle East
In Israel, one of the first places to visit is Hafia, specifically the Hechet Museum. Moving down from Hafia you come next to Tel-Aviv, and you must go to the Beth Hatefutsoth, the museum of the Diaspora. One of the more beautiful museums in Israel is the Eretz Israel Museum. I absolutely love the Nechushtan Pavilion, but then again my interest lies in the ancient areas of Israel’s history. Interesting for biblical scholars are museums such as the Bible Lands Museum, the Israel Museum, the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Collection, the Rockefeller Museum, and Tower of David.

Make sure you also take time to visit the Dead Sea, Qumran and Ein Gedi, Massada and the Jordan River. At a minimum I would want to see the Old City—Jerusalem, Megiddo, Hazor, Tel-Aviv, and some outlying areas.

For the church historian there are so many sites that I can’t begin to list them all. The Church of the Nativity is of course a must for the first time visitor. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre would also be high on many people’s lists. Likewise the Western Wall is quite spectacular, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the Shrine of the Book.

Elsewhere in the Middles East, be sure to visit Petra in Jordan (but please do not look for the Lost Cup of Christ, as Dr Jones has already found it), and Istanbul in Turkey.

Saturday 28 January 2006


“Retrospectively, the dogmatics of the 19th century can be understood essentially as the direct, indirect, or negatively received influence of the theology of Friedrich Daniel Schleiermacher, one of the most powerful personalities in all of church history, in some ways comparable with Augustine.”

—Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981-83), 1:135-36.

Friday 27 January 2006

Surely God was a lover

Surely God was a lover, when he bade the day begin,
Soft as a woman’s eyelid – white as a woman’s skin?

Surely God was a lover when he made the trees so fair?
In every leaf is a glory caught from a woman’s hair.

John Shaw Neilson, “Surely God Was a Lover” (1910)

Leonardo Boff

The South American liberation theologian Leonardo Boff has an excellent website, with lots of details about his life and theological work.

Thursday 26 January 2006

Essential spiritual and devotional writings for theologians

Here’s our next “essential list,” kindly created by Kim Fabricius. Kim says:

The title of this post is invidious if it suggests that theology and spirituality are two separate disciplines. For theology is spirituality in articulate expression, while spirituality is theology on its knees—and, of course, on its feet too! When theology is “thin,” it is often because it is not steeped in prayer; and when spirituality is “lite,” it is usually because it is theologically vacuous. Nevertheless, as anthologies attest, you will know what I mean by the designation “spiritual and devotional writings.”

This has been a particularly tough list of twenty to compile—the Christian tradition is so blessedly rich. I have gone for a historical and geographical spread, and I have also tried to include writers from a range of confessions, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.

Furthermore, in this list more than in the other lists I have done for Ben, I have to admit to ignorance about some obvious primary sources. Lest I seem a fraud, I have been rigorous in excluding any material I don’t know at first hand.... But lest I protest too much, let me post and be damned!

1. Augustine (354-439): Confessions
2. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153): On Loving God
3. Meister Eckhart (c.1260-1327): The Book of Divine Consolation
4. Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416): Revelations of Divine Love
5. Thomas à Kempis (c.1380-1471): The Imitation of Christ
6. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556): Spiritual Exercises
7. John of the Cross (1542-91): The Ascent of Mount Carmel
8. Frances de Sales ((1567-1622): Introduction to the Devout Life
9. George Herbert (1593-1633): The Temple
10. Jeremy Taylor (1613-67): Rules and Exercises for Holy Living and Dying
11. Blaise Pascal (1623-62): Pensées
12. John Bunyan (1628-88): Pilgrim’s Progress
13. John Wesley (1703-91): Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists
14. Nicodemus the Hagiorite (1748-1809), compiler: the Philokalia
15. Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55): Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing
16. Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-88): Love Alone: The Way of Revelation
17. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45): Letters and Papers from Prison
18. Simone Weil (1909-43): Waiting on God
19. Thomas Merton (1911-68): Seeds of Contemplation
20. Martin Luther King (1929-68): Strength to Love

Reformation eschatology

“[I]t is easy to understand how eschatology could play such a comparatively insignificant role in the theology of the Reformers. They knew how to make so much of forgiveness of sins in particular that to them and their contemporaries anything of decisive importance that is to be said about the resurrection of the flesh and eternal life could be taken as said under that head.”

—Karl Barth, Credo: A Presentation of the Chief Problems of Dogmatics with Reference to the Apostles’ Creed (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1936), pp. 162-63.

Wednesday 25 January 2006

Benedict XVI's encyclical: God is love

Just hours ago, Benedict XVI released his much-anticipated first encyclical, entitled “Deus caritas est” (“God Is Love”). He describes the purpose of the encyclical in these words: “To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world—this is the invitation I would like to extend with the present Encyclical.” The first part of the encyclical speaks of the love of God, and the second part speaks of the Church’s call to love. You can read the full text of the encyclical in English here.

One can only hope that the Holy Father will later address specific problems such as marriage, contraception and human sexuality. But regardless of these concerns, this is a profound encyclical, and it holds significant promise for the future. I’d encourage you to read it carefully. Here are some quotes:

“God’s eros for man is also totally agape. This is not only because it is bestowed in a completely gratuitous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is love which forgives.”

“[Jesus’] death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form.”

“The Spirit is also the energy which transforms the heart of the ecclesial community, so that it becomes a witness before the world to the love of the Father, who wishes to make humanity a single family in his Son. The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man.”

“Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically … but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs.”

“Charity, furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends.”

Hans Urs von Balthasar: love alone

Hans Urs von Balthasar is best known for his big books; but I mentioned recently the great value of his little books as well. I want to post on several of these over the next few weeks. Today, let me mention the remarkable little volume Love Alone: The Way of Revelation (London: Sheed & Ward, 1970). At only 124pp., you can read the whole thing on a single bus trip across town (I did this myself just yesterday).

The volume offers a very condensed version of the argument developed in Balthasar’s massive work The Glory of the Lord. It is a work of theological aesthetics; and Balthasar uses the term “aesthetics” in a strictly theological sense: it is our perception of the glory of God’s absolute love expressed in Jesus Christ. The book’s central theme is that God is love, and therefore he is glorious—and we perceive this glory as beauty.

God’s revelation of himself is not only true and good, but also beautiful. The beauty of God’s love is the mystery of reality; it is the true meaning of life, of existence, of being. Just as we are overwhelmed by a beautiful work of art, so God’s love overwhelms us, transforms us, brings us to ourselves, and awakens us to respond to God with love.

Here’s a quote: “The first thing that must strike a non-Christian about a Christian’s faith is that it is all too daring. It is too beautiful to be true: The mystery of being, unveiled as absolute love, coming down to wash the feet and the souls of its creatures; a love that assumes the whole burden of our guilt and hate, that accepts the accusations that shower down, the disbelief that veils God again when he has revealed himself, all the scorn and contempt that nails down his incomprehensible movement of self-abasement—all this, absolute love accepts in order to excuse his creature before himself and before the world.” (pp. 83-84)

The patristic doctrine of creation

“In a profound sense the doctrine of creation undergirds the developed pattern of patristic theology, expressing its grasp of God’s gracious being, nature and activity, as well as its perception of the world’s contingency and need for saving union with the divine, a union effected in the being, nature and atoning activity of the incarnate Word. I would submit that the questions posed by such a standpoint remain the fundamental theological issues which have to be addressed.”

—Frances Young, The Making of the Creeds (London: SCM, 1991), p. 103.

Tuesday 24 January 2006

Here and there

I have recently discovered a beautifully-designed Catholic blog called Even the Devils Believe, which I have made the new blog of the week.

On other fronts, Jared Coleman has conducted an excellent blog-interview with the brilliant theologian Miroslav Volf (thanks to Connexions for the tip). JoBloggs has a very moving post about a letter to Charles Wesley from his wife Sally, while Jim West alerts us to an important new book on fundamental theology, and Mike Bird announces that he is getting his own first book published with T&T Clark/Continuum.

Meanwhile, Chris Tilling has been contemplating prison for the sake of Barth’s Church Dogmatics (is there any better reason to go to prison?). And Tyler Williams is organising the second Biblical Studies Carnival for February 1—please see his call for submissions.

Deus caritas est: Dante and the Pope

According to this report, Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, entitled “God Is Love,” is partly inspired by Dante’s great poem The Divine Comedy. Laus Deo.

Monday 23 January 2006

Essential plays for theologians

Here’s our next essential list by Kim Fabricius:

Another list. And why not? Lists are as old as biblical genealogies and as contemporary as baseball statistics. Lists enthuse people, send them back to basic texts, start discussions, spark alternative suggestions, and invite us to new encounters.

But perhaps a list of plays is particularly appropriate in our current theological context. Tom Wright’s paradigm of the Bible as an unfinished dramatic script has been widely discussed and deployed, particularly in the field of (virtue) ethics. But then, long ago, didn’t Calvin speak of creation as the theatre of God’s glory, and doesn’t God call us all to improvise in the plot of his divine comedy?

One more thing: my terms of engagement. I have gone for a historical spread; I have limited each playwright to one play; and, when in doubt, I have used the venerable technique of flipping a coin. And—to get my retaliation in first!—Euripides lost the toss to Aristophanes, while Ben Jonson (1572/73-1637), The Alchemist, John Millington Synge (1871-1909), The Playboy of the Western World, and Tennessee Williams (1911-83), The Night of the Iguana, went out at the director’s last cut. Oh, and please, no hassles about King Lear! With Shakespeare, it’s a win-win (or is it lose-lose?) situation.

Finally, thanks to everyone in advance for telling me wherever else I’ve got it egregiously wrong!

1. Aeschylus (525-245 BCE): the Oresteia
2. Sophocles (496-406 BCE): Antigone
3. Aristophanes (c.448-380 BCE): The Frogs
4. The York Mystery Cycle (from 14th century)
5. Christopher Marlowe (1564-93): Dr. Faustus
6. William Shakespeare (1564-1616): King Lear
7. John Milton (1608-74): Samson Agonistes
8. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832): Faust
9. Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906): The Master Builder
10. August Strindberg (1849-1912): Miss Julie
11. George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950): Man and Superman
12. Anton Chekov (1860-1904): The Cherry Orchard
13. Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936): Six Characters in Search of an Author
14. Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953): Long Day’s Journey into Night
15. T. S. Eliot (1888-1965): Murder in the Cathedral
16. Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956): Mother Courage
17. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80): No Exit
18. Samuel Beckett (1906-89): Waiting for Godot
19. Arthur Miller (1915-2005): The Crucible
20. Harold Pinter (1930- ): The Caretaker

Reel good theology

Over at Connexions there is an impressively long list of must-see films for Christians, with every movie-category you could ever think of.

Update: Ken Ristau also has a great list of 10 directors and 100 films.

Sunday 22 January 2006

Bultmann on the resurrection: criticisms

A couple of days ago I posted an appreciation of Rudolf Bultmann’s view of the resurrection. Some very insightful criticisms were posted in the comments, and I want to add my own general criticisms here as well. I think Bultmann’s interpretation of the resurrection is immensely valuable and important—but I don’t think we should appropriate Bultmann’s view uncritically.

I outlined three main contributions of Bultmann’s view; and in each case I would also raise a specific criticism:

1. I agree with Bultmann that Jesus’ death and resurrection should be correlated—but, unlike Bultmann, I would also want to say that Jesus’ death temporally precedes his resurrection.

2. I agree with Bultmann that the resurrection is an eschatological event—but, unlike Bultmann, I would also say that this event is eschatological precisely as something that happened to the “body” (whatever that might mean) of one particular historical man.

3. I agree with Bultmann that faith and resurrection should be correlated—but I would also want to insist that this is a correlation from the direction (so to speak) of the resurrection, so that the resurrection precedes and constitutes faith.

These three criticisms by no means undermine Bultmann’s contribution. They simply indicate the need to move beyond Bultmann—and we cannot go beyond him until we have first gone through him.

Just one systematic theology?

If a general reader wanted to get just one systematic theology, which one should it be? I was asked this question recently. It’s a tricky question, but to my surprise I immediately knew the answer: Robert W. Jenson’s Systematic Theology. This work consists of two volumes: Volume 1 is entitled The Triune God and Volume 2 is entitled The Works of God.

No other systematic theology is more vibrant, more energetic, more contemporary, more sharp and direct in its exposition of the central themes of Christian faith.

Saturday 21 January 2006

Vatican paper rejects ID

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano has restated the Catholic Church's support of evolutionary theory, and has condemned the notion that Intelligent Design should be taught in schools alongside evolution. Get the story here.

Friday 20 January 2006

Bultmann on the resurrection

Chris Tilling recently posted a nice series about the great German theologian Rudolf Bultmann. Chris expresses his appreciation for Bultmann’s contribution, but he notes (in a comment) that his greatest complaint against Bultmann is the latter’s interpretation of resurrection.

I understand what Chris means, and I agree that Bultmann’s view of resurrection is not without its problems. But it seems to me that there is also much to appreciate in Bultmann’s resurrection-theology. Let me mention three of his most important contributions:

First, Bultmann highlights the correlation between the crucified Jesus and the risen Christ. He makes it clear that the resurrection is not some kind of “extra thing” added to Jesus’ death, nor a mere reversal of the effects of death. Rather, it is precisely the Crucified One who is also the Risen One—Christ is risen not in spite of his death, but he is risen precisely as the Crucified One who died. Thus the Risen One continues always to be the Crucified One; and the cross and resurrection are not two events but one. This fundamental insight has had a profound influence on post-Bultmannian theology, and it has continued to be a central theme in the work of theologians like Jürgen Moltmann and Eberhard Jüngel.

Second, Bultmann sharply highlights the eschatological character of the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection is not merely one historical event alongside others, but it is the eschatological event—it is the event of the end of the world and the end of history. This formulation has decisively influenced later theology; most notably, it has remained the central focus of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s thought.

Third, Bultmann highlights the correlation between faith and resurrection. Only in the event of faith can we know God, since God is not an object that we can verify “objectively,” nor a psychological state that we can experience “subjectively.” There can be neither “objective” nor “subjective” knowledge of God, but only the knowledge of God which arises from our living encounter with God through the proclamation of the resurrection of the Crucified One. Faith itself, for Bultmann, is nothing other than “our resolving to trust solely in God who raises the dead.” There is therefore a close correlation between faith and resurrection: the proclamation that the Crucified One is risen awakens us to faith—and through faith we encounter the Crucified One as the Risen One. In all this, Bultmann seeks to take us beyond both “subjective” (e.g. the resurrection as an experience of the disciples) and “objective” (e.g. the resurrection as a verifiable historical event) interpretations of the resurrection.

Above all, then, Bultmann seeks to develop a theology of resurrection which does justice to the primitive Christian proclamation—that the man who was put to death now lives and acts as the world’s true Lord.

Update: See also my criticisms of Bultmann.

Quote of the day

behind summer
behind the evening sun
behind sadness,
there must surely
be angels

—Kuriki Kyoko, "Behind Summer," in Natsu No Ushiro / Behind Summer: Japanese Tanka Poems (Charnwood: Ginninderra Press, 2005), p. 60.

Thursday 19 January 2006

Hans Urs von Balthasar: dare we hope?

The brilliant Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar is best known for his vast theological trilogy, Herrlichkeit, Theodramatik and Theologik.

But reading Chris Tilling’s blog recently, I noticed that his wishlist includes Balthasar’s little volume Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? With a Short Discourse on Hell (1988). And seeing this book on his list reminded me of the immense value of even Balthasar’s smallest books.

Dare We Hope is a sharp and insightful work, and it deserves close attention regardless of one’s own view of the scope of salvation. The book evoked some controversy, with critics accusing Balthasar of universalism, i.e., of believing in the apokatastasis panton. But such an accusation misses the whole point of Balthasar’s argument—for he does not believe in universal salvation, but he hopes for it. And, as the whole of Dare We Hope demonstrates, there may be all the difference in the world between “believing” and “hoping.”

Quote of the day

Love rescue me
Come forth and speak to me
Raise me up
And don’t let me fall.
No man is my enemy
My own hands imprison me.
Love rescue me.

—Bono and Bob Dylan, “Love Rescue Me” (1988)

Wednesday 18 January 2006

Evangelicals, Zionism and the holy land

One of the strangest and most unsettling aspects of contemporary religion is the support of Zionism by conservative evangelical Christians. This evangelical obsession with Zion demands a theological response; and my friend Kim Fabricius (who also posts at Connexions) offers the following critique:

First, in his ecological/geographical study Jesus a Jewish Galilean, Sean Freyne argues that, while affirming the special place of Israel in God’s providence, Jesus nevertheless had a permeable understanding of Jewish identity and stoutly rejected the holy war ideology of the Hasmoneans. Freyne also suggests (a) that Jesus’ interest “was in the creator God rather than in the God of Sinai and the Exodus, and that his lifestyle was based more on the story of Abraham than on that of Moses”; and (b) that these emphases “are very much in line with Isaiah’s trajectory also and reflect the outlook which supports the servant’s mission and values.”

Perhaps more importantly still, with respect to the primitive church, N. T. Wright observes: “The Land no longer functioned as the key symbol of the geographical identity of the people of God, and that for an obvious reason: if the new community consisted of Jew, Greek, barbarian alike, there was no sense in which one piece of territory could possess more significance than another. At no point in this early period do we find Christians eager to define or defend a ‘holy land’.... [T]he world, I suggest, is the new Land.”

The conclusion I draw is this: that for Christians “the Land” is otiose as a literal theological category; like the Temple, it can only function typologically. In which case the evangelical obsession with Zion is rather like a man frenetically trying to keep a candle burning in broad daylight.

Quote of the day

The Incarnation is “the chosen path of God’s rationality in which he interacts with the world and establishes such a relation between creaturely being and Himself that He will not allow it to slip away from Him into futility or nothingness, but upholds and confirms it as that which He has made and come to redeem.”

—T. F. Torrance, Space, Time and Incarnation (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 67.

Tuesday 17 January 2006

Essential philosophy for theologians

“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” —Ludwig Wittgenstein

“If we open our mouths, we find ourselves in the province of philosophy.” —Karl Barth

Here is my own list of essential philosophy for theologians. Philosophy really is essential if we want to practise the discipline of theology: a theologian who does not read philosophy is like a sailor who does not observe the weather.

It was a painful job trying to decide what not to include in this list. In the end I decided to limit the list by restricting it to post-medieval philosophy. This is not meant as a judgment about the superiority of modern philosophy. Rather I am simply assuming that we have already read the great ancient and medieval philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, Philo and Plotinus, Augustine and Boethius, Scotus and Ockham.

So here’s my list of 20 essential philosophy texts (ordered chronologically by author):

1. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Novum Organum
2. René Descartes (1596-1650), Meditations on First Philosophy
3. Benedictus de Spinoza, (1632-77), Theologico-Political Treatise
4. David Hume (1711-76), Treatise of Human Nature
5. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-76), The Social Contract
6. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Critique of Pure Reason
7. G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831), Phenomenology of Spirit
8. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55), Concluding Unscientific Postscript
9. Karl Marx (1818-83), Capital, Vol. 1
10. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Thus Spoke Zarathustra
11. A. N. Whitehead (1861-1947), Process and Reality
12. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
13. Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), Being and Time
14. Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002), Truth and Method
15. Simone de Beauvoir (1908-86), The Second Sex
16. Paul Ricouer (1913-2005), Time and Narrative
17. Michel Foucalt (1926-84), Madness and Civilization
18. Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), Of Grammatology
19. Alasdair MacIntyre (1929- ), Whose Justice? Which Rationality?
20. Jean-Luc Marion (1946- ), God without Being

Monday 16 January 2006

Blog of the week

Here at Faith and Theology, our new blog of the week is Phil Harland’s Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean. Phil has posted an excellent three-part series on the figure of “Satan” in the ancient world. First, Phil offers a short history of Satan; then a discussion of Mesopotamian gods and chaos-monsters; and finally a discussion of other predecessors of Satan in the Old Testament.

As Phil notes, when reading the Old Testament “it is important not to project back into its pages later developments in Judaism and Christianity”—and “this is particularly true in the case of ‘Satan.’”

Thanks to Phil for such a splendid and insightful series. Be sure to pay a visit to Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean.

Quote of the day

“Deus lux est et tenebrae in eo non sunt ullae—God is light, and no darkness at all is in him.”

—1 John 1:5 (Vulgate)

Sunday 15 January 2006

A three-year-old’s Easter hymn

Yesterday I was in bed with a cold, and I decided to cheer myself a little by reading Gerd Lüdemann’s book The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994). My three-year-old daughter came and asked me what I was reading, and I told her it was a book about Jesus rising from the dead. She was delighted to hear this, and she broke spontaneously into the following song (she is always inventing songs):

God died on the cross
The soldiers killed him on a cross
He died on the cross and it was the saddest day in the world

They buried him in a tomb
They buried him a long time ago
They buried him many, many years ago

He died at night and rose again in the morning
He rose again and now he just lives in heaven
And he’ll never die again
Because he never changes anymore

For now he doesn’t do anything normal
No, he doesn’t do anything normal
No, he doesn’t do anything normal
He just lives and lives and lives

You can imagine how impressed I was with this little hymn. Here is my own textual and theological commentary:

1. The entire hymn preserves the basic structure and sequence of the church’s primitive kerygmatic formulae: death, burial, resurrection, ascension.
2. “God died on the cross” expresses the christological mystery of God’s identification with the dead Jesus.
3. “And it was the saddest day in the world” is probably an allusion to Hegel’s statement: “God is dead—this is the most appalling thought…”
4. “The soldiers killed him” carefully avoids any semblance of anti-Semitism.
5. “He rose again and now he just lives in heaven” preserves the fundamental New Testament unity between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
6. “And he’ll never die again” highlights the fact that Jesus’ resurrection was not the mere resuscitation of a corpse, but the movement of the Crucified One through death into the new life of God’s future.
7. “For now he doesn’t do anything normal”—here the hymn achieves a startling theological conclusion. The statement of Jesus’ abnormality should not be taken in a Docetic sense, but rather as an expression of the strange otherness of Jesus as the Risen One. With death forever behind him, he now lives in and from the “wholly other” future of the kingdom of God. And he continues to be present as the one “lives” right “now.”
8. Finally, Jesus “lives and lives and lives”—this is probably intended as a subtle reference to the trinitarian structure of the life of the Risen One. The crucified Jesus now lives from the Father through the power of the Spirit: i.e., he “lives and lives and lives.”

Karl Barth lectures online

Thanks to Jason Hood for pointing me to Kevin Cawley’s post about a collection of online lectures by Karl Barth. I have linked to these lectures in the “audio” section of the sidebar. They’re recorded from Barth’s American lectures in 1962, which were subsequently published as a remarkable little book entitled Evangelical Theology. If you’ve never yet heard the great theologian speaking, then you should take some time to listen to these brilliant lectures.

Church tradition results

Thanks to the 138 people who voted in the “your church tradition” poll. The results were very interesting: initially there were roughly equal numbers of Roman Catholic, Anglican, Reformed and Baptist responses. But the Lutheran vote surged ahead after a couple of prominent Lutheran blogs linked to the “essential paintings” post—so that in the end a massive 21% of responses were Lutheran, with Anglican/Episcopal in second place at 12.3%. You can see the full results here.

Saturday 14 January 2006

On the virtue of heckling preachers

This morning my family decided to visit a quaint little Protestant church down the road. We’ve never been there before—and I don’t think we’ll be back any time soon. The preacher spoke on the beatitude, “blessed are the meek.” And to my great surprise, he spent half the sermon praising Ian Paisley as a model of the Christian virtue of meekness.

Anywhere else, the crowd might have heckled him. And I reckon it’s unfortunate that there’s no tradition of Christian heckling. We should have booed and jeered. We should have thrown fruit. It would have done everyone a world of good: the preacher would have been held accountable for his words, and the congregation would have taken a stand for humanity.

But instead we all sat in silence, our hands folded meekly in our laps.

Friday 13 January 2006

Controversial paintings

Kim’s list of “essential paintings” posted here yesterday is being discussed far and wide around the blogosphere, with responses both of protest and of praise.

Do you agree?

“Our age is, in an especial degree, the age of criticism, and to criticism everything must submit.”

—Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 1787 edition (London: Macmillan, 1927), p. 9.

Thursday 12 January 2006

Essential paintings for theologians

“All art is nostalgia for God.” —Alexei Jawlensky

“The past is not dead. It is not even past.” —William Faulkner

I invited Kim Fabricius to create a list of essential paintings for theologians. Kim has studied art and has spent time in many of the world’s great art museums, and he laboured long and hard to produce this list of 20 paintings. To make the list manageable, Kim imposed the following limits: Western art only (so no icons, no African or Asian art); paintings only (with one necessary exception); paintings “with a signature” (so no anonymous works such as manuscript illuminations); only one work per painter; and finally, Christ himself must be depicted in the painting.

Here is the list, ordered chronologically:

1. Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1319): “The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain”
2. Ambrogio Giotto (1267-1337): “Noli me Tangere”
3. Tomaso Masaccio (1401-1428): “The Tribute Money”
4. Piero della Francesca (c.1420-92): “The Resurrection”
5. Hieronymous Bosch (c.1450-1516): “The Crowning with Thorns”
6. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519): “Madonna on the Rocks”
7. Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528): “Christ among the Doctors”
8. Mathias Grünewald (c.1475-1528): “Christ on the Cross” (from the Eisenheim Altarpiece)
9. Sanzio Raphael (1483-1520): “Sistine Madonna”
10. Hans Holbein (1496/8-1543): “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb”
11. Pieter Brueghel (c.1525-69): “The Adoration of the Magi”
12. Michelangelo Caravaggio (1573-1610): “The Calling of St. Matthew”
13. Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640): “The Descent from the Cross”
14. Diego Velasquez (1599-1660): “Christ Crucified”
15. Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69): “The Adoration of the Shepherds”
16. Francisco José de Goya (1746-1828): “Christ on the Mount of Olives”
17. William Blake (1757-1827): “The Trinity” [sketch]
18. Paul Gauguin (1848-1903): “The Yellow Christ”
19. Stanley Spencer (1891-1959): “The Resurrection, Cookham”
20. Salvador Dali (1904-1989): “Christ of St. John of the Cross”

Update: See now the supplement list, More Essential Paintings for Theologians.

New map stats

I have just signed up for Map Stats with Blog Flux. This looks like a pretty cool feature—it nicely displays the most recent visitors on a world map, and you can zoom right in on the map (or satellite image) to see where visitors come from. I wonder whether this is too great an invasion of privacy....

In any case, you can view the map by clicking the button at the bottom of the sidebar.

Your church tradition

I have just added a new survey to the sidebar, because I thought it would be interesting to get an idea of the religious perspectives of some of my readers. If you’d like to participate, just choose one of the options and then click “Vote.”

Note: For some reason the survey is not displaying properly on Firefox. I’ll try to fix this tomorrow; but in the mean time, if you’re using Firefox you can view the survey properly by clicking here.

Wednesday 11 January 2006

Hans Ulrich: discoveries in theology

The new issue of the International Journal of Systematic Theology includes a translation of Hans G. Ulrich’s article, “Fides Quaerens Intellectum: Reflections towards an Explorative Theology,” IJST 8:1 (2006), 42-54. The article inquires about the nature of theological research, and it argues that theological research is concerned not with the justification or reassurance of past discoveries, but with an ongoing process of discovery, in which genuinely new things come to light.

Ulrich writes: “Research aims at discovery, it aims at what is not yet given.... Research has to do with the question of how the unknown and unrecognized comes into our world, how the new appears as unknown and unrecognized” (p. 45). And he argues that theology “does not think ‘after’ what is already given in faith: faith itself consists of the discovery of the novel” (p. 48). Theological thinking “is inquiry after discovery.... It is the discovery of a whole new reality, a reality which awaits discovery but which will only be discovered if the aim does not change unexpectedly into trying to secure or give reasons for what is found. That is, we must not exchange discovery for justifying and displaying what is discovered” (p. 53).

And what is the basic paradigm of this process of theological discovery? The paradigm is the story of Jesus. “It is paradigmatically novel that God’s Son comes into our world, a discovery for which no skill which might have been given before his coming could have been adequate” (p. 53).

John Toland: discoveries in theology

“And such is the deplorable Condition of our Age, that a Man dares not openly and directly own what he thinks of Divine Matters, tho it be never so true and beneficial, if it but very slightly differs from what is receiv’d by any Party ...; and yet a Man may not only make new Discoveries and Improvements in Law or Physick, and in any other Arts and Sciences impunibly, but also for so doing be deservedly encourag’d and rewarded.”

—John Toland, Christianity not mysterious: or, A treatise shewing that there is nothing in the Gospel contrary to reason, nor above it (London, 1696), pp. iv-v.

Tuesday 10 January 2006

Essential compositions for theologians

Our local classical music aficionado, Jim West, has created a list of essential compositions for theologians. Here’s Jim’s comment, followed by his list of 15 essential compositions:

It’s a well known fact that Karl Barth began his day with breakfast, coffee, the newspaper, and Mozart. In my estimation that’s why he was the theologian he was: his wisdom in listening to Mozart each day before he began his work. Productive minds spring from the ground of productive soil. And nothing feeds the mind like excellent music (and it also feeds the soul). So, which compositions are essential for theologians? What are the compositions not only without which theologians cannot do their work, but without which life itself becomes frivolous and empty?

1. Mozart’s Requiem (KV 626)
2. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, 4th Movement (Ode to Joy)
3. Michael Haydn’s Divertimento In C Major For Violin, Cello, & B.C. (P99) [3] Menuet
4. Mozart’s Symphony in No. 32 in G major (KV 318)
5. Michael Haydn’s Symphony Number 18
6. Michael Haydn’s Symphony Number 26
7. Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto A Major, (KV 622) - I. Allegro
8. Mozart’s Les petits riens, KV App. 10/299b
9. Johann Christian Bach’s Amadis des Gaules
10. Johann Christian Bach’s Symphony Number 1 in D Major
11. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto Number 5
12. Mozart’s Don Giovanni
13. Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro
14. Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte
15. Martin Luther’s Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott

International Journal of Systematic Theology

The latest issue of the International Journal of Systematic Theology is out now, and it’s available online to Blackwell Synergy subscribers. The contents are superb:

IJST 8:1 (2006)

Religious Diversity, Christian Doctrine and Karl Barth
Geoff Thompson (Brisbane)

Karl Barth, Emil Brunner and the Subjectivity of the Object of Christian Hope
John C. McDowell (Edinburgh)

Fides Quaerens Intellectum: Reflections towards an Explorative Theology
Hans G. Ulrich (Erlangen), translated by Brian Brock

Federalism vs Realism: Charles Hodge, Augustus Strong and William Shedd on the Imputation of Sin
Oliver D. Crisp (Bristol)

Trinitarian Missiology: Towards a Theology of God as Missionary
Stephen R. Holmes (St Andrews)

Of greatest interest to me is Hans Ulrich’s article on theological method. Here’s the abstract: “The postmodern critique has rendered traditional justifications of the practice of research incredible. Further, the status of theological research, in which ‘the discovery of new facts’ or the like is at best ambiguous as an aim, must be under question. This article argues that the aim of theological research is to discover what life lived as if theological claims were true might look like.”

Monday 9 January 2006

Books by Eberhard Jüngel

Jim West knows how deeply I admire the Tübingen theologian Eberhard Jüngel, and Jim has generously sent me his own copies of Jüngel’s works. This includes the important works Entsprechungen, Wertlose Wahrheit and Unterwegs zur Sache, as well as the German edition of Jüngel’s small masterpiece, Gottes Sein ist im Werden.

As you can see, these volumes have made a very significant addition to my personal collection of Jüngel’s works. Within the next year or two, I’m hoping to write a couple of journal articles on Jüngel’s trinitarian theology—so these works will be an invaluable resource. Thanks, Jim!

More essential lists

Following the suggestions of some readers, I’ve decided to continue the series of “essential lists for theologians.” I’ll be inviting some guest bloggers to create essential lists in their own areas of interest, such as music, film and art. So stay tuned for more of these lists over the next couple of weeks.

Another face in my study

A couple of weeks ago I posted some pictures of faces in my home study. Now, thanks to an excellent Christmas present, there is an important new addition:

The greatest of all composers: W. A. Mozart.

Sunday 8 January 2006

Here and there

In response to our recent “essential” lists, alternative lists have been posted at La nouvelle théologie, Ars Theologica and Metalepsis, while Rory Shiner also offers a list of essential Bob Dylan.

On other fronts, Chris Tilling has begun a series on Hans Küng’s new book about science and religion, with posts here and here. Mike Bird discusses the origins of Gnosticism, Peter Leithart thinks about the speaking thinker, and Jim West comments on the odd coupling of Zionists and conservative evangelicals.

Meanwhile, the Pontificator has some thoughtful ecumenical reflections on N. T. Wright’s view of justification, and Kyle Potter speaks about heretics, reminding us to “watch your damned language.”

Still haven't found what I'm looking for

Faith and Theology gets a regular stream of visitors from search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN. Most searchers seem to find what they’re looking for, but occasionally they are led to this blog by very strange searches. Here are a couple of recent MSN searches which, believe it or not, led folk straight to Faith and Theology:

“Why is respect so important in Italian culture?”
“What is the biblical meaning of number 11?”

Saturday 7 January 2006

The experience of poetry

Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century.
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul
From me to you...

—Bob Dylan, ”Tangled Up in Blue” (1975)

Friday 6 January 2006

Essential poets for theologians

“Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” —Plato
“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” —Percy Bysshe Shelley

This week I posted Kim Fabricius’ list of essential novels. Now Kim and I have collaborated to produce a list of 20 essential poets for theologians. We have limited the list to poets writing in English, so some of the great poets—Homer, Virgil, Dante, Pushkin, Goethe, Neruda, to name a few—are not included here.

Here’s our list, and we’d welcome your own suggestions as well:

1. Chaucer (c.1343-1400)
2. Edmund Spenser (c.1552-99)
3. Shakespeare (1564-1616)
4. John Donne (1572-1631)
5. George Herbert (1593-1633)
6. John Milton (1608-74)
7. Thomas Traherne (1637-74)
8. William Blake (1757-1827)
9. William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
10. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
11. Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-92)
12. Walt Whitman (1819-92)
13. Emily Dickinson (1830-86)
14. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89)
15. T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
16. W. H. Auden (1907-73)
17. R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)
18. Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001)
19. Bob Dylan (1941- )
20. Kevin Hart (1954- )

Six months old

Faith and Theology is six months old today! When I started this blog, I planned to run it for about a month, just to see whether I liked it. But here I am, six months and 375 posts later—and I’m still enjoying myself.

Over the past six months I have enjoyed thinking aloud on this blog, and I have learned a lot from all the interaction with readers and other bloggers. I’m especially grateful to have made so many new friends and acquaintances since this blog started.

So thanks to all of you who have been visiting Faith and Theology.

Thursday 5 January 2006

Blog of the week

The new blog of the week is Todd Vick’s Shadows of Divine Things. Over the past week Todd has been focusing on the theology of Jean Calvin. He has posted a short biography of Calvin and a discussion of Calvin’s Calvinism, and he has begun an excellent summary of Calvin’s theology here and here, with posts on “the knowledge of God as creator and redeemer.”

It looks as though there are plenty of great Calvin posts still to come—so stay tuned to Shadows of Divine Things.

Something from Scotland

T. F. Torrance is my favourite British theologian, and his work has influenced me deeply (especially his work on science, theological method, and the Trinity). Although I have read most of his books, I have never read his collection of sermons, When Christ Comes and Comes Again (London: Hodder, 1957).

So imagine my delight when yesterday I received a lovely first edition of this book, sent to me all the way from Scotland by Mike Bird. Thanks Mike!

Incidentally, if you’re interested in Torrance, I’ve written an article on his trinitarian theology which will appear later this year in the Scottish Journal of Theology.

Wednesday 4 January 2006

Essential novels for theologians

“Philosophy, religion, science, they are all of them busy nailing things down, to get a stable equilibrium.... But the novel, no.... If you try to nail things down in the novel, either it kills the novel, or the novel gets up and walks away with the nail.” — D. H. Lawrence

My friend Kim Fabricius (who sometimes posts at Connexions) sent me this list of 15 essential novels for theologians, and he has allowed me to post it here.

1. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter (1850)
2. Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)
3. George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)
4. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenin (1876)
5. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (1880)
6. Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925)
7. Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory (1940)
8. Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus (1947)
9. Albert Camus, The Plague (1947)
10. Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
11. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (1955)
12. William Golding, The Spire (1964)
13. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (1975)
14. Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (1983)
15. Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

This is an excellent list, although I might have wanted to include Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot, and Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, as well as anything by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf. Oh, and something by John Updike and Salman Rushdie and A. S. Byatt.

N. T. Wright on Paul

Check out Edmund’s humorous post.

Tuesday 3 January 2006

Quote of the day

“To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.”

—Herman Melville, Moby-Dick: or, The Whale (1851), ch. 104.

Creation and evolution: a letter from Karl Barth

Karl Barth wrote the following letter to his niece, who had written to him asking about creation and evolution:

Basel, 18 Feb. 1965

Dear Christine,

You have had to wait a terribly long time for an answer to your letter of 13 Dec.—not because of indifference, for I am sincerely interested in your welfare, and in that of your mother and sisters, and am always pleased to have good news from Zollikofen [near Bern, Switzerland].

Has no one explained to you in your seminar that one can as little compare the biblical creation story and a scientific theory like that of evolution as one can compare, shall we say, an organ and a vacuum-cleaner—that there can be as little question of harmony between as of contradiction?

The creation story is a witness to the beginning or becoming of all reality distinct from God in the light of God’s later acts and words relating to his people Israel—naturally in the form of a saga or poem. The theory of evolution is an attempt to explain the same reality in its inner nexus—naturally in the form of a scientific hypothesis.

The creation story deals only with the becoming of all things, and therefore with the revelation of God, which is inaccessible to science as such. The theory of evolution deals with what has become, as it appears to human observation and research and as it invites human interpretation. Thus one’s attitude to the creation story and the theory of evolution can take the form of an either/or only if one shuts oneself off completely from faith in God’s revelation or from the mind (or opportunity) for scientific understanding.

So tell the teacher concerned that she should distinguish what is to be distinguished and not shut herself off completely from either side.

My answer comes so late because on the very day you wrote, 13 Dec., I had a stroke and had to spend several weeks in the hospital.

With sincere greetings which you may also pass on to your mother and sisters,

Uncle Karl

Monday 2 January 2006

Blogging in 2006

Last year I had a lot of fun doing some serial blogging on topics such as the doctrine of Scripture, Intelligent Design, the achievements of modern theology, Eberhard Jüngel, and the Church Dogmatics.

In 2006 I’m also planning to post series from time to time. Hopefully this year I’ll do some serial blogging on the resurrection of Jesus, the miracles of Jesus, the doctrine of election, the meaning of human freedom, the theology of Schleiermacher, the question of life after death, and more. This year I’ll be working full-time on a book about the development of Enlightenment theology, so I might also mention this topic occasionally.

I look forward to your company.


In chapter 69 of Moby-Dick, “orthodoxy” is humorously described as the “obstinate survival of old beliefs never bottomed on the earth, and now not even hovering in the air!”


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