Tuesday 28 February 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.

Monday 27 February 2006

Ten propositions on prayer

This wonderful list by Kim Fabricius has been posted previously at both Connexions and utownchurch. There is enough here to write a whole book on prayer—but, better still, there is perhaps even enough here to prompt us to pray.

1. There is no more outrageous and presumptuous idea than that we ought to be able to pray. Prayer is an impossible possibility. Prayer is miracle, prayer is resurrection from the dead.

2. Prayer is a completely useless activity, a total waste of time (Herbert McCabe). To ask if prayer “works” is to reduce it to a kind of magic. Prayer is not in the least bit necessary; it is more than necessary.

3. We never begin to pray, we always enter into prayer that has already begun before us and without us, the prayer of the church. We may pray alone, but we are never alone when we pray. “Our Father...”

4. Prayer is a dangerous activity. In prayer we do not enter the kitty’s basket but the lion’s den. Prayer is a transformative activity. In prayer we are changed—and change hurts.

5. Prayer is not a private activity; indeed prayer is the most political activity in which a Christian can engage. “To fold your hands in prayer is to begin an uprising against the world” (Karl Barth).

6. It is nonsense to suggest that prayers of thanksgiving trump prayers of petition. We are children of God. What would you think of your own child if she always went about thanking, never asking, pestering? You would think, “What an obnoxious little goody two-shoes!”

7. Yet prayer does not begin with the mouth, prayer begins with the eyes. Prayer begins with simple attentiveness.

8. It is also nonsense to ask whether or not God answers prayer. The Father is the object of prayer, the Spirit is the subject of prayer, the Son is the predicate of prayer. How then can God not answer his own prayers? If God seems silent, it is only because he is listening—and thinking about his answer. And as for those answers, William Temple said, “When I pray, coincidences happen.”

9. Do you have arid times of prayer? What else! Wherever did we get the idiotic and disabling idea that prayer must be a richly rewarding experience?

10. Ultimately, the question of prayer is the question of God: What kind of God do I believe in?

Sunday 26 February 2006

God is beautiful

“The most elementary statement of theological aesthetics is that God is beautiful: not only that God is beauty or the essence and archetype of beauty, nor even only that God is the highest beauty, but that ... God is beauty and also beautiful, whose radiance shines upon and is reflected in his creatures.... God’s beauty is delight and the object of delight, the shared gaze of love that belongs to the persons of the Trinity.... True beauty is not the idea of the beautiful, a static archetype in the ‘mind’ of God, but is an infinite ‘music,’ drama, art, completed in—but never ‘bounded’ by—the termless dynamism of the Trinity’s life.”

—David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), p. 177.

Essential culture for theologians

Over the past weeks I have thoroughly enjoyed this series of “essential culture for theologians.” The posts in this series have covered everything from films to philosophy, from paintings to poets, from architecture to rock-and-roll. I think the best aspect of the series was the participation of so many different people: guest-contributors included Kim Fabricius, Joanna C., Joe Cathey, Stephen Cox, Tim Hormon, Chris Tessone, Jim West, and Tyler Williams.

Thanks to all of you who contributed and commented throughout the series—here is a full list of the 14 posts (please remind me if I have forgotten any of them!):

Friday 24 February 2006

An honour for Faith and Theology

Justin Nickelsen from the superb Ressourcement blog has just nominated his favourite blogs of 2005. And he has singled out Faith and Theology as the very “best of 2005”! He has some very kind things to say, and he even describes me as “quite ‘Balthasarian’”—coming from a good ressourcement theologian like Justin, this is a very warm compliment indeed!

I’m most grateful to Justin for honouring me in this way, and I’m grateful to him for posting such a generous review of Faith and Theology.

Thursday 23 February 2006

Essential buildings for theologians

Here it is, folks—the final post in our “essential lists” series. This final post is by Stephen Cox, a theology graduate who is currently studying philosophy at Sydney University. Stephen is also a practicing architect with Szwaj+Cox Architects, so he’s the perfect person to contribute a list of “essential buildings.”

Another Aussie friend, Rory Shiner, will be posting a much fuller version of this list of buildings in a number of instalments. So for more details, check out his blog, Frankly, Mr Shankly. Anyway, here’s what Stephen has to say about buildings:

Just as one doesn’t need to have written, or even read, a systematic theology in order to have and to live by a theology, so every building has an idea, a raison d’être, and thus responds to Christianity in some way. Granted, there might be disagreement about the extent and importance of this response—but it is something that is at least worth noticing. An obvious but crucial point is that buildings are built by people, meaning that they reflect who we are (or were). Therefore as we look at any building—for example, at its style, layout, or budget—we can learn something about those who built it.

This list is an attempt to provide some insights into what is worth noticing about the built world around us, and why our buildings reflect who we are, and to what we aspire.

1. The Parthenon Athens, Greece. (built: 447-438BCE, architects: Iktinos and Kallikrates) Note: Beauty, Ancient Wisdom.

2. The Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel. (built: [temple] c.950BCE—destroyed 586BCE, 526BCE—destroyed 70CE [Dome of the Rock] 690CE) Note: Politics, Eschatology

3. The Pantheon, Rome, Italy (built: 25-27BCE destroyed 80CE, rebuilt c.125CE) Note: Beauty, Ancient Wisdom, Precedent

4. The Basilica of St Peter, Rome Italy (built: 1505-1615 architects: Giuliano da Sangallo, Donato Bramante, Raphael Sanzio, Antonio da Sangallo the younger, Michelangelo Buonarroti, etc) Note: Beauty, Politics, Precedent

5. Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France (built: 1145-1220) Note: Beauty, Statement

6. Fallingwater, Bear Run, PA, USA (built: 1935-1937 architect: Frank Lloyd Wright) Note: Precedent

7. Basilica Santa Maria del Fiore , Florence, Italy (built: 1296-1436 architect Arnolfo di Cambio dome: 1429-1436 architect: Filippo Brunelleschi) Note: Technological Prowess, Beauty.

8. Villa Capra , (La Rotunda) Vincenza ,Italy (built: 1566-1580 architect: Andrea Palladio) Note: Beauty, Statement, Precendent.

9. Tempieto San Pietro , (built: 1508- architect: Donato Bramante) Note: Beauty, Statement.

10. Chrysler Building, New York City, NY, USA (built 1928-1930 architect: William van Alen) Note: Precedent, Technological Prowess.

11. Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia (built: 1957-1973 architect: Jørn Utzon) Note: Beauty, Politics.

12. Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project, St Louis, Mi, USA (built:1951- architect: Minoru Yamasaki) Note: Statement, Modernism.

13. Zeppelintribune, Nuremburg, Germany (built: architect Albert Speer) Note: Statement, Politics.

14. The Alhambra, Granada, Spain (built: 1248-1354) Note: Beauty, Statement.

15. Casa Milà, Barcelona, Spain (built: 1905-1970 architect: Antonio Gaudi) Note: Beauty.

16. Barcelona Pavilion, Barcelona, Spain (built: 1929 architect: Mies van de Rohe) Note: Statement.

17. Wainwright Building , St Louis, MI, USA (built: 1891 architect: Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan) Note: Statement, Precedent.

18. Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (built: 1997 architect: Frank Gehry) Note: Statement, Community Focus.

19. Taj Mahal, India (built 1631-1653) Note: Beauty, Statement.

20. Your House, Note: Statement. The type, style and form of your own residence, whether you own it or rent or whether you even have a house, is a product of the culture in which you live and also of your own personal decisions and circumstances. Have you thought about the house you live in? Why have you decided to live where you live? How important is housing in your life? How do you live in your house? What does your house say about you?

Wednesday 22 February 2006

Podcast: the Bible and theology

I have just added another podcast, this time on the relationship between the Bible and theology. In retrospect, I wish I had also focused on the importance of exegesis; in case you’re worried, I do think that exegesis is essential for theological reflection, but I just didn’t have time to discuss this here.

Anyway, the podcast runs for about 15 minutes. You can listen to it here, or you can get the feed here. And if you enjoy this kind of thing, be sure also to hear Chris Tilling’s excellent inaugural podcast on gospel in Paul.

Books, books, books

Thanks to the 160 people who voted in the recent poll, “How many books do you own?” As it turns out, most readers of this blog own between 200 and 1000 books (37%), and between 1000 and 2000 (28%). 17% own between 2000 and 5000, 13% own between 1 and 200, and only a lucky 6% own more than 5000 books.

Now at Aaron Ghiloni’s blog, you can also vote on whether or not books should be annotated (a topic that was hotly debated here recently). Perhaps Aaron’s poll will be able to settle this troublesome controversy once and for all....

More theological kissing

The post on the theology of kissing was a lot of fun, and there are some very clever additions to this list at Locust Years and Nelmezzo. Thanks to all of you for the hilarious suggestions in the comments as well.

Tuesday 21 February 2006

Kicking open the door to your mind

Back in 1988, Bruce Springsteen described the first time he heard a Bob Dylan song: “The first time I heard Bob Dylan, I was in the car with my mother ... and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody had kicked open the door to your mind: ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’”

This is a wonderful account not only of the power of “Like a Rolling Stone,” but also of a certain kind of human experience. Suddenly, when you least expect it, something “kicks open the door to your mind,” and you know that you will never see the world in quite the same way again.

I have had a few very striking experiences of this kind. One day, when I was a little boy in my first year of school, I saw a little girl who had no lunch. The sight of her disturbed me—but only later that day (when it was too late) did it dawn on me that I should have shared my lunch with her. For some reason, this realisation shocked me, and I have never forgotten it.

Then when I was 10 years old, I spent my Christmas holidays reading Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. This, too, was something that “kicked open the door to my mind”—it took me outside myself in a way I had never experienced before.

Then there was the day I picked up a dusty old copy of Karl Barth’s book, The Word of God and the Word of Man (now re-translated as The Word of God and Theology). As I read this book, the whole word suddenly appeared in a new light. Everything looked different—to quote another Bob Dylan song, “I got new eyes.” By the time I reached Barth’s statement that “one can not speak of God simply by speaking of man in a loud voice,” the door to my mind had been well and truly kicked open.

What about you? What has kicked your mind open?

Jim als Geheimnis der Welt

Just when I thought that Jim West could not be any more generous, he has delighted me by sending me his lovely and valuable 1992 edition of Eberhard Jüngel’s magnificent work, Gott als Geheimnis der Welt (also published in translation: God as the Mystery of the World).

This is the greatest of Jüngel’s books, and I think it’s one of the best theological works to have been published within the last 50 years. I’m most grateful to Jim for his geheimnisvoll kindness and generosity!

Monday 20 February 2006

Quote of the day

“We need not be fanatically anti-mystical. As one element in the activity which puts the love of God into effect, there may be a place for a feeling of enjoyable contemplation of God. But it cannot take the place of that activity.”

—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1, p. 104.

The theology of kissing

At one of my favourite new blogs, Per Caritatem, there is a marvellous post on the philosophy of kissing. So I thought I’d offer my own list here on “the theology of kissing”:

Augustine: You awaken me to delight in your mouth, and my lips are restless until they’re kissing you.

Luther: If the Word of God tells me to kiss, then I will kiss—and let the pope, the world and the devil be damned!

Adolf von Harnack: Jesus’ own simple teaching about kissing was immediately eclipsed by the early Christians’ Hellenistic approach to kissing.

Karl Barth: “I kiss you.” There are three related problems to consider here. I kiss you. I kiss you. I kiss you.

Hans Urs von Balthasar: Kissing is not only true and good, but it is beautiful.

Hans Küng: The Church’s approach to kissing is in urgent need of the most radical and most far-reaching reform.

Wolfhart Pannenberg: One’s first kiss is a proleptic anticipation of all that is still to come.

N. T. Wright: Every kiss is a dramatic enactment of our return from exile.

Billy Graham: Will you walk down the aisle and kiss me tonight? Will you do it tonight? You many never have another chance—you might be dead tomorrow!

Gerd Lüdemann: After many years of careful research, I have decided to kiss my faith goodbye.

Sunday 19 February 2006

Ecumenical colloquium in Durham

Last week an international colloquium of 140 senior church leaders and theologians from the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and Methodist churches met for six days at Durham University.

In the keynote address, the Roman Catholic Cardinal Walter Kaspar (pictured) stressed that “unity is symphonic”; unity in the New Testament is “unity in the diversity of charisms, offices, local churches, and cultures.” It is “communio sanctorum, that is, shared participation in the holy, in the life of God, in the Holy Spirit, in the Gospel, in the one baptism, and in the one eucharistic body of the Lord.”

On the first full day of the colloquium, N. T. Wright presided and Cardinal Kasper preached at an Anglican eucharist, and then Wright preached at a Roman Catholic eucharist the following day.

Catholic theologian Eamon Duffy described the colloquium as the most remarkable event in living memory. And N. T. Wright described it as theologically “jaw-dropping.” He remarked: “There are very serious voices within the Roman Catholic Church saying we are not three or four different Churches; we are all part of the one single Church which has some serious internal problems to be addressed. That’s a very different way of stating the ecumenical jigsaw than we have been used to.”

Other participants of the colloquium included Mario Conti, Terence Brain, Kevin Dunn, Michael Evans, Joseph Famerée, David F. Ford, Bernd Hilberath, Linda Hogan, Fergus Kerr, Nicholas Lash, Hervé Legrand, Andrew Louth, Paul McPartlan, Paul Murray, Brian Noble, Patrick O’Donoghue, Ladislas Örsy, James Puglisi, Thomas J. Reese, Stephen Sykes and Mary Tanner.

For further details of the colloquium, see the reports here and here.

Call for papers: theology and science

The Christian Theological Research Fellowship is calling for papers on the topic: “Theology and Science: Friends, Enemies, or Peaceful Co-existence?”

What is the proper relationship between the disciplines of theology and science? How does the interaction between theology and science provide promise for creative doctrinal development or problems for maintaining the Christian tradition? How do the lenses of both theology and science facilitate greater Christian faithfulness in our world? These and other themes are open for discussion at the next annual meeting of the CTRF, during the AAR annual meeting 18 November 2006 in Washington, DC.

Send a 250 word abstract (only) of your proposal to Dr Vincent E. Bacote by email, FAX (630 752-5296) or post by 4 April 2006.

Hans Küng on theology and science

There’s a good article here about Hans Küng’s views on evolution and intelligent design. The article is in part a review of Küng’s recent book Der Anfang aller Dinge. For a more detailed discussion of this book, make sure you check out Chris Tilling’s excellent (and still ongoing) series of posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

Saturday 18 February 2006

The suffering love of God

“God created through love and for love.... He created love in all its forms. He created beings capable of loving from all possible distances. Because no other could do it, he himself went to the greatest possible distance, the infinite distance. This infinite distance between God and God, this supreme tearing apart, this agony beyond all others, this marvel of love, is the crucifixion. Nothing can be further from God than that which has been made accursed.

“This tearing apart, over which supreme love places the bond of supreme union, echoes perpetually across the universe in the midst of the silence, like two notes, separate yet melting into one, like pure and heart-rending harmony. This is the Word of God. The whole creation is nothing but its vibration.”

—Simone Weil, Waiting for God (New York: Putnam, 1951), pp. 121-22. [Thanks to Kim Fabricius for putting me on to this extraordinary book!]

Friday 17 February 2006

Cancer and the will of God

Tyler Williams points to an article entitled “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” by the popular Reformed writer John Piper. Piper, who is himself currently battling cancer, tries to emphasise God’s sovereignty by describing cancer as a “gift” and “blessing” which is “designed for you by God.” But as Tyler points out, language like this is offensive: it is offensive to a Christian understanding of God, and it is offensive to the real experience of human suffering.

In contrast to John Piper, here’s what Karl Barth had to say: “[Sickness] is opposed to [God’s] good will as the Creator and has existence and power only under his mighty No. To capitulate before it, to allow it to take its course, can never be obedience but only disobedience towards God. In harmony with the will of God, what man ought to will in face of this whole realm ... and therefore in face of sickness, can only be final resistance” (CD III/4, pp. 367-68).

Cancer is related to God’s will only as that which God rejects and negates—it is an expression of the threatening power of chaos which God has set himself against. Those suffering with cancer may therefore be comforted not by trying to convince themselves that all this is somehow God’s bitter “gift,” but by recalling that, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has forever said No to darkness and death, and Yes to light and life. God’s “sovereignty” is not an abstract principle of determinism, but it is the fatherly Lordship of God’s grace, as revealed once and for all in Jesus Christ.

Thursday 16 February 2006

Essential ikons for theologians

Chris Tessone has a great interest in iconography, and I asked him to come up with a list of essential ikons. So here Chris offers his list of the top 10 (primarily Eastern Orthodox) ikons. For a more detailed version of this list, see the full post at Even the Devils Believe.

1. Christ Pantokrator—this stern Christ is a major archetypal ikon. There are many famous Christs Pantokrator, but this small one held by the monks of Mt Athos is one of my favourites.

2. A fascinating contemporary ikon is that of St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane from the website of St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco.

3. I myself am not fond of highly ornamented ikons. However, among such representations, the Theotokos Nikopoios is one of the most ornamented, with gold and precious stones.

4. The Theotokos Hodegetria, also located on Athos, is a striking representation of the Virgin and the child Jesus.

5. The Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow is a treasure trove of incredible ikons and should not be missed. One of the most famous is the 12th-century Spas Nerukotvornyj, or "Salvation Made Without Hands," originally from the Cathedral of the Assumption inside the Moscow Kremlin.

6. Iconography is not a dead art, so I would be remiss if I didn't offer one or two contemporary ikons in the traditional style: one of my favourite ikons of the Theotokos is this one by Italian iconographer Maria Mirea.

7. This St. Nikolas ikon is an example of contemporary Slovak iconography—it is from the Byzantine Catholic Church of Bratislava.

8. Now for a trio of great Russian ikons. First, Christ the Redeemer of Andrei Rublev: tt is a breathtaking image, which immediately comes to mind when I think of the word "ikon."

9. The Bogomater Vladimirskaja (Mother of God of Vladimir) is certainly one of the greatest ikons held in Russia, and many Bogomater ikons are based on it.

10. Also held in Moscow's Tretiakov Gallery, the Trinity ikon of Andrei Rublev, considered by many to be the greatest Russian ikon in history, or even the greatest work of art in history. I had the great fortune of seeing it up close and personal in the Tretiakov—it is an experience one does not forget.

New theological blogs

There are some excellent new theological blogs that you should be sure to visit. Cynthia Nielsen has a new blog called Per Caritatem, with an extraordinary range of interesting posts, ranging from Foucault to the Fourth Gospel, and from jazz to radical feminism. And the new Luther Library is a very nice blog devoted entirely to Luther and Lutheranism.

Joshua’s Blog has been offering some great posts on topics ranging from African theology to Henri de Lubac, while Alex Silva’s blog, Your Own Personal Jesus, describes itself as “Thoughts on N. T. Wright, John Calvin, Karl Barth, Hans Küng, Donald Miller, Ben Witherington and others on my reading list.” The promising new blog, Without Authority, has various recent posts on theology and science, natural theology, the (non-)immortality of the soul, and even a whole series of posts on Rudolf Bultmann.

Best of all, though, is Douglas Knight’s new blog, which features some remarkably fine theological posts (and which is the new “blog of the week”). Douglas Knight was a recent doctoral student of Colin Gunton at King’s College, and he now lectures in Christian doctrine. He has a forthcoming book entitled The Eschatological Economy, and he has edited the forthcoming volume Personhood and the Church: The Theology of John Zizioulas (Ashgate). In addition to his blog, Knight’s website Resources for Christian Theology is one of the best systematic theology websites around, with some very valuable online material, and with the best available online material on Zizioulas.

Wednesday 15 February 2006

Podcast: What is the gospel?

I decided to have a go at podcasting. So I have recorded a 15-minute reflection on the question “What is the gospel?” You can listen to the mp3 file here, and the feed is here. I don’t know whether I’ll do this again—if you like the idea, I might try to do a few short podcasts each month.

In this first podcast, I try to think about the gospel as “the proclamation that Israel’s God has spoken a free and gracious Yes to the crucified Jesus, a Yes which is at the same time God’s eschatological Yes to all humanity.”

Bonus: Top ten films of 2005 for theologians

Here is a sequel from Tyler Williams to his list of essential films:

With the Academy Awards fast approaching, I thought I would also provide a list of my “Top Ten Films of 2005 for Theologians.” You will notice that some of films have a 2004 release date; these are films that had an initial limited release in 2004 (usually at a film festival) but had a more extensive public release in 2005 (including DVD releases).

  • Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005; IMDb).
  • Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids (Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman, 2004; IMDb).
  • Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005; IMDb).
  • The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles, 2005; IMDb).
  • Crash (Paul Haggis, 2004; IMDb).
  • Downfall (Der Untergang; Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004; IMDb).
  • A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005; IMDb).
  • Lord of War (Andrew Niccol, 2005; IMDb).
  • Munich (Steven Spielberg, 2005; IMDb).
  • Palindromes (Todd Solondz, 2004; IMDb).
  • Syriania (Stephen Gaghan, 2005; IMDb).

  • For a more detailed discussion of the films on this list, please see the extended post on my Codex Blogspot.

    Conference on Karl Barth and Scripture

    Princeton Theological Seminary’s Center for Barth Studies will be holding a conference this May entitled “‘Thy Word is Truth’: Reading Scripture Theologically with Karl Barth.” The conference will take place on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary from 21 to 24 May 2006. An advertising flyer is available here (pdf). To request a brochure and registration form, send an email to barth.conference@ptsem.edu.

    Tuesday 14 February 2006

    Essential films for theologians

    I asked Tyler Williams to come up with a list of essential films for theologians. Here's what Tyler says:

    Ben asked me to contribute an entry on film to his “Essential Lists for Theologians” series. I was honoured to be asked and have spent some time formulating my list. I submit it with some trepidation, knowing that I have omitted a number of significant religious films—especially older classics that many such lists include (see, for instance, the Faith & Art Top 100 list here).

    I have tried to be representative of different film genres and have included some “art house” and foreign films as well as films that are more popular fare. I wasn't too concerned with a film's box office success, though there are some successful films in my list. And, of course, I readily admit to including some of my personal favourites.

    That's enough caveats—drumroll please.... My “Top Ten Essential Films for Theologians” (in alphabetical order) are:

  • The Apostle (Robert Duvall, 1997; IMDb).
  • Balthazar (Au hasard Balthazar; Robert Bresson, 1966; IMDb).
  • The Big Kahuna (John Swanbeck, 1999; IMDb).
  • Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982; IMDb).
  • The Decalogue (Dekalog; Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1989; IMDb)
  • Jesus of Montreal (Jésus De Montréal; Denys Arcand, 1989; IMDb).
  • Magnolia (P.T. Anderson, 1999; IMDb).
  • The Mission (Roland Joffé, 1986; IMDb).
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979; IMDb).
  • Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin; Wim Wenders, 1987; IMDb).

    For a more detailed discussion of the films on this list, please see the extended post on my Codex Blogspot; and see also the alternative lists at Anduril.ca, Pontifications, Connexions, and The Confessing Reader.

  • Karl Barth's early theology of crisis

    “[Barth’s] deepest intention was to point to the crisis for the sake of pointing to the grace of God, to speak the No for the sake of making the divine Yes heard. In this crisis all human ways are exposed as dead-end roads in order that the one Way might be revealed. The divine Yes is the background of the radical crisis which is suspended over the whole of life.”

    —G. C. Berkouwer, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth (London: Paternoster, 1956), p. 33.

    Oliver O'Donovan: from Oxford to Scotland

    First John Webster left Oxford for Aberdeen—and now it seems Oliver O’Donovan will be leaving Oxford for Edinburgh. On his excellent new blog, Joshua informs us that O’Donovan (currently Oxford’s Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology) will be taking up the new chair of Edinburgh University’s Centre for Theology and Public Issues. Joshua asks the same question that the Oxford administrators are no doubt asking themselves: What is prompting Oxford’s most gifted and promising theologians to abandon their prestigious named chairs for Scotland? Is it the charming Scottish accent? The quaint country pubs? The grand Edinburgh architecture?

    In any event, it’s clear that Scotland is increasingly becoming one of the world’s most dynamic and most exciting centres of constructive dogmatic theology.

    Update: See also Douglas Knight's post here.

    Monday 13 February 2006

    Love, sex and theologians: a Valentine's Day quiz

    To celebrate Valentine’s Day, here’s a little theological quiz—I’ll add the answers within the next day (Update: answers are now added).

    1. A 12th-century French theologian had a passionate love affair with his young student, and her resulting pregnancy caused a great scandal. What were the names of these unfortunate lovers?
    Answer: Abelard and Heloise.

    2. Which famous preacher was unhappily married to a woman who heckled him loudly during his sermons?
    Answer: John Wesley

    3. Which prolific 19th-century American theologian was, throughout most of his career, a fulltime carer for his disabled wife?
    Answer: B. B. Warfield

    4. Which church Father, upon converting to Christianity, abandoned the devoted mistress who had lived with him for 14 years?
    Answer: Augustine

    5. Which Christian writer entered into a marriage of convenience with an American woman to help her gain British citizenship?
    Answer: C. S. Lewis

    6. Which famous hymn-writer had an affair with his neighbour after spying on her while she took a shower?
    Answer: King David

    7. Which Christian poet was abandoned by his wife only a month after their wedding?
    Answer: John Milton

    8. Which Protestant theologian said: “The religious and the sexual are closely related”?
    Answer: Karl Barth

    My little valentine

    “I’m gonna look at you till my eyes go blind.”
    —Bob Dylan, “Mississippi” (2001)

    Scottish Journal of Theology

    The new issue of the Scottish Journal of Theology is out now. This issue has a special focus on historical theology: it includes one of my own articles on Milton’s theology (send me an email if you’d like an offprint), as well as excellent articles on Athanasius, Calvin, Edwards, Rutherford and Pannenberg. The full contents are available online to subscribing libraries. Here are the contents:

    The biblical historical structure of Calvin’s Institutes
    Stephen Edmondson

    Jonathan Edwards: advice to weary theologians
    Melanie Ross

    Samuel Rutherford’s supralapsarianism revealed: a key to the lapsarian position of the Westminster Confession of Faith?
    Guy M. Richard

    Image of God as both fount and destiny of humanity: how Herderian is Pannenberg?
    Kam Ming Wong

    Predestination and freedom in Milton’s Paradise Lost
    Benjamin Myers

    God’s trinitarian substance in Athanasian theology
    John R. Meyer

    Sunday 12 February 2006

    How many books?

    I have just added a new poll to the sidebar. I must confess that I myself am a bit of a bookworm; and, what is worse, I love not only reading books, but also possessing them and placing them neatly on shelves. So how about you? How many books do you own? Let us know in the new poll.

    The winner of the last poll was Thomas Aquinas—36% of about 100 respondents said they would prefer Thomas for a theological teacher. In second place, 32% said they would prefer Karl Barth, followed by Luther (19%), Wesley (7%), and Kierkegaard (5%).

    Theology on the cliff-edge

    “All good theology is done on the cliff-edge—one step too far and you tumble into idolatry, one step back and the view is never so good. The reader [of this book] will have to judge whether we have occasionally stumbled over the precipice, and when we have not, whether the view has justified the risk.”

    —Jeremy S. Begbie, Theology, Music and Time (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000), p. 279. Thanks to Tim Hormon for putting me on to this excellent book!

    Saturday 11 February 2006

    Politics and the Ten Commandments

    “I don’t mind the Ten Commandments, I believe in the Ten Commandments. The first one, ‘I am the Lord thy God,’ is a great commandment—if it’s not said by the wrong people.”

    —Bob Dylan, introducing the song “Masters of War” at New York City Town Hall, 12 April 1963.

    Quote of the day

    In theology, “catch-phrases and a liking for the sound of one’s own voice are not enough.”

    —Ernst Käsemann, Jesus Means Freedom (London: SCM, 1969), p. 71.

    Friday 10 February 2006

    Evangelical Climate Initiative

    It’s not every day that one can find something to admire in the politics of conservative North American evangelicalism. But the Evangelical Climate Initiative, launched yesterday, seems truly laudable.

    Understanding faith

    “To extract from the New Testament the true understanding of what faith is, is the most important task of theology.” —Emil Brunner

    Thursday 9 February 2006

    Essential history for theologians

    “The history of Christianity is frequently sordid and depressing, and very frequently, apparently sacred events turn out to have very secular causes. Christians will remain beginners in their faith if they do not face up to this. The miracle of the church's story is that after all its mistakes, bewildering transformations and entanglements in human bitterness, it is still there.” —Diarmaid MacCulloch

    Jo from JoBloggs is currently completing her PhD in eighteenth-century history. So I asked her to compile a list of “essential history for theologians.” Jo has come up with the following list of 11 essential history books—what would you add?

    1. Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews
    2. Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
    3. Henry Chadwick, The Early Church
    4. Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church
    5. Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom
    6. Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation
    7. W. R. Ward, The Protestant Evangelical Awakening
    8. Adrian Hastings (ed.), A World History of Christianity
    9. Hugh McLeod, Religion and the People of Western Europe, 1789-1989
    10. George Marsden, Religion and American Culture
    11. Mary T. Malone, Women and Christianity (3 vols)

    Theology with Kelly Clarkson

    Yesterday, the young American pop singer Kelly Clarkson won a Grammy Award for her single “Since U Been Gone.” It’s customary at times like these to “thank God,” or, if you’re a rap star, to “thank my personal Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

    But when Kelly Clarkson came forward to receive her Grammy, she didn’t want to risk offending any member of the Deity. So, hedging her bets, she said: “I don’t know what’s going on, but thank you Jesus, God and everybody.” That ought to keep everybody happy.

    New things

    Our new blog of the week is Adversaria, where Alastair has begun a very interesting series of posts (here, here and here) on the doctrine of election.

    And in other news, in addition to the marvellous BlogFlux stats, I have now added Site Meter as well (all these stats are public).

    Wednesday 8 February 2006

    Essential popular music for theologians

    “The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the centre of the jaunt.” —Bono

    “A God enthroned beyond time in timeless eternity would have to renounce music.... Are we to suppose that we mortals, in possessing such a wonder as music, are more privileged than God?” —Victor Zuckerkandl

    “I find the religiosity and the philosophy in the music. I don’t find it anywhere else.... The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.” —Bob Dylan

    My old friend Tim Hormon, an Aussie pastor in Canada, is a rock and roll aficionado. So I asked Tim to come up with a list of essential popular music for theologians. He has chosen 15 albums—not simply his favourites, but 15 albums that have been important to him for theological reasons. What do you think?

    1. Moby, 18
    2. Jeff Buckley, Grace
    3. R.E.M., Out of Time
    4. Ben Harper, The Will to Live
    5. U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind/War
    6. Radiohead, OK Computer
    7. Sufjan Stevens, Seven Swans
    8. Bob Dylan, Saved
    9. Pedro the Lion, Achilles Heel
    10. Sigur Ros, Agaetis Byrjun
    11. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Boatman’s Call
    12. Explosions in the Sky, The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place
    13. The Never Ending White Lights, Goodbye Friends of the Heavenly Bodies
    14. Over the Rhine, Ohio
    15. And just for fun: O Brother Where Art Thou? (soundtrack)

    Call for papers on Stanley Grenz

    The Spring 2006 issue of Princeton Theological Review will be a tribute to the late theologian, Stanley Grenz. We invite you to submit: (1) a 4000-5000 word essay which engages the person or work of Stanley Grenz; or (2) a 1200-1500 word reflection on Grenz’ influence and/or that of his theological kin; or (3) a 1000-1200 word book review on a recent book (within the last 3-4 years) either written by Grenz or which takes up the issues Grenz was concerned with. Your contributions are welcomed! If you are interested in submitting something, please email ptr@ptsem.edu by 15 February. All essays, reflections, and book reviews must be submitted by 15 March 2006.

    Hans Küng on Islamic violence

    In an interview yesterday, Hans Küng discussed at length the current outbreak of violence over the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. Küng notes that the West shares some responsibility for this violence, and he rightly concludes: “Most urgently, the Palestinian problem must be solved.”

    Küng has been a great supporter of Islamic-Christian dialogue, and in a few months he will release his monumental 900-page work Der Islam: Geschichte, Gegenwart, Zukunft, which is also due to be released in English translation as Islam.

    Tuesday 7 February 2006

    Barth, Bultmann and Tillich: a theology joke

    Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich are taking a break together, fishing on Lake Geneva. They are having a lovely time, smoking their pipes and chatting idly. It’s hot and they are getting thirsty. So Barth stands up, steps out of the boat, and walks across the water to the shore, where he gets some beers and then returns to the boat. But the drinks don’t last long. So Barth says to Tillich: “Your turn, Paul.” Tillich gets up, steps out of the boat, walks across the water, and fetches some more beers. It is really hot now, and the drinks are soon finished. Bultmann is beginning to sweat profusely, so finally Barth tells him: “Come on, Rudolf, it’s your turn now.” With a slight tremor in his knees, Bultmann gets up, steps out of the boat—and sinks like a stone. Fortunately he manages to swim to the surface; he drags himself back into the boat and sulks at the far end. Tillich turns to Barth and says: “Do you think we should have told him where the stepping stones are?” Barth looks at him in astonishment and replies: “What stones?”

    Hat tip to Maggi Dawn.

    More things to read before college

    Over at Pontifications, there are two more reading lists: one for high school students (do high schoolers really read theology? do they really read?), and another for students to read before college. In the comments, our friend Fred makes this apt remark: “Okay. Next I want to see a list of essential theological reading for toddlers.”

    Anyway, one thing is clear: between my own lists, the lists of Chris, Paul, Rory, Mike and the Pontificator, and all the additional suggestions in the comments, it will take you a good 10 or 15 years just to get through all the pre-college reading....

    Zwingli and Calvin (for Jim West)

    “[Zwingli’s] figure has been unduly obscured by the fame of his younger contemporary, Calvin. His place in the history of thought is really more important than Calvin’s, for he was an originator where the latter was only a follower.”

    —A. C. McGiffert, Protestant Thought before Kant (London: Duckworth, 1911), p. 61.

    Monday 6 February 2006

    Ten propositions on the Trinity

    1. The Trinity is not an optional doctrine, it is essential. God’s unity is not behind God’s threeness, God’s unity is in God’s threeness. This is not speculative mathematics, it is a descriptive theology of revelation.

    2. The Trinity is not an academic doctrine thought up by clever scholars, rather it grew out of the Christian experience of worship, i.e. it expressed the early church’s pattern of prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.

    3. The driving force of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity was Christological and soteriological, i.e. it served to articulate the Christian experience of salvation in Christ. The first Christians already knew God; through Jesus they came to know God as Jesus’ Father and Jesus as God’s Son; while in the Spirit Jesus continued to be present to them, forming a family of prayer to the Father and building a community of witness to Christ.

    4. The church’s thinking was this: As God discloses himself in worship and salvation, so God must be in Godself. In the technical language of (Karl) Rahner’s Rule: the “economic” Trinity is the “immanent” Trinity, and the “immanent” Trinity is the “economic” Trinity. What you see is what you get, and what you get is what there is.

    5. At the heart of the doctrine of the Trinity is God’s being-as-communion. God’s unity is not monadic, it is relational. The doctrine of the Trinity is the church’s exegesis of I John 4:8b: “God is love.” Father, Son and Spirit indwell each other in love, giving, receiving and returning love in an eternal dynamic of gift-exchange.

    6. If God is Trinity, do Jews—and Muslims—know nothing of God? Not at all. God can be known without being fully identified. In fact, “the church’s identification of the one true God as the Trinity does not preclude, but rather requires, that Abraham and his children know how to refer to this God, and so are able to worship him” (Bruce Marshall). Indeed the activity of the Spirit in the world encourages the church to be open and attentive to the presence of God in all the major religions.

    7. Is the language of the Trinity sexist? Not at all. No responsible theologian has ever thought of the Father and the Son as male, nor of the Spirit (as is currently fashionable) as female. The issue is not gender but personhood. In fact, it is a strictly monotheistic God, not the Trinity, that is patriarchal—and oppressive.

    8. Father, Son and Spirit are constituted by their mutuality, i.e. they are who they are only in their inter-relationships. So too human beings, made in the image of God: we are who we are only in relationship with others. Margaret Thatcher said that there is no such thing as society; on the contrary, there is no such thing as an individual: there are only persons-in-relationship.

    9. Clearly the Trinity is not an irrelevant doctrine, it has very practical—indeed political—implications. That God is essentially and eternally God-in-relationship of equality and mutual fellowship—could there be a more cogent critique of hierarchies of domination and exclusion, or of an economics of greed and exploitation?

    10. Finally, that God is Trinity means that God is mystery—but a mystery not to be explained but entered. God calls us to participate in his very being, joining in the divine dance that issues in creation and concludes in redemption. In Rublev’s great icon of the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit are seated around three sides of a (eucharistic) table. The fourth side awaits a guest.

    By Kim Fabricius

    Sunday 5 February 2006

    Easier things to read before college

    The other day I posted a list of things to read before commencing theological study. There were some excellent comments in response, and some people felt (quite rightly, I suppose) that the texts listed were really too difficult for pre-college readers.

    So here is a supplementary list (in alphabetical order) of “easier things” to read before college. In this list I’ve tried to incorporate some of the suggestions made in the comments on the previous post. But I’m still very uncertain about this list, so let me know if there are any really good (or more recent) introductory books that I’m failing to mention.

    * Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction
    * Emil Brunner, Our Faith
    * Justo Gonzàlez, The Story of Christianity
    * Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction
    * Alice Parmelee, A Guide Book to the Bible
    * G. Ernest Wright and Reginald H. Fuller, The Book of the Acts of God: Contemporary Scholarship Interprets the Bible
    * N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus
    * N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said
    * Frances Young, The Making of the Creeds

    Update: See also Paul Whiting’s list, the Pontificator’s list, and Mike Bird’s list for New Testament students.

    Quote of the day

    Everybody wants my attention
    Everybody’s got something to sell
    Except you

    —Bob Dylan, “Nobody ’Cept You” (1973)

    The worst theological illusion

    “The worst illusion to which the theologian can fall prey is imaginary certainty.”

    —Gerhard Ebeling, The Study of Theology (London: Collins, 1979), p. 131.

    Biblical Studies Carnival

    After an unexpected delay, Biblical Studies Carnival II is now up-and-running. It features many excellent posts from scholars and students of the Old and New Testaments, and it also features my post on Rudolf Bultmann. Thanks to Tyler Williams for organising this excellent blogging Carnival.

    Saturday 4 February 2006

    Essential people to visit for theologians

    The “essential lists for theologians” here at Faith and Theology have spawned various similar lists around the blogosphere. But of all these, the best is the Weekend Fisher’s new post of Essential People to Visit for Theologians. This is a splendid, thought-provoking list.

    Red Sea disaster: a prayer

    Save me, O God;
    For the waters are come in unto my soul.
    I sink in deep mire,
    Where there is no standing:
    I am come into deep waters,
    Where the flood sweeps over me.

    Deliver me out of the mire,
    And let me not sink:
    Let me be delivered from my enemies,
    And out of the deep waters.
    Let not the flood sweep over me,
    Or the deep swallow me up,
    Or the pit close its mouth over me.
    O Yahweh, hear me—
    For thy loving-kindness is good:
    Turn to me
    According to the abundance of thy tender mercies.
    And hide not thy face from thy servant;
    For I am in trouble:
    Hear me speedily.

    —Psalm 69:1-2, 14-17

    Friday 3 February 2006

    Things to read before college

    Rory Shiner has posted a list of books for students to read before commencing theological studies. Naturally most people won’t begin to do this kind of reading until they’re already in the midst of (or until they’ve completed!) their theological studies. Nevertheless, if I were to offer a list of 25 books to read before beginning theological study, my list would probably look something like this (ordered alphabetically):

    * Rainer Albertz, History of Israelite Religion in the OT Period (2 vols.)
    * Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline
    * Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction
    * Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the NT
    * Günther Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth
    * Martin Buber, I and Thou
    * Rudolf Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology” (essay)
    * Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the NT (2 vols.)
    * Gerhard Ebeling, Problem of Historicity in the Church and Its Proclamation
    * Robert Jenson, Story and Promise
    * Ernst Käsemann, Jesus Means Freedom
    * Hans Küng, The Church
    * Alister McGrath, Making of Modern German Christology
    * Bruce Metzger, Text of the NT: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration
    * Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God
    * Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Dogmatic Theses on the Doctrine of Revelation” (essay)
    * Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus—God and Man
    * Gerhard von Rad, OT Theology (2 vols.)
    * Karl Rahner, The Trinity
    * E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism
    * Friedrich Schleiermacher, Brief Outline on the Study of Theology
    * Udo Schnelle, History and Theology of the NT Writings
    * Albert Schweitzer, Quest of the Historical Jesus
    * Anthony Thiselton, Two Horizons: NT Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description
    * John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch

    Admittedly I’m imagining here a very committed person who has a lot of spare reading-time, and access to a theological library. Which books or essays would be on your list?

    Chris Tilling interview

    Chris Tilling’s delightful Chrisendom is the new blog of the month over at biblioblogs.com. Be sure to read the excellent interview, in which Chris talks about himself and his blog—and he even has some nice things to say about Faith and Theology!

    Thursday 2 February 2006

    A worthy cause

    My fellow-blogger Ken Ristau is a PhD student at Pennsylvania State University, specialising in Old Testament studies. He is a very promising young scholar—just the other day I was reading his article in the latest issue of the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament—and he is also a single father with a four-year-old daughter.

    Ken is requesting donations to help him attend an archaeological dig in Israel this summer as part of his PhD programme. This is a worthy cause. If you’d like to help Ken, you can donate online through PayPal.

    Donald Bloesch on evangelical theology

    “I believe that modern evangelicalism is hampered by being pre-critical, pre-Kantian and pre-Barthian. Helmut Thielicke refers to a Cartesian way of doing theology, in which the credibility of theology is made to rest on rational consistency and clarity of ideas rather than fidelity to biblical revelation.”

    —Donald Bloesch, “Donald Bloesch Responds,” in Evangelical Theology in Transition: Theologians in Dialogue with Donald Bloesch (Downers Grove: IVP, 1999), p. 189.

    Wednesday 1 February 2006

    More essential paintings for theologians

    Kim Fabricius’ list of Essential Paintings for Theologians was more popular than anything else ever posted at Faith and Theology. His list has been viewed thousands of times, and it generated discussion on many other blogs.

    Partly in response to all this discussion, Kim has now added a supplement to his list. So here are ten more essential paintings (and stay tuned soon for a list of Essential Icons as well):

    1. Giovanni Cimabue (c.1240-1302): “Crucifix”
    2. Fra Angelico (c.1400-55): “Transfiguration”
    3. Andrea Mantegna (c.1431-1506): “Dead Christ”
    4. El Greco (1541-1614): “Christ's Agony in the Garden”
    5. Jan Vermeer (1632-75): “Woman Holding a Balance”
    6. Georges Rouault (1871-1958): “Head of Christ”
    7. Marc Chagall (1887-1985): “White Crucifixion”
    8. Max Ernst (1891-1970): “Virgin Spanking the Christ Child before Three Witnesses”
    9. Fritz Eichenberg (1901-1990): “Christ on the Breadline”
    10. Roger Wagner (1957- ): “Menorah”

    Blogging events

    Over at Codex, Tyler Williams will today be posting the second Biblical Studies Carnival. This is sure to include many excellent biblical studies posts—so head over there soon for a look.

    And Lyn Perry has organised the Best So Far Blogging Awards, including a category for Best Religious Blogs. You can send in your votes by emailing Lyn (I have just sent in my own vote for Chrisendom).

    Revising the prayer book

    “There is the Church. Somehow I don’t think he [Stanley] is fitted for it. He hasn’t heard the call, so to speak.... He did show some interest in the subject of the revision of the prayer-book. His suggestion was to insert crossword puzzles on alternate pages with blank leaves interspersed here and there for sketches and notes to be passed along to fellow sufferers during the sermon.”

    —Lennie Lower, Here’s Luck (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1930), ch. 1.


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