Monday 29 March 2010

Theology journals to follow

I follow a lot of journals (mainly theology, literature and intellectual history) via RSS and email alerts. Someone recently asked me for a list of the best theology journals to follow – so here's a modified version of the list I gave him:

  • Modern Theology (Wiley-Blackwell – probably my overall favourite journal in recent years)
  • Studies in Christian Ethics (Sage – publishes some of the best articles around; theological ethics is one of the most constructive and exciting areas in current theology – systematic theology often feels rather pale by comparison)
  • International Journal of Systematic Theology (Wiley-Blackwell – you'll always find something good in this predominantly Barthian journal)
  • New Blackfriars (Wiley-Blackwell – because a regular dose of Wittgensteinian Thomism is good for you)
  • Political Theology (Equinox – an outstanding newer journal; this has become one of my favourite publications in the past couple of years)
  • Scottish Journal of Theology (Cambridge UP – another Barthian journal, sometimes eclipsed by IJST in recent years, but still one to follow)
  • Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie (de Gruyter – articles in English and German, good for keeping informed about modern European theology)
  • Literature and Theology (Oxford UP – this journal has gotten better and better in recent years; more literary, not so restrictively theoretical in focus)
  • Heythrop Journal (Wiley-Blackwell – I use this journal with moderation, but it's very good when I need a dose of philosophical theology)
  • The Other Journal (Mars Hill – not a prestigious academic journal like the others, but it has filled a real niche; it's fun, provocative, highly contemporary – and free!)
  • Journal of Theological Studies (Oxford UP – I don't often read articles from this journal, but the huge review section is invaluable)
  • Reviews in Religion and Theology (Wiley-Blackwell; a reviews-only journal, extremely useful for getting a broad picture of new developments in theology)
I keep an eye on plenty of other journals too, but these are probably my top recommendations for keeping up with scholarship in theology. If you feel scandalised by any omissions, feel free to correct me in the comments...

Saturday 27 March 2010

Comic strip: theological superheroes

When I was gathering the abstracts for the Sarah Coakley symposium, I kept pestering Oliver Crisp to write an abstract. So finally, just to appease me, he submitted the following title and abstract:

"Coakley vs. Martians in Manhattan Showdown": In this paper I will argue that the psychic powers Coakley has developed in her work would enable her to deal with and destroy any bid made by desperate extra-terrestrials to take over Manhattan just by thinking the words "feminist theology rocks".
I mentioned in yesterday's comments that this entire paper could be written as a graphic novel. So Oliver Crisp has come through with the goods – behold, the theological superheroes comic strip, starring Sarah Coakley (click to enlarge):

No doubt about it: this is gonna be an interesting symposium...

Thursday 25 March 2010

Abstracts for the Sarah Coakely symposium

In July, I'll be holding a symposium here in Sydney on Sarah Coakley and the Future of Systematic Theology. It will include a public lecture by Sarah Coakley, together with papers that engage constructively with the whole range of Coakley's theological work. I haven't quite managed to gather up all the abstracts yet – but here all the paper details so far:

From Evelyn Underhill to Sarah Coakley: Women Teaching Theology in the English Context
Stephen Burns, Charles Sturt University, Sydney

  • Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential figures in the Church of England through the twentieth century. Although she had no institutional position in either the church or a university, she nevertheless became the first woman to teach a course in theology at Oxford University (1921) and also the first women formally to teach the clergy of the Church of England (1926). Sarah Coakley credits Evelyn Underhill’s letters as introducing her to theology, and on occasion she refers to Underhill’s writings. This paper traces lines of connection between Coakley and Underhill, and in so doing raises two sets of questions – both relevant to a wide purview appropriate to a theologie totale. On the one hand, Coakley is considered in terms of women’s institutional opportunities to teach theology in English contexts. On the other hand, I move from context to the content of Coakley's theology, and especially the increasing attention being given by Coakley to “priestly” – particularly liturgical and pastoral – concerns as these complement her long interest in contemplative prayer. Together, these trajectories help give proper weight to Coakley's distinctive achievements as an English Anglican woman priest in a leading post in systematics.
Sarah Coakley and the Limits of Analytic Theology
Oliver Crisp, University of Bristol
  • In this paper I will consider Sarah Coakley’s engagement with analytic philosophical theology, culminating in her recent contribution to the volume Analytic Theology. Much recent work from the ‘analytics’ (as we might call them) presumes some sort of univocal account of religious language is true. Coakley is unusual in that (a) her work thoughtfully and seriously interacts with the analytics while retaining her own independence from the analytics, and (b) her engagement with the analytics has included the deployment of a more apophatic account of religious language than many of her erstwhile philosophical interlocutors. Coakley’s work in this area touches upon an important theme in contemporary theology, where a number of theologians have opted for some sort of doctrine of analogy (e.g. a number of the Radical Orthodox). This paper will offer an assessment of the success of this strategy of critical engagement with a view to the wider debate about religious language and, in particular, whether a univocal or analogical mode of discourse is preferable for constructive theology.
The Winnowing and Hallowing of Doctrine in Light of Science and Subjectivity
Nicola Hoggard-Creegan, Laidlaw-Carey Graduate School, Auckland
  • It was Schleiermacher who lamented two hundred years ago, “shall the tangle of history so unravel that Christianity becomes identified with barbarism, and science with unbelief?” Such is the situation today when faith is touted as a danger to human existence and systematic theology is often in retreat from science, becoming highly complex, counter-factual and counter-experiential. So we have the scandal of theology’s abstraction and objectification of the trinity in spite of our perception of God as personal and as love, the scandal of seeing the Christian life, and justification as code for a special covenant which divides the human race although science has shown us our solidarity, and imago Dei as that which divides humans from animals in spite of our new ecological sensitivities. The ethical repercussions of such theologies do indeed often lead to barbarism. Sarah Coakley has argued that we need a new ingredient in theology, that of apophatic prayer or contemplative awareness. Only this will give us the discernment that will nudge our theologies into a proper sensitivity to science, experience and gender. She is thus one of the first to take the practice of prayer deep into the heart of theology, and this is the first real leap in theology of experience since Schleiermacher. For if Coakley is right, we need to depend not only on Schleiermacher’s sense of absolute dependence, but on a properly focussed and mindful awareness. In this paper I examine Coakley’s method, and the ways in which it might help an interaction with science on doctrines of fallenness and redemption. I reflect on the winnowing and hallowing of doctrine that might occur if we take heed of science’s new discoveries of connectedness, and of Coakley’s insistence upon apophatic prayer.
Trinity: Soundings from the Mystics
Anne Hunt, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne
  • Not a few theologians, including Karl Rahner SJ, have bemoaned the divide between mystical consciousness and doctrinal theology. Rahner, for example, speaks of bridging “the rift” between “lived piety and abstract theology.” Indeed, it is rather remarkable that theology, in its task of faith seeking understanding, has paid little systematic attention to the insights offered by the mystics. The aim of this paper is to take up that challenge and to examine a number of mystics who have had what could be described as distinctly trinitarian insights. While in all Christian mysticism, by virtue of the Christian faith from which it issues, God is necessarily trinitarian, for some mystics, such as Julian of Norwich and John of the Cross, their consciousness of God as Trinity is heightened to a particularly intense and explicit degree in and through their mystical encounters. Women’s mystical insights are particularly noteworthy, given that most of them did not have access to the education and scholarly training that was granted to their male contemporaries.
On Prayer
Nathan Kerr, Trevecca Nazarene University, Nashville

From the Moment to a Lifetime: What Continental Moral Philosophy Might Learn from Sarah Coakley
Annette Larrea, University of Sydney
  • Continental moral philosophy as a whole has been decisively shaped by a phenomenology of interruption whereby ethics is variously described as a singular encounter, a moment of rupture in being summoned by a call, an event or an instant demanding the leap of decision. Yet while the “time” of this privileged “moment” has been elaborated with ever-increasing nuance (particularly via discussions of the “trace”), it is nevertheless the case that such accounts continue to encounter difficulty in articulating how they relate to a process of moral growth over the course of an individual’s lifetime. As one critic complains in relation to Levinas, “his phenomenology of ethical experience has nothing to say about the formation or development of a moral consciousness, a moral sensibility”; about “moral maturation…– ethical life as an ongoing practice”. Readers familiar with Sarah Coakley’s work will be aware that, from the standpoint of her own concerns, she has an enormous amount to say with regard to such questions of disciplined practice, life-long maturation and the progressive nature of patient moral and spiritual transformation. The first aim of this paper then is to provide a detailed outline of this conglomeration of themes in Coakley’s work. Secondly, though, I seek to offer some suggestions concerning how Coakley’s insights might be instructively taken up in continental moral philosophy. My main contention here will concern the need for renewed attention in continental discourse on responsibility to the question of the practices which cultivate responsiveness.
Prayer as Theological Method
Benjamin Myers, Charles Sturt University, Sydney
  • In this paper I argue that Sarah Coakley’s work forms a subtle critique of the modern tradition which understands systematic theology as scholarly Wissenschaft. Setting Coakley’s work in conversation with Anselm and Augustine, I argue that practices of prayer can form a methodological framework for interpreting the nature of theological language. Nevertheless, Coakley’s concentration on the practice of apophatic prayer raises challenging questions about the possibilities and limitations of systematic theology. In an attempt to probe Coakley’s own reflections in this area, I argue that the relation between prayer and poetry might expand our vision of the situation of theological language. In both prayer and poetry, one catches speech labouring with its own limits – not because of the impoverishment of language, but precisely because of its inexhaustible resources, its endless playfulness and plasticity in the face of new experiences. If we approach theological method along these lines, we might consider theology not in terms of an epistemological priority of silence, but as an activity arising from the graced suppleness and receptivity of human language to God.
Gendered Economy: The Trinity and Subordination in Contemporary Systematics
Janice Rees, Charles Sturt University, Sydney
  • Sarah Coakley’s defence of systematic theology may seem an unusual move from a feminist. Yet Coakely’s théologie totale assumes a systematic project in which gender truly matters. It may be that this kind systematic theology gives the Christian feminist a more cohesive picture of gender's place within the widest theological framework, and thus offers fresh paths for both feminist theology and systematics. This paper explores the economic Trinity through this lens in an attempt to place gender at the centre of contemporary systematic discussion.
"The Fire Through Which We Must Pass": Kenosis and the Labour of Theological Interpretation
Scott Stephens, Trinity Theological College, Brisbane
  • This paper uses Coakley's provocative analysis of the Alexandrian and Antiochene schools of scriptural interpretation, and her interpretation of kenosis, as a way of inflecting the current revival of interest in patristic exegesis and the practice of theological interpretation.
Sarah Coakley and the Prayers of the Digital Body of Christ
Matthew John Paul Tan, Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas, Rome
  • This paper will investigate the future salience of systematic theology by applying Sarah Coakley’s work on contemplative prayer as a lens to evaluate a cultural context increasingly circumscribed by the internet. More specifically, it will evaluate the Church’s enthusiastic embrace of cybernetic forms, from online services to the establishment of churches in Second Life, as part of its evangelising mission and of cybernetically extending the Body of Christ. This paper argues that a sharp critique of this enthusiasm can be launched with the realisation that deep parallels exist between the processes of immersing oneself within cyberspace and those of contemplative prayer as outlined by Sarah Coakley. Ultimately, this paper will argue that far from a neutral instrument or even a cultural form, cyberspace constitutes an interesting, but ultimately deficient version of Christian contemplative prayer. This paper argues that cyberspace is a manifestation of a posthuman anthropology that has several important overlaps with Christian subjectivity, decentring the autonomous Enlightenment subject, affirming the deep need for others in defining self, and rehabilitating the necessity for submission to authority. However, an uncritical celebration of cybernetics’ promises often ignores theological undercurrents that lie beneath their manifestations. Attention is given first to a neo-Gnosticism which denigrates humanity as embodied subjects. Also, the centrality of coding evinces an anti-incarnationalism that encourages the breaking up of concrete bodies, biological and social, for the sake of more universally superior, digitised alternatives. The paper concludes by proposing a way for the Body of Christ to navigate these poles by reference to the linking and juxtaposition of the Church’s cybernetic context to its sacramental worship.
When Non-Priests Pray: A Conversation between Sarah Coakley and Bono on Incorporative Pneumatology and Priestly Prayer
Steve Taylor, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide
  • The aim of this paper is to explore the Trinity’s relation to the world, with specific attention to the practice of public prayer. The paper will examine what I will call “non-priestly” narratives in the Bible. These are narratives in which someone outside the faith community offers public prayer. Potential sources include Melchizedek in the Abrahamic narrative (Genesis 14), the blessing of Israel by Balaam (Numbers 22-24) and the worship of the Magi (Matthew 2). Coakley and Wells, in their book Praying for England, seek to reimagine the place of the church in contemporary culture. They suggests a number of roles for the contemporary priest, including those of representation, glory, imagination, presence, attention, honesty and debate. These can be used as a framework to analyse “non-priestly” biblical narratives, or even the “non-priestly” ministry of a rock star, with particular attention to the work of the Spirit in the world. In this way, the paper seeks a creative theological conversation regarding priests, prayer and pneumatology.
In Defence of Systematic Theology
Heather Thomson, Charles Sturt University, Canberra
  • Systems of thought, whether in philosophy, psychoanalysis or theology, have been critiqued by Luce Irigaray as "phallocentric". By this she means they are constructed around a unifying principle which tends to reduce and repress difference for the sake of the whole (neat) system and in doing so, work from patriarchal assumptions and identities, defining men as the norm (unifying principle) over against which women’s identities are constructed. Irigaray’s counter move is a strategic one, deconstructing and subverting such systematic thought. She transforms the task so that irreducible sexual difference is maintained (rather than having a single, unifying principle) in order to give space for women’s self-representations of the human and the divine. In this paper I will take account of the critiques of systematic thought, and argue, with Sarah Coakley, that there is nevertheless a place for systematic theology. Without systematic thought, one loses integrity and honesty. On the assumption that maturity in psychology and spirituality assume an integrated self, systematic thought is an attempt to have integrity within a discipline of thought. The question then becomes: what is the centre (unifying principle/s) around which the various doctrines are integrated? I will also argue that systematic thought is an attempt at intellectual honesty such that various aspects of theology are integrally related to each other rather than held (unsystematically) in isolation or incongruence. The integrated self pushes toward an integrated, systematic theology.
Coakley and Analytic Theology: Correcting or Overcoming the Analytic Ambition?
Nick Trakakis, Monash University and Deakin University, Melbourne

Brave New World: On a Feminist, Prayerful and Pentecostal Future for "Systematic Theology"
Paul Tyson, Australian Catholic University, Brisbane
  • This paper opens by recalling some well known and highly persuasive objections to the enterprise of modern Western systematic theology. Yet, with Coakley, the paper argues that even where objections to modern systematic theology are valid, there remains a continuing need for an integrative theological perspective. That is, a valid théologie totale need not fall to the same critiques often rightly raised against "systematic theology". Indeed, by approaching theology in a richly integrative and prayerfully open manner, remarkable new possibilities and disruptions come into view. To illustrate this, the paper combines aspects of Sarah Coakley's work on gender with Jacques Ellul's work on prayer and Simon Chan's work on the Holy Spirit. In concluding, I will argue not only that théologie totale in this register has a promising future, but also that such a theology – though full of radical implications – may be a catalyst for the renewal of Western Christianity itself.
Subversion through Subjection: A Feminist Reconsideration of Kenosis in Christology and Christian Discipleship
Jodi Belcher, Vanderbilt University, Nashville
  • This paper suggests a way of transposing the Philippians Christ-hymn by conceiving of kenosis as a kind of subversive subjection. Instead of the more prevalent, yet illusory, notion of self-emptying as loss of self, I advocate a recapitulation of kenosis as a transformative and empowering re-identification in God, which is not only plausible for feminist theology but also good news for those who have been made powerless by the powers of this world. In order to enact this musical transposition, I juxtapose Judith Butler’s work on power and subject formation in The Psychic Life of Power with Sarah Coakley’s analysis of kenosis in Powers and Submissions, and thus propose a contemporary retrieval of Christian kenosis. [This paper won't be presented at the symposium, but it will be included in the published collection of essays.]
For those planning to attend the symposium, I'll soon be adding registration details to the website.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

How to disprove the existence of God in just 4 minutes

It took Richard Dawkins hundreds of pages to disprove the existence of God. But that's small fry compared with the following video, which takes just 4 minutes and 16 seconds to execute a complete refutation of the existence of God. Watch it if you dare. If it destroys your faith, don't say I didn't warn you...

Friday 19 March 2010

Indigenous Australians and the church's confession

OK, here's a final excerpt from my paper on the Uniting Church's proposed preamble. This is from the paper's conclusion, where I try to illustrate what it might look like to make a confession about what it means to be the church in Australia.

I am deeply sympathetic with the theological intentions of the new preamble to the Constitution, and I am convinced that the church in Australia needs to find creative ways to rethink and redefine its own identity in relation to the country’s indigenous peoples, those traditional custodians of the very land on which the church gathers. Chris Budden's question is in my view fundamental for the Australian church: ‘Can the church be the church in Australia if it does not properly honour the place of the Indigenous people in its life?’ And more than that, are we not denying the gospel itself—the message of Christ’s universal lordship—if we give the impression ‘that God was brought to Australia by the churches’?

[...] Nevertheless, the whole voice of the document would need to be different, spoken from a different standpoint, if the preamble was to become an exercise of Christian confession and Christian discernment.

The following points then are intended as an illustration of how the language of a preamble could form part of the church’s confession. Here, the church speaks not from a position of privileged insight into God’s ways, but from a vulnerable position of pilgrimage within history. The church does not occupy an elevated ‘view from nowhere’, so that it could survey the whole arc of human history at a single glance. Standing within history, the church sees another world to which it humbly bears witness. Listening to the voices of indigenous believers, the church hears Christ’s own voice calling, and so is compelled to confess:

  • Guided by Jesus Christ, the church’s Second Peoples listen attentively to the voices of our indigenous brothers and sisters, knowing that we cannot be the church without them, and that we cannot have Christ except together with them;
  • we rejoice in their witness to the Creator God who was already at work in this land, through Christ and the Spirit, long before the arrival of the colonisers;
  • in this witness, the church hears and recognises the word of Christ—a word that judges us for our cultural imperialism, our spiritual paternalism, and our hardness of heart; and that graciously liberates us to become together the people of God;
  • together with the First Peoples of this land, our brothers and sisters in Christ, we confess that there is one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Together we entrust ourselves to this God, pledging to journey together as Christ’s disciples: to speak the truth in love, to bear one another’s burdens, and to seek and find Christ in one another along the way.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Jesus was already in this land: discerning Christ in indigenous cultures

Here's another excerpt from my paper on the Uniting Church's proposed preamble. This is from a section entitled “‘Jesus was already in this land’: The Logic of Discernment”. I'll post another brief excerpt tomorrow, from the paper's final section where I offer an alternative formulation to the new preamble.

I have been arguing that a confessing church should look for signs of Christ’s work in the world, while at the same time resisting the temptation to assimilate these signs of God’s free activity into a universally applicable doctrinal schema. [...]

Where indigenous Christians in Australia look back on their own cultural traditions and perceive clear lines of continuity—‘Jesus was already walking around in this land’, as one indigenous Christian put it to me in conversation—that is a proper exercise of Christian discernment. It is not part of a larger theory about God’s self-revealing activity among all indigenous peoples, nor is it a doctrinal insight into the structural relationship between the God of the gospel and indigenous law, custom and ceremony.

The theological discussions of the Rainbow Spirit Elders reflect this logic of discernment. The elders affirm that the Creator Spirit has been present from beginning within Aboriginal culture. This is a treasure that lay hidden, but is now disclosed to the eyes of faith; only now, in light of the gospel, can such treasures be uncovered. The elders thus look attentively to their own cultural heritage in an attempt to discern continuities of Christ’s work in this land: ‘As we search our culture in the light of the Gospel …, we must ascertain those things which are alien, as well as those things which are true to the Gospel.’ It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that ‘gives us our Christian Aboriginal theological bearings’, uncovering the hidden treasures of the past and revealing surprising lines of continuity between indigenous traditions and Christ’s work in the gospel. It is because indigenous Christians have already come to know God in Christ that they are led subsequently to perceive that God was already ‘leading us to know that Christ is ... an Aboriginal person camping among us, giving life to our people and our stories’.

As Vincent Donovan has argued in reference to African traditions, it is in this way that the gospel creates its own surprising ‘recapitulation’ of all the riches of a culture. This recapitulation in turn generates a thoroughgoing reassessment of a people’s cultural heritage. For some Aboriginal elders, the Rainbow Spirit is now perceived ‘as a life-giving God of love, and not as an awesome power that frightens us’. This is not a neutral historical assessment of the relation between the Rainbow Spirit and the God of Jesus Christ. It is not something that could be read off the face of indigenous traditions. It is an act of Christian discernment in which the riches of the culture are ‘sublated’—both preserved and transfigured—into the world of the gospel.

If we understand this logic of discernment, we can avoid perpetrating the subtle theological imperialism which colonises indigenous traditions, swallowing them up without remainder into a romanticised anonymous Christianity. The proposed text of the preamble contains more than a hint of such imperialism: God’s Spirit was already at work revealing God through law, custom and ceremony; ‘the same love and grace’ that was fully revealed in Christ was also sustaining the first peoples and giving them knowledge of God. Such statements fail to distinguish between a quasi-historical account of indigenous heritage, and the recapitulation of that heritage as seen through the eyes of faith in the moment of Christian discernment.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

God and indigenous Australians: recognising or confessing?

I've been writing a paper on the Uniting Church's proposed new preamble to its constitution. I'm actually very sympathetic to the intentions of this preamble (and I'll post a more sympathetic excerpt tomorrow, on the importance of discerning God's work among indigenous peoples "outside the church"). But my main criticism is that the document speaks from a non-confessional standpoint – here's an excerpt:

This is not so much a confession of the church’s faith in Christ as an authoritative pronouncement about the specific mode of God’s self-revelation. God was at work among (presumably all) indigenous peoples ‘through law, custom and ceremony’.

The crucial question to put to this document is that of the church’s fundamental posture or position. Where does the church stand? Where is the church positioned in order to formulate such a fixed definition of the divine action in human history? Can a confessing church make such authoritative pronouncements? Or does the church first need to relinquish its confessing stance, its posture of vulnerable openness before Jesus Christ, in order to define God’s activity in this way? Can such doctrinal pronouncements really remain open to the free and surprising work of Christ in the world? Or has the eschatological untidiness of the Basis of Union been relinquished in favour of a highly determinate decision about the precise nature of divine action in history? In short, can a confessing church adopt a position of privileged insight into the mysteries of the divine will – a theological bird’s-eye view?

The language of the preamble betrays the fact that this document is indeed an authoritative, objective pronouncement rather than a confession of the church. It is spoken not from the position of obedient confession, but from a superior viewpoint. God’s activity in the world is not so much confessed as grasped and assimilated within an all-encompassing doctrinal schema.

Thus the preamble’s ten statements are said to be ‘recognised’ by the church. What does it mean for the church to ‘recognise’ the fact that God’s self-revelation in Australia has taken place through law, custom and ceremony? Surely it indicates that the church occupies a privileged position. Specific information about God’s activity – information not available in scripture – is somehow at the church’s disposal. Although the church knows God only in Christ, it now also commands knowledge of God’s action extra Christum. Instead of confessing, instead of remaining open and expectant to God’s surprising work in the world, the church is said to ‘recognise’ these facts. Not content to bear witness, the church speaks (in all ten paragraphs) with the voice of an anonymous historian, informing the world about the precise location of God – and of the Uniting Church! – in Australia’s history. Instead of standing ‘between the times’ and confessing from a position of weakness and vulnerability, the church has mastered history. It occupies a theological ‘view from nowhere’, an objective position from which even God is viewed as though from high above.

Monday 15 March 2010

Doing theology on Aboriginal land

Here in Australia, the Uniting Church is proposing a new preamble to its Constitution. The preamble attempts to define the church's identity in relation to Australia's indigenous peoples; but the document raises all sorts of theological questions. Here's an excerpt:

When the churches that formed the Uniting Church arrived in Australia as part of the process of colonisation they entered a land that had been created and sustained by the Triune God they knew in Jesus Christ.... The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was finally revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.
The next issue of Uniting Church Studies is exploring the theology of this document. I'm writing an article entitled “‘In his own strange way’: Confessing Jesus Christ in the Preamble”, focusing on the question, What does it mean for the church to confess? I'll be presenting a draft later this week at a systematic theology seminar in Sydney, and I'll post some excerpts here as well. In the mean time, here's a list of some of the things I've been reading for this paper:

Sunday 14 March 2010

Once more with book titles...

Sorry, I know this is becoming a bore. But I wanted to post the latest shortlist of possible book titles (based on earlier suggestions, and some newer ones):

  • Secular Parables: Sketches in Theology and Culture
  • Drawing in Dust: Sketches in Theology and Culture [someone suggested that dropping the definite article made this title sound less Williamsesque]
  • In Pieces: Fragments of Theology and Culture
  • In Pieces: Fragments of Faith and Theology

Wednesday 10 March 2010

The Global Atheist Convention: a Christian reflection

The Global Atheist Convention will commence this week in Melbourne, with speakers such as Richard Dawkins, Peter Singer, A. C. Grayling and Phillip Adams. The good folks at ABC Religion have launched a new blog, Questions of Faith, to provide coverage and analysis of the Convention as it unfolds.

They kindly invited me to write an opening theological reflection. So I've written some thoughts on atheism's role in Christian thinking – including some remarks about my favourite atheist, Samuel Beckett:

"I wonder what Samuel Beckett would have thought of an atheism so easy and so confident that it can fit on the front of a T-shirt or the side of a bus. Atheism as a lifestyle choice — an atheism you can believe in..."
Head over and check it out – and while you're at it, you might like to subscribe to their feed so that you can join in the discussion over the coming days.

Sunday 7 March 2010

A shortlist of book titles

Many thanks for all the humorous, insightful and occasionally insane suggestions for a book title. I've come up with a rough list of my favourites, but I'm still having trouble deciding. I also appreciated the comments regarding the subtitle, so I'm wondering now whether "fragments" or "intersection" might be a better metaphor than "improvisation", especially if the latter sounds awkward and pretentious. Anyway, here's the shortlist (a mix of proposed titles and subtitles) – which do you like best?

  • Transpositions: Improvising Theology and Culture
  • Drawing in the Dust: Sketches in Theology and Culture
  • Improvised Fragments: Explorations in Theology and Culture
  • Loopaper: Theological Reflections on Culture You Can Recycle (not sure how this would sell, but it's a damn good title)
  • Post It: Notes on Theology and Culture
  • On the Stage of the Everyday: Improvisations in Theology and Culture
  • Texts at the Intersection: Fragments in Theology and Culture (with a cover photo of someone texting at a busy intersection)
  • Secular Parables: Fragments in Theology and Culture
  • I also liked the subtitle "Intersecting Theology and Culture"

Friday 5 March 2010

Choose a title for my book

I'll have a new book coming out before long with Cascade. It's a collection of short pieces: blog posts, pieces written for magazines and such, as well as a good deal of new material (including pieces on friendship, suicide, law, music, theology as comedy and tragedy, etc). So it's a collection of theological vignettes and improvisations, all of them exploring the intersection of theology and culture.

But there's a problem: some people are good at thinking of sexy book titles; I'm not one of those people. So can you help me come up with a catchy title? All I've got so far is a subtitle, Improvisations in Theology and Culture – I quite like this, though I'm happy to change it as well if you have a better idea.

Please leave your suggestions in the comments – the winning title will be immortalised on the cover of the book. And as a token of thanks, I'll also send you a copy of the book, plus a $20 Amazon voucher (so that you can buy something better to read).

Thanks for your help!

Wednesday 3 March 2010

A note on unwritten books

When life becomes a thicket of writing deadlines and commitments, I tend to escape into daydreams about the books that I would like to write one day. Just as a married person might dream of an affair, so writers find solace from their immediate duties by indulging in the subversive fantasy of other writing projects. (And the irony is equally cruel in both cases: as the mistress is destined to become another wife, so the fantasised writing project will be satisfied only when – triumphantly – it becomes merely another deadline.)

So anyway, here are a few of the books that I've been dreaming of writing:

  • An extended essay on the ethics of friendship. (I've been planning this one for quite some time, and I'm hoping to start writing it by the end of the year.)
  • A book on prayer, where each chapter is a meditation on one of George Herbert's poems. (If I'm ever asked to give a series of talks on prayer, I'll use that as my opportunity.)
  • A book on Melville's Moby Dick as the great anti-theodicy, Nature's shattering reply to Paradise Lost. (Frankly, it baffles me that more theologians have not written on Moby Dick – though Catherine Keller is an outstanding exception.)
Of course, these are not the only writing projects ruminating in my mischievous head. But some fantasies – again marriage is the analogy – are best kept secret.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

A handshake of carbon monoxide

OK, while you ponder this awesome album cover, let me draw your attention to a couple of first-rate posts:

  • Graham Harman has a blisteringly good post on "the most overrated philosopher of all time". I found his logic terrifying and compelling – and his post generated a storm of responses around the blogosphere. I can hardly bear the thought of what might happen if you used this logic to identify the most overrated theologian of all time! (Please, don't ever mention this again.)
  • Meanwhile, Bruce Hamill has broken up with his boyfriend – that is, with Jesus. He writes very perceptively about the experience of having Jesus as an eroticised "invisible friend" – a "relationship" that can be maintained only through the laborious exercise of all manner of psychological and spiritual techniques. Personally, I'm very grateful for my Pentecostal background, but it left me with a painful awareness of the narcissistic dysfunction of this kind of "relationship" with Jesus. Bruce's account should remind us that the only Jesus we want anything to do with is the Jesus narrated in the Gospels – not Jesus the friendly poltergeist (as Robert Jenson once put it), but the crucified and risen one who summons us to discipleship.

Monday 1 March 2010

The trouble with ANZAC day

Today I had my first class of the year – a first-year introduction to systematic theology. We kicked off with the Apostles’ Creed, an African version of the creed, and the Barmen Declaration. When we were looking at the class schedule, one of the students observed that the Week 7 lecture on the Holy Spirit would have to be cancelled, since it falls on the ANZAC Day holiday. (ANZAC Day is one of Australia’s most popular public holidays, commemorating the nation’s military history – it’s undoubtedly Australia’s most authentically “religious” holiday: people gather at dawn for quasi-religious military services of remembrance.)

I replied that it’s entirely fitting that the Holy Spirit should be displaced by ANZAC Day.


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