Monday, December 10, 2007

Mitt Romney is right...

"Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.

Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.

As governor, I tried to do the right as best I knew it, serving the law and answering to the Constitution. I did not confuse the particular teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the Constitution - and of course, I would not do so as President. I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.

As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America 's 'political religion' - the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States ."
-Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney on "Faith in America"


...which is why I find it incredibly difficult to imagine that a Christian can be president.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Conversing with Emergents

A few weeks back I was fortunate to be able to attend a brief panel discussion on the Emergent Church. The panel consisted of a local pastor here in Durham who is relatively well known locally as being deeply embedded in the Emergent conversation. Dr. Mary McClintock-Fulkerson was his primary conversation partner, with a moderator as well. The discussion was relatively interesting and was focused on the place of creeds and doctrine in the Emergent Church.

The Emergent pastor was concerned with the way creeds and doctrines have become a litmus of Christian orthodox and wielded as a means of determining who's in and who's out. They function as a means of control, reinforcing the move of groups and nations to enclose themselves over and against other groups. His alternative was grossly ambiguous but he did seem to predicate some sense of doctrine as a unifying principle. But he was highly critical of the way doctrine and creeds have functioned.

This tendency of the Emergent Church is worrisome to me. Those in the conversation are right to critique the way in which theology and doctrine has been reduced to intellectual assent to disembodied ideas. That is, doctrine has been perceived as the litmus for Christian orthodoxy. If you believe the creeds and profess orthodox doctrine you are orthodox. The problem is that such an understanding of doctrine and theology has allowed Christians to continue to live in a modality of existence that does not depend on theology or doctrine. In other words, if orthodox doctrine is the litmus of true Christianity then Christians can live however they want, provided they adhere intellectually to the truths of the creeds.

Whether the Emergent Church recognizes this tendency in its critique is beside the point. Ultimately what they are critiquing is this very move (a theological move that has allowed Christians to order their life after the politics of the state [particularly the United States] and to raise the question of Christ and culture as if culture is monolithic and we must relate Christ to it). I wholeheartedly support this critique. Yet the corrective according to this pastor has tended to mitigate doctrine and creeds. The idea is that if adherence to doctrine and creeds has literally produced religious wars (cf. religious wars in Europe between differing Christian traditions), then reorienting our emphasis to other aspects of Christianity would be advantageous. What this reorientation looks like is nuanced but the basic principle seems to be common throughout the Emergent conversation.

The central problem with this move is that it reinforces the idea that doctrine and creeds are objects of intellectual assent only. That is, it takes this concept as a presupposition of the critique and thus the eschewing of doctrine and creeds ensues. What I want to suggest is that the Emergent Church in this particularity is merely propagating the problem it attempts to resist. Theology is hopelessly enclosed in its propensity for abuse.

What we really need is a corrective that rearticulates the function of doctrine and creeds, that is we need an account of theology that does not assume the theological tasks is one of dotting our theological "I's" and crossing our theological "T's". We need an account that more adequately expresses the function of theology.

In the question and answer period I raised this issue by utilizing an analogy between the creeds and the American pledge of allegiance. While it is highly limited and necessitates qualification, I nonetheless offer it to you. When Americans say the pledge of allegiance they are not merely affirming intellectual truths or propositions. By affirming the pledge they are committing to the lifestyle demanded by the pledge. That is, the pledge demands that its adherents live a certain kind of life. It demands a modality of existence.

Similarly, the Christians creeds demand a modality of existence. They witness to a way of life constituted and sustained by the body of Christ. Doctrine and creeds are not abstract principles of the Christian faith, but are the thinking internal to the Christian faith that not only witnesses to a modality of existence but produces that modality of existence. Theology must be performed. The theological task requires our entrance into the Christian tradition and our deep conditioning by that tradition.

But this understanding of theology is unable to function in the Emergent Church's critique. The EC has condemned theology to the locale of its distortion. We all live committed to some modality of existence, and my concern is that the EC is precariously searching for some locale or orientation. It resists finding it in theology because of theology's distortion. But what then makes demands on the way of life of the EC? If it's not theology I'm concerned it may be simply an inversion of conservative American Christianity.

I'd love to hear the thoughts of someone better acquainted with the EC. Ease my concerns.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

...and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

I recognize this is a lengthy piece, but at the behest of my good friend Mike Cline I will be posting some of the essays I am writing during my time at Duke. Enjoy!

(By the way, if anyone knows how to footnote in blogger I'd love to hear how it's done. I have simply placed the references in the essay at the end for lack of a better method.)

The sacraments of the Church are gifts. They are gifts of the Holy Spirit in which the presence of the Spirit dwells. The Spirit gives these gifts to the Church, and the means of being initiated into the Church to share in these gifts is affected by the Spirit in the sacrament of baptism. The language of initiation, though, says little about the nature of the community into which we become initiates. What kind of fellowship does baptism draw us into? This is the question we will seek to elucidate by drawing out the implications of baptism as our initiation and focusing on baptism as constitutive of the Church. We will proceed under the assumption that in so doing we are articulating the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Correlatively we will mention throughout what baptism implicates for Christian discipleship and formation.

Baptism is a symbol but to describe it as so is not to reduce the sacrament but instead presupposes a distinction from other types of signs. It is a sign that has the function of bringing us into the reality that it symbolizes. In other words, baptism not only symbolizes our initiation into the Church but also is the true means by which we are initiated. This initiation occurs through the Holy Spirit, who in the sacrament binds us to Christ. Being bound to Christ we are therefore bound to the perfectly obedient Son of God, who as such is the Israel of God perfectly adequated to Yahweh’s calling of Israel. This becomes the hermeneutical pivot upon which baptism as initiation must function. Our initiation into the Church in baptism is the act of the Holy Spirit binding us to the Israel of God and in so doing also binds us to Yahweh. Thus, we must conspicuously avoid any speech concerning baptism that neglects to speak about Israel.

Speaking of baptism as the act of being bound to Christ through the Spirit thus entails initiation into fellowship with others. First, we are initiated in the story and people of Israel. The story of Israel becomes our story (i.e. the Gentiles) in so far as the Jew Jesus has invited us. Furthermore, we are initiated into fellowship with all the baptized, which necessitates fellowship with all believers in Christ. The basis of this fellowship rests upon the person of Jesus Christ. This is not a fellowship that is grounded in the brother/sisterhood of all humanity but instead is mediated by Christ. We are bound to one another because the Spirit binds us to Christ. Our fellowship thereby exists in Christ and is grounded in his identity. This is the manner by which we are initiated but it only begins to reveal the nature of the community of initiates. Thus, we must also say that by being bound to the Israel of God we come to share in the election of Israel. The nature of this election overlaps with the nature of the Christian fellowship in that it is the very election that Jew and Gentile come to share.

As we utilize the language of election we are necessarily articulating an aspect of the doctrine of God. The election of Israel is revelatory of the inner life of God, and the economy of God in history is the unfolding of this revelation. God brings forth the people of Israel by the calling of Abram. This calling forth occurs through the Spirit and begets the son of God, Israel. Thus establishing a covenant, God offers Godself to this people and Israel is called to respond perfectly to God’s call. God’s covenant with this people is pure grace, and God seeks from Israel a human response adequated to the divine call. God condescends to be identified with this people and God’s presence in this people is unique in relation to his presence in all creation. He chooses to dwell in this “location”. The covenantal relationship thus is a dynamic one in which God makes Godself vulnerable by binding Godself to Israel. This is a scandalous move for God and results in the history of Israel’s vacillating disobedience and obedience.

Through their disobedience Israel is revelatory of God imperfectly. The intention behind Isreal’s election is the manifestation of God’s love to the world. Israel’s election ought to witness to the world that Israel’s God is their God too. The incarnation of Jesus is filled out as the perfect human response to God’s divine call and thus Jesus is Israel in fulfillment. He is the perfect response inasmuch as he is the Israel of God, brought forth in the presence of the Spirit. He is the culmination of Israel’s history and is the proper witness to God’s intention in election. The perfect obedience of the Son brings him inevitably to the cross, to death, to the place of humanity’s deepest estrangement from God. Karl Barth said that “in becoming man God makes Himself responsible for man who became His enemy, and that He takes upon Himself all the consequences of man’s action – his rejection and his death.” By rejecting God humanity seals itself off from God, grounding its existence in itself. This leads to the dissolution of humanity, which finds its ultimate Godforsakenness in death. This is the “consequences of man’s action” that Christ takes unto himself. Through inhabiting this Godforsakenness Christ overcomes it.

It is at this very moment of Godforsakenness that the moment of baptism occurs. In baptism we enter death with Christ, through the Spirit, who in taking upon our Godforsakenness has brought it into the life of God and freed us from our attempt to seal ourselves off from God. Entering baptism at this moment we eschew the “old man”, as Luther calls it, and we enter a new modality of existence constituted by Christ, through the Spirit. Being buried in his death, we therefore “walk in newness of life.” This becomes the normative manner in which Christian existence articulates itself; that is, “from slavery to freedom, from fear to boldness, from death to life, from darkness to light, from selfishness to generous love, in the pattern of the living Lord Jesus and as guided by the Holy Spirit.”

We can thus say that baptism not only initiates us into the fellowship of Christ, but also is constitutive of that fellowship. It establishes the character of fellowship and contains the new existence into which we are drawn. It does so because in baptism we receive, through the Spirit, Christ in his fullness. The baptismal moment is complete. In it we are forgiven, purified, and brought to new life. The baptized are drawn out of the world and into the story of Israel, which is perfectly narrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. As Johnson says, to grow in the Spirit means “understanding ever more deeply and enacting ever more consistently the gift that has been given us by God.” God’s gift to us is complete. Christ is given to us wholly, yet the reality of our baptism must be filled out in discipleship. This is what Johnson means when he says that growing in the Spirit is enacting the gift of baptism more consistently. The life of Christian discipleship can be seen as the reenactment of the Spirit’s work in baptism. Yet even this reenactment takes place under the auspice of the Spirit, who continually draws us into the depth of the baptismal waters. We can make this claim about the sufficiency of baptism because its validity is God’s prerogative, not ours. Thus, baptism always remains valid but one may embrace or resist its reality.

The description of baptism as constitutive of the reality into which we are drawn presses us to inquire as to how baptism is to be resisted or embraced. Resistance to baptism consists in the refusal to reject the powers of nationalism, racism, violence, sexism, and economics. To resist is to cling to a modality of existence that is passing away, a modality already under the lordship of Christ and one that is passing away in lieu of the reign of God being unleashed through the Spirit. Embracing baptism is embracing Christ through the Spirit, and therefore is openness to the social ethic that Jesus is. In order to embrace baptism one must learn repentance. Repentance is not only the confession of our sinful modality but is active rejection of that modality. In the ancient liturgies prior to baptism the catechumens would turn to the West and reject Satan and his powers. This is repentance, and the waters of baptism require it. To live into our baptism requires that our life be different.

The modalities and powers we contend must be rejected function as to utilize wisdom and power in order to position oneself over against others. In contrast God’s wisdom and power are revealed at the cross of Christ, the place of ostensible weakness and abandonment. As Charry writes, “weakness voluntarily assumed to rescue others is spiritual nobility and strength, and […] military and political power reveal spiritual weakness […] True strength and power lie hidden in an executed has-been […] The point is that there has been a great reversal of power. In God’s own time, it will conquer the world.” This wisdom and power are embraced in repentance, and lead to a communal life characterized by forgiveness. Christ, who is our salvation, constitutes the Church’s life of forgiveness. We learn to forgive by being bound to the Father, in Christ, through the Spirit. We are drawn into the life of the God of Israel who endured Israel’s imperfect response with faithfulness and forgiveness. This forgiveness has been bestowed also upon the Gentile in the baptismal waters.

Baptism not only bestows forgiveness but through the Spirit generates the practice of forgiveness. We are able to forgive others because we recognize that we are truly sinners. We stand in relationship to one another only through Christ, and our “disillusionment” due to the sin of others, as Bonhoeffer calls it, serves to remind us of this truth. Staniloae similarly makes the claim that our union with Christ, which is the foundation of our fellowship of forgiveness, “can be lived only in the Holy Spirit, and that the experience of being in the Holy Spirit is nothing other than union with Christ.” Our baptismal union with Christ is the activity of the Holy Spirit, and by being bound to him we are formed into a people that see ourselves as inferior to one another. This is not psychological self-deprecation for it is instead the deep willingness to accept our sinfulness. Our hope remains in our union affected by the Spirit and refuses to be lodged in self-justification or sufficiency. The humble one recognizes that we are invited to share in a story that is not our own, and we are formed by that story. The story is one of self-giving, the self-giving of God, and the self-giving response of Israel in return. The giving of ourselves can be described also as service. Christian fellowship is a fellowship of service to one another.

This act of self-giving is a precarious one. In giving oneself one is made vulnerable. The vulnerability of this sort in the Church is reflected in the practice of bearing each other’s burdens. Through the Spirit we have been bound to Christ and thus we are bound to one another. Sharing in one another’s burdens results from inhabiting that union. For in baptism we are bound to people who are not like us, we enter fellowship with people who do not look like us. We bear the burden of the stranger, who is no longer feared but loved. Our attention is turned to the alien, the needy, and the oppressed. Christian existence is deeply formed by this association, for when one in the body of Christ is oppressed all are oppressed. We are compelled to traverse the land of desolation, despair, and abandonment because in his perfect obedience as the Israel of God Jesus entered the depths of human isolation. Where Christ chooses to dwell so also does his Church dwell. This is the miracle and the gift of baptism.

Undoubtedly the most oft repeated phrase in this essay has been “through the Spirit.” This is not said tepidly but is the attempt to make explicit the presupposed activity of the Spirit in all we have discussed. Baptism is a miracle and a gift because the Holy Spirit makes it so. The waters are made holy and effectual because the Spirit descends upon them. Any explication of baptism is by definition an articulation of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. We began our exploration by positing the question of the nature of the community into which baptism initiates us. Our articulation determined that baptism is the initiation into a community of fellowship that is defined by the sacrament of baptism itself. Baptism draws us out of one modality of existence and into another, a new modality contained in Christ himself. To describe baptism as a punctiliar moment would therefore be inadequate. Instead, the Christian community is formed by ever deepening its knowledge and practice of the reality of its baptism. This baptism rejects the artificial boundaries of nation-states, and crushes biological distinctions among persons. Our public language must therefore be conditioned by our baptism. What does our baptism cause us to say about illegal immigration? What does our baptism cause us to say about unmitigated violence in Iraq, Darfur, and the other places where the power of militarism ostensibly reigns? May we be ever faithful and diligent as we attempt live in the reality that in Christ we are one, and as one we are Christ.

cf. Dr. J. Kameron Carter, Lecture #17
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1954), 21.
Ibid. 36.
cf. Dr. J. Kameron Carter, Lecture #11.
cf. Dr. J. Kameron Carter, Lecture #4.
Michael Wyschogrod, “Incarnation,” Pro Ecclesia, 2 (Spring 1993): 212.
cf. Dr. J. Kameron Carter, Lecture #15.
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance, "The Election of Jesus Christ" (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1957), 124.
Martin Luther, The Large Catechism. trans. Robert H. Fischer (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 89.
John Calvin, Instructions in Faith. trans. Paul T. Fuhrmann (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press 1992), 67.
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 278.
Letty M. Russell, Essentials of Christian Theology. ed. William C. Placher, "Why Bother with Church?" (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 252.
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 278.
cf. Brian Bantum’s Lecture on Baptism.
Martin Luther, The Large Catechism. trans. Robert H. Fischer (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 88.
Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 43.
cf. Brian Bantum’s Lecture on Baptism.
Ellen T. Charry, Essentials of Christian Theology. ed. William C. Placher, "How Should We Live?" (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 266-267.
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 281.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1954), 28.
Dumitru Staniloae, Theology and the Church. trans. Robert Barringer (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1980), 14.
cf. Brian Bantum’s Lecture on Baptism.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Quotables

"If the teachers of predestination were right when they spoke always of a duality, of election and reprobation, of predestination to salvation or perdition, to life or death, then we may say already that in the election of Jesus Christ which is the eternal will of God, God has ascribed to man the former, election, salvation and life; and to Himself He has ascribed the latter, reprobation, perdition and death [...] The risk and threat is the portion which the Son of God, i.e., God Himself, has chosen for His own."

"For if God Himself became man, this man (i.e. the lost man, traitor, enemy, adversary), what else can this mean but that He declared Himself guilty of the contradiction against Himself in which man was involved; that He submitted Himself to the law of creation by which such a contradiction could be accompanied by loss and destruction; that He made Himself the object of the wrath and judgment to which man had brought himself, that He took upon Himself the rejection which man had deserved; that He tasted Himself the damnation, death and hell which ought to have been the portion of fallen man? [...] He elected our rejection. He made it His own. He bore it and suffered it with all its most bitter consequences. For the sake of this choice and for the sake of man He hazarded Himself wholly and utterly. He elected our suffering. He elected it as His own suffering."

-Karl Barth The Election of Jesus Christ

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Durham...a Place I Call Home

As many of you know I have finally made it to Durham, North Carolina! My tenure at Duke Divinity School has begun and I couldn't be more pleased. The Div school is phenomenal in all the ways the word phenomenal falls short. Sitting under the pedagogy of people such as Stanley Hauerwas and Richard Hays is impressive, but the entire faculty is distinguished. All of my current professors have surpassed any expectations I have may have held entering the Div school. In short, I'm loving the academic environment here. Not to mention, of course, that the Div school knows how to have fun outside of the classroom as well. String together cookouts, dance clubs, tailgating, and Div school parties and you've got an idea of what my first week here looked like. Basically, Durham is the best place on earth. Here's a look at what my semester looks like:

Church History 13: Early and Medieval Christianity with Dr. J. Warren Smith.
I'll be reading:

Anselm of Canterbury, The Major Works.
Athanasius, On the Incarnation.
Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions.
J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines.
Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert Sayings of the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century.
Origen, Commentary on the Gospel according to John.
William Placher, A History of Christian Theology an Introduction.

Introduction to Christian Theology CT 32 with Dr. J. Kameron Carter.
I'll be reading:

Barth, Karl. Prayer.
Bonhoeffer, D. Life Together.
Calvin, John. Instruction in Faith (1537), ed. and trans. Paul T. Fuhrmann.
Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why it Matters.
Luther, Martin. Large Catechism, ed. and trans. Robert Fischer.
Merchant, Carolyn. Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture.
Placher, William C. (ed.) Essentials of Christian Theology.
Thurman, Howard. Jesus and the Disinherited.

Making Disciples in the Wesleyan Tradition PAR 148 with Dr. Paul W. Chilcote.
I'll be reading:

Paul Chilcote, Changed from Glory into Glory.
Paul Chilcote, The Wesleyan Tradition.
Francis MacNutt, Healing.
Sondra Matthaei, Making Disciples.
Robert Mulholland, Shaped by the Word.
Christine Pohl, Making Room.
Mark Stamm, Sacraments and Discipleship.

Introduction to Old Testament Interpretation OT11 with Dr. Stephen B. Chapman.
I'll be reading:

Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation.
Abraham J. Heschel, The Sabbath.
Mariano Magrassi, Praying the Bible.
Victor H. Matthews, A Brief History of Ancient Israel.
Richard D. Nelson, The Historical Books.
James B. Pritchard, The HaperCollins Concise Atlas of the Bible.
Gordon J. Wenham, Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically.
R. Norman Whybray, Introduction to the Pentateuch.

Basically, I've got a lot ahead of me but it's quite exciting! I'm not sure yet what the status of this blog will be but I'm hoping to at least post relatively frequently. If you're really lucky perhaps I'll even post some of my shorter papers...oooh, fun!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Quotables

"Another hallmark of Christianity is that salvation is not individualistic; it’s not something one person receives for himself or herself. Salvation is the reign of God. It is a political alternative to the way the world is constituted. That is a very important part of the story that has been lost to accounts of salvation that are centered on the individual. But without an understanding that salvation is the reign of God, the need for the Church to mediate salvation makes no sense at all."

-Stanley Hauerwas

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Quotables

"Parents are more than happy to raise their children to grow up to make up their own mind whether they will be Christians or not. Parents do not raise their children to think that they have an option about whether they will kill or not kill for the United States of America."
-Stanley Hauerwas, "Sacrificing the Sacrifices of War"

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Discipleship as Political Responsibility

John Howard Yoder’s magnificent insight in Discipleship as Political Responsibility is more than it’s compact size might imply. Although this book is merely a forerunner to Yoder’s more developed thought it is nonetheless an important contribution to understanding both Yoder and the positions he advocates. The book is split into two primary sections which were both first published as essays in 1957.

The first sections, The State in the New Testaments, seeks to discover what they New Testament says about the state, and secondarily what this means for how Christians are to interact with the state. Yoder understands the New Testament to claim that the mandate for the state is found within the mandate for the Church. God has ordained the state in order to keep relative order. God does not view the violence or selfishness of the state (or humanity) as a good thing but permits the state to use evil against itself in order to restrain itself.

The state is understood as being “pagan” or at least “non-Christian”. We must also realize that the New Testament does not speak about the state in the way that we understand the state. The primary state function in the New Testament is the sword-function. The Early Church also understood the state as belonging to the order of “principalities” and “dominions” that Christ had defeated. “The early church respected the state and made room for the state, yet they did not do so because they viewed it as a part of God’s good creation. On the contrary, they viewed it as part of the world God opposes, that is already defeated by Christ in principle, and over which the exalted Christ already rules until he has defeated his last enemy.” (20)

The Church is called to praise God; to proclaim the Gospel, live acts of love, and to witness to the virtue of Jesus Christ. The early church viewed the way of the cross not as something “tacked on” to salvation but as part of Christ’s saving work. The Church’s responsibility regarding the state is “to pray for political leaders and for peace, because God desires everyone to be saved.” (22) “The mandate of the Church, the mandate to overcome evil, is the superior mandate; the mandate of the state, that of keeping evil in check, only has meaning because the Church is accomplishing its mission.” (23) The Church clearly has a superior role and this role is seen in light of what Yoder calls the old and new aeon. The state belongs to the order of the old aeon. This order has been defeated by Christ but still exists under the lordship of Christ. The Church belongs to the new aeon, although these aeons overlap. Within this framework we can see how the task of the Church has superiority, since it belongs to the new aeon constituted by God’s redemptive purpose for humanity. The task of the state is merely temporary and has already been subjected to Christ. The existence of the Church is proof of this subjection.

This covers only a minor portion of the book, but are the implications of Yoder's articulation of the New Testament understanding of the state? What might this mean for us in our relation to the American state?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Quotables

"Every time Christians make a fetish of the family you can be sure they don't believe in God anymore. Because they don't want to witness to anyone about the truth of the Gospel they just want to make sure their kids grow up thinking they don't have an alternative but to go to[...]church."
Stanley Hauerwas, Lecture on the Sermon on the Mount at Wheaton College

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Yay for CBD

I was skimming the Christian Book Distributors "Bestsellers" this morning and it made me want to vomit. Seriously, this is the best we have to offer? Granted, some of the books look decent and some I can attest are decent. But I'm not seeing anything that rises above mediocrity. We're wasting our time and our minds. Ugh, Christian pop-literature is ruining integritous Christianity.

Friday, May 18, 2007

What's In A Color?

There was a special on 20/20 tonight regarding "taboos" in America. The first item discussed was the usage of various racial terms considered politically incorrect. Specifically the "N" word was an object of dialogue. One question posed was why the "N" word could be used by Blacks but not by Whites. According to some of the interviewees either everyone should be able to use the term or no one.

Now, I'm not particularly interested in whether the "N" word should become part of the American vernacular. Rather, my interest was piqued concerning racial tension in general. I am often dumbfounded by the latent racism which rears its rather forceful head in some of my fellow white folk. I wouldn't consider myself racist by any means. In fact one of the most exciting things about going to Duke next year is the racial diversity of the campus (something sorely missing at IWU). But, sometimes I am confronted with the ugly racism in me. It's one thing to say you're not racist. It's another thing to maintain that position when contemplating living in an apartment complex with only one or two other white residents. As with many other beliefs we hold, the extent to which we actually believe what we say we do is tested by the practical implications of those beliefs.

It can be easy at times to detect a racist. When someone responds to allegations of racism with supreme defensiveness this can be a clue to the actual beliefs of that person. What we must do when we recognize our own racist speech, feelings, or thoughts is work to correct such attitudes with solidarity with those whom we feel ill towards. It doesn't matter that you didn't personally enslave a black person; the Christ-like response is not indignation that we are associated with heinous acts but is instead association with those against whom those heinous acts were committed. This means we must recognize that attempts to disentangle ourselves from association with white slave-owners is less effective (and more racist) than attempts to create solidarity with blacks. If we are busy thinking about our black brother and sisters we will completely forget the "need" to defend ourselves.

Granted, this is not only a "white" "black" dilemma. White Americans have a sad history of racial bigotry and have inflicted acts of hate on more racial groups than Blacks alone. But the content of the 20/20 was particular to "black" and "white" tension, hence so has the content of this post. May we see in Christ's association with the dejected and humiliated of society our call to associate with those who have been so as well. May we in Christ receive sight, and in receiving sight become blind to bigotry and illumined to diversity. May our latent racism be confronted.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Quotables...

“When somebody asked one of our men, Peter, if he liked to pray, he said that he did. So the person continued and asked him what he did when he prayed. He replied: ‘I listen.’ Then the person asked what God says to him. Peter, a man with Down’s Syndrome, looked up and said: ‘He just says, ‘You are my beloved son.’”

-Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community

My COS Presentation

This is a link to a presentation I gave during Celebration of Scholarship. My paper was focused on the doctrine of grace in Origen's writings. The presentation is less than twenty minutes long but rather interesting.

I'm still working on uploading the file in a better format; (if anyone knows how to upload a podcast to blogger let me know!) as for now you can only open this file in iTunes. I hope to have an improved format soon.

The Doctrine of Grace in the Church Father Origen

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Task of the Theologian

I’m an arrogant jerk. If you really press me, I think you’ll find this is true. Granted, I may act and speak generously, but ultimately I know that I am right on pretty much every opinion I hold. After all, aren’t we all?

This post may appear rather enigmatic to those familiar with my choice of topics. But I feel compelled to elucidate a nagging reality. I have the disease of the theologian. Perhaps I should provide some qualifications before I begin: I in no way mean to devalue the importance of theological education. Anyone who knows me even in a “surface-level” manner knows I would never advocate such a thing. I believe theological education is necessary and demanded of us as the Church. I believe as Christians we must speak about God, and since we speak about God our speech ought to be carefully considered. I believe a solid theological foundation can be the balm for much of what ails the American Church. I am a student of theology because I believe it is one of the highest callings one could commit their life to pursuing.

With that being said, I nonetheless recognize a growing disease within me. Let me explain. It seems that students of theological education go through a common journey. As one is introduced to the depth of theological study a dark cynicism begins to grow. This cynicism develops partly out of anger at never being exposed to good theology before (note to pastors and teachers). But once this anger subsides it is easy to develop cynicism based upon a feeling of superiority. Now that we have this knowledge (which we ought to have had all along), we are morally superior to those who lack it. Not only that, but clearly our opinion ought to be the normative one in cases of theological sparring since we possess an understanding our “opponent” does not. This intellectual hubris is subversive and we often fail to realize its penetrating influence. Being theologically educated does not mean one no longer needs to listen critically to the thoughts of the less informed. Did not God bring to shame the pride of the learned? Theological education is a glorious thing when it compels us to love God and our neighbor more completely, but if our theology is used to truncate the personhood of our neighbor then we have committed a grave crime to both our neighbor and theology itself.

Christians often speak of a bifurcation between “head” and “heart”. If such a distinct bifurcation exists, I do not believe either component can be elevated above the other. The Christian life is most balanced when the head and heart work cooperatively. It is when one gets ahead of the other that problems ensue if the other lags behind for a considerable period of time. It is quite possible to consider passion and charisma as the ultimate marks of a “good Christian.” But passion and charisma can lead one into easy disaster if passion is not tempered with a solid theological foundation.

Yet for students of theology this is rarely the pitfall with which we flirt. For us, it is much easier to hide behind our books while our hearts become calcified. In striving to know evermore about God, we fail to actually know God. There is a world of difference, but again the two must be in constant contact with one another. A simple personal analogy demonstrates my point: as you grow in friendship with another you gain information about that person, but you also gain a personal understanding of who that person is. If all you have is information about another but no personal interaction with that other, no real relationship exists. You can know a person’s height, weight, desires, dreams, etc. but unless you actually interact personally you never truly know the person. Conversely, if you interact with that person you will desire to know more about that person. You want to know why he/she acts the way he/she does and what it is that makes he/she tick. No real relationship can exist if you are not constantly learning more about them.

The two components must be held in tension with one another. There is no being more compelling and fascinating to discover than the Almighty God. Thus, the discipline of theology is by nature a compelling discipline. It pulls you in and the deeper you go the more you want to know and the more you realize you don’t know. Theological study should be a humbling and exciting enterprise. Karl Barth said, “The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science.” (Church Dogmatics II/1, p. 656)

With all that being said, I believe the solution to the disease of the theologian can be found within theology itself. As Barth indicates theology is not done properly if it is not done joyfully, and it cannot be done joyfully unless one knows personally the subject of his/her study. In other words, the disease of the theologian is not so much a theological disease; rather it is an ailment spawned from a perversion of the theological task; a perversion so subversive it often appears we are honoring the task. My prayer is that we budding theologians would recognize when we have abandoned the beauty of our task, and that the Spirit of God would chide us back into the true and humble path of the theologian.

Praise be to God who can do more than we could ever imagine.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lenten Treat

Although I'm not blogging, I do occassionally peruse blogs of note. Kevin Wright has written a beautiful piece appropriate for this Lenten season and I thought I would direct you to it for enrichment as we near the end of Lent and as we anticipate Holy Week.

Check it out: Judas: A Pondering

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bon Voyage!

My dear readers,

I will be taking a short-term haitus from blogging. First, I will be in Israel from March 1 to March 17. Please pray for safety but most importantly for God to impact me and the others deeply. Also, I am logging off of blogger for Lent. Thus, I will not post until post-Easter and will only catch up on reading some blogs on Sunday. I'm sure you all will miss my sporadic posting, but as for now I must bid you adieu.

Christ's blessings be upon you!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Weeding through the Roots

Recently a push has been made in Christian circles to rediscover the Jewish roots of Christianity. In large part I find this movement helpful and at times spectacularly profound. When I came into college as a freshman I was enthralled with the movement and was dissapointed that there were no courses available to feed my appetite. There were certain times in some classes when we would touch upon issues related to the Jewish roots movement, but by in large it seemed as if we paid little attention to what I thought was so crucial. However, during my theological development at IWU I have come to realize one of the reasons, perhaps, that this movement seems to have only minimal attention given to it: the Jewish roots movement is incredibly limited.

One of the most obvious limitations arises when one begins to do even a cursory study in the historical context of the New Testament texts. Scholars almost unanimously agree that it is difficult to bifurcate the Jewish context and the Hellenistic context. By the first century the Hebrews had been so Hellenized that there was no distinct Hebraic culture versus Hellenic culture. Thus, attempts to better understand Jesus through means of the uniqueness of Jewish culture are open to erroneous conclusions that have failed to take into consideration the Hellenistic influences on the Jewish culture of Jesus.

Secondly, by being consumed with the "Jewish context" one may myopically dismiss Christian history and subsequent theological development. The interpretation of Jesus stops with this Jewish culture. This may manifest itself in a number of ways. I've frequently heard the argument from Jewish roots movement folk that communion should only be celebrated once a year, as the "Christian Passover." What Jesus does at the Last Supper, primarily, is give new meaning to this sacred meal. Thus, we ought to celebrate within the context of this new narrative, but nonetheless the meal should retain its very Jewish flavor.

I find it ironic that the Jewish roots folk ascertain this conclusion based upon their idea of the Jewish context. It is the early Church theologians who insisted on a very different interpretation based upon their familiarity with the Jewish culture and Old Testament texts on the Passover. The Early Fathers understood the Passover meal as key to understanding John's portrayal of Jesus as the Passover Lamb. If we insist upon the Last Supper as being a mere infusion of new meaning into the Passover, we are able to interpret the Last Supper distinct and separate from Calvary. What the Early Fathers recognized was that if Jesus truly is the perfect Passover Lamb then the cross and the meal in the upper room cannot be separated. The sacrifice and the meal are intricately connected. The Passover is incomplete without both.

This was also one of the reaons for a very literal understanding of John 6. When Jesus said we had to "eat his flesh" and "drink his blood", he meant it. But the Fathers connected this interpretation with the Passover requirements. In the Passover meal it was not enough to sacrifice the lamb. The Mosaic requirements clearly require the eating of the lamb as well. Hence, if Christ truly is the Passover Lamb then he must have meant what he said.

As far as we can tell, the practice of partaking of the Eucharist in Christian worship begins mere years after the death and resurrection of Christ. If we interpret the Eucharist through Christian history there is no room for partaking sparingly of Holy Communion or relegating it to once a year. The Jewish context simply does not provide us with all the answers we need when articulating the Eucharist.

Finally, perhaps one of the greatest dangers of taking the Jewish roots movement too far is that by obsessing with the Jewish context of Jesus, we miss his radical departure, at times, from that context. Jesus was not just a Jew in Jewish surroundings; he was a Jew declaring a very different idea of what it meant to be truly Jewish. David Bivin, for example, in his book Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus draws the conclusion that Christ could not have been a pacifist because the idea of pacifism was foreign to his Jewish contemporaries (especially the prophets). I agree that the idea was largely foreign within the Jewish context but that's what makes it so radical and purely Christological! What should keep us from saying that the deity of Christ must therefore be false since it finds no contemporary proponents in Jewish culture?

Examples aside, I believe there is a significant place for the Jewish roots movement. But we must be careful to have it dominate our interpretation of the biblical texts, especially in light of the declarations of Church history and ecumenical councils. May we be truly Christ-ian while recognize the cultural influences upon the Christ we worship as God.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Quote of the Day

"The next thing is to look at ourselves, and polish our theological self to beauty like a statue."

-Gregory of Nazianzus
The First Theological Oration

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Update

I apologize for the lack of posting. Time has been scarce with a busy holiday and a whirlwind beginning of a new semester. Nonetheless, for anyone interested I thought I'd give a brief update on what my semester looks like:

Classes

Wesleyan Church History and Discipline: This class is turning out to be a good one. It's a 7:50 so it's good that my professor is fairly charismatic. So far we've read a number of Wesley's sermons and we've got some decent texts for the rest of the semester as well.

Christology: I have high hopes for this class. It's a theology course so of course I'm already pumped. We also get to spend a considerable amount of time in primary sources, reading the patristics firsthand. This is one of those rare undergraduate classes where this is available, thus, it causes me to salivate.

Pastoral Care and Counseling: Wow! I am finding I really enjoy this class! I was somewhat skeptical about the course, and not too excited that it is a three hour night class, but I have really enjoyed my time spent in the classroom so far. It should prove very useful as a primer for Christian counseling.

Grace in the Early Church: Basically, this is a class designed to mine research through undergrad students. Two of my professors are currently engaged in a research project concering the historical and theological development of charis and have formed a class to supplement their research. This is a goodie, and one of my favs even though it's only a one credit hour class.

Honors Thesis Paper: It's finally time for me to actually finish up research for my paper and write it. My honors thesis paper will be due at the end of the semester and I'm hoping it turns out really well. I have a lot left to do, so it will be grueling.

Barth Reading Group: I will be part of a Karl Barth reading group beginning relatively soon. We'll be reading sections of the Dogmatics and it should be great discussion. We've got some great thinkers in the group.

Graduate School

It's official; for those of you who don't yet know I've been accepted to Duke Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary. These are the only two schools I've applied to and Duke has also offered me a Divinity Fellowship (full tuition and a great summer field ed placement). I haven't made a final decision but Duke has certainly made me feel as if they really want me to be a part of their program. So far, I want to be as well.

So this is what my semester looks like! I'll try to post regularly, giving my usual theological meandering. Don't be surprised to see a number of posts focused on Yoderish ideology; I spent a lot of time reading Yoder over break and I'm finding it difficult to sustain arguments contrary to his. It has been good fun and I'll attempt to share some of that with you soon. As for now, Pax Christi!