Showing posts from 2006

Work that Network!

Theo-Bloggers are notorious not only for self-righteous rantings (which I have avoided so far, I think…) but also for networking amongst themselves (which I try to do in a modest fashion). An exceptional blog has lately come to my attention, and I have been so impressed by its quality that I feel as though I must pass word along to any of you, gentle readers, who have not yet found its hallowed halls.

The site in question is Per caritatem, run by Cynthia Nielsen, a PhD student in philosophy and adjunct philosophy instructor somewhere in Texas. What has impressed me is her treatment of Calvin, first in relation to St. Thomas (part I; part II), but also a very fine post on Calvin’s hermeneutics (which was posted last August, but which I have only lately discovered). Do take a peek at these wonderful resources, and pay attention to whatever else Cynthia may send our way.

Cynthia, I have now returned the favor and added you to my blog roll. I’m very pleased to have met you.

Choice Quotations: John Calvin on “Sacraments in a Wider Sense”

As anyone who has been to this blog before knows, I love John Calvin. This deep appreciation for Calvin has developed out of my study of sacramental theology and is founded upon my conviction that Calvin is the apex of sacramental theology, an apex which has not been surpassed (although, he may need revising and clarifying with reference to a few non-material points). In any case, I was reading through Institutes 4.14 and coming once again upon the below material it struck me as particularly relevant to thinking about the relation between grace and nature, as well as the relation between theology and science.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559 edition, Battles / McNeill), 4.14.18


The term “sacrament,” as we have previously discussed its nature so far, embraces generally all those signs which God has ever enjoined upon men to render them more certain and confident of the truth of his promises. He sometimes willed to present these in nat…

Get Yourself A Christmas Present

The stream of comments in response to my post on Theology and the Knowledge of God has slowed and, although David has promised a lengthy comment soon, I figured that it would be alright to put up another little post in the holiday spirit (especially since I don’t plan to post until after the new year). So, I thought I would use all the authority and respect that I have collected since this blog launched a few months ago, to recommend to you all that you go and buy yourself a Christmas present.

Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise For Young Theologians.

Amazon lists this book for $8, but you can get used copies for under $4, so you have no excuse for not picking one up. Use that money your grandma Silvia or auntie Cecelia gave you for Christmas. This book will profit you more than the amount of beer, wine or liqueur that these few dollars will bring you.

This book is a spiritual exercise for those who study theology, and specifically for those just starting out in that study. I hav…

Theology and the Knowledge of God

This post is a response to the arguments of my philosopher friend, which can be read – along with my preliminary responses - here and here. What precisely is this post intended to secure?
I will argue that theology is a science
I will argue that, insofar as theology is a science, theology deals with knowledge of God
I will argue that insofar as theology deals with knowledge of God, that knowledge of God is ‘certain.’
Theology is a Science

Theology is a science. This aspect of the theological task is particularly well described by T.F. Torrance. All empirical (experimentally based) sciences have a subject matter. Here, the term “subject matter” is to be sharply distinguished from the more Aristotelian term “object.” Whereas the latter implies a discreet item which is to be directly observed either through the senses of through the faculties of reason, the former implies a more or less unknown identity or cluster of identities. What is the ultimate difference? While Aristotelian scien…


I have been called out. My dear friend and philosophical colleague has thrown down the gauntlet, and I can no longer put off responding at length and with all the theological acumen that I can muster. In a series of two posts (first: “Starting Points”; second: “Religious Epistemology, Or Three Questions God Asks You When You Die”), he has brought to its head a disagreement that has been coalescing, in private and beneath the surface of various blog posts, between the two of us and our other fellow alumnus and colleague.

Well, it is time for an answer. Of course, I use to term “time” rhetorically, for an answer will not come in this post, nor likely in the next few days. But, I am working on an answer, and it will come. Expect the first part, “Theology and the Knowledge of God” to appear before Christmas. The second installment, “Creation, Covenant, and the Knowledge of God” will be along sometime toward the end of January.

Choice Quotations: T.F. Torrance on Divine Impassibility

As a note in passing: I have serious questions about this formulation, but I have not yet forced myself to work carefully through them. In any case, what TFT does do in this section is show how we can speak of Christ's passion as both passion and redemptive within the realm of patristic understanding. It seems to me that this is far more compelling than most of what passes for theopaschitism these days.

T.F. Torrance, Trinitarian Faith (T&T Clark, 1995).
"How are we to understand the passion of the incarnate Son of God, when he offered himself and not just his body in vicarious sacrifice for the sins of mankind? What does the suffering of Christ really mean for what he was and is in his own Person as the one Mediator between God and man? There is (184) certainly a sense in which we must think of God as impassible…for he is not subject to the passions that characterize human and creaturely existence, but that is not to say that he is not afflicted in all the affliction…

What Am I Reading? Thomas F. Torrance

Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church, (T&T Clark, 1995).

My opinion of this book changed with each passing chapter, registering everything from distrust, to boredom (because of repetition), to interest over some before unseen technicality, to euphoria over a particularly helpful formulation. In other words, reading this book was typical of my experience in reading TFT in general. I greatly appreciate his work and have learned a lot from and through him, but sometimes he weighs on me, and sometimes I wonder whether a better historical account of the early development of Christian doctrine might be found elsewhere. But, all in all, reading Torrance has once again expanded my horizons and has further cemented into my mind some important reflexes. One of these that it is fitting to mention is the importance of thinking in terms of relations, particularly in terms of the distinction between internal and external relation…

Thanksgiving Meditation

Princeton Theological Seminary holds an enormous book sale (used, and sometimes even new) each Spring. The books are gathered from a wide variety of sources, and there are always gems among the gravel. The sale starts out at something like $5 for hardbound volumes and $3 for paperback, but that price goes down until, on the last day, you can fill a box with books and walk away for merely $5. Of course, by the time the last day rolls around, there usually isn’t much left. But, this past year I was able to pick up – on the last day of the sale – a little gem entitled Eucharistic Liturgies: Studies in American Pastoral Liturgy (Newman Press, 1969). For what it is worth, it was edited at various levels by three Jesuits. I thought it fitting, it being the eve of Thanksgiving here in the United States, to offer an except from one of these Eucharistic liturgies, specifically the “Canon for a Day of Thanksgiving.” The poetically aware formatting of the volume has given way to simply pa…

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 1.10-12

Note: This was published back in September and somehow managed to get itself erased, probably during the process of switching over to "beta" functionality. So, here it is again.


1 Peter 1.10-12

(10) Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, (11) trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. (12) It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.



Calvin’s material in relation to this passage can be subsumed under the heading of “The Prophets.” There are numerous sub-headings: (1) Antiquity, (2)…

Eberhard Jüngel on Karl Barth

Some of you know that I have been spending the vast majority of my time over the last month attempting to read through Eberhard Jüngel's article "Karl Barths Lehre Von Der Taufe: Ein Hinweis Auf Ihre Probleme." This article only appears in German, so it was necessary that I read it in German. And, oh, what an experience it has been. I must say, however, that I have seen my ability to read theological German develop significantly through this project (I went into it having studied German for reading knowledge over the course of 6 weeks this past summer...). Below are some quotations taken from the closing paragraphs of this article, translated by yours truly. I usually don't go in for Jüngel, but I thought that these were interesting sentiments. The page citations are to Jüngel’s Barth-Studien.

“Barth’s doctrine of baptism will be disputed more than its dogmatic premises. And, its practical consequences will be fought more than itself.” (285)“The doctrine of ba…

Human Freedom and the God-Time Relation

Dear Friends,

There has developed in the past few days a rousing discussion in the comments section of my most recent post, which was itself a response to a comment left in another post. This debate has ranged widely, but has centered upon a few distinct notions, namely, (1) human freedom and (2) the relation between God and time. It seemed to me that the best way to respond would not be to post a series of refutations and clarifications on things already said; rather, I decided to make a positive statement concerning these two points. I sincerely hope that it will be helpful.

1. Human Freedom

There are three kinds of freedom: (a) philosophical freedom (b) conditional freedom (c) theological freedom. These will be discussed in sequence.

a. Philosophical Freedom

Philosophical freedom is that freedom which human persons possess that establishes their phenomenological ability to, when faced with a choice between A and B, chose A and not B, or vice versa. This freedom means that human p…

Comments Brought to Light

The other day a gentleman named Ron left a comment on my post about TF Torrance’s Divine and Contingent Order. This post was provocative, dealing with open thesis and TFT’s possible relationship to it. I wanted to bring his comment and my response out into the open, not because I think that I do a good job of dealing with the TFT question, but because I am pleased with some other points that I made in relation to providence and God’s foreknowledge. Below is Ron’s comment, followed by my response. I ask my dear philosopher friend to be kind with my discussion of causality as, of course, any generalization of the tradition, even if implicit, is going to fall short.

Well, is Torrance one of the first open theist? His cosmology and ontological relationships between Creator and creation sure look like he knew that God knows what might or might not be instead of what will or will not be. Not a trick question. I am an open theist and loved the book. What do you think? Peace Ron Sirkel

Choice Quotations: George Hunsinger on Karl Barth on Scripture

George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (Oxford:OUP, 1991).

The biblical narratives, as Barth understood them, functioned as “witnesses.” Their imaginative, legendary form – far from being damaging (as literalists feared and historical critics readily assumed) – was actually intrinsic to their theological content. The form was appropriate to the subject matter, because the subject matter was beyond ordinary depiction. Events like the creation, incarnation, and the resurrection were, by virtue of their legendary narration, aptly and profoundly depicted for what they actually were claimed to be: events real though inconceivable and inconceivable though real. The work of divine inspiration in the formation of the narratives was not precluded by the work of human imagination, nor did the inventiveness involved in the work of human imagination necessarily preclude divine inspiration. Human imagination, disciplined by the mystery of the subject matter (in and…

An Evangelical Call and Response

Back in September of this year, Christianity Today published a piece called “A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future”. This “call” was a passionate plea to evangelicals to move into their future from out of a grounding in ancient Christianity. When I read this call, I had a few images of “Canterbury Trail” evangelicals sitting in the corner of a dark pub and drawing up this document. But, to be honest, it was like water off a duck’s back. Why? Because, although I am evangelical by progeny, I am a Reformed theologian who is deeply committed to the Protestant Reformation as well as to the broader Christian tradition. This is not even to mention the time that I have spent reading such early fathers as Augustine, Athanasius, Gregory Nanzianzen, Tertullian, Irenaeus, etc. I told you that to tell you this; I thought that the document was interesting, I took note of its existence, and then I moved on.

More recently, I’ve found a collection of reflections on this “Call”, published by …

“The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience” by Ron Sider

A strange thing happened to me about a week ago. I went out to get my mail and found a package inside my mailbox. “Interesting,” I thought. “I’m not expecting anything. What could this be?” Opening the package, I found what I can only describe as a promotional packet and a copy of the book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why are Christians living just like the rest of the world? by Ron Sider (Baker, 2005). I haven’t really pinned down why on earth this package would be sent to me. But, being one who does not despise free books, I threw out the packet and took the enclosed copy of the book back up to my apartment with me. The book sat off to the side on my desk all through reading week, until I decided that I had to do something with it. So, I have decided to write up something of a review to share with you all.

Note to Baker Books: If you are reading this, please send me more free books and I will be happy to post little reviews of them. But, try to send me stuf…

The Rules of Reading Week

Here at Princeton Theological Seminary, we have a “reading week” instead of a Fall or Spring break. Classes are suspended for a week with the assumption that students will catch up on their course reading, get a start on their term papers, etc. Of course, it is entirely up to the student as to the best location for getting this work done, be it the sunny beaches of Florida, the comforting environs of “home” (wherever that may be), the powdery slopes of Aspen, etc. Because of my wife’s work schedule, and because I kind of like to spend a week reading and watching a movie of two, I never go anywhere on reading weeks. So, I thought that I would compose a set of rules to help those who, like me, prefer to stick it out in Princeton. Incidentally, some of these rules are best intended for men, although they do have interesting cross-gender implications. Enjoy!
Thou shalt not shave unless you absolutely have to. There is nothing like a few days’ growth to make you feel relaxed.
Thou sha…



From the sanctuary of reading week – which for me is always a week of insane activity for me (my “to do” list is 14 items long and growing!) – comes what I hope will be a valuable reference resource. Earlier today I realized that it would be helpful to have at hand some simple information on important theologians. So, I thought that I would post a list of links to Wikipedia entries for a number of important theological thinkers – more for myself than anything else. This list may expand as I think of more people and find more Wikipedia entries to stick into it. Enjoy!
AthanasiusSt. Augustine of HippoSt. Thomas AquinasKarl BarthEmil BrunnerRudolf BultmannMartin BucerHeinrich BullingerJohn CalvinColin GuntonAdolf von HarnackWilhelm HerrmannRobert JensonHans KungPeter LombardMartin LutherPhilip MelanchthonJürgen MoltmannH. Richard NeibuhrReinhold NeibuhrAndreas OsianderWolfhard PannenbergKarl RahnerAlbrecht RitschlFriedrich SchleiermacherJohn Duns ScotusPaul TillichT. F. Tor…


Greetings! I've been able to make some slight progress in the face of my workload, but it has not yet abated to a sufficient degree to warrant my full return. However, I had the below link lying around and thought that I would post it. I may also throw up some quotations over the next week as well, although, I don’t know if they will be worthy of “Choice Quotation” status. Until then!Academic Fraud

Wow. This blew my socks off. I had not heard about it previously, and I must say that it is perversely fascinating. Take is as a cautionary tale about what can happen when you begin to crack under the pressures of coming up with an original contribution. Read the sorid tale here.


I must offer you all a sincere apology, as this morning I had to make a decision that I wish could have been avoided. Because all of my time has been occupied either with utterly insignificant, banal, menial, and otherwise unworthy assignments imposed upon me by professors and classes from which I have learned absolutely nothing, or it has been occupied by doing research in German theology (that is, theology of a German origin AND as extant only in the German language), I have been unable to keep on top of my self-imposed blogging out-put. Never fear! My current plan is to be back in two weeks or so, running full bore.

Until then, I thought that I would do a copy-cat post. My friend and colleague David over at Fire & Rose recently posted a picture of the book shelf above his computer. I am not blessed with a shelf above my computer, but I do have one in the hallway upon which I keep my “all-stars,” as it were. In other words, this shelf contains the bulk of my research int…


I'm Outnumbered!

You are too if you are married. Is this cause for concern? Decide for yourself, but read about it first so that you can make a (semi-) informed decision. I would simply comment, shooting from the hip, that perhaps establishing a distinction between civil union and marriage would shift the terms of this entire conversation in very interesting and helpful ways.

Don't let the Bed-bugs Bite

It seems that this is easier said than done. Hopefully, the new menace of New York won't migrate South too quickly...

Susan B. Anthony

As interesting as this article is, I probably would not have linked to it, if it were not for this quote: "Now we are Photoshopping rather than airbrushing; with enough slicing and dicing, an argument can be made for anything. The doctorate in sophistry is optional" (bold and italics are meant to show my delight!). And, let you think that I made it up, you can read it for yourself.

The Universality of the Internet

Wherein does the …

What Am I Reading? Karl Barth's Letters

Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Ed. And Trans.), Karl Barth: Letters, 1961-1868, (Eerdmans, 1981).

This volume represents 350+ pages of Barth’s correspondence during the last years of his life, stretching from his retirement to his death. Also included are a number of replies from the recipients of Barth’s correspondence. In this volume Barth addresses such diverse figures as Emil Brunner, Pope Paul VI, Barth’s sons and other family, personages Barth met in the United States, a number of those whom Barth confirmed during his time at Safenwil, Hans Küng, Jürgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Karl Rahner, Martin Neimöller, James I. McCord (former PTS president), Josef Hromadka, Paul Tillich, Eberhard Jüngel, Eberhard Bethge (Bonhoeffer’s close friend, student, and biographer), and numerous others. This really is a very fine collection, with excellent notes to help you grasp the many allusions, both literary and to Sitz im Leben. I heartily recommend it. One useful and gratifying thing that I…

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 1.23-25

1 Peter 1.23-25

(23) For you have been born again, nor of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (24) For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass wither and the flowers fall, (25) but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.



Calvin’s comments on these verses were much more brief than usual, but then again, these verses are brief. They also mark the end of chapter 1, so we can now rejoice in having made a good beginning of this project of reading Scripture with Calvin. Further reason for self-congratulation is that we have made it through 60 pages of Calvin’s commentaries! This excites me and I hope that it excites you as well. This has been a very rewarding undertaking thus far.

We will discuss two themes in light of today’s material: (1) Calvin’s Ethical Imperative (2) Calvin’s understanding of the ‘wor…