Thursday, September 28, 2006

I'm sorry...

...I couldn't help it.

What Am I Reading? George Hunsinger

George Hunsinger, How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology, (Oxford: OUP, 1991) – available on

This book is the polished product of Hunsinger’s dissertation under Hans Frei, the last dissertation that Frei ever read (per Hunsinger’s report). It does not represent my first interaction with Hunsinger by any means. I have had the privilege of studying under his tutelage for the past two years and am very pleased to be working with him in the current academic year as well. Also, I have read his other volume entitled Disruptive Grace, which I very highly recommend. However, I found this book to be very illuminating as it gathered up and carefully argued many of the insights that I have learned from Hunsinger through other venues. It is an excellent volume with which to begin one’s study of Barth as in the course of the volume Hunsinger touches upon all the most important aspects of Barth’s work at least once. It is also an excellent volume with which to consolidate what one has already learned of Barth. Hunsinger’s prologue is especially helpful in that he reviews and evaluates previous readings of Barth’s theology ranging from von Balthasar to Thomas Torrance to Berkouwer and others. In contrast to these readings of Barth, Hunsinger proposes that Barth be understood in terms of six interrelated “motifs” that he recognizes to be latent throughout Barth’s mature work – actualism, particularism, objectivism, personalism, realism, and rationalism.

One last point that deserves mention is that, in my humble opinion, Hunsinger does an excellent job of exploring the relationship between divine and human agency in Barth’s work. This concern is the openly alluded to “elephant in the room” throughout the entirely of the volume and it explicitly takes up about 1/3 of the text. In Hunsinger’s analysis it is dealt with in terms of what Hunsinger calls the “Chalcedonian pattern” and the Trinitarian pattern of “dialectical inclusion.” But, for a more robust account, I recommend that you pick up a copy of this book. It is well worth your while. Stay tuned for a couple editions of "Choice Quotations" arising from this exceptional volume.

Table of Contents:

Prologue: Readings Old and New – a Critique

Part 1 – The Motifs in Survey: The Shaping of Doctrine in the Church Dogmatics

Chapter 1 – Four Motifs: A Preliminary Survey
Chapter 2 – Two More Motifs: A Detailed Survey

Part 2 – The Motifs Applied: The Conception of Truth in the Church Dogmatics

Chapter 3 – Truth as Event and as Unique in Kind
Chapter 4 – Truth as Mediated: Revelation
Chapter 5 – Truth as Mediated: Reconciliation
Chapter 6 – Truth as Encounter
Chapter 7 – Double Agency as a Test Case

Conclusion: Christ the Center
Epilogue: Secular Parables of the Truth

Sunday, September 24, 2006


The Satire of Our Age

Wyatt Mason currently has a very insightful and interested article in the New York Times Magazine entitled ”My Satirical Self”. In this article, Mason reflects on how satire has become mainstream in contemporary culture (think The Daily Show and The Colbert Report among other things) in light of the tradition of satire in ancient Rome, etc. I highly recommend reading it.

Star Trek, the Next Interpretation

Ronald D. Moore, former writer on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, and current writer on Battlestar Galactica, has a short op-ed contribution in the New York times entitled Mr. Universe wherein he discusses the lessons he learned by growing up on the original incarnation of Star Trek and how it shaped his way of looking at the world and thinking about America’s role in it. Very interesting.

Sweet, old, Chicago

36 Hours: Chicago - enough said. Read it.

Terrorism, Trials and Torture

Learn a little bit about what is going on in the government these days. The New York Times will help you get started here.

So You Think You Can Write?

If so, check out Orwell’s six rules for clear writing over at Between Two Worlds and see how you measure up.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Choice Quotations: What Is (Systematic) Theology?

While perusing my site information the other day I noticed that someone had found their way over to this corner of the internet by Google-ing the question, “What is systematic theology?” When I saw this I immediately remembered that when I commenced with theological education some 5 years ago (wow! It has been a long time…), I was exercised by that same question. So, I have decided to compile here, for the benefit of those who might be starting out in theological study, a number of quotes from various theologians on the nature of systematic theology. These quotes may be found below in roughly chronological order. Remember, that quoting almost at random from these theologians will not give one an understanding of the whole of their opinions on any given topic, much less on this topic. Also bear in mind that “systematic” theology is somewhat newer than mere “theology” and more ancient writers will not make a distinction.


-> St. Augustine

* Note: I had hoped to include some choice quotation from St. Augustine, but I was unable to find one. If anyone has such a quotation from Augustine, please send it along to me so that I could include it here.

-> St. Thomas

“Sacred doctrine is a science. We must bear in mind that there are two kinds of sciences. There are some which proceed from a principle known by the natural light of intelligence, such as arithmetic and geometry and the like. There are some which proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science: thus the science of perspective proceeds from principles established by geometry, and music from principles established by arithmetic. So it is that sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed. Hence, just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God.” -- Summa Theologica Q1.2.

-> John Calvin

“[W]e ought to play the philosopher soberly and with great moderation; let us use great caution that neither our thoughts nor our speech go beyond the limits to which the Word of God itself extends…We ought to be warned…so that we may take care to apply ourselves…with teachableness rather than with subtlety. And let us not take it into our heads either to seek out God anywhere else than in his Sacred Word, or to think anything about him that is not prompted by his Word, or to speak anything that is not taken from that Word…[L]et it be remembered that men’s minds, when they indulge their curiosity, enter into a labyrinth.” -- Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.21.

-> Francis Turretin

“Among Christians, the word “theology” is used either inadequately…or adequately inasmuch as it denotes both a discourse of God and a discourse about God. These two must be joined together because we cannot speak concerning God without God; so that it may be termed the science which is originally from God, objectively treats concerning and terminatively flows into and leads to him…So this nomenclature embraces the twofold principle of theology: one of being, which is God; the other of knowing, which is his word.” -- Institutes of Elenctic Theology 1, 2 (1.1.7).

-> Charles Hodge

“If, therefore, theology be a science, it must include something more than a mere knowledge of facts. It must embrace an exhibition of the internal relation of those facts, one to another, and each to all. It must be able to show that if one be admitted, others cannot be denied. The Bible is no more a system of theology, than nature is a system of chemistry or of mechanics. We find in nature the facts which the chemist or the mechanical philosopher has to examine, and from them to ascertain the laws by which they are determined. So the Bible contains the truths which the theologian has to collection, authenticate, arrange, and exhibit in their internal relation to each other. This constitutes the difference between biblical and systematic theology. The office of the former is to ascertain and state the facts of Scripture. The office of the latter is to take those facts, determine their relation to each other and to other cognate truths, as well as to vindicate them and show their harmony and consistency.” -- Systematic Theology 1, 1-2.

-> Karl Barth

"Theology is a peculiarly beautiful discipline. Indeed, At this point we may refer to the fact that if its task is correctly seen and grasped, theology as a whole, in its parts and in their interconnexion, in its content and method, is, apart from anything else, a peculiarly beautiful science. Indeed, we can confidently say that it is the most beautiful of all the sciences. To find the sciences distasteful is the mark of the Philistine. It is an extreme form of Philistinism to find, or to be able to find, theology distasteful. 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. May God deliver us from what the Catholic Church reckons one of the seven sins of the monk—taedium—in respect of the great spiritual truths with which theology has to do. But we must know, of course, that it is only God who can keep us from it." -- Church Dogmatics II.1, 656.

“Theology is one among those human undertakings traditionally described as ‘sciences.’ Not only the natural sciences are ‘sciences.’ Humanistic sciences also seek to apprehend a specific object and its environment in the manner directed by the phenomenon itself; they seek to understand it on its own terms and to speak of it along with all the implications of its existence. The word ‘theology’ seems to signify a special science, a very special science, whose task is to apprehend, understand, and speak of ‘God.’ -- Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, 3.

-> Donald Bloesch

“[T]heology is the systematic reflection within a particular culture on the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ as attested in Holy Scripture and witness to in the tradition of the catholic church., Theology in this sense is both biblical and contextual. Its norm is Scripture, but its field or arena of action is the cultural context in which we find ourselves. It is engaged in reflection not on abstract divinity or on concrete humanity but on the Word made flesh, the divine in the human…Theology is the diligent and systematic explication of the Word of God for every age, involving not only painstaking study of the Word of God but also an earnest attempt to relate this Word to a particular age or cultural milieu…Theology is a science not in the sense of natural science but in the sense of wisdom: it is certain and true?’ -- A Theology of Word and Spirit: Authority and Method in Theology, 114-5.

-> Colin Gunton

“Simply, we can say that systematic theology is the articulation of the truth claims of Christianity, with an eye to their internal consistency, on the one hand; and, on the other, to their coherence with Scripture, the Christian tradition and other truth – philosophical, scientific, moral and artistic.” “[The systematic theologian must see] things whole, and yet in their parts as well…The heart of the matter lies in making connections.” -- Theology Through the Theologians, 5 & 15.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Beginning of the End

Tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM, Princeton Theological Seminary will begin its Fall term of the academic year 2006-2007. The start of a new semester always fills me with excitement and trepidation. This year, both of those senses are highlighted as I begin my final year of seminary and look forward to writing a thesis and applying to PhD programs.

Theological education is a funny thing. It is often hard to gauge one’s own progress in theological thinking. Sometimes we get glimpses of our growth, but the majority of the time we can see only the vast expanse that lies still ahead and calls us on to greater learning. But, I guess that is what happens when one studies a truly infinite Subject.

To all those beginning their seminary journey here at PTS and elsewhere - via con Dios.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and forever more. Amen.

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 1.6-9

As I have moved further into this epistle with Calvin, I have become aware of the exciting and yet daunting fact that Calvin has more to say than I have time to properly expound upon. Thus, do not be deceived into thinking that my accounts here are in any way exhaustive. My goal is to hit those points that seem to stand out to Calvin and that stand out to myself. I encourage you to use what I write as a guide to help you find your own way into the richness of Calvin’s comments on these Scripture passages.


1 Peter 1.6-9

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (7) These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (8) Though you have not seen him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, (9) for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.



In his commentary on this passage, Calvin’s discussion deals primarily with a constellation of related themes: the Christian life of joy and suffering, Christ as the ground of hope, and adoption / inheritance. But before I get to those themes, I want to quickly note that Calvin has occasion in this passage to make use of one of the oldest exegetical tools, namely, the notion that Scripture interprets Scripture. One of Calvin’s goals in his commentaries was brevity, and he uses this exegetical tool to attain it with reference to the “manifold temptations” noted in this passage. Calvin sagely sends his readers to his commentary on the first chapter of James for an account of these temptations.

Joy and Suffering

Calvin begins by noting an apparent contradiction in the text. ”But it seems somewhat inconsistent, when he says that the faithful, who exulted with joy, were at the same time sorrowful, for these are contrary feelings.” In explaining this apparent contradiction, Calvin first affirms that Christians have emotions, even the negative emotions. Human life and being is not set aside in the life of a Christian. But, the life of a Christian is grounded in something beyond the emotions aroused by any particular life circumstance, namely, faith. It is faith that allows Christians to rejoice even in the midst of suffering and grief.

This is not the end of the discussion for Calvin. He goes on to order the relationship between grief and joy in the Christian life. In this case, one might expect Calvin to make joy the ground of grief, such that all grief is swallowed up in a greater joy. But, Calvin does just the opposite, and I am still trying to figure out what to make of it. It seems as though his motivation is to maintain the humanity of Christian experience rather than to give the impression that Christian experience is otherworldly in some way. This is how he spells it out:
"Thus sorrow does not prevent their joy, but, on the contrary, give place to it. Again, though joy overcomes sorrow, yet it does not put an end to it, for it does not divest it of humanity."
Calvin next moves on to discussing the mechanics of why it is that joy can overcome sorrow without dehumanizing sorrow. The first point he brings up is that, because believers do not rebel against the suffering that God sends their way, as opposed to the “reprobate” who rebel against this suffering, believers suffer willingly and therefore with the possibility of joy. The second and predominant point that Calvin deals with here is that notion that ”God does not, without reason…try his people”. What, then, is this purpose? Purification of the Christian’s faith. Developing the illustration that he sees latent in the mention of gold in vs. 7, Calvin draws an analogy between the process of purifying gold and that of purifying faith. Fire is involved in each case, either literally or symbolically, and in each case the product is something far better –or more pure - than the beginning materials. But, purification is only one byproduct of this process. The other is verification, that is, through this testing process false faith is identified.

Christ as the ground of hope

This is the section of Calvin’s commentary on this passage that I find most interesting. As he moves to the end of vs. 7, Calvin makes an allusion to the opening verses of Colossians three (although Rev. John Owen, the editor of my version of the commentaries, misses this reference). I think this material worth the trouble of extended quotation:
"At the appearing of Jesus Christ, or, when Jesus Christ shall be revealed. This is added, that the faithful might learn to hold on courageously to the last day. For our life is now hidden in Christ, and will remain hidden, and as it were buried, until Christ shall appear from heaven; and the whole course of our life leads to the destruction of the external man, and all the things we suffer are, as it were, the preludes of death. It is hence necessary, that we should cast our own eyes on Christ, if we wish in our afflictions to behold glory and praise. For trials as to us are full of reproach and shame, and they become glorious in Christ; but that glory in Christ is not yet plainly seen, for the day of consolation is not yet come."
This, for Calvin, is the ground of the Christian hope – the ”invisible kingdom of God” which, for now, we can only see ”with the mirror of the Word”. I can’t help but wish that Calvin could have unpacked some of the pregnant phrases that he penned here. What does it mean for our life to be hidden in Christ and that our life will be revealed in the last day when Christ returns? Calvin leaves this vague and undeveloped. He doesn’t go any further than the notion that the benefit of Christian suffering will not be seen until Christ is revealed. But, what if we push Calvin a bit here along the lines that he (should?) have followed? What if the fact that our lives are hidden in Christ means not simply that the meaning of our lives are hidden, but that our lives actually reside in Christ and in Christ’s life? For more of a discussion along these lines, see T.F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ.

But, as I said, Calvin moves in the direction of the revelation of benefits. In other places, this is an insight that I greatly appreciate in Calvin. Calvin does not think that faith is ”a cold notion”, but that it has an object, namely, Christ. At this point I need to mention the Finnish School of Luther research, which likes to speak about the unity of the gift and the giver. When faith receives the gift, they argue, it also receives Christ. From this they think that they have found grounds for rapprochement with the Eastern doctrine of theosis. (For perhaps the paradigmatic of this kind of reading of Luther, see Manermaa, Christ Present in Faith.) These moves are dubious when performed with Luther, and downright silly when attempted with Calvin, although some have tried. Calvin here makes it clear in what sense Christ is grasped by faith. “[Faith] does not lay hold on the bare name of Christ, or his naked essence, but regards what he is to us, and what blessings he brings.” Thus, it is Christ’s ‘blessings’ or ‘benefits’ that are grasped by faith, that is, his saving significance.
It is in these benefits that we have hope of salvation, and in fulfilling his function as Mediator by which he secured our salvation, Christ is the ground of our hope.

Adoption / Inheritance

Toward the end of this section of his commentary, Calvin returns if only implicitly to the questions of how suffering relates to joy. This is in keeping with the flow of material found in the passage in question. Here is the formulation that I find helpful:
"For our adoption ought now to satisfy us; nor ought we to ask to be introduced before the time into the possession of our inheritance."
Here is how this shakes out. We are adopted now, but we will receive our inheritance later (allusion to the parable of the prodigal son should not be missed). Adoption is tied to faith, such that in faith we have the promise of our future inheritance now in the midst of real human life, which for the time being involves suffering. The realness of human life is not temporally overcome through adoption, but is eschatologically overcome through inheritance. And Calvin admonishes us to be content with the eschatological hope, grounded in Christ, of our inheritance.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Books & Culture

Two very interesting reviews went up over the past days - one on Stephen R. Lawhead's new fictionalized Robin Hood (read it here), and another on one of Jules Verne's less well know books entitled, The Begum's Millions (read it here). Both are quite interesting. It's a shame that Lawhead get's ripped aprt - I very much enjoy his work. But, historical accuracy is a kind of important in historical fiction.

Species of doctoral students

Ben Myers over at 'Faith and Theology' has posted a fun little list (that he got from somewhere) discussing different kinds of doctoral students. Its pretty funny. I am as yet undecided as to which species I would most like to find myself categorized.

Funny Lists

Alex Thompson over at Sci-Fi Theology has a couple of really funny lists posted at the moment. The first is entitled "Fun With Your Roomnate" and the second is called "A Few Helps for Passing Exams".

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Choice Quotations: Karl Barth to a Theological Student

In this letter, Karl Barth proceeds to rip this poor student a new one (a new what will be left to your own imaginations), and rightly so. May Barth’s censure in this letter stand as a warning to all who aspire to a professional life in theology. If we do not ourselves feel and fear the specter of that which Barth harangues against here, then we are indeed in dire danger of it.

(Letter #11 in Karl Barth: Letters 1961-1968).

When I then at your request recommended you for a Reformed Churches grant I simply assumed that you intended to improve your English in Edinburgh and especially to gain some acquaintance with the Anglo-Saxon theology represented there. If I had suspected you could now ask me, What shall I really do in the land of John Knox? I would certainly not have given my name in support of your application. Is it clear to you that you will bring censure on me – not to speak of others – if you do not do there what you proposed, and do it properly? If you do not do this, but proceed to spin a heap of straw into gold, to use your own expression, then it would be better for you to give up the grant so that it may be passed on to someone more modest.

The same applies to your dissertation plan, regarding which, strictly formally, I would draw your attention to the fact that with us (and other Swiss faculties to the best of my knowledge) you cannot become a doctor without passing the “state examination.” So then, even if you think you have the most brilliant academic future, I advise you to face first and to prepare very seriously for the eschaton of the state examination.

This counsel coincides, however, with the only responsible thing I can say to you regarding your plans for theological reformation. I have read your letter twice and have to confess that my head spun worse the second time than the first. Your enterprise…has neither head nor tail and where one looks for the middle there is darkness. Before one can say (or meaningfully ask) anything, one must first listen, and before one can write anything, one must first do proper reading. If you cannot or will not learn this, you had better keep your fingers out of not merely academic theology but theology in general. Why should you not be able or willing to learn it? But to do so you must now make this, in the form of practical exercises, your own most urgent task, taking precedence over everything else, and I particularly mean over all high-flying plans for the reformation of dogmatics.

Dear [student], your present mode of theological, Christian, and human existence worries me as it comes out in your letter – so much so that I can only beg you to take a big sponge, wipe out everything, and begin again at the beginning which, as we know, consists in the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom.

With warm greetings and good wishes, Yours, Karl Barth.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 1.3-5

1 Peter 1.3-5

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (4) and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, (5) who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.



“Blessed be God” – This opening phrase gives Calvin the opportunity to reiterate one of the things that he set out in the earlier section concerning the argument of 1 Peter as a whole, namely, to raise us above the world, in order that we may be prepared and encouraged to sustain the spiritual contests of our warfare. To this end, Calvin thinks that it is important that Peter included further on in this passage a discussion of that which awaits us in heaven. The point is that we should be patient through earthly troubles in view of our heavenly and spiritual blessings.

“And Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” – Here, Calvin sounds a bit more like Barth than one would tend to expect from Calvin (as opposed to Luther, who says this kind of thing all the time). Calvin points out that just as God designated himself from other gods in the past by calling himself the ‘God of Abraham,’ going by “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” specifies precisely which God is being spoken about. Indeed, Calvin goes so far to say that:

[God’s] will is, not to be known otherwise than in [Christ]…Whosoever, then, seeks really to know the only true God, must regard him as the Father of Christ; for, whenever our mind seeks God, except Christ be thought of, it will wonder and be confused…

It’s a shame that we had to wait until Barth came along to get anything like a consistent, systematic unfolding of precisely what this kind of notion means for Christian theology, that is, for Christian theology to be truly Christian. In any case, Barth didn’t come up with it – Calvin (and Luther) said it first, and I’m sure that if one tried one could trace it even further back into the tradition.

“Who hath begotten us again” – Here Calvin fills in a bit of his earlier discussion of predestination by noting that it is important to be born a second time since we were born children of wrath the first time. Furthermore, Calvin understands this notion to reinforce that salvation is a purely gratuitous gift.

“According to his abundant mercy” – At this point Calvin makes one of his famous distinctions between efficient and mediating causes. In the preceding, God is shown to be the efficient cause of our salvation based solely on God’s mercy. Now, in the following phrase, the work of Jesus Christ is shown to be the mediating cause whereby this efficient cause is worked out. Next, Calvin makes one of his habitual blunders. Pointing out that it is God’s mercy that saves us, he explains that this is accomplished by the resurrection of Christ; for God does not in any other way discover his mercy. It is the last bit of this phrase that is troubling, for it implies that God had no mercy toward us until the even of Christ’s redeeming and reconciling work. (For a much more scholarly explication of this in Calvin, turn to Bruce McCormack in his essay, “For Us and Our Salvation,” in the neighborhood of page 26. McCormack also finds in this kind of statement proof that Calvin has not sufficiently thought through the notion that we only know God through Christ, which we saw Calvin affirm above. McCormack’s discussion is short but quite helpful.) First, it should be noted that this is not finally what Calvin thinks, although he tends to talk this way quite regularly (see Calvin’s Institutes 2.16.3 for a statement of Calvin’s own understanding contra what he seems to state here). Second, the problem with this statement is that, if God sent Christ, then God must have had some mercy toward us in the first place. To Calvin’s credit, he speaks this way because he feels compelled to by various parts of the biblical text and would rather let the tension they create stand than to overturn them with systematic force – a laudable goal, to be sure.

“Who are kept by the power of God” – This bit is important in terms of a doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. I have heard this doctrine criticized by the argument that it takes away the necessity of good works, morality, ethics, etc. It is often paraphrased by the statement: “once saved, always saved.” The problem with this construction is a simplistic notion of salvation as tied to a definitive prayer prayed in the distant past, a moment of placing one’s trust is Jesus, etc. But, if we recognize that our salvation is not resident within ourselves but within the work of God, whether you construe that work as predestination or have another way of talking about it, things begin looking much different.

Calvin uses this phrase to discuss faith. He insists that though we are in the world exposed to dangers, we are kept by faith. Faith is what connects us to our salvation. Calvin thinks that it thus must be a powerful force. But, he also recognizes that it is also weak.

Though we are thus night to death, we are yet safe under the guardianship of faith. But, as faith itself, through the infirmity of the flesh, often quails, we might be always anxious about the morrow, were not the Lord to aid us.

The point, for Calvin, is that our salvation would be uncertain – even when considered from the standpoint of faith – except that it is sustained by God’s power. Indeed, faith receives its stability from God’s power. One of my professors, as I have noted elsewhere, likes to put it this way. “Can we lose our salvation? We do so every day. Yet, God knows how to hold onto our hand even when we do our best to let go of his.” Were it otherwise, we should have no reason not to despair in every moment. Calvin had that figured out.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Link 1

This is a very fine little bit of pseudo-journalistic reflection that I heartily recommend to you all. It is entitled The Summer Next Time and occupies itself with pondering why it is that new crops of PhD’s are constantly minted when the academic life is quite demanding. This author’s solution? It is because academics are free to structure their own time. But, the piece really gets interesting when the author relates this notion with the condition of laborers in the 19th century, whom prove to be an interesting comparative study.

Link 2

Here is another fun little pseudo-journalistic piece. Entitled Snakes on the Brain, this author wonders why humans have such a widespread and intense reaction to snakes. Answer? Human eyesight developed from the need of Old World Apes to identify poisonous snakes in their surroundings. I, for one, hate snakes of all shapes and sizes and plan on avoiding the recent Kino hit, Snakes on a Plane, for the entire duration of my life.

Link 3

Thus spake Zarathustra? The Zoroastrians certainly think so. Read about them and the imperiled state of their religion: Zoroastrians Keep the Faith, and Keep Dwindling

Link 4

Those of us who are acquainted with the contemporary state of higher education should get a kick out of this. A Little Learning Is an Expensive Thing. Here is a teaser from the author: "When I was a college president, I was never able to give incoming freshmen the honest talk I wanted to. But had I done so, here’s what I would have said..."


Patrik, who has recently completed his “Ideas For a Theology of Decline”, is beginning a new series entitled, “Reading Tillich.” In these series, he will be occupied with, well, reading Paul Tillich, specifically Tillich’s Systematic Theology. So, go check it out. Also, check out my own mini-series on Tillich. You can find it on my Index: Serials page. I may have to dig through my copy of Tillich's Systematic Theology and add to my mini-series. We shall see.

Fun Tidbit

A philosopher friend of mine recently remarked that he liked schools with both philosophy and theology departments, so that he "can flirt with the queen while banging the help!" I am witholding judgment on this remark, but that doesn't mean that you have to. Please feel free to make use of the comments section of this post (yes, they work now!) to register your varying degrees of disgust or delight.

Friday, September 08, 2006

What Am I Reading? Thomas F. Torrance

Thomas F. Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order (Oxford University Press, 1981). You can find a paperback reprint here

Reading T.F. Torrance’s work never fails to jar a few things loose in my head and to reconnect them in interesting ways. Though I read this book rather quickly (in less than 24 hours of total elapsed time), I cannot help but feel as though it has impacted me deeply. I only hope that the disruption and sense of wonder and excitement that I feel now will settle into forms of permanent intellectual development. Needless to say, I will read this book again – hopefully sooner than later.

In any case, I highly recommend this volume. It is Torrance at his best (and worst – some really long sentences!). The bulk of the material is devoted to an exploration of the theological foundations of contemporary empirical science, the logic of which Torrance rehearses multiple times. Included in these discussions is commentary on the state of science and theology (and their interaction) encompassing intellectual history from the ancient Greeks, through Medieval scholastic theology, Reformation theology, modern philosophy and especially philosophy of science, and recent philosophical and scientific developments. Indeed, Torrance’s seemingly effortless rehearsal of the scientific contributions of the greatest scientific minds of the last 200 years (including, of course, Gödel, Einstein, Maxwell, et al) puts much of what passes for intelligence, much less what passes for theological acumen, to shame. Finally, all of these strands are gathered up into a culminating discussion of evil, incarnation, atonement, and theological anthropology, which left me euphoric. What a great way to spend an evening.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 1.1-2

It is my pleasure to announce the commencement of a new series entitled: "Reading Scripture with John Calvin." I have been looking forward to begining this series for some time. Indeed, this series was 70% of the impetus for me to start this blog. How is that? The goal of posting this content here is an impetus for me to delve into it myself. Thus, what you are / will be reading is the result of my reading Scripture with Calvin, and I invite you to read Scripture with Calvin and myself.

I will be commenting at different points both on the Scripture passage and on the material from Calvin’s commentaries, but primarily on the latter. In a way, I will be mediating Calvin to you. Assume that I am describing Calvin’s material unless I otherwise make it clear that I am offering my own reflections (speaking of Calvin in the third person or my explicit use of the first person would be hints of this). Quotations from Calvin will be given in italics or blockquotes. Translation of the passage will be taken from the TNIV. Calvin's own translation will differ so if disparities arise between the language employed in the comments and that given in the citation of the passage it is likely that this is to blame.

May you enjoy reading through this series, for which I plan no end, as much as I enjoy developing it.


1 Peter 1.1-2

(1) Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. To God's elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, (2) who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.



(Herein Calvin offers a summary of the epistle as a whole. Below are the primary points)

- Peter exhorts to denial of and contempt for the world and hope for Christ’s kingdom, thereby overcoming adversities.

- Specific moral exhortations are given.

- The example of Christ is called upon to reinforce the understanding that their hardships promote their salvation.



“To the elect” – As usually with Calvin, the presence of a word like “elect” gives him an opportunity to briefly discuss predestination. Here he addresses the critical question, based on his teaching elsewhere, of the identity of the elect being hidden. His response is characteristic.
[W]e are not curiously to inquire about the election of our brethren, but out on the contrary to regard their calling, so that all who are admitted by faith into the church, are to be counted as the elect…
The elect are so “according to the foreknowledge of God,” which does not involve our merits. But, so that we don’t get lost wondering about the divine decision of election, Peter directs us to the effect of that election, namely, our sanctification.
[T]here is nothing more dangerous or more preposterous than to overlook our calling and to seek for the certainty of our election in the hidden prescience of God, which is the deepest labyrinth.

“To the sojourners” – Peter has the Jews in view for they are the ones to whom the following notion of exile most directly and clearly applies. It makes sense that Peter would address the Jews since Paul mentioned in Galatians 2.8 that the apostles decided that Peter would go to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles.

“Unto obedience” – Obedience = newness of life and sprinkling = remission of sins. Since Peter takes these to be under the notion of ‘sanctification’ it is clear that he is using the term differently and more generally than Paul. Sprinkling is an allusion to the OT rite. Calvin engages in type and fulfillment reading:
For as it was not then sufficient for the victim to be slain and the blood to be poured out, except the people were sprinkled; so now the blood of Christ which has been shed will avail us nothing, except our consciences are by it cleansed. Also, as formerly under the law the sprinkling of blood was made by the hand of the priest; so now the Holy Spirit sprinkles our souls with the blood of Christ for the expiation of our sins.
I am surprised that Calvin does not jump off of this last pair and directly address the contemporary Roman sacerdotal system, but to any attentive reader the connection is plain.

[O]ur salvation flows from the gratuitous election of God; but that it is to be ascertained by the experience of faith, because he sanctifies us by his Spirit; and then that there are two effects or ends of our calling, even renewal into obedience and ablution by the blood of Christ; and further, that both are the work of the Holy Spirit. We hence conclude, that election is not to be separated from calling, nor the gratuitous righteousness of faith from newness of life.

With his language about the “experience of faith” as confirmation of election it is easy to see how the tradition would devolve down to Edwards and the "Religious Affections" and its tendency to employ empiricist methods to ascertaining one’s own election / salvation or that of others. It should be noted that Calvin decidedly does not make the second move and argues that it is our part to treat fellow Christians charitable and to take their expression of faith and participation in the church at face value with reference to their election. The key question that Calvin does not get into here but that readily comes to mind and cannot long be ignored is that of ascertaining precisely what counts or “the experience of faith” or “newness of life.”

It should also be noted that while Calvin pairs election with calling and the righteousness of faith with newness of life, the former are not dependent upon that latter. Rather, the latter necessarily flow from the former. This distinction is the point of Calvin’s discussion for God’s foreknowledge, which we dipped into above. Finally, note the Trinitarian formula – the Father is mentioned as the originator, the Spirit is the agent, and the Son as the object. It is odd that Calvin does not pick up on this given the uncommonly prominent place of his doctrine of the Trinity in his “The Institutes.”

Sunday, September 03, 2006


-> Link 1

Have any of you ever heard of Joshua Harris? I was made very familiar with him and his thought when I was a teenager. For those of you with no idea who he is, just put his name into and see what you get. Anyway, it seems that his two younger brothers are making a name for themselves through the use of new media. They have a website, complete with a blog and a conference schedule. Anyway, its interesting if you are familiar with the milieu.
Thanks to Between Two Worlds for the heads up about this.

-> Link 2

Would you rather be an optimist or a pessimist? Are you more an optimist or a pessimist? Should a Christian be more an optimist or a pessimist? You decide, but let the New York Times help you think about it. This editorial is about politics, but I find the discussion interesting at a number of levels.

If you are inclined to pursue these notions further, Patrik over at God in a Shrinking Universe has some good thoughts posted about optimism here. He further discusses the ecclesial dimension of his understanding in a more recent post.

-> Link 3

It seems that Rowan Williams (otherwise known as the Archbishop of Canterbury) has recently made some comments about homosexuality in the Anglican communion. Apparently, these comments have upset the more liberal groups in the communion because Williams has put some distance between himself and the work he did on the subject about 20 years ago. In any case, you can read about if for yourself here

-> Link 4

It has been said that “there is no such thing as a stupid question.”

Some say that “there is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid answers.”

Still others argue that “there is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid people asking questions.”

Whichever category that you find yourself within, you will appreciate this chart put together by a group called “Christians for Better Classrooms.” Many thanks to Mr. Taylor over at Between Two Worlds, where I was first alerted to the existence of this chart.

-> Link 5

"The blogosphere gathers together atypical fans and brings them together in what quickly becomes a broadband echo chamber. The louder and more intense the online community gets, the farther it's likely drifting from what is happening offline."

For more of such thoughts, head over to Mere Comments. Many thanks to Jason for bringing this to my attention.

-> Link 6

My friend and colleague, Jason Ingalls - a recent graduate from Princeton Theological Seminary, has recently begun his own blogging odyssey. If you don’t already have enough blogs to check regularly, I recommend adding his. You can find it here or among the links on the sidebar to the right.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Index: Serials

This is an the index for my posted serials. It will be updated as posts are added.


Helmut Gollwitzer on Theology's Engagement with Marxist Criticism of Religion

04.26.2011 - Part One
04.27.2011 - Part Two
04.28.2011 - Part Three
04.29.2011 - Part Four
05.02.2011 - Part Five
05.03.2011 - Part Six
05.04.2011 - Part Seven
05.06.2011 - Part Eight

Wolfhart Pannenberg Mini-Series

10.29.07 -> Introduction to Systematic Theology, Chapter 1
11.5.07 -> Introduction to Systematic Theology, Chapter 2
11.12.07 -> Introduction to Systematic Theology, Chapter 3
11.19.07 -> Introduction to Systematic Theology, Chapter 4

Paul Tillich Mini-Series

8.13.06 -> Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Pages vii-viii, 3-34, 59-66
8.18.06 -> Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, 106-137
8.30.06 -> Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, Pages 97-150

Paul Tillich: Six Theses

These theses cover Tillich's Systematic Theology volume 3, pp. 1-161.

5.12.09 -> Thesis 1
5.14.09 -> Thesis 2
5.19.09 -> Thesis 3
5.21.09 -> Thesis 4
5.26.09 -> Thesis 5
5.28.09 -> Thesis 6

Reading Scripture with John Calvin:

1 Peter

9.6.06 -> 1 Peter 1.1-2
9.12.06 -> 1 Peter 1.3-5
9.19.06 -> 1 Peter 1.6-9
9.26.06 -> 1 Peter 1.10-12
10.3.06 -> 1 Peter 1.13-16
10.10.06 -> 1 Peter 1.17-22
10.17.06 -> 1 Peter 1.23-25
1.2.07 -> 1 Peter 2.1-5
1.29.07 -> 1 Peter 2.6-8
2.19.07 -> 1 Peter 2.9-10
4.2.07 -> 1 Peter 2.11-12
4.18.07 -> 1 Peter 2.13-16
7.25.07 -> 1 Peter 2.17
8.1.07 -> 1 Peter 2.18-20
8.8.07 -> 1 Peter 2.21-23
8.15.07 -> 1 Peter 2.24-25
8.22.07 -> 1 Peter 3.1-4
10.24.07 -> 1 Peter 3.5-7
1.9.08 -> 1 Peter 3.8-9
7.21.08 -> 1 Peter 3.10-15
7.30.08 -> 1 Peter 3.15-18
8.6.08 -> 1 Peter 3.19-22
8.13.08 -> 1 Peter 4.1-5
8.20.08 -> 1 Peter 4.6-11
8.26.08 -> 1 Peter 4.12-7
9.2.08 -> 1 Peter 4.17-9
9.09.08 -> 1 Peter 5.1-4
11.4.08 -> 1 Peter 5.5-7
11.18.08 -> 1 Peter 5.8-11
12.2.08 -> 1 Peter 5.12-14

Francis Turretin's Ecclesiology

2.5.07 -> Introduction
2.15.07 -> 18.2 - The word “church”
3.5.07 -> 18.3 - Members of the church
4.9.07 -> 18.5 - Unity of the church
5.2.07 -> 18.6 - Catholicity of the church
5.9.07 -> 18.8 - Indefectibility of the church
5.18.07 -> 18.10 - Where was the church before the Reformation?
5.23.07 -> 18.12 - Scripture as the Mark of the Church
6.1.07 -> 18.14 - Is the Roman church a True church?
8.20.07 -> 18.15 - Reformed churches True Churches?
8.28.07 -> 18.21 - Distinction Between Bishop and Presbyter

Yves Congar on Church and Eucharist

2.18.08 -> Part 1 - Introduction
2.25.08 -> Part 2 - Word and Spirit in Trinity and Christology
3.12.08 -> Part 3 - Word and Spirit in Ecclesiology
3.31.08 -> Part 4 - Word and Spirit in the Eucharist
4.7.08 -> Part 5 - Critical Engagement