Showing posts from April, 2007

TF Torrance on Evangelism and How to Preach the Gospel

Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard, 1992), 93-95.

When I first read the (rather lengthy) passage that I have included below, I knew that I would be spending a considerable amount of time studying the theology of the man who could so powerfully deconstruct and provide an alternative for how I grew up hearing the ‘gospel’ being preached. Without in any way diminishing the importance of our personal relationship with God in Christ, Torrance shows us how this has been abstracted from its proper dogmatic location. Our relationship with Christ is not the most important thing; the most important thing is Christ’s relationship with us.

I first read this material during my first year of seminary. Now, in my third and final year, with the experience of a full calendar year of church ministry behind me, this passage speaks more loudly than ever. The ramifications of this passage for pastoral care are immense, and it can provide the basis f…

John Stott to Retire in July

All Souls Church recently announced that John Stott will be retiring from public ministry after a final speaking engagement at the Keswick Convention this coming July. Stott was featured in the “2005 Time 100”. In 2004, New York Times columnist David Brooks (author of, among other things, Bobos in Paradise, a book that I highly recommend) wrote that if evangelicals were to chose a ‘pope’, Stott would be the likely choice. Christianity Todayhas a nice write-up about this.

I have always held a very high opinion of Stott, and it is a testimony to the high regard in which the whole of the evangelical world holds him that he could declare himself in favor of annihilationism and not be summarily ostracized. Stott’s many years of faithful churchmanship are a stark reminder of how seldom such a thing is seen these days. Stott goes into retirement with my best wishes and my deep respect.

If you would like to dip into Stott’s thought, try his Christian Basics. It is a very useful tool for…

Requiescat in pace: Robert Webber

A household name to many American evangelicals, Robert Webber died on Friday, April 27, 2007. More information can and will be found here ->

UPDATE (4/30/07): Christianity Today has a nice piece on Webber in memory of his life and work. Read it here.

My Most Recent Publication

The Spring issue of the Princeton Theological Review was distributed on the PTS campus this past week, and with its distribution comes the end of my tenure as this august publication’s book review editor. It will be available in your library (if your library is any good!) or online in a few days.

Be sure to check out my short review of Bonnie L. Pattison’s Poverty in the Theology of John Calvin.

David Congdon penned the prolegomena and wrote a much more substantial piece entitled ”A Pre-Appearance of the Truth”: Toward a Christological Aesthetics that you won’t want to miss.

Comments Brought to Light: Divine, Creational and Human Rationalities (et al)

Shane (and Chris),

When I think about different logics, I don’t mean to imply multiple unrelated self-contained systems of thought (in this sense, ‘rationalities’ rather than ‘logics’ might be better, but I think the pattern holds – I am however going to start talking instead of rationalities). We have to think of this in terms of concentric circles. I think Chris is right to distinguish between divine, creational and human rationalities. The divine rationality (logos?) is the biggest circle and it contains the other two. Creational rationality is the next level in, and it contains human rationality.

Here is how this works. God is entirely self-sufficient and possesses his own rationality (by definition). God creates the world, whose rationality - because it comes from the divine rationality - bears certain resemblances to the divine rationality without being identical to the divine rationality because creation is not, in fact, divine. Human rationality is the synthesis of the …

Theology, Philosophy and ‘Christian’ Philosophy: A Typology

I wrote the material below a number of months ago for a semi-private conversation involving myself and a few of my colleagues (including Shane Wilkins and David Congdon). A more recent exchange of comments with Shane brought it to my mind, and I thought that it might be interesting to post it and see what kind of conversation gets going. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and / or find it helpful in some way. The two addendums (?) at the end are new.

Note: Below, “theology” refers to what might be called Christian dogmatic or systematic theology.


Theology, just like any other discipline, is a "disciplined" mode of inquiry. What is involved in a disciplined mode of inquiry? (1) A subject matter, and (2) a disciplined mode of inquiry about that subject. The subject matter of theology is given to it by its subject matter - God, specifically, God as he has revealed himself as Christ. The disciplined mode of inquiry, in good empirical science fashion, flows out of the subj…

Karl Barth on Theology, Science and Philosophy

Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1962), 3-5.“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.’

But many things can be meant by the word ‘God.’ For this reason, there are many kinds of theologies. There is no man who does not have his own god or gods as the object of his highest desire and trust, or as the basis of his deepest loyalty and commitment. There is no one who is not to this extent also a theologian. There is, moreover, no religion, no philosophy, no world …

Schleiermacher on the Mercy of God

Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith (Edited by H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart; New York, NY: T & T Clark / Continuum, 2006), §85.1: 353.

I post this not because I agree with it (in broad strokes, I don’t), but because part of it struck me as particularly well done. That is, I found myself in awe of the power of the author’s mind even as I disagreed with the content it produced. The argument is superb, even if the system presupposed is finally not convincing. I have included a few notes in []’s.
§ 85. To attribute mercy to God is more appropriate to the language of preaching and poetry than to that of dogmatic theology.

For one thing, preaching and poetry can afford to be less precise in their use of anthropopathic terms. And mercy is certainly such a term in a pre-eminent degree, since in the human sphere we apply it exclusively to a state of feeling specially evoked by the sufferings of others and finding outlet in acts of relief. Such helpful ministration is, n…

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 2.13-16

1 Peter 2.13-16

[13] Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, [14] or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. [15] For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of the foolish. [16] Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.



The material in Calvin’s comment on these verses can be divided easily into two themes, the former being dominant and the latter appearing toward the end: civil government and Christian freedom.

Civil Government

Calvin’s teaching on civil government was the biggest hang-up that I had when I first began studying his theology a few years ago. But, as I have studied his understanding further, my worries have been largely set aside. This is not a wholesale endorsement, and there are ways to go about framing these question…

McCormack on the Targets of Barth’s 'Romans I'

Bruce L. McCormack, Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology: Its Genesis and Development, 1909-1936 (Oxford: Clarendon, 2004), 140-141.
The targets of Barth’s criticism in Romans I were many and varied. They fell into four major groups: 1. Liberalism – Pietism (i.e. historicism and psychologism – the stress on historical investigation or religious experience as the ground of theology); 2. Idealistic epistemology and ethics; 3. the “Positives” (churchly Christianity or “religion”); and 4. Religious Socialism (center especially in the person of Leonhard Ragaz, though criticism of Hermann Kutter could also be found).

If there is a common thread which joins these four (in the details, quite different) movements, it is the element of individualism. Barth’s new theology represented an assault on a central feature of late nineteenth-century bourgeois culture: the understanding of the human individual as the creative subject of culture and history (and even of her own being and…

“Is the Reformation Over?” by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom

Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005).

Sounds like a good question, doesn’t it? This is certainly a question that must be asked with some regularity. Of course, we also have to ask more strictly theological questions such as ‘What would it mean for the Reformation to be over?’ and ‘What was the point of the Reformation?’ But, I don’t intend to undertake that extensive task here! What I do intend to do is give you the shape of this volume and then reflect upon it a little bit.

The Book’s Shape
The introduction is primarily composed of anecdotes and statistics, precisely the stuff that interesting social history treatments are made of. The focus is on similarities in piety and culture between contemporary evangelicals and Catholics. This focus on shared piety / culture seemed to set the stage for the whole volume.

Chapter 1: Things Are Not the Way Th…

Top Theology Blogs on UnSpun

Dear readers and follow theo-bloggers,

I am writing to call your attention to a new social networking tool offered by our friends over at Amazon. This service is called ‘UnSpun’ and it allows you to make lists of things and then rank them. Anyone with an account can create a list, and anyone can edit someone else’s list and submit his or her own rankings. Those items with more votes float toward the surface, and those with fewer sink toward the bottom.

In any case, the real point for this post is to let you all know that I have created a Top Theology Blogs list, and I invite you all to head over and vote for your favorite theo-blogs. Be sure to add any blogs that are not yet included but deserve to be (I started with the first 10 blogs that came to my mind, and I know that I forgot many deserving ones).

Note: While you may be tempted to vote using the up and down arrows on the left side of each entry in the list, the most effective way is to switch from ‘community rank…

Shane Wilkins on whether it is provable that God exists

The below was posted by my philosopher friend, Shane Wilkins, in the course of comments on a recent post by my friend and collegue David Congdon. Get the original post and the comment thread here. It seemed to me that Shane's comment was too rigorous for me to allow it to languish somewhere in a comments thread, so I asked his permission to give it a permanent home here at DET. It deals with, among other things; proving the existence of God, natural theology, Barth and Thomas. And so, without further ado, I give you Shane Wilkins on 'whether it is provable that God exists.'

Thanks to Chris, David and KF for interesting responses. I think there may be a bit of confusion regarding what precisely I am saying, so I'll give it another go. I'm not so worried about Barth at the moment, so if someone tells me I've misunderstood him, that's fine. I'm more concerned with a constructive case I'm trying to make.

The first thing I want to point out is the di…

Links: Stuff worth knowing about

I usually don’t post collections of links, preferring instead to use the nifty widget in the right sidebar to let people know about the good stuff floating around the blogosphere at any given time. But, there is quite a lot of good stuff out there right now and I thought it warranted a link post. So, here is a list of some of the best and / or most interesting stuff in the blogosphere at the moment, at least as far as I am concerned.
My friend and colleague David Congdon has posted an excellent reflection on Christ’s cry of dereliction / abandonment. Read it here.
Richard over at ‘Experimental Theology’ has great post up on Ironic Christians and Wry Prophets, wherein he thinks about the place of irony in the church.
Michael over at ‘InternetMonk’ has two posts on ‘Stupid Evangelical Tricks’ that are well worth looking at. Post 1, Post 2.
There are two posts worth noting over at ‘Sub Ratione Dei’ as well. The first discusses Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Introduction to Systematic Theology, a…

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology: 18.5

Fifth Question: The Unity of the Church – In what sense may the church be called one?

As far as I can tell, this is a short section by Turretin’s standards (3 pages). Having already put in place much of his ecclesiological groundwork, he is able to move through this material swiftly with the help of his distinctions. As we saw earlier, one of these distinctions is the difference between the internal and external conditions or states of the church, that is, the distinction between the invisible church made up of all the elect who have also been called in time and the visible church made up not only by these but also any elect but not yet called and reprobate that happen to be mixed in as well. In his discussion of the unity of the church, Turretin is clear that he is dealing with the church conceived internally / invisibly. Thus, we are dealing not with “accidental unity” but with “essential unity” (p. 27).

There are six categories of internal unity, which Turretin understands to f…

John Calvin on the Decalogue

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Library of Christian Classics, vols. 20-21; McNeill / Battles; Westminster, 1960), 2.8.3.“First, by comparing the righteousness of the law with our life, we learn how far we are from conforming to God’s will. And for this reason we are unworthy to hold our place among his creatures – still less to be accounted his children. Secondly, in considering our powers, we learn that they are not only too weak to fulfill the law, but utterly nonexistent. From this necessarily follows mistrust of our own virtue, then anxiety and trepidation of mind. For the conscience cannot bear the weight of iniquity without soon coming before God’s judgment. Truly, God’s judgment cannot be felt without evoking the dread of death. So also, constrained by the proofs of its impotence, conscience cannot but fall straightaway into deep despair of its own powers. Both these emotions engender humility and self-abasement. Thus it finally comes to pass that ma…

Barth and Romanticism and the Enlightenment

Karl Barth, Protestant Theology and the Nineteenth Century: Its Background and History (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 327.

“Romanticism was not the most profound, the most radical or the most mature form of the great intellectual movement which fulfilled and surpassed the Enlightenment and the eighteenth century generally, and established the typical way of thinking of the nineteenth century. Not the most profound: this was in all likelihood the philosophy of Kant. Not the most radical, which we shall come to discover in Hegel. Not the most mature, which we should have to recognize in the wisdom of life of the one and only Goethe. But of all these forms of that great intellectual movement Romanticism probably expressed this movement in its most characteristic and representative form; that in which the general trend was clearly apparent. Nowhere, probably, were the final aims of the Enlightenment expressed in a form so plastic as to tend almost to caricature, as in this most a…

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 2.11-12

1 Peter 2.11-12

[11] Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. [12] Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.



I should begin by admitting that this is, in my opinion, one of the more powerful passages in the New Testament. At some existential level, this simply rings true. It also rings true throughout history. It was the morality of Christians that gained the church admirers in the years before Constantine, and it was much the same for Judaism before that (well, morality and antiquity in this case). The various Reformers were appalled by the general lack of morality among the Roman church, and the strict exercise of church discipline by the Reformed produced a morality that withstood hostile regimes before it was undermined by modernity. Even in the present day, pe…