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Showing posts from January, 2015

So What Difference Does Theology Make for Ethics, Really?

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My non-stipendiary contract with DET stipulates that I publish every Thursday, so I wrote a post for this week.
This is not that post. The other post, frankly, was boring and not quite clicking. So you can read it next week, instead.

By way of substitution, I'd like to offer some musings on a topic that has exercised me considerably over the past several years: To wit, Do theological beliefs really have any decisive role whatsoever in determining ethical decision making? I have been writing posts around this topic pretty much solidly since I started blogging here regularly a year ago, but to be honest, I'm not sure I've made that much progress in answering that basic question.

The problem rears its head again and again with a rising, sometimes almost plaintive urgency in many blog posts and articles I've read in recent months. An increasingly common genre is the type of article that ponders whether an atheist can be an actually morally decent person, or the perennial pi…

Eschatological Business: Raising Bodies – A Guest Series by Nathan Hitchcock

[Ed. note: This post is part of a guest-series by Nathan Hitchcock. Nathan is Associate Professor of Church History and Theology at Sioux Falls Seminary, and is the author of Karl Barth and the Resurrection of the Flesh. Click here for this series’ description; Introduction; Remitting Debts.]


When Christians go to work, they do so to lift up human bodies. They perform medical tasks, as in the nurse who provides rehabilitative care to a post-op patient. They study the physical body and its environmental conditions, as in the home inspector monitoring radon levels. They labor for the best distribution of services, as with the entrepreneur seeking to establish a network of hardware stores on reservations. In all their actions Christians emulate the God of the future, whose final work consists of raising the dead to everlasting bodily health.

The Church’s profession of hope for the resurrection of the dead is an extension of the belief that their Lord Jesus Christ is risen from the gr…

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend…

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Maybe it’s time I dropped that “fortnight” business since, once again, it has been about a month since our last link post. One reason that it has been a while is that DET went on hiatus over the holiday season. But we’re back now and running, especially with our guest series – currently in medias res - with Nathan Hitchcock on the theme of “Eschatological Business” (which I have been trying to turn into a hashtag - #EschatologicalBusiness – however, so far it hasn’t quite caught on…). You’ll see links to the first two installments of this series below. I hope you’ll check this series out if you haven’t already done so. Nathan is giving us a preview of his current writing project, and at the same time he is workshopping it with us. So this is our chance to collaborate with him as he refines and develops his argument. Already we have had some good conversation in the comments sections, so j…

What Am I Reading? Sun-young Kim on Martin Luther, Faith, and Love

Sun-young Kim, Luther on Faith and Love: Christ and the Law in the 1535 Galatians Commentary, Emerging Scholars (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014).

I wanted to read this book from the first moment that I learned of its existence.* Lately I’ve been working on gaining a better understanding of Luther, for a variety of reasons, and his ethics has always looked like something of a mess to my Reformed sensibilities. But I had also encountered enough of it to know that some of the standard tropes against Luther on this point don’t seem to grow out of Luther’s texts. When I saw Sun-young Kim’s book, I hoped that I had found a volume that would package all this material up for me and provide clarity on the subject. In that hope I have not been disappointed.

I’ll be posting some interesting snippets from the book, as is my wont, but I want to provide a little context for the volume here. And I shall do so in three points.

First, the true heart of the book on my reading is well-articulated in…

Eschatological Business: Remitting Debts – A Guest Series by Nathan Hitchcock

[Ed. note: This post is part of a guest-series by Nathan Hitchcock. Nathan is Associate Professor of Church History and Theology at Sioux Falls Seminary, and is the author of Karl Barth and the Resurrection of the Flesh. Click here for this series’ description; Introduction.]


When Christians go to work, they do so to forgive debts. They leverage their own honor to protect others’, as in the manager who takes the hit for a subordinate who violated company policy and lost a client. They challenge policies of economic exclusion, as with the city councilor simplifying procedures for start-up businesses. Sometimes they forgive in very explicit financial ways, finding a way to finance a home loan to someone with a ruined credit record. In all their work, Christians do meaningful labor by imitating the God who places Himself on the line to restore commerce.

The acknowledgement of one baptism for the forgiveness of sins is best understood through the eschatological lens: only those in Chr…

Stringfellow: Theologian of Freedom

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This year I plan to blog a bit about one of my major theological interests and influences: The writings of William Stringfellow (1928-1985). Stringfellow was an Episcopal attorney, activist and theologian who was a major prophetic voice within North American Christianity from the post World War II era into the Reagan years, though his was often a marginal voice in relation to the churches and the academy. I will look at some key passages from his work in the hope of enticing you, gentle readers, into exploring his life and legacy for yourselves. But I want to start with a little teaser from Stringfellow's most famous advocate.

In the forward to his Evangelical Theology, Karl Barth recaps his tour of the United States earlier that year. Among such worthies as Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr., Barth singles out "the thoughtful and conscientious William Stringfellow, who caught my attention more than any other person" (p. ix, emphasis mine). Stringfellow was close fr…

Eschatological Business: Introduction - A Guest Series by Nathan Hitchcock

[Ed. note: This post is part of a guest-series by Nathan Hitchcock. Nathan is Associate Professor of Church History and Theology at Sioux Falls Seminary, and is the author of Karl Barth and the Resurrection of the Flesh. Click here for this series’ description.]


Christians work toward a future. This is true of humans generally, who go about their business with some sort of telos in mind, possessed by (or searching for) some kind of hope. It is differently true for believers, who live in the light of divine ends. By the Holy Spirit they hope for God’s future in Jesus Christ. They move forward, stretching toward the coming kingdom. When Christians go about their work as welders, as property managers, as actuaries, as network technicians, as mayors, as retail clerks, they do so as end-time laborers.

The present series can be understood as a response to Tom Nelson’s pastoral plea: “If we are going to do God-honoring work, if we are going to be a faithful presence in our workplaces, t…

Evangelical and Liberal: Roots of a Trajectory?

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I've been reading the work of Reinhold Niebuhr again lately. Now here is a thinker who appreciated irony, and my own relationship with his body of work is a bit ironic -- both appreciative and skeptical. Niebuhr exhibits something of a two-sidedness, a dialectical form of discourse that seeks to keep the ideal and the real in a constant state of creative tension. He draws from the political idealism of the Social Gospel movement and liberal Protestantism, yet this is tempered and reconstructed by a realism about the fragile and fallen character of human nature which comes to expression, especially, in the agonistic realm of power politics.

Difficulties attend the old characterization of his theology and political ethics as "neoorthodox", neither completely liberal-modernist nor traditional-conservative but some sort of tertium quid. Back in the 70s, David Tracy (following Wilhelm Pauk) argued that "neoorthodoxy" was best understood a self-critical moment within…

DET Announcements

Welcome back, gentle readers. I’m sure (read: I hope) that at least one or two of you missed DET while it was in hiatus . . .

In any case, we’re back now and there are a few things that I want to highlight for you.

To begin, DET got a little bit of a facelift. The previous template’s charms have been wearing off on me for a while, and I finally got to the point that I thought it was just too dark. So now we have a bit of a lighter feel and some nice earth tones. I hope you enjoy.Next, the contributor page got revamped as part of the face-lift process. You can now find it on the top tab bar under the title About the Authors. If you click through you’ll see two things: (1) I have re-written my author bio, so you might have fun with some of the links there; (2) Scott Jackson has been promoted to Senior Contributing Author. Congratulations Scott! He will be taking on more of a leadership role which will include things like writing a weekly post, helping to run the DET Facebookpages, assi…