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Showing posts from November, 2016

Christian Responsibility to the New Creation: a sermon on Isaiah 65:17-25

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Holocaust scholars and historians released a new study of concentration camps and ghettos in 2013. Contra the previous estimates of between 6 and 11 million deaths, the new study suggests that that number is actually much higher; likely between 15 and 20 million. Those numbers are absolutely staggering. Imagine the horror that these people had to face: being separated from their children, knowing they are going to their certain deaths; alone and scared; the torture and slavery these people were subject to for no other reason than their ethnic identity or religion or sexual orientation. Now imagine, yourselves, going through this as someone who believed in God. What kind of toll would this take on your faith? For some of us, our faith would be completely annihilated; obliterated by our horrific suffering which completely strips us of our freedom and agency. Some of us would, no doubt, maintain our faith to the very end, hopeful that God is still working.

And I think a few of us would s…

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology, 18.7: The Invisibility of the Church

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Seventh Question: Is the true church rightly said to be invisible? We affirm against the Romanists.

Turretin seems a little put out in having to answer this question. He makes it clear that it is a question that arises in a primarily polemic context. Roman theologians of his time claim that Protestantism is false because it did not exist prior to Luther; Protestants retort that it existed, just not visibly. This is because “the true church [is] not to be measured by an external profession or subjection to the Roman pontiff, but by faith and internal piety alone” (18.7.2). He even has a nice quote from Bellarmine that seems to show agreement!

For Turretin, the church’s two-fold condition as both visible and invisible arises from the two-fold nature of God’s call: the external call made through visible instruments, and the internal call of the Holy Spirit (18.7.4). This is an interesting move because these are overlapping sets that are nevertheless unable to be reduced to either side. On…

Eberhard Jüngel and Helmut Gollwitzer on Socialism and Solidarity: The Full Mon...I mean...Intro...

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Something of a love-hate relationship exists between the liberation and “Barthian” theological movements. On the one hand, some proponents of the latter claim that Barth’s theology is not only contextual but liberationist, going so far as to argue that “it is indisputable that a direct line goes from [Barth] to the liberation movements and liberation theology.” On the other hand, some proponents of the former see Barth’s approach to theology as an impediment to contextual and liberationist theological approaches. James Cone is perhaps the most significant voice in this camp.

In his relatively recent book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Cone criticizes Barth for disconnecting theology from experience, and especially the experience of marginalized peoples: “Unless we look at the ‘facts of experience,’ . . . what we say about the cross remains at the level of theological abstraction, like Karl Barth’s Word of God, separated from the real crosses in our midst.” Cone’s criticism of Barth…

Coda on the Kingdom: Beginning at the Ending with Weiss' Eschatology

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Johannes Weiss is justly famous for his role in bringing and end to the naivete of 19th century historical Jesus research. He constructed a plausible and compelling portrait of Jesus as an uncanny apocalyptic prophet that contrasted sharply with the Jesus of the liberal Protestant Zeitgeist -- that is, the popular image of the Nazarene as a conveyor of timeless wisdom and an enlightened ethical ideal based on the fatherhood of God and the siblinghood of all people (so Harnack).

Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom by Johannes Weiss. Ed. R. Hiers & L. Holland (Fortress, 1971).

In his conclusion, Weiss conveniently sumarizes his findings (pp. 129-131). My interest here is not to analyze his historical argument in detail, but a brief summary will help sharpen the constructive theological challenge his short work poses: According to Weiss, Jesus believed that the messianic end-time was imminent, and the signs of the future-yet-inbreaking Kingdom were manifest in supernatural victorie…

Christiane Tietz’s "Theologian of Resistance: The life and Thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer" - A guest review by Lauren Larkin

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Christiane Tietz’s book, Theologian of Resistance: The life and Thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is a great addition to the current landscape of American Bonhoeffer scholarship. It’s also a much-needed correction to current misconceptions and misappropriations of Bonhoeffer in American evangelical Christianity. Tietz’s economical discussion of Bonhoeffer’s life makes writing this book review difficult. I very much just want to say, “It’s 121 pages, just go read it. Trust me, you’ll love it.” But that would be the “cheap” rather than “costly” path…

Tietz’s approach is to track Bonhoeffer from birth to death while documenting how his life and thought fit his historical context. She deftly pulls three threads with equal tightness to give the reader a complete picture of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: the historical facts of Bonhoeffer’s life, the socio-political events of Germany from 1933-1945 (the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich), and Bonhoeffer’s intellectual / theological development. Bonho…

Back with Barth at Bremen: The Binding that Frees

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Many months ago, I began a series of posts exploring a sermon Karl Barth preached in Bremen, Germany, in 1935, shortly before he repatriated to his homeland, Switzerland. The National Socialists were consolidating their grip on government and society. The leadership of the official state churches had capitulated to Hitler. After passing the groundbreaking Barmen Declaration (whose principal author was Barth) in 1934, members of the Confessing Church movment were seeking to discern the best path toward faithful opposition. (For some of the backstory, see my firstsecond, and third posts.) To be honest, I found the whole series kind of daunting, for a variety of reasons, and I put it aside for a while but I have wanted to dive a little more deeply into this text and probe its implications -- for Barth, for his original audience, and for us.

The Word in this World: Two Sermons by Karl Barth, trans. Chrisopher Asprey, ed. Kurt I. Johanson (Regent College, 2007).

I have extra incentive too:…

Standing Rock, Capitalism, and Ontological Violence – A Christian Response to the Dakota Access Pipeline (Guest Post by Richard Allen)

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At the time of this writing, violence is erupting on the plains of North Dakota. In response to protests from indigenous peoples and their fellow supporters to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, private security and local police forces have viciously defended their (prized) construct. Violence is erupting, almost exclusively on the part of the state in response to peaceful protests, but is it confined to the clashes between protester and the state? No—what we witness on the plains of the Standing Rock Reservation is violence, and one of ontology.

The pipeline in question is, on the surface, just another pipeline. It is one of hundreds elsewhere in this country, existing to serve an ostensibly simple purpose: the transportation of crude material for the fossil-fuel industry. It is, arguably, nothing special. Therefore, it is easy to relegate the Standing Rock protests to the binary of “environmentalism versus the free market.” Yet, this binary is the product of the capita…

What Am I Reading? Garry Wills’s “Font of Life”

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So there I was, lecturing away on Augustine and his influence on the developing Christian tradition, when a student question stopped me in my tracks: “That Ambrose guy sounds pretty cool. What more can you tell us about him?” (paraphrase)

It turned out that the answer to that question at the time was: “Not very much!” But I have since remedied that situation with some further reading, including Gary Wills’s tidy volume, Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, & the Mystery of Baptism.

This has been an eye-opening read. For instance, I discovered that I have for years been beholden to an outdated view of Augustine’s relationship to Ambrose: the traditional story of Ambrose converting Augustine is rather off base! Other figures were much more instrumental, although – as Wills discusses – the pre- and post-baptismal catechesis that Augustine received from Ambrose seems to have been rather formative. Also, it seems that Augustine didn’t even like Ambrose all that much around the time of hi…

To Hell with Death!

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Several weeks ago, I attended a very difficult funeral. (But are there easy ones?) It was for a beloved friend and supervisor, whom I had worked with for the past nine years. Pancreatic cancer. Very sudden.
She was a holistic nutrition enthusiast and one of the healthiest people, overall, I'd ever known. Devastating. What is a little disconcerting, though, after the initial shock wears off, is how quickly one begins to adjust to the missing person's absence.

But the pangs of remembrance strike at the most unexpected moments. For me, one of those came this past weekend. I was with my 7-year-old son at a Halloween event. The kids, having loaded their bags with goodies from opened car trunks, were decked in their All Hallows' Best, and we were marching around the museum quadrangle in Springfield, Massachusetts. We tromped through the Dr. Seuss sculpture garden, and into and through the history museum, past the Indian Motorcycle exhibit and the shrine to John Brown. Blasting i…

What Have I Been Reading? Dale C. Allison Jr., "Night Comes: Death, Imagination, and the Last Things"

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Dale Allison is one of the most unique and thought-provoking professors I had the pleasure of studying with at Princeton Seminary. In the Spring semester of 2015 I took his course on “The Bible and Religious Experience,” and I got the impression of a seasoned, yet open minded, scholar who knows how to properly think a question through to the end.

All of Dr. Allison’s quirky brilliance shines through in his 2016 book: Night Comes: death, imagination, and the last things (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing). Based on the Stone Lectures he delivered at PTS in October 2014 (which I was sadly unable to attend), Night Comes is a deeply personal and penetrating reflection on some of faith’s most perennial questions—questions like: how are we to think about death, and what (if anything) comes after? And, what might a 21st century Christian do with ideas like resurrection, divine judgment, and the world to come? Written in a conversational style, and being—at points—autobiographical, sobering, inspiri…