Showing posts from September, 2016

Herman Bavinck on the Freedom of the Gospel

(Image in public domain, via Wikimedia Commons) Modern Christian apologists often present conversion in terms of a sort of cognitive leap, an intellectual assent to a set of saving doctrines or even to "the Christian worldview" as a whole. For example, take C.S. Lewis' (justly) famous autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy , which charts a path of descent from his childhood Anglican faith into a defiant atheism, his progression through interest in myth and the occult and into philosophical idealism, and finally his reluctant embrace of theism. This conversion of the intellect, reminiscent of Augustine's embrace of Neoplatonism in the Confessions , serves as a propaedeutic for Lewis' eventual embrace of traditional Christian doctrine full stop -- the incarnation, the atonement, etc. Don't get me wrong: Surprised is a very good book, but I do sometimes worry that Lewis' life story, if such taken as paradigmatic of the journey from from disbelief to fait

Christianity, Christendom, Kierkegaard, and America – once more with Mark Tietjen

Kierkegaard is known as a stinging critic of a “too easy” Christianity in which one finds oneself merely as a result of cultural context. The word we give to this assumed identity between Christianity and culture is “Christendom.” In his recent book on Kierkegaard, Mark Tietjen explains the Dane’s criticisms and also suggests how the might apply to the contemporary situation in the United States. Here’s what he has to tell us. May we have ears to hear. (As usual, bold is mine and italics are in the original.) Mark A. Tietjen, Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians (IVP Academic, 2016). Kierkegaard speculates that one reason why Christians of his day fail to view their faith as a path for them to walk themselves is rooted in . . . the argument from Christendom. The thinking goes as follows: given the enormously successful results of the Christian religion over nearly two millennia, we can assume the truth of the religion and gladly accept the beliefs that come with it. We

Your Own Political Jesus? (With a Hat-Tip to Stringfellow)

This has to be the most miserable and distressing Presidential campaign of my lifetime. The fact that both of the major candidates have been direct about their religious beliefs has scarcely assuaged the ickiness of the whole affair. It's little wonder, then, that many folks, believers and nonbelievers alike, would like to keep religious faith squarely behind Thomas Jefferson's wall of separation between church and state. Ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri, via Wikimedia Commons (PD-US) For many years, the conventional wisdom in many churches in the United States has been that the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims and brings is apolitical -- and this even after the crucial role that religious people and institutions played in the temperance, abolition and Civil Rights movements, in particular. On the face of it, this seems to be the sense of Jesus' assertion to Pointius Pliate: "My Kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36, KJV). By contrast, a number of contem

Laudato Si', Extinction, and the Passenger Pigeon

In his historic encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’ , Pope Francis writes: “It is not enough…to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons relating to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right." (33) Extinction is a hard thing for us to get our heads around. Its scope and finality so dwarf us as individuals that we have a hard time feeling it, grieving it, and (as our present situation requires) repenting of it. As always, a particular story can help. My wife Jenna and I recently visited Wyalusing State Park in Southwestern Wisconsin wi

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology, 18.4: Different ways of being in the church

Fourth Question: Do unbaptized catechumens, the excommunicated and schismatics belong to the church? We distinguish. Turretin is clear that discussion of this question is motivated, or “moved,” by engagement with the Roman church. And to tackle the question he makes a series of distinctions in true scholastic fashion. He begins by addressing the issue of catechumens, and it is here that he makes his primary distinction: “The church can be regarded in two ways: either as to external state and visible form, or as to internal and invisible form.” (18.4.3) This is your classic Augustinian distinction between visible and invisible church, and it has been used to solve many an ecclesiological problem throughout theological history. For Turretin, it makes it possible to speak of catechumens as members of the invisible church even if they have not yet undergone the sacrament of baptism to become part of the visible church. He offers three lines of argument in support of this conclusion. F

Terror at the Town Fair: A Theologian's Odyssey

The day seemed innocent and wholesome enough. We had just left church -- and what mischief ever went down in church? (Am I right, St. Augustine?) We headed up into the hills of Western Massachusetts for the annual fair in Heath, a quaint farming village that borders Vermont. The 700 or so residents of Heath are proud of their fair, which features a parade, horse-pull contests, local bluegrass and folk bands and the obligatory fried dough. Photo of a horse pull, by Jassen (of Belchertown, Mass.) Via Wikimedia.

Resurrection and Social Equality: A Sermon on Luke 7.11-17

I would like to start off this sermon by complaining. First and foremost about airplane pilots. I promise this will connect with the passage, but it requires some explanation. First of all, I just don’t trust the technology. You’re in this giant metal tube hurdling through the sky at hundreds of miles per hour and thousands of feet above the ground. And then you hit all this turbulence. And then you begin your descent to your destination airport. And all this time, I’m thinking “This is it. I’m dying. God is calling me home.” And it’s because the pilot doesn’t give me any reason to think otherwise until after it’s all over! It’s only after I feel the plane changing altitude or shaking uncontrollably that the pilot comes on the intercom and tells me we’ve hit a pocket of turbulence or we are preparing to land. And I’m just sitting there the whole time with my clammy hands and sweaty pits thinking “come on the intercom and tell me that before it happens so I don’t think I’m falling to

On Passing Through the School of Kierkegaard – with Karl Barth and Mark Tietjen

I must confess that I know very little about Soren Kierkegaard, at least first-hand. So when I saw that IVP Academic had published a short work to introduce him to the a general Christian readership, I knew that I should tolle lege - “take up and read” (to crib from Augustine).* Mark A. Tietjen, Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians (IVP Academic, 2016). This book was an interesting and informative read, especially since Tietjen emphasizes Kierkegaard’s work to convince Christians to take their Christianity more seriously. I’ll have something more to say about that in a later post. For now I’d like to put what I’ve learned about Kierkegaard from Tietjen in conversation with – you guessed it – Karl Barth. Barth read Kierkegaard early in his career. Then late in his career Barth was given the Sonning Prize for contributions to European culture by the University of Copenhagen. Barth took his acceptance speech as an opportunity to reflect on his engagement with Kierkegaa

Theologian Pick-up Lines Twitter Bonanza!

As devoted readers of DET are well aware, the internet can be an interesting place. There are sites, like DET for instance, where you can learn about and discuss all kinds of fascinating things. And then there's Twitter, where people who know way too much about very specific things sometimes gather to amuse one another. Your faithful theological journalists here at DET chronicled one such outbreak in the past , and now we're here to bring you another. May the Lord have mercy upon our souls... By way of context, earlier today there was a hashtag going around for #CalvinistPickupLines and...well...let's just say that things got a little out of hand. I give you some of my favorite tweets as they emerged. Of course, I'll take credit for starting it - at least among my tweeps - with the following: I chatted you up because I foreknew that you would want me to. #Calvinistpickuplines #AmIDoingItRight ? — W. Travis McMaken (@WTravisMcMaken) September 8, 2016 Unfortunately

Brief Reflection on the Suicide of a Pastor

A pastor of a large Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation killed himself on Friday, August 26, 2016. He left behind a wife and two teenage children. Left in the wake of his death is also a grieving congregation. A google search will turn up more details, but I am choosing to omit the dead man's name. You go on the Facebook page of the church he served, and you can feel the anguish of his sheep. The questions, the fear, the doubt, the shock, all apparent. Why did this happen? Who could see this coming? Author David Sedaris once wrote, in the aftermath of his sister's suicide, "Doesn't the blood of every suicide splash back on our faces?" By Juleen Studio — Everett, Washington. [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons Before he died, this man posted on Facebook a quote from Christian writer Christine Caine, "Sometimes when you're in a dark place you think you've been buried, but you've actually been planted." Shortly after beginning his p

‘Creative Synthesis’: A Peek Under the Hartshornian Hood

After some time agonizing over how to best start discussing Hartshorne’s work and discarding a couple ideas, his posthumous work Creative Experiencing: A Philosophy of Freedom (2011), provided the structure we’ll use. During their discussion of that book’s origins, the editors note that it was viewed by Hartshorne as “his final contribution to technical philosophy,” which probably explains why in this book he fleshes out his opinions on and relationships with “analytic philosophy and phenomenology”* to a new degree (vii-iii). The other books to which Creative Experiencing was supposed to be, and now is, the capstone of were the books Creative Synthesis & Philosophic Method and Wisdom as Moderation (vii, xii). This shines a new light on these three books, since we now know that Hartshorne saw these three works as a kind of trilogy. This post will be over Hartshorne’s “Fellowship of the Ring,” and since he says that chapter 1 (1-18) encapsulates the overall argument that’s wh

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend… …or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere. Hey – it’s actually been a fortnight since the last link post ! Be sure to check out that post, if you haven’t already, because it has a number of updates from the DET summer hiatus. Anyway, we’re back up and running at full steam here at DET. Most recently, you’ve been introduced to two new members of our contributing author team: Alex DeMarco and JT Young (links to their introductory posts below). I’ve very excited to be bringing on some new blood, and you can expect some good, thought provoking posts from them in the comings months. Also, Lauren Larkin provided a shout-out in this post on feminism Now, without any further ado, on to the links! Here’s the recent stuff from DET: Jürgen Moltmann on lecturing at the beginning of his career A Little Help from Bonhoeffer on Prayer Read Barth and Get Over Yourself Hi. My name is Alex DeMarco, and I’m a new contributor here

J. T. Young - Introducing A New Contributing Author

"If you feel or imagine that you are right and suppose that your book, teaching or writing is a great achievement... then, my dear man, feel your ears. If you are doing so properly, you will find that you have a splendid pair of big, long, shaggy asses' ears." - Martin Luther [1] Stuart Hall at Princeton Theological Seminary My name is J.T. Young, and I am a new contributing author here at DET. I am from St. Louis, MO where I grew up and went to college. I attended Lindenwood University where I majored in religion and initially met our beloved DET editor, W. Travis McMaken. However, my program there was directed by another Barthian, Matthew J. Aragon-Bruce, which helped my program in religious studies to quickly become a program in Barthian theology. Due to these influences in my academic life, after graduation in 2015 I decided to head to Barth Land and attend Princeton Theological Seminary where I am currently a second year MDiv student. As is seen in my bio o