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A Prayer for Sunday (John of Damascus)

One of the greatest theologians of the early church, John of Damascus is often viewed as the last of the church fathers. Born in Syria as Yuhanna ibn Mansur ibn Sargun, John of Damascus was one of the earliest Christian thinkers to live and write under Muslim rule. He wrote extensively in theology, law, and philosophy, but is probably best known for his defense of religious icons on the face of those who wanted to eliminate all icons from Christian churches (i.e. the “iconoclasts”).

The details of his life are hard to come by, and even the date of his death is questionable. But the traditional date of his passing in December 4, 749. So today’s prayer comes from him.

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November’s Top Posts

It’s been Karl Barth month around here as I’ve begun blogging my way through a paper I wrote on Karl Barth and universalism. So it’s no great surprise to see that two of the top five posts in November are on that theme. The top spot, however, goes to one of the funnier infographics I’ve run across lately on writing. And I think this is the first time a book review has made the list, so apparently people are interested in biblical theology these days. And the final spot goes to one of the posts in my series on the Holy Spirit.

Top 5 Posts in November

Flotsam and jetsam (11/30)

Good Reads

  • The High Price of Establishment: the Church of England is a national as well as a religious institution. That means, apparently, that its dogmas and governing policies are expected to generally parallel the broad social values of society.
  • The Need for Creeds: It’s more than merely helpful to set down the church’s core convictions in words.
  • Mormonism: A Scrutinized, Yet Evolving Faith: Mormonism has only a few non-negotiable beliefs. Unlike traditional Christianity, there are no Mormon creeds, no paid clergy, and no theologians who hammer out Mormon doctrine. For that reason, Matthew Bowman, author of The Mormon People, says many followers are fluid with their beliefs.
  • On Bad Endings: Many of the world’s best novels have bad endings. I don’t mean that they end sadly, or on a back-to-work, all-is-forgiven note…, but that the ending is actually inartistic—a betrayal of what came before. This is true not just of good novels but also of books on which the reputation of Western fiction rests.

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Autism and Sensory Overload

Some people with autism have difficulty processing intense, multiple sensory experiences at once. This animation gives the viewer a glimpse into sensory overload, and how often our sensory experiences intertwine in everyday life.

This fascinating video from the Interacting with Autism Project does an excellent job showing how people with autism struggle with sensory overload in even the most “ordinary” situations.

HT David Murray

Rejecting the Obvious (Evangelicals & Universalism, part 3)

You find all kinds of interesting things when you read the doctrinal statements that beginning theology students write. Just the other day, I saw one that appealed to Ephesians 7:12 in support of their position. They must have a Director’s Cut edition of the Bible. And I often get to to point out that the way a student worded a particular statement means that they’re affirming something that was actually condemned as heresy at one of the ecumenical councils. That’s always fun.

questions, confusion, uncertainty, thinking, thoughtful, universalism, contradiction, doubt

My favorite, though, is when a student makes a claim that seems to contradict something they affirmed elsewhere in the statement. That’s when I get to draw a big arrow from X to Y asking them to clarify how both of those statements can be true. Oh the joys of grading.

When I’m reading Karl Barth’s theology, I often want to draw some arrows.

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What Should You Read Next? A Hipster Lit Flowchart

If you’re wondering what you should read next and you’d like to improve your street cred as a true hipster, this flowchart from Goodreads is for you.

literature, reading, books, hipster, culture

Flotsam and jetsam (11/28)

Good Reads

  • Why Smug Atheists Should Read More Science Fiction: there’s…a long tradition in science fiction of transcendence, and encounters with something huge and unknowable. A lot of the best science fiction also features the realization that for all our knowledge, there are still things in the universe we don’t yet fully understand.
  • Fatigue Is Your Enemy: Sustainable capacity — meaning sufficient fuel in the tank — is what makes it possible to bring one’s skill and talent to life. Not even the most talented and motivated employees can run on empty.
  • The Limitations of Contextualization: Identifying the culture of any group and contextualizing to that culture is a helpful process as long as two important truths are born in mind.

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Does My Job Really Matter?

The alarm clock beeps incessantly. Morning again. Reaching over, he fumbles with it a little before finding the snooze button. A few more minutes won’t hurt. A few more minutes to rest.

But he can’t sleep. His mind already swirls with thoughts of the day ahead. So much to do. Little details, big projects, meetings. It’s going to be a busy day.

work, vocation, theology of work, depression, depressed, frustration, frustrated

And, when it’s done, what does he have to look forward to? Doing it all over again. Tomorrow will be exactly the same. Hit the snooze button a few times, get out of bed, and face the same job, the same tasks, the same routine. He feels like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, endlessly living the same day over and over again, constantly confronted with the pointlessness of it all.

But hey, at least it’s a paycheck. He’s got bills to pay and groceries to buy. After all, if he didn’t have this job, his family wouldn’t be able to enjoy the good things in life either. Living for the weekends, as they say.

So he rolls out of bed, stumbles into the bathroom, and starts his own personal Groundhog Day all over again.

And along the way, he messes up the gospel.

This is the beginning of my most recent post over at You can read the rest there, and feel free to hit the “like”‘ button a few times while you’re at it!

Was Karl Barth a Universalist? (Evangelicals & Universalism, part 2)

When someone asks me what I believe, I generally expect them to take my word for it. After all, they’re my beliefs. So who would know them better than me?

Every now and then, though, people find themselves in the odd position of disagreeing with someone about their own beliefs. They’ve told you that they believe X, but for some reason, you’re just not sure that it’s true. They may say that they don’t believe in Santa, but the cookies are still on the table. So you wonder.

universalism, other religions, eastern religions, universal salvation, dualism, duality

That’s the position we find ourselves in with Karl Barth and universalism. If you want to know whether Barth was a universalist, just ask him:

“I am not a universalist.”[1]

That was easy.

But some still wonder. He says he doesn’t believe in universalism, but looking closely at his theology, it sure looks like he’s left a lot of cookies on the table.

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Deflatable People: 3 Traces of the Holy Spirit in the Fall

After the first verse of Genesis 1, the Spirit disappears. He hovered over the face of the waters and then vanished.

Or did he?

lonely, loneliness, Holy Spirit, alienation, isolation

In the last post, I argued that even though the Bible doesn’t specifically mention the Spirit in the rest of Genesis 1-2, he’s there. And missing the Spirit in those chapters means missing something crucial about understanding God’s creation.

The same holds true in chapter three. Unless we see what’s happening with the Spirit during the Fall, we’ll struggle to understand why the coming of the Spirit in the New Testament is such amazingly good news.

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