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On the need for both scientia and sapientia

Augustine distinguished between scientia (knowledge perceived from the external world through the senses) and sapientia (knowledge, or wisdom, concerned with eternal reality). Augustine understood knowledge (scientia) and wisdom (sapientia) as ‘separate instruments for learning God’. Concluding that both scientia and sapientia are necessary for the theological task, Ellen Charry observes, ‘Modern academic theology has largely limited itself to scientia. While it is essential for pointing seekers in the right direction, in Augustine’s view scientia alone is unable to heal us. The goal of scientia is to move the seeker to sapientia, wisdom.’

(Linda Cannell, Theological Education Matters: Leadership Education for the Church (Newburgh, IN: EDCOT Press, 2006))

Who are the “must reads” in theology? (part 2)

Yesterday I started a short series on “must reads” in theology. In other words, who are the the theologians that you simply must read if you are going to study theology seriously. And, to be very clear, I’m not trying to address the question of whether these are must-reads for all Christians (they’re not), but only what it means to say that someone is a must-read for students of theology. (Whether they are also must-reads for people involved in biblical studies is something that I’ll leave for someone else to answer.)

Yesterday’s post focused on the clearest kind of must-read: those theologians with such historical significance that you really can’t understand entire theological traditions, or at least significant theological eras/movements, without understanding these theologians to some degree.

Today, I want to explore a different kind of must-read: people you consider to be a must-read because of the inherent value of their theology. This is to use “must” in a very different sense from yesterday’s post. People in this category really aren’t  necessary for studying theology seriously. So, from one perspective, they are not must-reads. But, there are some theologians you think are important enough that you want to identify them as must-reads for any serious student of theology anyway.

Understanding the category in this way, of course, means that this kind of must-read is necessarily more subject that the former category. For the most part, those theologians who qualify as historical must-reads is really not debatable. Like most attempts to categorize people, there will always be questions at the margin. But it’s usually not that difficult to identify people who defined an entire theological tradition. To say that someone is a must-read for their inherent theological value, though, is entirely different.

I can think of three reasons that you might want to identify someone as a must-read in this more subjective sense. First, you might find their theology so personally compelling that you think  any serious student of theology simply must be exposed to their way of thinking. This is generally what I think people mean when they say that Williams, Hauerwas, Jenson, or Gutierrez is a must-read. As I argued yesterday, I don’t think you can argue definitively that any living theologian is a historical must-read. So, any of these would have to be must-reads in the latter sense.

A second possibility is to say that someone is a must-read in this sense because you anticipate that they will eventually become a historical must-read. This is a tricky endeavor because it requires predicting which contemporary theologians you think will have “staying power” and will go on to become one of the great theologians that future generations will continue studying. I accidentally broke my crystal ball while using it to scare aware the neighbor’s cat, so I don’t make these kinds of predictions anymore. But, if you think you’re onto something, by all means call someone a must-read in this futurist sense.

And, the third option would be to say that someone is a must-read because they are shaping contemporary theological dialog to such a degree that the serious theological student simply must know about them regardless of whether you find them personally compelling or as having future significance. This one’s tough because you’d basically be saying that people need to study someone even though you think they have no inherent or lasting value. I can think of other ways that I’d rather spend my time. But, sometimes you have the bite the bullet if you really want to know your field.

So, I think that the label “must read” can be used meaningfully even in this more subjective sense. We probably should change this to “should read,” but it loses a lot of its rhetorical impact. Maybe “otta read” would work better.

Who are the “must reads” in theology? (part 1)

Brian LePort sparked quite the discussion yesterday with a question about “must read” theologians.

So what makes someone a bonafide “must read if you are serious about biblical/theological studies”? Who would you say is a must read, why, and what is your criteria? Also, is given “must read” always a must read (e.g. I don’t image Barth matters to those who spend their days in textual criticism or the Gospel of Thomas)? Is there anyone who is always a must read?

From there, the discussion ranged rather far afield, with most of the discussion focusing on whether people like Barth and Torrance qualify as must-read theologians. I commented early in the discussion and started to comment again toward the end. But, my comment got too long. So, I decided to turn it into a post of its own. Then that got too long. So now I think I’ll end up with a short series on what it means to say that someone is a “must read” theologian.

Reading the comments on Brian’s post, I was intrigued by how difficult it seems to be to keep separate the question of whether someone is a must-read because of their historical significance and whether they’re a must-read because of the inherent value of their theology. In this post, then, I’m going to comment on what I think makes for a must-read theologian in the former (historical) sense. Tomorrow, I’ll comment on what it means to be a must-read theologian in the latter sense. And, I’ll try to follow that up with a third post offering my list of must-read theologians (in both senses).

For me, determining whether someone falls into the former category (historical must-read) really has to do with the extent to which understanding that person is necessary for understanding a significant portion of Christian theology. For example, one simply must have some understanding of Augustine and Aquinas to have any real grasp of what’s been happening in Western theology pretty much ever since. The same would hold true in the East for theologians like Athanasius, John of Damascus, and Gregory Palamas (to name just a few). For me, people like these constitute the “giants” of theology – people we must read to have a deep understanding of entire Christian traditions. (This isn’t to say, of course, that their theology is necessarily better than that of other, lesser-known theologians; only that their theology has had a level of historical influence that places it in a distinct category.)

After these giants, there is a secondary level of historical must-reads, those people who are necessary for understanding their generation, and certainly had significant influence on later thinkers,  but never rose to the level of defining an entire tradition. In this category I would put people like Tertullian, Ambrose of Milan, Bonaventure, Melancthon (depending on how you understand his impact on the Lutheran tradition), and others. These are important figures and well worth studying in their own right. But, for me, they are only must-reads for people specializing in their era of church history or who want a more thorough grasp of the particular tradition they represent.

Much of the debate about theological must-reads, though, focuses on a third category – those people who are are still alive or who died fairly recently. This is a debated category because it’s nearly impossible to assess their historical significance yet. Personally, I would not categorize any living theologian (or even any of those who have died recently) as a historical must-read. I think you need to be at least a generation or two removed from a person before you have any hope of making that kind of assessment. Each generation has its larger-than-life theologians who are largely forgotten by later generations. (And, that’s not a knock against their theology. Every generation needs people to rise up and engage the theological task in ways that are meaningful for that generation. Most will not be talked about by later generations, but they still performed a valuable and needful task for the church.) So, for me, if you were alive and writing within the last forty years, you would probably not qualify yet as a historical must-read. Indeed, as we’ll see in tomorrow’s post, even forty years is barely enough time to make this kind of assessment.

So, my main must-read category is reserved for those who are historical must-reads, primarily those who are theological “giants” because they established a theological trajectories for entire traditions.

Review: The Passionate Intellect by Alister McGrath

Many thanks to IVP for sending me a review copy of Alister McGrath’s The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and Discipleship of the Mind (IVP, 2010).

★★★☆☆

Alister McGrath has written an interesting little book, arguing for the central place of theology in the Christian life and calling for a renewed appreciation for the “life of the mind” in churches today. The book comprises eleven chapters based on previously unpublished lectures presented in 2007-2009.

Summary

McGrath divides the book into two sections. In the first, he sets out to convince his readers that theology really is vital for a healthy Christian life and spirituality. And, this was by far my favorite of the two sections. As he says at the beginning of the book,

Christian theology is one of the most intellectually stimulating and exciting subjects it is possible to study, rich in resources for the life of faith and the ministry of the church. It has the capacity to excite, inspire and illuminate the human intellect, giving it a new passion and focus. (7)

And, he follows from there with six essays that together seek to lay out “the intellectual capaciousness of the Christian faith and its ability to bring about a new and deeply satisfying vision of reality” (12). Recognizing that theology has a bad reputation in large segments of the church, the first two essays provide a brief apologetic for the necessity of good theology. The third essay offers an autobiographical account of McGrath’s own conversion and the important role that theology played in helping him understand the vacuity of atheism and the power of the Christian vision of reality. The next essay offers an interesting reflection on George Herbert’s “Elixir” to present the transformative power of theology. McGrath then presents an essay on the explanatory power that theology has for understanding the world around us. And, following naturally from this, the final essay in this section addresses apologetics and the necessity for good theology for articulating the Christian vision to the world.

In the second half of the book, McGrath’s shifts his attention to exploring “how inhabiting the Christian ‘interpretive community’ provides a platform for cultural engagement” (13). McGrath has a long-standing in natural theology and apologetics, and that comes across very clearly in this section. He begins this section by arguing that Christianity and science are supplementary rather than contradictory. I thought the following essay, “Religious and Scientific Faith,” was the most interesting in this section. Using Darwin’s theory of evolution, McGrath argues that both theology and science make arguments based on “inference to the best explanation,” and that, consequently, both are rational and faith-based to some extent. The next essay offers a very brief discussion of Augustine’s view of creation, demonstrating that Christian theologians have long been aware of the need to understand and engage the best science of the day even as we seek to interpret the Bible faithfully. And, McGrath finishes the book with two essays on the New Atheists, arguing against the idea that religion necessarily poisons everything it touches and pointing out the intellectual weaknesses of the atheist argument.

Strengths

Probably the book’s greatest strength is its readability. McGrath writes with a clear, concise style that makes the book more accessible than many others. A few of the essays wander into territory that will be less familiar to the average churchgoer (in America at least), particularly the essay on Herbert’s “Elixir.” Overall, though, the book is very readable and engaging.

I thought the first half of this book was particularly interesting. McGrath did a very nice job laying out the importance of theology across a broad range of the Christian life: love of God, worship, apologetics, discipleship, mission, and so on. The two chapters on “Mere Theology” in particular could be used alone to give someone a brief look at what theology is and why it’s important. And McGrath’s personal testimony in the fourth essay is really a testimonial for the argument of the whole book – the Christian vision of reality has explanatory power that surpasses any other worldview and, when embraced, has transformative power to reshape everything about you.

The second half of the book was less compelling for me. However, if you’re looking for a few, brief essays on the apologetic issues he addresses (faith and science, evolution, and atheism), then you might find it more interesting.

Weaknesses

The most notable weakness was the essay format. Although McGrath has done a nice job organizing the essays around a common theme, the book still feels a bit disjointed and uneven in places. Certain essays are necessarily stronger than others, and the connections between them are occasionally somewhat weak.

As I mentioned above, I also found the second half of the book less compelling. I thought the book would have been strengthened immensely if McGrath had devoted the second half to fleshing out a range of areas in the Christian life that benefit from a deeper appreciation of theology. Rather than restricting himself to a largely intellectual task like apologetics, it would have been great to see whole essays on worship, fellowship, mission, work, and so on. These are the areas in which the average person really needs to see the value of theology.

So, finally, I think the greatest weakness is that I’m not sure that McGrath’s book is going to convince his target audience that theology is really all that important. It will probably serve best those who are already committed to a “life of the mind,” but need to be convinced of the importance of theology. That is really McGrath’s story (i.e. the intellectual who is surprised by theology). But, at least in America, that does not describe the majority of Christians. They need a much more compelling vision of how theology touches everyday life.

Conclusion

The Passionate Intellect is an interesting book that is worth a quick read. The earlier chapters in particular are worth using as short classroom readings or with interested lay persons. And, if you know someone who is fairly intellectual and needs to catch a vision for the power of theology, this would be a great book to suggest.

Emergent Dualism?

[This post is part of a series that the Th.M. students at Western Seminary are doing this semester on understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology.]

I was reading James Beilby’s book For Faith and Clarity on the topic of Theological Anthropology. There is a chapter in his book written by William Hasker on this topic. It was a brief chapter focusing on the soul and body relationship, it is very well written and discussed many key parts and views of the debate. I appreciated this essay because he had a specific goal in mind and that was to understand how best to define the relationship between the soul and body. But I do not believe I agree with his conclusion. Hasker did a great job of describing some of the key concepts of anthropology. He began his chapter by defining the key terms of rationality, responsibility, freedom, and everlasting life. In defining these terms, he laid the groundwork to look at three different Christian views on anthropology.

The first view was dualism in the Cartesian sense. He believes that this view has a dependency and continuity problem. The dependency problem, as he says on pg. 249, “…becomes more and more difficult to maintaining the independence of mind from brain and body that is the hallmark of Cartesianism.” The continuity problem is defined as there being a, “…great similarity between us and other mammals in both structure and function” so the dualist needs to discern which creatures possess immaterial souls (pg. 249-250). The second view was Christian/emergent materialism. Hasker believes that Christian/emergent materialism cannot be a correct view because of the “causal closure of the physical domain (pg. 251).” This means that every physical event has a physical cause. He believes that “causal closure” removes rational inference and there can be no free will (if understood in the libertarian sense).

Hasker then gives his view called Emergent Dualism, which he believes can answer all four terms. He defines this view on pg. 256 by saying it combines, “…many of the advantages of both Cartesian dualism and materialism and at the same time avoids the major difficulties that afflict these views.” This view accepts the tenet of materialism that a human person “initially consists of nothing but ordinary physical matter (pg. 256)” arranged in great complexity. This view also holds to the understanding of “emergence” which means “when elements of a certain sort are assembled in the right way, something new comes into being, something that was not there before (pg. 256).” Hasker believes that what “emerges” is a new individual, which he sees as the mind or soul (pg. 257). So now, there are emergent properties and an emergent individual (defined as the mind/soul/consciousness). Thus, Hasker believes, that eternal life, freedom, rationality, and being morally responsible are all capable of being applied to this view (pg. 257-258). Hasker does say there is one main problem with this view. “It is that we will have to attribute to ordinary, everyday matter, the stuff of sticks and stones and baseball bats, truly remarkable powers—the powers, that is to produce, when arranged and functioning in certain complex structures, emergent minds with the capacity to seek truth, enjoy beauty, perceive good and evil, and enter into a relationship with God (pg. 259-260).” This to me seems to be more than a huge problem it seems to tear this view apart especially combined with his answer to this problem.

I personally don’t see what this Emergent Dualism has to offer that substance dualism or even traditional dualism can’t offer me. I don’t feel the need to make my view for acceptable to those who hold to evolution or even the neuroscientists he talks about. As stated above Hasker believes that a dualist cannot answer the dependency problem. But the way he responds to the challenge of emergent dualism is interesting. The problem as defined above in emergent dualism requires us to attribute to ordinary things highly remarkable powers. So this view seems to force us to hold beliefs far beyond “what we have been led to expect” (pg. 260). But somehow this isn’t a problem for Hasker since when this Being (God) “chose to make humans and other sentient creatures out of the dust of the earth, we may well suppose that this Being had the foresight to endow that dust with powers that would enable such a creation (pg. 260).” So when we are needed to accept something that we didn’t expect we should be okay with it because God-did-it. But why can’t this be the response of the dualist to say that God-did-it to the dependency problem. It seems to me that Hasker has a problem in his view that is not easily answerable either.

Contemplating Classical Compatabilism and Where Desires Come From

I found it ironic that the week I sign up to post my blog is the week that we deal with anthropology, a topic that means we must engage with the timeless dilemma of human free will. As far as I know I am one of the few ThM students who, with unashamed humility, will admit to being a Calvinist (although I’m sure that Brian LePort is a closet Calvinist and Andreas Lunden is one who simply refuses to admit it).  Alas, God’s sovereignty would have it no other way than for me to post during this week, although it may be to highlight continued areas of my theology that need some fine tuning, something this ThM program has a PhD in.  That being said, let me start by saying that I in no way intend to come across as the “arrogant Calvinist” I hear so many speak fondly of.  I am fully aware that engaging this particular topic is like pulling the pin on a theological grenade, rolling it into a room, and closing the door (as seen in the recent resurgence of activity on Marc’s question about “Why Non-Calvinists Hate Calvinism So Much,” a post that simply will not die.  Arminians seem to keep coming up with more reasons.)

At this point the only article I have had much time to engage with is Marc Cortez’s article on free will.  I think he does an excellent job accurately engaging with both sides of the dilemma and pointing to strengths and weaknesses (I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss either).  However, I initially disagreed with his statement that “classic compatibilism is viewed by most as inadequate because of its failure to provide an adequate explanation of where desires and beliefs come from…”  One possible explanation that is gaining more support from guys such as Bruce Ware and Alvin Plantigna, is with the concept of middle-knowledge.  This is the idea that God not only knows what could be and what will be, but that he also knows what would be if certain circumstances were put in place.

The critique of many classical compatibilist towards middle-knowledge in libertarian free will is that it is incoherent because choices are made arbitrarily.  If all things are equal, and choice A is just a likely as choice B, then God could still not be sure that any set of circumstances would bring about the desired result.  There is no necessary connection between choices and circumstances so God could not know an individuals choice by simply knowing the circumstances.  Thus, God’s foreknowledge is compromised.  However, inside of classical compatibilism middle-knowledge is a viable option.   The classical compatibilist holds that choices are not made arbitrarily, but that men always choose what they desire most.  Therefore, using middle-knowledge God would know accurately what set of circumstances would produce what result.  There is a connection between choices and circumstances.  If this is indeed accurate, then classical compatibilism has an adequate explanation of where desires and beliefs come from.   It would appear that desires and beliefs stem in some way by antecedent factors that God himself orchestrates.

However, upon further inspection, it seems that Marc foils this stance with his “Consequence Argument.”  This argument states that if men are not in control of the particular circumstances that stimulate the strongest desire, then men cannot be held responsible for the choice that is made when a certain set of circumstances is presented.  At this point, it seems that I am left to fall on the defense that this removal of other possible choices due to specific antecedent conditions does not deny moral responsibility to the agent, because the agent still acts freely based upon their greatest desire.  This seems to be the case with Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, and the King of Assyria in Isaiah 10.  Circumstances are orchestrated so that Joseph’s brothers and the Assyrian King carry out their greatest desires, which also happen to be the plan of God, yet God holds them culpable for the sin.  They exercise their freedom of inclination, and God exercises his sovereignty.  I’m not sure if this is just one of those hard truths we must accept, while scratching our heads, or if more light will be shed on this in the future.  According to the Consequence Argument I still have yet to solve the problem.  Maybe I should take Marc’s stance as a true Barthian theologian and give way to a true dialectical theological method: simply shrug my shoulders and say, ‘I don’t know”………yet.

When Lazarus died, Jesus wept – grief, mourning, and “getting on with life”

We don’t know how to grieve. That’s the thought that has been floating around in my head for a few days now. We know how to cry, we know how to be sad, and we know how to “get on with life.” But we don’t know how to grieve, how to mourn, how to process the pain of deep loss. And, oddly enough, as I was processing these thoughts, I found an interesting connection between an ancient religious tradition and a modern chick flick.

These thoughts started rattling around a few days ago when I read an iMonk piece on the importance of mourning and grieving in community. That piece included a quote from Lauren Winner’s book Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline explaining her concern that we lack the traditions and rituals necessary to grieve effectively:

What churches often do less well is grieve. We lack a ritual for the long and tiring process that is sorrow and loss. A friend of mine whose husband recently died put it like this: “For about two weeks the church was really the church—really awesomely, wonderfully the church. Everyone came to the house, baked casseroles, carried Kleenex. But then the two weeks ended, and so did the consolation calls.” While you the mourner are still bawling your eyes out and slamming fists into the wall, everyone else, understandably, forgets and goes back to their normal lives and you find, after all those crowds of people, that you are left alone. You are without the church, and without a church vocab-ulary for what happens to the living after the dead are dead.

The piece goes on to explain the advantages that a religious tradition like Judaism has in the way that it approaches grieving. Unlike most of our churches today, Judaism has explicit rituals and traditions for grieving, making it clear that grieving is a discipline that involves both the mourner and the community in a process that will take months, and even years, to complete. Thus, unlike our approach, which tends to emphasize the quick-fix and and an individualistic, therapeutic model of grieving, the Jewish tradition emphasizes that grieving is a long-term, communal, and deeply religious affair.

While I was still processing these ideas, my wife and I watched P.S. I Love You. I have to admit that I went into the movie expecting a fairly standard chick flick. And, you can definitely watch the movie from this perspective. It’s a story of a girl who meets the boy of her dreams, loses him, and learns, haltingly, to love again. Very touching.

My wife hated it.

That by itself is odd. My wife loves chick flicks. She’s seen While You Were Sleeping and Notting Hill more times than I can count. What was different here? Passionate love. Touchingly humorous side stories. Quirky supporting characters. Strong female lead (Hilary Swank is terrific). She should have loved this movie.

But, it wasn’t primarily a movie about love; it was really a movie about loss. Even more, it was a movie about the fact that we don’t know how to grieve.

Early in the movie, the main character loses her husband—the love of her life, her soul mate—to a brain stumor. And, of course, she immediately begins to grieve. The problem is that she really doesn’t know how. She locks herself in her apartment, cries a lot, watches old movies, and imagines that her husband is still around. She’s alone, desperately trying to process her uncontainable grief. As I watched, I mourned her inability to mourn—her loneliness, isolation, and frustration.

And the people around her have no idea how to help. Her mom just advises her to “Get back on your feet.” Her friends really want to be there for her, but the best they can come up with is to encourage her get back to work, go out for a night of fun, and, after a suitable period of sadness, hook up with some random Irish guy. Everyone in the story lacks a sense of how to grieve.

Everyone, but one.

Fortunately, one person in the story understands that grieving is more than just feeling bad for a while and moving on. Rather than showing her ways of escaping her grief, this one person helps her enter into her grief more deeply, gently coaxing her through rituals designed to help her remember, celebrate, mourn, laugh, and cry, rejoicing in the memory of the relationship even as she experiences the pain of its loss.

As I watched the movie, I came to a better appreciation for the argument that we lack rituals, traditions for mourning. We don’t have any intentional, communal activities meant to lead us through the process of grieving. Instead, we are expected to privatize our grief, be sad for a while, and either “get on with life” or seek professional, therapeutic assistance. It’s as though we’ve determined that Paul’s declaration that death has “no sting” means that we should not grieve. But, the fact that Christ has conquered death does not mean that loss has no pain. It only means that it is a pain that we can understand in the context of a greater hope. But it is still pain—deep, abiding, and often bitter, pain. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept.

I don’t know how to grieve. I don’t offer any answers for what this might look like. But, I’m coming to recognize the inadequacy of the typical evangelical approach to mourning. Mourning does not come naturally; it should not come naturally. To grieve properly, we need help. And, I’m open to suggestions for what a deeper, more intentional, more tradition-al approach to mourning might look like.

 

On choosing graduate theology programs

Once again, R. R. Reno has published a very nice article on where to study theology in America. And, I thought this year’s article was his best yet because of the good advice he offered at the beginning on how to choose a program.

He begins by noting how difficult it is to rank theology programs. But, he concludes that “certain qualities always matter: intellectual climate, commitment to students, corporate personality, and the atmosphere of faith at the institution.” I particularly liked his emphasis on “corporate personality.” Many people focus on the academic reputation or intellectual climate of a school, without considering the overall personality of the program that will by their academic home for several years. Understanding the personality of the program and whether it is a good “fit” for you is a critical part of the decision-making process.

He also offers a good warning about big-name professors who may have little-or-no actual contact with students, or even other faculty:

The same holds for professors in endowed chairs, who function as lofty aristocrats, removed from the faculty members who actually advise students and oversee dissertation research. Professors who won’t answer emails or meet with students are worse than useless. They encourage a selfish atmosphere that injures their less famous but more committed colleagues.”

So, he encourages you to consider the entire faculty and not just a single, big-name professor. (By the way, I think this is both more and less of an issue in the UK. Because you’ll be working very closely with just one person, the overall quality of the faculty is not quite as important. But, this also means that the quality and availability of your supervisor is even more important.)

One of his more interesting points was that a good theology programs “needs to stand for something.” I think his point here is that a quality program will not just have a hodgepodge of different professors, but will comprise a group of relatively like-minded individuals working from a common vision. Although you want enough difference to make it a lively place for discussion, a common stance facilitates the kind of creative cooperation that makes for a vibrant learning community.

Education in its fullest sense “will never issue,” as John Henry Newman wrote, “from the most strenuous efforts of a set of teachers with no mutual sympathies and no intercommunion.”

And, of course, he concludes with his ranking of theology programs.

1. (tie) Duke and Notre Dame

3. Princeton Seminary

4. Wycliff College (Toronto School of Theology)

5. Catholic University of America

6. Marquette University

7. Boston College

8. Yale University

9. Perkins School of Theology (Southern Methodist University)

10. Up-and-coming programs (Wheaton College, Ave Maria University, University of Dayton)

How Do We Work for Justice and Not Undermine Evangelism?

That is the question that The Gospel Coalition has been asking this week, soliciting responses from Don Carson, Ray Ortlund, Russell Moore, and Mike Wittmer. In sum, they responded as follows:

Don Carson:

  • By making sure that we actually do evangelism.
  • By being careful not to malign believers of an earlier generation.
  • By learning, with careful study of Scripture, just what the gospel is, becoming passionately excited about this gospel, and then distinguishing between the gospel and its entailments.
  • By truly loving people in Jesus’ name.

Ray Ortlund

  • By changing the question to, “How can Christians neglect the work of justice in the world without undermining evangelism?”

Russell Moore

  • By aligning our mission with the mission of Jesus, which included not just personal regeneration but also disciple-making.
  • By understanding the gospel accounts in terms of redemptive love for the whole person, both body and soul.
  • By understanding the gospel as a message of reconciliation that is both vertical and horizontal, establishing peace with both God and neighbor.

Mike Wittmer

  • By recognizing that Christians need to stop the perpetrators of evil and violence.
  • By recognizing that Christians need to seek justice to help the victims of oppression.
  • By understanding that we do both of these ultimately because we love Jesus – we do these things, and we tell them about Jesus while we do, because they matter to him.

Reading through these responses, I have to say that I resonated with Russell Moore’s the most (though Carson’s was pretty good). Moore was the one who made the clearest connection between the Gospel as the good news of God’s redemptive plans for his entire creation, and the things that we do in the world as those who have been transformed by that Gospel and now act as its witnesses/messengers in the world. So, social justice dovetails with evangelism in that both are necessary aspects of those who live as messengers of the Kingdom. As such, neither necessarily undermines the other. But, both can become obstacles to the other when we lose sight of their unity in the Gospel.

Overcoming Onto-Theology

[Post by Andreas Lunden.  This is a continuation of the Western THM class on Philosophy and Theology.]

In his article “Overcoming Onto-Theology,” Merold Westfal develops a paradigm for understanding theology in relation to philosophy, or shall we say how faith relates to knowledge. The author makes use of Heidegger in pointing out the ways in which theology in Christian circles all too often turns into onto-theology. This is, according to Westfal (and Heidegger) a “sketchy” move in that we “can neither pray or sacrifice to this god of philosophy.”

The point his article, simply put, seems to be to point out the danger of the not fully entering into the story of God, but instead trying to fit God’s story into our own. The Christian faith, (Church life, biblical interpretation, etc.) in this sense, becomes a commodity, an object, “to be mastered by the (distant) interpreter for the advantage of the interpreter, a source of theoretical treasure to be accumulated and owned.”

Heidegger, influenced by both Luther and Kirkegaard (the amazing Scandinavian theologian who might as well be called Swedish since Sweden once owned Denmark), in response to such “high horse” attitudes, saw the importance of safeguarding faith as the starting point in life, without for that matter disqualifying the role of knowledge or theology. Theology, instead of being something to be mastered, functions exclusively to aid us in our faith journey. Or as Westfal puts it, “theology’s task is to serve this life of faith.” Such Christianity leads the people of God into a story, told by a personal God, and consequently a life long response characterized by awe and praise.

Westfal ends his article by retelling Wagner’s story Lohengin. Here, Elsa is faced with the dilemma that she cannot know the name, and thus the identity, of her lover, Lehengin, who conveniently arrives in a boat pulled by a swan. She is essentially forced to relate to him is through trust. She fails to do so and the relationship tragically slips out of her hands. The moral of the story being, relationship requires loving faith.

The article and the story demand the question, how can we as believers in community be “better” Elsas?

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