Flotsam and jetsam (4/11)


Good Reads

  • Can Church Separate Mental Illness and Shame?  People don’t want to admit to having a mental illness, because we all know what it looks like. It’s either a psychopathic killer or somebody sitting in a corner, staring vacant-eyed and drooling…. That’s not what it looks like. It looks like the people in this room. (Christianity Today)
  • The Nun Who Got Addicted to Twitter:  You might not expect nuns to be experts on Twitter, Facebook, and multi-player video games, but Burns defies all expectations. With 13,790 Twitter followers and counting, the Daughter of St. Paul calls herself a “media nun”: A woman religious with a calling to communicate the word of Christ, in any way she can. (The Atlantic)
  • What the Happiest People Know about Work:  a growing body of research in positive psychology and neuroscience is demonstrating that happiness is the secret ingredient to success. It turns out, our brains are more engaged, creative, productive, and resilient when in a positive state. (Fast Company)

Other Info

Just for Fun

  • If you’ve ever wondered how Hong Kong and Macau are related to the rest of China, here you go. (Even if you’ve never wondered, it’s still interesting.)


Flotsam and jetsam (4/9)


Good Reads

  • Long a Survivor in Syria, a Dutch Priest Is Slain:  The Rev. Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit priest who became a symbol of suffering and compassion in the war-ravaged Old City district of Homs, Syria, was shot to death Monday morning by a lone gunman, according to members of his order. (New York Times)
  • 9 unintended benefits of small group life:  Healthy small groups teach us more than they often set out to teach. We are molded and changed in so many ways, because God uses others in mighty ways to make us more like Jesus. In fact, you can’t be like Jesus without others. It’s impossible. You can’t serve others, love others, be generous with one another, or accomplish any of the “one another” commands in Scripture by yourself. (Ben Reed)
  • How the Internet Is Taking Away America’s Religion:  Using the Internet can destroy your faith. That’s the conclusion of a study showing that the dramatic drop in religious affiliation in the U.S. since 1990 is closely mirrored by the increase in Internet use. (MIT Technology Review)
  • The Rise of Same-Sex Marriage Dissidents:   But in the spirit of Jon Stewart’s poster shown up at the top, which reads, “I may disagree with you but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler,” let’s go on an open-minded journey where we seek to understand the views of others without characterizing them as Hitler-like. It’s difficult in these times, but we can do it. (The Federalist)

Other Info

Just for Fun

  • Disney characters can be a little weird.


A Reformed Theology of the Holy Spirit (Wheaton Theology Conference 3)

Vector doveWe’ve been taking a look at some of the papers presented at this year’s Wheaton Theology Conference (see the others below). And the third one I want to consider came from Oliver Crisp, who focused on presenting “a dogmatic sketch of the Holy Spirit that draws on the Reformed tradition.” Far from being a neglected doctrine, Crisp argued that the Reformed tradition has much to offer for theologies of the Holy Spirit today.

Does the Reformed Tradition Neglect the Spirit?

Many critique Reformed theology for paying insufficient attention to the Spirit, pointing out that chapters on the Spirit in Reformed theologies tend to be rather brief. So Crisp began his lecture by pointing out that counting chapters isn’t the best way to establish a doctrine’s relative importance. Reformed theologians tend to deal with the person of the Spirit under the doctrine of the Trinity and the work of the Spirit in sections on creation, providence, salvation, and Christology. This means that skimming the table of contents might give the impression that pneumatology is relatively unimportant, reading the text carefully would reveal that pneumatology impacts “almost every topic in Reformed theology.” Some might disagree with what Reformed theology has to say about the Spirit, of course, but that’s far different from claiming that it has little to say.

Is the Spirit a Full Member of the Trinity?

The second main section of Crisp’s paper focused on the person of the Spirit, setting out a clear summary of the church’s historic position that the Spirit is fully divine and the third person of the triune God. Taking us on a quick tour of creedal statements from Nicea to Westminster, Crisp demonstrated the consistency of the Reformed position on this point.

In one interesting section, though, Crisp addressed the arguments of some Reformed theologians (e.g. Hendrikus Berkhof) that the Spirit is not in fact a distinct, divine person. Appealing to biblical passages that seem to suggest that “spirit” language in the Bible is just a way of talking about God’s presence in creation (or sometimes more specifically Christ’s presence). And Crisp quickly dismissed such arguments by again pointing to the consistent witness of tradition and by suggesting that such theologians need to pay more attention to the biblical texts.

How Should We Understand the Work of the Spirit?

People looking for an extended discussion of spiritual gifts are going to be rather disappointed here as Crisp focused largely on providing the theological framework necessary for understanding the Spirit’s work. To that end, he offered two important principles:

The Trinitarian Appropriation Principle: This principle has two key pieces. First, it acknowledges that “the external works of the Trinity are indivisible.” In other words, everything that God does, all three of the persons do together. So, although we might talk about the act of creation as something that the Father does, we must recognize that the Son and the Spirit are both fully involved as well. It may be more fitting to emphasize the Father’s role, but we cannot separate the three as though any particular action is the act of one alone. Second, we must also recognize “the distinction and order of the persons” in each work. Although the three are inseparable in every act, that doesn’t mean we can’t identify some distinctions in role and order. For example, all three persons are involved in the incarnation (the Father in sending, the Spirit in conception, the Son in becoming incarnate), but clearly they play different roles in the one, indivisible action of the godhead.

Applied to the doctrine of the Spirit, then, Crisp contends that this principle gives us resources for maintaining his indissoluble unity with the Father and the Son as well as his distinctive role in every work of God:

the Spirit is at work everywhere, at all times, in all places, and in particular ways in the action of creation, conservation, redemption, and the consummation of all things. He is at work in this way as a member of the Godhead because all the divine persons are at work in this manner, though their particular roles in any given work may differ….However, one of the reasons why the universality of the Spirit’s work is sometimes overlooked is that the TAP is not taken with sufficient metaphysical seriousness. He is not merely at work in certain divine actions and not others. Necessarily, he is involved in every divine action in creation.

The Intention-Application Principle: Here Crisp focused his attention on the idea that “what is first in intention is last in application.” To explain what he means here, Crisp used the analogy of a journey. When you go on a trip, your destination is your ultimate goal (the destination) is your “first intention”–that is, you first decide that you’re going to go somewhere. But you only arrive at the destination after you do everything necessary to get there. So although the destination was first in intention, actually arriving comes last in the story of your journey.

Applied to pneumatology, Crisp argues that this principle helps us see the vital importance of the Spirit. The Spirit’s work is not something that comes tacked on to the story after all the important stuff has already been done by Christ on the cross. The real goal of the story comes at the end in the eschatological consummation of all things. And the Spirit has a very prominent role in regenerating human persons, uniting them to Christ, and transforming all of creation, all necessary aspects of the end of the story. Thus, if the end communicates God’s ultimate goal, then the work of the Spirit is fundamentally important for understanding what God has been about from the very beginning.

The Spirit and Union with Christ

In his final section, Crisp turned his attention to the Spirit’s particular role in uniting us to Christ, which Crisp sees as the full expression of God’s ultimate goal. And this is also where Crisp offered his own constructive proposal for pneumatology.

Crisp began this section by arguing for the importance of “union with Christ” in Reformed theology, pointing out that although it has always been a significant theme, it has received even more attention in recent years, with many Reformed theologians arguing that it is the fundamental motif that grounds every other aspect of salvation. And he further argued that the Spirit is so central to God’s ultimate goal of uniting creatures to himself that this would have been the Spirit’s work even if we had never fallen into sin. Creatures do not have any “natural” capacity for uniting themselves to God. Thus, even in an unfallen creation, we still would have needed the indwelling Spirit to draw us into the divine life and accomplish God’s ultimate purpose for creation.

But exactly how does the Spirit do this? That’s the question Crisp wants to wrestle with in his own constructive proposal. And he is clearly unsatisfied with fuzzy appeals to some kind of “mystical” union. Instead, Crisp called us to think about how the discrete pieces of a composite whole (like a tree or an armchair) are bonded together to form that whole. On that analogy, the Spirit is the “adhesive” that holds those various pieces together, turning us from isolated bits (e.g. wood, cloth, buttons) into one indentifiable whole (e.g. armchair). Just as the Spirit was the one who shaped Christ’s body in the incarnation, so he is the one who forms his Body in the church.


Although Crisp necessarily left much unaddressed, you can only do so much in one paper, he offered an interesting look at a Reformed pneumatology that aptly demonstrated that pneumatology is a central and fundamentally important aspect of Reformed theology. I’m sure it won’t stop people from claiming that Reformed theologians have something against the Spirit, but maybe it will help at least a bit.

Other Posts on the Wheaton Theology Conference:

English Is Crazy! A Poem

This is for anyone who is occasionally frustrated by the oddities of English spelling. Enjoy.


Flotsam and jetsam (4/7)


Good Reads

  • The Girls Next Door: In 2012, President Barack Obama said the fight against human trafficking was ‘one of the great human rights causes of our time.” so why are so many Colorado children still being sexually exploited? (The Denver Magazine)
  • Richard Dawkins Is So Wrong It Hurts: What the Science-vs.-Religion Debate Ignores:  This current discourse that pits faith and science against one another like Nero’s lions versus Christians — inappropriate analogy intended — borrows directly from the conflation of all religious traditions with the history and experience of Euro-American Christianity, specifically of the evangelical variety. (Salon)
  • 15 Keys to Parenting: What No One Tells You:  Ten years, it’s been a bit of dog and pony show and your hearts have catapulted through our own daily tilt, implanted themselves right into mine. Ten years, broken bits of us to the power of God and who knew exponential glory was found in the sticky and messy places? (Ann Voskamp)
  • Where I Stand: Also wounded on the side of the road are Christians who sincerely love God and people and believe homosexuality is a sin, but they’ve been lumped in with the Big Loud Mean Voices unfairly. Painted as hateful intolerants, they are actually kind and loving and are simply trying to be faithful. The paintbrush is too wide, the indictments unfounded. (Jen Hatmaker)

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Basil vs. Augustine: A Holy Spirit Smackdown (Wheaton Theology Conference 2)

Okay, so “smackdown” might be a bit of a stretch. But Gregory Lee‘s paper on the first day of the Wheaton Theology Conference addressed the common idea that eastern and western theologians have long had fundamentally different theologies of the Spirit. Taking Basil the Great and Augustine of Hippo as representative figures given the undeniable influence that each has exercised in their respective traditions, Lee argued that there is far more that unites the pneumatologies of these towering figures than divides them. Differences remain, but should be viewed in light of the overwhelming common ground.

human brains and war rope

Basil and the Holy Spirit

I won’t try to summarize everything that Lee did to explain the context and significance of these two pneumatologies. But Lee started with a useful explanation of the opponents that Basil faced in his day. The immediate occasion for Basil’s famous On the Holy Spirit was a controversy that broke out regarding the proper use of prepositions. (And we thought today’s grammar police were bad!) Two of Basil’s doxologies attributed equality to the Spirit in the Trinity, saying things like “Glory to the Father, with the Son, together with the Holy Spirit.” Instead, they thought it more appropriate to use “from whom” for the Father, ”through whom” for the Son, and “in whom” for the Spirit. Although this might sound like a minor grammatical point, it manifests radically different visions of who God is.

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Saturday Morning Fun…Every Analogy of the Trinity Is a Heresy

This would have been more appropriate around St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s still fun. Check out St. Patrick trying to explain the Trinity to a couple of “simple” Irishmen who raise a “few” questions about the adequacy of his trinitarian analogies.


The Holy Spirit in Scripture (Wheaton Theology Conference 1)

Vector doveWheaton’s annual theology conference opened yesterday, focusing this year on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Since this is my first time at the conference, I was interested to see how things would go. And so far, I’m quite impressed. (A few people are live tweeting from the conference. Follow #WTC14 if you want to follow along.)

I don’t know that I’ll have time to comment on each of the papers, though they have all been interesting in their own way. But I will highlight the ones I found most compelling. And I’ll start where the conference did, with an impressive paper from Sandra Richter on “The Holy Spirit in Scripture.”

Despite the fact that she only had a couple of weeks to put the paper together after one of the other presenters backed out for health reasons, she nailed it. Covering everything the Bible says about the Spirit in 45 min is impossible. But highlighting some of the most important ideas in a truly engaging way while synthesizing biblical and theological insights? Apparently that can be done.

It’s hard to select just a couple of favorite insights from the paper, but I’ll try. Most importantly, the paper focused on the Spirit as God’s “presence” with his people in creation. She traced that from God’s presence in creation, through his presence in Israel and the temple, to his presence in the incarnate Christ, and then his presence in the church, and the ultimate, eschatological restoration of God’s full presence with his people in his creation at the end of days.

Richter helpfully spent considerable time on the Spirit in Gen 1-2. Discussions of biblical pneumatology routinely skip over most of Genesis after a suitably cursory comment about the Spirit “moving/hovering/brooding/whatevering” over the waters in 1:2. But Richter rightfully took some time to talk about the role of the Spirit in the creation of the world and the formation of God’s people. And in the process she gave us one of the best lines of the day: “The Holy Spirit is what makes us image rather than merely animate.”

Of course, “Peter, you rock!” after summarizing Peter’s Pentecost sermon was pretty fabulous as well.

And a line that I’ll be using regularly came when discussing the meaning of ruach in the Old Testament. After a quick summary of the word’s tremendously diverse range of meanings, Richter refused to try and pin down one “core” meaning of the word that would serve as the basis for her biblical presentation, which is something that many do when talking about the Spirit in the OT. Instead, she commented, “Good exegesis demands more than lexicography.” The same is true for theology. Defining terms is important but ultimately inadequate.

And you have to love a biblical studies paper that concludes by having everyone stand and read Epiphanius’ Creed!

In the end, it was the perfect way to begin a conference on the Holy Spirit. The paper was both delightful and insightful, and it’s not easy to accomplish both of those in the same paper.

Flotsam and jetsam (4/4)

pet me

Good Reads

  • Is an Online Church Really a Church? E very church should have an online presence. Your church people and your community are there, so you should be as well. But that is different than referring to something that happens via your website as a “church.” (Ed Stetzer)
  • The Fault Lines Before the Evangelical Earthquake:  The recent controversy surrounding World Vision USA’s decision to open employment to same-sex couples and the organization’s subsequent reversal reveals the fault lines in evangelicalism today. (Trevin Wax)
  • The Four Questions of Christian Education:  if any student graduates from a Christian school, at either the secondary or the university level, and cannot answer the following questions I argue that the school is failing. (Anthony Bradley)
  • 7 Reasons We Don’t Make Disciples:  Today I believe the Holy Spirit is drawing the church back to the New Testament model. Leaders as well as churchgoers are weary of the impersonal, performance-based, people-in-the-pews approach. We are tired of the show. We have not been called to entertain an audience—we have been commissioned to train an army. (Charisma)

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Flotsam and jetsam (4/2)

batmans wedding

Good Reads

  • How math illumines our infinite God:  If we don’t possess even basic math skills, how will we ever be able to engage the mathematical – that is, the logical, precise, trustworthy, universal, elegant, infinite and awe-inspiring – mind of God? (Think Christian)
  • A Thread Called Grace:  Secrets draw their power from shame. I convince myself that I am too messed-up, too tainted, or too tarnished for others to accept. Or maybe people will think I am a fraud. As I believe these lies, shame grows into fear, which is almost always at some level, fear that if others truly know me, they won’t love me. Or at least love me as much or in the same way. (Jonathan Merritt)
  • What Worship Style Attracts the Millennials?  And you will hear Millennials speak less and less about worship style. Their focus is on theologically rich music, authenticity, and quality that reflects adequate preparation in time and prayer. (Thom Rainer)
  • Aged Out of Church:  The emotional, spiritual, physical, and relational shifts that occur at midlife can lead to disconnection from old social networks and a profound sense of loneliness, which brings with it serious health risks. At this point, many also feel drained by the increasingly common occurrence of death, disease, divorce, and the changes that redefine old friendships. (Hermeneutics)

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