You and your desk

“Even today there’s something about coming to sit at your desk that kind of stops you from become completely nomadic and drifting away entirely.” That’s how this video begins as it reflects on why our desks are so important to us even in an increasingly mobile world.

Best quote: “If a messy desk is a sign of a messy mind, then what is an empty desk a sign of?”


Karl Barth Biblioblog Conference (Week 2)

The second week of the Karl Barth Biblioblog Conference is underway. Here’s the lineup for this week:

Flotsam and jetsam (10/12)

After being distracted by family and work responsibilities for a few days, I had to declare Google Reader bankruptcy. It feels to to click “mark all as read” and then just move on with your life. But, before I gave up and hit the big red button, I came across some links worth checking out.

The most important theology books of the last 25 years

In case you haven’t seen this yet, Christian Century recently asked a number of influential theologians to name 5 books that they thought were the most important theology books written in the last 25 years. You’ll have to read the post to see the comments that each person made regarding their choices, but I’ve listed their selections below.

I will say that it looks like some of them missed the point of the question. They were asked to list the most important theology books, not just the ones that they thought were really good. Some of these books shouldn’t even be in the conversation for most important theology books of the last 25 years. (Yong, Townes, and Coakley seemed particularly egregious in this area.)

I’d be intrigued to hear in the comments what you think about two things:

  1. Who do you think did the best job identifying the 5 most important books of the last 25 years?
  2. Are there any books that were excluded from all these lists, but that you think should be considered among the most important books of the last 25 years?

Stanley Hauerwas

  • George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age
  • John Howard Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel
  • Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology
  • James Wm. McClendon Jr., Systematic Theology
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason

Amos Yong

  • Nancy L. Eiseland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability
  • Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit.
  • Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation
  • J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account.
  • Paul F. Knitter, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian

Emilie M. Townes

  • Katie Geneva Cannon, Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community
  • Charles H. Long, Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Inter­pretation of Religion
  • Peter J. Paris, The Spirituality of African Peoples: The Search for a Common Moral Discourse
  • Larry L. Rasmussen, Earth Community, Earth Ethics
  • Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology

Lawrence S. Cunningham

  • Bernard McGinn, The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism
  • Herbert McCabe, God Matters and God Still Matters
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason
  • David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth

Sarah Coakley

  • Andrew Louth, The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys
  • Steven Payne, John of the Cross and the Cognitive Value of Mysticism: An Analysis of Sanjuanist Teaching and Its Philosophical Implications for Contemporary Discussions of Mystical Experience
  • Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God.
  • Linda Alcoff and Elizabeth Potter, editors. Feminist Epistemologies.
  • William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ

Kevin Vanhoozer

  • David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission
  • John Webster, Word and Church: Essays in Church Dogmatics
  • N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God.
  • Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim That God Speaks.
  • John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church.

George Hunsinger

  • Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church
  • Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist
  • Sarah Coakley, Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender
  • J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account
  • Derek S. Jeffreys, Spirituality and the Ethics of Torture

Willie James Jennings

  • Sallie McFague, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason
  • Eugene F. Rogers, Sexuality and the Christian Body: Their Way into the Triune God
  • Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation
  • Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk

Flotsam and jetsam (10/7)

Life got a tad busy there for a while, so I’ve been a little out of touch for the last week. I’m not even going to try and link to all the interesting posts since the last flotsam and jetsam, but here are a couple from the last few days.

If You Read the Bible in English You Should Thank This Guy.

English reformer William Tyndale was born around 1494 and died this day in 1536.  He was the key figure in translating the Bible into the English language so that lay people could read the text on their own.  He was influenced by Erasmus who had made the Greek New Testament available in England.  Although some partial English translations were around at the time, Tyndale was the first to use the original Greek and Hebrew, and was also the first to take it to print.  He was labeled a heretic by both the Catholic Church and the Church of England, who at the time thought the “uneducated” populous could not be trusted to interpret Scripture correctly, and saw an English translation of the Bible that lay people could read as a threat to their authority.  For his heroic translating of Scripture into the language of the people, Tyndale was arrested by church authorities and jailed in the castle of Vilvoorde outside Brussels for over a year in 1535.  He was subsequently tried for heresy, strangled, and burnt at the stake on October 6, 1536.  A good thing for us to remember as we read the Bible in English today.  We benefit to this day from the sacrifice of great saints who have run the race prior to us.

Birth of a Legend!

If you’re a Jonathan Edwards fan, then you may want to mark your calendar.  On October 5, 1703 Edwards was born in East Windsor, Connecticut.  The Stanford Encyclopedia claims that Edwards was the most important and original philosophical theologian that America has ever produced.  George Marsden, who wrote what many consider to be the foremost biography on Edwards, echoes that sentiment by saying that Edwards was one of America’s greatest intellectuals.  During his lifetime he served as a pastor, was extremely influential in the First Great Awakening, championed Reformed theology, and was the President of the College in New Jersey (now Princeton University).  His legacy includes “scores of clergymen, thirteen presidents of higher learning, sixty-five professors, and many other persons of notable achievements.” He was an influential man during his life on earth, and three hundred years later he is still influencing theologians.  Desiring God has provided a list of the best Edwards-related resources by Pastor John Piper found on their site.

Book giveaway – The Theology of Martin Luther

As I mentioned after last month’s book giveaway, a generous individual has decided that he would also like to share the wealth (i.e. give away a book that he accidentally bought two copies of). So, this month we’re giving away a new copy of Paul Althaus’ The Theology of Martin Luther. Although this book was published in English in 1966, I think this is still one of the best books around for understanding Luther’s theology. So, if you’re interested in engaging Luther’s thought more closely, this would be a great place to start.

As with our previous giveaway, the rules are simple. If you’d like a chance to win the book, you need to do at least one of the following. Each different way that you enter the contest will increase your chances of winning. (Assuming that I don’t just decide to give the book to the person whose name has the same numerical value of the guinea pig I had when I was a kid.)

  • Blog about the giveaway and link to this post
  • Link to the post from Twitter and let me know in the comments
  • Link to the post from Facebook and let me know in the comments
  • Comment on this post and indicate that you want the book
  • Come up with a list of 95 Theses that you’d really like to debate with someone. Write your theses on an old-looking piece of paper and making a video of you nailing your theses to the front door of some church (not your own). Bonus points if you can get the pastor to come out and yell at you.

So Whadda Ya Know….

By Brian Johnson

[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.

It’s difficult to “know” how much blood has been spilt on the epistemological battlefield – the age-old attempt to “know” how we “know” – if you “know” what I mean.

This posting is my meager attempt to address the issues at hand from an evangelical point of view, and is in part in a reflection upon Vincent Cooke’s article “The New Calvinist Epistemology.”

Epistemology is defined as “the study of knowledge and justified belief” ( Two elements of this (brief) definition stand out in my mind: What is real knowledge? and What is justified belief?

In most of our epistemological discussions, knowledge is treated as propositional statements. Things like: Tom is 6’4” tall. It could be argued that this is but one kind of knowing. Alongside propositional knowledge, we could add experiential knowledge (playing basketball with Tom), and transformational knowledge (where knowledge of my wife has changed me – I’m a better man now that I’m married).

Additionally, it’s important to distinguish knowledge from reality. While I may know that “Tom is tall”, that knowledge is neither “Tom” nor is it “tallness”. It is just information – a mere subset, and in fact, just one small feature of the reality of Tom.

Thus, I believe we error by making knowledge a kind of shorthand for comprehensive, exhaustive knowledge. Often we find imperfect knowledge sufficient for the task at hand. (Perhaps it’s a matter of precision…)

With regard to justified belief, Cooke brings out an excellent point (via Plantinga): that beliefs can be rational without the support of philosophical justification. That is, there are beliefs that we accept (dare I say must accept) that do not lend themselves to ‘justification’ in the technical philosophical sense.

He goes on to argue that classical foundationalism (the demand that all beliefs be accepted only if they are self-evident, un-doubtable, or evident to the senses) does not meet it’s own demands for justification – i.e. that it itself is not self-evident, nor un-doubtable, nor evident to the senses.

Classical foundationalism has put a wedge between theology and philosophy by demanding ‘justification’ for theological propositions – a kind of ‘justification’ that foundationalism fails to provide for itself. Post-foundational epistemology allows theological propositions (like ‘God exists”) to be accepted as we accept other ideas, which are difficult to justify. (Cooke cites Plantinga’s example of this kind of proposition: “that other minds exist.” This test concept cannot be supported via rigorous justification, but is practically accepted as a ‘basic’ belief.) This opens the door for renewed interaction and dialogue between theology and philosophy – allowing us evaluate theological ideas that previous philosophers simply dismissed.

Personally I’m encouraged by the school of criteriologists (those who believe that in certain circumstances we are justified in accepting beliefs without formal ‘justification’) that Cooke describes, and envision fruitful developments between theology and philosophy in the years to come.

What do you think? Am I justified in seeing the crumbling of classical foundationalism as a positive step for the integration of theology and philosophy?

A prayer for Sunday…Francis of Assisi

Since October 3 marks the anniversary of the death of Francis of Assisi and October 4 is his feast day, it seemed appropriate for this Sunday’s prayer to come from him.

Almighty, eternal, just, and merciful God, grant us in our misery the grace to do for You alone
What we know You want us to do, and always to desire what pleases you.
Thus, inwardly cleansed, interiorly enlightened, and inflamed by the fire of the Holy Spirit,
May we be able to follow in the footsteps of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
And, by Your grace alone, may we make our way to You, Most High,
Who live and rule in perfect Trinity and simple Unity,
And are glorified God all-powerful forever and ever. Amen.