Karl Barth on giving thanks to God alone

Only God deserves the thanks of man. We speak of true and essential gratitude – of the gratitude in which man must accept permanently and unreservedly the benefit he has experienced as the benefit which he simply cannot do without, as the perfect benefit showered upon him in the sovereign freedom of the Benefactor. We thus speak of a gratitude in which acceptance of the blessing has a depth and abandon and constancy corresponding to its character, in which obligation towards the Benefactor is felt to be absolute so that it cannot be fully discharged by any attitude of gratefulness which it may arouse. There are also other and more modest benefits. All the benefits which one creature can be or give towards another belong to this category. We do not underestimate the fact that these other more modest benefits exist, and that they are genuine benefits because first and last God the Creator is their source. Similar there is also another and more modest type of gratitude – the gratitude which creatures may show one another for reciprocal favour, and which can be genuine because first and last it is to God that they are thankful when thy receive genuine benefits. Butt his also implies that all other thanksgiving is weighed in the scales and placed under the question whether it refers to a genuine benefit of God for which man is giving thanks, and whether it is therefore the true and essential gratitude which is appropriate to this benefit. Our present theme is this true and essential gratitude. The divine benefit demands this. And it alone can do so. It alone is the indispensable, perfect and free blessing poured out upon man. It alone promises the grace which maintains and saves man. It alone spells the salvation which alone can and does help the creature living on the edge of the abyss of destruction. Hence it alone merits thanks in the strictest sense of the term. Because God alone can be and is a Benefactor in this sense, the One in relation to whom man can and will transcend the limits of his intrinsic possibilities (which is what happens when he thanks God), therefore God alone deserves thanks. Thanksgiving is wasted, indeed, it rests on error and can only lead to further error, if it is not directed tot he one benefit of this one Benefactor, even in the grateful acceptance of benefits from creaturely benefactors. As thanksgiving which is part of an absolute obligation and is permanently binding, it can be directed to this one benefit alone and therefore to this one Benefactor alone.

Church Dogmatics III/2, 169

Why NT Wright is like Hootie and the Blowfish

Fred Sander has a fun post today on why NT Wright is like Hootie and the Blowfish:

I was driving cross-country in the summer of 1995, at a time when the music of Hootie and the Blowfish was inescapable. My wife and I listened to the radio from Kentucky to California, and the soundtrack assigned to us by American pop music was song after song from the multiplatinum album Cracked Rear View. Now, I happened to like the band’s acoustic-stadium sound, and Darius Rucker’s über-masculine vocals. But it didn’t matter whether I liked it or not, I was getting it from both speakers no matter what. Hootie’s dominance was unquestioned: At best, DJs could manage to alternate one song by somebody else in between songs from Hootie. Change the channel, more Hootie. At one point (somewhere in New Mexico?), a DJ shouted, “This is Hootie’s world, and the rest of us are just livin’ in it!”

The theological Hootie of our age is NT Wright. He’s everywhere. Multiplatinum, hit singles, the whole package. I happen to like his work, but it doesn’t matter if you like it; you’re getting it from both speakers anyway. This is NT Wright’s world, and the rest of us are just livin’ in it.

He goes on to offer some thoughts from the recent discussions about Wright’s view of justification, but I really just enjoyed the idea that Wright was like that band on the radio that everyone keeps playing over and over. If you want to modernize the analogy, he’s the Lady Gaga of the theology world. (Now, close your eyes and try not to picture NT Wright dressed like Lady Gaga.)

Infographic on what stoning an adulterer entails

Canad’s National Post recently produced a two-page infograhic on how exactly one goes about stoning an adulterer in modern Iran. Unfortunately, the text in this image is pretty hard to make out, but the pictures tell the story fairly clearly.



McGrath’s paper on biblioblogging now online

James McGrath’s SBL paper is now available online, “The Blogging Revolution: New Technologies and their Impact on How we do Scholarship.” You should definitely check it out. It looks really good.

Harry Potter as a critique of consumerism

Thanks to Byron Smith for pointing out this interesting take on the Harry Potter books/films as a critique of consumerism. I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical going into it, but the video raises some good points. At the very least, it demonstrates how one could use the Harry Potter stories as an entrance into some important themes and ideas relative to consumerism.



Flotsam and jetsam (11/24)

There are various things that you could say that are sufficient to give some moral status after a few months, maybe six months or something like that, and you get perhaps to full moral status, really, only after two years.

Let it be clear:  The earliest Jewish Christian believers did not see themselves as departing from full loyalty to their ancestral deity.  They saw their devotion to Jesus as mandatory, in response to God’s exaltation of Jesus as recipient of this devotion.

  • David Fitch explains why he thinks that Youth Groups Destroy Children’s Lives. He concludes by saying how important that well-done youth ministry is for the church, but here’s his critique in a nutshell.

I think youth groups often do things that work against the formation of our youth into life with Christ and His Mission. They also soak up huge time and resources in ways that are a detriment to the community life of the church.

it seems fairly obvious that if a squad of terrorists did try to infiltrate Manhattan or any other urban area, they would not dress in camouflage to do it, and would not be sprinting.

Weird truths about Disneyland

On my way home last night, I listened to some local DJs sharing weird truths about Disneyland. It sounds like they may have taken them from this list of 50 Things You Didn’t Know about Disneyland. It’s been around for a while, but it was new to me.

Some of my favorites:

  • On opening day, Walt Disney had his gardeners cover bare patches of dirt by replanting weeds from the parking lot and labeling them with long, horticultural-sounding names.
  • Disneyland is home to feral cats – nobody knows how many – that come out at night, after visitors leave. Years ago, more than 100 were discovered living inside Sleeping Beauty Castle.
  • Walt Disney wanted to populate the Jungle Cruise with live animals, but zoologists convinced him they’d be asleep during most park hours. In the early days, though, live alligators were kept in a pen near the turnstiles; they occasionally escaped into the lagoon.
  • When it opened in 1967, Pirates of the Caribbean used real human skeletons as props. In an upcoming book, imagineer Jason Surrell writes, “Because the original imagineering team felt that the faux skeletons of the period were just too unconvincing, the grotto sequence originally featured real human remains obtained from the UCLA Medical Center. The skeletons were later returned to their countries of origin and given a proper burial.”

The Pope, condoms, and the principle of double effect

While I was at ETS, some of our ThM students were discussing theological ethics and the principle of double effect (PDE), a way of thinking through complex moral situations in which a single act has both a negative and a positive consequence. (See Chris Smith’s post on Double Effect and the Ethical Dilemma.) Since I was not able to participate in the discussion, and since I don’t want to look stupid in front of my students, I thought it would be a good idea for me to work on my own understanding of this principle. So, it was with interest that I dug into a recent post by Katie over at the Women in Theology, arguing that the Pope’s recent statements about condom use can be analyzed using PDE.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the upcoming book in which Pope Benedict XVI apparently condones the use of condoms in certain situations, particularly when used to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS among prostitutes. At first glance, this seems rather surprising given that for Catholic theologians, condom use necessarily results in the bad effect of separating the the sexual act from its unitive and procreative act. Although this is an unpopular position in modern culture, this view underlies the traditional Catholic rejection of contraception in general. But, as the Pope has pointed out, condom use also has the intrinsically good effect of preventing the spread of a deadly disease. Thus, we have a situation in which a single act (condom use) will result in both a good effect (preventing disease spread) and a bad effect (separating the sexual act from its divinely intended purposes).

To determine whether PDE applies to this scenario, we must see if the scenario meets the following conditions:

  1. The Nature of the Act: The act in question must be at least a morally neutral act (i.e. it cannot be an intrinsically bad act).
  2. Means-End: The bad effect  cannot be the means by which the good effect is accomplished.
  3. Right-Intention: The bad effect cannot be that which is intended by the actor.
  4. Proportionality: The good effect must be equivalent to or greater than the corresponding bad effect.

And, as I see it, the condom-use scenario meets all four conditions.

  1. The Nature of the Act: It seems to me that even for Catholic theologians, condom use is a morally neutral act. In and of itself, using a condom has no moral consequences (e.g. using it as a water balloon). It is one  particular result of using a condom (preventing conception and, consequently, separating the sexual act from its procreative function) that is instrinsically wrong.
  2. Means-End: As in most PDE scenarios the good effect and bad effect are inseparable. Wearing a condom during the sexual act (assuming that the condom does not malfunction) necessarily results in both consequences. But, it seems clear that the bad effect in this situation is not the means for accomplishing the good effect – i.e., a person does not seek to separate the sexual act from its intended purposes as a means to preventing the spread of a deadly disease. The two consequences are inseparable, but the one is not the means for accomplishing the other.
  3. Right-Intention: This is critical. For this situation to come under PDE, the actor must intend the good effect and not the bad one. So, in this scenario, the person using the condom must intend to stop the spread of a deadly disease and not to prevent procreation.
  4. Proportionality: The benefit of preventing the spread of a deadly disease must outweigh the drawback of separating the sexual act from its procreative function. As with most PDE scenarios, there is a strong element of subjectivity in this final step. But, it is certainly not obvious that this scenario violates this condition.

So, it would seem to me that this scenario is amenable to analysis using PDE. And, the Pope’s conclusion seems warranted, assuming that you agree with the application of condition 4 and the use of PDE in general.

That is my best attempt to explain how PDE works and how it applies to a situation that most Protestants would not necessarily see as involving a significant moral quandry. But, it demonstrates how PDE might be applied to other scenarios with more existential angst for us. And, it also highlights some of the weaknesses of the approach: the often opaque appeal to intentions, an ambiguous understanding of what qualifies as an “act”, and the necessarily subjective judgment required by the proportionality condition. At the same time, though, I like the way that PDE forces us to acknowledge how difficult it can be to make moral judgments in the midst of a broken world in which sometimes there are no “right” answers.

    In (partial) defense of the CBMW statement on the NIV 2011

    The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) recently released a statement regarding their evaluation of the NIV 2011. And, although they indicate that the NIV 2011 is a marked improvement of the TNIV, they offer a number of reasons explaining why this still cannot recommend it.

    Since that statement was released, I’ve seen a number of fairly critical and dismissive posts of the CBMW stance on the NIV 2011. And, I’m not convinced that such dismissals are entirely fair. At the very least I think people need to be more clear whether they are disagreeing with CBMW’s basic position (in which case, they are not going to like anything CBMS says), or whether they think there is something particularly egregious about this particular statement.

    Setting aside that question of whether CBMW’s basic position is correct, I actually found the statement to be rather well done. The tone was charitable and they clearly identified those areas of continued disagreement that prevented them from recommending the NIV 2011 to their readers. They even offered a couple of very specific examples of the kind of translation theory that they find objectionable. (The only significant problem that I’ve seen, as TC points out, is their statement that the NIV 2011 is “based on the TNIV,” when it was actually based on both the TNIV and the NIV 1984.) So, unlike others, I found the statement to be a good example of charity and clarity in theological discourse and well within the stated mission and purpose of CBMW. (Note: I am not CBMW member – do they have members? – or supporter.)

    Of course, none of that has anything to do with whether I agree with their conclusion. And, from what I’ve seen so far, I don’t.

    First, I don’t agree that woodenly following the original language’s use of gender results in “greater accuracy” of translation. English is not the same language as does not follow the same rules as Greek and Hebrew. Accuracy in translation requires variation from the original language to the target language – that is simply unavoidable.

    I’m also not convinced by the argument that generic, plural pronouns (e.g. they, them, their) necessary obscures the meaning of the relevant passages any more than any other translation would. And, I find it revealing that CBMW expresses significant concern over the possible depersonalizing affects of such translation, but evinces no such similar concern over the possible de-genderizing affects of the alternative possibilites.

    So, in the end, I found the CBMW statement to be a well-crafted, clearly articulated, and charitable explanation of a position regarding the NIV 2011 that I personally find unconvincing. I haven’t decided yet whether I think the NIV 2011 is a good step forward, but the CBMW statement did not do anything to convince me otherwise.

    Flotsam and jetsam (11/24)

    Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

    More than ever before the issue of gender has become bound up with one’s own personal identity. Since the zeitgeist emphasises the freedom of the individual to self-create, especially over against any prefabricated notion of ‘roles’, the discussion of ‘headship’ is always going to jar with our wider cultural sensibilities.

    If marriage is a foretaste of the relationship between Christ and the church, and sex likewise a foretaste of our ultimate and intimate union with God, Ambrose deduced that devoted virginity simply dispenses with the appetizers and skips on to the main course.

    • Perspectives in translation is discussing how best to translate ‘hilasterion’ in Romans 3:25, with Mike Bird arguing that it refers to a sacrifice that appeases divine wrath (propitiation) and Darrell Bock arguing that it refers to the place in which th sacrifice takes place (mercy seat).