The Impossibility of a “Christian” Literature

books (283x170)The power of good literature comes from its ability to reveal us to ourselves in both our glory and our depravity. At its best, literature explores humanity, not just the humanity that we wish we could achieve, though there’s a place for that as well, but the humanity that is, both beautiful and ugly. That is why we read literature, and why it both captivates and disturbs our imaginations.

John Henry Newman captures much of the power of literature in the quote below. And he also explains why he thinks this means that it’s not possible to have an exclusively “Christian” literature. For him, that would inevitably involve emphasizing too strongly the ideal, and, as a result, it would no longer study humanity as it is, but only humanity as we believe it will one day be. So it’s not that he doesn’t think Christians can write literature–they can and should–but that we shouldn’t try to produce specifically Christian literature.

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What an A+ Means at Harvard College

grading (300x288)People have lamented grade inflation for a while now. And Harvard College has come under particular scrutiny as many professors have complained about lax grading standards there. In light of that controversy, journalist Nathaniel Stein produced a fabulously satirical set of grading standards to be used at Harvard. You’ll have to read the entire post to get the complete standard, but here is how he describes the criteria to be used in awarding an A+.

The A+ grade is used only in very rare instances for the recognition of truly exceptional achievement.

For example: A term paper receiving the A+ is virtually indistinguishable from the work of a professional, both in its choice of paper stock and its font. The student’s command of the topic is expert, or at the very least intermediate, or beginner. Nearly every single word in the paper is spelled correctly; those that are not can be reasoned out phonetically within minutes. Content from Wikipedia is integrated with precision. The paper contains few, if any, death threats.

A few things can disqualify an otherwise worthy paper from this exceptional honor: 1) Plagiarism, unless committed with extraordinary reluctance. 2) The paper has been doused in blood or another liquid, unless dousing was requested by the instructor. 3) The paper was submitted late (with reasonable leeway — but certainly by no more than one or two years).

An overall course grade of A+ is reserved for those students who have not only demonstrated outstanding achievement in coursework but have also asked very nicely.

Finally, the A+ grade is awarded to all collages, dioramas and other art projects.

I’m strongly inclined to agree that if a paper includes more than just a few death threats, 2 or 3 at the most, it definitely should not receive an A+. And if the death threats aren’t at least somewhat creative, I may bump it all the way down to an A-.

Flotsam and jetsam (12/18)

Gift-Not-Included

Good Reads

  • Religion in America’s states and counties, in 6 maps: With what is arguably the most widely observed holiday of the nation’s most popular religion right around the corner, now seems as good a time as any to look at the state of religion in America’s states and counties. (Washington Post)
  • The Five Ingredients of an Effective Apology: Apologies are important in any society and children are taught to say “I’m sorry” pretty much as soon as they are capable of constructing a full sentence. Unfortunately, our skill level does not improve very much from there. More often than not apologies made by adults are just as insincere and unconvincing as those made by children. (Psychology Today)

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On the “Proper” Order of Theological Topics

If you were going to teach a class on Christian doctrine, all of it, how would you do it? What topics would you include? In what order would you address them? Which ones would receive the most attention, which would you address more cursorily, and which would you skip entirely, saving them for those chance theology discussions that often break out on Facebook?

Evangelical-Theology

For me, those are very real questions. Next semester, for the first time, I’ll be teaching a one-semester survey of Christian theology. The theology classes I taught at Western Seminary were always part of multi-semester sequences. So you had to teach the doctrines assigned to each class or you’d mess up the whole sequence. For the first time, then, I have the opportunity to think through how I would like to do it. And I’m discovering that this isn’t easy to figure out.

So I was quite interested when I read through Mike Bird’s new Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Zondervan, 2013) and saw that he had chosen to order the doctrines in a rather novel way. That provided an interesting impetus for thinking through how I would like to do it.

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Flotsam and jetsam (12/16)

huntng

Good Reads

  • The Gift of Being Evangelical: There is power in a good story. And with that in mind, a few months ago I began to write my own story of growing up in an evangelical home. Unlike the tales of Christian kids that attract the most attention in blog posts and books these days, mine has a happy ending. (Christianity Today)
  • Insisting Jesus Was White Is Bad History and Bad Theology: The myth of a white Jesus is one with deep roots throughout Christian history. As early as the Middle Ages and particularly during the Renaissance, popular Western artists depicted Jesus as a white man, often with blue eyes and blondish hair. Perhaps fueled by some Biblical verses correlating lightness with purity and righteousness and darkness with sin and evil, these images sought to craft a sterile Son of God. The only problem was that the representations were historically inaccurate. (The Atlantic)
  • Christmas, Christology, Preaching and a Reading Plan: There are some pastors who find the Christmas season one of the more frustrating and challenging times of their annual preaching. Over time, for these pastors, this season (and probably Easter as well, though less so than Christmas) has become one of the least desired times of the year . . . since they have to preach on the birth of Jesus . . . again. (Greg Strand)

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A Prayer for Sunday (Samuel Johnson)

Samuel JohnsonA famous English writer, Samuel Johnson is considered by many to have been one of the most influential literary figures in history. The amazing breadth of his literary production includes a whole range of essays, poems, books, and sermons. But among his most lasting contributions was his famous Dictionary of the English Languagea worked that shaped modern English in many ways.

Samuel Johnson died on December 13, 1784. In honor of his amazing life and ministry, this Sunday’s prayer comes from him.

O God, who hast ordained that
…..whatever is to be desired should be sought by labor,
and Who, by Thy blessing,
…..bringest honest labor to good effect,
look with mercy upon my studies and endeavors.

Grant me, O Lord, to design only what is lawful and right;
and afford me calmness of mind, and steadiness of purpose,
that I may so do Thy will in this short life
as to obtain happiness in the world to come,
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord–Amen.

Saturday Morning Fun…When I Was Little

when i was little

What Should a Theologian Talk about First?

Evangelical-TheologyWhat do you have to say before you say anything? That’s the question that Mike Bird uses to frame the introductory chapter to his new Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Zondervan, 2013). And the way Bird answers that question says a lot about what he thinks theology is and how it should be approached.

We started working our way through Bird’s theology a few weeks back. And, after a slight hiatus due to conferences and Thanksgiving, I’m picking it up again, focusing this time on what he has to say about the prolegomena of theology–i.e. the things that you need to say before you can dive into the doctrines themselves.

(And, by the way, it would take way too long to blog on every section in the book. So I’ll just highlight a couple of interesting sections and then post a review of the whole book, hopefully by the end of the month.) 

There are several things to appreciate about Bird’s approach in this section. First, I loved his definition of prolegomena as “pre-theology theology” (p. 32). Theologians often make the mistake of presenting prolegomena as though these are the issues that you deal with before you do theology, masking the fact that there really isn’t anything you can say about theology that isn’t already theological. Bird captures that nuance by recognizing that prolegomena comes before theology in one sense–the things that need to be said first–but that they are all thoroughly theological in their own right. As he says a bit later, “There is a theological prolegomenon, but it is not what one does before theology; rather, it is what one does first in theology” (p. 38). Well done.

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Flotsam and jetsam (12/13)

Procrastination-Daniel-Seex

Good Reads

  • Pope Francis, the People’s Pope: what makes this Pope so important is the speed with which he has captured the imaginations of millions who had given up on hoping for the church at all. (Time)
  • Misery: Is there justice in the Book of Job? The story is bewildering, from beginning to end. How could God, being God, allow Satan to seduce him into destroying a good man? More important is the moral: that we have no right to question him for doing such things. (God, for all that he says from the whirlwind, never answers Job’s questions.) Furthermore, the Book of Job seems to claim that all wrongs can be righted by property. If everything was taken away from Job, the problem is settled by God’s giving it all back. (The New Yorker)
  • The Scandal of the Semi-Churched: I know we are the church and don’t go to church (blah, blah, blah), but being persnickety about our language doesn’t change the exhortation of Hebrews 10:35. We should not neglect to meet together, as some are in the habit of doing. Gathering every Lord’s Day with our church family is one of the pillars of mature Christianity. (Kevin DeYoung)
  • Six Ways Millennials Are Shaping the Church: The Millennials’ desires for relationships are affecting the churches they choose to attend. They will only go to churches where they can easily connect with others. Unlike the Boomers, they refuse to be worship-only attendees. They desire to be in more relational settings. (Thom Rainer)

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How to Break the Bad News That Santa Isn’t Real

If this is the year that you’re thinking about telling someone the truth about Santa Claus (your kids, nephews/nieces, little brother or sister, that obnoxious little punk who lives three houses down, etc.), here are some great suggestions on how you should go about doing that.

I personally like the idea of saying that he is real, but he’s not ever coming again because he’s been arrested for stalking small children all over the planet. Now I just need to find a small child that I can break the bad news to.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1UxZkaDD08#t=82