What 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.
- 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)
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.
There’s a common mistake at work in the debate about women in ministry, one that infects people arguing on both sides of the issue. And, while fixing the mistake won’t end the debate, it should provide more clarity about what’s involved in the conversation, which can’t be a bad thing.
Confusion at Work
The mistake I have in mind is a common one that affects many arguments. So before we look at the gender debate specifically, let’s take a brief look at the problem in general.
In its simplest form, the mistake involves thinking that one concept (A) requires another concept (B) in such a way that if B is false, then A must also be false. That’s often a valid way of thinking. For example, if I believed that (A) the tooth fairy exists and (B) she puts money under pillows in exchange for teeth, disproving B would be a pretty strong blow for my belief in A. (Technically I could still believe that she exists and just drop the belief that she’s involved in the tooth/money deal. But why would I want to?)
The argument becomes a problem, though, when we’re wrong about the relationship between the two concepts. If A and B just happen to hang out together a lot but A doesn’t depend on B in any meaningful sense, then disproving B doesn’t really have any affect on A. Sure A will get a little lonely now that it doesn’t have B to hang out with on Friday nights, and it will probably end up watching too much TV and eating bad ice cream. But it will get over it eventually.
Consider an example from another contentious discussion: the relationship between (A) biblical inerrancy and (B) a “literal” reading of Genesis 1 (young earth, six 24-hour days, etc.). I often hear people present these two arguments as though they are logically linked in such a way that you can’t drop one without losing the other. And people on both sides of the discussion do it. So the more conservative side thinks any attempt to read Genesis 1 differently is actually an attack on inerrancy. And people on the other side agree, thinking that if they can prove Genesis 1 shouldn’t be read literally, then they’ve somehow defeated inerrancy. When the simple truth is that both concepts can survive just fine on their own. They’re related historically (i.e. they’ve often been held or rejected by the same people), but not logically.
Once we’ve recognized that, we’re now free to have an interesting discussion about either concept without undue worries about how the discussion will affect the other one.
Confusing Concepts in the Gender Debate
So what does this look like when we turn our attention to the gender debate in particular? Here as well people on both sides of the discussion have assumed that two concepts are logically connected when they’re not. As usual, that’s not helpful.
- Health Matters: Medicine’s Growing Spirituality: With growing recognition of the role of spirituality in health care, hospital chaplains are being called on to help patients cope with fear and pain, make difficult end-of-life decisions and guide families through bereavement after a loss. (Wall Street Journal)
- The Real Problem with Mark Driscoll’s ‘Citation Errors’: And it isn’t plagiarism: No human being could do what “Pastor Mark Driscoll” does—the celebrity is actually a complex creation of a whole community of people who sustain the illusion of an impossibly productive, knowledgeable, omnicompetent superhuman. The real danger here is not plagiarism—it is idolatry. (Andy Crouch)
- 10 Paradoxes that Will Totally Surprise You: A paradox is a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true. Most logical paradoxes are known to be invalid arguments, but they are still valuable in promoting critical thinking. Read on to discover ten paradoxes that will totally surprise you. (Odee)
- What Are the Most Important Libraries in the World? Wonderful libraries are everywhere, each one home to a unique collection of the world’s knowledge and history. The collections in these libraries, though, top the charts. (Mental Floss)
The road to knowledge is less freeway and more winding mountain road in the Scottish highlands with unexpected turns, pitfalls, and occasional dead ends. If it were easy, it would be boring. And it wouldn’t be knowledge.
Read this quote from John Henry Newman on the idea that there are no shortcuts to knowledge. It’s a brilliant reflection on the fact that learning rarely moves in straight lines. We have to make mistakes, sometimes alone but often together, and work through those mistakes on our way to truth.
I particularly appreciated the idea that sometimes you have to live with something that feels like error for a while. We don’t have all the facts, and probably never will. So we often have to live with ideas and beliefs that have apparent holes in them, not out of a lazy unwillingness to wrestle with the inadequacies of our ideas, but from a firm commitment to pursuing a truth that is often bigger and more complex than we are currently able to understand, and a consistent hope and anticipation that we will continue to grow in our knowledge of that truth.
“There are no short cuts to knowledge; nor does the road to it always lie in the direction in which it terminates, nor are we able to see the end on starting. It may often seem to be diverging from a goal into which it will soon run without effort, if we are but patient and resolute in following it out; and, as we are told in Ethics to gain the mean merely by receding from both extremes, so in scientific researches error may be said, without a paradox, to be in some instances the way to truth, and the only way. Moreover, it is not often the fortune of any one man to live through an investigation; the process is one of not only many stages, but of many minds. What one begins another finishes; and a true conclusion is at length worked out by the co-operation of independent schools and the perseverance of successive generations. This being the case, we are obliged under circumstances, to bear for a while with what we feel to be error, in consideration of the truth in which it is eventually to issue.”
John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University (Yale University Press, 1996), p. 230
- Teen Pregnancies Drop a Whopping 52 Percent in Two Decades: Our teenagers–our Kardashian-watching, Molly-popping, Dougie-doing teenagers–have their heads screwed on much more tightly than we give them credit for, more tightly than they even give themselves credit for. They’re waiting longer, having less sex, and becoming pregnant at young ages with a lower frequency than at any point in the last two decades.
- 9 Lies the Media Likes to Tell about Evangelicals: while there are certainly exceptions, I’ve identified nine common lies perpetuated by people in the media. Granted, there are enough vocal evangelicals to bolster each of these stereotypes, so the media isn’t completely responsible. But nuance is necessary here. Thus this post. (Frank Viola)
- A Bibliology Grounded in Christology: Starting one’s doctrinal statement with the Bible gives one assurances that the primary source of theology, the scriptures, is both true and trustworthy. I don’t start there, however. I have come to believe that the incarnation is both more central than inspiration and provides a methodological imperative for historical investigation of the claims of the Bible. (Dan Wallace)
- The first war on Christmas: Each Advent Mary calls us to confess that God became vulnerable, “took the form of a servant” for creation’s sake, especially for the sake of the poor. (ABP News)
Just for Fun
- Corgi + carousel = happy
One of the greatest theologians of the early church, John of Damascus is viewed by many as the last of the church fathers. (This of course depends greatly on how you define the “church fathers.”) He was born in Syria as Yuhanna ibn Mansur ibn Sargun and was one of the earliest and most influential theologians to live and write entirely under Muslim rule. His writings on theology, law, and philosophy influenced thinkers in both the east and the west, and he is particularly famous for his defense of religious icons against those who wanted to remove all images from Christian churches (i.e. the iconoclasts).
The details of John’s life are somewhat uncertain, and we don’t even know the date of his death for sure. But the traditional date of his passing is December 4, 749. So in honor of his amazing life and ministry, today’s prayer comes from him.
O Lord and Master Jesus Christ, our God,
who alone hath power to forgive the sins of men,
do thou, O Good One who lovest mankind,
forgive all the sins that I have committed
…….in knowledge or in ignorance,
and make me worthy to receive without condemnation
…….thy divine, glorious, immaculate and life-giving Mysteries;
not unto punishment or unto increase of sin;
but unto purification, and sanctification
…….and a promise of thy Kingdom and the Life to come;
as a protection and a help to overthrow the adversaries,
…….and to blot out my many sins.
For thou art a God of Mercy and compassion
…….and love toward mankind,
and unto Thee we ascribe glory
…….together with the Father and the Holy Spirit;
now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
To the tune of “Let It Snow,” Captain Picard and the crew of the Star Trek Enterprise sing “Make It So.” I think this should become a holiday tradition.