Flotsam and jetsam (11/9)

  • Michael Patton reflects on “closet doctrines” – those doctrines we believe but prefer not to admit to non-Christians.

Closet doctrines are those doctrines that we might believe, but we hide, especially to those for whom Christian truth is a novelty. In short, they are those beliefs that we are somewhat embarrassed by.

the experiential nature of faith, the spiritual mark of delight in God, and the expectation of pervasive joy are not the inventions of John Piper. Nor are they owing only to the influence of Edwards and the Great Awakening. They go back to the Reformers themselves.

What am I getting at? I am concerned that evangelicals, by and large, approach the OT with an unbiblical dependency on the NT. Since the NT is newer revelation and offers a more developed view of God’s redeeming purposes, it becomes the key by which we “unlock” the meaning of what has come before it. There is no overt discrimination against the OT, just a lack of deep engagement with it as meaningful, relevant revelation in its own right.

  • And, here’s an interesting list of 10 movies stuck in development hell. Hollywood definitely needs to get some of these taken care of. I don’t care if they ever make a movie about Halo, but Ender’s Game would be fabulous and The Sandman is long overdue.

Night fell, shoah is here

[For a variety of reasons, I’ve taken some time away from working on my book about the Gospel. But, I’ve recently picked it back up again, and I’d like to start posting pieces of it here for review and feedback. Please feel free to let me know what you think. (I’ve also added a page to the blog with all the excerpts I’ve posted so far.) Tonight I was playing with this piece as a potential introduction for the chapter on the spread of sin in the world. I’d like to use shalom and shoah as balancing terms throughout the book to talk about the way things ought to be (shalom) and the destruction that results when sin enters the world (shoah).]

Shoah Has Come

Night fell.

There’s something eerily sinister about a sentence like that. If you run across it in a story, I can almost guarantee that things are about to get crazy. You could be reading a book about nice, old ladies drinking tea and playing cards, but if you see “Night fell,” you can expect vampires, serial killers, and/or giant spiders to come from nowhere and start wrecking some serious tea party havoc. Night is when evil walks free. Night falling in a story is never a good thing.

Night fell.

Nights are lonely. A while back I was talking with someone whose wife had left him several years into their marriage. He was reflecting on how difficult that transition has been—custody issues, financial pressures, and tense negotiations, among other things. But, out of everything, he said that nights were the hardest. During the day, he can keep himself busy with work and other responsibilities, distracting himself from the loneliness, pain, and bitterness. But, when night falls, there’s no more hiding. In the darkness, he’s alone.

Night fell.

Guilt and shame like the darkness. They wear it like a cloak, hiding deep within its velvety folds, safe from prying eyes. And, in a sense, darkness is liberating. People do things at night that they would never consider doing during the day. The shadows of night free us from the inhibitions and constraints of day. With our guilt and shame well covered by the darkness, we are free to pursue our desires, satisfy our needs, and soothe our lusts. In the night, guilt and shame find a home.

Night fell.

Kids seem to understand all of this instinctively. You don’t have to teach kids that bad stuff happens when night falls. They just get it. I woke up the other morning to find my youngest daughter asleep on the armchair in my bedroom…upside down, head dangling from the bottom of the chair, legs sticking straight up its back, blanket a tangled mess around her arms and chest. I wasn’t surprised. This happens a lot in our family. My daughter can play happily by herself for hours at a time. But, when night falls, she looks for any excuse to be close to someone. Nights are scary, dangerous, lonely places.

Night fell.

When night fell on Elie Wiesel, his life ended. One day, Elie was living with his family in their quaint, tightknit, and occasionally quirky community. One day he had a place to belong—family, friends, faith, and freedom. One day, Wiesel had shalom. And one day, night fell.

Elie is a Jew, and his family lived in Eastern Europe during World War II. Although they’d heard warnings about what was happening to Jews everywhere, they refused to flee. They just couldn’t leave their houses and synagogues, abandon their communities, lose everything that they had called home. So they stayed. And night fell.

For the next twelve months, Elie and his father try to survive the brutality and inhumanity of the Nazi concentration camps. And, Elie describes the experiences as being like one long, brutal “night,” not the simple period of darkness that concludes each day, but the dark night of loneliness, despair, and inhumanity that had descended upon him and his family. A night in which, as one prisoner tells him, “there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends,” where “everyone lives and dies for himself alone” (110); a night where every value is inverted, perverted, and destroyed.

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.”

Night fell.

Among Jews, the Holocaust goes by another name, shoah, the Hebrew word for destruction. And, it’s a good word for describing the terrible reality of the Holocaust. Shoah. The destruction of community, intimacy, trust, hope, faith, love, even humanity itself. Shoah. A destruction that does not simply eliminate the good—no, that would be too easy—this is a destruction that crushes and corrupts the good, reshaping it into a twisted parody, a mockery of all that was once held dear.  Families remain, but only as a burden holding back those who would seek to survive the abyss, fighting and killing one another over mere scraps of bread. Hope remains, but only as a weapon used by guards to keep prisoners in line, tantalizing them with a vision of what they know will never come. Faith remains, but only as a painful accusation against a deity once trusted and adored. Shoah.

Once there was a boy named Elie. Once he had a family and a home. Once there was shalom. No longer. Night has fallen. Now there is darkness, loneliness, pain, despair, shame, and loss. Shalom is gone. Shoah has come.

Night fell.

Once there was a time when God’s people were naked, living in shameless intimacy with him and with one another, displaying his glory in the world as they cared for the creation he’d so graciously given them. Once there was shalom. But one day, God’s people decided to go their own way, abandoning his purpose and plan to pursue their own glory. And night fell. A night of loneliness and alienation, despair and brokenness, shame and guilt; a night seeming without end.

Once there was shalom. Now there is shoah.

Night fell.


Genius football play

I think this should go down as one of the most brilliant football plays ever. Only a middle schooler would come up with something like this. But, I’m pretty sure it would work against the Cowboys as well.



Who are the “must reads” in theology (part 4)

We’ve been discussing the question of what makes a theologian a “must read” for students of theology. In the last post, I listed those that I thought were must-reads because of their historical significance. But, I’ve also argued that it’s perfectly legitimate to have a second list for people who fall into one of these three categories:

  1. People you find so personally compelling that you think any good theology student should know about them.
  2. People you think will eventually become historical must-reads.
  3. People you think are shaping contemporary theology so much that theology students should know about them even if you don’t think they fall into either of the first two categories.

So, here’s my (inadequate) attempt to provide my list of theological must-reads in this secondary sense. Since this is an inherently subjective process, your list should be different than mine. And, since this list could easily get pretty long, I decided to limit myself to five theologians in each era. That wasn’t too difficult in the early eras since their major figure were already represented on the historical must-read list. In the modern and contemporary categories, though, it got pretty tricky. And, I did cheat a little by including an “honorable mentions” category for those eras. And, I’ve appended a brief comment explaining why I chose them.

In the Early Church (up to AD 500)

  1. Irenaeus (I love his narrative of salvation and his polemic against gnosticism)
  2. Origen (amazingly creative thinker)
  3. Gregory of Nyssa (fascinating blend of theology and philosophy; interesting theological anthropology)

In the Early Middle Ages (500-1000)

  1. Pseudo-Dionysius (vital for understanding mysticism and apophatic theology, though I’m personally not that interested)
  2. Maximus (his cosmic Christology and theological anthropology are outstanding)

In the High and Late Middle Ages (1000-1500)

  1. Bernard of Clairvaux (the affective and mystical nature of his theology are a welcome change from medieval scholasticism)
  2. William of Ockham (brutal to read, but important for understanding nominalism and the theological/philosophical context of the Reformation)

In the Early Modern Era (1500-1800)

  1. Zwingli (I felt like I had to include Zwingli. Compared to the other Reformers, he always seems like the fat kid who never gets picked for kickball.)
  2. Melancthon (anyone who can systematize Luther’s brilliant ramblings is fine by me)
  3. Bucer (fascinating ecumenist in a theologically loaded era)
  4. Owen (how can you not like Owen? He probably should have been on the previous list)
  5. Spener (you don’t really understand American religiosity until you’ve understood German pietism)

In the Modern Era (1800 – 1990ish)

  1. B.B. Warfield (not my favorite personally, but critical for understanding American theology)
  2. Charles Finney (as much as it pains me to say it, he’s among the most influential American theologians ever)
  3. Alexander Schmemann (the 20th century was huge for Eastern Orthodox theology, and I went with Schmemann over Bulgakov because I’ve spent more time with him)
  4. Hans Urs von Balthasar (one of the people on this list that I really need to spend more time with)
  5. T.F. Torrance (I’m still torn on whether he’ll have a lasting historical significance, but his theology is challenging, rigorous, and robustly trinitarian. What more could you want?)

(Honorable mentions: C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, John Howard Yoder)

Contemporary Theologians (still living)

  1. Robert Jenson (possibly the best truly systematic theologian writing today)
  2. Miroslav Volf (one of my personal favorites, his work is always interesting and challenging)
  3. Rowan Williams (one of those really important theologians that I just haven’t been able to get into, but still critical for understanding theology today
  4. John Zizioulas (his work on Trinity, ecclesiology, and anthropology, has been very influential in my own thinking)
  5. Stanley Hauerwas (someone that I still need to spend more time on, but his creative synthesis of theology, biblical studies, and ethics is definitely must-read worthy)

(Honorable mentions: Gustavo Gutierrez, Virgilio Elizondo, Kathryn Tanner, David Bentley Hart, John Webster, Benedict XVI)

Okay, have at it and let me know what you think. I’m particularly interested in who would you be on your Top Five lists for the modern and contemporary periods.

Flotsam and jetsam (11/8)

He did, in fact, have more to say about the Trinity than most people would expect, and following the lead of what he said on the subject, it is easy enough to connect the dots in his practice. The trinitarian presupposition is there to be seen, just below the surface. Graham is a perfect example of an evangelical who is focused so much on being trinitarian in practice that he somewhat under-explains the theological presuppositions of what he is doing.

For Barth error is expected of humans—it’s built into their fallenness.  From my point of view it’s simply a truism that humans can and do err but this doesn’t necessitate that they will or must err.  More on this in my next post.

One cannot underestimate the importance of 1 Timothy 2:12 in the intra-evangelical debate over gender roles and women in ministry. There is a reason why countless articles and even an entire book have been written on the interpretation of this single verse. In many ways, this verse is the most disputed text in the debate. It is clear that Paul is prohibiting something, but just what he prohibits has been fiercely contested.

Ferrett Legging is a sport that originated in Britain, in which contestants tie their trouser leg closed, place two ferrets in their trousers (it’s Britain, people!) and then tighten their belt closed. The ferret must be fully teethed, undrugged, and the contestant cannot wear anything under their trousers. I read the wikipedia entry and laughed myself silly.

A prayer for Sunday…John 17

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

John 17:13-26

On the need for both scientia and sapientia

Augustine distinguished between scientia (knowledge perceived from the external world through the senses) and sapientia (knowledge, or wisdom, concerned with eternal reality). Augustine understood knowledge (scientia) and wisdom (sapientia) as ‘separate instruments for learning God’. Concluding that both scientia and sapientia are necessary for the theological task, Ellen Charry observes, ‘Modern academic theology has largely limited itself to scientia. While it is essential for pointing seekers in the right direction, in Augustine’s view scientia alone is unable to heal us. The goal of scientia is to move the seeker to sapientia, wisdom.’

(Linda Cannell, Theological Education Matters: Leadership Education for the Church (Newburgh, IN: EDCOT Press, 2006))

The five stages of grading-grief

Here’s a great post reflecting on the five stages of grading: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, resignation. If those sound a lot like the five stages of grief, it’s because there are close parallels between grading and grief.

My favorite:

Denial.  At this stage, the instructor is unwilling to acknowledge the size of the task ahead of him or her. An instructor in denial may be heard to say things like, “It’s not really that many essays, when you think about it.” An instructor in denial will grossly overestimate his or her potential assignment-per-hour output. Denial at the syllabus-creation stage of course development can lead to tears. Denial can also manifest itself as avoidance, where grading is put aside in favour of vastly more important activities like cleaning the fridge, baking, working out, or writing elaborate blog posts about the stages of grading.

Read the rest here.

Today we celebrate…the invention of time travel



Who are the “must reads” in theology (part 3)

In two earlier posts (see here and here), I discussed what it means to say that a theologian is a “must read.” And, I argued that we should primarily reserve such a label for people who are historical must-reads, those whose theology decisively influenced particular streams or eras. But, I also argued that we can legitimately use the label to describe people whose theology we find personally compelling or inherently valuable as well.

In the next two posts, I’m going to start a list of theologians that I think are must-reads. I’m not going to set these up as exhaustive or definitive lists, but more as works in progress. Today’s list will offer the (hopefully) less debated list of historical must-reads, and tomorrow’s will enter the fuzzy world of personal must-reads.

First, here are the principles that I will use to set up my list.

  1. I’m not including the Bible or anyone in the Bible. Those are must-reads for everyone, not just students of theology.
  2. A must-read must have decisively shaped a theological tradition, not just a particular era.
  3. The theological tradition they shaped must be one of the major traditions. (It’s hard to call someone a theological must-read for everyone if the tradition that they decisively shaped has not been terribly influential itself.)
  4. I will focus exclusively on “theological” must reads, rather than those important for other fields of study (Bible, philosophy, etc.).
  5. And, since I live and teach in America, my primary focus will be on what qualifies as a must-read for theology students in America. I’m open to the possibility that, particularly in the modern era, even the historical must-reads might begin to vary depending on one’s context. (Tomorrow’s list of must-reads will be much more obviously contextual.)

Second, even though this list should be less debatable than tomorrow’s list, I know there will still be some disagreement on people I’ve included (e.g. Barth) and probably people I’ve excluded. Again, this is a work in progress, so feel free to comment and let me know where I’ve gone wrong with the criteria or the particular individuals.

    Historical Must-Reads in Theology

    In the Early Church (up to AD 500)

    1. Athanasius
    2. Basil the Great
    3. Gregory Nazianzus
    4. Augustine
    5. Chrysostom

    In the Early Middle Ages (500-1000)

    1. Gregory the Great
    2. John of Damascus

    In the High and Late Middle Ages (up to AD 1000-1500)

    1. Anselm
    2. Aquinas
    3. Gregory Palamas

    In the Early Modern Era (AD 1500-1800)

    1. Luther
    2. Ignatius of Loyola
    3. Calvin
    4. Arminius
    5. Wesley
    6. Edwards

    In the Modern Era (1800-present)

    1. Schleiermacher
    2. Barth

    Okay, let me know what you think.