Blaise Pascal (A Prayer for Sunday)

pascalOne of the most brilliant thinkers of his age, Blaise Pascal was a noted theologian, philosopher, writer, mathematician, and scientist. After undergoing an intense religious experience as an adult, Pascal became involved with the Jansenists, a movement within the Catholic church focused on promoting a robust form of Augustinianism, and wrote several influential theological works, including his famous Pensées.

Blaise Pascal died on August 19, 1662. In honor of his amazing life and legacy, this Sunday’s prayer comes from him.

O Lord, let me not henceforth desire health or life
…..except to spend them for thee and with thee.
Thou alone knowest what is good for me;
… therefore what seemeth thee best.

Give to me or take from me;
conform my will to thine;
and grant that, with humble and perfect submission,
…..and in holy confidence,
…..I may receive the orders of thine eternal providence;
and may equally adore all that comes to me from thee,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Flotsam and jetsam (8/15)


Good Reads

  • Ferguson and the Quest for Racial Justice:  These divisions and hatred are older than America, and are rooted in a satanic deception that tells us we ought to idolize “the flesh.” The gospel doesn’t just call us individually to repentance, but also congregationalizes that reconciliation in local bodies of persons who may have nothing else in common but the image of God, repentance of sin, and the redemption found in Jesus Christ. (Russell Moore)
  • The parenting police state: Will we ever be able to go back to freer childhoods? There’s a strong developmental case to be made for a return to free-range childhood. Letting children navigate the world outside their door (but not too far) on their own and with friends can foster a sprit of independence, teach social skills, promote an appreciation of nature, encourage creativity, and allow a healthy space to learn how to fail. (The Week)
  • 5 Ways to Be a Better Atheist:  Ironically, I truly want them to listen and improve. Why? Because I want every worldview to have good representation. It does me no good in my pursuit of truth to have my worldview challenged by an impotent and weakly opponent. (C. Michael Patton)

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You Must Resist Resistance

If there’s anything a student knows more about than just about anyone else, it’s how to come up with creative reasons not to do what you’re supposed to be doing. We’ll use anything: chores, family, the dog, analyzing the random movements of that fly over there. We’ll even do things we genuinely dislike just to avoid writing that paper or studying for that test. (I once spent an afternoon deep-cleaning our bathrooms instead of finishing a paper.) We now how to avoid.

impasse situation

That inner force almost compelling you to avoid your work is what Steven Pressfield calls “resistance” in his The War of Art. Although he’s talking about the kind of resistance that writers face and why they need to resist that resistance, it works for students too. If you want to succeed in your studies, resistance is something you need to conquer every day.

There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.

What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.” (The War of Art, preface)

Unfortunately, there are no easy ways to defeat resistance. You can learn lots of tricks or techniques, things that will remind you of the need to resist resistance, little devices for tracking your successes (and failures). And I find many of those quite helpful. In the end, though, it’s all about sitting down and getting to work.

Every day.

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The Best Theology Books from the First Half of 2014


According to the Englewood Review here are the 6 best theology books so far in 2014. And as usually happens to me when I read lists like this, I’m left with a bewildering sense of inadequacy as I realize how many good (and possibly important) books there are that I haven’t read! I’ve read a grand total of two out of the six that they list: Sarah Coakley’s God Sexuality and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’,  which I started to review in “The Death and Recover of Systematic Theology,” and The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community (IVP, 2014), which I may get around to commenting on sometime.

But a few of these weren’t on my radar at all (esp. Lohfink’s No Irrelvant Jesus and Kostamo’s Planted). They look interesting, but I’m going to need a little more convincing before they hit my must-read list. If anyone has read (or even heard about) these and wants to let us know what they think, that would be great. I’m always willing to be convinced that a book is worth reading.

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Flotsam and jetsam (8/11)


Good Reads

  • The Secret Rules of Adjective Order:  An intuitive code governs the way English speakers order adjectives. The rules come so naturally to us that we rarely learn about them in school, but over the past few decades language nerds have been monitoring modifiers, grouping them into categories, and straining to find logic in how people instinctively rank those categories. (Slate)
  • Losing religion at college? New study flips the common wisdom: In other words, a college degree used to mean people were more likely to lose religion. Now, some people are losing religion whether they went to college or not but it’s especially true for those who didn’t go to college. (Religion News Service)
  • 5 Myths You Still Might Believe about the Puritans (#5 Will Blow Your Mind!):   Many of us have grown up with an understanding of Puritans as those gloomy religious folk who found joy in making sure others had none. The tale of spoilsport Puritans continues to be told, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Here are 5 myths about Puritans which you may still believe. (
  • The Squeeze on the Middlebrow: A Resurgence in Inequality and Its Effects on Culture:  Social inequality may be returning, but that doesn’t mean that the masterpieces will follow. The highbrows were co-opted or killed off by the middle, and the elitism they championed has been replaced by another kind, the kind that measures all value, cultural and otherwise, in money. It may be time to build a new ladder. (New York Times)

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On the Need to Write Something “New”

I am sure that this is true in many disciplines, but one of the challenges of doing research in Bible and theology is that it seems like all the good stuff has already been said. Every now and then someone comes along with a truly unique idea or way of approaching an issue, and they usually end up being the people we study for the next few decades. The rest of us? Not so much.

typewriter (500x332)

How do you write something “new” on topics that people have been studying for thousands of years? And should that even be our primary focus?

Maybe the issue isn’t whether your writing/research is new in the sense that you’re saying something no one has ever said before, which would raise some interesting questions of its own. Maybe the kind of newness that we should pursue is that fact that you’re the one saying it.

In her advice to writers, Anne Lamott has this to say about the issue:

“Mark Twain said that Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before. Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind get recycled back and forth across the universe. But what you have to offer is your own sensibility, maybe your own sense of humor or insider pathos or meaning. All of us can sing the same song, and there will still be four billion different renditions.”  (Bird by Bird, 181)

Does your research offer anything “new”? It does, at the very least, because it’s your research, your writing, your perspective on whatever it is you are studying. That’s never been done before. Indeed, it can’t have been done before, because no one can do that except you.

[This is part of our Back to School: Tips from the Writers Guild series, focusing on things we can learn from professional authors about what it takes to thrive as a student in today's world.]

Flotsam and jetsam (8/8)


Good Reads

  • Advice to Young Scholars:   In the end, what matters is not winning approval or gaining celebrity. Your mission and vocation is to seek the truth and to speak the truth as God gives you to grasp it. (First Things)
  • Why I Accept Mark Driscoll’s Apology…And You Should Too:  When Christians have grown so bitter toward someone that we can’t even accept their apologies, something has gone seriously wrong. If Driscoll had ignored these comments, his critics would have excoriated him for his silence. But when he says he is sorry, they criticize him still. We must refuse to create lose-lose situations for each other where one is damned if they apologize and damned if they don’t. (Jonathan Merritt)
  • China Plans Its Own ‘Christian Theology’:  China says it may try to create a theology based on Christianity – that integrates the religion with Chinese culture and is compatible with the country’s socialist beliefs. (BBC)
  • Cultural Disintegration and the Revival of a Moral Imagination:  Such a conversion and revival of the moral imagination must begin with the church of Jesus Christ. As Peter reminds us, judgment always begins at the household of God. So what would such a revival of a robustly Christian moral imagination look like? (Canon and Culture)

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Roller Skates and Pearly Gates: Children’s Music as Theological Formation

The songs we sing have the power to shape us in important ways. They run through our minds when we’re not paying attention, subtly shaping our thoughts and guiding our imaginations.

And recently there’s been a rise in awareness about how important this is for the corporate worship of God’s people. After all, if we’re going to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:18), it’s probably a good idea to make sure we’re doing it well. So there’s a lot of talk about how worship shapes us, how important it is for worship leaders to be theologically aware, and how we need to pay attention to the lyrics of our worship songs.

But I wonder if we’re paying as much attention to the songs our kids sing.

I recently ran across a quote from Karl Barth on the powerful and influential role that children’s music played in his own development. According to him, they were “the textbook from which I received my first theological instruction…in a form appropriate for my immature years” (from Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts [Wipf and Stock, 2005], p. 8).

How often do we think of our children’s songs as a theological textbook for young minds?

[This is the beginning of my latest post over at Pastors Today. Head over there to read the rest, and let me know what you think.]

A Day in the Life of a Writer/Student

I like to read books about writing, probably because so much of my work involves writing in some form or another. And I’ve discovered that the writing life and the academic life have a lot in common.

Done For The Day

So I particularly appreciated this description of a writer’s day from Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles (Black Irish Entertainment, 2012). It nicely captures the daily grind of academic research, the importance of getting up every morning and punching the clock even when you don’t feel like it, and that all-important sense of satisfaction that comes at the end of a long and only marginally productive day of hard work.

Whenever you’re working on a writing project of any kind, whether it’s a research paper or a book, come back to this and be reminded that (1) it’s a grind, (2) you’re not alone in the fear and frustration you feel, and (3) get up and till the field anyway, you’ll be glad when the harvest comes in.

I wake up with a gnawing sensation of dissatisfaction. Already I feel fear. Already the loved ones around me are starting to fade. I interact. I’m present. But I’m not.

I’m not thinking about the work. I’ve already consigned that to the Muse. What I am aware of is Resistance. I feel it in my guts. I afford it the utmost respect, because I know it can defeat me on any given day as easily as the need for a drink can overcome an alcoholic.

I go through the chores, the correspondence, the obligations of daily life. Again I’m there but not really. The clock is running in my head; I know I can indulge in daily crap for a little while, but I must cut it off when the bell rings.

I’m keenly aware of the Principle of Priority, which states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.

What’s important is the work. That’s the game I have to suit up for. That’s the field on which I have to leave everything I’ve got.

Do I really believe that my work is crucial to the planet’s survival? Of course not. But it’s as important to me as catching that mouse is to the hawk circling outside my window. He’s hungry. He needs a kill. So do I.

The sun isn’t up yet; it’s cold; the fields are sopping. Brambles scratch my ankles, branches snap back in my face. The hill is a sonofabitch but what can you do? Set one foot in front of another and keep climbing.

An hour passes. I’m warmer now, the pace has got my blood going. the years have taught me one skill: how to be miserable. I know ho two shut up and keep humping. Thi sis a great asset because it’s human, the proper role for a mortal. It does not offend the gods, but elicits their intercession. My bitching self is receding now. The instincts are taking over. Another hour passes. I turn the cordner of a thicket and there he is: the nice fat hare I knew would show up if I just kept plugging.

Home from the hill, I thank the immortals and offer up their portion of the kill. They brought it to me; they deserve their share. I am grateful.

I joke with my kids beside the fire. They’re happy; the old man has brought home the bacon. The old lady’s happy; she’s cooking it up. I’m happy; I’ve earned my keep on the planet, at least for this day.

Reistance is not a factor now. I don’t think of the ing and I don’t think of the office. The tensions that drains from my neck and back. What I feel and say and do this night will not be coming from any disowned or unresolved part of me, any part corrupted by Resistance.

I go to sleep content, but my final thought is of Resistance. I will wake up with it tomorrow. Already I am steeling myself.

The War of Art, p. 67


Flotsam and jetsam (8/6)

pocket elves

Good Reads

  • Well To Start With, Your Last Theologian Was A Idiot: Theologians and pastors, whether in person or in print, ought to bear this in mind when explaining doctrine. Explain sympathetically what previous teachers or traditions were trying to do….Explain doctrines and differences in such a way that your listeners focus their attention on the subject matter rather than the personalities. (Fred Sanders)
  • The Evangelical Persecution Complex:  If evangelicals want to have a persuasive voice in a pluralist society, a voice that can defend Christians from serious persecution, then we must be able to discern accurately when we are truly victims of oppression—and when this victimization is only imagined. (The Atlantic)
  • Gay, Christian and … celibate: The changing face of the homosexuality debate: For years, those who were gay or struggled with homosexuality felt like they had few good options: leave their faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change. But as groups like Exodus have become increasingly unpopular, Rodgers is among those who embrace a different model: celibate gay Christians, who seek to be true to both their sexuality and their faith. (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
  • Go Ahead, Say the Wrong Thing:  When we create lists of things never to say or publicly rebuke people over what amount to trifling missteps in their language, do we not often do out of a sense of pride: that we, not they, know the right words; that we, not they, are righteous in our indignation, even if their intentions were innocuous? (Hermeneutics)

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