Advancing Trinitarian Theology

I just returned home after participating in the LA Theology Conference. La TheologyHere, I want to give some highlights, a general overview, and then pose a question I had after the conference was completed. First, the conference in general was fantastic. Fuller was a great venue, it was run incredibly well, and the event as a whole had a nice overall rhythm to it. In some conferences you feel like you are running around non-stop, but this was full without being overwhelming. It didn’t hurt, of course, that January in So Cal is gorgeous, so sitting outside having a coffee in between sessions was a nice way to decompress. Second, the plenary sessions were great. There was a nice variety, but they built off of each other well without simply patting each other on the back. The one obvious agreement among the plenary speakers was that social trinitarianism is something of a train wreck, but even that was handled in different ways. And finally, ending the conference with a panel discussion really helped tie it all together. It was here where the disagreements came to the surface. There was some question about apophaticism, and along with that, with analogical or univocal predication. There was a general dislike of the immanent/economic distinction, with different individuals accepting it as an imperfect but helpful distinction, and Lewis Ayres claiming it was too broken to salvage. Ultimately, it was all very interesting. Continue reading

Christology: Ancient and Modern

As many of you know, I’m sure, the LA Theology Conference is coming up in the near future. For more info, see here. ImageThis year the conference will be held at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA and will be focusing on the doctrine of the Trinity. I will be reading a paper on beauty and the doctrine of God, utilizing a retrieval from Jonathan Edwards’s trinitarian aesthetics to ground a certain mode of theologizing. But more on that later. The LA Theology Conference has quickly positioned itself as one of the more interesting theology conferences in the country, pulling in great plenary speakers and providing a context for dogmatic theology on the west coast. But more recently, it has also proven it can turn its conferences into an incredibly useful theology text. 

Christology, Ancient and Modern: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Zondervan, 2013) has recently been released, and it is made up of the five plenary addresses from last years conference  as well as five of the nine other papers presented at the conference. As with any conference volume of this type, you can always trust that the chapters will be illuminating, but, in my experience, conference volumes are incredibly uneven (even more so than other edited volumes, which are often uneven at the best of times). While I wasn’t struck by this volume being uneven, it did have a range of emphases and approaches, some more philosophical than others, some more strictly dogmatic, others with a more historical or biblical focus. Overall, I am not only pleased by the breadth and depth of the essays, but I believe this could serve as a useful theology text. As with any text, the professor would want to narrate the broad issues prior to the students reading this kind of work, and would also want to “pull back the curtain” on some of the theological spats taking place (trying to explain, for instance, why Torrance would think it necessary to deny simplicity!).

Overall, if the LA Theology Conference can continue to put out volumes like this one, I think it will set itself apart among theology conferences. With the plenary speakers for the next LA Theology Conference (this January), one can assume that will happen.  

Paul T. Nimmo Joins Faculty at Aberdeen

I am happy to announce that Paul T. Nimmo will be taking the chair in Systematic Theology at Aberdeen in the Fall (the one recently vacated by John Webster). This is an important move for King’s College! Please see the press release below:

The University of Aberdeen’s highly regarded department of Divinity and Religious Studies has appointed a leading professor to strengthen its King's College Aberdeenposition as a premier centre for world class research in Christian Theology.

Dr Paul T. Nimmo will take up a chair in Systematic Theology in September. He joins the department from Edinburgh University having previously been an Affiliated Lecturer in the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. His own studies were undertaken in Cambridge, Edinburgh, Princeton, and Tübingen. Widely published in the fields of systematic and historical theology, his book Being in Action: The Theological Shape of Barth’s Ethical Vision earned him the Templeton Award for Theological Promise. He is widely acknowledged to be amongst the front-rank of researchers in the theology of Karl Barth, and his major study of Barth’s theology of the sacraments, Thinking the Eucharist After Barth, is forthcoming. He is an Editor of the International Journal of Systematic Theology. Together with David Fergusson, Dr. Nimmo is currently editing the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Reformed Theology.

Dr Nimmo has a broad range of research interests in systematic theology generally and in the Reformed tradition in particular. His work incorporates both historical and contemporary Christian doctrine, and he is centrally involved with a number of church projects in theology. He is a member of the Church of Scotland – Roman Catholic Joint Doctrine Commission, the Church of Scotland Working Group on Issues in Human Sexuality, and the inter-denominational ‘Why Believe?’ Group. He is a Treasurer of the Society for the Study of Theology and is a Fellow of the Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. In high demand as a public speaker and lecturer, Dr. Nimmo has delivered the Kerr Lectures in Glasgow and a Block-Seminar on the Theology of Karl Barth at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen.

The University’s Pro-Chancellor, former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and former President of Princeton Theological Seminary, The Very Reverend Professor Iain Torrance, said:

I am truly delighted by Paul Nimmo’s appointment. He is one of the most brilliant and most promising younger scholars in his field from anywhere in the world. At the University of Edinburgh he has been acclaimed by the student body as being also a great teacher. Aberdeen has a long tradition of outstanding theology in the Reformed tradition. In the case of Paul Nimmo, the Department could not have made a better appointment, and this is good news for Reformed scholars not only in Scotland but also in the US, Korea, Japan and Africa.

Divinity and Religious Studies is a leading research department within the University and home to one of its largest communities of international postgraduate research students. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) confirmed its status, rating 80 percent of its assessed research at 4* (world-leading) or 3* (internationally excellent). The department ranks first in Scotland and second in a field of thirty-eight departments in the UK in the Times Higher Education tables.

Theology, Disability, and the People of God: Call for Papers

There is a call for papers for the Theology, Disability, and the People of God conference to be held at Carey Baptist Church, Auckland. The conference will be held from the 1ST-3RD JULY 2013

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS

Professor Amos Yong
J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology
Regent University

Professor John Swinton
Chair in Divinity and Religious Studies
University of Aberdeen

CONFERENCE

This conference dares to explore the question, “What difference does a theology of disability make?” The gospel compels us to embrace ways of being human together that will overcome false divisions and exclusions in search of flourishing vulnerable communities. In doing so, we seek to equip one another for participation in communities restored to God, one another and all creation.

PROPOSALS

We invite local and international participants to offer biblical, theological, ethical, and church perspectives on the theme ‘Theology, Disability, and the People of God’. To provide a rich exploration of this theme, the conference seeks a diversity of presentations from people with academic, professional, and/or lived experience.

Proposals should include the following details:
• Name
• Current position/relevant experience
• Contact information
• Title of proposed paper/presentation
• 200 word abstract for proposed paper

Proposals must be emailed to Andrew Picard, Lecturer in Applied Theology at Carey Baptist College: andrew.picard@carey.ac.nz
DEADLINE for proposals is March 1st, 2013.

Help for Teaching Church History

If you are like me, you spend as much time thinking of creative ways to engage your students as you spend on the content of the course itself. This is why I love it when publishers and authors do that for us (because it saves me so much time). My friend Norm is releasing a new help for teaching church history – the Theologian Trading Cards (for publisher page click here). Theologian trading cards are a set of flash cards covering a broad scope of church history and current thinkers. They are flash cards with a fun twist, taking the form of a baseball card. Norm created 288 of these cards and he even put them on 15 theological or historic “teams”. Check out some samples below:

Jonathan Edwards and Justification

With my recent move and my upcoming semester of teaching (which is all very new), I feel like all my posts have been updates about something I’ve published. Sorry about that, hopefully things will be more manageable soon. Until then, I would like to highlight a new book out on Edwards: Jonathan Edwards and Justification ed. Josh Moody (Crossway, 2012). In short, this book is a defense of the claim that Edwards held to a position on justification that can be regarded as Protestant and Reformed. If you are not familiar with the secondary literature on Edwards, this might seem pointless. If Edwards was anything he was Reformed right? Not necessarily so. On justification specifically, Edwards scholars have long questioned Edwards stance, even claiming that it is a key ecumenical bridge with Roman Catholicism.

To start the book, Josh Moody lays out the debated issues and defends Edwards’s Reformed heritage. Next, I lay out what I believe to be the crux of Edwards’s position. I argue that his position is often misunderstood because his doctrinal ordering is not followed carefully. Edwards grounds justification in participation and union, ordering soteriology around Christ and the Spirit. Ultimately, this has to do with Edwards’s account of theosis, but in general, it has more to do with his theocentric approach to doctrine. Every doctrine finds its orbit around Christ and in the Holy Spirit. Third, my friend Rhys Bezzant addresses Edwards’s broad social vision and its implication for his preaching on justification. Fourth, Samuel Logan analyses perhaps the biggest stumbling block in Edwards’s account of justification – evangelical obedience. My hope is that his chapter and mine really serve as two sides of the same argument. Once you follow the dogmatic moves in the first part of Edwards’s discourse on justification, his second part (dealing with evangelical obedience) can fall into place appropriately. Last, Doug Sweeney mines other material across Edwards’s corpus, published and not, to round out the picture of justification we present in this book.  Continue reading

Guest Post: Early Career Academic Publishing

Our friend Myk Habets, of Carey Graduate School, Auckland, New Zealand, has been gracious enough to provide us with a guest post on early career academic publishing. If anyone does not know Myk, you should know that he is incredibly prolific. I personally found this post to be really helpful and insightful, and would love to know your thoughts.

Why Publish?

In the current environment it is often said that an academic’s motto for survival is “publish or perish.” And there is truth in the claim. Full-time tertiary level educators are expected to hold higher degrees (the PhD preferably) and continue to contribute meaningfully to their respective academic disciplines with original research, published for critical interaction and dissemination. Theological educators, and by ‘theological’ I mean the broad list of disciplines associated with the modern seminary, also have theological reasons for publishing, amongst which we may include: witness, public reasoning (a form of apologetics), discipleship, the guarding of sound doctrine, sanctification, and the advancement of pursuing God with all our minds. Each generation seeks to stand on the shoulders of the giants who preceded them in order to leave the next generation with a greater legacy of Christian convictions, tools for Bible reading, and resources for the advancement of Christian knowledge. In short, taking rational trouble over the content of the Bible is an act which issues out of worship, is worship, and leads to worship. There are other reasons to publish; of course, not least of which includes the excitement and immediacy which recently published work gives to the lecturer entering their respective classes at the forefront of current Christian thinking. Academics publish and Christian academics publish with a purpose. This may be taken as a given. Continue reading

Jonathan Edwards and the Polemics of Theosis

My new article, “Jonathan Edwards and the Polemics of Theosis” just came out in the new edition of the Harvard Theological Review 105:3 (July 2012). Here is the abstract:

One of the more intriguing developments in Protestant theology over the past several decades has been the increasing interest in recovering a doctrine of theosis (or deification) for the contemporary church. In nearly every branch of the Protestant tree, theologians are making a case for theosis as integral to their theological tradition. There are proposed projects for Lutheran, Wesleyan, Reformed, and distinctively Evangelical accounts of theosis, all of which attempt to ground theosis within the overarching model of salvation that their given backgrounds affirm. In light of this, it is not surprising that Jonathan Edwards is touted as a key resource. More surprising is how little is written on Edwards’s doctrine of theosis as such. Instead, the focal point has been on themes in Edwards’s thought that allow for ecumenical bridge-building.

In this article, I address the historic backdrop to Edwards’s doctrine of theosis focusing specifically on his curious phrase “neither Godded with God nor Christed with Christ” from Religious Affections. While this is a well known phrase in Edwards studies, no one, to my knowledge, has ever asked where it came from. Several scholars have mused on its origin, with no actual evidence for their views other than the simple fact that another person used the same phrase. Continue reading

Charity and Its Fruits: Why it Matters

As you may know from Kent’s interview posted here, my new book Charity and Its Fruits: Living in the Light of God’s Love (Crossway, 2012) has now been released. Charity and Its Fruits was a sermon series through 1 Cor 13, and is, therefore, a theological exposition on love. So, why does it matter? First, I think it is important to see Edwards put his incredible mind to work on 1 Cor 13. As much as this passage is thrown about at weddings, few have really sat with how difficult a passage it is. Therefore, secondly, let me explain why I think it matters through two key theological moves Edwards makes.

The first key theological move Edwards makes is his exposition of the “nature” of God. God’s nature, as we know from 2 Pet 1:4, is communicable, and therefore God’s nature is not the same thing as God’s essence. Furthermore, God is love, therefore love, in some way, is God’s nature. Edwards runs this through his trinitarian theology to grasp the reality that God’s own life is a life of loving consent and union. It is God knowing himself and loving himself fully as perfect beauty and holiness. Therefore, God becomes the archetype by which our own journey of love is etched.

The second key move is to pick up on Paul’s comment that whereas faith and hope fade away, love never will. Love is eternal. Love is the only currency in heaven, as it were. The vision of God known in heaven, therefore, serves to orient our lives now. Just as the vision of God will create a perfect loving society, so should the sight of faith create a society of love here. These two lines come together since God is the God of love and the telos of our histories. As we journey towards heaven we journey towards God. Love, therefore, is proleptically provided to us from heaven. It is not of this world. Love, therefore, actually is the Holy Spirit given in regeneration. It is only as we know God that we can love him and love our neighbors as ourselves. Continue reading

Updates from Theology Forum

Hello all,

It has been a particularly busy season for all of us here at Theology Forum, as you can probably tell from the Blog. Steve started a new job, moved back to Denver, and had his first child, all while continuing to write his dissertation. Kent has been pouring himself into teaching, and, I should note, has just been named Professor of the Year at Huntington University. I have met few people, if any, who think so critically and creatively about teaching college students, so it comes as no surprise that his efforts have not gone unnoticed. Kent continues to work on his retrieval project and editing a volume with me on the Christian life.

I have had my fair share of busyness as well, and have, as of yesterday, handed in the draft for my book on Edwards’s Theology: Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation (Dec, 2012). I would also like to announce that I have just accepted a faculty position at Grand Canyon University for the Fall. We are very excited to be joining the team there, and slightly less excited to be moving to Phoenix in July.

In any case, we hope to get things moving around here a bit more now that things are (hopefully) slowing down.

What do you do anyway? Being an unemployed theologian

What do you do anyway? You can usually see the question forming behind the blank stare you receive when you talk about being a theologian. Often, these days, I say I’m an author, because that gives them something concrete to think about. Being an unemployed theologian leaves people with a picture of you in your pajamas watching daytime tv. Being an author at least gives a picture of work. So here are some musings on being an unemployed theologian.

As most of you will know, there is a huge difference between being a theologian who doesn’t work and being a theologian without a job. I am of the latter variety. I work a lot. I am currently writing three books (two of which are contracted), editing three books (all of which are contracted) and in the proposal phases of two more (one written and one edited), not to mention articles and papers. But I’m not just an author. I am a theologian. My vocation is not tied to a paying gig. Therefore, when I’m not writing, I find myself presented with fascinating oppotunities to actually be a theologian. I lead a disability theology study group for my church. There are several of us that get together to talk about disability and theology so that we can focus our attention as a church on God’s calling for us. This is particularly important for our church since we are helping to plant a church aimed at people with disability with a pastor who has a disability. I co-lead our adult Bible study at my church. Last semester we studied Gospel stories alongside a painting of the same story. We asked: How was this painter interpreting this passage? as we meditated on the passage itself. If you scroll through this blog you will see several of the paintings we used. Currently, we are working through Hebrews chapter by chapter.

Along with preaching on occasion, I find myself in situations to try and speak meaningfully about theology to pastors. I have led a denomination’s pastors retreat and plan on leading another one for them in October. I meet with pastors to talk about ministry and the nature of the church and her call. I lecture from time to time at seminaries in either theology or spiritual formation. In fact, now that I think about it, I can’t imagine having a job! As I’ve tried to see this time of life as a blessing, rather than a frustrating situation, it becomes clear to me how unique it is to have a calling that is not tied to a job. This is true for everyone, of course, but I have found that the opportunities for a theologian are endless. Anyone else having similar experiences?

Questioning Theological Education

To start this post, let me begin with several qualifications: First, I think that theological education has some serious meditation to do concerning its task. Second, I think the overall model / approach upon which we’ve built is flawed. Third, I am excited about virtually anything that seeks to think creatively about this. In comes Mike Breen. Mike Breen, who I know little about but have heard good things, posted this back in November. It is a wholesale engagement with the kinds of worries I have. In light of that, let me again state some qualifications: First, I know nothing about this other than this post. Second, if I saw this right when I graduated seminary I probably would have called him up and said, “Sign me up and tell me what to do.” Third, I have some doubts about some of the statistics in the video, but for the purpose of this discussion lets assume they are true.

Now, qualifications aside, I was left frustrated by this post. But why? Why would I be frustrated by someone who is, for all practical purposes, hitting all of my sweet-spots? I actually found myself asking this exact question at times. Let me try and point to some issues I think are inherent to this project (keeping in mind how limited my knowledge of it is). Continue reading