Texts on the Christian Life

Hello all, Kent and I had a wonderful time at ETS/AAR in San Francisco. We had a great dinner with Myk Habets, met up with old friends and some new ones, and talked extensively with publishers. In light of all of that, I wanted to put a question to all of you. Kent and I were trying to start a list of the great doctrinal treatises that deal directly with the Christian Life, and we wanted your help. What texts are the “must read” texts from the entire tradition and why?

Augustine, the Image, and the Fall

I’ve been reading Keith E. Johnson’s fantastic book, Rethinking the Trinity and Religious Pluralism: An Augustinian Assessment, and I came across this quote from Augustine:

This Trinity of the mind is not really the image of God because the mind remembers and understands and loves itself, but because it is also able to remember and understand and love him by whom it was made (De trinitate 14.15).

Johnson notes that Augustine is affirming here the idea that the divine image is actualized only in the context of redemption. This, however, made me reflect on the fall a bit. If Augustine is right, that when God said, “Let us made man in our image,” then that image must reflect the “our” in that passage, and is therefore trinitarian (as opposed to Christological), then there is link between that point and the one made above. Satan, in other words, was right when he seduced Eve, telling her that eating the fruit would make them like God. This likeness is a mind remembering, understanding, and loving itself, because, in the life of God, he is perfect beauty (not to mention all that is prior to creation). What Satan left out was the fact that for creatures, this is a fallen reality. Being “like” God, in this sense, is not a good thing, but is turning in on oneself as the greatest good when that is not true of who you are. It is an attempt to grasp God’s inner-life without his goodness, truth, or beauty.

This is just some musing on this passage in Augustine. Any thoughts?

Reactions: Salvador Dali’s The Christ of Saint John of the Cross

There will be more “Reactions” posts, as you might have noticed, because I am co-teaching an adult Sunday school class on the Bible and Art. Each week we are taking on a passage in scripture and looking at a particular work as an interpretation of that scene. Last week we did Salvador Dali’s famous masterpiece, Christ of Saint John of the Cross. What are your thoughts?

The Spirit of Truth and Power

I am going to be doing some review essays on the book Spirit and Power of Truth: Studies in Christian Doctrine and Experience, which is a collection of papers from the ninth Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference. There are several essays I would like us to consider from this volume, so here I will start with Bruce McCormack’s essay, “Trinity of Life and Power: The Relevance of Trinitarian Theology in the Contemporary Age.” This article is particularly interesting in light of the emphasis in my previous post “Re-Casting Nicea,” which looked at Samuel Clarke’s doctrine of the Trinity.

At the heart of McCormack’s focus in this paper is the idea that some kind of subordination in the eternal (or immanent) Trinity is necessary and biblical. McCormack states, “The principle is this: A doctrine of the Trinity which would suppress or eliminate the element of subordination will inevitably be guilty of creating a mythological construct; an elaboration of a doctrine which has lost contact with the biblical witness and is now engaged in arbitrary and, typically, self-serving speculation” (25). The momentum in theological circles to make this kind of move is perpetuated by a fear, McCormack warns, that a subordination in the Trinity will be used to justify subordination in human relations. The response, he claims, “has been to construct a doctrine of the Trinity along the lines of the perfect democratic society” (25). This fear has led to a rejection of the Cappadocian insight that the Father is the source of being for the Son and the Spirit (more on this later), because, it is assumed, if they receive their life from the Father then they are ultimately dependent upon him (and “lesser” in a real way). Continue reading

Erotic Desire and Effeminate Worship Pastors

As many of you will know, Mark Driscoll, known for a lack of control over his mouth (to put is as lightly as I can) made a Facebook comment recently asking about people’s own personal experience with “effeminate” worship pastors. When I heard about this latest debacle by one of the “New Calvinists” favorite bad-boys, I happen to be reading Belden C. Lane’s new book, Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality. Belden mines the depth of actual Reformed thought with a particular emphasis on Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and the strain of Puritans known as the “spiritual brethren.” In doing so, he develops a constructive proposal built on retrieval, with a particular focus on spirituality and ecology. It is, to say the least, a fascinating project.

My particular interest in light of Driscoll is a comment Belden makes concerning gender roles and the Puritans. If you have not read the Puritans, you may be surprised to find out that their spirituality leaned towards the erotic. Like the vast majority of interpreters in church history, the Puritans recognized the Song of Songs as a text on Christ and his bride. Belden notes this in a discussion of Puritan society that was unusually egalitarian, even as it held on to a patriarchal value system. Belden suggests that a major reason for this provocative balance was the fact that the men in society were struck with biblically induced gender dissonance. At once they were men who were meant to rule, govern, and lead, and yet their main identity was bride. They valued conquering their prize, and yet they were the conquered.
Continue reading

Recasting Nicea

I have had some interest in the theologian Samuel Clarke (1675-1729), particularly his trinitarian thought. I have just finished reading a great book on this aspect of Clarke’s thought, Thomas C. Pfizenmaier’s The Trinitarian Theology of Dr. Samuel Clarke (1675-1729): Context, Sources, and Controversy. Clarke was considered one of the brightest young lights in the church of England. In 1704-5 he gave the Boyle Lectures, and, particularly from that point, was seen as a key defender of orthodoxy. Then, in 1712, in the midst of anti-trinitarian thoughts, Socinian gibberish and the rise of deism, Clarke published his Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity. This is a fascinating book, which starts with 55 propositions on the Trinity that is followed by an incredible listing of biblical support and Patristic backing.

Pfizenmaier provides a brief overview of the work. “In Part One, Clarke collected from the entire New Testament every text relating to the doctrine of the trinity with ‘such references and observations, as may (’tis hoped) be of considerable use towards the understanding of true meaning.’” (4) In part one Clarke collected some 1,251 texts from the New Testament. In part two, Clarke builds on his biblical exposition by developing propositions, from the “text up” as it were, and rounding those out with a barrage of quotes from Patristic sources. The third section is devoted to the “present liturgy of the Church of England,” where he addresses how the liturgy itself backs his view.

Clarke’s work caused something of a mass hysteria in the church and academy. In the midst of the powder-keg he hoped to quell, Clarke lit the match that set the whole church in an uproar. Since that time, even to today, Clarke has been labelled an Arian. Continue reading

A Reformed Account of the Beatific Vision

I received my copy of the new book Jonathan Edwards and Scotland (Dunedin Academic Press, 2011) the other day, and I wanted to talk a bit about my essay in that volume: “Jonathan Edwards’ Reformed Doctrine of the Beatific Vision.” The volume itself is a series of papers-turned-chapters from the Jonathan Edwards and Scotland conference held at Glasgow University in 2009. While most of the essays focused on Edwards and Scotland and the interchange between Edwards and the Scots, mine obviously did not. My essay, rather, focused on the beatific vision as it was being developed in Reformed high orthodoxy, particularly in the thought of John Owen, Francis Turretin and Jonathan Edwards. I peppered the footnotes with some random other Reformed thought on the beatific vision, spanning from John Calvin, Johannis Wollebius, Lewis Bayly, Thomas Watson, Bavinck on to Charles Hodge.

Without going into my essay in much detail, I want to focus on some themes I saw develop in Reformed thought on the beatific vision. First, and maybe most interestingly, there was incredible breadth and creativity in the Reformed accounts, particularly the three I focused on. At first glance, finding any similiarities seem nearly impossible. Continue reading

Was Jonathan Edwards a Panentheist?

The ever-insightful Oliver Crisp has a chapter in the newish volume Jonathan Edwards as Contemporary arguing that Edwards was, in fact, a panentheist. The difficulty in reading Crisp, I have found, is the knowledge that before you finish the article or chapter you are reading he has already written two others. That aside, I want to address the broad contours of his argument.

Crisp starts with a working definition of panentheism: “The being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe, so that every part exists in Him, but His Being is more than, and not exhausted by, the universe.” Continuing in Crisp’s analytic mode, he offers several key constituents: Continue reading

New Issue of SBET

Hey everyone, the new issue of SBET is fresh off the presses. This issue has a particular focus on Bavinck, as you can see from the table of contents:

Guest Editorial
JAMES EGLINTON
1-3

Bavinck’s Use of Wisdom Literature in Systematic Theology
JOHN BOLT
4-23

Bavinck’s Use of Augustine as an Antidote to Ritschl
MARK W. ELLIOTT
24-40

Herman Bavinck and His Reformed Sources on the Call to Grace: A Shift in Emphasis towards the Internal Work of the Spirit
HENK VAN DEN BELT
41-59

The Religious Character of Modernism and the Modern Character of Religion: A Case Study of Herman Bavinck’s Engagement with Modern Culture
GEORGE HARINCK
60-77

Herman Bavinck on the Imitation of Christ
DIRK VAN KEULEN
78-91

Herman Bavinck and the Basis of Christian Certainty
DONALD MACLEOD
92-107

Bavinck, Barth, and the Uniqueness of the Eucharist
PAUL T. NIMMO
108-126 Continue reading

Eccentric Existence: Part 2

Continuing our look at Kelsey’s Eccentric Existence I want to turn to some methodological and structural issues. While I will not go into Kelsey’s criticisms of other anthropologies, I do find it helpful to start here with one of his overviews of the tradition:

When the claim that the triune God relates creatively is taken as a theologically central claim, anthropology usually has a nature/grace structure (typical of catholic theology) or creation/redemption structure (typical of classic Lutheran and Reformed theology) that keeps primary focus on the goodness and strength of human creatures by virtue of God relating to them…When the claim that the triune God relates to draw all that is not God to eschatological consummation is taken as a theologically central claim, anthropology usually has a ‘creation/consummation’  structure (characteristic of much late-twentieth-century theology of hope) that keeps primary focus on the goodness and glory of human being by virtue of God relating to them” (115-116). Continue reading

Eccentric Existence: Part 1 (of many)

For those of you who remember, I’ve been in the middle of a series of books on theological anthropology over the past year or so. I’ve looked at several books, some introductory and others much more advanced, but I have always intended to end the series with David Kelsey’s work Eccentric Existence. That is, until I saw it. Kelsey wrote a massive two volume work in answer to the question of anthropology (the introductions, and yes, that is supposed to be plural, take up 158 pages). Kelsey’s work takes up about the same amount of space on my shelf as my two volume edition of Calvin’s Institutes! More importantly though, for those of you who remember, I was critical of Jamie Smith’s work Desiring the Kingdom, which I claimed failed to be theological (and therefore distinctively Christian). Jamie was kind enough to interact with me about my critique, and when he asked me about anthropology, I suggested that Kelsey’s volume would probably offer a helpful account (one of my criticisms of Jamie’s anthropology was that it was not trinitarian). Therefore, it seems fitting that I finally put a close on this series by digging into this massive beast clogging up my desk.

To start, I want to pick up on a piece noted above in response to Jamie Smith, that anthropology needs to be guided by a robust trinitarian theology. Kelsey picks up here well: “My aim in this project is to think through the agenda of theological anthropology in a way shaped from beginning to end by the triunity of the God with whom we have to do” (46). Continue reading

Theology Gone North, Or, Why Scotland is Cooler than England

There seems to be an interesting immigration trend in British theological circles. My own alma mater, the University of Aberdeen, has recently announced that Bernd Wannenwetsch is leaving the University of Oxford to take up the chair of theological ethics, and Tom Greggs is leaving Chester to join Abedeen’s department of divinity. This, of course, follows a similar trend as John Webster, who left the Lady Margaret Chair of Divinity at Oxford to come to Aberdeen. This is, it should be noted, not an isolated event, as if Aberdeen itself had a theologian tractor beam. N.T. Wright left his tiny residence in Durham to go to St. Andrews, and several years before, Oliver O’Donovan fled Oxford for a chance to teach at Edinburgh.

Therefore, let me be the first to offer Lewis Ayres a position at Aberdeen. It seems clear that everything is falling apart down in England, so flee for the border!!!