Christian Spiritual Classics

I’ve been co-editing a book for the past year or so that is a guide for an evangelical reading of Christian Spiritual Classics. As a part of our research for this volume, I came across a new book edited by Arthur Holder called Christian Spirituality: The Classics. At first, if I’m honest, I was a bit worried when I saw the title! It was a little too close to our volume for comfort, but when I received the book I realized it was doing the exact opposite of what we are. Holder’s overall goal is to take the ever-growing interest in spiritual classics and provide a reader that covers the great bulk of them. Each chapter is written by a different scholar who follows an outline template, offering helpful continuity throughout the volume. The authors cover thirty texts, starting with Origen and ending with Merton. Each chapter gives a broad look at the author and context, provides an overview of the content, addresses the reception of the text throughout history, and then explores various ways these texts can be meaningful for today.

In an attempt to be broad, I fear that Holder missed some opportunities along the way. One must wonder how Cassian’s Conferences or Institutes fail to make it into a volume like this. Continue reading

Calvin, the Divine Essence, and God the Father

I’ve been slowly re-reading Calvin’s Institutes and came across a section in Book I Chapter 13 on the Trinity that I thought would be fruitful for discussion here. In I.13.24, Calvin aruges that the name “God” in Scripture does not refer to the Father alone. In my mind, what this does, not necessarily for Calvin, but for many of his followers after him, is to de-personalize the name “God” and apply it to the divine essence, so that there is, as it were, a God behind the trinitarian God.

In this section, Calvin is knee deep in polemical argumentation against a sort of Arianism. His worry is that if the Father is only considered “God,” then the Son would, in some sense, be less than God. He doesn’t seem to notice that the Fathers, from what I can tell, are unanimous that the term “God” is used in Scripture of the Father, and that his counter-examples in his polemics simply don’t make his argument. Calvin fluctuates between “God” as a name and “God” as deity, and doesn’t draw a distinction between them. Therefore, he can argue, that when Christ says that no one is good but God alone, then you have to say Christ isn’t God if only the Father is God (thereby reducing name to deity). Continue reading

Charles Chauncy and the American Ideal

I’ve been doing a bit of research on the Charles Chauncy / Jonathan Edwards exchange over the revivals. Each figure represents the Old Light / New Light cause respectively. I am particularly interested in Chauncy’s rhetoric. The bulk of the exchange took place during the 1730s and 1740s. Interestingly, when Chauncy criticized the revivals, he sought to link the revivals to the heretical movements of the century prior – focusing specifically on Anne Hutchinson. Chauncy argues that there are incredible similarities to the 17th century enthusiast groups and those popping up in the 18th century revivals. Subtly, Chauncy links himself to the forefathers who fought for the faith and defeated the heretics, and linked his opponents to those heretics.

There were various issues floating around these dicussions, such as the role and prominence of women (Anne Hutchinson became a key example for him), as well as, more interestingly, that both had a tendency to level-out society. Chauncy was worried that this levelling would undo the social hierarchy that was so entrenched as the proper ordering of culture. In short, Chauncy argument is what we might anachronistically call an argument against a position as “un-American.” Alan Heimart notes Chauncy’s rhetoric and even claims that Chauncy was ultimately concerned with communism! Heimart notes, “By 1774 all Liberals, Chauncy among them, were once again warning that enthusiasm, whether religious or political, endangered the very basis of American happiness” (Heimart, Religion and the American Mind, 250-251.). Whereas Ben Franklin lauded the revivals because of their social effect, Chauncy denounces them for the same reason. The levelling effect of the revivals worried Chauncy, and the rise of popular and anti-clerical religion was, no doubt, the fruit of a movement that eventually came to define America rather than undo it.

Rubbishing the King James Version: Eugene Peterson and Translation

In light of the 400th anniversary of the King James, I thought it would be fruitful to bring up an interesting argument that Eugene Peterson makes in his book Eat This Book. Furthermore, Ben Myers has recently put up a blog post about his love for the King James so I thought this would stand as an interesting contrast. Myers provides something of a personal apologetic I first heard when I was in an undergraduate Bible class – that there is just something special about the King James. I never used the King James so I was intrigued by this line of logic. The person in my class talked about how the language of the King James was sufficiently “high” for the Bible, and how that language helped to push the Bible into a more spiritual register (my language, not his). In light of this argument, I would like to note some of Eugene Peterson’s reasons for thinking that the King James Version, for these very reasons, is an inadequate translation (I should note that I don’t have this book with me and I read it a year ago, so I will only outline the broad contours of his argument).

The first thing to note about Eugene Peterson’s argument is that he denies what tend to be two assumed premises. First, that the King James was written in an older form of English which was used in everyday conversation. Rather, Peterson argues, the language of the King James was never conversational in any age. It was, even in its own day, an attempt to spiritualize language to a higher order fitting for the Bible. As ink marked the page it was, at it were, “arcane,” or, better, “foreign.” Second, based on the Greek language of the New Testament, the King James fails to provide a proper translation of the language that the apostles used to convey the gospel. It was, in fact, common language that was invoked for the New Testament and not a higher-level spiritual grammar. Continue reading

Moral Theology and Christian Ethics

Kent and I have been doing some research for a project we are working on together and we decided to read D. Stephen Long’s chapter “Moral Theology” in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology. This is an area I have wanted to pour myself in to but always seem to be pushing off this research for other projects that get in the way (who will save me from this body of death!). Here, I thought it would be fruitful to start a conversation about Long’s thesis.

Long starts with the dividing line that one would normally think of when they hear the term “moral theology” in distinction from “Christian ethics” – Catholic and Protestant. Both traditions have a demarcation between dogmatic theology and moral/ethical thought, even though, in the case of moral theology, there is a tighter relationship of independence. “The main difference between them,” Long asserts, “is that moral theology recognizes Christian dogma as essential to the moral life, while Christian ethics sees dogma as less important for its task” (457). Moral theology, therefore, “assumes an explicit doctrinal context.” In light of this distinction, these approaches produce distinct audiences – moral theology speaks primarily to the church, while Christian ethics understands its scope to be at the broadest level of society (universities, nations, corporations, etc.). Long characterizes these various inclinations by delineating the “universal category” for each discipline – for moral theology: doctrine; for Christian ethics: ethics. Continue reading

The Blessed Virgin, Purity and Divine Parenting

Well, I am not nearly as far in my Patristic reading as I had hoped to be at this point, but I am making progress. I wanted to provide some brief thoughts about Mary, since I am reading more about her than normal! What I find interesting about Mariology is that it tends to blossom with time. Once the virgin birth began to be read in terms of purity, it seems, there was a tendency for that purity to overflow as far as the church would let it. But as I think a bit more about the virgin birth, it seems to me that Cyril of Alexandria, building upon Athanasius’ Christology, had the right resources to talk about this in a different, and, in my mind, more fruitful way. The virgin birth, it seems possible, is meant to highlight the singular personhood of the Son of God. Gregory of Nazianzus is helpful here: Continue reading

Early Church Theology Month

Hey everyone, I am making January “early church theology month” and would like some recommendations. Here is what my reading entails thus far:

  • Anthanasius’s On the Incarnation (It has been too long since I’ve read this)
    • Athanasius: The Coherence of His Thought by Khaled Anatolios
  • Basil the Great’s Asketikon and his On the Holy Spirit
  • Augustine’s The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love
    • I hope to get, but probably not yet read, Ayres newest volume on Augustine on the Trinity
  • Irenaeus of Lyons’ On the Apostilic Preaching
  • Cyprian of Carthage’s On the Unity of the Church
  • Cyril of Alexandria’s On the Unity of Christ
  • Gregory of Nazianzus’s On God and Christ
  • I will also be working through the four volumes of the “Sources of Early Christian Thought” series put out in the 80′s by Fortress for some shorter readings.

In terms of more secondary literature, I plan on reading Fairbairn’s Grace and Christology in the Early Church and Rowan William’s book Arius: Heresy and Tradition. Is there anything that is a must read that I should try to cover as well. I have a couple of books floating around that I’ve been meaning to read, but January is only so long! I would love some recommendations.

Experimental Theology in America

As some of you may have noticed, I have been off the blog for a while now. My wife and I (more her than me!) had a baby girl on Oct. 31st – Brighton Angelina Strobel. We are very excited and very tired. All that to say, I’ve been meaning to write a review of a fantastic book but am only getting around to it now. The book, written by Patricia A. Ward, is entitled Experimental Theology in America: Madame Guyon, Fenelon, and Their Readers (Baylor University Press, 2009).

For those who have been following this blog for a while now, you know that we have an interest in the nature of evangelicalism. I was taken in by Bruce Hindmarsh’s claim that evangelicalism is best understood as a school of spirituality – a school that borrows heavily from other schools. Towards this end, Patricia Ward’s book goes a long way to justifying that claim (though this is my own interest and not her stated goal). This book is an excellent example of intellectual history, focusing its attention on the mystical writings of Madame Guyon and her defender Fenelon. As interesting as that is, you might wonder, why do I find it interesting? In my studies of early American theology, focusing on Edwards, I noticed what seemed to be a influence of Fenelon. Edwards did, in fact, read Fenelon, and Edwards’s spirituality does reflect some of Fenelon’s spirituality. That is what originally made me curious about Ward’s work, but now, after reading it, I am amazed at how ubiquitous Guyon and Fenelon’s influence actually was. Wesley appropriated, with caution, some of Guyon, as did figures like A. W. Tozer. Samuel Hopkins, Edwards’s protegé, was compared to Fenelon, and Fenelon became something of an ecumenical spiritual figure (as did, in her own right, Guyon). Continue reading

Latest issue of SBET

The latest issue of the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology has appeared. Reviews of recent literature on Calvin, T.F. Torrance, and Scripture along with reviews of recent biblical studies appear; it features reviews by Kevin Vanhoozer, Darrell Bock, Craig Blomberg, I. Howard Marshall, Kelly Kapic, Paul Nimmo, and Paul Helm. The reveiws by fellow bloggers Davey Henreckson and Brad Littlejohn are very much worth a read. The articles discuss issues of globalization, Calvin, union in Luther and the possibility for an evangelical appropriation of Hans Frei. The full table of contents can be found here.

Here are some excerpts of Vanhoozer’s review of Peter Leithart’s book Deep Exegesis:

Deep exegesis is like getting a joke whose meaning is often a function of what is not explicitly stated. [...] Interestingly, Leithart does not read under the banner of theological interpretation of Scripture, but chooses instead to speak in more general terms about entering into the depths of the text. Some readers may thus regret Leithart’s decision not to define meaning. To these he would no doubt say, ‘Here’s spit in your eye’, preferring, like Jesus, to rub his hermeneutical clay-and-spittle on our mind’s eye, thus enabling/anointing us to see and hear all the riches of Christ in the music of the text.


Reading the Decree

I am going to be taking a look at the doctrine of election through a couple of recent releases – the first, by David Gibson, is Reading the Decree: Exegesis, Election and Christology in Calvin and Barth (T&T Clark, 2009). This book has been out for a little while now, but I am also going to be looking at Suzanne McDonald’s new book Re-Imaging Election (Eerdmans, 2010). Here, I will focus my attention on Gibson’s read of Calvin and Barth on election. I think that this volume is particularly interesting because of the exegetical emphasis – putting Calvin and Barth’s exegetical considerations in parallel with their doctrinal development. Or, better, that for both thinkers, doctrine and exegesis are not two discrete tasks, but are united around, in one way or another, their “christocentrism.”

Utilizing Muller’s distinction between “soteriological christocentrism” and “principial christocentrism” Gibson invokes a corresponding hermeneutical distinction – extensive and intensive. A hermeneutic is christologically extensive when the center of christology “points outwards to other doctrinal loci which have space and scope to exist in themselves at a measure of distance from Christology and from each other” (15). Christology does not “dictate” or “control” but “shapes” and “influences” them. Likewise, a hermeneutic is christologically intensive when the center of christology “defines all else within its circumference” (15). This christology draws everything to itself, so that all other doctrinal material is read with an explicit reference to christology. Calvin and Barth represent these two facets respectively. Continue reading

Theological Anthropology: Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies

I am continuing our look at recent theological anthropolog texts with another post on Marc Cortez. We addressed his intro text to theological anthropology in the “Guide for the Perplexed” series, and now turn to his dissertation turned monograph, Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies: An Exercise in Christological Anthropology and its Significance for the Mind/Body Debate. This volume appears in the T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology series, which has continued to pump out really well-crafted dissertation/monographs.

After addressing some introductory matters, Cortez jumps into Barth’s exposition of a Christological anthropology with specific focus on CD III/2. Cortez offers six criteria which, for Barth, are necessary conditions for true humanity:

(1) being constituted by the ontological priority of Jesus in his relationship with God; (2) being conditioned by the salvation enacted by Jesus; (3) having its ‘true determination’ in the glory of God; (4) existing under the Lordship of God; (5) freely corresponding in its proper action to the divine deliverance; and (6) freely rendering service to God as a being who is for God” (38).

Furthermore, these six criteria are the standard by which Barth engages and criticises other approaches to anthropology – three are highlighted: the biological, ethical and existential. Continue reading

Defining Theosis

In his essay, “The Place of Theosis in Orthodox Theology” Andrew Louth suggests that theosis or divinization has a specific doctrinal location in Orthodox theology and that it cannot simply be abstracted away from those doctrines. In this sense, it might be helpful to follow Hallonsten’s distinction between a theme and a doctrine of deification, emphasizing that many (if not most) of the recent proposals claiming to find a doctrine of deification in a historic Protestant figure is probably more of a theme than a doctrine. So, what are these doctrines? I will let Louth summarize:

…I have suggested that deification, by the place it occupies in Orthodox theology, determines the shape of that theology: first, it is a counterpart to the doctrine of the Incarnation, and also anchors the greater arch of the divine economy, which reaches from creation to deification, thereby securing the cosmic dimension of theology; second, it witnesses to the human side of theosis in the transformation involved in responding to the encounter with God offered in Christ through the Holy Spirit – a real change that requires a series ascetic commitment on our part; and finally, deification witnesses to the deeper meaning of the apophatic way found in Orthodox theology, a meaning rooted in the ‘the [sic] repentance of the human person before the face of the living God.’” Continue reading

Choosing a Theology Textbook: From Nicaea to Chalcedon

For those of you who have been visiting the blog for a while now, you will know that I have been trying to find a series of books for use in the classroom. Along those lines, I want to say a bit about Frances M. Young’s volume From Nicaea to Chalcedon: A Guide to the Literature and Its Background (2nd Edition) and its possible use as a textbook. Young has updated her work from 1983, with help from Andrew Teal, and there are several features which would make it, in my mind, a great classroom text. First, I think this volume is particularly interesting because of its focus on texts. I will let Young explain:

…the period from Nicaea to Chalcedon is one of the most significant in the formation of the doctrine of the Chruch. Yet the average student of Christian doctrine rarely gets to grips with the background or the literature of the period, let alone the theological argumentation to be found in the texts. The book set out to be a companion to standard textbooks, providing background material, an introduction to the characters involved in the disputes, to the literary sources and critical questions which they pose” (vii). Continue reading