The Lord’s Supper: Pentecostal View

As I noted in my previous entry, I wanted to spend some time highlighting the distinctives of a Pentecostal view of the Lord’s Supper. Gordon T. Smith, the editor of the volume, notes that the reason for adding this view was to do diligence to the explosion of growth in the Pentecostal movement globally (p. 8). In light of the emergingveli-matti_karkkainen-1 theology under girding this movement, Smith thought it necessary to bring them into conversation here.

The Pentecostal view is put forth by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Fuller’s Global theologian. V-Matti starts his essay off with a hilarious aside, noting that in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (2002), the entry on the sacraments is actually written by a Roman Catholic theologian – along with the entry on ecclesiology! Fortunately, sans anathemas. Kärkkäinen attempts to briefly map the trouble with talking about a “Pentecostal” theology, particularly in light of the fact that the theology of the movement has not caught up with its experience and practice. So while, in one breath, it might be justified to argue that the movement has an antisacramental sentiment, in the next you have to note that, in certain places, there is a specific working eucharistic practice and devotion. Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper: Book Review

I received a book for review a couple of weeks ago for Theology Forum that I was particularly interested in highlighting here. lords-supperI have been on a sacrament kick as of late. I, as many of you no doubt, come from what feels like a traditionless-tradition that “inherited” a vague and ambivalent viewpoint of the sacraments in general, and the Lord’s Supper in particular. This is why, for the purpose of seminary students, laymen and (for the sake of) professors, I wanted to highlight IVP’s new book, The Lord’s Supper: Five Views ed. by Gordon T. Smith. This particular “five views” book offers perspectives from Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist and Pentecostal theologians. The volume follows the same format as the other “five views” books, where each author develops a concise essay of their position, followed by critical analysis from the other authors. Continue reading

Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth

Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Baker Academic, 2008), 320 pp; £15.00/ $32.00 [Review copy courtesy of Baker Academic]

It is easy to forget just how good a reader of nineteenth-century theology orthodox-and-modernBruce McCormack really is. Given the stature and boldness of his proposal regarding Jesus Christ as the subject of election (and the many implications that follow from it), the other many facets of his work have, of late, tended to be darkened by its shadow. Interestingly, McCormack’s renown has come about, chiefly, by his identification as the reader primarius of Karl Barth’s theological development, particularly as this development is situated within its surrounding historical context. In fact, without indulging too much in haliolatry, I think it would be safe to say, that if you want to get to grips with Barth, that is, if you want answers to the kinds of questions Barth was preoccupied with, one of the voices you should be listening to is that of Bruce McCormack.

While the entire collection of essays brims over with the kind of meticulous research and able marshalling of the sources one has come to expect from McCormack, it is in the first of the four sections that the reader is given a clear and firm reminder of why reading McCormack so compelling and, indeed, necessary. The motivation for some readers to get to the juicy material (and by juicy, I mean the material found under the title ‘Karl Barth’s Theological Ontology’) is naturally understandable but in so doing one bypasses over 100 pages of important stuff. Because a substantial part of McCormack’s project is devoted to offering an ‘orthodox’ profile of Barth, time has to be given to an analysis of those factors that facilitate such a position. As McCormack explains, ‘…what Barth was doing, in the end, was seeking to understand what it means to be orthodox under the conditions of modernity‘ (17). Continue reading

Heresies and How to Avoid Them

Ben Quash is one of my favorite young, British theologians. His study of theodramatic conceptions of history, Theology and the Drama of History, was great; his expositions of Hans Urs von Balthasar are lucid, his judgments judicious, and his prose makes you believe he really does find joy in crafting them. He also contributes the essay on ‘Revelation’ in the Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology which is equally good. So I was excited to get hold of his most recent edited volume, Heresies and How to Avoid Them: Why it Matters what Christian’s Believe.

Here is a short excerpt from his essay: “Donatism: Do Christian ministers need to be faultless for their hereisies-and-how-to-avoid-them-2jpg1ministrations to be effective?”

[T]he border between schism and heresy is a blurry one. And in fact, one of the instructive features of the Donatist dispute as a whole is precisely  the way it highlights the artificiality of separating faith (or belief) from love (or practices). Christian practice is a sort of theology, an exposition…And in lots of ways the Donatists (at least those not marauding or supporting the marauders) embodied just that proper emphasis on right practice as inseparable from Christian truth…They wanted at their best, to be disciplined communities of character.

The problem was that their practice betrayed two things at the heart of Christian teaching: the ineradicable fallibility of creation (including the Church) and its consequent unavoidable need of grace on this side of the end of time. It is God’s job to make the Church pure, not ours, and he will do it when he is ready. However morally zealous we are, we will never by our own effort carve out a pure space which we can call the true Church by pointing to the unimpeachable lives of its members. Instead, they will sin, and they will need to be forgiven, and they will do so constantly. The holiness of the Church is precisely that it is a place where this circulation of forgiveness goes on all the time; it is not because forgiveness is never necessary in the first place. A Church which insisted that its members – or even just its clergy – had to be spotless would be an empty Church, or else a dishonest Church (p. 83, 88-89)

A Theology of Disability and Hospitality

Thomas E. Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality (Brazos Press, 2008), 256pp [Review Copy Courtesy of Brazos Press]

A Guest Review by Elizabeth Lynch

This book sets out to reflect theologically on the kind of place the church should be in the light of the kind of human vulnerability that is manifest in disability.  Reynolds claims, in the introduction, “disability is an often overlooked and contested ‘site’”, and argues that it has the potential to raise

issues of difference, normalcy, embodiment, community, and redemption. For this reason, disability has theological power (p. 13).

Reynolds’ book makes the case that in a context of social injustice and exclusion, God’s (and, by extension, the church’s) response is one of solidarity, characterised as sympathy, compassion, vulnerability, relationality, hospitality and inclusion.

While not wanting to argue against this, my concern is that it only tells part of the story.  Reynolds presents God and the church as absorbing the suffering caused by injustice, but at no point does he discuss God’s (or the church’s) condemning and resisting that injustice.  Is there not very good reason to argue that God is, and the church should be, a protesting presence as well as a sympathetic presence?  And would this not be a more genuine solidarity?

A brief survey of the first four chapters will position us for a closer reading of his theological arguments found later in the book at which time I will expand on my critique. Continue reading

Dostoyevsky & Pastoral Care – The Joy of Ministry (pt. 2)

In chapter 2 of The Joy of Ministry, Thomas Currie offers us the fruit of his tutelage in the writings of Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  In contrast to the contemporary church culture and its offerings of success strategies and management helps, we find in the writings of Dostoyevsky a vision for God’s mysterious grace that embraces life’s painful and oftentimes tragic messiness. Currie profiles the character of Father Zossima from The Brothers Karamazov and draws lessons for pastoral care from Zossima’s interaction with three different peasant women. In each case,

The joy that is offered by Father Zossima perceives and addresses great suffering, revealing itself to be no stranger to human misery but refusing to let such misery define the terms of a life that belongs to God (p. 22).

Currie’s study of Father Zossima and the insights he offers here for pastoral care are rich indeed. I was particularly struck by his interaction with the third vignette. A peasant woman comes to Father Zossima and without saying word falls prostrate before him with her face to the ground. She confesses that when her alcoholic, abusive husband was deathly ill, she wished not for healing but for his death. Having already confessed this to her priest, she comes to Father Zossima continuing to fear for her soul. In Zossima’s response Currie finds the heart of God’s extravagant mercy:

Father Zossima’s words to the woman voice the deepest convictions of Dostoyevsky’s own novelistic vision and summarize his understanding of redemptive love, Continue reading

The Joy of Ministry (part 1)

I am seldom eager to read another new book on ministry; thankfully The Joy of Ministry (WJK, 2008) is no ordinary offering (many thanks to WJK for a review copy).

This is not a how-to book on ministry. Nor is it a book that seeks to improve one’s mood or to offer inspirational nuggets of pastoral ministry. Rather, this book seeks to reflect on the beauty of the church’s theological task and the joy of the church’s ministry (p. 1)

Rooted in the writings of Karl Barth and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Thomas Currie III reminds readers that ministry is not properly thought about in terms of ‘success’ or ‘failure’ but in terms of ‘the gift and the task of pointing to Jesus Christ…its sheer existence is a gift of an ongoing miracle whose grace is both relentlessly embarrassing and surprisingly joyful.’

We have forgotten that joy is found not in busyness but in dependence; we do not find joy, but are found by joy in Jesus Christ. ‘We have grown busy but not joyful’, warns Currie, and in the midst of our churchly busyness the joy of the gospel that is ours in Jesus Christ remains ‘frustratingly elusive and oddly inarticulate’.

The joy of the gospel is that ‘deep confidence’, even ‘astonished laughter’, attending the discovery that there is One at work in our world ‘more central to our stories than we are to ourselves’. ‘Joy is the great gift of the gospel’ he urges,

but it is a gift that, like manna, cannot be turned into a commodity, something that can be bought or sold, or stored up for use of our own purposes. It remains ever a gift, Continue reading

Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture

Daniel Treier. Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice (Baker Academic, 2008), 221pp. [review copy courtesy of Baker Academic]

Daniel Treier’s Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice is a timely and largely helpful introduction of the growing, diverse movement to recover a distinctively theological interpretation of Scripture broadly known as ‘theological interpretation’ or ‘theological hermeneutics’.

As a mapping exercise, the book provides a useful orientation to the movement’s dominant trajectories, prominent figures, and to the issues most pressing for evangelicals (e.g. preoccupation with authorial intent).

Because Treier’s primary aims are introduction and mapping, his own constructive proposals for theological interpretation are mostly downplayed. However, in those moments when he transitions from exposition to argument, we get tantalizing glimpses of what will hopefully occupy his full attention in subsequent works. For example, with his evangelical readers in mind, Treier searches for a middle ground between ‘reader-response’ approaches and what sometimes appears to be a complete disregard for the ‘reader’ in evangelical hermeneutics. Following a close reading of Gadamer and some discussion of the appropriateness of the evangelical rejection of relativism, Treier makes a measured argument for ‘interpretive plurality’. ‘One gets the idea’ Treier remarks,

that we would have no need for interpretation in an ideal world. But in some respects diversity is a creational and pentecostal reality: Continue reading

Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future

Mark Husbands & Jeffrey Greeman eds. Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future. Downers Grove: IVP, 2008. 271pp., $21.86.

The later years of the twentieth century saw evangelical theology beginning to remember the importance of the church’s tradition and, in doing so, to engage in its own form of ressourcement theology (La nouvelle théologie). As Husbands contends,

[I]t is evident that if contemporary evangelical theology aspires to help the church engage the contemporary world in a faithful and persuasive fashion, it would do well to recover the best conversation partners is can find, even if this means reaching back a thousand years or more…Standing in the shadow of Lubac, we believe that Christianity cannot meet the challenges of modernity and postmodernity without returning to the tradition of the early church (p. 12).

In light of this trend, the 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference sought to demonstrate the “viability and promise of engagement with the early church”, and the present volume contains the papers from that meeting.

Rationale and Attendant Challenges

The book is divided into four parts. Part one explores the underlying rationale and attendant challenges of an evangelical ressourcement theology. The essays by Christopher Hall and D.H. Williams are particularly good. Hall’s piece, the keynote address for the conference, argues that the bible must be read with the church fathers based on the substantial difference between the doctrine of sola scriptura and, what he considers, a common “yet confused” appeal to nuda Scriptura,“a view of the Bible in which no ecclesial context is thought to bear on the meaning of the text”. Aware that evangelicals are susceptible to an overly romantic reading of the church fathers, Continue reading

Truth as “Coherence” » Pannenberg on Science and Theology

Wolfhart Pannenberg, edited by Niels Henrik Gregersen. The Historicity of Nature: Essays on Science and Theology (West Conshohocken: Templeton Foundation Press, 2008), 242pp + xxiv, $23.96.

Wolfhart Pannenberg’s enduring engagement with the natural sciences, philosophy, and history has been theologically driven by his doctrine of God. Credible talk about God, he urges, has to be related to that reality claimed to be his creation. In a recent autobiographical essay, he explains,

[T]alk about God has to deal with God the creator of the world. Otherwise it would come to nothing. To deal with the creator of the world, however, requires us to consider everything to be a creature of that God, and that requires us to clarify whether each single reality can be understood and has to be understood to be a creature of God. Thus, a doctrine of God touches upon everything else. Therefore, it is necessary to explore every field of knowledge in order to speak of God reasonably” (“An Intellectual Pilgrimage”, Dialog 45, no. 2 (Summer 2006), 190. Emphasis mine)

You can’t fail to appreciate the boldness of that claim! The result of embracing it, for Pannenberg, has been a vigorous and sustained commitment to various fields sometimes considered outside theology proper, Continue reading

On theology, church, & children’s spirituality

I just received two eagerly anticipated volumes on children’s spirituality that kick off some research in a new field. My exploration is triggered by a couple simple but not simplistic questions – as a theologian, pastor, and parent, “What does it look like to think well theologically about childhood and parenting?” and, “How can the Church best serve the perennial needs of parents, families, and children?” I will write more on these titles in the next few months.

Nurturing Children’s Spirituality: Christian Perspectives and Best Practices is a book of collected essays from the 2006 Children’s Spirituality Conference edited by Dr. Holly Catterton Allen. Some of the main themes for this conference included the concept of children and the kingdom of God, views of children in Genesis and the New Testament, and the spiritual needs of children around the world. The essays are divided into three broad categories that explore historical and theological issues, promote best practices for nurturing children’s spiritual development, and look toward future challenges.

The second book, Let the Children Come: Reimagining Childhood from a Christian Perspective by feminist theologian Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, is more of a constructive theological exploration of childhood and parenting that draws specifically from Christian, psychological, and feminist resources. She explains the purpose of the book as follows:

This book…is about that convulsing ground on which children and caring adults stand: the images that are failing us; the battle over new ways to understand children; the distortions toward which many people, including myself, are tempted; and the attempt to assert healthier, richer moral and religious visions. Reimagining children, I am convinced, will lead to a renewed conception of the care of children as a religious practice (xxvi).

Considering she advances this contention along a “feminist maternal theology” I am quite intrigued to see where this leads her.

Does anyone have suggestions for other helpful resources on the subject (not parenting books but theological works on children)?

Praying with Karl Barth – “Fifty Prayers”

Karl Barth, Fifty Prayers. Translated by David Carl Stassen (London/Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008), 63 pp.+xii, $10.36.

Lord, our God, you know who we are: People with good and bad consciences; satisfied and dissatisfied, sure and unsure people; Christians out of conviction and Christians out of habit; believers, half-believers, and unbelievers…But now we all stand before you: in all our inequality equal in this, that we are all in the wrong before you and among each other…but also in that your grace is promised to and turned toward all of us through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ (p. 1).

So begins the first of fifty prayers by Karl Barth in this delightful little collection by Westminster John Knox. With the exception of a few unprinted prayers, those here are taken from Karl Barth, Predigten 1954-1967, third edition (Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2003) which reissued them from two earlier volumes long out of print, Fürchte dich nicht and Dem Defangenen Befreiung. Although I did not cross check all of them, at least one of the Pentecost prayers was previously translated and published with twelve others in Prayer:50th Anniversary Edition (Westminster John Knox, 2002).

From his 1962 forward to Fürchte dich nicht, Barth describes his longstanding dislike for liturgy and all manner of worship formalities. The formalism and distance in language between the liturgy and the modern worshipper both chaffed and prompted him to begin replacing the prayers of the liturgy with those of his own crafting. Continue reading

Was the crucifixion merely the result of evil plotting?

Describing the crucifixion, “God on the Cross”, Nietzsche reminds us of its perennial ability to disturb: “Till now there was never and nowhere such an audacity in reversal, something so fearful, questioning and questionable as this formula.” And in our day we continue questioning, probing, reformulating, and grappling with the possible – and impossible – implications of it. A live example is the current discussion on the link between violence and the atonement. Is the cross an instance of divine and human violence, or is it an instance only of human violence – of evil plotting alone?

Having recently reviewed a book on nonviolent atonement theory, Stricken by God?, I was left with a question to which I only hinted in the review and would like to explore further here. Why is the doctrine of providence and its relationship to atonement rarely, if ever, discussed? Related to this, why do I think this is noteworthy or even just curious?

Atonement and Providence

To invoke the doctrine of providence is to bring two issues to the fore – both of which have direct significance for doctrines of atonement: (1) the character of the actors in the drama of redemption (God and creatures) and (2) the relationship between divine and human action.

With that in mind, I have two suggestions. First, if it does concern itself with those realities then the doctrine of providence, though not mentioned in the present discussions about the relationship between atonement and violence, has determinative significance for one’s doctrine of atonement. Second, by allowing the doctrine of providence to function more “transparently” we gain a sense for how doctrines of the atonement assume certain models of providence and, just so, become more informed to judge whether they can be sustained, given their implications for providence.

Part of my concern is pastoral and the other doctrinal. Continue reading

Everyday Theology (6): Concluding Case study

The last entry on Everyday Theology is from chapter 11 “Putting It into Practice: Weddings for Everyday Theologians.” As Vanhoozer states in his editorial introduction to the chapter, “The case study is aEveryday Theology practical counterpart to the opening essay on methodology…This case study focuses on how to apply the methodology and take steps towards becoming everyday theologians.” p. 228

The chapter briefly offers an overview, making sure the reader has followed both explicit and implicit themes throughout the book. In so doing, they offer the following thought to summarize what has preceded, and to ground the case study:

“Since the ultimate goal of a Christian hermeneutic of culture is to cultivate men and women more faithful to the gospel in the culture in which they live, the importance of the texts and trends does matter.” (p. 231)

That said, the authors utilize the cultural text of a wedding to walk the reader through what it looks like to apply these concepts in the everyday world in which we live. Continue reading