Theological Conversation

When studying for my PhD at the University of Aberdeen I walked home nearly every Imageafternoon with a fellow student and office mate who lived in the flat next door. Kyle, another contributor to this blog, became one of my closest friends. Those theological conversations while strolling back to our families were rich, and I credit them to helping me complete my thesis. Clarity often comes when we  articulate our thoughts. That insight left to rattle around in your head, the one you suppose to be brilliant, may sound silly when you put it in words – that revelation is a great gift!

One morning over the summer I was having a similar sort of theological conversation with a colleague at Huntington. He brewed a fine cup of coffee, we settled ourselves into his nice little office, and our conversation meandered from topic to topic: his work on Barth’s aesthetics, my research on Radical Orthodoxy, our common love of beauty, etc.

When parting, Bo reminded me of a beautiful little exchange between Anselm and his conversation partner Boso in Cur Deus Homo:

Anselm: What you ask from me is above me, and I am afraid to handle ‘the things that are too high for me.’ If someone thinks, or even sees, that I have not given him adequate proof, he may decide that there is no truth in what I have been saying, and not realize that in fact my understanding has been incapable of grasping it.

Boso: You should not fear this so much, but you should rather remember what often happens when we talk over some question. Continue reading

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.

John Webster moving to University of St. Andrews

It is a sad day for Aberdeen, but John Webster is heading south to the University_Hall_01University of St. Andrews. Ivor Davidson, head of school at St. Mary’s, said the following in the press release (more here):

John Webster is widely recognized as one of the very best theologians in the world. He has a stellar reputation as a scholar, author, and communicator, and is an outstanding servant of both the academy and the church. His major current projects promise to be of immense significance for the shape of English-language theology in the years ahead. John has long had collaborative links with several colleagues in the School, and I am absolutely delighted that he will now be joining us at St Mary’s College, where his research, teaching, and supervision of graduate students will add considerably to our established strengths in several areas. Professor Webster’s appointment further reinforces the reputation of St Andrews as one of the world’s most dynamic centres for theological and biblical scholarship.

“Grace,” the Broadway Play

Grace.Broadway PosterI love teaching at a Christian liberal arts university! My reasons are many, but one of them is the opportunity for participating in events outside my normal teaching area. Last night, for instance, I was a respondent for our theater department’s Readers Theater. The play was the black comedy “Grace” by Craig Wright. Imagine the scene: listening to bright young actors read a compelling and revealing script then discussing its themes and characters with all in attendance. What fun!

The play is intelligently written and explores religiosity and faith, suffering and mystery, human relationships and longing (and more). The plot revolves around the slow unraveling of Steve, a highly religious Christian seeking to make it big in Florida, and the slow awakening of everyone around Steve. Even though Steve is a caricature of conservative, prosperity-Gospel Christianity, the play itself, in my mind, is not really about Christianity at all.

What does it mean to be human, together? What does belief entail? How are we certain about anything? In the midst of grief, confusion, and mystery, where can “grace” be found? For instance, there is a fascinating scene in which Sam, a scientist who doesn’t believe in God, tells Steve about space probes that gather and send data back to earth. Steve is ultra confident in God’s will for his financial prosperity, but as Steve’s life rapidly spins out of control his confidence wanes. Where is grace found? In the muck and mire of life what can he really know?

SAM: Space is a tremendous distance that you have to get information across in time. That’s the problem with space.

STEVE: Time.

SAM. Yes. How can we know what we need to know…in time – when what we need to know has to come from so far away.

STEVE: How can you?

SAM: You can’t. Ultimately. You can’t.

STEVE: Huh. That’s fascinating.

Steve is unsettled about Sam’s space probes because, for Steve, faith in God entails complete certainty about everything. For Steve, there simply is no mystery, nothing that remains inexplicable. Shortly later in the same scene:

STEVE: You talk about these distances you can never get across, “Oh poor us, space and time, its so far.” When you’re in the Lord, Sam, there is no space and time. Everyone knows everything.

Through a series of events which force Steve to “know” that he can’t “know” as suspected, Steve’s life quickly comes apart. As others awaken to mysterious “grace” in the midst of the tangible relationships around them, Steve refuses to listen or see what is happening at arms reach. What he can’t understand and can’t control he ultimately destroys.

I’m curious, if you saw the play on Broadway, what themes stood out to you? What was the overall sense of the play’s direction as you walked out of the theater? Did your view change after you mulled it over?

Punished Twice Over?

Having just characterized the two books For Calvinism and Against Calvinism as helpful introductions to the divergent perspectives on the doctrines of grace, I’ll add a caveat: one possible weakness in these volumes is that Horton is given more space for positive articulation and less for polemical jabs at Arminianism while Olson is given more space for polemical jabs and less for constructive exposition.

Perhaps, then, one more attempt to identify a problem in Olson’s case for Arminianism is permissible, this time with respect to the doctrine of the atonement.  Olson naturally opposes the notion of particular redemption and then argues that general redemption or ‘unlimited atonement’ is compatible with the penal, substitutionary dimension of Christ’s death.  He offers an illustration:

Just one day after his inauguration, President Jimmy Carter…guaranteed a full pardon for all who resisted the draft during the Vietnam War by fleeing from the US into Canada or other countries.  The moment he signed the executive order, every single draft exile was free to come home with the legal guarantee that he would not be prosecuted….Even though there was a blanket amnesty and pardon, however, many draft exiles chose to stay in Canada or other countries to which they fled.  Some died without ever availing themselves of the opportunity to be home with family and friends again.  The costly pardon did them no good because it had to be subjectively appropriated in order to be objectively enjoyed.  Put another way, although the pardon was objectively theirs, in order to benefit from it they had to subjectively accept it.  Many did not (Against Calvinism, p. 149).

Continue reading

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.