I recently peer reviewed an essay for a scholarly journal. Unhappily I recommended the essay be rejected. I would have much rather recommended it be revised and resubmitted, but it failed on so many levels that it was beyond revising – it was really bad! It was so bad, in fact, that I had one of my seniors read a page and asked him what level undergraduate had written it. He guessed third year undergraduate. Ouch!
Still, it is an unhappy job to peer review and recommend “Rejected” because it shuts down the process of improvement in the case of this particular essay being publishing in this journal. Having had an essay of my own rejected last year, I remember what it feels like. With those feelings of rejection close at hand, I sent a lengthy explanation of my rationale in the hopes that the author will improve their methods of research and writing and do better work in the future. I am a theologian, I always hope for redemption!
How many of you have peer reviewed essays and were compelled to recommend “Rejected.” It is a conflicting experience and I would like to hear from some of you. Or, if you are willing to admit it, have you had an essay or book proposal rejected? What did you learn in the process that was useful, or how did you wish it had been handled so that it would be more useful to you?
I couldn’t resist highlighting this (half-serious) comment from Martyn Lloyd-Jones at the beginning of a message for a parachurch meeting including leaders of IVF:
I have been trying to find your organisations in the Bible, but you are not to be found in the New Testament. I did find you, however, in the Old – in the Book of Judges, chapter 17, verse 6, ‘In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes’ (Iain Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982], p. 366).
I am participating in a multi-faith dialogue event this Wednesday night in Fort Wayne at Canterbury Middle School (More information here). My role will be to provide an evangelical Christian perspective on several questions: the perspective of Evangelical Christianity: According to your faith what constitutes wrong-doing? According to your faith what are the consequences of our choices? According to your faith how good must I be? How should I live my life?
What has been your experience with multi-faith events? This is my first participation in a public dialogue about religion and I am interested to hear about your experiences with similar events. Did it foster mutual understanding? Was it a debate? What was the tenor of the interaction? I have the impression that many evangelical Christians are skeptical of events like this because they fear it promotes relativism. Has this been your impression?
This event is organized by a group in Fort Wayne with the purpose of fostering mutual appreciation of different beliefs in order to promote peace in the community. It is very intentionally not a debate nor does it attempt to create a common theology. Here is an excerpt from the event website:
The premise of the Multi-faith Events is the theologies of the various faiths are different. The purpose of the events are not to find a common theology. As Rick Love of Peace Catalyst International has written, “Multi-faith dialogue is based on common ethics and the common good rather than common theology.” At the Multi-faith Events the common ethic is discovered but the goal is not to create a common theology.
The mission of [Haven Interfaith Parents] is to, “encourage an understanding and appreciation of all beliefs and faiths, with the goal of promoting peace in our community.” With the goal of promoting peace, dialogue is what must occur at the events. I recently heard someone say dialogue is listening to someone as if your life depended on the information. In order to survive everything must be remembered. That is intense listening. When I have truly listened to others I find that they are more likely to listen to me. This is the basis of all relationships. For us to understand each other we must be in relationships and we must listen to each other.
There is a passage in the Bible that tells me how to dialogue. I Peter 3:15 states, “Always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” It is in dialogue that we can be honest and with gentleness and respect say what we believe. Being in dialogue says we care about the relationship.The Multi-faith Events are intentionally designed to be a dialogue because I desire for those in our community to be in relationship with each other.
If you haven’t heard, Steve Holmes is tweeting a systematic theology. Check it out and join the conversation.
I have been reading a beautiful and challenging collection of sermons by Fleming Routledge, The Undoing of Death. Here is an excerpt from her 1991 Palm Sunday sermon titled “The New World Order.”
Of all the days in the Christian year, this is certainly the most disconcerting. Even the most seasoned churchgoers tend to forget, each year, exactly what we are in for when we come to church for this occasion. We start out in gala mood; Palm Sunday has always been a crowd-pleaser. The festivity of the triumphal procession, the stirring music, the palm branches, the repeated hosannas all suggest a general air of celebration. It comes as a shock to us, year after year, to find ourselves abruptly plunged into the solemn, overwhelmingly long dramatic reading of the Passion narrative. It’s a tough Sunday. Its begins in triumph and ends in catastrophe. We come in prepared to part, and we leave as if we were going to a funeral. We come in joyful and we go out stricken. All in all, it is a most perplexing day – and for those who are unprepared, it can be downright threatening.
It would be tempting, on this day, to follow good American practice and tone down the depressing parts – “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.” Many American congregations have attempted this. Were it not for the ancient liturgical wisdom given to the church, it would be perfectly possible to go to Sunday services two weekends in a row – Palm Sunday and Easter Day – without ever having to face the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was abandoned, condemned, and put to death as a common criminal on the Friday between. Our historic liturgy, however, guards against this fatal misunderstanding. [...] In this way, the church announces for all the hear that the Crucifixion of Jesus is the main event. There is no passage from Palm Sunday to Easter without Good Friday. [...]
This week, the church of Jesus Christ gathers around the heart, the center, the guts of its claim to know the truth. Continue reading
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?
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?
Despite having to address several egregious problems in the church, Paul opens his first epistle to the Corinthians on a remarkably high note:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, because in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and knowledge – even as the testimony of Christ was established among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will establish you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:4-9).
If we are ever plagued by doubts as to whether we can persevere in faith, this should be a comforting text. Given that the gospel was established among even this band of unruly believers, Paul was confident that Christ would then establish them until the time of the parousia.
This is not a terribly elaborate defense of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, but it is significant that Paul hangs the final blamelessness of the Corinthians on the faithfulness of God. In a complementary text, Jesus announces, ‘It is the will of him who sent me that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me’ (John 6:39). Should we gather, then, that to deny the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is to call into question the faithfulness of God and the commitment of Christ to fulfill his Father’s will? Thoughts pastoral, polemical, or otherwise?
When someone has reservations about the value and legitimacy of systematic theology, it’s not uncommon to hear them say that it seems to entail ‘putting God in a box’ or imposing too stringent a framework on the faith and thought of God’s people. At this point, it can frankly be tempting to wonder whether these sentiments might betray intellectual sloth, myopic disinterest in the church’s theological heritage, or a misunderstanding of the nature and responsibilities of systematic theology.
Although he wrote before the more developed fourfold theological curriculum emerged to prominence with its clearer distinction between biblical and systematic theology, Peter van Mastricht makes a helpful point about the importance of gathering up biblical teaching under the various heads of dogmatic reflection and providing an organized account of it. He insists that those who undertake this task are not succumbing to unnecessary rigidity; instead
[s]e filios Dei probant, quippe ejus imitatores, qui ordinis est Deus, non confusionis (Theoretico-Practica Theologia, I, 8). (“They prove themselves sons of God, indeed imitators of him, who is a God of order, not of confusion.”)
Certainly, growth in the spiritual life and in theological understanding occurs often along a winding and convoluted road. At the same time, Mastricht’s point is an important one and full of significance for, among other things, catechesis, which requires an orderly presentation of theology for the sake of apprehension and memory.
Any thoughts here?
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
I recently came across these poignant comments from Stephen Charnock in his The Existence and Attributes of God:
Some think a curiosity of knowledge was the cause of the fall of devils; I am sure it was the fall of Adam, and is yet the crime of his posterity; had he been contented to know what God had furnished him with, neither he nor his posterity had smarted under the venom of the serpent’s breath. All curious and bold inquiries into things not revealed are an attempt upon the throne of God, and are both sinful and pernicious, like to glaring upon the sun, where, instead of a greater acuteness, we meet with blindness, and too dearly buy our ignorance in attempting a superfluous knowledge. As God’s knowledge is destined to the government of the world, so should ours be to the advantage of the world, and not degenerate into vain speculations.
Any thoughts on it?
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:
Bavinck’s Use of Wisdom Literature in Systematic Theology
Bavinck’s Use of Augustine as an Antidote to Ritschl
MARK W. ELLIOTT
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
The Religious Character of Modernism and the Modern Character of Religion: A Case Study of Herman Bavinck’s Engagement with Modern Culture
Herman Bavinck on the Imitation of Christ
DIRK VAN KEULEN
Herman Bavinck and the Basis of Christian Certainty
Bavinck, Barth, and the Uniqueness of the Eucharist
PAUL T. NIMMO
108-126 Continue reading
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!!!
In his theology of worship, Calvin was quite keen on simplifying the church’s weekly services and judged that Roman Catholicism’s elaborate ceremonies were a throwback to the old covenant era, a continuation of things now out of place in the worship of God’s people on this side of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension. With an eye to helping those less acquainted with spiritual matters, he writes,
As a child (says Paul) is guided by his tutor according to the capacity of his age, and is restrained under his tutelage, so the Jews were under the custody of the law (Gal. 4:1-3). But we are like adults, who, freed of tutelage and custody, have no need of childish rudiments….Therefore, if we wish to benefit the untutored [in this era of redemptive history], raising up a Judaism that has been abrogated by Christ is a stupid way to do it. Christ also marked this dissimilarity between the old and new people in his own words when he said to the Samaritan woman that the time had come ‘when the true worshipers would worship God in spirit and in truth’ (Jn. 4:23). Indeed, this had always been done. But the new worshipers differ from the old in that under Moses the spiritual worship of God was figured and, so to speak, enwrapped in many ceremonies; but now that these are abolished, he is worshiped more simply. Accordingly, he who confuses this difference is overturning an order instituted and sanctioned by Christ (Institutes, 4.10.14).