Opening Week Routines – What Works?

Impress Teacher ImageThis is the opening week of class at my university. My kids have been in school for a week now (Canterbury School in Fort Wayne), and public schools in Indiana have been going strong for longer than that. I even hear that Ohio public schools begin the second week of August. Yikes!

Anyway, while putting the finishing touches on my syllabi and preparing all the odds and ends wrapped up in launching the semester, I started wondering: what do other professors and students do in their first week that really works? Not the mundane stuff, I am curious about those special touches – big or small – that makes the first week of class something special.

So please let us know what you have experienced. If you teach at the University or graduate school level, what you do that you think gets the semester off on the right foot? What is unique or particular to you and your approach to the classroom? Or if you are a student, what have you experienced in the first week that left an impression? When have you said, “Wow, that was a great first week in that class! I wish every professor would start that way!”?

The Ecumenical Edwards

I’m excited to say that my new edited volume, The Ecumenical Edwards: Jonathan Edwards and the Theologians (Ashgate) was Ecumenical Edwardsjust released. This is my attempt to address the idea, now ubiquitous in Edwards studies, that Edwards can be utilized as an Ecumenical theologian. It is, of course, hard to know what that might mean. Up until this point, the focus has been on how Edwards’s unique development of a variety of doctrines seems, at least at first glance, to mirror or overlap with Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic developments. My own focus is a bit different. I suggest, in the introduction, that Edwards’s ecumenical potential lies in two features of his thought: First, his greatness, and second, his distinctively Reformed greatness. In other words, Edwards should be utilized ecumenically because he is great in his own tradition (similarly to how Barth is often employed).

Following these same notions, I am convinced that the disciples of a given thinker cannot claim his or her worth. In other words, it is not surprising that Edwards scholars would be making bold claims about Edwards’s potential. Rather, to really justify these claims, the Church catholic must weigh in. Therefore, I assembled a contributor list of Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and a wide-variety of Protestant thinkers to engage Edwards with their own expertise. Seven out of the thirteen chapters were written by non-Edwards scholars, and what came out was truly beautiful. Notice that along with my own contribution, Theology Forum’s own Kent Eilers adds an excellent chapter on prayer utilizing Edwards and Pannenberg. See the Table of Contents below: Continue reading

Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology (A Review)

Guest Blogger: Zen Hess

Following the recent release of Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Lauato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, EvangelicalEcoTheologyvarious republican presidential candidates shared their opinions on the matter. Rick Santorum, for example, said that Pope Francis should “leave science to the scientists.” Many of us may resonate with such a statement — most of our pastors and spiritual leaders probably know very little about science. However, Pope Francis is a trained chemist and, more importantly, confesses that God created all things. Should Christians, and their leaders, who confess God as Creator not have great concern regarding the well being of all the things God created? This is the conviction of Brunner, Butler and Swoboda, who crafted Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology (Baker 2015).

The book is a thorough and readable resource for any learner — “whether in undergraduate, graduate, seminary or church settings” (p. 12) — who wants to understand why and how the ecological crisis relates to Christianity.

First, they name some of the problems the book is addressing, such as: “acute ecocrisis” caused by humans, the “church’s own internal strife,” the politicization of the ecocrisis, as well as a number of theological problems (p. 16-18). The authors hypothesize that each of these problems, either directly or indirectly, have hindered the Church from joining the ecological discussion; in addressing these problems, the authors clear the way for further ecclesiological dialogue on ecological matters.

Second, the authors provide an abundance of proofs for why Christians need to be concerned about the ecological crisis. Drawing from Scripture, theological doctrines, church history, sociological and scientific data, the authors make an exceptionally convincing case. At this point, however, one must remember that this is an introduction to ecotheology. I found myself, at times, wanting them to spell their arguments out in more detail. Yet, their goal is to introduce readers to why ecotheology makes sense within evangelical Christian theology — and that they have faithfully done.

Finally, the authors give a great deal of practical advice. Said differently, they tell us what to do with our theological knowledge. Continue reading

An Overtaking of Depth

41mBxWFfxTL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I have an article in the new volume of the journal American Theological Inquiry. The essay is titled, “‘An Overtaking of Depth’: Theology as Retrieval.” If you’re interested in checking out my recent book, Theology as Retrieval: Receiving the Past, Renewing the Church, this article is a great place to start. Parts of the essay are adapted from it and, I hope, it will whet your appetite to read the book!

The essay has three parts. In the first, my coauthor and I ground retrieval in the basic Christian pattern of receiving and transmitting the deposit of faith. Retrieval in this sense is not unique to our time, but basic and fundamental to Christian theology.

The second part introduces six contemporary theologies of retrieval and locates them within the widespread skepticism about the fruits of modernity that characterized much of late twentieth-century theology.

The final section presents a range of possible outcomes of retrieval. We suggest that one outcome best characterizes theology as retrieval: ressourcement. This outcome demonstrates the effective negotiation of the inherent tensions of retrieval: continuity and discontinuity, stability and change, and constraint and freedom. The term “ressourcement” is well-known for its origin in early twentieth-century Roman Catholic theology, but it has broader applicability. The outcome of ressourcement is possible within any Christian community when theological retrieval seeks to receive and transmit the deposit of faith.

Here are the first few paragraphs (read the entire article here):

Like every facet of the church’s life, theology always begins already in the middle. It is caught in the middle of God’s reconciling activity, drawn along by its current, part of its history. In this sense, Christian theology is a normed practice. Its cadence and grammar are given by the revelation of God in Christ received by the apostles and witnessed in Holy Scripture. What was true for the apostles is thus true for the church today: the initial movement of theological reflection is the astonished response of encountering God’s grace. Indeed, theology springs out from worship and, when healthy, turns us back toward it.

There is a second sense in which theology begins already in the middle. The church’s work of sanctified reason takes shape in the middle of particular cultures, times, and communities. The truth of the Gospel is timeless, but it is always known and expressed within an actual place, time, and people. Such particularity includes, perhaps most importantly, the church. In the church, theological reflection is carried out within the fellowship of Christ’s body, located within a tradition characterized by unique emphases and traits, and simultaneously draws on and contributes to the church’s worship. There, in worship, theology is reminded that the risen and exalted Christ is gloriously present in the church through the transforming work of his Spirit. Thus the church, and by extension the theologian, does not merely act but is acted upon. The kinds of theologians who seek to be faithful both to the givenness of Christianity and the present moment require the skill best described as discernment.

Continue reading

Theology as Retrieval – now available

It is a pleasure to announce that my newest book, Theology as Retrieval: Receiving the Past, Renewing the Church, is now available! You can purchase it through your favorite book-sellers. Here is a link to Amazon.Theology as Retrieval

Writing back cover copy is tricky, and I am glad the good folks at IVPAcademic did such a nice job with ours. Here is a quick glimpse of what my coauthor and I seek to do in the book.

In Theology as Retrieval David Buschart and Kent Eilers show that retrieving the Christian past is a mode of theological discernment, a cultivated habit of thought that looks back in order to move forward. Surveying six areas where the impulse and practice of retrieval has been notably fruitful and suggestive, they explore and offer constructive and programmatic proposals for theological reflection, practice and hope.

The six areas are Holy Scripture, theology, worship, spirituality, mission and cosmos (“cosmos” is shorthand for the bold vision of Radical Orthodoxy). Buy the book, and let’s have a conversation about it here on TF!

The Devotional Poetry of Donne, Herbert and Milton: a brief review

Crossway are publishing Devo poetryChristian Guides to the Classics, a series of compendia to classic literature by Leland Ryken, who served as professor of English at Wheaton College and is known in biblical studies and Christian thought for books like Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (co-ed.) and Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were. A number of famous works, like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Homer’s The Odyssey, have been treated in the series, and this volume breaks the mold by focusing on three different authors and some of their various lyric poems. As someone who is now ever immersed in analyzing the details of scholastic theology (which can indeed be edifying if done properly!), I find this sort of work a welcome change of pace, a helpful way to counterbalance some of the other reading that occupies my time.

Ryken begins by sketching some fundamental traits of lyric poems, particularly their subjectivity: ‘Lyric poets speak directly instead of projecting their thoughts and feelings onto characters in a story.’ As to their form, the poems considered here are sonnets in which there is a ‘statement of the controlling theme’, a ‘development of the controlling theme’ and a ‘resolution or rounding off the poem with a note of finality and closure’ (p. 8). What makes the character of these short works to be ‘devotional’ is that they have ‘Christian experience and doctrine as [their] subject matter’. The effect of devotional poetry is thus ‘to increase one’s commitment to God and the godly life’, but with a greater density of content and a higher artistry than our typical devotional reading (p. 13).

As Ryken proceeds through the different sections, he gives a one-page biography of each poet. John Donne was Roman Catholic and converted to Anglicanism, preaching, in Ryken’s words, ‘ostentatious, highly literary sermons to the intellectual elite of London society’ (p. 15). By contrast, George Herbert was an Anglican minister in a small village. He ‘polished his lone collection of poems privately, and on his deathbed he handed the volume over to his friend Nicholas Ferrar’ (p. 47). Different still was John Milton, a Puritan spokesman and political figure who in his poetry ‘cultivated what is called the high style’. While Donne and Herbert ‘wrote in a middle style…Milton wanted the grand effect’ (p. 75).

For each of these authors’ poems, Ryken provides a short introduction, a lightly annotated text, a commentary and finally a few questions for further discussion. Ryken’s stated goal is not to ‘[tear] the poem apart’ but rather to ‘explicate’ it in such a way that readers ‘are putting the poem together in approximately the same way that the poet followed when composing the poem’ (p. 9). In other words, one should still be able to derive aesthetic enjoyment and spiritual benefit from these small works in the midst of the analysis. The examination of each poem is brief and doesn’t take the reader into painstaking detail, which certainly helps to keep the problem of ‘tearing apart the poem’ at bay. Because of this, the book can serve to educate readers on literary dynamics of some classic works and also still function as a spiritual resource. In a perfect world, there might have been a way to give the text of each poem its own distinct page so that a reader could more easily contemplate the poem itself without their eyes being drawn up to the introduction or down to the commentary. However, that’s a relatively small issue in the end. On the whole, this is a sharp little book written in a helpfully straightforward style and attentive to both the literary and spiritual dimensions of devotional poetry.

Since we’ve just celebrated Easter, here is one sample from Donne:

Death, Be Not Proud

Death, be not proud though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee doth go,

Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well,

And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

New creation and ‘Gnosticism’: à Brakel once more

a brakelAside from frustrations experienced when someone advocates a pretribulational rapture, I would consider myself someone who doesn’t get riled up about eschatology very easily. Christ will return, and the dead shall rise (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Christ will judge all, and God will bring creation out of its bondage to decay so that all those whose names are written in the book of life will dwell there with God forever (Rev. 20:11-15; 21-22). These are central to our Christian hope. Yet, there are still interesting questions to be discussed in the ambit of the main concerns.

In reading through à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, I came across his discussion of the nature of the new creation and paused for some reflection. Will this heaven and earth be purged of sin and death and restored by God, or will God annihilate the current creation and start over completely? According to à Brakel, respectable folk can disagree on this one, but he provides some compelling reasons to hold that the ‘structural edifice’ or ‘substance’ of the current heavens and the earth will remain and simply be purged and restored to a right condition.

These reasons include: (1) Peter expects restoration (apokatastasis) in Acts 3:21. (2) Paul’s reference to the ‘whole creation’ in Romans 8:18-25 is broader than the company of Christian believers, and the ‘whole creation’ is to be delivered, not annihilated. (3) The ‘folding up’ and ‘changing’ of creation in Psalm 102 and Hebrews 1 assumes that what is changed ‘continues to exist in essence’. (4) Peter (2 Pet. 3) likens the destruction of creation to the perishing of the old world in the flood of Noah, which was not an annihilation of all things (4:353-5). Because of Revelation 21:1, à Brakel is prepared to allow that the sea may be omitted from the new creation, but even here ‘[w]hether this refers to substance or characteristics, we shall leave unanswered’ (4:355). Indeed, there’s quite a lot that à Brakel is prepared to leave ‘unanswered’: Continue reading