What do you do anyway? You can usually see the question forming behind the blank stare you receive when you talk about being a theologian. Often, these days, I say I’m an author, because that gives them something concrete to think about. Being an unemployed theologian leaves people with a picture of you in your pajamas watching daytime tv. Being an author at least gives a picture of work. So here are some musings on being an unemployed theologian.
As most of you will know, there is a huge difference between being a theologian who doesn’t work and being a theologian without a job. I am of the latter variety. I work a lot. I am currently writing three books (two of which are contracted), editing three books (all of which are contracted) and in the proposal phases of two more (one written and one edited), not to mention articles and papers. But I’m not just an author. I am a theologian. My vocation is not tied to a paying gig. Therefore, when I’m not writing, I find myself presented with fascinating oppotunities to actually be a theologian. I lead a disability theology study group for my church. There are several of us that get together to talk about disability and theology so that we can focus our attention as a church on God’s calling for us. This is particularly important for our church since we are helping to plant a church aimed at people with disability with a pastor who has a disability. I co-lead our adult Bible study at my church. Last semester we studied Gospel stories alongside a painting of the same story. We asked: How was this painter interpreting this passage? as we meditated on the passage itself. If you scroll through this blog you will see several of the paintings we used. Currently, we are working through Hebrews chapter by chapter.
Along with preaching on occasion, I find myself in situations to try and speak meaningfully about theology to pastors. I have led a denomination’s pastors retreat and plan on leading another one for them in October. I meet with pastors to talk about ministry and the nature of the church and her call. I lecture from time to time at seminaries in either theology or spiritual formation. In fact, now that I think about it, I can’t imagine having a job! As I’ve tried to see this time of life as a blessing, rather than a frustrating situation, it becomes clear to me how unique it is to have a calling that is not tied to a job. This is true for everyone, of course, but I have found that the opportunities for a theologian are endless. Anyone else having similar experiences?
To start this post, let me begin with several qualifications: First, I think that theological education has some serious meditation to do concerning its task. Second, I think the overall model / approach upon which we’ve built is flawed. Third, I am excited about virtually anything that seeks to think creatively about this. In comes Mike Breen. Mike Breen, who I know little about but have heard good things, posted this back in November. It is a wholesale engagement with the kinds of worries I have. In light of that, let me again state some qualifications: First, I know nothing about this other than this post. Second, if I saw this right when I graduated seminary I probably would have called him up and said, “Sign me up and tell me what to do.” Third, I have some doubts about some of the statistics in the video, but for the purpose of this discussion lets assume they are true.
Now, qualifications aside, I was left frustrated by this post. But why? Why would I be frustrated by someone who is, for all practical purposes, hitting all of my sweet-spots? I actually found myself asking this exact question at times. Let me try and point to some issues I think are inherent to this project (keeping in mind how limited my knowledge of it is). 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 was asked by Scot McKnight to review the book Rethinking the Trinity and Religious Pluralism: An Augustinian Assessment by Keith E. Johnson. This is a fantastic book, and if you would like to read my review, check it out on Scot’s blog, Jesus Creed, here.
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?
There will be more “Reactions” posts, as you might have noticed, because I am co-teaching an adult Sunday school class on the Bible and Art. Each week we are taking on a passage in scripture and looking at a particular work as an interpretation of that scene. Last week we did Salvador Dali’s famous masterpiece, Christ of Saint John of the Cross. What are your thoughts?
To continue our “Reactions” series, I would like to offer Rogier van der Weyden’s Deposition of Christ. For a detailed look, check out this page.
I am going to be doing some review essays on the book Spirit and Power of Truth: Studies in Christian Doctrine and Experience, which is a collection of papers from the ninth Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference. There are several essays I would like us to consider from this volume, so here I will start with Bruce McCormack’s essay, “Trinity of Life and Power: The Relevance of Trinitarian Theology in the Contemporary Age.” This article is particularly interesting in light of the emphasis in my previous post “Re-Casting Nicea,” which looked at Samuel Clarke’s doctrine of the Trinity.
At the heart of McCormack’s focus in this paper is the idea that some kind of subordination in the eternal (or immanent) Trinity is necessary and biblical. McCormack states, “The principle is this: A doctrine of the Trinity which would suppress or eliminate the element of subordination will inevitably be guilty of creating a mythological construct; an elaboration of a doctrine which has lost contact with the biblical witness and is now engaged in arbitrary and, typically, self-serving speculation” (25). The momentum in theological circles to make this kind of move is perpetuated by a fear, McCormack warns, that a subordination in the Trinity will be used to justify subordination in human relations. The response, he claims, “has been to construct a doctrine of the Trinity along the lines of the perfect democratic society” (25). This fear has led to a rejection of the Cappadocian insight that the Father is the source of being for the Son and the Spirit (more on this later), because, it is assumed, if they receive their life from the Father then they are ultimately dependent upon him (and “lesser” in a real way). Continue reading →
As many of you will know, Mark Driscoll, known for a lack of control over his mouth (to put is as lightly as I can) made a Facebook comment recently asking about people’s own personal experience with “effeminate” worship pastors. When I heard about this latest debacle by one of the “New Calvinists” favorite bad-boys, I happen to be reading Belden C. Lane’s new book, Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality. Belden mines the depth of actual Reformed thought with a particular emphasis on Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and the strain of Puritans known as the “spiritual brethren.” In doing so, he develops a constructive proposal built on retrieval, with a particular focus on spirituality and ecology. It is, to say the least, a fascinating project.
My particular interest in light of Driscoll is a comment Belden makes concerning gender roles and the Puritans. If you have not read the Puritans, you may be surprised to find out that their spirituality leaned towards the erotic. Like the vast majority of interpreters in church history, the Puritans recognized the Song of Songs as a text on Christ and his bride. Belden notes this in a discussion of Puritan society that was unusually egalitarian, even as it held on to a patriarchal value system. Belden suggests that a major reason for this provocative balance was the fact that the men in society were struck with biblically induced gender dissonance. At once they were men who were meant to rule, govern, and lead, and yet their main identity was bride. They valued conquering their prize, and yet they were the conquered.
Continue reading →
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 received my copy of the new book Jonathan Edwards and Scotland (Dunedin Academic Press, 2011) the other day, and I wanted to talk a bit about my essay in that volume: “Jonathan Edwards’ Reformed Doctrine of the Beatific Vision.” The volume itself is a series of papers-turned-chapters from the Jonathan Edwards and Scotland conference held at Glasgow University in 2009. While most of the essays focused on Edwards and Scotland and the interchange between Edwards and the Scots, mine obviously did not. My essay, rather, focused on the beatific vision as it was being developed in Reformed high orthodoxy, particularly in the thought of John Owen, Francis Turretin and Jonathan Edwards. I peppered the footnotes with some random other Reformed thought on the beatific vision, spanning from John Calvin, Johannis Wollebius, Lewis Bayly, Thomas Watson, Bavinck on to Charles Hodge.
Without going into my essay in much detail, I want to focus on some themes I saw develop in Reformed thought on the beatific vision. First, and maybe most interestingly, there was incredible breadth and creativity in the Reformed accounts, particularly the three I focused on. At first glance, finding any similiarities seem nearly impossible. Continue reading →
The ever-insightful Oliver Crisp has a chapter in the newish volume Jonathan Edwards as Contemporary arguing that Edwards was, in fact, a panentheist. The difficulty in reading Crisp, I have found, is the knowledge that before you finish the article or chapter you are reading he has already written two others. That aside, I want to address the broad contours of his argument.
Crisp starts with a working definition of panentheism: “The being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe, so that every part exists in Him, but His Being is more than, and not exhausted by, the universe.” Continuing in Crisp’s analytic mode, he offers several key constituents: Continue reading →
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 →
Continuing our look at Kelsey’s Eccentric Existence I want to turn to some methodological and structural issues. While I will not go into Kelsey’s criticisms of other anthropologies, I do find it helpful to start here with one of his overviews of the tradition:
When the claim that the triune God relates creatively is taken as a theologically central claim, anthropology usually has a nature/grace structure (typical of catholic theology) or creation/redemption structure (typical of classic Lutheran and Reformed theology) that keeps primary focus on the goodness and strength of human creatures by virtue of God relating to them…When the claim that the triune God relates to draw all that is not God to eschatological consummation is taken as a theologically central claim, anthropology usually has a ‘creation/consummation’ structure (characteristic of much late-twentieth-century theology of hope) that keeps primary focus on the goodness and glory of human being by virtue of God relating to them” (115-116). Continue reading →