Eccentric Existence: Part 1 (of many)

For those of you who remember, I’ve been in the middle of a series of books on theological anthropology over the past year or so. I’ve looked at several books, some introductory and others much more advanced, but I have always intended to end the series with David Kelsey’s work Eccentric Existence. That is, until I saw it. Kelsey wrote a massive two volume work in answer to the question of anthropology (the introductions, and yes, that is supposed to be plural, take up 158 pages). Kelsey’s work takes up about the same amount of space on my shelf as my two volume edition of Calvin’s Institutes! More importantly though, for those of you who remember, I was critical of Jamie Smith’s work Desiring the Kingdom, which I claimed failed to be theological (and therefore distinctively Christian). Jamie was kind enough to interact with me about my critique, and when he asked me about anthropology, I suggested that Kelsey’s volume would probably offer a helpful account (one of my criticisms of Jamie’s anthropology was that it was not trinitarian). Therefore, it seems fitting that I finally put a close on this series by digging into this massive beast clogging up my desk.

To start, I want to pick up on a piece noted above in response to Jamie Smith, that anthropology needs to be guided by a robust trinitarian theology. Kelsey picks up here well: “My aim in this project is to think through the agenda of theological anthropology in a way shaped from beginning to end by the triunity of the God with whom we have to do” (46). Continue reading

Theology Gone North, Or, Why Scotland is Cooler than England

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!!!

Christian Spiritual Classics

I’ve been co-editing a book for the past year or so that is a guide for an evangelical reading of Christian Spiritual Classics. As a part of our research for this volume, I came across a new book edited by Arthur Holder called Christian Spirituality: The Classics. At first, if I’m honest, I was a bit worried when I saw the title! It was a little too close to our volume for comfort, but when I received the book I realized it was doing the exact opposite of what we are. Holder’s overall goal is to take the ever-growing interest in spiritual classics and provide a reader that covers the great bulk of them. Each chapter is written by a different scholar who follows an outline template, offering helpful continuity throughout the volume. The authors cover thirty texts, starting with Origen and ending with Merton. Each chapter gives a broad look at the author and context, provides an overview of the content, addresses the reception of the text throughout history, and then explores various ways these texts can be meaningful for today.

In an attempt to be broad, I fear that Holder missed some opportunities along the way. One must wonder how Cassian’s Conferences or Institutes fail to make it into a volume like this. Continue reading

Calvin, the Divine Essence, and God the Father

I’ve been slowly re-reading Calvin’s Institutes and came across a section in Book I Chapter 13 on the Trinity that I thought would be fruitful for discussion here. In I.13.24, Calvin aruges that the name “God” in Scripture does not refer to the Father alone. In my mind, what this does, not necessarily for Calvin, but for many of his followers after him, is to de-personalize the name “God” and apply it to the divine essence, so that there is, as it were, a God behind the trinitarian God.

In this section, Calvin is knee deep in polemical argumentation against a sort of Arianism. His worry is that if the Father is only considered “God,” then the Son would, in some sense, be less than God. He doesn’t seem to notice that the Fathers, from what I can tell, are unanimous that the term “God” is used in Scripture of the Father, and that his counter-examples in his polemics simply don’t make his argument. Calvin fluctuates between “God” as a name and “God” as deity, and doesn’t draw a distinction between them. Therefore, he can argue, that when Christ says that no one is good but God alone, then you have to say Christ isn’t God if only the Father is God (thereby reducing name to deity). Continue reading

Charles Chauncy and the American Ideal

I’ve been doing a bit of research on the Charles Chauncy / Jonathan Edwards exchange over the revivals. Each figure represents the Old Light / New Light cause respectively. I am particularly interested in Chauncy’s rhetoric. The bulk of the exchange took place during the 1730s and 1740s. Interestingly, when Chauncy criticized the revivals, he sought to link the revivals to the heretical movements of the century prior – focusing specifically on Anne Hutchinson. Chauncy argues that there are incredible similarities to the 17th century enthusiast groups and those popping up in the 18th century revivals. Subtly, Chauncy links himself to the forefathers who fought for the faith and defeated the heretics, and linked his opponents to those heretics.

There were various issues floating around these dicussions, such as the role and prominence of women (Anne Hutchinson became a key example for him), as well as, more interestingly, that both had a tendency to level-out society. Chauncy was worried that this levelling would undo the social hierarchy that was so entrenched as the proper ordering of culture. In short, Chauncy argument is what we might anachronistically call an argument against a position as “un-American.” Alan Heimart notes Chauncy’s rhetoric and even claims that Chauncy was ultimately concerned with communism! Heimart notes, “By 1774 all Liberals, Chauncy among them, were once again warning that enthusiasm, whether religious or political, endangered the very basis of American happiness” (Heimart, Religion and the American Mind, 250-251.). Whereas Ben Franklin lauded the revivals because of their social effect, Chauncy denounces them for the same reason. The levelling effect of the revivals worried Chauncy, and the rise of popular and anti-clerical religion was, no doubt, the fruit of a movement that eventually came to define America rather than undo it.

Rubbishing the King James Version: Eugene Peterson and Translation

In light of the 400th anniversary of the King James, I thought it would be fruitful to bring up an interesting argument that Eugene Peterson makes in his book Eat This Book. Furthermore, Ben Myers has recently put up a blog post about his love for the King James so I thought this would stand as an interesting contrast. Myers provides something of a personal apologetic I first heard when I was in an undergraduate Bible class – that there is just something special about the King James. I never used the King James so I was intrigued by this line of logic. The person in my class talked about how the language of the King James was sufficiently “high” for the Bible, and how that language helped to push the Bible into a more spiritual register (my language, not his). In light of this argument, I would like to note some of Eugene Peterson’s reasons for thinking that the King James Version, for these very reasons, is an inadequate translation (I should note that I don’t have this book with me and I read it a year ago, so I will only outline the broad contours of his argument).

The first thing to note about Eugene Peterson’s argument is that he denies what tend to be two assumed premises. First, that the King James was written in an older form of English which was used in everyday conversation. Rather, Peterson argues, the language of the King James was never conversational in any age. It was, even in its own day, an attempt to spiritualize language to a higher order fitting for the Bible. As ink marked the page it was, at it were, “arcane,” or, better, “foreign.” Second, based on the Greek language of the New Testament, the King James fails to provide a proper translation of the language that the apostles used to convey the gospel. It was, in fact, common language that was invoked for the New Testament and not a higher-level spiritual grammar. Continue reading

Moral Theology and Christian Ethics

Kent and I have been doing some research for a project we are working on together and we decided to read D. Stephen Long’s chapter “Moral Theology” in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology. This is an area I have wanted to pour myself in to but always seem to be pushing off this research for other projects that get in the way (who will save me from this body of death!). Here, I thought it would be fruitful to start a conversation about Long’s thesis.

Long starts with the dividing line that one would normally think of when they hear the term “moral theology” in distinction from “Christian ethics” – Catholic and Protestant. Both traditions have a demarcation between dogmatic theology and moral/ethical thought, even though, in the case of moral theology, there is a tighter relationship of independence. “The main difference between them,” Long asserts, “is that moral theology recognizes Christian dogma as essential to the moral life, while Christian ethics sees dogma as less important for its task” (457). Moral theology, therefore, “assumes an explicit doctrinal context.” In light of this distinction, these approaches produce distinct audiences – moral theology speaks primarily to the church, while Christian ethics understands its scope to be at the broadest level of society (universities, nations, corporations, etc.). Long characterizes these various inclinations by delineating the “universal category” for each discipline – for moral theology: doctrine; for Christian ethics: ethics. Continue reading