“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.

Help for Teaching Church History

If you are like me, you spend as much time thinking of creative ways to engage your students as you spend on the content of the course itself. This is why I love it when publishers and authors do that for us (because it saves me so much time). My friend Norm is releasing a new help for teaching church history – the Theologian Trading Cards (for publisher page click here). Theologian trading cards are a set of flash cards covering a broad scope of church history and current thinkers. They are flash cards with a fun twist, taking the form of a baseball card. Norm created 288 of these cards and he even put them on 15 theological or historic “teams”. Check out some samples below:

Jonathan Edwards and Justification

With my recent move and my upcoming semester of teaching (which is all very new), I feel like all my posts have been updates about something I’ve published. Sorry about that, hopefully things will be more manageable soon. Until then, I would like to highlight a new book out on Edwards: Jonathan Edwards and Justification ed. Josh Moody (Crossway, 2012). In short, this book is a defense of the claim that Edwards held to a position on justification that can be regarded as Protestant and Reformed. If you are not familiar with the secondary literature on Edwards, this might seem pointless. If Edwards was anything he was Reformed right? Not necessarily so. On justification specifically, Edwards scholars have long questioned Edwards stance, even claiming that it is a key ecumenical bridge with Roman Catholicism.

To start the book, Josh Moody lays out the debated issues and defends Edwards’s Reformed heritage. Next, I lay out what I believe to be the crux of Edwards’s position. I argue that his position is often misunderstood because his doctrinal ordering is not followed carefully. Edwards grounds justification in participation and union, ordering soteriology around Christ and the Spirit. Ultimately, this has to do with Edwards’s account of theosis, but in general, it has more to do with his theocentric approach to doctrine. Every doctrine finds its orbit around Christ and in the Holy Spirit. Third, my friend Rhys Bezzant addresses Edwards’s broad social vision and its implication for his preaching on justification. Fourth, Samuel Logan analyses perhaps the biggest stumbling block in Edwards’s account of justification – evangelical obedience. My hope is that his chapter and mine really serve as two sides of the same argument. Once you follow the dogmatic moves in the first part of Edwards’s discourse on justification, his second part (dealing with evangelical obedience) can fall into place appropriately. Last, Doug Sweeney mines other material across Edwards’s corpus, published and not, to round out the picture of justification we present in this book.  Continue reading