Saturday, December 31, 2011

the new year is upon us...

Well, another year ends and a new one begins, and I start another year of life (my b-day is new year's eve, in case you didn't know).  I have at least one resolution for 2012: write more substantial blog posts here.  We'll see if that materializes or not. :-)  Here's to the last year on the Mayan calendar!  The end is nigh.  hehe.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Back at home for the holidays...

Well, all I can say is... whew!  The last couple weeks have been a bit of a blur, and unfortunately part of that is due to the fact that I've been sick.  I started getting a sinus infection after my trip in early Dec. to Edinburgh, Scotland.  If you have not been to Edinburgh, I highly recommend going there, if possible.  Such a beautiful city.  I thought about getting medicine before leaving for the holidays, but I started feeling better, so I didn't worry about it.  Then I flew from the UK to the US for Christmas break.

By the time I landed in Oklahoma City on Thursday afternoon, my ears were bothering me and I was feeling sick again.  And, as tends to happen in my life, my timing was a bit off.  I flew again, on Saturday morning, to Seattle.  It was great to be in the Northwest again, and I was able to visit several good friends, but my time there was marred by the fact that I was getting sicker, and had to go to the doctor, and spent a couple days just laying (or is it lying?) around in bed.  I also ended up having to postpone my return flight from Tuesday to Thursday in order to let the antibiotics get to work so I felt well enough to fly.  Not the way I wanted to spend my time in Seattle, but thanks to good friends like Roy, I still had a good visit.

So, anyway, now I'm back in OKC and recovering.  I'm still very thankful to be back in the US for Christmas and to have the chance to see family and friends, but I also have a lot of writing to get done and I'm trying to figure out how to manage my time and rest enough to get well completely.  I'm sure I'll be fine, but you know how when you're just sick enough that you feel sluggish and not-quite-coherent (in addition to the sniffling and coughing), but not sick enough to just sleep all day and have someone bring you soup? :-)  Well, I've felt that way for two weeks now, and it's getting old.  haha.

But, enough whining.  There is a time of celebration at hand, and I refuse to let my minor sufferings take away from the hope and joy that are represented by this season of the year.  But this is also a time for serious reflection.  The Christmas season, as I'm sure we've all heard many times, is not about presents or trees or lights or snow or caroling.  It's not even really about family or church services.  All those things are great, but Christmas, at its core, is about sacrifice, humility, and transformation.  It's about the belief that God loves us enough to sacrifice Godself (remember, Jesus is God, not just God's 'son') in order to restore humanity to a relationship with God.

I suppose it's easy to hear that and simply say, 'yeah, how true', without really thinking about what it means.  I know I've done that.  But if we are people who genuinely believe that the Christian faith contains actual truth, then one of the most basic truths of our faith is this: God's sacrifice begins and ends with Incarnation.  In other words, Jesus' birth -- whatever the time of year, and however the events historically played out -- was and is the event that changed history.  But not only history, it also changed reality itself.  God actually became a person -- a huge act of self-sacrificial love on God's part -- in order to provide an ontological connection, so to speak, with humanity.

All this really means is that without Jesus, God and humanity would still be separated somehow.  Could God have made this metaphysical connection to us some other way?  Perhaps.  But Christians believe that Jesus is the way God did it, even if we don't fully grasp everything that means.  So, this is why it is so important that the Christmas story is not just a nice anecdote that we tell to make our hearts feel warm as we enjoy our meals with loved ones.  The Christmas story has to be historically valid if God really is connected to the human world in a meaningful way.  And, the Christmas story is the event that shifts all of reality, since it is the decisive moment where God meets us.

To really ponder all this should, I think, make us uneasy at first because it calls us to a much greater sense of humility, gratitude, and self-reflection than we often desire.  Some may simply shrug or scoff and say that it's nothing more than a story.  But for those of us who call ourselves Christians, Christmas is a reminder that God has changed, and is changing, reality.  That makes Christmas a profound opportunity for us to examine ourselves and see whether we have been allowing God to shape our realities or whether we have been fighting against God's 'reshaping'.  I don't know about you, but I do that a lot.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, I hope and pray that we will all acquire a new sense of the importance of allowing God to shape our lives during this Christmas season, so that the reality of God's love and grace may be more fully seen in our world.  Merry Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

wow, it's December already...

Please read this article: It's really well written and says a lot of things that we all need to take seriously as followers of Jesus.  Once again, I'm humbled by the fact that someone who is not a believer in Christ is able to articulate the situation much better than a lot of the people who do believe. As we enter the Advent time of the year, let's start/continue the habit of showing more love and grace to people who are 'different' from us.  Whaddya say?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

more of my favorite lyrics...

This is a classic underground Christian alternative rock song... and the album (has the same title) is definitely worth buying if you can find it.

Mike Knott - 'Rocket and a Bomb'

Monday, November 7, 2011

Think life begins at conception? Well... maybe...

[Update: The bill mentioned below did not pass, which is very interesting for a variety of reasons.]

I am pro-life. I oppose both abortion-on-demand and the death penalty (and attempt to live as a pacifist) because I believe that human life is a sacred gift, given by God, and we don't have the right to take another human life. Only God has that authority. Unfortunately, just saying this is not enough to solve many serious ethical dilemmas, including the issue of abortion.

But, it seems to me that taking seriously the question "When does life begin?" is vital if we hope to get closer to a valuable understanding these ethical dilemmas. Of course, for some, there is no question. Poor thinking takes place on all sides, but here is one example:

The state of Mississippi is going to vote this week on Initiative 26, which has gained notoriety as the "personhood amendment." Essentially, the voters of the state will decide on how the beginning of a human life is defined. It seems likely that the decision will be that life begins at conception. The problem is, this view does not have much scientific evidence to support it, and, I will suggest, it does not have much biblical support either.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I didn't write this...

This guy did. But it's so good I just had to re-post. (His blog is great, by the way. Very thoughtful theologian getting a PhD at the University of Durham.)

"The Church is the place where water is thicker than blood, and where married partners, whose earthly unions survive only until the parting of death, enter into deeper and eternal unions in the body of Christ, where the eternal friendship of Christian sibling-hood overcomes the barriers of blood, race, and status. This new order transcends and translates the old order into it. Christian married couples remain married, but now participate in a deeper and more lasting set of relationships. Rather than playing off celibacy against married life, I think that what we need to do is focus on those deeper sets of relationships, and how they transform and shape our existing ones. In a context where most parties in the Church seem to be obsessed with marriage, family, and sexuality, perhaps we should remember that the perfect human being that we follow was a lifelong celibate, with a rather ambivalent attitude to his blood relations...

People have wondered how Jesus of Nazareth, who never married or fathered children, could embody perfect humanity. Jesus may not have been a husband or a father, but he exemplified a sort of relationship that speaks beyond all of these roles and can transform them: Jesus was the Friend. While this fact is often presented in the trivializing fashion of Jesus as the ‘life and soul of the party’, this falls so far short of the truth. Jesus had an unparalleled capacity to give himself to other people in a manner that brought freedom, health, life, comfort, forgiveness, and joy. People wanted to be with Jesus. No human being has been a friend like Christ.

Jesus' friendships broke boundaries between the sexes, and between social insiders and outsiders. In the realm of true friendship we are all equals and contemporaries. Generational differences no longer matter and the differences between the sexes need not be a divide. Jesus had close friendships with both men and women, including forms of friendship that can be very rarely practiced in certain contexts today, such as profoundly homoaffective but non-sexual friendships and unsexualized friendships with the other sex. The various vocations we have as individuals are nothing but innumerable different species of friendship, conjugations of that more fundamental relationship...

In the contemporary Church, I wonder whether our incessant focus upon the categories of marriage, singleness, and sexuality is bound up with a myopic failure to see the deeper category of friendship, which both relativizes and transforms them. In the midst of the innumerable theological works that are written on the subject of sexuality, one could be forgiven for forgetting that the Bible really has hardly anything to say about what we call sexuality and that, when it does, it is accorded only a marginally important significance. In a like manner, the centrality of family and marriage in the contemporary evangelical church and awkward place of singles seems somewhat strange when perceived against the background of a New Testament in which families are most noticeable by their absence and where familial, marital, and blood bonds are consistently transcended.

A thoroughgoing theology of friendship has the potential to puncture numerous myths and radically to reorient our understanding and vision. A Church that spoke far more about friendship than sexuality, for instance, would have a far more challenging message to present to a sex-obsessed age. A Church that unapologetically proclaimed that a celibate person embodied perfect humanity, and carefully articulated the consequences of this belief, would strike at the heart of some of the greatest idols of our age. The fact that this is seldom done is perhaps evidence of the fact that we are also enthralled by them."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

notes on William Cavanaugh's politics & theology...

According to Cavanaugh, the common assumption in modernity with regard to the relationship between religion and politics goes something like this:

The 'wars of religion' in Europe during the modern period (15th-18th centuries) enabled the rise of the nation-state as a 'neutral party', which attempted to solve the problem by reducing religion to a private sphere away from the public discourse.  In other words, religious discussion was relegated to personal pietism and worship, while law, politics, commerce, etc. were maintained as public areas of discussion that would hopefully be debated in a rational, 'peaceful' manner, something that was apparently made more difficult when religious belief was brought into the mix.  This, it is said, is a primary reason why we have less religious violence now than in the past (though that assumption has been called into question post-9/11).

Cavanaugh thinks this narrative is wrong, and ought to be reversed.  It is literally backward in his view: rather than religion and religious violence being the catalyst for the nation-state, the European states, caught up in conflicts over territory and power, used religion as a way to deflect from what was really going on.  The 'social contract', according to Cavanaugh, allows individuals to gain certain rights (esp. property) in exchange for allowing the state government to have certain coercive powers.  This leads to a situation where loyalty to the state becomes paramount, since it offers protection for what we value (safety, shelter, food, etc).  The state soon usurps religion as the source of what people are willing to die for.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

notes on Graham Ward's 'schizoid Christ'...

Graham Ward is a theologian who will be the new Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, beginning in Fall 2012. He has written extensively on a range of topics, particularly the relationships between theology and culture. The following are some notes I took while reading his essay, "The Schizoid Christ", as part of a systematic theology seminar.

In the essay, which is included in a collection of essays related to Radical Orthodoxy, Ward is essentially working against a conception of the self as an individual subject who is in control of its own consciousness and identity. He speaks of the 'operations' of Christ rather than an 'identity' of Christ. he would thus rather "examine this profound theological nexus as a mobile site for the production of desire and belief, love and hope." (p. 229)

Some may be taken aback by his use of the term 'schizoid', as it infers the mental instability of schizophrenia, which most Christians would be uncomfortable with as a description of Jesus Christ. However, Ward - drawing from Deleuze and Guattari's philosophical writings - suggests that "'schizophrenization' is therapeutic" inasmuch as it allows a variety of representations the opportunity to show themselves. So, the self that is free to be 'schizoid' can apparently, in some sense, reveal more of itself than a self constrained by the traditional understanding of selfhood as 'identity'. The reliability of such a view is not something I can address at present.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Kierkegaard on the difference between talking and acting...

As a Christian, this continues to be a very challenging word for me to hear... since I am still too often in the camp of those who ridicule. From Kierkegaard's Journals:

"Take the rich young man — let me then preach about his not being perfect, that he could not bring himself to giving everything to the poor, but that the true Christian is always willing to give everything. Let me preach this way, and people are deeply moved and I am esteemed. But if I were a rich young man and went and gave all my possessions to the poor — then people would be scandalized. They would find it a ridiculous exaggeration.

Take Mary Magdalene. Let me preach about her deep consciousness of sin, the passion which becomes indifferent to everything but her sin, which goes out to the Savior, opening herself up to all kinds of ridicule, etc. I... will be regarded as an earnest Christian, I will be esteemed. If, however, I myself, conscious of being a sinner, if suddenly I actually step forward with a public confession of sin, offense arises immediately, people will consider it vanity and ridiculous exaggeration.

To preach that the true Christian consults God in everything is moving... if in actuality a man does step forward and refers to his having consulted God, this is censured as presumption, pride, exaggeration, madness. Picture those quiet spirits who, remote from life, filled their souls with only the thought of God — it will move to tears... But let someone really do it and he becomes an object of ridicule."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The danger of ethics...

"From the religious point of view, the ethical is the tendency of every society to absolutize itself, identifying as good those who meet its expectations and as evil those who are so irreverent as to defy them, whether from within (for example, the criminal) or without (for example, the enemy). In this mode society takes good and evil seriously, but by making itself their criterion, it fails to take God seriously, no matter how much it talks about God."

Merold Westphal (in "Becoming A Self: A Reading of Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The 'heart' of a person is like the sea...

"[T]he sea is only deep when it is pure, and only pure when it is transparent: as soon as it is impure we no longer see its depth but only its surface, and if we see only its surface, that means it is not transparent.  When, however, it is deeply and transparently pure, then it is at one with itself, no matter how long one looks at it; then its purity is its abiding unity with itself.  And for this reason we liken the heart to the sea, because its purity is its being abidingly deep and transparent.  No storm may disturb it, no squall ruffle its surface, no mist spread across it, no doubtful movement be in it, no passing cloud darken it, but it must lie still, deep, and transparent... As the sea, when it thus lies still, deep and transparent... reflects the very height of the heavens in its pure depths, so does the heart, when it is still, deep and transparent, reflect the heavenly sublimity of the Good in its pure depths."

- S. Kierkegaard (from the Upbuilding Discourses)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Looks like I'm gonna have to start studying more of Aristotle's metaphysics...

"[I]f there is anything uncontentious that can be said about Aristotle's metaphysics, it would seem to be that it is centrally concerned with the question of Being [as opposed to 'beings'].  That being said, questions immediately start to multiply in many directions, not least as regards the translation of the most basic terms in which Aristotle addresses the question.  A case--and a crucial case--in point is the translation of the pivotal term ousia.  In his guide to The Greek Philosophical Vocabulary , J. O. Urmson notes that 'philosophically' ousia means 'nature, essence, substance, being', which, of course, begs the question as to what each of these terms means and how they are to be related to each other.

Are they synonyms, such that Being 'is' identical with nature, essence, or substance?  That is... a question we can reformulate as follows: Is Being exhaustively knowable in its manifestation as nature, essence, and substance?  Or, does the knowledge that we can attain of nature, essence, and substance give us a full and adequate knowledge of Being-Itself?  The basic terms in which these questions are posed are already set out in Aristotle's Metaphysics, a text which would shape the way in which Christian theology itself developed its thinking about the Being of God, despite significant changes such as those resulting from the Christian emphasis on creation out of nothing." - George Pattison, God and Being, p. 39.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

To Albert Mohler: Nah, I don't think so...

It's interesting that my posting the other day apparently resonates with another issue that a lot of Christians are thinking about these days; namely, whether or not we really need a literal interpretation of every part of the Bible, esp. Genesis (thanks for the link, Ben!).

For many Christians, this is not a question to be debated -- if the whole thing isn't viewed historically, it falls apart.  Thus, to disclaim the historicity of any part of the Bible (that isn't explicitly non-historical) is tantamount to denying the faith.  This is the view put forward by Albert Mohler in a recent essay:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Unorthodox musings?

So, I've been thinking... (cue collective groan ;-D) I've been thinking about self-sacrifice, the concept of the possible, and what belief in God is all about... and I think I may have come to some conclusions that are - perhaps - unorthodox.  As is the case with such things, I've written a long blog entry about it.  haha!  Comments are welcome.

First, let me give the background. It is standard Christian theology to say that God is 'Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnibenevolent, Eternal, etc'. These are commonly called the attributes of God. I know there isn't complete agreement on all the attributes or how they operate, but in general there is some kind of consensus regarding the basics. Another way it may be said is that 'God is an eternal, personal being who transcends time and space, who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving'. (This is often the definition given by philosophers when debating the existence of God.) Alongside this, God is understood to be the Creator of the universe, the one who made all that exists.

Now, immediately, this raises difficult questions; questions that have been argued about for over 2,000 years: How does such a God relate to the creation? How would we, as human beings, be able to know this God? Why, if God is thus defined, did God create a world that has so many problems? In Christian theology, the answers to these three questions can be summed up, somewhat superficially, by the following three respective terms - Christology (how God relates to the creation), Revelation (how God is made known to us), and Sin (why the creation has so many flaws).

Now, I am going to bypass the first two questions for the moment, not because they aren't important, but rather because I think it is easier to see my point if I focus on the third question: Why did God create such a flawed world?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Kierkegaard on the limits of thinking possibility...

In Concluding Unscientific Postscript, the pseudonym Johannes Climacus explains, "[I]n asking ethically with regard to my own actuality, I am asking about its possibility, except that this possibility is not esthetically and intellectually disinterested, but is a thought-actuality that is related to my own personal actuality--namely, that I am able to carry it out."

In other words, the point of ethics is to act, rather than endlessly assess our options. At some point, I have to DO something. If we attempt "within possibility to distinguish between possibility and actuality... actuality and deception are equally possible... Only the individual himself can know which is which." That is, when considering possibilities, we cannot ignore those which are distasteful to us. This includes the possibility that we are entirely mistaken. This is why action becomes vital; only by lived decision can we truly distinguish our possibilities from our actualities.

Of course, the question of whether even the individual can really know the difference between possibility and actuality remains open, since if "deception can reach just as far as actuality" it is difficult to see how even the individual him/herself can be certain of their own actuality, as long as they are conflating actuality and possibility. Indeed, this dilemma will eventually be recognized by another Kierkegaardian pseudonym, Anti-Climacus, as constituent of two prevalent forms of despair--the despair of false possibility, and the despair of false actuality.

In light of this situation, Johannes reminds us that we must be vigilant: "When the esthetic and the intellectual inspect, they protest every esse that is not a posse; when the ethical inspects, it condemns every posse that is not an esse, a posse, namely, in the individual himself, since the ethical does not deal with other individuals.—In our day everything is mixed together." This is always the case in thought. There is always a mixing of categories, precisely because we will never, as mere humans, be able to distinguish between them in anything more than varying degrees of approximation.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kierkegaard on the difference between reading and thinking...

"In our time, everyone is able to write something or other about everything, but no one is able or willing to endure the strenuous labor of thinking through a single thought exhaustively in all its sharpest implications.  As a result, the writing of trifles is particularly appreciated in our time, and one who writes a substantial book almost makes himself the object of ridicule.  In the old days one read substantial books, and insofar as one read pamphlets and newspapers, one did not care to have it known.  Now everyone feels duty-bound to have read what is in the papers and in the pamphlets but is ashamed to have read a substantial book all the way through; he is afraid this will be regarded as a mark of dullness." (from the Journals)

I guess it's good to know that shallow gossip and trivial information were a problem in Kierkegaard's time as well...?  Or maybe it's just depressing.  Either way, this is a great quote.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Kierkegaard on the difficulty of human free will...

"Truly, there often is something sad and depressing about someone wanting to communicate something in his lifetime, and seeing at the very last that he has communicated nothing at all--but that the person concerned stubbornly continues in his view.  But, on the other hand, there is something great in the fact that the other one and every individual is a world to himself and has his 'holy of holies' where no alien hand can force itself in."

(from Kierkegaard's Journals)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kierkegaard on faith and doctrine...

Here is Kierkegaard's pseudonym, Johannes Climacus: "The object of faith is the actuality of another person; its relation is an infinite interestedness.  The object of faith is not a doctrine, for then the relation is intellectual, and the point is not to bungle it but to reach the maximum of the intellectual relation.  The object of faith is not a teacher who has a doctrine, for when a teacher has a doctrine, then the doctrine is eo ipso more important than the teacher, and the relation is intellectual… But the object of faith is the actuality of the teacher, that the teacher actually exists.  Therefore faith's answer is… not in relation to a doctrine, whether it is true or not, not in relation to a teacher, whether his doctrine is true or not, but is the answer to the question about a fact: Do you accept as fact that he actually has existed?  Please note that the answer is with infinite passion." (Concluding Unscientific Postscript, p. 326)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Good Basic Faith Statement...

I think this is well-said (from George Pattison's The Philosophy of Kierkegaard):

"[U]nlike several other religions, Christianity seems to make its message dependent on faith in a particular historical individual.  It... also requires us to affirm that our own salvation and our own ability to carry out its ethical demands are dependent on our believing certain things about this historical individual: that he was in a unique way the son of God, born of a virgin, that he died in such a way as to remove the burden of sin placed upon human beings as a result of the Fall, and that he rose again from the dead, sits at the right hand of God in heaven and 'will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead', as the Nicene Creed puts it.  Although the clauses relating to Christ's current status and future work are not in any simple sense 'historical' affirmations, the preceding clauses [about his life, death, and resurrection] are.  This is a double challenge to anyone wanting to press the claims of Christianity."

The question then is: How do we respond to this affirmation?  It is here that Christianity begins to splinter... into thousands of different 'appropriate' responses.  It seems to me that most of one's journey as a believer consists in negotiating between various responses to the affirmation of faith stated above.  But it also seems to me, more and more, that this negotiation or seeking is our affirmation.  In other words, our journeys as Christians are actually a constant negotiation between our faith and lack thereof.

If faith and works are inextricably intertwined (no matter how their relation is conceived), then the extent to which we respond is the extend to which we believe.  And, given the plethora of responses and counter-responses to faith that exist within the Church (broadly speaking), I submit that what this reveals is, quite simply, our struggle to really believe what we claim.  In other words, the extent to which we are divided in our responses to the affirmation of faith is the extent to which we don't really believe the affirmation.  And that means all of us who say we believe need to remain humble in our claims and consistently re-evaluate our beliefs.

After all, there is no such thing as 'complete' belief.  That is an oxymoron.  Belief itself requires incomplete information.  To put a stamp marking a belief as 'case closed' is, in effect, to nullify the belief.  And, at that point, Christianity -- the belief in Christ -- dies.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Utilitarians and Christians... thoughts on a conference featuring Peter Singer.

Yesterday and today I attended a conference here at Oxford's McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life, featuring the (in)famous utilitarian ethicist, Peter Singer. The goal was to create a dialogue between Singer's brand of preference utilitarianism and Christian ethics, in order to discover what areas of common ground, if any, might be found between them.

All in all, I would say this goal was accomplished, which was a pleasant result for someone like me who appreciates it when people actually listen to each other, instead of vilifying each other. Nevertheless, there were (of course) disagreements, and quite a few important (I think) points for consideration. So, let me provide a quick overview of the conference and what I took away from it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

haven't done this in a while...

I used to semi-regularly post some of my favorite song lyrics. I think I'll start doing that again. This time it's the song 'Savannah' by the metalcore band Zao. The story behind the song is that the vocalist for the band read a news article about a former adult film star named Savannah who was injured in a car accident. Her face was disfigured, and this trauma was too much for her, so she committed suicide. A grim reminder of what can happen whenever human beings are objectified and 'mechanized'. Never forget that we are all alive beneath our shells...

A day not to forget
The machine has collapsed under the program it's been given
Look inside the broken shell
Look inside the broken shell
To see the broken heart
They can't believe the machine was alive but we saw it bleed
We saw it bleed
The machine it falls apart and when it's cut it bleeds
The machine bleeds
She was alive

Monday, May 2, 2011

10 years and two wars later...

Well, I don't really have much to say about the announcement that Osama bin Laden has evidently been killed. Rather, I will direct you all to a post by Jeff Keuss, who says what I'm thinking better than I can at this moment:

This is definitely worth a read. Thanks, Jeff.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christ is Risen...

He is Risen Indeed!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter thoughts from Dr. Hunsinger...

Today is called 'Good Friday', but of course that is a bit of an ironic title, since it was certainly not a very good day for the one who brought about our redemption. Jesus suffered what unfortunately has been all too common throughout human history: intense (Christians would say THE most intense, because of its spiritual implications) torture at the hands of those who viewed violence as the vehicle by which power and order are maintained. While we recognize as Christians that Christ's death and resurrection are ultimately the most good news of all, we might also do well to take time, especially today, to reflect on what Christ's death has to say about the way we live and treat each other as human beings. Here is a quote from George Hunsinger, a theologian and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, that I find quite valuable in this regard (thanks to Jeff Keuss for the quote!):

"The Christ who died in the throes of torture could not be held by the bonds of death. On Easter day, God said yes to Jesus and no to torture, yes to life and no to death. The means of terror were forever banned as instruments of peace. They did not have the last word for Jesus; they must not tempt Christians today. Jesus allowed himself to taste torture and death to disclose how abhorrent they are in God's sight. He terminates the resort to torture just as he brings an end to the law (Rom 10.4). His resurrection manifests a humility more resilient than vengeance, a faithfulness more powerful than fear, and a love that triumphs over death. The resurrection points to a hidden divine cunning in history, the power of an invincible forgiveness that will not rest until it reclaims the world."

Friday, April 15, 2011

back to the research, and what not...

So, a couple people have asked me to write up a brief overview of the PCR4 conference that I attended last week. That follows this quick update:

Monday, April 4, 2011

going back across the pond...

Tomorrow morning I leave for the USA... to attend the annual "Postmodernism, Culture, and Religion" conference at Syracuse University. Should be a great experience -- lots of interesting seminars and the chance to hang out with other academic types who are interested in similar topics. Several people here who have never been to the States have asked me, "Oh, so you'll get to see your family and girlfriend?" Well, unfortunately, no. They are all way on the other side of the country. :-( But, it will be nice to just be in the same country. Of course, a better solution would be for them all to move to England. :-) Ok, maybe that's not too realistic. hehe.

Friday, March 25, 2011

NYT on single would-be-pastors...

Here is a recent article in the New York Times that describes the difficulties single pastors have with finding full-time positions in evangelical churches:

I think what's so frustrating about stories like this is that they simply serve to reinforce what many people outside the Church (by that I mean Christianity as a whole) already think; namely, that churches are not offering a life-view that is really that compelling or different in a positive sense, so why should Christianity be taken seriously?

I understand this is not the whole story, and many churches are not as rigid as those represented in the article, but it makes me wonder: how do we offer Christianity as a meaningful option to people, when they can easily see that we aren't even able to offer a clear indication of what Christianity is supposed to be to ourselves?

Many churches are more concerned about one's marital status than the possibility of actualizing God's call on a person's life through ministry; others of us then come along and essentially say the first group doesn't know what it's talking about. What are people supposed to think?

I suppose this is a much bigger question, really: it has to do with the divisions among the Church as a whole, and what should be done about it. I don't have the answer, but I do think something has to change - something big - if churches, broadly speaking, ever expect to be taken seriously as anything more than just another cultural gathering-place. If that's all Church is, we're screwed.

Of course, many would probably say that's the point - the Church is supposed to be 'rejected' by the world and suffer persecution, etc. But there's a difference between suffering persecution and just being ignored because you've lost all credibility. Unfortunately, I suspect that in many churches, the real problem is the latter, not the former.

I still have hope for the Church as a whole, because I believe there are many churches who are striving to make their congregants into disciples who have faith in Christ and follow his life and teachings. Unfortunately, there are also many who are instead attempting to build ideologies, or just have social gatherings.

And, more frustratingly, these different Christian groups usually all claim to be doing the same thing (following Jesus), and usually, of course, they are doing it better than the other guy. No wonder people are confused, and pay less and less attention to us.

Any thoughts?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bonhoeffer on Love...

"Love: this is the decisive word... Without this 'love' everything disintegrates and is unacceptable; in this love everything is integrated, united, and pleasing to God. What is this love?

...we must exclude any definitions that seek to understand the essence of love as human behavior, as disposition, dedication, sacrifice, will for community, as feeling, passion, service, or deed. All this without exception can exist without 'love'... Everything we usually call love, everything that dwells in the farthest depths of the soul and in visible deeds, indeed, even brotherly or sisterly service to the neighbor that springs from the pious heart--all this can lack 'love.'

So, if there is no conceivable human behavior that would as such unambiguously qualify as 'love'... then this poses an enigma, an open question as to what else the Bible could still mean by 'love'.

The answer is: God is love. For the sake of clarity, this sentence must first be read with the emphasis on the word God, even though we have become accustomed to emphasize the word 'love'. God is love: that is, love is not a human behavior, sentiment, or deed, but it is God who is love. What love is can be known only by one who knows God; the reverse is not true...

Thus, nobody knows what love is except through God's self-revelation. Love is therefore God's self-revelation. God's revelation, however, is Jesus Christ... Christ is the sole definition of love.

Love is not what Christ does and suffers, but what Christ does and suffers. Love is always Jesus Christ himself. Love is always God himself. Love is always God's revelation in Jesus Christ.

However... only the concrete doing and suffering of this human being Jesus Christ will make clear what love is... To the question, 'In what does love consist?' we continue therefore to answer with scripture: the reconciliation of human beings with God in Jesus Christ."

Friday, February 25, 2011

A conference and a quote...

So, I am planning to attend an upcoming conference at Syracuse University called "The Future of Continental Philosophy of Religion." I submitted a paper and they accepted it, so pray that I can get all the financial details worked out, because it is a great opportunity to meet with a lot of other theologians and philosophers who are working in similar areas. And, of course, it's always good to add a presentation at a conference to one's CV. :-) The title of my paper is "Philosophy, Theology, and the Narrative of Hope."

On a different note, here is a great quote from David Gouwens' book, "Kierkegaard as Religious Thinker":

"When it comes to 'understanding Christianity', a knowledge of the basic doctrines or teachings of the faith is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition. The student of theology must be continually aware of the dangers of treating the increase in theological knowledge as an increase in faith."

A simple, but important reminder to those of us who spend much of our time increasing our theological knowledge...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Magic is not faith...

Hmm. Apparently I can keep quiet for a while. Well, here's a new post to break the silence. It's a bit of speculation I've been randomly considering recently. I am calling it: "Why magic is a poor analogy for faith".

I almost hate to write this because it's going to sound like I'm ragging on two people I greatly admire: G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. Let me say right now that I think both Christianity and humanity in general have been made richer by the lives of both of these fine writers, dreamers, and thinkers. I know that my faith has been challenged and encouraged deeply by them. Having said that, I think both authors are also responsible for a troubling tendency. Both have contributed to a commonly held religious analogy, namely, that of the Christian faith with a certain kind of 'magic'. This is, in my view, detrimental to faith, regardless of how articulate and poetic the analogy may be.

Don't misunderstand: this isn't a rant against the evil of 'magic' as a portal through which naive Christians may fall prey to the dark forces manipulating occult practices. That is not my target here. What I am concerned with is the false picture of God the 'analogy of magic' presents to us. Quite simply, to analogize God using the term magic gives the impression that God, or a relationship with God, is something like a cause and effect relationship. After all, magic is, in its most essential form, the attempt to cause an effect through some sort of spell, incantation, charm, etc. Magic involves starting with a goal and then attempting to bring about that goal.

But this is not the way our relationship with God works, at least not according to the tenets of the Christian faith. First, unlike magic, which seeks results, faith is the 'evidence of things unseen.' In other words, faith is not the attempt to prove God to ourselves, or to others, by way of some 'magical' proof that leaves people awestruck. Believe me, that would be nice. I struggle with faith most often when I don't see results. But unfortunately, God isn't primarily concerned with my desire for results.

People may be awestruck by God, but it won't be due to anything we have done to 'conjure up' God's awesomeness. It will be because God has decided to reveal Godself. There is no formula to faith. We cannot expect that if we say the right words, or have the right concoction of worship, prayer, piety, and/or good deeds, that God will feel obligated to respond according to our expectations.

But, what about prayer? Isn't prayer the attempt to change things, using the power of God? Isn't that sort of like magic? If this is what prayer actually is, then yes. But such a view reveals a quite limited, and ultimately pagan, rather than Christian, view of prayer. Prayer for the Christian is never about trying to 'get something' from God. Yes, we do pray for our needs, and offer petitions, but these are always supposed to be from within a context that begins by acknowledging God's absolute transcendence and holiness. This means that our expectations must be checked at the door, because faith is never about us, but always about God.

Part of the problem, I think, stems from the confusion, found in both Chesterton and Lewis, between the fantastic and the magical. The fantastic, I suggest, draws from myths and stories of other worlds interacting with our world, of elves and fairies and talking animals and wardrobes that open to these other worlds. But notice that even in Lewis' most well-known tale, magic is primarily the tool of the white witch. Aslan never really does any magic, per se. Instead, his presence serves to undo the effects of magic. Of course, Aslan does speak of the 'older magic', and this is part of the confusion.

Now, admittedly, there are passages in the Bible that seem to indicate otherwise. We have verses that for all intents and purposes tell us that if we do X, then God will do Y. But I would submit that a deeper reading of Scripture that takes into account context and layers of meaning will encourage us not to view the Bible in such a formulaic light. Of course, there is much more that could be said here. But I think I will stop for now, and see if anyone else wants to add more by way of comments.

Good night! (Or day, wherever you may be)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011 is here!

Well, it's another new year, and I pray that God's grace will guide us all as we move ahead! The holidays here in the UK have been quiet, but productive, and I am thankful that all the snow in Oxford is finally melting. I have posted some pics on Facebook, in case any of you want to check those out. Let's see... not much else to say right at this second. But, I'm sure I'll have more to say soon... you know I can't keep quiet for long. ;-)