Friday, August 15, 2008

Getting mentioned...

Because of the recent work I've been doing with Matt Jenson's The Gravity of Sin, I've gotten some exposure at the T&T Clark blog here and here. Enjoy!

Monday, August 11, 2008

N. T. Wright on the Ascension

I've been reading N. T. Wright's Surprised by Hope. Here are a couple of fantastic paragraphs on the ascension (112-113).

What happens when you downplay or ignore the ascension [or the resurrected and still embodied Jesus]? The answer is that the church expands to fill the vaccuum. If Jesus is more or less identical with the church - if, that is, talk about Jesus can be reduced to talk about his presence within his people rather than his standing over against them and addressing them from elsewhere as their Lord, then we have created a high road to the worst kind of triumphalism. This indeed is what twentieth-century English liberalism always tended toward: by compromising with rationalism and trying to maintain that talk of the ascension is really talk about Jesus being with us everywhere, the church effectively presented itself (with its structures and hierarchy, its customs and quirks) instead of presenting Jesus as its Lord and itself as the world's servant, as Paul puts it. And the other side of triumphalism is of course despair. If you put all your eggs into the church-equals-Jesus basket, what are you left with when, as Paul says in the same passage, we ourselves are found to be cracked earthenware vessels?

If the church identifies its structures, its leadership, its liturgy, its buildings, or anything else with its Lord - and that's what happens if you ignore the ascension or turn it into another way of talking about the Spirit - what do you get? You get, on the one hand, what Shakespeare called "the insolence of office" and, on the other hand, the despair of late middle age, as people realize it doesn't work. (I see this all too frequently among those who bought heavily into the soggy rationalism of the 1950s and 1960s.) Only when we grasp firmly that the church is not Jesus and Jesus is not the church - when we grasp, in other words, the truth of the ascension, that the one who is indeed present with us by the Spirit is also the Lord who is strangely absent, strangely other, strangely different from us and over against us, the one who tells Mary Magdalene not to cling to him - only then are we rescued from both hollow triumphalism and shallow despair.

There is more fantastic material in the following paragraphs, but this little tidbit hit me on Saturday when I was reading it. Wright goes on to make the interesting (and necessary point) that a human being (Jesus as the divine-human person) is running the cosmos right now from heaven - that Jesus continues his human work straight into the present. You hear these things so little - how wonderful to hear them again!

Friday, August 08, 2008

"At the Name of Jesus"

This is a lyric of a song we sing at St. Bartholomew's from time to time. The words were penned by Caroline Maria Noel in 1870, and the hymn tune we use was arranged by our music director Eric Wyse in 2005. In my humble opinion, there's not a more perfect expression of theology and piety than this song. The two verses in brackets are original, but we don't use in church, for length's sake, but they are beautiful nonetheless.

At the Name of Jesus
At the Name of Jesus, every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess Him King of glory now;
’Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call Him Lord,
Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

[Mighty and mysterious in the highest height,
God from everlasting, very light of light:
In the Father’s bosom with the spirit blest,
Love, in love eternal, rest, in perfect rest.

At His voice creation sprang at once to sight,
All the angel faces, all the hosts of light,
Thrones and dominations, stars upon their way,
All the heavenly orders, in their great array.]

Humbled for a season, to receive a name
From the lips of sinners unto whom He came,
Faithfully He bore it, spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious when from death He passed.

Bore it up triumphant with its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures, to the central height,
To the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast;
Filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.

Name Him, Christians, name Him, with love strong as death
But with awe and wonder, and with bated breath!
He is God the Savior, He is Christ the Lord,
Ever to be worshipped, trusted and adored.

In your hearts enthrone Him; there let Him subdue
All that is not holy, all that is not true;
Crown Him as your Captain in temptation’s hour;
Let His will enfold you in its light and power.

Christians, this Lord Jesus shall return again,
With His Father’s glory, with His angel train;
For all wreaths of empire meet upon His brow,
And our hearts confess Him King of glory now.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The same mistake

In other words, liberalism is, simply, the desire to be taken seriously by the academy and the willingness to find an apologetic that is relevant to the culture.
Several days ago, a friend replied to my 'bad, bad windows' rant. You can see his response here. I replied, and the above sentence is part of the response. The more I think about this sentence, the more I think it is both desperately hard and true.

It is hard because I work for InterVarsity's Graduate and Faculty Ministries. We're about the work of helping Christian grad students make it in the contemporary university and, on top of that, helping them to thrive as Christians and academics, as whole people, as world-changers.

It is hard because our modus operandi is sometimes for some of us driven by wanting to be taken seriously and wanting to find an apologetic that is relevant to the academic culture.

We want to be taken seriously. Who wants to be thought of as a buffoon? Who wants to think other people are thinking one is a supersititous, backwoods idiot?

And so, we want to be relevant. We want to find a bridge between the culture that we want to take us seriously, and the message we want to bring to that culture.

But, unfortunately, the sentence remains devastatingly true - at least of the thumbnail sketch of the development of continental liberalism I was taught. Schleiermacher wrote a book on Christianity to "his cultured despisers." A brilliant thinker, he bridged the gap. He developed a sophisticated, elegant, and convincing apologetic for the Gospel.

But, in so doing, he tamed the Gospel; he broke her back. The Gospel became a maidservant to the ideology to which she had been wedded. She was eventually eviscerated of her vital life and left as a shell into which people cast their images of God against the sky.

He wanted the Gospel to be taken seriously by the culture.

He was willing to fashion an apologetic to make it so.

And us evangelicals are perilously close to the same mistake, which is why I continued in my comment:
Well, those two things sound like most evangelicals, don't they? That's because we're only ever a hair's breadth away from making the same mistake as the continental liberals: wanting more desperately to speak TO our cultured despisers than ABOUT Jesus Christ.
We ministers have to be able to speak about Jesus Christ, even at the expense of looking foolish to our counterparts and colleagues. He is public truth, and his Revelation is knowledge, but if we ever put the cart before the horse, if we ever allow something else to become the subject of the sentence, then we have already capitulated, already lost the fight. One hundred years from now, "public truth" and "knowledge" will not be the terms in which we try to cast our faith, but He will always be its purpose, content, and goal. We are speaking about him to our cultured despisers. And may it always come in that order.

Monday, August 04, 2008

10 Days to Faster Reading

I finished this little book while we were on vacation, and I'd say this. If you want to read more quickly than you already do, then buy this book. I've tried to read faster before, but there was something about this book was structured (one chapter a day for ten days) that sped the learning, and I highly recommend it.

The most important thing I learned was that you have to expect a drop in comprehension when you start to read faster. BUT, given (what I found to be) just a little bit of practice, comprehension returns. Now, I feel like a more confident reader than I ever have before.

This really helps for someone working with graduate students!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

New review up!

Before we left on our trip, I wrote a review of Matt Jenson's The Gravity of Sin for the Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. The review is up now, so go see it and let me know what you think.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Bad, Bad Windows

As I've written, Monique and I just returned recently from a fantastic 10-day vacation to the Pacific Northwest. On the trip, we visited Victoria, British Columbia, and its beautiful Parliament building.

Represented in stained glass around the place were the different branches of knowledge. One held the Arts, another Science, and yet another Agriculture. Being me, the one that caught my eye was Divinitas, "divinity."

It's a beautiful window, and I took a minute or two to ponder it. I noticed how Divinity is broken into two, Theology and Piety.

Theology had a Star of David and a lamp on a pedestal.

Piety had an open Bible and a cross.

And then the message of the windows hit me. Theology is the transcendence of Jewish religion by the light of reason (the lamp), while piety is the affectation of Christian religion based on Scripture and the cross. Divinity is thus broken into the theoretical (theology) and the practical (piety), the hard and the soft.

The window deserves some applause for holding theology and piety together. Many lectures and sermons have tried to convince me to value one more highly than the other. Some theologians demonize piety for its lack of rigor and clear headedness. Some preachers demonize theology for separating them from the presence of God's love.

And the windows bear out the divide. Only Piety focuses on Christ. The open Bible is there as well as the cross. Affectation, a feeling of dependence, a sense of being forgiven.

But not in the Theology pane. In Theology, there is the Star of David, a representative of ancient Jewish religion. It is impaled on the stand that holds the clear light of reason on top. Theology is not about Jesus or Scripture, the window proclaims. It is the pure knowledge of God that transcends the narrow and backwards superstitions of the ancient Jewish people (and, by extension, the narrow and backwards superstitions of the pious). I can't tell what sickens me more, the overt arrogance or the covert anti-semitism. Or the fact that these ideas dominated the continental liberal theological establishment that supported a Kaiser's war policies and then refused to stand up to a Fuhrer.

Or that many well-meaning, wonderful, and intelligent theologians and preachers still indulge the insipid divide between theology and piety today.

Oh, for a new starting point in theology.

Back from the Northwest

Monique and I are just back from a celebratory trip to the Pacific Northwest. We celebrated Monique's completed Ph.D. with ten days in Washington, Oregon, and Canada. What a great trip it was!

Here are some of the things we saw:
1. Mt. Rainier
2. Mt. St. Helens
3. The Columbia River Gorge
4. Multnomah Falls
5. Portland
6. Washington's Pacific Coastline
7. Olympic National Park
8. The Hoh Rainforest
9. Cape Flattery (the most NW point of the lower 48)
10. Victoria, the major city on Vancouver Island, British Columbia
11. and Seattle!

The trip was great, and there are so many stories to tell. And, I'll be posting some of them here in the next few days. Actually, one of them is already written and returns to more theological topics. I hope you'll enjoy!