Monday, March 29, 2010

Wendell Berry on the Specialization of the University, the Corruption of Culture, and the Calamity Facing Farming Communities

"My point is that food is a cultural product; it cannot be produced by technology alone. Those agriculturists who think of the problems of food production solely in terms of technological innovation are oversimplifying both the practicalities of production and the network of meanings and values necessary to define, nurture, and preserve the practical motivations. That the discipline of agriculture should have been so divorced from other disciplines has its immediate cause in the compartmental structures of the universities, in which complementary, mutually sustaining and enriching disciplines are divided, according to 'professions,' into fragmented, one-eyed specialties. It is suggested, both by the organization of the universities and by the kind of thinking they foster, that farming shall be the responsibility only of the college of agriculture, that law shall be in the sole charge of the professors of law, that morality shall be taken care of by the philosophy department, reading by the English department, and so on. The same, of course, is true of government, which has become another way of institutionalizing the same fragmentation.

" However, if we conceive of a culture as one body, which it is, we see that all of its disciplines are everybody's business, and that the proper university product is therefore not the whittled-down, isolated mentality of expertise, but a mind competent in all its concerns. To such a mind it would be clear that there are agricultural disciplines that have nothing to do with crop production, just as there are agricultural obligations that belong to people who are not farmers.

"A culture is not a collection of relics or ornaments, but a practical necessity, and its corruption invokes calamity. A healthy culture is a communal order of memory, insight, value, work, conviviality, reverence, aspiration. It reveals the human necessities and the human limits. It clarifies our inescapable bonds to the earth and to each other. It assures that the necessary restraints are observed, that the necessary work is done, and that it is done well. A healthy farm culture can be based only upon familiarity and can grow only among a people soundly established upon the land; it nourishes and safeguards a human intelligence of the earth that no amount of technology can satisfactorily replace. The growth of such a culture was once a strong possibility in the farm communities of this country. We now have only the sad remnants of those communities. If we allow another generation to pass without doing what is necessary to enhance and embolden the possibility now perishing with them, we will lose it altogether. And then we will not only invoke calamity -- we will deserve it."

--Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (New York: Avon, 1977), 43-44

Friday, March 26, 2010

An All-Important Question: Who Should Direct The Avengers?

Since Iron Man's release in 2008, and Tony Stark's epilogue appearance in The Incredible Hulk later that summer, fans have been looking forward with increasing anticipation to Marvel's unprecedented plan to create cross-film continuity in an entire cinematic universe of superheroes. The culmination of this plan will be the release of The Avengers in the summer of 2012, whose way will be prepared and built by Iron Man 2 this May, Thor the following May, and The First Avenger: Captain America two months later. And the pieces are finally coming together.

The primary actors are largely in place: Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark; Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury; Edward Norton as The Hulk; Chris Evans as Captain America; and Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Similarly, the directors are set: Jon Favreau for both Iron Man films; Louis Leterrier for Hulk; Kenneth Branagh for Thor; and Joe Johnston for Captain America. The latter two are both currently in production, and The Avengers script is being written as we speak by Zak Penn.

One question remains: Who will direct The Avengers?

The long and the short of it is, we don't know. And we won't know for a while. But as I was reflecting on this historic attempt on the part of Marvel, I realized that I didn't know who I was, or should be, hoping for, much less who might actually be offered, and who might actually accept, the director's chair for such a money-driven, future-orienting, fanboy-quivering, pressure-filled, precedent-setting, ego-managing cinematic project.

Then I thought, Why not try to sort it out myself?

So that's what I've done below. Without any more need for introduction, I've separated the possibilities into various categories of quality and likelihood, and while I'm sure I've misplaced or misjudged here and there, I feel it's pretty comprehensive. Either way, dive in, and let me know what you think.

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The Masters of Action
James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Christopher Nolan, Sam Raimi, Steven Spielberg

Basically, if any of these guys are willing and available, Marvel should throw everything and the kitchen sink at them, no strings attached. Of course, it is enormously unlikely any of them would even consider it -- but you never know! Jackson is up to his neck with Hobbit and Tintin, Nolan is Mr. Batman for Warner Bros, and Cameron is creating entire new worlds, so they are all surely occupied. But though Spielberg can do whatever he wants, couldn't he want to assemble The Avengers? And while Raimi is Mr. Spider-Man, why couldn't he shift Marvel heroes with a proven pedigree and huge success at the box office?

But realistically, none of these is happening.

Action Tier 1: Pull the Trigger
J.J. Abrams, Luc Besson, Alfonso Cuaron, Kathryn Bigelow, Guillermo del Toro, Jon Favreau, Paul Greengrass, George Miller, Guy Ritchie, Zach Snyder, Wachowski Brothers, Edgar Wright

It seems both a best case scenario and most profitable for Marvel that they pull from this pool, or from the up-and-coming group below. How possible are any of them? Del Toro is out immediately, doing The Hobbit with Peter Jackson. Greengrass and Bigelow seem interested in more serious material than The Avengers, but again, you never know. Snyder, Ritchie, and the Wachowskis come with major baggage, but they can also get the job done. Besson and Miller are older candidates, but how incredible would their versions be?

The remaining realistically cool choices: Abrams, Cuaron, Favreau, Wright. Cuaron's involvement with Harry Potter and Children of Men reveals his ability to balance action, create worlds, deal with fantasy, and manage ensembles. Wright is somewhat of a "proven" up-and-comer, but it would be a steal to get him. Favreau has been the prohibitive favorite from the beginning, and was apparently offered it, but seems uninterested. If Marvel can convince him, he's the winning ticket.

That leaves Abrams. In short, I think what Abrams did with M:i:III and Star Trek demonstrates his perfect suitability for an Avengers film. It seems unlikely to happen if only because Abrams has the Star Trek sequel and a thousand other things on the docket -- not to mention his own production company -- but considering the combination of humor, action, gravitas, and popcorn accessibility that he offers, if I were Marvel, I would be gunning for Abrams as a replacement for Favreau.

Action Tier 2: When On, Fantastic
Martin Campbell, Joe Carnahan, Roger Donaldson, Louis Leterrier, Doug Liman, James Mangold, James McTeigue, Pierre Morel, Phillip Noyce, Alex Proyas, Robert Rodriguez, Tony Scott, Bryan Singer, Matthew Vaughn, Gore Verbinski

If Tier 1 is the best case scenario, Tier 2 is the most likely. None of these would be mistakes -- and some could turn out swimmingly -- but all are either hot/cold or damaged goods.

Some are out from the start, for either being too old (Noyce), up and down (Proyas), temperamental (Rodriguez), or stylistic (Scott).

Singer and Verbinski bring too much baggage to the table, with X-Men/Superman and Pirates alike looming too large, with all their positives and negatives, to be workable for fans or for Marvel.

Campbell, Carnahan, Donaldson, and Mangold all have clear drawbacks. Campbell can certainly deliver, but he's most likely taken by his current commitments on The Green Lantern. Carnahan and Donaldson are intriguing, but tonally probably too distant from Iron Man/Hulk territory. And Mangold, for my personal taste, would be an excellent pick, though I expect I am in the minority on that one.

The remaining five would be qualified successes, but would also be entirely determined by the final product, with gigantic pressures crowding them on every side. Liman has a good resume, but his films never seem to be more than the sum of their parts. McTeigue is one for two, but that "one" in V for Vendetta was strong critically and popularly. Leterrier clearly wants the gig, but it is yet to be seen whether he can handle more than "a really fun, really forgettable time at the movies." Morel hit big with Taken, but he's the most unproven here. As for Vaughn?

Give it to him. It's that simple. He has to be the most realistic candidate with the highest level of talent and fan cache, as well as an impending subversive foray into the superhero genre with Kick-Ass. By all means, Marvel should grab someone from a higher tier, or take a gamble on an up-and-comer; but if it comes down to money, popularity, talent, realistic possibility, and fan approval, Vaughn is the choice, hands down.

Action Tier 3: Under No Circumstances
Paul W.S. Anderson, Michael Bay, Peter Berg, D.J. Caruso, Jan de Bont, Anthony Fuqua, Francis Lawrence, Joe Johnston, McG, Jonathan Mostow, Andrew Niccol, Brett Ratner, Joel Schumacher, Stephen Sommers, David Twohy, Len Wiseman, Ed Zwick

To repeat: Under no circumstances should Marvel give The Avengers to any of these men. The game would be over before it starts.

(And it is beside the point that Johnston is already called up for Captain America: not only should he only concentrate on one film at a time, but that choice is a big risk. Maybe he'll bring it home, but you simply cannot lay the entire future of Marvel films at the feet of one man, and a man, no less, whose filmography contains not one great entry. Moving on.)

Action Tier 4: Once Great, Prime Elapsed
Richard Donner, John McTiernan, Wolfgang Petersen, John Woo

There was a time when these men would have been prime candidates; now, not so much.

Fine Director, Odd Fit
Brad Anderson, Wes Anderson, Darren Aranofsky, Danny Boyle, Kenneth Branagh, Tim Burton, John Carpenter, Coen Brothers, David Cronenberg, Cameron Crowe, Brian de Palma, Jonathan Demme, Andrew Dominik, Clint Eastwood, David Fincher, William Friedkin, Stephen Gaghan, Mel Gibson, Terry Gilliam, Tony Gilroy, James Gray, David Gordon Green, Paul Haggis, Curtis Hanson, John Hillcoat, Oliver Hirschbiegel, Ron Howard, Spike Jonze, Ang Lee, Spike Lee, Richard Linklater, Kevin MacDonald, David Mamet, Michael Mann, Rob Marshall, Fernando Meirelles, Sam Mendes, Park Chan-Wook, Jason Reitman, John Romero, David O. Russell, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Jim Sheridan, Kevin Smith, M. Night Shyamalan, John Singleton, Steven Soderbergh, Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Verhoeven, Peter Weir, Joe Wright, Robert Zemeckis, Zhang Yimou

Plenty of tentpole movies, genre flicks, and comic book adaptations have been helmed by surprising candidates (see: Jackson, Peter, The Lord of the Rings; Raimi, Sam, Spider-Man; Lee, Ang, Hulk), so I wanted to list, albeit not comprehensively, some brainstorming possibilities that the bigwigs may have thrown around just for fun.

Let's get the weirdos and masters off the list first. Though the thought of an Avengers film being directed by any of these guys is remarkable in itself, I think we can say with some confidence that the following will not be asked: both Andersons, Burton, Carpenter, Coens, Cronenberg, Crowe, Demme, Eastwood, Friedkin, Gilliam, Hanson, both Lees, Linklater, Mamet, Mann, Park, Reitman, Romero, Russell, Scorsese, Scott, Sheridan, Smith, Shyamalan, Singleton, Soderbergh, Stone, Tarantino, Weir, Zhang.

Interesting but highly unlikely options: Dominik, Hillcoat, Hirschbiegel, Meirelles, Mendes, Verhoeven.

Unlikely choices we should hope against: Branagh, Gaghan, Gilroy, Haggis, Howard, Marshall, Wright, Zemeckis.

Intriguing names not totally out of the realm of possibility: Aranofsky, Boyle, de Palma, Fincher, Gibson, Gray, Green, Jonze, MacDonald.

Concerning this final category, Aranofsky is included simply due to his past interest in Batman, and for his unparalleled visual style. MacDonald's interests are elsewhere, but what if? Gibson is somewhat of a pariah, but his eye and skill for directing action belong to the "Masters" category. Gray is the very definition of an "artsy" director, but his high profile in independent circles, skill with A-list actors, and successful action sequences in We Own the Night make him a thought-provoking possibility.

Jonze would be an idiosyncratic choice, but I could see it happening; the same goes for Green, who has critical chops and now two films' worth of experience directing action. As for Boyle, de Palma, and Fincher, all are more "serious" directors with robust reputations, but at least Boyle seems like he could be approached with a straight face.

The overall point, however, is that there is a minute likelihood that any one of these directors will be offered The Avengers, much less actually end up behind the camera.

Unproven, But Intriguing Potential
Brad Bird, Shane Black, Neill Blomkamp, Frank Darabont, Ruben Fleischer, Michel Gondry, Rian Johnson, Duncan Jones, James Mangold, Neil Marshall, George Nolfi, Billy Ray, Joss Whedon, David Yates

This is obviously the most wide-open and question-filled group. From the first glance, it is clear that Johnson, Jones, Marshall, Nolfi, and Ray represent a gamble based not on skill, but tone. Horror, quirky indie, space sci-fi, political thriller -- these are not what come to mind when one thinks of The Avengers. But you never know.

Gondry and Whedon are similar representations of tonal distance, and to choose either would be to commit to a certain kind of film, which could be a blessing or a curse. A Whedon-directed Avengers would be hilarious and fantastic in myriad ways, but understandably not what the higher-ups are looking for.

I include Darabont not as an unproven director, but as an unproven action director who would otherwise be a particularly inspired choice (even if it weren't to result in a good movie!).

Yates is a fascinating idea, however unlikely due to his duties finishing up the Harry Potter series, because the nuance, character work, epic visuals, and humor he has already shown in another adapted universe offer a window into what his Avengers might look like.

This leaves four equally unproven directors: Bird, Black, Blomkamp, and Fleischer. I haven't seen Zombieland, so I can't comment on Fleischer. Blomkamp would be a fantastic choice, and Black would be a risk, especially with the action sequences, but could potentially follow Favreau's path.

As for Bird? However inexperienced with live action, he ranks with Abrams, Favreau, Cuaron, Wright, and Vaughn as a top tier possibility. Disney gave John Carter of Mars to Andrew Stanton, and Paramount is considering Bird for the next Mission: Impossible -- why not give him The Avengers instead? He basically already made it in The Incredibles, has an unbelievably impeccable record, deftly combines humor with action, does great characters, and knows a good story when he sees one (or, better, writes it). Overall, he is the ideal risky candidate.

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So where does that leave us? I have no doubt I've missed a few, both the obvious and the creative, and I certainly didn't know what to do with comedy directors shifting to action (like Favreau with Iron Man). But let's conclude with a short list of contenders to hope for, ignoring the "Masters" and "Odd Fit" categories, excluding those directors we know for certain aren't available (del Toro, Campbell, Yates), and leaving out wholesale question marks (Fleischer, Black, Nolfi). Here we go!

Who should Marvel spend time and money going after, who should fans realistically and expectantly hope for, who should and might say yes to the gig, as director of The Avengers?

1. Jon Favreau
2. J.J. Abrams
3. Alfonso Cuaron
4. Edgar Wright
5. Matthew Vaughn
6. Brad Bird
7. Neill Blomkamp
8. Kathryn Bigelow
9. Zach Snyder
10. Luc Besson
11. Wachowski brothers
12. Paul Greengrass
13. George Miller
14. Guy Ritchie
15. James Mangold
16. Louis Leterrier
17. James McTeigue
18. Doug Liman
19. Joe Carnahan
20. Roger Donaldson

There you have it. Undoubtedly I've misordered, skipped over, forgotten, and otherwise made egregious errors. I look forward to being corrected. As it stands, it was a blast to play at producer, it will be exciting to await an actual answer, and I have no doubt the finished product will be a wild ride -- so long as the driver is on the list above!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Christians Confessing Belief in Capitalism

In just the last couple of months, two public Christians, ostensibly critiquing American economic practices in secular forums, each offered qualified affirmation of capitalism. Jim Wallis is one of these Christians -- himself an ordained progressive evangelical -- and told Jon Stewart on The Daily Show that the problem isn't capitalism per se, but the values guiding capitalist practices (actually quoting Adam Smith). James Martin is the other, a Jesuit priest and culture editor of America, who in response to Stephen Colbert's (apparently ironic) question, "But isn't capitalism good?" replied, "I believe in capitalism."

I propose, in reflection, that we agree on a few guiding principles from here on out:

1) When critiquing capitalist economic practices and policies, do not affirm capitalist economic practices and policies.
2) When seeking to speak prophetically as a Christian, speak unreservedly in the person and voice of a Christian.
3) When responding to unjust or worldly or non-Christian ideologies, attempt to keep the minute commitment not to use the central ancient verbal confession of God -- credo, "I believe" -- with said ideology as its object.

Clearly I have combined the two men's interviews as the object of my critique, for neither fits all three principles; and the overall point need not detract from the legitimate concern of both for the poor. The language and approach of each, however, reflect larger, enormously problematic, and paradigmatic examples of Christian strategies of public speech and relevance that are bound to failure or unfaithfulness, or both.

Beyond "believing in" capitalism, however -- which, I take it, concedes the argument before it starts -- people do this all the time. One "believes in" America, "believes in" democracy, "believes in" social justice, "believes in" this or that political party. Whatever the object, how is it that this use of language on the part of Christians is in any way tolerated or encouraged? At the very least, isn't it possible to offer affirmations and endorsements of ideas and perspectives without using the particular historical language for the faith?

Henceforth, then, a ban on such talk. "We" -- the church -- "believe" -- receive and confess as the sole object of proper human trust and hope -- in the triune God. Let that be enough.

Monday, March 22, 2010

On the Phrase "Remember Your Baptism" When Spoken by Paedobaptists

Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the people who most use the language of remembering one's baptism are those that baptize infants? I am aware of the substantive theological discussions and disagreements here, and no one is less interested in scoring cheap ecumenical points than I am. But this is undeniably curious, is it not? "Remember your baptism." "When your child is older, teach her to remember her baptism." "Whenever someone is baptized, we remember our own baptism." "Whenever the congregants pass the font, they will remember their own baptism."

I realize that, as someone on the outside, the practice, language, and theology of paedobaptism will naturally feel alien to me. But surely we can agree that it is a strange thing indeed for churches to ask their members to do the one thing they are unable to do vis-a-vis the singular foundational act of incorporation into the death and resurrection of the body of Christ? Again: I "get" that we can theologize memory corporately and spiritually and any number of other ways. But on the face of it, as it is heard and received in the pews and in the minds of ordinary believers, this has to be the very definition of a theological mixed message. It seems to me to be a bit like saying, "Remember your first step." Sure, we can fill in apparent or real content to that statement, but on the face of it, it just seems nonsensical and goofy.

My own suggestion, of course, would be to stop baptizing infants. Given that that is unlikely to happen anytime soon, how about finding new language to call forth the reality and power of baptism outside of the contingencies of memory? In other words, take the baby step of not asking adults to remember that which is intrinsically unrememberable.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Geoffrey Hill

"Canaan" is the poem that switched Geoffrey Hill, for me, from impenetrable to powerful. Below is only the first of three short parts to the poem, but it is the most brutal. When I read it for the first time, it brought to mind the awful scenes of carnage in Mel Gibson's Apocalypto when the village is raided and its inhabitants violated. Similarly, having today just finished Ridley Scott's director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven, the interminable violence of that land is immediately present in mind. Hill's words are no less a force to thwart our easy dodges and spiritualizations of Scripture's and history's unendurable reports of divinely sanctioned killing.

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Canaan

By Geoffrey Hill

I

They march at God's
pleasure through Flanders
with machine-pistols,
chorales, cannon
of obese bronze,
with groaning pushcarts,
to topple Baal. At
crossroads they hoist
corpses and soiled
banners of the Lamb.
The sun takes assize.
Aloof the blades
of oblation
rise, fall, as though they
were not obstructed
by blades of bone.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

MDiv Thesis Proposal: Trinitarian Tradition and Congregational Ecclesiology (Request for Suggestions for Books and Directions!)

Below is the proposal, recently accepted, for my MDiv thesis. I will be gathering resources and reading over this summer, then researching and writing in the fall and following spring. Steven Kraftchick is the overall thesis director, Ian McFarland will be my thesis adviser, and Steffen Lösel will be my second reader. I would appreciate any and all suggestions for authors, works, articles, ideas, directions to take, and so on; I am especially excited about the way this research may open unforeseen doors to doctoral work in the future. Thanks in advance!

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The provisional title for my thesis is: “Trinitarian Tradition and Congregational Ecclesiology: How the Work of Robert Jenson Critiques and Supplements John Howard Yoder’s Vision of the Church.” The project stems from my interest in both theologians and the way in which the thought of each can critique and supplement the other’s. Given that they are such radically different thinkers, with disparate and in many ways unrelated focuses for their work, it is understandable that they have not been put into significant dialogue with one another. However, I believe this to be a mistake, for as two theologians of the church in the American context, steeped in history and tradition and speaking to and for the church catholic, it seems a mistake not to explore the ways in which their thought intersects, diverges, and even agrees.

The primary intersection I will focus on for my thesis is the resources and challenges Jenson presents to Yoder’s congregational ecclesiology, specifically with regard to the historic creedal traditions concerning the Trinity. I myself belong to a congregational ecclesial tradition (churches of Christ out of the Stone-Campbell movement), and largely subscribe to Yoder’s vision of the church’s calling and role in the world, as well as the practices necessary for faithfulness to the Spirit’s ongoing mission. However, both historically and in my own experience, congregational churches seem largely devoid of robust Trinitarian theology and faith, and even when nominally Trinitarian, most members or even leaders in such churches seem to have little to say about what it means to be Trinitarian Christians.

Thus the challenge is: If we worship a triune God, how can that fact—and all that it entails in reflection, practice, and the teaching of subsequent generations—be believed and embodied substantively in autonomous churches that do not ascribe to creeds? I believe that Robert Jenson has much to say on this matter, and that the churches to whom and on whose behalf John Howard Yoder wrote have much to gain from it.

I will plan to engage other thinkers “somewhere in the middle” between these two thinkers, including James McClendon, Jr., Stanley Hauerwas, Jürgen Moltmann, Miroslav Volf, Nicholas Healy, Gerhard Lohfink, Steven Harmon, William Cavanaugh, D. Stephen Long, Nathan Kerr, Rowan Williams, and Gerald Schlabach. I look forward to exploring and crafting the final product of this thesis, which I know will include not a few surprises along the way.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Unsorted Thoughts on Predestination, Free Will, Salvation, and Mission

A friend of mine recently emailed me regarding predestination and free will, with questions arising out of a small group Bible study on the subject focused on Romans 8:30. He asked: "Is there no free will in choosing God? Has he already chosen us?" Below was my attempt at a (non-systematic, non-publishable, purely personal) response.

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There are, of course, a host of issues surrounding predestination and free will. Two foundational issues, prior to any discussion of the actual question, are the nature of salvation and the character of Scripture.

Regarding salvation, often "being saved" is assumed from the outset as a particular thing, when there are various understandings of it: What are we saved from? What are we saved for? Does salvation mean not going to hell? Does it mean going to heaven? Does it mean God's act of saving me? Do I have any agency in that act, or am I merely passive in the process? Is salvation purely metaphysical or "future," about where I "go" when I die? Does it impinge or relate to or involve the self in the present? What is hell, damnation, or lost-ness? Will all be saved? All those questions, among others, determine the course of the predestination question.

Regarding Scripture, there are similarly contested issues: Is it infallible? Is it a coherent whole? Is there tension in the canon? Can Paul and Jesus disagree with each other? Can Paul and James? Do we find one voice there, or a chorus of voices? Do we automatically believe a portion of Scripture that doesn't seem to make sense? Do some portions "win out" over others? What if a doctrine seems to be "there," yet is repulsive or distasteful? And so on.

In many ways, the church has been relatively unanimous in affirming God's "prior" eternal act of "choosing" the elect who will be saved, though there have always been minority voices. What has been the issue is how that "choosing" relates to free will or human agency (as you noted in your question). Usually, at bottom, the issue comes down to: If God saves, and only God can save, then there is nothing we can do to "get ourselves" saved, even to "choose" God, because to be able to "choose" God implies the rightly ordered will that was precisely the thing distorted by sin in the Fall. Thus only God can move toward us, can save us, and any movement or agency involving our will is simply a response to God's action, and a choice enabled by God's prior grace given to us.

In many ways this answer makes logical sense, but I also don't think it can be the final answer.

First, Scripture seems to take human moral agency with enormous seriousness -- and while, to be sure, we can do nothing "apart from" God, God also seems to take seriously that we can and must act by our own wills, however he is involved.

Second, the notion that from all eternity God mysteriously and arbitrarily predestined each and every individual who would either enjoy eternal bliss or suffer eternal torment is repugnant to me, and seems foreign to the love of God revealed in a crucified man of sorrows. I'm just not happy to worship that sort of God.

Third, the "individual" part raises an important point: Scripture does not belong to the post-Enlightenment West, in which individualism reigns. Rather, Scripture assumes and speaks to and narrates the priority of the community. Furthermore, "chosenness" and "being elect" for both Israel and the church is always about mission: being sent into the world, having been "chosen" and "elected" for the sake of the world. Thus, in this perspective the community as a whole is predestined precisely to be God's people of witness to a world of suffering. Here we step more fittingly into the biblical worldview: chosen not for some metaphysical escape hatch, or radically individual reward program, but for mission, the extension of the mission of Jesus, to witness to the coming of God's kingdom. That is salvation, and that is what we are chosen and called and equipped for.

In this case, salvation is not about going to heaven or hell when we die, but about being caught up into God's kingdom as disciples of Jesus, cleansed and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses in a violent world to God's peace come near in Christ. To be sure, Jesus will come back, but when Jesus comes back we won't be transported into incorporeal cloud-in-the-sky by-and-by, but instead, God's kingdom, God's world, God's holy rule will come here, come to earth, establish itself fully and finally, completing what was begun in the cross and resurrection. And what was glimpsed and inaugurated in the resurrection of Jesus' body, and what began to move across the globe by the power of the Spirit, will be consummated as the glory of God fills the earth like the waters cover the seas.

And that, I believe, is not only what the church, as a people, is predestined for, but what the whole world's destiny is, and therefore what the church is called to witness to in its very chosenness and sent-ness.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Michel Barnes on the Seven Criteria By Which to Judge a Historical Reading of a Text

"There are, I propose, seven different criteria by which one judges a historical reading (or interpretation) of a text. A given reading is more credible as a work of scholarship in direct proportion to its degree of success in fulfilling these criteria. First, the reading must locate the text (or topic) in its original context, and use that context to 'unpack' the meaning or sense of the text. Second, the reading must identify the presence and hence, effect of tradition in the text (or topic), and use that presence to identify the meaning or sense of the text. Third, the reading must identify and place the content of the text in a larger 'external' narrative which supports the reading(s) derived from the previous steps by making such a content possible (or even, happy day, likely). Fourth, the reading must utilize a knowledge of scholarship on the author, text, and topic; the broader and more detailed the engagement with scholarship the more sophisticated the reading. Fifth, there must be close reading or exegesis of the text which uncovers the key steps in the author's logic or expression. Sixth, the reading must identify, and show a fluency with, those conceptual idioms that are the key building blocks of the author's logic or expression. Seventh and finally, judgements on the sense of any part (a sentence, a phrase) of the text must relate that sense to the text as a whole (and test that proposed sense against the whole text). Such a relating of the part to the whole is necessary to avoid the danger of a 'historical fundamentalism' (akin to 'biblical fundamentalism') in which sentences or phrases are interpreted apart from the text within which the words stand. Steps such as these (and there is nothing definitive about this list or the order) are, I would argue, necessary for a credible reading of any theological (or philosophical) text, but it is enough for now to identify with such criteria the credibility of the reading of a text which falls under the rubric of 'historical theology'."

--Michel Barnes, "Rereading Augustine's Theology of the Trinity," in The Trinity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Trinity (ed. S.T. Davis, D. Kendall, and G. O’Collins; New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 150-51

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Mark Jarman

This past week was Spring Break, and I took the time to sleep in, read some theology, and read a lot of poetry. I read through collections by Li-Young Lee, Mark Jarman, Geoffrey Hill, and W.B. Yeats, with Andrew Hudgins and Kevin Hart on deck for next week. I have shared from Jarman before, but I enjoyed his collection Unholy Sonnets so much that I thought I'd share another one. In fact, the last poem of his I shared was from a smaller series of "unholy sonnets," and it was also the ninth in sequence! I'm not sure what that means, but I hope you are blessed by these similarly powerful words.

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Unholy Sonnet #9

By Mark Jarman

Someone is always praying as the plane
Breaks up, and smoke and cold and darkness blow
Into the cabin. Praying as it happens,
Praying before it happens that it won't.
Someone was praying that it never happen
Before the first window on Kristallnacht
Broke like a wine glass wrapped in bridal linen.
Before it was imagined, someone was praying
That it be unimaginable. And then,
The bolts blew off and people fell like bombs
Out of their names, out of the living sky.
Surely, someone was praying. And the prayer
Struck the blank face of earth, the ocean's face,
The rockhard, rippled face of facelessness.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Latin Letters of C.S. Lewis to Saint Giovanni Calabria

Though it seems unfashionable to say so, I came to theology by way of C.S. Lewis. Beginning in middle school, I began to make my way through his nonfiction, and basically finished his entire output by the time I went to college. By ways direct and indirect, I was also introduced to Chesterton, Bonhoeffer, and Kierkegaard through Lewis or fans of his.

It is regrettable that Lewis is held in such low esteem in theological circles today. The divide between theology "proper" and "popular" needn't be so wide, or at least so deep. The fact that Lewis has become the Christian writer par excellence for American evangelicals hasn't helped his cause, nor has his name's mention in seminarian's answers to "favorite theologian," nor still the relentless hyperbole of people like Peter Kreeft who calls Lewis "the greatest Protestant writer of all time."

However, Lewis never considered himself to be anything but a layperson dabbling in popular Christian writing aimed precisely at those in the pews who couldn't read or speak the language of theology "proper." And his overwhelming (and ongoing) success in that regard cannot and should not be dismissed out of hand, nor should we allow whatever prejudice might bubble forth regarding "popularity" cloud our ability to discern in Lewis his greatest gift: an unsurpassable command of the English language. Might we proffer the hypothesis that what made (and makes) Lewis so interesting is exactly his ability, unrivaled and potentially unattempted in much theology today, to write with clarity and excellence, to write essays and books and stories worth the paper they were printed on?

I asked Marilynne Robinson last summer if she likes or reads any current theology since Barth, and her answer was a flat no: "It just seems so weak today." Now, I might want to introduce Mrs. Robinson to a few modern theologians who might be able to change her mind, but the point is well taken; and, given her interests and favorite theologians, it seems just as likely that, in her encounters, the substance of theological writing is soft, and not only the theology itself.

All that is by way of introduction to a wonderful discovery I made this week, albeit 10 years after publication: the Latin letters written between C.S. Lewis and (then Don, now Saint) Giovanni Calabria in the late 40s and 50s. Here we have the most popular and influential lay Christian writer of the 20th century writing to an Italian priest in the aftermath of World War II, concerning ecumenism and Christian unity above all, and in the ancient language of the church (for the men had no other shared tongue between them). What a prize!

The letters are generally short, and they reveal little to nothing about Lewis's life or thought that one couldn't find elsewhere; but they are fascinating nonetheless. Rather than walk through them, I will instead share just two of my favorite quotes from the collection, and direct you to explore them for yourself.

From Letter 20, written 7th January, 1953, from Oxford, on the "Chinese disaster":
I used myself to entertain many hopes for that nation, since the missionaries have served there for many years not unsuccessfully: now it is clear, as you write, that all is on the ebb. Many have reported to me too, in letters on this subject, many atrocities, nor was this misery absent from our thoughts and prayers.

But it did not happen, however, without sins on our part: for that justice and that care for the poor which (most mendaciously) the Communists advertise, we in reality ought to have brought about ages ago. But far from it: we Westerners preached Christ with our lips, with our actions we brought the slavery of Mammon (nos occidentales Christum ore praedicavimus, factis Mammoni servitium tulimus). We are more guilty than the infidels: for to those that know the will of God and do it not, the greater punishment.

Now the only refuge lies in contrition and prayer. Long have we erred. In reading the history of Europe, its destructive succession of wars, of avarice, of fratricidal persecutions of Christians by Christians, of luxury, of gluttony, of pride, who could detect any but the rarest traces of the Holy Spirit?

(The Latin Letters of C.S. Lewis [trans. Martin Moynihan; South Bend: St. Augustine's Press, 1998], 75)
And from Letter 23, written 17th March, 1953, from Oxford:
What you say about the present state of mankind is true: indeed, it is even worse than you say.

For they neglect not only the law of Christ but even the Law of Nature as known by the Pagans. For now they do not blush at adultery, treachery, perjury, theft and the other crimes which I will not say Christian Doctors, but the Pagans and the Barbarians have themselves denounced.

They err who say "the world is turning pagan again". Would that it were! The truth is that we are falling into a much worse state.

"Post-Christian man" is not the same as "pre-Christian man". He is as far removed as virgin is from widow: there is nothing in common except want of a spouse: but there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse lost. (83)
Even translated from Latin, the man has a way with words.

The Top Ten Albums of 2009

I just realized I never posted this -- I meant to have a whole week back in early February, not unlike last year, in which I did my top films, albums, blogs, etc., for the year -- but the trip to Austin and the mid-point of the semester left me swamped. Better late than never, but as I am on my spring break, sleeping in and reading theology for leisure, you get three superfluously unhelpful words per album rather than any actual substantive comment. (Although you do also get the graphic to the right that Patrick made for our year-end posts on 80 Minutes For Life.) Enjoy!

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Honorable mention: Iron & Wine -- Around the Well; The Decemberists -- The Hazards of Love; Various Artists -- Dark Was the Night; David Bazan -- Curse Your Branches; Wilco -- (The Album)

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10. Monsters of Folk -- Monsters of Folk

Fun, scattered, rich.

9. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros -- Up From Below

Danceable, surprising, eclectic.

8. Elvis Perkins -- Elvis Perkins in Dearland

Playful, apocalyptic, personal.

7. The Mountain Goats -- The Life of the World to Come

Singular, jarring, biblical.

6. Neko Case -- Middle Cyclone

Funny, invigorating, man-stomping.

5. JJ -- JJº2

Smooth, harmonious, lyrical.

4. Grizzly Bear -- Veckatimest

Thick, discordant, sweeping.

3. Phoenix -- Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Light, straightforward, entertaining.

2. Andrew Bird -- Noble Beast

Gorgeous, complex, undervalued.

1. Animal Collective -- Meriweather Post Pavillion

Seamless, pertinent, sublime.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Robert Jenson on the Incarnate Logos' Speech and Presence in All of Scripture

"Since we now live the story Scripture tells, Scripture does not merely inform us about the course of this story, for persons live historically by discourse, by address and respones to one another. Thus Scripture is not merely a record of divine-human history but a proclaiming of it, not merely an account of God's life with us to date but a voice in that life. When we read Scripture in the church, someone addresses us. And by the unanimous tradition of the church, this voice is the Word of God, the Logos, the second identity of the Trinity.

"Moreover, by the teaching of those who have reflected most profoundly on this mystery -- Irenaeus, Athanasius, Cyril, Maximus, Luther, Edwards, Barth -- the Logos who speaks is not merely some posited metaphysical extra entity but the actual Logos, that is, the incarnate Word, the Word that God speaks as Jesus the crucified and risen Christ. Pastors sometimes introduce the reading of Scripture by saying, 'Listen for the word of God.' When Irenaeus of Athanasius listened for the Word of God in their Scripture, it was their Lord Christ they listened to hear, whether the text at hand came from Matthew or Isaiah or Moses or David. The religiously vital preexistence of Christ was, for them, precisely his preexistence in the Old Testament as the voice that speaks there, just as the New Testament was the voice of his continuing prophetic activity.

"But is it not absurd to think of the Word as in any sense incarnate before the flesh existed, before Jesus was born? So that it could be the incarnate Word who spoke to Moses on the mountain or who cried out to his Father in many psalms? Or is it not absurd to think of the writing and collecting and reading and interpreting of the New Testament as this same Word's actual speech to us, who, as the angel said, is not here but risen?

"The claim that the incarnate Christ speaks in all Scripture sounds preposterous, I suggest, only because we unthinkingly make an (in itself rather naive) assumption about time: that it glumly marches on, that someone born in 4 B.C. could not have spoken to and through Jeremiah or that someone who died in A.D. 30 could not have spoken through, say, the seer John. But time, in any construal adequate to the gospel, does not in fact march in this wooden fashion. Time, as we see it framing biblical narrative, is neither linear nor cyclical but perhaps more like a helix, and what it spirals around is the risen Christ. Thus John, having said in his prologue that the Word 'became' flesh, presumably when Jesus was born, presents us with this enfleshed Word, in a context that makes his human enfleshment as obtrusive and, indeed, offensive as possible, and has him say, 'Before Abraham was, I am.' Which, then comes first, the incarnation or Abraham? It depends entirely on which chapter of John you are in; that is, it depends on the discoursive context.

"So Luther's dictum that in the Psalms we find the prayer of Christ and all the saints is not the imposition on these texts of an alien 'Christian' interpretation. If the gospel is true, it is simply the fact of the matter. Or -- to stay with Luther -- his exhortation to take Aaron as Christ, the great high priest (and so on for all the characters of the exodus story), and thus to read sections of the Pentateuch as something like another Gospel is simply a pointer to Exodus's plain sense.

"The unity of Scripture is much tighter than we in modernity have dared to think. If the Word of the Lord that came to Second Isaiah and made him a prophet was Jesus Christ, then the vision of Christ that the church has derived from this prophet, of a 'man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,' is not a mere allowable trope but is in fact a product of Christ's own testimony to his own character, given by the mouth of his prophet. If the Word of the Lord, to whomever it comes, is Jesus, then we can indeed find out about the historical Jesus Christ from Isaiah or Zechariah or David, and about what Isaiah or Zechariah really meant from Jesus' teaching and story.

"At the end of this stretch of my argument, [a] hermeneutical word. Do not be intimidated by the dogma that properly 'historical' exegesis will not find Jesus in the Old Testament or discover Paul's intent by reading, say, Leviticus. This dogma is a mere metaphysical prejudice, which, as such, may of course be right -- but then again may not be. Properly biblical reading of the Bible must, I suggest, proceed on the assumption that it is a false prejudice."

--Robert W. Jenson, "Scripture's Authority in the Church," in The Art of Reading Scripture (ed. Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 34-36

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Li-Young Lee

I have shared from Li-Young Lee before, and it is not hard to do it again. The man's words diminish other words as child's play, quiet all of one's surroundings, create new worlds with every new line, every open-ended stanza, every tragic or beautiful twist of expectations. The poem below is from his 1990 collection, The City in Which I Love You, a gorgeous and emotionally rent five-part meditation on his family's flight from Indonesia in the late 50s, eventually arriving in the U.S. in 1964. The impact of fatherhood is felt across all of Lee's work, and no less here.

It is always a reminder of what a gift poetry is after reading someone like Li-Young Lee. I hope it is a similar experience for you.

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Arise, Go Down

By Li-Young Lee

It wasn't the bright hems of the Lord's skirts
that brushed my face and I opened my eyes
to see from a cleft in rock His backside;

it's a wasp perched on my left cheek. I keep
my eyes closed and stand perfectly still
in the garden till it leaves me alone,

not to contemplate how this century
ends and the next begins with no one
I know having seen God, but to wonder

why I get through most days unscathed, though I
live in a time when it might be otherwise,
and I grow more fatherless each day.

For years now I have come to conclusions
without my father's help, discovering
on my own what I know, what I don't know,

and seeing how one cancels the other.
I've become a scholar of cancellations.
Here, I stand among my father's roses

and see that what punctures outnumbers what
consoles, the cruel and the tender never
make peace, though one climbs, though one descends

petal by petal to the hidden ground
no one owns. I see that which is taken
away by violence or persuasion.

The rose announces on earth the kingdom
of gravity. A bird cancels it.
My eyelids cancel the bird. Anything

might cancel my eyes: distance, time, war.
My father said, Never take your both eyes
off of the world
, before he rocked me.

All night we waited for the knock
that would have signalled, All clear, come now;
it would have meant escape; it never came.

I didn't make the world I leave you with,
he said, and then, being poor, he left me
only this world, in which there is always

a family waiting in terror
before they're rended, this world wherein a man
might arise, go down, and walk along a path

and pause and bow to roses, roses
his father raised, and admire them, for one moment
unable, thank God, to see in each and
every flower the world cancelling itself.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Commending to You, #6: Al Jazeera English

While in Austin last month -- on, as it happens, a pre-Spring Break road trip -- I was with my friend Patrick wandering around Waterloo Records, and in thumbing through magazines I rarely get to read in person, I came across Adbusters' latest issue. Prior to this encounter I only knew Adbusters by links and word of mouth, never firsthand, so I slowly made my way through the creatively organized and well-written articles.

The article that most stood out to me -- apart from the intriguing piece on Zizek -- was the eye-catching "Broadcaster of the Year: Al Jazeera." I did a double take; Al Jazeera the broadcaster of the year? How radical was Adbusters? Did I miss something? All I knew of Al Jazeera was that they always seemed to have a direct pipeline into Middle Eastern terrorists' communications with the wider world; and the implications of this apparent fact, combined with the organization's placement and spoken language, all seemed to point in the blanket, simple direction of a corrupt, or at least highly problematic, mouthpiece for Islamic extremist groups and nations in a hotbed of violence and instability. And to repeat: these were unthought assumptions; I had never given serious, or much of any, thought to Al Jazeera; why would I have?

Well, I was wrong.

I won't belabor anyone's time; the Adbusters article lays the case out better than I can. But in short, Al Jazeera has at once become a bastion of old-school, on-the-ground journalism and the fastest growing and most reliable source for news around the world -- particularly in third world nations.

So upon returning from Austin -- having spent a few months away from reading the news on a daily basis -- I decided to run a little informal experiment. I added to my Google Reader both the New York Times World News Feed and the same from Al Jazeera English. I wanted to see, in the coming weeks, what it was like to read each simultaneously -- which reports made it to both, which only made it to one, how the reporting functioned, how anti- or extra-American events were viewed by Al Jazeera over against the Times.

After a month's worth of the experiment, I have no categorical evidence one way or the other (mainly because it would be a task of substantive research and publication to do so). But what I can say is that Al Jazeera offered (and offers) a perspective utterly unlike what I found in journalistic sources within the States, or even the West. Similarly, many events that happened in smaller nations or in the Middle East were covered that didn't even get press in America. Overall, due to the growing resources and coverage on the part of Al Jazeera, compared to the diminishing popularity and finances of the Times (along with every other newspaper or old school journalistic enterprise in America), Al Jazeera's net of reportage was wider, deeper, and strikingly different than the Times'. Moreover, in many ways, to this young person nostalgic for the days of reporting before I was born and desiring of truthful news through the eyes of the powerless and those on the outside, this discovery has been entirely refreshing and invigorating.

I welcome other views or experiences, either with Al Jazeera, the Times, or other sources for news in America or outside it. But for now, my unquestioned prejudices have been thoroughly rebuked, and I happily commend it to others in search of something similar.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

John Howard Yoder on the Two Swords of Luke 22:35-38

"Traditional proof-texting debate for and against pacifism has always made much of the 'two swords' passage. If Jesus had meant his disciples never to kill why would he now have told them to arm? Is he not preparing them for legitimate defense while on their post-Pentecost missionary travels? But Jesus says he is preparing them for his capture, for the fulfillment of the prediction that he would be found among compromising company. When they respond, 'We have two swords,' his response, 'Enough,' cannot mean that two swords would be enough for the legitimate self-defense against bandits of twelve missionaries traveling two by two. He is (in direct parallel to Deut. 3:26, where YHWH tells Moses to change the subject, LXX hikanon estin) breaking off the conversation because they don't understand anyway.

"According to Hans Werner Bartsch...the reference to Isa. 53:12 cannot be Luke's insertion, for it is not according to the Septuagint. Luke in any case does not give to the fulfillment of prophecy the recurrent function it has for Matthew. This makes it all the more striking that just here, as in Luke 24:26 (dealing also with the suffering of the Messiah), the theme of fulfillment should be thus accented. In the Matthew account of the sword in the garden (26:54) the reference to fulfillment is in Jesus' own words (rather than, as usual in Matthew, the Evangelist's) and likewise centers upon the sword. Thus the 'fulfillment of prophecy' theme has a special link to the garden capture in both Gospels."

--John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972, 1994), 45n.44

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

It's Not About the Swords: A Warning About the Changing Conditions for Discipleship in Luke 22:35-38

A guest post by Garrett East

Luke 22:35-38 is not a dialogue about swords. The problem is that the disciples think it is about swords. Although frequently mislabeled as “The Two Swords,”[1] this passage is primarily a warning from Jesus to the disciples about the hostility they will face hereafter, in connection with the rejection and suffering Jesus himself is about to undergo.

Written in the form of Jewish apologetic historiography, Luke-Acts is primarily concerned with the fulfillment of God’s promise and plan to restore Israel.[2] In the prologue (Luke 1:1-4), prehistory (Luke 1:5-2:52), and preparation for Jesus’ ministry (Luke 3:1-4:13), the author repeatedly announces that God has remembered Israel, is fulfilling his promises to the Patriarchs, and is raising up a savior, Israel’s Messiah.[3] In 4:14-9:50, Luke narrates Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, then in 9:51-19:48 writes about Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Throughout these two sections, Luke continually emphasizes the coming trials that will result from discipleship, the provision of God in the midst of these trials, and the requirement that disciples be peaceful in the midst of rejection.[4] The end of the book of Luke concludes with Jesus in Jerusalem (19:28-24:53), reaching its climax with his crucifixion and resurrection (23-24).[5]

In Acts, Luke continues the story of God fulfilling his promises and restoring Israel. As the gospel spreads out from Jerusalem to Samaria, to Caesarea, and to Rome, reaching Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free-persons, Luke makes absolutely clear that God’s plan is reaching its fulfillment.[6] And yet, as the salvation of God goes out to all people, there is great opposition to the disciples. And just as Luke emphasizes the coming dangers, the provision of God, and the requirement of peacefulness for the disciples, so Acts emphasizes the experience of those dangers, the actual provision of God in times of trial, and the peacefulness and joy of the disciples in all situations.[7]

Luke wrote Jesus’ speech and dialogue with his disciples in Luke 22:14-38 in the form of an ancient farewell address, specifically using farewell speeches from the Old Testament as its primary models.[8] The main function of this genre is to explain and give guidance for new situations that will arise after a founder’s death.[9] In particular, farewell addresses in the biblical tradition include a revelation of the speaker’s coming death, final orders to disciples or servants, the naming of a successor, a reflection on the speaker’s life, and warnings for the future.[10]

Shaped by these elements, the farewell speech in Luke begins with Jesus referring to his coming death, interpreting its meaning in the context of a covenant meal, and asks his disciples to remember him through their participation in it (22:15-20). Following Jesus’ reflections on his coming death, Jesus predicts his betrayal by one of his disciples (22:21-23). An argument among his disciples then arises about which of them is the greatest, which leads to Jesus teaching them to imitate him by serving others (22:24-27). Next, Jesus names the 12 disciples as his successors and specifically gives Peter the responsibility of strengthening the other disciples, despite predicting his imminent denial (22:28-34). Finally, Jesus uses a metaphor to urge his disciples to be ready for the coming trials that will result from his death, saying that they will now need purses, bags, and swords in their travels (22:35-37). Misunderstanding Jesus, the disciples interpret his words literally and reveal they have two swords and are ready to fight. Out of frustration, Jesus ends the dialogue (2:38)[11]

Although biblical farewell discourses had several functions,[12] the most significant one for interpreting Luke 22:35-38 is historiographical. Farewell discourses were written in the context of ancient historiographies to justify or illustrate the divine plan in history.[13] This function fits well with the Gospel of Luke, which seeks to argue that God’s plan for the restoration of Israel is being fulfilled, specifically in the life of Jesus.[14] Furthermore, in these discourses future predictions are made in order to demonstrate “there were no surprises in what happened.”[15] As Luke’s readers knew, the church was frequently persecuted for its faith.[16] In light of these persecutions, Luke seeks to demonstrate that Jesus knew and warned the 12 disciples about what was to come.

It is also important that following this farewell speech Luke records the arrest of Jesus in the garden, the only time when the disciples are known to have used swords (22:47-53).[17] In response to one of his disciples drawing a sword—presumably one of the two swords the disciples had presented to Jesus in 22:38—and cutting off an ear of the slave of the high priest, Jesus rebukes his disciples, reverses the effect of the violent act by healing the slave, and submits himself to arrest.[18] Contrary to belief that the one disciple’s use of the sword is a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12 quoted in Luke 22:37, it is in fact a result of a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words in 22:35-38.[19]

Addressing all 12 disciples, Jesus reminds them about the time he sent them out “without a purse, bag, or sandals,” and asks them if they lacked anything (Luke 22:35).[20] The disciples respond by claiming they did not lack a thing. The purpose of verse 35 is to recall specifically the way disciples had been treated as a result of their proclamation of the kingdom of God. Namely, they had been treated with hospitality and were entirely without need.

After reminding the disciples of his previous instructions when he sent them out into Galilee, Jesus now reverses his earlier instructions, telling them to take their purse, bag, and even a sword (verse 36). He begins this striking reversal with the phrase alla nyn. Some scholars claim this phrase signals a strong contrast between the eschatological age of Jesus and the new age of the church and others claim it draws a contrast between the “apostle’s previous freedom and what is required by their present fear.”[21] Contrary to both of these claims, it is best to understand alla nyn as referring to the changing conditions for the disciples in the world.[22] Although the world had been relatively hospitable to them up to this point in their discipleship to Jesus, from this point forward the world would become a hostile place for them. And this new period in the life of discipleship is not limited to the garden or the passion narrative.[23] Instead, this time of hostility toward the disciples continues throughout Acts and is expected to continue in the life of the church.[24]

Jesus’ reversal of his earlier instructions should not be taken literally. He is not telling his disciples that from now on they need to carry travel bags, purses, and swords. On the contrary, he is using this language metaphorically to indicate the dramatic shift that is about to take place in how the world treats them.[25] To make it absolutely clear that these words should not be taken literally, never in all of Acts do the disciples carry a bag, purse, or sword. Furthermore, both times the disciples use or talk about a machaira,[26] Jesus rebukes them (22:38; 22:51).[27] The image Jesus creates in 22:36 paints a clear picture: Although there was a time when Jesus’ disciples were welcomed everywhere, now they must be prepared for rejection and violence.[28]

Many scholars believe verse 37 is only an explanation of why Jesus wants the disciples to buy swords: so they can become the lawless ones with whom Jesus is numbered.[29] By limiting this explanation to that purpose, scholars misunderstand the entire passage and make the same mistake as the disciples: they think Jesus’ words are primarily about swords. This misunderstanding leads many to see the disciple’s use of the sword in the garden as a fulfillment of the prophecy, rather than a misunderstanding of everything Jesus has said. In context, this passage is not about swords: it is about a transformation of the world’s relationship to the disciples from hospitality to hostility.

One of the greatest challenges in interpreting Luke’s use of Isaiah 53 is discovering who the anomoi are, with whom Jesus will be counted. As shown above, many scholars wrongly understand the anomoi to be the disciples. Better suggestions read the anomoi as the two kakourgoi who are crucified with Jesus[30] or as those sinners with whom Jesus is numbered throughout the Gospel.[31] Although these suggestions could fit within the book’s context, the point of the quotation is that Jesus’ opponents, Roman and Jewish, will come to a point where they consider him to be a lawless man, grouping him with lawless people and therefore giving him what lawless people deserve: death on a cross.[32] And connecting this fulfillment of scripture with the previous two verses by the phrase legō gar hymin, Jesus makes clear it is because of his coming rejection that the disciples will experience hostility from the world. Jesus’ point, then, in claiming this scripture must be and is being fulfilled in him is obvious: “The disciples must be ready for the worst because their Master also faces the worst.”[33]

Instead of understanding Jesus’ instructions metaphorically (as intended), in verse 38 the disciples take Jesus’ words literally, pulling out two swords and presenting them to Jesus.[34] This misunderstanding is connected with their failure to comprehend that Jesus must be rejected and crucified, for the use of one of the swords in the garden is clearly an attempt to keep Jesus’ death from happening.[35] As most scholars agree, Jesus’ last words, hikanon estin, are an abrupt ending to his farewell dialogue, expressing his frustration and rebuking his disciples.[36]

In the immediate context of Jesus’ farewell address and the broader context of Luke-Acts, Jesus’ message in Luke 22:35-38 is that, in light of his coming rejection and death, there will be new conditions for his disciples. The basic stance of the world towards the disciples will no longer be hospitality, but hostility. As Jesus is counted among the lawless, so will the disciples. As we have seen, Jesus’ reversal of his previous instructions should not be taken literally. The disciples will still be required to trust in God for provision and they are certainly not supposed to use their swords. For the reader of Luke’s Gospel, this passage seeks to demonstrate that Jesus had warned the disciples of his coming rejection and had warned them of the trials that awaited them. The persecutions the church faces in Acts are not surprises, but fulfillments of what Jesus had already warned his disciples they would face.

Throughout the church’s history, Christians have repeatedly taken up arms to fight.[37] Christians have been joining armies, executing heretics and criminals, commanding wars, defending their homes with weapons, and bearing arms during worship for hundreds of years.[38] They have thought that as long as violence is for self-defense, righteous causes, or to help others that their weapons are justified. Although many of these Christians have spent their entire lives attempting to follow Jesus, they end up like the disciples, thinking Jesus approves of their swords. In light of this long history of violence in the church, we must understand that Jesus’ words in Luke 22:35-38 are not a command to take up arms, but a warning that arms may be used against us. Jesus’ last words in verse 38 are not an approval of our use of weapons, but a strong rebuke and condemnation for even thinking Jesus might want us to use them. And Jesus’ words should serve as a warning to Christians in power, many of whom have never once experienced the trials Jesus warns about, that perhaps they need to lay down their arms, give up their power, and join those in the church and in the world who are suffering. And when persecution and trials come to disciples, as they surely will to those following the way of Jesus, Christians should respond like Jesus (in Luke) and the disciples (in Acts): without surprise, but with courage, faithfulness, and peace.

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[1] See G. Lampe, “The Two Swords (Luke 22:35-38),” (Jesus and the Politics of His Day; eds. E. Bammel and C.F.D. Moule; Cambridge: University, 1984), 335-51. Another common title is “The Enigma of the Swords.” For example, see T. Napier, “The Enigma of the Swords,” ExpTim 49 (1937-38): 467-70.
[2] For an extended discussion of the different possible genres for Luke-Acts, see Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 1-6. Green concludes his survey with the conclusion that Luke-Acts is ancient historiography strongly influenced by Jewish apologetic historiography. Also, see the discussion in Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke (Sacra Pagina; Collegeville: Liturgical, 1991), 4-10. For the purposes of this essay, Luke-Acts is assumed to be a narrative unity. For support of this conclusion, see Green, 6-10.
[3] See Luke 1:1, 19-20, 54-55, 68-79; 2:10-11, 25-26, 30-32, 38; 3:4-6; and 4:18-19. From this point forward the author of Luke-Acts will be referred to as Luke. The actual identity of the author is insignificant for the interpretation of Luke-Acts.
[4] See Luke 6:22-23, 27-36; 9:1-6, 21-27, 51-54; 10:1-12; 11:2-4, 5-13; 12:4-12, 22-34, 49-53; 14:26-33; 17:33; and 21:12-19. Also note that Jesus’ sending of the 12 disciples (9:1-6) and sending of the other 70 disciples (10:1-12) are located in these two sections.
[5] This basic outline is primarily taken and adapted from Werner Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament (rev. and enl. ed.; Nashiville: Abingdon, 1970), 125, and Darrell Bock, “Luke, Gospel of,” DJG 500-502. Kümmel also argues that Luke-Acts is a political apologetic aimed at proving the political innocence of Jesus in the eyes of the Romans. However, this view neglects the subversive characteristics of Luke’s narrative, specifically Luke’s attitude towards wealth and greatness. See Luke 6:20-26 or 9:46-48. For a thorough analysis of the subversive politics of Jesus in Luke, see John Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 21-59.
[6] See Acts 1:6-8, 16-17; 2:14-36, 39; 3:13-18, 21, 25-26; 5:30-31; 7:2-53; 8:4-17; 10:34-48; 26:6-7; 28:23-31.
[7] See Acts 4:1-4; 5:17-21, 40-42; 6:11-13, 7:54-60; 14:19, 22; 16:19-34; 17:5-8; and 21:27-36.
[8] This has been argued persuasively in William Kurz, “Luke 22:14-38 and Greco-Roman and Biblical Farewell Addresses,” JBL 104 (1985): 251-268.
[9] Ibid., 249.
[10] Ibid., 256. Operating under the assumption that Luke used the Septuagint, which Kurz believes contained the Apocrypha, Kurz argues that Luke borrows particularly from the farewell speeches in 1 Kings 2:1-10 and 1 Macc 2:49-70 in his formation of Jesus’ farewell speech. Other biblical farewell speeches he references are Deut. 31-34; Joshua 23-24; 1 Sam. 12:1-25; 1 Chronicles 28-29; and Tob. 14:3-11.
[11] According to Kurz, the misunderstanding of listeners is common to farewell dialogues. See Kurz, 268. Note how this genre of ancient farewell addresses brings unity to seemingly disjointed passages. Also, note the similar themes and structure of Paul’s farewell speech in Acts 20:17-38, which was likely written in parallel with Jesus’ farewell speech.
[12] For example, see Ibid., 264-268.
[13] Ibid., 265.
[14] This will be important for interpreting Jesus’ quotation of scripture predicting his rejection and death in Luke 22:37.
[15] Kurz, 267.
[16] See Acts 4:1-3; 5:17-18, 40-41; 6:11-13; 7:54-60; 14:19, 22; 16:19-24; 17:5-8; and 21:27-36.
[17] This story can also be found in Matthew 26:47-56 and John 18:1-11. Also, see Luke 22:39-46 and Jesus’ instructions to the disciples to “pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” This may be referring to the future trials they will have to endure, or it may serve in the immediate context as a prayer for them to not be tempted to use their swords in the garden. All Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.
[18] Note Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples in Matthew: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (26:52).
[19] “On any reading it is clear from Luke 22:49-51 that Jesus did not endorse his disciples’ use of their swords.” Timothy Geddert, “Peace,” DJG 604-5. For an alternative view, see Lampe, 341-42.
[20] Many commentators note that the vocabulary Jesus uses in 22:35 corresponds more with Luke 10:4, the sending of the 70, than with Luke 9:3, the sending of the 12. As a result, many question if Luke made a mistake by using the vocabulary from 10:4, if he intentionally was referring to the sending of the 70 in 10:4, or if he was borrowing from a source that connected this saying with the sending of the 70. For examples, see R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke” (NIB 9; Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 429, and John Nolland, Luke 18:35-24:53 (WBC 35c; Dallas: Wordbooks, 1993), 1075. However one understands this, the interpretation is unaffected. The point is that when Jesus sent the apostles out with no purse, bag, or sandals, they did not lack a thing.
[21] For two representative scholars on these views, see Hans Conzelmann, The Theology of St. Luke (trans. Geoffrey Buswell; New York: Harper, 1961), 16, 80-82, and 233, and Robert Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation (2 vols.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986), 1: 267.
[22] See similar interpretations in Lampe, 337-338, and I. Howard Marshall, 824.
[23] Two scholars who believe this period is limited to the garden or the passion narrative are Paul Minear, “A Note on Luke 22:36,” NovT 7 (1964): 133, and Tannehill, 268.
[24] See references for note 18. Also, note that throughout these passages in Acts, neither Luke nor his characters expect that the world’s hostility will lessen until the return of Christ.
[25] See Fred Craddock, Luke (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox, 1990), 260. It is important that opposition to Jesus has been growing throughout the gospel of Luke leading to this dialogue. This growing opposition, soon to reach its climax in the crucifixion of Jesus, should serve as the background for understanding Jesus’ instructions in Luke 22:35-38. See Luke 6:11; 11:53-54; 19:47; 20:19; 22:2. Gillman makes the interesting suggestion that Jesus’ words in 22:35-38 should all be taken literally as a momentary temptation in Jesus’ life, commanding his disciples to take up arms and fight. Gillman argues that Jesus overcomes this temptation in the garden with his prayer for God’s will to be done. The main problem with his argument is that for these words to be taken literally as a command to take up arms, Jesus is not just tempted, he gives in. Furthermore, if taken literally, this would contradict everything Jesus has previously said in the gospel of Luke, as Gillman admits. See John Gillman, “A Temptation to Violence: The Two Swords in Lk 22:35-38,” LS 9 (1982): 142-153.
[26] Because machaira is here understood as metaphorical, it is insignificant whether it is an offensive or defensive weapon. Regardless of which type of weapon it is, it represents hostility and enmity in the passage at hand. For a discussion of its use in the LXX and the rest of the New Testament, see W. Michaelis, “μαχαιρα,” TDNT 4: 524-527.
[27] The only two times in Acts that someone uses a machaira are in Acts 12:2 and 16:27, the execution of James and the potential suicide by the jailer. The execution of James is obviously not approved of, and Paul stops the jailer from killing himself in Acts 16:28.
[28] Lampe, 338. Also see Craig Evans, Luke (NIBC 3; Peabody: Hendrickson, 1990), 319. This interpretation easily answers the common question posed about this chapter: do these new instructions invalidate the earlier instructions to the disciples in Luke 9:1-6 and 10:1-12? The answer is absolutely not! This reversal of the earlier instructions is ironic. The disciples are still to practice reliance on God and others. The difference in this new situation is that now people may reject them and they will have to depend solely on God to provide for them and save them, which occurs throughout the book of Acts. See the references listed in note 9. Furthermore, several times in Acts the disciples “shook the dust off their feet,” fulfilling instructions Jesus gave in Luke 9:1-6 and 10:1-12. See Acts 13:50-52 and 18:6. For a survey of other possible interpretations of verse 36, see Tannehill, 266-67.
[29] For example, see Lampe, 351; Minear, 131; and Tannehill, 267-68.
[30] Marshall, 826.
[31] Green, 775-76.
[32] See Joseph Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke (Anchor Bible 28A; Garden City: Doubleday, 1985), 1430.
[33] Nolland, 1078.
[34] Their response here is similar to their responses in Luke 17:37; 18:28; and 22:23, 33.
[35] See Tannehill, 268.
[36] See Green, 774-75; Marshall, 827; and Nolland, 1077. Also see the similar expression in Deuteronomy 3:26: “Enough from you!” Some commentators see Jesus’ words here as literal and therefore believe Jesus thinks the swords are enough for the disciples to become lawless. For example, see Lampe, 347, and Minear, 132-133. Assuming the swords are fishermen’s knives, Western believes Jesus is ironically saying that the swords are “large enough” for all the fighting the disciples will need to do. See Western, “The Enigma of the Swords, St. Luke 20:38,” ExpT 52 (1941): 357.
[37] Examples are limitless: the crusades, the Inquisition, German Soldiers in World War I, and American soldiers in World War II.
[38] See this recent argument for the need to bear arms during worship: Doug Giles, “God and Glocks: Why Churches Should Not Be Gun Free Zones,” n.p. [cited 2 Nov 2008]. Online: http://townhall.com/columnists/DougGiles/2007/12/15/god_and_glocks_why_churches_should_not_be_gun_free_zones.

A Brief Note on Supreme Emergency and Christian Eschatology

If the only discernible path to military victory over murderers is to resort to murder, and the only foreseeable outcome of defeat is the annihilation of the political community, then there is no other choice open to the Christian but defeat, and therefore the death of the community. It is understandable why Michael Walzer, a non-practicing secular Jew, and those who share his commitments about the world's makeup and ethical matrix would argue that it is morally justified to act immorally to defeat an imminent and severe threat of communal destruction by an utterly blasphemous evil force. It is not understandable, and indeed it is indefensible, for followers of Jesus Christ to argue in such a way, for Christians are that people constituted by the knowledge that the meaning of history is not determined by the perpetual preservation of human life as such, but is revealed instead in the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, which are the hope and promise of salvation for the world's history in time. If we must make a holocaust out of those who make a holocaust of others, if we must murder our way into a future built on the sanctified murder of worse murderers than we, may God's mercy swiftly bring an end to whatever community is left on the earth; but may we die in the trust that it is better to die innocently than to murder for good.

The indefinite perpetuation of the human species is not and cannot be the summum bonum of human purpose and life in the world. Christians, more than anyone, ought to know, and must act according to the knowledge, that their own lives, and those that make up the political community, are absolutely unabsolute. The source and end of all life, of the whole of human history, is God the creator, God the sustainer, and God the redeemer. In light of that confession, may we never so make idols of ourselves that we become the evil we detest to save what will precisely at that moment not be worth saving any longer.