Thursday, April 28, 2011

Garrett East on American Gun Ownership, Foreign Missions, and the Possibility of Martyrdom

Go check out my brother Garrett's post on the disconcerting attitudinal difference between American Christians' willingness to own guns "here at home" versus overseas in a missionary context, the implicit reasoning behind it, and the consequences for the church's witness. Garrett is a member of a team of families planning to move to Tanzania in two years, and at the moment he lives in west Texas where -- I can assure you! -- gun ownership on the part of Christians is both high and, shall we say, uncontested. In other words, this is an immediately relevant issue for him, but also more generally for all Christians in America. Here's a first set of questions he asks:
[H]ow many Christians in America live in such a way that martyrdom is impossible? That is, if a Christian owns a gun and believes that they are allowed to use it in self-defense, under what condition would they ever submit themselves to martyrdom? Or, would they always be unwilling to go down without a fight? Has Christian teaching about violence set up a situation in which the last thing any Christian would let happen to him or herself is to become a martyr? What if an outbreak of persecution took place today like that under Nero, Diocletian, or Galerius? Would Christians take up their crosses or their guns? Without arguing that all Christians should become pacifists, I do want to argue that all Christians should live in such a way that martyrdom is a live possibility for a life lived in faithfulness to God.
If you are interested in reading more, I wrote something similar a couple years ago, except as a critique of just war, called "'To No Good End': Requesting a Coherent Account of Martyrdom."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Praying Psalm 22: A Collect for Good Friday

O God of hiddenness and shadows,
You who hold life and death in your hands
You who see night as if it is day;
O God absconding from our grasp,
You who slip around the corner,
You who elude our glances and sighs;
O God of godforsaken places:

In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

And it was you who took us from the womb;
you who kept us safe at our mother’s breast.
Upon you we were cast from birth,
since our mothers bore us you have been our God.

You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

Do not therefore be far from us, O Lord,
for trouble is near and there is no one,
no one to help.
We cry by day, O God, but you do not answer;
by night, but we find no rest.
Why have you forsaken us, O God?
Why are you so far from helping us,
so far from the words of our groaning?

Deliver us, O God,
and do not shift like so many shadows;
do not leave us barren and bleeding,
bones numbered and lips dry,
gloated over by rabid bulls and ravenous lions.

Deliver us and do not forsake us,
and we will not cease to tell
of your faithfulness to the weary and afflicted.
We will not cease to tell and proclaim such news
even to a people yet unborn,
a people gathered by your Holy Spirit,

by whose power we now pray,
through your servant, the anointed of Israel. Amen.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Resurrection Power of Jesus the Messiah: A Sermon on Mark 5:35-43

[This is a sermon I delivered two years ago, in the last week of February, 2009.]

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While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. "Your daughter is dead," they said. "Why bother the teacher anymore?"

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, "Don't be afraid; just believe."

He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep." But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "
Talitha koum!" (which means "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

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In just a few hours I’ll be in the air flying to Austin, Texas. My wife Katelin is already there waiting for me. Katelin and I both grew up in Austin, and her extended family is there as well. The reason we’ll be in Austin this weekend is because tomorrow is the funeral for Katelin’s grandmother, Jinx, whom we call Granj.

Just fifteen days ago we got the call that Granj, who would have been 70 next month, had had a freak accident—and within hours we were in the hospital room, surrounded by weeping family and friends, with a comatose body lying on a gurney in the center of the room, countless tubes and wires and machines keeping her alive. The next day, after Granj was taken off life support, we gathered around and waited 11 long hours until she took her final, labored breath.

For the 30 or so hours between when we got the call and when Granj passed on, and especially when we were physically with her, all we could do was pray. All of us, silently, loudly, through tears, through laughter, together, alone, whatever—all we could do was pray.

But pray for what? A miracle, for one thing. O God, won’t you wake her up? Won’t you wake her up? O God, Lord of all, open her eyes and breathe into her lungs and wake her up. But Granj did not wake up.

The world we live in today is a world devoid of miracles. We simply do not expect them to happen, and our not expecting them to happen reveals our functional unbelief. We don’t expect miracles because we know they don’t really happen.

And why would we? James says the prayer of faith will heal the sick. Well, people in my congregation keep dying. People in families I know keep dying. And faithful prayers don’t seem to be changing much.

But that isn’t all. It’s not just that our world is devoid of miracles, or that we don’t believe they can happen: our world has ruled out any need for miracles. We have become much too efficient, much too knowledgeable, much too evolved, to need anything like a miracle.

A miracle presupposes four things: need; impossibility; lament; and the action of God. But, by the sweat on our brow and the ingenuity of our minds, we have met all needs, solved every problem, forgotten lament, and thus replaced the power and presence and action of God. Keep moving along if it’s needs you’re looking for. We’ve done taken care of that.

As for death? It’s only a matter of time. The experts and the talking heads and Congress and the UN committees and the stimulus bill—they’re all taking care of it. It’ll come. In due time. We need only be patient, and wait it out.

The people of Israel beg to differ
. The people of Israel know better. The people of Israel know that life, and death, and everything in between—all of it is in the hands of the one true God of the universe. In sickness or tragedy or crisis or the very throes of death itself, there is only one to whom Israel turns in lament, in tears, in mourning, in petition. The Lord, the God of Israel.

Hear the opening verses of Psalm 30, “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, you restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.”

Mark tells us four different times that Jairus was a leader of the synagogue. Jairus was a faithful member of the house of Israel. Undoubtedly Jairus knew Psalm 30 and other Psalms like it. In the grip of death-dealing forces, Israel turns to the only one capable of Exodus deliverance.

So Jairus comes to Jesus. His daughter is sick—and he has prayed the Psalms, offered the sacrifices, met with the elders, gone to synagogue. Nothing has changed. But this Jesus—people are saying he is the Lord’s anointed, the Messiah. The stories have made it to his town, and everyone’s talking. This would-be Messiah is casting out unclean spirits, commanding the waves, teaching with authority, giving sight to the blind and causing the lame to walk. Jesus even just came from healing a Gentile possessed by a legion of demons.

So Jesus’ boat makes it to shore, and Jairus, leader of the synagogue, high standing in the community, faithful Israelite—he falls at the feet of Jesus and begs him to heal his sick daughter…and just like that, Jesus obliges, and they’re off.

But the crowd presses in and it’s hard going. Something happens—Jesus turns—he’s talking to…a woman. A sick woman. A bleeding woman. This sick woman has stopped Jesus. She has no husband, and Jairus hasn’t seen her at synagogue. No children either. What is Jesus saying? What could possibly be so important as to delay healing a sick young daughter of Israel?

Finally they move on, but messengers arrive and deliver the fateful news: It’s too late. She’s gone. Jairus’ daughter is dead. Jesus seems unfazed though; he merely says, “Stop being afraid—only keep believing."

When they come to the house and see the mourners, Jesus does not respond like he does in John 11 when he sees the people mourning Lazarus and weeps with them. Instead, he asks them why they are mourning, saying the child is not dead but sleeping…and of course they laugh at him! What kind of nonsense is this? Jesus goes further, though, and here Mark uses the Greek verb for casting out unclean spirits and exorcising demons—literally, Jesus casts them out, exorcises them from the house, and takes Jairus and his wife upstairs with a few others, including Peter, James, and John.

And now, in the deep darkness of death, in the pit of Sheol, Jairus watches as Jesus the Messiah takes the hand of his little girl, his precious daughter, dead and ready for burial and already being mourned, and Jesus speaks his terse Aramaic command—and immediately, she gets up and walks around. Jairus’ daughter is alive again. Jesus has done it. God has worked a miracle.

Now. We are tempted to read this story through the lens of cheap grace, with the eyes of sentimentality and popular religion, or even with the trusty tools of technical scholarship, so helpful yet so potentially dangerous.

We want to say, perhaps, that what this story tells us is about something that happened “back then.” We know big words like “cessasionist,” and take refuge in the fact that Jesus the wonder-worker did something amazing 2,000 years ago in the holy land. Good for him.

Or we want to say, perhaps, that the girl really was only sleeping, that Jesus was being straight up about it all. We analyze the text scientifically and comb through it for evidence that can stand up to the tests of modern intelligibility. A happy end for a misunderstood situation.

Or we want to say, perhaps, that oh my wasn’t that Jesus something, raising the dead and all. And he can raise the dead attitude inside of me and make me something if only I name it and claim it and trust that he’ll prosper me. A spiritual metaphor.

Or some of us want to say, even, that this text applies 100% to today—word for word, detail for detail, like a family recipe for resurrection, just apply the ingredients to any situation, and voila, you’ll have instant healing.

But this story is not about a random Judean wonder worker. It’s not about demythologizing the pre-scientific elements. It’s not about how God’s going to resurrect my career or my bank account. And it’s certainly not about how to have enough faith so that no one you love ever dies.

This story in the Gospel of Mark is about one thing: The power of God even over death made manifest in Jesus the Messiah of Israel. In Jesus the same God who created the heavens and the earth has power to create new life. In Jesus the same God who breathed the breath of life into the first human being has power to breath back new breath into lifeless lungs. In Jesus the same God who called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has power to call a daughter of Abraham out of the silence of death. And in Jesus the same God who delivered a people out of deathly slavery has power to deliver the departed from bondage to darkness.

This is the mighty hand and the outstretched arm of the God of Israel: in the birth and life and ministry and healing and teaching and suffering and death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Messiah—the power to raise the dead and to give new life.

As followers of Jesus, we actually believe this to be true. We actually believe that the God we worship in Jesus Christ raises the dead. We might forget it, we might lean against it, we might shift uncomfortably in our pews…but our faith is, from beginning to end, a resurrection faith. And we are a resurrection people—the resurrection community of the resurrected Lord.

And that has implications. But the first implication is a question.

So what?
So what if all this is true? Say Jesus did do something in that room with Jairus’ daughter, say Jesus was raised from the dead, say that has something to do with being a Christian—so what? People keep getting sick, people keep dying, and flapping our gums about coming back to life isn’t going to do anybody any good. Only more false expectations and superstitious hopes setting unsuspecting people up for failure.

I know these concerns intimately because two weeks ago Granj did not wake up. My belief that God could heal Granj, that she could return to life, did not seem to make a difference. She died.

So I know what it means to question the validity, the relevance, the import of these kinds of claims. I know that place. I know it because right now, it’s my home—and my wife’s home, and my family’s home. I know how vapid empty theology can be. Times like these do not call for Hallmark doctrine.

But the good news of this Gospel story is not that we get what we want when we want it, or that death has once and for all been abolished from the earth, or that Jesus having done it once should give us all the reassurance and comfort we need.

No, the good news is that God’s resurrection power in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is real, is alive, and is a promise that God is going to keep. Resurrection is not merely the cessation of death or a return back to “normal” life—resurrection is eschatological. Resurrection is new life, new creation. Resurrection is forgiveness and restoration and wholeness—shalom, God’s good and final and abiding peace. That resurrection power is a reality, it is alive and present today in the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of God’s people. And it has a face.

It shows its face in the fellowship of the Eucharist. It shows its face in the loving fidelity of marriage. It shows its face in the second and third chances of a homeless ministry like MUST or Genesis. It shows its face when civil rights pioneer John Lewis forgives Elwin Wilson for beating him 50 years ago in a Rock Hill bus station. It shows its face when African Christians beat machine guns and machetes into sculptures of life and works of art.

And it shows its face in the friends and family, tissues and tears, hugging and heaving, dropped off groceries, text messages and emails, prayers and support when a grandmother dies. God did not have to heal Granji or raise her back to life to display his resurrection power. That power was and is clear enough in the community that surrounded and mourned together, and it will be no less present tomorrow when we celebrate her life.

And finally, without cheapness or sentimentality or easy answers, we remember too the “not yet.” Resurrection has come but is still coming. We await the day when all things will be made new, when resurrection will be fullest shalom and there will be no more death. The Aramaic command of Jesus to the girl in Mark 5—talitha koum—is a promise, a small deposit for the day when we hear the talitha koum writ large and bellowed wide and far and to all creation. And on that day we will say with the Psalmist:

“To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication: ‘What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!’

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”


Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Church as the Soul of Society

"What the soul is to the body, Christians are in the world." So the Epistle to Diognetus in the late second century. Reformulated for modern community, it has been altered to say: "What the soul is to the body, the church is to society [or the nation]."

But such a conception of the church is disastrous on any number of accounts. Schooled by Paul and by Jesus, we would be better to say: "The church is not a soul within the body of society or the nation, much less the soul of any one society or nation. Rather, the church is one particular and irreducible body politic within another."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Open Question: What To Read Before Doctoral Work?

I've sent the following question to a handful of mentors, fellow students, and professors, and I thought I might extend it here as well:

I have approximately four months of class- and assignment-less freedom before dedicating at least half of the next decade to doctoral work in theology. If you were to recommend 3-5 books for me to read during that (precious interim) time as absolutely essential -- of whatever genre, in whatever discipline -- what would they be?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Best of the Theological Blogosphere in 2010

Last year, as I recapped 2009's movies and music by lists, I took the opportunity to do the same for the theology blogs I read. Given that blogging is itself oddly but internally a communal affair, I wanted to share (beyond the sidebar) which blogs I read, for what reasons, what they're about, and (if possible) further information about their authors. I enjoyed the exercise for its own sake, but I came to think also that perhaps in the process it might help render an ever-so-slightly more human face on what can otherwise amount to no more than screen-filtered fodder for anonymous RSS feeds.

Looking back at the post, I count 23 blogs. At the time of writing I already knew six of the authors, and in the year since I have met six more, on top of personal correspondence or plans to meet another half a dozen. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it does offer some insight into the deeply paradoxical character of a medium that at times seems almost constitutionally impersonal, yet by all indications leads to increased personal interaction, both digital and face-to-face. For ease of use, I've appended last year's list to the end of this post.

There are 17 more in this year's list, and I should be clear that I have no expert methodology here: these are simply the blogs I read, and this list in particular consists of those blogs added to my Reader in the last 12 months. I welcome additions and suggestions in the comments; at the moment there is -- apparently -- no end in sight to high quality, engaging, substantive theological thought on offer in the blogosphere.

(And as a member myself of this curious guild, I steadfastly admit to the sheer weirdness of that last statement, and so to a happy ignorance of its larger meaning or implications.)

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Andy Rowell: Church Leadership Conversations — Andy is ThD student at Duke whose work is sparse but thorough when it appears, and whose voice is measured and highly informative. Though rarely concerned to "take a position" on any particular issue, much less to map out arguments, Andy seems interested instead in providing resources for theological and ministerial reflection and formation; and, accordingly, he is a wonderful source for just those things.

The Art of the Good Life — This is the blog of Jarrod Longbons, a midwesterner and fellow church of Christ-er who (not self-contradictorily!) is earning his PhD in philosophical theology. He uses his blog in general to think through, in a more conversation manner, issues of culture and theology that he encounters in his studies.

Becoming What We Are — In his own words this blog is the "random musings of a perpetual student." Its author James Walters is another (there are not many of us) fellow church of Christ-er who is a PhD student in church history at Princeton Seminary, as well as a fellow graduate of Abilene Christian University. I know of James through his wife Naomi, who is a notable and outspoken proponent of the full inclusion of women in the Spirit-gifted leadership and ministries of the church.

Boo to a Goose — Bruce Hamill is a creative pastor down under (yes?) who uses his blog as an outlet for his sermons and theological ruminations, and (pertinent to me) counts influences in theologians like Yoder and Hauerwas. It is good for my heart to see someone outside of the academy both "making it preach" and keeping his mind alive.

Connexions — The home of Richard Hall's rapid-fire mini-posts, and sometime host as well to Kim Fabricius of Faith and Theology fame, this is a great resource for links to politically serious as well as theologically humorous pieces around the internet, not to mention controversy on certain issues like Palestine and war, too.

Der Evangelische Theologe — Travis McMaken is a PhD student in theology at Princeton Seminary and, with David Congdon, hosted the Karl Barth Blog Conference last fall. Like all good Princeton theologians, Travis is interested in three things: Barth, Barth's influences, and those whom Barth influenced. Maybe more, but those for sure.

Flying Farther — David Horstkoetter is a PhD student in theology at Marquette who works at the intersection of theology and politics, and often engages in helpful (and fiery) polemical analyses -- or, perhaps better, takedowns -- of foolish or otherwise ridiculous theopolitical perspectives. His posts became sparse for a while, but since achieving ABD status (and joining another blog, Justice Outside the City), it seems that he might be more active now.

J. Kameron Carter — After reading through Carter's magisterial Race: A Theological Account last summer, I had the opportunity to hear him speak at AAR and to meet with him during a visit to Duke just a week later. His "rising star" status in the theological scene is well earned, and his blog serves as a kind of way station for his less scholarly, more immediate theological reflection -- to the great benefit of those of us impatiently awaiting his forthcoming publications.

Loretta's Basement — Adam McInturf's posts are as few and far between as they are creative in detail and in engagement of their subject matter. When he writes, it's worth reading.

Maggi Dawn — An author and blogging all-star who needs no introduction from me, Maggi Dawn is witty, knowledgeable, literary, and wide-ranging, a writer of felicitous facility and ease. Check out her blog if you haven't yet taken the time to do so.

Memoria Dei — A serious but not overwhelming group blog made up of four Notre Dame graduate students in theology (a kind of counterpart and forerunner to WIT below), these guys focus on a host of issues, including especially Christology, the Trinity, Catholic theology, and the place of theology in academia.

Per Caritatem — Cynthia Nielsen, doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Dallas, is an uber-scholarly blogger who does work with Foucault, Fanon, Augustine, and Frederick Douglass. To be honest, I have trouble keeping up with her thick series of posts, but not for want of content, only for lack of the time and energy needed to think through the serious stuff she's regularly putting up.

Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People — Michael Westmoreland-White (one mouthful of a name) is an extraordinarily prolific blogger who has roots in radical peacemaking traditions along with personal connections to influential figures within them, such as John Howard Yoder and James McClendon. His writing is relentlessly politically activist, urging theological reflection always toward the goal of obedient praxis and faithful response to the gospel of the Crucified One.

Quo Vadis, Domine? — This is the blog of my brother Garrett, who is currently finishing the first year of his MDiv at Abilene Christian University. Garrett and his wife belong to a team that will be traveling to Tanzania in the summer of 2013 for a 5-10 year mission, and his posts accordingly reflect that set of concerns (evangelism, east Africa, multiculturalism, ecclesiology). Garrett is my chief theological interlocutor, and is a gifted thinker, lucid writer, and committed disciple. See more in my original commendation here.

Sign on the Window — Melissa is now in the first year of earning her MDiv at Princeton Seminary, having before been at Duke (I believe). Her posts span a happy range: from experience as a woman in the world of theology, to musings on motherhood, to reflection on Mennonite identity, to general constructive theological engagement. Melissa's blog is one more superlative beachhead in what is characteristically an overwhelmingly masculine field -- the theological blogosphere, in this case.

This Side of Sunday — I "met" Jon Coutts by being assigned to respond to his piece on Barth and the Coen Brothers for the Karl Barth Blog Conference last fall, and then had the opportunity to host (through his facilitation) three of his fellow Aberdeen doctoral students at AAR here in Atlanta. Jon is an aesthetically-minded, thoughtfully evangelical Barthian with interests in film and music, and -- to my heart's delight -- is a lover of Chesterton. I am delighted that my very first print/book publication will be, on the one hand, at the intersection between theology and film, and, on the other hand, a response to Jon's own playful bandying of the two before me.

Women in Theology — WIT came on the scene last October and quickly established itself as a premier source for theological reflection in specific relation to issues of gender, feminism, and modern ecclesial challenges. The all-female roster of contributors seems to be marked by shared roots in Catholicism and Notre Dame, but the writing and subjects addressed are not thereby limited. In short: this is one of the best places to be reading (unofficial/unpublished) theology on the internet; it is substantive, provocative, relevant, engaged, and close to the ground. Subscribe already, and start reading!

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The Best of the Theological Blogosphere in 2009

All That To Say... — Mark Love is the Director of Missional Leadership at Rochester College in Michigan. As a former preacher and professor at Abilene Christian, and having just finished his PhD course work at Luther, Mark's experience and training give him a wonderfully creative and playful approach to theology in general, and to reading biblical texts in particular. Also, I stole my "Sunday Sabbath Poetry" series from his "Dylan on a Sunday" series, which is hitting two years this summer.

An und für sich — Quite possibly one of the most prolific and thoughtful group blogs around, especially given that the authors aren't getting paid. Adam Kotsko & co. have created an engaging place for philosophical, theological, cultural, and textual conversations to be had; and Adam in particular is a kind of blogging force of nature, routinely offering innovative and off-the-wall comments and interpretations on any number of subjects. The snark rears its head from time to time, but it's usually in good fun. And even when it's not, it's no less worth the read.

The Church and Postmodern Culture — This one ebbs and flows, depending on recent releases or engagement with particular works, but when it's going, it's great. The contributors and books claimed and produced here are especially noteworthy.

Clavi Non Defixi — Evan Kuehn, though a long-time read for many, has been a recent discovery for me. Evan focuses primarily on matters academic, journalistic, ecumenical, historical-theological, and/or library-related. Though often reliable enough as a purely compendious source, Evan also offers constructive thoughts on a regular basis in relation to current events in his fields of interest. I should also add how impressive his levelheadedness is, given the waters he regularly wades into.

David Ayres: Prayers & Poems — David is a friend from Abilene Christian, and he's just now finishing up his undergraduate degree in Bible, on his way to an MDiv and a rich ministry of the word. He also happens to be one of my favorite poets, and it is a grateful marvel that such a gifted wordsmith is going into full-time preaching.

Experimental Theology — Richard Beck somehow finds the time in his busy schedule as a husband, father, professor, teacher, researcher, speaker, writer, and sometime-preacher not only to post on his blog daily, but to plan and execute complex, long-term series exploring such extensive subjects as purity and defilement, religious experience, and the theology of Calvin and Hobbes. Though I regret not getting to know Richard while in Abilene, it's been wonderful sharing various conversations back and forth since moving to Atlanta.

Faith and Theology — Ben Myers' blog is the premier theological entry in the genre for good reason. His easygoing, facilitator style creates space for conversation and cross-pollination, serving as an exemplary model for the medium, while his excerpts from papers and forays into constructive work are exceptional. Not that he needs one from anyone, much less me, but F&T comes with the highest recommendation.

The Fire and the Rose — David Congdon, PhD student of systematics up at Princeton, doesn't blog a lot anymore; but when he does, it's worth reading.

God's Politics — Though the flurry of posts bears weeding through, and I continue to have my worries that Jim Wallis has become a soft spokesman for the Obama administration (and/or thinks first in terms of "values" and "the global context" and not "the church"), there is still a great deal of penetrating thought and extraordinary work being done by, at, and through the Sojourners folks.

Inhabitatio Dei — Halden's blog is a warehouse of sincere ecclesial concern, rich theological depth, unyielding rhetoric, and constant cultural criticism. As it stands Halden is the regnant gadfly of the theological blogosphere, and even when exaggerating or targeting someone or something he deems blasphemous, his posts not only ensure you know where you stand, but the force of his arguments demands careful attention to one's own and clarifies the importance of the witness of the church in America. In other words, essential reading.

James K.A. Smith — Though I've been exposed to Dr. Smith's work in myriad ways, I haven't had the opportunity to sit down and read a book of his start to finish -- a lack I hope to remedy soon -- but it has been enjoyable to be able to read him in short bursts online. (And it is an overwhelming challenge to realize just how much out of his discipline, including fiction and poetry, he reads!)

Joshua Case — Josh is a fellow MDiv student at Candler, and I enjoy telling him that he is wrong on a regular basis. He is also an immensely talented thinker, writer, networker, dreamer, speaker, minister, and podcaster. Universities and seminaries prove their worth by creating space for people like Josh and I to argue matters out, at the very least with respect, hopefully in love. That has certainly been the case for us, and I'm glad to know the kind of work Josh is doing is being done by the kind of person Josh is.

Michael Gorman — Sitting in Austin's airport last January, I discovered to my surprise and delight that Michael Gorman -- the Michael Gorman, eminent New Testament scholar and hero of my brother Garrett -- had added me to his blogroll. I quickly returned the favor, not simply as thanks, but because I had long been reading Gorman's work (both on and offline) and continue to appreciate his various emphases in reading Paul, admiring his position vis-a-vis the interlaced Hays-Wright-LTJ schools of thought. It is a strange, and if anything a cool academic/ecclesial world we inhabit, where scholars like Gorman take up blogging. Hopefully others continue to follow suit.

Narrative and Ontology — Philip Sumpter is an Old Testament PhD student in Germany with a perpetual flow creative engagement of texts, the Psalms in particular, as well as what seems like a wholesale intimacy with the work of Brevard Childs. Good stuff here.

Paul J. Griffiths — Clearly the most erudite and learned spare-time blogger I am aware of, Griffiths' every-so-often posts -- on Catholicism, on Augustine, on literature, on politics -- are simply extraordinary fair.

Per Crucem ad Lucem — Jason Goroncy seems to me the most disciplined and unique blogger on offer: an Australian Presbyterian minister and theologian, with expertise in P.T. Forsyth and interests in cooking, the arts, and more. I enjoy especially his "Monthly Bests" that update us on his reading, watching, listening, eating forays. Fun, different, and always something new.

Peter Leithart — Leithart's attention to the text and -- not here a contradiction! -- theological readings thereof are unparalleled, and the quick shots across the bow that constitute his postings are concise, direct, and always on point. How are we so lucky that such a man blogs on a near daily basis?

Preacher Mike — Mike Cope was the preacher at Highland Church of Christ in Abilene for nearly two decades before leaving the position last summer. I had the privilege of being a member at Highland from 2004 to 2008, as well as both being a student in a class taught my Mike at ACU and taking a graduate course with Mike as a fellow student. Though God has graciously not called me to the pulpit, Mike Cope proved to me simply through the patient gracefulness of his own preaching that the proclaimed word continues to have power to shape God's people over time. My own understanding -- and understanding is surely too weak a word -- of Scripture, proclamation, women's roles, new creation, and the mission of the church are all profoundly grounded in four sustained years of attending to the weekly voice of Highland's pulpit. That Mike is no longer regularly preaching only means his other work, which most certainly includes his blog, has more attention.

Rain and the Rhinoceros — Another excellent blogger who only resurfaces from time to time, Ry Siggelkow (no less fake-sounding than his actual pseudonym, R.O. Flyer) does great work and always commands attention when he posts.

Seeking First The Kingdom — It has been an odd and unique pleasure to have come to know Jimmy McCarty first by way of reading one another, and then in person, and now in friendship. I first read him on Sojourners more than a year and a half ago; we learned of one another's blogs by way of our respective engagements with torture and with the homeless; then we discovered we each belonged to that strange American tradition called the churches of Christ. Jimmy finished his M.A. at Claremont last May, then moved here to Atlanta to begin his PhD in Religious Ethics at Emory. He and his wife now attend our church and belong to our small group, and it has been a happy accident of circumstance for our paths to converge in this way.

As for his blog, though I continue to be a faithful subscriber, unfortunately since doctoral work began Jimmy hasn't been able to write as often as before. I still encourage anyone interested to check him out, as he is an astute and contrarian observer of those forms of life reflective, as well as negating, of Jesus of Nazareth. Plus, I tell him just about every time I see him that he's got to start blogging again!

Theology Forum — This one is run by Kent Eilers, Kyle Strobel, and Steve Duby, and from what I can tell, attends to various theological topics from a decidedly Reformed/Protestant perspective. There have been some rich discussions here recently, and I always enjoy seeing a new post up, as I know I will inevitably be learning something new.

Theopolitical — Davey Henreckson, PhD student at Notre Dame, keeps things straightforward and on topic: intersections between theology, political theory, and historical practice, usually in the form of reviewing or walking through important books, never without personal or constructive comment. This is an area of which I am supremely ignorant but in which I am extremely interested, so Davey's blog is an indispensable resource.

Vita Brevis — I came to John Penniman's blog by way of Evan's link to his unbelievably helpful guide to applying to PhD programs -- which, I will have you know, I printed out and read twice over, with liberal underlining and highlighting. (It is my field guide for this fall's descent into application hell.) Since then I've come to realize that I barely missed John here at Candler (he left a year ago for Fordham), and have come readily to enjoy his entries in historical theology, particularly of late regarding the evolution of Roman primacy in relation to the Catholic Church's recent troubles.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Christopher Hitchens on the King James Bible

For all his calculated attacks, misplaced facts, overwrought rhetoric, unswerving dogmatism, and unappetizing politics, I rarely miss a chance to read Christopher Hitchens. For a wonderful instance of all the above in full force (and so marked by a characteristically compulsive readability), see his recent article for Vanity Fair on the anniversary and history of the King James Bible.

I'm interested to know which historical facts (if any) he has wrong; but more, I'm intrigued by the questions he raises for biblical scholarship and modern translation practices. What do we lose when we trade literary beauty (and so rhetorical power and lasting impact) for the simplicity of a lowest common denominator readership?