Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Scouring Old Posts, and Don McLaughlin Appears

I was perusing old posts on my Africa and Russia blogs for CV purposes and came across this from nearly four years ago:
We are currently in the middle of Lectureship at ACU, as for the first time it is in September instead of February, and it has been incredible so far. This morning I finished the third part of two different series, one led by Don McLaughlin on fostering development of multicultural churches, and the other a dialogue among panelists about the relationship between the church and government called "Pledging Allegiance." I highly recommend both series to anyone interested in ordering the recordings online (I think they are available on ACU's website).

One small (though remarkable) point worth mentioning from Don McLaughlin's class. He started us in Revelation 7, where the great multitude of God's people -- "from every nation, tribe, people and language" -- are gathered together in heaven in worship of God. He then brought us to Matthew 6, where in the Lord's prayer Jesus models for us to pray for God's kingdom to come "on earth as it is in heaven." Don made the point that if we take God seriously, the vision of heaven is for all people from all places to be united in worship of Him, and that if we take seriously Jesus' command to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth, then our first priority should be the destruction of barriers that previously separated us before Christ. Meaning, unity within the church between those normally segregated by external factors -- such as race, class, gender, socioeconomic status, nationality, denomination, political party, petty doctrine disagreement -- is a supreme priority for God, and if we choose to ignore it, or shy away because "it's hard," we are disobeying a direct command from God. Put another way, remaining docile and complacent about the homogeneity within our churches is disobedience to the One we claim to follow. "Unity where unity is unlikely shows that God is really in it." If we remain in churches with people with whom we would normally be anyway, what testimony is that to God? How can the love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope of God preside in a place where it goes unneeded? The cross of Christ shines brightest in places where there is no other explanation than that the power of God is alive and empowering a community to live with and love one another.
Little did I know that four summers following, I would be interning under the man. If I weren't so hesitant about saying such things, I might even call it providential.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Drew McWeeny on the Travesty of Eclipse, the Latest in the Twilight Series

I don't reference or link to him much, but Drew McWeeny over at (and formerly of Ain't It Cool News) is one of my favorite writers and commentators on film, and his review of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is not only vintage McWeeny, it's required reading as cultural reflection on the impact and import of these books and movies, particularly on young girls. Here's some selected parts, but be sure to read the whole thing:

Here's where I have a problem. I don't care if [Edward and Bella] get married or not, because in this film, "get married" is just code for "now we can do it." Their marriage isn't about building something together or creating a family. Their marriage isn't about time they've spent together and time they want to spend together. It's all hormonal. It's all impulse. Bella Swan is defined as a character purely by who she wants to sleep with, and I don't care if she actually consummates the act or not. This movie is driven from start to finish by the real estate between her legs, and if that sounds blunt or harsh, good. I want it to sound ugly, because I think it is ugly. Deeply ugly. She's the weakest, most dependent lead in a film that I can imagine. There is nothing interesting about Bella aside from her desire for these two boys. It is a narcissistic teenage fantasy taken to a disturbing depth. Nothing in the world of these movies matters beyond the resolution of whether or not Bella is going to bone Edward. And when. And how. And whether she's going to bone Jacob as well.

There is talk of love, but there is nothing like love in these movies. These are not stories about love. They are stories about infatuation, temporary teenage madness. And, hey, man... I may be ancient at this point, but I remember what it's like when you're a teenager and everything feels so important, and I've seen films that get that frenzy just right and they still manage to feature real character work and stories that are interesting and actual events. You can make a great movie about the rush of teenage love. You can use it as a backdrop for all sorts of stories. But for that to be the thing that holds us as an audience, we have to believe that there's something behind it. I have yet to see anything in any of these movies that would connect these characters beyond narrative convenience.

Bella doesn't love these men because of things they have done together. Instead, everything they do together is because they "love" Bella. It's a pissing contest. And both of the guys are just as poorly defined and as grotesque as Bella in what they represent. Edward is her "dream man," and as depicted in the films, he's basically a control freak who treats her like an object to possess. He lies to her. He manipulates her. He is unable to tolerate her interacting with anyone else. Ladies... if you have a chance to marry a man who acts like Edward while you're dating, do it. And then you can look forward to broken bones and mysterious bruises and a slow and methodical separation from friends and family until you exist only for him. Which is obviously what you're looking for, right? Ooooh, romantic.

[. . .]

I love women. I love all sorts of women. And because I love real women, actual flesh and blood human being that happen to have a slightly different arrangement of chromosomes than I do, I despise these movies. I hate them for what they offer up as a value system. I hate them because there are girls who mistake their own chemical response to the male leads in the movie as an actual affection for the story that's being told. They invest on the surface level, and in the meantime, there is this poisonous cancer, this vile insidious message that's being sold to them underneath. I hate these movies because they tell girls that this is their value in the world. Who you bang defines you. You are worth your vagina and nothing more. You are who your man is. That is all.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Jenson's One-Sentence Summary of the Eschaton

"Perhaps one may in almost unintelligible summary speak of an infinite implosion of love, of a created community pressed and agitated into perfect mutuality by the surrounding life of the triune God."

--Robert W. Jenson, "Eschatology," in The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology (ed. Peter Scott William T. Cavanaugh; London: Blackwell, 2004), 407

Sounds about right to me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On the Trees I've Killed for Robert Jenson, With an Updated Bibliography Beyond 1999

The thesis work goes on. Unexpectedly, I found myself a bit slogged in Yoder over the past couple weeks -- not, I think, because I didn't like what I was reading or how it was written, but because, rather than painting an expanded and clarified canvas of the breadth of his thought, I realized it was all bleeding together. Hence taking time for McClendon -- who, as I had hoped, does in fact offer a happily Yoderian intersection point with, and way forward from, Jenson (if not, of course, something like a happy medium).

In any case, I am also spending my time continuing to gather all my resources together. This is especially challenging -- though fun -- with Jenson, who is like Hauerwas in his prolificity, yet unlike him in that none of it is gathered up together in one place. Moreover, unlike Yoder, whose death 13 years ago precludes ongoing haphazard article and essay publishing (and in fact has lead to the coalescing and editing in book form works otherwise unavailable outside of Mennonite closets and Duke's bookstore), Jenson continues to publish widely and much -- a complication for the "complete" bibliography in the back of his Festschrift released in 2000.

So I have been busy, in other words; but in the best of ways. It is a joy to see a man in his eightieth year continue, unabated and energized as ever, to write as relentlessly, thoughtfully, skillfully, and entertainingly as Jenson has over the past decade.

In the process, I have made good use of my summer church internship and its (ahem) free copy machine, and therefore many trees have suffered at the hands of Jenson's voluminous writing, in ecologically disastrous concert with the strange unavoidability of some of his most important works. (It is good to see Augsburg and Wipf & Stock, in just the last nine months, reissuing God After God and Visible Words, and A Religion Against Itself, respectively.) In particular, The Knowledge of Things Hoped For seems an essential work for exploring the early contours of Jenson's conception of the theological task -- and the single offering on Amazon is a used copy listed at $160! (Though I should mention that I was able to find the similarly out-of-reach A Large Catechism, only known to me from Ben Myers' brief interaction with it three years ago, through an obscure link -- now dead, but recoverable -- on a random comment thread in a two-year old post by Halden. Now it's shipping my way for exactly $6.80.)

So, I thought I would do two things for fellow Jenson fiends and bibliophile hounds alike. First, to share where I stand in my Jenson queue (i.e., Is it in my hands?), and to offer an updated bibliography -- given that, by personal correspondence, Jenson himself says he doesn't keep one updated or ongoing at hand -- of all his works since 1999. By all means, I welcome suggestions, additions, and corrections in what follows.

Books Found and Purchased

A Large Catechism (1991); Alpha and Omega: A Study in the Theology of Karl Barth (1963); America's Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (1988); Canon and Creed (2010); Conversations With Poppi About God: An Eight-Year Old and Her Theologian Grandfather Trade Questions (2006); Essays in Theology of Culture (1995); Ezekiel: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (2009); God After God: The God of the Past and the God of the Future Seen in the Work of Karl Barth (1969); On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions (2003); A Religion Against Itself (1967); Song of Songs: Interpretation Commentary (2005); Story and Promise: A Brief Theology of the Gospel About Jesus (1973); Systematic Theology: Volume 1: The Triune God (1997); Systematic Theology: Volume 2: The Works of God (1999); Unbaptized God: The Basic Flaw in Ecumenical Theology (1992); Visible Words: The Interpretation and Practice of the Christian Sacraments (1978).

Jenson-Published Works Of Whose Jenson-Authored Contents I Have Copies

The Catholicity of the Reformation (1996); Christian Dogmatics (2 vols.; 1984); Church Unity and the Papal Office: An Ecumenical Dialogue on John Paul II's Ut Unim Sint (2001); Either/Or: The Gospel or Neopaganism (1995); The Futurist Option (1970); In One Body Through the Cross: The Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity (2003); Jews and Christians: People of God (2003); The Knowledge of Things Hoped For: The Sense of Theological Discourse (1969); The Last Things: Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Eschatology (2002); Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Writings (1976); Marks of the Body of Christ (1999); Reclaiming the Bible for the Church (1996); Mary, Mother of God (2004); Sin, Death, and the Devil (1999); The Strange New Word of the Gospel: Re-Evangelizing in the Postmodern World (2002); The Two Cities of God: The Church's Responsibility for the Earthly City (1997).

Books To Be Saved For and (Then) Purchased

[None! As of August 23, all present and accounted for.]

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Chronological Bibliography of Robert W. Jenson Beyond 1999

1. Reviews (9 total)
"Barth's Moral Theology: Human Action in Barth's Thought." International Journal of Systematic Theology 2 (2000): 119-121.

"The Trinity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Trinity." Theology Today 57 (2001): 580, 582.

"Ascension and Ecclesia: On the Significance of the Doctrine of the Ascension for Ecclesiology and Christian Cosmology." Princeton Seminary Bulletin 22 (2001): 101-102.

"Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith." Princeton Seminary Bulletin 23 (2002): 243-45.

"On Christian Theology." Pro Ecclesia 11 (2002):367-369. [An interesting review given Williams' status, leadership, and influence over the last decade.]

"Pro Ecclesia: die dogmatische Theologie Peter Brunners." Theologische Literaturzeitung 129 (2004): 60-61.

"The Social God and the Relational Self." Theologische Literaturzeitung 129 (2004): 195.

"The Essence of Christianity." Theology Today 61 (2004): 240-241.

"That They May All Be One: The Call to Unity Today." Theological Studies 67 (2006): 709-710.
2. Articles (36 total)
"The American People." First Things 92 (1999): 12-13.

"Jesus in the Trinity." Pro Ecclesia 8 (1999): 308-318.

"The Hidden and Triune God." International Journal of Systematic Theology 2 (2000): 5-12.

"Can We Have a Story." First Things 101 (2000): 16-17. [I enjoyed this, especially as an acknowledgment of current dominating stories.]

"Second Thoughts About Theologies of Hope." Evangelical Quarterly 72 (2000): 335-346.

"Toward a Christian Theology of Israel." Pro Ecclesia 9 (2000): 43-56. [I assume that this is the same piece printed in the CTI Reflections 3 (2000): 2-21. Someone feel free to correct me, though. Either way, a thoughtful -- though I am not sure quite right -- stab at an important question.]

"Response to Robert Davis Hughes III." Sewanee Theological Review 45 (2001): 72-74.

"What If It Were True?" Neue Zeitschrift für systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 43 (2001): 3-16.

"Avery Cardinal Dulles." Pro Ecclesia 10 (2001): 133-134.

"The Future of the Papacy: A Symposium." First Things 111 (2001): 28-36. [Incidentally, this is the last new piece Jenson published with First Things in the last 10 years. I don't know the whole story, but does this have something to do with the shake-up post-9/11? Am I way off? Anyway, the thoughts and suggestions here are certainly interesting, especially given that Jenson and the current Pope have known each other personally for decades.]

"Joining the Eternal Conversation: John's Prologue and the Language of Worship." Touchstone 14 (2001): 32-37.

"Response to Watson and Hunsinger." Scottish Journal of Theology 55 (2002): 225-232.

"The Bible and the Trinity." Pro Ecclesia 11 (2002): 329-339.

"Creator and Creature." International Journal of Systematic Theology 4 (2002): 216-221. [I probably found this the most confusing, or at least difficult to restate in my own words, essay/idea I have read from Jenson. That's not necessarily a slam, just to see that I had trouble with it.]

"Triune Grace." dialog 41 (2002): 285-293. [Reprinted with slight revisions in the collection The Gift of Grace: The Future of Lutheran Theology. See below.]

"Response to Mark Seifrid, Paul Metzger, and Carl Trueman on Finnish Luther Research." Westminster Theological Journal 65 (2003):245-250. [Given that I haven't read the Finnish Luther research, this was mostly read as an outsider looking in.]

"Christ as Culture 1: Christ as Polity." International Journal of Systematic Theology 5 (2003): 323-329.

"Epiphany." Theology Today 60 (2004): 559. [A poem!]

"Christ as Culture 2: Christ as Art." International Journal of Systematic Theology 6 (2004): 69-76.

"Gunton, Colin E. (1940-2003)." Theology Today 61 (2004): 85.

"Christ as Culture 3: Christ as Drama." International Journal of Systematic Theology 6 (2004): 194-201.

"The Trinity in the Bible." Concordia Theological Quarterly 68 (2004): 195-206.

"A Second Thought About Inspiration." Pro Ecclesia 13 (2004): 393-398. [An extremely generative and stimulating essay about the Old Testament as the church's only "true" Scripture as text.]

"Reading the Body." The New Atlantis 9 (2005): 73-82. [New addition to bibliography on June 30, 2010.]

"Review Essay: David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth." Pro Ecclesia 14 (2005): 235-237. [Ideal for getting a sense of how Jenson construes the limitations and difficulties in Hart's articulation of the Trinity, and therefore the differences between them on the matter.]

"A Statement of Pastoral and Theological Concern: A Response to the Report and Recommendations from the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality." Lutheran Forum 39 (2005): 40-41. [Co-signed/authored with/by about a dozen others.]

"Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses." Theology Today 62 (2006): 533-537.

"On the Doctrine of Atonement." Princeton Seminary Bulletin 27 (2006): 100-108.

"Toward a Theology of Religions." CGST Journal 40 (2006): 69-81.

"Can Holiness Be a Nota Ecclesiae?" Bijdragen, 67 (2006): 245-52.

"God's Time, Our Time: An Interview With Robert W. Jenson." Christian Century 123 (2006): 31-35. [I particularly like his line that pastors ought to be forced to read at least one difficult book per year.]

" Spiritu Sancto." Pro Ecclesia 15 (2006): 100-107.

"A Theological Autobiography to Date." dialog 46 (2007):46-54. [See the Christian Century piece below, too; to be read together.]

"Kristendommen og religionerne." Dansk teologisk tidsskrift 72 (2009): 241-249.

"Neuhaus, Richard John (1936-2009)." Pro Ecclesia 18 (2009): 239-240.

"How the World Lost Its Story." First Things 201 (2010): [pages?]. [Reissued essay from 1993 -- though no less powerful now than then!]

"Reversals: How My Mind Has Changed." Christian Century online, April 20, 2010. [A wonderful and clarifying telling of his story, along with the 2007 dialog piece.]
3. Essays (30 total)
"The End is Music." Pages 161-171 in Edwards in Our Time: Jonathan Edwards and the Shaping of American Religion. Edited by Sang Hyan Lee and Allen C. Guelzo. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.

"Once More Into the Breach: The True Historical Jesus." Pages 120-127 in Theology in the Service of the Church: Essays in Honor of Thomas W. Gillespie. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

"For Us...He Was Made Man." Pages 75-87 in Nicene Christianity: The Future for a New Ecumenism. Edited by Christopher Seitz. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2001.

"What is a Post-Christian?" Pages 21-31 in The Strange New Word of the Gospel: Re-Evangelizing in the Postmodern World. Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

"The Christological Objectivity of History." Pages 62-67 in Story Lines: Chapters on Word, Thought, and Deed Gabriel Fackre. Edited by Skye Fackre Gibson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

"The Great Transformation." Pages 33-42 in The Last Things: Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Eschatology. Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

"With No Qualifications: The Christological Maximalism of the Christian East." Pages 13-22 in Ancient and Postmodern Christianity: Paleo-Orthodoxy in the 21st Century. Edited by Kenneth Tanner and Christopher A. Hall. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

"Luther's Contemporary Theological Significance." Pages 272-288 in The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther. Edited by Donald McKim. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

"How Does Jesus Make a Difference?" Pages 191-205 in Essentials of Christian Theology. Edited by William C. Placher. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. [In many ways a compendium of past expressions of his thought on Jesus, an intriguing introduction to Christology for beginning theology students.]

"Scripture's Authority in the Church." Pages 27-37 in The Art of Reading Scripture. Edited by Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. [This essay is essential reading. I have read and re-read it numerous times just in the past few months. Immensely helpful and extremely applicable for teaching contexts in the church.]

"Toward a Christian Theology of Judaism." Pages 1-13 in Jews and Christians: People of God. Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

"On the Ascension." Pages 331-340 in Loving God With Our Minds: The Pastor as Theologian. Edited by Michael Welker and Cynthia A. Jarvis. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.

"A Space for God." Pages 49-57 in Mary, Mother of God. Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.

"Eschatology." Pages 407-420 in The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology. Edited by Peter Scott and William T. Cavanaugh. London: Blackwell, 2004. [Really enjoyed this one, especially his one-sentence summary of the eschaton, as well as his telling of Israel's political story.]

"Triune Grace." Pages 19-30 in The Gift of Grace: The Future of Lutheran Theology. Edited by Niels Henrik Gregersen, Bo Holm, Ted Peters, and Peter Widmann. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005.

"The Triunity of the Common Good." Pages 333-347 in In Search of the Common Good. Edited by Dennis P. McCann and Patrick D. Miller. New York: T&T Clark, 2005.

"Afterword." Pages 217-220 in Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology. Edited by Paul Louis Metzger. New York: T&T Clark, 2005.

"The Logos Ensarkos and Reason." Pages 78-85 in Reason and the Reasons of Faith. Edited by Paul J. Griffiths and Reinhard Hütter. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005. [Co-written with Colin Gunton, who died unexpectedly before the final session for the group working on these papers.]

"Christ in the Trinity: Communicatio Idiomatum." Pages 61-69 in The Person of Christ. Edited by Stephen R. Holmes and Murray A. Rae. New York: T&T Clark, 2005.

"Christian Civilization." Pages 153-163 in God, Truth, and Witness: Engaging Stanley Hauerwas. Edited by L. Gregory Jones, Reinhard Hütter, and C. Rosalee Velloso Ewell. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005. [This is one of my least favorite of Jenson's writings -- I had hoped for a more substantive engagement with Hauerwas (though I recognize he has done this elsewhere), possibly with Yoder even, and instead it is a somewhat off-putting celebration of "Christian high culture." Not an ugly or "bad" essay, just frustrating, and certainly not a helpful way of construing the Constantinian settlement.]

"Male and Female He Created Them." Pages 175-188 in I Am the Lord Your God: Christian Reflections on the Ten Commandments. Edited by Carl. E. Braaten and Christopher R. Seitz. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

"Versöhnung in Gott." Pages 31-38 in Entzogenheit in Gott. Edited by Markus Mühling and Martin Wendte. Ultrecht: Ars Disputandi, 2005. [Anyone have a digital copy of this one? We don't have a copy of this one in the library.]

"Anima Ecclesiastica." Pages 59-71 in God and Human Dignity. Edited by R. Kendall Soulen and Linda Woodhead. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.

"Is Patriotism a Virtue?" Pages 147-153 in God and Country?: Diverse Perspectives on Christianity and Patriotism. Edited by Michael G. Long and Tracy Wenger Sadd. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007.

"Foreword." Pages x-xii in Praise Seeking Understanding: Reading the Psalms with Augustine by Jason Byassee. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007. [Short but fun; has Jenson authored any other forewords?]

"On the Authorities of Scripture." Pages 53-61 in Engaging Biblical Authority: Perspectives on the Bible as Scripture. Edited by William P. Brown. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007. [Jenson talking about Scripture is always good reading; though this one doesn't contain much that is new, it is nonetheless helpful as re-articulating past positions and ideas.]

"The Strange New World of the Bible." Pages 22-31 in Sharper than a Two-Edged Sword: Preaching, Teaching, and Living the Bible. Edited by Michael Root and James J. Buckley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

"Election and Culture: From Babylon to Jerusalem." Pages 35ish-50ish in Public Theology in Cultural Engagement. Edited by Stephen R. Holmes. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2008. [New addition to bibliography on June 30, 2010.]

"Identity, Jesus, and Exegesis." Pages 43-59 in Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Edited by Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Richard B. Hays. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. [One of the half dozen essays by Jenson that is required reading and that would be first in a new gathered collection of his writings. I love the way Richard Hays used this piece in his contribution to Wheaton's N.T. Wright conference earlier this year.]

"Moses and the Mountain of Knowledge." Pages 223-230 in Crisis, Call, and Leadership in the Abrahamic Traditions. Edited by Peter Ochs and William Stacy Johnson. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009.

"Ipse Pater Non Est Impassibilis." Pages 117-126 in Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering. Edited by James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White, O.P. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. [One of my favorite pieces by Jenson, and enormously helpful -- though still sometimes impenetrably thick -- in comprehending his position on the triune God's "non-impassibility." The last two paragraphs are powerful.]

"America: Transcendentalism to Social Gospel." Pages 339-357 in The Blackwell Companion to Nineteenth-Century Theology. Edited by David Fergusson. London: Blackwell, 2010. [Thanks to John Rasmussen for this addition.]
4. Books (5 authored, 7 edited, 12 total)
Church Unity and the Papal Office: An Ecumenical Dialogue on John Paul II's Ut Unim Sint. Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001. [Jenson doesn't actually have an essay in this collection, so nothing much to comment on here.]

The Strange New Word of the Gospel: Re-Evangelizing in the Postmodern World. Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

The Last Things: Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Eschatology. Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

Jews and Christians: People of God. Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

The Ecumenical Future. Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

In One Body Through the Cross: The Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity. Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. [I enjoyed this, but I was unclear on what the proposal offers in substance for the ecumenical conversation. I would be interested to find responses in the academic and ecclesial communities to which this document was speaking.]

Mary, Mother of God. Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.

Song of Songs. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.

Conversations With Poppi About God: An Eight-Year Old and Her Theologian Grandfather Trade Questions. By Robert W. Jenson and Solveig Lucia Gold. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006. [Rousing, playful, and thoughtful; a happy experiment and something in which more "professional" or "academic" thinkers ought to engage.]

Ezekiel. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2009.

Canon and Creed. Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. [Coming August 23rd, just in time to read before the fall semester begins!]

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

James McClendon on "the moral failure of infant baptism"

"Now where are we in the story? What of the moral status of today's baptism? In the Protestant and Catholic churches of the Constantinian compromise, baptism has become (usually) infant baptism, so that what was the decisive first step of discipleship has been narrowed to a religious mining-claim staked out on the territory of babes in arms. The great Anglican liturgist, Gregory Dix (1901-52), says that liturgically, infant baptism is ' abnormality,' but theologically the 'abnormality' has found a host of defenders and defenses. Christian ethics, however, must acknowledge the moral failure of infant baptism: It is a rite neither responsive on the candidate's part (unless, as one hopes, later on) or responsible on the administrator's. Meanwhile, the churches of the baptist vision have widely responded to the same societal pressures that generated the Constantinian practice, making of the great death-and-resurrection remembering sign a pale cultural symbol, administered to every young child who displays religious feeling (often sincere), and who seeks (as would be normal in childhood's latency period) to emulate admired older persons and to rival other children of the church. So in many baptist churches baptism is still responsive, yet it often fails to be responsible. The recovery of New Testament baptism is surely the business of the whole church, but exactly because of the baptist vision it is in a special sense the unaccomplished business of the sharers of that vision; meanwhile, moral theology must have the courage to tell the truth about the radical sign both to Constantinians and to baptists. ...

"Perhaps a fresh beginning might be made if every church were to teach its people that New Testament baptism was neither a benign welcome to human existence, nor a rite of passage to adolescence, nor a viaticum offering safe conduct to an afterlife, but rather was the commissioning of those who by resurrection light took up the way of Jesus of Nazareth -- the way of the cross -- when they did in fact take it up! If the teaching church dared make that difference known, the learning church, that is, we ourselves, might ask with new meaning: 'What is to prevent my being baptized?' (Acts 8:36)."

--James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Ethics: Systematic Theology: Volume 1 (2d ed.; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 268-69

Monday, June 21, 2010

Gender Conversations Around the Blogosphere

Some really interesting conversations about gender, theology, blogging, male culture, the church, and the academy around the blogs recently:
Nothing profound to offer here (I offered a few thoughts on Brian's post and extensive reactions to Jimmy's), except to say that the conversation is invaluable, and that it is good, at the very least, that it's not just straight white men doing the talking.

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[And in a completely unrelated story, check out Zachary Adam Cohen's superb review-by-way-of-critical-glossary of what he rightfully calls Tarantino's masterpiece, Inglorious Basterds, over at The House Next Door.]

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Rainer Maria Rilke

I've been derelict in my duties posting Sunday Sabbath poems -- not sure why, but there's been an absence for three or four weeks now. Hopefully that should be remedied for the rest of the summer, starting today. The poem below is (I believe) one of Rilke's less well known, and it is translated by Franz Wright in his Ill Lit.

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By Rainer Maria Rilke

Now my anguish is complete. It is unspeakable,
it fills me. I am numb
like the stone's core.
I am hard, and know only one thing:
you grew big --
. . . and grew big,
in order to stand outside
my heart, an agony
bigger than it is capable of.
Now you're lying right across my lap,
now I can no longer give you

Friday, June 18, 2010

Solidarity and Transformation: A Sermon on the Cup of the Lord


God, you are our God.

Earnestly we seek you,
as thirsty people long for water
in a dry and weary land.

God of love,
we long to be embraced by you.

God of justice,
we long to see your kingdom come.

God of power,
we long to see you transform us,
long to see you shape us by your Spirit
into the image of your Son, our Lord.

God of holiness and of suffering,
you who are Other than us,
different than us, better than us,
higher and wider, longer and deeper than us,

we worship and proclaim you also
as One who came near,
as One who took on our flesh,
as One who suffered with us and endured our troubles.

God revealed in Jesus Christ,
we love you,
we long to know you,
we seek to follow after you.

And now, God, to that end
I ask that you would pour through me the gift of preaching
that these old words would speak afresh to us today,
that the word of God
for the people of God
might call forth thanks to you, O God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Cup in the Prophets

Hear this word of the Lord, spoken by Ezekiel to Israel (23:28-35)—and as we go through these next few passages, be listening for the language of “cup” and what it is meant to invoke.
For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am about to deliver you into the hands of those you hate, to those you turned away from in disgust. They will deal with you in hatred and take away everything you have worked for. Your lewdness and promiscuity have brought this on you, because you lusted after the nations and defiled yourself with their idols. You have gone the way of your sister; so I will put her cup into your hand.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

You will drink your sister's cup,
a cup large and deep;
it will bring scorn and derision,
for it holds so much.
You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow,
the cup of ruin and desolation,
the cup of your sister Samaria.
You will drink it and drain it dry
and chew on its pieces—
and you will tear your breasts.
I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord.

Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Since you have forgotten me and thrust me behind your back, you must bear the consequences of your lewdness and prostitution.
So in this passage we hear Ezekiel saying to Israel that, just as Samaria, the kingdom to the north, was disobedient to God’s covenant and therefore punished by exile, so now Israel and Jerusalem will be given over to the same result as a consequence for their disobedience. Now hear this word of the Lord from Jeremiah (25:15-29):
This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: "Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them." So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand and made all the nations to whom he sent me drink it.

[And the Lord said,] "Then tell them, 'This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Drink, get drunk and vomit, and fall to rise no more because of the sword I will send among you.' But if they refuse to take the cup from your hand and drink, tell them, 'This is what the Lord Almighty says: You must drink it! See, I am beginning to bring disaster on the city that bears my Name, and will you indeed go unpunished? You will not go unpunished, for I am calling down a sword on all who live on the earth, declares the Lord Almighty.' "
In this passage we hear the same message, but now extending to all nations—if God is going to punish his people for their disobedience, the nations around Israel that have engaged in just as much evil and violence will be similarly punished, and in the same way.

Now hear this final word of the Lord from Isaiah (51:17-23):
Awake, awake!
Rise up, Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
the cup of his wrath,
you who have drained to its dregs
the goblet that makes people stagger.

These double calamities have come upon you—
who can comfort you?—
ruin and destruction, famine and sword—
who can console you?

Therefore hear this, you afflicted one,
made drunk, but not with wine.
This is what your Sovereign Lord says,
your God, who defends his people:

"See, I have taken out of your hand
the cup that made you stagger;
and from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,
you will never drink again.

I will put it into the hands of your tormentors,
who said to you,
'Fall prostrate that we may walk on you.'
And you made your back like the ground,
like a street to be walked on."
Here in Isaiah we get a different tone—now the punishment has passed, and the prophet’s message is not one of judgment, but of hope: the cup Israel had to drink is now taken from their hands and never to be drank from again.

And we could go on, with examples from Lamentations, Habakkuk, Zechariah, and the Psalms. But by now the point should hopefully be clear enough for us to be able to answer the question: What is the “cup” in these passages, how is it functioning as a metaphor?

The answer seems to be: for the prophets, the cup that God gave Israel to drink was of his judgment and wrath, punishment for their covenant disobedience—and what it resulted in was suffering, exile from the land, and ultimately alienation from God. The nature of this imagery is not necessarily that God is actively “doing” something against Israel, but that God lets Israel’s choices run their course—in Paul’s language, he “hands them over” to the idols they worship or to the nations they trust, lets them “drink” from the cup they’ve already poured themselves. In other words, there is agency in Israel’s alienation from God—it is by their own hand, and even as it happens they are agents, actors, participants, in their own suffering.

So as we’re setting the scene, this is five or six hundred years before Christ, and on the one hand, we know from Scripture that God delivered Israel from exile in Babylon, as a partial fulfillment of his promise in Isaiah that never again would Israel have to drink from this cup.

But on the other hand, even after Israel returned to the land, things were not as they should be—and as a people Israel longed for God to act, once and for all—to redeem Israel, to return to Jerusalem, to fulfill the ancient promises to bless all nations through Abraham.

Jesus’ Formation: Human Being, Prophetic Discourse

It is this situation that Jesus is born into and raised in—of expectation, of remembering, of still-lingering exile and alienation from God. Now remember that Jesus is both God and human—not 50% God and 50% human, like a hybrid—but 100% God, 100% human.

So imagine together what it was like for Jesus to be raised as a child of Israel, as a son of Abraham, in this time of expectation, of hungering for God to act mightily. From his ministry, we can tell that Jesus was most centrally formed by the prophetic tradition, by the language and actions and stories of Israel’s great prophets of old. We see this throughout his life and ministry—like a prophet:
Jesus is called and sent directly by God by with a mission.
He is anointed and filled with the Spirit—at his baptism.
He journeys as a nomad and speaks truth to power unflinchingly.
He announces God’s judgment on injustice and oppression, calling the people to repent, to turn, and to obey God as they once did.
People even mistook him for a prophet, and he had to answer whether he was “the” prophet to come.
In all these ways we must imagine Jesus—the Israelite child, the Jewish teenager, the Hebrew young adult—not being born a kind of omniscient infant, but learning over time the stories and proclamations of Israel’s memory; imagine together Jesus hearing how the prophets talked, what they talked about, and coming to see himself as somehow the one to whom they witnessed and pointed, the one uniquely able to fulfill what they foresaw and prophesied.

The Cup of Solidarity: Cross, Covenant, Communion, Thanksgiving

Now, having heard the language of “cup” in the prophets—as representing judgment, wrath, suffering, exile, what we are calling alienation from God—let us see what Jesus does with it. Keep in mind—Jesus has inherited this tradition, this way of talking about Israel’s alienation from God, and it is also in the imaginations of his brother and sister Israelites. Jesus’ radical reinterpretation of “the cup” comes in three steps—and as the first step, Jesus refers unambiguously to the cross as the cup he will drink.

In Mark 10:35ff, Jesus and his disciples are nearing the end of their journey to Jerusalem, and James and John come to Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Jesus replies, “What do you want me to do for you?” They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” [Listen!] “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

Just a few chapters later in Mark 14:35ff, Jesus is in the garden the night before his crucifixion. “Going a little farther, Jesus fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

And moments later, as told in John’s Gospel (18:10ff), when Jesus is about to be arrested, Peter draws a sword and strikes the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. Jesus commands Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

What has Jesus done here in using the “cup” metaphor for the cross?

It is not mere semantics: Jesus has taken up the prophets’ language of exile, judgment, suffering—of what it means for Israel to be alienated from their God—and said that his mission is to share in that alienation through the cross. Jesus has said, in the well-known language of the prophets, that just as Israel, just as all people, are alienated and distant from God, alone in their suffering, in Christ God has come near to be with them in their suffering and alienation. In Christ God has come near—and in this unimaginable act of divine solidarity with those who are hurting and alone, God himself drinks the cup of the cross.

But that is not all: Jesus takes a second step in his radical reinterpretation of the “cup.” On the night Jesus is betrayed, he shares the Passover meal with his disciples, what we call the Last Supper. Starting in Luke 22:19: And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

So what is the cup now?

The cup of the cross, the cup of God’s solidarity with our suffering and alienation, does not end in Jesus’ death—it is transfigured, transformed by the resurrection, into the new covenant through his blood—into covenant relationship, into membership in God’s people, into salvation and deliverance from sin and death!

The cup of the cross becomes the cup of the new covenant. God’s solidarity with our suffering and alienation through the cross of Christ does not end there, does not remain in the darkness, but emerges into the light of resurrection life, and gathers us out of our exile and exclusion and into the embrace of God’s love, into the transforming power of the Spirit, into the welcoming home of the body of Christ.

The cup of the cross has become for us the cup of the new covenant. Like the covenant God made with Israel after the Exodus, in which a band of slaves became the chosen people of God, this new covenant through the cross of Christ is God’s binding promise to be with us (Emmanuel) and to be our God forever—in other words: God’s new solidarity with us in Christ does not end at the cross, but begins there.

But even this is not all. There is a final step, which we already see hinted in the Last Supper. This meal isn’t a one-time event—it is what Jesus’ disciples over time are to do “in remembrance of me,” in remembrance of Jesus, partaking of the bread and the cup. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? ... You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.”

What then has happened in observing the Lord’s Supper together?

The cup of the cross, which has become the cup of the new covenant, is finally made into the cup of communion. The word Paul uses elsewhere for "thanksgiving" is the word many traditions use to refer to the Lord’s Supper—“thanksgiving” in the original language is “Eucharist.” So the meal is Eucharist—the meal is Thanksgiving. And what do we also call the meal? Koinonia, fellowship—communion.

So together we sit at the Lord’s table, we partake of the body and blood given to us, as the cup of God’s solidarity with us through the cross, as also the cup of the new covenant through his blood shed on the cross, and finally as the cup of communion and thanksgiving, having been reconciled, both to God and to one another, and made one people through Christ and by the Spirit. This is the work of God in Christ. Amen!

God’s Missionary Solidarity and Power for Transformation

In light of our emphasis this summer on mission, this work tells us something about God. In particular, this exploration of the imagery of “cup” in Scripture, and how it is changed in and by Jesus, tells us about God’s missionary solidarity and power for transformation. For in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God has come near and shared in our lot, in our portion, in our cup of alienation and suffering and loneliness.

And it is not that God has to “fix” something in himself to be reconciled to us—in a sense it is not even that he must “fix” something in us to be reconciled to him—it is God’s work itself that is our reconciliation. In taking on our flesh and sharing our lot in life, through the mystery of the cross and resurrection, God acts once and for all to reconcile us both to himself and to one another—neither of which we could have done on our own.

And the point, the good news of it all, is that God has already done it—this is not an achievement we must work toward, but a gift to receive: we have been reconciled through the cross of Christ, we who once were enemies of God—and we are now a people and a family, given peace in the Spirit.

And as we have seen, the way God does this is through solidarity and suffering—God drinks from our cup, but he refuses to leave it there, and he transforms our cup of alienation, disconnection, and darkness into the cup of covenant family, of communion, of thanksgiving.

This is God’s missionary solidarity because it is God taking the initiative, God coming near, God sending his Son, God sending his Spirit, God redeeming us when we were lost.

This is God’s power for transformation because he takes up our mess, our lostness, our darkness, our suffering and, through that solidarity, transforms it by the power of his redeeming love—into family, into belonging, into fellowship.

Transformation Today: Experiences, Hopes, Fears

So here is the question for all of us today: What is your cup of suffering? What is your cup of alienation, of loneliness, of darkness, of disconnection? What is it in your life that has created or continues to create distance between you and the love of God?

On the one hand, this is about memory: How has God acted in your life to transform your suffering into belonging, into communion, into thanksgiving? What, as we have said this year, is your active witness to God’s power in your life?

On the other hand, this is also about faith: Can you believe that God is able to take up whatever it is that has brought you low in life and transform it into something beautiful? Can you believe that whatever your lot, whatever your cup—that you are not alone, that you are not abandoned? Can you believe that the God who created the universe has come near in love, that he refuses to leave you to your own devices? Can you believe that whatever you have done, whatever you have seen, whatever has been done to you—that God’s power of love to transform is inexhaustible, without limit, and without condition?

That’s the gospel; that’s the good news of Jesus; and it is an invitation to all—and which leads us, finally, to mission.

Solidarity Today: Mission and Communion With, To, and For Others

An important clarification: this transformative power of God is not the change-over from “bad stuff” to “prosperity”—this is not (repeat, not) the health and wealth gospel. Rather, the gospel is the word of the cross—that in Christ God redeems us by the cross but also calls us to take up our own crosses and follow after him.

Therefore the character of God’s cross-shaped transformation is this: Not that there will not be suffering—but that suffering does not have the final word. The good news then is not immediate escape from life’s difficulties, but instead that abundant life in Christ is found through giving of ourselves on behalf of others.

What is the mission then?

The mission is to be in the world as Jesus was. To be the few called to sacrifice and servanthood on behalf of the many. To go to others, with Jesus, and to share their suffering with them, imitating God’s solidarity with us, by bearing one another’s burdens and sharing our lives together. The mission is to share with others the cup of thanksgiving, the fellowship, the forgiveness, the abundance, the reconciliation that God has given us in Christ.

God, always the first and primary missionary, loved us so much that he took the initiative to go to the cross. Just so, we take up the cross for others. We do so not to baptize suffering as somehow good in itself, but in the faith that the God who raises the dead is alive and more than able to do what he has promised.

Finally: We are sent into the world to give others eyes to see that their cup, their portion, is never unredeemable in the light of God’s love. We are sent to give a hurting world eyes to see that suffering, alienation, and failure do not have the final word: Jesus Christ, now and forever, is God’s final word on all suffering, all sin, all death—and with him we are more than conquerors.

And so with Psalm 116 we are able to proclaim in joy, in thanks, in hope:
You, O Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

But what shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation—and call on the name of the Lord.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Robert Jenson on Scripture's Exercise of Authority

"To begin, we may recognize that Christian Scripture has no authority outside the church, so that we need not look or argue for it there. As the old Lutherans put it, Scripture's authority is to save, and by salvation they meant only the specific fulfillment proclaimed in the church. Indeed, the documents assembled as Scripture belong together as one book only because the one church assembled them to serve its one mission to speak the gospel, whether to people in proclamation or to God in prayer. Apart from this purpose, there is no reason whatsoever for these particular documents of ancient Near Eastern religion to be under one cover. When academic study abstracts from this churchly purpose, the Bible quickly falls to pieces: on the one hand, into 'Hebrew Scripture,' and on the other hand, into a miscellaneous pile of evidences for Christian origins that can be added to or subtracted from at the whim of the scholar.

"We may next pick up the possibility opened by [Johann] Musäus, doubtless pushing beyond anything he would have countenanced. Mere observation of the church's life must discover that as Scripture tells the story of God and ourselves, it acquires many different roles in the church's life, all of which can come under Musäus's rubric of Scripture's free power to evoke faith. It is especially the Old Testament, with its rich language and stories, that acquires these roles, since it most clearly represents the Word of God's antecedence to the church.

"Scripture, thus, exercises authority to create faith when we pray the psalms and other prayers of Scripture or make new prayers on their templates. Scripture exercises authority to create faith when a hard text is laid on the preacher and he or she tries to say what it says, successfully or not. Scripture exercises such authority when we simply read or hear it -- regardless of our subjective motivation at the moment. Scripture exercises such authority when our communal rhetoric is formed around its laws and stories -- for example, when a mere reference to 'Gilead' can call up a whole narrative style and morale. Scripture exercises such authority when the rhythms of its prosody determine the rhythms of churchly music. Scripture exercises such authority when its way of talking about politics of sexuality shapes a believing construal of these central features of humanity. Scripture exercises such authority when the plot of the story it tells shapes the plot of our services. And one could go on with this list. In general, we could say that we are open to Scripture's authority to create faith when we intellectually and spiritually hang out with it, on the corner labeled 'church.'

"In the summer of 1963, I and some other then 'younger' theologians were variously occupied in Harvard's libraries, while Cambridge's NAACP was recruiting for what turned out to be the 'I have a dream' march in Washington. We dithered. On the Sunday before the march, at the service most of us attended, the lectionary Gospel was the parable about the son who said, 'I go' and went not, and the son who said, 'I go not' and went. The preacher then mounted the pulpit and simply repeated the address of the sign-up center. That afternoon we marched straight there. This too was scriptural authority in action, to mandate and liberate, or in the Lutheran phrase, to be 'law and gospel.' "

--Robert Jenson, "On the Authorities of Scripture," Engaging Biblical Authority: Perspectives on the Bible as Scripture (edited by William P. Brown; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 58-59

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wendell Berry on Writing and Telling the Truth

Apparently an English/writing teacher wrote to Wendell Berry and asked him what he would say to her students, and got a letter in reply. This is part of what he wrote:
The thought that I keep returning to is this: By taking up the study of writing now, you are assuming consciously, probably for the first time in your lives, a responsibility for our language. What is that responsibility? I think it is to make words mean what they say. It is to keep our language capable of telling the truth.
There is more, though it is (not surprisingly) short. Go read the whole thing, however, because it is certainly worth it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Solidarity and Transformation: Audio Links for Yesterday's Sermon

Here are the links for the sermon I preached yesterday, entitled "Solidarity and Transformation": click here to download the audio file, or click here to stream it. It was a wonderful experience and an enormous blessing, one which I will continue to reflect upon for some time. I'll probably be back in the next couple days with my sermon outline/notes translated into script. Until then, time to rest.

Friday, June 11, 2010

James McClendon on "the fundamental love story of Christian faith"

"The Christian story in its primal form tells of a God who (unlike gods of human fabrication) is the very Ground of Adventure, the Weaver of society's Web, the Holy Source of nature in its concreteness -- the one and only God, who, when time began, began to be God for a world that in its orderly constitution finally came by his will and choice to include also -- ourselves. We human beings, having our natural frame and basis, with our own (it seemed our own) penchant for community, and (it seemed) our own hankerings after adventure, found ourselves before long in trouble. Our very adventurousness led us astray; our drive to cohesion fostered monstrous imperial alternatives to the adventure and the sociality of the Way God had intended; our continuity with nature became an excuse to despise ourselves and whatever was the cause of us. We sin. In his loving concern, God set among us, by every means infinite wisdom could propose, the foundations of a new human society; in his patience he sent messengers to recall the people of his Way to their way; in the first bright glimmers of opportunity he sent -- himself, incognito, sans splendor and fanfare, the Maker amid the things made, the fundamental Web as if a single fiber, the Ground of Adventure risking everything in his adventure. His purpose -- sheer love; his means -- pure faith; his promise -- unquenchable hope. In that love he lived a life of love; by that faith he died a faithful death; from that death he rose to fructify hope for the people of his Way, newly gathered, newly equipped. The rest of the story is still his -- yet it can also be ours, yours.

"That is the fundamental love story of Christian faith, or rather a brief allusion to that story whose telling in full must exhaust all skill and consume all words (see John 21:25). To outsiders the story is sure to count as a myth among myths, but to us it is no myth, but our only way of telling the whole truth."

--James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Ethics: Systematic Theology: Volume 1 (2d ed.; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 152-53

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Commending to You, #7: Garrett East's New Blog, "Quo Vadis, Domine?"

My brother Garrett has posted a number of times here at Resident Theology, and at long last, after many requests and petitions, he has officially joined the theo-blogging world. The blog's name is "Quo Vadis, Domine?" and its URL address includes the words "cruciform mission," both of which being supremely relevant to Garrett's life and convictions: the latter because he and his wife will in three years be journeying with a team to Tabora, Tanzania, for mission work, and the former because his first guest post here was on the central question posed by the Quo Vadis legend.

Garrett just completed his undergraduate degree in Biblical Text at Abilene Christian University in west Texas, and begins his Master of Divinity in the fall semester. He is an enormously generous and charitable mind, a committed disciple, an unpretentious teacher, a passionate evangelist, a voracious reader, an astute interpreter, a wonderful friend, and a faithful brother (in both senses of the word). Upon my return from Africa in the early fall of 2006, this thoughtful American was willing to hear out my newly imbibed proclamations of the gospel of God's peaceable kingdom, and since then we have each been transformed over time both by God's patience with our stubborn Texan preconceptions and predilections, as well as by God's grace in giving each of us the other as constant conversation partner and theological brain-picker. I look forward to my and others' following and engaging Garrett through his blog, sure to be a gift to friend and stranger alike.

And if you want to give him a hard time, just tell him that the meaning of Scripture is not found in authorial intent. You will be right, he will be wrong, and maybe we'll get him to come around one of these days.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Christian Scholars Conference

This past weekend I was in Nashville for the annual Christian Scholars Conference, and it was, like last year's, a fantastic time. I could not be more impressed with David Fleer and the other folks who put it on; as I discussed with different people over the weekend, it's a bit surreal for us Church of Christ mainstays to believe that something this good -- not to mention ecumenical! -- could be the work of Stone-Campbell people. But just because it is, it is that much more important.

It was a blessing to hear speak, to meet, to see again, and most of all to engage as varied scholars and thinkers as Dana Gioia, John Patrick Shanley, Everett Ferguson, Robin Jensen, David Dark, Lee Camp, Rodney Clapp, John Nugent, Richard Beck, Ron Highfield, Mark Powell, James Elkins, Darryl Tippens, Tom Olbricht, Charles Campbell, Will Campbell, John Egerton, Richard Goode, Richard Hughes, Leonard Allen, David Perkins, Craig Detweiler, and, last but not least, Over the Rhine's Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist. And of course, we got to experience the brilliance of TOKENS for a second time.

Over the next few days I plan to offer brief posts about the different sessions I was able to attend; and while I'm not quite sure how I'm going to make it to Malibu for next year's CSC gathering at Pepperdine, I hope these short excerpts create even further interest on the part of scholars and theologians who might otherwise never have imagined attending one of those eerie Church of Christ meetings!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Avatar, God, and the Modern Religious Question

At the turn of the third act of James Cameron's Avatar, Jake Sully brings a dying Grace Augustine to the gathering of the Nav'i at the Tree of Souls to see if Eywa, Pandora's deity, will heal her. Ultimately, Grace's wounds are too great, and she passes away. However, before dying, Grace looks up at Jake Sully and says, "I'm with her, Jake. She's real!"

This line caught my attention the first time I saw the film, and again when I watched it a second time last night. It did so for the same reason: I find myself expecting her to say something different than "She's real" as her final words. And this alternative expectation is, I think, rooted theologically in a clarifying distinction between the kind of world (and god) envisioned by James Cameron, and that narrated by Scripture.

On the one hand, the revelatory fact, the singular answer in death, the hoped-for final unveiling for Grace -- and just so, for Jake Sully as a stand-in both for Cameron and the modern audience -- is that Eywa exists. All the natives, all these archaic callbacks to Native Americans, Aborigines, and a time and a way of life seemingly no longer with us, not only believe that this deity is real, but assume it as a fact of lived experience, and without question place their lives in her hands. And so the universal question for the colonialists, for the enlightened humans, for the modernized Americans: Is this Eywa real?

But this is not and cannot be the Christian posture. It is regrettable that Cameron's question (and answer) is so determinatively reflective of the wider modern ethos, including perhaps especially American Christian ways of talking culturally about God's existence. But Christian faith and hope is not like that (nor, even in the film's terms, are the Nav'i). At the terrible but inevitable moment of death, upon saying, as we pass, that we are with God, the next statement is not the happy realization that Pascal's wager was right. We do not go to death in the anticipation of having our philosophical speculations answered. Rather, Christian hope is, among other things, aesthetic; given relationship, given presence with the One who is the beginning and end of all things, it is entirely the glory of the vision of God that will -- and shall forever -- hold our once death-shadowed gaze.

What shall we then say?

"I am with the Lord, friends. And he is beautiful."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Preaching Matters: Prayer, Boldness, and Faithful Proclamation

At sundry times and in diverse manners, literally around the world, I have accepted the call to preach. I have brought the word to believers beneath tree groves and in mud huts in the villages surrounding Jinja, Uganda; to a hundred or so genocide-orphaned children at Roz Carr's orphanage outside Gisenyi, Rwanda (in the shadow of an active volcano, whose gray ash litters the bare ground); to handfuls of gatherings of young converts to the faith in apartment churches throughout the city of Tomsk, Russia; to fellow undergraduate students and friends in the chapel on the hill of ACU's College of Biblical Studies; and to fellow seminarians in classrooms at the Candler School of Theology.

But I have never actually preached in an American congregational gathering for worship on a Sunday morning.

That changes a week from this Sunday. I preach the second sermon of a three-month series on mission, in particular on the language of "cup" in the prophets, in Jesus' life and work, and in the life of the church. (It's germane and interesting, I promise!) I will be standing before about 1,300 individuals for whom gathering to worship is ordered to and for the proclamation of the word. The man whose shoes I will be filling has preached here for 13 years, and is a sought-after preacher and teacher in churches of Christ. To give you an idea of the kind of trust he has built with the congregation -- and the quality of his sermons -- two days ago, on Memorial Day, he preached for 40 minutes on the work of the Spirit in Acts 1, 2, 8, and 10 in leading the Jerusalem church outside its ethnic and ideological borders to recognize the "all" of the Spirit's giving as truly for all people. This culminated in imagining together what Peter saw in Acts 10: a military, religious, and ethnic enemy in occupation of one's own land, bent to the ground in prayer -- and God willing by his Spirit that Peter come and see in person the truth that with God there is no favoritism, that in fact Christ did die for all, that indeed neither the good news nor the Holy Spirit is kept from any individual or group. The sermon ended in radical and subversive exhortation to cross all boundaries and divisions, "to see the man praying," to answer the call of Jesus to pray blessing for our enemies.

So, it is both an extraordinary gift and a high task to be asked to preach next week. I approach it in fear and trembling, but also, through prayer, in the boldness* with which all proclamation must finally happen, for faithfulness to the word of the gospel and speaking it truthfully is wholly more important than one's petty insecurities or concerns for adulation. May God rid me of all pretension: may he strip me bare of all pride: may he purify me by the fire of his Spirit to be a fool for Christ crucified: may he gives me ears to hear and words to speak the truth of the gospel.

Only the One who is at once Speaker, Spoken, and Subject is able to heed these requests. I look forward with hopeful anticipation to seeing just how he does so, and with what surprise.

*Strangely enough, for all of my serious theological disagreements with him, watching and listening to John Piper preach is the most energizing activity for me in this time of preparation. I could dislike every other word that is coming out of his mouth, and I still find myself awestruck at the utterly clarified purpose and boldness with which he proclaims the word. I invariably find myself wholly forgetful of any and all personal anxieties, and in their place desire only to stand before God's people and speak truthfully and faithfully. That all those called to bring the word were so committed, empowered, fearless, and focused!