Carolyn and I have enjoyed listening to the pod-cast of grist.com over breakfast lately. It is a weekly roundup of conservation-focused stories from around the world, encapsulated in about 10 minutes, and often with a humorous twist. It can be found, and downloaded: here.
“The human being’s likeness to God is a theological term before it becomes an anthropological one. It first of all says something about the God who creates his image for himself, and who enters into a particular relationship with that image, before it says anything about the human being who is created in this form. Likeness to God means God’s relationship to human beings first of all, and only then, and as a consequence of that, the human being’s relationship to God.”
Which means, of course, that it is something revealed rather than something possessed. It is not something found by introspection, but likeness discovered in the context of a relationship. This also means that it is foremost a responsibility rather than an entitlement.
“Likeness to God is both gift and charge, indicative and imperative. It is charge and hope, imperative and promise.”
Moltmann, God in Creation trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 220, 227.
Robert Jenson’s On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions  is, at 86 pages, a deceptively short book for the depth it contains. Yet even given the density of its insight, the text itself is not laboriously terse or overwrought. The concept of the book is simple: take six concepts concerning human experience about which thought is notoriously contradictory, intractably ambiguous, or frought with persistent dispute, and consider each by transporting the conversation from one that is thought “in” the human experience, to one that is thought outside being-human. The outside perspective from which these concepts receive critical light is, time and again, that of the relation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as one God.
After this introduction, the volume’s subtitle is strikingly ambitious, if not arrogant, but Jenson does not shy from the task of “resolving.” And in this, Jenson hopes to be no less arrogant than the New Testament itself (85), which is to say sufficiently confident to assert his belief that the universe can only “be thought” coherently in obedience to the Trinity. Indeed, by the denouement of each of the six chapters he has worked his way to a resolution. I am reading Robert Jenson for the first time, and am enormously impressed. It may be naïvely provincial affection for a fellow Lutheran with Barthian sensibilities, but both his statements of the “difficult notions” and his “resolutions” are strikingly elegant.
Continue reading “review :: robert jenson on six difficult notions”
In God, therefore, that reality is known and reality is loved are aspects of the one fact of the triune intersubjectivity….We, to be sure, are not God and do not create what we know and love by our knowing or loving it. Thus we do seem to some extent able to be indifferent to something we know, and to be ignorant of something we love. But this “ability” is a character of fallen humanity, and it is our attempt to act on it that posits the gulf between our knowing and what we know, which modernity has otiosely labored to bridge…
There is, as we learned from [Jonathan] Edwards, no “substance” to creatures but God’s grasp of them, whether we think of that grasp as his loving or his knowing. If creatures existed in any way independently of God’s grip on them, they could perhaps be grasped otherwise than as God does it. But as it is, if others than God are to know or love creatures, those others must act in some analogy to the way in which God does this. Thus any attempt to know a creature disinterestedly can at best be only a temporary tactic, such as that for the moment adopted by the sciences, and at worst and more likely a sinful objectification. And any attempt to love a creature ignorantly can at best be only amusing play, and at worst and more likely sinful egotism.
Robert W. Jenson, On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 54-55.
…that is…if any of them are still applying…I thought I’d share a few of the helpful things I have come across in the last few months as I’ve been gradually assembling Ph.D. applications. These websites vary widely in nature and repute; scroll to the bottom for a grain of salt to take with you as you follow these links. Some are specific to Theology, some are directed toward people interested in Philosophy, English, or even Psychology, but all have at least one bit of advice that struck me as useful.
If I come across anything else that is stellar, I’ll add it to the list.
Continue reading “applying to ph.d. programs in theology :: words for the wise(?)”
The problem of intense and irrational suffering in a world that Christians proclaim as the object of God’s love is a problem that can never be thought through, only thought around. It is a dark mystery which stands as a stumbling block, a choking pain, a stunning blow, to faith, to love, to hope. Yet it never need be a fatal fall.The Christian answer can never be one that has fully thought through the problem of suffering because no human answer survives the complexity of suffering and death, all of them fall to the side. Job’s questions are only answered with a jarringly profound statement of God’s presence. His suffering is not answered, but accompanied in a way that elicits wonder and worship. For Job, that is enough.The Christian answer can never be one that has fully thought through the problem of suffering any more than one can think oneself through the cross of Christ. At the point of God’s death among us, all human answers simply fail. Here is God’s confrontation with suffering and death at the center of the world (which is to say both nowhere and everywhere). We cannot think through this event because it is either our own death or or our own doing. Either way, the cross is the terminus of human thought about suffering. Continue reading “the impossibility of thinking suffering through”
“Now, as it happens, theology is actually a pitilessly demanding discipline concerning an immense, profoundly sophisticated legacy of hermeneutics, dialectics, and logic; it deals in minute detail with a vast variety of concrete historical data; over the centuries, it has incubated speculative systems of extraordinary rigor and intricacy, many of whose questions and methods continue to inform contemporary philosophy; and it does, when all is said and done, constitute the single intellectual, moral, spiritual, and cultural tradition uniting the classical, medieval, and early modern worlds. Even if one entirely avoids considering what metaphysical content one should attach to the word “God,” one can still plausibly argue that theology is no more lacking in a substantial field of inquiry than are history, philosophy, the study of literature, or any of the other genuinely respectable university disciplines.
Moreover, theology requires far greater scholarly range. The properly trained Christian theologian should be a proficient linguist, with a mastery of several ancient and modern tongues, should have formation in the subtleties of the whole Christian dogmatic tradition, should possess a considerable knowledge of the liturgies, texts, and arguments produced in every period of the Church, should be a good historian, should have a thorough philosophical training, should possess considerable knowledge of the fine arts, should have an intelligent interest in such areas as law or economics, and so on. This is not to say that one cannot practice theology without all these attainments, but such an education remains the scholarly ideal of the guild”
James R. Stoner Jr., Stanley Hauerwas, Paul J. Griffiths, David B. Hart, “Theology as Knowledge,” First Things (May, 2006).
Father Stephen wrote a challenging essay on what he calls the “myth” of reformation–including the poignant quip, “Semper Reformanda is not Scripture, it’s just modernism with a Latin motto.” He urges humility in our relationship to the church, and offers a reminder that we do not save the church, the church saves us. Plenty to think about, even if one would like to argue.
Avery Cardinal Dulles has an excellent article in First Things, available online, which gives a brief history of growing Roman Catholic openness toward Darwinian evolution, a typology of three coherent Christian positions on evolution, and a call for dogmatic anti-theists to interact with theologians better versed than the straw-man portrayals of faith that they lampoon.
The serpent’s first question to Eve is an attempt to get under her skin, fomenting second thoughts about God’s gift and command. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The serpent calls the content of God’s speech into question by twisting the command and putting a harsher edict in its place. Eve is sharp enough to set that twisted serpent straight–for the most part. “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say…”
The story is centered on controversy among God’s creatures as to what God actually said, and what was meant when he said it. The snake and the human bring different versions of God’s command–and different gods. The god of the serpent is a restrictive fellow who hoards all the garden’s fruit to himself (even though there is plenty to go around) and threatens transgressors with death (even though he doesn’t really mean it). Adam and Eve have another God’s breath in their veins; they know his generosity and his character, but in their naivete they act on the serpent’s sermon and fall into the serpent’s world. Adam and Eve claim the fruit for themselves, and awake to find themselves shamefully bent. This story is our story.
This post, however, is not about Adam and Eve per se. I want to look at a few other Old Testament representations of God’s speech, and eventually raise a few questions about the nature of revelation, inspiration, and our relationship to scripture.
Continue reading “did god really say? :: from adam’s apple to achan’s stones [part one]”
Twelve Angry Men has an excellent two-part post on anti-evangelical bias in academia.
Ryan at Rumblings began to think out loud about a neo-Nietzschean book about religion and deception by the intriguingly named Loyal Rue.
Faith and Theology, in addition to generously posting my bit on Bonhoeffer and Barth, had a great discussion about the relationship between God, the world, and scientific inquiry.
Per Caritatem’s Cynthia Nielsen began a helpful dialogue on Scotus and the idea of perfection.
C.S. Lewis makes several impassioned pleas for the universality of moral instinct in his writings. I’m most familiar with his appeal to the sense of “fairness” in an argument for God’s existence in Mere Christianity, along with his defence of what he calls the “Tao” in The Abolition of Man. At any rate, in both locations, Lewis is appealing to something like conscience or intuition as the ground of ethics. Ethics are built-in. Right and wrong find their foundation in some innate sense within us. That sense is God’s gift, and is ultimately grounded in God’s own moral character.
Of course, acknowledging the lingering wastes of sin in humanity, Lewis argues that our consciences, as well as our inclination to listen to them, are “bent.” We are not whole and healthy, but twisted and shadowy representations of what we were meant to be.
Working on Bonhoeffer’s moral epistemology, it struck me how different the picture that he describes is. For Bonhoeffer, conscience is only the voice of self-defence. Conscience is the tool by which we usurp God’s judgment, and employ it against ourselves and others. With our consciences–our personal knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3)–we alternately declare ourselves righteous and then cast ourselves on to the dung pile. Either way, this is an attempt to shield ourselves from God’s voice rather than God’s voice itself. The natural knowledge of good and evil, is nothing less than captivity to death in Bonhoeffer’s estimation. Continue reading “where do we stand? :: Bonhoeffer and Lewis on ethical ground”
Reading Jurgen Moltmann’s, God in Creation I came across another way (probably a better way) of saying what I was trying to get at the other day. Once we have a sense of our independence from the world around us, we have a proclivity to wield that independence over our surroundings in relationships of control and domination.
Creation is bigger than nature.
By “nature” we can signify all that is subject to scientific study and, on some level, to human control. The concept of nature is strongly tied to “natural law” so that nature is everything that follows predictable patterns of behavior. Over the last few century’s “nature” has expanded to include not only physical laws like gravity, but (viaDarwin and friends) biological development and behavior. The development of psychology aims to incorporate the human mind into nature as well–the “experimental” and “philosophical” branches attempting to account for the neurological (objective) and existential (subjective) aspects of the mind, respectively. Continue reading “creation is bigger than nature”