Minimalizing Sin: An Observation

Nothing minimalizes the seriousness of sin quite like calling a sinful act a ‘mistake’. A ‘mistake’ is typing dog when you meant to type doggie.

A sin, on the other hand, is a life destroying family ruining relationship shattering concious act of rebellion.

Sins and mistakes are as easily confused as BMW’s and paper airplanes.

Higher Ed And Low Motives

Salon has an excellent, and exceedingly true tale of greed, manipulation, deception, and misrepresentation.  Not from Wall Street but from College Street.

In the midst of a fantastic piece you’ll read

… higher education is the industry that sells tickets to the affluent life. In fact, they are the only ones licensed to do this. Yes, there are many colleges one can choose from—public, private, and for-profit—but collectively they control the one credential that we believe to be of value. Everything about them advertises it. The armorial logos, the Gothic towers, even the names of the great colleges, so redolent of money and privilege and aristocracy: Duke and Princeton and Vanderbilt. If you want to succeed, you must go to them; they are the ones controlling the gate.

What they sell, in other words, is something we believe to be so valuable it is almost impossible to measure. Anyone in her right mind would pay an enormous price for it.

Another fact: This same industry, despite its legal status as a public charity, is today driven by motives indistinguishable from the profit-maximizing entities traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

And this

Grant to an industry control over access to the good things in life; insist that it transform itself into a throat-cutting, market-minded mercenary; get thought leaders to declare it to be the answer to every problem; mute any reservations the nation might have about it—and, lastly, send it your unsuspecting kids, armed with a blank check drawn on their own futures.

Members of administrations might not like these gruesome truths, but that doesn’t make them any less true.  Higher Ed has long ceased to be about Ed, and is simply now about Higher (tuition, prices, promises, lies…)

Examine the whole essay.  And then ask yourself a simple question- why has it come to this?  The answer is painfully simple: greed (by buyers and sellers).

Timothy Eberhart on the Situation at General Theological Seminary

On his FB page Tim writes

In thinking about the abusive, manipulative, and outright bizarre actions of the Dean and President at the General Theological Seminary, as well as the unprofessional and negligent actions of the Board of Trustees, I am aware of how calls and prayers for a “middle way” that “honors all sides” can serve to mask the immoral misuses of power operative in situations like this.

The GTS8 faculty have acted with moral courage, prudence, and fidelity to the highest ideals of progressive Christian theological education. By doing so – in doing what most of us hope we might do in similar situations – they have been unjustly dismissed from their faculty positions. Some of the faculty have young children, are just beginning to pay off school loans acquired in faithful pursuit of their vocations, and now face the prospects of re-entering a brutal job market while simply trying to make ends meet.

Others have served GTS for many years with dignity, are well-respected in their fields, and now confront the possibility of an abrupt end to their dedicated service to students, alums, and the church at an institution and a place they love. I am not praying for a resolution to this situation that honors the racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks made by the Dean and President, that recognizes the legitimacy of a leadership style inimical to Jesus, or that gives credence to the egregious failure of those entrusted to be wise and judicious stewards of the church’s institutions of higher education.

This would be a betrayal of the most faithful traditions of “via media.” I am praying instead that the truth that sets free will be revealed, that sins will be acknowledged, that harms will be redressed, and only then that reconciliation will take place. I am also praying for a future for General Theological Seminary that, precisely because of what is being revealed through this ordeal, allows its faculty, students, alums, and leadership to lead others of us in modeling new forms of theological education that are attentive to the Spirit’s life-giving creativity, shaped by the cruciform ways of Jesus, and hope-filled for the vulnerable world God so loves.

Since I Was Criticized For Doing it the Other Day, I’ll Go Ahead and Do It Again Today

It’s the most exceptional, accessible, stunning, superb, brilliant, unforgettable, useful, attractive, witty, lovely, nifty, spiffy, godly, accurate, helpful, theological, exegetical, and aesthetically pleasing commentary ever written and that will ever be written forever and forever amen and amen.

It’s this one.  Of which Gareth Jones says

I think there are three main reasons why these commentaries are so successful. First, West is a first-class Biblical scholar, one who makes the intelligent critical study of the text central to his theological interpretation. That commitment is rarer than one might imagine and to have it realized across the entire Bible is an astonishing feat that gives us now a unique resource.

Mark Leuchter said

As a Jew with great regard for the role that religious scripture plays in defining various communities of faith and setting them in conversation with each other, West’s commentary proved to be a rewarding and stimulating read, and bodes well for the rest of the volumes in his series as well.

Thomas Bolin remarked

With the verve and occasional sting that regular readers of his blog will recognize, West concisely points out to that person in the pew just exactly how challenging the Bible remains to modern believers, and that even something as seemingly unrelated to the 21st century as 2500 year-old genealogies and group wall-building activities have something to say to those who will listen.

Mike Kok opined

West accomplishes his goal of communicating the basic theological messages of Mark to a lay audience and a small group Bible study or Sunday School class may use his commentary with profit.

Chris Tilling observed

These commentaries are written so that the reader needs no theological education, and West presupposes no ability to read Greek or Hebrew. Anyone can read and understand these.  The result is like going through the biblical texts, with a scholarly pastor, who pauses to make a number of bite-sized observations on the way. And whatever one thinks of those annotations, anyone can follow and digest them. West writes with a heart for the church, and his unique character and love for scripture are obvious in these pages.



The Theological Colloquy at Marburg- Oct 1-4, 1529

The First Day

The work of the Conference began on Friday, the 1st of October, with divine service in the chapel of the castle. Zwingli preached on the providence of God, which he afterwards elaborated into an important treatise, “De Providentia.” It was intended for scholars rather than the people; and Luther found fault with the introduction of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin words into the pulpit. Luther, Bucer, and Osiander preached the morning sermons on the following days; Luther, on his favorite doctrine of justification by faith.

The Landgrave first arranged a private interview between the lions and the lambs; that is, between Luther and Oecolampadius, Zwingli and Melanchthon. The two pairs met after divine service, in separate chambers, and conferred for several hours. The Wittenberg Reformers catechised the Swiss about their views on the Trinity, original sin, and baptism, and were in a measure relieved of their suspicion that they entertained unsound views on these topics. Melanchthon had, a few months before the Conference, written a very respectful letter to Oecolampadius (April 8, 1529), in which he regrets that the “horribilis dissensio de coena Domini” interfered with the enjoyment of their literary and Christian friendship, and states his own view of the eucharist very moderately and clearly to the effect that it was a communion with the present Christ rather than a commemoration of the absent Christ.

In the private conference with Zwingli, against whom he was strongly prejudiced, he is reported to have yielded the main point of dispute, as regards the literal interpretation of “This is my body,” and the literal handing of Christ’s body to his disciples, but added that he gave it to them “in a certain mysterious manner.” When Zwingli urged the ascension as an argument against the local presence, Melanchthon said, “Christ has ascended indeed, but in order to fill all things” (Eph. 4:10).” Truly,” replied Zwingli, “with his power and might, but not with his body.”

During the open debate on the following days, Melanchthon observed a significant silence, though twice asked by Luther to come to his aid when he felt exhausted. He made only a few remarks. He was, however, at that time, of one mind with Luther, and entirely under his power. He was as strongly opposed to an alliance with the Swiss and Strassburgers, influenced in part by political motives, being anxious to secure, if possible, the favor of Charles and Ferdinand.

Luther must have handled Oecolampadius more severely; for the latter, in coming from the conference room, whispered to Zwingli, “I am again in the hands of Dr. Eck” (as at the colloquy in Baden in 1526).*

*History of the Christian church (Vol. 7, pp. 637–638).

Vying for Truth: Theology and the Natural Sciences From the 17th Century to the Present

A subject of some contemporary interest is addressed in a new work from our friends at V&R (and obtainable in America from ISD – till October 15th at a discount if you use  code 273-14).

978-3-525-54028-2The emancipation of the natural sciences from religion was a gradual affair during the last four centuries. Initially many of the leading scientists were churchmen indicating a symbiosis between faith and reason. Due to the increasing specialization in the sciences this close connection came to an end often leading to antagonism and mutual suspicion. This book traces this historical development with its twists and turns in both Europe and North America. It depicts the major players in this story and outlines their specific contributions. The main focus is on the 19th and 20th centuries with figures such as Darwin and Hodge, but also Beecher and Abbott in the 19thcentury. In the 20th century the narrative starts with Karl Barth and moves all the way to Hawking and Tipler. Special attention is given to representatives from North America, Great Britain, and Germany. In conclusion important issues are presented in the present-day dialogue between theology and the natural sciences. The issue of design and fine-tuning is picked up, and advances in brain research. Finally technological issues are assessed and the status of medicine as a helpmate for life is discussed. An informative and thought-provoking book.

Not only does the book sound fascinating, it lives up to expectations to be fascinating.  A glance at the TOC reveals a structure of nine chapters moving from the dawn of the age of science through the 19th century and its various attacks via materialism and evolutionary theory on theological notions and the reaction of theology to that attack.  British empiricism features as the chief interest of chapter three while chapter four investigates North America’s problems with Darwin.

Chapter five is the highlight and here Schwarz demonstrates his acuity most excellently in his exposition of the contributions of persons like Barth, Heim, Torrance, and de Chardin.  Chapter six is in expose of Ian Barbour and in chapter seven the voices of various and sundry modern scientists is proffered.   Chapter eight returns to the theologians most engaged in the science and theology discussion (Pannenberg and Moltmann).

The final chapter, the ninth, summarizes the significance of the dialogue between science and theology, specifically in  the question of creation ‘care’ (my term), brain science, and our shaping of the world as the activity of responsible beings.

The chief issue of the volume is simple- on the surface, and it is this:

… it makes sense … to evaluate the relationship between theology … and the natural sciences to detect how far our trust in these is justified and how they actually relate to each other (p 8).

Few topics are as widely discussed or in need of addressing as that one.  With the seemingly never ending debates about creationism, intelligent design, evolution, etc. as well as claims that science can answer ultimate questions our era is awash in more uncertainty than ever before in recorded history.  Blind faith in religion has been replaced by blind faith in science.  But many are opening their eyes and observing that the emperor of science-ism has no clothes after all and that, in spite of its denials, science has become a de facto religion and its most rabid devotees just as fundamentalistic as any Islamic jihadist.

Schwarz’s volume is a curative to all such extremisms.  Carefully, clearly, concisely, cogently, phase by phase and age by age he describes and discusses the core issues of the most pressing theological subject of our era.  What the great Christological debates were to the early church, the relationship of science to faith is to ours.  Schwarz proves himself to be the finest guide to yet attempt the construction of a map through the perilous land called ‘science and theology’ or ‘theology and science’.

Anyone even remotely interested in or concerned with this subject owe it to their intellectual development to read Schwarz.  Especially those who exalt science to a religion.   It has not always been worshiped as it is in some circles today and eventually it, like theology before it, will be superseded in the affections of the massa perditionis by something far less impressive and far less important.