The Week That Was

Greenland… oh Greenland…

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Two Theological Tomes

9781451483420bFirst up-  Reading Theologically:

Reading is one of the basic skills a student needs. But reading is not just an activity of the eyes and the brain. Reading Theologically, edited by Eric D. Barreto, brings together eight seminary educators from a variety of backgrounds to explore what it means to be a reader in a seminary context—to read theologically.

Reading theologically involves a specific mindset and posture towards texts and ideas, people and communities alike. Reading theologically is not just about academic skill building but about the formation of a ministerial leader who can engage scholarship critically, interpret Scripture and tradition faithfully, welcome different perspectives, and help lead others to do the same.

9781451464719bAnd then, A Theology of the Third Article: Karl Barth and the Spirit of the Word:

Toward the end of his career, Karl Barth made the provocative statement that perhaps what Schleiermacher was up to was a “theology of the third article” and that he anticipated in the future that a true third-article theology would appear. Many interpreters, of course, took that to indicate not only a change in Barth’s perception of Schleiermacher but also as a self-referential critique. The author investigates this claim, contesting the standard interpretations, and argues for a Barthian pneumatology—a doctrine of the Holy Spirit grounded in the scriptural witness and connected to the vital Christological and dialectical theology found in Barth’s project.


The first volume, Reading Theologically, edited by Eric D. Barreto, is a collection of essays by various thinkers which urges young students (or perhaps better, beginning students in the field of theological studies) to learn to read with a theological mindset.  Each chapter contains the word ‘Reading’ followed by an adverb such as ‘meaningfully’ and ‘digitally’ and ‘generously’ and ‘spiritually’ and more.   This is a handbook of sorts, then, which strives to help students learn how best to absorb theological tomes.  It reminded me, for a number of reasons, of Helmut Thielicke’s ‘A Littler Exercise for young Theologians’ inasmuch as that book too was an attempt to get students to think theologically (and read the same way).  Like Thielicke’s little book, this little book is bigger (and more important) than its slim dimensions might first imply.  Big thoughts do come in small packages and valuable ideas can be communicated in three pages oftentimes better than they can be in 400.

The subtitle of the series of which this book is the first is ‘Foundations for Learning’.  Potential readers will wish to keep that in mind.  This book is meant for beginners.  It is festooned with elementary facts, the nuts and bolts, the basics, of reading with comprehension.  Seasoned readers with years of experience in digesting theological volumes will find themselves saying things like ‘well, yes, of course’ and ‘but who doesn’t know that’?  In short, they will not be ‘blown away’ and since the book is not, by rights, written for them, they shouldn’t expect to be.

On the other hand, the book’s intended audience will be blown away and even astonished at the vistas opened for them if they will take to heart what the contributors to this volume suggest as reading strategy.  They will find themselves saying ‘aha’ and ‘wow’ and ‘I hadn’t thought of that’ and then when they next turn to reading the Bible or reading a Systematic Theology or reading Barth’s essays or Brunner’s superior volumes they will ‘get it’.

Undergrads ought to be required to read this book and if not then Seminary students and Graduate students at University should most certainly be required to read it thoroughly.

The second volume is, unlike the first, not at all intended for theological beginners.  Aaron’s T. Smith’s A Theology of the Third Article, is a complex and in depth exposition of Karl Barth’s lectures on the Gospel of John and selections of the Church Dogmatics.  What Smith does with those sources is offer readers a profoundly impressive explanation of Barth’s teachings concerning the Holy Spirit.

In a nutshell, as he expresses it in the opening pages,


It is no mis-statement to suggest that the remainder of the book is an unpacking of this paragraph.

As magnificent as that unpacking is (down to the very bones of Barth’s pneumatology) and as brilliant as the choice of Barth’s lectures on John’s Gospel (chapter 1, to be exact), there is a problem with the book and it needs to be stated: the decision to utilize transliteration for Greek texts rather than simply using a Greek font.

tta2Every time I review a book which utilizes Hebrew or Greek transliteration rather than actual Hebrew and Greek fonts I complain about this and I suppose I must always.  Here’s why:  If someone reads Greek or Hebrew they won’t and don’t need such transliterations; and if they don’t read Greek or Hebrew, such transliterations are completely meaningless.  Furthermore, whilst in times past the inclusion of a foreign font was a publishing challenge today no challenge exists because fonts can easily be manipulated due to computerized processes.

I am not complaining for no reason.  Such transliterations are totally unnecessary and publishers publishing biblical and theological materials should simply use proper fonts.  Here, then, I mean that we all should take the Reformers call to return Ad Fontes thoroughly literally.

Aside, then, from that issue, this is one magnificent book.  It is not ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ reading and those who engage it will need to bring to bear their full intellect.  If distracted by the annoyance of transliteration, soldier on, and make your way to the goal of the high calling of comprehending far more fully the theology of Barth than you possessed before you began the work.

Both these books- occupying, as they do- opposite ends of the ‘scholarly’ continuum are exceptionally important for very different reasons.  The first is important for beginners and the second is important for the experts.   They do both, though, share one key attribute: they teach.  Nothing more can be asked of any book and many books don’t manage even that.  That Fortress manages to publish so many which do is a work of the Holy Spirit…

Let Me Be Unequivocal

Israel has every right to defend itself against any threat.  Were rockets being dropped in my back yard I would fire interceptors and stop them and then I would welcome any force necessary to make them stop permanently.

Likewise, the Palestinians have every right to their own land without the constant interference of external forces and the constant ‘overkill’ of immediate retaliation against all for the crimes of few.

Hamas is at fault for firing rockets, and Israel is at fault for killing civilians- particularly defenseless women and children.  Both parties must cease and desist hostilities and morality itself insists that they do so.

I am not anti-Israeli for saying this nor pro-Palestinian.  I am a Christian theologian who must publicly insist on the victory of compassion and not the tyranny of arms.  Israelis and Palestinians must, they MUST, beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks- or they will destroy one another.

The Gaza Scorecard

Israeli missiles- over 100 dead.
Hamas rockets- o dead.

From a purely moral point of view, and with an interest only in the ethics of the situation, which is worse- killing more than 100 people or killing no one?

The German Pope v. the Argentinian Pope

Candida Moss starts her latest essay for Politico thusly:

It almost seems a divine referendum on the two living popes: the FIFA World Cup final comes down to a battle of skill between Argentina, home of Pope Francis, and Germany, birthplace of Pope Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.

The world’s press was quick to pick up on the unusual confluence of two living popes—itself a rarity—represented by their national football teams. Memes, cartoons and jokes followed. (My favorite: photo-shopped images of Benedict and Francis in national-team colored skullcaps.) Even though the bookish Benedict has demonstrated no interest in soccer and the Vatican has declared that the match falls after Pope Francis’s bedtime, Argentine fans are adding Pope Francis to their roster.

In some ways the comparison is only natural: Soccer is a slow and largely uneventful back and forth that drags on interminably and often yields no definitive results. Papal politics are even less productive, with change coming on a glacial scale, if at all.

 But this is the World Cup final—there’s got to be a winner at the end.

Francis, ever the diplomat, has vowed to keep his prayers neutral. But if he didn’t, and the World Cup final were a judgment on the relative success of the two popes, how do Francis and Benedict fare in the eyes of the umpire upstairs?

And more.  Enjoy.

And Now Accreditation is a Tool For the Advancement of ‘Gay Rights’

Gordon College’s accrediting agency has put it under review as the Christian institution petitions the federal government to provide it with a religious exemption to a ban on anti-gay discrimination, The Boston Globe reports.

The Massachusetts college has been the target of protest by students, faculty and staff members, and even the town of Salem, Mass., after D. Michael Lindsay, Gordon’s president, issued a statement on Monday defending a letter in which he asked the federal government for an exemption to a forthcoming ban on anti-gay discrimination among federal contractors. Mr. Lindsay joined 13 other religious leaders in signing the letter.

Barbara E. Brittingham, director of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges’ Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, said the accreditor would review whether the college’s stance violates accreditation standards. Members of the commission are scheduled to discuss the controversy at a September meeting.

Whatever your views on the subject of homosexuality, you will have to acknowledge that when accrediting agencies take it upon themselves to use the subject as an issue in academic investigations, something has happened amiss.  Accreditation has nothing to do, really, with education per se.  Rather it has everything to do with control, manipulation, and the exertion of power.

So does any honest soul really think that accreditation is benign and merely concerned with academics?

A Newly Discovered Letter of Martin Luther…

Sort of…

7headedlutherDear Friends,

Many years after my untimely and yet perfect death a young man will arise from the ash-heap of the long rightfully forgotten Zwingli and will revive that horrible man’s life, learning, and spirit.

He will, I prophesy, publish a commentary on the biblical books.  I urge you to abstain from it.  With my prophetic gifts I am assured by our Divine Lord that you can discover the details at this ‘web address’ (although I frankly admit that I have no idea what that may mean).

In spite of what Philip, my formerly beloved friend says, DO NOT  hear him.  You will be blessed immensely. The Lord assures me of that and so in accordance with his will I assure you of it as well.

Most sincerely,

D. M. Luther

Wow.  All I can say is WOW.  What a meanie!!!!!!  Imagine my surprise when I 1) received the letter from a trusted source; and 2) discovered how mean Luther is!!!!  WOW.

Oh Catholics…

Relic-Boston-300x214Roman Catholics in New York City will observe what is a called a veneration of a vial of blood drawn from the late Pope John Paul II this weekend, as others are expressing concern about the idolatry of such practices.

The relic tour was recently announced by the Knights of Columbus, which regularly hosts the vial at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C.

“There was no greater champion of human rights in our lifetime than St. John Paul, who reminded us that those rights begin with religious liberty and the rights of conscience,” said Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “He did this most memorably in the first year of his papacy when he returned to Poland and brought there the hope of freedom, and again when he spoke so clearly on behalf of religious freedom at the U.N. in New York.”

This Saturday and Sunday, the relic will appear at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, where Catholics will be invited to visit the vial following mass both days. Nationally-recognized Cardinal Timothy Dolan will conduct mass for the final service on Sunday. The tour will then move to Philadelphia the following weekend.

Etc.  And you thought there wasn’t any need for the Reformation… today…  As Calvin insightfully put it-

Jean_CalvinAll the writers of a purer age describe the abuse of images among the Gentiles as not differing from what is seen in the world in the present day; and their observations on the subject are not less applicable to our age than to the persons whom they then censured. As to the charge they bring against us, of discarding images as well as the bones and relics of saints, it is easily answered. For none of these things ought to be assessed at more than the brazen serpent, and the reasons for removing them were not less valid than those of Hezekiah for breaking it. It is certain that the idolomania with which the minds of men are now fascinated, cannot be cured otherwise than by removing the material cause of the infatuation.

We have too much experience of the absolute truth of Augustine’s sentiment (Ep. 49): “No man prays or worships looking on an image without being impressed with the idea that it is listening to him.” Similarly (in Psalm 115:4): “Images are more likely to mislead an unhappy soul having a mouth, eyes, ears and feet than to correct it, because they neither speak, nor see, nor hear, nor walk.” Again: “The effect as it were extorted by the external shape is that the soul living in a body thinks a body which it sees so very like its own must be percipient.”

As to the matter of relics, it is almost incredible how impudently the world has been cheated. I can mention three relics of our Saviour’s circumcision; likewise fourteen nails which are exhibited for the three by which he was fixed to the cross; three robes for that seamless one on which the soldiers cast lots; two inscriptions that were placed over the cross; three blades of the spear by which our Saviour’s side was pierced, and about five sets of linen clothes which wrapped his body in the tomb.

Besides they show all the articles used at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and endless absurdities of this kind. There is no saint of any celebrity of whom two or three bodies are not in existence. I can name the place where a piece of pumice-stone was long held in high veneration as the skull of Peter. Decency will not permit me to mention fouler exhibitions.*

*Calvin: Theological Treatises (pp. 190–191).


Abbas Is Spot On

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas went on Palestinisn television Thursday to condemn the ongoing rocket fire from Gaza on Israel, Bloomberg reported.

“What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?” Abbas asked, without mentioning Hamas directly by name. “We prefer to fight with wisdom and politics.”

The comments were the first such condemnation from the Palestinian leader since Israel’s launch of Operation Protective Edge on Monday, during which hundreds of rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israeli communities across the country, and around 100 Palestinians, including dozens of children, have been reported killed in IAF attacks.

It’s time for Hamas to exercise some common sense.  And if they don’t have any, it’s time for the Palestinians to show them the door.  Lobbing rockets doesn’t solve the problem, it escalates it.

Similarly, hurling missiles at Gaza is equally counterproductive, Israel.  Both of you need to stop it right now.  Stop it.

A Newly Discovered Letter of Philip Melanchthon…

melanchthon4Sort of…

Dear Friends,

Many years after my untimely and yet perfectly predestined death a young man will arise from the ash-heap of the too long forgotten Zwingli and will revive that great man’s life, learning, and spirit.

He will, I prophesy, publish a commentary on the biblical books.  I urge you to obtain it.  With my prophetic gifts I am assured by our Divine Lord that you can discover the details at this ‘web address’ (although I frankly admit that I have no idea what that may mean).

This is my beloved friend.  Hear him.  You will be blessed immensely. The Lord assures me of that and so in accordance with his will I assure you of it as well.

Most sincerely,

P. Melanchthon (Schwarzerd)

Wow.  All I can say is WOW.  What an endorsement!!!!!  Imagine my surprise when I 1) received the letter from a trusted source; and 2) clicked the link!!!!  WOW.

It’s That Weekend…

The third place game will be won by Netherlands- now that Brazil is completely demoralized.  And of course the dear Germans will defeat Argentina (with apologies to my buddy Emanuel Pfoh- Argentinian).