A Generation of ‘Church Marketers’

Younger clerics think their job is to ‘sell’ the faith. To ‘market it’ so that the ‘word gets out’. That is false. Their job is to live the faith, teach their congregants to do the same, and let the Word and love of God influence lives by the power of the Spirit.  Anything else will never be ‘effective’ because God’s ways are not our ways and Madison Avenue has nothing, absolutely nothing, to teach authentic Christianity.

Seminaries are doing a wretched job teaching theology these days.  Wretched.  Elsewise, Seminary grads would know all of this.

Kenosis: The Self-Emptying of Christ in Scripture and Theology

Seventeen distinguished scholars from the fields of biblical studies, historical theology, and systematic theology engage with the past and present significance of the doctrine of kenosis—Paul’s extraordinary claim in Philippians 2 that Jesus Christ emptied and humbled himself in obedience on his way to death upon the cross.

In the “Christ-hymn” of Philippians 2, the apostle Paul makes a startling claim: that Jesus “emptied himself” in order to fulfill God’s will by dying on the cross. The self-emptying of Christ—theologically explored in the doctrine of kenosis—is a locus within Christology and factors significantly into understandings of the Trinity, anthropology, creation, providence, the church, and even ethics. As such, it has been debated and reflected upon for centuries.

The present volume draws together some of the finest contemporary scholars from across the ecumenical spectrum to expound the doctrine of kenosis—its biblical roots, its historical elaborations, and its contemporary implications. With original essays from John Barclay, Beverly Roberts Gaventa, David Fergusson, Katherine Sonderegger, Thomas Joseph White, and more, this indispensable resource offers an extensive overview of this essential affirmation of Christian faith.

Contributors:

John M. G. Barclay, Matthew J. Aragon Bruce, David Fergusson, Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Kevin W. Hector, Keith L. Johnson, Cambria Kaltwasser, Han-luen Kantzer Komline, Grant Macaskill, John A. McGuckin, Paul T. Nimmo, Georg Pfleiderer, Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer, Hanna Reichel, Christoph Schwöbel, Katherine Sonderegger, and Thomas Joseph White.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Canvas of Kenosis (Paul T. Nimmo and Keith L. Johnson)
1. Kenosis and the Drama of Salvation in Philippians 2 (John M. G. Barclay)
2. Power and Kenosis in Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Beverly Roberts Gaventa)
3. The Vocation of the Son in Colossians and Hebrews (Grant Macaskill)
4. The Divine Name as a Form of Kenosis in Both Biblical Testaments (Rinse H. Reeling Brouwer)
5. Origen of Alexandria on the Kenosis of the Lord (John A. McGuckin)
6. Augustine, Kenosis, and the Person of Christ (Han-luen Kantzer Komline)
7. Cyril of Alexandria and the Sacrifice of Gethsemane (Katherine Sonderegger)
8. Divine Perfection and the Kenosis of the Son (Thomas Joseph White, OP)
9. Kenosis as Condescension in the Theology of Martin Luther (Matthew J. Aragon Bruce)
10. The Revisioning of Kenosis after the Critique of Schleiermacher (Paul T. Nimmo)
11. Kenosis and the Humility of God (David Fergusson)
12. Is There a Kenotic Ethics in the Work of Karl Barth? (Georg Pfleiderer)
13. Kenosis and the Mutuality of God (Cambria Kaltwasser)
14. Kenosis and Divine Continuity (Keith L. Johnson)
15. The Generosity of the Triune God and the Humility of the Son (Christoph Schwöbel)
16. The End of Humanity and the Beginning of Kenosis (Hanna Reichel)
Epilogue: Kenosis as a Spiritual Practice (Kevin W. Hector)
List of Contributors
Indexes

Quote of the Day

We sorrow less over death when we consider that for the godly it is an absolute mortification of the flesh and an end of sinning, and finally that by it a passage is opened for us to eternal life. — Peter Martyr Vermigli

Let’s Face It, People Treat Theology and Biblical Studies Differently Than other Disciplines

Most people act like they know that they aren’t brain surgeons or heart specialists or mathematics professors or organic chemists if they actually aren’t those things.  But when it comes to disciplines like biblical studies and theology (which do indeed have their own requirements and associated skills) it seems that every slack jawed mouth breathing product of generations of incestuous inbreeding feels compelled and even justified in thinking that their opinion on matters biblical and theological is worthy of a hearing and being taken as seriously as the actually skilled and equipped expert scholar.

And we let them get away with it instead of calling them on it and describing their amateurism and ignorance for what it really is- insipidity and that of an invincible sort.

Why do we do this?  To be polite?  No.  It’s because too many of us don’t take our discipline as seriously as it deserves to be taken.  And that’s our fault.  We don’t think accurate theology is as weighty a matter as accurate brain surgery or accurate maths or chemistry.  But just as poison and death are the result of poorly done chemistry so too poison and death are the result of poorly constructed and disseminated theology.

Heresy is death.  And yet many of us sit by on our hands when heresy is spun, saying nothing.  Meanwhile, the heretics are misleading people and doing incredible harm both to the Church and to society.

Theology matters.  Exegesis matters.  If you don’t think so, you should get out of the field and do something else.  You’re doing more harm than good.  Get out.  Get out and leave the field to skilled and equipped persons who take it seriously.

The Scandal of the Mermaid’s Race…

Trevor Noah absolutely nails it.  While people are exploding because of a cartoon character’s race, the gist of the story is utterly ignored (and left uncommented upon).  Talk about missing the forest for the trees…  Outrage culture proves itself blind once again.

The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism

Long before it featured dramatically in the 2016 presidential election, Christian nationalism had sunk deep roots in the United States. From America’s beginning, Christians have often merged their religious faith with national identity. But what is Christian nationalism? How is it different from patriotism? Is it an honest quirk, or something more threatening?

Paul D. Miller, a Christian scholar, political theorist, veteran, and former White House staffer, provides a detailed portrait of—and case against—Christian nationalism. Building on his practical expertise not only in the archives and classroom but also in public service, Miller unravels this ideology’s historical importance, its key tenets, and its political, cultural, and spiritual implications.

Miller shows what’s at stake if we misunderstand the relationship between Christianity and the American nation. Christian nationalism—the religion of American greatness—is an illiberal political theory, at odds with the genius of the American experiment, and could prove devastating to both church and state. Christians must relearn how to love our country without idolizing it and seek a healthier Christian political witness that respects our constitutional ideals and a biblical vision of justice.

There are presently a plethora of books on the topics of Christian nationalism and the Christian (or better, ‘Evangelical’ [whatever that word is supposed to mean anymore- for me it’s just quite empty] and politics.  Or perhaps the Evangelicals and politics and their marriage and mangled offspring.  However one wishes to phrase it, twitter is filled with tweets by folk talking about their books on Jesus and macho society and politics.

This book is different, in a good way.  Rather than simply lambast Conservative Christianity and falsely equate the whole of it with Evangelicalism (whatever that word is supposed to mean; personally when I see someone identify themselves as an Evangelical these days I presume they really mean that they vote Republican and if you don’t, you aren’t a Christian, and that, furthermore, you must support Trump), Miller examines, fairly, judiciously, and intelligently what he calls ‘The Religion of American Greatness’.

Miller discusses at length both patriotism and nationalism; the latter a negative beast whose presence in Christian churches and Christian lives is extraordinarily problematic.  And Miller shows why clearly.  To be sure, the very people who should read this book won’t.  So Miller urges those who do read it to use what it has to say as a basis for civil, compassionate, and encouraging dialogue with those in the bubble of Christian Nationalism.

Miller also discusses identity politics, the Christian right, Trump and Evangelicals, and he even attempts to provide a guide on how to think about nation and gospel.

The strongest parts of the book are those in which Miller provides readers with a sociological explanation of the phenomenon of Christian nationalism.  He is very insightful here.  And very illustrative.

The book is at its weakest, in my estimation, in his chapter on thinking about the nation, the Gospel, and the Creed (Ch 10).  It feels to me like he here is infected a bit by the virus called Manifest Destiny.  This isn’t overt, of course.  He doesn’t anywhere state outright that America is God’s instrument in the world intended to fulfill some sort of divine mission from sea to shining sea.  It’s just a breeze gently wafting through the tops of the branches; invisible, insubstantial, a mere hint.  And yet you still feel it.  Ever so imperceptibly.

Miller hints that the present volume is the first in an intended trilogy.  The next work is planned to be on Christian Progressivism.  And the last planned in the trilogy to be on ‘Christian democracy or Christian republicanism or Augustinian liberalism’.  I hope he succeeds.  I would love to see his exposition of Progressivism.  If he is as thorough at that as he is regarding Christian nationalism, it should be a super book.  The third I may or may not read.

Miller is an excellent and expressive writer.  Take, for instance, this:

We have taken the name of Christ as a moral fig leaf while shilling for the whore of Babylon.

And

… when I spend the rest of this book calling fire on Christian nationalism, I do it as an American patriot and an orthodox Christian- and I do it because of my patriotism and my Christian faith, not despite them.

And multitudes throughout.

There are a lot of books that are important.  This book is significant.  And it is significant precisely because it fully describes a problem and then offers a way forward.  It’s easy to say ‘things are awful’.  It’s much harder to say ‘this thing is awful and here’s how we can move past it’.  Miller does that.

My only sadness, again, is that the very people who most need to read this book won’t.  Those people who hail Trump and attend his rallies and believe his lies and who stormed the Capitol and who, it’s fair to say, would be willing to do anything he ordered them to do- even to the destruction of American Democracy- will never read a page of it.  And they, most of all, should.

But so should you.

Unconditional Love Rightly Defined

Unconditional love does not mean unconditional agreement. And disagreement does not necessarily mean hate. Just ask any parent who has had a disagreement with their child. The disagreement does not lessen the parent’s unconditional love, though the child may feel otherwise at the time. But if we don’t know or demonstrate unconditional love in the context of disagreement, we will probably interpret that disagreement by default as hate, and the hurt as injustice. This is a tragic mistake, but such is conditional love. And we will, in such a case, cause untold hurt in response. Agreeing with thy neighbour is not necessarily loving thy neighbour. Unconditional love seeks the good of all, rather than the affirmation of some.  — George Athas

Christianity and Civilization: The Gifford Lectures, By Emil Brunner

I would like to recommend that you take a little bit of time and read Brunner’s Gifford lectures.  They’re online and free for your reading pleasure.

In Christianity and Civilization, First Part: Foundations, Brunner attempts to work out something like a Christian philosophy of civilization dealing with some basic principles which underlie all civilization. The author approaches his task systematically, beginning with the ‘problem of being’, and then, having established God as creator the world and thus the primary reality and the world as a secondary dependent being, he turns to and builds on civilization’s relation to truth, time, meaning, man’s place in the universe and so forth. In the end, he posits that civilization potentially proves vacuous and destructive if it is divorced from its Christian foundation and context.

In Christianity and Civilization, Second Part: Specific Problems, Brunner offers a Christian interpretation of some of the main features of civilized life, which include technics, science, tradition, work, art, wealth, law and power. In the final chapter, Brunner returns to his first lecture and the question: What is Christian civilization? He argues that the essence of civilization is the formation of human life which has its origins not in mere biological necessity but in spiritual impulses. Brunner understands that prospects seem to be very bad for the realization of the Christian idea. He insists, that we cannot be pessimistic. In his epilogue, Brunner states that the gospel of the redemption and salvation of the world in Jesus Christ is not meant to be a program for any kind of civilization or culture. Culture and civilization, even at their best, are temporal and belong to this earthly life. The Gospel, however, is revelation of eternal life, which indicates that humankind is not meant to pass away but is destined by the Creator for eternity.

An Open Letter to Albert Mohler Jr and Other Political Operatives

Dear Al, (and all like Al)

Your attempts to force believers into the political camp of your choosing by means of your threatening suggestion that only those who vote as you believe they should will be pleasing to God is both false and ungodly.

Even worse, it violate a primary injunction for Christians that they not allow barriers constructed by cultural realities to hinder their fellowship with Christ or other believers.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Gal. 3:27-28)

Paul would doubtless add ‘There is neither Republican nor Democrat’ if he were writing to our time.

But maybe you disagree with Paul.  Maybe for you, there are dividing lines between Christians and Christ that you would be happy to enforce.  Perhaps you believe, and you certainly seem to, that Republicans are Christians and others who do not vote for those candidates are not.

That, of course, if false.  But if you insist on its truth than you insist on your own departure from the faith once delivered to the saints.  You have decided that it is better to obey man (the political party to which you have sworn your fealty) than God.

God help you.  You have fallen from grace, and there remains no supplemental sacrifice by which you might be reconciled to God.

Sincerely, praying for your heartfelt repentance and regeneration,

Jim

To All The ‘Christians’ Cheering the Mistreatment of Migrants, Maybe You Should Buy a Bible

And read it.  Not too far in you’ll read this-

If you have foreigners in your country, you will not molest them. You will treat them as though they were native-born and love them as yourself — for you yourselves were once foreigners in Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.  (Lev. 19:33-34)

If you can’t abide by that it’s probably best if you stop calling yourself a Christian, since you are ignoring God’s specific commands regarding the treatment of others.

Quote of the Month

“My plea is simply this: every theological idea which makes an impression upon you must be regarded as a challenge to your faith. Do not assume as a matter of course that you believe whatever impresses you theologically and enlightens you intellectually. Otherwise suddenly you are believing no longer in Jesus Christ, but in Luther, or in one of your other theological teachers.” — Helmut Thielicke  — (Via Leo Percer)

Take that seriously.

Christian Twitter and Facebook Aren’t All That Into Christian Theology

Christian twitter and facebook are 9 times more likely to ‘retweet’ and ‘like’ a non-theological post than they are to retweet or like a theological post. #FactsOfLife

Need proof?  Post a cute kid pic or funny meme and then a little later post a theological quotation or observation or even a verse of Scripture and see which one Christian twitter / facebook shares…

Fun Facts from Church History: Sitting on God’s Lap, We Often Befoul Him

Sitting at his table,

luther09The doctor [Luther] took his son on his lap, and the child befouled him. Thereupon he [Luther] said, “How our Lord God has to put up with many a murmur and stink from us, worse than a mother must endure from her child!”

Luther’s greatness lay in the fact that everything was theologically instructive for him. Everything. Would that a generation of theologians would rise up today who actually, like Luther, thought theologically!

Quote of the Day

“In the last resort I do not trust any theological teacher—except perhaps a professional in exegesis or history—who has not spent a long time as a pastor, visited the old and sick, buried children and young people and had to preach to the congregation every Sunday.” – Dietrich Ritschl

Indeed, because such ‘theologians’ are Monday morning quarterbacks at best.

‘Never Forget…’

I’ve been thinking about the events in American history that we are constantly told we should remember.  ‘Remember the Alamo.’  ‘Remember Pearl Harbor’.  ‘Remember 9/11’.   And I’ve been wondering exactly why it is that we should do so.

The answer, generally, is ‘so that it never happens again’.   So what never happens again?  An attack?  How, pray tell, will our remembering inhibit or stop an attack?  ‘We can be prepared’.  Really?  We were prepared for the Alamo and it didn’t do us much good.  We had some hints of Pearl Harbor but of course that didn’t matter.  We even had intimations of 9/11 when terrorists attempted to blow up the world trade center a decade earlier.  But none of that prepared us for any of those events, did it.

No, I think the reason America wants to remember events like those is so that we can hold on to our mistrust or even hatred of Mexicans, or Japanese, or Muslims.  And, by the way, why don’t we want to remember the slaughter of Native Americans?  The trail of tears? The internment of Japanese Americans during world war 2?  Why don’t we want to remember those?  Because we weren’t victims.  Others were.  We want to remember our victimhood and our prejudice.

The funny thing is that the Bible only asks us to remember two things:  The Passover, and the Last Supper.  The only time Jesus ever says ‘remember’ is when he says ‘remember me as often as you eat it…’.  When it comes to remembering terrible things it explicitly says that God ‘remembers our sins no more’.

So why do we want to remember terrible things?  We can’t prevent other terrible things by doing so.  I think, again, that we do it so that we can justify our prejudices.  Against Mexicans, Japanese, Muslims, or whoever wrongs us.  Never mind the wrong we do…

We’re a people in contradiction.  We are Menschen im Widerspruch.  And we will always be such, until we ‘remember their sins no more.’