a few words

Month: November, 2007

good news :: first publication

This week I received an email with some good news. An essay I wrote last Spring at Regent on the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and his major philosophical influence John Duns Scotus will be published in 2008 by the journal The Hopkins Quarterly. This marks the first time my words will be in print larger (and more reputable) than the school newspaper.

Needless to say I am excited and honored.

George MacDonald on knowledge

Dialogue between the anonymous protagonist and his otherworldly guide concerning his encounter with a race of children:

“I fear what you say is true, Mr. Raven! But indeed I was afraid that more knowledge might prove an injury to them—render them less innocent, less lovely.”

“They had given you no reason to harbour such a fear!”

“Is not a little knowledge a dangerous thing?”

“That is one of the pet falsehoods of your world! is man’s greatest knowledge more than a little? or is it therefore dangerous? the fancy that knowledge is in itself a great thing, would make any degree of knowledge more dangerous that any amount of ignorance. To know all things would not be greatness.”

Apart from his overuse of exclamation points, and rather stilted language, I am thoroughly enjoying MacDonald. His imagination is unparalleled—and it is wonderful to see the spark that fanned so many of my other favorite fires. I have to thank my friend Grace for encouraging me to read this.

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George MacDonald, Lilith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 142.
(originally published 1895)

it was a good run…

The church bulletin yesterday announced: 

 Christ the King Sunday marks the end of the Church 

 Shame… I was just starting to enjoy it. We had so much potential.

Achan’s stones [part three] :: the unity of revelation

It has been a while, but I am slowly thinking about revelation, divine speech in Scripture, and holy violence by attempting to read Joshua 7, the story of the execution of Achan and his family with a theological lens. Part One and Part Two lie a few weeks back in the queue.

The problem that a text like Joshua 7 presents can be expressed as the tension between three generally heartfelt convictions—a solution wrought by denying any of these beliefs raises bigger problems than are solved. Yet avoiding the conclusion that God commands murder seems to necessitate fudging one of these somewhere:

1. The unity of canonical revelation: “Isn’t the Bible God’s Word? Then why does this passage say that God wants sinners dead, while this other passage says that he loves the whole world?”

2. The unity and faithfulness of the God revealed. “God doesn’t do violence…does he? Does God change drastically in history? Why does he seem bloodthirsty here?”

3. The unity of our own reason and ethics. “Murder is categorically wrong, no matter what…right? Can God simply change the rules on us?”

I’ll try them on one at a time…
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grist :: green news and an occasional chuckle

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.          

moltmann :: imago dei

“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.”

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Moltmann, God in Creation trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 220, 227.

my new task :: working in tradition

I’ve given myself a new task.

I have come to the conclusion that my writing is actually Socratic. That might sound like self-aggrandizement. It’s not.

When I go to write. I usually set all my outlines, plans, and notes out in front of me, lay my hands on the keyboard, and then simply expect the latent brilliance that hides deeps inside me to come to the surface and display itself on the screen. When it takes a little while to emerge (as it occasionally does), I poke myself with a few questions, sure that a little gadfly-prodding will cause the aforementioned brilliance to produce itself in profligate measure. When that fails, I’ll read through my notes, come across someone else’s good idea, type it verbatim, and hope that this is the droplet which will then unleash the torrent of genius onto the page.

Seriously… I can do this for hours.

The final result is as Socratic as the method. In the end, all I’m sure of is how much I don’t know, how little wisdom is in me—on occasion that leads to bouts of depression…

So, I’m headed back to my roots, turning over a new leaf. From here on out, I’m committed to writing like a good Lutheran.

Here is how I imagine the process to work. I will start by confessing that I am depraved and incapable of writing a blooming thing. Get all the despair out on the table from the beginning. Curse the devil a few times in the process for good measure. If writing happens, it is surely grace through faith, and not anything that I’ve been able to produce on my own merits. Any good I write is the work of God in me, and not my own. In the freedom of writing like the sinner I am, I can labor away, lightened of the responsibility to exude brilliance from within.

This had better work. If my thesis takes any longer, I’m going to enter the late stages of Lutheran writing—and see if a cold pint or two helps…

review :: robert jenson on six difficult notions

Robert Jenson’s On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions [1] 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.
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robert jenson on the unity of knowing and loving

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.
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Robert W. Jenson, On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 54-55.

applying to ph.d. programs in theology :: words for the wise(?)

…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.
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the impossibility of thinking suffering through

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. Read the rest of this entry »