31 July 2003

there and back again

We've been away for the past 15 days or so, if you've been wondering about the profound paucity of blog entries.

Laurel, Claire, our dog Nicky, and I logged a bit over 3000 miles in our journey to and from the Biblical Horizons conference in Valparaiso, Florida (leaving Keats behind with Laurel's brother Jerry and his family). In light of the tons of baby gear and the dog, we had rented an SUV for the trip, though we ended up with a bigger one than we had expected--a Dodge Durango--since there were no smaller ones on the lot. The gas mileage, of course, was atrocious and I'm still trying to adjust back to driving our (relatively) tiny Geo Prizm.

While the conference was only from July 21-25, we took a number of extra days on either side of the conference in order to visit friends and family, passing through twelve states on the way there and back. On the way down, we stayed a night with Laurel's brother Steve and his family in Fredericksburg, Virginia, allowing Claire to visit with her two cousins there. We spent the next two nights in Wilson, North Carolina with Laurel's eldest brother Tom, an Episcopal priest working with Latino congregations, and his wife Jane, a professor in the religion department at Barton College.

The next night we received very kind hospitality from Cory Kloth and his wife Heather in Covington, Georgia where Cory is an assistant pastor of a PCA church. We were able to worship at Intown in Atlanta on Sunday, which was a great experience, particularly the worship music which manages to be traditional, folksy, and contemporary all at once with a great display of talent that still places a priority on the congregation's singing.

At Intown we were able to meet up with some online friends--Scott Cunningham among them--as well as a good friend from college who I hadn't seen in years, due largely to the fact that she had been married, living, having children in Argentina.

After seeing downtown Atlanta we spent a night in Alabama--the first time we'd ever been to that state--driving through Opelika, Auburn (including the university campus), and Montgomery the next day. We finally arrived at the BH conference in Florida where we met several more bloggers, most for the first time. Among the conference speakers, bloggers included John Barach, Bill DeJong, and Jeff Meyers. We also got to meet Jon Amos, whom I had come to know fairly well via IM and was glad to finally meet in person. I'll say more about the conference itself in another post.

While in Florida we drove out to Seaside where The Truman Show was filmed and visited a couple of other beach communities. I don't care much for beaches myself--unless you could get rid of the sun, sand, and saltwater--but Laurel took Claire for a dip in the Gulf of Mexico. The white sands of that part of Florida are actually quite pretty, even if you choose to view them from a safe remove rather than venture out upon them.

On the return trip we spent a night in the Birmingham with some friends of Peter Leithart's from his old church there. We then proceeded to southern Kentucky, near Bowling Green were we went to church at a lovely Episcopal parish in the old downtown. We had found a nice Mediterranean restaurant there and were able to enjoy various other eating establishments when were staying places. But while on the road, with the dog in the car, we had to resort to fast food more often that I would have liked. My guts are still not entirely recovered.

After Bowling Green we proceeded to Cincinnati, Ohio with a quick visit to Louisville, Kentucky (and Churchill Downs) en route as well as a meandering drive along the Ohio River. In Cinci we stayed with a friend of mine from high school and his wife, who are expecting their first baby quite soon. It was nice to catch up with an old friend and for our wives to get to know each other better.

While in Cinci, Josh Strodtbeck was kind enough to drive down on his birthday from Indianapolis, so I could finally meet him after having been friends with him via IM for some time. We had a nice lunch together in a nearly empty pub and spent the better part of the afternoon talking.

On the way from Cincinnati to western Pennsylvania we stopped in Dayton to have a wonderful brunch hosted by Barb Harvey and her husband, and were joined by Dawn Garrett. The blogger dogs also got to meet and had a grand romp together (you can read the whole story on Barb's blog).

We spent our last night on the road with friends who've recently moved to New Castle, Pennsylvania from Iowa since the husband, who used to teach engineering at Dordt, has now taken a position at Geneva College in Beaver Falls. On the way home from there we drove by Geneva and also through the city of Pittsburgh where I'd never visited before, despite living my entire life in Pennsylvania.

After a brief stop to retrieve the evil kitty, we finally returned home. We had a really enjoyable road trip and got to see many old friends and family and to make some new friends. Even so, it is good to be home.

20 July 2003

st james the less

One of the local inner city Episcopal parishes, not very far from our home, ran an outstanding classical Christian school. With a cirriculum based upon the trivium and good programs in art, music, and Latin--all interwoven with a daily pattern of Anglican liturgy--the school provided a needed educational and spiritual opportunity for inner-city children.

But the school of St. James the Less is closing, a casualty of litigation between the parish and the diocese due, in large part, to the parish's traditionalism and the heretical bishop Bennison's insistence on making an example of such parishes. At least that's the way it looks from here in light of the bishop's track record.

We had hoped to send Claire to St James once she was old enough. I guess we'll now be looking into other options.

16 July 2003

ashgate publishing

I got their catalogue in my campus mailbox and there seem to be some interesting new releases.

Two books on Thomas Aquinas look good: Nicholas M. Healy's Thomas Aquinas: Theologian of the Christian Life and Rudi te Velde's Aquinas on God.

The Healy book focuses upon Aquinas' thought from the perspective of its pastoral and evangelical focus, as a discipline designed to help us better follow Jesus, looking particularly at Aquinas' interpretation of Scripture, his trinitarian ontology, his christology and christological anthropology, and how all of this comes together in his doctrine of the church and sacraments.

The te Velde volume examines the Summa Theologiae, with an emphasis on Aquinas' theological ontology and its relationship with theological language. I've read te Velde's Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas (Brill, 1995), which was a very helpful book, especially for disabusing one of the notion that Aquinas is somehow primarily an aristotelian.

Two other books from Ashgate also look intriguing: Hugh Rayment-Packard's Impossible God: Derrida's Theology and Michel Foucault and Theology: The Politics of Religious Experience edited by James Bernauer and Jeremy Carrette.

15 July 2003

lectures done

Well, as done as they're going to get at least.

Today was accompanied by a sore throat and pounding sinus headache, though they seem to be passing. There's so much I haven't finished doing that I wanted to accomplish by now. Ah, well.

I'm on campus at the moment printing out lecture notes and some other assorted things. Printing them at home would have been agony since my antique ink jet is so incredibly slow.

At least today had a bright spot when I got an email with a student's paper on Descartes attached and it is a really good paper. A lot more interesting than most of the crap I wrote as an undergrad.

Sigh. Time to head home and do a few more chores before bed.

14 July 2003

rob burns

So, you remember back on May 28 when I blogged about an article on Milbank written by some former Wheaton student? Well, it turns out he's now a student at Westminster Seminary. And he came over for lunch today. Pretty kewl, eh?


So (like one of those crazy Smith kids), I stayed up until 3am several times in the past week or so (working on writing stuff) and now, of course, I end up sick with a cold. *dozes off*

13 July 2003

being reconciled

Though I received it in the mail a bit ago, I've only begun reading John Milbank's newest book, Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon (Routledge, 2003). Several chapters in it are revised versions of articles I've already read, but it is helpful to have them gathered all into one place.

12 July 2003

milbank on heidegger and aquinas

In his Truth in Aquinas (co-written with Catherine Pickstock), John Milbank writes the following:Some thinkers, like Heidegger, appear on the surface to be obscure and deep, but on analysis are revealed as offering all too clear and readily statable positions...with Aquinas, the opposite pertains. Only superficially is he clear, but on analysis one discovers that he does not at all offer us a decently confined "Anglo-Saxon" lucidity, but rather the intense light of Naples and Paris which is ultimately invisible in its very radiance--rendering the wisest of us...like owls blinking in the noonday.I like that quote very much.

christian anarchist website

I got a comment on an earlier post with the following URL for the poster: jesus radicals. I'm not sure the full political convictions of the site's creators, but it appears both pacificist and anarchist. One should recall, however, that "anarchism" need not imply absence of government, but simply the rejection of the modernist nation-state as a proper form of human governance.

Whatever your own political inclinations (and most readers here are likely to find much with which to disagree), it is a valuable site if for no other reason than the select group of texts it has collected (follow the "library" link) by William Cavanaugh, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, and Jacques Ellul.

why i like nietzsche

The guy is just too funny sometimes. I alluded to this paragraph from Beyond Good and Evil in an earlier post, but the wider context is a hoot, even for an Anglophile like me:They are not a philosophical race, the English. Bacon represents an attack on the philosophical spirit generally. Hobbes, Hume, and Locke, an abasement and a depreciation of the idea of a "philosopher" for more than a century. It was against Hume that Kant rose up and raised himself. It was Locke of whom Schelling rightly said, "I disdain Locke!" In the struggle against the English-mechanical stultification of the world, Hegel and Schopenhauer (along with Goethe) were of one accord...

What is lacking in England, and has always been lacking, that half-actor and rhetorician knew well enough, the absurd muddle-head, Carlyle, who sought to conceal under passionate grimaces what he knew about himself: namely, what was lacking in Carlyle--real power of intellect, real depth of intellectual perception, in short: philosophy.
Nietzsche goes on to assail the character of English Christianity and piety, suggesting that while (in Nietzsche's view) Christianity is a "poison," in the case of the English mindset it works as an antidote. Continuing along these lines, he goes on to comment that with regard "the herd of drunkards and rakes" caught up in English pietistic revivals such as Methodism and the Salvation Army "a penitential fit may really be the relatively highest manifestation of 'humanity' to which they can be elevated. Thus much may reasonably be admitted."

Nietzsche, of course, is often offensive, always an utter snob, and at times says the most outrageous things. Still, the man who said, "without music, life would be a mistake," goes on to draw this conclusion:That, however, which is most offensive even in the humanest Englishman is his lack of music, to speak figuratively (and also literally): he has neither rhythm nor dance in the movements of his soul and body; indeed, not even the desire for rhythm and dance, for "music." Listen to him speaking; look at the most beautiful Englishwoman walking--in no other country on earth do the doves and swans walk more beautifully. Finally, listen to the English singing! Ah, but I ask too much...In any case, agree or disagree with Nietzsche's observations here, I do think he has a point about the character of English philosophy. But maybe I'm just in a peculiar mood this week.

Eh, who knows? I am but a collection of shifting texts with an indeterminate meaning.

we all scream for ice cream

My mom and dad got us an old-fashioned ice cream maker (though motorized, so we don't have to kill ourselves hand-cranking it). We made some homemade peach ice cream last night and, wow, it's really good. It might be a bit more expensive than buying Breyer's on sale, but it's cheaper than Ben and Jerry's and better than both.


The previous post only registers one comment, but two show up when you go to look and them. Also, I know, that in fact there are really three comments, since I get e-mail copies of the comments. Weird, man.

11 July 2003

d.a. carson and j. derrida

In the process of working on some upcoming lectures, I've been re-reading sections of D.A. Carson's The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Zondervan, 1996). While I am naturally sympathetic with many of Carson's concerns, I must say that his treatment of post-modern philosophy is pretty awful.

Carson does a decent job of explaining "the modern," but when he turns to the post-modern, he seems to forget that it is the modern against which the post-modernists are reacting. Thus, when a philosopher rejects the notion of "objective truth," Carson reads this as if it were a denial of any truth whatsoever, rather than a denial of a theory of truth that presupposes a radical subject-object dichotomy, a representationalist theory of mind, and the need for apodictic certainty in order to know anything at all.

Carson goes on to suggest that deconstructionists insist upon either absolute knowledge or complete relativism. But this is not what the deconstructionists claim. Rather, this looks to me much more like Carson's own modernist prejudices showing through, presupposing this either/or.

Far from being a relativist, Derrida considers deconstruction as a kind of ethics, the practice of justice. Indeed, Merold Westphal argues that Derrida is a sort of natural law theorist, though one who places the manifestation of justice always within particular contexts, without positing such a thing as "justice in itself."

Derrida has also spilled considerable ink on the notion of a "gift" and, while arguing that no gift is pure, he maintains that self-sacrifice is the foundation of gift-giving. Likewise, he has written extensively on forgiveness, suggesting that the truest forgiveness lies in forgiving the unforgivable. These are not the writings of a relativist, whatever problems one may have with Derrida's approach.

As for Derrida's claim that "there is nothing outside the text," Carson misunderstands this badly, thinking apparently that this means we have no way of talking about reality. Several other points are actually being made in Derrida's claim.

First, the claim needs to be understood as a rejection of modernist notions of reference couched in a correspondence theory truth tied to a respresentaionalist theory of mind.

Second, "text" here needs to be interpreted broadly so that almost anything is a text, that is, appears to us already thoroughly embedded within a system of signification—if it didn’t, it wouldn’t even reveal itself to us at all.

Finally, the claim is not a denial of the existence of things in the world, nor a denial that we have access to these things; rather it is a denial that we have any extra-linguistic (non-symbolically mediated) access to those things. As Heidegger said, "Language is the house of being."

Carson also spends a great deal of time attempting to refute Derrida's suggestion that writing is prior to speech. Carson, unfortunately (and the author he quotes), seems to be more literal than he is literary at this point, taking Derrida to claim that the practice of writing is somehow actually prior to speech in it origins in time.

Derrida's claim about speech and writing must be taken in context: as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response to the historical privileging of speech over writing. Traditionally, speech was considered as better since it was more immediate and connected with the personal presence of the speaker, clearly communicating his own mind, while writing was a way of preserving speech in absence of the speaker. Moreover, speech remains interior to or in the possession of the speaker, while a written text is exterior to the author and can be wrested free from his intentions.

But this privileging of speech over writing presupposes what Derrida calls a "metaphysics of presence, " whether the presence of meaning to the mind (as with Descartes' clear and distinct ideas) or of objects to the senses (so the mind can transparently mirror the world). This is a desire for a "transcendental signified," something that exists outside of all signifiers and is transparently referred to by them.

According to Derrida, however, reality is constituted by what he calls "differance," a word he coins that plays on the French terms for "differing" and "deferring"--a pun, by the way, which is evident in its writing, but unnoticable in speech. Derrida uses the term, among other things, in order to suggest that for something to be what it is, it must be different from something else. Yet that difference is registered only by a trace of those things from which is different, marking presence of those things even in their absence. Thus there is no possibility of either absolute presence or absolute absence, leaving an interplay in which absolute presence is continually deferred.

In terms of language and meaning, part of what this suggests is that the meaning of texts is something that only arises through the articulation of difference among words and other texts. But this, in turn, indicates that meaning is never absolutely present, but is continually deferred as it plays itself in relation to other absent texts, which are present in traces by the very registering of their absence.

Derrida's point about writing and speech, is that on the traditional picture, writing is second-rate because it is at a double-remove from ideas in the mind of its author: ideas turned into speech turned into writing. Thus writing, on the traditional view, consists merely in signs pointing to yet other signs.

But, if Derrida is correct about differance--about the nature of signs and meaning and language in general--then all language is "writing," that is, signs pointing to yet other signs. Speech cannot be privileged over writing, since even the spoken word is fully implicated within a system of signs that pre-exists the speaker. Presence and absence are at play in speech as much as in writing and meaning is deferred.

Carson's refutation of Derrida at this point entirely misses the point Derrida is trying to make, getting caught up in historical questions about the origins of writing and chiding him for misusing the term "writing," missing the irony of Derrida's remarks.

The weird thing is that almost any standard secondary work on Derrida would have explained all of this, if one found Derrida's own remarks too confusing. I'm not sure what game Carson is playing at here, but it's frustrating.

In any case, I probably should get to bed soon.

10 July 2003

groovy googly

I added the google toolbar to IE as an experiment. So far it's pretty cool.

faith and philosophy

I received the most recent issue of the journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers in the mail today, an association of which I am a member.

I'm always a bit disheartened, I suppose, by many of the contributions published in my field (which is not to say that I do much better or have everything worked out). Part of my dissatisfaction lies, I suppose, with the field of philosophy in general, particularly in the Anglo-American analytic tradition in which I received almost all of my training. These developments in philosophy in general have, in turn, shaped the practice of philosophy among Christian philosophers.

The analytic tradition is, by and large, a particular approach to the method of doing philosophy--the adoption of certain kinds of techniques, providing a degree of clarity and rigor. And these techniques have their roots in the English traditions of empiricism, mixed with a focus upon language analysis, positivism, and logic stemming from Frege, Russell and Whitehead, and others, breaking concepts down to their most basic parts and carefully defining them and examining their logical interrelations.

But, as Donald Davidson has argued, it isn't so easy to separate form from content. Thus, it seems to me, much of analytic philosophy has suffered from a kind of philosophical and spiritual impoverishment, what Nietzsche referred to as the "English-mechanical stultification of the world" (Beyond Good and Evil, 252) . Christian philosophers are the best that analytic philosophy can offer since, at least when Christians work within the tradition, they are bringing a rich body of material with which to work.

Even so, as I look over the latest issue of Faith and Philosophy, I still feel a lack, a shallowness of insight and over-fascination with logical bells and whistles. Moreover, the discourse seems profoundly shaped by the categories inherited from the analytic tradition, debates occuring entirely within the assumptions of that discourse, hardly bothering to question ontological assumptions undergirding it. Against the backdrop of Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, and Aquinas, I wonder if their modern analytic defenders are really even in the same conversation.

One must also never underestimate the effects of the "professionalization" of philosophy as an academic discipline. The American tradition is one of pragmatisim and, on the model of the hard sciences and even the social sciences, the humanities have been pressured by accrediting agencies and the academic marketplace to "produce results."

This entails a high degree of (over)specialization, the proliferation of academic journals, and various studies of the effects of majoring in philosophy upon future career goals. Thus much philosophy has lost the kind of generality it once enjoyed, the idea that the pursuit of wisdom is its own reward, and the notion that philosophy is theology's handmaiden in service to the church.

server problems

If you're wondering why there is no picture over there to the left, it is because the La Salle University server crashed (again). Oh well. *shrugs*

UPDATE: Well, La Salle seems to be up and running again. :-)

09 July 2003

a place to stand

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church USA is coming up July 30 - August 8 in Minneapolis. For ongoing coverage of the convention from a more traditional Anglican viewpoint, you can consult the convention website of the American Anglican Council.

Be sure to visit the prayer room once the convention is underway. Our faithful Episcopalian brothers and sisters need support through prayer.

08 July 2003


I took one of those online quizzes and my blog's been rated...

What rating is your journal?

brought to you by Quizilla

I was almost hoping for an "R" but the quiz seemed more concerned about nudity and profanity than philosophical or theological adult content.

via bene diction


How come my 7.3.2003 post isn't registering the right number of comments?


I haven't been blogging much lately due to several projects I'm currently working on, along with my full-time daddy duties (though grammy has been a big help here). Trying to a keep an eye on a very active nearly 11-month old and doing academic writing really just don't go together very well. Besides, spending time with Claire (despite the occasional fussiness or dirty diaper) is more immediately rewarding.

I would very much like to have the writing projects completed in the next eight days or so, especially since the one project is a series of lectures that I'm leaving next week to present at a conference in Florida.

Those lectures will concern post-modernism and Christian faith. As I'm planning them out now, I think the first lecture will be an introduction to post-modern thought, placing it within historical context and against the backdrop of the modern, as well as mentioning some common misperceptions and criticisms.

The second lecture will give an overview of several major themes within post-modernism, with some focus on the intersection between post-modern thought and theology: the collapse of metanarratives, overcoming onto-theology, the metaphysics of presence, and so on.

The third lecture will look at two kinds of Christian responses to post-modernism: the largely critical response to post-modernism by many evangelicals (e.g., D.A. Carson, Gene Veith) and the more enthusiastic (though not uncritical) embrace of post-modernism by others (e.g., Merold Westphal, Jack Caputo). Perhaps I'll suggest that evangelicalism has so much invested in the modernist project, one could hardly expect an entirely positive reaction to post-modern's critique of the modern.

The final lecture will look at some of the major themes of (and problems with) Radical Orthodoxy, which is, to my mind, one of the more interesting and helpful contributions to the interaction of post-modernism and Christian faith. While Radical Orthodoxy has some definite weaknesses (e.g., its connection with scriptural reflection seems, at best, a bit loose; some RO thinkers are not quite so orthodox as one might like; etc.), I think it has the greatest resources for building a more positive appropriation of postmodern themes.

The other projects I'm working on are: [1] a long-long-overdue essay on the Reformed doctrine of regeneration which will be one chapter among others in a collection of essays; and [2] a book proposal for Prentice-Hall for a introductory philosophy text on concepts of humanity, composed of several complete primary texts with introductions, study aids, and suggested classroom activities.

Well, Claire is going down for a nap soon, so back to work...

03 July 2003


Two great milestones have been passed. First, I've finished that dang "There Is Another King" essay that I've been poking away at excruciatingly slowly for over the past year. *great sigh of relief*

Second, I finished reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix aloud to Laurel. I liked it very much and thought Rowling did a good job with the development of the characters as they enter further into their teen years.

Enough for now. I was up until 3:30am finishing the essay and could use a nap.