30 January 2004

student naivete

I'm not sure how much my students think their professors get paid (let alone lowly assistant profs like myself), but I suspect they think we make a bit more than we actually do.

I came to class earlier last term one day a bit out of breath, having biked from home to campus after our old car had died. I explained the situation to the students and that we were looking to get a vehicle to replace the old one, preferably a station wagon. We eventually did: a used 1998 Saturn station wagon with low mileage and an even better price.

But in the meantime, over the next couple of weeks, my students kept offering all kinds of vehicle-purchasing advice, mostly along the lines of: "My mom got this new Audi station wagon and really likes it. Maybe you should look into that!"

Uh huh.

pale death with impartial tread

I always find something particularly sad about the death of college students. Perhaps it's because I'm a professor, but there they are, on the cusp of adulthood, beginning to take responsibility for themselves, and attempting to choose a vocation and then--poof--it's all gone.

I think in the eight years I've been teaching at La Salle University, we've had a student die almost every year on average--meningitis, a pre-existing medical condition, suicide, a freak accident... It seems a lot for a relatively small university.

I've only known one of these students on any kind of personal level, as a member of one of my classes. In that case, several years ago, I was able to give some of the work she had produced back to her parents so they could see, perhaps, more into her interests and abilities.

We had another student die last night.

In the midst of life we are in death;
of whom may we seek for succor,
but of thee, O Lord,
who for our sins art justly displeased?

Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.

Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts;
shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer;
but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty,
O holy and merciful Savior,
thou most worthy Judge eternal.
Suffer us not, at our last hour,
through any pains of death, to fall from thee.

29 January 2004

ex opere operato

It seems wrongheaded to me to frame the Protestant objection to the Roman Catholic sacramental teaching of ex opere operato in terms of sacramental "efficacy." As Turretin remarks, "the question here is not 'are sacraments efficacious?' since this is granted on both sides. The question is how they exert their efficacy" (Institutes, 8.19.6)

Indeed, one might argue that classical Protestant theology ultimately sees the sacraments as having greater efficacy than traditional Catholic teaching did.

Now, we should recall that the Catholic church teaches that "to attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition" and is a violation of the First Commandment (Catechism 2111). While this emphasis in the current Catechism may have been muted in, for instance, certain kinds of late medieval theology, it has always had some role in Catholic teaching.

But there's the rub. "Interior dispositions" is a wide-ranging concept, including, depending on circumstances, not only faith, but also perfect contrition, freedom from all unconfessed mortal sin, right intention, proper devotion, and so on. From a Protestant perspecitve, faith appears here to be mixed together with various other spiritual works, distinguished from faith itself and added to it (almost extrinsically on some of late nominalist construals that the Reformers were resisting).

The Protestant view is that in the Word of promise enacted in the sacraments, God offers Christ to us and he is received therein by faith alone through the Spirit. While faith certainly may be accompanied by and produce various other effects in the recipient, it is faith which alone receives Christ in the sacraments, even if the sacraments themselves are a means by which faith is quickened and increased.

Moreover, taking the particular case of the sacrament of baptism, while the Catholic church does teach that "Baptism is the source of that new life in Christ from which the entire Christian life springs forth" (Catechism 1254), baptism itself is limited in its effects so that sacramental reconciliation functions as a sacramental necessity in addition to baptism when new (mortal) sins destroy the sacramental grace that had once rendered the sinner righteous (which, it would seem, is part and parcel of a more transformative understanding of justification over against a Protestant understanding of imputation).

The Protestant view, however, is that baptism is effective not only when the water is upon us, but for our whole lives (see Calvin, Institutes 4.15.3; Belgic Confession, Article 25; Turretin, Institutes 19.19.12-23). Subsequent sin and confession receives forgiveness as a way of living out and improving our baptisms, so that the very same justifying verdict received in baptism is received anew as part of an ongoing status before the face of God.

Thus, on these two counts, at least, the Protestant view of the sacraments holds that sacraments, as covenant signs and promises by which Christ is offered to us in the Spirit, are more efficacious than in certain kinds of Roman Catholic views, requiring less of the recipient and having a greater effect.

If so, then the Protestant objection to ex opere operato, as Turretin commented, cannot be aimed so much at the notion of efficacy per se, but at the notion that sacraments somehow "contain" the grace they signify, particularly as that is understood in an almost physicalist manner in some sorts of late medieval thought.

28 January 2004

first book of homilies

I've agreed to do a local seminar on baptism in the context of biblical and reformational theology and am looking forward to it. The format will likely be two talks with lunch in between and lots of time for questions and discussion.

I'm planning to focus on biblical materials in the first talk and historical theology in the second talk. While it will be necessary to outline a general theology of baptism, much attention will be given to various ways in which scripture and reformational theology have expressed a nexus between baptism and new life in Christ ("regeneration" broadly construed), involving the remission of sins.

Though I had been doing quite a bit of historical study on this in recent months already, I've been particularly interested of late in the theological thought of early Anglicanism, the pre-Westminster Scots theologians, and the continental Reformed (particularly in France and Switzerland).

In that light, two items. In the mid-1500's Archbishop Thomas Cranmer wrote, collected, and edited a book of homilies to be read in the churches in order to inculcate reformational doctrine among the English people. It is difficult to determine which of these came expressly from his own hand and which were composed by others (and perhaps edited and revised by Cranmer). Nonetheless, the homilies all received his approval.

The First Book of Homilies contained one entitled "On the Salvation of Mankind" in which justification, atonement, and baptism are interrelated. It states:...infants, being baptized and dying in their infancy, are by this sacrifice [Christ's oblation and passion] washed from their sins, brought to God's favor, and made his children, and inheritors of his kingdom of heaven. And they which in act or deed do sin after their baptism, when they turn again to God unfeignedly, they are likewise washed by this sacrifice from their sins, in such sort, that there remains not any spot of sin, that shall be imputed to their damnation. This is that justification or righteousness which St. Paul speaks of, when he saith, "No man is justified by the works of the Law, but freely by faith in Jesus Christ."It is good to note here that Cranmer, as with his early Lutheran and Reformed colleagues, saw no tension between a justification that was by "faith alone" and "apart from the works of the Law" and the efficacy of baptism as the event in which Christ is offered and received by faith.

Thus the homily continues,we must renounce the merit of all our said virtues, of faith, hope, charity, and all other virtues and good deeds, which we either have done, shall do, or can do, as things that be far too weak and insufficient, and imperfect, to deserve remission of our sins, and our justification, and therefore we must trust only in God's mercy, and that sacrifice which our high Priest and Savior Christ Jesus the son of God once offered for us upon the Cross, to obtain thereby God's grace, and remission, as well of our original sin in Baptism...It is clear, then, that the homily is not attributing any virtue to faith itself--much less baptism, considered merely as a rite or deed--instead receiving and resting upon Christ as he is offered to us in the Gospel, a Gospel which we savingly believe upon in baptism.

27 January 2004

phil dept website

Finally, after waiting for various bits of text and information and corrections, I finished with the philosophy department website redesign and now, at last, it is live in its appropriate place on the La Salle server.


Not to be too much of a pop culture junkie, but the nominations have been announced for the 76th Annual Academy awards.

college and home schoolers

I've often thought that kids who had at least some home school experience (assuming it was done well) would do better in some respects with college, already having had more academic independence and less structured time. I find that many of my typical first year students find the transition from high school to college very difficult on those counts.

Apparently, according to this article, colleges and admissions boards are beginning to think the same thing.

26 January 2004

concerning hobbits

New Line cinema will probably sue me, but I couldn't resist.

Here we have Claire pretending to be a hobbit, visiting some friends in Hobbiton (with apologies to Peter Jackson and a little help from PhotoShop).


Snow Day!

24 January 2004

burns day

Tomorrow, of course, is Robbie Burns Day, in honor of Scotland's most famous poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796).

We're not celebrating until next Saturday, however, and will be doing so over at the flat of some friends (and several of us in kilts).

But the celebration will be quite traditional, from the Selkirk Grace before the parade of and address to the haggis, to sharing songs and poems before singing "Old Lang Syne"--all nicely smoothed along with generous amounts of good scotch.

21 January 2004

radical orthodoxy round table

Well, the RadOx discussion appears to finally be underway over at the Disseminary.

Margaret Adam are I and starting things off. We welcome thoughtful comments, questions, and interaction. Be sure to introduce yourself if you choose to chime in.

19 January 2004


There's something about black and white photographs--the contrast and light and detail--that is so very different from color pictures.

I hadn't ever really played around with the black and white setting on my digital camera before, but after viewing some beautiful photography recently, I decided to see what my digital camera could do, especially given the possibilities of this bright, sharp winter light.

I have very little expertise when it comes to cameras, but I had fun giving it a try and putting my results together in an album.

15 January 2004

speaking of frodo

There's a great online encyclopedia of middle-earth and Tolkien's mythical cosmology called The Encyclopedia of Arda.

It includes pretty much everything you'd want to know, including those perennial questions, "Just who or what is Tom Bombadil anyway?" and "Do balrogs really have wings?"

14 January 2004

fictional characters

Claire's beginning to be able to name fictional characters, not that we've gone out of our way to teach her. She does point to things, however, and say "That's....?" and we tell her the name.

In any case, "Pooh" and "Elmo" (which she says more like "Malmo") have entered her vocabulary. Also, when Elijah Wood is on the TV she'll point and say "Fwodo." I'm not sure whether to be pleased or disturbed.

12 January 2004

texts and inter-textuality

Here's a handout I've passed out in Bible studies, classes, etc. on "Texts and Inter-textuality" (most of which is not original with me, but comes from Andy Dolan who has taught Bible at La Salle):

In literature, especially pre-modern literature, part of the meaning and significance of a text is constructed by the use of inter-textual devices. Thus, the story of David and Goliath consciously notes that Goliath's armour is scale-like and draws attention to his being struck in the forehead, landing on the ground, and being beheaded. These are all allusions to the curse upon the serpent in Genesis 3 and tell us something about what Goliath represents, who David is, and what God is doing among his people.

The following are some example of biblical traditions that have been place in an intertextual relation with some "texts" of modern media. See if you can figure out the origin of the echoes and allusions in each example, then determine what the inter-text might imply.
  • Spain...the Christian frontier. These are the voyages of the Apostle Paul. His continuing mission: to teach the Gentiles, to seek out the lost, to go where no one has preached before.

  • In AD 30, a Mediterranean peasant Jew was sentenced to death by the Romans for a crime he didn't commit. This man was promptly raised from the dead to continue his teaching until he was taken into heaven. Today, still sought by many, he exists within his church. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can follow...Jesus.

  • Peter and St. Paul. Yes, Peter and St. Paul. One was called Simon, and the other just Saul. They're apostles with a call, to serve us one and all. They're Peter--Peter and St. Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul. 'What are we going to do tomorrow night, Paul?' 'Same thing we do every night, Peter: try to convert the world!'

  • Teaching with authority. More powerful than a horde of demons. Able to heal the sick with a touch of his tassle. Look! Coming from Nazareth...it's Moses, it's Elijah...no, it's Jesus! Yes, it's Jesus: strange visitor from another realm who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Jesus, who can give sight to the blind, enable the deaf to hear, and who (betrayed by Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve) fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the Reign of God.

  • Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started one Passover morn and ended in a crypt. Christ Jesus was a wise Jewish man. His disciples, not so sure. Twelve apostles and the Savior would preach in the Temple courts. The leaders started getting rough. The Teacher was betrayed. The disciples all turned tail and fled at the first sign of a raid. The Lord was later seen by these, a few of his close friends: the Magdelene, some others too, Simon Peter and his crew, the bad guy Saul, five hundred more, saw the Lord before he passed from sight.
  • If you were able to figure out the inter-text for all these examples, you have probably watched far more television than is healthy. If you didn't understand all the inter-textual allusions, you were interpreting with a similar handicap to those modern Christians who read Revelation without knowing the biblical background that John assumed his audience would easily possess.

    07 January 2004


    Looking at my list of books below I'm struck by the fact that the only work of fiction there is Harry Potter (though Péguy is poetry at least and two other books are about fiction). I'm sure I read some other fiction, but for the life of me, I can't remember precisely what.

    New year's resolution: read more fiction.

    06 January 2004

    new perspectives on paul

    Back in August Bishop N.T. Wright gave a talk at Rutherford House in Edinburgh as part of their annual dogmatics conference, entitled "New Perspectives on Paul" (the link is to a pdf file).

    I've not finished reading it yet, but it looks interesting, particularly given that Bp. Wright seems to be addressing some of his conservative Reformed critics.

    last year's reading

    A number of bloggers have listed some of their reading in the past year. I suppose that's not a bad thing to do.

    I sometimes feel at the end of the year that I haven't done nearly the amount of reading and study that I wished to do. But it turns out upon further reflection (and a scan of my bookshelves and notes) that I've read rather more than I had recalled.

    Anyway, I won't bore you with a list of everything I read, but the following are a few books I read or finished up in the past year that I particularly enjoyed or found helpful:Lawrence E. Adams, Going Public: Christian Responsibility in a Divided America (Brazos, 2002).

    Craig Bartholemew, J. Chaplin, et al, eds., A Royal Priesthood? A Dialogue with Oliver O'Donovan (Paternoster, 2002).

    Bruce Ellis Benson, Graven Ideologies: Nietzche, Derrida & Marion on Modern Idolatry (IVP, 2002).

    Richard A. Burridge, Faith Odyssey: A Journey Through Lent (Eerdmans, 2000).

    D.A. Carson, P. O'Brien, and M. Seifrid, eds., Justification and Variegated Nomism (Baker, 2001).

    William T. Cavanaugh, Theopolitical Imagination: Discovering the Liturgy as a Political Act in an Age of Global Consumerism (T&T Clark, 2002).

    David S. Cunningham, Reading Is Believing: The Christian Faith through Literature and Film (Brazos, 2002).

    Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death (University of Chicago, 1996).

    Michel de Certeau, The Mystic Fable: The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (University of Chicago, 1992).

    Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (University of California, 1984).

    W. de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin (Baker, 1993).

    John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002).

    Luigi Giussani, The Risk of Education: Discovering Our Ultimate Destiny (Crossroad, 2001).

    Douglas Harink, Paul Among the Postliberals: Pauline Theology Beyond Christendom and Modernity (Brazos, 2003).

    Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Yale, 1989).

    Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (Via Media, 1994).

    Richard A. Horsley, ed., Paul and Politics (Trinity Press, 2000).

    Peter J. Leithart, Against Christianity (Canon, 2003).

    Peter J. Leithart, A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel (Canon, 2003).

    Keith A. Mathison, Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper (Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002).

    John Milbank, Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon (Routledge, 2003).

    Nathan Mitchell, Real Presence: The Work of Eucharist (Liturgy Training Publications, 2000).

    Henri Nouwen, Ministry and Spirituality (Continuum, 2001).

    Charles Péguy, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope (Eerdmans).

    J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Scholastic, 2003).

    James K.A. Smith, Speech and Theology: Language and the Logic of Incarnation (Routledge, 2002).

    Ralph A Smith, Paradox and Truth: Rethinking Van Til on the Trinity (Canon, 2003).

    Ralph A. Smith, Eternal Covenant: How the Trinity Reshapes Covenant Theology (Canon, 2003).

    Carl R. Trueman and R.S. Clark, eds., Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment (Paternoster, 1999).

    Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1997).

    Merold Westphal, Overcoming Onto-Theology: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith (Fordham, 2001).

    N.T. Wright, For All the Saints? (SPCK, 2003).

    N.T. Wright, The New Interpreter's Bible: Romans (Abingdon, 2002).
    If you're curious about any particular title, ask me in the comments and I might say a bit more.

    05 January 2004

    new year

    We're back. Over the holidays we went to visit some relatives in Virginia and North Carolina. We had a great time, except for the couple of days Claire and I were both sick (she had a virus and an ear infection; I had fever, chills, and an upper respiratory infection). But it is pleasant to spend time with family and friends, especially with so many wonderful nieces and nephews.

    After a busy couple of days unpacking, catching up with some local friends, and church, I'm looking forward to getting back to work: preparing for classes, reading, writing, blogging, and so on.

    May you enjoy every blessing in Christ in the new year.