30 September 2004

augustine lecture

I'm about to head off to Villanova University for the 2004 Augustine Lecture in honor of the 1650th year since Augustine's birth.

The speaker is Brian E. Daley, a Jesuit who teaches theology at Notre Dame and his topic is "Word, Soul and Flesh: Origen and Augustine on the Person of Christ." Should be interesting.

29 September 2004

voter registration

According to this article, voter registration in Philadelphia is having its biggest boom in 20 years. And I did my part to help--yes, me, the cynical GenXer who sometimes thinks, "Don't vote, it only encourages them" almost makes good sense.

I helped by participating in a faculty initiative at La Salle to get freshmen students (the ones least likely to be registered) to register--passing out forms during the First Year Odyssey classes, explaining the instructions, and collecting the forms to make sure they get delivered. I know similar pushes are going on at other area universities.

Among both my students and neighbors, opinions seem to run strong this year. So, while I don't have a horse in this race, it will be interesting to watch the whole election season play itself out.

final pics

I finally got around to putting up the last few photos I took in Japan, on two pages, starting with some from Chiyoda and the Edo-Tokyo Museum.

28 September 2004

studying the word

I've been leading Bible studies of one sort or another since the end of high school, now over (ahem) 17 years ago. Earlier in high school I taught 2-3 year old Sunday School and 3-4 grade catechism class (mostly the questions dealing with the 10 Commandments).

We're finishing up a book of Scripture soon in the study I currently lead and have begun discussing what we will look at next and, given my schedule, I'd prefer to do something I have some familiarity with teaching already.

Thinking back over what I've done before, I began to wonder what books of Scripture I've actually taught through (or at least facilitated discussion about), either in part or in whole. Here's the list, as far as I can remember:

assorted Psalms
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
1 Timothy
1 Peter
1 John

I don't record that in order to boast or anything. I don't even much remember the details of how some of those studies went at this point. And I imagine I might approach some of these biblical books a bit differently now than I like did, say, fifteen years ago.

But it is good to remind myself how much time I've actually spent in Scripture, especially when I feel like I'm sinking under volumes of philosophy, history, and theology, often which seem to have only the most tenuous connections to Holy Writ.

25 September 2004

celtic fest

Today we are headed up the Celtic Classic in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It is the largest Celtic festival in the US and is celebrating its seventeenth year.

The festival is free and includes five stages with live Celtic music (Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Breton, etc.--traditional and contemporary), highland games, Irish dance and highland dance, a border collie demonstration, a pipe band competition, a Gaelic worship, historical recreations from both the Society for Creative Anachronism as well as a Civil War re-enactment group, Scotch tasting, a Celtic fiddle competition, and all kinds of vendors selling Celtic goods and music as well as traditional foods ranging from corned beef with cabbage to haggis.

24 September 2004

trueman on calvin and calvinists

Carl R. Trueman's essay "Calvin and Calvinism" (in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin) provides a helpful overview of some the issues affecting Calvin scholarship in relation to later developments in what is popularly called "Calvinism." In particular, there are the twin tendencies either to play Calvin against later Calvinism (as in much neo-Barthian writing) or to virtually identify later dogmatics with Calvin's theology (as in much conservative polemics).

The burden of Trueman's essay is to look at the question of Calvin in relation to "Calvinism" in primarily historical terms. This entails looking at a complex process of development that includes both continuity and discontinuity (as well as diversity), and doing so with the realization that Calvin, though helpful and foundational for Reformed theology, is neither absolutely authoritative nor normative, but part of a wider complex of theologians and (especially) confessional standards that form the basis of what is better termed "Reformed theology" (rather than "Calvinism").

As a historical inquiry, Trueman points out that this process of development is not merely an issue of dogmatics, but also of all the other kinds of historical forces that are at work, whether philosophical, conceptual and linguistic, or cultural and sociological, taking into account the kinds of purposes various figures had in writing and the various genres they produced.

The bulk of Trueman's essay focusses in on the issue of "scholasticism" since the development of later Reformed dogmatics is often couched in terms of the rise of "Reformed scholasticism." This sometimes happens in a way that suggests that Calvin and other early Reformed thinkers were free of the kinds speculative and metaphysical concerns that later developed. But Trueman questions the way in which "scholasticism" is typically understood and offers some analysis of the developments.

Trueman wants to define "scholasticism" in terms of method rather than a shift in dogmatics; in terms of form, rather than content. As such, scholasticism doesn't represent so much a shift in the substance of Reformed theology, but the context in which that theology was expressed: the migration of Reformed dogmatics into the academy with its patterns of pedagogy, along with developments in polemics in response to both a more sophisticated Roman Catholicism (e.g., Bellarmine) and new forms of Protestant heterodoxy (e.g., Arminianism and Socinianism).

Thus Trueman suggests that the differences between, for example, Calvin's Institutes and Turretin's must not be seen so much in terms of a theological development or change, but due to their differences in purpose, intention, context, and so on. Where Calvin intended his Institutes as a defense of French Protestantism, providing "common places" meant to function alongside his biblical commentaries, Turretin sees his text as treating areas of ongoing theological dispute for the purpose of training students in the Genevan Academy. In neither case was the text in question meant to function as a comprehensive "systematic theology" as that was later understood.

From these observations Trueman turns to the question of metaphysics. After all, it is sometimes suggested that later Reformed dogmatics was characterized by a "speculative metaphysics," such as a deductive decretalism that departed from earlier Reformed understandings. Trueman addresses this concern in a series of steps.

First, he notes that while the early Reformers sometimes took rhetorical stances against metaphysics, they were, in fact, very much steeped in those very metaphysical assumptions, derived from the later middle ages. Moreover, their attacks were often more narrowly focussed than is prima facie apparent (e.g., aimed against certain kinds of nominalism or the faculty of the Sorbonne, rather than metaphysics simpliciter).

Second, the development of later polemics against Jesuits, Arminians, Socinians, and the like necessitated a greater metaphysical self-awareness on the part of the Reformed in order to explain and defend their doctrine. Of course, the beginnings of this go back even to Calvin, for instance, his defense against Pighius, as well as the other early Reformers.

Third, Reformed use and development of metaphysics arose within a heavily exegetical context, in continuity with medieval precedent though transposed into a Renaissance rhetorical practice, and with a great deal of diversity, ranging from forms of Thomism to Scotism to kinds of neo-Platonism, developing in directions that were more subtle and varied. Thus, Trueman notes by way of example, later Reformed scholasticism was, in many respects, far less deterministic than Calvin in deploying varieties of causality and allowing for a robust notion of God's permissive will.

Finally, Trueman suggests there are some confusions afoot in discussions of Reformed scholasticism, for instance, confusing "rationality" (e.g., using syllogism) with "rationalism" (e.g., Cartesianism) or the painting of dogmatics with broad "isms" such as "Aristotelianism," when such categories are themselves polysemous and problematic.

Given these observations, Trueman concludes that the development of Reformed theology is wrongly seen as merely a dogmatic shift, that the pluriformity and eclecticism of Reformed theology needs to be recognized, and that, nonetheless, there is no identity between Calvin and later Reformed dogmatics, but rather a development that must be assessed in historical categories rather than in terms of speculative theological models.

So much for Trueman's analysis. I cannot help but agree with much of what Trueman says here, but there are a number of complicating factors - ones that are important theologically for the present task of the church - that I also think we need to consider and that receive short shrift from his account, sometimes leaving me with the impression that historians such as Muller, Trueman, and others have missed the broader Reformed forest for the nicely historicized trees.

[1] While I realize that it was not Trueman's purpose in his essay, there is, nonetheless, an important, additional layer of historical inquiry that goes beyond the production of various texts within their own historical context, namely, the ways in which those texts came to be used in later dogmatics, teaching, and the formation of the tradition. As Trueman himself notes, while Turretin's Institutes was never intended as a comprehensive systematics text, it did come to be used in that way by, for instance, Princeton Theological Seminary, thereby shaping subsequent Reformed dogmatics in the Princeton tradition, dogmatic self-understanding, the theological culture and character of American Presbyterianism (perhaps coming to see itself as essentially disputational), and the like.

To whatever degree Trueman is correct about the nature of the development of Reformed thought in the 16th and 17th centuries, there is also a historical story to tell about how the misperceptions of that development arose, why the developments have come to be largely understood in terms of a substantive theological shift, why such an account might even seem superficially plausible, and so on. And that story is, I suspect, a story about how the tradition was received and passed on, how some kind of Reformed "canon" emerged (e.g., why Polanus was largely forgotten or John Forbes left to moulder), what changes occurred in theological curriculum, and so on. While it is important to construct a more accurate narrative of the 16th and 17th centuries, the project is half-finished if that narrative is left on its own as a historical curiosity apart from how later Reformed generations appropriated that narrative, even if in distorted or spotty ways. Effective history is also always a history of the present.

[2] I don't accept the all-too-easy distinction, verging on separation, between form and content, method and substance, that Trueman's account of scholasticism suggests (though I realize the form-content polarity Trueman uses may not be intended to be as sharp as it might appear). Such distinctions have been subjected to extensive and, to my mind, persuasive criticisms by thinkers from Donald Davidson to Jacques Derrida. Trueman is certainly correct that scholastic methodology can be applied to a wide variety of "contents," doesn't entail any particular "content," and, moreover, that we can account for formal shifts in Reformed dogmatics by looking at pedagogical and polemical contexts. Furthermore, I'm sure Franciscus Junius didn't sit down one day and say, "Let's change the content of Reformed dogmatics by recasting it all in these interesting scholastic categories."

But such formal changes do, I think, produce substantive shifts in content, even if unintentionally: the medium, after all, is part of the message. Can one really maintain that, for instance, the application of Ramist binary taxonomy does nothing to shape the substantive outcome of such a method or carries no baggage with it in terms of ontology and epistemology? Thus, while it may be mistaken to point to doctrinal transitions and discontinuities as an explanation for formal and methodological developments, it does not thereby follow that such developments fail to mark (or at least produce) significant shifts in dogmatic substance, even if unintented and unforeseen, as a kind of "negative externality" of such pedagogical and polemical negotiations.

This, of course, does not mean that the perceived shifts criticized by, for instance, the neo-Barthians, are in fact the shifts actually engendered by such methodological changes. And even if they are, it does not mean that such substantive shifts were immediately apparent rather than, say, having to await the transposition of such shifts into consequent pastoral praxis, the production of ensuing theological culture, or new ecclesiastical and social contexts. That is to say, resultant dogmatic innovations reveal theological changes at their origins, even if those changes find their etiology in social, pedagogical, polemical, or other factors rather than deliberate theological choices.

[3] Take a specific example: the oft-heard claim that later Reformed dogmatics developed into a deductive decretalism that was a departure from earlier Reformed theology, most notably Calvin, who places predestination under the doctrine of salvation rather than the doctrine of God.

Trueman rightly points to Muller's explanation of Calvin's organization in the Institutes, in which he proposes that the placement of predestination is explained by the changing genre of the Institutes and by Calvin's use of Melanchthon. Muller's argument is, on the whole, compelling and, thus, I quite agree that we cannot use Calvin's placement of the topic to relativize his predestinarian views since he was, after all, a thoroughgoing predestinarian.

Moreover, as Muller argues elsewhere (and Trueman reports), predestination never came to function in any major instance of Reformed orthodoxy as a kind of "metaphysical axiom" from which the rest of the theological system could be logically deduced. For the most part, the doctrine remained christocentric and soteriological, embedded within the locus of faith and justification, christology, or ecclesiology, both in dogmatics texts as well as in confessional symbols. (It is an interesting question, however, why Reformed theology continued to choose to confess and reflect upon predestination in continuity with Calvin's own emphases, despite the rise of a scholasticism that would circulate the alternative ordering available in both medieval theological texts and those of Roman Catholic polemicists.)

But all of these fine observations do nothing to blunt the recognition that where one places predestination within the theological sequence (along, of course, with how the doctrine is expressed within that sequence) does have an effect, even apart from functioning as a "metaphysical axiom" - not merely on organization or method or form, but in the very meaning of the doctrine itself in relation to the whole. This is the case not only in terms of pastoral concern, catechetical pedagogy, and theological emphasis, but also the overall shape of the teaching itself - whether divine sovereignty is contextualized primarily by, say, God's will and power as aspects of the divine essence or by the revelation of God in the cross of Christ.

We also must remember that Muller's most detailed analysis of the issue (in Christ and the Decree) only applies to the period up to 1630, though his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics does push further. After the mid-17th century, however, Reformed texts do increasingly place predestination, along with the divine decrees, in the context of theology proper, as a transition into the doctrine of creation. In some respects this was a return to the common medieval order (seen, for instance, in Peter Lombard or Thomas Aquinas), though with some, sometimes significant changes (e.g., Aquinas' discussion, though placed before his exposition of the Trinity, nonetheless presupposes an already broached trinitarian ontology and is immediately contextualized by his discussions of divine love for all creatures in and through the Word, God's justice founded upon his mercy, and his providential care for creation).

Perhaps the reordering of topics in Reformed theological exposition was, in large part, a result of pedagogical dependence upon scholastic models or polemical interaction with Roman Catholics and Arminians (who drew, in turn, upon Jesuits such as Molina). Whatever the case and despite continuities with previous Reformed dogmatics and confession, there is a reasonable case that such re-ordering and re-contextualization did, in fact, mark a significant change in theological content in terms of the overall contours of the doctrine.

For instance, one might argue that while it is the case that, in the abstract, the doctrine of election as confessed in the Westminster Standards is very much in continuity with the wider Reformed tradition (e.g., in terms of its ontology and commitments), its placement within the order of chapters in the Westminster Confession is a departure from the wider Reformed confessional presentation, accomodating itself to the emerging dogmatic ordo. In addition, unlike every other Reformed confession, the order of presentation within Chapter 3 is not, first of all, christological and/or trinitarian, but proceeds from metaphysical and causal observations (left largely unspoken in other confessional documents), assertions within which the christological and soteric are afterwards enclosed. Insofar as the Westminster Standards exerted a wide influence - especially within English-speaking Reformed theology - and arrived in tandem with wider shifts in dogmatic presentation, the resulting tradition did, quite arguably, come to be reshaped.

Thus we need to construct a wider historical narrative, tracking not only incremental shifts within methodology, formal organization, or pedagogy, and not only within the 16th and earlier 17th centuries, but further to place those shifts within a larger trajectory, noting continuities and discontinuities with medieval teaching and tracking the effects of whatever shifts did occur upon consequent historical development of the tradition.

I cite this example of predestination, not because I have any particular axe to grind. I'm am fully comfortable with the absolute predestinarianism of the Reformed confessional symbols and would be quite willing to defend it. I cite this example, rather, because the notion of a rising "deductive decretalism" as posited by neo-Barthian critics (and attributed to Calvin himself by Alexander Schweitzer already in the 1850s) has been thoroughly de-bunked.

And yet, it seems to me that those critics have only held sway because there is a prima facie plausibility to their account, a plausibility that arises from the larger direction and developing articulation of the Reformed tradition against the backdrop of modern forms of thought. History is not simply a one-way street, involving antecedent and contemporaneous causes and explanations. Rather, the meaning that historical developments have held from the start often remains to be unveiled by ensuing and successive events.

By all means, we should let level-headed and careful historians continue their analysis of historical contexts and narratives of development. Only in this way can we avoid the kinds of historical caricature and swagger that have sometimes infected theological critique. But we also cannot allow such precision and focus to elude the necessity of that wider genealogical scrutiny, which makes for an effective theological interpretation of the tradition.

the PR dept is gonna love this...

From the Philadelphia Inquirer: an article by Stephen A. Smith on La Salle's recent difficulties (and I don't mean the street protesters).

22 September 2004

coddled cooks

Well, actually they call themselves The Pampered Chef, a kind of tupperware party for the upscale culinary consumer. Laurel helped out a friend by hosting a Pampered Chef party recently and we got some free stuff. I've also received various of their products as gifts over the years since I do most of the cooking and enjoy the culinary arts.

But, you know, I'm just not that impressed. Unless you dish out the big bucks for their top of the line stuff, many of the Pampered Chef products strike me as of mediocre quality, particularly in light of the cost and shipping.

Their selection is also rather limited. The two cooking products I was on the lookout for (a springerle roller and panetone papers) were not offered in their catalogue or online. And many of their gadgets (e.g., the food chopper) are more trouble than they're worth, making clean-up more difficult and unnecessarily complicating what a decent chef's knife will do for you better.

Okay--so I'm a kitchen snob. But I've had much better success and greater satisfation shopping at my local Kitchen Kapers and Fante's.

18 September 2004

and even more books

Yesterday I finally used up the rest of the gift cards I got for my birthday, including one to the Westminster Seminary bookstore.

I was able to pick up The Unaccomodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of Theological Tradition by Richard A. Muller (Oxford 2000), an important study of Calvin within his original historical context, against the background of both medieval theology and his own contemporary 16th century humanism, rather than examining Calvin simply theologically, in the abstract, as a source and authority for later dogmatics. Muller is a professor of historical theology at Calvin Seminary and his works provide a helpful correction to the caricatures of Calvin sometimes found in modern theology, stemming from both those who would wish to play Calvin against later Reformed dogmatics and those who would wish to press an identity between them.

In whatever way we describe Calvin's theological project, Muller's The Unaccomodated Calvin warns against the pitfalls of, for instance, projecting later categorties of "systematics" onto the question of whether or not Calvin, in his own context, was a systematic theologian as opposed to, say, a humanist rhetorician (and whether such an opposition would even make sense in 16th century terms). Such careful historical consideration of figures like Calvin is a necessary step in any kind of attempt to draw upon our predecessors in the faith for the questions posed to us today.

Along similar lines to Muller, I also bought The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin edited by Donald K. McKim (Cambridge 2004). It contains 18 different essays on different aspects of Calvin's life, context, work, and influence written by a wide range of top scholars, including David F. Wright, Carl Trueman, Brian Gerrish, Wulfert de Greef, John Hesselink, among others.

I'm looking forward to reading all the essays in this volume, but I began with Trueman's essay, entitled "Calvin and Calvinism," which follows in the lines of the kind of research that Muller has provided. I'll post something more on his essay soon.

The third book I purchased is Christ, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper: Recovering the Sacraments for Evangelical Worship by Leonard Vander Zee (IVP 2004), who is the pastor of South Bend Christian Reformed Church in Indiana. It was a fairly easy read, so I finished it last night. It is, I think, a really excellent introduction to sacramental theology which, while written from within a perspective of Reformed catholicity, is directed primarily at a broadly evangelical audience, attempting to introduce them to a rich biblical, theological, and historical understanding of the sacraments.

Vander Zee spends the first five chapters introducing the basic issues of sacramental theology: God's use of the creation to reveal himself, the nature of the sacraments, sacraments in Scripture, the person and work of Christ as foundational for sacramental theology, and the way in which God operates through the sacraments within his church. From there Vander Zee looks specifically at baptism and the eucharist, surveying the range of biblical texts addressing each, the theology and practice of each, and some historical issues. At every step I was very impressed by Vander Zee's handling of the topics, both in terms of his skill as a writer and his theological insight.

To give a taste of the book, here's a quotation on the topic of baptism and regeneration, since that's been on my mind as of late:

It might be helpful to think of it this way: regeneration has both cosmic and personal levels. On the cosmic level it points to the new creation that God has established in Christ, and into which he desires to include everyone and everything: "Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things...making peace through the blood of the cross" (Col 1:20). On the personal level, regeneration involves my personal participation by faith and baptism in that new creation: "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation" (2 Cor 5:17). In that moment of my participation by faith and baptism in the new creation in Christ, I am born again into that new life. I become part of that new creation. Being personally born again also entails that I begin to live the new life into which I have been born from above. Regeneration begins with God's great act of giving rebirth to his creation through Christ, then it involves my personal experience of being born again, not by some particular experience, but by simply receiving in faith the gift of the new creation. Baptism bridges these two levels of regeneration. (93)

That's certainly not the last word on the topic, but it is helpful, I think.

17 September 2004

update on campus stuff

I wrote below about the ongoing protests (since January) regarding the closing in one direction of a street running though La Salle's campus.

The courts issued an injunction this week ordering protesters to no longer stand in the middle of the street, to discontinue the use of horns, whistles, and bells, and to no longer encourage motorists to honk. The rationale for the injunction was the combination of unacceptable noise levels and the traffic hazard the protesters posed.

At least now I don't have a face a horn being blown in my face at 7:30 am. I did have a man, who'd I guess to be in his early 60s, scream "no justice, no peace" at me this morning. From a 20 year old that would have seemed earnest, but from a person nearing "elderly" it struck me more as unseemly.

16 September 2004

spring lecture

On Saturday, 12 March 2005, I'll be speaking in a day-long seminar on baptism at St. Philip's Reformed Episcopal Church in Warminster, Pennsylvania.

The 2003 revision of the Reformed Episcopal edition of the Book of Common Prayer has restored the Baptismal rite to its more historic form, which, among other things, includes a post-baptismal prayer of thanksgiving (shaped by Bucer) that begins:

We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this Child/Person with thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own Child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church...

Those who are familiar with the Reformed Episcopal Church may know that it was formed in the 19th century partly in response to the inroads made by Anglo-Catholicism in the Episcopal Church. Part of its "Declaration of Principles" states that the Reformed Episcopal Church "condemns and rejects the following erroneous and strange doctrines as contrary to God's Word," including the teaching that "Regeneration is inseparably connected with Baptism."

Thus the regenerational language that has been restored to the historic Anglican rite might seem strange to some within the Reformed Episcopal tradition. There are many historical twists and turns to this story, but it should be noted that the emphasis in the "Declaration" is not to deny that regeneration is connected with Baptism, but that it is connected inseparably. After all, any biblical theology of baptism must allow for instances of hypocrisy and unbelief, in which offered grace is spurned. But we cannot allow unbelief to change the nature of the sacrament and what is offered and promised there.

Moreover, "regeneration" in the "Declaration" is understood in terms of personal conversion of heart, which, while one of the intended ends of baptism, is evidently not always an actual effect of the sacrament. Nonetheless, there are broader senses of "regeneration" that were used within the Anglican tradition to denote the new state of life for one who has been set apart from the world in baptism and incorporated into the church. Even George David Cummins, the first Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal church, allowed for this broader sense when he suggested the Episcopal church declare that "baptismal regeneration" be understood "to indicate a sacramental and ecclesiastical change, a change of state and not of character."

In any case, this is some of the context for my speaking on baptism in a Reformed Episcopal parish, which I plan to do from both a biblical- and historical-theological perspective.


A couple of folks who know me through my blog recently asked where they could find other essays, articles, and reviews that I've written. While there are a few things floating out there in print publications, most of it is available in the Writings section of my personal website. Hopefully some of it is worth reading.

hodge, baptism, and regeneration

As I think I posted here before, Charles Hodge says the following about baptism:

How then is it true that baptism washes away sin, unites us to Christ, and secures salvation? The answer again is, that this is true of baptism in the same sense that it is true of the word. God is pleased to connect the benefits of redemption with the believing reception of the truth. And he is pleased to connect these same benefits with the believing reception of baptism. That is, as the Spirit works with and by the truth, so he works with and by baptism, in communicating the blessings of the covenant of grace. Therefore, as we are said to be saved by the word, with equal propriety we are said to be saved by baptism. (Commentary on Ephesians)

He adds further on, "the benefits of redemption, the remission of sin, the gift of the Spirit, and the merits of the Redeemer, are not conveyed to the soul once for all. They are reconveyed and reappropriated on every new act of faith, and on every new believing reception of the sacraments."

Having said all this, however, Hodge speaks strongly against "baptismal regeneration," which he identifies with "Romanism" and "Ritualism."

Hodge says that "baptismal regeneration" teaches at least three things. First, that there is an inherent virtue in baptism, or in the administrator, to produce its effects, particularly that of "inward spiritual renovation." Second, that these effects always attend baptism's right administration to those who don't resist it. And, third, that the Spirit is so connected with baptism that it is the only channel through which he (at least initially) communicates the benefits of redemption, so that all who remain unbaptized will perish.

It is this teaching that Hodge rejects as "Romanism" and/or "Ritualism."

Hodge also adds that baptismal regeneration is "utterly irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Reformed churches. For that doctrine teaches that all the regenerated are saved. 'Whom God calls them he also glorifies' (Rom. 8:30). It is, however, plain from Scripture, and in accordance with the faith of the universal church, that multitudes of the baptized perish. The baptized, therefore, as such, are not the regenerated."

Now, to me, this all seems rather confused, in part, because I know of no system of theology that teaches exactly what Hodge explains as "baptismal regeneration." If any did, we would rightly reject it as false teaching, in tension both with Scripture and Christian experience.

Moreover, I think Hodge suffers some lack of theological imagination regarding how these doctrines might actually function in other traditions or how the biblical terminology may actually be used.

Furthermore, he doesn't even mention--let alone explain--his disagreements with those in his own Reformed tradition who have held to some version of baptismal regeneration, who even explicitly used that terminology (and even if they were a minority).

Setting aside his mention of "inward spiritual renovation" for the time being (we shall return to it below), let's begin by considering his reference those Ritualists who hold to an "inherent virtue in baptism...to produce its effects." We have to ask what exactly Hodge means by that and how he distinguishes that from his own position.

After all, Hodge himself says that "the Spirit...works with and by baptism, in communicating the blessings of the covenant of grace," thus seeing baptism as an effectual instrument of the Holy Spirit's work, at work for the final salvation of those who are elect.

Moreover, Hodge presumably would not deny that when baptism is administered, the benefits and effects of baptism are offered no less to the non-elect than the elect. He would, I think, agree with Calvin that "the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the worthiness of men, and that nothing is taken away from the promises of God, or falls to the ground, through the wickedness of men." Thus, Calvin continues to insist that in the sacraments Christ "is presented to the wicked no less than to the good" and thus unbelief does nothing to "impair to alter anything as to the nature of the sacrament" (Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:27). And so there is, for lack of a better term, a kind of "objectivity" to the offer and promise made by God in baptism, an offer by which Christ is truly presented in the sacramental action for the salvation of sinners.

Therefore, whatever else Hodge may intend, his rejection of any "inherent virtue in baptism" cannot be taken as a denial of these kinds of considerations. Hodge must mean, then, to reject the view that the water of baptism in itself somehow contains and communicates grace (as in certain late medieval and Catholic views) and I would readily agree with him.

Yet "baptism" isn't just water, but water applied together with a word of promise, in the name of the Trinity, accompanied by the Spirit, in the context of the church, just as Hodge himself implies. Thus, on Hodge's own view, when we consider baptism as an overall action, involving the word and Spirit, by which Christ is truly offered to sinners, there is a sense, distinct from that which Hodge rejects, in which the sacrament does have an "inherent virtue...to produce its effects," in the sense of remaining an objective pledge, offer, and promise of those effects and, moreover, producing those effects in all who rightly receive the sacrament, that is, to those who receive it in faith.

This brings us to another point. With regard to the notion that the effects of baptism "always attend its right administration to those who don't resist it," we have to ask what "resistance" and "right administration" entail. If we define "resistance" or "insincerity" or an "obstacle to grace" in terms of unbelief, then I'm not sure how Hodge distinguishes his view from that of "Ritualism" since he himself maintains that the benefits of redemption are indeed communicated in "the believing reception of baptism."

The question here is also how one defines "right administration" and whether that includes the appropriate response on the part of the recipient. A Reformed theologian such as Zacharius Ursinus, for instance, maintains that the effects of baptism are "joined with" the rite of baptism in the "right and proper use of it" (Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism).

Certainly, within some theological traditions, "resistance" is defined more widely than just unbelief (including, e.g., lack of charity, mortal sin, scorning the sacrament itself, lack of devotion, etc.), but unbelief is central to any account of resistance. If anything, Hodge's account of baptism--and that of the Reformed tradition in general--makes it more efficacious by limiting more significantly the cases in which baptism produces no ultimately saving effect, limiting them to cases of sheer unbelief.

Hodge's problem with "Ritualism" here, however, may have more application to the case of baptized infants since, in most paedobaptist traditions, infants are not seen as capable of resisting the grace of baptism and receive baptism's effects through the faith of their sponsors and the church. Hodge himself says, "Infants are baptized on the faith of their parents. And their baptism secures to them all the benefits of the covenant of grace, provided they ratify that covenant by faith" of their own.

What Hodge leaves unaddressed are several issues: the soteric state of baptized infants until such time as they "ratify that covenant by faith," the question of infant faith in covenant infants (or the "seed of faith" as much of the Reformed tradition speaks), or how we are to approach the question of the salvation (and thus, faith) of those baptized infants who die in infancy.

As for the belief that the Spirit so connects the benefits of redemption to baptism that all who are unbaptized will perish, very few theologians have ever taught this. The categories of baptism of desire and of blood have long held a place in Christian theology, allowing for the salvation of those who are unable to receive baptism through no fault of their own (e.g., due to no available minister, martyrdom, etc.), but who, nonetheless, would have been baptized had the opportunity been available.

It is true that a number of Christian theologians have maintained that unbaptized infants who die cannot be saved (e.g., Augustine), but, in a manner analogous to the baptism of desire, the Reformed tradition has maintained that where the sacrament is not sinfully neglected, the promise of God is sufficient for the salvation of such infants. As Calvin notes, after stressing the ordinary necessity of baptism, "when an opportunity for baptism is wanting, the promise of God alone is amply sufficient" (Antidote to the Council of Trent).

Furthermore, Hodge himself maintains that "That [baptism] is one of the conditions of salvation. 'Whosoever believes and is baptized shall be saved' (Mark 16:16). It has, however, the necessity of precept, not the necessity of a means sine qua non." Thus, he seems to be saying that a believing person who remains unbaptized through no fault of his own, is saved, while we cannot hold out hope for those who show contempt for the sacrament. But this seems perfectly congruous with traditional positions on the matter by those who hold to various versions of "baptismal regeneration."

Having set aside several of Hodge's more superficial (and not very well-formed) objections to baptismal regeneration, this, then, brings us back to the heart of Hodge's objection: that the "interior spiritual renovation" referred to by "regeneration" is something only enjoyed by all of those who are finally saved. Yet, I would suggest that this is no objection to baptismal regeneration, rightly understood.

As we have already seen, no significant theological tradition regarding baptismal regeneration maintains that all who are baptized are regenerated (in whatever manner we define that "regeneration") or that regeneration can only be received through baptism. The question is one of how we describe the conditions under which baptism produces its effects. Hodge describes them as "believing reception" of the sacrament, though he doesn't address the question of baptized infants adequately. Thus, prima facie it would seem that Hodge could easily enough maintain that those who believingly receive baptism are baptismally regenerated.

Hodge, however, does go on to add that baptism is not "designed as the ordinary means of regeneration." His reasoning here is that "faith and repentance are the gifts of the Spirit and fruits of regeneration, and yet they are required as conditions of baptism. But if faith, to which all the benefits of redemption are promised, precedes baptism, how can those benefits be said to be conferred, in any case, through baptism?"

And yet, he goes on straightway to provide an answer to his own question, maintaining that the benefits of redemption are "reconveyed and reappropriated...on every new believing reception of the sacraments." Indeed, he says, that the "sinner coming to baptism in the exercise of repentance and faith, takes...God the Holy Ghost to be his Sanctifier," of which the water is a sign, so that "whatever he may have experienced or enjoyed before, this is the public conveyance to him of the benefits of the covenant." And thus, "baptism really applies to him the blessings of which it is the symbol."

If that is all the case, then baptism could also be seen, easily enough it seems, to be a reappropriation and renewal in that regeneration (understood here in terms of an interior spiritual renovation) that the baptized had already experienced prior to baptism. Only by conceiving regeneration as a once for all, punctiliar and instantaneous event could it be excluded from the benefits received in baptism.

But nothing Hodge says here would entail conceiving regeneration in that manner (though it is clear that he does think of it in that way elsewhere). Moreover, regeneration is held out in the Reformed confessional standards as among those blessings of which baptism is a symbol and so, it would seem, on Hodge's own view that baptism must somehow "apply" regeneration to the baptized, even if largely in terms of "reconveyance" and "reappropriation."

In addition, with regard to those who are baptized in unbelief, apart from any prior experience of regeneration, they may still yet be regenerated and, if so, that later regeneration might well be seen as a delayed effect of their baptism. Such a theological construction is hardly unknown even among those who maintain baptismal regeneration. For instance, it might be seen as analogous to medieval views of the "revivification" of baptismal grace once an obstacle to that grace has been removed. Still, this is all assuming Hodge's understanding of regeneration.

On the other hand, the term "regeneration," even within the Reformed tradition, has a wider semantic range than what Hodge seems willing to admit, often referring to the whole ongoing process of mortification and newness of life and, in the case of a few Reformed theologians, referring to the objective change marked by baptism as a solem admission into the visible church as the locus of God's saving work. And if we go beyond the Reformed tradition, the terminology of "regeneration" is used quite differently, for instance, among some Anglicans who speak of "ecclesiastical regeneration" in terms of the new way of life one has upon entering the church or some Lutherans who virtually equate it with the forgiveness of sins.

It is an illegitimate move for Hodge to impute his understanding of the Reformed content of "regeneration" (i.e., an inalienable and instantaneous spiritual renovation entailing final salvation, the subjective side of "effectual calling") to the entire Reformed tradition and, much less, to those outside of the Reformed tradition. Even if Hodge were right about how the term is used scripturally (and I'm not sure he is), that is not how the term has always been used theologically within the wider church.

Thus, it seems to me, that despite his protestations to the contrary, Hodge's own view is actually quite naturally described as "baptismal regeneration," even if we take "regeneration" here as something that only the elect experience and as entailing final salvation. For the elect, at least, Hodge's own theological construction would seem to indicate that baptism is a regenerating ordinance, even if often only in terms of the renewal and reappropriation of a regeneration already possessed.

14 September 2004

kyoto pics

For those of you who've been keeping up with my travel blog from August, I've put up four pages worth of photos that I took during my trip to Kyoto, Japan, starting here.

Update: Added a page on visiting Nagoya.

13 September 2004

this probably doesn't interest you, but...

La Salle University has been in its present location since the 1920s, located along a stretch of Olney Avenue, at the corner of 20th Street, north of the downtown part of Philadelphia. When the University first relocated here from a mansion closer to Center City, the campus was surrounded mostly by farmland and the beginnings of a few residential neighborhoods, while the motocar was still just catching on.

Today, however, the neighborhood around La Salle, particularly to the north and west, is solidly residential and commercial, with two large city high schools just down the street--Girls' High and Central High--a hospital, and a business district in either direction. And the traffic through campus has only increased over the decades, particularly during the morning rush hour.

This has made for a somewhat dangerous situation at the corner of 20th and Olney, where students must cross the street from their dorms, the library, or the sports complex in order to access the main part of campus where most of the classroom buildings are located.

While there is a traffic light, it never goes red in all directions at once in order to allow for pedestrian traffic and, while there is supposed to be "no turn on red," that limitation is regularly ignored by drivers. And although pedestrians have the right of way against a vehicle turning, cars often attempt to squeeze through groups of students, if they slow down at all.

As a result, while we've had no student deaths, we do have a number of accidents every year injuring students and staff, along with plenty of close calls. In some instances, of course, the accident is at least partly attributable to the foolishness or naivete of students, but the larger number is certainly the fault of aggressive drivers.

For nearly 40 years, La Salle has been petitioning the city to close 20th Street south of Olney Avenue, as it heads downhill, allowing cars to race through, often 25 mph above the posted speed limit. While 20th Street doesn't look like a main thoroughfare, such a street closure, however, could lead to traffic problems given that many people use 20th as a back way through through the neighborhood to access more main arteries. Moreover, the Councilperson for La Salle's district has always opposed such a closure.

A couple of years ago the University did get the City to install a button-activated traffic signal partway down the hill on 20th Street, thereby breaking up the block and allowing for pedestrians to cross there, rather than at the corner, redirecting some of the foot traffic away from the main intersection. While, in some ways, this did incrementally improve matters, it also led to new problems as drivers ignored the signal or attempted to race through the yellow as it turned to red.

Well over a year ago, the University, City officials, the local Councilwoman, block captains, and neighborhood leaders met in order to work out some kind of compromise. After a number months of negotiations, a compromise was reached with uninamous backing among the various parties: to turn 20th Street into a one-way street, going uphill, thereby solving the problem of cars speeding downhill and careless turns onto the street, the University itself offering to pay for any construction or studies.

Last December, during the Christmas break and at University expense, the street was temporarily transformed into a one-way road using concrete barriers and a series of relfective posts, while permanent rebuilding of the street would await a study period that looked at the effects of the change. That period has passed and, with City, Councilwoman, and neighborhood approval, the downhill western side of the has now been ceded to the University and plans are underway to rebuild the street, making it permanently and attractively one-way.

Nevertheless, since January, every single weekday morning from 7am through 9am (i.e., morning rushhour) there has been a group of 5-10 protesters at the corner of 20th and Olney, opposing the street closure, holding signs asking motorists to honk in opposition to the closure, accusing the University of being a "bully," and attempting to turn it into an issue of "justice" and civil rights. After all, La Salle Univeristy (perceived as a largely white institution) is supposedly inconveniencing the surrounding (and largely African-American) neighborhood.

The protesters not only hold signs, but also started out with bullhorns, whistles, air horns, and the like, in addition to verbally harassing students on their way to class, which probably isn't a great idea after having awakened them at 7am. In addition, by standing the middle the street, they have slowed down traffic and exacerbated drivers adjusting to the new traffic patterns. While freedom of expression naturally cannot be violated, the University's attorneys did manage to get a court order limiting the decible level of the protesters, thus preventing the use of the bullhorn.

What's more, the bulk of the protesters are not even members of the immediately surrounding community, but are daily transported in and provided with signs and so on by some organization that has seen the street closing as an important issue. I've heard a rumor that the protestors are paid, though I'm not sure this is, in fact, true.

There are, of course, all kinds of reasons for the actual neighbors to have complaints about La Salle, given the kinds of unneighborly behavior our students sometimes exhibit, particularly when drunk in the wee hours of the morning. The partial closure of 20th Street could easily enough, I imagine, be the occasion for long-standing resentments surfacing in protest, but that doesn't seem to be what's primarily going on.

In any case, I find the sociology and politics of the situation to be interesting.

12 September 2004

wine and spirits

Following up on the previous post, when I pushed Claire's stroller into the wine and spirits shop, my precocious toddler looked around and said, "Daddy, wine! Lots and lots of bottles of wine."

"Yes, sweetheart," I replied. "It's a wine shop." The store clerk looked on rather amused. "Claire, what colors does wine come in?" I asked.


I picked up a nearby bottle of chardonnay. "What color wine is this?"

"White wine!"

"Good. What other color does wine come in."

"Red wine, Daddy."

"Very good." Picking up another nearby bottle, I said, "This red wine is called 'Merlot.'" I turned to the shopkeeper with a grin, "Next week we start on wine regions of France."

It is pretty amazing what toddlers pick up on, though. At only two Claire distinquishes quite easily, on sight, between wine and beer. She picked up an empty beer bottle last week and pretended to have a stuffed bear drink it, saying, "Daddy, teddy drink beer! Mmmmm."

I'll have to be careful. I'm not sure whether I've got a future alcoholic or a connoisseur on my hands.

Perhaps I should add that Claire's odd bits of knowledge aren't limited to alcohol, since she asks lots of questions about everything and both her Mommy and Daddy are constantly teaching her about whatever is at hand, from gardening to music. Besides, I don't know many other two year olds who can tell you that the stone basin at church is a "font" and that they got baptized there, which, as I tell Claire, means the minister poured water on your head and Jesus said "You belong to me."

11 September 2004


After a nice single malt scotch (and the occasional sip of a good cognac), my favorite distilled liquor is gin. It is, after all, quite the versatile drink, especially for mixing: gins and tonics, dry martinis, cosmopolitans, gin gimlets, Singapore slings, and so on.

However, gin, at least good gin, is not cheap. My two favorite gins, with very different characters, are Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray #10. Whereas Sapphire is heavily botanical, with especially strong juniper flavors, 10 is lighter with a more citrus note. When I make a martini, I want Sapphire, but for a gin and tonic 10 is tops.

Unfortunately, for a 750 millilitre bottle, Bombay Sapphire runs around $23 while Tanqueray #10 is around $27. Ouch. (Though I have no objection to receiving bottles as gifts.)

G&J Greenall's Quintessential to the rescue. I had read about Q in a wine and spirits magazine and though it sounded worth a try. It's distilled five times and has a balance of botanicals that place it somewhere between Sapphire and 10 on the spectrum between juniper and citrus, making for a very versatile liquor. What's more, it retails for only $20 a bottle and is often on sale for $2 less.

In any case, I picked some up today on the way back with Claire from the playground and am looking forward to trying it.


Rene Descartes' famous dictum "cogito ergo sum" has likely been subjected to more analysis and criticism than any other bit of early modern philosophy.

Notwithstanding, in this post Berek makes some interesting observations on the difficulty of translating the cogito into Japanese, which suggests there is something problematic in Descartes' dependence upon the mere grammar of French and Latin to arrive at his conclusion.

There are difficulties with translation into English as well, since the cogito is commonly read as "I think, therefore, I am." But the notion of "thinking" in English is, I think, rather more narrow that what Descartes had in mind. The semantic range of "cogito" (and behind it, the French "pense"), after all, can include the whole of human awareness and consciousness, so long as we keep in mind that to be aware or conscious is to be aware or conscious of something.

There's also the important point that the "I" in cogito is included in the verb itself, in a way that is not possible in English (though the French was "je pense"), perhaps thereby shaping Descartes' insistence that the sum (I am) is already included in the cogito.

In his book, On Thinking the Human, Robert W. Jenson points out that Descartes was right about at least one thing: the sheer givenness of consciousness (17). Beyond that, however, Jenson suggests that Descartes went very much astray. As others have pointed out, what is immediately given is consciousness itself, whereas the "I" that is purportedly present in consciousness is not. After all, as Jenson points out, the self can "appear only as an item in consciousness" and can be doubted as well as anything else since, one might wonder, "Am I really like that self that appears to me?" (18). And that is something we all ask ourselves from time to time.

In this case, Jenson suggests, Descartes is not unproblematically entitled to the premise "I am conscious" (cogito), but rather, at the most, something like "consciousness happens." Even there, however, we run into difficulties, since here the structure of subject (consciousness) and verb (happens) suggests a complexity and kind of predication that goes beyond "the utter simplicity of what is actually immediate given and ineluctable" (19).

From these points Jenson goes on to discuss consciousness, arguing that it can only be approached from within a theological context of God as Trinity and the church as a creaturely participation in the divine life. I won't reproduce his argument here, but it is intriguing.

current reading

As a result of some birthday gifts, I've acquired several books to add to my list of things to read: The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth by David Bentley Hart (Eerdmans 2003), On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions by Robert W. Jenson (Eerdmans 2003), The Mystic Fable : The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries by Michel de Certeau (University of Chicago Press 1995), and Genealogy of Nihilism: Philosophies of Nothing & the Difference of Theology by Conor Cunningham (Routledge 2002).

As I wade my way through these, I'll try to report back. But all these titles come highly recommended.

08 September 2004

still more pics

I've posted a few more photos of my trip to Japan, starting with a page about Harajuku and Shibuya.


Has blogger been acting weird in the past day for other folks too? I've been having a dickens of a time trying to get it to publish.

07 September 2004

volume 2

For better or worse I had watched Kill Bill when the DVD first came out and finally managed to see Vol 2 of it tonight. Tarantino is nuts, but brilliant, though I'm never quite sure that I exactly like his films, except for the soundtracks.

election in christ: a note

Calvin and a number of other Reformed theologians distinguish between "the elect" as that refers to all those whom God has drawn to himself through the Word and baptism, some of whom may later fall away, and "the elect" as that refers only to those who remain to the end in a pesevering faith. One might, I suppose, refer to those elect who eventually fall away as the "temporarily elect" and those who persevere as the "finally elect," though I'm not sure that's the best language to use.

I mention all of that in order to provide context for the following. Someone recently emailed to ask whether it was really true (as someone had told him) that I held that "the only difference between the finally elect and the temporarily elect is that the finally elect persevere"? I thought this was a rather puzzling question (not to mention that it imputes a position to me that would run afoul of the Canons of Dort), so I asked further what would make them think that I held to such a view.

The reply was to quote something I had written some time ago and which I have subsequently removed from my website precisely because some people were misreading it in these ways. I am quoted to have said, "special election simply is covenantal election for those, who by God's sovereign grace, persevere."

I did indeed write that, but can't see how it supposedly entails that I believe the only difference between the finally elect and the temporarily elect is one of perseverence. In context, "covenantal election" refers to that wide mercy of God by which he draws various persons into his church through the Word and sacraments, even though some of those may later fall away through unbelief and thus are never finally saved. "Special election" refers to that grace of God by which he preserves unto salvation those who persevere in faith to the end.

I mention perseverence in the quotation simply because their final perseverence is a handy way to designate the "specially elect." I'm not sure why anyone should take that designation to exclude all other differences in the Christian experience, subjective faith, and ongoing relationship with God of the "specially elect."

The point of the quotation was to suggest that one shouldn't think of special election as something super-added over and above covenantal election in the case of those who persevere. Rather, I was trying to say that when God, in his covenantal election draws various persons to himself, for some that covenantal election is also, at the same time and in the same event, their special election, characterized from the start by those elements that will, in the end, result in their final perseverance.

Now, phenomenologically, I don't want to start attempting to isolate and characterize precisely what the differences are between those who finally persevere and those who don't. After all, when Scripture tells us of those who do eventually fall away (e.g., in the parable of the sower and the soils), the point is not to use it as a way of categorizing people prospectively, trying to figure out which ones will make it and which ones won't. Rather, it is hortatory, calling us to strive to be those who, through faith and reliance upon God's grace, persevere.

In fact, I would suggest that typically the distinction is only discernable retrospectively, once perseverence is certain or apostasy is apparent. This, of course, is not to say that perseverence is the only distinguishing mark or that there were no subjective differences present all along.

On occasion I've likened the situation to two novels, both containing ten chapters, that are word-for-word identical, chapters one through eight. But at this point the novels diverge, in the one novel the main protaganist, who after all his struggles along the way, goes on to heroically accomplish the tasks set before him. In the other novel the protagonist tragically fails and comes to ruin, having made a shipwreck of his life.

Such a divergence in the final two chapters would cause a re-reading of the earlier chapters, making them to have been entirely different books from the very start, despite the word-for-word correspondence in chapters one through eight. And so, for instance, what was a grave error that eventually built constancy and character in one novel turns out to be a foreshadowing and inception of failure in the other. But in each case, who the character has truly been all along is a discernment that can only be made retrospectively, from the standpoint of the novel's end.

If someone considers this analogy I've made and still insists that I'm saying that the only difference is one of perseverence over time, then either they've misread me (due, no doubt, to my own failure to communicate) or we are operating with incommensurable ontologies. Where I see the unfolding of events and relations as constitutive of personal being so that what happens later qualifies the very nature of what has gone before, others may see personal being as entirely contained in what constitutes that nature at a single instant.

In any case, that is all by way of brief comment and reply.

06 September 2004

more pics

I've added three more days to my photo blog, starting here.

snacktime conversations

As Claire was sitting at the kitchen counter tonight, having some yogurt and blueberries after a walk, she looked up at us and said, "Ooohh, dare's a monster."

Playing along, Laurel replied, "What kind of monster?"

"A kitchen monster!"

"Is it a friendly monster?" I asked.

"Noooo, scary monster."

"What do you think we should do about it?" we queried.

"Use magic," Claire replied.

"What kind of magic?"

"Wibbie da Pooh magic!"

"Oh. How does that kind of magic work?" Laurel asked.

It turns out to be the kind of magic that Madeline uses in the stories about her when she says, "Pooh, pooh" at scary things.

Claire ate a bit more and after a bit looked up and said, "Nudder monster!"

This time it apparently was a friendly monster that helps Daddy cook dinner, using its claws to mash potatoes. Clever monster.

05 September 2004

interesting article

From Alastair's blog, I found this interesting essay by Douglas Farrow, whose Ascension and Ecclesia (Eerdmans 1999) I had enjoyed. The essay is entitled "Between the Rock and a Hard Place: In Support of (something like) a Reformed View of the Eucharist" and appeared in the International Journal of Systematic Theology (3:2, 2001:167-186).

Farrow, an Anglican theologian in the Reformed tradition, interacts helpfully with Aquinas, Augustine, Irenaeus, Luther, Jean-Luc Marion, Graham Ward, and Catherin Pickstock in attempting to construct a theological reflection upon the eucharist that, while catholic and Calvinian, also attempts to overcome some of the possible pitfalls of Calvin's approach.

some recent viewing

While "Pooh and the Blustery Day" and "Lyle, the Kindly Viking" are currently the two favorite videos in our household, we have had a chance to watch a few more grown-up things lately as well.

The first was to re-watch Lost in Translation, which we had seen in the theater and holds up nicely to a second viewing, especially for me as my trip to Tokyo gives me a new way of looking at the film. I still think it is a remarkable film, especially for so young a filmmaker, both funny and deeply melancholy, with an effective use of the foreign setting as a metaphor for much of its narrative unfolding.

The second was Goodbye Lenin!, which we had wanted to see since it had first come to theaters and which is now available on video. It is a great movie and deserves the praise it has received, particularly by European critics. Again, it is a film that is both funny and melancholy, with some interesting twists and interplay of history and family.

03 September 2004

japan pictures

A couple of you asked about the pictures I took while visiting Japan. I didn't want to take up space here, so I began another blog where I've started to put the pictures and a bit of narrative up together, calling it Echo of Days, which is a goofy title, but you'd be suprised how many blog titles are already taken.

Given various responsibilities, I've been rather busy, so only have posted about five days worth of pictures, through August 6th (and only posted the pictures that turned out fairly well). I didn't add a comments system to the other blog, but you can comment here or, if people would like, I can add a comments system to the picture blog.

01 September 2004

ah well

I seem to have aged another year. At least I got a couple of good books out of the deal along with dinner out and some new clothes. My ever-younger students, on the other hand, have never lived in a world without compact discs or the Comedy Channel. I'm getting old.