30 September 2005

jordan making waves

Whatever else one may say about them, as I've noted in comments elsewhere, James B. Jordan's essays concerning recent affairs in the conservative Reformed world seem to be sparking some interesting and, I do hope, helpful discussion. They have, naturally, also sparked some not-so-interesting and very unhelpful discussion, but that's par for the course, I suppose, especially in an age where the entrance bar to publishing one's thoughts abroad is so low (and I do recognize the irony of blogging this last sentence).

Some readers seem to interpret Jordan as saying that the current unpleasantness is "politically-motivated." Perhaps that is what he's saying. I don't think, however, that politics is truly the ultimate driving force, at least not in the sense that fundamental disagreements are just a matter of politics. I accept at face-value the notion that the problems are primarily theological and pastoral in nature, even if theology is never entirely outside of politics.

And it is always nearly impossible to discern personal motives of players in such controversies and, even where such discernment is possible, it is impossible to generalize what motivates one or another particular individual and apply that to larger groups. Theological controversy, of course, can be the occasion for bringing the worst out of people, revealing the underlying condition of their hearts or, at the least, having the unfortunate effect of detaching theological discourse from the context of pastoral care and concern within which it belongs.

It also appears that current theological disagreement and discussion has become increasingly polarized, politicized, and entwined with the circulation and exercise of power (to sound like Foucault for a moment). This is not to say that politics have universally taken precedence over theology. It may rather be a matter of politics in service to theology, a willingness to do or say what it takes to score theological points, even if it is fallacious or not very well thought out or, in some instances perhaps, barely half-true.

And in such a situation conversation does have a tendency to shut down since it becomes difficult for a person to say anything without it getting misconstrued or turned around and used against the author. This, in turn, makes it very tricky business to even provide the kinds of specifics and details that would indicate that such politicization is, in fact, occurring. One's own motives in providing such data could all too easily be questioned and politicized (since politicized people tend to assume everyone else is equally politicized), while those questioning one's own motives often enough can cloak themselves in pious rhetoric to deflect any similar questioning. Moreover, the mere perception of politicization has a chilling effect for theological conversation and discussion.

Whether or not this sort of thing is occurring presently, it does describe how the world often operates and I'm not enough of an idealist to think that the church is immune to such ways of operating. Indeed, historically the church has been among the worst culprits, since within the church power can hide itself behind theological positions, good church order, and forms of godliness.

The ethical question of how to conduct oneself under such circumstances is a particularly vexing one. Following Jesus would seem to call us to bear patiently with all manner of accusation, misrepresentation, and so on. But Jesus didn't entirely eschew sometimes harsh rhetoric, even against religious leaders who were highly regarded in their communities. Nor did it lead our Lord to avoid symbolic actions, such as clearing the temple, that would bring down the collective anger of others upon him. But the wisdom to know when to be patient, when to speak boldly, when to take action, and so on, that is difficult wisdom to discern.

Having said this, whatever the causes and motives of the current unpleasantness, it is evident enough, I think, that there has been a great amount of talking past each other. Moreover, those who have the training and acumen to be able to speak clearly and carefully about the views of others have often failed in that task. Those whose special obligation it is to avoid raising false rumors, receiving or countenancing evil reports, and stopping their ears against just defense, have sometimes fallen short.

Returning to the question of miscommunication and the "closing of the Calvinist mind," part of the difficulty is that within a confessional context such as the Reformed tradition, even in its "Westminsterian" variety, there is significant diversity. Within the Reformed tradition this is particularly so in areas such as sacramental theology, ecclesiology, the free offer of the Gospel, how we conceive the covenants, and so on. Given this diversity on a constellation of issues, the tradition is open to being described or unfolded along a variety of trajectories. The complicated question, then, is how to adjudicate the claims of various trajectories to represent an authentic way of pulling issues together within the tradition or of developing the tradition.

I personally think, for instance, that the thought of both Meredith Kline and Norman Shepherd represent departures from some key points in traditional Reformed covenant theology as understood by the bulk of the Westminster divines, taken in their 17th century context, and that these departures run in more or less equal and opposite directions. As a result, however, how one's covenant theology is evaluated may shift drastically from one context to another, depending upon the relative influence of particular figures and texts within the context of various Presbyteries, seminaries, and so on.

I suppose that's fine in general, but it also means that there is real inconsistency across some Reformed denominations in terms of what counts as "acceptable diversity within the bounds of the confessional Standards." Moreover, at times lines get drawn very narrowly on issues that, historically, have never been matters that were seen to rise to a level of confessional subscription.

Add to this mix of problems the fact that, as I mentioned above, there seems to be a great amount of people talking past one another. When, for instance, a Klinean speaks of Adamic "merit," one cannot assume that "merit" is being used in any recognized historic sense of the term (e.g., condign, congruent, etc.) since Kline's followers have re-defined the meaning of the term within the context of their own covenantal understanding. The language being used is no longer univocal with how the same language is used within the Westminster Standards. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing requires thought and discernment.

This is not to say that everything is just one big misunderstanding, because clearly it isn't. But I do think that a great deal of the recent unpleasantness might have been defused and real matters of divergence made clear and constructively discussed, if there had been a greater recognition of rhetorical context for various statements, some toning down of overall polemics, avoidance of fallacious forms of argumentation, and a more serious effort to understand and represent what others are saying from within their own modes of speaking, use of terminology, historical understandings, and so forth.

That is all to say that I suspect Jordan is correct about a gradual narrowing of the diversity and depth of the Reformed tradition, especially on the part of those who would seek to defend it. Whatever the details, purity is all too often secured at the cost of peace and unity. Watching matters unfold over the past several years has sometimes led me to question the health of my own Presbyterian denomination and at times has made me ashamed and even sickened by how the denomination can function.

Fortunately, the Spirit continues to bring forth enough good things locally and throughout our churches to outweigh the more isolated pockets that I find distressing. And even some of those individuals whose behavior I've found troubling nonetheless exercise seemingly healthy and vital ministry in other areas of their lives. We can only thank God that the grace of Jesus Christ remains at work even in our weakness.

29 September 2005

of fairy tales and mashups

I seem to have caught one of the colds that are ubiquitously circulating around these parts. Perhaps the following thoughts aren't as foggy as my head currently feels.

Browsing around the Christianity Today library website, I was led to recall a significant disappointement of the past several years, one that honestly stretched my exercise of the Christian virtue of forgiveness: the dissolution of re:generation quarterly as publication.

RQ was published between 1995 and 2003, filled with articles of thoughtful Christian reflection on issues of theology, art, ethics, and culture from the standpoint of a younger generation of thinkers (who we called "GenX" back then), representing a wide swath of orthodox Christian faith. RQ was "emerging" before any of us had heard of the emerging church conversation and, given its explicit stand for orthodoxy, RQ engaged that conversation in way that struck me as more careful and respectful of ecclesial tradition than some of what has since come to fall under the "emerging" banner.

The magazine went through several incarnations and variations from the time it first began, under the guidance of Brad Wilcox, who was a bright doctoral student in sociology at Princeton at the time and who brought the project to my attention, though I can no longer recall how I first had met Brad or where I fit into his wide circle of acquaintances. But as with many publications of that sort, particularly in an age when print journalism is struggling, RQ never had an easy time of things, despite offering articles by thinkers as excellent and diverse as Rodney Clapp, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, D.G. Hart, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Leon Podles, Michael S. Horton, and Lauren F. Winner.

By the time the magazine shut down, with Andy Crouch at its helm (not that RQ's demise was in any way Andy's fault), it had been a great run and I can be only grateful that the archive of the magazine remains available online, though the subscription price in order to access full articles will be cost-prohibitive for many (though, from another perspective, it is really a good deal).

I say all of this in large part to segue into mentioning that most of the writers for RQ have not disappeared, but continue to produce thoughtful essays and other work in various forums. Among those is the former editor, Andy Crouch, whose website, Culture Makers, offers a current listing of what he's thinking and writing about, now that Andy's taken a position with Christianity Today.

If you've read this far and are still wondering about the title for this blog entry, it refers to two of Andy's recent pieces, "Of Wardrobes and Potters", a disarming story that functions as an apologetic of sorts for Harry Potter, and "Let's Do the Mash", a story about faith and popular music appearing in Books and Culture.

And with that, I'm going to bed.

28 September 2005


Sorry not to be blogging much lately. As I noted earlier, I have a particularly busy schedule this semester with the various sorts of committee work I've taken on in addition to teaching 14 credits.

Also, last week, one of my philosophy colleagues was diagnosed with acute leukemia and will be out for the rest of the semester undergoing chemotherapy and recovering. As a result, I'll be taking over one of his sections for the rest of the term. It's an honors class, so I'm looking forward to it, though it is some additional work.

Do pray for the success of the treatment in bringing Mike's leukemia into remission, as well as his recovery and continued health.

26 September 2005

de lubac

It looks as if Henri de Lubac's important work Corpus Mysticum: The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages will at last be published by SCM press in June 2006. Here's the blurb:

One of the major figures of 20th century Catholic theology, Henri Cardinal de Lubac SJ was particularly renowned for his attention to the doctrine of the Church and its life within the contemporary world. In this book, de Lubac opens an initial exploration of the Church as made by the Eucharist and gives new expression to that mystery in which the Church is believed to consist. As one whose generous and fervent spirit contributed significantly to the thinking of the Second Vatican Council, de Lubac’s influence has been widespread, making a substantial impact also on the development of ecumenical relations between Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox theologians. With the publication of this English translation of Corpus Mysticum, this important text of contemporary Catholic ecclesiology and sacramental theology is made available to the Anglophone world and joins the substantial range of de Lubac’s works now accessible to scholars.

I first ran across this work at lest 15 years ago, while I was an undergrad in college and was reading through a number of de Lubac's other works. It seemed at the time to be a very important work of both historical investigation and of positive theological development, but it's only been available in French. While I've picked up the French edition on numerous occasions over the past years and poked away at bits of it, I've neither the fluency nor patient to make significant progress. Thus I very much look forward to its publication in English and being able to give closer attention to the developments in eucharistic theology and ecclesiology that are not only theologically significant, but also form part of the backdrop to the shifts that resulted in the Reformation.

25 September 2005

pentecost 19

Grant, O merciful God,
that your Church,
being gathered by your Holy Spirit into one,
may show forth your power among all peoples,
to the glory of your name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

22 September 2005

upgraded website

Tenth PCA in Philadelphia has just completed a pretty thorough redesign of its website. Overall, I think, it seems to be an improvement. The site is now, at least, more or less fully functional in browsers other than IE. That's certainly progress.

One cool thing is access to this picture of the sanctuary, which gives a nice sense of its proportions and neo-byzantine architecture. I've always thought the US flag in the front tended to detract from the worship space (whatever theological issues its presence might raise), but it's a pretty cool space nonetheless. Too bad you can't see the Tiffany stained glass in the picture.

I'll have to look through the new site more thoroughly at some point. The coding seems a bit unnecessarily cumbersome and there are some links that have been inadvertantly left out (e.g., the church library website). I do, however, like the general aesthetic.

webster on accommodation

In a book review several weeks ago I suggested that the language of "accommodation" with regard to divine revelation is, in several respects, inadequate and potentially misleading. This is not at all to deny that God's (archetypal) knowledge of himself only bears and analogical relationship to our (ectypal) participation in that knowledge through revelation. But I am not convinced that "accommodation" is the best language with which to express that relationship.

I've recently been reading through John Webster's short book Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge 2003), which thus far has been quite helpful and thought-provoking. Webster sketches a dogmatic theology of holy Scripture from within the Reformed tradition, drawing in various ways upon Calvin, Luther, Bavinck, Berkouwer, Barth, and others. He does a good job of setting Scripture in its theological context of "the self-presentation of the triune God" to the end of establishing saving fellowship with those who respond in faith.

In the process of explication his doctrine of Scripture, Webster says the following regarding the notion of "accommodation," which he recognizes to have a long tradition in Reformed dogmatics. He writes,

...the notion of accommodation is tied to an excessively neat distinction between, on the one hand, the form, manner or mode of revelation and, on the other hand, the content of revelation. The first (form) is associated with the human character of the biblical texts, the second (content) with the matter of divine wisdom to which this form is external. Although accommodation and (especially) condescension give proper emphasis to the way in which the biblical texts are what they are in the economy of God's self-revelation, the distinction between for and content can have the effect of inflaming the problem of dualism by reinforcing the idea that the creatureliness of the text is simply external and contingent. (22)

It seems to me that this note of caution is spot on and expresses well some of what I was trying to get at in my earlier misgivings.

In any case, this brief quotation will have to suffice for now. I'm not sure how much blogging I'll be able to keep up with in the next several weeks and the semester is getting increasingly busy, but we'll see.

20 September 2005

celtic fest

This weekend, once again, is the annual Celtic Classic festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, celebrating the culture, heritage, and arts of the Celts: Scots, Irish, Welsh, Breton, Manx, and so on.

We're only heading up for Saturday, but the festival is three days and features five free music venues, crafts, highland games, a border collie demonstration, Irish dance, a haggis eating contest, and many other exhibitions and forms of entertainment. I'm not sure how many times Laurel's been to the festival, but this will be my sixth or seventh time, I think. Since it always falls on the weekend close to her birthday and she enjoys it so much, we've made something of a tradition of attending it.

If anyone from the Philly area is headed up for the festival, let us know and perhaps we can try to meet up, even if only briefly.

18 September 2005

pentecost 18

Almighty God,
you created the heavens and the eart,
and made us in your image.
Teach us to discern your hand
in all your works
and to serve you
with reverence and thanksgiving;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

17 September 2005

mcginn on augustine's influence

I apologize for the paucity of blogging this week. My migraine at the beginning of the week ended putting me behind a day on most things in a week already filled with various meetings and events. I was planning on blogging last night but ended up going to hear Bill Mallonee at the Mad Donkey coffeehouse.

At any rate, I wanted to give a brief synopsis of Bernard McGinn's talk at Villanova on Wednesday, which concerned the influence of Augustine on medieval mysticism. While I can't do justice to McGinn's talk (which, in some respects, covered too much in too little time), I wanted to give a sketch of what he had to say.

McGinn began with the question of whether or not Augustine was a “mystic.” After all, Augustine wouldn’t have even been familiar with the terms “mystic” or “mysticism.” In this context, McGinn distinguished between modern phenomenological accounts of mysticism, which tend toward individualistic interiority, divorced from the contexts of community and Scripture and the like that would be typical of Christian mysticism.

There are a few points in the Confessions, particularly in Books 7 and 9, that suggest that Augustine personally knew of something like mystical experience. In Confessions 7.10, Augustine speaks of entering into his inmost parts and gaining glimpse of the immutable light. And at the end of 9, he records the "vision at Ostia," in connection with his mother Monica, which really is not a "vision," but an experience that occured mostly through hearing and silence, feeling and touching.

In Confessions, Book 10.27, Augustine describes God’s action on the inner senses (hearing, illumination, smelling divine sweetness, being touched by God, etc.). He distinguishes later between meditation/memory and glimpses of something more, a brief awareness of loving affection.

After Confessions, when Augustine writes about this sort of thing he doesn’t write in the first person, but through the exposition of Scripture, making mention of various kinds of experience and awareness of God in connection with biblical passages.

So, McGinn asked, do we have access to Augustine’s own mystical experiences?

Though this sort of survey is interesting, McGinn wanted to take a wider approach to the question of Augustine and mysticism, including his meditations on the Psalms as mediating an awareness of God from within the totus Christus, as well as Augustine's suggestions about the soul as an image of the Trinity.

But one can also argue for Augustine's place as a mystic, McGinn suggested, from his reception by subsequent tradition as such: “By your fruits you shall know them.” The transformative effects of Augustine's own experience of God come to be passed along within a tradition. And that to is a witness to Augustine as a mystical writer.

McGinn asserted that the story of western mysticism is deeply indebted to Augustine. But that raises of the questions of “which Augustine” left his mark and “how” Augustine was used. Augustine, after all, went through many stages, developments, reversals, and so within his own theological journey. Moreover, the early medieval mystical texts of Pseudo-Augustine came to be attributed to the Bishop of Hippo, but how and why and what does that tell about how the genuine Augustine was regarded?

Confessions, of course, are central for later history of mysticism, but also Augustine's letters, work on the Psalms, De Trinitate,
De vera religione
, and a number of other works.

To get some sense of Augustine's influence, McGinn examined the structural role of Augustine in the development of the thought of four prominent medieval mystical theologians: Bernard of Clairvaux, William of St. Thierry, Bonaventure, and Meister Eckhart. McGinn moved through each of these theologians quickly, noting ways in which Augustine's is apparent in their theology.

In the case of Bernard, McGinn argued that his theological anthropology draws heavily upon Augustine, especially in Bernard's On Grace and Free Choice, with its emphasis on the inability of the fallen will to make any move towards God apart from grace. As such the work functions as a sort of extended meditative commentary on Romans, examining the relation of grace and freedom and salvation, using Augustine's well-known motif of the fourfold state (from On Grace and Correction).

While Bernard gives his own definition of “free choice,” it nonetheless remains deeply Augustinian. For Bernard, there are three sorts of freedom: [1] freedom from necessity; [2] freedom from sin; and [3] freedom from misery (delight in the good). McGinn suggested that hese correspond approximately to Augustine's image of God (in the case of [1]) and likeness of God (in the cases of [2] and [3]). While God's image remains intact in a state of sin, human likeness to God is interrupted and lost. Mystical consciousness fits in with [3] for Bernard and is tied to the progressive restoration of likeness unto God.

McGinn began his overview of William of St. Thierry by nothing that William is interested also in theological anthropology and is even more deeply Augustinian, drawing also upon the categories of image and likeness, love and participation. William particularly develops Augustine's doctrine of the Holy Spirit as the love between the Father and Son. His Spirit-centered mysticism remains explicitly trinitarian, meditating upon the Augustinian image/analogy to the Trinity found in the triad of memory, understanding, and will.

For William, McGinn noted, the image of God is participation in God. While similitude with God is lost in the fall, that likeness is progressively resotory in salvation, bringing humanity to the perfecting participation, deification, and maturation for which they were created. And all of this, for William, is always to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, which participation in God through the Spirit is the gift (donum) given to humanity. In mystical experience, it is the Spirit himself who becomes the reality of our seeing and rejoicing in God just as the Spirit is the bond of love between the Father and Son. Thus, in giving the Spirit, God gives himself, not just an effect of grace as virtue is. Thus for William, McGinn suggests, our likeness to God in the highest degree is a matter of being taking up into the oneness of God in the Spirit.

From William, McGinn turned to Bonaventure. Bonaventure cites Augustine constantly as an authority in both theology and philosophy throughout his works, particularly The Mind’s Journey into God. Illumination remains the most prominent Augustinian theme in Bernand. In Chapter 2 of the Mind's Journey, Bernard uses Aristotelian terminology to express Augustinian content with regard to illumination. In Chapter 3, the triad of knowledge, intellect, and will, building upon Augustine, is seen to constitute human likeness to God. But, as Bonaventure continues, McGinn explained, he becomes increasingly (Pseudo-)Dionysian, though some of that trend comes from the influence of Pseudo-Augustine so Bernard, at the very least, thought it was Augustinian.

McGinn finished his lecture with an all-too-brief glance at Meister Eckhart who, apparently steeped in Augustine, cites him more than any other figure. Eckhard's Augustine, however, remains a selective Augustine, rarely drawing upon any of Augustine's anti-Pelagian treatises. Moreover, Eckhard tends to recast what he reads in Augustine within his own theological project and, at times, openly disagrees with Augustine.

The most interesting examples of Eckhart's use of Augustine, McGinn suggests, are where he uses Augustine against Augustine, especially with regard to both the relation of time and eternity and the distincton between humanity being "in the image" and "to the image" of God (imago dei et ad imaginem dei). With regard to this last point, Eckhart portrays Christ as the true consubstantial image of the Father. But we too are created "to the image" of God (so that our imaging of God is an image of the Trinity) and as the image of God. In the end, pushing the analogy between humanity and Christ's imaging of God, Eckhart seems to suggest that the soul has aspect that is of one being with and is the same as God. Though he is building upon Augustine here, Augustine would almost certainly reject Eckhart's conclusion.

I really have very few comments on McGinn's lecture. Despite my fondness for figures such as Julian of Norwich, I don't find the category of "mysticism" particularly helpful theologically, though the directions that McGinn seems to want to take it in (which move away from individualistic and phenomenological approaches) seemed preferable to some treatments I've heard (and McGinn is one of the foremost authorities on the topic). I found his discussion of William of St. Thierry very interesting and may take this as an opportunity to look further into William's thought.

14 September 2005

saint augustine lecture

After supper, I'm headed over to Villanova University for the 2005 St. Augustine Lecture. The topic is "How Augustine Shaped Medieval Mysticism" and will be given by Professor Bernard McGinn of the University of Chicago. I'll try to report on what he says, if I get a chance.

12 September 2005

ugh, migraine

I've only ever had one migraine before and that was about 14 months ago, so I consider myself fortunate. Nevertheless, late afternoon yesterday I began feeling a bit odd, but we ventured down to church for the evening service anyway since Laurel is in choir and I was supposed to be on call for the nursery.

The headache continued to worsen, however, with late afternoon sunlight intensifying its effects accompanied by a strong sense of nausea. After a couple of visits to the facilities, I was glad that Laurel came down from practice in the choir loft and took me home to my bed and medication.

I'm feeling somewhat better today and was able to teach, but I'm still a bit headachey and wary of bright light. The meds also make me drowsy.

In any case, since I'm not up to blogging anything substantive, I thought I'd just list books I'm currently reading or have on my pile to read, for what it's worth:
Bo Giertz, Hammer of God

John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch

Oliver O'Donovan, Common Objects of Love: Moral Reflection and the Shaping of Community

John Milbank, The Suspended Middle: Henri De Lubac And The Debate Concerning The Supernatural

Ben Witherington, The Christology of Jesus

Richard Bauckham, God Crucified: Monotheism & Christology in the New Testament

Michael S. Horton, Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology

Richard B. Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel's Scripture
Well, once the migraine's completely dissipated that pile of reading should keep me busy for quite some time.

11 September 2005

pentecost 17

Almighty God,
you call your Church to witness
that in Christ we are reconciled to you.
Help us so to proclaim
the good news of your love,
that all who hear it may turn to you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

09 September 2005

on "postmodernism"

I guess everyone has pet peeves. For some, it's folks who leave the toilet seat up. For others, it's people who don't use their turn signals. Some peeves can be frivolous and others, deadly serious. I think it's best, however, to avoid having too long of a list of peeves, lest one turn peevish and the whole world become an excuse for perpetual crankiness.

I confess that most of my peeves center around the misuse of philosophical concepts and terms. For instance, "begging the question." To "beg the question" is to engage in a fallacy otherwise known as petitio principii, where an argument is so tightly circular the assumed premises basically just restate the conclusion. Nevertheless, I often hear on the news and elsewhere that some issue or fact "begs the question" or this or that, when the speaker simply means "raises the question." For better or worse, that bugs me.

A friend recently emailed me ask what I thought about the use of "postmodern" as a term of disapprobation. This is probably another of my peeves.

It seems that these days the term "postmodern" gets thrown around quite a bit without it being very well defined (which definition, admittedly, is a difficult thing to do). I get the sense that for some, calling a view "postmodern" is simply a way of saying something along the lines of: "This is bad, I don't like it, grrr, boo, hiss." You can hear this in the tone in which "postmodern" is sometimes voiced.

I've seen "postmodern" applied in this way to items as diverse as soteriological inclusivism, various views of Scripture, the emergent church, the new perspectives on Second Temple Judaism and on Paul, Protestant retrievals of medieval and patristic thought, evangelical eclecticism, and so on. But I don't find that kind of usage particularly helpful.

I also find it odd that a lot of what gets called "postmodern" in these contexts is, for the most part, simply old-fashioned "modernism" -- things like religious pluralism and relativism, the idea that there are many paths to God, that we can no longer accept the parochialism of Christian claims, questions about the uniqueness of Christianity or of Christ, agnosticism, religious individualism and self-help moralism, rejections of inerrancy, historical-critical approaches to Scripture, and so on. People have been saying these sorts of things for the past 200 years and, while these views have perhaps continued to progress along that trajectory, they strike me as much more a matter of late modernity than as anything distinctively "postmodern."

As for defining "postmodern" itself, that's tricky. I think one probably should distinguish between several varieties of postmodernism, maybe along these lines: [1] postmodernism proper, [2] hyper-modernism, [3] post-secularism, and [4] popular postmodernism.

Under [1], I would include serious academic postmodern thinkers: Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault, Marion, Deleuze, Zizek, etc. These figures are making a thoughtful and sustained effort to move beyond modernity and to develop new categories and ways of thinking. They are not generally relativists, though some are pluralists. They don't reject all claims to truth, though they question modernist pretensions to objectivity. There are very few among the popular speakers and writers in evangelical circles who seriously interact with this kind of scholarship. Mike Horton, Bruce Ellis Benson, Jamie Smith, John Franke, and a handful of others are among the exceptions.

Under [2] I'd include various thinkers (who strike me at least) less as trying to move beyond modernity, but rather as radicalizing modernity largely from within its own categories. Suggestions of names here are bound to be controversial since many of these figures likely think of themselves in the previous category. Someone like Richard Rorty would probably fit here as would Roger Haight who wrote a book on christology that I'm currently reading.

Under [3] I'd include all those who see postmodernity as the opening for a post-secular retrieval of the premodern and theological in order to move forward beyond modernity and postmodernism (a kind of post-postmodernism, perhaps). I'd include here the various figures associated with Radical Orthodoxy, as well as Merold Westphal, Hans Boersma, Mike Horton, and so on, perhaps even including Jack Caputo (though he too often falls more within category [2] to my mind).

Under [4] I'd include all the ways in which all these trends in academia trickle into popular culture, apart from scholarship and its various qualifications and nuances. As such it usually ends up looking like modernism gone to seed, with all of its relativism and so on. That's to say, popular postmodernism probably isn't so far off from category [2].

I suspect that when "postmodernism" is used popularly as a term of disapprobation, it is meant largely in terms of [4], which to my mind isn't very helpful. As Mike Horton notes, postmodernists "in the academy today have a lot to teach us about the very dangers that so many popularizers of postmodernism embrace." Using "postmodern" loosely to criticize all sorts of popular notions strikes me as the equivalent of identifying popular evangelicalism (Bill Hybels, Rick Warren) with classical Protestantism and then criticizing it as too "Protestant," with a note a disdain.

In any case, it's Friday of the second week of classes and I'm probably feeling a bit too peevish, so I shall resist saying anything more.

08 September 2005

baptists and baptism

I see that John Piper's Bethlehem Baptist Church is in the process of considering a change in its membership practices regarding the issue of baptism. As is the case with most Baptist churches, Bethlehem has not historically accepted into membership those Christians who wished to join but had not been baptized as adult believers or by immersion.

The proposal before the church states, among other things, "Christians who have not been baptized by immersion as believers, but, as they believe, by some other method or before they believed, may under some circumstances be members of this church." The justification for this change (assuming it is approved) is that, while Bethlehem Baptist will continue to strongly maintain the biblical normativity of "believers' baptism" by immersion, they do not believe the church should "elevate beliefs and practices that are non-essential to the level of prerequisites for church membership."

As a convinced Reformed paedobaptist who has long thought that Baptist practice is incipiently Donatist, I see this as a very welcome move. Bethlehem's proposal could be construed as tantamount to accepting the sacramental validity of non-Baptist baptisms, thereby implicitly placing a greater emphasis on the objectivity of the sacrament as a sign appointed by God and not merely a matter of the expression of personal faith. As such, if approved, this will move Bethlehem towards more fully embracing a Reformed and catholic faith, a development that can only be a cause for celebration.

I wonder, however, if this is a correct reading of the proposed change. Will such members continue to be persuaded to be re-baptized by immersion?

Given Bethlehem's official understanding of baptism, this would seem to be so. If so, then the change will be more one of "concession to conscience" rather than a true embracing of the sacramental validity of non-Baptist baptisms (as Baptist theologian Beasley-Murray had urged). If so, then the proposal is perhaps more confusing than welcome, since it would seem to represent a compromise of biblical convictions in the face of individual freedom of conscience, treating persons as validly baptized when one does not, in fact, believe that to be the case.

06 September 2005


It seems that my lovely wife has taken up blogging again. We'll see if it lasts. A very active three year old is keeping her pretty busy.

05 September 2005

labor day

In an act passed on 28 June 1894, the United States Congress set aside the first Monday of September in order to celebrate "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations." Most of the world, however, celebrates organized labor on the first day of May, a date that was chosen ironically in relation to events that occured in the United States.

May Day, of course, is a holiday with ancient origins (particularly in germanic countries), but has come to be associated in many places with celebrations and parades on the part organized labor and various socialist, anarchist, and far-left groups. Labor-oriented May Day celebrations seem to come from the demand by organized labor in the US to establish an 8-hour workday, setting 1 May 1886 as the deadline for implementation. When the day passed without demands being met, a general strike was called and various rallies were held across the country, the most famous of which devolved into the famous Chicago "Haymarket Riot."

Historians are not sure exactly what happened during the 4 May rally at Haymarket Square, but the outcome is certain: after what had been peaceful demonstration, a bomb went off killing twelve people, including one police officer, and mortally wounding seven more officers. At this point the police opened fire on the crowd, killing eleven demonstrators and injuring many others.

Eight of the demonstration's organizers were arrested, tried, and found guilty, seven of them being sentenced to death. While two of the convicted had their sentences commuted to life in prison and one committed suicide prior to execution, the four others were hung. After an investigation into the case, which determined that the defendents were all innocent, the governor of Illinois granted pardons to the surviving defendents. Morever, in the end, the eight-hour workday also become officially established.

The overall result was that the worldwide labor movement had obtained four martyrs for the cause and 1 May became a commemoration of not only labor's victory in establishing the eight-hour workday, but also the ongoing conflict between organized labor and those who would suppress it, even through the imposition of force and the miscarriage of justice in the courts. Of course, as even Haymarket shows, there have always been those in the cause of labor who wouldn't stop short of violence themselves.

But you're probably wondering what all this has to do with Labor Day.

Part of the reason that Labor Day in the US falls on the first Monday in September is that, whatever else the significance of this date, it is not 1 May. President Grover Cleveland resisted suggestions that the US adopt 1 May as a celebration of workers, fearing that it would do too much to promote the cause of those who looked to the Haymarket Riot as a symbol of their struggles, especially socialists and anarchists.

While there are various accounts of the origins of Labor Day, the most well-known one suggests that the Knights of Labor held a parade in early September 1882 establishing it afterwards as an annual event, both celebrating organized labor and as a "workingman's holiday." In some versions of the story, idea for the celebration is attributed to a Matthew McGuire, then secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York City. Labor unions at that time were largely organized around a platform of an 8-hour workday, the end of child labor and equal pay for equal work.

Their annual celebration became the basis for our modern Labor Day, first receiving official sanction on the municipal level. Various States later established Labor Day as a State holiday, culminating in Congress enacting the holiday on a nationwide basis in 1894.

Whatever one's opinion of organized labor today and its past errors (e.g., excluding non-whites), the work of labor unions over the past century and a half has left an indelible mark on the face of American labor practices and expectations, improving working conditions for many, particularly back in an era where there were few legal protections for workers. It's also worth noting that in the 19th century confessional Protestants were among those active in efforts to improve working conditions, eliminate child factory labor, disband sweatshops, establish liveable wages, and the like.

04 September 2005

reflections and relief

Tenth PCA's Phil Ryken provides some helpful reflections on hurricane Katrina in his weekly "Window on the World" series of talks, which are part of the evening service.

An email from Elliot Grudem, former leadership director of Desire Street Ministries regarding how to pray for and help this PCA ministry serving the urban poor of New Orleans.

Glenn Lucke of Common Grounds Online reports from behind the scenes in Houston regarding relief efforts he is witnessing there.

la salle's offer to displaced students

As I noted below, the university where I teach is extending an offer to any students displaced by hurricane Katrina. I'm not sure if any of those young people read this blog, but if anyone who does is aware of a student in need, here is the text of La Salle's offer:

La Salle University in Philadelphia is prepared to assist undergraduate and graduate students who have had their studies interrupted by the effects of Hurricane Katrina. If a student's home institution is unable to conduct Fall 2005 semester classes, he or she is invited to inquire about how La Salle might be able to help meet immediate academic needs.

Students may inquire about the possibility of enrolling for the Fall Semester as non-matriculated students with their already-paid tuition remaining at their home institution.

La Salle will accept students until Friday, September 9, 2005.

La Salle will offer available on-campus housing at prevailing rates and provide a meal plan at no additional cost to full-time students.

Further, the University will work with the students and their home institutions to transfer credits back to the home institutions.

All inquiries should be directed to the Undergraduate Admission Office. Contact person: Melissa Yogis, Associate Dean of Admission and Student Financial Services, at 215.951.1500 or at yogism@lasalle.edu. This office will also coordinate all on-campus services for displaced students.

pentecost 16

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people,
that richly bearing the fruit of good works,
we may by you be richly rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

03 September 2005

chief justice rehnquist

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died Saturday evening at his home in suburban Virginia. He had served the Supreme Court for 33 years, serving as chief justice since his appointment to that position by President Reagan in 1986. He was 80.

Amazingly, I found the Wikipedia entry on Rehnquist had already been updated within minutes of the announcement.

first week of classes

In light of the events of the past week on the Gulf Coast, I've no room to complain about anything, but I am exhausted after the first week of the autumn semester, a week during which I've found myself listening too often to Aaron Neville's version of the Randy Newman classic, "Louisiana 1927."

Classes seemed to go well with what appear, at first impression, to be a pretty good bunch of first year students. Having 8am classes three days a week, however, will take some getting used to, especially after a summer of "sleeping in" (though with a two, now three year old, "sleeping in" is very relative). At least it's already light out when I wake up, unlike the beginning of the winter/spring semester.

The semester is fairly well planned out, though when planning for the semester I always seem to let my preparations for the one credit "First Year Odyssey" sections go until the last possible minute. I just finished setting up that part of my website about an hour ago and it still isn't completely firmed up. I also realized while working out some of the details that I'd created some scheduling conflicts that will have to be resolved.

The semester looks to be busy too. My freshman advising load is lighter this year than last year and I don't have many conferences this fall, only one out at Notre Dame where I'm a commentor and the campus panel discussion on the Haight book. But I've gotten myself sucked into too much committe work: Judicial Board, Arts and Sciences technology committee, Core Curriculum advisory board, activities funding committee, Core Curriculum faculty meetings, philosophy faculty meetings, advising workshops, and probably something else I'm forgetting. At least the Independent Study I was tapped to oversee fell through.

My birthday was this past week as well, so I'm older now, even if not any wiser. On Thursday Laurel took me out for dinner at the Manayunk Brewery, which is a pretty good restaurant with a fabulous array of their own brews. I enjoyed the Brown Dog Ale (a dark northern English style ale, almost like a porter) and the Golden Ale (a refreshing summer ale), as we sat out on the open deck overlooking the Schuykill River.

The restaurant, however, is also obviously a bar, complete with large screen televisions with the closed captioning on. Like many of the other patrons, we spent most of dinner in silence and near tears, watching the images from the Gulf Coast, particularly the New Orleans convention center, finding it difficult to enjoy what we were eating and wishing we could do more for those affected by the hurricane and its aftermath. The stories and images of infants and the elderly succumbing to the conditions left us with feelings of sorrow, anger, guilt, and helplessness.

I was encouraged later, however, to see that La Salle, like many other schools, is extending a welcome to college students displaced by Katrina. I don't know if we'll get any of those students, but it's a generous and kind gesture on the school's part.

It was also good to see that Desire Street's website was back up and running with an update, though it seems that their facilities have likely been destroyed. Desire Street's a PCA church and ministry in New Orleans, directed and pastored by Mo Leverett (who is scheduled to be speaking at our Urban Missions Conference in Philly in the spring, assuming he still is able to do so). Despite the effects on their physical facilities, the ministry does continue and a number of the children remain in the care of their staff.

In any case, tomorrow is church and I need some rest. Our quarterly "Day of Prayer" was scheduled for tomorrow; it will take on particular significance as we pray for the needs resulting from this past week and which will continue in coming months.