26 November 2005


Advent is almost upon us and I think I'm behind on pretty much everything. At least I'm not behind on sleep. After several weeks of not enough sleep, I've been able to sleep in until almost 9am the past few days, catching up on some much needed rest.

After a busy few days meeting up with folks in town for ETS and AAR/SBL we hosted my brother- and sister-in-law. Jane had been in town for AAR/SBL where she was giving a presentation on pedagogy (she's a New Testament professor) and was joined by her husband on Tuesday. Laurel's taking them to the airport now so they can return home. It was really good to see them and we had a pleasant visit.

On Wednesday we all went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was enjoyable. The PMA is currently hosting exhibits of some of Edvard Munch's work, along with a sizeable exhibit of landscapes by Dutch painter Jacob von Ruisdael.

Thursday involved various food preparations, of course. In addition to the traditional turkey (an herb-laden version this year), I prepared roasted root vegetables glazed in whiskey, butternut squash soup with toasted hazelnuts, herbed rolls, sausage and dried cranberry stuffing, green beans, a cranberry-orange sauce spiced with juniper and star anise, and a baked dried corn pudding. Jane made mashed potatoes and the gravy, while my mother brought some cranberry-ginger relish, sweet dinner rolls, and an apple pie. Everything turned out pretty well, I think, and we have leftovers enough for several days.

Thursday night, after my folks had gone home, we watched Bride and Prejudice, a re-telling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in the form of a India-style Bollywood musical, thus bringing England, America, and India together in a fascinating combination. The film was conceived and directed by Gurinder Chadha, who is probably best known for Bend It Like Beckham. I found it really enjoyable and, despite a few departures from Austen, I was amazed how well the story translated into contemporary India, despite the cultural-situated of Austen's original narrative.

Friday brought a visit from Laurel's sister, her husband, and their one son, who enjoyed our leftovers. Unfortunately I had a bad allergy-induced headache for part of their visit, which was just clearing up about the time they left. Nonetheless, I was good to see them and I went with the rest of the guys, Claire, and our dog on a nice trek through the woods across from our house. The evening was relaxing as we ordered Chinese delivery, eating off of disposable plates, as I finished off the Thanksgiving bottle of Beaujolais, and as we all played a leisurely game of Tri-Ominoes (in which I trounced the competition).

Today Tom and Jane offered to watch Claire so Laurel and I could go out and do something on our own together. We decided to go see the film version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which some of our friends really enjoyed. It was a good movie and I liked it as entertainment, though I think I preferred the film version of Prisoner of Azkaban better. Goblet of Fire would really have required a 5 hour film to do the book any justice, so I guess it was as good as could have been expected, though I think the director of Azkaban had a better sense of pacing, overall editing (both in terms of script and visually), and transitions between scenes. It had been a while since I read the book version of Goblet of Fire, so I was able to evaluate the film on its own terms, while Laurel had just finished re-reading the book and so was keenly aware of all the plot changes and deletions.

Laurel has just returned from the airport, so I guess I'll just go ahead and post this, get something to eat and go grade some of the tremendous stack of papers I've got sitting here glaring at me. I do plan on limiting posts largely to (I hope daily) Advent meditations for the next month or so, though I'm sure I'll occasionally post on other matters. I trust everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday.

24 November 2005


Almighty God,
we offer you hearty thanks
for your goodness and care
in giving to us the fruits of the earth
in their seasons.
Give us grace to enjoy them rightly,
to your glory,
for the relief of those in need,
and our own well-being;
through Jesus Christ, the living Bread,
who came down from heaven
and gives life to the world,
and who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

22 November 2005


The other day I was trying to get in contact with a student. I know that some of them seldom check their La Salle email accounts (though they are supposed to) and that many of them are regularly logged into AIM. But how might one find an alternative email address or their AIM name?

One of my honors students suggested that I try setting up a facebook.com profile and search for the student's information on there. I'd heard of facebook, but had never taken a close look at it before. Nevertheless, I quickly set up my own facebook profile and was able to find the information I was looking for. Pretty cool.

If you're a college student elsewhere (or a faculty member or recent alumnus) feel free to add me to your circle of friends (or not...your choice, of course).

20 November 2005

last sunday of pentecost

Almighty and everlasting God,
it is your will to restoreall things
in your well-belovedSon,
our Lord and King.
Grant that the peoples of the earth,
now divided and enslaved by sin,
may be freed and brought together
under his gentle and loving rule;
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

19 November 2005

monk's cafe

I wanted to re-iterate the invitation for folks to join a group of us tonight in Philly at Monk's Cafe - a beer emporium and restuarant in the Belgian tradition - for rounds of drinks and conversation. I'm going to show up around 7pm and other folks will join us as the evening progresses.

Monk's is located near 16th and Spruce Streets. It's not a huge place, so it's possible we might move on if it becomes necessary. If you're planning on coming and would like my cell phone number, email me and I'll give it to you. That way you can find us if you're having difficulties.

Change of plans: Monk's is packed solid. We will be meeting at the Black Sheep pub (terrific Guinness!) on 17th Street between Locust and Spruce.

milbank on sophiology

After a week of too much teaching, numerous meetings, too many appointments, and growing stacks of grading, I'm quite glad that Peter Leithart was able to save me the trouble by helpfully summarizing some of the most salient features of John Milbank's talk last night, which also served as the inaugural lecture for the Theology and Philosophy Co-op. Responses to Milbank's talk were presented by Mary-Jane Rubenstein and Tony Baker.

I must admit that I thought the talk was one of the most bizarre things I've yet to hear from Milbank, which is saying quite a bit considering what a creative and fruitful thinker he sometimes is. While I can't be sure I followed it all (I look forward to a well-rested perusal of a print version in which the words perhaps won't slip from my intellectual grasp quite so quickly), I was not particularly persuaded by his central thesis. Still, I would like to have a better sense of his argument and what was generating his thesis before launching any substantive criticisms.

As Leithart notes, Milbank's main concern was the notion of "mediation," drawing upon the thought of Russian theologians Bulgakov and Soloviev and their discussion of the biblical motif of holy wisdom or "sophia" in God and in creation. Part of what seemed to be motivating Milbank's presentation was the traditional problematic of a "third term," which has sometimes been thought to be necessary to mediate between two other terms that are evidently related (e.g., Creator-creature, Father-Son, universal-particular, one-many). But such a third term is generally recognized to cause more problems than it solves. Thus "sophia" - conceived as a hypostatizing or characterizing tendency - is offered as a way of mediating, without a middle, between terms without having to posit the third term.

Honestly, I couldn't make much sense of it, though it seems to me that the Holy Spirit himself would take up much of the role of what Milbank seemed to want to hand over to "sophia," especially if we follow theologians from Gregory of Cyprus to Thomas Weinandy in seeing the Son as eternally begotten through the Spirit, the Spirit eternally resting upon the Son, and the Spirit eternally sent back to the Father through the Son. But that's entering too far into the realm of speculation for this early on a Saturday morning.

Whatever the case, the talk was a good time to meet or connect back up with a variety of friends and acquaintances.

18 November 2005

footnote on franke

Leithart reports that at the ETS meeting, Franke cited Nancey Murphy's definition of foundationalism as identifying the sort of foundationalism he is rejecting in his "post-foundationalist" project. That foundationalism is defined as "[1] the assertion that systems include indubitable, unquestioned beliefs that are not subjected to critical scrutiny and [2] the claim that all reasoning moves in one direction, from the indubitable beliefs outward."

Thus, it seems to me, that such a definition is very near to what I earlier defined as "classical foundationalism," though perhaps hovering somewhere between that and a general, narrow foundationalism merely as a theory about the structure of knowing. The clarification is helpful, nonetheless.

It seems to me that almost any theory of knowing that doesn't cling purely to coherentist considerations but wishes to ground knowing in some kind of opening to the reality of the world (even if only a highly mediated opening), can be construed as a foundationalism of some sort. But that's really not saying much. For me, at least, a big part of the question is how we conceive of the event of knowing: whether we posit mind as operating over against "objects" to which it is extrinsically and externally related, or whether the mind and world are somehow teleologically directed one to another, together in their participatory movement towards God.

But that's another topic for another day.

15 November 2005

truth in all its glory

I recently finished reading Truth in All Its Glory: Commending The Reformed Faith (P&R 2004) by William Edgar, professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary. I must say that it is one of the finest and most winsome, relatively brief explications of the Reformed faith that I've read.

I would recommend it to those within the Reformed tradition who want to gain a growing appreciation for the richness, thoughtfulness, and diversity of that tradition, as well as to those who find themselves in other Christian traditions who want to understand what Reformed theology looks like at its best. Having grown weary of the internecine bickering that seems to plague some parts of the Reformed world, I found Edgar's positive and pastoral treatment (even when I might have quibbled with some details) one that was spiritually refreshing and renewed my love for and commitment to a Reformed expression of the Christian faith.

The book begins in the historical roots of Reformed theology in the catholic faith of the church and proceeds through a short systematic presentation of its distinctives. Edgar completes his treatment by exploring areas of application and further thought and development, never failing to consider the aesthetic dimensions of the Gospel of grace.

the character of theology

John Franke's book, The Character of Theology: An Introduction to Its Nature Task and Purpose, seems to have stirred up some considerable discussion in the past several days, largely prompted by Paul Helm's review. As I commented elsewhere, it's rather like watching a tennis match. Interpreting tennis matches, however, is sometimes aided by commentary from the sidelines, so allow me to give it a shot.

Now, I've not read the Franke book very carefully, though I'm familiar with his perspective based upon some shorter articles he's written and some personal interaction. And Helm is a fine, brilliant Christian philosopher who is, I suspect, better educated than I am and certainly has more years of experience and reflection than I can claim in the discipline of philosophy.

Furthermore, I do think Franke is sometimes sloppy in how he expresses himself, a sloppiness that is usually cleared up in light of questions and discussion. Such sloppiness is a bad trait, particularly in philosophical contexts. The proper response, however, is charitable engagement, not dismissiveness, as Helm's responses seem to slide towards.

Thus, some questions (none of which are very original), particularly for Helm, since he's chosen to take up the role of antagonist:

[1] What does Helm mean by "foundationalism"?

Helm seems to suggest that Franke's reference to granting the Trinity "epistemic primacy" or "unrestricted primacy" (a la Bruce Marshall), might count for Helm as a sort of foundationalism. That's fine. We can define foundationalism to mean something like that, but is that the sort of foundationalism that Franke is rejecting? I'm not entirely sure what sort of foundationalism Franke is rejecting (though I have some idea), but I'm also not sure what Helm takes to fall under the rubric of "foundationalism."

Narrowly speaking, I would say that foundationalism is the view that, with regard to the structure of knowing, some beliefs are known on the basis of other more basic beliefs until one arrives at a set of beliefs that are known in an absolutely basic way, that is, somehow known immediately rather than on the basis of still further beliefs. This kind of foundationalism can be contrasted with some form of coherentism in which knowing is less a feature of beliefs taken individually than it is a feature of mutually supporting and coherent networks of belief.

In this sense, I imagine that Helm is a foundationalist and that Franke isn't. The difference would play out with regard to the way in which "basic beliefs" are known, with Franke rejecting various forms of "immediacy" that sidestep the situatedness of knowers and the mediations of language and culture. This, however, begins to get into the issue of "objectivity" that I will address further below.

But "foundationalism" is also sometimes taken robustly to require a strong notion of certainty for at least the most basic beliefs or to restrict basic beliefs to those that are known either self-evidently and/or by the evidence of the senses. On such a view, moreover, a belief's being foundational or being properly based upon the foundations entails truth, at least under most conceiveable circumstances. Knowing could, of course, have a foundationalist structure apart from these commitments, but historically foundationalism (what is sometimes called "classical foundationalism") has been associated with such tendencies and sometimes a rejection of foundationalism signals a rejection of these kinds of views.

In this sense, I would imagine that Franke and Helm both reject foundationalism (though, given his comments on certainty, it appears that Helm might be be more friendly towards this kind of foundationalism than I would be inclined to be, though I can barely extrapolate the details of his views from such passing comments).

Moving in the other direction, "foundationalism" is sometimes taken very minimally to refer to any view in which the structure of knowing involves some beliefs having logical priority over others by providing support for them in a more linear, rather than circular and coherentist way. In that sense, of course, a lot of folks turn out to be foundationalists, most likely including Franke himself, from what I understand of his views.

Clarity on the issue of how "foundationalism" is functioning in this discussion would move matters forward.

[2] What does Helm mean by "objectivity"?

To speak of "objective" truth or knowledge can mean a variety of things, depending on author and context. The term is, of course, the opposite of "subjective," but that term (though often used in a pejorative way) can also mean a variety of things, not all of which are bad.

Sometimes talk of "objectivity" supposes a view of consciousness and experience in which the mind acts rather like a mirror or movie screen, passively registering representations of things corresponding to the realities of objects in the world. This would be in contrast to "subjective" experiences that are internal to the subject, apart from an external object, such as self-awareness, pain, thought, and so on. I have no idea what Helm's views are on this, but I suspect that both he and Franke would reject objectivity in this strong sense as partaking too much of an early modern (and historically novel) subject-object dichotomy.

Other times talk of "objectivity" simply expresses a commitment to the immediacy of knowing in the case of basic beliefs (as defined above). This view of objectivity might not be so inclined to view the mind in a mirror-like fashion, but allows that consciousness involves the relatively direct presence of the world to the mind, giving rise to beliefs that are known in a basic way. But, in order to be truly "objective" these beliefs must not be colored or distorted or perhaps even mediated by "subjective" elements such as emotion, personal inclination, and interpretation, or even perhaps language, conceptual apparatus, and the like.

In some cases these mediating elements are seen as inherently distorting and limiting (rather than as, say, modes of active receptivity that, when properly mediatory, open us to the world). When such distortion is posited as intrinstic to mediation, "objective" knowing is either denied altogether (so that all truth claims are subjective or relative) or basic beliefs (or forms of awareness, if beliefs are necessarily linguistic) are held to be more basic than these mediations.

I suspect that Helm holds that some beliefs are "objective" in the sense that they are known in a basic way, apart from such putatively distorting and limiting mediations. Franke, on the other hand, does not, I think, hold that any beliefs are objective in this sense. But such a rejection of this kind of objectivity need not entail a rejection of truth altogether, especially if one thinks that language, emotion, and so on, can function in a revelatory function with regard to the world when they are properly open and receptive to being as that which is given (various forms of phenomenology are helpful on this point).

Still other times, "objectivity" assumes that certain beliefs are of the sort that all rational subjects would or ought to believe them, under appropriate circumstances. Of course, one can have a devil of a time attempting to specify just what "appropriate circumstances" includes and to what degree circumstances that are deemed "internal" to the subject of knowing might be included in this.

There is a spectrum here between [a] those who, at one end, generally take "objective truth" to be something so widely available to all rational subjects that human knowing could, as it were, start over again from scratch and [b] those who, at the other end, see knowing as so person specific, historically specific, and situation specific as to make "appropriate circumstances" very nearly impossible to speak about in the abstract. Those nearer the [a] end of the spectrum are seen to hold to a version of objectivity, while, as one proceeds towards the [b] end of the spectrum, views of knowing are less readily seen as involving objectivity.

From Helm's criticisms of Franke, in which he acknowledges that one must grow in the process of knowing, it seems clear that Helm himself wouldn't be located all the way over at the extreme suggested by [a]. On the other hand, Franke is closer to [b] and Helm seems unwilling to move along the spectrum that far. But this, again, doesn't entail that Franke rejects truth. After all, truth might be available to a subject under circumstances that are simply unavailable (for all practical purposes) to a wide range of other subjects due to a variety of contextual circumstances.

Finally, "objectivity" could mean that which is purported to be "objectively true" is in fact the case (i.e., it is objectively true that p, if and only if p). While I am inclined towards a more theologically rich account of what truth is, as a matter of ontology, I certainly have no objection to such a minimalist conception of objective truth.

But I also don't think that the qualifier "objective" really substantively adds anything here to the notion of truth. Moreover, "what is the case," with regard to a wide range of objects, includes elements that are matters of social convention and human practices (e.g., the existence of universities) and thus are not purely objective in the sense of being true irrespective of what anyone believes (e.g., if everyone stopped believing in the existence of universities, it is plausible to think that they would cease to be). I suspect Franke would see this realm of constructed objects as extending further than Helm would be willing to admit.

Nonetheless, I think both Helm and Franke would be happy to maintain the existence of "objective truth" in this very minimal sense. This then is not a point of disagreement. And what Helm doesn't seem to consider is that one can be a realist about truth without necessarily signing on to a variety of understandings of foundationalism or even objectivity. Such a realism, as far as I can see, is all that is required in order to maintain the truthfulness and assurance of the Gospel for all persons.

Thus, clarity with regard to how "objectivity" is functioning in this discussion would also help move things forward.

A variety of other quibbles might be raised about the interaction between Helm and Franke (and his supporters), but these shall suffice as drawing attention to what appear to me to be two central sticking points. I've yet to see evidence that Helm has engaged with what Franke is trying to say in a way that accurately communicates Franke's point of view and, thereby, critiques it in an effective way, though his response to critics of his review does begin to move in that direction.

14 November 2005

the races of middle earth

I haven't taken an internet quiz in a while, but I was curious which Middle Earth race I'd end up. The results:


To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
brought to you by Quizilla

I like the result. A noble race of city-dwellers is what I'm aiming for anyway.

13 November 2005

pentecost 26

Almighty God,
you sent your Son Jesus Christ
to be the light of the world.
Free us from all that darkens and ensnares us,
and bring us to eternal light and joy;
through the power of him
who is alive and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

12 November 2005

the holy internet

A mention on someone's blog (unfortunately I can't recall whose) reminded me of the book, The Gospels for All Christians (Eerdmans 1998) edited by Richard Bauckham, which provides an extended argument for the conclusion that the Gospels were originally written for a broad audience rather than merely specific local communities.

My post below concerning blogs and journalism put me in mind particularly of two chapters in this book, one of which is entitled, "The Holy Internet: Communication Between Churches in the First Christian Generation," by Michael B. Thompson of Cambridge University. The other chapter is "Ancient Book Production and the Circulation of the Gospels" by Loveday Alexander of University of Sheffield. Both chapters have the overall effect of underscoring the degree to which the early church embraced and deployed developments in communications technology.

Thompson's essay explores the subject of "communication between churches" in the period of approximately AD 30 to 70, "looking particularly at their motivation, means, and frequency of contact," drawing upon both data from the New Testament and wider-ranging historical studies of late antiquity (50). As such, it is a fascinating window into the ancient circulation of information.

He begins by examining the established paths for communication, especially the system of Roman roads with their milestones and staging posts and Roman sea lanes of empire-wide commerce. The upshot of all this is that a person living in the first century could, in fact, be highly mobile if he or she had any reason to be. Moreover, one could do so with relative ease, even if the journey itself would not necessarily be easy or the zenith of commodius living.

Thompson moves on to talk about "hubs" for information dissemination. In particular, Jerusalem would have remained an important hub, given the role of the Christian community there as the "mother church" of the earliest Christians and the presumable continued participation of many Jewish Christians in the annual cycle of feasts in Jersualem. He goes on to note that places such as Rome, Syrian Antioch, Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus, and other sites of Pauline interest were also important urban centers, located on major routes, playing important roles in politics and commerce, and, in the case of Corinth, serving as the location of the biennial Isthmian games.

The important place of "hospitality" in early Christian ethics bears witness not only to an overflow from the hospitable grace of God, but also the degree of communication and travel that seems to have occured among believers. The church at Thessalonika, a prominent commercial center and seaport, seems to have shown hospitality to Christians from all over Macedonia (1 Thes 4:10). Moreover, Pauline epistles indicate an expectation that the apostle himself, along with his traveling co-workers, would be the regular objects of Christian hospitality.

Thompson's essay provides a helpful catalogue of motives and uses to which this "holy internet" would have been deployed by the early Christians. Not only was extensive travel not uncommon for a wide range of vocations, but it was also important for the survival and health of the earliest churches.

It's clear from Paul's epistles that news of the churches circulated widely and was a matter of prayer. Information gave opportunity for Christians to share in each other's needs. Travel of apostolic co-workers provided inter-connection and oversight to help in the growth and maturation of local communities. The worthy example of one church could serve as an example to others (1 Thess 1:6-10; 2:13-16; Phil 4:8-9; etc.). All of these matters of concern presupposed a fairly high degree of communication among the churches.

And, on a darker note, Paul's conflicts with the so-called "Judaizers" likewise indicate a rapid and widespread dissemination of ideas within the early church, in which alternative ways of explaining the Torah in relation to Christ circulated and influenced believers. Of course, this same pattern of communication allowed Paul and other leader to likewise respond.

Communication, further, though exceedingly slow by modern standards, was in fact relatively rapid. Thompson cites various evidence: the Galatians' knowledge of Paul's earlier life (Gal 1:13), the awareness of Paul's ministry in Judean churches, Paul's personal knowledge of at least 26 people in the Roman church that he had not yet visited (Rom 16:2-15), the "circular" nature of some New Testament writings, and so on.

Thompson ends by noting that even written communication was often delivered with a messenger who carried further, oral report and explanation (see Col 4:7-9; Eph 6:21; etc.). Thus information spread in an embodied and personalized way, providing a lived context of interpretation.

The point of the essay is to provide a background that would call into question interpretations of the Gospels that rely upon an assumed narrow context of a local community with its specific interests and problems, rather than a more general and widespread Gospel audience. Nonetheless, it also demonstrates the kinds of communications that the earliest churches had available and their seeming readiness fully to deploy those means for the spread of the Gospel, greater contact among Christians, and the good of the wider church.

I don't wish to summarize the contents of Alexander's argument to the same degree of detail, but her main focus is upon the use of the new technology of the codex (i.e., bound books of individual pages) within the early church. Available evidence indicates that Christians "far more extensively and more consistently than their pagan contemporaries" showed a decided preference for the codex over other sorts of written texts, particularly scrolls (73).

While scrolls were the standard and more prestigious technology, particularly for serious, important, and valued texts among the pagans, Christians nonetheless were willing to adopt the more lowly codex. There are probably several reasons for this, including ease of production and portability, as well as faciliting the ability to access and cross-reference among texts.

A large part of Alexander's point is, like Thompson, to provide evidence suggesting that the Gospels were originally intended for a wide Christian audience, but again, the evidence also shows the way in which Christians were keen to adopt a communications technology for their texts, even when prevailing standards of prestige and intellectual respectability may have weighed against that technology.

As noted above, these historical observations carry further significance within a larger trajectory of Christian book production, use of the printing press, and taking up of various more recent media, such as radio and television. Thus, it seems to me, that history provides an interesting and helpful context in which we can reflect upon and evaluate the role and place of current and developing electronic technologies (websites, blogging, podcasting, etc.) in relation to the church and the Gospel.

11 November 2005

kerygma and apologia

In a recent email exchange I made a passing remark about the importance of the category of "story" and the role of community in apologetics and Gospel-proclamation more generally. Someone asked me to unpack that a bit.

Briefly, by "story" I mean that the Gospel isn't merely a set of truths about God and salvation, but that there is a narrative about God's action in the world - particularly through the history of Israel, the events of Christ's life, and the ongoing life of the church - within which these truths operate and make sense. And history isn't just "facts," but an interpretation of facts by relating those facts to one another within a wider story about ultimate origins and ends.

Like all good stories, the biblical story isn't only a matter of getting the facts straight, but also of symbolism, drama, motifs, rhetoric, interconnections, and so on, that come together in an aesthetically pleasing and satisfying way. The biblical story isn't just more internally consistent than other stories about the world, nor does it just do a better a job of accounting for the reality of the world - it is also a better story as a story. And that's part of a Christian apologetic.

As for community, I mean that the Christian faith, again, doesn't simply give us a set of truths about God, humanity, salvation, and so on, but embodies those truths in a new community - the church - in which we begin to live out the biblical story as a new way of being human. Moreover, this new humanity is not merely a "means" to a final salvation that arrives only by some other route (whether immediate operations of the Spirit or a completely postponed eschatological future). Rather, this new humanity is of the essence of God's salvation in the present, already now beginning to anticipate what one day shall be when Christ returns - a people of God renewed in his image.

Thus, part of the "proof" of the Christian faith isn't just providing arguments for the truth of various propositions about God and Christ and the world (as important as such arguments may be). Rather, it is a matter of living out the Gospel as the truth about what God is doing in the world through Christ and his Spirit. The church doesn't just propose a salvation that is available someday, somewhere, but the church offers the beginnings of that salvation, concretely, here and now.

These realities, thus, are part of the Spirit's means to seek and save sinners as we carry out the task of commending Jesus Christ as Lord and savior to a fallen and broken world. The church has always known this and made this part of her apologetic, from Justin Martyr and Augustine to Francis Schaeffer and Lesslie Newbigin. So that's what I meant by referring to "story" and "community."

the music of france

I should have mentioned this earlier, but I forgot. Tonight at Tenth PCA at 7:30pm, there is a concert of all French music as part of our annual missions conference.

The program will include vocal, instrumental, keyboard and choral works of LeClair, Franck, Debussey, Ravel, Fauré, Poulenc, Duruflé and other French composers. An offering will benefit the James Montgomery Boice Chair of Practical Theology at the Reformed Seminary in Aix-en-Provence, France, as sponsored by The Huguenot Fellowship.

Artists include Margaret Claudin (flute), Holly Wilson Cole (soprano), William Edgar (jazz piano), Samuel Hsu (piano), Paul Jones (conductor), Hye-Jin Kim (violin), Vince Treadway (organist), and the Tenth Church Choir.

Better yet, Laurel and I are dropping Claire off at her grandparents and going on a "date" beforehand at a French restaurant.

10 November 2005

lego madness

Awhile ago we had friends with a nine-year-old boy over for dinner and we dug out a box of Legos from back when I was a kid. They sat boxed up under our coffee table for a few months until Claire recently discovered them and wanted to play with them.

I was quite the Lego fanatic as a kid and so we've had a lot of fun putting together various arrangements and structures. I decided last week to try a larger project: a Gothic church with buttresses and a central spire. It was pretty cool, though on a smaller scale than I would have liked.

Thus, over the weekend, I dismantled the first church, dug up a second box of Legos and started a larger Byzantine style church structure:

The picture doesn't quite do it justice. The dome is supported by four free standing columns, while the outside walls leave large open spaces between exterior columns, making for a lot of interior light.

I wish congregations were still building churches like this, though architecture firms such as Duncan G. Stroik in South Bend, IN (he's a professor in Notre Dame's School of Architecture) may begin to change things.

08 November 2005

reading narnia with cs lewis

For those in the Philly area (or visiting Philly for ETS and AAR/SBL), Dr. Leland Ryken, Professor of English at Wheaton College, will speak on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Thursday, November 17, 7:00 pm at Tenth Presbyterian Church at 17th and Spruce Streets (enter at 1701 Delancey).

Bryan J. L. Glass, author and director of mereBreath drama ministry, will perform a dramatic reading of "The Triumph of the Witch" from the book. Click here to see additional information on the pdf flyer for the event.

07 November 2005

blogs and news

I noticed recently that the "news search" mechanism on Yahoo news now includes blogs among the news sources that it searches, recognizing thereby something of the complex relationship between blogs and more mainstream journalism.

This relationship is complex not only because various journalists have taken up blogging (Andrew Sullivan perhaps being the most well-known example), but also by the practice of serious news magazines to maintain blogs (for instance, The New Republic's blog, "The Plank"). Add to that the growing incidence of bloggers "scooping" news stories. In the words of one journalist:
Weblogs scoop you at every turn, breaking "your" stories before you have a chance to rush your article to press. And even if you do manage to break a story, weblogs take it over, dissecting every point you made and pushing your logic to every inevitable conclusion. Forget that follow-up you had planned - 'blogs have already anticipated and published every point you might have made.
One thinks here, naturally, of the significant role that blogging played in the last presidential election.

The relationship between blogging and journalism has been a matter of much discussion in the past few years, including a conference earlier this year on "Blogging, Journalism and Credibility: Battleground and Common Ground" sponsored by Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. The conference itself was limited in the number of attendees, but was both blogged and encouraged participation via IRC and webcast.

This summer, as part of the Business Ethics course I taught, one student made a presentation on the law and blogging and the still open question of whether the courts will extend various kinds of journalistic protections and privileges to bloggers. An online resource she highlighted was the Electronic Frontier Foundation's legal guide for bloggers, which explores some of the issues that affect bloggers when they act in a journalistic capacity.

Whatever the case, the conversation about the role blogging in relation to journalism is bound to continue and evolve. And the relation of journalism to blogging is just one area of discussion since blogging, in its very nature, cuts across a wide range of communication-forms: conversation, scholarship, ethics, literature, graphic design, peer review, personal reflection, virtual community, and so on.

And, as with the invention of the codex, printing press, radio, and the like, Christians have often been at the forefront these developments in communications, making use of technology for the dissemination of the Gospel, connecting dispersed Christians together over geographic distance, carrying on theological conversation, raising support for missionary endeavors, and so on. While new communication technologies are fraught with new possibilities for abuse and raise a variety of ethical questions requiring careful reflection, history suggests that Christians will nonetheless enter the arena rapidly and pervasively and effectively.

Update: Coincidentally, I got a flyer in the mail today for a conference on "Blogging and Online Journalism" sponsored by Ohio University's Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics

06 November 2005

pentecost 25

Eternal God,
you caused all holy scripture
to be written for our learning.
Grant us so to hear them,
read, mark, learn,
and inwardly digest them,
that we may embrace and ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us
in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

05 November 2005


This is homecoming weekend at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania here in Philadelphia. And for the first time in a number of years, we went to the traditional Penn vs. Princeton football game that marks the occasion.

This was also Claire's first college football game, though she seems to have been expecting what we Americans call "soccer." She did end up, however, wanting to go down to meet the "giant men in blue," not realizing, I think, that all those bulky guys were wearing padding rather than exhibiting unusual bone structure.

I'm not a huge football fan and Ivy League football is, well, Ivy League football, so the game didn't particularly interest me, especially since the performance of the Penn Quakers was almost embarrassing (they lost 13 to 30). But even when I was an undergrad I didn't faithfully attend games for love of the sport, but for all the crazy and fun stuff that goes on around the game: the antics of the Penn band, waving banners and pom-poms, guys who've painted Penn's logo on their bare chests, various chants and cheers.

Among the peculiarities are various songs that have gained a role in Penn sports over the decades. First there's the rather strange "battle song" that is sung whenever Penn scores:
Hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree
Down sent McGinty to the bottom of the sea
She's my Annie, and I'm her Joe, So listen to my tale of
Any ice today lady?
Giddy up!
Oh Pennsylvan-i-a!
I know nothing about the origins of this ditty (which mostly appears to be nonsense), but it strikes me as having its roots in the latter part of the 19th century with it's references to "Jeff Davis" and "McGinty" and the implied context of a singer riding on horseback.

During halftime we sing "The Red and the Blue," which is the unofficial school song, praising the school in terms of its colors. I suspect more students and alumni know the words to this tune than the official one, which, to my knowledge, only gets sung at commencement and the opening convocation. At any rate, the lyrics of "The Red and the Blue" run thus:
Come all ye loyal classmen now,
In Hall and Campus through,
Lift up your hearts and voices
For the royal Red and Blue

Fair Harvard has her crimson,
Old Yale her colors, too,
But for dear Pennsylvan-i-a
We wear the Red and Blue!

Hurrah! Hurrah! Pennsylvan-i-a,
Hurrah for the Red and the Blue!
Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!
Hurrah for the Red and the Blue!
During the "hurrah" section one moves the arm from the chest outwards repeatedly with every other syllable (though with a closed fist, lest one be mistaken for Nazi fervor). According to one legend, Penn's colors were taken from Harvard and Yale when we beat them long ago in a sporting event and had no colors of our own.

The most peculiar of the game traditions is probably the singing of "Drink a Highball" between the third and fourth quarters:
Drink a highball, at nightfall,
Be good fellows while you may
For tomorrow may bring sorrow,
So tonight, let's all be gay.

Tell the story, of the glory,
Of Pennsylvan-i-a,
Drink a highball, and be jolly
Here's a toast to dear old Penn!
The song, in itself, is not all that peculiar, of course. It probably originates as a drinking song. A highball, as I recall, is whiskey over ice with some ginger ale or soda water and lemon. And the original setting seems clearly to be an evening soirée, including drinking toasts to Penn.

What's peculiar is its transposition to the context of a daytime football game, in a stadium where alcohol is prohibited. Moreover, since one cannot properly "toast" without alcohol, a tradition has grown up of throwing pieces of toasted bread out of the bleachers at the word "toast," turning the sky into a brown sea of sailing slices of bread, with the occasional bagel or baguette added to the mix.

In any case, I will always have a place in my heart for the fighting Quakers (and, yes, I do recognize the oxymoronic nature of that appellation) and our quirky traditions.

03 November 2005

aar/sbl shindig

If folks who will be attending AAR/SBL in Philly want to get together for libations and conversation, some of us will be meeting up:

time: Saturday, November 19, 7pm - midnight. Drop by at your leisure.

location: Monk's Cafe at 264 S. 16th Street.

Monk's is close enough to the Convention Center to be convenient but not so close as to be overwhelmed by AAR/SBL folks.

It's on the small side, but the beer menu is fantastic and the food unusual and very good. Besides, there are lots of other places within a block or two that we could move on to if things get too crowded.

02 November 2005


On Monday midterm grades were due for all freshman students. This mid-semester reporting is part of how La Salle tracks the progress of first year students, gives them a chance to meet with their advisors about their successes and problems, and grants an opportunity to withdraw from a class (deadline: Friday) if a particular course seems beyond hope of redemption.

Despite the fact that I was hardly home at all last week, I did manage to get midterm grades calculated and turned in on time (much assisted by the online system that's been put in place the last several years).

Last week found me in New York City and in the midwest for a conference. Laurel has been wanting to visit New York for some time in connection with a writing project she is working on, part of which is set in New York and required some research. We lunched with some friends and had a good time wandering around both Brooklyn and the Upper West Side.

From Thursday through Sunday last week, travels took me to a conference in the midwest where I had agreed to comment on a paper. The conference overall was okay, though with midterm grades due, I found myself spending a good chunk of time holed up in the university library to mark papers and set up spreadsheets. Still, there was a very good session on the philosophical thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar that I thoroughly enjoyed, as well as a paper on Plato's Euthyphro that was intriguing.

The biggest danger of such conferences, of course, are the book sellers, especially when good publishers (Baker, Brazos, Eerdmans, Fordham, etc.) are offering all their wares at half-off the retail price. I don't have all the books in front of me at the moment, but I do recall purchasing John Milbank's recent book on de Lubac, The Suspended Middle, along with a volume on the Ten Commandments edited by Carl Braaten and Christopher Seitz, Esther Meek's book on epistemology, and Steve Long's The Goodness of God on theological ethics. I'm not sure when I'll get around to reading all of these, especially since I recently added Vanhoozer's big orange tome to my bedside stack.

This week looks to be busy as well, with a field trip to the Eastern State Penitentiary historic site early this afternoon, various advising meetings, friends coming over for dinner, a funding board meeting, a core curriculum faculty meeting, and a missionary coming to stay with us for our church's annual Missions Conference. In light of all that, I should get to work.