30 April 2008

end of term

Each semester seems to pass more quickly than the one before.

Looking back over the semester, it seemed like an especially difficult one. Every semester I teach four sections that are part of our "Doubles" program, which all freshmen are required to take - course sections that are thematically linked and share the same students with course sections in another department. Thus, my two sections of "The Human Person" (introductory philosophical anthropology) are linked with introductory psychology and my two sections of "Moral Choice" (introductory ethics) is linked up with English composition.

When I was originally hired full-time, I was one of six people hired across several disciplines to teach these Doubles in the Core Curriculum. For the past five and half years, I've had the same Doubles partners, so we've built up a routine, a rapport, and a common understanding of what we do. My English composition partner, however, left at the end of last term to get married and move away. Thus I ended up with two new Doubles partners this term, one for each of the sections linked with English. They're great guys, but it was a new thing and required some additional effort to make work.

I also taught an overload this term: "Harry Potter and Philosophy: Wizarding and Wisdom." It was a fantastic course, as far as I'm concerned, and I loved teaching it. I hope to teach it again some day, though I'd prefer to teach it during the day, two or three times a week, rather than during a nearly 3 hour evening once a week. Since it was entirely new for me, it required a lot of prep and I sometimes found it difficult to keep up with the workload.

The term also had me busy coordinating this new program of student-faculty colloquia, which I tried hard to get off the ground, but which ended up pretty much fizzling. Back to the drawing board on that one. I think it's a lot to ask full-time faculty who are already very busy to take the time to participate in colloquia with students outside of allotted class time without all the logistics being taken care of by others: recruiting students, finding a location, ordering food, etc. If we're going to make it work, I suspect it'll have to be something where faculty just need to show up and be themselves without any further expectation.

In the midst of the general hubbub of a busy term, I also managed to come down with some kind of lingering sinus infection that started up in late January and persisted until about a month ago when it finally disappeared. While its severity ebbed and flowed, it added a layer of nuisance, headache, and fatigue to an already difficult term.

Suffice it to say, I'm glad it's almost all over. I need a bit of a rest, though real rest will have to wait for a little while.

My students' final papers were mostly due today, so I have several days of heavy grading ahead of me. Beyond that, summer plans are beginning to shape up.

I'll be teaching the summer hybrid course in Business Ethics - three class meetings with the rest of the class conducted online. I've never used the new BlackBoard system we now have, so it will require some learning on my part. The class begins on May 10, so I really don't have too much time to pull it together once I get grades turned in. Fortunately, I have taught it before, so I'm not starting from scratch - though I last taught it two summers ago.

My other summer project is to write a chapter for a forthcoming book on Harry Potter and philosophy. I submitted a proposal concerning Harry Potter and issues in epistemology. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was accepted. The due date for the draft is August 15.

Well, enough procrastinating. Back to grading!

27 April 2008

follow-up on westminster theological seminary

Following up from earlier posts, I wanted to provide an update concerning Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS).

Responding to a request from the Chairman of its Board, WTS has made a collection of documents available on its website, pertaining to the recent controversy surrounding Old Testament professor Peter Enns and giving background to his impending suspension.

According to a statement from the Board's chair, these documents are provided "in interest of theological clarity, educational growth and institutional transparency." Some blogs note that WTS students also received copies of these documents just prior to their appearance online.

Included among the documents are:
[1] A "Historical and Theological Field Committee Report" (HTFC), an elaboration on five points of concern about and in response to Enns's book Inspiration and Incarnation, prepared by members of the systematics, historical, and apologetics faculties of WTS. It dates from 4 April 2006.

[2] A "Hermeneutics Field Committee's Reply to the HTFC" (HFC), a detailed response to the previous report, taking on its arguments against and approach to Enns's book Inspiration and Incarnation, prepared by members of the biblical faculties. It is undated, though I understand it was presented to the faculty in March 2007.

[3] The "Edgar-Kelly Motion," which is a series of proposed statements affirming, in part, that Enns's book remains within the confessional stance of WTS. In a faculty vote on 6 December 2007, 12 members of the faculty voted to adopt these motions, while 8 voted to reject them.

[4] A "Minority Report" from the 8 faculty who rejected the Edgar-Kelly motion, explaining their reasoning. This document also functions, in some respects, as a re-assertion of the main features of the HTFC report, against the HFC reply. I assume that it dates from after the 12-8 vote, but prior to the final item in the set of documents.

[5] A report entitled "'The Infallible Rule of Interpretation of Scripture': The Hermeneutical Crisis and the Westminster Standards," written by Peter Lillback, current President of WTS. It dates from 26 February 2008. Reports online state that members of the Board received a 200-page document from Lillback prior to its March meeting and decision to suspend Enns. Presumably then, Lillback's essay was an important part of the documents the Board received prior to its meeting.
There are also brief, new prefaces at the beginning of both the HTFC report and HFC reply, providing some context. Be warned that these items are all assembled as a single document, so the PDF file is large (146 pages).

Having spent some time wading through this material, perhaps a few observations are in order, though it is difficult even to know where to begin. My observations do not concern so much the substance of the issues at WTS represented by Enns's book, but rather what seems apparent or probable concerning institutional dynamics as witnessed to by these documents.

First, I'm grateful that WTS has made these documents public. President Lillback had said in his interaction with students at the 1 April 2008 chapel meeting:
...the theological work that has been developed behind the scenes by your faculty will begin to be disclosed...And so I want to assure you, you've not heard from the faculty. You've not heard from either the majority or the minority, but at some time, and at some point, you will. (a PDF of the transcript can be found here)
These documents allow those of us who remain concerned about WTS and its future to begin to "hear from the faculty." As such they provide a much needed perspective from the standpoint of the faculty involved, especially insofar as the issue has been framed in terms of "the disunity of the faculty." Here we finally begin to see the nature of that disunity and how it has played out.

The documents also help alleviate the growing sense that the process thus far has lacked transparency and that the concerns of important institutional stakeholders have been neglected in the process.

In all these ways, then, the availability of these documents is welcome.

Second, reading through the documents themselves, I think one cannot help but recognize that Enns's book, Inspiration and Incarnation is not so much the issue as it is a symptom of a deep fissure within the institutional character, trajectory, identity of WTS.

These documents, Lillback, and the Board, however, have focussed upon Enns, his book, and the disunity over them as the defining issue. Lillback, for instance, stated at the 1 April 2008 chapel, "the disunity [among faculty] constantly revolves around the specific book" and that the WTS "crisis emerges from a single primary source," referring to Enns.

Nonetheless, the evidence made available in these documents strongly indicates that the Enns book was merely a catalyst in bringing to the foreground already existing differences among faculty and departments. These differences, moreover, go back some years and are rooted in the history of WTS itself, particularly decades of development within its biblical departments.

This point raises the question whether the current crisis within the faculty, seemingly occasioned by the trajectory of its biblical departments, represents the growth of an already existing, but profound rift, or whether it represents the formation of a largely new rift, occasioned perhaps by other factors within the life of WTS.

The content of the HFC reply by the biblical faculties demonstrates that they at least perceive themselves as forming their scholarly identity in an already existing trajectory of development that has long been in place not only at WTS, but also as situated within the wider trajectory of Old Princeton and Old Amsterdam. If this is correct, then this suggests, whatever role developments within the biblical faculty may have played, the current difficulties are not unilateral in nature, nor simply the result of novel moves within biblical studies or on the part of Enns.

Perhaps, then, the current crisis bears witness to a larger breakdown in communication between departments and faculties, a failure of collegiality and inter-dependence between biblical studies on one side and systematic and historical studies on the other. Indeed, one wonders whether Enns might have written a better book had faculty collegiality and the inter-disciplinary environment been healthier.

In this context, one might also note various staffing and leadership changes that have occurred at WTS in recent years with various faculty moving on, retiring, or dying, and a variety of newer hires joining the faculty. Such staffing changes will inevitably affect an institution's sense of identity, continuity, and internal culture.

Third, given the interchange among faculty witnessed to in these reports, it is very difficult to see how Enns's suspension will do anything to alleviate matters. Indeed, it might well exacerbate them.

On one side, the "Minority Report" in response to the "Edgar-Kelly Motion" appears to add nothing of substance to the concerns expressed by the original HTFC report criticizing Enns's book. Nor does it take up any of the extensively argued responses to the HTFC report on the part of the biblical faculties in their HFC reply, though the new preface to the HTFC report does acknowledge having misquoted Enns.

On the other side, the newly added preface to the HFC reply by the biblical faculties states:
We also believe we have demonstrated that the approach of I&I and the signatories of HFC is not only in continuity with the Westminster-Old Princeton tradition of biblical investigation, but also provides a theologically sound, hermeneutically conscious, and culturally sensitive path for the church to continue to speak the unchanging Word of God into the changing worlds in which we live.
From this statement, it seems that the signers of the HFC reply would align themselves closely with Enns's book, referring to "the approach of I&I and the signatories of HFC" (emphasis mine). Moreover, they would see this approach as one that remains in fundamental continuity with Westminster-Old Princeton, whatever differences in emphasis the current cultural and scholarly context might require and whatever specific differences they might have among themselves.

This point, however, is not new with the preface. Indeed, the original introduction to the HFC reply by the biblical faculties notes that the report "will close with a sketch of our positive vision for biblical studies at WTS that is faithful to the Westminster Confession, submissive to the ultimate authority of Scripture, and sensitive to its actual character and teaching." Unfortunately, it appears that this "positive vision" would be found in "Appendix One," which is not included among the published materials. One can surmise, however, from the vigorous defense of Enns in the HFC reply - and various points raised and explored along the way within that defense - that such a "positive vision" would have significant continuities with how the HFC reply understands biblical studies at WTS in the tradition of Stonehouse, Young, Kline, Dillard, Longman, Groves, and others.

If my sense of the scholarly landscape here is accurate, then it seems difficult to see how the suspension of Enns serves the purpose of bringing unity to the faculty, except insofar as it removes one individual on one side of a much larger and seemingly intransigent divide. Perhaps the underlying issue is that one portion of the faculty, along with the President and majority of the Board, have a very different positive vision for biblical studies at WTS from that embraced by the current biblical faculty.

If that is so, then honesty and integrity suggest that this profound difference be acknowledged and brought to the center of debate. Otherwise, whatever controversy Enns might have occasioned by his book, the Board's treatment of Enns can too easily take on the appearance of scapegoating an individual for what are much larger and deeper institutional difficulties.

This issue was raised indirectly by students at the 1 April 2008 chapel meeting, where a student asked, given that it is unlikely that "the suspension or even the termination of one faculty member is going to end that divide or bring actual unity," whether the President or Board "have any intentions to pursue other faculty members along similar lines."

At that point President Lillback responded, "What the board may intend or not intend to do would remain in their prerogative. But at this point they have only specified Professor Enns," a response that the Board Chair repeated. By not ruling out an immediate intention to pursue further suspensions or terminations, the President and Board seemed to recognize that the rift among the faculty runs more deeply than simply Enns's book and that Enns's suspension might not be sufficient in resolving the difficulties.

Fourth, turning to President Lillback: among the various items included in the WTS documents, Lillback's paper is unique in that it expresses the viewpoint of a single individual, rather than a committee. Moreover, as WTS President, Lillback has a responsibility to the Board and various stakeholders to assure the integrity of any internal processes and, in his calling to make recommendations to the Board, Lillback has the power to shape enormously how the Board interfaces with Enns and the wider faculty.

At the 1 April 2008 chapel, Lillback situated the Board's action with reference to Enns in this way: "I wrote the massive amount of material I did to share with the Board so that they might know the facts as I could understand them and where the epicenter of the problem was." Given that Lillback's essay is the only document we have from his own hand, that it dates from no later than 26 Febrauary 2008 (a month before the Board meeting), and that it is obviously known to Board (and thus the Board chair asked that it be included in this set of documents), we can only assume that it is representative of the tone and character of Lillback's overall presentation and recommendation to the Board.

On one hand, Lillback seems ready to take full responsibility for his role in making a recommendation and shaping the Board's thinking on this subject. He said at the 1 April 2008 chapel:
As I understand these issues I think it is a very serious matter that we have to raise and I felt it was right for the school to raise that and I'm prepared to be held accountable for doing that. I do not flinch one little bit from the criticisms that come for me for making the recommendation.
I am glad to see Lillback acknowledge his role and commend him for it.

On the other hand, while rightly noting that the Board "bears final responsibility for the well-being of our school before the Lord and the public" (undated "Letter to Students" from March 2008, prior to the Board meeting), Lillback also seems to want to minimize his role and to suggest a greater degree of distance in the process than seems apparent from his essay.

He noted in the 1 April 2008 chapel that the Board's actual decision went further than his recommendation, including language of "termination" rather than merely "suspension." Lillback stated:
...the ultimate motion that was one that the Board entirely crafted and is not my motion. My motion did not use the word "termination," theirs does...Theirs is much stronger, and it was their vote, and not mine.
All of this, of course, is perfectly true.

Nonetheless, the climactic passage of Lillback's own essay poses the possibilities as an either/or crossroads for WTS that forces a stark choice: either sola scriptura or Enns, either "the evangelical doctrine of scripture" or Enns, either "Luther" or Enns, either "standing on God's word" or Enns. While Lillback's formal recommendation may have stopped short of suggesting termination, it seems clear to me that the burden of his essay pushed for more decisive action.

Concerning the essay itself, it is a peculiar piece. The footnotes, overall, are more extensive than the main text and contain a great deal of the essay's argument, a method into which academics like me can too easily slip, but which is considered poor form (I've seen it referred to as "footnote disease" by the style manuals).

Further, the method of argumentation seems somewhat scatter shot. While the main theme is the Westminster Confession's statement that "the only infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself," the actual argument ranges over a vast host of topics.

The essay strikes me as an attempt to grab and deploy any and every possible tool against Enns's book, drawing upon negative reviews, repeating various aspects of the HTFC report, and amassing various lists of quotations from Inspiration and Incarnation (often isolated phrases, taken out of context), hoping that among these various tools, something makes a dent. Strangely, the essay doesn't seem even to acknowledge the HFC reply to the HTFC report from nearly a year earlier, but rather makes a number of the same, already-criticized moves that the HTFC report did, without any real revision or acknowledgment of their problematic character.

Rhetorically, as noted above, the essay appears designed to provoke a response and sets out options in the starkest terms, an approach that would prima facie seem able to gain traction only with those already disposed to its conclusions.

Frankly, I think the essay is an embarrassment. I realize that presidents of academic institutions are often selected more for their vision or administrative skills (or even willingness to take on an unforgiving job) than necessarily their scholarship or academic rigor. Still, in my opinion, Lillback's essay is a disservice to the integrity and reputation of WTS.

Finally, then, for those of you interested in the ongoing difficulties at WTS, I would commend reading through all these materials. The two reports prepared by the faculty are, ultimately, edifying wherever one might come down in terms of the issues. Moreover, they provide a helpful window into the situation and, more generally, the kinds of internal struggles that religious institutions of learning inevitably face when they try to hold together both confessional boundaries and academic freedom.

22 April 2008

a prayer for earth day

O gracious Father,
you open your hand
and fill all things living with plenitude:
Bless the lands and waters,
and multiply the harvests of the world;
let your Spirit go forth,
that he may renew the face of the earth;
show your loving-kindness,
that our land may give her increase;
and save us from selfish use of what you give,
that people everywhere may give you thanks;
through Christ our Lord.

19 April 2008

the end of an ideal

Unless you grew up in the Philly area during the 60s and 70s, this will probably mean nothing to you, but Ideal Clothing in Hammonton, New Jersey will soon be closing the doors of its famous Quonset hut along the White Horse Pike partway to Atlantic City.

For those of us who grew up around Philly, the most memorable part of Ideal will most likely remain it's catchy, yet oh-so-annoying advertising jingle (mp3), which played repeatedly when I was a kid, especially on UHF television channels: "If you've got a passion for fashion / and you've got a craving for saving / just take the wheel of your automobile / and swing on down to Ideal."

the eye of man hath not heard

I'm definitely a very visual thinker.

I know this is the case partly by contrast with Laurel who is much more able to follow verbal directions and written instructions. Those assembly instructions from IKEA with only pictures drive her up the wall, while I think they're perfect. On the other hand, when I'm given multi-step verbal directions, I'll get to about the second step and need them repeated.

In general then, I'm prone to flow charts, diagrams, pictures, and other sorts of visual aids in absorbing and retaining information.

When I'm having difficulty getting my mind around a topic or argument, I find it helps to plot it out, even if just writing sentences on a page, arranged with numbers and connected by arrows.

My penchant for visual representation extends to language and spelling and memory.

When meeting a person for the first time with an unusual name, I'm far more likely to remember the name if I ask the person to spell it for me. And when I repeatedly hear a name I have no idea how to spell, it begins to grate on my nerves.

As a regular NPR listener, I feel as if many of their newscasters, commentators, and correspondents are like a sort of extended family. But I could only tolerate it for so long before looking up name spellings on the NPR website for familiar folks such as Kai Ryssdal (Marketplace), Farai Chideya (News & Notes), and Lakshmi Singh (NPR News). What a relief to finally see these familiar names!

I also wonder if there the tendency towards visual over verbal correlates to gender. So, for instance, do males generally tend to fall on the visual side and women more on the verbal? I have some evidence from in my own experience that this is the case, but am not sure if this really holds true more widely.

Thoughts? Stories? Does my experience resonate with yours?

18 April 2008

presbyterians remain together

As some of you may recall, around two years ago a bunch of us got together to commit ourselves in our own theological conversation to maintaining a sense of broad charity, ongoing patience, and careful listening, recognizing the complexities and diversity of our ecclesial tradition, even as bounded by the great confessional statements we share.

The result of this effort was a document we called (admittedly somewhat tongue-in-cheek) "Presbyterians & Presbyterians Together." Given subsequent events, conflicts, wranglings, and so forth, the document perhaps seems more quixotic than ever. Nonetheless, over 300 people have signed the document including some in the past few weeks.

While I suspect we still all struggle at times with how we conduct our theological discourse, I think the document has perhaps had a salutary effect in our public speech to one another. Moreover, I know that the document drew various people together and identified them to one another as sharing some important affinities and commitments. This has produced good fruit, including (in an indirect way) the "Conversation on Denominational Renewal" that occurred in February of this year.

The primary reason for my post today, however, is to alert readers to that fact that the original domain that hosted the document (presbyterianstogether.org) is scheduled to expire in a few days. I've created a version of the site on my own domain so that Presbyterians Together will continue to exist and bear witness. Nonetheless, I removed some of the functionality of the original site, in light of its moving to a more "archival" status.

I hope and pray that whatever small beginnings the document may have produced will continue to bear good fruit and that whatever shortcomings and missteps it may have involved may be forgotten or set aside.

16 April 2008

the incarnational analogy

One might raise a variety of objections to using an incarnational analogy to explain the phenomenon of holy scripture - that is, seeing the incarnation of the divine Logos as human as a paradigm for understanding the relation between the human and divine within the inscripturated Word.

Various theologians have raised cogent objections, many of which have some traction (see, e.g., John Webster, Telford Work, Markus Barth, Andrew McGowan). Some of these objections focus upon the disanalogies between a text and the hypostatic union, though of course every analogy involves similarity within some differences.

But the most powerful objections, it seems to me, come from those who want to situate the phenomenon of scripture within a doctrine of general providence and of the Holy Spirit. In responding to these sorts of objections, I would suggest that part of the problem of the incarnational analogy is perhaps that our christology remains insufficiently pneumatological and our doctrine of creation and providence remains insufficiently christological.

Whatever the difficulties, however, it still remains the case that the incarnational analogy of scripture is both persistent and pervasive throughout Christian reflections upon God's word, from the time of the Fathers onward. Thus, it seems to me, that such an analogy, whatever its shortcomings, is not easily dismissed and is not entirely without some usefulness.

In what follows I want to simply register a brief response to one particular sort of objection to the incarnational analogy that I have sometimes come across. The objection is this: some portions of scripture appear to be divinely dictated to a human scribe. Thus, whatever generalizations we may make about scripture as a whole, the incarnational analogy is an ill fit with those portions of scripture that might reasonably be taken as "dictated."

Here's what I'd say by way of a response.

Does the incarnational analogy apply any less to cases of putative dictation? I suspect that such an objection has not fully thought through what it would mean for dictation to occur.

Even in a case of divine dictation to a human scribe, I would suggest that the incarnational analogy still fully applies. After all, inscripturation is a human process. Consider, for instance, how God might speak to his scribe. Does he place audible vibrations into the air? Does he take up existing forms within the scribe's mind from his past experience of language and culture? Does God make use of the scribe's own imagination or dreaming?

The means by which God dictates - the event of revelation and divine self-disclosure - would still involve thoroughly human, created means, even before the words made their way onto the parchment: particular sounds, in a particular language, at a particular time and place, with all the ordinary sorts of ambient distractions, possibilities for mis-hearing, mis-copying, and so forth.

Moreover, the event of divine dictation would be embedded within a particular sequence of events by which the scribe would be able to recognize and understand these words to be those of God and not of his own mere imagination or a hallucination or the voice of an evil spirit. Thus there is still an ineliminable interpretive element for the scribe in his assessment that his situation is in fact one of God speaking to him for the purpose of his writing it down.

Beyond that, there is the role of the Spirit in shaping the scribe's experience and activity in such a way that he not only accurately transcribes all that he writes down, but also that he leaves nothing out and adds nothing of his own where he might be inclined to "fill out" what God is saying.

And finally, we would have to give some consideration to the irreducibly human and situated process by which the dictated text would make its way into a collection and perhaps even undergo editing, updating, and contextualization into the life of the believing community.

Therefore, it seems to me that there is still a fully and richly human element even in the event of divine dictation of scripture and that the incarnational analogy would apply there as well as anywhere. So objection to the incarnational analogy from the possibility of cases of dictation fails.

15 April 2008

tax day

For April 15, it was really a very lovely day today - with warming weather, though not quite "hot" yet, accompanied by a gentle breeze. Thus I took a nice long walk this afternoon with our dog, camera in hand. My intention was to capture some images of the flowering trees and springtime bulbs, and I did end up with a number of really nice pictures of that sort.

But today isn't only "tax day" - it's also one week until the Pennsylvania primary. Living in Philadelphia, the voting public is overwhelmingly Democratic. My own neighborhood, though increasingly integrated, remains largely white, historically populated by blue collar workers and tradesmen, mostly Catholic, though with a growing younger generation of professionals, many of whom grew up in the neighborhood and live only a few doors away from their parents or aunts and uncles and cousins.

I can't predict how April 22 will go in the rest of Pennsylvania, but I'm pretty sure how the vote will go around here. Since I was snapping photos anyway, I thought I'd take some pictures of various yard signs and bumper stickers, both election-related and just generally political. I didn't take a picture of every sign (which would have required tramping across yards and up on porches), but what I've posted here is a fairly representative sample.

On the whole, my own political views don't fit nicely into the spectrum on offer here in America. I usually answer "other" when I have a check a box identifying my politics on a survey. Still, if pushed, I'd probably admit to being, on the balance, a somewhat left-leaning moderate Democrat - though more so on some issues than others.

Certainly a number of my more conservative evangelical friends think I'm just a plain old "liberal." But, given my context, I really do feel much more of a moderate. And my actual influences have a lot more to do with the wider historical sweep of Christian social teaching and the influence of contemporary political theologians, than they do with the main currents on the American political scene. Perhaps these sorts of labels - "liberal," "conservative," "moderate," etc. - are somewhat relative to context, social expectations, and background experiences.

My 5 year old is decidedly an Obama supporter, pointing out every sign and loving the large and eye-catching red, white, and blue "HOPE" posters that most bus stops in Philly currently seem to feature. I suspect, however, that her preference has much more to do with liking what seems to her the exotic sound of the name "Barack Obama" than any deep policy commitments. When not opting for the polite "Mr. Obama" appellation, she'll sound it out, every syllable: Bah-Rak-Oh-Bah-Mah.

The rest of the weather this week is supposed to remain lovely, even if it will reach nearly 80 degrees by Friday. Perhaps I'll wander the neighborhood again in the next days, concentrating this time more on the flowers.

09 April 2008

harry potter & philosophy

As you may recall, this term I'm teaching a course entitled "Harry Potter & Philosophy" - and it seems to be going well. The students have engaged in several lively and thoughtful debates and their first set papers were really very good and insightful. I look forward to seeing their final papers in a few weeks.

For tonight's class we have a guest: Travis Prinzi of the Hogshead blog and pubcast as well as a being a contributor to the Boars Head Tavern. He'll be speaking on issues of race, class, and gender within the Harry Potter series. Tomorrow Travis will also give a talk on "Wizards at War: Harry Potter as a Commentary on Terrorism."

I've been enjoying this course a lot and hope to produce an article of my own out of it on issues of epistemology that are raised by the series.

08 April 2008

analogia entis

I returned Sunday night from a conference in DC on the analogy of being, sponsored by the Dominican House of Studies and the John Paul II Cultural Center, both on the campus of Catholic University.

In addition to a couple occasions of wonderful worship with the Dominican community and their gracious hospitality, the symposium was really very stimulating and helpful intellectually and theologically.

There were presentations from John Betz (Loyola College, Baltimore), Martin Bieler (University of Berne), Peter Casarella (DePaul University), Michael Hanby (John Paul II Institute), David Bentley Hart (Providence College), Reinhard Hütter (Duke Divinity School), Bruce McCormack (Princeton Theological Seminary), Bruce Marshall (Perkins School of Theology at SMU), Richard Schenk OP (Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology), John Webster (Kings College, Aberdeen), and Thomas Joseph White OP (Dominican House of Studies). Thus speakers represented Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Reformed traditions. In addition to the speakers, the audience included all sorts of top-notch thinkers, who really enriched the discussion.

In some respects, the basic axis of conversation was between Roman and Reformed, particularly given a certain sort of Reformed suspicion of natural theology and of any knowledge of God or of any "God" who is revealed outside of and prior to our knowledge of God in Christ. Among Reformed theologians, such a perspective is articulated most forcefully and winsomely by Karl Barth.

Given this dynamic, I think there was a fruitful convergence between conversation partners on the fundamentally christological character of the analogia entis. Söhngen and Balthasar, in particular, give a more strongly christological reading of the analogy, placing it within the context of the analogia fidei, as explicating the logic of Nicaea and Chalcedon, a christological trend one might discern as well in the later Przywara.

At any rate, that's only the merest sketch of some aspects of the symposium. I hope to return to the topic sometime in the next week and provide some deeper reflections on several of the presentations.

04 April 2008

40th anniversary of MLK death

Forty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was fatally shot on his balcony at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, bringing to a close his labors for equal civil rights for all Americans.

I'm sure that, as with many great leaders, Dr. King was an earthen vessel, with his own share of flaws, both personal and public. Yet, his tireless labors and effective rhetorical gifts were instrumental in improving the lives of so many and in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Thus, Dr. King has won our admiration not only as a remarkable individual, but also as a symbol of the aspirations and hopes of many. His legacy serves to remind us of deplorable aspects of our own history as a nation, how far we have come to correct some of those wrongs, and yet how far we have still to go as we continue in these labors, particularly as Christians called to make known the kingdom of God.

The night before his assassination, Dr. King spoke these words to a crowd gathered at Mason Temple:
And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Powerful words, embodying an awareness, I think, of the dangers he faced for his stand against injustice and of his trust in God's purposes in the midst of it all, purposes that would extend beyond his own labors even to our own time.

In it's Lesser Feasts and Fasts book, the Episcopal church provides the following prayer for this day:
Almighty God,
by the hand of Moses your servant
you led your people out of slavery,
and made them free at last;
Grant that your church,
following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King,
may resist oppression in the name of your love,
and may secure for all your children
the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

01 April 2008

more on westminster theological seminary

I wish I could say this was all a cruel April Fools joke but...

Christianity Today follows up its initial blurb with a fuller account of the goings-on at Westminster Theological Seminary, including mention of today's standing-room-only meeting where students and others could ask questions of the Board and President:
Westminster Theological Suspension


...ethos, theology, worship, ecclesiology, and mission - that is, renewing our denomination and tradition within the wider life of God's work of renewal in the church catholic and God's mission to renew the entire world in Christ.

Just a heads up for those who are interested. Talks from the 2008 "Conversation on Denominational Renewal" (which I blogged about below) are now available for download and listening online. All of the speakers are pastors serving God's people from within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
Greg Thompson of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia give the "Introduction" and spoke on "Renewing Ethos."

Jeremy Jones of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee spoke on "Renewing Theology."

Bill Boyd of All Saints Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas spoke on "Renewing Worship."

Matt Brown of Park Slope Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York spoke on "Renewing Ecclesiology."

And Jeff White of New Song Community Church in Harlem, New York City spoke on "Renewing Mission."
While all the talks are helpful, I've found Jeremy Jones's talk on theology to be one of the most helpful in naming and analyzing what seem to me perennial concerns in how we carry forward the project of constructive theology within a confessionally Reformed tradition.

So, load these talks on your mp3 player or computer and give them a listen.