Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Studying Theology

We in the West live in a pluralist society which entails a multiplicity of perspectives. That is a truth bordering on the banal, so long has it been true around these parts. This, after all, is the society imagined and created by Rome, "where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue" as Tacitus once wrote. One of those horrible and shameful things was Christianity, which eventually became the dominant -- though certainly not the only -- perspective from which to view the cosmos.

Indeed, if David Hart is right, theology in the good ol' days was not so much a perspective as it was the perspective that united all other perspectives. Theology didn't throw its two cents into the pot, but was the pot itself. It gathered up all perspectives and disciplines to itself, giving them their true goal, directing them towards the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Hart says it in his own inimitable way:

Christians should undoubtedly celebrate truth wherever they find it; but it is not natural to theology that it should function as one discipline among others, attempting to make its contribution to some larger conversation; as soon as it consents to become a perspective among the human sciences, rather than the contemplation of the final cause and consummation of all paths of knowledge, it has ceased to be theology and has become precisely what its detractors have long suspected it of being: willful opinion, emotion, and cant.

I am often sheepish in my description of theology when anyone asks me what it is exactly that I am studying after I have told them that I study theology. I make it sound like just another university degree, to the point where I might as well be saying that I study Commerce or Engineering. In fact, I am studying an age-old discipline that thinks of itself as the servant of a people who know the Creator of this world, and who have been chosen to live out his purposes in every spehre of life. Perhaps that is a claim I think too daring for me to make. A sign, no doubt, that I am in need of further theological education!

The Film I'm Most Looking Forward To Seeing This Year...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


I just got "offered" fifteen quid by a company if I allow them to sponsor my next blogpost. My dreams of becoming an author/speaker/blogger are finally being realised.

Now, who wants me to speak at their church/youth club/Christian Union/Bar Mitzvah/beach party/wedding reception/graduation ceremony?

Alternatively, you and 89 others can join me at the Galway Races this week for gambling and conversation. The price is E500. This includes one free each-way bet, and excludes travelling expenses, food, accomodation, and anything else that costs money. The schedule will be announced shortly, but we will meet in the Four Aces on Wednesday night any time after 7pm to discuss the finer points of Continental Philosphy over a 1-3 game of pot-limit hold'em.

To Pin Down

David Bentley Hart is a hard man to pin down. At times he is briskly dismissive of  "sanctimonious denunciations of 'Constantinianism'" (one wonders who, exactly, he has in mind?); at other times he writes something like this:

When Christianity became not only a pillar of culture, but also a support of the state, and thereby attached itself to that human reality that necessarily sustains itself through the prudential use of violence, it attempted to close the spiritual abyss separating Christ and Pilate on the day of their confrontation in Jerusalem.

Sanctimonious or not, that sounds suspiciously like a denunciation of "Constantinianism", and a well put one at that.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pierre Gernet, Liberator

In one perfect sentence, David Bentley Hart captures the decision of a young French girl to sacrifice her lover on account of her wealthy father's disapproval.

His wealth was simply too sweet a captivity to flee, especially to the embrace of so impoverished a liberator. 
David Hart, The Devil and Pierre Gernet

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Plotted Argument?

Stanley Hauerwas describes a sermon as an argument. Eugene Lowry describes a sermon in terms of a plot, with it having a setting, a central conflict, and a resolution. Can a sermon be both argument and story? Or more generally, what exactly do you think a sermon is? What are you expecting to hear when you are confronted with one?

I ask this because at the end of the summer I am due to deliver my first sermon in my home church. Right now I am reading the lectionary passages for that week and letting them breathe in my mind and imagination, with the hopes that something (although Lowry would rather speak of a sermon as an event than a thing) will reveal itself as requiring urgent utterance. I'm excited and terrified by the task of preaching, but more than anything I am absolutely convinced that the theological training I have done has a sermon as one of its ends.

The End Of Pilgrimage

Everything around the image is part of its meaning. Its uniqueness is part of the uniqueness of the single place where it is. Everything around it confirms and consolidates its meaning. The extreme example is the icon. Worshippers converge upon it. Behind its image is God. Before it believers close their eyes. They do not need to go on looking at it. They know that it marks the place of meaning. 
Now, it belongs to no place, and you can see such an icon in your home. The images come to you; you do not go to them. The days of pilgrimage are over. 
- John Berger, Ways of Seeing (1972)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Curious Case of Benjamin Warfield

B.B. Warfield was a Presbyterian theologian who was part of the writing team of "The Fundamentals" back in the early 20th century. He was, in other words, a fundamentalist, best known these days as a staunch defender of biblical inerrancy. Yet according to David Livingstone (the geography professor at Queens) he was also an evolutionist. Here is a paragraph from one of Livingstone's essays on the subject:

'The prevalence of the evolutionary hypotheses', [Warfield] wrote, 'has removed all motive for denying a common origin to the human race, and rendered it natural to look upon the differences which exist among the various types of man as differentiations of a common stock.' Warfield's discussion, then, serves to illustrate not only his adoption of an evolutionary model for explaining aspects of human development, but also his uncompromising conviction that the whole doctrinal structure of the biblical account of redemption was rooted in the assumption that 'the race of man is one organic whole.' The evolutionary basis of Warfield's proposals, I would suggest, need to be remembered today when some evangelical anti-evolutionists urge that evolutionism has fostered a racist mentality. Thus Schaeffer's comment that evolutionary 'concepts opened the door for racism' is as dangerous a half-truth as E. H. Andrew's emotive note that the 'Nazi regime exploited evolutionary ideas to “justify” their mass murder of the Jews.’

And here is the conclusion:

...the considered and supportive testimony of Warfield to the theory of evolution can no longer be suppressed or subverted by those who want to wield a Warfieldian view of scripture in the cause of a 'creationist' crusade.

 What do you make of that?