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The Myth of Religious Violence

10th May 2011

Those in Edmonton this Friday May 13th will want to take in the 2011 deGroot Memorial Lecture with Dr. William Cavanaugh. He will be speaking on The Myth of Religious Violence. The lunch and lecture runs 12:00-2:30 pm and is at the King’s University College.

The cost is $25.00 for lunch and the lecture.

See you there!


Posted in Announcements, Conferences, Theology | Comments Off

SmackDown Slam of the Week: Stark vs. Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?

29th April 2011

Some may be familiar with Paul Copan‘s recent book Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Baker, 2011; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). It is an attempt to address the criticisms leveled against the God of the Hebrew Bible by the New Atheists, among others. It’s an OK book, although I am ultimately unsatisfied with his attempts.

But it doesn’t matter what I think! Tony Thom Stark has donned his Iron Man suit and produced a 303-page review of Copan’s book! 303 pages! Talk about the SmackDown Slam of the Week! Copan’s book is only 252 pages to begin with! To say the review is scathing would be a bit of an overstatement, but I do like the advice Stark gives to the reader at the end of the review:

So what do we do now? How do we move on? Where do we go from here? I suggest two courses of action. First, email Paul Copan and ask for an apology for his apologetics. Moreover, challenge him to take his responsibilities, both to the biblical text and to the church, more seriously from now on. Tell him you’re not interested in easy answers; you want to know how to struggle.

Second, keep struggling, but don’t do it on your own. Find a community that will allow you to be honest with your doubts, a community that won’t force you to comply with phony definitions of faith that allow for no dissent and no despair. Find a community that will not only allow you to struggle openly, but one that will struggle with you, without the need to force easy answers onto questions that won’t allow for them. Find a community that knows how to argue, both with one another, and with the text. The Bible is an argument with itself. Find a community that knows that joining in that argument is exactly what it means to be a people of the book. Find a community that doesn’t let experts speak over the top of the ignorant. Find a community that holds those who doubt in high regard, and one that treats those with all the answers with the kind of care appropriate to the mentally ill.

If you’ve already found such a community, find someone who hasn’t. And if you haven’t found one yet, keep looking. They’re out there. I’ve found mine. You’ll find yours. Christian or not, we all need such communities; it’s what it means to be human. There may not be any answers forthcoming, but woe to the one who has questions and no one to throw them at.

“Email Paul Copan and ask for an apology for his apologetics” – I love it!  Now, to be fair, Stark’s review is written in a conversational tone, so that in part explains the length. And he isn’t mean spirited; in contrast he is truly concerned for the problems that Copan’s approach raises for the academic and Christian community.

Stark’s review, entitled, “Is God a Moral Compromiser? A Critical Review of Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?“, is available from his website here. If you have read Copan, or are planning to read Copan,  I encourage you to download it and read it alongside Copan.

[I should probably mention that my recommendation to read Copan and Stark together in no way implies that I agree with either of them!]

(HT to my buddy Randal Rauser for drawing my attention to Stark’s review)


Posted in Apologetics, Old Testament, Theology, Yahweh War | Comments Off

Yahweh’s (Inexplicable?) Response to Job

3rd March 2011

One of the most marvelous passages of Scripture in the Tanak is found at the end of the book of Job where Yahweh (surprisingly) responds to Job from the whirlwind (Job 38:1-42:6).  I’ve tended to understand Yahweh’s reply to Job as a series of unanswerable questions that put Job and his so-called friends in their place, so to speak. If Job doesn’t understand the workings of the world in which he finds himself, then how does he expect to understand the workings of God’s moral universe?  The questions are to humble Job and underscore human finititude. The questions should elicit epistemic humility in Job (and the reader). In my mind, they highlight that the theme of the book of Job is less about “suffering” or “theodicy” than it is about “Who is truly wise?”  That is, who understands the question of suffering?

The other day my theology colleague brought to my attention a short section on “Job and Inexplicability” in an essay by philosopher Slavoj Žižek. The essay is from the recently published volume edited by John Milbank, Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology (Brazos, 2010; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). In this section, Žižek understands God’s response to Job also highlights that God doesn’t even understand his own creation. He notes:

The rationalist points out that the fine thing about the world is that it can all be explained. But this is the point that God’s reply explicitly opposes — if I may put it so — to the point of violence. God says, in effect, that if there is one fine thing about the world, as far as people are concerned, it is that it cannot be explained. He insists on the inexplicableness of everything.

….

Again, to startle humans, God becomes, for an instant, a blasphemer. One might almost say that God becomes, for an instant, an atheist. He unrolls before Job a long panorama of created things… The Maker of all things is astonished at the things he has himself made. Again, here the point is not that God knows the deeper meaning, but it is as if God himself is overwhelmed at the excess of his creation (pp. 177-78).

While Žižek’s notion is provocative, I’m not sure that it is borne out by the text itself.  I agree with the first paragraph above;  the world we find ourselves in is ultimately inexplicable from our vantage point. I am not so sure I agree with the second paragraph, that God himself also doesn’t “know the deeper meaning.” The force of the rhetorical questions is that while Job (and all humans) may not know, Yahweh does. While I believe this is implied throughout the entire passage, it is explicit in a number of places:

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Speak if you have understanding” (Job 38:4)

“Have you penetrated the vaults of snow, Seen the vaults of hail, Which I have put aside for a time of adversity, For a day of war and battle?” (Job 38:22-23)

“Who sets the wild ass free? Who loosens the bonds of the onager, Whose home I have made the wilderness, The salt land his dwelling-place? He scoffs at the tumult of the city, Does not hear the shouts of the driver. He roams the hills for his pasture; He searches for any green thing” (Job 39:5-8).

That God knows and understands is even more clear in his second response to Job, IMHO. So while Žižek’s comments are intriguing, they are only partially correct. What do you think?


Posted in Job, Old Testament, The Book of Job, Theodicy, Theology | 8 Comments »

Religious Studies and Theology: Living in Both Worlds

28th February 2011

[This post was originally published 08/2009]

Chris Heard over at Higgaion posted an interesting discussion of Kurt Noll’s article, “The Ethics of Being a Theologian,” over at the Chronicle of Higher Education web site. While I agree with Chris that Kurt’s article is full of unsubstantiated “truth claims,” I still recognize the distinction between religious studies and theology.  While my sympathies with Noll could be because he is a fellow Canadian and my perception is that Canadians draw the distinction between religious studies and theology more sharply than those in the USA, the fact is that I try to live in both worlds and tend to eschew the combative and dualistic nature of the “Religious Studies vs. Theology” debate.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that the distinction between religious Studies and theology is a matter of some debate.   Since the end of the nineteenth century, the discipline of Religious Studies has typically been understood to be the value-neutral and objective study of religions, while Theology is the confessional or particularistic study of one religion (See Donald Wiebe, “The Politics of Religious Studies,” CSSR Bulletin 27 [November 1998]: 95-98, where he argues forcefully for this distinction. Wiebe has long been a Canadian proponent for the continuing role of the academic study of religion within the context of a public university, by which he means the value-free study of religion free from any religious or confessional goals).

The distinction between Religious Studies and Theology played an important part in the establishment of Religious Studies departments in a number of universities in Europe and North America – though significantly not all educational institutions thought that the distinction was necessary.  While this distinction is certainly characteristic of Canadian public universities, there are a number of institutions in Europe and North America that have combined departments of Religion and Theology (and that is what we attempted to do at the now defunct Taylor University College).

This traditional demarcation has also been challenged on some fronts in light of the postmodern recognition that there is no real objective, value-neutral study of religion (or any other subject for that matter). While I wholeheartedly agree with this recognition, that does not mean there is no distinction between religious studies and theology — it just means that any claims to be “objective”or “neutral”  should be dismissed. We all engage our disciplines from our horizon with all of our own prejudices and presuppositions.  What it means, however,  is that the differences between the disciplines are only the rules agreed upon by those working within them. And each discipline works out different rules of engagement.   (For an interesting discussion of postmodern theories of religious studies, see the interaction between Garrett Green, “Challenging the Religious Studies Canon: Karl Barth’s Theory of Religion,” Journal of Religion 75 [1995]: 473-86; Russell T. McCutcheon, “My Theory of the Brontosaurus”: Postmodernism and ‘Theory’ of Religion,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 26 [1997]: 3-23, and William E. Arnal, “What if I Don’t Want to Play Tennis?: A Rejoinder to Russell McCutcheon on Postmodernism and Theory of Religion,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 27 [1998]: 61-68;  see also McCutcheon’s response, “Returning the Volley to William E. Arnal” on pp. 67-68 of the same issue).  In practice, Religious Studies in the Canadian public university context tends to be the study of religion which does not privilege one religious discourse above another (notice I didn’t say “scientific” study of religion, since I find those that throw around the term “scientific” do so with prejudice against anything not deemed “scientific”).  Theology, on the other hand, is typically defined as the study of one religion from a confessional standpoint. Thus the insider/outsider demarcation remains.

It is also possible to make a distinction between the academic disciplines of theology and biblical studies. On one level theology is a discipline distinct from biblical studies.  Christian Theology, as one recent work defined it, is “an ongoing, second-order, contextual discipline that engages in critical and constructive reflection on the faith, life, and practices of the Christian community” (Stan Grenz and John Franke, Beyond Foundationalism. Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2001) p. 16).   As such, “Christian Theology” seems to me to be a normative insider job rather than purely descriptive discipline. Biblical studies, on the other hand, is an inclusive, multifaceted discipline that centers on the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and Christian New Testament and that includes scholars from a variety of different religious and methodological perspectives. That being said, there are a large number of biblical scholars — indeed an entire a sub-discipline of biblical studies — who are also confessional and theological in their approach. That is, they are not only interested in describing the message of the Apostle Paul, they also want to engage the question of how Paul’s message may be relevant to the community of faith today.

In the light of the above distinctions, much of what I do would fall under the rubric of theology.  I teach at a confessional institution from a confessional perspective, and one of my educational goals is to encourage students to critically reflect on their own religious tradition and integrate this faith with all aspects of their lives.  That being said, I chaff at Kurt’s characterization that I “do not advance knowledge” but only “practice and defend religion.” My classes, while taught from a confessional perspective, are not the sort of indoctrination or apologetics that Kurt seems to think they must be. My teaching incorporates a broad methodological perspective that seeks to take account of a variety of critical and ideological approaches representative of the broader religious studies/biblical studies guild.  Perhaps the difference is that I don’t stop there. I seek to interact with and explore how this broader perspective relates to the theological interpretation of scripture for the community of faith. So I am not sure that the relationship between “religious studies” and “theology” is an “either/or” relationship. I prefer to view it as a “both/and” relationship where the theological task is seen as “going beyond” the methods and questions of religious studies to include the personal faith integrative task as well. For what it’s worth, lately  I find that I am far more interested in the latter issues than the former.

Either way, no matter where you stand on the debate, Peter Donovan makes an excellent point when he notes that

the scientific study of religion can ill afford to insulate itself from the thinking of others interested in the same subject-matter, merely because they may hold very different views about theory and method (Peter Donovan, “Neutrality in Religious Studies,” in The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion. A Reader [ed., Russell T. McCutcheon; New York: Cassell, 1999], p. 245).

I would add that the theological study of religion can ill afford to insulate itself from those who take a religious studies approach as well!  What is perhaps most important for any approach to the study of religion is that the approach is academic and methodologically sound and rigorous. And I happen to think, contra Kurt Noll, that this is possible for both scholars of religious studies and theologians!


Posted in Faith & Scholarship, Religious Studies, Theology | 9 Comments »

Yahweh – a Moral Monster?

26th February 2011

[One day I will like to explore this issue more. Last year I taught a course on the Bible and violence and I know I raised more questions for the students than provided solutions! Originally posted 07/2008]

One of the biggest moral and theological challenges modern readers face when reading the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible is the brutal violence found within its pages. And if the graphic descriptions of violence perpetrated by humans upon other humans was not enough (see Judges 19-21 for one startling example), you have the thornier issue of violence attributed  to and commanded by God. Perhaps the biggest and most troublesome example in this regard is the Canaanite genocide – Yahweh commanding Israel to “utterly destroy” all of the inhabitants – men, women, and children – of the promised land.

Prior to the conquest, Yahweh set out his expectations to Moses and the children of Israel as follows:

In the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites, and say to them: When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their figured stones, destroy all their cast images, and demolish all their high places. You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess (Num 33:50-53).

When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you — the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you — and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy (Deut 7:1-2).

But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God (Deut 20:16-18).

Then, when the Israelites encountered the Canaanite king of Arad on the way to the promised land, they prayed to Yahweh and he “listened to the voice of Israel, and handed over the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their towns; so the place was called Hormah” (Num 21:1-3). The Israelites later killed off a few other towns on their journey, Moses later reporting, “we utterly destroyed them… in each city utterly destroying men, women, and children (Deut 3:6).

Perhaps the most (in)famous example is the destruction of Jericho, where

they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys (Josh 6:21).

How do we respond to such texts?

Now, I recognize there are significant historical issues with these texts. Most (many?) critical scholars maintain that there was not really much of a conquest of Canaan, if at all. John Van Seters, for example, comments “the invasion of the land of Canaan by Israel under Joshua was an invention of [the Deuteronomistic Historian]. The conquest narrative is a good example of ancient historiography but it cannot pass for historical by any modern criteria of historical evaluation.” Even the biblical text, when read carefully, admits that the conquest was not quite as successful as the early chapters of Joshua suggest (see Josh 13:1‑7; 18:3; cf. Exod 23:29-30; Judg 1). That being said, even if there is little histiorical value in these texts (note I am not necessarily saying this), the biblical text still presents Yahweh as commanding the Canaanite genocide, and this picture fits into the larger ideological portrayal of Yahweh as warrior found throughout the Hebrew Bible.

So the question remains, How do we respond to such texts? How do we respond to such texts in a post-holocaust world? How do we respond in a world where terms such as “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” are heard all too often in the news?

The so-called “new atheists” (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, among others) have responded to these and other biblical texts by rejecting Yahweh as a petty, jealous, violent deity.  Dawkins comments:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully (Dawkins, The God Delusion [New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006], 51; thanks to Randal Rauser for this citation).

He further contends:

What makes my jaw drop is that people today should base their lives on such an appalling role model as Yahweh-and even worse, that they should bossily try to force the same evil monster (whether fact or fiction) on the rest of us (The God Delusion, 248; cited in Copan).

While rejecting Yahweh may be a solution for some, I would argue that it really isn’t an option for Christians who want to adhere to the biblical canon. But what do we do with these texts? Paul Copan, professor of theology and ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, has recently published an article in Philosophia Christi that addresses this thorny problem. In his article, “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics” (available from the Evangelical Philosophical Society website here), Copan attempts to counter the claims of the new atheists, among others. Copan rehearses most of the typical responses Christians have given in the past, though I am not sure how satisfied I am by his answers.

Time permitting, I am planning on following up this post with at least one more where I will engage Copan’s article and provide some ways to understand this portrayal of Yahweh. That being said, I can’t say I am fully satisfied with my own answers (perhaps this is one of those issues where we should never be satisfied with any answers!).

What are your thoughts?


Posted in Deuteronomy, Exodus, Joshua, Old Testament, Theodicy, Theology, Yahweh War | 14 Comments »

Disturbing Divine Behaviour

6th November 2009

As a follow up to my last post, I wanted to put a plug in for a recently published book that also explores the difficult issue of the violent portrayal of God in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament — a book which I am using as one of the texts for one of the courses I am teaching next semester:

Disturbing_Divine_BehaviorDisturbing Divine Behavior:
Troubling Old Testament Images of God

by Eric A. Seibert
Fortress Press, 2009
Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com

In this work Seibert examines the disturbing narrative portrayals of God in the Hebrew Bible and explores some ways in which we may (as Christians) read these narratives in a responsible and faithful manner today. I am not necessarily convinced by Seibert’s solution to the problem, but he does a great job focusing the issue and helping us understand the function of biblical narrative and its relation to history. I only wish that he would have expanded his coverage to at least include the negative images of God found in the prophetic literature. Moreover, I really wish he expanded his work to cover the entire Christian Bible (Old and New Testaments), so the issue isn’t even framed as an “Angry God of the Old Testament versus the Loving God of the New Testament” debate.

Another book that deals with the same problem by focusing on the book of Joshua and the conquest/Canaanite genocide is Walter Brueggemann‘s recently published, Divine Presence Amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua (Cascade, 2009; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com).


Posted in Biblical Teaching, Joshua, Old Testament, Theodicy | 7 Comments »

My Ways Are Not Your Ways: The Violent Portrayal of God in the Hebrew Bible

6th November 2009

There was a fascinating conference sponsored by the University of Notre Dame Center for Philosophy of Religion at the beginning of September. The title of the conference was, “My Ways Are Not Your Ways: The Character of the God of the Hebrew Bible.”

The conference examined the troubling portrayals of God in the Hebrew Bible — something which I am very interested in since that will be the focus of one of my courses I am teaching next semester. Here is the write up for the conference:

Adherents of the Abrahamic religious traditions contend that human beings are made in the image of God and that modeling the character of God in one’s life represents the pinnacle of human flourishing and moral perfection. Defenders of this tradition commonly point to passages in the canonical texts of the Jewish and Christian faiths that portray God as loving, merciful, patient, etc. in support of such a position. Since the seventeenth century, however, numerous critics of these Abrahamic traditions have argued that God, especially in the Hebrew Bible, is often portrayed as anything but a moral role model. On the one hand, historical narratives in these texts describe God apparently committing, ordering, or commending genocide, slavery, and rape among other moral atrocities. On the other hand, a number of commands purportedly issued by God seem to commend bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia. In recent days, similar criticisms of the Abrahamic traditions have been raised by philosophers (Daniel Dennett), scientists (Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris), social commentators (Christopher Hitchens), and others.

Are these apparent commendations and commands of the Hebrew Bible consistent with the claim that the Abrahamic God is perfectly good and loving? Those defending this tradition have two avenues of response open to them. The first response would be to argue that the aforementioned troubling narratives or commands should simply be rejected. Those taking this approach would have to explain how they think such passages could be rejected without placing in peril the Abrahamic religions, which have traditionally claimed that the Hebrew Bible is, represents, or contains the inspired word of God. The second response would offer explanations aiming to show that the apparently untoward consequences can be avoided without rejecting the narratives or commands. Those taking this approach must explain either why the untoward consequences do not follow, or why they are not, in the end untoward.

However, while defenders of this tradition have both routes available to them, few of these defenders seem to have taken the challenge to heart. Despite these recent, forthright criticisms, only a handful of theologians or philosophers in these traditions have sought to respond to the criticisms.

The present conference aims to remedy this deficiency, taking as its focus the charge that the Abrahamic tradition should be rejected because of its foundation in the Hebrew Bible, which portrays God as immoral and vicious. The presenters and commentators include philosophers—both theistic and nontheistic—as well as Biblical scholars.

The conference had an impressive list of speakers, including Christopher Seitz, Nicholas Wolterstorff, James L. Crenshaw, among others. And if you were not able to attend the conference (as I), we can still enjoy the papers and interaction via the web!

Here is the program with links to the videos:

Thursday, September 10, 2009:

Friday, September 11, 2009:

Saturday, September 12, 2009:

I encourage you to check out the papers!


Posted in Biblical Teaching, Conferences, Old Testament, Theodicy, Theology | 3 Comments »

Christian Carnival CCXCIV (#294 for those who don’t do Roman)

16th September 2009

CCWelcome to the 294th installment of the Christian Carnival, a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere.

Biblical Studies

First up are some posts relating to biblical studies. Jeremy over at Parableman has a post reconciling of two verses concerning those pesky Canaanites mentioned at the beginning of Judges 3.  While the verses at first blush appear to be contradictory, he resolves it in his post, “Apparent Contradiction in Judges 3.”

Over at ReturningKing.Com, Jeff posts the ninth installment of a series entitled, “A Pastoral Soteriology” with his post on “Atonement in the Old Testament Law” where he demonstrates how its view of penal substitution foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

While not expressly on the Bible per se, William Green also reflects on the atonement in his post, “Why God can’t just forgive sin.” You can find this and more at his Weblog of a Christian Philosophy Student.

Now back to the Old Testament.  e-Mom presents a Christian viewpoint on one of annual feasts prescribed by Jewish law in her post, The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), over at Chrysalis.

Moving into the New Testament, NCSue has written a reflection on Jesus bearing our burdens (Matthew 11:28-30) in her post, “Thoughts from the ‘in box’,” over at her blog, IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING.

Annette presents some reflections on Hebrews 11 in her post, “Faith is….” You can read this and more over at her blog, Fish and Cans.

Henry Neufeld takes on Paul Helm’s views on translation theory in his post, Dynamic and Cognitive Equivalence, over at Participatory Bible Study Blog (Methinks I agree with Neufeld on this one).

While not technically a post on a passage from the Bible, Ketan Rindani posts “10 Bible Facts You Must Know” over at JESUS IS LORD!. (Hmmm… I’m not sure that you “must” know that the Bible contains 31,071 verses — an interesting fact perhaps, but not essential)

Christian Life and Thought

Diane, over at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet, continues to report on articles and books that help us help the poor. Her latest installment is entitled, “More on How to REALLY Help the Poor,” which highlights a story about some women in the Philippines who meet for prayer and working out sound business plans. Her post made me think of the great website http://www.kiva.org, where you can make microloans to people in the two-thirds world.

Ridge Burns, over at at his Blog, asks readers how attached they are to God’s call on their lives in his post dealing with major life Transitions. As someone who just went through a major work transition, I appreciated his candor.

Over at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus…, michelle shares how God is restoring her life in an emotional post simply titled, “09.09.09.”

Shannon Christman, a.k.a. the Minority Thinker , reflects on the importance of intergenerational fellowship in the body of Christ in her brief post, “Generational Segregation.”

Barry Wallace challenges us to walk the fine line between sloth and proper rest and asks us if we know ourselves in this regard in his musing, “2 little sleep + 2 much caffeine = headed 4 disaster,” posted at his blog who am i?

Since we are on the topic of rest, it seems appropriate to mention Andrea‘s post, “Listening for the Voice of God” where she underscores the importance of quieting our hearts and attending to the voice of God. Her blog is Unfailingly Loved.

Rick Schiano has a reflection on how our lives can impact others based on his reading of 1 Thessalonians 1:2-9 in his post, “Our Lives Make a Difference,” over at Ricks Victory Blog.

Finally, Tom Gilson, the Thinking Christian, wants to get the word out about the National Conference on Christian Apologetics. So if you are going to be in Charlotte, NC, in mid-November you may want to check it out.

Next Up…

The 295th Christian Carnival will be going green as it will be hosted next Wednesday, September 23, 2009, over at The Evangelical Ecologist.  To submit a post for the next Christian Carnival, go to the Blog Carnival submission form, or send your submission to christiancarnivalsubmissions shift-2 gmail dotte com. For more instructions on submitting posts you can go here, and for  examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.



Posted in Bible, Biblical Teaching, Blogging, Christian Carnival, Theology | 6 Comments »

Thinking Christianly

18th August 2009

I preached a two-part sermon series a few weeks ago about the importance of thinking Christianly. Now I am well aware that there are some who think that putting “Christian” and “thinking” in the same phrase is an oxymoron, but I will not address those concerns here. Basically my sermons were reflections on what it may look like for someone  to “Love the Lord your God… with all of your MIND…” (Mark 12:30).

Smith_WorldviewIn the second sermon I painted a profile of what I believe are some important characteristics of an “intellectually mature believer.” First and foremost, I underscored the importance of “epistemic humility” based on our fallenness, fallibility and finitude. The second characteristic was openness. More particularly, I emphasized the importance of openness to God and Scripture, openness to all truth (no matter where it may be found), and a genuine openness to others. By openness I do not mean a wishy-washy relativism, but something called “critical commitment” where you know what you believe and why and hold it with faith, moral courage, and epistemic humility. My final characteristic of an intellectually mature believer was that he or she should have as a goal integration. Here I was arguing for a somewhat unified/integrated Christian perspective on the world and our faith (I consider the modifier “somewhat” very important). This “unified view” is  often referred to as a “worldview” or “world and life view.” While there are a number of limitations to the concept of a worldview (especially the notion that there is such an animal as “the Christian worldview” or that worldviews are somehow impervious to culture rather than embedded in culture), I still find it a helpful concept for thinking about thinking.

In this regard, I was quite interested in a notice I received today about a new book by Calvin College philosopher, James K. A. Smith. The book is Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Baker Academic, 2009; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com).   The latest Christianity Today has a brief review article on the book entitled, “Putting Worldview in Its Place.”  The book looks like a balanced perspective on worldview and Christian education. Methinks I will have to order myself a copy.


Posted in Faith & Scholarship, Pedagogy, Theology, Worldview | 3 Comments »

Finding God in The Shack

13th March 2009

The ShackIf you haven’t heard of the popular novel The Shack (Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com), then you must have been living in a cave for the last two years. William P. Young’s bestselling novel about a man’s encounter with the Triune God one weekend has touched the hearts and minds of millions of readers. It has also raised the ire of a few theologians and self-appointed guardians of the faith.

The Shack is by no means perfect. As a novel it has weak dialogue and doesn’t quite hang together as it should. As a novel that explores some important theological questions about God, the Trinity, and suffering, it also has some weaknesses. Despite its weaknesses, this unassuming novel has elicited more theological discussion and reflection than any recent academic work of theology. While this work has raised many questions it is a bit short on answers; or at least the answers it provides at times only scratch the surface of some complex theological topics. What would be helpful is a theological guide to The Shack.

finding_god_in_shackThis is exactly what my colleague and friend, Randal Rauser has written with his just published volume, Finding God in The Shack (Paternoster, 2009; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com).  In seven short chapters, Rauser explores a number of the theological issues raised by The Shack, including the provocative portrayal of God the Father as an African-American woman and the Holy Spirit as a young Asian woman (Sarayu), the nature of the relationship between members of the Trinity (hierarchical or egalitarian?), and the problems raised by the existence of horrendous evil in the world. In each of these discussions Rauser begins with the novel and then explores the theological questions raised by the book in an engaging and accessible way. In addition, each chapter ends with questions for further reflection.

Eugene Peterson’s blurb on the back cover of Finding God in the Shack is as good as an endorsement you’ll find anywhere:

If you have ever had a conversation on The Shack, whether with an enthusiast or a critic, you will want to invite this skilled and accessible theologian into the conversation. Before you have read a dozen pages you will know why we need to keep company with theologians. They help us keep our conversation on God intelligent, informed, and irenic.

If you have read The Shack and want to explore some of the issues raised by the novel in more detail, I encourage you to pick up Rauser’s book. It will help you navigate through some of the deep theological waters raised by the novel.

Interestingly, Roger Olson has also just published a book with the same title from InterVarsity Press: Finding God in the Shack: Seeking Truth in a Story of Evil and Redemption (2009; Buy from Amazon.ca | Amazon.com).


Posted in Popular Culture, Suffering, Theodicy, Theology | 1 Comment »