Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Funniest (and harshest) album review of 2009 (so far)

“I've been scouring the book of Revelation for some mention of this album, figuring it had to be the soundtrack to the Four Horsemen's scourge or maybe the eight-track in the seven-headed beast's '66 Camaro. But no, Johnny Cash Remixed is nothing quite so earth shattering or notable. It's more like a small, remote geyser through which a little bit of hell bubbles up into our world.”

Review by Stephen M. Deusner of the new compilation album, Johnny Cash Remixed

Monday, January 19, 2009

Evolution and Original Sin: index of posts

Last month, Steve Martin held an online symposium on the question of evolution and original sin. The series was a discussion of George Murphy’s paper Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin. George is a physicist, theologian, and pastor, and has authored numerous articles and books including The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross. In addition to Steve, George, and yours truly, there were guests posts by Denis Lamoureux and Terry Gray. After the position papers were presented, George responded to the guest essays. He then responded to questions that were submitted to Steve directly from readers of the blog. All in all, it was an excellent conversation which raised important issues for the dialogue between theology and science.

Index of Posts:
  • Series Introduction (Martin)
  • Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin: A Brief Survey (Murphy)
  • That Old Time Theology Revisited: Guest Response #1 (Gray)
  • Challenging and Reshaping Historical Approaches to Original Sin: Guest Response #2 (Lamoureux)
  • Further Reflections on Genesis 1-3 and the Nature of Sin: Guest Response #3 (Congdon)
  • George Murphy Replies, Part 1 (Murphy)
  • George Murphy Replies, Part 2 (Murphy)
  • The Historicity of Adam: Q&A, Part 1 (Murphy)
  • Pastoral Implications of Original Sin and Evolution: Q&A, Part 2 (Murphy)
  • Evolution and Original Sin: Conclusion (Martin)
  • Index for the Series (Martin)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Praise to Jesus in the kitchen: a hymn

Kim Fabricius—a minister in Wales and brilliant guest blogger at Faith & Theology—has composed a new hymn that he kindly sent to me. The context for the hymn, as he shared it with me, goes as follows:
I was reading John Bell’s new book Thinking Out Loud: Collected Scripts from Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ (2008). It concludes with an auto-biographical reflection on “Politics, Passion and the Human Soul” in which, commenting on the “heresy of dualism”, John observes: “Undoubtedly religious vocabulary exacerbates the situation... I mean when did anyone ever sing: ‘Praise to Jesus in the kitchen’?”
Kim decided to rectify this situation with—what else?—a hymn! I post it here now for your reading (and, hopefully, singing) pleasure. Also, you’ll notice that the hymn is especially suited for this blog, The Fire & the Rose. My sincere thanks to Kim for this fine hymn.

Praise to Jesus in the kitchen
(Tune: Oh My Darling, Clementine)

By Kim Fabricius

Praise to Jesus in the kitchen,
in a mansion or a flat,
pitch or pub or children’s playpen –
where we are is where he’s at.

In the boardroom and the City,
on the dole and in the slums,
here in judgement, there in pity,
suddenly the Saviour comes.

With the sick, and sad, and lonely,
in the hospice, on the street,
Servant Son, the one and only,
kneels and washes weary feet.

Concentration camps and prisons,
scenes of torture and despair,
sickening sights on television:
pick a place – the Lord is there!

Into death and hell descending,
Christ the fellow-sufferer goes,
purges pain that seems unending,
knots the fire and the rose.*

High in heaven, Christ ascended,
far beyond the farthest stars,
no one, nowhere, unbefriended –
where he’s at is where we are!

*All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one
– T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

F&R named one of the top 100 theology blogs

The Fire and the Rose was selected by Christian Colleges.com as one of the top 100 theology blogs. The list is not a ranking from best to worst; rather, the list is divided into various categories, including “general theology,” “politics,” “history,” “clergy,” and others. Fire & Rose was selected for the category of “academic” theology blogs, referring to “academic theologists [sic], including professors, researchers, and students.” I suppose that’s sort of a miscellaneous category for all those blogs that don’t seem to fit very well in the other ones. Or perhaps it’s a kind way of saying people don’t know what I’m talking about, but it sounds smart.

In any case, a number of other well-known theoblogs were chosen, including (of course) Faith & Theology. A notable omission, however, is Halden’s very fine blog, Inhabitatio Dei.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A syllogism

1. Interpretation is translation—specifically, translation from one culture to another, from one time and place to another time and place.

2. The Bible is a document written within a particular cultural location, a specific time and place.

3. We live in a cultural location that is radically different from that of the Bible.

4. In order to interpret the Bible, we need to engage in cultural translation.

5. Ergo, something like Bultmann’s program of demythologization is a crucial necessity for the church if we are going to understand the biblical text.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Why I am uncomfortable with the label “pacifist”: a missiological-messianic critique of universal ethical theories

For all practical purposes, I am indeed a pacifist: I do not believe Christians can or should serve in the military; I reject war and the use of harmful force as sinful, etc. And yet over the course of recent months, I have become more and more uncomfortable with the idea of pacifism or being a pacifist. The reason for my lack of comfort is analogous to Karl Barth’s concerns about universalism, namely, that a system (whether of salvation or of ethics) is erected in place of a person (Jesus Christ). This is a serious problem. The Bible does not present us with a system of doctrine or of ethics. What it presents is Jesus as Lord.

Now, of course, certain things follow from the confession that Jesus is Lord. Systematic theology has a necessary place within the life of the church (hence my pursuit of a PhD in systematic theology). But we have to be careful that our theological formulations are always a matter of intellectual fidelity to the Messiah. For this reason, in theology, we begin with the event of God’s self-revelation, and our theology is a matter of “thinking-after” this event. Once we establish the revelatory norm, our theology becomes an interpretation of this normative reality for our particular contexts here and now under the guidance of Holy Scripture. Certain things, of course, will remain unshakeable, e.g., the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, or the fact that reconciliation with God is purely an event of divine grace. But the overall interpretation of this divine revelation will take on distinctly different forms within particular cultural locations. My conception of what God did and does cannot simply be transposed into an alien cultural environment without being reinterpreted. Missiologists are keenly aware of this issue, as are biblical translators. The conservative polemic against “dynamic equivalent” translations is quite idiotic, since all translation, by the very nature of being a translation, includes dynamic equivalency. The question is not whether dynamic equivalency is involved, but rather whether this dynamism is faithful to the event of revelation within the cultural context of the translators.

I would say something similar is the case for Christian ethical action. The temptation into which the church throughout history has fallen prey is that we will construct a system of morals (often proof-texting the Bible along the way) that we can then apply to any situation in any culture within any time and place. This is substantially analogous to the situation with systematic theology. Fidelity to the Messiah is replaced with replication of an event. The whole thing can be compared (albeit over-simplistically) to Catholic vs. Protestant ecclesiologies. In Catholic ecclesiology, mission involves the extension of an ecclesial structure which is already fixed and established apart from any cultural particularity. In Protestant ecclesiology, in its modern missiologically informed variants, mission involves the translation of the church into a unique cultural situation. The gospel is reinterpreted for a new community.

The problem with “pacifism” is the problem with any ideological system: one becomes faithful to a system that is defined in abstraction from one’s cultural location. For those familiar with the terminology, the problem with pacifism is that it is anti-missional. The same problem is involved in the traditional ecumenical creeds of the church. Mere repetition of these creeds without theological translation is doctrinally equivalent to a Catholic ecclesiology of structural extension.

What I am advocating is fidelity to the messianic event of reconciliation in Jesus of Nazareth—in both noetic and ethical terms. This act of messianic fidelity will take the form of cultural translation/interpretation under the normative guidance of Scripture, always within the obedience of faith in response to God’s self-attestation and illumination through Word and Spirit. Such fidelity will certainly mean that particular actions are, for the most part, ruled out from the beginning. Committing violent and exploitative acts falls within that scope, as does taking an oath of obedience to anyone apart from Christ (which precludes participation in the government and military, for example). Thus, for all practical purposes, fidelity to Christ will look and smell like pacifism. But what we cannot do is construct some moral-ethical system that says what can or cannot be done in every possible situation. We cannot substitute some rule—“all violence is always wrong”—in place of what Paul calls the “law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

I take it that my position is in basic conformity with Paul’s overall theology within the (undisputed) NT letters, in which he rejects the erection of some new law in place of the old law. Paul instead engages in a radical annihilation of ethical systems of law, replacing the entirety of the old ethical codes with the one rule “love your neighbor as yourself,” since “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 10:9-10). What does this look like in each unique context? Well, that’s where the difficult work of translation becomes necessary.

Paul’s concern is not with figuring out a list of new laws and rules that conform to the gospel; instead, his concern (which should be ours as well) is with the new human person, the new creation, which is ontologically constituted in Jesus and becomes an existential reality for us in the Spirit’s gift of faith. This new creature lives within the power of the Spirit, who bestows the gifts of the Spirit so that we might live in correspondence to the life of Jesus. These gifts are not new laws; rather, they are the elements which constitute life under the eschatological reign of God. They define what it means to be a new creature. Here and now, then, we are to live as a new creation within our particular cultural context. In ourselves we are still part of the old creation which surrounds us. But insofar as we submit ourselves in obedience to Jesus, insofar as we become servants of the Messiah, our old existence is actualized in the Spirit as a moment of the new creation’s in-breaking.

In conclusion, I propose a messianic-pneumatic theology of evangelical fidelity to the apocalyptic event of the eschatologically new creation. Our life of messianic fidelity will take the existential form of “ad hoc” correspondence to Jesus. In other words, in place of an ethical-moral system, I propose that we respond in each new moment in obedience to the Messiah; in each new time and place, we are to hear and respond in faith to Word and Spirit. This fidelity to the gospel will establish a form of life that has certain basic contours—including, e.g., life in community, self-donating love for both neighbor and enemy, rejection of violence, giving and sharing of material property, etc. This is messianic and pneumatic because, as Paul says, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with the Messiah; and it is no longer I who live, but it is the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:19-20). And this life is a life in the new creation, because as Paul says elsewhere, “If anyone is in the Messiah, there is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17), “for neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!” (Gal. 6:15).