Theology for the People: Publishing, Emergent and God

Tripp sits down with Tony Jones to chat about the new series with Fortress Press: ‘Theology for the People”. 10653370_807752369288009_1575330671555985864_n

HBC-1024x1024They chat about everything from the publishing industry to the emergent church – from theological education to the death of God.

If you have not heard part 1 of the AAR live event featuring Catherine Keller and John Cobb, make sure to subscribe to the HBC stream on iTunes or Stitcher.

Enjoy listening to two friends chat about some current and future issue that have grabbed their attention. 

 

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Exodus: Spoiler Alert

J. Ryan Parker sits down with Bo to talk about the movie Exodus: Gods and Men. Bo had blogged about the footage that he had seen and Ryan came over to chat about it.

You can read Parker’s article in Relevant Magazine about Ridley Scott’s portrayal of God in the movie.

 

 

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Theological Approaches: Constructive and Comparative

Preparing for qualifying exams is intense. Going back over every book and paper that might be relevent to your five topics is helpful for compiling the work you have done over the last four years.

I am constantly thinking and reading about theology. One of my fascinations is the various models or frameworks that others employ to outline the theological endeavor. Some use a ‘landscape’ motif, with this group over here and that group over there, while others utilize a ‘spectrum’ analogy often moving from one ‘direction’ to the other.

One can do this in a historic sense,  from classic on the left to contemporary on the right, or more of a conviction/conclusion breakdown with conservative at one end and liberal at the other.*

The first list I encountered was in my pre-doctoral prep when researching the discipline of Practical Theology I would often see the field contrasted with the ‘Big 4′ schools of theology:

  1. Systematic
  2. Historical
  3. Biblical
  4. Philosophic

Practical Theology is different in that, like Sociology, it utilizes qualitative methods like interviews, case studies and ethnography.

I also like Grenz and Olson’s approach in “Who Needs Theology: an invitation to the study of God“, where they move from:

  • Folk to
  • Lay to
  • Ministerial to
  • Professional to
  • Academic

They don’t seem to find much value in either the Folk or the Academic (who only write for or can be understood by other academics) but they make a good case for the middle 3 approaches.

Recently I have come up with a  different spectrum:

  • Creedal
  • Confessional
  • Constructive
  • Radical

Creedal asks “What has the church historically believed about this?”

Confessional asks “What do we as Christian say about this?”

Constructive asks “What can we as Christian say about this?” or “What do we want to say about this?”

Radical asks “If we weren’t bound by institutional constraints, what would we say about this?”

 

It wasn’t until I was updating my blog’s ‘Big Ideas’ page that I realized that my real passion is not a ‘constructive’ but a ‘comparative’  approach. I am fascinated by the diversity and complexity of faith communities and historically situated or contextual approaches. I love to survey the landscape first (comparative) and then figure out where I want to travel to or settle down (constructive).

This approach has been very helpful to me so I wanted to pass it along.

 

What about you? What spectrum or framework have you found helpful?  

 

 

* Those who have read me before will know that I contest this second spectrum because there are schools outside or past liberal schools of thought and they are not accounted for but simply lumped into the liberal camp for lack of nuance and specificity. 

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Theology and the End of Doctrine with Christine Helmer

Christine Helmer chats with Tripp about her book Theology and the End of Doctrine. You can check out a sample chapter at WJKbooks.com or just get the book on Amazon.Helmer

Christine Helmer is Professor of Religious Studies and German at Northwestern University. She is the author of The Trinity and Martin Luther (Zabern 1999) and contributing editor of numerous books on biblical interpretation, historical theology, and contemporary theology, including The Global Luther: A Theologian for Modern Times (Fortress 2009).

Check out our new ‘Support’ page!

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On Thought Experiments: Two Ingredients for a theological dish

ThoughtEx

In the spirit of the Homebrewed mission, I’d like to share two ingredients that someone out there can take and make a tasty theological dish with.

Ingredient #1:
This interview with Yale Philosopher Keith DeRose. In it he basically says two things that caught my interest: 1) Neither atheists nor believers know (at all) whether God exists. I agree. 2) there’s still a good reason to take a stance on the issue. DeRose explains:

“Those who take a strong stand may most effectively develop and defend their position. I don’t think it would aid philosophy or politics if we all quickly abandoned our positions whenever we hit significant resistance from well-informed opponents. Often, that’s just when things get interesting.”

Ingredient #2:
I saw Harvard Philosopher Catherine Elgin speak last week (two great papers here by her: 1, 2). The thesis of her talk was that art, like science, embodies, conveys and advances understanding. She also talked a lot about exemplification and experiments. She made two interesting points on the subject of experiments:

1) Scientific experiments are “fictions,” or as she puts it “vehicles of exemplification. They do not purport to replicate what happens in the wild. Instead, they select, highlight, control and manipulate things so that features of interest are brought to the fore and their relevant characteristics and interactions made manifest…”

2) Thought experiments can be just as useful (if not more so) as physical, scientific experiments performed in a lab. Further, for Elgin, works of fiction are, in many cases, thought experiments. Elgin again:

“Like literary fictions, thought experiments neither are nor purport to be physically realized. Nevertheless, they evidently enhance understanding of the phenomena they pertain to. If fictions are thought experiments, they advance understanding of the world in the same way that (other) thought experiments do.”

So, with these two ingredients I am confident that someone who is theologically inclined, for instance, could make a pretty persuasive case for engaging in metaphysical/speculative and/or theological thinking as a phenomenal way to advance ones understanding of the world. I mean, to be honest, I can’t think of a more robust and ambitious thought experiment than speculating on the nature of the Divine…

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Catholic, Quaker, Evolution, Apocalypse: final TNT for ABCs

We finish with a BANG! Callid and Bo conclude the ABC’s of Theology series with: W-WordofGod

Thank you for all of your feedback and encouragement.

A special thanks goes to Jesse Turri for the artwork for this series!!!!

You can find the Unfolded narrative podcast here.

 

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V is for Vatican II (and Voluntarism)

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was one of the most important things events of the past 50 years. V-VaticanCouncil

I grew up in a heavily Catholic area (outside Chicago) and pastored in a formerly-Catholic context in NY (near Albany). The changes that came with Vatican II were monumental.
Most of the criticisms and critiques that I heard of the Catholic church seemed to formed in the pre-Vatican era and then passed down from generation to generation. The thrust of Vatican II was to bring the thought and practice of the church into alignment with modern (current) considerations.
I have said for a long time that if the post-Vatican II church had been around in Luther’s time, we would never have had a protestant reformation.
The council was convened by Pope John XXIII in an ecumenical tone. Some Eastern (Orthodox) and Protestant leaders were invited to participate (but not vote).

Post-vatican Catholicism saw massive changes to both internal and external practices of the church.

“It is often contrasted with “*Tridentine” Roman Catholicism, which covers the period from the Council of Trent (1545-63) to the Second Vatican Council. Post-Vatican Catholicism tends to be much more open to the role of the *laity, making the *priesthood of all believers more effective, and seeing the church, not so much as a *hierarchy of prelates and priests, but rather as the pilgrim people of God”

Justo L. González. Essential Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 3226-3229). Kindle Edition.

Internal changes, such as using the vernacular (language) of the people during eucharist (instead of Latin) and the priest facing the congregation, and external changes toward protestants and those of other faiths are just the tip of the iceberg.
The Catholic church is important to 21st century christianity. The growth of the global south, the elation over the election of this new Pope and the ongoing priest sex-abuse scandal are just three examples of how many people it watches over and impacts.

 

Two little ‘V’ words that protestants will want to make sure to have some frame of reference for are ‘Voluntarism’ and ‘the visible church’.

Voluntarism: The word voluntarism is also used to refer to the idea that the church is made up of believers who voluntarily join together and covenant together to walk with one another as the people of God.

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 1346-1347). Kindle Edition.

What we think about who makes up the church (and if it is just those you can ‘see’) is generally called Ecclesiology. Throughout the centuries this has been a horrendously contested subject. We live in an era that is (largely) post-State Church and beyond Christendom. Exactly what the church is and who makes it up are going to continue to be two hotly contested subjects.

Belonging, membership, open table, inclusion, ordination and baptism will continue to be issues in our lifetime. What you think the church is and who makes it up directly impact how you participate in those conversations.

Artwork for the series by Jesse Turri 

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TNT: Facebook, Theology and the End of the World

Bo and Tripp work through some social media problems – then turn to theology before handling some eschatology.TNT

Go ahead and leave your thoughts on the SpeakPipe (the microphone on the right hand side of the homepage) for a future TNT.

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N is for Neoplatonism

In the same way that Empire influences and underlies nearly every thing in the Bible – and yet many do not know about it – Aristotelian thought, Platonism, and neo-Platonism saturate early church history and thus the inherited tradition.N-NeoPlatonism I had also suggested (in Liberation & Logos) that all theology has philosophical underpinnings – whether it admits it or not. It is no surprise then that much of the what would become Christianity had integrated/appropriated the philosophy of the world that it emerged from.

Neo-Platonism: The last stage of Greek philosophy (identified with Plotinus), which greatly influenced certain early church thinkers, particularly *Origen and *Augustine. Neo-Platonists taught that everything emanates (flows) from the transcendent principle of the One and is destined to return to the One through a process of purification.

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 921-922). Kindle Edition.

Justo L. González. has some helpful additions:

In these emanations, the One moves toward multiplicity. Evil as such does not exist, but is rather the deprivation of the good, so that something is said to be “bad” or “corrupted” as it moves toward multiplicity and away from the One. True knowledge is attained through the contemplation of higher realities, and specifically of the One, and its goal is to culminate in *ecstasy, where the soul contemplates the One directly and loses itself into the One.

It is interesting to think about how influential these philosophies have been and to discover when they have most popular. Neoplatonism was initially rejected by christians.

Augustine (354-430) found Neoplatonism helpful in dealing with some of the difficulties he had with Christian doctrines such as the incorporeity of God and the *soul, and in dealing with the problem of how evil can exist in a world created by a good God (sec *Theodicy). He thus became one of the main channels through which Neoplatonism impacted Western Christian theology.

 Essential Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 2887-2896). Kindle Edition.

Neoplatonism was tweaked a bit (losing its objectionable elements) and was the dominant thought in Western Christianity until the 13th century when Aristotle was reintroduced – mainly through the work of Thomas Aquinas into what become known as Thomism.

I wanted to put this entry into the ABCs series because we live in a time when many are unaware of their religion’s philosophical past relationships. I will often hear concern from sincere and devout evangelical,charismatic or conservative believers who say “why do you mess around with all of that philosophical mumbo-jumbo? We already have the Bible and it should be enough. Just preach the Word.” It isn’t that easy of course. As I pointed about the Gospel of John with its use of the Logos, both scripture and church history draw deeply on philosophical underpinnings. I would actually argue that we owe it to out faith and to the contemporary culture to engage (not just combat) the contemporary philosophy of our day! If you want to follow-up on this historic precedent and trajectory, I would recommend Philosophy and Theology by John D. Caputo. It is thin and written for a wide audience. His writing style is also wonderfully light-hearted.

Artwork for the series by Jesse Turri

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J is for Justification (a snapshot of theology)

The word Justification in English has the same convenient memory device as atonement did. Many use the Just-as-if to remember ‘it is just as if I never sinned’. J-Justification

Here is how our pocket dictionary defines it:

Justification, justification by faith: A forensic (legal) term related to the idea of acquittal, justification refers to the divine act whereby God makes humans, who are sinful and therefore worthy of condemnation, acceptable before a God who is holy and righteous. More appropriately described as “justification by grace through faith,” this key doctrine of the *Reformation asserts that a sinner is justified (pardoned from the punishment and condemnation of sin) and brought into relationship with God by faith in God’s grace alone.

 Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 764-767). Kindle Edition.

Our other resource for this series, Essential Theological Terms by Justo L. González, provides a helpful distinction about the heated debates between Protestant and Catholic thinkers during the Protestant Reformation.

The difference lay in that for Luther and the main Protestant theologians justification was God’s gracious act of declaring a sinner just, even in spite of the continued presence of sin, while Roman Catholics saw justification as God’s act of infusing *grace into the sinner, who can then perform acts of justice-good works-and thus become just.

(Kindle Locations 2246-2248). Kindle Edition.

Justification provides a telling snapshot about the task of contemporary theology.

  1. The concept is vital within the realm of theology.
  2. The underlying truth plays a central role with the christian tradition.
  3. There are many excellent theories and explanations regarding the concept.
  4. Consensus can be difficult to come by due to competing theories and explanations.
  5. Much of the work is subject to speculation.
  6. If one does not subscribe to the assumed presumption (in this case like ‘original sin’) then the solution seems arbitrary and unnecessary.

This is why I selected justification – as an illustration of the grand, elaborate, nuanced and speculative nature of much theology.

You might be surprised at how excited I get about the topic of justification and how committed I am to both proclaiming and explaining it to congregations that I pastor.
One of my favorite sermons is a high energy presentation of Romans 5 which begins:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

I then take v. 12-21 and convert the words into math formulas in order illustrate the fantastic work of God in Christ!

Keep that in mind when I say that justification is illustrative of the theological endeavor.

  • It is vital to the faith.
  • It is central to the tradition.
  • It is contentious as points.
  • It can be speculative.
  • It is rooted in suppositions that may be outdated or even antiquated.

This is a great snapshot of our task in contemporary theology: to take the tradition seriously, to account for the variety of perspectives and frameworks, and to adjust/adapt the ‘answers’ to the questions being posed by our present situation.

This is why simply parroting the answers of the past is often not sufficient. There are new considerations provided by sociology, biblical scholarship, history and science.
This is also what makes the theological endeavor A) exciting B) important C) difficult and D) complex.

 

Thanks to Jesse Turri for the artwork for this series.

 

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