Archive for February, 2008

Just a thought…

“I like the Christmas-Jesus best, and I’m saying grace. When you say grace, you can say it to grownup Jesus, or teenaged Jesus, or bearded Jesus, or whoever you want.”

~Ricky Bobby

The dilemma for Ricky Bobby and family: Little Baby Christmas Jesus; or big grown up Easter Jesus?

The dilemma for us in this forum: Held in my hands, chewed with my teeth Jesus; or communicated to me through the Holy Ghost Jesus?

Which begs the question: is there really much difference between Theology and NASCAR?

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More pulpit shenanigans from one brother who emphatically does not push himself into God’s place and lord it in the Church…

Of course that quote from Graham at the end sounds less menacing when it is fully quoted…

Well, Christianity and being a true believer, you know, I think there’s the body of Christ which comes from all the Christian groups around the world, or outside the Christian groups. I think that everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the body of Christ. And I don’t think that we’re going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. What God is doing today is calling people out of the world for His name. Whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts they need something that they don’t have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they’re saved and they’re going to be with us in heaven.

In context, Graham’s words sound more or less like a paraphrase and application of St. Paul:

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16).

In any case, Graham seems fairly careful to merely express a hope out of which (as Von Balthazar urges) every Christian ought dare to pray that all will be saved. This is something quite different than actually preaching or offering a gospel that proclaims it unnecessary to confess Jesus as Lord and to believe that God has raised him from the dead. The latter would be a “different gospel” than the one that we have been charged to herald and we are not at liberty to offer it. With a lifetime of preaching behind him as testimony to his own practice, I think that Graham would leap to agree.



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Mercersburg Stuff

A few years ago I blogged a ton of quotes from various books on the Mercersburg school of theology.  These are mainly books that came out in the early part of the 20th century, some of which were written by students of Nevin and Schaff.  They are likely out of print now, and thus the quotes might be of some interest to everyone.  I just put them all on my new blog in one easy-to-use category.  You can check them out here.

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History and Taxonomy

One of the points I also meant to make concerning the study of history is that it shapes the way one goes about his categorizations. It informs one where to draw the lines, and which figures to put into which groups.

I didn’t simply mean that a person, upon realizing that his local authorities (pastors and teachers) lack a firm grasp of tradition, freaks out and jumps ship. That can and does happen, I suppose, but more than just that, that sort of phenomena influences how you think of the various groups under question. If the Reformed are all basically sectarians and fundamentalists, then upon finding one who isn’t, you have a choice to make. Either the definition of “Reformed” broadens, or the person ceases to be Reformed.

This fuels a lot of the “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” debates. The title is somewhat absurd. It was originally meant to be clever, and therefore more effective, but in overstating its case, it has actually opened the door for a similarly erroneous reaction- a denial of all discontinuity among Calvinists. The truth of the matter is that there has always been a decent amount of diversity within the all parts of the Christian tradition, and it is usually during controversies when these become battle-lines.


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Given recent discussions around the blogosphere regarding the Calvinist doctrine of the holy Eucharist, I thought it might be beneficial to briefly highlight some concepts which seem to me to need frequent clarification whenever discussing the matter with others.  This is by no means anything ground breaking, but I think these are some basic points which are essential to a proper understanding of Calvinist Eucharistic thought. (more…)

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Update 02/20: I should let everyone know that I inadvertently linked to an outdated file for the latter essay. This is corrected now. Please read at the conclusion of the essay to see the changes.

Alot of ones and zeros have been employed this week with regard to whether one or other person properly understands Calvin’s eucharistic theology. Some (as per usual) have radiated more heat than light. I certainly won’t claim to have exhausted the mystery by recourse to either of the two essays I have placed here, but I do set forth the development of my own thinking with regard to Calvin’s teaching. Given that I actually do interact a good bit with Calvin (in Latin), his sources, and his better expositors (Gerrish, Nevin, McDonnell, etc.) and given that I have been on both sides of the present conversation as a Presbyterian pastor and now an Anglican priest, I hope that these testimonia will help move things along.

For the record, Fr. Kimmel’s heuristic questions, distinguishing the differences between Reformed and Catholic/Anglo-Catholic/Orthodox theologies based on theopraxis, remains the best way of getting at the real points of divergence. The practical differences were ultimately what led me to abandon Calvin’s view as fundamentally unbiblical and pastorally unworkable–but that’s just one man’s considered opinion.

The Contemplative Shape of Calvin’s Eucharistic Thought (Fall 2000)

Left at the Altar by Monsieur Calvin (Spring 2007)

BTW–Neither of these has been edited and neither are ready for review in anything other than a blog setting. Please regard this and don’t cite them as scholarly sources.

Blessings to you all.


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History and Catholicity

One thing that is evident from the discussion going on over at Jeffrey Steel’s blog is that authentic Calvin scholarship has not yet penetrated the collective mindset of pastor-theologians. Steel and Al Kimel both serve as good examples. Both men are well educated and articulate. Both have a clear interest in the life of the Church. However, both also suffer from a distorted, albeit not uncommon, view of what it is that they have and are rejecting in Reformed/Protestant theology.

I have never met Jeff in person, however a good many congregants at the church I attend once sat under his leadership. I know many of his old pastor friends. I believe that I understand his trajectory, if I can say such a thing, and again, I think that much of it could have been improved, dare I say prevented, by a better understanding of history. (more…)

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Not that ordination is a completely effective prophylactic against idiocy in the pulpit, but it does reduce instances like this…

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Shameless Plug for my Wife

My wife is ridiculously cool and multitalented.  She is an immense support to me through my studies: financially, emotionally, intellectually, and pretty much every way a young woman can provide support to a husband trying to make it through grad. school.  She brings in the dough by working full time, cooks after coming home while I’m still trying to get through the day’s studies, and still somehow finds time to work on her true passion: writing and playing music.  Here’s a link to her website for any who may be interested in hearing some of her songs, and maybe purchasing a cd (wink wink): www.yvonneweb.com.

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I’ve been reading Bard Thompson’s Liturgies of the Western Church for class, and he uses Gregory Dix’s edition of The Treatise on The Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome. The use of “representation” and “sign” caught my attention:

And then let the oblation [at once] be brought by the deacons to the bishop, and he shall eucharistize [first] the bread into the representation [which the Greek calls the antitype] of the Flesh of Christ; [and] the cup mixed with wine for the antitype, [which the Greek calls the likeness] of the Blood which was shed for all who have believed in Him…


water also for an oblation for a sign of the laver, that the inner man also, which is psychic, may receive the same as the body. And the bishop shall give an explanation concerning all these things to them who receive.

~pg. 22

Admitting other difficulties in other places in church history, this would be one place where Calvin would be fairly justified in claiming the “Apostolic Tradition.” In his treatise against Tileman Hesushius, Calvin reluctantly takes up the task of exegeting the Church Fathers, but does a capable job, nonetheless. He’d prefer us go to Oecolampadius, Bullinger, and most of all Peter Martyr Vermigli, but he shows himself able when pressed.  As I find sources like Hipolytus, I understand Calvin all the better.

Access and translation still prove to be our biggest boundaries to the theology of the early church. It is little wonder that such widespread dissent among interpreters could crop up in a pre-digital age.

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Theology: All in Good Humor

“Theology is the study of God and his ways. For all we know, dung beetles may study us and our ways and call it humanology. If so, we would probably be more touched and amused than irritated. One hopes that God feels likewise.”

– Frederich Buechner

“Because of piety’s penchant for taking itself too seriously, theology—more than literary, humanistic, and scientific studies—does well to nurture a modest, unguarded sense of comedy. Some comic sensibility is required to keep in due proportion the pompous pretentions of the study of divinity. When the chips pile too high, I invite the kind of laughter that wells up not from cynicism about theology but from lightness about it. This comes from glimpsing the incongruity of humans thinking about God…The most enjoyable of all subjects has to be God, because God is the source of all joy. God has the first and last laugh. The least articulate of all disciplines deserves something in between.”

– Thomas Oden

“Never attempt the task of theology without a smirk on your face and never trust a theologian who lacks one.”

– Michael J. G. Pahls

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 The following two quotes about the Reformation resonate deeply with me.  First is this, from Steven Ozment:

The great shortcoming of the Reformation was its naive expectation that the majority of people were capable of radical religious enlightenment and moral transformation, whether by persuasion or by coercion. Such expectation directly contradicted some of its fondest convictions and the original teaching of its founder. Having begun in protest against allegedly unnatural and unscriptural proscriptions of the medieval church and urged freedom in the place of coercion, the reformers brought a strange new burden to bear on the consciences of their followers when they instructed them to resolve the awesome problems of sin, death, and the devil by simple faith in the Bible and ethical service to their neighbors. The brave new man of Protestant faith, “subject to none [yet] subject to all” in Luther’s famous formulation, was expected to bear his finitude and sinfulness with anxiety resolved, secure in the knowledge of a gratuitous salvation, and fearful of neither man, God, or the devil. But how many were capable of such self-understanding?

…Late medieval and Protestant reformers attempted to fashion a religion more in accord with human nature as well as with divine decree. That the Reformation adopted its own repressive measures was not the reason it failed. Its failure rather lay in its original attempt to ennoble people beyond their capacities–not, as medieval theologians and Renaissance philosophers had done, by encouraging them to imitate saints and angels, but by demanding that they live simple, sober lives, prey not to presumption, superstition, or indulgence, but merely as human beings. This proved a truly impossible ideal; the Reformation foundered on man’s indomitable credulity. [Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250-1550 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980), pp. 437-438]

Second is this, from David M. Mills’ The Emergent Church – Another Perspective: A Critical Response to D. A. Carson’s Staley Lectures:

While our histories of the Reformation tend to focus on Luther’s reading of Romans 1:17 and his call for the church to change, such a reading ignores the multiple cultural factors at work in this shift and the many other pleas for ecclesial reform which were heard even before Luther’s time. Changes in philosophy, science, politics, technology, art, education, and historiography were beginning to change the way that people thought about their religion, and Luther himself is an illustration of that shift. While this point can be overstated, there is a real sense in which Martin Luther’s “discovery” of justification by grace through faith would not have been possible in the same way at a different time in history. His plea for reform is itself enmeshed in a specific time and place within Western culture, and the changes he calls for are bound up with other changes taking place at the time. To ignore those factors is to misrepresent the nature of the Protestant Reformation.

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