Reading Across Traditions | Journal Article

Journal of Comparative TheologyI’m happy to announce the recent publication of my article “Reading Across Traditions: Comparing the Theological Anthropologies of Ramanuja and Augustine of Hippo” in the Journal of Comparative Theology 5, 1. As the editors of JCT write,

The third article, “Reading Across Traditions: Comparing the Theological Anthropologies of Ramanuja and Augustine of Hippo”, by Jacob Prahlow, creatively juxtaposes two theological anthropologies, which, despite separation of time, space, and religious tradition, when read together create a fruitful comparison.

This article may be read online here. Additionally, I’ve linked the journal on the “Publications” page above. I want to offer a big ‘Thank You’ to Dr. Jay Ford of Wake Forest University for his assistance in the preparation of this article.

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Book Review: The Skeletons in God’s Closet (Butler)

Can God really be good? Will God really judge all non-Christians? How can you believe in a God who commanded genocide?

The Skeletons in God's ClosetThese are questions which many people—many Christians—struggle to honestly answer, queries which have caused people to walk away from the Christian faith, problems that have eroded many hearts and minds. And, lest we be seen as overly dismissive, these are significant and important questions, questions which need understanding and (when possible) answers. To help us think through such questions, Joshua Ryan Butler has written The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War (Nashville: Thomas Nelson: 2014). Continue reading

Predestination and Freewill: Augustine and Pelagius

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Romans, Predestination, and Freewill.

Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine

The use of Romans in the construction of soteriological concerns has a long and varied history. Perhaps the most important discourse concerning the will involved St. Augustine of Hippo and the English monk Pelagius, both of whom relied upon Pauline thought in their arguments. In his “Letter to Demetrius,” Pelagius outlines his theology of the human will, using or inferring from various texts and concepts found in Paul’s Letter to the Church at Rome. Pelagius argued that the human will had the inherent capacity to perform both good and evil, that the will was not forced to do evil necessarily, and that the human will became habituated into evil.[1] For his understanding, “doing good has become difficult for us only because of the long custom of sinning, which begins to infect us even in our childhood. Over the years it gradually corrupts us, building an addiction and then holding us bound with what seems like the force of nature itself…. If even before the law and long before the coming of our Lord and Savior, some people lived upright and holy lives, as we have said, we should believe all the more that we can do the same after his coming. Christ’s grace has taught us and regenerated us as better persons. His blood has purged and cleansed us, his exampled spurred us to righteousness.”[2] Using Romans 9:20, Pelagius argues that the Pauline Christian perspective indicates that people are wicked because they work not to improve their loves, but complain about their nature. “If, then, even apart from God, these people demonstrate how God made them, we should recognize what can be accomplished by Christians whose nature has been restored to a better condition by Christ and who are assisted by divine grace.”[3] Thus for Pelagius, the human will remains endowed with the freedom of choice between good and evil even now, and while the humans tend to sin, they act and choose not because of predetermined necessity but of their own willing. Continue reading

Romans, Predestination, and Freewill

For the next three weeks, Pursuing Veritas will be running a series examining Romans, Predestination, and Freewill through the lens of Martin Luther and Erasmus of Rotterdam’s famous Reformation era debate and contemporary Biblical scholarship.

Luther and ErasmusSince the beginnings of the Jesus movement countless people, in response to the Good News of God, have asked the same question as the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, namely, “What must I do to be saved?”[1] The Christian tradition claims to have knowledge of the true way for humanity to possess eternal salvation through the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. As Christian theology developed its earliest centuries, a number of theologians began to construct understandings of how God and humanity interacted within the process of salvation based on Christian scripture and the community of faith. Christianity has grown, spread across that world, and become incredibly diverse in the nearly two thousand years since the life of Christ, and theological understandings concerning the salvation of humanity have by no means remained uniform within the Christian tradition. Continue reading

Book Review: The Body and Society (Brown)

The Body and SocietyIn the updated 20th anniversary edition of his classic work, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity, Peter Brown examines the “practice of permanent sexual renunciation—continence, celibacy, life-long virginity” that developed in Christian circles from the first through fifth centuries.[1] In this work, Brown examines a vast array of perspectives within the early Christian context, purposing to clarify notions of the human body and society within Christian renunciation and to examine the effects of those ideas among Christian writers.[2] This review will summarize Brown’s work and offer an assessment of the strength of his claim that there was no mainstream perspective on sexuality and the body in early Christianity.[3] Continue reading

Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Conclusions

This is the final post in our series on Luther’s Two Kingdoms.

Having examined Luther’s major writings and construction concerning the relationship of the Christian to the world, we must now consider the common critique of Luther’s theology, that it does not provide a solid foundation for the Christian engagement of temporal authority. In his major reformation works, Luther placed a great deal of emphasis on the equality of all Christians within the spiritual kingdom, including those who were ordained as temporal rulers. When Luther first writes of resisting tyranny, he does so in a relative passive manner, arguing that disobedience and verbal disunity are proper forms of resistance. Althaus inhabits the common traditional interpretation of Luther, saying that Christ concerns himself with the spiritual kingdom and does not participate in the secular kingdom[78] and that for Luther’s construction, the “secular government existed long before Christ and also exercised power without him. This indicates that secular government and Christ’s kingdom are two distinct entities and that Christ is not directly involved in secular government.”[79] Luther’s doctrine interpreted in this way allows for a great deal of Christian passivity within the realm of the temporal. Such an understanding explains both general German Lutheran passivity to the Third Reich and the modern critique of Lutherans as a ‘conservative’ political movement in Latin America. Were this the only basis or interpretive framework that fit Luther’s thought, it would seem that the strong critique of Luther’s theology as somewhat naïve and generally unconcerned with the world would stick. Continue reading

Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Critique

This post is part of our ongoing series on Luther’s Two Kingdoms.
Martin Luther

Martin Luther

The common critique that Luther separates the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the world in such a manner that does not allow for meaningful Christian interaction within the world often stems from an understanding of Luther’s two kingdoms doctrine as highly dichotomous and Augustinian. Concerning this connection, while Luther’s original concept was based upon Augustine’s dualistic notion of the division of world between God and Satan,[69] he moved beyond his muse, as “he found the idea of the sovereignty of God in secular law as well as in the affairs of state, he was able to show the Christians how he could assume a meaningful responsibility in the human community without contradicting the categorical commands of Jesus.”[70] Althaus argues that the distinction between Luther’s terms of ‘government’ and ‘kingdom’ lessened as dualism decreased and he wanted to say that marriage and property had positive paradisiacal benefits within the secular kingdom.[71] Continue reading

Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Christian Passivity?

This post is part of our ongoing series on Luther’s Two Kingdoms.

Just WarTo this point it seems that using Bornkamm’s understanding of Luther’s doctrine would allow for little passivity from the Christian when their neighbor was confronted with evil. On the breadth of secular authority, Luther’s concern was that temporal authority must not endeavor to control the prescription of laws for the soul, for to do so would encroach upon Christ’s government, which would mislead and destroy souls.[56] Luther speaks against both those leaders of God’s kingdom who have sought to control temporal matters such as land and animals, as well as those rulers of the temporal kingdom who have abandoned their just duties concerning land and property and have rushed into the insanity of attempting to exercise spiritual control over souls.[57] Luther, citing St. Paul, St. Peter, King David, and Christ,[58] argues that temporal authorities only have control over the physical body and outward actions,[59] whereas bishops and leaders of the kingdom of God must live in a manner consistent with Christ’s standards of justice and use their office to serve their fellow Christians.[60] Thus, in the understanding of how far temporal authority may reach, Luther both limits the use of temporal force in the kingdom of Christ, and proceeds to argue for greater temporal power in matters not directly under the control of the kingdom of the world. Continue reading

Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Christ and Authority

This post is part of our ongoing series on Luther’s Two Kingdoms.

BibleThe differentiation between the jurisdictions of Christ and the temporal authority does not limit Christian activity to the spiritual sphere alone, but dictates the manner in which the Christian wields the sword and obeys temporal authority. Turning to the Biblical passages in question, Luther argues that Christ’s words in Matthew 5 should be interpreted to mean that the temporal sword not be used among Christians, that the means of rule of the kingdom of the world should not be allowed to rule the kingdom of Christ. Luther writes that, “For [Christ] is a king over Christians and rules by the Holy Spirit alone, without law. Although he sanctions the sword, he did not make use of it, for it serves no purpose in his kingdom, in which there are none but the upright.”[47] Matthew 5 thus prohibits the use of the temporal sword within the kingdom of Christ, but does not explicitly forbid the Christian to serve and obey those who wield the sword. Because Christians do not simply live on their own, but live in community with their neighbors, who are often not Christians, they must submit to the temporal law, not for their own sake, but for that of their neighbor. Continue reading

Luther’s Two Kingdoms: On Temporal Authority

This post is part of our ongoing series on Luther’s Two Kingdoms.

Luther's Works The Christian and Society IIHaving considered context and terminology of Luther’s Two Kingdoms, let us now turn to his writing on this subject in On Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed. Luther begins Temporal Authority by outlining the Biblical basis for understanding the civil government and the sword as having been established by God. Romans 13[32] “Let every soul [seele] be subject to the governing authority, for there is no authority except from God; the authority which everything [allenthalben] exists has been ordained by God. He then who resists the governing authority resists the ordinance of God, and he who resists God’s ordinance will incur judgment” and First Peter 2[33] “Be subject to every kind of human ordinance, whether it be to the king as supreme, or to governors, as those who have been sent by him to punish the wicked and to praise the righteous” are key passages in understanding the necessity of obedience to those in authority. While these passages constitute the basis for Luther’s understanding of civil government having been instituted by God, passages such as Matthew 5:38-41, 44, Romans 12:19, and First Peter 3:9 make it seem as though new covenant Christians should bear no sword, even if they are civil authorities. Continue reading