Redeeming Halloween

826439-halloween-copyHappy Halloween! Or Happy Reformation Day. Or Happy All Hallow’s Eve. Or maybe I should just wish you all a Happy(-ish) Monday.

For many Christians, October 31 seems marked with uncertainty. Yes, we all enjoy seeing (and buying, but this isn’t the place for personal confessions) the gigantic bags of candy in the grocery store. And most of us enjoy seeing hilariously clever punny costumes. But for many others, the celebration of Halloween brings us back to that seemingly never ending question concerning how we should interact with culture. Halloween today seems far less innocent than it did even ten or fifteen years ago. Back in those days, as Richard Mouw has noted, Continue reading

The Divine Quest, East and West (Part III)

This post concludes a brief series of reflections on Jay Ford’s The Divine Quest, East and West.

The Divine Quest East and West (Ford)The Divine Quest: East and West provides an engaging, insightful, and balanced approach to considering the Ultimate in three (or four) major religious traditions. From the perspective of one most familiar with Christianity, I especially appreciated the way in which this book uses that tradition as something of a starting point for engagement with two traditions I am less familiar with, those of “Hinduism” and Buddhism. Throughout, I have been impressed by Ford’s consideration of context, conceptual development, and attention to methodological concerns involving reflexivity and the use of appropriate definitions and categories. The commitment to nuanced language and constant reminders of contextual contingency and the purposefully limited claims of this work have been both thought-provoking and helpful guides for my own work. While it would have been interesting to devote a bit more time to Judaism and/or Islam, I believe The Divine Quest will serve as a useful guide for exploring conceptions of ultimacy and the process of tracing the development of various religious imaginations. Continue reading

On the Misuse of Christian Tradition: A Response

sola_scriptura_forumsThe proper relationship between the authority of Christian Scripture and authority of Christian Tradition avails itself to no easy answers. From a historical viewpoint, much of the early development of both remains hotly debated. From a theological perspective, centuries (and sometimes millennia) old debates continue to shape thinking and lead toward answers long before any explicit consideration of this relationship comes into focus.

Yet there seem to be boundaries—a “highway of orthodoxy” if you will—which suggest (or perhaps demand?) a certain perspective on the Christian understanding of the interplay between Scripture and Tradition, a stance which holds a) Scripture as inspired and authoritative (overly precise definitions aside); b) Tradition as important for properly interpreting Scripture (or, if you prefer more Protestant phrasings, “interpreting within the community” or even “Scripture interpreting Scripture”); and c) both Scripture and Tradition as necessarily in conversation with one another (i.e., neither allowed to dominate the other). Continue reading

MHT: Assessing Historical Metanarratives (Part II)

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting on the appropriate approach to and method for historical theology.

Church-HistoryThe metanarrative that seems most appropriate as the general approach to the history of Christianity is that of development. An approach seeking authentic developments—those which retain the first principles of a tradition throughout their entire development—appears to find that delicate balance between the errors of the changeless and the ever-changing. The willingness to locate the movements of history through the dialectic of opposites, the alternations back and forth between extremes in order to locate the truth of the middle ground, also seems sagacious given the example of the past. The developmental possibility for the assimilation of new ideas and contexts is also of great importance, especially given the advances of technology and geography in recent centuries. The principle that developments should build upon and not replace earlier doctrines especially illuminates the possibilities for both continuity and improvement, that the present is neither supremely dictated by the past nor lived in isolation from its effects. As Newman rightly indicated, true growth is that which “illustrates, not obscures, corroborates, not corrects, the body of thought from which it proceeds.”[35] Continue reading

What About People Who Died Before the Incarnation?

Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

A while back, a friend wrote me and asked, “How do you justify [and explain] the people who died before Christ came [i.e., Abraham, Moses, David]?” This struck me as an important and insightful question. In our rush to talk about and theologize heaven and hell, we often pay little attention to people who would have lived and died before the time of Christ. So how do we think about those people? One place to being thinking about this topic is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16, which has been used to reflect on questions of salvation and Paradise since at least the time of Ephrem the Syrian (4th century). Continue reading

Readings from Martin Luther

Martin Luther
Martin Luther

Martin Luther remains one of the most influential men in Western History, as his attempts to reform the Roman Catholic Church sparked nearly 500 years of debate and division within Western Christianity. It has been said that more has been written about Luther than any other person aside from Jesus of Nazareth, as vast amount of Luther’s writings and complexities concerning his life, teaching, and writing abound. In examining his Preface to the Latin Writings, the famous Ninety-Five Theses, and Freedom of the Christian, Luther presents a variety of concerns and ideas in the earliest stages of what is now called the Protestant Reformation, including his critique of institutionalized power, abuses concerning indulgences and the penitential system, the priesthood of the believer, proper Christian ethics, interpreting Romans 1.17 and justification by faith, and a variety of other theological tropes and concerns. Examining these writings as a whole, Luther’s main argument appears to be that God’s gift of faith should enable the Christian to live as both free from the necessity of works-based justification and the institutionalized penitential cycle as well as remaining duty-bound to love of neighbor and continued penitence for sin. Here we will look at each of these three accounts of or documents from Luther’s early reform program, drawing out their respective main concerns within the scope of Luther’s overall early reformation of the Church. Continue reading