Ancient Hebrew Cosmology

Context is EverythingHuman beings often presume our own worldview when trying to make sense of a message or a text. As anyone who has had an argument based upon a misunderstanding knows (think of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine), assuming that other people mean exactly what you think they mean, without making sure that’s what they say they mean, often becomes an exercise in frustration.

The same is true with written texts. Many times modern Christians come to a text such as the Bible and assume that the worldview they hold is precisely that of the specific Bible passage they are reading. While this may (rarely) be the case, more often than not readers of the Bible bring their own presuppositions without even knowing that they differ from those of the Biblical authors (and, by extension for those of us who believe in the inspiration of scripture, different presuppositions than God). This means that reading and interpreting the Bible without seeking to understand the context of the Bible leads to a distorted interpretation of the Bible. And since I would hazard to guess that few people desire to purposefully misinterpret the Bible, it seems important to seek a contextualized reading of any Biblical text. 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

The Divine Quest, East and West (Part II)

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

As part of The Divine Quest, East and West’s turn toward the East in Acts 4 and 5, this reflection deals with the Classical and Colonial periods of Hindu theology. In reviewing the schools of classical Hindu theology, Ford usefully highlights the central theme found in each major school: the attempt to reconcile the one with the many, demonstrating the importance that conceptions of the ultimate Brahman played in the development of the Hindu traditions (125). Effectively, only two major options existed: the Brahman was either impersonal and absolute or personal and theistic (128). The perspectives of Shankara (hierarchical monism) and Ramanuja (quasi-dualistic theism) mirror our earlier interaction with Taylor, again underscoring the similar ways in which even vastly different traditions conceive of the ultimate. I do not wish to argue that the Hindu traditions (or all other major religious perspectives) remains trapped within the dichotomy of monism and dualism, only to note that classical Hinduism appears to revisit some of the same concerns with which the monotheistic traditions have wrestled. Continue reading

Reflections on The Divine Quest, East and West (Part I)

The Divine Quest East and West (Ford)A few weeks back I noted Jay Ford’s The Divine Quest, East and West (SUNY, 2016). Over the nest few posts, I want to offer a couple of reflections on this work, which I hasten to note I generally appreciate and find helpful for facilitating inter-religious dialogue and understanding.

In Acts 2 and 3 of The Divine Quest, East and West, Ford outlines conceptions of the ultimate found in Mahayana and Chinese Buddhisms, arguing that emptiness and Buddha-nature, respectively, serve as the Ultimate reality for these strands of Buddhist thought. In this reflection, I wish to engage the topic of textual authority and revelation within the forms of Buddhism discussed in these sections. Continue reading

Book Review: Understanding the Times (Myers and Noebel)

Understanding the Times (Myers and Noebel)Every so often a book comes along and truly rewrites the paradigms of a field. Some twenty-five years ago, David Noebel penned such a book, titled Understanding the Times. In this 900-page tome Noebel outlined the clash between competing worldviews – ways of viewing and interpreting the world – which were occurring throughout in the late 20th century. The original edition of UTT was one of the most popular and influential books ever on culture and worldviews from a Christian perspective, transforming how many people understand the battle of ideas taking place in our times. But the contours of major worldviews have changed since 1991 and the world has changed along with them. To address this new worldviews context, Jeff Myers, in conjunction with David Noebel, undertook a substantial revision of Noebel’s classic work, now called Understanding the Times: A Survey of Competing Worldviews (Manitou Springs, CO: Summit Ministries and Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015. 510pp.). Continue reading

MHT: Select Bibliography

Below is a select bibliography for the series I’ve been running for the past month on Method and Historical Theology. Any additional readings and resources that you have found useful would be appreciated.

Select Bibliography

Acton, John. “Inaugural Lecture on the Study of History.” In Essays on Freedom and Power. Edited by Gertrude Himmelfarb. New York: Meridian, 1956.

Berkofer, Robert. “The Challenge of Poetics to (Normal) Historical Practice.” Pages 139-157 in The Postmodern History Reader. Edited by Keith Jenkins. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Bloch, Marc. The Historian’s Craft. New York: Vintage, 1964. Continue reading

Method and Historical Theology: Conclusions

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

Method and Historical TheologyThe perspective I have been outlining in this series does not to suggest that those who are not Christians cannot participate in historical truth, but rather the acknowledgement that wherever truth may be found is belongs to the Creator. Accordingly, all truly valuable work—be it academic scholarship, gardening, blacksmithing, or preaching—must stand in accordance with theological truth and be governed by it. The oft repeated dictum that theology involves “faith seeking understanding” is vital for this type of endeavor, for it reminds us that, although we make claims to the truth, the Truth is ultimately beyond our human capacities to fully understand. Conclusions, then, are necessarily tentative in the sense that the full Truth will only someday be revealed to us. Christians live in the tension of “already” and “not yet,” that Christ has come, but that He will come again in glory. Continue reading

MHT: Operating Assumptions

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

Jesus - History and TheologyBuilding upon the methodological principles I have been outlining, I wish to briefly offer some of the operating assumptions of my work in historical theology. Historical theological study must always engage other voices and perspectives—there is no such thing as a “stand alone” presentation of the past. Engagement with other voices is generally most fruitful when assumptions and methodologies—those structures standing behind historical constructions—are engaged. History is different than the “lived past”, although historical theology can partially, perspectivally, and humbly speak about the past. The historical past, when invoked in the present, is always influenced by the purposes of the present. This is not to say that meaningful perspectives on the past cannot be offered, only that the context of the present influences any appeal to the past. Historical theology requires an ordered and academically rigorous approach, willing to investigate and engage truth claims of all types and origins, including those undertaking study of the Christian past. Texts remain the primary basis for historical theological work, and are to be considered within their broad historical, theological, social, linguistic, and literary contexts. Finally, historical theology must be understood as the integration of history and theology, the rigorous intellectual methodology of the study of the past—complete with its problematizations of language and context—combined with the humble practice of seeking understanding of a transcendent God and His action in the world. Continue reading

MHT: Applying Historical Theology

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

Apostolic FathersWhat does a methodology invested in both history and theology look like? First, this perspective suggests an examination of the past for the sake of the future. This means conceiving of historical theology as a tool box for investigating, understanding, and applying the points of connection between history, Biblical exegesis, and the traditions of the Church. Christian dogma cannot be justified by tradition, history, exegesis, or experience alone; instead, all these forces should converge to support the great mission of the Great Church.[58] Second, this method suggests that historical theology must become engaged with ecumenical concerns, not disregarding the boundaries of historic and current theological differences, but transcending those discussions for the sake of common causes. In particular, historical theology which affirms a dialectical interpretation of change may help differentiate between theological difference and theological error, allowing for divergences between Christian bodies to be understood as complimentary rather than contradictory.[59] Similarly, a historical theology rooted in history and theology has value for interreligious dialogue. For example, the theological similarities between Augustine and the Advaita Vedanta philosopher Ramanuja[60] offers rich opportunities for Hindu-Christian dialogue on conceptions of God and reality. Continue reading

MHT: Integration of History and Theology

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

types-of-theology1A final—and supremely important—methodological point for the study of historical theology engages the relationship of history and theology. Existing scholarship often takes a historical or contextual approach to the study of history. And while there is nothing wrong with this approach, it lacks something, especially in situations where assumptions of philosophical naturalism critique how history cannot transcend a single person or perspective. As was indicated above, historical consciousness first arose within the context of Christian theology and history. After the Enlightenment, however, this influence of theology on the study of the past waned. The idea that history and theology are distinct and irreconcilable fields of study is challenged by a historical theological approach that takes seriously the methods of history and the invigorating influence of a God involved in human history. In this perspective, history comprises a cooperative agent in Christian theological study, and events and changes in the course of history must be examined and accounted for by both history and theology. History and theology are co-dependent in Christian historical theology, for Christian knowledge cannot distain history, nor can history reject Christian knowledge, but must acquire the “collective experience of Christ verified and realized in us.”[55] Continue reading