Maurice Wiles and the Definition of Theology

OxfordThere are many questions in life with the potential for multidisciplinary and eternal significance. Among these are such questions as “Is there a god?”, “Do right and wrong exist?”, and “What happens when we die?” [1] Theologian Maurice Wiles adds to this list yet another question in his book titled What is Theology? To begin this work, Reverend Wiles defines theology as “reasoned discourse about God.”[2] If the term theology is broken down into its semantic parts, “theos” means “God” and “logos” means “word” or “reason.”[3] Therefore the definition of the Oxford English Dictionary is fitting: “the study and nature of God; religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed.” Continue reading

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Stride Toward Freedom

“To deprive man of freedom is to relegate him to the status of a thing, rather than elevate him to the status of a person.”

MLKDr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stands apart in American History as a figure of seminal importance. His contributions to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s were virtually unparalleled, his leadership the vision for many Americans, and his tragic murder the cause for great mourning. While most Americans are familiar with some of Dr. King’s civil rights actions, many are equally unfamiliar with his theological convictions that brought him to the point of leadership in that movement. In this article, we examine some of King’s theological and philosophical perspectives as found in Stride Toward Freedom, his account of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, its influences, actions, and the resulting changes. When writing about Dr. King’s works, one must resist the temptation to simply compile a list of quotes on the various topics covered in his writings. Here we will briefly touch on three subject that run throughout Stride Toward Freedom, namely his concerns with the Active Church, Non-Violence, and his interaction with ideals and sources. Through our engagement with these subjects it becomes clear that for King the ideal of human freedom was such that it should be engaged from numerous perspectives. Continue reading

Book Review: Religion in Human Evolution (Bellah)

Religion in Human EvolutionRobert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution stands as magnum opus of breathtaking proportions. Developed from the Merlin Donald’s work on cultural evolution, Karl Jasper’s insights on the axial age, and drawing upon a range of historical, anthropological, and biological sources, Bellah traces the evolution of religion within human culture from its origins in primordial play to the theoretical turns of the Axial Age. Central to this argument is that nothing is left behind during the evolution from episodic to theoretical culture through the mimetic and mythic. As a result of this massive study, Bellah argues that the evolution of human religion, which culminated in theoretical religious discourse in axial cultures and refigured preceding mimetic and mythic culture, continues to influence human religion and culture today. Bellah’s latest monograph stands as in-depth treatment of the evolution of human culture that is a must read for those involved in the study of the history and sociology of religions. Continue reading

Reflections on Suffering (Part II)

This article originally appeared on Conciliar Post.

GriefIn my yesterday’s post, I reflected on some of the answers which have been offered to the “question of suffering,” the query about why there is evil and suffering in the world if there is a good and all-powerful God. In today’s post, I hope to begin crafting an “answer” to this question—not an answer in an absolute sense, but rather an perception and understanding by which we can try to make some sense of suffering and loss.

How do we understand and respond to all of the suffering that we see and experience in the world? Douglas John Hall, in his book God and Human Suffering, makes the claim that perhaps it best to think of certain forms of suffering as somehow innate to the human condition—necessary consequences of the limitations of humanity.1 Put another way, freedom is always freedom within certain boundaries—perhaps human suffering arises due to our transgressing our boundaries.2 Plenty of philosophers have tackled this issue: when free agents are created, true freedom necessitates the possibility of using that freedom to engage in activities which inhibit the freedom of other agents.3 Oxford professor Mike Lloyd argues that a measure of free will for humanity is necessary in understanding the issue of evil and suffering, for without freedom there can be no justice (men cannot be held accountable for their actions unless they are free) and no love (the love of predetermined robots is not real love).4
Continue reading

Reflections on Suffering (Part I)

This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

BubblesWhy do we suffer? This is a question which, unfortunately, we all must ask at some point in our lives. The 2011-2012 academic year was a year in which this question took on a special relevance in my own life, first in a theology class devoted to wrestling with this question and then in my own life with the illness and death of my Grandfather. Life is painful when the lessons of the classroom become the lessons of reality.

Over the next two weeks, I want to offer some reflections on suffering and then propose a potential “answer” (the scare quotes are very intentional here) to the question of suffering. Today, I offer some basic insights into some of the proposed answers to the theological problem of evil and suffering. Proposed answers to this most hideous and painful of all questions have been labeled such things as the “retributive justice” or Classical view, the Consequences view, Meaningless suffering, the Apocalyptic perspective, and the Free Will argument for suffering. Continue reading

Reflections on the Present Age

This article originally appeared at Conciliar Post.

from the blog www.stuckincustoms.comSome authors make a lasting impression on one’s mind, for good or for bad. For me, one such writer is Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55), whom I first engaged while an undergraduate at Valparaiso University. While reading Kierkegaard, one cannot help but be flummoxed by large portions of his prose—there’s simply too much there to engage in its fullness. You are like a kindergartener, who is desperately trying to make sense of a chalkboard filled with Einstein’s equations but helpless to do so. But—and this is the glory of Kierkegaard—amidst the haze, one finds moments of brilliant sunshine. An image or idea breaks through the swirling clouds and, suddenly, it makes sense. For moments such as these, I find myself returning to Kierkegaard again and again. Continue reading

Luther and Erasmus: Erasmus on Scripture, Canon, and Authority

This post is part of our ongoing series comparing Martin Luther and Erasmus of Rotterdam’s perspectives on scripture, canon, and authority during the Age of Theological Reformations.
De libero

De libero

Written in 1524 as a response to Martin Luther’s Assertio omnium articulorum, in which Luther wrote that “everything happens by absolute necessity” (Watson, 13), [1] Erasmus’ De Libero Abritrio Diatribe Seu Collatio offers Erasmus’ fullest treatment of his theological anthropology, namely that human freedom must coexist with the divine will in matters of salvation.[2] As much has been written on this topic, our purpose here does not include considerations of Erasmus’ arguments concerning the will. Instead, by our review of Erasmus’ theological construction in this work we hope to demonstrate his perspective on scripture, canon, and authority. He begins this work by noting his limitations, immediately noting the difficulty in examining difficult passages and concepts, arguing that extreme care must be demonstrated in the interpretation of scripture (Diatribe, 35-7). Appealing to the “inviolable authority of the Holy Scriptures” and “decrees of the Church,” Erasmus nonetheless concluded that there are “secret” places in the scriptures that God has not wished men to fully understand, and that attempts to understand such passages lead to confusion of human minds (Diatribe, 37-8). While allowing for a certain degree of probability in the interpretation of scripture, Erasmus made clear his understanding that uncertainty does not necessarily undermine Christian faith, instead functioning as a means of humility and caution (Diatribe, 39). Continue reading

Book Review: Varieties of Religious Experience (James)

The Varieties of Religious Experience by William JamesIn The Varieties of Religious Experience, a work based on his delivery of the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, William James sought to examine from the perspective of psychology the subject of religious experiences, seeking to understand man and his consciousness concerning religion.[1] Varieties has become a classic work in a number of fields, but especially so in the study of religious experiences and psychology of religion, a fact to which The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church attests.[2] In this work, James examines an enormous amount of data concerning religious experiences and concludes that religious experience constitutes a positive saving experience that appears to be literal and objective insofar as he can determine.[3] In this paper, we will review and examine James’ book, paying particular attention to facets that may need rethinking or revision in the current 21st Century religious and academic contexts. It should be noted that James provides in this work an astounding amount of evidence and that the scope and depth of his work remains such that we cannot consider every nuance of his presentation. Thus only major points, both for James and for our current consideration, will be examined. Upon reviewing this work, we will find that James has a great deal of insight and evidence to offer concerning religious experiences, but that his perspective needs revision and expansion before it can be considered normative for argumentation today. Continue reading

Book Review: Evolution of the Word (Borg)

Evolution of the Word, BorgIn Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written (HarperOne, New York, 2012), scholar Marcus J. Borg presents the books of the New Testament in chronological order. In an attempt to demonstrate the development of the early Christian concept of Word, both the Word of God (Jesus Christ) and the Words of God (the writings of the New Testament), Borg re-orders the writings of the New Testament into the order he believes they were originally written. Beginning with thirty pages of introductory material on the chronology of the New Testament, the context of the early followers of Jesus, and the historical and literary context of Paul, Borg sets the stage for the writings of the New Testament.  The New Testament then follows in this order: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, 2 Corinthians, Romans, Mark, James, Colossians, Matthew, Hebrews, John, Ephesians, Revelation, Jude, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Luke, Acts, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Peter, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Peter. The text of each book is that of the New Revised Standard Version (1989), with standard chapters, versification, section headings, and NRSV textual notes. Preceding each book are some brief remarks by Borg, including some explanation for his dating of each respective work. In this way, The Evolution of the Word looks somewhat like a NRSV New Testament, simply re-arranged according to Borg’s chronology. Continue reading

C. S. Lewis on Meaning and Joy

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

How many times have you sat down after a good meal and thought about how good it tasted? Or how often after an enjoyable evening with friends do you sit back and think about the true meaning of your conversations? While most do not consider themselves philosophers reflecting upon the deeper mysteries of the universe, many people contemplatively enjoy live in less abstract ways. We go through our days enjoying the food, the beauty that we see around us, and the pleasant conversations, while at the same time failing to explicitly contemplate why we enjoy certain things in life. Why does a good meal seem to make the world better? Why is a sunrise so appealing to us? What is it about well written poetry that makes it so good?

C. S. Lewis offers us an example of how we may reflect upon our meaningful experiences in his essay “Meditation in a Toolshed,” where he discusses the difference between simply enjoying an experience and the deeper contemplation of said experience. Lewis once was standing in a dark toolshed and saw a sunbeam come through a crack above the door. He says that while looking at the beam, he was “seeing the beam, not seeing things by it” (Meditation, 212). This is similar to many of our everyday experiences. We see activities and enjoy them for what they are without looking deeper. This is not to say that we shouldn’t enjoy the pleasurable things in life, but we ought to examine our lives and experiences closely in order to capture more of the joy that they offer.

Lewis goes on to explain what he saw when instead of merely looking at the sunbeam, he looks through it, out into the world beyond the dark of the toolshed. He says, “Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun” (Meditation, 212). There is a difference between simply looking at an object or experience, and using that experience to see something greater, a facet or characteristic of an experience that would is often lost on us when we do not examine closely the lives that we live. Continue reading