Category: Bible and Theology

It has been said that when Jonathan Edwards would roam about the countryside on his horse, he would record his observations and thoughts on little scraps of paper and pin them to his coat. When he returned home, his wife would help him unpin the notes and he would arrange them on his desk and use them as a basis for recording his thoughts in more permanent form.

This story has been viewed by some scholars as apocryphal, although Paul Elmer More repeats the image:

It must have been one of the memorable sights of the world to have seen him returning on horseback from a solitary ride into the forest, while there fluttered about him, pinned to his coat, the strips of paper on which he had scribbled the results of his meditations.

But whatever the source of his recorded observations, it can’t be doubted that his meditations found their way into his Miscellanies, a set of writings on various topics worked on throughout his lifetime.

In the writing of these Miscellanies, we can view Edwards as a proto-blogger of sorts, and if we can stretch the image a bit more, we can see the Miscellanies as an early form of hypertext. At least, the topical and occasional nature of the Miscellanies render them well-suited for the tools of a digital age, where tags and hyperlinks can quickly and easily connect writings previously separated by time and page.

The hypertextualization of Edwards’ Miscellanies is, in fact, what The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University has accomplished. As part of the project to digitize Edwards’ entire corpus, the beta phase of the first installment of texts has been made public and is free to access during a trial period.

All 1373 Miscellanies are now text searchable and linked by topic. Now, for instance, you can scan through all eight of the Miscellanies (and another sermon), written over the course of a decade, that treat of the subject of “self love” with a few clicks of a mouse button.

And so, with the work of the Jonathan Edwards Center, we now have access to the works of Jonathan Edwards, the O.B. (Original Blogger). Hey, if Jonathan Edwards can be my “homeboy,” then we can certainly indulge one or two other anachronisms.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, January 4, 2007
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I’ve had this link sitting in my inbox for quite awhile and have finally gotten to it. It’s well worth the read. Brian J. Lee, writing in Modern Reformation, takes a look at the foundational passage in Romans where Paul discusses subjection to civil authorities. Lee argues that Paul’s sole concern is with Christian submission:

Properly understood, Paul’s command to submit should constrain our optimism about the civil government’s capacity to transform, save, or redeem. Civil government is not an aid to Christian sanctification, either on the individual or cultural scale. Rather, it is a dead-end, stop-gap barrier that makes space for the good in a fallen world. In our capacity as believers and as a church, our task is not to ask how to govern well, but to be governed.

Lee makes some important points, not the least of which is this: “God doesn’t need either Christian rulers or Christian systems of government to fulfill his purposes, precisely because his purposes for the civil government are not ultimate or religious or eternal. In contrast, a fallen world with its limited horizon will always tend to invest its secular authorities with ultimate significance.”

Lee traces out some of the implications for our contemporary situation, not least of which is that, “the Christian has no special expertise to rule.” Presumably, then, the converse is also true, that the non-Christian has no special handicap, which bears in on a number of current political discussions.

Read the whole thing.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, passes along a Christmas message over at Phi Beta Cons on National Review Online. Reflecting on the Incarnation, Sirico says, “This belief teaches us to take seriously human history, its institutions, economies and social relationships, for all of this, and more, is the stuff from which human destiny is discovered and directed.”

At the Christmas staff meeting Rev. Sirico passed on similar thoughts to us, and concludes with this, which I pass along to all of you: “It is my prayer, at this sobering and holy time of the year, that you, in the midst of your families and your work, will discover the eternal significance of the contingency of time so as to experience the bliss that eternity affords.”

Well said.

over at National Review Online.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
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In a much discussed op-ed for CNN last week, hipster church leaders Marc Brown and Jay Bakker (the latter’s profile, incidentally, immediately precedes that of yours truly in The Relevant Nation…a serendipitous product of alphabetical order) lodge a complaint against Christianity that doesn’t respect the call “love others just as they are, without an agenda.”

Speaking of Jesus, Brown and Bakker write, “The bulk of his time was spent preaching about helping the poor and those who are unable to help themselves. At the very least, Christians should be counted on to lend a helping hand to the poor and others in need.”

I’m sympathetic with their concerns that Christianity not become “co-opted by a political party” or only about “supporting laws that force others to live by their standards.” I’m less sympathetic with their emphasis on Christianity strictly as social gospel (the only mention of “hell” in the piece is as part of a rhetorical flourish at the piece’s beginning, having nothing to do with the biblical doctrine of everlasting punishment.)

In a piece for the Christian Science Monitor (HT: WorldMagBlog), Mark Totten writes that “a remarkable trend is emerging among Evangelicals today: the embrace of a social agenda that includes not only abortion and marriage, but poverty, AIDS, the environment, and human rights.” On one level, this reflects the positive engagement of evangelicals with the totality of public life, something that is important given the extent of Christ’s lordship.

Totten writes,

The most telling change is perhaps taking place in the pulpit. For most of the past century, Evangelicals have reacted against the Social Gospel movement of the progressive era, which many felt replaced the Gospel message with one of mere worldly social action. Today, however, a new generation of evangelical pastors is weaving an ethic of “neighbor love” into the fabric of sin and salvation.

(Totten cites the work of Rev. Tim Keller, whose work is discussed in more detail here and here, as a case in point.) The key here is that in an overreaction to the social gospel, some Christians eschewed any and all political or social engagement. We need to be careful, however, that in response to what may be too little engagement, we don’t return to the errors of the social gospel and make Christianity all about material or social well-being.

So, instead of the “either/or” dichotomy that Bakker and Brown set up between traditional political issues of the religious right (e.g. gay “marriage,” abortion) and the “new” concerns of political evangelicalism (e.g. the environment, poverty), it’s really a “both/and” equation. And this “both/and” extends beyond the political realm to the theological, so that we have a socially conscious and active Christianity that doesn’t abandon orthodox doctrine and concerns about salvation.

Augustine, in his monumental work De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Teaching), captures this relationship well (emphasis mine):

Now of all those who are able to enjoy God together with us, some we love as people we can help, some as people we can be helped by, some as ones both whose help we need, and whose needs we help to meet, while there are some on whom we ourselves confer no benefits, and from whom we do not expect any either. Still, we ought to want all of them to love God together with us, and all our helping them or being helped by them is to be referred to that one single end (1.29.30).

As Augustine elsewhere observes, “A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about” (Confessions, 3.2.3).

What does this mean in the context of Christian evangelism? That we not simply seek to bind up physical wounds, but minister to the whole person, body and soul. And real ministry to the soul entails that we relate the true situation of all sinners, for as Augustine also confesses, “my sin was the more incurable for my conviction that I was not a sinner” (5.10.18).

Brown and Bakker write that Christians are to “love others just as they are, without an agenda.” If taken to an extreme, this claim is a radical departure from traditional Christian faith. For not only in the words of Augustine are we to love others as they might become brothers and sisters in Christ (“No sinner, precisely as sinner, is to be loved; and every human being, precisely as human, is to be loved on God’s account”), but also in the words of Jesus we are to show our love to one another by proclaiming the gospel: “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, November 23, 2006
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Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfaignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

–U.S. Book of Common Prayer, “The General Thanksgiving,” (1979), p. 58-59.

The following is the text of a paper presented on November 15, 2006 at the Evangelical Theological Society 58th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, which was themed, "Christians in the Public Square." Part 3 of 3 follows below (series index).

War and Peace

I will conclude with a brief word about Bonhoeffer and pacifism, given the ongoing claims about Bonhoeffer’s ethical commitment to the practice of nonviolence.[i] First, it should be noted, with Clifford J. Green, that it is invalid to talk about Bonhoeffer as advocating a principled pacifism, since “‘Pacifism’ for Bonhoeffer did not mean adopting nonviolence as an absolute principle in all circumstances. His ethic was not an ethic of principles.”[ii] (more…)

The following is the text of a paper presented on November 15, 2006 at the Evangelical Theological Society 58th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, which was themed, "Christians in the Public Square." Part 2 of 3 follows below (series index).

Relationship between Church and State

It must first be noted that Bonhoeffer’s conception of mandates was a statement about the ontological ordering of God’s rule in the world, not a particular statement about the precise form that rule would or should take in any given context. Bonhoeffer’s distinction between “government” as a divine mandate and “state” as a particular form of that mandate help us get at this difference. (more…)

The following is the text of a paper presented on November 15, 2006 at the Evangelical Theological Society 58th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, which was themed, "Christians in the Public Square." Part 1 of 3 follows below (series index).

Bonhoeffer on Church and State
by Jordan J. Ballor

Introduction

Ever since his untimely death in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and work have gone through a variety of appraisals and reappraisals in the succeeding scholarship. The fragmentary and partial nature of his Ethics manuscripts, as well as the attention paid to other works, such as his Letters and Papers from Prison, combined to leave his mature ethical work relatively ill-treated. This necessarily had effects on the overall reception of Bonhoeffer’s theology, as the pervasively concrete orientation of his dogmatic theology makes understanding his ethical thought indispensable to gaining a comprehensive view of his theological approach.

With the work over the last decade, especially by the International Bonhoeffer Society, to bring authoritative critical translations of his entire corpus into English, we are currently experiencing an increase in the quality and quantity of engagement with Bonhoeffer’s theology in English-speaking countries.[i] It is in this spirit of increasing critical engagement with Bonhoeffer’s thought that I offer this paper.

A brief comment is in order about the treatment of Bonhoeffer’s views on “Church” and “State.” We will note some of the potential for us to be misled by the use of this second term, “State,” in particular later. But at this point, I want to simply observe that while these two realities usually occupy places in what we call “social ethics,” Bonhoeffer himself would have probably resisted such categorization. One overriding emphasis of his life-long ethical thought was unity and wholeness, something which he felt was undermined by an artificial separation between personal and social ethics. Bonhoeffer always contends that institutions or social realities are at their core made up of individual persons who each have their own moral duties. Here’s a representative quote: “Human beings are indivisible wholes, not only as individuals in both their person and work, but also as members of the human and created community to which they belong.”[ii]

My own approach in addressing the topics of Church and State in Bonhoeffer’s thought is justified, not only because of the prominence of these two themes in his thinking, but because they occupy distinct and unique positions within his mature ethical framework. We begin with a brief sketch of this framework. (more…)

The Hugh Hewitt/Andrew Sullivan kerfuffle has been mentioned a few times on the PowerBlog (here and here, for example), and while the dust has largely settled from that event, the issues that it raised continue to be addressed in various corners of the blogosphere. The most interesting (and extensive) commentary that I’ve read on Sullivan and his new book is by the Rev. Dr. Mark Roberts, who serves as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Irvine, California. Roberts’ critique is well worth a read in full, but here’s a sample to get you going:

I find Sullivan’s thoughts about Christianity fascinating for several reasons. One is that he epitomizes something I’d call “Retrofitted Christianity.” What do I mean by this? If you look up “retrofit” in the dictionary, one definition reads: “To provide with parts, devices, or equipment not in existence or available at the time of original manufacture.” If you retrofit a classic car, for example, you might give it a new engine that wasn’t available when the car was first built. So retrofitted Christianity is a version of classic faith that includes new parts that weren’t there at first. Some people, like Andrew Sullivan, think this is a better or even more authentic version of the faith. Others, like me, for example, are concerned that the retrofitted version of Christianity exemplified by Sullivan lacks some essential parts, even though it gets some things right.