Stock up on Summer books

I just got notice that Christian Book Distributors has a summer clearance sale on many books, including some up to 99% (yes, you read that right–99%!) off. Take a look, you might find something.


Here’s a few examples:

Oliver Crisp’s Retrieving Doctrine: Essays in Reformed Theology. – $1.99 (US)

Catherine Kelsey’s, Thinking about Christ with Scheiermacher. – $0.99 (US)

Gregory Alan Thornbury’s,  Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry,  – $1.99

Rupert Shortt, Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury, – $1.99 (US)

And of course, Karl Barth’s entire Church Dogmatics! – $179 (US)!



“Make-believe McGillies”

As a proud graduate of McGill University, it was gratifying to see a feature article on the McGill News website recently called “Make-believe McGillies.” The article describes various “make-believe” alumni from McGill in fiction, movies, and television in the past decades (including Marie St. Jacques, Jason Bourne’s accomplice in The Bourne Identity novel. Unfortunately, St. Jacques’ character was replaced by the character Marie Helena Kreutz–not a McGill grad!)

Unfortunately, the article only discusses characters that are actually purported to have been McGill alumni. However, one of my favourite novelists,  Kathy Reichs, who is both a forensic anthropologist and novelist, mentions McGill at various points in her novels.  The main character of Reich’s novels, Temperance Brennen (upon whom the TV series “Bones” is based) spends time between Montreal and North Carolina. In Reichs’ second novel (and one of my favourites), Death du Jour, the McGill campus is mentioned often. Here the heroine, “Tempe,” ends up wandering the halls at McGill’s famous William and Henry Birks Building at the Faculty of Religious Studies, consulting with one of the professors of religious studies to solve her case. Her descriptions of the Birks building are spot on, and whenever I’ve re-read those sections, I have a tad bit of homesickness for the beautiful old building where I did my doctoral work.

Karl Barth’s ecumenical contribution on the Filioque

Yesterday, a box from Purolator came with my gratis copies of Karl Barth on the Filioque. I’m very pleased with how Ashgate designed the text!

Here’s a snippet from the book itself. I’ve chosen a section in chapter five, dealing with the question of whether Barth’s theology of the filioque has any ecumenical significance to the filioque debate.

Can Barth’s defence of the filioque contribute anything significant to the contemporary ecumenical debate? Of course, the answer to that question will depend in large part on how one wants to use Barth. If Barth is sought as an ally in bringing about an ecumenical solution to the filioque debate, it must be borne in mind that his contribution will at best be indirect. Barth can no more be viewed as successfully or single-handedly solving the age old dispute between East and West on the filioque than anyone else to this point, not to mention that Barth clearly had no intentions of wanting to “solve” a puzzle he did not think needed to be solved. He did not seek an apologetic for the filioque that would convince Orthodox or Old Catholic theologians regarding the acceptability of the filioque. Nor did he seek a synthetic solution that would be acceptable to both Eastern and Western churches. Nor did he seek to encourage the churches in the Western tradition (the Reformed churches in particular) to move toward a theological and historical repristination of the Creed whereby the original form of the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed was set over against subsequent Western trinitarian thinking. Nevertheless, Barth’s “failure” in this regard can hardly be counted against him; each of these options has been attempted since Barth’s death without resulting in full rapprochement between East and West, even if some of the results are showing some signs for being encouraged.

However, if Barth is heard on his own terms and from within his own systemic logic, even while acknowledging that his position prima facie has close affinity to the Western tradition, it becomes clear that Barth was less interested in defending the Western filioquist argument and more interested in better understanding what was dogmatically at stake if the filioque were denied, regardless of what might eventually take place at a formal ecumenical level. Rather than falsely claiming to understand the Eastern rejection of the filioque (which he apparently did not ponder for any significant length of time), Barth wanted to think through the meaning of the doctrine of the filioque as a Western, Reformed theologian. As Barth sometimes argued, it is pointless to denounce another tradition without first unpacking the internal dogmatic logic of one’s own tradition. Certainly, it is arguable that Barth could have provided a better defence had he investigated the Eastern position more closely. Yet that is to criticize his position for what he did not do, a common critique to be sure. . .

…Barth’s doctrine of the filioque is not wholly typical of historic Western defences. Most specifically, a dogmatic adherence to the filioque does not necessitate holding the notion of a “double procession” of the Spirit, despite the fact that this is how it has been described typically by Western proponents and Eastern critics alike.  Rather than speaking of a double procession of the Spirit from the modes of being (or hypostases) of the Father and Son, Barth sought to preserve in this matter a delicate dialectic between the essence (Sein) and the persons (Seinsweisen) of the Trinity without giving ontological priority to one or the other. It is thus arguable that Barth was at least partly responsible for pointing ecumenically oriented scholarship in this direction during the later quarter of the twentieth century. Consequently, more research needs to be undertaken in comparing Barth with contemporary ecumenical scholars for whom the filioque is still a live issue. In particular, it is evident that careful consideration of the Athanasian parallels in Barth’s thought is needed, for Athanasius appears increasingly to be viewed as the common theological denominator by Western and Eastern theologians alike.

On the other hand, … [there is] ambiguity in Barth’s way of speaking of the filioque in relationship to “origin” in God and in the doctrine of perichoresis. Though Barth did speak of the origin of the Spirit from the Father and the Son, it is also the case that he increasingly links the filioque to the doctrine of perichoresis without delineating how perichoresis and origin are themselves to be related. Indeed, both Barth and Torrance ultimately speak of the procession of the Spirit in terms of perichoresis, even though both Eastern and Western traditions have normally spoken of the procession in terms of origin. More work must be done in order to disentangle these concepts.

David Guretzki, Karl Barth on the Filioque, Ashgate, 2009, pp. 184-6.

Crucifying Ministries

One of my favourite pastoral theologians (other than Karl Barth–who is very much a pastoral theologian, thank you very much!) is Andrew Purves of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. I have been assigning his book Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation (amongst others) in one of my seminary classes on pastoral theology. He has now come out with what you could call “Reconstructing-Lite,” entitled, The Crucifixion of Ministry. He essentially abridges the main points of Reconstructing for a more popular audience, but extends some of his arguments as well. Central to his argument are what he calls the “two forgotten doctrines” in ministry today: 1) the vicarious humanity and ministry of Christ (i.e., Christ is the one who accomplishes ministry to God on our behalf), and 2) our union with Christ in the Holy Spirit (i.e., our ministry is effective only because of our being united spiritually with Christ’s body through the Holy Spirit). At any rate, I highly recommend both of these books to pastors. But if you are really busy, then at least read Crucifixion of Ministry.

But to give a snippet, here are some great paragraphs from the opening of chapter 3. It will give you a sense of the “flavour” of pastoral theology Purves is offering.

We do not mediate Jesus Christ. We do not make him effective, relevant or practical. Neither is it up to us to raise the dead, heal the sick or forgive the sinners. Faithful ministry is just not that grandiose.

When we think that the ministry of the gospel is for us to do, that we carry Jesus around with us in our pastoral and homiletical tool bags, dispensing him here and there as we deem fit, we are in the way and have become a hindrance to the ministry of the gospel. As ministers of the gospel we are not ecclesiastical conjurors with magic hands, pulling Jesus out of our hats.

To repeat, here is the issue: Our ministries are not redemptive. Only Christ’s ministry is redemptive. If we stand in the way, focusing on our ministries, we have to shoved out of the way. When we have a severe preoccupation with ‘my ministry,’ that ministry has to be crucified. (73)

I love the first lines of the first and third paragraph. We are not mediators of Jesus, and our ministries are not redemptive. This aligns nicely with why I have been consistently opposed in past years to speaking about “incarnational” ministry, because such ways of speaking are constantly in danger of confusing or conflating the role of the Church and the role of Christ. We (the church) are not the incarnation of Jesus on earth; we are not the only Jesus some people will see. Jesus can show himself to people with or without us, thank you very much. Yes, we are his body, united to him, the Head, by the Holy Spirit. But we never have and never will replace Jesus. Keep that straight and you will save yourself a lot of pressure in ministry. You don’t have to be Jesus; all you have to do is let Jesus be Jesus, and enjoy the ride!

And furthermore, our ministries are not redemptive. We aren’t the ones doin’ the redeemin’! Again, if that doesn’t take pressure off of you in your ministry, I’m not sure what will! Rather, ministry becomes full of hope because we no longer need to worry about what will happen if–I mean, when–we fail. Not that we go around looking for ways to fail. But we can rest assured that when we fail, Jesus’ redemptive ministry goes on. Whew! What a relief!

Purves’ pastoral theology is at once startling and yet vitally refreshing. He takes Galatians 2:20 as paradigmatic for understanding ministry, and for setting it in contrast to many popular understandings of the task of ministry. For it is in Gal 2:20 that we read, “I yet not I but Christ…” As Purves paraphrases it, “I [Jesus], not you, do the ministry that saves and heals, that gives hope and blesses, that forgives and promises life.” (74) This is in stark contrast to the models of ministry that look at Jesus as some kind of “model” for ministry, someone whom we can emulate and imitate in our own ministries (i.e., WWJD applied to ministry–which, by the way, Purves critiques quite nicely on p. 51!) But frankly, the WWJD model of ministry is paralyzing, for who–really, who?–can live up to the exemplar by way of ministry? This isn’t to say that Jesus is not an example worth following. Paul thinks he is! (Cf.  1 Cor 11:1). But taken on its own, the exemplar model of ministry is simply inadequate to the task.

These issues of ministry are really close to my mind and heart these days, especially because it was publicly announced here at Briercrest today that I have been “reappointed” as Dean of the Seminary, and elected/appointed anew as Chair of the Christian Ministries division in the College–a dual role which has “ministry” at its heart. (I begin both these roles officially on August 1). And as I think about the tasks at hand, I am excited and full of trepidation–yet with Purves’ words ringing in my mind, full of hope!

But I ask you, my friends and colleagues, to pray for me that I would, from the start, crucify my ministry, and be ready and willing to ask, “Jesus, how can I get on board with the heart of your ministry here at Briercrest College and Seminary?” And not only that, I ask that you would pray that I would be able to bring that challenge also to my co-labouring faculty here at Briercrest as well–that we would refuse to build our ministry, but would constantly ask Jesus, “What do you want to do here amongst us and amongst our students?”

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal 2:20

Big theology works Meme

I saw this great quotation from Martyn-Lloyd Jones over at Per Crucem ad Lucem on the importance of reading for the preacher:

Time must be found for reading, and we turn now to the more intellectual type of reading. The first is theology. There is no greater mistake than to think that you finish with theology when you leave a seminary. The preacher should continue to read theology as long as he is alive. The more he reads the better and there are any authors and systems to be studied. I have known men in the ministry, and men in various other works of life who stop reading when they finish their training. They think they have acquired all they need; they have their lecture notes, and nothing further is necessary. The result is that they vegetate and become quite useless. Keep on reading; and read the big works’.

-Martyn Lloyd-Jones Preaching and Preachers (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), 177.  (Underline mine)

Read the big works, he says.

Which caused me to ask, “Which ones?”

For a bit of fun, here is my own  “big theology works meme.” The list below represents 10 of the bigger theological works (mostly multi-volume works, but with some exceptions) I think everyone in ministry should tackle sometime in their lifetime. I’ve split the list into two: Pre-20th century and 20th century.

Pre-20th Century

  1. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. (I’ve read through this one for my doctoral comps, and it was in the old Ante-Nicene Father’s translation–which is fine (and available free online!), but uses somewhat archaic English. There are better translations, I understand. You need to press through the first three books of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. Books 4 and 5 are the most profound and important.)
  2. Augustine’s City of God Against the Pagans. (I’ve read through the Cambridge edition three times. It’s a great translation. Very readable. As with Irenaeus, you may struggle through the first three or four books, but press on. It gets better the further you go!)
  3. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. (The whole Summa is available online here, but I doubt I could make it through any of these “big books” online. I need a book in my hands! Unfortunately, this is one of the “big works” that I haven’t read through–yet. Hopefully some day. By the way, seems to have a good deal on for the full five volume set here).
  4. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. (The two volume McNeil edition is best. It’s actually easier reading that you might think.)
  5. Friederich Schleiermacher’s The Christian Faith. (I’ve read large chunks of Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre, but have never read through cover-to-cover. I gotta get to this one sometime. I think Schleiermacher is vitally important for getting a handle on where modern theology has gone in the 19th and 20th centuries. Evangelicals especially need to read Schleiermacher…they may be shocked that he sounds more us than we realize at points!)

    Twentieth Century

  6. Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. (You shouldn’t be surprised hearing this from me. But really–reading the Church Dogmatics continues to be a joy for me. I rarely read a section without thinking, “Now why didn’t I think of that??” And remember: If you need a primer on reading the Church Dogmatics, you can find my own introduction here. And now there is a new paperback edition of the CD in 31 volumes, as well as a searchable CD-Rom version from Logos)
  7. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic  Theology. (I’ve often said that reading Pannenberg’s 3 volume systematic theology is a theological education in itself. Pannenberg is still, in my opinion, one of the most important living systematic theologians. His importance is in how he tries to do theology in light of the modern disciplines of science and humanities.)
  8. Thomas Oden, Systematic Theology in 3 volumes: The Living God, The Word of Life, and Life in the Spirit. (I had the privilege of meeting and working together briefly with Thomas Oden at a WEA Theological consultation a few summers ago. He is a delightful and humble man. His systematic “paleo-orthodoxy” is designed to help us to see what Christians have “everywhere and always believed.”)
  9. Donald Bloesch’s Christian Foundations series in 7 volumes: Theology of Word and Spirit, Holy Scripture, God Almighty, Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit, The Church, and The Last Things. (Bloesch is an evangelical who is sympathetic to Barth, but is also willing to critique him where he feels necessary. Bloesch’s genius is being able to summarize diverse theological viewpoints in a well-worded phrase or sentence, while setting his own position against that backdrop. He takes some getting used to reading, but I continue to use his works as introductory texts in my seminary theology classes.)
  10. N.T. Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God series. This includes: The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God. (Wright, of course, is probably one of the most important living biblical theologians. I must confess that I have not paid as much attention to these as I should (I’ve spent most of my time in the third volume on Resurrection), but these are undisputably important works for any pastor to be aware of these days.)

There you have it. I’m guessing that the above 10 “big theology works” represent somewhere in the range of 25,000 pages. Let’s see… at 10 pages a day, this will only take about 7 years to finish. What are you waiting for?

So what do you think? Have I missed anything much more important?

Updike and the “Funny Theologian”

John Updike, the American novelist, died last week. I haven’t read much of Updike, though I did read one of his novels while I was studying at McGill. (I actually managed to read a lot of novels while commuting when I lived in Montreal, including The Hobbit, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco), all while riding trains and buses!) 

Lots of commentators have spoken of Updike’s affinity for Barth. But I found a 1992 article by John McTavish (who, at the time of writing, was a Canadian United Church minister) in Theology Today entitled, “John Updike and the Funny Theologian.” As the McTavish puts it, “Barth, said Updike once, is ‘a funny theologian,’ adding wryly, ‘They’re not all funny.'” The article explores Barth’s doctrine of the covenant of grace as seen through three of Updike’s novels: Rabbit, Run (1960), The Centaur (1963), and Of the Farm (1965). Worth the read when you have a few minutes.

 I know personally that Roger’s Version (the one Updike novel I’ve read) comes at you from left field, especially the descriptions of the wild (wild at so many levels) dream sequences of the divinity professor turned agnostic. At the time, I wasn’t tuned into the “Barthian” influences in Updike so it would be interesting to read some of the above mentioned novels through those lenses. Anyone here read any of these three novels? Comments on what you saw in his work?

Theology of Trust?

I have a colleague who is looking for a good theological work on the theme of “trust.” I am looking for your input. Have you read a good theologically oriented book on the theme of trust? What would you recommend?

If you are thinking of mentioning Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace, no need. That one is already on the list. I’ve also seen Martin Marty’s 2003 book, Speaking of Trust,  but don’t have access to it. Has anyone read it and can say something about it? 

Beyond that, any other suggestions?

“Good works”

I just finished over my lunch hour this enjoyable little book called Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms. (My family will never let me live this down–as a kid I used to read the dictionary; then I was co-author of one; now I’m still reading ’em…anyways…) I’ll do a little review of the book later, but for now, here’s a sampler of a great entry that says so much by saying so little.

Works, Good \gud wuhrks\ n.

What you do because you don’t have to do anything.

Your friend invites you to dinner. You ask, “What can I bring?”
Your friend answers, “Nothing; there is nothing you can bring. I’ve got it all covered.”
Out of gratitude, you bring something anyway.

Now read this article again. But . . . 

For “friend” substitute “Lord.”
For “invites you to dinner” substitute “saves you from your sins.”
For “bring” substitute “do.”

Rolf A Jacobson, ed. Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms p. 181.

One Book Meme

This “One Book Meme” (which showed up on Brad Penner’s blog Pensive) was fun to think through. I reproduce it here with some editing of categories, and my own answers, of course!  Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what a Meme is–I had to look it up, too). I found a simple and helpful definition of Meme here:

In the context of web logs / ‘blogs / blogging and other kinds of personal web sites it’s some kind of list of questions that you saw somewhere else and you decided to answer the questions. Then someone else sees them and does them and so on and so on.

I answered one category a day for the last 10 or so days. Here’s my responses. 

1) One book that changed your life

The Holy Bible. [If you think I’m trying to sound super-spiritual here, I’m not. It’s just true that the Bible has had a more profound and qualitatively different kind of impact on my life than any other book.]

2) One book you have read more than once

Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace. [I read it about once every year or two since it came out in 1996. It is one of the more profound books I’ve read in the last decade, and I still use it regularly for a class I teach on Forgiveness and Reconciliation. I feel I am better able to engage it critically now than when it first came out, but I still benefit from reading it over again.]

3) One book you want on a desert island

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/2. [I concur with Brad Penner on this one. I, too, would like to pick a “set”, in which case it would be, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. But if I could only have one volume, I’d pick CD IV/2 (or maybe IV/3, but they split that one up into two part-part volumes!). It is in my opinion the closest thing to the “centre” of Barth’s work–and pretty long, too! That would help especially if I was stuck on the island for a long time!]

4) One book that made you laugh

Franz Kafka’s The Trial. [I realize the book isn’t necessarily supposed to make you laugh, because it is really a tragic tale.  But I laughed at the absurdity of modern bureaucracy portrayed in the book.]

5) One book that made you cry

Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil. [Canadian General Dallaire’s autobiographical recounting of the frustrations and nightmares he had in trying to stop the genocide in Rwanda–and all the darkness and human failure that went with it–all while trying to convince the international community to listen and to support him in the mission. The book is long and brutal, but compelling in every way.]

6) One book you wish had been written

With Apologies to Russia: Retractions of a Rogue Dispensationalist

7) One book you wish had never been written

Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-Yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished Christian [Please!! I think G. K. Chesterton may be on to something when he said,  “A man who stops believing in God doesn’t believe nothing; he believes anything.” The fact that I’m not even sure that I managed to copy the title correctly tells me that this book does more to confuse than clarify. It may sound clever, but it is far from satisfying for anyone looking for any sense of theological coherence. As one critic put it, it is only selectively generous, and not always obviously orthodox!]

8 ) One book you were forced to read and glad that you did

Oliver O’Donovan, Desire of the Nations. [This was one of several required texts in my very first doctoral seminars at McGill in 2000. Frankly, I didn’t have a clue about what O’Donovan was saying, but I knew it was profound as I stumbled through it. I’m glad I read it because it opened to me the whole field of the intersection of political theology and ecclesiology. A runner up here would be T. F. Torrance’s Space, Time and Resuurection. Again, I wasn’t entirely sure I even understood what Torrance was talking about, but I distinctly remember thinking, “This changes everything!”] 

9) One book you have been meaning to read but its size has prevented you from reading it

Charles Taylor, A Secular Age. [I admire Professor Taylor’s work very much, though I have to admit I haven’t yet had the courage to tackle this nearly 900 page book in which he traces the development of the idea of secularity in the modern world relative to the presence of religion in society.]

10) One book everyone ought to read

I’ll admit I can’t think of any book (other than the Bible) that I could unqualifiedly say that EVERYONE should read. So I’ll narrow my selection to saying that all students of theology should read Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology: An Introduction[The title can be slightly misleading because the book isn’t really an overview of Barth’s theology, but his theological reflections about the very task of engaging in evangelical theology, including the challenges that theologians eventually face, including doubt, temptation, isolation, etc. If I were to retitle the book, it would be Spiritual Formation for Theologians. ]

How about you?