Monday, June 30, 2008

New Book by Dan Treier

Daniel Treier’s new book, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture is out tomorrow from Baker Academic. This follows his previous book, Virtue and the Voice of God, and a number of edited projects that I won’t bother to link here.

Treier also has quite a few articles out already this year. These are the ones that I recall, and I’ll add more if I think of any:

(with R. Michael Allen) “Dogmatic Theology and Biblical Perspectives on Justification: A Reply to Leithart”, Westminster Theological Journal, Spring 2008, pp. 105-110.

"Biblical Theology and/or Theological Interpretation of Scripture? Defining the Relationship," Scottish Journal of Theology 61 no. 1 (2008), pp. 16-31.

“A Looser “Canon”? Relating William Abraham’s Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology to Biblical Interpretation 101” Journal of Theological Interpretation, 2.1 (2008), pp. 101-115.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

ATLA digitizes historical monographs collection

ATLA (The American Theological Library Association) is teaming up with EBSCO Publishing to digitize its significant collection of historical monographs. From the press release:

"The monograph collections will contain more than 29,000 monographs covering religion and theology. The majority of the monographs date from 1850 through 1923 with the earliest monograph from 1322. The monograph collections are estimated to include 7.5 million pages of content. The historical serials collection will contain more than 1,200 serials from the early 19th Century to the early 20th Century and are estimated to include 5.4 million pages of content."

Friday, June 27, 2008

new article... "Where is Karl Barth in Modern European History?"

I've been reading the newish journal Modern Intellectual History with some interest, and was very excited to see the abstract for Rudy Koshar's article coming out in the next issue. The question of Barth's place in modern European intellectual history sorely needed to be asked and addressed outside of purely theological circles... perhaps we can blame ourselves for hermetically sealing the dogmatic task against outside influences, but I don't for a minute think that this is the whole or even much of the problem. Koshar's article will hopefully contribute to the current "Barth Renaissance", perhaps even more so because he is not a theologian. Modern German religious thought is actually a more recent development in Koshar's career, and we should look forward to more good stuff; apparently he intends to venture into European political theology over the next several years. Read more about Koshar here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Ecclesiastical Law Journal

The Ecclesiastical Law Journal isn't an especially new journal, having been around for two decades or so, but it has recently signed on with Cambridge University Press and started publishing three issues each year. As far as I know it doesn't have as broad a readership in theological circles, though I think many discussions about political theology these days would benefit from the research and reviews of EccLJ. The journal also offers a venue for Protestant church law and polity, which fills a significant gap. From the CUP website,

"the Journal publishes articles on all aspects of ecclesiastical law. Particular emphasis is given to the regulation of the Church of England and worldwide Anglican Communion, but the range of coverage includes comparative studies of the laws of other faiths and of the interface between law and religion in a global perspective. Through its regular Comment section, the Ecclesiastical Law Journal provides a critical analysis of emergent trends written by distinguished scholars and practitioners in Europe and North America. The Journal also includes book reviews and summaries of recent ecclesiastical cases determined by both secular and church courts, together with a parliamentary report, a brief summary of the proceedings of national Synods, and resumés of major international conferences."

Many of the people connected with the Ecclesiastical Law Society and this journal are also at the Cardiff Law School's Centre for Law and Religion, directed by Norman Doe (whose Canon Law in the Anglican Communion has quickly become a standard text on the subject). In the U.S., the closest parallel to the centre is probably the Emory University's Center for the Study of Law and Religion, although the center at Emory seems to spend more time with "culture war" type issues than Cardiff's does.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Nothing special about the public sphere: a reply to Mark Cladis

Mark Cladis has a new post on The Immanent Frame where he discusses a model for public life as it relates to religion. As a "variegated topography", the public is (supposedly) not set in hierarchical relation to religion, either above it in secularist fashion or below it à la various integralisms, fundamentalisms, etc. Religion is "nothing special" to the public insofar as it is not categorically singled out but rather a real and integrated part of the variegated whole of public life.

I'm constantly amused, pleased, and troubled by post-secular musings like this. The "return to religion" hailed by sociologists, philosophers, and political theorists should be encouraging insofar as my work in theology... in a religious community... is represented under this "return". But (setting aside the silly notion that we had even gone elsewhere to begin with), I am troubled by the way that religion is often framed theoretically by these (now) interested parties.

It struck me the other day when reading an article about Muslim piety that religion tends to only attract wide interest when it has political or social implications as defined by a public concern apart from the religious community itself. There is an increased interest in religious life, but often as a peculiarity... as a still-new spectacle in the public imagination. As much as Cladis attempts to offer his model as a successful alternative to religious domination or marginalization, I'm not convinced that the "variegated" public landscape he maps out takes religion seriously enough, or is self-critical enough concerning "the public sphere".

As an example, here are two assertions made by Cladis, each of which seems to put the other in question [bolds are mine, and his emphases are not carried over]:

"A working assumption in this model is that public voices will usually be varied in form and content. Some voices may be explicitly religious; others may be explicitly non-religious. But these distinctions do not matter, according to this model, because no voice is treated as a special case. Or, to say the same thing differently, liberty of conscience and freedom of speech deem that each voice is a special case worthy of a hearing."

...but then:

"The Evangelical Environmental Network, for example—which is concerned about the relation between hurricanes, climate change, and the poor—is lobbying Congress to enact laws to stem global warming.

The proposed model would allow into the public realm these evangelical voices and their religious arguments that address environmental policy. It would not, however, permit government funding for evangelical groups to administer environmental programs, insofar as these groups promote a distinctively theological point of view in the delivery of services."

Cladis' point in arguing that "religion is not special" is that religion is not categorically special, but rather shares a place in a variegated public with other voices. This is clear enough in his description of free exercise, but when he moves to the question of establishment it appears that religion is quite "special", and not in a way that can be approved for public consumption. Does Cladis' change of policy stem from the fact that we're not dealing with religious "voices" now, but rather a "delivery of services"? Such justification seems rather weak to me. Presumably (in this model) a public investment in public religion (via its services) accepts such services on the basis of a religion that has already been deemed "not a special case" as regards its public voice... that is, on the basis of the public argument made by this religious voice for public programs without paticular reference to the religion as a public good itself. What, then, prevents government funding for religious programs that have not been proposed by a special religious voice, not been accepted by special religious criteria, and not been enforced for special religious reasons?

In other words, what changes between the "initial" case that Cladis speaks of and the eventual exclusion of religion from the public sphere? He writes, "this model goes on to acknowledge that, in some sense, religion is a special subject (in light of particular socio-historical circumstances). " Does this mean that its special status is circumstantial? If so, how strong an argument can he really make? Does this model then offer any prescriptive word to situations of Shari'a tradition, or secularist regimes? It doesn't seek to alter an American form of separation, but would it try to impose one in a different societal situation? I don't think it could or should, if it tried.

So the model seems stuck between being incoherent because of its leap from public religious voice to disallowance of religious sponsorship, or else impotent before custom and historical circumstance in modelling anything about whether and how religion is a "special subject" in public life. I think this results from the fact that it is still more or less rooted in a secularist framing of the public that cannot understand religion properly... rather than stopping at critiquing Habermas' conception of religion as a "special language", Cladis should recognize that he is setting up the language (or the language rules) of secular public discourse as "special", when it is in reality nothing of the sort.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

PC(USA) approves revision of Heidelberg Catechism translation

The PC(USA) 218th General Assembly is currently in session, and discussing a number of interesting issues for the life of the church. One that I’d like to focus on here is the new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism. Here is a background piece on the proposal, and here is a report on the vote of approval for it.

The new translation would update the official 1962 version that is standard for PC(USA) and seen by many as inadequate in comparison to other English versions. Specific areas of the catechism that have been singled out for revision are as follows:

"Specifically, it distorts Reformed accounts of God’s covenant (4.019, 4.074) and of redemption and eschatology (4.055) and obscures the Reformed teaching of our adoption in Christ (4.033). Moreover, it misleads the reader by suggesting that this historic text took a clear stand on issues of sexual orientation and practice that are lively issues before us in the church today — when in fact these were not subjects of discussion in the sixteenth-century church (4.087)."

The most controversial section (though not the most theologically interesting) is, of course, q. 87. Unsurprisingly, Robert Gagnon offers a dissenting voice on the translation and believes that the proposal is for the most part a “homosexualist agenda”. Who knows? Perhaps it is. If the sponsoring churches from his presbytery are representative of others then perhaps the issue has been pushed in communities with specific intentions on the issue of sexuality. But realistically, this is no reason to reject a revised translation of the document. The fact that q. 87 glosses 1 Cor. 6:9 without mentioning homosexuality in its gloss is no reason to redact it accordingly; a footnote mentioning the scriptural citation should do just fine. One can always analyze the moral teachings of the Heidelberg divines in a commentary on the Catechism without needing to change the actual text of it.

The most significant of the proposed changes involves language of “covenant”, where in q. 19 and 74 reference to the “rites of the Old Covenant” is to be changed to “ceremonies of the law” (ceremonien des gesetzes/ceremoniis legis) and reference to “Old/New Covenant” is to be changed to “Old/New Testament”. R. Scott Clark of Heidelblog offers an interesting analysis of the covenant language issue.

The last two issues involve salvation… in q. 33 “accepted” should be rendered “adopted” (angenommen/adoptati) and in q. 55 “…believers one and all, as partakers of the Lord Christ, and all his treasures and gifts, shall share in one fellowship” should change from the future tense to the present.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lutheran scholastics in English translation

Although English translations of Reformed scholastic theology are readily attained through a number of presses, it can be more difficult to find the theologians of Lutheran scholasticism.

One little-known publisher that has done a wonderful job of providing these resources is Repristination Press. The press (I'm assuming) is named after the repristination theology of the 19th century, a movement which rejected the Prussian Union whereby lutheran and reformed churches were joined by government decree to form the Evangelical Christian Church. The repristinators were also in opposition to the Erlangen School (from which many of the better known 19th century German theologians come), rejecting its constructive interaction with modern methods of inquiry in biblical studies and theology. The repristination movement, and confessional Lutheranism following in its train, are not generally recognized as offering any significant influence to Lutheranism or modern theology as a whole. Some wonderful works of dogmatic theology are there, however, for those willing to investigate. In much the same way as reformed scholasticism has received significant attention, the work of publishers like Repristination Press will hopefully lay the groundwork for more interest in the Lutheran counterparts of Beza, Vermigli, Turretin, and Wollebius. I have their translation of Johann Gerhard's An Explanation of the History of the Suffering and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ and two pamphlets of Hallgrim Petursson's hymns. The books are very plain (a good thing, in my opinion) and well bound. Repristination items can also be ordered through the Concordia Publishing House website or through Amazon.

...and speaking of Concordia Publishing, there are a number of great resources to be found there as well. The Chemnitz Studies series has been available for some time, but more recently they have begun to translate Johann Gerhard's magisterial Loci Communes, with the first two volumes out so far. The Chemnitz items should be a known quantity, and Buswell Library has recently ordered the Gerhard volumes, so I will be able to take a look at them soon.

I'll offer one more resource for now. Studium Excitare, the journal of confessional language studies at Martin Luther College, has been an impressive quarterly student publication around since 2002. From the website, "Studium Excitare is a quarterly journal dedicated to the translation of Orthodox Confessional Lutheran writings, focusing on the teaching of today's Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod." Apparently the journal was updated a few months ago, and I haven't explored it since that time. Editorial pieces and research articles are provided by the students, but the most exciting part of this journal is the translation work done by the students.

Anglicans in Jerusalem...

To preface these comments, I want to say that I stand on the conservative side of matters in the current Anglican crisis. I’m even in print supporting and analyzing the work of the Church of Nigeria in its canonical response of removing the Archbishop of Canterbury as the focus of unity in its canons. I am strongly supportive of the work of orthodox Anglicans for the unity and purity of the church’s doctrine and life.

Too often, however, I think that conservatives are callous and fail to find any plank in their own eye as they carry out their service to God. I think this callousness is especially apparent in some of the actions taken by the organizers of GAFCON, as well as by some of those reporting on the event on Anglican blogs.

Bp. Suhail Dawani of Jerusalem has for some time been pleading with Akinola and others to not hold GAFCON in his diocese. He even received word that the conference was to be held in Jerusalem through a press release rather than through any request for permission on the part of Akinola or others. Rather than respect Dawani’s objection to the location of the conference, the organizers of GAFCON have in large part moved forward with their own intentions, claiming prophetic inspiration for the location, which seems in this case to trump brotherly kindness. Now… as if this weren’t bad enough… we have David Virtue reporting on Bp. Dawani’s recent sermon in shocking terms. “In a strained, invitation-only service that saw much diplomatic feinting and ecclesiastical double-talk”, and “In stern language, that reflected censure rather than welcome,” … have we forgotten that this is Dawani’s own diocese? That GAFCON is meeting there against his wishes? Have we become so partisan that we have abandoned the bonds of charity or any ability to recognize where we might have done something wrong ourselves?

Comments from David Virtue’s readers are even worse:

I don't think that there's the least bit of doubt as to whom Dawani answers to....and it ISN'T CHRIST, evidently.”

Dawani is Kate's [Katharine Jefferts Schori’s] sock puppet undergoing a perpetual prostate exam.”

About the only significance of Dawani's speech is to clearly highlight the continuing intransigence of the revisionists led by Hades' little helper Katie-in-the-clown-suit.”

While I generally support the more conservative calls for renewal in the Anglican Communion, I have severe misgivings about the way that conservative leaders have carried out this renewal. I do hope that GAFCON is an edifying contribution to current problems in world Anglicanism, but I worry that those who have organized it are quickly losing sight of the bonds of affection and embracing the inertia of a movement rather than the lovingkindness of the Gospel. There is no reason to demonize Bp. Dawani as the pundits have done… it only works to justify claims from other Anglicans and the media that GAFCON is all about division rather than unity.
[image credits: ELO photo/Matthew Davies, © 2008 Episcopal Life Online]

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Complexities of ecclesial existence in multi-faith Britain

I have followed from a distance some of the recent speeches, motions, and responses from the Church of England concerning its place and role within the pluralist context of British society. While the current discussions are of a regional and denominational nature, they say a lot about the work of the Church in other contexts as well.

I’m torn about how to approach this. I was very pleased with Rowan Williams’ lecture of 7 February, Civil and Religious Law in England. While it faced much opposition in the press, its argument was abysmally looked over by sensational headlines that portrayed the Archbishop as being in favor of the most extreme and dehumanizing enforcement of Islamic legal traditions, when Williams said nothing of the sort, spoke in particular against it, and was rather nuanced in his constructive interaction with sharia law. For many of us, the most praiseworthy aspect of the lecture was its severe critique of “the universal vision of post-Enlightenment politics” rather than any particular gesture to Muslim, Jewish, or secular legal structures. As I read him, Williams was not offering an endorsement of other religions in a way that might compromise his own role within the Anglican Communion; rather he was joining hands in charity with another faith to address the abuses of a post-Enlightenment civil order.

Those who criticized Williams for his abandoning his faith or nation, for harboring religious violence through a defense of sharia law, etc. , were simply not listening to him. At the same time, I can appreciate the criticism coming from Christians and Muslims alike that address more specifically how his appropriation of Islamic law was unsuccessful. Such a pluralist argument against post-Enlightenment theo-political vision as Williams offered always treads dangerous ground. Khalid Mahmood, a Muslim Labour MP, insisted that one cannot pick and choose from the sharia tradition and that Williams has not understood the traditions he poses in opposition to the civil order. The bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, insisted upon the Christian roots of British law and the opposition of Islamic law to core values of this tradition. While the Christian roots of secular law are unquestionably present, what is less clear is whether that is what Williams is intending to dispute. Quite the contrary, he opposes the very secularization of law which has done violence to its Christian roots in the Western tradition. That he does this with other religions is a result of the pluralist context of post-secular society rather than any abandonment of the Christian religion. Whether he is successful is another matter, and here I do continue to listen to the critiques of Williams with an attentive ear.

More recently, the Church of England has dealt with controversy over Paul Eddy's motion for the General Synod, now delayed rather conveniently until after Lambeth, on The Uniqueness of Christ in Multi-faith Britain. Again, we find Bishop Nazir-Ali in support of the motion along with 123 other members of Synod. Where I can find room for ambiguity of interpretation in Williams' proposal for civil and religious law, Eddy's call for a statement on Christological uniqueness seems rather straightforward. One is reminded immediately of Dominus Iesus, which, while questionable for Protestants as to its statements about the Church, is also simply a straightforward confession of faith as to Christ himself, and one that should not be subject to murmurs of concern by clergymen too abashed to speak a clear word about the uniqueness of Christ. That Eddy's motion has been set aside seems to demonstrate a lack of consideration of what is most central to the faith.

Both of these recent controversies touch on similar matters... the life of the Church in a pluralist society, its relationship with other religions (Islam in particular), and matters of faith as they are related to matters of institutional order within which the faith of necessity operates. Williams and Eddy each offer perspectives that are controversial because of how they run against popular understanding of the life of the Church in the world. Where the structure of ecclesial life is an ambiguous matter I think it's worthwhile to leave criticisms open for consideration. In other cases, however, it seems that matters of faith are inappropriately interpreted as political statements rather than as acts of confession. This leaves me somewhere in between those who are appalled at the Archbishop of Canterbury's handling of his flock and those who are questioning the way and extent to which our flock should in fact identify itself, with its Lord and with its own role as confessor and proclaimer of that Lord to the peoples of the world who await the redeeming Gospel of Christ. On either side I believe that there is a crisis of inability to identify the distinction between political questions of the life of the Church in the world (particularities of which will allow answers to differ) and the firm articles at the core of our faith which must not be swept up by the identity crisis of unfamiliar times.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Henry Chadwick passes away

I just learned that Henry Chadwick, the great scholar of church history and especially of early Christianity, died this past Tuesday in London.  Here is a very detailed obituary from The Times.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Call for Papers- The Church Fathers in Early Modern England this through the North American Patristic Society, and I've also seen it posted on H-Net. I don't know anything more about the call than what's here.

CFP: (Collection) Resurrecting the “First Five Hundred”:
The Church Fathers in Early Modern England

In his “Challenge Sermon” delivered at St. Paul’s Cross on November 26, 1559, Bishop John Jewel argued that the Church Fathers were the true architects of the Christian religion and that the English people would no longer be subjected to the sort of medieval tampering that had led the one true Church astray. “The first five hundred years of the church,” he would argue, “are worth more than the whole thousand that followed afterward.” For this collection, we are seeking essays that address the topic of the Church Fathers in early modern English culture. Topics addressed may include (but will not be limited to) the rhetorical, political, ethical, and material uses of the Church Fathers and the influence of the Fathers on education, rhetoric, science, philosophy, philology, the stage, book production, devotional and polemical writing, women and writing, the body, colonialist discourse, and the rise of capitalism.Please address queries to the collection’s editors, Mitchell Harris ( and Steven Matthews ( Essay proposals should be between 500 and 800 words. Completed essays should be between 4,000 and 9,000 words in text, approximately 16-36 double-spaced pages, and should conform to the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003). Please use endnotes. Proposals and completed essays should be sent electronically as a Microsoft Word document or PDF file.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

as nails not fastened...

I have been toying with the idea of starting a blog… my wife thought it very unlike me (it is). My brother advised against it as it would be a time suck (it may be). But here I am. I’ve scanned some theology blogs to get a handle on how I might get started. Ben Meyers offered a theological history of blogging to start Faith and Theology. James K.A. Smith shared his vision for Fors Clavigera. Der Evangelische Theologe decided to cut to the chase with an intro-by-way-of-FAQ.

With all that’s out there, starting a theology blog is an intimidating venture… but this may be a perfect time for me to jump in, while everyone is looking the other way at conferences on Barth or Augustine. I think I’ll begin by explaining the title of my blog as a way of sharing my thoughts about what it is I intend to do.

From Ecclesiastes 12:11, “The words of the wise are as goads; and as nails well fastened are the words of the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.” The Vulgate speaks of these words “as nails deeply fastened in”… “quasi clavi in altum defixi.”

Clavi non defixi is a place to offer thoughts about theology and other subjects of interest to me. The conversations (diatribes? shouts out into an empty audience?) here will (I hope!) be well considered, though not burdened by the need to be “words of the wise”. These thoughts are not as nails fastened deeply in; on the contrary, they are clavi non defixi.