Saturday, December 31, 2011
Thursday, December 22, 2011
"With the absence of an 'interpretive police,' in the first edition ofThe Fall of Interpretation, James K. A. Smith worried how to keep at bay the charge of relativism. This revised edition unambiguously affirms the particularity of the Nicene tradition as the locale for genuine interpretation of Scripture. Smith cogently argues that we need the church's authoritative theological interpretation of Scripture to live with the varying degrees of the author's 'real presence' in the text."--Hans Boersma, J. I. Packer Professor of Theology, Regent College"The first edition of James K. A. Smith's Fall of Interpretation cast a clear, sharp light on the important topic of difference in interpretation, and the contribution he made to the theological understanding of hermeneutics has still not been fully appreciated. This second edition, with a new introduction and an added chapter that draws on Smith's further years of philosophical, theological exploration, makes an even more powerful claim for the attention of anyone concerned about the prospects for hermeneutics."--A. K. M. Adam, lecturer in New Testament, University of Glasgow
"In the hands of the unskilled or unwise, hermeneutics can be dangerous, fueling a blaze of apocalyptic fire where interpretation dissolves creaturely goodness into a relativistic morass. Nonetheless, as Smith persuasively argues, interpretation is inevitable. To reject it for 'immediacy' is to close one's eyes to the obvious. Smith shows how hermeneutics emerges not from our sinfulness but from our creaturely goodness. This second edition guides the reader along Smith's own path, resisting the 'emergent' temptation in favor of 'catholic' substance."--D. Stephen Long, professor of systematic theology, Marquette University
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
"Being Reformed" is too regularly the banner under which we enthusiastically assimilate to the age. "Being Reformed" is the warrant and rationale for our cultural engagement to the point that it becomes a license to have our cake and eat it, too. "Being Reformed" is the badge of our refusal to be fundamentalists or evangelicals or conservatives or "concordists" or what have you, which only gives us permission to happily assimilate to the spirit of the age (there are both "left" and "right" versions of this available).
If we learn anything from Saul Bellow, we might look for continuing education from Klaas Schilder.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
I have no peroration or clarion note on which to close. Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the "transcendent" and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Dont' be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.I shall leave you with a few words from George Konrad, the Hungarian dissident who retained his integrity through some crepuscular times, and who survived his persecutors by writing Antipolitics and The Loser, and many other lapidary essays and fictions. (When, after the emancipation of his country and society, they came to him and offered him the presidency, he said, "No, thanks.") He wrote this in 1987, when the dawn seemed a good way off:Have a lived life instead of a career. Put yourself in the safekeeping of good taste. Lived freedom will compensate you for a few losses. ... If you don't like the style of others, cultivate your own. Get to know the tricks of reproduction, be a self-publisher even in conversation, and then the joy of working can fill your days.May it be so with you, and may you keep your powder dry for the battles ahead, and know when and how to recognise them.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Readers hoping for a condensed version of Taylor's 2007 tome, A Secular Age, will not find it here.
Thursday, December 08, 2011
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
As you'll note from my recent Perspectives article, "A Peculiar People," I've been thinking a lot about the dynamics of immigration and how that intersects with my own experience of being an immigrant--and being Reformed. That's not just because my Reformed community finds its heritage in an immigrant population; rather, there is something inherent to this expression of the Reformed faith that is poised to appreciate the precarious place of the immigrant and the exile. This is because the people of God inhabit that equally precarious place between common grace andantithesis--between the persistent affirmation that the whole earth is the Lord's (Psalm 24:1) and the heartbreaking recognition that the whole world lies under the sway of the evil one (1 John 5:19). We serve the risen, coming King of creation but are constantly aware of the governorship of the enemy in this meanwhile. And so we are like citizens who return to our homeland only to find it under foreign rule. We are not so different from Israel, who returned from exile only to find themselves exiles in their homeland now run by the Roman empire.
At the heart of what I've imbibed from Kuyper and Dooyeweerd and Runner and Seerveld is the sense that the covenant people of God will (and should) never quite be "at home" anywhere; the people of God hold citizenship in a far country which should make us uncomfortable but constructive inhabitants of any culture. We are called to seek the welfare of the city in which we are exiled (Jeremiah 29:4-7) while also learning to sing the Lord's song in a strange land (Psalm 137:4). We shouldn't lock ourselves up in ex-pat enclaves, as it were--forming holy huddles and circling the wagons to protect ourselves from "the world." But neither should we gleefully assimmilate to majority cultures characterized by disordered love. Reformed Christians, for example, should never easily be described as "good Americans," it seems to me. We should instead by characterized by a kind of immigrant distance, which can also manifest itself as cautious gratitude.
Sunday, December 04, 2011
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Religion is not universal or necessary. Many people live without religion—in fact, prefer it that way. That bald fact strongly counters the notion that people—as people—are intrinsically religious or that religion is inextricable from the human condition. That might seem obvious, yet some scholars continue to write about religion as an inevitable force. Paul Froese, an associate professor of sociology at Baylor University, calls religion an "essential aspect of the human condition." Beliefs about God, he continues, "lie at the core of human understanding," and religion is universal and essentially unalterable. Reginald W. Bibby, a sociologist at the University of Lethbridge, describes religion as one of the "essential needs" of humanity, like food. The existence and recent increase in apostasy renders such notions highly suspect.
Talking with him, as with Katie, I was reminded of the so-called Tercer Mundista priests I met in Mexico in the early 1970s, who broke with the Vatican and actively supported revolutionary movements in Central America. Both Alec and Katie possessed that calm sense of devotion to a higher calling—not a certainty of belief so much as a certainty of purpose. They both spoke of the movement in unabashedly spiritual terms. And while neither talked explicitly of religion, they seemed to have faith that they were progressing toward the kind of social system that would provide participants a measure of peace and “mental fulfillment.”
Monday, November 21, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
Almost a year ago, I published an article in our denominational magazine, The Banner, that obliquely addressed some unique tensions (and confusion) at this intersection of Reformed identity and ethnic heritage. In "Buried Treasures?" I noted it this way:
[S]ome have been rightly concerned that what was often valued as “Reformed” was really just “Dutch.” And they rightly understand that the proclamation of God’s kingdom, and the invitation into the people of God, is not a matter of taking on the particularities of some ethnic heritage. So we have spent a generation sifting the tradition, as it were, in order to separate the dross from the treasures of the Spirit.
That’s a crucial concern. Yet I worry that something else has happened along the way: that we have inadvertently fallen into the trap of thinking that Reformed Christian faith is a kind of “content” or “message” that can be distilled and then dropped into other so-called “relevant” or “contemporary” containers.
I've just published a new article in Perspectives that now follows up on this issue, emphasizing the importance of "de-ethnicizing" the Reformed tradition without thereby losing the distinctive theological gifts and accents that we inherit from this specific incarnation of the Reformed tradition which we have inherited from thinkers like Kuyper and Bavinck and Dooyeweerd--who were, providentially, gathered as a community in the Netherlands. We should neither identify Reformed distinctives as if they are merely "Dutch" nor should we throw out such Reformed accents just because they have been inherited from a particular community. As I put it at one point in this new article, "A Peculiar People":
Because a lot of CRC folk—including, it seems to me, denominational leaders— have unwittingly bought the historians' ethnic reductionism, they have also implicitly accepted the Reformed = Dutch equation. As a result, the dynamics of immigrant embarrassment wash onto our denomination's theological heritage. Rightly wanting to unhook the CRC from mere "Dutchness," but having confused Reformed practice with Dutch ethnicity, eager "reformers" in the CRC advocate throwing overboard all sorts of Reformed theological distinctives in the name of relevance, reform, and even anti-racism.
We need a different paradigm. We need to refuse the tendency to reduce Reformed identity to mere Dutch heritage. We need to resist accounts that confuse theological distinctives with ethnic habits. I have elsewhere argued that those of us in historically "ethnic" Reformed denominations need to do some work "sifting" our ethnic habits from our theological inheritance. This is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, we can't let merely ethnic preferences masquerade as theological distinctives; that is, we can't allow Dutch traditionalism to parade under a "Reformed" banner. But I don't think this is our biggest problem today. No, we need to appreciate the second edge of this point: while we cannot allow mere Dutchness to mask itself as "Reformed," neither can we jettison the riches of a Reformed theological heritage under the pretense that it is merely an ethnic inheritance. We can't confuse Reformed babies with Dutch bathwater.
Read the rest of the essay.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011
My first post begins a little series that will look at Saul Bellow's recently published essay, "The Jewish Writer in America"--which raises some interesting parallels for Reformed folk in a North American context (with obvious differences as well).
On a related note: watch for the release of The Best of the Reformed Journal, a compilation of some of the landmark essays that appeared in the predecessor to Perspectives.
Monday, November 07, 2011
THE ONE-FINGER DISSENT
Uh, I’m going to have to disagree actually. I know you haven’t finished talking, but I can already tell that I disagree. I’m pretty sure the professor disagrees, too. I mean, psh, I can see that she’s nodding and smiling at you, but she and I have a more subtle understanding. Right, professor? Professor?
Saturday, November 05, 2011
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Shakespeare + Hughes = Jackpot.
This book is brilliant in its conception and stunning in its content. Part of the Ecco "Essential Poets" series, Hughes made a brilliant editorial decision: rather than simply anthologizing Shakespeare's poetry (i.e., the sonnets), Hughes decided to de- and recontextualize passages from the plays as poetry. As he notes, speaking of Macbeth's soliloquy, "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow...":
[I]f one specifies that "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow" is spoken by MacBeth as he faces the leafy army that will put an end to his spellbound, murderous career (having just heard that his wife, who prompted the course of action that converted him from the king's loyal champion to a regicidal tyrant, has died), it actually limits the use of the passage for the readers. Its relevance is then confined to Macbeth's unique predicament in a sacrosanct, old-fashioned play rather than applied directly to our immediate plight as ephemeral creatures facing the abyss on a spinning ball of self-delusion. Obviously by reading the passage out of context, one is missing the great imaginative experience of the drama--but one is missing that anyway. The speech on its own is something else, read in less than a minute, learned in less than five, still wonderful, and a pure bonus.
This decontextualization works brilliantly. It makes Shakespeare's language and psychology come alive in a new immediacy. All of a sudden one sees how Shakespeare is part of a lineage of English poetry, part of the stream that will give us Yeats and Eliot and Larkin and Hughes.
One has to wonder whether this work--the work of an "anthologist" now immortalized in Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist--isn't part of Hughes lasting testament. Indeed, I found myself hearing Shakespeare anew, almost as if the language had the same broad earthiness of Hughes' Yorkshire dialect. The very context seemed to help me hear Shakespeare anew, as a voice of England, and not just the sort of Oxford snobbery that usually accompanies his aficionados.
In sum, a marvelous little book--one of those delights to which one returns again and again, to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow.
View all my reviews
Sunday, October 23, 2011
I'm pretty excited about a new book I co-edited with my friend and colleague, David Smith: Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning, now available from Eerdmans. The book is a collection of case studies in which professors from a range of disciplines (including economics, physics, kinesiology, psychology, history, literature, and philosophy) extend and incorporate the pedagogical genius of Christian practices into the Christian college classroom. This grew out of a multi-year research group that was funded by the Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith; but the book also includes chapters by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung and Paul Griffiths, plenary speakers at our culminating conference.
"If you want to see great teaching in action, read this book. If you believe that college classes can be communities of learning where knowledge of self, others, and the world is sought in response to God’s call and the world’s need, read this book. If you yearn for pedagogical wisdom capable of sustaining resistance to consumerist and instrumentalist pressures on teaching and learning, read this book. . . . This excellent book is one of the best we have ever read on the subject of pedagogy. It is also one of the best we know on the subject of Christian practices."
— Craig Dykstra and Dorothy C. Bass
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Monday, October 10, 2011
Imagine the "Jesus" they'll be meeting.There is some data to go on, though: According to the 2008 Hartford Institute survey,47% of megachurch income typically goes to employee salariesand benefits, compared to 13% for missions and benevolence. According to Leadership Network, a Christian nonprofit, pastor salaries in megachurches can reachas high as $400,000 a year. The IRS monitors salaries and specifically prohibits shareholder-like pay for ministers and church employees. Still, popular personalities regularly command higher salaries.Churches maintain that monetary growth is just a means to the end of gaining new converts, not the other way around. On its website, Southland writes: "Some say, 'We don't need more churches. We're only draining the rolls of other churches.' Our hope is that we're draining the rolls of hell. More locations provide more opportunity for evangelism." For churches like Southland, paintball courts and letters to Britney are ultimately good because they help bring more people to God. Malls, similarly, are tools that bring in more members. But at what point does embracing commercial culture change one's religious message? While holding services in a renovated Dillards might not affect how worshipers see Jesus, giving away flat screen TVs and cars to new attendees as prizes on an Easter Sunday "egg hunt" probably does. (The hunt, hosted by Bay Area Fellowship of Corpus Cristi, TX, also served as a casting call for a new season of MTV's reality show "Made.") Even when they become shells of their former selves, malls' pasts never completely disappear, as Summer Grove's recycled mall Christmas decorations suggest.Whether you fasten on a steeple or add a glass facade, Americans remember malls as childhood fantasy lands, where they could meet Santa Claus and play with any toy. Perhaps it's not a bad bet, then, that as adults, they might come back to meet Jesus.
Thursday, October 06, 2011
Monday, October 03, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Well it appears that Google is now asking just that question.
[Thanks to Dieter Bouma for the pointer.]
Monday, September 19, 2011
Saturday, September 17, 2011
CSR Exchange With Christian Smith
Friday, September 16, 2011
Thursday, September 15, 2011
CSR Review Essay on Smith and Kelsey
This generated a response from Christian Smith, to which I replied, in a later issue of Christian Scholar's Review. I'll post that exchange in a couple of days.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
It’s not so much that these young Americans are living lives of sin and debauchery, at least no more than you’d expect from 18- to 23-year-olds. What’s disheartening is how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Friedman and Mandelbaum at one point praise the beauty of solutions that rise from the bottom up as opposed to the top down. This praise is not consciously insincere, but pretty plainly it does not accurately represent their operational plan. Friedman and Mandelbaum are men of the American elite, and they write to salute those members of the American elite who behave public-spiritedly and to scourge those who do not. They are winners, writing to urge other winners to have more of a care for their fellow citizens who are not winners.
And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that! Societies inescapably generate elites. Those elites can be public-spirited and responsible or they can be selfish and shortsighted. An elite can have concern and care for the less advantaged or it can callously disregard them. Maybe not surprisingly, the language of anti-elitism has often been a useful tool of the most rapacious and merciless among the elite.
American society has had a big serving of that ugly anti-elitist spirit in the recent past. It could use more of the generous responsible spirit Friedman and Mandelbaum recommend. They say less than might be wished about what a more public-spirited American elite might do. But they have eloquently described what such an elite should want to do.
my only hope of prosperity for England, or any other country, in whatever life they lead, is in their discovering and obeying men capable of Kinghood.
Friday, September 09, 2011
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Monday, September 05, 2011
In a way it is even humiliating to watch coal-miners working. It raises in you a momentary doubt about your own status as an ‘intellectual’ and a superior person generally. For it is brought home to you, at least while you are watching, that it is only because miners sweat their guts out that superior persons can remain superior. You and I and the editor of the Times Literary Sup., and the Nancy poets and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Comerade X, author of Marxism for Infants–all of us really owe the comparative decency of our lives to poor drudges underground, blackened to the eyes, with their throats full of coal dust, driving their shovels forward with arms and belly muscles of steel.