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Jenson on being stuck with the Bible's language

"[In my work] I have used Luther's insights [about the hiddenness of God] therapeutically, to ward off a bowdlerized apophaticism which has recently been popular. That God is unknowable must not be construed to mean that he is but vaguely glimpsed through clouds of metaphysical distance, so that we are compelled—and at liberty—to devise namings and metaphors guided by our religious needs. It means on the contrary that we are stuck with the names and descriptions the biblical narrative contingently enforces, which seem designed always to offend somebody; it means that their syntax is hidden from us, so that we cannot identify synonyms or make translations. It means that we have no standpoint from which to relativize them and project more soothing visions."

—Robert Jenson, "The Hidden and Triune God," in Theology as Revisionary Metaphysics: Essays on God and Creation, 69-77, at 70-71

An unpublished footnote on Longenecker on Hays on apostolic exegesis

About a year ago Pro Ecclesia published my article, "Reading the Trinity in the Bible: Assumptions, Warrants, Ends" (25:4, 459-474). On page 466 I briefly reference Richard Longenecker's position on the (non-)exemplarity of apostolic exegesis, and in turn cite Richard Hays's counter to Longenecker. Unfortunately, in the version of the article I sent to the editors, I somehow neglected to include the lengthy footnote I had written in a previous version, summarizing Longenecker's position and responding critically to it. I wish it were in print—and perhaps someday it will be—but I thought I'd publish it here, for what it's worth.

In the “Preface to the Second Edition” (Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975, 1999), xiii-xli), Longenecker responds to criticisms like mine above and those of Hays and Leithart, and engages directly with Hays (xxxiv-xxxix). He takes Hays to be missing his point, which concerns “the disti…

Patrick Leigh Fermor on prayer in the monastic life

"After the first postulate of belief, without which the life of a monk would be farcical and intolerable, the dominating fact of monastic existence is a belief in the necessity and the efficacy of prayer; and it is only by attempting to grasp the importance of this principle—a principle so utterly remote from every tendency of modern secular thought—to the monks who practise it, that one can hope to understand the basis of monasticism. This is especially true of the contemplative orders, like the Benedictines, Carthusians, Carmelites, Cistercians, Camaldulese and Sylvestrines; for the others, like the Franciscans, Dominicans or the Jesuits—are brotherhoods organised for action. They travel, teach, preach, convert, organise, plan, heal and nurse; and the material results they achieve make them, if not automatically admirable, at least comprehensible to the Time-Spirit. They get results; they deliver the goods. But what (the Time-Spirit asks) what good do the rest do, immured in mo…

Happy news: I'm editing a collection of Jenson's writings on Scripture

I am delighted to announce that I have signed a contract with Oxford University Press to edit a collection of the late Robert Jenson's writings. Tentatively titled The Triune Story: Essays on Scripture, it will gather together more than three dozen of Jenson's theological essays on the Bible, spanning more than four decades of his career.

My thanks to Cynthia Read and to the editorial team at Oxford for supporting this book. Before his passing earlier this fall, Jens gave the project his blessing, and I hope it is a testament to the beauty and abiding value of his work both for the church and for the theological academy.

My hope is to have the book published by the end of next year, though that obviously depends on many forces outside my control. Perhaps even in time for a session at AAR/SBL...?

In any case, this has been an idea in the back of my mind for a few years now, and it's a joy to see it become a (proleptic) reality. Now y'all just be sure to buy it wh…

The Holy One of Israel: A Sermon on Leviticus 19

A reading from the book of Leviticus, chapter 19, verses 1-4, 9-18.

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You shall revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the Lord your God….

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.

“You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until…

On the church's eternality and "church as mission"

"The Church is Catholic, that is, universal. First, it is universal in place, because it is worldwide. This is contrary to the error of the Donatists. For the Church is a congregation of the faithful; and since the faithful are in every part of the world, so also is the Church: 'Your faith is spoken of in the whole world' [Rm 1:8]. And also: 'Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature' [Mk 16:15]. Long ago, indeed, God was known only in Judea; now, however, He is known throughout the entire world. The Church has three parts: one is on earth, one is in heaven, and one is in purgatory.

"Second, the Church is universal in regard to all the conditions of mankind; for no exceptions are made, neither master nor servant, neither man nor woman: 'Neither bond nor free; there is neither male nor female' [Gal 3:28].

"Third, it is universal in time. Some have said that the Church will exist only up to a certain time. But this is false, f…

On Markan priority

This semester I'm teaching two sections of a course for freshmen of all majors on the Gospels. It's the professor's discretion to pick one of the Gospels to focus on for the majority of the semester, and while I flirted with the Gospel of John (before I learned that it had to be a Synoptic), I eventually chose Mark. I've now been teaching it, ever so slowly, for the last five weeks—and we're only through the beginning of chapter 9, having discussed the transfiguration today. (We've skipped ahead to a couple teachings, such as on marriage, but otherwise we're going chapter by chapter.) Next week we follow Jesus into Jerusalem for his triumphal entry and prophetic demonstration in the temple.

Reading and re-reading and teaching Mark has raised anew for me the question of Markan priority. I teach, following the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars, that Mark was most likely the first Gospel written, and that both Matthew and Luke used Mark as a prim…

From "Sent Mail": on contemporary praise and worship music

I am exactly one step away from entering full-on Amos prophetic mode with contemporary praise and worship songs. It's not that it's bad. Church music has, parish to parish, congregation to congregation, been bad since time immemorial. It's something else entirely.

The content is so spectacularly, even impressively, vacuous that it it nigh un-Christian. The words are so consistently monosyllabic that one would think the phrases are meant to be understood by kindergartners. The only characters in the songs are the otherwise unnamed pronouns "You" and "I." "You" is, so far as I can tell, generally benign, and makes "I" feel good, but I've yet to figure anything else about him/her/it, or even about "I," except that "I" thinks about "I" a whole lot, especially "I's" emotional well-being.

I am persuaded that the songwriters have together signed a blood-pact never, on principle, to u…

"Speak a language, speak a people": Willie Jennings on Pentecost

"God has come to them, on them, with them. This moment echoes Mary's intimate moment. The Holy Spirit again overshadows. However this similar holy action creates something different, something startling. The Spirit creates joining. The followers of Jesus are now being connected in a way that joins them to people in the most intimate space—of voice, memory, sound, body, land, and place. It is language that runs through all these matters. It is the sinew of existence of a people. My people, our language: to speak a language is to speak a people. Speaking announces familiarity, connection, and relationality. But these people are already connected, aren't they? They are 'devout Jews from every nation under heaven' (andres eulabeis apo pantos ethnous, v. 5). They share the same story and the same faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They share the same hopes of Israel's restoration, even its expansion into the world freed from oppression and domination. T…

New essay published at the LA Review of Books: "Public Theology in Retreat"

I've got a new essay available over at the Los Angeles Review of Books called "Public Theology in Retreat." It's ostensibly a review essay of three books published by David Bentley Hart in the last year, but I use that occasion to ask about the role of public theology in contemporary U.S. intellectual culture, using Hart as a sort of Trojan horse. Alan Jacobs's essay in Harper's last year serves as a framing device, and I look at Hart as an exception that proves the rule—even while portraying Hart's thought to a largely non-theological audience as a kind of specimen, to intrigue and possibly attract unfamiliar and potentially hostile minds. We live in perilous and fickle times, after all. Why not give theology a try? There have been stranger bedfellows.

My thanks to the editors at LARB for publishing a work of straightforward theological exposition like this; I know it's not their usual cup of tea. I confess that I have steeled myself for more than on…