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100 theologians before the 20th century

Earlier this summer I set myself the task of creating a list of 100 theologians before the 20th century. Partly for myself, since I'm an inveterate list-maker and lists help me organize my reading habits; in this case, I would see where my training had left gaps and blind spots that I needed to fill in. But partly, also, for my students, who regularly ask me who they should read from the tradition—not only where to start, but a kind of curriculum or "who's who." So I set out to answer that very question: who's who?

The current list has 153 entries on it. I still want to cull it down to a clean 100, but I figured I would share it here in its unfinished, bloated form. I covet your corrections: Who am I missing? Who have I misnamed? Who is or is not a saint? Whose dates are mistaken? If you had to cull the list down to 100, which dozen (or more) figures would you nix?
I've separated the list into four groups, ranging from 32 to 50 theologians per period: patristic…

Joseph Ratzinger on divine providence and the divided church

But if this is how matters stand, what are we to do? In addressing this question, I have found very helpful the formula that Oscar Cullmann recently injected into the debate: unity through multiplicity, through diversity. Certainly, division is harmful, especially when it leads to enmity and an impoverishment of Christian witness. But if the poison of hostility is slowly removed from the division, and if, through mutual acceptance, diversity leads no longer to mere impoverishment but rather to a new wealth of listening and understanding, then during the transition to unity division can become a felix culpa, a happy fault, even before it is completely healed. Toward the end of my years in Tübingen, you, dear Mr. Seckler, as one of my colleagues, gave me a book to read that had been produced under your editorial direction, a study of Augustine's interpretation of the mysterious Pauline statement, "there must be factions" (1 Cor 11:19). The exegetical problem of interpreti…

Twitter, Twitter, Twitter

I've written at length on this blog about my relationship to digital technology in general and to Twitter in particular. I deleted my Facebook account. I'm not on Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Tumblr, or anything else. I'm part of one Slack channel, which isn't work-related and is quite life-giving, but I regulate my time on there nonetheless. I use Freedom to block access to the internet for large stretches of the day. The only remaining social media platform in my life—beyond the evils of YouTube and Google, from which I hope to find a way to extricate myself sooner rather than later—is Twitter.
I gave Twitter up for two months last fall, and it was great. But I was persuaded to return, at least in modest ways, given the relationships and connections I'd developed using it. Then Covid hit, and I ditched the rules and was on it far too much from spring break to Memorial Day. But these last two months I have come round to the same conclusion that instigated my initia…

An update

I've not written much on the blog these last few months, but I've been busy in the meantime. I'm hoping, though, to get back into my self-imposed charter of "mezzo-blogging," some happy midpoint between tweet-length commentary and full-blown (intimating to find the time for) essays. So here's what I've been up to during my absence, together with what's on my plate for the present and near future.

1. Covid, obviously. Everything hit during our spring break, and students never returned to campus. I've written a few things Covid-related, though I've wanted to find the time to write more. We'll see if I get anything out before school returns.
2. I revised an article for publication in the Journal of Theological Interpretation. It'll come out in the first issue of 2021. It's called "What Are the Standards of Excellence for Theological Interpretation of Scripture?" It's 15,000 words, double the usual limit for the journal. I&…

A very special episode of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood

In which Daniel, now the middle child with half a dozen siblings, experiences a tiny setback that flummoxes his otherwise unqualified expectation that everything in his young life ought to go his way.
He sits down and cries—but in the chaos of a bustling household and so many other children, his mother and father are unable to pause the family's life, halt the earth's spin, and sing a song to soothe his self-esteem while ostensibly increasing his emotional intelligence.
Soon enough Daniel stops crying.

Eventually he gets up, discovers a solution to the problem on his own, and moves on.

New essay published: "Be Fearful as Christ Was Fearful"

Over at Mere Orthodoxy, Jake was kind enough to publish a reflection I wrote on life in a pandemic. I actually wrote it all the way back in March, just as Covid was ramping up, when there were all kinds of calls from Christian writers, pastors, and thinkers to "not be afraid" or to be "free from fear." I use St. Maximus to discuss the role of fear in the Christian life, rooted in the presence of natural fear in the life of Christ. It's called "Be Fearful as Christ Was Fearful," and here's a taste of what I'm up to: In other words, what we see in the Garden is not for show. It is not fantasy or fiction. Christ, because he is truly and naturally human, fears death the way any bodily creature might: for to be destroyed is not good, does not belong to an unfallen world. His humanity recoils from the prospect of the passion, not out of lack of trust in the Father or uncertainty in his vocation, but because he is like unto us in every respect a…

Eleven thoughts on Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove

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Last month I read Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove for the first time, and it was even better than advertised. I have some thoughts, mostly on what makes it so good, as well as the underlying themes that (perhaps?) have been overlooked given the book's popularity, Pulitzer Prize, and adaptation into a TV miniseries.

1.  The prose is perfect. Perfect. Not perfect the way, say, Michael Chabon's is. There may not be a word in all the nearly-1,000 pages that rises above an eighth grade reading level. The sentences, moreover, are usually on the short side. The prose isn't complex. But it's pitch perfect. McMurtry never fails to communicate exactly what he intends, whether it be an action, a feeling, a thought, or a memory. Or a conversation. Oh my, the dialogue. I felt what all readers have felt reading this novel: I didn't want it to end. Like watching a sitcom for a decade, I just wanted to spend time with my friends. But anyway, reading McMurtry's prose was a d…

A prediction for post-pandemic life

Very little, if anything, will change.

That's my prediction. Let me clarify what I don't mean, before I say what I do.

What I don't mean is that there won't be personal, economic, structural, and political consequences. There will be, in all kinds of ways we can and can't predict. Many people will have had Covid-19 symptoms and lived to tell the tale; many more will know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who died as a result of the virus. The U.S. and other Western nations may indeed pursue "conscious uncoupling" from the Communist regime in China; that spells uncertainty and international friction for decades to come. Supply lines, products, and consumer convenience may grow volatile and change substantially in only a handful of years. Perhaps most lasting of all, individuals and families forced into joblessness will have had to live (and may continue living) on a combination of unemployment benefits, stimulus checks, and private charity. Whole…

On writing and bad readers

There will always be bad and disingenuous readers. That's the first thing to know as a writer. They'll always be with us, and they'll always be there, ready to read what you've written—labored over for hours, days, weeks—in bad faith, or to misinterpret it due to laziness or antipathy or narcissism or some other intellectual vice.

For a while now a threefold example of this has stuck with me. It comes from one particular author's writings—a widely read academic whom we'll call Joe Johnson—and has served as a perpetual reminder of this unavoidable fact. The first stems from an essay he wrote; the other two from different reviews of different books by Johnson.

The essay was, immediately upon publication, willfully misread to mean what Johnson clearly did not mean, could not have meant, and clarified in reply that he did not mean. The misreadings seized on a few terms and a couple of minor framing devices he used in the essay in order to turn his argument inside o…

New essay published: "Sacraments, Technology, and Streaming Worship in a Pandemic"

I've got a new piece published over at Mere Orthodoxy called "Sacraments, Technology, and Streaming Worship in a Pandemic." In it I use the work of Neil Postman and Robert Jenson to think about the meaning and "communicability" of sacramental liturgy via mass media and digital technology, then draw some conclusions for streaming worship online today, separated as we are from public gatherings of Christ's body. I also come down pretty hard against celebrating the Lord's Supper during this unusual time of "social distancing." I hope it's useful for others, even and especially those who disagree. Blessings, and stay safe out there y'all.