Posts

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…

On John le Carré's new novel, A Legacy of Spies

Image
The first thing to say about the latest novel from 85-year old spymaster John le Carré is that it is slight. Trumpeted as a return to the world of characters that made him an international household name—to George Smiley, his allies and his enemies—it is indeed a quite literal trip down memory lane. The book is ostensibly the written account of Peter Guillam, now an elderly man nearly as old as le Carré, reflecting on his role in an affair from the late 1950s and early 1960s. The book uses the threat of a lawsuit against the British secret intelligence service as a plot device for revisiting the events leading up to and including the story told in 1963's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It thus doubles as a sort of retrospective prequel, filling in gaps, painting George and his activities in even bolder shades of gray, and adding even more tragedy and pathos to the events of that book, as well as a sort of meta-commentary from David Cornwall, the man behind the pseudonym, on the…

16 tips for how to read a passage from the Gospels

This semester I am teaching two sections of an entry-level course for freshmen of all majors on the Gospels, focused on the Gospel of Mark. This week I gave them 16 tips on how to read a passage from the Gospels, which I thought I'd share here.

1. Characters

Whom do I meet in this passage? Are they named? Are they central or peripheral? Why are they here? What are they doing? Have I met them before? Will I meet them again?

2. Places

Where does this passage take place? Does it take place in one place or multiple places? Does it tell me where, or leave that unknown? Is the location important to the action? Does the action take place between places? What has happened in this place before, historically or biblically?

3. Concepts

What concepts or ideas are mentioned? Do I know what they mean? Do they have a specific meaning here? Does the author define them for me, assume I know what they mean, or want me to wonder what they mean? Is the concept a new one or one that predates this passage…

Jenson's passing: tributes, links, and resources

Last week the great American theologian Robert W. Jenson died, at 87 years old. In addition to a remembrance I wrote myself (linked below), a number of other obituaries and tributes have appeared online, so I thought I would gather them together, along with further Jenson-related primary and secondary resources.

(If you have a link for me to add, mention it in the comments, on Twitter @eastbrad, or by email: bxe03a AT acu DOT edu.)

Remembering Jenson:

Victor Lee Austin: "Can These Bones Live? A Sermon Preached at Jenson's Funeral"

Carl E. Braaten: "Encomium for an Evangelical Catholic: Robert Jenson (1930–2017)"

Christian Century: "Robert Jenson, theologian revered by many of his peers, dies at age 87"

Christianity Today: "Died: Robert Jenson, 'America's Theologian'"

Brad East: "Rest in peace: Robert W. Jenson (1930–2017)"

Kim Fabricius: "Clerihew for Robert W. Jenson (1930–2017)"

Paul R. Hinlicky: "Robert J…

Rest in peace: Robert W. Jenson (1930–2017)

Image
I first read Robert Jenson in the summer of 2009, following the first year of my Master of Divinity studies at Emory University, on a sort of whim. I had been introduced to him through an essay by Stanley Hauerwas, originally published in a festschrift for Jenson but republished in the 2004 collection of Hauerwas's essays called A Better Hope. Oddly, I had the impression that Hauerwas didn't like Jenson, but at a second glance, I realized his great admiration for him, so I not only read through Jenson's whole two-volume systematics that summer, but I blogged through it, too—in extensive detail. In fact, it was the first systematic theology I ever read.

Eight years later, and I am a systematic theologian. Fancy that.



Jenson passed away yesterday, having been born 87 years earlier, one year after the great stock market crash of 1929. He lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, Roe v. Wade, the rise and fall …

Roger Scruton on the new divisions of class, centered on TV

"The growth of popular sports and entertainment in our time, and the creation of a popular culture based in TV, football and mechanized music, have to some extent enabled people to live without ... home-grown institutions. They have also effectively abolished the working class as a moral idea, provided everyone with a classless picture of human society, and in doing so produced a new kind of social stratification—one which reflects the 'division of leisure' rather than the 'division of labor.' Traditional societies divide into upper, middle and working class. In modern societies that division is overload by another, which also contains three classes. The new classes are, in ascending order, the morons, the yuppies and the stars. The first watch TV, the second make the programs, and the third appear on them. And because those who appear on the screen cultivate the manners of the people who are watching them, implying that they are only there by accident, and that t…