I've got a new piece up at Marginalia

Called "Systematic Theology and Biblical Criticism," it's a review essay of Ephraim Radner's latest book, Time and the Word: Figural Reading of the Christian Scriptures. The book is an important entry in the ongoing scholarly reflection on the doctrine of Scripture, theological interpretation, historical-critical scholarship, and revisionary metaphysics. Last month Michael Legaspi reviewed the book for First Things, as did Michael Cover for Living Church. Happy to add my voice to the mix. Looking forward to further conversations about the book.

Kathryn Tanner featured in The Christian Century

I don't know that Kathryn Tanner (meine Doktormutter at Yale) ever thought she'd be the cover story on a national magazine, but there she is gracing the front of The Christian Century. It's called "How Kathryn Tanner's theology bridges doctrine and social action," written by Amy Plantinga Pauw. It's an excellent, accessible entree to Tanner's thought, particularly the last ten years or so and the ever-present emphasis, throughout her three-plus decades of work, of the non-competitive relationship between divine and human action. Go check it out.

Pauw only hints at a possible criticism, namely the role and doctrine of the church in Tanner's thought, but doesn't explore it further. That's because she already did so in an article some years ago, which gently but less tentatively suggests Tanner develop an ecclesiology—which Tanner then did, albeit briefly, in a response to that essay. For those interested in pursuing that line of thought, two…

More on the analogia entis (from my inbox)

I emailed my last post to a couple friends and asked them to spot any errors. They came back with some helpful clarifying comments and questions, so let me post some of them below along with my responses.

Friend #1:

I like the first half of this. I think you’re right to make the doctrine fundamentally metaphysical (with the latter allowing certain epistemological moves). I read the analogy of being in Thomas as shorthand for the whole metaphysical process of emanation and return, and with that of the corresponding epistemological moves of affirmation and negation in positive and negative theologies.

The second half (the Barthian bit!) raises some questions for me. Firstly—and this is a predictably historicizing point—when you say things like “the analogy of being makes the claim,” what exactly do you mean? To put it bluntly, the doctrine “the analogy of being” doesn’t obviously say anything it all. Doctrines don’t make claims. People and texts make claims about doctrines. And …

A stab at the analogia entis

The analogy of being does not analogize God and creatures under the more general category of being, but is the analogization of being in the difference between God and creatures.

—David Bentley Hart 

What is the analogy of being? Here's my stab at a clear, sympathetic description.

The analogy of being is a Christian theological claim about the relationship between God and creatures and the ontological conditions of the possibility for the latter to know and/or speak about the former. As I understand it, it entails three core claims.

First, God is and creatures are;
Second, God is the creator of all that is that is not God, that is, creatures have the source and sustenance of their being in the one triune God;
Third, God speaks to human beings, as the rational embodied creatures they are, thus eliciting their reply and constituting a unique relationship (compared to other creatures' relationship to God).

The analogy of being makes the claim that the ontological condition of the …

I've got a new article out in Modern Theology

It's called "What is the Doctrine of the Trinity For? Practicality and Projection in the Theology of Robert Jenson." You can find it here (paywalled). And here's the abstract:

"This articles engages the theology of Robert Jenson with three questions in mind: What is the doctrine of the Trinity for? Is it a practical doctrine? If so, how, and with what implications? It seeks, on the one hand, to identify whether Jenson’s trinitarian theology ought to count as a “social” doctrine of the Trinity, and to what extent he puts it to work for human socio-practical purposes. On the other hand, in light of Jenson’s career-long worries about Feuerbach and projection onto a God behind or above the triune God revealed in the economy, the article interrogates his thought with a view to recent critiques of social trinitarianism. The irony is that, in constructing his account of the Trinity as both wholly determined in and by the economy and maximally relevant for practical hum…

The real problem with political liberalism

"Near the beginning of the book, Tuininga takes brief notice of recent theological critiques of liberalism, but it’s not clear he has grasped the objections. He defines liberal democracy as a system of representative, democratic government erected to protect rights 'in accord with the rule of law under a system of checks and balances that includes the separation of church and state.' Virtually none of liberalism’s theological critics objects to these forms and procedures as such. Their complaint isn’t against representative government or voting or freedom of speech and association. No one advocates a fusion of Church and state.

"Rather, they claim that such a formal, procedural description masks the basic thrust of liberalism. Liberalism’s stated aim is to construct a society without substantive commitments, leaving everyone free to choose whatever his or her . . . own may be. Liberalism’s common good is to protect society from adopting any single vision…

The liturgical/praying animal in Paradise Lost

In Book VII of Paradise Lost, Milton has the angel Raphael recount to Adam the six days of creation, and this is what he says concerning humanity:

There wanted yet the master-work, the end
Of all yet done—a creature who, not prone
And brute as other creatures, but endued
With sanctity of reason, might erect
His stature, and upright with front serene
Govern the rest, self-knowing, and from thence
Magnanimous to correspond with Heaven,
But grateful to acknowledge whence his good
Descends; thither with heart, and voice, and eyes
Directed in devotion, to adore
And worship God Supreme, who made him chief
Of all his works.

What is striking about this account is the way in which the rationality ascribed to humanity, unique among all creatures, is specified and given content. Initially it seems quite in line with classical accounts: humans are distinct by virtue of their reason. But what sort of reason, and to what end?

According to Milton, men and women are rational inasmuch as, and so that…

Webster on Barth's engagement with philosophy

"Barth's insistence on speaking [with philosophy/non-Christian disciplines] on his own terms is not to be interpreted as obstinate reluctance to come out of his lair and talk to the rest of the world; quite the contrary: in writing, as in life, Barth showed remarkable openness to all manner of ideas, provided he is allowed to exercise Christian nonconformity."

—John Webster, Barth, 2nd ed. (New York: T&T Clark, 2000, 2004), p. 174

P. D. James on the sameness, the joylessness of lust

"Dalgliesh walked through Soho to the Cortez Club. With his mind still freshened by the clean emptiness of Suffolk he found these canyoned streets, even in their afternoon doldrums, more than usually depressing. It was difficult to believe that he had once enjoyed walking through this shoddy gulch. Now even a month's absence made the return less tolerable. It was largely a matter of mood, no doubt, for the district is all things to all men, catering comprehensively for those needs which money can buy. You see it as you wish. An agreeable place to dine; a cosmopolitan village tucked away behind Piccadilly with its own mysterious village life, one of the best shopping centres for food in London, the nastiest and most sordid nursery of crime in Europe. Even the travel journalists, obsessed by its ambiguities, can't make up their minds. Passing the strip clubs, the grubby basement stairs, the silhouettes of bored girls against the upstairs window blinds, Dalgliesh thought tha…

The best American crime novelists of the last century, or: a way into the genre

Four and a half years ago I decided I wanted to try out the genre of crime fiction. I was about to take a semester off from my doctoral studies for paternity leave, and I knew my academic reading would be on the wane, at least while I was caring for my newborn son during the day. I needed something punchy, new, and different that would grab and hold my attention during downtime, long walks, and seemingly endless Baby Bjorn–pacing.

So I ordered a few books: The 39 Steps by John Buchan, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins, The Hunter by Donald Westlake, Killing Floor by Lee Child, and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré. An odd, eclectic sampling, obviously made by an outsider. In any case, the experiment worked.

Turns out I love crime fiction.

From there, I wanted to get my hands on the best stuff out there. But the way my mind works, I wanted to do this in a particular way. First, I wanted to get a sense of the genre as a w…