Scialabba, Jacobs, and God's existence: where the real problem lies

Alan Jacobs is right about George Scialabba's latest review essay, in this case of John Gray's new book, Seven Types of Atheism, for The New Republic. Scialabba is always great, but his theological instincts fail him here. As Jacobs observes, Scialabba wants to speak up for nonbelievers who wish God—if he does in fact exist—would simply make himself known in some inarguably clear way. But since, apparently, he does not and has not, that in itself is evidence that no such thing as an all-wise, all-good, all-powerful deity exists; or that, if he does, our knowledge or beliefs about or relationship with God is a negligible matter, and all will be sorted out in the hereafter.

Jacobs takes Scialabba to task for both the unthinking glibness on display (frivolous speculation about our ancient ancestors; writing contemporary mystics and charismatics out of the picture; etc.) and the more serious inattentiveness to what a truly incontrovertible divine self-revelation would mean. Jacobs…

John Lukacs on what makes history

"This short history of the twentieth century is not a philosophical treatise. But at this point I am compelled to add two brief digressions. The first is a summary of my view of history, which goes contrary to the still very widely accepted categorical beliefs of why and how history happened and happens, of course including that of the Second World War. The current, often deemed 'scientific' belief is that history, perhaps especially in the democratic age, is the result of great material and economic factors, of which the lives, acts, and thoughts of people are largely the consequences. That is less than a half-truth. In 1933, Hitler came to power in Germany not just because of the economic crisis of 1930–1933, but because of the political mood of many Germans at that time. It was not the state of the British economy that made the British government reluctant to resist Hitler in the Thirties. It was not inferiority of materials or armaments that led to the collapse of Fra…

Ian McFarland on the doctrine of creation from nothing

"In short, if the doctrine of creation from nothing means ... that even prior to being created, creatures are not absolutely nothing insofar as they are grounded in the Word, it also implies that creatures, as created, are absolutely nothing apart from God. The richness of divinity not only lies behind creation's diversity as its presupposition (nothing but God), but also is an active presence that underlies and sustains every feature of that diversity at every moment of its existence (nothing apart from God). Not can this perspective be charged with compromising the integrity of creatures' relationship with God, as though that which has absolutely no existence part from God is reduced to the status of a puppet. Once again, the Trinitarian framework of the Christian doctrine of creation is crucial here, since the existence of creatures is rooted in the Word, whose very being establishes, within the divine life itself, a set of relationships whose constituent terms (viz., …

The most stimulating works of systematic theology from the last 20 years

On Twitter yesterday I made an observation followed by a question. I said that Paul Griffiths' Decreation is, in my view, the most thought-provoking, stimulating, exhilarating work of systematic theology written since the first volume of Robert Jenson's systematics was published in 1997. Then I asked: What are other plausible candidates from, say, the last two decades?

I thought of half a dozen off the top of my head, then started adding others' replies to the list. See the (lightly curated) resulting list below.

A few preliminary comments, though. First, everything on the list was published (for the first time) in 1998 or later. That's arbitrary, but then, all lists are; that's what makes them fun.

Second, your mileage may vary, as mine does; I think some of these books are in a league of their own compared so some of the others. But I've tried to be broader than just my own preferences.

Third, candidates for this list are works of Christian systematic theo…

Genre lists: the best science fiction authors and series

All right. I've written about my crime fiction list and my fantasy list; here, rounding out the genres (at least those in which I'm interested), is my chronological list of the authors and series in science fiction that I have read or aim to read. Far from exhaustive, and not aiming to be "completist." I want to read the best. What should I add to it? [NB: The list has now been expanded with suggestions.]
H. G. Wells, Time Machine + Invisible Man + War of the Worlds (1895–98)Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars (1917)Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)C. S. Lewis, Space Trilogy (1938–45)George Orwell, 1984 (1949)Ray Bradbury, Martian Chronicles (1950) + Fahrenheit 451 (1953) Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy (1951–53)Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End (1953) + 2001 (1968)Richard Matheson, I Am Legend (1954)Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination (1957)Walter M. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) Stanislaw Lem, Solaris (1961) Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a…

Genre lists: the best fantasy series

Last year I wrote about how I worked my way back into regular fiction reading through genre, specifically the genre of crime novels. I also keep separate genre lists for fantasy and science fiction. Each scratches a particular itch, and I slowly make my way through each one, as the mood strikes me. But I'm a novice, using either my own eclectic interests or the lists of others as guides. I thought I'd open myself up to others to build out my current fantasy list.

NB: I'm not looking to be a completist for completion's sake. I don't want to read just-fine or so-so series in order to comprehend the genre. I want to read the very best series, for nothing but pleasure. Having said that, I do enjoy (as my chronological listing below shows) understanding the relationship between different fantasy novelists and series, tracking the influence going forward and the reactions, revisions, and subversions looking backward. I find that endlessly fascinating.

So: Having said tha…

Paul Griffiths on the liturgy anticipating heaven

"[A]ttending to the liturgy is the closest we can get, here below, to attending to heaven. In examining it, we approach as close as we can get to examining the life of the saints in heaven as it is once they are resurrected and enjoying both sensory and nonsensory modes of knowing and seeing the LORD. This is because most of the elements of the life of the world to come are present in nuce in the worshiping assembly: the ascended LORD is present in the flesh; the gathered people is an assembly of those who know and love him as he is, at least to some degree; and the fabric of the event is woven from the threads of love exchanged—love given preveniently by the LORD, whose creature the church is, and love given responsively by the people, who have collectively and individually been brought into being by the LORD. The leitmotif of the words and actions of the liturgical gathering is adoration. All this is also true of the gathering of the resurrected saints around the LORD's asc…

Why there's no such thing as non-anachronistic interpretation, and it's a good thing too: reflections occasioned by Wesley Hill's Paul and the Trinity

For some time now I have been convinced that the issue at the root of all conversation and controversy regarding historical criticism and theological interpretation of the Bible is anachronism. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to write an article on the topic in the next year or two; I've touched on the theme in a paragraph or two in a couple of articles already, but it deserves a treatment unto itself. Until then, let me use Wesley Hill's wonderful book Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters as an occasion to discuss what's at play here.

Programmatically: The fundamental hermeneutical first principle of self-consciously historical-critical study of the Bible is that such study must avoid anachronism. Two hermeneutical values underlie or spin off this principle: on the one hand, what makes any reading good is whether it is properly historical; therefore, on the other hand, all reading of the Bible ought to avoid anachronism—or to say the sa…

The Lord Reigns: A Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension

A sermon preached at the Round Rock Church of Christ, Sunday, 6 May 2018.

Opening reading

Hear this word from the book of Acts, chapter 1, verses 1-12:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive po…

On Paul, apocalyptic theology, and the rest of the New Testament

I'm nearing the end of a full academic year teaching the New Testament to freshmen. Many of my students are new to the Bible, or at least to reading the Bible. I taught the Gospels in the fall, focusing primarily on Mark, and this spring I've taught the rest of the New Testament, without skipping any books.

Usually, the way the spring course works is revealed by its traditional title: Acts to Revelation. Both sequentially and substantively, the class is defined by the history Luke tells of the church's mission after the ascension of Jesus, which crystalizes around Paul's work among the gentiles; this, naturally, is followed by an extensive reading of Paul's letters, beginning with Romans. Then the catholic epistles and Revelation invariably find themselves scrunched together at the end.

On a lark, I decided to try to de-center Paul from the course structure, and to see what would happen. Here's how I've taught the course:

Acts (2 weeks)