Blog Archives

Flotsam and jetsam (the very overdue edition)

Darwin speculated that life began in a warm pond on the primordial Earth. Lately other scientists have suggested that the magic joining of molecules that could go on replicating might have happened in an undersea hot spring, on another planet or inside an asteroid. Some astronomers wonder if it could be happening right now underneath the ice of Europa or in the methane seas of Titan.

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa prove — not contend — that students are not learning what they should, professors are not doing all they could, administrators are not focused on education enough and, as if that weren’t a glassful, society is and will continue to suffer is something isn’t done about it.

Three hit songs in the last few months have pushed the same message: You are awesome. You’re awesome just the way you are, even –no, especially– if you don’t fit in.

My take on the passage is that it refers to our meeting Christ in the air to welcome him to his earthly rule. If this is a “rapture”, fine, as long as it is not confused with the popular idea.

  • Rod has started what looks like a fascinating series on Firefly & Theology. (If you’re not familiar with Firefly, it was an outstanding scifi series on Fox that sadly only made it through one season, though it was later made into a movie.)

Flotsam and jetsam (evening edition)


As I mentioned a few days ago, I had to put flotsam and jetsam on hiatus for a while so I could focus on some other projects. But, after several appreciative comments and emails, I’ve decided to try a few evening editions. I still won’t be putting these out on a daily basis, but hopefully this is better than pausing the posts altogether.

Ordinarily when we speak of “the Bible as literature” we mean the literary nature of the Bible itself.  My venture in this essay provides another angle on the concept of “the Bible as literature.”  I have explored what the biblical teaching on justification looks like when it is transmuted into works of imaginative literature–the Bible as literature, that is, as imaginative literature composed by extrabiblical authors.

  • Inside Higher Ed has an interesting article on Baylor University’s decision to open up more of its board to non-Baptists. (See also Al Mohler’s comments on the secularization of religious schools).

While a number of Baptist colleges and universities in recent years have loosened or ended ties to state Baptist conventions, the move by Baylor is notable because it is widely considered the flagship university of Southern Baptists. The move came despite opposition from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which last year voted down a similar proposal by Houston Baptist University to permit the election of a minority of non-Baptist trustees there, with church leaders arguing at the time that allowing non-Baptist trustees would dilute the university’s religious identity.

Thousands of defiant protesters in Iran‘s capital have clashed with security officials as they marched in a banned rally. One person was reported killed, with dozens injured and many more arrested.

Push-up bras, pedicures, hip-hop dance classes: These are now the social currency of the under-10 set. What happened? And how can we help our girls stay girls for longer?

The sexual human: sexualizing the image of God

Megan DeFranza, a doctoral student at Marquette, presented an excellent paper yesterday titled, “Sex and the Image of God: Dangers in Evangelical and Roman Catholic Theologies.” Her paper discussed the recent trend toward understanding the human person and the imago Dei primarily through the lens of human sexuality. Although she thinks that there’s a lot to be appreciated about this approach, she also identified a number of concerns that she has with this development.

DeFranza began by explaining the historical process that led to the current situation. She points out that Christian thinkers have historically neglected gender and sexuality in understanding what it means to be fundamentally human. And, like many, she points to Barth as the key turning point. Barth identified the imago Dei with being created “male and female” and introduced the notion of gender-based relationality as fundamental for being human. To be fully human is to be in community.

This relationally-oriented anthropology, which DeFranza calls the relational imago, though, has developed even further in recent years. Unlike Barth, many contemporary theologians argue that it is not simply relationship that makes us human, but sexuality itself. And, this develop corresponds to developments in secular fields of study that also view human sexuality as fundamental to being fully human.  And, it’s this most recent set of developments that DeFranza is concerned about.

To explain this development further, DeFranza focuses on two representative figures: Stanley Grenz and John Paul II. According to DeFranza, Grenz sees the sexed nature of humanity as leaving human persons with a sense of their own incompleteness and a corresponding drive toward bonding with other(s), which finds its ultimate fulfillment in God himself. Thus, human sexuality isn’t fundamentally about procreation or even marriage, but about the innate yearning for completeness and bonding that grounds all human relationships and pushes toward God.

For John Paul II, sexuality is fundamentally about the human capacity to express love, an act in which the human person becomes gift, and thus realizes the ultimate purpose of being human. And, for John Paul II, this is best expressed and realized in marriage. In this approach, marriage itself becomes paradigmatic for true humanity, and even celibacy, which John Paul II still wants to affirm as a vital (and even higher) mode of human existence, is viewed through the lens of marital union.

So, for both Grenz and John Paul II, sex is now viewed as the lens through which we view all forms of human interaction. We discover our humanity through our sexuality.

DeFranza has no problem with the social imago and the emphasis on love, relationship, and community for understanding humanity. But, she’s quite concerned about the more recent move toward what she calls the “sexual imago” (Grenz) and the “spousal image” (John Paul II). And, she offers a number of reasons for this concern.

Uncovering hidden dangers:

  1. The conflation of sex, gender, and sexuality. She seemed particularly concerned with Grenz here. Although she recognizes that Grenz did not use terms like sexual and sexuality to refer to sexual intercourse, she still thought that his interchangeable use of these terms led to an ambiguous presentation that necessarily confused and conflated terms that are importantly different. DeFranza seemed perfectly willing to say that gender is fundamental for being human, but was concerned about extending that conclusion to sexuality in general.
  2. The sexualization of divine love. Although evangelicals and Catholics would certainly not refer to the divine love as sexual in the sense that there is actual intercourse among the divine persons, they are, nonetheless, willing to speak of the divine love as sexual in the sense that it involves different persons with a drive toward one another in bonding and love. But, since DeFranza thinks that using the language of sexuality to describe this love, their approach almost inevitably leads to the conclusion that sexual expression has now been given divine significance.
  3. The weakening of traditional sexual ethics. If human sexuality is grounded in divine “sexuality,” what parameters can we give for how this sexuality is properly expressed? While most evangelicals and Catholics want to continue affirming monogamous, heterosexual intercourse as the norm, others have not been so restrained. Why not homosexual love (since the Father and Son are both male) or sex with multiple partners (since there are three persons)? And, she’s also concerned that this approach is used to support adultery and divorce. What if you are in a sexually unfulfilling relationship? Would it not be better for one or both parties to find other partners with whom they can more fully express their humanity and experience the divine love?
  4. The undermining of celibacy. DeFranza routinely expressed concerns that the sexual imago and the social imago ultimately undermines the legitimacy of celibate lifestyles, particularly those who are involuntarily celibate. Such persons seem to be missing out on something fundamental for being human and an important experience of the divine love itself. She recognizes that both of the thinkers she reviews would reject this conclusion (John Paul II goes out of his way to affirm the importance of celibacy), but she still thinks that the concern is legitimate.
  5. Concern for the sexually dysfunctional. DeFranza is also concerned about what the sexualized imago will mean for those who experience significant sexual dysfunction. Once again, their essential humanity and their experience of God himself seems at risk.

So, DeFranza concludes that we should hold onto the positive aspects of the social imago, while avoiding the dangers that she thinks are inherent to the sexual/spousal imagos. She thinks we can do this by doing the following.

  1. Develop better readings of Genesis 1-2 that affirm the social nature of humanity without resorting to a sexualized notion of humanity.
  2. Clearly differentiate between the social and the sexual/spousal. The former does not entail the latter and should be an important part of any anthropology.
  3. Clearly differentiate between the sexual and the spousal. She thinks some of the dangers could be avoided if we recognized that spousal love involves far more than sexual love, so distinguishing them can help us appreciate the rich depths of spousal love. But, even with this distinction, she argues that we should not view spousal love as paradigmatic for all human relationships. It is one of many expressions of the social imago, not its essence.

I really enjoyed DeFranza’s paper. One particularly interesting element was when she addressed the ways in which the works of people like Grenz and John Paul II have filtered down to more popular level writings, and in ways that both thinkers would find highly inappropriate. I could be wrong, but I got the distinct impression that many of the concerns she raised came from her interaction with these works. While some might argue that it is not entirely fair to criticize Grenz and John Paul II for the ways that other people use their ideas, especially when those people use the ideas in ways that these thinkers would have disapproved, it does raise the interesting question of how much responsibility thinkers have for the trajectory that their ideas take after them. At the very least, if a concept or idea consistently leads others to inappropriate conclusions, the concept or idea should be seriously re-evaluated.

And, that gets me to my one real criticism of the paper. I think the paper would have been considerably stronger if DeFranza had distinguished between what Grenz and John Paul II were clearly trying to do and the ramifications that she thinks their ideas have had or might have. For example, she routinely critiqued Grenz’s approach for making sexual intercourse essential to humanity. But, Grenz himself did no such thing. I think he is very clear in his writings that he was not talking about intercourse at all, but the sense of incompleteness that results in a drive toward bonding. Whenever Grenz used terms like “sexual” and “sexuality”, it was this broader notion that he had in mind and not actual intercourse. Even if DeFranza thinks that this is an unfortunate use of language that conflates gender with sexuality and necessarily misleads others into concluding that sexual expression is fundamental to humanity (which, again, is a legitimate critique), I would have liked to see a clearer explanation that this was not Grenz’s actual position.

Nonetheless, it was a fascinating paper. And, it has caused me to re-evaluate my own use of terminology. Like Grenz, I have had a tendency to use gender, sex, sexual, and sexuality rather interchangeably when talking about the human person (e.g.,“Sexuality: Theological Perspectives on Being Gendered”). While I know what I’m trying to say, I probably need to be more aware of how this language might be (mis)heard and (mis)used by others.

Flotsam and jetsam (9/14)

Flotsam and jetsam (7/21)

Backporch theology – The Lost World of Genesis One

We have set a date for our upcoming discussion of John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. (If you’re not in the Portland area, you’ll have to join us in spirit.) We’ll be meeting at Pat’s house again on Tuesday evening, July 27, at 7:00pm. If you’re planning on attending, please email Billy and let him know.

If you’ve read the book, great. If not, here are some resources that should help you get up to speed for the discussion.

John Walton on reading Genesis as an ancient text

To help whet your appetite for our upcoming book discussion of John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, here’s a BioLogos clip of Walton talking about why it is important for us to read Genesis as an ancient text and how this will help us discern the “temple” imagery in Genesis 1-2.

By the way, you should be hearing from Billy on the date, time, and location for that book discussion sometime in the next few days.

(HT Internet Monk)

Billy gave me some lame excuse about moving and not having internet access for a while. He said he’d log in with some responses as soon as he can.

N.T. Wright video on Adam and Eve

Last week I asked those of us who live in/around the Portland area to indicate if they’d rather discuss Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One or Wright’s After You Believe. The response was unanimous in favor of Walton’s book. So, we’ll set a date/time for that soon.

In anticipation of that meeting, I will occasionally post related resources that you might find interesting/helpful. Today PreacherMike pointed out this video from BioLogos in which N.T. Wright discusses what it means to read Genesis 1-3 as a literary work (rather than a literal one). He contends that that we should stop trying to “flatten” the text and instead should “read it for all it’s worth” – i.e. as both history and myth. Anything else is “to almost perversely avoid the real thrust of the narrative.” Wright also expresses appreciation for Walton’s understanding of Genesis 1 as the creation of God’s temple/abode.