Blog Archives

Flotsam and jetsam (12/13)

  • Roger Olson argues that Arminianism and Calvinism are “incommensurable” systems that should not be viewed as occupying different places on the same spectrum:

On the crucial issues of the nature of God’s election to salvation, the extent of the atonement and whether grace is resistible or irresistible  (the three main ideas that divide Calvinism and Arminianism) the divide between any and every version of Calvinism and any and every version of Arminianism is deep and wide.  So much so that it is really not possible to put them on the same spectrum.

  • Cynthia Nielsen reflects on Foucault’s understanding of “biopower” and its significance for understanding (post)modern society and the (post)modern self.

With the transition from the ancient and medieval monarchical model of absolute power to the modern model of biopower, power is no longer centralized around the person of the king but is distributed in a net-like fashion operating, invading, and permeating the social body far more efficiently and effectively than the previous model.

Okay, maybe Calvinism doesn’t lead to universalism inexorably–as if every Calvinist must become a universalist.  However, many leading universalist theologians are/were Reformed and believed that their Calvinist concepts of God’s sovereignty eventually compelled them to embrace universalism.

Flotsam and jetsam (12/3)

A Klingon Christmas Carol

A lot of good links over the last couple of days. Here are some of the more interesting.

  • PZ Myers points out that Answers in Genesis has been guilty of using history jacking (hijacking your browser history to discern what sites you’ve been visiting) and using that information to categorize visitors. Interestingly, although they have a distinct category for “Christian” users, if you’ve visited,, or, you get categoriezed as “other.” HT James McGrath and Stuart.

Let me suggest, in fact, that whenever we communicate to non-Christians that we have found it and that they have not, that we have been chosen and that they have not, that we are the apple of God’s eye and that they are not—whenever we assume that stance, consciously or not, we are communicating something other than the gospel, the Good News.

Sometimes with good apologetic and evangelistic motives we will point to all the OT prophecies about Christ and then run down a list of all the NT fulfillments. There is truth here, but if we set things up as “here’s the prediction; here’s the prediction come true” we are bound to confuse people. We may even cause people to doubt the prophetic witness rather than trust it.

These Pentecostals are widely read in biblical and theological studies, immersed in the latest trends in missiology, even leading the way in some areas of theological reflection such as the Holy Spirit and world religions.

Our attempts to read Paul, in other words, will come up short to the extent that we either (a) neglect the narrative flow within which the cited verse occurs in its original OT context, or (b) allow that OT context to be entirely determinative for what the verse means in Paul.

Today, the monastery is a vibrant stronghold of traditional Ethiopian Orthodox monasticism. And at first glance, it even seems impervious to modern Ethiopia’s fast-changing society. But it, as do all facets of Ethiopia’s monastic culture, confronts new realities and an uncertain future.

Is Objectivity lost, or just playing hide-and-go-seek? Smith, Derrida, Carson, and maybe even Sailhamer

[This is a guest post by Tim Hankins and is part of a series that the Th.M. students at Western Seminary are doing this semester on understanding the relationship between philosophy and theology.]

In the second chapter of Who’s Afraid of Post-modernism, Smith argues that Derrida‘s assertion “there is nothing outside the text” is not the villain that the caricaturization by some in the Church have made it out to be. He does so by examining “whether Derrida’s claim that everything is interpretation is antithetical to orthodox Christianity.” Indeed he posits that Derrida’s assertion is appropriate and useful. His argument can be framed in the contrast between his fictional renditions of the events of the cross as seen by two fictitious natives of Jerusalem. The first is from the perspective of a Jew who saw Jesus as a pathetic Nazarene whose followers were deluded, the second from the perspective of a Roman centurion who proclaimed that truly this man is the son of God. He argues that both saw the same events and yet each had differing interpretations of those events. From this model, Smith argues that the Gospels themselves are interpretations and that is a good thing.  Conversely, Smith disagrees with Carson’s argument in Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, that if the Gospels are only an interpretation then we can’t know if they are true. Smith pronounces that Carson’s argument “simply conflates truth with objectivity”. He posits that truth does not require objectivity.

I will readily admit that I have not read a translation of Derrida’s On Grammatology in English much less in Derrida’s French, so I have to assume that Smith accurately represents Derrida. Having said that, Smith presents Derrida as arguing against the trend to get at the events behind the text, that the reader’s access to those events is through the text itself, so that “there is nothing outside the text” (p.38). At this point it seems that Derrida is in cahoots with Sailhamer, so that Sailhamer’s Text or Event argument in Introduction to Old Testament Theology is simply a biblical application of Derrida’s principle. Yes the events themselves happened, but scripture is the divine interpretation, the “God’s Associated Press” news articles on (then) current events. This idea does have much to commend it. First and foremost, as Derrida and his sidekick Sailhamer profess, attempts to reconstruct the events from the accounts given in the text miss the point, it is the text that informs us, the text that is inspired, the text that we learn from, not the events. We cannot access the events themselves. We have no window, no fourth dimensional rewind to use to go back and watch the events of which the Bible speaks for ourselves. What is more, even if we did, we might have a very different take than what is written in scripture!  So we necessarily are to rely on the text because it is God’s interpretation on those events, and thus by definition TRUE. Apologetically then this view might provide Christians a way to refute differing claims, other interpretations of the events depicted in scripture; that just because someone else interprets the events differently does not invalidate the divine scriptural interpretation or make it any less TRUE.

I am quite comfortable with Smith’s argument thus far, at least assuming I am correctly understanding and representing him here. But within the larger discussion of subjectivity and objectivity, Smith is identifying the events as the objective, and interpretation of those events as subjective interpretation. Yet it is at this point in his argument that I find Smith’s argument to become a bit . . . squirrely. Up to this point he has pretty solidly used the events as the object, text as subjective interpretation, but without warning he shifts the object to the text (scripture) and the subject to the readers of scripture (p.51 Texts in Community). He suddenly starts “applying” his principle in interpretation of scripture, a distinctly different subject than scripture as the interpretation of events. Yet he does not even camp out here, but the shifts once again (p. 54 Seeing the World through the Word) so that the object is the world and we are the subjects interpreting the things we see, which he argues should be through the interpretive lens of scripture. While objectivity is not necessarily Smith’s main point, he makes enough of an issue about it that I am surprised that he abandons it without much ado.

While I agree that scripture is a TRUE “subjective” interpretation of “objective” events, when we shift things to look at scripture as the object, would scripture not then be “objectively TRUE”? It would seem that Carson’s argument is not necessarily antithetical to Derrida’s (as presented by Smith). They simply have differing objects. Carson (again as presented by Smith) seems to be arguing that when it comes to scriptural interpretation, reading and understanding the Bible, that the authority lies in the object, the Bible. which is TRUE. This means that scripture can be both the subjective divine interpretation of events, without threatening its truth as the object of Christian study. Thus the Bible remains objectively TRUE and subjective interpretation simultaneously.

Flotsam and jetsam (10/15)

  • John Armstrong offers some interesting reflections on postmodernism and Christianity. (I noted this post particularly because he references Merold Westphal’s “Overcoming Onto-theology,” which some of us are reading for a class this semester.) HT
  • Over at Per Crucem ad Lucem, Jono Ryan discusses the importance of having a transformative encounter with truth, reflecting on Paul’s counsel to Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:18-19.
  • Russell Saltzman deals with mean Lutherans. (Actually, he’s talking about civility in online theological discourse, but “mean Lutherans” sounds so much more interesting.)
  • The Guardian has an interview with Insane Clown Posse, which may be among the more disturbing things I’ve read in a while. The two rappers confirm that although they’ve been producing some of the most violent rap music in the industry for the last 20 years, they actually claim to have been active (closet) Christians the entire time. As Gangster J explains, “You have to speak their language. You have to interest them, gain their trust, talk to them and show you’re one of them. You’re a person from the street and you speak of your experiences. Then at the end you can tell them: God has helped me.” Oh, so the rampant violence, profanity, and misogyny in their songs, were just ways of gaining access to and credibility in the world of gangster rap. I guess that makes it all okay then.

Flotsam and jetsam (8/27)

Flotsam and jetsam (7/17)

  • John Mark Reynolds discusses in a Washington Post forum whether all religions are the same. He argues that in religion, like in physics, small differences matter.
  • A foundation has donated $400k to a California seminary (CDSP) to write liturgies for gay wedding ceremonies in Episcopal churches. This is interesting for at least two reasons. First, the  Episcopal church has not officially recognized gay marriages yet (emphasis on yet). Second, I had not idea it cost $400k to write a liturgy.
  • Kevin DeYoung offers a very interesting graph showing (colorfully) the change in religious affiliation from childhood to adulthood. It’s particularly interesting to see the transfers in affiliation from one group to another.
  • The Vatican has caused a bit of an uproar (they’re good at that) over its decision to make the ordination of women a serious crime on par with pedophilia.
  • Patheos has an interesting set of posts on whether there’s a widening political rift in evangelicalism. (HT)
  • Christopher Benson has a nice post on Postmodernism (nice list of resources) and whether we should now be talking about a distinctively “Biola School” of philosophy that is characterized by “analytic philosophy, a revised foundationalist epistemology, a classical evidentialist apologetics (indeed, it tends to reduce philosophy to apologetics), and a biblicist notion of propositional revelation.”