Blog Archives

Flotsam and jetsam (11/30)

  • James McGrath had the students in his Revelation class evaluate a website and post their comments. He set up a blog for that purpose and is inviting everyone to check it out. I’ve only glanced at it so far, but it looks interesting.
  • Dane Ortlund offers a thought from Richard Baukham on why the Gospel writers thought history was so important.

Aquinas on the victory view of the atonement (ETS paper)

Jonathan Morgan, a doctoral student at Marquette, presented a paper titled, “Christus Victor Motifs in the Soteriology of Thomas Aquinas.” The paper argued that people have wrongly associated Aquinas almost exclusively with Anselm’s satisfaction theory of the atonement, neglecting the many ways in which he affirmed victory as an important aspect of the atonement. Rather than neglecting this motif entirely as many do or seeing it as merely tangential to his true understanding of the atonement as Gustav Aulen does, Morgan argues that it is fundamental for understanding Aquinas’ soteriology.

Morgan offers three lines of evidence to support this conclusion:

  1. Aquinas’ interpretation of Scripture. The first part of the paper offered several examples of Aquinas interaction with Scripture, noting that he regularly identifies Christ’s victory over death and the demonic as fundamental for understanding the atonement.
  2. Aquinas’ dependence on the patristics. Morgan rightly points out that Aquinas interacts extensively with patristic writers. And, he also points out how odd it is that people routinely see the patristic thinkers as affirming a “classical” understanding of the atonement (victory), but seldom see the influence that this had on medieval thinkers like Aquinas who were so keen on interacting with and remaining faithful to earlier thinkers.
  3. The theological necessity of the victory motif. Finally, Morgan points out that Aquinas’ understanding of sin requires more than the satisfaction theory alone suggests. Aquinas sees sin as a condition of bondage that has enslaved all human persons to the demonic, and Morgan argues that the satisfaction theory really does not address this aspect of the sin problem. So, the victory motif is soteriologically necessary given the nature of Aquinas’ view of sin.

The paper was somewhat interesting in helping me recognize the importance of the victory motif in the medieval period as a whole. Many have critiqued Aulen over the years for an overly schematized understanding of the atonement through history, one that regularly forces people into simplistic categories that are simply inadequate for the complexity of their theology as a whole. Aquinas is definitely the kind of person who cannot be simply categorized as “classical”. And, this is true of most great thinkers.

Flotsam and jetsam (11/1)

  • Mark Galli’s article, “Insignificant Is Beautiful,” has gotten a lot of attention and is a timely warning about the dangers of aspiring for significance.

We should honor any generation that strives for significance, especially if it is a longing to make a difference in the world. Better this than striving to make money and live a comfortable life! But the human heart is desperately wicked and the human soul subject to self-deception, and this colors even our highest aspirations. Even the best of intentions mask the mysterious darkness within, which is why we need to be healed also of our best intentions.

The fact that God wishes to give grace and glory is due simply to His generosity. The reason for His willing these things that arise simply from His generosity is the overflowing love of His will for His end-object, in which the perfection of His goodness is found. The cause of predestination, therefore, is nothing other than God’s goodness. (Providence and Predestination, 116)

  • And, the October 2010 biblioblog rankings are out. We’re down a bit since classes started in September, but still doing quite well. Thanks everyone for taking the time to read and comment here.

Who are the “must reads” in theology? (part 1)

Brian LePort sparked quite the discussion yesterday with a question about “must read” theologians.

So what makes someone a bonafide “must read if you are serious about biblical/theological studies”? Who would you say is a must read, why, and what is your criteria? Also, is given “must read” always a must read (e.g. I don’t image Barth matters to those who spend their days in textual criticism or the Gospel of Thomas)? Is there anyone who is always a must read?

From there, the discussion ranged rather far afield, with most of the discussion focusing on whether people like Barth and Torrance qualify as must-read theologians. I commented early in the discussion and started to comment again toward the end. But, my comment got too long. So, I decided to turn it into a post of its own. Then that got too long. So now I think I’ll end up with a short series on what it means to say that someone is a “must read” theologian.

Reading the comments on Brian’s post, I was intrigued by how difficult it seems to be to keep separate the question of whether someone is a must-read because of their historical significance and whether they’re a must-read because of the inherent value of their theology. In this post, then, I’m going to comment on what I think makes for a must-read theologian in the former (historical) sense. Tomorrow, I’ll comment on what it means to be a must-read theologian in the latter sense. And, I’ll try to follow that up with a third post offering my list of must-read theologians (in both senses).

For me, determining whether someone falls into the former category (historical must-read) really has to do with the extent to which understanding that person is necessary for understanding a significant portion of Christian theology. For example, one simply must have some understanding of Augustine and Aquinas to have any real grasp of what’s been happening in Western theology pretty much ever since. The same would hold true in the East for theologians like Athanasius, John of Damascus, and Gregory Palamas (to name just a few). For me, people like these constitute the “giants” of theology – people we must read to have a deep understanding of entire Christian traditions. (This isn’t to say, of course, that their theology is necessarily better than that of other, lesser-known theologians; only that their theology has had a level of historical influence that places it in a distinct category.)

After these giants, there is a secondary level of historical must-reads, those people who are necessary for understanding their generation, and certainly had significant influence on later thinkers,  but never rose to the level of defining an entire tradition. In this category I would put people like Tertullian, Ambrose of Milan, Bonaventure, Melancthon (depending on how you understand his impact on the Lutheran tradition), and others. These are important figures and well worth studying in their own right. But, for me, they are only must-reads for people specializing in their era of church history or who want a more thorough grasp of the particular tradition they represent.

Much of the debate about theological must-reads, though, focuses on a third category – those people who are are still alive or who died fairly recently. This is a debated category because it’s nearly impossible to assess their historical significance yet. Personally, I would not categorize any living theologian (or even any of those who have died recently) as a historical must-read. I think you need to be at least a generation or two removed from a person before you have any hope of making that kind of assessment. Each generation has its larger-than-life theologians who are largely forgotten by later generations. (And, that’s not a knock against their theology. Every generation needs people to rise up and engage the theological task in ways that are meaningful for that generation. Most will not be talked about by later generations, but they still performed a valuable and needful task for the church.) So, for me, if you were alive and writing within the last forty years, you would probably not qualify yet as a historical must-read. Indeed, as we’ll see in tomorrow’s post, even forty years is barely enough time to make this kind of assessment.

So, my main must-read category is reserved for those who are historical must-reads, primarily those who are theological “giants” because they established a theological trajectories for entire traditions.

A prayer from Thomas Aquinas

O creator past all telling,
you have appointed from the treasures of your wisdom
the hierarchies of angels,
disposing them in wondrous order
above the bright heavens,
and have so beautifully set out all parts of the universe.

You we call the true fount of wisdom
and the noble origin of all things.
Be pleased to shed
on the darkness of mind in which I was born,
The twofold beam of your light
and warmth to dispel my ignorance and sin.

You make eloquent the tongues of children.
Then instruct my speech
and touch my lips with graciousness.
Make me keen to understand, quick to learn,
able to remember;
make me delicate to interpret and ready to speak.

Guide my going in and going forward,
lead home my going forth.
You are true God and true man,
and live for ever and ever.

(via crypton.org)

O creator past all telling,
you have appointed from the treasures of your wisdom
the hierarchies of angels,
disposing them in wondrous order
above the bright heavens,
and have so beautifully set out all parts of the universe.

You we call the true fount of wisdom
and the noble origin of all things.
Be pleased to shed
on the darkness of mind in which I was born,
The twofold beam of your light
and warmth to dispel my ignorance and sin.

You make eloquent the tongues of children.
Then instruct my speech
and touch my lips with graciousness.
Make me keen to understand, quick to learn,
able to remember;
make me delicate to interpret and ready to speak.

Guide my going in and going forward,
lead home my going forth.
You are true God and true man,
and live for ever
O creator past all telling,

you have appointed from the treasures of your wisdom

the hierarchies of angels,

disposing them in wondrous order

above the bright heavens,

and have so beautifully set out all parts of the universe.

You we call the true fount of wisdom

and the noble origin of all things.

Be pleased to shed

on the darkness of mind in which I was born,

The twofold beam of your light

and warmth to dispel my ignorance and sin.

You make eloquent the tongues of children.

Then instruct my speech

and touch my lips with graciousness.

Make me keen to understand, quick to learn,

able to remember;

make me delicate to interpret and ready to speak.

Guide my going in and going forward,

lead home my going forth.

You are true God and true man,

and live for ever and ever.

and ever.