This episode is a conversation with Dr. Matthew Levering of Mundelein Seminary. We discuss becoming a Christian and his path to Catholicism (4:40), major doctrines Catholics and Protestants agree on (14:22), what Catholics believe about justification by faith (15:50), the veneration of Mary (22:13), and the role and authority of the Pope (40:15), the necessity of the Reformation and where we can find unity among disagreement (55:06), and more. Buy Matthew’s books.
*Note: Dr. Levering mentioned “final cause” during the justification portion of the discussion but meant, of course, formal cause.
This episode is a repost of our conversation with Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer. We discuss becoming a scholar (2:25), the rise of theological interpretation of Scripture (TIS) in evangelicalism (11:15), the good and bad of TIS (15:11), guardrails for doing TIS (17:39), doctrines Protestants should agree on (19:40), the relationship between the academy and church (27:47), pastor-theologians (29:23), and more. Buy Kevin’s books.
This episode is a conversation with Dr. Madison Pierce of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She begins her new role as a recurring guest talking about action films (3:40), hermeneutics and theological method (7:10), other topics we would like to research (31:30), a slow round on weird experiences while teaching (36:40), ranking Star Wars (43:10), contributing uniquely to Hebrews scholarship (57:35), and more. Buy Madison’s books.
Theology writing can sometimes be boring, conformist, and placeless. What would theology sound like if we let our distinct “accents” come through, even if ever so slightly?
I heard an interview with Jens Kruger on the radio the other day. Kruger is a Swiss-born banjoist who was talking about the years he spent with Bill Monroe, the Father of American bluegrass. Monroe cautioned Kruger against simply mimicking other bluegrass players. He said “You’re not from Kentucky. You’re from Europe. You have your own influences. I want to hear that.” It got me thinking. What would my writing look like if I didn’t just try to ape the style of theologians from another place (or seemingly no place in particular) but wrote theology in an Alabama accent, so to speak. Even if it’s slight.
Shouldn’t a philosopher from Kentucky be shaped just a little by the rolling bluegrass of his native state? Or won’t an ethicist from East Tennessee have at least a tinge of the hills and hollers come through? Or shouldn’t the camp meetings and collards of Alabama be detectable just a little in my own writings, at least to those who have an ear for it?
Style in theology writing, as a friend recently remarked to me, is especially tricky. The subject matter requires a certain reverence and circumspection and is often best served by directness and clarity. Still, academic theology, like all human discourse, must be indigenized somewhere, addressing a particular people and a particular set of needs and emerging, of course, from a particular writer. I honestly can’t think of many clear exemplars of what I have in mind, where a uniquely emplaced style comes through. Maybe Stanley Hauerwas? Maybe minority and female theologians are our best examples? I certainly don’t have it figured out in my own writings. It’s mostly a wish and an aspiration.
This episode is a conversation with Dr. Andrew Abernethy (Wheaton College) and Dr. Joshua Jipp (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). We discuss the Messiah in the OT and NT in general (4:00), divine and human expectations for the Messiah (16:30), modeling the NT authors’ hermeneutics (51:00), and more. Buy Andy’s and Josh’s books.
On a day of horrible news, how fitting that this day we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. A timely reminder that only Jesus deserves our absolute fealty. Only Jesus deserves our worship. Only Jesus deserves our best gifts. The truly wise of the earth will peacefully resist every Herod and bow only to the Christ child.
The days are dark indeed. But in this season, we celebrate–if only by faith and not by sight–that the Christ-light has dawned. Even now men and women, boys and girls from all nations are coming to his light and to the brightness of his dawn. And one day every nation and every ruler and every individual will bend the knee to the only-begotten, incarnate, crucified, and risen Son of God. Nations rise and fall. Political parties flourish and collapse. Elections are won and lost. Only the throne of Christ will be established forever. So, on a day of national mourning, let us echo the ancient prayer of Solomon (Psalm 72):
Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son.
He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment.
The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.
He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.
They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.
He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.
In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.
He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.
They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.
The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.
Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.
For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper.
He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy.
He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.
And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised.
There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.
His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed.
Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things.
And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.
Time was when what it meant to be an evangelical was the affirmation that both evangelism and social action are integral parts of the church’s mission. Not either/or but both/and: both the verbal proclamation of the saving message of Jesus Christ and the pursuit of social justice as a present sign of the coming kingdom of Christ. The postwar neo-evangelical movement deliberately positioned itself as a third way, distinct from the withdrawn and adversarial social posture of fundamentalism, on the one hand, and the heterodox humanitarianism of the Social Gospel, on the other.
Consider the words of the dean of evangelical theologians, Carl Henry:
But in and through its evangelistic mission to the world, the church is to enunciate and implement the revealed principles that God addresses to the human race by exemplary Christian leadership to the whole realm of public affairs. Social justice is not simply an appendage to the evangelistic message; it is an intrinsic part of the whole, without which the preaching of the gospel is truncated. Theology devoid of social justice is a deforming weakness of much present-day evangelical witness…
Marxists make a hurried leap from the economic needs of the poor to forced redistribution of the property of the rich. However indefensible this revolutionary alternative may be, it can hardly be challenged and stayed if evangelicals are indifferent to the necessities of the poor as well as the neglected responsibilities of the rich…
Jesus did not limit the signs of his coming triumph only to those who responded to the gospel. Of the ten lepers healed, only one returned to acknowledge his mercy, but this one thereby became the rumor of hope for all the leprous. Jesus became the hope of a new day so that wherever he went some sought him for healing. Not every loaf of bread given to the starving prepares the way for evangelistic commitment—nor need it, for feeding the hungry is a duty whether they respond to Christ in this life or not. They have been kept alive not only for the opportunity to find life’s true meaning and center, but also for God’s sake; unregenerate man bears remnants of the divine image, and God has a purpose in the world even for those who do not respond to the Redeemer. A part of that purpose is that Christians remind all mankind that the Christ that reigns tomorrow is not only Jesus of Nazareth who came yesterday, but is also the risen Lord of the church, who through his redeemed body of humanity signals the tidings that no one need permanently consign himself or herself to a living hell, whether here or hereafter.
Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 4
Here is the critical race theorist, er, early church father, John Chrysostom, on how the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt and the return of the magi to Persia signal the validation of Christ’s true humanity and the spread of the gospel to peoples east and west, despite the attempts of oppressive rulers to thwart God’s plan.
There is something else here worth noticing, one touching the magi and the other touching the Child. The issue is why didn’t the magi remain with the Child? And why didn’t the Child remain in Bethlehem? Both had to escape as fugitives shortly after they were received with joy: the magi to Persia and the holy family to Egypt. Why? This is worthy of close examination. The magnificence of God’s plan of salvation would not have been believed if he had not come in the flesh. If Jesus had fallen into the hands of Herod, his life in the flesh might have been cut off. Many circumstances were quietly ordered providentially within human history. Even while the flesh of the Christ child was in danger, some dared to imagine that he never assumed our common human flesh, that his coming was like that of a ghost. These impious ideas will ultimately destroy those who do not confess that God has come to us in the flesh in a way becoming to his deity.
As to the wise men, they were sent off quickly, commissioned to teach in the land of the Persians, having thwarted the madness of the king. Herod was allowed the opportunity to learn that he was attempting things impossible, against prophecy, and that there was still time to quench his wrath and desist from his demented plot. It is fitting to God’s power not only to subdue his enemies but to do so with ease, deceiving the deceivers in a way fitting to God’s almighty power. In the same way the Egyptians had earlier been deceived, their wealth transferred secretly and with craft and God’s power made awesome to them.
As we celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ, the birth of God the Son into his world, here’s one question to hold meditatively in our minds and hearts over the coming days: why did God become a man? This is, of course, the title of St. Anselm’s classic eleventh-century treatment of the incarnation: Cur Deus Homo, Why God Became a Man. But it’s a question that many have taken up before and since. The place to begin when answering this question is our Lord’s own words about his incarnational mission. As we read the gospels and study just the times that Jesus explicitly says “I have come” or “the Son of Man came,” a multi-faceted portrait emerges. Jesus tells us that he came, among other things:
To fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matt 5:17)
To do the will of the Father (John 6:38)
To bear witness to the truth (John 18:37)
To serve and to give his life as a ransom (Mark 10:45)
To seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10)
To bring a sword of division, that is, to bring all humanity to a crisis point over his identity and mission (Matt 10:34-35)
Anselm’s own answer to the question had to do with the connection between the incarnation and the atonement: God became man because only the God-Man could make satisfaction for sins. Only God could repair the infinite breach caused by humanity’s dishonoring of God. But only a human could die on behalf of and in the place of fallen humanity. Indeed, the atonement is the principal purpose of the incarnation that we encounter in Scripture. But it’s not the only one, as the list above from Jesus’ own lips demonstrates.
In his treatment of the necessity of the incarnation in the Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas offers a ten-fold purpose of the incarnation. While Thomas does not think that the incarnation was absolutely necessary for the redemption of humanity (because God is omnipotent and could have devised many other ways—a point that Anselm before him and some Reformed theologians after him would dispute), he does think that the incarnation was necessary in the sense of being the most fitting (conveniens) way for God to accomplish human salvation. Why? Because the incarnation is most useful both for our “furtherance in the good” and for our “withdrawal from evil.” On each of those points, Thomas offers five further explanations for a total of ten reasons God became incarnate:
Furtherance in the good:
To make certain our faith in God
To strengthen our hope that God loves even sinners like us
To enkindle our love
To give us an example to imitate
To cause us to participate in the divine life, which is our true and final bliss
Withdrawal from evil:
To teach us to reject the devil
To teach us humanity’s dignity
To show us that only God’s grace can accomplish salvation
To cure our pride
To free us from sin through the satisfaction of the God-Man (here, Thomas marshals an argument similar to Anselm’s).
So, to summarize, Thomas teaches that God became man in order to give us faith, hope, love, an example, divinization and beatitude, victory, dignity, grace, humility, and atonement. What glory! What grace! What mind-bending mystery! That one of the Trinity would become a human to make humanity one with God!