This episode is a conversation with Fr. Thomas Weinandy. We discuss the making of the Jesus Becoming Jesus series (1:50), the Synoptic Gospels’ contribution to Christology and Trinitarian theology (11:14), Christology and Trinitarian theology in John’s Gospel (22:49), immutability and impassibility in the incarnation (42:50), and more. Read Thomas’s books.
The last couple of years I have compiled a list of my favorite book, album, and movie from those years. Here are my 2020 and 2021 picks. It’s a fun way to chronicle what I was especially moved by in a given year. My pick for the book is not necessarily time-bound. In other words, I pick from the books I read this year, not necessarily books that were published this year. But for the album and movie, I try to pick one that was actually released during the year.
What is the proper relationship between Scripture and Doctrine? How are we to conceive of the precise relationship between biblical exegesis and Christian dogmatics? For several decades, theologians and biblical scholars alike have explored what it would mean to reintegrate these crucial disciplines. But attempts at a reunion have sometimes been characterized by a lack of cohesion, rigor, and concrete specificity. From a certain perspective, Biblical Reasoning serves as a kind of remedy to these deficiencies. Exploring seven “principles” and ten “rules” for exegesis, the book shows how the relationship between exegetical reasoning and dogmatic reasoning is reciprocal and reinforcing, even if asymmetrical. Drawing on the seminal work of the late John Webster (but also ranging widely in the fathers, the medieval doctors, the Reformers, the post-Reformation scholastics, and modern scholarship as well), Biblical Reasoning has rightly been called a “book of generational significance” and “a master class in how to read the Bible directly and accurately.” I hope this book gets a wide and serious reading.
A trippy and bizarre multiverse fantasy sets the stage for a moving dramedy about an immigrant family. It made me laugh and cry…in the theater. It skirted right up to the line of nihilism and backed off, rediscovering family as our primal meaning-maker as human beings.
Zach Bryan has been building a cult following for years, with homemade Youtube videos he made moonlighting from his former day job in the United States Navy. He’s one of those rare singers that punches you in the gut from the first listen. So by the time Bryan released his first major record label album this summer it felt a bit like letting a bucking bronco out of the shoot. The production is clean but doesn’t overwhelm the rawness and authenticity of Bryan’s voice. It’s a sprawling and epic production (34 tracks long!) that mixes Red Dirt country with a good dose of folk songwriting reminiscent of Bryan’s fellow-Oklahoman Woody Guthrie. Having moved to Oklahoma this summer, I’ve seen the skies that inspired a track like “Something in the Orange.” This album is an opus from the cutting edge of the authentic country music revival we have been witnessing in recent years.
The world lost a theological and spiritual giant today. It’s not too much to say that with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and Pope Benedict XVI this year, the West lost something of itself. The West has lost a living connection to another world, the world of its Christian patrimony.
I have an obituary and reflection on Benedict’s life that will be published over at Mere Orthodoxy, I believe on Monday. In the meantime, I want to point you to a fascinating conversation between then Cardinal Ratzinger and the late Johann Christoph Arnold, elder of the Bruderhof Communities. The conversation launches from a discussion of Anabaptist martyrs who died at the hands of Catholic authorities. Ratzinger’s comments on the danger of relying on worldly power to do the Lord’s work seem especially relevant in our day:
What is truly moving in these stories is the depth of faith [of these men], their being deeply anchored in our Lord Jesus Christ, and their joy in this fact, a joy that is stronger than death. We are distressed, of course, by the fact that the church was so closely linked with the powers of the world that she was able to deliver other Christians to be executed because of their beliefs. This should be a deep challenge to us, how much we all need to repent again and again, and how much the church must renounce worldly principles and standards in order to accept the truth as the only standard, to look to Christ, not to torture others but to go the way of witnessing ourselves, a way that the world will always oppose, a way that will always lead to some form of martyrdom. I believe it is very important for us not to adopt worldly standards but to be ready to take upon ourselves the opposition of the world and to learn that his truth is expressed above all in love and forgiveness, and that this is truth’s most trustworthy sign. I believe this is the point at which we all have to learn anew, the only point through which he can truly lead us together.
A joy that is stronger than death. Truth expressed in love. Looking to Christ. These are some of the lessons the whole church learned from the late pope.
It is a commonplace that theologians today—especially younger theologians—work in a more ecumenical mode than did previous generations. theologians who are deeply embedded in their tradition—as Brandon Smith is in his, and I am in mine!—nevertheless find dialogue partners far beyond what might seem their natural community. Those who manage to keep this balance over great hope for the future. That future is, of course, in God’s providential, benevolent, and mysterious hands—not in ours. All that those of us who attempt to argue faithfully can do is to seek to enter the truth more deeply and attempt to share it respectfully and lovingly with others.
Perhaps the most significant feature of this new ecumenical outlook is that, despite our significant and currently unresolvable doctrinal differences, many from widely divergent traditions have come to recognize that the deep Christian tradition offers us the resources needed to think through the mighty theological mysteries that confront and dazzle the student of Christian theology. By “the deep Christian tradition” I mean the history of responses of men and women to God’s call over the long centuries since the resurrection and ascension of our Lord, and since the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost. We will necessarily view this tradition from a variety of perspectives and with different understandings of its authority in view. But for many now, it is in turning to that tradition that we best find resources for describing God’s action among us and resources for reading the Scriptures. And from this long tradition, it is the early, vibrant centuries of the Christian church that have drawn the attention of perhaps the widest group of theologians.
Further, perhaps nowhere is this new interest more apparent than in work on trinitarian theology and scriptural exegesis. It should surprise no one that Orthodox and Catholic theologians turn to this deep tradition as they seek to articulate classical trinitarian theology, but it is noteworthy that a host of theologians in (for example) the Baptist and Presbyterian traditions have also begun to turn toward early Christian theology as a key resource for explaining and exploring God’s revelation to us of the triune life. In some ways this is no new development—there is a number of Baptist church historians who have made important contributions over the past few decades to our understanding of early Christian theology. What does seem to be new is the rise of a new generation of younger Baptist theologians who wish to use the resources of the early church to present a fully scriptural account of the divine being and economy.
Many of these figures have been caught by the sheer power and beauty of the expositions of Scripture that they have found from this period. Many have come to recognize that older narratives—in which this period sees the overcoming of true Christian faith by “Greek philosophy”—hold little water, and that early Christian theology is both deeply exegetical and philosophically engaged (rather as is Paul’s own engagement with the Jewish Scripture!). As we seek to avoid the perennial danger of reinventing the wheel in every generation, it is only right that we turn again to the figures who played such an elemental and foundational part in drawing from Scripture one of its most central themes—the inseparable unity and yet irreducibility of Father, Son, and Spirit.
It is within these contexts that Smith writes. In the first place his theology is deeply informed by attention to the heritage of early Christian thought. In the second place his goal is to read Scripture, in this case the book of Revelation, in aid of a compelling presentation of God’s self-revelation. The book unfolds as a dialogue between careful engagement with modern scholarship on Revelation and the manner in which pro-Nicene trinitarian patterns of scriptural reading may lead us to understand the possibilities of this complex and mysterious text more fully. As the book proceeds, Smith draws us deep into the text of Revelation by careful study of key passages. At the end we are left with an important challenge: to read this text anew as an integral part of Scripture’s revelation of the simple and undivided life of Father, Son, and Spirit. His work should be welcomed by all interested in the constant renewal of Christian thought.
Today, December 26, is the Feast of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr. It is always striking to me that the liturgical calendar follows up the Feast of Nativity with commemorations of St Stephen, who was stoned for his witness to the Risen Christ (December 26), of St John the Evangelist, who died in exile (December 27), and of the Holy Innocents, who were slaughtered by King Herod (December 28). The First Advent leans forward to the Second.
For all of its joy and mirth and light, Christmas doesn’t actually bring an end to our darkness. No one needs to tell us this. We know it experientially. We wake up on December 26 (or on January 6, when Christmastide gives way to Epiphany) with all of the same problems. The diagnosis doesn’t miraculously change. The devilish temptations don’t magically disappear. The dead remain painfully cold in their graves.
Christmas signals the end of the old order of sin, suffering, and death. But, taken in isolation, it doesn’t actually bring it to pass. The mystery of Christ’s nativity is connected like a chain to the subsequent mysteries of his suffering, crucifixion, and death. Christ’s birth sets him on a journey that will end in the cruel death of the cross. The death of the Holy Innocents (and then, later in the gospel, the beheading of John the Baptist) foreshadows this.
But even the crucifixion, taken in isolation, doesn’t shatter the darkness. It too, is tethered to the further mysteries of Christ’s descent, resurrection, and ascent to the Father’s right hand. But, painfully, even these glorious mysteries, as we well know, have not brought an end to our suffering. Eastertide bears its own burdens as well.
And so we come to St Stephen, the Spirit-filled deacon (Acts 6:5), wonderworker (Acts 6:8) and exegete of redemptive history (Acts 7). Even he, on this side of Christ’s ascension, is not spared martyrdom.
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
And herein we see the light breaking through the darkness that even the ascension does not remove from our experience: the Risen Lord Jesus, the divine-human Son of Man, temporarily suspends his session–his having sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high–and stands in honor of his first martyr. Daniel’s promise of the Son of Man coming in the clouds is given a kind of preview, at least in its first moment, at the protomartyr’s death.
Soon, this same Jesus will stand once again from his throne and return to earth to make all things new. And so, the chain will be complete: the whole mystery of Christ–his incarnation, life, death, burial, descent, resurrection, ascension, session–will be brought to a climactic conclusion in his Second Advent to judge the quick and the dead, to defeat all his and our enemies, and to usher in a new creation. And the denouement: a world of perpetual light (Revelation 22:5).
If you’re looking for a few ideas for last second Christmas money/gift card redemption, here’s a few ideas. You can also check out my past lists: 2015 and 2016 lists at my old Patheos blog, and my 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 lists posted here at Biblical Reasoning.
Please forgive my shameless plug upfront, but beyond these five fantastic books below, I have two books to briefly plug:
This book was recommended to me by several friends as a necessary read for working in early Christian theology and exegesis, and I see why. It is an excellent introduction to the larger contextual influences on early reading cultures and their intersection with/influence on early Christian writings. Order here.
This three-volume series (see also: vol. 1 and vol. 3) is a treasure trove of theological interpretation of the Gospels. Aside from Jesus himself, of course, Weinandy’s prose is the star of this book. I devoured each volume rather quickly due to how effortlessly Weinandy blends beautiful writing with deeply engaging insights, but I especially enjoyed volume 2. I’ll be revisiting these often. Listen to our conversation on the trilogy here. Order here.
This book is not an easy read, but well organized and gets straight to the point regarding the major philosophical developments in and around early Christianity. The discussion toward the end on Christian appropriations of philosophy is worth the price of the book. Order here.
I know everyone tells me to read more fiction, but I typically reserve my “free time” reading for sports books. I really enjoyed this one on the evolution of the modern NBA game by Kirk Goldsberry, a pioneer in NBA advanced analytics. Order here.
This Advent, I have been reading a book on the Christology of the great medieval Franciscan theologian, St. Bonaventure. The Seraphic Doctor summarizes the mystery of the incarnation—which results in the union of two natures in the one hypostasis, or person, of the Son—like this: The hypostatic union “consists in nothing other than the fact that a divine person who, from eternity, has been a hypostasis of the divine nature becomes the hypostasis of a human nature in time.”
It is astounding to consider: a divine person, the Second Person of the Godhead, the eternally begotten Son of the Father, is the very same person who was born to a poor, Jewish virgin two-thousand years ago. He has made himself accessible to us; indeed, he has made himself one of us. The One who was from the beginning has made himself hearable, visible, and touchable (1 John 1:1). Whatever else we may be going through this year, our lives have been definitely qualified by this fundamental fact in the history of the cosmos: God has come near. Though it strains credulity, a divine person has been born.
This episode is a conversation with Dr. Trevin Wax of the North American Mission Board. We discuss our years serving and podcasting together (2:32), the definition of orthodoxy (6:13), the inclusivity of orthodoxy and the exclusivity of heresy (10:08), orthodoxy and cultural engagement (24:28). BuyTrevin’s books and his new podcast, Reconstructing Faith.
Racism is persistent. It comes in a variety of forms, some more veiled and incipient, others more explicit and fully formed. Many seem to espouse a myth of progress that envisions a gradual waning of all racialized ideologies. But recent years (and months and days) have given the lie to that myth. The truth is that only the redeeming work of the incarnate Christ can finally “bid our sad divisions cease.”
The breaking down of the dividing wall of hostility is one of the central messages of Advent, indeed of the entirety of the “Winter Pascha,” to use Alexander Schmemann’s memorable phrase to describe the liturgical cycle of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. In Advent, we long for the appearing of the Prince of Peace. In Christmastide, we celebrate his nativity, which is good news of great joy for all peoples. And in Epiphany, we herald his manifestation as King of the nations, signaled by the visit of the magi, bearing gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
This last mystery, the visit of the magi, has been received by the church with a special connection to Christ’s universal work. As Joseph Ratzinger has noted, the Christian tradition developed the notion that the magi are kings hailing from all three known continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. So, says Ratzinger, “the black king is part and parcel of this: in the kingdom of Jesus Christ there are no distinctions of race and origin. In him and through him, humanity is united, yet without losing any of the richness of variety.”
In this way, Christ as the Last Adam is simply restoring the inherent unity of the human race that is obscured and undermined by human sin. In another place, Ratzinger reflects on the unity of man in Adam, the man from the dust:
Thus the unity of the whole human race becomes immediately apparent: We are all from only one earth. There are not different kinds of “blood and soil,” to use a Nazi slogan. There are not fundamentally different kinds of human beings, as the myths of numerous religions used to say and as some worldviews of our own day also assert. There are not different categories and races in which human beings are valued differently. We are all one humanity, formed from God’s one earth. It is precisely this thought that is at the very heart of the creation account and of the whole Bible. In the face of all human division and human arrogance, whereby one person sets himself or herself over and against another, humanity is declared to be one creation of God from his one earth. What is said at the beginning is then repeated after the Flood: in the great genealogy of Genesis 10 the same thought reappears — namely, that there is only one humanity in the many human beings. The Bible says a decisive “No” to all racism and to every human division.
“Blood and soil” ideologies seem to be on the rise again in some quarters. But the church of the universal Savior–the people whose identity is definitively marked by Advent, the Nativity, and the Epiphany–of all people should not be deceived by them. The church is the sign of a coming kingdom of peace in which the Desire of the nations will “bind in one the hearts of all mankind.”