Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

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The Work of King: A Panel in Sioux Falls

20 January 2014

If you’re local, please attend!

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The Work of Martin Luther King, Jr.

King’s politics had real depth, driven by a keen awareness of socio-economics, theology, and the human condition. Please join Sioux Falls Seminary as it celebrates the legacy of the great civil rights leader through a panel of esteemed commentators:

Mark Blackburn, Augustana College
Ceca Cooper, University of Sioux Falls
Robin Duncan, Sioux Falls Psychological Services
Christina Hitchcock, University of Sioux Falls
Gary Strickland, Sioux Falls Seminary

WHEN: Thursday, January 23, 7:30pm
WHERE: Sioux Falls Seminary, 2100 S. Summit Ave., Sioux Falls, SD

Refreshments will be served.

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The Venus Transit, Rational Christianity, and Fornicating Gods

5 June 2012
The solar transit of Venus – when the planet gets between the earth and the sun, doing so only twice a century – isn’t eliciting much attention in the news today.  That wasn’t the case in 1769, however, when inspired Europeans invested enormous sums of money and energy sending scientists to the edges of the earth.  Those scientists were to write down the exact times Venus entered and left the sun’s field.  By taking one measurement and comparing it to a measurement taken in, say, Tahiti, a mathematician could use parallax to determine the distance of the earth to the sun.  As it turns out, explorers Captain James Cook and Joseph Banks were there in Tahiti at the time to take those planetary measurements.
 
Knowing the distance between the earth and the sun was a big deal in 1769.  Having that kind of knowledge meant humankind could peer into the heart of God’s created order.  Scientists and philosophers became something like gods in the process.  Discoveries like the distance from the sun to the earth (93 million miles, if you must know) did much to spur on the Enlightenment – an explosion of rational thought that, when taken as a religion, mutated Christian orthodoxy into deism and pantheism.  Anglicans like Cook and Banks would venture far from their doctrinal roots.
 
Not that everyone was busy rationalizing Christianity.  For Joseph Banks, basking in the Tahitian sun, there were things more interesting than planetary transits and metaphysics.  His journal says remarkably little about the astronomical observations but plenty about island culture.  He writes that after the transit he partied with a a local chieftain, and shortly thereafter came across some particularly easy women who were effortlessly coaxed into his tent.
 
So much for godhood.
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Getting Intimate with Karl Barth

16 August 2011

It is impossible to force Karl Barth, the eminent Reformed theologian of the 20th century, into any box, doctrinal or psychological. But I found this comment from Hans Frei the most perceptive I’ve read when it comes to psychoanalyzing the man.

[H]is relations with others, including many long and loyal friendships with other theologians and pastors, seem to have been forged through a sense of common vocation and common moral tasks, rather than through the art of mutual personal cultivation or direct in-depth “encounter.” His intimate relation with his long-time assistant, Charlotte von Kirschbaum, was in its way perhaps the most striking instance of the first type of relationship in his life; his sad misrelation to his wife was his paradigmatic failure in the other kind. . . . To what extent did a sense of shared vocation govern even his intimately personal, sexual life? [Hans W. Frei, Review Article: Eberhard Busch’s Biography of Karl Barth, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 51:1 (Mar 1982): 111].

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Anonymous Editor Commenting on the Rev. John Wesley (1827)

23 February 2011

His style was nervous, clear, and manly; his preaching was pathetic and persuasive; his Journals are artless and interesting; and his compositions and compilations to promote knowledge and piety, were almost innumerable.

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Athanasius: A History of the Black Dwarf

7 July 2010

As if it were not enough that Athanasius of Alexandria was exiled time and again, an evolution of insults has followed the beleaguered fourth-century bishop.  What is pretty certain is that Julian called him “not even a man, but a common little fellow.”   Since then historians have extrapolated on his diminutive size, and speculated about his race.  The Gentle Exit, a blog, documents the odd, fairly recent historical developments which led to Athanasius being misremembered, scorned and valorized as “the black dwarf.”

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Tall and Bearded: Augustine on the Resurrected Male Body

5 March 2010

Early Christian theologians were concerned to maintain a real sense of continuity between this life and the next.  If the resurrection of the flesh meant that the male/female differentiation was erased, then it stood to reason that men and women should downplay their gendered characteristics here in their earthly life.  That was not an option for those trying to preserve a gendered hierarchy.  Patristics scholars have done work on what how the theological argument was addressed toward women.   I want to offer a few ideas on the resurrected male body in Augustine’s City of God.

Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century addressed the doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh, which was widely held in Christian communities but still considered scandalous by many.  In book 22 of City of God he addresses many of these objections and misconceptions, including the idea that the resurrection would mean an elimination of maleness and femaleness.  Not so, says the bishop.  They retain their bodies, including the genitals and basic bodily features.

One preserved feature of the male body is its size.  Augustine defends the resurrection of infants and children, claiming that God will fulfill their full bodily stature according to the “seminal principle” in them (22.13-15).  They will be raised in the full bloom of youth, around age thirty perhaps, after the model of Christ.  But does that imply that all be raised after the pattern of Christ in a very literal sense, viz., Jesus’ exact size?  Men and women would then all be the same height and weight.  Augustine does not allow this, claiming that the preservation of the fleshly material in the resurrection will not permit men with large mass to be raised without their full stature (22:14).  They will, presumably, be taller than women.  The sheer physical ratio is kept in the eschaton.

Beauty is also valued prized by Augustine, and he mentions male bodies as possessing this beauty in a very ornamental way.  Women’s bodies will be beautiful too, beautiful in a way that “excites praise” rather than lusts (22:17).  Their breasts and vaginas and wombs will be aesthetically pleasing in a pure way, not desired for pleasure or function.  Nevertheless, it seems that Augustine highlights even more strongly men’s bodies as those possessing beauty.  In particular, men are raised with their nipples and beards and rough skin (22.24).  Since these features do not serve any real function, thus unnecessary to the human constitution (as proved by the fact that women’s bodies are different), nipples and beards and rough skin are to be understood as ornamental, as beautiful adjuncts to the resurrection body. 

In short, the male body in Augustine’s vision of the resurrection holds onto key masculine features.  Whether the basic size of the male body or its decorative aspects, it is to be raised powerful and beautiful, and celebrated as distinctly male.

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Coming to Die Like a Man

30 November 2009

Yesterday, November 29, marked the season of Advent, the Christian holiday in which one anticipates the coming of the Messiah.  Because it looks forward to Jesus Christ’s final coming to deliver the world and raise the dead, Advent calls for a time of lament, grief, prophecy, and hope.  Because Advent is able to remember the time leading up to the first appearance of the Messiah, it is also a season of memory, promise, and joy. 

For Christian tradition, the Christmas season does not begin until December 25.  Accordingly, my absolute favorite album for December is Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson.  Most of the songs on the album are Advent songs, recalling the (broken) covenants of the Old Testament, and how they converge in two insignificant Jews named Mary and Joseph, and ultimately in an impoverished little boy named Jesus.  The whole album is bookended with a wonderful chorus based out of Philippians 2:

Sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God, but He made Himself nothing
Well, He gave up His pride and He came here to die like a man

God is brave! – when men are cowards.  God is humble! – when men have spurned the covenant with their pride.  The mystery of God’s incarnation in this man Jesus Christ blows apart every category, including what it means to act “like a man.”