Thursday, March 31, 2011

2011 Regent Theology Conference

There are many reasons to visit Vancouver, British Columbia. Mountains, an ocean-like body of water (but without the risk of tsunamis thanks to barrier islands), outstanding rose gardens, vegetarians, turkey-sized sea-gulls, palm-trees. All of these are good excuses for a foray into the southwest of Canada, each worthwhile in themselves.

But, here's the clincher: The 2011 Regent Theology Conference: Heaven on Earth? The Future of Spiritual Interpretation (Sept. 16-17, 2011). It may not be Wheaton tipping a star-studded hat to Tom Wright, but it comes close. We've got Kevin Vanhoozer, R.R. Reno, our own Hans Boersma, and for the first time in public, Peter Leithart.

If you didn't believe Christendom was awesome before, you will after the conference, and you might just want to inaugurate your new found love for the magisterium and Constantine on Vancouver's clothing-optional beach, a short walk from Regent.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Prop Christology

Our family is reading Sally Lloyd-Jones’ hugely successful The Jesus Storybook Bible with our kids. There is much good to be said for her work. She is an engaging writer, helps make the stories come alive, and Jago’s artwork is really well done. Our kids love it.

But her method of finding Jesus in the Old Testament leaves something to be desired. Regarding little Isaac’s birth, she writes, “And one day, God would send another baby…” At Isaac’s near sacrifice, she comments, “Many years later, another Son would climb another hill, carrying wood on his back.” The battle of Jericho points to “another Leader”; David and Goliath, “another young Hero”; Daniel looks to “another brave Hero”; Jonah, “another Messenger”; and so on.

No one would argue that Jonah alludes to another messenger and David another king. Jesus endorses those interpretations. But if that is all that can be said about Jonah or David, they become two dimensional sign posts, or props, which have value in themselves only inasmuch as things in their story relate to things in Jesus’ story.

Isaac’s sacrifice is prime prop territory. He’s got it all – wood, hill, son, sacrifice. The following chapter of Sarah’s death and burial, equal in length and of huge importance to the story of Abraham’s promise gaining fulfillment, doesn’t. A tedious land purchase for Sarah’s grave is harder to be overlaid by the Golgotha narrative.

The most troubling problem with this kind of reading is that Old Testament narratives can become negligible. You don’t even need the Bible. With a prop Christology it would be much easier to preach from Jack and Jill than Isaac and Rebekah.

“Jack and Jill went up a hill/ to fetch a pail of water./ Jack fell down, and broke his crown,/ and Jill came tumbling after…And many years later, on another hill, the Living water, gave up his rightful crown…”

I’m being goofy and giving Sarah Lloyd-Jones far more trouble than she deserves. But I am calling for expecting more from our Old Testament, more about God’s grand narrative and more about his Son. I for one am eager for the Gospel Coalition’s Conference this year to learn what this looks like.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to Write a Theology Paper

John Frame (RTS) has written a helpful article on how to write a good theology paper. I present it here for your consumption and enjoyment.

How to Write a Theological Paper

Friday, March 18, 2011

On Theodicy

Response to question for Systematic Theology class: "In light of the common deadly occurrences of natural disasters, how can God’s providential care and goodness be realistically upheld?

This is certainly a timely question to wrestle with in light of recent events in Japan and New Zealand.

Three things are at play here; God, creation and us. In order to understand this we need to rightly understand the present relationship between these three things. As for the relationship between creation and God, we know that it remains intact (even though creation has been subjected to futility, presumably due to its human caretaker's derangement, cf. Rom. 8:23). Creation still submits to God (Mk 4:39) and carries out his purposes, however perplexing and mysterious they may be. What's more, creation remains fundamentally good by virtue of being created by a good God (Gen. 1:31 , I Tim. 4:4). Thus, while creation is certainly affected by the fall, the locus of the fall was not in it. Creation remains good.

The problem comes in humankind's relationship with God, and then has grave implications for our relationship to creation. Joseph [a previous respondent] is right to cite the garden as the tableau wherein our derangement began. The subtle questioning of the serpent enticed the woman to reason for the first time without proper relation to God. She lifts herself up on toothpick legs, takes the heavy fruit, and crashes to the ground, bending and denting her will–and all wills–in on themselves. It was the beginning of moral ambiguity, and the scene has been repeated in every human since, save one. Barth talks about how, as a result of this, every man is made his own judge, determining for himself what is right and wrong. In the fall, for all that was lost, we gained a damned, undulating, interior judicial system (which still, somehow, condemns us). Even the worst among us act according to what we deem "good". So, the murderer murders because that is what seems right to him. The swindler swindles because it is, within his private scheme, what is most appropriate. As the refrain from Judges goes, "each man did what was right in his own eyes".

Besides the implications of this fall for the field of ethics, it has an important bearing on the question of theodicy. Because we have been given over to our private morality, we are no longer able to discern the glorious ends for which God has prepared creation. A "natural disaster" is only a disaster as such for two reasons; that we have been subjected to an unnatural death, and that those left alive are left without the capacity to understand why such a thing has occurred. The hand of God which acts is hidden in a cloud, and, like the Israelites at Sinai, in our unholy baseness we cannot break through (Ex. 19:21). Without this ascendancy, our inward reasoning cannot provide an adequate explanation for that which is fundamentally outside of itself. It can only make guesses. When the hand that moves is hidden by a dark cloud, who can say what its reasons are? Its reasons and its movements are hidden, and we only see its effects, which is to say our perception is always partial. Thus, when a tsunami overwhelms a seaside town, it is tragic because of sickness, injury, and the loss of human life, and all without any satisfying explanation. Such an event would hardly seem so terrible if immortality and our relationship with God remained intact. It would merely be the thundering playfulness of a world praising its Creator in unison with a people free from the knowledge and experience of death.

What is the solution to this futility? Since the fall has left us without the ability to sufficiently understand this world (because such understanding had been the byproduct of our pre-fall interaction with God), the solution to resolving the tragedy of natural disasters lies in the restoration of our relationship to God. For this reason, the story of Job can be read as a reversal of the events of the fall. In it, we are invited to lift ourselves from the dirt, to dust off bloody knees, to "dress for action," (38:3), and consider God's own explanation as he breaks through our senseless palaver. As the book progresses, the private reasoning of man is frustrated and made incredible, and the answer which ultimately satisfies Job is God's demonstration of his sovereignty over creation (rather than an explanation of why such tragedies occurred; cf. Job 38-41). In terms of reason, the book is absolutely frustrating because it provides no other reason than that God is God. But in terms of resolving the enigma of a suffering world, the book is perfect, as it concludes by lifting the reader's focus to the very same place it was when God and humankind walked abreast without conflict. Our eyes are turned from the effects to the hands at work.

It must be granted that such an explanation does not invalidate the pain and suffering of us who live on this side of the resurrection. I do not think men like Pat Robertson have any right or ability to assign explicit meaning to specific events. Nor is it satisfying for those who stubbornly insist on maintaining their private morality (it is actually quite damning). While we still "weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15), instead of groaning against creation, we now groan with it, anticipating the day when "the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God," (Rom. 8:21). In that day, God, humankind, and creation will enjoy the fruit of a fully restored relationship.