Category Archives: Books

Thoughts on Book XIII of the Confessions

In my History of Christian Thought I class, our professor — one Dr. Michael Lodahl — asks us every week to write some reflections on our reading. Here are some of my amateur thoughts on the final book of Saint Augustine’s Confessions. Those who know I tend to value synchronic readings over diachronic readings will not be surprised.

A general comment about the final book (XIII) of the Confessions: I have read in some places that some scholars think that this final book is an “afterthought” or, at least, probably “added later,” as the usual historical-critical inclination is wont to say regarding making sense of texts that do not seem to have an obvious reason for existing in a certain place within its larger context. This last book is about the days of creation, so some have expressed a thought that goes along the lines, “Now that Augustine has confessed and turned to God, he added an exegetical chapter on Genesis at the end of his main biographical text.” With these leanings, I will have to disagree. I see no disjunct. On contrary, this last book seems to tie precisely into the way in which Augustine began the text: “our hearts find no peace until they rest in you” (p. 21). The movement of Book XIII is such that Augustine moves amongst the days of creation so that he really does end on the seventh and final day, which is the Sabbath, or day of rest. Augustine’s “confession” comes full circle, not only confessing what he has done in his life, but quite beautifully in the end, confessing exactly what God has done: created us out of an abundance of love and delight such that in God’s rest we will find our own rest; our own autobiographies are ultimately about God and God’s own story.

Telling God’s Story

I have blogged on the first chapter of my pastor John Wright‘s recent book called Telling God’s Story over on the Church and Postmodern Culture blog.  It interacts with the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer a bit, with an emphasis on preaching.

De Trinitate: Augustine and the Form of Christ


I have begun reading Saint Augustine’s De Trinitate (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1991) in a small reading group with my pastor/professor, John Wright. We met for the first time last Thursday, but only this week have I had the chance to read the first of fifteen books which comprise this work, whose stated goal is “to account for the one and only and true God being a trinity, and for the rightness of saying, believing, understanding that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are of one and the same substance or essence” (I.1.4). I wanted to note three things, the second of which I hope to give the most emphasis.

First, Augustine goes to some length in I.1 to describe the voyage ahead in terms of the path it charts between three extremes. Briefly, they are 1) those who “allow thmselves to be deceived through an unseasonable and misguided love of reason” (I.1.1), 2) those who anthropomorphize God, and 3) those who (to anachronistically borrow a term of Thomas Nagel), think they have an objective “view from nowhere” to the point that they somehow think that their point of view is akin to God’s own “unchanging substance,” so that “what they do not know they wish to give the impression of knowing, and what they wish to know they cannot.” This last type kind of sounds like “know-it-alls who really know nothing,” or something of the sort.

Second, after a chapter of devoting himself to showing that Scripture proves “the unity and equality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” in I.3 Augustine attempts to wrestle with the words of Jesus when he says, “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28Open Link in New Window). This verse had always somewhat confused me because I had always been told that because God is three equal persons in one, so how can any one of the Triune persons be “greater” than any one or both of the others?

To answer this, Augustine begins by noting that the truth is that “the Son is less even than himself. How could it be otherwise with him who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant (Phil 2:7Open Link in New Window)?” The distinction made, then, is between the Son in the form of God and the Son in the form of a servant. The Son in the form of God is the second person of the Trinity, co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit; the Son in the form of a servant is Jesus the Christ incarnated on earth who suffered, died, and rose again. But it is important to emphasize that Augustine calls these two forms not distinct Christs at all, but the “same only begotten Son of the Father” taking on two different forms (III.3.14, my emphasis). Augustine thus says, “who can fail to see that in the form of God he too is greater than himself and in the form of a servant he is less than himself? And so it is not without reason that scripture says both; that the Son is equal to the Father and that the Father is greater than the Son. The one is to be understood in virtue of the form of God, the other in virtue of the form of a servant, without any confusion (ibid).

In I.4, this logic (Augustine calls it a “rule”) is then applied to multiple assertions in Scripture about Jesus Christ:

In the form of God, all things were made by him (John 1:3Open Link in New Window); in the form of a servant, he himself was made of woman, made under the law (Gal 4:4Open Link in New Window). In the form of God, he and the Father are one (John 10:30Open Link in New Window); in the form of a servant, he did not come to do his own will, but the will of him who sent him (John 6:38Open Link in New Window). In the form of God, as the Father has life in himself, so he gave the Son also to have live in himself (John 5:26Open Link in New Window); in the form of a servant, his soul is sorrowful to the point of death, and Father, he said, if it can be, let this cup pass by (Matt 26:38Open Link in New Window). In the form of God, he is true God and life eternal (1 John 5:20Open Link in New Window); in the form of a servant, he became obedient to the point of death, the death even of the cross (Phil 2:8Open Link in New Window). In the form of God, everything that the Father has is his (John 16:15Open Link in New Window), and all yours is mine, he says, and mine yours (John 17:10Open Link in New Window); in the form of a servant, his doctrine is not his own, but his who sent him (John 7:16Open Link in New Window).

I mention this way of interpretation for the simple fact that this is news to me. It also sounds pretty cool. I have never read much Augustine at all outside of a lot of secondary treatments, so for all I know, this is a very widely-held way of interpreting these passages; I just never paid much attention.

The last item I wanted to know in the first book of De Trinitate is that Augustine has no illusions about there being only one “correct” reading of these words in Scripture. Part of this move comes from Augustine’s humility, and part of it comes from his view of Scripture. He admits to the likelihood that his own words are going to be inadequate (although this should not be confused with any alleged inadequacy of the faith itself). To this, Augustine says, “This is why it is useful to have several books by several authors, even on the same subjects, differing in style though not in faith, so that the matter may reach as many as possible, some in this way others in that” (I.1.5).

Augustine’s view of Scripture seems to be that there are, as Cynthia Nielsen has noted (citing Michael Hanby), a “plenitude of true meanings for a single text.” Therefore we see that Augustine does not miss a step when he says at the end of book I of De Trinitate, “There are doubtless other ways of of understanding our Lord’s words.” He comes full circle on his three extreme cases listed above when he implores that “we may cheerfully use not merely one interpretation but as many as can be found. For the more ways we open up of avoiding the traps of heretics, the more effectively can they be convinced of their errors” (I.4.31). Even in this conclusion one can see there there is no mere academic aloofness in critiquing one’s opponents, but an end toward correction.

Rusty needs your help


Rusty asks:

I’m beginning to work on some syllabus stuff for a course that I’m T.A.’ing in the Spring. I’m also doing a directed study in Christology and Ethics this fall and I’ll be reading many of these texts.

I’m looking to compile a list of the 25 top Christological texts. These do not need to be in order. The list can span the whole history of Christianity, but we want it to be top-heavy, meaning we are going to favor contemporary theological works for the class. Get started, post as many times as you’d like, ask your friends and colleagues, etc….

Go drop Rusty a comment if you know of some that would be helpful.

David Bentley Hart on Reason

Having read David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth last year (and quite enjoying it), I was very excited to find this wonderful new blog called Ipsum Esse by DJW. Below is the full text of his latest post:

I have not yet read David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite, though I have read his small book on theodicy and various articles of his, many of which can be accessed for free on I find him to be an exhilarating writer and am often carried away by the beauty of his prose. Until now, however, I had the same concerns over his theological orientation as I have over Milbanks’. I was therefore extremely pleased to see him address these outright in the latest issue of New Blackfriars.

He responds to three evaluations of his work and it is his response to James K. A. Smith that I was most interested in. He contends that Smith has misread his intentions in The Beauty of the Infinite, and aligned him far too much with ‘Yale School’ tendencies which he had expressed dissatisfaction with but had perhaps not sufficiently distinguished his position from. Thus he flat out asserts that:

In my haste to dismiss the Enlightenment myth of a “pure reason,” neutrally available to every reflective mind, undetermined by the particularities of language or culture, I seem not to have made it sufficiently clear that I was by no means calling into question the power of natural reason to discern many truths, to clarify its understanding of those truths, and to inform and receive nourishment from reasoned debate and reflection.

I have to say that this was music to my ears, coming as I do from a Roman Catholic perspective. I fully agree that there is no such thing as a “pure reason” but it seems to me that the rejection of this should not entail a rejection of the possibility of the human mind ‘naturally’ attaining truth. I think it’s all the more important for Catholics to remember that this is not a negotiable aspect of their faith.

Hart continues in the same vein when speaking of God‘s revelation:

He reveals himself in nature, in human reason, in human culture, in human religions: always now through a veil of sin and death, perhaps, but never unavailingly.

Hart, however, does not overstate the role of reason and his view of the analogia entis remains firmly within that established in 1215 by the Fourth Lateran Council wherein it was stated that:

For between creator and creature there can be noted no similarity so great that a greater dissimilarity cannot be seen between them.

This was the view followed by Przywara and, following him, Balthasar.

Thus Hart remarks (perhaps rhetorically overstating the case in my view) that:

Still, all that said, I grant that we are talking about a very great difference of degree indeed—as great, perhaps, as the difference between the self-love of the suicide and the self-love of the saint (who loves himself wholly and only in God).

On a separate note, I must say that I was also very pleased when Hart, in the best tradition of 1 Cor 15:14Open Link in New Window, called himself an “unregenerate primitive” regarding the resurrection, unequivocally asserting that the resurrection only makes sense if it is understood as a literally historical event occurring after the crucifixion. I am of the same opinion and must confess myself completely befuddled as to what some theologians are really saying when it comes to the resurrection (Rahner in The Foundations of Christian Faith springs to mind). I often find myself exasperated at such equivocations and just want them to say outright whether they believe the resurrection really occurred in history.

I would also highly recommend DJW’s series of posts on John Milbank. There is a summary of Theology and Social Theory here, and a critical engagement with Milbank’s essay ‘The End of Dialogue’ that appears in the collection Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered, which can be found here, here, and here.

The ensuing conversation in these posts with Cynthia Nielsen and Brendan definitely worth the time. These are some really good critical engagements that are devoid of the usual sloppiness, snarkiness, and impatience found in anti-Milbankian polemics, making these quite refreshing reads.

It is perhaps also providence that DJW posts Peguy’s “Sleep,” which, though I had never read it before, this poem had just been recommended to me earlier this morning by a friend. In light of all the reasons why I need to take heed of this poem, it is a good thing that tonight begins a three-day weekend!

From the Field Notes of Green Taylor Simms (Historian)

In march, I read a couple of works of fiction during Spring break. It would have been very wise of me to try to get a better start on my reading for my end-of-the-semester papers, but reading explicitly theology/philosophy texts was the absolute last thing I wanted to do at that time. So instead, I read Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory and a more recent one called The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

The Power and the Glory was recommended to me by a professor during one of our classes earlier this semester. He said that it had a profound effect on his life when he read it, and he was right: this book did not disappoint. I would want to distance myself from some of the conclusions he drew regarding how it contributes to his current view on how theology functions, but all in all, the story of the whiskey priest was a very good one. In a way, the book was profoundly theological, but at least not in any direct way like the usual books I read. Highly recommended.

The Shadow of the Wind was a book I saw on the book tables at Costco sometime last year. It was cheap and as far as judging a book by its cover, I would have to say that this book was delicious before even opening it up. It was much easier to get into than The Power and the Glory, but it was a very different kind of tale. Let’s just say I have now loaned it to my friend Jarrod — singer/guitarist of In Reverent Fear who loves Oscar Wilde — and he called last week to tell me he loves it so far. Zafón is an excellent writer, and he knows how to spin an labyrinthine yarn with skill. A very enjoyable read, from page one.

Are lists boring?

Well, with my two main papers out of the way, and only a test (tomorrow) left in this semester, I can breathe a little. I still have a 3rd paper due by June 1st, but that one will be a lot of fun and I’m not worrying about it.

In the meantime, in my Netvibes account, I have a crapload of lists. To-do lists for this and that project, for this and that thing-I-want-to-do. Give me a to-do list, and chances are I will complete those items for the sweet, delicious joy of crossing that item off the list. Merely for voyeuristic purposes, here are a handful of my lists:

Movies that need watching:

  • David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (just got the DVD and so I need to watch it — I’ve seen it before, and it’s mountains better than the wretched book by the same name that is popular among evangelicals)
  • Grindhouse (hope I can catch this before it leaves the theatres)
  • Hot Fuzz (*Loved* Shawn of the Dead, it’s by the same blokes)
  • Blades of Glory (maybe before it leaves the theatre, but not high priority)
  • Spiderman 3 (shut up, I want to see it despite what everybody says)
  • The Machinist and everything else in my Netflix queue.
  • Pirates of the Carribean 3 (when it comes out later this month)
  • Shrek 2 (needs to be watched)
  • Happy Feet (I love computer animation)
  • You Me and Everyone We Know (just picked up the DVD for this as well… great indie flick)
  • Constant Gardener (got the DVD as a gift, but I still haven’t watched it and would like to)
  • V: Complete Series (i’ve had this on DVD in the shrinkwrap for a long time, and honestly, I’d rather watch something like this from my childhood than even begin watching a single episode of Lost [which I’ve still never seen beyond 10 minutes about some medusa spider]– and the mobs show up at that comment, I’m sure! :)

And here is a list of Theology/Philosophy books that warrant reading/finishing. We started some of these for my current Philosophy class (reading Heidegger, Levinas, and Derrida), but the course requirements only dictated that we read selections from them, which is a bit of a shame (the prof wishes she could assign the whole books, believe me). Also, since I have student access to a bunch of online journals and whatnot now, I found a bunch of older articles in Modern Theology that I should probably get around to reading at some point.

  • Finish Heidegger: Being and Time
  • Finish Dreyfus: Being-in-the-world
  • Heidegger: On Time and Being
  • Heidegger: Identity and Difference
  • Derrida: Given Time I: Counterfeit Money
  • Milbank: “Can a Gift Be Given?” in Modern Theology (MT)
  • Marion: God Without Being
  • Finish Kierkegaard: Concluding Unscientific Postscript (a few sections here and there, but it is mostly read)
  • Stephen Long: The Goodness of God
  • John Wright: Telling God’s Story (my pastor’s book that just came out through IVP with some amazing blurbs!)
  • Pete Candler: Theology, Rhetoric, Manuduction, or Reading Scripture Together on the Path to God (great guy!)
  • James K.A. Smith: Speech and Theology (heard mixed reviews, but will tie nicely into what I’ve been reading since January)
  • MacIntyre: After Virtue (gosh, finally, and ideally, the other 2 books in his trifecta trilogy of three-ness)
  • Michael Allen Gillespie: Nihilism Before Nietzsche (one of the key genealogical texts the RO folk use… I’ve read a bit of it)
  • Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling (oh, sweet, sweet Kierkegaard, I must return to you!)
  • Kierkegaard: Repetition (need to read this before Marcus Pound’s forthcoming book as well as before reading Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition some day)
  • Kierkegaard: Concept of Irony
  • Kierkegaard: Sickness Unto Death
  • de Lubac: Augustinianism and Modern Theology (a.k.a. wtf is Jansenism? I will learn!)
  • Conor Cunningham: MT article that came out around the time of his GoN
  • Phillip Blond: MT article and Post-Secular Philosophy
  • Pickstock: Asyndeton article in MT

Finally, here is the list of fiction I have on deck. It’s not the most diverse list in the world, but I would really like to read up to the 5th Harry Potter novel before that movie comes out.

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Harry Potter 2 (read the first on my honeymoon!)
  • Harry Potter 3
  • Harry Potter 4
  • Harry Potter 5
  • Oscar Wilde: Picture of Dorian Grey
  • Neal Stephenson: The Big U (startin’ at the beginning of the Stephenson ouvre)
  • Stephenson: Snowcrash
  • Stephenson: Ice Age
  • Stephenson: Quicksilver
  • Stephenson: Confusion
  • Stephenson: System of the World

For those that are wondering, this is not a summer reading list, even though portions of it are. It is more like a priority list of sorts. I will get to them… eventually, just in this order, if I can help it!


A second book series (the first being Interventions) through the Centre of Theology and Philosophy and SCM Press has been announced:


[Click Here to Read the Full Series Description and See the Announced Books]

I had the pleasure of working with Conor Cunningham and Pete Candler again on making these covers. And, they have appeared on Amazon’s UK site with release dates, for those that are interested:

  • Theology, Psychoanalysis and Trauma, by Marcus Pound due out September 28, 2007.
  • Tayloring Reformed Epistemology: Charles Taylor, Alvin Plantinga, and the de jure challenge to Christian belief, by Deane-Peter Baker, due out September 28, 2007.
  • Transcendence and Phenomenology, eds. Conor Cunningham and Peter Candler, due out August 30, 2007. This is a collection of essays from the Center of Theology and Philosophy conference in 2005.

    “Transcendence and Phenomenology” presents a definitive collection of essays discussing the much debated ‘turn to theology’ in philosophy, most evident in phenomenology. This debate came to prominence with the French and English publication of Janicaud’s Phenomenology and the Theological Turn. Arguably the most pressing debate at the interface of philosophy and theology, witnessed by the rush to translate the protagonists of this religious turn: the work of Jean-Luc Marion, Jean-Yves Lacoste, Jean-Louis Chretien and Michel Henry, this collection of essays makes a significant intervention in the on-going argument, gathering together some of the finest phenomenologists writing today. It also presents major criticisms of phenomenology in relation to theology, especially from John Milbank. This volume will provide a framework for those new to the debate.

  • Belief and Metaphysics, eds. Conor Cunningham and Peter Candler, due out August 30, 2007. This is a collection of essays from the Center of Theology and Philosophy conference in 2006 in Granada, Spain, and contains a foreword by Archbishop Javier Martínez.

    The ‘return of metaphysics’ evident in both the continental and analytic traditions of philosophy, has been a major intellectual shift in recent years. After Heidegger’s attack on metaphysics, with his call for it to be overcome, on the one hand, and a parallel deflation of metaphysics by thinkers apposed to Heidegger, such as Carnap, Quine, and more recently Dennett, metaphysics surrendered its historical importance; the tradition beginning with Plato, and so with Philosophy itself, had seemingly come to an end. Yet it became apparent to many, that what remained in the wake of this demise was either scientistic reductionism, or the mire of cultural relativism. In light of this dire situation, many philosophers returned to the cause of metaphysics. This revitalising of metaphysics is crucial for religion, for the rich, multi-layered world particularly the Abrahamic faiths. This volume offers a major contribution to this timely renaissance, gathering together philosophers, both analytic and continental, theologians, and scientists, all of whom offer a sophisticated alternative to the violence of reductionism, and the nihilism of postmodern relativism.