Category Archives: Theology

New Edited Volume: The Resounding Soul

PrintGreetings, dear readers! It’s been a while, but I wanted to inform you that as of this past November (of 2015), my friend Samuel Kimbriel and I have published an edited volume through Wipf & Stock entitled The Resounding Soul: Reflections on the Metaphysics and Vivacity of the Human Person. The essays contained within are the fruit of the conference on “The Soul” that took place in the summer of 2013. The collection has been a labor of love, and we are both really proud of the final product.

Here is the book description:

It is surely not coincidental that the term “soul” should mean not only the center of a creature’s life and consciousness, but also a thing or action characterized by intense vivacity (“that bike’s got soul!”). It also seems far from coincidental that the same contemporary academic discussions that have largely cast aside the language of “soul” in their quest to define the character of human mental life should themselves be so—how to say it?—bloodless, so lacking in soul. This volume arises from the opposite premise, namely that the task of understanding human nature is bound up with and in important respects dependent upon the more critical task of learning to be fully human, of learning to have soul. The papers collected here are derived from a conference in Oxford sponsored by the Centre of Theology and Philosophy and together explore the often surprising landscape that emerges when human consciousness is approached from this angle. Drawing upon literary, philosophical, theological, historical, and musical modes of analysis, the essays of this volume vividly remind the reader of the power of the ancient language of soul over against contemporary impulses to reduce, fragment, and overly determine human selfhood.

We were also blessed to have the following blurbs added to the back of the book:

“According to Aristotle, inquiry into the soul is one of the noblest human tasks. Such an inquiry, however, has all but disappeared: if the soul is not denied altogether, it is rarely thought about. The Resounding Soul helps us recollect this ancient knowledge, and at the same time opens up new avenues of reflection. By inviting us to lift our gaze in this bourgeois and pragmatic age, the editors have rendered a great service.” — D. C. Schindler, author, Associate Professor of Metaphysics and Anthropology, The John Paul II Institute

“These exacting essays variously suggest that the apparently problematic category of the soul nonetheless secures the reality of mind without reduction, and without a dualistic contrast to body and matter. Both body and mind live, and it is the living force of the soul which combines them in growth, motion and reflection.” — Catherine Pickstock,  Professor of Metaphysics and Poetics, Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge

The best way to secure a copy of this collection is directly from the publisher’s website here.


Where Heaven and Earth Meet

“However, it is not the case that in any genus—even [the genus] of motion—we come to an unqualifiedly maximum and minimum. Hence, if we consider the various movements of the spheres, [we will see that] it is not possible for the world-machine to have, as a fixed and immovable centre, either our perceptible earth or air or fire or any other thing.

“Hence, the world does not have a [fixed] circumference. For if it had a fixed center, it would also have a [fixed] circumference; and hence it would have its own beginning and end within itself, and it would be bounded in relation to something else, and beyond the world there would be something else and space (locus). But all these [consequences] are false. Therefore, since it is not possible for the world to be enclosed between [a physical] center and a physical circumference, the world—of which God is the centre and the circumference—is not understood. And although the world is not infinite, it cannot be conceived as finite, because it lacks boundaries within which it is enclosed” (Nicholas of Cusa, On Learned Ignorance, trans. Jasper Hopkins [Minneapolis: Banning, 1981], II.11; p. 114).

Karsten Harries associates this quotation with the Camille Flammarion woodcut (pictured above) in her Infinity and Perspective (pp. 46-8). The caption on the woodcut reads Un missionaire du moyen age raconte qu’il avait trouvé le “point où le ciel et la Terre se touchent”. Nothing more to add just now, but I really dig this.

Parasitical Reasoning

“There are Christian theisms which are parasitical upon forms of atheism, for they formulate a doctrine of God primarily in response to a certain kind of grounds for atheistic denial. It is a case worth considering that much eighteenth-century theodicy has this parasitical character, being a theism designed to respond primarily to the threat to it posed by the particular formulation of the problem of evil which prevailed in that century. In our time, the ill-named ‘creationists’ seem to offer but a craven reaction, trapped as they are into having to deny the very possibility of an evolutionary world, simply because they mistakenly suppose an evolutionary world could only be occupied by atheists. Thereby they play the atheist’s game, on the undemanding condition that they play on the losing team.” [Denys Turner, ‘Apophaticism, Idolatry, and the Claims of Reason’, in Oliver Davies and Denys Turner (eds.), Silence and the Word : Negative Theology and Incarnation (Cambridge: CUP, 2002), p. 15]

Furthermore, it is the evolutionary atheists who argue that evolution not only disproves God, but evolution is itself inherently atheistic. There are, of course so many problems with this claim (e.g. Darwin didn’t lose his faith because of his belief in evolution, but because of the suffering and death of his daughter, not to mention the fact that millions of Christians around the world have no problem with evolution, although ‘evolution’ would of course have to be unpacked a bit). But the real kicker here is that these Creationist Christians 1) don’t bother to learn the science, but 2) more damningly, actually accept these claims of the evolutionary atheists as if they were true. Really? Who says that evolution has to be atheistic?

After my PhD supervisor’s BBC documentary ‘Did Darwin Kill God?’ came out last year (March 2009), my wife and I went home for a visit and I showed the documentary to my family. We had a very fruitful discussion afterwards. Something that came up in the discussion was that one of my relatives said, ‘But it’s the atheists who say that evolution disproves God.’ Aside from many pages written to the contrary that break apart these unhelpful and false binaries, basically, these claims are by scientists who are looking at the science and bringing their pre-conceived cosmological claims to the table and then saying, ‘see, evolution means God doesn’t exist.’ It could easily be claimed that the Christian who comes to the science lab and is fine with evolution does the same thing, but the difference here I would argue is that the Christian at least has some inkling and basic understanding that belief is a part of one’s basic reasoning about things (cf. Michael Polanyi); whereas the atheists who usually make such claims (Dawkins, Dennet, the Churchlands, et al.) deny belief altogether, and so can’t even ultimately believe in their own belief in atheistic evolution.

I told my relative that scientists who say such things one way or the other are being bad scientists. At that point, they’re making theological, philosophical, and cosmological claims that are not an inherent part of their scientific method, as the questions of science bracket out such claims (cf. Heidegger’s analysis of science in ‘What is Metaphysics?’: ‘science says nothing about the nothing’). Theology and philosophy can theologize and philosophize about science, but when science does the same it is no longer ‘strictly’ science but should admit that it is now making such philosophical, theological, or cosmological claims. In other words, the category error here is not realizing that the relationship between these areas (although admittedly this is all a bit porous) is an asymmetrical one.

Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses

Oxford’s Christ Church College, where the Kierkegaard Upbuilding Discourses Conference was held.

Two and a half weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the ‘Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses’ Conference in Oxford at Christ Church College. I’m a bit behind on posting this, but today is Søren Kierkegaard’s 197th birthday so I thought I should at least owe that to him. Sadly, the volcanic ash cloud prevented a quarter of the European/Danish Kierkegaard scholars from attending and presenting. At the last minute, conference organizers George Pattison and Matthew Kirkpatrick had to revamp the entire conference schedule to account for the disruption of the absence of a significant portion of the conference delegates.

Notwithstanding, the event itself was incredibly fun and very lively. I had the honour of meeting and interacting with some of my favourite Kierkegaard scholars, including Joel Rasmussen, John Lippitt, Clare Carlisle, and George Pattison — as well as meeting a crew of up-and-coming very passionate Kierkegaardian scholars in their own right.

George Pattison

George Pattison is one of the only scholars in the English-speaking world to write extensively on the whole of the Upbuilding Discourses (aside from say Amy Laura Hall, C. Stephen Evans, and M. Jamie Ferreira who have written specifically on the Works of  Love which Pattison places within the ‘Discourse’ Literature), and acted as the guiding voice of the conference, helpfully providing insight into just about any specific point of Kierkegaard’s writings, especially issues of translation. Pattison is in the process of translating a selection of the discourses himself, continuing in the recent tradition of M. G. Piety and Alistair Hannay (e.g., SUD, FT, and CUP) of providing new translations which correct and build upon the Hong translations with which we are already so familiar. Of all the helpful points that Pattison offered, one of the suggestions that struck me was that Kierkegaard is nearly always over-looked in 20th-century discussions of ‘the gift’. All of these writers know the pseudonymous Kierkegaard, but by overlooking his discourse literature, they have missed three discourses on gift, which are all named around James 1:17Open Link in New Window: ‘Every Good and Every Perfect Gift Comes From Above’.

Christ Church College Dining Hall, which provided the inspiration for the Hogwart’s Dining Hall in the Harry Potter films

My paper was entitled ” ‘Practising Life in Death’: Equality, Stillness, and Earnestness in Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Discourses.” The theme for the conference was the Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses and the Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions, so my paper focussed primarily on those two texts, but brought in the work of Eastern Orthodox theologian John Behr at the end. (e-mail me or post a comment if you’d like a copy of my paper.) I had a couple of good questions, one from Steven Shakespeare who simply asked if my inclusion of John Behr was something inherent in the ‘At a Graveside’ text in the Three Discourses. The short answer is that the Christological element was my own ‘leap’, my own creative addition onto the text where I think Kierkegaard very well could have gone, especially considering that the discourses are within the ‘direct communication’ of Kierkegaard’s authorship (not to mention the fact that the previous paper delivered by Paul Martens on a couple occasions raised the very point that Kierkegaard seems vague as to where he’s actually going in this discourse). All this suggests I should have just made that blatant in my introduction.

On the final night of the conference, Dr Hugh Pyper made a presentation about a certain old text he had rebound. He shared an e-mail from the bookbinder (is he an ‘hilarious’ one?) about what all went into the rebinding of this text. The text Hugh had rebound was a first edition of Søren Kierkegaard’s Atten Opbyggelige Taler, or Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses. It was a pretty incredible text to behold. Pictures are below.

Hugh Pyper, owner of the 1st edition of Kierkegaard’s Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses

Four Kierkegaard scholars examining the text, from left to right: John Lippitt, Claire Carlisle, Jolita Pons, and George Pattison

Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses title page with owner’s signature. But who is it?

On the title page is written what looks like “P. Kierk.” Hugh thought for a while that this may have been one “P. Kierkegaard”, that is, Peter Christian Kierkegaard, Søren’s brother, which would explain why the text was in fairly good condition (Peter Christian was known to not read the books on his shelves). After consulting with Arne Grøn, however, Grøn suggested that the signature is actually written in a gothic script. If that is the case, then the signature is actually “P. Keck.”, which means we have no idea who that is.

Next year will be the second of three conference on Kierekgaard’s Upbuilding Discourses, this time focused on Works of Love and Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits. It is scheduled for 29th April – 1st of May and will be held at the University of Sheffield. I’m looking forward to another lively conference, although hopefully with some of the Danish Kierkegaard scholars we missed this time around.

Lastly, George Pattison will be posting the conference papers on the Oxford University Research Archive (see, e.g., these papers from a Heidegger and Religion conference) for the benefit of those Danish and other European scholars who could not make it. Obviously that means that anybody with an internet connection can benefit as well. As soon as George Pattison sends out that link, I’ll be posting it here.

Schedule updated

It’s been a few weeks now, but the full schedule for the Nurturing the Prophetic Imagination conference is now online.

Conference: Nurturing the Prophetic Imagination


Nurturing the Prophetic Imagination

March 24-27, 2010

Point Loma Nazarene University

Co-sponsored by the PLNU Wesleyan Center, Center for Justice and Reconciliation, Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, Center for Pastoral Leadership, and Center for Women’s Studies.

Call For Papers (Deadline Nov. Dec 15)

Plenary speakers:

Bill McKibben: Christian environmental activist, scholar in residence at Middlebury College, and author of Deep Economy, The End of Nature, Hope: Human & Wild, and The Age of Missing Information

Kathleen Norris: Poet and essayist, and author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Cloister Walk, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

Michael Eric Dyson: Professor Georgetown University, author of Can You Hear Me Now?, Come Hell or Highwater: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster, Holler if You Hear Me

Emmanuel Katongole: Theologian and priest, associate professor of theology and world Christianity and co-director of the Center of Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School, and author of A Future for Africa, Beyond Universal Reason

Special Guests:

Guest Emcee: We are excited to have Dr. Ron Benefiel join us as our emcee!  Dr. Benefiel is the president for Nazarene Theological Seminary (Kansas City, MO). Trained as a sociologist, he is also an ordained minister who has pastored churches in a variety of urban settings. He is author of A Theology of Place: Ministry in Transitional Communities (1996).

Special Event: Dr. William T. Cavanaugh is a professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN). He is author of Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (1998), Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire (2008), and The Myth of Religious Violence (2009). A special conference session will be dedicated to reviewing his most recent book. [Note: This is just a discussion of the book itself. As far as I know, I do not think Cavanaugh will be there. Cavanaugh will in fact be there. See Edie Chapman’s comment below. ]

Download the Conference Schedule (PDF)

When many Christians consider the prophetic imagination, they think of attempts to decipher how the world will end or religiously based movements for social and political change. The biblical understanding of prophecy, particularly as embodied in Jesus and such prophets as Hosea, Amos, and Isaiah, while including both a hope for the future and a critique of the present social and economic situation, also seeks to free believers in Christ to witness to the future of God creatively in the present. The prophetic imagination is, in the light of the gift of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, a challenge for Christians to question the assumptions, beliefs, and practices that the church often takes for granted. It calls believers in Christ to reflect deeply on the ways that the church has accommodated itself to and allowed itself to be defined by the dominant culture and thereby has been a party to economic and social systems of sin, oppression, and injustice. The prophetic imagination provides a challenge to the church to renew its criticism of the dominant culture and envision a new and vibrant way of being in but not of the world.

This conference will explore various dimensions of the prophetic imagination, especially around the three key movements or stages of encounter with the prophetic imagination: 1) dissatisfaction with and critique of dominant culture; 2) taking responsibility for and learning to lament the extent to which we have been complicit with the sinful and destructive forces of the dominant culture; 3) creatively and hopefully envisaging new modes of being the church in the world and new ways of embodying God’s will for the world.

Call For Papers (Deadline Nov. Dec. 15th)

More info here.


In a similar vein to the University of Nottingham’s Period Table of Videos (be sure to check out the Potassium one!), Brady Haran, in conjunction with our Department of Theology and Religious Studies, is now producing a series on the Bible dubbed Bibledex.  There will be books on all 66 books of the Bible, and as the website states, they “are by no means comprehensive – rather they’re a curious assortment of academic insights into what is probably the most famous collection of books in history.” Each video consists of different insights from the different perspectives offered from the staff and postgraduates in our department (me mates!).  The first three videos are now up, on Genesis, the Song of Songs, and 1 Corinthians.

Kierkegaard and Deception

On the heels of this discussion, I was reminded of this great passage from Kierkegaard’s The Point of View for my Work as an Author:

What, then, does it mean “to deceive”? It means that one does not begin directly with what one wishes to communicate but begins by taking the other’s delusion at face value. Thus one does not begin (to hold to what essentially is the theme of this book) in this way: I am Christian, you are not a Christian–but this way: You are a Christian, I am not Christian. Or one does not begin in this way: It is Christianity that I am proclaiming, and you are living in purely esthetic categories. No, one begins this way: Let us talk about the esthetic. The deception consists in one’s speaking this way precisely in order to arrive at the religious. But according to the assumption the other person is in fact under the delusion that the esthetic is the essentially Christian, since he thinks he is a Christian and yet he is living in esthetic categories.

Even if ever so many pastors will find it indefensible, even if equally as many will be incapable of getting it into their heads—although all of them otherwise, according to their own statements, are accustomed to using the Socratic method—in this respect I calmly stick to Socrates. True, he was not Christian, that I know, although I also definitely remain convinced that he has become one. But he was a dialectician and understood everything in reflection. And the quesiton here is purely dialectical—it is the question of the use of reflection in Christendom. Qualitatively two altogether different magnitudes are involved here, but formally I can very well call Socrates my teacher—whereas I have believed and believe in only one, the Lord Jesus Christ (Søren Kierkegaard, The Point of View, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998], pp. 54-5).

Kierkegaard here is relating this maeutic form of instruction to the way his own writing has unfolded.  It’s also entirely similar to the way that Hamann’s own authorship came into being, although Kierkegaard is leaps and bounds easier to understand.

I think it’s interesting that here Kierkegaard lines up somewhat with the tradition of putting Socrates “within” the Judeo-Christian tradition in a sense.  Justin Martyr says directly that Socrates was a Christian, and Hamann counts Socrates among the “prophets” in his Socratic Memorabilia, yet here Kierkegaard takes a slightly different route and says that Socrates has become a Christian.

Blogging elsewhere

Oddly, not much blogging around these parts lately, but elsewhere, I’ve posted the third and final post of my series on Kierekgaard and Socrates here at Cynthia Nielsen’s Per Caritatem blog (the first two can be found here and here).

Bruce Ellis Benson‘s engagement with Dan Siedell’s God in the Gallery is also now up at the Church and Postmodern Culture blog.

OMGEES, this “No Pets Clause” post on Emails From Crazy People had me laughing very loudly this morning while I was eating my breakfast.  Thanks Jenn, for sending that along.

A Couple of Items

A new book symposium has begun on the Church and Postmodern Culture blog on Daniel A. Siedell’s God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art.  Two posts are up already, one by Jamie Smith and the other by Matthew Milliner (who blogs at  This Monday an engagement with the third chapter will be from Bruce Ellis Benson. The remainder of the schedule can be found here.

Second, I have begun a series of posts on Kierkegaard and Socrates over on Cynthia Nielsen’s Per Caritatem blog. The first post highlights Socrates’ importance for Kierkegaard at the end of his life, and the second post delves a bit into Kierkegaard’s “Sophistical” situation vis-à-vis the Danish Hegelian Christians of Copenhagen. I should have a third post up soon.

Of excellent book covers

Tiana and I just got back from a two-week trip to the States.  This was our first trip home since we moved to Nottingham in August 2008.  We visited Cincinnati, OH and while in California, San Diego, Merced, and Concord.  While in San Diego I visited the new Theology building on the Point Loma Nazarene University Campus.  I was able to see a good handful of my old MA professors, and before leaving, I managed to catch Dr. Michael Lodahl, my professor for my History of Christian Thought I & II classes.

Glancing around his bookshelf, I noticed that he had several copies of the new edition of his The Story of God: A Narrative Theology book.  The first one came out in 1994 (with the different subtitle “Wesleyan Theology & Biblical Narrative”) and has been assigned in many undergraduate Nazarene theology departments.  However, being a computer science undergrad, I was never assigned the book, nor did I ever get around to reading it in between my forray into theology since then.  What immediately struck me was how incredibly, vastly improved the new cover of the book was.  Here it is below:

And here is a link to a picture of the old one.  As you can see, ridiculously improved.  Not only that, but it’s about one of the coolest book covers I’ve ever seen.

There is a brief but interesting write-up of the process of this cover’s creation over on the Face Out Books website.

[If I ever got into Jules Verne, this would definitely be the set to get (with covers designed by the same place), don’t you think?]

Kierkegaard, Levinas, and an Inwardness Higher Than Itself

One cannot (probably) have too much Kierkegaard on his birthday. This is a great bit from Mary-Jane Rubenstein on Kierkegaard that wraps up all sorts of Kierkegaardian themes as they work themselves out in response to a critique by Levinas:

illustrator © Archipictor Ossi Hiekkala

illustrator © Archipictor Ossi Hiekkala

Emmanuel Levinas claims that the Kierkegaardian subject, as radically inward, is egocentric: “Kierkegaard very powerfully rehabilitated the topics of subjectivity, uniqueness, and individuality.  He objected to the absorption of subjectivity into Hegelian universality, but he replaced it with subjectivity that was shamelessly exhibitionistic.” In order to demonstrate this self-important selfhood, Levinas refers to the Abraham of Fear and Trembling, the most offensive instance of “a subjectivity raising itself above the ethical to the level of the religious.”103 Yet Levinas makes such subjectivity far too easy.  The self thus constituted by repetition does not precede repetition itself, but emerges through it, and is thoroughly infused with the God-relationship. This subjectivity, then, is relational rather than identical and, insofar as the religious subject is constantly in a state of becoming, thanks to what Gillian Rose calls “the eminence of futurity at the intersection of eternity and time,”104 dynamic rather than static.  Repetition, as Deleuze reminds us, is always a gift and, as such, a scandal; the subject cannot merely summon repetition and constitute himself qua subject.  Kierkegaardian subjectivity, I would argue contra Levinas, does not raise itself above the ethical; rather, it is raised above the ethical. Between the two there is an absolute difference. And the subject that emerges through the madness of repetition is not a self-identical individual, alone in inwardness; it is rather a subject related at every turn to the eternal.  The highest form of this selfhood is only selfhood insofar as it exists in the God-relationship—inwardness, in other words, gives rise to something infinitely higher than inwardness (Mary-Jane Rubenstein, “Kierkegaard’s Socrates: A Venture in Evolutionary Theory,” Modern Theology 17, no. 4 (2001), p. 467).

Emphasizing the paradoxical nature of such an inwardness, Rubenstein says, “The very locus of the subject’s self is beyond him. In other words, this subjectivity, which cannot be considered by itself but only repeated, is profoundly ecstatic” (ibid).

103. Emmanuel Levinas, “Existence and Ethics” in Kierkegaard: A Critical Reader, Jonathan Rée and Jane Chamberlain, eds (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), pp. 26-38; p. 34.
104. Gillian Rose, The Broken Middle: Out of Our Ancient Society (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), p. 99.

BBC2 Documentary: “Did Darwin Kill God?”

Hey mate, were not in Ulster anymore!

My superviser Conor Cunningham has written a BBC2 documentary entitled “Did Darwin Kill God?” This will air 31 March 2009 at 7pm (GMT).  The idea of Conor’s documentary is that, from a theological perspective, he hopes to both provide a sharp critique of ultra-Darwinism on the one hand, while also offering a major critique to the Intelligent Design camp on the other.

Conor also has a book on evolution in the INTERVENTIONS series that goes into much more detail.  This is slated to come out this Fall.

UPDATE: There is now a podcast on the University of Nottingham podcast site that is an interview with Conor Cunningham about his forthcoming documentary: “A plague on both houses” (mp3 Friday 13 March 2009; 32.1MB, 34.41mins).

Kierkegaard’s Hardcover-only Writings Soon in Paperback

It was recently pointed out to me by Chris Simpson that the pseudonymous authorship of Kierkegaard only consists of roughly 45% of his total writings, whereas the other 55% were signed/”religious”. With that said, it is exciting to discover that some of the harder-to-find Princeton editions of Kierkegaard’s work consisting of this signed authorship–previously only available in hardcover and therefore cost-prohibitavely expensive–are soon coming out in paperback! These volumes tend to be ignored in the popular scholarship on Kierkegaard, but these works, along with his Journals and Papers, are essential for any Kierkegaard scholar.

Looking at the paperback column below, these are clearly more affordably priced, although some are still a bit pricey. Those ones tend to be the larger volumes over 500-700 pages or so (e.g. The Moment and Later Writings), but there may be exceptions.

Here’s a breakdown with a price comparison chart where the paperback prices listed are the pre-order prices from Amazon. Hopefully it’s not too confusing. That being said, those viewing this post in an RSS reader like Google Reader, Netvibes, etc., may way to view this post on the blog itself because the styles may get munged.

Cover Vol# Title Hardback Price $/£ Paperback List $/£ Paperback Price $/£ Release Date
I Early Polemical Writings 134.95* / £138.46
$35.00 / £19.95 $29.33 / £18.95
July 09 /
June 21, 09†
IX Prefaces/Writing Sampler $56.24 / $40.00‡ / £33.00
$29.95 / £17.95 $29.95 / £17.05 July 09 /
June 4, 09
X Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions $177.50* / £47.50
$24.95 / £14.95 $24.95 / £14.20 July 09 /
June 4, 09
XIII The Corsair Affair, and Articles Related to the Writings $500.00* / £unavail.
$29.95 / £17.95 $29.95 / £17.05 August 09 /
July 5, 09
XIV Two Ages: The Age of Revolution and the Present Age, A Literary Review $67.50 / $45.50 / £32.01
$24.95 / £14.95 $24.95 / £14.20 August 09 /
July 5, 09
XV Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits $199.99* / £unavai. $35.00 / £19.95 $29.33 / £18.95 July 09 /
June 21, 09
XVII Christian Discourses: The Crisis and a Crisis in the Life of an Actress $57.00 / £64.60 $45.00 / £26.95 $37.42 / £25.60 July 09 /
June 21, 09
XVIII Without Authority $80.00 / $42.38 / £37.95 $35.00 / £19.95 $29.33 / £18.95 July 09 /
June 4, 09
XXII The Point of View $75.96 / $70.00 / £64.60 $35.00 / £19.95 $29.33 / £18.95 July 09 /
June 4, 09
XXIII The Moment and Late Writings $83.84 / £58.90 $60.00 / £35.00 $49.55 / £33.25 July 09 /
June 21, 09
XXIV The Book on Adler $95.00 / $50.00 / £44.88 $40.00 / £23.95 $33.38 / £22.75 August 09 /
July 5, 09
XXV Letters and Documents $125.00 / $85.00 / £99.14 $65.00 / £38.95 $53.59 / £37.00 August 09 /
July 5, 09
XXVI Cumulative Index to Kierkegaard’s Writings $99.50 / $90.00 / £59.95 $65.00 / £38.95 $53.59 / £37.00 July 09 /
June 21, 09

* Items designated with an asterisk mean that Amazon only has them “used and new from [x price]”, indicating that they don’t have any in stock and used bookstores or individual resellers are trying to scalp them at usually batshit crazy insane prices (e.g. The Corsair Affair).

† The Princeton site for Kierkegaard’s works only lists a release date in “Month Year” format whereas Amazon has more specific dates that don’t always align with these dates. The format will be “[Princeton Date] / [Amazon Date]”. We all know that Amazon’s release dates don’t really signify anything real, so take these with a grain of salt.

‡ Hardcover prices with two prices listed are for the “[New Price] / [Used Price]” where the used price is the best price available in the Amazon Marketplace.

This House is Becoming Anxious

The audience at the “Justification by faith (in Christ) alone” debate. About 75 people in attendance.

[Correction: today (25 Feb 2009), I spoke with Professor Richard Bell and he kindly let me know that I mis-paraphrased him below.  He was not speaking of anxiety-riddled Catholics in Germany, but Protestants he met.  My deepest apologies for this mischaracterization/misquote.  I have adjusted the paraphrase below to reflect the actual substance of what Professor Bell said.  Part of Bell’s larger point here is to deeply call into question the notion that this is a “Catholic vs Protestant” issue.  I agree, myself being a Protestant Nazarene, Adrian Pabst of the debate described below being Anglican, and we ourselves are still in opposition to the “justification by faith (in Christ) alone” doctrine. — that being said, I do not think the substance of my comments regarding Kierkegaard actually changes any with this ammendation, especially in light of Alex’s helpful comment which displays the flipside of ‘bad’ anxiety of wondering if we have had ‘enough’ faith.]

Last week I attended a debate here at the University of Nottingham entitled “This house believes that justification is by faith (in Christ) alone.”  The sides of the debate represented two people for it (Richard Bell and Martin Street) and two against it (Aaron Riches and Adrian Pabst).  Clearly, the side for the debate represents the usual ‘protestant’ side of the debate, while the side against the measure represents, loosely, the broader c/Catholic/traditional side.

The debate itself was rather interesting, very exciting, and I learned a lot, but I just want to briefly respond to a remark made by Richard Bell in his closing arguments.  Bell presented a case that went something like the following: 

“I have visited Germany and I encountered German Protestants there who were constantly full of anxiety over whether or not they were ‘doing enough’ to ensure their salvation.  They were constantly frought over this issue, but let me present to you that the doctrine of ‘justification by faith in christ alone’ will assuage their angst, because then they will realize that entry into the kingdom of God does not depend upon works, but faith.”

Something like that.  Essentially, the message assumes that 1) those who reject justification by faith in christ “alone”* therefore must fall into a duality of necessarily believing in “works alone” and 2) “justification by faith in Christ alone” aleviates the existential angst caused by this flight into works.

On point #1, clearly, faith is an integral part of the picture, as well as grace and love, but “faith alone” cannot be just a univocal proposition that we are to assent to as believers as a part of the life of faith.  On the night that Christ was betrayed, Jesus did not give his disciples a doctrine, but gave them his body in a Eucharistic practice of partaking his his broken body and spilt blood.  Yes, faith is an integral part of this practice (and they would have had to have some faith initially to drop their nets and follow Jesus), but there is a fuller, richer picture to what salvation and being ‘justified’ means. (This was the general summary of the “opposing” side to the debate, but there are a few more particulars here and there.)

But more importantly for this post, I want to deeply call into question Bell’s account that propositional assent by faith just makes all our worries go away.  There are a few reasons for this, and I hope to employ some more nuanced Lutherans in the debate.

First, the broad point is that we are never promised the easy, non-anxious life as Christians.  The sermans about ‘assurance’ which tend to get a lot of play are really not about the assurance of our salvation as far as I can tell, especially since where it shows up in the Epistle to the Hebrews seems to talk about a more nuanced kind of assurance in light of being “diligent” in the faith so as not to become sluggish (as one example).

Second, and this was my initial thought in response to Bell at the time: doesn’t Kierkegaard/Johannes de Silentio–a Lutheran–talk about Abraham, who is the father of faith, as an incredibly anxious dude?  In fact, Silentio says, “What is omitted from Abraham’s story is the anxiety […]” (28, Hong translation).  Abraham’s anxiety comes from living at that moment in the paradox where the ethical “ought” is suspended by the religious; the contradiction between the murder and the sacrifice is what makes Abraham what he is–anxious, distressed.

Moreover, it is Philippians 2:12Open Link in New Window which says to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” from whence Silentio derives his title.   The life of faith is inherently distressful.  Interestingly, Silentio begins his discussion saying, “only the one who was in anxiety finds rest” (27).  As my friend Alex reminds me, the truth is that we’ve never “done enough” anyway, and we can just get over that fact and realise that that is our condition so we must be diligent and not sluggish on the way to becoming a Christian.

Finally, Dietrich Bonhoeffer–also a Lutheran–is well known for his writings against “cheap grace” in The Cost of Discipleship.  If I may, the way that Bell assumed that his formulation of the justification doctrine so easily provided a solution for the problem seemed incredibly close to something very much like cheap grace.  Bonhoeffer contrasted the notion of “costly grace” against cheap grace, reminding us that the shape of grace is a cruciform one (Kierkegaard/Anti-Climacus’ emphasis on John 12:32Open Link in New Window when Christ said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” also works well here considering his point is that the “lifting up from the earth” is Jesus Christ being lifted up to the cross).  The way of the cross is costly; the path is a hard one.  Any kind of attempt to make the Christian life “easier” should, I think, be suspect; in Kierkegaard/Anti-Climacus terms, we shouldn’t try and slacken the paradox such that the Christian faith is as easy as putting on one’s socks!

Now, as a very serious disclaimer, I would distance myself with such any notions which aim to let the cart push the horse such that we strive toward anxiety, or that we need to make the Christian life hard, as much as I side with Kierkegaard that the Christian life needs to be ‘made’ difficult again.  This would be ridiculous.  My claim, rather, is that this is just what the Christian life is.  The works of mercy, for instance, are not ‘difficult’, rather, they are a gift, in similar way in which love is both a command and a gift.**

Futher even briefer thoughts:

  • Something not brought up in the debate is the “Pistos Christou” issue, about which Richard Hays wrote a book.  I borrowed it once from my pastor in San Diego, but didn’t get a chance to read it at all.  I’m assuming there’s some relevance of this to the debate.  Faith in Christ, or Faith of Christ, what are the implications, blah blah.
  • I haven’t read any Martin Luther at all beyond his stuff on the bondage of the will (which I thought was rubbish).  So, I haven’t read Luther on this issue at all.  That being said, it seemed like there were some slight caricatures of Luther being made in the debate, but I would still side against the general position which Bell and Street represented.
  • I am becoming more and more convinced that the Joint Declaration means not much beyond the fact that finally the the late 20th century were Lutherans and Catholics able to sit down together and attempt to work something out without beating each other up.  Clearly, the issue is still very much extremely divided and real differences persist.  I will need to re-read the document and also the relevant critical literature of it in its wake at some point, but I’ve spent enough time writing this post today.
  • I’m not sure what ‘work’ simply asserting “faith is a work” does.  I don’t disagree per se with this, it’s just that saying this from the univocal standpoint of “justification by faith (in Christ) alone” seems to still discount the narrative of Scripture which introduces some sort of distinction or larger picture than the “faith vs. works” dichotomy (or its flattening) allows.
  • I’ve never really cared about this issue that much because it seemed really boring.
  • I didn’t give nearly as much blog ink to the issue of grace that Aaron and Adrian raised, but I will leave it here.

* “alone” is in quotes because it was an insertion by Martin Luther.  It appears nowhere in the Greek of Romans 3:22Open Link in New Window (I think that is the verse).  Plus, a place where “alone” does appear is exactly where it refutes the doctrine: “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (James 2:24Open Link in New Window, emphasis mine).

** On this see Henri de Lubac, The Mystery of the Supernatural, p. 169.

My Adviser on BBC Radio

charlesdarwinFast-forward to 1 hour, 14 minute mark and you can hear my adviser Conor Cunningham, along with others, talking for about 15 about faith and evolution in light of the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species:

BBC Radio Ulster: Sunday Sequence with William Crawley

[Note: There’s a chance that the BBC iPlayer may not work outside the UK, my apologies, although if you Google around a bit, there may be ways around this.]

Symposium on Christ, History and Apocalyptic

A series of posts has begun around Nate Kerr’s book Christ, History and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission over on the Church and Postmodern Culture blog.  First up is Joshua Davis on the introductory chapter 1, who has just posted his engagement on Monday.  The conversation is already picking up nicely.

Here is the rest of the schedule:

  • 19 January – Chapter 2: “Ernst Troeltsch: The Triumph of Ideology and the Eclipse of Apocalyptic”, response by David Congdon
  • 26 January – Chapter 3: “Karl Barth: Foundations for an Apocalyptic Christology”, response by John McDowell
  • 2 February – Chapter 4: “Stanley Hauerwas: Apocalyptic, Narrative Ecclesiology, and ‘the Limits of Anti-Constantinianism’ “, response by John W. Wright
  • 9 February – Chapter 5: “John Howard Yoder: The Singularity of Jesus and the Apocalypticization of History”, response by Douglas Harink
  • 16 February – Chapter 6: “Towards an Apocalyptic Politics of Mission”, response by James K. A. Smith
  • 23 February – Concluding response by Nathan R. Kerr (although he has already been providing helpful clarifying comments already)

Also, Nate informs me that Cascade Books is still offering a 40% off discount if the book purchased through their site using the discount code “KERR40”, bringing the book down to $16.80 (significantly cheaper than Amazon).

Dave Belcher informs us that there will be a panel at this year’s Wesleyan Theological Society conference on Nate’s book as well.  Panelists include Scott Daniels, John Wright, Sam Powell, and Michael Cartwright, with Nate responding, and Dave Belcher at the moderating helm.

Brief Thoughts on Irony


It is often said by the British that Americans do not understand irony. I think this is true depending upon which swath of Americans are being referred to, but by no means is it true in my circles of friends on the West coast. If I remember correctly, though, the place I heard this generalisation uttered was referring more to American pop culture: whereas American pop culture is more defined by glitz, glorification of celebrity, explosions and violence on television on movies, British pop culture, from what I can tell thus far, seems to be more defined by–yes–irony, wittiness (or attempts thereof), and sly humour.

Having now lived in England for a short period of about six months, I’m not so sure if irony is as ‘essential’ to the culture (if there can be such a thing) as just the fact of societal indirectness. When it comes to humour, this is great. But when it comes to relationships it seems like at its worst, such indirectness can quickly become passive aggressive writ large. Although, perhaps Americans are just too direct, too aggressive.

Now, on one level, as long as it moves beyond it’s stylistic embodiments in culture, irony is perfectly fine. Heck, I even wrote an MA thesis partly on irony (“Contradiction, Paradox, and Irony: Theological and Philosophical Stances of Hegel and Kierkegaard”). Søren Kierkegaard, in more ways than one, was an ironic figure, and even extoled the virtues (so to speak) of indirectness and indirect communication. In so many ways, especially within his context of Christendom, Kierkegaard’s approach seems to me the right one — and are we not in the same context?

Yet, I am not always so sure about this. Because of it’s tendencies toward sarcasm (of the biting kind), and because real relationships don’t really seem to work very well if one person thinks they can really be a gadfly, I am reminded of when Jesus said that we should let our “yes be yes” and our “no be no” (Matthew 5:37Open Link in New Window; James 5:12Open Link in New Window). Quintilian’s definition of irony is that the “phenomenon is different from the essence”; in other words, that when one speaks, they do not mean what they say. This is the famous definition of Socratic irony.

I am not entirely sure what to make of this yet… I went to sleep last night thinking of this for some reason. Clearly, I am not going to make some banal claim such that “see, Socrates isn’t Christian” or other obviously anachronistic idiocies. Kierkegaard/Anti-Climacus is correct when he talks about the indirect communication of the God-man in Practice in Christianity, which is something quite different from one’s communication. It’s like the indirectness of the God-man was more an existential one of stance or ‘comportment’. But then, I am reminded that Jesus Christ is the Father’s communication as the Word, so then I get confused again. I’m just thinking aloud.

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

These are slightly old now (in internet time), but here are a couple of noteworthy reviews in NDPR:

Paul Draper has a very good and critical review of Naturalism, which is written by Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro (Interventions series).  The final paragraph:

Although [Goetz and Taliaferro]’s assessment of naturalism is, in my opinion, far from complete, I would highly recommend the book to philosophy students at all levels. It would be an ideal text for a course in metaphysics or philosophy of mind or even philosophy of religion. For not only is it a very short book, which increases the likelihood that students would actually read it, but it is full of arguments that are rigorous, clear, and free of technical jargon. In addition to being accessible, these arguments provide excellent models for students to imitate in their own philosophical writing. I would also strongly recommend the book to professional philosophers, especially to naturalists. For the book is an excellent reminder that, while naturalism is unquestioned by most philosophers, there remains serious and all too often unanswered opposition to it, and the problems it faces are deep and difficult.

Not a bad book cover, either, eh?

David Burrell has a review of Michael Allen Gillespie’s newest book entitled The Theological Origins of Modernity.  The book sounds rather disappointing on Burrell’s take.  Which reminds me: I still need to finish Gillespie’s earlier work, which I’ve been told by people who have read both, is quite a bit better.  Oh here I go, getting all ‘indie’ on genealogical takes on philosophy and theology, oy.

In other news, it’s 4:30pm and the sun set about an hour ago.  I’m definitely not anywhere used to that.

After Enlightenment

John Betz’s new and important book on Hamann is just out: After Enlightenment: The Post-Secular Vision of J. G. Hamaan (Illuminations series, more details here).  Our library doesn’t have it yet, and it is outrageously expensive — and I heard it may only be published in hardback — so I may not be able to borrow it from these parts for another few weeks.

Meanwhile, Peter Leithart has begun blogging the book:

Hopefully there will be more to come; it’s a rather large book, and in the newer, weird, large-and-bulky Blackwell format (e.g., the 2nd edition of Theology and Social Theory and William Desmond’s God and the Between).