[Common Places] Pro-Nicene Theology: Entryways and Ineffability (Part 2)
Our current series, Pro-Nicene Theology, offers doctrinal and exegetical entries to the key tenets of basic Trinitarian orthodoxy as developed in the early centuries of the church. For introduction to the series, see the first part of this post.
Our entryway to this series should begin where Gregory Nazianzus started his theological orations on God and Christ. In Oration 27, Gregory does not cut right to the issue of deity or number, of unity or essence. Rather, he introduces this cycle of theological homilies by attending to fundamental matters of divine self-revelation and, correspondingly, of human knowledge of the true God. He observes that theology, the knowledge of God, is the greatest need for everyone, for all need…
[Common Places] Pro-Nicene Theology: Entryways and Ineffability (Part 1)
The doctrine of the Trinity serves as the fundamental lodestar of all Christian belief, the shining center of all Christian truth and the focal point of every instance of our trust and hope. God is. More particularly, God—the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit—is, and in, through, and to this one are all things. What light is shed upon life and being, then, flows forth from this fiery being. It must be admitted, however, that the Trinity has overwhelmed due to the power of its beam. Its very brilliance is the source of its difficulty. Theologians from Anselm to Sonderegger have reminded us that the divine mystery is not owing to a lack of revelation but a preponderance of it. This the hymn-writer attested so…
[Common Places] In Memoriam John Webster
As we mourn the death of a leading figure in our discipline and dear friend to many, we invite those impacted by the life and writings of John Webster to add their comments below.
The Reverend Professor John Bainbridge Webster (1955-2016) died on May 25, 2016. While family and friends, neighbors and fellow congregants will each observe his passing in ways which befit his private manner, it is appropriate to mark his departure from this life in the wider sphere of theological scholarship, for he was both a leading light and a generous friend and teacher to many around the globe. He was educated at Cambridge University and taught at Durham University, Wycliffe College (Toronto), Oxford University, the University of Aberdeen, and, until his death, the University of St. Andrews. He held the prestigious Lady Margaret Chair of Divinity at…
[Common Places] Reading Notes: Heavenly-Mindedness
One feature that will appear regularly this year will be a monthly series entitled Reading Notes. In these posts, editors and contributors will lead readers to significant literature related thematically to our other ongoing series. This month Michael Allen introduces classical and contemporary literature related to heavenly-mindedness and formation as a fitting complement to our ongoing engagement of James K. A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies project (see here).
Admittedly heaven isn’t a particularly big place in contemporary culture. But heaven features widely in the Scriptures of Israel and the early church, and heavenly-mindedness has marked Christian theology through the centuries. Theologians ranging from the patristic to the Puritan eras have sought…
[Common Places] On Cultural Liturgies: A Theological Analysis
With a new year comes an opportunity to venture into fresh territory with old resolve. For Common Places, this journey begins with a series of books: the Cultural Liturgies project by James K. A. Smith of Calvin College. While he holds the Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology and Worldview, his ongoing series of books has raised a number of significant questions about the place and nature of worldview in the Christian intellectual culture.
The Cultural Liturgies project already includes two volumes. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation offers a new vision for Christian education and formation that centers around desire, love, and the practices that shape them. Its sequel,
[Common Places] Endings and Beginnings
As 2015 comes to its conclusion, we mark a year of posts here at Common Places. Much territory has been covered with a number of contributors sharing their insight. And as the year turns to 2016, we anticipate new things. We want to reflect briefly on where we have been and where this column will be going in days ahead.
First, the year of 2015 has seen a number of series appear on Common Places. Our New Voices in Theology series introduced a number of exegetical, historical, and dogmatic works. Each of the books was written by a junior academic, and its significance was expounded by a senior academic in that discipline. We hope that these volumes find their…
[Common Places] Engaging with Kate Sonderegger: The One and the Many
The arrival of a new contribution to a multi-volume systematic theology marks a major moment in the discipline. All the more so when the author goes against the grain of much contemporary theology. Kate Sonderegger’s Systematic Theology, volume one: The Doctrine of God is such a book.
Whereas contemporary theology this side of Barth and Rahner has focused on being Christ-centered not only in a soteriological sense but as a methodological key, Sonderegger has decidedly argued that Christology must follow the doctrine of God. So the most determinative factor regarding this volume, at least as it relates to others in its genre in recent decades, involves its character as a…
[Common Places] New Studies in Dogmatics: Sanctification
Writing invariably involves paths both foreseen and surprising. Preparing this volume on sanctification has involved both experiences.
Previous work on soteriology more broadly (The Christ’s Faith: A Dogmatic Account) and justification specifically (Justification and the Gospel: Understanding the Contexts and Controversies) led me to believe that writing a volume on sanctification would be a logical next step for me personally. Furthermore, controversies and debates regarding sanctification have grown increasingly feisty in recent years: they involve not only Christian conversation with non-Christian ideologies regarding morality and ethics (most blatantly evident in disagreements over sexuality and gender), but they also regard internecine discussions amongst evangelicals and even, specifically, between persons in my own Reformed tradition (regarding, e.g., the third use of the law in gospel ministry). For personal and public reasons, then, this writing project appeared needful and…
[Common Places] The Promise and Prospects of Retrieval: Recent Developments in Eschatology
Surveys of Christian doctrine regularly note that the themes of eschatology have attained a certain prestige in the late nineteenth and then twentieth centuries that exceeds their fate in previous times. What do we make of this new emphasis? What benefits have been gained? And what dangers might we need to be alert to? I want to focus briefly upon one new emphasis, its potential and frequent cost, and a way in which theological retrieval helps us move toward a more biblical eschatology for the contemporary church.
Heaven Is a Place on Earth
Surely the most marked shift in twentieth century eschatology was its earthiness. Perhaps no tradition has so emphasized the created and material character of our blessed hope as that of the Dutch Reformed theologians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (e.g. Abraham…
[Common Places] The Promise and Prospects of Retrieval: Recent Developments in the Divine Attributes
What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? For several decades in the twentieth century, the answer seemed to be overwhelmingly: “Too much!” The influence of Greek philosophy upon Christian faith and practice was viewed as excessive and uncritical. A century ago Adolf von Harnack proposed the “Hellenization thesis,” the argument that the early church swallowed a bunch of Hellenistic fat that makes their theological approach difficult to digest today.  Harnack proposed a radical revision to the faith whereby we seek to cut the fat out and get back to the message of Jesus himself, a proclamation unencumbered by the metaphysics of Greece and the dogmas of the later fathers. The influence of this model of history has been and continues to be remarkably widespread, accepted not only in more revisionist circles (e.g., Jürgen Moltmann) but also by those…