Archive for September, 2011

In the Fall issue of the Center for Theology, we have reprinted Douglas Dobbins’ essay on the trinitarian theology of Thomas Aquinas. Originally part of the series Dogmatics in Dialogue, which appeared on the pages of this blog, Doug’s post argued that Thomas offered a healthy trinitarianism that establishes the Father as the “first principle” of the Godhead.

Even though Doug’s essay offers some potentially confusing philosophical ideas (how can you not when discussing the Trinity?), it is important to understand the principles under discussion. Too often our discussions of the Godhead devolve into a unhealthy tri-theism that positions the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit against each other in the work of redemption (in practice, we often see this tri-theism in the tension between charismatics and rationalists, between those who privilege the Spirit and those who privilege the Son, or the Logos). Doug argues that Thomas’ philosophical principles help us understand and talk about God in a way that prevents an unhealthy tri-theism, and helps us understand the Fatherhood of God in relation to the Son and the Spirit.

All discussions of the Trinity are difficult to maintain without slipping into heresy. But in Doug’s short and concise essay, he helps us begin to talk about our great and glorious God without compromising his fundamental character. Take some time to wrestle through Doug’s essay. We’ll all be better for it!


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Over the past two years since the launch of the Center for Theology, many contributors have explored the relationship between theology and art. Within the pages of this blog, Andene Christopherson looked at artistic movements during the Reformation and the characteristics of John Donne’s rhetoric, while also exploring the purpose of human creativity in an essay for the main site of the Center. Leah Easley explored the relation between Augustine’s Christian and pagan aesthetic sense.  I myself explored what happens to art when a society moves further and further away from God.

This interest in the arts is a recognition that art is important to God. Just as Bezalel received the infilling of the Spirit of God so that he may could artistic designs for the Israelites, our theologians recognize that the church expresses the indwelling of the Spirit in its midst not just through worship songs, liturgy, the Eucharist, or the Peace, but also through art.

Continuing this theme in the Fall issue of the Center for Theology is Leah Easley’s essay “St. Augustine, Artist: A Homeric Accomplishment.” Here, Leah explores the ways in which Augustine appropriated elements from Greco-Roman philosophy to develop a formal Christian aesthetic. Even as Augustine rejected pagan myth and its uses to the Christian worldview, he nevertheless utilized certain aspects of Plato and the Neo-platonists to develop an artistic aesthetic characterized by idealism, transcendence, and abstraction over and above the concrete and the sensible.

Leah shows how Augustine’s emphasis on the heavenly ideal influenced Christian art for centuries. In this way, Augustine stands as one of the greatest Christian artists who ever lived. While many recognize Augustine’s influence on theology (as in “all theology is just a footnote to Augustine”), his role as an artist is not as recognized. Thankfully, Leah shows us Augustine was not just a theologian, but an artist as well.

Please take some time to read through Leah’s essay on Augustine’s contribution to the arts.

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In the Fall issue of the Center for Theology, our featured article this season focuses on Article 3, of the 39 Articles, On the Going Down of Christ Into Hell, written by Joe Merrill.

The Harrowing of Hell, or the ancient doctrine on Jesus Christ’s descent into hell, is one of those enigmatic doctrines passed down to the modern church by the ancients. In a Jewish and early Christian world in which the afterlife was indeterminate and undefined, where all who passed into death were stashed away in Sheol or Gehenna, the doctrine of Christ’s descent was a succor on the souls of those who despaired for the just and the righteous who perished before Christ’s coming. While the way of salvation was finally opened upon the coming of the Messiah, what about those who perished before his coming? Would they not get a chance? The Harrowing of Hell, where Christ descended to preach his message and bring the righteous out of Sheol and Gehenna, addressed these questions to the ancients’ satisfaction.

But on this side of history, where we have lived with a very different conception of the afterlife for hundreds of years, what does the Harrowing of Hell offer us? Today, Christ’s descent into hell can devolve into mere sentiment, a simple Sunday School answer that quickly answers the question about the eternal security of Moses, David, or Jeremiah. “King David died before Christ came…but shouldn’t he get to go to Heaven?” “Yes, yes, of course! You see, Christ descended into hell and brought all the righteous people out. Now let’s move on!”

But the Harrowing of Hell offers us something profoundly applicable to both those inside and outside the church today. Christ’s descent into hell demonstrates Jesus’ power over evil, darkness, and emptiness. As the Catholic Catechism explains, “By the expression ‘He descended into Hell’, the Apostles’ Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil ‘who has the power of death’.” Or, as Joe Merrill explains more fully in his essay on Article 3, Of the Going Down of Christ Into Hell, the Harowing of Hell allows us to say “We are not alone.  Precisely in our moment of greatest sin, or in suffering the abandonment experienced through loss or even in the bitter feeling of emptiness that can accompany unbelief… we are not alone.  No matter how far we sink, no matter how dark the night, Christ is always at the bottom.  Indeed, the darkness is where Christ is found.”

The doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell is confessed and preached in our churches today because we live in a hellish world subject to sin, death, and evil. If Christ can descend into hell to rescue the righteous and defeat the power of death and Satan, then he can descend into our personal and corporate hells in this present darkness to defeat those powers which chain us to sin, death, and evil in order to bring us into communion with God in heaven.

Please take some time to read Joe’s essay on Article 3 to learn more on the ways in which Christ rescues us from hell.


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The Fall Issue of the Center for Theology is now available! We have some great contributions to offer for the benefit of the church’s spiritual formation.

For the Think Tank, we have five new essays from the teachers in our churches.

Joe Merrill continues our series on the 39 Articles, with an exploration of Article 3, “Of the Going Down of Christ Into Hell.”

Douglas Dobbins discusses Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of the doctrine of the Father, along with its application to our everyday lives.

John Pryor explains Jonathan Edwards’ understanding of the doctrine of creation, exploring how Edwards’ offers a helpful way to understand God’s purposes for humanity.

Leah Easley continues her discussion on the aesthetic thought of Augustine of Hippo, showing how Augustine developed an artistic sense drawn from the best of Greco-Roman culture. Augustine’s example shows the church how to relate to “secular” culture.

Finally, Matthew Brench offers a near-comprehensive response to the question “What is Theology?” He suggests that anyone who speaks words about God is a theologian engaging the theological task.

For Spiritual Formation, we have two new articles and one incredible resource developed for our daily reading.

Jack King reflects on the “sacrament of the present moment,” which helps us draw close to God amidst our ridiculously busy lives.

Paul Aganski continues his “People of the Middle” series, in which he now describes the full consequences of the Fall and the characteristics of being subject to sin, death, and evil.

Finally, Matthew Brench has developed “An Alternative Lectionary” that takes you through the entire Bible, the Apocrypha, and Apostolic Fathers in one year. A tremendous resource.

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Christianity Today reports on the herbal miracle cure — and the debate it’s causing in churches worldwide — used by Tanzanian pastor Ambilikile Mwasapila to treat cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases.

Joe Carter, over at First Things, discusses manliness in relation to the feminization of the church. Carter assumes manliness is important category to maintain, but even so “Jesus was not a cagefighter.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education, which usually only highlights thinkers who’ve contributed to their vision of social utopia, present an article calling for a greater appreciation of English writer and conservative curmudgeon G. K. Chesterton.

Ministry Matters offers four pieces of advice to pastors preaching to young adults: Be human, preach without notes, listen, and focus on narrative.


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Christianity Today presents an interview with Glen T. Stanton, author of “The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage,” in which Stanton explains why unmarried, cohabitating couples are putting their future at risk.

Anglican Continuum has posted a reflection on Article 14 of the 39 Articles, part of their continuing series “A Laymen’s Guide to the 39 Articles.”

We’re one day removed from the Fall Issue of the Center for Theology! Keep an eye out…

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The blog Confessions of a Carioca offers some criticisms of Liberation theology after attending a meeting of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops in Quito, Ecuador.

R. R. Reno discusses our “divided public culture” after reflecting on the 9/11 memorial service in New York City.

Ignatius Insight presents a reprinted essay on the sacraments from philosophical theologian Peter Kreeft’s book Fundamental of the Faith. A recommended read.

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Who makes better evangelists? Recent converts or “Cradle Catholics”? David Gibson, over at The Wall Street Journal, explores the motivating factors in bearing witness to the gospel.

Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge, on the blog Generous Orthodoxy, critiques the notion of churches as “safe places”. An interesting self-critique from someone within the Liberal Protestant tradition.

“Spiritual but not religious” returns: The Washington Post reports that while Americans are more religious than ever, more and more are “designing their own religion.”

Baptist theologian Russell More responds to the latest outlandish statement from telepastor Pat Robertson with an incredibly powerful reflection on the nature of Christ-like love in marriage. A choice tid-bit: “Love is fidelity with a cross on your back. Love is drowning in your own blood. Love is screaming, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.'”

Over at First Things, Leroy Huizenga discusses the lessons the church can learn from the life of Medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen.

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The blog Catholicity and Covenant has a short reflection on Holy Cross Day, the feast which celebrates the “physicality of our redemption.”

Bryan Owen, over at the blog Creedal Christian, discusses moral relativism and individualism amongst young people, responding to The New York Times article by David Brooks on the moral sense of young adults in America. The moral compass by which most young people direct themselves can be summed up as thus: If it feels right, do it.

Douglas Groothuis, over at his blog Constructive Curmudgeon, presents a “theology of listening,” focusing on the ways in which we hear the word of God.


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New bishop John Guernsey was invested into the Mid-Atlantic Diocese for the Anglican Church in North America.

Eric Van Meter, over at Ministry Matters discusses ways to minister to college students, one of the most problematic demographics for churches.

Pastor Lillian Daniel, over at the Huffington Post, has a hilarious rant against those who say “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” asserting that being privately spiritual but not religious is not challenging — after all, how hard is to have deep thoughts when you’re walking along the beach? And how unique is it, really, to see God in the sunset? Daniel recognizes the truly rich spiritual experience comes when you live, love, laugh, and learn within the church community, where God confronts you through other people, tradition, worship, and cooperative projects (among other things).

Over at the Ignatius Insight Scoop blog, Carl Olson provides quotations from pope Benedict XVI on saint John Chrysostom, whose feast was celebrated yesterday.

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