A good analogy is hard to find. With the Trinity, analogies have been almost entirely abandoned, not without good reason. This is especially true today when “social” models of the Trinity have come under increased scrutiny, for good or ill — and I am rather undecided. As a result, an analogy from human relations and loving community is potentially an abdication of the hallowed Creator/creature distinction. With the Atonement, however, we have surer footing to appeal to human relations as an analogy, for the simple reason that we are dealing more concretely with the creature and the “economic” side of the Trinitarian coin.

As an example of an especially articulate use of this analogy for the Atonement, here is Shirley Guthrie (1927-2004), longtime professor of systematic theology at Columbia Theological Seminary:

If God loves and forgives us already, why atonement at all? Why did Jesus have to sacrifice himself to “pay the price”? Why did not God just say, “I forgive you,” and let it go at that?

We can catch a glimpse of the answer with an analogy in human relationships. Suppose I have done something that deeply hurts a friend, and he says so me, “That’s OK. It doesn’t make any difference. Forget it.” Has he forgiven me? What he has really said is: “I don’t really care enough about you to be touched by anything you say or do. You are not that important to me.” Not only that; he leaves me alone with the awareness of my guilt. He lets me “stew in my own juice,” refusing to help me by letting me know that he suffers not only because of what I have done to him but because he knows how I feel and can share with me my shame and guilt.

Good-natured indulgence and broad-mindedness, in other words, are not forgiveness and love but indifference and sometimes even hostility. Real love and forgiveness mean caring enough to be hurt, caring enough to put oneself in the other’s shoes and sharing his guilt as if it were one’s own. Real love and forgiveness are costly — not in the sense that the guilty must squeeze them out of the injured, but in the sense that the injured freely participates in a guilt not his own.

[Christian Doctrine (Richmond, VA: CLC Press, 1968), 253. It is currently published in the revised 1994 edition from WJK Press.]

As with any analogy, that doesn’t capture everything we want to say about the Atonement, but it does say it well.


Image: “The Lamentation over the Dead Christ,” Rembrandt (c. 1635)

Recent books of interest

November 21, 2014

I have done these lists in the past (here and here). So, per usual, I have wisely chosen some noteworthy recent releases in theology…just in time for your Christmas wishlists!



Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? (Ignatius Press; 2nd edition)

Matthew Levering, Engaging the Doctrine of Revelation (Baker Academic)

Terry C. Muck, et al., Handbook of Religion: A Christian Engagement with Traditions, Teachings, and Practices (Baker Academic)

Bill T. Arnold and Richard S. Hess, Ancient Israel’s History: An Introduction to Issues and Sources (Baker Academic)


Kevin Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine (Westminster John Knox)

Richard Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Baylor University Press)

Darren Sumner, Karl Barth and the Incarnation: Christology and the Humility of God (T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology)

Stanisław Grygiel, Discovering the Human Person: In Conversation with John Paul II (Eerdmans)


Mats Wahlberg, Revelation as Testimony: A Philosophical-Theological Study (Eerdmans)

Martin Klauber, The Theology of the French Reformed Churches (Reformation Heritage Books)

Bryan Litfin, Early Christian Martyr Stories: An Evangelical Introduction with New Translations (Baker Academic)

Jason Sexton, ed., Two Views on the Doctrine of the Trinity (Zondervan)

Sven Ensminger, Karl Barth’s Theology as a Resource for a Christian Theology of Religions (T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology)

Andrew McGinnis, The Son of God Beyond the Flesh: A Historical and Theological Study of the extra Calvinisticum (T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology)


Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, eds., Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective (IVP Academic)

Francisus Junius, A Treatise on True Theology (Reformation Heritage Books)

David Fergusson, Creation (Eerdmans)

Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (IVP Academic)

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology V: Man is Created (Ignatius Press). This is the fifth volume in the “Explorations” series.


Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (IVP Academic)


So, everyone saw the news reports yesterday about the pope’s statements on marriage, right? Oh, no, you probably didn’t. Although, Time and The Independent did report it. Of course, they are not sure how to square this with their best buddy, Francis, who they’ve been fawning over for months. As for myself, I like this Francis better, and it is in continuity with his previous (also under-reported) statements about gender, sexuality, and the family.

At a colloquium on “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage,” the pope said:

To reflect upon “complementarity” is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all Creation. This is the key word, harmony. All complementarities were made by our Creator, because the Holy Spirit, who is the Author of harmony, achieves this harmony.

It is fitting that you have gathered here in this international colloquium to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is at the root of marriage and family. …

When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern. Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children — his or her personal richness, personal charisma. Complementarity becomes a great wealth. It is not just a good thing but it is also beautiful. …

The family is the foundation of co-existence and a guarantee against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity. …

Let us not fall into the trap of being qualified by ideological concepts. Family is an anthropological fact – a socially and culturally related fact. We cannot qualify it with concepts of an ideological nature, that are relevant only in a single moment of history, and then pass by. We can’t speak today of a conservative notion of family or a progressive notion of family: Family is family! It can’t be qualified by ideological notions.

You can read the full text at the Vatican Network (at the end of the report). But, oh look, ABC News has just released from the AP: “Pope Raffling Fiat, Bikes and More for Charity.” Damn, this pope is good.

The pope has also recently denounced “the false compassion” of assisted suicide and abortion.


Image: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall…because surely the pope loves Bogie and Bacall!

The Best of 90’s Country

November 16, 2014


Lee Ann Womack

In my considered opinion, these are some of the finest country songs from the 90’s, when I was a kid. Some of these artists are still going strong, as with Lee Ann Womack’s acclaimed recent album, The Way I’m Livin’. Even Garth Brooks has released his long-anticipated comeback album, featuring the song that has brought every woman to tears: “Mom.”

“I Let Her Lie,” Daryle Singletary (1995)

I am a sucker for sad country songs, and this is one of the best. Just shy of reaching the top of the Hot Country charts (at #2), this proved to be the most successful of Daryle’s songs, alongside “Amen Kind of Love,” which also reached #2. You can find it on his debut album. His fame was short-lived, but he represents some of the best of 90’s country.


“Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up),” Garth Brooks (1993)

This was the lead single for Garth’s fifth studio album, In Pieces, which was released at the height of his fame and further solidified his legacy as a country legend. This album includes other favorites, such as “Callin’ Baton Rouge” and “Standing Outside the Fire.” Many of us will remember it as the lead track on his 1994 collection, The Hits, which eventually sold over 10 million copies. This song perfectly captures the high energy style of country music for which Garth Brooks is best known (and reviled among some purists). The instrumental breakdown for a whole minute, at the end, is icing on the cake. Since he forbids his music videos on YouTube, we will have to settle for a beautiful woman teaching line dancing steps:


“That Ain’t My Truck,” Rhett Akins (1995)

I am not a big fan of Rhett Akins, nor his son, Thomas Rhett Akins, Jr. But the elder Rhett occasionally hit the mark, and this is one of them. It captures the simple storyline of a jaded lover, arguably borrowed from Toby Keith’s hit single from the previous year, “Who’s That Man.” You can find “That Ain’t My Truck” on Rhett’s debut album, A Thousand Memories.


“I Watched It All (On My Radio),” Lionel Cartwright (1990)

Released in February of 1990, this is the earliest single on this list. Cartwright’s career as a country star was brief, but he left us with this gem of a song. He is currently the worship pastor at HopePark Church in Nashville.


“Too Cold at Home,” Mark Chesnutt (1990)

Mark Chesnutt was a staple of 90’s country radio, with hits like “Bubba Shot the Juke Box” and “Goin’ Through the Big D,” all of which you can find on his greatest hits collection. “Too Cold at Home” is the title track from his sophomore album, released in September of 1990. With the steel guitar and soft twang, this is an excellent example of 90’s country’s ability to keep the heritage of country music alive.


“Maybe It Was Memphis,” Pam Tillis (1991)

Pam Tillis was the greatest female country artist of the 90’s. I can say that without qualification, and I dare anyone to disagree! The daughter of country superstar, Mel Tillis, Pam was destined for greatness which she achieved through a string of hit songs in the 90’s. She never compromised her principles of great songwriting and classic country sound, although “Maybe It Was Memphis” is perhaps her most “pop” single. I love it, especially the lyrics. It was among several singles from her second album, Put Yourself in My Place.


I could easily have added Vince Gill and Alan Jackson to this list, but it would have been too hard to pick one song.

Other notable mentions include:

“She’s in Love with the Boy,” Trisha Yearwood (1991)

“Where the Green Grass Grows,” Tim McGraw (1998)

“I Can Still Make Cheyenne,” George Strait (1996)

“A Little Past Little Rock,” Lee Ann Womack (1998)

“Dust on the Bottle,” David Lee Murphy (1995)

And many more could be included.



I was walking this afternoon through the basement floor of our church, where all of the children and youth classrooms are located. I was taking a bag of candy to one of the rooms, where I will be helping later tonight during our Wednesday fellowship. I am doing sword drills with one of the classes, and candy is the reward! You can’t expect kids to learn the books of the Bible without candy. It worked for me, so I trust that it’s a solid method!

I passed by one of the rooms where we do confirmation classes, and I saw a large bulletin board with the history of redemption outlined for the kids to understand — creation, fall, rescue, covenant, Jesus, pentecost, and such. At the bottom of the chart was vocation in the church, with two options: matrimony and celibacy, with a few bullet points for each. I was happy. I can assure you that in the evangelicalism of my youth (1990’s), celibacy was not a recognized option, at least not more than a stalemate to marital victory! Things have changed and for the better.

I know that my church is not representative of the whole of evangelicalism, but I have had enough conversations to be hopeful that it is representative of the future, if I may be so bold. Soon after I joined this church a few years ago, I learned that some of the younger parents were interested in John Paul II’s “theology of the body,” a series of homilies delivered early in his pontificate. After discussion with the pastors, they purchased a Catholic curriculum based upon JP2’s theology of the body, and we have used this curriculum for a couple years now. From what I have heard, it has been wonderfully received, with appreciation from both parents and students alike.

It just so happens, I was also enormously influenced by John Paul II’s theology of the body, and his book, Love and Responsibility, was particularly influential during my undergraduate days. I didn’t know it at the time, at least not fully, but this helped me navigate the secular terrain that was mapped by Foucault and Rorty and every other beloved hero of my professors. Here was beauty and sacrifice and heroism. The bread of life. Instead, my professors were serving me McDonald’s.

Since then, I have never seriously doubted the Christian position on sexual morality. I have struggled, to be sure. I do not know any other celibate, single male (or female) who could claim the mantle of perfection, and most of us would hasten to say that we are no better than the narcissistic denizens of our fake liberative culture. Yes, I am mixing judgment with humility, which only further illustrates my depravity!


Given the topic of this post, I should say a few words about Pope Francis. I am not convinced — and the indomitable Fr. Robert Barron agrees — that Francis is going to change the position of the Catholic Church on sexual ethics. The media conveniently fails to report Francis’ rather harsh judgments about the selfishness of our sexually “free” (imprisoned) society. At the same time, Francis is undoubtedly influenced by liberation theology, which has significantly shaped his message and messaging, and this alone marks a shift from JP2 and B16. But this is a liberation theology with a particular context, within this particular individual. It includes all of the nuance and ambivalence that (the best of) orthodox Catholics are known to emulate. Those who think Francis is basically the counterpart of a Katharine Jefferts Schori are seriously delusional. I have had enough nauseous experiences with ignorant mainline Protestants who are counting the days until Francis’ coup d’etat.

Francis can demote Cardinal Burke for whatever reason. He can give much-needed pastoral correctives. Maybe he can even change the status of divorced Catholics in some way…which, as a Protestant, is not something that I care to concern myself with. But the measures which our culture demands — gender fluidity and the redefinition of marriage — will not happen. I repeat. It will not happen. Even if we were to believe that Francis is a full-blown liberal reformer, he can do very little. The majority of the Catholic Church is in the global South, not the affluent suburbs of Boston. I know that Western progressives are intractable in their conviction that they are the future of all societies (a very modern assumption), but they are not. They are parochial, sectarian, and even anti-intellectual. They are colonialists in the sense of every heteronomous expression of that word.

This is one of my all-time favorite performances. Johnny Cash with The Carter Family at the Grand Ole Opry in 1962, singing “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)”:

Anita Carter sings the lead for the line, “Sometimes it causes me to tremble.” As most of you probably know, this is a 19th century African-American slave spiritual.

You can find this on the Ultimate Gospel collection. The opening track, “Here Was a Man,” featuring Billy Graham is alone worth the price of the album.

I’m in the middle of a pastoral internship, so I expect that blogging will continue to be slow. I just want to pass along a piece by Corey Widmer:

“Traditional Sexuality, Radical Community”

Like yours truly, Widmer is a part of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. He is the pastor of Third Church in Richmond and the co-founder/co-pastor of East End Fellowship, a multi-ethnic church in the East End of Richmond.

The article is reflective of the discussion in the evangelical community as of late, which is encouraging.



Faithful Heart

October 31, 2014


Let’s celebrate the power of grace for this Reformation Day. Austin Stone Community Church has collaborated with TGC to produce a number of videos illustrating how God is present in the lives of those who depend upon him. Below are two of my favorites.

The first is the story of a young mother diagnosed with a chronic heart problem that could kill her at any moment:

The project is called The Storyframes Collective. They are superbly produced. And here is the story of David and Marlena, overcoming adultery through the unconditional grace of God:

Of course, these are stories that all Christians can celebrate, not just Protestants.


Image: “Why We Love Nature” by Tenteri (now deactivated Deviant Art account)


Now it is time for some theological heavy-lifting, sort of. Trust me, this is fun stuff!

The “incarnational analogy” for Scripture is when the incarnation of the Son, in the hypostatic union of true man and true God, is used as a model for understanding the ontology of Scripture. Basically it goes like this: the humanity of Jesus is capable of union with the divine Word, therefore the humanity of the biblical texts is capable of union with the divine Word, and in neither case is the humanity’s constitutional integrity compromised. If the biblical texts were to be understood as something other than fully human, then you could be accused of being a “monophysite” in regard to the what-ness of the Bible.

This analogy sounds good at first, but I have my doubts. It is interesting to observe the contrary ways in which this analogy can be put to use. For example, we can look at Al Mohler and Peter Enns. In his contribution to Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Zondervan, 2013), Al Mohler uses this model:

The incarnational model of Scripture is, of course, genuinely helpful; it rightly recognizes the Bible to be both divine and a human book. But the truth of this model does not lead to the conclusion that Enns would have us draw. The incarnate Christ was fully God and fully human, but his humanity was without sin. Just as theologians have for centuries argued over whether Jesus could not sin or merely did not sin, theologians may argue whether the Bible cannot err or merely does not err. But the end result is the same in any event — Jesus did not sin and the Bible is without error. [p. 126]

You see how that works? Mohler slipped from “sin” to “error” without signaling a shift. For this to work, Mohler would have to argue that the humanity of Christ was without error, not just without sin. This is a scholastic-style debate, whether Christ could err during his earthly sojourn. Could Jesus get a math problem wrong? Mohler would seemingly have to say no. Otherwise, the analogical use of Christ’s humanity would fail when applied to Scripture, for those like Mohler who want to uphold that all error is precluded by the text’s divine nature.

By contrast, Peter Enns believes that the humanity of Christ was capable of error, which includes a wide range of matters, such as cosmology and cultural traditions and presumably math problems. Thus, following the analogy, the humanity of Scripture is likewise capable of error. For Mohler, we must uphold an exhaustively inerrant humanity for Christ, so that the analogy can support an inerrant Scripture. He believes that the perfection of Christ’s humanity as sinless is a basis for arguing for the perfection of the Bible’s humanity as without error. But, once again, this only works if “Jesus did not sin” is the same as “Jesus did not err.” That has to be proven first, in order for Mohler’s use of the analogy to work. Likewise for Enns, “Jesus did not sin” but “Jesus did err” has to be demonstrated first, before turning to its analogical use for Scripture.

In other words, the analogical use of the Incarnation for the nature(s) of Scripture is dependent upon and determined by one’s prior christology, as we would expect. For Mohler, a sinless Jesus needs to be an errorless Jesus in all respects, given Mohler’s commitment to an inerrancy that makes no allowances for “accidental” (non-essential) errors. For Enns, a sinless Jesus does not need to be an errorless Jesus in all respects.

As I see it, to err is not necessarily to sin. All sin is error, but not all error is sin. There may be another basis upon which we must claim that Jesus was errorless in all respects, so I will recuse myself from answering this question for now. But, prima facie, it should be evident that the incarnational analogy is not as helpful as may first appear, especially when figures as diverse as Mohler and Enns can use it for their purposes. But we should question fundamentally the legitimacy itself of using this analogy in respect to the Incarnation of the Son. Michael Bird, following John Webster, says it well:

…I categorically reject Enns’ proposal of an “incarnational model” for explaining Scripture as a divine-human book. I am aware that such a model is merely a starting point for explaining how the Bible is both a divine and human work. However, this incarnational model is, as John Webster calls it, “Christologically disastrous.” It’s disastrous because it threatens the uniqueness of the Christ event, since it assumes that hypostatic union is a general characteristic of divine self-disclosure in, through, or by a creaturely agent. Furthermore, it results in a divinizing of the Bible by claiming that divine ontological equality exists between God’s being and his communicative action. [Ibid., 131-132, quoting Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch, 22]

Thus, the doctrinal implications of the analogy are suspect, if you accept Webster’s argument. It is worth pondering.


Image: “Adoration of the Child,” by Gerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst (1590-1656)

Beautiful War

October 28, 2014

I was transfixed while watching this:

“Beautiful War,” Kings of Leon, from the album, Mechanical Bull


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 165 other followers