Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I've taken on the role of Super-Uncle for a chunk of this Christmas break. You learn things, in this process.
A) Three is an age that all actors should observe carefully. We talk a lot about objective and strategem (whatever the fashionable language about it is now), and three year-olds are practically case studies in objective and strategem. Stuff they want, but can't get. Tantrums, wheedling, all manner of different tricksiness. Parents are also a good study - how does a parent get a kid to do what she wants? Or what the kid needs, but can't articulate (a decent hissy fit usually indicates that you missed your window for getting them properly fed).
B) There is very little which cannot be endured with other, participating adults by your side.
C) It is difficult to type and hold a baby at the same time.
Since I currently have a baby on my lap, that's about all. More, perhaps, if there is break theology.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
On all of my class evaluations, they asked what the most important single thing you learned from the class was. I thought it was a great question, so I'm going to spend some time elaborating on the answers here, and hoping that that answers any questions you may have about the classes.
Systematic Theology: "Theology is a science of mysterious tensions." I wrote that on this blog a while back, and it keeps rattling around in my head. Theology - an argument or study of God. Science - a system of knowledge. Mysterious - as opposed to logos, impenetrable truth; knowledge that surpasses rational understanding. Tensions - a dynamic state existing between two bodies, in this case, two facts. A couple of quotations and thoughts to illustrate this point:
"God is light, but God is unlike any light that we know." - Irenaeus
"...one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation..." - Definition of the Council of Chalcedon
And the like. Over and over. To understand truly the doctrines of the early church, we must hold in dynamic tension many of the fundamentals of our faith. God is three. God is one. Yes.
Pastorally, I think this will show up in the moments when it's needed. In times when someone is considering an ill choice, it may be best to talk about human free will. In the passing of a loved one, it may be best to discuss God's providential plan. It sounds ludicrous, but it's how we must live our faith, in the space between the truths that God has revealed to us.
Theology of John Calvin: "Context matters - especially for theologians." I talked about this, too, in a previous post. Calvin's current context deeply affected his theology - predestination, the eucharist, church structure, all were set up in reaction against the excesses (perceived and real) of Rome. (Increasingly, by the way, I'd like to sit down with some Catholic friends of mine again and dig into why we disagree). So, how does my context as a theologian affect my theology? I'm very conscious of my American-ness when I talk to the Korean and Malawian fellows in my Calvin precept. Their theology has been shaped by their contexts - so has mine. How? How as a pastor can I faithfully respond to my own background in the proclamation of the gospel?
Introduction to the Old Testament: "Scripture is changed profoundly by the lens through which we look at it, and is itself our own lens for looking at the world." Disclaimer: I believe that the Holy Scriptures, as they are received and affirmed by the councils of the church and the great reformers, are the divinely inspired and authoritative Word of God. However, I also believe that humans are weak and error-prone vessels, whose understanding of the scriptures will always be imperfect, not because of any fault of scripture, but because of the faults of finite beings. We all bring preconceptions and assumptions to our readings of the Bible that we cannot escape. But, through careful study, consideration, deliberation, and prayer, we can come to an understanding of the positions of other wise interpreters, both modern and ancient, and to some sort of consensus about how Scripture must be read.
Introduction to Speech/Communication: "God has given you gifts - be sure you keep working on them. Don't let the important ones slide." Not too much more to say on that one. It's a really fun class - I'm looking forward, always, to more guidance about how to be an effective speaker.
So - that's the academic story. For the more personal side of life...well...come back tomorrow. I have to leave work quite soon.
PS - http://twitter.com/evangelius
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Don't be too down-hearted, though. I'm not going to shut the blog down. I'd love to say that I've been too busy to post, but that would be a lie. It's more that I'm uninspired.
It was a revelation to me that blogging is actually writing. (I know. Who'da thunk?) It used to just be me sort of talking for a while. Then, I tried to systematize it, and suddenly it was work. And work like doing other kinds of writing. I was surprised. And I have, believe me, been doing enough writing. So. The blog suffers.
My big story of late has been that I've learned a lot. (More words from Proverbs' fool). My mother called and asked me about the Trinity. I talked about the Trinity for easily half an hour. I could have gone on. I know a lot about it. And the same is true of free will, grace, the Old Testament, and the works and life of John Calvin. I didn't know it, but it's true. I've learned a ton.
That's the good news. Bad news? Well, that will have to wait for another post.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I want to work with you, whoever you are, to fix the deeply rooted problems in our country. We may disagree about how to go about doing so, but I desperately want this to be collaborative. We can't do this alone - we're too limited. We need to listen to one another, and whatever your perspective, I want to listen to you.
There are a lot of folk out there pretty excited, and I'm happy about that. There is American pride the likes of which I've never seen among my friends. But there is a seductive danger, my brothers and sisters. Do not be tempted by the sentiment "Yes, we did." I have seen it again and again today.
We haven't. Not yet. We've started, but now more than ever I wish to give praise to the power of possibility. We have opened doors long thought securely locked, and behind those doors we have found...more doors. More opportunities. More challenges.
Today I say to you, yes, we can. We are not finished. We may never be finished. We will keep exploring our possibilities, keep working together, keep listening and speaking until the final hour of human time. But to this story there is no end.
We have not. We did not.
We can. We will.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
2) I have good friends. Here, in WA, in VT, in Boston, scattered through the country as only post-graduates can be, my friends and family support, pray for, talk to, and just generally are awesome in relation to me.
3) God will finish what he has started in me (Phil. 1:6). One of the most timely sermons of my recollection was today in chapel, and most of those there with me agreed. God will bring to completion the work He has set up for me, as is true for everyone.
4) Connected: Everything will be okay. This is one of the bedrocks of my belief, that even in death, so long as I cleave to God, everything will be okay. Not necessarily great. Not even necessarily at all good. But okay.
5) Even if I don't post on this blog for, like, two weeks...still, I can come back to't, and it's doing what it is supposed to do.
Rachel, who is suffering from depression and poor insurance
Ruth, for healing following her surgery
Shannon, whose Philosophy exam is next Wednesday
Hebe, Hestia, Epione (formerly Updo), and Polymnia, all of whom are extraordinarily stressed
Oh - and a happy birthday to the Barkeep! He's a prime number!
Friday, October 10, 2008
I mention this because in just a few short hours, I am departing to New York to see a school friend in a production of this most sublime play. And that's pretty exciting. Also exciting - I get to explain to Updo and Hestia the short-attention-span plot. And I love this play so much, that that idea is pure pleasure to me.
Later this weekend, we'll have some soteriology (new favorite word), and some Old Testament maybe.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
So, Systematic Theology was the doctrine of the Trinity. And what do you say about that? I think I mentioned this, but at a certain point you have to just say, "Yes, the Trinity. Three in one. One in three. There it is," and move on, or you will make yourself crazy.
My Calvin class gave me the most interesting revelation, both about Calvin himself and, more broadly, about the value of considering audience in literary analysis. Professor McKee has been hammering at this, but she finally got it through to me on Thursday of this last week. I can some up the point in these few words.
Calvin didn't know anyone who wasn't Christian.
Calvin was never writing to a secular world. He was never writing to a non-Christian world. With the notable exception of reaching to the Roman church, he was never, ever, an apologist. That just was not in his conception. Ever and always, his concern was for his flock.
For that reason, the doctrine of predestination makes sense. It doesn't have to be defended to non-Christians. Except for some Jews, there aren't any around in Calvin's world. And, as a method of reassuring a population that was always in doubt about the surety of its salvation, Calvin's predestination is spot on the money - you needn't worry about your soul, you are of the elect, and so you're fine. Focus on your work, then, on God's work, and don't worry yourself about your hope of heaven - it is sure (this of course is later replaced by anxiety over how to know whether or not you are of the elect - but that's a different blog post).
That extends out even farther. If we consider the audience of any text, and especially any theological text, we will see that there is an impact of intention. A sermon to a congregation will say different things than a letter to a prisoner. But fundamentally, the message must always be the same - the story of Christ resurrected, and the remission of our sins.
Theology is a science of mysterious tensions. God is three. God is one. Christ is God. Christ is a man. God foreknows all things. God has made us in his image, to be like Him. All these statements are equally true in Christian thinking, but they seem contradictory. To be faithful theologians means explicating them all in different ways and at different times. But reading any theologian, it is absolutely worth our time to investigate their intended audience, to see what their emphases are.
Other than that, things are good! Next week is shaping up to be the doctrine of election and Joshua. Good times.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Please vote. Please register to vote, if you haven't. For everyone in this country, this may be the most important election of our lifetime.
For this reason, I offer a few interesting government terms - what they mean, and why they're important.
Republic - from Latin res publica, the public thing, the common affair. Our Republic is not for itself. It is not for other countries. It is public property. We own it, lock, stock, and barrel. And we all have a responsibility to contribute, not just our tax dollars, but our judgment, and our votes, to what this republic should look like. It's our country - let's have our say.
Government - from the Latin guberno, to steer, to navigate. The purpose of the government is to point the republic in a direction. When we have an election, we're choosing our pilots. Who do you want to be your pilot? Do you want someone else to pick who's driving this thing? Or do you want your own say in the process? Take it. Vote.
Democracy - democratia, Greek for "government by the people." The Athenians had some real trouble with oligarchies and dictatorships. This always remained their ideal - that all the citizens governed the country, all citizens had a vote and a say in what was going on. We still live in a democracy. You are the people. And you have the power. Use it.
Mkay. Classical soapbox completed. Please vote. maps.google.com/vote will help you figure out registration. God bless.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
That said, I have a few more analogies I want to try out, that have come to me in the course of trying to explain the Trinity to some folks here.
Y'know how in an old TV, you had these pixels that were made up of red, green, and blue phosphors? The Trinity works like that. Turn 'em all on at once, and you have a white pixel. But each light, while still being light (this is the divine ousia, or being), is of a different color (the hypostasis, or person).
The Trinity is also like the Three Stooges. Yes, I'm serious. Three guys, right? But you never seem them when they aren't together. They always work together. They work in tandem, and are interrelated, but they each have a different personality. This one doesn't stretch as far.
Finally, I'll toss this out in a more practical way for me. When I feel a particular need to talk to God about a problem I have, I imagine myself talking to Christ. When I am praising the creator, I'm directing it in my head to the Father. When I am praying for inspiration, or for the blessing of my work, I have in my head the Holy Spirit. But they're all God to me - all of them always working together on whatever's up.
I know that's a bunch of little thumbnails, but, in my head, that's all we're ever going to get of the Trinity. It's worth spending time on a regular basis exploring our ideas of our rather unique Triune God, but a certain point you have to just say: "Yeah. That's weird," and get on with the business of loving your neighbour, etc.
In other news, had a conversation with Updo (she's going to kill me when she finds out that that's her blog name, but I've had worse) about the worth of memorization. Our Professor said something to the effect that we should be teaching the catechism or some part thereof to our youth, so that they will remain embedded in the church after high-school. He specifically underlined the idea that "memorizing something creates an ownership - we posses differently, we truly know things that we have memorized." He also lamented the destruction of memorization in our "sound byte" culture.
I would argue, briefly, that I could go into chapel tomorrow, go up on the pulpit, and say the words "Fezzik - are there rocks ahead?" and a rumble would reply to me "if there are, we all be dead." Memorization is by no means dead - it has simply shifted into secular and popular, rather than ecclesiastical, forms. I think if you could do "Theologian Celebrity Jeopardy," you might be able to sneak in long sections of the catechism. You just have to be subtle.
Updo's point, though, and it's a good one, is that forcing people to memorize things is precisely what has gotten the church to its current bad pass. I'd like Oriana to comment on whether she tries to have her kids memorize the catechism, and what kind of wailing or gnashing of teeth there would be if she did. My counter is that I don't think our professor is wrong - memorization is totally valuable. I just wish there were some way to inspire, rather than force it.
But it is only through iteration and reiteration that we can hope to impose a foreign concept upon a reluctant mind.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
I'll try and warn those of you less interested in the business-side of what I'm doing slightly before I talk about it.
1) So, apparently, according to tradition, the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) were written by Moses. This opinion had not formed a central part of my thinking, so I was not much dismayed when I discovered that modern biblical scholarship posits no fewer than four (and possibly more) different sources for the text we now have. I'll offer my little piece of proof - compare the creation narratives in Gen. 1 and Gen 2 - the sharp contrast between THE LORD who speaks creation into existence, and the God who plants a garden and sews clothing for his creations. This hasn't created a particular theological problem for me - it's been pretty darned interesting, though.
2) What can we know about God? And how? Can we see Him in creation? If we can see Him in creation, how does that fit into our issue of true knowledge of God coming from scripture? In essence, I'm going to have to side with Calvin on this.
I find this image most powerful if I imagine not a book, but a light that is invisible outside of the use of this lens. Put the glasses on, and you see the light everywhere you look - at the world around you, or graven on your own heart. But the Scriptures reveal the light - they are not the light. Or, if you're of a certain age, do you remember using a sheet of red plastic to find the hidden text in an old hint book? Get a filter of the right color (Scripture) and you can see God's hidden text all over the place. But, again, the text is visible through the filter - it is not the same thing as the filter. That one breaks down a bit more - one of the brightest sources of knowledge of God is in Scripture, but the base point that I want to underline here, the heresy I feel especially called to speak against, is that Scripture is not God. God is found in Scripture and in the world of our own experience, both internal and external, through Scripture, but God is not the Scriptures. Equate the two, and you have set up an idol in the form of a book. 'Ware.
For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly. Calvin, John; Institutes of the Christian Religion I.vi.1
Next week, the trinity and the later Pentateuch!
Saturday, September 27, 2008
For those of you of this persuasion, I am situated in 401A Hodge Hall (there is no B. I have two thirds of a suite to myself), but my physical address (as best I can locate it) is
Princeton Theological Seminary
Princeton, NJ 08542
Stuff sent to that address should get to me. If I find a better address, I shall correct it.
Classes have, thus far, been precisely what I expected. This is pretty high-level theological thinking, even in the intro courses, just the sort of chewy questions that really get me up in the morning. Professors range from brilliant/poor lecturers to just overall fabulous - one of them is part of an old Zaire mission family, and if this makes its way to Jonathan Cameron, you may feel free to ask Elsie McKee what a poor student I am.
I am managing to take good care of myself - the food here is pretty good, I am sleeping a sufficient amount, and there are numerous opportunities for exercise, including a swimming pool, a decent gym, weight room, and miles and miles of nice walks. The old Princeton battlefield is especially lovely at night.
Very little has caught me totally by surprise. There's a wonderful breadth of experience here, mothers and fathers side by side with newlyweds and recent graduates, different kinds of colleges, different theological backgrounds - we've all got something to say to each other.
So, now, if you're looking back over this archive, you'll find that it used to be a LOT more about what was going on in my head. That piece will still remain, I hope, but look here also for some more concrete life stuff as well.
At some point, in the near future, my take on the epistemology of theology.
Thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, and support. The knowledge that there is a community standing behind me gives me strength at odd times.
I'm headed out to lunch - peace be with you all.
Matthew "Gospel" Johnstone
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Stuff like this makes me sad. Maybe, then, I oughtn't to link it, but still. Fundamentally, of course, I disagree with his "Anousia" neologism (the Greeks sure as heck didn't think of religion as mindless - cf. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Homer, and pretty much all of Greek culture, with the notable exceptions of Eurpides(?) and Epicurus), and his statement that while we can't outlaw religion (with a tinge of regret), we should argue vigorously against it.
Man, what did religion ever do to you? Or, more to the point, religious people? There are a bunch of us hanging out who give to good political causes, who love our neighbours, who do good works, who spend time thinking about people other than ourselves. The best of us, on our best days, give until it hurts, and then give some more, not even in terms of money, but of ourselves.
Now, sure, there are bad apples (as there are in any group of people, I would hasten to add), and all of us have bad days. This is, in large part, I think, the purpose of grace - to help us when we stumble. And the purpose of faith, by counter, is to inspire us to new heights of kindness and graciousness. But there are an awful lot of babies in the societal bathwater of religion, and if you throw them out, I think you'll find your society a poorer place than before.
Finally, I am moved to include the alt-text on this comic, as it expresses something I've been trying to nail down for a while. It is ALWAYS worth our time to try and understand why someone believes something that they believe. Whether it's global warming, religion, abortion, gay rights, or what have you, it is much easier, in my experience, to understand someone's motivations than it is their positions. Abortion is especially guilty of this, where the rhetoric has gotten so loud and persistent that it takes WORK to convince either side to understand the fears and desires of their opponents. Believe me, friends, when you grok the why of anyone's stand on an issue, their logic becomes either unfailingly impeccable, or non-existent. And the non-existent people you can freely ignore.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
He's a funny man, but he doesn't use nearly so many theologically big words as I do. That's a big ol' fail.
Soon: What the heck to do about Romans 9:16.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Does it occur to anyone else that the Egyptians have some nice stuff? I happen to really enjoy various forms of pagan music, in which I include Audioslave, for a certainty, and very possibly Coldplay. Can I, as a faithful man, sing "I Am the Highway" or "Sparks" with God in mind, and make them worship for myself, if not for my community?
Christ is the saviour of all. His saving grace affects every person on His Father's blue Earth. The only road to the Father is through Him. But when we sing to him, I don't care if the right words, the words that express how I feel, were written by a drunken, philandering devil-worshipper. I'd be surprised, but God knows precisely what I mean. When Christ is in my mind, even if Black Sabbath puts him there, I'm fairly sure God smiles a little.
Monday, April 28, 2008
I'm going to Princeton in the fall. Finally going to be obedient to the call. Get the thing done for the people. Learn - humility if nothing else. I was actually foolish enough recently to pray for humility, and now I'm sort of waiting for the axe to fall.
I was over at classicalpresbyterian.blogspot.com, and aside a certain...firmness in some of his presentation, I found the list of pastoral types to be avoided both inspiring and a little nerve-wracking...I want to do or be (in some part) some of those things. Not so much the Veep, but the DORG and the DJ (a very tiny bit, and more for involvement in the denomination than in its word from on high), perhaps.
And then I get to reading up on what it means to be Reformed, and into other theological positions, and recognize (again) how fundamentally hollow they all are. What possible difference could the suffering of Christ versus the payment of penalty have to do with the case for a woman whose child has just died? Or for a couple looking to be married? Or for a regular guy, who wishes things were just a little bit easier?
All these things are important, of course - to me. I want to spend my hours and my days thinking and arguing about these ambiguities, because it is in this way that God calls me to worship Him. But, as a pastor, they make so little difference to the daily inspiration and passion of the communities I'm called to serve.
Keeps me up at night, I tell you.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
I've said it before, and it is not original with me, but it apparently hasn't been said enough: this has to be determined with theology, not polityThis, of course, sets off neurons firing over in my brain. As a Presbyterian, I find now that I must bow to a truth previously unacknowledged in my own mind. All of our polity, all of our business, has its roots in theology. The Book of Order did not spring fully formed from the forehead of John Knox, or of anyone else. It is a document detailing one church's attempt to make practical sense of our faith. Some of it is common sense - some of it historical tradition, and some of it is scriptural.
The problem is, of course, that there are things that go on now that Scripture flat doesn't cover. The Barkeep and I got into this the other night, as he pointed out that, as a Presbyterian and a Protestant, I confess sola scriptura. This makes me nervous from time to time, since I know some Christians who want to turn that into sola scriptura, non mundus.
I've heard a lot of words thrown around to describe the Bible. Inerrant, inspired, (never revealed, thank Him), divine, etc. I know some people take that to mean that the Bible overwhelms every other experience that we can describe. I'm nervous about that.
The language that seems to make most sense to me about the Bible is that of the guidebook, the owner's manual - or best of all, the map. Completely free from error - nothing on the map is wrong. The lands of Sin are clearly delineated, the wastes of the human soul, and the oases of Life are all marked down.
But an elemental truth awaits those who lift the text too high. The map is not the territory. The file is not the man. The Bible is not the world. We can't use the Scriptures to cover our eyes, denying the realities in front of us. The map is free from error, but it doesn't describe the whole of the earth beneath our feet. There are fossils down there on which the bible is silent. Are we to pretend that they don't exist?
We were put on this earth, with our living road map, to explore and discover, to worship and seek, and to love one another. God made the map, and he made the world. I don't know about anyone else, but I'd like to use them both as they were intended, and not make them into something they're not.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
In one paragraph, state your hopes and concerns regarding the church and its mission.As I read the writers of my age, talking about their faith and the calls of God in their lives, I am perpetually struck by the divisions between us as a united Church. From the right I hear of righteousness, and of family, and from the left I hear of freedom, and compassion. All these are values I hold dear. So, when I think of the church, my hopes and concerns, I am driven to point us at the only thing that truly matters, and the only path. Christ must be our center, both the road and the end of the road, and centuries of philosophy and theology have taught us that the best paths to virtue are paths of balance. We must, while flying to Christ like an arrow to the target, strive to find a balance, not so that we all agree, but so that we can love each other, as Christ has called us to do.