Weekly Meanderings

Chicago’s Bean


Larry Hurtado‘s fine sketch of a hermeneutics of love.

A good report about Rowan Williams and his new book on C.S. Lewis: “These are surely questions the head of the established church must ponder. His interventions in live controversies – saying that aspects of Islamic sharia would inevitably become part of British law, or describing the Big Society as “aspirational waffle” – show he is unafraid of disturbing the mainstream. But I wonder whether his statements on the temporal issues of the day may have drowned out his spiritual message. His role might be in part a political one, but he is more provocative when he tackles the deeper questions. He leaves his position as Archbishop at the end of this year to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge – C S Lewis’s old college. Doubtless he will return to his academic interests, but it would be a shame if he retreated to speaking only to other theologians. In The Lion’s World his sometimes knotty prose style relaxes into an inspiring clarity. The ideas stay with you long after you finish the book, and his parting words on Lewis could apply equally to him. Great writers, he tells me, provoke you into looking beyond yourself. They seem to say: “Do you recognise that? Does that ring a bell? Something is moving in on you – well, getting its claws into you.”

TSK on taking time: “The two brothers from The Holy Transfiguration Monastery just left us. Its been a great three days. This morning we had our final breakfast and chat with them and we all shared what we learned. As for me, I was impressed with their perspective on time, their patience to wait for God’s timing, their reluctance to hurry or conform to the world’s rushed schedule that caters to the idolatry of NOW and the cult of youth. One example: They talked with Brother Roger from Taize about opening up to new people and he suggested they wait twenty years. Which they did. It gave them time to develop a deeper spirituality and core rhythms.  A lot of new church plants wait until they can run a good worship service before they open up to the public. There is little talk about whether the community has the spiritual depth to receive and disciple newcomers.  It reminded me of some other voices in my life…”

Excellent set of observations about pastoring by John Frye, at Jesus the Radical Pastor: “I believe these affinities are deeply and relationally transformative when the person who preaches/teaches the Word of God to a congregation is the one who visits them in their homes, in the hospitals, in the nursing home facilities; when the person who faithfully broadcasts the King Jesus Gospel Story also holds the baby in baptism, who prays and weeps at the grave side, who pronounces the husband and wife union; who walks in the shadow of death with the weary and confused. I wouldn’t trade being a pastor for being the mega-church communicator who by all measurements doesn’t know but a small percentage of the stories and characters of the attendees of a massive crowd. When pastoring is reduced to primarily preaching which is what happens to “lead” pastors by necessity in mega-churches, in my opinion something very significant is lost. I could be wrong, but I think there are subterranean relational trade-offs in the mega-church pastor model.”

Scott Holland, on how they decided to become parents: “I don’t recall how the subject of having children came up, but I am sure of a few things. One: We were still in Minnesota. Two: She started it. Three: I was taken completely by surprise. Like a lot of big topics in the course of our time together, Kristie had been thinking about the subject for at least a few days, if not longer, before actually saying something. I, conversely, was busy wondering if the Cubs would make the playoffs. Jumping ship on the five-year plan was no more on my radar than matching tattoos or skydiving lessons. This from the half of the couple who, even in the first six months of dating, was adamant about one day being a dad. Emphasis, though, on one day. As in five years after the wedding, not 13 months.”

Ira Brent Diggers reviews Tom Wright’s book How God Became King: “There is indeed a sense in which, methodologically speaking, Wright himself has “started with Scripture” (conceding this oversimplification for the moment), and there is no doubting that this approach has yielded some insights into the Jesus of the Gospels. I would contend, however, that the severing of Scripture from creedal tradition, for the purposes of setting Scripture above (or “before”) that tradition—as a normative hermeneutical hierarchy—is the more recent move in the history of scriptural exegesis. It establishes a kind of unidirectional approach that is, despite its great popularity in much of modern Christianity, simply untrue, both in intention and practice, to the ancient church that formulated the creeds. Irenaeus of Lyons exemplifies the ancient logic in his insistence that we read Scripture in accordance with the “Rule of Faith,” the Rule being a scripturally-derived “deposit” of the apostolic tradition, on the one hand, but the necessary hypothesis for the unveiling of Scripture’s overall unity, on the other. This sounds very much like the “creedal hermeneutic” that Wright disparages as altogether innovative. In reality, however, the ancient church followed this kind of logic as the Rule evolved into more linguistically-fixed creeds.

Good post by Jon Acuff:“Over and over again, these first disciples witness Jesus doing some absolutely wild things. Having witnessed these things first hand, it only makes sense that in Mark 4, when a storm threatens their boat, they immediately proclaim “No problem! We’ve got Jesus with us! Any boat he is on is like a Carnival Cruise!” Actually, they freak out. They wake Jesus up and instead of just saying, “Help, we’re going to drown!” they go with the far whinier, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” They manage to actually sound selfish in their cry for help, which is a difficult thing to do.”

Meanderings in the News

Caffeine levels in the ocean.

Merriam-Webster’s code of silence: “The office of Merriam-Webster has existed in essentially the same spot, in Springfield, Massachusetts, since 1831. While the building has changed both inside and out in the many decades following George and Charles Merriam’s establishment of their “printing and bookselling operation,” the location—and much of how the editors work—has not. When I arranged to speak by phone to Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster editor-at-large, for this piece, he emailed that he needed to move to a conference room for our call. “We work in a silent office,” he wrote. “A silent office?” I marvel, when we speak. According to Sokolowski, there was at one point an official code of silence in place, though it may have only been held as “law” in the ’50s and ’60s, when the staff was larger and worked without cubicle walls between them. There remains, however, “a powerful culture of silence in the office,” he explains. “Before email, communication was encouraged through a 3×5 pink piece of paper that would be carried from desk to desk (with the recipient designated by initials in the upper right-hand corner) by the secretarial staff.” While such quaint traditions have gone away with the advent of email, in-person meetings are held behind closed doors, and the overall atmosphere is “very library-like. All you hear are keystrokes on computers, or very hushed conversations,” among the 40-some editors who work there, Sokolowski tells me. This is practical as well as traditional, as “writing a dictionary is like taking the SAT.” Sokolowski, who joined the company in 1994 when there was just one computer on the editorial floor, has essentially taken the SAT multiple times weekly for 18 years.

Joyce Carol Oates’ review of Claire Tomalin’s new biography of Dickens. “The vicissitudes of Dickens’s visits to the United States are tracked in detail in Tomalin’s biography, suggesting a curious admixture of innocent authorly vanity, a shrewd desire to make as much money as possible, and what comes to seem to the reader a malignant, ever-metastasizing desire for self- destruction. Dickens’s delight in his large and uncritical audiences shifts by degrees to an addiction to public performing; like Mark Twain, he quickly came to see that public performance paid more than writing, and was much easier, at least in the short run. Dickens’s need for the immediate gratification of public performing is both tonic and masochistic; consumed by vanity, the celebrated writer is consuming his very self.”

7 Annoying Body Problems.

From The Environment Blog at The Guardian: “It’s time to come clean: climate change is a hoax. And the moon landings were faked, 9/11 was an inside job, and the CIA is hiding the identity of the gunman on the grassy knoll. It might seem odd to lump climate change – a scientific theory supported by thousands of peer-reviewed papers and hundreds of independent lines of evidence – with conspiracy theories like these. But new researchto be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science has found a link between the endorsement of conspiracy theories and the rejection of established facts about climate science.”

The French are trying to reduce rudeness: “Such rituals of rudeness have long been accepted by visitors as part of the price of enjoying such a beautiful city as Paris. But it seems the French themselves, who over centuries have turned rudeness into an art form, have become fed up with their own incivility, according to recent polls and publicity campaigns. There’s a fabled history of French rudeness from Napoleon, who called the English a “nation of shopkeepers,” to former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who infamously snarled at a voter: “Get lost, poor jerk.” Now, bad manners and aggressive behavior top the list of causes of stress for the French, even higher than unemployment or the debt crisis, says pollster IPSOS. A total of 60 percent cited rudeness as their number one source of stress in a survey last year on social trends. “We’re so rude,” admits 34-year-old French teacher Stephane Gomez, as he comes out of a Paris metro station. “France lacks the civic sense that you find in Anglo-Saxon countries.” “It’s so easy to be polite, but we don’t do it,” says 30-year-old Zahia Sebahi. “I never see someone give up their seat for an elderly person.” But Paris’s public transport authority is leading the fight-back in a summer-long publicity campaign against rudeness.” Not a problem in either Iceland or Denmark, who are high on the list of both civility and hospitality.

Lobster is cheap this year: “A combination of warm weather and good conservation techniques has led to what could end up being a record lobster harvest across Maine waters. The glut is particularly noticeable here in Stonington, a fishing village on an archipelago by the Atlantic Ocean that has more lobster “landings,” or catches, than anywhere in the state. But the bounty has come with a downside for fishermen. A relatively warm winter prompted soft-shell lobsters to appear in June, about a month early, and their abundance turned into an overabundance. That caused a huge backup in the sea-to-table supply chain. And for the fishermen, the law of supply and demand has forced the price down to a 40-year low. At one lobster cooperative here, the price that fishermen received for lobster last week fell to $1.35 per pound (plus a 70-cent dividend per pound, to be paid later in the year), down from about $3.80, and in some cases $4, at the same time last year.”

Exoplanets: “Finally, astronomers studying a star known as Kepler-30 have found something that looks reassuringly familiar: one, two, three exoplanets, orbiting in a plane, just like we do. And as reported in the current issue of Nature, it’s not only the discovery itself that’s cool, it’s the way the researchers went about making it. Exoplanets are typically discovered in one of two ways — and neither involving simply pointing a telescope in the right direction and looking. At solar distances, the planets are just too tiny and often too washed-out by the light of their suns to be spotted visually. Instead, astronomers look for wobbles in the star itself, indicating that something nearby is tugging on it gravitationally. More recently — especially since the 2009 launch of the Kepler Space Telescope — they have relied on the slight dimming in luminosity that occurs as a planet passes in front of its star, blocking a bit of its light. Even that wasn’t terribly easy with Kepler-30, a relatively faint star 10,000 light-years distant. Says Joshua Winn, a co-author of the Nature paper and a professor of astrophysics at MIT: “We don’t have a [good] picture of this star.”

Are you into Heidegger? Read this.

Meanderings in Sports

One name, one story: Gabby! “Douglas not only joined Retton, Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin as the only American women to capture the all-around gold, but she also became the first African-American woman to win the title. “Oh, my gosh, I forgot about that,” she said. “It’s definitely an amazing feeling and great honor to be the first African-American to win. I hope I can inspire people. My mother told me that I can inspire a nation.” As a minority in a predominantly white sport, Douglas has experienced her share of awkwardness, like when she moved to Des Moine, Iowa, two years ago to train with Johnson’s former coach, Liang Chow. “Sometimes I’d play rap music and I’d say [to the other gymnasts], ‘You don’t know this song?’ ” she said. “Then they would play some country and I’d be clueless. It was like, awkward.”

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  • Tom F.

    Ira’s article is good. However, both of their arguments about creeds are somewhat circular, because the question becomes an issue of which creeds at what time.

    Among Protestants, the “solas” are fairly close to creedal status. And sola scriptura is certainly the principle that Wright seems to be using against the patristic creeds (though not “against” so much as “on behalf of”; the patristic creeds are basically true as far as they go, but they need to be rescued by the full witness of of the gospels). So it turns out the Wright is really using a Protestant creed to improve upon a Patristic creed. In other words, Wright can claim to move first from scripture to creed, but this methodological move is itself based on a creed.

    Now my guess is that Ira and Wright both know this. So that’s why its confusing to me why Wright seemingly presses so hard against the very principle of creeds. And I don’t understand why Ira talks about the principle of moving from scripture -> creeds as being “modern”. Well, I guess if you date “modern” to the Reformation, than maybe?

    In fact, this whole debate about the creeds seems to be a bit of a sideshow, honestly. Perhaps Ira is legitimately concerned about what an unchecked historical criticism of scripture would do if it doesn’t happen within a (patristic) creedal framework. But if scripture can not challenge creeds, than what business did Luther have in challenging the medieval theology of his day, much of which had been settled for several hundred years? And if Luther can outright overturn medieval creeds, why can’t Wright merely improve upon Patristic ones?

  • RJS


    Doesn’t Wright push against the creeds as summaries that then become everything necessary? I found the review by Ira Brent Diggers somewhat off because it seems to miss the point.

  • Scott Gay

    Have to comment on Phillipse’s logistic exegesis of Heidegger, especially the eight heavily abbreviated so-called authoritarian stratagems. Obviously I’m not into Heidegger, but would like all to notice that this appendix is not the book’s thesis. In fact, they are the iterations of the article’s author in relation to his Madhyamaka philosophy, the foundational idea being that the set of ultimately existent things is an empty set.
    This brings me to G.K. Chesterton’s analogy on the central thesis of the book. It is long for a post, but right on in terms of the rational arguments for Phillipse’s atheism and the unreasonableness of religion:
    “As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods, but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual insight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. It is exactly this balance of contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not nderstand. The logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious and everything else becomes lucid.
    As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out…the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its center it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.
    Another symbol from physical nature will express sufficiently well the real place of mysticism before mankind. The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything. Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything else by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility. Detached intellectualism is (in the exact sense of a popular phrase) all moonshine. for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light….But that transcendent by which all men live has primarily much the position of the sun in the sky. We are conscious of it as of a kind of slendid confusion; it is something both shining and shapeless, at once a blaze and a blur. But the circle of the moon is as clear and unmistakable, as recurrent and inevitable, as the circle of Euclid on a blackboard. The moon is utterly reasonable, and the moon is the mother of lunatics and has given to them all her name”.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    It is still not clear what Wright is truly aiming at in his kind of relativizing the creeds (since Wright is very creedal himself). If I were to simply give Wright the benefit of the doubt and look at history in how the creeds have replaced the gospels, then I hope in the end what Wright is arguing for is not against the creeds per se but a wrong use of the creeds.

    It does seem like some of Wright’s arguments are that the creeds are insuffient and not comprehensive enough. If one looks at the creeds isolated from everything else, Wright looks like he has a point (and I know many agree with him on that very point). But it seems to me that the argument against the creeds can just as well go against Pauline theology contra the gospels or 1 Cor.15 creedal statement falls short as well. Creeds need to be evaluated for what they say and not for what they don’t say. Creeds also need to be looked at in the broader ecclesial tradition where liturgical, homilectical, devotional, and icons did emphasize Jesus life, words and deeds. The broader context of these issues need to be examined or we fall into the trap that Wright may have stumbled with a particular issue in some kind of atomitized or isolated way.

  • Rick

    CGC #4-

    I agree, and although I think Ira Brent Diggers concedes too much on the historical nature of the creedal tradition (your pointing out 1 Cor 15 is a good example), I think is point about creeds as frameworks is valid.

    In regards to Gabby, that is a wonderful story. However, I think there is another name coming from these Olympic Games: Missy. Her situation is different, whereas she did not leave to train at more recognized swim schools/clubs (California, Florida, etc…), rather she stayed in the untraditional swimming location of Colorado. Her family, friends, and coach took priority. The result: gold medals and a world record.

  • Phil Miller

    I don’t think Wright a problem with the principle of creeds as far as they go. He pretty much says that over and over again. What Wright’s point is that the creeds were written to answer specific questions in specific times. They weren’t meant to tell the whole story of Jesus or the entire Gospel.

    With How God Became King Wright is essentially trying to answer the question of why the Gospels are actually included in Scripture. What was is it that was so important about Jesus’ earthly ministry that the writers thought it should be preserved. Certainly the virgin birth, His death, and resurrection are of utmost importance, but what about all the other material? I have heard many people say (as Wright points out) that Jesus’ ministry was recorded in order to prove that he was divine or really the son of God. That might have sliver of truth, but if that’s really the case, the writers could have made a more compelling case. But once you start seeing the Gospels as the climax of Israel’s story, and the fulfillment of God’s plan from the get-go things start to make a bit more sense.

    Frankly, I’m surprised that Wright is receiving as much push-back as he is on this issue. It seems that there are some who seem to taking him to be saying that we can just get rid of the creeds or that they’re unimportant. In the book and interviews, though, he goes out of his way to make it known that is not his intent.

  • CGC

    Thanks Rick; Good point Phil. People tend to forget that Wright is not some moderate tradition killer scholar. He is a leader in the church of England. It does not get much more creedal or liturigcal than that!

  • scotmcknight

    It is odd, if not a tad ironic, that an Anglican leader like Tom Wright can seemingly minimize creeds while I, an Anabaptist, can push to see the Apostles’ and Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creeds as gospeling statements (esp the Second Article), and I sense Tom is pushing back against me a bit in some of that book.

    Now a bit of clarification: I read Tom as saying the Creed is not sufficient to set the parameters of Christian theology and is incomplete when it comes to gospel, and the latter because it does not have enough/any kingdom language/theology. I’m not sure “kingdom” language has to be present, but Tom has an important point to make for those who see too much in the Creed.

    I’m not entirely on board with Ira, because Tom is pushing hard for sola scriptura as understood in the historical context and through sound historical methods. Scripture can challenge Creed, at least if we are truly Protestant, just as it can challenge the solas of the Reformation. But where this gets a bit murky is that Creed and Canon are not as completely separate as many moderns like to think. In fact, the proto-Creed theology of the early church was at work in shaping which books were recognized as Canon while the apostolic witness in Canon was shaping how to frame the Creed. So, for me, Creed and Canon are not neatly separable, and I would argue in fact that the gospel of 1 Cor 15 gave rise to the Creed-consciousness of the early church that also shaped which books were seen as “apostolic etc” — in other words, in the beginning was the gospel and it was the gospel that led to both!

    So Tom and I agree on this: focus on the gospel, define it rigorously, and we will all be better off.

  • CGC

    This is important. Protestants tend to forget the inter-relation historically between the creeds and the canon. Yes the scripture made the church but the church helped make scripture as well. There is a kind of dialectic that does go on in all this that we tend to forget or ignore.

  • DRT

    I got a broiled seafood platter in Pittsburgh last week that had a 1 lb lobster tail, 4 big scallops, 3 nice shrimp, a very large fish piece (some kind of whitefish), all for $18. It was awesome and the lobster was cooked so it was tender and sweet!!!

  • DRT

    RJS, (and others interested in physics), if you have not seen this then I am pretty sure you would be interested.

    Granted, they are using some trickery in the presentation by combining various data acquisitions, but it is way cool. I also am not too impressed by the “seeing around corners” part, though it too is cool. I wish he would have gone into more detail at the end where he shows that the camera was capturing the events in reverse sequence (in time) and correcting it based on relativity calculations.

    Subject [my words] – A new camera system developed at MIT can actually show light traveling and reflecting. You can actually watch a pulse from a laser beam being propagated and reflected.

  • RJS


    Way cool. We build/use femtosecond lasers in research, but for spectroscopy not imaging.

    Now I’ll step back a minute. Rough estimate: 50% cool, 50% hype … but this is often the case (esp. in a TED talk). I am not putting it down, it is a nice video and talk, some hype and a gee whiz factor is essential for communicating. After all if the experts act bored, everyone else will think it is boring even when it is way cool. (And I tend to think femto-anything is way cool).

  • DRT

    RJS, my take exactly.

    I did a lot of research in the late 80’s and early 90’s into penetration mechanics [projectile/armor]. We used high speed photography and flash x-ray systems all the time. I could easily see taking thousands of flash x-rays and making them into a movie, but there was never a need. Perhaps if the cold war had continued on we would have got there….

    That type of work is a lot of fun, the materials don’t really act like solids anymore at 4k to 10k+ fps impact velocities and many things there even seem counter intuitive. It is dominated by shock dynamics, as I am sure you are aware.

  • DRT

    Scot, I am in Matthew 5 this morning and was wondering if you are going to publish something about the beatitudes? I seem to recall you were researching it.

  • Chip

    As much as I love N. T. Wright, I think Driggers’s criticisms essentially are valid. And Scot and CGC hit the mark about the messy interplay between creed and canon.