From the Dean

News items, published articles, and reading recommendations from Dean Timothy George




The Dean Recommends: God's Strangeness

By Wesley Hill
January 2016

Skimming through a stack of books recently, I found myself reading a testimonial of sorts from James D. G. Dunn, the great New Testament scholar who coined the phrase “the new perspective on Paul.” Having logged decades of ministry in various Methodist contexts, Dunn tries to explain what it feels like to be worshiping now in a small Anglican church according to the Book of Common Prayer:

As I draw nearer to the next stage of my journey, my faith remains strong, though I find myself often less satisfied that the words used to express that faith are adequate. . . . And saying the Nicene Creed every Sunday, as though the mystery of God can be put satisfactorily into words (including the Filioque!), can be theologically disquieting.

When I read that last sentence, I bristled. The Creed is about trying to contain the mystery of God?! No matter how familiar I am with professional biblical scholarship’s characteristic nervousness about—or, sometimes, its outright disdain for—creedal and confessional theology, I am still occasionally shocked by it.

Lots of people think the way Dunn does, worrying that reciting the Creed week by week can lead to the calcification of vibrant faith, to a simplifying and demystifying of a more admirably numinous religious encounter or experience. Many contemporary believers, and not only their professional theological muses, fear that the goal of the Church’s dogmas is the reduction of mystery. Creeds flatten and deaden the divine plenitude that must always exceed our grasp. They contain and limit, trimming eternity down to “satisfactory” size, whereas the Bible and its polyglot diversity liberate, refusing to narrow the horizons. Or so the thinking goes. Read the rest at First Things.

Posted by Kristen Padilla at Tuesday, January 24, 2017
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Praying for Christian Unity

By Timothy George
January 23, 2017

Fifty-eight years ago this week, on January 25, 1959, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, less than three months into his pontificate as Pope John XXIII, shocked the world by announcing his intention to convoke “an ecumenical council for the universal church.” The seventy-eight-year-old pontiff made sure that Christian unity would be central in the deliberations of the Council. He wanted the Council to be, he said, “an invitation to the separated communities to seek again that unity for which so many souls are longing in these days throughout the world.”

“Good Pope John” frequently referred to the Second Vatican Council as a new Pentecost, as in his prayer that the Lord would renew “his wonders in our time, as by a new Pentecost” (per novum veluti Pentecostem mirabilia tua). He was well aware that the fire of Pentecost did not descend on the disciples in the Upper Room out of the blue. It was born in a prayer meeting. Thus it was no coincidence that Pope John first announced the Council at the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This annual cycle of prayer had deep roots in Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions alike.

It was Paul Wattson, one of the founders of the Society of the Atonement, who first suggested in the first decade of the twentieth century that it would be good to observe an annual Octave of Prayer. He proposed beginning on January 18, which was then commemorated as the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair, and concluding on January 25, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Peter and Paul, despite their notable differences, labored together to build up the Body of Christ. In this sense, they were invoked as patron saints of a new initiative of prayer for Christian unity. Wattson, who had been an Anglican priest, entered into communion with the Roman Catholic Church in 1909. In 1916, Pope Benedict XV sanctioned the annual observance of a week of prayer for unity. Read the rest at First Things.

Posted by Hunter Upton at Monday, January 23, 2017
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The Dean Recommends: Reading Notes - Christ Alone

By Piotr Malysz
January 19, 2017

This year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation, looking back to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the theological debates kick-started by their posting. The Reformation continues to be lauded, cajoled, and debated in circles of all sorts today. At Common Places we will begin the year by focusing on some of the central principles and most relevant texts that shaped early Reformation theology and that have continued that conversation in the centuries that followed. Each month we will begin with a post related to an ongoing book project from Zondervan Academic that addresses the five solas of Reformation theology. We will then conclude each month with an annotated reading guide on classic and contemporary works that address that particular principle.

All good Christian theology is Christocentric in some manner. When the Reformation insisted on Christ alone (solus Christus), with this slogan it thus sought to make a stronger—exclusive—claim. But the Reformation in no way advocated a Christomonism, the reduction of all theology only to a consideration of Christ. The exclusive particle, Christ alone, was meant to make a more focused claim. Its thrust was the sufficiency, or better still, the overabundance that the believer as believer finds in the person and work of Christ. The particle has its home in the order of salvation (ordo salutis)—chiefly the doctrine of justification—and it is from this location that it brings the whole body of theology into a Christocentric focus.

The particle is not, of course, foolproof. Martin Luther—even as he drew attention to Christ, and declared that “the cross alone [!] constitutes our theology” (Operationes in PsalmosWA 5:176)—thought it wise to elucidate further the salvific role of Christ as gift, given to the believer, over against Christ’s role as example, in which he is of no more help to us than some other saint (A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels; in Luther’s Works 35). Oswald Bayer warns against the modern tendency to moralize the solus Christus and, in reality, to compromise it (Martin Luther’s Theology, 64). A notorious example of this tendency is John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity. Locke pits Jesus’ simple message as a teacher of virtue, which Locke believes he finds in the Gospels, against the ethically unproductive speculation of the New Testament epistles and, even worse, the dogmatic corruption of Jesus’ teachings in the creeds and the church’s theology. This is not the meaning of “Christ alone” that the Reformation intended. Read the rest at Zondervan.

Posted by Kristen Padilla at Monday, January 23, 2017
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