Rolfing Unshelved

Books, news, and events from TIU's Rolfing Library


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Graham Cole on Christianity and Contemporary Sexualities: A Table Talk Prelude

On Wednesday, October 21st at noon, our very own Dr. Graham Cole will be facilitating a Table Talk discussion on homosexuality and the Bible and Christianity.

On Tuesday Cole delivered a “Dean’s Hour” lecture entitled “Following Christ in a LGBTIQQAAP’s World.” In many ways, this talk served as an introduction to the conversation that will continue at the Table Talk on October 21st.

In this post I’d like to relay some of the key points of this recent talk as a way to stimulate your thinking and prepare you for further conversation at our Table Talk.



First, Dr. Cole addressed the context in which we engage these matters.

(A) For many of us, these matters are extremely personal. Either we experience same-sex attraction ourselves or we know others–friends, family members–who do. We cannot engage this issue as a purely theoretical one.

(B) Furthermore, we engage this issue in a drastically changing culture, a culture of which the fast-past political changes are symptomatic. We live in a world in which these matters are cast as civil rights issues and opposition to them is addressed with a shaming rhetoric and ostracizing actions.

(C) And, finally, whereas in past times we may have engaged homosexuality and lesbianism, now we are aware of other identifiers and expressions of sexuality (and gender) such as the transgendered, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, etc.

(D) We are living in an ever-changing world. And this ever-changing world brings us to thinking about recent government decisions such as Obergefell. We are now also living in an ever-changing legal world where concerns arise over losing tax-exempt status and preserving religious liberty. But the political climate is such that even individuals such as queers opposed to marriage equality are silenced.

How does all of this effect the church? Cole supports Russell Moore’s statement that such changes in our culture may be “bad for America, but it’s good for the church.” These changes will likely result in the demise of ‘folk evangelicalism,’ in which ‘cultural Christianity’ thrives, and the rise of a church that is clearly distinguished from its society. That is a good thing, as bad as it may be for our society.

Cole noted that recent Supreme Court decisions raise questions regarding religious liberty. For many in our culture, religious liberty is shrunk down to worship. Noteworthy is the failure to consider religious practice, i.e., living Christianity outside of the home and church walls such as in the public square, as under the cover of religious liberty. Cole stated provocatively, Christians are essentially forced to practice atheism in the public square.

Cole argued that our Bibliology–our view of the Bible–ultimately must flow out of Christology, specifically how Christ viewed scripture. Scripture is the authority for what we ought to believe. And when we look at the key Biblical texts on same-sex sexual behavior, a rather consistently negative picture emerges. “There’s not a positive text of scripture on this subject,” Cole said.

However, as evangelicals, although we are often quick to stress the negative strands of scripture on these topics, we too often fail to emphasize the positive and beautiful strands of Biblical teaching on gender, sexuality, and marriage. Taking Christ seriously, we must take this testimony of scripture seriously as well.

But we must do more than merely hold to scripture with conviction. We must act wisely as we engage the church and society.

In our overly sexualized culture, “sex has replaced the soul”; and many things that are not inherently sexual are often times tied up with a sexual identity and orientation. As Christians, we need to practice discernment in order to sort out these cultural associations and clustered-attachments.

“God is not as interested in our happiness as in our holiness,” Cole stated, loosely citing C.S. Lewis. If we are going to be a people that “holds the line” on these issues, we need to become a community in which such convictions make sense, a community that strives after holiness no matter what the issue.

But, not only are we to be holy, we are to be loving. We are not out to offend. We are not to go out of our way to offend. Yet, at the end of the day, we can’t control whether or not people take offense. People will take offense. And following Christ in this world may mean facing shaming rhetoric. But, as much as we are able, we ought to be characterized by “convictional civility.”

In summary, Cole argued that the central issue at stake in the Christian relation to these controversial matters is loyalty. It all boils down to loyalty. Bearing the name “Christian” is a statement of our fundamental, primary loyalty–loyalty to Christ. If we believe in Christ, if we follow Christ, and if we come to grips with his view on scripture and scripture’s take on this topic, we will remain convictional on these matters. And being convictional, and facing all that means in our society (e.g., marginalization, shaming rhetoric, etc.), we would do well to re-read and give more attention to those parts of scripture that speak of the normal place of the Christian in society–marginalized, persecuted, etc.

As Cole closed he said, “Friends, the Dean’s Hour is over; but Table Talk is coming.” Certainly it is!

I hope you benefited from this summary of the key points from Dr. Cole’s lecture. And I hope you are able to attend our Table Talk Wednesday, October 21st at noon.


* This Dean’s Hour was video recorded. So if you are interested, you should be able to track that video down eventually.

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The New Perspective on Paul: We’re Down with NPP

NewPerspectivesPaulComing up next week, Dr. Constantine Campbell will be leading this month’s Table Talk on the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Now, if you study theology at Trinity or have come anywhere near Dr. Carson, you’re probably already pretty familiar with this school of thought. However, for those of you who may like an introduction (or a refresher), I’ll do my best in this blog post to get you up to speed with the major concepts. Now, let me state right off the bat, this is going to be an extremely quick and dirty analysis. As anyone who’s studied the issue can attest, it’s a gnarly one to try and wrap your head around — for two main reasons. First, it proposes a fundamentally different understanding of Christian faith and practice than the one most Protestants have espoused for half a millennium. Second, not even its three main proponents (E.P. Sanders, J.D.G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright — what is it with theologians and abbreviated first names?) totally agree with each other on how these ideas play out. But I get ahead of myself.

In order to understand this “New Perspective” on Paul’s theology, we first have to know what “Old Perspective” is being critiqued. And so, in good Protestant fashion, we turn to Martin Luther. In the early 16th century, “Uncle Marty” (as I like to call him) was battling the Spirit-crushing legalism of the late medieval Roman Catholic church — so that’s what he saw when he encountered Paul’s description of the Jewish “law” in the opening chapters of Romans. And for the most part, ensuing generations of Protestants have followed in his footsteps: pre-Jesus Judaism was largely understood to have been a legally-oriented system, in which salvation was based on an individual’s ability to follow the terms of the agreement God made with Abraham and his descendants.

Starting in the last quarter of the 20th century, however, the ocean liner (granted, some may consider it the Titanic) of Protestant scholarship on Paul began to change course. In 1977, E.P. Sanders published Paul and Palestinian Judaism, in which he argued that the Judaism that Paul knew was actually a religion founded on grace. In the book, he coined the term covenantal nomism to describe how Jewish law worked: according to Sanders, it’s “the view that one’s place in God’s plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression…. Obedience maintains one’s position in the covenant, but it does not earn God’s grace as such…. Righteousness in Judaism is a term which implies the maintenance of status among the group of the elect” (p. 75ff). In other words, according to covenantal nomism, people’s acceptance into God’s covenant is entirely God’s call — but staying within the covenant is theirs. Keeping the law is about covenant faithfulness, not legalism; it’s about responding to the grace and glory of God and demonstrating God’s grace and glory to the world. However, according to James D.G. Dunn, another of the leading NPP scholars (and, incidentally, the one who came up with the term “New Perspective on Paul”), what Jews had done between the times of Father Abraham and Apostle Paul was to take these “covenantal boundary markers” and turn them into “nationalistic boundary markers” that differentiated and excluded non-Jews (i.e., Gentiles) from sharing in God’s promises. Thus, Sanders asserts that what Paul was really arguing against when he railed at the “works of the law” in writings like Romans were those Jewish cultural/religious practices (like circumcision or food prohibitions) that served to keep the rest of the world at arm’s length, and not the Jewish legal system itself.

Enter N.T. Wright onto the scene. Of the three big names in NPP, he’s the widest read (especially among evangelicals), and has taken Sanders’ and Dunn’s work in new — and different — directions. Key to Wright’s take on the NPP is a revised understanding of the concept of justification. Rather than putting it at the center of Paul’s thought, as most Protestants have done, Wright views justification a result of covenant relationship with God. In other words, for Wright (and, Wright would argue, for Paul) justification isn’t what gets believers into salvation — it’s simply a marker of membership in the covenant community, within which salvation is found.

Probably one of Wright’s best-known arguments about justification centers on a phrase that has had theologians scratching their respective heads for nigh on 2,000 years: the righteousness of God. Now, if you’ve ever studied grammar, or if you’re a word nut like me, you’ll know that this is an example of the genitive case — a piling of one noun on top of another that can have a variety of meanings. (For example: “a can of Coke” means something different than “a friend of mine,” and they’re both different from “the group of students.”) The problem is, Paul didn’t give the Roman church a handy footnote to tell them which meaning he intended when he used this particular word construction — so today we’re more or less left guessing. From Luther until the NPPers got started, the predominant view has been that this “righteousness” referred to a characteristic of God that becomes ours (theologians use the word imputed) when we become believers. However, Wright argues that God’s “righteousness” and our “righteousness” are two different things, and can be understood best in a courtroom context. Wright asserts that God’s righteousness is measured by His proper judgments, our righteousness comes from the fact that we’re declared not guilty — and the only way those two can be reconciled is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

OK. At this point, you now know just enough about NPP to be dangerous. I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I haven’t even gone near the various critiques of the movement. (I’ll try to cobble together another post later on this week addressing those issues, if I have enough time.) But if you’re fired up, or confused, or curious –or just a fan of Dr. Campbell –I encourage you to bring your lunch and join us next Monday at noon for what promises to be a rousing discussion!

*(Bonus points if you got the joke in the title. Yes, I’m a geek, and I’m proud of it.)


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Happy Birthday, TEDS!

This month, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is celebrating God’s faithfulness over the past half decade. In the fall of 1963 the first classes convened in Deerfield, and since then God has used TEDS to touch the lives of individuals and communities around the globe.

Now, when I set out to write a post about TEDS’ 50th, I figured I’d have to do some research of my own in order to write a brief overview of the school’s history. But what do you know — those great folks in charge of the celebration have already done it! So, lest I recreate the wheel, I’ll simply embed the (very informative, I might add) timeline of TEDS’ history that’s available on Prezi. When you need a study break, take a look! You’ll probably learn something you never knew.

(Note: It’s a big presentation, so it may take a few moments to load.)

If you’re interested in learning even more about the kind of scholarly and theological reach that TEDS has had over the past 50 years, check out our bookshelf near the front entrance — it’s full of books and resources created by our own faculty over the years. Even scanning through the titles will show you just how wide-ranging the interests and specialities are among those who have graced our campus.

Happy birthday, TEDS! It’s been a great 50 years, and here’s to (at least) 50 more!


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Jonathan Edwards: A (Very) Brief Introduction to “America’s Theologian”

Jonathan EdwardsOn April 23, a guy named John Piper is coming to Trinity to talk about another guy named Jonathan Edwards. You may have seen one or two flyers hanging up about it.

In all seriousness, though, this is a great opportunity to learn about one of the most formative theological influences on America from one of today’s most well-known evangelical theologians. But in order to make the most of this opportunity, it might help to have a little background information on who Jonathan Edwards was and what he did. If you’re already familiar with him, this can help refresh your memory in time for the talk — and if you’re not, this saves you the awkwardness of having to ask.

Jonathan Edwards was born in East Windsor, Connecticut on October 5, 1703, the son and grandson (on his mother’s side) of New England ministers, and the only son of eleven children. Always an eager learner, Edwards entered Yale University in 1716 (yes — if you do the math, that means he was 13) and graduated as class valedictorian four years later. At school he dove into studies of philosophy, natural sciences, psychology, and theology, seeking to intertwine them into a comprehensive view of reality called metaphysics. Rather than allowing the “secular sciences” to pull him away from God (as many of his counterparts did), Edwards saw the study of the universe as providing further evidence of God’s master plan.

Fast forward about a decade: in 1727 he was ordained in Northampton, Massachusetts, as an assistant pastor to his grandfather Rev. Solomon Stoddard, and married Sarah Pierpont (incidentally, the daughter of Yale University’s founder). Two years later, he became senior pastor in Northampton when his grandfather died. He dove headfirst into the role, especially when it came to his preaching. He, like many other “young upstart” preachers of the time, firmly believed that for sermons to have the most effect on listeners, they needed to incorporate emotional content as well as intellectual — in other words, they needed to touch the heart as well as the mind. Perhaps the best-known example of his homiletic style is his 1741 sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in which (among other images) he likens humans to spiders dangling by the thinnest thread over the fires of hell.

But I get ahead of myself. During the winter of 1734-1735, Edwards’ work with the young adults of the Northampton church sparked a revival that quickly spread to surrounding New England towns. By 1735 the fervor had died down and Edwards had gained a few critics, but in 1741 the fire was rekindled when he teamed up with George Whitefield, an English Anglican preacher who gained the nickname “The Grand Itinerant” from his numerous trips throughout the American colonies. (The nickname was well deserved: in one year’s time, Whitefield traveled more than 5,000 miles on horseback, preached over 350 times, and was personally seen by over one quarter of the colonial population of the time. Many scholars argue that he was the first American celebrity.) This time, the revival wasn’t just a local phenomenon; not only did revival sweep from Georgia to Maine, but it kicked off a spiritual revitalization back in England and other Protestant European countries, as well.

This movement, which came to be known as the First Great Awakening, dramatically transformed the way that Protestant Christian faith was and is understood and practiced. Until this point, religious involvement was largely considered to be a passive event; people would come to church, sit in the pew, and quietly listen to passionless, intellectual discourse (which would typically have little to no bearing on how they lived their lives the other six days of the week). Now, with these “new light” preachers inviting and encouraging them to take the messages of the Bible to heart, lay men and women began reading and discussing their Bibles at home and realizing that it had something to say to them when and where they were.

Evangelists during the Great Awakening emphasized personal spiritual conversion by God’s grace, rather than mere religious participation in the institutional church, as the defining mark of a true Christian. (Take a look at George Whitefield’s sermon “On Regeneration” if you’re interested in seeing how this theology is laid out.) This personal experience of faith led to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the role each individual person has to play in the life of the family, the community, and even the nation; while American history textbooks often say that the “democratic ideals” held by the Founding Fathers came from ancient Greece, these ideals were largely ushered in by the messages of individual responsibility and agency through God’s saving grace that were preached and received during the Great Awakening.

At this point in my blog entry I’ve just about hit my word limit, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of the fascinating story and powerful impact of Jonathan Edwards. Hopefully, though, I’ve whetted your appetite and you’d like to learn more. I encourage you to attend Dr. Piper’s April 23rd talks (at 11:00 and 1:00, both at ATO Chapel) — but you can also check out the following library resources:

Print Books:
Selected Writings of Jonathan Edwards prince Jonathan Edwards and the American Experience Formed for the Glory of God The Theology of Jonathan Edwards

E-Books:
God is a Communicative Being Jonathan Edwards and Justification by Faith The Excellency of Christ Jonathan Edwards' Theology Jonathan Edwards on Justification

See you in ATO on April 23rd!

Sources:

“Jonathan Edwards: Biography.” Available online at http://edwards.yale.edu/research/about-edwards/biography.

“People & Ideas: George Whitefield.” Available online at http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/people/george-whitefield.html.

“People & Ideas: Jonathan Edwards.” Available online at http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/people/jonathan-edwards.html.

Piper, John. “A God-Entranced Vision of All Things: Why We Need Jonathan Edwards 300 Years Later.” Available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/conference-messages/a-god-entranced-vision-of-all-things-why-we-need-jonathan-edwards-300-years-later.

Piper, John. “The Pastor as Theologian: Life and Ministry of Jonathan Edwards.” Available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/biographies/the-pastor-as-theologian.


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The History Behind Black History Month

Every year on January 31, the standing U.S. president issues an official proclamation calling all of us Americans to gather together during the month of February to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans to our nation’s heritage and history. But if you’re like me, you may not quite be sure how this commemoration got its start. So, being the inquisitive type that I am, I did some digging and came across the story of a fascinating individual: Carter Godwin Woodson.

Carter G. Woodson

Carter G. Woodson

Woodson was born in Virginia on December 19, 1875, the first of nine children to former slaves James and Eliza Woodson. The family moved to West Virginia when his father learned that a high school for Black students was being built. Carter was a bright youth, but instead of focusing on educational pursuits he worked as a sharecropper and a miner to help his family make ends meet. He finally got his chance to attend high school at the age of 20 — and was such an apt student that he was able to complete a four-year degree in under two.

While pursuing a Bachelor’s degree from Berea College in Kentucky, he taught in a school founded by Black coal miners for the purpose of educating their children. After graduating from Berea he attended the University of Chicago, where he earned both another Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree in European history. After serving as a school superintendent in the Philippines for four years, he returned to academia; the next steps in his educational journey took him to the Sorbonne in Paris and to Harvard University, where in 1912 he became the second African American in the school’s history (after W.E.B. Du Bois) to earn a PhD.

In all his studies, though, he kept noticing a glaring defect: central events and contributions of Negroes (as they were then called) to the American story were either misrepresented or missing altogether. Thus, he devoted the rest of his life to the incorporation of the African-American experience into the grand sweep of America’s history. In 1915 he helped to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (today known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History), with the mission of publicizing and celebrating the cultural contributions of African Americans. In 1916 he started the scholarly Journal of Negro History (today the Journal of African American History), and in 1920 he formed Associated Publishers Press, which would serve as a clearing house for African American-authored publications. He himself was also a prolific writer, authoring over a dozen books and many more journal articles.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

Black History Month was kickstarted in 1926 when Woodson lobbied various schools and organizations to dedicate a week to the emphasis and celebration of African American history. He chose the second week of February to be “Negro History Week,” to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass. As the celebration of Negro History Week grew, Woodson created the Negro History Bulletin, as well as elementary and secondary school curriculum, to assist educators in their task. Woodson died in 1950, but in 1976, on the 50th anniversary of the first Negro History Week and as part of America’s Bicentennial, the US government officially recognized its expansion to encompass the entire month of February. Since then, the celebration of Black History Month has also spread to Great Britain and Canada.

The many contributions of African Americans to the history and culture of the United States simply can’t be overlooked — if you’re interested in digging into the work of some notable African American writers and artists, check out the following titles (which, trust me, merely scratch the surface):

Happy reading, and happy Black History Month!