Author Archives: llwilmoth

Mark Seifrid on preaching law and gospel

We must avoid the danger of producing by our preaching mere cathartic experiences, which ever only end in the implicit word, “You have been forgiven, go home and feel better.” This preaching finally becomes cheap grace. At the same time we must avoid dispensing mere moral instruction that implicitly ends with the thought, “This is what God wants you to do. Go home and by the help of the spirit, try harder.” This preaching finally becomes cheap ethics. To rightly preach the demands of God and the grace of God in Christ, to rightly preach law and gospel, will mean that we must first preach not merely abstractly and generally, but really and concretely to real sinners concerning real sins. We desperately need pastors and not mere preachers. In preaching the gospel we must announce that the gospel of the forgiveness of sins brings forgiveness and release from real sins to a new life, reminding our hearers that new life has been given to each one of US, according to our needs, in Christ, the gospel brings the fulfillment of the law, the life of the new creation into the present world—into our lives in the present world.

from “Beyond Law and Gospel? Reflections on Speaking the Word in a (Post)modern World,” Concordia Journal (2017), 39-40.

[I do wish Seifrid had more to say about how to navigate the Scylla of cheap grace and the Charybdis of cheap ethics, but either way he’s put his finger on two live threats to be wary of.]


History and Theology: 5 Variations

The following is an attempt at a typology of the various ways in which history and theology may cross pollinate and inter implicate one another’s domains of study.

  • History of Theology. This is a branch of history. Its object of study happens to be theological discourse, but it deploys broadly critical-historical tools of analysis in order to generate a narrative of the past. For an example consider Jaroslav Pelikan’s magisterial 5 vol. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Univ. of Chicago Pr. (1975-1991).
  • Theological History. This is not a branch of history but an approach to historical narration in general. Its object of study is not limited to the output of theologians, but can survey any domain of life amenable to historical modes of representation. What’s distinctive here is its willingness to deploy theological categories of description, such as admitting of God as an agent in its causal plot lines . Think the New Testament’s Luke-Acts, Eusebius’ Church History, or Augustine’s City of God.
  • Historical Theology. This is an approach to theological inquiry. It attempts to offer constructive theological proposals on the basis in part of its accounts of the past. Can be contrasted with an approach to theology such as Analytic Theology which tries instead to establish constructive theological proposals primarily on the basis of the acuity and rigor of its conceptual analyses and demonstrations of logical cogency. Think Ephraim Radner’s A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church, Baylor Univ. Pr. (2012).
  • Theology of History. This is not an approach but a branch of theology, a limited subset of its sphere of inquiry. It endeavors to offer a theological description of specific matters like the nature of time, the legibility of the past, the place of history within God’s scheme of revelation and the outworking of his purposes. May partially overlap with another branch of theology, i.e., Eschatology. Think Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation as a soteriology of history. Or think Hans Urs von Balthasar’s A Theology of History or Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Revelation as History.
  • Theological Historiography. This is the interface of theology and the philosophy of history. Theological categories will be deployed to evaluate historiographical categories, procedural axioms, and criteria of legitimation. Think Joel B. Green’s “Rethinking ‘History’ for Theological Interpretation,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 5.2 (2011), 159-174.

Ephraim Radner on Leviticus

…the details of Leviticus, taken within the sacrificial movement of Christ, demand that we draw into a direct relationship of responsibility with God the range of elements upon which our love, ordered to God, is to be exercised. These necessarily include prayer, disease, sexual relations, moral usage of money, animals, crops and plantings, the poor, civic life, and accountability. Thus, Leviticus provides the theological underpinnings…for understanding the material world of creation in which and through which and for which our Christian lives are to be led: the environment, labor, the use of the human body, property, and so on. It does so by naming these things, but also by placing them particularistically in a relationship to the incorporating love of God—in the character of giving/offering rather than of taking; in the character of cherishing for the sake of God alone rather than for our own sake or for the end of their own denial. That all these things are bound up with the sacrificial acts of the people of God before God means simply that they cannot be rendered subordinate to other ethical matters. They are unavoidable matters of faith. [295]

[…] As its Hebrew title suggests, the book is a calling. The book leads us back into the world—which may seem a strange thing to emphasize as a peculiarly Christian calling. But since that world has, for so long at the hands of Christians, been forgotten, manipulated, or abused simply for lack of love of God, that is, for the negligence of sacrifice, the call is absolutely essential. [299]

[…] So Jesus’s response to the sacrificial calling of the law is to present his own body: “Lo, I have come do to they will,” something accomplished “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” [288]

from Leviticus, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (2008)

Alan Jacobs in defense of testimony sharing

We should never presume that our exercise of memoria is perfect, nor that the patterns it reveals predict our future with perfect accuracy.

[…] In one of his sermons D. L. Moody proclaimed,

You ask me to explain regeneration. I cannot do it. But one thing I know—that I have been regenerated. All the infidels and skeptics could not make me feel differently. I feel a different man than I did twenty-one years ago last March, when God gave me a new heart. I have not sworn since that night, and I have no desire to swear. I delight to labor for God, and all the influences of the world cannot convince me that I am not a different man.

I have no doubt that God did indeed make Moody “a different man” than he had been before—indeed, gave him new life. But it is almost impossible for the even moderately critical reader not to be dubious about this account. Perhaps you no longer swear, Mr. Moody, but are you humble? Are you perfectly compassionate and loving? And anyway, if I were to drop this brick on your toe, might you not suddenly rediscover the “desire to swear”? I find myself suspecting, not Moody’s regeneration itself, but his belief in its completeness and his assumption that its moral effect is permanent and irreversible. […]

It’s this kind of Christian “testimony”—the airbrushed past and the sugarcoated future—that causes Christian “testimonies” to set people’s teeth on edge. …

[…But] the remedy to the problem of presumptuous or otherwise deficient testimony is not to stop bearing personal witness, but rather to refine and develop our understanding of what such witness should be.

In this light it can be seen that the formulaic “testimonies” of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity … [however] An impoverished form of it, to be sure—primarily because it is inflexible in shape and confined chiefly to testimonies of conversion rather than testimonies of imitation and vocation—[remains] a valuable form nonetheless, because it preserves in some fashion the idea of storytelling as the passing along of wise counsel.

from “What Narrative Theology Forgot,” First Things (Aug, 2003)


Live Stream Opportunity

Friday, January 26th —TOMORROW @ 7:30 PM EST— at the University of Toronto

William Lane Craig, Jordan B Peterson, and Rebecca Goldstein will discuss the question of the meaning of life.

More details available HERE

Michael Altenburger on the Christian Single Life

Single people have the virtue of being available in a way that married and religious cannot. They are an incarnated witness to Christian values that cannot help but deepen and enrich the world encountered in their work, service, and relationships. In a period of rapid flux and shifts in popular culture, the availability of the single life might be exactly the thing required for a Church that has so much being asked of it and so few resources to respond.

To say that single people can witness in a way that married and religious cannot is something to be taken very seriously today. At the risk of a lack of charity, and while clearly friendships with religious and married couples are invaluable, it is nevertheless the case that exhortations to fidelity and hope are sometimes hard to understand apart from the benefits that marriage and priesthood grant. It is all well and good to have dinner together, but single people still go home to an empty bed. Career and ministry are wonderful, but single people still do not receive the admiration, respect, and deference that a priest or religious receives from the larger community (although they might be asking when that is supposed to actually happen). There should be no naïveté about the myriad challenges that attend all states of life but, from the perspective of singlehood, it is hard not to see just the benefits of the others.

Yet this challenge is also the source of an enormous opportunity to witness. The unique witness that single people offer to the world is that a Christian life is worth living all by itself. They witness to a type of meaning and depth that Christian faith imbues fundamentally into all life, not just in marriage, religious communities, or priesthood. The challenges of single life are so fundamentally human, so deeply connected to our most basic desires for intimacy and acceptance, that embracing those challenges in faith and charity is a radical opportunity for solidarity with others who are also isolated and suffering. Because it is so fundamental, it speaks all the more powerfully across division and dismissal. This is, in so many ways, the core of evangelization: to witness to Jesus Christ in love and fidelity through a radical availability of compassion and service.

from “Single Life Is More Fundamental for Christianity than both Married and Religious Life,” Church Life Journal (29 Nov 2017)

Robert Barron on interior division and its antidote

Reflecting on Mark 1:21-28

Today’s Gospel finds Jesus encountering a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum. Isn’t it interesting that the first unclean spirit that Jesus confronts is in the holy place, the place of worship? And what marks this man? Though he is a single person, an individual, he speaks in the plural: “What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”

The diabolic is, literally, a scattering power: diabalein. Sin separates us from one another—Sunde, related to sundering—but it also divides us interiorly, setting one part of the self against another. We’ve all experienced this: our minds are divided, our wills are split, and our emotions militate against our deepest convictions.

The authoritative voice of Jesus brings the man back to himself. And friends, this is precisely the effect that Jesus’ voice has had up and down the ages. When you allow his word to reach deep down within you, you get knitted back together. When Jesus becomes the clear center of your life, then your mind, your will, your emotions, your private life, your public life—all of it—finds its harmonious place around that center.

from Bishop Barron’s Daily Gospel Reflections, (1/9/18), which you can also receive for free by signing up here.