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Theology as Craft and Language: On "Tradition-Based Rationality"
November 26, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
Theology as Craft and Language: On "Tradition-Based Rationality"
When I was in college, I was a theology and philosophy major. I deeply valued my theology courses, and I took as many of them as I could. Toward the end of my time there, a seminary student and alumnus of my school (who did not major in theology as an undergraduate) wrote a helpful guide to undergraduates who aspired to attend seminary. While the majority of his insights were helpful, I was a bit suspicious of one point in particular: “Don’t major in bible and theology. You’ll get all of that stuff in seminary anyway, so don’t bother with all the repetition.” But it seems to me that theology is a craft rather than an activity in intellectual mind-storing, so repetition and practice are vital to one’s pursuit of understanding. Theology, furthermore, is an act of worship, which, by nature, consists of Spirit-infused practices that are tangible, embodied, and communally rhythmic. Indeed, our theological rationality does not come out of an information vacuum; rather, it’s tradition-based. In The Colossian Forum’s glossary, an entry on “tradition-based rationality” was provided by Dr. Brad Kallenberg, who says that “One learns a conceptual language not by reading a dictionary but by immersion in a way of life. One comes to read music with comprehension while learning to play an instrument (or sing in a choir) with other musicians.” When applied to theology, here’s what he says: So too for the language of theology. By participating with others in those activities in which the word “God” is at home – activities such as praying, confessing, thanking, evangelizing, worshipping – one will slowly become fluent in the language of God. These repetitive, communal activities cultivate fluency in a language that belongs to the particular community called “church.” The church’s theology never comes out of a rational vacuum and should never be rendered a storehouse of “brain food.” Rather, with respectful disagreement with my well-intentioned seminary friend, theology requires the ecclesial repetition that makes the church tradition what it is (and an undergraduate theology program is a good place to exercise such repetition!). One of the reasons The Colossian Forum exists is to encourage Christians who are engaging the faith/science conversation (a conversation that is by nature theological) to remember that this dialogue is rendered Christian by the communal fluency in the language shaped by the rhythms of faith, hope, and love. Lamentably, divisions resulting from disagreements over evolution and creationism are an indication that many Christians are not yet fluent in such language. A mark of fluency is disagreeing well. And that takes a lot of practice.
TCF and The Common Good
November 21, 2012 | Matthew Dodrill
TCF and The Common Good
I won’t pretend that I don’t take a position on the creation/evolution debate. And I’ll admit that there have been times when I’ve felt polarized from my Christian brothers and sisters due to our differing positions, and I have come to the conclusion that these momentary schisms often mimic the polarities of American partisan politics, where reflections on the common good are woefully absent. What’s worse, very often the church is also guilty of neglecting the concept of the common good, which can have at least two consequences: it can result in a sectarianism that rejects any possibility of cultural participation, and it can render unintelligible the church’s own vision of the common good. These consequences, I’m afraid, carry over into our conversations on evolution and creationism. Andy Crouch has recently written an article for Christianity Today that briefly outlines the content of Pope Leo’s XIII’s papal encyclical, Rerum Novarum (“Of New Things”), which kicked off the movement known as Catholic social thought. Crouch engages this encyclical’s idea of “the common good,” which he says Christians have generally defined as "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily." Drawing from Leo’s insights, Crouch says the following: “The common good is measured by fulfillment or flourishing—by human beings becoming all they are meant to be. And the common good is about persons, both groups and individuals—not just about 'humanity' but about humans, and not just about individuals but about persons in relationship with one another in small groups.” Furthermore, “[The common good] can both draw Christians into engagement with the wider society and prevent that engagement from becoming ‘all about politics’. . . . Family above all, but also congregations, guilds, and clubs—these ‘private associations,’ with all their particular loyalties, paradoxically turn out to be essential to public flourishing. If we commit ourselves to the common good, we must become more public in our thinking and choices, and at the same time not too public. The common good is sustained most deeply where people know each other's names and faces…” The Colossian Forum cares deeply about the common good. In a significant sense, the reason TCF exists is to bring persons in relationship with one another in small groups, to cultivate the virtues of charity and hospitality in order to receive our differing positions as gifts. Rather than fostering a sectarian imagination, TCF hopes to embody the way the world is supposed to be precisely by partaking in the worshipping practices that shape us into the kinds of people whose idea of the common good is intelligible. This is done as a means of public witness for the sake of public flourishing. And TCF’s mode of discourse and action is an alternative to that of mainstream politics, where “sides” and “positions” seem to exist for the mere purpose of battling other sides and positions. Given the truth that all things hold together in Christ, positions simply will not receive that kind of reverence. Crouch seems to agree: “[The] common good can give us common ground with our neighbors. We may not agree with them—indeed, Christians don't always agree with one another—about what exactly human flourishing looks like. But the common good is a conversation starter rather than a conversation ender. It can move us away from pitched battles over particular issues and help us reveal the fundamental questions that often lie unexplored behind them. In a time when many conversations between people with different convictions seem to end before they begin, we simply need more conversation starters.” I still take a position on the creation/evolution conversation, but The Colossian Forum has helped me understand that Christ transcends my position, and that schisms over this debate do not serve the common good of the church or the common good of the world.
Scientists, Philosophers, and Theologians meet at CERN
November 20, 2012 | Daniel Camacho
Scientists, Philosophers, and Theologians meet at CERN
“On 15 October, a group of theologians, philosophers and physicists came together for two days in Geneva to talk about the Big Bang. So what happened when people of such different - very different - views of the Universe came together to discuss how it all began?” Be sure to check out the rest of this BBC article: “Big Bang: Is there room for God?” 
Election Day Communion
November 16, 2012 | Lori Wilson
Election Day Communion
Mid-November.  At last, the election dust settles, our phones stop ringing with political calls, and TV returns to its regular programming. Another year, another election. Except this year, something strayed from the script.  On Election Night 2012, churches across the country invited believers to silence their phones, turn off the televised election coverage, and join together in celebration of our shared identity in Christ.  Throughout the day, Christians had enjoyed the freedom to participate in our nation’s political process.  That evening, we gathered to enjoy the even deeper freedom that is ours as heirs of God’s kingdom – a realm where our differences give way to thanksgiving at the table of God’s gift. The ballots cast that day took on their proper perspective as Christians joined together in gratitude and confidence that, in fact, all things hold together in Christ. Even Christians who hold opposing political viewpoints. Election Day Communion offered the Church a beautiful gift.  We practiced and enjoyed the “unity of the Spirit,” a reality which runs much deeper than our identity as Republicans or Democrats.  We remembered, together, that our hope rests not in one party or another, but instead, as the writer to the Ephesians reminds us, our hope rests in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  
Do we have to choose between Christ and Science?
November 15, 2012 | Daniel Camacho
Do we have to choose between Christ and Science?
In high school, I almost lost my faith because of a false dichotomy. I almost became one more casualty in the culture wars. The message that I received, both from Christians and non-Christians, was that Christianity was in fundamental conflict with science. As a result, it seemed as if my Christian peers and I had only two options. There was the path of enlightened, fact-based science over and against mythical religion. Or, there was the path of fidelity to God’s word over and against dangerous science. TCF’s Manifesto does a good job of articulating this “heartbreaking scenario” in which science and religion no longer hold together for young Christians. Many of us end up feeling pressured to choose one side of this apparent dilemma, and the results are always problematic. We can choose enlightened science over religion, but this approach often comes with a very reductionistic view of the world that does not fully account for human experience and other spheres of ‘knowing.’ Additionally, there is a spiritual vacuum left that science, in and of itself, cannot address. We can choose fidelity to God’s word over science, but this approach forces us to reject the possibility of seeing science as a gift that can be used to understand God’s creation. As the Manifesto states: Out of concern to be faithful to Christ, many avoid science and thus unwittingly end up avoiding the richness of God’s many-splendored creation in all its richness and intricate detail. In doing so, they repress their God-given gifts and curiosity about the natural world and turn away from vocations in the sciences. They also miss out on the opportunity to engage in science in a redemptive way, seeing science as one of the cultural labors by which we can foster shalom. By feeling they must avoid science as “dangerous,” such Christians miss out on the opportunity to participate in the missio Dei, using science to advance God’s concerns for justice and mercy. When it comes to the spiritual formation of young Christians, the false dichotomy of science vs. religion is a ticking time-bomb that results in an impoverished faith or the loss of faith altogether. What is needed is the realization that there are more than two options on the table, the realization that science and religion “hold together in Christ.” Now, this will not eliminate the need to wrestle with serious issues and questions (e.g. interpretations of Genesis) but it will mean that young Christians will not have to reject Christianity or Science, wholesale, as a result of a false dichotomy. Addressing this need is one of the reasons why TCF exists. Read the rest of TCF’s Manifesto.  
Unity of the Spirit, Unity of Faith: Larry Hurtado on Ephesians 4
November 13, 2012 | Lori Wilson
Unity of the Spirit, Unity of Faith: Larry Hurtado on Ephesians 4
Following Rob’s piece last week about ecumenical dialogue, I’d like to highlight a fascinating article exploring Christian unity in light of Ephesians 4.  Larry Hurtado, a historian of the early church and New Testament scholar in Edinburgh, suggests an intriguing path forward for Christians who disagree and, as a result, find themselves divided. Central to Hurtado’s case are what we might call two different types of unity:  the unity of the Spirit and the unity of faith.  Ephesians 4, verse 3 exhorts the reader to be about “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  As Hurtado highlights, this unity is referenced in the present tense.  As believers in Jesus Christ, we have all received the Spirit he sent – we already share this unity as a gift from God in Christ.  Additionally, it is simply assumed that this unity will take work on our part.  As Hurtado carefully traces, the Christian church has faced differences since its very inception.  Beginning with the variations in theme and story of the four Gospels, through the early Church, and on down to our day, the faithful have often found themselves holding significantly different perspectives.  What the author of Ephesians makes clear is that these differences do not invalidate our unity in the Spirit – but that it will take every effort to maintain the peace which we have already been given. Later, in verse 13, the author points to a time in the future: “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”  It is apparent that this unity – a sharing in full knowledge, and, by extension, understanding, is an expression of the coming Kingdom of God.  This unity of faith is an eschatological hope – one which we Christians share, and for which we together wait expectantly.  Just as the unity of the Spirit is a gift we share in the present, unity of faith is a gift we will share in the future. In practical terms, this means a number of things for us.  First, we ought not to be surprised or dismayed by our differences.  The early church struggled with difference, as evidenced by these New Testament calls for unity. Christians have apparently always differed, and until the coming of the Kingdom will continue to do so. Second, these differences actually create the occasion for ongoing discipleship (specifically, by expressing our unity in the Spirit) – we are challenged to extend God’s grace to those with whom we disagree (sometimes even vehemently so!). Finally, we share with these believers a hope that one day we will, in fact, share in the unity of faith.  We will understand one another, and the gifts of God, in such a way that our differences are overcome.  And, having spent our lifetimes practicing the unity of the Spirit, we will be prepared for the joy that will be ours in the unity of the faith.   “You’ve Got to ‘Accentuate the Positive’: Thinking about Differences Biblically” is available on Hurtado’s personal blog, followed by an interesting comment thread.  The article was originally published in the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, volume 30 number 1 (Spring 2012).