Archive for September, 2013

Christ and the Writing of History

Monday, September 30th, 2013 by Dale M. Coulter

icon_VersionHistoryA recent question from a friend on Facebook about Mark Noll’s book Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind prompted some reflections.

Having gone through the book again, my primary objection would be that it does too little in its drawing out the implications of a commitment to Christ in relation to learning.

For Noll, what really matters is an affirmation of the creeds leading up to Chalcedon and a particular understanding of the atonement he takes from John Stott. These twin affirmations are placed within a solidly Reformed framework to tease out their implications.

For example, in dealing with history Noll is less concerned with drawing out any of the implications of Christology for one’s approach to history than with affirming creedal Christianity as a means of steering between historical skepticism and a naive belief that the past can be objectively and fully reconstructed.

The basis of this affirmation is the creedal insistence that Christianity is historical and the dual natures of the incarnation, which affirms universality and particularity. Noll then deals with the question of providence on the basis of a distinction between general revelation and special revelation that supports his Kuyperian appeal to the presuppositions of the historian.

One wonders how different this would look if the starting point were Irenaeus of Lyons’ understanding of Christ’s work, which sees the Incarnation as the re-living of human history in order to heal humanity and bring them to perfection (deification). The narrative structure of the creeds points toward the narrative of salvation that Irenaeus describes.

On Irenaeus of Lyons’ view, the eternal Son becomes flesh and through a process of growth and development overcomes temptations and subdues the demonic in order to achieve perfection. This was all made possible by the Spirit of the Son at work within the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

What are some possible implications of this different starting point? Read the rest of this entry »

Hymns, Theology, and Thoughts on Atonement

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 by Dale M. Coulter

Jesus the Good Shepherd

Jesus the Good Shepherd

By now most people surfing the net have read and forgotten about the decision by the committee for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to drop “In Christ Alone” from the new hymnal. Numerous blogs were written in July and August some by friends and colleagues of mine challenging the decision.

The offending line was “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied,” in particular, the verb “to satisfy.” The verb, whether intentional or not, pointed toward Anselm of Canterbury’s understanding of the atonement as satisfaction and it was Anselm’s idea that the committee did not like. The chair of the committee Mary Louise Bringle was quoted as saying, “People think that we’ve taken the wrath of God out of the hymnal. That’s not the case. It’s all over the hymnal. The issue was the word ‘satisfied.’” Bringle also has an article in Christian Century in which she elaborates on some of the committee’s discussion.

Part of the problem is a rather long-standing confusion between Anselm’s understanding of satisfaction and the Protestant Reformation intensification of Anselm’s idea, which is better known as penal substitution. Although they belong to a family of atonement theories, they represent different takes on a basic idea: Jesus’ death paid a debt for sin that set things right with God.

Another problem is the lengthy debate carried out in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries over penal substitution as a viable model for the atonement.

While I’m not planning to enter into all of this, it does provide a good place to ask consider again how we might understand the atoning work of Christ. Read the rest of this entry »

Retrieving the Past, Forging the Future of Renewal Studies

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 by Dale M. Coulter

Here at Regent School of Divinity our aim is to cultivate a brand of scholarship that consciously interacts with or draws from issues related to the global pentecostal-charismatic movement. We call what we do Renewal studies because we are interested in exploring all dimensions of renewal as a historical, social scientific, and theological phenomenon.

To focus on renewal as a method does not limit us to the study of global pentecostalism because renewal encompasses a broad array of historical phenomena including populist movements, spirituality, periods of renaissance, etc. For more on renewal and what we do at the Regent School of Divinity, go here.

To that end, here are the latest explorations from our faculty. Read the rest of this entry »

Not Jesus the Miracle Worker, But Paul and the Miraculous

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013 by Dale M. Coulter

Regent School of Divinity’s Graham Twelftree  has a new book coming out with Baker Academic, Paul and the Miraculous: A Historical Reconstruction.

Recently he was interviewed on the Baker Academic Blog about his new book and the difference between Paul and Jesus on miracles.

For Twelftree, “The main problem is how to explain the high profile of miracles in the Jesus traditions, while Paul, who claimed to be his apostle, appears to say little to nothing on the topic. Furthermore, our reading of Paul is complicated by Luke attributing considerable miracle-working to Paul. I also wanted to test what seems increasingly obvious: the miraculous was more important in early Christianity than is generally reflected in the scholarly literature.”

Read the rest of part I of the interview here.

And, part II here.

Dr. Twelftree is Charles L. Holman Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity and Director of Doctor of Philosophy Program.

Noll, the Evangelical Mind, and the Elephants in the Room

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013 by Dale M. Coulter

Elephant in the roomWhen Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind hit the market in the early 1990s it created a “title” wave that continues to move out in multiple directions. This fact alone means that if evangelicalism is going to reboot its examination of its own intellectual resources–a process already begun in the cultural liturgies series of James K. A. Smith–then it must grapple with Noll’s critique.

In my previous post I tried to set Noll’s work within the context of American religious historiography.

In this post I want to highlight some elephants in the room of Noll’s analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »

Anti-Intellectualism and the Creation of National Myths

Thursday, September 19th, 2013 by Dale M. Coulter

NwswkPopulism.jpg-550x0At the dawn of the 1960s Richard Hofstadter was in his prime as a historian. A recipient of a Pulitzer for his book, Age of Reform, he had been part of an elite group of thinkers who were attempting to re-shape the national discourse in the United States. Among these thinkers were Lionel Trilling and Reinhold Niebuhr. Like all historians, Hofstadter admitted that he wrote for the present and that his efforts were in the service of a larger vision of American democracy.

It took him seven years to write his next book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.  It was a deeply personal work, a kind of thinking man’s guide to populist rage in which Hofstadter took on middle-class America for what had happened during the Eisenhower years (1953-1960).

The era had been launched by Arthur Miller’s indictment of McCarthyism in The Crucible. It would end with Hoftstadter’s indictment of Midwestern populism and evangelical revivalism as hostile not only to intellectuals, but to the life of the mind itself.

Hofstadter set out to construct a new national narrative for America, one that would find its way into the work of Robert Mapes Anderson who studied at Columbia during the 1960s and into the work of Mark Noll who utilized Hoftstadter to foist blame for the scandal of the evangelical mind upon those belonging to the Holiness-Pentecostal movement. It was, in short, the creation of a new National Myth.

Read the rest of this entry »