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    Personal truth
    Category: Philosophy Theology - Trinity

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    In his recent Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization, Vern Poythress emphasizes the personalism of the biblical worldview. There’s a Trinitarian root to this point:

    “Each person of the Trinity has his distinct personal perspective on knowledge.  God the Father knows all things by being the Father, and in being the Father he knows the Son.  The Son as Son knows the Father, and in doing so knows all things.  Similarly, the Holy Spirit knows all things in connected with his distinctive role of searching ‘the depths of God.'”

    Poythress draws this crucial conclusion:

    Continue reading…

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, October 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Israel’s Justification
    Category: Bible - OT - Isaiah Theology - Soteriology

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    Isaiah 45 concludes with the declaration, “In Yahweh shall be justified and shall glory all the seed of Israel” (v. 25).  The context makes it clear what this justification consists of: To be justified is to be delivered from exile, to be rescued from chains, to be the object of homage from the nations, to find salvation in Yahweh and not idols.

    Israel’s justification is linked to her glorification, her glorying and boasting in Yahweh.  As Paul would say, there is no boasting for justified Israel other than boasting in the Lord her Savior.

    Justification here, as often in the Old Testament, is not about individual soteriology.  Justification is what God does in the history of His people when He keeps all the promises He has “sworn by Myself” to keep (v. 23).

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, October 12, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    No other
    Category: Bible - OT - Isaiah

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    Yahweh does what He does to demonstrate His uniqueness, both to Cyrus and to everyone else.  From the rising to the setting of the sun, men will know “none besides me, I myself Yahweh, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:6; Heb. ki-‘efes bil’aday ‘aniy yawh v’eyn ‘od).

    Virtually the same claim of uniqueness appears a few verseslater in Isaiah 45, in the same somewhat broken Hebrew: “there is none other, no other God (v. 14; Heb. v’eyn ‘od ‘efes ‘elohim).  But in this second passage, the context is praise for the uniqueness of Israel (or Cyrus?) in whom God dwells: “Surely God is in you” (‘ak bak ‘el).  And the parallel of Israel (or Cyrus?) with Yahweh is reinforced by the fact that Eypt, Cush, and the Sabeans will prostrate (shachah) themselves before and pray (palal) to them (him?).  Israel (or Cyrus) become the “graven image” of Yahweh, before whom the nations bow.  And this promise is made in the same context where the uniqueness of Yahweh is strongly emphasized.

    Israel may be a clay pot molded by the Potter (vv. 9-10), but this pot bears the glory of the one God.  One God, one people.

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, October 12, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Heavenly justice
    Category: Bible - OT - Isaiah

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    Yahweh calls on the heavens to drop and the clouds to pour out the rain of righteousness.  Justice drops from heaven, just like mercy (ask Portia!).  The result is that the earth produces the fruit of salvation and justice (Isaiah 45:8).

    In a drought, nothing springs up from the earth; there’s no fruit.  The fruit of justice depends on what comes down from the sky, the rain of the Spirit.  And it depends on the earth’s receptiveness of that heavenly rain.

    Earthly justice is as dependent on gifts from heaven as plants are dependent on rain.

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, October 12, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Shepherding Gentiles
    Category: Bible - OT - Psalms

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    Psalm 80 is addressed to the “shepherd (ra’ah) of Israel,” Yahweh, who leads Joseph like a flock.  The Psalm is a lament; instead of bringing the flock of Israel to green pastures, he pastures them with the bread of tears and makes them to drink tears.

    Worse, though he led them from Egypt to the land and planted them there, He has abandoned His vineyard/flock and allowed the boars and wild beasts to ravage it.  The Shepherd of Israel allows just anything to “pasture” (ra’ah) in the fields of Israel.  Instead of pasturing His own domestic flock, He brings untamed beasts to pasture.  He feeds Gentiles on the abundance of Israel.

    It is a lament, but in an upside down way it points ahead to the gospel, the promise that the vineyard of Israel is opened to all.

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, October 12, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Extraordinary in ordinary
    Category: Theology - Liturgical

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    I offer a biblical case for the “Catholic” sense that ordinary sacrament are extraordinary events at http://www.firstthings.com/

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, October 12, 2012 at 5:20 am

    Trinity Institute: John Frame Speaks
    Category: Trinity Institute

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    Peter J. Leithart is one of the most respected scholars in the American Evangelical world. He has written nearly thirty books on biblical exegesis, theology, literature, and history. His work is never predictable. Some of his titles, like Against Christianity and Defending Constantine, defy conventional evangelical wisdom. But behind the title is always a solid case, indeed a powerful case for the truth of the Reformed faith. I’m delighted that Peter will be available at a new study center and pastoral training institute, and I commend his classes to the many students who are looking for biblical and Reformed teaching that is also thoughtful and challenging.

    John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Bad Religion
    Category: American Religion

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    Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics is good.

    Though not a theologian, Douthat’s navigation of the last half-century of American religious history is theologically impressive.  His instincts are sound, and his sketch of current heresies (a redesigned Jesus, prosperity gospel, the Oprahesque “God Within,” and Americanism) is well-selected and richly described.  His outline of what a recovered Christianity would look like is sober and inspiring in equal measures.  Douthat is an entertaining, highly engaging tour guide at the carnival.

    I have some beefs with the book.  Douthat sometimes makes his comparisons too easy.  Selecting Billy Graham and Joel Osteen as the symbolic markers makes it easy to speak of decline since the 1950s.  A different, equally revealing picture would emerge if he had compared Billy to his son Franklin.  Douthat talks about the Jesus Seminar and the dead ends of the quest of the historic Jesus, but doesn’t mention NT Wright.  Academic theology is not as moribund as Douthat makes it sound; Barth is more alive than ever in American theology (a good thing, considering alternatives), and postliberalism, for all its limits, was a breakthrough.

    There are more quiet pockets of intelligent orthodoxy throughout the country than Douthat has discovered.  I hope he follows up with a book on that side of American Christianity.

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Letters to Seven Churches
    Category: Bible - NT - Paul Bible - NT - Revelation

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    Sean Michael Ryan’s Hearing at the Boundaries of Vision: Education Informing Cosmology in Revelation 9 (Library of New Testament Studies, The) is a careful and interesting study of how different ancient hearers or readers would have heard the Apocalypse depending on their literary education.  Someone equipped only with the OT, for instance, will hear Joel and Exodus in the plague of locusts (Revelation 9), but someone with  tertiary education in Greek literature and science will recognize astronomical allusions in the references to lion heads and scorpion tails and five months of torture (5 months being the approximate time between Leo and Scorpio).

    Some of the most interesting material in the book, though, comes in the last chapter, where Ryan examines how actual early readers of Revelation read Revelation.  He assesses the readings of Victorinus, Tyconius, and Oecumenius and tries to discern what their “mental library” consisted of.  Along the way, he has comments like this: “Victorinus, drawing upon the earlier exegesis of Irenaeus . . . equates the four Gospels with the faces of the four living creatures . . . , although in an unusual order, placing the Gospels of John and Matthew first, the apostolic pair whom Victorinus cites most frequently in his extant publications.  Interestingly, Victorinus also specifies the structural organization of the Pauline epistles, dividing them into two sets: letters to churches and letters to individuals, the former group comprising letters to precisely seven churches (Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Galatia, Philippi, and Colossae), viewed as having a comparable universal significance to the letters of the seven churches in Rev 2-3” (p. 155).

    We can push Victorinus’ insight a step further: Revelation contains seven letters to the churches of Asia, and then an eighth letter to the church at Babylon, Jerusalem.  Paul likewise writes to seven churches in Gentile territory, and then an eighth to the Hebrews.  A tight symmetry, and one that makes one want to buck the modern consensus about the non-Pauline authorship of Hebrews.

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Trinity Institute: Hearing all God says
    Category: Trinity Institute

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    posted by admin on Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    Common Ancestor
    Category: Science

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    Evolution is a fact, says Jerry Coyne inWhy Evolution Is True.  Early on, he presents some of the evidence: “It is a remarkable fact that while there are many living species, all of us – you, me, the elephant, and the potted cactus – share the same fundamental traits.  Among these are the biochemical pathways that we use to produce energy, our standard four-letter DNA, and how that code is read and translated into proteins.  This tell us that every species goes back to a single common ancestor who had those common traits and passed them on to its descendants.”

    Coyne doesn’t think this evidence fits a creationist scheme, in which, he says, “organisms would not have common ancestry, but would simply result from an instantaneous creation of forms designed de novo to fit their environments.  Under this scenario, we wouldn’t expect to see species falling into a nested hierarchy of forms that is recognized by all biologists.”

    Whatever one says about the larger question of common ancestry, Coyne simply hasn’t provided any evidence for it here, or any evidence for evolution over creation.

    Continue reading…

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Trinity Institute: A Student’s Perspective
    Category: Trinity Institute

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    As a teacher, Dr. Leithart modeled the deep and careful reading of Scripture that first attracted me to his writing.  He also modeled a keen interest in tracing out the liturgical and cultural ramifications of the Bible.  Academic theology departments are often sadly compartmentalized:  one has to decide whether to inhabit the “Biblical Studies” box, the Systematics box, or the Historical Theology box—and never (or too rarely) do the sub-disciplines meet.  Not so with Dr. Leithart.  If the goal of God’s path is what happens with Jesus the Christ—and if that goal is synonymous with life for the world—then theology has something to say about everything, and anything might shed light on the biblical text.  Under Dr. Leithart’s direction, I was encouraged to explore the creation narrative of Genesis in relation to aesthetics, the sacrificial practices of Leviticus in relation to Augustine’s City of God, and the visions of Zechariah in relation to Karl Barth’s views on election.  Whether you are looking for a solid foundation for further theological work, or are hoping to minister in a local congregation, I highly recommend studying with Dr. Leithart at the Trinity Institute.

    Stephen Long, graduate student, biblical studies, University of Notre Dame

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    Trinity Institute: A Pastor’s Perspective
    Category: Trinity Institute

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    I was led to the work of Jim Jordan and Peter Leithart at seminary. As I read and listened, I came to realize that the Bible is bigger and more beautiful than I’d ever dreamed. And fun – I started reading  Scripture once more with the hunger I’d had as a new Christian.  After seven years of ordained ministry, I still read Scripture with Jordan and Leithart, and am still surprised, delighted, challenged, unsettled, and edified. More importantly, their combined sensitivity to repeating biblical patterns and their devotion to the (sometimes earthy, bloody, sweaty) details of the text makes their work consistently helpful in my ministry as a very ordinary pastor. With the launch of the Trinity Institute, I wish I could go to seminary all over again.

    Matthew Mason, Assistant Pastor, Church of the Resurrection, Washington, DC

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 5:42 am

    Martyrdom and self-narration
    Category: Theology

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    Michael Jenson concludes in his Martyrdom and Identity: The Self on Trial that, while martyrdom is a form of Christian identity, it is not a matter of self-narration:

    “Martyrdom is not a sign that the Christian self is always at odds with earthly government; but neither is the authentic Christian given to collusion with the state and its values. Martyrdom is not an assertion of the self through action, but rather a suffering act which refuses that assertion. Neither is it patriotic without reserve. Christian martyrdom is not even the result, it turns out, of pursuing martyrdom, but rather of discipleship and witness. It is not really a self-narration at all. The crowning of martyrs is, as we shall see, a divine rather than a human business.”

    He contrasts pagan and Christian notions of honor:

    Continue reading…

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Travail of Poland
    Category: History

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    The Economist recently reviewed Halik Kochanski’s The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War, which the reviewer called the first “comprehensive English-language history of Poland at war.”

    Even in the brief format of a review, it makes for numbing reading.  For instance: “Poland fought on four fronts. One force was in Britain, drawn from those who had escaped the defeat in 1939. It helped liberate the Netherlands. Another was drawn from the deportees in the Soviet Union, rescued from death by Hitler’s attack on the Soviets. This ragtag army mustered in Persia, trained in Palestine and fought notably at Monte Cassino in Italy. A third army was formed from Poles who remained inside the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Polish communists and collaborators. It reached Berlin. The fourth, the Home Army (whose poster urging Poles ‘to arms’ is shown), was in Poland itself. Once the biggest and best-organised underground military force in Nazi-occupied Europe, it was hounded to destruction by the Soviets.”

    And: “In an overture to the Holocaust, the Nazis practised mass killings and ethnic cleansing in Poland in 1939 and 1940. Their ultimate plan was to deport 31m Poles to Siberia to make way for German settlers in Poland. Some 200,000 Aryan-looking Polish children were kidnapped and given to German parents. Most were never recovered.”

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Structure in Isaiah 45
    Category: Bible - OT - Isaiah

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    After listening to 20+ students talk about Isaiah 45:1-13, I’ve concluded that it’s a chiasm:

    A. Cyrus’ way is smoothed as the Lord shatters city gates and gives him treasures, vv 1-4

    B. Yahweh the Creator does this to make Himself known, vv 5-7

    C. Righteousness rains down and produces a crop of righteousness, v 8

    B’. Yahweh makes Adam/Israel from earth and stretches the heavens, vv 9-12

    A’. Yahweh smooths Cyrus’ way so he can build Yahweh’s city, v 13


    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Linguistic boundaries
    Category: Hermeneutics

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    Boyarin again (Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture), 9), suggesting a linguistic paradigm for understanding the divergences and interactions between Christianity and Judaism:

    “Separate languages . . . are merely artifacts of the official canonization of a particular dialect as the official language of a given group. . . . If one were to travel from Paris to Florence speaking only the local dialects in each town or village, one would not know when one had passed from France to Italy.  There is no linguistic border ‘on the ground.’  The reason we speak of French and Italian as separate languages is precisely because the dialect of Paris and the dialect of Florence have been canonized as the national languages.  Similarly, I would suggest, social contact and the gradations of religious life were such that, barring the official pronouncements of leaders of what were to become the ‘orthodox’ versions of both religions, one could travel, metaphorically, from rabbinic Jew to Christian along a continuum where one hardly would know where one stopped and the other began.”

    One should add, of course, that, hard as the boundary may be to identify, one would eventually be conscious of having crossed it.  Still, Boyarin is right to emphasize that cultures and languages are products of acts of authority.

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 5:46 am

    Category: History

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    In the introduction to his Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture), Daniel Boyarin reviews the history of the history of Christianity and Judaism, criticizing the common older view that Christianity is the “daughter” of Judaism.  Recent scholars tell a different story: “if we are to speak of families at all, we need to speak of a twin birth of Christianity and rabbinic Judaism as two forms of Judaism, and not as a genealogy in which one – Judaism – is parent to the other – Christianity.”  The labor that produced these twin daughters was the travail of AD 70: “After the destruction of the Temple, the current story goes, two ‘daughter’ religions were born out of this congeries, rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. . . . As a figure for this simultaneous birth of Christianity and Judaism, Alan Segal mobilized the verse: ‘And G-d said to her: there are two peoples in your womb'” (pp. 3-4).  Not two daughters but two sons.

    For Jewish writers, of course, Judaism is Jacob, Christianity Esau.  As Boyarin points out, this creates tensions in Jewish interpretations, since Esau was the older brother.  Boyarin’s book is about “the ways that rabbinic Judaism has been influenced by its slightly older brother, Christianity” (5).  Boyarin doesn’t agree with this way of stating the issue.  He insists that the twins continued “jostling” in the womb throughout late antiquity, and thinks it may go on forever.  In fact, he suggests abandoning organic family metaphors for something closer to Wittgenstein’s logical notion of “family resemblance.”

    Still, this stimulating mediation has large implications in several directions.

    Continue reading…

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 5:23 am

    Martyr democracy
    Category: History

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    For Clement of Alexandria, not death but martyrdom is the great leveler:

    “Just as it is noble for a man to die for virtue, for freedom, and for himself, just so is it for woman.  For it is not peculiar to the nature of males, but to the nature of the good.  Therefore, the elder and the young person and the house-slave submitting to the commandment will live faithfully and, if it is necessary to die, which is to say through death be made alive.  We know that children and slaves and women often against the wills of fathers and masters and husbands become the most excellent.”

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Theology of the Body and Humanae Vitae
    Category: Theology - Creation

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    According to Michael Waldstein’s introduction, the “single main argument” that runs through Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body (TOB) is “the teaching of Humanae Vitae about the inseparability of the unitive and procreative meaning of the conjugal act,” and the insistence of that encyclical that this inseparability is “re-reading the ‘langauge of the body’ in the truth.’”

    I don’t doubt that this is the trajectory of the text, especially for a Catholic reader.  Reading it as a Protestant and as something of an outsider to the internal Catholic debates about Humanae Vitae, I came away with a different impression of the central theme.  It is true that the issue of the “indissolubility and unity of marriage”  and the union of “unitive” and “generative” meanings of sex both appear early and often (1.3; 3.1).  Yet I was more persuaded by an earlier comment of Waldstein’s, where he explains where John Paul’s treatise fits into modern thought (p. 94):

    Continue reading…

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 9:30 am

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