Monday, July 31, 2006

Creation and Revelation

Some time ago, I wrote a kind of throw-away post on (the lack of) creativity in today's theology. In it I wrote that to be a Christian involves cultivating one's creativity, because we are made in the image and likeness of the Father who is Creator. One response I got was that humans cannot create ex nihilo, and therefore should be content with stewardship. (I'm not 100 percent this is the intention of the commentor, but I'm simplifying to make a point).

Well, this is true if we consider creation ex nihilo as bringing atoms into existence out of nothing. Granted, this is something we would believe to be involved in God's creative work. But this is not the theological point of creation. The point of the theological doctrine of creation is not primarily about explaining how the world has come into existence - if this was the case, all ancient creation myths would have been deeply unsatistying, since they all included some form of unexplained actor, in the case of the Genesis story, God.

No, the point of the creation doctrine is to say something about God. God is the one who creates. What God does when he creates is not about bringing something into existence - though this is the result of the activity. The purpose of God's creative act is to reveal himself as creator. Thus we see a great unity in all of God's works: from creation to eschaton, God is creating and revealing himself at the same time. If we see creation as revelation is it also easy to include the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ in God's creative work: they all flow from the same longing to reveal himself.

Now, if we take this and apply to it the idea that humans are called to create, we can gain a deeper understanding of human creativity. To say that a human artist is not creating ex nihilo, because he or she is using paint and canvas is completely beside the point: what is created is not the paint on the canvas - what is created is the revelation found in the work of art. Just like God reveals himself in creation, humans reveal their deeper nature when they are creative: be it in the form of art, theology or any other human activity.

To live one's life so that one is opening up reality to other people is the most fundamental aspect of being a follower of Christ. That is to live in the likeness of the Father, that is theosis. Thus holiness and creativity are synonyms.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Universalism in the Blogosphere

D.W Congdom at The Fire and the Rose has rounded up recent posts on Universalism from the blogosphere... There's alot of them: The Fire and the Rose: Universalism in the Blogosphere

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Eucharist and Salvation

I few weeks ago I wrote that salvation in the Christian sense of the word is to become free from those forces that threaten our identity, exploit our fears and rob our lives of meaning. I also noted that these forces are that same that are currently destroying our planet, in other words, very real political and economical institutions and powers.

Salvation is something that is properly attained only in the next life, but in faith we are able to receive some of this freedom already in this life. This is indeed the purpose of the Church: to make some of the future freedom present in this world.

In what way does the ritual of the Eucharist proclaim this freedom? In several ways.

When participating in the Eucharist we are strengthened in our identity, because we see ourselves as individuals interacting with others, in a communion not based on what we do or who we are, but on God's grace. If we learn to look at other people in this way, we can also learn to look at ourselves in this way. We also learn something about being human, that is, to be human is to receive rather than to act.

When participating in the Eucharist we are able to find relief from our fear of death, because we see how Christ's death and resurrection is connected to my death and resurrection. Again, it is my bread that is used in the celebration.

When participating in the Eucharist we are shown how our lives are meaningful, by highlighting how we are called to give what we receive to others. During the epiklesis the Spirit descends upon my bread and turns it into the Body of Christ. In the same way my life is transformed and becomes meaningful when I find my relation to God and to other people.

The Sacrament of the Eucharist, then, can help us to cope with our existential situation on many different levels. These are only examples of course, and serve to connect my ideas about the sacraments to the theological ideas of sin and salvation.

Next, I will attempt a discussion on Ecclesiology. I feel this is the most difficult part of the Christian doctrine, because it seems that all models we know have outlived their usefulness. How should we think the Church in a declining culture?

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Body of Christ

It helps to understand that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist is my bread and wine. As I already mentioned, in the early church it was customary that everybody brought a piece of bread to the Service.

It is my bread and wine that is turned into the body and blood of Christ. It is not something that I am a only a witness to, it is something that involves me directly. This is why I feel it is helpful to speak of a transformation in the Eucharist. The point really is that something changes.

A friend of mine taught me this (if anyone know where he got it from I'd be happy, although I may have modified the original idea): The bread and the wine represents, respectively, my work and my play, my seriousness and my joy. When I bring my bread and my wine to the altar, and break the bread, the Spirit descends on it and turns it into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Spirit changes its meaning. In the Eucharist my whole life (not just the serious part, but also all that stuff I do for joy only) into something meaningful. It is as if God takes my life looks at it, smiles and gives it back to me with approval.

Of course, when my work and my play is turned into the Body of Christ it also becomes the Church. I realize that my work and play becomes meaningful only when I recognize how it relates to other people. By itself it lacks spirit.

The Church, then, is the community of persons that want to see their lives connected to other persons. The Eucharist is there to help us recognize that our lives really are holy, to help us overcome sin by recognizing who we really are.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Eucharist as an Exercise for the Next World

The celebration of the Eucharist is a type of the life in the next world. Theodore of Mopsuestia, one who perhaps more deeply than any of the Fathers understood the typological character of the Church emphasized this. The sacraments were given for to be able to learn to live after the manner of "Citizens of the Kingdom of God".

In other words, when we celebrate the Eucharist we are learning something about how life in the next world will be. I think one aspect of the Eucharist is the very special sense of communion we experience in it. As I wrote in my last post, it is not a communion with people we are similar to, with people we like or get along with. Rather, it is a communion with people we in this world find it difficult to love.

We we go to the altar to receive bread and wine, we are, within the borders of this ritual, allowed to let all those things we normally base our appreciation of other people go. When we gather around the table things like class, race, gender, political affiliation, manners, personality - all such things are of no importance because the communion is not based on human love but on divine giving. Within the ritual we carry out a kind of pre-practice of how we should relate to other people in real life. Because we have the safe framework of the ritual we can experience this kind of "heavenly" communion here in life, and then slowly learn to take this experience into our daily life and let it transform our relationships to those we meet.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Communion and Community

This is the first post in a series on the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the heart of the Church. It is part of the main theme of this blog, theology in a culture in decline.

What kind of community is expressed when we celebrate the Eucharist? First of all, I think it is important to be clear about the fact that it is not in fact a community with the people we celebrate the Eucharist with, that is the people in the same room. Indeed these persons are mere symbols of a much wider community, the worldwide community reaching through the ages. This is of great importance, because we can easily be lead to believe that we are somehow ordered to be very close friends we the people we go to church with. I think that notion is built upon a flawed ecclesiology.

This kind of community is often expressed through liturgical symbols. For example, in Finland at least, the congregation gathers around the alter in a half-circle, expressing that the rest of the circle is made up by those not present: the dead, the sick, the ones far away. These people too are part of the celebration.

The idea that the community we express is primarily one of community with those not present was also expressed in the early church by the fact that only a small part of the bread was consecrated and used during the mass. The congregation brought bread with them to Church. The part not used was to be distributed among the poor.

When we celebrate the Eucharist then, we are celebrating a ritual where we teach ourselves to be aware of our community with the poor and oppressed of the world. It is into this kind of community that God enters.

This means the Eucharist becomes a political act. When the church celebrates the Eucharist it expresses its belief that God always stands on the side of the poor. This is through even if the church in other areas have forgotten this, the Eucharist can act as a protest within a Church that fails its true calling by joining with the rich and the powerful.

Justice or benevolence?

Dan of Poser or Prophet has an important text on the problem involved when charitable organization accept money from big corporations.

Dan, who is involved with work with homeless youth, writes:

By licking the boots of executives from Canadian banks, we ensure that kids stay on the streets, and that families stay in poverty, while also providing the powers with the assurance that they're actually running good and moral institutions.

Read it all.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Oh, ok then...

Strictly out of competition, of course.

Monday, July 10, 2006

And the winner is: Jürgen Moltmann!

Despite the expected complaints issued at the judge (as I said early on, like FIFA, I may be sligthly evil, but it is I who run things), I can now declare Jürgen Moltmann the outstanding winner of the World Cup of Modern Systematic Theologians 2006!

Jürgen won four of the five polled categories as well as the over-all vote. (Nearly 100 people voted in the polls!) von Balthasar's works was considered by the majority to have a more timeless quality, but in spite of this, Moltmanns relevance for his age, as well as his impact on church and academia was considered to be more significant. See the results of the polls here. (Can anybody explain the very geographical clarity with which our American friends seem to have voted?)

Moltmann's way to the Victory was impressive. After winning his group with the highest margin in the field he went on to beat no lesser theologians than Congar, Ratzinger and Rahner in the finals. There must be some irritation among a certain kind of catholics about this. ;) That said, v. Balthasar did manage to beat protestant superstars Frei, Pannenberg and Jenson in his finals, which is a good example, IMO of the impressive ecumenical spirit that has been present throughout the Tournament. For a overview of the latter half of the Tournament, see the Tournament Brackets.

There were also a prediction competition during the tournament. This competition was won by David Scott who succeeded to correctly predict all games but one. According to the rules of that competion, David's price is a post with a link from all those that participated in the prediction competition. As soon as I receive info on whether David has a blog and where it is found I will fulfill my part of the agreement.

Finally, before the return of the regular programming on this blog (stay tuned for the sacrament of the eucharist in the context of a declining culture), I would like to thank everyone involved in voting and commenting. I have learned a lot, and I hope this is true for others as well. I'd especially like to thank my two "commentators" One of Freedom and Scott Paeth, who have been running regular features about the tournament on their blogs, as well as everyone else who have helped to spread the word about it.

Congratulations to Jürgen Moltmann, first ever winner of the World Cup for Modern Systematic Theologians!

Introducing "Theology Blogs"

A few posts back I threw out an idea about a blog that is basically a a listing of blogs about systematic theology. I got only positive feedback about the idea, so I went ahead and set up one. It is very basic so far, and may stay that way, we'll see. But you may now start submitting blogs to the listing. I haven't listed any other blogs than mine so far, I think the owners should decide if they want to be listed or not.

Defining systematic theology is no easy task, and traditions vary a great deal between different countries. I have written a first post, feel free to comment on it, (I would also appreciate if you would point out any grammatical errors and such, the first post will become an "about" post, that will stay relevant.

As I said, I'd appreciate if anyone wants to help out with this. I think I can handle the adding of new blogs myself, but If anyone wants to take the site further by introducing other features, I'll be happy to share the editorship.

Anyway, the url is:

Check it out! Add you sites, and of course, to get the whole thing going, I need your help to spread the word!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

World Cup Final: Moltmann vs. von Balthasar

Ladies and Gentlemen, the moment have arrived to officially start the final in the World Cup of Modern Systematic Theologians! After 39 one-on-one games we now have only one left, the ultimate battle between Jürgen Moltmann and Hans Urs von Balthasar.

For this final game we will use both comments and polls. You can vote in all the polls below, and then finally leave a comment where you give your overall opinion of the contestants, i.e. which theologian you feel is more important or worthy of the Title. However, you can chose not to vote in all the polls, and not to leave and overall opinion in the comment. All the polls and the comment-vote a weighed in when the winner is decided.

Note: I will leave this game open for about 48 hours, so everybody will have a chance to participate.

Rahner is the winner of the bronze medal!

Ok, I admit I have no idea what medal Rahner receives in the picture, but he is now the official bronze medalist in the World Cup of Modern Systematic Theologians! He beat Jenson fairly easily, Jenson only managing to claim the consistency trophy with the slimmest of margins. Rahners won the most influential poll with a landslide, and the most creative clearly.

Rahner lost to Moltmann in the semi-final, after beating Jüngel and Torrance in the previous rounds, and winning his group clearly.

The Impotence of Science

Cynthia Nielsen has a very interesting post regarding Nietzsche and Dostoyevski on the Effects of a "Purely" Scientific Metanarrative. This is a snip out of the Nietzshe quote:

Therefore a higher culture must give man a double brain, two brain chambers, as it were, one to experience science, and one to experience nonscience. Lying next to one another, without confusion, separable, self-contained: our health demands this.
Read it all at per caritatem.

Oh dear...

Ok, the cat's out of the bag now...

Well, a warm welcome to all new visitors!

Friday, July 07, 2006

What about a Blog of Theology Blogs?

Looking slightly envious at the site, I thought that it would be great if there was a similar site for blogs geared towards Theology. I could imagine editing such a blog, if sufficiently people would find it interesting. I'd of course be happy to share the editorship if someone would be willing.

The concept would be more or less the same as the biblioblogs site: to provide a comprehensive list of blogs that contain systematic theology. To define what blogs qualify could be tricky, but not impossible.

The point would of course be, that unlike most blogrolls maintained by individual writers, this list would not reflect personal opinion, but cover the entire field of theological blogs.

What do you think of the idea?

Bronze game: Rahner vs. Jenson

So Rahner and Jenson both lost out in the semifinals, but they still have a chance to finish the tournament on a positive note. For the bronze game we will do it the same way as in the semi finals, (I will try to think of something special for the final).

Thursday, July 06, 2006

World Cup Results Day 21

The second finalist is Hans Urs von Balthasar, who will be facing Jürgen Moltmann as soon as the bronze game is settled.

von Balthasar beat Robert w. Jenson very clearly regarding influence and creativity, but Jenson managed to take home the consitency award (incidently the same situation as in the first semifinal, so the bronze game should be consistent indeed...)

Another interesting aspect of this tournament is the predictions. Three people can go home with the award for the best predictions of the Tournament.

Aaron Ghiloni on Grief

Aaron has written five pieces on the topic of grief. Very interesting thoughts. Some quotes:

My mind immediately jumped to G.W. Bush’s suggestions that Americans get out and shop in the wake of 9/11 and promises to rebuild New Orleans before Katrina had even begun to subside.There is something deeply diseased about a society that tries to omit its humanity by considering grief a nuisance, mere ceremonialism that can be done away with.
I want to suggest that our society is unnerved by grief because we are a society that is mesmerized by control. Whether it is controlling birth rates, or controlling atoms, or controlling other societies, or even controlling calories…we are obsessed with having the power to micro-manage life. I want to suggest that our society is intimidated by grief because we are a society that unequivocally believes in the myth of progress. And thus, we are rarely capable of comprehending something as primitive and primal as grief.
Good stuff!

Here are the posts: Grief (i), Grief (ii), Loss of Grief (iii), Loss of Grief (iv), Loss of Griev (v).

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

World Cup Results Day 20

We have our first finalist! Moltmann has been a favorite throughout the tournament, and he has not let his fans down yet (or is it the other way around?). Moltmann beat Rahner in a fairly close semi-final. Rahner was clearly perceived to be the most consistent, while Moltmann was considered more creative and influential.

Rahner will have to settle for a bronze-match. Against who will be clear tomorrow, when we will also see who will face Moltmann in the game for the World Cup for Modern Systematic Theologians!

Tournament Brackets.

Semi-final 2: Jenson vs. von Balthasar

In the first semi-final, Rahner seems to be closing in on Moltmann? Will he be able to turn it around in the last hours of the game?

However, it is time to start the second semi-final, between Robert W. Jenson and Hans Urs von Balthasar. We will do it in the same way as the first semi-final, so see that post for instructions.

World Cup Results Day 19

In the last quarter-final, Hans Urs von Balthasar won over Wolfhart Panneberg with 12 votes against 7. von Balthasar will face Robert Jenson in the second semifinal.

Tournament Brackets.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Semi-final 1: Moltmann vs. Rahner

For the finals we will again vote by polls, although I hope you will make much use of the possibility to comment also, it makes a more interesting game.

However, instead of just one poll, this time we have three. This means you may vote for both theologians, in case you find choosing difficult.

We will vote on three questions:

1. Which theologian is more influential, in theology, the Church and society? You may motivate you vote in any way, as long as it regards the influence of the theologian.

2. Which theologian is more creative, that is which has brought more new ideas, or more important ideas to the theological discussion?

3. Which the is more consistent, that is which theologian is more thorough, more exact, more stringent in his arguing?

Do take the opportunity to argue for you choices in the comments!

The winner will be the on that wins the most polls.

Rahner debated.

One of our semi-finalists, Karl Rahner, is being discussed over at the Pontifications blog. Alvin Kimel feels the Catholic Church needs to Get Over Rahner.

As Ben Myers writes in a comment, the Catholic tradition has been able to house rather conflicting traditions at the same time before. Just think of the wide variety of "theologies" around during the 13th-14th centuries!

Check out the discussion in preparation for the semi-final, starting in just a few hours, where Rahner will face Moltmann!

Monday, July 03, 2006

World Cup Results Day 18

Robert Jenson beat Colin Gunton with the score 11-3, and will be the only English speaking semi-finalist.

Tournament Brackets.

Quarter-final 4: von Balthasar vs. Pannenberg

The last quarter-final is another battle of Giants. Hans Urs von Balthasar meets Panneberg. Who will get that last place in the semi-final?

As before, to vote write a comment, and then vote in the poll. Only the comments are counted.

Buzz marketing is evil

Just a short note to tell you I have find a new thing to hate... I guess this is an old thing for most of you but it is just coming to my part of the world. Companies that "hire" (except they do not pay them) ordinary people to give away free samples to their friends of new products. Evil Evil Evil. Using the most valuable thing in life, love, to sell stuff. EVIL.

Interestingly, searching the blogosphere on "buzz marketing" or "word of mouth marketing" gives plenty of results, 100 % positive. People feel it's cool to "know about stuff" before their friends. We really have stoped being humans and become 100% consumers.

Some critical articles can be found here.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

World Cup Results Day 17

In the second quarter final Karl Rahner beat Eberhard Jüngel with 11 votes agians 5.

Rahner will face Moltmann in the Semifinal.

Quarter-final 3: Jenson vs. Gunton

The two last two contestants that do not speak English meet in the third Quarter-final. In the semi-finals there will be only one: Robert W. Jenson or Colin Gunton?

As before: to vote give a comment below. Then vote in the poll below too. But it is the votes in the comments that count.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

World Cup Results Day 16

The first quarter-final of the World Cup for Modern Systematic Theologians resulted in a Victory for Jürgen Moltmann over Joseph Ratzinger with 18 votes against 8.

Tounament Brackets.

Quarter-final 2: Rahner vs. Jüngel

Since the comments voting have gone so well in the first quarter-final, we'll just continue with that system. Makes interersting reading IMO. The comments count, the poll below is just for fun.

Karl Rahner and Eberhard Jüngel meet for the second quarter-final. Two theological giants both well deserving a place in the semi-final. Who will it be?