Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

Some books I am working on (or may work on)

It seems that I have been consumed with various universalism-related projects of late:

  • the annotated edition of Thomas Allin’s Christ Triumphant (just published by Wipf & Stock)
  • a longish chapter for a Zondervan Four Views on Hell book, edited by Preston Sprinkle. This is simply an attempt to defend a universalist understanding of hell and to interact with those who have different understandings. The other authors are Denny Burke (eternal conscious toemenrt), John Stackhouse (annihilation), Jerry Walls (Purgatory). We are just about to write the responses to each other. Should be fun.
  • a longish chapter for a Baker book on different types of Christian universalism, edited by David Congdon. Here I am looking at evangelical universalism in particular (as distinct, say, from patristic or Barthian universalisms). I think that the other authors are George Hunsinger, Morwenna Ludlow, Tom Greggs, and Fred Sanders, but my memory may be faulty here.
  • working on a co-authored semi-pop book with Ilaria Ramelli on Christian universalism from the Reformation to the present day. Currently I am in the eighteenth century. This one will take a while, even though it is not an academic texts for specialists. Still—I love history, so it is fascinating research.

I feel like my brain is a tad universalism-focused at the moment. My plan is that once these are done I will move on to other stuff. Perhaps:

  • a book on what I call arboreal theology: theology told through different trees in the biblical story
  • a book on Jesus’ baptism
  • A book on Edom in Scripture—a biblical and theological reading. (It is a lot more interesting than you may suspect.) I am just itching to get stuck in to texts again.
  • a book on atonement. (I know everyone is at it, but I feel that one day I need to sit down and work out exactly what my atonement theology looks like.)
  • A simple hermeneutical guide for appropriating biblical law today if one is a Jewish or gentile Christ-believer. (This has been at the back of my mind for many years.)

Those are the two things that are drawing me—especially the trees to start with, then perhaps Edom. (But who would read a book on Edom?)


However, looking into so much universalist history I keep thinking of new projects there

  • more annotated editons of classic texts (Stonehouse? Relly? Winchester? Jukes?)
  • a biography of John Murray—he’s an interesting chap and ought to have one (even if he was a bit quirky)
  • a sequel to “All Shall Be Well” covering another batch of folk (alternatively, covering different traditions: Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Pietism, etc., etc.)

I guess that will keep me going for a few more years—probably long after I’m dead. Hmmm, I detect a problem there!


Clement Meets the Chattering Class

Our deeply conflicted US culture is marked by commentators who hold fast to their own ideological convictions and, as often as not, violently attack those who disagree. Fox News is a main and oft-cited example, though it is unclear where Fox will go in the future—the median age of its viewers is sixty-nine. From another point on the spectrum, this week brought news that MSNBC continues to struggle for viewership, and will switch away from opinion shows to more “straight” news coverage. It’s easy to tire of the whole affair, wherever your own political convictions fall, and call for a pox on all houses.

I recently came across the following comments from Clement of Alexandria. From them, it’s not hard to guess what he would make of our own chattering class, and to imagine an alternative.

If two people are engaged in conversation they should speak in measured tones. Yelling and shouting is what idiots do. Talking in a whisper so that the person cannot hear is the mark of a fool.

In conversation we must not let ourselves be seized with the desire always to interrupt in order to show off our fatuous superiority. Everything ought to lead to tranquility, as in the words of the greeting, “Peace be with you.” And, “Do not answer before first listening (Eccles. 1:8).

Let us avoid being pompous or long-winded, or too hasty or too slow. Let us not talk for too long nor use too many words.

A chatterer is like an old boot. When all the rest has been used up, there is only the tongue left and that hurts the chatterer more than anyone else.


The Posters of the 18th Avenue Peace House

For over a month now, our family has been living in the 18th Avenue Peace House in Northeast Portland. It’s an amazing place with an impressive history of Christian community and activism, about which I hope to write more in the future.

Our boys have enjoyed exploring this big old home in “Historic Irvington,” a close-in neighborhood in Northeast Portland. Among the things they like most about the Peace House is the collection of peace posters hanging all over the place. Here’s a taste of what you’ll find should you come by for a visit:






















Marvin Chaney Festschrift

One of the most incisive Old Testament scholars that I know is Marvin Chaney, emeritus professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary. His insights into the eighth-century prophets are extremely important, but difficult to lay one’s hands on—most of his important publications have been in Festschriften and hard to find publications.

I just purchased the Festschrift in Marv’s honor: To Break Every Yoke: Essays in Honor of Marvin L. Chaney, edited by Robert B. Coote and Norman K. Gottwald, Social World of Biblical Antiquity 2/3 (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2007). This is noteworthy because of the amazing lineup of contributors; besides the two fabulous editors: Gale Yee, Keith Whitelam, William Dever, Aaron Brody & Elizabeth Friedman, Carol Meyers, Ronald Hendel, David Hopkins, D. N. Prenmath, Katharine Sakenfeld, Frank Frick, Patricia Dutcher-Walls, Phyllis Bird, Herman Waetjen, Richard Horsley, Richard Rohrbaugh, Antoinette Wire, Luise Schottroff, and John H. Elliott. The essays are grouped into the following categories: Methodology, Archaeology & Social Sciences, Gender Studies, Apocalyptic and the NT, and Varia.

This makes a most impressive tribute to Marv and his many interests. In my experience, most Festschriften hold only one or two essays that really attract my attention. But I think I am not exaggerating when I say that I am intrigued by every single essay here—more than 365 pages worth! That is great bounty indeed.

Mashing it up: A List

Merriam-Webster defines “mash-up” as “something created by combining elements from two or more sources.” They give further definition to three kinds of mash-ups, for which the Internet can provide countless examples: music mash-ups, movie mash-ups, and web mash-ups.

Lately it’s been a distraction of mine to read Twitter mash-ups. My favorites are the Twitter accounts that mash together philosophers/theologians/etc. with some current cultural persona or theme. On Facebook today I came across a link to St. AugOsteen (a mash-up of St. Augustine and Joel Osteen). I’m going to use this blog post to start a list of these Twitter mash-ups. I could use your help. I only know of a handful. There are bound to be more out there. If you know of any that I’m missing, please leave a comment and I’ll update the post by adding them to the list.


An interesting development here in Eugene is a new “channel” on the web called Students from the University of Oregon in Prof. Ed Madison’s Media Entrepreneurship course put the channel together as a way of engaging and connecting readers. The idea is to have a place where book lovers can go for a variety of book information—author interviews etc. They have videos organized on pages for: Fiction, Nonfiction, Authors, Humor, and Kids Corner (unfortunately missing the apostrophe). They partner with the UO bookstore and Powell’s City of Books in Portland. I think this is an innovative approach to keep folks interested in books.

Convictional Differences

In 1974 a secular atheist and a Christian theologian set out “to discuss discordant elements that divide our own society into fragments and to discover” ways of working together “that can make even discordant elements one.” Twenty years later James M. Smith and James Wm. McClendon Jr. believed “that the times [had] at long last caught up with [them]” in two important ways:

1) “Philosophers can no longer be dismissed as threats to the faith or religious believers as soft-headed dogmatists”; and 2) “there has been a growing dissatisfaction with the general approach to the theory of knowledge called ‘foundationalism’ . . . . there is a much greater tendency today to examine the credentials of claims in terms of the disciplines or communities within which the claims are made.”

And so these two “unequally yoked” authors took on the task of revising their twenty-year-old book. Now, twenty-one years on, I can think of few other books that are as relevant to our times. Still today—and maybe even more so than the 70s or 90s—“differences in those beliefs that guide our lives, that make us who we are . . . are indeed the stuff of arguments, manifestos, estrangements, revolutions, and wars.” Many are asking again Smith’s and McClendon’s guiding questions.

“Why are differences in convictions so intractable, so impervious to appeals to evidence or rational argument? And is there a method by which this intractability can be overcome, a method by which convictions can be justified not only to those who already hold them but to those who presently hold other, rival convictions?”

I cannot recommend enough their book-length answer to these questions. Click through and pick up a copy of Convictions: Defusing Religious Relativism (rev. ed.; Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002; orig. Trinity, 1994) right now!

One last lengthy excerpt to further make the case that this is a book you should read:

Convictions are the beliefs that make people what they are. They must therefore be taken very seriously by those who have them. This means that to take any person seriously we must take that person’s convictions seriously, even if we do not ourselves share them. If we regard integrity and a certain degree of consistency as important elements in being a person, we should neither expect nor want others’ convictions to be easily changed or lightly given up. On the other hand, if we have a true esteem for our own convictions, we will want them to be shared in appropriate ways by anyone whom we regard. A certain tension appears here. If persons who hold opposed convictions are to come to share common ones, then some sort of exchange must take place in which the disparate partners communicate with, persuade, change one another in significant ways, so that one or both become significantly different persons than they were.

C. S. Lewis on post-Christian culture

“They err who say ‘the world is turning pagan again.’ Would that it were! The truth is that we are falling into a much worse state. ‘Post Christian man’ is not the same as ‘pre-Christian man.’ He is as far removed as virgin is from widow: there is nothing in common except the want of a spouse: but there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse lost.”
—CS Lewis, Letter, March 17, 1953

Could we with ink the ocean fill …

Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made,

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky.

This is verse 3 of Frederick Lehman’s hymn “The Love of God” (1917). This verse is apparently an adapted translation of a Jewish poem by Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai (1050). It seems that the hymn-writer found it scribbled on the walls of a patient’s room in an insane asylum after the death of its occupant. Whatever its origins, it is a wonderful and unusually striking piece of devotional writing. Thanks to Brad Jersak for using it in his great new book A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel (CWR Press, 2015).

The Futility of Violence

This week I’ve been proofing a manuscript by a wise and widely-read Episcopal priest, Gary Commins. Commins’s upcoming book with Cascade is If Only We Could See. A work in theological spirituality, it explores mysticism and activism dialectically, showing ultimately how mysticism and activism are not at odds, but complement each other. Along the way, Commins frequently examines Niebuhrian realism and the way of nonviolence, especially in Merton, King, and Gandhi. Here’s an excerpt in that vein, arguing that violence ultimately turns in on itself and accomplishes what it attempts to prevent.

Violence calculates means and ends. It exults. It is quick. It is irreversible. Nonviolence is a seed growing secretly. It grieves. It takes time. It endures.

King took this invisible path in the late 1960s when nonviolence had lost its fleeting cachet. King did not merely take the obvious, if controversial, antiwar stance—he opposed all violence. In the mid-1960s, abetted by the martyred Malcolm X, the Black Power movement, and the Black Panther Party, the ideological debate among African Americans, ever mirroring the dominant culture, tilted toward violence as self-defense or as a means to justice. It was not only a foreign and foolhardy war King objected to. He rejected that supposedly revolutionary violence popular in urban and academic settings. To oppose violence in the African American community in the late sixties was tantamount to advocating a nonviolent response to Japan after December 7, or to Al Qaeda after September 11, or to any and every Simon Legree any and every day of any and every year. To oppose violence was to be seen as passé, an Uncle Tom, a Judas. Yet King says:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Two decades earlier, shortly after World War II, when the triumph over Nazism seemed to place a crowning wreath around the myth of violence, Howard Thurman argues not only that history shows that people never tire of proclaiming the presumed blessings of violence, but also a simple reality: violence never works. Violence, he says, is deceptive because it seems “efficient” and “effective.” In reality “it stampedes, overruns, pushes aside and carries the day.” It is “the ritual and the etiquette of those who stand in a position of overt control in the world.” People “resort to violence” because they are unwilling to be patient or unable to be creative.

This twentieth-centuryAfrican American testimony echoes George Fox’s message to Cromwell. In hindsight, reassurance about Quaker nonviolence seems redundant, but some contemporary continental Anabaptist sects had embraced the purported purging force of violence, and Cromwell, like all of England, was suspicious of the Friends. So Fox told him, “The Spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move toward it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against anyone with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.”

Whenever revolutionaries or warriors or academics or religious leaders propose violence as a solution, they lose sight of the infinite value of each life. Jesus declares that all that is holy rejoices in the salvation of one person (Luke 15:7, 10). The Talmud argues that to kill one person is to destroy a world; to save one person is to save a world. The intrinsic value of each life is the essence of Ivan Karamazov’s protest: the suffering of one child blots out the goodness of creation. Every violent death is a sacrifice to Moloch, the triumph of Mars, and a holocaust. Every cruelty is as toxic as Chernobyl, polluting planner, perpetrator, witness, and victim through time and space.

Merton and King reject violence as the quintessential destroyer. Nothing else so irreparably obliterates the innate value of human dignity. No other human activity so desecrates the spirit. Nothing else we do is so primly, proudly, and bloodily Manichean. No other extension of politics by other means (von Clausewitz) is so bloated with a mythology of redemption. Ideologies of violence argue that we can diminish evil by destroying life. The logic of calculating Caiaphas in urging Jesus’ execution (John 11:50) is the cornerstone of every war, every witch trial, every act of terrorism, every revolution and counterrevolution. Every war is thought to be the war to end all wars, yet every act of violence contains within it the seeds of the Final Solution.


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