Running Heads

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

Unintended Consequences

The phrase “unintended consequences” usually implies negative results—and that is what Sandra Ericson recently wrote about in an opinion piece in our local newspaper. Ericson is a former member of the Planning Commission and chair of the city’s Climate Protection Task Force in St. Helena, California, in the Napa Valley.
The focus of her piece is on the negative effects of expanding wineries. She points out that instead of vineyards being part of a balanced agriculture in California and Oregon, they have displaced orchards, truck farms, and wheat fields. The vineyards have become tourist centers, overtaxing roads and other infrastructure. They have required more hotels and taken a share of the hotel taxes. They tend to push middleclass residents out of the area to make room for the 1 percent.
Another set of problems is water. During the droughts, the vineyards have had to drill deeper wells, draining the aquifers. She also notes that growers deforest hillsides to plant more vines; and vineyards absorb carbon at a rate of 1.5 compared to trees at 85.
One of the truly bizarre issues Ericson mentions is that in the U.S. a foreign investor can obtain a “green card” (permanent resident status) for investing $1 million in agriculture. But it is only $500,000 if one invests in a vineyard. Who knew you could actually buy a green card at all?
One last issue is how “boutique” wineries become absorbed into corporate agriculture. They are bought up as investments by both U.S. and foreign investors with no care about the local community. In other words, the profits are taken from the community, but the consequences to water resources, climate, animal habitat, infrastructure, and the local economy are not dealt with by those who profit from it.

An interview with Ilaria Ramelli on apokatastasis (universal restoration)

Here is an interview I recorded last week with Ilaria Ramelli, perhaps the world authority on apokatastasis in the early church.


The Inadvertent Hilarity of American Civil Religion

American civil religion, at least as many American patriots would like to conceive and practice it, is incoherent. And inadvertently hilarious. I think of the famous statement attributed to Eisenhower: “America needs a religion, and I don’t care what it is.” The problem is arriving at any such religion that has theological substance and consistency, and yet is “capacious” and non-specific enough to include Americans of all faiths (and no professed faiths at all). American civil religion at first had to take accounts of varieties of Christianity, then of Christianity and Judaism, then of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and a spate of panoply of Eastern faiths.

It seems that those who now must urgently want to profess an American civil religion are many conservative Christians. Yet, American civil religion has always had trouble including Jesus Christ. The political scientist Samuel Huntington has noted that American civil religion allows for the employment of the word God, as on the nation’s coinage. However, “two words . . . do not appear in civil religion statements and ceremonies. They are ‘Jesus Christ.'” Put more strongly, “the American civil religion is Christianity without Christ.” Yet here is more inadvertent hilarity, for what is Christianity without Christ?

Maybe Christians need all the humor we can get, but I think we should seek our levity in other places. Better, by far, to recognize that the church is the one true polity of Christianity. Then our relationship to other polities (not least nation states) can be one of a loyalty that is bounded and checked by our higher allegiance to Christ and the Trinitarian God. Christians can live without a civil religion to any nation state. It has even been tried, and not found wanting.


Abbreviations and Abbreviated Biblical Knowledge

To state the obvious, we live in a culture increasingly unaware of the Bible and its contents. Theological and popular Christian publishers have long relied on some general biblical knowledge. When quoting the Bible, the custom is to parenthetically abbreviate biblical book titles after the quote. But recently I have had some authors who say their readers don’t know or understand these abbreviations. These authors are asking to use the full name of biblical books in their references.

Of course, this is not an issue with academic publications—there we can still assume more than enough technical knowledge, on the part of readers, to continue abbreviating biblical text names. But with popular books, I think my inquiring authors are on to something. Many casual (and somewhat biblically illiterate) readers won’t know that “Gen” means Genesis, “Exod” denotes Exodus, or “Phil” indicates Philippians.

So far, I have advised these authors to retain the abbreviated references in the body of their books. But I have instructed them, per their concerns, to include abbreviation tables at the front of the books that lay out abbreviations and the corresponding full titles of biblical books. At the same time, I wonder if there will come a time when (again, for popular books) we will use the full titles within the bodies of our books. And that time may come sooner than we think.


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.

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