Tag Archives: Notre Dame

Salvation at Stake

Today we wrap-up a mini-series on the philosophy of doing history.

The final essay in we will look at in this series is a chapter from Brad Gregory’s Salvation at Stake. This final essay represents the strongest set of arguments against a form of historiography dominated by what have variously been called, “the new historicism,” “the linguistic turn” or most simply, post-structuralism.

In the introduction to Salvation at Stake, Gregory describes his two-fold purpose: 1)

Brad Gregory holds the Dorothy G. Griffin Chair in the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame.

present an account of Christian martyrdom from the perspective of four traditions and 2) make a methodological contribution to how historians approach the early modern period. (2) For the purposes of comparing this essay to the others from this week, our focus will be on the section titled “On Understanding Early Modern Christianity.” Here Gregory addresses how poststructuralist theory “alleges a radical disjunction between representations and realities, rendering truth claims unverifiable.” (9) The “insights” of post-structuralism have “taught” us that the martyrs who died for their religious beliefs, in fact held views that are mere constructions. Post-structuralism has also “taught” us that these martyr’s beliefs were nothing but “strategies of domination” and that the literature which reported martyrdom was nothing but propaganda and political power-plays.

In light of these “lessons” Gregory calls us to declare a postmortem for poststructuralism “so that we may avoid its dead end.” (10) Instead we should take these martyrs and their storytellers on their own terms. (10) Instead of deconstructing early modern accounts we ought to be reconstructing these accounts. (11) When we do this we will have come up with an account which (hopefully) the subjects of study would have recognized as their own.

In order to reconstruct plausible accounts Gregory has to address two issues. First, that all claims, including religious claims, are embeded within social relationships, institutions, and other cultural expectations. Second, that people often act for covert interests and rationalize their actions. The second issue can be addressed without adopting a hermeneutic of suspicion. The hermeneutic of suspicion should be avoided because it “destroys the very possibility of understanding historical difference” and “undermines the sincerity and integrity of people whose actions fall beyond the boundaries of behavior enacted ‘in good faith.’”(14) Instead of a hermeneutic of suspicion we ought to adopt a hermeneutic of charity, taking sources at their own words unless there are reasons to believe that the source is being deceptive. In the case of martyrological sources, one can maintain a fine balance between suspicion and charity by checking martyological literature against literature produced by opponents. Surprisingly, both kinds of accounts tend to be very similar in what they report. Thus, it seems as though a hermeneutic of charity can give us adequate details of events as they are reported.


Out of the five essays we have examined this was the essay that I resonated the most with. I find myself agreeing with much of what Gregory has to say; especially as it concerns the problems of post-structuralism or “the linguistic turn.” The method he proposes does a good job of guarding against some of the realities that post-structuralism brings up, namely subjectivity and covert motives. His method does not dismiss these realities, however he refuses to let historiography be put into bondage by these realities. Instead he leverages these two points to develop an even more objective account of historical events.

In addition to the fact that this method has some payoff regarding research I believe that it also has another strength: it displays Christian virtue. By this I mean, that this method attempts to refrain from reading false motives into its subjects. In a sense you could say that this method attempts refuses to bear false witness against its neighbor and thus keeps 9th commandment. Also, one might think that this method is in line with Paul’s description of Christian love in 1 Corinthians 13: love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. For these two simple reasons I am drawn to Brad Gregory’s method over the method of the other authors we have examined thus far.


Atonement – Los Angeles Theology Conference 2015

The 2015 Los Angeles Theology Conference will be held this upcoming Thursday and Friday at Biola University. The theme of LATC will be the doctrine of atonement. Here is how the organizers describe the conference:

We are inviting theologians who can situate the doctrine of the atonement in its larger systematic theological context, show its connections and implications with other doctrines, and thus throw light on where atonement takes place.

Los Angeles Theology Conference - LATC

The five plenary speakers will be:

    • Michael Horton, Westminster Seminary California
      Atonement and Ascension
    • Matthew Levering, Mundelein Seminary
      Atonement and Creation
    • Bruce McCormack, Princeton Theological Seminar
      Atonement and Human Suffering
    • Ben Myers, Charles Sturt University
      Atonement and the Image of God
    • Eleonore Stump, St. Louis University
      Atonement and Eucharist

In light of the upcoming conference, I will be focusing my blog on the doctrine of atonement next week. Expect to see a lot of T.F. Torrance!

Here is a short video on the doctrine of atonement to hold you off in the meantime:

[Breaking News] A New Disease Discovered in Dallas, TX

Sort of not really…. I love what Professor William J. Abraham says:

Philosophy is like a sort of disease that you pick up but there is no cure.

That is so true. Anyway here Professor Abraham talk about how the relationship between philosophy and theology, Jonathan Edwards, and teaching classes on evangelism.

How Can Philosophy be Used in the Church?

Timothy Pawl (University of St. Thomas) is a brilliant brilliant man. I first heard him at the Los Angeles Theology Conference two years ago, some of his replies to the other speakers blew my mind and forced me to ask myself – who is this guy??!!?!

Well I recently stumbled across a video in which he explains why some Christians ought to do philosophy and how those Christians can put philosophy to use for the service of the Church.

Continental vs. Analytic

A while ago I took some flack for some comments I made about continental philosophy , I wrote that continental philsophy is pseudo-philosophical gobbldy-gook. Well I stand by those words. Apparently Richard Swinburne, the world famous Oxford philosopher of religion feels the same way. Here is what he has to say about the relationship between theology and continental philosophy.

The most influential modern systematic theologians were German, of whom the best known was Karl Barth. They derived their philosophy from the Continental tradition in philosophy of the past two hundred years.  This includes such very diverse figures as Hegel, Nietzche, Heidegger, and Sartre. But it seemed to me – and has seemed to most Anglo-American philosophers – that what characterizes them all is a certain sloppiness of argument, a tendency to draw big, vague, general pictures of the universe without spelling them out very precisely or justifying them very thoroughly, a kind of philosophy geared toward literature rather than science. (Swinburne – The Vocation of a Natural Theologian)

Now there is nothing inherently wrong with a philosophy geared towards literature rather than science. Also I believe that there is much to learn from Nietzche and Sartre, however I have to agree with Swinburne that theology’s reliance upon the Continental tradition has resulted in some sloppy systematic theology. I believe that the analytic tradition of philosophy has yet to be explored fully as a resource for doing theology. Thankfully there are some philosophers/theologians who are paving a way in this area. Three people that come to mind are Oliver Crisp, Michael Rea, and Thomas McCall. This new field, which has been dubbed Analytic Theology has much to offer.

I highly recomend the following video:


Edwards and Franklin (Pt. 1)

While at Fuller Seminary one of my favorite professors was George Marsden. George wasn’t on the regular faculty, he was just a visiting professor, nevertheless it was cool to have him come in every year and teach an intensive on Evangelicalism & Fundamentalism or Jonathan Edwards & C.S. Lewis. Learning about Edwards from him was an absolute pleasure, after all he is the number one authority on the life of Edwards.

George was a really nice old guy. Old guys tend to be super cranky (especially if they are really smart) but this old guy was so nice and caring. He loved his students and he loved Jesus. You could really tell that he had a very intimate relationship with Jesus by the way he prayed. I remember walking over to the coffee shop everyday we had class, we would talk about Edwards, Notre Dame football and Duke Basketball, and of course we would talk about the California winter weather. He loved winters in California. I suspect that the only reason he came to teach at Fuller each winter quarter was so that he could escape the freezing cold Michigan winters. I don’t blame him…. I guess that is a perk of being such a distinguished professor; “Hey how about we pay you to come vacation in Southern California for five weeks, oh and by the way can you teach a week’s worth of classes on the thing that you know like the back of your hand? That would be great. Thanks!”

I look up to George Marsden, not only because of his character but also because of his knowledge of Jonathan Edwards, my favorite theologian/philosopher.

I recently picked up his small biography on Edwards, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, and in it he starts out by doing something that he really likes to do when working on history, comparing and contrasting contemporary figures. He starts out his bio of Edwards by comparing and contrasting Edwards and the other colonial intellectual giant, Benjamin Franklin.

Next time I’m going to highlight some key differences between these two colonial figures.