Reading Genesis with Karl Barth

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Natural evil is one of theology’s greatest challenges, but I have long thought it has a simple solution. Let me express it in four propositions: First, Satan is a fallen angel, which is indicated, however obliquely, by the so-called gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Second, that cosmological event makes the world the site of a great struggle between good and evil. Evolution (not the theory, but the actual process), with its gambling on chance and seductive appeal to self-interest, is the product of that struggle. … Continue Reading »

Did the Apostle Paul Suffer From Stage Fright?

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Scholars have long noted the contrasting portraits in the Bible of the Apostle Paul’s public speaking abilities. Acts depicts him as a bold and powerful rhetorician while Paul’s own letters tell a dramatically different story. His letters are rhetorical gems, but he did not think he was a polished speaker. Paul presents himself as one best known for the hard work of organizing small groups of new Christians rather than for persuasive proclamations in open theaters and forums. The difference between these portraits is one major reason why many scholars doubt the historical validity of Acts. There is, however, a simple way to reconcile them… . Continue Reading »

Why Von Balthasar Was Wrong About Holy Saturday

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Hans Urs von Balthasar is justly famous for his creative reflections on Holy Saturday. The thesis of his book, Mysterium Paschale, is that Jesus Christ suffers not only a physical death on the cross but a spiritual death in hell. Von Balthasar’s speculations are inspired by the creedal phrase descendit ad inferna as well as 1 Peter 3:19, which says that Christ, after he was put to death, preached to the spirits in prison. Von Balthasar’s critics typically argue that he went too far in putting Christ in the actual precincts of hell… . Continue Reading »

In Defense of Dylan’s Voice

From Web Exclusives

If you have been following Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour, online or in person, you’ll notice that a lot of people, even some who are self-professed Dylanologists, have been complaining about the roughness of his voice. To these critics I say: Complaining about Dylan’s voice is like complaining that your scotch tastes too peaty. If you want something sweet, get a colorless spirit that easily surrenders to the overwhelming invasion of fruit juice. Otherwise, let his voice burn your ears just as it sounds like it is blistering his throat when he sings… . Continue Reading »

Niebuhr Without Irony

From the December 2011 Print Edition

Why Niebuhr Matters ? by Charles Lemert?yale Yale University Press, 272 pages, $26 The current Reinhold Niebuhr revival provides a good opportunity to reflect on the many gifts that constitute his legacy. He gave atheist political theorists the opportunity to talk about human nature without having . . . . Continue Reading »

The First American Everyman

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American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists is a book about a man who, the author readily admits, is neither an American nor a saint. Yet, writes John Wigger, Francis Asbury “came to understand ordinary Americans as well as anyone of his generation” and “lived one of the most remarkable lives in American history.” … Continue Reading »

Ich Bin Ein Muslimer

From First Thoughts

Our empathy President is now our theologian-in-chief. He has gone to Cairo like President Kennedy went to Berlin, to make a political point about human solidarity. Kennedy, of course, was expressing solidarity with West Germany shortly after the Soviet backed communist regime in East Germany . . . . Continue Reading »


From First Thoughts

I respect Stephen Barr’s writings on science and religion, but his response to my brief post is an exact example of the process that I was writing about, and that I called “Emma-ization,” after Darwin’s gentle and supportive wife. Notice the shape of his argument, which really . . . . Continue Reading »