God of Fire, Man of Prayer

Birmingham is a post-Civil War city founded in 1871 in response to the discovery of one of the world’s richest mineral deposits of iron, coal, and limestone. The abundance of these raw materials led to a thriving steel industry, and Birmingham became the “Pittsburgh of the South.” In the early twentieth century, the leaders of Birmingham commissioned a statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and the forge, to represent the city at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Today, Vulcan stands 56-feet tall high atop Red Mountain overlooking the city, a symbol of Birmingham’s history. Colossus-like, Vulcan is the largest cast-iron statue in the world, welcoming thousands of visitors every day from near and far. Continue Reading »

Looking East

Turning to Tradition by d. oliver herbel oxford, 256 pages, $27.95 In 2010, Eastern Orthodox Christians in America awoke to a painful realization—there aren’t very many of us. Since the 1920s, various prelates and the pages of archdiocesan yearbooks have claimed that there were as many . . . . Continue Reading »

Toasting Jesus

At an evangelical gathering on a New Year’s Eve, someone stood to announce that he wanted to toast us all. We sipped from our glasses of sparkling apple cider as he expressed his wishes for our collective good health for the coming year. Then someone else spoke up: “Now please join me in a toast to Jesus!” Continue Reading »

Spurgeon at Year’s End

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) was a cigar-smoking Baptist pastor in Victorian London whose influence, even in his own lifetime, extended far beyond the bounds of his own nation and denomination. Known as “the boy wonder of the fens” for his notable preaching in the villages of Cambridgeshire, Spurgeon took London by storm when he was only nineteen years of age. Continue Reading »

Christmas and the Humbling of the Wise Men

It might seem that everything that could be said, has been said, about the shepherds, the wise men and the Christ Child. But that’s one of the marvels of Scripture: The unfolding history of the Church draws out of the inspired Word of God allegories and images previously unrecognized. Thus the familiar Christmas story and its well-known cast of characters shed light on a year in which the Church has been roiled by contention between today’s shepherds and today’s Magi: between those who, today, hear angels singing, and those whose experience of the faith has been thoroughly “demythologized” and intellectualized. Continue Reading »

Two Holidays, Two Reformations

While the broader culture celebrates Halloween at the end of this month, many Protestants will focus on Reformation Day while two days later Catholics will utter prayers as part of All Souls’ Day. It is a fitting historical tribute (or irony) that All Souls’ Day and Reformation Day occur within two days of one another with All Saints’ Day sandwiched in between. It is as though the two great reform movements of western Christianity stand as bookends to the patristic heritage. The observance of these three days reminds Christians of a common patristic heritage and the way reformation and renewal can both reshape and fracture that heritage. Continue Reading »

The End of Negative Theology

When I was in graduate school in the eighties, negative theology was all the rage because it seemed like such a blessing. What better form could a theologian give to the confounding perplexities of deconstruction and the metaphysical obfuscations of postmodernism? Not willing to admit that radical theology was merely reactive, I wrote my dissertation on Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans to show that Barth was Derrida avant la lettre. I have since repented of such foolishness. Evangelism is the best retort to questions about our ability to speak about God. As St. Paul said, “I believed, and so I spoke” (2. Cor. 4:13). In the act of witnessing, ambivalence and indecision melt into air. Continue Reading »

Faithful Unto Death

The ancient city of Smyrna, located on the site of today’s Izmir in Turkey, the gateway to Asia and stepping-stone to Europe, is sacred soil because of what happened there one Sunday, around 2:00 in the afternoon, in February of the year 155. On that day, Polycarp, the eighty-six-year-old leader of the Christian church in Smyrna, was cruelly put to death by fire and sword because he refused to renounce Jesus Christ. “For the blood of thy martyrs and saints shall enrich the earth, shall create the holy places,” wrote T.S. Eliot. “For wherever a saint has dwelt, wherever a martyr has given his blood for the blood of Christ, there is holy ground, and the sanctity shall not depart from it.” Continue Reading »