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 »

Uphold Doctrine, Avoid Discrimination

Earlier this month, the California State University system decided to stop recognizing InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a campus organization. This was far from being the first time that a campus ministry has faced such a challenge. Perhaps most famously, several years ago Hastings College of the Law withdrew recognition from the Christian Legal Society, resulting in a 2010 Supreme Court decision in favor of Hastings. InterVarsity itself has previously faced a number of challenges at a number of institutions such as Vanderbilt, SUNY Buffalo, and others. Continue Reading »

#WeAreN

As a kid growing up in Evangelical churches, I would occasionally hear about the ultimate in Christian travel—the Holy Land tour. And the tour would be followed up some months later by a slide show showing where its members had gone. The slides featured ancient stone buildings, panoramic views of Jerusalem, and sunglass-wearing Americans standing atop of the Mount of Olives with the golden Dome of the Rock in the background. But I don’t remember anyone ever talking about the Christians living there. There were pictures of churches, sure, but did anyone actually go to church there? Continue Reading »

Resurrecting the Dead in America

Many Christians regularly recite the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed, recounting aloud beliefs they hold to be foundational. With the share of our neighbors that self-identify as agnostic, atheist, or simply “not religious” rising, repeating such creeds is an opportunity for Christians to reflect on just how odd some of our faith assertions really are. Admit it—there’s some strange stuff in there. Too strange, it turns out, for many of our peers, including some of the faithful. Continue Reading »

InterVarsity Christian Ministry in Trouble for Acting Christian

To protect against discrimination, liberals increasingly seek to discriminate. News broke over the weekend that all twenty-three schools within the California State University system have taken steps to “derecognize” InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), a para-church Christian ministry organization that’s had a longstanding presence within university life religious settings. Continue Reading »

Silence and Solidarity

Many colleges and universities open the new academic year with a special assembly or convocation that is generally an upbeat occasion of welcome and new beginnings. The Catholic University of America held such an event several days ago, and it included, appropriately enough, a beautiful mass led by Washington’s Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl. The music was sublime and the liturgy well ordered. Dr. John Garvey, the president of CUA, was presented with an award by the Archdiocese of Washington. It was an altogether appropriate and uplifting event. But just before the dismissal, the tone was changed as Cardinal Wuerl, speaking without notes, delivered this admonition with a sense of urgency: Continue Reading »

Take Me to Church

Dear Hozier: Your overtly theological song titles lured me in. “From Eden”? “Take Me To Church”? Once I read some of your anti-Church comments, I girded my theological loins for a smackdown; I didn’t want to like you. But, as it turns out, I think you’re really good. Your sound is hypnotic, many of your lyrics poetic (comparatively speaking). I like the fusion of blues, jazz, pop, and gospel. There is a pulse and a crackling sparseness and a dark beauty to many of your songs. I’ve had your album on repeat on Spotify for the past week, despite myself. You’ve stirred my lingering desire to become a singer-songwriter—nearly enough for me to pick up my guitar. Continue Reading »

Between Sweetness and Nausea

A few years ago I learned a new word. I wonder if you know it—ecotone? An ecotone is where two ecospheres come together—where they meet and merge into one another. The Mississippi River flowing into the Gulf of Mexico—that is an ecotone. Or imagine flying over the plains out West, and then you look up and there are the Rocky Mountains. Where the plains meet the mountains, where the current meets the tide—that is an ecotone. An ecotone is always a place that is fragile, unstable, shifting, fluid, risky, filled with danger and yet, at the same time Continue Reading »