To Substitute Another Thirst

If there’s one theological commitment that unites both sides of the same-sex marriage debate, it’s semi-Pelagianism. Taking its name from the fourth-century monk Pelagius, semi-Pelagianism may be thought of as a theological mood or a set of impulses that’s opposed to a strong doctrine of original sin. Fearing that talk of our broken wills may hamper moral striving, the semi-Pelagian stresses perfectibility as a motive for action. Continue Reading »

Explosive Business in North Dakota

The “Official Portal for the North Dakota State Government” lists that commonwealth’s nicknames as the Peace Garden State, the Flickertail State (something to do with squirrels, evidently), and the Roughrider State. Most Americans know today’s North Dakota as the Fracking State, where fortunes are being made in the energy industry. Catholics in the United States may soon know North Dakota as the cutting edge of Catholic higher education reform. Continue Reading »

Ruthless Optimism

Mormon culture, especially in America, exhibits what I call “ruthless optimism,” which is the habit of unreasonable striving to be (or perhaps to appear to be) happy regardless of circumstance. This perpetual optimism is both ridiculous and endearing to outsiders, but for those within the faith, the association of righteousness with happiness can create incredible strain. If you’re not happy, is it because you’re doing something wrong? Congratulations: now you have two reasons to be unhappy. This pressure is compounded by the Mormon emphasis on evangelizing: how can you be an effective missionary if you’re depressed? 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 »

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 »