Call for Applications – 2018 Mormon Theology Seminar

The Fifth Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology
“Are We Not All Beggars? Reading Mosiah 4”
Cittadella Ospitalità, Assisi, Italy
June 17–June 30, 2018

Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar
in partnership with
The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies,
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship,
and the Wheatley Institution

In the summer of 2018, the Mormon Theology Seminar, in partnership with the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, and the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and faculty devoted to reading Mosiah 4.

The seminar will be hosted by the Cittadella Ospitalità in Assisi, Italy, from June 17 through June 30, 2018. Travel arrangements, housing, and a $1000 stipend will be provided for admitted participants. The seminar will be led by Adam Miller and Joseph Spencer, directors of the Mormon Theology Seminar. [Read more…]

Mother’s Milk

cover-mothers_milk-5,25x8x0,43in-frontI’ve been thinking about Walter Wink’s book Jesus and Nonviolence and our need for moral creativity.

Moral creativity doesn’t mean making up new morals.

Rather, it has to do with the kind of creativity needed to break bad habits. Or the kind of creativity needed to breathe life back into broken relationships. Or the kind of creativity needed to unbalance cycles of anger and violence. Or the kind of creativity needed to see past prejudice. Or the kind of creativity needed to be something more—more kind, more attentive, more humble, more aware, more responsible—than I generally am.

Think about the last time you were angry with your wife or yelled at your son. How predictable was this anger? How automatic? How thoughtless? How uncreative?

Think about that moment, that gap, between what the other person did and how you, like a damn robot, responded. Think about how, in that moment, you might have done something just a little bit different, something that might have short-circuited your anger and changed the whole thing: how you might have used a different tone of voice, or met their eyes, or made the bed, or held your head at a different angle, or surrendered the point, or noticed the light coming through the window, or smiled, or laughed, or wept. [Read more…]

Boston, May 26-27, Mormon Scholars in the Humanities

The 10th annual meeting of Mormon Scholars in the Humanities will take place at Boston University, May 26–27. The conference is open to the public. If you are interested in attending the Friday night banquet, tickets may be purchased here. For more information, see www.mormonscholars.net or contact Jenny Webb at president@mormonscholars.net.

CFP: Book of Mormon Studies

Book of Mormon Studies: Toward a Conversation
 
Academic study of the Book of Mormon has never been more promising than at present. Royal Skousen’s work on producing a critical text is nearing completion, and the Joseph Smith Papers Project is making the manuscripts of the Book of Mormon widely available. Terryl Givens and Paul Gutjahr’s work has provided a basic outline on the reception history of the book. Brant Gardner has provided students of the Book of Mormon with a richly sourced and substantive commentary. Grant Hardy has introduced the content and the depth of the Book of Mormon into the larger academic world, and scholars associated with Community of Christ have recently made a case for renewed interest in the volume. The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies has begun to provide a space where various kinds of serious research on the book can be published. Book of Mormon Central has laid the foundation for a comprehensive archive of previous scholarly work. The Mormon Theology Seminar has begun assembling a body of close theological readings of specific texts. And promisingly, non-Mormon academic presses and journals have begun to publish important work on the Book of Mormon.

[Read more…]

1/15 Deadline: Applications for 2017 Mormon Theology Seminar

mts-small

The Fourth Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology
“God Himself Shall Come Down: Reading Mosiah 15”
College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia
June 5–June 17, 2017

Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar
in partnership with
The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

In the summer of 2017, the Mormon Theology Seminar, in partnership with the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and faculty devoted to reading Mosiah 15.

The seminar will be hosted by the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, from June 5 through June 17, 2016. Travel arrangements, housing, and a $1000 stipend will be provided for admitted participants. The seminar will be led by Adam Miller and Joseph Spencer, directors of the Mormon Theology Seminar, with assistance from Brian Hauglid, director of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies. [Read more…]

Call for Applications: 2017 Mormon Theology Seminar

mts-small

The Fourth Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology
“God Himself Shall Come Down: Reading Mosiah 15”
College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia
June 5–June 17, 2017

Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar
in partnership with
The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

In the summer of 2017, the Mormon Theology Seminar, in partnership with the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and faculty devoted to reading Mosiah 15.

The seminar will be hosted by the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, from June 5 through June 17, 2016. Travel arrangements, housing, and a $1000 stipend will be provided for admitted participants. The seminar will be led by Adam Miller and Joseph Spencer, directors of the Mormon Theology Seminar, with assistance from Brian Hauglid, director of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies. [Read more…]

Prejudice Against the Ordinary

unknownAshley Mae Hoiland, One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute, 2016).

There is a kind of prejudice against the ordinary—and myself and the present—that colors my judgments about life and religion. This prejudice tempts me to outsource responsibility for life and religion to something extraordinary that happened to someone else a long time ago.

But when I do, I end up buying into a dubious “great man theory” of religion that hinges religion itself on a handful of great men (and, here, the theory really does – in an obvious and sexist and indefensible way – mean only men) and the extraordinary things they claim.

Surely there are great men and surely there are extraordinary things that happen. And surely some of these men and events are religious.

But I don’t believe in great men and extraordinary things as a theory of religion—not anymore. I don’t believe that they are what religion is about. Though I trust emphatically that my religion stands rather than falls, I don’t believe that my religion stands or falls simply with them.

I believe in something much, much quieter. Much, much humbler. Much more ordinary and plain. [Read more…]

Response: “The Vision of All”

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Joseph M. Spencer, The Vision of All: Twenty-Five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record (Salt Lake City: Kofford Books, 2016).

Short version: Buy this book.

Long version: You know how some movies aren’t just made up but are based on real events? And, then, when you watch these movies, you know how right at the beginning you get a little tagline, a little disclaimer, and this disclaimer reminds you that while some of the things in this movie really did happen—more or less as they’re depicted on the screen—you’re really probably better off just thinking of the movie as “inspired” by these real life events because, clearly, some artistic liberty had to be taken in order to fashion that raw material into something shaped like a movie that you would want to pay $15 to watch?

This response to Joe’s book is kind of like that. [Read more…]

SMPT – Call for Papers

Call for Papers

Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology
Annual Meeting March 2-4, 2017
Claremont Graduate University Claremont, CA
Theme: “Poured Out Upon Us: The Holy Spirit”

The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology invites paper proposals on any aspect of Mormon belief, including its philosophical ramifications. We particularly encourage submissions on this year’s theme.

When Joseph Smith was asked by the President of the United States about the differences between Mormonism and “the other religions of the day,” he responded that “all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Mormons look to the Holy Spirit for both prophetic authority and individual faith, as a source of daily guidance and transformative power. Descriptions of the Holy Spirit in personal terms of speaking, feeling emotion, or acting are sparse in the scriptures, compared with other members of the Godhead. Yet reliance on the functions of this “personage of spirit” (D&C 130:22) is pervasive in Mormon practice. [Read more…]

Mormon Theology Seminar: Conference Program

This summer’s Mormon Theology Seminar—in cooperation with the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Students, the Maxwell Institute, and BYU’s Wheatley Institution—will hold its concluding conference on Wednesday, June 15, at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

Join us in the Chapel of the Great Commission, The Graduate Theological Union, 1798 Scenic Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709.

For those interested in attending, the conference is free and open to the public. This year’s text is Alma 12:19-13:20. I’ve included the conference program below: [Read more…]

Writ & Vision: Evening with Adam Miller

writ-and-vision

I’ll be at Writ & Vision (274 W. Center Street, Provo) this week. Here’s the official event description:

Join us Thursday, June 16th, at 7 pm for a panel discussion of two new works by Mormon philosopher and theologian Adam Miller. Adam’s books—including Rube Goldberg Machines, Letters To A Young Mormon, and Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan—have broken fresh ground and had an enormous impact on LDS intellectual conversations and debates.

This week he will be discussing and signing copies of two new books:

Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology 
Nothing New Under the Sun: A Blunt Paraphrase of Ecclesiastes

Come Thursday evening for what promises to be a lively and thoroughly interesting discussion, and to meet Adam. The event is free and open to the public, and will likely be robustly attended, so show up early. Light refreshments will be served.

“A Preparatory Redemption,” June 15, Berkeley CA

MTS Logo

“A Preparatory Redemption: Reading Alma 13”

The Third Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology

Conference is free and open to the public Wednesday, June 15, 9am-5pm

The Chapel of the Great Commission
The Graduate Theological Union
1798 Scenic Avenue

Berkeley, CA 94709

Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar 

in partnership with 
The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
and the Wheatley Institution

Hosted by the Graduate Theological Union

Speakers include:
Kristeen Black
Matthew Bowman
Rosemary Demos
David Gore
Bridget Jeffries
Adam Miller
Bob Rees
Joseph Spencer
Sheila Taylor

Nothing New Under the Sun

NNUTSAn excerpt from the introduction to my recently released book Nothing New Under the Sun: A Blunt Paraphrase of Ecclesiastes:

You won’t like this book. Ecclesiastes is gloomy, skeptical, and irreverent. It is caustic and drolly splenetic. It is unapologetically human. It refuses to abet our hunger for clean narratives and happy endings. It is a hopeless book. Insisting on life’s futility, the world’s capriciousness, and God’s inscrutability, it deliberately cultivates despair. It sees such bone-deep hopelessness as the only cure for what ails us. Ecclesiastes is a hard book full of hard sayings. It is an anvil against which our hearts must be hammered.

No wonder we avoid it.

But the cost of avoidance is high. As Paul insists, in order to become Christian, we must first learn to be hopeless. Hopelessness is the door to Zion. Hopelessness is crucial to a consecrated life. Before we can find hope in Christ, we must give up hope in everything else. Nothing can save us from the cross. Abraham, Paul claims, learned how to trust God by learning how to hope against hope. Abraham, “against hope, believed in hope” (Romans 4:18). Or, as Joseph Spencer more clearly renders it, Abraham was “hopeless but hoping.”[1]

Life in Christ doesn’t overcome this hopelessness. It doesn’t replace it with hope, trading one for the other. Rather, life in Christ baptizes hopelessness and then draws strength from it. It practices a rare kind of messianic hope that is rooted in futility and grows only in that bleak soil. [Read more…]

Fulfill All Righteousness

Out in the wilderness, John cries: repent! And so people come to be baptized. And then (surprise!) Jesus also answers John’s call.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. (Matthew 3:13-15)

Jesus fulfills all righteousness by ritually performing repentance even when he’s not culpable. He enacts a willingness to be responsible even when he’s not guilty. With this gesture of repentance, Jesus shoulders a responsibility that exceeds what can be demanded by the law or defined by guilt.

This is what love looks like.

It’s obvious, of course, that the law cannot be fulfilled by way of obedience because the end of the law is love. Only love can fulfill the law. And love, unlike obedience, can’t be demanded.

In this same way, it’s also obvious that only repentance can fulfill all righteousness—even if, repenting, one is not culpable. Love exercises responsibility beyond the bounds of culpability.

Jesus’ baptism exemplifies this Christian posture. Jesus is God revealed: life, penitent but guiltless.

No one repents more (or better) than God.

Christian life, individually and institutionally, looks the same. Christian life is repentance performed as a way of life—not as a gesture meant to assuage personal culpability, but as a kind of love that has put down the lawful burden of culpability to bear instead, with Jesus, that broader and deeper yoke of shared responsibility.

Weirdcore

The DestructivesAs a philosopher, as a theologian, and as a human being, I’m interested in a very specific set of problems. The tensions that interest me all intersect right here, in this brilliantly framed passage from Matthew De Abaitua’s seriously brilliant sci-fi novel The Destructives

The book’s protagonist, Theodore, is, among other things, a “weirdcore” addict and, in this passage, he describes his initial exposure to the drug:

He first took weirdcore just because it was there, another obstacle to traverse in the assault course of narcotic experimentation. The drug had been designed to combine the mood-leveling benefits of tranqs with the neurological novelty of tryptamines. The effects were profoundly different. The user does not comedown after a weirdcore shift. Comedown implies descent from a height. The user deepens. The weirdcore shift is from the depth of ordinary being, the familiar z axis of emotional states, memory and philosophical and moral abstractions, to an intoxicating shallowing. The user becomes an x axis of surface. Weirdcore flattened him and then joined him up to the surrounding surfaces; during the ritual, the scarring of his face was nothing more than the marks of a knife on a chopping board.

It was as if there was a level of consciousness in all things. A much shallower consciousness than attained by the human mind, but the capacity to experience existed nonetheless, not merely in animals and other living beings but in rivers and rocks. Weirdcore reduced the complexity of the user so that they existed on a comparable level to the dregs of all things.

[Read more…]

The Mirage of Self-Understanding

What if I’m wrong about myself? What if I’m wrong, in fundamental ways, about who and what I am? What if—beyond the limits of whatever kinds of willful self-deception surely warp my self-understanding—there are structural and perspectival constraints that simply prevent me from ever seeing enough of me to grasp myself accurately? Or, more, what if my own self-understanding is so irreparably local that, from a God’s-eye-view, it will never be more than a gross misrepresentation?

For my part, all of the above seems not only possible but practically inevitable.

I will have been wrong about myself.

But if I’m wrong about myself—even fundamentally wrong about myself—does this automatically mean that my life won’t have been worth living?

I think the answer to this is no. [Read more…]

Groundwork: An Other Testament II

AOTSpencer’s thesis in An Other Testament: On Typology is, like many powerful ideas, deceptively simple. “This book is about how the Book of Mormon teaches us to read the Book of Mormon” (xix).

The issue at stake here is a perennial bone of contention in Mormon Studies: how should the Book of Mormon be read? Answers vary according to discipline, audience, and temperament, but I’ve never seen anyone else do what Spencer suggests. I’ve never seen anyone else ask: okay, but what does the Book of Mormon itself say about how we should read the Book of Mormon?

I don’t want to spoil the book for you, but the answer is also easy to summarize (see the subtitle): the Book of Mormon teaches us to read the Book of Mormon typologically. [Read more…]

Groundwork: An Other Testament

AOTThe new edition of Joseph Spencer’s An Other Testament: On Typology is the second book to be published in our Maxwell Institute series Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture.

In addition to paperback and Kindle editions, An Other Testament is available for free on the Maxwell Institute Website for digital subscribers. Digital subscriptions are just $10 and also give subscribers access to all three of the Institute’s periodicals (Mormon Studies Review, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, and Studies in the Bible and Antiquity) and access to current and future volumes in the Proceedings of the Mormon Theology Seminar series.

I’ll address in more detail some of An Other Testament‘s content in future posts but to set the stage I’ve been given permission to reproduce here my own foreword to the book.

—————————————

This book is a plow—it breaks ground and its furrow is wide and deep. The future of Mormon studies will be shaped by what is planted in its wake.

Spencer’s field is the Book of Mormon and in order to get his plow to bite, he invents, de novo, his own genre of scholarship—a humbling, meticulous, polymathic blend of history, philosophy, literary analysis, biblical studies, and, above all, theological speculation. In this book, Spencer invents Mormon theology as a speculative, scriptural discipline. [Read more…]

Groundwork: Postponing Heaven III

PostponingHeaven-Front-200x300In Postponing Heaven, Jad Hatem argues that a new relation to time is one key feature of human messianicity. A second feature is anonymity.

The Three Nephites once walked among the Nephites, known and recognizable. But “in the centuries that followed Christ’s appearance to the Lehite remnant, wars multiplied, the revolt against God grew, and faith diminished such that ‘the Lord did take away his beloved disciples,’ the three Nephite disciples whose lives he had prolonged (Mormon 1:13; cf. Mormon 1:16)” (31).

Their work, however, didn’t simply come to an end. Rather, their ministry continues. But now they work in anonymity. As Hatem puts its:

the clandestineness of these Nephite pilgrims on the earth does not keep them from their ministry, nor does it prevent some of the faithful from meeting them. Both Mormon and Moroni report seeing them and receiving instructions from them (see 3 Nephi 28:26; Mormon 8:11). Nevertheless, they remain hidden because they remain anonymous. (31-32)

This anonymity is a critical dimension of life in Christ. Giving up our own names and, instead, taking upon us the name of Christ, Christian discipleship unfolds as the practice of anonymity. All Christians, as Christians, are anonymous. [Read more…]

Conference on Religious Experience

On 14 April, at Christ Church, Oxford, there will be a one-day conference devoted to exploring the character of religious existence, with particular emphasis on the experience of the sacred and the temporality of religious practices. The program:
9:15 – 9:30, Welcoming Remarks, James Faulconer (Brigham Young University)
9:30 – 10:45, Daniel Watts (University of Essex), ‘Kierkegaard, Repetition and Ethical Constancy’
11:00 – 12:15, Christina Gschwandtner (Fordham University), ‘From Fast to Feast: Temporality in the Liturgy’
12:30 – 2:00, Lunch Break
2:00 – 3:15, Mark Wrathall (University of California, Riverside): ‘Rescuing the Future from the Ordinary: Ruptured Time and the Experience of the Sacred’
3:30 – 4:45, Ward Blanton (University of Kent), ‘Paul’s kairos and Ours: Fragility, Faith, Solidarity’
5:00 – 6:15, Laurence Hemming (Lancaster University), ‘Should God Speak? – The Phenomenon of the Religious Voice’

Meetings will be at Christ Church, Oxford, on 14 April. They are open to all and free of charge, but registration is required. To register, please write to Britni Exton: Britni_Exton@byu.edu

Groundwork: Postponing Heaven II

PostponingHeaven-Front-200x300Postponing Heaven: The Three Nephites, the Bodhisattva, and the Mahdi is a study in what Jad Hatem calls “human messianicity.” Though it pays careful attention to the details of its source materials, Hatem isn’t interested, for instance, in the Book of Mormon for its own sake. He’s interested, instead, in what the Book of Mormon (and Mormonism itself) is about.

That is, Hatem is interested in Christ.

This, in a nutshell, is what makes his work a model for the future of much of Mormon Studies. In Hatem’s hands, the study of Mormonism isn’t about Mormonism; rather, the study of Mormonism is about Christ.

What does it mean to be Christ? What does it mean to be a Messiah? How might different messianic conceptions lead people to be situated differently—redemptively—in relation to their worlds?

More, what differences are made in the flesh? Not just in history or doctrine or philosophy, but in the bloody, existential meat of a present tense, fully embodied life?
[Read more…]

Groundwork: Postponing Heaven

PostponingHeaven-Front-200x300The first published book in our new Maxwell Institute series, Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture, is Jad Hatem’s Postponing Heaven: The Three Nephites, the Bodhisattva, and the Mahdi.

This book offers, in microcosm, a model for the future of Mormon Studies.

The book is written by an established scholar with an international reputation working in a foreign language who is not himself a Mormon, it is fundamentally comparative in nature, and, rather than attempting to adjudicate Mormon materials, it aims to deploy them. [Read more…]

Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture

Groundwork - BlocksJoseph Spencer and I are editing a new series of scholarly books for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship entitled Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture.

In line with the official description, the series will test the richness of scripture as grounds for contemporary thought and the relevance of theory to the task of reading scripture. By drawing on a broad range of academic disciplines—including philosophy, theology, literary theory, political theory, social theory, economics, and anthropology—Groundwork books offer a deeper understanding of Mormon scripture and contemporary theory alike.

Books in this series, while of interest to a popular Mormon audience, are pitched primarily as scholarly contributions in Mormon Studies. [Read more…]

CFP – Mormon Scholars in the Humanities 2016

MSH LogoMormon Scholars in the Humanities would like to invite you to participate in an upcoming conference, held at Utah Valley University, April 8–9, 2016.

We are all familiar with the various forms and modes of secularism today: a moderate form of secularism appears as the separation of church and state in order to guarantee fair opportunity and treatment for all individuals and groups, while a more aggressive secularism dismisses the claims of religion and the spiritual as unfounded and illegitimate.

Such secularisms have had far-reaching influences in modern society as they continue to influence and interact with both the humanities and the religious.

As Mormon Scholars in the Humanities, we are interested in exploring the various relations and contours that surface in the overlap between our fields, our faith, and the secularisms we encounter. We encourage those interested in these intersections to submit a proposal for our upcoming annual meeting. [Read more…]

Call for Applications: Summer Seminar in Mormon Theology

The Third Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology
“A Preparatory Redemption: Reading Alma 12–13”
Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California
June 1–June 15, 2016

Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar
in partnership with
The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

Seminar-Sunstone

In the summer of 2016, the Mormon Theology Seminar, in partnership with the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, will sponsor a seminar for graduate students and faculty devoted to reading Alma 12–13.

The seminar will be hosted by Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, from June 1 through June 15, 2016. Travel arrangements, housing, and a $1000 stipend will be provided for admitted participants. The seminar will be led by Adam Miller and Joseph Spencer, directors of the Mormon Theology Seminar, with assistance from Brian Hauglid, director of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies. [Read more…]

Mormon Philosophy and Theology Conference

The annual meeting of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology will take place this weekend (October 8-10) at Brigham Young University in Provo. The conference is free and open to the public. I’ve included the program below. See here for more info.

[Read more…]

Cain & Abel

East of Eden“I think this is the best-known story in the world because it’s everybody’s story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul. I’m feeling my way now—don’t jump on me if I’m not clear. The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears.

“I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for rejection, and with the crime guilt—and there is the story of mankind.

“I think that if rejection could be amputated, the human would not be what he is. Maybe there would be fewer crazy people. I am sure in myself there would not be many jails.

“It is all there—the start, the beginning. One child, refused the love he craves, kicks the cat and hides his secret guilt; and another steals so that money will make him loved; and a third conquers the world—and always the guilt and revenge and more guilt. The human is the only guilty animal.

“Now wait! Therefore I think this old and terrible story is important because it is a chart of the soul—the secret, rejected, guilty soul.”

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Romans 8 from “Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan”

Romans Front Cover (1)Gospel Doctrine lesson #36, “Beloved of God, Called to be Saints” is just around the corner. It’s the only lesson in the Sunday School manual dedicated to reading Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Today is the final day that my paraphrase of the letter, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan, will be on sale for just $.99. To round things out for this celebratory week, I’ve included below the whole of my rendition of Romans 8.

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Romans 8

Through Jesus, God has done what the law, on its own, could never do. Because the law was given for the sake of grace, only God’s grace can fulfill the law. It’s delusional to think that keeping the law—even keeping the law perfectly—could ever fulfill the law. The whole law points to Jesus.

So, God gave his own Son. He offered him up as a sacrifice. Jesus walked among us as flesh and blood and, as flesh, exposed the truth about sin and its abuse of the law. Extending God’s grace, Jesus made it possible for the law to be fulfilled. He made it possible for Spirit to manifest in our own weak flesh. Grace isn’t God’s backup plan in case we can’t keep the law. Grace was, from the beginning, the whole point of the law and the only way to fulfill it. [Read more…]

Excerpt from “Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan”

Romans Front Cover (1)Gospel Doctrine lesson #36, “Beloved of God, Called to be Saints” is coming up. It’s the only lesson in the Sunday School manual dedicated to reading Paul’s letter to the Romans.

To celebrate, my paraphrase of the letter, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan, will be on sale for just $.99 for the next week (September 4-11) and I’m including the whole of my rendition of Romans 7 below. Enjoy!

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Romans 7

Say you were born an insider and lived under the law. Still, the law only binds the living. Once you’re dead, you’ve left its jurisdiction.

A married woman is bound to her husband only as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, that law no longer applies. She’s free to remarry. If she cheats on him while the law’s in force, that’s adultery. But if death intervenes, she’s free to love again. It’s the same for you. You died to the law when you died with Jesus. But now, raised with Jesus, you belong to another. You’re rooted in the love that caused you to bear fruit for God.

In your old life, your passions and flesh were hijacked by sin and enflamed by the law. Abetted by the law, sin sowed death in your flesh. It blunted your mind, it dulled your senses, it hardened your heart. But now, rescued, you’re beyond the reach of the law. Before, you were a slave to sin; now, you’re bound to God. No longer enslaved to death by the law, you’re sealed to life by the Spirit. [Read more…]

Wandering Celebrity

infinite_jestIn Farther Away, Jonathan Franzen warns against the temptation to treat David Foster Wallace as some brand of postmodern saint, wrecked and hallowed by his mental illness. He argues that “the people who knew David least well are most likely to speak of him in saintly terms” (39). Perhaps inevitably a compensatory impulse to hagiography followed Wallace’s suicide. This effect, Franzen thinks, may even have been part of what Wallace blackly intended.

“But if you happened to know that his actual character was more complex and dubious than he was getting credit for, and if you also knew that he was more lovable—funnier, sillier, needier, more poignantly at war with his demons, more lost, more childishly transparent in his lies and inconsistencies—than the benignant and morally clairvoyant artist/saint that had been made of him, it was still hard not to feel wounded by the part of him that had chosen the adulation of strangers over the love of the people closest to him.” (38-39)

This may be true and Franzen’s pain is surely genuine. But it’s also hard not to hear something self-serving in his pitch. Wallace wasn’t just a friend, he was Franzen’s literary competition. Franzen will always bear the burden of being compared to Wallace and Wallace’s suicide, he indicates, has not only wounded him personally but rigged their game professionally. How can he compete with Saint David? Pushing back against Wallace’s posthumous image, Franzen aims to reclaim some control of his own celebrity. [Read more…]