Considering Books

Several weeks ago, in passing, I read an on-line post wherein a friend of mine mentioned they had gotten rid of their theological library. This person, at one time an active teacher and writer in the field, had for assorted reasons, moved on. I imagine, he, like myself, would wander into the room where books lay dormant on shelves and think to himself, “what am I ever going to do with all these books? At one time they mattered, but now, they sit idle, seemingly mocking me with each passing glance.”

Of course, I cannot speak for him; I can only speak for myself. I confess I have projected a little here, but his post began my pondering of the same question, “Why do I have this library? What purpose does it serve? If I am not chiefly making money through its use, then why allow it to take up room in my house?”

My library and I have a love-hate relationship. My love affair with books began in college, when I was 18. Prior to my freshman year, I had been a genuine product of public education and had managed to read less than 5 books, in their entirety, by the time I entered the university. To say that the University was a baptism by fire…was an understatement. I had literally gone from a place where I could get by without reading, to a place in which not reading would prove disastrous (and not to mention lead to a profound waste of money).

I recall a class I took in the Spring of 2000, titled “Biblical Exegesis.” Prior to this class I had read only 2 novels cover to cover and one of them I had read in the 6th grade. My record with books and reading was dismal. I came from a home that didn’t discourage reading, but certainly didn’t encourage it. My parents had no book shelves or books, the Bible withstanding. I say that not to disparage my home, but to say that books were foreign objects to my parents who were concerned with the practicalities of everyday life.

As a fledging theology student, I stridently walked into this class desiring to learn but not yet exposed to the manner of learning. The course had its usual introductory fare: greetings, syllabus review, brief lecture and assignments for the dearly departing (or so I felt). Our first assignment was to read Chaim Potok’s novel The Promise, in its entirety, and write a 6-8 page response to the book…ALL IN 1 WEEK! I had only read 1 book completely through in the last 6 years and now, in less than 7 days, I had to read an entire adult novel AND write a 2000-word response.

Baptism by fire.

At the time, I did not appreciate the method, but looking back, I am thankful for the results because this class is where I learned to love books. The class taught me to read, taught me to engage, taught me to passionately strive with texts, both biblical and secular. In sum, it was the class where I began to learn to think and it started with this book, placed into my hands, by one of my dearest teachers who has subsequently become one of my dearest friends in the many years since Spring 2000.

From Biblical Exegesis came many more classes and many more books. At first, my library grew as anyone else’s: composed of texts used in classes, proverbial Deuteronomic stones set on my shelves to remind me of the waters we had crossed together. Slowly a strange thing began to transpire, I began to buy books out of will, out of a desire to learn, to engage, to have my worldview expanded with information and imagination. I was no longer the person that bought “what I had to for class,” as I became the person that bought books for the love of reading, the love of learning.

My library grew to mainly include books on theology, philosophy and biblical studies. When I entered seminary, my library began to shift and I began acquiring texts on economics, linguistics, psychology and sexuality…as well as continuing to purchase texts in the prior areas. As I matured, I began to appreciate the role of fiction and history, and so my library grew to include these sorts of texts. Now, my library includes a healthy array of books across all these categories, and while it is not as prolific as many who have taught me, my humble library can boast a thousand or so texts, maybe more.

This library, however, has not become what I thought it would when its collection began. It has not been utilized as I thought it would. I have 2 degrees: a BA in Religion and an MDiv with a focus on academic research. I am not a fulltime pastor (though I am ordained) and I am not a full-time teacher (though I am published in a few places and enrolled in a DMin program). I do not use my library to wield my trade, at least the trade that supports my family. For many years I have balanced church freelance work with secular part time work. The goal was to eventually be one who trades in intellectual property and shapes minds or one who stands in a pulpit and shapes lives…yet I do not do either of these in the way that is conventionally accepted. My library was built with this intention, yet this library is not used in this way.

As my friend rid himself of his theological library, I too have thought of ridding myself of mine. I get it; I understand what it is to stare at something that seems to be holding you back even while at one time it was symbolic of that which propelled you forward.

As life has taken me to this place, I have struggled with what to do with these books that have at various time acted as an albatross slung about my neck. My books have challenged me, pressed me and comforted me. Equally, however, they have made me angry, their very presence a reminder that I am not “where I should be.” They have been symbolic of an occupation not fulfilled or of a passion unrealized.

Since 2015 I have taken liberty to rid myself of some books. In fits of frustration I have decided that some of these books are of no “use” to me so I have expunged them. Truthfully, this was an act of despair and simultaneously an act of logistics: I needed more space and some of these books were simply taking up space. While the process of ridding myself of books may have been instigated through depression, the result has been a little more space (that I have probably already filled with more books).

Those who know me well can most likely not divorce me from books, or at least not divorce me from the learning process associated with books. Books, and the wise people who placed them in my hands, turned the lazy teenager who had never read anything into a man that has matured because of what he has encountered in the thoughts and words of others. Books have been that which lay battle to the atrophy of mind that our culture so easily thrusts upon us.

Considering books, I often consider my own. I wonder why I keep so many. I wonder what purpose they serve.

My day is filled with running a business, communicating with clients and employees, paying bills and organizing marketing. My day is filled with being a PR and HR representative, engaging our community, helping organize our office and offering supervisory support to our several locations that often involves driving 300 miles round trip multiple times a week. I am busy with the practicality of a secular job and do not have time for the trivialities of theories published in pages that most of the world has already forgotten or the conjecture of a theologian who apparently has nothing better to do with their time than ponder what God knew and when did God know it. Life doesn’t afford me the luxury of determining whether God is so powerful as to even be able to create a rock that even God could not pick up.

So, I consider books and I wonder why I keep so many. I wonder their role and their use. I do use some of my books but there are others that will rarely be used again. In this regard I imagine my library is not so much unlike the library of others: landmarks of studies done, concerns resolved, classes developed.

Why, if these texts are not a means to an economic end, do I keep them around? Why can I not, like my friend, rid myself of them?

The answer is simple: their presence keeps me humble, but it also keeps me hungry.

It keeps me humble because they are a constant reminder of how small I am, how finite my intellect is, and how unrealistic it is to think I can know everything of anything. I am reminded of how provisional most of my knowledge truly is as my ideas and opinions could never begin to usurp the sheer mountain of text that a library represents. Whenever I bemoan my inability to read all I want or know all I desire, my library represents my inability to do so and it humbles me, enabling me to give thanks for what I am able to do, be, and know, even while I recognize there is a world of knowledge that will always lay beyond my grasp.

It keeps me hungry because even as I am confronted with my liminality I am also driven to overcome it. Books are an endless quest that contain endless worlds that are only a page away. Books are the key to knowledge, knowledge to power, power to influence, and influence to persuasion. If I am to be a person of persuasion that can influence the world, and others, for good then that process begins with reading and being informed; it begins with speech and speech is rehearsed in texts. Books keep me hungry because their presence keeps me from settling even when settling is exactly what I want to do.

If I live I am a person who is being shaped, who is hopefully growing, maturing, and living into the calling of my life…and books remind me that life is not done with me even though at times I feel down with it.

Books have kept me mentally spry, witty, well informed, imaginative, engaged, and not to mention drastically improving my vocabulary through these last 18 years.  Were it not for books, my writing would be akin to the musings of a dim-witted fool (though I do not object that could still be the case). Books are not only interesting but the most interesting people in my life are those who have also wrapped themselves in a world of books (the Good Book as well).

But this is not the whole. Books do keep me humble and they do make me hungry, but there is more: I want my children to see a house full of books.

In an age of glowing screens, I want my children to see their father read; I want them to come by and ask me questions about a book I have been pouring over or walk past a shelf and wonder what “theology” is or who “Slavoj Zizek” was. As they grow up and begin to ask big questions about history, science, faith, love, and the ultimate meaning of it all, I want them to have resources to engage and explore. I want my house to be a house of inquiry. Though I may never pick up some of these books for study again, their presence marks a place I once traveled and it offers a path by which anyone who lives under my roof can follow when they begin to wrestle with the sorts of questions that keeps us humans up at night…and that wake us up in the morning.

Thus, I cannot act as my friend, and rid myself of these things. I must keep them here and there, as reminders of a life I have lived, and of a life that continues to call me even though, at times, I’d rather not listen.

Considering books…I often consider reducing them to capitalist instruments, set to be burned if they do not contribute to my bank account. Then, however, I reconsider, and I wonder where my life would be and how weak my mind would have become, if I had not had such tragically inspiring codices in my house all these years.

Why You should Love Antiquarian Books

old book image
A prerequisite to loving old books is, of course, an enjoyment for reading. One can appreciate old books, collect old books, and admire the architecture of their spines and ornate cover designs without reading. But this is to love the value of the books or their aesthetic appeal. This is not the same as loving old books. It is not to get caught in the life of the old book itself, to look upon this simple object with words and covers and feel something more than an object of value.

I have discovered that I am book addict. I like books. I buy them. But there is something about an old text, an antique text, that has a whole other appeal to me than the latest modern novel or the latest academic musings.

As I hold an old book I realize a few things.

First, the life of the author rushes through my mind.

I imagine a person that prior to modern distractions poured their shade and energy into this text. Someone who by a dimly lit light, or perhaps even a candle, pen in hand, quarreling with their imaginations how to speak what cannot be spoken. How this pre-post-modern person toiled with their ultimate concern and endowed their characters or their topic with the same passion that occasioned this act of creation at the beginning. Books are pieces of people with dreams, hopes and aspirations. The text is the collision of the author and their context…the latter of which is usually lost on us and the former of which we think to be mechanical.

An example is a recent antique book I bought by Mary Johnston. Her two volume civil war historical fiction, “The Long Roll,” & “Ceasing Fire,” (ca. 1911 & 1912) are fictional attempts to honor and boldly imagine the Confederate struggle from within a Confederate sympathy a generation after the conflict.  Long before the genre of war fiction took hold, Mary Johnston was trailblazing a new way of writing fiction inside history, a bold attempt to give historical figures an additional life.

But what makes Mary so alluring to me as I hold her books is that she was the daughter of Confederate General Joseph Johnston, the last General to make a stand against Sherman in Resaca, Ga, May 1864. Here is the child of a man that made history and was part of the deepest and darkest conflict in our nation. Here is a woman born in the South during Reconstruction, her life animated by the stories her father told her, feelings that have not yet healed from the conflict. Here is a woman that probably still shared the lost dreams, lost hopes, and lost loves of a lost cause. When I hold her book I wonder what was she thinking, why choose this scene, what she felt as she recounted these memories and stories and did she cry as she began to blend history with fiction. Was her book the process of writing her dream and justifying her affections? Were these books exploding inside her or were the words like removing the sword from Kings Arthurs stone?

The thing about old books is that they are written by old people, people now dead but who were once living…people like us. So when I see an old book, I think about the author and I ask, “what was this life that thought writing these words were worth the time, energy and sacrifice?” “What passion is here that I cannot see yet I need to feel?”

Second, I like old books because I don’t imagine we know more than their authors.

One of the most efficient lies of the Enlightenment is that of progress.

The general public thinking they have progressed past the opinions and ideas contained in these old dusty pages. Whole worldviews and animations have been lost because we are so confident that our perspective on history is the correct one. We rarely consult antique books for anything more than mantle decorations when within them one might find that our ideas are not nearly so novel. We think their opinions or stories to be irrelevant on history and we formulate our historical, fictional, scientific, or whatever opinion, absent the people who actually lived and wrote about it as it was happening.

We forget the wise words of Ecclesiastes, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

And this generality extends to fiction as well.

As any great author will tell you, fiction is always contextual, erected from a world of events that make the fiction pertinent. To read fiction as if it is created in a vacuum is to misread it and to think we generate thoughts blindly.

As George Orwell explains in his little monograph Why I Write, “Above all it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time…Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it, and this side of the grave you will never get away from the marks it has given you.”

The context of this passage is the influence of Wells’ Englishness on his work and its interaction with the world. But his point is noted: our writing is always a writing of civilization and generally the really well written fiction is always about imaginatively encountering a non-fictive problem with characters and words that are able to take the heat of criticism and enter places the author would never be able to venture.

Writings is always time-full.

Thus, time would fail us to imagine all the idiots that have commented on Evolution and never actually read Darwin or considered his context!

Time would fail us to recount all the idiot politicians that have never read a stitch of political theory such as Rousseau, Locke or Hobbes, let alone actually read American founding Fathers that read them such as Jefferson and Franklin

Time would fail to note how much anti-southern sentiment has been forged apart from reading any Southern literature from the 1840s-1880’s!

Time would fail to recount all the people that love to invoke Shakespeare because it makes them sound smart yet they have never thought deeply about any play he wrote!

And herein lays the problem: our opinions are often baseless because they are without history, fictive, non-fictive or otherwise. We have our opinions and they are informed by nothing but ourselves…as if our ideas born when they are necessarily implies they are forward progress.

But we should not be relegated to ahistorical opinions because we have old books that allow us to position ourselves historically. Old books contain sentiments against, and within which, we are able to position ourselves and participate with those that have lived and died. We are able to partake of their wisdom, read the words of lives less busy but far more passionate, and imagine a world in which entertainment, education and imagination blend together in indistinguishable ways.

Thirdly, I imagine all the people that have held the book I now I hold.

As I sit among dusty books, many of which as old as my great grandparents x5, I imagine all the hands that have sat on porches or in libraries and held this very book. I imagine why they would bother. What had the hands experienced before or after reading this that would make this book worth their time?

On a daily basis many of us are removed from the dead, they are still and alone in their graves on the outcroppings of hills we have long forgotten. Yet when I hold a book published in 1870 I am instantly in connection with someone that is no longer with us.

My hands are turning the same pages. I am holding the same covers…I am perhaps even placing my fingers in the same places on the same pages as someone who is now deceased but has come to this book for a reason, a reason that might not be dissimilar to mine. I read this old text, write and talk about it with my friends. Perhaps those who owned this book long before me did the same.

Old books are symbols of dead people, writers from which they originated and owners who can no longer hold them because they are no longer physically present.

It is this piece of people and the invisible mark they leave behind that enthralls me, captures me and churns my mind. In an eerie way I feel as if the people I will never know I now instantly know because I have shared history with them…we have shared this book. And long after I am dead someone will share this book with me even if they do not realize it.

Fourth, the smell of old books is the smell of paper that has lived.

There is nothing like walking into a room filled with books, the smell of time bursting through your senses. To stare up at the stacks of time that are lost, yet found, preserved yet forgotten, is as close as we get to an incarnate representation of human creativity. Ancient civilizations have built monuments and stones that are still reminders of their creativity, but these are now giving way to weather and time.

But words…words cannot be destroyed.

They can be torn from their sentences but they cannot be lost. They will always find their way back home no matter how much fire is heaped on the pages that contain them. Roman arches may have fallen and Greek Temples may be decimated, but the words of Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Plato and Marcus Aurelius still live.

Taking an old book into your hands, opening it up and shuffling its pages produces that distinctly old book smell…the smell of time, of aged paper, of ideas inviting you to pause and consider that the smell can take you somewhere.

Old books have lived.

They have been carried through heartbreak. They have been secured in backpacks during wartime. They have been the relief of troubled souls wandering the four corners of the earth. They have been expressions of joy and inspiration for their readers. They have slid around on the floor board of old carriages or sat in the window sills of widows who have lost their loves. They have been hid under old saloon counters waiting to be read by bartenders at the end of the night. They have even been carried by prostitutes and read after a long nights work, feeding the imaginative and intellectual need of a woman or man that had been trapped in this dark industry, the participants of which are now all dead.

Books have lived.

They have been carried by people into countless places, read for a plethora of reasons and now they are still here, speaking to us, as we hold them in the same way as history has always held them since their inception from the press.

So, I confess again, I love old books.

As I hold an old book, I hold poetry that can never be held. I hear dreams that were once only seen. I sympathize with the author and envision them standing beside me. I weep for their loss, share in their joys and continue to toil over the problems their book addresses…and I wonder how many eyes have seen these words in these very pages…stared at them like me…and wonder how much of their soul soaked up these words.

The warmth of hands that held these books long before I was here is still present…and I wonder if hands in the future will feel the warmth of my own imprint on these very books.

Go and Sin…Bravely

sin bravely text

As I prepared for seminary after finishing my bachelor’s degree, a well-respected and articulate professor of mine said, “Go to seminary, study hard, but have fun. Theology is pointless if you’re not having fun.” I’d like to think what I have done since then has been a quest in having fun…and reading Sin Bravely has certainly been an extension, and affirmation, of all the fun being Christian is supposed to be.

It’s not the typical fare I read, or discuss here at ParanormalChrist, but an excursus of theological fun is in order in case you think what I do here usually sucks.

So if you’re not having fun, please stop, put down your Christianity and find the one that is fun.

In a life plagued by interesting the mixture of classic American Liberalism and Puritan anthropological expressions of the Self, this small text goes to the heart of what happens when we turn our faith and our religion inward rather than outward: We become cowardly sinners who think our faith is FOR us and to support OUR worldviews as the INTENTION of God.

Funny how God always thinks like us isn’t it?

The title is catchy, and is in fact why I picked it up, “Sin Bravely,” but the text is not a book that promotes a life that is free from societal obligations nor does it reject personal behavior that is founded in the Gospel of Jesus called the Christ.

The text is, rather, a call to have fun in life, to have fun being a Christian, to have fun engaging our lives as brave sinners…because that is in fact all we are: Sinners saved by grace. Note that Paul does not use a past tense in the Greek there.

To those with holiness tradition sensibilities (i.e., most Wesleyan and American Holiness traditions) this may come as a surprise. At least it did for me, but Ellingsen was a trusty guide through those Augustinian/Lutheran forests.  Historically, Augustine won the debate on defining sin, but in these traditions Pelagius has really taken center stage. Even the late Dr. Bill Greathouse (a renowned theologian and leader in the Church of the Nazarene) quipped after a General Assembly to a colleague, as he was laughing, “we’re all just a bunch of Pelagians,” and this comment after a debate on the floor following how the denomination was to define sin in its articles of faith.

Ellingson is trying to free us from that moral certitude, or overly humanistic perspective, that is touted by folks like Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren or the similarly related prosperity preacher Joel Osteen (that which is the result of misapplying historical figures such as Jacob Arminius, John Wesley or even the Apostle Paul for that matter).

These authors, along with strong currents of American ideology, promote a “do it yourself” Christianity that seems to equate purpose with a focus upon the self (even though they profess such is not the case). Jesus is to be followed because he enables you to be a better you…though I don’t recall reading this in the Gospels. I digress. Warren, Osteen and their entourage, equate ones success with ones efforts…efforts that can overcome our humanity and align ourselves with God’s “purpose” which somehow also looks like the vision of the world offered via the American Dream.

This is good, and commendable to a degree, but the problem arises when the “steps” are followed and the “purpose” discovered…and we continue to look more American in our materiality and philosophies and less Christian all the while. It’s hard to be prophetic when you’re not really being prophetic…go figure.

In other words, the vision offered in the Purpose Driven model is one that looks like a success story within the American Dream.  The only thing that makes it different is that it is peppered with Jesus…not to mention all this talk of purpose is still talk directed upon ourselves, for ourselves.

The goal becomes the self and its actualization. Christianity and Jesus are just the vehicles by which we actualize ourselves. This doesn’t really sound a whole lot like the words of one who said, “unless you pick up your cross and follow me.”

And this is where “Brave Sinning” takes center stage.

Ellingsen is writing from a Reformed theological perspective, Lutheran to be exact, and he is following Luther’s Augustinian theology of concupiscent desire to discuss sin as not only those things that people do by omission or commission, but all our activities by which our self is the goal, the end, of the action.

And not only are our actions selfish, but even the act of faith and religious expression since being religious (having faith) is something we do for the self…as something that is self-ish…self-centered…so to it is sin. Even reading this review, or stopping to read this review, is an act of self-decision for self-benefit…and hence marred in the sin of selfishness.

This is what Luther and Augustine mean by those bound by sin, Luther’s idea of being simultaneously sinner and justified. It is not an idea hatched in Calvinist Hell as some would observe; it is, rather, the idea that at any point wherein the self is the driving force of the action the action is sinful.

Thus, sin is ever present because our egos always play a role in our decisions. We cannot escape our condition…or as the writer of Ecclesiastes is apt to note, “there is not one righteous, no not one.” Whether it be helping someone pray, writing a sermon, giving to the poor, asking God for forgiveness, mowing our yard, being kind to our spouses, being an awesome teacher to students etc., etc., all these actions have benefits for the self and were the self not benefited in some way than most of us would not do them.

This is what separates us from Christ:  Christ partook in action for the gain of nothing…as humans we do not know how to do that.

Even the act of confession is a sinful act whereby we are confessing our sins to save our “souls” from hell…and in the holiness traditions that speak of sanctification the goal is really a negation of the self in order to find the “real” spiritual self.  Hence even this pious theological idea of purity is still an act of spiritual actualization that is not selfless…in fact it is totally centered on the self.

And that is a profound theological trick: to convince people we are not interested in the self only to really preach a gospel that makes us better selves, feeling better about ourselves and creating a path whereby the self we hate becomes the self we can love.

Thus, Elingsen writes to inform us that once we realize we are all sinners to the core, selfish ego-centric beings, we can then be free to sin bravely.

We can bravely help the poor, preach the Gospel, petition for peace, give to others, bury the dead,  marry the happy,  help a child with their homework., etc., because we know that we do these things as people who are not pure in our intentions but who do them as sinners and do them so that God can turn our actions into something greater than our motives, no matter how pure we think them to be.


In other words, we do them as sinners saved by grace in thought and practice, not as people who do them thinking we are worthy because of our holy intentions. Once we are released from the idea of purity in motive and act, we are then free to sin bravely, courageously, and to embody a Gospel that is authentic and honest…and one that is much more fun than a list of Puritan rules whereby we are the author and sustainer of our faith via our actions that “keep” us “right” with God.

Ellingsen reminds us of the words of Augustine, “love God and do what you will.”

A heart turned toward God will love God through its actions, yet it will do it lost in the space of God’s grace and not beholden to an ideal of purpose and prosperity that remains focused on the self rather than focused on the God wherein the self is to reside. A perpetual quest for self, whether secular or religious, leads to a fragmented society of fragmented people…that take themselves too seriously and get caught up in their own importance as they pursue themselves.

But a life that is committed to brave sinning will face the world in hope and freedom. Hope in the Christ that has made us more than we could ever be and free to be ourselves as those that engage in the playful realities of life that we like to call business, and God just calls playtime.

I leave you with the words of Ellingsen

“So Sin Bravely! But believe and rejoice in Christ even more bravely…as long as we live here in this world we will have to sin, but no sin will separate us from Christ. Have fun, too!”

Christianity and Capitalism: The Enigma of Capital

Protests at Zuccotti Park

Protests at Zuccotti Park

A Small Explanation

This review is forthcoming in the next Review and Expositor Theological Journal. The theme of the Spring 2013 issue is “Christianity and Economics” and it is largely the product of a series of papers presented by myself and a host of other academic and pastoral colleagues at last years LeftForum @ Pace University in New York City.

The end of 2011 was characterized by a great upheaval and public response to unchecked capitalism across the globe, particularly as the meltdown known as the Great Recession continued to have lingering effects. Images of Zuccotti Park and Occupy protests arose over night as it was becoming more and more clear that nation States and big money had disclosed the real nature of their corrupt union via bailouts and the mystical creation of excess liquidity.

Into this vacuum of despair emerged a number of grassroots and academic responses.

Indeed, the very grassroots Occupy movement was not the work of the proletariat; it was the brain child of professors of anthropology that were able to organize this resistance to a system that has become too big for anyone to stop. Too often, however, the literary and media aspects of the resistance and cultural critique were from the far left intellgentisa. This, and unfairly so, allowed too many folks across various political and religious persuasions to dismiss these events as fringe movements of the Left that were simply trying to usurp societal order and restore the ever feared “S” word: SOCIALISM. Elitist, agnostic leftist and progressive academics and activists were the ones loudly critiquing the many hallmarks of capitalism. Secular culture was engaging and judging itself, while the church and theologians stood idly on the sidelines not wishing to engage this very material problem. While some of our pastoral colleagues in New York were leading marches carrying the golden bull of Wall Street, images that reminded us all of a similar biblical incident involving another golden bull, other pastors were left lost in the gaze of capital and speechless as to how the Christ event might actually become suddenly very practical.

Into this context, my colleagues and I considered it a worthy endeavor to go the scene of the Protests, New York, and to ask in what ways might Christianity challenge the systemic evil of our current economic forms of exchange and how might we communicate this to a population that largely sees Christianity complicit in the conservative neo-liberal economic agenda?

To this end, we were the only group of Christian pastors and theologians that presented papers at last years LeftForum, a conference that had nearly 400 various presentations and speaking engagements. We were the group that refused to allow post-metaphysical thinking to drive the agenda of critiquing the systemic economic ills plaguing us all. While our leftist colleagues were all around us invoking the names of Trotsky, Marx, Luxemburg, Lenin, etc., we were invoking Christian hyperbole, Hebrew Bible social justice texts, Continental Christian theology and even the likes of the most evangelical of them all, John Wesley.

We were challenging the assumption that in order for one to offer an alternative to the unchecked flow of capital and the eschatological dead end of accumulation, one must also abandon Christianity and theological reflection. In fact, as will be argued in some our essays for the upcoming journal, one is not able to stand with the 99% if there is an a priori dismissal of one of the single largest components that the 99% use to navigate the world and make sense of their existence: faith/religion.

We partook in the project with the firm belief and resolve that if we will but only listen to the voices of the Christian past and present, we will find a wealth of resources that will not only call the evil of our present capitalist driven society to the floor, but it will also refuse to let Christian theology and praxis be co-opted by ideological forces that try to confuse their democratic or republican agenda with Christianity. This has gone on too long and it must stop.

To this end, along with various articles that will propose a revolutionary core of Christian theo-economic discourse, several reviews will be contained in this journal that reflect Christian pastors and theologians engaging in texts that are primarily economic in nature. The purpose is to embody how theology and economics might begin a dialogue that is being sorely neglected by much of the church. People of faith should not be disinterested in these matters, for the very folks to which ministry is offered are the ones who are living this economic hell that seems to hang over us like a never ending purgatory.

Thus, this review of David Harvey’s Enigma of Capital is another aspect of engaging Christianity with contemporary economic theory and making resolute our claim that Christianity is not something that is passe or irrelevant during this time of economic change; indeed, it is pivotal if we are to engage cultural phenomena and respond in holistic ways that are not only healthy and economically viable but also comprehensively salvific.



Professor Harvey’s book is a passionate Marxist analysis of the current economic meltdown and a review of how libertine capitalism has created the current wreckage. His thesis: capital flow is a system of exchange that is built upon inherent contradictions and fabrications that will organically create more crises than solutions.

He notes that various capitalist crises have been recurring with ever greater frequency since the 1970’s (the emergence of credit) and that this most recent Great Recession is simply a foretaste to the destabilizing of systemic neo-liberal economics that cannot continue ad infinitum under the weight of its own means of production and expectation of a compounded 3% growth. This is why Dr. Harvey calls the recent economic calamity a crisis; it is the rationalization of the irrationality of continual capital accumulation and capital flow.

While economists and politicians the world over are replete with reasons for the current financial crises, Harvey summarizes the issue with a simple definition of capital early in his text. Upon rehearsing the latest “Disruption,” writing one of the most concise synopses of the recent global meltdown and its many domino effects, Harvey presents to us the central concern of his text: Capital flow. He writes, “Capital is not a thing but a process in which money is perpetually sent in search of more money.” This central idea for Harvey’s work demonstrates how this perpetual search is the enigmatic instigator of capitalist crises.

This is the problem with capital: its goal is itself. Capital is a means of creating surplus (profit) relative to the cost and value of services or products produced. This surplus of production, known as capital, has to find newer places of expansion so that continued production and surplus can be absorbed in the market that would allow the process to continue unabated.

Capital, however, is beginning to encounter obstacles that disrupt this flow. Capitals relationship to labor, nature, the lack of new markets into which capital may expand, and excess liquidity to pacify the capitalist symptom are just a few of those obstacles. When this happens, economic crises emerge. Crises disclose the unstable logic of capital, and thereby create the potential for newer systems of exchange that might prevent future occurrences. As Harvey notes, “Crises are moments of paradox and possibility out of which all manner of alternatives, including socialist and anti-capitalist ones, can spring.” Ironically, capital ends up creating an environment in which its own future is questionable.

The coherence of Harvey’s argument is very structured and easy to follow. The text has eight chapters, but it can easily be divided into two sections. Section I (chapters 1-5) is the description of the global meltdown, along with the definition, character and polyvalent functions of capital. This section is a rigorous dialogue with Marxist theory and a scolding critique of neoliberal economic theory that has been embraced by most modern Western nation states.

Section II (chapters 6-8) offers a description of how the natural breakdown of capital affected the entire globe and how the endless accumulation of capital is reshaping many different environments into a form of “second nature” that could have catastrophic consequences. Concluding this section, Harvey offers his own resolutions to the crises capitalism that will certainly challenge his readers.

Overall, Harvey’s text is a good balance between common public prose and an academic analysis of capital. It is a text that can be approached by laymen of economic theory, yet also offer challenges for those of a more academic persuasion. While Harvey is clearly writing from the Left of the economic and political spectrum, his writing is very balanced and he often does a good job of swaying away from ideological quagmires that would distract his audience from his argument. Even though his solutions seem ultra-liberal and utopian, and these admittedly so, the genealogy of capital that he traces leaves little choice to continue down the same unambiguous path.

As an augment to this journal, it should be noted that pastors, theologians and ministers should be reading this material. Economic despair and imbalance is going to be one of the major challenges of the coming decades and the church needs to be informed. Harvey is describing the economic reality of those to whom we minister. If the church continues to be a handmaiden to particular political ideologies then it will continue to be speechless in the marketplace of discourse. Yet, if one is convinced that Christian theology can narrate a different world and is creative enough to offer an alternative reality to the dismal picture of conservative and liberal polarities, then just maybe our eschatology can be begin to take on the shape of Christ and refuse the shape of capital.

Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

Front Cover of Book

Front Cover of Book

On occassion I will also post reviews to ParanormalChrist…Here is the first of many installments.  This is a book review I wrote  and was published in Review and Expositor: A Baptist Consortium Theological Journal over James Dunn’s little monograph, “Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?”   This an edited and amended version so as to make my points, and the text, more clear.  I hope you enjoy this debate about First Century Christianity and New Testament.  But even more, I hope it deepens your faith and creates a passion for critical inquiry into the paranormal reality of the Christ.*

Here is a question that very few Christians ever get around to asking, “Did the first Christians worship Jesus?”  This may seem like a strange question upon many eyes and ears, yet it is one that has a diverse witness across the New Testament.  Jesus did not worship himself nor did he ever promote himself as an object of worship.  So at what point did the Christian church quit proclaiming the proclamation of Jesus, i.e., the “Kingdom of God” and start proclaiming, “Jesus is God so let’s worship him”? At what point did worship shift from being directed to the God of Jesus (as even Jesus taught), to worshipping Jesus as God?  What was the historical transition?  What was the role of Jesus in early Christian worship and how was devotion to Jesus understood in the very fluid context of the first century?  To these questions, James D. G. Dunn, attempts to provide some clarity using a text that is most near and dear to many practicing Christians: the New Testament.

In so doing, Dunn, who is a Pauline scholar by trade, resumes his recent scholarly forays into the tradition of Jesus in this fascinating discussion of early Jesus devotion.  Dunn has written extensively on the theology of Paul and early Christianity, proving himself to be well qualified for the delicate task of handling the content of Christian dogma.  As an addendum to his larger works, Jesus Remembered and Beginning from Jerusalem, Dunn is here focusing his attention directly to the topic of the worship of Jesus within the context of early Christian monotheistic convictions; the issues are many, and the questions difficult, but the result is a brief text with great implications for those who are not deterred by the very provocative title.

On the surface it would appear that the tradition of Jesus as God, and as an object of worship, would be the presumption of the New Testament authors, yet such is not necessarily the case.  Dunn asks at the outset, “Would Jesus himself have welcomed his being confessed as equal with God?”  In other words, did Jesus want to be worshiped?  He continues, “The way to an answer may be more difficult or challenging than at first appeared, and the answer to the question may be less straightforward than we like.”  Indeed, as Dunn will point out, an objective look at the New Testament is not uniform on this question and pluralistic approaches to Jesus devotion is the only singularity in this sacred text on Jesus.

In searching for an answer to the problem of Jesus devotion, Dunn structures his text around the topic of worship within the context of monotheistic belief.  If one is to understand whether or not Jesus was worshiped  one should first understand the various rubrics of worship within the first century.  So Dunn explores the idea of Jesus being worshiped by studying the means, and objects, through which early Christians worshipped.  Thus, the four chapters of the book are formed by Dunn’s understanding of what constitutes essential worship, and theistic persuasions, within the canonical witness of both Old and New Testaments.

First, he defines what worship is and secondly moves on to discuss the practices and sacred places of worship.  Thirdly, he explores the question of to whom worship was given or directed.  The final chapter examines the role of Jesus within these three areas of worship and explores in brief detail the New Testament witness on the matter. He concludes with a summary of the entire text and his findings.

A strength of Dunn’s investigation is his attempt to not only engage the New Testament text and its diverse witness on this subject, but it’s attempt to engage the text while maintaining constant dialogue with two of his theological contemporaries and New Testament authorities Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham.  Both of these scholars have also recently published monumental works on early Christianity and the tradition of Jesus.  The personal interaction between these three scholars proves as the larger academic conversation from which Dunn is working.  Through constant conversation with the New Testament, and his colleagues, Dunn notes areas of weakness and strengths across their various positions, offering an alternative approach to their conclusions when necessary.  At every turn, however, Dunn is gracious, even in disagreement

An unexpected strength of the text is Dunn’s erudite handling of orthodoxy and the history of early Church dogma.  He is comfortable using the Greek metaphysical language of the councils and offers insight into how these ancient formulations may cause more confusion than clarity.   He is aware that his results will have implications for how we understand historical doctrines such as the Trinity, and also how we understand various heresies, such as modalism.  With brief warning, Dunn points out that if we misidentify Jesus and his relationship to the Father, we could again fall into the trap of Modalism, a belief that the God of the Old Testament and Jesus is the same being.  This leads us to “Jesus-olatry,” turning the icon into an idol and fails to be consistent with the witness given to us in the New Testament.

For Dunn, the New Testament offers a range of meaning and images that the authors felt necessary to talk about Jesus and their devotion to him.  He ultimately concludes his book asking for reserve on the question of whether Jesus was worshipped and points his readers to embrace the New Testament concept of Jesus as a means through which worship is directed to God, rather than the object at which our worship stops.  For Dunn, this is the New Testament evidence summarized.

While many would read the title of this text and assume this is a scholar with an agenda, Dunn is really attempting to let the New Testament speak for itself on the matter of Jesus as an object of worship.  Dunn is not promoting any specific Protestant perspective, nor is he attempting to deconstruct Catholic orthodoxy.  The book is about seriously engaging the plurality of the New Testament witness on an area that is pivotal to contemporary Christian witness, faith and practice.  Thus, this is an excellent, concise and clearly written text for anyone who takes the bible critically and seriously…and wants to deepen their faith by more than emotional appeal.  And for all Christians who affirm the tradition of the priesthood of all believers, this book is important as we daily do ministry in the world and attempt to understand the role Jesus played in ancient worship and the role he must play for each of us as we offer praise to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.