Friday, September 30, 2005


On Emergent Village forum I posted the following this afternoon…


I don't know how this will be received, especially since I'm new here, but I thought I'd throw my hat into the ring…

In Scientific Theology Volume 1: Nature, Alister McGrath writes the following:

"The assertion that the natural sciences are able to offer an empirical approach to reality which is independent of culture, gender, class, and language poses a formidable challenge to the postmodern rejection of universal truth.  It is therefore easy to understand why so much effort has been directed by the academic left towards the demonstration that the natural sciences represent culturally-conditioned opinions, in common with other disciplines.

It is therefore important to note that the postmodern critique of the natural sciences has achieved a very limited degree of success.  It has not been especially difficult for natural scientists to argue that the explanatory and predictive success of the natural sciences rest upon a real connection to the way things actually are... The natural sciences are thus a serious headache for those who have difficulties with the idea of a universal objective reality which may be, at least in part, apprehended and described." (Scientific Theology Volume 1, Pgs. 122-123)

A little background will probably be helpful.  McGrath, who is trained both in the national sciences (Biochemistry) and theology is proposing that the best dialogue partner for theology is not philosophy or the social sciences, but rather the natural sciences.  In other words, McGrath seems to want to argue (much as T.F.Torrance did before him) that science and theology can inform one another as they have a common subject: God's works (in the case of science) and God's Word (in the case of theology).  As McGrath puts it, "The Christological dimensions of the doctrine of creation are such that the divine rationality – what this is conceptualized as logos or as ratio – must be thought of as embedded in creation and embodied in Christ.  The same divine rationality or wisdom which the natural sciences discern within the created order is to be identified within the logos incarnate, Jesus Christ.  Creation and Christ ultimately bear witness to the same God, and the same divine rationality" (S.T. v. 1, Pg. 24-25)

If we can assert that there are universal objective realities, being always subject to revision based on new evidence, in the natural sciences is it possible to assert universal objective realities in theological science without collapsing into dualistic epistemologies?  In other words, can we make referential statements concerning God that are non-metaphorical but really speak of what and who God is but that are not reducible to the language we use to describe them?  If so, how does this effect theological articulation within the Emerging Church which (as I see it) needs to critically engage the Postmodern world?  


A Reply

Over on Presbyweb linked to a list of 12 important things for the Postmodern church that he was introduced to in his Presbytery.  Here was my reply…

What I don't see on that list is what I think is the most important: the ability to articulate our faith to a post-Christendom world.  

The majority of PCUSA churches that I have worshipped in are designed for people who are already familiar with a liturgical service to participate in.  Assumptions are made regarding people's know that a number next to a title denotes picking up one of two books in front of you, that comments in parenthesis saying "debts and debtors" should clue you in as to what to say during a prayer, etc.  We continue to sing hymns written in a beautiful and poetic language, but one that sadly has lost contact with a generation that didn’t grow up with those hymns and words.  In other words, most PCUSA worship services are an insider's show.  

In the Postmodern world we must admit that worship will have to change.  We may need to do more education about worship as part of worship, and explain what we're doing in a prayer of adoration and a prayer of confession.  We also may need to find new ways to worship, perhaps even new places to worship.  We may find that elements of participation, especially in a world that is wired for quick response, is of great benefit to many people currently outside the church.  

The second pressing concern, related to the first however, is that we must be willing to rearticulate the truth of the Gospel to a Postmodern world.  Simply put, CS Lewis' "Liar, Lunatic or Lord" won't cut it anymore in evangelism.  

In the beginning of his book, Postmodern Youth Ministry, Tony Jones tells a story of a friend of his who he tried to convince of the truth of the Gospel through Lewis' method.  After an extended discussion Tony said, “But Jesus is Lord for everyone!”  Her response came "Jesus is Lord for everyone for you, but not for me" he realized that times had changed and our modern methods of deductive logic weren't going to speak to this world anymore.  

This does not mean that we abandon the faith, but we must now find a new way to articulate that faith.  We must find the language to proclaim the historic truth of the Gospel in a new way for a new time, where there’s a new set of rules.  The old claim to “universal objective truth” will not be universally recognized anymore, because many will say “there is no such thing”.  

These are what I see as the keys to transforming the church into the Postmodern era.  

An Introduction to Confessional Theology

What is the purpose of age old confessions and creeds in the church today?  

As some of you know, I am a big fan of church creeds and confessions.  Being within the PC(USA), which is a creedal church is part of that, but I also have tremendous respect for the theological contributions of those who have preceded us.  However, before I begin I should start by defining some terms.

Creeds – these tend to be short statements of belief, such as the Nicene and Apostle's Creed.
Confessions – these are longer and more systematic statements of belief.  Examples include the Westminster, French, Scot's, and Second Helvetic Confessions.
Catechisms – These are set in question and answer form.  Examples include the Heidleberg Catechism and the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms.  

My first year of seminary I took a course from Dr. Charles Partee entitled the Creeds of Christendom.  It was a good class that examined the various creeds, confessions, and catechisms in their entirety.  This term I am taking a similar course from Dr. John Burgess which examines the confessions doctrine by doctrine.  So, we read from each confession every week the section that corresponds to the topic for that week.

So far we've covered 1) Revelation/Scripture 2) God 3) Humans/Sin and this week we're examining Jesus Christ.  What I have suspected but am now being convinced of is that the church, if it is to be faithful to its calling in the coming century must not disregard the confessions of its past as antiquated documents.  Rather, we must return to them in order to understand where we have come from.

What I am not calling for is a return to the subscriptionalism of the past, where those who wanted to be ordained (Ministers, Elders, and Deacons) had to subscribe to the Westminster Confession and declare any scruples or disagreements that they had with it.  In fact, such a return would be impossible, as the Presbyterian church now recognizes no less than 10 different creeds/confessions/catechisms which don't always agree in full.  What I am advocating for is the use of a "Confessional Theology" in order to frame our theological discussions and to give us a sense of where the church has been in order that we might better discern where God is leading us in the future.

A "Confessional Theology" also does not seek to be the last word in theological discussion.  I am not saying that we should synthesize the confessions and then declare that to be the truth.  Again, I view a true "Confessional Theology" as a discussion starter, not a stopper.  Let's seriously examine what the Confessions say about Jesus Christ.  Let's examine our confessions to see what they say about biblical interpretation, etc.  

We may, and in fact should view these confessions with a critical eye.  But before we start criticizing our confessions for their faults we must develop a proper "histo-theological" lens by which we read the various confessions.  For example, one must properly understand the issues surrounding the Council of Nicea to fully understand it and the significance of the message.  Again, it is helpful to understand the theological and historical issues at hand when John Knox and company penned the Scot's Confession.  I say this because the Scot's confession is often highlighted as example of confessions gone awry for its awful assessment of the role of women in the church.  But, when viewed in light of the historical times and the theological issues that were present one can come to a better understanding of why the confession was written like it was.  

To put a little more meat on what I mean by a "histo-theological" lens, let me use the Theological Declaration of Barmen as an example.  Read apart from its context, Barmen comes across as an aggressively Christological statement But, when understood in context one's depth of understanding increases greatly.  Written in the late 1930's, Barmen was written as a call for churches in Germany to remember that it is Jesus Christ, not Adolf Hitler, who was (and is) head of the church.  Thus, the issue at hand was of utmost importance and called for the aggressive language that was used.

We also should not expect complete agreement amongst the confessions; in fact, we should expect that there will be areas where they differ.  As noted above the Scot's and Second Helvetic Confession hold a view of women that contemporary confessions (Confession of 1967 and A Brief Statement of Faith (1983)) disagree with in full.  Again, this is why a "Confessional Theology" isn't meant to be limit and binding, but rather a place to begin our theological discussions.  

We will also find that over time the church has changed how it has articulated its message to reflect different times.  The early creeds read quite different from the Reformation era documents.  And, one notices quite a few differences between the Reformation era documents and the more contemporary confessions that were written during the 20th Century.  Here we see real life examples of how the church has altered its language without altering its truth of that message, something that the church seeks to do in every time and place.  

As I continue to develop my thoughts on "Confessional Theology" and what it looks like I will post them, but I am eager to hear people's feedback, especially if you're still reading and didn't fall asleep bored.  

Thursday, September 29, 2005

What Teens Believe

So, yesterday I ran across a great article in Christian Century based on a new book entitled "What teens believe."  There was nothing really suprising, in fact much of what the article says confirms what I've observed.  But a few things really stood out to me as being dead on.

1) "Smith and Denton's most striking finding is that teens are traditional. "Contrary to popular perceptions, the vast majority of American adolescents are not spiritual seekers or questers of the type often described by journalists and some scholars, but are instead mostly oriented toward and engaged in conventional religious traditions and communities." "Spiritual but not religious" does not describe how teens view themselves. "

Wait a minute, this is striking?  I don't think so.  I think this (being Spiritual seekers) it is more common amongst the college-age and older crew, but most kids in middle and high school simply haven't had the exposure to other religions and religious ideas in order to become "spiritual but not religious."  So while I don't find this finding striking at all, I think it's quite accurate.

2) Teens' conventionality has some troubling aspects, however. Smith and his team of interviewers talked to teens who said that religion is "just how I was raised," that it is "not worth fighting about," that it is simply "good for lots of people." In other words, teens consider religion to be of marginal importance and are inarticulate about the content of their faith.

Troubling? Yes and no.  In my experience there is a point in everyone's life (including my own) where the faith that we were raised in becomes our own.  We claim it for ourselves and embrace it.  This doesn't happen for everyone at the same age and for some it doesn't happen at all.  For some the transition is very sudden, almost a conversion experience of sorts.  For others it is a slow and prolonged transition.  Are there teens that come to churhc simply because their parents tell them they have to?  Absolutely.  One also needs to remember in evaluating this survey though that, again in my experience, being religious isn't always deemed cool and often kids don't realize how much they enjoy being apart of a church community until they're not anymore.  I've had a couple kids that I've worked with say things like, "I really didn't think coming to youth group was all that important until I couldn't come because of <work, sports, etc>."  Finally, I think for many the transition point where youth claim faith for their own often occurs in college.  

3) We have also known for years, though it has never before been so clearly documented, that religious participation correlates with good social outcomes. Smith and Denton show that religiously active teens fare better than religiously disengaged teens when it comes to smoking, drinking, drug use, school attendance, television and movie viewing, sexual behavior, body image, depression, relationships with adults and peers, moral reasoning, honesty, compassion and community participation.

There's always the exception but I've found this to be the case.

4) Religious traditions understand themselves as presenting a truth revealed by a holy and almighty God who calls human beings from a self-centered focus to a life of serving God and neighbor. Adherents are understood to be reared or inducted into a historically rooted matrix of identity, practices and ethics that define selfhood, loyalties and commitments. But according to Smith and Denton, teens understand religion to be something quite different: religion helps them make good life choices and helps them to feel happy. "The de facto dominant religion among contemporary U.S. teenagers," the authors explain, "is what we might well call 'Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.'" The "creed" of this religion, gleaned from interviews with teens, is as follows:
1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.2. God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
Yee gads!  Finally, someone has articulated this.  I've often suspected that there is a "latent deism" within the majority of youth in America (and even in a lot of adults) but in this new book they nailed it down.  The only point that I find a little suprising in #4.  

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting article.  

In other news, I went on a book buying spree (not really, they were all cheap) yesterday and added three new books to my library.  John Franke is a professor at Biblical Theological Seminary and has written a couple things on Reformed Theology in the Postmodern world.  I've found them to be well done and quite insightful, so I ordered two of his books.  I'm also going to get a chance to hear him speak and meet him next weekend at the Generous Orthodoxy Conference in Bethesda, MD.  He seems to focus on post-foundationalist theology (which in his words is not theology without foundations) which is quite important in a postmodern world.  I also purchased Tony Jones' Soul Shaper, which is a companion to his Postmodern Youth Ministry book that I was absolutely fascinated with last spring.  Tony relates spiritual disciplines (which are one thing I think we need to emphasize more in youth ministry) specifically to youth.  

Monday, September 26, 2005

Currently Reading

So, for a while I’ve wondered how people got that “Currently Reading…” section into their blogs.  I figured there had to be an easier way than hand coding it, but when Renee decided to put it in hers I figured my competitive nature wouldn’t let my fiancée have a feature in her blog that I didn’t have in mine.  So, after a little messing around I figured it out and now have the books that I’m currently spending time with on my blog.  The most exciting, the Chronicles of Narnia, is at the top followed by the rest of the academic reading that I’m doing.  Among that list Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together is a classic that everyone should read.  Also Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics III.4, where Barth lays out his ethics is probably the most challenging and intriguing reading that I’m doing this term.  

So I’ve added yet one more feature to my blog, isn’t that exciting?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Jeremy and Beth

So today is Sunday, and since Renee isn’t here I’m back to my normal routine of staying at church on Sundays until the evening.  The problem today is that I’ve finished all my work for the rest of the week, and I have a Hebrew quiz tomorrow.  I don’t like Hebrew, I don’t like studying for it, I don’t like looking it, basically, I just don’t like it.  But I need to study for it.  But, before I force myself to do that, a few reflections

As someone of you know, yesterday morning Jeremy and Beth got married via a four way call between the Ukraine, Maryland, Pittsburgh, and New Hampshire.  It was a religious ceremony only, not a legal one, but I had the honor of assisting my friends in saying their vows.  As one of my professor said when I told him about it, “Well, in the eyes of God they’re married, and that’s what really matters”.  I also must say that Jeremy was quite correct in his assertion that the phone connection between the United States and the Ukraine is roughly the quality of two cans on the ends of a string.  But none the less, it was really cool to get to listen two of my friends make life-long vows to one another and to be invited to be apart of it.  Although, I need to edit my script, because I accidentally asked Beth is she would be Jeremy’s faithful husband.  Doh!  If it hadn’t of been six AM I might have realized this before I said it out loud.  Alas…

In any event, congratulations to Beth and Jeremy as they begin their lives together and may God richly bless your marriage.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Can we talk about God?

Can we really talk about God?

That seems like a silly question for someone in Seminary to ask, but its an honest one.  Can we really talk about God?  In the words of one of my professors, "Can we make referential statements that are non-metaphoric concerning God?"  Or are we reduced to "our metaphor that art in Heaven, hallowed be your name (whatever your name may be)".  

Often you'll hear people talk about the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, being merely a metaphor for who God is.  Or just something that is a mystery that we really can't understand but just believe it anyway.  Yet I think both of those positions misunderstand the fullness of Christian theology.  

It is, in my observation, and that the Western impulse is to believe in one God, a Unitarian God at that.  There is no reason for this really, after all human cultures throughout times have varied in their beliefs in God, from polytheistic masses to a unitary God, so one cannot argue (in my opinion) that part of human nature  is to believe in one God.  I think that the only thing that can be said is that part of the natural human impulse is to realize that there is something outside of the natural world that is a force, and this has become known as God.  As I interpret Calvin's writings in Book I of the Institutes, he has it right.  The creation certainly does display God's glory but with just creation you can say little more than "God is" and that's it.  In the Western world we've translated this into believing that there is indeed one God, and many people view the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as one that unnecessarily complicates things or again is just a mystery that no one can really understand.  

I frankly disagree.  I think the problem is that people are too trapped in a Post-Kantian world, where logic and reason rule the day.  Simply because One God, three persons, one in being and substance but distinct in personhood, defies logic and reason does not mean it can be cast off or rejected as mere mystery.  There are many things in life that defy logic and reason, yet we accept them.  Take love for example, love is in my opinion the most irrational thing I've ever done.  After all, why would someone ever, thinking rationally, subject themselves to the possible pain and hurt that love could cause?  Seriously, why would anyone do that?  No one thinking rationally would take such a risk.  But yet we do it for irrational reasons.  

Everyone has presuppositions and this is inevitable no matter who you are or where you are.  But we must always be willing to have those presuppositions questioned by what we experience or learn.  In biblical studies this is critical.  While I approach the text with presuppositions, I must allow the text of scripture to test and question my presuppositions.  Do the presuppositions make sense based on the nature of what I am reading?  Such is the case with the Doctrine of the Trinity.  

You will hear people correctly say, "The Trinity isn't biblical" and this is true.  One cannot find the word "trinity" anywhere in scripture, and thus when someone says its not biblical they are in one sense correct.  What is incorrect is the assertion that the doctrine of the Trinity fell out of Greek philosophy and never had any place in the early Christian tradition.  The bible, the whole bible (including the Old Testament) make the Trinity implicit.  The New Testament is full of Trinitarian language (John 1 and Matthew 28, Luke 10:22, and Matthew 11:27, John 13-17 come to mind just from the Gospels) and even amongst the earliest writings of the New Testament (from Paul) we find talk of "From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" which is unmistakably Trinitarian.  Why?  Because Paul, who was no dummy when it came to Jewish tradition, used theos (God) and kurios (Lord) in the same sentence.  But, in the Old Testament we find theos being used for Elohim, one of the Hebrew words for God, and kurios being used for Yahweh (Lord).  

All that the early church did was to take the implicit pieces of evidence found in scripture and make them explicit in scripture, and that's something that is done in every circle that I've been in, especially science.  You take a whole bunch of evidence and from it you make explicit (in the form of formulas and theories) what is implicit in data.  If this method works for describing God's works, why wouldn't we expect it to work when assessing what God has revealed through scripture?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


So I have just a minute to blog in the midst of my hectic start to the week, but here's the latest news from Brian

Yesterday I had someone offer to pay my way to the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention, which I accepted as soon as I double-checked my schedule.  I am uber-excited about this opportunity.  Between going to the Generous Orthodoxy Conference the week before and then NYWC I will be conventioned out, but both will be great opportunities.  The week inbetween is my midterm week, which will make it even crazier but it'll be worth it

Yesterday I had my first Scientific Theology class which features Dr. Purves, Rev. Jim Mead, and my friend Matt Bell.  What a group.  We are reading Alister McGrath's Scientific Theology for the whole year.  It's going to be challenging, because all four of us are intense and we all think we're pretty smart.  But, it'll be a great chance to learn.  I am also progressing nicely through my independent study on Karl Barth's Ethics. But more on that later…

Tonight I am presenting to our elders at church the proposal for a chuch-wide small group campaign, which I expect they'll support in full, which should help me take the first step toward pulling this off.  Next up?  Curriculum selection!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Jeremy Camp, David Bailey, GCC, and PTS

So tonight we took a youth group trip to Grove City to see Jeremy Camp, with opening acts from Tree63 and Bethany Dillon.  Now, before I start any of my comments I need to put a few disclaimers on my comments.  First, I really like Jeremy Camp.  I like his music, and I like his message.  There are a number of Christian artists out there now who are producing songs with some decent depth and theological integrity, and Jeremy Camp is one of them.  As I was sitting there tonight though watching the show, something didn't fit right.  

One of the things that Camp talked about was how after he had gotten into music and had his big record deal he lost the simplicity of faith and life.  One of the eighth graders in our group leaned over to me and said, "How does one talk about living simply while standing on that set?"  (The set was full of lights, screens, speakers, etc.  You can see pictures here) In the book, Stories of Emergence, Tony Jones tells the story about his experience as a youth pastor and organizing a big Christian concert at the church he served.  .  I thought her question was quite a good one, and reminded me of Tony's story where he realized that his reasons for wanting to have a big concert weren't authentic.  So the question for me throughout the night was this: Does Jeremy Camp's elaborate set take away from his message?  I think for me, and at least two of the members of our group it did.  It seemed excessively showy and more performance-oriented than Gospel oriented.  Now, it needs to be noted that I am sure that I was in the minority there tonight and a lot of people didn't think his set detracted, but rather added to his message, and I can see that point of view also.  

What's authentic then?  Was what I saw tonight a case study in what some parts of the Emergent church are trying to get away from?  I remember my favorite concert in college was from David Bailey.  David is a Grove City alum and brain cancer survivor.  He officially is a folk singer and his music as a simple, plain, and has an "authentic" message, at least to me.  He performed in the chapel, sitting on a stool, with a guitar and a harmonica – that was it.  No lights, to screens, just he, he and his two instruments.  It was really beautiful.  

Again, I'm sure for a lot of people there was no doubt of Jeremy Camp's authenticity, and for what its worth I would say he's a genuine Christian.  But to me there was something lost in the "showiness" of it, that's all.  

On another note, I had the chance to go back to Grove City tonight in a very different capacity than I ever had before.  In the past I had been there just as a visiting alum.  But tonight, over two years removed from graduation, I really had a chance to see the college in action again.  In many ways I felt like at Grove City I was home again, after all, everyone looked like me, and everyone there was for all intents and purposes a Christian.  Yet at the same time, it reminded me of something that I could never quite put my finger on that bugged me constantly during college: Grove City is a giant four year spiritual retreat.  

Don't get me wrong, I love Grove City College.  It is far from the perfect college, but for me it was the best fit, and I would not be where I am today and would not have made it as far as I have without Grove City, both the academic and social aspects.  But Grove City always seemed to me to be a little too perfect, life as a Christian at Grove City was a little too easy.  As I was there tonight just listening to Jeremy Camp and watching students I was reminded of how spiritually empowering a place Grove City can be.  Yet I was also reminded of how, again, showy sometimes it can be.  

See, part of it is where I moved afterwards.  When I came to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, it was in many ways a huge let down for me after Grove City.  Unlike the passion and zeal that one found at Grove City, as I slipped back into the world of mainline reality here at seminary it was a hard fall.  As anyone who was at chapel this year when we did a little "contemporary" music can attest, most seminary students aren't movers and shakers and clappers.  This was a huge contrast for me, who came from a college full of clappers, movers, shakers, dancers, etc.  At the same time, starting at PTS gave me a much more realistic view of my faith and the line of work that God has called me into.  All the sudden I wasn't in safe secure Grove City, I was living close to East Liberty in Pittsburgh.  Now, not to be melodramatic, our campus is absolutely safe.  We have a large metal fence surrounding us and violence on campus isn't a problem.  But, it is different than Grove City when you probably don't want to walk off campus alone at night.  All the sudden I was surrounded by Christians who had lived through the ups and downs of life and who knew a lot more about suffering than I did.  And, all the sudden I was in a church, working away in youth ministry, dealing with the reality check that that brings.  

So which one seems more authentic?  Well, oddly both.  I love the passion and joy that I witnessed tonight at Grove City.  Yet, the reality that I've faced since Grove City (which is still a really cushy life) has helped me realize that the superficial happy Christian face that Grove City often puts on just isn't realistic.  Again, it's like a four year spiritual retreat.  

This summer at Camp, our "official song" was from Bebo Norman entitled Walk Down This Mountain.  Speaking of God, he writes "God is walking down to where the masses are" and he is dead on.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his little class "Life Together" points out that the place for the Christian is not amongst his friends and brothers and sisters in Christ, but amongst his enemies.  I think that may be Grove City's chief weakness, is that it just fails to present any sense of the real world because it is so separated from the world.  At the same time, that separation can often provide an empowerment that allows people to leave Grove City transformed and renewed for God's service in a way that just wouldn’t have been possible in most places.  

Anyway, that's enough rambling for one night.  If I've offended you I apologize, its rather late for me to be writing and how I express things may not be quite what I really mean, etc.  

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Well, my life is no longer full of time to just sit around and blog about random things.  I've posted a bunch of stuff recently, but that's mainly stuff I'm writing for class.  

But tonight I got a taste of the real world at our first Jr. High youth group.  Let me first say how awesome Jr. High youth group is.  I love these kids; they're really cool and a lot of fun to work with.  Needless to say it's good to be back.

But, one of them is missing.  Her name is Elora, and she's currently hospitalized after being diagnosed with Stage 3 Leukemia.  Elora is a 7th grader, who when she was young was hit by a car and suffered permanent brain damage from it.  Because of this Elora is quite a bit different than her peers in youth group, but many of them welcome her and a few of them take special care of her.  It's really cool to watch.  Sadly, Elora wasn't there tonight, and it just wasn't the same.  Someday when the Saints are lined up in Heaven, Elora will go in far ahead of me.  Tonight, Sean, our Youth Director, had the difficult task of talking about this with the rest of the group, and helping them realize that we need to be ready for God to take Elora home with him.  He did an excellent job and I think a lot of the kids took his message to heart.

This has also been a great opportunity for the kids to step up and show they care.  Tonight, at the kids request, we did a video card for Elora, and they want to have a Walk-A-Thon for her.  Both of these were entirely the kids' ideas, and it shows how awesome these kids really are.  

But, I am going to ask everyone to pray for Elora.  If you're reading this, please right now, say a short prayer for her.  Even if you're not sure of what you believe or if you're not sure you believe in God at all, please pray in spite of that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Revelation and Scripture

This term I am taking a class entitled "Confessing the Faith Today".  It’s a course that survey, doctrine by doctrine, the Creeds, Catechisms, and Confessions contained in the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Each week we have to write a paper on that doctrine.  Each week I'll post my paper, as well as my own statement of belief at the end.

Within the Book of Confessions regarding the topics of Revelation and Scripture we find four that four topics are addressed: General Revelation, Scripture, Preaching and Jesus Christ.
The first is that which is often termed “General Revelation” which both Westminster (6.001) and the French (F.2) refer to God revealing himself in his works of creation. Both also make the point that God has reveled himself through scripture “more clearly” (in the words of the French Confession)
The second type of revelation is that of scripture. This is the principle type of revelation addressed by the Confessions. On the topic of scripture a number of commonalities exist. One such commonality is the universal agreement that the scriptures are comprised of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments. (6.002, F.2. 3.18, etc.). As to the nature of scripture, the confessions also agree that the scriptures are from God and draw their authority from God alone. However, the confessions use varying language to describe this:“proceed from the Spirit” (5.008) , “given by the inspiration of God” (6.002) , “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” (9.29). However, it is only the Confession of 1967 that makes the explicit statement that the scriptures are “nonetheless the words of men” (9.29). The Confessions also affirm scripture as the highest authority for the church. (3.20, 5.011-.014, 6.010, 8.11)
As to the content of scripture, three confessions affirm that all things necessary for faith, life, and salvation are set forth in scripture (3.18, 6.006, F.5, cf. 9.27). One distinction of note comes from the Westminster Confession, which adds that all things necessary for salvation are either explicit in scripture “or can be deduced from it” (6.006), appearing to given reason a role in the interpretation of scripture. It is also from scripture that we learn of sin and its consequences (4.003) as well as about Jesus Christ, the perfect mediator who is both true God and righteous man (4.019). It is also through scripture that God speaks to us today (5.001, 9.29)
The Confessions also address the issue of the interpretation of scripture. The Scots' Confession holds that interpretation belongs first and foremost to the Spirit of God and that no interpretation can be accepted that contradicts the plain meaning of scripture, a principle point of faith, the plain text of any scripture, or the rule of love (3.18). The Second Helvetic Confession echoes these statements and adds that interpretation should be that which is gleaned from the scriptures themselves, from the original languages, and in light of clearer passages (5.010, cf. 6.006). It adds that scripture should be interpreted according to the circumstances in which they were set down (5.010). The Confession of 1967 makes this point even more clear saying that church must approach the scriptures with a historical and literary understanding of them. (9.29)
The Confessions also holding preaching as a form of revelation in high regard. The Scot's Confession identifies preaching as one of three marks of the true church (3.18) and the Second Helvetic Confession says that when the word is preached by ministers who are lawfully called, the Word of God is truly proclaimed and received (5.004, 9.30).
Two Confessions put a slight twist on the issue of revelation. The Barmen Declaration and the Confession of 1967 both affirm that Jesus Christ is the “one word of God” (8.11) or “the one sufficient revelation of God” (9.27). I say that this adds a slight twist and not a contradiction because both confessions affirm that the knowledge of Jesus Christ comes through the scriptures (8.11, 9.27) thus still affirming scripture's central role, but distinguishing between the person of and the written Word of God.
Personal Statement: The scriptures bear witness of Jesus Christ and are comprised of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, which are understood fully in light of each other.   The scriptures are inspired by God through the Holy Spirit, draw their authority not from humans but from God alone, and are the only rule of faith and life.  We are to interpret scripture with a historical and literary understanding through the power of the Holy Spirit who bears witness to the scriptures, allowing scripture to interpret scripture and aware that no interpretation may contradict the plain sense of scripture or the rule of love.  God continues to speak to the church through the scriptures as well as the preaching of the Word.  When the Word is read and preached in reliance upon the Holy Spirit the Word of God is truly proclaimed.

Where There is No Way, God Makes a Way

This was the sermon I preached last Sunday.  As you might be able to tell, I don't work from a manuscript, rather I use a rough outline, so what I actually said isn't fully detailed here.  Also, the ending, which is abrupt here, was much longer but really just recapped what I said in the body of the sermon.  

Where There is No Way, God Makes a Way
Exodus 14:19-31, Luke 24:1-5
Brian Wallace
Northmont United Presbyterian Church
Sunday September 11th, 2005

  1. One can hardly preach on September 11th without remembering the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.

  2. Four years later, we can still see the effects of that tragic day.

  3. And still, four years later we look along our Gulf Coast and find that still, almost two weeks after the hurricane hit, people are still in the city which is is now become a toxic disaster. We have in our own country refugees, and countries around the world are pledging to help us. Some project the death toll will be at least four times that of 9/11. I read yesterday that the state of Louisiana has ordered no less than 25,000 body bags.

  4. If we look around the world we find that the world is in no better shape.

  5. Roughly half the world's population lives on less than 2 dollars a day.

  6. 30,000 people per day die around the world from hunger, which is as many as died in last year's Tsunami.

  7. Yet this is the world we live in, and its easy to see why people think that things are truly hopeless.

  8. It seems that even what good we can do, even the money we give to mission, even the projects we do,

  9. And even in our own lives we've experienced tragedy. Just look at the prayer chain each week. We have people in this congregation who have experienced abuse, who have fought many battles with illnesses of all kinds. We sit here tonight and know that Elora Gier, one of our middle schoolers, a young woman who has already experienced a great deal of tragedy in her life, is in children’s hospital being treated for Leukemia. Even if it hasn't happened to you, you've watched friends, family members, and maybe even your own children suffer through the various battles of life.

  10. I know in my own life I watched families last summer in the Hospital, and journeyed with patients through the valley of the shadow of death, and watched some of them not make it out.

  11. We've also witnessed the ability of humanity to inflict destruction upon itself. This year alone we've remembered the first used of atomic weapons, an event that has shaped the world until this day. We've also remembered the holocaust where at least six million people perished at the hands of the Nazi regime

  12. In light of all of this it is easy to get frustrated, depressed, and even angry at the mess that the world is in.

  13. So what are we to say to this world?
Move 1: Israel and Us
  1. In many ways, the people of Old Testament Israel aren't that much different than us, and the world, while in some ways it has changed dramatically, in other ways is very much the same place. They, like us, suffered from the tragedies of life.

  2. The Book of Exodus details the major tragedy of their lives, their captivity into slavery in Egypt.

  3. The book of Exodus also serves to continue to story of the people of Israel that begins in the Book of Genesis as well as provides the foundation for the rest of the New Testament.

  4. The chief thing we learn from the early chapter's of Exodus is that they were an oppressed people, made to be the Pharaoh's slaves for whatever building project he had in mind. Needless to say, being slaves wasn't exactly their idea of a good time.

  5. We also see what one the key characters here being Moses. What is so important to remember about Moses is that he didn't want the job that God gave him, in fact, Moses did everything he could to get out of the job.

  6. And the people were thankless, as we saw in the story. Just prior to our story tonight we read that when they got nervous because the Egyptians were pursuing them they started saying all sorts of things about Moses and how we had done this on purpose just to kill them, when nothing could be further from the truth.

  7. So, its safe to say that that the Israelites certainly knew tragedy and its impact on life after all, Moses really didn't like the situation he was in.

  8. So it is safe to say that Moses and the Israelites certainly understood tragedy just like we do.
Move 2:
  1. But what we find in this story is that in situation where there is no way, God makes a way

  2. See, the Israelites were pretty much between a rock and a hard place, well, I guess in this case between an army and the sea.

  3. The mighty Egyptian army was coming after them and all they had protecting them was a cloud. Things didn't look good, in fact there was no place they could go at all.

  4. And the problem, as we saw, was that they turned on Moses.

  5. And the thing is, we can understand their fear completely. You see, when life is ordinary and simple we are perfectly comfortable, because we know how things work out. We trust that in our normal lives that God is watching over us and protecting us.

  6. But when things go out of the ordinary, when things turn from what we're used to, now that's when we get nervous and upset and we often ask that question, “Can God really cope with this situation?” We in essence say, “Well, God has gotten me through this far, but I'm not sure about this one, there's no way out”

  7. Our African-American friends have a saying that I just love, “When there is no way, God makes a way”

  8. And that's precisely what happened here. God made a way.

  9. This is what we must confess in this day and age. God will make a way through our suffering and gloom. There is hope.

  10. In the life of Israel the event of the Exodus became foundational. In fact, throughout the Old Testament God often speaks “I am the Lord Your God, who brought you out of Israel” and the people of Israel remember God as the one who brought them out of Egypt and through the waters of the sea.

  11. We as Christians confess that on Easter morning the tomb that held Jesus Christ was empty. But certainly on Friday morning and all day Saturday, it looked as though there was no hope for the followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus was dead, and there appeared to be no way. But where there is no way, God makes a way, and through the resurrection God made a way.

  12. In this day and age we need to reclaim this Exodus story and the resurrection story as an example of the awesome power of God to make a way where there is no way.
Move 3:

  • But how do we know that God will make a way? Or even more so, how does God make a way?

  • In the Reformed tradition we talk about God's providence. The Westminster Confession says that

  • God, the creator of all things upholds, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge and the free and immutable counsel off his own will, to the praise and glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.” (Adapted from WC V.1)

  • To put it more simply, everything that happens occurs within God's control. But more than that, everything that happens happens within God's control and for God's purposes.

  • Such is clearly the case with the Exodus story. Everything in this story worked out just as God intended it to to accomplish his desired outcome. As one commentator put it, “What we see here is that the whole situation has been orchestrated by God down to the T.”

  • The problem with the issue of providence is that its hard to understand how God can be in complete control of things when things are so bad. I mean, if God has worked out everything perfectly in the Exodus, why do things around us look so awful?

  • As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “In everything God works with those who love him to obtain what is good.” - Romans 8:28, BDAG

  • The key phrase here is “God works with those who love him”

  • The world is a world full of humans, who are free, and sadly and unexplainably we as humans turn away from God and sin, by choosing to do things our own way and not God's way. We hope that God is on our side and ask God to help us to do things our way, rather than asking if we're on God's side and doing things God's way rather than our own.
Move 4:
  1. But doing things God's way isn't always easy, and often requires us to completely rethink how we do things and what we do.

  2. Take Moses for example

  3. As we said, Moses didn't want the job he had.

  4. But what we see at the end is the response of the people to Moses - “Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses”

  5. Throughout this whole story there has been an interesting combination of Moses and the Lord at work.

  6. The question might be, well, who parted the waters? Moses or God? Well, the truth of the story says that both of them did. As one commentator said, “The agencies that create the path through the sea are threefold – divine, human, and nonhuman, working in harmony with the other. As has been the case throughout the Exodus narrative; God does not work alone; God works through both human and non human powers to accomplish the divine purpose.

  7. Moses was so in line with the will of God that at the end of this story the Israelites believed in both the Lord and in his servant Moses

  8. But you see, in order to do this, in order to be in line with God's will, Moses had to leave his comfort zone completely. He had to do what he didn't really want to and he had to subject himself to God's command entirely.

  9. To follow God's will we must be willing to rethink how we do everything, and even what we do.

  10. When we look at the state of the mainline churches here in the United States we might want to seriously think about what we're doing, and if we're really doing the will of God given the results we're seeing.

  11. What are some of the things that we might need to rethink as far as what we do?


So, part of the requirements to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church one must take both Greek and Hebrew.  I started with Greek my first year and did relatively well, finishing with an A in Exegesis class.  Last year I tutored for Greek and that helped me learn it a lot better, and last spring I took my Exegesis Ordination exam last spring using Greek and passed it.  So, around comes my senior year and I still need to take Hebrew.  Well, I've started, and this is the weirdest language ever.  First of all, it works right to left, not left to right.  Second of all, none of the characters look like anything I'm used to.  Now, I am not saying that English is a superior language or anything like that, all I'm saying is that Hebrew is what I'm definitely not use to, and definitely looks and reads differently than anything.  

But I have decided that I am going to make Hebrew like me.  Yup, that's right, no half-courtship, I am going to make sure that when all is said and done I take Hebrew and it doesn't take me.

(This post can be classified under random, with no real purpose or intent)

Monday, September 12, 2005


I don't have time to write this fully, but tonight I preached at the Sunday evening service at the church where I've been for the past two years.  After I was done I got a lot of comments, and they weren't just the "nice sermon" or "I enjoyed that one" comments.  One person, whose opinion I respect and who has heard me preach every sermon I've preached at church told me that tonight's was the best one that I had preached.  

I preached on Exodus 14:19-31 where the Israelites go through the water with the Egyptians in pursuit after them.  I'll post my notes later, but I'm curious as to people's comments on two phrases that I keyed in on.

  1. Where there is no way, God makes a way

  2. Instead of asking if God is on our side, we should ask if we're on God's side.

Grocery Store

Well I am in the midst of trying to learn my Hebrew alphabet and verb points, so this will be a short blog.  But it seems that the popular topic to blog on right now is the grocery store.  

Here in Pittsburgh Giant Eagle rules as the top dog of Grocery stores.  There are others, but generally Giant Eagle is the best bet.  Last spring Giant Eagle, and Get Go, the a gas station chain owned by the same company, joined forces to create FuelPerks.  FuelPerks works like this: When you spend fifty dollars at Giant Eagle, you wear a ten cent per gallon discount at Get Go.  So, because of shopping for Orientation stuff I had built up a discount of $.60 per gallon as of today.  So I went to GetGo, scanned my card, and all the prices dropped 60 cents, which means I filled up for 2.39 a gallon.  Sad that that's a deal huh?

What is even funnier is how the FuelPerks phenomenon has swept through Pittsburgh.  The lines at the GetGo closest to me, on Baum Boulevard, are always long.  After all, since everyone does their shopping at Giant Eagle people are constantly earning discounts on their gas.  The other thing that is funny to watch is at the check out when someone realizes that they've forgotten their advantage card how many people eagerly volunteer to let them use theirs.  After all, it's through the Giant Eagle advantage card that you earn the gas discount.  

But tonight I went to the grocery store (a Giant Eagle of course) and made it out for just over seven dollars.  I got to things of juice and bagels, which is really all I need to survive.  And yeah, it was a blast.  

Okay, back to the Hebrew….

Thursday, September 08, 2005


So with just two days of classes complete, I am diving head first into my third-to-last term of seminary.  For my Church and Sacraments class we are reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic, Life Together.  If you haven't read this book I highly recommend you get it.  It is a small book, only about 130 pages, and full of brilliant insights.  One of the things I really like about Bonhoeffer is that he doesn't screw around and try and make you feel good about yourself like so many preachers (including myself!!) do.  Case in point, first page:
So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of the cloistered life but in the thick of foes.  There is his commission and his work.  The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies.  And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people.  O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ!  If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared (Luther)
In my sermons I'm still warming up the congregation by the point that Bonhoeffer has accused them of blasphemy!  After that opening, Bonehoeffer brings it down a bit, still being direct and honest, but using more the voice of the pastor rather than the voice of the prophet outlines the different elements that he believes should be apart of the Christian fellowship, namely, worship.  His most interesting section (in my mind) is the importance of praying the psalms.  He makes the point that the Psalms are both the Word of God and the Word of men (although some Psalms could have been written by women, we really don't know).  But one of the issues is whether or not Christians can pray the Psalms that protest against God with claims of innocence and righteousness.  Bonhoeffer's answer is yes, because those are the prayers of Jesus Christ, the innocent and righteous one.  He also points out that even if a particular Psalm is not your prayer, it is the prayer of someone within the Christian community, and therefore we pray on their behalf.  This is a really powerful practice in my own experience.  Often when I get to a lament Psalm I will pray it specifically for someone who I know who is having a hard time or as a prayer specifically for something that I'm aware of (for example, pray on behalf of the poor of the world, those under oppression, etc.)  I was reading farther but fell asleep last night, despite the caffeine from my coke so I didn't get any farther.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


So, it would appear that my blog is rather dry and technical… okay, so a tad boring.  While I can't imagine my life being anymore interesting than my theological rants here's what's new in my life

This weekend I went to Maryland to visit Renee.  It was a wonderful weekend.  The last time I was there, two weeks ago, was a stressful time because I was sick, Renee was trying to get moved back in and started at school, and I had ordination exams coming up.  Combine all of that and while it was a fun weekend, it wasn't real relaxing.  This weekend however was nice and relaxing.  We hung out, cleaned her apartment, went out to eat once, went to church, and above all, avoided driving as much as we could.  

This week I've got a Youth Group kick-off event on Wednesday night at church and the regular routine will start up next week.  I also have to write a sermon on Exodus 14 this week, since I'm preaching on Sunday night.  

The two coolest things from the weekend are two little software programs I discovered.  One I talked about earlier, Picasa from google, which is just the coolest image editing and management tool ever.  It also has done me a ton of good since it'll generate photo album web pages for me.  See, I'm a geek, but I know nothing about coding online, and that includes simple JavaScript.  But, it does it for me.  The other program is a program called Nvu, which is a WYSIWYG web page editor that is far more efficient that FrontPage, which is my only other option.  I like it a lot more and it’s a lot simpler to use.

On that note, I think its time for me to get some sleep before class at 8:30 tomorrow morning.  

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Emergent Church

Recently D.A. Carson, a respected evangelical scholar from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School released a book entitled “Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church”.  This book was highlighted on my home Presbytery’s website’s forums.  It was linked to this article.  So in many ways, this post a response to that article as well as an expansion of what I posted on my Presbytery’s website.  I have not read Carson's assessment of the Emerging Church, but in my recent discovery of the Emerging Church, I've finally corrected one of my long time misconceptions, and one that I think a lot of people make.

But first some background.  My introduction to the Emerging Church began really in September when Renee and I started dating.  She has attended Cedar Ridge Community Church.  When she first described the Emerging church to me it sounded an awful lot like the Social Gospel movement of the 1960’s, a movement which wasn’t without merit (certainly a great deal of good came out of it) but ultimately fell on hard times.  Then to me it sounded like a dumbing down of Christianity, where doctrines of more depth (such as Eschatology or the Lord’s Supper) are ignored in favor of stressing unity and simplicity.  This too I had seen before in my studies of church history and ultimately, over time, questions arose that led to schism, etc.  I then caught an article in Christianity Today (which I cannot find for the life of me) that brought some of these concerns to light.  I also began reading a book for one of my classes, Postmodern Youth Ministry, by Tony Jones.  Tony is now the national coordinator for Emergent ( and a long time youth worker.  I absolutely loved Tony’s book and still believe it is the best introduction to Youth Ministry I’ve ever read.  (I should note that I have talked to many of my classmates who don’t agree with this assessment, but its my opinion and I’m sticking to it)

So, for the past few months I’ve been trying to figure out what it means to be emergent, who is emergent, and ultimately does it matter.  Well, the truth is I have no answers, but I’m closer than where I thought I was.  A few observations…

One, some of the things that are being said are just not true, as is usually the case with generalizations.  For example, in the article on banneroftruth linked above, it says that people in the Emergent church believe that the creeds and liturgies of yesterday must be abandoned.  Um, not to my knowledge.  In his book, Tony Jones outlines his curriculum for confirmation class, which is solidly based in the historic ecumenical church.  Also, in attending Cedar Ridge with Renee, they consistently use classic elements, including a prayer of confession and call to worship.  While they may be some within the emergent church who say that the traditional liturgies and creeds must go, to say that it is advocated for across the board is a gross generalization and demonstrates one’s lack of knowledge.  

Above and beyond that, all my initial conceptions of “emergent” were wrong.  Brian McLaren, who is the unofficial spokesperson for the Emerging Church, is an excellent preacher, as I’ve had the privilege of hearing him preach when I’ve visited Renee.  However, Brian McLaren is not a systematic theologian in any sense of the term.  This is not a criticism of him in the least, most of us, most pastors in fact are not systematic theologians as typically defined.  (I am thinking of the likes of George Hunsinger, Bruce McCormack, William Abraham, Alan Torrance, Mark Achtemier, Jurgen Moltmann, etc.)  However, too many critics of Emergent, especially in academic circles are looking to McLaren and trying to put his work to the test of a full length systematic theology, which it isn’t and he never intended it to be.  His intended audience is not academic types: he’s trying to appeal in many ways to those outside of traditional Christian circles.  The truth of the matter is, Brian McLaren probably enjoys reading and writing in-depth systematic theology less than I do and you know what, there’s nothing wrong with that.       

The second thing that has become most apparent to me is that there are others out there affiliated with Emergent who are capable of and are producing the type of in-depth rigorous theological reflection that academic types such as myself are looking for.  Lately I’ve discovered the work of John Franke, and he is one of these people.  

In his article Reforming Theology: Toward a Postmodern Reformed Dogmatics (1), John Franke (Professor at Biblical Theological Seminary) makes the point that postfoundationalist theology does not mean theology without foundations. Franke advocates for a postfoundationalist theology that rejects Enlightenment thinking and rationalism that has produced our current left and right. While disagreeing sharply on the issues, most of them drink richly from the fountain of enlightenment thought. Statements such as "The Bible is an inerrant book in its originals" are, at their core, rational statements that obey the law of logic. What post-enlightenment theology has done is to allow the laws of Kantian philosophy to run the show and has become subservient to rational logic. As Karl Barth points out in CD 1.1, Church Dogmatics, and for that sake church proclamation cannot serve anyone or anything except Jesus Christ. As Paul reminds us in 1 Cor 1, what God did in Jesus Christ was a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks, for they demand signs and wisdom. Again appealing to Barth, theology is not a rational discipline, we cannot allow theology to sit by and obey Logic's rules. Jesus Christ was both the Son of Man and the Son of God, he was fully man and fully God. Statements like that not rationally sound statements, so to build a theology based on the rational logic defeats the very purpose of theology.
Postfoundationalism may actually be the best thing to happen to the church in a long time.  It seems to me in reading pre-enlightenment theologians, which in my case is somewhat limited to Athanasius and John Calvin, that there are clearly foundations in their theology, namely for Calvin the knowledge of God as revealed through scripture, but Calvin is not interested in tying up all the lose ends into near theological systems like his followers did with the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster Confession.  Theology that has everything wrapped-up into neat and tidy boxes, solutions like TULIP or the 4 Spiritual Laws, or the “Plan of Salvation” found in some bibles tend to take the historical narrative of scripture and flatten into a simple self-help process of getting one out of hell.  Such isn’t the vision of the Kingdom of God presented in the New Testament and certainly isn’t what Jesus taught people to do.  
1 - Available online at ( )

Saturday, September 03, 2005


So one of the coolest companies on the Internet is Google.  Now everyone knows this already, but the software that they develop is simply amazing for the cost – its free!  Most recently I’ve encountered Google Picasa, their picture editing and library program.  I would highly recommend you take a look at it.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Happenings of the Day

So, we're off and running here at Pittsburgh Seminary with our new student orientation today.  Today is an absolutely overwhelming day for the new students (at least in my opinion) where they just get hit with a lot of stuff all at once.  Today they did their registering for classes, which is good to have that out of the way.  Tomorrow is panel discussions, picnic lunches, and a get to know you event, and then they're off to Kennywood Amusement Park.  I will not be going to Kennywood, as I am taking off for one last weekend in Maryland before the school year begins, despite the $3 per gallon gas prices.  Tuesday classes kick off.  I'm actually a little ahead in the reading for one class simply because I already own the book and have had time to sit down and read it.  

I stayed up late last night 1:30 AM reading Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics 1.1, which is the opening of his doctrine of the Word of God.  His best line, "God may speak to us through Russian communism, a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub, or a dead dog" (Church Dogmatics, 1.1, Pg. 55)