John Webster, 1955-2016

On May 25th, 2016, John Webster passed on. I never knew him personally, don’t have any anecdotes to tell, haven’t written hugely on him, haven’t read every one of his books and essays and discovered his writing somewhat late and so am probably the least qualified person to write any kind of tribute to him. However, in the short time since I discovered his work, he became someone I referenced when I needed to know the right answer about a theological question. He was a truly theological theologian, one who wrote for the whole church at a level of intellect and scholarship that was second to none. Far smarter folks have written far better tributes to him than I have here, so I’ll simply say that in his death, we have lost one of the, if not the, brightest theological light in recent times, and that I am genuinely sad for this loss. My prayers are with his family and friends.
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Monothelitism: The Very Idea

In any debate, on any topic, it’s important to understand the underlying concerns on either side. It can be easy to look at any given position and condemn it, but discerning exactly why someone would take that position takes a bit more care. This is all the more true when it comes to controversial or heated topics, and there is no more controversial and heated set of topics within Christian theology than that of heresies. There are a good deal of important heresies within the  history of Christianity, and it is as important to understand the underlying theological concerns as it is to roundly condemn them. Seldom is a heresy an explicit denial of a key tenet of the faith. Far more often is a heresy a subtle over-emphasis on one aspect of a doctrine that leads to major theological consequences later. The unrestricted and un-dialectical approach taken towards biblical doctrine is the hallmark of the early heresies. The emphasis of one biblical idea over another is all it takes. The real issue, we might say, is a kind of rationalization where a measure of paradox should be allowed. All the heresies in church history have this hallmark, not going off the rails completely but a slight emphasis where none should be had. While it is crucial to refute, rebut and rebuke heresies, there is a measure of charity with which they should be ‘read,’ as it were, because the underlying theological concerns can often serve as sharpening stones for orthodox doctrines. Continue reading

Aquinas and Russell Against Anselm

In his essay on the ontological argument in The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of ReligionGareth B. Matthews makes an interesting observation about one of Aquinas’s lesser-known objections to the argument. The objection is fleshed out by reference to Russell’s theory of definite dsecriptions, and forms a pretty solid argument against Anselm. Continue reading

The Once and Future Verdict



The doctrine of justification is a doctrine that covers a single history with two distinct (but not separate) aspects: the now (the once) and the not yet (the future).  This history is the history of Jesus Christ as it takes up our own history in a mighty act of God. The once refers to the objective reality of justification that Christ has brought about – a reality in which all are dead and risen, accused and pardoned. This once and for all event, this once and for all act of God, is true of us whether we apprehend it and receive it or not. Continue reading

Raiders of the Logos Asarkos

In his review of George Hunsinger’s recent book, Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal, Matthias Gockel makes an interesting comment in a footnote in the context of God’s relation to the world and and God’s being in himself. He says there that:

Occasionally, Barth himself seems to forget his own insight, for example, in the passage CD IV/2, 345–346, where Election is simply an opus ad extra, in distinction from God’s triune being as opus ad intra,while the identity of Election with Jesus Christ is overlooked. (How to Read Barth with Charity, in Modern Theology, p. 265n.13 )

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Moving Some Furniture Around in Mary’s Room

As far as important papers in the philosophy of mind go, Frank Jackson’s Epiphenomenal Qualia and What Mary Didn’t Know are pretty high up on the list of must-reads. They’ve spawned a mass of literature devoted to picking apart just what Mary did or didn’t know made all the more intriguing because Jackson himself later distanced himself from the argument. Every possible response to the argument has been (seemingly) given, and there’s ample reason to regard anyone writing on it the same as someone writing on substance dualism – interesting, no doubt, but somewhat well-worn.  Continue reading

Some Bonhoeffer Reflections

Since today is the remembrance of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s martyrdom, I thought I’d offer a few reflections on his theology – these are all reposts of thing I’ve already written. At any rate, here they are:

This was a fruitful conversation I had on the Facebook some time ago.

These are my thoughts in response to Kevin Davis’s perceptive series on Bonhoeffer.

Here’s one of the first in-depth posts I wrote on Bonhoeffer’s (in)famous ‘world come of age’ idea. Here’s part two.

Here’s why one of my favourite lines from Bonhoeffer is ‘Here, at least, what we call God is needed’

My thoughts on Bonhoeffer’s somewhat ambiguous ‘religionless Christianity’. Richard Beck’s post, with which I interact in my own post, remains one of the best expositions of Bonhoeffer’s theology I’ve found.

I wrote a short post comparing the theological methodology of Bonhoeffer and Torrance here.

I compare Calvin and Bonhoeffer’s doctrine of the knowledge of God here.

And, finally, one of the first things I ever wrote on Bonhoeffer and his christology.

Anyway, that’s all for now. If you know of any more good posts, link them in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.