Gabriel J. Fackre (1926-2018) A Remembrance

I head down to Cape Cod this weekend to mourn the death and celebrate the life of my friend Gabe Fackre. Gabe was very important to my life. I knew him first as my seminary teacher, then my mentor, later a faithful colleague and a life-long friend. Most of all he encouraged me again and again in my ministry. Continue reading

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My Book on the Atonement

CoverThe Christian doctrine of Atonement has long been a theological preoccupation of mine, which may seem strange since I didn’t come out of an Evangelical background, where this is a central concern.

I was blessed to have sabbaticals from the pastorate at three iconic British universities, Oxford, St Andrews, and Cambridge, where I read and wrote about this subject.

Out of those experiences came a number of journal articles and this book of essays. I have been heavily influenced by the thought of the British theologian P.T. Forsyth, and many of the chapters in this book focus on his theology.

The book was published in 2000 by Pickwick Press, which later became part of Wipf and Stock Publishers, who re-issued the book in 201o, for which I am grateful.  It is a humble little book that traces my attempt to come to grips with this vexing doctrine. It has an extraordinary foreword  by the estimable Gabriel Fackre, which I think alone makes the book worth having.

Wipf and Stock is currently having a 40% off sale until May 1, so if you are interested in obtaining this book, now is the time. You can go to the link here.

Clam chowder, clerihews, and Cardinal Newman: The best from my browsing this week

 

Here are some of the best of my recent browsings:

Scott Carson at An Examined Life laments the return of the right to intellectual darkness in his insightful post The Rightward Turn.

Pastor John Castricum shares the recipe for his award-winning clam chowder  at Reflections of a Reformed Pastor.

Halden Doerge over at Inhabitatio Dei gets a lively discussion going on the question: Is there a postliberal theological project?

For those word nerds among you who actually know what a clerihew is, Kim Fabricius has a funny post at Faith and Theology called Poetic Graffiti: clerihews on ten modern Christian poets.

The quick-changing world of information technology is highlighted in a post at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab about how the magazine Foreign Policy is e-publishing (through Amazon) a book about Afganhistan by war journalist Anna Badkhen, comprised of her daily dispatches.

A thoughtful piece appeared in the Christian Science Monitoron the Pope Benedict XVI’s beatification of John Henry Newman. They quote my friend Gabe Fackre, “The heart of ecumenism [or interfaith work] is when each tradition brings its own gifts to the other.” Newman, Fackre argues, was known for the idea that theological ideas have a “trajectory” in which “you don’t abandon the teachings but let them flower – the ordination of women might be an example. It is a very supple concept of doctrine that is a long way from Benedict, who seems to rigidify doctrine.”

“The Stones Would Cry Out!” Palm Sunday Ruminations on the Cradle and the Cross

 

At which end of Jesus’ life should we look for the reason we call him “Lord and Savior?” My friends in the Mercersburg Society put heavy stress on the Incarnation.  Others, such as P. T. Forsyth, insist that we only can understand the Incarnation backwards in time, from the perspective of Christ’s death and resurrection. (See, for example, on this point, a great quote from Forsyth here.)

From my teacher and friend Gabriel Fackre, one of the early and still best narrative theologians, I have learned to be careful not to take any episode of the story to represent the whole.

But I must confess I do agree here with Forsyth, though he has sometimes been criticized as being so focused on the cross that he neglects other parts of Jesus’ life and work.

So what is the relationship between the cradle and the cross?  If one were to only read Marks’s Gospel, the answer is simple, since he has no infancy narratives at all and begins with Jesus’s adutlt ministry.

But for many of us, this is the year of Luke in our lectionaries, and it is well to remember that of all the Evangelists, it is Luke who includes the most infancy material: “the Annunciation,” “the Visitation,”  shepherds and heavenly choirs, etc.  It is no accident we all read Luke at our services on Christmas Eve.  If we read Mark, we’d get home much earlier.

I heard somewhere, I can’t recall where, that “the wood of the cradle is the same wood as the wood of the cross.”  There is much theological truth in that.

So once again I turn to a poet to express deep truths that may elude the prose of the theologians.

Richard Wilbur (1921-) is one of my favorite poets (I have many), and although I have never met him, is my Berkshire County neighbor and a sometimes worshipper at the congregation where I now mostly worship.

A two time Pulitzer Prize winning poet and former Laureate, Wilbur has made a startling but brilliant connection between Christ’s Incarnation and Cross in his poem A Christmas Hymn.

It is often sung to one of several musical settings at Christmas, but the refrain is right from Luke’s Palm Sunday story, and the concluding verse reminds us of the reason for Christ’s vocation that led to Good Friday.  Such a good reminder to keep the whole arc of the story in view when looking at the any of the parts:

A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.

This child through David’s city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave his kingdom come.

Yet he shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God’s blood upon the spearhead,
God’s love refused again.

But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

(A Christmas Hymnby Richard Wilbur, New and Collected Poems, 1988, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1988.)

“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: Reflections on the Atonement” is now available at Wipf and Stock Publishers

 

Some of you have asked me how to get a copy of my little book on the atonement, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross:  Reflections on the Atonement.  The book was a Confessing Christ book, and published in 2000 by Pickwick Publications, which Wipf and Stock Publishers acquired in 2004.

This is good news for us theologs, since Wipf and Stock, like Pickwick before it, has made many useful and significant books available that would otherwise not be published for lack of a sizable market.

Confessing Christwants to support Wipf and Stock in this important mission, and so we now have an agreement with them to carry the book.  It has been selling at Amazon.com for $14.00.  Now you can get it at Wipf and Stock for $11.20.  It is in paperback with a thoughtful foreword by Gabriel Fackre, Abbot Professor Emeritus at Andover Newton Theological School, with a striking cover designed by James R. Gorman.

Alan P. F. Sell, Professor of Christian Doctrine and Philosophy of Religion, Aberystwyth, Wales, writes on the back jacket: “I warmly recommend this book to all who wish to reflect earnestly and joyfully on the heart of the Christian Gospel. May the Cross of the crucified and risen Savior ever be at the center of our worship, service, evangelism, and ecumenism.”

If we sell out our limited stock Wipf and Stock will make a new printing available, but I’m guessing without the beautiful cover, so get yours now here.  Some of you Barthians may recognize the cover picture, as Karl Barth had a reproduction of it over his desk when he wrote his monumental Church Dogmatics.

Confessing Christ owns the copyright, so profits beyond what Wipf and Stock gets will support their good work of encouraging “joyful and serious theological conversation.”

(Cover: Crucifixion by Matthias Grunewald from the Isenheim Altarpiece, Musee d’Underlinden, Colmar, France.  Copyright Giraudon.)

Gabriel Fackre on The Life Everlasting

On Gabriel Fackre’s blog he has been doing a series on Hope. The most recent one is on The Life Everlasting. Here’s some of it:

“The ancient creeds—Nicene and Apostles—are really dramas in three acts—creation reconciliation, redemption, the acts being the sequential missions of the three Persons as the “economic Trinity,” albeit as immanent Trinity all are involved in every act as this is the drama of the one triune God. With biblical specificity in mind, the theatre metaphor can be transposed to that of literature and conceived as a narrative with 7 chapters. I have tried to do this in the various volumes of The Christian Story series as creation, fall, covenant, Christ, church, salvation consummation. Whatever the genre we are now at the end of the final act or chapter, the finis that fulfills the divine telos. Using the language of the Apostles Creed, we have to do with the bold Christian affirmation of “everlasting life.”

The portrayal in Scripture —yes through a glass darkly—of this final state is rich and varied. Sometimes it is described in cosmic terms as “a new heaven and a new earth.”(Rev.21:1) At other times it is visualized politically and socially as the Kingdom of God come to earth (Matt 6:10). And yet other times, the focus is on persons and their fulfillment. And in every case it is clear that the alienations that mark our fallen world of Now are overcome with a reconciliation of all the broken and separation parties to God’s purposes. Thus what God finally wills and achieves is the very reflection of who God is: an everlasting life together that mirrors the eternal Life Together.

At the very center of Things to Come is the Person through whom the triune God will make such possible.”