"Theologian Thursday"

Theologian Thursday: Mildred Bangs Wynkoop

Today's theologian may not be of great interest to those outside the circle of the Church of the Nazarene, but at the very least you'll get a solid book recommendation out of it.

I love how Mildred Bangs Wynkoop ended up in the Nazarene Church because, just like how I got here, it was just a happy accident--her parents happened to meet Phineas Bresee on their honeymoon, and so became members of his church.

She went to Northwest Nazarene College and then Pasadena College, Western Evangelical Seminary (now George Fox), the University of Oregon, and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary.

She was an ordained minister, a professor at Western Evangelical Seminary, and Trevecca Nazarene College, the president of Japan Nazarene Theological Seminary, and theologian-in-residence at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City.

Basically she is a Nazarene rock star.

Wynkoop wrote a bunch of books and articles that were mostly focused on relational theology--how God relates to humanity, and how people relate to God and consequently each other as a result of the imago dei in humanity. She was also an Arminius scholar, and did important work in relating Wesley and Arminius and making them applicable in the Church of the Nazarene.

Also, she makes a damn good bobble head. Someone please buy me one of these.

What you should read:
  • A Theology of Love (for heaven's sake, read this book)
  • Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology
(To read more about my Theologian Rating System, click HERE
Gender Equality:
The Church of the Nazarene is awesome and has been ordaining women from day one. In fact, NTS has a center for women in ministry that bears Wynkoop's name.
Environmental Sensibility:

I think Wynkoop's theology of love certainly extends not only to the relationship of God and humanity and humanity with itself, but also to the relationships of God and humanity with creation as a whole. I imagine she would be completely on board with talking about care for creation as an extension of holiness.
Heretical Tendencies: 
There's really nothing heretical I can find in her writing or teaching, although there are some who chafe at this idea of "relational theology" and theology of "love." But I'd say that's a personal problem.
General Badassery: 
So maybe she didn't fight lions or anything, but Mildred Wynkoop is badass in her own way. She laid the foundation for hundreds of Nazarene women to study, preach, and write, and her influence in the church is still alive and well.

Finally, a short quote:
“The character of holiness is love.”

Theologian Thursday: Saint Valentine

It should come as no surprise that I chose to look at St. Valentine today. It is his feast day, after all.

The difficulty I found, however, was figuring out who exactly he is. The conflicting stories and accounts of St. Valentine--indeed, multiple St. Valentines, since it was quite a common name--are rivaled only by those surrounding St. Nicholas. And even then, most of the legends are talking about the same person.

Sidenote--isn't it interesting how the saints who have the most mainstream appeal and recognization are also the ones whose stories are so muddled? It's like a strange and unfortunate game of theological telephone. We'll see what I come up with for St. Patrick (spoiler alert: nothing to do with snakes).

Here's what we do know--Valentine was a Roman priest who was beheaded on February 14, 269. He is recorded in St. Gregory's sacramentary of martyrs and other martyrologies.

That's about it.

He is the Patron Saint of bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, plague, and travelers.

How Valentine's festival day became associated with love and romance is one of those weird, convoluted histories which you can never be quite sure of. Some sources say that he was an extraordinary lover of God and people, but honestly I don't expect anything less from a priest--especially a saint. Additionally, it seems there was a pagan ritual held in mid-February that included drawing of names and goddess worship having to do with Juno Februata. But even that is an uncertain legend and a tenuous link. Chaucer also had something to do with conflating St. Valentine and courtly love in Parlement of Foules, but it's unclear what led him to make that connection.

All this to say, this is another saint-related holiday in which the actual saint has hardly any relevance.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Theologian Thursday: Eusebius (260-339)

As a lover of church history, I have found a soft spot in my heart for Eusebius, who was one of the first church historians, and followed the thought of Justin Martyr and Origen.

It's kind of funny to think of him being a church historian when he only lived in the third/fourth century. I mean, some of the more exciting drama (some post-Nicean controversies, and the councils of Constantinople and Chalcedon, not to mention anything in the middle ages) were just getting started or hadn't happened yet. But his work st the stage for  the keeping of records, without which the Christian tradition would be woefully paltry and this blog would not exist.

Eusebius was named the bishop of Caesarea in 313 after being imprisoned for a time during the persecutions, and was one of Constantine's top theological advisers. He was involved in the Council of Nicaea (with a slight Arian bent) in 325, and in 334 presided over a synod in which Athanasius was brought forth and accused of chopping the hand off a bishop (they brought the hand as evidence... but not the bishop. THIS IS REAL CHURCH HISTORY, PEOPLE).

Anyway, Eusebius's work has a lot to do with the canonization of books in the Bible. His relaying of the history of the documents and their use within the early church aided in the process of creating the canon we know today. In addition, he also talks about important figures in the early (eastern) church. His knowledge of the western church was lacking a bit, but you can't really blame him, because he didn't have an email account set up.

What you should read:
(To read more about my Theologian Rating System, click HERE) 
Gender Equality:
Although I imagine his respect for women was about on par with anyone else's in the patriarchal fourth century, he heaps praises on multiple women in his exposition of the martyrs, including Valentina, Theodosia, and others, calling them courageous, brave heroines.
Environmental Sensibility:
As usual, it's hard to say on this one. But I do find it interesting that just about every mention of "Creation" in his Church History is referring to the creation of humanity rather than creation or nature in general. I think that says something about where nature was on his priority list.
Heretical Tendencies: 
I had to give him two stars, just because of his (however slight) preference for Arian theology and its happenstance of falling on the losing side of history. Additionally, he studied from the personal library of Origen (who also turned out to be a heretic), which was maintained by his teacher, Pamphilus.
General Badassery: 
Like I said, I like this dude. Eusebius wrote a ton and was a  totally legit scholar. Those characteristics are pretty badass to me, but outside of that not much is known about his life, so there doesn't seem to be any crazy stories about him.

Finally, a long but lovely quote/prayer:

"May I be an enemy to no one and the friend of what abides eternally.
May I never quarrel with those nearest me, and be reconciled quickly if I should. 
May I never plot evil against others, and if anyone plot evil against me, 
may I escape unharmed and without the need to hurt anyone else.
May I love, seek and attain only what is good. 
May I desire happiness for all and harbor envy for none.
May I never find joy in the misfortune of one who has wronged me.
May I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make reparation.
May I gain no victory that harms me or my opponent.
May I reconcile friends who are mad at each other.
May I, insofar as I can, give all necessary help to my friends and to all who are in need.
May I never fail a friend in trouble.
May I be able to soften the pain of the 
grief stricken and give them comforting words.
May I respect myself.
May I always maintain control of my emotions.
May I habituate myself to be gentle, and never angry with others because of circumstances.
May I never discuss the wicked or what they have done, but know good people and follow in their footsteps."

Theologian Thursday: Scholastica (480-543)

Scholastica was the twin sister of Saint Benedict, and they were both highly influential in their local religious life--running monasteries and such. I have always been fascinated by twins. In fact, when I was quite young, my "imaginary friends" were girl/boy twins (Is that really weird to admit on a blog? Oh well.). I think it's that unique familial closeness that is unparalleled, even in other sibling relationships. Of course, that's not always true, but I digress.

Scholastica and Benedict were indeed close. They founded a convent and a monastery within a few miles of each other and thrived on theological conversation and debate (even though they could not enter each other's house due to monastery rules).

During one of their meetings, Scholastica had a premonition that it was to be their last, and so when it was time for her brother to leave, she begged him to stay. Presumably considering her fears silly, Benedict refused, insisting he must go back to his house because he never spent the night away. Scholastica pitched a fit--crying and praying to God that Benedict would not leave. Gregory the Great tells us that she "poured forth such a flood of tears upon the table, that she drew the clear air to a watery sky" and such a huge storm began that Benedict couldn't leave after all.

He was like, "What the heck, dude," and she said "I asked a favor of you, and you refused it. I asked it
of God, and He has granted it!" So there. The ended up continuing their meeting, talking and praying through the night.

She died three days later.

The moral of the story is ALWAYS TRUST YOUR SISTER.

I'm going to pass on "What you should read" and Ratings today, since all we really know about Scholastica is from that piece by Gregory, and as far as I can tell she didn't write anything. So basically I'd just be making stuff up. And this post is already weird enough as it is.

Theologian Thursday: Wendell Berry

With the release of comments by Wendell Berry in support of gay marriage last week, I've been revisiting some of his work and thought and, man, is it inspiring! So I thought I'd spotlight him for Theologian Thursday today.

Wendell Berry isn't really a theologian. He is more precisely a writer, a poet, and a farmer. But his activism and language  (surely influenced by his friend, Thomas Merton) has a mystic, spiritual resonance that makes you believe that he sees something in the world--God, I guess--that most people miss.

I'll be first to admit that I don't really get "spirituality." I love ritual and myth, but most of my religious understanding is academic. That's just how my brain works. But Wendell Berry makes me wish I was a mystic.

Berry is a sixth-generation farmer and a highly-educated academic. He farms a 125-acre piece of land in Kentucky, and he has taught writing at Stanford and  NYU.

He has engaged in several nonviolent protests against the industrialization of farming and food, the death penalty, and war.

He teaches that love, life, and nature are sacred, and believes that a simple and humble life, shaped by community and honest work is the truest form of living.

Seriously, read his stuff. I challenge you to not be completely blown away.

What you should read:

(To read more about my rating system, click HERE.)
Gender Equality: 
Wendell Berry is certainly an egalitarian, but as far as I know isn't explicitly passionate about women's issues.
Environmental Sensibility: 

Creation is clearly Berry's number one priority. His work and life revolve around a natural agrarian mindset and a focus on both the redemptive qualities of nature and its need for redemption in light of humanity's treatment of it.
Heretical Tendencies: 
I don't think Berry's theology is very suspect to heresy, although I'm sure plenty of people give some side-eye to mysticism as a whole (which is a shame) and he's probably been accused of nature worship or pantheism or something.

General Badassery: 
By now I think I've made it clear that I think Wendell Berry is frickin awesome. The farmer/academic/activist combo is so spot on. I think what's so badass about it is that he has these educated, informed beliefs, he advocates for them (to the government, etc.), but he also actually lives them day to day in real life.

It was so hard for me to pick one quote from this exceedingly quotable man, but here you go:
“Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.”

Theologian Thursday: Martin Luther (1483-1546)

I have held out on doing Martin Luther for the longest time. Mostly because I pretty much don't like the guy or his theology and didn't feel like I could give him a fair shake, but then I realized it's my blog and I can do whatever I want, so there.

But before this post becomes 500 Reasons Martin Luther is a Turd, here are some things I like about him:

  1. He is The Reformer of the Western Church. As I mentioned in my post on Reformation Day, despite my Catholic sympathies, I am irrevocably Protestant. So I have him to thank for that. He stood up to many ills in both belief and praxis in the Roman Catholic Church (i.e. selling indulgences--basically allowing people to buy forgiveness for their sins from the church).
  2. I'm a fan of his doctrine of the sacramental union and real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. I feel like it's a nice middle road between Zwingli's merely memorial elements (not real or important enough, if you ask me) and traditional transubstantiation (maybe too real?) and it acknowledges that the bread and wine is the body and blood of Christ (not just a symbol)... but that it's still bread and wine so don't freak out. Anyway, I could talk about Eucharist forever so I'll leave it at that.
  3. He's cool with clerical marriage. His own marriage set the precedent for Protestant priests, pastors, etc. to marry, which I think is right and good.
  4. "Soul sleep." Obviously nobody knows what happens when people die. But I know enough about biology (and, I don't know, astronomy, I guess?) to say that our "souls" probably don't "go to heaven," because A) There's not really a soul and B) There's not really a heaven. But because I'm a Christian and believe (or really, really want to believe) in a resurrection of the dead (kind of... maybe... sorry, there's no way to get through this paragraph without a million qualifications), I think the idea of "soul sleep" kind of makes the most sense. When you're dead, you're dead. But then you'll be alive again. Hopefully.
So those are some cool things about Luther.

I could make another list about how he was anti-semitic, hated women, put too much stock in the epistles of Paul/pseudo-Paul, thought each Christian had to "tear the eyes out of his Reason," had a wonky translation of the Bible, believed in "just" war, and was on the wrong end of a debate with my beloved Erasmus... but this sentence will have to do. I like to keep things positive around here.

What you should read:
  • Word and Sacrament I-IV (good stuff to be found in here)
(To read more about my rating system, click HERE.)
Gender Equality: 
I'll let Luther speak for himself here: "Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children." "Tis you women, with your tricks and artifices, that lead men into error""The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes."

Environmental Sensibility: 
Again, it's hard to say. He has some nice thoughts about natural theology, but I feel like he'd be the type of person that wouldn't be much of a tree-hugger.

Heretical Tendencies: 
Obviously this depends on the side of the Catholic/Protestant divide on which you stand. Luther was excommunicated for not recanting anything from his works, especially the 95 theses. But much of his thinking is still pretty mainstream within Protestantism.

General Badassery: 
I can't deny that Martin Luther was a total badass. I mean, anyone who can just come out and say that the Bible says women are only fit for sex (for babies or business) has some major cojones. Dude was big and loud and drank and did and said pretty much whatever he wanted., without caring who was listening or what they would think (even if it was the Pope). I can dig that.

Lastly, a lovely quote:
"Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books, but in every leaf in springtime."

Theologian Thursday: Athanasius (296-373)

As Christmas inches ever closer (less than a week away, now!), I find myself constantly swept up in the miracle and mystery of the incarnation. It is, in my opinion, the defining aspect of our faith and the key part of the salvific narrative.

So as I was reading Athanasius's On the Incarnation, I realized he had not had his own Theologian Thursday post yet! So here we are.

Athanasius was the bishop of Alexandria, and is most well known for his opposition to the Arian heresy and his role at the councils of Nicaea (325) and Alexandria (326).

The gist of the story is that Arius was teaching a subordinationist christology (i.e. that the second Person of the Trinity was created in time, rather than begotten eternally), which had actually taken off and become quite popular. In fact, this may be the only historical heresy with an accompanying jingle--people were going around singing, "There was a time when the Son was not." Athanasius challenged Arius, asserting that the Son could not have been created, because then it would be creature and not divine.

Then he got Arius anathemized.

Athanasius was not without his own problems though. He was sent into exile a couple times, mostly because emperors were mad about the Arius thing. This was right after Constantine adopted Christianity and the Church began to be entangled with the Empire, so clergy had become more political. Athanasius did most of his writing while in exile.

What you should read:
Ratings:(To read more about my rating system, click HERE.)
Gender Equality: I don't think I would call Athanasius a total misogynist, but he does pen some questionable lines about women and sin, and the necessity of the virginity of Mary. Plus, there's not much to say that he actually appreciated women. 
Environmental Sensibility: The fourth century was certainly not a time of much interest in the environment. And yet, these early fathers were not destroying the earth as humanity came to do later either, so I suppose there was less to worry about.
Heretical Tendencies: 
Athanasius's fight was for orthodoxy, and his christology and view of the Trinity is still considered orthodox today. Interesting how a "winner" in a doctrinal debate automatically becomes 100% orthodox, while the other is 100% heretical and has his work burned.

General Badassery: 
I was actually surprised to find Athanasius to be a lot less badass than I was expecting. Besides the anathemizing and exiles and writing, his life was not really a big deal. He died peacefully in his home at a very old age. Oh, and his nickname was the "Black Dwarf," which is not so much badass as it is politically incorrect.

Finally, a classic quote:

"The Son of God became man so that we might become God."