The Powers of Death

I have a new wee essay out: ‘The Powers of Death: Recognition, Resistance, Resurrection’. Jurnal Jaffray 19, no. 1 (2021): 1–26. [pdf]

The Abstract reads:

This essay is an invitation to examine the powers of death, particularly the modes by which such powers are manifested in the world, modes that relate to but are irreducible to an individual’s life. It considers contributions to the subject from Karl Barth, Walter Wink, and William Stringfellow, among others, to argue that while death and its associated powers are pervasive, they are also penultimate realities. The powers of death meet their end in Jesus Christ. The gospel concerning Jesus Christ is the invitation to live as if such a claim were true, to recognise one for whom death is not foreign territory and in whom death is confronted and its powers brought to nought. It is the invitation to a life in which resistance to the powers of death is possible. It is the invitation to live a life characterised by resurrection.

[Image: Max Böhme, Los Angeles, CA, USA, 20 June, 2019 | Unsplash]

On the Gifts of Street Art

I was delighted to receive an invitation to contribute a short piece for Zadok and their issue on ‘Urban Spirituality’. It’s a great issue, with pieces by some amazing people – Karina Kreminski (who edited the issue), Alison Sampson, Simon Carey Holt, Glenn Loughrey, Siu Fung Wu, Jo Kadlecek, Sherry Maddock, Geoff Maddock, Melinda Cousins, Joel McKerrow, and Matt Anslow. My own contribution is some scribbles about street art. Details: ‘On the Gifts of Street Art’. Zadok 146, Summer (2019): 13–15. [pdf]

I was even more thrilled when they chose to use one of my photos for the front cover.


[Update: the Australasian Religious Press Association awarded this essay silver prize for ‘Best Theological Article’ in their 2020 ARPA Awards.]

An update on “Tikkun Olam”—To Mend the World: A Confluence of Theology and the Arts

Tikkun Olam CoverRecently, the publishers, essayists and myself have picked up a gear or two with the final edits on the forthcoming book “Tikkun Olam”—To Mend the World: A Confluence of Theology and the Arts (Pickwick Publications). The book is a collection of essays premised on a very basic conviction that artists, theologians and others have things to learn from one another, things about the complex interrelationality of life, and about a coherence of things given and sustained by God. The essays therein attend to the lives and burdens and hopes that characterize human life in a world broken but unforgotten, in travail but moving towards the freedom promised by a faithful Creator. More specifically, they reflect on whether the world – wounded as it is by war, by hatred, by exploitation, by neglect, by reason, and by human imagination itself – can be healed. Can there be repair? And can art and theology tell the truth of the world’s woundedness and still speak of its hope?

The Foreword was written by New York-based artist Alfonse Borysewicz, and the Table of Contents reads thus:

  1. Introduction—Jason Goroncy
  2. “Prophesy to these Dry Bones”: The Artist’s Role in Healing the Earth—William Dyrness
  3. Cosmos, Kenosis and Creativity—Trevor Hart
  4. Re-forming Beauty: Can Theological Sense Accommodate Aesthetic Sensibility?—Carolyn Kelly
  5. Questioning the Extravagance of Beauty in a World of Poverty—Jono Ryan
  6. Living Close to the Wound—Libby Byrne
  7. The Sudden Imperative and Not the Male Gaze: Reconciliatory Relocations in the Art Practice of Allie Eagle—Jo Osborne and Allie Eagle
  8. Building from the Rubble: Architecture, Memory and Hope—Murray Rae 
  9. The Interesting Case of Heaney, the Critic, and the Incarnation—John Dennison
  10. New Media Art Practice: A Challenge and Resource for Multimedia Worship—Julanne Clarke-Morris
  11. Silence, Song, and the Sounding-Together of Creation—Steven Guthrie

Also, Jeremy Begbie and Paul Fiddes were kind enough to read the manuscript and to provide the following endorsements for the book:

‘Artistically sensitive, theologically rich, and eminently readable – this is a rare combination, but it is amply demonstrated in this fascinating set of essays’.

– Jeremy Begbie, Duke Divinity School, Duke University

‘Emerging from a theological symposium and an art exhibition, the essays in this book show in glorious profusion and profundity the marks of this double origin. Theologians, artists, literary scholars, and musicians combine to bear witness to a world that is broken and yet is also the stage for a decisive event of divine love and healing. These are essays full of insights about order and disorder, beauty and tragedy. Their achievement is to make the reader think and, above all, imagine’.

– Paul S. Fiddes, University of Oxford

When the book becomes available, I’ll be sure to let readers here at Per Crucem ad Lucem know.

An update on my forthcoming book ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History’

Forsyth 16A week or so ago, I received  finally  the first proofs for my forthcoming book Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: Notes from the Pulpit Ministry of P.T. Forsyth (Pickwick Publications). I’m really delighted with the typesetter’s efforts, and genuinely excited to see this 350+ page baby  which consists of forty-eight sermons (most of which are previously unpublished), a Foreword by David Fergusson, and an Introduction by yours truly – finally near full term. All going to plan, she should be ready to pop in the next few months. Of course, I’ll announce the birth soon after I know about it. In the meantime, here is a wee taster, an ultrasound (to keep the running metaphor alive), from the Preface wherein I attend to the matter and logic of the book’s title:

A note about the title of this volume is in order too. The phrase “descending on men and intervening in history” appears in Forsyth’s Yale lectures. In the section wherein the phrase appears, Forsyth was concerned about religious liberalism’s tendency towards vagueness and detachment from a more intellectually and morally rigorous or “positive” religion that speaks to the deep crises of human history and experience. The former understands Christ to be the product rather than the creator of the Church, reduces the history of redemption to “the ascending history of the race developed with God’s aid,” and begins from ideas and ends in the theological suicide of positive belief and distinctive experience. The so-called “positive” theology of the New Testament, however, is chiefly concerned with God’s moral action of overcoming human sin and the hallowing of God’s own name in the creation in order that God might hear an echo of himself therefrom. Whereas the former merely proposes prerequisites for and conditions of reconciliation, the latter bears witness to the reconciliation that has already taken place in Jesus Christ, trumpeting that we are already in a healed situation and “not merely in a world in process of empirical reconciliation.” Also, the gospel descends on, rather than arises from, us:

It is not a projection of [our] innate spirituality. It is revealed, not discovered, not invented. It is of grace, not works. It is conferred, not attained. It is a gift to our poverty, not a triumph of our resource. It is something which holds us, it is not something that we hold. It is something that saves us, and nothing that we have to save. Its Christ is a Christ sent to us and not developed from us, bestowed on our need and not produced from our strength, and He is given for our sin more than for our weakness.

So Forsyth could describe the experience of faith as that which rests on God’s finished work and then “takes a line,” appealing to “our moral mettle” and calling us not to mere consideration and pondering but to “moral verve and vigilance,” to stake the entirety of our being and eternity on selection, decision, and committal. This choice, Forsyth averred, depicts the gulf faced by preachers, a gulf that Forsyth believed is as wide and as irreconcilable as that between being a herald of the gospel and an advocate of culture. The former, Forsyth said, “will make you strangers and sojourners in the world, the other citizens of the world . . . One will make you apostles of Christ, and one will make you champions of humanity. One will make you severe with yourself, one will make you tender with yourself. One will commend you to the naughty people, and one will commend you to the nice.” He continues:

Now of these two tendencies one means the destruction of preaching. If it cease to be God’s word, descending on men and intervening in history, then it will cease as an institution in due time. It may become lecturing, or it may become oratory, but as preaching it must die out with a positive Gospel. People cannot be expected to treat a message of insight from man to man as they do a message of revelation from God to man. An age cannot be expected to treat a message from another age as they treat a message from Eternal God to every age. Men with the passion of the present cannot be expected to listen even to a message from humanity as they would to one from God. And if humanity redeem itself you will not be able to prevent each member of it from feeling that he is his own redeemer.

In other words, Forsyth sees at stake here nothing less than the nature of the gospel as grace, as that foreign word that descends and intrudes and makes alive, rather than that which arises from our own situation and in the end merely coddles a frondeur race in its blindness and recalcitrance. The latter promises to raise the dead while having nothing but death’s machinery with which to do so—machinery reluctant, moreover, either to name the corpse as corpse or even to attend to the right grave. But not so the preacher of grace, the preacher who, with words given, names a thing for what it is and by such naming participates in grace’s continuing event by which all things are being made new. To so recall Forsyth’s plea here is to recall that he was, of course, ministering at a time when the theology of the day was radically out of joint with the situation confronting the human community in Europe, when the easy optimism heralded as the new orthodoxy was about to be crushed under the press of catastrophic historical events. In response, Forsyth attacked the amorality of established theology and raised a too-lonely voice in plea for a staurocentric theology of redemption.

Lesson and the Arts

For those who may be interested, I’ve just had 4 wee articles published in the June edition of Lectionary Homiletics.

‘Lesson and the Arts: Pablo Picasso and Romans 5:1–5’, pp. 10–11.

‘Lesson and the Arts: Dylan Thomas and Luke 7:11–17’, pp. 19–20.

‘Lesson and the Arts: Dies Irae, John Donne and Luke 7:36–8:3’, pp. 27–28.

‘Lesson and the Arts: Mark Tansey, Rembrandt Van Rijn, Matryoshka Dolls and Galatians 3:23–29’, pp. 36–37.

Princeton Theological Review – Theology and the Arts

The latest issue of The Princeton Theological Review – this edition put together by David Congdon, Chris TerryNelson, and others – is out. Commendably, it is dedicated to the discussion between theology and the arts. It can be read online here or download as a pdf here.

Articles include the following:

A Vacation for Grünewald: On Karl Barth’s Vexed Relationship with Visual Art
by Matthew Milliner

Call Forwarding: Improvising the Response to the Call of Beauty
by Bruce Benson

Theology and Church Music
by Gordon Graham

“A Pre-Appearance of the Truth”: Toward a Christological Aesthetics
by D.W. Congdon

The Beautiful as a Gateway to the Transcendent: The Contributions of the Decadent Movement in 19th Century Literature and the Theological Aesthetics of Hans Urs von Balthasar
by Walter Kedjierski

Fighting Troll-Demons in Vaults of the Mind and Heart – Art, Tragedy, and Sacramentality: Some Observations from Ibsen, Forsyth, and Dostoevsky
by Jason Goroncy

European Journal of Theology

The latest edition of the European Jounal of Theology (15/2, 2006) is out. The contents are:

Philip G. Ziegler, ‘Christian Context for Conscience? Reading Kierkegaard’s Works of Love Beyond Hegel’s Critique of Conscience’, pp. 93-103.

Jason A. Goroncy, ‘Bitter Tonic for our Time – Why the Church Needs the World: Peter Taylor Forsyth on Henrik Ibsen’, pp. 105-118.

Thomas Gerold, ‘Ein Rezensionsartikel zu: Schmidt-Leukel, Perry, Gott ohne Grenzen. Eine christliche und pluralistische Theologie der Religionen’, pp. 119-123.

Christoph Stenschke, ‘Ursprünge und Gestalt der Evangelisation in den paulinischen Missionsgemeinden: Ein Rezensionsartikel zu Dickson, John P., Mission-Commitment in Ancient Juduism and in the Pauline Communities: The Shape, Extent and Background of Early Christian Mission‘, pp. 125-134.