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Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther on Salvation: The Heart of the Difference

I’m currently waist deep in writing my thesis to complete my MA. This is one of the main reasons I haven’t blogged for months! My thesis compares Thomas Aquinas (the preeminent theologian of the Roman Catholic Church) and Martin Luther (the great reformer) on their understanding of salvation. I’ll share the finished product in a few months, but here’s a spoiler: All of the old polemical comparisons (e.g. protestants teach salvation by faith, while Catholics teach salvation by works) are just wrong. Nonetheless, there are real differences. Here are four statements I’ve crafted to get to the heart of the difference between Thomas’ and Luther’s understanding of salvation. What do you think?

  • Thomas’ problem is that we cannot get the good we desire (though that desire is itself a gift from God). Luther’s problem is that we cannot desire what is good.
  • For Thomas, salvation is like falling in love. For Luther, salvation is like being loved.
  • For Thomas, salvation is like the blind receiving sight. For Luther, salvation is like the lost getting found.
  • Luther worries about whether God will really save me. Thomas worries whether it is really me that God is saving.

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The Theology of Oz


The other night Karly and I went to see Oz: The Great and Powerful. It was alright. The acting was disappointing, especially from James Franco. But the story was pretty good, if a little predictable. My wife, on the other hand, said it was one of the worst movies she’d ever seen—she’s a bit dramatic.

Anyway, you don’t care what I thought of the movie. I’m not Robert Ebert. I’m writing to ask whether anyone else picked up on the barely veiled protestant liberal theology that ran throughout the story? The dude who supposedly (though not really) descended from the heavens, has come to fulfill the prophecy, to overthrow the wicked witch and to restore Oz to its original glory.  Following the Christus Victor motif, which picked up steam among protestant liberals after the feminist movement of the 60s, the problem lies not within the good people of Emerald City, but in their need to be saved from the wicked witch. And in a classically protestant liberal move, that salvation is defined in terms of political liberty.

Oscar’s time in Oz begins with a sort of baptism in the river—protestant liberals are wont to follow Mark, telling the Jesus story beginning with his baptism and avoiding all that awkwardly miraculous stuff in the birth narratives—followed immediately by a night spent in the wilderness with the wicked witch, during which she almost succeeds in tempting him to turn away from his messianic vocation in favor of money and power. In a way analogous to Origen’s version of the ransom theory, the “atonement” happens in this story when Oscar bates the wicked which into “killing” him. But the trick’s on her, because she has only helped him to shuffle off his mortal coil so that he can be resurrected into an infinitely more powerful (and disembodied!) wizard. The resurrection is a hoax of course, but it accomplishes what is needed: that the good people of Emerald City come to believe.  After all, it’s ultimately their faith, not any objective change in reality that will reverse the power of evil.

All the while, Oscar’s own experience in Oz is one of struggling with his own identity and sense of vocation.

That story sound familiar to anybody else? Yawn.

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Hegel and Kierkegaard on what it means to be Christian

I posted a new essay to my academia page: “On Being Christian: Hegel and Kierkegaard on Faith, Reason and the Will.” Here’s the abstract:

I examine Hegel’s narrative of world history, paying particular attention to the role he gives to Christianity, and try to determine what, if anything, Hegel’s narrative might say about what he thinks it means to be a Christian. Then I review Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegel and his own exploration of what it means to be a Christian. In the conclusion bring into sharper focus where the conflict between Hegel and Kierkegaard really lies, by locating it on the map of systematic theology. Finally I draw out some of the pastoral implications of each view.

You can read the rest here.

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Pragmatism or Nuance? The Pope on Same-Sex Marriage

Pope FrancisWhen Pope Francis was elected to the Holy See, many were disappointed with his—how shall we say—less-than-tactful statements in opposition to gay marriage. But a recent article in the New York Times reports that in 2010, when Argentina’s government was debating same-sex marriage, Pope Francis (then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio) actually advocated, much to the chagrin of his fellow bishops, that the church in Argentina support civil unions for gay couples.

The authors of the NYT piece praised Francis for his pragmatic ability to compromise—not a virtue highly honored in the Catholic Church. But I wonder if there isn’t something else going on. I get it why, to someone in the news media who may not have any other categories for understanding it, advocating for civil unions might look like a compromise of the Catholic Church’s moral opposition to same-sex marriage. But, as many of us have been trying to point out, there is a distinct difference between the Christian sacrament of marriage and what states do with tax codes, property law and adoption rights. Is it possible that, instead of compromising his morals, Cardinal Bergoglio was acting out of a nuanced theological position that locates the biblical prescription for marriage in the ecclesiological/sacramental practice, rather than in some ethereal natural law theology?

I really don’t know. But I cannot help but wonder.


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Who was St. Patrick?

Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

Here’s one of my professors, Irish theologian Tom O’Loughlin, on the life of legacy of St. Patrick

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