Jon Stovell’s Notebook


The theological disciplines: An orientation for the perplexed

Ever been confused about the different academic disciplines broadly grouped under the umbrella of “theology”? Here’s an (over)simplified orientation to what they are and what questions they address.

  1. Biblical studies
    Where did the scriptural texts come from, how did they get to be what they are, and what do they say?
  2. Biblical theology
    What did/do the Scriptures mean?
  3. Systematic theology (a.k.a. constructive theology)
    How do we make sense of our Christian beliefs in a way that is meaningful for our lives today?
  4. Applied theology
    How do we put our theological understanding into practice?
  5. Practical theology
    How do our actual practices inform and illuminate our beliefs?
  6. Historical theology
    How have Christians understood and practiced their faith in the past, why did they do so, and how has that shaped our understanding and practice today?
  7. more

History as subject to the eschaton

After discussing the modern notion of history, which assumes that all the events that transpire in time and space are fundamentally similar and therefore always to be understood in terms of analogy with other events with which the historian is already familiar, Moltmann notes that such a view of history is essentially incompatible with the Christian belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Orthodox Christianity very much believes and proclaims that Jesus’ resurrection was an event that occurred in time and space, but not one analogous to other events. Therefore, an authentically Christian understanding of history must set aside the presuppositions of the modern, Enlightenment view and build instead on very different ones:

Only if the whole historical picture, contingency and continuity and all, could be shown to be in itself not necessary but contingent, should wemore

On bodies and souls

Often people ask me about the relationship between our bodies and our souls or spirits. The explicit or implicit reason for the question is usually that people are wondering about what happens when we die, but sometimes there are other reasons. The following is an attempt to give an accessible explanation of this profound and complex matter.

First, for orientation, it is helpful to describe at least briefly some of the major views that circulate in our culture. The default assumption in Western culture, including for many Christians, is that humans have two parts, the body and the soul. Some Westerners are materialists, believing that there is only the body and that the mind, will, emotions, etc., are simply the byproduct of neurological processes. Others take the opposite tack and say that the material reality is only an appearance whereas the spiritual is the truly real. Somemore

Theological method, spiritual formation, and textual criticism - Thoughts on Croasmun and Kennedy’s “Improving on ‘Original Manuscripts’”

In 2012 at the Society of Vineyard Scholars annual conference, Matt Croasmun and Todd Kennedy described some problems with the notion of “original manuscripts” in regard to Scriptural texts. They suggest that the distinction between textual criticism and redaction criticism is based on a modern scholarly construct that we have imposed on the past—specifically, a distinction between licit and illicit revision of Scriptural texts, which happened in earlier and later periods, respectively. Croasmun and Kennedy suggest that the process of textual development is continuous, with no discernible transition from one phase to another, and therefore that we should set aside any attempt to distinguish between licit and illicit textual development on the basis of such phases. Instead, they suggest that identifying the authoritative Scriptural words among textual variants should be a matter ofmore