The System of the World

The cover of Stephenson's The System of the WorldI had two thoughts upon finishing this:

  1. Phew!
  2. I should read them again.

This third volume completes Neal Stephenson’s three volume, eight book, million+ word Baroque Cycle (alongside Quicksilver and The Confusion). The length and intricate detail of this epic makes the conclusion that much sweeter. Plot threads left dangling hundreds of thousands of words earlier suddenly return with one-armed vengeance!

This cycle can be appreciated on so many levels. The plot is gripping—especially in this third volume. The prose sucks you into the world of eighteenth century Europe. The philosophical debates are engaging. The characters feel as real as your neighbours.

The part that impressed me the most was a detailed theological debate between two characters in the eighth book. When the characters started to argue I began to worry. Theology is my discipline and I expected to find errors and omissions in Stephenson’s work. To my surprise, the author handled the minutiae of eighteenth century theology with great insight! This increased my confidence in the rest of his historical research.

The Baroque Cycle is historical fiction like no other. It is gripping literature at its finest. If you haven’t yet read it, I envy you. You’re in for a wild ride.


Stephenson, Neal. The System of the World. New York: Harper Perennial, 2004.

In Christ | Ernst Käsemann

Ernst Kasemann‘In Christ’ is the state of those who through the gospel are called out of the old world and who only belong to the new creation in so far as they continue to be confronted with the Lord who justifies the ungodly.

—Käsemann, Perspectives on Paul, 101.

Ethical Leadership | Walter Earl Fluker

The cover of Fluker's Ethical LeadershipEthical Leadership was written to an America in crisis. In 2009, the date of publication, Walter Earl Fluker lamented a nation involved in “two costly wars; struggling with financial crisis precipitated by unscrupulous ethical practices on Wall Street; recovering from a presidential campaign that degenerated into character assassination based on race, religion, and unresolved cultural wars” (vii). The following years have only seen the issues grow more severe. We are in desperate need of ethical leadership.

Ethical leadership is the successful navigation of two worlds: lifeworlds and systemworlds.

“Lifeworlds” refers to the commonplace, everyday traffic of life where people meet and greet one another, where common values and presuppositions about order and the world are held. “Systemworlds” refers to the vast, often impersonal bureaucratic systems dominated by money and power (economics and politics and the various structures of communications and technology), which are frequently at odds with the pedestrian traffic of lifeworlds. (7)

A leader navigates the intersection of these two worlds through three ethical practices which have corresponding dimensions (viii) and are each marked by three virtues (130):

  1. Character  is the personal realm marked by integrity, empathy, and hope.
  2. Civility is the societal realm marked by reverence, respect, and recognition.
  3. Community is the spiritual realm marked by courage, justice, and compassion.

This three-times-three matrix forms “The Ethical Leadership ModelTM” which Fluker fleshes out by drawing on the work of Howard Washington Thurman and Martin Luther King Jr. along with a variety of voices from the black church.

On the positive side, Ethical Leadership is a thoughtful elucidation of many key virtues. Fluker’s selection and categorization was often thought provoking. You might expect reverence to be a spiritual virtue, but he explains it with respect to civility. Conversely, he explains the spiritual value of courage where I would have assumed it to be a personal virtue.

Unfortunately, two features took away from the value of the book. First, the selection and categorization of virtues seemed arbitrary. It is uncertain why he chose some virtues and ignored others. Second, his writing style didn’t suit the subject matter. He wrote about these academic issues like a preacher would preach. There were few concise sentences. If one term was sufficient, two were better, and three were preferred. This style undermined clarity and added (unnecessarily) to the length of the book.

The “The Ethical Leadership ModelTM” developed by Fluker is still a timely message, but it would be better experienced in a live conference than a book.


Fluker, Walter Earl. Ethical Leadership: The Quest for Character, Civility, and Community. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.

Calling and Character | William H. Willimon

The cover of Willimon's Calling and CharacterWe clergy ought not to flatter ourselves, as if our clerical vocation somehow placed a greater burden upon our backs than the challenge that taking up the cross and following Jesus holds for any disciple. (9)

These words, from the first paragraph of the introduction, indicate the unconventional wisdom of William H. Willimon. He turns many of the common perspectives about the life of the pastor on their head. For another example, consider his thoughts on burnout:

The great ethical danger for clergy is not that we might “burn out,” to use a metaphor that is popular in our time, not that we might lose the energy required to do ministry. Our danger is that we might “black out,” that is lose consciousness of why we are here and who we are called to be for Christ and his church. (21)

In every page of Calling and Character, Willimon reminds clergy of “why we are here and who we are called to be” (21). The call to ministry is a high calling. Rather than waste time lamenting the “pedestal” we’re sometimes placed upon, clergy should buck up and wear the mantle. To nuance that metaphor, it is incumbent upon clergy to develop a virtuous character so the mantle actually fits.

Richard B. Hays used three biblical images to frame his ethics: community, cross, and new creation. Willimon uses this threefold framework to develop his ministerial ethics. Clergy are those people “who embody Christian community, cross, and new creation in their lives” (59).

You may agree wholeheartedly with everything Willimon has to say—or not. Regardless of your position on the various issues, Willimon will challenge you to examine your life and practice in light of a high clerical vision.


Willimon, William H. Calling and Character: Virtues of the Ordained Life. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000.

 

From Pentecost to the Triune God | Steven M. Studebaker

The cover of Studebaker's From Pentecost to the Triune GodIt should go without saying in 2017, but in case you haven’t heard, pentecostal scholarship has come of age. The days when pentecostals only focused on the Luke-Acts canon (as fruitful as it is) are over. From Pentecost to the Triune God is an exemplar of current pentecostal thought. In it, Steven M. Studebaker presents a full-orbed theology of the Trinity that gives the role of the Spirit its proper place.

Experience and the Spirit of Christ

From Pentecost to the Triune God falls into three sections. In section one (chapters 1 and 2), Studebaker argues for the importance of bringing experience to exegesis. “Since the ancient Israelites reflected on their formative religious experiences, so can contemporary Pentecostals (and all Christians)” (19). Next he turns his attention to the overarching role of the Spirit throughout the entire canon. A survey of scripture shows that the Spirit’s activity has three characteristics: liminal, constitutional, and eschatological. Theses three characteristics are exhibited in the three main narrative roles: creation-redemption, the life of Jesus, and Pentecost. This chapter is a must-read for pneumatology students of all stripes.

The array of three characteristics spread across three narrative roles leads to nine sections full of insight into the Spirit. I’ll share one of them in this review: the constitutional role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus. Theologians often describe the Trinity in terms of procession. The Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit proceeds either from the Son or the Father and the Son. This understanding of the Trinity can lead to a Logos Christology which subordinates the Spirit. Studebaker points out that twice in scripture that the Spirit is named the “Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9, 1 Peter 1:11). The simple genitive construction can have two meanings:

  1. “Of” can mean source—the Spirit which proceeds from Christ. This underscores a Logos Christology.
  2. “Of” can mean origin—the Spirit which is the “source of the incarnation of Jesus Christ” (82). This opens the door for a Spirit Christology to be developed.

The same Spirit which hovered over the surface of the waters and played a constitutive role in creation hovered over Mary’s womb and played a constitutive role in the incarnation. It’s important to note that Studebaker does not develop his Spirit Christology in order to replace Logos theology, the doctrine of processions, or even the mutual love model. His Spirit Christology adds to the richness of our understanding of the Trinity, underscoring the Spirit’s personhood.

Trinitarian Theology Through the Ages

Trinitarian theology has a lengthy pedigree. In the second section (chapters 3-5), Studebaker delves into the history of Trinitarian theology and evaluates various traditions in light of the theology he developed in the second chapter.

Studebaker delves deep. He considers the roots of Eastern and Western Trinitarianism before moving to the Reformation, Evangelicalism, and Charismatic theologies. Using a variety of dialogue partners representative of the various positions, he considers the strengths and weaknesses of the various views before suggesting what his theological vision has contribute.

World Religions and Environmentalism

The final two chapters are a test drive of Studebaker’s freshly envisioned theology. In “The Spirit of Pentecost and Theology of Religions,” he offers a provocative view that will challenge the presuppositions of many pentecostals. Arguing exegetically that the Spirit was indeed poured out upon all flesh (not just believers), it follows that anyone who responds to the Spirit of Christ (regardless of their religion) will be saved.

The scope of the creative-redemptive work of the Spirit of Pentecost is universal. The Spirit is always seeking to initiate people into and to develop in them a fuller experience of the Spirit of Pentecost. (239)

It’s worth noting that Studebaker is not a Universalist. Although the outpouring of the Spirit is universal, human response to the Spirit of Pentecost is not. This understanding of the Spirit will enable Christians to re-envision mission not as a way carry Jesus to places he’s never been, but as a way to participate in the mission of the Spirit of Pentecost.

The final chapter considers creation care. If creation-redemption is one act of the Spirit, then the theological separation of common and special grace is a fiction. “The Spirit’s work does not have two orders—creation and redemption—but one, the redemption of creation” (261). It follows that creation care is a way of participating in the work of the Spirit who filled the liminal space between chaos and order, played a constitutive role in creation-redemption, and brought all things to eschatological fulfilment at Pentecost.

[F]ew Pentecostal and evangelical Christians consider creation care as an arena of the Spirit’s work and, much less, as a form of sanctification and path of discipleship. However, creation care, no less than the traditional disciplines of Christian formation, is a way that Christians can “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). In other words, buying organic fair-trade coffee and turning the heat down may be just as much a way “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” as praying, attending church, and fasting ( Phil. 2:12). (262)

From Pentecost to the Triune God is more than theology for Pentecostals—it’s a detailed and inspiring look at the life of the Trinue God from the perspective of its least-recognized person.

Studebaker, Steven M. From Pentecost to the Triune God: A Pentecostal Trinitarian Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes

antispam