An Interview with Richard Bauckham


Alvin Rapien, at The Poor in Spirit, recently interviewed Richard Bauckham about his book Gospel of Glory.

An excerpt of the interview can be found below, and you can read the rest here.

“I have argued that to contemporary readers it would have looked more like good historiography than the Synoptics, because it is remarkably precise about chronology and geography, as good history was supposed to be. We always know where Jesus is, sometimes very precisely indeed (e.g. Solomon’s Portico in the Temple) and, within a few months, at what time events occur (because of the sequence of Jewish feasts that is carefully marked).

Cover ArtI find these aspects of John convincing as historically accurate, and where there is conflict (not often) I would prefer John to Mark, whose chronological and geographical scheme is quite simplified and artificial. (Mark has only one visit to Jerusalem and so he has to put into that visit all the traditions he knew as localized in Jerusalem. John’s several visits, with the Temple incident at the beginning, are more plausible.)

 ….Until the early 19th century, [John] was accepted as an eyewitness account, more valuable as history therefore than Mark and Luke. Schleiermacher still thought it the best historical source for Jesus. Then the idea that Mark was the first Gospel (which no one thought until the 19th century) became popular (and, I think, correct). The denigration of John as history in the 19th century had a lot to do with the desire by the major German scholars to find a historical Jesus who was not supernatural and not the Christ of the church’s dogma. So they imagined Mark to be portraying a purely human Jesus. Of course, they were wrong. Mark has a very high Christology, as is now widely recognized. They also thought John used all three Synoptic Gospels and just made up what he added to them. Few people think this now.”

on Paul and the Miraculous, Part 2 of our Interview with Graham Twelftree

This is the second half of our interview with Graham Twelftree, author of Paul and the Miraculous: A Historical Reconstruction To read Part 1, click here.


In what ways is studying the historical Paul similar (or dissimilar) to studying the historical Jesus?

Both Paul and Jesus come to us from another time, another culture, another region of the globe, and other languages than those of us in the Western world. Whatever we read of or by them, or find related to them, comes to us across these great gulfs of potential misunderstanding. Hermeneutical skill and the most careful use of historical tools are needed to bridge these divides between us and both Jesus and Paul.

Cover ArtThen, just as we have a number of Gospels and their underlying traditions that propose to shed light on Jesus, so we have a number of sources in the New Testament that help us recover the historical Paul. Most obviously, we have his letters. There is also the Acts of the Apostles which, used with care, can help us reconstruct the historical Paul. However, there are also letters in the New Testament thought to be written by followers of Paul, including perhaps the Pastoral Epistles.

Jesus and Paul are also both of central importance to Christianity. This means that what is established about them by historical inquiry is of great interest to Christians. Indeed, there is usually considerable resistance to taking up conclusions different from those traditionally accepted.

Over against these similarities, the great difference between these two figures is that while we have letters Paul wrote, Jesus apparently left no written records of his own. Another difference in the study of these two individuals is that our major sources for the recovery of the historical Jesus are in narrative form, the Gospels. Our primary source of information about Paul is in the form of occasional letters, which by their nature don’t give a complete picture of the writer.

Which passages are key to your understanding of Paul’s relation to the miraculous?

A remarkable number of places in his letters refer to the miraculous in his life and thought, though much depends on what is meant by miraculous. The key passages include his discussion of the charismata (esp. 1 Cor. 14:6, 18; cf. 2 Cor. 13:3) where we see the breadth of his notion of miracles and that his experience of the miraculous included tongues, prophecy, teaching, and probably wisdom. We should include passages that tell us of his experience of conversion and call (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8; Gal. 1:13–16; Phil. 3:4–11) and visions and revelations (1 Cor. 2:13; 7:40; 2 Cor. 5:13; 12:1–4, 7; Gal. 2:2). The paragraph about the “thorn in the flesh” appears to relate a new understanding of miracles for him (1 Cor. 12:1–10; cf. Gal. 4:13–14). Understandably, the mention of the rescue from afflictions in Asia (2 Cor. 1:8–11) and the recovery of Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:26–27) also tell us about his views relating to the miraculous. However, he also saw sickness and death as miracles of punishment (1 Cor. 11:30).

The key passages that tell us about the miraculous in his ministry include Romans 15:18–19; 1 Corinthians 2:1–5; 4:19–20; 12–14; 2 Corinthians 6:6–7; 12:11–12; Galatians 3:1–5; and 1 Thessalonians 1:5.

What do you hope this book accomplishes?

Perhaps too much! But I very much hope those who read this book will see not simply that Paul was deeply and very often involved in the miraculous. I hope readers will instead see a more rounded view of Paul: an innovative thinker and theologian, a pastor, and a missionary, through whose life and work was threaded the importance and practical involvement in the miraculous. I hope readers see that Paul saw himself involved in the miraculous not as a man of power but as a man of weakness through whom the power of God worked. I also hope that readers are able to share my surprise in discovering that, as I say near the end of the book, for Paul no more could the gospel be proclaimed without words than it could come or be experienced without miracles. From Paul’s perspective, without the miraculous, there was no gospel, only preaching. Yet the greater surprise for me, which I hope the book conveys, is that Paul did not see himself as a miracle-worker. Rather, he saw himself as proclaiming a message that, by the accompanying presence of the Spirit, was realized in the miraculous and thereby became the gospel.

Graham H. TwelftreeGraham H. Twelftree (PhD, University of Nottingham) is the Charles L. Holman Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity and the director of the PhD program in the School of Divinity at Regent University, Virginia. In addition to many scholarly articles and reviews, he is the author of a number of books, including In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism among Early Christians and People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke’s View of the Church.

For more information on Paul and the Miraculous, click here.

on Paul and the Miraculous, Part 1 of our Interview with Graham Twelftree

This is the first half of our interview with Graham Twelftree, author of Paul and the Miraculous: A Historical Reconstruction


Why did you write Paul and the Miraculous?

Years ago I was asked to write an article on miracles in Paul and found very little work had been done in the field. Since then a few things have appeared, but there was still the need for more to tackle the problems. The main problem is how to explain the high profile of miracles in the Jesus traditions, while Paul, who claimed to be his apostle, appears to say little to nothing on the topic. Furthermore, our reading of Paul is complicated by Luke attributing considerable miracle-working to Paul. I also wanted to test what seems increasingly obvious: the miraculous was more important in early Christianity than is generally reflected in the scholarly literature.

Cover ArtHow can reclaiming the role of miracles in Paul’s ministry change the way we read his letters?

Although it’s acknowledged that the letters tell us little about Paul, their theological creativity and highly complex and persuasive content has almost inevitably led to the view that Paul was primarily a theologian. A more careful reading of these letters broadens our assessment of him. He was not simply a theologian writing letters, nor was he just a preacher. He was an apostle promoting a gospel that had a richness that generally escapes both the academy and the church.

You point out that many studies of Paul give little or no space to his involvement with the miraculous. Why might that be?

It could be, as some have argued, because Paul was hardly, if at all, involved in the miraculous. However, as seen in this book, a reasonable case can be made that the miraculous was very important in Paul’s life, thought, and work.

We’ve not seen the importance of the miraculous for Paul probably because we still live in the shadow—or glow!—of the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Pauline studies remains preoccupied with Luther’s Paul and his view of the law. For generations now, great swathes of the church, along with its scholars, have read Paul almost exclusively through the lens of the “saved by grace not works” shibboleth. This has meant that little attention has been paid to the breadth of Paul’s life experience, or his thought and work practices, including involvement in the miraculous. The Enlightenment, prioritizing the rational and the mundane over tradition and the superstitious—famously captured in Hume’s essay—has also contributed to marginalizing the miraculous in scholarly debate. Of course, the result is that Paul and the Christianity of his time have been made much more amenable to our “disenchanted” Western sensibilities.

Graham H. TwelftreeGraham H. Twelftree (PhD, University of Nottingham) is the Charles L. Holman Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity and the director of the PhD program in the School of Divinity at Regent University, Virginia. In addition to many scholarly articles and reviews, he is the author of a number of books, including In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism among Early Christians and People of the Spirit: Exploring Luke’s View of the Church.

For more information on Paul and the Miraculous, click here.

Interview with Andrew Davison about Imaginative Apologetics – Part 2

This is the second part of our interview with Andrew Davison, editor of Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition. Read Part 1 HERE.

How are the essays in this volume representative of “imaginative apologetics?” What role does imagination have in Christian apologetics?

I can pick up here where I just left off. An account of reason worthy of the name does not stop with mathematics, logic, and the natural sciences. Reason is a feeling thing, and it is also intimately bound up with the imagination. So much so, that even my invocation of mathematics and the natural sciences just then is unfair to those disciplines; the mathematician and the scientist use their imaginations, at least if they are up to their job. This is where the philosophy comes in: the “New Atheists” and their like are hopelessly behind the times when it comes to epistemology—the theory of knowledge—and are living in a time warp of discredited logical positivism. We are among those people pointing this out.

The book presents apologetics as a matter of the imagination in at least three ways. The first is perhaps the most obvious: apologetics can, and often should, draw on works of the imagination: literature, film, and so on. Alison Milbank addresses this, as does Michael Ward in his chapter on C. S. Lewis’s apologetic method. The second point picks up the thought I have just mentioned. Imagination is not the isolated preserve of the “creative” person; it is part of what everyday reason always involves. As I remember, the poet Coleridge called the work of the creative imagination as we know it today—the sort that produces poems or novels—the “secondary imagination.” He reserved the term “primary imagination” for the sense in which all thought requires elements of exploration, sympathy, and creativity. As for the third way in which the book is imaginative, I’d point to some of the more unusual angles we take on apologetics: “imaginative angles,” we could say. These include getting at apologetics through its history, a chapter on unbelief that asks what Christians have done that has made the faith unbelievable, and a chapter on “Christian Ethics as Good News”: an approach that I think is good for both apologetics and Christian ethics.

In your essay in Imaginative Apologetics, you discuss Christian reason as distinct and attractive and then relate it to community. What is the role of Christian community in reason and apologetics?

I wonder whether the standard view of apologetics as the work of the individual—which I accept—needs to be broadened to include a sense of the church as an apologetic community. I stand by the idea put forward by figures such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michael Polanyi, and Alasdair MacIntyre that particular forms of reason are bound up with particular forms of community. If that is true, then an invitation to think in a Christian way cannot be separated from an invitation to live in the Christian community: the church. It seems quite possible that certain Christian claims—on forgiveness, for instance—might make no sense outside an experience of the Christian community that makes those claims. We are not asking people to adopt new abstract ideas, argued based on what they already take to be obvious; we are asking them to take on a new sense of where to start, a new sense of what is obvious, of what makes sense. This makes some fairly strong demands on the church and how her communities work on the ground. They are demands worth making, since they are what Christ already asks of us.

Andrew Davison (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the tutor in doctrine at Westcott House, University of Cambridge, in Cambridge, England. He has taught theology at St. Stephen’s House, Oxford, and is known for his writing on doctrine, mission, and the church. He is coauthor of For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions and joint editor of Lift Up Your Hearts.

For more information on Imaginative Apologetics, click HERE.

Interview with Andrew Davison about Imaginative Apologetics

This is the first part of our interview with Andrew Davison, editor of Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition.

The subtitle to this volume is “Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition.” Why was this chosen, and how is it descriptive of the contributions in the volume?

As one reviewer commented, it would be fair to say that I mean “Catholic” in the subtitle in a sense quite close to C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: not sectarian apologetics but rather apologetics rooted in the spacious ground of the “great tradition.” However, most of the authors in this volume are members of the Church of England who have been inspired, unashamedly, by the “catholic” roots of our Church: by the church fathers and Aquinas in particular. We’ve come across something that means something to us, and we want to share it. Five of us, in fact, are associated with the radical orthodoxy movement, which started in Cambridge at the end of the last century. To some extent the volume could have been subtitled, “Radical Orthodoxy Does Apologetics.”

For those unfamiliar with this movement, radical orthodoxy represents a new and forceful confidence in Christian doctrine, rooted in the Scriptures, which contrasts with the predominant liberalism of English theology in the decades before. It also represents a quite philosophical approach, but much more in the lyrical and “Continental” style rather than the analytic, logic-chopping tradition, which seems—unfortunately—to be growing in influence in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Those comments already bring us to the question of philosophy. I think two comments are in order. The first is that we do not subscribe to “philosophy of religion,” by which I mean the sort of approach that puts philosophy in the driving seat, but rather to “philosophical theology,” where theology picks up philosophy and bends it into new shapes. Not all the essays are equally philosophical, and where they are, I think they’re mainly very accessible. Where they are philosophical, however, they illustrate the principle that in order to “take every thought captive to Christ,” it is necessary to attend to thought. I am convinced about this: if we ignore philosophy, then our unquestioned philosophical assumptions will set the running, and some of them will have been picked up from outside the faith. By being more philosophical, at least with the right approach, we can be more theological. (I have a book coming out in the UK later this year on this theme, called The Love of Wisdom.)

The second comment is a point I make in my contribution to this volume: an account of reason is part of the Christian heritage and therefore part of what we hold out with the gospel. In previous generations, the way Christians thought may have been more generally held across our culture than it is today and therefore less obviously something to which to draw attention. Today, there is a crisis over what it means to think; reason is sick. A theological vision of reason is therefore part of the medicine that the church has to offer.

This is worked out in the book in at least two ways. First, I am not enthusiastic about apologetics that start with rational foundations that we supposedly all share. I wish that certain ideas were more widely shared (such as confidence about causation), but since they are not—since we live in a philosophically pluralist age—we need to offer both conclusions and the very idea of a Christian frame of rational reference. Secondly, I think we make some important points about how mainstream Christian thinking and writing has absorbed some unhelpful, and actually very secular, assumptions. For instance, we allow the claims of the faith to be judged according to a very thin, pseudo-scientific, attenuated scheme of what it means to reason. I don’t think we need to defend ourselves on these terms; we can say that there is more to thinking than this. After all, even atheist critics employ a deeper sense of how we might establish truth when it comes to the question, for instance, of whether their spouse loves them.

Interview with Daniel Bell about The Economy of Desire

Briefly comment on the title of your book: The Economy of Desire. How did you land on that title, and how do you see it fitting into the Church and Postmodern Culture series?

The title of the book arises from one of the central things I have learned about the economy, namely, that the economy is about a lot more than just the allocation, production, distribution, and consumption of material goods and services. While it includes all these things, it also works at a deeper level. Economy shapes and forms our desires, our loves, and the longings of our heart, and this has tremendous implications for how we relate to ourselves, others, the rest of creation, and God. I hope the book encourages us to think about and discuss how economy affects these relations.

As I see it, the Church and Postmodern Culture series is meant to aid the church in engaging the culture in which we currently live. Over the last few decades there have been so many cultural shifts that it is understandable that the church might be tempted to go on the defensive, seeing all the changes that collectively are called “postmodernism” as a threat and a challenge to the faith. Certainly much of it is a challenge, but this postmodern world is also rich with opportunities for the faith. In this regard, as I reflect on this age, I am constantly drawn to Luke 10:2: “The harvest is plentiful.” In many ways, the passing of modernity presents the church with wonderful opportunities for growing in its mission. The Church and Postmodern Culture series is all about engaging some of the principal currents of postmodern thought for the sake of enriching the church’s life and practice.

Two of your conversation partners in The Economy of Desire are, in your words, “leading Marxist thinkers and vehement atheists”—Foucault and Deleuze. What can Christians learn from these thinkers, and why did you choose to engage these two specifically?

The church has a long history of “plundering the Egyptians,” as St. Augustine pointed out long ago. So even as we have little truck with atheism, and Marxism has shown itself as something decidedly less than liberative, we can nevertheless learn from the likes of Foucault and Deleuze. I might summarize the chief lessons I learned from Foucault and Deleuze in this way.

First, they help us see that economy is a discipline of desire. For example, capitalism disciplines desire so that we relate to one another instrumentally, as commodities in constant struggle, competition that is the logic of the market—a logic that is insinuating itself ever more pervasively in our lives. Likewise, it distorts human relations with God so that God appears to us as a kind of sadistic cosmic Easter bunny who does not redeem us from sin but only manages it. (For an explanation of the cosmic sadistic Easter bunny you’ll have to read the book.)

Second, Deleuze and Foucault challenge us to rethink social change. We are constantly encouraged to think that the nation state and government are the principal agents of social change. Their account of a postmodern “micropolitics” proves helpful in dislodging the state from the center of our thought and reclaiming Christian community as a substantial and significant force for social and political change. Indeed, I argue that the practices that constitute discipleship amount to an alternative political economy.

Third, Deleuze and Foucault help us recover the older Christian understanding of the faith as a therapy of desire. If, as I argue, capitalism disciplines desire and so distorts our relations with one another and God, the work of Deleuze and Foucault helps us envision Christianity as more than a set of beliefs or convictions. They help us reclaim Christianity as a set of practices or a way of life that amounts to a counter-discipline that heals desire of its sin-sickness, of its capitalist distortions, so that we may live in communion with God and our neighbors.

In your book, you look critically at capitalism and evaluate how it influences human desire and relations. Are there any redemptive aspects to capitalism?

“Redemptive aspects to capitalism.” An interesting choice of words. Apart from a few economists, I do not know of anyone who thinks capitalism is redemptive. The more interesting question is, does capitalism do any good? Yes. Clearly it does. For example, it feeds some, it employs some, it provides services to some, it provides some with resources to give away.

But doing good is not sufficient. What matters is if it does good in the right way.  Consider the temptation of Jesus as recorded in the fourth chapter of Luke. There Jesus is tempted by the devil not with evil things but with good. It would be good to feed the world, and it is a good thing that Jesus rules the kingdoms, and one day everyone will kneel before the Lamb in worship. And yet Jesus refuses all these goods. Why? Because merely pursuing a good is not good enough. Goods must be pursued in the right way. So, pursuing a good like feeding the world is not right if such a good requires bowing before the devil. It is for this reason that the Christian tradition has long recognized that sin and evil are a disordered pursuit of good things. That is the problem with capitalism. It pursues and in some cases provides goods in the wrong way.

In the second half of your book, you set up Christianity as an alternative economy to that of capitalism. Give us a taste of what that looks like.

This question really gets to the heart of the matter. Many will concede that capitalism is not perfect; it has its flaws. But, they say, given the alternatives, it is the best that we can do. The theological heart of the book is found right here: What is given? What does God give? What is God doing here and now to liberate us from sin? My argument is that God is delivering us from the sin that is capitalism here and now as we participate in the divine economy on display in a host of economic practices that have been part of Christian discipleship across the ages—from the ban on usury to the practice of a living wage to the constellation of practices known as the Works of Mercy (which are different from both philanthropy and welfare). All around us, in movements like the Catholic Worker, church-supported agriculture, fair trade, or the Economy of Communion, we catch glimpses of this alternative economy, which is not anti-market, anti-production, or anti-profit but rather situates all these practices in a moral context that renews and extends communion.

Daniel M. Bell Jr. (PhD, Duke University) is professor of theological ethics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. He is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and the author of Just War as Christian Discipleship and Liberation Theology after the End of History.

For more information on The Economy of Desire, click here.

A Conversation between Clive Marsh and Vaughan S. Roberts, Authors of Personal Jesus

Since the Grammy awards were last night, we thought it a good time to post this exchange between Clive Marsh and Vaughan Roberts about their recent Baker Academic book Personal Jesus: How Popular Music Shapes Our Souls.

Clive Marsh (DPhil, University of Oxford) is senior lecturer and director of learning and teaching at the Institute of Lifelong Learning, University of Leicester, in Leicester, England. Vaughan S. Roberts (PhD, University of Bath) is vicar of Collegiate Church of St. Mary in Warwick, England, and an active writer on topics of religion and contemporary culture.


Marsh: Can you even remember how we came up with the idea for Personal  Jesus?

Roberts: Not in detail. We’d both been involved in Explorations in Theology and Film back in the late 1990s, and because we’ve been in regular contact and always talking about how people, Christian or not, use popular culture, it seemed logical to take things a bit further. We had both carried on to do more theology and film work, including your volumes on theology and movies, and significantly for this project the process of film-watching.

Marsh: And I’ve known since we first met that your knowledge of popular music was much greater than mine!

Roberts: But I think we both recognized that music was doing something similar, yet also distinctively different, from film. This was perhaps partly through the experiences that we were each having with a wide range of people as they explored and wrestled with faith while also being deeply shaped by the experience of making or listening to music.

Marsh: Yes—and that meant that it was too simple to talk about “theology and popular culture” or “theology and the arts,” even though we saw that there were always going to be some common issues across inquiries into what various types of popular culture were doing to and for people.

Roberts: I think it’s significant that we’re not musicians ourselves, but we both are avid and attentive music-listeners and are deeply rooted, and practically involved in, real flesh-and-blood Christian congregations, with all the joys, stresses, and strains that come with that.

Marsh: What are you particularly pleased with about the book?

Roberts: We have sought to break an established pattern of treating music as a “text,” in which the meaning of a song is established by analyzing and interpreting the lyrics. It’s easy to see why such an approach readily appeals to those with a religious background (particularly Christianity), where there’s often a focus on a sacred text and a long tradition of scriptural interpretation. But however important words may be, songs are always much more than a poem set to music, particularly in a culture in which the visual image of an artist or the representation of their work in a video plays a crucial role in how songs are marketed.

And what about you? What are you especially pleased with?

Marsh: I think it’s the fact that we had the courage to do some serious theological reflection in part 3 and did not shy away from that, even though we knew it might make the book seem a bit heavy for some readers. We’ve taken the risk of suggesting, Yes, we know that a lot of pop music may be lightweight, throwaway, not uplifting, manufactured, even dangerous at times; but we also want to acknowledge what it is doing and can do, even if it makes Christian meaning-making a bit more messy and complicated than we might like. And we’ve taken the risk of reflecting on the fact that some of what popular music is doing really does ask awkward questions of Christian faith today. For example, Christians are sometimes not good at valuing the body, despite the incarnation. Christians sometimes can’t accept the fact that churches and worship really are boring and ineffective, and that other groups fulfill church-like functions, whether we like it or not. . . .

Of the chapters of which you were the primary writer, which was your favorite?

Roberts: The chapter on pop music and the body was particularly enjoyable to write, as it brought together my interest in popular music with work that I’d been doing in other fields on notions of embodiment and how our physical experience shapes our cultural use of the body as a metaphor for all kinds of meaning-making. For us, it’s probably the most contentious section of the book; I know you remain to be convinced by the four-fold model of embodiment that it sets out, and we also have different views on how over time Christianity has related to the body—

Marsh: —Though it was very creative to have some tensions and squabbles while we were writing, don’t you think?

Roberts: Yes, it was, even if it was tough at times! I think both of us see it as a strength of this volume, though, that two people can explore a topic together in a way that sets out the common ground as well as our differences as part of the conversation.

…Which chapter was your favorite?

Marsh: I really enjoyed working on the one on the concept of canon (chapter 8)—the idea that, whatever we “consume” culturally (in the arts or religion), we’re always wrestling with the question of whether it is worth spending time on. And we’re always discussing, and agreeing and disagreeing with others, as we do that. In the case of music: what is it worth listening to again and again? And why do we do this? In part, of course, it’s what makes us feel good. But we also link up with others. And music which we think is valuable will have something to do with the values we live by, the company we keep, and what we think matters.

For more information about Personal Jesus, click here.

An Interview with James K.A. Smith on Imagining the Kingdom – Part 2

James K. A. Smith (PhD, Villanova University) is the Gary & Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology & Worldview at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In addition, he is editor of Comment magazine and a senior fellow of the Colossian Forum. Smith is the author or editor of many books, including the Christianity Today Book Award winners Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? and Desiring the Kingdom, and is editor of the well-received Church and Postmodern Culture series (

We recently got a chance to ask him a few questions about his just released book Imagining the Kingdom. Read part 1 of our interview here.
How does Imagining the Kingdom continue the argument laid out in Desiring the Kingdom? What can readers of the first volume look forward to in this book?

The new book builds on the argument of Desiring the Kingdom but delves deeper into the importance of formation. But instead of just focusing on Christian education, I expand this to include worship and discipleship as well. The point is that sanctification—becoming like Christ—is a matter of formation, and formation takes practice.

One of the themes that is mentioned in Desiring, but really expanded and deepened in Imagining the Kingdom, is the importance of habit. I think one of the reasons Christians today don’t really understand the language of virtue is that we no longer appreciate the power of habit. And yet historically, the spiritual disciplines emerged precisely because Christians, drawing on philosophers like Aristotle, recognized the power of habit. It’s interesting that the wider culture, through the influence of social psychology and neuroscience, has sort of rediscovered what Christians knew for millennia: that virtues and vices are products of habit formation. So you see books like David Brooks’s The Social Animal or Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit emphasizing the role of preconscious habit formation. In some ways, you might think of Imagining the Kingdom as my way of trying to point out—and explain—the power of habit and the implications of that for Christian formation. God made us creatures of habit, so the way the Spirit transforms us is by giving us practices that are habit-forming. I think this has important implications for how we think about education, worship, discipleship, and even family life.

The subtitle of your new book is the simple but loaded statement, “How Worship Works.” How should we understand worship in this context?

Yeah, I had to fight a bit to keep that subtitle, as I recall! I’m glad we did. It’s actually a bit of a play on James Wood’s fantastic book, How Fiction Works.

If you’re going explaining “how worship works,” you need to remind contemporary evangelicalism of something it has tended to forget: that worship is not just “expressive.” Worship is also formative. So worship isn’t just something that we do; it does something to us. Christian worship is not just the upward sacrifice of praise by which we show our devotion to God. Christian worship is also the gathering of God’s people wherein God gets ahold of us—meets us where we are and remakes us in his image. Contemporary evangelicalism has largely reduced worship to its “expressive” side; I’m trying to get us to remember its “formative” side.

Then the goal is to try to explain just how the Spirit forms us through worship practices. This is why we need to think about habit formation, embodiment, the importance of repetition, and why form matters. All of Imagining the Kingdom builds toward a reflection on these matters in the final chapter.

But to explain how worship works—how liturgy works—also explains how “secular” liturgies work. In other words, I hope my account explains the dynamics of Christian worship formation while helping diagnose our deformation by cultural liturgies that want to capture our imagination with a very different vision of “the good life.” If we understand how worship works, we’ll also begin to appreciate how temptation works.
For more information on Imagining the Kingdom, click here.

An Interview with James K.A. Smith on Imagining the Kingdom – Part 1

James K. A. Smith (PhD, Villanova University) is the Gary & Henrietta Byker Chair in Applied Reformed Theology & Worldview at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In addition, he is editor of Comment magazine and a senior fellow of the Colossian Forum. Smith is the author or editor of many books, including the Christianity Today Book Award winners Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? and Desiring the Kingdom, and is editor of the well-received Church and Postmodern Culture series (

We recently got a chance to ask him a few questions about his just released book Imagining the Kingdom.

Since its release in 2009, Desiring the Kingdom has been well received by a wide range of audiences. It won a 2010 Christianity Today book award. John Wilson of Books & Culture recently called it one of the most significant books of the decade. We’ve seen positive reviews from publications ranging from The Christian Century to Homecoming magazine. Has this response surprised you? Why do you think the book has been embraced in so many circles?

I was completely surprised by both the extent and enthusiasm of the first book’s reception. And very grateful. When I was writing Desiring the Kingdom, I had in mind a fairly narrow audience of those engaged in the project of Christian higher education: my peers who are professors at Christian colleges and universities, along with their students. What I didn’t anticipate is that the book would be read by a wider audience, including Christian educators at every level, as well as pastors and church planters and worship leaders. I had always sensed that the theology of culture offered in Desiring the Kingdom had wide-ranging implications (and I tried to implant some footnotes that dropped hints in that regard), but I wasn’t sure how to reach those audiences. It turns out they were willing to work through the book.

As for why it’s been embraced, I think it’s a combination of factors. A lot of North American Protestants have a growing sense of unease with how we’ve been “doing church” over the past generation. They are beginning to question the model of “talking-head” worship and discipleship that has tended to dominate evangelicalism, even in the “seeker-sensitive” era. In a similar way, we’ve come to appreciate that culture is about more than “messages” and ideas. I think the analysis of cultural formation in Desiring the Kingdom gave people new eyes to see their experience and a new way to put their finger on something that they’ve sensed. So Desiring the Kingdom arrived at a moment when people were open to it and sensed they needed something like this “liturgical” account of culture.

Imagining the Kingdom was originally to be, in your words, a scholarly monograph, more narrow in scope than Desiring. In writing the second volume, however, you decided to retain the voice and format of the first. What led to this change?

Well, originally I thought Desiring would be an accessible overview of a “liturgical” model of persons and culture. To keep it accessible I utilized film and novels and pop cultural examples to help non-scholarly readers picture the argument. Then I thought the next two volumes would follow up on all the scholarly details in the format of a more proper “monograph” (think: a book just for other scholars, with lots of jargon and footnotes).

But when Desiring was received so widely and enthusiastically, readers of the first volume kept telling me they couldn’t wait for volume 2. I didn’t want to disappoint them, so I decided to retain the same voice and strategies for the entire trilogy. The new book certainly asks readers to put their thinking caps on, but readers will also find examples from novels, film, poetry, and popular culture. (At the beginning of the book I provide a bit of a “user’s guide” to help different readers navigate the book.)

Check back next week for the second part of our interview with James K.A. Smith.
For more information on Imagining the Kingdom, click here.

An Interview with Craig S. Keener on Miracles

Craig S. Keener (PhD, Duke University) is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is the author of many books, including The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver, and commentaries on Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. Last year Baker Academic published the first volume in his 4-volume commentary on Acts.

Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts was recently given the ‘Apologetics/Evangelism’ Award of Merit from Christianity Today. It was winner of The Foundation for Pentecostal Scholarship’s 2012 Award of Excellence and named Book of the Year (2011) by’s academic blog. We recently got a chance to ask Dr. Keener some questions about his award-winning book.

How did your book Miracles originate?

It started as a footnote in my Acts commentary. I was astonished at how often scholars simply dismissed a narrative’s historicity because of miracle claims, when in fact the same kinds of miracle claims abound today. In the footnote I planned to gather several references to works that surveyed many of these miracle reports, but by the time I began finding such works I had encountered so many sources that my footnote had grown into a chapter. When the chapter grew into about 200 pages, I proposed it as a book, unaware that it would further mushroom into five or six times that number of pages.

It is one of the most fascinating studies I have ever undertaken, and once I started, I couldn’t stop.

In the book you engage with David Hume’s argument that uniform human experience precludes miracles. Briefly describe the influence of Hume and how you respond to him.

Most people who discount the possibility of miracles recycle, knowingly or unknowingly, the popular argument of David Hume, who in turn was recycling the arguments of some earlier deists. Scholars understand Hume’s argument in various ways, but a central element of his argument was that we cannot trust miracle claims, because they violate uniform human experience. Of course, that is a circular argument, because it assumes what it hopes to prove—that human experience regarding miracles is in fact uniform. It is that uniformity that miracle claims challenge, so an excuse to dismiss such reports before examining them is very convenient for his case—though it violates his own empiricism.

My primary response to this argument of Hume is to highlight how non-uniform human experience on the matter really seems to be. We know a lot more than Hume knew in his day. For example, in one Pew Forum survey just a few years ago, you find hundreds of millions of people believe that they have witnessed divine healing. You don’t have to agree that all of these are genuine miracles—actually, few of us would make such a sweeping claim—to recognize the problem this raises for Hume’s argument. Hume wants to start with the a priori assumption that human experience uniformly opposes miracles, because, he reasons, there are no credible eyewitness accounts of miracles. When there are hundreds of millions of people claiming to have experienced miracles, you can’t simply dismiss all of them a priori.

Your book details accounts of the miraculous in modern times from a variety of cultures. How does this contemporary evidence impact how we view the biblical accounts of miracles?

Hume rejected vast amounts of evidence; for example, he dismisses all miracle claims from the Majority World, in keeping with some of his assumptions now recognized as racist. There are massive accounts of healings, including instant cures of blindness, raisings from the dead, and so forth, from all over the world today. Again, one does not have to accept all accounts credulously, but neither can one simply dismiss all accounts on the basis of uniform human experience; such a dismissal assumes what it hopes to prove without examining any claims. Historians, journalists and others depend on eyewitness claims all the time; testimony is an epistemological approach appropriate in some disciplines. If these hundreds of millions of eyewitness claims addressed some question other than miracles, there would not likely be much debate, and the witnesses would not be simply dismissed as naïve, deceptive, or the like. Such dismissal of so much testimony seems a high price to pay to maintain an assumption based on the worldview of an eighteenth-century philosopher. Someone making an argument against miracles today would have to come up with an argument different from Hume’s. However people wish to explain miracle reports, experiences such as these plainly do occur, and therefore may have occurred also in the ministries of Jesus and his followers reported in the Gospels and Acts.

How have perspectives from other cultures informed your work?

I have drawn on large numbers of accounts from Africa, Asia and Latin America as well as from the West. Most striking to me were dramatic accounts from people that I know personally. Some involve the instant healing of blindness, for example, the Western witnesses for a case in India, an African friend in Africa, another case where two of my students witnessed it. Some involve raisings from the dead—about ten accounts came from people in my own immediate circle, one the raising of my wife’s sister in Africa after three hours with no detectable breathing. Again, people may choose to interpret these in various ways. Personally I do believe it is noteworthy, however, that all these cases I encountered involved prayer in the name of Jesus Christ.

[Watch Dr. Keener discuss his book Miracles in the first of six videos on YouTube]