Volume 137

Guests on Volume 137: Gilbert Meilaender, on how adoption offers lessons concerning the relationship between nature and grace; James L. Nolan, on what the observations of four distinguished foreign visitors can teach Americans about themselves; Joel Salatin, on how honoring the pigness of pigs enables us to more fully recognize the Godness of God; Michael Di Fuccia, on Owen Barfield’s understanding of the imagination; Robin Leaver, on clarifying some misconceptions about Martin Luther’s commitment to congregational singing; and Michael Marissen, on how J. S. Bach’s music conveys theological meaning.

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Part 1

  • Description
    Gilbert Meilaender, on how reflection on the dynamics of adoption brings into focus the theological challenge of relating nature and history (and nature and grace)
    Not by Nature but by Grace: Forming Families through Adoption (University of Notre Dame, 2016)

    “One of the things that I think I always knew, but that impressed itself upon me more when I went to work on this topic, is just how central that adoption motif is in the New Testament . . . the idea that one becomes a member of the body of Christ only through adoption, only by grace. You can’t be born into it.”

    Gilbert Meilaender

    On this opening segment of the Journal, theologian and ethicist Gilbert Meilaender discusses how the theme of adoption in the New Testament and the life of the Church can help Christians discern the differences between adoption and various assisted reproduction techniques now available. Taking the Christian orthodox precept that “grace transforms nature, it does not obliterate nature,” Meilaender argues that even between biological parents and their children, the relationship is not merely biological. Rather, all parents are “theologically adoptive” parents. This parent-child relationship is ritualized and effected through the sacrament of baptism, during which the biological parents hand their child over to the Church in order for that child to be adopted into the family of God. In return, the parents again receive their child in a new adoptive sense to care for and raise in the body of Christ.

  • Description
    James L. Nolan, on the visits of Alexis de Tocqueville, Max Weber, G. K. Chesterton, and Sayyid Qutb to the United States and their observations about the spirit of American culture
    What They Saw in America: Alexis de Tocqueville, Max Weber, G. K. Chesterton, and Sayyid Qutb (Cambridge, 2016)

    “[O]ne of the things that Chesterton noticed was that he saw the kind of boastfulness [of Americans] actually linked to industrial capitalism. That is, he likened the American tendency to self-promote as being a carry-over from the advertising practices of capitalism. So, you sell a product and you have to promote it and boast about it and he felt like that’s what Americans, then, were doing regarding themselves.”

    James L. Nolan

    Sociologist James L. Nolan joins us in this interview to talk about the features of American culture that inhibit many Americans and American institutions from heeding the criticisms of outside observers. While the travelogues of Alexis de Tocqueville’s visit to the United States are familiar to many, Nolan adds to the discussion the observations of German sociologist Max Weber, journalist G. K. Chesterton, and the Egyptian intellectual, Sayyid Qutb, whose thinking helped to shape some of the more radical strains of Islamic fundamentalism.

  • Description
    Joel Salatin, on bridging the gap between stewarding Creation and Sunday morning worship
    The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for All God's Creation (FaithWords, 2017)

    “When James Dobson reads the bible he sees ‘family’ in every verse. I have to admit, when I read it, I see ecology and stewardship and how we treat God’s stuff in every verse.”

    Joel Salatin

    In this interview, popular innovator and speaker on farming practices, Joel Salatin, talks about the challenges of caring for Creation within an agricultural and food system that pays little attention to the purposes and inclinations of Creation. In his most recent book, The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs (which Salatin refers to as his “coming-out book”), Salatin reveals his explicitly biblical reasons for how he approaches farming. Often trapped between his “constituency and his people,” Salatin explains how his self-ascribed moniker of being a “Christian, libertarian, environmentalist, capitalist, lunatic farmer” has helped to dissolve some of the misconceptions and presumptions held by both sides of the partisan divide.

Part 2

  • Description
    Michael Di Fuccia, on Owen Barfield’s understanding of the imagination and how it compares with that of C. S. Lewis
    Owen Barfield: Philosophy, Poetry, and Theology (Cascade Books, 2016)

    “What Barfield says is that this ‘war’ is about ‘the truthfulness of the imagination’ and what that meant for both of them. Barfield says something quite remarkable in that he says that ‘C. S. Lewis was in romantic love with the imagination, but I wanted to marry it.’”

    Michael Di Fuccia

    Inkling member, Owen Barfield, is often over-looked in comparison to his friends C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien; however, his influence on the two thinkers and his reflections on both language and the role of the imagination are far from negligible. In this interview, theologian Michael Di Fuccia describes what was at stake in a series of animated exchanges, known as “the Great War,” between Owen Barfield and the pre-converted Lewis concerning the “truthfulness of the imagination.” 

  • Description
    Robin Leaver, on the historical and religious context in which Martin Luther promoted the recovery of vernacular music in worship
    The Whole Church Sings: Congregational Singing in Luther's Wittenberg (Eerdmans, 2017)

    “In our twenty-first-century view of worship, our view of worship is the 59 minutes of worship on Sunday mornings and it mustn’t go over . . . That was not what the medieval society was about. . . . Worship was all-embracing and all-encompassing. The difference is — what Luther did — was to bring in these songs that were already known (sometimes they had to be doctrinally attended to), but to bring them actually within the service of worship.”

    Robin Leaver

    One common misconception about Martin Luther’s reformation of liturgical worship is that he simply repurposed popular drinking songs by setting them to sacred texts, supposedly because there was no preexisting sacred vernacular repertoire. However, as liturgical scholar Robin Leaver explains in this conversation, there actually existed a familiar canon of sacred vernacular songs that were reserved for extra-liturgical celebrations of the Church’s major festivals. To overlook this vernacular tradition, Leaver argues, is to run the risk of interpreting Luther’s role as more revolutionary than reformational.

  • Description
    Michael Marissen, on how J. S. Bach’s music conveys theological meaning
    Bach and God (Oxford, 2016)

    “I’m the most interested in the examples in which the musical setting seems at first to be slightly at odds with what the text seems to be about, because I think those are the most powerful examples of what Bach has to contribute as a thinker.”

    Michael Marissen

    In this issue’s concluding segment, musicologist Michael Marissen discusses the masterful way in which J. S. Bach uses musical idiom and quotation by way of theological counterpoint to the texts of his sacred vocal works. In particular, Marissen and Ken Myers talk about Cantatas BWV 12 (Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen), BWV 13 (Meine Seufze, meine Tränen), and BWV 170 (Vernügte Ruh’, beliebte Seelenlust).