Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Wet Icons & the Other Internet

Here's a brief essay on my pilgrimage to Romania, not to mention my review of Matthew Crawford's The World Outside Your Head (subscribers only), and a podcast/ video interview with Phil Vischer and Skye Jethani.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Publication & Podcast

Behold a beautiful new book based on our conference on the image, edited by Beth Jones, Jeffrey Barbeau and the tireless David Congdon. In my chapter I contrast the failed resistance of most contemporary art to the firm resistance of one particular micro-art world.

And here is a Mockingcast interview with Scott Jones in which I discuss the central illustration I used in the chapter - the transformation of the venerable Church of the Holy Communion into a mini-mall.

But if only I had known about the Church of Skatan!

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

A Friendly Response to Volf

For the few interested in what's actually going on in regard to Muslims & Christians at Wheaton College, here is my response to Miroslav Volf this weekend at a very encouraging event at the Villa Park Islamic Foundation. Volf's reply, like his opening remarks, was smart and gracious. He added that he related to being misunderstood (the "Common Word" project he worked on expressing commonalities between Muslims & Christians had to fork out $50,000 for a New York Times ad because good news is never news).

Monday, February 22, 2016

Monday, February 15, 2016

Baylor or Bust!

I'll be giving two talks in Waco this week. If you're in town, don't be a stranger.

Friday, February 12, 2016

NPR Won't Listen? Try NPW!

In this New Persuasive Words podcast, I reveal the REAL culprit behind the recent Wheaton controversy (but you have to listen to the end to find out).

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Restoration in Progress

Someone at the what is now "We Pray for Wheaton" Facebook page eloquently employed the famous Mt. Sinai transfiguration mosaic as an illustration of how everyone at Wheaton matters, and as a symbol for praying for this place. It was fitting, as we have a show of mosaics right now in the Art Department from the Chicago Mosaic School. I can only add that the mosaic having been seriously damaged might be a better way of focusing prayer. I was at Sinai during the restoration several years ago and was able to snap this photograph. I even pass around bits of the tesserae used in the restoration in class. I am hoping that the service tonight (of repentance, not celebration) will be the first step towards restoration. There is a lot more that needs to be done.
Another (perhaps melodramatic) image might be that it was seriously difficult to drive the stakes of our Lenten prayer signs into the frozen ground today. But if we really are going to lengthen our cords and strengthen our stakes, so must it be. My colleague Noah Toly has a more in depth analysis of where things stand at this point. Suffice it to say here that it is Shrove Tuesday, and we have some shriving to do.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

How Isaiah Won Facebook

As L'Affaire Hawkins endures, Facebook pages emerge. Who knows who controls them or if the record will survive? I therefore preserve my various interventions here. Ridiculous assertions on both sides, however amusing, have been rare. The general tone has been civil.
  • At the Wheaton Record Page (our student newspaper)

  • At "I Stand with Wheaton" (a forum that leans toward the Administration)

  • At "We Stand with Wheaton" (a forum that leans toward Professor Hawkins)

Thank you Ruth! It's not for nothing that they call Isaiah the fifth gospel. Only by cord lengthening (welcoming a richer variety of voices) while stake-strengthening (doubling down on our Trinitarian faith) can Wheaton College come out of this stronger than we were going in.

In the meantime, whether or not they pray to the same deity, the Christians and Muslims of the city of Wheaton are unified in one thing: We sure hope this will be over soon!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Rublev & Reconciliation

Philip Ryken began his presidency at Wheaton by calling us to become a community of grace. My colleague Keith Johnson and I pick up that note as we consider the ongoing Wheaton controversy in this week's Wheaton Record.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

"Same God" or Same Preliminary Direction?

The following are abbreviated remarks I gave at an interfaith panel today organized at the Islamic Center of Wheaton in the wake of a nasty cyber-attack (my Wheaton colleague Noah Toly's remarks are here).

I teach the history of art & architecture at Wheaton, and I think architecture might help us understand the differences and similarities between Muslims and Christians in our town. I am speaking of the architecture of this building, the Islamic Center of Wheaton. One of the first things I learned when coming here last October was that the original Assembly of God congregation who built this structure wanted it to be facing Jerusalem, the definitive place for Christians due to our belief that Jerusalem is where the death and resurrection of Jesus occurred. But when this building became a mosque, major alterations were not required as Mecca, the definitive place for Muslims, is in the same general direction as Jerusalem. Our faiths are centered in different definitive places, and those differences matter. But if we both seek to look to the definitive places of our faith – to be better Christians or Muslims respectively - we will both be looking in the same preliminary direction. 

One example of this was brought to my attention by Dr. Adam Wood, who teaches philosophy at Wheaton. He pointed out that Wheaton College’s recent alumnus of the year, William Lane Craig, began his celebrated career with a book entitled “The Kalām Cosmological argument" (compressed into a 4 minute video here). Kalām is Arabic for “speech,” and Craig entitled his book this way because he learned the argument from the Ilm al-Kalām tradition of Islamic philosophy. Interestingly, the Islamic tradition first borrowed it from a Christian thinker, John Philoponus. Muslims then expanded and refined the argument, after which it was borrowed again from Muslims by William Lane Craig. In the book Craig therefore says that Western Christian theologians “achieve a credit for originality that they do not fully deserve, since they inherited these arguments from Arabic theologians and philosophers whom we tend unfortunately to neglect.”

Perhaps this helps illustrate the same preliminary direction of our faiths (the joined red lines above), even if when we keep pursuing that direction, we arrive at different definitive places. Jerusalem and Mecca are hundred of miles apart, both geographically and theologically, and never has anyone in this mosque expected me to be anything but straightforward about that separation. That said, if the Islamic tradition can help a Wheaton Christian philosopher do his job of proclaiming God to the modern world, then perhaps the Islamic Center of Wheaton can help Christian residents of Wheaton do that same job as well.  

Thank you (yet again) for your extraordinary hospitality.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

What I am telling my Wheaton Art students on Monday

Who says you can't teach art history when in full controversy mode?

The life-size photograph of a topless woman straddling a motorcycle is intended to critique the acquisitive male gaze, but I look away. I find an earlier critic of lustful eyes to be significantly more compelling than the canonized contemporary artist Richard Prince. And I don’t think the twelve-year old boy who keeps slipping back for a furtive look, or the families that seem puzzled by the Art Institute’s new contemporary gallery, have fully fathomed Prince’s critical intention. The new galleries are filled with such raw images, and most of the names are expected (Koons, Gober, Fischl, Weiwei).  It’s not uninteresting, and I will try to give such artists a fair hearing in this class - approaching them on their own terms. But if I’m honest, I am still uncomfortable with much of the art donated for the edgy new display.

Within a half hour, though, I am far more at ease, amid people who would likely share my discomfort. Specifically, I am with 15,000 Muslims at the Chicago convention center just down Lake Shore Drive from the Art Institute. I am there because of an invitation I received from the Islamic Center of Wheaton. In the wake of the current controversy, they wanted to bring some Wheaton professors along to join in the interfaith portion of the weekend. I meet a colleague and we hear from the leading Islamic scholar, Tariq Ramadan.  He tells us “We want Christians to be Christian. Show us how your faith has changed your life.” Well, that we can do.

Wheaton College has an official relationship with the Art Institute – a very positive one. You get free admission with your student ID, and we’re doing a tour soon and I hope you can come. Does that mean we endorse all the images in the contemporary gallery? Of course not. In the same way, Islam in almost all its forms is perfectly at odds with our faith statement, which I sign with conviction. More importantly, every Sunday I recite the Nicene Creed, proclaiming the truth that Jesus was “begotten not made, of One Substance with the Father.” Conversely, the Koran says “He begot none, nor was He begotten” (112:3). But the fact that these statements are irreconcilable does not preclude charitable and realistic engagement with Muslims. For me, it is what makes engagement possible. Without the love of Jesus Christ which came to me through the evangelical tradition, I would either be minding my own business and fearful of my Muslim neighbors, or (more likely) ill-educated enough to think the differences are no big deal, justifying lived indifference.

You’re at a small liberal arts college, which means you are taking a contemporary art course with a Byzantine art historian. In my field work in Turkey, Egypt and Cyprus I had some negative and some very positive contacts with Muslims, and spent lots of mornings waking to the prayer call of the minaret. But interestingly, the best relationships with Muslims I have had have been in this town. Believe it or not, they (and by “they” I mean real local people like Abraham and Zahra) are well aware that despite this media firestorm, Wheaton College is here for the long haul, and so are they. Accordingly, my son is not even one year old, and he has been held by more Muslims than Christians. The reason for this is that at the Islamic Center of Wheaton, the gracious, hijab-donning women joyfully pass him around while I talk theology with my new friends. From the beginning we have been clear about our differences. I actually believe, for example, you could have passed Allah (the pre-Islamic Arabic term for God which is still used by Arabic-speaking Christians) around in the same way as my son. And sentimental as it may sound, because God freely gave his son, I can freely give mine.

It’s strange that even while this controversy has caused so much grief and suffering, you will likely benefit from it, because you will study harder and learn more than you would have otherwise. I count Professor Hawkins a friend and I value her as a colleague, and I do not know what is happening. There is a dramatic contrast between media reports and the principled interfaith conversations that were happening in Wheaton long before all of this began. If it turns out (God grant it) that reconciliation with the administration is in the future, then we will have reason to rejoice. Perhaps principled protest will be required – I don’t know yet. Your and my civil bearing and Christian charity could have a role in bringing the best out of this situation. Please keep praying for that, and remind me to as well. Jesus was fully God and fully human at the same time. With his help (and with Muslim neighbors like ours) it is possible to be fully truthful and fully loving at the same time as well.

So buckle up, and let’s learn some art history. This could be the best semester of your life.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

More on Mary

1.  Here's a podcast conversation with myself, Scott Jones and Bill Borror. (I assure you, by the way, the image to the left used to advertise it was chosen before the latest Wheaton media dustup).

2.  And here is a sermon I preached for Advent 4, responding in part to all the craziness with the help of René Girard. And here it is at First Things in written form.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Meet the Parents

An Advent talk on Mary, art & loss given at Wheaton College.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Chagall's Literal Truth

Chagall's White Crucifixion is as relevant to last week's tragedies as it was to those of 1938. Here's my talk on the subject (along with Magritte & Dalí) at Chicago's 4th Pres through CIVA's God in the Modern Wing series.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

One more for Brett Foster (1973-2015)

There have been some beautiful reflections on the passing of Brett Foster this week. I have been asked to share the remarks I made at his funeral on Saturday. Here they are:


When I first came to Wheaton as a professor, I found myself in Chicago at a Poetry Foundation event. As the snow gently fell outside the postmodern architecture, a poet took the stage and recited beautiful, nearly hypnotic verses about his loss of Christian faith. If there were Christian students in the room (and there were), they might have concluded that there was no place for serious faith in the world of high poetry.

And then the next reader took the stage. Brett gave an equally sophisticated, equally beautiful reading of his own work, poems that of course were not about the loss of Christian faith, but which were gently and subtly infused with it. Whereas the first poet had described how a romantic escapade had drawn him away from Jesus, Brett concluded his reading by proudly gesturing to his wife Anise, son Gus and daughter Avery who had come into town to support him. The upshot is that if those same Christian  students stuck around (and they did), they could conclude that the world of high poetry was exactly the place where a Christian needed to be.

I had thought the contrast of the two readings might be due to some kind of rivalry, but I quickly learned that Brett was friends with the poet who had read before. This is not surprising as Brett was friends with everyone, and was just then beginning to weave me into his ever-expanding circle. I bought his book that afternoon, and he inscribed it:

"Lander" is Brett's code for anyone who would join him on countless ventures to go to land at a coffee shop to get some work done (which never got done). There were lots of those trips, and I don't regret a one of them. But the word that strikes me most now is fratello. As ever with Brett, it was the perfect choice. Italian for brother, it conveys that notion, but also evokes a brother in a religious order. It can feel that Wheaton professors - men and women both - are in something of a bizarre religious order; and if so, it feels this week like we lost our Abbot.


At any rate, that's what I said, and there is so much more to say. Who could adequately describe the extraordinary celebration of his poetry that occurred in Arena Theatre the very hour that he died? Suffice it to say here I've never wept so much, but also have never been so filled with the hope of the resurrection in the wake of these events - including the death of Roger Lundin within the same week. For the first time (in my life at least), it feels more, not less rational, to believe in the resurrection hope so wonderfully expressed in Scott Cairns' poem read at the funeral (cited by Alan here), and also in the word play at the end of Jeffrey Galbraith's elegy for Brett, which astutely expresses both the loss of an expired body and the hope of a new one at once:
and rise to circle the fields leaping,

every muscle growing still.
Photo taken by Heidi Long on the occasion of one of our last get-togethers.