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About Brandon Bennett

Brandon Bennett grew up near Pensacola, Florida. He studied Accounting and Finance at Samford University and graduated from Beeson Divinity School. He is an avid lover of all things England, and you can find him most days contemplating the intersection of the Reformation with contemporary culture.

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    Robert Jenson (1930-2017) on the Proclamation of the Gospel

    Scott Jones has already posted an article worth your time on Robert Jenson who died last week. He is, as Scott also pointed out, likely the most brilliant American theologian since Jonathan Edwards. My seminary professor, Piotr Małysz, lent me his Systematic Theology, Volume 1 while I was still in school, and I could tell immediately that I was reading one of the greats. If you have yet to read him, start with “How the World Lost Its Story” or with his latest book, A Theology in Outline. Here is an early writing from Jenson on the mind-blowingly profound, yet simple, Gospel that tells me about Jesus’ future and thus about my future as well:

    The word of proclamation narrates what happened with Jesus and asserts that what happened with Jesus will happen to you as your death-certain destiny, that the achievement of love-out-of-death which he enacted will fulfill your lives also. The word of proclamation is the assertion that you go to meet him, and will therefore conclude your lives by total involvement in his. It is the assertion that you have a destiny and that he is it, that his story tells of it.

    In the word of proclamation, the story of the past Jesus is addressed to me as my future, as my possibility. If then it occurs that as an event in my life I enact this story as and when it is so proclaimed, then what happened with Jesus is not only the past which my action recalls, it is also the future in which my action will eventuate. Then this enacting is the event of my being destined to this destiny. In the context of the proclamation and not otherwise, our speaking and acting-out of the gospel story is, precisely as an enacting which is an occurrence in our lives like any other, our choosing and being chosen to this destiny which is real to us as the story of Jesus. It is, therefore, the event of our having Jesus’ story as our story.

    In the context of this proclamation, worship is the effective hearing of the proclamation, by which I am given love-out-of-death as my chosen future. As such it is the being done to me of what Jesus suffered himself and did to his followers. It is when Jesus’ story is enacted as not only past but also future that the enactment and not merely the enacting is a present event in our lives—and it is the word of proclamation that the past can be future.

    A Religion Against Itself

    God as a Magnifying Mirror of Me: On American Folk Religion

    God as a Magnifying Mirror of Me: On American Folk Religion

    At the end of August, I shared a quote from sociologist Zygmunt Bauman in which he described social media networks and various communities in our day as reflections of the individual. That is, we contemporary Americans tend to seek out communities and people that help express our inner selves more visibly to the wider world. Like my new iPhone 7, J.Crew shirt, and selvedge denim jeans reveal something about their owner, so in much the same way are my networks and circle of friends an extension of my inner ego. And if Bauman is correct in that observation, then might it be that God is…

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    The Postmodern Community: A Magnifying Mirror of Me

    One of the most interesting books (if you are a nerd like me) I’ve read in the last couple of months is Babel, a book co-authored by Ezio Mauro, an Italian writer, and Zygmunt Bauman, a Polish sociologist. Himself a secular Jew, Bauman seems to always offer profound insight into our Western cultural climate, and if you manage to read Babel, it will likely leave you with more questions than answers. Here’s just one quote that is ripe for reflection and is good fodder on the self’s bent-inwardness (incurvatus in se):

    41TCtCOvLTL…[C]ommunities came to be supplanted by ‘networks’—forms of association made to the measure of ‘self-communication’. In stark opposition to the old-style communities, a network is a grouping (more correctly, a list or a roll-call of names or addresses) meant to be selected/composed by the individual on his/her sole responsibility for the selection of links and nods. Its ‘membership’ and boundaries are not ‘given’; neither are they fixed—they are friable and eminently pliable; defined, drawn and endlessly redefined and re-drawn at will by the network’s composer placed firmly in its centre. By origin and by its mode of existence, it is but an extension of the self, or a carapace with which the ego surrounds itself for its own safety: cutting its own, hopefully secure, niche out of the dumbfounding, inhospitable, and perhaps—who knows?!—hostile offline world. A ‘network’ is not a space for challenges to the received ideas and preferences of its creator—it is rather an extended replica or magnifying mirror of its weaver, populated solely by like-minded people, saying what the person who admitted them is willing to hear, and ready to applaud whatever the person who admitted or appointed them says; dissenters, individuals holding to contrary—or just unfamiliar and thus uncomfortably puzzling—opinions are exiled (or, at least consolingly, amenable to being banished) at the first sign of their discordance.

    Surviving the Albatross of a Disgustingly Perfect Christmas

    Surviving the Albatross of a Disgustingly Perfect Christmas

    Billboard’s Top 100 Holiday Songs for the week of December 26, 2015 is an interesting piece to ponder. On the surface, it’s a mere summary of what’s happening around the holidays at a radio station nearest you, a glimpse into the pop culture of a standard American holiday. Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” takes number one: a song about romance in the winter and all the cheeriness that comes along with it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the other 99 are not overtly religious either; they are about relationships, family, food, warm fires, happiness, joy,…

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    But Which God?: Revisiting the Law And Gospel Debate

    But Which God?: Revisiting the Law And Gospel Debate

    A few months ago, I wrote a brief piece entitled “When John Locke Turned Gospel into Law”, one that I considered to be true to the classic Mockingbird message: the unmistakably clear articulation of grace. Trying to connect that message with the philosopher John Locke’s vision of Christianity, I challenged his version of “the covenant of faith” as a false articulation of grace [a kind of afterthought]. Yet to my surprise, the post met with some pushback, and the comments, I must admit, did make a point: Does not Christianity shore up a positive vision of life, and thus an ethic?…

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    Robert Jenson on the Unconditional Kingdom

    From the Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson in his short book entitled Story and Promise:

    41x-PVfnmzL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Jesus took away from his hearers the possibility of neutralizing God’s futurity, of mitigating its threat and challenge by cutting out a time of their autonomous own in which to plan and prepare for it, and getting it—even a little bit—into present control. He asserted God’s future as uncontrollable and free—as God’s and so as true future….

    That is, Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom unconditionally; he left no time to fulfill “if…” clauses. This is what got him into trouble, for it made his message socially and religiously revolutionary. If there are no conditions to be fulfilled for participation in humanity’s fulfillment, then in the end the righteous man has no advantage over the sinner, the respected man no advantage over the proletarian, the believer no advantage over the unbeliever….

    Jesus did not merely proclaim to the poor, the publicans, and the sinners that in God’s future they would be new men, he treated them then and there as the new men they would be. His message had nothing in it of ‘pie in the sky by and by.’ This is the point of one of the most pervasive recollections about Jesus’ actions: that he ‘ate with publicans and sinners.’ In all cultures, eating together is an expression of fellowship; in oriental cultures, it creates permanent brotherhood; and in Israel, because of the table prayers, it creates brotherhood before God. Jesus’ chosen brothers before God were the outsiders.

    We regulate our relations with our fellows by what they have been; if a teenager is hooked on dope, we do not encourage our children to make him a friend. Jesus did the opposite: he brought his fellows into his life not in terms of what they had been, but of what they would be. And not in terms of what it could be predicted they would be, on the basis of a ‘little bit of good in everyone’ or of what he planned to reform them to, but in terms of what they could be only by God’s miracle. He enacted God’s future as his brothers’ own present.

    Joy Williams on One Way Love

    The Civil Wars’ Joy Williams released a new album, Venus, a few weeks ago, and it’s worth a listen. In particular, the song “You Loved Me” offers a penetratingly beautiful analysis of both the human condition and grace:

    I thought you wouldn’t love me if I didn’t do everything right,
    So I lied to tell the truth and hid myself most of all from you;
    Good was never perfect, perfect never could be good enough for me.

    But I tried, and I failed,
    And you loved me.
    Oh, I tried, and I failed,
    And you loved me.

    I had all the answers; that was easier than facing the dark,
    And I sold my story until the story started falling apart.
    Every secret spoken, out there in the open; I’ve pretended not to see.

    And I tried, and I failed;
    And you loved me.
    And I tried, and I failed;
    And you loved me.

    When John Locke Turned Gospel Into Law

    When John Locke Turned Gospel Into Law

    It’s no secret that here at Mockingbird we like to talk about how the themes of Law and Grace play out in everyday life, so much, in fact, that there’s now a Mockingbird publication which bears its namesake.

    When we say “law”, we tend to mean that the posture of the self in some way fails to be truly at rest. As the Glossary puts it,

    In practice… the requirement of perfect submission to the commandments of God is exactly the same as the requirement of perfect submission to the innumerable drives for perfection that drive everyday people’s crippled and crippling lives…

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    The Storyless Self: Thoughts on Greed, Consumerism, and Desire

    The Storyless Self: Thoughts on Greed, Consumerism, and Desire

    “What is greed?” It’s a good question, and it is one which was posed to me by Ted Scofield during his breakout at the Mockingbird Conference a month ago. (You can hear the audio recording here.) According to Ted, several statistics and polls reveal that we Americans collectively see greed as a societal problem yet deny it as an issue in our individual lives. Merely citing the addictive behavior around smartphone upgrades revealed to me, a self-professed wannabe techie, that there is a problem: “We have grown weary and dubious of all the technology upgrades. For the first time in a…

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    Mining Netflix: Frasier and Niles Try to Magically Change Everything

    Mining Netflix: Frasier and Niles Try to Magically Change Everything

    A bit of a nostalgic, I’ve been finding myself vegging out lately to old episodes of Frasier. (Thank goodness for Netflix!). Perhaps you remember the premise. Always trying hard to be people who are well-recognized in society, Frasier and Niles are a restless duo: members of gentlemen’s clubs, wine-tasting societies, country clubs… the elite of the elite. Naturally this leads to sibling rivalry as they try to outdo each other and fail miserably every time. They are portrayals of all of us living under… well, the law. As with all scenarios in which the self remains front and center, the…

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    From The Atlantic: America’s Existential Crisis, as Illustrated by Super Bowl Ads

    You really shouldn’t miss Sophie Gilbert’s thoughts over at The Atlantic on this year’s Super Bowl ads. She quite perceptively demonstrates how these commercials seem to be, more than ever, playing on our nationwide anxiety. She writes,

    America, judging by the Super Bowl XLIX advertisements, is suffering through the kind of existential crisis that only God’s iPhone, Marshawn Lynch’s Skittles, and a car with an erection can heal. America is hangry. America can’t sleep. America is very, very worried about getting old and irrelevant and physically stuck on the couch shouting at a football game while other, younger countries are going to super-cool Pac Man parties and flipping tires over for no discernible reason and seducing elderly wives in leopard-print camisoles. America might think this identity breakdown can be solved by buying a Chevy Colorado, which is focus group-proven to make people more attractive than, say, a simple Prius, but America is wrong. The hurt is on the inside. No truck-shaped penis extension can fix it.

    She concludes,

    [R]emember that, deep down, unless they face off against a wolf for you, they’re only cars/beers/extreme workouts. They aren’t love.

    Gilbert reminds us that though these marketable goods might promise to make us “more human” (as Reebok would put it), closing the gap between our actual selves and our desired selves, they are powerless to bestow anything. So deep is the universal identity-crisis that we might just need a divine rescue.

    Read the whole thing here.

    On BS and the Word of Absolution

    On BS and the Word of Absolution

    “What are my initials?” my friend Billy asked in response to my ludicrous comment. The obvious answer—apparent to anyone who knows him—is: “BS!” It’s not that I was spewing lies, though they most certainly weren’t truthful. It’s just that it carried no concern for the truth whatsoever because the statements were given for a different purpose: I said them only to get a rise out of him. And Billy saw right through it.

    So at the risk of oversimplification, one might say there’s truth, lies, and the ambiguous middle known as bullsh*t. This is what philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s little book On Bullsh*t explores. He…

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