Thursday, February 21, 2013

Theology Trade Deadline

Best. Pope. Ever.

by Ben Howard

In honor of the NBA’s trade deadline, I bring you three anachronistic theology trades I’d like to see.


Gregory the Great, 2 bishops (not Augustine of Canterbury), and the 1st pick of the 605 A.D. Priest Draft (there should totally be a Priest Draft, if only for the outfits) for N.T. Wright

What the 6th Century Gets: A great theologian who can help a relatively young church to understand Paul and Judaism. Perhaps this understanding will be able to derail some of the anti-Semitic sentiment that built up in Europe during this time and in the long-run even may lead to the prevention of the Holocaust. That would be an MVP level performance by itself, but Wright also brings the ability to help a society understand the concepts of the afterlife and the sacraments before they completely devolve into mythologized legend.

What the 21st Century Gets: One of the greatest popes of all time to fill a clear hole on the team, as well one of the great pastoral thinkers. I love Gregory the Great (I wrote my undergrad thesis on him), so I may be overrating him a bit, but let me tell you his story. Gregory was a wealthy young Roman who inherited his Father’s estate as a young man. Instead of living a life of luxury he gave away all the families money, turned the family home into a convent and became a monk. Eventually, he would become a hero in the city through his work during an epidemic of disease. When the disease in question brought about the death of the reigning pope, Gregory was elected by popular acclaim. As a rather humble man, Gregory attempted to have his election invalidated by the Emperor in Constantinople, who refused his request. Also, we’re getting two awesome bishops, and a pretty good draft pick. I think this trade is a win-win.


Mark Driscoll, the Gospel Coalition and theory of Intelligent Design for Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe

"All shall be well and all shall be well
and all manner of things shall be well."
What the 14th Century Gets: I think it’s pretty clear that Driscoll, the Gospel Coalition and the theory of Intelligent Design all need a change of scenery and what better place than the Dark Ages. Okay, okay, settle down, this isn’t as insulting as it sounds. Driscoll and the neo-Calvinists of the Gospel Coalition would look absolutely loving and revolutionary in the context of the 14th century church. Additionally, the deep patriarchy of the time would cloak some of their more evident flaws. The flaws would still exist, but they wouldn’t be the focus of so much attention. Same for intelligent design, removed from the scientific era in which it was birthed, intelligent design might be an excellent way to bridge the coming divide between science and the church, perhaps even clearing the way for a church that can accept evolution for the actual science that it is.

What the 21st Century Gets: Two of the most underrated mystic theologians of all-time, and powerful female mystic theologians to boot. If you know me even a little, it’s no secret that Julian is one of my favorite theologians. Seriously, go buy a copy of Revelations of Divine Love right now! Mysticism has made a bit of return of late and I think these two thinkers would do a lot to direct that conversation down the paths it needs to go. Also, it might be interesting to challenge the theological status quo with a woman who has ecstatic visions of Christ. That doesn’t fit real well into an intellectually elite mindset. I’m excited.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer and H. Richard Niebuhr for Shane Claiborne, Peter Rollins and Stanley Hauerwas

What the 21st Century Gets: Two great theologians who were victims of their times. Bonhoeffer’s life was cut short after it was discovered that he was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. James McClendon explores the ethical dilemma of Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the assassination plot in depth in his book Ethics, but that isn’t even the point I want to make. Bonhoeffer was only 39 years old when he died and much of his theology was crafted in the turmoil of war. What would Bonhoeffer have been able to do with 40 more years of writing? What beauty did we miss out on?
Niebuhr is similar, yet altogether different. His magnum opus, Christ and Culture, was written in the wake of World War II and belies the anger and cynicism of the time. Niebuhr is obviously a fantastic theologian, but one wonders what he could have written had he lived in a time that viewed World War II as past and not present.

Peter Rollins
What the 20th Century Gets: Pacifists in the United States and a thoughtful, philosophical creative conflict resolver in Northern Ireland. Additionally, all of these people understand the mechanisms of power that influence politics more than the single intentions of one man. So what happens when you place some of the most creative non-violent minds of the modern age into the fire of the greatest example of why non-violence wouldn’t work? I honestly don’t know, but I’d be very intrigued to find out.

I know I write a lot of weird things, sometime for a point and sometimes just for the sake of weirdness. This one has a point. I think it’s important for us to realize how much our context shapes who we are, who we become, what we think about, the problems we attempt to solve, and what we view as important. What happens if Julian of Norwich is located in the United States of today? Does she become Rachel Held Evans? Does she become a pastor at a church plant in Portland? Does she become irrelevant entirely?

Who would I be if I lived during WWII? Or during the 14th century? Or in the future? I’m not certain.

What are your thoughts on this weird little thought experiment? Helpful? Useless? Any trades you’d want to see?


You can follow On Pop Theology on Twitter @OnPopTheology or like us on Facebook at 
Contact us at onpoptheology [at]


  1. Ben,

    This was a fun thought experiment! I think #3 is the most interesting. As someone with leanings toward non-violance I have been hesitant to speak of myself as a pacifist because thoughts like the one you propose: would I think this way if I lived during WWII? I don't know the answer.

    1. Thanks Brian! When I started writing it, I thought it would be tongue in cheek, but it did really push me to consider what would happen if people were removed from the context that influences so much of their thought.

  2. Another thought came to mind: do we have scholars like N.T. Wright if the Holocaust didn't happen? In other words, the Holocaust forced Christian scholars to rethink their approach to Judaism. In your scenario Wright's theology (along w. other NPP folk I am sure) may have helped Christianity avoid a trajectory where Jews became targets, but I wonder if we would have N.T. Wright, et al., if Jews had not been targets at one point.

  3. That's very true, and I think it's true for most of them. Does Bonhoeffer write Cost of Discipleship without watching the rise of the Third Reich? Julian writes about such other-worldly hope in such a bleak context, but would a better time have necessitated it? Does Driscoll's idea of a super-masculine Jesus exist without a feminist movement to backlash against?

    It really helps me to realized how deeply contextual the conversations we're having actually are. There is no theology devoid of history.

  4. We need more of these. Write more of these! ;)