Palmer Lecture 2015 Q&A Synopsis


Photo by Zac Davis.  Article by Megan Wildhood.

Dr. Fowl took questions at the close of the Palmer Lecture.  Dr. Daniel Castelo, Associate Professor of Dogmatic and Constructive Theology at SPS, brought up the topics of fasting and theological anthropology.  Dr. Fowl commented that fasting both sharpens our attentiveness to hearing what God is calling us to do and enriches our enjoyment when the fast is over.  Regarding theological anthropology, Dr. Fowl suggested one way of looking at idolatry is greed.  In the Garden, God created humans that have desire both for material things and God and the conditions for those desires to be rightly ordered and directed to relationship to God.  In reaching for what was not offered, humans reject relationship with God, creation and each other because of greed.  Now we have these God-given desires that are now disordered, in competition with each other, unclear how to set priorities.  Part of the Christian life is to re-order our desires: not that we only love God but that we rightly love God and neighbor.

In relation to another question, Dr. Fowl continued to discuss possible definitions of idolatry.  One way to think about idolatry is as a sort of pollution of God’s holiness.  Idolatry is also treated in Scripture as a form of folly and stupidity in the Old Testament, which does not draw its energy from God’s holiness.  This becomes a little more complicated in the New Testament because the world of the New Testament, there wasn’t really a place that didn’t have a connection to an idol.  The Old Testament was about the problem of bringing in idols, while the New Testament is about the problem of bringing in God into a world that is already soaked with idols; it isn’t so much about purging pollution anymore as it was with Israel because in the New Testament world, that would be impossible. 

Dr. Brian Bantum, Associate Professor of Theology at SPS, astutely observed that the very language can reinforce idolatry.  Even the Ignatian catechesis was used to aid in colonial subjugation.  Idolatry has a way of looping everything into itself – how do you avoid that?  Dr. Fowl acknowledged the circular nature of idolatry.  You want to keep the circular movement in the right ways because it can start to serve potentially very demonic purposes.  There is a point early on the incremental turning away where repentance becomes easier and you’re more likely to recognize your idolatry.  Dr. Bantum replied by asking what if the water is already poisoned and the effect is that you’re colorblind so all the killing, all the excluding, all the policies are seen as righteous rather than demonic?  How do you restore sight? 

Dr. Fowl answered that you do need prophets.  Although they don’t have a great track record of getting people to repent, welcoming and cultivating the newcomer and the outsider can be a guard against this, as such people can serve as prophets as such.  As the New Testament world attests, the water is somewhat poisoned everywhere, which is why symbols must be continually rooted in practice.  This circular force can be used for good or evil – for idolatrous endeavors or for eating one’s fill and yet remembering the goodness of God and inviting others into pure worship with us.

Click here for Part 1: Palmer Lecture 2015 Synopsis

Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Palmer Lecture 2015

Dr. Stephen Fowl, visiting theologian in residence at Seattle Pacific Seminary and University, will be giving the 2015 Alfred S. Palmer Lecture on January 22, 2015: “How to Eat Till We Are Full: Idolatry and Ways to Avoid It.”  For more information, click here.