Phelan, Jay

John E. Phelan, Jr. is Senior Professor of Theological Studies at North Park Theological Seminary where he previously served as President and Dean for 14 years.

A Pietist’s Bookshelf: Responding to the "New Atheists" (Fall/Winter 2010)

In the years following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, a number of books attacking religion in general and Christianity in particular became extremely popular. These works, in John Lennonesque fashion, encouraged us to imagine a world without the quarrelsome religions and their attending violence and bloodshed. Writers like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins poured scorn on people of faith and their absurd beliefs.

The Scandinavian Detective and the Dissolution of a World (Spring/Summer 2011)

Jay Phelan examines the social criticism found in Scandinavian crime fiction.

The Works of Wendell Berry (Fall/Winter 2011)

One of our nation’s literary treasures is the farmer, poet, essayist, and novelist Wendell Berry. Every other year at North Park Seminary, Dr. Brent Laytham and I teach a course on Berry. It has become one of the school’s most popular electives, drawing some of our brightest students as well as students from other Chicago seminaries. The attraction is not so much our inspired teaching, but Berry himself.

A Future for Classic Pietism? (Spring/Summer 2012)

Recently I was commissioned to write an article for US Catholic magazine, as they had seen a column of mine in the Covenant Companion and asked me to expand it. The article argued that concern for the environment was as much a prolife concern as war, capital punishment or abortion. Our ongoing pillaging and spoliation of the planet risks the lives of billions of yet unborn children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I expanded the argument and sent the article on. They liked it, except that they wanted me to let people know what they should do in the face of such a challenging crisis. They were looking, it seemed to me, for big solutions, big programs, dramatic actions. I wrote back and told them that I had been reading Wendell Berry far too long to believe there were big programs, congressional legislation, or religious mandates that could turn the tide. Only small, invisible acts of renunciation and stewardship will make any difference. Only a slow, thoughtful, bottom-up cultural transformation can save us.

The long humiliation: Judaism and Christianity (Fall/Winter 2012)

During my doctoral studies at Northwestern University/Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in the late 1970s, I heard that one of the professors at North Park Theological Seminary, Dr. Fredrick Holmgren, was being severely criticized for a recent book. I had been attending the Winnetka Covenant Church for a few years and knew about North Park but had not yet met Fred, who was later to become a treasured friend and colleague.

Going back to go forward? (Spring/Summer 2013)

At first glance this may seem an odd combination of books for a review. Peter Brown is a magisterial scholar of late antiquity, Garry Wills, one of America’s most important “public intellectuals,” and Wendell Berry, a Kentucky farmer, poet and storyteller. Brown’s book is a dense but rewarding exploration of changing views of wealth and poverty in late antique Christianity (AD 350-550). Wills’s is a jeremiad against the Roman Catholic views of the Eucharist and the priesthood. Berry offers another collection of his wonderful short stories. Brown and Wills at least have St. Augustine in common — he figures prominently in both books. But Brown is focused on Augustine’s views of poverty and wealth and church and state, while Wills is more concerned with his Christology. Berry makes no reference to the great North African.

Believing in the abyss (Spring/Summer 2014)

A first glance this may seem an odd coupling. Wiman is a contemporary American poet born in Texas and best known for his stunning poetry and his strong editorial leadership of Poetry magazine. Hammarskjöld is not only the 20th century’s most important Swede, but also an international diplomat of enormous courage and foresight who led the United Nations during its crucial formative years.

Christendom’s Ultimate Civil War (Fall/Winter 2014)

One hundred years ago this August, the First World War began. It is difficult to overestimate the impact that the conflict had on the modern world. One could argue, in fact, that the world is in the midst of another Hundred Years’ War.

Shepherding science and theology (Fall/Winter 2016)

I also came away convinced that some of the biggest questions we face today as Christians are scientific ones — and not the ones we immediately think of. The creation question is significant, but for me far down the list from questions now being raised by neuroscience and biology. Christians who fail to engage these questions fail not only to engage our world, they fail to fully engage God.