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Does It Liberate? Kaufman Addresses the Praxis Question

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The relationship between academic theological method and practical political commitment is a vexed one. Latin American liberation theologians, in particular, have called out Western academic traditions as being insufficiently nourishing of the kind of engaged resistance movement that befits the Jesus movement. (It's a complicated issue, especially given the fact that many of these same theologians, especially in earlier years, fed pretty directly on these same traditions -- humanist Marxism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, etc. See, for example, Clodovis Boff's massive work from three decades ago, Theology and Praxis: Epistemological Foundations; Juan Luis Segundo and Jon Sobrino, among others, shows a similar dependence upon Western theory.)

I recently ran across a striking challenge lobbed by Gustavo Gutierrez, arguably the dean of Latin American liberationists, toward North American academic theologians. Gordon Kaufman, a leading light of constructive theology in recent decade…

Neither Metaphysics Nor Anthropology: More from Kaufman on Theology

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What is theology even about? What is the telos of this intellectual practice? In the first chapter of his distinguished work of systematics, Gordon Kaufman succinctly situates his approach to theological method -- distinguishing it from three other common views of the discipline.

In the Face of Mystery: A Constructive Theology, By Gordon F. Kaufman (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).

In traditional dogmatics, theology has been conceived as the science of God -- or, to expand that, the explication of Christian truths about God, world, and self that are given through divine revelation. Conversely, many theologians of the Protestant West, in the wake of Kant and Schleiermacher especially, have reconceived the theological task (or reduced it, as critics like Karl Barth would say) in terms of an anthropology of religious experience. To be sure, Kaufman in significant respects is heir to that latter tradition, but his own proposal qualifies and complicates that approach:

The cen…

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology, 18.19: Primacy of the Pope

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Nineteenth Question: Is the Roman pope the successor of Peter in a monarchy or ecumenical pontificate? We deny.

At every turn, we’ve seen Turretin leave open the theoretical possibility that Peter was accorded certain honors or excellences. But he has also consistently maintained that such things don’t translate into the sort of position and authority claimed by and for the pope in the early modern period. Here Turretin clarifies the logic that governs his thinking on this: “the pope cannot be the successor of Peter, whatever privilege he [Peter] may have obtained, because it was extraordinary and special (which could not pass over to others)” (18.19.1). In other words, positions or offices are the sort of thing that can be handed to successors, while personal excellences are not—they pertain to the individual only. Of course, no point is properly made unless Turretin can show that Bellarmine is confused and self-contradictory on the matter (18.19.2).

Turretin isn’t done making this p…

Is Theology Simply Made Up? An Opening Unscientific Prescript on Kaufman

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Used book sales are somewhat perilous for me (as we've already established.), and this past weekend was no exception. The family and I dropped in on the League of Women Voters' book sale with an empty whiskey box and a crisp $20 bill. We had some tough choices to make -- the woman at the cashier's table was in no mood to haggle. Sadly, Henri de Lubac's intro to Teilhard de Chardin didn't make the cut (probably just as well; I'm not primed to take Teilhard "into account" again any time soon). But the kid managed to score several of those "cat warrior" books, so he was happy.

For about five years or so now, Gordon Kaufman's In the Face of Mystery has been taunting me at the local remaindered bookstore. Now was my opportunity to bag it for $2. I just couldn't pass it up. Now, my references to remaindered books are by no means meant to sleight the late Harvard professor; I'll note that, to my shock, I found a copy of Barth's Chur…

Francis Turretin’s Ecclesiology, 18.18: Peter and Rome

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Eighteenth Question: Was Peter at Rome, and did he hold the episcopate there for many years? We deny against the Romanists.

As we move further into Turretin’s series of questions dealing with the Pope, we find him in this question working to remove the foundation of his opponents’ position. He seems a little defensive about making this move, however, because it isn’t a strictly theological point. As he puts it, this issue “seems to be historical rather than theological” (18.8.1). But it is such an important piece of the argumentative puzzle that he can’t help but take a swing at it. His opponents

know that on this foundation rests the whole mass of the papal hierarchy and this being disproved, it necessarily destroys the latter. For if Peter was not in Rome and did not exercise an episcopate there, such authority could not flow down into the Roman pope so that he should be considered successor. (Ibid.)
In other words, none of the theological arguments about the place and authority of t…

Reversing Theology—A Personal Reply to Torres and Roberts, by David Congdon

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By David W. Congdon

I am grateful to both Juan C. Torres and David Roberts for their thoughtful responses to my book, The God Who Saves: A Dogmatic Sketch (hereafter TGWS). I wish to repay their generosity by offering some further reflections on my work.

This was a very personal book to write, and it has become even more personal to me in the months since publication. The book cost me my job, forced my family to relocate, and has been the cause of great, enduring pain. In a way, the book’s theme of cocrucifixion and existential abandonment has become more real to me since writing it. But I do not regret a single word. It was something I had to write; the words were almost drawn out of me, as if I were more their amanuensis than author.

Roberts suggests that TGWS might have been a kin to the book that Dietrich Bonhoeffer proposed writing at the end of his life. This observation means more to me than Roberts could have realized, for it was reading Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers in Priso…

Ents, Hobbits, and Salvation in the Shadow of Charlottesville: David Roberts on "The God Who Saves"

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By David Roberts

There is a scene in the film adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Two Towers (it plays out a little differently in the book) where Treebeard – an Ent – shares an exchange with Merry – one of the Hobbits (if you don’t know what Ents and Hobbits are then you are beyond my sympathy).

Treebeard, having decided along with the other Ents to forgo the ongoing war of the ring, tells Merry:

Treebeard: “We Ents cannot hold back this storm. We must weather such things as we have always done.”

Merry: “How can that be your decision?”

Treebeard: “This is not our war.”

The sort of detachment latent in Treebeard’s response reminds me, a white, cis-het male, of the same sort of privilege that I am afforded in relation to the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and much more so the centuries of systemic oppression that preceded those vile demonstrations. As someone born into an advantageous position in relation to western culture’s pre-existing power structures, my response to thi…