Monday, October 30, 2006

Wiki-Theologians

Greetings,

From the sanctuary of reading week – which for me is always a week of insane activity for me (my “to do” list is 14 items long and growing!) – comes what I hope will be a valuable reference resource. Earlier today I realized that it would be helpful to have at hand some simple information on important theologians. So, I thought that I would post a list of links to Wikipedia entries for a number of important theological thinkers – more for myself than anything else. This list may expand as I think of more people and find more Wikipedia entries to stick into it. Enjoy!
  1. Athanasius
  2. St. Augustine of Hippo
  3. St. Thomas Aquinas
  4. Karl Barth
  5. Emil Brunner
  6. Rudolf Bultmann
  7. Martin Bucer
  8. Heinrich Bullinger
  9. John Calvin
  10. Colin Gunton
  11. Adolf von Harnack
  12. Wilhelm Herrmann
  13. Robert Jenson
  14. Hans Kung
  15. Peter Lombard
  16. Martin Luther
  17. Philip Melanchthon
  18. Jürgen Moltmann
  19. H. Richard Neibuhr
  20. Reinhold Neibuhr
  21. Andreas Osiander
  22. Wolfhard Pannenberg
  23. Karl Rahner
  24. Albrecht Ritschl
  25. Friedrich Schleiermacher
  26. John Duns Scotus
  27. Paul Tillich
  28. T. F. Torrance
  29. Francis Turretin
  30. Peter Martyr Vermigli
  31. Huldruch Zwingli

Saturday, October 28, 2006

This-N-That

Greetings! I've been able to make some slight progress in the face of my workload, but it has not yet abated to a sufficient degree to warrant my full return. However, I had the below link lying around and thought that I would post it. I may also throw up some quotations over the next week as well, although, I don’t know if they will be worthy of “Choice Quotation” status. Until then!
  1. Academic Fraud

    Wow. This blew my socks off. I had not heard about it previously, and I must say that it is perversely fascinating. Take is as a cautionary tale about what can happen when you begin to crack under the pressures of coming up with an original contribution. Read the sorid tale here.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Hiatus



I must offer you all a sincere apology, as this morning I had to make a decision that I wish could have been avoided. Because all of my time has been occupied either with utterly insignificant, banal, menial, and otherwise unworthy assignments imposed upon me by professors and classes from which I have learned absolutely nothing, or it has been occupied by doing research in German theology (that is, theology of a German origin AND as extant only in the German language), I have been unable to keep on top of my self-imposed blogging out-put. Never fear! My current plan is to be back in two weeks or so, running full bore.

Until then, I thought that I would do a copy-cat post. My friend and colleague David over at Fire & Rose recently posted a picture of the book shelf above his computer. I am not blessed with a shelf above my computer, but I do have one in the hallway upon which I keep my “all-stars,” as it were. In other words, this shelf contains the bulk of my research interests, and I thought that I would share it with you. If you cannot quite make out the titles, here they are moving from left to right:

  1. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Battles, McNeil)

  2. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536. (Battles)

  3. John Calvin, Theological Treatises (LCC), (JKS Reid)

  4. John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, (JKS Reid)

  5. Karl Barth, Theology of John Calvin

  6. Karl Barth, Theology of the Reformed Confessions

  7. Karl Barth, The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism

  8. Karl Barth, CD 1.2

  9. Karl Barth, CD 2.1

  10. Karl Barth, CD 2.2

  11. Karl Barth, CD 3.2

  12. Karl Barth, CD 3.3

  13. Karl Barth, CD 3.4, (Note: CBD sent this to me without a dust jacket! They are supposed to be sending one to me, but it’s been a while and I still have not received it…)

  14. Karl Barth, CD 4.1

  15. Karl Barth, CD 4.4

  16. Karl Barth, Letters: 1961-68

  17. Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, (Note: I just want to say that I think that this volume is the best place to start reading Barth)

  18. Karl Barth, The Christian Life, (Note: For any of you who do not know, this volume is comprised of lecture transcripts from the material surrounding the baptism fragment [CD 4.4]. However, it was not revised by Barth, so while it is valuable, it is only “on the way.”)

  19. T.F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God

  20. T.F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ

  21. T.F. Torrance, Space, Time and Incarnation

  22. T.F. Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection

  23. T.F. Torrance, Theology in Reconciliation

  24. T.F. Torrance, Theology in Reconstruction

  25. T.F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hodgepodge


  1. I'm Outnumbered!

    You are too if you are married. Is this cause for concern? Decide for yourself, but read about it first so that you can make a (semi-) informed decision. I would simply comment, shooting from the hip, that perhaps establishing a distinction between civil union and marriage would shift the terms of this entire conversation in very interesting and helpful ways.


  2. Don't let the Bed-bugs Bite

    It seems that this is easier said than done. Hopefully, the new menace of New York won't migrate South too quickly...


  3. Susan B. Anthony

    As interesting as this article is, I probably would not have linked to it, if it were not for this quote: "Now we are Photoshopping rather than airbrushing; with enough slicing and dicing, an argument can be made for anything. The doctorate in sophistry is optional" (bold and italics are meant to show my delight!). And, let you think that I made it up, you can read it for yourself.


  4. The Universality of the Internet

    Wherein does the potential for the universality of the internet lie? I'll give you a hint: it's not blogs! Check out this common sense answer.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

What Am I Reading? Karl Barth's Letters

Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Ed. And Trans.), Karl Barth: Letters, 1961-1868, (Eerdmans, 1981).

This volume represents 350+ pages of Barth’s correspondence during the last years of his life, stretching from his retirement to his death. Also included are a number of replies from the recipients of Barth’s correspondence. In this volume Barth addresses such diverse figures as Emil Brunner, Pope Paul VI, Barth’s sons and other family, personages Barth met in the United States, a number of those whom Barth confirmed during his time at Safenwil, Hans Küng, Jürgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Karl Rahner, Martin Neimöller, James I. McCord (former PTS president), Josef Hromadka, Paul Tillich, Eberhard Jüngel, Eberhard Bethge (Bonhoeffer’s close friend, student, and biographer), and numerous others. This really is a very fine collection, with excellent notes to help you grasp the many allusions, both literary and to Sitz im Leben. I heartily recommend it. One useful and gratifying thing that I learned through this volume is that Barth preached his last sermon precisely 19 years before the day I was born – if only the number ‘19’ was more symbolic. I’ve included two juicy tidbits from this volume below as a kind of teaser.

“That Hegel could still have a future, as I predicted…I still regard as probable, although in the meantime the flood of existentialism has risen higher and higher. Where I stand will be well known to you: I believe more than ever that as a theologian one should know philosophy but should not in any sense become or be a philosopher.” Letter 138

“Luther’s Romans was one of the books I read and had ready to hand at Safenwil in 1916-1918. But even then I had some mistrust of the man which become stronger during my fifteen years at German universities – the German soul is by nature Lutheran – and here at Basel when I held my seminar on Luther and the Fanatics. Calvin is not my man on every point, but he was and is the superior teacher.” Letter 254

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 1.23-25

1 Peter 1.23-25

(23) For you have been born again, nor of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (24) For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass wither and the flowers fall, (25) but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.

==========================

COMMENTARY:

Calvin’s comments on these verses were much more brief than usual, but then again, these verses are brief. They also mark the end of chapter 1, so we can now rejoice in having made a good beginning of this project of reading Scripture with Calvin. Further reason for self-congratulation is that we have made it through 60 pages of Calvin’s commentaries! This excites me and I hope that it excites you as well. This has been a very rewarding undertaking thus far.

We will discuss two themes in light of today’s material: (1) Calvin’s Ethical Imperative (2) Calvin’s understanding of the ‘word’ of the Lord.

Calvin’s Ethical Imperative

One of the reasons that Barth found Calvin to be more helpful than Luther is that Barth found in Calvin someone who shared his (Barth’s) concern with Christian ethics. In Barth’s judgment, Luther was preoccupied with the relation between humanity and God (and Barth recognized that this requires quite a bit of attention), but what he found in Calvin was someone who moved past this to consider relations between human persons in light of the relation between a person and God. (For a convenient place to get in on this discussion, see Barth’s Theology of John Calvin, in the neighborhoods of page 49 and page 73.) Calvin’s comments on our verses for today display his concern in this area, and shows that though he at many points focuses on ethical imperatives, he also has an ordering principle in his understanding of the relation of Christian ethics to salvation.
“[S]ince they were new men and born again of God, it behoved them to for a life worthy of God and of their spiritual regeneration…The object, then, of Peter was to teach us that we cannot be Christians without regeneration; for the Gospel is not preached, that it may be only heard by us, but that it may, as a seed of immortal life, altogether reform our hearts.”
In this passage Calvin reveals the nature of his ordering of these two concepts. The life of Christian ethical responsibility flows out of regeneration. It is regeneration that gives rise to the impetus for a form of life befitting those loved of God and reborn by God. But, note also the close association that Calvin maintains between regeneration and ethical imperative. Regeneration is about reforming our hearts. It might seem like we should take “heart” here to represent that facet of human existence that governs religious life, but the notion of “reform” pushes us to a fuller understanding. This notion of “reform” is set apart from the immediately preceding notion of “immortal life,” which is a reference to the promise of resurrection and eternal existence with God. “Reform” of the “heart” is an outgrowth of this seed of immortal life. The Christian life of ethics is lived as a natural outgrowth of our regeneration. We cannot lead this life without regeneration, and we cannot be truly regenerated if in some sense this life does not arise within us.

Calvin’s discussion of the ‘word’

Calvin reflects on the ‘word’ a great deal in these few short pages, but I must confess that I find it hard to make heads or tails out of the cumulative effect. Part of the problem is that it is sometimes hard to discern precisely what ‘word’ is referring to at any given moment. However, there is one strain that I would like to elucidate a bit here.

The first mention shows up with reference to the phrase “enduring God” in the first verse, which Calvin has translated as “living.” He then ties this to Hebrews 4:12, where the ‘word of God’ is called ‘living and active.’ Thus, Calvin construes God’s perpetual activity in terms of ‘the word,’ and writes that “he refers to the word, in which the perpetuity of God shines forth as in a mirror.” It is this metaphor of the ‘word’ as ‘mirror’ that interests me. To figure out more of what this means, we must turn to Calvin’s last sentence in this section (Calvin has other interesting things to say about the Word in the intervening sections, mentioning how it can communicate to us “what is real, solid, and eternal,” and noting that he is not concerned with any kind of hidden word that might reside in the inner subjectivity of God and that he is instead interested only in the visible word, etc.) where Calvin touches upon something that I like to call “mediating instrumentality” (as far as I know, that’s my own phrase). Calvin is here discussing preaching. Having already noted that “the word is not to be sought elsewhere than in the Gospel preached to us” (and thereby hinting at tying our knowledge of God to Christ in a way that would make TF Torrance proud), Calvin thinks briefly about the mechanics of preaching in relation to God’s redemptive action.

This is clearly a question of the relationship between divine and human activity. In what sense is the work of the Spirit involved in human preaching? There are many ways to construe the relation to divine and human agency: in terms of a causal chain, in terms of God starting and us finishing, in terms of us starting and God finishing, etc. Calvin has a different idea. Instead of construing this relation in causal or temporal categories (one agency preceding or causing the other), Calvin adopts a more simultaneous understanding where both agencies are present at the same moment. He writes: “the voice which is in itself mortal, is made an instrument to communicate eternal life.” Here, the human voice in the act of preaching is accomplishing an action that requires divine activity. And yet, the voice is not accomplishing divine activity; rather, divine activity is coming alongside the voice and communicating itself through the instrument of the human voice. Thus, my term – “mediating instrumentalities” – creaturely media are taken up by God and are made into instruments to mediate divine activity. It is here that Calvin’s use of the ‘mirror’ as a metaphor is apt. A mirror is never anything other than a mirror, and yet it communicates that which gives itself to be reflected in it. The mirror does not posses the reflection, but when the object to be reflected presents itself to the mirror, the mirror functions as a mediating instrument in communicating the reflection.

I feel as though I have expressed myself poorly in this regard, but I trust that you can see the broad strokes. God uses creaturely ‘things’ as ‘mediating instrumentalities’ to communicate some ‘thing’ to us. Precisely what is communicated is a question for another day and, I must admit, a much more difficult question.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Potpourri


  1. Blogs Suck!

    Find out why by reading this essay written by a professor at my alma mater. I think that he is entirely correct. So, why do you persist in participating in this phenomenon? Good question. It would take a series of posts to entirely figure that out, and I don’t intend to subject the few of you who read me regularly to that horror. Suffice it to say that I’m still here and that you may expect your weekly installments of Reading Scripture with John Calvin for the foreseeable future.

  2. Singing Comes Before Speaking

    Or does it? Get into the debate about the origins of the human language by reading this article.


  3. Renegade Elephants

    Here is a teaser quote. Go read the article for more.
    "Since the early 1990’s, for example, young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa have been raping and killing rhinoceroses."

  4. The Angelic Doctor

    Do yourself and the world a favour - learn about Thomas! It just so happens that Alex Thompson has provided us with an excellent place to start. Check out his very interesting and extensive assesment of the state of Thomas studies.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Choice Quotations: Karl Barth presents, “Pastor vs. Prophet”

"A prophet is, in all things, precisely the opposite of that which most people expect from a pastor these days and of that which most pastors have really been…Of a pastor people think: he is our employee. We have chosen him and we pay him and therefore it is the first responsibility of his office to strive to get along with everyone, to be nice to everyone and give offence to no one. The prophet is the employee of God. For him, it is a matter of indifference what people think of him and what they do to him. He cannot be comfortable with those to whom he is sent. He knows that if he does his duty, they will be shocked by him and indignant. Of a pastor, people expect above all that he preserve and care for the old customs…The prophet is the representative of the unaccustomed…he says: Either-Or!"
From Karl Barth’s sermon of May 4, 1913 – as quoted in McCormack, Karl Barth’s Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology, 99-100.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 1.17-22

I would like to say at the outset here that one of the most challenging parts of my task in providing these mediations of Calvin’s commentaries to you is in attempting to order the material. Calvin’s comments move with the shape of the biblical text, indeed, he keeps to it quite remarkably, resisting spending too much time on tangential matters (often resisting by referring his readers to his Institutes of the Christian Religion, as might be seen from this quotation from our section today: “If the reader wishes for more on this subject, he may find it in my Institutes.”). However, I have found that attempting to keep with the movement of the biblical text and Calvin’s comments would have the effect of protracting these reflections of mine to at least the length of Calvin’s comments themselves, and that would be counter-productive. Simply know that I am ordering the material and that all the shortcomings of my individual subjectivity are included in this ordering. Let this be an impetus to you for consulting Calvin’s commentaries directly for your edification. In fact, it would be quite gratifying to me if some of you began reading along and offering your own reflections on Calvin’s words in the comments sections associated with the posts on the various passages. But, enough clearing of the throat!

=========================

1 Peter 1.17-22

(17) Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, love out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. (18) For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, (19) but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (20) He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. (21) Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (22) Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.

==========================

COMMENTARY:

The passage under consideration today will be approached in terms of the following categories: (1) True Faith and Ethics, (2) Type, Fulfillment and Remnant, (3) An Excursus into Reformed Scholasticism: The Infralapsarian Pattern, (4) Christ as Mediator.

True Faith and Ethics

In his comments Calvin immediately takes up the question of true faith and its relation to ethics and the relationship between these two things will be in the background of all else that he has to say in this section. But, of course, he does this in order to mirror the concerns of these verses, which begins and ends with this consideration.

The first thing that Calvin does is to insist that “we by no means discharge our duty towards God, when we obey him only in appearance…He not only prescribes laws for our feet and hands, but he also requires what is just and right as to the mind and spirit.” (Brief aside: I find it interesting that Calvin reaches for ‘spirit’ as opposed to ‘heart’ here, especially since it shows up very soon after.) This is to be remembered despite the fact that the biblical text mentions of God judging according to “works.” Lest we understand the term ‘works’ to refer only to external things, Calvin notes that “what will be regarded will be the real sincerity of the heart. In this place faith also is included in the work.” (Of course, ‘work’ here refers only to the word in question in the text, not to the theological concept of ‘works.’)

What this amounts to is the necessity of fear. We should be fearful because we recognize that the sincerity of our hearts is always in question. Calvin notes that fear stands opposed to “heedless security” in matters of salvation. Furthermore, we should fear because we know how valuable is the blood of Christ, which secured our salvation. Indeed, it is through Christ’s blood that we have been redeemed from that which entangled us before, including the tradition received from our forefathers, which Calvin identifies as Judaism.

(Aside: We will return to the notion of fear again in the ‘Christ as Mediator’ section. Indeed, it is at this point that we must break off linear discussion of Calvin’s comments and leap to the end of this section. We will return to this point in the discussion with the section on ‘Type, Fulfillment and Remnant.’)

God looks at the sincerity of the heart in his judging of us and we should be concerned about this because we know that we do not measure up and we do not want to devalue Christ’s blood shed for our salvation. Thus far Calvin’s discussion of true faith. But, how does this relate to ‘ethics’ understood as the way in which one lives out one’s life – that is, external as opposed to internal morality? Calvin picks up this question in his comments on verse 22, which he paraphrases as follows: “Your souls are to be purified, but as ye cannot do this, offer them to God, that he may take away your filth by his Spirit.” Here Calvin reintroduces the asymmetry required to prevent his account from depending solely upon human initiative. But, Calvin moves on from here and notes that “purity of soul consists in obedience to God.” This is significant because Calvin has just taken an interior category (‘soul’) and cast it in light of an external category (‘obedience’). And what is this obedience? Calvin’s answer, in keeping with the verse in question, is that it consists in love of the neighbor. Calvin places a high premium on love of the neighbor in this section. He writes: “[Peter] now reminds us what God would have us to cultivate through life, that is, mutual love towards one another; for by that we testify also that we love God; and by this evidence God proves who they are who really love him.”

To sum up: The effect of Calvin’s treatment of true faith and ethics here is that he inseparably links them both, and equally undermines them both. He links them by joining the internal category of soul to the external category of obedience. This likewise subverts the notion of true faith when understood solely as interiority. In addition, his establishment of the requirement of true faith and sincerity of the heart undermines reliance purely upon external behavior in one’s hope for salvation. The only sure place to stand, as Calvin hints at in his paraphrase of verse 22, is invocation.

Type, Fulfillment and Remnant

We departed from a linear progression just as Calvin had drawn our attention to the point that our salvation depends on Christ’s blood and not the traditions of our fathers, which he takes to refer properly to Judaism (and improperly to “the Papists”). We have discussed the Reformed pattern of type and fulfillment as a way of interpreting the Old Testament in relation to the New. That apparatus is well represented here as Calvin elucidates the sacrificial imagery found here in relation to Christ – that Christ is a lamb without blemish or defect. In Calvin’s hands (as in the hands of others) the Old Testament sacrificial system, though abolished, serves to teach us about the inner logic of Christ’s sacrifice.
“Moses ordered a whole or perfect lamb, without blemish, to be chosen for the Passover…Peter, by applying this to Christ, teaches us that he was a suitable victim, and approved by God, for he was perfect, without any blemish; had he had any defect in him, he could not have been rightly offered to God, nor could he pacify his wrath.”
But, Calvin – in rejecting the Old Testament order as type and abolished in light of fulfillment – does not want to give the impression that all the people of Israel misused the light given to them. Rather, citing the cases of Paul’s forebears (2 Tim. 1.3-5), he argues that “God ever had at least a small remnant among that people, in whom sincere piety continued, while the body of the people had become wholly corrupt, and had plunged themselves into all kinds of errors.” It is because of this falling away of the vast majority of Israel that Peter brushes aside the traditions of the fathers in this passage, for this refers to the errors and not to the truth hidden in the types and understood as such by the remnant.

An Excursus into Reformed Scholasticism: The Infralapsarian Pattern

Verse 20 declares that salvation in Christ was foreordained, that is, chosen before the creation of the world. As a way into this subject and what it entails, I will quote Calvin at some length.
“For it was not a common or a small favour that God deferred the manifestation of Christ to that time, when yet he had ordained him in his eternal council for the salvation of the world. At the same time, however, he reminds us, that it was not a new or a sudden thing as to God that Christ appeared as a Saviour; and this is what ought especially to be known. For, in addition to this, that novelty is always suspicious, what would be the stability of our faith, if we believed that a remedy for mankind had suddenly occurred at length to God after some thousands of years? In short, we cannot confidently recumb [to lean on in a comfortable resting position – I had to look it up] on Christ, except we are convinced that eternal salvation is in him, and has always been in him.”
The trick comes with the question that Calvin raises to himself, namely, this: How can the solution come before the problem in that Christ was ordained a savior before the world began even though Adam did not sin until after the world began? It is precisely this question that exercised Reformed theologians during the period of Reformed scholasticism in the 17th century, within which context the canons of Dort were established. This is the (in)famous TULIP – Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. This is not the place to explicate these canons, but I would like to give some of the background.

There were two camps on the ‘orthodox’ side of Reformed dogmatics (that is, not the ‘Arminians’). They were the Infralapsarians and the Supralapsarians, and they differed on precisely how to make sense of Christ’s being foreordained before creation and Adam sinning after creation. The Supralapsarians were definitely the more technically consistent of the two. They basically argued that God set the whole thing up so that Adam would sin and so that the elect could be saved through Christ. The Infralapsarians, on the other hand, didn’t like the sound of that. They didn’t want to say that God caused evil and the Fall in such a direct manner. So, they accounted Christ’s foreordination pre-Fall to God’s foreknowledge. That is, God knew what Adam would do with his free will, and established a means for restoration even before the fact. Now, where the Supralapsarians had to come up with a good explanation for why God would cause the Fall, the Infralapsarians had to come up with a good explanation for why God foreknowing the Fall isn’t the same as God causing it, since (presumably) once God foreknew it there could be no change. Incidentally, Francis Turretin is a good person to go to if you want further explication of the Infralapsarian position.

The foregoing discussion was undertaken in order to situate Calvin in light of those who would be his followers. In this passage, Calvin clearly falls on the side of the Infralapsarians. Again, I will quote Calvin at some length.
“My reply is, that this is to be referred to God’s foreknowledge; for doubtless God, before he created man, foresaw that he would not stand long in his integrity. Hence he ordained, according to his wonderful wisdom and goodness, that Christ should be the Redeemer, to deliver the lost race of man from ruin. For herein shines forth more fully the unspeakable goodness of God, that he anticipated our disease by the remedy of his grace, and provided a restoration to life before the first man had fallen into death.”
Christ as Mediator

We come at last, and (after 2000 words) at the end of our strength, to ‘Christ as Mediator.’ It should be said that last semester I wrote a term paper on the topic of Calvin’s Christology, and in particular, on how Calvin conceives of Christ’s mediation. If you are very considerably interested in this topic, I would consider sending this paper to you should you ask. In any case, Calvin has a twofold structure in this section. Why do we need a mediator? First, because God is incomprehensible to human powers, we are not able to ascend to him. Second, because we rightly fear God and this fear is an impediment to reconciliation with God, i.e., we would not approach God even if we could (which we can’t). Thus, Christ mediates in two ways. First, Christ makes God known to us in a manner in which we can receive knowledge of God. This is the foundation of Calvin’s understanding of divine accommodation or condescension. Second, the way in which Christ comes to us is intended to remove the dread of God which we properly posses because of our sinful state. To sum up: Christ mediates in such a way as to make God known in God’s graciousness and mercy towards humanity, such that human persons can (a) know God as a God of grace.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Potpourri

Think Education is Important?

Think again! This 10 point list will use sound biblical reasoning to clear that evil notion from your head.

Punk Rock and Jesus

For all of you who have bubblegum pink hair, wear studs in various places, or otherwise identify and/or appreciate punk music, have I got a link for you! Check out Never Mind the Bibles: A Theology of Punk. It is a failed book proposal that the author was kind and determined enough to share despite the lack of enthusiasm shown by publishers.

Amazing Story

You aren't supposed to survive when on a little corporate jet that has a mid-air collision with a Boeing 737. But, then again, sometimes things don't work out exactly how they are supposed to. Read this article and prepare to be amazed.

Scared Evangelicals?

Most think evangelicals are scary; some think they are scared. For an instance of the latter hypothesis, check this article by the NYTimes. Apparently, they are afraid that their teenagers won’t be evangelicals when they grow up. Valid concern, I think. In any case, the article is an interesting read.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Choice Quotations: George Hunsinger on the shape of Barth's theology

George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (Oxford:OUP, 1991) 4-5.

If Barth’s theology will not yield its treasures to a single overriding conception, and if inherent limits accompany the loci approach, is there perhaps another interpretive possibility? This essay proposes that there is. Several recurrent “motifs” or modes of thought, it is argued, can be seen to run throughout the Church Dogmaitcs and to shape the doctrinal content of Barth’s mature theology as a whole. “Actualism,” “particularism,” “objectivism,” “personalism,” “realism,” and “rationalism” are the names that will be used to designate these motifs…

“Actualism” is the motif which governs Barth’s complex conception of being and time. Being is always an event and often an act (always an act whenever an agent capable of decision is concerned). The relationship between divine being and human being is one of the most vexed topics in Barth interpretation…For now let it simply be said, however cryptically, that the possibility for the human creature to act faithfully in relation to the divine creator is thought to rest entirely in the divine act, and therefore continually befalls the human creature as a miracle to be sought ever anew.

“Particularism” is a motif which designates both a noetic procedure and an ontic state of affairs. The noetic procedure is the rule that says, “Let every concept used in dogmatic theology be defined on the basis of a particular event called Jesus Christ.” No generalities derived from elsewhere are to be applied without further ado to this particular. Instead one must so proceed from this particular event that all general conceptions are carefully and critically redefined on its basis before being used in theology. The reason for this procedure is found in the accompanying state of affairs. This particular event requires special conceptualization, precisely because it is regarded as unique in kind.

“Objectivism” is a motif pertaining to Barth’s understanding of revelation and salvation. It describes not only the means by which they respectively occur, but also the status of their occurrence. Revelation and salvation are both thought to occur through the mediation of ordinary creaturely objects, so that the divine self-enactment in our midst lies hid-den within them. The status of this self-enactment is also thought in some strong sense to be objective – that is, real, valid, and effective – whether it is acknowledge and received by the creature or not. Revelation and salvation are events objectively mediated by the creaturely sphere and grounded in the sovereignty of God.

“Personalism” is a motif governing the goal of the divine self-manifestation. God’s objective self-manifestation in revelation and salvation comes to the creature in the form of personal address. The creature is encountered by this address in such a way that it is affirmed, condemned, and made capable of fellowship with God. Fellowship is the most intimate of engagements and occurs in I-Thou terms. The creature is liberated for a relationship of love and freedom with God and therefore also with its fellow creatures.

“Realism,” as used in this essay, is the motif which pertains to Barth’s conception of theological language. Theological language is conceived as the vehicle of analogical reference. In itself it is radically unlike the extralinguistic object to which it refers (God), but by grace it is made to transcend itself. Through transcending itself by grace, theological language attains sufficient likeness or adequacy to its object for reference truly and actually to occur. Besides the mode of reference, realism also pertains to the modes of address, certainty, and narration found in scripture as well as in the language of the church based upon it.

“Rationalism,” finally, again as used in this essay, is the motif which pertains to the construction and assessment of doctrine. Theological language as such is understood to include an important rational or cognitive component. This component is subject to conceptual elaboration, and that elaboration (along with scriptural exegesis) is what constitutes the theological task. Because of the peculiar nature of the object on which it is based, rationalism takes pains to rule out certain illegitimate criteria and procedures in the work of doctrinal construction and assessment. Within the critical limits open to it, however, the doctrines may be derived beyond the surface content of scripture as a way of understanding scripture’s deeper conceptual implications and underlying unity.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 1.13-16

1 Peter 1.13-16

(13) Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. (14) As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. (15) But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; (16) for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

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COMMENTARY:

In keeping with our habit of selecting a few themes from within Calvin’s broader discussion with which to occupy ourselves, in this installment our thinking will be centered around the notions of “loins,” “ignorance,” “asymmetry.”

Loins

Calvin, like Augustine, is often charged with harboring such a dislike for earthly human existence so as to overlook the positive aspects of that existence. (Side note – in a class about Augustine, one of my professors commented that she thought that Augustine wanted to be an angel. For what its worth…) Leaving aside the discussion of Augustine (although, I do think that the discussion of this aspect of his work is overblown and lacking in nuance), Calvin surprised me in this section. In his discussion of the phrase - “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind” (glossed in the TNIV translation above) – Calvin rejects those who understand this comment to have something to do with a need to repress sexual desires. Now, to be sure, Calvin does think that this means that we should “not turn aside to vain affections” and that we should “not…be inebriated with the allurements of this world.” But, notice that he does not tell us to turn aside from all affections, just the vain ones. And, he does not tell us to forget the world, but only to forget the allurements of the world. Of course, Calvin would probably be hard pressed to find an “affection” or an aspect of the world that he didn’t think was at least in some sense contaminated by sin. Still, what this does suggest is that Calvin does not want to do away with material existence; rather, he wants us to be on guard against the perversion of this existence. For a man who got something like 250 gallons of wine a year as part of his salary, and was widely recognized to have fine and discerning taste in wine, I think Calvin is often unjustly characterized as being against material existence.

Ignorance

Calvin notes that Peter describes the state of existence prior to Christian faith as “ignorance.” This gets Calvin a little bit tangled up. He is careful to reject “that Platonic dogma” that ignorance is the cause of all sin, but, he does go on to tie ignorance to sin and unbelief. This is how he puts it together:
“Where the knowledge of God is not, there darkness, error, vanity, destitution of light and life, prevail. These things, however, do not render it impossible that the ungodly should be conscious of doing wrong when they sin, and know that their judge is in heaven, and feel an executioner within them. In short, as the kingdom of God is a kingdom of light, all who are alienated from him must necessarily be blind and go astray in a labyrinth.”
It seems to me that the move Calvin is making in all this is that of putting “alienation” ahead of “ignorance” such that “ignorance” stems from sin, instead of the reverse. This would, I am guessing, be borne out in Calvin’s discussion of the Fall in his Genesis commentary (I know that the overall structure holds for him on the basis of my research into his doctrine of predestination).

This is only the negative affirmation, the positive side of which Calvin is careful to note as well. That is, he ties knowledge to living properly / morally. “We are in the meantime reminded, that we are…illuminated as to the knowledge of God, that we may no longer be carried away by roving lusts.” Knowledge is given to us for the purpose of curtailing our sinful behavior. This makes sense insofar as it fits with an “already but not yet” eschatological pattern. The “already” is our knowledge of God, and the “not yet” is the removal of all sin. But, in the meantime, our knowledge of God makes it possible to bring our lives out of sin. Indeed, Calvin states this very directly and evocatively: “as much progress any one has made in newness of life, so much progress has he made in the knowledge of God.” True knowledge of God necessarily comes with the transformation of one’s life. It is easy to see why Barth instinctively liked Calvin, because Calvin has the goal of the transformed Christian life constantly before his eyes.

Asymmetry

This has less to do with material content than with formal pattern. Commenting on verse 13 and the “grace which will be brought to you,” Calvin notes with deceptive simplicity that God “comes of his own will to meet us.” It is not we that go to meet God, but God who comes to meet us. Calvin elucidates further through his paraphrase of this section: “You have no need to make a long journey that you may attain the grace of God; for God anticipates you; inasmuch as he brings it to you.” We do not find grace, but God brings his grace to us. This theme is again addressed when Calvin comments on the end of this passage where we are adjured to be holy as God is holy. Calvin notes that the our holiness ultimately depends not upon our own work, for, as Calvin says in the voice of God, “I am he who sanctify[sic – sanctifies] you.” It is God who sanctifies us. How does this fit with Calvin’s constant exhortation for us to work actively to change our lives in view of the grace of God as when, a sentence before, he writes that “we ought to advance in this direction [holiness] as far as our condition will bear”? The key is the pattern of asymmetry, in which is contained two fundamental moves. First, there are two sides of the given issue (symmetry, of course, means the equality of two disparate yet somehow connected entities). Second, one of the two sides of the given issue has precedence or priority (a-symmetry implies an imbalance or inequality of two disparate yet somehow connected entities). This pattern has great descriptive power when applied to the conjunction of divine and human activity. God’s activity is given precedence and priority such that the human activity in question is not conceivable without its being utterly grounded in God’s activity. But, at the same time, God’s activity does not cancel out human activity, for in an asymmetrical relation both sides must be present. Human activity still has a role that it can and must play. However, human activity is established and delimited by God’s activity such that it follows and affirms God’s activity. Thus, in the question of sanctification, it is indeed God that sanctifies us and it is indeed the case that we must actively pursue holiness. For, God’s action of sanctifying us establishes our human activity in the pursuit of holiness.

Now, I know that I have not done justice to this notion of asymmetry. Furthermore, without certain other key notions in place around it, one is unable to access the whole of the complexity at hand. But, this is neither the time nor the place, and I am not (yet) the one, to construct a robust account of these matters. But, I have a feeling that, if we read enough Calvin, we will get there.

Until next time!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Potpourri

A 3rd Sacrament?

While it may be too soon to start making pronouncements about Protestant doctrine, the practice of foot-washing has been getting increased attention lately, partly because of some who would understand it as a sacrament. I’m not ready to set it on par with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper just yet, but it certainly deserves more attention in our churches. My friend and colleague (both from Wheaton and now from PTS and the theo-blogsphere) has a reflection about these things up currently. Check it out.

Opera – It’s cool!

What? You don’t think so? Read this article in the New York Times about the Met’s recent season opening, and think again.

Don't think you can honestly make your argument?

Try one of these 5 tricks posted over at GOTT. They are sure to at least buy you a bit of time. But, now that the word is out, they may not work as well...