Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dan Treier on Scripture and Church, Institution and Charism

Daniel J. Treier, Virtue and the Voice of God: Towards Theology As Wisdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 87.
History bears out that neither “institution” nor “charism” is an unqualified good. However, at least one may claim that New Covenant fulfillment of OT expectations makes some space for personal judgment within the church: the Spirit speaking in Scripture to the church, an anointing that enlightens the eyes of believing hearts, must retain a certain extra nos character, outside the church as well as the individual.

This necessity arises soteriologically; because we do not have the will to love as we ought, institutional Christian practice must not become so routine and all-encompassing that no room is left for interruptive or freely justifying divine grace. Such interruptions need not preclude God’s commitment to church practices as prime means of grace, but there remains a practical necessity: divine transcendence can serve as a potent critical principle for theology, yet if Scripture simply becomes a storehouse of meanings ruled immanently by church interpretation, the force of that critical principle seems lost.

Likewise, loss or lack of dogma may have “helped generate the undisciplined disorder” of Protestantism, but giving up a careful version of sola scriptura may not be the solution; perhaps it is “the excessive uniformity sometimes imposed by Rome that has encouraged the rebelliousness of many theologians.” The very real danger, and sad reality, of Protestant individualism and fragmentation should be seen as a selective and mistaken appropriation of Luther and Calvin, rather than a necessary entailment of their basic position. Neither “institution” nor “charism” alone can guarantee the stability of a truly faithful Christian identity.
NB - Be sure to check out the Amazon list I have created to keep track of Treier's scholarship. You can access it on the right panel.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Karl Barth Reading Group – Week 5

(Sorry about the delay in posting weeks 5 and 6. As I'm sure you deduced, the group has been over for some time but I was unable to post these because of the Barth Blog Conference, etc.)

§ 6. The Knowability of the Word of God

The reality of the Word of God in all its three forms is grounded only in itself. So, too, the knowledge of it by men can consist only in its acknowledgment, and this acknowledgment can become real only through itself and can become intelligible only in terms of itself.

1. The Question of the Knowability of the Word of God

Barth begins this section with a review of the preceding, and then goes on to do some ground clearing with reference to knowledge. He is assuming that the Word of God is and therefore can be known, and that this knowledge is self-involving (as opposed to “mere cognizance”). Knowledge of God is the presupposition of the church and the church is the presupposition of the knowledge of God, which in each case means that the Word of God becomes knowable to human persons. All this leads to four “preliminary observations”: (1) Barth is not asking ‘how’ one knows God, but as to whether one ‘can’ know God; (2) furthermore, Barth is not concerned with a human person in general but in particular; (3) this particular is not Christians in a general sense but in the sense of called and elect by God, and only God knows these people; (4) on a slightly different track, Barth does not intend to work with any particular philosophical account of the concept of knowledge because he does not want to be dependent upon that account. The object of knowledge in this case is unique and cannot be measured by a general account of knowledge. (187-190)

2. The Word of God and Man

God’s Word is first and foremost to be understood within the context of intra-Trinitarian communication, but it is also addressed to human being. Because it is addressed to human beings, it presents “the so-to-speak anthropological problem” of how the human person can receive the Word of God. Barth accepts that this reception is event, and that there must be a capacity of the human person that corresponds “logically and materially to this event,” but: “The question is whether this event ranks with the other events that might enter man’s reality in such a way that to be able to enter it actually requires on man’s part a potentiality which is brought by man as such, which consists in a disposition native to him as man, in an organ, in a positive or even a negative property that can be reached and discovered by self-reflection, by anthropological analysis of his existence, in short, in what philosophy of the Kantian type calls a faculty.” This is the key question that Barth is dealing with here in §6. What Barth seeks to maintain is the gracious nature of the Word of God, which would be lost if the human person had something to do with bringing it about. Rather, Barth says that “the possibility of knowledge corresponding to the real Word of God…represents an inconceivable novum compared to all [one’s] ability and capacity.” (190-194)

Barth’s basic affirmation is that human beings “can know the Word of God because and in so far as God wills that they know it.” Thus, if there is an ‘anthropological problem’ here, it is only a problem of theological anthropology. And so, Barth makes two points: (1) It is true that there is a loud ‘No’ here to the notion that human beings as such possess a capacity to receive God’s Word, but this should not lead one to overlook the even more powerful ‘Yes’ to the notion that human beings do in fact receive God’s Word; (2) that human beings receive the Word of God must be presupposed just as God is presupposed, and this means “recollection of its promise and hope of its future, i.e., appeal to the biblical Word and expectation of its fulfillment.” All counter-proposals cannot be argued away, but can only be preached away, because the power to which theology refers is not under its control. In other words, all this is a matter of faith and not apologetics. (195-198)

3. The Word of God and Experience

“If knowledge of God’s Word is possible, this must mean that an experience of God’s Word is possible.” If knowledge is self-involving, that means it determines a person’s existence, and this determining is what Barth will call experience. This is not to be equated with the self-determining activity of the human person.[1] Human self-determining and God’s determining of that person operate at different levels and thus cannot even be dialectically set against each other. The divine determining occurs with reference to the sum of human self-determining. Material that parallels Barth’s doctrine of election in Göttingen Dogmatics comes up here in tears of hearing to obedience or disobedience, etc. The main point remains: “Our very self-determination here is subject to determination by God…men can have experience of God Word…men in their self-determination can be determined by God’s Word.” And so Barth gives us three points: (1) we need not identify any one faculty as the anthropological locus of divine determination, (2) thus there is no need to be theologically suspicious of the various faculties such as intellect, (3) nor is there a need to discover a new faculty upon which to ground theology. (198-204)

What, then, does this “determination of the whole self-determining man by God’s Word” consist? Acknowledgement, and Barth gives us 9 points on what this means: (1) the concept of knowledge, (2) interpersonal relation, (3) not merely necessity but the meaningfulness of this necessity, (4) “respect for the fact that takes place in God’s Word” in its coming to us, i.e., the experience of Christ’s presence, (5) obedience and submission, (6) decision, both divine and human, (7) mystery, (8) an act and not simply an attitude on the part of the human person, (9) submission or yielding. The appropriation of God’s Word by the human person is a work of the Holy Spirit and is thus the Word’s own act. All of this depicts the experience of a Christian, but does this mean now that the Christian has an organ or faculty that was not present before on which basis the Word is received? Barth’s answer to this “indirect Christian Cartesianism” is No. (204-214)

In speaking about Christian experience, we are not left to our own analysis. Rather, we must look what ‘the promise’ (Scripture) tells us about it. In acknowledgement, the Word of God becomes “real and…established psychologically…But the fact that all this happens and must happen does not mean in the least that the possibility of experience of God’s Word is to be seen and found in this event,” and the person caught up in this event will not understand it this way. How then can it be understood? Barth gives this answer: “The possibility of knowledge of God’s Word lies in God’s Word and nowhere else…This possibility…the possibility of human experience of the Word of God understood as the possibility of this Word itself, is one that we can and must affirm with certainty.” The knowledge of God’s Word is not under the control of the human person and occurs freely, which means that there can be no self-assurance. The only assurance is that of confession on the basis of promise and looking forward in hope. It is “a trembling assurance” grounded in prayer. “It is then in the circle of promise and faith in which is no Yes and No but only Yes.” (214-227)

4. The Word of God and Faith

Barth defines faith as “the making possible of knowledge of God’s Word that take place in actual knowledge of it.” Faith, then, is an event that “rests on” and “relates to” the Word of God.[2] Knowledge of the Word of God is born in the event of faith. Barth goes to divide this material into three sub-sections: (227-229)

(1) “In faith as real experience the acknowledgement of God’s Word which we have understood to be the concrete form it its experience by man is as it were put into effect by the Word of God known.” Faith is experience, but experience is not self-evidently experience of God’s Word. Christian faith requires a certain object, and that object must give itself. This is elaborated in a long fine print section on Anselm, Luther, Melanchthon and the New Testament. (229-237)

(2) “If what happens in faith is that acknowledgement of God’s Word…[then] in faith men have real experience of the Word of God.” Faith as a possibility given for the knowledge of the Word of God is a possibility given for use, and cannot be understood abstractly as a possession of the human person as such. Faith means the ‘adaptation’ of the human person to the Word of God, not the ‘deification’ of the human person. This is elaborated in a fine print section dealing with Brunner and his ‘point of contact’ as well as with the analogia entis, where it is affirmed that “faith means union with what is believed, i.e., with Jesus Christ” a la Calvin. There is a ‘mutual indwelling’ between the Word of God and the human person, but this does not imply a transformation of that which is human. When the Word of God is known, “the manner of this knowing corresponds to that of the Word of God itself.” This is manifest to us only as promise and hope, and thus we can affirm this only in its hiddenness, but we confess by faith that it is the case. This section concludes with some fine print on the analogia entis and analogia fidei, the last described as “the divine act of knowledge which takes place on man rather than through man.” (237-244)

(3) “If it is true that man really believes 1. that the object of faith is present to him and 2. that he himself is assimilated to the object, then we are led in conclusion to the third point that man exists as a believer wholly and utterly by this object.” Barth has two sentences in this section that, for me, sum up everything that he was trying to get at throughout this paragraph: first, “Man acts as he believes, but the fact that he believes as he acts is God’s act,” and, second, “The Word of God becomes knowable by making itself known.” (244-247)



[1] It is interesting that Barth rejects a number of theories that want to understand the human person’s determining by the Word of God as self-determining by appeal to “the self-knowledge of man in real experience of God’s Word.” This sounds a bit like the use Schleiermacher makes of the feeling of absolute dependence in Part I of The Christian Faith. Of course, Barth adds, “…in real experience of God’s Word as we know it from the biblical promise.”

[2] There is a nice fine print section here on ‘faith’ in the New Testament.

Friday, July 27, 2007

DET: 1 Year Blog Birthday

One year ago today, Der Evangelische Theologe went live. The first post was nothing special – just something of an introduction and manifesto, laying down some ground rules for myself as I embarked on this blogging scene. While that document still accurately describes the work that goes on here at DET, it could stand to be updated in light of what has developed over the past year. So, here are some reflections on three categories or themes that have emerged for me in thinking about DET over the course of this past year.

Collaboration

One emphasis that has emerged here at DET – and I like to think of this as something of a DET distinctive – is the amount of time and energy that has gone into collaborative projects (an index of collaborative projects can be found at the top of the right panel). Although there have been a few odd guest posts here and there, the major collaborative efforts were the 2007 Warfield Lectures delivered in March here at PTS by Kathryn Tanner, and the 2007 Karl Barth Blog Conference of this past June.

I very much hope to be able to organize more collaborative projects like these. If you have an idea for a collaborative project, would like me to consider publishing a guest post, or would like to partner with me in other ways, please feel free to send me an e-mail: derevth at gmail dot com.

Dissemination

This overlaps with the ‘Collaboration’ section a bit. One of my goals is to spread information, and one of the best ways that this has occurred in the past year is with the collaborative project on the Warfield Lectures (linked above). Because of the collaborative team’s efforts, the content of those lectures (albeit in an imperfect, truncated and ‘received’ form) were made available to a wide audience well before their (impending) publication. Such coverage of important theological lectureships, lectures and conferences is part of what I hope DET will accomplish more of in the next year.

But, this is not simply about spreading new information almost as it happens. It is about highlighting information that many already have access too but do not take the time to explore. This is part of the role of the various serials (an index of DET serials can be found at the top of the right panel) that are published here. In my mind this is especially true of the ‘Reading Scripture with John Calvin’ series. (Did you know that you can access the full text of Calvin’s commentaries and even his Institutes, as well as many other valuable texts, over at Christian Classics Ethereal Library?)

Education

Again, this category overlaps with the above. Serials and book reviews (indices can be found at the top of the right panel) are the primary forms that my educational focus takes here at DET. I would love nothing more than to take part in the theological education of “civilians” – average Christians in the pew. These people are not civilians when it comes to living the Christian life, but they are when it comes to carefully considered theology, and this is where I think that the theo-blogosphere can help the church in important ways. Many of us in the theo-blogosphere are not civilians in this sense; we are either in boot camp (seminary) or in special forces training (doctoral programs). We have, and are increasingly gaining, expertise that can make a difference in the lives of those who don’t have the leisure of study like we do. Therefore, we must take our ‘teaching office’ very seriously.

But, at the same time, I don’t envision the educational mission of DET to be a one-way street from me to the reader. I love comments: both the kind that offer friendly critique - telling me something I missed, misrepresented, or showing me a different way of looking at things - as well as the kind that ask questions and push me to explain further or more clearly. Furthermore, I’m often teaching myself when I post things. The series on Turretin’s ecclesiology is a prime example of this.

Education is finally what DET is all about: it is about you learning, and it is about me learning; but most of all it is about us learning together.

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

In conclusion, I would like to thank all of you who stop by to learn with me by reading and participating in discussion. Spread the word - tell your friends about DET. I am looking forward to another year of growth and refinement while discovering new friends and colleagues!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 2.17

1 Peter 2.17

[17] Show proper respect to everyone, love your fellow believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

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

COMMENTARY:

Calvin has given me approximately one page worth of material to work with here. According to his interpretation, this verse is a summary of all that has gone before, and it is rather self-explanatory. The movement is from a general concern that should be had for all human persons, followed by a special concern for fellow believers, rooted in the fear of God, from which obedience to the government derives. Calvin adds that the emperor / king is specifically mentioned because it represents the most despised form of government, and that all other forms of government should be understood as included under this form.

If you are looking for one verse that encapsulates the Christian ethic, this is a good place to start. I highly recommend memorizing this verse, which isn’t a very daunting challenge. But, I also recommend that you DO NOT memorize the TNIV version I have given above. Calvin’s translation as rendered into English, which is very reminiscent of some of the older English renderings of this verse, is much more evocative, in my humble opinion. Here is my own translation, which has slightly modified Calvin’s:
“Respect all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Respect the king.”
Feel free to substitute “fellowship” or “church” or something like that for “brotherhood” in the above (as the TNIV has done). The Greek in question is the expected and rather benign “adelphoteta”, for those of you who care about these things.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology

I was made aware during my recent trip to Wheaton College, by none other than Daniel Treier (access a list of volumes that bear his name here), concerning the upcoming Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology to be held this September at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Esteemed Aberdeen theologian John Webster will present six lectures entitled “Perfection and Presence: God with Us According to the Christian Confession.” So, gather all the information and, if you possibly can, attend these lectures!

Even though I won’t be able to attend these lectures, I am currently working to find some way to bring these lectures to DET. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award Challenge: Update



When David Congdon graciously bestowed the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ upon me a few months ago, I was at a loss as to whom I should then honor with this recognition. I decided upon a novel course of action: I would issue a challenge to a few bloggers who have been doing good work, but who I thought needed a little prodding to get them to the next level. Those bloggers were Darren Sumner, Michael Pailthorpe, and Jon Mackenzie (you can view my original challenge here).

Now, it is time for an update. I am sad to say that, although all three of these bloggers seemed to be spurred on by the challenge at first, only Michael has maintained his momentum. Well done, Michael! Jon and Darren have not posted in some time, and Darren’s site seems to be down. So, Michael – Keep up the good work! Darren – Where are you? Let’s go! Jon – I know it is summer, but you must have something theologically interesting to post about!

Also, in the original challenge post, I gave the award to one person (Millinerd) and challenged these three. But, by being granted the award, I am given five copies to hand out. So, here is a fourth challenge:

Alex Abecina

Alex runs Is There Meaning in This Blog?. I ran into his blog through Michael Pailthorpe. At first, it was nothing special – very few posts, not especially interesting posts, etc. But, June and July have changed my mind about this blog. He ran a very informative series on Kevin Vanhoozer’s work On the Very Idea of a Theological System, and he is currently posting a series on Hans Boermsa’s book, Violence, Hospitality and the Cross. Alex, keep up the good work until September, and the Thinking Blogger Award will be yours!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

DET Status Update

I have returned home to Princeton NJ after spending a week on Prince Edward Island (Canada), a very long weekend on Cape Cod (Massachusetts), and another very long weekend in Wheaton Illinois (the first trip that my wife and I have taken to the old alma mater). The different facets of the trip had different pleasures and discomforts, but we had fun and I was able to recover from the strain of the Barth Blog Conference and the Second Annual Barth Conference here at PTS.

In any case, I start French tomorrow and I am not excited about it. That, along with some other projects, will keep me very busy until September. But, I have a lot of content stored up, so you can look forward to regular and frequent posting. That regular and frequent posting will resume on the coming Monday, July 23rd. So, mark your calendars.

Until then, I’m trying to sort through my RSS feeder!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

'For the Sake of the World' by George Hunsinger (Ed)

(Update: After 12 days of travel, I am currently enjoying a less than 24-hour layover in Princeton before heading off again. Thanks to those of you who are stopping by even though DET has been inactive. I will soon return DET to its usual standards of multiple thought-provoking and intellectually rigorous posts each week. Until then, enjoy this book review.)

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

George Hunsinger (Ed), For the Sake of the World: Karl Barth and the Future of Ecclesial Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004).

The Karl Barth conference is recently past, as is the Karl Barth Blog Conference. So, I figured that I should read the volume that was spawned by the Barth conference that inaugurated the Center for Barth Studies here at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1999. (You can read George Hunsinger’s ‘report’ on the conference.) Having read this volume, I thought that I would share its general contours by making some comments on the chapters and responses, etc.

Introduction

The volume begins with an engaging introduction by George Hunsinger. This introduction should not be skipped because it is, basically, Hunsinger’s response to the various chapters.

The Barth-Brunner Correspondence by John W. Hart

This chapter was quite interesting, not least because it tells the story of the friendship between Karl Barth and Emil Brunner from its conception, to its professional dissolution, to its final hours before Brunner’s death. It also seems to be a good introduction to Hart’s volume Karl Barth vs. Emil Brunner, which looks good if my 15 minute perusal of it while in the Barth Center last week is any indication. Here is an interesting quotation:
The bulk of the correspondence falls between the years 1916 and 1936. In this period there are over 110 letters between the two men. The pattern of the correspondence reveals the unequal relationship between them. Almost without exception, Brunner initiates a topic of conversation. Usually Barth replies, and frequently Brunner follows up with a final comment. There is probably some truth that the Barth-Brunner relationship was like an “older brother/younger brother” relationship, since the correspondence is marked by increasing competition and insecurity on Brunner’s part and increasing frustration and dismissiveness on Barth’s part. Throughout the correspondence Brunner seeks Barth’s approval of his work. And yet, as Brunner’s own son would later write, “When all is said and done, Emil Brunner’s activities were of little importance for [Barth’s] activities.” (20)
Hunsinger says the following of Barth and Brunner in his introduction:
As Brunner lay dying in 1966, Barth was moved to communicate through a mutual friend. “If he is still alive and it is possible, tell him again, ‘Commended to our God,’ even by me. And tell him, Yes, that the time when I thought that I had to say ‘No’ to him is now long past, since we all live only by virtue of the fact that a great and merciful God says his gracious Yes to all of us.” These were the last words Brunner heard before he died. (2)
Daniel Migliore, in his response to Hart’s paper, lays his finger on what does seem to be the crux of the difference between Barth and Brunner, namely the relationship between law and gospel. Brunner is very close to Luther on this point, without the further nuance of Calvin, while Barth is something like Calvin on steroids. (cf. 49)

Indissoluble Unity: Barth’s Position on the Jews during the Hitler Ero by Eberhard Busch

Apparently there have been some in Germany who attempt to sully Barth’s good name on this question and suggest that Barth’s struggle with the Nazi regime was an issue apart from Barth’s feelings about the Jewish people. Busch argues that this is not the case, and in the mean time he provides and excellent introduction to Barth on the topic. Katherine Sonderegger provides a very interesting response, and most importantly (in my opinion) brings up the question of the Jewish temple for thinking about the relation between Church and Synagogue (cf. 83-87). I had not considered this point before and it is well worth your attention, although Sonderegger is unable to say much here.

Freedom for Humanity: Karl Barth and the Politics of the New World Order by Clifford Green

Another fine chapter that treats Barth’s socialism, his activism against German rearmament and for nuclear disarmament. This essay is a fine place to start in exploring Barth’s politics, as well as for thinking about the political role of the church. The response by David Hollenbach (S.J.) is valuable as well, for he points out many of the pressing crises that call for the church’s attention today.

“I See Something You Don’t See”: Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Providence by Caroline Schröder

While providing a decent introduction to Barth’s understanding of providence, Schröder argues that it could lead to a Christian hubris over against the not yet Christian who do not discern the providential workings of history. I found this essay unconvincing, and so did the respondant Randall Zachman. Zachman also throws Calvin into the mix to suggest that perhaps the providential working and concern of God not only in human history, but in the movement of the stars and the life of the smallest plant.

What Wondrous Love Is This? Meditations on Barth, Christian Love, and the Future of Christian Ethics by Caroline J. Simon

The bulk of this essay was taken up with a comparison and contrast between Karl Barth and André Trocmé, the Reformed pastor of Le Chambon, a French village that organized to show love to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution during World War 2. Whereas Trocmé understood Christian love to extend to those outside the Christian community, Barth understood Christian love to be extended primarily within the Christian community, although Simon does make a few half-hearted caveats on this point. John Webster responds to this essay by bringing those caveats far more into focus and by insisting that Barth is not interesting in restricting Christian love to other Christians, but by extending Christian love to all people on a teleological basis. Thus Webster:
To love the other as a latent Christian is not to do violence to his or her integrity; still less is it to set up barriers to compassion. It is nothing other than a matter of affirming the other’s teleology, to treat the other as what he or she already is in Christ. (163)
Mysterium Trinitatis: Barth’s Conception of Eternity by George Hunsinger

I know this essay from Hunsinger’s Disruptive Grace, which I have quoted before and which I made use of in parsing the relationship between time and eternity. It is a great essay. The respondent, Brian Leftow, was helpful in that he sought to make precisely clear what Barth had achieved in thinking about time. Specifically, Barth has given a specifically Christian content to Boethius’ conception and thereby significantly moved forward theological understanding of time.

Epilogue: Barth as a Teacher by John Godsey

This concluding material is a very persona and whimsical account of Barth as a human being, as a theologian and as a teacher. Any student of Barth will read it with a smile on their face. Here are a few high points:
Regarding the latter [namely, Barth’s predilection for his pipe], you may recall Martin Niemöller’s saying about theologians: if you were a liberal, you smoked cigarettes; if you were conservative, you smoked cigars; but if you were a Barthian, you smoked a pipe! (204)
I must say that if this is the measure of a Barthian, I fall far short!

Godsey relays the story that Barth told him concerning the writing of the Barmen Declaration. Look for this in a coming post!
[Not long after the birth of Godsey’s daughte] Barth and Frl. Von Kirschbaum paid a visit to our apartment to see this latest addition to our family. Gretchen was lying peacefully in her crib. Barth leaned over and looked at her, then turned to me with a twinkle in his eye and asked: “Do you think she has original sin?!” (210)