Friday, September 28, 2007

Luther’s Early Theological Studies and Career

NB: Martin Luther joined the Erfurt Augustinians in the summer of 1505.

Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (Doubleday, 1989) 138-140.
Since the summer semester of 1507 [Luther] had been devoting himself to the study of theology under the guidance of Johannes Nathin, the senior Brother, who held the Augustinian chair of theology at the University of Erfurt. Despite intensive research, nothing of significance has as yet been discovered about this theologian who must have been a real influence on Luther in Erfurt. Have all his writings disappeared, or did he really never publish anything? All we know is that he received his master’s degree in Erfurt thirty years before Luther was enrolled there and that he spent four to five years in Tübingen as a younger colleague of Gabriel Biel, holding survey lectures on the whole range of theological fields.

Luther thoroughly prepared himself for his first mass with the help of Biel’s comprehensive exposition of the canon of the mass, published in 1488. Now, as a student at the theological faculty, he was introduced by Nathin to the best theological textbook of the time, Biel’s dogmatics, which was also a survey of the history of Christian thought. The renowned nominalist from Tübingen had, in the traditional medieval manner, laid out his voluminous tome as a commentary on the scholastic theological textbook know as the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Philipp [sic] Melanchthon later related that Luther had studied his Biel so intensively that the Reformer was able to quote whole pages from memory. How assiduously he pored over Biel’s commentaries can still be seen from the critical comments he wrote in the margins of his own copy in earlier and later years. Even when Luther was already distancing himself from theology as he had been taught it, he still recommended Biel as a fine guide for priests hearing confession.

In April 1508 the budding theologian was already listed as a lecturer of his order next to such experience Doctors as Paltz and Nathin. It is unlikely that Luther had much personal contact with his senior colleague Johannes von Paltz. Though still an official member of the monestary, Paltz, after a clash with his brethren, left Erfurt in a huff in 1505 to become the prior of the monastery at Mühlheim near Koblenz. Despite his physical absence Paltz was very much present through his widely read writings, which were characterized by a readily understandable, colorful type of medieval piety. He was the spokesman for the monks, extolling the monastic way of life as the sure way to salvation.

But Johannes von Staupitz had already turned his attention to Luther. Not only did he encourage the young, striving monk theologically and spiritually, he also involved him in the turmoil of his daring Augustinian politics. Luther became a wanderer between two monastic factions – even literally so during the years before he obtained his doctoral degree in theology. First Staupitz summoned the Augustinian lecturer from Erfurt to Wittenberg for the winter semester of 1508-09 to lecture on Aristotle’s Ethics, and instructed him to prepare for his doctorate in theology at the same time. In the autumn of 1509 Nathin, undoubtedly having discussed the matter with Staupitz, recalled Luther to Erfurt…After rendering one and three-quarters years of service to his home monastery as a member of the theological faculty in Erfurt he was recalled by Staupitz to Wittenberg.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Shane on Calvin and Catholics: Submission a Virtue?

(Note: This is my 200th post.)

My good friend and colleague Shane Wilkins has recently written a post entitled “Is submission to (the Pope’s) authority a virtue?. Go read it.

This post will not directly engage Shane. Rather, it will jump off of his concluding citation of Calvin. Shane cites Calvin in the Institutes 3.2.2. What I want to point us toward is Institutes 3.2.7. Here Calvin gives us his well known definition of faith:
“Now we shall posses a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
Faith is knowledge? Hold on! That may be all well and good for you cerebral academics, but what about we average people in the pew? Our lives are full of our children’s dance recitals, annoying coworkers, traffic, and all the rest. ‘Knowledge’ isn’t exactly what we need. We need something more like an emotional connection, a friend to lean on, a pick-me-up every weekend to give us the spiritual strength to carry on.

Now, two out of these three ‘needs’ I can sympathize with. An emotional connection to God, and God as a friend to lean on are well and good. God as a pick-me-up is tripe, but I don’t want to elaborate on that here. Anyway, Barth has something to say about the relationship of faith and knowledge:
“The fact that man stands before God who gives Himself to be known in His Word, and therefore to be known mediately, definitely means that we have to understand man’s knowledge of God as the knowledge of faith.” (Church Dogmatics 2.1, 12)
This statement is fascinating. It is going in a lot of directions at the same time. Let me try to unpack it a bit. First, the knowledge of God is the knowledge of faith. Barth elaborates a little bit further down the page when he writes, “It is in this occurrence of faith that there is knowledge of God.” Calvin says that faith is knowledge; Barth says that knowledge comes with faith. Are these two things contradictory? I don’t think so. To say that faith is knowledge does not imply that faith is the result of knowledge, that is, that on the basis of knowledge one acquires or otherwise ‘chooses’ faith. To say that knowledge comes with faith is to say that on the basis of faith, we have a – to use Calvin’s language – “firm and certain knowledge.”

Second, on what basis do we say that knowledge comes with faith? Because the human person “stands before God who gives Himself to be known.” What is this except a relationship? It is in this relationship, where God addresses the human person and the human person renders a faithful response, that there is knowledge of God. So, need an emotional connection or a friend to lean on? Have we got a deal for you!

Third, what do we mean when we say that knowledge comes with faith? What are the relationships between knowledge and faith, and all the other things that describe faith – like trust, love and obedience? This is no quantitative, zero-sum game for Barth. In his mind, each one of these things is a way to accurately describe the wholeness that is faith. He writes on this very page, “But these various determinations of faith are not to be understood as parts or even certain fruits of faith. Each one is the determination of faith in its entirety.” However, there is an order to these things that privileges knowledge. Knowledge is that determination of faith which “unites and distinguishes” all the others, as Barth writes on page 13, and “Without it faith could not be all those other things as well. As knowledge it is the orientation of man to God as an object. And only then can it be those other things as well.”

Why this is the case is commonsensical. You have to know someone before you can trust, love or obey him or her. The same goes for God. Of course the kind of knowledge in view here is not (merely!) academic knowledge (although I maintain that this sort of knowledge is a unique form of participation in God’s own self-knowledge, but that would require a much longer post), but personal knowledge (did Polanyi read Barth? He knew TF Torrance…), that is, knowledge of God as an objective reality whom engages us in relationship.

So, need an emotional connection or a friend to lean on? Have we got a deal for you! Of course, this doesn’t mean that faith is not a “firm and certain knowledge”…

Anyway, these ramblings of mine have almost no bearing on Shane’s post, which you need to go read. It’s for your own good. Scurry along now!

Monday, September 24, 2007

What Am I Reading? Jürgen Moltmann

Jürgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology (Translated by Margaret Kohl; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000). Available on Amazon.

I am not a great fan of Jürgen Moltmann, but I have spent some time reading him. While I do not consider myself even a budding expert on him, I think that I have a basic grasp of the contours of his thought. This sense has only been heightened as I read this volume, which contains many reflections by Moltmann upon his own work and emphases.

This volume is something of a hodgepodge of material and topics. Much of it is autobiographical, which gives it an inviting and intriguing feel. If you have even the slightest bit of historian in you, as I do, you will enjoy hearing Moltmann’s own account of how his thinking developed and especially of his interaction with the emergence of a number of liberation theologies (broadly termed) in the latter half of the 20th century, namely, black theology, Latin American liberation theology, Minjung theology, and feminist theology. Moltmann gives a fair and balanced account of all these developments, and relates how he experienced them all as a sympathetic outsider. Of particular interest is the section on feminist theology because of the interplay between Jürgen and his feminist theologian wife, Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel.

Although Moltmann is fair, sympathetic and largely supportive of these various theological movements, it is not the case that he is un-critical as he devotes a chapter to ‘Unanswered questions’ with regard to these perspectives. His questions are serious, and bear repeating here:
  1. “If praxis is the criterion of theory, what is the criterion of praxis?” Moltmann suggests that the relationship between theory and praxis is circular, and that ultimately it is Christ who is the criterion of Christian praxis.
  2. “If the crucified people are to redeem the world, who then redeems the people?” The poor are not Christus prolongatus, notes Moltmann rightly. They should not be understood as bearing the sins of the world under whose thumb they suffer for this removes impetus to liberation and is, I might add, theologically illicit.
  3. “If the goal of liberation is to make the people the determining subject of their own history, what is the goal of that history?” The goal of liberation movements is liberty, but what then should that liberty be used for? Moltmann lifts up the goal of “justice, peace and the integrity of creation, in expectation of the coming kingdom of God.”
  4. “Does liberation theology lead to the liberation of the poor and women from Christian theology?” This seems to be a worry for Moltmann.
I would like to briefly explore further two things that Moltmann discussed in this volume, namely, natural theology and the doctrine of the Trinity.

Natural Theology

It seems to me that Moltmannn is fundamentally confused on this point, and that he would do much better to speak of a ‘theology of nature’ as opposed to ‘natural theology.’ What he seems to want is the former, but his casting things in terms of the latter, and his interactions with Barth along these same lines, muddle things significantly. In any case, Moltmann makes three points:
  1. “Natural theology is the general presupposition for specifically Christian theology.” Moltmann explicitly appeals to the First Vatican Council and the Thomistic notion that ‘grace perfects nature’ on this account. If what Moltmann means is that human beings and creation must exist before they can interact with God’s self-revelation, then fine. But, I don’t think that this is all he means. He writes that “Natural theology is a remnant of the direct paradisal knowledge of God enjoyed by the first human beings, which – obscured by the Fall though it is – serves to preserve human beings and their longing for God.” On the contrary, I reject any notion of knowledge of God, whether primordial or eschatological, that is not mediated by Jesus Christ.
  2. “Natural theology is the consequence and the eschatological goal of historical and Christian theology.” I can get behind this point a bit more. In the final consummation, all persons will know God. However, again, I would argue that this knowledge is still mediated by Jesus Christ.
  3. “Christian theology itself is the true natural theology.” This is even more appealing to me. If we want to move beyond a dualistic framework, and if we affirm that God exists and is the Creator, then this makes a lot of sense. Christian theology, under these conditions, would be seen as the logical conclusion of empirical study – the great metaphysic that completes our theoretical physics. As tempting as this is, I don’t think that it can be argued for on the basis of empirical knowledge, and must remain at all times an affirmation of faith. Furthermore, we must be especially careful that we don’t construct ‘theological’ metaphysical systems and then impose them upon the empirical sciences, as happened with Galileo, etc. What we know from theology may prove useful at the hypothetical stage, but we must remember that God’s revelation comes to us in creaturely forms conditioned by spatial-temporal and socio-geopolitical location, and thus we cannot assume that these creaturely forms of revelation correspond to the most advanced scientific understanding of empirical phenomena.
I personally tend to think that Christian theology can make use of the creation’s witness to the creator. But, that creation witnesses in this way is an affirmation of faith, and cannot provide the basis for any independent proofs concerning God’s existence, etc. It is only once we have met God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Spirit that creation’s song to its Creator can be heard, much less understood.

Doctrine of the Trinity

While I am grateful for the attention that Moltmann has given to the doctrine of the Trinity over the years, and the interest in the doctrine that he has helped to foster, it is my humble opinion that he makes serious mistakes. It is not now the time or place to argue the point, but a strong case may be marshaled that Moltmann descends into technical tri-theism in his The Trinity and the Kingdom. The fundamental flaw in Moltmann’s thinking about the Trinity is that he starts with threeness, and then tries to think about oneness. In a proper doctrine of the Trinity, this movement must be complemented by a counter-move that begins with oneness and then tries to think about threeness. This counter-move is lacking in Moltmann. Instead, he relies upon perichoresis to unite the three persons of the Trinity.

Now, many people have argued that there is no Scriptural basis for the movement that starts with oneness and then addresses threeness, and they have therefore abandoned this move as Moltmann has. Indeed, it is often assumed that the question of oneness is imported from Hellenistic philosophy as Christianity spread into the broader Mediterranean community. Moltmann himself makes the assertion here that “The biblical starting point for the development of the doctrine of the Trinity is that there are three different actions in the divine history, Son – Father – Spirit; the question about their unity then follows.” Well, I am here to tell you that this is one of the worst lies of revisionist theological history.

The earliest Christians, indeed Jesus Christ himself, were Jews. Paul was a highly trained Pharisaical scholar. The bedrock of their understanding of God rested on two verses in the Torah: Exodus 3:14, and Deuteronomy 6:4. Indeed, Deuteronomy 6:4 had something of a creedal status in the Jewish community. And, what is the affirmation of Deuteronomy 6:4, the Great Shema? “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one.” The Hebrew understanding of God was deeply rooted in God’s singularity. Now, it was also thanks to Hebraic modes of thought about God as dynamic and living that the earliest Christian communities were able to come to recognize the One God in threefold form as Father, Son and Spirit. But, in so doing, they never abandoned the singularity of God. For the earliest Christians, that God was One was basic; the problem was how to conceive of God also as three.

Of course, much of the dynamism of God was muted by Hellenistic modes of thought in later centuries. But, to exile thought about God’s oneness to the theological hinterland is to disregard the profoundly Jewish nature of Christianity and is, at its heart, Marcionite heresy.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Read This Article: “The World Comes to Georgia, and an Old Church Adapts”

“The World Comes to Georgia, and an Old Church Adapts” by Warren St. John

This articles is a must-read, and shows the church – and evangelicals / conservatives no less – at its best (and worst, but mostly best). Here are some quotes to whet your appetites.

Mr. Perrin said he advocated for an international church because the Bible told him to.


In 2004, the Clarkston Baptist Church adopted the changes proposed by elders like Mr. Perrin, and merged with the Filipino and Nigerian congregations. They renamed their church the Clarkston International Bible Church. That change was too much for many of the older members, like Brenda and Robert White. They left after more than 20 years as members.

“I really resented that,” Mrs. White said of the name change. “I know it’s the 21st century and we have to change and do things differently. But I don’t think it’s fair that we had to cater to the foreign people rather than them trying to change to our way of doing things.”

“It just wasn’t Baptist church anymore,” she said.


Merging congregations has meant compromise for everyone. The immigrants who join the main congregation have to give up worshiping in their native languages. Older Southern Baptist parishioners have given up traditional hymns and organ music.

Other areas, like the potluck lunch in the gym every Sunday, have required little adjustment. “Everybody likes everybody else’s food,” Mr. Perrin said.


For many of those who have joined the main congregation, the experience has been life changing. Marcelle Bess, a white American and a lifelong member of the church, said two of her daughters were dating young Filipino men they had met through the church. She hopes they will marry, she said.

Mr. Perrin said the impact of the church on his life hit him when he and his wife were traveling through the Midwest. They stopped to worship at whatever Baptist church they could find.

“Every church that we walked into was pure white Caucasian,” he said. “My wife and I really felt uncomfortable, because, we realized, here in Clarkston is what the world is all about.”

Mr. Kitchin thinks that in the not-so-distant future many more American churches will face the sort of questions his church has. He said he was frequently asked for advice.

“I tell people, ‘America is changing,’ ” he said. “ ‘Get over it.’ ”

Friday, September 21, 2007

Webster on Ursinus and Theological Education

John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 120-1.

The familiar modern pattern arranges theology by a four-fold division into biblical, historical, systematic-doctrinal and practical theology sub-disciplines. Ursinus himself mapped the theological task in a quite different way. There are, he says, ‘three parts of the study of Divinity’. First, there is ‘Catechetical institution’, defined as ‘a summary and briefe explication of Christian doctrine’. This is followed by ‘an handling of Common places’, which is differentiated from ‘institution’ not in terms of its subject matter, but in terms of depth. The study of commonplaces covers the same ground as ‘institution’ and differs only in that it offers ‘a larger explication of every point, and of hard questions together with their definitions, divisions, reason and arguments’. Finally, there is ‘the reading and diligent meditation of the Scripture, or holy Writ. And this is the highest degree of the study of Divinity, for which Catechisme and Common places are learned; to wit, that we may come furnished to the reading, understanding, and propounding of the holy Scripture.’ Three things might be noted about Ursinus’ map. First, the distinctions he draws are not between different sub-disciplines but between different modes of engagement with the same unitary subject. Second, Holy Scripture is not simply one concern of theology, but that towards which all studies in divinity move. Third, the end of studies in divinity is clear: ‘For Catechisme and Common places, as they are taken out of Scripture, and are directed by Scripture as by their rule; so againe they conduct and lead us as it were by the hand into the Scripture.’
Learn a little about Zacharias Ursinus.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Beginning Again at the Beginning

Karl Barth’s theological dictum that we must always “begin against at the beginning” is true not only of his work, and not only of the task of theology, but of life as well. Of course, there are certain moments where this is brought home to us in vivid ways. Today is one of those times.

Classes begin today for Princeton Theological Seminary’s 196th academic year. Convocation was held last night (not that I attended: instead, I was curled up with the wife watching Jerry Seinfeld tell me for the last time).

This means that today marks the true beginning of my doctoral program. The last couple of weeks, and the last few days in particular, have been spent connecting (and re-connecting) with faculty, colleagues, and administration. PTS has a great faculty and staff, and my colleagues are excellent (I can only hope that they would say the same of me). But, now it is time to begin in earnest.

I’m excited. I’m daunted. I’m ready. Bring it on.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thinking Blogger Award Challenge – Results

A while back, upon being awarded the Thinking Blogger Award, I challenged three other theo-bloggers to make the commitment and earn the award for themselves. A fourth was later challenged. These bloggers (Michael Pailthorpe, Jon Mackenzie, Alex Abecina, and Darren Sumner) have impressed me in the past, and I hoped that this challenge would encourage them to shift their blogs into the next gear by increasing their output and participation in the blogosphere.

I am pleased to endow two of these bloggers with the award. Congratulations, Michael and Alex! Michael has really upped his game over this summer, despite the recent birth of his daughter and other ministerial business. His series, “Barth: A Person of the Book”, which is actually an interaction with Vanhoozer, is well worth your time. Alex has likewise stepped up to the plate. He has posted a number of illuminating series this summer that you should check out. One tip, Alex: put up some index posts for your series to make it easier for people like me to link to them! :-)

Unfortunately, Darren and Jon have not arisen to the challenge. This means, of course, that they actually have lives! Kudos for not letting blogging dominate your existence, much less the silly little challenge that I put before you. I do not doubt that, despite my reticence, the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ will find its way to you both in due course. Keep up the good work!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Systematic Theology, or, An Homage to Paul Tillich (What? At DET?)

Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology vol. 3 (University of Chicago Press, 1963), 3.
The question “Why a system?” has been asked ever since the first volume of my systematics appeared. In one of the books that deals critically with my theology…the fact of the system itself, more than anything stated within the system, is characterized as the decisive error of my theology…There are many reasons for aversion to the systematic-constructive form in theology; one is the result of confusion of a deductive, quasi-mathematical system…with the systematic form as such…

For me, the systematic-constructive form has meant the following. First, it forced me to be consistent. Genuine consistency is one of the hardest tasks in theology (as it probably is in every cognitive approach to reality), and no one fully succeeds. But in making a new statement, the necessity of surveying previous statements in order to see whether or not they are mutually compatible drastically reduces inconsistencies. Second, and very surprisingly, the systematic form became an instrument by which relations between symbols and concepts were discovered that otherwise would not have been apparent. Finally, the systematic construction has led me to conceive the object of theology in its wholeness, as a Gestalt in which many parts and elements are united by determining principles and dynamic interrelations.
In the Spring semester of my first year as an MDiv student at Princeton Theological Seminary, in the first half of my systematic theology requirement, I was given the change to read Tillich (see my Paul Tillich Mini-series). Well, to be a bit more honest, I had it assigned to me! So, I read most of the first volume and virtually all of the second volume. Unfortunately, none of the third volume was assigned. So, I’m going back and trying to plug in the gaps.

Some of my friends have been curious as to why I would bother to do so. They rightly perceive that I disagree with Tillich on very many points of doctrine, and that I find his system to be quite foreign. However, they wrongly deduce that disagreement and strange-ness means lack of profit in consideration. In my opinion, perhaps the highest compliment that one can give the work of an academic theologian is to say, upon recommending that work to another, “S/he will make you a theologian.” Tillich will make you not only a theologian, but a superb systematic theologian.

The quote above reveals why. If Tillich does not quite grasp Christian doctrine as I think it should be grasped, he does – in my opinion – understand what systematic theology is all about: consistency, interrelations, and wholeness. (The bold-type above is my addition.) If I ever write a systematic theology, I can only pray that it will score as highly on these three markers as does Tillich’s work.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The ‘Red Pastor of Safenwil’ on the Sinking of the Titanic

Karl Barth, The Word in this World: Two Sermons by Karl Barth (Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent College Publishing, 2007), 40-41.

After speaking about the way in which icebergs float down from Greenland, how the captain of the Titanic threw caution to the wind in moving so quickly through iceberg fields, and how the captain was compelled to do this by the ship’s investors who were vitally interested in the Titanic achieving the shortest Atlantic crossing yet to date, Barth writes the following:
"Yesterday in the “Freier Aargauer” newspaper the sinking of the Titanic was referred to as a crime of capitalism. After everything that I have now read about it I can only agree. Indeed, this catastrophe is a crude but all-the-more clear example to us of the essential characteristics and the effects of capitalism, which consists in a few individuals competing with each other at the expense of everyone else in a mad and foolish race for profits. Exactly the same course of events has already been played out in many other areas of labour. Indeed, it is almost tempting to interpret every feature of this catastrophe symbolically: the ship of human workers races onwards, but it is not consideration for the many which is at the helm, but the self-interest of the few."

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Blog Triumvirate Gathers in Princeton

Pictured above, from right to left: the infamous Shane Wilkins, the revered David Congdon, your humble servant, and James – a recent graduate of our alma mater and new colleague (with his wife, not pictures – or, better, taking the picture!) here at Princeton Theological Seminary in the MDiv program. For those of you who want some kind of scale, I’m 6’1’’ and about 200 pounds. (I probably feel compelled to say that because I feel very small next to James…) Present earlier in the day but gone by picture-time: Chris and Peter.

James is not yet a blogger, but hopefully we'll be able to change that.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Calvin a Marxist or Marx a Calvinist?

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.10.12 - Their [Rome's] Mysteries are Mockeries
"So today not only the untutored crowd but any man who is greatly puffed up with worldly wisdom is marvelously captivated by ceremonial pomp. Indeed, hypocrites and lightheaded women think that nothing more beautiful or better can be imagined. But those who more deeply investigate and, according to the rule of piety, more truly weigh the value of so many and such ceremonies understand first that they are trifles because they have no usefulness; secondly, that they are tricks because they delude the eyes of the spectators with empty pomp. I am speaking of those ceremonies under which the Romanist masters would have it that great mysteries exist; we experience them to be nothing but pure mockeries. And no wonder that their authors have slipped tot he point of deluding themselves and other with trifling follies! For they have partly taken their pattern from the ravings of the Gentiles, partly, like apes, have rashly imitated the ancient rites of the Mosaic law, which apply to us no more than do animal sacrifices and other like things. Obviously, even if there is no other proof, no one in his right mind will hope for anything good from such an ill-patched hodgepodge. And the thing itself plainly shows that most ceremonies have no other use than to benumb the people rather than to teach them."
I knew that Marx couldn't have come up with that whole "religion is the opiate of the masses" thing on his own, and I always suspected that he had help from some Protestant divine. I should have known that it would turn out to be from Calvin!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Barth contra Bultmann via Molnar, including some thoughts on 'world-views'

Paul D. Molnar, Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding (Eerdmans, 2007), 20-21.
First, can the resurrection of Jesus, as an event in history, be proven to be a historical fact in the modern sense? And if it cannot, does that mean that it was not a historical event? That is of course Bultmann’s view since he rejects the idea that there was a real history of Jesus in the forty days. But Barth argues that such history “may well have happened. We may well accept as history that which good taste prevents us from calling ‘historical fact,’ and which the modern historian will call ‘saga’ or ‘legend’ on the ground that it is beyond the reach of his methods, to say nothing of his unavowed assumptions” (CD III/2, 446). Barth compares the Easter history to the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2 as history in the higher sense because, while it speaks of history, its aim is to speak of an occurrence that escapes “historical proof” and Barth contends that “It is sheer superstition to suppose that only things which are open to ‘historical’ verification can have happened in time” (CD III/2, 446).

Second, Barth asks if Bultmann is correct in suggesting (following W. Hermann) that those who accept the resurrection as historical fact have blindly accepted a piece of mythology or have committed a dishonest sacrificium intellectus and descended from faith to works. Here Barth’s objectively realistic view of the matter is in evidence:
For the New Testament at any rate the resurrection is good news in which we may believe. And this faith, as those who accepted it were gratefully aware, was made possible only by the resurrection itself. They were not able to accept it because the prevailing mythical world-view made it easier to accept it than it is supposed to be to-day. Even in those days the Easter message seems to be utterly ‘incredible.’ (CD III/2, 446-47)
Barth insists that if the resurrection is not presented as something to be joyfully accepted, then there is something wrong with the presentation.

Third, Barth wonders whether all modern thought is shaped by modern science as Bultmann contends and asks if there is a modern world-picture that is incompatible with the “mythical world-view and superior to it” (CD III/2, 447). Barth cites Bultmann’s famous statement that “It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of demons and spirits” and asks “Who can read this without a shudder?” (CD III/2, 447). Why? Because Barth astutely notes that this modern world-view may very well not be as final as the “Marburg Kantians” with their complete lack of any sense of humor seemed to think. Indeed Barth saw the decisive point, that is, that no world-view of any age can be normative for understanding the message of the New Testament. Hence he opposes to Bultmann’s view the simply observation that it may well be that contemporary people would find themselves able to give free and joyful factual assent to the resurrection and not to some “fides implicita in a world of spirits and demons” (CD III/2, 447).

Fourth, and finally, Barth wonders whether it is the job of Christianity to accept or reject world-views at all. Indeed he believes that there is no reason why we would need to accept the ancient world’s mythical world-view. Nonetheless he notes that the early church very cautiously used elements of this world-view in its witness to Jesus Christ while the world-view accepted today has either lost these elements or features or allowed them to slip into the background. Thus, in Barth’s mind, “we have every reason to make use of ‘mythical’ language in certain connections” (CD III/2, 447) without a guilty conscience. For if we go to extremes with demythologizing, then we could not bear witness to Jesus Christ at all. That is what happens to Bultmann when he dismisses the NT connection between sin and death and the relation of death and resurrection and the concept of substitution because he thinks they are offensive and obsolete. Barth notes that it makes sense to speak of the rise of faith in the disciples but that it is folly to suggest that this can be substituted for Christ’s actual resurrection and appearances. And so he decisively maintains “we must still accept the resurrection of Jesus, and His subsequent appearances to His disciples, as genuine history in its own particular time” (CD III/2, 447).

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Theological Humor: Barth, Tillich and Bultmann Fishing on Lake Geneva

Here is something to laugh at over the weekend. I found this over at The Ironic Catholic.

Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich are taking a break together, fishing on Lake Geneva. They are having a lovely time, smoking their pipes, chatting idly.

It's hot and they are getting thirsty. So Karl Barth gets up, steps out of the boat, and walks across the water to the shore, gets some beers and returns.

It's quite hot so the beer doesn't last long. Barth tells Tillich: "your turn, Paul". Tillich gets up, steps outside the boat, walks across the water, and fetches some beer.

It is getting really hot now, and the beer is finished once again. Bultmann is beginning to sweat particularly profusely... and finally Barth asks him too: "Come on, Rudolf, your turn now." With a slight tremor in his knees, Bultmann gets up, steps out of the boat, and sinks like a stone. Fortunately he is a good swimmer; he drags himself back into the boat and sulks at the far end.

Tillich turns to Barth and says: "Do you think we should have told him where the stepping stones are?"

Barth looks at him in astonishment and replies: "What stones?"