Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Remembering the past on Reformation Day: Martin Luther, Sylvester Mazzolini and Indulgences

It is sometimes easy to forget the sort of Roman Catholicism that Martin Luther was seeking to renew at the dawn of what would be called ‘The Reformation.’ That Roman Catholicism looked very different than today’s version. (I’ll leave it to the Catholics to explain to me how they could have changed in these ways without internal contradiction.) So, when I came across this bit of text, I thought it warranted posting – especially on Reformation Day.

Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (Doubleday, 1989), 192-4.
On October 31, 1517, Luther sent his ninety-five theses, and probably the first version of the Sermon on Indulgences and Grace, to Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz, for whom Tetzel was working. Hieronymous Schulze, bishop of Brandenburg, to whose see Wittenberg belonged, was also informed of the contents of the theses and sermon. Instead of replying, Archbishop Albrecht forwarded the documents to Rome in December 1517: His Pontifical Holiness will know how “such error” is to be countered.

“Error” – today no one, regardless of denomination, would use that word for Luther’s criticism of indulgences. The charge that grace was being commercialized was justified. But the question remained: was purchasable grace merely an abuse, or was it a symptom? Was the peddling of indulgences no more than a blunder that could easily be put right, or was it perhaps an indication of a deeper aberration? The year 1518 was to bring the answer.

The Dominican Sylvester Mazzolini from Prierio, the papal court theologian and later judge at Luther’s trial, provided the response to the Reformation challenge. It took Prierias – as he was called after his birthplace – only three days to unmask Luther’s ninety-five theses as heretical. Prierias’ Dialogue Concerning the Power of the Pope is so illuminating because his ideas were far ahead of papal theology, which had been stagnating for a century. The four points underlying his Dialogue anticipates the results of the First and Second Vatican Councils.

According to Prierias the pope is the highest authority and foundation of the universal Church. He is infallible “when he makes a decision in his capacity as pope.” His doctrine is “the infallible rule of faith, from which the Holy Scriptures too draw their strength and authority.” A council may be mistaken at the start, but not at the end, when the pope has authorized the council’s decisions. Though the doctrine of papal infallibility had already been developed in the late thirteenth century – in radical Franciscan circles – it was still severely limited by the majority of canon lawyers of the time. Prierias’ simply, unambiguous doctrine of infallibility is understandable as an Italian reaction to the fifteenth-century “conciliar” councils, which were not governed by the pope, undermined the concept of centralism, and fostered hopes of reform in the Church. But in Germany his brand of papalism had never been heard before. It was this papal doctrine that would determine Luther’s “no” to Rome.
As I [Prierias] intend to sift your doctrine thoroughly, my Martin, it is necessary for me to establish a basis of norms and foundations…Third foundation: He who does not accept the doctrine of the Church of Rome and pontiff of Rome as an infallible rule of faith, from which the Holy Scriptures, too, draw their strength and authority, is a heretic. Fourth foundation: The Church of Rome can make decisions both in word and deed concerning faith and morals. And there is no difference except that words are better suited. In this sense habit acquires the force of law, for the will of a prince expresses itself in deeds which he allows or himself arranges to have done. Consequently: as he who thinks incorrectly concerning the truth of Scriptures is a heretic, so too he who thinks incorrectly concerning the doctrines and deeds of the Church in matters of faith and morals is a heretic.
In his “conclusion” Prierias draws the ultimate consequence: “Whoever says that the Church of Rome may not do what it is actually doing in the matter of indulgences is a heretic.” Prierias had not proclaimed not only the doctrine but also the deeds of the Church, here the sale of indulgences, to be infallible.

On the basis of these axioms he would not even have needed three days to condemn Martin Luther, and with him all Christians who dared to oppose the teachings or practices of the Holy Church of Rome on scriptural grounds: heretics! That is all the Dialogue did, nor did it need to do more: the Dialogue truly made all dialogue superfluous. Luther demonstrated his opinion of the papal theologian’s work plainly as soon as it arrived in Wittenberg: he had it printed – without comment.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wolfhart Pannenberg, 'Introduction to Systematic Theology' (1)

Wolfhart Pannenberg, An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991).

Learn a little something about Pannenberg.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I have never before read Wolfhart Pannenberg, or at least as far as I can remember. Furthermore, in the course of my MDiv studies at Princeton Theological Seminary I can remember Pannenberg being treated in any detail only once in a lecture, although his name tended to come up with some regularity in conversation and discussion. All of that is to say that what follows is my attempt to get some sort of provisional handle on Pannenberg for the first time, and that I should not be mistaken as any sort of authority on his work. Indeed, if there are any Pannenberg enthusiasts or authorities reading this, please point out things that I have gotten wrong!

In any case, I picked up this tidy little volume (69 pages of text, although they are bound with something like 34 blank pages at the end, no doubt for note-taking) for a fraction of the $70+ for which it is currently offered on Amazon, and thought that I would reflect on each chapter as I read it. What follows is the result of that undertaking.

Chapter 1: The Need for Systematic Theology
“In the history of Christianity, there was always a fundamental question to be faced and to be answered, the question of why an individual person should commit herself or himself to be a member of the Christian church” (3).
This sentence, the first sentence of the first chapter of the book, sets out what seems to be Pannenberg’s guiding question: Why be a Christian? The remainder of the chapter addresses the role of systematic theology in answering this question. On the one hand, “the story of Jesus Christ has to be history…if the Christian faith is to continue” (5). That is, Christianity is historically falsifiable – if it can be proved that Jesus Christ did not exist or was not crucified, etc, Christianity is a waste of time. Of course, it is really hard to prove a universal negative.

But, it is coherence that is “the final criterion of truth” (6). Therefore, systematic theology is the “examination and confirmation of [Christianity’s] truth claims on the level of reflection” (ibid), that is, with reference to coherence. “[T]ruth itself is systematic, because coherence belongs to the nature of truth” (8): ergo, systematic theology is interested in reflecting critically upon the biblical text and the Christian tradition, re-organizing and re-formulating these materials in such a way as to demonstrate their coherence. Why? And, What does this look like?
“The very idea of the one God implies that all finite reality depends on him. Hence, such dependence has to be made at least plausible, if someone insists on the reality of God. And it can be made plausible only by entering into the arena of competing interpretations of finite reality…The only way it can be done is to present a coherent model of the world as God’s creation. This is precisely what theology always tried to do” (10).
With this as its task, systematic theology must be “an effort in constructive thought” (18), where “an integration of secular insight into theological systematic” (18-19) takes place. This integration will involve a “critical transformation” (19) of these secular insights, but it must at the same time “remain accountable to the standards of those secular disciplines” (19). In other words, these insights must be appropriated responsibly and, in the midst of inter-disciplinary dispute, integrated into a systematically Christian framework.

A few thoughts: Does this talk about coherence sound a lot like Lindbeck to anyone else? For Lindbeck, the level at which Christianity makes truth-claims is at the level of the whole’s coherence to reality, etc. In any case, I’m not sure I like this understanding of systematic theology because it is not ‘evangelical’ enough, that is, is it not concerned with proclamation. Instead of being about telling ‘the old, old story of Jesus and his love,’ it sounds more like an argument about the Christian story being better or more coherent than other stories. I know that this latter approach is attractive right now: it seems to be what Radical Orthodoxy is about, David Bentley Hart has offered a similar sortie, etc. It just doesn’t excite me. I worry about the interdisciplinary bit as well. I’m all for spoiling the Egyptians, but how much control do we have to grant the other disciplines over material that we want to appropriate for theology? Furthermore, how much material from other disciplines need we appropriate? Are our own resources so bankrupt?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Announcing a Mini-Series on Pannenberg

Wolfhardt Pannenberg has been appearing as part of the conversation throughout the theo-blogosphere lately. There have been a number of posts devoted entirely to his thought. Kevin has asked some good questions about how Pannenberg deals with theodicy. Alex, to whom I awarded the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ not too long ago, has a series going on the first volume of Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology (post 1 / post 2 / post 3 / post 4). Pannenberg also pops up more or less randomly from time to time in various discussions, like this one about what it means to be ‘biblical’.

It is beyond doubt in my mind that Pannenberg deserves and rewards serious attention, and I intend to give him some here at DET. So, I will publish a mini-series (to be indexed as usual) of four excurses into Pannenberg, to be posted on Monday mornings for the next four weeks. I do hope that you will follow along and interact with me as I interact with this significant thinker.

Lest you need more encouragement, I leave you with this quotation from John Webster, “Systematic Theology after Barth: Jüngel, Jenson, and Gunton” in The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology since 1918 (Edited by David F. Ford and Rachel Muers; Blackwell, 2005), 249-50:
“[T]he momentous character of Barth’s achievement has meant that doing systematic theology is his wake has not proved an easy business. The discipline, of course, continues unabated in German Protestantism…the years since Barth’s death have seen the publication of at least two dozen high-level comprehensive systematic theologies…But Barth staked out the field with such distinctiveness and expounded his views so authoritatively that those who follow him have had to discover ways of emerging from his shadow…[F]or those who have retained Barth’s kind of dogmatics, it has been necessary to work with a very different configuration of sources and norms and of doctrinal content: this…possibility is exemplified in Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology, surely the most consequential Protestant account since Barth.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: 1 Peter 3.5-7

1 Peter 3.5-7

[5] For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their husbands, [6] like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. [7] Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.



Unfortunately, this section (which Calvin treats as two different entries, and which I have combined) contains more of the same sort of notions about women as we saw in the previous section. Having acknowledged that Calvin was a man of his age when it comes to these matters, I do not want to dwell on them further here.

However, I mentioned previously that Calvin did in fact have some rather salutary views on the marriage relationship, and these views come out to some extent in this section. When he arrives at verse 7, Calvin writes: “dominion over their wives is not given them, except on this condition, that they exercise authority prudently.” I was surprised that he used the term “condition” rather than speaking in terms of purpose because condition implies a state of affairs that must be fulfilled in order for the dominion to be in effect. If this condition is not fulfilled, is the dominion in effect? In any case, the Genevan Consistory (the corporate organ for church discipline) often arbitrated in marital disputes, and while wives were held accountable in their submission, husbands were also held accountable to this condition of prudence. Moreover, Calvin goes on to affirm that part of this prudence means that “husbands honor their wives” in order to protect the “friendship” and “love” of the marriage relationship.

Of course, the whole patriarchy thing is undermined by the end of verse 7 where women are spoken of as “heirs with you of the gracious gift of life.” Calvin certainly comments on this material: “For since the Lord is pleased to bestow in common on husbands and wives the same graces, he invites them to seek an equality in them” and “[the hope of salvation] is offered by the Lord to [women] no less than to their husbands.” It is a shame that Calvin didn’t better understand that if men and women are to be equal in receiving salvation, perhaps they are to be equal in other ways as well.

Here is an interesting aside. When dealing with the bit at the end of verse 7 on prayer, Calvin mentions that some of his contemporaries link this with the notion in 1 Corinthians 7.5 about a couple abstaining from sex for a time in order to devote themselves to prayer. He doesn’t think that these two are linked, but the funny part is how he sets things up: “Some give this explanation, that an intercourse with the wife ought to be sparing and temperate, lest too much indulgence in this respect should prevent attention to prayer…” By going on and refuting this position, Calvin could be read as saying something like this: “Sparing and temperate intercourse? Forget that!”

One last comment on the bit in verse 6 about Sarah obeying Abraham and calling him ‘lord’. Calvin points out that “God, indeed, does not regard such titles.” In any case, this bit of the biblical text seems like revisionist history to me. The way I remember it, Abraham did as much obeying of Sarah (think Hagar) as Sarah did of Abraham, and when Sarah did obey Abraham it usually got her hit on by other men.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bethge on Bonhoeffer’s Relationship to Barth

Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Man of Vision, Man of Courage (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 134.

"In the relations between the two men four phases can be distinguished, which can be summarized roughly as follows:
  1. The phase of Bonhoeffer’s unilateral knowledge of Barth through the latter’s writings, beginning in 1925. In 1927 and 1929 Bonhoeffer, excited by and grateful for the Barthian message, while holding fast to the principle of finitum capax infiniti, raises a number of theological-epistemological questions directed at Barth. These, however, as formulate in Sanctorum Communio and Act and Being, do not become fully known to Barth until after Bonhoeffer’s death.

  2. The phase of eagerly sought meetings between 1931 and 1933. Bonhoeffer hopes for Barth’s support in his concern for the concrete ethical commandments of the Church, but does not receive it in the form that he desires.

  3. The phase of theological differences, accompanied by a very close alliance in church politics. Bonhoeffer attempts to think through the Articles of Justification and Salvation independently of Barth, but with the continued hope that he might be able to have him as an ally occasionally. Barth has reservations; only after Bonhoeffer’s death does his The Cost of Discipleship receive Barth’s special praise.

  4. The period of indirect new questions in the letters from prison of 1944. IN these there occurs almost incidentally the ominous term ‘revelationary positivism’, which Barth could not accept and liked least of all in Bonhoeffer’s work.
Whatever the implications of Bonhoeffer’s earlier or later criticisms of Barth may be, in all four phases he wanted them to be regarded as coming from inside and not outside the Barthian movement. In the bitter secession of former Barthians from the movement he did not wish to be identified with men like Gogarten or Brunner, and he joined vigorously in attacking them. This is very evident in the second and third phases."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Augustus Toplady: Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save me from its guilt and power.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

"[T]here are hymns that contain doctrinal insight to rival that of the best theology ever produced. The fact that they are falling out of the church's collective memory is something to be deeply regretted as it is one more facet of what at times seems to be a concerted effort to fail catechetically." - WTM

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dan Treier on Word and Spirit, Revelation and Scripture

Daniel J. Treier, Virtue and the Voice of God: Towards Theology As Wisdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006), 197-8.
The Spirit helps to give the Word form. In that pattern of possibility we learn a lesson about the form the Christ-centered theological meaning of Scripture takes. The form of access is personal – holistic, embodied, and social – not strictly cognitive…the Spirit tans-forms us by the renewing of our minds in such a way that we are con-formed to Christ. Yet, although the Spirit’s renewal always takes a form like Christ’s and therefore fits within and extends the patterns of his mind in Scripture, two reminders balance this out with remaining freedom for interpretative practice.

First, who raised Christ from the dead so that he could ascend triumphantly as the God-man? The Spirit. Their relationship is not simply asymmetrical in favor of the Son, but always interpenetrating and mutually on the move. Second, what is the form of Christ? Not the form of God given from the Father only, but the Logos took human form and grew faithfully in the freedom of the Spirit as well. For the Spirit not only raised him from the dead but also led throughout his life and to the cross. Indeed, the Spirit superintended and strengthened the incarnate Son from conception onward. Moreover…the Spirit spoke through the OT “prophets” even before that. This means that the form of Israel’s servanthood, which shaped the vocation Jesus Christ fulfilled, was shaped by the Holy Spirit’s role in the economy of salvation.

Accordingly, while the Spirit’s freedom in illuminating Scripture for us is always bound to take the form of the inspired Word, that says a lot! The Spirit helped give form to that Word in the first place – not simply in the testimony of “apostles” after the fact, but just as surely before in prophetic testimony to the form the Son would take. Worries about the doctrine of revelation resulting in Trinitarian imbalance, or de-personalization of the Spirit, are best addressed not by denying that in Christ all things hold together, but by developing the Spirit’s salvation-historical role in proper Christimorphism…The Spirit’s formation of a particular people (Israel, in part via law) and person (the Christ) paved the way for the most universal freedom, which can embrace rather than bypass cultural particularity (the church).

In this light, implications of the famous analogy between the divinity and humanity of the Logos, and the divinity and humanity of Scripture, may take appropriate shape. God’s self-communication does incorporate three forms – three human forms, in fact, which include both personal and verbal factors. In the primary form, Jesus Christ, the personal factor seems primary; in the tertiary form, church witness and its forms of understanding, the personal factors also seem primary…; whereas, in the second form, Scripture, the verbal factor seems primary (it is the certain source for the Spirit’s connection between the church and the mind of Christ).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Calvin on the Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit

John Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion (Translated by Ford Lewis Battles; Edited by John T. McNeill; Library of Christian Classics vol. 20-1; Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1960).
“God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit.” (1.7.4)

“Let this point therefore stand: that those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and that Scripture indeed is self-authenticated; hence, it is not right subject it to proof and reasoning. And the certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearths through the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to it as a thing far beyond any guesswork!” (1.7.5)
N.B. When Calvin says ‘certain’, he does not mean ‘justified true belief’ in the usual philosophical sense. Rather, he is alluding to a form of knowledge that corresponds with its object – in this case, God. Also, it is a shame that the term ‘self-authenticated’ is used as opposed to sticking with the agency of the Holy Spirit, which is clearly the dominant theme in this material. Finally, my thanks to Shane Wilkins for digging up these quotes. He has recently purchased a copy of Calvin’s Institutes, and I am happy to know that he is digging in to them!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Mark Husbands and Hope College

Mark Husbands was my adviser during my time at Wheaton College. He was, at that time, in the midst of completing his dissertation under John Webster on Barth’s ethics of prayer. (I’ve read the MSS, and you will definitely want to pick up a copy when Columbia finally gets around to publishing it.)

Mark is one of those rare teachers of theology who has the inexplicable gift of passing on to his students the joy of studying theology. So, when I heard a number of months ago that he would be leaving Wheaton College this past summer to take up a post at Hope College, I was torn between excitement for Mark and sadness for Wheaton College.

In any case, Hope has published a press release detailing Mark’s new position, giving a quick introduction to his theological work, etc. I recommend that you check it out (all you Wheaties especially) and keep your eye on Mark's scholarship as it continues to blossom.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Barth's 'Evangelical Theology: An Introduction'

Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1963).

Quote from the Book: "Theological work can be done only in the indissoluble unity of prayer and study. Prayer without study would be empty. Study without prayer would be blind." (p. 171)

Bonus quote! "A lazy student, even as a theologian, is no student at all!" (ibid.)

This is one of the finest theological works that I have ever come across. For those interested in taking up a study of Karl Barth's theology, this is one of the best places to begin. Based on the lectures he delivered at Princeton Theological Seminary in the 1960s, and edited by himself and his son Marcus, this work is a series of succinct and mature reflections on the task of theology. As usual with Barth, these essays never give one a comfortable place to rest but tirelesly press on towards the ideal of dogmatic theology. Also, these essays never loose their freshness no matter how many times one takes them up. I highly recommend this volume to all regardless of how much theological background is possessed.


1. Commentary

I) The Place of Theology
2. The Word
3. The Witnesses
4. The Community
5. The Spirit

II) Theological Existence
6. Wonder
7. Concern
8. Commitment
9. Faith

III) The Threat to Theology
10. Solitude
11. Doubt
12. Temptation
13. Hope

IV) Theological Work
14. Prayer
15. Study
16. Service
17. Love

P.S. This book was featured in my installment of the Recommended Reading Meme. It has also received some attention over at Exiled Preacher.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Martin Luther: A Mighty Fortress

I have been thinking about good hymns lately, and how it is sad that people don't know them better. So, I thought I would post the lyrics of such a hymn from time to time.

While I'm convinced that there are as many bad hymns as there are bad worship songs, if not more, there are a number of excellent hymns that stand heads and tails above even the best worship songs. Their superior musicality, emotive power, and doctrinal heft convince me of this. Indeed, there are hymns that contain doctrinal insight to rival that of the best theology ever produced. The fact that they are falling out of the church's collective memory is something to be deeply regretted as it is one more facet of what at times seems to be a concerted effort to fail catechetically.

Here is the first one: Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Breaking News: Eberhard Busch to Lecture at PTS

That's right! DET is here with the scoop, breaking the story FIRST in the theo-blogosphere!

Eberhard Busch, Barth's last research assistant and renowned interpreter, will lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary on November 8th, 2007. Get the full story from the Barth Center website.

The title of Busch's lecture will be "A Swiss Voice: The Campaign of the Swiss Government Against the Voice of Karl Barth During the Second World War"

I think it is safe to say that the PTS bloggers will bring you multiple takes on this exciting lecture from a world-class Barth scholar.

In new from the wider Barth-scholarship world, Busch will deliver this address again at what Austin Seminary is calling its "first Karl Barth symposium." To be held November 13-15, 2007, the symposium's aim is to invite "pastors to take a closer look at the theological contribution of Karl Barth." Daniel Migliore, Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology here at PTS, will be speaking at the symposium as well.

Perhaps some enterprising Austin Seminary students will run a series of blog posts on the symposium. If any of you reading this are Austin students without a blog, but with a desire to see your notes to the symposium published online, please contact me.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Spoof on Stewardship

I found this photocopied in my files. It is dated May 15, 1978, and was authored by Kent I. Groff, then pastor of Waynesboro Church in Waynesboro PA. I presume that I photocopied it out of some publication, but I have no idea what that publication may have been. In any case, it's pretty funny and I wanted to share it. If anyone knows who published it, I would be interested in hearing from you. Also, if you hold copyrights to this document and aren't happy that I have posted it, contact me and I will be happy to take it down.

"A Spoof on Stewardship"

I'd like to give to the church, Lord,
But you see I'm still in diapers,
And I don't have any money of my own.
I'm sure you understand.

I'd like to give to the church, Lord,
But you see I'm just a toddler,
And I haven't learned to count yet.
I'm sure you understand.

I'd like to give to the church, Lord,
But Daddy only gives me a nickel allowance
And 10 percent would be half a penny.
I'm sure you understand.

I'd like to give to the church, Lord,
But Mom says to save the money for college,
Though $3.50 at the movies seems only fair so I won't be a square.
I'm sure you understand.

I'd like to give to the church, Lord,
But now that I'm on a college scholarship
It would be unfair to give a tithe when some are helping me.
I'm sure you understand.

I'd like to give to the church, Lord,
But I just got married and setting up a home
Has to be number one priority: payments and everything.
I'm sure you understand.

I'd like to give to the church, Lord,
But you see raising a family's more expensive than I thought,
And I never know when I'll be laid off or on strike.
I'm sure you understand.

I'd like to give to the church, Lord,
But a college education these days is more than ever.
My mission's to my kids for the next 10 years.
I'm sure you understand.

I'd like to give to the church, Lord,
But retirement's come for both of us,
And you know what it's like to live on a fixed income.
I'm sure you understand.

I'd like to give to the church, Lord,
But now the will is all drawn up and though I forgot the church,
I'm sure my kids will take care of it the way I always wanted to.
I'm sure you understand.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Balthasar Blog Conference

Inspired by the great success of DET’s own Karl Barth Blog Conference this past June, David Congdon has announced that he is organizing a blog conference on the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar.

David already has some good plenary posts lined up, and is looking for some more as well as responses to those posts. Be sure to check it out, and – if you know anything about von Balthasar – be sure to participate.

Also, planning for the second annual Karl Barth Blog Conference here at DET is already underway. Stay tuned for more information and for an opportunity to get involved.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

TF Torrance on 'Westminster Theology'

Thomas F. Torrance, Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John McLeod Campbell (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), 128-130.
The overall framework in which this Westminster Theology was expressed derived from seventeenth-century federal theology formulated in sharp contrast to the highly rationalised conception of a sacramental universe in Roman theology, but combined with a similar way of thinking in terms of primary and secondary causes. Moreover, it operated with a medieval conception of the order salutis (reached through various stages of grace leading to union with Christ), which reversed the teaching of Calvin that it is through union with Christ first that we participate in all his benefits. Tied up with the federal theology this gave the Westminster Confession and Catechisms a very legalistic and constitutional character in which theological statements were formalised at times with 'almost frigidly logical definition'.

In line with an increasing tendency in seventeenth-century biblicism the Westminster Confession devotes a long opening chapter to the Holy Scripture which, given by the inspiration of God, is very rightly stated to be 'the rule of faith and life'. Because the Holy Scripture derives from divine revelation, its authority depends wholly upon God who is truth himself, and is thus to be received as the Word of God and understood through the inward witness and illumination of the Holy Spirit...The infallible rule of interpretation is the Scripture itself, and the supreme Judge by which all controversies are to be determined can be no other than the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. This marks out very sharply the difference between the Reformed Church and the Roman Church, but the biblical support for its teaching is rather formal, and inadequate and sometimes rather misleading, for passages and texts are adduced to support notions held on other grounds. The handling of the Scriptures is governed by a kind of biblical nominalism, for biblical sentences tend to be adduced out of their context and to be interpreted arbitrarily and singly in detachment from their spiritual ground and theological intention and content. Moreover, by giving the Holy Scripture thus handled priority of place over the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, Westminster theology treats biblical statements as definitive propositions from which deductions are to be made, so that in their expression doctrines thus logically derived are given a categorical or canonical character. They are not treated, as in the Scots Confession, as having an open-structured character, pointing away from themselves to divine truth which by its nature cannot be contained in finite forms of speech and through, although it may be mediated through them...

The Westminster way of beginning the confession with a chapter on the Holy Scripture prior to and apart from the evangelical substance of the Faith tended to separate form from content...

Monday, October 01, 2007

So, You Want to Read John Calvin?

In the comments thread on my recent post about Martin Luther’s early theological studies, Joshua asked me to recommend some reading on Calvin. As anyone who reads this blog with any frequency is sure to know, I have quite the soft spot for Calvin, and find it hard to turn down any opportunity to point people toward his work and good work about his work. In any case, I thought that I would structure this post in the same was as I did my very successful post entitled, So, You Want to Read Karl Barth?.

I have never read John Calvin before. Which of his books should I read first?

There are three ways to go at this. First, and this is what I personally recommend as best, you can start with Calvin’s famous (and infamous) Institutes of the Christian Religion. There are a few different editions of this out there in English, but the one that I recommend is the McNeil / Battles edition. The Institutes is a good place to start not only because it is the most comprehensive statement of Calvin’s doctrine, but because he wrote it as a handbook to go along with his commentaries. Its goal is to enable the reader to engage Scripture better, and to save time in the commentaries by providing separate discussion of the more complicated theological issues. At the same time, Scripture plays a large role in the Institutes itself. The edition that I recommended above generally runs around $50.

Second, you could start by reading Calvin’s Commentaries. The entire 22 volume set runs about $150 on Amazon, but it is often on sale at CBD for $100. This method is great because Calvin is a gifted exegete and will greatly enhance your reading of Scripture. However, it is more expensive than the first option, and you will miss out on a lot of the more complicated theological material. Calvin valued conciseness in biblical commentary, and he practiced what he preached on that point.

Third, and this is the best way, is to work simultaneously in both the Commentaries and the Institutes. This is the most expensive and time consuming way, but it is also the most thorough and will introduce you to all that is best about Calvin.

Of course, no matter which path you choose, you should augment your studies by reading my series entitled “Reading Scripture with John Calvin”.

I’ve read the Institutes and am reading in the Commentaries, but I want to branch out. What other works of Calvin can I read?

Once you get into the Commentaries and the Institutes, you may find yourself wanting to read more of Calvin on particular issues. If you want to read more about predestination, pick up his Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God. If you want to read more broadly, the volume of his Theological Treatises, which includes the Genevan confession, the Genevan ecclesial ordinances, the “Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper” and other writings.

I’ve been reading in the Institutes, and I want to get deeper into the conversation about Calvin. Could you tell me about some of the important secondary literature?
  • Christopher Elwood, Calvin for Armchair Theologians

    Elwood’s volume is basically accurate and is very accessible for the layperson. It is the best place to start your journey through the secondary literature on Calvin. Be sure to check out my review of this volume.
  • David Steinmetz, Calvin in Context

    When you are ready to start on the serious academic secondary literature on Calvin, this is where to start. Steinmetz has chapters on various issues, including the natural knowledge of God, Romans, Lutherans, and the civil magistrate.
  • Edward Dowey, Knowledge of God in Calvin’s Theology

    This is a standard work in the field, although many of Dowey’s arguments are contested. Dowey was, however, an excellent scholar and historian, and this volume is well worth your time.
  • Stephen Edmondson, Calvin’s Christolog

    I have found this volume to be a very helpful contribution from an excellent up-and-coming scholar. While it deals primarily with Calvin’s Christology (who would have guessed!), Edmondson also discusses ways of understanding the structure of the four books of the Institutes and argues that the final form is directly died to the trajectory of th Scriptural canon.
  • Bernard Cottret, Calvin: A Biography

    If you want a hardcore biography from a capable historian, this is a good place to turn.
  • William Bouwsma, Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait

    This is less a straight historical biography, but it is a sort of biographical study that attempts to get at the heart of Calvin the man. Though treading close to, and some might say overstepping, the fine line of psychologizing his subject, Bouwsma argues that Calvin can be understood as inhabiting a dialectical tension between order and freedom.
  • Richard Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition

    Muller provides here several essays on Calvin’s method in and organization of the Institutes, discusses how Reformed scholasticism relates to Calvin’s work, and offers other insights in the historical study of Calvin. It is a well-know and highly regarded treatment.
  • Randall Zachman, John Calvin as Teacher, Pastor, and Theologian

    The title accurately describes this volume. I have not had the chance to study it carefully, but it is highly regarded in the field. More work ought to be done along these lines, for Calvin saw himself not as an academic theologian in the modern sense of the term, but as a pastor whose job it was to teach and therefore be a theologian.
  • Karl Barth, The Theology of John Calvin

    Why not read what one great theologian had to say about another?
This should get you started on reading Calvin, and provide a decent bibliography for the average seminary paper on his work. If you read all this, you will be well on your way, and beyond the point of needing my recommendations for further study.