Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Call for Collaboration

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

It has been a hectic couple of weeks here at DET central. Between holiday traveling and trying to finish up a paper before Christmas break, and my newfound addiction to Tom Clancy novels (I prefer John Clark to Jack Ryan, however), I have been swamped. The good news is that everything is on track for the end of this semester – my first as a PhD student – in mid-January.

But enough update. On to the point.

For whatever reason – perhaps the effects of Christmas cheer – I have been thinking about theo-blogging collaboration. I can honestly say that the #1 reason for DET’s existence is collaboration. The solo stuff I do most of the year is simply a prelude to, and a way of building traffic and engagement for, collaborative projects. Along this line, I’m excited to say that there will be a 2008 Barth Blog Conference, so stay tuned for more information. (Check out the 2007 Barth Blog Conference.)

The success, and I hope that it will soon be continued success, of last year's Barth blog conference was very encouraging to me. However, such grand collaborative undertakings take a lot of time to plan and are, unfortunately, somewhat short-lived.

While my collaborative projects index has a number of standalone guest posts, I would very much like to increase their number. My hope is that breadth and depth of theological engagement might grow here at DET through the increase of voices and viewpoints, but I cannot do this alone. I need impetuous and thoughtful contributors.

So, if you are a theo-blog reader but don’t have your own site, or if you have your own site and you simply want to broaden your engagement, please contact me (derevth at gmail dot com).

This is an open call for collaboration. I hope that some of you will take it up.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Charles Wesley: And Can It Be That I Should Gain?

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

"[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

This hymn is great on a few points, but also leaves something to be desired on a few others. Verses 1, 2, and 4 are excellent. Verse 3 is fine if you understand kenoticism properly, but it isn't straightforward. I would drop out verse 5 if I was the one in charge of such things. Verse 6 is fine, except for the 'righteousness divine' line. At least in the Protestant tradition after the 1550's has affirmed that we are saved by the human righteousness that Christ acquired for us on the basis of his obedience. Still, a fine hymn that makes some deep theological points very well, for instance, 'th'Immortal dies'!

Monday, December 10, 2007

TF Torrance: The Effect of Dualism upon Biblical Interpretation

I have been doing A LOT of reading in Torrance’s work on theology and science, and it has been quite illuminating. It becomes increasingly clear to me that TF was on to something important here, and that engagement with this material is vitally important. In any case, the paragraphs below are – I think – a good introduction to a lot of this stuff, albeit in a form that assumes more than it explains, as directly implied to the question of biblical interpretation.

Thomas F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology: Consonance Between Theology and Science (T&T Clark, 2001), 28-30.
"[L]et me refer to the positivist restriction of knowledge to observational phenomena. According to this view, we derive the rational components of knowledge, such as scientific theories, by deducing them from observations – for there is, it is alleged, no direct cognitive access to rational forms or theoretical structures, but only indirect access by way of logical inference. The effect of this upon biblical interpretation is two-fold.
(a) By cutting out any possibility of immediate apprehension of rational or intelligible elements in any field of investigation, dualism limits the theological component in biblical knowledge to what is logically derived from observations or appearances. Behind this, of course, there lies the Kantian idea that we cannot know things in themselves or in their internal relations, but only in their external relations as they appear to us, so that things can be incorporated as “objects” into our knowledge only as we bring extrinsic theoretical factors to bear upon them from the structures of consciousness. This means, for example, that it is impossible for us ever to know anything of Jesus Christ as he is in himself, for we are restricted to Jesus as he appeared to his contemporaries – and indeed to the impression he made upon them as it is mediated through the structures of their consciousness, by which they made him an “object” of their faith and knowledge. It will thus be the task of the biblical scholar, through some for of “the historico-critical method,” to bring to view and to clarify as far as he can the impression Jesus made as he actually appeared to his contemporaries, stripped of any theological interpretation put upon him in the course of the developing tradition – for by definition such theological elements cannot have their intrinsic rootage in Jesus himself. This means that only after the biblical scholar has established by some set of criteria what are acceptable as observational data, shorn clean of any theoretical components, may the theologian go to work on them to deduce from them valid theological ideas or doctrines. This of course yields a rather nominalist notion of theology similar to the nominalist and conventionalist conception of scientific theory or natural law held by the positivists, e.g., Ernst Mach.

(b) The restriction of knowledge to what is observable or to what may be deduced from observations, operates only with the epistemological model of vision, thereby casting its dualism into the form of a visible realm, to which we have access only by intuition, and an invisible realm, to which we have access only by logical inference or hypothetico-deductive activity. The denial of any direct cognitive access to intelligible reality entailed here – which…empties faith of cognitive content – is considerably reinforced by the limitation of intuitive apprehension to visual or aesthetic experience, for it cuts out the possibility of intuitive acts in auditive experience and ignores the deep interconnection between understanding and word and between faith and hearing. The effect of this is to undermine the all-important place of word in the Scriptures, which not only empties the biblical material of its distinctive rational form but thereby also undermines the necessity for a thoroughly theological interpretation of the Scriptures. The dualism at work behind this approach cuts off the word of the Scriptures from the objective Word of God, which is the immediately apprehended theoretical ingredient in God’s self-revelation to man and in man’s knowledge of God – for by definition, in the deistic disjunction between God and the world demanded by this dualism, there can be no interaction between God and our world of space and time. The effect of all this is to transpose the biblical material into a very different genre: of picture and image, symbol and myth, where at best we may have only some tangential or indirect relation to God and correspondingly only “oblique truth” about him – which critical minds have little difficulty in showing to be empty and meaningless.
This whole approach to biblical interpretation reposes upon the epistemological dualism between the empirical and the theoretical devastatingly destroyed by Einstein when he established, as in general relativity, the indissoluble unity of form and being, or the theoretical and empirical factors in knowledge, in such a way as to show that our basic scientific concepts are reached, not by logical deduction or inference from observations, but through immediate intuition or apprehension of an intellective kind."

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Requiescat in pace: Thomas F. Torrance

I have been watching this one for a few hours, and it has been slowly spreading through the blogosphere, but it seems that Thomas Torrance has died this morning at the age of 94. It was first reported here by a student at Edinburgh, who assures me that the news was broken through Prof Larry Hurtado of the Div School in an internal e-mail to the students and faculty. It has since been commented upon here, here and here. To the best of my knowledge, there has been no official, public announcement by any of the institutions in question. Such will likely be made both at Edinburgh and here at PTS sometime tomorrow.

My deepest condolences to the Torrance family.

Thomas F. Torrance was undoubtedly the greatest theologian working in the English language during the 20th century. Moreover, he was a major figure in Reformed-Orthodox ecumenical discussions, and make contributions to the interdisciplinary relationship between theology and science. Still, he is perhaps best known for spearheading the translation project of Barth’s Church Dogmatics with Geoffrey Bromily, and for his contributions to Reformed and Trinitarian dogmatic theology. On a more personal note, and as many readers of this blog know already, Torrance has been an important influence on my own theological thinking. I have spent this past semester on a research project dealing with aspects of his epistemology. This is the first time that a theologian to whom I have felt a real theological kinship has passed from the scene in my lifetime, and it is an odd feeling.

A biography of TF is available from the TF Torrance Theological Fellowship.

In honor of Torrance's passing, I will observe a week of posting silence here at DET. However, I will be updating this post below with links to other reactions - at least those which do not simply quote others - throughout the theological and theo-blogging community: