Tuesday, May 27, 2008

H. Richard Niebuhr: A Knockout Combination on the Church’s Obsequiousness

The following paragraph, which is the opening paragraph of Niebuhr’s The Social Sources of Denominationalism (Shoe String Press, 1954), is a unique pairing of style and substance. That it is unique is unfortunate, as theological argument and discussion would be greatly served by greater attention to linguistic style (not that I am its paragon!). This pithy paragraph can be likened to a jab/cross combination in boxing: the jab (here, the first sentence) stuns you, “sticking” you in place so that you are unable to move as the cross (here, the concluding phrase) flies toward you. The result is an ethical knockout. In any case, enjoy:
“Chrisendom has often achieved apparent success by ignoring the precepts of its founder. The church, as an organization interested in self-preservation and in the gain of power, has sometimes found the counsel of the Cross quite as inexpedient as have national and economic groups. In dealing with such major social evils as war, slavery, and social inequality, it has discovered convenient ambiguities in the letter of the Gospels which enabled it to violate their spirit and to ally itself with the prestige and power those evils had gained in their corporate organization. In adopting itself to the conditions of a civilization which its founder had bidden it to permeate with the spirit of divine love, it found that it was easier to give to Caesar the things belonging to Caesar if the examination of what might belong to God were not too closely pressed.”
After this knockout combination, Niebuhr comes back with this more pastoral comment:
"At the end, if not at the beginning, of every effort to incorporate Christianity there is...a compromise, and the Christian cannot escape the necessity of seeking the last source of righteousness outside himself and the world in the divine aggression, in a justification that is by faith." (5)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Upcoming Blog Conference on Augustine

Inspired by the Barth Blog Conferences here at DET, as well as other recent blog conferences throughout the theo-blogosphere, Cynthia has decided to host a blog conference devoted to Augustine. The conference will be held this August (fittingly), and Cynthia is now accepting inquiries concerning participation. I hope that you will all consider how you might be involved. Blog conferences are, I think, some of the best opportunities for doing seriously helpful theological work online.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Berkouwer on Barth, Analogy and the Analogia Entis

I’ve been rooting around in Berkouwer’s famous treatment of Barth, and I have been amazed by how perceptive he is. The quality of exposition is superb. In particularly, he understands Barth’s rejection of natural theology and the analogia entis. I highly recommend that you check out that section of the volume (pages 181-195, approximately). Here are a few short lines that tie this matter together well:

Berkouwer, G. C. The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth. Translated by Harry R. Boer. Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956.
On basis of the analogia entis, natural theology posits an essential readiness, an openness for the knowledge of God as that knowledge is already present in natural man prior to and apart from the encounter with the gracious God. This man of the natural theology is the man who knows God without the miracle of grace, he is the rich man who can know God without standing in need of grace…In natural theology man denies his being completely closed to revelation…For this reason it must be rejected without mercy.

It is therefore plain that in his struggle against the analogia entis, Barth is not concerned about the problem of analogical concepts in general, as these played a role especially in the Middle Ages, but that his concern is with the analogia entis (of God and man) in connection with our knowledge of the truth, the gracious God. In distinction from this analogy, Barth points to the ‘experiencing’ of God’s grace which is founded in God’s readiness, and which can never be explained in terms of an already present readiness in man. (185).
Berkouwer goes on to argue that von Balthasar has erred in thinking that Barth changed his mind and came to essential although implicit acceptance of the analogia entis.

Coincidently, one of my colleagues here at PTS - Keith Johnson - has recently completed a dissertation that was at one time entitled, "Rethinking Barth and Aquinas: The Analogia Entis and the Söhngen-Barth Exchange." Keep an eye out for its publication and, if possible, get a hold of a copy of the dissertation. It is well worth your time. If one wanted to track Keith down, he will assume a teaching position at my undergraduate alma mater (Wheaton College, IL) this Fall.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Its That Time of Year

I wanted to take this opportunity to apologize to you, my many readers (tongue placed firmly in cheek), for the low level of activity here at DET. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, I am hard at work organizing the 2008 Barth Blog Conference, which at this stage means (unfortunately) pestering those who have committed to write and who have missed the deadline. If you are one of these persons, please get your text in so that this second conference might be even more successful than the first.

Second, and this is the real issue, it is that time of year when students in higher educational institutions everywhere sequester themselves and do their best to write final papers. I was on something of an overload schedule this semester, so I have been hit particularly hard. The good news is that I only have one more paper to go. With any luck it won't take too long, as I have quite a full academic and personal schedule this Summer. In any case, I would like to take this opportunity to say that I simply cannot wait for a year from now when I will be done with coursework...forever!

So, there you have it. Hopefully this lull won't last too much longer. In the meantime, there are plenty of good things to read. Check out the DET archives, and especially the serials and collaborative projects (links at top of right panel). Also, there are a number of links in the sidebar to other blogs worth your time.

In the meantime, here are a few photos. (1) A stack of books that I am returning to the library today. (2) My trusty personal library, or at least the bulk of it. It might be fun if some of you made comments about what you take to be the themes of certain of the shelves. Of course, you can browse my library through a link in the sidebar. (3) The texts with which I am primarily concerned in this last paper. You can read these texts for yourself at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, for which there is a link in the sidebar.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Thought from Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All to Human, (Translated by Gary Handwerk; Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995), §122.
”As long as someone is very well acquainted with the strength and weakness of his teaching, his kind of art, or his religion, their strength is still slight. The disciple and apostle who has no eye for the weakness of the teaching, the religion, and so on, who is blinded by the appearance of the master and by devotion to him, for this reason generally has more power than the master. Never yet has the influence of a man and his work become great without blind disciples. To help a certain knowledge to triumph often means only: to relate it to stupidity in such a way that the weightiness of the latter also enforces the triumph of the former.
Nietzsche is talking about Christianity here, but it is interested to apply these sentiments to academic life. For instance, we might have here an explanation of the difference between Barth himself and latter day Barthians. Just a thought.