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Showing posts from 2009

Van Buren on Calvin on the Atonement

Here is a fine paragraph from Paul van Buren on Calvin’s understanding of the atonement, and some rather vacuous but common criticisms thereof. This is simply a very neat little paragraph, and it rewards the attention that it deserves. Paul van Buren, Christ In Our Place: The Substitutionary Character of Calvin’s Doctrine of Reconciliation (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002): 61.

“The misunderstanding that must be avoided is that the substitution of Christ in our place is somehow a trick that is played on God, or, to put it in more refined terms, that our redemption by the work of Christ in our place is a sort of fiction, whereby we are placed under a great ‘as though’, that is in fact not true. Such an error can arise only if we fail to take absolutely seriously the different elements that surround the Cross: the sin of man, the righteousness of God, the unity of the Father and the Son, and the true Incarnation of the Son of God. Sin must be seen as something so serious that man…

Torrance on Judgment and Atonement in Christ

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Merry Christmas to all DET readers (and anyone else, for that matter)! Here are some christological reflections for your Christmas Eve.

I’m approaching the end of chapter 4 in my reading of Torrance’s Incarnation, and this chapter has been especially rich with Torrance’s reading of the biblical text. This is a side of Torrance that I think comes to light in a unique way in these posthumous dogmatics lectures, and I find it quite fascinating to see the connections he makes between the various aspects of scriptural narrative. The following is a particularly good summary section of what he has been talking about for much of the chapter:Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Robert T. walker, ed.; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic and Paternoster, 2008): 152-3.

“The atoning work of Christ seen at work…is no mechanical or merely forensic transaction; it is the activity of the divine person penetrating directly into the hearts of men and women and in an acutely pe…

My Most Recent Publications

Review of Daniel J. Treier, Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Recovering a Christian Practice (Baker Academic, 2008), Reviews in Religion and Theology 17.1 (2009): 24-6.

Review of Neil B. MacDonald and Carl Trueman (eds), Calvin, Barth, and Reformed Theology (Paternoster, 2008), Reviews in Religion and Theology 17.1 (2009): 96-8.

Worth Remembering

"It is reasonable to expect that any theologian worth his or her salt will be able to show the difference between a mystery and a muddle."B. A. Gerrish, Grace and Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002): 160.

New Center for Barth Studies Book Review

Cambria Janae Kaltwasser has reviewed Adam Neder's Participation in Christ: An Entry in Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, Columbia Series in Reformed Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009). Be sure to check it out!

The Saga Continues

Many of you know that I recently completed the exams in my doctoral program. Well, the latest news is that my dissertation proposal has been accepted by the powers that be. So, now I can start actually working on the thing – and idea at once both intimidating and freeing. In any case, here are some vital stats. Don’t try to get more out of me, because you won’t succeed – you’ll have to wait for the book! ;-)

* Working Title: “The Sign of the Gospel” – Toward a Reformed and Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism After Barth

* Dissertation committee: George Hunsinger (chair), Bruce McCormack, and Bryan Spinks (Yale Div School).

Wish me luck!

Lynn Cohick, “Women in the World of the Earliest Christians”

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In addition to reading Torrance (see last post), I am also reading Cohick. Lynn Cohick was my NT professor during my time at Wheaton – they had and still have other NT professors, and I took a course with one of them, but most of my work in the area was with Cohick – and I had the added privilege of serving as her TA. She has remained interested in my scholarly development since I left Wheaton, and has served as a mentor and collaborator (for instance, she wrote a very engaging response as part of the 2009 Karl Barth Blog Conference here at DET) as occasion presented itself. Needless to say, I am very grateful for all of this. But, I am also grateful to Lynn because she recently sent me a copy of her very recently (Amazon lists the publication date as Nov 1, 2009) published Women in the World of the Earliest Christians. Having studied with and worked for Lynn, I have a deeply ingrained curiosity about New Testament backgrounds even though I do little formal NT scholarship anymore…

Torrance on Luke 2.40

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I had pre-ordered my copy of Torrance’s Atonement, the second half of TF Torrance’s posthumously published dogmatics lectures from his time at New College in the University of Edinburgh, and finally received it shortly before Thanksgiving. A year or so ago the publishers generously sent me an advanced copy of the un-proofed text of the first half, Incarnation, so that I might be one of the first to review it (my review is accessible online). While I picked-up a copy of the published volume shortly after it came out, I had been putting off returning to it until the publication of the second volume. So, once Atonement arrived on my desk I began reading Incarnation with the intention of reading the two volumes back-to-back. So, you can expect to see snippets from these two volumes posted from time to time in the near future. Here is the first:
Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Robert T. walker, ed.; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic and Paternoster, 2008):…

Happy Thanksgiving!

When you have a 14-month old son, you don't have a lot of free time on holidays for deep theological reflection. So, instead, I leave you with this...


New Look at DET

Those of you who interact with me here at DET solely through a RSS reader will not have noticed, but DET has undergone a much overdue face-lift. I hope you all like it and find it more functional than the previous look.

H/T to Chris for pointing me in the right direction on this stuff.

Kathryn Tanner on Condign and Congruent Merit

In this section, Tanner is explicating the theology of Gabriel Biel, and pointing out ways in which he diverged from previous scholastic positions in subtle ways. This whole section is interesting, and I highly recommend you take a look at it for yourself. But, here is a not insignificant portion to whet your appetite a bit more concerning this rather esoteric theological discussion. I find the development that Tanner lays out here to be very important to Reformation history as, if my memory serves me, Luther was trained in Biel's tradition. If Biel is an aberration of a more basic scholastic position, Luther is (perhaps) a corrective rather than an aberration in his own right. Just a thought. :-)

Kathryn Tanner, God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment? (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005): 140-1.

“In traditional use (e.g., Thomas), the distinction between congruous and condign merit was a way of considering the same human action performed on the basi…

New Center for Barth Studies Book Review

Jesse Couenhoven has reviewed Neil B. MacDonald and Carl Trueman (eds.), Calvin, Barth, and Reformed Theology (Paternoster, 2008). He does a nice job of parsing out the contents and indentifying their strengths and weaknesses. Of course, readers of DET need no explanation as to why a volume of this might be interesting. Be sure to check it out.

Trinity and Christology According to Gunton

****For those of you following the saga, I have passed my oral exam. All that now remains is the dissertation proposal, and that small matter of actually writing the dissertation. While I'm worrying about that, please enjoy the following.****
“What, then, is the relation of the doctrine of the Trinity to…christology…? Pannenberg has famously said…that the trouble with traditional christologies is that they make the mistake of presupposing the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather, he holds, any doctrine of the Trinity must be the outcome of christological thought. In a sense, the latter is true. A [proper] doctrine of the Trinity…can only be the result of thought about the economy of salvation through Christ and the Spirit. That is the necessary order of knowing: from God’s relatedness to the world, make known in Christ, to a doctrine of his eternal being in relation. But the order of being must take a different orientation. If there is to be talk of the incarnation, it must pres…

T.F. Torrance on Karl Barth's Significance

This is from the first page of Torrance’s introduction to Barth’s Theology and Church: Shorter Writings, 1920-1928 (Louise Pettibone Smith, trans.; New York: Harper & Row, 1962).Karl Barth is the greatest theological genius that has appeared on the scene for centuries. He cannot be appreciated except in the context of the greatest theologians such as Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, nor can his thinking be adequately measured except in the context of the whole history of theology and philosophy. Not only does he recapitulate in himself in the most extraordinary way the development of all modern theology since the Reformation, but he towers above it in such a way that he has created a situation in the Church, comparable only to the Reformation, in which massive clarification through debate with the theology of the Roman Church can go on. Karl Barth has, in fact, so changed the whole landscape of theology, Evangelical and Roman …

T.F. Torrance on Evangelistic Preaching

***For those of you who care, I'm sitting my last qualifying exam today - systematic theology. While I'm slaving away, enjoy some good ol' TFT.***

Thomas F. Torrance, When Christ Comes and Comes Again (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957): 8-9.There are aspects of modern preaching which give rise to great anxiety, the temptation of the popular preacher to build the faith of the congregation on his own personality, to parade his knowledge of modern literature, to feed his people with constant diagnosis of the various maladies of our time instead of with the substance of the Gospel, to allow an existentialist decision to oust from their central place in the Gospel the mighty acts of God in Christ, and so to give the people anthropology instead of Christology, or to preach the Church instead of Christ in His Church and so to give the congregation the traditions of men instead of Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, Ascension, and Advent. A sheep lo…

New Center for Barth Studies Book Review

Matthias Gockel reviews Bruce McCormack's Orthodox and Modern. Be sure to check it out!

Kathryn Tanner on “whether” and “how” God can be said to respond to our prayers

*****For those few of you who care or might minutely be interested, I'm sitting my qualifying exam in philosophy this morning. I know it sounds like lots of fun, but its not really. Take my word on it. Anyway, enjoy this from Tanner while I slave away.*****

Kathryn Tanner, God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment? (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005): 97-8.

“Christians do say…that God responds to the prayers of the faithful. Are there not, then, exceptional cases where God’s agency for created effects is determined by what the creature does? We have to say that a statement like ‘God grants petitions’ holds, not because God’s agency is itself altered by prayer, but because prayer is according to God’s will a necessary created condition in particular cases for a created effect or for the alteration of the usual order of created cause and effect. To say that God makes up for the deficiency of created causes to produce the effect for which a person prays i…

New Music from 'The McMakens'

It seems that it is family promotion month here at DET. You may remember that I recently posted about an article that my brother and his wife wrote for Relevant magazine. Well, as it turns out, they have just released their first album, entitled Sleep Easy They have been working on it a long time, and it is sure to be well put together (I haven't heard it all yet - maybe I'll get a free copy for writing this notice! :-P ) In any case, if you'd like to listen to "nine original songs and two folk arrangements [that] capture this duo's timeless songwriting, lush instrumentation, and evocative vocals: (copy from their website), you can order now. And, if you live in the Chicago-land area, think about dropping by one of their shows.

How do worship and mission relate?

No, I'm not tipping my hand just yet. But, my brother and his wife have recently published a short piece on the topic that is worth a read over at Relevant Magazine - "Your Worship Isn't Enough". Those of tired of the rather dry and rationalist approach taken here at DET may find their more evocative and conversational tone refreshing.

Frei on Barth, Theological Method, and CD 2.2 (?)

The following few paragraphs are taken from Frei’s Types of Christian Theology (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992). They deal with Barth and the way in which Barth deployed philosophical, or non-Christian modes of inquiry in general, to the task of theology or, more specifically, to the task of reading Scripture. I present it here not only because I think Frei gets a number of things right about Barth in this passage, but because the third paragraph is – I think; it isn’t explicitly stated – a methodological gloss on Church Dogmatics 2.2, which is very illuminating on its own. Of course, you will have to make your own judgments, and I would be very interested in hearing your impressions. Pages 87-8:

“Barth…suggests that some biblical texts have been more crucial than others in the history of Christian reading [of Scripture], largely because they are more perspicuous and therefore more conductive to agreed-upon interpretation—or “plain” reading. And chief among these, so t…

Kaufman on how Luther gave us the likes of Feuerbach and Nietzsche

To set the stage, Kaufman is talking about the conceptual difficulties involved in conceiving of God as objective to us in a way broadly similar to how any other object with which we interact is objective to us. He is definitely pursuing an agenda with this analysis – as far as I can tell, he doesn’t want anything like a personal God in the traditional sense – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t illuminating. For instance, he has this nice bit about how Luther gave us the likes of Feuerbach and Nietzsche. To set the stage, he understands Luther’s notion of simul iustus et peccator as driving such a wedge between us and God – God is righteous, we are not, and we never actually possess righteousness as saved and so remain utterly distinct from God – as to undermine knowledge of God. Below are some extracts that draw some of these strands together.
“Luther’s position…is a reductio ad absurdum, I suggest, becomes it makes the distinction so sharp that even my consciousness of God—my ideas …

Types of Philosophy: A Serioues Jest?

I’m no philosopher, and I am happy to proclaim my philosophical ignorance to any who will listen (although, truth be told, I’m slowly trying to remedy this and, as it turns out, I can claim the pedigree of Socrates for such proclamations). But, one of the joys of being involved in teaching introductory courses on theology is that one often gets asked questions that one does not expect and has not prepared for, and that force one to do one’s best to give answers, which in turn forces one to organize whole heaps of information on the fly, the result of which is to produce gross overgeneralizations like the following. So, I present to you my gentle readers, four types of philosophy. Once-upon-a-time I presented some types of systematic theology, in case you are interested.
Type 1

The British are, by history and – perhaps – by natural inclination (whatever that means), mercantile in orientation. Thus, their philosophy bears a striking resemblance to accounting: ledgers must be balanced…

Bonhoeffer on Genesis 1.1 – “And God said…”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1-3 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2004): 40-1:“[T]he God of the Bible remains wholly God, wholly the Creator, wholly the Lord, and what God has created remains wholly subject and obedient, praising and worshiping God as Lord. God is never the creation but always the Creator. God is not the substance of nature. There is no continuum that ties God to, or unites God with, God’s work – except God’s word…That is, ‘inherently’ [‘an sich’] there is no continuum; were the word not there, the world would drop into a bottomless abyss. This word of God is neither the nature nor the essence of God; it is the commandment of God. It is the very God who thinks and creates this word, but as One who chooses to encounter the creature as its Creator. God’s creatorship is not the essence, the substance, but the will or commandment of God; in it God gives us God’s very self as God wills. That God creates by the word mea…

TF Torrance on Calvin

Being officially out of coursework, I'm such a glutton for punishment that I am nevertheless auditing a seminar on John Calvin this semester offered by George Hunsinger. So, I thought I would throw this up as kind of a kick-off to the semester.

I wish that I had more to say about this extensive quote I’m about to show you, whether comments of criticism, clarification, construction, or addition. But, the fact is that I don’t quite yet know what to do with the notions that TFT relates here. Some of them resonate, and some of them chafe. There are certainly things that I would want to criticize, clarify, use to construct further positions, or add. For instance, some of the dichotomies that TFT sets up for how Calvin ought to be understood seem a little forced, that is, there are certainly other options for viewing Calvin than those offered here. But, TFT’s vision of Calvin here is so much a whole that I want to be very careful before beginning to pick it apart. It is one of th…

Hans Frei, “Types 1 & 2,” and a Rhetorical Flourish

I’ve been reading Hans Frei’s Types of Christian Theology (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992) and, coming across the following spunky paragraph, I just had to share it. As for context, this paragraph comes at the end of a section of the book where Frei is considering whether one’s theological ‘type’ makes a hermeneutical difference concerning how one handles the literal sense of Scripture. He has considered types 1 (Gordon Kaufman / Immanuel Kant) and 2 (David Tracy and, implicitly, Paul Tillich - although Frei suggests that Tillich belongs in type 3) independently, but is here drawing these two threads together. Frei’s basic contention is that these two types have no real use for a literal sense, and it is this conclusion that lies behind the following invective. The following paragraph is written sarcastically in the voice of a member of the second type, meanwhile lampooning academic theological bureaucracy and, to add injury to insult, hypocrisy when it comes to social…

My Most Recent Publication

Ecclesiology has just published (online; I think the hard-copy will take a little more time to get out) an essay of mine. Those of you with the proper permissions can likely access it. The essay deals with Barth on infant baptism, and it does two things: first, it traces the development of Barth’s doctrine through the Church Dogmatics period; and, second, it concludes by hinting at the line of thinking I intend to pursue in my dissertation. Here is the bibliographic information, and below is the abstract:
W. Travis McMaken, “Authority, Mission, and Institution: A Systematic Consideration of Matthew 28.18-20 in Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Baptism,” in Ecclesiology 53 (2009): 345-61. ABSTRACT: Many of Barth’s most faithful and devoted interpreters have taken issue with his unapologetically non-sacramental account of baptism in CD IV/4 and his attendant rejection of infant baptism. While many questions have been raised concerning the veracity of the exegesis that Barth produces in support…

Barth on Church Growth

So, I’m reading through Barth’s ecclesiology paragraphs in volume 4 of the Church Dogmatics, and I’m finding – as usual with Barth – some really good stuff. Here is one bit that I thought I would share. Barth is talking here about what it means to speak of the church’s growth. He has already explained that the church is not one organism, but that the metaphor of organic growth is helpful insofar as the church does extend itself out of its own internal resources (it being the body of Christ) rather than by means of external resources. Next comes the question of whether the church’s growth is extensive or intensive. Although Barth certainly affirms that the church adds new members, he is wary of what happens when this becomes a church’s focus. And so he gives us the following.Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.2, 648.

“The true growth which is the secret of the upbuilding of the community is not extensive but intensive; its vertical growth in height and depth. If things are well—and t…

Certified Calvin Scholar

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Oh, yeah!

H/T: David Guretzki

See how you score on the Calvin quiz.

T.F. Torrance on Barth, Mozart, and Beethoven

This is from Torrance’s introduction to Barth’s Theology and Church: Shorter Writings, 1920-1928 (Louise Pettibone Smith, trans.; New York: Harper & Row, 1962): 9-10.One more aspect of Barth’s humanity we must note is its genius. That is to say, it is a humanity that is full of surprises. Here, although no doubt he would resent it, we may compare his theological thinking to the music of Beethoven with its breath-taking turns rather than to the predestined texture of Mozart’s inimitable compositions. Mozart may well be the greater genius, but when he has announced his theme and swept you into the skies like a lark, he creates in you the power of anticipation and you can hear the music from a long way off, and Barth certainly has this quality, too; but again and again Beethoven’s music suddenly breaks in upon your ear with astonishing novelty that startles you, and you protest that he has shattered the logic of his composition, but before you can recover your breath you find that…

2009 Karl Barth Blog Conference: Conclusion and ToC

It is time once again for the most unsavory blogging business that I ever have to execute as the proprietor here at DET, namely, declaring this year’s Karl Barth Blog Conference to be officially over. You are welcome, of course, to continue commenting and conversing with one another. In fact, you are encouraged to do so! But, regretfully, there are no further posts forthcoming.

As unsavory as closing the blog conference may be, it gives me nothing but pleasure to thank all those who have participated. You have made this year’s blog conference an even greater success than last year! Special thanks to all our plenary authors and their respondents – you folks are the lifeblood of this enterprise. Still, these authors would not want to put in the time writing plenary posts and responses for an event like this were it not for the host of you readers willing to surf by and check things out, and especially for those of you who stop to comment and converse. Those who stop by to comme…

2009 Barth Blog Conference: Day 5

Reading Romans 1:3-4 Axiomatically: Karl Barth’s Resurrection Exegesis

By Nathan Hitchcock
Time has shown that there are many ways of approaching Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans – and precious few that take him seriously as a biblical exegete. There is the possibility, however, of understanding him as a genuine commentator even while recognizing his crucial theological foci. In this vein I want to contend that he interprets Romans 1:3-4 axiomatically, as the interpretive center of the epistle, and that the resurrection of the dead (which is axiomatic in speaking of God) governs the dialectical activity in all of 2Ro. God’s gloriously disruptive gospel is that which concerns “His Son, born out of David’s line according to the flesh, and powerfully appointed the Son of God according to the Holy Spirit through His resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” For Barth these verses ground and guide the content of the epistle.

The present essay starts with a historical-biographica…

2009 Barth Blog Conference: Day 4

Defending Barth’s Commitment to “Let Paul Speak for Himself” [1]: Romans 1 and Paul’s Rejection of the Possibility of Natural Knowledge of God

By Shannon Nicole Smythe
By the time Karl Barth’s course of extra-mural lectures on Romans, given in Basel during the winter of 1940-41, was published in 1959 under the English title A Shorter Commentary on Romans, the shock waves of the 1918 and 1921 editions of his Romans commentary, Der Römerbrief, had already come and gone with such great force, almost entirely negative, that few scholars took notice of this later and, of course, shorter piece of theological exegesis. The few who did[2] held, to varying degrees, a common opinion that Barth’s own system of thought (at times more softly expressed as a “Barthian emphasis”) was the basis of his reading of Paul. Most specifically in this regard, the reviews found a “rejection of natural revelation”[3] or “arguments against any ‘natural’ knowledge of God”[4] to be one of the most obvious Barthian…