Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rosemary Radford Ruether at MAR-AAR

I spent last Thursday and Friday in Baltimore taking part in the Mid-Atlantic Regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion, a meeting that I have been a part of now for three consecutive years. Just as a bit of advertising, there are always some very interesting papers. In any case, the keynote address this year was delivered by the distinguished and well-known liberation and feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether (hereafter, RRR).

It is always interesting when you get the chance to engage with a famed theologian in person as opposed to through their work and reputation only. For instance, RRR looks like your grandmother, or any grandmother that you might run into during your church’s coffee hour. But then she steps up to the podium and the incredible breadth of her knowledge and her grasp of the literature involved astounds. If my memory serves me, there is a passage in Scripture that talks about the possibility of entertaining angles unawares; we should all also be careful lest we entertain famed theologians unawares.

This has never happened to me (at least that I know of), but it puts me in mind of a story I once heard. Once upon a time, there was a MDiv student at Princeton Theological Seminary eating dinner alone at a table in Mackay (the cafeteria). An old man randomly sits down and begins to eat with our student and engage him in conversation about his studies. Along the way, the old man asked the student if he would be attending the lecture being held that evening by T. F. Torrance, and what the students thought of Torrance’s work. Our student had not planned to attend the lecture, but ended up going because the old man had pricked his interest. Imagine his chagrin when he realized what all of you, my very clever readers, have certainly by now realized – that he had just unknowingly had dinner with Tom Torrance!

Anyway, here are a few notes on RRR’s talk. They are not comprehensive, but should give the picture.

“Comparative Perspectives on Ecofeminism” - (3.26.2009)

Ecofeminism is about trying to see the interconnection between the domination of women and that of nature, and it goes on at the ideological (women seen as closer to nature, etc.) and socio-economical (women relegated to non public realms, etc.) levels. The former level provides the superstructure for the latter. Such analysis could be extended to class, racial, and ethnic levels. All this is connected to the Greek / Western tradition that tends to separate mind from matter. The Western view, as opposed to other patriarchal and urban cultures like Hinduism in India and Confucianism in China, does not retain a notion of nature’s sacredness.

There are three basic feminist responses to this state of affairs. First, some reject the association of nature with womanhood as a reproduction of the basic patriarchal hierarchy and playing into its ideology. Women are said to be just as rational, etc., as men. In fact, what occurs is that an elite class of women is made equal to men on male terms. Second, some affirm the connection and want women to claim their affinity with nature and push them to take the lead in caring for the earth. A third group (where RRR places herself) rejects such essentialist pictures and sees the connection as a social construct that naturalizes women and feminizes nature. If there is a connection, the connection arises from women’s social location in these realms in patriarchal culture.

RRR spends the bulk of her time comparing two emerging ecofeminist perspectives, one from India and one from Brazil. Both critique traditional western views on epistemology and the self. Underlying this critique is a serve for a more sustainable, more viable society. The search for an alternative vision represents a longing for finding ways of relating in a more sustainable way and of seeing nature as the living source of connectedness. RRR identifies some commonalities amongst ecofeminism:

(1) Tendency to reject or be disinterested in notions of a kind of transcendent divine self outside of nature. This builds on Paul’s notion of the God in whom we live and move and have our being; this is God as life-giving matrix.

(2) This view of God both sustains the renewal of life and motivates us to struggle against its destruction and distortion, which “threatens the very fabric of planetary life.”

(3) RRR’s favorite way of talking about this God and this sort of life is ‘Wisdom’.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Curriculum Vitae

Curriculum Vitae
W. Travis McMaken

Assistant Professor of Religion at Lindenwood University
e-mail: derevth [at] gmail [dot] com


  • PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ, (anticipated) 2011.
  • MDiv, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ, 2007.
  • BA, Biblical & Theological Studies, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL, 2004.


  • “The Impossibility of Natural Knowledge of God in T.F. Torrance’s Reformulated Natural Theology,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 12.3 (2010): 319-40.
  • “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.
  • “Election and the Pattern of Exchange in Karl Barth’s Doctrine of the Atonement,” in Journal of Reformed Theology 3.2 (2009): 202-18.
  • “What Hath Broadway to do with New Haven? Vanhoozer’s Canonically Dramatic Take on Lindbeck’s Cultural-Linguistic Turn,” in Koinonia: The Princeton Theological Seminary Graduate Forum 19 (2007): 67-84.
Edited Volumes
  • W. Travis McMaken and David W. Congdon (eds.), Karl Barth in Conversation (forthcoming with Wipf and Stock Publishers).
Select Book Reviews
  • Review of Eberhard Busch, Barth (Abingdon, 2008), Reviews in Religion and Theology 16.2 (2009): 250-1.
  • Review of John H. Armstrong (ed.), Understanding Four Views on Baptism, Counterpoints: Church Life (Zondervan, 2007), Reviews in Religion and Theology 16.2 (2009): 219-22.
  • Review of Gerrit Scott Dawson (ed.), An Introduction to Torrance Theology: Discovering the Incarnate Savior (T&T Clark, 2007), Reviews in Religion and Theology 16.1 (2009): 117-9.
  • Review of Leonard J. Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Recovering the Sacraments for Evangelical Worship (InterVarsity Press, 2004), Evangelical Review of Theology 32.3 (2008): 283-4.
  • Review of Michael Palmer, Moral Problems: A Coursebook for Schools and Colleges, 2nd ed. (Lutterworth Press, 2005), Reviews in Religion and Theology 15.3 (July, 2008): 449-51.
  • Review of Paul T. Nimmo, Being in Action: The Theological Shape of Barth’s Ethical Vision (T & T Clark, 2007), Center for Barth Studies, Princeton Theological Seminary (March 26, 2008): http://libweb.ptsem.edu/collections/barth/reviews/beinginaction.aspx.

Further professional resources

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lehmann on ‘the Common Ethical Predicament’

Bobby has recently asked about Sharing the Gospel. Here is something of a response.
Paul L. Lehmann, Ethics In A Christian Context (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1963): 154-5.
Lehman is talking about the way in which his version of koinonia ethics understands the relation between believers and non-believers. Just as a little bit of background, Lehmann basically follows Barth on this point: believers are those who – on the basis of Christ – know what God is up to in the world and what it means to be truly human, while unbelievers do not. He grounds this in a discussion of the first / second Adam material in Romans. This discussion was carried out a few chapters earlier, but he returns to it briefly in this section and applies it in what I think is a very interesting way. We’ll see what you, gentle reader, think.
“The common ethical predicament is that compound of circumstantial involvement and human striving for maturity which forces into the open the issue of the falsification or the fulfillment of the authentic humanity of every human being. In delineating this predicament, and in the development of a sensitivity for it, ethical analysis and theological analysis have a very intimate relationship. For example, believers sometimes acquire a habit of behaving with more nuisance value than insight by pressing upon unbelievers the question whether they are saved. This question is at best premature; at worst, irrelevant.”

“But turn the question the other way around so that it is the unbeliever, not the believer, who asks it. Then the question undergoes a significant transformation. When a believer and an unbeliever are met on the level of their common involvement with the issue of the possibility and the integrity of their humanity, and when by reason of this involvement the question ‘What shall I do to be what I am?’ however it may be formulated, can no longer be suppressed, then the integrative power and the possibility of the Christian gospel are exposed. The New Testament offers no evidence for putting the question ‘Are you save?’ That is simply not a biblical question. However, the question ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ is a biblical question. It appears also in the form ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ The question means, in short, ‘What shall I do to be what I am?’ The lawyer, trying to justify himself, the Macedonian jailer, who found himself on the threshold of unemployment, put the question of authentic life from the level of an inescapable confrontation with a claim upon them to move in the direction of self-fulfilling self-surrender. It is only out of this kind of authentic human situation that the question of belief and unbelief, the religious question, has integrity.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

2009 Barth Blog Conference Taking Shape

I thought it was time for an update on how the 2009 (Third Annual) Karl Barth Blog Conference is taking shape. For those of you who want to be involved but have not yet contacted me – no worries! There is still plenty of time.

Here is the tentative schedule as it stands now:

  • Day 1: Introduction (yours truly)

  • Day 2: Calvin and Barth on the Exegesis of Romans 1.18-20 (yours truly)

  • Day 3: Exegeting Romans 1: A Critical Appraisal (title tentative: Shane Wilkins)

  • Day 4: Barth’s Exegesis of Romans 1 in his 2nd Edition of Romans (title tentative: David Congdon)

  • Day 5: Resurrection in Barth’s Rejection of Natural Theology: Romans 1.4 in Barth’s 2nd Edition of Romans (title tentative: Nathan Hitchcock, University of Edinburgh; Response by John Drury)

  • Day 6: Barth’s Exegesis in the Shorter Commentary on Romans (title tentative: Shannon Smyth, Princeton Theological Seminary)

As you can see, there are still 5 slots for respondents available, so let me know (commenting on this post or e-mailing me is fine) if you would like to participate in that capacity. Also, I am not in principle opposed to adding more plenary posts if people send me good proposals, so feel free to do so (e-mail for this).

The 2009 Barth Blog Conference will take place in late July or early August.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Matt Jenson, "The Gravity of Sin"

In case you haven't noticed yet, the people over at T&T Clark in the theology, religion, and other related discipline departments are just about the nicest people you will ever meet. I have interacted with them both as a humble theo-blogger as well as a book review editor, and their willingness to supply review copies of their volumes to those interested in spreading the word about them is amazing.

As a meager attempt to repay them some of their kindness, I thought that I would post on one of their titles - Matt Jenson's book, The Gravity of Sin: Augustine, Luther and Barth on Homo Incurvatus In Se. I'm reading this book in preparation for one of my exams and, while the good folks over at T&T probably would have sent me a copy for free had I asked, I thought that I would go ahead and pay for my copy and post about it to boot.

The following is comprised of some of my notes on the volume, which is concerned with the concept of sin that Jenson is developing with reference to feminism. If you want a full account of the volume, I suggest my friend Jason's review.

Jenson is interested in developing an account of sin that takes seriously the notion that persons are constituted by their relations. He thinks that the traditional notion – traced from Augustine through Luther and to Barth – of the sinner as homo incurvatus in se provides such a notion. The basic insight is that when one turns in upon oneself, making oneself the center of one’s world, one withdraws from relation. Throughout much of the tradition, this incurvatus has been associated with pride, such that it is seen as an assertion of oneself, attempting to become not only the center of one’s own world but the center of the world. Sin conceived as pride is critiqued rigorously by Daphne Hampson. As a post-Christian, she argues instead that women could use a bit of ‘pride’, that is, self-assertion and actualization. The problem for women is not pride, but self-abasement. Jenson offers a number of internal and logical critiques of Hampson’s position, but finds greatest fault with its unwillingness to speak theologically of sin and salvation. He posits that understanding sin as incurvatus in se provides a broad enough picture of sin to account for the aspects of sin that Hampson calls to attention. This he demonstrates by an examination of Barth’s account of sin, and especially with Barth’s treatment of incurvatus in se as pride and sloth. Sloth here does not simply mean laziness. Rather, it is resistance to elevation by God in Christ. Barth understands Christ’s work as the judgment and exaltation of humanity: pride resists the judgment and sloth resists the exaltation. Both are instances of homo incurvatus in se in that both are anthropocentric. One resists God’s judgment by asserting oneself and one resists God’s exaltation by self-abasement. In both case, one focuses on oneself and not on God, thus turning in upon oneself and away from relationship with God.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Barth and Küng on Justification, by Trevor Hart

Trevor Hart, “Christ and God’s Justification of Creation,” in Regarding Karl Barth: Toward a Reading of His Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999): 68.
Very briefly we may note two obvious points of difference between Barth and Küng over sola fide. (1) For Küng justification is to be split into two parts: the objective (redemption) which is achieved for us in Christ, and the subjective (justification) which is worked out in us as we are made righteous by God’s gracious activity. While faith is certainly not a condition of the objective aspect (how could it be?), we may and must speak of it as properly a condition of the subjective. Without our response of faith this ‘making holy’ cannot take place. Faith does not earn or deserve it, but is necessary in order for it to take place in us. For Barth, faith is not a condition of the subjective aspect of justification: faith is the subjective aspect of justification; it is the response of human beings in encounter with Jesus Christ (and hence with the truth concerning their own being), the point at which the completed reality of their justification impinges upon their existence and throws them into transition. (2) Precisely as such faith is a response to a reality and not merely to a possibility. Whereas for Küng the subjective aspect…is that in which virtual justification becomes a reality for man, Barth sees justification as the reality to which faith response. Again, the respective loci of reality are for Küng in us and our being as individuals and for Barth in Christ, and therefore in us and our ‘being’. For Küng there is no sense in which we can refer to the unbeliever as justified in anything but a virtual sense. There is no real justification without faith. Whatever may have been achieved objectively in Christ, something ‘ontological’ remains to be done in each of us before justification can be a reality for us.