Wednesday, October 28, 2009

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 lost in a snowstorm may eke out its life a little longer by feeding upon its own wool, but the Church cannot live very long by feeding upon its own experience or conventions instead of the Body and Blood of Christ…Too often the Word of God is bound in the fetters and techniques of an “evangelical tradition” which is man-made and does not derive from the Gospel itself, and can only succeed in making important elements of the Word of none effect.
Those of you who read this blog regularly, or had the good fortune to encounter the friendly disagreement between Ben Myers and myself over whether and to what extent T.F. Torrance can be considered a Barthian, know that I enjoy reading Torrance and think that his theology is a far sight better than some. Passages like this are part of the reason why. Here TF reveals himself to be a staunch advocate of preaching the gospel and a supporter of the church’s evangelistic mission, but also to be a critic of much that passes for this. His criticisms – as well as his positive counter-proposal – still apply.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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 is to say, according to our account, that God’s created intention includes the effect and the prayer as its condition but not adequate secondary causes.

“Could one say instead that God creatively intends his own agency to be conditioned by prayer? If one could, one would avoid talk of the creature’s influencing or altering divine agency in any strong sense. Such statements can only collapse, however, into the ones we have just recommended…[I]t is appropriate to say things like ‘God hears our prayers’; God’s creative intention may be said to include ‘himself’ as genuinely affected by creatures. One cannot talk in the same way to suggest the conditioning of God’s very agency by creatures; the divine agency forming a creative intention cannot be included in any real sense within it.”
Good stuff, but definitely dense. I found this volume to be quite tedious, but full of little surprises.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

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.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

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 that it can serve as a kind of loose organizing center for the whole, is the story of Jesus.

“When Barth turns to that story he simply follows the consensus with which we began; in fact, he confines himself to it with great care. The job of the commentator is to draw attention to the literal, ascriptive sense which serves simply to answer the question Who is Jesus in this text? In other words the commentator’s task is to render a conceptual redescription of those identifying descriptions which cohere because they are descriptions of this particular person, Jesus of Nazareth. Barth almost always proceeds from the priority of the singular and from the particular to the general…Just as he subordinated the general scheme to the specific text, in his hermeneutical priority ordering, so he reversed the logic that mediating theology had introduced in the eighteenth century and followed ever since, the logic which identified the order of belief with that of coming to believe: from the general meaningfulness of sin to that of the general notion of redemption, to the affirmation that the textual and historical individual person Jesus met the specifications of “redeemer.” He reversed the flow of interpretation, claiming that the texts about Jesus were our means of access to incorporating ourselves, or being incorporated, in the world of discourse he shared with us, rather than his specific identity as Redeemer having to be fitted to the criteria of the world of our general experience.

“Barth did not return to the pre-Enlightenment orthodox view that the logic of the gospel story is provided by the eternal, pretemporal scheme in which God predestines some to salvation and others to damnation, foreordaining the redeeming act of Christ in the light of the sin of Adam. Barth did write a long work on divine grace and predestination, but its status, despite its enormous length, is that of a grammatical remark about the language of the Gospel: Given that in the history of Jesus Christ as rendered in the Gospels we are incorporated into the reality he shares with God—and given that this incorporation is not only a possibility but is actualized in what he did for us, that his very being or essence was a being-for-us—what then is the internal logic or grammar of this depiction, not the condition of its possibility, intelligible in abstractions from it? And the answer for Barth is that the internal logic—if you will, the grammatical rule of this story—is the saving will of God, his election of Jesus and of us in him, from eternity. But this is a very different thing from the reverse: founding the story of Jesus on a prior and independent metaphysics of divine predestination, of which the story is only the indispensible source of information. Even here, the general (the scheme) is contained in, subordinate to, the particular (the story). It is the particularity of Jesus, enacted in and inseparable from history that makes him significant for salvation and provides the criteria for what the criteria for such significance are."

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

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 about him or the quality of my faith in him has nothing whatever to do with the question of my salvation. God has indeed become “wholly other” here…[T]he sharp distinction which Luther makes implies that nothing in us—even our thoughts about God—can claim actually to relate us to him, i.e., can lay claim to being valid or true or dependable in any respects. In short, God becomes—if one works through consistently what is entailed here—an absolutely unknowable, incomprehensible, unattainable, mysterious “X.” While this frees us to live out our lives in this world with confidence and spontaneity, it also means that nothing we are or can be, nothing we do or can do, nothing we think or can think, can in any way affect our relation to God either positively or negatively. God has become so abstracted from our consciousness and experience that these can go on, indeed, must go on, without reference to him or thought about him: he has become a zero, a nothing, a complete irrelevancy to our life here and now…

"…If God is really completely objective to and distinct from all our ideas, he is irrelevant to us in every respect; and we may as well lead our lives with no reference to or concern about him. This is the secularist conclusion which can be drawn from Luther’s position.

"However, Luther’s reductio ad absurdum of the objectivist language also opened up…the understanding that “God” is not a reality over against us, totally other from us at all, but is in fact a construction of the human imagination which performs certain important functions in our thinking and experience. The only God we can know or respond to or take account of is the God we can know and take account of and respond to. It is the God that we, with the help of a long tradition developing before us, construct in our imagination as the ultimate point of reference for all life and thought and reality…With Kant the issue at last became clarified: “God” must be understood as a human construct, doubtless a very important, perhaps indispensible, construct, but a human construct nonetheless.

"Successors to Kant—Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Freud, Dewey—have seized upon his discover…"

Gordon Kaufman, An Essay on Theological Method, 3rd edition (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1995): 31-3.
It bears mention that something like this is precisely the problem that Barth is trying to address in his theology. This is perhaps most clearly seen in Church Dogmatics 1.1 on the one hand, and in CD 2.1 and 2.2 on the other hand and – perhaps – in somewhat different ways.