Thursday, December 31, 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 could not resolve it, but only God Himself. God’s righteousness must be measured by His treatment of sin in the person of His Son. The unity of Father and Son must be measured by the perfect obedience of Christ, and the Incarnation must be taken seriously as a complete action, whereby Christ became a real man, like ourselves in all things, excepting sin.”
For those of you who don’t know, this is van Buren’s dissertation, which was written in Basel under Karl Barth (who, incidently, wrote the Introduction). There are a number of van Buren’s works in circulation if not currently in print. But, if you are dying for more, I happen to know that his dogmatics lectures are in the process of publication. I, for one, am looking forward to that!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Torrance on Judgment and Atonement in Christ

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 personal way, by way of God’s decision of love, opening up people in their decisions and gathering them into communion and union with God. That was the three years’ ministry of Jesus. That is why he operated as he did with unheard of meekness and kindness, shrouding his divine majesty and even veiling the naked truth by parable, les he should bluntly crush the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax. He lived with publicans and sinners, and scribes and Pharisees, and people of all sorts, gradually revealing himself, and as they were able to hear he spoke to them the truth, challenging them at every turn in their decisions before the majesty of the kingdom. Acting on their decisions and by means of them he penetrated into the innermost being of men and women as only he who is God and man could.

“And so all through those years of historical encounter and human living in the midst of people and their hurts and needs, he involved himself more and more, intertwined himself more and more completely with sinners, until in the fullest and most personal sense he was the representative of the divine judge to us, condemning by his truth our sin in the flesh, and was also our representative, representing us the judged as he wore our humanity. Because he was God’s Son become man he could both incarnate God for us, and represent us before God, this one man on behalf of all men and women. In this authoritative representation, representation in truth and reality, of God to us and of all to God, Jesus Christ stood in the gap to work out to the bitter end in justice and mercy the conflict between God’s holy love consistently true to itself, and man’s persistent contradiction of God’s love even when it was poured out in utter compassion and grace. In that, as the very heart of God beating within our humanity, he really suffered our distress, and bore also the whole of God’s judgement [sic] upon humanity with which, in all its guilt and rejection, he stood in complete solidarity. All the years of his earthly life, but especially during those three years of his public ministry, as he revealed the Father, and poured out the Father’s compassion, he engaged himself more and more closely with the ultimate things, the very last things, until on the cross the eschaton took place, the final judgement and final salvation.”

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Monday, December 21, 2009

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.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

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.

Monday, December 14, 2009

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!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

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!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

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

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, and so I am working through her promising volume. So, expect me to post interesting snippets from time to time.

I have never seen a book quite like this one, and I am convinced that it will quickly become standard reading for those who are interested in parsing what the NT has to say about women in conversation with the NT’s historical context. By way of further introduction, here is a bit from Lynn’s introduction on why she wrote the book:
Lynn H. Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009): 20-1.

“I was on a journey of discovery, looking for information about real women who lived during the time of Second Temple Judaism, during the Roman Republic and Empire, during the birth of Christianity. I read arguments describing their daily life inside and outside the home. But the more I read, the less clear this “everywoman” became. The immediate impetus for writing this book was my frustration over the various analyses concerning New Testament women. Some approaches, sympathetic to canonical authority, ignored the rhetorical and stylized character portraits, envisioning the texts as requiring no interpretation or reading them with little historical sophistication. Other scholars tended to repudiate authoritative texts, but extreme skepticism toward discovering historical information within canonical works seemed an unnecessary reaction, one that assumed an apologetic or theological text cannot at the same time carry historical data. Instead of concluding that no reliable historical evidence is retrievable, I would suggest that the authors of the canonical works are not intentionally misrepresenting women, but rather are interested in communicating something else, and chose as a device the “woman” tropos. In so doing, these writings likely contain something useful about real women’s experiences or the world in which they lived.”
And then, on page 23, we get an early hint of a mode of analysis that is one of Cohick’s unique emphases:
“To best understand the complexity of ancient women’s lives, we must consider the crucial role the institution of patronage played 8in the broader culture, as well as be attentive to the construction of gender identity as it impacts the discussion of real women… [P]atronage extended the household into the public arena, allowing women to influence the politics and religions of their cities. Patronage provided women with an avenue for attaining public honor and for impacting society. Patronage bridged the gap between public and private, and clarified how public women were esteemed with “private” virtues of modesty and chasteness.”

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Torrance on Luke 2.40

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): 105-6:

"What happens in the incarnation is the union of God and man. At last in the midst of our fallen humanity, within and in spite of our estrangement from him, God comes in his love and binds us to himself forever. God and man meet in Jesus Christ and a new covenant is eternally established and fulfilled.

"That takes place in the union of man and Go din the infant and maturing Jesus, in a growing in wisdom and stature both toward God and toward man. It is a growing which reaches its first stage when Jesus is twelve years of age, when according to Jewish law a son passes from infancy to the state of adult responsibility, and when the child himself confesses with his own lips the word of God sealed in his flesh in circumcision. Then Jesus is found in his Father’s house, not only answering the required interrogations but proposing them himself to the doctors of the law. Brought up from his mother’s knee in the Old Testament scriptures he has already entered into a wonderful fullness of divine wisdom. The second stage is reached when, after years of toil at the carpenter’s bench as the ben-bayith, the son of the house, taking his place along with Joseph as bread winner in the family at Nazareth, Jesus at last reaches the age of thirty, the age when under the Old Testament regulations a man might enter upon the active life of the priesthood. At that point in the fullness of time, Jesus steps forth among mankind, deliberately entering into active and living solidarity with his fellow men and women, in order to bring the union between himself and sinners to its completion in the mission of mediation upon which he has been sent by the Father."
Coincidently, this is my 400th post here at DET.

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