Saturday, February 27, 2010

More on Barth & History

I came across something this morning that I wanted to post as a brief follow-up to my last post on Paul Jones’ book. Coincidently, if you haven’t read Paul’s comment on that post, be sure to – he breaks it down nicely into a more digestible form. But, that’s not the point.

The point is this thread on Barth at The Puritan Board. What began as a student at St. Andrews Div asking for clarification on Barth descended rather quickly into hyper-conservative (fundamentalist?) Reformed Barth-bashing bonanza. I’ve never seen such a condensed compilation of misinformation about and misreading of Barth.

For instance, consider the following, especially in light of my post mentioned above. It comes from a commenter who is a student at New Geneva Theological Seminary (which, I would venture to say, does not even begin to hold a candle to Calvin, Beza, and Turretin’s Genevan academy – but I digress): “The Christian religion is historical. Barth's theology is a-historical. Barth's theology is not Christian.”

Aside from the ridiculous question-begging here, and the tone-deaf reading of Barth on Scripture that undergirds the assertion (along with the misunderstanding of Kant’s role in Barth’s theology that surfaces in later comments), this comment is patently false. Aside for the considerable defense that could be mounted for earlier renditions of Barth, how is it even possible to conclude from a reading of CD 4 that Barth is anything less than full-bloodedly historical? In fact, it would not be hard to argue that he is the most historical theologian to date because he makes history – the history of Jesus of Nazareth – internal (!) to the being of God.

Examples such as this could be multiplied exponentially from this Puritan Board thread, but I will stop here with a bit of editorializing: It is immensely demoralizing for someone with an evangelical background and evangelical commitments (such as myself) to come across people such as this, who maintain (for largely polemic and apologetic reasons) a feverish commitment to refusing Barth a fair hearing and to perpetuating less than half-baked misunderstandings of his theology.

P.S. For more unfortunate engagements with Barth from similar quarters, see these posts as well.

P.P.S. Sorry that the link to the Puritan Board thread wasn't working - it should be fixed now. Also, I'm aware that it is possible to find more responsible engagement with Barth from within the denominations peopled by those I lampoon here, but that is certainly - and unfortunately - not the norm. It is not that I have a problem with people disagreeing with Barth; its that I have a problem with them doing so without first having worked to understand him.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Paul Jones on Barth, Hegel, and ‘Geschichte’

Paul Dafydd Jones, The Humanity of Christ: Christology in Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics (London: T&T Clark, 2008): 198.
Geschichte signals a deft riposte to the charge of Hegelianism, easily leveled against Barth given his intensive utilization of the motif of Aufhebung throughout the Dogmatics. Barth’s basic response to the charge is easily imaginable: dogmatics has no fundamental relationship with the apprehension of Geist offered by ‘philosophic history’; it does not read ‘world history’ as Spirit’s ‘field of actualization’, with nations and prominent individuals functioning as vehicles of Spirit’s drive towards self-realization. Nor, more specifically, are the life, death and resurrection of Christ especially illustrative of Spirit’s progress, even granted that the pictorial Vorstellungen of ‘revealed religion’ apprehend this ‘true content’ in advance of speculative thought. Whereas for Hegel Geist’s outworking manifests itself in the person of Christ, Barth uses Geshichte to underscore that Christ, as an irreducible particular person, is one who is ‘logically indispensable’ to and ‘materially decisive’ for a dogmatic account of reconciliation.”

Monday, February 22, 2010

TFTTF: “Participatio”

I can’t pretend that this is breaking news, but it is certainly news that the T.F.Torrance Theological Fellowship (TFTTF) has launched a new journal entitled, Participatio, aimed at furthering scholarly discussion of Torrance’s work. If you follow that link, you will be able to download the journal’s first volume.

The reason for my writing, however, is that information concerning the future of this journal was recently given to TFTTF members (among whom I am numbered), and I wanted to pass it along to a (perhaps) wider audience. This information pertains to upcoming journal issues, and I have reproduced it below:

Vol. II: TFT's Use and Appropriation of Theological Sources (2010):

* George Dragas: Athanasius & Cyril of Alexandria
* Matthew Baker: Irenaeus
* Alasdair Heron: Calvin
* Robb Redman: H. R. MacIntosh
* David Fergusson: Scottish Sources

1st miscellany volume (2010):

Annual paper presentations and responses:
Todd Speidell's interview with David Torrance
Robb Redman's tribute to Geoffrey Bromiley
Chris Kettler's tribute to Ray Anderson

Geordie Ziegler: review of Gerrit Dawson's Introduction to Torrance Theology
Gary Deddo: review of Paul Molnar's book on Torrance and the Trinity
George Dragas: review of Myk Habets' book on Torrance and Theosis
Myk Habets: review of Ho's book on Torrance and Incarnation

Vol. III: The Interrelationship of Incarnation and Atonement (2011):

Chris Kettler on The Vicarious Humanity of Christ
Joel Scandrett on The Passion of the Triune God
Bob Walker on Inc. & At.
Paul Molnar, review essay of Incarnation and Atonement

2nd miscellany volume (2011):

James B. Torrance's Theology of Worship (contents to be determined in consultation with Alan Torrance)

Vol. IV: TFT as Ecumenical Theologian:

Mike Gibson and Paul Molnar on TFT and RC theology, George Dragas on E. Orthodoxy, A. Heron on Reformed

Vol. V: TFT and Theological Science

Vol. VI: Undeveloped Themes in TFT's Thought--Social, Ethical, and Behavioral Frontiers of Knowledge:

LeRon Shults, Eric Flett, Todd Speidell

Vol. VII: TFT and KB

Vol. VIII: TFT and His Critics

Submissions are welcome, and guidelines for submission are available.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

TF Torrance on Justification and Orthodoxy

Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ (Robert T. walker, ed.; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic and Paternoster, 2009): 105.

“Justification is God’s word of truth and its revelation is truth. This word justification does not have to do simply with righteous living but with righteous understanding, for righteousness is God’s right or truth as well as his holiness and involves knowing as well as doing, and thus to do righteousness is the same as to do truth. (Compare Jesus’ statement, ‘you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.’) The revelation of righteousness is the word that puts us in the truth and as such tells us that we are in un-truth. Justification says “let God be true, but every man a liar’, as Paul puts it with reference to Psalm 51. This word of justification which puts us in the truth denies all self-justification and denominates it lying, or un-truth. If God’s justification of the ungodly means that no one can boast of their own righteousness, then it also means that no one dares to boast of their own orthodoxy, for to claim orthodoxy is to claim to be in the right, to be in the truth; it is a boasting of the right, whereas in point of fact justification by putting us in the truth, reveals that we are in the wrong, in un-truth.”
You have by now discovered that the title of this post was a bit tongue-in-cheek. So many discussions, and even arguments, have been going on lately in English-speaking and specifically North American theology that I think what Torrance has to say here is very timely.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Quick DET Update

I've been getting lots of spam comments lately, so I changed the settings to require word verification on comments here at DET. This isn't a step I wanted to take, since I think that the harder you make it to post comments, the fewer comments you will get - and I like getting comments and having conversations start, etc. But, the weight of spam just became to unbearable. So, there we are.

Let me know if its not working right or causing problems.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Paul D. Jones, “The Humanity of Christ” – Barth & Chalcedon

If there remains anyone out there in the theo-blogosphere who has not yet figured out that the theology section over at T&T Clark is filled with wonderful people, take my word for it – they are. Exhibit A: they sent me a copy of Paul Jones’ $130 (USD, list price) book, The Humanity of Christ: Christology in Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. While I’m tempted to write a full-fledged review of this volume, I’m not going to because one is currently underway, by a much more qualified author, for the Center for Barth Studies review section. I will, of course, be posting a notice here when that review goes live.

So, I decided that the best way to show my gratitude to T&T Clark would be to do not one large review post, but a number of posts, highlighting what I think are important tidbits of this work, and whetting your appetites for more so that you will, hopefully, go buy the book. Or at least check it out of your friendly, neighborhood theological library.

Here is the first installment:
Paul Dafydd Jones, The Humanity of Christ: Christology in Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics (London: T&T Clark, 2008): 31-3. The following is my description as well as quotes from Jones, so that you get the idea of what he’s saying, and the best tidbits, without me reproducing a number of pages exactly.

Barth found an affirmation of Chalcedon useful, and it furnished him with the basic grammar of his Christology. But, he also held Chalcedon at a bit of a distance. “Barth’s concern [was] to reorient a theological environment thrown off course by protestant liberalism, not to make the conceptual apparatus of the Definition normative for christological reflection.” This distinction between the Definition itself or, if I may, the truth that it tries to convey, and the “conceptual apparatus” involved is, I think, very helpful. Apparently, Barth thought so too. The particular bit of this apparatus that Barth didn’t like is the notion of “nature” (physis). “Barth’s reticence with respect to this term and its cognates reflects, in part, a context-bound suspicion of physis. But more basic to his marginalization of substantivist terminology is a circumspect attitude towards conceptual abstraction, itself a consequence of a stalwart commitment to the principle of sola scriptura.” This principle means that extra-biblical concepts brought in to do theological work have to be carefully chosen, and “Barth treats all candidate concepts with a selectivity that recalls Calvin’s Institutes.”

Here is the basic conviction with which Barth worked: “The criterion of selection is that concepts must arise, in some way, from scripture…and be conducive to an interpretation of scripture.”

The problem with “nature” (physis) is that “it chafes against [Barth’s] preference for language that conveys the concreteness, actualism and sheer eventfulness of biblical descriptions of Christ; it struggles, more particularly, to depict the integration of Christology and soteriology basic to the New Testament.” It is not that Barth thinks the term necessarily harmful, nor is it that Barth is interested in rejecting classical terminology entirely. “But given a concern to maintain a vital relationship between the dynamic saving reality of Christ’s person, the details of scripture and christological inquiry, Natur and Wesen take up no meaningful role in Barth’s Christology in Church Dogmatics I/2 and thereafter. They go the same way as ‘person’ in intra-Trinitarian discussion, albeit with much less fanfare.”

Given all this, we might well ask Jones for a summary of Barth’s position vis-à-vis Chalcedon, and Jones does not disappoint: “Barth upholds the gist of Chalcedon when forwarding christological claims; [but] he has little interest in retaining each and every component of its conceptual apparatus.”
Whew! That was still a bit lengthy. In conclusion, I want to say two things: (1) I have little independent knowledge of the material in CD 1.2 that Jones is working with; (2) his interpretation sounds about right to me. In fact, he hits well in this section on the deep motivation for Barth’s anti-metaphysical program – Barth wanted to develop theological concepts out of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ by way of the authoritative witness to that revelation given in Scripture, and not on the basis of any general and/or independent conception of humanity and the world, or even on the basis of some common-sense way of parsing reality analytically. So, when it comes to Chalcedon, Jones points out, Barth quietly shunts a term he thinks has become problematic (or, perhaps Barth thinks it always was problematic) to the side in favor of a more biblical picture of God not as the subject of a catalog of properties, but as the living God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Rejoice! WTS Launches

No, not that WTS…

While there have been numerous clues posted here, I don’t know if I’ve ever come out and said it: I am from Michigan. Furthermore, I’m not from the hip, West side of the state, with its sand dunes, Grand Rapids, Calvin College, etc. I’m from the East side, with its flat-like-Ohio terrain (I once heard that the county I grew up in was the only Michigan county without an inland lake of some size) and the rotting corpse of a formerly great city, Detroit. I grew up about 45 minutes drive north of Detroit, and so the fact that my blog is abbreviated as DET has an extra layer of meaning for me. Longtime readers know that I have even done a little amateur sports-writing about a certain Detroit team.

Imagine my surprise when I learned a couple weeks ago that there is a new theological initiative developing in Detroit. In a city that is basically devoid of theological infrastructure, this group of theologically-minded denizens aspire to fill the gap, and is working hard toward that goal. And so, it is my pleasure to introduce you all (perhaps not for the first time) to the Woodward Theological Society, which was officially launched today.

The WTS steering committee is made up of scholars from Calvin College, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and Ashland Theological Seminary, along with an Episcopal priest and a Roman Catholic High School librarian. Chief among these in my mind is Todd Cioffi, who did his PhD here at PTS, and with whom I am acquainted.

I encourage all of my readers to surf over to the WTS website and check it out. Then, if you feel so inclined, fill out the contact form and see how you might be able to get involved with the society personally in order to aid its efforts to raise the quality of Detroit’s theological infrastructure. Also, check out their Facebook page.

(The first picture is of an historic section of Woodward Ave. in Detroit; the second picture is of the elusive, seldom photographed DET author in some of his Detroit paraphernalia.)