Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pertinent Words from Bonhoeffer on the Strong and the Weak

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 6 (Clifford J. Green, ed.; Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Stott, trans.; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005): 192-3.
“Even where one avoids [a] radical version of the idea, the right to life of those who are socially valuable is evaluated differently from the socially worthless, even though in both cases nothing but innocent life is involved. But this different valuation evidently cannot be carried out in life, because it would have impossible consequences. It would forbid [what one takes for granted,]* namely, the risking of socially valuable lives on behalf of lives that might be socially less valuable, for example, in war or in any situation in which life is at risk. This is enough to indicate that those of social value make no distinctions about rights of life. Precisely they will be ready to risk their own lives for those whom society values less – the strong for the weak, the healthy for the sick. Precisely those who are strong will not ask about the utility for themselves of the weak – although the weak might do so. Instead, the need of the weak will lead the strong to new tasks that develop their own social value. The strong will see in the weak not a lessening of their strength, but an incentive to higher deeds. The idea of [destroying the life]** of one who has lost social utility comes from weakness, not from strength.”
* I often wonder if this can be taken for granted anymore.
** Destruction can be both active, in the sense of seeking to destroy an enemy, or passive, in the sense of failing to prevent the destruction of something that it was within your power to prevent.

Just food for thought.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Recommended Reading

Reading Guides

So, You Want to Read Karl Barth? (WTM)
So, You Want to Read T. F. Torrance? (WTM)
So, You Want to Read John Calvin? (WTM)

Classic Posts

Here are links to some of the more popular (for whatever reason; based on traffic) DET posts, in no particular order. Maybe some day I'll have some time to kill by putting them into alpha order or something. Until then, enjoy!

Pedagogical Posts

Here are links to some posts that deal with various aspects of theological pedagogy. I'm sure that I will add to this list periodically. These posts are intended for theological students.

Good Books

Here is a widget full of theology books worth your time. Disclaimer: it is at least conceivably possible that this is not an exhaustive collection. In any case, I plan to add to it periodically.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Michael Welker on the Cross, God’s Suffering, and the Supper

Michael Welker, What Happens in Holy Communion? (John F. Hoffmeyer, trans.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000): 107-8. Emphasis is mine; sorry for its abundance, but this is some really good stuff.
The cross confronts God with the death and sin of the world in a way that calls into question not only Jesus’ life, but the divine life.

What kind of God is this, whose will for revelation runs up against limits? What kind of God is this, who while desiring the greatest intimacy with human beings ends up at the greatest distance from them? The cross calls God most profoundly, most abysmally into question. The direct confrontation with sin and death profanes the most holy God…The cross reveals a suffering of God, a powerlessness of God – not only the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, but suffering and powerlessness in the depths of the Godhead.

In this powerlessness of God, as it becomes manifest on the cross, we recognize two things. We recognize the communion of the Creator, the Holy Spirit, and the crucified Jesus over against a world that shuts God out. But we also recognize a divinity of which it is now really true that nothing human is foreign to it, a divinity that has given itself over to the abyss of human misery and horror. We recognize a God who has exposed himself not only to death, but to the abysmal distance from God which some biblical traditions call ‘hell.’…We can articulate this state of affairs in the sentence: On the cross hell becomes manifest. But it also becomes manifest that hell is not foreign to God, that God suffers hell, that God exposes the divine life to this suffering

The celebration of the Supper takes the situation of the cross, a situation of abysmal guilt and suffering, and reveals and proclaims it as a situation that Jesus has already mercifully anticipated and overcome.”

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fun with Barth and Baillie

The following is a limerick about Karl Barth, written by Donald Baillie. Many of you, I'm sure, know Baillie from his widely read work on the atonement, God Was In Christ. This limerick is recounted by Donald's brother John in Donald's posthumously published The Theology of the Sacraments and Other Papers (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1957): 31.
There was a young thinker called Barth
Who walked by himself quite apart.
His favourite motto
Was Blast Rudolf Otto,
And Ritschl was wrong from the start.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Expiation or Propitiation – Why Choose?

Some people, especially people in the sort of theology and biblical studies circles that I commenced my theological education in, can tend to get exercised about how to translate that pesky Greek term, hilastarion. Supposedly, according to the impression that one is given, one’s answer to this question determines the orthodoxy (or not) of one’s soteriology. Even then I thought such hype was overblown, and when I got to PTS and heard George Hunsinger’s take on the whole thing (and read a bit more Barth), I really stopped worrying about it. Well, now you – my gentle readers – can be privy to this same wisdom.
George Hunsinger, The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let us Keep the Feast (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008): 173-4.

“God’s wrath is the form taken by God’s love when God’s love is contradicted and opposed. God’s love will not tolerate anything contrary to itself. It does not compromise with evil, or ignore evil, or call evil good. It enters into the realm of evil and destroys it. The wrath of God is propitiated when the disorder of sin is expiated. It would be an error to suppose that “propitiation” and “expiation” must be pitted against each other as though they were mutually exclusive. The wrath of God is removed (propitiation) when the sin that provokes it is abolished (expiation). Moreover, the love of God that takes the form of wrath when provoked by sin is the very same love that provides the efficacious means of expiation (vicarious sacrifice) and therefore of propitiation.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Technology

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 3 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2004): 67.
“We do not rule; instead we are ruled. The thing, the world, rules humankind; humankind is a prisoner, a slave, of the world, and its dominion is an illusion. Technology is the power with which the earth seizes hold of humankind and masters it. And because we no longer rule, we lose the ground so that the earth no longer remains our earth, and we become estranged from the earth. The reason why we fail to rule, however, is because we do not know the world as God’s creation and do not accept the dominion we have as God-given but seize hold of it for ourselves...There is no dominion without serving God; in losing the one humankind necessarily loses the other. Without God, without their brothers and sisters, human beings lose the earth.”
Wow. It might be worth reflecting on ways in which technology, among other things, takes one's brothers and sisters away, to speak nothing of God.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

TF Torrance on Christ’s natures in Chalcedon

The following from TFT makes three important points by way of indicating how Chalcedon could and should have gone further than it did in its definition of the person of Christ: (1) that the human nature assumed by Jesus was not “neutral” but fallen – you may be interested in my previously published thoughts on this subject; (2) our understanding of Christ’s human nature ought not be imported from elsewhere; and, finally, (3) our understanding of Christ’s divine nature also ought not be imported from elsewhere. This latter point is, of course, central to questions about God’s impassibility, etc. But, enough summary – here is TFT:
Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Robert T. walker, ed.; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic and Paternoster, 2008): 201-2.

“The crucial factor here is the meaning of the ‘human nature’ of Christ. There is no doubt at all that by ‘human nature’ the fathers wanted to stress the actuality of Christ’s union with us in our true humanity, that Christ was human in all points exactly like us, yet without sin. And that is right as far as it goes, for Christ was fully human like ourselves, coming into and living in our mode of existence, and sharing in it to the full within a span of temporal life on earth between birth and death, and in the unity of a rational soul and body. But the Chalcedonian statement does not say that this human nature of Christ was human nature ‘under the servitude of sin’ as Athanasius insisted; it does not say that it was corrupt human nature taken from our fallen creation, where human nature is determined and perverted by sin, and where it is under the accusation and judgment of holy God.

“But that is all essential, for ‘the unassumed is the unhealed’, as Gregory Nazianzen expressed it, and it is with and within the humanity he assumed from us that the incarnate Son is one with the Father. Therefore the hypostatic union cannot be separated from the act of saving assumption of our fallen human nature, from the living sanctification of our humanity, through the condemnation of sin in the flesh, and through rendering from within it perfect obedience to the Father. In short, if we think of Christ as assuming neutral and perfect humanity, then the doctrine of the hypostatic union may well be stated statically. But if it is our fallen humanity that he sinlessly assumed, in order to heal and sanctify it, not only through the act of assumption, but through a life of perfect obedience and a death in sacrifice, then we cannot state the doctrine of the hypostatic union statically but must state it dynamically, in terms of the whole course of Christ’s life and obedience, from his birth to his resurrection.

“For many people the difficulty with Chalcedonian christology is this, that when it speaks of ‘the human nature’ of Christ, it seems to be speaking of some neutral human nature which we know in some way from our general knowledge of humanity, even though we nowhere have any actual experience of such neutral human nature. Here then, there appears to be a twofold difficulty. It appears to define the human nature of Jesus in terms of some general conception of human nature, and then to think of Christ’s human nature as perfect, or at least neutral, and to that extent unlike our actual human nature. Now if Christ’s human nature is perfect, and further, if Christ is the Word become man, the new Adam, then we cannot define Christ’s human nature in terms of some general idea of human nature we have already conceived, for it is the human nature of Christ alone that is the norm and criterion of all true human nature. The same mistake appears to be present in the Chalcedonian concept of the divine nature of Christ, for it too is defined in terms of some general concept of divine nature, which somehow we have already formed in our minds, whereas if Christ is the Son of God become man, then it is the divine nature of Christ which must be our only norm and criterion for the understanding of divine nature. It is not surprising therefore that the Chalcedonian christology, in spite of its intention, should always tend towards a form of dyophysitism, tempting correction in the form of being counterbalanced by a new monophysitism.”

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