Monday, June 21, 2010

PTS Barth Conference in Photos: Days 1-2

So, I don't have the time or energy to do a proper conference report. Instead, here are little teaser descriptions of today's (Monday's) papers, followed by some photos.

(1) Eberhard Busch opened his lecture with comments about Franz Rosenzweig and how Barth's ex-centric and missional ecclesiology is related to Rosenzweig's criticism of "atheistic theology."

(2) Christina Busman maintained that vestiges of how mission was conceived in the Christendom era remain within Barth's Church Dogmatics 4.3.2.

(3) Nate Kerr mentioned off the cuff that his paper is aimed at maintaining the notion that "mission makes the church" against those who want to say that "eucharist makes the church." He also mentioned that Hauerwas replied to his (Kerr) earlier contentions in this direction by saying that he (Hauerwas) didn't know how his (Kerr) contention is different than simply saying that "the church is mission," and that he hoped to explain why through this lecture.

Photo #1 - Here is Matt Bruce (left), one of my colleagues here at PTS (whom you may remember from Barth Blog Conference appearances). He helped to organize this year's conference, and looks like he has things well in hand in this photo from Monday afternoon. He is joined by another of our colleagues (I promised I wouldn't post his name...)

Photo #2 - Attendees file into the conference room for the first session on Monday morning. Excitement is in the air - we are about to hear from Eberhard Busch.

Photos #3-4 - Various PTS folk. David Congdon (Fire and Rose) is prominent in the first.

Photo #5 - John Flett (left) and Mark Lindsay, both of whom will be presenting tomorrow.

Friday, June 18, 2010

George Hunsinger Awarded the 2010 Karl Barth Prize!

That's right! You heard it here first - George Hunsinger has been named as the recipient of the 2010 Karl Barth Prize.

In the Jury's "Explanatory Statement," Bischop Dr. Hans-Jürgen Abromeit, Greifswald, Director Dr. Hans-Anton Drewes, Basel, and Professor Dr. Christiane Tietz, Mainz, conclude as follows:
The UEK thanks and honors George W. Hunsinger for his exemplary theological thinking, for his political testimony and his ecclesial teaching in the sense of a truly “generous orthodoxy”, a world-oriented interpretation and practice of Church Dogmatics.
Students are undoubtedly entitled to do a little basking in the glow of their doktovater's success. ;-)

UPDATE (6.21.2010) - PTS now as an announcement on its webpage.

2010 PTS Barth Conference

The 2010 iteration of Princeton Theological Seminary's Karl Barth Conference, held annually in cooperation with the Karl Barth Society of North America, begins on Sunday. Perhaps I will see some of you there. For the rest, I'll try to do some conference posting.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Death of God? Food for Thought

Harold E. Hatt, “A New Trinity: One God in Three Deaths,” in Religion in Life: A Christian Quarterly of Opinion and Discussion 36 (1967): 67.
Rather than looking to other traditions for inspiration, we need to release the power of our confession that God was in Christ. For example, we need to do away with the notion that religion has nothing to do with business and politics; for however piously religion may pronounce the word “God,” and however unctuously it may affirm its orthodoxy, this idea is the worst form of the affirmation of the death of God. Perhaps some are offended by the death of God because they have felt that God belongs to them by virtue of the fuss they make over him. Therefore, how dare anyone take him away? It is ironic that some of the people who express the most shock that anyone would say God is dead are the very ones who have most insistently and most cold-bloodedly killed God off in some of the basic areas of their lives. To say that God doesn’t belong in certain areas of life is to say that God is dead in those areas, at least.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Word from Barth to Our Political Situation

As I noted in the first ever post on this blog, “my grandmother always taught me not to discuss religion and politics in polite company, and since I’m discarding the bit about not discussing religion, I’m going to try to stick to not discussing politics.” My track record has proven that I wasn’t kidding.

Today, however, I feel compelled to fudge things just a little bit. This post isn’t about politics per se, but it is about what Christians – or, at least, one Christian (Barth) – could say about political reality. For my own part, it seems to me like our contemporary political reality is a particularly striking demonstration of the keenness of Barth’s insight. So, without further ado…

Church Dogmatics 4.1, 446-7:
To live as a man means in effect to be at some point on the long road from the passionate search for a standard by which to judge our own human affairs and those of others, to the discovery of such a standard, its affirmation in the conviction that it is right, the first attempt to apply it to ourselves and to those around, the first successes and failures of this attempt, the hardening of the certainty that this and this alone is the real standard, the more or less happy or bitter experience of the unavoidable conflicts with others and the standards that they have discovered and applied, perhaps the partial triumph of our own law, perhaps partial or total defeat in the attempt to put into it effect, perhaps a final tolerable satisfaction with what has been achieved, perhaps a more or less noble resignation or a more or less conscious skepticism, but always the question whether it has really been worth while, whether we can really and seriously be satisfied with ourselves as the judge of ourselves and others that we willed to be and have been. Again, human life in society, whether on a small scare or a large, means the emergence and conflict, the more or less tolerable harmony and conjunction, of the different judges with their different rights, the battle of the ideas formed and the principles affirmed and the standpoints adopted and the various universal or individual systems, in which at bottom no one understands the language of the others because he is too much convinced of the soundness of his own seriously to want to understand the others, in which, therefore, what will be right as thought and spoken by one will be wrong as received by the others. The battle is between what is supposed to be good and what is supposed to be evil, but in this battle all parties – how can it be otherwise? – think that they are the friends of what is good and the enemies of what is evil. Therefore, quite contrary to the purpose and intention of those who take part in it, the more seriously this battle is waged, the more certainly it will lead to pain and tears and crying, so that at the end we have to ask seriously whether the upshot of it all is not a fresh triumph, not for a supposed evil, but for one which is very real.
Sorry for the length, but it is worth it. I tried to highlight some of the more critical sections, but found that more was highlighted than not – which, of course, defeated the purpose.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Barth on Christ’s Person and Work

Church Dogmatics 4.1, 126-7:
[T]he being of Jesus Christ, the unity of being of the living God and this living man, takes place in the event of the concrete existence of this man. It is a being, but a being in a history. The gracious God is in this history, so is reconciled man, so are both in their unity. And what takes place in this history, and therefore in the being of Jesus Christ as such, is atonement. Jesus Christ is not what He is – very God, very man, very God-man – in order as such to mean and do and accomplish something else which is atonement. But His being as God and man and God-man consists in the completed act of the reconciliation of man with God
Then, in the accompanying fine print:
We must not forget that if in the doctrinal decision of Nicaea and Constantinople and Ephesus and Chalcedon it was a matter of the being of Jesus Christ as such, these decisions had a polemical and critical character, their purpose being to delimit and clarify at a specific point. They are to be regarded as guiding lines for an understanding of His existence and action, not to be used, as they have been used, as stones for the construction of an abstract doctrine of His “person.” … An abstract doctrine of the person of Christ may have its own apparent importance, but it is always an empty form, in which what we have to say concerning Jesus Christ can never be said.
Finally, he turns the screws:
Again, it is almost inevitable that a doctrine of the work of Christ separated from that of His person will sooner or later give rise to the question, and perhaps even impose it, whether this work can be understood as that of someone other than that divine-human person.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Barth, Millinerd, and the Analogia Entis

I wrote this as a comment for a friend's blog where this topic is under discussion. But, when I went to post the comment there, the system would only allow me 5000 characters. So, I'll throw it up here...

Coincidently, I'm not allowing comments on this post. Surf to the link above to discuss.


OK, Matt – here is something of a fuller accounting. I’m going to attempt to address each of your theses – although not all individually and not in your ordering – as well as one or two other things.

(1) You really ought to read Keith Johnson’s new book on this topic. It is excellent, and will undoubtedly become the standard treatment of this issue in Barth, and remain so for a long time. That said, I’m not recapitulating his arguments (per se) in what follows.

(2) Mention of the Nazi’s occurs in this context because it was the Nazis who were on Barth’s mind when he was doing much of his rejecting of natural theology. Thus, their mention does not fall under Godwin’s law; it is, rather, the conveyance of useful historical information. It is always good to be reminded of what effect ideas had in the past when thinking through them again in the present. As a historian, you know this.

(3) In response to your thesis #8, Mark 8.36.

(4) In response to your thesis #9, who needs a bridge? I’m perfectly happy to spoil the Egyptians, and I don’t see why I have to convince them to let me.

(5) In response to your theses #5-6, I couldn’t care less. This has to do with your comment about Barth in a Kantian world as well. Yes, Barth thought within a broadly Kantian framework, but as TFT Torrance has shown, Barth’s positive modes of thinking are profitable within the world of post-Einsteinian philosophy of science as well. In fine, the “Barthian” position does not depend on any particular philosophical framework, even if it has been attached to that framework in any given instance.

(6) In response to your these #10, neither is rejection of natural theology about a particular theological genius, unless you want to count either Jesus or Paul!

(7) In response to theses #1-4, as well as the comments about “proportion.”

(a) You say that the analogy of being does not include God within a larger framework, etc. However, I am at a loss as to how to conceive of proportion in that case, since proportion suggests (requires?) some sort of necessary (ontological?) relation between two things and – especially if we look to proportion in the world of music – an overarching framework within which it is actualized. Language of “infinitely greater” with reference to this proportion language suggests such a framework, since it is a comparative construction. In other words, the infinity under appeal here seems to be a quantitative one, rather than a qualitative one. You will recall that Barth spoke of an infinite difference between God and creation, but also that he called it an “infinite qualitative difference.”

(b) Your language about setting the stage for revelation plays right into this sort of thinking, because it implies that there is a greater framework. More specifically, the doctrine of creation is supposed to supply this broader context. To this end, you cite Colossians 1.16. However, to paraphrase one of my favorite movies of all time, “I’m not quite sure it means what you think it means.” When we look at this verse in context, we realize (and I know you know this) that the “him” by whom all things were created is none other than Jesus Christ. This passage, then, suggests not that creation serves as a framework in which to see Christ, but that Christ serves as a framework in which to see creation. Following upon this…

(8) …and in response to your thesis 7, the whole thing depends upon one’s acceptance or rejection of supralapsarianism. This is certainly a minority report in the tradition, but it is present (or at least foreshadowed), and it certainly builds on some significant pieces of the tradition (i.e., Augustine). But, even if you were to say that none of this counts, it wouldn’t bother me. I have no problem with the notion that a theological truth not previously seen can be revealed by the Holy Spirit on the basis of careful and humble engagement with Scripture, considered in light of its true scope. This is the real battleground. Consequently, and to return to thesis #8, I would contend that your analogy of being cannot be Christological in any meaningful way without accepting this doctrine. Furthermore, John 1, Ephesians 1, and Colossians 1 all make better sense on this reading, and those are just the self-evident passages.

Any sort of analogy that one sets up given such a doctrine would be a christological analogy (not an ontological one, in the first instance), and can therefore only be called an analogy of faith.

So, there you have it. Take the punch of my writing as my being brief and to the point, not argumentative!


- T

Friday, June 04, 2010

John Flett on “Missio Dei” and the Trinity

I had the inestimable privilege of serving as teaching fellow for John Flett’s course on ecclesiology in ecumenical perspective, one of the last courses he taught before leaving PTS. It would be impossible for me to offer an account of whether and to what degree the students in that course learned anything, but I learned quite a bit. Now, Flett’s dissertation has been published, and I am drinking even more deeply from his unique slant on things. Just to be clear (caps are for emphasis - I'm not screaming at you!):

THIS IS A MUST-READ BOOK. Go buy it, and read it two or three times. Now. Get to it!

We should all be thankful to Flett for publishing this volume with Eerdmans, for it is accessibly priced. You therefore have no excuse for failing to buy (and, consequently, read) it. In any case, here is a juicy tidbit to wet your whistles.

John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010): 9-10.
Both the decisive force and fatal flaw of missio Dei rests in its relationship to the doctrine of the Trinity. As propounded to date, the concept is deficiently Trinitarian, and the wide range of its contemporary problems is a direct result of this single lack. Reference to the Trinity distanced mission from every particular human act, but, as now a divine attribute, uncertainty arose over the practical transition from divine being to the human missionary act. Missio Dei’s vacuity emerges at this precise point. Material formulations of God’s connection with the world was reduced to the language of “sending,” with the effect that his “sending” being included more the particular sendings of the Son and Spirit. Missio Dei provides a Trinitarian illusion behind which all manner of non-Trinitarian mediations operate with sanctioned impunity. The Trinitarian formula is pure preamble. This explains how a wide variety of seemingly incongruous positions can all lay claim to the name missio Dei.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Mission: Read CD 4 by July

Well, by June 26, to be exact (don't ask why its this particular date - I have my reasons).

Yes, I'm going on a reading blitz in preparation for (hopefully) beginning to draft some dissertation material later in the summer. To get myself into the right theological imagination, I will read Barth's masterpiece from beginning to end (along with the posthumously published materials). I have my doubts about whether I will finish by my self-imposed deadline, but there is always hope.

I started this project yesterday, and got to page 102 in CD 4.1. Wonder of wonders, I even disagreed with a couple of those pages! Good God, what is happening to me?

In any case, stay tuned. I'm bound to post savory tidbits from time to time, along with some other fare. Updates about the Barth Blog Conference are forthcoming as well.