Tuesday, August 31, 2010

John Flett: Mission and Two World Wars

How many times do I have to say it? Go buy this book!

John Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Eerdmans, 2010): 65.
The marked success of the Western missionary enterprise, coordinated with the failure of Western civilization evident in World War I, established a[n]...historical condition leading to the discovery of the church's missionary nature. Once missions had established Christian communities, what relationship did these younger churches have to the older sending churches? Complex infrastructure, paternalism, and fears concerning the leadership capacity of "native" Christians made it difficult for Western missions to relinquish governing control. World War II proved a boon in this regard. As missionaries found themselves interned, indigenous leadership assumed control over these "orphaned" missions. These historic missions became recognized as churches in their own right. The two world wars equally altered missionary leadership to the ineffectiveness of Christianity in the "sending" countries of the West. As Hartenstein suggests, "We have learned in these last years to think differently about the superiority of European culture. Every heathen throws our own words back into our faces." Missions could no longer draw on some imagined Western superiority. Indeed, they discovered a mission field in their own backyard. Geographical terms were no longer adequate to frame the missionary enterprise. Mission became something true for every church regardless of the particular location. The church does not have a mission, she is missionary.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Center for Barth Studies Book Review

Matthew J. Aragon Bruce reviews Matthias Gockel, Barth and Schleiermacher on the Doctrine of Election: A Systematic-Theological Comparison (OUP, 2006). Be sure to check it out.

Coincidently, Matt Bruce is writing on Barth and Schleiermacher for the upcoming Karl Barth Blog Conference, and Matthias Gockel is serving as his respondent.

Monday, August 23, 2010

General and KBBC Blog Update

Greetings from your friendly neighborhood DET proprietor!

Things are moving quickly around these parts. I’ve been holed up in my library closet the past couple of months writing this darn dissertation, except for a few days that my wife managed to drag me out for family vacations. When I’m not dissertating, I’m editing for the 2010 Karl Barth Blog Conference. Most of the plenary posts have come in (those of you outstanding, I hope you feel enough shame to motivate you, but not enough to paralyze you) and been passed on to respondents. As responses trickle in, David and I will make some decisions as to how to group the plenary posts, and when to schedule the conference weeks. Once such decisions have been made, publicity e-mails will go out, and we can all start gearing up for some good reading and discussion.

Until then, you can expect another Center for Barth Studies review in the near future, and I’ll continue my usual (occasional) posting.

All the best going into a new semester!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Barth on (Neo?) Orthodoxy

This is the conclusion of a longish fine print section wherein Barth traces, from Calvin through the 17th century Reformed scholastics, the way in which sources (various modes of natural theology) other than the scope of Scripture (in Luther’s sense) - and, earlier, even Scripture itself when not properly related to its scope – crept into the theological undertaking, especially where the doctrine of sin (hamartiology) is concerned. The final sentence stands apart, however, as a timeless warning to theologians. It is this toward which I gesture with this post’s title.

Church Dogmatics 4.1, 371-2:
It must be noted that the voice which we have heard is not that of 18th century rationalism but 17th century orthodoxy. This theology had not been taught by the Reformers themselves to learn from Jesus Christ as the substance and centre of Scripture what is the will and Law of God and therefore what the sin of man is. And the theology itself obviously had no power of itself to rectify the omission. For this reason it could and indeed had to think with a growing intensity and speak with an increasing clarity along the lines discussed. At this critical point in its exposition of revelation – hesitantly at first, but then more confidently – it could and had to go beyond the Scripture principle which it proclaimed so loudly to another principle, that of reason. The transition to the Enlightenment and all that that involved was not the terrible innovation that it has often been called. In many respects, and in this respect also, orthodoxy itself was engaged in a wholehearted transition to the Enlightenment – a further proof that the slogan “Back to Orthodoxy,” and even the slogan “Back to the Reformers,” cannot promise us the help that we need to-day. “Back to …” is never a good slogan.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bonhoeffer on the Necessity of Knowing Scripture

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together” in Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works vol 5 (Fortress, MN: 2005): 63.

“We must once again get to know the Scriptures as the reformers and our forebears knew them. We must not shy away from the work and the time required for this task. We must become acquainted with the Scriptures first and foremost for the sake of our salvation. But, besides this, there are enough weighty reasons to make this challenge absolutely urgent for us. For example, how are we ever to gain certainty and confidence in our personal deeds and church activity if we do not stand on solid biblical ground? It is not our heart that determines our course, but God’s Word. But who in this day has any proper awareness of the need for evidence from Scripture? How often do we hear innumerable arguments ‘from life’ and ‘from experience’ to justify the most crucial decisions? Yet the evidence of Scripture is excluded even though it would perhaps point in exactly the opposite direction. It is not surprising, of course, that those who attempt to discredit the evidence of Scripture are the people who themselves do not seriously read, know, or make a thorough study of the Scriptures. But those who are not willing to learn how to deal with the Scriptures for themselves are not Protestant* Christians.”
I can’t help but feel that these words from Bonhoeffer are as pertinent today as they were when he wrote them. Although there is cause to lament the growing biblical illiteracy of society, we ought to be positively depressed by that which runs rampant in our churches.

*Note: The German term translated as “Protestant” is actually evangelischer, which some of you will recognize from this blog’s title, and whose direct translation is “evangelical.” Although the term has wider application in Germany that justifies the translation given, the alternate translation perhaps puts a finer point on things in the North American context.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

New Center for Barth Studies Book Review

Kimlyn J. Bender reviews Colin E. Gunton, The Barth Lectures (London: T&T Clark, 2007). Be sure to check it out.

Monday, August 02, 2010

John Flett: Church and Mission at the Turn of the 20th Century

There are theo-bloggers with a much wider audience than I have. No one could confuse me with a theological trend-setter. I'm just not hip enough. But, if I have earned any theological capital with my work here at DET, if I have earned any respect as a thoughtful Christian, allow me to cash that in now. Go buy this book. Here is another juicy bit to wet your whistles.

John Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Eerdmans, 2010): 61-2.
The issue of the relationship between the institution of the church and missions arises at the turn of the twentieth century...Churches and missionary societies were distinctive entities. Missions occurred apart from the church. While the church could not exist without worship, the same did not hold for missionary activity. A church could exist without reference to mission. Worship was an act demanded of all the faithful; mission was the exclusive responsibility of special individuals called and equipped for the task. This essential distinction produced a relationship whereby mission existed as a derivative function of a pre-existent church. This practical question merely manifested a deeper theological problem. To quote Jüngel, the "theological distortion in missionary practice" was consequent on a "theoretical gap in the doctrine of the church." Volunteer missionary societies developed because the ecclesiologies of the period proved insufficient for the missionary task. The disjunction of church from mission does not merely devalue mission with respect to the life of the community; it indicates that the church misconceives herself. She is too static, that is, not oriented to the purpose for which she exists.
P.S. I love that picture.