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Showing posts from May, 2011

Bultmann to Barth, and the rest of us

I’ve been slowly making my way through the Barth/Bultmann correspondence, or at least the English edition. My close friend, colleague, co-editor and – let’s be honest – co-conspirator has been generating a consistent buzzing in my ear about Bultmann for some time, so I figured I should pay at least a modicum of attention. The following passage is from a letter from Bultmann to Barth. I’m not clear as to whether the work of Barth’s to which Bultmann responds in the Göttingen dogmatics cycle, or the Münster. This doesn’t really matter since I’m interested in what Bultmann says for material reasons, rather than solely for questions of Barth interpretation.

Without further ado, here it is: from letter 47. Bold is me:[Y]ou have failed to enter into (latent but radical) debate with modern philosophy and naively adopted the older ontology from patristic and scholastic dogmatics. What you say (and often only want to say) is beyond your terminology, and a lack of clarity and sobriety is frequ…

Augustine and the Donatists (2): Baptism and the Church in North Africa

Cf. the series introduction, Cyprian and the Novatians (1), Cyprian and the Novatians (2), Augustine and the Donatists (1).

Note on sources: My discussion makes use of the following resources: With reference to the history, I’ll largely be following the first volume of Justo Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity, and for the theology I’ll be following the discussion in Everett Fergusson’s Baptism in the Early Church. Quotes from Augustine are from his 185th epistle, which can be found in St. Augustin the Writings Against the Manicheans and Against the Donatists: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Part 4.

Augustine and the Donatists (cont.)
Like the Donatists, Augustine claimed to be the true heir of Cyprian. This is both accurate and inaccurate. It is inaccurate insofar as Augustine was not as rigorous as Cyprian, both in terms of enforcing general morality and in terms of sacramental recognition. For instance, while Cyprian was willing to grant weakness in the congr…

Augustine and the Donatists (1): Baptism and the Church in North Africa

Cf. the series introduction, Cyprian and the Novatians (1), Cyprian and the Novatians (2).

Note on sources: My discussion makes use of the following resources: With reference to the history, I’ll largely be following the first volume of Justo Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity, and for the theology I’ll be following the discussion in Everett Fergusson’s Baptism in the Early Church. Quotes from Augustine are from his 185th epistle, which can be found in St. Augustin the Writings Against the Manicheans and Against the Donatists: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Part 4.

Augustine and the Donatists
Augustine’s debate with the Donatists was in many ways simply the continuation of Cyprian’s battle concerning rebaptism and the Novatians. Once more, North Africa was faced with a schismatic crisis. This one, however, would – despite imperial attempts to suppress the schismatics – persist until the Muslim conquest of North Africa.

Once again, there was a period of persec…

Cyprian and the Novatians (2): Baptism and the Church in North Africa

Cf. the series introduction, Cyprian and the Novatians (1).

Note on sources: My discussion makes use of the following resources: With reference to the history, I’ll largely be following the first volume of Justo Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity, and for the theology I’ll be following the discussion in Everett Fergusson’s Baptism in the Early Church.

Cyprian and the Novatians (cont.)
If you remember from the previous installment, the problem that arose from Decius’ persecution was that it created the “confessors,” whose moral authority began to conflict with that of the church’s duly appointed hierarchy. This was especially a problem in North Africa. Cyprian became bishop of Carthage shortly before the persecution began. When it did, he decided to take the church’s administration into hiding to keep it intact and provide remote guidance – sort of like the emergency plans that attempt to keep the president and other key figures safe and, consequently, the government still functioning.…

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend…

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

So, I seems to be on a mini-series role around here lately. First, I did the series on Helmut Gollwitzer and theological engagement with the Marxist criticism of religion. Now I’ve undertaken one on baptism and ecclesiology in patristic North Africa. This series was prompted by David Congdon’s recent post, Christological Unity and Pneumatological Plurality: A Theological Reflection on the Church, so be sure to check that out.

Now, here’s some of what went on in the rest of the theo-blogosphere:

“Grad Student Deconstructs Take-Out Menu” - A sad and cautionary tale about the dangers of graduate school. A cognate danger would beset the theological student who dares to attend a church for regular worship. Sometimes it is difficult to turn off one’s critical cognitive processes.“Reserving the Sacrament” - Jason Ingalls offers one of the more convincing arguments for reserving the sacrament tha…

Cyprian and the Novatians (1): Baptism and the Church in North Africa

Cf. the series introduction.

Note on sources: My discussion makes use of the following resources: With reference to the history, I’ll largely be following the first volume of Justo Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity, and for the theology I’ll be following the discussion in Everett Fergusson’s Baptism in the Early Church.

Cyprian and the Novatians
In the late 3rd century CE, Christians were starting to get a bit soft. Christianity was not yet what you would call legal, and it certainly wasn’t yet the official religion of the Roman Empire, but it was generally tolerated. Local persecutions would break out from time to time as mobs got angry about something or another, but there was little systematic, imperial pressure applied. At least, that is, until Decius took the purple in 249.

Decius inherited a bad situation: there was an economic downturn underway, and barbarians threatened the empire’s borders. It wasn’t that Decius was particularly cruel. He just happened to be a traditionalis…

Introduction: Baptism and the Church in North Africa

In my continual quest to establish myself as the dry, boring professor-type of the theo-blogosphere, I thought it might be interesting to do some history of doctrine. This series is adapted from a lecture I gave in a class at Princeton Theological Seminary this past January. More currently speaking, I was inspired to post this material by David Congdon’s recent discussion of church unity, entitled: “Christological Unity and Pneumatological Plurality: A Theological Reflection on the Church.” David argues in this post that the sort of visible (organizational / political unity) unity that ecumenical work tends to promote may not be the most desirable sort, if it is desirable at all.

In the comments to his post, David encountered the following critical comment:I have to utterly disagree. Only when the Church was already shattered in a thousand pieces could one think or say this, that is, in the last two hundred years. That Christological-pneumatic unity is never phenomenologically visible…

Frei on the Literal Sense and Truth

Hans w. Frei, Theology and Narrative: Selected Essays, 166.I plead then for the primacy of the literal sense then and, it seems to me, its puzzling but firm relationship to a truth toward which we cannot thrust. The modus significandi will never allow us to say what the res significata is. Nonetheless, we can affirm that in the Christian confession of divine grace, the truth is such that the text is sufficient. There is a fit due to the mystery of grace between truth and text. But that, of course, is a very delicate and very constant operation to find that fit between textuality and truth. The Reformers saw the place where that fit was realized in the constant reconstitution of the Church where the word is rightly preached and where the sacraments are rightly administered. There is where that fit takes place and there alone – and there without any guarantees. It is a very straight path. It is a tightrope to walk toward a very narrow gate. One constantly has to look with unease to the …

Kathryn Tanner on Eternal Life and Action

Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity, 122-3.
Eternal life amounts to an unconditional imperative to action in that this life in God remains an empowering source of our action for the good, whatever the obstacles and failings of Christians. The imperative to act is also unconditional in that it is not affected by considerations of success. Irrespective of any likelihood that one’s actions to better the world will succeed, and even though one knows all one’s achievements will come to nothing with the world’s end, one is obligated to act simply because this is the only way of living that makes sense in light of one’s life in God. Without primary concern for the consequences of one’s actions, one acts out of gratitude for the life in God one has been given, one acts out of joyful recognition that a certain course of action is part of those good gifts that stem from a special relationship with God…

In another sense, action is a conditional imperative as well; one is also acting i…

Johnson on Barth’s Mature Analogy of Being-In-Action

The “analogy of being-in-action” language comes from page 225. But, here is a nice, tidy summary in a sentence of Barth’s position. Keith has done a great job leading his argument to this point, and you really MUST read his book if you want to understand how analogy functions in Barth – contrary to how von Balthasar saw things, along with those who have more or less followed his interpretation. I’m tempted to do a lengthy blog series just on this one chapter of Keith’s book, but I don’t want you to hear it from me – I want you to hear it from Keith. Go buy and read his book. Italics below are from Keith.

Keith L. Johnson, Karl Barth and the Analogia entis, T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology (London; T&T Clark, 2010).Barth embraces an analogy of being, but his is an analogy of human being in Christ, and it takes the form of correspondence in action as the Christian finds her true being in her act of cooperating with the prophetic work of Jesus Christ in the outworking…

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend…

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Time for another link roundup, and there has been a lot happening. So, I’m going to break this down into a few categories…

Here at DET: Helmut Gollwitzer on Theology's Engagement with Marxist Criticism of Religion04.26.2011 - Part One04.27.2011 - Part Two04.28.2011 - Part Three04.29.2011 - Part Four05.02.2011 - Part Five05.03.2011 - Part Six05.04.2011 - Part Seven05.06.2011 - Part EightRecent Theo-blog Fracas over JKAS“Can hope be wrong? On the new universalism” – James KA Smith (JKAS) started things off with this rather ill-conceived post, picking up on the recent Rob Bell controversy. Regardless of where you stand on the whole “universalism issue,” Smith should have been much, much more careful…“Ressentiment and the ‘new universalism’” - Halden over at Inhabitatio Dei was the first on the scene in responding to JKAS at some length. The reader should be aware that there is a history b…

Helmut Gollwitzer Miniseries: Lessons for Theology from Encounter with the Marxist Criticism of Religion, Part 8

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This is the final installment of an eight-part (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight) miniseries on the concluding chapter of Helmut Gollwitzer’s The Christian Faith and the Marxist Criticism of Religion (Scribner, 1970).


For Gollwitzer, the Marxist criticism of religion sets six tasks for theology. Having treated them, he concludes with two more points that Christians and theologians should bear in mind when engaging with the Marxist criticism of religion.

Harkening back to the discussion in the last installment, Gollwitzer notes that for Christianity to base its message on humanity’s “need” would be to play into the Marxist criticism: “That God is the means to an end, even if an ineffective one, is a point in which Feuerbach and Marx are one” (167). Of course, this breaks down when faced with a more sophisticated way of understanding the Christian God, one based on value and not need: “Anyone who wishes adequately to understand biblical texts must…understand that there are…

Helmut Gollwitzer Miniseries: Lessons for Theology from Encounter with the Marxist Criticism of Religion, Part 7

This is the seventh of an eight-part (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight) miniseries on the concluding chapter of Helmut Gollwitzer’s The Christian Faith and the Marxist Criticism of Religion (Scribner, 1970).


For Gollwitzer, the Marxist criticism of religion sets six tasks for theology. The sixth of these tasks pertains to the question of meaning. Explanations of the world – worldviews, or metaphysics – attempt to provide security by means of bestowing meaning on brute phenomena. Ancient Christianity’s worldview/metaphysic was theological in two senses: first, because it made of use of God in explaining the world; second, because it viewed its explanation as identical with that which provides the world with meaning. Marxist makes use of science in a similar way, that is, as an explanation of the world that attempts to provide meaning. In the end, Gollwitzer says, “Marxism is a kind of positive Stoicism; more meaning [than that provided by science] is unfortunately not ou…

Helmut Gollwitzer Miniseries: Lessons for Theology from Encounter with the Marxist Criticism of Religion, Part 6

This is the sixth of an eight-part (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight) miniseries on the concluding chapter of Helmut Gollwitzer’s The Christian Faith and the Marxist Criticism of Religion (Scribner, 1970).


For Gollwitzer, the Marxist criticism of religion sets six tasks for theology. The fifth of these tasks concerns a renewed consideration of what it means for theology to be a science. Gollwitzer recognizes that the tradition has long considered theology to be a science, and he affirms that status. Or, he at least defends its claim to be scientific even if it not strictly speaking an independent science: Theology indeed participates in the other sciences, has a nexus with them, uses them, welcomes them in its own sphere, inasmuch as here also, for example, philosophy and history in the strict sense are studied. It is certainly not really ‘a’ science, but (in this resembling medicine), a sphere in which different sciences are united by their service of a determinate pur…

Helmut Gollwitzer Miniseries: Lessons for Theology from Encounter with the Marxist Criticism of Religion, Part 5

This is the fifth of an eight-part (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight) miniseries on the concluding chapter of Helmut Gollwitzer’s The Christian Faith and the Marxist Criticism of Religion (Scribner, 1970).


For Gollwitzer, the Marxist criticism of religion sets six tasks for theology. The fourth of these tasks continues Gollwitzer’s sally against apologetics. The particular form of apologetics that attracts Gollwitzer’s ire now, however, is that which would link Christianity with religion as a general category and, attempting to demonstrate that religion is a necessary facet of human culture and development, thus hope to secure Christianity’s pedigree. As true as such claims may be about religion, and Gollwitzer is willing to entertain that possibility, he provides four reflections on the issue.

Such arguments cannot defeat the immanentism of the Marxist criticism. To begin, who cares about this immanentism when leveled at religion? Christianity has no dog in that fight.…