PTS Barth Conference, Day 3
First, some links: here are my discussions of Day 1 and Day 2. But, I'm no longer the only game in town. Matt Frost (who I have enjoyed getting to know at the conference) and Nathan Maddox both have stuff up. Broaden your horizons and check them out.
There was a single "regular" session this morning, on the topic of Divine and Human Action (As an aside, I'm immensely disappointed that there was no session on ecclesiology; one would think - and would be correct in assuming - that this is not an insignificant matter in an ecumenical engagement).
Holly Taylor Coolman went first. She is an interesting personage to me becuase she is an alumna of both Wheaton and PTS, like myself (although, then - unlike myself - she went to Duke). She framed her discussion as a consideration of divine and human interaction that is broader or more general than the consideration of justification and grace undertaken yesterday. Her focus was on a particular section of Thomas’ Summa, namely, the treatise on the law in the prima secunda. In Coolman’s explication, the primary interest in Thomas’ discussion of law is human happiness, that is to say, human goods and ends. Law is one of the ways that Thomas understands God to direct us to those good ends. Divine law is simply a way of talking about God’s activity in directing / inclining creatures to their proper ends. Coolman’s rationale in focussing on this material is that she thinks Thomas’ treatise on the law can serve as a good introduction to his thought. The slightly more constructive edge of her treatment is to suggest that Thomas’ understanding of analogia entis is complemented by an analogia legis.
John Bowlim was next, and made a potentially ground-breaking presentation. Bowlin argued that Barth and Thomas assume a social theory of obligation, along with a number of derrivative notions. The bulk of the presentation undertook an explication of Barth, centered in the ethical materian in Church Dogmatics 2.2, to make clear how obligation works for him. On the docket were discussions of divine command, human obedience, and the relation between the two. Just to give you a sense of the timbre of this lecture, at one point Bowlin explicated the logic of Barth’s thinking about command and obligation with reference to Hegel’s master / slave dialectic. Indeed, Bowlin was particularly good in parsing Barth’s logic in a way that is both faithful to Barth and also in the language of ethics (more commonly conceived) rather than dogmatics. As a consequence, he grasps and highlighted much thinking that I suspect Barth engaged in preparing this material, but which remained tucked away behind the text. Bowlin’s constructive thrust - and here is where the potential lies - was to argue that the next step in following Barth’s line of thinking would be to work out a thoroughly modern account of the virtues. Yep, you read that correctly. This will be an important essay to get into print. I'm very sympathetic, but this will be difficult given Barth's actualism. But if anyone can pull it off, Bowlin is that one, and he is well situated to do it (i.e., he teaches at PTS with Bruce McCormack and George Hunsinger).
Finally, there was the Panel Discussion. Only Amy Marga was missing, and Bruce McCormack chaired. There was some good discussion on a wide number of topics. Eventually the conversation stabilized on the question of how to properly relate theology and philosophy. Hopefully they figure out some way to incorporate this discussion into the published proceedings.
Well, that's it for another year. Hopefully I'll get to make the trip back to PTS for next year's conference. It was great to meet and talk with lots of interesting and smart people. For now, however, there is that pesky dissertation...