PTS Barth Conference, Day 3

Well, it's all over now. And to be perfectly honest, I'm glad - I have a dissertation that needs finishing, ASAP! But, today's conference presentations kept things moving, and the panel was a lot of fun.

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...



Matt Frost said…
Well-said -- and a pleasure to get to know you, as well.
Thanks for the update. I absolutely hate that I had to miss Bowlin's lecture, though I suppose I will listen to it soon.

It would be interesting to see how the virtues might work out with the the category of "habits" especially in light of Barth's actualism. Wish Nimmo was there. I wonder if he sees avenues for making headway in this...
Matt Frost said…
Nathan, good point. I was thinking about the sense of habituated virtue that was being thrown around by certain Barthians, and wondering how it meshes with the Grenzfall. To the extent that we receive and respond to the call of God, and enclose the virtuous call in vocation, and respond faithfully in invocation, we are not done. And perhaps the full concept of habituation of virtue in Thomas really does match the progressive broadening of ethical obedience in Barth, but simply speaking of habits and virtues doesn't get there -- it is easier to define virtues in more fixed forms and then habituate them. And onward to natural law as we don't find it in Aquinas...
Anonymous said…
I always forget to switch that word from pronunciation to spelling when I write it. It's fixed now.

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