Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gollwitzer Intermission and Background Reading: Guardian Series on Karl Marx

Those of you who have been following my series on Helmut Gollwitzer's engagement with Marxist criticism of religion, may be happy to learn that I won't be posting over the weekend. That gives you some time to catch up on the four parts (one, two, three, four) of the eight-part series already posted.

You might also be interested in learning about a series that Peter Thompson at "The Guardian" is doing on Karl Marx. I haven't worked through it all yet, and there may be more installments coming (in which case, I'll try to update this post), but it's certainly all very interesting. Here are links to the different parts, with titles so you have an idea of what you're getting into:
  1. Religion, the wrong answer to the right question
  2. How Marxism came to dominate socialist thinking
  3. Men make their own history
  4. 'Workers of the world, unite!'
  5. The problem of power


Friday, April 29, 2011

Helmut Gollwitzer Miniseries: Lessons for Theology from Encounter with the Marxist Criticism of Religion, Part 4

This is the fourth 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 third of these tasks is an elaboration on the second, which was a discussion of apologetics. Gollwitzer returns now to what he considers to be a very dubious – perhaps the most dubious – form of apologetics, namely, that build on a “God of the gaps” or on a dues ex machine. The problem with this approach isn’t, strictly speaking, that the modern age witnessed the end of the regnant metaphysics that made such argument possible, although Gollwitzer recognizes that this is the case. Instead, this approach is problematic because
To argue against our opponents with this sort of necessity of God was from the beginning a self-misunderstanding of Christian faith (153).
Here is how Gollwitzer parses the nitty-gritty:
Marxism…sums up the results of this end of the great tradition of scholastic thinking in the analogia entis in so far as the latter had claimed to find by speculation the rational ground of earthly being in the divine summum ens (most real being), and therefore conversely to pass by inference from the conditioned to the unconditioned. The presuppositions of faith concealed in these apparently rational operations have long been evident, and give Marxism the opportunity of unmasking this kind of philosophy as disguised theology (ibid).
Gollwitzer is actually being nice to theologians in the scholastic tradition. He recognizes that those theologians worked out of faith’s conviction, which served as a ground for their thought-experiments with reference to God. The problem is that they were not clear about this foundation, nor were they careful to distinguish how this foundation fundamentally sets them apart from broader metaphysical inquiry in the traditions of Plato and Aristotle. The result of these failures is this: when the metaphysics to which theology had been joined was seen to fail, it was not at all self-evident that theology should not ultimately and necessarily fail as well.

The flip side of this is Gollwitzer’s recognition – in the concluding sentence of the above quote –that ultimately the sort of metaphysical inquiry established in the tradition is a form of philosophy rather than theology. For Gollwitzer, this applies to all forms of idealism. Consequently,
Christian theology must see in the Marxist identification of Christianity and idealism a warning for itself not to bind the Christian faith for better or for worse to idealistic metaphysics. It does this, for example, so long as it includes the faith in creation under the inquiry about an explanation of the world. For then if the article of our faith about the creation is understood as an assertion of reason, God is a function of our self-understanding and our understanding of the world… (154).
Here is the payoff:
In view of the idealistic influence on Christian thinking since the time of early Catholicism, the end of Christian metaphysics demands a thorough-going theological self-criticism, to which Marxism (with its interpretation of Christianity as a special case of idealism and idealism as a special case of theology), has given a fruitful impulse (ibid; bold is mine).
Christians owe thanks to Marxism, in other words, for so driving us back to a consideration of our particularity by unceremoniously lumping us in as a species within a broader genus of thought.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Helmut Gollwitzer Miniseries: Lessons for Theology from Encounter with the Marxist Criticism of Religion, Part 3

This is the third 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 second of these tasks is to reassess the practice of apologetics. Gollwitzer makes a distinction between two types of apologetics. On the one hand is what we might call “better” apologetics. This form of apologetics is necessary for theology, and it is concerned with
going beyond the positive exposition of the meaning of the statements of Christian faith, to a polemical rejection of the appeal of Marxism to so-called contradictions between Christian faith and modern science, to challenge the validity of the opponent’s arguments, and so on (152).
It is clear that Gollwitzer has in mind here something like defensive apologetics, aimed at showing the plausibility, or the non-contradiction of Christian faith with life in the modern world. In other words, the task of this apologetics is to establish and maintain the distinction between methodological atheism in the natural sciences, for instance, and dogmatic atheism as a worldview. Worth noting is Gollwitzer’s proviso that any sort of “God of the gaps” apologetics is a non-starter and ought to be rejected.

Another form of apologetics is what we might call “bad” apologetics. As opposed to “better” or “defensive” apologetics, we might call this one “worse” or “offensive” apologetics. In this form, apologetics attempts – to put things crassly – to argue people into the Christian faith. Such is simply not possible, for reasons that will be explained more thoroughly in Gollwitzer’s next point (to be treated in the next installment of this series, Part 4). Suffice it for now to raise a warning:
apologetics cannot afford to attempt to adduce supports for Christian faith, which can then be pulled around, and whose questionable character discredits Christian faith (ibid).


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Helmut Gollwitzer Miniseries: Lessons for Theology from Encounter with the Marxist Criticism of Religion, Part 2

This is the second 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 first of these tasks is to discern whether and to what extent the Marxist criticism of Christianity is on to something. So Gollwitzer:
[T]his criticism of religion makes us aware of a transition which is repeatedly to be observed in the various epochs of Church history – a transition from a critical challenging of the existing order by the Christian message to an ideological support of the existing order (151).
In other words, the Marxist criticism of Christianity, falling as it does under a broader criticism of religion in general, serves to reveal the way in which the church has lost its prophetic voice. Rather than confronting the powers and injustices of this world, the church all too often becomes the opiate of the masses. A true, living church can never be this, but a dead church always is. Along these same lines, the Marxist criticism of religion also
draws our attention to the singular limitation of most Christian movements of renewal…they limit the thrust of their attack and challenge to the sphere of the private person, remain socially conservative, attacking the heathenism of individuals, but not of institutions…the legitimate application of the gospel to the individual…runs in fact precisely and inevitably the risk of encouraging the illegitimate modes of piety, a selfish religious desire for salvation, a flight from the world, and a fatalistic submission and the like (ibid; bold is mine).
These days, this is perhaps especially truth in the North American context, whose Christianity has been decisively shaped by ‘great awakenings’ and revivals, and whose most pervasive religious impulse seems to be the desire for individual salvation - which translates quite easily, I might add, into a desperate craving for the assurance of political or social safety. Of course, all these limitations and dangerous impulses fed into the Marxist criticism of religion:
The Marxist accusations are a catalogue of actual Christian degenerations. One should attempt to read the theological and edifying literature of the nineteenth century with the eyes of a man like Karl Marx, before whose keen vision the trend of the times and the problems of the present and the future were evident in all their grimness, while there he could find almost nothing but blind ignorance! This ignorance he saw to be based on a piety which he all too hastily took for the real thing (151-2; bold is mine).
The corollary of this is the following: if the church wishes to avoid criticisms from Marxist or other atheistic quarters, it must purge itself of these dangerous mutations and demonstrate that the piety in question here is not, in fact, the real thing.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Helmut Gollwitzer Miniseries: Lessons for Theology from Encounter with the Marxist Criticism of Religion, Part 1

I’ve been slowly working my way through Helmut Gollwitzer’s The Christian Faith and the Marxist Criticism of Religion (Scribner, 1970), over the past while. I did one post on it previously. I’ve enjoyed the read as a whole, but the last chapter stopped me in my tracks. For in this chapter, entitled “Christian Encounter with Atheism,” Gollwitzer teases out the lessons that theology ought to learn from an engagement with the Marxist criticism of religion. So, I’ve decided to put together an eight-part miniseries (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight) on this chapter, highlighting the six points Gollwitzer makes, along with a treatment of his introductory remarks and his conclusion – which provide a context for the six points.

Kait Dugan recently teased me, saying - in a clearly derogatory manner - that my blog is "largely occupied with announcements and book excerpts." Perhaps this mini-series will go some way in answering her imprecations.

Gollwitzer argues that Marxism’s atheism and its Messianism (utopianism) are mutually implicating. Messianism provides a way of overcoming the crisis opened by atheism, and atheism is confirmed by that overcoming insofar as it demonstrates that no God is necessary for humanity’s salvation. So Gollwitzer:
[T]he one confirms the other: because God does not exist, a world must be constructed, first in thought, and then in reality, in which man does not need God, and so no longer regrets God’s non-existence…On the other hand: because this man has now decided to see his dignity in not requiring God, and can come to fulfillment without God, therefore he must also show that God does not exist (146).
What should be the Christian response to this constellation of issues? In what way should Christianity go about engaging with Marxism or, we might say more simply in a more contemporary North American context, atheistic secularism [Ed. note: Gollwitzer’s text is interesting as it stands, but don’t get hung up on his reference to Marxism of Communism – his discussion applies far more broadly]? Gollwitzer notes that the mere existence of a truly Christian community raises a question within such a society as a phenomena for which there is no explanation, undermining that society’s theoretical certainty about itself.

However, there is much more to say about this encounter, for it is an encounter that equally raises question to the Christian community about the truth of its existence. I leave you with the following length (to say the least!) quote. As always, bold is me (underlining as well, for even more emphasis):
[Christianity] must win from its faith the inner freedom to judge its own history relentlessly under the accusations of Communism, without thereby losing its glad confidence in its message, without prejudice and without anger admitting the Communists to the brotherhood in the solidarity of the godless, without thereby losing its freedom and courage to make clear and emphatic contradiction.

Above all, this community will have to abstain from the indignation which is widely felt today in Church circles, as if atheism were a new-fangled and vicious invention of the Communists. The original thing in it is merely that here atheism is taken seriously, whereas the Church and its position in society have long depended on the fact that the world around it is indeed atheist, but would not wish to do without its Christian decoration… But now, on the contrary, the consequences are drawn from the already long-present atheism of natural scientists, historians, psychologists and sociologist, from the materialism of the capitalist economy, from Christianity’s lack of influence on manufacture, commerce, and politics, from the schizophrenic division of man into a weekday heathen and a Sunday Christian, from the failure to implement Christian social doctrines (the gulf between white and coloured peoples, not bridged, but rather deepened by Christianity, the merely verbal reservations about the whole capitalist development)… This shatters the former feeling of security of the church, which had ever and again comforted itself with the secure anchorage of Christian morals among the people, and with the respect for Chritianity at least as a cultural and sentimental factor among those who were not practising [sic] Christians, and which therefore made confident claim to respect and privilege. Communism is without respect for what merely exists; it suspects that it might already belong to the past, and allows it to continue in existence only when it can prove its right to do so. This disrespectful and drastic questioning arouses alarm and indignation in the Church. This is a reaction of the ecclesiastical ‘flesh’… The spiritual reaction against it must consist in this, that the Church should not only admit, but inwardly accept the fact that this is how things stand, that Christianity is no longer taboo, but that every conventional status and reputation has been taken from it… The Church must take in the fact that the world no longer takes it from granted. But by the fact of ceasing to do so, the world is taking the Church with new seriousness – or at least there is given the possibility that it will take it with new seriousness. The Church can only inwardly accept this situation, if it understands the burden of being called in question by the world around it as God’s question addressed to it, as the question addressed to it in judgment and grace by its own Lord, who wishes thereby to revive it (148-50).


Monday, April 25, 2011

Head's Up

Greetings dear and gentle readers,

This is just a quick note to let you know that I'll be embarking upon a 2-week long series tomorrow. So, stay tuned.

Until then,



Saturday, April 23, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

I would like to begin by drawing attention to two recent posts here at DET on theological pedagogy. If you missed these the first time around, be sure to check them out now - and, if you are a theological student or educator, I'd love to get more feedback from you about these posts:

Now, on to the round-up. As always, the order of presentation is simply the order in which I found these various posts.

  • "The Surprise of Reconciliation", and "Coming Home From Exile" - Good friend and blog collaborator, Chris TerryNelson, posts two of his recent sermons. The first deals with Acts 10, and the second with Ezekiel 37.
  • "Jesus Delays" - Another good friend and friend of the blog, Jason Ingalls, adds a sermon on John 11.
  • "Spiritual Malpractice" - More from Jason Ingalls, this time reflecting on the many dangers and difficulties of pastoral care.
  • "I've Been Thinking About the Resurrection" - John Drury, who successfully defended his dissertation here at PTS a week or so ago, gives us some reflections - and links to further reflections - on the resurrection. They are definitely worth checking out; he did just write a dissertation on the topic.
  • "What about Sola Scriptura?" - Roger Olson thinks about sola scriptura, whether it is a viable affirmation and, if so, how it is so.
  • "Parenting: goodness as happiness" - Meaty reflections from the parenting trenches by PTS MDiv blogger, Melissa Florer-Bixler.
  • "Living out of the future" - GFCFC ([G]ood [F]riend, [C]olleague, and [F]requent [C]ollaborator) - David Congdon - emphasizes the "semi" bit of his semi-retirement from blogging by posting this Lenten homily on Mark 10.
  • "George Hunsinger on Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance" - A nearly 3-minute video of Hunsinger talking about the relationship between Barth and Torrance. Longtime readers may remember the friendly exchange between Ben Myers and myself on the topic.
  • "Off the shelf" - Speaking of Ben, he recently did a vlog about some of the things he has been reading lately.
  • "The Trouble with Ayn Rand" - It's hard to accept that there is a political movement afoot in our society, supported by a not inconsiderable number of purported Christians, that looks to Rand for inspiration. In this article, David Bentley Hart reminds us that he has his uses. Here is an excerpt:
    Ayn Rand always provokes a rather extravagant reaction from me, and probably for purely ideological reasons. For instance, I like the Sermon on the Mount. She regarded its prescriptions as among the vilest ever uttered. I suspect that charity really is the only way to avoid wasting one’s life in a desert of sterile egoism. She regarded Christian morality as a poison that had polluted the will of Western man with its ethos of parasitism and orgiastic self-oblation. And, simply said, I cannot find much common ground with someone who believed that the principal source of human woe over the last twenty centuries has been a tragic shortage of selfishness.
  • Paul Nimmo now in paperback! - I recently learned that Paul Nimmo's highly significant and, sadly, equally highly priced book has just been issued in a much more affordable paperback. This is one of those recent Barth studies books that everyone ought to read and engage deeply with, even if you might finally disagree. So, go get your copy!
  • "Observing The Gospel Coalition (Pt. 3 of 3)" - Brian LePort offers some critical reflections on a recent Gospel Coalition conference that he attended.
  • "New Center for Barth Studies Book Review" - Last but not least, be sure to check out the recently posted review of David Haddorff's new book - Christian Ethics as Witness - by friend of the blog and 2-time Barth Blog Conference contributor, Scott Jackson.
As always, don't forget about the vast amount of material waiting for you hear at DET, like past Karl Barth Blog Conference stuff, or the list of popular posts.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Karl Barth: “the Christian life is a spiritual one”

Karl Barth, The Christian Life: Church Dogmatics IV,4 Lecture Fragments (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, trans.; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981):
In modern usage the term “spiritual” has wrongly been put in embarrassing proximity to the word “religious.” It should be related to this word only indirectly and not very firmly. What has been forgotten is that, among Christians at least, the word “spiritual” can denote only a new definition of the human spirit, of the whole of this spirit, by the Holy Spirit, so that it cannot refer to a variation or modification of human spiritual activity as such… Christians can be, but do not have to be, particularly religious people. Similarly, particularly religious people can become and be Christians, but if they do they are not Christians in their quality as specially religious people. They are fortunate if their being such does not prevent them from becoming and being Christians! Invocation of God the Father by his children, the spiritual Christian life, commences and continues as a human life within the whole life of the spirit and religion, to which it is always referred and with which it is always linked. Nevertheless, it will always represent and be a new thing. Religiosity does not need to call upon a fatherly God. Hence it does not need any special movement and act of God. It does not need any baptism, sending, outpouring, and gift of the Spirit. It may work itself out in this way and take this form. But the spiritual life lives in invocation of God the Father and would be null and void without this special movement and act of this God, without the work of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Upcoming Lecture: Woodward Theological Society

It's turning into a week for announcements, it seems.

I've been thinking about Detroit much more lately due to the NHL playoffs - as the badge at the bottom of my blog indicates, I'm a big Red Wings fan. But I have lately been given another reason to think about Detroit. Some of you may remember my previous post about a new theological society starting up in the metro-Detroit area. As a native of SE Michigan (hence, Red Wings fan), I am excited about this initiative and want to see is succeed.

If you are theologically inclined and are in the area, please consider giving WTS your support. One concrete way that you can support WTS is by attending an upcoming lecture. At 5pm on May 7th, at 616 W. Hancock in Detroit, WTS is sponsoring a lecture by Mary Healy S.T.D, Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. WTS describes the lecture's content as follows:
Her talk, The Hermeneutic of Jesus, argues for a Christological reading of the Old Testament taking a detailed look at Jesus’ own manner of interpreting the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark.
Surf over to the announcement on the WTS website for more information.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Analytic Theology Course Award Program

Looking for funding for a theological project? Interested in the intersection of philosophy and theology? Want to put that interest to work in your teaching? Bring all these things together, and check out the Analytic Theology Course Award Program. There is some serious money involved here, so take a close look. Application deadlines is June 1, 2011.

Here is some more info from the official website:
The course award program is intended to stimulate the development and implementation of courses, or course segments, in analytic theology at divinity schools and departments of theology and religious studies. The program will provide five annual awards to faculty members who would like to develop and teach a course of one of the following two types:
  • Revised Required Courses – A required graduate survey course that does not currently contain a segment on analytic theology, and which the applicant would like to revise so that it does.
  • New Courses in Analytic Theology – A course dedicated to analytic theology. To qualify, such courses must, if selected, be taught for credit within major degree programs at the institution. Courses must qualify for credit towards a graduate degree in theology or religion and be a full semester, trimester, or quarter in duration. In addition, applicants must provide evidence from the overseeing administrator insuring that the course can be taught at least twice during the four year span after the course award is made.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why Writing Matters in Theological Study

First, an admission: I am almost entirely self-taught as a writer. I feel comfortable and competent in only four genres of writing: correspondence, blog posts, sermons, and academic essays. Outside of these, I am a babe in the woods, and my abilities are unevenly developed even among these four. All of this is to suggest that when I admonish theological students to work on their writing, (1) I have and continue to do so myself, and (2) I know that progress is possible.

Why is writing ability important in theological study? As in any humane discipline, theology is text-heavy. We are concerned with analyzing and producing texts. I reflected on the analyzing bit on Tuesday. As a theological student, good writing is important because writing essays or exams is how you demonstrate competency, and demonstrating competency is important because achieving that competency is ultimately in service of the proclamation of the gospel. In other words, you need to be able to preach.

I personally think that sermons are a much more difficult genre than writing academic essays, because you have whole rhetorical realms in play there that are not when someone like me asks you to write about Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, for instance. If you cannot make yourself clear in the more basic genre, you may have trouble with the more complicated genre.

The point of this post is to provide, from the viewpoint of a theological educator (admittedly, early in his career), two aphorisms about the importance of good writing in theological study.

Aphorism #1: Good writing covers a multitude of sins.

Think about it: do you think it could possibly be a good thing if your instructor is reading along in your paper, and must stop every few words to think about a missing period, an awkward construction, a missing preposition, or to wonder where a quote began because you forgot the opening quotation mark, etc.? If there is any doubt, let me clear it up for you – this is not a good thing. On the other hand, it is a very good thing if your instructor can read peacefully through your paper and understand how your phrases, sentences and paragraphs fit together, and - consequently - what you are saying.

Aphorism #2: Bad writing suggests bad thinking.

It is impossible to write well (clearly) without having first thought well (clearly). The upshot of this is that when you write badly (unclearly), it strongly suggests that you have first thought badly (unclearly). You might very well have a remarkable intuitive grasp of the material in question, but everything comes down to communication (just like in preaching). If you cannot tell your instructor in a structured and reasonable manner about the material of which you purport to have an intuitive grasp, chances are that there is no such intuitive grasp. In any case, there is no way for your instructor to know about it (this goes for your congregation, too). Coincidently, and as an added bonus, working at writing well (clearly) will help you to think well (clearly).
What’s the bottom line? Work on your writing!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Who? What? Why? How? Thoughts On Analyzing Theological Texts

I’ve been privileged to assist in the teaching of an unusual number of classes as a doctoral student here at Princeton Theological Seminary. All students here at PTS are bright, but they tend to have uneven backgrounds in the sort of academic work that theology courses require – namely, analyzing and evaluating texts and arguments. We get former English or philosophy majors who can slice through a complicated text with relative ease, but we also get chemistry and business majors to whom reading difficult texts is nowhere near second nature. Of course, there are many sorts of folks who fall somewhere in between.

Recently my teaching duties have pushed me to reflect more formally on the process of analyzing and evaluating theological texts. These thoughts are in no way profound, but I do think that they might help people who are in the early stages of developing these skills. So, I present them here for whomever wants to glance at them, and also so that I will be able to simply send future students a link instead of taking up valuable classroom time talking about these things.


My advice for beginning students, or students struggling with analysis and evaluation, is to focus on answering four questions about a text: What? Why? and How? These questions are mutually implicating, and need not be addressed sequentially. Sometimes one or the other will be far more clear, and you will be able to work from there towards the others. But bearing them all in mind when you read will help you to make better sense of the text or argument in question.

  • Who? Who is writing? Is there anything significant about the author? Does the author have characteristic trains of thought, or distinctive approaches? Does the author work from within a particular tradition of thought that might influence the topic under consideration? Basically, is there anything about this author and this author's context that might illumine the work being analyzed?
  • What? What is the claim being made, or what is the point? What is it that the author is trying to convince you of? What is the position that the author wants you to affirm? What is the author trying to do?
  • Why? Why is the author making this claim or pressing this point? Why is the author trying to convince you of this? Why does the author want you to affirm this position? Why does the author want to do what this text aims to do?
  • How? How is the author making this claim or pressing this point? How is the author trying to convince you? What conceptual, textual, rhetorical or other resources is the author deploying? How do the pieces of the text or argument fit together?

Again, this represents the rock-bottom level of the analytic process but, as such, it is a fundamentally important level. One can bring any number of more sophisticated analytic tools to a text or argument, but only if one has already gotten some basic clarity on these sorts of questions.

Furthermore, remember that you can deploy this basic level of analysis at various levels of specificity. To take a textual example, consider Calvin’s Institutes (Calvin is pictured, hard at work analyzing a text). This work can be addressed at the level of the whole, at the level of “Book” (of which there are 4), at the level of chapter within book, at the level of sub-section within chapter, at the level of structural paragraph (¶, §), or at the level of textual paragraph (“paragraph” in the non-technical sense). You can see how the task of analysis quickly becomes complicated when tracking how these various levels fit together and relate. Reading notes become essential, and the three questions above may prove helpful in structuring them.


These three questions will also help you when you turn to evaluation of a text, for each carries with it avenues for evaluation.

  • What? What resources do I posses, external to the text or argument in question, on the basis of which I can make a judgment about the claim beings made? Is the author’s position true?
  • Why? Given an answer to the question of why the author makes a particular claim, is that motivation justified? Is it a proper motivation?
  • How? Do the conceptual, textual, rhetorical or other resources deployed in support of the author’s claim work as the author intends? Is his argument successful on its own terms?

As with the analytic discussion above, this evaluative process functions at any level of the text – paragraph, sub-section, and on up – and conclusions can be built into a complicated whole.

I hope this will be helpful to some folks. If you have any further suggestions to help beginning students improve their reading of theological texts, feel free to leave comments about it – the more tools in our pedagogical toolboxes, the better!


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

As always, the order of presentation is simply the order in which I found these various posts. Also, stay tuned to DET next week for a couple posts on pedagogy and theological education!

  • “Collared Evangelism” - Jason Ingalls reflects on the perhaps counter-intuitive benefit of wearing a clerical collar. He has even set up a Facebook page to promote the practice and share stories.
  • “Doodlings Done” - Kim Fabricius brings us another (final?) set of doodling. Here is a highlight: “In the archetypal conversion story, the cry is “Once I was blind, but now I see!” Funny, Saul’s experience was just the opposite.”
  • “Dogmatics in Dialogue” - Kait Dugan writes on the importance of the doctrine of revelation, and of Karl Barth’s insights on the topic.
  • “How to Avoid a Gendered Conference” - The writers of the “Feminist Philosophers” blog give some very good practical / concrete advice on how to bring more demographic balance to academic conferences. Much of their advice applies to any minority group by extension. A helpful read, indeed.
  • “The New Fundamentalism” - Roger Olson distinguishes between the fundamentalist movement and ethos, and discusses how the latter has been infiltrating evangelicalism over the past decades. This is a helpful and illuminating analysis, a must-read for anyone who cares about evangelicalism.
  • “18 Theses on Eschatology” - The title pretty much sums things up. Definitely worth a look.
  • “Theologia Crucis” - More from Kait Dugan. This time she gives us more personal reflections about her developing understanding of this subject.
  • “To the young women of the church we say: carry forward the cause of gospel feminism” - In response to some recent goings on in the Roman Catholic world, wherein - as far as I can tell - the powers that be continue on their quest to alienate a vital part of their constituency, the Women-In-Theology blog gives us access to the Madeleva Manifesto, written by 16 feminist theologians in 2000
  • “Living Water” - A sermon from Jason Ingalls on John 4.5-42.
  • “What Are We Doing In Libya?” - More excellent food for thought from the Women-In-Theology blog. Here is the powerfully written conclusion: "Why do we think our responsibility to protect potential victims of a dictator to be so much greater than our ability to protect children from starvation? Why is it, that, when somebody is a victim of a dictator the United States doesn’t like, she is a “civilian;” when she is an Afghan child killed by a U.S. missile, she is “collateral damage,” and when she is an Indian or African child dying of starvation, she is nothing to us at all?"
  • “Evangelical Calvinism Book” - Robert Grow and Myk Habets have been hard at work putting together a volume of essays on Evangelical Calvinism. They are nearing the finish line, and Robert has posted the table of contents. Be sure to take a look.

If all this isn't enough to keep you busy, read the blog coverage of the 2011 Warfield Lectures, delivered by David Kelsey.


Thursday, April 07, 2011

David Kelsey’s 2011 Warfield Lectures: Lecture 6, "God's Power in Two Registers"

Nathan Maddox has posted on Dr Kelsey’s 6th and final Warfield Lecture, delivered on Wednesday, March 31th, at 7pm in the Main Lounge of Mackey Hall, Princeton Theological Seminary. The lecture's title is: "God's Power in Two Registers." Head on over and check it out


David Kelsey’s 2011 Warfield Lectures: Lecture 5, "Where God's Power is Definitively Expressed"

Nathan Maddox has posted on Dr Kelsey’s 5th Warfield Lecture, delivered on Thursday, March 31th, at 3pm in the Main Lounge of Mackey Hall, Princeton Theological Seminary. The lecture's title is: "Where God's Power is Definitively Expressed." Head on over and check it out


Wednesday, April 06, 2011

David Kelsey’s 2011 Warfield Lectures: Lecture 4, "God’s Sovereignty in Two Registers"

Melissa Florer-Bixler has posted on Dr Kelsey’s 4th Warfield Lecture, delivered on Wednesday, March 30th, at 7pm in the Main Lounge of Mackey Hall, Princeton Theological Seminary. The lecture's title is: "God’s Sovereignty in Two Registers." Head on over and check it out


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

David Kelsey’s 2011 Warfield Lectures: Lecture 3, "Where God’s Sovereignty Is Definitively Expressed"

David Congdon has posted on Dr Kelsey’s 3rd Warfield Lecture, delivered on Tuesday, March 29th, at 7pm in the Main Lounge of Mackey Hall, Princeton Theological Seminary. The lecture's title is: "Where God’s Sovereignty Is Definitively Expressed." Head on over and check it out


David Kelsey’s 2011 Warfield Lectures: Lecture 2, "In Praise of the Uselessness of God"

Nathan Maddox has posted on Dr Kelsey’s 2nd Warfield Lecture, delivered on Tuesday, March 29th, at 3pm in the Main Lounge of Mackey Hall, Princeton Theological Seminary. The lecture's title is: "In Praise of the Uselessness of God." Head on over and check it out


Monday, April 04, 2011

David Kelsey’s 2011 Warfield Lectures: Lecture 1, “The God of Abraham Praise”

Dr Kelsey delivered this lecture in the Main Lounge of Mackey Hall at Princeton Theological seminary on Monday, March 28 2011, at 7:00 PM, from beneath the portrait of B. B. Warfield (cf. picture at right).
Iain Torrance provided an introduction, situating Kelsey’s work and discussing some responses to his recent anthropology, Eccentric Existence, such as those by J. Kameron Carter and David Fergusson. Torrance’s own judgment is that Kelsey’s is a “truly magisterial work.”

“The God of Abraham Praise”

Kelsey began by reflecting on the relationship between his Warfield lectures and his anthropology. For Kelsey, these lectures represent the opportunity to work out what sort of doctrine of God his anthropology presupposes. He asked two opening questiosn: (1) Why praise God at all? (2) Why praise the God of Abraham in particular? Kelsey wants to begin theology with the concrete practice of Christian praise of God, and try to explore what the consequences of such practice is for a truly Christian doctrine of God. He thinks that there are benefits associated with raising what he calls “the God-question” in this way.

For Kelsey, there are three standard alternative ways in which the God-question gets raised. (1) Aquinas, for instance, raises the God-question by reflectioin upon the contingency of the cosmos. How does God go about relating to the cosmos so that the cosmos is sustained in its contingency upon God? The God-question here is a cosmological question, and is often connected to the doctrine of providence. (2) Luther raises the God-question with reference to anxiety produced by uncetainty about his salvation. This approach accepts God’s love as real but does not trust it - or at least has trouble trusting it - because that love is always hidden. God’s self-revelation seems to contradict God’s love because that love is revealed in the horror of the cross. Here the God-question is primarily an existential question. (3) Moderntiy raises the God-question with reference to concerns as to whether or not God exist. Playing into this way of posing the question is the enlightenment, science, secularism, hermeneutics of suspicion, horros of modern war, etc. The first two approaches arrose for people who assumed God’s reality, whereas this one does not.

Kelsey takes two points away from this discussion for working on the doctrine of God. (1) The first two questions need each other - Thomas’ cosmological inquiry needs Luther’s existential recognition of God’s hiddenness and the necessity for taking up a faith position. Luther needs Thomas’s insistence that God’s reality is not contingent upon the necessity of our taking up a faith position. (2) The third approach needs the other two as well. God does not need to save us in order to be glorious, but God does reveal himself as glorious by saving us. Answering the God-question cannot be the same as answering a question about oneself. Kelsy wants to see how far he can work within these two points by beginning with the practice of praising Abraham’s God.
All this was simply how Kelsey framed the discussion. He went on to cover much more in his first lecture than this, and of course there aer 5 more lectures in the series. We can also rightly expect that his material will be revised and expanded before it goes to publication. Therefore, we will all have to wait a while before we get a glimpse at the final form that Kelsey’s doctrine of God will take. But, those who attended the remaining lectures got a foretaste, and those of you who continue to follow the PTS theoblogger coverage of these lectures - in keeping with something like neo-platonic emanations of the divine being which descend in purity and power - will receive a foretaste of that foretaste. Stay tuned!


David Kelsey’s 2011 Warfield Lectures: Stay Tuned!

That’s right, DET readers – the intrepid PTS theo-bloggers have done it again. Some of us blogged Kathryn Tanner’s 2007 Warfield lectures (since published as Christ the Key), and it seemed like time to do it again. The team has changed a bit, but things worked out nicely.

So, a little information. This year’s Warfield lecturer is David Kelsey. His two-volume theological anthropology, Eccentric Existence has been a significant topic of conversation in the theological world since it appeared in 2009. The Warfield lectures will cover fresh ground, however, taking as their theme “Glory, Kingdom, and Power: Stammering about God.” More information about Kelsey and the Warfield lectures can be found at the PTS website.

Both David Congdon and myself are involved (surprise, surprise), and we are joined by two PTS MDiv student theo-bloggers, Melissa and Nathan. Posts will go live approximately one week after the lecture in question began, so watch for the first installment here at DET this evening. An index to the coverage is below (I'll plug in the links as we go).

P.S. For anyone who might worry about this sort of thing, we secured Dr Kelsey's permission to provide an overview of his lectures for those who could not be present.


Friday, April 01, 2011

Gollwitzer on the German Bourgeoisie, Feuerbach and Religion

Helmut Gollwitzer, The Christian Faith and the Marxist Criticism of Religion (Scribner, 1970): 45-6.
At that time, in the middle of the nineteenth century, the German bourgeoisie was divided in itself; it participated in the fruits of the revolutionary movement (socialism, Marxism, etc.), and was at the same time anxious about its consequences; it needed for its evolution the dissolution of the aristocratic world, and feared at the same time the mutterings of the new proletarian classes, who wanted to take advantage of this revolution and carry it further. The bourgeoisie found religion as the guarantee of the inherited order, and needed it as the guarantee of its own order. So bourgeois conservatism and bourgeois revolt are found side by side, and, mediating between them bourgeois liberalism, which could appear both as radicalism and as the confederate of Churchly convention.

While the rebellious criticism of the Young Hegalians was merely an affair of small intellectual circles, Ludwig Feuerbach’s appearance found a remarkably strong response. His championship of nature and science, his appeal to the consciousness of progress, his sermonic tone, and the sentimentality of his new religion of love fitted very exactly the taste and needs of a class which created new economic facts, and which was therefore impressed only by facts, for which the advancement of science was a guarantee of its own advancement, and which in the stern struggle for profit wished yet to find a place for soul and kindly sentiment. For the educated members of this class, the great impression created by Feuerbach’s criticism of religion was based on the fact that it could be regarded as a concentration of all previous efforts to liberate men from an ecclesiastical control which was resented as spiritual compulsion.