Thursday, June 30, 2011

New Theology Blog: Out of Bounds

No, I'm not starting a new theology blog. They'll have to pry DET out of my cold dead fingers with a crowbar before that happens. But other theo-bloggers are not so sedentary as am I. Case in point, a number of theology bloggers (at least one of whom has contributed to a Barth Blog conference here at DET) associated with the doctoral program at Aberdeen (and one guy who was here at PTS for a while) have recently shuttered their respective blogs (for all practical purposes) and started a new joint venture entitled, Out of Bounds: Theology in the Far Country. You'll definitely want to keep track of this blog. As of this typing, there are two introduction posts up.

There is a smattering of related blog posts across the theo-blogosphere...


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: Malachi, Preface and 1.1-6

Malachi 1.1-6

[1] A prophecy: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi. [2] “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, [3] but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” [4] Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.” But this is what the LORD Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD. [5] You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the LORD – even beyond the borders of Israel!’ [6] A son honors his father, and slaves honor their master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty.



Series (re)Introduction

It is a pleasure to bring this series back and present you all once again with discussion of Calvin’s commentary on Scripture. If you have not yet seen this series here on DET, you may want to check the serials index to catch up on previous installments. At present, we have covered the whole of 1 Peter. Now we take a step back to the Old Testament book of Malachi. On to Calvin’s text!


Calvin’s preface is quite short – only 2 pages – wherein he makes three points. First, he discusses the book’s author. Some, he tells us, have understood the author to be an angel since the author’s name is built on the Hebrew word for “messenger”, which is used of angels (much the same happens in NT Greek). Calvin thinks this is “absurd” since God was in the habit at that time of using humans to communicate with his people. He further suggests what I think is an interesting hypothesis, namely, that Malachi was Ezra’s surname. I have not found any discussion of this possibility in the limited exegetical resources on Malachi that I have lying around, but it at least fits with the book’s dating. Second, Calvin notes that Malachi is the last prophet both canonically (even though it is not the last book in the MT, it is the last prophetic book) and temporally before Christ. He thinks that this could be the case for one or both of two reasons: God could have been angry with Israel and so withheld communication, and God could have wanted to raise their level of suspense before the coming of Christ. I've heard the first of these notions often, and therefore appreciate Calvin's second option, which fits better with Calvin's own modes of thinking. Third, Calvin gives a paragraph summary of the book which recounts briefly the way in which Malachi berates Israel for its sin and calls them back to loving service of God and neighbor.


Calvin thinks that the book’s opening word, rendered “a prophecy” above, is better translated as “burden” here because “prophecy is not everywhere called a burden; and whenever this word is expressed, there is ever to be understood some judgment of God…[T]his word was regarded as ominous” (461). This sets the stage for Calvin’s reading of the whole book, which he understands to be a summons of Israel before “God’s tribunal, inasmuch as many sins had again begun to prevail among them.”


The elephant in the room for this set of verses is the doctrine of election. Calvin will treat that in his next lecture. Here Calvin points out that before calling Israel to account, Malachi sets out the benefits that God has given to her. God says first that he has loved Israel and, when Israel questions that love, God reminds her of her lowly and utterly undeserving origins. God might have loved Esau and rejected Jacob, but he did not. It went the other way, and it did so only because of God’s decision. Hence Calvin concludes that “the origin of all the excellency which belonged to the posterity of Abraham, is here ascribed to the gratuitous love of God” (465). This pertains, of course, to the question of whether Law or Gospel comes first. That is the main point – here are a few interesting asides.

(1) Calvin here notes that God dealt differently with two children of one family, loving one and hating the other; blessing one and cursing the other. What impact might this have on the tendency in certain Reformed circles to elevate the family as a unity in their ecclesiology? How might it impact the familial aspect of certain Reformed sacramental understandings?

(2) This passage tells us that Caanan was fertile land while Edom was made into desolation. Still, such a distinction seems relativized by the recognition that both Babylon and Egypt were more wealthy, powerful, and fertile still. In response to such a worry, Calvin here severs any straightforward connection between earthly success and one’s position with respect to God. He notes that Jerusalem was not a particularly good city – “Jerusalem was not superior to other cities of the land…on account of its situation…” – what made it special was its relationship to God – “…at the same time it excelled in other things, for God had chosen it as his sanctuary” (466). Of course, this has implications for all sorts of Christian thinking from notions of a “Protestant work ethic” (i.e., the practical syllogism) to the Prayer of Jabez to the Prosperity Gospel.

(3) Calvin notes how Edom was made desolate and points out that, while Israel was also made desolate a few times, it was always restored while Edom was not. As he then puts it, “Since then there had been no restoration as to Idumea, the Prophet shows that by this fact the love of God towards Jacob and his hatred towards Esau had been proved” (467). Still, the Herodian line was Idumean. What new light might such a pair of observations cast on the narrative of Christ’s passion? Is it one more instance of disgrace being visited upon Edom?


(Calvin concludes each of his lectures on Malachi with a prayer.)
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast not only designed to give us a life in common in this world, but hast also separated us from other heathen nations, and illuminated us by the Sun of Righteousness, thine only-begotten Son, in order to lead us into the inheritance of eternal salvation, - O grant, that having been rescued from the darkness of death, we may ever attend to that celestial light, by which thou guidest and invitest us to thyself; and may we so walk as the children of light, as never to wander from the course of our holy calling, but to advance in it continually, until we shall at length reach the goal which thou has set before us, so that having put off all the filth of the flesh, we may be transformed into that ineffable glory, of which we have now the image in thine only-begotten Son. – Amen.

Friday, June 24, 2011

On the Fundamental Ecumenicity of Karl Barth’s Thought

Karl Barth was a Reformed theologian, without a doubt. He purified Protestant theology according to its own best insights, to be sure. But we Protestant readers of Barth often forget just how ecumenical his vision was, something that Roman Catholic and Orthodox readers of Barth are quick to pick up on. Indeed, I helped with George Hunsinger’s intro to Karl Barth class this past semester, and had an Orthodox student who constantly reminded me of this - it was quite interesting to get a glimpse of Barth through her eyes.

In any case, Amy Marga - who spoke at the recent PTS Barth conference - has a nice paragraph on the foundation of this ecumenical quality of Barth’s thought in her book, Karl Barth’s Dialogue with Catholicism in Göttingen and Münster: Its Significance for His Doctrine of God:
Barth’s curiosity about thinkers outside of the typocal cast of Reformation figures was one of the earliest – but perhaps farthest-reaching – ecumenical move[s] that Barth made. While not ‘ecumenical’ in a contemporary sense of personal dialogue or joint statements on social and doctrinal issues, as ecumenism is carried out today, Barth’s decision to explore the wider history of Christian theology no doubt played a role in how he viewed the scope of his work, and how his work was received by Protestant and Catholic alike. On many levels, Barth’s openness to Christian theologians outside the Reformation was a signal that the wider history of the Church – including many thinkers that were authoritative in the Catholic Church – was as legitimate and useful to the needs and commitments of modern Protestantism as that of the Reformation. His exploration of the wider history of Christian theology bestowed the same value and power upon pre-Reformation (i.e. “Roman Catholic” theology) as that of the Reformation. Such a shift in vision in the early decades of the twentieth century signaled the inevitable weakening of the liberal Protestant stronghold on the interpretation and valuation of history. If the entirety of Christian history was legitimate for informing theology, there was no reason why Protestants and Catholics could not study this history in conversation with one another (28-29).


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

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...


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

PTS Barth Conference, Day 2

Day 2 did a fine job keeping pace with the first day, and the combination of a great conference and too little sleep is starting to get to me. But, it will be back to the dissertation grind tomorrow afternoon.

There were two sessions again today, each with one speaker from the Roman Catholic side and one from the protestant side. The first session was on Christology, and Keith Johnson went first. His title was something like the following: "In him, through him, and for him: a reconsideration of Karl Barth’s historical development with an eye toward...something about the conversation between Barthians and Thomists" (I couldn’t type fast enough to get the end down. Oh well!). Barth’s development after Romans 2 is a series of internal adjustments in four stages within Barth’s christology. Took time toward the beginning to survey three prominant accounts of Barth’s development: von Balthasar, Jungel, and McCormack. McCormack’s feat was to recover a distinctively Protestant Barth, which Johnson argues is a more ecumenically fruitful Barth. On Johnson’s reading, Barth does theology like a good pastor preaches: trying to do justice to the subject matter while addressing a concrete situation. Only when we understand how Barth was addressing his context at any particular time can we truly understand what he is rejecting or affirming. I don’t want to steal his thunder, so you’ll have to wait for the published version to see his developmental schema. This I will say, however, and it should be no surprise: Erich Przywara proves important.

Thomas Joseph White rounded out the session, with the following title: The crucified Lord: Thomistic reflections on the communication of idioms and the theology of the cross. How do Christ’s deity and humanity relate to each other, and how does our account of this play in our understanding of the cross and salvation? White argues that Thomas’ position on these matter are preferable to Barth’s. For Barth, properties of the human nature in Christ are definitive of God’s being, although he also affirms that God is unchangeably God in the incarnation. In other words, there must be an analog in the divine being for Jesus’ human life, an antecedent character that corresponds with - for instance, and to recall yesterday - humility and obedience. Thomas, on the other hand, maintains the instrumental character of Christ’s humanity, and believes that Jesus was humble and obeyed out of love (charity) rather than because there is an antecedent form fo humility and obedience in the divine being. To learn precisely why White believes Thomas’ position to be superior, and engage the arguments that he deploys - and to hear what he had to say about the relation of philosophy and theology - must await publication.

The second session was on Grace and Justification. Joseph Wawrykow went first. He began with a highly technical and very interesting discussion of Thomas’ understanding of grace, as well as to the relationship between grace and various sorts of merit. Part of this discussion is directed toward elucidating Thomas’ claim that consideration of merit has primarily to do with giving glory to God. On the basis of this, there appear to be wide avenues of conergence with Barth. For instance, each believes Barth and Thomas on these matters; for instance, both affirm diine priority in grace. But there are also differences as well. For instance, Thomas lacks an affirmation of simul iustus et pecator. Wawrykow identifies a number of these and then offered possible responses from Thomas’ side. It was all very interesting and I look forward to reading it someday.

Amy Marga entered the lectern next. She argued that Barth’s doctrine of grace and justification shares some common ground with Thomas in terms of the doctrine’s structure and the concerns behind it; they differ, however, in terms of how the justified sinner relates to the reality of salvation. At the outset, Marga talked through the meta-structure (or, architecture) of Church Dogmatics volume 4 in order to highlight the ways in which Barth’s soteriology mesh with his hamartiology, christology, and pneumatology. This was, I thought, a helpful exercise since non-speciallists would likely not be aware of this big picture. Another point that Marga highlighted was that Barth’s reading of Thomas by contemporary Thomists must be judged against the backdrop fo the contemporary Roman Catholic theologies and Thomisms on offer in Barth’s context. Marga’s paper drove - like Wawrykow’s - toward a consideration of convergences and divergences between Barth and Thomas on grace. It will be instructive one day to study the two papers together in their published form.


Monday, June 20, 2011

PTS Barth Conference, Day 1

Wow. That was quite a day. There were two sessions today, each with one speaker from the Roman Catholic side and one from the protestant side. The first session was on divine being, and Robert Jenson was the first speaker. He began by highlighting the strangeness of Barth’s doctrine of God, especially his use of the notions of decision and event to do the heavy duty metaphysical work generally done by the notion of essence. But at every juncture Barth tries to get us to turn our attention away from the lanugage that we use and toward the encounter with God as and where it occurs.

Is God’s tri-fold being given in the event of divine decision, or is that tri-fold being antecedent to that event? Barth can be read either way, and Jens won’t comment further at present. Of course, the entirety of his discussion move in one of these directions as opposed to the other. The whole of the Church Dogmatics is a doctrine of God’s being. For Barth, discourse about God’s being reduces to the tautology, God is God, and expands to a universal discourse. And the lynchpin that holds both the reduction and the expansion together is the triune name.

Richard Schenk was the second speaker on the topic of the divine being. His lecture had an intricate thetic arcitechure, which I suspect will be easier to read than hear.

He began by noting how past work toward inter- and intra-confessional dialogue and consensus has had as a side effect the undermining the integrity of the various traditions. Consequently, the ecumenical slowdown at present could well be a good thing, allowing time for the various traditions to take stock of what has been achieved and reconceive of their unique identities.

Constructively, he sought to elucidate the theologia crucis implicit within Thomistic / scholastic thought. Thomas’ treatise on God has the structure of a theodicy insofar as, despite appearances, the discussion is fundamentally concerned with the human believer as one confronted by God. Metaphysics persists within Christian theology as a recognition of human abiding need for grace from an Other. All of this, Schenk argues, converges significantly with the concerns of Robert Jenson's theology.

The second session was on the Trinity. Guy Mansini spoke first, reflecting for starters that his lecture could easily carry the subtitle, “Why obedience and humility are not trinitarian realities.” The meat of his lecture began by discussing precisely what obedience and humility entail in the benedictine monastic tradition. He seems to assume that for such things to be a trinitarian reality would require a multiplicity of wills in the trinity. Instead, they are created things, and Jesus Christ acts in this way insofar as he is human but not insofar as he is divine. The thrust of his discussion is aimed at teaching us how to obey and be humble in a human way, which Christ models for us - not some divine humility and obedience that would mean nothing to us. He also has concerns that speaking of humility and obedience as antecedent to the incarnation would introduce something like an eternal incarnation prior to the incarnation, of which he is unable to conceive.

Bruce McCormack provided the second discussion of the Trinity. McCormack expressed astonishment at how much convergence is present between Barth and Thomas on particular topics, and he (McCormack) discussed this with reference to trinitarian missions and processions. He (McCormack) also noted that he has changed his mind a bit about Thomas based on a forthcoming essay by Matthew Levering. The particulars of this are highly technical, and are best engaged when all the material is in print. Suffice it to say here that the basic point Levering makes is that, for Thomas, the missions contain the processions (not a straightforward statement, to be sure!). On the basis of Levering’s reading of Thomas, McCormack’s paper attempts to bring Thomas and Barth into proximity on these matters.

These thought-provoking sessions were topped off by some excellent conversation with a broad spectrum of people. Now to grab a few hours of sleep and try to do it over again...


Sunday, June 19, 2011

PTS Barth Conference, Now Underway

The post title pretty much says it all.

Those who did NOT have obligations at home - say, helping put their 2 boys to bed - were treated to some opening statements this evening by Bruce McCormack and Thomas Joseph White. Another PTS blogger has provided some coverage of this at his blog.

For my own part, I caught up with some good folks at one of the after parties. The best part of these conferences is the high quality of informal theological conversation, and I started it off right this year with a confab with some quality folks.

I'm looking forward to some good papers and some more good conversation tomorrow.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

So, I’m putting this post up a day early because this year’s Karl Barth conference at Princeton Theological Seminary begins this Sunday. I’ll be there, and I look forward to doing some good mingling with folk while taking in some good lectures. It is not inconceivable that this will be my last Barth conference for a bit, so it will be a little bittersweet. In any case, I’ll try to blog it a bit. Also, if you're planning to be at the conference but haven't told me to keep an eye out for you yet, please do!

In any case, a funny thing happened when I finally got a teaching job, namely, I began reading the Chronicle of Higher Education. So I’ll begin with some interesting stuff from them:

  • The Value of a Humanities Degree - Six students weigh in on what their humanist studies mean to them as they move into the job market.
  • What We Take With Us - reflections from a retiring professor concerning the meaning of his life as an educator. I found this very interesting as one who is only just beginning such a life.
  • Tired of Writing for No Money - If you haven’t gotten the news that traditional tenure-track positions are getting rarer by the day, you might want to reflect on the significance of such information. As part of this trend, institutions of higher education are moving toward alternative employment models. The author of this piece finds himself in such a situation, where his job security does not depend upon publication in peer-reviewed journals in the same way that it might have a few decades ago. This gives him some interesting perspective on the practice of professional publication.
  • On Deadlines and Dead Grandmothers - An educator reflects on the relationship between professors and students, on the tenuous authority involved, and on the proper place for empathy.
  • Are Tutors the Academic Equivalent of Steroids? - This exploration is related to current admissions policies. Where once elite schools blatantly admitted only the moneyed and their progeny, this article notes that they continue that practice today although under a guise of meritocracy since it is the moneyed who can afford to provide their progeny with tutors to inflate their academic achievements. While we’re on the subject, we should talk about whether or not coffee or other caffeine consumption is similar to the use of steroids…

Now, for the usual assortment of interesting links:

Special mention:

  • Christina Busman, a doctoral candidate here at PTS (wow, can’t use that phrase much longer…), provides a two-part review of David Fitch’s work, The End of Evangelicalism. Part 1, and Part 2.
  • R. R. Reno recently published a piece in First Thing, entitled The Preferential Option for the Poor. A friend and I considered writing a response at the time of publication. Despite recognizing that a response was needed, we declined based on the sheer scatterbrained-ness of Reno’s article and the amount of other work already sitting on our plate. Thankfully, others were not deterred. Dan over at the blog, On Journying with those in Exile, has provided a penetrating response: R. R. Reno’s “Preferential Option for the Poor.” Be sure to read it, but you could skip reading Reno’s piece itself.

Here are a couple links just for fun:

  • Google Exodus - A depiction of what the Exodus might have looked like in a Web 2.0 world.
  • PhD Movie Trailer - I’ve been reading the PhD Comics strip for a while, and now some enterprising students have created a PhD Comics movie. View the trailer through the link, and then surf around a bit to learn how to schedule a screening of the movie at your institution of higher education.

Whew! If all that isn’t enough…you might consider checking out the serive,, which provides a cloud and file synchronization service that makes using multiple computers a breeze. I’ve been using it for a couple of months now and it has been great. If you decide that you would like to try it, send me an e-mail (derevth [at] gmail [dot] com) and I’ll get you an invitation – that way, I get a little extra space for free! But if you would rather delve into the riches of DET’s archives, I recommend my reading guides for Barth, Calvin, and Torrance.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Learning from Busch on the Pietists’ claim that Barth was not Faithful to Scripture

In his treatment of the back-and-forth between Barth and the Pietists in the 1920s, Eberhard Busch notes that one of the main criticisms the latter leveled against the former was that he failed to be sufficiently biblical, or sufficiently faithful to Scripture (to put the same basic point two different ways). Busch analyzes this criticism, and the problems that he points out in the Pietists on this point are instructive to all who would do theology in conversation with Scripture. Below I sketch Busch’s analysis.

Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth & the Pietists: The Young Karl Barth’s Critique of Pietism & Its Response (Daniel W. Bloesch, trans.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004):217-25.

In an introduction before getting into his numbered points of analysis, Busch notes that one difficulty the Pietists had in engaging Barth was that the latter was intellectually sophisticated while the former made it a point of faith to be intellectually unsophisticated. (Strides have been made since Mark Noll pointed out The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, but the American situation remains all too similar to that Busch describes.) So Busch notes that the Pietists claimed that Barth’s theology was rooted in philosophy:
How did they know about this bias in his thought? His theology was ‘not simple enough’ and therefore ‘not biblical enough’; thus ‘the word of philosophy emerged from it more than the word of the Bible.’ His theology as well as his language lacked ‘simplicity’ and thus removed itself from ‘Christianity’ that is ‘so simple at its core.’ For this reason the Pietistic circles of that time felt justified in creating the impression that ‘Barth was a despiser of the Bible.’
On to Busch’s numbered analysis. Busch undertakes in this section to argue for what would need to be the case, what conditions would have to be satisfied, for the Pietist criticism to be justified.
  1. The Pietists would need to take more seriously Barth’s self-understanding as an exegete interpreting the biblical text:
    The fact that [Barth] used a language shaped by ‘philosophical’ concepts, that he had a complicated way of thinking does not really prove in itself that he did not also talk as an exegete at the same time. Conversely, a language and a simple way of thinking that dispenses with Kantian terminology does not in itself furnish any evidence that the language and way of thinking are shaped by the Bible.
  2. The Pietists would need to be open to the possibility that if they think Barth improperly mixed some philosophy in with the Bible, it is entirely possible that they did the same:
    Barth’s interpretation and critique could be certainly mistaken, but when they responded to it and rejected it, they referred to the fact that the position of the critic was itself not (‘fully’) biblical but also philosophically conditioned. They acted as if they knew they were immune to the danger they detected here, simply portraying their own concerns as ‘biblical.’ This naïve matter-of-factness had to appear suspicious.
    The fact that their [the Pietists’] language and way of thinking is also conditioned by contemporary history does not by itself say anything for or against the truth and legitimacy of their concern. But it does say something against prematurely identifying their own concern with the biblical witness. Only by giving up such an identity does the freedom of the biblical witness to overcome all the limitations of its interpreters come into focus.
  3. The Pietists would have to oppose Barth’s exegesis with more convincing exegesis:
    By limiting themselves to occasionally quoting a biblical statement to refute an assertion made by Barth, the Pietistic authors evidently assumed that the meaning of the quoted verse is a foregone conclusion. To be more precise, they assumed that the quoted verse can of course only be understood in terms of the opinion that in their view is supported by the verse.
  4. Closely related to the preceding, the Pietists would have to show that the verses they adduce against Barth do in fact prove what they think those verses prove. There is no nice summary quotation to lift from Busch on this point, but he treats two examples (Acts 17.31 and Romans 5.5).
  5. (Note: in the translated version of Busch's text, there isn't a #5 here - I have supplied it because the prose seems to indicate it should be there.) The Pietists would have to avoid proof-texting, or as Busch puts it, “to avoid the impression that they were arbitrary in selecting” the biblical verses cited against Barth:
    This [selection] was done in a way that they not only refrained from exegeting biblical passages but also refrained from considering as broad a spectrum as possible of various biblical statements on a particular point… They also refrained from drawing on complementary biblical concepts… Thus they refrained from referring to those Bible verses that could complement their own statements or possibly correct them and put them in proper perspective.
    By concentrating on the quotation of Bible verses supporting the Pietistic concern…other Bible verses were left out of consideration which could conversely be lacking in Pietistic theology. And this must be added: What happened to the claim of the Pietists that they could ‘communicate the total chorus of New Testament truth’ and open up ‘the full riches of Scripture’?
    Finally, a very fine indictment of proof-texting and the underlying hermeneutic it assumes:
    They way they backed up their counterargument with Bible verses seems to be rooted in an understanding of Scripture that assumes faithfulness to Scripture is guaranteed by merely adding up Bible quotations and by stringing together proof texts. The problem with such an understanding of Scripture is that the danger of distorting the meaning of the Bible verses in question by taking them out of context is always lurking in the background. In addition, the never-ending but always essential issue of what is really crucial in the biblical witness is left out of consideration. Then we run the risk of making certain details the most important thing, even if those details may well be significant as such.
It seems to me that much of what Busch says here remains pertinent in our own North American context today, not only with reference to Barth, but with reference to the theological enterprise in general.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Wolf Krotke on Barth's Doctrine of Sin

Wolf Krötke, Sin and Nothingness in the Theology of Karl Barth, 73-4.
If the 'good nature' of human beings is not a condition in and of itself, it certainly only exists at all insofar as it is lived out by men and women. Persons who do not live out their being are not human persons; they have no being. Hence, if humans are only human insofar as they live out their good nature, and if they live out their good nature only as those who sin, then they only possess their good nature as a perverted, totally corrupted nature. Accordingly, Barth can only think of the corruption of human being or nature as the 'event of their corruption.' No sphere of human existence is exempted from the event of this corrupting. The human creature is 'godless precisely in the good as good...and has fallen prey to nothingness precisely in his essentiality.'

In sum: the being of the human creature qua sinner remains ontologically constituted by the grace of God. Humans constitute their being as sinners by sinning. Several things follow from this. First, there is no perennially good 'relic or core of goodness which persists in man and in spite of his sin'; the being of sinners does not relate to human being as one quantum to another. Humans remain totally human and are totally sinners. Second, there is no 'time in which man is not a transgressor.' And third, there are 'in the whole sphere of human exceptions to the sin and corruption of man,' for under God's grace there are 'no spheres which are neutral, but only spheres of decision,' and humans have chosen in favor of sin.

The momentousness of human guilt is reflected in the enacted existence of their being: sinful humans can no longer turn to God of their own accord and by their own power. indeed, through the misuse of freedom, the liberum arbitrium given humans by God becomes a servum arbitrium.


Wednesday, June 08, 2011

New Center for Barth Studies Book Review, et al

Donald Norwood has a new review up at the Center for Barth Studies website dealing with D. Densil Morgan's Barth Reception in Britain.

Be sure to check it out!

Also, there are now links to the upcoming Princeton Barth Conference on the main Center for Barth Studies page. So, surf on over to get the pertinent information. I hope to see many of you at the conference.


Monday, June 06, 2011

Ellen Charry’s “God and the Art of Happiness” – Part 1 recap

I was planning to write my own brief recap of the volume’s first part – the historical survey of Christian thought about happiness – but then I saw that Dr Charry wrote one herself. So, I’m just going to quote her. Following this lengthy quotation, I’ll highlight a few particularly good lines from the first ~150 pages of this work.

Also, I should mention here that you can download the audio of Dr. Charry's recent inaugural lecture at PTS, as well as watch a short video clip - just click here! Dr Charry recaps much of her material on happiness in that lecture.

Ellen Charry, God and the Art of Happiness, 152-3:
Augustine’s doctrine of happiness is primarily theological, eschatological, and conceptual, with room for atheological, temporal, and material happiness – unstable as it may be. Boethius’s teaching is theological, temporal, and noetic, not eschatological or material. Aquinas followed Augustine’s theological, eschatological, noetic precedent, but he made a small place for theological, temporal, and material happiness.

Fitting Butler into this schema is not easy, because his treatment of happiness is inadvertent as he pursues another project. His understanding of self-love does not recognize happiness as a side effect of obedience to conscience. That remains outside his theological purview, though it is easily incorporated into his doctrine of self-love without damage to his separation of happiness form self-love. Still, we may conclude that his teaching on happiness is material and temporal, and mildly theological to the extent that he recognizes the joy in loving God. He does not ground temporal happiness in obedience to God.

The theological conversation on happiness has staggered across the centuries, with the theologians addressing salient issues of their days. As I have noted…this foray into the subject seeks to address two theological concerns: the heavy emphasis on future eschatology at the expense of temporal, realizing eschatology in the classical tradition, and the academic triumph of theology in the modern university that has obscured the practical task of theology. The first concern, causing an underemphasis on temporal happiness, resulted in the hyper-Augustinian Jansenism of Pascal, which, while it was condemned by the church, has left tracks that make Christians skittish about temporal material happiness, fearing it is untoward from a Christian perspective. The second concern, for the consequence of the scientizing of theology within the theoretical structures of modern academic convention, has made it difficult for theology to fulfill its proper calling of helping people in their life with God.

The proposal that follows [in Part 2] addresses the first concern by suggesting a theological, temporal, realizing eschatology. It addresses the second concern by offering a theological, temporal, and experiential doctrine of happiness in the proposal of asherism.
Now, here are some tidbits:

Speaking of Augustine w/ref to his philosophical forebears:
He drank deeply from the Platonist well but finally could not be satisfied there because the incarnate Christ brought God down from heaven to earth (24).
Some more on Augustine:
The implicit teaching on happiness in The Trinity is soteriological. Salvation is the healing of the soul through the slow and painful recovery of the shattered and lost image of God that we are intrinsically by the grace of creation (49).

For Augustine, happiness is the spiritual benefit of knowing, loving, and enjoying God, and loving self and others in pursuit of that goal. It is being at rest in God, as he so famously said: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (57).

[Augustine’s] soteriology is one of ascent, but ascent through knowing Christ enabled by divine grace (59).
Speaking in the context of treating Boethius:
The wicked are feral, and the more wickedness they pursue, the less human they become (83).
Speaking in the context of treating Aquinas:
Self-realization is living as an agent of the divine will (98).
Speaking of changes that occurred with Protestantism:
Although Protestants did not talk much about happiness, it implicitly became relief from anxiety before God…The search for peace of mind is a fresh form of Augustine’s resting in God, though [Protestants] do not use the language of felicity (111-2).
Speaking of Thomas Hobbes:
Life is either a naked or disguised power struggle in which no one and nothing is secure. The Christian fear of divine wrath, which finds refuge in humility, becomes fear of one another, which finds security in power (118).

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

There have been some significant goings-on here at DET lately:

  • To begin, I announced only last Thursday that I have accepted a teaching position (assistant professor of Religion) at Lindenwood University. Thanks again for the congratulations that friends and blog acquaintances have heaped upon me. I'm very excited, although it is making for quite the busy summer.
  • My series on baptism and the church in North Africa is now concluded. Comments piled up nicely on the introduction, and were continuing to do so until quite recently, so that is worth checking out. The final post also generated some good if limited discussion. The whole is now indexed on the serials page.
  • Next, a recent post about Bultmann, Barth, and the proper relation of philosophy and theology has generated good discussion - which continued at least up until yesterday - so you might find that interesting as well.
  • Finally, as far as local news is concerned, I once again updated the recommended reading page, so feel free to browse.

Now for news of the wider theology blogging world:

  • Michael Gibson recently started his own blog, named "Over the Transom." It is sure to be worth adding to your reader.
  • Friend of the blog, Jason Ingalls, posts a sermon on 1 Peter 2.2-10, entitled "Jesus the Cornerstone." Why not read his sermon in tandem with the pertinent posts from the DET series, Reading Scripture With John Calvin - indexed at the bottom of the serials page?
  • More from Jason, this time announcing a series aimed at providing a "Spiritual Exegesis" of the Anglican "Baptismal Covenant." I'm looking forward to the first installment.
  • Roger Olson discusses "Why I can't give up the label 'evangelical'". Olson has been putting up great stuff lately. Here's a nice bit to whet your appetite: "When did “evangelical” become a problem for me and many others who proudly wore that label for decades? First, when Jerry Falwell began calling himself an evangelical and, second, when the mass media began depicting Falwell and Pat Robertson and people associated with the Religious Right as “the” evangelical–i.e., as the leading spokesmen for the movement."
  • More from Olson: this time he reflects on the notion that the drift of evangelicalism toward a neo-fundamentalism might be conservative over reaction to the 1960s. Once again, Falwell lands in the cross-hairs: "Also, I grew up in a very conservative Christian home and church and yet we were no where near as conservative as many of the influential leaders of evangelicalism today. We considered Jerry Falwell a crazy fundamentalist extremist (in the 1960s and into the 1970s) and yet he emerged as a spokesman for evangelicalism without changing his views much at all. He just toned down his criticisms of Billy Graham (for example)."
  • The always interesting Women In Theology blog posts a feminist deconstruction / commentary on Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)" video aimed at demonstrating the continued need for feminism. The main point? That the contemporary characterization of feminine power as somehow tied to sexual prowess or characteristics only serves to mask the continued inequality between the sexes. Go watch.
  • Chad Holtz provides a very interesting (on many levels) reflection, entitled "The 12 Steps of Theological Addiction." Those who write and frequent theology blogs, as well as many other folk, would be bettered by reading this post.

If that's not enough for you, you might consider reading this post from the 2009 Karl Barth Blog Conference, entitled "Defending Barth’s Commitment to “Let Paul Speak for Himself:” Romans 1 and Paul’s Rejection of the Possibility of Natural Knowledge of God."


Thursday, June 02, 2011

Breaking News, or, Personal Update

The news has been leaking slowly over the past few days, but everything is 100% official now and so I wanted to state publicly that I have accepted a position as assistant professor of religion at Lindenwood University. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: I’m very excited to assume this position and get on with the task for which I have been training for the last decade. It should also go without saying that my wife is very happy that I am finally gainfully employed.

So, as a fellow Michigander once said, “I'm packing up my game and I'ma head out west” – though I won’t be going as far west as he was talking about. The wife and I will be loading up our two boys and our meager worldly possessions – plus my less meager library – and heading to the middle of the country sometime at the end of July. In the meantime, I’m working hard to complete a draft of my dissertation and get ready for my not inconsiderable teaching duties this Fall semester. Oh yeah, there’s also that 2010 KBBC volume that needs editing…

And now we’ll return to your regularly scheduled DET theology programming.