Sunday, July 31, 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 stuck in NJ while the wife and kids have flown to MO. Why, you may ask? Because the company I reserved a moving truck with a month ago was unable to provide the equipment. Suffice it to say that I may well provide a post in the future about which rental company NOT to use - that depends on whether they make it worth my while not to. Cross your fingers.

In any case, this leaves me with time to write a link round-up. Here you go, in no particular order:
Anyway, if you're looking for something to read here at DET, how about checking out one of these three older posts?


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Happy Birthday to DET!

DET is 5 years old today, and we're hovering right around 600 posts. Wow. I'm not going to reflect on this any further because I suspect that such reflections could quickly turn demoralizing. Working on my dissertation will be a far better use of my time...I hope.


Saturday, July 23, 2011


My apologies for the way in which DET has basically fallen silent. I had a nice 6 post/2 week rotation going there for a while. As an excuse for this lamentable state of affairs, I cite my family's impending move to Missouri (we'll be in transit in less than a week) and my mad dash attempt to complete a draft of my final dissertation chapter before leaving. If I pull it off (and if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I I'm hopeful at the moment based on a couple extraordinary days), I'll have a full draft, sans only silly little things like an introduction, conclusion, abstract, acknowledgments, etc. You know, the sort of stuff you can bang out over coffee the day before the defense...or not... Seriously, though, all my energy has been going into these two things (and the odd book review posting), leaving no time left over for theo-blog-ish ruminations.

To keep yourself busy in the meantime, I suggest looking at my recent post, "What is Theology?", or my less recent post on what Bultmann had to say to Barth about philosophy and theology. If that is not enough, there are always the various indices accessible through the bar at the top of the page, especially those dealing with popular posts, the Karl Barth Blog Conference (KBBC), recommended reading, or serials. There's plenty of stuff in the archives here at DET to keep you busy for quite a while - not all of it is worth your time, mind you, but enough of it is.

I'll also do my best to get an edition of "Meanwhile, back at the ranch..." out next weekend.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

I’m running a bit behind on getting this post done. Oh well. Somehow the earth will keep revolving and rotating. We hope. In any case, that I’m running behind means that I don’t have time to put these links into convenient categories. Here they are thrown together in no particular order (as far as I know):

  • John Drury gives us an assorted collection of quotations from Barth concerning Hegel.
  • The Women In Theology blog reflects on the dynamics surrounding women in ministry and, particularly, female academics in theology and/or religion departments.
  • Roger Olson provides more reflection on neo-fundamentalism, especially the way in which folks from this camp tend to take up a primarily defensive theological posture, rather than a creative or reconstitutive one.
  • Wow. I knew this project was around the theo-blogosphere, but I never stumbled upon the “hive,” as it were. In any case, this NT professor at Fuller has spearheaded a project to read through Barth’s Church Dogmatics and this page gives you the reading schedule and links to his various posts on the various reading segments.
  • Hell. Karl Barth. Election. And Nathaniel Hawthorne. Typical Millinerd fare.
  • I suspect that those who are dissertating or have dissertated will readily admit that an urge to beseech your dissertation in something akin to the mode of prayer will sometimes wash over you in a well-nigh irresistible wave. Here is an artist’s rendering of what such a prayer might look like if followed through and modeled on the Pater.
  • Great news from and for Meredith over at The Bruised Reed. As I said in my comment there, I’m both extremely happy for her and extremely jealous of her.
  • Ricahrd Floyd, whom I was very pleased to meet at the recent Barth Conference in Princeton, offers 10 ways to crush your pastor’s morale. Since I’m relocating soon, I can’t wait to try a few of these out on fresh meat…
  • Cynthia Nielsen’s dissertation abstract.
  • Jason Goroncy on Barth on marriage. Coincidently, I was also very pleased to meet Jason at the recent Barth conference in Princeton.
  • More Richard Floyd, this time defending blogging.
  • This is a piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education aimed at helping junior faculty sort out departmental dynamics. In this particular case, the focus is on what such a one might be doing wrong.
  • Robert Grow rejoices that his co-edited volume on Evangelical Calvinism has been sent to the publisher.
  • Yet more Richard Floyd, now charting on the role that books played in his pastoral ministry, and wondering what the significance is of a new generation of pastors who don’t revere books in the same way.
  • Melissa F-B reflects on attending a recent Mennonite church convention in Pittsburgh
  • More from the Chronicle of Higher Ed, this time on the difficulty of measuring faculty workloads, especially in the humanities. This has all sorts of political ramifications at present.
  • Stanley Fish discusses a recent book concerned with assessing the relation between academic freedom and tenure, with an eye toward undermining the latter. Fish thinks the book’s argument is clever, but disagrees with the premise that higher education should continue to move toward glorified vocational training – thus disrupting the book’s calculus.
  • More Roger Olson, this time discussing theological liberalism, what it means, and criticizing how the language get’s thrown around unreflectively.
  • The Chronicle of Higher Ed draws attention to a game-changing development - The New Faculty Majority (adjunct faculty advocacy group) is now offering limited heath insurance plans to its members.
  • Grade inflation is on the loose, I think all would agree. Here is a historical look, with dire suggestions about the future.
  • Ever wonder what pastors do all week when they aren’t “working” on Sunday mornings? Here is a peek.
P.S. Have I mentioned that I'm on Twitter now?


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Eberhard Busch on Barth on Christian Participation in the “political service of God”

Eberhard Busch, The Great Passion: An Introduction to Karl Barth’s Theology (Eerdmans).
Christians do not do anything that is alien either to their faith in the God who graciously commands or to those who are responsible in the secular polis, when they too participate in this political service of God. They should not try to evade this duty on the grounds that it would involve digression from their “proper” task. If they do not want to deny their freedom in the world, they should never restrict their obedience to the command of God to an inner sphere, in order to subject themselves externally to the laws of some other authority. Just as the kingdom of God is hidden in the polis but still present, Christians, even when acting “anonymously” in the polis, may not suspend the one standard of the command of the God who reigns both here and there (172).
Christians must act to resist the power exercised by humans over humans that robs them of freedom and pushes them onto the margin of society. Following Christ's solidarity with the lost...Christians must 'look downward' upon the socially and economically weak. They must 'summon the world to reflect on social injustice...and to alter the conditions and relationships in question' (173-4; quoting from Barth's CD 4.3).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Barth on Evangelical Theology’s Relation to Scripture

I’ve had occasion to think lately about how theology relates – or ought to relate – to Scripture. The issue shows up here and there in my dissertation. In any case, I thought that I would share with you all seven points that Barth makes about this topic.

Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (Grover Foley, trans.; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963): 30-5.
  1. “[T]heology shares with the biblical prophecy and apostolate a common concern for human response to the divine Word.”
  2. “All the same…theology is neither prophecy nor apostolate. Its relationship to God’s Word cannot be compared to the position of the biblical witnesses because it can know the Word of God only at second hand, only in the mirror and echo of the biblical witness.”
  3. “The position of theology…can in no wise be exalted above that of the biblical witnesses…[The biblical witnesses have] thought, spoken, and written about the revelatory Word and act in direct confrontation with it. All subsequent theology, as well as the whole of the community that comes after the event, will never find itself in the same immediate confrontation.”
  4. “Once and for all, theology has…its position beneath that of the biblical scriptures…If theology seeks to learn of prophecy and the apostolate, it can only and ever learn from the prophetic and apostolic witnesses…For this reason theology must agree to let them look over its shoulder and correct its notebooks.”
  5. “[T]he peg on which all theology hangs is acquaintance with the God of the Gospel. This acquaintance is never to be taken for granted; it is never immediately available; it can never be carried by the theologian in some intellectual or spiritual pillbox or briefcase…Theology becomes evangelical theology only when the God of the Gospel encounters it in the mirror and echo of the prophetic and apostolic word.”
  6. “ Nevertheless…theology confronts in Holy Scripture an extremely polyphonic, not a monotonous, testimony to the work and word of God. Everything that can be heard there is differentiated…[T]he work of theology might be compared to the task of circling a high mountain which, although it is one and the same mountain, exists and manifests itself in very different shapes.”
  7. “Theology responds to the Logos of God…when it endeavors to hear and speak of him always anew on the basis of his self-disclosure in the Scriptures. Its searching of the Scriptures consists in asking the texts whether and to what extent they might witness to him; however, whether and to what extent they reflect and echo, in their complete humanity, the Word of God is completely unknown beforehand…Nowadays, of course, the ‘exegetical-theological’ task is often said to consist in the translation of biblical assertions out of the speech of a past time into the language of modern man. The remarkable assumption behind this project, however, seems to be that the content, meaning, and point of biblical assertions are relatively easy to ascertain and may afterward be presupposed as self-evident. The main task would be then simply to render these assertions understandable and relevant to the modern world by means of some sort of linguistic key…The truth of the matter, however, is that the central affirmations of the Bible are not self-evident; the Word of God itself, as witness to in the Bible, is not immediately obvious in any of its chapters and verses. On the contrary, the truth of the Word must be sought precisely, in order to be understood in its deep simplicity. Every possible means must be used: philological and historical criticism and analysis, careful consideration of the nearer and the more remote textual relationships, and not least, the enlistment of every device of the conjectural imagination that is available. The question about the Word and this question alone fulfills and does justice to the intention of the biblical authors and their writings. And in passing, might not this question also do justice to modern man?”

Friday, July 08, 2011

Reading Scripture with John Calvin: Malachi 1.2-6

Malachi 1.2-6

[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.



This lecture is concerned with the doctrine of election, as Calvin promised it would be in the last lecture. He struggles to stick with Malachi’s text, instead reverting frequently to Romans 9-11. There is enough overlap between the passages to justify that move, however. Aside from Calvin’s usual comments when treating this doctrine – admonition against speculation, emphasis on election as the guarantee that God’s grace is free, etc – there are three things here that deserve highlighting.

Four-Step Program

Putting Malachi’s text together with Romans 9-11 and, indeed, the whole scope of the Old Testament narrative at a very general level, Calvin explicates God’s electing activity as a four-step program. First, God creates humanity, binding them to him in a unique way (i.e., the image of God, souls, etc.). This is a type of divine favor and election since it establishes human beings as better than, say, “asses and dogs” (473). Second, God then selects Abraham and his descendents for special consideration. This is an entirely gracious act given that Israel is precisely the same as the rest of humanity, naturally speaking, and yet they receive special favor. Third, the freedom of God’s grace is further exhibited in that God was not bound to accept all of Abraham’s descendents indiscriminately, but chose Isaac over Ishmael. Fourth and finally, God discriminates further between Jacob and Esau. For Calvin, all this demonstrates that God’s election is always personal and not enacted in virtue of any merit, whether ethical or genetic.

General Vs. Effectual Calling

Calvin’s four-step program also supports the distinction that he will go in this passage to make between general and effectual calling. In this four-step program, there are a number of instances where a promise has been made, only to be followed up on God’s side with further discrimination and promise-making. What Calvin takes away from this is that a difference obtains between a general promise and the actual and effectual work of the Spirit. This comes out when he applies this four-step program to his polemic horizon:
the Papists…estimate faith by external tokens, they haughtily object to us, and say that they are the Church; as though a general promise were sufficient without the Spirit, who is justly called the Spirit of adoption, by whom God seals it within, even in our hearts. (474)
The same logic is clearly at work with reference to the two types of calling. Calvin admits that “God addresses all men generally, ‘Come unto me’ – ‘I am your Father’” (480) but he denies that one properly concludes from this that all are elect. Such a notion is self-evidently false for Calvin since faith is always joined to election (sooner or later), and it is clear that faith does not arise in every bosom prior to death. What accounts for the difference? Particular election, and the derivative concept of effectual calling. So Calvin:
If then it be asked, why some obstinately reject the grace of God, and other embrace it in the spirit of meekness, Paul assigns the reason, and it is this – because God illuminates those who believe, inasmuch as he has chosen them before the creation of the world. It then follows that God so speaks generally, as that the efficacy of the doctrine still depends on his secret good pleasure; for whence is faith, but from his peculiar favor? And why does he not communicate his grace to all? Even because he has not chosen all (480-1).
Dueling Logics

As some of my readers may know, Calvin is of two minds about the order of the divine decrees. Sometimes he sounds like an infralapsarian (creation and fall come before election) and sometimes like a supralapsarian (election comes before creation and fall). This lecture on Malachi is interesting in that it contains both logics. Calvin first sounds infralapsarian when he argues that election cannot occur with respect to merit (and, consequently, foreknowledge) because election takes place with reference to the mass of perdition, that is, with reference to humanity as fallen and therefore devoid of merit. As Calvin puts it:
Now after the fall of Adam we are all lost. What can then be more foolish and absurd than to imagine that there is some virtue in man by which he excels others, since we are all equally accursed in the person of Adam? …All are naturally reprobate in Adam and liable to eternal death, and the reason is evident, for nothing is found in men but sin. The foreknowledge of God then cannot be the cause of our election, for by looking on the whole race of man, he finds them all under a curse from the least to the greatest. (477)
But then Calvin turns around a couple pages later and sounds supralapsarian. Whereas before he was rejecting the possibility of foreknowledge playing a role in election, now he is discussing reprobation. He seems to be following his usual infralapsarian logic when the following appears seemingly out of nowhere:
It must still be observed, that the election of God is anterior [ed.: prior to, before!] to Adam’s fall; and that hence all we who are rescued from the common ruin have been chosen in Christ before the creation of the world, but that others justly perish though they had not been lost in Adam; because God appointed Christ the head of his Church, in order that we might be saved in him, not all, but those who have been chosen. (479)
I don’t know what to make of this, except to say (1) that Calvin’s desire to be comprehensibly biblical sometimes pushes him in multiple and conflicting directions, and (2) that his christocentrism (even Muller thinks he has a sort of christocentrism) subtly pushes Calvin in the direction that Barth would later develop.


(Calvin concludes each of his lectures on Malachi with a prayer.)
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast been pleased to adopt us as thy people for this end, that we may be ingrafted as it were into the body of thy Son, and be made comformable to our head, - O grant, that through our whole life we may strive to seal in our hearts the faith of our election, that we may be the more stimulated to render thee true obedience, and that thy glory may also be made known through us; and those whom thou has chosen together with us may be labour to bring together, that we may unanimously celebrate thee as the Author of our salvation, and so ascribe to thee the glory of thy goodness, that having cast away and renounced all confidence in our own virtue, we may be led to Christ only as the fountain of they election, in whom also is set before us the certainty of our salvation through thy gospel, until we shall at length be gathered into that eternal glory which He has procured for us by his own blood . – Amen.
Quick concluding aside: this prayer is interesting for that line in the middle about working to bring together the elect. The reformers don’t often give us glimpses in their theology of something like the church’s missionary task. It is thus noteworthy that Calvin tip-toes into that vicinity here.


Tuesday, July 05, 2011

What is theology? Who is a theologian? Why should theology persist?

[Dedicated readers may recall my attempt to help spread the word about a gathering of graduate students of theology (broadly conceived) organized by the Harvard Theology Salon back in February. While I could not attend, I sent the following as a contribution to their study document, Theological Times, which they formatted as an e-zine (not made public, at least as yet).]

By Tkgd2007 [CC-BY-SA-3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
I want to express my gratitude to the organizers of this gathering, some of whom have gone out of their way to encourage myself and my colleagues at Princeton Theological Seminary to attend. Unfortunately, a scheduling conflict prevents my presence, and I do not know whether any of my colleagues will be able to participate. Given these circumstances, and the organizers’ desire for the presence of a Princeton Seminary voice, I offer the following reflections. In what follows, I provide brief answers to the What? Who? and Why? questions posed by the gathering’s organizers. All of this is in service to answering the prompt: Why, concretely, should theology persist? For whom should it or will it exist?

First, what is theology? Considered formally, theology is the church’s critical reflection upon its proclamation, in word and deed, of the good news of Jesus Christ – the Gospel. Considered materially, theology is the attempt to describe with conceptual care what this Gospel means for how we understand ourselves and our relationships – with each other, with creation, and with God. Theology is thus the province of a particular community – the church – but is an activity performed for the sake of the world.

Second, who is a theologian? Insofar as theology is the church’s critical reflection upon its proclamation of the Gospel, every member of the church – every Christian – is called to be a theologian. Within the Christian community it is not a question of whether or not one is a theologian, but whether or not one is an intentional theologian and, ultimately, whether one is a good or bad theologian. The quality of one’s theologizing is dependent upon one’s faithfulness in allowing the Gospel to decisively determine one’s theology.

Third, why theology? The purpose for theological existence should now be clear – the church must critically reflect on its proclamation of the Gospel. But, let us take this question as referring to that particular endeavor undertaken by the professional theologian. In this case, the church identifies among its members those who are particularly gifted for the theological task, setting them apart for the task of intensive theological thinking. The task of such a “theologian” is to do what the rest of the church does, only with greater intellectual care and rigor. The professional theologian then, regardless of what other loyalties the academy or society might foist upon her – and these may well be important responsibilities – is first and foremost a servant of the church.

Finally: Why, concretely, should theology persist? For whom should it or will it exist? The answer I must give to this question should now be clear: theology both should and will persist so long as the body of Christ finds itself tasked with the proclamation of the Gospel. Given that this proclamation is the church’s raison d’être, theology will persist as long as does the church. Furthermore, and contrary to Christian eschatologies that imagine the visio Dei as humanity’s ultimate end, it may well be that heaven will ring with celebratory proclamation of the Gospel – and, consequently, hum with the drone of theological discussion – εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.


Saturday, July 02, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks since the last link round-up here at DET. First, the most local news:

  • Reading Scripture with John Calvin: Malachi 1.1-6 - I’ve resurrected this old series, and will try to make it something of a fixture moving forward. It has always been one of my favorite serial blog undertakings and I’m glad to be back to it (check the serials page for the backlog, which covers all of 1 Peter). Coincidently, however, it seems to be a traffic killer – shame on you all, surfing over when I post on something sexy like Barth and ecumenism, but staying away when I discuss apparently less exciting things like Calvin and Scripture. Tsk, tsk, tsk.
  • There was also that Barth Conference here at PTS recently. I have three posts on the subject, the last of which contains links to posts from other bloggers.
  • But other bloggers have kept blogging about the conference (even after my third post! the gall!), so I better link to some of them as well. I was pleased to meet all three of the following bloggers in person: Matt Frost, Jason Goroncy, and Richard Floyd. Of course, I already knew Nathan Maddox.

Now the less local news (although still encompassing a number of locals):

  • Out of Bounds - As I noted on Thursday, there’s a new collective theology blog on the block.
  • A Few More Doodlings - Kim Fabricius rides again. Here is a taste: “So the former head of the IMF Bank is accused of raping a chamber maid. I blame the corporate culture: the IMF suits have been screwing the poor for years.”
  • Newman, Barth and Natural Theology - An interesting reflection on the title figures and topic.
  • Jason Goroncy publishes a review of Eberhard Busch’s little book, Barth. Here is another.
  • A list of electronic resources on 19th century German theology.
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education has some interesting reflections on ending tenure. This is especially interesting to me since I’m going to teach at an institution that does not give tenure. I’ve been coming around to the idea that this way of doing things has something to offer.
  • What is preaching? - Richard Floyd thinks about this question with Barth.
  • Nathan Maddox writes about Wolfhart Pannenberg’s criticism of Barthian subjectivity. Let’s just say Pannenberg hasn’t convinced me.

Finally, the Melissa Florer-Bixler show: