Saturday, August 27, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Well, let’s see here. I want to start by giving a shout-out to Timothy Butler, a theology blogger that I came across and interacted with a number of years ago. Why the shout-out? Tim is from the St. Louis area, and is – talk about the world’s smallness – an alumnus of my institution. On top of that, he’s teaching for my department as an adjunct this year (as well as starting doctoral studies – he’ll be a busy guy). All of which lead to us finally meeting in person over lunch yesterday. It’s always lots of fun to meet face to face with those I’ve met keyboard to keyboard in the theo-blogosphere.

Also, I want to highlight a recent guest-post (over at the blog, Two Friars and a Fool) by my good friend and partner in crime, David Congdon, entitled: The Evangelical Hypothesis. It is well worth your time. Here is the heart of his proposal, but you’ll need to go read the whole thing to understand what David means:
“The evangelical hypothesis, or the eternal idea of evangelicalism, is ‘mission without churches’”

Now onto the links…

  • Invitation to Cynthia Nielsen’s Dissertation Lecture, August 29th - If you are in the Dallas / Fort Worth area and want to have your mind blown, you might want to think of attending. All the best, Cynthia!
  • Is Moderation a Christian Virtue? - The Women in Theology blog has an interesting post up about how moderation functions in theological debate, and specifically the claim to represent a middle way between two extremes. I would love to see a follow up post from someone reflecting on how an un-privileging of the middle way would impact Anglican identity… (Where’s Jason when I need him…)
  • The Response of Faith (Baptismal Covenant, part 3) - Speaking of Jason, here’s the next installment of his series on the Book of Common Prayer Baptismal Covenant.
  • Rate-Your-Seminary - That’s right, you can rate your seminary on this handy-dandy website and see how it stacks up compared to others. Just to give you an idea of the sort of crowd dominating the site, Dallas Theological Seminary is currently the highest rated. Princeton folks, our beloved PTS doesn’t have any rating yet, so let’s fix that!
  • Lynn Cohick on Women in the Roman World - I worked for Lynn as her TA back when I was in undergrad, and I’m glad to see her getting some press. Be sure to head over and enjoy the posted videos. Lynn has been a friend of the blog as well, contributing to the 2009 Karl Barth Blog Conference. She recently published a book on the subject, which I read, enjoyed, and posted about.
  • Welcome to the new F&T - Ben Myers has updated his site, taking it to a new url (old one still works) and cleaning up the design. Now, if he’d only start posting seriously again. Of course, who am I to judge given the past month…
  • CruciFAIL: The Good News For Those Who Are Afraid to Fail - My good friend Chris TerryNelson posted a recent sermon.
  • Barth on the Canons of Dort - Reflections on what Barth said about Dort in his study of the Reformed confessions.
  • Speaking Up for Tenure - I'm trying to post less from the Chronicle of Higher Education when doing these collections of links, but I have to point out this piece. The standard line is that why should academics (or public school teachers) have tenure when those who work in other industries don't have it. This piece points out that this line isn't quite right - other knowledge-based professions have things similar to tenure, like partnership in law firms. I think that's certainly worth remembering.

For those without the time for serious theological study, I recommend the following:

Finally, if all that isn’t enough to keep you busy, and you already read my latest on God’s transcendence in Barth’s theology, why not revisit my series on Helmut Gollwitzer (one of Barth’s best students) and the Marxist criticism of religion?


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Is Barth's God Too Transcendent? It depends...

...on which Barth you're talking about.

There are a number of stock criticisms made of Barth’s theology. Chief among them is the claim that his emphasis upon Jesus Christ and God renders his theology one-sided in that it leaves no room for the rest of us, for creation. In other words, the claim is that Barth’s God is too transcendent, so much God without us that there is precious little room left for God with us. Consequently, so the argument goes, the God we meet in Barth’s theology is fundamentally a God against us rather than for us. Amy Marga describes this worry in her book, Karl Barth’s Dialogue with Catholicism:
[A] doctrine of God in which God is wholly separated from creation can bring no hope to a broken humanity. An utterly transcendent God brings no peace. God must be both above all things but also in all things…Guilty of this kind of imbalance were none other than the dialectical theologians [ed. note, with KB in the van]. They…reverted back to a doctrine of God that originated in Luther, and put forth an imbalanced view of God’s Gegenständlichkeit (objectivity) that lay at the heart of Reformation theology. It…signal[ed] a ‘genuine rebirth’ of Protestantism. Theirs is a God who alone is real, and who alone effects and brings all thing to pass, without any role played by creation. This is a God without creatures, a God who acts and dwells in a space that is hidden from creation. This God’s Yes is a Yes to God’s own being, not a divine Yes to creation. In fact, God’s own objective positivity was expressed by the dialectical theologians as a diametrical opposition to all that is creaturely, and the immensity of God’s own Gegenständlichkeit leaves no option for the creature to be anything but God’s No (72).
This is part of Marga’s description of the criticism leveled against Barth and the dialectical theologians by none other than Erich Przywara, and it is a penetratingly telling one. He hits the nail on the head in a number of ways. But, it is important to note that he made this criticism in 1923. Marga’s argument is to show that Barth learned from this (and other similar) criticisms, and developed his theology in such a way as to render them unnecessary with reference to his later theology. One need only to look at this excerpt from Barth’s 1956 essay on “The Humanity of God,” where Barth reflects on his early work:
We viewed this 'wholly other' in isolation, abstracted and absolutized, and set it over against man, this miserable wretch - not to say boxed his ears with it - in such fashion that it continually showed greater similarity to the deity of the God of the philosophers than to the deity of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob...Who God is and what He is in His deity He proves and reveals not in a vacuum as a divine being-for-Himself, but precisely and authentically in the fact that He exists, speaks, and acts as the partner of man, though of course as the absolutely superior partner (45).
The point of all this is to make clear that such criticisms of Barth as those mentioned at the outset do not in fact land against Barth’s mature theology. They landed against his early theology, and he moved to address them. For my money, there are two reasons why we keep hearing such criticisms, and I’ll conclude with this:
  1. Anglophone theology knew little more than the early Barth for a very long time, and so its reflexive picture of Barth is often built on his earlier work. Consequently, criticisms of his early work are repeated as though they pertain to his work as a whole. All this we might describe as the “neo-orthodox captivity” of Karl Barth’s theology.
  2. When Barth moved to address this and other criticisms of his earlier work, he did so in a way other than the way his critics wanted him to. So, even though Barth addresses the concerns of these critics, they remain unsatisfied because he did not simply drop what he was doing and go running into their arms. Barth was too creative a theologian for that, and many can’t be bothered to spend enough time with him to understand how he addresses their concerns. This is why books like Marga’s (and Keith Johnson’s, while we’re on it) are so important, namely, because they endeavor to clarify Barth’s theology and show how it addresses such criticisms.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Assessment in Higher Education

Today was my first official day on the job, and it was primarily spent in a whole-faculty workshop pertaining to assessment. Following a lengthy presentation about assessment, and a lunch to give us time to reflect, we gathered as departments to chart some program-level learning objectives. This was the first step in what will be at least a year long look at our various programs, and how the various courses fit into the programs, etc. All of this is well and good, and certainly necessary. All of this is aimed at verifying that students have learned something, and determining what they have learned, when they leave our institution.

That said, I could not help but thinking as I listened to the presentation that, at the end of the day, what assessment does is shift the focus away from grading students to grading institutions and programs. One could argue that this is necessary given rampant grade inflation: i.e., since grading students doesn't mean anything anymore, we need to pay attention to assessing / grading the programs they are in.

Assessment is helpful insofar as it makes departments, schools, and institutions intentional about what they are teaching. But when it is wrapped in a veneer of somehow quantifying what and how well students learn...well, I'm not entirely sure what to make of that.

Now, this is horribly simplistic, not in any way the fault of my institution, and **insert other standard academic loophole here**, but at the moment I'm feeling a bit disappointed: I thought I was more or less done being graded for a while...


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

I’m now installed at Lindenwood University, and am looking down the barrel of orientation week (the coming week), and the first week of classes (the week after that). My last week was spent banging out a few things that slightly resemble syllabi, as well as unpacking my books and arranging them in my office. Of course, the past two weeks have been a marathon of errands trying to get the family settled into life here. There’s plenty more to be done on that count, however, as well as with preparing for classes. It will be an interesting semester… Hopefully I’ll resume actual blogging sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, here’s another set of links to amuse and inspire you.

Now some stuff from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

  • “We Can't Teach Students to Love Reading”

  • “Shame in Academic Writing”

  • “Handling Workplace/Classroom Disruptions”

  • “Faculty Immobility in the New Economy”

  • “The World Without Scholars: A Fable for Our Time”

  • “An E-Mail Experiment Helps a Duke Economist Ponder His Students’ Cheating Hearts”

  • If all that isn't enough for you, why not checking out the DET serials? The Gollwitzer series seems especially pertinent given recent events in the UK...