Friday, September 30, 2011

Bultmann on What Schleiermacher Got Right and Wrong

It’s turning into something of a “theological descendants of Schleiermacher commenting on his thought” week here at DET. I had a quote on him from Barth on Wednesday, and today it’s Bultmann.

And yes, I’m reading Bultmann. Blame David.

Rudolf Bultmann, What Is Theology, Fortress Texts in Modern Theology (Roy A. Harrisville, trans.; Eberhard Jüngel and Klaus W. Müller, eds.; Minneapolis, MN; Fortress Press, 1997): 42.
Schleiermacher’s analysis of the feeling of absolute dependence is not simply false. He does, in fact, see that God is not “given” - neither a given of that type of world toward which I know I am so dependent that I oppose it in the feeling of freedom, nor a given within the feeling of freedom, in regard to which I may speak of the “deus in nobis”…

Schleiermacher sees that we can only speak of God when we speak of our existence, and that this is given us only in the question, that is, is not really given. Of course, he does not see that we come no further than the question about ourselves and God, no further than to a concept of God, but not to God. He does not see that he is not developing the Christian idea of God that speaks of God’s actions toward us, but merely developing the assumptions from which the meaning of the Incarnation as the encounter of God with our world can be theologically understood.
Contra Bultmann, I think it is arguable that Schleiermacher did in fact see this. But that is beside the point. The emphasis on speaking of God only in connection to our existence is a vital one, I think, and one that Barth makes very clear in his essay on God’s humanity. Separating the two leads to all sort of nasty theological mistakes, like the assertion that God acts ultimately for the sake of God’s own glory rather that out of the bounty of God’s love and ultimately for the sake of us sinners…just to name one. It is further interesting to reflect on how this mistake is one not infrequently made within contemporary evangelicalism. So whereas Barth's reflection on Schleiermacher points to certain ways in which contemporary evangelicals are looking increasingly like classic liberals, Bultmann's reflection turns Schleiermacher against them.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Barth on Schleiermacher (with brief thoughts on American Evangelicalism)

Karl Barth, The Theology of Schleiermacher: Lecture’s at Göttingen, Winter Semester of 1923/24 (Dietrich Ritschl, ed.; Geoffrey W. Bromiley, trans.; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982): xv.
Theologically the “genius” of the major part of the church is that of Schleiermacher. All the so-to-speak official impulses and movements of the centuries since the Reformation find a center of unity in him: orthodoxy, pietism, the Enlightenment. All the official tendencies of the Christian present emanate from him like rays: church life, experiential piety, historicism, psychologism, and ethicism. We need not ask how far he constituted this center personally and directly or simply as a proponent of the romantic and idealistic movement of his age – how far, then, the threads that link the past and the future also run back beyond him. Suffice it to say that almost all of them run by way of him, so that with a good conscience we can call him a type of what was determinative for a whole century, and are indeed forced to see in him the most brilliant representative not only of a theological past but also of the theological present.
The really strange thing about this quote is that the things Barth identifies as present-day (in terms of 1920’s Germany) tendencies emanating from Schleiermacher – “church life, experiential piety, historicism, psychologism, and ethicism” – are precisely the things that seem to me to be holding the field within contemporary American evangelicalism, in many ways. It is a well-worn trope of comic books and action movies that one is always in danger of becoming what one fights against. Have evangelicals started becoming liberals, in the classic European sense of the term? If so, how advanced are the symptoms, what is the prognosis, and what can be done to combat this malady?  

Monday, September 26, 2011

What Am I Reading? Rosalind Marshall on John Knox

Rosalind K. Marshall, John Knox (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2000).

My teaching duties in the upcoming Spring semester will involve work on the Scots Confession, and so I’ve been reading up on Knox and the Scottish Reformation in order to get the necessary background information and big-picture perspective. There aren’t a lot of books out there to give one that information, or at least not many academic books (I’ll likely discuss an exception to this judgment in a later ‘What Am I Reading?’ post…), and Marshall’s book certainly does NOT fill this lacunae. Academic it is not. However, Marshall is an engaging writer and the book is well researched, making it very suitable for orienting oneself to the subject matter as well as being accessible to your average educated adult reader. For academics, this means it makes for a quick and enjoyable read. One might even keep it on one’s nightstand for a bit of light reading before bed.

One of Marshall’s strengths is her ability to see Knox the man in his own time and context. This allows her to deflect some of the contemporary slights on Knox while also recognizing certain of his character flaws. This allows Knox to be compelling on his own terms, not those of hagiographers, and not those who would elevate him as an example of how religion can go terribly wrong. Marshall’s concluding judgment on Knox’s relation to Mary, Queen of Scots, is an instance of this even-handed approach. Allow me to quote at some length:
[Knox’s] longstanding hostility to Mary had become an obsessive, vengeful hatred. People have long speculated about why he loathed her so much, suggesting, for example, that he was suppressing feelings of sexual attraction towards her. That theory is wide of the mark. From the beginning, he never could see the real woman standing before him. To him she was a second Mary Tudor – Bloody Mary – who had sent his Protestant friends to their deaths. Many years before, his own mentor, George Wishart, had died at the stake, and ever since he had been gripped by a horror of more persecution, more burnings.

Knox was unable, ever, to give Mary the benefit of the doubt, because, for him, she symbolised all the evils of the Roman Catholic church and, as her situation in Scotland went from bad to worse, he had no thought of the human being caught in distressing circumstances. He simply saw her as another Jezebel, another evil queen like those he knew so well from the Old Testament. She had ruined everything. She had come back to a Scotland newly transformed into an officially Protestant country, and, instead of taking her realm forward to a peaceful, godly future, she had menaced it with the Mass… (198)
Finally, I will conclude with another quote from Marshall which touches on Knox’s views about the relation between church and university toward the end of his life while in residence and preaching at St Andrews, which had long (since before the Reformation) been a center of ecclesiastical learning in Scotland:
“[A] deputation of university teachers and ministers came to complain to Knox about his sermons… Knox retorted angrily that neither they nor any other group of private people had the right to judge the Church and its representatives. Only God and the General Assembly could do that, and he sent them away. A fortnight later, he wrote to tell the General Assembly meeting in Perth, ‘Albeit I have taken my leave not only of you, dear brethren, but also of the whole world and all worldly affairs, yet remaining in the flesh I could not nor cannot cease to admonish you of things which I know to be most prejudicial to the Church of Christ Jesus within this realm.’ They must never allow the church to become subject to the universities. (208)


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

It’s a week early for this post on the normal rotation, but I came across some important and worthwhile stuff that I wanted to spread the word about.

First off, it is time to begin announcing that Bruce McCormack will be delivering the 2011 Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in a week or so. Thanks to Jason Goroncy, from whom I shamelessly stole the below:
Lecture One: Tuesday, September 27 | 7:00-8:30 pm
“The Erosion of Protestant Commitments in the Evangelical Movement: On the
Importance of the Doctrine of God in Evangelical Theology Today”

Lecture Two: Wednesday, September 28 | 2:00-3:30 pm
“From the One God to the Trinity: The Creation of Christian Theism”

Lecture Three: Wednesday, September 28 | 4:00-5:30 pm
“The Great Reversal: From the Economy of God to Triunity in Modern Theology”

Lecture Four: Thursday, September 29 | 4:00-5:30 pm
“The God of Covenant Faithfulness in the Old and New Testaments”

Lecture Five: Monday, October 3 | 2:00-3:30 pm
“Which Christology? Refining the Economic Basis of the Christian Doctrine of God”

Lecture Six: Monday, October 3 | 4:00-5:30 pm
“The Processions Contain the Missions: Reconstructing the Doctrine of an Immanent Trinity”

Lecture Seven: Tuesday, October 4 | 4:00-5:30 pm
“Nature and Freedom in God: On Aseity and Passibility”
Second, I recently came across some theological gems on Youtube. Thanks to Michael Leyden for putting me on to these. StJohnsNottingham has a number of interesting videos up, including the following:
Paul Nimmo on Schleiermacher

David Fergusson on Bultmann

Tom Greggs on Bonhoeffer
Third, Robert Grow just posted some information about the book that he edited with Myk Habets on Evangelical Calvinism.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Ellen Charry’s “God and the Art of Happiness” – Part 2 recap

Well, it happened again. As with Part 1, I was planning to write my own recap of Part 2…until I discovered that Charry has already done it better than I could. So, I’m just going to quote her again. More comments to follow.

Ellen Charry, God and the Art of Happiness, 250:
Across epochs, locations, languages, circumstances, cultures, and discourses, texts in both Testaments of Scripture agree that the maker of heaven and earth seeks creation’s flourishing. All the texts we have considered argue that reverent devotion to the creator and redeemer of the world is the happy life, for it crafts one into an instrument of divine wisdom, love, and goodness.

The various patterns of life that Scripture intends to draw the reader into drive toward one goal: organizing ourselves around life in God that we may enjoy ourselves as we are buoyed by the love, beauty, goodness, and wisdom of God, which hoist us aloft. That the visions they paint frame the issue differently is a great strength rather than a conundrum, for here specificity would be stultifying, since the ways in which God is to be enjoyed are inexhaustible. The Pentateuch, Psalms, and Proverbs suggest that living into salvation is incremental. John’s Gospel, by contrast, talks of achieving eternal life as a dramatic commitment to leave one’s trusted way of life and embrace Jesus. It is far more nebulous – but perhaps even more passionate – in its call. Through struggle, confusion, internal dissension, resistance, and neglect, all call their readers into a beautiful and fulfilling life as the people of God. Perhaps John 15:11 summarizes the asherist ethic most elegantly: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

I’m not going to spoil the last chapter, wherein Charry draws the threads of her study together into a unified vision. I will say, however, that she provides a number of insights into concrete application of the vision she has been developing throughout the work, complete with three brief case studies. What I’m trying to say is this: not only is this work an exercise is sophisticated (even though highly accessible) theological work, it is also practical theology at its best.

One last comment highlighting something in Part 2: on pages 162-8, Charry develops a generally Barthian doctrine of the knowledge of God but, trixie author that she is, Charry does not point this out. That such a similarity should be present is no surprise: Charry studied with Paul van Buren, one of Barth’s students. She has learned from her teachers, although not slavishly (as she once put it to me). Here is a good summary line: “I am suggesting that, rather than moving from ‘general’ to ‘special’ revelation, common experience moves in the opposite direction. One must first be arrested by the biblical narrative, as conveyed by the ministrations of the church, in order to consider the knowledge of God in extrabiblical sources, especially to see the creativity of God at work in one’s own body” (162).

I don’t know what else to do or say to temp you into buying and reading this book but, I assure you, you won’t regret it should you do so.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Wisdom from Master Kong

As those who follow this blog know, I'm currently in my first semester as an assistant professor of religion at Lindenwood University. Part of my consistent teaching load is a course introducing students to the world's major religions. It has been a lot of fun getting into these religions and their primary texts and, as an aside, my Barthianism makes it especially easy to find this stuff interesting and useful while also non-threatening.

In any case, I came across a passage from Master Kong (Confucius) in the Analects this morning and it struck a chord with me. I would go so far to say that it encapsulates the modus operandi of this blog at least, and also my own approach to the theological task - at least as that approach takes shape in the present stage of my career. So, here it is:
"I once did not eat all day and did not sleep all night in order to think, but there was no benefit. It would have been better to study" (15.31).


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

This should have been posted on Saturday, but I’m lucky that I was able to bang it out at all. So, if there is anyone out there who would possibly care about this delay: deal with it. Of course, I’m talking mostly to myself…

Anyway, here is a very brief list of links. I’ve been doing my best to stay on top of goings on in the theoblogosphere, but I don’t always have time to put everything interesting in the list. Obviously, everyone needs to check out my post supplying a translation from Eberhard Busch’s recently published journal of his time as Karl Barth’s research assistant. That goes without saying. So, what else should you read?


Monday, September 05, 2011

Karl Barth on Eberhard Jüngel’s “God’s Being Is In Becoming” - from a new book by Eberhard Busch

And now for a DET exclusive...

As some of you may already be aware, Eberhard Busch has recently published an incredible new resource for Barth studies, namely, a compendium of his notes from his time as Karl Barth’s assistant (Meine Zeit mit Karl Barth). Those who know the Barth studies landscape don’t need to be told how significant this is; to those of you who don’t know the landscape so well, suffice it to say that this volume will be of great interest.

As a case in point, I present the below. Busch’s publishers have made a tract of his text available as a bit of a sample, and my friend and colleague from Princeton Seminary, Matt Bruce (also, coincidently, a friend of the blog and the Karl Barth Blog Conference), passed along those pages and a rough-and-ready translation of a couple interesting paragraphs. These paragraphs recount a discussion with Barth concerning Eberhard Jüngel’s then recently published, God’s Being Is In Becoming. Barth provides an appraisal (positive, by the way), as well as some thoughts on Jüngel himself and other pertinent theologians like Helmut Gollwitzer and Rudolf Bultmann. So, without further ado, the text:

From: Eberhard Busch. Meine Zeit mit Karl Barth: Tagebuch 1965-1968. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011. pp. 13-15. Translated by Matthew J. Aragon Bruce, 3 September 2011.

July 1965

I gather together here notes that I wrote down sometime ago without without dates. After Barth had completed all his University activities, he formed a small working group that met at his home in which new theological literature was discussed. In the summer of 1965, we discussed in this group Eberhard Jüngel’s book God’s Being Is In Becoming over the course of three meetings. Barth was present at the first meeting; however Thurneysen presided over the other two meetings because Barth was again laid up due to his illness and also was in the hospital. In that first meeting, Barth expressed the highest satisfaction with the book. Fundamentally, he had no objections to the book, apart from that the fact that Jüngel’s linguistic style was not always accessible to him. In this regard he was of the opinion that in part, “This is his culpability, not mine.” Jürgen Fangmeier on the other hand was of the opinion that something must be wrong with Jüngel because of the strong polemics he directed against Gollwitzer’s critique of Bultmann and his disciples. Barth countered: No, he feels that he has been well understood. Jüngel criticizes Gollwitzer only in order to resist the mistaken account that the being of God “arises (aufgeht)” in the event of a determined relationship. In this manner, Gollwitzer remains stuck in the old thinking of a static concept of substance. Therefore he [Gollwitzer] is not to be spared from the objections that are indicated in the book. But, said Fangmeier: Jüngel still brings Barth into a connection with Ebeling’s statement: God is not an extramundane essence. Barth replied: “Yes, that is factually correct. God is in fact not such an essence. I have not taught such an essence.” In regard to what is at stake in the relationship between him [Barth] on the one had and Bultmann or his disciples on the other, which Jüngel so emphatically highlights, Barth feels that the respective passages are not at all instances of “mediation” or “compromise” in which this or that important insight into the matter has been ceded or relinquished to the other side. But he rather had the impression that Jüngel adhered to his line [of thought] on the whole. By means of these suggested relationships, astute insights are thus attributed to the other sight that in fact run counter to some extent to the direction of their thought. In this way something is served to them on their plate, which they otherwise could not afford. Jüngel’s appeal to Barth is credible, but less so his assertions about cross-connections between Barth and Bultmann and his associates. Ernst Fuchs has written in his copy of the book, under the subtitle (“A paraphrase of the doctrine of God of K.B.”): “A paraphrase – and more than that.” What does that mean? Barth referred to the main title as the most enigmatic part of the book: “God’s Being is in Becoming.” “What is meant by this ominous word ‘becoming’? It is not clear to me, to what extent this word is useful here and much less essential.” He may certainly not approve of Schelling’s discourse about the “becoming God.” Certainly, God is God in movement. If and in so far as it is this that is meant with this phrase “becoming God,” Barth can go along with him. His critique of Schelling begins with the question: Is it not the case with him, that the ground for the movement or for the becoming lies in a lack, in a deficiency in God. Does this mean that the “motive” of his becoming exists in the necessary compulsion in which God wants to satiate and satisfy his need for self-enrichment? However Barth on the other hand would like to emphasize that God is in movement, because he is rich in himself and because he has no need for anything himself, but wants to give something of himself, beyond himself.

Jüngel’s remarks about the doctrine of the Trinity are thus “entirely right.” But Barth would have preferred it if he had presented the argument by means of exegetical and historical-theological investigations, in this case above all with recourse to the theology of the early church. In the form in which Jüngel currently explains it, it seems almost as though the doctrine of the Trinity is “a special invention of Karl Barth.” His “modest contribution” to the churchly doctrine of the Trinity has only been the one that he saw, understood, and developed in close, indissoluble connection with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. “It is the consequence of the christological dogma of true God and true man, and it [the doct. of the Trinity] is so closely linked with it [christology], that it [the doct. of the Trinity] falls if this is contested. Naturally it is not the Trinity that falls but the Church’s doctrine of it [Trinity]. But also this insight is still not simply new compared with the most interesting discoveries in the early Church.

There certainly is a lot there to digest. And just think – there are 760 pages of this (for quite a low price-tag, I must say). We can only hope that this volume makes it into English very quickly – there is no doubt in my mind that it is essential reading for any student of Barth, and that it will be engaging enough to attract comparatively wide reading should the linguistic barrier be surmounted. So if Tom Kraft and any of the folks over at the T&T Clark Blog are paying attention, I have this simple message for you: “Do anything necessary to acquire the translation rights for this book and get it into print, ASAP!”