I approach many thinkers with theological issues in mind. And I also approach them trying to hear how theological concerns are being voiced by them. And so, for example, my work on Du Bois tries to takes seriously his wrestling with theological problems. This goes against the grain of Du Bois studies. But this isn’t Du Bois’ fault. It’s the fault of those who come to him with disciplinary blinders on and who’ve already determined what they will hear. The same can be said with reading people like Richard Wright or Fanon or Sylvia Wynter or Toni Morrison or Angela Davis or Walt Whitman etc.The critical humanities, especially race and gender theory, have been particularly helpful interlocutors for me in these ways that Carter points to. I find Foucault’s genealogical method and its attention to discourses of power-knowledge alone enormously helpful in exploring the role of theological discourse in constructions of subjectivity. And that is simply brushing the surface…how he calls epistemological certainty into question, what he does in his later work in thinking about possibilities for recasting subjectivity, how he is taken up by theorists like Judith Butler to think through feminist theory and gendered identity…these are just a few of the many riches I find in Foucault. But I don’t want to ramble too much in this introductory post, so more on all of this later too.
I remember reading somewhere of a letter that Carl Schmitt once wrote to Jacob Taubes in which he said in celebration of the latter’s work that “everything is theology—except what the theologians are talking about.” Isn’t this a great quote?! As a theologian it challenges me to not be surprised who speaks the theological (“out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you, O God, have ordained praise”) and that most often it’s not the theologians who speak the theological.
One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over. We must not remember that Daniel Webster got drunk and only remember that he was a splendid constitutional lawyer. We must forget that George Washington was a slave owner, or that Thomas Jefferson had mulatto children, or that Alexander Hamilton had Negro blood, and simply remember the things we regard as creditable and inspiring. The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.
What [folks who followed Augustine’s doctrine] gained was a belief that the world around them was intelligible, even if on a plane that surpassed human reason and strained human feeling; and the certainty that they would remain active and creative. Even if they were merely agents, they were at least the agents of forces which guaranteed achievements greater than their own frail efforts could ever have brought about.Skipping ahead to pp. 409-10.
For Augustine’s doctrine of predestination, as he elaborated it, was a doctrine for fighting men. A monk might waste his leisure worrying about his ultimate identity: to Augustine, such an anxiety was misplaced. A doctrine of predestination divorced from action was inconceivable to him. He had never written to deny freedom, merely to make it more effective in the harsh environment of the fallen world. This world demanded, among other things, unremitting intellectual labour to gain truth, stern rebuke to move men. Augustine, as a bishop, had thrown himself into both activities.
In the early months of 430, Augustine will appear in church to tell panic-stricken crowds what he had already written…: that they would have to ‘persevere’ although love of life was still strong in them. For Augustine had lost none of his capacity to feel. In these few last sermons we realize that the old man’s horror at the evils of existence…was the obverse of his deep-rooted loves: he still knew what it was to love life wholeheartedly, and thus he could convey how much it had cost the martyrs to overcome this love. Like the martyrs, Augustine’s hearers, also, might have to follow in the footsteps of Christ’s Passion. Predestination, an abstract stumbling-block to the sheltered communities of Hadrumetum and Marseilles, as it would be to so many future Christians, had only one meaning for Augustine: it was a doctrine of survival, a fierce insistence that God alone could provide men with an irreducible inner core.
We applaud CT’s recent editorial [“No Taxpayer Is an Island,” December] for giving necessary attention to Elizabeth Warren, whose candidacy offers a breath of fresh air to voters disillusioned with the Babylonian captivity of American politics. Political discourse in our great nation has for too long been dominated by an economic vision that further privileges the already privileged and further disenfranchizes the already disenfranchized. Warren’s social vision challenges these politics as usual, and it is encouraging to see the editors of Christianity Today introducing her to evangelicals.
However, the editors leave us dissatisfied with the attention they gave to Warren. To begin, the editors seem to be of two minds about the relation of church and state as it pertains to Warren. For instance, they affirm that government’s role in society ought to be “limited” (although “not negligible”), and yet chide Warren – a public figure campaigning for government office – for failing to discuss “mediating institutions” as part of her proposals. Either these mediating institutions are within the government’s purview, and so deserving of Warren’s attention, or they are not. At the root of the conceptual dissonance here is a tenuous position on the place of religion in our society. The editors want religious institutions to play an important social role, but they also want them to remain distinct from the government and, perhaps most critically, they do not want government to replicate the services they provide. One detects here not insigificant traces of cultural (if not legal) Christendom, which many evangelicals might see as problematic.
Further, the editors make unnecessary and misleading assumptions about how evangelicals do and ought to relate to certain social visions. For instance, one gets a sense that evangelicalism and the Tea Party rightly go together, while evangelicalism and more progressive social politics are an ill fit, at best. They talk of “evangelical tea partiers” and of a “tea party conservatism that many evangelicals espouse.” On the other side, one finds reference to “secular progressivism that evangelicals rightly reject,” or to Warrren committing “the besetting sin of secular progressivism.” It is not difficult to see that the rhetorical posturing involved here predisposes the reader to view social conservatism favorably and social progressivism unfavorably. What is worse, the editors attach this unfavorable animus to social progressivism by using religiously loaded language: social progressivism commits a “sin,” and repeated descriptions of social progressivism as “secular” plays on the way many people unfortunately associate secularism and atheism.
In presupposing and promulgating these political value judgments, the editors fail to faithfully represent the true breadth of evangelicalism. The truth of the matter is that nothing inherent within evangelical belief necessarily inclines toward social conservatism and away from social progressivism. Indeed, one could construct a cogent case for evangelical commitment pushing one in precisely the opposite direction. We see evidence for this in the heritage of an institution such as Wheaton College, whose founder, Jonathan Blanchard, grounded his own quite radical social progressivism precisely in his evangelical faith. A progressive vision for American society need not be secular, nor need it involve a confusion between church and state that conflates the message of Christ with the platforms of a party.
So while the Christianity Today editors deserve appreciation for bringing Elizabeth Warren to the attention of their evangelical audience, they finally do their audience a disservice in the process. Instead of being an evangelical assessment of a political figure in light of the radical message of the Christian gospel, the editorial reads more like an exercise in political propaganda shrouded in evangelical piety.
W. Travis McMaken (Wheaton College, ‘04)
David W. Congdon (Wheaton College, ‘04)
“The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical
Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Barth”
By: W. Travis McMaken
Committee: George Hunsinger (chair), Bruce McCormack, Bryan Spinks.
The question of infant baptism poses both practical and ecumenical problems within the Christian church. This dissertation‘s burden is to argue that these problems are helpfully addressed through the construction of a relatively new doctrine of baptism, within which infant baptism is considered an appropriate form of administration, on the basis of Barth‘s mature theological commitments. Such a claim is counterintuitive insofar as Barth famously rejected the practice of infant baptism in his concluding part volume of the Church Dogmatics. My argument thus contains two aspects.
First, I argue that Barth‘s doctrine of baptism – and specifically, his rejection of infant baptism – has not been given a fair hearing. Against those who would write-off Barth‘s work on this subject as a departure from his broader theological commitments, I argue that those commitments deeply inform his decisions in these matters. After laying the necessary historical groundwork in chapter one, I move on in chapters two and three to explore why Barth rejected the two primary arguments in favor of infant baptism offered by the tradition. These two chapters conclude with exegetical excurses which attempt an exegetical ground-clearing on these matters. Chapter four takes a more positive approach, explicating Barth‘s doctrine of baptism in Church Dogmatics 4.4 and showing the way in which his treatment is closely related to other prevailing aspects of his thought especially in his doctrine of reconciliation as a whole.
Second, I argue that although Barth himself rejected infant baptism, such a rejection is not necessary on the basis of the broader commitments of his mature theology. Indeed, his mature theology possesses significant resources for deploying a relatively new doctrine of baptism within which infant baptism is a fitting mode of administration. Chapter five undertakes to demonstrate this claim. Therein I reconfigure Barth‘s doctrine of baptism by taking his own insights and impulses regarding the Christian life to bear on the question of baptism in ways that he did not. Ultimately, I argue for understanding baptism as a form of the gospel proclamation by means of which the church shoulders its missionary vocation.