Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pannenberg & Barth: ST, I.1.1

Given my interest in eschatology, one of my main goals this semester is to deepen my knowledge of both Moltmann and Pannenberg. I've given significantly less attention to the latter thus far, so I thought it might be fun to bring the readers of DET along for the ride as I begin to address this deficit. Without further delay here is the first of (hopefully) many snippets of reflection on his Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 2010).

The opening chapter of Pannenberg's ST is entitled "The Truth of Christian Doctrine as the Theme of Systematic Theology," and his initial discussion revolves around defining what the word "theology" means. While there are several points of interest in these initial pages, I want to point out how at the outset Pannenberg begins to reveal his relationship to Karl Barth, noting two instances in particular. His statement that "in the concept of theology the truth of theological discourse as discourse about God that God himself has authorized is always presupposed" (p. 7) demonstrates an affinity with Barth, but prior to that he has already begun to suggest that he will differ from Barth regarding how "creatures can attain to the knowledge of God." As he writes, "in any case, whether inside the Christian church or outside it, and even in the so-called natural knowledge of God, no knowledge of God and no theology are conceivable that do not proceed from God and are not due to the working of his Spirit" (p. 2). I am unclear whether Pannenberg is advocating a different understanding of natural theology or a theology of nature in this opening section; based on other reading I have my suspicions, but for now I will leave it open. Regardless, I look forward to seeing how he develops this further.

I assume that those familiar with Pannenberg are already well aware of how these statements can be fleshed out and nuanced, and if anyone can and desires to please jump in, but for my part I will hold off until the argument unfolds naturally further down the road in the texts.  For now let me end by noting that already from these first eight pages I have the suspicion that tracing the relationship between Barth and Pannenberg's theology would make for quite an enriching endeavor, one that I look forward to doing in some measure here at DET.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Theologian's Almanac: February 25, 2012

As I was listening to Garrison Keillor recite The Writer's Almanac for February 24, 2012, I thought, "Hey, we could do a Theologian's Almanac!" My hope is to offer one or two posts each month in honor of the births or deaths of influential Christians, theologians or otherwise. Such figures may be well-known or relatively unknown. The purpose of these posts is not to present an expert description or analysis, but rather, to draw attention to these figures and to resources for further investigation.

To kick off this series, I searched for a figure who was born or died on today's date and came across Berchtold Haller. Variations on his first name include Berchthold, Bertold, and Berthold. His dates are c. 1492 - February 25, 1536. Haller was a German-born reformer. During his studies at Pforzheim, he met Philipp Melanchthon. He was also an associate of Huldrych Zwingli, having met him in 1521. With Zwingli, Haller took part in both the Baden and Bern Disputations, ultimately establishing the Reformation in Bern. In 1532, he co-authored the Berner Synodus, which became Bern's church order. For more information on Haller, you can take a look at Mark Gstohl's Reformation history website.

Incidentally, The Writer's Almanac for February 25, 2012 includes an item relevant to our subject matter here at DET. It was on February 25, 1570 that the Roman Catholic Church officially excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England. For more information, do visit the link above.

It was also on this date in 1095 that William II of England, also know as William Rufus, called the Council of Rockingham. Anselm had been consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093, but he had not yet received the pallium from the pope. Since William had not recognized Urban II as pope, he rejected Anselm's request to receive the pallium from Rome. The council met to discuss this dispute. In the end the bishops sided with William, who sought to depose Anselm, and the nobles sided with Anselm. This left the matter at a stalemate. Anselm would finally receive the pallium in June of 1095, but would have to flee England in 1097 and remain in exile until William's death in 1100.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

New George Wishart Graduate Scholarship Strengthens Ties between Princeton and Aberdeen

The announcement of this new scholarship hit my e-mail yesterday morning, and I must say that it is happy news. Anything that promotes theological scholarship at quality institutions like those in question here is cause for celebration, indeed. So for those of you thinking of making the jump from New Jersey to Scotland, be sure to factor this into your decision-making process. I wonder: will they make it retroactively effective for those PTS transplants currently studying in Aberdeen? Perhaps that’s something folks should lobby for.

In any case, I’m also glad that they named this scholarship after George Wishart. Wishart was an important early figure in the Scottish Reformation. This is especially interesting to me at the moment because I’m doing a concurrent unit on the Scots Confession in an introductory theology class that I’m currently teaching. If not for Wishart, history likely would not have John Knox. And if not for John Knox (regardless of what you make of him, or how big of a role you think he played), the reformation in Scotland might well have followed Lutheran or Anglican lines rather than Reformed lines.

I linked above to Wishart’s Wikipedia page--Wikipedia being a good place to start, but no place for academic scholarship (just in case that isn’t already perfectly clear; I teach undergraduates now, I have to say these things…). In this particular case, the bare-bones entry for Wishart is basically accurate. But never fear, gentle reader, for I am here to put more interesting meat on these bare bones.

It was Wishart’s preaching in the early 1540s that drew Knox soundly into the reformational orbit. The two men were roughly the same age, and they seem to have developed something of a close bond. Knox was one of a close circle that accompanied Wishart on his preaching excursions, and Knox frequently walked at the front of the group carrying (conspicuously) a claymore (not a small sword) as a deterrent. Consequently, it came as a great blow to Knox when Wishart was condemned and burned at the stake for heresy. This event seems to have traumatized Knox a bit, and one suspects that this experience lies behind his vehement reaction to Bloody Mary Tudor and (when added to his Bloody Mary experience) goes some distance in explaining his intractable stance toward Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (i.e., he was deathly afraid that she would take the other Mary’s tack).

Wishart thus casts quite a long if indirect shadow on the Scottish Reformation through his preaching (which attracted Knox and laid an important evangelical foundation) and the sacrifice of his life in martyrdom. It is thus fitting that a scholarship be created in his name to ease the sacrifice required of others to study theology in Scotland today.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Hi, I'm Matt.

"I count myself one of the number of those who
write as they learn and learn as they write."

-John Calvin, quoting Augustine

From the brief introduction on the contributing authors page, you will have learned that "I'm studying systematic theology in the ThM program at Princeton Theological Seminary. I get to preach at The Well in Feasterville, PA. And I love my wife." I'd now like to go beyond this brief description and write a little about my interests and how I understand my contribution to Die Evangelischen Theologen. To do this, I too will follow Derek's lead in modelling this post on Travis's introductory post.

Who Are You?

My name is Matthew Warren. I go by both Matt and Matthew; it's your call. I grew up in South Jersey by Atlantic City and Ocean City; incidentally, I love surfing and the Phillies. I graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2008 with a BA in History and minors in Sociology and Philosophy. Last year, I graduated with an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, and I am presently studying systematic theology at PTS in the ThM program. This semester is both exciting and busy with courses on the history of Trinitarian doctrine, the theology of Schleiermacher, and the relation of election and ethics in Barth's CD II.2. Even as I study I have also had the opportunity to teach as an adjunct instructor at Middlesex County College. Last semester I taught Introductory Ethics, and this semester I will be teaching Western Civ. II. When I am not studying or teaching, I get to work with a church in Feasterville, PA called The Well as part of the preaching and teaching team. I am actually preaching this Sunday on 1 Peter 2:4-10. My wife is Ashley. She teaches 4th and 5th grade Spanish, and she's awesome. We live in an apartment a few miles from PTS.

What Should You Expect from Me at DET?

Since this is my first experience blogging, I expect that I will have something of a learning curve. With that, I plan to begin with some simple reflections on interesting passages in my readings, perhaps even some book reviews. I may also post my sermons or discuss issues raised during my sermon prep. I also hope to follow Travis in writing serials on Calvin's commentaries; I recently purchased the set from Christianbook.com for under $120 and this blog gives me a reason/outlet for working through it. As I get more used to the blogging world, I am sure that my writing will expand to other subjects.

What Theologians Do You Most Like To Read?

Karl Barth (!), John Calvin, Reinhold Niebuhr, Lesslie Newbigin, John Mackay...to be continued!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Augustine vs. Ambrose

I taught an intensive course on Augustine’s Confessions in January, so I read a bunch about Augustine. As part of that, I read through Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, which is still (and deservedly so) a standard text in the field.

Here is an interesting tidbit wherein Brown compares Augustine and Ambrose. I offer it because Augustine often gets described as an austere, unapproachable figure, off by himself reading and writing with precious little human contact. Indeed, this lack of contact is supposed to be the source of his less than desirable views on human sexuality (more on that in another post). The truth is quite the opposite, as we glimpse in the below.

Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, 411-12.
To an African clergyman…Augustine was not the writer whose thought had aroused admiration and concern around the Mediterranean: he was, above all, a bishop who had practiced what he preached. The Christian bishop was now an important figure throughout the Roman world: visits to his residence had become a normal part of the social life of most towns. Augustine sensed this change: he was particularly concerned with the ‘image’ that a bishop should present to the outside world. His own hero was Ambrose. At a time when he himself felt in need of reassurance after the misbehavior of one of his protégés, he urged a Milanese deacon, Paulinus, to write a life of Ambrose. Ambrose had been dead for twenty-five years; and seen at that distance by a man such as Paulinus, he appeared very different from the Ambrose that we meet in Augustine’s Confessions. The Ambrose of Paulinus is a man of action, who had cut a furrow through his contemporaries: no less than six people suffer crushing divine punishments for standing in his way or for criticizing him, among them quite ordinary African clergymen. Paulinus plainly felt that, at the Last Judgement, men would still be divided between those who admired Ambrose, and those who heartily disliked him. When Augustine’s friend, Possidius, came to write his Life of Augustine, the picture was very different. Possidius will dwell, rather, on the life that Augustine had created for himself and others in his bishop’s house: on how he had written verses on the table to prohibit malicious gossip; on how anyone who swore would forfeit his glass of wine; on how they ate with silver spoons, but off simple crockery, ‘not because they were too poor, but on purpose’.

The focus of Augustine’s ideal had been the common life of absolute poverty lived by himself and his clergy in the bishop’s house. The citizens of Hippo could well be proud of this.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Briefly introducing...

"'God with us' is the centre of the Christian message - and always in such a way that it is primarily a statement about God and only then and for that reason a statement about us men."

- Karl Barth, CD IV.1, 5.

"But with all my education,
I can't seem to commend it,
And the words are all escaping me,
And coming back all damaged,
And I would put them back in poetry,
If I only knew how,
I can't seem to understand it,

And I would give all this and heaven too,
I would give it all if only for a moment,
That I could just understand the meaning of the word you see,
'Cause I've been scrawling it forever,
But it never makes sense to me at all."

- Florence and the Machine, "All This and Heaven Too"

If you know anything about me, you'll know that I love the theology of Karl Barth. While I find various aspects of his theology to be quite problematic (his views of women in volume III for starters), I completely affirm his central conviction that the Gospel is primarily a word about the identity and work of God as revealed in Jesus Christ (Emmanuel) and only then a liberating word for humanity. I often feel like Jaroslav Pelikan when he once said that it wasn't so much that he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, but rather he peeled back the layers to find that which he always believed. The more and more I study the theology of Barth, I realize that his doctrine of God and the identity of God as revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ are things I always believed in the faintest sense but never had the conceptual tools to formalize them. I believe that Barth's understanding of the identity of God offers an essential and necessary corrective to the various patriarchal conceptions of God as offered by most of classical western theology. In light of this, I'm interested in bringing Sarah Coakley into conversation with Barth's christology.

As for other areas beyond Barth and Coakley, I'm also very interested in liberation theology and the corrective therein that the essential word of the Gospel is liberation for humanity. Closely related to this is my interest in apocalyptic theology insofar as it offers a helpful understanding of the distinctions among human persons, which are eradicated in Christ (Gal. 3:28). At the same time, the difficulty arises in attempting to preserve the particularities among persons that are often used as a means to gain power and secure the established structures and (often oppressive) systems in play. In the long-term and as one who happens to be a stutterer, I would like to someday explore the possible relationship between theology and the disability of stuttering. And as long as we're throwing things out there, you can add theological methodology (specifically Luther's theologia crucis), eschatology, ecclesiology, the theology of the Blumhardt's, and religionless Christianity to my never-ending list of interests. You'll find traces of (almost) all of these interests at my personal blog that I'll (hopefully) still update throughout the current semester.

This semester, I'm taking three courses: Critical Race Theory, Sexuality and the Christian Body, and Election and Ethics in Church Dogmatics II.2. When I get the time to write on this blog, my posts will probably be concerned with the topics of race, sexuality and/or Barth. This semester in particular has highlighted the reality that graduate students are bombarded with so many texts and ideas. It is routinely difficult to put all of those impressions, questions, and thoughts into written form. For this reason, I find myself playing the Flo+ song quoted above repeatedly as it all-too-accurately describes my entire graduate school experience. This trouble in finding the right words is not limited to academic papers, but extends itself to blogging as well. So I hope that anything I might offer here will be helpful and edifying for all.


Friday, February 10, 2012

A Brief Introduction

Hello! I am Scott Rice. As I mentioned in my blurb on the contributing authors page, I'm a husband and a student currently in my last semester of the MDiv program at Princeton Seminary. I hope to pursue further theological studies with aspirations to teach down the road. My main interests pertain to the disciplines of systematic theology and the history of christian doctrine. Below are some of my research foci and what you can expect from my contributions here at DET.

At the beginning of my seminary studies a mentor gave me one simple piece of advice: use this period to read broadly. As time has progressed that same advice was supplemented by the admonition to dig deep into one or two thinkers/doctrines. I am hopeful in making the former a lifelong practice. The latter has meant a more particular investment in the doctrines of God and christologies of Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Barth. These two theologians have, thus far, most peaked my interest into issues such as (1) the relationship between the divine eternal relations (begetting, proceeding, etc.) and the historic missions (esp. von Balthasar via Thomas), (2) the use and limits of kenosis, both in christology and the doctrine of God, and (3) theories of atonement (e.g., is there a dominant scriptural metaphor?).

From my posts you can generally expect contributions falling into one of three categories. First, journalistic updates on the theology-related events I attend (conference notes, public lectures, etc.). Second, general thoughts and questions from noteworthy topics that I encounter in my own readings. And third, a contribution I would like to be consistent with, words on how theology functions in preparing the church for its missional task.

I am also firmly convinced that there is a metaphysical link between good theology and the art of fly-fishing. Give Norman MacLean’s classic, A River Runs Through It a read if you do not believe me.

Your readership is deeply appreciated, and your comments even more so. Thanks in advance for reading!


Wednesday, February 08, 2012

New Center for Barth Studies Book Review

Melanie Webb reviews David Gibson and Daniel Strange (eds.), Engaging with Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques (Apollos, 2008). I think that I would have been a bit harsher had I written the review, but Webb does a judicious job...and to be honest, that's why it's much better than she's the one who actually wrote the review! Be sure to check it out!


Monday, February 06, 2012

On the Lordly Bishops

By. Rev. Jason T. Ingalls

The Nicodemist posted an article the other day entitled, "The Bishops March on Westminster." It described the stand Church of England bishops took in their position as "Lord's Spiritual" in the English Parliament. At issue was a controversial bill that threatened to cap welfare benefits per household, a move that many believed and some research suggested would lead to even more poverty and homelessness, especially for children. The English bishops used their influence to add wording to the bill that exempted children from capped benefits.

The Nicodemist attacks the privileged place of the Church of England in the English government. As an American, I don't have a problem with that attack. It's interesting to me that there are Lord's Spiritual, and I more or less support the move to either remove their voices from Parliament or to make the Lord's Spiritual more representative of the faiths present in England. But, this isn't the nub of the Nicodemist's attack.

Instead, he points the finger at the way that the bishops went about protecting the poor:
Where precisely is that upside down kingdom that Jesus inaugurated to be found in the ever so predictable assumption of the tools of the powers that be? Protest the victimisation of the poor certainly but do it by modelling the incarnational ministry of solidarity with those they seek to defend – in other words, do it as one of them. Let me put it as simply as possible: if you are a Bishop of the Church continued exercise of Lordly functions as a part of bishopric role is anathema to the example of Jesus whom you are called to follow. Nothing less than repentance is called for.
Yes, it is true. Repentance is called for. In fact it is ordered in the faithful use of Morning and Evening Prayer and the weekly service of Holy Communion. While I appreciate the admonition
that the bishops should model their ministry on the example of Jesus, I rankle at the idea that Jesus somehow did not exercise "Lordly" functions in his earthly ministry.

He spoke to the scribes and Pharisees not as one of the people who they oppressed, but as one with authority.

He drove out demons by the force of his word.

He went out of his way to claim and establish his lordship of the Sabbath.

He performed miracles for the sake of showing his authority to forgive sins.

Even his overturning the tables or his entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey are not somehow the inauguration of a peaceable kingdom in the way we think of peace. "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword," he said to his disciples as he rode up to Jerusalem (Matthew 10:34, NRSV). He did not enact solidarity with the poor and oppressed in his symbolic and royal actions as he approached Jerusalem. He took on the mantle of the Jewish Messiah as he understood that Messiahship from Israel's Scriptures. He was showing himself King, showing himself Lord, a kingship and a lordship exercised (not abdicated) in the form of a servant.

The question is not the abdication of lordly functions by the bishops. The question is whether or not they can exercise their lordship in the way that Christ exercised his.

In the final analysis, the question is this: would the Nicodemist rather the bishops have been silent? The way that a Church relates to the State is always perplexing, but to say that the bishops standing up for the poor isn't somehow good enough because they did so from the House of Lords is, well, ridiculous. Would he not have done the same?

Ed. Note--This is a guest post written by good friend of the blog, Rev. Jason T. Ingalls, a Episcopal priest currently ministering in Cambridge (the one in England, not the one in Massachusetts).

Friday, February 03, 2012

"Why I Support #OWS as a Reformed Theologian": My Most Recent Publication

Maybe some of you remember Occupy Wall Street (#OWS), that big news story of last Fall. Did you know it's still going? Approximately 400 folks were recently arrested during a protest action in Oakland, CA, in an incident where some reports say police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at crowds of protesters composed primarily of families (yes, including children).

Maybe some of you may remember my "Nein!" to Robert Grow concerning #OWS.

Those of you who DO remember may be interested in hearing that thinking on these matters has continued, and that it has born fruit in an article published recently in Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice, a publication maintained by the PC(USA). The article is entitled, "Why I Support #OWS as a Reformed Theologian", and while some of the material from my response to Grow found its way into this article, there are significant amounts of new material as well.

In my estimation, #OWS raises profound questions for American society - indeed, for Western society as a whole. The church, and especially its theologians and pastors, would be foolish to ignore it. I'll leave you with part of my conclusion. You'll need to surf on over to read the article in full.
In our nation today, it is #OWS that calls our soci­ety back to a con­cern for social jus­tice, for tak­ing the side of the poor and oppressed and stand­ing with them against the priv­i­leged, and who remind the church of its respon­si­bil­ity for faith­ful and active covenant rela­tion­ship with God. Karl Barth, per­haps the great­est Reformed the­olo­gian since John Calvin, once wrote that “God may speak to [the church] through Russ­ian Com­mu­nism, a flute con­certo, a blos­som­ing shrub, or a dead dog. We do well to lis­ten to [God] if [God] really does.” Whether you pre­fer to think of #OWS as Russ­ian Com­mu­nism, a flute con­certo, a blos­som­ing shrub, or a dead dog, I believe that the Reformed tra­di­tion shoves us rudely toward the affir­ma­tion that #OWS is where God is speak­ing to the church in this time and place. This cer­tainly does not mean that the church must now pro­claim the gospel of #OWS. Indeed, that would be a very seri­ous mis­take. But #OWS reminds the church of some­thing that it has for­got­ten, namely, that faith­ful and active shoul­der­ing of covenan­tal respon­si­bil­ity in rela­tion­ship with God ineluctably involves love of neigh­bor by tak­ing the side of the poor and oppressed and work­ing in our soci­ety for justice.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

An Introduction...

“Like most North Americans of his generation, Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he’s devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves.” –David Foster Wallace, in Infinite Jest

If my life had a narrator in the Fall months of 2008 (spoken in a sullen British accent as in Stranger than Fiction), I am sure that narrator would have to steal Wallace’s quote. At that time, I worked in a mission that housed the homeless, addicted, and paroled in Anderson, Indiana. My job description was diverse and continually inflated, but one of my duties was to provide Christian nurture in this context. Much of this was in prayer, counseling, and bible studies. The Christian Center hired me when my degree in print journalism was still hot in my hands. I took a few introductory courses in Christian history, theology, and ethics at my alma mater, Anderson University. Yet these courses mainly served to stir a deep skepticism of my fundamentalist Christian faith. Having dissected most of the faith I held dear, I entered Christian ministry with the simple belief that the historical Jesus cared for the poor and so should I. Thus, barely six months into that ministry I recognized that I really didn’t know why I was pursuing Christian ministry—and yet I knew I had to pursue ministry. At that time, the best answer to that quandary was a seminary education. Having never visited and knowing little about Princeton Theological Seminary, my extraordinarily patient and supportive wife and I packed our bags and moved to New Jersey.

At PTS, my primary motive was to develop the relationship between my interest in theology and my passion for social justice. Prior to my first year of theological education, my sense of social justice determined what I believed about God. However, I found that my God shape-shifted according to the social issues that interested me. Hence, I was easily subjected to Feuerbach’s criticism of religion. Those of you who are familiar with PTS might find what happened next a bit predictable. In the spring of 2009, I was introduced to the theology of Karl Barth via George Hunsinger and Dietrich Bonhoeffer via Nancy Duff. This introduction signaled a theological shift that significantly impacted my faith and life. I learned that both Barth and Bonhoeffer’s social action extended from the truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Considering this, I found that my previous efforts in helping the poor and afflicted were fundamentally selfish. These discoveries were absolutely liberating. Through my reconsiderations, I developed a passionate interest in theology and renewed passion for the social and political implications of theological reflection.

That is close to where you find me here today. I have intentionally left out much in this semblance of an introduction because I anticipate discussing my theological story in various ways through this blogging community. So, what can you expect from me? Well, as you probably can tell, theology is a very personal endeavor for me. Therefore, as I blog I will inevitably reflect both theologically and personally. Furthermore, as indicated in my biographical blurb, you can expect me to reflect on the doctrine of Holy Scripture—as that is a primary interest of mine. More so, I will be in class for the foreseeable future and I like to challenge myself by testing what I am learning in those classes beyond the requirements of those courses. So, this semester you can expect some reflection on early Trinitarian doctrine and Lesslie Newbigin. Lastly, I am somewhat obsessed with music and running. Although I don’t anticipate any theological reflection on running, I do expect to talk about music. Mind you, I don’t play a single instrument (other than air guitar and air drums)—but I am quite the pretentious if not skilled listener. I look forward to venturing into this weird and wild blogosphere. See you there.