Friday, June 29, 2012


As I think of how to best introduce myself, I am forced to reflect on my roots. Although usually when people ask about my Orthodox particularity the categories are “Cradle” or “Convert,” I am a mix of both. My mother’s family is Orthodox (Antiochian and Syriac), but I was not raised in that tradition. My German father and his Reformed heritage played a much more significant role in my theological upbringing. These two worlds actually collided and coincided cohesively. My Protestant grandfather adored the early Church. I have his Josephus text. He had extensive Greek lexicons and Hebrew aids. His penciled notebooks reflect his thoughts on Eusebius, in between teaching himself Spanish. He instilled this sense of wonder in my father, who dialogued with me about theology since I was young. When I began to practice Orthodoxy in college, I realized I never saw the Reformed side of my family clash with the Orthodox side. Truly, my path to Eastern Orthodoxy was forged by my grandfather and father with their commitment to a true-to-life faith, messiness and complexity and beauty intact. My parents found common ground in Scripture and the legacy of the early Church. I hope that my work reflects the expansiveness of my parents’ faith, their worshipful reflection on texts, and the Eastern and Western perspectives that live alongside each other in my home (and in the world). Christian history is Christian history. The early Church legacy belongs to all in the Church and waits to inform our movements, ignorant of modern divisions.

I strongly agree with Fr. Alexander Schmemann when he comments on the sad divorce between the study of theology and the worship life of the Church.

Alexander Schmemann,The Eucharist, 13.
The basic defect of school theology consists in that, in its treatment of the sacraments, it proceeds not from the living experience of the Church, not from the concrete liturgical tradition that has been preserved by the Church, but from its own a priori and abstract categories and definitions, which hardly conform to the reality of church life.
Study should inspire worship, and worship further study and ideally an expansion, not abandonment, of categories. This is where I appreciate the tendency of Orthodox priests and parishioners to say, "Yes, but more." This phrase acknowledges that a category is required for understanding and conversation, but when speaking of the Divine categories will fail to grasp the essence. Our expressions, jargon, and labels can only hope to reflect what we see, images lit in a mirror dimly.

Most of my interests spring organically from the movements of the laity, down here on the ground where we struggle to make sense of ritual, where we need to explain the purpose of this weird counter-cultural life to our children and to ourselves. I am interested in Eucharistic eating, elevating treatment of the body as a tool for worship, and ecumenical dialogue. I mourn the historic fractures between communions but believe honest, respectful communication can heal so many wounds. I hope my contributions can be at least a nod in that direction.

While studying at Princeton Theological Seminary, I had several opportunities to study ecumenics as an academic topic as well as countless conversations in theological classes where I had to defend/explain Orthodox positions. The concerns of the Reformers often line up with Orthodox concerns - in fact George Hunsinger made the statement in his "Lord's Supper" class that if the Eastern church had been involved he doubts the reformational rifts would have occurred. His work connecting Barth with Eastern descriptions, especially regarding the table, inspired me to engage reformational theology with confidence, expecting to find connections with the Fathers. I was surprised to uncover a rich undercurrent of Patristic perspectives in Barth and even Calvin. These are untapped riches for our communions where we could connect in meaningful, theologically significant ways.

[Ed. note: this post's title is the Russian word for an introductory letter.]

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New Center for Barth Studies Book Review

Andrew Root reviews Rosalene Bradbury, Cross Theology: The Classical Theologia Crucis and Karl Barth’s Modern Theology of the Cross (Pickwick, 2011). If you are interested in exploring Barth's Lutheran side (I feel compelled to insert an asinine remark here, such as
"although I don't know why you would be" . . . but I'm not going to sink to such), then this book might be for you. Check out the review to see!

P.S. For those of you who don't already know, I am (and have long been) the Center for Barth Studies book review editor. So if you have written a book about Barth - or know of a good one - that has not yet been reviewed on the site, feel free to contact me with that information: barth [dot] reviews [at] ptsem [dot] edu.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dan Migliore on the Munus Triplex, Part 1 – Soteriology

Ever since Gustaf Aulen’s seminal work, Christus Victor, dogmatic work on soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) has had to grapple with the brute fact that there is no single “official” way to think about Jesus Christ’s saving work in the theological tradition. While various streams of the tradition sink their roots in different patterns of thought or emphasis, none of these are exclusive and each must be brought into conversation with the others. Furthermore, there has been increased recognition that there are multiple ways of thinking about Christ’s saving work attested in scripture. So this multiplicity is not only in reception, as it were, but also in origin. This is, of course, to be expected given the nature of the event.

In any case, Migliore lays out very briefly one of the ways of handling this multiplicity within the Reformed theological tradition. And he does so by employing one of that tradition’s fun little Latin phrases. All the different theological traditions have these phrases that are shorthand for a whole modus operandi (see what I did there?) within that tradition. This one pertains to thinking through the person and work of Jesus Christ with reference to his “threefold office” of Prophet, Priest, and King. Here is how Migliore ties this bit of christology to soteriological multiplicity, having recently rehashed the three primary soteriological positions (he calls them “Christ the Victor,” “satisfaction,” and “moral influence”):

Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 186.
John Calvin’s doctrine of the three offices of Christ (munus triplex) offers help in keeping our understanding of the atonement open and inclusive. Calvin says that Christ acts as our prophet, priest, and king. In this doctrine of the three offices, Calvin is able to include the teaching of Jesus, his sacrificial death, and his lordly rule. We might restate Calvin’s teaching of the three offices of Christ as follows: Christ as prophet proclaims the coming reign of God and instructs us in the form of life appropriate to that reign (moral influence); Christ as priest renders to God the perfect sacrifice of love and obedience on our behalf (satisfaction); Christ as designated king rules the world despite the recalcitrance of evil and promises the ultimate victory of God’s reign of righteousness and peace (Christ the Victor).


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Time for another set of links. To begin this time, I would call your attention once more to the little index I posted for David Guretzki’s dispatches from the Princeton Theological Seminary Barth conference, held at the beginning of this past week. There are some related posts in the works from DET contributors that will see the light in due course.

So, on to the links! It will just be one mad grab-bag today…

  • Why not begin on a high note? Kim Fabricius’s doodlings are always worth a read, and here is another instalment. As usual, here is a snippet: “In a dream I asked Jesus, “Will anyone go to hell?” And the Lord replied, “Over my dead body.””
  • Ben Myers posted some links pertaining to the recent Princeton Theological Seminary Romans conference. Apparently you can watch video of many (perhaps all!) of the presentations. I wish I had more time on my hands to do so…
  • While we’re on the topic of “Ben Myers,” Patrik Hagman posted a review of Ben’s book on Rowan Williams. It hardly seems necessary to mention that it is a positive review.
  • Perhaps some of you remember my article in support of #OWS published a few months ago in Unbound. They have another good post on #OWS up at the moment, entitled “Letter to a Seminarian from a Christian Occupier.” Here is an excerpt: “We have to show the world that the Gospel is personally and economically transformative, that we know how to break the bonds of money and build powerful communities of love that inspire people to invest their whole selves in collective projects that nurture the body, spirit, heart, and mind.”
  • David Guretzki, mentioned previous, makes a second appearance on this week’s link list (suddenly I feel like Casey Kasem or something…) with his thoughts On Being a Christian Professor. These reflections were prompted by David’s promotion to full professor, so a big congratulations to Professor Guretzki!
  • Jason Goroncy shares a comic form rendering of the Westminster Confession. I don’t know whether to thank him or curse him…
  • Darren Sumner posted a guide for those interesting in starting to read Barth. Normally this would elicit a more forceful reaction from me, except that Darren often and in very reverential tones genuflects before my own classic post on the subject, So, You Want To Read Karl Barth? If only Darren had stopped there. Instead, however, he went on to disparage my recommendation of Barth’s Evangelical Theology as a starting place. This cannot stand. Expect a full response to that point soon...or, at least, eventualy.
  • Collin Cornell asks some good questions about The Old Testament's "Missional Narrative". I think I have said it before, but Collin’s blog is a solid addition to the theo-blogosphere, and you ought to follow it.
  • Ben Myers lists again with some reflections on the superiority of English vis-à-vis German as far as Christian worship goes.
  • Some of you may have noticed that Brian Leport has been working through John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis. He ended up doing 19 posts on the subject, and has now indexed them for easy reference. Head over and work through them, or at least skim them.
  • Finally, I leave you with this link to longtime friend of the blog Jason Ingall’s Pentecost sermon, entitled Jesus Sends the Spirit


Thursday, June 21, 2012

PTS Barth Conference - Some links

It's been quiet around here for a few days out of respect for this year's Princeton Theological Seminary conference on Karl Barth. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend (for the first time in approximately 7 years...), so the usual DET coverage of the conference was missing. Some of DET's contributors were there, however, and so some materials on the conference may find their way to sunlight in due course. But, until then, I want to point you all to a set of comments on the conference put together by long-time friend of the blog David Guretzki. David teaches theology at Briercrest.

Here are the links:

A big thanks to David for the time and effort that went into these posts. Thanks for keeping we who were absent in body but present in spirit from going absolutely mad from lack of news!


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dan Migliore on What it Means to “Witness”

One important word in broadly Barthian discourse is “witness.” Hauerwas even uses it, although I happen to disagree with how he does so (cf. the contribution of Doerge and Siggelkow from the last KBBC). But it has been an increasingly contested question as to what exactly such a notion entails. Migliore discusses the church’s ask of proclamation, and then goes into different aspects of what proclamation is about. As part of that discussion he does a bit of an analytic exercise on the language of “witness” and what it means to be a witness. This is nothing like a final account of the matter, but it does lay some important foundation pieces.

Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 276.
Several features of the act of witness stand out. First, the witness is sword to tell the truth. Second, faithful witnesses draw attention not to themselves but to someone or some event distinct from themselves. Third, the need of witnesses arises from the fact that what they tell us is quite different from a general truth that can be known in advance or that is universally accessible. Witnesses attest particular events. Fourth, the act of witness is self-involving. It requires personal participation, commitment, and courage. Fifth, because the truth is often resisted, the commitment of the witness in its most solemn form may become a commitment unto death. The link between witness and risk-taking is preserved in the New Testament word martus, “martyr.” While not in itself proof that a witness speaks the truth, commitment and risk-taking distinguish what a witness does from detached observation or passive transmission of information.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

John Calvin to Peter Viret, on the Exegesis of other Reformers

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been reading through some of Calvin’s correspondence for a handful of reasons. This is another gem that I wanted to lift out. Some of you may be familiar with what Calvin has to say about the exegesis of other important Reformation figures in the preface to his commentary on Romans, and this bit from his correspondence links up with that. But there are different figures in question here, and the comments are more particular – i.e., Viret asked where he could find helpful commentary on the book of Isaiah. Here is what Calvin had to say.

Coincidentally, this letter comes from that period during which Geneva had begun to desire Calvin’s return but Calvin had not yet given himself over to the idea. 

Letter of John Calvin to Peter Viret in May of 1540, as represented in John Calvin, John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, 4.188.
Capito, in his lectures, has some things which may be of much use to you in the illustration of Isaiah. But as he does not dictate any part to his hearers, and has not yet reached beyond the fourteenth chapter, his assistance cannot at present much help you. Zwingli, although he is not wanting in a fit and ready exposition, yet, because he takes too much liberty, often wanders far from the meaning of the Prophet. Luther is not so particular as to propriety of expression or the historical accuracy; he is satisfied when he can draw from it some fruitful doctrine. No one, as I think, has hitherto more diligently applied himself to this pursuit than Oecolampadius, who has not always, however, reached the full scope or meaning. It is true that you may now and then find the need of having appliances at hand, nevertheless I feel confident that the Lord will not desert you.
As an afterthought, when will more Oecolampadius get translated? If there are any PhD-wannabes interested in Reformation history, give ol' Oeco a good think.


Saturday, June 09, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Hey, look at that – it really has been a fortnight this time! Sit back, relax, and prepare for some links worth visiting.

Perhaps you remember my post from just over a fortnight ago entitled “Roman Catholicism in the News, with some Protestant Reflections”. My first unit today will bring you an update on that whole situation.

  • All these links come from the NYTimes, so let’s begin with an editorial they published recently - The Politics of Religion. Here is a quote:
    The First Amendment also does not exempt religious entities or individuals claiming a sincere religious objection from neutral laws of general applicability, a category the new contraception rule plainly fits. In 1990, Justice Scalia reminded us that making “the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land” would mean allowing “every citizen to become a law unto himself.”
    By way of application, the present situation seems to have the RC hierarchy wishing that they were (again, as they were in the past) a law unto themselves. Of course, look at the RC scandals in Ireland from the last century for a vivid example of how well that works out.
  • The nuns are attempting to be “respectful” while also exercising some backbone. What does that mean? They’re going to Rome “on June 12 to open a dialogue with Vatican officials.”
  • It isn’t enough that the nuns are going to Rome; they’re also going on tour! That’s right, they are hopping on a bus and going cross country, stopping at various social and economic justice ministries with which they are involved to highlight the important work. All this has a nice political edge as well. Here are two examples:
    The sisters plan to use the tour also to protest cuts in programs for the poor and working families in the federal budget that was passed by the House of Representatives and proposed by Representative Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who cited his Catholic faith to justify the cuts.
    And again:
    Sister Simone, a lawyer who ran a legal clinic for the poor in Oakland, Calif., for 18 years, is not completely on board with the bishops’ religious liberty campaign. She said that financing for Catholic social services had increased significantly in the three years since President Obama took office: “We’re celebrating the religious freedom we have.”
  • Maureen Dowd never disappoints when it comes to biting sarcasm. One has to appreciate her mastery of the genre on display in her piece, “Is Pleasure a Sin?”, regardless of whether you agree with her positions on particular of the issues discussed. The particular topic is the CDF’s recent censuring of a book on sexuality by a Roman Catholic scholar (and professor emeritus at Yale…). Here is an excerpt:
    The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which seems as hostile to women as the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, spent years pondering it, then censured it on March 30 but didn’t publicly release the statement until Monday. The denunciation of Sister Farley’s book is based on the fact that she deals with the modern world as it is. She refuses to fall in line with a Vatican rigidly clinging to an inbred, illusory world where men rule with no backtalk from women, gays are deviants, the divorced can’t remarry, men and women can’t use contraception, masturbation is a grave disorder and celibacy is enshrined, even as a global pedophilia scandal rages. In old-fashioned prose steeped in historical and global perspective, Sister Farley’s main argument is that justice needs to govern relationships.
  • Finally (for today), we have a more positive note. Huffpo is reporting that leaders of the USA Franciscans are backing the nuns, calling the Vatican crackdown "excessive." The article has a great first line: "The brothers have come to the sisters' defense." Of course, the Franciscans have had their own run-ins with the Vatican over the centuries, and one hopes that their experience in such things will serve them well.

This stuff has once again ballooned to take up a lot of space, but here are a few other links just to balance things out for you.

  • For those of you who are interested in the Lord’s Supper or in Mercersburg theology, there is a new edition of Nevin’s Mystical Presence coming to print.
  • Darren Sumner posted some good work on Psalm 22 and Jesus’ cry of dereliction that is definitely worth a read.
  • Roger Olson threw up a brief post about how odd it is that churches do not make greater use of the (trained) theologians in their midst. He speaks from personal experience, and I would add my observation from various churches as well (note: observations are different than experiences). I’ve heard many Christians complain that academic theology has left the church, but I’ve always felt that it is equally true that the church chucked it out, or at least ignored it until it went away…
  • Bobby Grow, frequent commenter and longtime friend of the blog, posted about the state of evangelical exegesis and made application to folks like John MacArthur and David Jeremiah. It will probably come as no surprise to readers here at DET that these names were not lifted up as sterling examples...
  • Continuing with that theme, as it were, Jason Goroncy offers a lengthy quote from Bonhoeffer's prison fiction on bad sermons. Like Jason, I have heard far too many bad sermons, and Bonhoeffer's little vignette really gets to the heart of things. Go read it all, but here is the last line: "My dear Frau Direktor, did it escape you again that the pastor said what you wanted to hear; but didn’t preach the word of God?"
  • Jon Coutts posted a couple paragraphs from Barth on why religion is worse than theoretical atheism. The topic of atheism keeps popping up here at DET…
  • Speaking of which, here is a quote I found from Moltmann on the subject. There is more, but here is the best part, and I’ll leave you with this until next time:
    [O]nly an atheist who does not worship false religious and economic gods can be a good Christian. . . . [O]nly a Christian who believes in the crucified Jesus is free from the pressure to create gods and idols for himself.


Thursday, June 07, 2012

Pannenberg on Change: Or, on Getting Older

Roughly a week ago, I reached a somewhat significant milestone; I turned 30.  While normally this would not elicit a blog post, around the time of my birthday I reread this passage in Pannenberg's early work Theology and the Kingdom of God which resonated with me:
The perverse (in the literal sense of that word) apperception of the divine reality in religious experience is only one more form assumed by the perversion of man's relation to the future. The perversion, of course, is the conventional perspective of experience in which the future is understood as a prolongation of what is already existing, rather than being understood as the creative origin of reality ... All conservative persistence in established securities will be shattered and surpassed by historical change.  The process of history is God's instrument in the education of humanity, bringing man to the awareness of his historicity and thus completing his creation. (68-9)
As I reflect more on this passage, it seems appropriate for more than my recent birthday. These last couple years, where I left working in a church and nearly all my friends and family, and moved to Minnesota to pursue a PhD, have "shattered" most of my "established securities." While this has been difficult at times, I'm grateful for the opportunity, and my hope is that I'm "learning" from it.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Dan Migliore on Reading Scripture for the “Whole Gospel”

Anyone who knows me, or has been a regular reader here at DET for any amount of time, knows that I’m a Barthian (of a particular stripe). But such folks also know that I’m only a Barthian because I was a Calvinist first. And I don’t mean either this kind of Calvinist, or this kind of Calvinist. I mean that I read (both past and present tenses) and love Calvin himself, and I am still convinced that – were it not for Barth – Calvin would be the best theological option on offer. One important piece of my thinking in drawing that conclusion is the biblical timbre of Calvin’s theology. More than anyone else, Calvin attempts (he does not always succeed, but he attempts) to say everything that he hears the Bible saying regardless of how neat, tidy, or comfortable it is for his theology. It is Calvin’s good faith effort to incorporate the entire biblical witness in his theology that sets him apart. 

Of course, part of what distinguishes Barth from Calvin is a different approach to the scope of the biblical witness. But that is an entirely different conversation. 

For the present, I want to highlight how Migliore transposes Calvin’s concern for theologically dealing with the entire biblical witness into a broadly Barthian framework. He does this by talking about “the whole gospel.”

Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 13.
It is…an inescapable part of the theological task to ask, What is the whole gospel that holds the church together in the bond of faith, hope, and love? If matters of race, gender, and ethnic heritage threaten the unity of the church, is that in part because our understandings of God, human beings created in the image of God, and the nature and purpose of the church are insufficiently formed by the gospel of Jesus Christ? If the church bears an uncertain witness on ecological issues, is that in part because the doctrine of creation has been badly neglected or is insufficiently integrated with other doctrines of the faith? If the church sets personal redemption against concern for social justice or concern for social justice against personal redemption, is that in part because its understanding of salvation is truncated? If the church is disturbed by the voices of the poor, women, blacks, Hispanics, the unemployed, the physically and mentally challenged, is this not because its quest for the whole truth of the gospel is arrested? When a deaf ear is turned to these disturbing voices, is it not because we assume that we are already in possession of the whole truth? In every age Christian theology must be strong and free enough to ask whether the church bears witness in its proclamation and life to the fullness and catholicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church is always threatened by a false unity that does not allow for the inclusion of strangers and outcasts. Theology exists to keep alive the quest for the whole gospel that alone can bring unity without loss of enriching diversity, community without loss of personal or cultural integrity, peace without compromise of justice. Theology must not only ask, What is the true gospel? But also, What is the whole gospel? What is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God in Christ (Eph. 3:18-19)?
As always, the emphasis is mine. 


Friday, June 01, 2012

Karl Barth: Rational vs. Rationalistic

There is a rather well-known story about Karl Barth (well-known within Barth studies, anyway) and reason, although I am unfamiliar with the source (if there is one). When asked about the place of reason in his theology, Barth is purported to have replied: “I use it!”

For whatever reason I decided to read a few pages in CD 1.1 this morning and, coming across the following buried in a fine-print section (as so many of Barth’s best comments are), decided to share it here for whatever you, gentles readers, think it may be worth.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.1, 296-7:
All dogmatic formulations are rational, and every dogmatic procedure is rational to the degree that in it use is made of general concepts, i.e., of the human ratio. It can be called rationalistic, however, only when we can show that the use is not controlled by the question of dogma, i.e., by subordination to Scripture, but by something else, most probably by the principles of some philosophy. If it is clearly understood that dogmatics generally and necessarily involves rational formulation, a rational formulation which is, of course, related to a completed proof and which takes account of Scripture, then no objection can be taken to logical and grammatical formulae as such, for we fail to see why these should be especially suspect more than certain legal formulae. The only thing is that we must ask whether in a given case they are appropriate to the matter or not, which means, concretely, whether it is an arbitrary anticipation, simplification, or even complication . . . [of] what Holy Scripture tells us.