Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Center for Barth Studies Book Review

Friend of the blog Han-luen Kantzer Komline reviews Keith Johnson's Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis. This book has previously received significant attention here at DET. Han-luen's review is exemplary and, as with everything she writes (I know, I've been her editor multiple times!), meticulously written. So be sure to surf on over and read her review of this important piece of Barth studies literature.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Bernard Cottret on Calvin and Education

I have been re-reading Cottret in preparation for teaching a course on the Reformation that will focus on Calvin. Indeed, Cottret’s volume was the July 2012 DET Book ‘O the Month. Anyway, it is high time that I shared some more of this excellent volume with you, gentle readers.

The subject for today is education, specifically, education associated with Calvin. So below are excerpts from Cottret on both the French system that Calvin went through, and the Genevan academy / college system that Calvin set up (in that order). In other words, this is another good, boring, educational post from your friends at DET.

(Ed. note: the internet tells me that this image is of the Genevan academy building, but I have no way of verifying that…)

Bernard Cottret, Calvin: A Biography (M. Wallace McDonald, trans.; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000).

Of the French system, specifically, the University of Paris:
The faculty of arts (or faculty of letters) granted only the degree of master of arts, a prerequisite to later obtaining the title of bachelor in one of the other three faculties (theology, law, medicine), followed by the licence and the thèse. . . . Instruction in arts comprised the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy). Philosophy was added to this. . . . Young men ordinarily began their studies about the age of thirteen with grammar. About age fifteen they enrolled, in Paris, . . . to pursue courses in one of about forty existing colleges. The first examination, the determinatio, permitted them to obtain the title of bachelor, followed by three and a half years of study for the licence. It was generally necessary to complete five years of study, the quinquennium, to obtain the license, licentia docendi, and the title of master of arts about the age of twenty-one. This in turn permitted them to become “regents” and to teach, while following courses in the higher faculties of theology, law, and medicine. (349)

And now, some material on the Genevan academy and college:
The plan was in fact for a double institution, both a college and an academy. Three professors were to teach Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The college itself was divided into seven classes, “two for reading and writing, the third to begin declensions, the fourth where they will begin Latin syntax and the elements of the Greek language, the fifth where they will continue with Greek syntax and begin dialectic, the sixth and seventh always advancing further.” . . . [T]here chairs for lecturers (or professors) were established, along with seven regents (teachers). (257)

The principle, a man who must “fear God,” was elected by the ministers and professors and confirmed by the syndics and Council. The life of the students was highly regulated: a sermon on Wednesday morning, two sermons on Sunday morning, and another on Sunday afternoon – without forgetting, one supposes, the catechism. In church they were under the vigilant observation of at least four teachers to enforce their assiduity and attention. Life followed an immutable rhythm: rise at six o’clock in summer, seven in winter, then prayers and teaching. Finally breakfast. Dinner at ten o’clock. Then the good children exercised their lungs by singing psalms for an hour before returning to their work. Any corporal punishment needed was administered at four o’clock, followed by the Lord’s Prayer, the Confession of Faith, the Ten Commandments, and the principal’s blessing. The discipline was rigorous: spanking, birching, and being given bread and water were part of a repressive arsenal employed against games, insolence, and absence from catechism. Nevertheless, in 1563 the teacher Claude Bardet was suspended for mistreatment of the children. (258)

The idea of leveled “classes” through which one moves as one achieves competency appeals to me very strongly. It seems to me that one problem with our educational system is the way we force students of diverse preparation and quality into “batches” and push them through levels come hell or high water. The system seems oriented toward production rather than establishing competence. With leveled classes such as this, some folks would move through quickly and some would move through slowly, but they would all achieve competence. And, of course, if it becomes clear that this sort of education is not for you, there could always been alternative tracks, etc. Of course, at least at the collegiate level, this would require a reconfiguration of educational economics - one that is well overdue.

But enough random ruminations. Until next time…


Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Howdy, Howdy: or, Introducing New DET Contributor Henry Coates

When Travis initially asked me to write for Die Evangelischen Theologen, I thought he was kidding. I'm no longer a student of any academic program other than one of my own design. Instead of being a practicing academic theologian, I'm an itinerant preacher/pastor who lives/works/struggles in the New Orleans area. I currently work as a chaplain and preach nearly every Sunday at churches across a broad theological spectrum, but I don't consider myself a serious theologian or thinker - especially one of the caliber to be writing for a theology blog with, you know, people who can read and write in German.

But Travis wasn't kidding. I felt under-equipped, but he wasn't buying it. So with his encouragement, I said Yes, yes, I can do this. So this is my intro post.

I read. A lot. That’s part of who I am – among many other things (e.g., Christian, white, male, educated, middle class), I am a reader. I’m ok with this.

I read, but I don’t write. To be a more effective reader, I must become a more effective writer.

Imagine it this way – if I don’t seek to communicate some my reflections on what I’m reading, reading becomes a purely selfish, narcissistic thing. It becomes something for myself and myself alone. It’s all about me. I may be seeking personal self-improvement and a growth in understanding through my reading, but if I truly love books, I must share what I take from them. To love is to share. To love is to tell others about the thing you love. To love is to speak so that others may hear, to write so that others may read.

To love is to share so that people may better understand why you love in the first place.

I want to share some of the joy I get from the books I read. As a recent graduate of a seminary in New Jersey, currently living in the deep dirty South and working as a chaplain, I concern myself with books on theology, preaching, biblical studies (history, criticism, and commentary), global church history, and the history of classical and late antiquity. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Karl Barth, Rowan Williams, Miroslav Volf and Stanley Hauerwas in theology / ethics, C. Kavin Rowe on Acts, and Peter Brown on innovation and transformation in late antiquity.

But before I get ahead of myself, a little bit more about who I am. I’m originally from New Jersey. I did my undergrad at a small liberal arts school called Drew, and somehow went from there to work for Habitat for Humanity down in New Orleans. I found myself joining a Presbyterian Church (USA), and that led to me serving for a year as a young adult volunteer in Kenya as a photographer. After my time in Africa, I attended Princeton Theological Seminary. And then after graduation I moved down to New Orleans, where I’ve been for about nine months now. I originally served as an emergency room chaplain, and grew more in my four months there than I did at three years of seminary. From the hospital I was hired as the chaplain to the Port of New Orleans, where I am still working now. My job is awesome. I get to hang out with seafarers from around the world, get to know them, try to serve them, and generally witness to the Gospel through a ministry of hospitality.

I preach weekly, and it is my hope that my writing on this blog can prove a useful tool for my verbal proclamation of the Gospel. The main force that drives my preaching is my understanding of the Word of God, Jesus Christ, as being a Word for us and with us. It is this Christ, the God who is with us, who has through his grace allowed us able to be with him. I try to capture this reality, this truth that transforms everything, through my preaching.  I seek to preach through strong, biblically based sermons a salvation that points us to different way of life, not a salvation that acts as an afterlife insurance policy. Although my preaching has gotten me into a few arguments with friends who attend the local Southern Baptist Seminary, I find myself increasingly intrigued with the grand mystery and privilege that is the verbal proclamation of the Word in sermonic form. It is my hope that after a few years of work and preaching down here in the Crescent City, I will find myself pursuing doctoral studies in Homiletics.

As this post was in the process of being published, Baker Academic sent me three books for review. In the next couple weeks / months, expect to see a review of Ronald E. Heine's Classical Christian Doctrine, Calvin and the Reformed Tradition: On the Work of Christ and the Order of Salvation by Richard A. Muller, and Matthew Levering's The Theology of Augustine: An Introductory Guide to His Most Important Works.


Monday, May 06, 2013

May Book o' the Month, or, Sallie McFague on how Parable destabilizes Myth

I recently decided to dig back in to Sallie McFague’s “new classic” work, Metaphorical Theology. This was occasioned by my recent observation of what is, unfortunately, a pervasive phenomenon: a self-described “Barthian” attempting to make his or her bones by beating up on someone who is generally recognized as doing a different kind of theology. Now, as DET readers know, I have no problem with drawing lines. But why would one want to re-hash such thoroughly hashed (*chuckles) terrain?

In any case, I had studied McFague’s book with some care before, but I had never gone cover-to-cover on it. So I decided to remedy that. Although I retain criticisms of McFague’s program, I found a good deal of salutary material within her pages. One such instance of highly salutary material is McFague’s discussion of parable. This is a rich vein that McFague mines well. Below is an extended discussion from McFague on the interrelation of parable and myth. I hope it motivates you to turn (or return) to this text with an appreciative (if still – as always – critical) eye. For this reason, I have also designated McFague's volume as the current DET Book o' the Month.

Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology, 46–47. As always, italics comes from the author and bold comes from me.
Ricoeur . . . [suggests] that parables work on a pattern of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation: a parable begins in the ordinary world with its conventional standards and expectations, but in the course of the story a radically different perspective is introduced that distorts the listener, and finally, through the interaction of the two competing viewpoints, tension is created that results in a redescription of life in the world. The uneasiness generated by the disorientation of a parable, introduced by the alien perspective, is nicely suggested by John Dominic Crossan: “I don’t know what you mean by that story, but I’m certain I don’t like it.” A parable is, in this analysis, an assault on the accepted, conventional way of viewing reality. It is an assault on the social, economic, and mythic structures people build for their own comfort and security. A parable is a story meant to invert and subvert these structures and to suggest that the way of the kingdom is not the way of the world. . . .

Throughout the parables, then, two standards—or we could say, two models—are in permanent tension with each other, and the effect of their interaction, for anyone who allows himself or herself to be personally involved, is profound disorientation. Thus, not “liking” the parables is the appropriate initial reaction to them. Crossan says the parables place the listener “on the edge of a raft” and what this means is the end of conventional security: “You have built a lovely home, myth assures us: but, whispers parable, you are right above an earthquake fault.” Ricoeur insists on the same point when he say that the reorientation in a parable is of an open-ended and relative sort, which does not allow us to remake our world according to a new set of rules and standards. If this is the case with parables, then “Christian” politics, art, morals, economics, philosophy, and so forth, are all questionable ventures, unless undertaken with appreciation for the relativity and partiality of all such “systems.” What the parables stand for is opposition to all forms of idolatry and absolutism, even the new orientation to reality brought about through the parables’ redescription of reality. The permanent function of parables is to enhance consciousness of the radical relativity of human models of reality, even when these models are “divinely inspired,” that is, based on the new way of the kingdom.
I especially appreciate the emphasis at the end on the “permanent function” of the parables. It puts one in mind of the Reformed tradition’s approach to theology . . .


Saturday, May 04, 2013

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

It’s time for another set of links from around the theoblogosphere for you, gentle readers, to peruse over your weekend or – perhaps – to tuck away somewhere for a furtive glance during the week. How and when you read is no concern of mine. But if you do read, consider reading the following.

DET has been fairly busy since the last link post, so here are links in case you need to catch up:

Alright, now that you’re all caught up on DET happenings, here are some posts that you’ll want to check out from across the theoblogosphere.

Bon appétit!


Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A bit of Gollwitzer on May Day

In celebration of International Workers' Day, I offer you this snippet from Helmut Gollwitzer. This is where I started with him; perhaps you will too. And if you find it hard to discern the rhetorical direction of his remark, I'll go ahead and let you know now that he anticipates a negative answer to the the first half and a positive answer to the second half of his closing rhetorical question.

Helmut Gollwitzer, "Why I am a Christian Socialist," §4.6.
The conversion to which the Christian community is called daily through God's word also includes turning away from its bond in the dominant system of privileges and active engagement for more just social structures no longer determined by social privilege. Therefore the important primary question today is the question about the relation of Christian existence and capitalism, not the question of the relation of Christianity and socialism. Can one as a Christian affirm and defend the present social system together with its underlying economic order or must this system be intolerable for a Christian?