Thursday, February 27, 2014

Comments Brought to Light: David Congdon on Bultmann, Barth, Heidegger, Scripture, Tradition, and Sache

Collin Cornell recently provided a guest post here at DET entitled, “Helmut Gollwitzer and John Webster on Scripture, or, the problem of *ethical* biblical criticism.” It is a very thoughtful post, and it has generated a number of comments. Twenty-seven, to be exact. That conversation is very interesting and I encourage you to go read it thus far. But it was recently the scene of an extensive set of comments by David Congdon in response to Phil Sumpter and addressing a number of interesting questions that depart somewhat from the subject of Helmut Gollwitzer and John Webster on the doctrine of scripture (although they grow organically from the starting point).

In any case, I wanted to highlight these comments because I thought that they were particularly helpful articulations, and I wanted to provide a separate comment thread so that discussion on these topics can continue in their own dedicated location. I have only provided Congdon’s comments here, and I encourage you to go read the original comments thread in order to get a sense of the context.

Comments by David W. Congdon

1. Bultmann has almost no indebtedness to Heidegger, as surprising as that will sound. Indeed, all of his material decisions are made prior to encountering Heidegger; Heidegger actually read Bultmann before Bultmann read Heidegger, so the influence may very well be in the other direction; Heidegger provides Bultmann with formal concepts but that's it; and at every point that Heidegger transgresses a limit determined by the material norm of theology, Bultmann objects. So Heidegger is of no material significance where Bultmann's theology is concerned. (This is not a new thesis. Roger Johnson made the case for it in 1974, and the publication of Heidegger's Nachlass in the years since has confirmed it.)

2. Bultmann explicitly appeals to the tradition of the church as the starting-point for Christian theology. I may have given the wrong impression when I criticized appeals to tradition. Bultmann is quite clear in 1925 that the “concrete situation” for exegesis is “the tradition of the church of the word.” Since “I stand in my existence in the tradition of the word, there is a readiness for faithful questioning.” And in 1929 Bultmann says that the communication of the church “belongs itself to what is communicated,” since it is not a “mere conveying” of facts but rather a word that addresses each person. The church’s teaching “has the character of tradition, which belongs to the history that it narrates. The tradition belongs to the event itself.” I could go on, but the point is that Bultmann affirms that the gospel message includes the tradition. The only question, of course, is in what sense. How are we to understand the way in which kerygma and tradition relate?

3. Everyone seems to get tripped up over Bultmann's discussion of existence. It all goes back to his infamous statement in 1925 that “if one wishes to speak of God, one must evidently speak of oneself.” Most people stop reading at this point, which is a shame, because he ends up explaining what he means in a way that debunks (demythologizes!) the false reports about him. Later in the same essay he writes: "We cannot speak about our existence, since we cannot speak about God; and we cannot speak about God, since we cannot speak about our existence. We could only have the one with the other. . . . In any case, a speaking of God, if it were possible, must be at the same time a speaking of ourselves." The key here is the "at the same time" (zugleich). Bultmann never reduces talk of God to talk of human existence, as if God is directly accessible in or identified with existential questions. On the contrary, his point is a soteriological one: if God is only known in revelation, and if revelation is always also reconciliation (as Barth rightly perceived), then God is only known where God savingly acts upon us, and that means we can only speak of God if we are also at the same time speaking of ourselves. The two (divine and human) are coterminous. Thus Bultmann could say in 1924 that “the object of theology is indeed God, and theology speaks of God in that it speaks of human beings as they stand before God, and therefore out of faith.” God is the object of theology (not human existence), but since God is only known in revelation, theology speaks of God in speaking of the human person standing before God. And so, returning to the 1925 essay, we read: “if our existence is grounded in God, i.e., it is not available outside of God, then the apprehension of our existence just means the apprehension of God.” Our existence is not available outside of God, and thus when Bultmann says that theology speaks of human existence, this is just code for "speaks of God." Bultmann's posthumously published lectures on theology reinforce the point that the normative Sache of exegesis is found only in the divine object and never in the human subject: “the criterion of truth [of our God-talk] is not given in the individual subjective relation to the object, but rather in the object itself.” And just to show that these are not merely statements from the early "dialectical" Bultmann that he leaves behind when he turns in a more explicitly existentialist direction in the late 1930s, we find the following statement in his 1961 essay on demythologizing: “Because God is not an objectively discernable phenomenon of the world, we are only able to speak of God’s action if we speak at the same time [there's the zugleich again] of our existence as affected by God’s action.” That is to say, the existence in question is existence “affected by God’s action,” and this affectedness “has its origin strictly in God,” such that in the presence of this divine action we are “merely those who are passive, those who receive.” In sum, the human existence with which theology is concerned is existence affected by God's prior act in Christ, existence standing before God, existence in God.

4. As you admit, you have not read much of Bultmann's work. If you want to see where he develops these ideas, take a look at my reading guide to Bultmann that I posted recently on my blog. You can find all you need there. I would also recommend the book Christus Praesens by James F. Kay, which is probably the best book on Bultmann's christology.

[Ed. note: Here David moved from addressing questions of Bultmann interpretation to more independent theological considerations caught-up in the discussion.]

1. There is a false dichotomy that I discern in your comment about the regula fidei. You seem to suggest that we have two options: either (a) starting from "a clean 'pre-creedal' slate" and building up to a full theological system or (b) presupposing the received tradition as normative. I reject both options. It all depends on responsibly and clearly differentiating between kerygma/gospel and text/tradition. The normative Sache encounters us in and through the text and its traditions without ever identifying itself with them. There is indeed something "pre-creedal" that is not some ahistorical blank slate. The tradition of Christian faith cannot and must not be identified with the dogmatic creeds that are a historically situated translation of the eschatological message of Christ. The received tradition is only truly tradition, i.e., the handing-on of the faith, insofar as it becomes, in the moment, the medium of God's speech to us. It is not in itself the bearer of this message.

2. Staying on this theme, let's turn to the witness/reality problem. Here is where we truly disagree -- and perhaps fundamentally so. You write: "I am not saying (that Barth etc. says) that there is no gap, but I am saying that gap is 'bridged,' and that happens pneumatologically. To use Childs’ phrase, the text is 'infused with its full ontological reality...'" Notice the apposition of "pnematologically" and "the text." This indicates where you side with the postliberalism of Childs over against the actualism of Barth and Bultmann. For the latter, the work of the Spirit does not occur in the text itself but in the encounter with the text here and now. The text is never "infused" with anything; it is a fully human document that simply attests what particular people and communities understood about God. The reality never becomes a property of the text, nor does it become a property of the reader. Instead, the text becomes the medium of God's speech when and where the Spirit illuminates the reading of it, which occurs when and where we hear the kerygma as a message that concerns us. And this encounter with the reality of God occurs again and again, ever anew, so that we cannot speak of a gap being "bridged." Indeed, we can only really speak of a "bridging" ever anew. But I think we have to dispense with gap language altogether. The gap only exists on the human side, and that's simply because of the ontological differentiation between creature and creator; it is nothing unique to the text. On the divine side, there is no gap at all, because God is noncompetitively present in the world. God is paradoxically identical with the creaturely factors that become the sites for the human encounter with Christ. So on the divine side, there is no "gap" to cross; on the human side, the distinction between reality and witness remains even in the moments of paradoxical identity (i.e., it remains paradoxical), simply because God can never be objectified as something available at hand.

3. I agree with you that we need to do some careful dogmatic thought, but such thought is always, for me, controlled by what God savingly does in Jesus Christ. The soteriological action of God is constitutive of who God is. And since God does not reconcile us by infusing us with anything, because I understand God's saving action to be a forensic act of justification by grace alone (for reasons we can discuss another time), it follows that God is not a God who infuses anything into the text of scripture. So I disagree with your entire understanding of how God relates to the text, and for basic dogmatic reasons.

4. "I totally agree with this statement of yours: 'The Sache that is Christ becomes the hermeneutical key for understanding the genuine message within a fallible and historically situated document.' Except that I think the substance of Scripture is the Trinity and not Christ per se (see Chris Seitz’s debate with F. Watson)." Two problems. First, the Sache is not "the substance of scripture." It is the living Christ himself in his kerygmatic encounter with us. Second, I reject any distinction between trinity and christology regarding the Sache. Such distinctions trade on what I consider to be a false understanding of the trinity. The Christ-event in its historical actuality is the being of the trinity: the Father is the one Jesus experiences as the power of his sending, while the Spirit is the one Jesus experiences as the power of his mission. This historical event simply is the eternal trinity. Also, Bultmann has no aversion to thinking about God's being, once we understand that this being is not something above or prior to God's actions in history. I discuss this at length in my dissertation and describe his position as an "eschatological theological ontology."



J. Scott Jackson said...

Good stuff.

Tracking this old/new debate (largely from the "outside") sends me back to this:

"Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other."

W. Travis McMaken said...

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.1.1.

J. Scott Jackson said...

Yep, right there at the very beginning. From the pen of the (unaccommodated) proto-Bultmannian himself. It's the last part of the quote that particularly jumps out at me.

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks again all for moderating/contributing to this. I am itching to respond but unfortunately I cannot provide a more detailed response right now - time pressure, as always. I've got deadlines, meetings, money to make, and kids etc. etc. I'll just rattle of the following thoughts here, while deeply regretting that they are not doing justice to the well thought our response that David has graced me with:

* thanks for the interesting insights on Bultmann - I'll follow that up;
* it seems we agree on the need for first order dogmatic theology when doing hermeneutics, after all. The question, then, is the nature of the dogma - your own statements on the nature of that "dogma" indicate to me that this is where the real meat of the issue lies;
* I think there were some misunderstandings of my position. For example, by "substance of the text" i'm not collapsing text and substance (that is a wrong interpretation of the genitive "of"): replace it with the word "subject matter," perhaps (though i find that phrase a bit too ideational - I'm very much into ontology). However, I do want to emphasis that the reality "of" the text (i.e. the reality pointed to by the text) does -for Childs and I believe for Barth - have a concrete shape, i.e. it is Trinitarian, and that relates materially to the shape of Scripture (Robert Jenson has inspired me most on this); I sense you will deeply disagree with me on this and I would love to invest more time into analyzing your comments and thinking about why and where;
* Childs is not postliberal (a common misunderstanding). He also has an actualistic understanding of revelation and I actually agreed with large swathes of what you wrote on that. Other metaphors Childs uses: the Scripture is a "vehicle" of the reality, it >becomes< a "transparency" to the reality itself (e.g. Paul's discussion of "covenant" can - when "infused by the Spirit" - >become< a "transparency" to the ultimate reality of covenant itself [while discussing this issue Mark Elliot talks of the "realia" of salvation history] - again, this gets us into ontological issues that I think really divide Bultmann and Barth [though I may be wrong] - it's about the ontological reality of the God- a reality with a shape - into which we are taken up and invited to participate [here's my sense that we differ on issues of "substance": not sure I'd go all the way with you on a forensic reading of the gospel];
* I don't really get how we cannot distinguish between "Christology" and "trinity" - the two are not the same thing. Focusing on the "trinity" is a way of putting Christ in his proper context. That has hermeneutical consequences.
* my understanding of the relation between text and regula fidei is dialectical and pneumatically mediated; it's not an either-or between blank slate/predetermined meaning.

I would of course be delighted to hear responses to these short remarks, but I'm am embarrassingly aware that they do not constitute a worthy response to David's detailed comments.

David W. Congdon said...


Thanks for the push-back.

1. I'm not clear what you mean when you say: "I do want to emphasis [sic] that the reality 'of' the text (i.e. the reality pointed to by the text) does -for Childs and I believe for Barth - have a concrete shape, i.e. it is Trinitarian, and that relates materially to the shape of Scripture (Robert Jenson has inspired me most on this)." This sentence doesn't make much sense to me. You speak of the "reality" of the text having a "concrete shape," which relates to the "shape of Scripture." Translated into clearer language, aren't you just saying that the object of scripture determines what scripture says? If so, isn't that self-evident? I'm not sure what you're trying to get at here. Perhaps you have something more radical in mind, but I can't figure out what it is.

2. When I said Childs is postliberal, I meant that the position you articulated with respect to Childs in your earlier comments was postliberal. I still think that's the case. In other words, I use the term "postliberal" to describe the content of your position, not its connection to some historical school of thought. Talk of the text becoming "transparent" to the reality is part of the problematic legacy of postliberal thought that I want to reject. To say that the text becomes transparent suggests that we can somehow bypass the historicity of the text and can encounter the object of its witness directly. But that kind of approach fails to take seriously the culturally alien nature of the text. If we don't recognize that scripture belongs to a foreign Weltbild, we run the risk of collapsing the divine subject-matter into the cultural context of the prophets and apostles. And that precludes the possibility of genuinely hearing the message of Christ today as a word that concerns us.

3. Explain what you mean by "ontology" and "ontological issues." I suspect that what you have in mind separates you from Barth and Bultmann both. The phrase "reality with a shape" doesn't have any material content. Can you put some flesh on it?

4. Of course we can differentiate between christology and trinity as doctrines. The question is: differentiate in what sense? Can we really speak about the trinity being the Sache of the text as if this is something different from saying that christology is the Sache? I don't think so. The trinity, as I understand the doctrine, is just a way of conceptualizing the Christ-event as it pertains to the Godhead. Just as soteriology is a way of conceptualizing the Christ-event as it pertains to the world. They are, in the end, just different perspectives on one and the same reality and event. The entirety of Christian theology is therefore a way of interpreting what occurs in Jesus.

5. I'm still worried about how you understand "pneumatic mediation."

Thanks for the provocative dialogue.

Phil Sumpter said...

I really am dying to respond to this - especially to your comments in #2! This is all very interesting and helpful; unfortunately, due to the exigencies of the moment I really cannot. I'll hopefully get back to you when I return from a conference next week. Thanks again for this, it's refreshing to speak to an informed Bultmannian (if I may label you so) on these issues (incidentally, I live in Bonn, Germany, and in the Protestant Old Testament faculty [Graupner, Oeming [now in Heidelberg], W.H. Schmidt, Gunneweg] Bultmann has very much won the day - alas!).

Nathan Maddox said...

Thanks for these wonderful remarks, David.

Maybe a trivial point for most, but Hans Jonas, who, as you point out in your diss, inspired and even shaped Bultmann's concept of demythologizing, read Being in Time in 1927, and took multiple classes with Heidegger at Marburg before outlining demythologization in his letter to Bultmann in 1929. It seems there could be significant influence through Jonas, depending on just how indebted the young and eager Jonas was to Heidi at that time, just how determinative his original outline of demythologizing was for Bultmann, and the coincidence of the two.

Also, on the use of the formal-material distinction to mark off the boundaries of Heidi's influence -- aren't formal distinctions often quite determinative of content. I take formal concepts to do a lot of heavy work in saying what is in and what is out, and the choice for one tradition of formal concepts over another is also bound up with a choice of material, right? I know all that's abstract, but what I'm getting at is, Heidi (or what little I know of him) does seem to be pretty formative/influential for Bultmann to me. Now how he is formative/influential (and, even more so, how he is not) might make all the difference.

Nathan Maddox said...

(And sorry for the typos. I'm no good at proofing my own writing, especially on the fly.)

David W. Congdon said...


Thanks for the comment. There's no question that Jonas had a significant influence on Bultmann, though of course we can't forget that Jonas was Bultmann's student first, beginning in 1924. Also, Bultmann had heard Heidi (I like this short version) talk about the content of Being in Time before 1927, so it's not as if Jonas would have been relaying anything to Bultmann that Bultmann had not already heard. I don't know of any 1929 letter from Jonas. If you have documentation about that, I'd be very interested in seeing it. Jonas's 1930 study of Augustine has a very interesting appendix on the hermeneutics of dogma that seems to anticipate some of Bultmann's later ideas, though in a way that is more strictly an exercise in existentialist philosophy.

In any case, the problem with seeing much influence by Jonas here is that the material moves for Bultmann's later program are all set in place by 1925. Jonas's influence is to be found primarily in his 1934 work on Gnosticism, which was the further outworking of his dissertation on Gnosis in 1930. Jonas didn't introduce Bultmann to existentialist interpretation; he simply showed that existentialist interpretation could be useful in understanding John and Gnosticism. That set Bultmann on the path toward his John commentary.

You're certainly right that formal concepts are integrally related to the material content, though I would simply say that this form-content connection reveals itself not in the concepts as such but rather in the use to which they are put. Bultmann made ample use of the Neokantian concept of "Objektivierung," but he used the term in opposition to Neokantianism as something we must reject. In the case of Heidi, Bultmann could speak about faith as authenticity, but he used the term in opposition to Heidi to mean that we receive the possibility of being authentic in our encounter with Christ; we are not capable of deciding on an authentic existence out of our native resources. This soteriological position leads him to reconfigure many existentialist concepts, which he infuses with new meaning and significance. As he often says, existentialism is only helpful in that it tells us that we must make a decision and that our existence is at stake. It cannot tell us what this decision is or how we make it.

Nathan Maddox said...

Thanks for the reply, David.

I don't have access to the 1929 letter I'm referencing; it's not in print but in the Hans Jonas Archiv at the University of Konstanz. I've only read about it in Lazier's *God Interrupted.* According to Lazier, the 1929 letter outlines his "plan for an 'existential analysis' of Paul" and later is significantly revised and turned into the 1964 Festschrift essay for Bultmann on Romans 7 (later translated into English under the title "Abyss of the Will" in *Philosophical Essays*). Lazier reads the letter and much of the Augustin book as a rejoinder to Barth's commentary on Romans. Though Barth is not explicitly named, he says there is little doubt that he's aiming steady at Barth and his critique of Barth determines Jonas critiques of Heidegger, interestingly, in contradictory ways. Basically, according to Lazier, Jonas' letter and essay, wether intentional or not, places the Barth of RII within a larger tradition of return to Pauline Gnsoticism.

Lazier records the following excerpt from the letter, a personal note to Bultmann which is not found in the 1964 revision:

". . . an entirely personal argument, but for myself the decisive one." "As a Jew, I feel myself attacked by Jesus' critique not essentially, but only in a particular expression of Jewish piety. By Paul, however, I feel myself essentially and basically struck, so that as neither a Jew or a man would I have something to defend myself against [him]." (God Interrupted, 45)

Phil Sumpter said...

Dear David,

Here's my quick response, again, written under the constraints of time. It's probably worth pointing out that we're coming at this from two different disciplinary perspectives: you're a systematic theologian and I'm in Old Testament.

I respond to each of your numbered points:

1. „aren't you just saying that the object of scripture determines what scripture says? … Perhaps you have something more radical in mind“ - This gets more radical when it is a single object at work throught the entire tradition-historical process (diachronically) which then flows into the final form of the text (synchronincally). It grounds the unity of the two-testamental canon and calls for a rediscovery of figural exegesis. All of this is, at the same time, is to overcome (or move towards overcoming) the very „difference“ so emphasized by historical criticism. Historical critics are right to point out the foreigness of the Bible and the particularity of the contexts in which its various parts came to be, the read against the grain of the Bible (and the universe), however, when they operate with a defintion of „history“ that is not grounded in the unchanging ways of God.
2. To say that the text becomes transparent suggests that we can somehow bypass the historicity of the text and can encounter the object of its witness directly. But that kind of approach fails to take seriously the culturally alien nature of the text.This comment really interested me as I recognize it from Bultmann’s introduction to the New Testament. This is where the concept of Spirit and transparency comes in. To quote Trefor Hart on Barth: „a person, an event, a text which in itself is not God and veils God nonetheless becomes transparent to faith and refers faith beyond itself appropriately to God.” Does this mean we run the risk of “collapsing the divine subject-matter into the cultural context of the prophets and apostles“? Yes, we always run that risk. Which is why repentence, pray and humility are necessary. But it seems to me there is no other way to do theological exegesis than take that risk.

3. „reality with a shape“ refers to the Trinity as a historical pattern in se and pro nobis. It has a narrative shape, one that is imprinted upon the narrative of Scripture. It involves the unity of the economic/immanent trinity, which is the grounds for affirming the unity of the scripture as well as the hermeneutic for identifying it. I’m not really getting these thoughts from Barth, but when I read his Dogmatik im Umriss it seemed clear to me that, at least in that book, the immanent Trinity was a conceptual starting point (unlikie in his Einführung).
4. RE: Pneumatic mediation: I don’t understand how that could be problematic. Are you saying we can see God without him enabling us to do so? The Spirit is the precondition for everything.

David W. Congdon said...


It's true that we're coming at this from two different disciplinary perspectives, but it's also clear to me that we have different material starting-points. We simply disagree about what the Sache actually is, and so far I'm still entirely unclear what you mean by the Sache. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems, at the end of the day, that your Sache is either the final form canon or the immanent trinity (or perhaps both at the same time). Either way, it's fundamentally different from what I have in mind. But let me get to your comments. I'm going to go phrase-by-phrase in order to help us gain clarity about our different viewpoints.

1. "a single object at work": What is this single object? I need some clarity about what you have in mind here.

"throught [sic] the entire tradition-historical process (diachronically) which then flows into the final form of the text (synchronincally)": How exactly is the object or Sache at work in the canonical process? You're making assertions here that seem designed to preclude all critical exegesis. It seems like the point here is to conflate the Sache with the final form of the text. Am I wrong?

"It grounds the unity of the two-testamental canon and calls for a rediscovery of figural exegesis": Okay, but how? The notion of figural exegesis sort of comes out of nowhere, and it confirms for me that you've identified the Sache and the text (it's the classic postliberal move!). Figural exegesis presupposes that exegesis occurs when we inhabit the narrative of the text, so that there is no historical world apart from the world of scripture. But Sachkritik, as I am using the term, requires that we be able to differentiate between the kerygmatic object and the historically situated text. In other words, figural exegesis and Sachkritik are mutually exclusive; we can't affirm both.

"to overcome (or move towards overcoming) the very „difference“ so emphasized by historical criticism": That's precisely the problem. We must not seek to overcome this difference but rather reside within it and embrace it. Interpretation is always a crosscultural act where we affirm the radical historical difference between ourselves and the text. This is why I emphasize intercultural hermeneutical theory in my dissertation, since the intercultural theologians get at the heart of what Sachkritik and demythologizing are all about. Interpretation occurs in that existential interstice where difference and unity coincide: the past text and the present interpreter coexist where the difference between them becomes most clear.

David W. Congdon said...

"read against the grain of the Bible (and the universe)": Wow, it helps to hear you say that, but we fundamentally disagree there. In one sense, to read against the grain of the Bible (understood as the canonical text itself) is the whole point of Sachkritik: we have to read against the text in order to genuinely read with it. But to read against (i.e., to criticize) the Bible is not to read against the grain of the universe, because the Bible is not the gospel – Jesus Christ is. Once again, it's your conflation of Sache and text that I must protest against in the strongest possible terms.

"they operate with a defintion of „history“ that is not grounded in the unchanging ways of God": I have no idea what this means. First of all, what are the "unchanging ways of God"? Either this refers to God's eternal being apart from history and is therefore sheer speculation, or it refers to what God does in Christ and is therefore an unnecessarily ambiguous pious platitude. Second, what does it mean to ground "history" in the ways of God? Let me try to reconstruct what you're saying here. A typical Barthian position would be that we need to let the history of Christ define what is truly historical. Is that what you have in mind? If so, I would respond by asking you what you mean by "history." If you mean the empirical, phenomenal experiences of Historie, then I would point out that God is not accessible at this level by virtue of being God. If you mean the eschatological-theological reality of Geschichte, then I would demonstrate that Barth and Bultmann agree on this point. But until you clarify what you mean by "history," I can't discern what you have in mind.

2. "Does this mean we run the risk of 'collapsing the divine subject-matter into the cultural context of the prophets and apostles'? Yes, we always run that risk. Which is why repentence, pray and humility are necessary. But it seems to me there is no other way to do theological exegesis than take that risk." I like the Trevor Hart quote, taken in isolation at least. But I disagree with the claim you draw from it. Yes, the text can and does become "transparent to faith" in the particular moment when we encounter God in and through it. That's what Bultmann has in mind when he says that "to hear the Scriptures as the Word of God means to hear them as a word which is addressed to me, as kerygma, as a proclamation. ... The fact that the word of the Scriptures is God's Word cannot be demonstrated objectively; it is an event which happens here and now. God's Word is hidden in the Scriptures as each action of God is hidden everywhere. ... From this it follows that God's Word is a real word spoken to me in human language, ... in the sense that the Bible is not viewed merely as an interesting collection of sources for the history of religion, but that the Bible is transmitted through the Church as a word addressing us" (Jesus Christ and Mythology, 71, 79). Scripture becomes transparent in the moment that we hear God's address to us. But crucially – and here is the key point – this divine address then empowers us to criticize the text as the fallible, culturally-situated document that it is. In other words, the event of God's word to us in and through scripture is precisely what also precludes any conflation between the Sache and the text.

David W. Congdon said...

3. "the Trinity as a historical pattern in se and pro nobis. It has a narrative shape, one that is imprinted upon the narrative of Scripture": You've really lost me here. The notion of the trinity as a "historical pattern" which has a "narrative shape" is an idea that I cannot accept (do I detect the influence of Jenson here?). If you want to say that the Bible has a narrative shape and a historical pattern, then sure. But to ascribe that to the triune being of God is to turn God into a narrative, which simply conflates God and the biblical text.

"It involves the unity of the economic/immanent trinity, which is the grounds for affirming the unity of the scripture as well as the hermeneutic for identifying it": Seriously? In order to discern the unity of scripture, we have to understand the unity of the immanent/economic trinity? I think the early church begs to differ! All you need for the unity of scripture is the claim that Jesus fulfills the messianic promises of the prophets. You don't even need Jesus to be divine for that, and even if he is, it doesn't require Nicene christology, much less a full-blown trinitarianism. You need a christology, but not a trinity.

" when I read his Dogmatik im Umriss it seemed clear to me that, at least in that book, the immanent Trinity was a conceptual starting point (unlikie in his Einführung)": I haven't looked at the Dogmatik im Grundriß for some time, but I can say with some confidence that you cannot be right in that claim. The immanent trinity is never a starting-point for Barth, if that means the economic trinity is somehow not his starting-point. There are certainly some places in his later dogmatics where Barth occasionally speaks as if he has access to an immanent trinity apart from the economic, but these are far outweighed by the very consistent thesis that the immanent trinity is the economic trinity, that we only know the eternal trinity through what God does in time and space. Barth doubles down on this position after 1939 with his revised doctrine of election. But the point is: if your position is that the immanent trinity is the starting-point (i.e., the Sache), then your position diverges from that of Barth, and obviously Bultmann, at a very basic and significant level.

4. "The Spirit is the precondition for everything." Sure, of course, so long as the Spirit is simply the agency of the present Christ. My concern is that you seemed to locate "pneumatic mediation" in the text itself, as if the final form of the text is itself directly the work of the Spirit. I can't go along with that.

Tapji said...

Good stuff David. On the question of intercultural hermeneutics , who are some of the scholars you are engaging with? I've seen you reference Lamin Sanneh , and Andrew Walls in the past , and I'm wondering who has captured your attention right now.

David W. Congdon said...

In terms of intercultural/mission theory, my attention is entirely on Theo Sundermeier and his important work on intercultural hermeneutics. But I'm also interested in the work of people like Klaus Hock, Werner Ustorf, Franz Wimmer, Volker Küster, and Heinrich Balz.

Tapji said...

thanks for the sources , David. Is Bultmann referenced a fair bit in intercultural circles? According to Phil Sumpter , Bultmann has won the day in the German academy , so it would be interesting to see how his work is being used.

One thing I find promising , about Intercultural Theology , is that it is an opportunity to bring the western theological tradition down to one tradition among many , and may open the door for non-western (and even non-male) theologians to get some time on the floor.

David W. Congdon said...

Re: intercultural theology, yes and amen. It definitely throws open the door and levels the playing field, at least theoretically.

Re: Bultmann, intercultural theologians are very critical of him and the hermeneutical tradition to which he belongs. I had to spend a good deal of time in my dissertation correcting misconceptions about Bultmann among the intercultural theorists.

Phil Sumpter said...

Dear David,

it's embarrassing how long I'm taking to get back to you. It seems to me that a decent response now requires two things: 1) to tie the threads together and identify the key issues and 2) for me to more clearly present what I'm talking about. You are understandably not fully getting where I'm coming from as I'm only scratching the surface of an approach to Scripture that has its roots in Childs and Seitz, i.e. in a Biblical studies, rather than systematic theology, and it can hardly be expected that people will get all that I'm referring to (I recently read a private letter Childs wrote to a friend of mine in 2002, where he said that he felt he was correcting Barth's underdeveloped appreciation of historical criticism and 'typology' [yes, both those things are central to the "canonical approach"]; he said he felt Barth would agree with his proposal if he were still alive - though it seems clear to me that Bultmann simply wouldn't be able to). In my response I need to back up more how I understand the nature of the text and its relation to God in the divine economy and the hermeneuical implications thereof, all in response to your comments.

There are some things on your side, too, which I really am not getting - at points you seem to be contradicting yourself so I end up asking myself where it is we truly differ (we do, it's just where and why). I'll point that out, too.

However, my response will, unfortunately, have to wait till April for the same reasons I've been repeating throughout the dialogue. I hope that the conversation will not have run out of steam by then!

Incidentally, I'm also intrigued by your reference to 'intercultural hermeneutics.' My BA was in Cultural Anthropology, so anything with the word "culture" in it gets my attention. I did leave that course wondering how it is we can ever hope to cross the cultural gap - if modern anthropologists can't do it after living for decades with living humans, how can we hope to do that with the long-lost cultures within which the Bible took its shape? (That's a rhetorical question - I'm not expecting a response.) Having said that, my lecturers were mostly very feminist and postmodern. The "crisis of representation" was a big issue. Perhaps I'll learn something from this new hermeneutic (which I've admittedly never heard of).

Thanks for your thoughtful, careful, and detailed responses. They're very helpful.