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Showing posts from March, 2014

Rauschenbusch and the "Kingdom of Evil" (1): Introduction

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As of late, I've been interested in retrieving a theology of the "principalities and powers." The late New Testament theologian Walter Wink is justly famous for his pioneering work in this area. But I'm interesting in developing this constructive project along somewhat different lines, more in line with dialectical theology -- and that leads to me to one of Wink's major inspirations, the Episcopal lawyer-theologian William Stringfellow.


Now, there are a number of reasons Stringfellow can be difficult to interpret, and one of the key stems from the question: Just how does one place his work? In terms of situating him amidst dialectical thinkers, his personal friendships with Karl Barth and Jacques Ellul would certainly be relevant, and I've caught more than a whiff of Bonhoeffer here in there in the Stringfellow corpus as well. Still, and perhaps a bit tricky, is placing Stringfellow in another context, that of North American radical social Christianity. Numer…

Writing Theology in America Requires Prolegomena - Paul M. van Buren’s “Austin Dogmatics”

Certain theological circles has developed a distaste for prolegomena, comparing it to so much “throat-clearing” that is best circumvented. “Just start right in with talking about God,” some folks are wont to say. There is certainly something to this since prolegomena has been known to take on too much importance. But prolegomena performs an important function nevertheless. In short: prolegomena gives one a chance to identify which God one is talking about. For Christian theology, this means talking about “the God who has a history,” and not some abstract “God” in general.

In the following paragraph, van Buren seems to be something of a prophet insofar as he rightly placed his finger—approx. 55 years ago!—on a trend-line in American culture that has only gotten worse. As usual, bold is mine.

Paul M. van Buren, The Austin Dogmatics: 1957–1958, (Cascade, 2012), 4.
No, here as elsewhere, it matters; it matters desperately to the whole life and work of the church that we know what we are d…

Snatched from My Bookshelf

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One friend of DET has issued an appeal for all of us to communicate more about what we're reading, so to honor the spirit of that request, I thought I'd highlight several books I completed during the past several months, with some mini-reviews.


1. J.I. Packer and N.T. Wright, Anglican Evangelical Identity. These three essays, two by Packer and one by Wright, are aimed especially at the conservative evangelical minority within the Church of England. These texts are a little on the old side and don't reflect developments in England and the Anglican communion worldwide during the past couple of decades, but this book is still worth a read. Packer is, of course, the Reformed, low-church traditionalist, whereas Wright mainly seeks to challenge and broaden how evangelical identity is defined. The book is predictably conservative and a tad grumpy, but both authors are excellent communicators. Here, also, Packer gives a classic take on the marks of the evangelical.

2. Langdon Gilke…

Another review of my “The Sign of the Gospel”

Albert Shepherd, who runs a theology blog that I keep an eye on, recently reviewed my book - The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth – for Reviews in Religion and Theology. It appears in the current number: vol. 21, issue 2 (2014). Shepherd also posted about it on his blog, where he includes a “short addendum” making clear that – alas – I have not succeeded in convincing him of my constructive proposal.

But he has nice things to say about the book anyway. For instance, Shepherd says in his addendum that “this is a fine work which understands Barth well and winsomely interacts with his thought.” In the review he closes with the following words:He [McMaken] compellingly argues that renewed attention should be given to Barth’s doctrine of baptism, and also provides his own unique voice to the wider conversation. In doing so he provides a fruitful contribution to the ongoing dialogue on baptism.But perhaps my favorite bit was when Shepher…

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Well, I’ve been slacking off again. It’s been three weeks since the last links post. I know, I know. It’s shameful, really. But there’s nothing for it but to soldier on. At least it has been a busy three weeks here at DET. We’ve had lots of good posts, thanks in part to new DET contributor Scott Jackson. He’s already got a number of posts lined up in the hopper, so keep an eye out especially for his contributions. Now if I could only get the other contributors jump-started a bit…

In any case, here’s what’s been going on here at DET:

Barth’s Christologically-modified double-predestinarianism - Mondays with McMakenMiscellaneous Book and Conference Announcements PostBarth on God as Father and Creator, or, against Natural TheologyKarl Barth in Conversation – Teasers from Christian T. Collins WinnIntroducing Scott JacksonFaith and Hope, or, When Calvin had a good day in 1538Quiz: Who Penned The…

Princeton Barth Conference – I’ll be there to speak about Gollwitzer

I posted previously about the annual Barth conference in Princeton, coming around for another iteration this June. At that time I mentioned that I had no plans to attend, but that “one never knows.”

As it turns out, I’ll be there. Presenting. About Gollwitzer.

My paper’s title will be: “‘Shalom, Shalom, Shalom Israel!’: Jews and Judaism in Helmut Gollwitzer’s Life and Theology”

Excited yet? No? Shame on you. Yes? Of course you are! There was plenty to be excited about before, but this is (for me) the icing on the cake. I’m very much looking forward to it.

The rest of the concurrent sessions look fascinating as well, and I’m sad that I won’t be able to attend the ones going on at the same time as my paper. You can find a complete schedule for the event – including the concurrent sessions - by following this link.

This will be my first trip back to Princeton since my dissertation defense. I’m looking forward to it. See you there?

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Karl Barth in Conversation – Teasers from David Guretzki

Ever since this publication project got underway, I have described it as the “revised and expanded” proceedings from the 2010 KBBC. So I figured that I would put together a post or two that highlights the “expanded” part of that description. If what you see here sounds interesting to you and you would like to read more, buy the book!

Here is a glimpse at what David Guretzki got up to in his introductory appendix entitled, “Become Conversant with Barth’s Church Dogmatics: A Primer.” David has made versions of this piece available before, but he revised and expanded for the book. The expansion included a section on Barth as a “fractal” theologian. Here’s a little bit about what that means.

W. Travis McMaken and David W. Congdon (eds.), Karl Barth in Conversation (Pickwick, 2014), 294–95.

Practically speaking, reading Barth the fractal theologian means keeping the relationship of the parts to the whole constantly in mind and therefore resisting the temptation to isolate one small section …

Quiz: Who Penned These Lines?

Theology quiz for the day: Who wrote these lines? Extra credit if you can name the text as well:

That task [of constructing theology according to Luther's principle] I essay in the full consciousness that my action is justified and rendered imperative by the standard writings of the Reformation. But if we can rightly know God only if we know Him through Christ, then we can know Him only if we belong to the community of believers. Not only, however, are God and all the operations of His grace to be construed through the revelation in Christ, but even sin can be appreciated only in virtue of the forgiveness of sins which is Christ's special gift.
Need another hint? The same author penned these lines a few paragraphs later:

[I]f anyone builds Christian theology on a substructure of pretended Natural Theology, the rationalistic arguments of Augustine about original sin, and those of Anselm about the nature of redemption, he thereby takes his stand outside the sphere of regeneration,…

Faith and Hope, or, When Calvin had a good day in 1538

I’m currently reading John Hesselink’s book on Calvin’s First Catechism (WJK, 1997). Truth in advertising, Calvin didn’t really write the following in 1538. That’s just when he published a Latin version of this catechism, having previously published it in the Genevan vernacular for Geneva’s own use . . . in 1537. But in 1538 he was in the midst of the controversy over his dismissal with Farel from Geneva and wanted the catechism to get wider circulation for propaganda purposes. On top of that, there’s a lot of parallel between this catechism and the 1536 edition of the Institutes and I haven’t checked to see if this language comes from that earlier work. So my alternative title might be two years off…

In any case, enough splitting hairs. What Calvin says about faith and hope here is an instance of his linguistic genius which rightly earned him a renowned place in the history of Protestant theology. As always, bold is mine:
If faith (as we have said) is a sure persuasion of the truth…

Introducing Scott Jackson

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[Ed. note - It is my pleasure to welcome the newest member of the DET contributor family. He's done some good work over at his blog, Theology of Freedom, and I'm excited to have him on board.]

I wish to thank Travis McMaken for the privilege of writing for DET. (Read some of his published stuff: It's not bad.)

Please allow me a brief self introduction. I grew up as a preacher’s kid in Southern Baptist Churches, mostly in Alabama; it was quite an intense and thorough formation. With a scholarship for PKs in tow, I attended Samford University, a Baptist-affiliated school in Birmingham, where I studied journalism and worked for the college newspaper. Other passions intervened, though, and reoriented my life plan. On the weekend I graduated, nearly 20 years ago, I was also confirmed in the Episcopal Church, where I’ve remained ever since. As a graduation gift, I received a copy of Tillich’s Systematic Theology, and I was soon off to pursue a master’s in theology at Emory Univer…

Karl Barth in Conversation – Teasers from Christian T. Collins Winn

Ever since this publication project got underway, I have described at the “revised and expanded” proceedings from the 2010 KBBC. So I figured that I would put together a post or two that highlights the “expanded” part of that description. So if what you see here sounds interesting to you and you would like to read more, buy the book

Here is a glimpse at what Christian T. Collins Winn got up to in his response to John Drury’s putting Barth into conversation with John Wesley. Both Drury’s essay and Collins Winn’s response are new to the volume.

W. Travis McMaken and David W. Congdon (eds.), Karl Barth in Conversation (Pickwick, 2014), 23–24.

Moving from Christology to ecclesiology and ethics, for Barth, “revolution,” though only properly applied to the work of God in Christ (i.e., the revolution of God), includes or elicits a corresponding human action which is described as “revolutionary” in character. As Barth notes elsewhere, “all ecclesiology is grounded, critically limited, but als…

Barth on God as Father and Creator, or, against Natural Theology

I’m teaching a class on “Faith & Reason” this Spring, so I have been thinking anew and in many different ways about the possibility of natural knowledge of God, the role and limits of human rationality in theology, etc. At the same time, I’m slowly working my way through Barth’s discussion of the Trinity in CD 1.1. I found this lovely paragraph hiding there. As always, bold is mind and italics are original:
Jesus’ message about God the Father must not be taken to mean that Jesus expressed the well-known truth that the world must have and really has a Creator and was venturing to give this Creator the familiar human name of father. It must not be taken to mean that Jesus had in mind what all serious philosophy has called the first cause or supreme good, the esse a se or ens perfectissimum, the universum, the ground and abyss of meaning, the unconditioned, the limit, the critical negation of origin, and that He consecrated it and gave it a Christian interpretation and baptised it by…

Miscellaneous Book and Conference Announcements Post

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A few friends from the theo-blogging and academic theology worlds have been in touch recently to ask that I help to promote some events and books. To my chagrin, I’ve sort of let them pile up a little. So here they are, all in one post! Should be easier for folks to access anyway – you only have to surf over once.

Anyway, this book and these conferences look very interesting. I only wish I had more time (and continuing education funding) so that I could take full advantage of them. But if you end up going, tell them DET sent you!




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Barth’s Christologically-modified double-predestinarianism - Mondays with McMaken

Time for another foray into the wonderful world of Barth and baptism. But we are still in chapter two, which deals with “Election, Soteriology, and Barth’s ‘No’ to Sacramental Infant Baptism.” It’s some of the “election” bit that I want to highlight today. This is less of an “A-ha!” moment in the course of the argument, but it is a piece that I like that falls somewhere in the middle of a sub-argument. It ties some things together.

W. Travis McMaken, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth, Emerging Scholars (Fortress, 2013), 78.
As noted in the above discussion of Ursinus, Reformed theology developed further the traditional Augustinian account of predestination. Rather than a single predestination where God actively elects but only passively rejects, the Reformed established symmetry between these two aspects of predestination so that God is understood as directly active in both. All of this occurs within the broader context of sacram…

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Wow, it’s been pretty busy around DET in the three weeks since last installment of links were posted. We had the DET Book Giveaway, the publication of the KBBC book (see left sidebar – order now!), and a good ongoing conversation sparked by a guest post by Collin Cornell. In the meantime, I’ve been collecting lots of links . . .

Here are the recent DET links:

My Most Recent Publication: Review of Jason Goroncy’s “Hallowed Be Thy Name”Helmut Gollwitzer and John Webster on Scripture, or, the problem of *ethical* biblical criticism – A guest post by Collin CornellDET Book Giveaway Contest This Week!Book Giveaway Entry #1 – Wyatt HoutzBook Giveaway Entry #2 – Barry K. MorrisBook Giveaway Entry #3 – Mason ThompsonBook Giveaway Poll - Get Voting!DET Book Giveaway Contest – And the winner is…Breaking News—DET KBBC Book is now in print!Comments Brought to Light: David Congdon on Bultmann, Barth,…