Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Karl Barth, the Jews, and Judaism – the 2014 Princeton Barth Conference

The good people over at the Center for Barth Studies have asked the theo-blogging community to help spread the word about the upcoming Princeton Barth conference, to be held in June. You see the most vital statistics in the image above. More information can be found at the conference website, including an exciting feature this year - the call for papers! That’s right! If you have something interesting to say on the topic, send in a proposal and see what happens. That goes for you doctoral students too!

The list of plenary speakers certainly looks good.

I currently have no plans to attend, but perhaps inspiration will strike in the form of a paper proposal… One never knows.

Anyway, I’m told there is early-bird registration pricing. So get a move on!

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Deadline approaching for DET book giveaway contest!

This is a final reminder that you, gentle readers, are quickly running out of time to submit your entry for the DET book giveaway contest. The deadline for entry is February 1st. The prize is the recently published Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth (WJK, 2013) edited by Richard Burnett. For all the details, see the announcement post.

I have received two entries so far, so someone will get the book. But there is still plenty of room for further challengers. So send in your entry ASAP!

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Is God Dead? - Paul M. van Buren’s “Austin Dogmatics”

An important book appeared in 2012. It comprised the late 1950s lecture cycle of one of Karl Barth’s most promising students, Paul M. van Buren. “Barthians” these days don’t have too much time for van Buren, and this for a handful of reasons:

(1) After his dissertation under Barth on Calvin’s doctrine of reconciliation (Christ In Our Place, I highly recommend it), van Buren worked as a pastor and seminary professor. This pushed his interests toward the problem of communicating the gospel in the contemporary world. These concerns lead him to publish The Secular Meaning of the Gospel, which Barth did not care for. There was something of a falling-out.

(2) In large part because of Secular Meaning, van Buren was labeled as one of the “Death of God” theologians. This further alienated him from Barth and “Barthians.”

(3) In his later career, van Buren worked intensively on the relationship between Christianity and contemporary Judaism. Until more recently this was not a topic that tended to excite “Barthians.”

All of this is to say that van Buren is due for some reconsideration, and the publication of his Austin Dogmatics lays the groundwork for that reconsideration. These lectures go some way in helping to explain how one gets from Christ In Our Place to Secular Meaning. Perhaps if they had been published in the time-period that they originated some of the misunderstanding of his work could have been avoided.

In any case, Ellen Charry – who edited this volume, van Buren having given the lectures to her – and others work to undermine the notion that van Buren was a “Death of God” theologian. But I’ll leave the full(er) argument to them. For the time being, I’ll leave you with two block-quotes from van Buren himself on the issue.

Paul M. van Buren, The Austin Dogmatics: 1957–1958, (Cascade, 2012), 358.
The “God is Dead Movement” is an invention of imaginative journalists seeking sensational slogans. It certainly is not a phrase I am given to using myself, its meaning being exceedingly ambiguous. My own work has been focused in recent years, not on the old question of the existence of God, but on the far older question of man’s puzzling language about God. By exploring various ways of taking this language, I am seeking and testing interpretations of religious faith that would not be wholly incompatible with the understandings of life that are characteristic of the age in which we live. That this complex and constructive work has been interpreted by poorly informed journalists as simple and negative is a matter I regret but over which I have been able to exercise no control. When the sensationalists have tired of this game and turned to other matters, the deep and important questions of human faith and life will remain. Until that day, it is a time for a sense of humor and patience on the part of those who care about the human spirit.
And, on being called a “God is dead theologian,” . . .
Well, the expression is logically absurd. It is a contradiction in terms, strictly to say that God is dead. One might argue that there never has been a god; or one might say that the way in which Christian theology has spoken of God is such as to lead one to suspect it does not refer to anything; or one might say that the way Christian theology has talked about God has been misunderstood by those who think it refers to something. In any case, that about which theology has spoken doesn’t fall into a category in which being dead and alive seems to apply.
Van Buren’s lectures are an engaging run through basic systematic theology from a Barthian-Episcopalian angle. They are worth the price of admission to encounter that interesting combination alone! I’ll be doing more posts on this volume, and I heartily recommend it to you.

Update: It has come to my attention that the sarcasm in my reference to "Barthians" (scare-quotes intended) in this post may not have been sufficiently obvious. It is necessary to note for the record that folks like Gollwitzr, Klappert, Marquardt, and Weinrich were very interested in - for instance - the relationship of Christianity and Judaism. There is a strand of theology done downstream from Barth that English-language Barth-reception has been a bit soft on, that van Buren was (perhaps) closer to, which (perhaps) played a part in van Buren's marginalization. Thankfully, this lacuna in English-language Barth-reception will be addressed in part at the next Princeton Barth conference, which is on Barth and the Jews.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Sarah Coakley defines Systematic Theology

One of the persistently high-performing posts here at DET is my rather hastily thrown together post, now over 5 years old (!), delineating several types of theology. “Systematic theology” is one of the “types” that I define there. Well, I’ve been reading through Sarah Coakley’s new book - God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’, which is to be the first volume of a more complete systematics – and she offers what I find to be a compelling definition (or, perhaps better, description) of systematic theology. I thought that I would share it. As usual, bold is mine and italics are original.

Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge, 2013), 41:
Systematics, in other words, does not convey the hubristic idea of a totalizing discourse that excludes debate, opposition, or riposte; but on the other hand, it does not falter at the necessary challenge of presenting the gospel afresh in all its ramifications – systematically unfolding the connections of the parts of the vision that is set before us.

In short, it is an integrated presentation of Christian truth, however perceived, that ‘system’ connotates here: wherever one choses to start has implications for the whole, and the parts must fit together. However briefly, or lengthily, it is explicated (and sometimes . . . the shorter versions have been at least as elegant, effective, and enduring as the longer ones), ‘systematic theology’ must attempt to provide a coherent, and alluring, vision of the Christian faith.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

It is time once again to take stock of the internet (*gasps!), or at least a small corner of it. Here’s the link for the last installment, in case you’re a glutton for punishment. But we have one or two things to do before I shower you with link gold from across the theo-blogo-verse…

First, there is a new thing-y at the top of the left sidebar. Apparently we have not yet tapped the depths of my drive toward self-promotion. But seriously, it’s a good book. You’ll learn something. In fact, I learn something every time I crack it open! (*whistles innocently)

Second, remember that DET is in the middle of trying to give away a book! I say “trying” because, so far, only two entries have been submitted. Come on, readers, time to not be so gentle. Make it a challenge to win this book! Send in your entry soon to compete for the change to get a copy of the new Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth for free!

Here is the announcement post with all the details. The deadline for submission is February 1st!

Third, here are the links for what’s been happening here at DET in case you missed it:


Ok! On to the main event. Feast your eyes on these:


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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Books I Read in 2013

Some of you may remember when I did this last year. I find it rewarding to keep track of my reading. Well, it goes hand-in-hand with keeping track of what I have not yet read. I keep a list, you see, of books that I own but that I have not yet read. And I get to cross things off that list once I read them. This supplies some motivation, at least for me. It also supplies some restraint when it comes to buying new books. Some.

In any case, I read rather more this past year than the year before. I chalk this up to the fact that in 2012 I was still very much getting used to this whole teaching thing. But this past year I felt much more confident in it and was able to spend more time with my nose in books.

Before getting to the list I want to quickly note that these are books that I read cover to cover, or at least significant chunks of (hundreds of pages), that I had not read before. While I include works of history and popular treatments of religious topics, I do not include here my fiction / literature reading. They are presented in roughly chronological order of when I finished them. Asterisks (*) indicate that I have composed a professional review of a particular book that is forthcoming with some journal. Okay – here’s the list!

  1. Barth, Epistle to the Romans
  2. Ford, Theology: A Very Short Introduction
  3. Littlejohn, Daoism: An Introduction
  4. Gollwitzer, The Way to Life: Sermons in a Time of World Crisis
  5. Miller, Finding Darwin’s God
  6. van Norden, Introducing Classical Chinese Philosophy
  7. Thiessen, Apostolic and Prophetic (*)
  8. Levering, Theology of Augustine (*)
  9. McFague, Metaphorical Theology
  10. Wiman, My Bright Abyss
  11. Cullmann, Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?
  12. Ching, Chinese Religions
  13. Calvin, Tracts and Letters, vol. 5
  14. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me
  15. Larson, Summer for the Gods
  16. Billings & Hesselink (eds.), Calvin’s Theology and Its Reception (*)
  17. Gollwitzer, The Existence of God
  18. Bonhoeffer, Act and Being
  19. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?
  20. Yang, An, and Turner, Handbook of Chinese Mythology
  21. Meacham, Thomas Jefferson
  22. Aldington, The Duke
  23. Ivanhoe & van Norden, Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy
  24. Newbigin, The Open Secret
  25. Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution
  26. Drescher, Ernst Troeltsch
  27. Barth, How I Changed My Mind
  28. Goroncy, Hallowed Be Thy Name (*)
  29. Gollwitzer, Dying and Living Lord
  30. Appold, The Reformation

Yeah, that’s right. 30 books. 30 scholarly books. I’m pretty proud of this. Let’s see if I can match it in 2014!

Some of these books will be familiar to regular DET visitors thanks to – if nothing else – posts that I have done on them. Have any of you, gentle readers, read any of these volumes? If so, use the comments section to let me know what you thought of them.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

A Tale of Two Soteriologies - Mondays with McMaken

Jumping ahead a bit, I want to get into chapter 2. Thus far in this series I’ve been sharing sections of my book that might have been accessed as samples on my publisher’s website. But now we move beyond those sample offerings into the meat of the argument. Central to that argument in the second chapter is my concept of “sacramental soteriology.” You’ll need to read the chapter to see the notion worked out in detail, but here is a paragraph from the chapter’s introduction that provides a basic orientation.

W. Travis McMaken, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth, Emerging Scholars (Fortress, 2013), 59–60.
Perhaps the best way to introduce the distinction between Barth’s soteriology on one side, and the traditional, sacramental soteriology on the other side—both pre- and post-Reformation—is as follows: whereas the traditional, sacramental soteriology understands Christ to have objectively wrought the material of salvation which must be subjectively applied to us before it can be considered effective, Barth’s soteriology understands the salvation wrought by Christ to be complete and effective for us already in him independent of our subjective acknowledgment. Such a soteriology undermines the sacramental argument for infant baptism not simply by questioning how it is that salvation is subjectively applied, as the Reformers did, but by rejecting the notion that it requires such application at all. If this second step concerned with the transmission of grace is unnecessary, what need is there for means of such transmission?
If you haven’t used up your Christmas gift certificates, here’s your chance!

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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Top 10 Posts from the Second Half of 2013

Once again it is that lovely time of year when we look back to see what posts you, gentle readers, have been reading over the past six months. I enjoy these opportunities to take stock and see what sorts of material resonates with folks, or brings folks to the blog. Not that this in any way dictates the kind of material that gets put on here – I have little enough time to blog at all, much less to worry about blogging for the sake of some abstract and statistically generated “readership.” But it is interesting, none the less, to get some sense of what “hits” and what “misses.” In any case, here’s the standard disclaimer before we begin:
Standard disclaimer: my metrics in compiling this cannot account for views a post receives when it is read from the main blog page; it can only account for direct views. So it is altogether possible that this list is fallible (*gasps!).
So, without further ado...
  1. Why I Think…Ben Myers Isn’t Quite Right About TF Torrance - This post persistently tops these lists. In fact, it has been securely lodged in the #1 spot ever since I started doing these lists. I’m not sure why this post is so beloved? (Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts on that in the comments section…) Is it because it talks about Ben Myers? Is it because it talks about Tom Torrance? Is it because I say Ben Myers is wrong (well, technically, “not quite right”) about something? Did I just magically hit the SEO jackpot? Maybe we’ll never know…
  2. ‘Most Interesting Theologians’ Twitter Bonanza - This is a much fresher post that chronicles what was a very fun afternoon an evening spent on the interwebs with my good friend, colleague, and theologically-conjoined twin, David Congdon. Some other folks got in on it too. Be sure to check this one out if you haven’t already and, even if you have, a second look might be good for another laugh or two.
  3. So, You Want To Read Karl Barth? - This is another post that persistently makes it onto this list. It’s from 2007, so maybe it needs some updating. Undoubtedly, this book should definitely be on the list
  4. More on “Grace in Practice”: Schleiermacher, Barth, and Zahl on an Anthropological Starting Point for Theology - This post came from DET contributor Matthew Warren. The title, I think, reveals why it was so popular among DET readers (i.e., it tackles the sort of theological issues and thinkers that DET readers are interested in). Hey Matt, how about a few more like this? ;-)
  5. On Reading and Not-Reading Barth - This post received attention not because of anything it says, but because of the conversation that it pointed to. If you missed that conversation when it occurred, you should definitely go back and familiarize yourself.
  6. Disliking a Hero: Assessing Brevard Childs after Seminary - A guest post by Collin Cornell - I’ve really appreciated Collin’s guest posts, as well as all the work he does at his own blog (Kaleidobible). Apparently, so do you, gentle readers, and that heartens me.
  7. Karl Barth on the Idolatry of God’s Wrath - This post saw a rather extensive (by recent standards) exchange of comments, so it might be worth going to see what all the fuss was about.
  8. Book Giveaway Contest! “The Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth” - This post is so recent that I’m surprised it made the list. I’m glad folks are reading it, though. For those of you out of the loop, DET is giving away a book! Go read the post for details on how you might get on the receiving end of that.
  9. Demythologizing the Divide between Barth and Bultmann - This post by the aforementioned David Congdon, written for the 2008 KBBC, always performs well. David’s dissertation, which deals with Barth and Bultmann, will be defended in a few weeks.
  10. God and the gods: The theological fruitfulness of a history-of-religions approach - A guest post by Collin Cornell - Another post by Collin. I found this to be a very stimulating post and I’m glad that you, gentle readers, did as well.
Well, that’s it!

What are some posts that you think deserved to be on this list but didn't make it?

I can’t wait to see what the next top-10 list will hold. Thanks for reading! Tell your friends, etc.

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Monday, January 06, 2014

Update - Book Giveaway Contest! “The Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth”

I thought that I would take this opportunity to remind everyone once again that we are currently in the middle of a book giveaway contest here at DET!

That’s right - this is your chance to win a free copy of the newly published Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth (WJK, 2013), edited by Richard Burnett.

To become eligible for the prize, you will need to send a short (500-750 word) “essay” (blog post, etc.) in response to the prompt:

Why and / or how (i.e., in what manner) should Karl Barth remain an important theological voice in 21st century theology?

This submission should be original work, not posted on a blog or otherwise made publically available. Send your entry to the DET e-mail address (derevth [at] gmail [dot] com) by February 1st. Be sure to include a clear subject line in your e-mail (e.g., “Westminster Handbook on Barth blog contest”). I—and any of the other DET contributors that I can enlist—will select a “best of” list comprised of 3-5 entries.(*) Each of those entries will be posted here at DET over the course of a week, and readers will be given the opportunity to vote on the prize-winning entry. The winner will receive the book!

So get out there and tell your friends and neighbors.

I’d be especially interested in seeing submissions from undergraduate religion and theology students, seminary students, and pastors. So if you are such a person, send something in! And if you know such people, spread the word!

*Some restrictions apply: (1) DET contributors are ineligible, (2) authors of “established” blogs are ineligible, (3) full-time professors are ineligible, (4) [other things I may think of later].

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Saturday, January 04, 2014

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

In the last link post I was talking about how I had a backlog of a few hundred blog posts to sort through. Well, I’m happy to report that said sorting has been accomplished – although, in fairness, I might have culled material a little more aggressively than I sometimes do. There were just so many posts!

Anyway, here’s a chunk of those gleanings for you, gentle readers. I do hope that you will enjoy them. But before we get to the wider offerings, I need to remind you of what’s been going on here at DET. But before I do that, I want to remind you about the DET book giveaway that is currently underway.

That’s right! You might be eligible to compete for the change to get a copy of the new Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth for free!

Check out the announcement post for all the details. Be sure to spread the word far and wide around the interwebs, and encourage (yourself and) anyone you know who might be interested to go for it!

And a special thanks to those who have helped to spread the word on their blogs: Jason Goroncy and Bobby Grow.

OK, now that’s out of the way, here’s what else has been featured here at DET recently:


And now for links from around the theo-blogosphere:


There's plenty more where that came from. So happy reading until next time!

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