Monday, June 30, 2014

Reformational Hermeneutics according to Brian Gerrish

I’ve been reading a lot of Brian Gerrish (not pictured) lately. I’ve been familiar with some of his work for a while now, but I’ve lately begun diving into his essays. It has been a lot of fun. I find him very easy to read, and his keen historical judgment unfailingly results in thought-provoking insights. So it should come as no surprise that I wanted to share some of this with you, gentle readers.

What follows is a passage wherein Gerrish lays out five points as a summary of Luther’s “exegetical principles.”

B. A. Gerrish, “The Word of God and the Words of Scripture: Luther and Calvin on Biblical Authority,” The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage (London: T & T Clark, 2004), 57. Bold is from; italics are from Gerrish’s.
Luther’s interpretation of scripture . . . . The pertinent exegetical principles can be summed up under five major heads. First, the literal meaning is to be preferred to the allegorical when we are seeking to establish points of doctrine. To the principle “Scripture alone” Luther adds the further principle “the historical sense alone.” Allegories may be used afterwards - as ornaments, not as proofs. Even then we must observe the analogy of faith: “that is, accommodate them to Christ, the church, faith, and the ministry of the Word.” Second, Luther insists that the understanding of scripture is fundamentally simple. Party, this is asserted in opposition to the Roman Church’s claim that only the pope can interpret Scripture – a view against which Luther argues in the Address to the German Nobility. Elsewhere he asserts that “the Holy Spirit is the simplest writer and adviser in heaven and on earth. That is why his words could have no more than the one simplest meaning, which we call . . . the literal meaning.” This does not mean that Luther neglects scholarship; on the contrary, with the utmost respect he calls the literary skills of humanism “forerunners of the Gospel,” as John the Baptist was the forerunner to Christ. Third, Luther believes that many difficulties can be cleared up – and many errors avoided – by interpreting each passage in the light of the biblical message as a whole. Scripture is its own interpreter. Fourth, however, his method is not purely technical; the Scriptures must always be understood in faith. We must feel the words of Scripture in the heart. Experience is necessary for understanding the Word, which must be lived and felt. Fifth - and this is perhaps another way of saying the same thing - we must listen to the voice of the same Spirit who wrote the Scriptures. In the light of affirmations such as these, we can understand Luther’s characteristic dicta that “it is better to leave reason at home” and submit to Scripture; or that “even the humble miller’s maid, nay, a child of nine if it has faith,” can understand the Bible.
Now I can hear you wondering, gentle readers – “Why did that McMaken guy title this post with reference to ‘Reformational’ hermeneutics and then only talk about Luther?!?!” Well, I’ll tell you: “Calvin’s exegetical principles were essentially the same” (Gerrish, 64).

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Monday, June 23, 2014

“Shalom, Shalom, Shalom Israel!” Jews and Judaism in Helmut Gollwitzer’s Life and Theology

I mentioned previously that I would be presenting a paper at this year’s Princeton Barth conference. Well, it is time to move that into the past tense. The conference took place about a week ago, and I presented a week ago today. It was a great conference – lots of good papers, lots of good conversation partners, lots of good conversations. It was also my first trip back to Princeton since my dissertation defense, and it was neat (if a little disorienting) to see the new library.

My paper was on Gollwitzer, with whom regular readers of DET have become increasingly familiar. Hopefully I’ll be able to entice a journal into publishing the whole, but I did not want to leave you – gentle reader – entirely bereft. So here is the introduction so that you might discern the broad strokes.
Helmut Gollwitzer was one of Barth’s most significant students for a number of reasons, and not least among these was his deep-seated commitment to establishing a positive relationship between Christianity and Judaism. This relationship had been poisoned in Gollwitzer’s own lifetime by the horrible actions of Germany’s Third Reich. But Gollwitzer also rightly recognized that the seed of anti-Semitism, which all too easily flowers and has flowered into devastating forms of oppression, had long been planted in and nourished by established patterns of Christian discourse. Gollwitzer relied heavily on what Andreas Pangrtiz refers to as Gollwitzer’s “genius of friendship” in his efforts to repair this relationship. In his ability to be with others in true solidarity, Gollwitzer embodied in his life the sort of rapprochement necessary between what he preferred to think of not as two different religions but as two “confessions” or “denominations” (Konfessionen) of a single faith. A consideration of Gollwitzer’s biography reveals the complimentary point that Gollwitzer came to these convictions through his propensity for friendship. What follows will bring Gollwitzer’s biography together with key intellectual moments in his engagement with the question of Jewish-Christian relations to illumine how important relationships and experiences factored into his thought on the topic. A conclusion offers brief reflections on Gollwitzer’s significance for Jewish-Christian dialog today.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What Makes a Good Protestant Pastor? – Kittelson on Luther

I mentioned previously that I had read this book and found some of its material interesting enough to share with you, gentle readers.

The below section deals with Luther’s focus on theological education during the 1530s (after the Augsburg Confession). The first paragraph talks a little about how the University of Wittenberg functioned as a center of theological education, and the second paragraph is mostly a quote from Luther explaining what characteristics he thinks makes a good preacher.

One important piece of background information that you need for the first paragraph is that the University of Wittenberg had suspended the practice of disputation in 1523 as an identifying marker of the sort of scholastic theology that Luther rejected.

James M. Kittelson, Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career (Fortress, 2003), 249–50.
[T]eaching the truth was now Luther’s most important objective. In a series of new reforms of the University between 1533 and 1536, even the disputations were reinstated. They were a means first of being able to confer the doctorate (and therefore train new professors), and second to test students on their grasp of Evangelical religion. As a final step, at Luther’s behest the elector decreed in 1535 that anyone who wished to become a pastor but had no bishop to ordain him should present himself to the Wittenberg theological faculty for examination and ordination.

Luther was clear about what he hoped to create through all this effort: “First, a good preacher should be able to teach well, correctly, and in an orderly fashion. Second, he should have a good head on his shoulders. Third, he should be eloquent. Fourth, he should have a good voice. Fifth, he should have a good memory. Sixth, he should know when to stop. Seventh, he should be constant and diligent about his affairs. Eighth, he should invest body and life, possessions and honor in it. Ninth, he should be willing to let everyone vex and hack away at him.” According to 16th-century educators, six of these nine characteristics could be taught. Just as his own mind had been changed by his work at a university, so too Luther was now trying to change the minds of his students.
That last line resonates deeply with me.

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Saturday, June 07, 2014

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Well, three weeks since the last link post in this case. But it’s time for another installment of links for your reading pleasure! We’ll start, as usual, with what’s been going on at DET.


Now here’s what’s been going on elsewhere in the theoblogosphere:


Until next time…

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Monday, June 02, 2014

God’s Freedom and Immutability - Paul M. van Buren’s “Austin Dogmatics”

Continuing on with van Buren, I wanted to share a short paragraph that he provides on divine immutability. As he will suggest below, this term has been viewed as problematic in some theology that was recent for PMvB and it continues to be viewed with suspicion in different theological camps even today (sometimes for diametrically opposed reasons). But I like how PMvB combines the idea with his account of God’s freedom, even bringing hints of election in (esp. toward the end).

Paul M. van Buren, The Austin Dogmatics: 1957–1958, (Cascade, 2012), 118.
God is also free in that he is immutable. A serious question has been raised about this term, and we must note that, while this has been the entering wedge for a sub-Christian understanding of God, yet, it need not be. If we think of immutability or changelessness as a form of the freedom in which God loves, then we will see that this can be a fitting word to use with reference to God’s covenant loyalty. When we say that God does not change, we mean that he is always true to himself, that he is free to be himself. It means that he is changeless, always the same in his freedom to yoke himself to us, to make us his co-workers, and so to be available to our cry. This is God’s freedom to bind himself to us, so that it is perhaps more correct to say that God is immutable in his love and in his decision of love.

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