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Showing posts from April, 2015

Ripped from the Headlines? Barth's Bremen Sermon (pt. 2)

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[B]y this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. -- Matt 14:24 (KJV)
What was supposed to be a brief review of a short book is turning into a persistent preoccupation and a burgeoning series of posts, with no immediate end in site. (Thanks for your indulgence, gentle readers.)
I recently told my bus-commuting companion I had become fascinated by a sermon that Karl Barth preached in Bremen, Germany in 1935, after the National Socialists came to power and had taken over the state churches (See Barth, The Word).

I explained that I have been combing through this sermon and reviewing the details of Barth's life and the German Church struggle to situate this piece in its historical context, and that I have been trying to discern the interconnections between scriptural text and lived context. Though he is not a theologian and is no longer a Christian, my friend is adept at modern European history and tracked my train of thought easily. …

Theology = Worldview? Christine Helmer on the Problem with Contemporary Approaches to Doctrine

I picked up a copy of Christine Helmer’s book, Theology and the End of Doctrine at AAR because . . . deep sales on books are terrible things to waste. Anyway, a colleague had told me about the book a few months before and I was curious. I’ve been reading it here and there since then, and I have really enjoyed it. It is a tight piece of argumentation and tackles the important issue of how doctrine functions in theology. The broad structure of Helmer’s argument moves in two parts: first, demonstrate that doctrine has become disconnected from the reality of God; second, advance a constructive proposal for how to reconceive doctrine’s connection to the reality of God. In this post I want to highlight a culminating moment in the first part of her argument.

This material comes at the end of Helmer’s discussion of the way that Bruce Marshall conceives of doctrine. She takes him to be paradigmatic of a trend in late 20th century and early 21st century theology, which she labels more precisel…

My Most Recent Publication(s)

It has been a while since I did one of these posts, but far be it from me to miss a chance to promote some of my work. That’s what blogs are for, after all.

In any case, some of you may have noticed that I tweeted this information out a few weeks ago. But I thought that I would put up a quick post for those who don’t pay attention to Twitter. And even for those who do – if you blink, you miss stuff on there.

Anyway, I’ve had two articles appear this year. You can check them out a bit on my academia.edu page. I have stubs up there that give you the abstract, publication information, first page, and even a link to the journal issue in question. So be sure to take a peek if you haven’t yet.
“‘Shalom, Shalom, Shalom Israel!’ Jews and Judaism in Helmut Gollwitzer’s Life and Theology,” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 10.1 (2015): 1–22.

“Definitive, Defective, or Deft? Reassessing Barth’s Doctrine of Baptism in CD IV/4,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 17.1 (2015): 89–114…

Augustine's "One-World" Solution

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In reimmersing myself in Augustine's Confessions, I pulled from the shelf a fine introductory text -- Language and Love: Introducing Augustine's Religious Thought through the Confessions Story by William Mallard (Pennsylvania State University, 1994). This work, lucid and accessible, would make a helpful companion volume for an adult education forum or undergraduate class on Augustine. In the introduction Mallard offers a succinct precis of the Confessions and of the north African bishop's lifelong religious quest.

As Mallard frames the matter, Augustine's basic problem -- the abiding source of his "restless heart" -- is that from a very early age he was presented with two incommensurable worlds: "the world of his mother's religious faith, and the world of everything else" (p. 2). In one of these worlds, a loving and provident creator sends Jesus Christ to save believers from sin and death; in the other world, human beings hone their skills to get…

Method, Politics, and the Supreme Court: More on “Literalist” Creationism from Ronald Osborn

Once more into the breach, dear friends!

In this installment, I want to highlight an interesting sequence of thoughts that I came across in Osborn. These are all tidbits that I noted as I read so that I could share them with you, gentle readers. But the more that I reflected on them, the more I realized that they are tied very closely together. So come with me for another hop, skip, and jump through Osborn while we consider whether “literalism” with reference to the Genesis creation narratives is a question of method or of doctrine, the consequences of “literalism’s” answer to that question, and an alternative way of thinking. As always, bold is mine and italics are in the original.

Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014).

To begin, what is the real engine of “literalist” understandings of the Genesis creation narratives? Are folks in this camp concerned with maintaining a particular set o…

To Love without Burning: Augustine's Tantalizing God

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When I first read St. Augustine's Confessions back in the day, I was into process theology. Of course, I recognized in this classic fourth century work by the north African bishop a work of great genius, spiritual profundity and psychological acuity.

Yet I judged Augustine's doctrine of God to be fundamentally mistaken. After all, wasn't his project a prime example of the fruitless quest to integrate biblical doctrine with Hellenistic philosophy -- in his case, Plotinian metaphysics? Wasn't God, in Augustine's view, essentially static, timeless and impassible?

For the first time in a number of years (too many!), I'm rereading the Confessions cover-to-cover, this time in the splendid translation by Henry Chadwick (Oxford, 1991). I'm revisiting the question whether God in Augustine's conception, if I may draw upon Barth's terminology here, is a prisoner of God's own divine aseity. Many of you are familiar with how the work begins -- and if you'…

“Literal” Creationist and Nominalism (Voluntarism)? Scholasticism, the Matrix, and more from Osborn

Today I want to share with you what may be one of the most penetrating insights on offer from Osborn and his recent book (pictured right). What insight is that, you ask? Why, that “literalist” readings of the Genesis creation narratives, and the theological constellations that insist on them, inadvertently demand a nominalist conception of God.

“Nominalism” is a concept that can get thrown around carelessly in theological discourse, especially with reference to late medieval scholastic theology (think Scotus, Occam, etc.). It is hard in that context to pin down exactly what “nominalism” is, and it tends to be taken as a far more totalizing concept than I tend to think is warranted. And this expanded discourse occurs especially when the question of the Reformation arises, with some folks on both the Protestant and Catholic side interested in painting reformational theology as nominalist and others interested in refusing that designation.

In any case, the core of nominalism is “volunt…

Ripped from the Headlines? Barth's Bremen Sermon (pt. 1)

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When I read the sermon Karl Barth delivered at the Frauenkirche in Bremen, Germany, in 1934, I can't avoid seeking the Nazi elephant in the room. (The text is in The Word in This World: Two Sermons by Karl Barth. ed. Kurt I. Johanson and trans. Christopher Asprey, Vancouver, BC, 2007.*) After all, of course, those were dark times for Europe generally and for Barth personally. I will explore that context more fully in my next post. Suffice it to say, the Confessing Church movement was beginning to coalesce, spearheaded by Barth's principal authorship of the Barmen Declaration earlier that spring. He would soon be dismissed from his post at the University of Bonn for what the powers that be would interpret as an act of civil disobedience: A refusal to pledge, without qualification, his loyalty to the Fuhrer.

How, according to Barth, do biblical text and contemporary context come together in the sermon event? Barth lays out his own methodological views on preaching in his Homile…

Karl Barth on what it means to pray “Give us this day our daily bread”

Karl Barth, Prayer, 50th Anniversary Edition (Westminster John Knox, 2002), 51–52. As always, bold is mine.
We must . . . say: “Act in such a way that thou dost not give it us in vain, so that we may truly receive this bread which thou has prepared on thy table in the holy Communion, so that we may take from thy hands this bread which thou hast created for us and which thou givest us. Help us, then; illumine us. May we not behave like well-satisfied bourgeois or like greedy creatures at the moment when thou bestowest upon us anew this incomprehensible and incompatible gift, this gift of thy patience, and of our hope. Act in such a way that we do not squander and destroy this gift. Grant that we may each receive our bread without dispute or quarrel. Grant that all who have a surplus of this bread may know by this very fact that they are appointed as servants, as dispensers of thy grace, that they are in thy service and in the service of others. And grant that those who are particularly…

"Just as I am" - A Lenten Sermon about Repentance

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd'st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come. I come.
You know that song? It's the old revival song, sung at countless Billy Graham crusades and various altar calls throughout the world. Some of you here know a bit about my past, that I grew up attending a Baptist Church in New Jersey for thirteen or so years of my life. What you don't know was that at the age of 14 I accepted that I was washed by the blood of the lamb and repented of my sins and came forward to a thousand-person choir singing "Just As I Am" at the Creation Music Festival. Creation is a Christian music festival that gathers every summer up in Pennsylvania. They like to call themselves the "Christian Woodstock". Let me tell you, it isn't nearly as wild as Woodstock was! I wasn't at Woodstock, mind you, but I've seen the movie. But on the last night of every Creation Festival, there is an al…