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Showing posts from December, 2015

Was the First Christmas Night Really So "Silent"? Revisiting a Scholastic Debate

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FIRST ARTICLE: WHETHER THE EVENING OF THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST WAS REALLY SILENT

Objection 1. It seems that the evening our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was born could not have been so "silent" after all. We know that the cattle were "lowing," whatever that means (we're just theologians, not farmers; theology is queen of the sciences, not animal husbandry) and this noise was sufficient to awaken the Christ child from slumber.

Objection 2. Further, an infant roused on the middle of a cold night by barnyard animals must have been disturbed enough to cry; I mean, cows are scary enough in movies, but imagine if one were breathing down your neck because you're occupying her feeding trough.

Objection 3. Further, we learn from the classic spiritual that angels' feet make a "shuffling" sound and, if their feet make noise, mutatis mutandis, surely the noise of wings flapping as the angels dive-bombed and encircled the creche must …

What Am I Reading? David Congdon’s “The Mission of Demythologizing”

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David and I have been friends for a long time. We became acquainted as undergrads who spent two years living on the same dorm floor, and then we went and spent all our graduate study in the same programs. In other words, David and I spent a decade being less than a mile apart. Now we are quite a few miles apart, but we continue to be key influences on one another’s intellectual lives. Well, I shouldn’t speak for David: he continues to be an important intellectual influence and stimulation for me, at the least. Consequently, I was perhaps uniquely pleased to see the publication of his tome (indeed, that is the only word for it…):

David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Fortress, 2015).
I had read chunks of this work in development, and worked over the whole in conversation, but now I have introduced back-end to chair for a considerable period of time and read the whole. It is a stupendous work. David has—and I say this in all seriousnes…

Karl Barth among the (Lesser) Saints

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The Episcopal Church (of the United States) has welcomed Karl Barth. Sort of. How will he return the favor?

Today is Barth's 47th death anniversary of Karl Barth, an event the Episcopal Church -- my denominational home -- now marks in its daily liturgical calendar.
In point of fact, he shares a death anniversary with Thomas Merton (see this post ), so celebrants of weekday services have to choose which of these towering 20th century Christian thinkers to commemorate. Without conducting a formal poll, I'm going to hazard the guess that most celebrants chose the American Trappist over the Swiss dogmatician. Merton certainly is fascinating and worthy of the honor; it's rather a pity one must choose. The Mission of St. Clare offers a superb website for those who wish to read the Daily Office according to The Book of Common Prayer. That website opts for Merton over Barth.

(The Episcopal Church's official daily liturgical resource book, which is published with proper readings…

Diller on Barth, Pannenberg, and Fideism

DET readers are occasionally treated to reflections on or pertaining to Wolfhart Pannenberg, perhaps more recently when contributor Derek Maris wondered about “Pannenberg’s ‘Supposed’ Hegalianism.” There’s even a mini-series of admittedly dubious value buried among the other DET Serials. So it is fitting that we gather together and harken unto Diller as he raises the question of Pannenberg’s criticisms of Barth’s fideism.

Kevin Diller, Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (IVP Academic, 2014), 72–73 (italics is original; bold is mine).
Pannenberg determines that Barth’s rejection of an earthbound scientific epistemology must leave Barth hopelessly mired in subjectivism. Pannenberg believes that if human reason and experience are subjugated, only two options remain: subjectivism and fideism. In explicit agreement with the Enlightenment, Pannenberg states that “a ‘positive’ theology of revelation which does not depend on ratio…

Read More Kant, for Barth's Sake!

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I'm no academic philosopher; I've mostly encountered the work of Immanuel Kant indirectly, through my studies in modern theology. Still, if I were to characterize my philosophical position, I'd probably say I am a Kantian at the very least. Some theologians have pegged the great German Enlightenment philosopher as the very archetype of modernist dissolution and the evisceration of all standards of objectivity and realism in theological thinking. The assessment of orthodox Calvinist Michael Horton, though a bit trenchant, is not atypical:
As soon as reason turned against the supernaturally revealed knowledge of God by modern rationalists, Kant announced that rational knowledge of God was blocked. Kant "saved" religion from the jaws of a non-Christian idea of theory only to surrender it to an equally non-Christian idea of practice. He was already prepared for this move by having been reared in evangelical pietism, with its emphasis on the inner life and practical mo…

Martin Luther’s chapter-by-chapter summary of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans

I noticed a neat feature while working through Luther’s commentary on Romans – Luther offers a one-sentence summary of each chapter of the epistle!

I’ve always appreciated this sort of exercise. Back when I was precepting at Princeton Seminary (i.e., leading weekly small-group discussions), I did something similar with Gregory of Nyssa’s Great Catechism . . . although I freely admit that my exercise was arguably not as compelling as Luther’s. But I think this way of sketching a text helps give you a sense of the text as a whole while at the same time orienting you to each part. It also teaches you to think in terms of the progression of an argument. So, given that I find such things so useful, I thought that I would share Luther’s with you, gentle readers.

Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia, Luther’s Works volume 25 (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1972). If you want to find these, just turn to the first page of each chapter’s section in the “Glosses.”
Chapter 1 – The apo…