Showing posts from March, 2015

Logical and Moral Problems with Literal Readings of Genesis’ Creation Narratives: More from Osborn

As I mentioned previously, I recently read Osborn’s book (pictured right). Now I’m working on sharing some of the more interesting bits with you, gentle readers. Today I want to combine an early portion of Osborn’s work with a later portion, because I think that their combination makes quite an impact.

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

The first chunk has to do with the logical difficulties (problems?) that arise when trying to read the creation narratives (yes, use of the plural there is correct, as it seems I must endlessly tell my students…) in Genesis as a unified whole. In other words, what shenanigans occur when you try to harmonize Genesis 1 and Genesis 2?Here . . . is what we must picture happening in the daylight hours of day six of the creation by any reading that flattens Gensis 1 and 2 into a single linear historical narrative with an eye to scientific correspondence and…

Karl Barth: Reformed Catholic?

From time to time, including recently, the interwebs are aflutter with questions like these:

How might we situate the life and work of Karl Barth vis-a-vis the historic schisms in Western Christianity between Protestants and Roman Catholics? As a minister in the Swiss Reformed Church, he was vigorously engaged for 40 years or so in various ecumenical contexts: What do we make of that? Barth maintained spirited, intense and yet respectfl conversations with Roman Catholic interlocutors like von Balthasar and Przywara from the late 1920s onward: What does all this mean? Do we read him best as a thinker for the ages -- a Reformed Aquinas, let's say? Or is it better to see him as a champion for historic Protestant principles -- a Calvin redivivus, perhaps?

Moreover, in our own day, is the Protestant cause, or even Western Christianity as a whole, in danger of tanking, amid the rampant secularism and consumer capitalism of a decadent late modern society (cue disaster movie soundtrack)? …

What Am I Reading? Ronald Osborn on “Death Before the Fall”

I recently read through Ronald Osborn’s engagingly written volume.* Those who follow me on twitter (if you don’t, feel free to make use of the link at the end of this post…) were able to join in the experience a bit as I tweeted out some of Osborn’s many pithy and memorable lines. One that has stuck with me, for instance, is his definition of theistic evolution: “Theistic evolution is, we might say, leisurely creationism” (p. 74)! Osborn’s obvious skills as a communicator are employed in this volume to make two points: first, “literal” readings of the creation narratives in the Christian tradition collapse if one starts asking questions; second, that the suffering of animals (especially but not only in theistic evolutionary accounts) creates an interestingly modulated theodicy problem for Christian theology, a problem that Osborn makes some gestures toward constructively addressing.

Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downe…

Does it Sink or Float? - Barth's "Titanic" Sermon

From first to last, Karl Barth was a preacher, as many commentators have pointed out. For nearly six decades -- from his days as student pastor in Geneva to his years in retirement from his university position -- Barth delivered myriads of sermons in churches, public meeting places and even prisons, and he always saw a key part of his vocation to be the renewal of evangelical homiletics in the churches. So why don't we have more of Barth's sermons available for the English reading public, asks Kurt Johanson? It's a good question.
I recently received a copy of the book he edited several years ago: The Word in this World: Two Sermons by Karl Barth (trans. Christopher Asprey, Vancouver, Canada: Regent College Publishing, 2007).* This got me thinking about the ad hoc and sporadic character of the way Barth's occasional writings have been published in English.

Fortunately, since this helpful booklet came out, the older sermon collections Call for God and Deliverance to the …

Will I see Jesus when I die? A Story in Search of a Sermon

Conversations about life and death tend to sound different when they take place between folks who are well than when they do between people who are sick. I’ve talked theology for countless hours with people who are healthy, but much less with those who are sick or are slowly dying. In those moments in which I have, I’ve noted that conversations about life, God, eternity, salvation tend to take on a different tone and immediacy when they happen with the terminally ill. They take on more weight. Our words seem to mean more. At the threshold between life and death, it appears to me that what we say matters to an extent unacknowledged when we are healthy.

One Wednesday evening when I was on call I was paged to a patient's bedside. I walked into the room and was confronted by a younger woman, slowly yet surely dying of AIDS and heart disease. The patient wanted a chaplain to talk to her about everything the chaplain knew about what the Bible says about life, dying, death, salvation. I s…

Luther on the "Inner Necessity" of Works of Love in the Christian Life

This point is, for my money, the heart of Kim’s work on Luther in this volume. There are two mistakes that one can fall into when thinking about works, according to Protestant theology. First, you can think that your works somehow contribute to your positive relationship with God (i.e., you can somehow earn or achieve your own salvation). Second, you can think that since you cannot contribute to your positive relationship with God, it doesn’t much matter what you do. The logic of Luther’s position—as Kim shows at length—avoids both of these extremes, instead binding justification and sanctification / faith and love together in an ordered relationship of inner necessity. In the below excerpt this is explained by way of Luther’s metaphor concerning the relationship of a tree to its roots.

Sun-young Kim, Luther on Faith and Love: Christ and the Law in the 1535 Galatians Commentary, Emerging Scholars (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014).199–200.The logical significance of this metaphor of …

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Background on the “Article by which the church stands or falls”

So here’s an interesting tidbit from Kim’s volume, Luther on Faith and Love. I’m sure that at least some of you, gentle readers, have encountered the stereotypically “Lutheran” notion that the doctrine of justification is the doctrine or “article by which the church stands or falls” (once more for the Latin-loving theology nerds amongst you: articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae). The interesting bit is that this formula cannot be found in Luther! Kim provides a footnote (which, coincidentally, is heavily indebted to Eberhard Jüngel) tracing the formula, and that’s what I share with you here. I’ve cut out the citations for ease of reading (and, honestly, I didn’t want to take the time to type them all…), so look it up in the book if you want to track these things down.

Sun-young Kim, Luther on Faith and Love: Christ and the Law in the 1535 Galatians Commentary, Emerging Scholars (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 11n21.T. Mahlmann explains that the expression . . . is traceable to…