Monday, July 27, 2015

The Nine Lives of DET, pt. 1

Modern theology has demythologized the old yarn that cats enjoy nine literal lives, New Age philosophy notwithstanding.
Carpe diem! You only live once.
The particularly modern emphasis would treat the "nine lives" trope as metaphor: Instead of deferring their deepest hopes for eight lines yet to come -- recall the old quip about "catnip in the sky, by and by" -- our feline friends should reinterpret the myth, existentially, to focus on the multiple possibilities for authentic existence in this life. (I will not engage here -- or anywhere else, for that matter -- the perennial debate about whether and how the scope of the general resurrection might encompass our animal companions.)

In his amazing book, Death, the Riddle and the Mystery, Eberhard Jüngel argues that, somehow, our temporal existences as a whole will be resurrected into eternity. Or we might frame the matter as some process theologians do: God subjectively remembers the life events and experiences of all actual entities, incorporating them into the ever-expanding chronicle of all temporal experience within God's own life. If either of these claims are true, God will remember for all eternity everything any of us has ever written -- including anything I myself have written (shudders...). This claim implies no hubris on our part but, rather, entails great humility, for all our posts will live on in the divine memory side-to-side with everything Donald Trump has ever tweeted.

At any rate, today our little blog turns nine years old. And (for some inexplicable reason) I was given the assignment to draft a "whimsical" recollection to mark this austere...I mean, auspicious occasion. So there you have it. Whether for the sake of the ages, or just to entertain and enlighten you during a brief interlude in our slowed-down summer publishing schedule, I offer nine highlights from our archives, one for each year of our operation. You might think of each one as a vignette of eternity; or, barring that, maybe just as something cool somebody once wrote.

Year 1. A Portrait of the Editor as a Young Man.

As everyone knows, DET is the brainchild of W. Travis McMaken, at that time an MDiv candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary, though now he elects to subcontract a great deal of the writing and, in general, the more annoying tasks of blog production. Because theological inquiry is a communal endeavor )etc., etc., etc.) Travis is as taciturn about the mysterious origins of this blog as he is about what his actual first name is. But we have intriguing hints from the maiden post from July 27, 2006. Recall what was going on in those heady days. George W. Bush -- or perhaps Dick Cheney, depending on your perspective -- was President. Most prominent national Democratic as well as Republican politicians were still on record opposing same-sex marriage. At that point, there had only been, perhaps, only three or four big-screen reboots of the Spiderman franchise.

Into those heady days emerged this manifesto. What can the reader of this new blog -- which, as a lone-wolf operation at that time, was called "Der Evangelische Theologue" -- expect to find?

Only God knows. There will be no ranting. There will be no posts (at least I hope there will be no posts) laced with a prophetic posturing or displaying a savior complex. There will likely be little discussion of politics (my grandmother always taught me not to discuss religion and politics in polite company, and since I’m discarding the bit about not discussing religion, I’m going to try to stick to not discussing politics). Also, with any luck, this will be the last mention of ‘postmodernity’ (which I like to call ‘hypermodernity,’ but there won’t be a post on that either).

Uh-oh. I suspect I myself have violated, numerous times, the gag order against politics and ranting. Ah well....

The scene at DET has been chill, but hasn't been without controversy -- the central controversy being " Why is your blog’s name in German?" There are two answers:

First, one acquires a certain amount of intellectual cachet when one uses another language in conspicuous ways and far be it from me to surrender credibility that might be obtained through academic posturing. Second, I am currently studying German and one likes to show off knowledge that one has recently gained.

No comment.

Year 2. Come, Let us Reason Together

One of the exciting projects at DET over the years has been the Karl Barth Blog Conference, which has drawn in stimulating and sometimes fundamentally sound essays from multiple contributors. (This was in fact my own entree into writing for the blog.) Alas, the KBBC as an ongoing project is no more, and yet, like Jeff Bridges' "Dude", the KBBC still abides -- now in the form of book, produced by our editor along with our prolific friend-of-the-blog, David Congdon, that grew out of contributions from the fourth and final conference. From this index one can cull listings for this very satisfying triptych:

Barth and Bavinck
Barth and Bonhoeffer
Barth and Bultmann

But "Barth and Brunner"? Nein!

Check out this post announcing the first KBBC in 2007.

Year 3. Et Tu, Torrance?

Australian theologian Benjamin Myers is a legend within the (admittedly somewhat narrow) world of theo-bloggery; his wit and insights have set standards for posts that are clear, concise, compelling. (Hmm, do I foresee a TED Talk on "The Three C's of Blogging"?) But can he err theologically? Our position, respectfully submitted is, yes. Check out this post from year three, wherein Travis challenges Ben's interpretation of Thomas F. Torrance. (There seems to be a virtual torrent of interest in Torrance these days, for example in posts by the inveterate theo-blogger, Bobby Grow).

A propos of Ben Meyers' worry that Torrance's realist and objectivist epistemology construes a God who would be a prisoner of divine self revelation -- and thus the secure possession of the church -- Travis has this to say:

Torrance everywhere emphasizes the personal nature of the Christian’s relation with God and Christ, and so I would suggest that one must understand Torrance on these matters through an emphasis on personal encounter between God and the Christian or church. This encounter is one that occurs again and again in the power of the Holy Spirit, and thus it is one that is permanent.

Tune in for our next installment, gentle readers, where I will highlight three posts from years four to six.



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Friday, July 24, 2015

Stumbling along Witherspoon Street - the highlight of my time at the 2015 Barth Conference

A week after the massacre of nine black people by a white racist killer with a gun during the Wednesday evening Bible Study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, I found myself walking along Witherspoon Street in Princeton with several hundred other people.


I was up in New Jersey from North Carolina for the Barth Conference, but I was using that as an opportunity to visit my parents who live in a town a couple miles away from Princeton. It was on the Tuesday evening of the conference when I was visiting with my folks when my father told me about a march in honor of the Emanuel Nine starting at Mt. Pisgah AME Church on Witherspoon, ending in Palmer Square along Nassau Street. I knew I had to go. There wasn't much inner conflict within me, although I would be missing the Will Willimon lecture I was looking forward to. I knew I had to go.

I had attended Princeton Seminary, I had grown up in Central New Jersey, this part of the state was my home, I had worshiped at Mt. Pisgah a handful of times as a child and young adult. I knew black friends of mine who were crying out, "too long!" and knew that I as a white man could no longer chose to be an indifferent witness to the continual abuse of black bodies. I had to go, I told myself, I had to go and stand in solidarity with those who had been murdered, I had to go if I the words "Black Lives Matter" were to be anything more than a slogan or a catchy hashtag. And so I went to Witherspoon Street.

Leaving from Princeton Seminary's campus, I caught up with Willimon on the steps of Stuart Hall and apologized for missing his lecture and gave him the reason why. He looked at me, shook his head, and said, "I guess that's why we study old Barth, huh?" He patted me on the back, walked up the stairs, and I headed downtown. When I got to Mt. Pisgah I was disappointed by what I saw. Arriving about 15 minutes early, all I saw were old, earnest looking white people. But a crowd soon gathered, far more diverse than I had imagined it would be. There were the Unitarians, there were the black baptists, there were the local evangelicals, there were the members of the Reformed synagogue a town over.

We began to march, several hundred of us, up Witherspoon Street. I saw Princeton Theological Seminary people among the crowd, students and faculty alike. There was John Boopalan, holding a sign. There was Martin Tel and his young son. There was a man from the Barth Conference, Asian America from Arkansas originally, studying in Aberdeen, big fan of Barth. He told me he was there, "because it was the right thing to do." We trudged up the road singing "We've Come This Far By Faith." Hard song to sing without accompaniment, but it was sung from the heart. I overheard one black woman talking to another right before we got on our way, "I'm sick and tired of that damn We Shall Overcome. Those days are over. We need a new song."

We arrived at Tiger Park in Palmer Square, which is right across the street from Nassau Presbyterian Church, and then a short ceremony began. Most of the speakers were black women, from Mt. Pisgah AME Church. This shouldn't have surprised me, but it did. Powerful words were uttered. We prayed. Never in my life have I ever been in the midst of so much public prayer, unabashed Christian prayer, done in "Jesus' name" outside, in the open air. Some in the crowd were uncomfortable. Frankly, I was uncomfortable, because such public uttering of faith was far outside of my middle class, white Presbyterian comfort zone. That wasn't a concern of the Mt. Pisgah AME Church people though. "Our mission is to change the world for the better, in the way that God intends. God does not intend for black bodies to be brutalized." And so we prayed.

The park was packed. Young, old, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and nones. Singing and carrying signs, words exchanged, "tonight cannot be a one off!", "we must continue the struggle!". What did this mean? "We must continue to speak out, continue to stand against injustice, continue to resist all forms of racial hatred that deny the humanity and agency of our sisters and brothers of color, in particular black people." We lit candles. We were challenged to, "not leave in the way we came in." We prayed. And then we were dismissed. But that was not the end. A man sang loud, "lean on me!" and then several hundred people joined in. We sounded awful. It was divine.

Before too long I will hopefully write up another post about my more academic reflections on my time at Barth Camp. But for now, I want to sit and think a bit longer on that walk down Witherspoon, and that gathering in Tiger Park.

I guess that is why we study old Barth, huh?

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Well, it’s been more like two months than like a fortnight, but oh well. Things happen. There are classes to teach, books to read (and write), etc. The good news is that we’ve had some great posts since the last link post, both here at DET and in the wider theological interwebs at large. So sit back, buckle-up, and get ready for this batch of links!

First, here’s what we have been up to here at DET:


And here’s what you may have missed in the theo-blogosphere:


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