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Showing posts from May, 2016

Tributes to John Webster (Index)

As I’m sure you are aware, gentle readers, John Webster passed away last week. I posted my reflections about the role that Webster played in my own theological development, and there have been a number of other tributes posted around the web. I thought that I would gather them for you. If you know of any that I’ve missed, or you see that more have been written, be sure to leave a comment or contact me on twitter (@wtravismcmaken) so that I can update this listing.

Here’s the list, in the order that I happened to find them.

John Webster (1955-2016): Requiescat in pace - McMaken‘Theological Theology’: Reflections on the work of John Webster - Anthony Wick - Fred SandersIn memoriam John Webster - Steve Holmes (from his blog)John Webster dies at 60: Tribute to a leading theologian of his day - Steve Holmes (from Christian Today)The Revd Professor John Bainbridge Webster, DD, FRSE 1955-2016 - University of St. Andrews announcementA Tribute to John Webster - Mark GignilliatIn Memoriam John …

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

We’re actually just a couple days shy of a month since the last link post. Lots has happened. I finished a semester, spoke at commencement (there are photos posted online), started in on a summer course, and of course – and very sadly – renowned theologian John Webster passed away (my reflections here, and listed below).

It feels like a good time to stop for a moment to look back and face forward.

DET Posts:

Remembering Helmut Gollwitzer on May Day, with Jürgen MoltmannJürgen Moltmann on the distinction between Joy and FunAll Christologians Got a Place in the Choir: Some Sing "Lower," Some Sing "Higher"“The agnostic does not know what he is saying” – Karl BarthJürgen Moltmann and Higher Education"I could hardly put it down" - a blog review of my "The Sign of the Gospel"The Layer Cake of Knowledge: John Haught on Evolution and TheologyWhat Am I Read…

John Webster (1955-2016): Requiescat in pace

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The news broke on social media last night and was confirmed today by The University of St. Andrews.

A great deal will be written and said about Webster's significance as a theologian, his powers as a thinker, and his virtues as a human being. As it should be. And the people who will write and say these things will have much more of a right to do so than I. I was not close to Webster by any stretch of the imagination. Nevertheless, he impacted my intellectual life in a number of crucial ways and at a number of crucial moments, and I feel compelled to pay him some small tribute.

I cut my theological teeth as a student in the Biblical and Theological Studies department at Wheaton College in the first years of the 21st century. It was clear at that time to even the most casual observer that there were three preeminent interpreters of Karl Barth in English language theology. They were, in alphabetical order: George Hunsinger, Bruce McCormack, and John Webster. While it would later be …

What Am I Reading? Thomas Oord’s “The Uncontrolling Love of God”

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I first became aware of Oord and his work when a year or so ago he landed in the middle of one of the many faculty vs. administration showdowns that have been happening in Christian higher education lately. Well, the nice folks over at IVP Academic asked if I would like to read his book and offer some reflections on it for the benefit of yourselves, gentle readers, and I was only too happy to oblige.

Thomas Jay Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015).
This book wasn’t written for people like me. It was written to communicate with thoughtful and theologically curious laypeople. Oord does a wonderful job in making his thoughts and ideas accessible when they are anything but simplistic.

The primary goal of this book is to communicate a doctrine of providence that can account for the reality of genuine evil while also not making God responsible either for causing that evil or for failing to prevent it. Chapt…

The Layer Cake of Knowledge: John Haught on Evolution and Theology

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In a recent post, apropos of Schleiermacher, I defended a notion of creation theology as standing in a noncompetitive relationship with modern scientific cosmology: In this view, Christian theologians who speak of creation are speaking in a different register from the empirical descriptions and theories of natural processes offered by cosmologists, physicists and biologists.

John F. Haught, a renowned "evolutionary theologian" and expert in science-and-religion dialogue, makes a similar point, specifically in terms of the encounter between theology and Darwinian evolutionary theory. The broader agenda of this lucid book is to bring scientific and theological perspectives on human origins and destiny into a closer, more fruitful, and non-reductionist dialogue that respects the prerogatives and concerns of both modes of inquiry; since Haught writes as a theologian and not as a scientist, his special concern is to expand and enrich contemporary Christian thought through this e…

"I could hardly put it down" - a blog review of my "The Sign of the Gospel"

Back in April 2015, Matthew Codd wrote a review of my book and posted it over on his blog. It's a fun review to read and I asked Matt if he would mind my reproducing it here at DET for your benefit and indulgence, gentle readers. He agreed. So here it is! Everything below the link (points down) is from Matt...except for where I couldn't help but add some bold.

W. Travis McMaken, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth (Fortress, 2013).
Let it be know up front, if you have come to this blog hoping to discover what the “W” in W. Travis McMaken’s name is, you have come to the wrong place. For whereas this book proved to be informative and challenging in many ways, it left the reader to wonder “what about that W?!”. I can only imagine I have lost half of my readers at this point, the mystery remains, but for those of you left I would like to write a quick review of this book; which, spoiler alert- was very good.

I am not a neutra…

Jürgen Moltmann and Higher Education

I’ll be speaking at the Lindenwood University undergraduate commencement exercises tomorrow morning, and this has had me reflecting on this whole higher education business in a more concentrated way than my usual slow burn of reflection on the issue. For instance, have you ever reflected on how even calling this enterprise “higher education” prejudices how we think about it in interesting and definitely-not-merely-neutral ways? That was a relatively new realization for me.

In any case, Moltmann has some interesting things to say about living through the Americanization of the German university system. Or, perhaps better, the first round of this Americanization. My understanding is that it continued and continues even today. So I offer his comments below for your reflection (bold is mine, as usual) while I put the finishing touches on this speech…

Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place (Fortress, 2009), 242.
During those years it was not the left-wing students who wanted to change the system; i…

“The agnostic does not know what he is saying” – Karl Barth

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[Ed. note - Karl Barth was born 130 years ago today. So, here's a Barth post to celebrate.]

I’ve been thinking a lot about agnosticism and atheism over the past few years. For instance, I’m sure that many of you gentle readers know that Christians were often accused of atheism in the early centuries of its development because of their criticism of Greco-Roman gods and their ‘failure’ to worship a deity that comes equipped with tangible cultic representation. In any case, what has stood out to me recently is how different this kind of critical, atheistic impulse is from agnosticism. It turns out that Barth thinks so too.

There I was, reading along in Church Dogmatics, 1.2, minding my own business, when I came across a small print section on the subject of agnosticism. It is only about half of a page long, but it got me thinking.

Barth’s discussion here has to do with “The Freedom of Man for God” (the heading for §16), and his point is that agnostics do not mean the same thing when…

All Christologians Got a Place in the Choir: Some Sing "Lower," Some Sing "Higher"

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English arguably has few advantages over German for theological expression. From the grammatical subtlety of inflected nouns to words that are just plain...well...long -- as befits a nuanced and profound Erkenntnistheoretischen -- the Teutons have us beat. With one crucial exception: In German all nouns are capitalized, whereas in English proper nouns begin with capitals and common nouns start with lowercase letters.

So what? you ask. (I like our DET readers: Y'all don't just click and share info because it pops up on your computers screens. Y'all want to know why).
Well, the payoff for the lowercase/uppercase distinction, for Christian theologians, is that it helps us illustrate what is, perhaps, the central issue in Christology: Is Jesus of Nazareth a mere human being, or is he also divine -- the eternal Son of God incarnate in the flesh? In his classic Philosophical Fragments, Søren Kierkegaard, writing under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus, frames the uniqueness of the …

Jürgen Moltmann on the distinction between Joy and Fun

I’ve been thinking about how happiness fits in with Christian theology ever sense I had the chance to serve in a support role for Ellen Charry as she worked on her book, God and the Art of Happiness (I did a two-part recap of that work here at DET: part 1, part 2; I also spoke recently on the topic).

I’ve also been reading Moltmann’s recent book, as those who follow my Twitter account may have figured out…

Leaving #aarsbl15 early but chilling with #Moltmann at the airport. pic.twitter.com/qdlKyid5l5— W. Travis McMaken (@WTravisMcMaken) November 22, 2015

Moltmann makes what I thought was a very insightful distinction between “joy” and “fun” in the course of this work that I wanted to lift up for you, gentle readers. Moltmann is working here in part from his earlier book on joy, of which I was not previously aware. I’m not sure how widely it circulated in North America. In any case, this is what he has to say. As usual, bold is mine.

Jürgen Moltmann, The Living God and the Fullness of L…

Remembering Helmut Gollwitzer on May Day, with Jürgen Moltmann

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May Day, or International Workers’ Day, has rolled around once again. I commemorated this day back in 2013 with a post about Gollwitzer, and I thought that I would do so again this year. But this time I have Moltmann to help me.


Moltmann reflects on Gollwitzer in the context of his (Moltmann’s) editorial work with the periodical Evangelische Theologie, on whose editorial board Gollwitzer also served. These comments from Moltmann give a good sense of Gollwitzer as a particular human being as well as an influential (and sometimes controversial!) theologian and public intellectual. I hope that you will join me in remembering him today. As usual, bold is mine.

Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place (Fortress, 2009), 245–46.

In order to describe the inner relations of the editors of Evangelische Theologie, I must talk about a man who, after Ernst Wolf, became the secret spiritus rector of our periodical: Helmut Gollwitzer. His all-embracing human kindness and his youthful capacity for enthusiasm …