Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hi. My name is Alex DeMarco, and I’m a new contributor here at DET.

“Whoever looks at Jesus Christ sees in fact God and the world in one. From then on they can no longer see God without the world, or the world without God.” [1]

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics

This is one of my favorite little quotes from Bonhoeffer, and it’s a good illustration of the kind of theology that interests me most.

My name is Alex DeMarco, and I’m a new contributor here at DET.

I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where I was an enthusiastic youth group convert at a local Baptist church in my early teens. After a short stint in Arizona, I moved just north of Philadelphia, where I majored in biblical studies at what is now Cairn University—a small, evangelical, liberal arts university where I met my future wife Jenna, and where I learned the value of critical investigation, generous dialogue, and good writing. From there, I crossed the river and entered the MDiv program at Princeton Theological Seminary.

At Princeton I was drawn to the logical and philosophical rigor I encountered in the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher. If theology is, in Alister McGrath’s words, “taking rational trouble over a mystery,” then Schleiermacher certainly seemed to be taking the necessary rational trouble.[2] But it was Karl Barth who, more than anyone, seemed to display the reticence required by the subject matter as mystery. It was also Barth who turned my theological attention to Jesus Christ, in whom (if I may paraphrase Prof. Hunsinger), mystery has broken into history, to be seen and known.

If it was from Barth that I learned to find God in Christ, it was from Dietrich Bonhoeffer then that I learned to find Christ in the world and the world in Christ.

“Whoever looks at Jesus Christ,” he says, “sees in fact God and the world in one. From then on they can no longer see God without the world, or the world without God.”[3[

After my graduation from PTS in 2015, Jenna and I moved back (well, back for me) to Chicago. Aside from going online and pretending I’m still in seminary, I also enjoy reading, ping-pong, skateboarding, drinking good beer, eating good food, and spending time with the wonderful folks at All Saints Episcopal Church. I’m currently working as a mediocre barista at our local Starbucks (though, for your sake, I hope I’m better at blogging than I am at making lattes). And I’m exploring PhD study and/or ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church as possible futures.

Having long appreciated reading the thought-provoking content put out by DET, I’m very excited to now be joining the team!

While it can be discussed in the abstract, I believe (with Bonhoeffer) that Christian theology finds its true home in the concrete world—in the world of creaturely relationships, events, and experiences. Therefore, my posts will often attempt to point out where theological realities like sin, grace, reconciliation, etc. show up in the world.

After all, the God revealed in Christ is not some remote, otherworldly deity. The God revealed in Christ is Immanuel—God with us, right here, right now.

Blessings & cheers to you all!


- Alex

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, DBWE, vol. 6 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortres Press, 2009), 82.

[2] https://www.scienceandchristianbelief.org/articles/McGrath%20article%20172.pdf (pg.17)

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, DBWE, vol. 6 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortres Press, 2009), 82.


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Friday, August 26, 2016

Read Barth and Get Over Yourself

Like many of you, dear readers, I grew up within a strand of North American evangelicalism which, at its best, fosters a deep piety and a robust affirmation of personal religious experience.
 Jesus vertreibt die Händler aus dem Tempelby Giovanni Paolo Pannini
via Wikimedia Commons (PD-US)
I remain profoundly grateful for this formation. Still, on the down side, this faith tradition can slip into some worrisome solipsistic tendencies. Fortunately, these proclivities are often transcended in real communities, in great acts of solidarity and sacrifice. (For example, a friend who has spent time recently volunteering to help flood victims in the Baton Rouge area attests to the herculean disaster relief efforts led by Southern Baptists there).

Nonetheless, individualist ideologies suffuse the air we breathe, not only as evangelical or liberal Christians but as North Americans in general, in this decadent age of late-modern consumerist society. Of course, rants about religious individualism are so commonplace as to be banal. My point here is that American individualism, creates some of the major stumbling blocks for new (and even not so new) readers of Karl Barth. Reading Barth well is bloody hard enough, but I'm convinced an individualist hermeneutic fosters distorted readings of the great Swiss theologian, such that it becomes easy to miss the political character of his doctrines of election and reconciliation as well as the crimson thread of social radicalism that (I'm convinced) runs through his corpus from beginning to end.

The situation, arguably, is so bad that one fellow recently quipped on Twitter (and I paraphrase): "Gee, you don't hear that much from Barthians about social justice. It's refreshing." This comment followed on the heels of Travis McMaken's recent podcast with Trip Fuller on "Five Reasons to Go Barthian" wherein McMaken highlights the red pastor of Safenwil's lifelong commitments to democratic socialism.

I hope the tweeter was talking more about popular pieces on Barth and not scholarly work. Nonetheless, shame on us! Let's try to rectify that situation, shall we? Whatever your own take on issues of community and society might be, you will not read Barth well unless you come to terms with his commitments in these areas.

In the introduction to his superb Barth anthology, Clifford Green homes in on the problem beautifully:

It is common to read Barth as the theologian who re-asserted the transcendence and primacy of God over against liberal, anthropocentric theology. But this is at best a problematic half-truth. Barth's protest was not only against anthropo-centric theology, it was equally against its subjectivism and individualism. In other words, anthropocentrism and privatism are for Barth two sides of the one problem. Positively stated, Barth was as much concerned to develop a social and public theology as a theocentric (christocentric and trinitarian!) theologian. From first to last his was a communal theology, and the relation of theology and politics was always intimate in his thinking (Karl Barth: Theologian of Freedom, Fortress, 1991, p. 18).

(By the way, for anyone who is a novice to reading Barth -- and most of us are -- Green's essay is an excellent point of entry.)

Whatever episode from Barth's life or theme of his writings you might be examining, you will struggle to get the main point if you fail to grapple with this anti-individualism in Barth. And that principle applies not only, say, to his anti-Nazi activism and his diffidence toward Western anti-Communism, but also to his accounts of the Trinity, Chalcedon and the fall.

Barth was as political theologian to the bone, obsessed with community. What about you?


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Little Help from Bonhoeffer on Prayer

Over the past few weeks, I have been reading through the fourteenth volume of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series in English (DBWE). It is a trove of historical and theological information that takes the reader behind the scenes of Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship, as well as Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible. The volume is entitled, “Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-1937,” and includes documents from when Bonhoeffer led the Confessing Church’s seminary in the town of Finkenwalde. The seminary operated for only a few years before the Nazis closed it down in September of 1937. At the seminary, during its third and fourth sessions (out of five) Bonhoeffer offered lectures on confirmation instruction, which Bonhoeffer scholars call his “second attempt at a catechism” (see footnote 407).

Photo by Andreas Steinhoff,
via Wikimedia Commons
When preparing my sermon for this past Sunday, I found some help from Bonhoeffer’s “catechism." The lectionary readings included Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer. After struggling with how to interpret the passage, especially verses 9 and 10, I found the catechisms questions and answers on prayer to be particularly helpful, and I thought that I would share them with you. In what follows, the italics indicate the catechism questions. Bold is my emphasis.

Why should you pray?
Because I can take nothing for myself and must instead ask everything of God; because I want to thank God for all his gifts.

Why are you permitted to pray?
Because my Lord Jesus Christ has commanded me to do so and wants to be my intercessor.

For what should you pray?
For all things necessary for the body and soul, which the child asks of its father.

Which prayers are pleasing to God?
I should call on God alone in my prayer. For everything I ask, I should do so for Christ’s sake. I should believe with assurance that God hears me. I should pray with my heart rather than only with my mouth (Matt. 6: 5– 8). I should pray several times each day (in the morning, at midday, and in the evening). (1 Thess. 5: 17; Rom. 12: 12.) [—] John 15: 7; 16: 23– 24; Ps. 119.

How does God answer prayers?
By relieving us of and bearing all our care, trouble, and sin. All our prayers have been answered in the cross of Jesus Christ.

What does Christ instruct you to pray?
The Lord’s Prayer.

What gift does God give you in prayer?
God gives me the assurance that through Jesus Christ I am and will remain God’s own. [—] Rom. 8: 15– 16.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. Vol. 14, Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-1937. Translated by Douglas W. Stott. Edited by H. Gaylon Barker and Mark Brocker. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013. Kindle Edition.


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Monday, August 22, 2016

Jürgen Moltmann on lecturing at the beginning of his career

I’ve always been drawn to biography. It combines my interest in and fascination by history on the one hand with my interest in ideas on the other. To top it off, it can give one a new perspective on one’s own struggles and location in one’s own story, and this perspective can be encouraging (it can also be depressing, but we’ll leave that to one side). And autobiography is a particularly enjoyable species of biography. Perhaps the most interesting knowledge that I have gleaned thus far from Moltmann's autobiography was that Ernst Wolf was seriously hardcore: “He smoked black cigars, drank strong coffee in the evenings, and often worked right through the night” (Broad Place, 49)!

By Maeterlinck (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
But what I really want to highlight today are some of Moltmann’s discussions of his earliest teaching at the seminary in Wuppertal. To begin, here is how he describes lecture preparation:

For me, work on the Sunday sermon now gave way to work for four hours of lectures every week. I remembered what Ernst Käsemann used to say: ‘For every hour’s lecture, ten hours of preparation! Every sentence must be precisely weighted up!’ So I began in the middle of the vacations and wrote and wrote, so as to have a good stock in hand at the beginning of the semester . . . (74-75)

I wish I had time to give 10 hours of preparation to each hour of lectures! Moltmann not only lectured those four hours at a time, but he was also offering other “theological seminars and philosophy classes.” I take it that these classes were much more student-driven and oriented toward discussion, but they would still require time in preparation if for no other reason than to do the reading! Moltmann talks about diving into Bonhoeffer’s work in this context, as well as ethics in general. On the philosophical side he engaged “Feuerbach, Marx, and Bloch” (76). For those of you keeping count, I think we can figure on another 20 hours of work a week to prepare for and meet, let us say, two seminars. But, back to the lectures:

Once one had given a lecture three or four times, with this intensive preparation, the next book was ready.

That brings me to the history of lecturing in German universities: Kant still fell back on philosophical textbooks, reading them aloud and then commenting on them; but from the time of Fichte and Hegel onwards, what the lecturer presented was what he intended to publish himself in the near future. Professors ‘read’ their future works in advance and made the lecture a run-up for their future printed works. It was only in America that I found the old way of lecturing again. It saves a great deal of trouble and time, but is also somewhat unproductive! (75)

Indeed! As a practitioner of the “old German” and “American” model (although I don’t read out textbooks to my students; they read them in advance and then come to class where I expound on them in something of a half-seminar style), I can certainly confirm that it saves time but is also unproductive.

This is a difficult trade-off. It is not clear to me that one method is superior to the other. On the one hand, following this style allows me to spend less time in class preparation and (theoretically) more time in scholarship. The effect is to disconnect my scholarship from my classroom. A negative consequence of this is that making a connection between the two requires a second (and maybe third and fourth) step. A positive consequence of this is that my scholarship can pursue topics, themes, figures, problems, etc., other than those to which I am limited by my department’s curriculum and / or student interest. A negative consequence (if you haven’t figured it out, I’m processing this by writing about it…) is that one’s scholarship isn’t given the impetus of the classroom. It can be put-off until later, and therefore other professional concerns and responsibilities can become your central focus. Speaking of which, the administration sees that you don’t have anything pressing to do with those extra 40 hours or so a week that you would be using on lecture preparation, and they start giving you all kinds of fun things to do instead. Pretty soon things spiral out of control and you have the current American system, where a few professors in each discipline located in the top institutions are able to produce really interesting work and everyone else bends over backwards just trying to keep publishing enough to avoid the proverbial “perish”-ing.

For myself, I would like to find a way to bring at least part of my teaching and scholarship more closely together, but I’m not really sure how that might be done…

But, back to Moltmann – he also tells us what he was lecturing on during his years in Wuppertal, which is interesting in itself. So, here is what he enumerates (some of these are formal titles and some of them are more general descriptors): “‘The History of Hope for the Kingdom of God,’” “‘A Comparison between the Theology of the Reformers (Luther – Zwingli – Calvin),’” “patristic Christology and the theology of the Reformed and the Lutheran confessional writings,” “‘Introduction to Present-Day Theology,’” “‘The Beginnings of Dialectical Theology,’” and finally, “in 1963-64 I then took as my subject my ‘theology of hope’” (75).

It’s fascinating to get this peek at Moltmann’s early development. I hadn’t realized that his first decade of theological work was so historical in orientation.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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

…or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere.

Well, it has been well over a month since the last link post and DET has been on extended summer hiatus since then. We did break hiatus twice. The first time was to bring you a timely sermon from contributing author Henry Coates. It is well worth your time if you haven’t read it yet: "Christians are people who say, 'Black lives matter'": A sermon on Jonah 1.

The second time we broke hiatus was to announce my participation in a webinar with the folks at Homebrewed Christianity: Why Go Barthian? Upcoming Webinar with Travis McMaken and Tripp Fuller. I had a lot of fun doing it, and you can watch the video on Youtube (and I’ve embedded it below). The interview will also go out on the Homebrewed Christianity podcast eventually.

Speaking of Youtube, I now have a channel! There isn’t much up there yet: a brief video tribute I did to Heiko Oberman, and a playlist linking to two videos with me on other channels. But I plan to add to it from time to time, and I hope to get some other DET folks in on it. So subscribe and stay tuned for more.

Finally, I've got some new stuff up on my Academia.edu profile: Review of Ashley Cocksworth's Karl Barth on Prayer, A Brief Introduction to Calvin and his Institutes, and the text of my commencement address from back in May, "Keep Faith Also With Us."

Speaking of other DET folks, if you check out the contributors page you will notice some changes. First, Scott Jackson has been promoted from “senior contributing author” to “associate editor.” Over the years that Scott has been a part of DET, he has increasingly helped me to shoulder editorial responsibilities: editing guest posts, brainstorming about which direction we should go in terms of content and identity, recruiting, etc. And I wanted to recognize his role in these regards. So, three cheers for Scott’s promotion!

Speaking of Scott: during the hiatus he published an article with The Other Journal that you will want to read: ”The Two Deaths of Joe Paterno: Stringfellow on the Principality of Image and the Life of a Football Icon”.

Also, we have two new contributing authors that I’m very excited about: Alex DeMarco, and J. T. Young. You can read a little about them on the contributors page, and you can expect posts introducing them in the near future.

Also, DET celebrated its 10th birthday back at the end of July.

Whew! Even though DET has been on hiatus, we’ve been busy behind the scenes, and I’m excited for what the next year will bring. Posting will resume on Monday. Until then, here’s some fresh, hot links to keep you busy over the weekend!


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Sunday, August 07, 2016

Why Go Barthian? Upcoming Webinar with Travis McMaken and Tripp Fuller

We interrupt this DET hiatus to bring you some breaking news: I - intrepid, fearless, and usually not too excessively misanthropic and full of himself editor of DET - will be going toe-to-toe with Tripp Fuller in an upcoming webinar on why you - yes, you! - should consider going "Barthian." The accompanying image has all the vital stats, and you can sign up for FREE to participate in the webinar, get an e-mail about it, etc.

It would be great if we had a good contingent of DET readers in attendance and, for those of you who can make it, I'll "see" you in there!


I had a lot of fun doing the webinar, and it's now up on Youtube. Check it out!


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