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Showing posts from April, 2017

The Great Upheaval: Reading Barth’s Early War Sermons

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Arguably, the outbreak of the Great War in the summer of 1914 constituted the real beginning of the 20th century, especially in Western European society and culture, as William Klempa notes in introducing this volume of early Karl Barth sermons. This was especially the case in Protestant ecclesiastical and theological circles in Germany, where the war sparked a revolt among young pastors and thinkers. In one camp, Klempa notes, establishment theologians -- including Barth's Marburg mentor Wilhelm Herrmann -- by and large acquiesced to and even offered up religious legitimization to the rising tide of nationalist and militarist sentiment. Thus, Adolf von Harnack, a key confidant for the Kaiser, served as an enthusiastic apologist for the war. For a number of younger theologians, on the other hand, the devastation that ensued as the war progressed was an acid that dissolved naive idealisms. For example, Paul Tillich, who suffered psychiatric trauma from his experience as a chaplain …

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer met Karl Barth – with Charles Marsh

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I posted previously and in a general way about Marsh’s book, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Today I want to share Marsh’s account of Bonhoeffer’s meeting with Barth in Bonn in 1931. Bonhoeffer was fresh from his first trip to Union Seminary in New York, making the trip to see Barth after being home for only a few weeks after the better part of a year in America. He even skipped a short vacation at his family’s country house! Bonhoeffer stayed in Bonn for three weeks.


Bonhoeffer made his visit to Barth when Barth was hitting his stride and starting the first part volume of Church Dogmatics. He had spent the preceding decade working through the theological tradition, filling his theological toolbox, identifying the important issues with which he had to grapple, and feeling his way toward a fundamental rethinking of the theological enterprise. Now he began to speak in earnest. I must confess that CD 1:1 is one of my favorite bits of Barth. This is no doubt due, in part, t…

Living Humanly: Stringfellow on the Power of Resurrection

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In last week's post , I touched upon William Stringfellow's conception of resurrection as the exercise of freedom from the power of death under the conditions of fallen human existence. Today I ask: What does this resurrection life entail for the churches, for the communities of the ones baptized into such an "awful freedom"? He writes:
It is a freedom to live in the present age, during the remaining time of death's apparent reign, without escaping or hiding or withdrawing from the full reality of death's presence, bearing the brunt of its powers, yet jubilantly confident at the same time of Christ's victory over death and all the powers of death (p. 75).
Free in Obedience, by William Stringfellow (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006)

As I noted before, I would like to hear more about the character of that victory and its broader implications, in terms of Christ's unique person and vocation as Savior. At any rate, Stringfellow clearly is more interes…

A Glimpse at the Life of Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides / Rambam)

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Since my teaching brief now includes more sustained instruction in the Jewish tradition, I’ve been further familiarizing myself with some of its significant contributors. To that end, I read Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Maimonides: A Biography. As you no doubt deduced from the title, if you didn’t know already, Maimonides’s proper name is Moses ben Maimon. And if you throw the title of Rabbi on the front (it is accorded to him as an honorific although he was never “ordained” as a rabbi and refused the opportunity because he didn’t think he should earn a living off the Torah), take the first letters, and throw a couple vowels (two ‘a’s) in there to help you pronounce it, you get “Rambam,” which is how he is referred to in the rabbinic tradition.

If you need an analogy to help you understand how important Maimonides is for the rabbinic tradition, just think of him as the Jewish Thomas Aquinas. Or, perhaps think of Thomas as the Christian Rambam, since he was born 21 years after the second M…

Leaping Like Calves: A guest sermon on Malachi 4:1-5, by Lauren Larkin

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The message of Malachi is as follows: God knows those who fear him and those who do not, and He desires his people to repent and turn back to Him and Torah (Mal. 3:7). If the people do not do as God desires, God will come with judgment as destruction on the people and on the land.

Malachi ends his book with a word of Judgment: utter destruction hangs in the balance if the people do not turn. For all intents and purposes, Malachi cries out: “Pay attention!” He pleads with his audience: “Take heed; this is serious!” “Judgment is coming!” Malachi shouts. The question that Malachi leaves us with at the very end of the book is: on whom will judgment fall?

"For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall…

God in the Void: Reflections for Holy Saturday

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“When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

(Mark 15:33-34)

A God that is simply all-powerful,
All-knowing,
Unchangeable,
And immovable—

Can this sort of God have any credibility for us today in the real world?

While unabashed prejudice, hatred, and violence
Threaten to become the new normal,

While trucks come barreling down the sidewalk,

While bombs rain down from the sky,
When they shatter the holy silence of our places of worship,

In a world with sarin gas,

The unchanging, unaffected, immovable god, who dwells in unapproachable light, can have no credibility for me.


What, then, of the Void?

Does nothing at all lie beyond the world we see in the news?

The hope offered up by our deeply ambiguous lives,
And our deeply ambiguous world,
Hope that is so scant and intermittent,
So often too little and too la…

Stringfellow: A Naked Christ Strips the Powers

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The year was 1964, at the height of the Civil Rights struggle. William Stringfellow, the young attorney and lay theologian who had recently practiced street law in East Harlem, penned a set of reflections on the vocation of the church in the face of the oppressive principalities and powers of the world. The essay was framed by passages from the "Epistle" to the Hebrews.

Free in Obedience, by William Stringfellow (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006)

In the passion story, as Stringfellow reads it, Jesus bears the full brunt of condemnation from (if I may be a little anachronistic) the secular Roman authorities and the religious priestly caste that collaborates with Empire.

What happens in the collision? Stringfellow writes:

Through the encounters between Christ and principalities and between Christ and death, the power of death is exhausted. The reign of death and, within that, the pretensions to sovereignty over history of the principalities, is brought to an end in Christ'…

On Christianity and Socialism

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By now, DET readers know that David Congdon (who needs no introduction at DET) has begun an initiative called #TwitterSeminary. This is a great project that brings together serious and sustained reflection on important theological topics with the (perhaps unlikely) medium of Twitter. Unfortunately, some people don't have Twitter accounts and are unable to access the goodness that is #TwitterSeminary. That's why I've been posting my #TwitterSeminary guest lectures here at DET in their entirety. Perhaps you saw my first on Karl Barth, Pacifism, and Just War. I'm pleased now to bring you another on Christianity and Socialism.

It was wonderfully gratifying to see the response to this material from folks on Twitter, so thanks to everyone for their kind words.

And if you do have Twitter, you can access all this as a moment.


#TwitterSeminary founder and president @dwcongdon asked me to present a guest lecture on #Christianity and #socialism. I'm glad to oblige.— W. Travis…

What Am I Reading? Charles Marsh’s “Strange Glory”

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I’ve been wanting to read Marsh’s Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Vintage, 2015) since it was first published in 2014. Now that the paperback is out, and selling for ~50pp/$ at a certain online retailer, I knew the time had come.

When I started reading the book I, quite naturally, sent out a Tweet about it (see it here if you want) in which I described it as “the only one worth reading by an author whose name starts with ‘m.’” One or two of my friends and colleagues who are Bonhoeffer specialists got in touch to point me to resources that identify flaws in Marsh’s presentation. It’s true, this book is not perfect. However, I stand by my statement—which, admittedly, probably isn’t saying much.


To be perfectly clear, however, Marsh’s book is worth reading. There are some shorter treatments of Bonhoeffer (see a review of one here), and there’s the tome from Eberhard Bethge, and Marsh’s treatment falls nicely between the two. He writes well and is a good storyteller, which…