Showing posts from July, 2013

Paul Zahl's (un)Ecclesiology

No one has ever awakened in the middle of the night anxious about ecclesiology per se (225). In this, my final post on Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice: A Theology for Everyday Life , I will focus on Zahl’s ecclesiology, or rather, his non-ecclesiology. I raise this aspect of Zahl’s thought because, at least in my view, it stands against the flow of current trends. Just as ecclesiology seems to be all the rage, we have in Paul Zahl a resounding indifference. I have no ecclesiology. ‘Ecclesiology’ is a word that means doctrine of the church. An ‘ecclesiology’ is a teaching or concept concerning the Christian church: what it is, what it consists of, what is important in it, and how it relates to other ideas about the church. When I say, ‘I have no ecclesiology,’ I am not really saying that. I am simply saying that ‘ecclesiology’ is unimportant to me. It is low on my list of theological values (225). Zahl offers two reasons why ecclesiology is unimportant in a theology for everyday life:

Paul Zahl on Law and Grace in Everyday Life

“In life there are two governing principles that are at war with one another. The first is law; the second is grace…. The law crushes the human spirit; grace lifts it” (1). “Law is hell on earth. It is rigidly fixed as the lot of every person who has ever lived. Grace, on the other hand, is what everyone desires. One-way love is the object of all human craving” (80). For my third post on Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice: A Theology for Everyday Life I here lift up a few quotations from Zahl that I believe capture the essence of his “theology for everyday life” with respect to law and grace. I will allow Zahl to speak for himself, but as you read these quotations do keep in mind that Zahl is attempting to capture an accurate description of “how Christianity works” (27) on the plain of human experience. I have found these insights regarding law and grace to be both theologically challenging and homiletically helpful. All emphasis is Zahl’s. What is Law? Any judgment, any evaluation

It's DET's Birthday!

DET is seven years old! The founder and leader of DET asked me to write about this, so here are some reflections... For me personally, my appreciation of this blog begins prior to joining on. This blog, along with some others (here are two examples ) were extremely important to me as I began to focus more seriously on theology. For a variety of reasons, I've always felt like I was behind in my understanding of theology, and DET provided current snapshots and facilitated discussions. This was invaluable for me. Though I rarely commented, for nearly the duration of my more serious study of theology I've kept an eye on what was going on here. I especially paid attention to the Karl Barth Blog Conferences . Years later, those posts continue to be interesting, especially the comment threads. Particular discussions and phrases still stick with me. At times, it seemed to me that some of the best thinking by people approximately my age was going on in those discussions. I'd en

‘Most Interesting Theologians’ Twitter Bonanza

So there I was. Sitting quietly in my office. Reading classic Chinese philosophy of all things . . . Mengzi, to be exact. Then it happened. I saw an article on “The Most Interesting Theologians in the World” . Here is how that post introduces the concept: By Annagoldbergww (Own work) [ CC BY-SA 4.0 ] (via Wikimedia Commons) You’re familiar with Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man in the World." It is said that he once “led a flock of endangered cranes across Siberia on a motorized hang glider.” “When it is raining, it’s because he’s thinking of something sad.” And, “At museums, he’s allowed to touch the art.” The post went on to provide pictures with clever captions, all trading on the familiar pattern: “I don’t always X, but when I do, I prefer X. Stay X, my friends.” To put it mildly, this was a meme waiting to happen. So I did what any sane professor of religion would do. I immediately contacted my friend, colleague, theologically-conjoined twin, and partner in

Jason Goroncy on Hell in 19th c. British Evangelicalism

Lately I’ve been reading fellow theo-blogger Jason Goroncy ’s book Hallowed Be Thy Name: The Sanctification of All in the Soteriology of P. T. Forsyth . A proper review will be published in due course, but in the meantime, I thought that I would let you all in on an interesting paragraph that I found. This paragraph deals with the state of British evangelicalism in the 19th century vis-à-vis the related questions of hell, annihilation, and universalism. I find this passage particularly fascinating because the pendulum seems to have swung soundly in the opposite direction in contemporary North American evangelicalism. It was less than a decade ago, for instance, that one evangelical denomination replaced vague language about “eternal judgment” with the much more concrete phrase “eternal conscious torment.” So what Goroncy has to tell us here may lend some much needed perspective. Jason Goroncy, Hallowed Be Thy Name (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013), 180–81 . As usual, bold is mine. C

Karl Barth on the Idolatry of God’s Wrath

I came across this passage in Barth’s Epistle to the Romans recently and thought it was too good not to share. Here Barth expounds Romans 14.13–15. In the contemporary North American context, appeal is often made to God’s wrath (or, in more polite company, God’s justice) when folks (generally of the more conservative variety) want to marginalize or stigmatize something by means of their religious convictions. How’s that for putting it generally? I’ll let you, gentle readers, fill in the details. This is what Barth has to say on the subject. Those who have ears to hear… Karl Barth, Epistle to the Romans , 516–17. Bold is mine; caps are Barth’s. We are exhorted in the Epistle to the Romans to a particular line of conduct, not in order that we may adopt the point of view of God, but that we might bear it in mind, consider it from all sides, and then live within its gravity. To judge involves the capacity to assign guilt and to envelop an action in wrath. God has this capacity and exe

Disliking a Hero: Assessing Brevard Childs after Seminary - A guest post by Collin Cornell

[Ed. note: Collin Cornell writes the always interesting blog Kaleidobible , as well as semi-regular guest posts here at DET.] This spring I graduated from seminary and this fall I will begin a doctoral program. The in-between time has been good for revisiting – and interrogating – some of the intellectual sources I brought to seminary. Primary amongst the figures who shaped my thinking before seminary is Brevard Childs. As with most of my heroes from college, my understanding of this man’s ideas stood isolated from their historical backdrop. His proposals thus appeared more unique and innovative than they really were, as I discovered by reading into a larger discussion within mid-century (German) research. Childs caused a ruckus on this side of the Atlantic, but it’s hard to know how much that owed to his unparalleled command of biblical scholarship from both hemispheres rather than to creative genius. His transcontinental education made him unusually competent to develop and mars

More on “Grace in Practice”: Schleiermacher, Barth, and Zahl on an Anthropological Starting Point for Theology

In my initial post on Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice , I indicated that I would like to devote this second one to the anthropological starting point of his “theology of everyday life.” I raise this topic because I believe that Zahl’s Grace in Practice may provide a way toward reconciling the theologies of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Karl Barth, especially with respect to dogmatic organization and the role of experience in theology. Zahl does not explicitly make this case, but I do think that his theology opens up such a possibility. A full treatment of this topic could hardly be contained within a blog post. My hope here, then, is simply to highlight a few salient issues and show how Zahl might offer a way forward. With that, let’s now set up the problem that Zahl might help to resolve. As many readers of DET will know, Barth’s theology explicitly rejects Schleiermacher’s “anthropologising of theology” ( CD I.1 , 20). That is, Barth rejects anthropology as the normative principle

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend… …or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere. I feel like skipping the intro to this thing today. So, on with the links! On second thought, before we get to the links, I want to highlight an exciting opportunity for those interested in Barth Studies. Jessica DeCou has started a Kickstarter campaign to help fund research for a book recounting the story of Barth’s visit to the United States . Here is how she describes the project: A Fantastic Affair”: Karl Barth in America, 1962 (a.k.a. “KBUSA” – under advance contract with Fortress Press, ISBN: 978-1-4514-6553-2) provides the first detailed chronicle of Barth’s sole visit to the U.S. in 1962. Barth arrived at a tumultuous moment in American history and found himself embroiled in some of the nation’s fiercest conflicts: touring prisons and inner city neighborhoods and meeting with communist groups, State and Defense Department staff, civil rights activists, business leaders, an

Sounds “a little bit like a beautiful old fairy story”? Helmut Gollwitzer retells Acts 12.1–17

Helmut Gollwitzer is no doubt becoming much better known to DET readers. One more installment can’t hurt, eh? This is from a sermon of Gollwitzer’s on December 11, 1977. In it he imagines what a newspaper headline addressing the events of Acts 12.1–17 might look like if put into contemporary (to him, although in many ways it still rings true) language. Please forgive some translation infelicities, as I’m only reproducing it as the volume does. Helmut Gollwitzer, The Way to Life: Sermons in a Time of World Crisis (T&T Clark, 1981), 84. Mysterious liberation of prisoner in Jerusalem! Flight of Terrorist! Legal Authorities investigate prison scandal. Last night a Galilean prisoner Simon Jonasson, who in his circle has the nickname Petros (Rocky), under arrest in Jerusalem prison on the suspicion of membership of a criminal gang, was in a manner still unexplained set free, probably by members of his gang. Although special security measures had been taken, his accomplices have c

My Most Recent Publication

Alright, maybe not the most recent. But a fairly recent one nonetheless. The International Journal of Systematic Theology has published a review that I wrote for them of Keith Johnson’s book, Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis . I’ve written about this book at DET before, a number of times . IJST has had this review in its pocket for a while now – so long, in fact, that the review stills lists my PTS affiliation rather than LU – so I’m very glad that it is finally out. You can access the review online if you have the right permissions. Otherwise, look for it in your local theological library. ================================== Follow @WTravisMcMaken

Do some theology! Calvin on the importance of theological study to one’s faith

John Calvin, Tracts and Letters , 5.278-79. One of the facets of Calvin’s work that receives the least attention was his letter-writing to those under sentence – or at least threat – of execution for their Protestant convictions. While France was always eager to support Protestants in Switzerland and the Holy Roman Empire, for political reasons, its regime could tend to be fairly vicious in the persecution of Protestants within its own borders. If those imperiled or imprisoned were known to Calvin or any of Calvin’s friends, or even if Calvin got word that they had read some of his work appreciatively, he made it a point to write to them. So for instance, he begins a letter from July 1550 as follows: “Although we have been unknown to each other by sight, yet since you recognize the Master Christ in my ministry, and submit yourself cheerfully and calmly to his teaching, this is a sufficient reason why I should, on the other hand, esteem you as a brother and fellow-disciple” (278). W

July Book o’ the Month: Paul F. M. Zahl’s “Grace in Practice: A Theology for Everyday Life”

In the introduction to his Homiletics , Karl Barth says, “theology as a church discipline ought in all its branches to be nothing other than sermon preparation in the broadest sense” (17). In that spirit, my church’s preaching team began meeting weekly to discuss three things: last Sunday’s sermon, next Sunday’s Scripture passage, and finally, a book we are all reading together. For July’s Book o’ the Month, I’d like to introduce the readers here at DET to one of those books, namely, Paul Zahl’s Grace in Practice . I want to share this with you because it has been one of the most challenging, formative, and helpful books that our group has read since we first started meeting about a year and a half ago. It has especially helped to shape how we think about the experience of grace and how the sermon may be a vehicle for that experience. Who’s Paul Zahl? He is a retired Episcopal priest, dean and president emeritus of Trinity School for Ministry , and host of PZ’s Podcast , the epis

Top 10 Posts from the First Half of 2013

That’s right, gentle readers, it’s time for another Top 10 Posts installment! I know that you’re all sitting on the edge of your seats with excitement over the chance to read wonderful posts that you’ve already read (perhaps even more than once!), so I won’t overburden you with a long introduction. Of course, if these posts somehow slipped under your radar heretofore, feel free to take this chance to catch up a bit on your DET reading. Of course, if this doesn’t do it for you – or if you like comparing things – you might check out which posts people were reading during the second half of 2012 . Final disclaimer: my metrics in compiling this cannot account for views a post receives when it is read from the main blog page; it can only account for direct views. So it is altogether possible that this list is fallible (*gasps!). Top Ten: Why I Think…Ben Myers Isn’t Quite Right About TF Torrance - I’m kind of surprised. If my memory serves me, this post has topped the lists for the pa