Showing posts from 2015

Was the First Christmas Night Really So "Silent"? Revisiting a Scholastic Debate

FIRST ARTICLE: WHETHER THE EVENING OF THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST WAS REALLY SILENT Objection 1. It seems that the evening our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was born could not have been so "silent" after all. We know that the cattle were "lowing," whatever that means (we're just theologians, not farmers; theology is queen of the sciences, not animal husbandry) and this noise was sufficient to awaken the Christ child from slumber. Objection 2. Further, an infant roused on the middle of a cold night by barnyard animals must have been disturbed enough to cry; I mean, cows are scary enough in movies, but imagine if one were breathing down your neck because you're occupying her feeding trough. Objection 3. Further, we learn from the classic spiritual that angels' feet make a "shuffling" sound and, if their feet make noise, mutatis mutandis , surely the noise of wings flapping as the angels dive-bombed and encircled the c

What Am I Reading? David Congdon’s “The Mission of Demythologizing”

David and I have been friends for a long time. We became acquainted as undergrads who spent two years living on the same dorm floor, and then we went and spent all our graduate study in the same programs. In other words, David and I spent a decade being less than a mile apart. Now we are quite a few miles apart, but we continue to be key influences on one another’s intellectual lives. Well, I shouldn’t speak for David: he continues to be an important intellectual influence and stimulation for me, at the least. Consequently, I was perhaps uniquely pleased to see the publication of his tome (indeed, that is the only word for it…): David W. Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann’s Dialectical Theology (Fortress, 2015). I had read chunks of this work in development, and worked over the whole in conversation, but now I have introduced back-end to chair for a considerable period of time and read the whole. It is a stupendous work. David has—and I say this in all serio

Karl Barth among the (Lesser) Saints

The Episcopal Church (of the United States) has welcomed Karl Barth. Sort of. How will he return the favor? Today is Barth's 47th death anniversary of Karl Barth, an event the Episcopal Church -- my denominational home -- now marks in its daily liturgical calendar. In point of fact, he shares a death anniversary with Thomas Merton (see this post  ), so celebrants of weekday services have to choose which of these towering 20th century Christian thinkers to commemorate. Without conducting a formal poll, I'm going to hazard the guess that most celebrants chose the American Trappist over the Swiss dogmatician. Merton certainly is fascinating and worthy of the honor; it's rather a pity one must choose. The Mission of St. Clare offers a superb  website for those who wish to read the Daily Office according to The Book of Common Prayer . That website opts for Merton over Barth. (The Episcopal Church's official daily liturgical resource book, which is published with proper

Diller on Barth, Pannenberg, and Fideism

DET readers are occasionally treated to reflections on or pertaining to Wolfhart Pannenberg , perhaps more recently when contributor Derek Maris wondered about “Pannenberg’s ‘Supposed’ Hegalianism.” There’s even a mini-series of admittedly dubious value buried among the other DET Serials . So it is fitting that we gather together and harken unto Diller as he raises the question of Pannenberg’s criticisms of Barth’s fideism. Kevin Diller, Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (IVP Academic, 2014), 72–73 (italics is original; bold is mine). Pannenberg determines that Barth’s rejection of an earthbound scientific epistemology must leave Barth hopelessly mired in subjectivism. Pannenberg believes that if human reason and experience are subjugated, only two options remain: subjectivism and fideism. In explicit agreement with the Enlightenment, Pannenberg states that “a ‘positive’ theology of revelation which does not depend on

Read More Kant, for Barth's Sake!

I'm no academic philosopher; I've mostly encountered the work of Immanuel Kant indirectly, through my studies in modern theology. Still, if I were to characterize my philosophical position, I'd probably say I am a Kantian at the very least. Some theologians have pegged the great German Enlightenment philosopher as the very archetype of modernist dissolution and the evisceration of all standards of objectivity and realism in theological thinking. The assessment of orthodox Calvinist Michael Horton, though a bit trenchant, is not atypical: As soon as reason turned against the supernaturally revealed knowledge of God by modern rationalists, Kant announced that rational knowledge of God was blocked. Kant "saved" religion from the jaws of a non-Christian idea of theory only to surrender it to an equally non-Christian idea of practice. He was already prepared for this move by having been reared in evangelical pietism, with its emphasis on the inner life and practical

Martin Luther’s chapter-by-chapter summary of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans

I noticed a neat feature while working through Luther’s commentary on Romans – Luther offers a one-sentence summary of each chapter of the epistle! I’ve always appreciated this sort of exercise. Back when I was precepting at Princeton Seminary (i.e., leading weekly small-group discussions), I did something similar with Gregory of Nyssa’s Great Catechism . . . although I freely admit that my exercise was arguably not as compelling as Luther’s. But I think this way of sketching a text helps give you a sense of the text as a whole while at the same time orienting you to each part. It also teaches you to think in terms of the progression of an argument. So, given that I find such things so useful, I thought that I would share Luther’s with you, gentle readers. Martin Luther, Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia , Luther’s Works volume 25 (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1972). If you want to find these, just turn to the first page of each chapter’s section in the “Glosses.” Chapter 1 – Th

Another Chance to Hear me Speak: My upcoming AAR / TFT TF lecture on Torrance's criticism of Barth's doctrine of Baptism

Those in the St. Louis area will have the opportunity of hearing me speak tomorrow night on the Christian doctrine of happiness ( information here ), but - and as observant readers of the program for the American Academy of Religion's national meeting will undoubtedly have already noticed - I'm also slotted to give a paper on Friday afternoon to the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship. The TFT TF has a nice write-up of the meeting on their website , and I invite you to print out a dozen copies and spread it around. :-) But I wanted to give everyone a better idea of what to expect from that paper, and - perhaps - to drum up some more interest. I would love to see you there if you can attend, and I'm very excited to have had this chance to return to Torrance's thought. This paper also builds upon and extends the analysis of Barth's doctrine of baptism that I undertook in my book and the paper that I delivered to the Karl Barth Society of North America at thei

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

…or, Something to keep you busy over the weekend… …or, The Past Fortnight in the Theoblogosphere. It seems that I have lapsed in my editorial duties since it has been well more than a fortnight since the last link post . In fact, it has been well over a month! There is one upside to my unfortunate neglect, however: I can tell you about a bunch of great posts that we’ve had here at DET since that last index! Now, I realize that we are just a little less than one week out from AAR, and many of you may be frantically finishing papers or making travel arrangements – all of which doesn’t leave much time for catching up on your blog reading. But, it also means that in a few days many of you will be sitting in airports and on runways. And my hope is that when you find yourselves there, you will reach for some lovely blog reading from the below lists. Here’s what we’ve been up to at DET: T. F. Torrance on Karl Barth and “the temptation of orthodoxy” Yale, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Aca

To Believe Is Human, To Doubt...That's Also Human

Through some mysterious medium -- which we are unable to disclose because of editorial discretion and national security interest -- this conversation fragment has emerged the Great (Not-in-Our-Midst) Beyond. -- Eds. * * * Karl Barth: Well there, young man, I know you have some questions for me. Fire away! We've got all of God's limitless-but-not-timeless eternity to chat. SJ: Thanks so much, Professor! I'd like to start with this one: You know, as a theologian I've struggled a lot with the problem of faith and doubt. You'll recall that Tillich basically elevated doubt to a kind of theological virtue. And in the U.S., in particular, religious doubt has been elevated to a cottage industry -- a highly lucrative one, in fact...well, at least for some people. So my question is this: Can the dogmatic theologian do her work properly without the existential element of faith? KB: Good question. You'll recall I discussed this question in Church Dogmatics I/1

What Am I Reading? Brian Gerrish, “Christian Faith”

I read Brian Gerrish’s Grace and Grattitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin while I was an MDiv student at Princeton Seminary. Then, two years ago or so, I read with great benefit his collection of essays entitled The Old Protestantism and the New . When I subsequently heard that Gerrish would give us a dogmatics, I was primed and ready to pre-order it and devour it as soon as it arrived. Which I did, with much enjoyment and benefit. B. A. Gerrish, Christian Faith: Dogmatics in Outline (WJK, 2015). Gerrish approaches the task of dogmatics with a three-step process: first, he engages with the biblical material associated with a given dogmatic topic; second, he elaborates the theological tradition on the topic; third, he attempts to speak to the contemporary situation by providing a constructive statement to guide further dogmatic reflection on the topic. These constructive statements are given at the start of each chapter as a thesis (or leitsatz ), and they are gathered i

A Chance to Hear Me Speak: Lindenwood Faculty Colloquium on November 18, 2015

I just know, gentle readers, that the thing that you would most like to do, that would put the cherry on your day, week, month, or even year, is to hear me talk about theology. Well, if you live in the greater St. Louis area, now is your chance! I’ll be speaking with two of my colleagues – one from Anthropology and one from Art History – as part of this year’s Lindenwood University Faculty Colloquium Series. The topic for this colloquium is Happiness in Art, Faith, and Culture and the title of my talk is “God Wants You to Be Happy: The Doctrine of Happiness in Christian Theology.” This talk will be something of a free improvisation on Ellen Charry’s work in God and the Art of Happiness , which you should read if you have not yet done so. And if you have, read it again. (I did recaps on part 1 and part 2 of the book here at DET back in 2011, and if you look around for them you can find another post or two that came from the book.) I took a class through Charry’s work earlier in

Redeeming the Powers, One Grant at a Time

The late biblical scholar, theologian and peace activist Walter Wink, long-time Professor at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City, is probably best known for his work retrieving New Testament language concerning "principalities and powers" and retooling it for contemporary socio-political critique and practical engagement. The concluding book of Wink's "Powers" trilogy, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992), is a tour-de-force. In the preface, Wink writes this about the project: This volume was brought to completion during 1989-1990, when I was honored to be selected as a Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. The views expressed do not reflect those of the Institute, nor has the Institute attempted in any way to censor anything in this book. It is important for an organization like USIP to be able to support, among other things, serious religious

Diller on Epistemological “Skepticism” and Defining “Modernism” and “Postmodernism”

As I promised previously, gentle readers, I return to you with more from Kevin Diller’s volume. The snippet that I have to share with you today pertains to defining terms. What does it mean, from an epistemological perspective, to talk about “modernism” and “postmodernism”? I’m not usually a fan of the concept of “postmodernism,” but Diller’s way of defining these terms against the backdrop of epistemological “skepticism” at least helped me understand better – or at least conceive with more clarity and concision than heretofore – what is at stake in this distinction. So, without further ado, I give you the below. Kevin Diller, Theology’s Epistemological Dilemma: How Karl Barth and Alvin Plantinga Provide a Unified Response (IVP Academic, 2014), 36 (bold is mine). The epistemic problem we are after is not the seeming impossibility of knowledge. We accept that knowledge is a human possibility. The skeptic’s requirements for knowledge are unattainable. The skeptic’s requirements are

He Who Laughs Last Misses Faith? Niebuhr on Humor

Reinhold Niebuhr loved to laugh. What's more, he enjoyed making others laugh -- though that's perhaps a little-known fact, hardly self-evident if one, say, peruses works such as Moral Man and Immoral Society . As his biographer Richard Fox notes, Niebuhr enjoyed leading skits to entertain friends and family while retreating in Heath, Massachusetts. Actually, though, Robert McAfee Brown's anthology contains a pretty interesting piece titled "Humor and Faith"; this piece, as it happens, is not funny in the least but is a fairly sober assessment of the laughter and its limtis that reveals both keen insights and theological limitations in Niebuhr's thought ( The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr , New Haven, CT: Yale, 1986, pp. 49-60). Niebuhr's thesis is this: Humor and faith are deeply connected in that both seek to cope with the contradictions of existence that cannot be reconciled or even fully rationalized. The fundamental root of the incongruous human situa

A Hard World Communion Sunday to Preach: Revelation 7:9-17

[ Author's note : Two things make me doubt the goodness of God: Cancer, and mass death by gun violence. On the week of World Communion Sunday, I had encountered both. The one more pressing for my sermon was the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. I knew I had to address it in my sermon, but I didn't really know how. I have strong thoughts on the gun lobby in the United States, and how we Americans all basically have blood on our hands because we are unwilling to stand up to the NRA when our sisters and brothers, neighbors, and our kids are shot down in cold blood by deranged white men with guns. But my thoughts are out of kilter with the context I preach weekly in. I have been blessed to preach weekly since March at a small Presbyterian Church in rural North Carolina. The people I accompany in ministry are good people, and although we are different in many ways, we have come together to worship the Lord. I can't let loose my vitriol against the gun l