The Nine Lives of DET, pt. 2

The blogosphere is so self-referential.
In my previous post, to mark the ninth birthday of this blog, I proposed to essay a kind of phenomenological account of what makes Die Evangelischen Theologen tick by revisiting nine representative posts, one each for each year of operation. The operative theory is this: If the indivisible eternal suffuses each discrete moment of finite existence, then it follows that each of these posts should offer a sort of microcosm for the whole. Upper management decreed this nine-lives concept should be stretched out (milked) over three separate posts. I'll leave it to you, gentle readers, to decide whether that was a good idea.

So then, let's continue.

Year 4. A Reformer for All Seasons

If you browse through the "Categories" column on the left side of the DET page -- You're here already, so you might as well do so now -- you'll find, not surprisingly, that Karl Barth trumps all other theologians in number of posts. By a long shot. Still, although a distant second to Barth, John Calvin weighs in with a almost 100 posts of his own. If I'm not mistaken (and I'm not paid enough to research it), Travis McMaken has written the vast majority of these posts, if not all of them.

For my part, what I find particularly endearing about so many of these posts is simply that they attend to what the reformer actually wrote and meant: In other words, the goal is to lift up Calvin -- pastor, exegete, teacher, systematician -- as a person and thinker in his own right, without fretting about defending or debunking some species of CalvinISM -- for example the Young, Rabid and Reformed club of recent memory.

I find this post particularly engaging. In it Travis draws upon a quote from Phillip Schaff, the Mercersberg theologian -- a fascinating figure in his own right -- to ponder Calvin's complex and fragile human experience. For example, Travis reminds us:

We must remember that Calvin was often severely ill (migraines, various digestive problem, kidney stones the size of walnuts that had to be dislodged through horse riding…just think about that one for a while), and that would put anyone in a cranky mood.

That's not enough, perhaps, to appease defenders of Servetus, but it certainly gives us a better sense of the Genevan reformer -- at the gut level.

And while we're on the subject of Calvin and the Calvinists....

Year 5. In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Charity,
In Politics...All Bets are Off

Reformed theologians, pretty much like any group of Christians, disagree vigorously over politics. Among Barthian-esque writers in particular, I could cite examples of radical socialists, on the one hand, and laissez-faire contributors to First Things.

In the very first DET post, as we saw last time, Travis proposes to stay out of politics, but the gloves come off when Evangelical Calvinist blogger Bobby Grow proffers a theological critique of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In framing his defense of OWS, Travis draws upon the work of Barth's pupil Helmut Gollwitzer. Bobby offered this rejoinder (By the way, if and when a book on Gollwitzer appears in the near future, you and all your friends should rush out to buy it.) Gollwitzer's words bear repeating, as we become even more acutely aware of economic equality and social injustice:

The conversion to which the Christian community is called daily through God's word also includes turning away from its bond in the dominant system of privileges and active engagement for more just social structures no longer determined by social privileges. Therefore the important primary question today is the question about the relation of Christian existence and capitalism, not the question of the relation of Christianity and socialism. Can one as a Christian affirm and defend the present social system together with its underlying economic order or must this system be intolerable for a Christian?

My purpose in recapping this post is not to embarrass either Travis or Bobby; I might well have followed the counsel of sages and let sleeping dogmaticians lie. Yet I think this is an interesting interchange, which I read as a spirited, polemical engagement, not an ad hominem attack, from either side. What's more, I wanted to demonstrate that even a "respectable" academic blog such as this one (ahem) might occasionally feature a prime example of that most beloved of bloggery genres: The Rant.

Year 6. No Theo-Blogger is an Island

2012 was a momentous year in world affairs. For example, President Obama was handily reelected and hardly anyone, including most pundits and pollsters, foresaw this drubbing because nearly everyone forgot that bit about the Electoral Collage actually choosing the President. (Civics 101 facepalm.) Still, this was an even more momentous year here for DET and its intrepid founder. This was the year the blog transitioned to a group blog with multiple regular (well, more like occasional) contributors: Thus "Der Evangelische Theologe" became "Die Evangelischen Theologen." Think of it this way: By itself mein is weak and lonely. It finds its true fulfillment in Gemeinschaft -- that is, in community. Okay, I'm a theologian, not an etymologist. In this post, Travis explains the matter more seriously and less tendentiously. He writes:

[T]heology blogging provided me with a community of theological fellow travelers at precisely the stage in my intellectual development that I needed them most. Through web interaction, a group of us identified each other, formed a sort of inchoate group identity, and proceeded in a dynamic and free-form way to shoulder the ever-important burden of discerning what we believed to be the pressing theological issues of our own time.

For a superb example from the collective project that year, check out "So You Want to Read Bonhoeffer" by sometime DET contributor Brandy Daniels.

In my next post, I'll continue to circle the wagons -- I mean, circle the square -- but looking at how DET evolved toward greater diversity and plurality of viewpoints.



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