Stock up on Summer books

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I just got notice that Christian Book Distributors has a summer clearance sale on many books, including some up to 99% (yes, you read that right–99%!) off. Take a look, you might find something.

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Here’s a few examples:

Oliver Crisp’s Retrieving Doctrine: Essays in Reformed Theology. – $1.99 (US)

Catherine Kelsey’s, Thinking about Christ with Scheiermacher. – $0.99 (US)

Gregory Alan Thornbury’s,  Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry,  – $1.99

Rupert Shortt, Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop of Canterbury, – $1.99 (US)

And of course, Karl Barth’s entire Church Dogmatics! – $179 (US)!

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An Invitation to Christian Analytic Theology: A Guest Review

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This is a guest review from Ben Nasmith, an excellent young theologian and current student at Briercrest Seminary. Be sure to check out Ben’s own blog, Meta-Theology Quarterly, as well. Disclaimer: I received this book as a free review copy from IVP which I’ve asked Ben to review.

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As an interdisciplinary field, analytic theology faces trouble from the start. Few people posses both the needed theological erudition and general competence in analytic philosophy. Those with one often mistrust those with the other. As such, most philosophers and theologians are non-specialists when it comes to analytic theology. Thomas McCall aims to bring us up to speed with his new book: An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology (IVP, 2015).

 McCall defines analytic theology as theology “attuned to and committed to the ‘goals and ambitions’ of analytic philosophy” (21). Analytic theologians do theology in the style of analytic philosophy. This style values conceptual clarity, precise argument, and logical coherence. Analytic writers use metaphor and antitheses with caution. Paradox and mystery are permitted, but never to conceal logical incoherence. 

Some theologians associate analytic theology with Christian analytic philosophy. That field tends to major on prolegomenon, like the existence of God or the rationality of theism. By association, analytic theology seems inseparable from conservative apologetics, natural theology, and a general naiveté of the history of doctrine.

 McCall assures us that this is not the case. The analytic method could just as easily serve liberation theology, Barthian theology, or an analysis of the patristics. The analytic method must be distinguished from the content of typical Christian philosophical work.

McCall practices some analytic theology in his book. He address a variety of theological topics, including perfect being theology, scripture as “revelational control” for theology, D.A. Carson’s compatibilism, the metaphysics ofincarnation Christology, the historical Adam, and evolution vs. creationism. McCall also discusses various challenges facing analytic theologians. These include the broad competencies required to practice analytic theology and the ever present danger of intellectual pride.

All told, this book offers an informative introduction in the analytic style to a variety of questions. I for one value analytic theology. I am thankful for this book and excited to see the field grow. However, I have some concerns that McCall does not address to my satisfaction. I’ll outline these below, along with a way forward based on my reading of Christian analytic philosopher Paul K. Moser.


First, McCall is quick to praise the virtues of the analytic method and slow to warn of its vices. He likens analytic theology to scholasticism without addressing scholasticism’s shortcomings. The analytic method is a worthy servant but a poor master. If analytic theology is “attuned to and committed to the ‘goals and ambitions’ of analytic philosophy,” it would be prudent to question whether those goals and ambitions serve theology well.

Theology as mere truth-seeking about God would face no conflict in a marriage to analytic philosophy. But theology cannot be so reduced. Theology seeks todiscern the word of God and articulate it. This word, and its existential freight, is impatient toward mere inquiry for inquiry’s sake. The analytic theologian must remember that their method is a tool and not a telos. The goal of theology is personal and corporate knowledge of God rather than systematic knowledge about God.

Second, McCall only briefly addresses concerns about metaphysics in theology. He notes that analytic theologians are unmoved by Kant’s critique. Paul K. Moser offers a stark contrast in his book Philosophy After Objectivity.Moser warns against waging “losing battles against ontological agnostics” (58). We face an “inescapable human cognitive predicament,” namely, we cannot confirm that our cognitive processes reliably grant us access to conceiving-independent reality without begging the question of their reliability (43). They may in fact deliver knowledge of conceiving-independent reality, but we cannot confirm this. “What is intelligible for us can . . . outstrip what is effectively answerable or testable by us” (57).

Christianity depends on de re encounter with God rather than mere de dicto assertions about God. If metaphysics is beyond our grasp as an experimentalsubject, what do we gain from it? Although we cannot escape from usingmetaphysics, we also cannot discern whether we posses the correctmetaphysics with certainty. Analytic theologians ought to take this predicament, and the agnostics who raise it, seriously.

Third, McCall very briefly addresses a concern raised by Stephen R. Holmes, who writes, “analytic discussions . . . seem generally to proceed with a remarkable confidence about the success of language in referring to the divine” (32). This concern relates to Moser’s objection to metaphysics. Our theological notions may successfully refer to the realities they address, but we cannot know for certain that they do.

Theology is therefore irreducibly perspectival — namely, from a human perspective. We cannot silence the ontological agnostic until we grant their point. Analytic theology should acknowledge this and proceed with appropriate humility. It should do so without sacrificing its other virtues, such as clarity and coherence.

How do we proceed? Moser warns against the “myth of the definite article” (8). Namely, we must not confuse our preferred notion of X (divinity, for example) with the objective notion of X. We employ our theological notions with various purposes in mind. Having granted to the ontological agnostic that we cannot discern whether our notions are the objective ones, we are free to proceed with a perspectival analytic theology. Our notions serve our purposes, not the purposes of the ontological agnostic.

This approach should allay the concerns of those who fear that analytic theology cannot do justice to the subject matter of theology — the transcendent God. A humble analytic theology, I think, could do theology a great service. It could treat the analytic method as a means rather than an end. It could acknowledge that theology is irreducibly perspectival (at least from the human perspective). Finally, it could admit that our theological notions are relative to our purposes as theologians. As we seek to discern God’s purposes for our theology, and adopt them as our own, we can adapt our notions and systems accordingly. Like the “hermeneutical circle,” analytic theologians may discern God’s purposes with greater clarity as they allow those purposes to govern their inquiry.

Confessing Christ for Church and World: A Review

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First, a few biases and necessary qualifications.

  • Kimlyn J. Bender’s book, Confessing Christ for Church and World: Studies in Modern Theology was graciously sent to my by IVP for review. I was under no obligation to present a review in positive terms if I didn’t see it as a strong work. Fortunately, I have no problem, as you will see, giving this book high commendation.
  • Generally speaking, I tend to be wary of collections of essays–which this book is. I find that too often the essays are only loosely connected at best, and often it is difficult to see what they are together trying to accomplish. Bender’s collection does a lot to help me see how collected essays can actually be worth the effort of reading.
  • I am, for those who know me, obviously drawn to anything connected to the study of Karl Barth. So it was natural for me to want to take a closer look because I know of Bender’s earlier work on Barth’s ecclesiology.

With those biases and qualifications now on the table, let’s get into the review. I wish I could engage the book at the level it deserves, but there are such wide ranging issues covered in the book, that it would be impossible to do justice to them here. So instead, here are three of the most important qualities of this book which makes it worth getting and reading.

1) Confessing Christ for Church and World isn’t about Karl Barth, even though Karl Barth is Bender’s main interlocutor. 

This observation shouldn’t come as a surprise: the book’s title doesn’t even mention Barth.

But I admit that I came to the book with expectations that indeed, Barth would be mentioned often. He was.

Bender has previously published one of the best recent books on Barth’s ecclesiology, so I was expecting that Bender would carry on the good work he started there. He did.

But as noted, this is not a book about Karl Barth.

On the contrary, Bender succeeds, as well as anyone I have read in the past decade, to examine some central aspects of theological concern (ecclesiology, canon, christology, atheism, creation, redemption, etc.) and did so through the christological and dialectical lens which Barth has supplied.

In this regard, I think Barth would be gratified to read Bender’s book, because Bender only tells us what Barth believed about this or that topic for the purpose of getting to the substance of the debate itself, not to put Barth on display per se.

To put it another way, this is no collection of essays that tells us what Barth thought about canon or church or Christ, but it is a collection of essays displaying how understanding what Barth thought about these topics can help us to think through those topics today. Consequently, Bender should be upheld as one of that younger generation of Barth scholars who understands that Barth is important not primarily for his own sake, but because Barth helps us grapple with Scripture and the theological issues we are facing today–decades after Barth has already passed from the scene.

2) You’ve heard Barth is a “dialectical theologian.” Bender’s book not only reaffirms this, but displays how “dialectic” can actually be applied theologically today.

Again, Bender is not concerned primarily with the proper historical-theological task of documenting the various ways in which Barth’s theology is “dialectical.” That has been done ably many places elsewhere (most notably, of course, in Bruce McCormack’s work). Yes, Bender highlights Barth’s dialectical positions in many such ways in  this book. But Bender goes beyond this and takes those dialectics–the dialectics of Christ’s humanity and divinity, of Scripture as diverse and yet unified, of the irreversible dialectic of Scripture and tradition (or confessions), of the dialectic between Scripture and Church,  etc.–and shows how such upholding of both sides of the dialectic (often asymmetrically) is necessary to avoid forms of theological reductionism. It is unhelpful, in other words, to try to say, for example, “It is either Scripture OR tradition.” On the contrary, it is rather more important to say, What is the relationship between Scripture and tradition (or confession, or the church, etc.)? It is here that Barth’s dialectical positioning as highlighted in Bender can help guide us through these thorny issues.

As one who has actually worked in Barth for many years, even I have sometimes wondered how “dialectics” apply, even while I admit that it has become a lot clearer in past years. For me, the studies presented in Bender’s book will either help readers to understand what dialectics really are and why they are important, or it will provide concrete illustration of how dialectics actually informs theological decision making for those who are already theoretically committed to the underlying rationality of dialectical theology.

3) Many of Bender’s chapters simultaneously stand as self-standing primers and as constructive ways forward on certain theological topics. 

What I appreciated most about Bender’s skill is that many of his chapters could be read as stand-alone primers on a topic for a relatively keen theological novices. Want to know what’s going on in some of the contemporary currents of ecclesiology in American evangelicalism? Bender has a chapter on that. Want to know the basics of Schleiermacher’s christology? Read the “concluding postscript on Schleiermacher.”

But the great thing about Bender is that he is not satisfied with only setting out the contours of a theological debate, but expertly suggests constructive ways forward as well. Clearly, Bender is bringing pedagogical skill into his writing because he not only gives enough information on the topic to get a reader “up to speed” but invites the reader to move beyond the basics and to begin to participate in the act of theologizing itself.

Now, I wish I could summarize all of the chapters, because really, they are all worth reading. ( I don’t think I found myself once thinking, “I’ll just skip this one for the next.”) Thus, if pressed to select a favorite chapter, I would find myself in a quandary. So instead, I will highlight three of my favorites, one from each of the three sections of the book.

In “Part One: Church and Conversation,” Bender situates Barth’s ecclesiology in conversation with the dialogue partners of American theology, American  evangelicalism, and Catholicism. Here I believe that his chapter entitled, “An Old Debate Revisited: Karl Barth and Catholic Substance” gets at the heart of what it is that really sets Protestant and Roman Catholic ecclesiology apart. Bender’s ably engages with the Catholic theologian, Reinhart Hütter on the role of tradition and confession, but in the end shows why Hütter’s, and other Catholics, imprison the agency of the ascended Christ into the practices of the Church–a position which is ultimately incoherent with the ongoing free Lordship of Christ over the Church.

In Part Two: Canon and Confession, Bender’s chapter on “Karl Barth and the Question of Atheism” stands clearly out for me. This is because Bender once again uses Barth to give a theological strategy of dealing with contemporary atheists such as Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris–all without having to go into the messy details of what each of these have actually proposed. This is because Bender shows how Barth’s response to the atheism of his day can still stand as a model for how we engage those atheists of our day.

Most helpfully, Bender points out Barth’s refusal to address the atheist objectors on their own terms. This is usually the strategy of those who set out to respond with a apologetic for a general philosophical theism rather than a christologically and historically particular confession of the Gospel itself. Apologists have understandably struggled to provide philosophical “proof” for the existence of a triune God and have often opted simply to try to prove the reasonableness of an infinitely powerful, eternal deity.

But here Bender (via Barth’s guidance) counters: The best response to atheism is to refuse to try to prove the existence of the “god” whom atheists reject, but rather to out-narrate the atheists by re-telling the narrative of Jesus Christ. This is especially important because of how modern atheism is “parasitic” because it has its identity primarily in that which it rejects. Let’s just say, I loved this chapter and will point students to it regularly in the future.

There is a real treat in last section of the book, “Christ and Creation” and it is Bender’s essay entitled, “Standing Out in the Gifford Lectures: Karl Barth’s Non-natural Lectures on Natural Theology.” For those who may not be aware, Barth was asked in 1937-38 to deliver a series of lectures for the prestigious Gifford Lectures in Scotland, famous for being the most sustained conversation on the possibility of natural theology. Of course, Bender rightly notes the irony: “the world’s foremost opponent of natural theology now asked to give the world’s most famous lectures on natural theology” (315). It is well known that Barth, after giving only brief mention of natural theology, went on to deliver a series of lectures on the Scots Confession, an explicitly Christian theological confession written in 1560 by the Scottish Reformed church.

Barth’s tactic has often been viewed as simply his way of snubbing his nose at natural theology–and to be honest, it is at least that! But what is fascinating is how Bender draws out how Barth may not have actually been alone in questioning the assumptions of natural theology in the history of this event, noting how others such as McIntrye, James, and Hauerwas, too, have delivered the Gifford Lectures with implicit agreement with Barth at several points.

Once again, Bender is not simply satisfied with pointing out the historical parallels between what Barth and other Gifford lecturers did, but draws attention to how Barth’s lectures foreshadow what is now increasingly becoming recognized in scientific circles: that the object of inquiry demands its own methodology, and that the seeking of a universal scientific methodology which the Gifford lectures seemed to presuppose is no longer tenable even within the sciences themselves. Consequently, theology no longer needs to apologize for its own distinctive methods.

Conclusion

Bender’s book is, admittedly, not aimed at the beginning theological student and those without some training will likely get lost all too easily. That is too bad, because at another level, I think that Bender is doing something exemplary for us all: He is showing us how historical theology cannot be an end to itself, but serves systematic and confessional theology, and of course, the Church.

Bender teaches us that we read Barth and Schleiermacher and Calvin and Wesley and Augustine and Irenaeus and others not for their own sake, but because through them we have hope of seeing what they themselves saw or missed. In that regard, I would commend Bender’s essays as exemplary for theological students and scholars alike who want to know just what a theological essay in service to the Church looks like. May his lot increase!

Do Humans Possess the Image of God?

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“What man does not possess he can neither bequeath nor forfeit.” Karl Barth Church Dogmatics, III.1, 200.

So says Karl Barth on the question of whether the divine image (imago dei) is something that humans can either pass on or lose. No, he says, on both accounts. Why not? Because the image of God in humans beings is not something we possess and so cannot be passed on to our descendants. Nor is it something that we can willingly dispose of, which would be true if it were somehow our possession.

So what then? It is something lost? No again. The image of God is neither something that is a long lost posession in a past ideal state or history, nor is it something that can be, by human failure, be something which can be obliterated beyond recognition by our own volition, whether evil or good.

Characteristically, Barth insists that the image of God in humans, therefore, is not something either passed on or lost in some way, but something which is continually and freely given as a grace of God to every male and female human. The image of God in us is pure gift, the possibility that in you and in me, others encounter a being who, by definition, is what he or she is strictly by virtue of a relationship to God.

To be human is to be related to God by his initiative–no more and no less.

 

 

Karl Barth Conference 2012 – Princeton – Final Day

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On this last day of the Karl Barth conference, two papers were delivered. The first was by Dr. Gerald McKenny (University of Notre Dame) on the freedom of the human agent as evidenced in Evangelical Theology. (Sorry, I missed the title of this one).

McKenny opened by reminding us that for Barth, human agency is made possible only as it arises out of and inheres in prior divine action. However, this raises the question of whether Barth’s understanding of the ethical subject precludes the possibility of growth in virtue. As is well known, various Barth interpreters have criticized Barth for what appears to be a ruling out of such growth in the human agent independent of the moment-to-moment divine action. Thus, the question critics have asked of Barth is, “Does the agent defined as he or she is by divine decision and action allow the agent to be fully human?” Or to put it another way, “Doesn’t the human agent need some ‘virtue’ in and of her or himself to be able to respond to the divine command?”

McKenny went on in his paper to show, through broad attention to the structure of Barth’s argument in Evangelical Theology (ET) that human encounter with the command of God creates an “ethos” whereby the full humanity of the agent is ensured as one given freedom by virtue of prayer, existence, exposure to threat, and active work.

In this regard, McKenny points out how part 1 of ET is concerned with the “place” of theology, not defined in terms of the relationship of theology in the university or relative to other academic disciplines, but relative to the object of theology’s inquiry—the living, speaking God. Theology, and by implication, the theologian, is constituted in the first order by God’s Word spoken to the human agent. Further, the human agent is only able to respond as the Spirit enables. Consequently, the human agent is enabled by God from the outset to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit in order that the human might continually be freed for service to God.

McKenny argues that parts 2-4 of ET move to a description of how theology demands that the human agent engage in genuine human work. In part 2, “Theological Existence,” Barth describes wonder, concern, commitment and faith as the defining characteristics of a theologian, all of which demand of theologians a free response to God. Further, in part 3, Barth describes the threats to which the human agent is exposed—solitude, doubt, temptation—all of which the human must come through successfully by hope in the object of theology, the God of the Gospel. Finally, in part 4 Barth describes the activity of the agent engaged in theology—an activity which requires prayer, study, service and love, each of which is indicative of ethical demand. McKenny thus concludes that Barth’s theological description of the human agent is one which in response to God’s Word, the agent is constantly an existing, threatened, acting human being, but a human being which remains free in light of these demands, not in light of an ongoing growth in virtues of the agent in and of her or himself.

The second and final paper of the day was delivered by Dr. George Hunsinger (Princeton Theological Seminary” and was entitled, “Karl Barth on what it means to be Human: A Christian Scholar Considers the Options.” For this paper, Hunsinger focused on Church Dogmatics III/2 where Barth both provides a formal description of theological anthropology and considers alternative non-theological anthropologies of his day. Hunsinger noted at the outset that Barth distinguishes in his anthropology between the “real” and the “phenomenological”. In this regard, Barth insists that any non-theological anthropology may give genuine insight into human phenomena, but apart from a theological perspective, there is no possibility of gaining full insight into the reality of the human constitution.

Hunsinger then outlines what he calls Barth’s basic criteria for establishing a theological anthropology, each of which must be present to legitimately be called “theological anthropology.” Not surprisingly, each of the elements is also christologically focused for Barth. The six criteria are: 1) Divine presence – God is not generally present to humanity, but concretely present to humanity in Christ. All human creatures are thus conditioned by Jesus. 2) History – God exists for humans in a history of redemption—a covenant history which humans cannot be understood apart from this history, most specifically as they relate to the history of Jesus. 3) Glory – Divine glory is not compromised or lost in Christ who is God for man and man for God and in whom all humans are included and exist therefore for God’s glory. 4) Sovereignty – God’s lordship is seen concretely in and through Jesus, especially over the death of Christ on the cross. 5) Freedom – Freedom is substantive (freedom to decide for God), not merely formal (freedom of choice). Any human freedom is understood only in light of the substantive freedom to decide for God. 6) Service – Humans don’t exist for themselves, but for God. Such service to God is thus shown in prayer and praise to God, and witness and service to fellow humans.

Hunsinger then went on to delineate four types of anthropologies (three non-theological and one alternative theological) that Barth assesses. They are 1) Naturalism – typified by A. Portmann’s 1948 book on Evolutionary biology; 2) Idealism – typified by J. G. Fichte; 3) Existentialism – typified by K. Jaspers; and 4) Neo-orthodoxy – typified by Brunner.

Observing how Barth assesses these anthropologies, Hunsinger sees a helpful pattern for the development of a theological anthropology today. First, Barth examines contemporary voices attentively but assesses them normatively using theological criteria. Barth refuses, in this regard, to de-theologize his assessment on the terms specified by the anthropologies under consideration. Second, Barth always engages in description of the anthropology before giving assessment, and when he does assess, he is willing to provide both internal and external critique. Third, through it all, Barth maintains a consistent christological focus in the assessment of other anthropologies. This is not to say that he rejects the findings of non-theological anthropologies, but insists that such findings are only partial unless coupled together with a theological center in Christ.

 

Karl Barth Conference 2012 – Princeton – Day 2 – part 2

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Two papers were given this afternoon, both of which sought to bring Karl Barth into closer conversation with theologians who have traditionally been understood as representing theological contrasts, namely, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Rudolf Bultmann. [Disclaimer: Both papers presented were quite dense, and even then, due to time, were both shortened. I think most of us in the audience look forward to the day when the papers will be available in print form so we can follow the arguments a bit more closely, but I’ll do my best to give as short summary of each to whet your appetites for what is coming down the pipe in Barth scholarship! I’m fairly certain I will not do justice to the argument of the papers without making the post unnecessarily long, but hopefully readers can catch the gist of both. Exciting stuff!]

The first paper was given by Dr. Kevin Hector of the University of Chicago and was entitled, “Theology as an Academic Discipline: Reconciling Evangelical Theology and Theological Encyclopedia. Hector introduced the paper as an extended commentary on Barth’s own statement in the opening pages of Evangelical Theology where he says: “I wish to forgo any special explanation of the word ‘introduction,’ which appears in the title of this work. At the same time, I wish to refrain from any discussion (which would be both polemic and irenic) of the manner in which a similar task has been conceived and carried out by Schleiermacher, as a ‘Short Presentation of Theological Study,” and by various others, as “Theological Encyclopedia…” (ET, p. 12). Hector thus introduces his own paper as an attempt to show how Barth’s theological approach, despite Barth’s self-distancing to Schleiermacher, is nevertheless compatible with Schleiermacher’s approach. The failure to see this compatibility to date has been, Hector argues, at least in part, because Barth himself (amongst others) misunderstood what Schleiermacher was proposing as a valid approach to the task of theology.

The first section of the paper briefly outlined Barth’s view of the task of theology, which fundamentally, Barth says, is the task of the Church in clarifying, criticizing and, when necessary, correcting its own speech about the Word of God it has heard. Hector advocates one amendment to Barth’s view of theology which he thinks is consistent with Barth, but which Barth did not otherwise explicitly state, mainly, that not only is the Church’s speech tested by the normative Word of God, but also its doxastic, practical and emotional commitments (i.e., its commitments in belief, practice, and emotion).

From there, Dr. Hector went on to note that Barth’s worry is that Schleiermacher has essentially collapsed divine transcendence into human piety (i.e., Schleiermacher’s notion of Gefühl  or “feeling”), with the result that Schleiermacher’s theology has become entirely subjectively, rather than objectively, based. However, Hector argues that what is needed is a corrected, fuller account of what Schleiermacher meant by Gefühl, especially in light of the fact that the word “feeling” used in English does not accurately convey what Schleiermacher intended. (Hector observed that  Schleiermacher explicitly rejected the use of the word “feeling” as an adequate translation.)

So what does Gefühl mean for Schleiermacher? At this point, I can’t even attempt to replicate Hector’s exposition of Gefühl. But suffice it to say, Hector argued that Gefühl for Schleiermacher represents a nexus of beliefs, practices, and emotions which are pre-reflective harmonization of oneself to one’s surrounding circumstances. Gefühl is, to use Hector’s terminology, Schleiermacher’s way of specifying how one finds oneself in atunement with others in a community.  It is this Gefühl that Schleiermacher argues needs to be evaluated against the norms of Scripture. Consequently, for Schleiermacher, the task of theology is one in which the community of faith constantly seeks to make explicit not only the ground of its speech about God and his Word, but also the whole nexus of speech, beliefs, practices and emotions (including accounting for the sinfulness of the Christian community) toward God for the purpose of submitting it the assessment of Scripture’s description of the original apostolic community and its Gefühl. 

At least two implications of this, Hector argues, follow: 1) If one were to follow this rendering of Schleiermacher’s account of Gefühl (and the corresponding idea of God-consciousness wrapped up with this concept), it is apparent that there may be greater affinity between Barth and Schleiermacher than has previously been thought. (This is not necessarily to fault only Barth for his reading of Schleiermacher, but to recognize that the “traditional” understanding of Schleiermacher that was contemporary to Barth’s day has been increasing come under question and thus begs the question of whether Barth and Schleiermacher are as different as many have assumed.) 2) If one were to follow Schleiermacher’s theological vision, then it implies that some form of ethnographic study of the Christian faith community would become a vital component of what it means to subject the communities nexus of faith to evaluation in light of the Word of God.

The second paper was similar in intent to the first, but with a different theologian in mind. David Congdon (PhD candidate, Princeton) gave a paper entitled, “Theology as Theanthropology: Barth’s Theology of Existence in its Existential Context.” Congdon began by noting the remark Barth makes in CD IV.2 about the “quiet conversation” that he announced he had been having with Bultmann. In this light,  Congdon demonstrated how much of what Barth wrote in the last years of his life was an implicit response to the concerns and concepts raised by Bultmann. Even Evangelical Theology can thus be read as an indirect response to Bultmann! Or, to take another example, in 1957 Bultmann wrote his famous article, “Is Exegesis without Presuppositions Possible?” Bultmann’s answer, of course, was “no,” but Barth,  made it famously clear in ET that theology cannot have any presuppositions, but must ever be ready to respond afresh to the new Word of God spoken to us.

Congdon’s then paper went on to juxtapose Barth’s notion of “theanthropology” (introduced originally in Barth’s essay “The Humanity of God”) and Bultmann’s notion of “anthrotheology”. As Congdon argues, Barth’s complaint with Bultmann, while multi-fold, had primarily to do with Bultmann’s starting point in existential philosophy and moving from there to the Gospel. One can understand how for Barth, this certainly would have smacked of the same problem he saw earlier in his life in the liberal theology which he resisted. There, too, the methodological approach started in anthropology and was, in Barth’s eyes, ever in danger of making theology nothing more than anthropology writ large.  

However, Congdon argues, even Barth in the 1950’s had recognized that the deity of God is a deity that elected from all eternity to be a God with humanity, thus the recognition of Barth to speak not merely of “theology” but of “theanthropology.” Indeed, Barth had come to the place where he knew that to speak of God one is compelled to speak of Jesus in human flesh; to avoid Jesus in flesh is for Barth to speak of inadequately of God.

Despite Barth’s recognition of the need for speaking of God from a “theanthropologic” perspective, he nevertheless remained determined to resist Bultmann’s starting point in anthropology for fear that existential philosophy (or some other anthropological construction) would overtake or overshadow God’s own speaking in of himself in Christ.

But here Congdon argues that Bultmann and Barth are closer together than Barth was able to have thought possible. Though Barth is constantly aware of the question of how the human words of proclamation can be used by God to deliver God’s own Word–an identification of the missiological problem of translation–he keeps the issue of exegesis and translation separated by relegating the problem of exegesis to dogmatics and the problem of translation to practical theology. Bultmann, however, is also aware of this problem of the relationship of exegesis and translation, but rather than relegating translation to practical theology, he brings them together such that all exegesis is seen by Bultmann as already an act of translation.

Congdon concludes his paper by suggesting that the issue is not to decide on whether Barth or Bultmann are right, but to recognize that Barth’s “theanthropological” approach to theology needs Bultmann’s “anthrotheological” approach and vice versa. They are, in other words, complementary approaches rather than an aporia in which one must be chosen over the other.

After the evening meal, we had one more presentation from the staff of the Princeton Theological Seminary library. Although a big part of Princeton’s library development is the ongoing construction of a whole new wing of the library to replace the old Speers library, an online repository of over 50,000 Biblical and theological books available to anyone with internet access was presented. Although I’ve only begun to dip in, it truly does like like an amazing and generous contribution of PTS to the wider international Christian community. See the “Theological Commons” website here: http://commons.ptsem.edu.

 

Karl Barth Conference 2012 – Princeton – Day 1

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The Annual Karl Barth Conference hosted by the Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary officially began on the evening of June 17, 2012, with a banquet. This was followed by a short introduction by Prof. Bruce McCormack to the conference’s theme: Karl Barth’s Trip to America: A Celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of Evangelical TheologyIt was in 1962 that Karl Barth made his one and only trip to America, during which he spent 7 weeks at various locations, including time for lectures given in Chicago (University of Chicago), Princeton (Princeton Theological Seminary), and New York (Union Theological Seminary). The lectures with additional material were later published in English as Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, hereafter referred to as ET.

Prof. McCormack also gave a short tribute to Dr. theol. Hans-Anton Drewes, who served from 1997-2012 at the Karl Barth-Archiv in Basel Switzerland, and who is a co-editor for the ongoing project of editing and publishing Karl Barth’s collected works (Gesamtausgabe).

Monday morning, June 18, the conference began in full swing with two papers. The first was by Dr. Hans-Anton Drewes who delivered a paper entitled, “…’In the Same Solitude as Fifty Years Ago…’ The Way from CD IV/3 to Evangelical Theology. In his paper, Drewes noted that Barth’s whole theological corpus might be understood from the motif of “solitude” as expounded upon in ET. As Drewes explained, the solitude of the theologian is to be expected (even if not essential) insofar as the theologian seeks to ensure that what he writes corresponds to the one subject matter of theology, the God of the Gospel. In this regard, Drewes gave documentary evidence within Barth’s corpus of how Barth himself sought to pursue the truth of God as a matter of turning afresh each day to be attuned to the free Holy Spirit, even if it meant parting ways with friends and colleagues, and indeed, with his own work. For example, at one point in the 1950’s, Barth was re-reading an essay he had published in 1916 on theme of waiting for the Kingdom of God–an article published in Barth’s student days and some time before the emergence of the “dialectical” theology of the Romerbrief. At that point, Barth lamented that perhaps “dialectics have become stable”–signalling to him a need to listen afresh to the free Holy Spirit, even if that meant entering once again into a period of solitude similar to the one he had experienced when the bombshell of the Romerbrief exploded on the scene.

The second paper was by Dr. Daniel Migliore of Princeton Theological Seminary. As Migliore noted, Barth’s presentation at Princeton in 1962 were under the auspices of the B. B. Warfield Lectures. It will be recalled that Warfield was principal of PTS from 1887-1921 and also the Charles Hodge Chair of Theology. Consequently, Migliore gave a comparative paper  entitled, “‘Come, Holy Spirit’: Reflections on the Role of the Spirit in the Theologies of B.B. Warfield and Karl Barth.”

Prof. Migliore started by asserting that there might be initial temptation to throw Barth and Warfield too sharply into contrast and thus fail to see some of their broad similarities. For example, both Warfield and Barth were deeply concerned to see theology rooted in scriptural exegesis, both were in battle against the forms of liberal theology of their day (including their common agreement that it was important to resist Schleiermacher!), and both were in broad agreement about general aspects of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in an Augustinian/Calvinian frame, including a commitment to the filioque! (I had to get that in there!)

From there, however, Migliore sought to show some of the main differences between Warfield and Barth’s pneumatology in four areas: 1) The Spirit and the Free Science of Theology; 2) The Spirit and the Witness of Scripture; 3) The Spirit and Christology; and 4) The Spirit in the Triune Life of God. Despite significant divergences between Warfield and Barth in these areas, Migliore did affirm that the lesson to be learned is that there is significant room in the Reformed theological spectrum to stretch the theological imagination in regard to pneumatology. However, Migliore was significantly more critical of Warfield’s account, noting that Warfield’s pneumatology was either silent on some matters (such as the role of the Spirit in the activity of Christ’s life, or on the inner trinitarian life) or  unnecessarily restrictive (such as reducing the role of the Spirit in inspiration only to the production of the original scriptural autographs). In this regard, Migliore noted that Warfield’s commitment to theological apologetics (as the means of validating foundational theological axioms) did not allow him to move back into the Spirit’s role in the inner life of God, whereas Barth’s greater reticence of the use of reason in theology nevertheless allowed him to speak freely of God’s inner life. Migliore concluded by noting that whatever one thinks now of either Warfield or Barth, it is imperative to remember that the first century of Princeton’s history owes a debt to Warfield, while it is arguably Barth, who only appeared at Princeton once, has had greater influence in Princeton’s second century of existence.

After morning prayers and lunch, the conference reconvened with two afternoon papers. The first by Dr. Peter Paris (Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics at Princeton) was entitled, “The Church’s Prophetic Vision: Insights from Karl Barth and Martin Luther King, Jr.” It will be recalled that Barth and Luther King, Jr. met only briefly at Princeton, pictured below at the door of Princeton University’s chapel.

In this paper, Dr. Paris noted both similarities and differences between Barth and King’s theological approach to how the church was to respond to political matters, especially when they felt they needed to speak out against the “terror of an unjust state.” Dr. Paris suggested that both Barth and King’s theologies were deeply rooted in the particularity of the Incarnation of Jesus, not merely as an abstract ethical principle, but in obedience to Christ’s example and command. In this regard, Paris argued that King’s view of Jesus’ command to love one another and Barth’s view of the centrality of forgiveness as the outworking of the Gospel were parallel ethical constructions.

A second paper of historical interest was given by Dr. Jessica DeCou, who has just completed a PhD at University of Chicago. Her paper examined an aspect of Barth’s 1962 visit which has been under-represented, mainly, his visits to three prisons while in America. She began her paper, “Barth’s American Prison Tours, 50 years Later” by citing from one of Barth’s sermons in 1952 delivered to the Basel prison inmates in which he argued that the two criminals who were crucified together with Jesus were technically the “first indissoluble Christian community.” She noted how Barth remained committed throughout his life to preaching in prisons and how when he came to America, he was eager to find opportunity to view the American prison system.

DeCou recounted some of the conditions of the three prisons Barth visited. The first, a particularly atrocious prison, was Chicago’s Bridewell City Jail–a jail which Barth called “Dante’s Inferno on Earth.” Shortly after seeing the prison and being in New York, Barth, upon seeing the statue of liberty, spoke about the prison he had visited (without naming it) as a “contradiction to what Americans believe the statue of liberty stands for.” Likewise, in response to Reinhold Niebuhr’s criticism of Barth’s failure to speak against the communist uprising taking place in Hungary, Barth responded by saying, “When Reinhold Niebuhr speaks out against the injustices of the American prison system, then perhaps I will be ready to speak out about Hungary.”

DeCou notes that the second and third prisons which Barth visited (San Quentin in San Francisco and Rikers Island in New York) were certainly in better shape and had significantly greater attention to the possible rehabilitation of prisoners. To his credit, Barth admitted that some of what he saw at Rikers was even better than what he saw in his home town Basel.

After DeCou’s presentation, attendees broke up into discussion groups. I was privileged to be part of the group with Dr. Drewes and we had an excellent discussion about the reception of Barth in the Ango-Saxon world. Dr. Drewes lamented that the renaissance of Barth’s thought in North American far outstrips that of Europe where to this day, Barth continues to be marginalized in the continental university theological system. When asked to explain why this might be, he suggested that at least three reasons could be given. First, he noted that Barth may have been simply too familiar and suffered somewhat of the “prophet in his hometown” syndrome. Second, the European system has tended in past decades to emphasize breadth of knowledge (i.e., knowing the contributions of many scholars) over against indepth understanding of a single scholar. Since Barth is such a difficult scholar to master, his work has simply been passed over as being too difficult to summarize when so many other scholars are also expected to be mastered. Finally, (surprisingly, I think to most of us present), Dr. Drewes noted that Barth’s German is simply too difficult for most German students to understand. Consequently, even German students tend to resort to English translations which have served well to make Barth more accessible–explaining why English speakers have tended to study Barth when Germans are more apt to give up!

After dinner, we were treated to a historical paper upon the friendship developed between Karl Barth and John Mackay, third Principal of Princeton Theological Seminary. Ms. Cambria Janae Kaltwasser, a current Princeton PhD student, delivered the paper entitled, “Transforming Encounters: The Friendship of Karl Barth and John Mackay.” After outlining the early life of Mackay and the friendship developed between Mackay and Barth in 1931 (where Mackay tutored Barth in conversational English in preparation for Barth’s first visit to Great Britain), Kaltwasser noted how Mackay’s initially was critical of Barth for what he perceived as a failure on Barth’s part to make room for personal, subjective encounters of Christ–even if he owed Barth a debt of gratitude for the language of encounter which he received from Barth. Later, Mackay invited Barth to participate in Princeton twice, but Barth turned down both invitations. Fortunately, Barth  accepted a third invitation (after Mackay’s tenure as president was complete) which became Barth’s Warfield lectures in 1962. Interestingly, at that time Mackay’s criticism has already softened as was evidenced in Mackay’s 1956 tribute to Barth in an article in the journal, Theology Today, which Mackay was instrumental in launching.