November 6, 2013
R. Michael Allen (Knox Theological Seminar) is known to some readers of this blog for his publication last year, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader (T&T Clark), an excellent tool for classroom use. Prior to that, he published Reformed Theology in the T&T Clark series, “Doing Theology.”
His most recent monograph is a study of the doctrine of justification: Justification and the Gospel: Understanding the Contexts and Controversies (Baker Academic). He recounts his journey at the publisher’s website, as a once enthusiastic critic of the Protestant doctrine under the sway of the New Perspective. Things changed as he studied history and dogmatics:
But now I have written Justification and the Gospel: Understanding the Contexts and Controversies, arguing that the Protestant doctrine of justification is exegetically defensible and theologically essential to filling out catholic teaching on God’s relations to creatures in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This book manifests something of the journey I’ve been on now for a decade. I found that rising familiarity with the exegetical riches of the great teachers of the church (from Irenaeus and Gregory to Thomas and Bonaventure to Luther and Calvin) shows their brilliance as aids and our own limits as modern researchers. I’ve also seen that too often protests regarding the Reformation stem from really bad understandings of what it actually involved, too frequently based in reading of poor secondary sources rather than in careful study of primary texts. I hope this book serves as a useful prompt to further reflection in these two conversations: how do we think well of justification in light of the wider gospel of Jesus? And how do we go about the task of Christian theology and of a faithful Christian reading of the Holy Scriptures today?
Also, the publisher has an excerpt on Barth’s “sense of proportion and order”: Barth, Justification, and the Gospel.
I do find it fascinating and encouraging that Allen teaches at a seminary (Knox) that is owned and operated by a PCA congregation, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, now pastored by Tullian Tchividjian. Needless to say, a friendliness toward Barth is not exactly commonplace in the PCA orbit.
August 30, 2013
After reading this painful dumbing-down of the Trinity/gender debate by Zack Hunt at Evans’ blog — painful for those of us who do not consider trinitarian metaphysics as “boring” — I read the article from Kevin Giles that was linked. In fact, some trinitarian metaphysics may help all of us out.
Both sides are wrong. Let’s first ponder the critical move in Giles’ thesis:
If the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father, and cannot be otherwise, then he does not just function subordinately, he is the subordinated Son. His subordination defines his person or being. Eternal functional subordination implies by necessity ontological subordination. Blustering denials cannot avoid this fact.
First of all, whether subordination “defines his person or being” is not the same thing, but Giles is correct to see the same result. If subordination defines the Son’s being (and not the Father’s being), then there is a division within the being of God — which is heresy. If subordination defines the Son’s person, then the same division occurs in the being of God, because the person (per Nicaea) is wholly God. So, an attribute of the person must necessarily be an attribute of the being, or else the logic of homo-ousia (same-being) breaks down.
However, we must properly define “person.” If we agree with Barth (and John Webster and Lewis Ayres et al.) that “person” in trinitarian metaphysics is not a distinct, self-subsisting subject of operation, then “person” needs to be defined as a mode of the single divine subject. As such, the modal operation of the Son’s subordination can indeed be eternal without causing a division in the being of God — because subordination itself is an attribute of this single divine being. Subordination, thereby, signifies an attribute that is not foreign to the Father. But, in order for this attribute of subordination to exist within the being of God, the persons of Father and Son eternally enact this subordination, of one mode to the other. Otherwise, subordination would be foreign to God altogether, with no immanent ground in God for the work of redemption ad extra.
This “enactment” is derived from the common agency of the singular divine subject, so it is not “forced” upon the Son nor is it proper to say that “the Son cannot do otherwise,” as Giles puts it. This is why Giles (and Hunt and Evans) continually move from subordination to oppression, as if the latter obviously follows from the former. That would be the case if the Son had a distinct agency apart from the Father who may “impose” the subordination of the Son, but it is not the case if we follow Barth (and Nicaea) as defined above.
August 29, 2013
Alasdair I. C. Heron, Professor of Reformed Theology at Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg from 1981 to 2007, wrote a solid introductory survey of Schleiermacher and Barth’s dogmatic projects in an article first published in 1986 and now available for download in HTS Teologiese Studies:
For all of their differences, there is “a similar kind of questioning,” as Heron describes it (397). Barth’s counter-achievement “was necessarily related to that which it opposed. Barth and Schleiermacher may indeed be poles apart, but the poles are those of an ellipse, in which the second can best be appreciated in its tension laden relation to the first” (395).
Thankfully, Heron does not slight their differences nor fall prey to the “Barth didn’t understand his relation to modernity” shenanigans. (Yes, on a blog, I can get away with saying, “shenanigans.”) However, Heron focuses on the “God as wholly other” tactic that was most forcefully expressed in Barth’s Römerbrief. While Barth never abandons this orientation and indeed deepens it in profound ways, as Heron acknowledges, there is a conscious shift in Barth’s development away from over-reliance on Idealist categories (temporal/eternal, finite/infinite, etc.), appearing to do some of the exegetical work in Der Römerbrief, and toward specifically dogmatic categories of christological provenance in the Church Dogmatics. But, this goes well beyond the scope of Heron’s essay, which aims to give us a helpful overview from which further discussion can responsibly develop.
Heron does have this balanced insight into both Schleiermacher and Barth’s advancement, from their epoch-making first shot (Reden über die Religion and Der Römerbrief, respectively) to their mature dogmatics:
Further similarities can also be seen in the way that the later work of Barth and Schleiermacher developed. Some would characterize these by saying that both became more “conservative” following their first, radical beginnings. But “conservative” is a slippery concept, whether it is understood politically or theologically. It would be more precise to say that both worked from their starting points to include and gather in, in an essentially consistent development, a wider and deeper appreciation and appropriation of the fruits of earlier Christian theology. Both went on to become, in the strict sense of the word, ecclesiastical theologians, conscious of the responsibility of their work for the life and witness of the wider Christian community. Once called to chairs of theology – Schleiermacher in Berlin, Barth first of all in Göttingen - they found themselves confronted with other tasks and responsibilities than those of relatively independent thinkers. In particular, they were faced with the question of how they were to teach them – a question which can have a sobering effect on the most effervescent spirits if they feel its real force. (400-401)
Barth’s assessment of Schleiermacher can be found (1) in his Göttingen lectures of winter 1923/24, which ends with an autobiographical account, “Concluding Unscientific Postscript on Schleiermacher,” (2) in his Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century from 1947/52, and (3) in the many excursuses throughout the Church Dogmatics, in which the index is most helpful for locating Schleiermacher.
August 26, 2013
Yes, but we cannot stop there.
Kierkegaard was fond of our Lord’s pronouncement in Mt 11.6 and Lk 7.23 that blessed is the one who is not offended [μὴ σκανδαλισθῇ] at him. Fred Denbeaux (d. 1995), Presbyterian minister and longtime professor at Wellesley, has a nice summation of Kierkegaard on this point:
What is the offense of faith? It can take many forms. We would welcome a God of light, but he comes to us crucified. We would welcome a God with whom we could be happy, and instead we are confronted with him whom we have slain. We are offended because we can never come before God neutrally but always in guilt. We are offended because the Christ who comes does not come in the form that we expect. We would be happier if he came as a god of war, so that we could join our sword to his in the battle against unrighteousness (always conveniently with the enemy and never with ourselves.) But the Christ does not come with a sword, and he asks us to put our sword away; so we are offended.
Therefore, Christ is always the occasion of either offense or faith. He is the one either before whom we stumble and fall on our knees or else from whom we turn in defensive pride. He is our Saviour, but we shall never know him as such if we become offended, because it is from ourselves that he saves us.
(Ten Makers of Modern Protestant Thought, ed. George L. Hunt, NY: Association Press, p. 55)
Amen. There is more to Kierkegaard than this, as every Kierkegaard scholar is more than anxious to remind us! But this prominent theme is why Kierkegaard is such a necessary stage through which every theology student should pass. I hesitate to say, “stage,” as if we should ever forget this offense — we should not. Yet, Christ is the light that overcomes darkness (Jn 1.5).
Creation is offended at Christ in its rebellion against God — in its desire to secure some other foundation than the love of God in his promises. Yet, this eternal love and these promises of blessing are the true foundation, the original foundation — the light. Thus, faith in Christ is not merely repentance at the offense and a casting aside of the former self; faith in Christ is an embrace of the true creation that was pronounced “good,” including the self made new in him.
This transition from nein to ja is what Barth belabors at numerous points in his Church Dogmatics, as in the doctrine of justification (especially § 61.2, CD IV.1). It requires extensive belaboring because the nein remains a truth of mankind in his opposition to God and God’s opposition to this “impossibility.” Thus, a facile ja that negates the law or wrath has nothing to do with God’s righteousness. The opposition to God is an “impossibility,” in Barth’s terminology, because it is not a possibility of creation. It comes from elsewhere. If there were ever an inscrutable mystery, it is the “non-existence” of evil.
I understand the perplexity at Barth’s designation of evil as das Nichtige, which is nevertheless not das Nichts [nothingness is not nothing]. Evil “exists” in some shadow, false reality, not the reality of God’s creation. While perplexing, this allows Barth to affirm creation with a seriousness that exults in joy, not remaining in a quandary of dialectical tension. Of course, this is framed according to his christology, not some immanent principle discernible within creation. As I see it, Barth fulfills Kierkegaard’s aim at bypassing the dialectical impasse of Idealism — not through faith as such, but through Christ.
This accounts for the pronounced optimism in Barth and his dislike for tragedy. Christ offends, indeed, but there is more. We were created for him.
August 20, 2013
August 19, 2013
I have finally finished the “19th century German theology” page, which I had announced two years ago! The page link will be on the top of the blog:
It did not take two years — I just forgot about it until now. I have expanded the number of titles, and I will add more as I come across new discoveries. Where multiple editions are available, I have selected the best quality scan.
What is my justification for providing this resource? Modernity happened, like it or not. Even if your affinities are closer aligned with Protestant scholasticism of the 17th century, your theology will be impoverished by ignoring the intervening development of theology. These works are stimulating, rigorous, fascinating, profound, and — believe it or not — often faithful to our Lord. They are not monolithic, as different schools emerged and contended with each other, and the result is one of the high points in the history of theology. I am aligned with Barth in his criticisms of this period, but there would be no Barth if it were not for this theology. In fact, Barth’s carefully nuanced reading of Schleiermacher — ardent rejection and loving affection — is a model for us all.
July 9, 2013
The popular expression of “Christian worldview” or “biblical worldview” can be serviceable as a shorthand for “how I view the world in the light of Christ and his gospel.” However, more often than not, “worldview” is a convenient circumvention of responsible intellectual inquiry and dialogue. It is in this sense that I have criticized worldview-ism on this blog. It is a cover for the anti-intellectualism that lingers in evangelical circles. Furthermore, it underwrites the doctrinal laziness that invariably accompanies such worldview amaurosis. Thereby, dogmatics becomes a mere repristination of past accomplishments when a supposedly Christian worldview dominated.
In its more extravagant forms, “worldview” can service a wide array of Christian foundations, as Vern Poythress (of WTS) has done for both logic and the authority of Scripture, as well as a book on science with no science.
So, I was happy to read Paul McGlasson’s insights on the phenomenon of worldview-ism in the church today. This is from the soon-to-be-published first volume of his projected five-volume systematic theology (from Wipf & Stock):
The Bible may not say what we at first expect, whether our inclinations are conservative or liberal; but it is our expectations which must give way to something infinitely more valuable than yet one more liberal or conservative platitude. The Bible may not proclaim what we first desire; but it is our desire which is ultimately absorbed by a divine satisfaction qualitatively greater than all possible human fulfillment.
On the other hand, the logic of Scriptural freedom in the church has eroded considerably on the religious right. The culprit is the now almost universal notion within conservative evangelical circles of a “Christian worldview” into which the Bible itself is inserted. Though often portrayed as a traditional idea, the fact is clear that the very notion of a “worldview” did not come about until the Enlightenment philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Only on the condition of the possibility of a transcendental Self is the idea of a worldview even meaningful; nor was it ever asserted before Kant. The first observation therefore that needs to be made — contrary to expectation, certainly — is that the use of “worldview” language among Christian conservatives is an embrace of the Enlightenment, certainly not traditional church doctrine.
[Paul C. McGlasson, Church Doctrine: Volume 1: Canon, Cascade Books, pp. 34-35.]
This is just a small excerpt from a larger discussion. My own inclinations are definitely conservative, as should be no surprise to readers of this blog, and therefore this challenge from McGlasson is worth heeding, lest cultural values displace the ability of Scripture to challenge us to obedience. To be sure, McGlasson is equally dissatisfied by the left’s own unique form of cultural pandering.
Yet, I am not certain that we can actually transcend entirely the “conservative” and “liberal” ideologies, as McGlasson repeatedly contends (with the help of Barth’s rejection of natural theology). To my mind, it is not likely that both are equally offensive to God’s law, even if both have an abundance of cultural idols. Thus, it may be that obedience to God requires a certain identification with one or the other, or a mix, of cultural ideological positions.
For some of us, this would be “conservative” more than “liberal.” For others (including many other “Barthian” bloggers!) this would be more liberal than conservative, while remaining cognizant of the temptress of cultural idolatry.
June 6, 2013
My area of research is Reformed theology – that trajectory of Protestant theology which arose in sixteenth-century Switzerland and subsequently spread not only across Europe but also all over the world. Within that tradition, my research engages with the work of figures such as Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and Thomas F Torrance; but above all I focus on the theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher and Karl Barth. I explore their historical contexts, their doctrinal and ethical insights, and their relationships with church, academy, and state. And I engage in evaluating the significance and implications of their work for contemporary systematic theology.
And here is a fine introduction to Schleiermacher by Dr. Nimmo:
You can increase the video quality to 720p. This is part of the St. John’s College (Nottingham) series, Faith & Modernity, among other available series.
I am excited to see that his introduction to Barth, in the excellent Guides for the Perplexed series from T&T Clark, will be published soon.
May 12, 2013
Here is Karl Barth, writing after the first session of Vatican II, comparing the council to the (mainline Protestant) World Council of Churches:
But why is it that the voice of Rome made such a far greater impression than the voice of Geneva on the world…? Was it only because of the obviously greater historical and political halo which Rome possesses? Is the reason not also the fact that in the encyclical the same things were not only talked about but also proclaimed, that Christianity and the world were not only taught but also summoned unreservedly and bindingly with an appeal to the highest authority, that they received not only advice and admonition but also directives, in short, that the encyclical had more the character of a message than our previous ecumenical proclamations, in spite of its extensive use of terms and concepts taken from natural law? I think that our side, lacking this degree of natural law, could actually speak in this manner much more clearly. But at the present I do not yet see that we have done so. And therefore I am afraid that with respect to the external world, precisely in this decisive present of ours, we might be left far behind by a papal church that is making dynamic recovery.
“Thoughts on the Second Vatican Council,” in New Theology no. 1, eds. Martin Marty and Dean Peerman (New York: Macmillan, 1964), 118. Emphases original.
Originally published in the WCC’s Ecumenical Review, July 1963.
March 9, 2013
Here are a couple book notices worthy of your attention:
Kenneth Oakes, Karl Barth on Theology and Philosophy (Oxford University Press, December 2012)
Ken is a graduate of Aberdeen, where I had the privilege of hanging out with him, absorbing his enormous intellect and gracious spirit. I’m excited to read this. Here is the publisher’s synopsis:
Karl Barth is often assumed to have been hostile to philosophy, wilfully ignorant of it, or too indebted to its conclusions for his own theological good. These truisms of twentieth-century theology are challenged in this original and comprehensive account of Barth’s understanding of the relationship between theology and philosophy.
Drawing upon a range of material from Barth’s earliest writings (1909) up until interviews and roundtable discussions that took place shortly before his death (1968), Kenneth Oakes offers a developmental account of Barth’s thoughts on philosophy and theology. Beginning with the nineteenth-century intellectual background to Barth’s earliest theology, Oakes presents the young and ‘liberal’ Barth’s understanding of the relationship between theology and philosophy and then tracks this understanding throughout the rest of Barth’s career. While Barth never finally settled on a single, fixed account of theology and philosophy, there was still a great deal of continuity regarding this topic in Barth’s oeuvre. Looking through the lens of theology and philosophy Barth’s continual indebtedness to nineteenth-century modern theology is clearly seen, as well as his attempts and struggles to move beyond it.
In addition to locating Barth’s account of theology and philosophy historically, this study also gives attention to the specific doctrines and theological presuppositions that inform Barth’s different portrayals of the relationship between theology and philosophy. Oakes asks how and why Barth used material from the doctrines under consideration-such as revelation, theological ethics, Christology- to talk about theology and philosophy. Barth is shown to have been concerned not only with the integrity and independence of theological discourse but also with the idea that theology should not lose its necessary and salutary interactions with philosophy. Finally, Oakes also considers the reception of Barth’s thought in some of the luminary figures of twentieth-century philosophy, and identifies the three main impressions philosophers have had of Barth’s life and work.
D. Paul La Montagne, Barth and Rationality: Critical Realism in Theology (Cascade Books, June 2012)
Here is another exploration of Barth’s relationship with philosophy and, especially, the “hard” sciences. Here is the publisher’s description:
This work brings the critically realistic interpretation of Barth’s dialectical theology into conversation with the modern dialogue between science and theology. Philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics and logic, and considerations of the problem of rationality raised in the science and theology dialogue are brought to bear upon Barth’s theology in an attempt to explicate the rationality of his dialectical method. Its deep and abiding radical nature and character are lifted up, emphasized, and explored. The results of this study are then used to answer some long-standing criticisms of Barth. What emerges are an understanding of how Barth uses philosophy and why he declines to do philosophy. La Montagne opens the way for Barth scholars to enter into the dialogue between theology and science.
As is often the case with Wipf & Stock books, it is cheaper to buy it directly from the publisher.