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.
January 27, 2013
In my recent Barth reading group (with several Presbyterian pastors in Charlotte), we had a fun discussion about whether Barth has a consistent trinitarian theology. As most of y’all know, Barth rejects the language of “person” as it tends to divide the singular divine subject into three distinct willing agents. Thus, the current push-back against social trinitarianism has hailed Barth’s theology on this point. Yet, the Church Dogmatics is replete with trinitarian language that seems quite serviceable to a social trinitarianism. Here is a very good example:
In Himself He does not will to exist for Himself, to exist alone. On the contrary, He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and therefore alive in His unique being with and for and in another. The unbroken unity of His being, knowledge and will is at the same time an act of deliberation, decision and intercourse. He does not exist in solitude but in fellowship. Therefore what He seeks and creates between Himself and us is in fact nothing else but what He wills and completes and therefore is in Himself. [CD II.1, p. 275]
The context is Barth’s discussion of God’s perfection as the One who loves in freedom. Here, Barth is using God’s immanent and eternal life as a loving fellowship as proof that God has no need to create in order to have the fullness of love. Yet, because his act is always a demonstration of his essence, the fellowship he seeks with us is “nothing else but” the fellowship he has in himself. The remarkable thing is how Barth describes this fellowship (of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) as an act of “deliberation, decision, and intercourse.” With these terms — especially “deliberation” (!) — it is no wonder that many leading advocates of social trinitarian models were also avid readers of Barth, working to extend his project (and correct it or radicalize it, as seen fit).
Bruce McCormack will say that this language is metaphorical and not to be taken literally (see, for example, the first of his Kantzer Lectures), and he may be right. After all, that would be consistent with Barth’s rejection of the pactum salutis in classical Reformed theology because, among other reasons, it implied two or three distinct subjects (oh, let’s say, deliberating!). Yet, it is still rather difficult to conceive of a singular divine subject deliberating with himself and loving himself as “another” and making intercourse with the other modes, et cetera, and not use a basically social trinitarian apparatus.
Table of contents for the series:
5. Implications for Women’s Ordained Ministry (Charlotte von Kirschbaum)
Charlotte von Kirschbaum assisted Karl Barth for decades in the production of his Church Dogmatics. She provided much of the research necessary for the frequent excursus on historical and exegetical matters. Perhaps most importantly, she provided a deep friendship and encouragement for Barth in this massive task of writing the Church Dogmatics. Kirschbaum devoted her life to this project, remaining unmarried and living in the Barth household. She was fully committed to its importance in the life of the church.
Her own writings that have been translated into English deal with, as given in the title, The Question of Woman. It would be fascinating to know how much she influenced Barth’s writing of “Man and Woman” in Church Dogmatics III.4. Based upon her own writings, they were in profound agreement, and the reader will notice several emphases from CD III. 4 repeated in The Question of Woman:
- Man is not solitary but essentially male and female.
- The validity of “earthly patterns of order” insofar as they are understood as “permission” (grace) and not as law abstracted from grace.
- The exegesis of Paul’s use of “headship.”
- Woman is not “passive” but freely acting.
- There is no “neutrality” beyond male and female, for the single person is also shaped by this encounter with the “partner,” and indeed the single person experiences it more.
- Love is defined as seeing the other as “a condition of one’s own existence.”
I am particularly interested by her thoughts on the ministry of women, where she creatively applies this understanding of gender to the question of women’s ministry. Kirschbaum will argue in favor of women’s ordained ministry, but not on any grounds that would erase the differentiation of male and female or their particular ordering. She begins with a look at the priesthood of all believers:
In the New Testament we do not find any concept of office [as in Roman Catholicism and some Lutheran teaching]….There is no priestly “profession” in the primitive church: the official priesthood of the old covenant, with its monopoly of access to the holy, has been abolished through the unique sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Now everyone who belongs to the church enjoys the same access to the Lord. They are all of them “taught by God” (1 Thess 4:9), they have all “received the Spirit” (Gal 6:1).
This, by the way, would be a proper interpretation of Gal 3:28. Yet, how is this reception of the Holy Spirit to be manifest in the church, given the headship of the male and the subordination of the female? Before this can be answered, we must understand Kirschbaum’s understanding of subordination. It is to be determined by Christ, just as the headship of the male is to be determined by Christ. Christ in relation to the Father “is the very essence of subjection,” but as “the Lord to whom everything is subject” he “exists in unqualified superiority” as the head. Christ is therefore the model for both super-ordination and sub-ordination. For the woman, this means:
Within the framework of earthly order woman stands over against man in obedience, that is, within this framework she is the subordinate partner, determined by the other. In the apostle’s eyes this position is certainly no less valuable and no more disadvantaged a position: it is Christ’s position in relation to the Father; it is his, the apostle’s — and the church’s — place in relation to the Lord. …On the one hand, Christ is the model of all obedience and subjection bears witness to the obedience of women and their position of subjection; on the other hand, as exalted Lord and the head of all power and dominion, he determines the higher position of men. It is true: man is the head of the woman; but it is true within this crucially important set of brackets that transforms everything. Christians should know this.
Kirschbaum reads this (in 1 Cor 11) as a necessary corrective by Paul to a misunderstanding in Corinth — a misunderstanding arising from the Spirit’s bestowal equally upon all, male and female. The Corinthians had spiritualized marriage and wanted to dissolve the earthly distinctions between man and woman. In the strongest terms, Paul re-asserts the significance of the body and of the created order, while giving it a thoroughly christological interpretation.
The “subjection” of the woman, Kirschbaum rightly complains, has been “loaded with preconceptions that do not correspond with the apostle’s intentions,” and these can take either a progressive or a reactionary determination:
In both cases one “knows” from the outset who the men and the women are, and the framework of order in which both have been placed. In both cases one has one’s agenda, whether an aggressive or a passive one. It is therefore understandable if some experience the exhortation to subjection as an outrageous unreasonable demand, while others claim it as confirmation of their clueless, and to a considerable extent, ripely bourgeois, indolence.
By contrast, the natural order (in the duality of male and female) only “reveals its true meaning and ultimate justification” as a “parable” of grace and, therefore, receives its determination — its command — in the one Lord, Jesus Christ. Thus, the command to women to be subject to men is a command that they receive, not from men, but directly from Christ. Likewise, the command to men to have the “priority” in this ordering is not a command that they receive from women (or from themselves!), but directly from Christ. Therefore, the form or model in which each, in their distinct commands, discern their activity as male and female is Christ alone — not any other model of “masculinity” or “femininity” (not even “Marian woman”).
Thus, the ordained ministry of woman is likewise to retain the significance of this duality, of this analogue, to the covenant of grace. Woman is not to think of herself as taking the place of a man, as if their identities as male and female could be dissolved or interchanged in ministry; rather, she is to minister as woman (though not necessarily as “feminine” understood as “an enhanced contribution of a psychological nature!”). Yet, it is precisely this ministry of women that has been absent in the church (especially keeping in mind the time of Kirschbaum’s writing: 1940′s and 1950′s). Kirschbaum looks at how “the richness of earlier voices has disappeared,” as the polyphony of gifts that flowed freely in the earliest apostolic congregations, in both male and female, has now been replaced by the lone voice of the ordained (male) minister. Whereas it once made sense for woman to witness to her subordination through “keeping silent,” in response to the spiritualizing of sexuality; her voice, as once given in prophecy and tongues and hymns, has been significantly lost. As she asks, “Can silence still be a form of witness among people who do nothing but remain silent?”
If the place of woman in the church is to serve the church and edify the church, as with all members of the church, then the call to ministry by a woman must follow this test:
The test of this calling will be that her participation is seen as being necessary for the sake of building up the church, as was woman’s willingness to remain silent in the time of the early church.
The particular form this will take, for the woman, is her “divinely appointed” position as corresponding to that of the church and, therefore, “less liable to usurp authority” or “to cast their ministry in an authoritarian mold, meaning, moreover, that they will be less inclined than men to be tempted to allow the authority of the Word to be overshadowed by the authority of their person.” For Kirschbaum, what this ordained ministry of woman will look like is still to be charted, but it is clear that grasping for authority or seeking “anxiously to safeguard a ‘monopoly’ of the proclamation of the Word” is not the form it should take. She looks to the widows of 1 Tim 5:10 as a model of working in charity, expanding our conception of ministry of the Word beyond merely preaching, thereby “bridging the gap that has opened up between church and clergy.” Kirschbaum offers other ideas but is careful to note that these are “suggestions” and not a strictly delineated “program of action.”
In closing, I think it is instructive to consider how women’s ordination was actually approved in the mainline churches from the 1950′s to 1970′s. It is safe to say that for many proponents of women’s ordination, a model of liberation and equal rights was dominant. Given this model, it is not surprising that this same model has now served the arguments for gay marriage in our churches. With Kirschbaum, we have a different model for understanding gender and the grounds upon which women’s ordination could be affirmed, and these are in opposition to any of the current “rights” models (or “apocalyptic” models for that matter). A failure to make this distinction – between the good (Kirschbaum) and the bad (Jones) grounds for affirming women’s ordained ministry — has left the “traditionalists” in the mainline churches without a sufficient gender model that would allow for women’s ordination yet oppose gay marriage. As such, we are left picking-apart Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Cor 6:9, while practically ignoring Eph 5 and 1 Cor 11, where we actually have the christological and covenant model for gender identity and gender relations that underwrite the traditional view of marriage.
 Charlotte von Kirschbaum, The Question of Woman: The Collected Writings of Charlotte von Kirschbaum (trans. John Shepherd, ed. Eleanor Jackson; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 56.
 Ibid., 63.
 Ibid., 64-65.
 Ibid., 66.
 Ibid., 67-68.
 Ibid., 69.
 Ibid., 95-96. See also pp. 175-183.
 Ibid., 101.
 Ibid., 193.
 Ibid., 193-194.
 Ibid., 196.
 Ibid., 198.
 Ibid., 197.
 Ibid., 198.
 Ibid., 199.
 Ibid., 200.
 Ibid., 201.
Image: Charlotte von Kirschbaum and Karl Barth (source)
Table of contents for the series:
4. Implications for the Homosexuality Debate
According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, “Marriage is to be between one man and one woman.” The Confession of 1967 relates this union to the purposes of God in creation: “The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind.” The current controversy dividing the Presbyterian Church is a question of whether the ordering of these two persons, in marital fidelity, is predicated upon a necessary and intrinsic ordering of persons by their gender. Is the gender binary of male and female of the essence of marital and sexual union? Given the significance of this question of gender, it is peculiar that fellow “traditionalists” (not my favorite term) in our denomination have focused so intensely over the biblical passages that explicitly reference homoerotic unions, to the relative neglect of Paul’s model of a covenant ordering in our creation as male and female. As we argued with the help of Barth, this is an ordering established by God, as a similitude of his covenant purposes for creation. It is here, in dogmatic reflection on the nature of God and his creation, that we understand the purpose of our differentiated and irreversible ordering as male and female.
 Chapter 24. Likewise, the Second Helvetic Confession, chapter 29.
 9.44 in The Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This statement is likely influenced by Karl Barth’s account of man and woman in Church Dogmatics III.4.
 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III.4 (eds. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1961), 173.
Image: An oil lamp, recalling the parable in Matthew 25:1-13.
January 2, 2013
Table of contents for the series:
3. Karl Barth on Man and Woman
[I had originally planned to divide the material on Barth into two posts, but I have opted to condense it into one post.]
Karl Barth identifies man (humanity) as essentially male and female. We have no access to a common human nature, beyond male and female. Thus, there is no man who is not “necessarily and totally man or woman,” which also requires us to say that there is no man who is not “necessarily and totally man and woman.” This follows for Barth because “structurally and functionally it [male/female binary] is too clear and serious to be a mere variation upon a theme common to both – a neutral and abstract humanity which exists and can be considered independently. Man never exists as such, but always as the human male or the human female.” In reference to Gen. 2:18, Barth grounds this differentiation within the created order as a revelation of the covenant unity of man and woman, whereby the women is created as “helpmeet” for man, through whom and for whom he discovers himself as male and both together as human:
He can only be an I through and for this Thou. The Thou which is not an I and is therefore constitutive for the I is woman. Thus man in his divinely created sexuality is a similitude of the covenant, which rests upon the fact that God Himself does not will to be alone but with man and for him, with and for His people….
As a differentiation that is grounded in the covenant work of God, Barth is then careful to distinguish this ordering of the sexes from any natural typologies that go beyond what Scripture prescribes for male and female. As an example, Barth uses Emil Brunner’s elaborate statement of masculine versus feminine types:
The man has to go forth and make the earth subject to him, the woman looks within and guards the hidden unity….the man must build, the woman adorns; the man must conquer, the woman must tend; the man must comprehend all with his mind, the woman must impregnate all with the life of her soul.
The problem with such a statement is that the formal categories of masculine and feminine, and thereby male and female, have been given material content based upon natural observations and wholly underwritten by such observations, not by the self-disclosure of God in covenant relationship. The result is “a rather malicious caricature” that is “quite impossible.” Exhibiting some feminist sentiment, Barth affirms that the protest against this caricature – man is rational, woman is intuitive and emotional, etc. – is justified because it is based upon the false authority of a natural theology. It is here that Barth would agree with much of what Serene Jones and other feminists have targeted as oppressive modes of gendered identities, limiting the full capacities for which both men and women are gifted by their Creator. As long as “masculine” is defined in terms of power and domination, and as long as these terms are defined through natural typologies of what it means to conquer and subdue, then the command of God is wholly lost and substituted for a false idol. Yet, is it necessarily the case that any gendered differentiation must be defined in oppressive terms? Are binary gendered identities reducible to social forces and cultural mores and, thereby, reducible to power structures that enfranchise one over the other? That is the challenge. The goal in feminist strategies is not really toward a distinct male and female identity but, rather, toward a liberated human identity beyond male and female (or where male and female are accidental phenomena of self-expression and techniques of power). The value of Barth’s approach, as it is rooted in covenant relationship, is that we are given a means to challenge both the false idol of socially constructed male/female identities, in large agreement with feminists, and the equally false idol of a liberated and autonomous human nature beyond gender, in large disagreement with feminists. The result is a differentiated ordering of male and female, yet in opposition to the natural typologies that fail to communicate the love and common mission of God’s covenant – the archetype for marital union.
The weakness of a liberationist imagining of the human person, as Jones advocates, is that it merely seeks to “emancipate” the female, enjoying heretofore “male” privileges, and therefore is still operating on a basically natural typology of the sexes. In other words, the feminist critique fails to transcend the problem, because it still wants to play the roles of liberation and autonomy, as if these are readily understood human values. For Barth, the freedom of each person, male and female, is not readily understood apart from the revelation of Jesus Christ in covenant fidelity. Here, and only here, is the true freedom in which the human is fulfilled. The command of God is not addressed to each person, male and female, with the same task or the same privilege, and thereby interchangeable; rather, each is distinctly tasked and differently related in the covenant ordering of male and female. Barth defines this in terms of “openness to the opposite,” which is a “mutual orientation” with “each being for the other a center and source.” Each finds in the other the fulfillment of the human image in God insofar as each is oriented to overcome this opposition – this otherness – in a union of perfected love and fidelity. Barth explicitly identifies this gendered identity of the human as the image of God in man: “That God created man as male and female, and therefore as His image and the likeness of the covenant of grace, of the relationship between Himself and His people, between Christ and His community, is something which can never lead to a neutral It….” As the covenant of grace, the image of God in man involves a distinct sequence, an A and a B, where A is wholly self-gift and B is wholly receptive of this gift. This is the “definite order” in which male and female is comprehended along covenant lines. As Barth explains:
They stand in sequence. Man and woman are not an A and a second A whose being and relationship can be described like the two halves of an hour glass, which are obviously two, but absolutely equal and therefore interchangeable. Man and woman are an A and a B, and cannot, therefore, be equated. In inner dignity and right, and therefore in human dignity and right, A has not the slightest advantage over B, nor does it suffer the slightest disadvantage. …A precedes B, and B follows A. It means preceding and following. It means super- and sub-ordination.
This ordering of preceding and following is not something that male and female discern for themselves; therefore, the common task to which this ordering is oriented is not something that they discover but, rather, is revealed to them in the love of Jesus Christ for his bride, the Church. It is here that we comprehend the scope and orientation of A and B, preceding and following, male and female. Thus, the position which the male occupies is not one of privileged dominance over the female for his own gain. Rather, as Barth states, “This order simply points him to the position which, if he is obedient, he can occupy only in humility…taking the lead as the inspirer, leader and initiator in their common being and action. He cannot occupy it, then, for himself, let alone against her, or in self-exaltation, let alone in exaltation over her and therefore to her degradation….” This precedence is a “primacy of service,” and therefore any exploitation of this primacy, whereby the woman is degraded or abused, is a form of disorder and a failure to serve their joint witness to the covenant love of Christ for his Church. For the woman in this ordering, she is called to “actualize the fellowship” through her reception of this self-donation of the male, following him in their common mission. “To wish to replace him in this, or to do it with him, would be to wish to not be a woman.”
The exegetical basis in which Barth grounds his understanding of this ordering of male and female finds explicit christological support, beyond (though including) the creation narratives, in Paul’s discussion of headship in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5. In his first letter to the Corinthians (11:3), Paul declares that “the head [κεφαλὴ] of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (NIV), which is followed by a discussion of head coverings and hair lengths that witness to this gendered differentiation. Barth comments, “What is the κεφαλὴ apart from that of which it is the κεφαλὴ? But it is still the κεφαλὴ, so that in this relation there obtains an order, and indeed an irreversible order, in which the other is subordinated to this κεφαλὴ.” Barth then notes that κεφαλὴ can also indicate the source or cornerstone, and not merely authority, yet the ordering still obtains as the one is placed in a sequence of precedence to the other. A fuller expression of this headship is given in Ephesians 5:21-33, which begins with a call to mutual submission (as he does in 1 Cor 7:3-5 and 33-34), yet immediately followed by a nonetheless clear statement of headship, whereby mutual submission is not understood as interchangeable roles but, rather, as deference to the needs and desires of the other, in common service to God: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.” This is followed by a call to marital union (one flesh) — “a profound mystery” that witnesses to the union of Christ and the church (vv. 31-33). In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul illustrates this care which a husband must have toward his wife, and vice versa, which Barth describes as “reciprocal adaptation and obligation.” At this level, there is indeed a mutual subordination within the super- and sub-ordination that orders their common life toward God. This distinction requires us to define “subordination” and “submission” in each context: as mutual, it involves adaptation and obligation of each to the other; as ordered in terms of headship, it involves the obedience (subordination) of one to the other, as the church to Christ. For Paul, the former does not exclude the latter, or vice versa. This distinction will clearly not satisfy those who find all ordering of super- and sub-ordination along gendered lines as inherently oppressive. Yet, as long as super-ordination is defined in terms of self-sacrifice and self-donation on the part of the male, with Christ’s sacrifice for his bride as the archetype, then Barth (and Paul) can hardly be called a defender of a machismo patriarchy where the male is exalted and self-sufficient in his dominance over woman (sexually and otherwise).
 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III.4 (eds. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1961), 118.
 Ibid., 117.
 Ibid., 149.
 Ibid., 152. Original citation in Emil Brunner, Man in Revolt (trans. Olive Wyon; Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1947), 358-359.
 Ibid., 153.
 Ibid., 163.
 Ibid., 158.
 Ibid., 169.
 Ibid., 170.
 Ibid., 171.
 Ibid., 173.
 Ibid., 147.
Image: Karl Barth and Charlotte von Kirschbaum
December 31, 2012
Here is the table of contents for the series:
Over the course of this week, I have planned and already written a series of posts on gender. A particular interest of mine has been the way that feminist and queer theology has aligned itself with a liberationist account of human freedom — an apparently self-evident account of human freedom and flourishing over and against “force” (power) that underwrites societal norms.
My interest in this subject goes back several years, while an undergraduate in Religious Studies, working my way energetically through Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, a text that I’ve returned to at various points in my intellectual pursuits. Now, Foucault is somewhat passé, as academics have found his reduction-to-power approach a bit limiting, to say the least, for their pursuit of life-giving prescriptive norms that are valid for all. Yet, transcending this problem is tricky, given that the construction of identities (including, perhaps especially, gender) is still demonstrated in feminist/queer literature using the language developed by Foucault and associated post-structuralists and, more broadly, erstwhile Nietzschean existentialists. Here is a taste of Foucault, defining society’s “individualization” and creation of “souls” through techniques of power:
A ‘soul’ inhabits him and brings him to existence, which is itself a factor in the mastery that power exercises over the body. The soul is the effect and instrument of a political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body. (p. 30)
We will see echoes of this in Serene Jones, a leading Reformed feminist theologian, who I will use as a foil to argue against. Jones represents a noble, but to my mind flawed, attempt to develop a normative and prescriptive account of gender that appropriates the best insights of feminist critical theory, while warding off the contradiction inherent in critical theory’s attempt to account for moral action. This contradiction is ably summarized by Todd May:
Since what are being criticized are social practices, and since the ground of criticism is also a social practice (the social practice of moral discourse), and since all social practices are products (at least in part) of power relations, what is it about the social practice of moral discourse that renders it capable of passing judgment on other practices? (The Moral Theory of Poststructuralism, pp. 7-8)
Jones is not satisfied with a moral discourse that reduces to nothing other than the process of constructing norms, but I am not persuaded that she is actually able to do otherwise, given her commitment to feminist theory’s baseline conclusions. This leaves us with a hollow account of woman (and man) and an anthropology that is woefully underdetermined by either dogmatics or exegesis. It is clear that, for Jones, feminist theory provides a source and authority for theology that stands beside and in-conjunction with theology proper — a liberationist ethic that is then discovered in Scripture and developed in her Reformed account of sanctification. In other words, she happily discovers common themes in both fields.
Unfortunately, this effectively demotes the authority of Scripture and, as to my thesis, undermines the covenant form of creation that grounds the Pauline construction of gender identity and gender relations. Given that statement, perceptive readers will not be surprised that the hero of my story is Karl Barth and his account of man and woman in Church Dogmatics III.4. This is an unjustly maligned and, often enough, misunderstood piece of dogmatic reflection on the (yes!) liberation of man and woman in the covenant of grace. This takes the form of a definite ordering of man toward woman (super-ordination) and woman toward man (sub-ordination), an ordering which is not reversible or interchangeable. Yet, the material content of these categories (of super- and sub-ordination) are not to be filled by natural typologies, which marks Barth’s account with a tremendous amount of sensitivity toward feminist concerns. The covenant form of creation is the sole authority for a truly Protestant and evangelical doctrine of man and woman (Eph 5, 1 Cor 11, etc.). The exegetical basis for this doctrine makes impossible the sort of “radical equality” commonly offered by those who discover a more normative apocalypticism in Paul which, in this view, he could unfortunately only partially implement (and, in our day, we can wholly implement).
I will have the table of contents for the series at the top of each page, for easy navigation.
October 3, 2012
I once had a discussion with a conservative Calvinist pastor, at Starbucks where great ideas proliferate, and I made the point that God glorifies man. He was taken aback. We were discussing the “young, restless, and reformed” movement, and I was claiming that there was a serious deficiency in its one-sided exaltation of God, a God who exits for himself, whereas the gospel is about a God who has chosen to exist for man. That didn’t compute with this pastor. He was tutored in John Piper’s view of God as, in the words of Halden Doerge, “a self-directed center of power whose ‘glory’ consisted of simply asserting and imposing his own supremacy and domination.”
So, I was pleased to come across this bit from Karl Barth, in his commentary on Calvin’s catechism:
We must stress — even if it seems “dangerous” — that the glory of God and the glory of man, although different, actually coincide. There is no other glory of God (this is a free decision of His will) than that which comes about in man’s existence. And there is no other glory of man than that which he may and can have in glorying God. Likewise, God’s beatitude coincides with man’s happiness. Man’s happiness is to make God’s beatitude appear in his life, and God’s beatitude consists in giving Himself to man in the form of human happiness.
The Faith of the Church, p. 26
Re-read that last line: “God’s beatitude consists in giving Himself to man in the form of human happiness.” This is an ontological claim — that’s who God is! Amen.
I’m thinking of doing some brief book reviews over the next several weeks. First in the dock: Helmut Gollwitzer’s An Introduction to Protestant Theology (Westminster Press, 1982).
According to the publisher’s blurb on the back cover, Helmut Gollwitzer (1908-1993) is “Karl Barth’s most controversial living disciple.” Gollwitzer, who completed his doctorate in Basel under Barth, attained this controversial status over years of political and social advocacy while a professor of systematic theology in Bonn and then Berlin. This aspect of his career is highlighted by the subtitle, added by the publisher for the English edition: “In the tradition of Barth & Bonhoeffer; a theology of freedom and solidarity.” Given the little I’ve read about Gollwitzer and his “radical” politics, I went into this book expecting Hauerwas on steroids.
There is idol smashing, to be sure, but I found this to be a measured and serious doctrinal treatise, not a socialist screed. The religious socialism comes later in the book, with intimations early on; and it is likewise measured and carefully qualified. But this is only after putting forth the doctrinal material with methodological reflections. The first two chapters deal with prolegomena, including the place of theology in the modern academy. The next three chapters deal with core dogmatic topics: ”The Bible” (ch. 3), “Jesus Christ” (ch. 4), and “God” (ch. 5). These are solid entries, but there will be nothing new here for anyone who is already familiar with the neo-orthodox approach to these topics. I know “neo-orthodox” is a contentious term and too ill-defined to be serviceable for many, but I find it useful to identify common moves across a number of Protestant theologians at this time, all of whom were resourcing the Reformation for today. One such move is to locate the authority of Scripture in the living and active Word of God in Jesus Christ, not in inerrant autographs which tends to domesticate and naturalize the Word. If there was ever a neo-orthodox maxim, that’s it. And it can be found in Brunner, Barth, Torrance, and here in Gollwitzer.
As much as I appreciate this first half of the book on theological groundwork, Gollwitzer is in his element when he turns to social and ecclesial issues. The quality of the writing increases as well. This second half of the book has the most to offer to theological students who are already well-versed in the contemporary dogmatic points made in the first half. In particular, the stand-out chapters for me were “Christianity and Judaism” (ch. 7), “Grace and Gratitude” (ch. 9), and “Discipleship in the Conflicts of the World” (ch. 10). The tenth chapter on discipleship is especially noteworthy for his nuanced insights into how discipleship really functions. For example:
Becoming a Christian is a change in this world, of life in this world, not a removal into another, transcendent life. It is indeed a being summoned out of my previous life, but a being summoned into my previous world, into the world of the old life.
…not everything in the old life is wrong. What is wrong in the old life comes from its contradiction to the life of a created being, which it still always is at the same time; i.e., it is still a life willed and affirmed by God, daily equipped in many bodily and spiritual ways. I share in this, and take part in it, in the natural basis, the work for maintenance of life, in intellectual life with its knowledge and innovations, in joy, pleasure, and grief, in the whole range of man’s divinely given powers. A too-pious renunciation of cultural life is a sin against faith in the Creator. [p. 181]
This careful parsing of the ways in which the new life abides with the old life, in a “radical but not total” disjunction between the two, continues throughout his social and political theology. These are mature reflections from a man who has clearly lived with this disjunction and has sought the best ways to make the discontinuity (between the old and new creation) known and expressed in church thinking.
In sum: I recommend this for seminarians and other theology students. Technical terminology is kept to a minimum, but the conceptual complexity would make it too difficult for those entirely outside the guild. The first half can be skimmed, if not skipped altogether, for most students. The second half will bear fruit.
June 18, 2012
“Without general revelation, special revelation loses its connectedness with the whole cosmic existence and life. …Christianity becomes a sectarian phenomenon and is robbed of its catholicity. In a word, grace is then opposed to nature.”
- Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, I:322
Having worked my way through the chapter on general revelation, it is now clear the extent to which Bavinck does indeed intimate la nouvelle théologie, as I noted earlier. Thus, Bavinck holds to a high view of general revelation as ontologically prior to special revelation, yet epistemologically posterior. Because of the latter — the epistemological priority of special revelation — Bavinck can sound rather Barthian at certain points, but he is really more in-line with Emil Brunner and Hans Urs von Balthasar, the two theologians who did the most to sympathetically engage, appropriate, and yet challenge Barth’s attack on natural theology. Of course, this is all tricky territory, and I am still in the process of fully understanding Barth’s positive doctrine of an analogia fidei, as a way to bring creation and nature under the determination of Christ, a determination from the foundation of the earth.
There is too much excellent material in this chapter, much more than a few excerpts can satisfy. So, I will just give some of his closing remarks. The distinction, by the way, between ontic and epistemic ordering is my own, as a way to express Bavinck’s claim that “objectively nature is antecedent to grace.” Of course, Barth reverses this relationship.
Against the two-tier (general–>special) epistemology:
Neither is it the intent of general revelation that Christians should draw from it their first knowledge of God, the world, and humanity in order later to augment this knowledge with the knowledge of Christ. …And dogmaticians do not first divest themselves of their Christian faith in order to construct a rational doctrine of God and humanity and in order later to supplement it with the revelation in Christ. [p. 320]
From special revelation to general revelation:
Now special revelation has recognized and valued general revelation, has even taken it over and, as it were, assimilated it. And this is also what the Christian does, as do the theologians. They position themselves in the Christian faith, in special revelation, and from there look out upon nature and history. And now they discover there as well the traces of the God whom they learned to know in Christ as their Father. Precisely as Christians, by faith, they see the revelation of God in nature much better and more clearly than before. The carnal person does not understand God’s speech in nature and history. He or she searches the entire universe without finding God. But Christians, equipped with the spectacles of Scripture, see God in everything and everything in God. [p. 321]
The point of contact:
In that general revelation, moreover, Christians have a firm foundation on which they can meet all non-Christians. They have a common basis with non-Christians. As a result of their Christian faith, they may find themselves in an isolated position; they may not be able to prove their religious convictions to others; still, in general revelation they have a point of contact with all those who bear the name “human.” Just as a classical preparatory education forms a common foundation for all people of learning, so general revelation unites all people despite their religious differences. Subjectively, in the life of believers, the knowledge of God from nature comes after the knowledge derived from Scripture. We are all born in a certain concrete religion. Only the eye of faith sees God in his creation. Here too it is true that only the pure of heart see God. Yet objectively nature is antecedent to grace; general revelation precedes special revelation. Grace presupposes nature. [footnote: “In keeping with this objective order, the dogmatician should consider general revelation before special revelation, and not the reverse, as Kaftan does.”] To deny that natural religion and natural theology are sufficient and have an autonomous existence of their own is not in any way to do an injustice to the fact that from the creation, from nature and history, from the human heart and conscience, there comes divine speech to every human. No one escapes the power of general revelation. [p. 321, emphasis mine]
Echoing St. Thomas:
Nature precedes grace; grace perfects nature. Reason is perfected by faith, faith presupposes nature. [p. 322]
Image: “Point of Contact” by Chicago photographer, Steve Koo.
May 26, 2012
CBD has some great deals on books which should be of interest:
Thinking about Christ with Schleiermacher
By: Catherine L. Kelsey
Westminster John Knox Press / 2003
By: Karl Barth
Westminster John Knox Press / 2002
By: Karl Barth
Westminster John Knox Press / 2008
The Early Preaching of Karl Barth: Fourteen Sermons with Commentary
By: Karl Barth, William H. Willimon
Westminster John Knox Press / 2009
Reformed Confessions of the Sixteenth Century
Edited By: Arthur C. Cochrane
Westminster John Knox Press / 2003
Calvin’s First Catechism: A Commentary
By: I. John Hesselink
Westminster John Knox Press / 1997
Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ
By: Michael Horton
Westminster John Knox Press / 2007
Infant Baptism in Reformation Geneva
By: Karen E. Spierling
Westminster John Knox Press / 2009
Those are some of the more recently discounted books. They still have Eberhard Busch’s Karl Barth & the Pietists on sale, along with Joseph Mangina’s brilliant survey of Barth. Also, Lesslie Newbigin’s Signs amid the Rubble is still only $2.99.