Recently I complained that none of the bibliobloggers in Philadelphia had posted anything about Pannenberg’s autobiographical paper at the AAR meeting. Happily, though, I came across this post from Charles Gutenson, one of Pannenberg’s former pupils. It doesn’t give much detail about the paper, but it does include some photos of Pannenberg and his friends at lunch.
Wednesday, 30 November 2005
Summary: God’s being is a free decision, and Jesus Christ is both subject and object of this decision: he is the electing God and the elect human being.
Quote: “The election of grace is the eternal beginning of all the ways and works of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ God in His free grace determines Himself for sinful man and sinful man for Himself. He therefore takes upon Himself the rejection of man with all its consequences, and elects man to participation in His own glory” (p. 94).
Notable section: §33,1-2—Barth’s magnificent and deeply moving account of the election of Jesus Christ.
Summary: God, who exists solely in his self-revealing act, makes himself known as the one who loves in freedom.
Quote: “We are now assuming that we have here [in the incarnation of Jesus Christ] the centre and goal of all God’s works, and therefore the hidden beginning of them all. We are also assuming that the prominent place occupied by this divine work has something corresponding to it in the essence of God, that the Son forms the centre of the Trinity, and that the essence of the divine being has, so to speak, its locus ... in His work, in the name and person of Jesus Christ” (p. 661).
Notable section: §31,3—Barth’s beautiful account of God’s glory and beauty.
Tuesday, 29 November 2005
A cock is crowing far away
And another soldier’s deep in prayer.
Some mother’s child has gone astray,
She can’t find him anywhere.
But I can hear another drum
Beating for the dead that rise,
Whom nature’s beast fears as they come
And all I see are dark eyes.
—Bob Dylan, “Dark Eyes” (1985)
Summary: The event of the one Word of God happens in three forms: revelation, Scripture and preaching.
Quote: “Nor, properly speaking, is there a Catholic, Lutheran or Reformed dogmatics.... Where dogmatics exists at all, it exists only with the will to be a Church dogmatics, a dogmatics of the ecumenical Church” (p. 823).
Notable section: §24,2—Barth’s account of the dogmatic method, in which he argues for an arrangement of distinct loci, all of which have the Word of God as their content, so that the whole of dogmatics is christology.
Summary: God reveals himself as the Lord: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Quote: “Scientific dogmatics must devote itself to the criticism and correction of Church proclamation and not just to a repetitive exposition of it” (p. 281).
Notable section: §9,2—Barth’s argument for the trinitarian term “modes of being” instead of “persons.”
Monday, 28 November 2005
Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics is one of the longest theological works ever written. The work was published as 13 massive tomes; and although Barth had planned to divide the work into five main volumes, he did not live long enough to complete even the fourth volume.
It took Barth decades to write the Church Dogmatics; and it takes a couple of solid years to read the whole work through. But since ours is the generation of microwave ovens and fast food, I thought it would be appropriate to offer a one-week summary of the Church Dogmatics.
So below I have posted a single-sentence summary of each of the 13 books that make up the Church Dogmatics, along with my choice of a notable section, and a quote from each book. Naturally, my tongue is in my cheek when I describe this as a “summary,” since Barth, more than any other theologian, resists even the most elaborate attempts at systematic summary. His thought can never be summarised or reduced to a set of propositions, because it is in a constant state of movement, dialectic, and life. When we try to summarise Barth, we necessarily lose all that is most interesting and most vital in his thought—just as we would lose everything that matters if we tried to “summarise” one of Shakespeare’s plays.
Just as we can understand and appreciate Shakespeare only by experiencing his language firsthand, so we can understand and appreciate Barth only by reading him, only by experiencing the extraordinary power and dynamic movement of his thought.
With that disclaimer aside, let me now heartlessly betray Barth by offering a sort of fast-food version of the Church Dogmatics....
Our ever-busy fahrender Scholastiker Jim West has been posting on Zwingli’s view of providence, predestination and freedom. This is an interesting and controversial aspect of reformation theology, and it’s well worth checking out Jim’s posts (here, here and here).
Sunday, 27 November 2005
“If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.”
—Evagrios Pontikos (AD 345-399), On Prayer, 61.
“Western believers might learn from [Eastern] Orthodoxy that the ultimate context of academic study must be the Christian community at worship. Without the liturgical context of worship, theology becomes ‘scholastic’ in the worst sense of the word, rather than a guide to worshiping God in spirit and in truth.”
—Daniel B. Clendenin, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), p. 149.
I threatened to observe the strict decree
Of my dear God with all my power and might:
But I was told by one, it could not be;
Yet I might trust in God to be my light.
Then will I trust, said I, in him alone.
Nay, even to trust in him was also his:
We must confess that nothing is our own.
Then I confess that he my succour is.
But to have nought is ours, not to confess
That we have nought. I stood amazed at this,
Much troubled, till I heard a friend express,
That all things were more ours by being his.
What Adam had, and forfeited for all,
Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.
—George Herbert, “The Holdfast” (1633)
Posted by Ben Myers at 8:45 am
Friday, 25 November 2005
Theology “is distinguished from every other science by the fact that its object—God’s eschatological act—is not visible to existence outside of faith but only becomes visible when such an existence experiences conversion through faith.”
—Rudolf Bultmann, New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings (London: SCM, 1984), p. 66.
Justin Nickelsen offers an excellent post on Pope Benedict XVI and Chris Heard explains why creationism is bad exegesis. Alan Bandy reviews Stephen Smalley’s new commentary on the Apocalypse, Mike Bird (who used to work in military intelligence) spies out some forthcoming New Testament commentaries, and Yasmin Finch reflects on the dearth of female bibliobloggers. Meanwhile, Jim West discovers that his scholarship is being sold on the black market, and Daniel from irRegular Expressions notes that there has never been a better time to be an Aussie blogger.
Posted by Ben Myers at 8:26 am
“The lesson of Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity is that if God and so also the creature are to have the freedom proper to their natures, the conception of God as triune ... is going to be instrumental in ensuring it.”
—Colin E. Becoming and Being: The Doctrine of God in Charles Hartshorne and Karl Barth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 218.
Thursday, 24 November 2005
It’s time again for Faith and Theology to announce the blog of the week. With so much fascinating blogging about SBL, it’s a tough choice. Nevertheless, the winner this week can only be Joe Cathey, first for his warm-hearted account of all the bloggers he met this week in Philadelphia, and second because he very generously sent me a splendid book which I received (along with a friendly letter) this afternoon. All of this combines to make Joe the friendliest—and therefore the best—blogger of the week.
Posted by Ben Myers at 6:19 pm
“Even when we feel we must hold something apparently or actually opposed to a statement of the confession, this statement is still before us with all its weight as the confession of the fathers and brethren and with what is perhaps a very galling definiteness. It cannot be forgotten even though at the time we cannot accept and repeat it.... We can never have done with it, because as a statement of the Church’s confession it has not done with us.”
—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, p. 652.
With your mercury mouth in the missionary times,
And your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes,
And your silver cross, and your voice like chimes,
Who among them do they think could bury you?
— Bob Dylan, “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” (1966)
“[T]radition is a power for liberation, setting one free from the dictatorship of the claim that his own time or culture or school is the goal toward which history has been moving.... Tradition in this sense is the very opposite of the traditionalism that uses the dead theories of the past as a club to beat down all creativity in the present. Authentic tradition is a function of the critical memory and the creative imagination.”
—Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Intellectual (London: Collins, 1966), p. 128.
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:59 am
Wednesday, 23 November 2005
“We feel that if all possible scientific questions were answered, the problems of life would still not have been touched at all.”
—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London: Kegan Paul, 1933), p. 187.
In case you hadn’t heard, the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (and of the American Academy of Religion) has been taking place in Philadelphia over the past few days. Most of the bibliobloggers have been there, and many have been posting fascinating updates about the conference.
Some of the most interesting posts have come from Peter Leithart, who discusses a very wide range of biblical and theological papers. Our friend Jim West has been prolific as always with his updates and insights, and Mike Bird, Mark Goodacre, and the Textual Criticism blog have been discussing some of the New Testament sessions. Joe Cathey, Rick Brannan and Michael Pahl offer some charming sketches of the bloggers they have met at the conference, and Yasmin Finch posts some nice photos of Philadelphia.
For those of us who couldn’t make it to Philadelphia, it has been great to experience the conference vicariously like this. I have only one complaint: so far, no one has blogged about Wolfhart Pannenberg’s paper. Mike Bird sent me some details in an email, and told me that Pannenberg offered autobiographical reflections on his own theological development. For me, this would have been the clear highlight and the main event, since Pannenberg is the world’s greatest living theologian. Doesn’t anyone want to blog about Pannenberg?
You speak of signs and wonders
But I need something other
I would believe if I was able
But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table
—U2, “Crumbs from Your Table” (2004)
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:52 am
Tuesday, 22 November 2005
Back in October a reader informed me of a new article about Robert W. Jenson in First Things. Since I don’t subscribe to the journal, I’ve had to wait a month for the article to become freely accessible.
It’s an excellent article: David Bentley Hart, “The Lively God of Robert Jenson” First Things 156 (October 2005), 28-34.
Hart rightly chastens American theologians for so far failing to take seriously enough their greatest and most creative theological thinker, and for failing to take pride “in the dignity his work lends to American theology.” Hart describes Jenson as a thinker “more theoretically audacious than almost all of his contemporaries.” He focuses on the distinctiveness of Jenson’s trinitarian theology, and describes it as a massive attempt “to grasp the uniqueness of Christ.”
Significantly, Hart (an Eastern Orthodox theologian) disagrees almost entirely with Jenson’s theological moves; but he nevertheless concludes: “I find it impossible to have done with Jenson’s work, or to cease returning to it as a challenge to refine and clarify my own understanding of the gospel.”
Over at Fear & Trembling there are some excerpts of a 1997 interview in which Cardinal Ratzinger reflected on the life of the church. Here’s one of the excerpts:
“It is indeed often asked today how we can still speak of God and do theology after Auschwitz. I would say that the Cross recapitulates in advance the horror of Auschwitz. God is crucified and says to us that this God who is apparently so weak is the God who incomprehensibly forgives us and who in his seeming absence is stronger.”
Monday, 21 November 2005
I’ve been flicking through the latest Mohr Siebeck catalogue. Here are some of the new and recent releases that look particularly interesting:
James D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul: Collected Essays
Timothy D. Finlay, The Birth Report Genre in the Hebrew Bible
Sigurd Grindheim, The Crux of Election: Paul’s Critique of the Jewish Confidence in the Election of Israel
Ernst Käsemann, In der Nachfolge des gekreuzigten Nazareners: Aufsätze und Vorträge aus dem Nachlaß [In the Legacy of the Crucified Nazarene: Essays and Lectures from the Unpublished Works]
Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement
Jörg Dierken and Arnulf von Scheliha, Freiheit und Menschenwürde: Studien zum Beitrag des Protestantismus [Freedom and Human Dignity: Studies of the Contribution of Protestantism]
Posted by Ben Myers at 8:34 am
“[W]hat we experience as events between God and humankind are still a long way from being theology. Theology is, rather, a purely human activity restricted to people who formulate and systematize the problems surrounding every experience of God—those issues that accompany, and often jeopardize, our statements concerning God.”
—J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, Essays in Postfoundationalist Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), p. 107.
Posted by Ben Myers at 8:13 am
Sunday, 20 November 2005
One of the most creative and penetrating studies in the doctrine of God is Robert W. Jenson’s early book, God After God: The God of the Past and the God of the Future, Seen in the Work of Karl Barth (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969). Although the title suggests that this is an exposition of Karl Barth’s thought, it is really Jenson’s own provocative interpretation of the doctrine of God, using Barth as a dialogue-partner and foil.
This is one of my own favourite works on the doctrine of God. One can’t always agree with Jenson’s reading of Barth; and it was not without some justification that George Hunsinger (with tongue in cheek) called Jenson’s book “the most provocative, incisive and wrong-headed reading of Barth available in English” (Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth, p. 15). Still, the book should be read chiefly as Jenson’s own creative proposal.
It would be impossible to summarise the book adequately: but some of the main themes include God’s futurity, God as an event, God’s being-as-narrative, God’s being-as-Word, and God’s triunity-as-history. Above all, Jenson emphasises the “absolute priority of Jesus’ existence” (p. 72) as the core of Barth’s theology and as the basis of the doctrine of God. This “absolute priority of Jesus’ existence” has always struck me, too, as the most exciting theme of Barth’s theology.
Jenson’s God After God is a superb theological achievement. For my money, you’ll hardly find anywhere a more exciting and more stimulating analysis of the doctrine of God.
“God’s eternity is not that for him everything is really already past, but that in love everything is still open, including the past. His eternity is that he can never be surpassed, never caught up with. He anticipates the future in the sense that however we press forward in time, we always find that God has already been there and is now ahead calling us on. God is not a presence possessing his past and future in himself; he is a future possessing his past in himself and therefore always present.”
—Robert W. Jenson, God After God: The God of the Past and the God of the Future, Seen in the Work of Karl Barth (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969), p. 171.
Saturday, 19 November 2005
Interdisciplinary dialogue is important in theology. But the point of such dialogue is not simply to become an intellectual jack-of-all-trades. Rather, the presupposition of interdisciplinary dialogue is always that one has first of all mastered one’s own field. Thus I think Gerhard Ebeling is right when he makes this humorous observation:
“In general one could only wish that theologians were better masters of their craft, instead of hankering after things that seem more interesting to them, with the consequence that they have a dilettante knowledge of everything, including theology.”
—Gerhard Ebeling, Introduction to a Theological Theory of Language (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973), p. 206.
To dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
—Bob Dylan, “Mr Tambourine Man” (1965)
“The resurrection in its eschatological ‘eventuality’ is after all nowhere recounted in the New Testament; nor of course could it be, because it no longer forms part of our mundane, human history; it is, qua reality, meta-empirical and meta-historical: ‘eschatological.’”
—Edward Schillebeeckx, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (London: Collins, 1979), pp. 380-81.
Friday, 18 November 2005
Brandon Wason has a highly entertaining post about early American responses to German university life, Michael Pahl has a humorous post about books, and the Better Bibles Blog announces a new Bible translation that will—at last!—be perfectly accurate.
Posted by Ben Myers at 2:14 pm
There has been some discussion of the problem of faith and history over at the Jürgen Moltmann List. I sent in the following comment on Gerhard Ebeling’s approach to the problem of history:
Gerhard Ebeling’s The Problem of Historicity in the Church and Its Proclamation (1967) is one of my favourite little books. Ebeling was one of Rudolf Bultmann’s pupils, and his conception of faith and history is essentially Bultmannian, with the added refinement of Ebeling’s concept of the “word-event.”
Ebeling views the problem of history as a problem of understanding, and so he sees the solution in hermeneutical terms: the church’s task is to interpret and translate the kerygma. But his main emphasis is not on the “content” of the Christian kerygma, but on the “word-character” of the kerygma, i.e., on the “word-event” which takes place through this message. Thus for Ebeling the task of Christian faith is to translate the primitive Christian message in such a way that the original word-event takes place afresh in each new historical situation.
The latest issue of the online journal Ars Disputandi includes an excellent paper on Wolfhart Pannenberg:
Wesley Scott Biddy, “Wolfhart Pannenberg on Human Linguisticality and the Word of God” Ars Disputandi 5 (2005).
Best of all, the article includes extensive engagement with Gerhard Ebeling’s theology of the “word-event.” This is great to see, since Ebeling (one of my favourite theologians) tends to be unduly neglected these days.
Thursday, 17 November 2005
There was some discussion here recently about demons and exorcism, and this week I was reading some interesting new scholarship on the topic:
Scott Shauf, Theology as History, History as Theology: Paul in Ephesus in Acts 19 (BZNW 133; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2005). This book includes extensive research into first-century magic and exorcism; and the book also sets itself the methodological task of exorcising Bultmann and Conzelmann.
Barbara Müller, “The Diabolical Power of Lettuce, or Garden Miracles in Gregory the Great’s Dialogues,” in Signs, Wonders, Miracles: Representations of Divine Power in the Life of the Church, ed. Kate Cooper and Jeremy Gregory (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2005), pp. 46-55. This is an entertaining paper about a sixth-century episode in which a demon-possessed lettuce is exorcised. Just when you thought it was safe to be a vegetarian....
Peter Leithart offers two excellent posts in praise of coffee, and another one in praise of Pope Benedict XVI’s learning and scholarship. Sven Harris makes a sharp and perceptive critique of Intelligent Design, Mike Bird muses on the confusing world of evangelicalism, while Clint Humfrey and Michael Haykin ask whether the Apostle Paul might have been a “Paleo-Blogger.”
Meanwhile, Jim West discusses a grim witch hunt conducted by some Tennessee Baptists, and Chris Tilling continues to investigate criticisms of the New Perspective, this time responding to Peter Stuhlmacher. Loren Rossen posts an excellent review of Dale Allison’s Resurrecting Jesus, and James Crossley reminds us of the dark side of Kittel’s TDNT. And, mirabile dictu, Joe Cathey has sent me a book.
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:43 am
The latest issue of the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus—which is fast becoming one of my favourite journals—is specially devoted to the resurrection of Jesus, with articles by Dale Allison, Gary Habermas, David Bryan, James Crossley, Michael Goulder, Larry Hurtado, N. T. Wright and Craig Evans. Our own James Crossley has posted a brief summary and a list of the articles. It sounds like an exceptionally interesting issue of the JSHJ, and as soon as I can find the time I’ll be reading it and posting some comments in response. Stay tuned! And in the meantime, you might like to see my earlier note on the resurrection and historiography.
Wednesday, 16 November 2005
Princeton Theological Seminary publishes a superb series which unfortunately is not very widely known: Studies in Reformed Theology and History. The latest volume in the series is an English translation of Wolf Krötke’s brilliant study Sünde und Nichtiges bei Karl Barth (1970). Here are the details:
Wolf Krötke, Sin and Nothingness in the Theology of Karl Barth, trans. Philip G. Ziegler (Studies in Reformed Theology and History NS10; Princeton: Princeton Theological Seminary, 2005); xv, 132pp.
As Krötke says, there is only one important account of evil in modern theology, and that is the account of Karl Barth. And without too much exaggeration we might add that there is only one important account of Barth’s doctrine of evil, and that is Wolf Krötke’s study.
If you’re a poor student who can’t afford to pay for the book, then the good people at Princeton will even let you have a copy free of charge. The contact address is:
Studies in Reformed Theology and History
PO Box 821
Princeton, NJ 08542-0803
Scot McKnight raises the controversial topic of good coffee, and the response has been a flood of comments. I also added a comment about where you can find the world’s best cup of coffee. In spite of all the differences of opinion, one clear consensus has emerged from all this: Starbucks might sell fantastic CDs—but true aficionados go elsewhere for their coffee.
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:22 am
Here are some of the books I reviewed recently:
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, in Reformed Theological Review 64:2 (2005), 92-94
Richard A. Muller, After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition, in Journal of Religious History 29:3 (2005), 351-52
Michael P. Winship, Making Heretics: Militant Protestantism and Free Grace in Massachusetts, 1636-1641, in Journal of Religious History 29:3 (2005), 357
James Shapiro, 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, in The Courier-Mail, 5-6 November 2005 (a Brisbane newspaper)
David Boulton, The Trouble with God: Religious Humanism and the Republic of Heaven, in Case 8 (2005), 26-27 (a Sydney periodical)
W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, for the December issue of Reformed Theological Review
Tuesday, 15 November 2005
“The historical approach to Biblical literature is one of the great events in the history of Christianity and even of religion and human culture. It is one of the elements of which Protestantism can be proud. It was an expression of Protestant courage when theologians subjected the holy writings of their own church to a critical analysis through the historical method. It appears that no other religion in human history exercised such boldness and took upon itself the same risk.”
—Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951-63), 2:107.
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:25 am
Those who are familiar with IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary Series might be interested to know that IVP has now announced a new 27-volume series entitled Reformation Commentary on Scripture, to begin releasing in 2009. The general editor will be Timothy George, and the series will include never-before-translated works by prominent figures from the Protestant Reformation.
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:23 am
Monday, 14 November 2005
Brandon Wason tagged me with this “five things” quiz. I won’t do all of them, but here are a couple of my “five things”:
Five tasty things
1. Italian food, especially pasta served with a nice Italian red wine
2. Very rich chocolate mud cake
3. Very good espresso (my favourite is from Campos in Sydney)
4. Very cold Guinness
5. Another slice of mud cake (with another espresso)
Five things I would do with a lot of money
1. Buy myself a full set of the TRE, and then a set of RGG
2. Buy a holiday chateau beside a lake in Switzerland
3. Take a three- or four-year holiday in my Swiss chateau
4. Buy Sean du Toit his own set of Kittel’s TDNT, so that he doesn’t have to drive so often to the library
5. Buy a new car—since mine was in a crash this morning (no injuries!)
Posted by Ben Myers at 1:39 pm
One of the most delightful recent novels is Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (London: Bloomsbury, 2004)—an extraordinarily gripping, clever and humorous book, and perhaps one the finest of all fantasy novels.
In one scene that many scholars will find all too familiar (pp. 112-13), Mr Lascelles advises the magician Mr Norrell to publicise his opinions about magic by writing book reviews for the Edinburgh Review.
But Mr Norrell objects: “I really have no desire to write reviews of other people’s books.... [I]t is my own opinions which I wish to make better known, not other people’s.”
“Ah, but, sir,” said Lascelles, “it is precisely by passing judgements upon other people’s work and pointing out their errors that readers can be made to understand your own opinions better. It is the easiest thing in the world to turn a review to one’s own ends. One only need mention the book once or twice and for the rest of the article one may develop one’s theme just as one chooses. It is, I assure you, what every body else does.”
Sunday, 13 November 2005
“[R]eading Barth nearly always involves us in reading against our expectations of what Christian theology ought to be like.... Part of what makes Barth so demanding of his readers is the requirement that they keep alive their capacity for astonishment, for that overwhelmed sense that the gospel takes us to some very surprising places and leads us to think and say very surprising things. Good readers of Barth are usually those who have not fallen into reading ruts.... Bad readers, by contrast, are those who know what to expect.”
—John B. Webster, Barth’s Moral Theology: Human Action in Barth’s Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 81.
“Anyone who really talks of the Trinity talks of the cross of Jesus, and does not speculate in heavenly riddles.”
—Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God (London: SCM, 1974), p. 207.
Saturday, 12 November 2005
Oh, if there's an original thought out there,
I could use it right now.
—Bob Dylan, “Brownsville Girl” (1986).
The Boyer Lectures, established in 1959, is an annual Australian lecture series in which prominent public figures discuss major social, scientific or cultural issues. The lectures have been broadcast on ABC Radio for more than 40 years and have contributed significantly to public discussion and debate in Australia.
This year, the Boyer Lectures will be presented by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen. Focusing on the New Testament Gospels, Dr Jensen will be speaking on “The Future of Jesus,” and he will address the question: “What is the future of Jesus in the secular West?” You can see a summary of the six lectures here.
Peter Jensen is a very prominent public figure here in Australia, and I have great respect for him. Early last year I published an article on his theology, in Churchman 118:1 (2004), 27-45. I’ll look forward to hearing his Boyer Lectures, and I might post some comments on them in the coming weeks.
The Lectures will run for six weeks, beginning tomorrow, Sunday 13 November. They’ll be broadcast on ABC Radio each Sunday at 5pm, and repeated Tuesdays at 1pm. The lectures will also be available online (as transcripts and in audio).
Posted by Ben Myers at 10:19 am
Friday, 11 November 2005
“If one desires to master a particular discipline completely, he must make it his aim to sift and supplement what others have contributed to it. Without such an effort, no matter how complete his information may be, he would be a mere carrier of tradition—the lowest rank of all the activities open to a person, and the least significant.”
—Friedrich Schleiermacher, Brief Outline on the Study of Theology (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1966), §19.
“The Exodus was the time of Israel’s creation ex nihilo—that is, when God in freedom acted to constitute a people in relationship with him. It is not accidental that the Second Isaiah, whose message recapitulates the Exodus tradition, speaks of Yahweh as Israel’s creator and recalls the time when, at the Reed Sea, he acted to create.”
—Bernhard W. Anderson, Creation Versus Chaos: The Reinterpretation of Mythical Symbolism in the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), p. 37.
Kittel’s TDNT is a monumental work of the finest scholarship. My favourite articles are the ones by Bultmann; he wrote 27 of the articles, and some of them (e.g. Gnosis, Faith, Life, Death) are so big and so excellent that they were reprinted separately as monographs (in Harper’s Bible Key Words series).
NOTE: This post originally contained links to a site which offered Kittel online; I have since learned that this website is publishing the material illegally, so I have altered the post and removed the links.
Several bloggers celebrated Luther’s birthday yesterday. Jim West had an entire day of entertaining Luther festivities, including a nice post on Luther’s humour. Another blogger posted a photo of the house in which Luther was born, while someone else celebrated Luther’s birthday with a rather nasty joke.
Best of all, though, Joe Cathey posted this superb photo of a 1543 letter on the resurrection body, in Luther’s own hand. And Joe mentions casually that there is a letter from Melanchthon on the back of the page.
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:53 am
Thursday, 10 November 2005
On this day in 1483, Martin Luther was born. He was a great man, an ecclesiastical and theological giant, and he remains today one of the towering figures not only of church history, but of human history as a whole. In spite of all Luther’s faults and shortcomings, it is impossible to speak too highly of him, and it is impossible to admire his theology enough.
In 1517 Luther protested against the sale of indulgences with his famous 95 Theses. Of these theses, my own favourite is the 62nd—it’s a statement which expresses the deepest of all theological truths: “Verus thesaurus ecclesie est sacrosanctum euangelium glorie et gratie Dei—the church’s true treasure is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.”
More books have been written about Luther than about almost any other person. The WorldCat libraries catalogue displays 12,501 items with the subject “Luther, Martin, 1483-1546.” My own favourite book on Luther’s theology is Gerhard Ebeling’s brilliant and breathtaking introductory volume, Luther: An Introduction to His Thought (London: Collins, 1970).
All these centuries later, Luther’s theology of the Word has lost none of its power and urgency. Luther’s distinctive theological voice remains vital and compelling. Although this voice speaks from the past, it continues to address us—not only Protestants, but all Christians alike—as the voice of a contemporary.
What is so distinctive about this particular theological voice? Here is the answer: Luther has heard something, and he has been wholly grasped by what he has heard. His entire existence has become a struggle to speak and to respond to what he hears, to grasp this Word which has first grasped him. And we can understand Luther only when we too have become hearers—when we have begun to hear the same Word that Luther hears. It is a Word of judgment and grace, law and gospel, death and new life: in short, it is the Word of Jesus Christ.
Be sure to visit Jim West over the next 24 hours for lots of great Luther-related blogging.
“A theology and a science that come to discover [a] mutual quest for intelligibility in spite of important differences will also be freed to discover that nothing that is part of, or the result of, natural scientific explanation need ever be logically incompatible with theological reflection. Stephen Hawking’s disturbing question, What place would there be for a creator in a universe without a beginning in time? could then be answered with: every place. Whether the universe had a beginning in time or not does not affect our reading of the Genesis story in its depiction of the complete dependence of the universe on God. God is not a God of the edges; God is the Christian theologian’s answer to why there is something rather than nothing.”
—J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, Essays in Postfoundationalist Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), p. 236.
Are “creation” and “nature” synonyms? I have suggested before that they are in fact very different concepts, and that an interchangeable use of these terms is a category mistake. Now a sophisticated article in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion addresses this problem in detail, and argues for a proper distinction between the concepts of “creation” and “nature.” Here are the details:
W. David Hall, “Does Creation Equal Nature? Confronting the Christian Confusion about Ecology and Cosmology,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73:2 (2005), 781-812.
“Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.”
—Pope John Paul II, “Message of His Holiness John Paul II,” in John Paul II on Science and Religion (Vatican: Vatican Observatory, 1990), p. M13.
Wednesday, 9 November 2005
Welcome to Faith and Theology’s inaugural “Blog of the Week” spot. Our inaugural winner is—Chris Tilling.
Chris has done some exceptionally varied and interesting blogging this week, including a news update on Gerd Lüdemann, and some great posts on the Trinity, Philo and laughter, Sanders and the New Perspective, and Udo Schnelle’s superb introduction to the New Testament.
Congratulations to Chris for all his good work—and stay tuned next week for another “Blog of the Week.”
Posted by Ben Myers at 6:53 pm
Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger published a valuable little book of homilies on Genesis 1-3, entitled In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995). In the book’s opening chapter, he writes:
“[T]he creation account in Genesis 1 ... is not, from its very beginning, something that is closed in on itself. Indeed, Holy Scripture in its entirety was not written from beginning to end like a novel or a textbook. It is, rather, the echo of God’s history with his people.... Hence the theme of creation is not set down once for all in one place; rather, it accompanies Israel throughout its history, and, indeed, the whole Old Testament is a journeying with the Word of God.... [I]n confronting its pagan environment and its own heart, the people of Israel experienced what ‘creation’ was. Implicit here is the fact that the classic creation account [in Gen. 1] is not the only creation text of sacred Scripture. Immediately after it there follows another one, composed earlier and containing other imagery. In the Psalms there are still others, and there the movement to clarify the faith concerning creation is carried further. In its confrontation with Hellenistic civilization, Wisdom literature reworks the theme without sticking to the old images such as the seven days. Thus we can see how the Bible itself constantly readapts its images to a continually developing way of thinking, how it changes time and again in order to bear witness, time and again, to the one thing that has come to it, in truth, from God’s Word, which is the message of his creating act. In the Bible itself the images are free and they correct themselves ongoingly. In this way they show, by means of a gradual and interactive process, that they are only images, which reveal something deeper and greater.”
“He did not ignore the Bible, but he knew very well that if his doctrine were proved, then it could not contradict the Scriptures when they were rightly understood.” (Galileo on Copernicus)
—Galileo, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (New York: Doubleday, 1937), pp. 179-80.
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:37 am
Tuesday, 8 November 2005
While we’re on the topic of the Vatican and science: In 1996 Pope John Paul II presented an address entitled “Evolution and the Living God” to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. (The paper is reprinted in Science and Theology: The New Consonance ed. Ted Peters, pp. 149-52.)
The Pope affirmed that “evolution is more than a hypothesis,” and that “this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge.” He went on to say that the church “is directly concerned with the question of evolution, for it involves the conception of humanity: Revelation teaches us that humanity was created in the image and likeness of God.” This means, the Pope said, that there is an “ontological difference” or “ontological discontinuity” between human beings and other creatures.
The Pope concluded his address by affirming that the gospel “can shed a higher light on the horizon of research into the origins and unfolding of living matter.” For the Bible “bears an extraordinary message of life.” Above all, life “is one of the most beautiful titles which the Bible attributes to God. He is the living God.”
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:59 am
“Is there any sense—even if it were possible—in bringing man first to a belief in God, as a condition of bringing him to belief in Jesus Christ? Would not this imply that Jesus did not come to the ungodly after all?”
—Gerhard Ebeling, Theology and Proclamation: A Discussion with Rudolf Bultmann (London: Collins, 1966), p. 35.
Monday, 7 November 2005
More details about the Vatican’s recent statement on faith and science can be found here, here and here. Cardinal Poupard defended evolutionary theory, and voiced “strong criticism of Christian fundamentalists who reject [Darwin’s] theory of evolution and interpret the biblical account of creation literally.”
In Rome, the statement was immediately understood as “a Vatican rejection of the fundamentalist American doctrine of intelligent design.”
The statement was made in the lead-up to the Vatican’s international conference this week on Infinity in Science, Philosophy and Theology.
Michael Pahl points out this news report, in which Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, explains the need for a greater degree of mutual openness between faith and science.
The Cardinal says: “The faithful have the obligation to listen to that which secular modern science has to offer, just as we ask that knowledge of the faith be taken in consideration as an expert voice in humanity.”
The creator God in Deutero-Isaiah “is not the distant God of a long-past act of deliverance. He is present as creator in the present moment of Israel and in the salvation that will come to pass. Not only do we hear in 44:24, for example, that Yahweh is the redeemer and creator of Israel; 45:8 (cf. 41:20; 48:7) goes on to state that Yahweh will ‘create’ salvation. Here the category of creation becomes all-encompassing, referring to Yahweh’s work at the beginning of the world, at the historical beginning of Israel, and in the present that lies open to the future, to which a message of salvation, bearing eschatological overtones, is addressed.”
—Walther Zimmerli, Old Testament Theology in Outline (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1978), p. 38.
Sunday, 6 November 2005
“It is said of [Jesus] that He preached with authority and not as a theologian.”
—Karl Barth, “He Himself,” in Come Holy Spirit: Sermons (London: Mowbrays, 1978), p. 163.
Posted by Ben Myers at 9:55 pm
“[The Gospel] is indeed God’s almighty power, and so the Gospel is still the secret of what happens in the world. This Gospel of pure grace, which deals with men solely on the basis of the death of Christ, cuts away the ground from beneath our feet and passes a total judgment upon the world for which Christ died. Because it is the Gospel of universal forgiveness, it bears at its heart a divine judgment which is the crucial fact that determines all history, so that every crisis in human affairs falls under its action and reflects its meaning.”
—T. F. Torrance, The Apocalypse Today (London: James Clarke, 1960), p. 117.
Saturday, 5 November 2005
“The Kingdom of God is not an ideal which realizes itself in human history; we cannot speak of its founding, its building, its completion; we can only say that it draws near, it comes, it appears.... Even if the parables of the mustard-seed and the leaven really applied originally to the Kingdom of God, they were certainly not intended to denote the ‘natural’ growth of the Kingdom, but were meant to show how inescapable will be its coming.”
—Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus and the Word (London: Scribner, 1958), p. 35.
Friday, 4 November 2005
I’m pleased to announce that my own first book, entitled Milton’s Theology of Freedom, will be published next year by Walter de Gruyter, as a volume in their Church History series (Arbeiten zur Kirchengeschichte).
The book has been revised and adapted from my 2004 PhD dissertation. It’s a study of the theology of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost (a dramatic retelling of Genesis 1-3), set against the background of the diverse theological traditions of seventeenth-century Protestantism.
Here’s a preview of the book’s contents:
1. The Theology of Freedom: A Short History
2. The Satanic Theology of Freedom
3. Predestination and Freedom
4. The Freedom of God
5. Human Freedom and the Fall
6. Grace, Conversion and Freedom
If you’re interested in sampling the contents, some small pieces of this work are coming out shortly (in slightly different forms) in journals such as Scottish Journal of Theology, Milton Quarterly, and The Explicator.
Posted by Ben Myers at 8:04 am
“All the conceptions and pictures in Jesus’ message are directed with concentrated force on one thing only, and are swallowed up by that one thing—that God will reign.”
—Günther Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1960), p. 67.
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:54 am
Jesus’ call to discipleship included this demand: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). What can this call to discipleship mean for those of us who are privileged Westerners? It seems to me that we haven’t taken the call of Jesus seriously unless we have felt the pressure of this question. And confronted with the absoluteness of Jesus’ call, our exegetical instinct may often be one of self-preservation.
I’ve noticed that many sermons on the sayings of Jesus start out with Jesus’ own sharp antitheses and shattering absoluteness—and then the preacher ends up with a harmless and domesticated middle-class interpretation (or, worse still, an “application”) of these sayings! This self-preserving interpretive strategy is perfectly understandable, precisely because Jesus is not just announcing something that we already knew for ourselves. He is announcing a wholly new thing: the breaking-in of the reign of God. And this new thing demands a new and absolute decision: either/or!
Thus it’s no coincidence that, faced with the absolute and very concrete demands of Jesus’ call to discipleship, the rich young man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22). It seems to me that if we privileged Westerners don’t feel tempted to do the same, to “go away sorrowful,” then we haven’t yet really been grasped by what Jesus is saying.
(This post is adapted from my comment on Michael Jensen’s blog.)
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:49 am
Thursday, 3 November 2005
“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.”
—Henry David Thoreau, Walden: or, Life in the Woods (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), p. 80.
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:40 pm
Mike Bird’s Euangelion is the new biblioblog of the month, and there’s an excellent and informative interview with Mike here. (Note: I detect evidence of a redactor, since this photo does not reflect the true redness of Mike’s hair.)
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:53 am
Tchaikovsky: “Mozart is the musical Christ.”
Bernard Shaw: Mozart’s was “the only music yet written that would not sound out of place in the mouth of God.”
Charles Gounod: “Mozart exists, and will exist, eternally; divine Mozart—less a name, more a soul descending to us from the heavens, who appeared on this earth, stayed for a little over thirty years, and left it all the more rejuvenated, richer and happier for his appearance.”
Victor Borge: “In my dreams of heaven, I always see the great Masters gathered in a huge hall in which they reside. Only Mozart has his own suite.”
Phil Goulding: “For one moment in the history of music all opposites were reconciled; all tensions resolved; that luminous moment was Mozart.”
Edvard Grieg: “In Bach, Beethoven and Wagner we admire principally the depth and energy of the human mind; in Mozart, the divine instinct.”
Franz Alexander von Kleist: “Mozart's music is so beautiful as to entice angels down to earth.”
Albert Einstein: “Mozart is the greatest composer of all. Beethoven created his music, but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it—that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed.”
Georg Solti: “Mozart makes you believe in God.”
Wednesday, 2 November 2005
Søren Kierkegaard: “I am like a young girl in love with Mozart, and I must have him in first place, cost what it may.”
Karl Barth: “With an ear open to your musical dialectic, one can be young and become old, can work and rest, be content and sad: in short, one can live.”
Hans Küng: Mozart’s music has “relevance for religion ... precisely through the compositional technique of the non-vocal, purely instrumental music, through the way in which music interprets the world, a way which transcends extra-musical conceptuality.”
Pope Benedict XVI (formerly Joseph Ratzinger): “His music is by no means just entertainment; it contains the whole tragedy of human existence.”
Jim West and Joe Cathey (among others) have recently been debating the question of the historicity of the Old Testament sources. No doubt some of the Old Testament bloggers will already have noted this article in the latest issue of the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament—but it’s worth mentioning again here (although I’m not a “minimalist” myself):
David Henige, “In Good Company: Problematic Sources and Biblical Historicity,” JSOT 30:1 (2005), 29-47.
The paper sharply criticises an interpretive attitude of basic provisional trust in the biblical sources, and argues instead that “the notion that historical sources are innocent until proved guilty and therefore need not ... be tested is thoroughly naïve, inasmuch as historical sources have perjured themselves time and time again” (p. 31).
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:13 am
Tuesday, 1 November 2005
Joe Cathey decided to give a prize to the 10,000th visitor to his blog—and I was that visitor! The generous prize is—wait for it—a book of my choice! So Joe has bought me a copy of James D. G. Dunn’s Jesus Remembered, a book which I have long been wanting to read. When I settle into my favourite armchair with a glass of Cabernet Shiraz and my new copy of Jesus Remembered, I’ll be sure to drink a silent toast to Joe.
Joe also says that he’ll be offering a prize when the 20,000th visitor arrives. So if you don’t yet read his blog, there has never been a better time to start....
Posted by Ben Myers at 7:58 am
The November issue of SJT is out now, and it includes some excellent theological scholarship. It’s available online if your library is a subscriber. Here are the contents (with some of my own comments added):
Brevard S. Childs, “Speech-act theory and biblical interpretation”
[A thoroughgoing criticism of N. Wolterstorff’s speech-act hermeneutic, and a more appreciative engagement with A. Thiselton.]
Wolfgang Vondey, “The Holy Spirit and time in contemporary Catholic and Protestant theology”
[A very fine article, which presents a pneumatological approach to time on the basis of a theology of the cross, and in engagement with contemporary cosmology.]
Ian A. McFarland, “‘Naturally and by grace’: Maximus the Confessor on the operation of the will”
Julie Canlis, “Being made human: the significance of creation for Irenaeus’ doctrine of participation”
Christine E. Joynes, “The returned Elijah? John the Baptist’s angelic identity in the Gospel of Mark”
A. N. Williams, “Does ‘God’ exist?”
[A provocative trinitarian critique of the term “God,” which argues that Christian discourse would be better off without this term, or at least with a far more circumspect and self-critical use of the term.]
“The creation of woman [in Gen. 2] is very far removed from that of man, for it is the last and most mysterious of all the kindnesses that Jahweh wished to bestow upon the man.... As distinct from the animals, [the woman] was a complete counterpart, which the man at once recognised and greeted as such. So is elucidated the age-long urgency of the sexes for one another, which is only appeased when it becomes “one flesh” in a child.... The Jahwist’s story of creation practically issues in this aetiological explanation of the power of eros as one of the urges implanted in humanity by the Creator himself, and so gives the relationship between man and woman the dignity of being the greatest miracle and mystery of Creation.”
—Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology I (New York: Harper, 1962), pp. 149-50.