Monday, 15 May 2006

New poll on Lutheran theologians

Who is your favourite modern Lutheran theologian? Cast your vote in the new poll!

Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, it is almost impossible to limit the number of options, since modern Lutheran theology has been characterised by limitless riches of insight, energy and creativity. So in the end I simply chose my own five favourite modern Lutherans (and I disqualified Jaroslav Pelikan on account of his conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, which made things just a little easier!).

If only there were a couple more places available, I would also have included Paul Tillich and Gerhard Ebeling....

18 Comments:

joshua said...

How can you not include Tillich? Even if his impact is waning currently, his work was much more fresh and challenging than is currently recognized. I personally prefer all three of the post-barthians: Pannenberg, Jungel, and Jenson. However, why not drop one of them (Jenson) and include Tillich?

Anonymous said...

by more fresh, i meant fresher

Michael F. Bird said...

Ben, what about Luther and Melanchthon? Of all people to miss out! Joshua, Tillich? Why don't we just vote for our favourite Lutheran Pantheists ...

Pontificator said...

Substitute Tillich for Jenson? Inconceivable!

Aaron G said...

Here is my write-in vote for Tillich.

T.B. Vick said...

I can't imagine substituting Tillich for Jenson, that's like trading a Mercedes for a Pontiac.

kim fabricius said...

Poor Tillich! A salutary lesson on what happens to theologians who try nobly to negotiate between Christianity and its cultured despisers: the tail always ends up wagging the dog.

But remember that the reach of his "method of correlation" (arguably Tillich's most important contribution to modern theology) stretched further than David Tracy - right on out to Pannenberg. And the old foe Barth himself, while considering the method to be "not a good business", nevertheless always tried "to interpret [Tillich] for the best and to defend him against the students, who want to snap around him like hunting dogs."

It should also be acknowledged that Tillich, even if he did it poorly, at least insisted on the necessity of a theological ontology - a cause which a lot of contemporary theolgians are now taking up again.

Not that Tillich gets my vote, it's just that neither does he get my venom.

Aaron G said...

Here is what Tillich said about his "method of correlation":

It is “a way of uniting message and situation. It tries to correlate the questions implied in the situation with the answers implied in the message. It does not derive the answers from the questions as a self-defying apologetic theology does. Nor does it elaborate answers without relating them to the questions as a self-defying kerygmatic theology does. It correlates questions and answers, situation and message, human existence and divine manifestation.”

Again, this is where my ballot is cast.

kim fabricius said...

Oh, one other thing: it is interesting, particularly given the chronological range of these Lutherans, that all of them stand on the huge shoulders of - and in the long shadow cast by - Karl Barth; indeed their theology cannot be understood otherwise than as a sustained - and (among the living) ongoing - conversation with the great Reformed churchman.

Ben Myers said...

I sympathise with these comments about Tillich.

I myself like Tillich -- in fact, I find him more interesting than Bonhoeffer. So Tillich would definitely be in my own personal Top Five -- but I knew that far too many people would object if I omitted Bonhoeffer!

(And, of course, it was simply unthinkable to exclude Pannenberg or Jüngel or Jenson, since they are my three favourite contemporary theologians!)

D.W. Congdon said...

Gerhard Ebeling should have been on the poll. His influence makes the presence of my personal favorite, Eberhard Jüngel, a reality, as well as another contemporary great, Oswald Bayer. Ebeling in Bultmann's place would have been good. But Jüngel deserves the win. Bonhoeffer is a nice choice -- who wouldn't pick an anti-Nazi martyr? -- but this poll should be about theological legacy, not about personal greatness. Not that Bonhoeffer did not have great things to say -- his Letters and Papers from Prison is one of my top 5 books of all time -- but his theological sophistocation is not above the likes of Ebeling and Jüngel.

Weekend Fisher said...

Gerhard O. Forde -- not on the list either.

kim fabricius said...

Hi d.w.,

I always look forward to your contributions, and I hear what you are saying about Bonhoeffer. It is the received wisdom that focusses on DB the man and martyr, and on LPP as an inspiring and exciting but nevertheless amorphous bundle of pensées, certainly nothing substantial enough to suggest a theological "legacy". And even taking into account Bonhoeffer's total opus, it is true, as your man Ebeling himself said, that "we find unresolved tensions", more grist for the mill first turned by Barth when he suggested that systematic theology was not Bonhoeffer's real strength.

But then as Stephen Plant asks in his recent Bonhoeffer (2004): "Even if he had the time, libraries and scholarly community to resource the kind of systematic theology produced by other twentieth-century German theologians, would he have been inclined to do so?" I myself wonder whether even if Bonhoeffer had been able to settle down as Herr Professor, he would still have done his theology on the hoof, as collage rather than dogmatics, and in the public square rather than the senior common room, and that that in itself is an important "legacy", prophetic even given the postmodern turn.

Nor does unsystematic imply inchoate, as "there is a single basic impulse which is maintained in every change of [Bonhoeffer's theology]: faith has to do with reality" (Ebeling again!). A theology without bullshit seems to me to be a major inheritance and model, still often more honoured in the breach than the observance!

As for theological "sophistication", more and more studies are showing just how sophisticated Bonhoeffer's thinking was - rich and rigorous - and with what a wide range of conversation partners - historical and contemporary, secular and ecclesiastical - he engaged.

I suspect that Bonhoeffer's real greatness will only be appreciated when the church finally gets over all its hand-wringing about epistemology and hermeneutics and sees that "liberation theology" is not a branch but a tautology.

Gaunilo said...

Ben, I love the heat you take for your selections :-). Granted that these polls are about one's "favorite" theologian rather than most influential, which necessarily means that there's no real objective element involved, I have to say in favor of the choices here that Tillich has hardly any following in contemporary theology - very few theologians own him (too much an existentialist philosopher of religion), nor comparative religionists (too essentialist and Protestant), nor philosophers (too ontotheological for the continentalists, pure gibberish for analytic philosophers).

This doesn't mean there will never be a resurgence of Tillichianism; but that day certainly is not now.

Poor Pannenberg is having a tough enough time getting a hearing these days. A far better thinker than Moltmann, though, in whose shadow he usually is forced to lurk, and massively learned - he gets my vote.

Ben Myers said...

Hi, D.W. I'm glad to hear that someone else likes Ebeling -- I thought I must be the only person on the planet who still reads him! There are very few modern theologians whom I like better than Ebeling.

Still, I can't agree with you when you suggest replacing Bultmann with Ebeling, since Ebeling himself is above all a pupil of Bultmann! "Is a disciple above his teacher, or a servant above his master?"

kim fabricius said...

Check out the map: it's interesting that Bonhoeffer is the only theologian represented so far in so-called Third World countries.

It is well known that Bonhoeffer had a powerful effect on South African theology in the days of apartheid; perhaps less well known that his influence extends to Southeast Asian liberation theologies. (Time closed in on him before Bonhoeffer could realise a trip to India to meet Ghandi, but his admiration for the Indian Prince of Peace is not forgotten.)

Bonhoeffer, of course, cut his teeth on liberation theology during the time he spent in New York with a church in the slums Harlem, where, as J. Deotis Roberts points out in his recent Bonhoeffer and King: Speaking Truth to Power (2005), "this German Lutheran theologian first began to truly understand the issues of racism and nationalism as serious theological problems."

It was in Harlem too that Bonhoeffer, trained as a classical pianist, became a fan of jazz, the blues and black spirituals. Later, he would use musical metaphors for doing theology, which (he said) is neither a neat harmony, nor even a symphony, but polyphany. How's that for anticipating some recent trinitarian and eschatological musical imagery - including Jenson's beloved fugues!

michael jensen said...

Can I add my teacher Bernd Wannenwetsch?

joshua said...

How can you not include Tillich? Even if his impact is waning currently, his work was much more fresh and challenging than is currently recognized. I personally prefer all three of the post-barthians: Pannenberg, Jungel, and Jenson. However, why not drop one of them (Jenson) and include Tillich?

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