Monday, 17 December 2007

Three must-read articles: Kevin Hector, Michael Welker, Hugh Nicholson

Kevin W. Hector, “The Mediation of Christ’s Normative Spirit: A Constructive Reading of Schleiermacher’s Pneumatology,” Modern Theology 24:1 (2008), 1-22

This is a remarkably creative and provocative proposal for understanding the work of the Spirit as the mediation to believers of the norms of judgment which are required to know what constitutes following Christ. According to Hector, the Spirit’s work is immanent in human subjectivity – just as there are “no gaps” between the eternal Son and the man Jesus, so there are “no gaps between the Spirit’s activity and human activity.” We can thus understand the Spirit’s work “without having to appeal to shadowy substances, God’s inexplicable power …, or any other pseudo-explanations.” Among other things, I think this important proposal opens the way to a reconfiguration of the subject/object and God/world distinctions – distinctions which are misunderstood and misused in much contemporary Barthian theology. (Pardon the self-advertising, but my own forthcoming IJST paper on Bultmann is also aimed at a reconfiguration of these distinctions.)

Michael Welker, “Wright on the Resurrection,” Scottish Journal of Theology 60:4 (2007), 458-75

This is an excellent, incisive and wholly necessary critique of N. T. Wright’s understanding of the resurrection body. Welker questions Wright’s claim that the disciples witnessed Christ’s “still physical body.” He points out that Wright tends to collapse resurrection into mere resuscitation, and that he emphasises continuity between Jesus’ body and the resurrection body at the expense of the radical newness which pervades the NT witness to Christ. Welker’s sensitive reading of the NT texts leads him to observe: “It is characteristic of the resurrection appearances that they ‘establish a reality’. Or more precisely, there is a transformation of existence and reality which stems from them.” Jesus does not merely return to his physical body (“alive again,” as Wright puts it): “The pre-Easter life and body continues in a new way, extends far beyond itself, yet remains faithful to itself.” Whether or not you agree with Welker’s specific interpretation of the resurrection body, I think his critical questions to Wright are right on target. As I’ve occasionally complained in the past, the problem with Wright’s big book is that it says too much about Jewish traditions, empty tombs, physical bodies, etc, and too little about resurrection!

Hugh Nicholson, “The Political Nature of Doctrine: A Critique of Lindbeck in Light of Recent Scholarship,” Heythrop Journal 48:6 (2007), 858-77

I was talking with someone recently about Yale-School theology, and we agreed that its basic problem is its rationalism – its vision of Christian doctrine as a benign process in which grammatical rules are calmly and rationally expounded. Instead, perhaps theology is more like a power struggle, a (sometimes friendly!) contest between irreducibly different sets of passions and commitments. In this exceptional analysis, Hugh Nicholson (taking Talal Asad and Carl Schmitt as his points of departure) presents just such a critique of Lindbeck. His argument is that church doctrines “resemble the mobilizing slogans of political discourse more than … the grammatical rules governing Wittgensteinian language games.” Doctrine is thus a function of the social and relational antagonism through which Christian communities are constituted. In a very deft argument, he observes that even Lindbeck’s own linguistic analogy exposes the power-relations of doctrine: since we now know that the “standard form” of a language is simply the form which happened to achieve cultural dominance, a purely cultural-linguistic model of religion should lead us to conclude “that the religious mainstream is simply the faction that managed to establish hegemony over its proximate rivals” – i.e., that doctrinal “grammar” is never politically neutral, and is always structured by antagonistic relations. This is a brilliant and important essay which deserves a wide reading.

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