Friday 30 June 2006

Some things worth knowing

Two theologians: Colin Gunton and Robert Jenson

The late Colin Gunton with his esteemed Doktorvater, Robert W. Jenson. (Thanks to Colin Gunton’s widow for providing this photo.)

Two views of miracles

Here are two quotes on miracles by Roman Catholic theologians—I agree strongly with one, and disagree just as strongly with the other!

“There is, no doubt, nothing more in the miracle than in the least of ordinary facts. But also there is nothing less in the most ordinary fact than in the miracle.”
—Maurice Blondel, Action (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), p. 365.

“The special quality of the miracle is that, because of the entire context within which an incident of this kind takes place, God himself wishes to communicate something to us in the miracle—in it, he really addresses us. There is an intention in the event and this personal intention transcends the normal possibilities of nature. For anyone who is open and listens to it, the natural event expresses more than it is able to express in itself—it is the visible aspect of the free act of God.”
—Edward Schillebeeckx, World and Church (London: Sheed & Ward, 1971), pp. 255-56.

Thursday 29 June 2006

For the love of God (21): Why I love Colin Gunton

A guest-post by Douglas Knight

The truth of the God of Jesus Christ is its own reward. Communication of that truth makes for joy and a life well lived—a second reward. Colin Gunton taught me this.

Colin Gunton showed that the doctrine of God is not only about the truth of God. It also secures our own identity, our worth and our responsible freedom as children of God. The temptation to aspire to something we mistakenly identify as greater than created humanity makes us less than human. The truth that we are not God, but creatures of God—the doctrine of creation—is the really great gift of the Christian faith to the world. This is why Gunton focused on these two doctrines: God and creation.

Gunton taught that we creatures are able to know God because the Holy Spirit enables us to confess Jesus, who confesses God the Father. Often quoting Irenaeus to say that the Son and the Spirit are the two hands of the Father, Gunton showed that the doctrine of the Trinity provides us with a doctrine of mediation—God himself is not only the (christological) content but the (pneumatological) medium and bearer of that content. He argued that God is now at work making possible not only our worship and knowledge of him, but also our recognition of one another. God is the means by which I may see you for who you are, and let you become what God intends you to be—a unique and particular person.

In the years Colin Gunton taught systematic theology at Kings College, London, worldwide interest in trinitarian theology grew dramatically. Postgraduates would come to Colin to study Barth and other heroes of the Reformed tradition, but with him they also discovered the Church Fathers and learned how to think across the whole Christian dogmatic tradition.

In the weekly seminar, Colin hosted an intense encounter of ideas. With the first-timers he always wrestled through the issues again and found better ways to frame them, forever expressing delight in the richness of the Christian tradition. We would arrive with the patronizing assumption that we moderns have discovered crises of previously unknown complexity, but in seminar after seminar Colin would enable us to see that such self-consciously “modern” theology was self-deluding. It is much more likely that we have to catch up with the intellectual rigor of previous generations of Christian thinkers.

The result was not only Gunton’s powerful written work, but students who could think for themselves precisely because they could faithfully listen to what many generations of Christians had been saying. We who knew Colin Gunton are grateful to God for him.

[Note: Thanks to Colin Gunton’s widow for providing this photo.]


One of the significant aspects of Colin Gunton’s legacy is the International Journal of Systematic Theology, which Gunton helped to found back in 1999 as a way of promoting the development of constructive and substantive (not merely methodological) dogmatic theology. Since beginning just seven years ago, the journal has become one of the world’s best forums for contemporary constructive theology—it is now my own favourite journal, and it’s one of the only journals that I always read from cover to cover.

The new issue, 8:3 (July 2006), is exceptionally good:

Karl Barth's Christology as a Resource for a Reformed Version of Kenoticism

Violence in Bloomsbury: A Theological Challenge

Accommodation to What? Univocity of Being, Pure Nature, and the Anthropology of St Irenaeus

The Trinity, Election and God's Ontological Freedom: A Response to Kevin W. Hector

Actualism and Incarnation: The High Christology of Friedrich Schleiermacher

There are also some excellent reviews of new books about Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Barth.

The collapse of theism

“The major churches in Europe, and partly in North America as well, are currently experiencing the collapse of classical bourgeois theism. More and more people are turning away from belief in a personal figure who exists over and above this world.... This collapse, which naturally gives rise to powerful countermovements—for example, fundamentalist ones—is hitting churches and cultures hard. Many institutions and many people are experiencing a crisis of landslide proportions.

“Laments over this development mostly overlook the fact that almost all significant theologies of the twentieth century have actually worked toward this collapse.... It was above all christological and trinitarian insights and questions that were determinative of the efforts to put an end to classical theism.”

Michael Welker, Creation and Reality (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), p. 1.

Wednesday 28 June 2006

Barth and Schleiermacher on miracles

We’ve been talking about miracles lately—and you might have guessed that my own approach to the question is shaped above all by the Gospel of John and the theology of Schleiermacher. The discussion of miracles has continued on other blogs, with Mike Liccione responding to my last post, and Chris Tilling posting a critique of Hans Küng.

In a fascinating new study entitled The Shift to Modernity: Christ and the Doctrine of Creation in the Theologies of Schleiermacher and Barth (2005), Robert Sherman has argued that Barth and Schleiermacher both had very similar approaches to the question of miracles. For both of them, the crucial point is not the miracle qua supernatural event, but rather the interpretation of the event from the perspective of faith.

For Schleiermacher, Sherman notes, the significance of a miracle “lies not in the means by which it occurs, whether natural or supernatural, but in its source and in the message or feeling that it is able to evoke” (p. 153). The question of the event’s cause (whether natural or supernatural) is thus irrelevant. Indeed, Schleiermacher denies that there is any “supernatural” reality alongside “natural” reality, and it therefore becomes meaningless to designate some events as “supernatural.”

Similarly, Sherman observes that Barth denies the existence of a “divine course of events occurring alongside a broader creaturely history” or of a distinction between “a distinctly natural realm and a distinctly supernatural one.” Thus for Barth, too, it makes no sense to think of miracles as the “occasional interruption of a mundane order” (p. 98). We should therefore acknowledge that the same events are open to different interpretations; “the world and its workings do not interpret themselves, ... they do not supply their own meaning” (p. 101). In Barth’s view, scientists and historians must be permitted to offer scientific and historical explanations of these events, but Christians recognise that there is another “level of interpretation.” Here, Christians situate the event within “a larger, more encompassing framework,” and it is this framework that allows them to perceive the event as an act of God (p. 98).

Eberhard Jüngel: seven theses on the freedom of theology

1. The freedom of theology is the exercise of theology’s right to be exclusively theology.
2. The freedom of theology is the freedom of Christian existence perceived in the responsibility of thinking.
3. The freedom of theology has its possibility in the place of theology [i.e., its position over against the Word of God].
4. The freedom of theology has its reality in the word of theology.
5. The freedom of theology has its necessity in the necessity of theology.
6. The freedom of theology is carried out in the controversy over the freedom of theology.
7. The freedom of theology becomes concrete in the demands of freedom.

[Jüngel goes on to develop each of these theses with a series of sub-theses, resulting in a total of no fewer than 166 theses on the freedom of theology!]

—Eberhard Jüngel, “Die Freiheit der Theologie,” in Entsprechungen: Gott, Wahrheit, Mensch (München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1986), p. 29.

Tuesday 27 June 2006

For the love of God (20): Why I love Nietzsche

A guest-post by Byron Smith

“Is not every unbeliever who has a reason for his atheism and his decision not to believe a theologian too? Atheists who have something against God and against faith in God usually know very well whom and what they are rejecting, and have their reasons. Nietzsche’s book The Antichrist has a lot to teach us about true Christianity.” —Jürgen Moltmann, Godless Theology.

My early years as a Christian were spent in a fairly dualistic Christian culture. Creation and redemption were frequently opposed: salvation meant redemption from the world, from worldliness, from distractions and secondary things. Explicitly and implicitly I received the message that anything that was not a gospel-matter didn’t matter.

Friedrich Nietzsche awoke me from my Platonic slumbers. I began with Beyond Good and Evil (1886): “Christianity is Platonism for ‘the people.’” Nietzsche’s humorous, vigorous, irreverent and megalomaniac take on Western culture and thought helped me to see the world-denying resentment behind much that passed for Christian thought. Reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85) and the Bible, I rediscovered a world-affirming faith. Not a naïve optimism, nor Nietzsche’s heroic Übermensch, but a realisation that the author of salvation is none other than the creator who declared everything “good, very good.” The God who raises the dead brings not redemption from the world, but the redemption of the world.

Nietzsche seeks to vanquish the shadows of god that linger on in Western culture after it has rejected Christianity. The god he banishes is one to whom I’d also like to bid good-riddance. Nietzsche, a self-styled anti-Christ(ian), does Christians a great service through his iconoclasm. Although usually pegged as a philosopher (he briefly held a university position as a philologist), he is also able to “theologise with a hammer,” sounding out the hollow idols and ideals of the Western tradition. This task is integral to any Christian theology worthy of the name.

“I beseech you my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go” (Zarathustra, Prologue, §3).

Adolf Schlatter

Andreas Köstenberger has a very nice post about the brilliant and pious biblical scholar, Adolf Schlatter (1852-1938). Köstenberger is well qualified to talk about Schlatter, since he is himself the translator of Schlatter’s marvellous two-volume New Testament theology (originally published in 1909-10, and published in English in 1997-98 as The History of the Christ and The Theology of the Apostles).

(Thanks to Jason Goroncy for the tip.)

Monday 26 June 2006

Miracles, faith, and unusual events

Over at Pontifications, Mike Liccione offers a very thoughtful response to my recent post on miracles, and he points out my “characteristic ‘heretical’ error” of one-sidedness. Mike’s main argument is that “some events of grace are a lot more amazing than others,” and that miraculous events “have a significant role in eliciting faith.”

Naturally I agree with the former point: some events are more unusual than others. And I wouldn’t want to deny that a given miracle-story in the Bible has an unusual event as its historical basis. But my point is that such an event is a “miracle” not because of anything to do with “divine intervention” or the “laws of nature,” but because of this event’s interpreted place within a particular narrative.

As for Mike’s other point, though: is it true that miracles can “elicit faith”? The miracles of Moses did not seem to elicit faith (except among those who already believed). And the reactions to Jesus’ own miracles were remarkably ambivalent: some people responded in faith, but others concluded that he was demon-possessed. For me, this illustrates the real character of miracles: a specific event can be understood as a “miracle” only from within a particular narrative context; outside that context, the same event may be interpreted in all sorts of other ways, but never as a true “miracle.”

Anyway, let me give the last word to Dostoyevsky. In The Brothers Karamazov, the narrator remarks: “It is not miracles that make a realist turn to religion. A true realist will, if he is an unbeliever, will always find the strength and the ability not to believe in a miracle, and if faced with a miracle as an undeniable fact, he will sooner disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. And if he does admit it, he will admit it as a natural fact hitherto unknown to him. In a realist, faith does not arise from a miracle, but the miracle from faith.”

Your favourite patristic theologian

Well, after 288 votes, it’s clear that your favourite patristic theologian is the great Bishop of Hippo, who received 33% of the votes. Next were Athanasius with 28% and Irenaeus with 23%, followed by Gregory of Nazianzus (9%) and Origen (7%).

I must admit, my own vote also went to Augustine, so I was happy to see that he was the winner. I once spent six months reading virtually nothing else except Augustine, and it did me a world of good. He is an astonishingly vigorous and uniquely beautiful thinker; sometimes I even wonder whether his Confessions might be the best theological book ever written.

Anyway, the next poll will be the Grand Final, where you can choose your favourite theologian from the winners of the last five polls: Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Barth, N. T. Wright, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Augustine.

Book of the week

As a new feature, I’ve added a little box which will display something that I’m currently reading. I don’t know if I’ll keep doing this—but for the time being, I’ll probably change the box once or twice each week, depending on what I happen to be reading at the time.

And on a related note, thanks to all of you who use my search-box for your online shopping. For commissions, I receive much-needed (and fast-spent) credit—which is something that one can never have too much of!

Sunday 25 June 2006

Ten propositions on preaching

by Kim Fabricius

1. What is a sermon? Wrong question. A sermon is not a what but a who. A sermon is Jesus Christ expectorate. You eat the book; it is sweet in the mouth but bitter in the stomach (Rev. 10:9-11); you spit out the Word and spray the congregation. When grace hits the mark, it always begins with an unpleasant recoil.

2. A sermon starts in silence. Before a preacher preaches, she must not preach, she must listen; and when she does preach, it is only because she has to preach. God gave us one mouth and two ears—and the preacher must use them in that proportion.

3. Sermon preparation is primarily the preparation of the preacher, not of the preached. The preparation of the sermon itself will only be as rigorous as the askesis of the preacher. Pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit—and then work like stink. If the Holy Spirit hasn’t been with the preacher in the study, he’s not going to accompany the lazy bastard into the pulpit.

4. Context, context, context. A text without a context is a pretext. The context of scripture, of course, but also the contemporary context—the Bible in one hand, the broadsheet in the other. The clash of two worlds: scriptura probat mundum.

5. Relevance? Blow relevance! It is God who determines relevance. Who wants to hear about relevance? For example, the forgiveness of sins, the whole of the gospel, is relevant—but not because, as the world thinks, the forgiver finds inner healing, but because the guilty one is a sufferer in need of acceptance and embrace. When relevance rules, the tail of the world wags the dog of the church.

6. The gospel itself is not “Repent and be forgiven”—that is sheer legalism—but “You are forgiven, and therefore now free to repent.” Even pagans say, “If you’re sorry, I’ll forgive you.” More to the evangelical point, how can we repent of sin when sin is only known as sin forgiven, when we can only know ourselves as sinners in the light of grace?

7. Technique? Skills? Voice coaching? Forget about them. A sermon is not oratory, a sermon is sui generis. Besides, all theological speech is broken speech. Moses had a stammer, and Paul was embarrassingly inelegant. Smooth tongues are often forked. What has been called “word-care,” however, is a different matter: the practice of word-care is crucial. Literature, particularly poetry, is the school of word-care. Remember: you are responsible for every word you preach.

8. And the latest technology? Woe unto “techies”! Technically, Richard Lischer observes that “when the brain is asked to multi-task by listening and watching at the same time, it always quits listening.” Substantively, if the medium is the message, how can the medium of IT—icon of postmodern power—square with the word of the cross? Lischer provides a thought-experiment: “What would Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech look like in PowerPoint?”

9. Your congregation: know it, live it, love it. This is the perichoresis of preacher and community, and it must lie at the heart of every sermon. If you don’t laugh and weep with your people, you’ve got no right to expect them to hear you preach.

10. Finally, preach like there is no tomorrow—because there isn’t: in the sermon tomorrow is already today. Homiletics is eschatology. On the other hand, if you haven’t struck oil within twenty minutes, stop boring!

I am a fanatic; I will not listen

Jane Austen? I feel that I am approaching dangerous ground. The reputation of Jane Austen is surrounded by cohorts of defenders who are ready to do murder for their sacred cause. They are nearly all fanatics. They will not listen.”

—Arnold Bennett, The Author’s Craft (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968), p. 256.

Saturday 24 June 2006

On help-books for preachers

“The more sermons arise from sermons [in help books], the more estranged they are from the immediacy of religious life, and therefore the more dead they are; and the best auto da fé would be to submit all these help books to the fire.”

—Friedrich Schleiermacher, Friedrich Schleiermachers sämmtliche Werke (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1834-64), I/13, pp. 279-80.

Friday 23 June 2006

For the love of God (19): Why I love Flannery O’Connor

A guest-post by Kyle Potter

Flannery O’Connor was a Roman Catholic fiction writer from Georgia, USA. I love her because her disturbing, macabre stories capture my imagination for the God who is always creating and redeeming the church and the world.

Her stories are often violent, and her characters unsympathetic. There are country-folk and urbanites, intellectual atheists, and pious bigots. However, they stop just short of being caricatures as I realize that they are so much like me. O’Connor invites us to thank God that we are not like the Pharisee who is thanking God for not being like the publican. It is in this realization that the character’s moment of grace and judgment will become my own.

Revelation comes to O’Connor’s protagonists in unexpected and sometimes violent ways, freeing them (and us) from pretensions and self-deceptions. Her stories turn on the fact of the Incarnation, and on a strong sacramental principle: God acts in and through his creation. Through acts of violence and visions of the grotesque, O’Connor depicts the wrath of God moving upon the ungodly—and the ungodly sure do look a lot like me!

In the story “Revelation,” a pious and judgmental woman is sitting at a doctor’s office, pondering the South’s social hierarchy and her own rightful place in it. Suddenly she is attacked by a hysterical teenager who screams at her, “Go back to hell, you old warthog!” The woman realizes this to be a message from Jesus, and she asks him later: “how am I a hog and me both?” In response she receives a purgative vision and observes that even the virtues of the righteous are burned away.

In her visions of costly redemption, O’Connor teaches powerfully that all our righteousness is indeed as filthy rags, but that God is not content to leave us to our own devices, and will shake us awake rather violently if necessary. Bizarre events become movements of grace by an unseen God who wants us to know the truth about ourselves. O’Connor’s characters rarely find salvation, but salvation often comes to get them—and us.

In O’Connor’s stories, the love of God is tender, self-giving and determined, and it is because of this that it is also wrathful. O’Connor thus helps us to see, perhaps happily, that “even the mercy of the Lord burns.”

Why I am not a universalist

On our new blog of the week, The Fire and the Rose, David Congdon has been posting a remarkably interesting series on the topic “Why I am a universalist.” He draws extensively on Karl Barth’s theology in support of a universalist view of grace. Naturally we can try to press Barth’s theology in this direction if we wish. But we shouldn’t forget that Barth himself was always sharply critical of “universalism.”

For Barth, the grace of God is characterised by freedom. On the one hand, this means that we can never impose limits on the scope of grace; and on the other hand, it means that we can never impose a universalist “system” on grace. In either case, we would be compromising the freedom of grace—we would be presuming that we can define the exact scope of God’s liberality. So Barth’s theology of grace includes a dialectical protest: Barth protests both against a system of universalism and against a denial of universalism! The crucial point is that God’s grace is free grace: it is nothing other than God himself acting in freedom. And if God acts in freedom, then we can neither deny nor affirm the possibility of universal salvation.

In Barth’s own words: “The proclamation of the Church must make allowance for this freedom of grace. Apokatastasis Panton? No, for a grace which automatically would ultimately have to embrace each and every one would certainly not be free grace. It surely would not be God’s grace. But would it be God’s free grace if we could absolutely deny that it could do that? Has Christ been sacrified only for our sins? Has he not ... been sacrificed for the whole world? … [Thus] the freedom of grace is preserved on both these sides” (Barth, God Here and Now, pp. 41-42).

For Barth, then, we can neither affirm nor deny the possibility that all will be saved. So what can we do? Barth’s answer is clear: we can “hope” (see CD IV/3, pp. 477-78). And as Hans Urs von Balthasar has also shown, there is all the difference in the world between believing in universal salvation and hoping for it.

Thursday 22 June 2006

What is a miracle?

As part of his ongoing series on Hans Küng, Chris Tilling discusses Küng’s view of miracles. According to Küng, we should focus on what the miracles in the Bible “mean,” without worrying about whether they actually “happened” historically or scientifically. Chris himself disagrees with Küng here, and he promises to offer a friendly critique of Küng in his next post.

Personally, though, I think Küng is basically correct: it is the meaning of an event that gives rise to the designation of “miracle.” Or, in the language of the Fourth Gospel, a miracle is a “sign”—it’s an event that “signifies” the act of God in history within the narrative context of God’s way with his people. Whether or not the event has violated the “laws of nature,” or whether or not the same event can be understood historically and scientifically, is really beside the point. The same event that is purely “natural” from the perspective of historical research may be truly “miraculous” from the perspective of faith—since the miracle-character of the event has nothing to do with the kinds of interpretation that are available to modern historiography.

I think Friedrich Schleiermacher had profound biblical insight when he offered this definition of miracles: “‘Miracle’ is merely the religious name for ‘event,’ every one of which, even the most natural and usual, is a miracle as soon as it adapts itself to the fact that the religious view of it can be the dominant one” (On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers, p. 49).

The “religious view” of the event is the crucial thing; or, in other words, the interpretation of the event. The same event that can (and should!) be explained in secular terms by a historian is nevertheless a “miracle” when it is interpreted within the context of the narrative of God’s journey with his people in the Old and New Testaments.

Eberhard Jüngel: seven theses on the being of Jesus Christ

[I have selected and translated these theses from the long list of theses presented in Jüngel’s article on “the being of Jesus Christ”]

1. The death of Jesus has constitutive meaning for the being of Jesus Christ as true man and true God. The present work of the being of Jesus Christ is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, understood as God’s identification with the crucified, dead and buried man Jesus.

3. The Christian tradition about the death of Jesus is shaped not so much by Jesus’ earthly life as by the interpretations of the end of his life which were based on faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

10. In the judgement and self-understanding of the Easter disciples and the first Christian communities, the resurrection of Jesus was not viewed primarily as a confirmation of the claim of the earthly Jesus, but was rather experienced as the soteriological qualification of Jesus’ death, and only in this way was his earthly claim also proved right.

11. The meaning of the death of Jesus, revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, comes to speech in faith in God’s identification with the crucified man Jesus.

12. In the death of Jesus Christ, God’s judgment over the life of sinners is executed, as God takes the consequences of this judgment upon himself and so reconciles the world to himself.

13. In the abandonment of Jesus Christ unto death, the relationship of the Son to the Father takes place as trust in God amidst Godforsakenness (Gottvertrauen in Gottverlassenheit).

15. In the death of Jesus Christ, God has come nearer to humanity than it could ever be to itself.

—Eberhard Jüngel, “Das Sein Jesu Christi als Ereignis der Versöhnung Gottes mit einer gottlosen Welt,” in Entsprechungen: Gott, Wahrheit, Mensch (München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1986), pp. 276-84.

Eberhard Jüngel online

Since we’re talking about Eberhard Jüngel at the moment, you might be interested in Marc Batko’s website, which offers his own English translations of some of Jüngel’s essays and sermons. Batko is the translator of Dorothee Soelle’s On Earth as in Heaven (1993), and he has an online translation of Jüngel’s sermon on the “Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard”. (He has translated many other theological essays as well, including several by Moltmann.)

Also, be sure to check out David Congdon’s blog, God as the Mystery of Theology—an entire blog devoted to the theology of Eberhard Jüngel!

Wednesday 21 June 2006

For the love of God (18): Why I love Eberhard Jüngel

A guest-post by Thomas Adams

In a world where faith is usually on the defensive, confidence is an essential quality for a theologian. And Eberhard Jüngel has confidence in spades. Indeed, it seems to me that the expression “no apologies” (or “no apologetics”) could serve as the overarching motto for his entire theological program. Whereas others try to ground Christian theology in philosophical principles or human nature, Jüngel asserts (again and again) that “God has spoken”—in Christ, on the cross, once and for all. Despite the complexity of his thought, Jüngel is first and foremost a listener to the Word of the gospel as revealed in Scripture, and his theological method is therefore a daring “chasing after” the Word.

Unlike others who have contributed to this series, I do not have an interesting story about how I came to love and admire Jüngel. I have never met him, or heard him speak, or taken a class on his theology. But on the recommendation of this blog, I naively requested a copy of God as the Mystery of the World (1977) via inter-library loan. The experience of reading this sprawling masterpiece, so dense and so rich, was both frustrating and exhilarating. I learned quickly that Jüngel does not accommodate himself to the reader; instead, the reader must accommodate himself to Jüngel (again, “no apologies”!).

But the theological workout paid sizable dividends, as reading God as the Mystery of the World triggered a seismic shift in my theological perspective. Here I found a thinker whose brilliance was so enormous that his theology could somehow encompass the great minds of the past, both theological and philosophical. Barth and Bultmann, Luther and Aquinas, Hegel and Nietzsche, Descartes and Heidegger—all contribute in different ways to Jüngel’s symphonic theology.

Jüngel also has a polemical side—another admirable trait, in my opinion—that was on display during the controversy surrounding the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. His desire to bring “clarity” to the debate resulted in the book Justification (1999), a masterly presentation of the essence of Lutheran theology. In keeping with the spirit of his entire career, Jüngel declared that Justification “is not a book that takes pleasure in compromise. An ordered theology makes no compromises.” For Jüngel, the gospel needs no apologies.

Barth, Bultmann and Dei Verbum

The latest article in the excellent online journal JCTR is out now: Daniel Gallagher, “The Obedience of Faith: Barth, Bultmann and Dei Verbum,” Journal for Christian Theological Research 10 (2006), 39-63. The article offers a very reliable account of Barth’s and Bultmann’s views of faith, although it doesn’t offer much explicit analysis of Dei Verbum. Here’s the abstract:

The Catholic formulation of “faith” as expressed in Dei Verbum owes much to the influence of Protestant theologians such as Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann. Dei Verbum offers the Pauline phrase “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5 and 16:26) as constitutive for understanding the relationship between the believer and the God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ. This essay examines the obediential dynamic of faith as developed in the exegetical, theological, and ethical work of Barth and Bultmann, demonstrating how the biblical and personalist dimensions of faith implicit in paragraph 5 of Dei Verbum, to a large degree, find their inspiration in the ideas of Barth and Bultmann.

Tuesday 20 June 2006

Will Rowan Williams succeed?

Elizabeth from Irreverent sends this query to the readers of Faith and Theology:

“I’m a female priest who has experience both in the evangelical and mainstream American Church. I’ve been asked to write an article on the aftermath of our General Convention—whatever that turns out to be! My question for you wise men and women is: do you think Rowan Williams can hold the Anglican Communion together? What will he do if the Episcopal Church defies the recommendations of the Windsor Report? And what will happen then...?”

What do you think?

New poll: patristic theologians

Which patristic theologian do you prefer? Cast your vote in the new poll! I apologise for the many omissions here—it was almost impossible to choose for this one, so in the end I simply chose my own five favourite patristic theologians.

Personally, I still can’t decide who to vote for—how does one make a choice between such gigantic figures, such incomparable personalities, such profound creators of thought?

Monday 19 June 2006

For the love of God (17): Why I love Martyn Lloyd-Jones

A guest-post by Guy Davies

I never knew “the Doctor,” who died some years before I was converted. But his books and example have had a formative influence on my life and ministry.

As a new believer in my late teens, I read Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Prove All Things (1985). Most of the Christian literature I had read up to that point were testimony-type books, light on doctrine but full of experiences. But here, I encountered another world. The writer took the text of Scripture seriously and thought deeply about the things of God. I became disenchanted with shallow, experience-based Christianity and longed for something with more depth.

Here are some of the reasons why I love Lloyd-Jones:

Reformed Doctrine: He preached the sovereignty of our triune God in the salvation of sinners. He emphasized the biblical truths that were rediscovered at the Reformation and exemplified by the Puritans and the Calvinist Methodists. With him you get the theology of John Owen without the Latinized prose and rather large wig, and you get Jonathan Edwards’ emphasis on experiencing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Expository Preaching: Lloyd-Jones is well known for his sermons on Romans and Ephesians. He believed that theology is best communicated by preaching—“theology on fire.” What is the point of a theology that is not ablaze with the glory of God? His sermons are a mixture of considered exegesis, doctrinal depth and powerful application. Mrs Lloyd-Jones described her husband as “first of all a man of prayer and then an evangelist.” His Sunday evening services were invariably evangelistic. He urged ministers to seek the anointing of the Spirit on their preaching: “Seek him! Seek him! What can we do without him?”

The Life of the Mind: Lloyd-Jones emphasised the importance of study and scholarship, and he kept abreast of the latest trends in secular and theological thinking. This preacher-theologian helped deliver British evangelicalism from the shallows of anti-intellectualism.

Revival: “The Doctor” had a great burden for an outpouring of the Spirit on the church. He agreed with Jonathan Edwards that the church has grown throughout history as a result of revivals. The need of the hour is not “new ways of doing church,” but a heaven-sent, Christ-glorifying revival.


“Instead of strangling reason, [mystery] invites expansion of the mind and heart. It is not a mystery that leaves us dumb and terrified, but one that leaves us happy, singing and giving thanks. It is not a wall placed in front of us, but a doorway through which we go to the infinity of God.”

—Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society (London: Burns & Oates, 1988), p. 159.

Sunday 18 June 2006

Hegel and Rowan Williams

A provocative column by Giles Fraser in The Guardian suggests that Rowan Williams’ Hegelianism is to blame for the current tensions within the Anglican communion: “The Church of England is currently being tortured by a dead German philosopher.”

Unfortunately the writer’s grasp of Hegel is a little doubtful, since he characterises Hegelianism as the view that “all oppositions can be nuanced into resolution.” Still, this is an interesting attempt to explain some of the painful tensions within the Anglican communion today.

Saturday 17 June 2006

Theology podcast: a biblical sketch of creation

I have just added a new podcast. It’s a brief sketch of the development of creation-theology in the Old and New Testaments (based on some lectures I recently gave on the doctrine of creation). You can listen to it here, or you can get the podcast feed.

I apologise for trailing off mid-sentence at the end of the broadcast, but I was staring absent-mindedly out the window, and I just ran out of things to....

The kingdom of God

“The future Kingdom of God, then, is not something which is to come in the course of time, so that to advance its coming one can do something in particular.... Rather, the Kingdom of God is a power which, although it is entirely future, wholly determines the present.”

—Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus and the Word (New York: Scribner, 1934), p. 44.

Friday 16 June 2006

For the love of God (16): Why I love Thomas F. Torrance

A guest-post by Ray S. Anderson

I went to Edinburgh in 1970 to study under Tom Torrance after reading Theology in Reconstruction (1965) and Theological Science (1969), both of which are heavily underlined, marking my first introduction to an incarnational theology presented with scientific rigor, and grounded in a trinitarian epistemology of the self-revealing act of God. “We are not concerned simply with a divine revelation which demands from us all a human response,” he wrote, “but with a divine revelation which already includes a true and appropriate and fully human response as part of his achievement for us and to us and in us” (TIR, 131).

After sitting in his lectures for two years and writing my dissertation under his direction, I came to appreciate even more the deeply devotional, even pietistic life of faith that lay hidden behind his often forbidding erudition and the semantic thicket of his writing. Born in China of Scottish missionary parents, he was as comfortable talking about his personal relationship with Jesus as he was lecturing to an assembly of world class physicists (as he did on the occasion of the anniversary of Einstein’s 100th birthday).

In 1986 I spent a week with him in Hong Kong where we were both invited to present lectures and dialogue with Confucionist scholars on eastern and western versions of human nature. It was there, sharing a flat with him where we cooked our own breakfast, that I finally dared to make the transition from being “his student” to a colleague, brother in Christ and personal friend—a transition made difficult only by my own deference to his immense learning, but made easy by the grace of his own humanity.

Now, after publishing more than two dozen books (including his forthcoming lectures in dogmatic theology), and having suffered a minor stroke some time ago, 92-year-old Professor Torrance lives in an assisted care facility in Edinburgh. When one of my former students recently visited him and asked, “Are you not bored just sitting here?” Tom replied, “Oh no, I am talking to the Lord.” When asked if he had a message for me, he replied: “Yes, tell him I am going to heaven soon.”

As one of the primary translators of Barth and one whose theology follows in that tradition, Torrance has made his own indelible mark as a post-Barthian, evangelically situated theologian. He is often misunderstood, and he is sometimes caricatured for his “take no prisoners” approach to the defense of the faith. But I love him for all of that!

Depressed theologians?

I was talking with a friend recently about depression. And this got me thinking about some of the Christian theologians who have suffered from depression. Of course, there are problems involved in diagnosing people from earlier centuries, but it does seem that many important theological thinkers have suffered from depression, and sometimes from severe depression.

Some names that come to mind are Augustine, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Søren Kierkegaard, Adolf Schlatter, Rudolf Otto (who may even have attempted suicide), and Paul Tillich. Interestingly, in some cases, the experience of depression seems to have played a formative role in the person’s theological development—just think of Luther or Kierkegaard!

Anyway, do you know of any other theologians who have experienced depression?

Three books on Scripture

Mike Bird points us to a long post in which D. A. Carson reviews and critiques three recent books on the doctrine of Scripture: John Webster’s Holy Scripture, Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation, and N. T. Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God. If you’re familiar with Carson’s perspective, then you will probably find his criticisms predictable enough.

Thursday 15 June 2006

For the love of God (15): Why I love Wolfhart Pannenberg

A guest-post by Sean du Toit

“True respect for the mystery [of the incarnation] can express itself, among other ways, just in the attempt to understand it fully.” —Wolfhart Pannenberg

As an undergraduate I delved into various theologies, hoping they could guide me in a quest better to understand the God of the Bible. But it was not until I picked up a used copy of Jesus: God and Man (1964) by Wolfhart Pannenberg that I made significant progress. Others had helped me to see the transcendence of God and the majesty of the creator, but Pannenberg brought me face to face with the manifestation of God’s glory on planet earth. It was here that the discovery of the historical Jesus became relevant to my expedition of fides quaerens intellectum.

Instead of assuming Jesus’ divinity, Pannenberg saw the task of Christology as offering reasons why one should embrace the divinity of Jesus. His commitment to Scripture as the defining source of theological reflection has encouraged me many times. In an age in which systematic theology and biblical studies have long been separated, Pannenberg has brought back together what none of us should ever have separated.

Pannenberg awakened in me a love for the historical Jesus and for careful study of Scripture, as well as an awareness of other issues in theology, such as the role of science, ethics, anthropology and metaphysics. This does not mean that I fully understand or appreciate all that Pannenberg has to offer. But I have found him to be a worthy friend who leads us to discover more and more about the world we live in, the God who is there, and the hope that will unite us all in the future.

It was this unknown German, in a random bookshop, who introduced me to my first love. He is thus my cupid, the one who lured me into a place of love and devotion. And that is why I love Wolfhart Pannenberg.

Barth and Balthasar

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s birth, TVZ has published a new book exploring von Balthasar’s interpretation of Karl Barth and the contemporary ecumenical significance of this interpretation.

The volume, entitled Karl Barth—Hans Urs von Balthasar: Eine theologische Zwiesprache, is edited by Wolfgang W. Müller, and it includes essays by Müller, Béatrice Acklin Zimmermann, Martin Bieler, Thomas Krenski, Gottfried W. Locher and Werner Löser.

Coming soon to a library near you...

Wednesday 14 June 2006

For the love of God (14): Why I love Kathryn Tanner

A guest-post by Chris Tessone

“[In the Incarnation], God is doing what God is always doing, attempting to give all that God is to what is not God” (Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology, p. 15).

This conviction about the constant, unconditional grace of God lies at the center of Kathryn Tanner’s theology. There is no moment at which God chooses to withhold the constant stream of grace from creation—it is part of God’s identity that God wishes to share with humanity and the rest of the world all that is shared between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This leads Tanner to some tremendous conclusions.

First, this universal access to grace leads her to stress the importance of non-competitive economies of grace in human life. If the Divine wishes to bring us into the shared life of the Trinity no matter what short-comings we bring, this should radically transform our relations with one another. In her most recent book, Economy of Grace (2005), Tanner expands this to include financial economies that are non-competitive or that seek to distribute wealth downward, to the neediest and the least in society.

Her theology is also deeply Eucharistic, highlighting the role of the Eucharist in training us to accept and freely distribute the grace of God. “[T]he character and quality of our union with Christ must be bettered, heightened from weak union to strong, for example, through the repeated performance of the Eucharist in the power of the Spirit.” This permits us to “live in God and not simply in relationship with God,” sharing the grace we receive in a profligate manner, not worrying that it will be diminished or wasted on the “undeserving.” One reason I love Tanner’s theology is that this understanding of the Eucharist speaks more directly to my experience of it than any other I’ve encountered.

Kathryn Tanner’s theology is located at a very fruitful “sweet spot” between the mystical and the exoteric; the church of the Eucharist and the church of social justice; our powerful, transcendent God and our intimate, immanent God. Her central concepts of profligate grace and non-competitiveness can challenge and transform our deeply divided church of today.

Tuesday 13 June 2006

A geography lesson with Karl Barth

“How can we make clear the victory of Christ? In this way: when speaking of sin, demons, darkness, by not speaking of them in too tragic a manner—like the German theologians, all so serious! The further north you go in Germany, the more they are concerned with the realm of darkness. And if you move to the Scandinavian countries, all is darkness: God against Satan, and vice versa! ... It is not wise to be too serious.”

Karl Barth’s Table Talk, ed. John D. Godsey (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1963), pp. 16-17.

A new Bob Dylan album

The announcement came just a few hours ago. In August this year, Bob Dylan will be releasing a new album entitled Modern Times—his first original album since 11 September 2001 (this was the gloomy date on which his last album appeared). The apocalyptic Dylan has long been prophesying the end of the world—but I sure hope the world doesn’t end before the release of Modern Times....

Anyway, I can hardly imagine how I’ll endure the suspense between now and August. To borrow a phrase from Dylan: “The next sixty seconds could be like an eternity.”

Monday 12 June 2006

For the love of God (13): Why I love Stanley Hauerwas

A guest-post by Kim Fabricius

I have never met Stanley Hauerwas, but a colleague who has describes him as a thoroughly unpleasant man. Another colleague tells of Hauerwas at Cambridge dismissing Jürgen Moltmann as “full of shit.” And Hauerwas himself admits to a violent streak.

As a New Yorker I am inclined to snipe: “What else do you expect from a Texan?” But then Hauerwas also happens to be an Episcopalian layman and one of the church’s most outspoken apostles of non-violence. Gandhi would not be surprised: the violent, he said, often make the best pacifists.

Rowan Williams
I love because he’s so humble and irenic; Stanley Hauerwas I love because he’s such a rootin’ tootin’ gunslinger. He stands in the venerable tradition of the rabies theologorum that can be traced back to the vitriolic Paul, via the hot-headed Luther and the ruthless Augustine.

Theologically, I like the way Hauerwas keeps his work seamless: dogmatics and ethics (Barth), doctrine and narrative (MacIntyre), character and action (Bonhoeffer), church and world (Yoder). The accusation of sectarianism is preposterous, as Hauerwas roars his counter-cultural critiques in the fora. The professor’s The Peaceable Kingdom (1983) will issue in the public intellectual’s Dissent from the Homeland: Essays after September 11 (2003). Here Hauerwas declares: “I do not have a foreign policy. I have something better—a church constituted by people who would rather die than kill.” He also says: “If we do not think it possible to love our enemies then we should plainly say Jesus is not the messiah.”

The Sermon on the Mount obviously resources Hauerwas’ theology, but the ultimate source is the God who is our friend. Indeed “friendship” lies at the heart of Hauerwas’ understanding of the Christian life, and informs his thinking not only on peacemaking, but also on sexuality, abortion and—a special concern—the mentally handicapped. Indeed, the recent Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words (2004) is more poignant than polemical.

Hauerwas may be a son-of-a-bitch—but he is our son-of-a-bitch.

Accepting a formula

“The reduction of the spiritual life of mankind to the mere respectful acceptance of a formula was, in fact, the last absurdity of the eighteenth century.”

—John Baillie, Our Knowledge of God (London: Oxford University Press, 1939), p. 158.

Sunday 11 June 2006

The ecumenical requirement

“But the most important requirement for [the ecumenical] venture is that both partners in the dialogue have God before them and not behind them. All movement must be towards God, the depth of whose wisdom and mystery appears always to increase.”

—Hans Urs von Balthasar, Who Is a Christian? (London: Burns & Oates, 1968), p. 39.

Saturday 10 June 2006

More on the theological world cup

It’s time to start voting over at Patrik’s blog—here, here and here.

I’m delighted to see that Gerhard Ebeling has made it into the competition—Ebeling is one of my favourite modern theologians, and I never get tired of reading and re-reading him. His theology is a unique blend of Luther, Schleiermacher, Bultmann and the later Heidegger: there’s really nothing else quite like it. No one else has more convincingly demonstrated that it is still possible (even after Barth!) to do powerful, gripping dogmatics in the tradition of Schleiermacher. And Ebeling’s great student, Eberhard Jüngel, has since demonstrated that it is possible to do dogmatics in the tradition of both Schleiermacher and Barth.

So please, if nothing else, stop by and vote for Ebeling!

Your favourite Anglican theologian

After 137 votes, it seems that the favourite contemporary Anglican theologian is N. T. Wright (53%), followed by Rowan Williams (25%), and then Oliver O’Donovan (9%), John Milbank (7%) and Kathryn Tanner (6%).

Rowan Williams was very popular among voters from the United Kingdom, while Oliver O’Donovan was especially popular in Australia and New Zealand. In contrast, North American voters overwhelmingly preferred N. T. Wright (although, interestingly, people from the east coast of the US were more inclined to vote for Williams or O’Donovan). But on the whole it was a landslide victory for the Bishop of Durham.

Now that we’ve decided on the most popular Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican theologians, we might as well hold a poll in which you can vote for the finalists. But we need one more poll first to give us our five finalists. So what should the next poll be? Greek orthodox theologians? Heretics? Baptists? Methodists? Liberation theologians? Women theologians? Let us know if you’ve got any ideas for the next poll....

Jonathan Edwards and beauty

“It was in the vocabulary of the language of beauty that Edwards expressed his most important theological and philosophical ideas.... For Edwards, [God] was the ‘foundation and fountain’ of all beauty. The triune God was seen to be a society of love and beauty. God’s Holy Spirit was beauty. All beauty, indeed all creation, was the overflow of God’s inner-trinitarian beauty. Beauty was, for Edwards, the very structure of being.”

—Louis J. Mitchell, Jonathan Edwards on the Experience of Beauty (Studies in Reformed Theology and History, New Series No. 9; Princeton: Princeton Theological Seminary, 2003), p. 105.

Friday 9 June 2006

For the love of God (12): Why I love Hans Küng

A guest-post by Chris Tilling

Somewhere Hans Küng has said something like this: “I want to be worldly enough that I can be of worldly use.”

Not the most convincing start to this post, admittedly, and the fact that I couldn’t find the exact quote has been driving me nuts. Alas, had I found it, I may even have sounded as smart as Kim and Cynthia, et al. But now, you know, I’m just a grumpy New Testament man masquerading as a theologian.

There is much that I could love about Küng: that he has engaged with an astonishingly broad spectrum of subjects; that his ecclesiology rings very well with my inner evangelical (with a focus on a proper appreciation of the New Testament heritage); or that his ecumenism strives laudably to approach years of religiously motivated bad feeling in open dialogue.

However, it is the opening words (mutters again at not finding the reference) that sum up, for me, why Küng is such a likeable theologian: he is a thinker for theological borderlands, for the questions that aren’t simply about the inner logic of Christian doctrine, for questions that don’t presuppose an already-in-place Christian faith.

He made this clear in his opening words in On Being a Christian (1974), but this is also seen in his open an honest engagement with questions of science, the existence of God, and how one can develop a reasonable faith in the “modern world.”

Moreover, highly significant is Küng’s engagement with the historical-critical method. The historical-critical method is so often overlooked or pushed aside in systematic theologies, as if it didn’t exist, as if its results were of no significance. But Küng has always had a feel for its importance. “Responsible faith today,” he argued back in the 70s, “presupposes—directly or indirectly—historical research.” The New Testament researcher in me punches the air!

However, Küng wants to engage in such open questions to serve the church and to inform its praxis. Naïve faith, he knows, can mean a life not lived in accord with the kingdom of God.

Of course, Küng is not perfect, and my words of praise might sound rather naïve in the ears of my Catholic friends. Also, his appreciation of the “modern frame of mind” may well be past its sell-by date. But what I love about Küng remains of vital importance to me and my personal development as a Christian—as I too want to be worldly enough to be of worldly use.

Theological finalists

Patrik has now listed his 32 systematic finalists (somehow the unpopular John Hick still made it into the finals!). And Joshua is running a poll on American theologians, so stop by and vote (all my money is on Robert Jenson).

Thursday 8 June 2006

For the love of God (11): Why I love Thomas Groome

A guest-post by Aaron Ghiloni

Thomas Groome makes me hot. Unlike Patrik, who met his love prematurely, I encountered Groome belatedly. I had already been involved in faith education for some time, when I finally discovered what it was all about. Though I had met Groome before, we had only flirted. Reading Thomas Groome in the summery shadow of Presidio Park’s cypress pines, I was peeved that we hadn’t had this conversation sooner, relieved to find that my work was legitimate, captivated by his comprehensive approach, and, yes, I was in love. Like Augustine, my adoring heart confessed: “Late have I loved you!”

I love Thomas Groome because he helps me to see—in theory, practice, and praxis—what real Christian education might be. I love Thomas Groome because he enables me to envision a church that truly knows its God and a world that is becoming the kingdom of God.

Groome’s education for the reign of God draws on the best of resources available to educators. He is part Deweyan and part Huebnerian; fully Catholic and yet patiently catholic; completely liberationist and yet more than just political. Groome enables us to remember our selves, healing the “forgetfulness of being” that has so marked Western intelligentsia. Groome’s “shared Christian praxis” connects with our very marrow, and, for lovers, it connects deep within the heart.

In a field delirious with “tricks of the trade” and “how-to” simplicities, Groome provides a theoretical basis for practical theology that is fully informed by the Western philosophical tradition, by the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and by theological landmarks.

Thomas Groome makes me hot: hot to teach, hot to learn, hot to grow, hot to remember, hot to be, hot to become.

Rome warns Canterbury against women bishops

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has warned the Church of England that a move to ordain women as bishops would destroy the possibility of full communion with the Catholic Church.

Kaspar makes several ominous remarks about the ecumenical effects of ordaining women as bishops. But his main argument is: “Where mutual recognition and communion between bishops does not exist or no longer exists, where one can therefore no longer concelebrate the Eucharist, then no church communion, at least no full church communion and thus no eucharistic communion, can exist.”

Walter Kasper is an admirable churchman and a very gifted theologian, and I can see where he’s coming from in all this. But let’s be frank: it’s a real shame when the question of women’s ordination is reduced merely to a matter of ecumenical politics.

Wednesday 7 June 2006

Karl Barth and Johnny Cash

Lately I have been reading Karl Barth during the day, and then listening to Johnny Cash at night—which prompts the following short quiz:

Name something that Johnny Cash and Karl Barth have in common.

Moltmann and the pilgrimage of love

The good people at Oxford University Press kindly sent me a complimentary copy of Joy Ann McDougall’s new book, Pilgrimage of Love: Moltmann on the Trinity and Christian Life, to review for the Jürgen Moltmann email list.

So I’ve written a 1000-word review of the book, which you can read if you’re a member of the list (and if you’re not a member, you might want to join—it’s really one of the best theological lists around).

Here’s an excerpt from my review:

“While Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz has influentially argued that the heart of Moltmann’s theology is the theme of liberation, McDougall mounts a compelling argument that Moltmann’s whole theology is best understood as a theology of love centred on the trinitarian fellowship. This idea of loving trinitarian fellowship, she argues, is not just a recurring motif in Moltmann’s work, but it provides ‘the doctrinal structuring principle for his entire theology’. McDougall’s study thus offers an illuminating account of the theological centrality of the love of God, and a valuable new hermeneutic for reading Moltmann’s entire theological project.”

Tuesday 6 June 2006

For the love of God (10): Why I love Henri de Lubac

A guest-post by Travis Ables

“If our nature is not at home with the supernatural, the supernatural is at home with our nature.” (Maurice Blondel, Letter on Apologetics)

Ben has asked that these posts bear upon the matter of love as much as that of the theologian in question. Accordingly we might thematize the eros of theology like this: first, theology is a task of and for the church; and second, it takes as the means toward its object the tradition of the church, the communio sanctorum. The latter has been by no means a given in modern theology. That it has become obligatory has many sources, but one of the most important is the movement we know as la nouvelle théologie—and Henri de Lubac must take first place among this movement’s luminaries. La nouvelle théologie marked a return to the sources, a return to the theological tradition of the church rather than a palimpsest reading constrained by the accretions of a school tradition.

The Mystery of the Supernatural, for example, must take precedence as one of the most important theological works of the twentieth century. Attacking the neo-Thomist reification of natura pura, de Lubac argues stridently for the true Thomist and Augustinian tradition: the natural is ineluctably and irresistibly drawn toward that which it has no capacity for. Nature can only be explained by the supernatural, which nonetheless remains wholly gratuitous as the gift of God. The paradox of the human being is that she is oriented toward a destiny for which she has no equipment, an act for which she has no capacity. Grace perfects nature—it is its crown and consummation, but it never ceases to be wholly grace.

It wasn’t until I began to read de Lubac that I understood the significance of the Catholic discussion of nature and grace. At issue here is the very essence of human being. Indeed, de Lubac’s brilliant recovery further authorizes a radical rethinking of the entire concept of nature as such—the laicized infinity of the natural order that is constitutive of modern thinking and has left us with little recourse to overcome the episteme that inevitably forces us toward Deism or an arbitrary supranaturalism.

Further, de Lubac has helped to bring theology back to its home in and for the church, so that theology conforms to its divine object and remains guided by what de Lubac’s student Jean-Yves Lacoste has called a “hermeneutic of restlessness”: the constant seeking of the life of the mind for the mystery of the supernatural, the quest for the understanding of faith that must be premised on the gift of faith.

Theology has not always understood what de Lubac had to remind his readers: “The whole of tradition tells us this: it is one of the forms of the fruitfulness of the mystery that it gives birth in [humanity’s] mind to a movement which can never end. To be afraid of it is a failure of faith.”

Systematic theology world cup

Our friend Patrik is hosting the inaugural World Cup of Systematic Theologians. You need to leave a comment here, nominating your favourite twentieth-century theologians for the contest. You might want to consider nominating one of our sadly marginalised English-language dogmaticians like T. F. Torrance, Robert W. Jenson, John Macquarrie, Stanley Grenz or Colin Gunton.

Colin Gunton and Oswald Bayer

There are not yet many books about Colin Gunton or Oswald Bayer. But a new book released this week compares their different accounts of creation and ethics:

Hans Schaeffer, Createdness and Ethics: The Doctrine of Creation and Theological Ethics in the Theology of Colin E. Gunton and Oswald Bayer (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2006).

Monday 5 June 2006

For the love of God (9): Why I love Jonathan Edwards

A guest-post by T. B. Vick

Jonathan Edwards has been called the greatest American thinker. Having read and re-read much of what Edwards has written, I would agree with this sentiment. In fact, Edwards was one of the first theologians I encountered in my own theological studies. After studying both theology and philosophy, I have often thought that the best theologians are those who have immersed themselves in philosophy. And Edwards was no exception.

Edwards had, I think, a nice balance between theology and philosophy, and he knew how they worked together. His work on human nature and human will (especially in The Freedom of the Will) still offers perhaps one of the best explanations ever produced on the fallen human condition. In addition to his theological work, Edwards was a Congregational pastor, and his sermons were published and are still being read today. Among these is, of course, the famous (but often misunderstood or misrepresented) sermon titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

But aside from all this, Edwards was also a poet, a musician, a lover of nature and the outdoors, the last of the great puritans, and a friend and counselor to many in his day, even when he himself was suffering from great bouts of depression. While I do not necessarily agree with everything Edwards wrote, I still think he is a force to be reckoned with. In my opinion he is one of the most underappreciated theologians in Christian history—but time will tell how much he really contributed to the theological landscape. Perhaps eventually we will catch up to the thinking of Jonathan Edwards.

New poll: Anglican theologians

Well, we’ve had polls recently for Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed theologians. And a few people suggested a poll for Anglican theologians as well. Of course, it was hard to choose representative theologians for the Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed polls, because there are just so many great thinkers in these traditions—there is an embarrassment of riches. But when we turn to Anglican theology, we find the other kind of embarrassment: although the Anglican tradition has produced many great scholars, it has produced few great theological thinkers.

Fortunately, though, there are some good constructive Anglican theologians working today. So I thought I’d limit this poll to contemporary Anglican theologians. As a New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright might seem like an odd choice—but I’ve included him since a lot of his work crosses the boundary between New Testament scholarship and contemporary theological reflection.

So which contemporary Anglican theologian do you like best? Come and cast your vote!

Sunday 4 June 2006

The meaning of Pentecost

“The episode with Cornelius [in Acts 10] shows that the Jews ‘were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out even on Gentiles.’ ... What we have here, therefore, is a twofold process. On the one hand, there is a universalisation of the presence of God: from being localised and linked to a particular people, it gradually extends to all the peoples of the earth. On the other hand, there is an internalisation, or rather, an integration of this presence: from dwelling in places of worship, this presence is transferred to the heart of human history.... Christ is the point of convergence of both processes. In him, in his personal uniqueness, the particular is transcended and the universal becomes concrete. In him, in his Incarnation, what is personal and internal becomes visible....

Finally, let us emphasise that here there is no ‘spiritualisation’ involved.... The ‘pro-fane,’ that which is located outside the temple, no longer exists.”

—Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation (New York: Orbis, 1973), pp. 109-110.

Saturday 3 June 2006

For the love of God (8): Why I love Jürgen Moltmann

A guest-post by Thom Chittom

“I first read Theology of Hope in April 1973,” writes Richard Bauckham, “and I remember that first reading as one of the most exciting theological experiences of my life.”

I couldn’t agree more. My paperback Fortress edition—dog-eared, coffee stained, highlighted, annotated and signed!—is a cornerstone of my theological library. And why? Because of Jürgen Moltmann.

Of course, Jürgen Moltmann may as well come from another planet. I’m an American, and a Southerner at that. Moltmann was a teenage Nazi, a Hamburger in Hitler’s dying Reich. He found hope in Christ as an Allied prisoner of war in Britain, and discovered a theology of hope absorbed in the maverick Marxist machinations of Ernst Bloch’s Das Prinzip Hoffnung while on vacation with his wife Elisabeth. He romantically recited lengthy sections while they walked together along the piney Bayern trails.

Later on, the 1964 publication of Theologie der Hoffnung (translated as Theology of Hope in 1967) made Moltmann the bushy-browed theological superstar of an international Zeitgeist. An impossibility in the present Western malaise, no matter its technologies! Indeed, Moltmann is completely Herr-und-Sie-formal old-school, a luddite who has never even had an email address. When I broached the subject of with him one afternoon, he only scowled: “I’m just an old European!” Yep, Jürgen Moltmann is pretty close to theo-irresistibility!

See, that father of hope-theology gave me a future. As he says, the resurrection of Christ from the dead “announces the coming of a not yet existing reality from the nature of the truth.” That makes history into real history—real past, real present, real future—rather than dismissing it into an ideological lacuna, as did the premil-dispensationalism of my youth. Unencumbered by the possibilities of the past, Promise strides out of the empty tomb before history itself, pulling everything along behind it, going out to meet its own prophetic pronouncements in missionary zeal, the whole world “involved in God’s eschatological process of history, not only the world of men and nations.” And there, too, is my neighbor! “Faith [in the promises] does not come into its own in becoming radically unworldly, but by hopeful outgoing into the world it becomes a benefit to the world.”

Indeed, I love Jürgen Moltmann because he widened my horizons. He is a prolific theologian (three book-length bibliographies have been published), a political thinker in the best sense of the word, and a man for whom theology is still a wrestling with God. And his message is everywhere and always the same, that “through the knowledge of the resurrection of the crucified the contradiction that is always and everywhere perceptible [is] taken up into the confidence of hope.”

Thank God for atheists

Kim Fabricius thanks God for atheists—and, as usual, Kim is right on the money. A couple of years ago I saw a public debate between an atheist and a famous Christian apologist, and I found that at every point of the debate I identified myself wholly with the atheist.

The Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch has suggested that “only an atheist can be a good Christian”; and, in conversation with Bloch, Jürgen Moltmann once reversed this remark by saying: “Only a Christian can be a good atheist.” Moltmann was exactly right. As Christians, we should be atheists for the sake of the gospel, thoroughgoing atheists who say No to the God of “theism” precisely in order to say Yes to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday 1 June 2006

Biblical Studies Carnival VI

“Like a bullet we’ll shoot for the carnival route
We’re following them dusty old fairgrounds a-calling”
—Bob Dylan, “Dusty Old Fairgrounds” (1973)

Welcome to the Sixth Biblical Studies Carnival, brought to you from the dusty old fairgrounds of Brisbane, Australia. This Carnival offers a glimpse of recent posts relating to biblical studies from around the blogosphere. Biblical studies has a large and active presence on the net, so I can only give you a tiny sample here. If you want to read more, make sure you check out the list of biblical studies blogs at the Biblioblogs site.

Highlight: An Unpapal Conclave

The highlight of recent biblical studies blogging is Loren Rossen’s unpapal conclave on the historical Jesus. Loren takes up John Meier’s suggestion in A Marginal Jew that an “unpapal conclave” should be locked away “until [it] had hammered out a consensus document on who Jesus was and what he intended in his own time and place.”

Loren assembles such a (virtual) conclave to find out if there is any consensus on the question: “Who was the historical Jesus?” The conclave consists of atheists, Jews, agnostics, Protestants, Catholics, a Unitarian, and an evangelical. Unsurprisingly, there was not much consensus! Or, as Stephen Carlson put it, the experiment showed that “it is easier to get agreement about what Jesus said and did than what he meant by those words and deeds.” The experiment was critiqued by Mark Goodacre, and was discussed by Michael Pahl, James Crossley and Lingamish. Chris Weimer also set up a forum to discuss the experiment.

Loren’s experiment—whatever it be might be taken to mean about the historical Jesus!—is a brilliant example of the way contemporary scholarship can creatively utilise the possibilities of cyberspace. To get the full story, you’ll need to read Loren’s whole series of posts here, here, here and here.


Some of the most enjoyable posts this month have been in the area of translation. Henry Neufeld provides a nice new translation of Psalm 46, and in a series of posts at Biblicalia (here, here, here and here), Kevin Edgecomb offers his own translation of 1 Clement, a translation that aims to capture the rhetorical flavour of the Greek text. Complementing this, Rick Brannan translates 2 Clement 1; and as part of his ongoing series on the Didache, Rick also provides a translation with notes on Didache 3:7-10.

Hebrew Bible

In the field of the Hebrew Bible, Ken Ristau analyses biblical and cuneiform law by assessing two recent articles on the topic. The Daily Hebrew blog has been working through the Hebrew text of Genesis 18-19 with detailed grammatical notes; and in two posts (here and here), Claude Mariottini explores Daniel 9:25-27. Meanwhile, Joe Cathey offers a poll about the centre of Old Testament theology, which prompts Kevin Wilson, Christopher Heard and Jim West to discuss the question of a “centre.” And Jim Davila presents a very nice photo essay on a seminal early-18th-century edition of Old Testament pseudepigrapha.

New Testament

In the field of New Testament studies, Mike Bird discusses the case for and against a rhetorical approach to Paul’s letters, and Sean du Toit raises hermeneutical questions about the interpretation of the New Testament household codes in relation to the contemporary question of women's role in the church. Chris Petersen offers two posts (here and here) on E. P. Sanders' view of Paul, the Law and the Jewish people, and Danny Zacharias discusses questions of chronology in the last supper traditions. Scot McKnight tries to set the record straight about the meaning of “the wrath of God” in Romans 1, while Richard Anderson discusses the concept of covenant in Luke-Acts.

Meanwhile, Richard Bauckham has been in the limelight, with Celucien Joseph discussing Bauckham’s view of New Testament christology while Jonathan Brown reviews God Crucified, and Chris Tilling announces that he will be interviewing Bauckham about his (no doubt controversial) new book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.


On more general methodological topics, Andreas Köstenberger discusses the future of evangelical scholarship on the New Testament, AKMA discusses biblical hermeneutics, and Jim West suggests some rules of engagement for debate in biblical studies. And in a series of seven posts, Michael Barber explores philosophical and methodological issues in historical Jesus research.

Da Vinci Code

Meanwhile, there has been a continuing storm of activity as biblical scholars engage in debunking the eminently debunkable Da Vinci Code. Notably, at the Slate website, Larry Hurtado enters the fray with a discussion of the historical claims of The Da Vinci Code, while Ben Witherington discusses Dan Brown's own personal experience of Christianity. Lesa Bellevie continues to post regularly about Mary Magdalene, while, from a Catholic perspective, Michael Barber points out ten clear errors in The Da Vinci Code.


Finally, it seems May was a big month for Bible Software. Rick Brannan discusses the release of Logos Bible Software 3, while Danny Zacharias mentions the release of Accordance 7. And on a related note, D. Christopher Spinks suggests that the traits of Web 2.0 might translate into traits of theological interpretation.

And the Carnival Rolls On...

Well, thanks for joining us here for the Sixth Biblical Studies Carnival. The Carnival rolls on, and next month it will be hosted by Joe Cathey, so keep an eye out for his call for submissions.

“Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left.”
—Victor Hugo

Benedict XVI visits Auschwitz

This week Benedict XVI visited Auschwitz, both as a Christian and as “a son of the German people.” He said:

“To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible, and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a pope from Germany.... In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can be only a dread silence, a silence which itself is a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent?”


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