Friday 28 October 2016

Postgraduate seminar on Karl Barth: what to read?

This year it was Origen; next year I’ll be teaching a postgraduate seminar on the theology of Karl Barth. It’s a 12-week course and I’m trying to decide on the readings. Barth presents special challenges here, given the huge slow expansiveness of his best work. The best seminar in the world would be one on Church Dogmatics IV – but where on God’s good earth are the students who would agree to read the requisite 3,000 pages?

Anyway, I’ve come up with three possible approaches so far, and I’d love to know what you think. Which of these would you prefer if you were doing a seminar like this? Which texts you would choose if you were the teacher? Anyone else out there have experience with a course like this?

First Idea. Barth’s early theology

The Word of God and Theology (2 weeks)
Epistle to the Romans (5 weeks)
Göttingen Dogmatics (5 weeks)

Second Idea. Barth’s dogmatics

Göttingen Dogmatics (5 weeks)
Michael Allen’s Church Dogmatics reader (5 weeks)
The Humanity of God (2 weeks)

Third Idea. Barth’s doctrine of creation

Parts of Church Dogmatics III/1 – creation and covenant (6 weeks)
Parts of Church Dogmatics III/3 – providence and evil (6 weeks)

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Election day doodlings

The trick to ending a sermon is to stop without concluding. Paul Valéry observed that “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” So too a sermon.

Why did God give us clothes? Not to inhibit the sex-drive. (Fat chance!) No, but so that we should think. Or haven’t you noticed that it’s almost impossible to cogitate in the nude?

God said, “Did you eat the fruit I told you not to eat?” The man answered, “The woman you put here with me gave me the fruit. She doesn’t understand me” (Genesis 3:11b-12, Original Autograph).

I was all for “True Love Waits” until I realised – silly me – that it isn’t an album by the dude whose voice has been described as sounding like “it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car” (Daniel Durchholz).

At first, grief is like an occupying army. Then it slowly begins to withdraw its troops, but it always leaves some commandos behind. And though the numbers continue to dwindle, you’re never safe: there is always the chance of an ambush.

“If I can be saved, there is no one beyond redemption.” I have said it myself. Alas, yet another instance of egotism masquerading as humility.

We act like we are the directors of our petits récits when in fact we are just the actors – actors who have forgotten our lines and aren’t very good at improvising.

My waking nightmare: the US has turned into Jurassic Park and its people are being terrorised by a Trumpasaurus Wrecks.

The relationship between Donald Trump and women can be put in terms of General relativity: Trump tells women how to curve, women tell Trump where to go.

Asked about the fulsome endorsement of Jerry Falwell, Jr., the Donald replied, “It’s great to have the support of the distinguished president of Libertine University.”

Asked to name his favourite passages from the Bible, Trump said, “It’s a toss-up between Genesis 34 and Judges 19. Both have been an inspiration.”

Desperate for a song to spearhead his campaign and market his character during the final few weeks before the election, the Donald is going for a classic from the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature: “Lay, Lady, Lay”.

Why does Trump want to be president? I used to think it was the narcissism of power. Now add the sex: he thinks he’ll get laid more. In a Trump White House the Blue Room will be known for its films rather than its receptions, while the Green Room will be repainted and renamed the Shades of Grey Room.

A big fan of the first two amendments, Trump is not so keen on the first two commandments. Or #s 3, 4, 7, 8, or 9 for that matter. And I suspect he thinks #6 is a bloody nuisance, written for losers. I will, however, give the brat #5.

I’ve not long returned from visiting my mum in New York. What a grotesque spectacle it was observing the sulphurous figure of Trump smirking and strutting while his minders appeared on news programmes assiduously trying to polish a turd.

The most salient feature of this presidential election is anger. There is, to be sure, a godly anger, imbued with sorrow and sympathy. Like the anger of the prophets. Like the anger of Jesus. But the anger in America is proud and pitiless. It is an anger unto death.

Why have white male evangelicals been flocking to a wolf? Apart from the moral paranoia, camp revivalism, American exceptionalism, and smug misogyny, it’s because Trump incarnates a realised eschatology of wrath and damnation.

Evangelical leaders who, while conceding his egregious flaws, support Trump are fond of citing Augustine, as if the bishop of Hippo had declared (in Letter 211): “Cum delectione hominum et odio vitiorum – et suffragio assholum” (“Hate the sin, love the sinner – and vote for the asshole”).

Don’t think for a minute that Trump is stupid. He’s pig ignorant, but snake smart.

The Trump campaign and the coulrophobia epidemic – a coincidence?

Trump scares me, but it’s Trumpism, embodied in the 40%, that terrifies me: the spectre of the normalising of the campaign into a movement, a demonic parody of a martyr’s blood becoming the seed of a church.

Some Christians seem to think that Jesus said the truth will set you free to lie.

Elections are certainly revelatory of the worm at the core, as the voter asks the first question Adam put to his creator: “What’s in it for me?”

In Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, as Quoyle turns the car into a sodden road heading towards his ancestral home in East Jesus, Newfoundland, his daughter Bunny kicks the back of the seat and cries, “I’m tired of going somewhere. I want to be there.” My timeworn thoughts exactly, honey. “I want to put on my bathing suit and play on the beach,” Bunny adds. Perfect.

What’s the difference between optimism and hope? Optimism is for sissies.

Monday 24 October 2016

Michael Gorman in Manchester: The Didsbury Lectures

Michael Gorman is in Manchester this week, delivering the annual Didsbury Lectures on "Missional Theosis in the Gospel of John."

You can watch a live webcast of the lectures here. The first lecture is tonight, at 7:30pm BST.

Or, if you're in the North West of England, just come on over to Didsbury and join us at Nazarene Theological College.

This lecture series has been running since 1979, and is published by Cascade Books. If you missed Frances Young's invigorating 2014 lectures on the atonement, you can also watch them at the link above, or buy the book.


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