31 July 2007

harry potter on facebook

Sorry for not posting anything substantive the past couple days. I've been sick since Sunday night.

I did notice a number of new Harry Potter related groups on Facebook cropping up this past week, which I'll mention in a minute (spoilers alert, by the way). But first, a Harry Potter-related joke:
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
You know.
You know who?
Yes, you're right! Avada Kadavra!
I thought that was pretty amusing.

Back to Facebook. Prior to Book 7, there was a group called "After Harry Potter Seven Comes Out I Won't Have Anything To Live For" with nearly 72,000 members.

New, post-Book 7 Harry Potter related groups include "Not My Daughter, You Bitch! Mrs. Weasley Appreciation Group" (with currently over 48,000 members), "Fred Weasley - We Salute You" (14,000 members), "Here Lies Dobby, A Free Elf" (11,000 members), "A little piece of me died with Severus Snape" (8,500 members), and "The Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks Memorial" (6,600 members).

It's fascinating to see how attached a whole generation of kids have grown to these characters. The Bloomsbury live chat yesterday with Rowling (transcript here) reportedly generation 120,000 questions, the vast majority to which, of course, she was unable to respond.

I know many of my students more or less grew up with Harry Potter and were very much looking forward to the final book this summer. I'm toying with the idea of asking my department chair if I could teach a philosophy course using Harry Potter as a basis for philosophical discussion. There's even a book published already called Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts that might be a useful text.

30 July 2007

ingmar bergman dies at age 89

Since I first saw The Seventh Seal Ingmar Berman became one of my favorite film directors of the 20th century. The son of a reportedly severe and pious Lutheran minister, many of Bergman's films are obsessed with the Christian faith he found difficult to embrace, from Winter Light to Fanny and Alexander.

Bergman died today in Sweden at the age of 89. Read more in this article from a Swedish news agency.

28 July 2007

of barth & evangelicals 5

The final two talks of the Princeton Seminary Barth conference dealt with the issues of eschatology and universalism. Bruce McCormack of Princeton presented a paper entitled “That He May Have Mercy Upon All: Karl Barth and the Problem of Universalism.”

McCormack's paper was largely biblical in character, with some attention to Barth, and very provocative. He began by noting that the most intractable problem in Barth seems to be universalism. For Barth, because all are in Christ in election, Christ is the savior of all, united to all humanity. Also in Christ’s descent into hell, he suffered hell for all humanity who are in Christ in his descent.

When Barth couples his belief in universal atonement with a belief in irresistible grace, we then have the problem of universalism. Yes, asks McCormack, is the impossibility of universalism really so clear from the New Testament?

McCormack organized his remaining points by looking at Pauline eschatology and more briefly at Barth’s early engagement with Paul (double predestination and the extent of the atonement) and at Barth’s mature thought on universalism.

With regard to Pauline eschatology, McCormack suggested that there is a tension within the New Testament witness, where the universalism of divine intent or of Christ's mediation remains side-by-side with divine judgment. God sent his Son into the world to be the Savior of all and what Jesus accomplished is already done. On the other hand, the gospel message calls for faith but not all believe, leading to a separation among people, those who believe and those who do not.

There are at least two strategies for dealing with the seeming tension. Calvinism takes eschatological passages as clear and uses them to explain (away?) the more universalistic ones; Arminianism takes both sorts of passages as clear and so concludes that the freedom of our human will must be able to trump the divine will to save.

Both of these views share the assumption that explicit faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation and want to eliminate tension in order to maintain the authoritative status of the New Testament.

McCormack didn’t think we need to eliminate the tension and that doing so takes Scriptural teaching as having a fundamentally logical structure. The tension, however, he suggested, is not so much a contradiction in a logical sense, as a tension in terms of the already/not yet of history and eschatology.

Paul's theological perspective is unlike our own typical thinking about soteriology - his theology is shot through with eschatology. We’ve accommodated ourselves to lives in this present age and so seek to domesticate Paul.

McCormack suggested that there are three certainties for Paul: [1] the cross and resurrection are the incursion of God’s future into the present world; [2] the Spirit is the power who makes church an eschatological community conditioned by hope; and [3] the Day of Lord involves judgment and vindication of God’s work, with a judgment of all according to works.

And yet, we must grapple with Pauline universalism, in which Adam and Christ are placed in parallel - "…as all died, so all will be made alive" - a parallelism we find in both 1 Corinthians and Romans 5.

But do these “all’s” all have the same referent, McCormack asked. 1 Corinthians 15 suggests the possibility of shift, especially verses 23 and 24 in which “those who belong to Christ” are the referent of the second “all,” though there is no direct reference to judgment against those who don't belong to Christ.

In Romans 5, McCormack suggested, the horizon is not just potential redemption, but real and true redemption. Christ accomplished the reality of redemption, not something that needs an additional act in order to be complete. We may also note Paul's use of “much more surely.” Not only are Adam and Christ parallel, but Christ has much more significant than Adam, suggesting that the scope of Christ's redemption cannot be more narrow than that of Adam's sin.

McCormack pointed out that while Romans 5 doesn’t immediately say how the redemption wrought by Christ is received, Paul everywhere else supposes that eschatological salvation is only for those who have believed in Christ in this world, e.g., faith is the difference between “those who are perishing” and “those who are being saved.”

From these reflections upon Paul, McCormack turned to M. Eugene Boring's classic article on "The Language of Universal Salvation in Paul." According to Boring, the most basic exegetical decision we need to make is whether Paul has a fully coherent eschatology.

Even if so, we have options: [a] perhaps Paul underwent development, [b] perhaps Paul subordinates the universal to the particular, [c] perhaps Paul subordinates the particular to the universal.

Boring himself argues that Paul has no coherent eschatology, though he holds that there is a strongly universalistic underlying structure in Paul. As Boring sees it, the forensic dimension of Paul's eschatology tends towards particularism – human responsibility. The kingly dimension of Paul's eschatology, on the other hand, tends towards universalism. We can explain Paul's emphasis on responsibility, then, as necessary in order to not turn universalism into a fate and to underwrite evangelism.

According to McCormack, Boring maked three mistakes: [a] he failed to reckon with how much the forensic serves the kingly for Paul; [b] he doesn’t answer Calvinist exegesis regarding election and efficacious grace; and [c] he doesn’t take possibility of development and progress in Paul's theology seriously enough (and to says that Paul's theology progressed isn't to say that Paul is incoherent or contradicted himself).

McCormack's own reading of Romans focuses in on chapters 9 through 12, suggesting that at the Second Coming “all” Israel will be saved, at the time of the general resurrection, though not apart from faith in Christ. Moo agrees, he noted, but takes this corporately, referring to the bulk of Jews living at the time of the eschaton, not necessarily involving each particular Israelite. But, suggested McCormack, this doesn’t account for God’s gifts and calling being irrevocable.

Moreover, McCormack urges, when Paul says, “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience in order to show mercy on all,” the first "all" is unrestricted and so the second would seem to be as well. On the other hand, Paul only speaks of a “full number” of Gentiles, not all, which suggests a subset.

Thus, like Barth, we cannot appeal to Paul for a doctrine of universal salvation. That is to say, McCormack noted, we cannot believe that "all will be saved" as a matter of fact or dogma, but Paul gives us reason to hope this may be the case.

As McCormack sees things, universal salvation and limited atonement are the only two real options in light of Pauline emphasis upon faith as a sovereign gift of grace. Given Jesus’ teaching on hell, Calvinists favor limited atonement.

How does McCormack account for Jesus’ teaching and sense of urgency in New Testament? With Barth, he suggested that these teachings hold out very real possibilities, but are warnings, not predictions of a particular outcome. They are necessary for preventing antinomianism – avoiding either laxity (universalism) or despair (limited atonement).

Suzanne McDonald, now of Calvin Seminary, presented a paper called “Evangelical Questioning of Election in Barth: A Pneumatological Perspective from the Reformed Heritage.” Unfortunately, this was towards the end of the conference and I was fading and the paper, given time constraints was a bit rushed. Thus my notes are very sketchy.

McDonald raised the question of how Reformed orthodoxy dealt with the Holy Spirit’s work in election. Universalism is a problem, she suggested, but the underlying problem is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the application of redemption.

For Barth, on her reading, the whole of election is encompassed in Jesus Christ. Reprobation is swallowed up in election; justice and judgment are swallowed up in mercy and grace. Christ thus becomes a concrete universal.

In light of this McDonald asked whether Barth’s doctrine of election is internally coherent or not. Given his theological contours, shouldn’t he be a more decisive universalist? Why does he hedge his language about universal salvation? Is God really free to exclude anyone on Barth’s account of election?

McDonald urged that what is necessary is a greater focus upon the application of redemption - how it is that we are found to be “in Christ.” Here we come to the role of the Holy Spirit.

In the remainder of her presentation, McDonald took up the theology of John Owen to explicate the orthodox Calvinist understanding of the role of Spirit in the application of redemption.

There are some analogues to Barth in Owen, for instance, insofar as the works of God ad extra reflect, for Owen, the being of God ad intra.

But in other respects, Owen and Barth part ways. For Barth, election is a fundamental metaphysical category in terms of which all else is defined and explained. For Owen, on the other hand, the main divisions are "called" and "uncalled," "believing" and "not yet believing," rather than elect and reprobate.

According to McDonald, in Owen there is, therefore, a greater emphasis on the ongoing application of redemption in history over against Barth's more ahistorical, eternal emphasis. The upshot of this is that Barth tends to downplay pneumatology in his election Christology. Thus, suggested McDonald, Reformed orthodoxy's rich doctrine of the Spirit provides an important corrective to and deepening of Barth's soteriology.

In the discussion that followed McDonald's paper, Hunsinger maintained that Barth does, in fact, account for much of what she wanted to emphasize and that his pneumatology is not as weak as one might think.

As I noted before, I found this conference one of the most stimulating and interesting I've attended in the past several years and look forward to see many of the papers in print.

27 July 2007

of barth & evangelicals 4

The morning of Wednesday, 27 June, brought a couple of presentations on Barth and ecclesiology. The first was given by Kimlyn Bender, professor of theology and philosophy at the University of Sioux Falls, entitled “The Church in Karl Barth and Evangelicalism – Conversations across the Aisle.”

Bender began with an anecdote about Geoffrey Bromiley who, on behalf of Christianity Today, approached Barth with a set of questions from prominent evangelical theologians, including Cornelius Van Til and Carl Henry. Barth, however, wouldn’t entertain the questions since, once he saw them, didn’t think the questions posed gave any evidence of having genuinely and fair-mindedly engaged with Church Dogmatics. If anything, the questions demonstrated that the interlocutors already had their minds made up and wanted to further devour him rather than really dialogue.

To interject here, it seems to me that this is a fascinating window into all-too-typical interaction with theological projects that are "other" to one's own thought-forms and patterns of discourse. Bromiley's questions were posed after many years of ongoing evangelical critique of Barth and Barth's frustration with and unwillingness to devote time to further dialogue was not simply hubris on his part. He'd seen the critics' misrepresentations of his thought and their impatience in trying to inhabit Barth's own thought-world.

I suspect that Barth's assessment of his critics was in large part correct and that subsequent Barth scholarship has persuasively borne this out. As often as not in modern church history, the prevailing "consensus of critics" has been profoundly mistaken.

Returning to Bender's talk, he raised the question of what we might mean by "evangelicalism" as a living tradition when we raise the question of Barth's relationship to evangelicals, especially on the issue of ecclesiology.

Evangelicalism may be defined in terms of a narrative history (from Puritanism and pietism up through the modernist-fundamentalist controversy and beyond) or by theological convictions (inerrancy, conversion, penal substitution, etc.). In neither case, however, does ecclesiology play any role in evangelicalism's definition.

Evangelicalism is both narrower than ecclesiology or church (personal piety, doctrinal purity) and broader (para-church ministries that remain both ecumenical and sectarian, with a shared piety). Thus, Bender suggested, it is difficult to assess whether Barth and evangelicals are friends or foes with regard to ecclesiology.

Thus Bender asked the questionsof where might Barth be critical of evangelicals on ecclesiology, where he might be able to contribute, and where he might be sympathetic.

First, with regard to criticisms of evangelical ecclesiology, Bender suggested that Barth would see evangelicals as neglecting the institutional, visible church with its ministry of word and sacrament. In his own day Barth criticized one para-church organization for neglecting church in favor of a movement, suggesting that problems with the church cannot lead to abandonment of church.

Barth was also troubled by the anthropological starting point of piety-oriented movements, which make felt need and current situation the primary emphasis. This can lead to evangelistic triumphalism and adoption of secular methods to market the gospel, an implicit denial of grace. Along with this, Barth warned against the cult of personality, fawning for endorsement, and placing too much weight on the testimony of the changed individual rather than the gospel and Christ.

Barth's points have obvious broad application to present evangelicalism. Bender, however, noted some possible evangelical responses, questioning whether there has to be a conflict between "church" and "movement" and noting that there is good biblical precedent for becoming all things to all people and recounting one’s own encounter with God.

Second, Bender explored ways in which Barth might contribute to evangelical ecclesiology. Barth has a rich ontology and theology of the church that is well worth considering, providing an alternative to flight into sociology, history, and entrepreneurship or away from the visible church.

Barth's theology could prove important to evangelicalism since evangelicalism is a sociological and historical movement, more than theological, and thus tends away from the visible church. Moreover, it is often shaped by practitioners interested in numerical growth and success. This further leads to a disregard for the visible church in favor of an invisible church, individual experience, pietism, a spiritual fellowship of the truly converted, and a notion of the church as a voluntary society. Relationship to God becomes prior to and extrinsic to the church.

Barth, on the contrary, says that while the church is more than visible, it never less than that, and as the Body of Christ, totus christus, remains analogous to the Incarnation. We enter into a relationship with God, after all, through the witness of the church and thus believers always exist in community. This community, for Barth, is grounded in God’s free election of grace, creating corporate and concrete people, overcoming incipient Reformation split between ecclesiology and soteriology.

Bender suggested that Barth here provides a high ecclesiological alternative to Roman Catholic ecclesiology, an alternative that is both catholic and evangelical, Protestant and congregational, and from which evangelicals have something to learn. The church, for Barth, has indispensable role in salvation without becoming a caretaker of grace - a unity in distinction exists between Christ and church, so that the church is a proclaimer, not a dispenser of grace.

Third, Bender outlined some areas in which Barth might well be sympathetic with evangelicalism.

In particular, the scandal of the gospel of Jesus Christ is embraced by both Barth and evangelicalism, placing them together on one side over again liberalism and unbelief. Further, the radical particularity of the concrete congregation is upheld by both Barth and evangelicalism, more than institutional, denominational structures. Moreover, this congregation is the primary local of the Spirit's work in the lives of believers. Finally, both Barth and evangelicalism see mission – evangelism and service – as central to the church’s existence and identity.

Bender's fine talk was followed by an equally fine presentation by Keith Johnson, called “The Being and Act of the Church: Barth and the Future of Evangelical Ecclesiology,” addressing the relationship of Barth to "younger evangelicals."

Johnson began by recalling the key ways in which Robert Webber characterized younger evangelicals: a desire for more visible church, an opposition to individualism and its subjectivist and ahistorical piety, an emphasis upon the embodied presence of God’s reign in a material community, and a rethinking of justification with ecclesiological as well as forensic or soteriological dimensions.

He noted that Barth’s ecclesiology is often criticized as bifurcated, an endless dialectical play between two rejected alternatives without its own concrete proposal. That's to say, is the church a voluntary association of the pious? Or is the church the divinely established institution of Catholicism? Where the formed tends to root the church in a general sociological account of humanity, the latter tends to absorbs Christ into church, grace becoming nature. So what's Barth's alternative?

Barth’s third option, according to Johnson, sees the church as pure act, a result of divine act, that is, free action of God rather than any merely historical or cultural factor. The church is called into being in the event of personal address. But, if Barth is correct, then the church seemingly can’t be embodied in a lasting way, even if it bears witness.

So, one might ask, does Barth have a weak ecclesiology, presupposing an opposition between Spirit and institution? If the Spirit is Christ’s mode of action, it's not clear how human agency is involved in Spirit’s work.

One way of reading Barth is to see him as saying that God binds himself to the church by the Spirit via community practices, beliefs, institutions, persons, as gifts of the Spirit in the economy of salvation. According to Johnson, rather than having to choose between a Spirit/church disconnection and a Spirit/church identity, Barth provides a third alternative.

On Barth's view then, the church is a divine action through what God has done in Jesus Christ - a divinely established reality - while nonetheless remaining an earthly historical event. But how, Johnson asked?

Here Barth draws upon the doctrine of concursus as the mode by which the Lordship of God and free action of creature interrelate. Concursus is not an assertion but a confession, proceeding on theological grounds with its starting point in God’s electing action in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.

In Barth's view, all human history finds its meaning and purpose in God’s electing act, enclosed within God’s action in Jesus Christ. Creation itself took place with view to the covenant of grace - a kind of supralapsarianism. When a creature acts, God has already loved, acted, and elected to redeem and save as pre-condition of creature’s act. While God doesn’t positively will all that human creatures will, he wills all things to serve the covenant of grace.

This is the context, for Barth, in which concursus is situated.

Thus Johnson suggested we cannot, if we follow Barth, consider human action apart from relation to divine action, and yet this doesn’t undermine the humanity of human action. Humanity is an active, not inactive recipient, but always remains a recipient so that God’s actions are not conditioned by his creatures, so that God’s activity determines ours. Within the context of covenant of grace, God is so present in the activity of the creature that the activity remains a single act.

As Johnson explained Barth, God and creatures are not two species of the same genus. So God’s action is of a different order than the creature’s. God, the only true God, so loved world that he willed to become a creature, to be its savior, so that all the activity of the creature is God’s own will revealed and triumphant in Jesus Christ.

For Barth, Johnson insisted, this is not some kind of generalized theory about divine and human action, but described events of encounter, by Word and Spirit. While there is a continuity between God's actions and creatures' actions, there is no permanent identification, but rather continual supply of grace. Barth explains this by was of Chalcedonian analogy.

With Barth's doctrine of concursus in hand, Johnson suggested that we can explain Barth’s doctrine of the church. He used the example of the sacrament of baptism.

There is a distinction, for Barth, between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and baptism with water. Our life in Christ is an event of God’s grace – Spirit baptism. Water baptism, according to Barth, is a human work in response to or witnessing God’s work.

Divine action occurs in, with, and over human action, so baptism is not wholly independent from divine action and is not reduced to mere human witness, but this is so without at all detracting from the creatureliness of the action.

Thus, for Barth, there is no sharp disjunction between divine and human action in baptism, but God’s action precedes follows, in, with, and over human action. Water baptism as human act, therefore, stands in continuity with divine action in keeping with the covenant of grace, in Word and Spirit. Baptism counts for something in the sense of serving as divinely given witness to the Word of God, God’s action in Jesus Christ.

So, Johnson concluded, what are the implications of Barth’s ecclesiology for younger evangelicals? According to Johnson, Barth’s approach frees us to be evangelicals, bearing witness. More Roman Catholic approaches, that see church as a mediation of grace, then turn this mediation of grace into the church’s primary vocation rather than mission.

For Barth we stand enclosed in the history of Jesus Christ, so that the work of Christ stands in no need of supplementation or mediation, but in itself brings about human response and thereby the objective includes within itself the subjective realization of its work.

In the question and answer to both of these presentations, there were some questions about the traditional distinction between redemption accomplished and redemption applied. It would seem that, on some construals of Barth, such a distinction very nearly disappears so that the subjective appropriation of and reception of grace is always already accomplished.

George Hunsinger suggested that this is to misread Barth. While, in Barth's theology, there is a single action in Jesus Christ including God's eternal election, the event of Christ's death and resurrection, and the subject salvation of sinner, this does not do away with the variety of dimensions and tenses of that action.

I find Barth's ecclesiology and sacramental theology challenging and insightful, but I wonder if he is sometimes too worried about the church devolving into a "dispenser of grace" in a way that occludes mission or proclamation. It seems to me that the Barthian notion of concursus does help in this regard since it emphases the priority and freedom of God's gracious action without thereby setting aside the church as the place in which God's grace is found.

What I'm unclear about is whether the notion of the church serving as a witness to grace or proclaimer of grace is sufficient to account for the sacramental realism of the New Testament in which the sacramental celebration of and thanksgiving for God's already present grace in Jesus Christ is, nonetheless, by the Spirit through faith, also a personal encounter with the risen Lord.

24 July 2007

of barth & evangelicals 3

On Tuesday, 26 June, the Barth conference continued with a stimulating paper from John Hare of Yale University, “Kant, Barth, and the Predisposition to Good.”

Hare's talk was quite challenging and, given my lack of expertise in Kant (and especially the recent re-readings of Kant on religion), I'm not sure I followed all the details of his presentation.

The topic of Hare's talk was the relationship of Barth to Kant, in light of both contemporary re-readings of Kant and evangelical critiques of Barth as a kind of Kantian. Hare pointed to the anti-Barthian arguments of Cornelius Van Til, Carl Henry, and James Buswell, all of whom read Barth as a Kantian and did so with a particular understanding of Kant that is hostile to orthodox Christian faith.

In particular, Van Til said that Kant taught that things in themselves are ruled by chance and brute factuality, manifest to us as phenomena, and that human beings in a wholly autonomous fashion determine reality through categories. Thus, for Kant on Van Til's reading, God is reduced to a limiting concept, regulative rather than constitutive, with no claim to actual existence and Christian belief, in turn, is reduced to fit this philosophical paradigm.

Hare argued, however, that this is serious misreading of Kant, let alone any affinities to Kant in Barth, though perhaps it is an excusable misreading in the context of late 19th and early 20th century readings of Kant, particularly by liberal theologians. In particular, Hare noted that while the existence of God is merely regulative for Kant in the context of theoretical reason, it is constitutive in practical reason. That's to say, Kant limits the possibilities of human theoretical reason to build an intellectual ladder up to God while, at the same time, God objectively reveals himself to us in our ethical sensibilities.

I'll skip over Hare's re-reading of Kant at this point, since I don't feel competent to reproduce it accurately. From his own re-reading of Kant, however, Hare turned to Barth's reading of Kant and notes that Barth is interesting in this regard.

On some points, Barth reads Kant in ways that anticipate current re-readings of Kant (e.g., on Kant's view of knowledge of God). But in other ways Barth significantly misreads Kant, for instance, seeing Kant as making man the measure of all things, which leads, in Barth's view, straight to Ritschl. Hare outlined seven ways in which Barth misreads Kant, ways of misreading that, interestingly enough, all have analogues in Van Til. Thus Barth turns out to repudiate Kant in light of Christian faith as strongly as Van Til does and in similar ways.

Hare's conclusions were complex.

First, evangelicals need to re-read Kant themselves and realize that the kinds of readings of Kant that have dominated orthodox Christian appraisals are largely mistaken. Kant is not the enemy of evangelical faith that many have taken him to be.

Second, when it comes to critiques of Kant, Barth and Van Til are strong allies, rather than enemies, and thus much of Van Til's own critique of Barth as Kantian is simply wrong-headed. Unfortunately, both Barth and Van Til significantly misread Kant in similar ways.

Third, where Barth is more open to Kant, he remains so based upon better readings of Kant than Van Til or Carl Henry deployed. In this way Barth anticipated contemporary Kant scholarship.

Hare's talk was followed by Clifford Anderson who spoke on “A theology of experience? The transcendental argument in Karl Barth's early theology.” I stepped out for part of Anderson's talk and, upon returning was a bit lost, so my notes are incomplete.

Anderson began with a quotation from Torrance in which he states that scholastic Romanism (probably meaning Hans Urs von Balthasar) and scholastic Protestantism (likely a jab at Van Til) both see Barth as a Kantian subjectivist, but that this is the opposite of the truth. Anderson, however, suggests that this underplays Kant's influence on Barth's theology, though may also indicate a different reading of Kant from that of Barth.

Anderson focused in on the possible use of transcendental argument by Barth in his mature work, though not in the sense of a precondition, synthetic a priori, for the possibility of experiencing God. He situated his discussion in the context of the neo-Kantian revival represented by the Marburg school, which saw transcendental argument as Kant's big achievement.

Among the Marburg thinkers, Hermann Cohen's commentary on Kant suggests that the proper understanding of Kant is that he provides a new concept of experience in which the act of knowing does not have to do so much with epistemology as it does the object of knowing. Thus Cohen focuses upon scientific experience as the goal of transcendental method.

Anderson suggested that Barth's reading and use of Kant was more indebted to the Marburg school than to Kant himself, at least in Barth's early work, as evidenced in his 1910 "Notes towards a sketch of philosophy of religion." In his later work, Barth speaks of the conditions for the possibility of proclamation, using a transcendental sort of argument to elucidate categories of theological science.

In the afternoon breakout sessions, I attended the one given by Kevin Hector. He gave a great presentation entitled “Ontological Violence and the Covenant of Grace: An Engagement between Karl Barth and Radical Orthodoxy.” Given my interest in Radical Orthodoxy (RO), I found Hector's talk of particular interest.

Hector's basic argument was that, while RO rightly wishes to root its account of reality in the Christian narrative in order to valorize an ontology of peace, it's own manner of criticizing any who are not RO nonetheless seems to reveal an inherent violence within RO. Hector offered Barth as an alternative way of upholding ontological peace.

As Hector summarized RO, he noted its particularism and commitment to harmony, maintaining that the Christian faith has its own account of reality centered upon the Trinity, incarnation, and resurrection as keys to understanding everything. Thus Christian belief and practice provides a uniquely peaceable view of the world, the infinite involving a harmony of associative difference. Thus only the Christian alternative can overcome nihilism, totalitarianism, and so on.

Beginning with original ontological harmony rooted in the eternal harmony of the Triune life of God - unity within difference - RO sees creation as partaking of this original peace and directed towards the superabundant infinite as its end by participation.

What then, according to RO, accounts for the discrepancy between this original peace and the existing disharmony? Here RO provides an account of evil as privation, wrongly directed desire. All is good insofar as it exists at all. Genuine human harmony exists where our wills are directed towards God as the object of desire, so that unbelieving secular parodies of peace cannot succeed. Salvation involves the inauguration of a different kind of community, with God as its end, so that the church remains the goal of salvation.

The common complaint against RO is its tendency towards an all-or-nothing approach that situates all non-RO accounts as implicitly nihilistic. But if RO's ontological harmony comes at the cost of relegating all non-RO views to non-being, Hector asked, isn't this itself a kind of ontological violence?

Hector went on at this point to give several examples of ways in which RO seems to treat alternative viewpoints unfairly or to misrepresent them in order to dismiss them as incipient nihilism. The most interesting and challenging example, I thought, was the way in which Milbank and Pickstock misrepresent Davidson's views in the opening chapter of Truth in Aquinas and then Hector's subsequent argument that Milbank and Pickstock's own positive account of truth fails to accomplish what they criticize as failure in others.

Hector, nonetheless, went on to note an ambiguity in RO's perspective. When it speaks of the human will desiring God, as the sole basis for peace, is that desire objective or subjective? That's to say, does the person so willing need to be subjectively aware that it is, in fact, God whom she desires? Or might that will be objectively directed towards God even if the person is unaware?

Even if the latter, Hector noted that such an objective referent of desire would still, for RO, embody some kind of historical connection to Christ and the church, either by way of anticipation or effect. Still, if the latter is the case, then oughtn't RO be more accepting of the possibility of finding amenable elements even within non-RO views?

After his analysis and critique of RO, Hector concluded with a positive sketch of a Barthian alternative in which, by situating God's will for the entire creation in the person of Jesus Christ, Barth can affirm good wherever it may be found as revelatory of Christ.

The Q&A period was extensive and fruitful. I agreed with Hector that some figures within the RO movement are uncharitable towards those they criticize to the point of misrepresenting others' views in order to paint them as nihilistic. This is clear to me particularly in how Pickstock and Milbank handle postmodern thought (especially Derrida), the magisterial Reformers, Duns Scotus and Ockham, contemporary philosophical figures such as Davidson, and even Barth.

Other RO figures have different, more charitable assessments: Jamie Smith on Derrida, Graham Ward on Barth, and so forth. Even Milbank himself can prove to be both "for and against" Hegel and Marx (in Theology and Social Theory), can see the Enlightenment as in many respects a positive outgrowth of the gospel (in "The Gospel of Affinity"), and can say positive things about Luther (in "The Theological Critique of Philosophy in Hamann and Jacobi") and Calvin (in "Alternative Protestantism: Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition").

So, the question for me is whether RO's "violence" towards certain positions and figures is inherent to RO as a system of theological thought, or whether it says more about the personality and temperament of a curmudgeonly guy like Milbank.

On the issue of whether the desire for God, in RO, is to be construed objectively or subjectively, I suggested that, it seems to me, that the objective reading is better. Milbank and Pickstock quote Aquinas repeatedly that "in every act of intellect and will, God is implicitly known and desired." Moreover, in his comments on de Lubac and von Balthasar in Theology and Social Theory, while rejecting Rahner's "anonymous Christianity," Milbank appears to approve an account of how even subjectively unbelieving thought may be positively and objectively related to God as its final end.

None of these points correct the infelicities and misconstruals perpetuated by RO figures in their treatment of others' views, but they do, I think, provide a context in which these acts of hermeneutical violence can be seen as not inherent within an RO perspective.

23 July 2007


Phew. We finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this morning.

Reading it aloud so we can do it together takes more time, but it was a lot a fun. And the book was well worth reading. As the one who did the reading, my throat's a bit sore and I'm exhausted, both from the physical effort and from the literary roller coaster of emotion and tension.

I very much appreciated the moments of humor that Rowling sprinkled throughout the volume, especially amid so much sadness and horror.

And the book's symbolism and themes? Well, what can one say? I'll be interested to see if Rowling herself makes comments in coming months.

I'm convinced that Rowling's literary work will shape the spiritual imagination of a generation in a way that will, in the end, be a great service to the church. In that light, Andy Crouch's insightful remarks from a couple years ago seem vindicated.

Enough for now, before I spoil things for anyone.

[warning: comments may contain spoilers, though I'll probably delay approving comments that say too much!]

21 July 2007


I'm reading Harry Potter. Don't bother me or I might have to use an Unforgivable Curse on you! Will re-emerge soon.

20 July 2007

of barth & evangelicals 2

The talks at the Barth conference continued with Michael S. Horton's presentation “Does the Covenant Have a History? The Logos Asarkos in Karl Barth's Christology.” Horton is a professor at Westminster Seminary in California.

Horton began by commenting on the subtitle of the conference - "Friend or Foe?" - that in his view Barth is very much a friend to evangelicalism and that he's only grown in his appreciation for Barth over the years. Further, Horton admitted that he is no great expert on all the complexities of Barth's theology and he was there so listen and learn, remaining open to correction.

Having said all that, however, Horton's presentation offered a number of questions and criticism's of Barth's theology. After briefly outlining the contours of Reformed orthodoxy on the intersection of the pactum salutis, covenant of nature, covenant of grace, christology, and Trinity, Horton continued by outlining what he took to be the content of Barth's actualist christology.

Over against what Horton sees as a traditional emphasis upon the execution of the divine decree in history, Barth seeks to close any gap between who God is in himself and who God is for us, placing election within the doctrine of God itself.

Thus election is given a thoroughly trinitarian reading in Barth, with Christ as both object and subject of election, so that sin is always already condemned in Christ and God’s forgiveness is complete. Election then, for Barth, is God’s self-ordaining of himself on the basis of which the triune God moves towards humanity, so that we never encounter God apart from Jesus Christ.

While I'm not sure I followed all of Horton's criticisms of Barth, on the whole he seemed to be suggesting that Barth flattens out important distinctions, collapsing time into eternity, undermining any real transition from wrath to grace in history, confusing the accomplishment and application of redemption, disparaging creaturely means of grace, and failing to properly distinguish as he exists in himself from God's works ad extra.

Two places in which Horton's critique seemed to most reveal his own theological emphases were his criticism's of Barth's supralapsarianism and Barth's view of law and gospel, nature and grace. And these are interrelated. Horton urged that only infralapsarian rightly preserves the priority of law over grace by maintaining the covenant of grace as a response to human sin against divine law. In supralapsarianism (Barth's or otherwise), the covenant of grace receives priority, even before human sin, so that grace precedes law and, in Barth's exposition, all theological ethics becomes an ethics of grace.

In his talk, “12 Theses on Election and Eternity,” George Hunsinger of Princeton Seminary was responding primarily to Bruce McCormack's interpretation of Barth on election. But Hunsinger began with some comments on Horton's presentation.

He provided three points of criticism or clarification with regard to the Barthian themes Horton addressed: first, Barth on time and eternity is governed by Chalcedonian formula, but the relation is complex, mysterious, and asymmetrical; second, for Barth the relation between time and eternity are also perichoretic, third, with regard to simultaneity and sequence, Barth's paradigm is Luther’s doctrine of justification.

It would be impossible to do justice to Hunsinger's own 12 theses, but I'll attempt a very brief summation that will remain in need of clarification by reference to the published version of Hunsinger's talk.

[1] Barth nowhere says that God’s being is constituted by his act. Act and being are both ontologically basic in God.

[2] Barth distinguishes between “act” and “work” in God, with “work” only applied to God's relation to the world. “Act” applies to God in himself.

[3] Throughout Church Dogmatics 2.2 the Trinity is determined by the decree of election. That's to say, the Trinity constitutes election so that the Trinity determines himself to be God for us.

[4] God would, nonetheless, be the Trinity whether world was created or not.

[5] When Barth says Jesus Christ is the subject of election he is only speaking in a certain respect (secundum quid), not simpliciter. By analogy, the Queen was born in 1819. But this doesn’t mean she was born Queen, though she was born ordained for coronation.

[6] Jesus Christ is the subject of election in a strong sense because of the Trinity.

[7] From one point of view the cross, last judgment, and election are not three different events but forms of the same event, due to the grammar of perichoresis, involving anticipation and recapitulation participating in one another.

[8] For Barth, the cross in its historicity is present to God in pre-temporal election.

[9] Passages seen as placing election ontologically prior to Trinity aren’t saying this but concern revelation, human relation to God, Trinity, or affirmations of God as actus purus.

[10] Trinity is ontologically prior to and presupposed in the temporal act of election.

[11] With regard to the logos asarkos, Barth doesn’t reject this notion but affirms it, yet denying us any access to him.

[12] Barth maintains God’s independence so that his being in no way depends upon the world.

One should keep in mind that these points are intended by Hunsinger as a rejoinder to McCormack's interpretation of Barth's actualism, which works in somewhat less traditional or scholastic categories and takes that actualism much further.

19 July 2007

baptismal theology and catholicity - introduction

When the Protestant Reformation burst from the streams of medieval theology, it was not a wholly new thing.

Certainly some aspects were novel developments of the existing trajectories of Christian tradition, shaped in various ways by late medieval developments and reactions to and within them. But other aspects of the Reformation represented a retrieval of ancient and medieval Christian thought - traditions that had been forgotten or fallen into disuse or had become overshadowed by later developments. Moreover, the Reformers were bringing the tools of current humanistic studies to their project of recovering the Gospel with clarity and freshness for their own context.

As such, the Protestant Reformers and later divines in general took care to maintain agreement with the great tradition of the Christian church as an expression of biblical doctrine, particularly where that tradition represented a wide consensus across the writings of various Fathers, creeds, liturgies, and theologians. We might question whether or not the Protestant theologians always understood that tradition aright or whether they took liberties with that tradition to conform it to their own understandings. Nonetheless, they were consistently reticent to reject widely attested teaching and forms of theological expression from within the great tradition of the Christian church.

One area of ongoing interest to me is the Protestant reception of catholic baptismal theology and practice. The New Testament speaks of the sacrament of baptism in very direct language: forgiveness of sins, washing away sin, receiving the Holy Spirit, dying and rising with Christ, putting on Christ, engrafting into Christ, washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, and so on. And the early Fathers picked up on this language and unfolded it further, against the backdrop of various typological anticipations within the Old Testament and in light of their own biblically-grounded liturgical practice.

Various questions, of course, naturally arose from this sacramental realism - particularly as the church grew, established itself within cultures, and infant baptism became increasingly normative. Moreover, there were a variety of questions to think through and address: how to assess the baptismal experience and identity of both those converts who live in faith and those who later fell away from the faith, how to explain those baptized as infants whose later lives produced no visible fruit or, alternatively, what to say about those baptized individuals who died in infancy before they could begin to self-consciously live out their baptismal identity in faith.

Numerous early Fathers addressed these questions in a variety of ways, rooted in Scripture and in the practices of ritual and prayer that defined the people of God. In the medieval period these discussions unfolded further, building upon the legacy of the Fathers, developing a more precise theological perspective and attempting to resolve several of the more sticky problems presented by the realistic language of the New Testament with regard to baptism.

When we consider the baptismal theology of the Protestant Reformers - and their attempt to retain a historic, catholic sacramental grammar - we must do so against this background. It will not do simply to pour our own understandings into their language or to retroject the categories of later debate, though this has often occurred in subsequent discussions.

In posts that follow, then, I will examine several key patristic and medieval texts that were later taken up into Protestant discussions of baptism. I will do this in hopes that we can clarify just what is - and is not - intended by the historic language of Christian prayer and theology with regard to sacrament of baptism.

18 July 2007

of barth & evangelicals 1

As I mentioned awhile ago, I spent 25-27 June at Princeton Theological Seminary, attending their Karl Barth conference. This year's topic was "Karl Barth & American Evangelicals: Friends or Foes?" and was probably the best conference I'd been to in quite some time, finding each paper very engaging and helpful.

I'd like to try to provide a brief summary of each of the papers I heard, with a few comments interspersed. In this post I'll say something about the first day's morning papers.

On Monday morning, 25 June, the topic focused upon the legacy of Cornelius Van Til's critique of Barth for Barth's reception by American evangelicals. The presenters were Darryl Hart of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (and formerly a professor of church history at both Westminster Theological Seminary and Westminster Seminary in California) and George Harinck of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Hart's paper was entitled “Beyond the Battles for the Bible: What Evangelicals Missed about Van Til’s Critique of Barth.” On the whole, Hart noted how the reception of Barth in broader neo-evangelicalism differed from his reception in the conservative, confessional Presbyterianism represented by Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

Neo-evangelicals (represented by institutions such as Fuller Seminary and Christianity Today) were not uncritical of Barth (particularly on Scripture) and early reaction was more cautious, nevertheless, by the 1960s neo-evangelicals were openly and sympathetically engaged with Barth's work. The Christianity Today obituary of Barth noted four positive aspects of his work: his attention to the Protestant Reformers, his theological rejoinder to totalitarianism, his strength and perseverance in writing Church Dogmatics as an objective presentation of God in his self-manifestation, and his religious devotion with its doxological orientation.

Confessional Presbyterian response, on the other hand, was much cooler, if not openly hostile. J. Gresham Machen (in 1928) and Caspar Wister Hodge (in 1930) both wrote somewhat favorably of Barth, but after the founding of WTS and the departure of the OPC from the mainline, opinions shifted significantly, with steady a barrage of anti-Barth articles and books. Criticism appeared not only from Cornelius Van Til, but also from NB Stonehouse, Larry Slote, Paul Wooley, EJ Young, and others, both in the Westminster Theological Journal and in the OPC Presbyterian Guardian.

Much of the criticism, according to Hart, remained directed at Princeton Seminary (e.g., the appointment of John Mackay as President) and the mainline Presbyterian church (e.g., the Confession of 1967). Moreover, much of the criticism sought to position Barth as a continuation of the "modernist" trajectory of Princeton and the mainline, even speaking of the "Barthian captivity" of the seminary.

Yet, Hart suggested, this barrage of anti-Barth criticisms made little or no dent on broader neo-evangelicalism and, if anything, seemed to come from a distant fundamentalist past. And this is understandable: concern for historic Presbyterianism and its institutions were of little concern to neo-evangelicals.

According to Hart, most evangelicals who have evaluated Van Til’s critique have missed the infra-Presbyterian character of it. Neo-evangelicals, after all, wanted a pan-Protestant movement with a kinder, gentler version of conservative Protestantism, but without fundamentalist crankiness - yet also without an ecclesiology or polemics. Neo-evangelicals, after all, said Hart, value good intentions over doctrinal standards, what he coined “orthopathy” over orthodoxy.

Hart suggested, moreover, that it is not entirely fair to see Van Til and confessional Presbyterians as uninterested in broader cooperation among Christians. They were, in fact, engaged in a worldwide Reformed ecumenism, in contrast with the essentially American character of neo-evangelicalism.

I found Hart's presentation quite provocative, though, assuming his descriptions are correct, I would want to press some points further. The confessional Presbyterian critique of Barth, especially as represented by Van Til, is to my mind seriously flawed and misreads Barth on an architectonic level, whatever validity there might be to some specific, targeted criticisms.

Hart's presentation, it seems to me, helps explain then - at least in part - why such a serious misreading of Barth could occur and seem plausible to so many: confessional Presbyterians tended to read Barth through a lens that maintained their identity over against that of Princeton and the mainline, justifying their departure and shoring up their defining boundaries by construing Barth as a mere continuation of theological modernism. Such a contextualization of Van Til seems possible and plausible.

Hart's paper was followed by George Harinck's presentation, entitled “Inspired by Dutch Neo-Calvinists: Van Til's critique of Karl Barth's theology.” Harinck attempted to place Van Til in the context of early 20th century neo-Calvinism as a way of shedding light on his critique of Barth.

Van Til's first treatment of Barth was a 1931 book review of a secondary work called Karl Barth’s Theology: The New Transcendentalism. The review didn’t deal with Barth's view of Scripture, but focused rather on his theories of reality and knowledge, taking a more philosophical than theological approach. Here in his first published interaction, Van Til already sees Barth as an extreme reaction to immanentism, making the eternal everything and temporal nothing, denying the complete self-consciousness of God as absolute personality, and neutralizing God’s exaltation by making both God and man eternal rather than temporal.

Harinck's interest was to contextualize Van Til and his initial exposure to Barth and how it might have shaped his critique. After receiving his PhD in 1927 from Princeton University, Van Til took a trip to the Netherlands where he first encountered Barth's thought in the wake of two visits by Barth to the Netherlands.

Van Til visited his grandparents' pastor, Klaas Schilder, who seemed somewhat cautiously favorable toward Barth, seeing Barth as moving theological in his direction. Barth sympathizers in the Dutch church, however, tended to be hostile toward the neo-Calvinist approach to culture and politics, leading to some tension. In Schilder's interaction with Barth's thought he emphasized God’s accommodation to our humanity, following Kuyper and Calvin and over against Barth’s over-emphasis of transcendence. Harinck suggested, however, that in his resistance to Barth, Schilder became very much like Barth (e.g., a decisive rejection of natural law/theology).

Schilder's response, then, provides some of the context for Van Til's own initial published reaction to Barth. Moreover, Van Til's method of critique, according to Harinck, was part and parcel of neo-Calvinist tradition – not interested so much in the intellectual problem posed by Barth or Barth's own internal reasoning, but rather in expositing his own view. As a result, Van Til tended to judge Barth by consequences that he drew from Barth's text, even those these were consequences that Barth explicit denied or argued against.

Harinck continued by placing Van Til's critique of Barth in the context of WTS's break with Princeton. Building on Machen, Van Til positioned Barth as next stage of battle between Christianity and liberalism and as next phase of WTS’s opposition to Princeton.

Harinck noted that, since late 19th century, there had been an alliance between Princeton Seminary and the Free University of Amsterdam, especially under the influence of Vos. Kuyper, Bavinck, and Heppe had all presented Stone Lectures, giving Princeton an openness towards Dutch neo-Calvinism. When Barth began to made inroads into Princeton, however, the seminary broke with the neo-Calvinists and, as a result, the Free University of Amsterdam allied itself with WTS, in large part because of connections with Van Til and Stonehouse.

And yet, the irony was that Barth's own though and developing neo-Calvinism were converging in several ways. In fact, when Princeton Seminary didn’t want to lose the support of the Christian Reformed Church, President Mackay was able to present Barth as neo-Calvinist.

Furthermore, neo-Calvinism was itself changing, particularly with Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd and their development of a new Calvinistic philosophy that stood against neutrality and maintained a Christian option in every domain in life, rejecting natural theology and re-thinking. Harinck suggested that Barth's sympathies with these developments may be indicated by his 1931 invitation to Vollenhoven to come speak at Bonn against natural theology, any knowledge of God prior to revelation. Vollenhoven, however, could not go.

So, given all of this, how can we account for the seriousness of Van Til's (at times verging on obsessive) opposition to Barth, especially when a neo-Calvinist figure such as Berkouwer grew more sympathetic? Harinck suggested that there was a parallel as well as difference between Van Til (and neo-Calvinism) and Barth.

Within neo-Calvinism Bavinck’s critique of Enlightenment paralleled Barth’s departure from liberalism, emphasizing the need to make the Bible and church relevant to modern world. Thus views that see that see neo-Calvinism as “traditional” and Barthianism as “modern” are not quite right. Neo-Calvinism was a late 19th century development and found itself in a period renewal and change during the 1920s.

Culturally, however, 20th century neo-Calvinism was in a vulnerable position, particularly in the Netherlands. As such, a Barthian alternative, even if deeply resonant with some of neo-Calvinism's own concerns, could appear as a threat. Moreover, Barthians tended to misunderstand the neo-Calvinist tradition.

In the case of Van Til, we can place him the larger neo-Calvinist context of offer possibility for Christian thought in the waning of the Enlightment. Yet Van Til's and Barth's offered solutions excluded each other's views, across a chasm of mutual misunderstanding, despite affinities. Perhaps then, Harinck urged, we need to come to understand both sides within their historical contexts.

Harinck's presentation, then, seemed to substantiate from the points that Hart had already made, while filling in the historical context further. As such, both presentations help historicize Van Til's critique of Barth, placing it more fully within the theology and polemics of the first half of the 20th century.

16 July 2007

renewing liturgy and theology

Laurel drove out to her sister in York late last week to drop her mother off so her mom can spend vacation with them before returning to Florida.

Now, at last, I find myself free of travel, conferences, house guests, faculty workshops, and so on. My summer break can really begin - that is, I can begin the summer break where, with other obligations at a minimum, I start to work systematically through the mounting list of projects I'd like complete or at least have underway before classes start up again.

As I was organizing some paperwork today, I ran across a quotation I'd used recently from the French Reformed liturgical scholar Jean-Daniel Benoit. He writes,
It is therefore necessary to have a constant control of liturgy by Scripture. The liturgy must not deviate from Scripture. In fact, the valid liturgical developments are those which spring spontaneously from the piety of the Church, enlivened by Scripture and in its fidelity to Scripture…the deciding factor is Christian judgement – the Church, not necessarily in its hierarchy, but in its experience and living continuity. In doing so the Church uses a certain spiritual tact, a certain discernment, a certain evangelical sensitivity. There are some liturgical texts and experiences which the consensus of believers accepts, and others which it rejects. In so doing it acts naturally, organically, without needing a council or ecclesiastical decision. It is in this living conscience of the Church, and more especially in its worship, that we must seek the continuity of its tradition. The more the Church is nourished on the Bible, the more surely and spontaneously does it effect this process of assimilation and elimination, by which its tradition is formed. (Liturgical Renewal SCM 1958: 67-68).
It strikes me that this kind of discernment - a sort of practical wisdom - is a much broader habit in the life of the church than merely in liturgical tradition, development, and contextualization. It is also the task of theology which must continually find ways of effectively speaking the ever-same Gospel in to ever-new situations.

The Benoit quotation reminded me of another. Kevin Vanhoozer writes, in his significant work The Drama of Doctrine (WJK 2005),
The church can neither stop time nor development. One need not be a follower of Heraclitus to see that things change. This is why the church cannot simply repeat what has been said and done in the past. To repeat the same words in a new situation is in fact to say something different. The challenge is not to resist change so much as to change in a way that would be faithful to, even though different from, Christian beginnings. Tradition is the church’s attempt to negotiate this tension between "sameness" and "difference," an attempt that aims at a kind of non-identical repetition. (125)
He later follows Ricoeur in distinguishing idem-identity from ipse-identity. Identity of the idem variety is an unchanging sameness over time, without difference or development. Ipse-identity, on the other hand, is the sort of identity a person has over time, the one and same individual present in a variety of circumstance to which she much adapt and respond in new ways.

The danger with an overly static view of tradition - whether that be liturgical, theological, confessional, or another sort of tradition - is that it can devolve into a sort of idem-identity that remains content with mere preservation of the past as sufficient for the present. Vanhoozer writes,
The danger in equating identity with unchanging sameness is that tradition becomes an immobile traditionalism that preserves the past by seeking to reproduce it. Holding fast to past formulations, however, does not provide sufficient direction for the church. Consider, again, the Arian controversy. Whose Christology, that of Arius or that of Athanasius, had better claim to being the "same" as that of the Fourth Gospel? Here is a case where simply repeating the same biblical words is not enough...Idem-identity encourages uncritical, uninformatiove, and unimaginative repetition of the past. (217)
Vanhoozer goes on to talk about ipse-identity in terms of "improvisation," not in the sense of sheer novelty or originality, but in terms of the ability of well-trained and faithful imagination, rooted and rehearsed in the Scriptures, to discern what is appropriate in any given situation. Such improvisation is necessary for the Gospel to remain the same Gospel as it is ministered into ever new situations.

While Vanhoozer primarily has doctrine and theology in mind, I would suggest that what he says is just as much the case with regard to liturgy, bible translation, preaching, evangelism, and all the other ways in which the church missionally engages the world with the Gospel.

08 July 2007

harry potter marathon

It less than two weeks until the release of seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series. So, in the meantime, I've undertaken the task of re-reading the first six volumes in preparation.

I hadn't really gone back and re-read the books, but it is a lot of fun to do so. All sorts of details that were insignificant or easy to overlook are now taking on greater weight and interest with hindsight looking from the end of the sixth volume. I can't say that I really have much idea at all what's in store in the final book, but I'm near bursting with anticipation.

Between a house guest, travel, July 4th festivities, various events and functions, I've been away from blogging. And Harry Potter is taking up some additional time as well. I still hope to blog something about the Karl Barth conference, but it may have to wait.

Hope you all are staying cool.

02 July 2007

road trip!

My mother-in-law is in town and we're all headed up to Elysburg, Pennsylvania to spend a couple of days at Knoebels with another couple and their little one. See you after the 4th.