Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reading Goals for 2011

Over the last eight years, I have collected quite a few books due to recommendations from professors or references within other books.  Now that I'm in the midst of a break from school, I want to try and catch up on some of that reading.  I have had a tendency to read a bunch of shorter books and to put off the larger volumes that will take me a while to read.  In 2011, I want to read through some of those larger volumes that I've collected.  In order to leave room for me to also read some other shorter volumes, I am going to make a modest goal of reading 12 large volumes (by that, I mean books that are for the most part 500 or more pages).  Here's my list:

1 and 2.  I want to read volume 1 of Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics, which is in two books.  J.R. Daniel Kirk, a Duke Ph.D who teaches NT at Fuller Theological Seminary is starting an online group to read through the entire CD in seven years (  I plan to participate in this group.  He has a tentative reading plan for 2011 which includes reading through volume 1.  Since 1.1 is shorter, we'll read that in four months and then have eight months to finish 1.2.  That sounds doable to me, and since many Barth scholars encourage people to read Barth slowly, that will give me time to do that.  It will also give me time to work through the Latin passages as well.  I'm looking forward to it!
3.  Walter Brueggemann's Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy.  I started reading this a few years ago, got a few hundred pages in, got distracted, and never got back to it.  This time, I want to read from beginning to end.  I think it will be nice to read this volume alongside Barth as well.
4 and 5.  Ben Witherington III's two volume NT theology, The Indelible Image: The Theological and Ethical World of the New Testament.  Volume 1 is The Individual Witnesses and Volume 2 is The Collective Witness.  I plan to read this immediately after reading Brueggemann, which I think will be interesting for two reasons.  One, I'll read an OT and NT theology.  Two, Brueggemann and Witherington have some similarities and differences in their approaches to reading Scripture.  They both would keep theology and ethics together and blend critical scholarship with readings in and for the church.  At the same time, Bruggemann is a mainline Protestant while Witherington is more or less an evangelical (even though he is ordained in a mainline Protestant denomination [UMC]).  Should be fun to work through both!
6.  Stanley Grenz's Theology for the Community of God.  I've read a few of Grenz's shorter volumes (e.g., Primer on Postmodernism) and want to read through his magnum opus.
7.  N.T. Wright's The New Testament and the People of God, the first volume from his Christian Origins and the Question of God series.  I would like, in the next couple years to read through the three volumes that have been released so far, so I might as well start with the first one.
8.  Since a few of the Ph.D programs I am interested in are Roman Catholic schools (e.g., Marquette and Dayton), I need to do some more reading on Thomas Aquinas.  While I'm not necessarily reading one big volume, these "smaller" books ad up to one big volume.  What I want to do is read Nicholas Healy's Thomas Aquinas: Theologian of the Christian Life again (it was a text book in one of my classes at ESR) and Fergus Kerr's Thomas Aquinas: A Very Short Introduction.  Then I want to read Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt's Holy Teaching: Introducing the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, which includes various passages from the ST with Bauerschmidt's introductions and commentary.
9.  Everett Ferguson's Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries.  As a SCM person who is interested in the sacraments and the fathers, Ferguson is a towering figure.  While I don't have a copy of the book yet, I hope to get it in the near future.
10.  A Secular Age by Charles Taylor.  I keep on seeing references to Taylor (and in particular this volume) in a lot of my reading (from James K.A. Smith to Stanley Hauerwas), so I need to actually read Taylor.  I need to either purchase a copy or borrow one from a local library.
11.  The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  I've read Crime and Punishment and The Idiot, but haven't read BK yet.  2011 is the year that I finally read it.
12.  The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.  I need to read more fiction and Franzen seems like a great figure in modern literature for me to start reading.

I think this list is doable and it will also give me some room to read some shorter books, like some of Hauerwas' shorter volumes of essays that I haven't read yet, or some of Barth's smaller books, like The Humanity of God or The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life.  To get through it, however, I need to be more disciplined in how I spend my time and put this list on the wall in my office right next to the desk.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

15 Authors in 15 Minutes

The Invitation Guidelines:  Don't take too long to think about it.  Fifteen authors (poets included) who have influenced you and that will always stick with you.  List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag at least 15 of your friends, including me, because I'm interested in seeing which authors you choose.  To do this, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste the rules in a new note, cast your 15 picks and tag people in the note.

1.  Karl Barth
2.  Stanley Hauerwas
3.  James K.A. Smith
4.  William Robinson
5.  William Cavanaugh
6.  Stanley Grenz
7.  Ludwig Wittgenstein
8.  Robert Webber
9.  D.H. Williams
10.  N.T. Wright
11.  J.R.R. Tolkein
12.  C.S. Lewis
13.  John Howard Yoder
14.  Michael Crichton
15.  J.K. Rowling

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Canon and Creed

My review of Robert Jenson's new book, Canon and Creed, was just posted at the Englewood Review of Books (  Here it is:

Canon and Creed is the second book in Westminster John Knox Press’ new series, Interpretation: Resources for Use of Scripture in the Church.  The series supplements Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching.  Canon and Creed’s author, Robert Jenson, is a Lutheran theologian whom David Bentley Hart calls, “America’s perhaps most creative systematic theologian” (First Things Oct 2005, “The Lively God of Robert Jenson”).
In Canon and Creed, Jenson seeks to move beyond understandings within the church and the academy that “we can cling to Scripture or cling to church doctrine, or possibly to both in different contexts, but cannot cling to both with the same grasp” (2).  Instead, through the work, Jenson emphasizes the mutuality of canon and creed as “Spirit-given reminders of what sort of community the church must be if it is indeed to be the church” (2–3).
While some scholars might argue that a canon did not exist within the church until formal criteria for canonization developed in the fourth century, Jenson argues instead that there was a functional canon by the latter part of the second century.  He cites Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, written around AD 180, for support.  While some find such a canon vague, Jenson argues, “A canon with fuzzy edges . . . can be authoritative Scripture as well as one with absolutely set edges” (12).
Against Marcion, Jenson affirms that the Christian canon includes both the Old and New Testaments.  While some Christians have asked why Christians need the Old Testament, Jenson instead says, “The real question was and is this: ‘Can Israel’s Scripture accept this proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection and this new movement within Israel?’” (20).  Jenson argues God answers this question by vindicating Jesus Christ in the resurrection.  The God who rescued the Israelites from slavery is the God who raises Jesus to life.  Jenson advocates a Christian reading of the Old Testament that avoids supersessionism and is rooted in the overarching narrative of Scripture.
In relation to the New Testament documents, Jenson notes that in addition to apostolicity, early Christians recognized their canonicity due to the fact that “they witnessed to the apostolic faith” within the regula fidei (“rule of faith”; 40).  Jenson thus notes that the relation between the canon and regula fidei is circular: the regula fidei comes from Scripture and Scripture is recognized as canonical due to its coherence with the regula fidei.
By “creed” within the volume, Jenson not only refers to the ecumenical creeds, but also to catechetical-baptismal confessions and the regula fidei in its various forms.  While Jenson advocates the importance of contemporary Christians studying Scripture in light of the creed, he does not support the creeds uncritically.  Jenson notes that no creed is a complete summary of the Christian faith.  Jenson critiques the creeds for their lack of references to the Old Testament (apart from naming God as creator) and to the life of Jesus in between his birth and death.  Jenson thus argues, “We have arrived again at a point to which . . . we will repeatedly come: the canon without the creed will not serve to protect the church against perversion of the gospel, and neither will the creed without the canon” (32).
Jenson then discusses dogma, which he says “reprises the original creedal development and participates in its authority” (63).  Dogma differs from creed, “For dogma responds to questions that did not arise in the second- or third-century church, and to which the regula fidei and the creeds may not supply obvious answers” (65).  We do, however, see the development of creed to dogma even within the Nicene Creed (AD 325), Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (AD 381), and within the Chalcedonian definition (AD 451), which sought to answer new questions raised within the church in the light of canon and creed.
Jenson also notes that in the second century, “the church received a trio of institutions to guard its identity through time: canon, creed, and episcopate” (71).  The bishops played an important role in maintaining the church’s teaching and served as delegates at the ecumenical councils.  While many Protestants from non-episcopal traditions may have difficulty with Jenson’s chapter on the episcopacy, he raises some important issues for consideration.
Rather than simply stating his case that contemporary exegetes should study the canon and creed together, Jenson gives examples of his approach in the last three chapters by exegeting Genesis 1:1–5 and Luke 1:26–38 in light of the creed and Mark 14:35–36 in light of dogma.
Throughout Canon and Creed, Jenson demonstrates that while the historical-critical method does have a place in the study of the Bible, the method is not an end in itself.  For example, Jenson criticizes some historical Jesus scholars for “mistaking a pile of scholarly reports for a person” (58).  Jenson thus follows after theologians like Karl Barth, who criticized some critical scholars for writing commentaries that discuss the meaning of various Greek words and phrases and archaeological finds.  Barth argues, however, that their work is “no commentary at all, but merely the first step toward a commentary” (Epistle to the Romans, 6).  Jenson argues that until the birth of modernity, “theology was not thought of as an enterprise distinct from biblical exegesis” (118).  Jenson thus advocates a way of reading of the Bible not simply for the academy, but one for the church, in which Christians in their reading of Scripture “seek to discern a ‘christological plain sense’” (82).
Jenson presents a balanced approach to the study of canon and creed which makes use of helpful sources both ancient and modern.  Canon and Creed is a work that would benefit preachers, teachers, and students interested in the formation of the canon, the ancient creeds, and their importance for the contemporary church.  Readers from the Stone-Campbell Movement and other free church traditions who are skeptical of creedal formulations should also consider reading D.H. Williams’ written volumes Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism (Eerdmans, 1999) and Evangelicals and Tradition (Baker Academic, 2005), as well as his edited volume The Free Church and The Early Church (Eerdmans, 2002).

Friday, August 27, 2010

William Cavanaugh on the Origin of the Kingdom

"It should be no surprise that the Romans treated the church as a political threat whose practices were subversive of good order in the Empire.  Pliny, in a letter to the Emperor Trajan (c. 110 CE), reports that he applied Trajan's ban on political societies to the Christian communities of Asia Minor.  In the Roman view, Christian failure to worship the pagan gods and their assumption that allegiance to Caesar conflicted with allegiance to Christ was not simply a religious matter, but concerned imperial political order.  As N.T. Wright notes, Christians did not attempt to defend themselves from persecution with the claim that they were merely a 'private club' or collegium for the advancement of particular interests.  They continued to proclaim the kingship of Christ, even if such kingship was not based on the model of Caesar's (Wright 1992: 346-57).  That Christ's kingdom is not of (ek) the world (John 18:36) was regarded as a statement of origin; the kingdom is not from the world, but it is in the world and deeply concerned with it."

William T. Cavanaugh, "The Church," in The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 396.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Review of Boyd's Present Perfect

A review I wrote of Gregory Boyd's new book, Present Perfect, was just posted over at Englewood Review of Books (  Here it is, reposted with the permission of the publisher:

In his new book, Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now, pastor and theologian Gregory Boyd advocates what he calls, “the most important discipline that you could ever practice” (10).  Drawing upon two monks from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Brother Lawrence and Jean-Pierre de Caussade, as well as a twentieth century evangelical missionary and literacy advocate, Frank Laubach, Boyd defends the need for Christians to practice the presence of God.

To illustrate the need of Christians to be aware of God’s presence, Boyd tells a story of a time he went on a run through the woods to train for an ultra-marathon.  While Boyd ran, his mind focused on the upcoming race and his performance in it.  A few hours into his run, he noticed a cricket chirping.  Boyd then noticed more and more crickets, and then some frogs, bees, and birds.  Boyd then noticed the beauty of the scenery around him and the fragrances.  Boyd says:
The moment felt sacred.  I felt I was waking up to God’s presence permeating all things and reflecting in all things.  It seemed I was, for the first time, waking up to the way the world is supposed to be experienced—the way it really is.  Overwhelmed by this sense of  God’s presence and breathtaking beauty, I began to weep (13).
Boyd uses this story to illustrate how many Christians go through life seemingly unaware of God’s presence around them.  Boyd calls on them to awaken to the “reality . . . that God is present in . . . every moment” (15).

Boyd says many contemporary Christians have difficulty experiencing the presence of God in the present moment because they have a “secular worldview” that assumes God is irrelevant to most areas of their lives.  As Stanley Hauerwas says in With the Grain of the Universe, “Christians in modernity have lost the ability to answer questions about the truthfulness of what we believe because we have accepted beliefs about the world that presuppose that God does not matter.”  Boyd argues that for Christians to experience God they must stop compartmentalizing the “spiritual” from the “normal,” and see God as involved in their whole lives.

Following figures like Augustine and C.S. Lewis, Boyd argues, “our deepest hunger is only satisfied when we’re rightly related to God” (45).  To be rightly related to God, Christians must be citizens of God’s kingdom, surrendering their entire lives to Christ’s lordship with single-minded obedience.  This will lead, when accompanied by a yielding to the Spirit, to sanctification and a renewed mind (Rom 12:2).  This renewed mind should not lead Christians to being unaware of the needs of the world around them, but instead to conformity with Christ, who loved and served the world.  By living in Christ’s love and loving and serving like Christ, Christians continue Christ’s incarnation in the present.

Present Perfect also includes an appendix in which Boyd critiques the New Age Movement, principally through interaction with Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (New York: Plume, 2006).  Boyd does so to contrast his emphasis upon practicing the presence of God with Tolle’s advocacy of “something like the practice of living in the present moment” which he “associates with becoming aware of one’s inner divinity and an assortment of other New Age concepts” (153).

Throughout Present Perfect, Boyd advocates the need for individual Christians to practice the presence of God.  Unfortunately, Present Perfect lacks an emphasis upon how Christians should experience God’s presence in communal gatherings or practices like the Eucharist (most likely because Boyd wants Christians to practice the presence of God continually, rather than an hour a week on Sunday morning).  Also, while Boyd is correct that some people in the church are hypocritical, his dichotomization of religion and relationship is problematic.

At the same time, Present Perfect has its share of strengths.  Boyd succeeds in writing a book advocating the practice of the presence of God to people in a contemporary North American context.  Boyd effectively critiques post-Enlightenment understandings of the Christian faith that compartmentalize life, showing that Christ is Lord of not just the “spiritual” part of a person’s life, but of every aspect of life.  Boyd also avoids the possible escapism critique by arguing that awareness of God’s presence leads one to social action rather than away from it.  Also, each chapter closes with some possible exercises, making the work practical to readers.

While Boyd does tend throughout the book to speak of how individuals can practice the presence of God, groups could read the book and practice the exercises together, therefore discovering a way to practice the presence of God in Christian community (40).  While Boyd is theologically astute, he writes at an accessible level, so Present Perfect could be read not only by professors, pastors, college students, or adult groups, but also by youth.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


As an avid reader, I really want to get an e-reader in order to save on shelf space, etc.  I, however, as a person who will go back to school in the future and will (hopefully) do some publishing, have a big concern.  I want to be able to cite books in papers, but can't do so if I can't see the correct page number.

For example, on the Barnes and Noble site about the Nook, it has in the FAQ section the question, "Why do my NOOK page numbers not match up with the page numbers of my physical book?"  The answer is, "You may notice that sometimes when you turn pages, the page number doesn't change. Since the screen on the NOOK can contain fewer words than a physical page of a book (depending on the font size being used), sometimes it will take several screens of text to display an entire page. In these cases, the page number will not change, although you are making progress through the book."  That's not really an answer to the question.  The answer deals with why one physical page might be several e-pages, but it doesn't say if the page numbers in the NOOK match up with physical page numbers.  The Kindle site does not say anything about how the page numbers match up.

Does anyone who has an e-reader have any insight on this?  Or, does anyone know if Turabian or other citation guides have new guidelines on how to cite books from an e-reader?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology, Part 6: Theological Method

I read the fifth chapter of Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology, "Anthropology," by Henri A.G. Blocher, but to be honest, some of it was over my head and other parts of it I don't have an opinion on, so I don't feel comfortable commenting on it.  Instead, I'm going to make a few comments on the sixth chapter, "Christus Praesens: Barth's Radically Realist Christology and its Necessity for Theological Method."

First, Richardson notes that Barth breaks with propositional understandings of revelation.  You can in this critique of propositionalism see where Lindbeck gets at least part of his critique of cognitive-propositional understandings of religion.

Second, Barth is critical of natural theology.  Richardson notes, "The possibility of the knowledge of God is a naturalized, domesticated, generalized condition which Barth most emphatically rejects" (138).  In other words, Barth is critical of natural theology because when people center their theology upon "general" or "natural revelation," they tend to make God in their own image.  As I will note in a paper that I will turn into a blog series after I finish blogging through this book, Barth is a helpful figure to draw upon in critiquing American civil religion.

Third, while Barth's primary focus is not theological method, but dogmatics, his theological method still shines through.  According to Richardson, Barth's theological method stems from the understanding that when the church listens to the reading of scripture or preaching, they are listening to God speaking in the present.  (This does not mean Barth was unaware of the distance between the original audience and the contemporary church.  Barth instead understood, "The One who was for us 'then' is the One who is for us 'now'" [142].  "Barth's answer is a bridging of historical distance through the actuality of the living Jesus Christ whose resurrection, by the grace of God, provides the reality by which the theological speaks with the Church in confessing 'Jesus lives'--and continues, 'and I with him'" [144]). 

Fourth, in a point similar to the one above, Barth believed that the Spirit aids and illuminates the preacher, theologian, and church in their reading/listening to Scripture.  (As I mentioned in a previous post on this issue, Barth can thus be an extremely helpful figure for the Stone-Campbell Movement as we try and develop a theology of illumination for our context).  Richardson says that for Barth, "Thus, fellowship with the living God is a necessary condition for doing of Christian theology" (145).  Richardson also says of Barth's understanding, "The work of the Holy Spirit is necessary for the work of the theologian since by the activity of the Spirit the theologian is 'kept close to Jesus Christ in true and genuine faith,' and enlivened to speak and write as an expression of gratitude to God" (147).

While Barth's understanding is not politically correct, I find it most convincing.  While there are non-Christians who do historical studies that can help contemporary people better understand the biblical text and while there are non-Christians who can understand and write of what ancient peoples thought, Christian theology is "faith seeking understanding."  I hope in many ways that more theologians, like Hauerwas, will offer critiques of the modern university and focus Christian theology upon the context of the church.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Are You a Christian Hipster?

Richard Beck, a psychology professor at ACU who blogs at Experimental Theology, just posted a link to a quiz entitled, "Are you a Christian hipster?" (, which is a companion to an upcoming book, Hipster Christianity by Brett McCracken.  I got a 90/120, which defines me as a "hipster Christian."  The result says, "Extremely High CHQ. Congratulations! You are a grade A, Sufjan-caliber Christian hipster! You probably like Thomas Merton, hookah, and lectio divina. You're not above self-critique and meta theory, and thus should definitely read Hipster Christianity.."

I don't know quite how I feel about the result.  It appears as though the quiz is simply saying I'm a 20 something who grew up in a time where I was taught to care about the environment, distrust the Left Behind series and megachurches, and care about war/peace/justice issues, but I've never really seen myself as a hip person.  I'm curious to see what some of you would get on this quiz--especially some of you professor types who are old enough to be my parents.

I'm going to look more into this upcoming book; possibly more on the topic to follow.

Barth and Evangelical Theology: Part 5, Creation

The chapter in Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology entitled “Creation” is by Oliver Crisp, who teaches at the University of Bristol.  Crisp correctly notes that the center of Barth’s theology is Christology, and thus that Barth’s “doctrine of creation is ‘christologized’” (77).  Crisp does not attempt to exhaustively summarize Barth’s doctrine of creation, but instead to interact with “some of the more controversial issues involved in his doctrine of creation proper in, CD, III/1” (78; CD is the abbreviation of Church Dogmatics).  Crisp focuses in particular on the relationship between Barth’s doctrine of creation and “that of the classical (Western) theological tradition, particularly, the Reformed strand of that tradition” (78), in an attempt to note the similarities and differences.  (Notice any similarities between Chung and Crisp?)

Crisp notes four areas of overlap that Barth and the Reformed tradition share in their doctrines of creation:
  1. The whole of the Trinity is involved in creation.
  2. Creation is a free act of God (see the previous post on Barth’s emphasis upon God as “the one who loves in freedom”).
  3. Barth has a sort of supralapsarianism, though Crisp notes that his “is different from traditional construals in important respects” (80).  In particular, Barth “denies that the divine decrees fork at the point where God elects some human beings and reprobates the rest.  Instead, according to Barth, God elects and reprobates Christ, the Elect (and Reprobate) One, and derivatively elects al humanity ‘in’ Christ” (80–81).
  4. Barth makes a close connection between “the divine act of creation, and the covenant of grace whereby God graciously ordains to elect Christ as the one through whom human redemption is brought about” (83).

Crisp then notes four areas in which Barth differs from the Reformed tradition:
  1. Unlike the Reformed tradition, Barth is critical of natural theology.  Barth remains critical of natural theology because it often results in humans making God in their own image.  According to Barth, “We can only know what God is like where God breaks into our world in an event of revelation and makes himself known to us” (86).  Jesus Christ is the primary revelation in which God makes Godself known.
  2. Barth denies “an apologetic purpose to the doctrine of creation” (88).  Barth, correctly, argues that Genesis 1–3 should not be read as a scientific textbook or an apologetic text, but instead as a dogmatic text.  Crisp, as an evangelical, has some problems with Barth’s views on the matter, but I’m with Barth on this one.
  3. Crisp never says explicitly “third” in between what he explicitly lists as “second” and “fourth,” which is one of my biggest pet peeves when reading an essay/book.  I’ll just assume that the third difference is Barth’s hermeneutical differences with conservative evangelicals.
  4. “Unlike classical theologians, Barth does not believe creation is a timeless act of an atemporal God, whose essence remains unaffected by the utterance of the divine fiat, and bringing into being of the created order” (90).  Barth instead believes the incarnation should control what one thinks of God’s creative act.  For Barth, however, God’s time is different than human time and God is eternal (by which Barth means, “He is simultaneously before time, above time, and after time” (CD, III/1, 67).  Barth’s account of God’s relation to time makes little sense to me, but neither does the classical view, because both views place God as simultaneously past, present, and future.  I do not deny, however, that God created time.

Crisp concludes that Barth’s emphasis upon God creating through Christ is consistent with Scripture at some points, but in others “goes beyond the biblical affirmation that Christ is the agent through whom and form whom all things are created” (93).  Crisp, however, notes that other figures, such as Colin Gunton, are more supportive of Barth’s project.

Crisp is also cautious about Barth’s critique of natural theology.  I have mixed feelings on the matter.  I do think in some ways that Barth over states his case, but in other ways think his overstatement is needed.  (When I finish blogging through Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology, I was to do some work on a paper I wrote a few years ago on Barth’s critique of natural theology and turn it into a short blog series.)  Crisp offers up Nicholas Wolterstorff and Alvin Plantinga as an alternative to Barth and a way of better utilizing Calvin for a contemporary natural theology.

Crisp, while he has disagreements with Barth, helpfully notes that Barth is still a theologian worth interacting with and worth learning a from.  I greatly enjoyed reading Crisp’s chapter.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Barth and Evangelical Theology: Part 4, God and Election

After getting bogged down on my thesis, blogging about Hauerwas’ Hannah’s Child, and taking a slight break, I am finally returning to Barth and Evangelical Theology. The chapter I will comment on is called “A Bold Innovator: Barth on God and Election,” by the editor of the volume, Sung Wook Chung, a Korean theologian educated at Harvard and Oxford who teaches at Denver Seminary.

I was slightly surprised that the editor of Barth and Evangelical Theology was the figure so far in the volume with the most opposition to Barth’s theology. He says in the introduction to the chapter, “I am not in agreement with [postconservative theologians] that Barth’s theology is the hope for the future of evangelical theology. Rather, I am convinced that conservative evangelical theology should take issues with many points of Barth’s theology” (60).

While acknowledging that Barth believed in the Reformation principles of sola scriptura, sola gratia, a christocentric emphasis, and what Chung calls “theologianhood of all believers,” Chung argues that Barth was an “innovator” when it comes to the doctrine of God. First, Chung critiques Barth’s “actualism,” by which means Barth’s argument that “God is who He is in the act of His revelation” (63). Chung sites Princeton theologian George Hunsinger, who argues Barth “thinks primarily in terms of events and relationships rather than monadic or self-contained substances” (64). Chung opposes Barth’s emphasis upon God’s action rather than substance, thus arguing it is against scripture and thus anti-evangelical. Scripture however, often focuses more on how God acts to redeem Israel, in Christ, etc., and spends much less time discussing God’s substance. Chung seems unaware that Barth argued the economic Trinity (how God acts in relation to his creation in salvation history) is the immanent Trinity (the interior life of God).

Second, Chung critiques Barth’s view of God “as the one who loves in freedom” (65). Chung believes that one should begin not with “God is love” but instead with “God is spirit” or “God is good.” Because Barth places the emphasis upon God’s free love and free loving actions, Chung believes Barth argues “love is God,” which is unfounded (66). Chung argues that “one who loves in freedom can be evil,” but Barth obviously believes God is not evil and that God’s love is good and different from human love. Chung thus seems to define an evangelical view of God with a stream of Reformed thought that emphasizes God as spirit and God’s attributes of goodness, truthfulness, and holiness above love.

Third, Chung critiques what he calls Barth’s “metaphysics of relationship,” primarily because Barth “hated speculation” and “never defined God from a perspective of substantialist metaphysics.” Again, Chung seems unaware that for Barth, the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity. Chung even argues, quite inaccurately, that “Barth’s relational ontology is a quite innovative pattern of thought that has no precedent in the history of Christian theology” (70). Then he says, “Of course, we may say that the three Cappadocian Fathers were an exception” (70). So, Chung shows a dislike of social views of the Trinity, which are present within Eastern Orthodoxy and recent western theologians like Colin Gunton, Stanley Grenz, Jurgen Moltmann, etc. So once again, Chung appears to only take seriously certain forms of Reformed theology.

Fourth, Chung critiques Barth’s doctrine of election, which centers upon Christ as “the direct object of divine election” (72) and the “Subject of election” (74). Thus, “In [Jesus], all human beings are directed indirectly” (72). Barth, while opposed to holding to universalism as dogma, held to it as an “article of hope,” much like some contemporary Eastern Orthodox theologians (73). Chung is correct that few in church history discussed this view as the primary form of election, it does have support from some passages in Scripture and various figures in tradition. Chung thus correctly argues that Barth holds together both Calvinistic and Arminian tendencies.

Throughout the chapter, I found that Chung could not see outside of his lens of conservative Reformed evangelical theology in viewing Barth, who was a Reformed theologian of a different mold. One point I will seed to Chung is that Barth at times speaks of the Trinity in modalistic language, which is upsetting, but in other contexts he does not. It appears Barth, like Nicholas Lash, uses quasi-modalistic language to maintain an emphasis upon the oneness of God. As a person who is from a Arminian background and appreciates aspects of Eastern Christianity, Barth’s doctrines of God and election are less upsetting to me than to someone like Chung. I was pretty surprised that in a volume of essays that are supposed to constructively and appreciatively interact with Barth’s theology from an evangelical perspective that Chung’s essay was so critical.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 12

“Although it is true that I got through the years with Anne in part because of my boundless energy and stubbornness, I would not have survived if I had not had friends praying for me.  I ‘knew’ God was with me because I knew I had friends all over the world praying for us.  Prayer did not mean that I thought everything would work out for the best.  Prayer meant that God was with us.  Prayer meant that Anne did not die alone.  Prayer means that none of us will die alone” (281–282).

“Humility is a virtue that rides on the back of a life made possible by having been given good work to do” (284).

“As I shared this manuscript with friends along the way, someone asked me what I had learned in the process of writing Hannah’s Child.  I am tempted to say that I have learned how fortunate I am to have had such good friends, but that would be stating the obvious.  I might also reply that I now realize how lucky I have been, but that would be killing time in the hope of discovering something to say.  There are other possibilities.  But in fact what I have learned is quite simple – I am a Christian.  How interesting” (284).

Throughout Hannah's Child, Hauerwas gives an account of his life shaped by the story in 1 Samuel of Hannah praying for a child and promising to dedicate that child, Samuel, to God.  Hauerwas had a similar experience, as his mother told him when he was a child that she had too prayed for a child and promised to dedicate the child to God.  While Hauerwas did not always think of his life through that lens, he says that in the process of writing it came to him.  Having the story of his life shaped theologically has similarites to Augustine's Confessions, however, Hauerwas does not reference Confessions anywhere within Hannah's Child.

Throughout the book, Hauerwas shares the numerous friends and congregations who shaped his life and helped him discover "I am a Christian."  While the book is about Hauerwas, it is also about how God shaped and used him to do theology for the church.  The book also made me think of the friends, teachers, classmates, and congregations that have shaped me as a Christian.  So, while the book tells the story of his life, Hauerwas also teaches his readers throughout the book.  As Lauren Winner says in her review on the back of the book, "I love this book because I love its author.  But Hannah's Child is about more than the making of someone called 'Stanley Hauerwas.'  It is about how one makes and sustains families, how God and the church make and sustain Christians."  I highly recommend Hauerwas' memoir (to those not overly offended by occasional cussing).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Top 50 Blogs by Divinity Students?

I don't know how it's possible (since my blogging habits are quite irregular), but my blog, Battle Against the Bewitchment of Intelligence @ for my facebook readers, was named one of the "Top 50 Blogs by Divinity Students" by The Divining Blog (  I only have 1 follower, so maybe this will help increase my readership, even though I doubt the list is legit.  I have no clue how they found my blog considering my low readership.

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 11

“We not only go to church, but I try to be a church theologian.  I am not interested in what I believe.  I am not even sure what I believe.  I am much more interested in what the church believes” (254). 

“I do not trust prayer to spontaneity.  Most ‘spontaneous prayers’ turn out, upon analysis, to be anything but spontaneous.  Too often they conform to formulaic patterns that include ugly phrases such as, ‘Lord, we just ask you . . .’  Such phrases are gestures of false humility, suggesting that God should give us what we want because what we want is not all that much.  I pray that God will save us from that ‘just’” (255).

I greatly appreciate Hauerwas' emphasis on being a "church theologian."  As religion and theology are increasingly associated with university departments, theology has (unfortunately) been seen as a discipline disassociated from the church (especially in traditions like my own in which there is a distrust of "theology").  The contemporary church needs figures like Hauerwas whose theology stems from the context of the church.

 Part of that emphasis upon a church context means an emphasis upon the theological content in prayer.  In my own tradition, prayer is generally extemporaneous and their is a skepticism of reading prayers because it is seen as ritualistic or insincere.  I, however, find greater value in prayers of the church found in documents like the Book of Common Prayer, in which believers have, over the centuries, thought deeply about what content should be in various prayers, refining them when necessary.  I hope, in my own teaching and ministry, to help members of Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, to better understand the value in reading prayers, rather than leaving prayer up to spontaneity.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 10

“I am not by nature nonviolent. It is not a natural stance. But one slow step at a time I tried to learn not to live a life determined by what I was against. Peace is a deeper reality than violence. That is an ontological claim with profound moral implications. But it takes some getting used to” (231).

“I knew we were in deep theological trouble as soon as politicians and commentators made the claim that September 11 had forever changed the world.  Most Americans, Christian and non-Christian, quickly concluded that September 11 was a decisive event.  That was exactly the problem.  For Christians, the decisive change in the world, the apocalyptic event that transformed how all other events are to be understood, occurred in a.d. 33.  Having spent decades reading Yoder and four years writing the Gifford Lectures, it was clear to me that September 11 had to be considered in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus” (264).

“I argued that the Christian understanding of the cross required the church to be a counter-community capable of challenging the presumption that ‘we are at war.’  The ‘we’ in ‘we are at war’ could not be the Christian ‘we’” (266).

“The worship of Jesus is the central act that makes Christians Christian.  It is that center that connects everything together.  My work is about such connections.  I have tried to show that how we live together in marriage, how and why we have children, how we learn to be friends, and how we care for the mentally disabled are the ways a people must live if we are to be an alternative to war.  To find alternatives to war will take time.  The effort to abolish war presumes that we have all the time we need to persuade others that war can be abolished.  War is impatience.  Christians believe that through the cross and resurrection we have been given the time to be patient in a world of impatience” (274).

In these various quotations, Hauerwas makes a few important points.  First, the center of the Christian faith is Christ and the church's worship.  Christian nonviolence should stem from the church's worship.  Second, Christian nonviolence is counter-cultural.  It is foolish to the world, but the wisdom of God.  Third, Christians should remember that they are not Americans (or Canadians, Brits, Koreans, etc.) first, they are Christians first, and their allegiances are first to God and the church.  Fourth, Christians must have patience in their practice of nonviolence.  Their nonviolent resistance will not always produce immediate results.  Instead, it witnesses to an alternate way of life.  As Mother Theresa said, "God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 9

“Barth understood that the work of the theologian is word work, or, as John Howard Yoder would have it, that the task of theology is ‘working with words in the light of faith.’  The difficulty of the task is manifest by the misleading grammar of Yoder’s observation, that is, one can draw from his description the conclusion that words do not constitute ‘the light of faith.’  In fact, faith is nothing more than the words we use to speak of God.  And yet the God to whom and about whom we speak defies the words we use.  Such defiance seems odd, because the God about whom we speak is, we believe, found decisively in Jesus of Nazareth, the very Word of God.  Still, it seems that the nearer God draws to us, the more we discover that we know not what we say when we say ‘God.’  I suspect that this is why one of the most difficult challenges of prayer is learning how to address God.
“For Christians, learning to address God is complicated because we do not begin by addressing ‘God’ but rather ‘Father,’ ‘Son,’ and ‘Holy Spirit.’  ‘God’ is the name we use to indicate the love that constitutes the relation of Jesus and his Father through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Thus we know what it means to say ‘God’ only because Jesus taught us to pray to the Father.  Disputes between those who believe in God and those who do not often turn on the assumption by both parties that they know what they mean when they say ‘God.’  This seems unlikely, since Christians believe that we learn to use the word ‘God’ only through worship and prayer to the One we address as Father, Son, and Spirit.  Such a God is identified by a story that takes time, often a lifetime, to learn.
“Theology is the ongoing and never ending attempt to learn this story and to locate the contexts that make speech about God work.  How theology can at once be about God and about the complexities of human life is never easily rendered.  Some theologians in modernity have tried to split the differences between speech about God and the complexities of human life, with the result that their theology is more about ‘us’ than about God.  When this happens, it is not at all clear that you need the word ‘God’ at all.  If my work has seemed to be ‘in your face,’ I think it has been so because I have tried o show that ‘God’ is a necessary word” (235–236).

As a fan of Wittgenstein, I found this section helpful (see Brad Kallenberg's Ethics as Grammar for the influence of Wittgenstein upon Hauerwas).  Christians, as they grow in the faith must grow and learn over time the language and grammar of faith.  How to speak of God, and also worship, pray, and live in light of the story of God.  While theology does stem from the context of the church, it should be centered upon God and it is a never ending process.  Theology is not a subject that anyone ever finishes learning about, but it is, as Hauerwas notes, something that takes a lifetime.  It is "faith seeking understanding," or as Dr Blowers often says, it is "faith seeking understanding, seeking faith seeking understanding . . . ."

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 8

“When Christianity is assumed to be an ‘answer’ that makes the world intelligible, it reflects an accommodated church committed to assuring Christians that the way things are is the way things have to be.

“Such ‘answers’ cannot help but turn Christianity into an explanation. For me, learning to be a Christian has meant learning to live without answers. Indeed, to learn to live in this way is what makes being a Christian so wonderful. Faith is but a name for learning how to go on without knowing the answers. That is to put the matter too simply, but at least such a claim might suggest why I find being a Christian makes life so damned interesting” (207).

The more I've studied theology, the less answers I feel like I have. Instead, I have more questions. This for me, as for Hauerwas, makes "being a Christian . . . so damned interesting." We don't always have answers. We don't know why people go through times of suffering and knowing why is not the point. Instead, we are to live our lives in faith knowing that we serve a God who is faithful.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 7

“I think this is an apt description of my work, but I also think that the ‘wholly different Christianity’ I represent is in deep continuity with Christianity past and present that is found in the everyday lives of Christian people. You do not get to make Christianity up, and I have no desire to be original. If I represent a wholly different Christianity, I do so only because I have found a way to help us recognize as Christians what extraordinary things we say when we worship God” (135).

“What many people usually find hard to understand, or at least what strikes them as unusual, is how I combine what I hope is a profound commitment to fundamental Christian convictions with a socially radical ethic. At bottom, the convictions involve the claim that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. If he is not fully both, then we Christians are clearly idolaters. A socially radical ethic follows from this theological conviction because our worship of Jesus is itself a politics through which a world is created that would not exist if Jesus were not raised from the dead. Basic to such politics is the refusal of a violence that many assume is a ‘given’ for any responsible account of the world” (136).

“I have come to think that the challenge confronting Christians is not that we do not believe what we say, though that can be a problem, but that what we say we believe does not seem to make any difference for either the church or the world” (159).

I find the desire of some to dichotomize orthodoxy and a commitment to social action extremely problematic. This split that occurred within protestantism at the turn of the twentieth century as the fundamentalist/modernist controversy was in full swing between evangelism and social gospel is completely bunk and has harmed the church and her mission. That's one of the reasons I find Hauerwas' work so appealing. He takes the radical implications of the gospel seriously without dropping an emphasis on Christian orthodoxy and the church as worshiping community. We need to also make sure that what we say we believe makes a difference in our lives, rather than acting as though what we say on Sunday mornings has absolutely nothing to do with our lives the rest of the week.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 6

“Too many people, I fear, become ‘ethicists’ because they do not like theology. I have always been a strong supporter of the Society of Christian Ethics, but the very existence of such a society can be a temptation to separate theology from ethics. I suspect that one of the reasons some of my colleagues in ethics find me hard to take is due to my unrelenting claim that God matters. Not just any God, moreover, but the God that has shown up in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (115).

“Stanley Fish reports that when he teaches Milton there comes a moment when an undergraduate expresses admiration for Milton’s poetry, giving Stanley the opportunity to observe, ‘Milton does not want your admiration. He wants your soul.’ Yoder did not want my soul, but he made it clear that Jesus did. This was not going to be easy” (117).

“Yoder forced me to recognize that nonviolence is not a recommendation, an ideal, that Jesus suggested we might try to live up to. Rather, nonviolence is constitutive of God’s refusal to redeem coercively. The crucifixion is ‘the politics of Jesus’” (118).

Another aspect I appreciate in Hauerwas' work, which is also present in the work of Karl Barth, is the refusal to compartmentalize theology and ethics. For Christians, all theology has ethical implications and all ethics stems from the God's revelation in Jesus Christ. Christians should not just give intellectual assent, only acknowledging that God exists or that Jesus is Lord. Christians should instead understand that faith involves loyalty to God, which also means that Christians are called to obey, even when that obedience involves principles, such as nonviolence, which the world calls foolishness.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 5

“One of the most valuable things I gained from Mr. Holmer was an understanding of intellectual work as investigation. It is so tempting to think you need to have a ‘position’ if you are to be a ‘thinker.’ Positions are also useful if you are to make it as an academic. Theology in modernity, moreover, has been position driven. Thus you are a Tillichian, a Bultmannian, a liberal, a conservative, a Barthian (if you can ever understand what that might entail), a process theologian, and so on. That many theologians think they need to have a position is, I suspect, the result of the loss of ecclesial identities. But reading Wittgenstein with Mr. Holmer helped me see that positions far too easily get in the way of thought.

“I realize that it may seem quite odd for me to speak of not having a ‘position,’ given the fact that many of my theological and ethical colleagues would characterize me as someone with a strong position. This characterization is not entirely unfair; nonetheless, it is wrong. It is true that I am a pacifist, but that does not mean my pacifism is a ‘position.’ Positions too easily tempt us to think we Christians need a theory. I am not a pacifist because of a theory. I am a pacifist because John Howard Yoder convinced me that nonviolence and Christianity are inseparable” (60).

“‘Positions’ can give the impression that our task is to present something ‘new.’ I believe that through the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth we live in a new age, but that is why theologians do not have a position. Rather, our task is to help the church know what it has been given” (134).

I find Hauerwas' comments about positions particularly helpful, because the further along I go in my studies, the less positions I have. I have learned from diverse figures, from Irenaeus to Thomas Merton and Augustine to Karl Barth. I appreciate their differences and strengths. While I find myself agreeing with people associated within different theological circles and denominational backgrounds, I hope I can find a way to defy those limitations and make room for thought.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 4

This is probably my favorite section of the book so far:

“The presumption of many scholars at the time was that the task of theology was to make the language of faith amenable to standards set by the world. This could be done by subtraction: ‘Of course you do not have to believe X or Y’; or by translation, ‘When we say X or Y we really mean . . .’ I was simply not interested in that project. From my perspective, if the language was not true, then you ought to give it up. I thought the crucial question was not whether Christianity could be made amenable to the world, but could the world be made amenable to what Christians believe? I had not come to the study of theology to play around.

“I am not sure why I thought like this, but I suspect it had something to do with being a bricklayer. I simply did not believe in ‘cutting corners.’ I was attracted to Barth because he never cut any of the corners. He never tried to ‘explain.’ Rather, he tried to show how the language works by showing how the language works. There is a ‘no bullshit’ quality to Barth’s thought that appealed to a bricklayer from Texas and that seemed to me the kind of straightforwardness Christian claims require.

“Listening to Hartt, I had come to appreciate the complexity of the simple beliefs we have as Christians. Reading Barth with Hartt had forced me to realize that a claim such as ‘Jesus is Lord’ requires constant variations to be said rightly. Every volume of his Church Dogmatics is an exercise to show the connections necessary to say one thing well. From Barth’s perspective, therefore, the task of theology can never come to an end. Paul Tillich had to finish his Systematic Theology. Barth could not finish Church Dogmatics, because if he had finished he would have had to start over” (59).

I appreciate the ways in which Hauerwas critiques certain forms of accomodationism. Hauerwas also, effectively I might add, shows that theology is not a task that a person ever finishes. It is an ongoing process of "faith seeking understanding."

Friday, April 30, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 3

“Before Yale, in college, I had become convinced that one of the decisive challenges concerning the truthfulness of Christianity was the failure of Christians to stand against the Shoah. I do not remember how I came to that conclusion, but I think reading Nietzshce had convinced me that how Christians lived surely must be crucial for understanding how, if at all, what Christians say they believe might be considered true. That Christians not only had prepared the ground for the Shoah through centuries of persecution, but also had conspired in the murder of the Jews, I took as a decisive indicator that Christianity did not meet the demands for truthfulness.

“It therefore came as quite a shock to me to discover in Julian Hartt’s systematic theology course at Yale that Barth had seen more clearly than most the perversion of National Socialism. I was not prepared for the idea that Christianity itself might harbor such a critical lens about affairs in the world” (51).

“I read as much Kierkegaard as I could get my hands on. I was sure Kierkegaard was right to put the stress on the ‘how’ of faith as necessary for understanding the ‘what.’ Put differently, I was learning from Holmer’s account of Kierkegaard (as well as from Hartt) that theology is best understood as a form of practical reason. Moreover, I learned from Kierkegaard that the truth of practical reason is Christ, and thus practical reason cannot be constrained by the accommodated form of the church identified with Christendom” (53).

“I suspect that learning the limits of pluralist politics may have prepared me to read John Howard Yoder” (57).

Speaking of his relationship with James Gustafson, Hauerwas says, “Our theologies differ, of course, but that our theologies differ, and that we each care about the difference, reflects our common commitment to the difference theology should make” (58).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 2

“Intellectually, my greatest strength is that there is nothing in which I am not interested. Intellectually, my greatest weakness is that there is nothing in which I am not interested” (12).

“My criticism of liberal political presumptions is based in my presumption that politics, like laying brick, is a wisdom-determined activity” (36).

“I think of theology as a craft requiring years of training. Like stonecutters and bricklayers, theologians must come to terms with the material upon which they work. In particular, they must learn to respect the simple complexity of the language of the faith, so that they might reflect the radical character of orthodoxy. I think one of the reasons I was never drawn to liberal Protestant theology was that it felt too much like an attempt to avoid the training required of apprentices. In contrast, Karl Barth’s work represented for me an uncompromising demand to submit to a master bricklayer, with the hope that in the process one might learn some of the ‘tricks of the trade’” (37).

“I hope I am a Christian because what we believe as Christians forces an unrelenting engagement with reality. That my parents let me go is a testimony to the truthfulness of their lives. Without lives like theirs, the life I have led, a life shaped by books, is threatened by unreality. I try to remember where I came from” (45).

“I am an academic because to be an academic has given me time to think about matters that should matter. What I hope and pray is that the way I have tried to think and write may in some small way help sustain lives as good as my parents. My father was a better bricklayer than I am a theologian. I am still in too much of a hurry. But if the work I have done in theology is of any use, it is because of what I learned on the job, that is, you can lay only one brick at a time” (46).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir, Part 1

I had to set aside the Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology book to put the finishing touches on my thesis and was hoping to get back to blogging through it, but I received in the mail today my long awaited copy of Stanley Hauerwas' new book, Hannah's Child: A Theologians's Memoir. So, I'm putting Barth aside and I will instead include in my blog some interesting quotations or reflections from Hannah's Child.

Here's the first few quotations I found quite enjoyable:

"I believe what I write, or rather, by writing I learn to believe. But then I do not put much stock in 'believing in God.' The grammar of 'belief' invites a far too rationalistic account of what it means to be a Christian. 'Belief' implies propositions about which you get to make up your mind before you know the work they are meant to do. Does this mean I do not believe in God? Of course not, but I am far more interested in what a declaration of belief entails for how I live my life" (x).

"'How' is the heart of the matter for me. When I first read Kierkegaard, I was quite taken with his suggestion of the 'what' of Christianity is not the problem. It is the 'how.' I have spent many years trying to say that we cannot understand the 'what' of Christianity without knowing 'how' to be a Christian. Yet then I worry about the how of my own life.
"I have written this memoir in an attempt to understand myself, something that would be impossible without my friends. I have had a wonderful life because I have had wonderful friends. So this attempt to understand myself is not just about 'me' but about the friends who have made me who I am. It is also about God -- the God who has forced me to be who I am. Indeed, trying to figure out how I ended up being Stanley Hauerwas requires that I say how God figures into the story, and this is a frightening prospect" (xi).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Barth and Evangelical Theology: Part 3, “A Person of the Book?”

Kevin Vanhoozer, formerly of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School but now at Wheaton College, follows up Fackre’s discussion on Barth’s views of Revelation with a chapter entitled “A Person of the Book? Barth on Biblical Authority and Interpretation.” As Vanhoozer notes, evangelicals have traditionally been bothered by Barth’s distinction between the Word of God (Jesus) and the words of men (the Bible).[1]

As examples of this skepticism, Vanhoozer summarizes the critiques of Barth by two major figures in early (post-fundamentalist) evangelicalism, Cornelius Van Til and Carl F.H. Henry, who both were concerned that Barth’s “neo-orthodoxy[2] was a modernist wolf in evangelical sheep’s clothing, an uneasy yoking of biblical insights and a non-biblical philosophical framework” (27–28).

Vanhoozer then deals with a second group of evangelicals in the 1970s, such as Bernard Ramm and Donald Bloesch (who wrote the forward to Barth and Evangelical Theology), who argued “that Barth had raised valid points about the dangers of ‘biblicism’ and refused to read him aas an indentured servant to existentialist philosophy” (33). Barth appreciated Barth’s desire to interpret the Bible “in the light of what it claims to be,” rather than by forcing a foreign framework upon it (35). Bloesch appreciated Barth for meeting “the challenge of higher criticism by showing that it needs to be ‘supplemented and fulfilled by theological criticism, which is carried on only by faith seeking understanding’” (35).

Barth deals with some of these issues in the preface to the second edition of The Epistle to the Romans. Barth here says: “I have nothing whatever to say against historical criticism. I recognize it, and once more state quite definitively that it is both necessary and justified. My complaint is that recent commentators confine themselves to an interpretation of the text which seems to me to be no commentary at all, but merely the first step toward a commentary. Recent commentaries contain no more than a reconstruction of the text, a rendering of the Greek words and phrases by their precise equivalents, a number of additional notes in which archaeological and philological material is gathered together, and a more or less plausible arrangement of the subject matter in such a manner that it may be made historically and psychologically intelligible from the standpoint of pure pragmatism” (6). Barth does want to follow critics in their “preliminary work.” Barth then says, “When, however, I examine their attempts at genuine understanding and interpretation, I am again and again surprised how little they even claim for their work. By genuine understanding and interpretation I mean that creative energy which Luther exercised with intuitive certainty in his exegesis; which underlies the systematic interpretation of Calvin . . . ” (7).

I find myself in great agreement with Barth on these matters. I do have great appreciation for the historical-gramatical method (in which I was trained in college) and the historical-critical method (in which I have been trained in seminary), but at the same time, I have some criticisms of these methods. For example, John Collins, in his The Bible After Babel: Historical Criticism in a Postmodern Age, defines historical criticism as “a loose umbrella that covers a range of methods” which “have in common . . . a general agreement that texts should be interpreted in their historical contexts, in light of the literary and cultural conventions of their time” (4). I totally agree with Collins here, but then he says, “historical critics usually assume a hierarchy of meanings and regard the historical context as basic or primary” (4). Here is where I disagree with him: the Bible is not first and foremost a text for historical critics, but the text of the church![3]

Collins also argues that historical criticism brings people together. “It has created an arena where people with different faith commitments can work together and have meaningful conversations. The historical focus has been a way of getting distance from the text, of respecting its otherness. The neutrality and objectivity at which the discipline has aimed has allowed Jews and Christians to work together and has allowed feminists to make their case in ways that initially unsympathetic scholars have found compelling” (10). Now, let me preface my following comments by saying I am not against conversation—I think it’s important. I read scholars from which I differ in opinion and seek to learn from them. At the same time, of course people can work together when they distance themselves from the biblical text and try and look at it “objectively” (whatever that means). When something doesn’t mean anything to your life (or you seek to compartmentalize your life to the extent that something doesn’t mean anything in certain contexts) it’s easy to give yourself over fully to historical criticism. I question, however, how helpful it is for us to distance ourselves from the biblical text or that we can truly stand above the biblical text as “objective observers” (again, whatever that means). That’s why I enjoy Barth’s exegesis, which is done within the context of the church as faith seeking understanding.

Now back to Vanhoozer, who then deals with what he calls the “third wave” of evangelicals, those who interact with Barth through “Yale school” postliberals like Hans Frei and George Lindbeck. Frei and Lindbeck emphasize (like Fackre) the canon as “realistic narrative.” Lindbeck also coins the term “intratextuality,” by which he means “redescribing reality within the framework of the biblical narrative rather than translating Scripture into extrascriptural categories” (38; see also Yale Ph.D Stanely Hauerwas’ critique of translation. Brad Kallenberg has a nice treatment of Hauerwas’ critique of translation in Ethics as Grammar). Some other “third wave” evangelicals (I assume Vanhoozer places himself in this category, but he doesn’t come out and say it) returned to Church Dogmatics to study Barth.

Barth says of the Bible, “The Word of God is God himself in Holy Scripture” (39). This stems from his concept that “only God can make God known” (39). This connects with Fackre’s discussion in my last post of Barth’s emphasis upon the freedom of God to reveal himself.

Vanhoozer distinguishes evangelical understandings of the Bible from Barth’s by saying, “For evangelicals, the Word of God is an object—the deposit of revealed truth in Scripture. By contrast, for Barth the Word of God is a subject whose speaking in and through Jesus Christ creates both the canon and the church” (39). The Word for Barth is thus a witness to the revelation of God in history (and for Barth, the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity). This is important, for Barth does not see the Bible as an object to stand over and observe as a detached reader, but as a subject that reveals God as a living and active witness. As Vanhoozer later says, “Biblical interpretation is essentially the attempt to hear and obey the subject matter of Scripture, not to observe and master it” (46). Barth thus spends little time discussion hermeneutical theory, but shows his theories through exegesis of Scripture.

Barth, however, as I noted in my last post, rejected the evangelical doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. He does not do so because he denies the possibility of divine communication, but rather Barth “affirms that that God has spoken in Scripture and will speak again, he refuses to presume upon God’s speaking” (41). Scripture does not speak on its own, but as the Spirit works “in and through [Scripture]” (42). Scripture thus functions authoritatively as God works and speaks through a text written by humans who “see in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12). Vanhoozer, as an advocate of inerrancy, however, tries to make Barth fit an evangelical mold by saying Barth “is apparently free to treat the Bible, for all intents and purposes, as inerrant testimony to God’s self-revelation” (44), a questionable argument to say the least.

I do, however, whole-heartedly agree with Vanhoozer that “Evangelicals do Barth a disservice when, in analyzing his view of Scripture, they treat only his statements about the Bible and its indirect relation to the Word of God. To neglect Barth’s actual use and interpretation of the Bible is to fail to examine an enormous amount of evidence that casts his more theoretical (and rhetorical) statements in a markedly different light” (44). Evangelicals would then “do well to consider not only Barth’s theory but also his exegetical practice” (45).

Vanhoozer argues that the current context gives evangelicals a chance to reconsider Barth’s views on Scripture by holding up the examples of Bruce McCormack and Francis Watson.

Vanhoozer closes the chapter by arguing that philosophies of language, such as those by J.L. Austin, who emphasize speech-acts, can help evangelicals come to terms with the various apparent contradictions between Barth’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty and evangelicals emphasis upon “a fixed and authoritative propositional revelation” (55). While I applaud Vanhoozer’s use of speech-act philosophy, I have mixed feelings about Vanhoozer’s discussion of propositional communication.

While I don’t agree with Vanhoozer on every point (just as I didn’t when I read his Drama of Doctrine), I applaud his survey of evangelical responses to Barth and his willingness to interact with it constructively. Just like Fackre’s chapter, Vanhoozer’s discussion of Barth’s concept of divine illumination can serve as a great help to members of the Stone-Campbell Movement. In my next post, I will interact with Sung Wook Chung’s chapter, “A Bold Innovator: Barth on God and Election.”

[1] I am aware of the problems with the use of the word “men” for humanity. I’m using it in reference to Barth’s work because his translator, the recently deceased Geoffrey Bromiley, uses men in the English version of Church Dogmatics.

[2] The term “neo-orthodoxy” was not Barth’s invention, but something applied by both fans and detractors to his thought.

[3] Collins does, thankfully, acknowledge ancient ways of reading Scripture, saying, “To understand the ancient context of a text requires some sympathetic analogy between ancient and modern situations” (5–6).