Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth

Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Baker Academic, 2008), 320 pp; £15.00/ $32.00 [Review copy courtesy of Baker Academic]

It is easy to forget just how good a reader of nineteenth-century theology orthodox-and-modernBruce McCormack really is. Given the stature and boldness of his proposal regarding Jesus Christ as the subject of election (and the many implications that follow from it), the other many facets of his work have, of late, tended to be darkened by its shadow. Interestingly, McCormack’s renown has come about, chiefly, by his identification as the reader primarius of Karl Barth’s theological development, particularly as this development is situated within its surrounding historical context. In fact, without indulging too much in haliolatry, I think it would be safe to say, that if you want to get to grips with Barth, that is, if you want answers to the kinds of questions Barth was preoccupied with, one of the voices you should be listening to is that of Bruce McCormack.

While the entire collection of essays brims over with the kind of meticulous research and able marshalling of the sources one has come to expect from McCormack, it is in the first of the four sections that the reader is given a clear and firm reminder of why reading McCormack so compelling and, indeed, necessary. The motivation for some readers to get to the juicy material (and by juicy, I mean the material found under the title ‘Karl Barth’s Theological Ontology’) is naturally understandable but in so doing one bypasses over 100 pages of important stuff. Because a substantial part of McCormack’s project is devoted to offering an ‘orthodox’ profile of Barth, time has to be given to an analysis of those factors that facilitate such a position. As McCormack explains, ‘…what Barth was doing, in the end, was seeking to understand what it means to be orthodox under the conditions of modernity‘ (17). Continue reading

Jüngel and the difference between ‘evangelical’ and ‘philosophical’ theology

[A] theology which is responsive to the crucified man Jesus as the true God, knows that it is fundamentally different from something like philosophical theology in this one thing: single-mindedly and unswervingly, based on its specific task, it attempts to think God from the encounter with God… (Eberhard Jüngel)

One division of theology that still has me asking questions about its approach to doctrine is the analytic philosophical kind.

I’m not saying I understand it as I should so the nature of this post is part exploratory and part an ice-breaker in the sense of initiating a discussion on the ways and means of doing theology this way. To this end, I introduce Eberhard Jüngel whose proposal for doing theology looks a little different.

While AP is a cluster concept and includes many methods and teachings, I suppose the one voice that I find speaks the loudest from the theological quarter is that of the conceptual and logical analysis that attends and undergirds the formalism of arguments. While certain doctrines are assumed as normative for Christian belief, they are still brought to the bar of a particular system of logic, albeit striped of their scriptural and doctrinal setting, for the sake of coherence and plausibility. Doctrines typically discussed in this mode include God’s existence, the presence of evil, the metaphysics of God’s omnipresence, Christ’s hypostatic union and the perichoretic relationship of the Trinity. Continue reading

Providence & Prayer (2) » Molinism

If Molinism was a TV show I think it would be Quantum Leap. Ok, a few adjustments would have to be made here and there (and ‘by a few’, I mean a lot and by ‘here and there’, I mean everywhere).

According to Molinism, people act with complete freedom, yet God has knowledge of the future and this future only comes into being through divine and human actions. In fact, Molinism proposes that before time God had perfect knowledge of every possible world and the outcomes included within that existence and chose our world based on the decisions and actions we would make. Still following?

Molinism is the attempt to reconcile the absolute autonomy of the creature, on the one hand, and God’s sovereignty, on the other. While Luis de Molina was a sixteenth century Spanish Jesuit, his ideas are alive and well and can be found in the work of contemporary thinkers like Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig, so we cannot simply shed this belief as something expired.

The question remains: How exactly is this reconciliation between human autonomy and divine sovereignty accomplished for the Molinist? Continue reading

Up Next: Providence and Prayer

This upcoming series will take a look at how a doctrine of Providence indicates the practices of faith in the life of the believer.

If we believe that the Triune God has not only earth.jpgcreated but also continues to govern our lives for fellowship with him, a doctrine of providence functions to help make sense of who we are and who God is, and, as a corollary, it also functions to make sense of the seeming madness and horrors that surround us. When something goes wrong, pointing the finger at God is too simple a move to make.

What a doctrine of providence should do, is draw our attention back to the scriptural testimony of God’s character and actions. As the Spirit funds our faith, we turn in prayer to God and, though we can’t make sense of the madness, we submit our lives in trust, believing God’s loving care and governance is for our good and his glory.

When evil shows up and it always does, we are reminded by John Webster that ‘What makes evil problematic for providence is not its existence but the fact that we resist applying belief in providence to cases of it, especially those in which we are concerned’.

Continue reading

Theology is a Risky Business

What does it mean to be a theologian? Martin Luther has an answer:

gustav-dorejacob-wrestling-with-the-angel18652.jpg“By living – no, much more still by dying and being damned to hell – doth a man become a theologian, not by knowing, reading or speculation” (Vivendo, immo moriendo et damnando fit theologus, non intelligendo, legendo aut speculando). Second lecture on Psalm 15-19. [WA 5, 163]

Luther is not saying that the mental tasks and energies involved with doing theology are irrelevant, but simply, that there is something more to the life of a theologian than the cerebral, something which so often goes overlooked, probably because we get caught up in thinking that theology is a discipline much like any other.

According to Jurgen Moltmann’s reading of Luther, a theologian is afflicted both by internal and external enemies: Continue reading

On Reading Scripture & Wisdom

What does wisdom have to do with reading Scripture?

Here at Theology Forum, we believe the ability to read and engage theological texts in a judicial and irenic (peaceable) spirit is something to be cultivated. Far too often it seems, readings are done polemically or in ways that harm the Christian community. So, toward opening up irenic discussion and cultivating the theological craft of inquiring honesty and deliberating wisely we are starting a new series.

We will post selections from various theologians from across the spectrum, suggest some questions, and invite your interaction. The goal here is not necessarily critique, but careful reading, irenic dialogue, and the fostering of good theological habits.

‘The specifically theological character of the rereading [of scripture] lies in it being done before david-ford.jpgGod, in relationship with God, seeking in the Spirit to follow the purposes of God in the world and finding in scriptures inspired testimony to what all of that involves. If “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” then wisdom interpretation of scripture is done primarily with respect to and for God. The most important thing is to learn to read and reread for the sake of God and the Kingdom of God. This sort of reading is not just a skill to be mastered; it is inseparable from learning to love God, neighbours and enemies, and from transformations of life as well as mind (p. 68)’

- What is the relationship between the (re)reader of Scripture and God? Does this matter? Why?

- How are the activities of the (re)reader and God portrayed? Does one receive more emphasis than the other?

- What can Ford teach us about our reading the Scriptures- individually or corporately?

Rowan Williams and the demands of confession

What kinds of demands are made on us when we we confess: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”?

Rowan Williams helps us explore this in his little book, Tokens of Trust (a collection of ‘talks’ he512cufo-kol__ss500_.jpg gave in Canterbury Cathedral during the week before Easter back in 2005). The importance of this book doesn’t necessarily rest on Williams’ ability to speak to everyone which, if you’ve read Williams when he’s at work, you’ll know this is a completed task in itself; rather, by calling people back to the creeds, to that particular sphere where the gospel is proclaimed, Williams reminds us that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to doing church. Instead, Williams demonstrates that by an attentive listening to the speech of the saints we not only measure what we say against the gospel, testing our speech, holding our words accountable, but as we confess we find ourselves tested by these words, put under the microscope, so to speak. Continue reading