Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The New Testament and the People of God - Knowledge: Problems and Varieties

In this chapter Wright outlines the three basic areas that affect New Testament interpretation: literature, history and theology. Wright will spend a considerable amount of time discussing each of these sections independently. Against modernism and post-modernism, Wright advances a critical realist position (one that he is happy to say he has not invented or been the first to consider).

Modernism, Wright argues, calls back to positivism. In its desire to have objective truth, optimistic positivism sacrifices human experience. Tastes, mood, ethics, etc. cannot be talked about within positivism: "Aesthetics and ethics are reduced to functions of the experiences of one or more people׃ 'beautiful' and 'good' simply mean 'I/we like this' or 'I/we approve of that'" (p. 33). This positivism can be likened to the recent scienctism we have experience a la Hitchens, Dawkins, et. al. Along with Ayer, they would call all god-talk nonsensical from the word "go." We should consider seriously what Wright says,
"In the New Testament field, some critics have made a great song and dance about the fact that the details of Jesus' life, or the fact of his resurrection, cannot be proved 'scientifically'; philosophical rigor should compel them to admit that the same problem pertains to the vast range of ordinary human knowledge, including the implicit claim that knowledge requires empirical verification" (p. 34).
Against the optimistic (positivist) view, Wright contends that the postmodern view (pessimistic) view is only aware of its own "sense-data". With this sense-data only view, every is called into question (to the extent that even the thing from which you are collecting sense-data is questioned).
"When I seem to be looking at a text, or at an author's mind within a text, or at the events of which the text seems to be speaking, all I am really doing is seeing the author's view of events, or the text's appearance of authorial intent, or maybe only my own thoughts in the presence of the text...and is it even a text?" (p. 35)
And against both of these, we have critical realism. "This is a way of describing the process of 'knowing' that acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower (hence realism), while also fully acknowledging that only only access we have to this reality lies along the spiraling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known (hence critical)" (p. 35).

Church Dogmatics I.1 §2 - The Task of Prolegomena to Dogmatics

Confession #2
I've had to start underlining in my Barth readings...To add insult to injury, I've had to make marginal notations.

Confession 2.1
This post comes almost one week late. Verzeih mir, Karl.

Just like you will see in the forth coming post on Wright, Barth outlines his epistemological method here in section 2 (I.1 §2). Barth is quite happy in his method being one that is quite succinct. Recalling the theologians of early and medieval church: "It must be remembered that the great representatives of early and medieval dogmatics were sometimes content with the briefest reflections on the way of knowledge taken by them" (p. 25). In this section, Barth will examine and find wanting the epistemological methods of Roman Catholicism and liberal Protestantism advocating an Evangelical approach. (Note: this should not be confused with American, twenty-first century Evangelicalism.)

I once had a professor call Karl Barth a "quasi-good guy." And from the perspective of this professor, I am sure it had something to do with Barth's appeal against dogmatics to answer the questions of contemporary society (i.e. apologetically). Barth says that such notions should be disregarded for three reasons (p. 28-9). Reason one, times have not changed that significantly to to where secularism has rendered dogmatics useless. Number 2, in addressing number one, we leave dogmatics completely and enter an entirely different field. Lastly, if we achieve an apologetically safe dogmatics, faith, essentially, becomes no longer necessary (p. 30). The folly of apologetics is, then, that the church no longer takes it self seriously. "In such apologetics faith must clearly take unbelief seriously. When it cannot take itself with full seriousness. Secretly or openly, therefore, it ceases to be faith" (p. 30).

You may find yourself asking the question, "Well, Karl ol' boy, what is the church's proper apologetic?" And Karl, removing the pipe from his mouth, would answer you something like this: "Theology is genuinely and effectively apologetic and polemical to the extent that its proper work, which cannot be done except at the heart of the conflict between faith and unbelief, is recognized, empowered and blessed by God as the witness of faith" (p. 31).

Next to come: §3, Proclamation as criterion.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The New Testament and the People of God - Christian Origins and the New Testament

Along with Church Dogmatics, this Christmas I gave myself the gift of N.T. Wright's Christian Origins and the Question of God. Furthermore, to increase the frequency with which is write (blog), I will blog my way through this trio. With more reading and more writing, I hope to do more than summarize the chapters as I read them.

Christian Origins and the New Testament

In the preface to this volume, Wright warns us with something some of us are all too familiar with:
I frequently tell my student that quite a high proportion of what I say is probably wrong, or at least flawed or skewed in some way which I do not at the moment realize. The only problem is that I do not know which bits are wrong (p. xvii).
In chapter one, Wright sets out to first deal with the question of New Testament hermeneutics. He categorizes the hermeneutics of centuries past four ways: pre-critical, historical, theology and postmodern (p. 7). Which is the most appropriate way to understand the New Testament? "...We need to do justice, simultaneously, to Wrede's emphasis on serious history (including the history of Jesus), Bultmann's emphasis on normative theology, and the postmodern emphasis on the text and its reader" (p. 27)

Certainly the task of a New Testament theology or introduction is nothing new, but the task that Wright has created for himself is something unseen. What has started as a two volume set has become three and then six. In Wright's mind, the divide between New Testament studies and theology is not only unnecessary but is also misleading (p.13). I do not doubt that this series will be of great help and encouragement.

Church Dogmatics - I.1 §1 - The Task of Dogmatics

A confession:

Barth is elusive--not intentionally--but elusive all the same. That's all.

Section 1 - The Task of Dogmatics

Barth is, of course, a presuppositionalist. With regards to dogmatic inquiry and theological work, Barth demands that dogmatics be an act of faith. "Dogmatics is part of the work of human knowledge...Like all serious work of human knowledge, it demands the best will to utilize these faculties [of attentiveness and concentration]...Over and above this, however, it demands faith" (p. 17). For Barth, faith requires, among other things, being called out (p. 17). Being called out includes being called into the Church. Barth presupposed the existence, or the reality therein, of the church. He has not yet defined what exactly makes the church the church (not yet fully at least), but he does give us a hint in the open paragraph.
The Church confesses God as it talk about God. It does so first by its existence in the action of each individual believer. And it does so secondly by its specific action in fellowship, in proclamation by preaching and in the administration of the sacraments, in worship, in its internal and external mission including works of love amongst the sick, the weak and those in jeopardy (p. 3).
Assuming he will go on to define the church in a more detail manner (perhaps Church vs. church?) and unpack some of the specifics a bit more (i.e. what is a sacrament?, what is preaching?, etc.) this definition should suffice for the time being and is a wonderful summation of what I would call the church.

In this brief section, Barth outlines how dogmatics might be comparable to say, physics or biology. That is to say any serious scientific inquiry. How you might ask? These three have in common a general desire to discover the truth about something. Physics about energy and movement, biology about life, and dogmatics about God. While the church talks about God in almost all speech (Barth argues all speech) not everything they say is actually correct! So, just as in physics and chemistry there must be criterion for evaluating what is said about God, and these criterion can be found in the person of Jesus.

How does dogmatics fit into the scheme of biblical interpretation? "...Dogmatics as such does not ask what the apostles and prophets said, but what we must say on the basis of the apostles and prophets" (p. 16).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Silence and Update

One of the more difficult things with regard to blogging is blogging. Now in terms of biblioblogging, this might be a bit more difficult to do just because of the nature of blogging and biblical/theological studies: random topics might not generate much interest by readers. Typically, blogs follow what their authors are doing in school: what they are currently reading or writing, or something about the place they have moved to study. But what if you are not in school? What do you talk about? If you are not in school, you cannot talk about the latest lecture. You cannot talk about books are you assigned to read. There are no papers you are assigned to grade or look over. This makes for slow blogging. So, for those of you interested, that is where I have been.

I've been making my way through Fretheim's Exodus commentary and Cole's Exodus commentary. I started this Old Testament project with a desire to get acquainted (at a deeper, theological level) with OT themes and theologies, but as I make my way in Exodus, I find the study of the Old Testament much more interesting than previously and can even see myself doing something with regard to pneumatological-liberation in the book of Exodus.

In other news, I along with Daniel Kirk, have been 'geeking out' over the shipment and eminent arrival of Church Dogmatics (CD). As I write this, my package awaits me in Jacksonville to be home tomorrow when I arrive from work (hopefully). Also, with the help of Daniel Kirk and others, in seven years time I will have read the entire CD and, of course, be an expert.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Coming to Terms with the Tetragrammaton

But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they as me, 'What is his name?" what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, "I am who I am" He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you'"
Exodus 3:13-14, NRSV

It has been quite the adventure reading my way through the Old Testament (OT) and reading the book of Exodus has changed that. Simultaneously reading Fretheim and R. Alan Cole has added quite a bit to that adventure in terms of presuppositions they both bring to the table, but more often than not when Freithem and Cole disagree I usually end up siding with Fretheim. Quite a while ago, I passed God's self-disclosure to Moses in the bush and in my other readings I had come to the discussion quite early on also, regarding God's revelation to Moses, chiefly concerning the naming of God.

What is in a name?
Moses asks the question, "Who should I say said these things?" Without going into much detail, this question seems to show that either the ancient people will be familiar with the name that God will give him or that they will eventually become familiar with this name.

As Fretheim notes, "The most common translation is given in the NRSV, 'I am who I am.' Other translations include: 'I will be what (who) I will be'; 'I will cause to be what I will cause to be'; 'I will be who I am / I am who I will be.'" (p. 63). Fretheim prefers the last of all of these saying, "The force is not simply that God is or that God is present but that God will be faithfully God for them." The argues that Israel will know God by his actions and presently with the liberation of the people from Egypt.

What can also be drawn from this divine name is that is not the all-inclusive name of God. Names in general do not give the totality of anything or anyone and so is the divine name of God. God is known or can also be known outside of this name, specifically in his actions (if we follow Fretheim's argumentation). Furthermore, as Fretheim argues, the act of giving a name makes God apart of a particular historic community. As part of this community in which this name will always be the name of the God who participates therein, this distinctive character of God (self-revealing and involved historically) will always typify the relationship between the named.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Thoughts on "Genesis"

Yesterday marked the official end of my reading of Brueggemann's commentary and the listening of lectures aforementioned. I have to admit that I did not read as I said I would and thus instead of taking one month to finish the book Genesis it instead took me three months to finish! However, I am not disappointed as I have learned much.

Firstly, I am glad I opted for a theological commentary over an exegetical for my first take at reading Genesis seriously. I cannot begin to imagine reading footnote after footnote about this particular word and this particular source and the dating the of the book of Genesis. Secondly, I am glad I did not choose a author who would try to convince of an early dating for Genesis or the historical-scientific proofs for a six day creation. I honestly didn't know where Brueggemann stood on such issues, but I was prepared to disagree with him.

It may seem obvious to those who studied Genesis in detail or who had more than a cursory reading when trying desperately to finish reading the Bible in a year, but to those of us finally coming into our studies, the names of each of these books is so important to how one studies them. As Brueggemann points out, Genesis is about the genesis of a world and a family. It is about giving a history for a people in exile. That being said, Brueggemann does get into some historical-critical discussions, but these are never the focus of his writing. He'll often mention sources that we are familiar with like J, E and P but this is usually in passing as if the reader already assumes such sources.

Genesis, according to Brueggemann, can be taken into two halves: the cosmological genesis and the anthropological genesis. The latter genesis can then be broken into four sections: the Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph cycles. Chief among them is the promise of Abraham which pervades the three remaining cycles is the also that which propels the other cycles into the book of Exodus. Brueggemann argues that we must follow the title Genesis even along to the end which is really not an ending, but really is a beginning that takes us to the Exodus story.

It was interesting to read a theological-homiletical commentary while listening to lectures given from a literary perspective. I have to admit that some of the comments made by Gary Rendsberg seem a bit far-fetched as times, but reading some of the comments that Brueggemann will make that either confirm or hint towards those comments made it easier to hear those things.

Brueggemann's writing style is clearly homiletical as he often gives cross-reference to the gospels or Paul, and often makes connection between the ancient communities of Genesis and how these should or shouldn't shape the Christian communities of the present. Certainly this is not a commentary that should be used on its own for research or scholarly purposes, but it is certainly a beginning place for theological interpretation of Scripture.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Holy Spirit in the World Today, Part 2

I have to admit, it was my first time hearing Jürgen Moltmann and it was sometimes difficult to understand what exactly he was saying. Apparently, he was translating from his own German notes. His paper, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, takes to task the Trinitarian implications for the church with a specific focus on the Spirit. He covers an amazing amount of topics in this paper from the churches in Germany during WWII to ecology. His paper is broken down into three parts: 1) the charismatic community; 2) the reconciliation of the cosmos; and 3) the three paradigms of the church. I'll summarize and offer some thoughts.

Without giving too much attention to the Spirit, I would say, Moltmann argues that the church is intrinsically pneumatological and in some sense leaves it at that. There is no mention of how the church is in the power of the Spirit until Moltmann gets to the section on the charismatic church, which is towards the end of his paper. He begins by noting, as many church historians will note, that the twentieth-century is marked as the time when the global church came more into focus and the "Christian nation" began to fade. He gives the example of parochial churches in Germany during WWII where if one went to a church service one is counted as a visitor and never a participant, it was a church for the people--to serve symbolic, never real liturgical needs. Against these parochial (Nazi-sponsored) churches arose the Confessing Church (Ger. Bekennende Kirche) which gave people the opportunity to become participants. As the Christian nation disappeared what took its place were the charismatic communities. (Note: charismatic should not be read as having to do with spiritual giftedness, but should be read as Moltmann would explain later as a 'non-hierarchical community of friends'.) For the sake of space, I'll leave off summarizing everything and leave it to you to listen to his wonderful paper.

Moltmann gives a nod to the Amish-Mennonite tradition when he says that in some sense their way of life can be understood as monastic (and be misunderstood as a retreat from this world as opposed to an alternative to this world). I mention this only because of the discussion Halden is having over at Inhabitatio Dei. While I understand the frustration that is had when people think it is cute what your particular tradition (read denomination) is doing but nevertheless themselves adopts your position. To have all traditions look the same would just make it so that one or the other is compromising something of their own for the sake of the other. This sounds nice, but each tradition will cease to be itself and no longer have the distinctions which make the Baptists Baptist and the Methodists Methodist. Every tradition would be the same and therefore there would be no tradition. There are certain things that I think every church should adopt, obviously; and being a peace-church is among them. I would advocate for unity through diversity as opposed to unity through compromise. As Halden writes, "
The divisions are much deeper, much more real, and indeed must more theological than such sorts of ecclectic ecumenism of convenience tends to acknowledge." (Italics mine.)

That aside, we return to Moltmann. As mentioned above, Moltmann's definition of these charismatic communities is a community where everyone is accepted as she or he is, and where no one is higher or lower in the community strata and can contribute to said community. The theme of these churches is the Spirit in us, while in high-church it would be the Father above us and in Luther-inspired churches it would be Christ with us. These three paradigms make up the whole history of Christianity and Moltmann argues that we are currently in the first paradigm (of the Spirit). In regular Moltmannian fashion, we have a Trinitarian motto for the church that should be ours to follow: "God as Father above us, as Christ with us and as Spirit in us."

Unfortunately, the implicit pneumatology of Moltmann's eccleisology left much to be desired from this paper. I wondered how Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Amos Yong or Yolanda Pierce might have handled this subject. Even so, the paper highlighted the experience of emerging churches and charismatic churches everywhere where acceptance always comes before belief. The Spirit who lives in us is the one who makes the level playing-field. It is in these communities of the Spirit where we have brothers, sisters and comrades, where everyone is accepted and respected as image bearers of God, and where there is an end to race, age, sex and class.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I've made the leap

I have ordered the Hendrickson reprint of Church Dogmatics that is available at CBD for only $99 USD(!). Hopefully I can blog my way through this massive series and move on to von Balthasar. As much as possible, I will try to follow the advice of WTM but we'll see how that goes.

I'd still like to see what the covers will look like, but I can't complain about getting CD for $100. Just please don't be ugly, CD, please.