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).