It’s common practice, especially in the theo-blogosphere to link to books at Amazon. In fact, my whole desire to blog started after reviewing books on Amazon for a few years. However, as Wipf & Stock co-conspirator and fellow theo-blogger, Chris Spinks has recently admonished us, theology bloggers who wish to support and theological study and promote new theological books and monographs really should be directing customers, not to Amazon, but to the publishers themselves. Generally you will get as good, or better pricing through direct orders to the publisher and you’ll be supporting the industry that actually publishes the books we all love. If you need to order used book, I strongly recommend that you use AbeBooks. It’s an excellent service which lists books for nearly all the major used book dealers that list online.
I’ve tried to avoid just hating Amazon for the sake of hating Amazon, but I’ve finally been pushed over the edge and will not be supporting them in any way anymore. As of yesterday, Amazon has announced that all publishers who use print on demand services other than their own company (BookSurge) must either switch, or have the “buy” buttons disabled on their products on Amazon. In other words, Amazon is saying to publishers that all their print on demand books must either be published by them, or they will not be able to sell through Amazon. This kind of attempt to strong-arm publishers in to lining the purses of Amazon just that much more is pretty despicable in my view, and bloggers who love theology and theological publishing should not support such a distrbutor. I hope that my readers who blog will join me in no longer linking to Amazon, but linking directly to publishers and taking the few minutes of extra time to order direct from them, rather than fattening up the Amazon fat cats just because it’s a little bit faster. Support theology. Support the publishers.
One of the seemingly essential elements of the theology of the Christian life is the claim that, in Christ people are able to be transformed in their existential existence in the world. While most Christians would deny any sort of crude notion of perfectionism, most Christians, even the most strongly reformed ones, would surely maintain that in the Christian life growth and change is in fact a possibility that can be realized.
Now, on one level it is easy to observe certain kinds of changes that do take place in the Christian life. The now-converted promiscuous college student will probably not have insurmountable problems cutting frivolous sexual exploits out of his life and the now-converted lawyer can certainly find a morally acceptable occupation without much existential crisis. However, examples like this are simply examples of behavior modification, not of a true existential experience of personal change. What I’ve noticed is that, for the most part, the things people struggle with in life are pretty much the same things they struggled with all of their lives. So and so may not sleep around anymore, but she still finds a way to idolize romance.
The question that I have then, is simply this: How do people really change? What sorts of events, relationships, practices, encounters, and decisions actually contribute to an existential transformation of people’s mode of existence in the world? What kind of change is actually possible in the Christian life? In short, what kind of transformation of life should we expect over the course of a well-lived Christian life, and where and how do seek after that?
“For the consumers in the society of consumers, being on the move — searching, looking for, not-finding-it or more exactly not-finding-it-yet is not a malaise, but the promise of bliss; perhaps it is the bliss itself. Theirs is the kind of traveling hopefully which makes arriving into a curse. … Not so much the greed to acquire and possess, not the gathering of wealth in its material, tangible sense, as the excitement of the new and unprecedented sensation is the name of the consumer game. Consumers are first and foremost gatherers of sensations; they are collectors of things only in a secondary and derivative sense.”
– Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 83.
“These 12 theses articulate the main elements of what I hope twenty-first-century Christian theology can be about:
God is the One who blesses and loves in wisdom.
Theology is done for God’s sake and for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Prayer is the beginning, accompaniment and end of theology: Come Holy Spirit! Hallelujah! and Maranatha!
Study of scripture is at the heart of theology.
Describing reality in the light of God is a basic theological discipline.
Theology hopes in and seeks God’s purposes while immersed in the contingencies, complexities and ambiguities of creation and history.
Theological wisdom seeks to do justice to many contexts, levels, voices, moods, genres, systems and responsibilities.
Theology is practiced collegially, in conversation, and best of all, in friendship; and, through the communion of saints, it is simultaneously premodern, modern, and postmodern.
Theology is a broker of the arts, humanities, sciences and common sense for the sake of a wisdom that affirms, critiques and transforms each of them.
Our religious and secular world needs theology with religious studies in its schools and universities.
Conversation around scripture is at the heart of interfaith relations.
Theology is for all who desire to think about God and about reality in relation to God.”
–David F. Ford, Shaping Theology: Engagements in a Religous and Secular World (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 243-244.
Do any of my faithful readers know of a good translation of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies? I’ve read it in the old Roberts translation in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series, but I want something more servicable. Who’s got the scoop for me?
A while back I asked folks who they would study if they had to be a scholar of just one modern theologian. The key word there was ‘modern’. Now I want to open it up more. Out of all premodern theologians, (lets say up until the 19th century) who would you most want to study? I suppose I’d have to go with Augustine, with Luther being a close second. Other runners-up would be Aquinas, Irenaeus, and Jonathan Edwards. What say you?
In most theological interchanges the thing that seems most clear to me is the haste in which theological discourse, rejoinder, and response takes place. This is perhaps magnified in theological discussions through mediums like blogs, but it also appears throughout the history of theological discourse. In most theological discussions, when someone objects to a statement put forth by another, I often find myself looking first, not so much at the content of their of objection(s) but rather at the speed as which such statements are made. It seems to me that most theological debates have little or no space or time for lingering to consider the force of alternative claims and construals that may confront us in the the theology of others.
A great example of this is the way in which white affluent Christians in America tend to engage liberation theology. Lately this rather stark and shocking quote from James Cone has been trotted out in the media:
Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community … Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.
The responses to this statement are always immediate and rapid. This is racist! This is ideological! Where is forgiveness? The objections to a theological statement that is so clearly other to the experience of white Christians are instantaneous and without hesitation. However, this is precisely where actual theological discourse is shut down. Because there is not space to linger and allow the intrusiveness of Cone’s statement to potentially impact us or call us into question, there is no actual dialogue. In fact, I would go even further and state that the very haste in which we rush to shut down statement such as this actually diminish our ability to proffer truly constructive objections, questions, and critiques. By not allowing these statements to linger in our consciousness, to upset us, to call us into question we lose the ability to meaningfully critique, argue, and discuss them helpfully.
So, if this is the case then it would seem that an essential mark of fruitful and indeed, truly Christian theological discourse would be that such discourse allows the statements and protests of the other to linger, the persist and to to take root in us. Only by entering into the the thought of the other may we then have the kind of meaningful disagreements that make up fruitful theological disputations. In evaluating theological discussions, then, we should perhaps look, not so much to what objections are lodged, but rather at the haste and the ease by which such objections are put forth. The test of authentic theological discourse may well be our willingness – or not – to practice the patience of making it difficult to objecting to one another in our pursuit of right doctrine.
This year’s Balthasar Blog Conference has come to a close. Thanks to David Congdon for a great lineup and some excellent discussions. You can read his closing reflections on the various plenary posts here. Next year’s blog conference on Balthasar is already in the works and it looks like it will focus on the fasinating issue of Balthasar’s interaction with Protestantism.
Next up is the second Karl Barth Blog Conference which is slated for June, which will shortly be followed by the first Sergei Bulgakov Blog Conference and finally by my own Bonhoeffer Blog Conference. So stay tuned to the blogosphere because there is a lot more good theological work to come!
With all the recent media attention being given to black liberation theology, I am overjoyed that at long last J. Kameron Carter’s book, Race: A Theological Account is set to be out this September. I have literally been waiting for this book for about three years. I’m sure it will be worth the wait. Here is the blurb from the publisher:
“This groundbreaking monograph promises to open a new chapter in black theology. J. Kameron Carter argues that black theology’s intellectual impoverishment in the Church and the academy is the result of its theologically shaky presuppositions, which are based largely on liberal Protestant convictions. He critiques the work of such noted scholars as Albert Raboteau, Charles Long and James Cone, and argues that black theology must rebuild itself on completely new theological foundations. He lays these foundations by means of a remarkable synthesis between African-American religious history and Christian orthodoxy. Carter urges black theologians to look back beyond the Enlightenment and the rise of race theory, and to bring patristic Christology into conversation with the modern construction of race and being. He himself draws primarily on the writings of Irenaeus of Lyons, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximos the Confessor in constructing his innovative Christology.”
In most discussions of Jewish-Christian relations the questions are generally posed in a manner that suggests that the key question for Christians pertains to how the church is related to Israel. The key assumption here is that whatever the theological entities named by “church” and “Israel” are, they are the same kind of thing, and their theological relation must be narrated in a way that is theologically acceptable. Thus, the notion of the church “superseding” Israel is highly problematic to members of the Jewish faith. Christian theologians then try to deal with this problem by constructing a “non-supercessionist” theology within which Israel and the church both continue to have a form of salvific relationship with God, in light of which both should be able to affirm the self-understanding of each other, at least in some significant fashion.
The glaring problem with such approaches lies in the assumption that the church and Israel are two entities of the same type. However, biblically the entity to be juxtaposed with Israel is not the church, but “the nations.” Israel is distinct as a theological entity from other ethnoi, from other national peoplehoods. The church, however is not an ethnos in the same sense as Israel and the nations, rather it is composes of persons from all nations. The church, then cannot be seen in the kind of binary opposition to Israel as the nations. The church, at least according to her own self-understanding is not a nation alongside other nations, but a fundamentally new reality, a mystery which has been established by God in which the old antinomies of Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free no longer hold true. The church’s self-understanding insists on that she is the site at which the communion of God (the God of Israel!) is realized with all humanity, from all nations, be they the chosen nation of Israel, of the nations of the Gentiles.
My point in all of this is simply to call for a refocusing of the terms in discussion of Jewish-Christian relations. Too often it is assumed that Jewish-Christian relations are somehow the same thing as “church-Israel” relations. This however is not the case, at least not if we are being careful in our theological speech. The church’s self-understanding is that she is the body of Christ into whom all persons from all nations, be they Jew or Gentile are called into communion with the one God. To deny that the church should understand herself as such is to deny something that has been utterly central to the church’s self-understanding from the very beginning of the church. This, of course may be seen as a supercessionist theology. However, this is not the case. The church supersedes nothing. Rather, Christ, through the church interrupts everything. The church is not a static reality which comes along and replaces Israel, rather it is the apocalyptic aftermath of Christ’s invasion of the world which has cosmic implications. The church does not crowd out, take over, or overrule Israel or any other nation, rather the church is simply God’s way of continually interrupting the world in Christ through the Spirit. This certainly poses a challenge to the self-understandings of all nations unique and distinctive ways, including Israel (and Rome and America, I might add). And this challenge is a stumbling block that we dare not remove if we are to be faithful to the gospel.
For those that have been confused by the rather muddled and frenzied discussions in the media lately about Barak Obama, Jeremiah Wright, and race relations in America, allow me to heartily recommend the various discussions of these things by my friend David Horstkoetter. David is a student at Union Seminary who has studied under James Cone and has a passionate interest in race and theology, and black thelogy in particular. He has blogged extensively about the current discussions, including some very helpful comments by J. Kameron Carter which clarify elements of this hoopla very well. I highly commend David’s critiques of the innane conservative backlash against Rev. Wright’s willingness to speak the truth about race in America. They are right on the money.
The fundamental problems of doing theology and disagreements within theology most often have to with the the threefold issue of Christ, the church, and the world. The questions of theology and theology’s internal disputations can very often if not always be traced back to different ways of configuring these three theological realities. Therefore the task of theology today will largely consist of offering a vision of Christ, the church, and the world that is theologically sound. Not thinking through the problems of theology in this way will make us miss the crucial questions of theology and inhibit proper resolutions of theological disputes.
“There is at Easter no Christ who simply seals our righteousness and innocence, no guarantor of our status, and so no ideological cross. Jesus is alive, he is there to be encountered again, and so his personal identity remains; which means that his cross is his, not ours, part of the history of a person who obstinately stands over against us and will not be painlessly assimilated into our own memories.”
–Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel (Cleveland, Oh: Pilgrim Press, 2002), 71-72.
If any of you have not yet been over to the Fire and the Rose to check out the ongoing Hans Urs von Balthasar conference, you should definitely take a look. There have been some great posts and responses so far, including the most recent piece by Francesca Murphy on Balthasar’s reading of Exodus 3 and the ontological implications of the divine name. This excellent post looks not just at Balthasar, but also at Ratzinger and Gilson’s reading of this theologically loaded text from the Old Testament.
Also Daniel McClain’s post on Balthasar’s creational aesthetics is especially interesting, arguing that Balthasar’s theological aesthetics are primarily grounded in his theology of creation, nature and grace which provides the framework for his christological orientation.
There is still a lot more to come, so stay tuned to this excellent blogging event which, so far has been a wonderful demonstration of the potential for academically rigorous use of the blogging medium for theological study.
“Christ’s new foundation, his Church is the communication to mankind of the pneuma, interior to God, which is the location, consummation and testimony of the love between the Father and Son. Henceforth the Church exists consciously, the unbelieving world unconsciously, within the trinitarian love, which proved itself to be the final thing, the eschaton, because in the midst of its opposite — in the ‘hell’ of lost human freedom — it could be itself, as the Son’s perfect obedience of love even in the realm of the dead.”
–Hans Urs von Balthasar, Convergences: To the Source of the Christian Mystery (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1983), 93.