Archive for November, 2010

Good Discussion

11/23/2010

My good friend Wes Hargrove and I are having an interesting discussion over at his blog on McLaren’s latest book and on the resurrection. Also, readers of this blog will be glad to know that Wes has decided to join me and AJ in our main reading project for 2011. Of course, I encourage all to join.

Side note: The new Kanye album is damn good. I know I don’t speak much about music on my blog, but I’m a huge fan of hip-hop. I think his latest might be as good as his freshmen release The College Dropout. This latest album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has to be my favorite hip hop album relased since Nas’ latest self-titled album. On Kanye’s latest, I especially recommend So Appalled (w/ RZA and Jay-Z), Devil in a New Dress (w/ Rick Ross), and the Blame Game (w/ John Legend).

Quick Thought on Diversity Discussions

11/23/2010

In all of my grad classes we take a couple of lectures in each course to address issues of diversity (race, gender, sexuality). Unfortunately, class is seldom considered. However, something that I’ve found increasingly frustrating about liberals is that they never say anything during these discussions. Instead, they spend the entire time discussing how great it is to have a safe space to meet and discuss these issues. The entire conversation ends up getting filled up with people discussing how grateful they are there can be a place where open-minded people can meet and think through these difficult issues. At the end, one should expect someone to make a comment that there should be more meetings to discuss such matters. Liberals seem to be crippled by this obsession with meta-discourse. Let’s dialogue about having dialogue, but God forbid we actually think and be honest. The entire structure of discourse is just screwed up. In these discussions everyone just congratulates themselves for being incredibly sensitive to these issues and nobody feels comfortable voicing real concerns about prejudice. It ends up being a masturbatory gathering of self-satisfied middle/upper class white liberals.

Also, yesterday I was in a discussion where a white female committed a cardinal sin: protesting that there was not appropriate attention given to issues of “whiteness”. The woman lamented the fact that we never think about what it’s like for whites to work with people of different ethnic/racial backgrounds. There are a couple of major problems with her complaint:

A) Whenever we’re not discussing diversity issues, chances are we are actually discussing issues by white people for white people
B) Diversity discussions tend to be always led from the perspective of whiteness, i.e. they are always filtered through a white perspective
C) Even if it were possible for there to be too much of a focus away from whiteness, would it really be a problem? This reminds me of those right-wingers who claim that affirmative action makes white Americans the new marginalized group. It’s just bullshit.

Isasi-Diaz’s Mujerista Thelogy

11/22/2010

I just finished Isasi-Diaz’s work of liberation theology from a Latina perspective. I found the text to be fairly solid, and I wanted to highlight some important ideas I learned from her work.

First, in her work she refers to the Kingdom of God as the Kin-dom of God. She makes this move for two reasons:

A) Kin-dom doesn’t imply the patriarchy inherent in kingdoms
B) She doesn’t believe that emphasizing the reign of God gets us out of the problem because it still implies an order that is hierarchical and elitist.

She believes an emphasis on the Kin-dom obviates these issues by stressing the daily reality of us as equal brothers and sisters in Christ. This certainly aligns with Jesus’ pronouncement in John’s Gospel that his disciples are now his friends.

Second, I really appreciated her usage of the term la lucha (the struggle) for a constructive mujerista anthropology. This emphasis on la lucha resits the temptation to “encourage a certain masochism” (132). She writes that she found Latinas ability to “deal with suffering without being determined by it” (129), encourages Latinas to resist the church’s abusive and harmful glorification of suffering. Finally, she argues that she cannot worship a God who condemns Jesus of Nazareth to suffer.

Finally, regarding mujerista hermeneutics Isasi-Diaz writes:

“For Hispanic women the palabra de Dios is not necessarily what is written in the Bible, but refers to the unflinching belief that God is with us in our daily struggles” (158).

Also, she argues that “Hispanic women’s experience and struggle for survival, not the Bible, are the source of our theology and the starting point for how we should interpret, appropriate, and use the Bible” (149).

Both of these points remind me of Cone’s argument in his early works that a God who is not completely in solidarity with the needs of the black community ought to be killed. Many white Christians often find this to be very selective and convenient approach to the Bible. We white Christians read the Bible for what it is without misconstruing it for our own ideological needs. But doesn’t the fact that so many Christians live in the world without being challenged by the demands of Christian discipleship, in fact, suggest that we too want a God that is absolutely identified with the needs of white middle-class Americans. At this point, some might say: both communities use religion for ideological purposes so how can we say which group’s hermeneutical approach is right. The obvious problem with this idea is that the God of covenant with Israel and Jesus of Nazareth was unequivocally on the side of the disempowered, the despised. So African American and mujerista theologians are completely in the right to argue that they ought to ignore or even slay a God who has not given herself to be in absolute solidarity with these respective communities.

Reflections on CD IV/2

11/10/2010

In $64, The Exaltation of the Son of Man, Barth writes:

“Throughout the New Testament the kingdom of God, the Gospel and the man Jesus have a remarkable affinity, which is no mere egalitarianism, to all those who are in the shadows as afar as concerns what men estimate to be fortune and possessions and success and even fellowship with God. Why is this the case?…But one reason is the distinctive solidarity of the man Jesus with the God who in the eyes of the world – and not merely the ordinary world, but the moral and spiritual as well – is also poor in this way, existing not only in fact and practice but even in theory, somewhere on the margins in its scales of values, at an unimportant level, as the mere content of a limiting concept. In fellowship and conformity with this God who is poor in the world the royal man Jesus is also poor, and fulfils the transvaluation of all values, acknowledging those who (without necessarily being better) are in different ways poor men as this world counts poverty” (CD IV/2, 169).

This quote confused me. Barth appears to be suggesting that the reason Christ cares for the “least of these” is because God is dead. Basically, God has been divested of his importance and now exists on the limits of society as a “God of the gaps”, as an afterthought. God now longer occupies the center of our imagination, and now God is simply a poor forgotten sap. This has to be the fourth or fifth time I’ve been reading Barth discussing Jesus’ ministry to the oppressed (which as he points out is central to Luke and James in the Greek Bible), but the conclusions he draws from this fact are always odd. Before he’s said this Jesus takes care of the poor to remind us how depraved and lowly we are in the sight of God. Now, he appears to be suggesting that since God is neglected (in thought and deed) She has many things in common with the poor (namely society’s indifference to the poor’s plight). While this is somewhat interesting, would it be too much to ask of Barth go ahead and affirm God’s obvious preferential option for the poor that is manifest in both the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Bible?

“What we have said finds its true climax and glory in the fact that – however hard this may sounds – He finally hung on the gallows as a criminal between two other criminals, and died there, with that last despairing question on His lips, as One who was condemned and maltreated and scorned by men and abandoned by God…And in the passion He exists exclusively as the One He is – the Son of God who is also the Son of Man. In the deepest darkness of Golgotha He enters supremely into the glory of the unity of the Son with the Father. In that abandonment by God He is the One who is directly loved by God. This is the secret that we have to see and understand. And it is not a new and specific secret. It is the secret of the whole. Nor is it a closed secret. It is a secret which has been revealed in the resurrection of Jesus” (CD IV/2, 252).

This really captures the entirety of CD IV/1 and CD IV/2. The despised One was condemned and abandoned. The Son of God was humiliated and condescended so that we might be free. What I found most striking was Barth’s suggestion that the resurrection suggests that Jesus’ abandonment on the cross is actually a time of supreme unity with the Father.

“What we have called the way of the Son of God into a far country and the homecoming of the Son of Man, and what older dogmatics called the exinatio and exaltatio of Jesus Christ, are one and the same event at the cross. The humility and obedience of the Son of God, and the corresponding majesty of the Son of Man, coincide as they are represented in the event of Gethsemane and Golgotha. The Word was really made flesh. It was really God who really reconciled the world to Himself – in the One who was the true God, omnipotent in the depth of His mercy, and also (in His death and passion) true man, allowing free rein to this omnipotent mercy of God. There is involved both the depth to which God gave Himself for us in His own Son, and the majesty to which He exalted us in the same Son who also became man as we are” (CD IV/2, 292-3).

Here again the dialectic between the humility and obedience of the Son of God with the simultaneous exaltation of the Son of Man are held tightly together. The power of this formulation is the way in which Barth is able to allow reprobation to be wholly located in the condescension of the Son of God. The good news is that the exaltation of this Jesus of Nazareth is also our own glorification as we participate in his life.

Reflections on CD IV/1 (Part II)

11/09/2010

In $59, The Obedience of the Son of God Barth writes:

“If the Old Testament history was this type, this history has been an additional attestation of its fulfillment in the one Israelite Jesus. The Son of God in His unity with this man exists in solidarity with the humanity of Israel suffering under the mighty hand of God. He exists as one of these Old Testament men…He is silent where Job too had to be silent before God. But, again, there takes place here something quite different from what took place there. In Him God has entered in, breaking into that circulus vitiosus of the human plight, making His own not only the guilt of man but also his rejection and condemnation, giving Himself to bear the divinely righteous consequences of human sin, not merely affirming the divine sentence on man, but allowing it to be fulfilled on Himself. He, the electing eternal God, willed Himself to be rejected and therefore perishing man. That is something which never happened in all the dreadful things attested in the Old Testament concerning the wrath of God and the plight of man” (CD IV/1, 175).

I have a couple of thoughts. First, what does Barth mean that both Job and Christ remained silent before God in the midst of their suffering? Aren’t both profoundly vocal about their own protests? Zizek especially connects both stories together, but in his atheistic theology it is Christ who cries loudest ultimately revealing the inexistence/impotence of the big Other. Also, it is not merely Christ’s cry on the cross, but also his protest in the Garden that suggests anything but silence. In fact, the cry of dereliction almost seems to drown out the “not my will but your will be done” capitulation to God’s will in the Garden. I’m also reminded of the course I listened to at Union taught by Christopher Morse on Calvin’s Institutes. While discussing Barth’s theory of election, Morse poses the question: who is damned in Barth’s theology? Who is not saved in Barth’s doctrine of election? The answer: Jesus Christ is not saved. It is Jesus Christ who is reprobate. It is Jesus Christ who descends into the pits of hell. But it is also Jesus Christ who God raised from the dead and who is the emancipator and victor over evil, Satan, and death itself. This is Barth’s last point in the quote. Namely, that this situation differs drastically from the Hebrew Bible because on the cross God Himself in Christ absorbs his own wrath and becomes the accursed, despised One (Galatians 3:13) so man will be spared.

“The death of Jesus Christ was, of course, wholly and altogether the work of God to the extent that it is the judgment of death fulfilled on the Representative of all other men appointed by God. The way to the cross and death in which the judgment took place is indeed the work of the Son of God obedient in humility. But it is also the work of the obedient man Jesus of Nazareth in His identity with the Son of God, just as his condemnation and execution, although it was determined and willed by God, was also the work of the sinful of men who put into effect the decision and will of God, the Jews and Gentiles into whose hands Jesus of was delivered, or delivered Himself. As the judgment of God, the event of Golgotha is exclusively the work of God. Its fulfilment is ordained by God in every detail. But all the same it has a component of human action – both obedient and good on the one hand and disobedient and evil on the other. In light of this part we can say of the event of the cross that it has a “historical” character, that it can be understood and interpreted in the pragmatic context of human decisions and actions, although, of course, in this case it will be misinterpreted and misunderstood, and its real meaning will not be perceived” (CD IV/1, 300).

Here’s where the rubber meets the road, and this is where I must part way with Barth. His refusal to emphasize the importance of the historical context fails to recognize the theological implications of these historical events. That Jesus of Nazareth was crushed by empire and tortured publicly does reveal very important theological information. I don’t think a focus on this perspective “from below” somehow cancels or diminishes the importance of the view “from above” (I should note, parenthetically, that CD IV/II does take up this view “from below” more rigorously). Basically, the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was tortured and executed politically ought to suggest something about God’s relation to state power and the principalities. This, of course, was the context of the early church. I think it is also why someone like Gregory of Nyssa could understand the atonement as a ransom in which God dupes the devil and ultimately liberates man from his enslavement to Satanic powers and sin. I’m right now reading through Johnson’s She Who Is. She really does a great job of advocating a Christus Victor view in which Jesus in solidarity with oppressed who liberates them from the powers of evil and oppression. Barth’s strong commitment to forensic metaphors and the omission of Satan from this story ultimately weakens the political nature of his doctrine of reconciliation. So while I agree with Barth that one does miss out on the theological significance of atonement if one does not recognize this “view from above”, I think he is wrong to suggest that it will be misinterpreted if “viewed from below”. Jesus the liberator ultimately does get killed, but God’s “Yes” to Jesus at the resurrection is simultaneously a commanding “No” to Satan and death that no longer have dominion over mankind.

Reflections on CD IV/1 (Part I)

11/08/2010

I wanted to offer some commentary on some provocative quotes from CD IV/1. I’ll post Part II later on this week.

In $59, The Obedience of the Son of God Barth writes:

“It is not taken seriously or seriously enough. Yet from this one thing everything else, and particularly what we have just stressed, acquires its contour and colour, its definiteness and necessity. The Word did not become simply any “flesh,” any man humbled and suffering. It became Jewish flesh. The Church’s whole doctrine of the incarnation and atonement becomes abstract and valueless and meaninglessness to the extent that it comes to be regarded as something accidental and incidental. The New Testament witness to Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, stands on the soil of the Old Testament and cannot be separated from it. The pronouncements of New Testament Christology may have been shaped by a very non-Jewish environment. But they relate always to a man who is seen to be not a man in general, a neutral man, but the conclusion and sum of the history of God with the people of Israel, the One who fulfils the covenant made by God with this people” (CD IV/1, 166).

I think this is clearly one of the strongest parts of Barth’s theology. The way he is able to weave the doctrine of election (CD II) in the context of creation and covenant (CD III), which culminate in the doctrine of reconciliation (CD IV). I was also struck by this passage with the way he emphasizes the significance of Jesus’ Jewish flesh. The specific focus on the Jewishness of Jesus and his relation YHWH’s covenant with Israel was also a major stress of Carter’s Race. As Carter tells the story, Christianity’s own anxiety about its Jewish roots aids and abets modern Western racial thinking, which is suggestive of the profoundest theological distortion.

“That God as God is able and willing and ready to condescend, to humble Himself in this way is the mystery of the “deity of Christ” – although frequently it is not recognized in its concreteness. This deity is not the deity of a divine being furnished with all kinds of supreme attributes. The understanding of this decisive christological statement has been made unnecessarily difficulty (or easy), and the statement itself ineffective, by overlooking its concrete definition, by omitting to fill out the New Testament concept “deity” in definite connexion with the Old Testament, i.e., in relation to Jesus Christ Himself. The meaning of His deity – the only true deity in the New Testament sense – cannot be gathered from any notion of supreme, absolute, non-worldly being. It can be learned only from what took place in Christ. Otherwise its mystery would be an arbitrary mystery of our imagining, a false mystery. It would not be the mystery given by the Word and revelation of God in its biblical attestation, the mystery which is alone relevant in Church Dogmatics. Who the one true God is, and what He is, i.e., what is His being as God, and therefore His deity, His “divine nature,” which is also the divine nature of Jesus Christ if He is very God – all this we have to discover from the fact that as such He is very man and a partaker of human nature, from His becoming man, from His incarnation and from what He has done and suffered in the flesh. For – to put it more pointedly, the mirror in which it can be known (and is known) that He is God, and of the divine nature, is His becoming flesh and His existence in the flesh” (CD IV/1, 177).

This is perhaps one of the clearest summations of Barth’s entire theological project. His stress on the Christological foundations for our knowledge of God is of the utmost importance. I’m reminded of a debate I had with a girl three years or so ago back in college. We were discussing Christ, and she shared her idea that she believed Christ could see the synapses firing in our brain because, since he was God, he was omniscient. Hence, she would even go so far to say that Christ was even aware of scientific theories that had yet to be developed. Of course, this view has to be rejected for its obvious docetic heretical underpinnings. More precisely, the problem is that this kind of thinking is still predicated by what I would diagnose as a refusal to take seriously the incarnation, the fact that He was made man. We still have anxiety about what the incarnation means for our doctrine of God, and we strive hopelessly to retain our beliefs in an abstract God derived from classical metaphysics. But as Bonhoeffer would remind us, the story of God is told from the cradle to the cross. I’d suggest reading CD IV/I in tandem with Bonhoeffer’s Christ the Center.

Lauryn Hill and Atonement

11/07/2010

Today at church we discussed and debated how to understand the salvific nature of Jesus’ death. My sympathies lie with some of the early church fathers’ stress on Jesus as the victor over death who defeats Satan and the powers and principalities. Anyway, on the way to church I was listening to Lauryn Hill’s The Conquering Lion from her MTV Unplugged album. The song nicely illustrates that theory of atonement.

Begin at 1:05

Unveiling Projects

11/06/2010

First off, I want to apologize for being all but absent over the past two months. I’m planning on posting some reflections on CD IV/1 and CD IV/2 (which I just completed this weekend). Full-time graduate school plus clinical work plus a part-time job plus theological reading projects do not allow me as much free time as I’d like to blog. Also, I’ve gone back to church (PC USA) for the first time in two years, and I anticipate I’ll begin leading some group or teaching a class on modern theology. So stay tuned for updates on that.

Anyway, I’m beginning my feminist theology project. I was supposed to begin earlier, but I delayed the project so I could read Carter’s Race, which really lived up to the hype. I’m not very pious or spiritual, but it’s the first theology book that brought me to tears in quite some time (specifically his commentary on Gregory of Nyssa).

Feminist/African Theology Reading Project
Johnson – She Who Is
Isasi-Diaz – Mujerista Theology
Oduyoye – Introducing African Women’s Theology
Ogbonnaya – On Communitarian Divinity
St. Clair – Call and Consequence
Ela – African Cry
Pui-lan – Introducing Asian Feminist Theology
Kyung – Struggle to Be the Sun Again

Also, in 2011 I will be embarking on a major theological project much like the Church Dogmatics project I began in 2010 (update, I just began CD IV/3.1). The project is an attempt to cover major theological (mostly Protestant) schools of the 19th and 20th century. The project will begin with reading major works of liberal theology (major highlight ought to be reading Schleiermacher’s The Christian Faith). Next, I will go back to Kierkegaard and read major works by Neo-Orthodox theologians (Gogarten should be interesting). The third major section will cover works by Neo-Barthians (excited to finally read Panneberg’s ST and Jungel), and I will complete the project by reading a couple of works by post-liberal theologians. I’m only reading books I haven’t read before, which would explain any obvious omissions from the list. AJ Smith has also decided to jump on ship and work through this major project with me. I’m sure we’ll be posting back and forth throughout the year as time permits. I’ve listed the date after each work to indicate when said work will be completed. I encourage anyone interested to read along. Unfortunately, the reading list is non-negotiable, but I suspect there will be something on the list that everyone will be interested in reading.

Liberal
Kant – Religion Limits of Reason (175) – 1/9
Schleiermacher – Christian Faith (750) – 2/6
Hegel – Lectures Philosophy of Religion Volume III (300) – 2/20
Harnack – What is Christianity? (300) – 3/6
Rahner – Trinity (120) – 3/13, Hearer of the Word (180) – 3/20
Tillich – ST I (290) – 4/3, II (175) – 4/10
Tracy – Blessed Rage for Order (250) – 4/24

Neo-Orthodoxy
Kierkegaard – Philosophical Fragments (175) – 5/1
Bultmann – Jesus Word (220) – 5/8, Jesus Mythology (100) – 5/15
Gogarten – Christ the Crisis (300) – 5/29 (N/A)
Bohoeffer – Ethics (350) – 6/12

Neo-Barthian
Pannenberg – ST I (440) – 7/3 ST II (460) – 7/24, ST III (647) – 8/21
Jenson – Systematic Theology I (250) – 9/4, II (370) – 9/18
Jungel – God Mystery of World (400) – 10/9
Torrance – Christian Doctrine of God (250) – 10/23 (N/A)
Gunton – Promise of Trin Theology (210) – 10/30, Brief Theology of Rev (130) – 11/6
Tanner – Jesus, Humanity, Trinity (125) – 11/13
Hunsinger – Disruptive Grace (360) – 11/27 (N/A)
McCormack – Orthodox and Modern (300) – 12/11

Post-Liberal
Lindbeck – Nature of Doctrine (140) – 12/18
Frei – Theology and Narrative (233) – 12/31

Much like the CD project, the pace will be around 150-175 pages per week. I will be completing my project on feminist theology as I begin the larger project of 2011 through modern theology. My next side project after the work on feminist theology will be on Christology and atonement. Given that my larger project is almost completely a study of white males, I’m trying to have my side projects be more focused on theologies from the margins.

Douglas – Black Christ (120) – 1/30
Joh – Heart of the Cross (130) – 2/6
Bohache – Christology from the Margins (260) – 2/20
Anselm – Cur Deus Homo (140) – 2/27
Ray – Deceiving the Devil (150) – 3/6
Boresma – Violence, Hospitality (260) – 3/20
Jennings – Transforming Atonement (230) – 4/3 (N/A)
Kotsko – Politics of Redemption (200) – 4/17 (N/A)

All these works look pretty interesting, and I’m especially excited to read Bohache’s work in which he outlines a queer Christology.

My subsequent side project will be on theodicy. Unfortunately, fewer of these works are by liberation theologians, but they all look interesting

Lauber – Barth, Atonement, Descent Into Hell (180) – 4/24
Von Balthasar – Mysterium Paschale (266) – 5/8
Lewis – Between Cross and Resurrection (450) – 5/29
Fretheim – Suffering of God (160) – 6/5
Hall – God and Human Suffering (150) – 6/12
Kitamori – Theology and the Pain of God (190) – 6/26
Fiddes – Creative Suffering of God (270) – 7/10
McGill – Suffering (130) – 7/17
Surin – Theology Problem of Evil (200) – 7/24

Finally, I’m embarrassed to admit not having given proper attention to Latin American liberation theology so far in my theological education. Hence, my final side project will be focused primarily on Latin American liberation theology. I’m also reading some works by Asian liberation theologians and finishing up the study with Eiesland’s the Disable God.

Gutierrez – We Drink from Our Wells (140) – 8/7
Bonino – Doing Theology in a Revolutionary Situation (175) – 8/21
Boff – Trinity and Society (270) – 9/4
Sobrino – No Salvation (150) – 9/11
Segundo – Liberation of Theology (250) – 9/25
Miranda – Marx and the Bible (300) – 10/16
Dussel – Ethics Community (260) – 10/30
Rieger – God and the Excluded (200) – 11/13
Petrella – Beyond Liberation Theology (150) – 11/20
Koyama – Water Buffalo Theology – 11/27
Pieris – An Asian Theology of Liberation (140) – 12/4
Babcock – Minjung Theology (200) – 12/18
Eiesland – The Disabled God (140) – 12/25

Hopefully I’ll be posting more in upcoming weeks as I wrap up CD and begin working on my feminist theology project.