Archive for May, 2011

Gogarten – Christ the Crisis (Part II)

05/31/2011

Here are some reflections on second half of Gogarten’s Christ the Crisis:

1) Worldly Choices – According to Gogarten, given that the world is under a sentence of doom, Jesus only had two choices: “either to despair, or to submit to the sentence of doom. Jesus chose the second alternative” (209). Jesus recognized that this was the only respectable choice given that God will righteously judged the world in all its wickedness. Jesus submitted himself to this judgment and made himself responsible for the neighbor. As Bonhoeffer says in Ethics, Jesus may have been sinless but he became guilty by associating with the condemned of the world.

2) Responsibility for the World – For one to assume responsibility before God and the world, then man must make changes. This responsibility for the world demands that man abandon his previous existence in the world. Man can no longer rely on the world for comfort. Man must trust God alone to fulfill his needs in the world. One should be reminded of the saying that “whoever loses his life finds it” (214).

3) Back to Luther – Gogarten complete his work by discussing Luther’s doctrine of Christ. Gogarten argues that Luther’s emphasis on the humanity of Christ serves to prevent “unrestrained speculation about the deity” (283). For Luther, one should begin at the “bottom” (Christology from below a la early Pannenberg) and behold the flesh of Christ. Luther was critical of the Christology of Nicea and Chalcedon insofar as they begin with the “immanent Trinity, the Trinity as it exists in itself” (285). Luther prefers to begin with the economic Trinity as the God who reveals Godself in Christ through the Holy Spirit. For Luther, “no one should know any of God apart from this man and should ‘let alone’ God and his [sic] majesty” (286). Luther wants to understand the divinity of Christ through his humanity whereas the church fathers begin with the divinity of Christ. Luther says quite pointedly, “if God himself has lowered himself [sic] in order to be comprehensible to us, it would be the most godless wantonness for man to follow the inclinations of his own mind and look for another way” (287). Luther’s Christological method obviously dovetails quite nicely with Gogarten’s project because “the person of Jesus must itself be thought of in historical terms in a way which is simply impossible with the previous theological model” (292).

Gogarten – Christ the Crisis (Part I)

05/24/2011

Here some thoughts I had on Gogarten’s Christ the Crisis CH 1-12:

1) Lutheran Christology – Gogarten begins his book discussing the Christology of Luther and its strong focus on the humanity of Christ. Luther’s Christology is reliant on scripture not on speculative metaphysics. Luther’s scriptural approach enables him to take the humanity of Christ seriously because his theology is not subservient to the rationalism of speculative ontology. Luther can think Christologically about difficulties issues like God-abandonment and suffering because his theology is not enslaved to the shackles of Greek philosophy

2) Bultmannian Christology – Gogarten discusses the way Bultmann’s Christology modifies modern Christology in two important ways. First, Jesus’ preaching is “nothing more than pure Judaism” (15). What is unique is the fact that Jesus says it now, “in the final decisive hour” (15). Second, the other modification is the “the reduction of the history of Jesus to a single event”. Both of these modificaions inevitably lead to the idea that the historicity of Jesus is “made highly questionable”.

3) Jesus Christ the Curse – Gogarten discusses St. Paul’s (Romans) notion that a sentence of doom that hangs over the world because the world has perverted “truth into lie” (68). Given this apocalyptic framework, one way for the world to be redeemed is for the sin and sentence of doom to be completely concentrated on the one person Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the lamb of God who bore the sins of the world, rescues the world from its imminent doom by bearing the guilt of the world at the cross. In fact, we can only recognize ourselves that Christ died for the sins of the world once we come to terms with the fact that he assumed the guilt that should have been “imposed upon us in our failure to attest the knowledge of God” (89).

4) Eschatological preaching – Jesus’ apocalyptic preaching departs from Jewish eschatology at a very crucial point. Jesus’ message “does not imply a change in the world to a completely different one” (102). A new cosmological world is not the horizon in the preaching of Jesus, rather Jesus ushers in “a fundamental new attitude of man to God, which is wholly determined by rule of God over men”.

5) The Oppressed – Gogarten believes that we can understand Jesus’ special ministry to the marginalized only if we place it within the eschatological framework. He argues that the oppressed have “the advantage of not being so bound to the present world as the others” (125). Given that they are not “entangled in the present world”, they have the opportunity to get unplugged from the imminent doom that hangs over all those who are enslaved to the powers and principalities.

Quick Update

05/22/2011

I wanted to alert readers to a minor change that we’re making to our Modern Theology Project. We’ve decided to read Jungel before Jenson and Pannenberg because it makes more sense chronologically, not to mention it will help me out teaching Jungel to my Sunday School class. I’d also like to alert readers to the fact that we’re entering the ‘heart’ of the theology project. I’ll be posting on Gogarten in the next couple of days. After Gogarten, we really begin to hit the ground running reading: Bonhoeffer, Jungel, Pannenberg, Jenson, Torrance, Gunton, & Tanner. As always, everyone is encouraged to read along with us and comment.

Bultmann – Jesus Christ and Mythology

05/15/2011

This short work is a collection of lectures Bultmann gave in 1951 at various US theological seminaries. A couple of talking points:

1) Demythologization – The aim of Bultmann’s project is not to “eliminate mythological statements but to interpret them” (18). I suspect my readers are familiar with Bultmann’s revolutionary hermeneutical method. I believe his attempt is necessary for the modern reader, but the question remains whether existentialism is the appropriate conversation partner for Biblical hermeneutics. I’m not convinced it is the appropriate partner. Although Bultmann believes existential philosophy with its emphasis on authenticity and responsibility is already latent in the ethic of Jesus, we should also remember that those individuals in the base communities developed their own liberationist reading. Clearly Bultmann is correct when he argues we must interpret scripture for the modern world, but I believe he fails to do justice to the political nature of Jesus’ ministry.

2) Openness to the Future – Bultmann writes, “the deeper meaning of the mythological preaching of Jesus – to be open to God’s future which is really imminent for every one of us; to be prepared for this future which can come as a thief in the night when we do not expect it” (31). The coming Reign of God demands that one be constantly vigilant ready to make a decision and reliant on God for strength and support.

3) Theology and Existentialism – Existential philosophy fails to recognize the relationship between man and God. From Bultmann’s perspective, we cannot speak about God by looking inward. It is impossible to speak objectively. God sets the terms and conditions for any possible God-talk. Bultmann writes, “[m]y personal relation with God can be made real by God only, by the acting God who meets me in His Word” (59). Perhaps I’m being unjust, but I can’t help but point out the privatization of religion in Bultmann’s theology. He completely relegates religion to the individual’s subjectivity. Although I realize Bultmann was not a proper theologian, I’m curious what his ecclesiology would have looked like.

PC(USA) Votes to Allow Open Gay and Lesbian Clergy

05/11/2011

Exciting stuff. Today I’m actually proud to say I attend a PC(USA) church.

Bultmann – Jesus and the Word

05/10/2011

I want to apologize for the lateness of this post. The next month will primarily focus on works about the historical Jesus and Christology. I want to highlight a couple of points in this work by Bultmann:

1) The Importance of Making Decisions – According to Bultmann, Jesus preached an ethic that disallowed any neutral option. At all points in life, men and women are faced with a choice between good and evil. Any attempt to remain neutral would be a refusal of a decision. Bultmann writes, “obedience is radically conceived and involves man’s whole being. This means that the whole man is under the necessity of decision” (78). Bultmann also argues that any notion of a divine nature is foreign to Jesus’ consciousness. Rather, God is “the Power who constrains man to decision, who confronts him in the demand for good, who determines his future” (103). For Bultmann this forecloses any objective investigation of God’s nature in and of itself. People can only encounter God in their subjective experience of making decisions in accordance with God’s commands.

2) The Marginalization of Satan – Bultmann believes the figure of Satan is a “Persian intrusion into Judaism” (136). Throughout this work, Bultmann minimizes the role Satan and demons in Jesus’ life and ministry. Satan means little or nothing to Jesus since he believes that the world is bad because men make evil decisions. Hence, Satan is nothing more than a passing away of the old world which was enslaved to the powers and principalities. I want to make a comment here. I’ve been reading through Luke’s Gospel this week to prepare for my class on Latin American liberation theology. I am constantly amazed just how much time Jesus spends casting out demons throughout the synoptics. I have great difficulty knowing what to make of this fact and understand why Bultmann felt the need to implement a demythologization project. A world full of demons is so radically strange to our (post)modern consciousness.

3) View of Salvation – Bultmann believes the church has been led astray by Greek philosophy in attributing salvific significance to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Bultmann worries that objectifying these events leads the believers astray. He worries that we trivialize forgiveness when we demand that believers rely on these cosmic events as the source of forgiveness. The Christian believer is transformed into an observer who cannot existentially experience the importance of sin and grace. He goes on to argue that Jesus never understood his death and resurrection in this manner and verses that might support such an interpretation are later additions.

I have some brief criticisms of Bultmann’s work. First, many of the criticism I leveled against Harnack would also apply to Bultmann’s work, although he does make some advances in my mind. I can’t help but thinking that this radically individual message has been contaminated by his Lutheran background. The focus on individual justification (or in Bultmann’s terms authentic decisions) really fails to do justice to the social nature of Jesus’ message. Jesus did not meet with individuals. He travels in groups and ministers to groups. Certainly, he has something to say to the individual, but he is also addressing social realities and social groups. I’ll have more to say later when I review Bultmann’s Jesus Christ and Mythology.

Gutiérrez Lecture – Archbishop Romero: A Witness of Faith

05/04/2011

This is a really good lecture you can watch here. He has a nice discussion on happiness and the problem of suffering including this quote, “Jesus did not come to suffer, he came to preach the gospel.”

Cone on King

05/02/2011

Excellent lecture. He offers a nice critique of the bastardization of Martin Luther King’s legacy.

Also, I’m excited that Cone’s long awaited book The Cross and the Lynching Tree is due out this September.

Kierkegaard – Philosophical Fragments

05/02/2011

It is obviously inappropriate to try to present Kierkegaard’s thinking like it’s an overarching philosophical system by extracting one part from a mosaic of his thought and demonstrating how it connects to another part. The best way to misunderstand Kierkegaard is to mistake his philosophy for a ‘system.’ I won’t, therefore, try to write some sort of overview of this work, but simply concentrate on one aspect of his Philosophical Fragments, which has been the practice of our blog posts anyway.

Although the bulk of Philosophical Fragments concerns itself with outlining how a concrete historical personage can represent eternal truth (as an answer of sorts to Lessing’s ugly ditch of history), I’m going to concentrate this blog post on Chapter III and Kierkegaard’s discussion of the arguments for the existence of God, a topic which has of late been preoccupying my thinking.

How does one demonstrate the existence of God? This is a difficult question, usually answered by the broaching of certain, now almost classically codified arguments, grouped under titular genuses that claim to show that God is the demonstrable corollary of their deductive (or inductive) powers. For Kierkegaard, this endeavour is pure folly. Firstly, why does one attempt to demonstrate the existence of God? Of course, if God does not exist, then this renders his demonstration impossible. But the proponent of this type of natural theology must have already concluded that God exists, or else he would have realized the laboriousness of his task in attempting to prove the existence of something that does not exist. Kierkegaard writes, “The whole demonstration continually becomes something entirely different, becomes an expanded concluding development of what I conclude from having presupposed that the object of investigation exists” (40).

Further, the arguments for the existence of God seek to demonstrate God from his works: the world is what is given and God is what is sought (from the given). As Kierkegaard avers, one does not demonstrate that the stone exists, but that what exists is a stone; in the same way, a court of law does not demonstrate that the criminal exists, but that who does indeed exist is a criminal (ibid.). Natural theology does not demonstrate that God exists, but that the world which exists is from God (or the world which exists is a creation of God, and by being a creation of God, God must therefore exist to create it). Arguments for the existence of God are not, then, per se about God, but about the world.

Kierkegaard agrees that in God essentia involvit existentiam and that God’s works are works only God can do (42). But, God’s works are not directly visible to us. As Luther wrote, if we are to judge the creation of the world and its governance by ways visible and known to us than we must conclude that either God is a malicious tyrant or that he simply does not exist. For Kierkegaard, we cannot demonstrate the existence of God though this method of syllogistic ratiocination, all we can do is “elucidate the God concept” (43). “For the fool says in his heart there is no God, but he who says in his heart or to others: just wait a little while and I shall demonstrate it – ah, what a rare wise man he is!” (ibid.).