According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Acids of Modernity and Christian Theology, Part 5

Modernity has been an age of revolutions—political, scientific, industrial and the philosophical. Consequently, it has also been an age of revolutions in theology, as Christians attempt to make sense of their faith in light of the cultural upheavals around them, what Walter Lippman once called the "acids of modernity." Modern theology is the result of this struggle to think responsibly about God within the modern cultural ethos.

In this major revision and expansion of the classic 20th Century Theology(1992), co-authored with Stanley J. Grenz, Roger Olson widens the scope of the story to include a fuller account of modernity, more material on the nineteenth century, and an engagement with postmodernity. More importantly, the entire narrative is now recast in terms of how theologians have accommodated or rejected the Enlightenment and scientific revolutions.

With that question in mind, Olson guides us on the epic journey of modern theology, from the liberal "reconstruction" of theology that originated with Friedrich Schleiermacher, to the post-liberal and postmodern "deconstruction" of modern theology that continues today. The Journey of Modern Theology is vintage Olson: eminently readable, panoramic in scope, at once original and balanced, and marked throughout by a passionate concern for the church's faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This will no doubt become another standard text in historical theology.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Reformation Revived in Disillusionment

by Scot McKnight
Oct 24, 2014

At the heart of European Protestant theology’s revolutionary developments in the 20th Century was the rediscovery of the transcendence of God that challenged and replaced the identification of historical processes and progressivism (liberal theology) with the ways of God. This theology challenged that mood of theology and philosophy and culture by proclaiming God over against historical processes.

This theology is often called neo-orthodoxy, dialectical theology, kerygmatic theology (my preference) or crisis theology.

Reality is found in what is known from revelation in Scripture about God in Christ, not by discerning the ways of God in the plane of modern history.

Instead of accommodation and anthropocentrism we find confrontation and revelation and gospel and Word and christocentrism.

But there is clearly a reaction against fundamentalism in kerygmatic theology as well. This is traced in Roger Olson, The Journey of Modern Theology, in his important 5th chapter.


Big ideas are at work in comprehending kerygmatic theology:

The First World War began in 1914 and ended in 1918; it sounded he death knell of the nineteenth-century European intellectual ethos in eluding classical liberal theology.

The Second World War began in 1939 and ended in 1945 and included the Holocaust; it brought the same cultural crisis to the United States. The twentieth century has been called the genocidal century…. Disillusionment set in. The time was ripe for a new revolution in theology (295).

At the heart of the revolution in theology was Karl Barth, and Olson puts the facts into a neat set of lines, lines that need to be comprehended:

According to Karl Barth, the turning point was the day in 1914 he picked ip a newspaper and read a statement by German intellectuals supporting Kaiser Wilhelm’s war policy. Among the names were most of his theological mentors, including Harnack, who wrote the kaisers speech declaring war against France, Russia and Great Britain. Barth, a budding young pastor and theologian, was so dismayed that he began to reconsider the liberal Protestant theology of his education. Something was wrong, he concluded, with a theology that allowed its adherents to support such an evil and meaningless war. For that and other reasons, like many other European theologians, he began searching for a new theological paradigm. Eventually he found it in the dialectical philosophy and theology of Kierkegaard, the “melancholy Dane.” Kierkegaard’s governing motif was the wholly otherness of God. Liberal theology had identified humanity too closely with God (295-296).

Olson contends that these theologians did not call themselves “neo-orthodox.” They did not in fact all agree (except to challenge liberal theology) and they did so often enough through some kind of interaction/embrace with Kierkegaard. Thus:

God’s transcendence, wholly otherness, and human sinfulness mean that all our human thoughts about God ultimately end in confession of mystery and acceptance of paradox as sign of mystery (297).

What is the gospel, then, for kerygmatic theologians?

For neo-orthodoxy it is that, in spite of God’s wholly otherness and human finitude and fallenness, God’s mercy and grace have been shown in Jesus Christ for salvation. The gospel also is that salvation is by God’s grace through faith alone. But the other side of the gospel is that there is nothing human beings can do to bring God or his grace under human control, to domesticate and tame them. Humans are sinners through and through and without hope apart from God s Word and faith (299).

Olson is right, so I think, to keep his finger here on existentialism at work in kerygmatic theology, but it, too, is in need of some clarification:

For Kierkegaard and Christian existentialists, authentic existence comes only through being in relation to God as an individual. For secular existentialists, authentic existence comes only through self-determination, by creating one’s own life meaning in the face of possible meaninglessness of reality. That takes courage to face and overcome despair. For the Christian existentialist, despair is the fruit of sin and its only cure is grace which is given to each individual through his or her own faith (300).

This emphasis on Bible, however, is not simplistic:

Another way of saying the same is that for kerygmatic theologians, the gospel stands even over against the Bible although the Bible is its medium. But the Bible is not always already the Word of God; it becomes the Word of God in the moment when God uses it to call people into encounter with himself through repentance and faith. Without that encounter, the Bible is just a book (301).


The major players here include Barth, Bultmann, Brunner, and then Gogarten, Thurneysen, R. Niebuhr and Thomas Torrance, but the post today will focus on Barth, and Olson develops these themes in Barth:

Barthian Themes

1. Barth becomes the world’s foremost theologian without a doctoral degree.
2. Barth becomes anti-Nazi and more ecumenical.
3. Barth develops a theological method based on God’s Word and faith alone.
4. Barth explains the relation of the Bible to God’s Word.

For Barth, the only source of Christian theology is God’s Word. This Word, however, exists in three forms or modes:

(i) The primary form is Jesus Christ and the entire history of God’s acts leading up to and surrounding his life, death and resurrection. This is revelation proper, the gospel itself.

(ii) The second form is Scripture, the privileged witness to divine revelation.

(iii) Finally, the church’s proclamation of the gospel forms the third mode.

The latter two forms are God’s Word only in an instrumental sense, for they become God’s Word when God uses them to reveal Jesus Christ. The Bible, consequently, is not statically God’s Word; God’s Word alwavs has the character of event. In a sense, God’s Word is God himself repeating his being in action. The Bible becomes Gods Word: “The Bible is God’s Word to the extent that God causes it to be His Word, to the extent that He speaks through it” (310-311).

5. Barth places Christ at the center and recovers the doctrine of the Trinity.
6. Barth defines God as “the one who loves in freedom.”
7. Barth envisions a universal election in Jesus Christ.

Was Barth a unversalist?

In his written responses to this question Barth refused to give an unequivocal answer: “I do not teach it, but I also do not teach against it.”

Nevertheless, we can guess what the answer must be. As Hans Urs von Balthasar pointed out, “It is clear from Barth’s presentation of the doctrine of election that universal salvation is not only possible but inevitable. The only definitive reality is grace, and any condemnatory judgment has to be merely provisional” (317).

8. Barth argues with Brunner about natural theology.
9. Barth sparks controversy and leaves a legacy of lively debate.

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