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Retrieval, Repair, and the Possibility of a Christian Humanism

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Retrieval, Repair, and the Possibility of a Christian Humanism

Hans Frei and George Lindbeck as Theologians

Joseph L. Mangina

It has become customary to associate the names of Hans Frei and George Lindbeck with the exercise of charity in theological discussion. It was Frei, after all, who coined the phrase “generous orthodoxy,” his shorthand for a theology poised somewhere between the liberalism of The Christian Century and the evangelicalism of Christianity Today.1 Anyone who knew these two men will testify to their kindness, their graciousness, and their insistence on the charitable reading of opponents. Especially in the highly polarized cultural and political climate of our own time, their warm Christian humanism stands out as a model to be emulated.

But we should also not fool ourselves: Frei and Lindbeck could at times be highly polemical. On the big issues confronting Christian theology in their day, they thought they were right—that their views were best poised to secure the faithfulness and liveliness of catholic tradition as it moved into the future. Whatever else “post”-liberalism may be, it surely involves the judgment that modernist Protestant theology got some important things wrong.

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The Mother, the Sinners, and the Cross

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The Mother, the Sinners, and the Cross

Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and Bach’s Tilge, Höchster1

Chiara Bertoglio

1. An electronic version of this article with live links to musical performances is available at the website of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology, www.e-ccet.org/feature-article.

1. Introduction

This paper analyzes the theological, spiritual, confessional, artistic, and cultural issues posed by Johann Sebastian Bach’s adaptation of Pergolesi’s setting of the Stabat Mater as a German Psalm paraphrase suitable for use in the Lutheran Church. These twin compositions actually represent four distinct and yet intertwining works: the Medieval Latin lyrics of the Stabat Mater, which obviously predated Pergolesi’s setting by several centuries; the musical features of Pergolesi’s masterpiece; the lyrics of Bach’s Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden, taken from the Biblical Psalm 51 (50) but purposefully adapted to Pergolesi’s music, whose text they replaced; and Bach’s own musical interventions and changes to the score. Thus, this topic is as fascinating as it is difficult to treat in an organic fashion: indeed, so numerous and diverse are the factors at stake, that it is indispensable to treat them somewhat separately as introductory remarks, before delving into the theological analysis proper. One could even say that theological conclusions surface almost inevitably when the complete cultural and artistic frame is set.

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What Is Postliberal Theology? Was There a Yale School? Why Care?

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What Is Postliberal Theology? Was There a Yale School? Why Care?1

Michael Root

1. This essay was originally presented at a conference in honor of Archbishop J. A. DiNoia on Postliberalism and Thomism at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. I have preserved its originally oral style.

Four or five years ago, a student asked me whether I was a follower of postliberalism. I was a bit taken aback; it was a question I had not thought about in a good while. After some brief thought, I answered that I wasn’t sure because I wasn’t sure what postliberalism was or even if there actually was such a thing. This answer rather baffled the student. Shouldn’t I know? After all, I was, so to speak, there. I was a graduate student at Yale during the foundational years of postliberal theology in the 1970s; I followed the path of George Lindbeck into ecumenical work; and I published essays on theology and narrative theory in the 1980s. I may be a minor member of the Yale School, perhaps least among the apostles, but I too, like Saul, should be among the prophets.

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Being With George Lindbeck’s Being-With

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Being With George Lindbeck’s Being-With

Peter Ochs

A reminiscence. I have written much about George Lindbeck, of blessed memory, the postliberal scholar and theologian whose work has stimulated and informed much of my work on rabbinic pragmatism/semiotics, postliberal Abrahamic theologies, and Scriptural reasoning. But I write here about George the person in the thinker. Of this person, in the thinker, the image that comes first to mind is his stretching his hand out to be with someone. It makes me think of the biblical passage where Moses was in the ark in the reeds and Batyah, daughter of Pharaoh, sent her handmaid to fetch it: v’tishlach et-amata (Exod. 2:5). In Talmud Sota 12b, Rabbi Yehudah reads “et amah-ta” to mean that she stretched it (her hand, not her maid) a cubits-length to meet the baby. In Freema Gottlieb’s gentle words, the hand of God is seen, for example, in the way the hand of Batyah reached for the baby. This is then a typological image: reaching one’s hand to someone as a type, to fill in which someone is to specify an instance—in this case, I speak of the ones George was with. We might think, within the realm of academic-spiritual partnerships, a prototypical someone was Hans Frei, of blessed memory: George with Hans, intimately interrelated in their work, historian and theologian, ecclesiologist and hermeneut, the Jew-Christian and the Christian who extends his scholarly hand to be with Judaism. That being-with has been a powerful force in contemporary theology, for wherever we encounter their theology, I believe we encounter their relationality (with many others), and through their theo-relationality, we might also discover our own relationality with others and with God.

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The Jews and the Body of Christ

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The Jews and the Body of Christ

An Essay in Hope

Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap.

Beating with Less Than a Robust Heart

In their prophetic Declaration, Nostra Aetate, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council stated:

The Church of Christ acknowledges that in God’s plan of salvation the beginning of her faith and election is to be found in the patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all Christ’s faithful, who as men of faith are sons of Abraham (cf. Gal. 3:7), are included in the same patriarch’s call and that the salvation of the Church is mystically prefigured in the exodus of God’s chosen people from the land of bondage.1

In this passage the Council Fathers suggested that the Church is still anticipating her full birth in Christ and—because of the origin of her faith, her initial election, and her prefigured identity in Israel—already beats with a Jewish heart. Because of this the Council professed that the Church cannot “forget that she draws nourishment from that good olive tree into which the wild olive branches of the Gentiles have been grafted (cf. Rom. 11:17–24).”2 Here the Council affirmed that God, in his loving mercy, has inextricably bound together, within the very truth and life of his revelation, Jews and Gentiles. To this day the life-giving ancestral blood of Abraham’s faith and the sacred Jewish tradition that sprang from his loins are still nurturing the Body of Christ. At the same time, this text from the Council implies that the Body of Christ lacks the vigorous heart that Jesus intended. Let me explain.

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Mr. Lindbeck’s Surprisingly Effective Pedagogy and Its Consequences for Theology Today

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Mr. Lindbeck’s Surprisingly Effective Pedagogy and Its Consequences for Theology Today

Peter Casarella

“Everyone should remain in the state in which she was called.”1 St. Paul’s advice is sometimes paraphrased as “Grow where you are planted!” It comes in the midst of complicated counsels regarding marriage, virginity, and slavery, and an “originalist” reading of Paul here would not necessarily be advisable. But these are the words that come to mind when I think of what my teacher George Lindbeck (“Mr. Lindbeck” in the now-antiquated parlance of those days) imparted to me and to others. The Catholic became a better Catholic. The Buddhist a better Buddhist. And, of course, the Barthian and Thomist a better Barthian and a better Thomist (sometimes at the same time). This insight is surprising for two reasons. First, Lindbeck’s legacy has been saddled with the charge of fideism, proselytism, and the like from almost the beginning. This charge was simply astonishing to those of us who knew the man. No teacher ever matched his ability at self-effacement or respect for the dignity of the other. The brash and fearless divinity student and the shy undergraduate who made the trek with his bicycle, sometimes even in the snow, up the hill to the divinity school were placed on equal footing. Protestants, Catholics, and non-Christians wanted to learn from him because he was so nonjudgmental and hard to pin down. He was not particularly effusive, but one-on-one he could be amazingly open and transparent. The many testimonies of his students regarding life-transforming reading courses of one, two, or three people in his crowded office tells us something about his remarkable witness.

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A Schism Requiring Dual Conversion

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A Schism Requiring Dual Conversion

Mark S. Kinzer

In his essay, “The Jews and the Body of Christ,” Fr. Thomas Weinandy broaches a topic that few Catholic theologians or Church authorities are willing to discuss in a public setting. Painfully aware of past sins committed against the Jewish people, and convinced since Vatican II of the irrevocable character of God’s gifts to the descendants of the patriarchs and matriarchs, Catholics rarely speak of a future “conversion of the Jews.” As a result, Jews involved in “inter-faith” dialogue tend to assume that Catholics long-ago abandoned the expectation that the Jewish people will one day acclaim Jesus as Israel’s Messiah.

Nevertheless, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is unequivocal in its affirmation of this embarrassing article of faith:

The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by “all Israel,” for “a hardening has come upon part of Israel” in their “unbelief” toward Jesus. St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.” St. Paul echoes him: “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” The “full inclusion” of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of “the full number of the
Gentiles,” will enable the People of God to achieve “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” in which “God may be all in all.”1

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A New (and Old) Scandal of Particularity

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A New (and Old) Scandal
of Particularity

Gerald R. McDermott

I am thankful for Fr. Weinandy’s bold and piercing proposal for the reconsideration of Jews within the Body of Christ. While it recommends that their most fruitful location will be in the Roman Catholic member of that Body, non-Catholics have much to learn from his rethinking of what God wants to do for his Son’s Body through his “firstborn son” (Ex 4:22). Fr. Weinandy reminds us gentiles that God’s covenant with the people of Israel is not over and imagines the riches that their inclusion will bring to the Church’s culture, exegesis, theology, and evangelism. He suggests this inclusion will take place gradually, and not immediately before the eschaton. But for their “partial hardening” (Rom. 11:25) to soften, Jews must see the possibility of a suffering messiah, and perhaps they will see that only as we gentile believers suffer with them in a world that has brought us together by persecuting both of us. This is a provocative but plausible suggestion.

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Engendering Hope

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Engendering Hope

A Response to M. Kinzer, G. McDermott, and G. D’Costa

Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap.

I want first to acknowledge that I am honored that Mark Kinzer, Gerald McDermott, and Gavin D’Costa considered my essay worthy of comment. They, far more than I, are knowledgeable in Jewish-Christian relations. Moreover, they have studied the biblical, theological, ecclesial, cultural, and political issues to a far greater degree. When I began to contemplate the importance of the Jews within the Body of Christ, I knew very little, but thanks to scholars such as these (as well as my good friend, the late Fr. Peter Hocken), my knowledge has grown and matured over the years in the making of my essay (and in the longer years of questing for a publisher). Yet I am far from being their academic equal. In responding to their very charitable, insightful, and challenging comments, I will address some of the major issues they have highlighted—some of which have been noted by more than one of the respondents.

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Developing the Conversation

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Developing the Conversation

A Divine Messiah and a Catholic Zionism

Gavin D’Costa

This is a brave and prophetic piece by Fr. Weinandy. He dares to say about the Jewish people what is most difficult to say by Catholics in the dark shadow of the Holocaust. And he says it with contrition, respect, and hope. He also speaks candidly about his (and my own) Catholic Church: both in his confidence about it being the sign of Christ’s visible unified body, and its being complicit in the deepest disunity with its persistent persecution of the Jewish people. Only when the latter is fully acknowledged and repented can the former become evangelically plausible. I find myself deeply sympathetic to Fr. Weinandy’s vision, but also slightly cautious in two respects. I will focus on my two misgivings but only in the hope of strengthening Fr. Weinandy’s argument.

Fr. Weinandy’s basic thesis is as follows. The Jewish presence in the ecclesia is central to the meaning and fulfilment of the ecclesia. The benefits for both communities are manifold. (I would prefer to speak of the benefits for Catholics and allow Jews to respond to see if they see these developments as “benefits” or rather as a “suffocating kiss”). The benefits for Catholics are six-fold, which is a renewal of the church right down to its roots and many variegated shoots. Fr. Weinandy eschews the view (held by Catholic prelates such as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—later Pope Benedict XVI—and Cardinal Walter Kasper) that “so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26) entails an eschatological event that precludes the church’s reaching out to the Jewish people. Fr. Weinandy then focuses on one stumbling block for Jews regarding their spiritual attention to Jesus Christ. He acknowledges that Catholic persecution of the Jewish people is a bigger problem than the doctrine of the incarnation and trinity. However, the suffering messiah is, in Fr. Weinandy’s view, the most difficult issue for Jewish belief. Messiahs do not fail. They do not end up on a cross, but they inaugurate a kingdom where the Jewish people will be vindicated and victorious. Jewish suffering, especially during the Holocaust, happened because the nations, including Christian ones, cannot abide Jewish “chosenness”—by the God who is good. Evil always resists God’s goodness. It always will. Hence, the mystery of Jewish suffering should not be attributed to the sins of the people, but rather to their fidelity to their chosen status. This might lead them to a recognition of Jesus:

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Scripture on the Edge of God

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Scripture on the Edge of God

Ephraim Radner

Nothing could be more gratifying and humbling to me than the discussion of Time and the Word offered by this symposium of deeply perceptive and faithful theologians. I am enormously grateful. The breadth of discussion makes my own response challenging. At the outset I will simply offer my genuine thanks for whatever praise has been offered. But for what follows, I will turn to the questions and sometimes clear critiques my colleagues have helpfully laid out. There is a common thread among these, that is, a concern about over-loading the divine nature of Scripture, such that, on the one hand Scripture may seem to take the place of God or on the other, that it may seem to swallow up the distinct singularities of historical existence—creation, events, individuals, persons. I will try to address this under several general headings.

An Experiment

I want to admit up front that many of the specifics related to the general concern just mentioned derive from my own lack of clear understanding about the matters Time and Word addressed! This is due to my own intellectual limitations, no doubt, but also to the fact that the book as a whole was an experiment, one in which I was trying to work something out, without yet knowing where it would end up, or quite seizing the implications of what I was doing. I will explain the particular experiment below, but first I want to make an apology, both in the sense of defense as well as asking for pardon.

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Remembering My Teacher Robert W. Jenson

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Remembering My Teacher Robert W. Jenson

Rev. Gregory P. Fryer

I met Robert and Blanche Jenson during my first week at seminary, back in 1980 at the Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary. The Seminary hosted a supper in the refectory for faculty and new students, and I found myself seated at a table with the Jensons. I mentioned to Jenson that I had read his recent book back then, Visible Words.1 Jenson asked me whether I understood it. I answered that no, I had not. Jenson broke into a big smile and seemed to have affection for me ever since.

Theologians and clergy across the land might study and be grateful for Jenson’s theology. But unless you have worshiped with him, you might not understand the essential link for him between theology and the liturgy.

I have heard two descriptions of how bishops were selected in the early church. Both descriptions sound great to me. According to one description, the bishop was simply the best preacher and theologian around. According to the other, the bishop was the one who composed the most fitting and powerful Eucharistic prayers. On either of these descriptions, Robert W. Jenson would have been a great bishop. In fact, in my mind, he would have been a great Pope!

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Keeping Time

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Keeping Time

Human Finitude and Figural Interpretation

Daniel J. Treier

The question of how figural reading relates to human finitude arises from the nearly contemporaneous appearance of two dazzling books from Ephraim Radner—Time and the Word: Figural Reading of the Christian Scriptures and A Time to Keep: Theology, Mortality, and the Shape of a Human Life.1 The intuition explored here is that these books do not entirely cohere in their approaches to time, their common theme. Perhaps, even if this intuition is misguided, exploring it will draw further attention to neglected territory.

Radner uniquely combines existential passion, pastoral experience, and deep learning. These books cover a breathtaking amount of biblical, historical, conceptual, and cultural territory. While Radner is not afraid to speak directly about the churchly problems, he also listens carefully. So I am grateful for the chance to explore these distinctively Anglican pathways, even if I must doggedly make my way back to a Presbyterian home.

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On Radner’s Time and the Word

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On Radner’s Time and the Word

Paul J. Griffiths

I’m grateful to have been asked to contribute to this symposium on Ephraim Radner’s book, Time and the Word: Figural Reading of the Christian Scriptures. It’s a real book, by which I mean that it’s the written deposit of concentrated thought about a set of questions as if it were important to approach and answer them rightly. It’s something more than journeyman academic work, and something more, too, than the work of someone who cares for the church and wishes to serve her. It has the unusual virtue of combining wide learning, intellectual passion, and devotion to Christ and his church. In reading it, it seemed to me that I was faced with a mind at work on something that matters. That is rare, and good; I’m grateful to Radner for it.

So, what is the book about? It offers an elucidation and defense of figural reading, exegesis, and preaching of Christian Scripture, together with examples of these activities being performed, and some instruction in how to perform them better. Radner acknowledges that the last forty years or so has seen a massive recovery of interest in figural reading and interpretation of Scripture in the anglophone Christian world; but he also writes that this kind of reading is still under-theorized or badly theorized, and therefore in need of further elucidation and defense. What does he mean by “figural reading”? Here are two instances, among many, of brief attempts on his part to say: “Scripture in particular is . . . the gift of an omnipotent God who has so construed the world and ordered the words of the Bible, that the latter may function broadly in an inter-signifying role to navigate through the former in the direction of salvation’s grasp” (157–58). And: “[F]igural reading is the temporal explication, through the juxtaposition of her multiple texts, of Scripture’s divine ‘allness’” (210). The idea is that the text of Scripture is intended by God to be a text capable of signifying, and being read to signify, everything: all that there is, and everything that has happened and will happen. So reading it is figural reading, and it is reading that assumes a deep and serious claim about the text, the Lord, and what is neither the text nor the Lord.

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You Shall Love the Lord with All Your Mind

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You Shall Love the Lord with All Your Mind

Blanche Jenson

1953

We sat in Solomon, his 1939 Packard, engaged in serious debate. Should the Lutherans join the World Council of Churches? I chose the affirmative. He firmly argued the negative. He became an ecumenical theologian.

We sat eating lunch in Dinky Town talking theology. He said, “You know only the froth on the beer.” How right he was.

1954

We sat on the bank of the Mississippi River eating pizza. A decision was made. We would spend the rest of our lives doing theology together. And so we have.

2017

It is Advent. I sit at my grandparents’ table opposite an empty chair. Our conversation has been interrupted. But I am blessed with his words: books, essays, lectures, sermons, verses, and all the memories attached to them.

Above the mantel in his study hangs an embroidered command (a gift from a student): YOU SHALL THE LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR MIND. Although Jens chose to follow his father into the ministry, he knew his gift was not his father’s: the common touch. His gift was thinking and, he soon learned, also teaching. The seminary assigned him not to a parish but to campus ministry at the University of Minnesota for internship. That is where our life together began.

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