288 Articles
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The Preexistence and Transcendence of the Risen One in Robert Jenson’s Theology

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The Preexistence and Transcendence of the Risen One in Robert Jenson’s Theology

Sang Hoon Lee

Introduction

Does the Son of God preexist creation? Does the Son transcend time? Is he risen now? How does time unfold? How does the future relate to the past and the present? And, finally, how are these questions related?

Ever since Robert W. Jenson offered an audacious and idiosyncratic account of the preexistence of the Son, it has often been the object of specious criticism. Its underlying logic and conviction have gone unnoticed, and his insightful understanding of the transcendence of the Son, which is closely related to his account of the preexistence of the Son, has been lost in most critics’ expositions. Such readings have not been properly disputed but still remained dominant. So, Jenson’s account of the preexistence of the Son is now due for a fresh and careful reading and a more legitimate evaluation, uncovering its subterranean logic and conviction.

The purpose of this article, then, is twofold: to attempt a more legitimate exposition of Jenson’s doctrine of the preexistence of the Son and to reflect on the transcendence of the risen Jesus, which is covertly operative in Jenson’s account. In the course of this article, I will argue that even though Jenson’s blatant rejection of the pretemporal and preincarnate state of the Son is problematic, his insight into the transcendence of the risen one should not be dismissed and that it deserves more careful constructive engagements. To achieve this, the essay will unfold in three stages: (1) identification of misleading expositions, conducted by such major critics as George Hunsinger, Simon Gathercole, and Oliver Crisp; (2) an attempt for a more adequate exposition of Jenson’s account; and (3) reflection on the transcendence of the risen Jesus and its metaphysical implications.

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Facticity and Faithfulness

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Facticity and Faithfulness

Divine Simplicity in Barth’s Christology

Tyler R. Wittman

Introduction

This essay explores critically Karl Barth’s Christological distribution of God’s unity of singularity and simplicity, with a focus on the latter. There are narrow reasons for undertaking such an analysis, like illuminating the connections between Barth’s doctrine of God’s perfections and his late Christology, or probing more deeply into the doctrinal underpinnings of his Christology. But more important is the broader task of dogmatic reflection on the unity of God’s essence, which is among the more neglected loci over the course of the last century, particularly in Protestant divinity.1 As the history of the doctrine of divine simplicity alone testifies, the exegetical and metaphysical intelligibility, conceptual articulation, and systematic distribution of the divine attributes accommodate a wide variety of interpretations throughout the tradition. Doctrinal retrieval stands to gain from patient yet critical attention to this variety. How, then, if at all, does divine unity in its aspects of singularity and simplicity intersect with Barth’s Christology? To what effect?

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Anglican Saint, Anglican Poet

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Anglican Saint, Anglican Poet

Nicholas Ferrar and T. S. Eliot at Little Gidding

Timothy Fuller

I

It was through my encounter with T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, which I first read when I was about fourteen, and which I have continued to read and to study, that I learned of Little Gidding. Later, I learned about Nicholas Ferrar, who lodged his family and household of approximately thirty to forty members at Little Gidding as a religious community early in seventeenth-century England. It is fair to say that Ferrar is an Anglican saint; Eliot is an Anglican poet, in the tradition of Anglican poets such as George Herbert, who was a contemporary and friend of Ferrar. Herbert and Ferrar were at Cambridge together and brilliant men of affairs, who retired from public life in pursuit of spiritual fulfillment. Herbert became a country priest and poet, and at his death, Ferrar became his executor.

Little Gidding is famous now because the name is the title of the fourth of Eliot’s Four Quartets. Eliot of course knew about Ferrar and visited Little Gidding himself, which was the occasion for his writing the fourth quartet. I want to say something about Ferrar and his community at Little Gidding, and then something about Eliot’s poetic evocation of Little Gidding, in the context of tracing one theme, among the many themes, which run through Four Quartets as a whole. Ferrar and Eliot both instantiate great achievements of the Anglican spirit.

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Ivan Illich, Catholic Theologian (Part II):

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Ivan Illich, Catholic Theologian (Part II):

Illich And Catholic Social Teaching

Colin Miller

In a previous essay in these pages,1 I argued that for Ivan Illich the modern world is at its heart the doxological betrayal of Catholicism, an idolatrous technocratic liturgy prohibiting the true cultus from which it is ultimately derived. Like all cults, modern tools seek to subsume all of life into their rites, and yet, perhaps as never before, these rites mask their character as foreign with a new set of fundamental certainties feigning Christian truth. So the trusting, hopeful, fleshy, useless eucharistic liturgy is replaced by various systems expected to deliver a terrestrial salvation in the cathedrals of medicine, education, transport, and cybernetics. The Church’s irreducible personalism—the contingent particularity of embodied existence in space and time—is abstracted into possibilities and risk management and explained by behaviorism as the way things have to be. Persons become manipulatable concepts. The body becomes a chartable system in need of upkeep, its once salutary suffering first taxonomized and then reduced to a minimum. The pursuit of truth is separated from a tradition-bound way of life and replaced with bare, un-situated nominalist “information,” and a moral order reducible to the play of power. In this world, subsistence work or gendered practice dissolves under economic analysis into interchangeable units of “activity” always vulnerable to being unmasked as inequitable instances of the will to power and the violation of rights. This, for Illich, is the corruption of the best, which is the worst.

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The Catholic Spirit of Protestantism

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The Catholic Spirit of Protestantism

A Very Methodist Take on the Third Article, Visible Unity, and Ecumenism

Tom Greggs

Protestants have a reputation for being schismatic. Were it not enough that they broke with Rome in the sixteenth century, Protestants, from the very off, have been divided among themselves: Luther and Zwingli could not find agreement over the nature of Holy Communion at the Marburg Colloquy; more profoundly, Radical and Magisterial Reform divided; and ever since the Reformation, there has been division upon division of churches who have all protested against their parent church that it has not proclaimed Scripture or performed church practice or celebrated the sacraments or ordered itself or articulated its doctrine correctly. Moving to Scotland in recent years, I have been particularly aware of this propensity to divide. Reading Scottish church history can feel a little similar to reading a script from an episode of Dallas: unending fall outs, divisions, and divorces, followed by the odd makeup and ostentatiously glamorous wedding. Diagrams of Protestant church history can bear an unhealthy similarity to complex plumbing maps, with lines dividing off and coming back together in almost inscrutable ways. It is rumoured indeed that one particularly narrow and exclusive Protestant sect even has a hymn that goes:

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Theology and Moral Reflection and Practice

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Theology and Moral Reflection and Practice

Karl Barth, David Haddorff, and Christian Ethics

Arne Rasmusson1

In recent years we have seen an abundance of books and articles (some very impressive) on Karl Barth’s understanding of ethics. But the role of Barth’s theology in understanding Christian ethics is puzzling. On the one hand, his account of a distinctly theological ethics has been broadly influential far outside strictly Barthian circles. But this has been a selective reception, in which Barth’s thinking has been integrated with broader Christian traditions and theological approaches in quite different ways. Furthermore, some central parts of his thinking have often been left out, because people either don’t understand them, don’t agree with them, or don’t know what to do with them. What many find most problematic is Barth’s actualistic account of God’s command. This is, of course, not a peripheral issue. So, on the other hand, we find among Barthian scholars different, often ingenious, attempts to explain what he means and to develop a “complete” account of ethics on Barthian grounds, often together with attacks on approaches to theological ethics sympathetic to Barth for failing to account for, say, the priority and freedom of God’s Word. I belong to the former group. After having read many impressive defenses of, for example, Barth’s understanding of God’s command, I am still puzzled. For one thing, the specialists don’t agree with each other. Moreover, it is not clear to me that they have shown the fruitfulness of Barth’s account, when understood in the latter exclusivist way, for understanding Christian life. Mostly they don’t even try. Most seem preoccupied with describing the right way of understanding ethics; only a few (in contrast to Barth himself) consider the content of Christian practice itself. Barth’s account cannot, by definition, be formulated as a theory, but should it not help us, at least in retrospect, to describe Christian practice? Most of this more narrow Barthian scholarship simply does not help us much to think about actual Christian practice.

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Dialectic and Analogy in Balthasar’s “The Metaphysics of the Saints”

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Dialectic and Analogy in Balthasar’s “The Metaphysics of the Saints”

Andrew L. Prevot

There is an ongoing ecumenical conversation about the most appropriate Christian “thought-form” (Denkform), whether dialectic or analogy—or, more precisely, about how best to understand and relate these two options, since only the most extreme partisan would wish to exclude one or the other entirely. A number of recent publications have reexamined the “enigmatic rift” between Erich Pryzwara and Karl Barth, two twentieth-century theological friends and sparring partners who continue to be interpreted as figures representing the distinct transcendental commitments of Catholicism and Protestantism respectively.1 Hans Urs von Balthasar’s The Theology of Karl Barth (1951) is widely acknowledged to be a key entry in this discussion, even by scholars who dispute his reading of Barth. I do not attempt to summarize or, for that matter, to settle this debate in this brief article. More particularly, I do not wish to make any historical or exegetical arguments concerning when, or if, any decisive shifts occurred in Barth’s or Przywara’s careers and how this may or may not challenge Balthasar’s narrative in his Barth book. At least for the span of this paper, I would like to encourage a step back from this controversial interpretive terrain in order to focus on the more essential, constructive question about what Christian theologians are to do now with the ideas of dialectic and analogy. Having turned in this forward-looking direction, I do not promise anything like a comprehensive solution. My modest aim is merely to point the discussion toward a neglected text that may help us think through this question and to consider new—and yet perhaps very ancient, forgotten—possibilities for rapprochement.

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Ambrose’s De Isaac as a Baptismal Anthropology

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Ambrose’s De Isaac as a Baptismal Anthropology1

Gerald P. Boersma

De Isaac is a notoriously challenging text.2 It is a rhapsodic and seemingly haphazard commentary on two diverse texts: the title and opening gamut of the treatise relate the initial encounter of Isaac and Rebecca at the well in Genesis 24; however, Ambrose summarily abandons this course of exegesis (to which he never fully returns). What the reader expects will be a close textual analysis of Genesis instead evolves into a spiritual exposition of the Canticle (Song of Songs). Even if we are able to trace the unifying thread that Ambrose intends between these two texts—that the relation between Isaac and Rebecca is a typological expression of the union of Christ and the soul given voice in the passionate idiom of the Canticle—the treatise still seems utterly bereft of structural cohesion.3

In this essay, I propose that Ambrose’s De Isaac provides an integrated, unified answer to the question the bishop poses at the outset of his treatise: “What is man?” I argue that Ambrose’s treatise uses this initial question to articulate a baptismal anthropology. My argument is predicated on the common (and I think plausible) assumption that—despite the challenges that De Isaac poses for the interpreter4—De Isaac was first delivered as a catechetical oration5 that Ambrose preached in (perhaps) 3876 to his catechumens (including, possibly, Augustine), either preparing for or recently having received baptism. While scholarship is nearly unanimously agreed upon a baptismal context for the treatise, it has not treated a baptismally grounded anthropology as the overall focus.7 If, however, a baptismal anthropology is indeed the cement that holds the treatise together, this gives a heretofore-unperceived coherence to the treatise as a whole.8 I will suggest that Ambrose begins outlining his baptismal anthropology by offering an account of the human person as a composite of body and soul. Building upon this overall anthropology, Ambrose then explains to the catechumens how, through God’s grace in baptism and growth in virtue, the human person comes to fulfill his baptismal identity in mystical union with God.

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God in His Processions

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God in His Processions

Aquinas, Palamas, and Dionysius on God’s Relation to Creation

Christopher Iacovetti

It has become an unfortunately typical Orthodox strategy, following the surge of “neo-Palamite” theology in the twentieth century, to pit Aquinas and Palamas polemically against each other as opposed archetypes of Western and Eastern theology.1 Many Orthodox commentators, in adopting this strategy, have singled out Palamas’s distinction between the divine essence and energy (οὐσία and ἐνέργεια) as a point of central incompatibility between his theology and that of Aquinas, and have argued that the latter’s failure to draw such a distinction ultimately leads him to construe God’s relation to creation in a manner anathema to Eastern theology.

Although this charge of incompatibility between Palamas and Aquinas perhaps possesses a prima facie plausibility, it deserves critical reexamination for two major reasons. First, as Marcus Plested has recently demonstrated, several of Palamas’s earliest Byzantine followers openly admired and drew from Aquinas in their own “Palamite” writings, and apparently perceived no insurmountable conflict between Aquinas’s theology and that of their teacher.2 It is only in the modern era, Plested argues, that Orthodox commentators have begun to vilify Aquinas with such vehemence and regularity.3 Second, those commentators who have insisted upon an inherent conflict between Aquinas and Palamas have, as a general rule, devoted insufficient attention to the key differences in language and terminology between the theologians’ writings. This has been especially true where Palamas’s οὐσία/ἐνέργειαι distinction is concerned: Orthodox critics have routinely cited this distinction as a direct affront to Thomas’s account of divine simplicity, but have almost invariably failed to unpack its meaning from within the Latin conceptual vocabulary of Thomas’s system.4

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A Presbyterian Bishop

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A Presbyterian Bishop

Lesslie Newbigin and Reformed Ecumenism

Andrew C. Stout

Lesslie Newbigin’s insights into and example of the missional and ecumenical nature of the Church have exerted influence on Christian churches and communities across the ecumenical spectrum. While Newbigin’s ideas about the shaping effect of cultural pluralism on the Church’s mission have become common currency for many Christians in our post-Christendom context, the Reformed roots of much of his thought and ministry are not a prominent part of his legacy. Yet, the better part of Newbigin’s ecclesial life was spent ministering in confessionally Reformed churches. In addition, his missional thinking in strongly evangelical, in terms of not only its broad vision but also its doctrinal foundations. As confessionally Reformed evangelicals seek ways to give greater expression to the catholicity of their tradition and pursue ecumenical endeavors, Newbigin has the potential to be an invaluable resource. I will attempt to establish Newbigin’s credentials as a theologian in the Reformed tradition. I will then turn to his views on episcopacy and the potential role of bishops in the Reformed tradition. Finally, I will propose that confessionally Reformed evangelicals look to Newbigin as a model for how episcopal structures can be consistently appropriated by Reformed churches in the interest of more visible expressions of catholicity.

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Response to Contributors

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Response to Contributors

Paul Hinlicky

There are few experiences more gratifying in life, especially the life of a theologian nowadays, than being heard and understood. I am honored for just this reason at the rich, appreciative, and insightfully critical essays written by these four comrades who undertook the daunting task of reading my massive book—Pro Ecclesia board member Joe Small asked me at the last board meeting whether I do books under ten pounds! I am grateful to all four though in distinct and personally particular ways.

My old friend Michael Plekon, student of Peter Berger, Kierkegaard scholar, and ebullient writer in Orthodox theology and spirituality for the past twenty years, writes an unabashedly personal response to what he has read in Beloved Community. This is fitting. We both eschew a certain academic pretense of disinterested objectivity that would downright filter the person out of the theology. Our stories tell a lot about who we are as believers, as thinking believers, and as theologians. The modality here is testimony. The agency is the Spirit who makes quite ordinary folks over into icons of holiness—dare we say that about theologians? Yes, if the stage is God’s world, “this world” including the academy, and if the performance in it is that of a “holy secularity.” This “life as prayer” motif resonates deeply between us and with Plekon’s approbation of Pope Francis—a living icon of this worldly spirituality in our post-Christendom world!

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A Transfiguring God

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A Transfiguring God

Jason Byassee

I scarcely preach a sermon in which Flannery O’Connor is not part of the vision. She was a pre–Vatican II Roman Catholic, “13th century” style she liked to say, and her work is unfailingly violent and occasionally redemptive.1 I’m puzzling after a few things about O’Connor. One, she’s a southerner like me. She also went elsewhere for a while—to Iowa and New York, before coming down with lupus at age twenty-five that would kill her at age thirty-nine in 1964; me to Vancouver to teach preaching. She liked to say that there would be no biography of her because lives lived between the house and the chicken coop don’t make for good copy. Yet somehow her life exudes mystery and radiance, as Brad Gooch’s recent biography makes clear.2 She liked to say that southerners write about freaks so often because we can still recognize one.3 And she was one. And we all are. And Christ is the greatest freak of all. Her work is blessedly free of sentimentality—not a cliché in sight. When you read her fiction, you know there will be a conversion and that it will likely require death. And the whole will be uproariously funny in a macabre, guilt-inducing way. O’Connor is the perfect cure for the common confusion that says being Christian is about being nice (especially a problem in Canada—where people no longer think they need the church even to be nice).

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Critical Dogmatics and the God of Easter

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Critical Dogmatics and the God of Easter

Paul Hinlicky’s Beloved Community

Mickey L. Mattox

Readers who think the wind has gone out of the sails of the Barthian-Lutheran tradition will likely be surprised by the vigor and intellectual heft of Paul Hinlicky’s massive new work Beloved Community: Critical Dogmatics After Christendom. The subtitle is noteworthy. While Hinlicky clearly intends his work to be an exercise in ecclesial theology, on the model of Barth’s Church Dogmatics, the term “critical” suggests from the outset a somewhat different perspective on the churchliness of the enterprise. As someone has said (in a phrase I learned from Hinlicky), “Lutheranism is a theology, not a church.” The Lutheran movement, in other words, was born in a moment of crisis that was focused upon problems related to grace, faith, and meritorious good works; ecclesiology was an afterthought, occasioned by the refusal of the German bishops to break with Rome and identify with the Reformation, and the consequent necessity for the movement of ordaining its own priests and bishops to serve the needs of the churches that had adopted Luther’s Reformation. This historical situation meant that the Lutheran faith tradition took as its starting point the question of the sinner’s justification before God, including the sinner’s inability to save herself and the centrality of faith as a fully reorienting event, a metanoia that defines the new life of the believer.

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Beggars All

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Beggars All

A Lutheran View of the 2017 Reformation Anniversary

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson1

One of the newest products from Playmobil, a toy company based in Nuremberg, Germany, is a little figurine of Martin Luther. Playmobil has issued historical figurines before—a series of Dutch painters was a hit, and so was Charlie Chaplin. The Luther toy was developed in conjunction with the German National Tourist Board and the Luther-Decade program of the Protestant Church in Germany (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland), another fun trinket to advertise the gala events leading up to October 31, 2017.

What nobody anticipated, however, was the immense popularity of these little Luthers. Within three days of their release in February 2015, all thirty-four thousand Luthers had sold out. The factory couldn’t keep up with the demand, and new Luthers didn’t hit the market until late April.2

That’s remarkable in itself, and proof that not only the pious and the scholarly have their eyes on the 2017 anniversary. But what is even more remarkable is what this commercial Luther toy is holding. It’s not the 95 Theses—though of course the Theses are why the anniversary date is in 2017. Instead he’s holding a Bible. The left-hand page says, in German, “the end of the books of the Old Testament” (Bücher des Alten Testaments ende), and the right-hand one says, “The New Testament translated by Dr. Martin Luther” (Das Neue Testament übersetzt von Doktor Martin Luther). Our Luther, smiling blandly like nearly all Playmobil figurines, is no polemical figure, no wrecker of an intact church, no angry young man naming abuses. He’s a translator, giving the Word of God to Germans in their own language.3

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Creator Spiritus

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Creator Spiritus

Paul Hinlicky on Pneumatology, Ecclesiology, and the Life of Holiness

Michael Plekon

It is rare today that a theologian sets about producing a thorough systematic theology, but Paul Hinlicky is just that rare and gifted theologian. Just a few introductory remarks are necessary. I have had the privilege of knowing Paul for twenty years and more, and also his family. I had much correspondence with him years back and a memorable month of Orthodox-Lutheran dialogue he set up while teaching at the theological faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava. I revere that moment as one of profound ecumenical fellowship in which not only did we give papers, discuss, and debate, but we also traveled extensively in Slovakia to important sites of both churches. And we prayed—daily. But we also ate and drank, truly sacramental sharing, particularly of the homemade wine of the sub-Carpathian region around Svaty Jur. I also need to say that while we once were fellow pastors in the Lutheran Church in America and then the ELCA, I subsequently moved to the Orthodox Church in America where I have been a priest for twenty years. I was an external reader on his daughter Sarah’s doctoral dissertation on Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, the great theologian of the Orthodox Church in France. I was able through another friend to have Sarah and Elisabeth meet before Elisabeth’s death. Elisabeth said to me that though an Orthodox Christian most of her adult life, she never stopped being a Lutheran—she had actually served as a lay pastoral assistant in the 1920s in rural parishes. I want to say the same is true of myself. Like Elisabeth, her friend Fr. Lev Gillet, and Thomas Merton, I have tried to reunite the churches in my own persona, life, and work.

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