The PostBarthian
25Jan/150

John Calvin with Cyprian: Are Protestants Schismatics or Heretics?

Cyprian (source: wikipeda)

Cyprian (source: wikipeda)

Cyprian (c. 200 – 258), Bishop of Cathage, is quoted by John Calvin to prove that Protestants are neither Schismatics or Heretics. Cyprian uses a beautiful metaphor in his On the Unity of the Catholic Church (V) to explain the Oneness of the Church by comparing the Church's unity to the manifold rays of the one Sun, and to the many branches of one great tree, and also to the sundry streams that flow from one tributary. John Calvin employs this quote to demonstrate that where there is light, it is evident that the Sun has shined forth, and where there are buds on the branch, then it is evident that the tree is bearing fruit bearing, and where there is living water, there is a fount that has overflowed. The argument demonstrates that because the Protestant Church bears much light, fruit and living water, surely the Protestant Church is truly part of the One, Holy, and Apostolic Church, and may not have only done so otherwise. If the Protestant Church was not part of the one true Church, it would could do nothing:  I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).  Light, Life and Living Water, what a Holy Trinity!

Calvin continuously writes against the Sin of Schism throughout the Institutes. It's a lesson that Protestants are desperately in need of learning today! Schism is more dangerous than heresy, in that it divides the body of Christ, where heresy is an infection of the body of Christ. Both schism and heresy threaten the health of the Church but it is Schism that causes the most danger. Calvin anticipates the critique that the Protestants are the Schismatics because they have departed from the One, Holy, Apostolic and Catholic Church (according to the Romanists - as Calvin calls them). Calvin responds to this accusation by quoting the bull of Leo X, in which Protestants were put out of the One Church by the Romanists. It's a brilliant response that demonstrates that one does not have to leave the Church to be a schismatic, one only needs to cause division of the body to be a schismatic. Calvin believes that the Romanists are the true schismatics because they have put out the Protestants from the fold! Calvin ingeniously equates Leo X's bull of excommunication with Jesus's prophecy that the apostles themselves would be put out of the synagogue (which the were indeed!).

The Protestant Church is shattered into a myriad shards like a dropped mirror, and so the dangers of schism should ever be before us! As Paul said, we look in the mirror dimly, because its shattered by schism. I've provided this quotation from Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (IV.ii.6) to demonstrate the danger of schism, and to remind us that we do not need to leave the church to be schismatics! And that schism is as dangerous and more dangerous than the heretics we wish to put out from our synagogue.

Institutes IV.ii.6. Christ's headship the condition of unity*

Cyprian, also following Paul, derives the source of concord of the entire church from Christ's episcopate alone. Afterward he adds:

CyprianusReliquiar

Cyprian (source: wikipedia)

"The church is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness. As there are many rays of the sun but one light, and many branches of a tree but one strong trunk grounded in its tenacious root, and since from one spring flow many streams, although a goodly number seem outpoured from their bounty and superabundance, still, at the source unity abides. Take a ray from the body of the sun; its unity undergoes no division. Break a branch from a tree; the severed branch cannot sprout. Cut off a stream from its source; cut off, it dries up. So also the church, bathed in the light of the Lord, extends over the whole earth: yet there is one light diffused everywhere."(12)

Nothing more fitting could be said to express this indivisible connection which all members of Christ have with one another. We see how he continually calls us back to the Head himself. Accordingly, Cyprian declares that heresies and schisms arise because men return not to the Source of truth, seek not the Head, keep not the teaching of the Heavenly Master.

Now let them go and shout that we who have withdrawn from their church are heretics, since the sole cause of our separation is that they could in no way bear the pure profession of truth. I forbear to mention that they have expelled us with anathemas and curses(13)—more than sufficient reason to absolve us, unless they wish to condemn the apostles also as schismatics, whose case was like our own. Christ, I say, forewarned his apostles that they would be cast out of the synagogues for his name's sake [John 16:2]. Now those synagogues of which he speaks were then considered lawful churches. Since, therefore, it is clear that we have been cast out, and we are ready to show that this happened for Christ's sake, surely the case ought to be investigated before any decision is made about us, one way or the other. But I willingly grant them this point, if they so desire. For it is enough for me that it behooved us to withdraw from them that we might come to Christ.

Note 12: Cyprian, On the Unity of the Catholic Church v (MPL 4. 501 £.; CSEL 3. i. 213 f.; tr. ANF V. 423; LCC V. my)
Note 13 "Notorios et pertinaces haereticos . . . fuisse declarantes, eosdem . . . condemnamus." Leo X's bull Exsurge Domine (June 15, 1520); Mansi XXXII. 1051; Kidd, Documents, p. 79

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ed. John T. McNeill. Trans. Ford Lewis. Battles. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1960. 1024-025. Print.

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23Jan/150

Christoph Blumhardt: Parable of the Pharisee and Publican

Pharisee-and-Publican-c_blumhardt

Helmut Gollwitzer's The Way of Life: Sermons in a Time of World Crisis contains a sermon from 1979 on the Parable of the Pharisee and Publican (Tax Collector), and in it, Gollwitzer summarizes Christoph Blumhardt's interpretation of this parable. Christoph Blumhardt and his father Johann Blumhardt are known for their Christian Universalism, or the hope in Christ that all may be saved. Jesus has a way of evading our characterizations and shaking free of our conclusions. Gollwitzer points out that in the codex Bezae (D), the word 'parable' does not in Luke 18:9-14, indicating that the redactor believed that Luke was describing a real event witnessed by Jesus rather than parable he had devised.  The consequence is that the meaning of this passage may be understood in a different context than the other parables. Gollwitzer then utilizes Christoph Blumhardt's alternate explanation of this parable to retell this story and casting Christianity as the Pharisee and all the non-Christian other men of the world, as the Publican. This brings a universal scope to a parable that typically is preached by many to conclude a double judgement of the saved humble Publican vs the self-righteous Pharisee.

Christoph Blumhardt, that incomparable witness to God in Swabia in the last century, preached on the same eleventh Sunday after Trinity in August 1891 a sermon on this text. In it he was concerned with these questions. But he did not, as I have done thus far, and as is customary, concerning himself with the behavior of individuals. Being a man of the Kingdom of God, who concerned himself with the universal, for him the Pharisee and the tax collector were a picture of the history of Christianity to the present day. He saw the Church and Christians in the role of the Pharisees, arrogantly exalting themselves above the "other men", the heathen and the Jews, the atheists and the communists, sunning themselves in the splendor of their higher religion, their higher culture, and their higher ethic. But he saw on the other hand how this Church and we Christians will fare when God passes judgement not only on the others, but on us too, when he takes account of out way of life and our failure, when he relates our way of life to the misery of which Christians have brought to other people, often in the name of Christianity and God; the extirpation of the Indians, and the enslavement of negroes, the burning of heretics and witches, the atrocities of colonialism, the crusades of past days and war armaments of today in defense of Christian culture against its enemies, and the simple fact we, the so-called Christian peoples of Europe and America, take possession of the greater part of the world's riches for our prosperous way of life, and the rest perish in hunger and misery and tyranny. When the moment of truth comes, then we shall move from the place of the Pharisees to the place of the tax gatherer, and then it is we Christians who will beat our breasts in despair, "God, be merciful to us Christians!"

And thus at last, says Jesus, at last you are right with God: not so long as, like the Pharisee, you thanked God for God's gifts, but left the others in the lurch, or even despised them, did nothing for them, and at the same time deceived yourselves about your superiority. But now, when you recognize the truth, the truth of your failure, the truth that you especially, beyond all others, have played false with God, and then in despair, because you can find no other means of escape, cry "God be merciful to us Christians!"

Then we are right with God. Then he has got us to the point where we no longer in arrogance and self-righteousness see ourselves standing above other people, and either despise and reject the "other people", or wish to dominate them and shape them to our model. Then we become of use to serve his love that seeks men out, then we shall invest our gifts, for which we thank him, to this end, and discover new possibilities, better than hitherto, to live with and for other men. And may what Jesus says to us through this story help us to do so!

Gollwitzer, Helmut. The Way to Life: Sermons in a Time of World Crisis. Trans. David Cairnes. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1981. 68-69. Print.

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18Jan/150

James Cone: Martin Luther King, Jr. is America’s Most Outstanding Theologian

Karl Barth with Martin Luther King in Princeton, 1962 (source: kbarth.org)

Karl Barth with Martin Luther King, Princeton, 1962 (source: kbarth.org)

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s (1929—1968) birthday was January 15, 1929 and he would have been 86 years old, if he had lived until today. MLK was assassinated on Thursday, April 4, 1968 when he was 39 years old in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Tomorrow is the only major federal holiday in the United States named after a historical person, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that celebrates MLK's birthday, observed on the third Monday of January.

In the following quotation by James H. Cone in Risks of Faith: the Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998, he argues that Martin Luther King, Jr. is America's Most Outstanding Theologian. Evangelicals attribute this honorary title to Jonathan Edwards, but Edwards was forgotten for two hundred years until Perry Miller rediscovered him and the other American Puritans—yet the question remains, how may the greatest theologian in America be forgotten for centuries in country formed in 1776? Maybe the Niebuhr brothers (whom James Cone adores) could be a named as the "Greatest American Theologian", but as popular as they may be, or as genius their books may have been, their work's influence on America's civil and social structure pale by comparison to Martin Luther King, Jr. And, I would argue that those Evangelicals that would nominate Jonathan Edwards today, are more often than not, have never heard of Reinhold Niebuhr and H. Richard Niebuhr.

800px-MLK_and_Malcolm_X_USNWR_cropped

Martin Luther King, Jr. meeting with Malcom X, March 26, 1964 (source:wikipedia.org)

When Americans celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday, seminary students and faculty, church leaders and Christians throughout the world should not forget his importance as theologian, perhaps the most important in American history. In saying this, I do not wish to minimize the significant contribution of other theologians—whether Jonathan Edwards, Walter Rauschenbusch, or the Niebuhr brothers. There are three reasons that make Martin King a candidate for the status of America's most outstanding theologians:

1. If theology is a disciplined endeavor to interpret the meaning of the gospel for the present time, and if the gospel is God's liberation of the poor from bondage, then I would claim that no one has articulated the Christian message of freedom more effectively, prophetically, and creatively in America than Martin Luther King, Jr.

2. Unlike many American theologians who often look toward Europe to identify theological problems that require disciplined reflection, Martin King's theological perspective achieved its creativity by engaging uniquely American issues. He was truly an American theologian and not simply a theologian who happened to live in the United States. No theologian has made a greater impact on American culture than Martin Luther King, Jr. Making his birthday a national holiday merely symbolized that fact.

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s mugshot from his Birmingham arrest

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s mugshot from his Birmingham arrest

3. Unlike most white theologians who do theology as if their definitions of it are the only ones and as if their problems are the only ones that deserve the attention of disciplined theological reflection, Martin King did not limit his theological reflections to the problems of one group. While he began with a focus on the racial oppression of blacks, his theological vision was universal. He was as concerned about the liberation of whites from their oppression as oppressors as he was in eliminating the racial oppression of blacks. He was as concerned about the life-chances of brown children in Vietnam as he was about black children in America's cities. King's vision was truly international, embracing all humanity. That is why his name is invoked by the oppressed around the world who are fighting for freedom. Teachers of theology do themselves, their students, and  their discipline a great disservice when  they ignore the outstanding contribution that King has made to American theology and to all who are seeking to understand the gospel today. For if one wishes to know what it means to be a theologian, there isn better example than Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cone, James H. Risks of Faith: the Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998. Boston, MA: Beacon, 1999. 72-3. Print.

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17Jan/150

G.C. Berkouwer: Inerrancy is Foreign to the World of Scripture

Ptolemy's World Map from Geographia, c. 150 c.e.

Ptolemy's World Map from Geographia, c. 150 c.e. (source: wikipedia)

Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer (1903-1996) was a famous Dutch Reformed Theologian who worked within the same illustrious Dutch Calvinist tradition as Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. In G.C. Berkouwer's Studies in Dogmatics: Holy Scripture, is a famous argument against inerracy that I've quoted in toto below. G.C. Berkouwer's rejection of inerrancy may be summarized as:

  1.  Inerrancy is a foreign category to the biblical authors
  2. Rejection of time-bounded revelation is unjustified and unwise.


From Studies in Dogmatics: Holy Scriptures:

The origin of the dispute is related to this question: in view of the truth and reliability of Holy Scripture, is it legitimate to believe that numerous conceptions occur in it that fit the world view of an earlier age and not that of a later age? Does not such a notion of a biblical world view call into question the authority of Scripture for all ages? A lively debate took place particularly in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands after the Synod of Assen, which dealt extensively with the direct application of the authority of Scripture. The conviction was defended at that time that, though the Bible does not offer a scientific world view, yet the cosmological presuppositions of the biblical authors clearly demonstrate a contemporaneous view of the structure of the world: for instance, the earth as flat, surrounded by oceans--a geocentric world view held by no one today. It was pointed out that the authority of Scripture is in no way diminished because an ancient world view occurs in it; for it was not the purpose of Scripture to offer revealing information on that level. Here again we encounter the problem of the relationship between the God-breathed character of Scripture and continuity. In these discussions we find different attributes of Holy Scripture, namely, its reliability, its infallibility, and its inerrancy.

Note: The setting of the "inerrancy" discussion is developed in detail by Warfield, op. cit., pp. 150f. He sees "inerrancy" as implied in reliability and then with regard to "all its parts and in all its elements, down to the least minutiae, in form of expression as well as in substance of teaching" (p. 150). Cf. "entire truthfulness" as "inerrancy" in verbal inspiration (which he does not see as dictation) through which Scripture is protected "from everything inconsistent with a divine authorship" (p. 173) and from whatever conflicts with "a divine book" (p. 151).

The fact that the Bible contains an "obsolete" world view, and thus an incorrect and erring world view, contradicts the God-breathed character of Scripture, according to this viewpoint, since each "error" is excluded by the God-breathed character of Scripture. In this view of inerrancy we meet a serious formalization of the concept of erring. The concept of error in the sense of incorrectness is obviously being used on the same level as the concept of erring in the sense of sin and deception. The distinction is left rather vague. As a consequence of this, limited historical perception within a certain cultural and scientific situation is, without further stipulation, put on a par with erring in the sense of lying, the opposite of truth. If erring is formalized in such a way, it cannot later be related to truth in the biblical sense, but it continues to function as a formal structure of exactness and correctness. Thus, we are quite far removed from the serious manner with which erring is dealt in Scripture. For there what is meant is not the result of a limited degree of knowledge, but it is a swerving from the truth and upsetting the faith (2 Tim 2:18). The testimony of the Spirit stands opposite that erring, and the confession of the God-breathed Scripture could not be maintained with that kind of deception in view. The supposition that limited human knowledge and time-boundedness of any kind would cause someone to err and that Holy Scripture would no longer be the lamp to our feet unless every time-bounded conception could be corrected, is a denial of the significance of historical development and of searching out as the "unhappy business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with" (Eccl 1:13). It can be recognized that "inerrancy" was emphasized with the intention of warning against a mistrust of the testimony of God and of keeping the church from really erring. But the formalization of inerrancy virtually destroys this intention, because the relationship of the organic, God-breathed character to the organic unity and scope of the total testimony of Scripture is almost totally ignored. It creates numerous insoluble problems in the historical development, so that as a consequence in later years a compromise could no longer be avoided, and various solutions were proposed that made inerrancy a latent dogma without any real function. The problem of the God-breathed character of Scripture and continuity gained renewed interest in its connection with the authors' level of knowledge in a certain period (Ex 20:4; Ps 24:2; 2 Sam 22:8; Ps 136:6; Job 26:5; Ps 46:3; Ps 148:4). This does not mean a capitulation to science as an institution opposed to God's Word, with the additional conclusion that Scripture is unreliable and its witness untrustworthy. Rather, it means a greater degree of naturalness in speaking of Scripture, with a view to its nature and purpose. Corrections of various conceptions of the world--its composition and its place in the universe--are not at all needed then to guarentee the full and clear message of Scripture. Formal problems of correctness (inerrancy alongside infallibility) disintegrate with such a naturalness. This is illustrated in Jan Ridderbos' words: "Moreover Scripture bears the marks of the period and of the milieu in which it was written and it shares in part these marks with the culture of the entire Orient, a culture which in many ways was interrelated to that of Israel. This is true for writing, language, style, literary genre, ideas, conceptions, world view (cf. the three-decker unvierse in Ex 20:4)." [Geref. Schriftbeschouwing en Organische Opvatting (1926), pp. 25f] It is possible to be so natural, without a sense of crisis concerning the confession of Scripture, because there is no reason why "a certain time-related conception concerning the composition of the universe" has to be corrected. He who demands that all conceptions occurring in Scripture be precisely correct on the basis of the God-breathed character of Scripture starts with the presupposition that the voice of God can only then be reliable and that the biblical authors cannot be witnesses and instruments of the God-breathed Scripture when they use certain time-bounded conceptions in their writings. This notion of "inerrancy" can quickly  lead to the idea that the "correctness" of all these conceptions anticipates later scientific discovery: "What a marvelous book that anticipates this triumph of man's ingenuity some four thousand years or more." [E.g., Job 38:35. See B. Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (1963), pp. 162f.] This anticipation is being adduced then as a sign of the divinity of the Scripture. However strange they may sound, such ideas should not be ridiculed. The question is rather how such a theory of inspiration is being applied and how some are fascinated by a miraculous "correctness" that forever disregards every problem of time-relatedness. Even though one may hear through it all a note of serious motivation, the conclusion is valid that this earnestness cannot serve as yardstick for the doctrine of Scripture. In the end it will damage reverence for Scripture more than it will further it. Ramm wrote rightly (cf. Bavinck's opinion concerning the knowledge of the biblical authors) that the Holy Spirit "did not give the writers the secrets of modern science." [Ibid., p. 136] Various excessive examples (including even nuclear theories) are in his opinion "a misunderstanding of the nature of inspiration." They do not take into account that Scripture came to us "in terms of the culture in which the writers wrote." [Ibid., p. 96.] This does not imply a dualistic theory of inspiration. For this unmistakable emphasis, as well as the reflection about the nature of faith, corresponds with the intention of Scripture itself. It offers explicit and implicit evidence that is not a "gnostic" writing but the God-breathed Scripture oriented to the testimony of God's deeds, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). It is not that Scripture offers us no information but that the nature of this information is unique. It is governed by the purpose of God's revelation. The view of inspiration that forms the basis of the misunderstanding of this purpose considers "inerrancy" essential as a parallel characteristic of reliability; that is a flight of fancy away from this purpose. Berkouwer, Gerit C. Holy Scripture. Trans. Jack Bartlett Rogers. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1975. 181-84. Print. Studies in Dogmatics.

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15Jan/150

15 Theology Books Defining My Autobiography

Devil_codex_Gigas-black

I've read over 500 theology books in the last ten years. (Some people read these many books every year!) Of all these books, there are fifteen books that stand apart as guideposts in my journey of exploration in theology. I don't recommend all of these books today, but these books were formative for me. I hope that sharing this will inspire you to consider the books that have influenced you! What will you and I learn in the next decade?

desiringGod John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist
Read: Summer, 2005John Piper's Desiring God, isn't a book that I'd recommend today, but it was my first encounter with any form of Reformed Theology (or atleast the Baptists who have adapted and adopted a form of predestination from the Reformed Tradition). It was the first book that spoke positively about John Calvin, and served more as a gateway to other literature.Regardless of whether I agree with John Piper today or not, he was certainly an influence on me that put me on a course of exploration of the Reformed Church tradition.
ladd_tnt George Eldon Ladd, Theology of the New Testament
Read: Fall 2005A pastor at Moody Church recommended me G.E. Ladd's Theology of the New Testament. It was the first theology book that I had read, and eye opening into the field of New Testament studies. I was introduced to Rudolf Bultmann through this book. However, after reading Bultmann's Theology of the New Testament, my opinion of G.E. Ladd's book was severely diminished, and I now see it as an evangelical reaction to Bultmann, rather than providing anything particularly enlightening. Ladd to Bultmann is like the Dawkin's Delusion is to the God Delusion, respectively. G.E. Ladd wrote a book on Bultmann that I haven't read, but it is famous. I now have appreciate for Bultmann, but Ladd had convinced me that Bultmann was an enemy of Christianity for many years (typical Evangelical fundamentalism). One of my favorite books by Bultmann is his Primitive Christianity: In it's Contemporary Setting There is one book by G.E. Ladd, New Testament and Criticism, that I'd still possibly recommend, because it has some excellent criticism of modern forms of literal inspiration that evangelicals still need to hear today. John D'Elia's A Place at the Table is a biography on G.E. Ladd and was responsible for my turning attention to other authors.Although I do not read G.E. Ladd anymore, he was the one who introduced me to New Testament scholarship, Rudolf Bultmann and apocalyptic literature (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls).
calvinInstitutes John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Vols)
First read: Summer 2009I've almost completed my second reading of this 1,500 page master piece by the Church Father, John Calvin. This is the most influential book that I've ever read, and remains foundational for my understand of theology in toto. The book introduced me to Protestant tradition, and helped me understand what it means to be Protestant and Reformed. It's sad that Calvin has been reduced to the TULIP by Calvinistic Baptists. In my second read through this masterpiece, I'm starting to understand Calvin not as a timeless authority, but a fixed datum in time of the development of the Church. One to stand on and go forth from, and not one to retreat back to.Calvin's institutes also instilled a love of Systematic Theology in me, that has caused me to read many other systematic theologies and dogmatics including ones by Herman Bavinck, Francis Turretin, Michael Horton, Louis Berkoff, Charles Hodge, and others.
ntwright-origins N.T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God (4 Vols; esp Jesus and the Victory of God)
First volume read: Fall, 2009
I read all four of these volumes out of order. N.T. Wright introduced me to a level of scholarship, especially contemporary scholarship, that I had not engaged before, and also approached the same questions from a different perspective than I was useful. He's a very conservative scholar, so his engagement with more liberal protestant scholarship was eye opening for me, but at the same time, these new waters were navigated through cautiously. Resurrection of the Son of God (Vol.3) was the first book in the series I read, and it is still used widely by Evangelicals, even those who are suspicious of N.T. Wright, for the purpose of apologetics. It was an excellent book that first helped me to understand what was the resurrection. I then read Jesus and the Victory of God, which remains the most significant and influential book by N.T. Wright on me for introducing me to The Quest of the Historical Jesus, and all the scholars in that field, most notably Albert Schweitzer. I've been marginally influenced by the New Perspective on Paul, but this was displaced by Roman Catholic theologians that I later read.
pelikan Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (5 vols)
First volume read: Apr, 2010History of Dogma is and has aided me significantly in learning theology, and Pelikan's five volume set was a gateway for helping me understand how theological statements came to be formed over time and through Church History. Before Pelikan, I was more influenced by a form of biblicism that used the bible against history, that Pelikan helped me to use history to understand the bible. The first three books of this series are the best, and the last two were disappointing. I highly recommend reading them today, but also with a grain of salt! Often the best historians arent the best theologians, and they do not hide their biases.Pelikan introduced me to the genre of History of Dogma that caused me to read people like Adolf Von Harnack's History of Dogma (7 volumes), as well as histories on Christianity in America by George Marsden and Mark A. Noll. I've since had personal correspondences with Marsden and Noll that have helped me further develop my understanding of Church History that has been invaluable. Pelikan sparked my interesting in Christian biographers as well, such as Peter Brown's Augustine and Roland H. Baiton's Here I Stand, and Bruce Gordon's Calvin.
dogmatics Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics (14 vols; esp I/2, II/1, III/1 and IV/1)
First volume read: April, 2010Possibly the only book more influential to me to this day, except for possibly Calvin's Institutes, is Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics. My history with Barth was a bumpy road, and I was originally very hostile to Barth until I decided to read CD II/1 and CD II/2 for myself. I have much to repent for since then. I've now read eight of the thirteen volumes, and am especially indebted to Barth for his Doctrine of the Word of God in CD I/1, his rejection of Natural Revelation in CD II/1, his Doctrine of Election in CD II/2, his Doctrine of Creation in CD III/1 and his Doctrine of Reconcilation in CD IV/1. There are places where I do not follow Barth, but I'd understand myself as going beyond Barth (ie postbarthian) than being opposed to Barth.I being with the inexpensive hardcover reprint edition that does not have the translations for about $100-$150, and there is a 31 volume study edition that is very expensive ($750-1000) and has the translations that is out of print that I now own. Either are a great place to begin.
schleiermacher Friedrich Schleiermacher's The Christian Faith
Read: Dec, 2010
I struggled my way through Schleiermacher's The Christian Faith for a long time. I had to request it multiple times from interlibrary loan before completing this book. It may have been the most difficult theology text I've ever read. I'm still not coming to appreciate Schleiermacher and to engage in his ideas. He is the first introduction I've had to Liberal Protestantism and an author I've coming to understand in retrospect in better and new light. It is largely through Karl Barth that I gained interest in Schleiermacher.
edwards_ethical Jonathan Edwards, "Ethical Writings" (Yale, vol 8)
Read: July 2011I was introduced to Jonathan Edwards through John Piper. Piper published God's Passion for His Glory, which is a commentary on an essay in this book by Edwards, titled: The End for Which God Created The World. Although Piper introduced Edwards to me, it was other Edwardsian ideas that captivated my attention, most notably his Postmillennialism, arguments on Infant Baptism and the Lord's Supper, his arguments for Panentheism, and other fascinating ideas that John Piper does not share. Many of Edward's ideas are overlapping with Jürgen Moltmann's eschatology, and these interest me the most today. I'd still recommend Edwards in a way that I wouldnt recommend Piper. All of Edwards writings are available online at Yale's Edwards Center: http://edwards.yale.edu
kung_church Hans Küng, The Church
Read: Oct, 2011 Hans Küng's single volume The Church is the best that I've read on ecclessialogy, and it significantly changed my view of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as my understanding of the Universal Church.  Hans Küng is no papist, and was stripped of his right to teach after writing the book: Infallible? An Inquiry. Most of the books on the Church I had read before were contrived of novel ecclesiastical formulations or consisted of Protestant Catholic-Bashing. Küng was a petrus at the Second Vatican Council and a priest for many years before he was disciplined. This book is outstanding, and I still reference it to today. There is a companion book called Structures of the Church, in which Küng established the concicular basis for the Church that should also be read, and he has a The Catholic Church: A Short History that is a great introduction to Church History in under 200pages that I enjoyed and frequently recommend. Most recently, I've been influenced by his book, Justification.
moltmann-cog Jürgen Moltmann's The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology
Read Oct 2011If I had to choose my top three favorite theologians of all time, it would be 1) John Calvin 2) Karl Barth and 3) Jürgen Moltmann (the order changes from day to day). This book by Moltmann was a bomb shell for me. The Crucified God, completely changed my understanding of the Cross of Christ and of the pathos and nature of God. It not only changed my entire mindset theologically, but also pastorally. I employed this book many times while counseling people at my church.
rahner1 Karl Rahner, S.J., Theological Investigations (Vol. 1 & Vol. 4)
Read first volume: June 2012Karl Rahner published atleast 23 volumes in his Theological Investigation series. Rahnerism revolutionized my understanding of Catholic Theology and the magesterium after reading the first volume, Theological Investigations, Volume I: God, Christ, Mary and Graceand then again, I was again rocked by Theological Investigations, Volume IV: More Recent Writings. A short volume, Trinity, has also been published that explains Rahner's identity between the economic and ontological Trinity. Ever since this book, I've been obsessed with Rahnerism, and he is my favorite, non-barthian Roman Catholic.
comingOfGod Jurgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology
Read: Jan, 2013Moltmann is on this list twice, but I easily could have listed his books in all fifteen spots on this list! This is Moltmann's eschatology. This book is on here specifically for a few chapters on Universalism, Double Judgement, and Millennialism. My entire eschatology and worldview was again changed by this books reorienting effect on my worldview. I saw the Gospel different and the good news of election completely different after reading it. There are other books I've read that are related directly to this topic, especially Hans Urs Von Balthasar's Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? With a Short Discourse on HellThis book also helped me understand Karl Barth's hopeful universalism statements and his doctrine of election in CD II/2.
staniloae Dumitru Staniloae, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (6 vols)
Read: May, 2013I learned about Dumitru Staniloae from the Fr. George Florovsky society's symposium on the Patristic Doctrine of Scripture in 2013. I heard a lecture by Radu Bordeianu who wrote a book on Staniloae, Dumitru Staniloae: An Ecumenical Ecclesiology (Ecclesiological Investigations), and contacted him about a reference he made to Staniloae's use of John Calvin's "Prophet, Priest and King" Christology. He responded and answered some questions regarding his book, and gave me a list of Orthodox authors that I should read. I also had learned that Moltmann had corresponded with Staniloae, so this made him more fascinating to me. I read all six volumes of the Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, and had to wait for the sixth one to be published before finishing by Holy Cross Publishers. The book opened my mind and heart to Orthodox theology that was kindled by the Florovsky society. I read many books on orthodoxy after this one, one of the most notable being The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. I've yet to read Florovsky, mostly because his books are very expensive and not available in English.
hunsinger_eucharist George Hunsinger, Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let Us Keep The Feast (Current Issues in Theology)
Read: June, 2013I also learned about George Hunsinger from his participating in the same Florovosky symposium. He had spoken, and I learned from the Moltmanniac that Hunsinger was an expert on Karl Barth. I found and read several of his books, but one book in particular had captivated me, Eucharist and Ecumenism. His arguments for transelementation helped me to understand the Lord's Supper in terms of real presense in a way that I never considered before, and the ecumenical focus of the book towards the One Holy Catholic Church followed what Hans Kung had written in his book, The Church, that I had loved so much. I still think it's excellent. And in this book he addressess many issues from women to homosexuals, that I still discuss often with  my friends. Through some email correspondance with Hunsinger, I also came to know Dr. W. Travis McMaken and his book The Sign of the Gospelwhich has been considerablly helpful for me to understand Karl Barth's criticisms of Infant Baptism while being a presbyterian!
justification_kung Hans Küng, Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Response
Read: Aug 2014Why am I a Protestant? What makes me a separated brother of the Roman Catholic Church? Küng explained clearly what is the issue the divides the Western church, it is Salvation by Faith Alone, and that alone is the loci of division. My view of the Universal Church has been entirely changed after reading this book.
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12Jan/150

James H. Cone on the Gospel and Liberation Theology

Pharoah's Amry Engulfed by the Red Sea (source: wikipedia)

Pharoah's Amry Engulfed by the Red Sea
by Frederick Arthur Bridgman (source: wikipedia)

Liberation Theology is at the heart of the Gospel, and is the task of setting captives free of bondage. Deliverance from slavery is the constant theme from the beginning of the Bible and throughout Church History until today. It is God delivering the Israelites out of the Egyptian captivity by his mighty hand and outstretched arm. Liberation Theology is a work that evangelicals have surrendered to groups who oppose them, and then ironically point to the Anti-Christian packaging of those groups (such as Marxism) to further deny this Christian responsibility of proclaiming release to the captives.

In Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998, James H. Cone demonstrates that Jesus defined the nature of his ministry in the terms of Liberation Theology. I've selected three quotations from Risks of Faith to demonstrate how Liberation Theology is the Gospel.

In this first quotation, Jesus defines the nature of his ministry as 'liberation of the captives' and Cone explains how this means the destroying all forms of slavery. Cone quotes from a key passage from the Gospel of Luke to explain:

He is God Himself into the very depths of human existence for the sole purpose of destroying all human tentacles of slavery, thereby freeing man from ungodly principalities and powers that hinder his relationship with God. Jesus himself defines the nature of his ministry in these terms:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor,
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of the
sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

(Luke 4:18-19)

His work is essentially one of liberation. Becoming a slave himself, he opens realities of human existence formerly closed to man. Through an encounter with him, man now knows the full meaning of God's action in history and man's place within it.

Cone, James H. "Christianity and Black Power." Risks of Faith the Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998. Boston, MA: Beacon, 1999. 8. Print.

In this second quotation, James Cone provides several other biblical quotations and examples of how the Gospel is Liberation:

It reality the message of the Kingdom strikes at the very center of man's desire to define his own existence in the light of his own interest at the price of his brother's enslavement. It means the irruption of a new age, an age that has to do with God's action in history on behalf of man's salvation. It is an age of liberation, in which "the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them" (Luke 7:22).

This is not pious talk, and one does not need a seminary degree to interpret the passage. It is a message about the ghetto, Vietnam, and all other injustices done in the name of democracy and religion to further the social, political, and economic interests of the oppressor. In Christ, God enters human affairs and takes sides with the oppressed. Their suffering becomes his; their despair, divine despair. Through Christ the poor are offered freedom now to rebel against that which makes them other than human.

It is ironical that America with its history of injustice to the poor (especially regarding the black man and the Indian) prides itself as a Christian nation (is there really such an animal?). It is even more ironical that officials within the body of the Church have passively or actively participated in injustices. With Jesus, however, the poor were at the heart of his mission: "The last shall be first and the first last" (Matt 20:16). That is why he was always kind to traitors, adulterers, and sinners and why the Samaritan came out on top in the parable. Speaking of Pharisees (the religiously elite of his day), he said: "Truly I say to you, the tax collectors (traitors) and harlots go into the Kingdom—but not you" (Matt 21:31).

Jesus had little tolerance for the middle- or upper-class religious snob whose attitude attempted to usurp the sovereignty of God and destroy the dignity of the poor. The Kingdom is for the poor and not the rich because the former has nothing to expect from the world while the latter's entire existence is grounded in his commitment to worldly things. The poor man may expect everything from God while the rich man may expect nothing because of his refusal to free himself from his own pride. It is not that poverty is a precondition for entrance into the Kingdom. But those who recognize their utter dependence on God and wait on him despite the miserable absurdity of life are usually poor, according to our Lord.

And the Kingdom which the poor may enter is not merely an eschatologically longing for escape to a transcendent reality, nor is it an inward serenity that eases unbearable suffering. Rather it is God encountering man in the very depths of his being-in-the-world and releasing him from all human evils, like racism, which hold him captive. The repentant man knows that even though God's ultimate Kingdom is in the future, it breaks through even now like a ray of light upon the darkness of the oppressed.

Ibid. 8-9

And in this third and final quotation, the emphasis on immediacy is brought forward to explain that waiting, or pacifism may only be another form of opposing Liberation Theology:

(the 11:00am hour on Sunday is still the most segregated hour of any weekday), but by their typical response to riots: "I deplore the violence but sympathize with the reasons for the violence." What churchmen, laymen, and ministers alike apparently fail to recognize is their contribution to the ghetto-condition through permissive silence—except for a few resolutions which they usually pass once a year or immediately following a riot—and through their contenancy with a dehumanizing social structure whose existence depends on the enslavement of black people. If the Church is to remain  faithful to its Lord, it must make a decisive break with the structure of this society by launching a vehement attack on the evils of racism in all forms. It must become prophetic, demanding a radical change in the interlocking structures of this society.

Of course the Church must realize, in view of the Christian doctrine of man, that this is a dangerous task. But obedience to Christ is always costly. The time has come for the Church to challenge the power structure with the power of the gospel, knowing that nothing less than immediate and total emancipation of all people is consistent with the message and style of Jesus Christ. The Church cannot afford to deplore the means that oppressed people use the chains of slavery because such language not only clouds the issue but also gives comfort and assistance to the oppressor. Therefore, the primary purpose of this essay is to show that embracing Black Power is not only possible but necessary, if the Church wants to remain faithful to the traditions of Christianity as disclosed in the person of Jesus Christ.

Ibid. 3-4

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10Jan/153

James H. Cone on the Myth of a “Good” Slave Master

The Negro by Cezzane

Paul Cézanne's O Negro Cipião (source:wikipedia)

Shamefully, there exists evangelicals today who still argue that slavery is biblical or justified by Christian theology, and these deplorable statements are often defended by claiming that the horrors of American Slavery were exaggerated because some slaves were treated "well" by their masters. Even if these evangelicals have "good" intentions, we must be on guard against this error, and as I once heard Jessie Jackson say "Do not let the Confederates turn back the clock" to Southern Slavery as it was.

In Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998, James H. Cone explains why these so-called "good" masters are a myth, and in fact these "good" masters, were the worst of all slave masters in the end due to the "dehumanizing effect of mental servitude." It's an excellent quote from a book I highly recommend that directly addresses the myth of a so-called "good" master:

It has been said that not all masters were cruel, and perhaps there is some truth in the observation—particularly if it is made from a perspective that does not know the reality of the slave-experience. But from the black perspective, the phrase "good" master is like speaking of "good" racists and "good" murderers. Who in their right minds could make such nonsensical distinctions, except those who deal in historical abstractions? Certainly not the victims! Indeed, it may be argued that the so-called good masters were in fact the worst, if we consider the dehumanizing effect of mental servitude. At least those who were blatant in their physical abuse did not camouflage their savagery with Christian doctrine, and it may have been easier for black slaves to make the necessary value-distinctions so that they could regulate their lives according to black definitions. But "good" Christian masters could cover up their brutality by rationalizing it with Christian theology, making it difficult for slaves to recognize the demonic. Undoubtedly, white Christianity contributed to the phenomenon of "house niggers" (not all domestic servants were in this category), those blacks who internalized the masters' values, revealing information about insurrections planned by their brothers. The "good" master convinced them that slavery was their lot ordained by God, and it was his will for blacks to be obedient to white people. After all, Ham was cursed, and St. Paul did admonish slaves to be obedient to their masters.

Cone, James H. "Christianity and Black Power." Risks of Faith the Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998. Boston, MA: Beacon, 1999. 14-15. Print.

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9Jan/150

Jürgen Moltmann’s Theological Method is Curiosity

Peruvian_Andes

Andes near Alparmarca, Peru (source: wikipedia)

What is Jürgen Moltmann's theological method? He says it is Curiosity!

In the following quotation from the Jurgen Moltmann: Collected Reader, he explains that he is his own theological method, such that theology is a 'journey of exploration' and that curiosity is his theological virtue, allowing him to identify truth wherever it is encountered.

Moltmann did not write a Systematic theology and he distinguished himself from the fortress builders of Summas and Systematic Theologies like Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics or Friedrich Schleiermacher's The Christian Faith, because these great fortresses are impenetrable allowing no assailants in from outside and not allowing any denizens to go outside, leading to the starvation of those who are trapped inside these great theological systems.

[..] a tremendous adventure, a journey of discovery into a, for me, unknown country, a voyage without the certainty of a return, a path into the unknown with many surprises and not without disappointments. If I have a theological virtue at all, then it is one that has never hitherto been recognized as such curiosity.

I have never done theology in the form of a defense of ancient doctrines or ecclesiastical dogmas. It has always been a journey of exploration. Consequently, my way of thinking is experimental—an adventure of ideas—and my style of communication is to suggest. I do not defend any impersonal dogmas, but nor do I merely express my own personal opinion. I make suggestions within a community. So I write without any built-in safeguards, recklessly as some people think. My own propositions are intended to be a challenge to other people to think for themselves—and of course they are a challenge to objective refutation too. Theologians also belong to the communio sanctorum, the communion of the saints, provided that the true saints are not merely justified sinners but accepted doubters too, thus belonging just as much to the world as to God.

Theology is a community affair. Consequently theological truth takes the form of dialogue, and does so essentially, not just for the purposes of entertainment. There are theological systems which are not only designed to be non-contradictory in themselves, but aim to remain undisputed from outside too. They are like fortresses which cannot be taken, but which no one can break out of either, and which are therefore starved out. I have no desire to build any such fortress for myself. My image is the exodus of the people, and I await theological Reed Sea miracles. For me theology is not church dogmatics [Karl Barth], and not a doctrine of faith [Friedrich Schleiermacher]. It is imagination for the kingdom of God in the world, and for the world in God's kingdom. This means that it is always and everywhere public theology, and never, ever, a religious ideology of civil and political society—not even so-called Christian society. Some people think that I say too much theologically, and more about God than we can known. I feel profoundly humble in the face of the mystery that we cannot know, so I say everything I think I know.

Moltmann, Jürgen. Jürgen Moltmann: Collected Readings. Trans. Margaret Kohl. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014. 205. Print.

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5Jan/150

Karl Barth’s Definition of Saga

640px-Noah_mosaic

Noah mosaic (source: wikipedia)

What is the literature genre of "saga"? Karl Barth identifies the Creation accounts as an examples of the saga genre. Saga is not limited to the Proto-History of Genesis; it is utilized throughout the scriptures. See, for an example, Karl Barth's use of saga in his exposition of the Twelve Spies in the Land of Canaan (Num 13-14).

In the Church Dogmatics III/1, Karl Barth provides the following definition of saga:

Karl Barth's definition of 'saga':

"I am using saga in the sense of an intuitive and poetic picture of a pre-historical reality of history which is enacted once and for all within the confines of time and space. Legend and anecdote are to be regarded as a degenerate form of saga: legend as the depiction in saga form of a concrete individual personality; and anecdote as the sudden illumination in saga form either of a personality of this kind or of a concretely historical situation. If the concept of myth proves inadequate—as is still to be shown—it is obvious that the only concept to describe the biblical history of creation is that of saga."

Barth, Karl. "Church Dogmatics Study Edition 21" Ed. T. F. Torrance and G.W. Bromiley. III.1 The Doctrine of Creation. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 81. Print.

Barth's preface to his definition of 'saga' includes a helpful apology for the genre of saga against those who believe all forms of purely non-historical narratives are inferior and unacceptable for Scripture to utilize.

We must dismiss and resist to the very last any idea of the inferiority or untrustworthiness or even worthlessness of a "non-historical" depiction and narration of history. This is in face only a ridiculous and middle-class habit of the modern Western mind which is supremely phantasmic in its chronic lack of imaginative phantasy, and hopes to rid itself of its complexes through suppression. This habit has really no claim to the dignity and validity which it pretends. It acts as if only "historical" history were genuine history, and "non-historical" false. The obvious result is to banish from the portrayal and understanding of history all immediacy of history to God on the pretext of its non-historicity, dissolving it into a bare idea! When this is done, the horizon of history necessarily becomes what it is desired to be—a highly unreal history, a more or less explicit myth, in the poor light of which the historical, what is supposed to be the only genuine history, can only seem to be an ocean of tedious inconsequence and therefore demonic chaos. We must not on any account take this course. In no way is it necessary or obligatory to maintain this rigid attitude to the "non-historical" reality, conception and description of history. On the contrary, it is necessary and obligatory to realize the face and manner that in genuine history the "historical" and "non-historical" accompany each other and belong together.

In addition to the "historical" there has always been a legitimate "non-historical" and pre-historical view of history, and its "non-historical" and pre-historical depiction in the form of saga.

As far as I can see and understand (cf. the competent articles in RGG by H. Gunkel, W. Baumgartner, O. Ruhle, P. Tillich and R. Bultmann), modern ethnology and religious science cannot give us any illuminating and acknowledged clarification, distinction and co-ordination of the terms myth, saga, fable, legend and anecdote, let alone any useful definition of their relationship to history and historical scholarship. The non-specialist must try to find his own bearings in this sphere.

Ibid.

Barth's postscript to his definition of 'saga' contains an equally helpful explanation that saga is embedded in the Biblical witness, such that it is not possible to say whether any text of Scripture is purely saga or void of saga in the Scriptures.

That it does actually contain a good deal of saga (and even legend and anecdote) is due to the nature and theme of the biblical witness. It also contains "history," but usually with a more or less strong wrapping of saga. This is inevitable where the immediacy of history to God is prominent, as in the histories which the Bible relates. On the other hand, it also contains a good deal of saga with historical wrappings, and this again is not surprising when by far the greater part of the events related by it takes place in the sphere where "history" and "historical accounts" are at least possible in principle. To put it cautiously, it contains little pure "history" and little pure saga, and little of both that can be unequivocally recognized as the one or the other. The two elements are usually mixed. In the Bible we usually have to reckon with both history and saga.

It is to be noted at this point that the idea that the Bible declares the Word of God only when it speaks historically is one which must be abandoned, especially in the Christian Church.

Ibid.

The prefix, definition and postfix form a direct quotation from Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics III/1. Most of the definitions of saga quote from abridged versions of these quotes.

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3Jan/150

Defending the Arch-Heretic Marcion of Sinope

marcion

Marcion of Sinope (source: wikipedia)

Marcion of Sinope (c. 85—160) is the Arch-Heretic according to the universal consensus of the [early] Church. Marcion (pronounced "Martian") is an alien to the Christian Church, but not because he is a green extraterrestrial from Mars. Marcion is the greatest heretic of all time, even greater than Arius, Sabellius, and all the famous heretics condemned by the Universal Church. (A Papist once told me that the only heretic to surpass Marcion is the Arch-Heretic, Martin Luther!)

What was Marcion's crime? He emphasized Jesus too much! 

Marcion became The Arch-Heretic, not only because of redaction of the scriptures, but the great success he had in establishing Marcionism throughout the entire Roman Empire. As Peter Enns recently remarked, it is remarkable that Marcion's works are all lost. Greg Boyd reminded me that Marcion's works could be reconstructed due to the vast volume of works written against Marcion. The Ante-Nicene literature contains many substantial works against Marcion, including famous Patristic works by Justin (Apol. I. 26, 58), Irenaeus (Ag. Her. I. 27), and Tertullian (adv. Marc. I-V), and many others

The Church Historian, Adolf v. Harnack wrote a famous commendation of Marcion: Marcion: The Gospel of an Alien God (German Edition is free online), in which Harnack praised Marcion's Pan-Christism. The Moltmanniac shared this quote from Karl Barth in which Barth repeated Harnack's commendation of Marcion:

"There are few Christian theologians who refer faith so strictly to God's revealing work in Christ, who so earnestly try to connect it with Christ alone, as this heretic did." —Karl Barth

To explore this positive reappraisal of Marcion, I've assembled the following longer quotations from A. v. Harnack's History of Dogma Vol. I and Karl Barth's The Church Dogmatics Vol. III/1: Doctrine of Creation on Marcion. The first is a biographical sketch of Marcion by Adolf Von Harnack, and then is a similar epitome by Karl Barth on Marcion's theology, and lastly is Karl Barth's praise of Marcion's Pan-Christism coupled with criticism. Continue reading...

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