Sunday, December 8, 2013

Theology & Intellectual History

For those who are interested, I've made the probably-ill-advised decision of putting together a new blog, Theology & Intellectual History. T&IH will basically just be pointers to resources and news that is useful for work in historical theology. I'm hoping the pretty concise posting format will mean that I'll end up posting regularly, but we'll see where it goes. Theology & Intellectual History is basically the sort of thing I found myself wanting to do with this blog anyway. I've also set up a feed for the new blog on my personal site.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


The past year has been devoted primarily to preparation for my doctoral qualifying exams, which I passed a week and a half ago. I took exams in Ancient/Medieval Christian Thought, Early Modern Christian Thought, Modern Religious Thought, and Hermeneutics, which ended up being a helpfully broad spread of material. For those who have exams in the future, I'd personally recommend this sort of approach rather than choosing to take an exam on a very particular topic or a single thinker. The point of qualifying exams is to demonstrate competency for future teaching, and there are plenty of other opportunities to tackle a more specific book list. Knowing the general outlines of a wider intellectual conversation will also better prepare you for diving in deeper wherever you may choose to do so down the road.

The weekend after exams I'm happy to say that our son Becket was baptized, on a Pentecost weekend retreat for a new Anglican church plant that we're a part of. During the weekend we also christened the church, so to speak, by discerning a name for it - Immanuel Anglican Church.

At the moment I'm just trying to read as much as possible so that I can put together a viable proposal for a dissertation over the summer, and also trying to move forward some article projects that have taken a back seat over the past year. My work centers mainly around questions of historical consciousness and theological work, especially as the problem was raised in the late 19th and early 20th century in historicist, neo-Kantian, and other traditions. I'm also interested in some problems of political theology around the same time. Personal projects, on the other hand, have centered more around Schleiermacher, Kant, Augustine, and 19th century German Protestant theology (not all at once!).

Also, some news for the blog: I think I will be closing it up. The announcement of Google Reader's demise was what led me to reconsider the option of ending Non Defixi, but I also obviously haven't been posting here as much since beginning the doctoral program three years ago. The end of courses and exams seems to be a good breaking point, so I thought that a more static personal site would be a better option. I'm working on a WordPress site because I suspect I'll feel like blogging again soon enough, but I'm going to minimize that aspect of the site to a feed on a sidebar. You can take a look at the site at

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Response to a Review by Colin Podmore

Colin Podmore has a review of Pro Communione in the latest issue of The Living Church, and writes the following about my chapter “The Anglican Covenant and Anglicanorum Coetibus”:
Only Evan Kuehn strikes a jarring note, out of tune with the others on both the vision of unity and the role of bishops. He defends the Lutheran-Reformed Leuenberg Agreement (by which European churches in the same territories entered into communion yet remained separate), describes the Anglican Consultative Council as “synodical” (even though bishops have no distinct role in it), and claims that Anglicanism has “no established episcopal role for inter-provincial governance” (ignoring the fact that for 80 years, from 1867, no official inter-Anglican body had nonepiscopal members).

The paragraph in its entirety is quite unhelpful and misleading.

To begin: my chapter may very well strike a “jarring note” and be “out of tune” with the others for some reason or other, and I trust that this isn’t necessarily bad. One thing that I appreciated about Ben Guyer’s editorial role in this project was how he was invested in a strong vision for theological reflection on the Covenant, but at the same time did not try to orchestrate a volume of essays in lock step with one another. Pro Communione was meant to be a collection of essays supportive of the Covenant and coming from various contexts, and mine came from an ecumenical context of Anglican churches outside of the Communion, dealing with particular problems related to Anglican and Catholic identities (none of which registers at all in Podmore's review). I have had many fruitful conversations with Ben about these matters and often enough we don’t see eye to eye on the future of the Anglican Communion, although we are enough in accord that the exchange has always been fruitful, about the Communion more generally and the Covenant in particular. Podmore is correct that my views and opinions aren’t the same as everyone else’s, but I would hope that future readers of the book might come to it with more of an expectation of diverse contributions than Podmore wants to grant it. This needn’t be a “jarring” discovery for anyone.

Podmore next claims that I “defend” the Leuenberg Agreement, which is quite right, but based upon his preceding (unquoted) sentences the implication is that I defend a vision for church unity of churches entering into communion yet remaining denominationally separate. This isn’t what I did at all. My defense of the Leuenberg Agreement was part of a response to Kurt Koch’s criticisms of it from the perspective of a Roman Catholic “ecumenism of return”. I clearly point out, though, that 1) the Leuenberg Agreement dealt with prerequisites to union rather than union itself, and 2) the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue is different in nature from Roman Catholic ecumenical dialogue with other Protestant churches (I cite an article by Nicholas Sagovsky on this point). If Podomore disagrees with my critique of Koch then he's welcome to engage me on those grounds, but he shouldn't attribute stances to me that I never take.

Next, Podmore claims that I describe the ACC as "synodical" despite the fact that bishops "have no distinct role" in it. I've read through the relevant pages (177-9) a few times now and can't tell where he thinks I've described the ACC as "synodical." I intended my quote from Paul McPartlan to clarify what I meant by "synodality" - it is associated with "conciliarity", and its cooperative role with "primacy" is emphasized. The ACC, like the General Synod of the CoE, includes bishops, clergy, and laity in its membership. No "distinct role" for bishops was intended or stated in my references to synodality, but only an identification of the churches in council. Further, most of these pages were discussing developing structures and their possibilities for the future, rather than describing current structures. Perhaps Podmore found my terminology misleading? It's difficult to tell, but I hope that my references within the chapter made it clear enough to readers what I intended to be saying.

Finally, Podmore criticizes my statement that "[there is] no established episcopal role for inter-provincial governance" by pointing out that the Lambeth Conferences are episcopal gatherings. If he could establish that Lambeth Conferences have played the role of an inter-provincial governmental structure for the Communion then his point may begin to gain some traction, but that seems like wishful thinking. My point was simply that although there are various inter-provincial instruments of unity in Anglicanism, the only really established body of episcopal governance operates within provinces rather than across them. In the inter-provincial context what we have is a developing assortment of ecclesiastical structures and councils that consult, advise, and make resolutions, but no episcopal structure of primacy, and nothing that offers inter-provincial governance in any strong sense. This is the whole reason why Reports and Covenants are being written by committees and scrutinized by scholars. To use Podmore's own words, "long-established structural deficits" of inter-provincial governance (episcopal or otherwise) are precisely the problem.

I'm extremely disappointed with Podmore's treatment of my chapter in the review, and I hope that readers of a magazine like The Living Church could reasonably expect more careful work than what was provided. In his latter two critiques, I can see how my wording might lead someone elsewhere than I had intended and leave me open to criticism, although I think that in both cases the surrounding context makes it relatively clear what I was trying to say; Podmore seems to have been reading me as uncharitably as possible so as to create inaccuracies that were never actually stated by me. His reference to my supposed defense of (a certain reading of) the Leuenberg Agreement was, however, a complete error on his part. And it was a telling error as well. Podmore doesn't even mention my engagement with Kurt Koch, just as he doesn't mention anything about Anglicanorum Coetibus, which was the whole point of the chapter. In his review, my chapter is treated merely as the target of cheap shots rather than actually engaged in any serious way. It's a shame, too, because the ecumenical focus that Podmore praises in the chapters by Wells and Olver is something that I deal with extensively in my chapter, specifically with regard to recent developments in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Resources on Lessing's religious controversies

In light of my mention of Lessing's Eine Duplik in my last post, I thought that it would be worth mentioning a website I just stumbled upon... Jonathan Blake Fine is just finishing up a PhD in German at UC Irvine and studies public debate in the late German Enlightenment. His website has some great resources on the Fragmentenstreit and the Pantheismusstreit, especially a page of links to the various periodical responses to Lessing's Fragments of Reimarus over the following few decades.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Bibliographic Acquisitions...

The library had another used book sale the other week, and I was able to get a hold of some decent old books.

Johann Binder, Commentatio de Politia Veteris Urbis Romae, Göttingen: 1791
(note the preface by Heyne)

Johann Gehler, de Prima Foetus Respiratione, 1773

Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg, Elementa Logices Aristoteleae, 1862
Johann Heinrich Gottlobs von Justi, Grundsätze der Policeywissenschaft, Göttingen, 1782

...and the prize purchase of the book sale, a first edition of Lessing's Eine Duplik (1778)

Again, I got all of these for a dollar or less each - it's amazing what's being discarded. As you can tell, not all of these books are in great shape, but my approach has been to not worry too much about the quality of the binding. My real concern is that the pages themselves are intact, and all of these books are in good shape on that count. The Lessing volume hasn't even had pages cut yet, so it's still quite unused. I'm beginning to accumulate a decent little bunch of 18th century texts, and often these are in just as good or better condition than later books, because of relative lack of previous use, paper quality, etc.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Magdeburg Press

...add this to the list of small presses publishing theological gems that you won't find elsewhere. Much like Repristination Press, Magdeburg is a small conservative Lutheran press publishing mostly translations of works from the post-Reformation period. I stumbled upon them looking for stuff on Matthias Flacius Illyricus, an important contributor to the hermeneutic tradition before Schleiermacher. Magdeburg Press has translated a selection from the Clavis Scripturae Sacrae, as well as four works of Flacius from the Adiaphora controversy. They are also apparently looking into translating more of the Clavis.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Anglican Theological Review on salvation

I haven't read it yet, but the latest issue of the Anglican Theological Review looks like an important one. It is centered around the theme of soteriology, and I'm glad the centrality of this conversational space has been clearly articulated. Following is the first paragraph of the introduction by the guest editors, which you should read in full before reading the rest of the issue.

"There is a Latin rhetorical device called praeteritio, in which the speaker opens by saying, “This is not an article about that blankety blank Joe . . . ,” in the hope that Joe would, thereafter, never leave the hearers’ minds. Well, this is an edition of the ATR with contributions from a number of evangelical Anglican scholars, and it is not about same-sex unions! But the present issue of the ATR did grow out of some concerns which are not unrelated to the present state of church life, in which virtually every conversation, liberal or conservative, has in recent years been, implicitly or explicitly, about that topic. In fact the present issue is a reaction to an issue of the ATR from a few years back. It was devoted entirely to the subject of homosexuality and same-sex unions, with the preponderance of the contributors from the revisionist wing. This elicited a protest from conservative members of the ATR family (including the two guest editors for this issue) that a more traditional voice had not been heard. The ATR saw our point and offered us a chance at rebuttal on the same topic, but we declined. On the subject of same-sex practice, the conservative view is well known and well documented. But there are other concerns which we believe actually to be more central, and these concerns — which have not regularly been rehearsed of late in Anglican conversations—deserve a hearing. So we proposed an issue on salvation, and the ATR board welcomed this, which response we appreciate."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Gun control and "the powers"

Rick Elgendy is a fellow doctoral student here at the University of Chicago Divinity School who is doing work in political theology, offering an account of the possibility of resistance within a situation of complicity to the powers by critiquing various theological explications and constructing his own with the help of Barth and Foucault. On a more personal note, I'd also say that Rick has been a great help in bringing many of us from younger cohorts of the program together to read and critique each other's work... one might say he has helped us in resisting the principalities and powers present in academia that often lead one to non-collaborative and solipsistic work regimens.

Rick has a new post on "The Irony of Gun Control" at the Political Theology blog where he applies his work to some underlying assumptions of the current gun debate:

"any view that treats guns as simply subordinate to the purposes of those who wield them only partially describes their effect on us.  We have to take into account that the expansion of human power – in this case, to wound and kill – itself draws us into certain situations and logics that may render us the subjects of our ability and technology. Looking at gun control through the lens of “the powers” enables us to see how the actions we take contribute to a living and dynamic culture in which personal responsibility of the sort that allows us to demarcate “good guys” from “bad guys” is not eradicated, but complicated.  Each one of us benefits from the protection assured by the threat of guns; each one of us could be the next life they claim as recompense, without regard for personal rectitude. This perspective would require us – all of us, though in different ways and to different degrees – to see ourselves as both complicit with this power and the victims of it."

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Theology Journal Surveys?

I used to post a good bit about academic journals, often with an eye to how theology as a discipline could improve its review and publishing practices. The topic hasn't come up in a while (I haven't been posting much at all, really), but Leiter's recent link to a discussion on slow review processes, some current frustrations of my own on the matter, and some I've heard voiced from others made me wonder again whether theological studies could benefit from something like Andrew Cullison's journal survey for philosophy.

I don't think that the quantitative ranking and over-professionalization of humanities fields is all that helpful... or rather, any help it offers is accompanied by some real drawbacks... but some compiled information on basic issues that do lend themselves to quantitative monitoring seems like it would be a big help to theologians at all points in their career. In assessing religion departments, pertinent information would probably be job placement rates and tuition/financial aid info; for journals I'd want to see the sort of information on Cullison's survey - acceptance and R&R rates, prevalence and helpfulness of referee comments, etc. This information would not be intended to mark certain venues as better or worse, but simply so we have an idea of what to expect when submitting a paper somewhere.

Another benefit of such information would be to goad referees on to quicker turn-around times. Theology needn't hold itself to the sorts of time schedules common in the hard sciences - quite the opposite, I think humanities fields benefit from their somewhat slower pace, and closer and slower scrutiny is probably necessary for the sorts of arguments that publications in the humanities make. But this shouldn't be confused with the delays that are sometimes present in review work for our discipline; often enough referees would probably benefit from feeling more pressed to complete reader reports. And I think the biggest issue in theology is that there doesn't seem to be a very extensive public conversation about what expectations we take to be reasonable or normal for this work. I know my own experience with publishing has been sort of haphazard, and I've largely just figured it out on my own as I went.

Would it make sense to set up something like this survey for theology journals? Would people be interested in filling out survey information from their review experiences? Do journal editors or reviewers have thoughts on the benefit or drawbacks of this?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A few items...

  • The Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain will be published by Cambridge beginning in 2013, under the new title, Hegel Bulletin.
  • The Virginia Graduate Colloquium on Theology, Ethics, and Cultureis holding a conference on Reckoning With Death. CFP and more info here.
  •  The latest issue of the Ecclesiastical Law Journal is out, with an interesting array of essays on everything from the ecclesiastical status of the University of Cambridge, to Hell, judgment, and the devil in 19th century cases, to circumcision in Germany.

Friday, November 23, 2012

"Get With the Programme" and be more theological... Coakley on the Church of England Vote

I started writing this as a comment for the F&T post about Sarah Coakley's article, "Has the Church of England Finally Lost Its Reason?", but for reasons of length I decided to post it here.


I found myself liking a lot about this piece, and wanting to like more of it, but not being able to because of a bit of confusion and also some basic disagreement. Coakley has helpfully focused on a central theological problem inherent in these disputes. I am not sure if she makes an adequate argument against the ecclesiastical bickering present, though.

It seemed to me that Coakley identified two main problems with the current debate (or whatever you want to call it): first, what she calls "the main theological scandal" - that a large set of priests are barred from episcopal authority, creating a second class within the hierarchy and damaging the vocation of unity that is central to the ecclesial office. Second, the "almost farcical set of pragmatic and political attempts at compromise" that have kept us from seeing the first problem, which is really the "most dangerous element" here. It is understandable why the vote is in the main distressing for Coakley, because it perpetuates the second-class priesthood that is a scandal to unity. At the same time, though, this vote seems to have served a subordinate purpose of rejecting what she sees as the farcical politics clouding the issue. This could at least be acknowledged, but there seems instead to be some ambiguity about how real the ecclesiastical problem of compromise is for her as a result of her insistence upon the theological problem as primary.

 If one were to focus on the ecclesiastical context of the decision, some more awkward questions would come up. Coakley does identify a real “scandal of unity” within the Church of England, but does not address the implications of this problem for other “scandals of unity” within and without the Anglican Communion that are, quite frankly, bigger. Roman Catholic and Orthodox orders don’t suffer from the second-class priesthood problem identified by Coakley (they may, admittedly, suffer from a more basic problem of second-class citizenship!), and there would have been some clear ecumenical fallout from a decision in favor of women bishops for the Church of England. This ecumenical cost may very well have been worth paying to end the second-class status of women called to the priesthood, but because Coakley has structured her theological argument around the “scandal of unity”, her avoidance of the ecumenical issue ends up becoming a gaping hole in her argument. As a question of justice or equality in Christ, a recognition of the vocations of women is defensible within the theological and provincial scope that Coakley covers... but when the problem is posed as a scandal of unity? There immediately arise many more problems to address than Coakley has covered in her piece. I have no doubt that she could have successfully responded to these concerns, but by avoiding them she doesn’t come close to making a full case on the basis of the episcopal vocation of ecclesial unity.

The criticism of bureaucracy and political compromise seems off to me as well. As a journalistic pronouncement it has some appeal, but what does Coakley want instead? Well, apparently a Doctrinal Commission, which will surely avoid bureaucracy, as commissions always do... right? I sympathize with the general frustration about ecclesiastical process, but I’m having a difficult time understanding what viable alternative is being proposed, or what in particular is wrong about the political structures present in the current vote. Is the desire for broad consensus achieved in supermajorities of multiple houses a misguided one? Or should we blame the laity for voicing their opinion or for gerrymandering a bloc of “conservative, elderly or bureaucratically-inclined church people”? Well, okay, but what is the viable alternative? Decisions by episcopal decree? Or a better monitored sensus fidelium?

 In short, while I want to appreciate the championing of theology that is being done by Coakley (she has already raised similar concerns about the Anglican Covenant), I’m not sure how, especially when she wants to talk about the episcopal locus of unity, she intends to separate the theological from the ecclesiastical; I don’t think that they can be separated. And make no mistake, when Coakley refers to “bureaucratic” or “political” problems, these are really “ecclesiastical” problems. And what she is saying, in response, seems to pretty much be: “get with the programme” and be more theological! This sort of argument, while seemingly forceful, strikes me as actually demonstrating (to borrow Coakley’s words about the Covenant) a “disturbing theological vacuity”. What worries me is that this seems to be pretty much the only sentiment that theologians - even the very best theologians working today - appear to be able to offer in criticism or counsel to the wider work of the churches.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Today's bibliographic acquisitions...

The library used book sale has been going on this week, and it's a great time to get some valuable material. This time around they had a handful of 19th century German works that I decided to add to the personal library. As I go on in doctoral studies, I become increasingly aware that finishing the program in a few years will also likely mean never again having a world-renowned research library like this to call my home library. The University of Chicago doesn't have a perfect collection, and I still need to use ILL every week or so, but here I can go in search of a relatively obscure text without being resigned from the beginning to the fact that it probably won't be on the shelves.

There are a lot of old theology monographs and journals to be found digitized online, but I'm becoming increasingly militant in my commitment to the physical documents and have decided to slowly stockpile an arsenal of texts to fend against any possible disaster that might render digitized representations inaccessible. I strongly support digitizing efforts, but not as a floating currency. I will continue to hoard the paper standard.

So, I bought a few books; nothing amazing, but all in the name of incremental additions to my 19th century German works, which has really become my focus outside of the contemporary literature. I found a pile of Theologische Studien und Kritiken issues from the 1830's, 50's, and 60's in very bad condition, but I've been using the journal a fair amount and thought it would be good to have some of it in print. Included in the pile, I discovered when I came home, were some other items - three issues of Zeitschrift für die gesammte lutherische Theologie und Kirche, with which I wasn't familiar, and a few loose items including a study of Hebrews, and what appears to be the contents of a bishop's personal library (for sale at auction?) and a publisher's newsletter/catalog.

In addition to this assortment of papers, I brought home three monographs that were in much better condition: Carl Schulz, Die Union (1868) ; A volume from August Tholuck's Vermischte Schriften on apologetics (1839); and a Latin volume by an Aug. Gotth. Gernhardi on issues of grammar and other topics.


All that, along with a copy of Ebeling's Word and Faith - $16.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A few items...

  • Jennifer Smalligan Marušić has an article in the latest issue of Philosophical Quarterly on Hume's Natural History of Religion, arguing that the work primarily aims at a critique of popular religion. This is welcome attention to a treatise that is less well-known than his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, but just as important because of the way that it anticipates future work in the history of religions.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Semantik der Gelassenheit

A project that I would love to undertake if I had more time and linguistic ability would be a study of theological concepts surrounding the root of "letting" (lassen, laisser, etc.). In German the concept of Gelassenheit has been significant for mystical and Pietistic writings since the Middle Ages. Further, it was a concept that was actually examined as a concept quite early, in works like Andreas Carlstadt's Was gesagt ist, Sich gelassen, or Valentin Weigel's Gründlicher Tractat von der wahren Gelassenheit zu Stärckung und Wachsthumb.

The term Verlassenheit is related and also theologically significant (Mein Gott, Mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen?), although it hasn't enjoyed quite as much attention for conceptual analysis. In French the word abandonner is usually used instead of laisser for Psalm 22 and Christ's words on the cross, although I did run across the rendering Mon dieu, mon dieu, pour-quoi m'as tu laissé in the psalter begun by Clément Marot and later finished by Theodore Beza.

Luckily for those who are interested in such things, a new work is out on Semantik der Gelassenheit, bringing to print the fruits of a research project that has been going on since 2007. This edited volume primarily covers the medieval mystical tradition, although it does venture a bit into post-Reformation thinkers like Jakob Böhme and Angelus Silesius. It looks like a promising contribution to a more complete understanding of the theological significance of this term over time.