Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A few items...

I'll be at the University of Chicago Divinity School for orientation over the next few days. A few items worth checking out in the meantime...

  • Tim posted his paper from the Rome conference, "Scripture and History: The Perplexity of the Dissociation of the Past from the Present". It's a great read on the ontological status of the past in history. Here are parts one and two.
  • Ben offers an insightful review of McCormack's upcoming book of essays on Barth.
  • Michael Warner has a piece that's worth a read at The Immanent Frame. He discusses the ruse of "secular humanism" as it was (and is) articulated by religious opponents, arguing that the arch-enemy of the Religious Right is a largely constructed reality connected primarily to issues of sexuality that fuel religious causes. I think that Warner offers a lot to chew on not only for conservative religious political movements, but also for Christian advocates of an ecclesial polis in opposition to the state, or Constantinianism, or whatever other name the enemy may go by. While I am unquestionably a sympathizer of this sort of theo-political vision, I have always also harbored the same hesitations that Warner describes in acute detail- that while much of the ecclesial vision against modernity is spot on in what it professes (this is my assessment, not his), there is a sense in which it has created its own enemy (this we would both affirm). I think that identifying the ruse of secular humanism, or Constantinianism, will go a long way in deflating any idealist eschatalogical pretensions, and bring us back to the Gospel that does indeed speak truth to power, only without falling into the error of granting that power any undue status of subjective identity.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Canon, method, and theology

"It is not without significance that rules for the methodical harmonization of authoritative texts were first formulated by canonists. Canon law governs the religious life of the Church in a much more immediate manner than philisophico-theological speculation. For the care of souls, it is crucial to know, for example, what is required to administer the sacrament validly; it is a less pressing concern, by contrast, to resolve all the subtle problems of Trinitarian theology. This consideration explains why the need of the systematic codification of authorities was felt first in the practical domain. The techniques initially developed by canonists were then, only subsequently, brought to bear upon theological matters. Joseph de Ghellinck has impressively shown that theological systematization remained indebted to canon law far into the twelfth century, with regard to both the authoritative texts it employed and the methods it used to reconcile them."
Peter Lombard, by Philipp Rosemann, (Oxford, 2004) p.23


Rosemann here seeks to explain some of the methodological background for Lombard's Sentences, discussing 11th century canonists along with numerous other sources such as Victorine and Abelardian alternatives in systematic theology, Augustinianism in the early medieval period, and the twelfth century professionalization of theology that led eventually to high scholasticism.

What I found significant about this passage on the canonists was its lasting significance for theology and for my own work in particular. I never would have guessed that I'd be engaging in as much canonical work as I am now, but as I've progressed in my theological work I've realized the foundational nature of rulemaking for interpretive authority and constructive theological work. Today we see the equivalent of this influence in many of the hermeneutical threads of theological discourse, but if these discussions are to have lasting influence on the Christian life they need to be grounded not only in theory but in the lived faith of the ecclesial community; thus the renewed emphasis on ecclesiology in the 20th century. At the same time, speculative theology is entrusted with the task of preserving a coherent account of the saving work of God which establishes meaning and life for the Church within whose structures the work of God advances. A canon is not complete in its immanent institutional reality, that is- it must have Gospel meat on its bones. But failing to recognize the ordered structure of Christian life in canon, confession, covenant, or any other regula fidei will turn dogmatic theology into mere speculative philosophy.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More from Rudy Koshar on Barth


A little while ago I mentioned Rudy Kosher's article in Modern Intellectual History about the place of Karl Barth in European history. Danny from Musings on the Theo-Political has just posted a link to yet another article by Kosher entitled "Demythologizing the Secular: Karl Barth and the Politics of the Weimar Republic".

Kosher's current research has turned to political theology in modern Europe, and he is really proving himself to be someone worth following. I don't know any more about the linked article than Danny offers- it seems to be a paper posted at UW Madison, but I don't know if there are plans to have it published elsewhere.

Monday, September 15, 2008

On finding a balance between scholarship and family

I apologize for waxing personal on this post, I know this isn't typical of Clavi Non Defixi. But I've been working out many issues lately that I imagine are fairly typical of the academic life, so I thought it would be worth sharing.

I decided that I won't be attending the AAR meeting in Chicago this November. It's a shame in lots of ways, not least because the meeting is being held where I live and it simply makes sense to go when there's no need to buy a plane ticket. But there are too many obstacles and I've decided that the venture isn't worth it. We are working through a lot of financial issues lately now that we have a baby and I'm starting at the University of Chicago, so the cost of registration and train rides into the city each day are a discouraging factor. The biggest issue, though, is that our daughter is being baptized on the Sunday of the conference, so I would be missing a big chunk of AAR (or of celebration with friends and family, if I decided to rush to the city right after the church service).

This shouldn't be a huge deal. It's just one conference, I'm a young scholar who isn't even done with school, and there will be plenty of opportunities to network elsewhere. I'm still planning on making it to the University of Chicago reception and maybe some of the Schleiermacher conference, which is free. But for some reason I feel this huge weight, like I should be there as a matter of scholarly responsibility.

It's tough to find a balance between commitments to academic and family life. There's no question that family (or one's neighbors more generally) are much more important than an academic career, even if this career is a true vocation in edification of the Church. But when the task of actually parsing out time, money, and energy to these or other commitments arises, it is surprisingly difficult to discern what constitutes good stewardship of God's gifts.

I don't know if I made the best decision, but I couldn't in good conscience register for AAR, knowing everything else that is going on in my life right now. Tomorrow I may decide that it would have been better to go, but a decision against conscience is often unwise, and the mere fact that I would have registered with some hanging guilt is reason enough not to have registered. There's always next year, in any case. What bothers me the most is this wretched pull that I feel to throw myself into all of these professional commitments, and how these commitments tend to put a strain on the family with which God has entrusted me. I wish the decision were easier, but I suppose that part of the blessing of such challenges is the growth in maturity that they offer.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Why do they want to know? (and why do I keep linking to them?!)

I don't think the casual reader would realize that I really and truly am a dogmatic theologian at heart, given how much I post here on issues of political and social aspects of religion. I think that I do this in part because I am less concerned about questions of "religion & society" than questions of dogmatic import, and so I have less qualms about flinging my thoughts on these topics out into the blogosphere. In any case, here it goes again, with at least a pause to question why we bother with such sociological or political critique.

One place that I've linked to rather often is The Immanent Frame, which offers some fascinating posts from a number of authors on secularism, Islam, evangelicalism, and religion in general. There have been a long string of posts recently on the Immanent Frame about evangelicalism, and I've linked a few of them here on Clavi Non Defixi. I must admit, I don't know why evangelicals are so damned interesting all of the sudden. Rhys Williams asked the same question in his recent post "Why do we want to know?", and I think it's good that the question is asked rather than the answer assumed.

Williams discusses how a lot of interest in evangelicals is simply the result of politics and elections; they are the constiuency du jour. He also offers an interesting comparison of current interest with studies of "American Catholics" in the '60s and "fundamentalists" in the '80s and '90s. And in the end he doesn't leave us with too much hope for discussion of "evangelicals" by interested outsiders:

Thus, at least in an election year, when elected officials, aspiring candidates, consultants, and media all have a lot at stake on shaping their appeals effectively, this practical outcome seems to me to swamp the scholarly concerns scholars have with precision and definition. If we want to know who evangelicals are, how many there are, and what they believe and how they practice, I am all for precision, nuance, and variation. But if we need to know how “they” are going to pull a voting lever regarding an either/or choice in a divided electorate, it seems to me that the global term bandied about in the media tells us what we want to know.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Marty on Religion Reporting

At Sightings, Martin Marty offers a sobering note on losses in newspaper reporting of religious issues.
This September you might expect us to do some block-busting comment, given the huge amount of religion-in-public-life news during the Presidential campaign and Party Convention season. I'll resist the impulse, knowing that anything said here will be lost amidst the debris of punditry, bloggery, and 24/7 cable TV comment.

Instead, I'll begin quietly, and with some sense of sadness coloring this report on religious reporting and the featuring of religious features. The event that prompts this elegiac comment is the cutting-back of newspaper news and the firing of first-rate religion reporters...
In theological blogging it is easy enough to see the disparity of knowledge between religious insiders and the outside public on matters of concern to the faithful. The loss of a few reporters who have probably written their fair share of simplistic critiques of Rowan Williams on sharia law, painfully banal feature stories on American evangelicalism, or meaningless commentary based on Gallup polls and common knowledge doesn't seem to be too much of a loss to us. Since when has religion reporting in newspapers done much more than scratch the surface of any substantive issue, after all? Good riddance. Let bodies of the faithful do their job as a res publica.

The thought is tempting; it is certainly justified on many levels. But I believe that lament with Martin Marty is in order for the religious who care deeply about common life and dialogue. An ecclesial vision does provide the solution to a secular public plagued by tumultuous developments in knowledge and social life, and the fall of religion reporting in secular periodical literature is a sign of its initial inadequacy as much as it is any sort of loss to public knowledge. But this doesn't mean that we should stand indifferent to the failure of a feeble and incomplete public to respond to its own religiosity in educated dialogue. This is our failure as much as it is theirs, because we are not secluded from this public simply by being members of our own.

The early modern notion of a "republic of letters" (itself progenitor to the newspaper) need not become a lordless power or a fourth estate, which means that we need not fear participation in this republic as a rival to our participation in the body of Christ. Substantive reporting on matters religious is, on the contrary, a very important contribution to secular public understanding of the ecclesial public which is so often misunderstood. It is true that we may contribute to this understanding from the blogosphere or other Christian literary publics, but the secluded nature of these publics as products that can be read or ignored based upon personal taste leaves them at a communicative loss within the secular public. That newspapers and the "mainstream media" hold (and they do still hold, to a large extent) a certain normativity makes them an important venue for participation in public discourse on true religion. That this normativity is an entirely constructed reality does not change the fact that it is, in fact, constructed. To recognize this does not grant some innate ontological status to its normativity, although failure to recognize this does and will continue to lead to the marginalization of useful knowledge about religious truth in public discourse.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Disappearing Dogmatics?


This is not so much a substantive blog post as it is an open question.

I have a number of volumes from Barth's Church Dogmatics on my wishlist at Amazon. Or rather, I did. Suddenly they're all listed as "no longer available". These are hardcover volumes put out between 2000 and 2004. They still seem to be available at T&T Clark.

I know that there is a new 31 vol. paperback edition coming out at the end of the year (the complete set of this does seem to be listed on Amazon), but I'm not sure if T&T Clark has changed its policy or relationship with distributors to make the recent hardbacks suddenly unavailable. Does anyone know anything about this?

Thanks for any help. The publication of Barth these days is utterly confusing to me- too many editions and sets and digitizations to keep track of.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A few items...

  • Over at Sightings, Heather Hartel comments on the recent revision of the Roman Catholic liturgy. Normally contributions to Sightings have more of a religion & culture or political focus, but Hartel's thoughts and overview of some translation issues are a nice change of pace.
  • Ignatius Insight has been reporting on the strong reactions to Nancy Pelosi over her naive comments on abortion and Catholic morality. Her comments on Meet the Press in late August have instigated a huge response by Catholic leaders in the U.S. Here are some of the initial reactions, some more, some more, comments by Biden, and a tally of Catholic bishops who have responded to Pelosi. There's even more on the blog- Pelosi's interview is pretty much what has been commented on for the last two weeks. Now, I'm all for discussing with those of differing opinions how to handle the abortion problem- it is an issue of the public good even for those who are pro-choice, and I've been supportive of Obama's work here even if I don't agree with all of his thoughts on the matter. But to so blatantly and ignorantly defend oneself and one's views as a Catholic Christian the way that Pelosi and Biden have done deserves this sort of sharp response. Biden at least offers some more nuance, distinguishing his own views from those of others in a pluralist society (never mind whether the argument is made very well- at least he's going somewhere with his justification!). Both, however, are using Catholic identity for their own purposes and disregarding the teachings of the Church that they claim for themselves.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Lewis Ayres on Wikipedia...

John P. of Vita Brevis reports that Lewis Ayres now has his own article on Wikipedia! Many thanks to the anonymous colleague who has done such a great service to all of us.

Check it out. As every academic knows, nothing is really true until it shows up on Wikipedia.

Quite the ecumenical family...

I made a fun discovery the other day; perhaps others already know this.

David Bentley Hart is well known in theological circles, primarily for his book, The Beauty of the Infinite. Little did I know, however, that the Eastern Orthodox theologian has two brothers- one an Anglican priest, and the other a Roman Catholic priest.

Fr. Robert Hart is the Anglican, and is a contributing editor to Touchstone magazine. The third brother, Fr. Addison Hart, is a Roman Catholic priest at Christ the Teacher University Parish and parochial vicar for the Newman Catholic Student Center at Northern Illinois University.

One thing that has always been recognized about David Bentley Hart is the way that he stands somewhat outside of academia's mainstream. Teaching in visiting positions at a number of (granted, not insubstantial) universities, D. Hart's "career" appears quite humble beside the brilliance of his theological work and the praise it has received from fellow theologians. It is not lost on many that this is perhaps as it should be. D. Hart is known as a pastor of the Church first, and a schoolman second; his priorities are clearly in order and the theological community benefits greatly from the care with which he has embraced his vocation. While his brothers Robert and Addison appear quite busy in their ministry and do participate actively in publication the way that David does, the same lack of ambition for worldly recognition seems present in them. May the Lord bless us with more servants such as these!

But I stray from the reason for posting. Namely, how COOL is it that three brothers were called to the Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox priesthood?! And all such gifted minds! One can only imagine what the conversation is like at family reunions.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Avery Cardinal Dulles turns 90

Avery Cardinal Dulles celebrated his 90th birthday the other week, and Ignatius Insight offers some coverage of the event. The cardinal is becoming increasingly frail these days because of post-polio complications. He is now in a wheelchair and cannot speak, which has led him to cancel a number of engagements of late (including a paper for a conference at Wheaton College that would have been given this fall semester). That said, he remains quite active and an inspiration for many. His latest publication, Church and Society, offers in print the Laurence J. McGinley lectures, which he has given twice each year since 1988.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

From the cataloger's desk...

A few books came in from Eerdmans that I'm excited to catalog. I thought that I'd mention them here in case anyone hasn't run across them yet.


  • J. Robert Wright's A Companion to Bede is a commentary on The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. The book contains a short introduction followed by a chapter by chapter reader's guide to Bede's work. There are six helpful appendices including a list of popes and Archbishops of Canterbury pertinent to Bede studies, an appendix on "James Campbell on the Significance of the Synod of Whitby", "Bede: Table of Events 597-735", and a select bibliography.




  • David L. Rowe's God's Strange Work offers a revisionist look at William Miller, a Calvinist Baptist preacher from the first half of the nineteenth century. From the book summary,

William Miller (1782–1849) was the first prominent American popularizer of using biblical prophecy to determine a specific and imminent time for Christ’s return to earth. On October 22, 1844 — a day known as the Great Disappointment – he and his followers gave away their possessions, abandoned their work, donned white robes, and ascended to rooftops and hilltops to await a Second Coming that never actually came.

Or so the story goes.

The truth — revealed here — is far less titillating but just as captivating. In fact, David Rowe argues, Miller was in many ways a mainstream, even typical figure of his time.

Reflecting Rowe’s meticulous research throughout, God’s Strange Work does more than tell one man’s remarkable story. It encapsulates the broader history of American Christianity in the time period and sets the stage for many significant later developments: the founding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the tenets of various well-known new religious movements, and even the enduring American fascination with end-times prophecy. Rowe rescues Miller from the fringes and places him where he rightly belongs — in the center of American religious history.


  • Jason E. Vicker's Invocation and Assent offers a genealogy of early modern anglophone theology as it slowly abandoned the centrality of trinitarian theology in its reflection upon the gospel. Vicker writes in the introduction, "In this book I intend to complement LaCugna's overall thesis in a very specific way. While LaCugna's work focused on the loss of the connection between the Trinity and the Christian life in Catholic theology, my own concern has to do with a similar loss in English Protestant theology."