Karl Barth Conference 2014 — Day Two

Karl Barth Conference 2014 Day Two

Today saw 3 plenary sessions and one breakout session. In the morning, we had the privilege of hearing from Peter Ochs, Professor of Modern Judaic Studies at the University of Virginia, and from Victoria Barnett, Director of the Programs on Ethics, Religion and the Holocaust at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Dr. Peter Ochs

Dr. Peter Ochs

Dr. Ochs’ presentation “To Love OT/Tanakh is Love Enough for the Jews” set up a philosophy of language framework in which he compared the Dabru Emet statement on Jewish-Christian relationships with Barthian theology. Ochs suggested that Barthian theology (and he’s coming to Barth via the Postliberal theologians Lindbeck, Frei, and Hauweras) and Dabru Emet are examples of “reparative inquiry.” In light of this, Ochs posed a question to the Barth scholars in attendance at the conference: “Was Dabru Emet a Barthian exercise?” There were several responses from the audience, including Ellen Charry who affirmed that all theology should be reparative. She suggested that this idea of reparative theology in the Barthian tradition is seen not so much in Barth directly, but it is definitely a project taken up by Paul Van Buren (student of Barth, and Charry’s former teacher).

Dr. Victoria Barnett

Dr. Victoria Barnett

Following Dr. Ochs, was Victoria Barnett. Barnett presented on “Karl Barth and the Early Postwar Interfaith Encounters.” She did this by looking at the Seelisburg document of 1947 which was a statement issued by Christians after World War II. Barnett notes that 1945-1950 represented a remarkable period of transition for Jewish-Christian relationships as it became a time when many Christians began to rethink their teachings surrounding Jews, Israel and the Old Testament. Karl Barth was invited to Seelisburg, but was unable to attend due to scheduling issues. Barnett notes that in the 1940s there were two Christian thinkers who had “street cred” (her term) amongst the Jewish community: Karl Barth, and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple. Barnett also pointed us to the “Auschwitz Protocol,” (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auschwitz_Protocol) that detailed the atrocities that were occurring in the death camps. When the document was smuggled out, Barth signed his name to a cover letter attached to the Protocol in the hopes that his name and reputation would bring international attention to the document.

Dr. Mark Lindsay

Dr. Mark Lindsay

After lunch, we listened to the third plenary session of the day, presented by Mark Lindsay. He explored the question of whether or not Barth can be understood as a post-Holocaust theologian. Lindsay explored examples of short-sighted insensitivities in Barth’s writings which could suggest he was not a post-Holocaust theologian, but then turns to ways in which Barth can indeed be seen as a post-Holocaust theologian. Lindsay argued that, at the very least, Barth is not inconsistent with a post-Holocaust theology, and sees Barth’s understanding of the state of Israel, the passibility of God, and the reparative nature of his theology as being in synchronicity with post-Holocaust theology. Lindsay spent most of his presentation looking at the relationship between Barth’s and Berkovits doctrine of revelation, arguing that both emphasize the dialectic of revelation: that is, the hiddeness/presence and veiling/unveiling of God.

For the breakout session, I chose to attend Justin Roberts’ presentation on Barth and Abraham Heschel . Roberts, a PhD student at McMaster Divinity, suggested that Barth and Heschel offer congruent notions of revelation. This was my first introduction to Heschel and his theology, but I did appreciate this nugget that Roberts’ presented from Heschel: for Heschel, the Bible (Tanakh) is not man’s theology, but is instead, God’s anthropology.

The day concluded with a screening of the documentary “Weapons of the Spirit.” (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Sauvage#Weapons_of_the_Spirit )

Karl Barth Conference 2014 — Day One

Karl Barth Conference 2014 Princeton Theological Seminary

"Dean of Barth Studies" Prof. Eberhard Busch

“Dean of Barth Studies” Prof. Eberhard Busch

Attending the Karl Barth Conference was my graduation gift to myself. That’s right, I am celebrating the completion of a MA and a grueling year of thesis by going to an event that encourages more schooling, more grueling writing and lots of reading (I’m pretty sure there’s a word for this, but I digress).

The theme for this year’s conference is “Karl Barth, The Jews, and Judaism.”

Day one of the Barth conference saw two plenary sessions during the day, two breakout sessions and an “after dinner dialogue.”

The conference kicked off with a lecture by the “Dean of Barth Studies” Prof. Eberhard Busch. He looked at 3 historical encounters Barth had with the Jewish people. What was fascinating about Busch’s lecture was the personal stories he had about Barth. In particular, during the 7 Days War in 1967, Barth had a dream about being in Israel with a gun. The next day, he told Busch that he was too old to go fight for Israel with a gun, but instead went to the post office and sent money to help the Jewish army. Later, when Barth heard that Israel had won, he gave Busch’s wife a chocolate that had the word “victory” on it.

In the Q & A it was fascinating to hear David Novak (Chair of Jewish Studies at U of T) chime in and talk about the importance of covenant to the Jewish identity. In particular, he noted that in Jewish thought descendants of Abraham were “gentiles” in status until the covenant at Sinai. In other words, Novak argued that the “covenant made us the people that we are.”

Mark Edwards lecturing on Barth's exegesis of the Divine Name.

Mark Edwards lecturing on Barth’s exegesis of the Divine Name.

During the first breakout session, I attended Mark Edwards’ lecture on Karl Barth’s theological exegesis of the Divine Name in Exodus 3:14. For Barth, the revelation of the Divine Name establishes the identity of Israel, and for Barth, the Divine Name revealed in Exodus 3:14 is a theological parallel of Revelation 1:8. The Q & A after became very practical, as the key question asked from the audience was “can or should Christians use the term “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” to speak of God?” There was disagreement in the audience as to whether we can or can’t, but one member of the audience made this fantastic observation: when we say “Jesus” we are saying the Divine Name.

Ellen Charry

Ellen Charry

The afternoon plenary session was given by Ellen Charry. In the program, her lecture was to be on Ecclesiology. Dr. Hunsinger introduced her lecture as being about Karl Barth’s Israelogy. What actually ended happening is that Dr. Charry’s lecture was on Israelogy, generally, with a goal to constructing, specifically, a theology of spiritual friendship between Christianity and Judaism. What this meant was that her lecture was not on Barth and Judaism. Indeed, she only gave a quick (and I would argue at best cursory, at worst unsatisfactory or unfair) overview of Barth, as one small section of a more general overview of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Barth. During the Q & A Charry admitted that her paper was not about Barth, but that Barth was just a way into the topic for her. Her goal was to open the door to explore two questions: why does Christianity need Judaism, theologically; and why does Judaism need Christianity, theologically? A few interesting things came out of the Q & A: Charry stated that, even though she is looking to create space for Christian/Jewish friendship, she is not supportive of Messianic Judaism, because it is a third thing. From this, there was significant pushback from the Q &A for Dr. Charry with regards to how Christology fits in constructive theology of spiritual friendship. The best quote from a participant in the audience was “This Christology thing. It’s kind of a problem” [that is, for Charry’s presentation of a theology of spiritual friendship].

For the afternoon plenary session, I attended Rodney Petersen’s lecture, “Sabbath as Heart and Soul of Karl Barth’s Theology.” I was very excited for this paper because last semester I presented a paper on using the language of sacrament and ordinance to understand a Christian theology of rest, and even though I’m a Barth student, I did not, even once, turn to Barth in my paper (bad, bad Barth student. Slap my wrist). Petersen examined three ways Sabbath functions in Barth’s theology. For Barth, Sabbath is central to God’s purpose in creation; It is a template for the ordering of society; and it is eschatological in that it points to the general consummation of history. In the Q & A one of the best observations by an audience member was that Sabbath does, or should, shape our week, our life, because when it’s not Sunday we’re either coming from Sabbath, or we’re getting ready for Sabbath. In other words, our lives should be dependant on Sabbath.

Busch (L), Hunsinger, Novak (R)

Busch (L), Hunsinger, Novak (R)

The evening session was a dialogue between David Novak and Eberhard Busch, moderated by George Hunsinger. Questions posed to both men included:
In what sense do you believe that the Jews are the chosen people of God?
Is Christianity (in the case of Busch)/ Judaism (in the case of Novak) the one true religion or is it one of several?
In what sense do you believe the Gospels (Busch)/ Torah (Novak) to be divine revelation?
Do Jews and Christians believe in/worship the same God?
What is your view of natural theology?
What can we learn from one another?
What do you most appreciate, and most regret, about Karl Barth?
Was the Holocaust unique or simply the latest tragedy in Jewish history, and what impact did the Holocaust have on Judaism and Christianity?

The conversation took place in English, German, Hebrew and a smattering of French, and you could see that both scholars have wrestled with the relationship and tensions between Christianity and Judaism.

The conference continues tomorrow with three plenary sessions, one breakout session, and a showing of the documentary “Weapons of the Spirit.”

An Easter Catechism: Living in the light of the Resurrection

Raphael 1499-1502 via wikipedia.org

It’s been nearly four years since I last preached a sermon. That changed this month, when I was invited to preach at St. Aidan Anglican Church in Moose Jaw on May 4th, 2014. The audio of the sermon has now been posted. Feel free to check it out here.

 

 

 

Graduation Blessing: A Husband’s Prayer For His Seminary Wife

Grad letter and writers blockToday the seminary held a “Blessing of the Grads” chapel service. Each grad was honoured to have a blessing read out from a loved one. What follows below is Charles’ letter to me. I am so thankful for  a husband who has supported and actively encouraged this educational journey.

*************

Amanda, as I have watched you tackle the challenges of graduate study while dealing with the challenges of work and home, I have been continually reminded what an privilage it is to be your husband.  You have been and continue to be a blessing to me and to our children.  My prayer is that God will open doors for you to develop the immense potential that we see in you.  My prayer is that our children will learn to understand what an amazing mother they have, and will look to you as an example of what a powerful woman of God can be.

Lord, make Amanda an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let her sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

 

O Divine Master, Grant that she may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

Amen.

Karl Barth Conference

I’ve just registered to attend the Karl Barth Conference at Princeton June 15-18, 2014. Will I see you there?

A Summer of Quiet

There is only one more week until graduation and then it will be summer vacation. Caronport in the summer is my favourite, as it gets very quiet and calm when all the college students leave. My hope is to take full advantage of the warm weather and spend as much time outdoors as possible.

In March, I presented an academic paper at a colloquium hosted by the school which looked at why we rest. I argued that rest is best understood when we explore it using sacramental language; that is, that when Christians rest they enter into something that points beyond merely ceasing, something that points to the promise and fulfillment of God’s sanctifying work.

photo(6)My hope is to put my research into practice by resting this summer. I have a large stack of fiction books to read.

I also hope to do some creative writing. I am not sure if this will take the form of fiction or non-fiction, but there is something about writing without a deadline hanging over my head or without the stress of grades lingering in the background, that feeds my soul.

Only after I have read my pile of fiction will I return to reading non-fiction. My bookshelf is piled high with academic books that I have bought in the last year, but  have had to sit and wait patiently as Barth occupied my every waking moment.

I am also hoping that in the rest I will be able to see more clearly what God desires me to do post-seminary. I hope to begin to discern PhD possibilities. So, dear readers, prayer would be appreciated as that journey of applying will begin in the fall.

 

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A Year of Busy

To say that this past year has been busy is an understatement. But, here I am, one week until graduation. Looking back, it’s been amazing journey.

In the last year I have:

  • Had baby #3
  • Proposed a thmeandbarthesis on Barth
  • Had major surgery and spent a week in the hospital
  • Made and sold over 100 jars of homemade jam at the local farmer’s market
  • Started working on my thesis
  • Got a job as a graduate instructor (translation: grading, grading and more grading)
  • Continued to work on my thesis
  • Presented a scholarly paper on the theology of rest at a seminary-sponsored colloquium
  • Completed my thesis
  • Successfully defended my thesis

And now, the end is near. The grad ceremony is next week. I have been given the privilege of standing before the seminary as valedictorian (technically co-valedictorian as there was a tie for highest GPA).

To all those who have been so supportive on this journey: Thank you. To the parents — my mom, and my fantastic in-laws — thank you for coming and helping out with the kids. To Julie, who has been like family, thank you for caring for my children a couple of days a week so that I could write. To dear friends Sherilyn, Ellen and Kelsey, thank you for sharing in the stress and joy and emotional ups and downs. To my husband Charles, thank you for encouraging me, for sacrificing, and for working so hard to provide for our family. And to my three children, thank you for brightening my days with smiles and for teaching me about the simple beauty of the Gospel.

 

 

The Word Became Flesh

incarnation

“To understand the miraculous act of this becoming, we must reach back to what we have acknowledged [earlier], that it is to be understood as an act of the Word who is the Lord. As from its own side the humanity has no capacity, power or worthiness by which it appears suited to become the humanity of the Word, there is likewise no becoming which as such can be the becoming of the Word. His becoming is not an event which in any sense befalls Him, in which in any sense He is determined from without by something else. If it includes in itself His suffering, His veiling and humiliation unto death — and it does include this in itself — even so, as suffering it is His will and work. It is not composed of action and reaction. It is action even in the suffering of reaction, the act of majesty even as veiling. He did not become humbled, but He humbled himself.”  ~Karl Barth, “The Mystery of Revelation” CD 1.2, 160.

“That’s Jesus!” A Counter-point to Megan Hill’s “Why Jesus Doesn’t Belong in Christmas Decor”

The church that we attend has a lot of stained glass. Wrapping around the sanctuary are beautiful stained glassed panes. If you start in the corner at the front of the sanctuary and walk around counter-clock-wise, you can follow the life of Christ, one pane at a time. Where we sit every Sunday (yes we are those people who sit in the same pew every week), the stained glass pane directly behind us is of Jesus hanging on the cross. Every week we sit under the same pane, with Jesus hanging over our shoulder. When my two year old gets antsy as two year-olds are wont to do, she likes to turn around and fold herself over the back of the pew. One day, as she was trying to pull herself back up after folding too far over, she stopped.

“What’s that?” She asked, pointing at the stained glass.

“That’s a picture made of glass,” I replied.

“No, who’s that?” She pointed directly at Jesus.

“That’s Jesus.”

“Why?” Ah yes, the inevitable why. In as simple a way possible, I tried to explain that that was a picture of Jesus saving the world. The two year-old stopped, for a minute, tipped her head to one side, and then matter-of-factly said, “Jesus is a superhero!”

Now, every Sunday she points to the stained glass  behind our pew. “That’s Jesus!” She tells everyone. And of course, my four year-old, not wanting to be left out, makes a point of telling her sister that Jesus is not just in the stained-glass windows, but more importantly, he’s in the Bible.

In our church service there is intentionality in how we worship. The entire liturgy is designed to draw upon all our human senses. We watch a cross being carried in during the processional. We hear the Word proclaimed. We respond to the Gospel reading by singing “Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” In unison we affirm the life and work of Christ as we recite the Apostles’ Creed. When the pastor preaches on an aspect of the life of Christ, he draws our attention to the stained-glass panel, so that we not only listen, but also visually contemplate the significance of Jesus’ actions.

In a recent article at Hermeneutics, Megan Hill argues that physical images, be it drawings or figurines, of Jesus does not belong in our Christmas décor. She appeals to the commandment “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…You shall not bow down to them or serve them….”

Yes, physical images can lead to idolatry, especially if we cast Jesus in our own image and then proclaim that he must only look that way. But guess what?  Verbal constructs can lead to idolatry as well, especially if we translate the words of Jesus and then proclaim that Jesus must have used King James’ English! The creation of physical images does not have to necessarily lead to the worship of said images, just as the translation of the Scriptures does not necessarily lead to the worship of said Bible.

Hill suggests that it because Jesus is fully divine, that we should not and cannot create images of him: “Though fully human, his humanity cannot be separated from his divine person, which means visual images of Jesus are, in fact, attempting to picture God.”

I want to suggest that the opposite is also true: Jesus’ humanity cannot be separated from his divine person (hence, not only his bodily resurrection, but also his bodily ascension into heaven), which means that visual images are, in fact, attempting to understand the reality of Jesus’ humanity.

If Jesus is just a vague, unphysical concept in our head, he becomes an abstraction. When his humanity takes a back seat to his divinity, he becomes more like a demi-god rather than the second Person of the Trinity who took on the flesh and blood reality of the human experience. In becoming an abstraction, we forget or water down the significance of the event of revelation, namely, that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” And the Word taking on flesh was not a temporary thing. After his death and resurrection Jesus did not abandon his flesh, but in the ascension he bodily returned to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father.

What well-done images and portraits of Jesus do is what the Bible does just in a different medium: they tell the story of the life and ministry of Jesus, who was, in the words of Karl Barth, “the object and theatre of the acts of God.” The images of Jesus, be they stained glass  windows in a church, a figurine of baby Jesus in a nativity scene, or an actor portraying Jesus in film, tell us the story visually. When paired with the oral tradition of hearing and telling, physical images of Jesus help us to not only tell the story, but also to respond to the story.

When we go to church each Sunday, my four year-old can “read” the Bible in the pew (recognizing letters but not understanding how the letters go together to tell the story of this Jesus who saved and is saving the world) and confess her belief in Jesus as she recites the Apostles’ Creed. My two year-old may not be able to read and may not be able to say the Creed, but she can point to the stained glass panel of Jesus hanging on the cross and confess her belief in Jesus: “That’s Jesus!”

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Lots and Lots of Christology

For the past eight weeks I have been reading piles and piles of books on Christology. No, not for my thesis (though, technically my thesis is on Karl Barth’s Christology, specifically his exegesis and use of John 1:14), but for my job.

As I’ve been reading, there have been some books that have been hugely helpful, and others that though they came recommended ended up being highly over-rated, boring, or both.

Today, I want to highlight a few of the books that I really like. My research emphasis has been on exploring the theological significance of the major events of Christ’s life (e.g., Baptism, Transfiguration, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, etc.,) rather than on the historical development of Christology.

The Suffering and Victorious Christ is a new book (October 2013) that I had the privilege of getting a sneak peek at thanks to Baker Academic and Net Galley. This book has provided me with an introduction to the broader Christological tradition, through the exploration of the Christus dolor, the suffering of Christ. The authors contrast Western, North American, portrayals of Christ, what the authors refer to as the “masculine triumphalism” to Christ, to Asian (specifically Japanese) portrayals, particularly the suffering and sorrow of the Lord. Of special interest, was the chapter that examines the Christology of 19th century African Americans, for example Sojourner Truth. This book has been helpful as I tackle the question, “Why did Christ die?”

 

One of the things I have observed in evangelical circles is that the ascension gets overlooked. Either it gets collapsed into the resurrection, or it gets rushed through as a quirky prologue to Pentecost. While I have chosen a chapter from T.F. Torrance’s Space, Time and Resurrection as a primary source reading on this topic, Peter Atkins’ Ascension Now is a fantastic pastoral resource. In it, Atkins not only considers the biblical evidence, and theological implications of the ascension, he also devotes significant time to considering the implications of the doctrine of the ascension for liturgy, prayer, and preaching.

 

While Gustaf Aulen’s Christus Victor is the classic choice for an overview of the Christus Victor theory of the atonement, it suffers from being dull and boring. In contrast, Greg Boyd’s chapter on “The Warfare Significance of Christ’s Death and Resurrection” in his book, God at War, is an accessible, and non-boring presentation of Christus Victor.

 

 

 

 

And of course, I can’t not include Barth, so a primary source reading of Barth’s exegesis on the parable of the Prodigal Son in CD IV.2 is a must!

 

 

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