Monday, 10 July 2006
This is Ernst Käsemann in his wonderful polemic Jesus Means Freedom: A Polemical Survey of the New Testament, trans. Frank Clarke (London: SCM, 1969) reflecting on the question "Was Jesus a Liberal?" and attacking on the wrong kind of orthodoxy which:
"...has neither humour in the face of the necessarily tentative nature of our search for truth, nor the essential theological perception of the fact that no one can ever get the measure of the Lord. It takes its stand against history and the historical spirit, without suspecting that one is thereby opposing the creator of history. It claims revelation, not realizing that revelation is new every day, even if it takes the form of heretical distortions, which non the less rediscover new country or old truth in their own, inevitably human, way. ... The church sings 'Thou who breakest every fetter' but nothing is so alien to it as the One who breaks all fetters, even devout and orthodox ones." (pp.29-30)
"The sum total of dogmatics is much too difficult for all of us, and Jesus never asked anyone whether he believed in the virgin birth, the resurrection of the dead, and the descent into hell. But co-humanity is something that he actually lived, gave, and demanded. If I knew nothing else about him, I should still know about him. If I had no other faith to live by, I should yet live and believe with him, and one single beam of his light in our existence seems to me more important than the full sun of orthodoxy." (p.35)
I love the oblique reference to Romans 11.33-36 in the first quotation. Not much theological writing is done in polemical vein these days (the recent example that springs to mind is Jüngel's Justification) but what Käsemann lacks in precision he more than makes up for in passionate and prophetic insight.
Update: Frank Rees has another wonderful quotation from Käsemann over at To Be Frank.
Tuesday, 13 June 2006
"The space of the church is not there in order to fight with the world for a piece of its territory, but precisely to testify to the world that it is still the world, namely, the world that is loved and reconciled by God. It is not true that the church intends to or must spread its space out over the space of the world. It desires no more space than it needs to serve the world with its witness to Jesus Christ and to the world's reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ."
BONHOEFFER, DIETRICH, Ethics, ed. Clifford Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W Stott (DBW, 6; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 63-64
Wednesday, 23 November 2005
On the train the other week I spent a happy couple of hours reading Douglas John Hall's mini autobiography and reflection on the vocation of theologian and teacher. A couple of quotations caught my eye. The first argues that theologians are needed:
"It may well be ... that as they face more realistically thee effective sidelining, the churches will also turn more intentionally toward the teaching ministry. ... In that case, the currently rare and random emergence of theologians dedicated to the church will have to be supplemented by a deliberate attempt on the part of ecclesiastical leadership to encourage and support persons in their midst who manifest qualities necessary to the teaching ministry. It may be, too, that more congregations, synods, or other ecclesiastical groupings will seek out theologians who for a longer or shorter period of time could help them find their way into the new and confusing world in which the community of faith has to live and bear its witness." Douglas John Hall, Bound and Free: A Theologian's Journey (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 9.
On BUGB Council we have in recent years appointed a Chaplain for every set of meetings. Isn't there also a case for appointing a theologian each time. What about a theologian for each Assembly? What about a theologian appointed within the structures of BUGB? What would it means to have someone at the heart of our life as a Union of churches who we set "free" (to use Hall's words) to "discern the sign of the times and determine how these can be engaged and changed by the gospel" (23)?
Just in case you are tempted to think that Hall's understanding of the theologian's vocation is too narrowly ecclesial or fideistic, here is another quotation that struck me:
'Surely, to be a Christian theologian reall is to open oneself - or, more accurately, to find oneself being opened - to everything: every testimony to transendence, every thought and experience of the human species, every wonder of the natural order, every reminiscence of the history of the planet, every work of art or literature, every motion picture, every object of beauty and pathos - everything under the sun, and the sun, too!" (26)
If you have never read any of Hall's work, I suggest you get hold of The Cross in our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003) as a starter. This is explicitly contextual theology for those of us fortunate enough to live in the affluent west.
Tuesday, 18 October 2005
Over at Metalepsis, Bryan Lee has this fantastic quotation from Francis Watson. It is taken from his recent book Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith which is sat on the (too high) "to read" stack. Anyway, Watson is addressing the simple fact of interpretive disagreement.
'Disagreement is a familiar social practice in which it is difficult not to engage on a regular basis. It arises from the fact that humans live not in solitude but in community, and that from time to time their respective norms, projects or goals come into conflict. Since interpreting texts is an extension of the interpretative activity that permeates all human interpersonal relations, it is hardly to be expected that the specialized activity will be immune from the disagreements endemic to the wider field. Indeed, the possibility of disagreement is inherent in the practice of textual interpretation: for if a text needs to be interpreted at all, its meaning is not self-evident and there is always room for more than one account of what that meaning is. If it is possible to interpret, then it is also possible to misinterpret; and to claim that misinterpretation has taken place is to engage in the practice of interpretative disagreement. In itself, disagreement is an ethically neutral act. It does not necessarily imply that one party is doing violence to the other, that a human right to freedom of speech is under attack, or that there has been a failure to understand the other's point of view. The ethical risks that accompany disagreement are perhaps no greater than those attending other practices, such as the avoidance of conflict. Disagreement is always an act rather than just an occurrence, and those who engage in it do so on the basis of means and ends they regard as appropriate and rational. Most important of all, disagreement presupposes a shared concern and thus an acknowledgment of community rather than a retreat into isolation. It always intends its own resolution, even if this can only be attained in the form of a negotiated compromise or an agreement to differ.'
(Francis A. Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith (London/New York: T & T Clark International 2004), 24-25.
For publishing details see the sidebar where the book is listed as a recent book on Paul. I have reason to be always grateful to Francis Watson - he was my external examiner!