17th November, 2008
Theology of Hope by Juergen Moltmann
More comments on this after I’ve read more and digested more of what I’ve read (and I only got through a few pages today) but I do have this thought: if the eschatological horizon is a moving horizon does Moltmann expect that history will ever catch up with this horizon? I have yet to see where a total and final fulfillment of promise fits into Moltmann’s system. However, I imagine this will become clear as I go on (I’m only about a chapter into the book, after all).
More some other time. I’m enjoying the book so far. ‘Tis a classic, after all.
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10th November, 2008
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
I didn’t read much yesterday but I did read a chapter or two from Peter Pan. There is nothing quite as enjoyable as a good children’s book. See also The Wind in the Willows, The Hobbit, The Last Unicorn, &c.
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2nd November, 2008
The Early Church by Henry Chadwick
Chadwick moves on to consider some of the most important of the Church fathers: Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria and Origen. What is most striking, of course, is the way in which each of them appropriates Greek philosophy — each in their own way — to combat what they saw as heresies and to describe and defend Christian belief. Also interesting, of course, is the growing insistence on a canon of New Testament writings to form a basis from which to argue against such heresies. Another interesting development, with Irenaeus in particular, is the introduction of something like the idea of `apostolic succession’.
It strikes me as I read the accounts of the various doctrinal disputes of this era that much of what I think to be self-evident upon reading Scripture is clearly not so. At the very least much of what appears self-evident to me was clearly not self-evident to many Christians in the second and third centuries. It is another stark reminder that all of our readings of Scripture (and everything else besides) are prejudiced by our preconceptions and cultural setting.
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26th October, 2008
Systematic Theology: The Triune God by Robert W. Jenson
I read a few more pages of Jenson’s first volume today. I’m still dealing with his prolegomenal remarks. He opens the chapter entitled `The Identification of God’ by saying:
It will be seen from the foregoing that an initial and determining theme of theology, and one with a systematic emphasis in the system here offered, must be the identification of God by the Resurrection of Jesus.
Jenson then spends much of the rest of the chapter noting how the apostles identified God: as he who raised Jesus from the dead, as he the God of Israel whom Jesus called Father and ultimately by the triune name, `Father, Son and Holy Spirit’, which encapsulates the gospel narrative by `recounting at once the personae and the basic plot of the Scriptural story’.
I don’t feel like saying much about it at the moment but this sort of emphasis is, in my view, an absolutely essential element of Christian theology and the Christian understanding of God. Our God is not simply a Feurbachian projection of our desires onto the screen of eternity; Our God steps into history in order that we might know him. Our God does not become known as we consider the notion of deity, of eternity of perfection but becomes known when we consider he who died the death of a criminal during the reign of Tiberius Caesar and when we consider he who raised him from the dead. Our God is not the absentee landlord of Deism but is he who animates the community of those who follow him with his very own presence.
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19th October, 2008
Systematic Theology: The Triune God by Robert W. Jenson
This is the first volume of Jenson’s 2 volume systematic theology. I started it a few months ago and then put it down and have had to restart today so I’m only a few pages in. Jenson begins by dismissing the notion of lengthy prolegomena that attempt to justify or enable the theological enterprise. He goes so far as to say that:
The most prolegomena to theology can appropriately do is provide readers an advance description of the enterprise. Even this cannot be a pre-theological beginning, for every attempt to say what sort of thing theology is implies material theological propositions, and so is false if the latter are false.
Jenson proceeds to define theology as contributions to the church’s “discourse about her individuating and carrying communal purpose”. The issue is now to define what is meant by “the church” and thus already in our very first prolegomenon we must deal with an issue of theological, and not merely pre-theological, import.
His definition of what he means by “the church” is captured in the following excerpts:
The purpose that constitutes and distinguishes the church and in service of which the church needs to think is maintenance of a particular message called “the gospel”.
“Church” and “gospel” therefore mutually determine each other.
While this seemed sensible to me when I first read it I’m beginning to think now that this equation of the message the church carries and the church itself ties the idea of “doctrine” a little too closely to the conception of the church. The church becomes that body which is the carrier of `correct doctrine’ and so the church is defined in terms interior to itself (the messages it proclaims) rather than in terms of some act of God exterior and antecedent to it (the Christ event which gave birth to the gospel, the sending of the Spirit, etc.) Of course the gospel is in a very real sense antecedent to the church but Jenson does seem to equate church and message a little too strongly. I haven’t made my mind up on this yet: I’ll have to think more on it. As Jenson himself says later, the proof of a system of theology is in its ability to act as a hermeneutic to the reading of scripture so it would be unwise to pronounce judgement before going back to scripture and seeing if it helps to make sense of the whole.
Posted at 10:55 pm | Comment (0)
13th October, 2008
The Early Church by Henry Chadwick
I read the first 60 pages or so this Sunday. I enjoyed Owen Chadwick’s history of the Reformation which is part of the same series (The Penguin History of the Church) so I figured I’d give his brother’s book a try. It’s an interesting read so far but I find that Chadwick (Henry, that is) is a little too ready to dismiss the idea that there was a fundamental change in character between the first and second generations of Christians, viz. a shift to an institutional model based around bishops from something more volatile and vigorous. He doesn’t provide much evidence for this, however. The book is written in the usual style where things are mentioned early in broad contexts and discussed in more detail later so it’s entirely possible that the issue will be dealt with in detail later in the book.
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6th October, 2008
Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf
I read the guts of this book while on a bus from Maynooth to Galway. After that there were various interruptions and I’ve since been working my way through the remaining 60 pages or so in fits. I’ll talk a little more about the books in toto when I’m done.
Yesterday I read only a few pages but the discussion was an interesting one about the notion of Pentecost as a reversal of Babel. This is a spin on the story in Acts of the sending of the Spirit that I’ve always loved. Volf nuances it a little by insisting that while the events in Acts 2 do in a way reverse those of Genesis 11 the coming of the Spirit does not re-institute the impirialistic “unity” of Babel. A single language is not restored. The Spirit embraces the cultural diversity among those present, including the diversity of languages. Moreover
“The miracle of Pentecost consists in universal intelligibility and unhindered agency in the midst of social and cultural heterogeneity.”
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28th September, 2008
Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns.
As one might guess from the title Enns draws an analogy between the incarnational nature of God’s word in Christ and the similarly incarnational nature of Scripture. So just as Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine so too the scriptures. Specifically, based on this analogy, one should expect Scripture to bear the marks of the times and cultures from which it proceeds. So for instance certain parts of the old testament seem to assume an ancient cosmology; Enns argues that, far from being a problem, this is exactly the sort of thing we should expect. He proceeds to briefly look at three areas: the similarities between the OT and Ancient Near Eastern literature, the theological diversity within the OT and examples of interpretation of the OT by NT writers that would appear to be highly suspect by modern historical-grammatical criteria.
The book is well written and concise and was, overall, an enjoyable read. Enns’s thesis is more or less controversial depending on which portions of scripture one applies it to.
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