Thursday, 25 November 2010

Was ist christliche Erkenntnis?

I'm revisiting old essays and reworking them for the final form of my thesis. In the process I'm discovering Karl Barth in a new dimension. Childs is often said to be Barthian, and this is surely right. But I'm still not sure the implications of what that means have been fully worked out. Is there a treatment to date which expresses the canonical approach in terms of Barth's teaching of the Three Forms of the Word (neither Xun nor Driver mention it)? Unfortunately, I'm only going to be briefly touching on this myself as 50% of my thesis is enacting Childs' hermeneutic and not explaining its intellectual ancestry. Nevertheless, grasping the dogmatic underpinnings of the "canonical approach" (as Childs understood it) is key to implementing it exegetically. I'm grateful to Childs for having introduced me to Barth, whose writings make my heart race almost as much as those of Childs. I do wonder how much my love of Childs is in fact a love of Barth, where the one stops and the other continues. I don't know my Barth well enough to judge just yet.

Here's an awesome quote on the nature of Christian (Biblical) truth that embodies what it is that I love about Barth, and what it is that makes the canonical approach so rich:
Der Begriff des Wissens, der scientia, genügt nicht, umd das zu beschreiben, was christilche Erkenntnis ist. Wir müssen vielmehr zurückgehen auf das, was im Alten Testament die Weisheit genannat wird, was der Grieche sophia nannte und der Lateiner sapientia, um das Wissen der Theologie in seiner Fülle zu erfassen. Sapientia unterscheidet sich von dem engeren Begriff scientia, Weisheit unterscheidet sich von Wissennicht dadurch, daß sie nicht  auch Wissen in sich enthielte, aber darüber hinaus redet dieser Begriff von einem Wissen, das ein praktisches Wissen sit, das die ganze Existenz des Menschen umfaßt. Weißheit ist das Wissen, von dem wir faktisch, praktisch leben dürfen, ist die Empirie und ist die Theorie, welche darin gewaltig ist, daß sie sofort praktisch ist, daß sie das Wissen ist, welches unser Leben beherrscht, welches wirklich ein Licht auf unserem Pfad ist. Nicht ein Licht zum Bestaunen und Betrachten, nicht ein Licht um allerhand Feuerwerke damit anzuzünden - und wenn es auch die tiefsinnigsten philosophischen Spekulationen wären! - sonder das Licht auf unserem Weg, das über unserem Tun und über unserem Reden stehen darf, das Licht in unseren gesunden und in unseren kranken Tagen, in unserer Armut und in unserem Reichtum, das Licht, das nicht nur dann leuchtet, wenn wir Momente der Einsicht zu haben meinen, sonder das uns begleitet auch in unsere Torheit hinein, das nicht verlöscht, wenn alles verlöscht, wenn das Ziel unseres Lebens im Tode sichtbar wird. Von diesem Licht, von dieser Wahrheit leben, das heißt christliches Erkennen. Christliches Erkennen heißt in der Wahrheit Jesus Christi leben.
Karl Barth, Dogmatik im Umriss, in der Universität Bonn vorgelesen, 1946.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Quote of the day: Gunkel/Barth

Daß es sich im Alten Testament um eine bewegende Sache handeln möchte, fing mir erst in Berlin bei Gunkel aufzugehen (Nachwort 190f.; Busch, Leben 51; cited in Bächli, Das Alte Testament in der Kirchlichen Dogmatik von Karl Barth, 3.
What was it that Barth saw in Gunkel? I won't share my thoughts here, as my own answer constitutes part of my thesis (though see Bächli on pp. 324-325). I just wanted to share this quote as a witness to the fact that Barth, and Childs, never intended or wanted to escape the challenge of either the Enlightenment or historical-criticism. Their approaches go through it and thus result in a vision of Scripture and God which, as far as I am concerned at least, makes my heart burn. I worry that the contemporary growth in "theological exegesis" hasn't fully grasp the move made by Barth and then Childs on this score.

Otto Bächli's book is awesome (I'm surprised Childs' didn't cite it in his Biblical Theology). Incidentally, he was born in Switzerland in 1920 and there a section on him on this amazing website by the Swiss Reformed Church dedicated to the memories of Swiss pastors during the war. Here's the reason he got into Old Testament:
Wir hatten ein Bauernhaus mit vier Wohnungen, und in einer lebten Juden. Wir sprachen auch Jiddisch im Umgang mit jüdischen Kindern. Wohl aus diesen Erfahrungen heraus wurde später mein Hang zum Alten Testament und zum Hebräischen sehr stark.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Barth, Ps 24, and the unity of the Testaments

Christians believe that the Old Testament witnesses to  God-in-Jesus. Jesus himself made this clear to his disciples as he walked with them on the road to Emmaus, opening their eyes to the way the Law and the Prophets spoke of his suffering and resurrection. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, if you enjoy thinking about this kind of thing), he didn’t leave behind a divinely inspired hermeneutical key which can infallibly illuminate the manner in which the Old Testament goes about doing this. We are left with a frustrating inner conviction but the impossibility of proving this conviction to the unbeliever. This reminds me of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ demand for a sign, when he simply states that what he says is true because he is the one who says it. I can imagine how frustrating that must have been! Somehow the truth is “self-affirming.”

For my part, I do believe that the Old Testament witnesses to God-in-Jesus, and the church has consistently confessed the same (cf. the abundant allegorical interpretation for the vast majority of the church’s history, including throughout the Reformation). However, like many in the church, I also struggle to back up this claim with a philosophical or theological account of how this happens. To draw another analogy with responses to the historical Jesus, I find myself in the similar position of Jesus’ neighbours in Nazareth, who , when confronted with his claim that he is the initiator of the kingdom of God, responded with the question: “isn’t that Joseph’s son… ?” (note the title of a recent book whose contents would seem to affirm this surface recognition as the last word on the matter). The analogous Christian version that I hear again and again is: “is that the God of the New Testament?” The answer is “yes,” and if you can’t figure out why or how than you better take stock of the adequacy your own grasp of the gospel. I experience this challenge regularly.

This is not to say that there are not a host of helpful theses that each in their own way shed light on the phenomenon, allowing Christians to both deepen their own faith as well as present it to others. The recognition of mystery ought to function as an invitation to enter it, rather than as an excuse to just give up wrestling with the issue in the first place (cf. A. Louth, Discerning the Mystery).

One thesis that touches on this issue was made by Karl Barth, which I will now share in massively reduced form (primarily because I have only read this thesis in a paper about something else, namely  the influence of Barth on Miskotte). It’s about the continuity  and discontinuity between the Testaments:

Both Testaments see God as one who freely initiates relationship with human kind.
The OT has a variety of covenants and only an implicit Messianic hope. The NT has only one covenant and the Messiah is identified as Jesus of Nazareth.
Both Testaments recognize the mysterious hiddenness of God.
The OT sees this hiddenness in God’s judgement of the nations, including Israel. The NT sees this in God’s judgement of his Son. God’s judgement in the NT is, in some sense, final.
Both Testaments have an “already-not yet” eschatology (my phrase), as God is both one who is already experienced but also one who is coming.
The NT not only see’s Jesus as the One who is coming, it is waiting for the one who has already come [though I have to admit, I don’t see how this is any different from the OT perspective, for there God also already came … ].

The framework for these similarities/differences is Barth’s concept of the relationship between Divine Revelation and time. There are three “times,” the time of the expectation of revelation (Old Testmaent), the time of the fulfilment of revelation (Jesus’ history), and the age of remembering the fulfilment of revelation (New Testament). It’s important to note that the NT is not the fulfilment of the OT (contra Louth, cited above), Jesus is. The NT and OT both function to point to a single referent that stands outside of themselves. They do this in their own idiom and from their own perspective (hence the differences), but their referential object is the same (hence the similar structure and content).

As you may have noticed from my comments in square brackets, it seems to me as if Barth is not doing full justice to the OT (though feel free to correct me here). In short, he seems to overemphasises the NT’s “already” element in contrast to the OT’s “not yet.” Isn’t it the case that the OT already witnesses to a past fulfilment that provides the “ontological” ground for the possibility of the history that ensues? The example I’m thinking of is the opening strophe of Ps 24: “The earth is the LORD’s … for he has founded it upon the seas … .” Isn’t this past act as decisive in its grounding of God’s history with his people as Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? E. Otto talks of God’s acts here as  creating the “Möglichkeit” (possibility) for the obedience found in vv. 3-6: There can be such a thing as a righteous, obedient Jacob (v. 6), because God’s stabilization of the earth in the face of chaos guarantees the validity of such obedience. In a similar way, the New Testament talks of resurrection life in the Spirit creating a heart of flesh and the capacity to be obedient to the Torah.

So how do I interpret the relation of Ps 24:1-2 in relation to the NT? Jesus can’t have “fulfilled” it because Ps 24:1-2 is not pointing forward to a moment yet to be fulfilled, it is pointing back to something already established once and for all. As mentioned, the relation  seems to be of a structural nature. In fact, the analogy can be expanded to apply to Jesus’ entire mission, for just as in Ps 24 strophe 1 (vv. 1-2) is the precondition for strophe 2 (vv. 3-6), these two strophes are somehow “consummated” by strophes 3 and 4 (vv. 7-10; on my interpretation of the poetic structure, I should add). Similarly, Jesus was raised from the dead (strophe 1), has cleansed his people (strophe 2) and will return again to consummate his work (i.e. Advent; strophes 3-4). Except that even here our analogy runs into conceptual difficulties, for it is the case that  Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension are all contained in vv. 7-10: his death was a battle with death, his resurrection was his victory and his ascension was its consummation (i.e. Ascension not advent). So are vv. 7-10 about Christ’s return to earth as king or his ascension to heaven to be enthroned? In addition to this, where does this leave strophe 1 if the resurrection in is the final two strophes? The odd thing is that strophe 1 in fact has the same content as strophes 3-4, albeit on a “mythological” rather than “historical” plain! Strophe 1 is also a kind of battle, this time with the seas, and it is also a proclamation of victory, i.e. the establishment of a viable living space. So does Ps 24 taken on its own, regardless of its correlation to an external event in time (not in space: Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem!) contain its own odd witness to “ontological-unity-in-temporal-sequence”? Srophes 3 and 4 “consummate” strophe 1, even as the “recapitulate” its content. The “chronos” is different but not the “chairos.”

 The intermediate conclusion  all this mind bending has for me is that every time I try and relate Psalm 24 to the Gospels my temporal categories are consistently being confirmed (there is a genuine analogy) and subverted. It’s like a lover who tempts me with a kiss and a flash of her eye-lashes but teasingly disappears around the corner, leaving a trail of perfume to beckon me on (Song of Songs was always had a hermeneutical function for church and synagogue!).  I see the analogy, am breathless at the sheer scope of who Jesus is and what he has achieved, and yet still am left to struggle and see how the past and present within an Psalm’s “narrative world” is “fulfilled” by the Gospel’s presentation of past and present, a past and present that can be collapsed into one moment.

I mentioned above that the OT’s inevitable and consistent challenge to the Christian claim about its Christological content ought to primarily be a challenge to Christians, not to prove their faith to the sceptics but to deepen the content of their own faith, which is always far from perfect. I can’t claim to have a concrete answer to my issue with Ps 24 above (though I’m working on it!), but it has forced me to return to my own construal of the “gospel” and to see it with new eyes. Of particular relevance here is the concept of the relation between the “ontological” and “economic” Trinity, God in himself and God for us. McGlasson summarizes the relation as follows:
God’s sending of his Son for our salvation and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit are a replication in time of God’s eternal self-identity. God’s redemptive love for humanity is an expression of God’s free decision to draw us into a relationship with himself, which is based on the relationship of love that he himself is (McGlasson, Invitation, 198).

As Barth implies above, the NT is not the fulfilment of the OT, it points to it’s fulfilment. This means that drawing structural analogies between the OT and the NT can only take us so far. They point us in the right direction, as the content of the NT is the same as the OT. But the reality itself is greater than what is at most the partial testimony of both Testaments (cf. Childs, Biblical Theology). Hence the necessity of higher level dogmatic theology in order to grasp what is really going on in Scripture. The practice of theology, after all, originally consisted in nothing other than meditation upon the mystery of the ontological trinity. I think I ought to learn to do the same.  

[For a post on Moberly's interpretation of the Emmaus story, go here; see also my post Reading in a Revised Frame of Reference].

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Wellhausen's Prolegomena on the Net

Anyone interested in reading Julius Wellhausen's groundbreaking historical critical introduction to the Bible can download the book for free here. Gutenberg have also now digitalized the entire International Critical Commentary, which is an awesome service.

I'll be giving a paper tomorrow on the canonical approach in front of a faculty that, on the surface at least (and part of my thesis is in fact that the differences are not so big after all), reads the Bible in a manner that would seem diametrically opposed to anything resembling synchronic exegesis. I'm giving my paper as descriptive analysis of Childs' approach, but I think it's pretty clear that I'm also out to defend him. If any of my readers are into praying, then pray for clarity, wisdom, and generosity on the part of all (oh, and pray for my German, too).