Monday, July 23, 2012

The All-Embracing "No" of God.

I read this just now and was struck by how much I identify with these words this time around more than any other time I've read them:

"The Gospel speaks of God as He is: it is concerned with Him Himself and with Him only. It speaks of the Creator who shall be our Redeemer and of the Redeemer who is our Creator. It is pregnant with our complete conversion; for it announces the transformation of our creatureliness into freedom. It proclaims the forgiveness of our sins, the victory of life over death, in fact, the restoration of everything that has been lost. It is the signal, the fire-alarm of a coming, new world. But what does all this mean? Bound to the world as it is, we cannot here and now apprehend. We can only receive the Gospel, for it is the recollection of God which is created by the Gospel that comprehends its meaning. The world remains the world and men remain men even whilst the Gospel is being received. The whole burden of sin and the whole curse of death still press heavily upon us. We must be under no illusion: the reality of our present existence continues as it is! The Resurrection, which is the place of exit, also bars us in, for it is both barrier and exit. Nevertheless, the 'No' which we encounter is the 'No' - of God. And therefore our veritable deprivation is our veritable comfort in distress. The barrier marks the frontier of a new country, and what dissolves the whole wisdom of the world also establishes it. Precisely because the 'No' of God is all-embracing, it is also His 'Yes'."

- Barth, Epistle to the Romans, 38.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Gospel and Gender Identity.

Despite the fact that I'm taking five classes in the fall and I will be busier than I prefer, I have been looking forward to this upcoming semester more than any other during my time as a graduate student. I am most excited about my New Testament course entitled "Paul and Karl" co-taught by Bruce McCormack and Beverly Gaventa, which is an in-depth study of the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans and Karl Barth's Epistle to the Romans. In attempting to read ahead and start thinking about my research paper for this class, I started reading Gaventa's work on the apocalyptic gospel and gender. Her work is both deeply fascinating and refreshingly accessible. I told my friend the other day when discussing Gaventa's work on gender that I have never read anyone who captures my own thoughts, concerns, and beliefs so well on the topic. Gaventa's writings give me hope for the rich conversation about gender that can occur when critically engaging the apocalyptic gospel found in Paul's letter to the Galatians. Here's one of my favorite excerpts:
"What the gospel invades is more than this world of our individual and collective striving for achievement, as becomes evident when we return to the famous line "you are all one in Christ"(3:28). Returning to the analogy from physical laws as a way of understanding this passage, Paul here insists that those who are "in Christ Jesus" are baptized "into" Christ and even "put on Christ" (see also 2:19-20), which means that they cannot simultaneously be "in" or "under" the power of the Law. One's identity—one's place of residence—is in the gospel, because God has made it so. Despite the frequent and common-sense reaction that Paul cannot possibly "really" mean that there is no longer male and female, since manifestly there are men and women in the world, that is exactly what he means: that being "in Christ" brings life in the identity-conferring realm of "male and female" to an end. Like the other pairs in the verse, "male and female" functions as a metonym for places in which we live, the spheres in which we name ourselves and find our identity. Those who are "in Christ" cannot also be in the identity business of being first of all female or male.

On that reading, rendering Gal 3:28 as a declaration of equality is not only too little, it is distinctly beside the point. Those who find themselves "in Christ" are not also "in" the power arena that makes questions of equality necessary. Equality is a concept or principle invoked in order to insist that individuals or groups be treated uniformly, that they have the same access to decision-making, and that they have the same privilege or status. All those who are "in Christ," however, know that they all have only what has been granted them by the Spirit, and all have exactly the same standing in that God rescued all from "the present evil age." To be sure, the pairs reflect not simply spheres of identity but the privilege assigned to one member of each pair: the Jew, the free person, the male. Yet what Paul declares is not simply that the gospel brings these privileges to an end, but that the pairs no longer exist. The best paraphrase comes in 6:15: "there is neither circumcision nor uncir-cumcision but new creation."

- Beverly Gaventa, "Is Galatians Just a 'Guy Thing'?", Interpretation, July 2000, 275-276.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What Should a Student of Theology Do Today?

Yesterday evening, I sat down to read Bonhoeffer's essay "What Should a Student of Theology Do Today?" after it came highly recommended from a friend. I wasn't quite sure what to expect since I usually prefer to read and re-read Barth's Evangelical Theology for advice and reinforcement when thinking about the nature, task, and challenges of studying theology. But Bonhoeffer's short essay was a really great read:

"One should not think it necessary to wait for particular experiences of 'being called' to ministry. A student who is simply gripped by the subject matter of theology and cannot turn away from it can consider that a calling. But certainly, it must be what theology is really about that enthralls the student - a real readiness to think about God, the Word, and the will of God, a 'delight in the law of the LORD' and readiness to meditate on it 'day and night'; a real willingness to work seriously, to study, and to think. It is not the experience of a call but the determination to do sober, earnest, and responsible theology work that is the gateway to the study of theology.

One may bring to theological studies one's own passions, one's philosophical, ethical, pedagogical, patriotic, or social zeal. These belong to the student as a whole person, and one must truly enter into theology with one's whole self. The person who is not driven to theological study at least in part by these passions will certainly be a poor theologian. But theological students must then learn and know that the driving force in their lives and thinking, as theologians, can only come from the passion of Jesus Christ, our crucified Lord. The study of theology cannot be conquered by the overflowing vitality of one's own passion; rather, the real study of theologia sacra begins when, in the midst of questioning and seeking, human beings encounter the cross; when they recognize the endpoint of all their own passions in the suffering of God at the hands of humankind, and realize that their entire vitality stands under judgment. This is the great turnaround, which for the course of study means the turn toward theological objectivity. Theological study no long means revealing the passions of one's ego; it is no longer a monologue, no longer religious self-fulfillment. Rather, it is about responsible study and listening, becoming attentive to the Word of God, which has been revealed right here in this world; it is toning down one's self in the face of what is far an away the most important matter.

...Finally, one should know as a true theologian that, even where our knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its truth and purity keeps us away from false doctrines, we stand beside our brethen who have wandered and been misled, sharing their guilt, interceding and praying for them, knowing that our own life depends, not on our better knowledge or being on the right side, but on forgiveness."

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Berlin: 1932-1933, 432-433, 435.