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This essay examines and compares the treatment of the Decalogue in the theological ethics of Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It argues that while both theologians orient their exposition of the Decalogue by attending to its primary character as divine self-revelation, approach it with a view to a Christian ethics of divine command, and frame their understandings in decisively christological terms, they differ markedly on the extent to which the commandments themselves can and ought to be understood as representing concrete divine commands.
This essay explores the overlapping territory between the phenomenon known as ‘imaginative resistance’ in literary, psychological and philosophical circles and Karl Barth's theological hermeneutic. Imaginative resistance refers to the way readers are willing to give consent to all sorts of implausible things in the context of a fiction, but become uneasy when asked to imagine that something they consider morally or ethically reprehensible is good. The essay offers an overview of the current scholarly theories regarding the origins of the phenomenon of imaginative resistance, arguing that none of them provide an adequate account of imaginative resistance in relation to a text read as ‘Word of God’. The essay suggests that Karl Barth's theological hermeneutic does not offer a ‘solution’ to imaginative resistance in relation to scripture, but rather deepens and redescribes it in meaningful ways by acknowledging the appropriateness of the interpreter's resistance while encouraging continued engagement even with the claims of challenging biblical texts.
Following Kristallnacht, Dietrich Bonhoeffer marked the date of the pogrom beside Psalm 74:8 in his personal Bible. This annotation has been frequently cited; however, though scholars have recognised historical implications of associating this psalm text with Kristallnacht, the discourse has yet to examine this annotation thoroughly in the context of Bonhoeffer's figural interpretation of the Psalms during this period. This article will establish the context of Bonhoeffer's figural approach to the Psalter in order to address this question: by connecting Psalm 74:8 with Kristallnacht, what theological claim might Bonhoeffer have been making about the events of November 1938?
This article proposes a way of reading Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics backwards or ‘from the end’. Employing this method to explore The Doctrine of God and The Doctrine of the Word of God highlights two aspects of Barth's theology. The first is the importance of communion to Barth's account of the immanence and economy of God, especially in his understanding of God as the ‘Lord of Glory’. The second is Barth's careful balancing of christology and pneumatology across the first two volumes of the Dogmatics through the use of a chiastic structure that underpins his construal of divine election and his account of divine revelation.
The study examines the radicalisation experienced by one group of religious exiles in the middle of the sixteenth century. The English-speaking congregation in Geneva formed in 1555 produced a Bible, metrical psalter and order of worship that shaped the Anglophone Reformed tradition. Study of the congregation's output shows how watching the martyrdoms in England generated a dynamic anger and fresh interpretations of persecution, tyranny and resistance. Conveyed by the worship texts, this radical legacy passed into the identities of Reformed Protestants in the British Isles, the Atlantic world and subsequently across the globe.
A constant in Augustine's long literary career is his understanding of God's presence as ubique totus, or ‘whole and everywhere’. I will first consider how Augustine came to perceive of the divine presence in this life (here I will look especially at the Confessions); second, how he theologically articulates the nature of the divine presence (here I will draw on Ep. 187), and, finally, how he understands the divine presence in the life to come (and here I will focus on the conclusion of the City of God). I suggest that a fundamental continuity obtains between how Augustine understands seeing God in this life and the next and that this continuity is predicated on his conception of the divine presence as ubique totus.
To combat the charges raised by Radical Orthodoxy and others, which allege that Protestant soteriologies amount to a legal fiction, Bruce McCormack and Michael Horton suggest that Reformed theology embrace a covenantal ontology, which aims to overcome legal fiction objections without sacrificing Reformational insights or making recourse to medieval participatory metaphysics. For both theologians, covenantal history and participatory metaphysics are treated as rival paradigms. I suggest that their proposals display serious weaknesses and propose an alternative approach, inspired by the retrieval of Reformed scholastic insights, which treats covenant and participatory metaphysics as complementary motifs rather than rival paradigms, and is thereby able to overcome the legal fiction objection while maintaining Protestant distinctives.
This article makes a case for universal salvation based on the soteriology of Anselm of Canterbury's Cur Deus Homo. It argues that without an affirmation of universal salvation, Anselm's argument fails on the grounds of its own soteriological logic, which unites the fitting and the necessary for God, assumes the primary importance of divine aseity for understanding salvation history, and affirms the ontological unity of the human race as the object of God's redemptive love. Also detailed is the development of the relationship between mercy and justice in Anselm's thought from the Proslogion to Cur Deus Homo, and it is shown how Anselm's developed soteriology in the latter challenges major features of the Augustinianism he inherited. The article concludes that a robust theology of divine aseity like Anselm's will entail that creation be understood as a theatre for the manifestation of God's eternal love for his creatures.
Contemporary biblical studies is populated by ‘comparativists’ and ‘theological interpreters’: scholars who read the Bible in the context of ancient artefacts, and scholars who read it in the context of Christian theology, respectively. These camps relate to one another mostly by feuding – or by mutual avoidance. The Old Testament theologian Brevard Childs is usually taken as a champion in the cause of theological interpretation, and so also as reinforcing one side of the disciplinary division. But under certain conditions, Childs also authorised the use of ancient artefacts (‘the treasures of darkness’) for reading scripture theologically. This article reactivates the latter possibility within Childs’ interpretive programme, especially through two cases studies: the first by Childs himself, when he uses the Sargon Legend to interpret Exodus 2; and the second a reprise of Childs’ procedure, using the Mesha Inscription to interpret 1 Kings 22.
The parallel between Augustine's preoccupation with language and the ‘linguistic turn’ of the last century has made him a valuable figure in recent discussions on hermeneutics and meaning. Still, he has yet to be brought into serious conversation with contemporary narrative hermeneutics. In this essay, I contend that narrative hermeneutics provides a lens through which we can appreciate the important role narrative plays in Augustine's hermeneutics and, in particular, how it shapes his account of meaning. Rather than casting his perception of meaning as a static reality that lies completely beyond the text, recognising the place of narrative in his thought allows us to appreciate the dynamic and personal aspects of meaning which it produces.
‘Virtue is a good quality of the mind, by which one lives rightly, which no one uses badly, which God works in us without us.’ Thomas Aquinas quotes this ‘Augustinian’ definition near the beginning of his treatment of virtue in general. Because it fails to apply to acquired virtues, some conclude that Aquinas presents this definition only to set it aside. Against such interpretations, I demonstrate that Thomas’ use of the definition is the key to understanding the treatment of virtue at Summa I/2.55–63. First, I show why Thomas places the definition where he does, at the end of question 55. Second, I show that the definition is not peripheral but rather discloses the inner logic of his treatment of virtue. Finally, I show that for the reader who grasps this inner logic, the conclusion drawn explicitly at Question 65 – that only infused virtue is virtue simply – is revealing but not surprising.
Since at least the time of Albert Schweitzer's attempt to move justification from die Mitte to the margins, the question of the centre of Paul's theology has included a criticism of the Reformation's classification of justification as ‘the lord, ruler, and judge’ of theology. For the reformers, however, this designation is not so much a claim about the centrality of the vocabulary of justification as it is a claim about the grammar of the gospel: justification, because it is articulated as an antithesis, says both what the gospel is not and what the gospel is. With this understanding of the theological function of justification in view, the role of justification in Paul's letter to the Galatians can be reconsidered: the antithetical grammar of justification is a critical and hermeneutical criterion in Galatians, both identifying and negating the ‘other gospel’ even as it picks out and proclaims ‘the gospel of Christ’.
In the biblical theophanies of Isaiah 6 and Daniel 3, divine condescension and human ascent constitute reciprocal ecstatic moves towards a divine–human encounter. The christological interpretation, widespread in early Christian reception history, further discerns in Isaiah 6 and Daniel 3 an anticipation of the radical condescension of the Logos-made-human and, conversely, an anticipation of the deifying ascent of humanity in Christ. Finally, the early Christian reading of Isaiah 6 and Daniel 3 as ‘christophanies’ – that is, as manifestations of the Logos-to-be-incarnate – also allows us a glimpse into the performative aspect and experiential claims of early Christian exegesis, broadly construed to also incorporate hymnography, iconography and ritual.
The renaissance of virtue ethics in Christian moral discourse has led a handful of Reformed theologians to consider whether or not the Reformed tradition is compatible with classical and medieval concepts of virtue. Barthians, in particular, express doubt regarding the prospect of such a retrieval, arguing that classical notions of virtue compromise the Reformed hallmark of divine sovereignty and Luther's dictum simul justus et peccator. This essay counters that the Reformed tradition is broad enough to find more productive ways to engage virtue ethics. In particular, the Westminster Standards provide both the formal space for a significant theological exploration of human agency and the material content for the development of something like a classical virtue ethic. Barthian concerns regarding divine sovereignty and moral progress are satisfied by a demonstration that Westminster's attention to human agency is always within the context of a greater emphasis on divine agency.
The need for honour, meaning publicly acknowledged worth, has been a feature of social life across the ages. From the ancient world of Greece and Rome, through to the honour codes of contemporary celebrity culture, the quest for honour is often framed in agonistic terms, in that honour is a limited good that demands competitive behaviour. This article examines the way early Christianity responded to ancient honour codes, with a view to its potential relevance in contemporary culture. It demonstrates the way early Christianity retained something of the language of honour in its ecclesial communities, but redefined honour in light of its conception of grace.
This article argues for the importance of attending to the subjective dynamics involved in retrieval of past theological traditions for contemporary purposes. Building on a close analysis of Martin Luther's distinction between the ‘substance’ of a thing and its ‘use’, the article makes a theological case for the importance of attending not just to what we retrieve from tradition, but also to how and why we retrieve it. Analysis of Luther's distinction suggests (1) that the meaning of theological claims remains unexpectedly fluid until such claims have been located within the ethical drama of ‘use’, and (2) that one of the best ways to get theological traction on the dynamics of ‘use’ is to attend to the affective economies in which theological reasoning is always located. It concludes by drawing attention to specific areas in contemporary ethics where new light can be shed through attention to the dynamics of ‘use’.
The question of Karl Barth's attitude towards universalism has been a topic of debate since his own day. By examining a twofold two-way determination of the actuality of world-history in Christo that Barth construes in the actualistic hamartiology of CD IV/3, §70, I will contend that he does not describe the prospect of the final condemnation of humankind as an empty threat, even though the whole of his theological witness to Christ clearly testifies to universal salvation. This dialectical aspect of Barth's actualistic hamartiology leads to an attitude towards the apokatastasis that George Hunsinger aptly describes as ‘reverent agnosticism’.
The article argues that Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics presents human ‘neediness’ as the constitutive element of his theological anthropology. Since this element has had little notice in Barth scholarship, the article focuses on describing the consistent reiteration of this theme in theologically substantive locations throughout the Dogmatics. It begins with Barth's observation that the emergence of humanity on the sixth day discloses humans to be ‘the neediest of all creation’. Barth elaborates the dimensions of human neediness in his discussion of ‘the readiness of humanity for God’, propounding the human need for God as the precondition of knowledge of God that is in actuality undercut by the sin that denies any such neediness. Barth thus describes a potential ‘blessed neediness’ and an actual ‘wretched neediness’ that together define the glory and the tragedy of all that is human, and which inform not only Barth's epistemology and hamartiology, but also his accounts of christology, forgiveness, redemption, worship and Christian witness.
It is the argument of this article that Dietrich Bonhoeffer's hermeneutical approach understands creaturely existence to be truly held by the Word made flesh as the risen Christ, who is still wholly human and therefore truly present in creation. Therefore, this article argues with Dietrich Bonhoeffer that, for a viable theological hermeneutics, it is critically necessary to consider the kenotic movement of the risen Christ, not only for a proper understanding of holy scripture in its genuine humanness, but also for an understanding of the new creation as taking place in reconciled creatures through the Word.
This article suggests that the narrative of human community Bonhoeffer described in Sanctorum Communio, following the categories of creation, fall and redemption, provides the framework for understanding the various aspects of human sexuality found in Creation and Fall and Ethics. A comparative study of these texts reveals that marriage and sexuality in Bonhoeffer encapsulates the human drive towards community, preserved from the fall for redemption in Christ. Understanding human sexuality within the structure of this narrative allows for a new way of appropriating and evaluating Bonhoeffer's theological anthropology for contemporary ethical reflection in the Christian community.