Archive for December 2013

The IOCS Community Days, Orthodoxy in Action!   Leave a comment

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We have the great pleasure to invite you to our new series of Community Lecture Days in 2014 which will again give you an opportunity to hear distinguished theologians in Cambridge on themes of major importance in the Orthodox tradition.

As before, on each of these five Saturdays, participants will hear two lectures – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – and they will have the time and opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones, with a relaxed lunch in between the lectures, refreshments, discussion sessions and a Vespers service at the end.

The new series of Community Lecture Days is entitled ‘Orthodoxy in the Contemporary World’, and the dates and the lecturers are:

1. 22nd February: Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Orthodox Theology in the 21st Century
2. 29th March: Revd Dr Christopher Knight (International Society for Science and Religion/IOCS), Orthodox Theology and the Sciences
3. 26th April: Dr Adrian Pabst (University of Kent), Orthodoxy and the Political
4. 31st May: Dr Krastu Banev (University of Durham), War and Peace in Christian Orthodoxy
5. 28th June: Dr Christoph Schneider (IOCS), Towards an Orthodox Understanding of Faith and Reason

Every Community Day will take place at our new building, Palamas House, 25-27 High Street Chesterton, Cambridge, CB4 1ND (please see the map attached here, for the location of our premises).

It would be a great help to us if you could advertise our programme of Community Lecture Days by displaying or forwarding the attached poster or by mentioning the programme to anyone whom you think might be interested.

Posted December 23, 2013 by Mina Monier in Conferences & Events

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Revelation between Barth and Pannenberg: II- Revelation as History   Leave a comment

Wolfhart Pannenberg: Revelation as History

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The war and postwar generations witnessed heated debates regarding the themes of dialectical theology and the Bultmannian existential method. Scholars, such as Paul Althaus and Emil Brunner, supplied the discipline with a broad critique of Barthian views. However, in the early 60’s Wolfhart Pannenberg, a German systematician and former pupil of Barth, provided the most penetrating critique that paved the way for his own theological programme.

Critique of Barth

Barth’s whole theology relies on the idea that God revealed himself exclusively in Jesus and clarified that revelation in his Word. Therefore, God disclosed himself and taught us how he did that. This should be a non-debatable point of departure (Vanderplaat 1983, p.71) This concept looks like a closed loop which starts from a divine claim of the concept of revelation and ends at the divine again. This can be described as fideism (Vanderplaat 1983, p.72) which is the target of Pannenberg’s criticism.

Pannenberg addressed his criticism against the methodology of Dialectical Theology, embodied in Barth’s theology, which acquires dogmatic theses as its datum for its later constructed theology.  This method is accused of subjectivism. In his Jesus-God and Man, Pannenberg started with a critique of “Christology from Above”, which presumes that Jesus is divine rather than questing after it (1977, pp.47-52). Such an approach would later become tendentious and therefore discredited. The history of theology for Pannenberg witnessed such Christological constructions to serve certain “Soteriological motifs” (1977, p.52).  Therefore, such subjectivism could legitimize Feuerbach’s claim that all religions are only projections of human needs and wishes onto an imaginary transcendent world (Pannenberg 1977, p.47)

For Pannenberg, this problem applies for Barth’s presumption of the tenability of his concept of revelation. The problem is that Barth presents us with a thesis on which everything else depends without supporting it with any rational arguments or intellectual legitimization of his assertion. This confuses the claim, which is the divine authority, with the target of proof and invalidates its approach (Vanderplaat 1983, p.88).

“Theology has to learn that after Feuerbach it can no longer mouth the word ‘God’ without offering any explanation; that it can no longer speak as if the meaning is this word were self-evident; that it cannot pursue theology ‘from above’, as Barth says, if it does not want to fall into the hopeless and, what is more, self-inflicted isolation of a higher glossolalia, and lead the whole church into this bline alley” (Pannenberg 1969  p.189f)

The inaccessibility of God’s revelation, because he is ‘wholly other’, would:

“leave oneself unprotected against the argument that one’s language and use of the word ‘God’ can be refuted by the (same) atheist argument that it is a projection” (idea of God and human freedom p.88)

While Barth tries to protect the objectivity of God’s revelation from human subjective attempts to ‘tame’ it, his theology turns out to be an extreme example of subjectivism if it rests on the sole subjective decision of the believer. (Pannenberg 1973, p.87).

The implications can be as following:

“Today especially, the reality of God seems to be mentioned only in the utterances of believers and theologians … However, if the reality of God cannot be distinguished from the assertions of believers and theologians about it, such assertions can no longer be taken seriously as assertions, but look like fictions created by believers and theologians” (TPS,  p.329)

This subjectivism leads to the accusation of considering the faith acquired by believers and proclaimed by theologians as a fiction. This led some scholars to launch a depersonalized God theology in order to avoid the vulnerability for such accusations.  This led Pannenberg to state explicitly that the ‘Death of God’ theologians are “the heirs of Barth and Bultmann” (Pannenberg 1973,  p.58).

Revelation as History

Unlike Barth, Pannenberg preferred to base his theology on critical studies of the scripture. In 1961 Pannenberg with his circle[1] published Revelation as History (1968).[2] The book contained a series of exegetical essays analyzing the different Old Testament and New Testament traditions that might have pointed to the concept of revelation. Pannenberg concludes it with a systematic construction of the findings in seven theses:

  • Thesis I: The self-revelation of God in the biblical witnesses is not of a direct type in the sense of a theophany, but is indirect and brought about by means of the historical acts of God
  • Thesis II: Revelation is not comprehended completely in the beginning, but at the end of the revealing history
  • Thesis III: In distinction from special manifestations of deity, the historical revelation is open to anyone who has eyes to see. It has a universal character.
  • Thesis IV: The universal revelation of the deity of God is not yet realized in the history of Israel but first in the fate of Jesus of Nazareth, insofar as the end of all events is anticipated in his fate.
  • Thesis V: The Christ event does not reveal the deity of the God of Israel as an isolated event, but rather insofar as it is a part of the history of God with Israel.
  • Thesis VI: In the formulation of Non-Jewish conceptions of revelation in the gentile Christian church, the universality of eschatological self-vindication of God in the fate of Jesus comes to actual expression.
  • Thesis VII: The world relates itself to revelation as foretelling, forthtelling and report (Kerygma).

Such an understanding of revelation, particularly in the third thesis, would suggest an objective investigation of revelation in nature.  Therefore the latter becomes the common ground for the dialogue, as we will see later. His theological programme which, unlike the dialectic theologians, advocates reason and history legitimize dialogue with nature. Such suggestions would lead to the question: why would a theologian look at nature? Pannenberg’s logic runs like this: If nature can be understood without any reference to God then that God cannot be the creator of that nature, and that God of the bible is a false one.(Pannenberg 1993, p.16).

Pannenberg goes further than that by saying:

Some would think that the task of theology is already accomplished when the trinitarian doctrine of the church, affirming the preexistence of Jesus and his divine Sonship, is shown to be in accordance with the scriptures. Such a view presupposes the divine authority of the scriptures, and the truth of Christian doctrine depends on being in agreement with the witness of the Bible. This is indeed an important aspect of Christianity’s truth-claim, but more is required: The divine authority of the scriptures has to be argued for, not merely presupposed.

This scriptural stance can be argued for if its proclaimed biblical God, who is identified as the creator of this world and human life, is truly God. The Christian teaching must be coherent with all aspects of the reality of the world and of human life: this is the principle which can legitimize the Christian claim that the biblical God is the creator of this world and of all humanity be plausible. (Pannenberg 2008, p.5-7) However, such a daring statement should not drive us to believe that God’s nature can be disclosed. Pannenberg still adheres to Barth’s argument that knowledge of God cannot be apprehended outside revelation. But Pannenberg makes it clear that there is a distinction between the cause and effect. The latter can be studied and it can refer to the existing cause but cannot go further than that since this effect, known in creation and providence, is a free and contingent act of the biblical God, the cause (Pannenberg 1969 p.137).

      In the next post we  shall see the treatment of theology as science which will be an application of Pannenberg’s view of theology and history


[1] This included young prominent exegetes like Ulrich Wilckens

[2] In 1960 the young Pannenberg assembled a group of exegetes and theologians in Mainz University that was later known as the “Pannenberg Circle.” The circle members decided to study together the theme of the transmission of tradition with a critical correction of their professors, notably Bultmann and Barth. In 1961 Pannenberg circle published the Offenbarung Als Geschichte which was translated in 1969 as Revelation as History. This book was the backbone of Pannenberg’s programme. It consisted of 5 essays, written by him and his circle members, covering the concept of revelation in the Old Testament untill the early Church and concluded with a final long systematic essay written by Pannenberg.

Posted December 23, 2013 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized

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Revelation between Barth and Pannenberg: I- Revelation as God’s Word   Leave a comment

 Dialectical Theology: Revelation as God’s Word

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The main character of revelation, according to dialectical theology, is that God revealed himself exclusively in Jesus. The reality of this revelation is revealed only by God himself in his Word in which we are met and taught about Him.

For Barth, God’s otherness makes revelation in the word paradoxical; God reveals himself without abandoning “the mystery of its nature” (CD I/1 pp. 165) because this revelation takes place in the creaturely sinful world. The world has a sinful nature that makes it contradicting and naturally disobedient to God. This leads Barth to believe that the text itself cannot fully reveal God, it even veils Him. Yet that word is the only appropriate means to reflect God’s revelation (CD I/1 pp. 166-168).

This contradictory character of revelation in the Word suggests, for Barth, two major points. Firstly, we should accept the revelation beyond the word without relying on our exegetical work. Revelation would lose it’s the otherness of its nature if we managed to decipher it with our hermeneutical methods. Therefore, what makes the revelation genuine is keeping it absent from its sphere of jurisdiction since God cannot be confiscated or objectified and hence his revelation cannot be tamed by this-worldly (textual or fleshly) coordinates (CD I/1, p. 321-23).

Secondly, this contradiction alludes to two different historical realms that are not confused in revelation. Although part of the concept of the revelation, according to Barth’s biblical assessment, is that it is a historical event, this historicity should not mean that revelation can be historically demonstrable. This sort of revelation historicity is Geschichtlich (Weber, 1964). Therefore, it does not mean what is usually called “historical” (historisch). Furthermore, mingling the two historical concepts together would discard the mystery in revelation by subjecting it to the apprehension of the neutral observer (CD I/1, p.325-26).

The revelation process starts from God and ends at the decision of the elected faithful who respond with subjection and obedience to their creator. This excludes any other means to interact with God (CD I/1, p. 161). Barth shows strong compliance to the Calvinist tradition of his Reformed Church.

“History” and “neutral observation” cannot detect revelation, not even with analogy. “There is no analogia entis, no natural correspondence between the created and the uncreated (cf. CD I/1, p. 166).” This has direct implications for the question of reason and the concerned dialogue; since there revelation is perceived by elected faithful in a special sort of history “preserved for us” (CD I/2, §14) then historical research is totally insufficient. Joseph C. Weber (1964), summarizes Barth’s position by saying:

 If one asks Barth what significance the historical Jesus has for Christian faith, the answer will be: the so-called historical Jesus is a construction of historicism which misses the fullness and reality of his life and death by limiting it to that realm of history that can be reconstructed by the historical-critical method (Historie). Jesus, however, belongs to that realm of history in which is executed the eternal will and decree of God (Geschichte).

Since Jesus’ revelatory identity is inaccessible, even through historical research of his life, then there is no relevant theology in nature we can talk about. That was Barth’s foundation for launching explicit systematic critique against Natural Theology (henceforth NTh) in the following volume (CD II/1 §26). The basic concern of Barth is that NTh now becomes the paradigmatic instantiation of the human longing for self-justification. Alister McGrath (2001: p.269) skillfully wraps up Barth’s argument against NTh:

Barth’s hostility towards natural theology thus rests on his fundamental belief that it undermines the necessity and uniqueness of God’s self-revelation. If knowledge of God can be achieved independently of God’s self-revelation in Christ, then it follows that humanity can dictate the place, time and means of its knowledge of God […] The human desire to assert itself and take control over things is seen by Barth as one of the most fundamental sources of error in theology, leading to the erection of theological towers of Babel human constructions, erected in the face of God.

The mainstream dialectic theologians share the previously mentioned reasons to repudiate NTh. But looking back to Barth’s definition of NTh, we will find it that a ‘natural theology’ (Natürliche Theologie) is a theology which comes to humanity from nature[1] and which expresses humanity’s self-preservation and self-affirmation” (McGrath 2001, 269). According to this, Barth’s concerns stem from the idea that nature itself is the source of this theology, not God. But what if NTh is defined as the theology which comes from God through his creaturely world? This evokes an alternative programme.


[1] Von der Mensch von Natur herkommt

Posted December 23, 2013 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized

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“Early High Christology”: Clarifying Key Issues and Positions   Leave a comment

Larry Hurtado’s recent blog

Larry Hurtado's Blog

As a follow-up to my previous posting in which I cited again Andrew Chester’s review of recent scholarly analysis of earliest “christology” here, I want to offer some further comments intended to clarify a few matters for those interested.

First, the sort of questions that I address are historical ones, i.e., questions that are in principle open to investigation by anyone interested and with the necessary competence, requiring no particular ideological or theological stance as a premise.  That is not to de-value theological stances and questions at all.  But (as I see it, at least) historical inquiry should proceed without either denying or requiring any particular theological stance as a basis.  So, historical inquiry cannot readily answer theological questions (e.g., Did this or that event constitute a divine revelation/action?), and no one theological stance can serve as a premise for historical discussion that is intended to include people of…

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Posted December 23, 2013 by Mina Monier in Uncategorized

The Unknown God: Sermons Responding to the New Atheists   Leave a comment

The Unknown God: Sermons Responding to the New Atheists has finally arrived in the UK where the authors actually based (the book was already published in the US). The book is a collection of sermons given by first class British academics and edited by John Hughes, the Dean of Jesus College at the University of Cambridge.

It is known to theologians that it is more difficult to provide a sermon than to write an essay and this is the strength of the book which makes it suitable for all seasons. The 110 page book includes 9 chapters in the form of short sermons covering the main philosophical questions put forth by the debate with the New Atheism movement. A host of British scholars including Alister McGrath, David Fergusson and Timothy Jenkins provide a theistic Worldview with its natural scientific, philosophical, anthropological and ethical components as a realistic conception of existence in response to New Atheist claims to establish atheism as a historical inevitability.

If you are looking for an apologetic book that shreds Atheistic arguments then this is not what  you should buy. However, if you are looking for a book that provides insights discussing and providing a solid worldview for the belief in God as an alternative to the New Atheism claims and, at the same time, is easily accessible (and not angry!) then this book is definitely the right choice for a light and warm Christmas holiday.

PS: The book is available in both digital and paperback editions. (click to enlarge)

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Posted December 23, 2013 by Mina Monier in Reviews

Call for Papers: Forthcoming 5th British Patristics Conference, King’s College London   Leave a comment

Call for Papers: Forthcoming 5th British Patristics Conference, King’s College London 3.-5. September 2014

Dear colleagues,

patristic scholars (not only British) are invited to submit titles and short abstracts for the forthcoming 5th British Patristics Conference which is going to take place in London (at Queen Mary University) from 3. – 5. September 2014, and will be organized by colleagues from King’s College London (Professor Allen Brent, Dr Yannis Papadokiannakis, Professor Markus Vinzent). As in previous years, the successful submissions and papers will be published in the series Studia Patristica.

To submit your title and abstract, please send both tobritishpatristics@gmail.com

To register with the conference, go the website, or email your registration (below) to info@oxconf.co.uk and send the registration fee via paypal to the same email address
(reference: British Patristics 2014).

The conference costs will be £315 for the entire conference (including accommodation).
If you want to have a look at the conference facilities, please check out:http://www.qmhospitality.co.uk/ourguests/

A website of the conference can be found at www.britishpatristics.com.

Looking forward to seeing you in London,
yours
Allen Brent, Yannis Papadokiannakis and Markus Vinzent

 
Fifth British Patristics Conference 3-5 September 2014

DELEGATE REGISTRATION FORM
(Please register by 1st February 2014; otherwise, a late registration fee will be charged)