If you’re going to be in southern California in mid-January (or can hop a plane and make it happen) I hope you’ll come to the second annual Los Angeles Theology Conference. It takes place on the campus of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena on January 16 and 17 (that’s a Thursday and Friday), with the theme of “Advancing Trinitarian Doctrine.”
Headliners include Lewis Ayres (Durham University), Stephen R. Holmes (St. Andrews), Karen Kilby (Durham), Thomas H. McCall (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), and Fred Sanders (Biola University). Each of them has recently published an important book on trinitarian theology, and the remainder of the conference will be filled out with other nine papers presented in three parallel sessions, and a concluding panel discussion.
If you live west of the Rockies you’re probably aware that there isn’t much of a scene in constructive, doctrinal theology on the West Coast. The L.A. Theology Conference has set out to change that, and I think it’s safe to say that it is already making a name for itself. As a native of the Pacific Northwest it’s great to see such an event on this side of the country, and I’m even happier to be able to participate this year by presenting a paper.
Here’s the full list of papers (plenaries in bold):
Fred Sanders:“What Trinitarian Theology Is For: Placing the Doctrine of the Trinity in Christian Theology and Life”
Breakout Session 1:
- Samuel Powell (Point Loma Nazarene University): “The Procession of the Spirit and the Image of God in Augustine’s Theology”
Kyle Strobel (Grand Canyon University): “The Beauty of the Triune God: A Retrieval”
Jason S. Sexton (Golden Gate Baptist Seminary and USC): “A Confessing Trinitarian Theology for Today’s Mission”
Breakout Session 2:
- Brannon Ellis (InterVarsity Press) “The Spirit of the Father, of Himself God: A Calvinian Approach to the Question of the Filioque”
Kendall Soulen (Wesley Theological Seminary): “The Name above Every Name: The Eternal Identity of the Second Person of the Trinity and the Covenant of Grace”
Awet Andemicael (Lecturer, Yale University): “The Music of God: Toward an Aesthetic Trinitarian Theology”
Stephen R. Holmes: “Trinitarian Action and Inseparable Action”
Thomas McCall: “Trinity Doctrine, Plain and Simple”
Karen Kilby: “Trinity and Politics: An Apophatic Approach”
Breakout Session 3:
- Robert St. Hilaire (Niagara University): “Imitating the Vision of God: Pierre Rousselot on Thomas Aquinas’s Theological Method and Trinitarian Discourse”
Darren O. Sumner (Fuller Seminary Northwest): “Functional Subordination and Eternity: The Father-Son Relation in Karl Barth’s Trinitarian Theology”
Dale Tuggy (SUNY Fredonia): “How to Be a Monotheistic Trinitarian”
Lewis Ayres: “The Life of God and the Christian Life: Thinking into the Mystery”
Learn more and register for the event at LATheology.com.
It has been two years since I attended the Annual Conference of the American Academy of Religion, so I’m excited to be there in Baltimore in a couple weeks. As an exercise in looking forward to it, here’s a scan of the AAR program book for a few of the papers and panels I’m looking at:
1:30–3:30 - Expolorations in Theology and the Apocalyptic
- Nathan Kerr, Ry Siggelkow, and Halden Doerge: ”Theses on Kingdom-World-Church”
4:00–6:30 - Karl Barth Society of North America:
- W. Travis McMaken: ”A Barthian Case for Infant Baptism”
- Hanna Reichel: ”Karl Barth and the Heidelberg Catechism”
9:00–11:30 - Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society Group: Re-membering Home:
- Justin Tse: ”Strategies of Reconciliation: Cantonese Evangelical Ministries to First Nations in Vancouver, British Columbia”
9:00–11:30 – Karl Barth Society of North America: “Ronald F. Thiemann in Memoriam”
1:00–3:30 – Bonhoeffer: Theology and Social Analysis Group:
- Nathaniel Lee: ”The New Black Ecclesiology: A Bonhoefferian Examination of the Social Imagination in the Collective Work of J. Kameron Carter and Willie J. Jennings”
1:00–3:30 - Ecclesiological Investigations Group: “The Managerial Turn and the Thinning of Denominational Identity”
1:00–3:30 - Theology of Martin Luther King Jr. Group: “Two Score and Ten Years Later – Reflections on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the March on Washington”
4:00–6:30 - Gospel and Our Culture Network: “The Corinthian Correspondence and Missional Praxis”
- Michael Barram: “Fools for the Sake of Christ”: Missional Hermeneutics and Praxis in the Corinthian Correspondence”
- Andy Rowell: ”The Missional Ecclesiology of First Corinthians 14″
- Dustin Ellington: ”Corinthian Transformation for Mission: Re-Interpreting 2 Corinthians 4″
- Matthew Forrest Lowe: “’Although We Live in the World…’: The Mission of God and the Mission of Empire in 2 Corinthians 10″
- Responding: Richard B. Hays
4:00–6:30 - Reformed Theology and History Group: “Sanctified by the Spirit”
6:30–9:00 - Explorations in Theology and Apocalyptic: ”Panel on Theodore Jennings’ Outlaw Justice: The Messianic Politics of Paul”
9:00–11:30 - Christian Systematic Theology Section: “Practices of the Body of Christ”
9:00–11:30 - “Bonhoeffer, Eschatology, and Neuroscience: A Conversation with John de Gruchy about His Book Led into Mystery“
- “Bonhoeffer’s reference in prison to Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation will be placed not only within the wider context of Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of the body, and the promise of new creation but also within the wider context of themes and issues integral to the relationship between science and faith, the God-debate, and Christian humanism.”
9:00–11:30 - Practical Theology Group: “Theories of Change”
12:00–2:30 - Society for Pentecostal Studies Theme: “Thirty-five Years of The Prophetic Imagination: A Conversation with Walter Brueggeman”
3:00–4:30 - Wildcard Session: “One Church—Holy, Catholic and Apocalyptic (Explorations in Theology and Apocalyptic)”
- Philip G. Ziegler presiding
- Susan Eastman: ”One Church Apostolic and Apocalyptic?”
- Ry Siggelkow: ”The Transgression of the Integrity of the Church”
- Joseph L. Mangina: ”If It’s a Symbol, to Hell with It: Apocalyptic and Transubstantiation”
- Chris Huebner: ”The Apocalyptic Body of Christ? Reflections on Yoder and Apocalyptic Theology”
3:00–4:30 - Reformed Theology and History Group: “Holy Spirit and Spiritual Practices”
- Timothy Baylor: “The God of Peace: Spiritual Practices and the Work of the Spirit in John Owen and Karl Barth”
3:00–5:00 - Christian Systematic Theology Section and Animals and Religion Group: “Theology Beyond Humanity: A Conversation on David Clough’s On Animals, Volume I: Systematic Theology“
8:00–9:00 - Fortress Press: “Paul and the Faithfulness of God: A Talk by N.T. Wright”
9:00–11:00 - Scottish Universities Reception
9:00–11:30 - Christian Systematic Theology Section: ”Unity in Sacrifice: A Panel on Ephraim Radner’s A Brutal Unity“
9:00–11:30 - North American Religions Section and Afro-American Religious History Group: “Authors Meet Critics: The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America by Paul Harvey and Edward Blum”
9:00–11:30 - Bonhoeffer: Theology and Social Analysis Group: “Contextualizing Bonhoeffer as Preacher”
- Jacob Phillips: ”The Unceasing: Investigating Bonhoeffer’s 1932 Sermons on Colossians 3:1–4″
- Jean-Pierre Fortin: ”Understanding as Love: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Pastoral Theology”
- Joseph McGarry: ”Christ for Us Now and Here: Preaching the Gospel with Dietrich Bonhoeffer”
9:00–11:30 - Evangelical Studies Group and Kierkegaard, Religion, and Culture Group: “Kierkegaard as a Resource for Evangelical Theology”
- Aaron Edwards: ”Life in Kierkegaard’s Imaginary Rural Parish: Preaching, Correctivity and the Gospel”
1:00–3:30 - Evangelical Studies Group: “A Discussion on the Fragmentation of Evangelicalism: Reviewing Ken Collins’s Power, Politics, and the Fragmentation of Evangelicalism: From the Scopes Trial to the Obama Administration“
1:00–3:30 - Religion and Popular Culture Group and Religion, Film, and Visual Culture Group: “Morality and Meaning in the Films of the Coen Brothers”
4:00–6:30 - Religion, Holocaust, and Genocide Group: “Is Forgiveness Possible after Genocide?”
9:00–11:30 - Arts, Literature, and Religion Section: “Reflections on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Death of C.S. Lewis”
That’s just the result of a quick scan for familiar names or interesting topics, but we’re sure there’s more–so tell us what we’re missing. We’d love to hear whether you’ll be there, as well as what papers you are anticipating or presenting, so leave a comment and maybe we’ll see you there!
As you may know, 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 is a notoriously difficult passage to translate and interpret. Not only the subject matter but even the rendering of the sentences is difficult. Even the effort to add English punctuation to the original Greek hits home the reality that translation involves interpretation. Our theological premises may well guide our decisions about where to put the dashes and commas and periods.
For example: Look at the way verses 33-34a are rendered in the recent English Standard and New International Versions:
ESV of 33-34a
For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches.
NIV of 33-34a
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. Women should remain silent in the churches.
Is this an exhortation for all churches in all times and places? The punctuation in the ESV would lean readers harder in that direction than the NIV. Are there theological and cultural premises guiding either translation in this decision? Will the surrounding verses help us to make sense of this?
Some will suggest that the plain reading of this text is obvious–it prohibits women from speaking in all churches for all time–and that anyone who questions that is simply caving to cultural pressures. Granted we are all encultured readers, however, we are still confronted by the fact that the text of 1 Corinthians itself leads us to question that so called “plain reading”. If in chapter 11 Paul gave instructions which would allow women to prophesy (within norms of decorum that would communicate interdependence and modesty), then it should at least strike us as odd if Paul is now saying, “wait, on second thought, forget it”.
Furthermore, if in chapter 14 Paul is restricting women from prophecy, it would be the first indication that any spiritual gift was labeled for one gender rather than the other. So on the basis of the text alone we are motivated at least to inquire whether the silence asked for in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is for all women in all situations past or future, or whether it might refer to a certain kind of speech in a particular situation.
When we go to the Greek text with these questions–Is there a certain kind of speech being prohibited, and is there a particular reason given?–we find that it does have answers: The women being told to “keep quiet” are the ones asking questions during the sharing of prophecy, and the reason for this is that their speaking, or more specifically their questioning, is “a shame”. The shame here is not the vocal female participation per se. Otherwise chapter 11, which fits the women with head coverings precisely so they can prophesy without shame, would make little sense.
Let’s turn to the passage and see. We begin with a recognition of its proper structure.
As noted above, not all translations agree even about what the sentences are here. In regard to verse 33-34a, I think the ESV’s rendering redundant. We would expect the second mention of ekklesia to be in the singular if indeed this was meant as a combined thought. It makes better sense to read verse 33 as an interjection (as seen in the NIV above), and to recognize verse 34 as a third situational instruction to go with two given in verses 28 and 30.
Now let’s pay closer attention to these three instructions, then, and see if the fuller context bears our reading out. In the Greek and English below, I’ll show each of the three instructions to “keep quiet”, colouring the prohibition bold black, the type of speech or speaker in bold blue, and the further specification of the speaking situation in bold red. They don’t parallel each other in layout, but they do in content. In each case there is an instruction to silence, a type of speaker being instructed, and a specification indicated:
28 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ᾖ διερμηνευτής σιγάτω ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ ἑαυτῷ δὲ λαλείτω καὶ τῷ θεῷ
28 but if there be no interpreter let him [the one speaking in tongues] keep quiet in the church and to himself let him speak to God
30 ἐὰν δὲ ἄλλῳ ἀποκαλυφθῇ καθημένῳ ὁ πρῶτος σιγάτω
30 but if [something] be revealed to another that sits by, let the first [one prophesying] keep quiet
34-35 αἱ γυναῖκες ὑμῶν ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις σιγάτωσαν οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτέτραπται αὐταῖς λαλεῖν ἀλλ᾽ ὑποτάσσεσθαι, καθὼς καὶ ὁ νόμος λέγει εἰ δέ τι μαθεῖν θέλουσιν ἐν οἴκῳ τοὺς ἰδίους ἄνδρας ἐπερωτάτωσαν αἰσχρὸν γάρ ἐστιν γυναιξὶν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ λαλεῖν
34-35 the women of you in the churches let them keep quiet for it is not permitted for them to speak but to be in submission as also the law says and if they wish to learn anything let them ask their men at home for it is a shame for women in the church to speak.
Although an interjection disrupts the flow in verse 33, these instructions do belong together. Looking closely at these three instructions to silence, then, we note something important: In the first two cases the people who must σιγάω (“keep quiet” or “remain silent”) are persons who are allowed to speak but who are under certain circumstances to then keep quiet.
Astute readers will notice, however, that I’ve passed over two other possible explanations for the silence in verse 34, both of which would be more far-reaching and less circumstantial. One is that there could be a law or universal mandate regarding the submissive silence of women to which Paul is referring. Some extrapolate this from Genesis 1 or 2, but I simply don’t see it. Besides, we should not overlook the fact that Paul has just explicitly referenced a “law” in verse 21, quoting Isaiah 28′s warning about being a bad listener.
The second explanation I’m passing over is the one that says speaking women are generally just a shame. Is Paul taking on a debatable cultural observation and ascribing to it the impetus of a universal divine command? This is theoretically possible, since Paul accepted some of the cultural norms around honour and disgrace in chapter 11, but it is also not necessarily the case, since Paul rejects many of those norms elsewhere in the letter. Besides, as already mentioned, chapter 11 gives us reason to doubt that Paul thinks women speaking is always and self-evidently a shame.
No, I think it is more sensible to take the clause about making inquiries as a further specification of which women Paul means to keep quiet, and when. The scene is not hard to imagine, given what we know of the context, and the ramifications are not out of step with the full biblical witness. It seems the Corinth women are enjoying a relatively new-found liberty not only to speak in the corporate worship but also to pursue education, and are exhibiting a disruptive over-eagerness to ask questions during the corporate worship gathering Paul is addressing. In Paul’s view the time and the place for that education is the home.
Thus the implication is that the culturally more educated men will begin to empower the women at home, keeping the uninformed questions (along with uninterpreted tongues and uninterrupted prophesying) to a minimum in the corporate worship.
Reading the passage like this does, of course, require some interpretive explanation. But if you’ll return with me to the NIV text for a moment you’ll see that only a minor (and, I think, legitimate) alteration of the English punctuation is needed to have this stand out more clearly in the “plain reading” of the text itself. First, the NIV of verses 33-35:
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
Now, with only three changes in the NIV’s punctuation (namely a colon after “churches”, a comma after “as the law says”, and a period after “something”), here’s a modestly but I think meaningfully clarified reading of those same verses:
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. Women should remain silent in the churches: They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says, if they want to inquire about something. They should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
I have by no means resolved this still thorny passage (although we might be further helped by a clarifying “as such” after the last “speak”), but I must say that when it came time for me to preach this
to for my congregation, it was this rendering I found to be most readable, exegetically viable, and canonically coherent. However, I am sincere when I say I submit it to your scrutiny.
Regent College hosted free public lectures throughout the summer, and this is the one I looked forward to the most. Having begun to think carefully about multi-ethnic Christian community after an inspiring encounter with Willie Jennings, I had been doing some asking around about who else to read and was sent in the direction of Soong-Chan Rah, Associate Professor at North Park Theological Seminary. So when he was slated to speak on “Tears of Hope and Change: The Need for Lament in a Multicultural World” I was very interested to listen and learn.
The first half of Soong-Chan Rah’s lecture was comprised of statistical analyses and projections about American church attendance and population demographics–all designed to show us that the face of Western Christianity had changed, and was only changing more. For my part, he spent far too much time on these stats. The part of the city I drove in from is made up of over 57% immigrants, the highest proportion in Canada–and the audience demographic reflected this. In other words, the bar-graphs were hardly news.
To be fair, Soong-Chan Rah’s point probably needed hearing: The fact that I know far better the thought of John Piper than Soong-Chan Rah indicates a lagging diversity of Western evangelical voices compared to on-the-ground realities. Soong-Chan Rah had a few stories to illustrate the disconnect between perception and reality in this regard. When he was told how secular Boston was, he was surprised to move there and discover that it was booming with vibrant new Christian churches. True, the standard Euro-American churches were in severe decline, but what the warnings were missing was that other ethnic churches had moved in and were flourishing.
Somewhat provocatively, Soong-Chan Rah then drew a correlation between the decline of Euro-American Christianity and the growth in Global Christianity, citing the words of Revelation 18 to suggest that God could be calling Christianity to “come out from her” (i.e., from the presumptions and powers of Western “civilization”).
Once the social commentary and statistics were over, Soong-Chan turned his attention to the topic of lamentation, and whetted our appetites for what I wish he’d left himself more time to talk about. Having observed that we do not see as much lament in evangelical worship as we do in the Psalms, he suggested that this is because of our obsession with success, which has given us an overly triumphalistic spirituality.
As a matter of fact, if we’re going to open up space for previously marginalized voices and discover a more multi-ethnic church, perhaps we need to recapture the place of lamentation in worship, incorporating prayers that bring us together in both celebration and suffering. This may enable a diversified communion in Christ and help us shed the blinders of our relatively homogeneity.
Turning to Jeremiah, Soong-Chan Rah noted that when the exiles were uprooted from their place of privilege they found in lamentation a means of hearing the guidance of God. In chapter 29, those exiled from Jerusalem were told not to disengage but to seek the peace and prosperity of the cities and lands where God relocated them. At the same time, they were warned to ditch their idolatrous self-talk for genuine interaction with God on their new frontiers. Lamentation, it was suggested, may be something of an antidote to our self-absorbed cultural idolatries.
When confronted with the new and difficult, idolatry applies workable formulas according to prior successes, whereas lament addresses the living God and listens for a response–thereby opening to something new. On the changing global landscape and in congregations with an ever-increasing awareness of difference, then, the posture of lamentation may be just what we need. In this kind of corporate worship we are more free to get over ourselves and to hear the voices of those others God has joined us to in Christ. (Others whom–even in the most multi-cultural and pluralistic of cities–we may have yet to really meet and understand.)
It was with this posture of prayerful openness to one another that Soong-Chan Rah suggested we enter the next evangelicalism–and for him this makes a surer rallying-point for diversified Christian community than the mere tweaking of the church-growth strategies born out of majority-Western capitalism’s market forces.
As is often the case, one of the highlights came during the Q&A, when someone asked how we should look at Church Tradition if we note that much of what we have received comes from the Western world’s mental and political frameworks. After acknowledging it was an excellent question, Soong-Chan Rah recommended that we not diminish our attention to the traditions of Western Theology, but that we at least call it what it is (i.e. Western) rather than granting it a prefix-less authority and only adding adjectives (such as “Black,” “Liberation,” “Min-jung,” and “Feminist”) to everything else. I must say, I’d certainly like to hear Soong-Chan Rah on this topic some more.
Out of Bounds would like to offer its sincerest congratulations to our good friend Paul Nimmo on securing a Chair in Systematic Theology at our esteemed alma mater. Below is the press release from the university – hot off the press.
The University of Aberdeen’s highly regarded department of Divinity and Religious Studies has appointed a leading professor to strengthen its position as a premier centre for world class research in Christian Theology.
Dr Paul T. Nimmo will take up a chair in Systematic Theology in September. He joins the department from Edinburgh University having previously been an Affiliated Lecturer in the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. His own studies were undertaken in Cambridge, Edinburgh, Princeton, and Tübingen. Widely published in the fields of systematic and historical theology, his book Being in Action: The Theological Shape of Barth’s Ethical Vision earned him the Templeton Award for Theological Promise. He is widely acknowledged to be amongst the front-rank of researchers in the theology of Karl Barth, and his major study of Barth’s theology of the sacraments, Thinking the Eucharist After Barth, is forthcoming. He is an Editor of the International Journal of Systematic Theology. Together with David Fergusson, Dr. Nimmo is currently editing of the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Reformed Theology.
Dr Nimmo has a broad range of research interests in systematic theology generally and in the Reformed tradition in particular. His work incorporates both historical and contemporary Christian doctrine, and he is centrally involved with a number of church projects in theology. He is a member of the Church of Scotland – Roman Catholic Joint Doctrine Commission, the Church of Scotland Working Group on Issues in Human Sexuality, and the inter-denominational ‘Why Believe?’ Group. He is a Treasurer of the Society for the Study of Theology and is a Fellow of the Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. In high demand as a public speaker and lecturer, Dr. Nimmo has delivered the Kerr Lectures in Glasgow and a Block-Seminar on the Theology of Karl Barth at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen.
The University’s Pro-Chancellor, former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and former President of Princeton Theological Seminary, The Very Reverend Professor Iain Torrance, said:
“I am truly delighted by Paul Nimmo’s appointment. He is one of the most brilliant and most promising younger scholars in his field from anywhere in the world. At the University of Edinburgh he has been acclaimed by the student body as being also a great teacher. Aberdeen has a long tradition of outstanding theology in the Reformed tradition. In the case of Paul Nimmo, the Department could not have made a better appointment, and this is good news for Reformed scholars not only in Scotland but also in the US, Korea, Japan and Africa.”
Divinity and Religious Studies is a leading research department within the University and home to one of its largest communities of international postgraduate research students. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) confirmed its status, rating 80 percent of its assessed research at 4* (world-leading) or 3* (internationally excellent). The department ranks first in Scotland and second in a field of thirty-eight departments in the UK in the Times Higher Education tables.
Best of luck, Paul – and welcome to the big leagues!
This week I had the privilege to attend a Pastor’s Conference at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C., on “Restoring the Centre: The Place of the Table in the Church.” The conference included theological expositions by Hans Boersma and Alan Torrance, “Praxis” sessions with Andrea Tisher, Joyce Rees and Brian Buhler, and ecumenical engagements with Buhler (evangelical), Fr. Lawrence Farley (Orthodox) and Tim Horman (Charismatic). The most compelling for me were the Praxis sessions, but I took no notes at these and thus will confine myself to a couple of the theological papers. After that I will raise some of the questions that sprung out of the conference as a whole.
Hans Boersma – “Eucharist and Time: Why Participation Means Sacrifice”
- With recollections from The Martyrdom of Polycarp as well as from John, Colossians, and a smattering of theologians, Boersma reflected on his discovery that ”the early church is unanimous about the Eucharist being a sacrifice”–by which we mean not a repeated or “second” sacrifice, but a “participation in the one sacrifice of Christ.”
- With James Dunn he looked at Colossians 1:24–where Paul says his sufferings “fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”–and said that our sufferings do not add something to Christ’s suffering, but do play a part in the “bringing to completion” of what is “still outstanding in the sufferings of Christ by which the world was redeemed and transformed.” Boersma made the interesting observation that this perspective (wherein our sufferings find themselves taken up in Christ’s) displaces a shallow “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” approach to life’s difficulties.
- The way Boersma made sense of this rather mysterious account of participatory suffering was to challenge a univocal understanding of time as a succession of chronological but separate points, substituting for it a sacramental understanding of time wherein past, present and future can be simultaneous to one another in the eternal Word. The same way that, for Melito of Sardis, Passover participated proleptically in the sacrifice of Christ, so our Eucharist participates in its prior accomplishment and its forward vocation.
Alan Torrance – “The Continuing Priesthood of Christ” and “The Sacraments and Proclamation”
- Torrance’s lectures were to some degree crib notes on the writings of James Torrance and Karl Barth — which means that they were good but also that I’d pondered their points before. It was fun to hear Barth presented to an evangelical audience boisterously and lucidly–and with a Scotch accent to boot.
- One of the asides that made me wonder was Torrance’s suggestion in the first lecture that prophets only emerged in Israel because of the failures of the priests and kings. “If you have good kings and priests you don’t need prophets,” he said. I’m not sure about this. I think it trades on only the negative aspect of the prophetic office. Surely the munus triplex has more positive meaning (which is something Barth himself has articulated almost better than anybody).
- Having said that, in the second lecture Torrance gave a very cogent presentation of a Barthian view of revelation in a Trinitarian frame, complete with the point that revelation has not fully occurred until it is successful, which means that it must involve the transformation of eyes and ears and lives. Revelation overcomes not only neutral unknowing but also error, and this is not by the awakening of some “innate spirituality” but by the miracle of Christ’s work of reconciliation.
- Turning to the Eucharist, then, Torrance was apt to explain that the Eucharist prioritizes the indicatives of grace from which the imperatives flow (rather than vice versa). I agreed with his correlating suggestion that the Lord’s Supper serves as an invitation and an enablement (rather than a result of) of the work of reconciliation between persons. To invert this would be the same as what we do in our moralistic preaching; turning grace into law.
Brian Buhler – “Recovering the Table for Evangelical Worship”
- This was an excellent presentation. Buhler made a great point about the “altar call” being “real presence” for non-sacramentalists, and called for a return to the Lord’s Supper as the climactic inviting and re-orientating moment in the church’s life and worship. Paul’s statement about eating in an “unworthy manner” in 1 Corinthians 11 means eating “without recognizing the body of the Lord”, and this meant not the corporeal or sacramental body of Christ, but the gathered body of believers in a social reality continuous with the freedom of the meal itself.
I had two questions arising from Boersma’s session, but re-occurring often. The first of these related to Boersma’s resistance to my suggestion (in the Q&A) that there might be a positive account of the Lord’s Supper prior to baptism (for those in the believer’s baptist tradition). In reply, Boersma simply recommended infant baptism, but I wonder if his presentation of “sacramental time” might serve as a reason to “loosen up” on a strictly sequential understanding of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
My second of these questions had to do with the fact that Boersma’s illustrations regarding suffering with Christ mostly involved suffering at the hands of others. This prompted reflection about another aspect of the Eucharistic sacrifice: Might the Meal also serve as a call to suffer with one another through conflict and misunderstanding, leaning into Christ’s provision for reconciliation by faith? Whereas some of the later panelists suggested that interpersonal and ecumenical conflicts ought to be resolved before joining in the Holy Meal, it is my feeling that the Lord’s Table might better be seen as an invitation to–and even an enablement of–such paths of resolution. At the Table–where the presence of Christ slips past our tongues without need of our words–we put our trust in the Prince of Peace and suffer with others toward the peace that is in Christ for us by faith.
One last observation: As always, there was much to say about the “real presence” of Christ at the Table. As far as it functions in church life and mission, the “real presence” rescues us from both despondent depravity and triumphalist self-reliance. But it seems to me that there may also be a sense in which the “real absence” of the enfleshed Christ at the Table (cued to us by his Ascension, and also by the fact that the body and blood are indeed bread and wine) prompts us to trust in the Spirit to be made the embodiment of Christ’s presence on earth and to each other.
The bi-annual Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference is a terrific gathering of pastors and academics to reflect together on a given theological topic. I attended the conference on the doctrine of sanctification in 2011, and there is just something about that combination that makes for good papers and good discussion. The gathering is put on by Rutherford House and hosted at New College, University of Edinburgh.
This year’s Dogmatics Conference focuses on the doctrine of Scripture. If you are in the U.K. or can get yourself to one of its premiere cities in early September, do consider putting in a paper proposal. Here is the call for papers:
CALL FOR PAPERS
Rutherford House invites short paper proposals for the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference to be held 2-5 September 2013, centred on the theme of ‘The Doctrine of Scripture.’
The Dogmatics Conference, established in 1983 and held every other year, attracts reputable scholars from around the world. This year includes: Henri Blocher, Bruce McCormack, Lewis Ayres, and Timothy Ward. It is held in Edinburgh, Scotland, which boasts a long and rich history in literature, art, and theology.
In addition to a significant group of plenary speakers, we have provided space for smaller papers, germane to this year’s theme, of 20-25 minutes each, followed by a 20 minute discussion. These papers are open both to recognised scholars and to postgraduate students.
Proposals for papers should be submitted in an abstract of 500 words or less and sent electronically to email@example.com. Please be sure to include all contact information with your proposal. The deadline for submission is 1 June.