Theology Feed

Hauerwas: Protestants Won. Now what?

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has an interesting take on Reformation 500 in the Washington Post.  Protestants won.  The RCC has reformed itself to address Luther's critiques. Now what?

That the Reformation has been a success, however, has put Protestantism in a crisis. Winning is dangerous — what do you do next? Do you return to Mother Church? It seems not: Instead, Protestantism has become an end in itself, even though it’s hard to explain from a Protestant point of view why it should exist. The result is denominationalism in which each Protestant church tries to be just different enough from other Protestant churches to attract an increasingly diminishing market share. It’s a dismaying circumstance.

This is an enjoyably provocative essay, but what's missing is an exploration of the ongoing nature of the Reformation, something stressed by most of the traditions.  So though the 16th century issues may have been largely resolved, the Protestant spirit and style opened us up to further developments.  That the RCC may have caught up to the 16th century in the mid-20th doesn't address the 500 years of further development on the part of Protestants.


Radiant Suggestion

For the universe is full of radiant suggestion. For whatever reason, the heart cannot separate the world's appearance and actions from morality and valor, and the power of every idea is intensified, if not actually created, by its expression in substance. Over and over in the butterfly we see the idea of transcendence. In the forest we see not the inert but the aspiring. In water that departs and forever and forever returns, we experience eternity.--Mary Oliver


Luther's The Freedom of a Christian

Today I read Martin Luther's 1520 manifesto "The Freedom of a Christian."  It is quite good.  I will be quoting from the text in upcoming sermons as part of our Reformed series.

At the beginning, he sets down two propositions which are both true: "A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all."

Here was a passages I enjoyed:

Since these promises of God are holy, true, righteous, free, and peaceful words, full of goodness, the soul which clings to them with a firm faith will be so closely united with them and altogether absorbed by them that it not only will share in all their power but will be saturated and intoxicated by them.

Since I'm also re-reading Kant ahead of teaching him again in ethics class in a few weeks, I felt the influence from Luther to Kant was clearly evident.  Kant's notion of freedom is autonomy from our desires and from any law other than that chosen by us.  We are freed to act morally. Luther also writes of freedom from the law and that once set free we can live a good life of love as we choose it as a response to God's grace rather than as a necessity to earn our salvation.  Their ideas are not the same, but one can see how Kant's notion would emerge from a milieu governed by Luther's ideas.


95 Theses

Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses: With Introduction, Commentary, and Study GuideMartin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses: With Introduction, Commentary, and Study Guide by Timothy J Wengert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Timothy Wengert's translation is easy and engaging to read, and his introductions and commentary are informative and helpful. A good refresher as the 500th anniversary of the theses approaches.

My favourite segment was from Luther's 1518 sermon on indulgences, which reveals Luther's fun, fiery pen:

Although some now want to call me a heretic, nevertheless I consider such blathering not big deal, especially since the only ones doing this are some darkened minds, who have never even smelled a Bible, who have never read a Christian teacher, and who do not even understand their own teachers but instead remain stuck with their shaky and close-minded opinions. For if they had understood them, they would have known that they should not defame anyone without a hearing and without refuting them. Still, may God give them and us a right understanding! Amen.

I really enjoy the "who have never even smelled a Bible."

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The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art

The Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive ArtThe Revelatory Body: Theology as Inductive Art by Luke Timothy Johnson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Johnson begins the book:

Two simple convictions animate this exercise in theology. The first is that the human body is the preeminent arena for God's revelation in the world, the medium through which God's Holy Spirit is most clearly expressed. God's self-disclosure in the world is thus continuous and constant. The second conviction is that the task of theology is the discernment of God's self-disclosure in the world through the medium of the body. Therefore, theology is necessarily an inductive art rather than a deductive science.

With that promising beginning and enticing first chapter the book fails to live up to expectations. It is a thoroughgoing phenomenology of bodily experience, but with little developed theological reflection, in my opinion. For instance, James McClendon places the body first in his theology to much richer effect.

I did appreciate Johnson, a Catholic theologian, entering into a robust discussion of sexuality and gender with a valuable discussion of intersex bodies and what their reality suggests for theology. Again, this is material I've encountered before in queer thinkers, but was refreshing to discover here in Roman Catholic theology.

One of the book's primary aims seems to be a criticism of John Paul II's writing on the body and sexuality. Had I known that the book had that more limited focus, I probably wouldn't have read it.

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Hauerwas's letter to college freshmen

This delicious paragraph:

Books, moreover, are often the way in which our friendships with our fellow students and teachers begin and in which these friendships become cemented. I’m not a big fan of Francis Schaeffer, but he can be a point of contact—something to agree with or argue about. The same is true for all writers who tackle big questions. Read Plato, Aristotle, Hume, and John Stuart Mill, and not just because you might learn something. Read them because doing so will provide a sharpness and depth to your conversations. To a great extent, becoming an educated person means adding lots of layers to your relationships. Sure, going to the big football game or having a beer (legally) with your buddies should be fun on its own terms, but it’s also a reality ripe for analysis, discussion, and conversation. If you read Mary Douglas or Claude Levi-Strauss, you’ll have something to say about the rituals of American sports. And if you read Jane Austen or T. S. Eliot, you’ll find you see conversations with friends, particularly while sharing a meal, in new ways. And, of course, you cannot read enough Trollope. Think of books as the fine threads of a spider’s web. They link and connect.

occurs in an enjoyable essay theologian Stanley Hauerwas wrote for college freshmen in 2010.


A New Gospel for Women

A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian FeminismA New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism by Kristin Kolbes Dumez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A revelation that Katharine Bushnell, an evangelical feminist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century developed a complete theological reconstruction and new interpretation of the Bible that anticipated developments of the 1970's sometimes as often as 80 years before. Dumez is trying to recover this forgotten figure and use her as a resource to help 21st century Christian women in the global church to draw simultaneously upon Christian faith from an evangelical hermeneutic and the feminist reconstruction of the faith.

This is a clearly written, well researched book, about a fascinating figure and an entire movement in American political and religious life of which I knew very little.

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