von Balthasar's Engagement with God

Hans Urs von Balthasar opens his Engagement with God with the observation that, "The world of today, when faced with the Christian Church, is filled with a sense of profound mistrust" (pp. 1). He goes on to claim that the probable reason for this is that people are more likely to "put their faith in the kind of activity that effectively changes the world, whatever the ideological background to this may be," and the church is no longer on the cutting edge of such innovation. So then, considering the wealth of options for political movements across a wide spectrum, if the church understands such action in the world, such 'good works,' as only being possible as works of the church, then "she would be likely to speak of a hidden presence of 'grace', to be discerned wherever men acted in this way, and to describe a man engaged in such activities as an 'anonymous Christian'." (At this point, the sudden and apparently underhanded reference to Karl Rahner made me laugh out loud.)

While von Balthasar appreciates the universal thrust of this line of thinking - for, after all, Christ's salvific ambition has greatly exceeded the boundaries of the visible church - he also wishes to proceed with caution. The gift of this interpretation is that it reminds us that "the Church at heart stands open to the world. But it creates the impression, particularly for those outside the Church, that the visible Church is nothing more than an institution, burdened with a quantity of rules, laws, and precepts as to what is to be believed and how life is to be conducted, whereas the very essence of the life of this institution can equally well be found outside its walls, scattered all over the world" (pp. 2). In other words, once the theory of "anonymous Christians" is widely accepted it becomes apparent that the political fruits of her purported purpose are pursued plentifully outside her walls, leading to the reduction of the church's role to the purely formal, and therefore robbing her of her credibility.

The thrust of his argument, however, is not to leave behind Rahner's concern for the universal, opting instead for the inwardness of the church so as to preserve credibility. Rather, he's going to pursue the "anonymous light" of Christianity exactly in its universal particularity. For von Balthasar, it seems as though this light is none other than the resurrected Christ, one who cannot be re-crucified - but whose disciples can. Thus the theme of Engagement with God "is to ask ourselves the question, what is this power or this brilliant light, from where does it derive, and what is the connection between the source of power that nourishes the Christian and his involvement with mankind?" (pp. 5).

For von Balthasar this quest will involve the fact that freedom, that ever present goal of modern humanity's thought and politics, is to be truly found not in any of its modern manifestations, but in the true Christian. What the modern world seeks so interminably - even restlessly - the church already has in Christ. It is the church and not Marxism, free enterprise, or Enlightenment reason; Christianity and not Freud's or Nietzsche's or deconstructionism's attempts to liberate us that "provides the one glimmer of the light of freedom in a world of murder and senselessness" (pp. 7).

The world's mistrust, as we said at the outset, is a problem, but not one whose answers can be found in the world itself (a move that dooms us to a further loss of credibility). The answers are already with us, in the legitimate freedom found in the person of the resurrected Christ.

I find von Balthasar's notion of 'credibility' intriguing. (I'm wondering if I should have picked up his Love Alone is Credible before this one.) It reminds me of Hauerwas' use of 'intelligibility', though it seems to go a step further. Hauerwas' concern in that one particular word 'intelligible' I think is more basic - he wants to make sure that we are saying something coherent, that the things the church says and does have at least the possibility of being understood by the world, and for that matter, by the church itself. 'Credibility' seems just a touch stronger, requiring intelligibility but then demanding that that which is intelligible be also believable. Hauerwas has a similar concern as well, and I think this is always what he wants to get at eventually when he uses 'intelligible'. He wants Christian witness to be understandable by both the Church and the world so that all might believe. I wonder to what degree von Balthasar's development of 'credibility' will end up differing with Hauerwas here. The emphasis on freedom is so far an attractive addition,

Stay tuned as I try to figure out not only 'credibility', but also how von Balthasar will deal with the universality of extra-church political action qua good works, connecting that to the particularity of the truly free life of discipleship to the resurrected Christ.

People Currently Residing in My Head

Abigail wanted me to make a list of the thinkers I reference in class, and write a few words about each of them and what kinds of questions they are dealing with. This is a start. These are people whose thoughts have influenced my own, with a particular emphasis on things I've read or interacted with recently and therefore might be more likely to reference. I included pictures, because Abigail seems to think that might get me an extra bathroom in my mansion in heaven, and Jesus said to store up treasures in heaven (by which I'm sure he would have included bathrooms had there been indoor plumbing in the first century). So here it is:

Karl Barth

Swiss theologian/really neat guy. When I got my copy of his Church Dogmatics in the mail, a certain classmate of mine responded, "Retire your Bible!" I look forward to reading him after I'm all done with school.

YoderJohnH1 John Howard Yoder

Awesome facial hair. Mennonite theologian, studied in Switzerland where he had the chance to take a number of classes with Karl Barth. His The Politics of Jesus was widely read and very influential. The cross, not the sword, controls the meaning of history. The relationship between the obedience of God's people and the triumph of God's cause is not one of cause and effect but of cross and resurrection. The church is an alternative polis and engages politically on its own terms. Turn ons: Luke's gospel. Turn offs: Constantinianism.

mcclendon James Wm. McClendon, Jr.

Grew up Baptist in Louisiana, went to the University of Texas (my alma mater - Hook 'em Horns!) and Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Was fired from a teaching post at a Southern Baptist seminary in California for sending students to march with Martin Luther King Jr., and he was also fired from a teaching post at a Catholic school in California for being against the Vietnam War. Other than a year as visiting professor of theology at Notre Dame in the 70's (where Yoder, MacIntyre and Hauerwas were all teaching at the time), he pretty much stuck to the West coast. He wrote a non-foundationalist systematic theology from a "baptist" (intentionally small 'b') perspective, by which he intended to include Baptists, Mennonites, Campbellites, Brethren, and many others. His 'baptist vision' is this is that and then is now, by which he means that the church today is the church at the resurrection and the church on the last days. His systematic starts with Ethics (how must the church live to be the church? - Way, Watch-care, Witness), moves on to Doctrine (what must the church teach to be the church? - starts with eschatology, examines the Identity of Jesus Christ and finally the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit), and finishes with Witness (what must the church's stance vis a vis the world be in order to be the church? - theology and culture, theology and philosophy, theology of mission). Wittgenstein, MacIntyre, Yoder, the Radical Reformation.

murphy-nanceyNancey Murphy

Church of the Brethren, Fuller Seminary. Studied Philosophy of Science with Paul Feyerband and Theology with James McClendon. Holism in epistemology. Thinks of theology in terms of Imre Lakatos' concept of scientific research programs. She's a nonreductive physicalist: is there a soul? Sure, but it's embodied. Modern neuroscience, Anglo-American Postmodernism (Wittgenstein, MacIntyre, philosophers of science after Kuhn).

Hauerwas Stanley Hauerwas

Methodist, grew up in Texas as the son of a bricklayer. Studied at Yale, I think before George and Hans were around. Took Old Testament courses from Brevard Childs, who made him think that Ezekiel was Karl Barth. Influenced by many, influencer of many. Time magazine called him "America's Best Theologian", and he thinks that's hilarious: "Best is not a theological category." He doesn't like liberalism. At all. He does like thinking of Methodist identity in terms of being high church Mennonites or  free church Catholics. He thinks Christians should tell the truth. Virtue, narrative, church. Yoder, MacIntyre, Wittgenstein. Teaches at Duke.

lindbeck George Lindbeck

Yale School. Invented the world "postliberal". Cognitive and propositional ways of understanding religion are dumb. And he seems to think experiental and expressivist ways of understanding religions are dumber. Religions are more like cultures or languages. If you proclaim "Jesus is Lord" while striking down the infidel, you're a liar. Kuhn and Wittgenstein. Karl Barth is also a major influence of the Yale School.

frei Hans Frei

Yale School Postliberal. He's bringing narrative back. Narrative got the boot in 18th and 19th century hermeneutics. He seems to want to give historical criticism similar treatment. For a Christian, disbelief in the resurrection is rationally impossible. Karl Barth is a type 4 theologian, and you should be too.

richard-hays Richard Hays

Methodist New Testament scholar, New Perspective on Paul. Subjective genitive, Paul as interpreter of Israel's scriptures. New Testament ethics is about community, cross and new creation. Teaches at Duke.

Michael J. Gorman

New Testament, New Perspective on Paul. Studied with Bruce Metzger. Paul is the apostle of the crucified Lord. MJG, Paul and Jesus are all about cruciformity: the way of discipleship is the way of the cross, ethics is about the cross, Jesus is exercising his divinity in the cross - pretty much everything has to do with the cross. And he's right; everything does have to do with the cross. What did you have for lunch? Oh, wow, that really reminds me of the cross! He also apparently has taught adjunct at MHGS, probably before we got Badley.

Willard Swartley

Mennonite New Testament scholar. Narrative and Sabbath. Synoptic Gospels. Peace and peacemaking are major New Testament themes, and are quite a bit bigger (theologically and ethically) than merely "nonviolence".

Nicholas Lash

British Catholic theologian. Some texts, like Shakespeare's King Lear, are not to be merely read, but instead must be performed. The Bible is such a text, and the church is the group of "performers", most explicitly in the Eucharist but also in her life together. Hope is the Christian alternative to the optimism and despair (both of which claim to know too much about the future) we find in the world.

Herbert McCabe, OP

Dominican. Thomist. Wittgensteinian Marxist. But God still matters. Wanna understand the Trinity? Be filled with the Holy Spirit and look at the cross.

Most importantly, there's a chance that he may be somehow (very) distantly related to me, through my ancestor John McCabe who fled his homeland during the potato famine as a stowaway on a cattle boat, ending up in South Carolina and (several generations later) giving me reason to call myself "Cabe".

macintyre Alasdair MacIntyre

Scottish Catholic moral philosopher influenced by McCabe. Thomas Aquinas' moral philosophy brought to bear upon the moral discourse of our (post)modern world, which he argues is in grave disorder. Liberal modern individualism is the problem; a community shaped by particular narratives and practices and with a particular account of the virtues, the unity of a human life and the concept of a tradition is the answer. Taught at Notre Dame, where Hauerwas and Yoder and McClendon all found themselves in the late 1970s.

terryeagleton460 Terry Eagleton

Influenced by McCabe. Marxism for the (post-)postmodern world (This is not your father's Marxism). Sympathetic to Christianity. Likes to rip on (the new) atheists and the post-structuralists.

Thomas Kuhn

Philosopher/Historian of Science. Nancy Murphy describes him as the first to think about science in terms of holism rather than foundationalism. The Structure of Scientific Revoloutions is a widely read and influential text. Scientists assume their paradigm rather than constantly submitting it to scrutiny, and this is a good thing because it allows for normal science to do its proper work. Major changes happen through paradigm shifts or revolutions. Just read the book, it's really interesting.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Philosopher of language and other things. Hung out with the Logical Positivists in Vienna, but they didn't get along too well. Spent much of his career in England with Bertrand Russell. His Tractatus Logico Philosophicus is an exemplary text of modern philosophy. The rest of his work was published posthumously, and could be thought of as being the first philosophy to move beyond modernity. Language games. The foundation is carried by the whole house. Pictures. Lots of other things. McClendon claims he was a Christian, albeit a peculiar one.

That was kind of fun. Did that help? Who have you been influenced by?