Archive for February, 2010

More on Conference on “The Morally Divided Body: Ethical Disagreement and the Disunity of the Church”

February 14, 2010

The titles for the presentations at this summer’s conference on “The Morally Divided Body: Ethical Disagreement and the Disunity of the Church” are now set. They are (in order of presentation):

Robert Jenson, Can Ethical Disagreement Break Church Fellowship?
Beth Barton Schweiger, Race, Slavery, and Shattered Churches in Early America
Frederick Bauerschmidt,“Doctrine: Knowing and Doing.
Joseph Small, Internal Injuries: Moral Division Within the Churches
Susan Wood, Unity in the Sacraments and Unity in Life
David Yeago, The Gospel and the Good Life: Why the Gracious God Cares About the Way We Live
James J. Buckley, Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Christian Doctrine, Ethics, or Politics?

The conference is sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology and will be at Loyola University, Baltimore, MD, June 14-16, 2010. More information is at the Center’s website and online registration is here.

I think this will be an interesting and highly relevant conference.


Bp. James Crumley on Our Situation

February 14, 2010

Many will have already read them, but here is a link to the recent comments by former LCA presiding bishop James Crumley. Bp. Crumley is the paradigm of what used to be called a ‘churchman.’ His reflections are worth pondering.

D. Yeago on “Facing Reality in the ELCA”

February 10, 2010

A new page on the right (click here) contains a presentation by David Yeago on “Facing Reality in the ELCA,” given on February 6, 2010, at a “Day of Holy Conversation” in the South Carolina Synod. The presentation by Prof. Susan McArver is on the South Carolina Synod website (here).

Lutheran Options

February 7, 2010

Contemporary Lutheranism is impoverished by the narrowing in the last few decades of theological options. My own negative reading of Forde far predates my ecumenical work, but goes back to grad school in the mid-1970s and was a function of the kind of Lutheran theology that engaged me.

When I began graduate school I was bowled over by my first detailed encounter with Barth’s Church Dogmatics. Quickly, however, I came to have some of the standard Lutheran doubts about the systematic structure of Barth’s theology. The critique of Barth by Elert, focussing on the categories of law and gospel, seemed inadequate. I discovered Regin Prenter, the Danish theologian who had begun as a disciple of Barth, but broke with him in the 1940s. Prenter used the richer categories of creation and redemption to criticize Barth. When I learned to (very haltingly) read Danish, I discovered how deeply Prenter’s understanding of creation and its role in theology was indebted to Nicolai Grundtvig. (The English translations of Prenter eliminate most of the discussions of Grundtvig.) Grundtvig’s positive evaluation of creation and its important function in his outlook lays a groundwork for a more nuanced understanding of law. When I then read Forde’s The Law-Gospel Debate, my suspicion was aroused by the absence of any significant, positive function for the doctrine of creation.

Grundtvig’s writings are something of a mess and there are many versions of Grundtvigianism, but he represents an option within the Lutheran tradition quite different from what one finds in, say, Forde or Eberhard Jüngel.

Another lost strand is that of the Heidelberg school of the mid-twentieth century: Edmund Schlink, Peter Brunner, and, a bit later, Albrecht Peters. Their most important work was not translated into English. Here there is a confessionally serious, but more ecumenically open sort of Lutheranism, less shaped by existentialism or the urge to make Lutheranism distinctive. This school has little influence in Germany today (despite its extension in Wolfhart Pannenberg), but lives on to a degree in Robert Jenson, who did his doctoral work with Peter Brunner. A rediscovery, especially of Brunner, would do Lutheranism much good.

A Few Criteria for Assessing Lutheran Discussions of Law

February 5, 2010

Some criteria for assessing Lutheran discussions of law:

1. Can a particular understanding of law make sense of Luther’s criticism of such things as pilgrimages? Luther argued that such actions are not commanded by God and thus we cannot know that they are God-pleasing. Such actions as honoring our parents, however, are commanded by God and so we know we are doing what God wishes when we honor our parents. It seems to me that some recent Lutheran presentations on law cannot make sense of this argument by Luther.

2. Can a particular understanding of law make sense of the sections on the Ten Commandments in Luther’s Large and Small Catechisms? Luther here clearly presents the law as instruction on what persons (Christians included) ought to do. There may be some understandings of a ‘third use of the law’ that are objectionable (e.g., directly deriving legal or political structures from Old Testament models), but that there is a kind of third use, a pedagogical use, in the Catechisms’ discussion of the Commandments seems obvious.

3. Can a particular understanding of law make sense of Ps. 119? We may want to make distinctions between what ‘law’ means in this psalm and what it means when law is contrasted with gospel, but the two uses overlap significantly. In both cases, they involve moral instruction. And the psalmist gives thanks for the law as a blessing: “Oh, how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97). This psalm is not an obscure passage to be passed over; it has been an important part of Christian prayer

The law always accuses, but it does not only accuse, nor does it only accuse and restrain. It instructs. If that is not Lutheran, then Lutheranism is not biblical.

Conference on “The Morally Divided Body”

February 3, 2010

This year’s conference of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology will be on the theme: “The Morally Divided Body: Ethical Disagreement and the Disunity of the Church.” It will be held June 14-16 at Loyola University, Baltimore, Maryland. The keynote address will be by Robert Jenson. David Yeago will also be among the presenters. A full list of presenters and other information is on the Center’s website. Online registration (also for housing) is here.
The conference has a strong group of speakers and is certainly relevant to the issues of the day. There is an early-bird registration fee until March 30 and a very, very low student registration rate. I hope some of you can attend.