Thursday, May 25, 2006

Springsteen and Pannenberg (now that's an unusual combo!)

"The Easter event and the resurrection on which Christian hope is set are no less limitless than creation. Only the Creator can awaken the dead, and resurrection from the dead shows what it means to be Creator." --- Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (417)

Jesus kissed his mother's hands
Whispered, "Mother, still your tears,
For remember the Soul of the universe
Willed a world and it appeared."
--- Springsteen, "Jesus Was an Only Son"

It's amazing how musicians can sometimes articulate theological concepts better than theologians. Of course, Springsteen is no ordinary musician. His work has always possessed a strong spiritual component (the ever-present "Mary" in his early songs certainly attests to his Catholic upbringing). However, it seems to me that Bruce has become more explicitly Christian of late. This became very clear in The Rising album, where Christian themes and imagery are everywhere. And on his most recent album, The Seeger Sessions, he includes the African American spiritual "Mary Don't You Weep", which continues the leitmotiv of "Jesus was an Only Son":

Mary wore three links of chain
On every link was Jesus' name
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep
O Mary don't you weep, don't mourn
O Mary don't you weep, don't mourn
Pharaoh's army got drownded
O Mary don't you weep

What's fascinating about this song is the interweaving of Old and New Testament events (the song also combines references to Noah and the eschaton in the same stanza). Of course, Springsteen didn't write this song, but his inclusion of several spirituals on the Seeger album is indicative of a religious mindset. Who knows? Perhaps he's working on his systematic theology right now (and maybe Pannenberg is picking up a guitar...).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Jüngel on the Web

Great news!! D.W. Congdon at The Fire and the Rose has started a new blog devoted solely to the theology of Eberhard Jüngel. D.W. is one of the few experts on Jüngel this side of the Atlantic, and he's managed to read and compile all of Jüngel's English-language works (I'm quite jealous). Please consult his site for all your Jüngel needs.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Two Views on Faith and Doubt

"When a man has become a Catholic, were he to set about following a doubt which has occurred to him, he has already disbelieved. I have not to warn him against losing his faith, he is not merely in danger of losing it, he has lost it; from the nature of the case he has already lost it; he fell from grace at the moment when he deliberately entertained and pursued his doubt. No one can determine to doubt what he is already sure of; but if he is not sure that the Church is from God, he does not believe it. It is not I who forbid him to doubt; he has taken the matter into his own hands when he determined on asking for leave; he has begun, not ended, in unbelief; his very wish, his purpose, is his sin. I do not make it so, it is such from the very state of the case....

"The [Catholic] Church cannot allow her children the liberty of doubting the truth of her word. He who really believes in it now, cannot imagine the future discovery of reasons to shake his faith; if he imagines it, he has not faith; and that so many Protestants think it a sort of tyranny in the Church to forbid any children of hers to doubt about her teaching, only shows they do not know what faith is, which is the case; it is a strange idea to them. Let a man cease to inquire, or cease to call himself her child." --- John Henry Newman (by way of this post at Pontifications)

"Faith is certain in so far as it is an experience of the holy. But faith is uncertain in so far as the infinite to which it is related is received by a finite being. This element of uncertainty in faith cannot be removed, it must be accepted. And the element in faith which accepts this is courage. Faith includes an element of immediate awareness which gives certainty and an element of uncertainty...

"Doubt is not a permanent experience within the act of faith. But it is always present as an element in the structure of faith. This is the difference between faith and immediate evidence either of a perceptual or of logical character. There is no faith without an intrinsic "in spite of" and the courageous affirmation of oneself in the state of ultimate concern... If doubt appears, it should not be considered as the negation of faith, but as an element which was always and will always be present in the act of faith. Existential doubt and faith are poles of the same reality, the state of ultimate concern." --- Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (pg. 18, 24-25).

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Pannenberg's Ecstacy

“All spiritual experience has…an ecstatic tinge. But the same is true of life in general. There is no being that could live without an ecological context. Each plant or animal in a certain way exists outside itself in seeking its food and nourishing itself from its surroundings. When modern biochemists describe the phenomenon of life as autocatalytic exploitation of an energy gradient, such a description yields the same idea of life as an ecstatic phenomenon, a phenomenon which is surprisingly close to the Christian idea of faith as described in the theology of the Reformation: an existence outside itself, realized in the act of trust in God. Could it be that, basically, faith is the uncrippled and untainted enactment of the movement and rhythm of all life as it was intended by the creator? Could it be, conversely, that all life in its self-transcendence is related to God? The psalmist says of the young lions that when they “roar for their prey” they are “seeking their food from God” (Ps. 104:21). Can we take this as a clue to the understanding of all life, to the effect that its ecstatic self-transcendence is primarily related to God and that in this way the range of its finite object (including the prey of the lions) is opened up to a living being? Anyway, the ecstatic self-transcendence of life is not something that is in the power of the organism itself, but arises as its response to a power that seizes it and, by lifting it beyond itself, inspires life into it. --- Wolfhart Pannenberg, Introduction to Systematic Theology (pg. 44-45)

Does anybody care to comment on this fascinating quote from Pannenberg?

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Debate Continues...

On his always-excellent blog Sinning Boldly, Melancthon has offered an interesting response to my posts on ecumenism, the JDDJ, and the Finnish school. Drawing from the Lindbeck approach to ecumenism, he argues that we "do not need to have detailed theological agreement in order to mend our differences" with the Catholic church. Please check it out.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Jüngel On Ecumenism

In the midst of the debate and confusion surrounding the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ), Eberhard Jüngel published Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith in an effort to bring some clarity to the situation. The book rarely addresses the JDDJ directly, but instead tries to answer the questions "What does Protestant mean?... Who or what really deserves to be called Protestant." It was Jüngel's hope that a straightforward and robust presentation of the basic Protestant article of the "justification of the ungodly by faith alone" would implicitly demonstrate that the JDDJ is not "the breakthrough it believes itself to be" and that it "rests on ground which proves at places quite slippery." The result is a brilliant and compelling exposition of the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae that is valuable beyond the polemical context of its origin. Sadly, the book is difficult to find in the US, as few libraries carry it and the cost is outrageous ($50 for the paperback edition!).

Given recent discussions on this site regarding justification, I hope to provide a more detailed summary of this book in future. For now, I think it's worthwhile to highlight Jüngel's thoughts on ecumenism in general. In doing so, it's important to remember that he is an avowed ecumenist who has been active in dialogues between Lutherans and Catholics for a number of years. However, Jüngel is firm in his belief that ecumenical progress cannot be purchased at the expense of doctrinal clarity and intellectual honesty. Thus, he admits that he "takes little pleasure in compromise." But this shouldn't be taken as mere stubbornness or confessional sterility on his part. As John Webster mentions in the introduction, for Jüngel, "contending about the truth is itself a contribution to ecumenism, since it is the truth of the gospel which is the only ground for peace." As Jüngel says, "ecumenism only flourishes when we on both sides become more Protestant in the best sense of the word. Then we on both sides also become more Catholic in the best sense of the word."

Based on such criteria, Jüngel's objections to the JDDJ were many, and I won't go into them here. Suffice it to say, he found "no sound theological foundations laid here 'on the way to overcoming the division of the church'. For here decisive insights of the Reformation were either obscured or surrendered." Moreover, in Justification, he seems to ask the question: Is anything really gained from such agreements?
"How is it possible to reconcile an ecumenical 'consensus about fundamental truths of the doctrine of justification' with the Pope's announcement of a Jubilee indulgence for the year 2000? An even more pressing issue is how to square that consensus with the spiritual outrage that, from the Roman Catholic point of view, there can still be no fellowship at the Eucharist between Protestant and Catholic Christians. Can we really, as the authors of the Joint Declaration expressly do at the end, 'give thanks to the Lord for this decisive step forward on the way to overcoming the division of the church', when we are not authorized to celebrate the Eucharist together?"

In other words, if ecumenical agreements like the JDDJ are completely divorced from Church practice (i.e, like indulgences and communion fellowship) what is the point of these exercises? Given the importance of justification as "the article on which the church stands or falls", fundamental agreement on this matter should be enough to allow the two sides to share the Lord's Supper together. The fact that such fellowship does not exist (at least from one side) suggests to me that the agreement is only skin-deep.

Monday, May 01, 2006

A Fixed Date for British Easter?

There was an interesting editorial (or as they call it across the pond, a "leader") in today's Guardian extolling the virtues of the May Day holiday. It's one of eight public holidays enjoyed by workers in the UK, and the Guardian laments the fact that there aren't more. While this complaint will likely sound like whining to most Americans, who are notoriously overworked, I agree that we could all use more vacation. However, I found part of the editorial a bit strange:
"... Because this year the May Day holiday actually falls on May 1 - many of us will be only too aware that it is a mere two weeks since the last one on Easter Monday. With so few public holidays to go round, surely we could arrange things rather better, as well as more generously, than this?... The real issue in any attempt to tidy up the spring public holidays is not whether May Day should be a holiday but agreement on a fixed Easter. It is nearly 80 years since parliament passed an Easter Act (still in force), which allowed the church a veto over any purely secular attempt to anchor Easter more sensibly on the last weekend in March or the first in April. But do not hold your breath while this happens. Even progressive church elders recoil from a unilaterally fixed British Easter."

How annoying that Easter (and Passover, for that matter) doesn't have a fixed place on the calendar, and that the Church of England refuses to accommodate itself to the vacation needs of the British people!! Doesn't the Church realize that "British Easter", whatever its origin in ancient religious tradition, is not really about worship - it's about a three-day weekend of travel and relaxation! Clearly, the time has come for a new Easter Act that's more in tune with the modern age (after all, it's been 80 years since the last one).

To my American ears, this all sounds quite ridiculous. Does Parliament really think they have the authority to set a date for Easter? And if they did succeed in passing a revised Easter Act, would members of the Church of England be required to celebrate Easter on a different day than Episcopalians in America or Australia? Or is "British Easter" something different that "Christian Easter"? Regardless, even the Guardian acknowledges that their scheme has little chance of success:
"Even if the western churches could agree [on a fixed date for Easter], there is still the problem of the separate orthodox Easter to overcome. And it is unlikely that a festival so intimately linked to the Jewish Passover can ever be fixed more conveniently. Much better to enjoy the current jumble and press politicians for extra public holidays in midsummer and mid-autumn."

With regards to that last remark, they offer a few suggestions: "Trafalgar Day, Guy Fawkes, or even Margaret Thatcher's birthday." Considering the Guardian's politics, they must be really desperate for more vacation if they're willing to make Thatcher's birthday a holiday!