Recap of the spring 2007 semester

In my return to blogging after a hiatus due to finals, I would like to recap my semester in terms of the most important insights I gained theologically or academically. The spring 2007 semester brings my second year at Princeton Theological Seminary to a close, during which I co-helmed the editorship of the Princeton Theological Review, presented a paper at the regional AAR meeting, and took many more theologically stimulating courses from some of the great professors at this institution. In the midst of this environment, here are just three of the things I learned over the past several months:

1. The centrality of theological exegesis for the church today. Two of the courses that I took this semester dealt with relation between systematic theology and biblical exegesis—one in terms of how Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans holds up in light of scholarship on Paul’s epistle to the Romans, and the other examining Galatians with an eye toward theological scholarship. These two courses revealed two important things for me: first, that I love theological exegesis, and second, that theological exegesis is of central importance for the church today. The former was clear in how much I enjoyed writing my papers for those two courses, but the latter is much more significant. The church today suffers from a lack of biblical knowledge and a complacency regarding the core doctrines of the church. The Bible has become a dead letter due to the failure of churches to ground their identity in the gospel, and theology has become a dead letter due to the failure of theologians to escape from the academic ghettoization of theology. Theological exegesis holds a lot of promise for the church as an enterprise which seeks to reinvigorate examination of the Bible without losing sight of the central dogmas of the church. At the same time, theological exegesis engages in rich theological exposition while attending to the texts that shape the life of the church community. Hopefully, the current interest in theological exegesis is a sign of great things to come.

2. The significance of Schleiermacher today. A course on Schleiermacher this semester with Bruce McCormack was especially instructive. It is difficult to read Barth without understanding Schleiermacher, and this course was particularly helpful in elucidating the central theological insights of the great Berlin theologian. It was helpful to see how Schleiermacher upholds the insights of Chalcedon while dismissing Nicaea, how he grounds election in a single, eternal divine decree (anticipating Barth’s later christological grounding of election), how he dialectically interrelates the natural and the supernatural, and how his system expands upon his basic foundation in the feeling of absolute dependence (not always consistently, as his doctrine of creation demonstrates). For me, especially, having grown up in American evangelicalism, the connections to Schleiermacher’s theology are manifold, and hopefully I will have a chance to explore these later.

3. The ecumenical possibilities in a theology of the eucharist. I truly enjoyed my course on the eucharist with George Hunsinger, where we explored the ecumenical possibilities of a theology of the Lord’s Supper which seeks to faithfully uphold the central insights of the major traditions in the Christian church. The course was both historical and systematic, and throughout we sought to identify the key elements of each tradition in order to see how they cohered with other articulations of the eucharist. In the end, we went back to the Reformers—Peter Martyr Vermigli, in particular, but Luther and Calvin as well—to uncover some obscure connections with Orthodox sacramentology which may prove to be ecumenically fruitful. In the end, I find myself quite optimistic about the theological possibilities, but much less optimistic about the ecumenical possibilities. In my study of Hans Urs von Balthasar for this paper, and having read some thoughts by Orthodox leaders, it is clear that simply articulating a theological position on the eucharist which is acceptable to all will not bring about a common table—though I can certainly hope and pray that such a theology will be the first step toward such a reality.


vassilip said…
you are right saying that a common theological position on eucharist is not enough for a christian union.
union is possible only through a common experience of Christ--a common-wealth of God's incarnate love. but such common experience is not possible as long as we "Christians" feel strong and assured about our cultural-religious idols--as long as we miss the messianic character of our life (cf 1Cor 7:29-31).
I always get nervous when people propose ecumenism through common commitment to the sacraments--because I know that means they are gonna marginalize those of us committed to believers' baptism--again.

I look forward to hearing more on F.D.E. Schleiermacher. Trying to affirm Chalcedon while dismissing Nicea sounds confused, to say the least.

I am committed to theological exegesis--but only in conversation with critical exegesis. In this regard, I find Moltmann superior to Barth.
WTM said…
4 semesters down, 2 to go! Keep up the good work!
D.W. Congdon said…
Michael, what do you understand by "critical exegesis"? I find it highly unlikely that Moltmann could be a better exegete than Barth. I'm open to being proved wrong on this point, but it seems like a massively difficult thesis to maintain.
David, Barth's exegesis was very often spot-on--VERY often--but it was not in dialogue with critical biblical scholarship. Moltmann's is--he cites the scholars with whom he is in dialogue. But Moltmann does not just repeat the conclusions of literary or historical critics without theological reflection. That combination seems essential to me.

Barth would claim that he had nothing against biblical critics (except that they weren't critical enough), but one could seldom see if he actually learned anything from them or allowed their insights to impact his exegesis at all.
D.W. Congdon said…

You are right that Barth does not obviously interact with contemporary biblical scholarship, but that's not to say that he doesn't in fact engage with such scholarship in his constructive exegesis. The problem with Barth is not that he fails to engage such scholarship, but that he fails to show his work. This is most evident in his commentary on Romans. And certainly, showing one's work is important, particularly when one wishes to make a contribution to the exegetical literature and not simply to systematic theology.

To change the topic ... I don't think anyone committed to the Reformation wants to see ecumenism built upon the sacraments. That's not what I intended to say. What I meant was that the course explored the possibility of an ecumenical consensus on the Lord's Supper. Hunsinger is not so naive as to think that we can actually achieve unity through a common theology of the eucharist; he just hopes that we can find a way for the different traditions to commune together.
a. steward said…
David -

Have you heard much about the Brazos' new series, the Theological Commentary on the Bible? It looks pretty interesting - essentially it is a chance for theologians who have done most of their work in systematics or ethics or whatever to give a showing of how they engage directly with the Bible. For instance, they've got Jaroslav Pelican on Acts, Stanley Hauerwas on Matthew, and Robert Jenson on Ezekiel.

B.t.w., I'm about done with Dogmatics in Outline. What a ton of theological bricks! I mean it's hitting me like one. An excellent recommendation - I'll be passing it along to the blogosfera soon.
D.W. Congdon said…

I think the Brazos commentary series is one of the best things to happen in decades. It's a fantastic series already, and the best ones are still to come! I most look forward to John Webster's Ephesians commentary. Hopefully, when this one is finished, they will do another series. It's the kind of thing that I can see being replicated over and over again.
WTM said…
In addition to Webster's "Ephesians," I look forward to Hunsinger's "Philippians" and some OT work by an up-and-coming young theologian named Dan Treier.
a. steward said…
Dan Trier is one of the associate editors (with Vanhoozer, N.T. Wright, and Craig Bartholomew) of the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, a really sweet reference book.
WTM said…
Indeed, that volume was on my shelf as the product of a discounted pre-order. It is a great volume.

Dan Treier was a teacher of mine at Wheaton.
a. steward said…
Yeah, somehow I got it for $15 at Windows.