Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nevermind. Some Apologies are in Order.

I feel like this blog is starting(!) to lose its focus -- that I'm edging more and more into the "heat" rather than the "light" category.

So let me start today by making some amends, by way of an attempt to get back on track.

First, let me apologize to anyone who works on Hegel (though I doubt such folks would bother to read this blog). Despite what I've been saying, I'm not really going to engage him now. I'm 40 years old and, if I had wanted to seriously engage Hegel, I probably would have done so already. It was intellectual hubris on my part to suggest I can do a whiz-bang refresher course in 19th century philosophy and theology as a preamble to reading Barth. Grad school is over.

There has been a good deal of interesting work in recent years attempting to give a genetic account of Barth's development in relationship to its 19th century intellectual background. Prof. McCormack's work stands out in this vein. For now, I'll content myself with Barth's own book on 19th century Protestant thought and see where I go from there.

Second, let me also apologize for some snarky comments I made about Prof. Pannenberg, especially to any students out there who may be working through his imposing corpus. His work deserves careful and thoughtful engagement, but I'm not going to do that here, at least not anytime soon. So I had best be quiet.

I will admit that some of this snarkiness comes from a sensitive personal spot: The only exchange I ever had with Prof. Pannenberg was brief and did not go very well. During my qualifying exam year, the eminent  paid a visit to the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he gave a couple lectures. At an informal luncheon talk, during the Q & A, I embarrassed myself with a question that he lightly dismissed. Everyone got a good laugh out of it -- at my expense! I still think it was a good question and that he didn't really answer it. But the exchange probably failed because of my own failure to articulate it and to persist with a clarifying follow-up.

Third, and this is the most important point I want to make, let me apologize to the conservative Neo-Calvinists, again targets of my snarkiness. Several of my friends belong to this camp, so this requires eating a particularly bitter bit of crow. There is some serious theology going on in this area, and I might have some cause to engage with it at some point. Actually, some of the Neo-Calvinists have become pretty perceptive readers of Barth.

My undergrad alma mater is Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Down there, among the restive Baptists, some conservative Presbyterian money has built a fine conservative Protestant seminary called Beeson Divinity School. Amazingly, the div. school building was constructed from the ruins of my crappy first-year college dorm. Anyway, when I worked for the Samford student newspaper, I had the privilege to interview its dean, the very fine historical theologian Timothy George: What a kind, calm and reasonable man he is!

Part of my conflictedness, too, comes out of my own Southern Baptist roots. Though I'm a confirmed, prayer-book carrying Episcopalian, I'm still genetically Baptist. That's where the orneriness comes from. My dad has been a Baptist minister since age 17. Can you imagine that! We went to a lot of SBC national convention meetings during the height of the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination, the early '80s. Our side lost: Big time.

The intellectual leading lights of the SBC makeover were and are Neo-Calvinists, including the very prominent president of the flagship SBC seminary, who, through his amazing Internet presence, has himself become something of a phenomenon within evangelicalism today. Is there a little residual pique about all this informing my petulance? Probably. Some folks want to reenact the seventeenth century Synod of Dordt. I'm not sure I'm one of them, but who knows?

But I will say this, for now, about the Neo-Calvinist movement: Some of the rhetoric about gender -- about "biblical manhood" and "womanhood" -- that flies under this banner has me alarmed. I would urge all evangelicals to keep both their minds and their Bibles open. And also, if you want to know where my sympathies in the gender debates lie, please read Rachel Held Evans.

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