Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Year Ahead

I have officially begun an MTh. What, exactly, will that entail? My "field" is theological aesthetics, in the Hans Urs von Balthasar/David Bentley Hart sense of the term. I won't, therefore, be looking at the role of the arts in Christian worship, though I will no doubt do some reading on that. Rather, I will be aiming towards concepts such as form, sense perception, and more specifically, a dissertation on the human body as understood by (potentially) Maximus the Confessor and Jonathan Edwards (two theological aestheticians par excellence). Individual modules will focus on the interface of Scripture and theology, which, as a former graduate from Emmaus Scripture school and as one who has been most heavily influenced by New Testament scholar Dr Arden Autry, is a topic I care very much about. From what I've read of Balthasar's The Glory of the Lord, there is potential in the realm of theological aesthetics for better understandings of, for example, the relation between Old and New Testament, Scripture and theological reflection, philosophy and theology, and all sorts of other "conundrums".

Thus far my reading has concentrated on the phenomenon known as "New Testament theology", with the final two essays in this particular module examining the relationship between biblical criticism and dogmatic theology (Hauerwas's essay in response to Richard Hays will make for a fun dialogue partner here!) and my own lecturer's proposals regarding the Christ/Adam relationship as they conflict with the proposals of Barth and his heirs. Needless to say, the result is predetermined: Barth will win, for he has been elected in Christ to win before the foundation of the world.

Anyway, below is a sample of the kind of work I intend to do over the next year. I found it hard to get excited about the prospect of more study while I was away from the world of theological education for the first time in 4 or 5 years, but the joy that is the presupposition of the task has returned quicker than I ever expected. Thank God for that. And thank God for 'Quel (or to use NT jargon, 'Q'), who, among other things, leaves print outs of 'how to make fruity porridge' on my desk while I take a nap in the afternoon because my sleep patterns are still a little screwed up (I'm wide awake at 5.30am every morning!).


Robert Morgan, like Rudolf Bultmann before him, sees the necessity of Sachkritik (content-criticism) for any prospective New Testament theology. Since the writers of the NT were human beings and ipso facto fallible, some of their articulations of the gospel have no doubt fallen short of the gospel’s true character. Accordingly, theological interpretation of the NT must be critical interpretation. Some – for example, Richardson – may see in this method the seedbed of heresy, but for Morgan and others this critical practice does not intend to destroy the Christian faith but to articulate it afresh in a new generation. The danger of pure subjectivism lurks, but Morgan thinks that this can and should be mitigated by the New Testament theologian’s existence within a community of interpretation, with which he or she is always in dialogue.

As is argued by several New Testament scholars – Keck, Dunn, Morgan – the New Testament itself is justification for scholarly disagreements and reformulations of old truths. This, it is claimed, is precisely the way theology was done by the NT writers. To squeeze the differences out of the NT is to squeeze the life out of it. Difference – which is as much an aesthetic category as anything else  - should not be feared but embraced, for in this case it an appropriate consequence brought about by the focal object of NT vision: Christ, in all of his mystery and glory. One wonders if some contemporary New Testament theologians would ever have allowed all four Gospels a place in the NT canon, in the interest of preserving a “unified” perception of Jesus – that is to say, a perception of Jesus which has eradicated all difference, and therefore all mystery, glory, and beauty.

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