Barth, Bonhoeffer, & The Theological Critique of Religion: My Reading List This Fall

This semester — my final one at Beeson Divinity School — I’m doing a directed study with Piotr Malysz on the topic of “Religion” in Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The impetus for this study was a discussion question in Dr. Malysz’s Spring 2015 20th Century History and Doctrine course. On March 24, our third class period on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, our second question for discussion read as follows:

“What is religion for Bonhoeffer? What are its anthropological manifestations (in Bonhoeffer’s day)? In what ways is Bonhoeffer’s understanding of religion similar to, and different from, that of Barth?”

Having taken Malysz’s Fall 2014 seminar on Karl Barth, I was intrigued by the question. We only spent a few minutes on the topic in class, focusing on how Bonhoeffer’s definition of religion focuses on a “necessary God of the gaps,” but I wrote down the following questions for further consideration:

  1. Is there a tension in how Barth and Bonhoeffer describe “religion,” or an underlying harmony?
  2. Barth speaks of boundary, Bonhoeffer of finding God at the center. Are they getting at the same thing?
  3. What is the relationship between Barth’s “No-God” and Bonhoeffer’s God as “stopgap”?

It has been over a year since that class discussion, but these questions are still on my mind. I’m convinced that Barth’s and Bonhoeffer’s theological critiques of religion can provide resources for the Church today.

In addition to that class discussion question, Tom Greggs‘ Theology Against Religion: Constructive Dialogues with Bonhoeffer and Barth [affiliate links throughout] has been an enormous catalyst for this project.

After graduating from Beeson in December, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in historical/systematic theology. If all goes well, I’d like to expand my Barth/Bonhoeffer project this semester into a doctoral project – perhaps focusing on the relationship between Barth’s “No-God” and Bonhoeffer’s “God-as-stopgap,” or on the relationship between Barth’s and Bonhoeffer’s theological interpretation[s] of Scripture and their theological critiques of religion.

My Reading List

Anyway, with the help of Michael DeJonge, Clifford Green, Garrett Green, Tom Greggs, and Paul Dafydd Jones, I have developed the following reading list for this semester’s directed study:

Primary Sources: 

Secondary Sources:

If you’re interested in Barth and Bonhoeffer, I’m interested in starting up a conversation! Based on what I’ve written above, do you:

Have any suggestions on how to improve this reading list?

Have any suggestions on who might be interested in supervising doctoral work in this area?

If so, let me know in the comments!

The Perfect Translation

Over the break between semesters at Beeson Divinity School, I’m reviewing Bruce Waltke’s The Dance Between God and Humanity: Reading the Bible Today as the People of God and Philip Goodwin’s Translating the English Bible: From Relevance to Deconstruction for Liverpool Hope University’s Theological Book Review.

I’ve just finished the latter, and hope to write my review in the next day or two. However, I’d like to share the following quotes on Deconstructive Literalism and The Perfect Translation, because I find the concepts intriguing as a student of Eugene Nida’s dynamic or functional equivalence (when it comes to both NT Greek and modern Spanish), and a newcomer to relevance theory, which Goodwin uses to provide a way forward in the shadow of the KJV tradition. More on that later. In the meantime: 

“What Aichele has noticed is that if the interpreter wants to ‘see’ the source text, he or she would prefer not to have another interpreter standing in the way. The problem with a dynamic equivalence translation, then, is that it does not permit deconstruction of the source text. The translation represents an ideological undertaking which itself can be readily deconstructed, but does not provide access to the source. (207-8).

[…]

“Now, of course Ryken and Collins, whilst advocating concordant translation on the one hand, also desire, on the other hand, to maintain the control over meaning to which Aichele refers, by implicitly linking concordance to thematics. In other words, concordance is seen as desirable because it reinforces the theme (‘the message’, again) of the text, to which it is seen as a servant. They leave unexamined the question of what to do when the phenomenon of concordance might be turned against thematics, to undermine it — to deconstruct it. One man’s exegesis is, however, another’s deconstruction. A concordant translation of a text might serve equally to reveal Aichele’s ‘defects and problems’ or Ryken’s ‘full exegetical potential’ — to reinforce its ‘intention’, or to undermine it. I will argue that it does both. (208).

[…] 

“The perfect translation is the one whose relationship to a source text is such that it permits both the construction of the releveant interpretation of that text, and its deconstruction.” (209). 

(Italics: original emphasis; Bold: added emphasis)

Alabama Update

Rachel and I are in the middle of our second month of calling Birmingham, AL “home.” And while we could both do with a little less humidity (!), we’re enjoying ourselves and our surroundings down here in Alabama.

I don’t start my M.Div. coursework at Beeson Divinity School until late August, but I’ve already started working at Beeson’s Media Center (follow our nascent Twitter account here). It’s an incredibly convenient on-campus job, and I’m already thankful for the hospitality of my boss and coworkers as I learn the ropes of AV, IT, and sundry other tasks. 

Before diving into my required reading for the Fall, I’ve been working my way through a few books so far this summer. On the fiction side of things, I heartily recommend Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

Even more so, however, I strongly recommend Myron Bradley Penner‘s The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context to anyone and everyone interested in philosophy, religion, and theology. I plan on devoting a series of posts to a discussion of Penner’s work , but for now, suffice it to say that this book has already been a godsend in my contemplation of how best to advance God’s Kingdom (academically, pastorally, and globally, as I’d say) in the midst of postmodernity. 

Again, I’ll have more to say about Penner’s book in later posts, but to whet your appetite, allow me to point you toward Peter Enns’ interview with Penner: “Is Christian Apologetics Secular and Unbiblical?” Also, Sarah Jones’ post, “Tony Jones and the Need for a Postcolonial Christianity” came to mind several times while reading The End of Apologetics. Definitely worth a read!

Finally, my current project is reading Terje Oestigaard’s Water, Christianity and the Rise of Capitalism to review for Liverpool Hope University’s Theological Book Review. It’s definitely further away from my comfort zone than the Pentateuch textbook I’ve reviewed previously, but hey, I’m trying to branch out. Stay tuned for my feedback.

~Josh

On Building/Burning Bridges

DISCLAIMER: there’s a fair bit about the Church that frustrates me.

However, I’d like to address those frustrations in a way that builds bridges, not burns them down. Especially since sin and justice are both relational. It does no good to flee the former for the latter in a way that creates more rifts than it heals.

Therefore, any criticisms I level against my sisters and brothers in Christ, (many of those criticisms coming from outside the walls of the Church), I’d like first to aim them at myself. After all, if I want to witness self-righteous pride, xenophobia, misplaced anger, etc., I need look no further than the mirror.

However, building bridges (much less walking across them and back unscathed) can be quite difficult in our post-/hyper-modern day. Each post I pass along (usually via Facebook and Twitter, but also here on the blog), thinking it interesting/challenging/inspiring, can generate everything from cheers to tears, it can bring life and also offend. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I’d argue that it’s good and necessary to be both inspired and angered by certain things.

…but it can make things quite complicated and messy.

Nevertheless, I’m more worried about returning from the other side of the bridge *unchanged* than unscathed. But if I’m going to be successful, I need your help.

For one thing, I need your charity. No, not monetary charity (at least not now!), but for you, all of you, to be charitable readers. I don’t have enough time to explain fully my thoughts on and interpretation of every link/article that I post. Frequently, I do agree in some way with the author(s) of those links, but I would almost never be willing to sign off on each and every thing they say. Look for the good and true in each posted thing, and join me in thinking through what these authors have to say. That’s usually the goal of most of my postings: to get people to think.

Second, if something I’ve posted or said has caused a deep rift between you and me – a rift which probably goes deeper than a superficial misunderstanding – feel free to contact me and we can try to clear things up. I can’t guarantee that we’ll see eye-to-eye on things, and we might even have a sharper disagreement as a result, but I’d like to always value people more than I value positions, relationships more than reasons.

Both sides in most debates have at least one thing to learn from their opponents. Give me a chance to learn from you – if not to change my opinions, at least so that I can sincerely hold my own differing opinions.

After all, disagreeing with a bunch of straw men is no good at all. Meaningful arguments have faces.