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World Cup of Theologians: Switzerland – Karl Barth

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

barthKarl Barth (1886-1968) was a 20th century Swiss Protestant theologian within the Reformed tradition who has come to be referred to as the Father of Neo-Orthodoxy. His father was a minister, and his mother was a minister’s daughter. In his early education, he studied within the theology of German liberalism, yet when introduced to Immanuel Kant, and leaned away from his father’s influence.

However, in his early pastoral career, he saw that the political conditions surrounding him contradicted many ideas that he was learning and teaching. Within his church, the factory owners were exploiting many of the industrial workers and Barth encouraged the workers to unionize. When World War I broke out and many of his theological peers and mentors supported the German war effort, Barth was struck by what he deemed as a lack of strong theological foundation to separate a nation’s action from the church.

In this context, he authored his commentary on Romans in which he tried to articulate what he saw as Paul’s vision of Rome turned upside down and to counter the theology of his contemporaries.

The descriptively thorough essence of Barth’s theology is the person of Jesus Christ. This forms the center of Barth’s theology which is expounded in his infamous tome, Church Dogmatics. (Click here for Reading the Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth: A Primer, by David Guretzki, PhD). This emphasis upon the person of Christ is seen in his work, The Humanity of God:

This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.

Thus in this oneness Jesus Christ is the Mediator, the Reconciler, between God and man. Thus He comes forward to man on behalf of God calling for and awakening faith, love and hope, and to God on behalf of man, representing man, making satisfaction and interceding. Thus he attests and guarantees to God’s free grace and at the same time attests and guarantees to God man’s free gratitude.

[Editor’s note: Gender-exclusive language expressed in the quotation is consistent with the source material.]

Phillip Sturgeon is a graduate of Chapman University. He writes at his personal blog, phillipotamus.com and lives in Southern CA, where he almost always drives with the windows down.

World Cup of Theologians: Uruguay – Juan Luis Segundo

The World Cup of Theologians is a blog series that coincides with the 2014 World Cup Tournament. Each team in the round of 16 has an entry with the biography of a noteworthy theologian or leader from that same country.

Juan Luis Segundo (1925-1996) was a Jesuit priest and scholar who was instrumental with the introduction of liberation theology in Latin America and the application of the hermeneutic circle. His initial work, Liberation of Theology, raises issues of the Latin American context and its perspective, although he does so within the style of traditional Western theologians. segundo

In many Western contexts, the term “ideology” has a negative connotation, which bleeds into the consideration of liberation theology, to which Segundo defines the relationship of ideology and faith, writing in Liberation of Theology,

“a system of goals and means that serve as a necessary backdrop for any human option or line of action”, yet “Faith…is the total process to which [the human being] submits, a process of learning in and through ideologies how to create the ideologies necessary to handle new and unforeseen situations in history.” As such, ideologies are derived from the particular context of a community and contribute to faith. But at no point can ideology supersede the role of faith, which encompasses a diverse range of idealized theories of life.

His writing on hermeneutics emphasized the role of the community in interpretation, rather than assuming that an individual is the driver of the interpretive process. This stood as a critique and addition to Schleiermacher’s conception of the hermeneutic circle which would become a standard interpretive principle within liberation theology.

For more information about Segundo’s writing, see the entry in the Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology.

Michael Shepherd is the editor of GlobalTheology.org. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and Hope International University in southern California, USA, where he lives with his wife and son.

Acodar Discipleship

Jesus had an affinity for agricultural metaphors. In reading through John’s gospel, two stand out in particular. In chapter 15, Jesus says, “I am the true vine; my Father is the vineyard keeper…I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit…My father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.

The ability to bear much fruit is elevated to be a primary marker of bringing glory to God. It is good that previously in chapter 12 that Jesus says how a disciple is able to bear much fruit. In chapter 12, Jesus says, “I assure you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit”.

The vine and branch metaphor in chapter 15 is significant as it speaks to the need to remain connected to the vine of Christ and exhibit the nature of his life. Missing from this interpretation, however, is the experience of the cross. In chapter 12, we can read foreshadowing of the cross and the approaching suffering and death of Christ. John presents this metaphor for the disciples to see their suffering and death as following in the pattern modeled by Christ.

The process of acodar

The process of acodar

The term acodar, in Spanish, conveys the combination of these two concepts. This is the verb for when a vine is bent or cut and then planted alongside the branch.  The cutting grows to become a offshoot of the branch, which then grows its own branches.  The true vine, put to death and buried in the ground, gives ways to new life and the multiplication of new branches which bear much fruit. We can understand our own discipleship by these same metaphors: we are simultaneously in the vine and being put to death as we identify with the cruciform call of Christ to die to ourselves, join him in his suffering, and by doing so bring life to the world around us.

Jesus’ use of these metaphors, to live as extensions of the true vine yet to die in order to produce fruit, are not exclusive to each other. By utilizing acodar discipleship in imagining our response to the call of Christ, we can enter into new and deeper identification with the suffering death and resurrected new life in the kingdom of God.

What metaphors help you or your community understanding your life of faith?

Appreciating the Multicultural Church

Dr. Soong-Chan Rah of North Park Theological Seminary speaking at chapel of Fuller Theological Seminary on “The Next Evangelicalism: Appreciating the Multicultural Church” (November 7, 2012). Dr. Rah uses the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 as a model for understanding “a world that is becoming increasingly multicultural  and how the church responds to this very dynamic time in our nation’s, as well as our world’s, church history”.

The following is my summary and notes from his lecture.

The question is not whether the world is changing, but how Christian Americans will respond. (Click to Tweet) (more…)

Sudden Enlightenment, Christian Discipleship

Francis X. Clooney, SJ responds to a question posed following an interfaith event in which he shared his experiences within Hinduism:  “Is enlightenment compatible with Christian faith?”

He writes:

I think there were two components to the question I was asked: First, is it compatible with Christian faith that someone have a sudden, radical change in life, a single mind- and life-altering experience, insight? Second, can a Christian who experiences enlightenment have that irreversible unitive experience, realizing all reality to be simply, entirely one?

The question of enlightenment turns out to be timely, in light of this Sunday’s Gospel, the call of the first apostles in Mark 1.14-20. For is it not a kind of enlightenment scene? Consider what we hear: (more…)

Tibetan Christian Thangka Storytelling

Jesus’ Life on Earth

One year ago I wrote a post about Tibetan thangkas and mentioned therein a Christian ministry that was selling Christian thangkas, though at the time I didn’t know anything more about how they were being used.  In today’s post, I am excited to provide some more information about them.

Back in 2001, some expatriate workers in the Himalayas puzzled over the repeated lack of effectiveness of more common approaches to reach Tibetan Buddhists for Christ, so they began to seek alternative ways of presenting the Gospel that would connect more directly with Tibetan Buddhists.  They formed a group called The Tibetan Storytelling Project (TSP) to address this concern.  The group eventually decided to produce an evangelistic DVD which would utilize traditional Tibetan art, songs, choreography and rhythmic speech in presenting the Gospel.

How Atheism Can Help Christians Avoid False Idols

“Atheists are hard at work cleansing our temple of idols. We should thank them”

So begins Paul Wallace’s insightful (and provoking– think about who else notably “cleansed the temple”…) post about the service that atheist movements are doing to refine theological reflection. He distinguishes the conceptualization of God through philosophical theological reflection as idolatry, akin to worshiping the image of God that we have created. Worshiping the God of our projections, which is a sanctified way of worshiping ourselves.