Thursday, June 20, 2013

Conference Report: "Karl Barth in Dialogue: Encounters with Major Figures" at Princeton Theological Seminary, 16-19 June 2013

Nearly sixty-three people attended this year's PTS Karl Barth Conference 2013 in Princeton, NJ. The theme this year was "Karl Barth in Dialogue: Encounters with Major Figures." It was a delight to hear Karl Barth being put into dialogue with a wide variety of other thinkers, ranging from Tillich and Torrance to Elizabeth Johnson and James Cone. Fascinating stuff.

I missed Sunday night's talk and dinner reception because, given that it was Father's Day, my dear wife somewhat frowned on me spoiling her well-hatched plans to treat me on that special day. For that reason, I was not able to attend the introductory remarks by Princeton's George Hunsinger and the evening plenary with John Drury from Indiana Wesleyan University, reading from his "The Architect and the Traffic Cop"--putting Tillich and Barth together in conversation. I'm sure it was great judging by Drury's comments during the rest of the conference.

The next morning (when I arrived), the day was loaded with sessions and presentations. I rented a room at the Erdman Center, where the majority of the talks were delivered in a lecture hall, and I have to say how much I enjoyed staying there. Whenever I'm at PTS, it is my home-away-from-home. There was always plenty of coffee on hand between talks and it was nice to retire to the room and rest a little when on occasion we were given a 30-minute break between talks.

First up on Monday morning was Peter Casarella of DePaul University with "Joseph Ratzinger's Reading of Karl Barth: A First Glance Evaluation." It was excellent. I continue to be impressed with the theological chops of Ratzinger, er, the Pope Emeritus and it was fun to hear him in dialogue with Barth. After a short break was Nick Healy of St. John's University with "Thomas Aquinas and Karl Barth: Two Visions of the Christian Life." It was interesting to hear the hopeful message of salvation in Barth in contrast to the Middle Ages' pessimism regarding salvation and to see how Barth was very much not interested in the status perfectionis of Aquinas. It was nice to be reminded by Barth (via Healy) that our vocation is the freedom to respond to the God who reconciles. Yes!

After these talks, we broke for worship and lunch. It was a joy to be led in worship at the Princeton chapel by George Hunsinger, who delivered a homily inspired by Psalm 73 titled "The Psalmist Meets the One-Percent." I was a minute or so late getting to the chapel because I had gone back for my umbrella. When I approached the chapel on foot, I heard the strands (with organ) of "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." It was magnificent entering the chapel with this hymn rumbling throughout the chapel. After worship, we had a nice lunch break at the Mackay Campus Center (one had the option of purchasing meals during the conference when registering and the eating was very good). Afterwards, we reconvened for the talk I was most excited about before the conference: Paul Molnar of St. Johns University delivering "The Importance of the Doctrine of Justification in the Theology of Thomas F. Torrance and of Karl Barth." A number of interesting points were made and Molnar was magnificent. He has a tremendous amount of information to summarize and did very well. I later complimented him for making it accessible. Molnar has a first-rate mind so that is no small thing. 

Next, a very interesting talk was delivered by Cherith Fee Nordling of Northern Seminary, "A Barthian Reflection on the Theological Anthropology and Relational Ontology of Elizabeth A. Johnson." It was very interesting to hear these two in dialogue and Cherith did a marvelous job with this talk. I didn't realize until this week that Johnson is under investigation by the RCC for her theology and some remarks about this came up in the Q&A. Following Nordling's talk, we enjoyed breakout groups where we were able to discuss some of our initial impressions from day one. It was a joy to sit next to Paul Molnar and get to chat with him further, particularly about his excellent biography on Torrance. Following the break out groups, we had dinner and then enjoyed an excellent talk by Stephen Long of Marquette University titled "Saving Karl Barth: Hans Urs von Balthasar's Preoccupation."

On Tuesday morning, following breakfast, we heard Brandon Gallagher give "Separated at Birth? Sergei Bulgakov's Sophiological Antinomism and Karl Barth's Dialectical Theology - The Trinity and Election Controversy Transposed." This talk was deliciously fun because Molnar, Hunsinger, and McCormack were all present (and if I recall correctly) made comments. For those who don't know, these scholars are at the center of a current controversy in Barthian scholarship, which was touched on during this talk. I was not familiar with Bulgakov's theology prior to this talk so that was fun as well. 

Next, we heard Matthew Baker, a doctoral candidate at Fordham University give a talk titled "Offenbarung, Philosophie und Theologie: Karl Barth and Georges Florovsky in Dialogue." His talk was excellent. Just a quick note on both of these scholars from Tuesday morning--I appreciate that they used handouts. I always try to take copious notes at talks and the handouts made my job a little easier. Bravo!

Again, we had midday worship in the Princeton chapel led by Dr. Hunsinger. His homily was provocative and deeply consistent with the Barthian idea of witness. After worship and lunch, we rejoined for Nathan Heib of the Chinese Evangel Mission Church in East Brunswick, NJ giveing a paper titled "Barth and Sobrino on Christian Witness and Ethical Action." Then after a short break, Raymond Carr of Pepperdine University gave a paper titled "Barth and Cone in Dialogue on Revelation and Freedom: Beyond Ontological Blackness." It was really great seeing another Stone-Campbell person around. As far as I can tell, I was the only minister from the Churches of Christ present. It was a great conversation starter.

After breakout groups and dinner, we met again in the lecture hall to watch a 20 minute BBC interview with Barth from 1961 (?). It was awesome! My favorite part was when the interviewer asked Barth what he would be if not a theologian. Barth told him he would like to have been a traffic cop! Ha! We were all really into the interview and ended up staying around for an impromptu discussion led by Dr. Hunsinger. It lasted for over an hour. Pure bliss.

On the final day, two events were scheduled. George Hunsinger presented an absolutely brilliant paper on "Barth and Schleiermacher: Two Views of Christ and Salvation in Divergence." I've never heard a better paper delivered. Seriously. He thinks and writes in the purest way possible.

Then all the speakers joined a concluding panel for a massive Q&A at the end. A variety of topics were discussed, with the most lively discussion centered on the Totus Christus. I seriously can't wait to study at Princeton after this conference!

Highlights of the conference was meeting Hunsinger, McCormack, Molnar and Raymond Anderson, who was one of the last American doctoral students to study with Barth in Basel. He had some great stories which are now collected in a book, An American Scholar Recalls Karl Barth's Golden Years As a Teacher (1958-1964): The Mature Theologian. It's available on Amazon in hardcover for $150 but he was selling paperback copies at the conference for $15. I grabbed one. With him, we were all one step removed from greatness.

Another great thing, and this time I want to say something personal. I walked away from this conference feeling worshipful and brought closer to God. I can't understate how important that is to me. There are other conferences out there that leave you worshipful. I'd like to suggest that the kinds of people attracted to Barth's theology are in some way more apt to speak and talk about God in such a way that fosters this doxological aspect. As a pastor, I really appreciate that. Also, as pastor, I felt very welcomed by everyone.

This was my first year to attend the PTS Barth conference. I has re-awakened in me a desire to incorporate Barth's theology into my ministry. Above all else, theology is for the church and Barth wanted pastors to be most helped by the Church Dogmatics. If it's any consolation to Herr Barth, he should know that his intellectual grandchildren pointed me to Christ this week. I think he would appreciate that...

This year's speaker profiles:

Matthew Barker 2

Matthew Baker is a PhD student at Fordham University. He received Masters degrees from St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. His research, publications and academic activities have focused on the thought and legacy of Fr. Georges Florovsky. 

Raymond Car 2
Dr. Raymond Carr is an Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Religion Division at Pepperdine University. His research interests are theologically ecumenical, historically sensitive, and radically inclusive. Dr. Carr is a first generation college student who received his Ph.D. from Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Systematic and Philosophical Theology. He currently teaches The History and Religion of Ancient Israel, an introductory Hebrew Bible class which focuses on the universal and inclusive dimensions in biblical faith, and Theology Born of Struggle a class that interrogates Western notions of freedom as seen in various worldviews (such as atheism) in a spirit of solidarity. His current research explores the relationship between Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian who is arguably the most important theologian of the 20th Century, and James Cone, the "father" of Black Theology, whose theology reflects the genius of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Dr. Carr hails from Petersburg, Virginia and is a USAF veteran. 

Peter Casarel
Peter J. Casarella is a professor of Catholic Studies at DePaul University where he is also the director of the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology (CWCIT). He received his PhD in Religious Studies at Yale University after completing a dissertation on the theology of the word of the fifteenth century Catholic thinker Nicholas of Cusa. He spent two years as an assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas before assuming a similar position at The Catholic University of America. In 2007, he was appointed as a professor in the Catholic Studies program at DePaul University in Chicago. In 2008, he was named the founding director of DePaul’s Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology. In this capacity, he organizes a series of colloquia and conferences at DePaul on the discourse of catholicity as a theological program and as a starting point for interdisciplinary research.

John Drury 2
John L. Drury is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ministry for Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. His research focuses on the theology of Christ's resurrection, the history of modern theology, and the practice of spiritual direction. John completed his Ph.D. at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2011, with a dissertation entitled "The Resurrected God: Karl Barth's Trinitarian Theology of Easter." John is the author of Last Things in the Methodist Doctrine Series (forthcoming from Cascade) and has published articles in Theology Today and Wesleyan Theological Journal. John is an ordained minister in the Wesleyan Church and lives in Marion, IN, with his wife Amanda and his two children, Sam and Clara.

  Gallaher 2
Dr. Brandon Gallaher is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Theology and Religion, Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford where he researches secularism and ecclesiology. He has published widely on modern Orthodox theology (espec. Vladimir Solov'ev, Sergii Bulgakov and Georges Florovsky). His revised and expanded doctoral dissertation (which focuses on Barth, Balthasar and Bulgakov), Freedom and Necessity in Modern Trinitarian Theology, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. In addition, he is co-editing (with Paul Ladouceur) a Georges Florovsky Reader (The Patristic Witness of Georges Florovsky: Essential Writings) which is forthcoming from Bloomsbury/T & T Clark and is co-writing an interdisciplinary volume on eschatology (Bible, Patristics and Systematics) with Christopher Hays, Julia Konstantinovsky, Richard Ounsworth and Casey Strine, entitled, When the Son of Man Didn’t Come: A Constructive Proposal Regarding the “Delay of the Parousia”, forthcoming from Fortress Press. 

 Healy 2
Nicholas M. Healy earned his doctorate from Yale University, with a dissertation in ecclesiology under the direction of George Lindbeck. For the most part since then he has taught and been an administrator at St. John's University in Jamaica, NY. His books include Church, World and the Christian Life (Cambridge, 2000), Thomas Aquinas (Ashgate, 2003) and Stanley Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction (Eerdmans, forthcoming). He has also published a number of articles on Karl Barth, Aquinas and ecclesiology, as well as on Karl Rahner, congregational ethnography, ordinary theology, and other topics. He is presently working on a constructive ecclesiology. 

Hieb 2
Nathan Hieb has ministered for eleven years in New Jersey, Los Angeles, and in the inner-city of Minneapolis. In addition to involvement on projects in China, Poland, and Vietnam, he helped organize a home for those dying on the street in Delhi, India and led three education camps sponsored by World Vision for underprivileged children in Taiwan. He received an M.A. in Intercultural Studies and an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary, as well as a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. His forthcoming book Christ Crucified in a Suffering World : The Unity of Atonement and Liberation will be released by Fortress Press in Fall, 2013. He currently serves as the Youth Pastor of the Chinese Evangel Mission Church of New Jersey.

George Hunsinger is the Hazel Thompson McCord Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and president of the Karl Barth Society of North America. In 2010 he received of the Karl Barth Prize awarded by the Union of Evangelical Churches in Germany. He serves as a delegate to the official Reformed/Roman Catholic International Dialogue (2011-2017). He holds degrees from Stanford, Harvard Divinity School, and Yale. In January 2006 he founded the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. 
He is the author, most recently, of The Beatitudes (Paulist Press, forthcoming). Among his other books is The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let Us Keep the Feast (Cambridge University Press, 2008). He also edited two recent anthologies: Thy Word Is Truth: Barth on Scripture (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012) and Torture Is a Moral Issue: Christians, Jews, Muslims and People of Conscience Speak Out (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008). He is married with two children and two grandchildren.

 long 2
D. Stephen Long is professor of Systematic Theology at Marquette University. Previously he worked at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, St. Joseph’s University and Duke Divinity School. He is an ordained United Methodist and served churches in Honduras and North Carolina. He has published eleven books and numerous essays. The books are Living the Discipline: United Methodist Theological Reflections on War, Civilization, and Holiness (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmanns, 1992) and Tragedy, Tradition, Transformism: The Ethics of Paul Ramsey (Westview Press, 1993) Divine Economy: Theology and the Market (Routledge, 2000) The Goodness of God: Theology, Church and Social Order, (Brazos Press, 2001), John Wesley’s Moral Theology: The Quest for God and Goodness (Kingswood, 2005), Calculated Futures: Theology, Economics and Ethics, (Baylor, 2007), Theology and Culture (Cascade, 2008), Speaking of God: Theology, Language and Truth (Eerdmanns, 2009). Christian Ethics: Very Short Introduction, (Oxford University Press, 2011), Hebrews: Belief Series(Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011) and Keeping the Faith (Wipf and Stock, 2012). Although not quite a Luddite, Steve finds bicycling preferable to driving any day and regularly commutes by bicycle to work. He was baptized by the Anabaptists, educated by the evangelicals, ordained and pastorally formed by the Methodists and given his first position as professor of theology by the Jesuits, which makes him either ecumenically inclined or theologically confused. He is married to Ricka and they have three children, Lindsey, Rebecca and Jonathan.

Molnar 2
Paul D. Molnar, Ph.D. from Fordham University in Contemporary Systematic Theology (1980) is Professor of Systematic Theology, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, St. John’s University, Queens, New York 11439, where he has taught since 1985 after teaching for two years at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia as a Visiting Assistant Professor. He has published four books, the most recent of which is entitled Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009), many articles in the world’s leading theological journals on a wide variety of subjects, as well as numerous book chapters and book reviews. He is General Editor of the Lang Series, Issues in Systematic Theology, Editor of the Karl Barth Society Newsletter, a Consulting Editor with the Scottish Journal of Theology, a Contributing Editor with Cultural Encounters: A Journal for the Theology of Culture, and a member of the Editorial Board of Participatio, the Journal of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship. He is past President of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship and is currently on the Executive Board of the Karl Barth Society of North America and the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship.

Cherithnordling 2
Cherith Fee Nordling is Associate Professor of Theology at Northern Seminary. She taught for five years at Calvin College and Seminary while serving as Co-Director of Christian Formation with her husband, and filled a one-year appointment at Wheaton College in theology. For several years Cherith has also been a sessional lecturer at Regent College, Vancouver, BC, Kuyper College and Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, MI, and Fuller Seminary’s Young Life Masters Program in Colorado. She has also taught graduate courses for Westminster Theological Centre in London, England, the Vineyard Leadership Institute in Columbus, OH, the Fire School in Chicago, IL, and the Trinity Learning Community in Corona, CA. She speaks and teaches in various contexts, and has authored and contributed to many publications. Most recently, Cherith has been working on a commentary on Acts, a book on theological anthropology and the resurrection, and a condensed version of Paul’s Christology with her father, Gordon Fee.