Nov 122009

Not Simpson (Though him as well), but Karl Barth. I’m even beginning to regret avoiding his theology for my four years as an undergrad (although the truth is that at New College, it’s impossible to avoid Barth if you do any systematics courses). Why do I like him? Because when he writes, you get the impression he’s still working stuff out and it’s the act of getting it on paper that helps it coalesce.

Today’s class was a starter on Barth’s ecclesiology and it focused on the creedal statement, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” That was interesting enough and, in fact, inspired my likely essay for the course. But what was fascinating was a section on who was a ‘true’ Christian. There was the very thorough consideration of all the possible ‘marks’ of a true Christian and ultimately Barth’s deliberations seemed to come down to – “we don’t know”. And his advice? Get on with being a ‘true’ Christian yourself and just assume everyone else you’re concerned about is as well.

He had pretty much the same to say about church disunity. Having utterly savaged the ‘scandal’ of church division he concludes, pretty much, the same sort of thing. As a community of believers, get on with being just that and worry more about your witness to non-believers than trying to get other churches ‘back on track’.

Barth obviously used considerably more words to say that than I have, but it was his way of covering all the possible ‘get-out’ clauses and excuses. It’s fascinating to read a theologian who almost seems happy to stop at the ‘I don’t know’ place and to practically hear his thoughts as he struggles with the implications of where his ideas are going.

Dec 052008

Barring exams on the 11th and 19th, three of my four courses for 4th year are now done. Only one course and a dissertation to do and that’ll be 4th year and my BD done. It all seems to have gone by in a rush somehow, although I’m still convinced term-time ‘time’ runs at a different rate to real time.

Of the three courses this semester, Hebrew Prophecy with Professor Barstad has definitely been the most enjoyable, not least because of some interesting class dynamics which I’ll not go into here. The bizarre thing is that, despite 10 weeks of lectures, I’ve barely got a handful of notes. This is mainly because most of the lecture is spent actually doing exegesis rather than talking about how to do it. It was a bit like being back in school – read round the class first, then ask questions. There’s always one particular ‘nugget of gold’ in his classes and the ‘light coming on’ moment for me was when he dropped in an almost ‘throwaway’ comment about “underlying reality” when considering the prophets. First and foremost, when tackling the text, the question to ask is, “What’s the underlying reality?” And it’ll be something like war, famine, idolatry, whatever. That then is the key to unlocking the language being used. From there it’s a matter of unpicking the metaphors. The problem is that it is also a slightly circular activity – unpicking the metaphors also helps to expose the underlying reality.

I’ve already grumped about Biblical Interpretation several times but I sort of enjoyed the course but ultimately found it very dissatisfying. Way too much emphasis on historical-critical methods. The irritating thing was that almost every article we read concluded that historical-criticism only took you so far, yet we barey touched on the bits that might take you further. Even more irritating was that they were treated in an almost disdainful way, simply because they weren’t historical-criticism. I knew beforehand that the NT lecturers at New College are pretty much wedded to historical-critical methods and that it can do no wrong, but I can’t help but think that, for a research establishment whose academic approaches ought to be pretty much up-to-date, Biblical Interpretation was done a bit of a disservice. That said, to cover some of these other methods are a course in themselves – and I’m very glad I did it last year.

Doctrine of Creation was interesting but pretty heavy going, as most systematics courses tend to be. Not sure that it contributed as much to my dissertation background as I had hoped it might. Still, once I get into that I’ll probably find stuff that is useful.

Anyway, revision time now and I suspect that that time will disappear even more quickly and the exams will arrive all too soon.