Friday, September 22, 2006

not-very-systematic theologizing

Today I had my first systematic theology precept for the semester (precepts are small group classes where we discuss the readings). For this week we read the introductory stuff of several theologians from different backgrounds. The one we focused on was Schleiermacher, a 19th century German guy who Karl Barth later wrote most of his works in direct opposition to. I didn't much care for the parts of Barth that we read last year, so I figured I'd like Schleiermacher better, and I was right. He emphasizes the fact that all our religious "knowledge" comes from experience (as does everything else)--that knowledge in religion isn't possible because it's all based on "feeling." He doesn't mean "feeling" as in emotion, but...anyway, I don't totally understand his whole system yet, but what I know so far I like. He seems much more down-to-earth, whereas Barth seems to make his theology based on ideals of how God should be as opposed to anything we actually experience ourselves.

The first thing we did in our precept was to discuss the scores we got on a "worldview test" we were supposed to have taken online. It was an interesting test...I think I put the website down for the Beliefnet quiz several months ago. This is the same kind of thing, although I think they're assuming you're a self-avowed Christian. Our preceptor had us do this sort of as a joke, because the website for this test is (If you get 100% on "biblical worldview" they send you a certificate that you can mount on your wall!) My father will be proud that my worldview ended up being "Secular Humanist Worldview." I would recommend visiting the site and taking the quiz for curiousity's sake, but many of the questions are really frustrating and you wonder what their idea of a solid "biblical worldview" is, exactly. So that was entertaining...

Here's the website:

Other people we're reading this semester: of course we have the staple Reformed theologians Calvin and Barth, then we have "representatives" of various other theological standpoints, feminist, black, Asian, Latino/a. Authors include: James Cone, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Jung-young Lee, and Paul Tillich. It should be a great semester, much better than last semester's Barth, Calvin, and three weak feminist essays.

Another interesting tidbit: one of my professors on Wednesday said, "Jesus is apparently a pacifist, so we as 21st century American Christians need to think about what to do with that." Then later he said that he himself agrees with Augustine and is a Just War proponent, but thinks we need to be very careful about the wars we "justify." I have a hard time understanding how a Christian can think that Jesus is a pacifist and would not be a pacifist themselves, but...I'll try to ask him about it sometime.

Well, that's enough random comments about systematic theology for today. I hope you're enjoying your weekend! The highlight of mine may be reading Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza...(oh yeah, and hearing my husband and our friends play here in town and in New York City!).


Anonymous said...

That "test" was ridiculous! I laughed half the time because of the obvious slant it took. Thanks for the 20 minutes of laughter. Guess I'm not good enough to have a "biblical worldview", I'd better try harder.

-your fellow Secular Humanist

cherice said...

Yeah, I was thinking about taking it and trying to get the perfect "biblical worldview" just to see what they think it is--not to mention the very exciting certificate, I'm sure!


Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

"I have a hard time understanding how a Christian can think that Jesus is a pacifist and would not be a pacifist themselves...."

I suppose this is possible if by "Christian" one means "member of the christian subculture" or "member in good standing of some christian group" rather than "follower of Christ".

-- Or if one says (as Walter Wink said), "Surely Christ never actually taught what the Bible claims in this verse that he taught." (Wink said this about Christ's teaching, "Resist not evil.")

cherice said...

Marshall--yes, that's kind of what I think about that comment. It seems like if someone recognizes the fact that Christ was a pacifist and yet doesn't believe in pacifism (and calls themself a Christian), there's something wrong wtih that picture! It doesn't seem like that should be optional (as opposed to, for example, I know Jesus was male but that doesn't mean I need to become male to follow him!). I would agree with Wink on the "resist not an evildoer," that surely Christ didn't mean it that way. I should look it up in Greek and see if that's what it really says, or if our English translaters are the ones steering us wrong here. But in terms of pacifism as a whole, I can't think that Jesus and Paul and others were wrong, or else what else can I just throw out of the Bible on a whim?

Marshall Massey said...

Hi, Cherice!

The Greek says: egô de legô hymin mê antistênai tô ponêrô: "but I say to you that you resist not evil." Plain and simple. And the four examples that follow are all illustrations of nonresistance.

Wink had to flatly deny the principle, and then explain away the four examples, in order to make his argument. Which he did: "Jesus did not tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. That would have been absurd. His entire ministry is utterly at odds with such a preposterous idea." Etc. (Walter Wink, Violence and Nonviolence in South Africa: Jesus' Third Way [New Society Publishers, 1987], p. 13)

Wink's "preposterous" is of course an echo of Paul's observation that our Gospel is "foolishness to the Greeks". Wink is siding with the Greeks.

And my personal reading is that Wink is spluttering and protesting here because Christ has confronted him point-blank with the path of the Cross and he, Wink, doesn't want to go there. Wink doesn't want the Cross; he wants worldly victories in which he, Wink, gets to be the one doing the winning.