Friday, March 30, 2012

Danto on History: The Importance of Narrative

"Our incapacity, which is granted, to observe the past, is not a defect in history itself, but a deficiency which it is the precise purpose of history to overcome."

"History has been the central category of my philosophy, and the way we define our experience through narrative structures - through stories. The thing about stories is that we don't know how they are going to turn out, and how different the beginning is going to look to us when we see how it all ended. Philosophers mainly get hung up on the connection between consciousness and the brain, but my interest is in the historical structure of consciousness - how the consciousness of someone living in the thirteenth century has to have been different from the consciousness of someone living as we do in the twenty-first century."

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ankersmit on Historians

"I wanted to cut through all ties with literary theory and why, without changing conceptually or theoretically, I preferred to replace the term narrative by  representation.  Representation is a neutral term. I think it also quite adequately describes what an historian does – he gives a representation of the past in the sense of making the past present again. That is why we need historical writing. A representation is not necessarily a narrative; you have the so called cross-sectional studies, the famous example being Jacob Burckhardt's Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien or Huizinga's The waning of the middle ages or Braudel's on the Mediterranean world. They do not tell a story, they do not give us a narrative with a certain beginning, middle and end, but they are historical works representing the past."

"This is why the epistemological situation in which you find yourself when having to do with truth no longer exist when it comes to representation. You cannot say of representations that they are true. What you can say is that one representation is in a certain sense better than another and it is the task of the philosophy of history to clarify how one can be better in one way or another. And that is what I try to do with the notion of metaphor."

"Historians are swamped by historical truths – and this is how it ought to be. The more truths we have about the past, the better the historian's representations of the past may become."

More on the Election and Trinity Discussion

After taking my Comprehensive exams on Barth's theology  I tried to summarize in my mind where we are at after the McCormack's thesis on election (see earlier posts for what I am talking about):

1. Barth was inconsistent with regards to both election and the Trinity.  In short, he is sometimes very close to McCormack's reading and other times he is with Hunsinger and company.  Therefore, the context of what Barth "actually" believed is not a steady foundation.  You can proof text to make him fall into either positions. I think one should strive for authorial intent but at this point this does not rule which theory is more viable.

2. Barth's inconsistency deals with the nature of revelation and his constantly beginning again at the beginning.  The self-critical technique places Barth in a position where he is consistently working through and reworking ideas, which it is dangerous to simply proof text him.  Thus, this leads to points where he emphasizes the historicity of Christ and the humanity of God and other places he zones in on the freedom of God.

3. McCormack has made the point that Barth's view of election was his most important contribution to the realm of 20th century thought (not just theological), yet he also thinks it is underdeveloped; McCormack also acknowledges that Barth did not go further with this idea than he should have so he even sees his own project as somewhat original and creative ( a point his detractors sometimes do not respect).

He could not be more right!  I think Barth was pioneering with this idea and is consistent with his anti-idolatry, anti-metaphysical tendencies.  In what sense?  It frees us to think of God as God-in-relation with humanity (and the cosmos-ie Moltmann), so that one is not constantly trying to develop a theology of history that is different than what is revealed.  In short, it tries to curb the power of speculation between God's being and God's acts.  In other words, McCormack is playing to the somewhat Hegelian tendencies of the later Barth.

One of Hegel's points was how can one even talk about God if there is no interaction with humanity?  I think Hegel's question is even compelling to some of Barth's defense of the detached, transcendent (yet free) God.  If Barth (even unwittingly) teaches us something, it is to stop with the escape into the speculative, foundational metaphysics and to deal with the way the revealed religions contribute to our understanding of what God has revealed and how we live in light of this revelation.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Evangelical Calvinism=FAIL (or why John Piper is a bad man)...

It is an interesting thing to look back on why I decided to get involved in academics.  One of the motivating factors was that I was an avid reader of all types of evangelical Calvinism (Piper, Sproul, the Puritans featured in the Banner of Truth, some Augustine and of course Calvin himself), and I wanted to become a theologian to understand the Reformation better because of course the main problem in the world today is that there is a fight against the Reformation's view of justification by faith (ALONE)!

I tried to be a strong evangelical Calvinist for about a year or so (I remember famously getting in an argument with my mom and her "Wesleyian, Semi-Pelagian tenedencies"-c'mon, who talks like that!-over the issue of predestination and free will; there is a certain condescending attitude that sets in when you are one of the elect).  However, the fact that I studied history and enjoyed studying philosophy on the side "reformed" my theology to be less Calvinist (even though I have learned to appreciate Calvin, but the people who helped in this transition were Barth and Bonhoeffer).

One of the main issues had to do with the way evangelical Calvinists will almost robot-like claim that God was behind everything even events like genocide and murder (I guess tornadoes was the last event).  But they are consistent in the extent that God has to be sovereign over all things especially in the salvation of the elect; adding any foreign elements of goodness apart from God would mess up their formula (because humans are sinful to the core), so that leads them to make God completely in charge of salvation and also of damnation.

When it comes down to the issue of predestination and free will or the elect and non-elect I have gotten to the point of saying that I really don't care about this issue.  It has WASTED a lot of pens and paper and probably many an evangelical will argue some more over the Calvinist versus Arminius views.  However, rumor has it that many evangelical Calvinists are trying to draw the line in the sand that states they are the only "true" evangelicals.  Well, have at it...

If God is not a saving God and the gospel is not a good news for all humanity then I don't want to hear it (God is also holy and just and judges sin but, for me, not before the dawn of human time).  I would honestly rather side with Voltaire than with a Calvinist because at least Voltaire had the good moral sense to see disaster in the world as a bad thing and not try to rationalize how something like the Holocaust or child abuse could be somehow used to God's glory.  I just think it is about time for more evangelicals (or people in general) to call out this type of rationalizing.  It honestly does not help anyone.