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Modern Western Theology

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News | Office Hours | Requirements | Bibliography | Examinations

News

September 9, 2000: The WebCT course support site for students registered in the 2000 class is now up and running. Click here to get started.

Office Hours

Prof. Wildman during Fall Semester, 2000: TBA in room STH 335 (sign up for appointments using sheet on door). Other meeting times can be arranged.

Requirements

There are three components to assessment in these seminars.

Participation

Active participation is crucial to the success of the seminar and a significant part of the final grade. An ideal seminar is run by the participants energetically, efficiently and according to their interests and needs—and in such a way as to make the seminar leader a resource person who provides information, guidance, bibliographical suggestions, or mini-lectures only when needed or requested. Whether this seminar can reach this ideal level is entirely up to the participants. Ideal seminar participants have the following characteristics:

  • they prepare diligently for seminar meetings (try hard to cover the assigned readings, are clear about what they have read and what they haven’t, are ready to connect what they say in the seminar to the texts, find and bring interesting information to the seminar from extra research during the week, etc.);
  • they produce excellent written material for the seminar (follow guidelines for the "hypothetical dictionary articles" closely, do not rely too closely on secondary sources, check bibliographical and biographical information for accuracy, write compactly and clearly with no padding, find effective ways of expressing the core ideas of a thinker’s work, etc.);
  • they are good presenters (speak clearly and confidently, help participants to absorb the most important points by drawing attention to them in the presentation, listen to questions carefully and answer them efficiently, gracefully indicate when the answer to a question is not known, ask good leading questions for the seminar to discuss, etc.);
  • they participate constructively in seminar discussions (keep them efficient and on track with substantive contributions to discussions, exercise good judgment about when to speak and when to remain silent, absorb and respond carefully to what other seminar participants say, ask clarifying questions when something said seems unclear, indicate clearly the reasons and evidence for opinions expressed, etc.); and
  • they make use of the web discussion pages, contributing to threads and raising questions.

Examinations

The main means of assessment in this seminar is a take-home examination. The style of questions and the length of the examination will be identical to the style and length of the comprehensive examinations in theology (though the era may not correspond to an examination every student needs to take). Unlike a comprehensive examination, students will be able to consult the works about which they write and will have a much longer time to compose their answers. Preparing for an examination of this sort not only consolidates knowledge of the material covered in the seminar; it also develops the capacity to produce brief summaries and pertinent evaluations of complex figures and problems.

Research Paper

Doctoral students may also choose to write a research paper, not to exceed 5,000 words, due at the last class meeting. This paper would be in addition to the take-home examination and not a substitute for it. Students choosing to write a research paper should arrive at a topic through discussion with the instructor, and produce a detailed outline by the last seminar meeting before Thanksgiving Break. Doctoral students are encouraged to write on a figure whose thought will be important for their dissertation, which is probably the only reason students would feel it is to their benefit to make this choice. The paper has to be of high quality, showing a good grasp of both primary and central secondary literature, and conforming to all of the relevant academic standards.

Bibliography of Course Readings

The bibliography of readings for the course is just a beginning. Some figures have no entries yet and other firgures or themes have only a bare-bones list of entries. It will grow in time, however.

Check out the bibliography here.

Examinations

Here are past sample examinations:

Midterm Examination, MWT I (TT909, Fall 1998)
Final Examination, MWT I (TT909, Fall 1998)
Midterm Examination, MWT II (TT930, Spring 1999)
Final Examination, MWT II (TT930, Spring 1999)
Sample Essay Answer

Midterm Examination for TT909, MWT I, 1998

(Not Available)

Final Examination for TT909, MWT I, 1998

(Not Available)

Midterm Examination for TT930, MWT II, 1999

Instructions for Examination

  • This is an open-book examination, in which you are to write on two questions at a length of approximately 1,000 words each.
  • All candidates are expected to demonstrate at appropriate points in the examination competence in the tasks of theological reflection, including scriptural, systematic, fundamental, and philosophical theology.
  • Choose your questions and formulate your answers in such a way that no figure receives substantial treatment in more than one question.
  • The examiner is interested in your ability both to expound accurately the theological themes and figures mentioned, and to argue insightfully for your own theological ideas. Both parts are essential in a satisfactory exam.
  • PhD candidates should try where appropriate, and in at least one answer, to demonstrate facility with the comparative theological method by drawing on texts and motifs in religious traditions other than Christianity.

PART I

Answer one of the following questions.

1. On God as Trinity: answer a) and b) in order and at roughly the same length:
a) Explain your interpretation of God as Trinity without detailed reference to other theologians. As you do this, explain in what sense Jesus and the Holy Spirit are divine; how they relate to the creator and to the unity of God. Does God have a relational or social nature?
b) Specifically relate your view on these matters to other views, especially two of Barth, Tillich, and Rahner.

2. On Grace: answer a) and b) in order and at roughly the same length:
a) Explain your interpretation of grace without detailed reference to other theologians. As you do this, say whether there is a proper distinction between nature and grace; interpret prevenient, saving, and confirming grace; and expound the connection between grace and the Holy Spirit.
b) Relate your view on these matters to other views, especially two of Barth or another neo-Reformed theologian, Rahner or another Roman Catholic Theologian, Cobb or another process theologian, and Gutierrez or another liberation theologian.

PART II

Answer one of the following questions.

1. Explain Barth’s fides quaerens intellectum method for doing theology. How does this relate to the methods of one feminist theologian and one liberation theologian? Defend your own view in relation to these three.

2. What is New Being according to Tillich? Explain the position this idea occupies in the ontological analysis of his Systematic Theology, making connections to his interpretations of salvation, Jesus Christ, and church. Is Tillich’s conviction of the decisive reality of New Being correct, in your view? If so, how so? If not, why not?

3. Provide a succinct definition for at least ten of the following terms. Confine your answers to a couple of sentences each, at most.

Historismus or historicality (Troeltsch)
Bible (Barth)
Revelation (Barth)
Religion (Barth)
Theological circle (Tillich)
Spiritual community (Tillich)
God (Tillich)
Demythologization (Bultmann)
Christ and culture (HR Niebuhr)
Humanity as transcendent (Rahner)
Self-communication of God (Rahner)
Anonymous Christian (Rahner)
Liberation (Gutierrez)
God is Black (Cone)
Resurrection (Pannenberg)
Crucified God (Moltmann)
Metaphorical theology (McFague)

Final Examination for TT930, MWT II, 1999

(Not Yet Available)

Sample Essay Answer

The Question

On God as Person: answer a) and b) in order and at roughly the same length:
a) Explain your interpretation of God as Person without detailed reference to other theologians. As you do this, explain the sense, if any, in which God has an internal life with purposes for human life and responsiveness to human deeds and concerns. Does the question of God as person have application beyond the relation of God to the human sphere? What, if anything, does salvation history reveal about God?
b) Relate your view on these matters to other views, especially two of Kant, Hegel, Schleiermacher, and Newman.

The Answer

There is a real tension in the idea of God, a tension between that which is ineffable, indeed terrible to look upon, and the God who enters into relationship. This tension is evident not only in the Book of Job, but in the Bhagavad–Gita, where Krishna not only grants Arjuna a glimpse of the imperishable divine self – beautiful and terrible like a thousand blazing suns – but also nevertheless instructs him to set his mind on the "person" before him, his Lord. My theological reflection on the nature of the divine seeks a balance between both representations. I find that neither image can convey the depth of the divine and human mystery. There is no one perspective from which one can see the totality. Rather, by pushing ourselves to a variety of perspectives, we gain insight, if not into that which we observe or upon which we comment, then at the very least upon our previous perspective. Thus, I would affirm God as both impersonal and personal. The impersonal God is the ineffable mystery. It is that aspect of God which seems far removed not only from human life, but from human conception. Such a God is best described by the via negativa: that is, it abjures all description. While in this aspect, God may seem infinitely distant and ineffable, an "object" about which it seems hardly worth speculating, such a conception (or lack thereof) forms an important normative principle for theological speculation. In a sense, God ever stands in judgement of our theological claims, and pushes us to revisit our assertions. It puts a check on our reason, not by questioning its valid use, but revealing its limits, reminding us, for example, that the difference between Creator and creation is not simply a matter of degree, but of kind. The distant, ineffable God serves to guard against triumphalism. There is also a devotional function to this concept. How magnificent it is that such a one so distant, so unlike us, moves toward and in both us and the world. How great is the divine love which builds relationship.

With this notion of love, we turn from reflection upon the transcendent, numinous God in God's self to the personal God. I choose to speak of God as "personal" rather than as person for the latter term tends to reinforce conceptions of substance, and substance with an anthropomorphic character. Whereas a "person" may be thought of as a thing with which one might establish relationship, which seems to have existence apart from that relationship, by discussing the "personal" God, I speak only of the relationship. The divine is to be seen in relationships, and cannot be seen apart from them. This is both an epistemological and theological assertion and a practical assumption. We come to know only in and through relationship. We therefore come to experience of the divine only in a like manner. What we gain knowledge of is not the thing itself directly; we grasp it only insofar as it is manifest in the transaction. In truth, we know even our own selves only in relation. Practically, God only matters if there is some relationship between myself and God, or, more broadly, between the mundane and the divine.

In speaking of a personal God, I speak of a God known in and by relations. To borrow a title from LaCugna, whose thought has influenced my own, we speak of "God for us." We speak of God the Creator, the inestimable grounds of all relationships. We may also speak of a God who is active in the world, striving for the creation of right relationships. The records of scripture and tradition attest to this emphasis upon relationship. The Hebrew Bible speaks of a God of covenant, a God intimately involved in the lives of individuals and communities. It is this God which establishes right relationship between the human and divine, between creator and creation, and seeks to restore right relationship among all creatures. It is the restoration of relationship, between the divine and the mundane worlds, and within the mundane world, which is captured in the Pauline imagery of the New Creation, of God in Christ presently bringing the world to its fruition in peace, shalom. Likewise, the credal decisions of the early ecumenical councils, concerning the Trinity, the two natures of Jesus the Christ and the role of Mary all focus on the relationship between the human and divine.

To speak of a personal God, we affirm both sides of the relationship. God is not alone in striving for peace, justice and reconciliation. In relation with God, we act as co–creators. We participate with God in bringing meaning to the world and to our lives. We are engaged in the struggle towards a realized peace. We may, in a very conditioned sense, also impede that struggle insofar as we fail to realize peace and justice in our own lives. Our own actions are intimately woven into the fabric of relations, and we play a role in the overall scheme. While Kant's conception of God differs from my own, he captures the implicit tension between the impersonal and personal God with which I am concerned. For Kant, God, along with the ideas of self and world, is one of the three unconditioned premises of pure reason. As such, the categories of understanding cannot be applied to God, for that would imply that God could be an object known in experience. Indeed, the notion of God precedes experience; as an unconditioned premise, it makes experience possible. Thus, while God remains ineffable, the concept of God is nevertheless intimately related to the life of the individual. God serves a regulative function, both of reason and of morality. To the former, God is a condition of experience; to the latter, God serves as a somewhat internalized judge with respect to the categorical imperative. For Kant, God thus remains ineffable as an object, yet fundamental to experience and right relationship with the world.

While I realize I have no clear rebuttals to Kant's critiques of reason, I nevertheless am uncomfortable with affirming a role for God so bound to the human mind. Perhaps this arises from a mistrust of my own fidelity to my intellectual convictions, or for some unresolved longing for the substantiality of God. There is some of this longing to be found in the thought of Hegel. He presses the Kantian model, affirming that the rational is real. The ideal is the substantial, for the world is in fact the self–realization of the Idea. God discovers the divine self through the dialectical process of history. Moving from an undifferentiated unity, God moves to self–consciousness in difference, to a unified consciousness in which all differences are harmonically transcended. Perhaps one could not ask for a more immanent conception of God, and I admire the Hegelian attempt to infuse God's love substantially in the world, and to stress the bridging of differences. Yet, from my relational perspective, the Hegelian position either nullifies or diminishes one participant in the relationship. Where "love disports with itself," what value have the crises of individuals? As Kierkegaard might say, what of the pain existentially felt in each human life, in each decision? To put it bluntly, Hegel's view may be very good for God, and perhaps Hegel, but what about the rest? Undoubtedly, the Hegelian answer would be that while such pain is real and heartfelt, it is of little consequence.

In my relational view, every instance is of significance, not merely the broad sweep of history. Relations occur on the micro– as well as the macroscopic level. It is thus philosophically consistent to suggest a God of relations would be intimately concerned with even the most fleeting instances of the individual life. With Kierkegaard, I affirm that to speak of humanity in general is to abstract into nothingness. It diminishes the richness and variety of relationship, and therefore, does injustice not only to the human individual, but the world and God as well.

The information on this page is copyright 1994-2010, Wesley Wildman (basic information here), unless otherwise noted. If you want to use ideas that you find here, please be careful to acknowledge this site as your source, and remember also to credit the original author of what you use, where that is applicable. If you want to use text or stories from these pages, please contact me at the feedback address for permission.