I think it's important for any human being who wishes to be as honest with him or herself as possible to try to identify their presumptions up front before beginning a discourse. It's a rule I practice regularly with my college freshmen and sophomores and, I think, a good rule to follow generally. So perhaps a few words about the title and purpose of this weblog, about who I am and where I am coming from are appropriate for my first real post to Redeeming Barth.
First, let me make clear that I am not a Barthian. Indeed, I have to say that, on the whole, Mr. Barth and I probably have little to say to each other. His neo-orthodox theology rooted in Calvinism makes little sense to me, frankly. Clearly, his circumstances dictated much of his rejection of the liberalism of Schleiermacher between the two world wars. It's understandable how the Progressive Era theology that "Every day, every way, things are getting a little better" would be untenable in the growing shadows of the Third Reich. But I see Barth's error to be the same as that of Augustine: in attempting to explain the reality of evil, both theologians end up painting deities in terms of power and otherness and humanity in terms of the worst aspects of our nature. Such a picture does little justice to either subject.
So, if you've found this site under a key word like Barth or Redeeming, let me advise you up front that you may be disappointed in the contents of this site. The name comes from one of Barth's more famous quotes that theology should be done with the scripture in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I strongly agree. The besetting sin of western theology has been its tendencies toward otherworldliness, often at the expense of this world. Such a theology says little to me about the spirit of the Jewish peasant from the Roman occupied province of Palestine in the first century CE.
Truth be told, my theology probably is as radical as Barth's was sometimes seen to be. Adverse by nature to being reduced to any given school of thought, I would describe my theology as a mixture of liberation theology, creation spirituality and social gospel with a good dose of mysticism, especially nature mysticism, thrown in for good measure. My churchmanship tends to be on the high side though I am more than happy with mariachi masses and Catholic folk settings (e.g., St. Louis Jesuits). A friend of mine calls himself a "progressive catholic," small C. That's probably a good description of my own theology though my tradition is the Anglican Communion's Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA). Anyone who knows ECUSA knows it is only partially catholic and only sporadically progressive.
I do not come to these views in a vacuum, obviously. I don't claim to have the absolute eternal truth and am highly skeptical that anyone else does either. My educational background includes a B.A. in History and Secondary Education with minors in Journalism and Political Science from the University of Florida in 1976. I hold a J.D. from the University of Florida College of Law (1981) and am a member of the Florida Bar (inactive status). That's the political part. Then, there's the other subject we aren't supposed to talk about: religion. I was awarded a Masters of Divinity from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA) in 1995 and ordained priest in the Diocese of El Camino Real (Central Coast, CA). To put them all together, I completed a Ph.D. in Religion, Law and Society at Florida State University in 2000. Clearly, I've had reason to think long and hard about the subjects I hope to write about here.
Of course, there's also the experiential part as well. John Wesley remains one of my heroes from my childhood in the Methodist and then United Methodist Church. His insistence that Richard Hooker's Three-Legged Anglican Stool of authority (scripture, tradition, reason) required an additional leg - experience (Wesley's Quadrilateral) - makes much sense to me. All of us are products of our socio-cultural and individual contexts. So let me lay out some of mine.
I am the fifth generation of educators in my family, third generation of college educators. My grandparents were named Reed and Wright. (No joke! Apparently education is genetically predisposed for us Coverstons). I taught middle school and special education classes right out of undergraduate and for a time after law school as well. Since 1981 I have taught college level classes at three community colleges, two state universities and one private university here in Florida. My college classes have predominately centered around subject areas of political science/law, ethics/critical thinking, humanities/religion/philosophy. I currently teach at the University of Central Florida where I am a visiting instructor of humanities, religion and philosophy. My home page there can be found at:
But another big chunk of my life has been working with poor people. Many of the students I taught in special ed classes were from working poor families. A good number were African-American and Hispanic. I spent two summers of my life working for the Easter Seals at Camp Challenge, a camp for disabled children and adults in Central Florida. The bulk of my five full-time years of law practice occurred at the public defender's office in Orlando where my clients were primarily juvenile offenders and mentally ill clients facing involuntary commitment. In seminary, my studies were punctuated with trips to Central America, particularly El Salvador during the war where our group served as observers of the cease fire and later as election monitors through the aegis of the World Council of Churches. My last year in seminary followed a summer spent in Panama in a small village named Las Guabitas about an hour north of the Canal Zone. There I saw first hand poverty and starvation. I was not the same person leaving Las Guabitas as the first world man of privilege and limited consciousness who entered it earlier that summer.
So, Mr. Barth's requirement that any discussion of theology (and I would add politics, philosophy, sociology, ethics - all favorite subjects of mine) must proceed with scripture (and/or works of theology, the study of religion, philosophy) in one hand and the newspaper (or works of sociology, politics, ethics) in the other makes much sense to me.
And, so, with this disclaimer, let us begin redeeming Barth.