I'm still trying to figure out how to answer people when they ask me what I'm studying. The difficulty is that this is usually asked in the context of informal conversation, and therefore the paradoxical request is for a one or two sentence description minus the technical shorthand that such a concise answer tends to require.
Lately I have begun by saying I am studying forgiveness, ethics and ecclesiology in Karl Barth's doctrine of reconciliation, and seeing where it goes from there. Usually that means a short discussion of what "reconciliation" means to Barth, and maybe if the person really meant it when they asked we get into a short discussion of what are the issues in ecclesiology and ethics. But even once you get that far how do you begin to describe the intended ins and outs of exploring such a conceptually slippery and practically difficult thing as forgiveness? Usually you have to grab on to an illustrative aspect of it and try to focus on that. I'm not saying the listener can't handle it, I'm saying I have trouble getting my tongue around it.
All that to say that I found recently in John Howard Yoder a great quote that really gets to the heart of what I think my research project is, in the end, after. This because Barth left his ethics of reconciliation unfinished, and Yoder may have exhibited the best sense of its trajectory. After 3 years and 100,000 years the following paragraph may well end up being the closest thing to my conclusion. (Why write it if it is already written you ask? Let's not talk about that right now). Here it is, from Yoder's essay called "Binding and Loosing":
"The free church is not simply an assembly of individuals with a common spiritual experience of personal forgiveness received directly from God; nor is it merely a kind of working committee, a tool to get certain kinds of work carried out. The church is also, as a social reality right in the midst of the world, that people through whose relationships God makes forgiveness visible."