Remnants of Jericho

August 17, 2013 — 12 Comments

How’s this for a quote from a very cool-headed feminist theologian and political theorist?: …

‘the 20th century is piled high with bodies: victims of the deadly politics of fascism (extreme) right, the (extreme) left (Stalinism and other so-called Marxist regimes that create burying grounds and call them people’s republics), and the less immediately fatal but ultimately coarsening and life-denying politics of (amoralist) liberal complacency and benign neglect’ (Jean Bethke Elshtain, 1981:299 emphasis mine)

The song below made part of the contemporary music compilation for the Jericho TV series. The series aired from 2006 to 2008, and addresses what could happen in the aftermath of a nuclear attack on certain cities in the United States. This ties in with Elshtain’s observations in four ways.

1. The 20th Century showed the world that we in the West (at least) take too much of our rich, mostly Christian heritage for granted. This occurs up to the point of, but not exclusively in, the showing of irrational contempt for such a community and its heritage.

2. Theology can be manipulated and made to subject itself to ideology. When this happens theology as an independent science is compromised and disempowered, no longer resembling theology. Theology in its truest form is and can only ever be a true and deliberate critique of ideological power. This manifests itself not  in acting as an opposite-absolute power, but rather a hope filled, Christocentric alternative, grounded in the faith response of gratitude and prayer (Karl Barth).

3. Complacency, selfish ambition and appeasement lead to neglect. The consequences of this are political ignorance, slaughter, practical atheism, nominalism and totalitarianism. All of which are elements of injustice and abuse.

4. Any deep sigh or heart-broken utterance pointed towards the Father is an act of faith.

…The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God…Rm.8:26-27, ESV

‘And you asked me what I want this year.
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days.
‘Cause I don’t need boxes wrapped in strings
And designer love and empty things.
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days.
So take these words and sing out loud,
’cause everyone is forgiven now
‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again’
                         – Goo Goo Dolls (‘Better Days’, 2005)

12 responses to Remnants of Jericho

  1. 

    Christianity has a very fine line to walk to avoid both extremes.

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  2. 

    RE #2: The tricky part is to critique ideology without dehumanizing our existence. Ideologies — left and right — have their root in genuine concerns about human dignity and flourishing. We have to say, “no,” when these ideologies become idols, but only quickly followed with a “yes” of Christ’s resurrection. To my mind, Barth understood this better than any other theologian of the WW2 generation.

    Oh, and Goo Goo Dolls are awesome!

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    • 

      A major part of the final year of my double degree has been looking at Barth’s political theology. The Barmen dec. really seems to reflect a lot of what you point to here. Also from what I’ve found Barth’s nein to Brunner’s ideas about natural theology seems to be connected to his opposition of the Nazi ‘will-to-power’ ideology.

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      • 

        Yes, and you may find Joseph Mangina’s Karl Barth: Theologian of Christian Witness a helpful aid to your studies. It is only $4 at christianbook.com.

        As for Brunner, Barth feared that any “receptivity” in man can be easily morphed into an idolatrous anthropology, which is then the norming basis for the God who is received. In its extreme form, that would be National Socialist ideology. In Brunner’s defense, Barth was perhaps not sensitive enough to the ways in which Brunner carefully guarded against that sort of manipulation. In his later years, Barth regretted the way that he treated Brunner in Nein!, but fortunately they made peace before Brunner died.

        I actually studied Brunner before I turned to Barth (usually it’s the other way around), so I have an enduring interest in their debate, which is still greatly important today. In my opinion, it is the most important debate in the church since Augustine vs Pelagius!

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      • 

        I’d be keen to read some of your thoughts on how you think the debate is as important. I’ll also check out the book recommendation. Peace be with you mate.

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      • 

        This will be far too short to do it justice:

        The Barth/Brunner debate is part and parcel of the larger debate over modernity’s greatest insight and criticism of religion — that God is a projection of our highest ideals and aesthetic desires. This criticism was most forcefully expressed by Feuerbach, the greatest of skeptical philosophers (in my opinion), in his thesis that God is a projection on the sky of humanity writ large. The interesting thing is that Barth agreed! At least, Barth agreed insofar as this is exactly what natural theology does, whether in its liberal expression or ecclesiastical conservative expression or pietist evangelical expression. Feuerbach perceived that the mainline churches of his day (19th century Europe) — whether liberal, orthodox, or pietist — had made God in their own image, as he believed every religion does in every age. In response, the dialectical theology was born in the 1920’s, inspired by Kierkegaard and a resurgence of Luther studies, which emphasized the otherness of God (hence, “the Word of God not of man” became the mantra). Kierkegaard is especially illustrative of this. For Kierkegaard, the God of Jesus Christ is offensive; the God of bourgeois liberal Protestantism is not offensive (or of megachurch evangelicalism in our day). Barth adopted this stance, as did P. T. Forsyth before him in Scotland. This is the insight that was carried through all of Barth’s work in his long career.

        The otherness of God is such that only God can create the capacity for Himself in man. This is what Barth meant by “wholly other,” and Barth would not compromise on this. He believed that Brunner had compromised, adopting a mostly other, not wholly other, God. But, are all forms of natural theology bad? Is there not a significant difference between Aquinas and Harnack? If God is wholly other, how can we adjudicate the veracity of our theological claims, without circularity? Those are just some of the questions that come to mind. I happen to agree with Barth, but the answers to these questions are not easy to formulate. I think Barth is right because the church is far too easily tempted to repose in its conception of God, built on a firm foundation of natural theology, in all of its wide variation. Yet, this does not dissolve us of our responsibilities to construct a revealed natural theology, derived from our christology. Otherwise, we are left with pessimism — which Barth would not approve!

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      • 

        thank you for this. I had tried to address the issue in an under-grade paper, which earnt me a decent mark. I am curious as to how Barth’s nein plays out in our Christian work – as I think he probably wrestled with how to apply this himself, given his apparent dislike of mysticism. I find myself leaning towards the contemplative side of Christianity sometimes and there I find the very real temptation to find revelation outside of the revealed God in Christ. Barth certainly was (and remains, I think) an important starting point for any critique of the ideological and religious ‘towers of Babylon’.

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  3. 

    One should realize that ideology being what it is, to critique it is to become its target. When societies become polarized, as is happening in the U.S., it seems to me the only valid place to be a Christian is in the middle, not neutral but distinct.

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    • 

      I agree with being distinct as opposed to ”fence sitting” (often read to mean in the middle). The Church needs to engage on many levels in all spheres of society. I like what John Stott said in Contemporary Christian…”the Church belongs in the market place, not he museum.

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  4. 

    The Goo Goo Dolls guy sang/played a song for me in a dream over 10 years ago. I got up and wrote it. Then a few years later I dreamed the “answer” to the song in the form of me singing and playing much better than I actually can.

    It is fall
    I go to roam
    Far away
    From home sweet home

    Then comes Winter
    It makes me sing
    And wait for you
    Your love to bring

    Chorus:
    Now what’s the season
    Your heart knows
    When wind and winter
    Begin to blow
    Life is a season
    Already gone
    Just passin’ through
    To land unknown

    Now it is spring
    It makes me sing
    and wait for you
    your love to bring

    Now summer’s here
    I’m all let go
    Hot love and lovin’
    Start to show

    Chorus:
    Now what’s the season
    You hold onto
    When love and lovin’
    The summer’s through
    Life is a season
    Already Gone
    Just passin through
    To land unknown
    ———————————
    Then I dreamed that the song “Beulah Land” was the answer…and it fits as a round.

    Anyway…..

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    • 

      Thank you for sharing this. Dreams are important things to reflect on from time to time.I think that the ‘season’ theme here is one Christians like to give lip service to, yet resist truly grasping the risky ‘die to self in order to live’ aspect of Jesus’ life and teaching. The life-giver grants us each new day (season) which will come with both burden and blessing. Both are misunderstood theologically, in my view, if we view burden as hard and blessing as easy – when biblically speaking blessing can bring sorrow, whereas burden for a follower of Christ can be wealth and prosperity.

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