Archives For August 2014

Elshtain quote D_O_TThe following analogy illustrates the point that ‘good nature may be a great misfortune if we do not mix prudence with it’[i]:

”An old man and his young son were driving a donkey before them to the next market to sell. ‘Why have you no more wit’, says one to the man upon the way, ‘thank you and your son trudge it on foot, and let the donkey go light?’
So the old man set his son upon the donkey and continued himself on foot. ‘Why, sir’, says another after this, to the boy, ‘you lazy rogue, must you ride, and let you old father go on foot?’
The old man upon this took down his son, and got up himself. ‘Do you see,’ says a third, ‘how lazy old knave rides himself, and the poor young fellow has much ado to creep after him?’
The father, upon hearing this, took up his son behind him. The next person they met asked the old man whether the donkey was his own or not. He said, ‘yes’. ‘There’s a little sign on it’, says another, ‘by loading him thus.’
‘Well,’ says the old man himself, ‘and what am I to do now? For I am laughed at, if either the donkey be empty, or if one of us rides, or both;’ and so he came to the conclusion to bind the donkey’s legs together with a cord, and they tried to carry him to market with a pole upon each of their shoulders.
This was sport to everybody that saw it, inasmuch that the old man in great wrath threw down the donkey into a river, and so went his way home again. The good man, in fine , was willing to please anybody, and lost his donkey in the process” (‘The complete John Ploughman’)

In some respects the father’s acquiescence is blind. His son also shows the same symptoms by his inability to challenge the father’s sedate tolerance which, because of a lack of assertiveness has led to absolute confusion.

Father and son were both paralyzed not just by fear, but also by indifference and indecision.  Something akin to moral failure or as penned by Carl Trueman, ‘moral abdication’.[iii]

They were unable to push back or challenge the wisdom behind what they were accepting, because they were too eager to appease the commentary of their detractors.

Accommodating the high opinions of those around, and not wanting to offend, negated the very purpose of their journey, harming not only themselves, but also the donkey.

In a comment related to this story, the blunt-talking, 19th Century Preacher, the Rev. Charles Spurgeon, stated:

‘Put your hand quickly to your hat, for that is courtesy; but don’t bow your head at every man or woman’s bidding, for that is slavery…A person is not free if they are afraid to think for themselves, for if our thoughts are in bonds we are not free.[ii]

This is somewhat echoed in the words from theologian, Marguerite Shuster:

 ‘Those who Jesus confronted most directly were as likely to want to kill him as to follow him. He seemed to not have the slightest inclination to make hearing and following him pleasant and easy…Truthfulness, in other words, is not determined by customer satisfaction surveys’[iv]

For the free citizen, Shuster’s words mark the very essence of what it means to be a ‘good citizen’ instead of a ‘nice citizen’; the ability to say “yes” and “no” with a ton of responsible care and a stack of well-informed conviction.

Control the language means control of the argument, and therefore control of the people. All contradictions, double standards and hypocrisy are ignored, if the end justifies the means.

Spurgeon’s donkey in the ditch analogy also shows the danger of double mindedness. Accommodation and blind tolerance, in the forms of indifference and indecision, create the ground from which the late political scientist, and  feminist, Jean Bethke Elshtain unpacks her own concerns:

‘Western democracies are not doing a good job of nurturing democratic dispositions that encourage people to accept that they can’t always get what they want and that some of what they seek in politics cannot be found there’[v]

What Shuster, Elshtain and Spurgeon speak to is the giving of an ”absolute feel-nice yes” with a notable absence of any ability to say “no” and have it respected.

For example: equality, fairness and freedom cannot exist in a truly democratic society when the people give unquestioning loyalty to the state, or the fashionable ideology propagated by some circles in academia.

It is right to suggest that nihilism and its progeny: utilitarian hedonism or totalitarian fascism, should be identified and resisted by the public when it comes to having a decisive influence on socio-political policy. It is wrong to not allow these to be reasonably argued against in the free marketplace of ideas.

Equally bad is a politics of appeasement which caves in to demands for unrestrained freedom or extremist forms of social justice for easy political gain. Such politics, and those who advocate it show that they do not understand freedom. Genuine freedom[vi]  must have responsible restraints. For example: the ability to say no to ourselves is an act of freedom.

In essence, no self-control, no freedom. Know self-control, know freedom.

Freedom is negated if we are not free to say both “yes” or “no” responsibly.

‘Absolute justice is achieved by the suppression of all contradiction: therefore it destroys freedom. The revolution to achieve justice, through freedom, ends by aligning them against one another.[vii]

Absolute freedom is an illusion because of its innate contradictions. Such as absolute justice, which allows the mob-in-revolt to violently dictate and impose the rule of total law. Or allow a leader to take on emergency powers where, drunk with power, he or she, takes that ”one ring to rule them all.

The place where free citizens become subjects, and take on the lonely and confused, dire submission of Ralph and his faithful companion, who amidst the mad chaos and fire, stirred up by Jack, in Golding’s classic, Lord of the Flies, decide:

‘…under threat of the sky, to eagerly take a place in this demented, but partly secure society’. [viii]

Like the donkey in a ditch, democracy could easily be abandoned, left to lay dormant; placed there by indifference and indecision. Denied, despairing and desperate for rescue, whilst those who chose appeasement for applause, pledge allegiance on an altar of sinister ideologies, advancing by a list of lustful, lost and predatory activism.

In today’s “post-modern” society we see this in the accommodation of blurred distinctions.

Our society tends to value appearance and reputation, over against the truth and the substance of real character.

It is not surprise then that Christians are subsequently forced, or sadly, sometimes surrender to trends, bad theology, and failed ideas, which lay waste to the existence of a free and responsible representative democracy, governed by faith, reason, mercy and justice.

Perhaps that old reminder stands as true today as it did then:

‘When we don’t apply a moral criteria to politics, we mix good and evil, right and wrong. Therefore we make space for the triumph of absolute evil in the world’
(Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1971, Harvard address[xiv])

References:

[i] Spurgeon, C.H.  2007 The complete John Ploughman Christian Focus publications

[ii] Ibid. This echoes the biblical call to pray: ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach… because a double-minded person is unstable in all their ways’ (James 1:8)

[iii] Trueman, C. 2004 The Wages of Spin Christian Focus Publications Kindle Ed. (Loc.89)

[iv] Shuster, M. 2008 Truth and truthfulness in Performance in preaching Childers & Schmidt, Baker Academic

[v] Elshtain, J.B 1995 Democracy on Trial, Perseus Books Group (p.62) See also, Elshtain, J.B 2000 Who are we? critical reflections and hopeful possibilities (particularly chapter three) Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Grand Rapids Michigan U.S.A

[vi] Albert Camus, The Rebel 1951 Kindle Ed. (Penguin Classics, 2013)

[vii] Ibid, 1951

[viii] Golding, W. 1954 Lord of the Flies Bloomsbury House (p.167)

[ix] Solzhenitsyn, A. 1978 A world split apart Harvard sourced from Columbia.edu

* The phrase ‘freedom in limitation’ is Karl Barth’s, not mine.

tyranny the god of selfBefore you, is part two of three in a series of posts highlighting some points raised by Barth in Church Dogmatics I/II.

Riding on the wave of content mentioned in my post {here}, Karl Barth connects the authority and government of the Church to that of the Bible ‘as it stands’ in witness to the revelation of Jesus Christ.

He writes:

1. ‘The hearing in obedience is Christian faith and the sphere of Christian faith is the sphere in which God’s Word exercises its power’[i]

2. Another aspect Barth addresses here is how responsible understanding (interpretation) leads to responsible action (application)[ii].

Theologically these two items stem from prayer and exegesis, vital threads in the working out of orthopraxy. Both orthodoxy and orthopraxy can meet where thinking theology (embedded) meets doing theology (deliberative)  – one critiques the other in light of the necessary critique of God’s word.

3. Barth, possibly recalling his strong attempts to oppose the rise of fascism in the 1930’s focuses on the inevitable deception that results from natural theology, writing:

  • Who can exercise a worse tyranny over us than the god in our hearts? And what further tyranny does not this first and decisive one drag in its train?…
  • ‘It is inevitable that the man or woman who claims to be directly in communion with God, and free from all concrete forms of authority, will all the more certainly be delivered over to the powers of nature and history, to the spirit of the age and of contemporary movements, to the demons of his situation and environment.[iii]

4. Barth asserts that the Word of God creates the Church

  • ‘The Word of God is free, and exercises this freedom in the founding of the Church’[iv]
  • From the inner life of the Word, flows the life of the Church’[v]

Exegesis as more than a literary form of archaeology,
and to say that in the Word of God, we are spoken to,
acted upon and ruled by God, is no metaphor[vi].

  • ‘We understand Holy Scripture falsely, that is, not as Holy Scripture, if we regard it as a fixed, inflexible, self-contained quantity…just as by a dint of excavations many important and interesting conclusions are to be expected about the life of those who have lived by the fact that, however hard we try, more cannot be dug up than was originally there. But the investigation of the Bible does not have to reckon with this natural limitation’[vii].
  • To say that Jesus Christ rules the Church is equivalent to saying that Holy Scripture rules the Church’[viii]
  • ‘For the Bible is a living, indeed, in light of its content, an eternally living thing, so that from the study of it we can expect new truths to meet us’[ix]

 5. Although the Church has a social aspect to it, ultimately the Church is not a social club.

  • At the heart and basis, lacking that horizon, as is the case in all “religions,” he is his own master, the master of his own deepest impulses. In this type of religion the fellowship of religious people, what is called the Church, can be only a society with a particular object, a club, which individual believers join for certain enterprises and common endeavours.[x]

I once said to someone, that trying to hold Barth’s theology in your hands was like trying to hold water. It gets complicated and before you know it the water is gone. This is because there appears to be a constant movement of light, one that cannot be pinned down or tamed.

For me now, reading Barth is more like seeing someone you recognise while out on a stroll. You hear them calling out an invitation to stroll along. Then find yourself being pointed towards things that induce both warning and wonder.

Barth spots something strange and out of the ordinary. He sees things others may have failed to see or acknowledge at the time. As a result he calls us to hear and respond to the warnings of history, as well as to respond with prayer and gratitude for the wonder and the work of God, as He meets us in Jesus Christ.

In doing so Barth points us towards the uniqueness of Jesus the Christ; the Word of God who commits to enslaved humanity a responsible freedom that is a direct result of the God who chooses to act on our behalf.

Barth brilliantly wrote: ‘the Holy Spirit through the witness of the Word of God wins the heart of men and women.In the interval between the ascension and the second coming the believer is certainly responsible, but not autonomous’[xi]

We are not left alone.

Source:

[i] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics I/II Freedom of the Church; Freedom Under the Word Hendrickson Publishers p.687

[ii] Ibid, pp.696-697: ‘The Church is governed, maintained and created by the Word of God – the testimony to the revelation of Jesus Christ’ We must understand that this ‘testimony cannot be received unless those who accept it are ready and willing themselves to assume the responsibility for its interpretation and application’ (orthodoxy and orthopraxis).’

[iii] Ibid, p.668

[iv] Ibid, p.688

[v] Ibid, p.690

[vi] ‘It is no metaphor when we say that the Word of God speaks, acts and rules’ (p.684)

[vii] Ibid, p.683

[viii] Ibid, p.693

[ix] Ibid, p.684

[x] Ibid, p.692

[xi] Ibid, p.693

(©RL2014)

Albert Camus Quote Work creativity

Five links_Old School Style

  1. The Left Blind to The Slaughter of Christians.

Columnist, Miranda Divine presents nothing short of an all out assault on Leftism. Her article clasps a firm hold on the contradiction of ‘selective outrage’ evident in the deafening silence of the Left when it comes to the persecution of Christians.

One only has to imagine the outcry, should the eviction and extermination of Christians from Mosul, have been the eviction and extermination of a homosexual community from the same town.

I doubt that Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, or his team would be given much room to offer refuge to Christians caught up in this crisis. That is without having to fend off, with taxpayer’s money, a plethora of allegations from a large portion of his rather raucous and crude detractors about selective treatment and hypocrisy in regards to the immigration and refugee debates.

  1. My Stint as a Political Cartoonist.

In recent months Scott Freeman has written some very sound articles on the relationship between conservatives and (little ‘l’) liberals. In my opinion, Scott presents a fair and balanced perspective, with a ton of grace packed in between the lines. From an American point of view he unpacks some of the issues being faced by most Liberal (capital ‘L’) democratic societies.

This is not definitive, but here are a few more that stand out:

  1. Stop the Pity. Unlock the Potential.

A while back I encountered a video which showed some African children in a whole new light. It was viewed through the eyes of dignity, not pity. This article from wanderingandlost.wordpress.com summarises a real and practical approach to raising others up, instead of staring back in horror.

  1. Duck Dynasty Revisited: Phil Robertson

If you have twenty-five minutes, this sermon from Phil Robertson, of ‘Duck Dynasty’ fame, is worth listening to. For context: he is in California talking about reconciliation, resurrection, Jesus Christ and past mistakes.

  5. Fake Beeps and the Name of Jesus.

Following on from number four, both Phil and Willie Robertson discuss their disagreement with the A & E producers for using “fake beeps” in order to make ‘Duck Dynasty’ more appealing.  In addition to this the producers desired a limit on any sincere mention of Jesus Christ in the prayers which feature at the close of each episode.[i]

‘Be patient with us. It’s not the Pat Robinson show…this is Hollywood hitting the Kingdom of God.’

[i] Source: http://www.thewrap.com/duck-dynasty-star-dishes-on-confronting-producers-over-fake-bleeps-cutting-jesus-video/

I came across this reinterpretation of ‘Be Thou My Vision’ while listening to the Spotify playlist ‘Hymns for Hipsters’.

Rend Collective’s version is addictive. I’m also in awe of the fact that they didn’t omit verse three. Of which, the more modernised versions seem to generally leave out.

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
Be thou my whole armour, be thou my true might;
Be thou my soul’s shelter, be thou my strong tower:
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.

Phrasing like:

Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Can remind us that ‘negativity wastes life, that sin drains us of our strength’, so we are to ‘seek God first, and his righteousness. Because He is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble[i]

I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son.

That, ‘all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but have received the Spirit of adoption, as sons and daughters, by whom we cry, “Abba Father”[ii]

Be thou my battle-shield, sword for the fight.
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:

That, ‘a person’s life does not consisIMG_20140801_121310t in the abundance of their possessions’[iii]; we are more than what we own,  and we are not what forces outside of God try to define us as[iv]. The temporary power of the world is a borrowed one; ‘these powers are confronted by the ultimate word already spoken.[v]

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always.

That, we are called to ‘live wisely in evil (extreme?) days[vi], not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man’[vii]

 High King of Heaven, my victory won.

Finally, the words of this hymn can remind us that, the ‘Bible is not the telling of a dream, something viewed only as transcendent (beyond us), without relevance or connection to actual reality…Because in spite of all appearances[viii].

Scripture is victorious over the world because it attests to the light of Jesus the Christ. Victor![ix]

 

(h/t Jenny, from DelightfulOak.com for introducing us to the phenomenon that is Spotify)

Source:

[i] Psalm 31:10 (NLT); Matthew 6:33-34 (ESV); Psalm 46 (ESV);
[ii] Romans 8:15 (ESV)
[iii] Luke 12:15 (ESV)
[iv] James Cone, ‘God of the oppressed’.
[v] Barth, K. 1938 C.D I/II Hendrickson Publishers p.677
[vi] Ephesians 5:15-16 (ESV)
[vii] Ephesians 6:6-7 (ESV)
[viii] Barth, K. Ibid, p.678
[ix] Barth, K. Ibid, pp.676 & 679
[x] Barth, K. Ibid, p.676
{Full lyrics: Be Thou My Vision}