Archives For January 2019

Brennan Manning’s passing prompted this tribute-contemplation. I invite you to sit, and wonder with me, at the significance of what happens when, despite human opinion, the Glory that God deserves is given back to Him.

 ‘The ragamuffin Gospel’ is an impassioned critique of churches that worship doctrine, conceal God and betray grace. He states that ‘Jesus invites sinners and not the self-righteous to his table’[1]. This re-enforces his concern that the church can at times project a ‘watered down Grace’[2]. Consequently, what is demanded is an allegiance to doctrine rather than an alignment to Christ. This makes for a ‘twisted gospel of grace, and results in a religious bondage which distorts the image of God’[3]. For instance, ‘any Church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of Grace’[4].

Reputation is not character. Some of the current expressions of church value appearances over against substance. They are communities defined by ‘fatal narcissism of spiritual perfectionism’[5]. This is form of sophistry that begins with the individual Christian. Brennan Manning argues that anybody who focuses on a pious reputation over against character is wrong. This exists where ’fellowships permit no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal their sin from themselves and from their fellowship’[6]. It’s easy to see the pragmatic and contextual out working of Manning’s paradox, ‘our doing becomes the very undoing of the gospel’[7].

Consequently some churches become consumed with public appearance[8]. Putting on a show becomes God. This idol turns our conformity into a way to earn salvation, rather than a doorway for discovering salvation. For example: the impossible ideal of a perfect Pastor. Someone who looks great in a suit, has the newest model car, the castle sized mortgage, the beautiful smiling wife, the 2.5 well behaved scripture quoting children and an unblemished Church attendance record. Such standards are closer to the ‘strange paradoxes of the American Dream’ (King), which is only really mounted on the metaphor that, ‘castles made of sand fall…melt…and slip into the sea eventually’ (Hendrix, 1967). While modesty and self presentation is beneficial for every Christian, it does not make you a Christian nor does it necessarily reflect your salvation[9].

A dichotomy exists between being righteous and appearing righteous. Evidence of this is found in the ‘seeming good is better than doing good age’ (Bolt), which feeds self-righteous and Lordless ‘isms’ (Wright) . Those who propagate such ideology, reject the theological Trinitarian reality which acknowledges that grace is a gift  from the Father, transferred to us through Son and worked out in our lives by the Spirit. God’s ‘furious love’[10] for humanity funds dignity, grace and mercy.

This begins with the acceptance of grace, ‘for acceptance means simply to turn to God’[11]. This is an encounter where I am no longer removed from my problems, my sin and my inability to repent because I ‘accept the reality of my human limitations’[12]. In other words, Manning does not endorse a ‘fast-food-cheap grace’ Churchianity.

The Ragamuffin Gospel presents a relational God who reaches into the ragamuffin’s brokenness and provides rescue, ‘inviting us to be faithful to the present moment, neither retreating to the past, nor anticipating the future’[13].

I come to accept that through grace I am dignified and worthwhile. Deemed to be so by the actions, words and approach, of a loving Father towards His children. God isn’t obsessed with, or anxious about our ‘’epic fails’’. God desires the correction of the sinner, not the death of the sinner (Luke 5:32; Ambrose of Milan, ‘On Repentance’). God is not a manipulative father, nor is He like the pagan gods, who demand sacrifice to appease their anger. We do not serve an angry, distant un-relational God who is unconcerned with who we are, or what we do. 

Manning illustrates for us that God seeks out the ragamuffin. Manning’s own ministry and his journey through alcoholism exemplify the message which ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’ communicates.  The message of the Ragamuffin Gospel is about a freedom that is completely reliant on a view grace which does not abandon human culpability, in the name of ‘tolerance instead of love’ (Bill ‘birdsong’ Miller).

This freedom is found acquired through a response to grace that empowers a living relationship with the gift of Jesus Christ. This freedom stands as a warning to those who ‘accept grace in theory but deny it in practice’ [14].Manning writes that the ‘deadening spirit of hypocrisy lives on in people who prefer to surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus’[15]. Being honest and expressing the need for grace and not works begins with us, the Church.

Writing about Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Manning states:

‘written in the heat of the moment, the letter is a manifesto of Christian freedom. Christ’s call on your lives is a call to liberty. Freedom is the cornerstone of Christianity (see 2 Cor.3:17[16])…Freedom in Christ produces a healthy independence from peer pressure, people-pleasing, and the bondage of human respect. The tyranny of public opinion can manipulate our lives. What will the neighbours think? What will my friends think? What will people think? The expectations of others can exert a subtle but controlling pressure on our behaviour’[17].

Brennan Manning encourages Christians to let go of  demands which control us, by entering into step with the Spirit, and consequently stepping into a life of freedom that is accountable to God. This freedom ‘lies not in ourselves, who are by nature slaves to sin, but in the freedom of his grace setting us free in Christ by the Holy Spirit’[18]. Christians are living in ‘the presence of God in wonder, amazed by the traces of God all around us’[19], not just in a building or a doctrine.

In concluding, the merit of this book is that Brennan Manning provides a reflection of the human struggle with addiction and idolatry. At times, Manning may seem a little unforgiving in his harsh critique of the institutional Church. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Manning seeks to address practical atheism, by reassessing doctrines and expressions of church, that have by default, replaced God. 

In order to achieve this Manning asserts that the Christian walk is one of risk, founded on a dignity which is grounded solely in God’s intervention on our behalf. The Ragamuffin Gospel addresses the failure to live out independently the character of Christ without Christ. As a result Manning successfully reminds us that God is in fact consistent, fierce, loving and interested in redeeming us, even in the midst of the messiness of our lives.


References:

Manning, B. 1990 The Ragamuffin Gospel, Multnomah Books, Sister, Oregon 97599, USA

Casting Crowns, 2003 American Dream: from the album Casting Crowns
[1] Manning, B. 1990, The Ragamuffin Gospel p.7, Authentic Classics, Multnomah books, Sis. OR.

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[2] Ibid, p.6
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[3] Ibid, p.1
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[4] Ibid, p.13
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[5] Ibid, p.34
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[6] Ibid, p.107 & p.115
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[7] Ibid, p.39
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[8] Ibid, ‘publicity’ p.1
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[9] For example: Facebook memes that encourage us to ‘share if you’re saved’ or like ‘ if you want to be’. As if our spiritual status is determined by how many times we shared or liked such drivel.
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[10] Ibid, p.19
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[11] Ibid, p.24
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[12] Ibid, p.31
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[13] Ibid, p.35
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[14] Ibid, p.117
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[15] Ibid, p.110
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[16] 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (ESV)
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[17] ibid, pp.120-121
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[18] ibid, p.129
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[19] Ibid, p.72

If you’re not really into Information Technology and are not aware of what the Golden Shield project is, you’re forgiven. The majority of Chinese people either don’t care or aren’t aware of its existence either.

The Golden Shield Project is Communist China’s massive firewall. It’s designed to keep a lid on dissent and ward off foreign influence on Chairman Mao’s, carefully constructed Communist culture, which was largely forced on the Chinese people during the Marxist/Maoist Cultural Revolution[1].

Some basic history: ‘The Golden Shield project has been in development since the 1990s’[i]. According to a Tom McDonald field study published by the University College of London (UCL) in 2016, ‘The Golden Shield Project is the best-known mechanism of Chinese state control over the internet…though most Chinese people are unaware of its existence, those who are, are largely unconcerned about it.’ (ibid)[2]

Both the UCL study (p.147) and Stanford’s Torfox, state that the ‘self-censorship[3] by Chinese internet users, is essentially the byproduct of both Government censorship’ and an unspoken social media etiquette within China, which views ‘posts regarding news, politics and current affairs as inappropriate’ (p.148).

Whilst the UCL study and Stanford’s Torfox online articles don’t talk in an outright manner, about the role fear plays in self-censorship, with what has happened to China’s Uighurs (Muslim community), and the continued harassment of churches, and house churches, along with the imprisonment of Christians, it’s fair to assume that fear of the Socialist State, plays a sizeable role. Heavy Government restrictions[4] on internet use, means online dissent against the Communist Regime is rare. (As a side note to reasons for how fear plays a role in self-censorship, Communist Chinese authorities also silently encourage doxing. It’s labeled, ‘online vigilante justice’, called “Human Flesh Search Engines“.)

Of the two reports, only Torfox makes the suggestion that self-censorship is the result of compliance with totalitarian Government:

‘What makes the Great Firewall of China so effective (and controversial) is not only its complex technology but also the culture that the system engenders – a culture of self-censorship.  The Chinese government mandates that companies be responsible for their public content.  In other words, it is the job of these companies to make sure that their online portals do not contain any prohibited topics or obscenities.  Leading online news media in China, such as Xinhuanet.com, Chinadaily.com.cn, Chinanews, and Baidu.com obediently follow the government’s decree, pledging that they “will make the Internet a vital publisher of scientific theories… maintain social stability, and promote the building of a socialist harmonious society” (Torfox, Stanford).

Tom McDonald’s field study published by UCL also hints at this reasoning:

‘limiting users access to social media platforms, and certain types of content appearing within them, in order to promote  a social media aligned to both the state and family interests,  was only one aspect of state control. Another method was by populating these platforms with content – propaganda and ‘patriotism’ (p.151) […] ‘Most social media posts about politics are nationalistic. There were very few posts that directly criticized the central government, or policies and attitudes of the state’ (p.161).

There are three good reasons why you should be aware of The Golden Shield Project. First, the project is “supported” by Big Tech (Silicon Valley) Companies. Second, it’s a Communist tool used not just to suppress free speech[5], but create and police, a culture of total compliance with Government approved thought, speech and content. What makes this second point even more alarming is that the technology used for The Golden Shield Project is now being exported. Third, the Golden Shield Project is promoted as being something that upholds family values, while underneath this the Government enforces the socialist state, through total surveillance, and sleight of hand, statist propaganda[6].

Although I use the word, “supported” cautiously, it may not come as a complete surprise that the Golden Shield Project is supported by Big Tech (Silicon Valley) Companies.

According to Torfox, ‘transnational Internet corporations such as Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft are also subjected to self-censorship regulations.  Although censorship is very much against Western ideology, the size of the Chinese market is too profitable for the companies to bypass these opportunities.’ (Torfox, Stanford)

This raises the question, does participating in active censorship, and complying with China’s Golden Shield Project, make these Western, and largely Leftist companies, hypocrites? Further, does this active compliance mean that participating companies are profiteering from an oppressive regime?

Put another way, does the active compliance of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Cisco, Microsoft, Motorola, and Nortel Networks, with China’s Golden Shield Project (which is designed to abolish, punish, and silence dissent, ‘and promote the building of a socialist harmonious society’) mean that these big tech companies, are profiteering from oppression?

Or, as Grant Clark from Bloomberg suggests, are these companies to be viewed also as victims of China’s Communist heavy restrictions?

Simple examples of this compliance include, when Winnie the Pooh, was temporarily banned in  2017.

More complex data shows Google actively blocking the use of its search engine to look up words unapproved by the Chinese Communist Government.

As highlighted by Harvard’s 2002 comprehensive list of searches blocked by Google in China, by request of the Chinese Communist Government. (Complete Chart) Top Ten:

1. Tibet
2. Taiwan
3. equality
4. dissident China
5. revolution
6. dissident
7. freedom China
8. justice China
9. counter-revolution China
10. news China/Democracy China

With this evidence, and these examples in mind, Western concerns about Big Tech companies, which are often ridiculed as fanatical, and fear mongering, are justified.

When these same companies choose to block dissent or a different opinion on their servers/social media platforms in the West, they are importing the same political lockout system that they (at least, in the case of Google, as shown above) apply to Chinese citizens, under the satisfied and watchful gaze of the unelected Chinese bureaucratic caste.  When these companies block dissent or a different opinion, they are choosing to restrict freedom of speech. They are picking a side, and imposing their favored form of ideology on those who may have no choice, but to use their technology or social media platforms.

This should be of concern to Westerners, because the technology used in the Golden Shield Project is now being exported[7].

According to the McDonald field study for UCL, ‘in China, while propaganda frequently ends up forming the basis of news, not all news comes from, or is, propaganda […] [However] 80 to 90% of China’s news is fake news’ (McDonald 2016, pp.151 & 155). Since ‘the Chinese government controls all of the national authority name servers’ (source), it has total control over social media and social media companies.

Evidence of propaganda is seen in the defense of the GSP. Advocates say that Golden Shield Project is only a tool for protecting family values.  The GSP, however, was designed to protect the Communist state, not families. Its primary purpose is to guard the state against the ‘use of the Internet by domestic or foreign groups to coordinate anti-regime activity.’ (China Golden Shield, 2001)

Stanford’s Torfox confirms this, stating that ‘the government initially envisioned the Golden Shield Project to be a comprehensive database-driven surveillance system that could access every citizen’s record as well as link national, regional, and local security together.’

Ergo, even if upholding family values is now a small part of the usefulness of the GSP, it was not part of the Golden Shield Project’s original intent.

In conclusion, it’s reasonable to have governance of the internet based on a nation’s laws and boundaries, but that governance should be small, effective, and preferably have at its core classical liberal ethos, anchored by the Judeo-Christian moral compass. It’s important to remember, that ‘human beings do not have to serve causes, causes have to serve human beings’ (Karl Barth, Against the Steam p.35).

If when talking about the GSP, our focus is on protecting family values, than the GSP is an easy sell. Protections that include internet safety for Children and adults with addictions are plain common sense. For true freedom to exist, it has to have a certain degree of parameters to ensure and uphold its existence. Otherwise, we become enslaved to the machine, and land somewhere in the Matrix.

However, if the goal of governance over the internet, such as the GSP, is the protection of an ideology, an unelected bureaucratic caste, the invasion and suppression of citizen’s rights, and that control is masked by propaganda about protecting family values, then instead of being controlled by the Matrix, we enter a land controlled by those who own the Matrix, which is as equally horrifying.


References:

[1] For a full explanation of this, see Jacques Ellul’s, 1965 publication, ‘Propaganda’.

[2] For a deeper reading of the history, see Bloomberg’s article called, Quicktake: The Great Firewall of China by Grant Clark

[3] McDonald, author of the UCL field study further claims that ‘such reactions can be understood as ways that townsfolk form a strategy for coping with inflexible  controls that they are  otherwise unable to influence’ (p.148). However, ‘the controls which receive the greatest attention outside China – the Great Firewall and deletion of social media posts – are the ones that typically concern local people the least […] Other systems of control – such as checking users’ ages and restricting access for young people – that act at a local level are immediately visible and very important to townsfolk. Some of these measures come from people’s own convictions about the appropriate use of social media, rather than just from state- imposed restrictions’ (p.150)

[4] Bloomberg: ‘Critics say China’s Great Firewall reflects its paranoia over the internet’s potential to spread opposition to one-party rule. As well as impeding freedom of speech, China’s approach constrains it economically, they say, by stifling innovation, preventing the exchange of important ideas and cutting access to services used by businesses like Google Cloud.’

[5] Greg Walton: ‘Many people in China have been arrested for Internet-related “crimes,” ranging from supplying e-mail addresses to Internet publications to circulating pro-democratic information or articles that are critical of the Chinese government, in blatant contradiction of international human rights law guaranteeing freedom of speech.’ (China Golden Shield, 2001)

[6] Greg Walton: ‘China’s Internet regulations and legislation are guided by the principle of “guarded openness” – seeking to preserve the economic benefits of openness to global information, while guarding against foreign economic domination and the use of the Internet by domestic or foreign groups to coordinate anti-regime activity.’ (China Golden Shield, 2001)

[7]  Stanford: ‘China even exports its technology to other countries such as Cuba, Zimbabwe, and Belarus.’ (The Great Firewall of China: Background. Sourced, 23rd January 2019)

[i] McDonald, T. 2016 Social Media In Rural China, ULC Press, U.K. Link to a free copy of the PDF  (p.146)

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

©Rod Lampard, 2019

(Also published at The Caldron Pool, 24th January, 2019.)

There are a vast number of books that discuss Karl Barth’s theology.

So far some of the best include Gorringe, Busch, Bloesch and Webster.

Outside selected writings, which were core readings while I was at college, I’m yet to completely engage with William Willimon, Sung Wook Chung  or explore works from and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. This said, I may never actually get there because I’m passionate about primary and secondary sources.

It’s one thing to read what people say someone said; it’s another thing to hear what that person actually said. Some filters are necessary. Others mislead and can hinder this objective.

Given the amount of lecturer-directed reading we did of Barth and the student-directed discussions about his theology over those years, my focus since then (as some of you will know) has been on working through his Dogmatics; consulting ‘companion texts’ or sending off an email to mates for their perspective when I’ve found it necessary to do so.

Places to start actually reading Barth are Evangelical Theology: An Introduction’ and ‘Dogmatics in Outline’. These are almost always readily available and inexpensive.

As far as good, short accessible introductions to Karl Barth’s historical context and theology go, I reckon Dean Stroud’s (2013)[i] outline in ‘Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow’  is a serious contender:

‘In 1930 Karl Barth began teaching at the University in Bonn, and not long after that he was calling Christians to radical opposition to the “Thüringen {Nazi-conformist} German Christian movement.’’ (circa 1920’s-1938[ii])
But even before his arrival at Bonn, Barth’s commentary on Romans had caused a stir.
The first edition had appeared in 1919, which was followed by expanded editions from 1921 through to 1932. In his reading of Romans, Barth challenged readers to hear the epistle as God’s word directly addressing the present moment.
No longer was the letter a relic of the past whose message was more historically interesting than contemporarily relevant.
Heinz Zahrnt, whose history of Protestant theology in the 20th Century contains a lengthy discussion of Barth’s commentary, calling it ‘’a great explosion,’’ (bomb theology) in that Barth ‘’proceeds with the single assumption about the text ‘that God is God.’
For Barth, secular history was not an “idealized pantheistic” course of grand events so much as a record of “naturalistic” and “materialistic” forces.
In short, human history was nothing to brag about and certainly it was no hymn of praise to human achievement and progress, given recent events such as World War One.
As Zahrnt expressed it, Barth “turned 19th Century theology on its head” and then went “not from the bottom up but from the top down”. I.e.: we do not reach God by starting with humanity or human achievements and victories, but rather, God reaches out to us in revelation…
For Barth “God is the subject and predicate of his theology all in one”.
Barth and neo-orthodoxy sounded radical to those trained to view Scripture as a curious example of ancient history, not the sacred word of God.
According to Barth’s interpretation, no longer is the reader in charge of the biblical text but the text judges the reader.
And so when the “German Christians” insisted on inserting Hitler and racial hatred into the Scriptures or removing Paul and robbing Jesus of his Jewish identity, Barth was ready to object with a vigorous regard for biblical authority.
19th Century liberal theology had weakened biblical foundations, and “German Christians” has simply taken advantage of this human-centred interpretation.
Barth’s neo-orthodox interpretation of Romans repeatedly hammers away against idolatry of self-worship in human form, nation, or leader…
The gulf between humans and God is too wide for the human eye; only God in his revelation and his word may cross that divide. Hence every human effort to identify a leader, a nation, a fatherland, or a race with the divine always results in the worship of the “No-God.”
Barth urged future preachers in Germany to take the biblical text seriously, to submit themselves to it, and not the other way around.
By focusing on the text through exegesis, pastors would hold up and alternative rhetoric to the culture. From his lectures it is clear that for preachers in the Barthian tradition, the biblical text reigns supreme.
Without the preacher intending to be controversial or political, the Holy Spirit may make him so in the faithful hearing and proclaiming of Scripture. Barth issued a call to arms against the German Christian movement and argued against any marriage of Christianity with Nazism.
He warned that “what under no circumstances is allowed to happen is this, that we in zeal for a new thing we consider good, lose our theological existence.
God is nowhere present for us, nowhere present in the world, nowhere present in our realm and in our time as in his word; that this word of his has no other name and content than Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ for us is nowhere in the world to be found as new every day except in the Old and New Testaments. About this we in the church are unified or we are not in the church”
Theological existence today, for Barth, was being bound to God’s Word and to Jesus Christ alone and to no other name or race of land.’[iii]

On the whole I’m uncomfortable with labels outside just being called a Christian, so the term Barthian is not something I’m quick to apply to myself or others with any deliberate zeal.

I am, however, convinced that what The Word of God might say to the Christian through a Barthian lens has the potential to transform lives, beginning with their theology.


References:

[i] Stroud, D. 2013 (editor), Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of resistance in the Third Reich, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company

[ii] Ibid, p.23

[iii] Ibid, pp.31-33

Image: Storied Theology – On Loving Freedom

Originally published 14th September 2014 

©Rod Lampard, 2019

A lot of people leave out the Christian part when it comes to Martin Luther King Jnr. They do this because they’re either uncomfortable with the truth, they simply don’t know, have a prejudice towards Christians, or don’t really want to know.

This was illustrated by the brilliant, Vince Conard in a recent comic strip he posted to Instagram.

 

What Conrad presents is a critique of the tone, aggression and disunity of our day. Any mention of Martin’s faith, is anathema on some circles within the West. The fact that in 1934, the year after Hitler had taken for himself total power, MLK’s parents named their son after a German theologian and reformer has a lot to do with their faith in Christ. They acted in faith, because of the liberating power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which was displayed in the actions of the early Martin Luther during the Reformation. This fact seems to grate against those in the West, who may seek to hijack MLK in the name of division, self-interest and fear.

Tearing MLK away from his theological foundation, tears King away from everything he stood for and against. MLK’s legacy is a Christian witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the overcoming of sin. All sin, not just the bits and pieces some people choose to focus on in order to lord it over others. This includes the sin of treating others, who are created in the image of God, differently because of the colour of their skin.

MLK’s legacy is a Christian witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the liberation of humanity from its primal atheism. This is a liberation from humanity’s rejection of grace, its self-displacement, subsequent displacement of others and self-destruction.

Karl Barth spoke consistently about his view that the “no” of God heard in Jesus Christ has nothing on the great “yes” of God, spoken at the same time. This humiliation of God is the exaltation of humanity. This is something God chose. In exercising His freedom, God hands us freedom. True freedom only finds its place within the God who is free. God remains the God  who is sovereign and free; and must do so, in order for us to be truly set free. Anything outside the gift of freedom from the sovereign God who is free isn’t true freedom, it’s true bondage; for ‘if the Son sets free, you are free indeed.’ (John 8:36)

In more technical terms:

‘…it is necessarily the case that the [free] omnipotent operation of God merely leaves the activity of the creature free, but makes it free…the effect of operation of God is not bondage but freedom. We could almost put it in this way, that the bondage which results from the operation of the Word and Spirit is itself true freedom.’ (Barth CD.3.3:150)

Freedom consecrated by response, responsibility, partnership with God, prophesy, ministry, healing and teaching. Freedom made real by His choice and His suffering at the hands of whip, condemnation, betrayal, spear, and death on a Roman cross. Freedom vindicated by the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus, who is not another myth fostered by human imagination, like that of the half-god/half-man Hercules, but is Himself very God and very man.

What grounded Martin Luther King from the start was his faith in Jesus Christ. It’s well documented that when things weighed MLK down, he would lean on the gifts of Mahalia Jackson, who would minister to him through word and song. It’s his defiant Christian faith that should inspire us and point us to the goal of liberation as he saw it, liberation from ALL sin, in the name, word and deeds of Jesus the Christ. Without God’s sovereignty, and His willingness to be for us, none of us are free.

“God is neither hard-hearted or soft minded. He is tough-minded enough to transcend the world; He is tender-hearted enough to live in it. He does not leave us to our agonies and struggles. He seeks for us in dark places and suffers with us, and for us in our tragic prodigality.” (A Tough Mind & a Tender Heart, Gift of Love, p.9)

Furthermore, the faith of Martin Luther King Jnr is not to be confused with optimism. It’s not the “faith” of optimists and psychologists. Those who would preach from the pages of positive psychology such as Jordan Peterson. The clever term they use in order to justify reducing the Christian faith to principles that can be lived out, without any need for a relationship with the One who is the author and foundation of this faith; the One who anchors humanity to the living hope that this defiant faith testifies.

Martin Luther King Jnr wasn’t a man without sin, but he was a man who knew that ALL sin is answered first and foremost by God, in and through Jesus Christ.

This segregating of King from his faith and theology may serve the secular political aims of modern liberals, and their quest for total power by any means necessary, but it ultimately enslaves King to the servitude [i]. It enslaves MLK to ideology-as-master and the reactionary political groups it controls. These include groups and agendas, he, in all likelihood would never have signed on to because they persist in denying their own sin, and yet, are loud and proud in their condemnation of the sin of others.

Despite his liberal theology [ii], to separate MLK from Jesus Christ, is to create an MLK who never existed [iii]. To segregate Martin Luther King Jnr from this defiant Christian faith, and the testimony of God, who speaks through it, is to fail to hear what MLK had to say. To segregate MLK from Jesus Christ, is to burn what he set in motion, on the cross of what he hoped to see achieved.

#FREEMLK!


References:

[i] Jean Bethke Elshtain: ‘Martin Luther King was no generic social reformer but an African-American Baptist Minister; Pope John Paul II’s pastoral identity deeply informed his extraordinary diplomatic missions.A range of developments, from civil rights struggles in the U.S to Solidarity in Poland and the end of the Soviet Empire, are incomprehensible if religion is left out of the picture’ (Just War Against Terror, 2008).

[ii] Martin Luther King’s Early theology on ‘The Humanity & Divinity of Jesus‘, where he dissociates himself with the orthodox view of Jesus Christ’s Divinity (Incarnation), e.g.: ‘The Word Became Flesh’.

[iii] MLK criticised liberal theology, but he was caught up and influenced by the theology of it, particularly the Social Gospel, which has an inherently Marxist leaning – e.g.: liberation theology as opposed to a theology of Christian liberation (solidarity & subsidiarity). I believe MLK was more in the latter category, than the former. He wasn’t a liberation theologian. For the sake of simplicity my comment, “despite his liberal theology”, is more a minor footnote acknowledgement of an area that influenced his theological journey.

Artist: Vince Conard, https://www.instagram.com/vince_conard/  (Used with permission)

King, Jnr. M.L. A Tough Mind & a Tender Heart, Gift of Love (p.9)

Torrance, T.F. 2009 Atonement: The Person & Work of Jesus Christ InterVarsity Press

©Rod Lampard, 2019

Posts like these provide a good chance to offer my thanks to those of you who stop by to read on a regular, and casual basis. My goal for this blog hasn’t changed from previous years. It’s primary subject is still theology and politics. It’s secondary subjects are music, movies, and homeschool. Part of the joy of writing, is discovery; stopping to wonder at something, and then inviting others to do the same. My hope for anything that I write, is to see it communicate discovery and reconnect people with a real understanding of the relevance of the Bible, and faith in Jesus Christ. In a world of competing noise, this can be difficult to do, but where I may fail, due to my own human limitations, may God succeed.

Here are the top ten most viewed articles of 2018:

1.Barth’s Impossible Possibility: It’s not that we can fall from grace, it’s that is, & can be rejected

2.Marcus Garvey: Educate Yourself

3.Why Social Justice Warriors Are the Brethren of Iscariot, Not Christ

4.Review: Crusade In Europe, Dwight Eisenhower

5.Bonhoeffer’s Discourse On Pride, Identity, Lust & Christian Discipleship 

6.Capitalism Needs Compassion, Compassion Needs Capitalism. Socialism Outlaws Both

7.Three Criticisms of Karl Barth

8.Convicts Arriving in Botany Bay Isn’t “Invasion Day”, The Imperial Japanese Bombing of Darwin in 1942 Is

9. A Case Against Banning Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn

10. Truth Vs. Manipulative Propaganda In The World, Church, Practice & Theory

Special mentions:

1.Donald Trump’s “No” To Imperialism

2.On Parenting: There can be no pedestal, only protest and petition

3.Not All affliction is from God, but God works through all affliction

 


© Rod Lampard, 2018

Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Unsplash

Since 2014 I’ve been committed to considering what different things God might have to say at the close of Christmas. Traditionally this is Epiphany, the 6th January, marking the end of the twelve days of Christmas.

Magi from the East (Persia), following the star (likely to be the well-timed rare alignment of three planets in our Sol system; a Nova or Super Nova) find confirmation of Micah 5:2:

‘but you, O Bethlehem who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient of days’.

The Magi, after arriving in Jerusalem, are sent by the malicious, King Herod, to Bethlehem. The order is: ‘diligently search for the child and report back’ (Matthew 2:9). The Magi are once again ‘guided by the star that they had seen when it rose before them’ (ibid). At this the Magi ‘rejoiced exceedingly with great joy’ (Matthew 2:10). Arriving at the house where Mary and Joseph now reside, the Magi gift their famous tribute of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

This sacrifice honours the One whom they have sought to honour. Their mission is complete. Their journey comes to an end, and they’re offering enters them into a history they never intended to be included in. The Magi aren’t Jewish, but they know the Old Testament; they know of the Jewish prophets. From the East the Magi arrived, perhaps with apprehension and anticipation, but by the time that they end up leaving, they leave having that apprehension and anticipation answered with great joy. The Magi are not disappointed.

With their own eyes they not only see, but joyfully participate in the confirmation of the prophet Micah’s significant foretelling of the birth of the one who comes from the Ancient of Days; the birth of The King of Israel, in insignificant Bethlehem.

This great joy emboldens the Magi. They take heed of a dream in which they are warned not return to King Herod. This is later justified by Herod’s command to kill all male infants aged two and under, in Bethlehem and the surrounding region.

Like the Magi’s visit and their presenting of gifts to the infant Christ (Matthew 2:11), Epiphany is a time of stepping back and gifting God with the attention of our hearts and minds.

Wise men still seek Him, and Epiphany (the traditional close of Christmas celebrations and contemplation) is a good place to end one year and begin another.

Instead of us making our own resolutions, it’s a good time to seek out the resolutions God has already made towards us. Understanding that we ‘worship by the Spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh’ (Philippians 3:3); and that we can rely on His strength to do so, not solely our own.

Looking to what God has already revealed about Himself, we ask, what can we draw from God’s self-revelation that will take us into the New Year with confidence?

What is it about God’s self-revelation that will help us build on God’s resolution towards us, one that outlasts vain and clichéd New Years Eve promises?

Epiphany is not without substance. The great joy of the Magi is not without justification.

They may leave empty-handed, but they don’t leave empty and disillusioned. The Magi leave well guarded; full of the joy of the Lord. This is a joy they’ve witnessed face to face with, and received from, the One who is the ‘fountain of all joy’ (Tony Reinke)[i].

As Karl Barth noted, this great joy is the radiance of God’s glory:

‘God’s love becomes an event and a person, God’s fellowship, powerful and a fact [.…]It is a glory that awakens joy […] God’s glory radiates it […] because it is God who Himself radiates joy […] His glory is radiant, and what it radiates is joy. It attracts and therefore it conquers.’ (Karl Barth, CD. II:1, pp.643, 655, 654, 661) (Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 30:5; Isaiah 55:12; John 15:11)

May Epiphany remind us that ‘the presence of the Creator is not an idle or unfruitful presence. It is not the presence of cold confrontation. It is not a presence which leaves blind eyes blind or deaf ears deaf. It is a presence which opens them. God’s glory is the indwelling joy of His divine being which as such shines out from Him.’ (Barth, CD 2.1:647)

May Epiphany not be a cold confrontation with the great joy experienced by the Magi. May this great joy, be the joy of the Lord working in our lives. May we ‘not be grieved, knowing that the Joy of the Lord is our strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10), and that it is only in Him that great joy is to be found. That we too are guarded and that we too can march on as wise men, when kings, rulers, or the world (and sometimes those about us), are all too happy to deceive, mock, destroy, steal and tear down.

With the Magi, may we say that the great joy awakened in them by the glory of God is now also before us, for us and given resolutely to us. With the Magi, we can embrace the birth of the new and the continuing reminder of God’s faithfulness to His people, and the fact that His joy WILL BE our strength, and none other[ii].


References:

[i] Tony Reinke noted that ‘joy is fundamental to God’s triune nature. To find God is to find the fountain of all joy […] We participate in joy when we reach the essence of all joy: God Himself’. I disagree with how Reinke’s article conflates happiness with Joy, but I agree with the fact that ‘God is the fountain of joy’.

[ii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer: ‘One should, in such times of confusion, go back to the beginning, to our wellsprings, to the true Bible, to the true Luther. One should keep on, ever more undaunted and joyfully, becoming a theologian who speaks truth in love (ἀληθεύοντες ἐν ἀγάπῃ). (DBW 12)

Photo by Nghia Le on Unsplash

© Rod Lampard, 2019

Also published @ The Caldron Pool, January 13, 2019 under the same title.

As promised, the latest film in the Transformers series delivers.  ‘Bumblebee’ is a prequel set on America’s West Coast, in 1987. The film moves along at an engaging pace, is quaint and unexpected. High action scenes interweave with a smart storyline which is matched with a well chosen cast. Although debate about whether ‘Bumblebee’ is a prequel or a spin off, continues, the little that is wrong with this film, is outweighed by what the creators get right.

In a small list of highlights, the biggest was how the film succeeds as a prequel. As a flashback, ‘Bumblebee’ offers a solid start. Without offering spoilers, it’s enough to say that the storyline is consistent with the five Michael Bay films which came before it.

This is bolstered by careful attention to detail, such as when the Decepticon, Soundwave, makes his appearance for the first time. As with the first Transformer movies which brought the return of Peter Cullen’s classic voice to Optimus Prime’s, “Autobots. Roll out!” Soundwave’s[1] one scene, signature robotic voice command “Decepticon’s. Attaaaack!”, brings Transformers back to its classic 1980s roots.

Although he only has one scene, Soundwave is the only old Decepticon to be reintroduced to the series, while two, new muscle car/combat aircraft Decepticon’s, fill the role of antagonist. In addition, talented new actors provided a welcome change of scenery. This adds to the distancing of ‘Bumblebee’ with the (big star saturated screen presence of the) film’s predecessors.

In a short list of significant letdowns, the biggest was the absence of Steve Jablonsky. Having created the soundtrack for all six Transformers movies, his absence felt odd and inconsistent.  Without Jablonsky colouring the background with his now trademark Transformers sound, parts of the film felt empty. The careful insertion of some classic 1980s songs did not fill the void.

Italian film composer, Dario Marianelli may have excelled in period films like ‘Pride & Prejudice (2005)’, but he was a poor choice for the ‘Bumblebee’ movie.  The absence of Jablonsky stood out like the size of Megatron’s ego. Marianelli had big shoes to fill. He was working outside of his genre and it showed. The Bumblebee soundtrack is a letdown and the absence of Jablonsky is a huge loss for an otherwise excellent film. In the end, not one song in Marianelli’s soundtrack succeeds in matching Jablonsky’s ‘Tessa’, ‘Autobots’, ‘No Sacrifice, No Victory,  ‘Arrival to Earth’ and the haunting witty flow of ‘Cogman Sings’.

In attempting to answer why Marianelli, and not Jablonsky, it’s anyone’s best guess. My own would be that a) it was contractual b) the makers of Bumblebee wanted to make a clean cut between ‘Bumblebee’ and its predecessors c) Jablonsky was too masculine for a movie with a lead female character.

If the Hollywood Reporter and Cinema Blend are right, ‘Bumblebee’ is as much a “soft spinoff” as it is a prequel. If Transformers goes the way the Star Wars franchise has, and its creative direction is ideologically liberated from its original cinematic creators, then all three options are probable reasons for why Jablonsky was not invited to the table.

Another somewhat minor letdown was John Cena’s character. His character’s role starts out strong, but by the end of the film, his character’s presence in many of the closing scenes is purposeless and comical. Not only does Cena’s character descend into a mockery of the strong masculine role, it could also be viewed as a further attempt to paint male authority as buffoonish. With the current political zeitgeist, it’s hard not to see this is a veiled (passive aggressive) upper cut thrown by Hollywood, in the direction of Donald Trump, and all white heterosexual men in general.

However, to ‘Bumblebee’s’ credit, this particular downside to the film is balanced by the admiration and affection that the film’s protagonist, Charlie Watson (played by Hailee Steinfeld), has for her late father. Watson’s father is portrayed as an attentive, engaged, strong and loving parent, who is deeply missed; something that Hailee Steinfeld communicates to the audience with heartfelt precision. In addition to this, because ‘Bumblebee’ stresses the importance of a child having a mother and a father, the film presents a strong message about grieving and the importance of family as being a built around male and female; dad, mum and children. The main point being that Watson’s father cannot be replaced.

Despite hidden prejudices that could be drawn out from the film, ‘Bumblebee’ is an unexpected, fun, inspirational family film. ‘Bumblebee’ delivers. If Hollywood Reporter’s speculation that the film is a spin off, then the story line is left wide open, not only for further films, but a multiverse conversion of Hasbro’s line of related 1980s heroes and villains[2]. Something aptly coined by Graeme McMillan as the ‘Hasbroverse’.

If freeing Transformers from its original cinematic creators, in the same way that Star Wars has been liberated, I’m not all that optimistic about where the franchise will go.  Overall, ‘Bumblebee’ is an unexpected, fun, family friendly film, with all the Transformer action. Other than the obvious absence of a Jablonsky soundtrack, and a few minor letdowns in the development, and consistency of some characters, ‘Bumblebee’ is not just a great start to something fresh, it’s an exciting filler, as we wait for the finale to Michael Bay’s cinematic Transformer interpretation.


References:

[1] Voiced by Frank Welker (Megatron, Dr.Claw)

[2] E.g.: G.I Joe, Action Man & Transformers

©Rod Lampard, 2018

Disclaimer: I did not receive and remuneration for this review of any kind.