Archives For Christology

Barmen these then and now

For some time now I have been seriously captivated by the Barmen Declaration and the Confessing Church. I recently had the privilege of recounting how applicable this particular part of modern Church History is to our current, “post-modern” context.

The principle author of the declaration was Karl Barth, who wrote it during a synod in the May of 1934 Barmen, Germany. The Barmen Declaration was agreed upon and signed by members of the ‘Lutheran, reformed and united churches’ (2010:12).

In his 2010 book ‘the Barmen theses then and now’, Eberhard Busch convincingly argues for its continuing relevance, by brilliantly illustrating the significance of the ‘Theological Declaration of Barmen’.

The socio-political context was pre-world war two, Nazi Germany. The Confessing Church was formed in ‘protest against’ (Busch 2010:8) the Nazis and their Nationalist church movement (Nazi sympathisers), who rallied under the nationalist banner ‘German Christians’.

According to Busch, the ‘German Christians’, as an organised majority, did this because the German church in the early 1930s were a community ‘struggling for its identity’ (2010:2).

Consequently a large portion of Christians were easily manipulated by nationalist-socialist ideology (Nazism).

Busch asserts that ‘Hitler’s hidden agenda was that the church should make itself superfluous, so that the state could become absolute ruler’ (2010:1).An example of this was the influence and practice of anti-Semitism, which manifested itself in November 1933, when nationalist-Christian’s decided ‘to purify the gospel ‘’from all Oriental distortion’. The result of this was that ‘they distorted the gospel message’ (2010:24).

The Barmen declaration was a product of protest; it was and still is both a theological and political polemic for these reasons.

Firstly, the Barmen Declaration was a protest against the ‘German Christians’ and their acceptance of the ideology of the State, University and State coercion forcing people into allegiance to it. Secondly, it was a protest against the aggressive policy that had merged the church with the state, by subordinating the church to the state.

Thirdly, the ‘Barmen Declaration’ instructs the church through its confessional language and its contemporary relevance, to deal graciously with people who merge theology with ideology. Busch notes that ‘even when we say ‘’no’’ to their activities, we are still basically saying ‘’yes’’ to them thus loving them’, and all the while doing so firmly without obtrusion (2010:45).

For example:

Barmen thesis one: salvation is through Christ alone.
In context this means that any view which suggests that salvation could come through Hitler is false and therefore is to be rejected. This is because ‘Jesus is the one Word of God and the proper hearing of this Word takes place in trusting and obeying’ (2010:37)…‘The one word is the way upon which, and the door through which, God comes to us in his truth and in his life, comes as the light that overcomes the lie and as the resurrection that disempowers death’ (Busch 2010:23). There are no ways to God, there is only one way and it is from God to us founded and expressed entirely through, and in Jesus the Christ.

Barmen thesis two: is about evangelical ethics. This is to be understood as ‘the one Word having two forms, gospel and law; God’s gift and command’ (2010:37). The ‘basis of evangelical ethics is not a program, not a principle, not a categorical imperative, but rather a person, Jesus Christ’ (Busch 2010:42). God does not ‘require of us the begrudging fulfilment of obligation but rather he expects of us our gratitude for the beneficence we have received’ (2010:44). In context this meant ‘obeying God rather than’ (citing Acts 5:29, p.42) an ideology or the consensus of the mob.

Barmen thesis three: is about the ‘church struggle’ (2010:50) with ‘false doctrine’ (2010:52).This corresponds with the issue of placing ideology over against theology by separating the secular from the sacred. Busch understands this to be primarily about compromise. It means that ‘the church puts itself in jeopardy – whether in its retreat from the world into an interior space to attend to a sacral activity, or in its conforming to the world around it, to which it surrenders’ (2010:52).

Barmen thesis four: concerns the priesthood of all believers. It proposes that the Church is not ‘reduced to its office bearers’ (2010:67) and therefore identified in isolation from the laity. This means that ‘the church cannot rule, and there shall be no ruling within it…to serve others does not mean to wait on them, but rather it means to be free for them, free to stand in support next to them’ (2010:66).

Barmen thesis five: outlines the importance of maintaining the separation between Church and State. This pertains to the importance of the churches commission and mission. It must not be confused with the false division between sacred and secular. For example: ‘the more the church endeavours to be proper church, the better it can invite and encourage the state to be proper state’ (2010:84).

Barmen theses six: the final thesis deals with ‘ecclesial arrogance’ (2010:94). To unpack this Busch differentiates between those who do not reject the word and those who seek to silence it. He rightly accuses those who seek to silence the word of ‘making the gospel an opiate of the people’ (2010:95)…‘sometimes demanding, sometimes smiling, they demand that the Word of God should bless and not disturb the arbitrary acts of humans’ (2010:95). This, Busch writes places the gospel ‘into the service of human interests’ (2010:93).

Finally, one of Busch’s key observations is that the “German Christian movement”:

‘demonstrated just where the church ends up when it begins to conform its own order to the state’s wishes – the outcome is that not only the church’s order but also its message is conformed to those wishes’ (2010:74).

English: German stamp, showing Karl Barth. Deu...

With this in mind, the contemporary relevance of Barmen should be clear. Through Barth and many others, God has provided a reliable platform for today’s Church to frame a firm but gracious no, to a growing number of people, who seek to subordinate the Word of God and the church to an ideology.

These include: Nationalism, ecclesial elitism, Islamic fascism, homosexual activism, militant atheism, environmentalism, nihilism and extreme feminism.

It is perhaps fitting to finish with the thunder that sounds out from one of Barth’s rallying cries: ‘let us respond to the world when it wants to make us fearful:

Your lords are leaving, but our Lord is coming’ (cited by Busch 2010:72).

Source:

Busch, E. 2010 the Barmen theses then and now: the 2004 Warfield lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids Michigan, U.S.A

(Originally published 2nd May, 2013)

A few years back I did an online retreat for a spiritual formations class I was taking. It was a core subject, with a large amount of flexibility in what classes you can choose from[1].

What was revealed to me during of one of these classes was the short but sweet statement, ‘aim to bless, rather than impress’. Recently, I found myself questioning it’s viability as a theological statement from which society can be critiqued.

I began wrestling with the question, is there ever an appropriate time to impress people? As a budding student theologian, I immediately started to critically work out a reasoned polemic.

The answer I came up with was no. There should never be a need to try to impress people, ever. If there is follow Paul’s advice and run, run far and run fast (2 Tim.2:22 ESV).

I’m a fairly confident guitar player, and I love a large variety of musical genres, so putting on a show is in my very westernized and socially engineered self-conscience. Throughout junior and senior high school, getting the latest riff right down to its semitone and crochet, determined a high level of social acceptance.

As a result I derived my sense of self-worth from how well I could play (i.e.: put on a show). In my pre-Christ alignment, this became an idol I obsessed over.

From hard learned experiences, for me appearance determined reputation and was therefore everything. The language of acceptance was, at least from my prespective, my musical ability.

The statement ‘aim to bless, rather than impress’ is counter-cultural. We know this because God’s standard is to ‘look upon the heart and not outward appearance..not as humans do’ (1.Sam.16:7).

This means that a statement like aim to bless rather than impress, is the ordained orientation for humanity, even if it is not always the reality. This statement appears on the ‘horizon of the possibility’s of grace’ (Leonard Ravenhill).

Father, Son and Spirit rushes towards us, not unlike the prodigal’s father running towards his son, undeterred by his “wasteful” public display of affection, joy, gratitude and forgiveness (Lk. 15:17) [2].

For now, I have concluded that humans are called to be bothered with how we bless people, as opposed to how we impress them. This does not mean I give up on performing, it means that I resist any area in my life where my performance, worth and acceptance is tempted to become about simply just ‘putting on a show’.

Today, I was reading my news feeds and stumbled across this relevant gem by Wendy Murray:

”Your worth, and mine, cannot–I dare say, must not — be reduced to “likes,” “retweets,” “shares,” and “mentions.” Your worth and, mine; your influence on others’ lives, and mine, have nothing to do with measureable algorythms. It is a lie…be who you are, before God. Do what God made you to do. Look people in the eye. Show up. That is enough’’

What that all means is this:

In order to express excellence we must only do our best! Outside simply giving our best, the contemporary ”virtue” of excellence and the quest for it can become an idol.

In doing so we live out of a darkened sense of self-worth dictated to us by others, instead of God’s idea of who we are. When we aim to bless, rather than impress, we set our feet on the Christological reality that says,

‘it is only from God that men and women know who they are’ (Bonhoeffer 1966, p.31).

This is the only measuring stick, and from it we ‘intuitively recognize that we, ourselves are more than what has been defined for us’ (Cone paraphrased p.11, 1975).

Give thanks, for “we are found”… (David Crowder)


References:

Bonhoeffer, D. 1966 Christology William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London

Cone, J.H. 1975, God of the oppressed Orbis books, Maryknoll, N.Y

(Edited from an article originally posted in 2013)


[1] I plan to write on some of my experiences, if I get the time to formulate them into a coherent and linear framework.

[2] Luke 15:17 ‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (ESV)

Photo by José Martín on Unsplash

Advent participation.

Impossible is the insinuation;

Or, so goes the well packaged accusations.

Yet, still booms the revel of Christmas night.

Scared.

Awakened by whispers.

Corrupted power structures are still rattled by the disturbance.

Their victims,

Firmly grasped.

Dearly held.

This.

Holy.

Night.

The coming disruptive Holiness

The embodiment of grace;

The righteous rule of Jesus Christ.

The first human breath;

the first human cry of God’s Revelation.

Art and Advent


*An inverted photo of some Christmas craft my son created.

Jules Verne BrittanicaDespite what might be a popular conception for those of us, raised in, by, and with pop-culture, author, Jules Verne (1828-1905) was neither American nor British.

Verne, the author of ’20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ and ‘Around The World in 80 Days,’ was French.

He wasn’t a curious atheist or even a fierce agnostic. Not that being an atheist or agnostic disqualifies anyone from having anything of value to say.

It’s just worth noting that there is a distinction between the man and any perpetuated assumptions that deconstructionism, selectively-applied-to-support-an-agenda might create. (Through, say, it’s presumed, superior grasp of authorial intent?)

By which, I mean, the inadvertent creation of a long-winded meaning, in order to explain a meaning, but which ends up having nothing to do with the author’s actual, original and intended meaning.[i]

Verne was, according to common belief, a deist.  An unorthodox Christian belief that became popular in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries.

Evidenced by the concept that, ‘God helps those who first help themselves’.[ii]

Or as is understood by our Muslim neighbours in the Quran as,

‘Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.’[iii]

More precisely, deism is

‘a movement of rationalistic thought that acquires knowledge of God solely by the use of reason as opposed to knowledge gained through revelation (God’s making himself known; Jesus Christ) or church teaching.’[iv]

With some amount of caution about oversimplifying deism, it is, in a sentence, Christianity without Christ. It has little to nothing to do with grace, gospel or the relationship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has chosen to establish, rescue and then secure, with humanity.

The five points of deism are:

  1. ‘the belief in a supreme being
  2. the obligation to worship
  3. the obligation of ethical conduct
  4. the need for repentance of sins
  5. divine rewards and punishments in this life and the next’[v]

It could be argued that deism is syncretism, landing somewhere in the middle of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Their similarities fused together in a way that allows for the possibility of an absolute reason-in-unison between the three. Not quite universalism.

It’s easy to see why deism was attractive. It advocates an easy tolerance.  Appearing to be justified by reason it’s seen as a useful tool for mediation, one that ignores differences. Conveniently, God’s relationship with us is reduced to a utilitarian, religious checklist that is then imposed back onto Him.

Effectively, God’s reconciliationMaritime steampunk in the uniqueness of Christ is displaced. He is reassigned to the role of under-Lord who exists to meet the desires, wants, progressive goals and universal happiness of His human-overlords.

The outcome being totalised subservient coexistence.

Held out at a distance God is detached. His transcendence over-emphasised, He is thought to be unmoved until we choose to move.

Consequently, God’s free act in Christ is stolen. Like the prodigal son’s father, God’s decision to move before we do is overlooked. His reach and run towards us rejected as foolish, embarrassing and undignified.

Driven by hypocritical intolerance, this empowers a push towards the slow annihilation of the Christian. God is enslaved, Christ subsumed. In its place is established the quintessential, dysfunctional kingdom of man or woman. The unexpected result being the embodiment of terror; power held in place by the tyranny of suspicion and the misuse of appearances to manipulate reality in order to maintain such power.

In truth this easy tolerance is a ruse. At best it’s only an uneasy truce between those in the West who seek to displace Christianity and elements of fascist ideology that, in part, still marches on through the desert sands of the Middle East and the halls of Western academia.

As for Verne, perhaps his later works are an enquiry into this. Perhaps they are a judgement on humanity about what can happen when progressive optimism turns into human arrogance.

The caution and detail within Verne’s tales show that he was a keen observer, not a prophet. His words are a reminder to the over-confident, self-assured and tenured wise.

Not a lot of accessible contemporary debate[vi] appears to exist about how much his theism was influenced by deism, and how heavily or not, deism or theism might have influenced his work.

Most commentators seem to settle comfortably on the point that Verne rarely mentions Jesus Christ, so his deism is considered unquestionable.

On the surface they appear right. However, doubt about their conclusions is justified. For example: Verne had apparent fascination with Mormonism.[vii]

In the relatively unknown, 1871, publication ‘A Floating City’, Verne, in response to the sails of the Great Eastern being drawn out of respect for a Sunday Church service at sea, writes:

‘I thought myself very fortunate that the screw-propeller was allowed to continue its work, and when I inquired of a fierce Puritan the reason for this tolerance, “Sir,” said he to me, “that which comes directly from God must be respected; the wind is in His hand, the steam is in the power of man.” I was willing to content myself with this reason, and in the meantime observed what was going on, on board.’[viii]

In addition, certain parts of ‘A Floating City’, ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ and ‘Around the World in Eighty days’ provide us wit evidence of Verne’s respect for traditional Christian devotion, it’s place in society mixed with a healthy criticism of the church-as-institution.

For now, outside quick token mentions of deism, those details are left to trivia and the footnotes of historians.

Yet, without real enquiry, or interest in it, any debate about Verne’s faith and theology will remain locked in speculation.Relegated to the rubric of opinion. Any conclusions will remain quietly hidden within the realms of mysticism, cool steampunk fashion and science-fiction that Verne is all too easily assigned.

 

“Static objects mustn’t be confused with dynamic ones, or we’ll be open to serious error.” – Nemo [ix]

 


Source:

[i] Wordy, I know, but…it makes sense when you think about it.

[ii]  A quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, this is, however, more than likely a proverb which originated in Classical Greece.

[iii] Quran 13:11

[iv] Mcdonald, M.H in Elwell, W.A (Ed.) 2001 Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed. Baker House Publishing Company (p.329)

[v] Ibid.

[vi] It’s difficult to find any.

[vii] Verne mentions it with an air of fascination in both A Floating City, and Around the World in Eighty Days.

[viii] Verne, J. 1871 A Floating City (Illustrated) Kindle Ed. (p.45)

[ix] Verne, J. 1869 Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, BookRix GmbH, Kindle Ed. (p.29)

Images:

1. Jules Verne, Brittanica.com

2. Photo of an old divining suit I took in Ballina, NSW. Filtered using picmonkey.

Remove The Stone

September 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

ID-100113575The events in John 11-12 involve a dynamic interaction between Jesus, his friends, a curious crowd[i] and some very concerned authorities.

We read of spies, intrigue, assassination plots and a mutinous disciple.

The text tells us that Jesus’ friends had serious concerns for his safety in a crowd[ii].  This is emphasised by John when he tells us that Jesus is warned against returning to Bethany (11:8).

In 10:31, John states that the reason for this is due to a previous clash, between offended stone throwers and their intention to arrest Jesus, who only after pushing them back with verbal rebuttals manages to avoid any further unnecessary contact.

We see this danger also exemplified by the assassination plots first laid out against Jesus and then Lazarus. We are later told of Caiaphas, the chief priest[iii], and his appeasement not just of 1st Century Jewish law, but also that of the ‘Pax Romana’; a 1st and 2nd century status quo enforced by Rome’s well disciplined, and heavily equipped legions.

The text then shows the true extent of Iscariot’s character, as Mary, in front of the risen Lazarus and his sister Martha, pours ointment, made of an expensive Indian perfume, onto the ‘feet of Jesus, wiping his feet with her hair.’

In John’s reflection we are unable to escape the tension as he writes:

‘Judas did not care for the poor. He was a thief. Having charge of the moneybag, which he used to help himself to’ (12:6)

The situation appears to have been a mix of grief, anger, joy, faith, reason and fear.

But, who, when tempted would struggle to disagree with Iscariot or the crowd today?

Jesus, this so-called ‘’preacher of love”; the so-called ‘Son of Man’; a man presumed to be one of absolute peace and tolerance, so easily managed to incite the anger of the authorities.

If he is about grace, why is he so divisive?

Look at how Jesus treated his friend Lazarus and see how he is absent when Lazarus’ sisters are in need?

Why did he place his own security over the healing of his friend?

How is that not selfish betrayal?

Did his intolerance know no bounds?  Perhaps the whispers and accusations spoken against him are true?

These questions might not be so unjustified, that is of course if it were not for this key event:

In front of the people gathered to console the grieving sisters, Jesus returns, prays, speaks, and then raises Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus is first met by Martha.

Possibly indicating prior conversations of lament and confusion between Lazarus’ sisters, who speak separately with Jesus and say:

“Lord, if you had been here…” (11:21 / 11:32, ESV)

He tells Martha that ‘your brother will rise again…I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?’ (11:23). Martha’s response is retold in the form of confession: ‘she believes he is the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world’ (11:27)

Yet, it’s a curious thing that following this John observing Jesus’ body language, describes him as being moved to ‘anger[iv] and indignation’[v]  – better described as a ‘snarl, snort or growl’ (Carson).

With such a response and what we know of Jesus Christ, it is not beyond reason to suggest that:

Here He is, with the power of the life-giver moving through his human veins standing before the tomb of his friend.

Here, Jesus recognizes the lingering effects of death which has passed through Lazarus and still torments those gathered.

The life of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, now silenced by the ‘total peril’[vi]; the ‘nothingness’, which is a ‘stubborn element and alien factor’[vii] that ‘opposes and resists God’s world-dominion’[viii], yet passes its devastating blow throughout all humanity.

It is here that Jesus’ ‘quiet outrage flares up again[ix]‘, yet he responds with an uncharacteristic public prayer, beginning with thanksgiving saying:

‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe you sent me’ (11:41-42, ESV)

Although ‘two interpretations are possible’[x], there is little doubt that at this point:

‘Christ does not approach the tomb of Lazarus as an idle spectator, but as a champion who prepares for a contest; He groans; for the violent tyranny of death, which he had to conquer…and contemplates the transaction itself’ (Calvin, 361)

Here ‘Christ shows that he is the commencement of life and that the continuance of life is also a work of his grace’ (Calvin, 356), commanding bystanders to:

“Remove the stone.” (38-39, The Message)
And then he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out”.
The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go” (11:43-44, ESV)

Three things stand out to the modern-era hearers.

First, the text confronts us with three things Jesus does when he is angered and deeply disturbed by the events around him: he asserts himself, turns to prayer and gratitude, and then acts.

Second, is that we do well to understand ‘that grief and outrage are right responses held together, in tension, but grief and compassion without outrage reduces both to mere sentiment, while outrage without grief hardens into self-righteous arrogance and rage’[xi]

Finally, from this we can understand that the consequence of Christ’s victory is the right for us to exist. It is no longer a hopeless existence, merely surviving in the shadow of a destructive vacuum of that which has no right to exist.

The events surrounding Lazarus show us that Jesus is opposed to death as much as he is opposed to sin.

In this, His “yes” to life resonates as the preamble for the grace-conclusion found in the scarred Christ standing outside his own tomb, where permission to live, not just for now, but forever in fellowship with God, is granted by grace to the responsive sinner.

 

Sources:

[i] Carson: ‘They were puzzled and confused.’

[ii] John Calvin rightly noted that: ‘the rage of his enemies had not subsided’ ; Commentary of John Sourced from CCEL.org (p.355)

[iii] John 11:49-50

[iv] ἐμβριμάομαι: rebuke; warning; deeply moved; groan. Not ὀργή: wrath; hostility.

[v] ‘His inward reaction was anger or outrage or indignation’ (Carson, 1991)

[vi] Barth, K. 1960 God and Nothingness CD.III.3 Hendrickson Publishers (p.289-290)

[vii] ibid

[viii] ibid

[ix] Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (p. 416). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.

[x] Ibid

[xi] Ibid

Image: “Stairs In A Cave” courtesy of  papaija2008 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Sometime back I pointed to a statement, found in Amanda Porterfield’s ‘Modern Christianity’.

‘African American spirituals are “chants of collective exorcism” that delivered souls of black folk from total despair during the pre-civil war era in the United States’(2010:317)

The phrase is situated right at the beginning of Cheryl Kirk-Duggan’s essay entitled ‘Spirituals and the quest for freedom’. It’s been a while since I read the essay, but the impact it had on me has lived on.

Along with the socio-political context of Kirk-Duggan’s statement, it might also suit as a framework for the positive theological impact on music, architecture, proto-science and general intellectual activity of the Church (read: Commonwealth of Christ) in the middle-ages.

For example: among other things aspects of life in the Middle Ages reflected pain, suffering and oppression. in light of a transcendent point, that drove a reverential hope in God’s covenantal promise of deliverance. They were collective actions towards the Lord who alone is God, as He chooses to do and be for us[i].

Communal “exorcism” then, looks for a penetrative breakthrough, a freedom already granted under the interactivity of the one who ‘is not far from us’[ii].

We need to move beyond a socially engineered version (misconception?) of it and back to an appreciation of its relevance to the Church universal.

Our ideas of “exorcism” need to change, because this act is an exercise of our true freedom. We are essentially reaching for the God, who in Jesus the Christ reaches for us. It is a detachment, a protest and petition against whatever appearances, identity politics, labels and tolerance induced qualifiers might tell us about the nature of freedom. To borrow the theological language of Karl Barth, collective exorcism is related to God’s (“No”) reorientation  of us towards a commanded orientation that is for us (God’s “Yes”).

Prayer is a collective “exorcize”.

This “exorcize” is activated by a liberating ‘encounter between nature and grace – the encounter between both men and women, and the Word of God’[iii]

An act where we are told that when, in, and under Christ, ‘two should agree’ we are to expect God’s own decisive ‘amen’[iv].

“Chants of collective exorcism”, therefore, becomes an important phrase for understanding how God, in Jesus-the-Victor works through us. Radical is the invitation to pray. Not in order to conjure up God, Barth would say, but so that we may call upon Him, in freedom for our neighbours, and our neighbours in freedom for us.

Consequently, “exorcize” (active prayer) becomes understood as an exercise of genuine freedom.

Distinguishing God’s triumph from that of human triumphalism. Finding a thankful paradox in the midst of pain, where we can rejoice in his triumph. Responding to an invitation with prayer and gratitude, for his triumph to become ours.

“Heyr, himna smiður” was written by Kolbeinn Tumason[i] in 1208. The music was composed in the 1970s by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson (1938-2013), one of Iceland’s foremost contemporary composers.” (Arstidir music)

Literal translation.

Hear, smith of the heavens, what the poet asks. May softly come unto me thy mercy.
So I call on thee, for thou hast created me. I am thy slave, thou art my Lord.
God, I call on thee to heal me. Remember me, mild one, Most we need thee.
Drive out, O king of suns, generous and great, human every sorrow from the city of the heart.
Watch over me, mild one, Most we need thee, truly every moment in the world of men.
send us, son of the virgin, good causes, all aid is from thee, in my heart.
(FaithandHeritage.com)

Sources:

[i] Deuteronomy 4:32-40
[ii] Paul, Acts 17:28
[iii] Barth, K. 1938 C.D Dogmatics as Ethics, 1.2:791
[iv] Jesus, Matthew 18:19

From Timothy Keller:

‘Idolatry distorts our feelings. Just as idols are good things turned into ultimate things, so the desires they generate become paralysing and overwhelming’[i].

Easter break is over and term 2 of home-schooling is well into its first week.

I graduate in May and along with taking on the majority of the home-schooling, my goal this year has been to carefully read Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics.

The aim of this was to stretch my undergraduate introduction to Karl Barth, with the hope of doing some post-grad study looking into political theology and the indispensable role of Christian theology in its critique of ideology.http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

So far I’ve read two, plus ‘Evangelical Theology’, a good portion of his commentary on ‘Romans’, some sermons and a range of material I needed to read in order to complete my degree.

I’m coming close to finishing the mammoth 884 pages of Barth’s Vol.1.2 of his Church Dogmatics. By far his biggest in the series, so I am thankful to be near its end and for having some time out recently to help me make progress towards finishing it.

There are many things to note in this volume.

Particularly Barth’s discussion about ‘The life of the children of God’, which involves a discourse on the command to love God and the command to love our neighbour (pp.388-454).

He points out that ‘scriptures such as John 4:24 & 1 John 4:8-16do not teach the god of love, but the love of God. The fact that God is love means not only that we ought to love but can and must love[ii]

Barth is quick to distinguish between love to God, love for neighbour and God’s love for us. For example: Love for neighbour can only be understood in light of our praise to God[iii].

‘The commandment of love to the neighbour is enclosed by that of love to God. It is contained in it. To that extent it is inferior to it.’[iv]

Barth’s distinction between loving God and loving our neighbour, asserts that, in loving our neighbour we must be careful not to deify our neighbour. I.e.: confuse the command to love our neighbour with our love for God and therefore fall into the mistake of making our neighbour god[v].

At this point in the reading, I began to wonder how idolatry, false doctrine, and even poor exegesis are easily linked to “people pleasing”.

If, hypothetically speaking, I read the text of the Bible in the shadow of the arbitrary and hostile opinions of someone like Richard Dawkins, I am tempted to read the text with a blindfold rather than without one. Because I become a slave to his hostile opinion of it and an accessory to his false claim of lordship over it. However, if I let the text ‘speak as it is’[vi], I am more than likely going to be confronted by the text, and in Barth’s words, ‘have the text read me.’

This is because people-pleasing or any demand that others, or even God please me, stands to be challenged by the love and Lordship of God. Who in the Bible summons our response to His offer of relationship. Given freely in Jesus Christ, who is actual, present and active in the work of the Holy Spirit.

Truly loving people, will mean we place God first in any act of responsible love towards them. In other words in showing Christian love towards others, we are called to love God in a love towards them, that is empowered by the fact that He first loved us.

Barth writes:

‘We should love our neighbour only as the people we are; “as ourselves”. We cannot meet our neighbour in a self-invented mask of love. We can only venture, as the man or woman we are, to do what we are commanded in word, deed and attitude, relying entirely on the fact that the one who commands that we – we are without love-should love, will to it that what we do will be real loving’

To love God means to become what we already are, those who are loved by Him. To love means to choose God as the Lord, the One who is our Lord because He is our advocate and representative’[vii]

This echoes what Paul means when he wrote to the Ephesian church:

‘Obey…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…’ (6:5-7)

If people pleasing is a form of idolatry then to practice it is to

‘be a slave…it is motivated by something you feel you must have (or do?) to be happy, something that is more important to your heart than God himself…It is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something other than God’[viii] (Timothy Keller, italics mine)

Sources:

 

[i] Keller, T. 2009 Counterfeit Gods: when the empty promises of love, money and power let you down, Hodder and Stoughton p.148
[ii] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics Hendrickson Publishers p.374
[iii] Ibid, p.406 ‘it is the praise of God which breaks out in love to the neighbour’
[iv] Ibid, p.411
[v] Ibid, p.405
[vi] Ibid, p.533 ‘let the texts speak to us as it stands’
[vii] Ibid, pp.389, 452 & 453
[viii] Keller, T. 2009 Counterfeit Gods: when the empty promises of love, money and power let you down, Hodder and Stoughton pp.24,166, 171

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