Archives For Embedded Theology

McArthur’s words sum up the boundary at the core of my Christian life – John 14:6; asking God to show me what He sees, so as to guide, guard and direct my path.

Scary prayer to pray. It means allowing grace to ignite and illuminate darkness. To see myself as the sinner I am, in the light of His Gospel and Law. To see where others too have sinned and fallen short of His glory.

As such it’s been the uncomfortable centre of my approach to the cycle of abuse, lies, welfare addicted, abusive, & highly dysfunctional home I grew up in – It’s essential to the Christian life, and not an easy boundary to live out. You’ll lose friends, family, maybe even a church or social club, and they’ll hate, manipulate and undermine you in ways you never thought were possible, wearing the veneer of victim-hood, maturity and innocence.

Then there’ll be the sycophants, who, to avoid conflict, or to maintain a position of acceptance with those people, enable that hate, accusing you of betrayal, being unchristian, discounting your own trauma, who don’t care to know the truth, will ostracise you to the outer circle, and talk behind your back. All for living out this boundary. But it’s worth living out, not for the sake of truth, but for the love of the vulnerable victims who fell prey to those people, and the hope that Christ, through letting His truth work through us, redeems and sets free, via this boundary, as it redefines those relationships, and liberates us from tyranny and the tyrannical.

I inherited nothing but ashes and brokenness. Yet, by Christ, in Christ, through Christ and with Christ, I am told by the Creator of the Universe that I don’t have to live there, stay there or wallow in that mess. The same goes for you. In Jesus Christ, we are embraced by grace – to quote Karl Barth: God the Creator reaches for His creature  – we should, and ought, therefore, to reach for the One, who reaches out to us through His Word, in Spirit and in Truth.

Indeed, ‘unity is never to be sought at the expense of truth.’ We must question the “new normal” and resist its culture of silence, by following the Holy Spirit’s lead, not falling into step with the spirit of the age.


© Rod Lampard, 2020.

If I’m reading a book, I’m usually stopping to look at the books the authors have read. The bibliography, (or more to my own liking) references in the footnotes, are a powerful add-on provided by the author. This isn’t just to add weight to their argument from an authority other than themselves, but also to help take the reader deeper. I’ve chased a number of these references down over the years, and on occasion found myself buying the book referenced. From it I learn more by reading the reference highlighted in the initial text, because reading the text alongside and through its references, expands interaction with the subject.

I’m often keen to go further, understand better, and walk the road the author has taken, by engaging with material that relates directly to the era, or the subject in question. The most recent example for me is the 1048 page biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written by his student, and nephew-in-law, Eberhard Bethge. I followed up three books mentioned by Bethge, and have one more bookmarked for another day.

There’s risk and reward in doing this. One of the traps to avoid in research are tangents. Following a rabbit down a hole is an easy snare to fall into. What looks relevant may be a wide, time consuming distraction. That’s going to mean time lost reading material that was already covered by the original text. This is a lot like Twitter, when someone throws a red herring into a comment thread unrelated to the original tweet. If the red herring isn’t recognised, the whole thread devolves into an endless – usually abusive – and time consuming round of back and forth, up and down.

It’s true that sometimes chasing the rabbit down the hole is a “necessary evil”. As is said, ‘you need to dig in order to find the gold.’ In this case it’s important to be mindful of the overall purpose of the research, taking note of anything along the way that relates directly to the subject matter discussed by the original text. If I stumble on something that I find interesting that isn’t related, I’ll note it as a resource. Then return to the source to study it a bit further, once I’m free of current subject.

An efficient way to follow-up without falling into the costly rabbit hole is to check a Kindle sample via Amazon, Google books or the better option, Archive.org. While Archive.org has a limited range of books it’s the best place to start, followed by Amazon – as long as it has the Kindle preview option, & Google books, as long as it has the search text option. Searching a keyword, page number, contents or bibliography keeps things simple. Books can be expensive and libraries don’t stock everything, this is why I consider these three options to be the best place to start.

Reading a text alongside its references provides better context. This in turn creates a higher degree of transparency and confidence. I can see where the author was going, and improve my understanding of what they meant. Taking the greater context into consideration permits a practical level of confidence in paraphrasing quotes from the original text. The paraphrase is more likely to maintain the integrity of the author’s original meaning because context has been thoroughly considered.

Reading the text alongside and through its references expands interaction with the subject. I’m big on this process. It can be costly, though. If you’re not using or are unable to access places like Archive.org, Amazon Kindle or Google Books. The benefits of doing this mean a greater understanding of the author’s subject matter, and consequently, the ability to simplify a large body of information.

I think this does justice to the painstaking effort the author has put into indexing, citing, and referencing their work. In a sense the process is about ensuring intellectual integrity, utilising a rigorous scientific method to analyse and respond to the subject or premises discussed by the original text. It also upholds the integrity of the author’s intentions, or perceived intentions, perhaps helping them achieve what they hoped their work would achieve. This is why referencing is important.

With Bethge, it’s been a journey that took me three summers to complete. Reading secondary material referenced by Bethge means being able to not only stand on his shoulders in order to see what he saw, but to better hear what he heard. Instead of being a spectator, we become participants.


©Rod Lampard, 2020 

Unexpected Rescue

January 31, 2018 — 4 Comments

There are days when no matter how hard we try to realign our attitude, the overwhelming feelings we might encounter in our situation, become a flood that sinks us further into a feeling of pointlessness. We’re in too deep.

Days come and days go. We watch them pass by from sunrise to sunset. The pace of life smothers us. The things that we felt so qualified to do, no longer make us feel all that qualified.  Instead, we’re overcome by despondency, disillusionment and then despair. Almost breathless, all attempts to make sense of the place we find ourselves in fail.

Though people surround us, there is no one really near us. We hear the noise of those around us, but struggle to process the fact that when we speak, we only find ourselves contributing to that noise. From here we come to the point where we realise that no one can hear us because everyone is listening to the sound of their own voice, answering the applause or condemnation of the world that follows it.

Most are dealing with something, wrestling with their own fears, failures, excesses and successes.  Some give in and slip into a slow motion view of the world.  Faces and facts are distorted. The noise around them drops in pitch. Their world is turned from the sounds of bustling activity into a slow monotonous drone.  Some go faster, live harder, decide to medicate themselves and give their lives over to the consequences.

Surrendering their lives on the altar of human wisdom, both slide into oblivion. Trapped by the cave of their own existence, they refuse to hear any word spoken from beyond it. Creatures of habit, they lean on their own understanding and conclude that any such word is a lie. At best a figment of their imagination, at worst, a tool designed by others to control and deceive them. The word that penetrates the noise of the world around them is too strange, too much of a contradiction, too foreign for them to be comfortable in acknowledging it.

This word in its contradiction speaks of hope, of water in desolate places, of dry bones coming to life, of possibilities within impossibilities. This word contradicts their entire world. It is a word that challenges all human presuppositions about their situation. It is spoken and it speaks to the despondency, disillusionment, despair, and breathless uneasiness.

This word speaks and stands in the way of our own words, answering the applause and condemnation of the world that follows it. It is spoken and it speaks of liberation from both the world’s applause and its condemnation. It is spoken and it speaks of liberation for both the one living in slow motion and the one given over to the self-destructive consequences of their defeatist, live fast, die hard philosophy. This word is a contradiction to their sacrificial slide into oblivion.

They’re in too deep, but this word throws to them a lifeline. Supported in the midst of their impending drift down into the abyss, they are confronted by its strange rescue. This word and its rescue exist despite what they were told and in contradiction to what they were sold. It makes no sense to them. It doesn’t look the way human wisdom says it should. It is an unexpected rescue.

The world’s eloquent words that denied the simplicity of this word cannot save them. Their rescue by this word comes to them out of the act of the One who spoke it, not by the eloquence of the world’s wisdom spoken to them. They are summoned to grasp its grasp of them.  They are summoned to believe, not because human wisdom sold it to them at the “right” price, out of protest, through manipulation or well-crafted words and sugar coated rhetoric. They are summoned by this word to believe because this word is acted upon by the One who speaks it.

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.’  (John 1:1-4, ESV)

This Word became flesh and dwelt among us[i].  He now becomes the contradiction to all of our impossibilities and the foundation[ii] for all our possibilities. The Word of the cross is the testimony of God, Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This is a word testified to, as God testifies about Himself through it.

‘but neither human resources, nor imperial munificence, nor appeasement of the gods, eliminated sinister suspicions that the fire [of Rome] had been instigated. To suppress this rumour, Nero fabricated scapegoats – and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator , Christ, had been put to death in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus. But despite this setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief started) but even in Rome.’ (Tacitus, Annals circa 116 A.D)

Committed to His Word, God dived in deep to throw us a lifeline. Days may come and days may go. We may watch them pass by from sunrise to sunset. The pace of life may smother us, but the Word of God stands forever.  The possibilities that come with this Word stand as a living, breathing, defiant contradiction to the threat of oblivion and any despair the threat of irrelevance might throw at us.

In light of this Word, we can stand firm against all that ‘assumes to itself authority, and does not allow itself to be regulated by the word of God, reckoning as nothing all the applause[iii]’, and condemnation of the world. This is because it’s ‘light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:5, ESV)


References:

[i] John 1:14, ESV

[ii] 1 Cor. 3:10-15, ESV

[iii] Calvin, J. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3

Photo by Luke Besley on Unsplash

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

caroline-attwood-301747-unsplash.jpgI have long been a subscriber to the idea that hate is not a sin. However, I need to qualify this statement by firstly saying that: a) my alignment with this theory is a work in progress and b) my current theological understanding is that unless hatred is answered through confession with reconciliation as its goal, it will lead to sin.

For example: 1 Jn.3:15 in context would read ‘wherever hatred is, there is an inclination to do mischief’ (John Calvin, Institutes VIII:347).

Reconciliation and forgiveness are the primary spheres in which transformation is achieved, and it begins with the process of confession.

Ambrose of Milan stated that: ‘if you have confessed at the call of Christ the bars will be broken, and every chain loosed’ (Ambrose of Milan).

In a similar theological vein Karl Barth viewed confession as a referral and submission ‘to a higher tribunal confronting both partners with concrete authority’ (‘Church Dogmatics a selection’, Helmut Gollwitzer).

Unconfessed hatred is counter-productive. It leaves us like a ship lost at sea, left with only the stars to navigate by. Only then to find frustration with clouds that are constantly obscuring our efforts.

The outcomes of unresolved and concealed hate are inevitably confusion, anxiety, fear and rage – dysfunctional relationships.

Consequently we become desperate for direction as our judgement increasingly becomes shrouded in fog.

We then abdicate our responsibility to speak the truth. We compromise on our Christian commitment to hope because our moral compass is exchanged for self-preservation. We abandon the north star, and find ourselves drifting deeper into a sea of brokenness and despair.

The counter to this is entering into a confession-that-seeks-truth.

If I say or act in love towards you, yet harbor hatred in my heart I conceal the truth. I am forced to lie in order to keep-the-peace. The problem with this approach is that appeasement tends to only ever benefit those who are appeased [1].

The strength in confession is this: when we confess our hatred, we can immediately be released from the burden the precarious nature of hatred brings; one which hangs around our neck like a rotting albatross. Confessing hate allows us to process and communicate reasons for why we feel that way.

Only then can the movement towards resolution begin. Of course any confession requires being wise in how and who we express that confession to. Confrontation, context, tone and timing are also important considerations.

It is true that hate is a strong word, loaded with emotion. Hate is defined as being an ’emotion of intense dislike so strong that it demands action’. Goodrick & Kohlenberger write that the Hebrew word for hate is:  שׂנא ‘sane’ which means to be unloved, shunned, disliked, an adversary.

A few years back an estranged relative asked me the question ‘how can you be a minister with so much hate?’ Since then my response has been: “please don’t confuse telling-the-truth with hatred, tolerance with silence and silence with love.”

The act of confession is a compassionate and humble act towards others in grateful response to Father, Son and Spirit.

In ‘open confession’ (Ambrose) and humility, truth speaks through the community. For example Barth writes that `theology is impossible without humility because the truth at issue is a person who says : ”I am the truth” (Jn. 14); (Church Dogmatics, a selection).

Therefore confess hate, speak truth and drop the eggs, watch the lies disintegrate. It may hurt. You may lose. If so, lose boldly, with the hope that those who reject truth return to truth refined, renewed and rescued. Refuse to walk on egg shells, lovingly invite others to do the same.

The truth is much more precious and valuable than any sugar-coated version of it. IMG_20130627_191543There maybe two sides to a story, but there is only one truth to a story.

To love is not only to understand that Christians are called to speak truth-in-love but to also understand that love-speaks-truthfully.

For the biblical authors the existence of falsehoods demand action.

Ps.119: 104 ‘Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

Pr. 26:24-26 ‘People may cover their hatred with pleasant words, but they’re deceiving you. They pretend to be kind, but don’t believe them. Their hearts are full of many evils. While their hatred may be concealed by trickery, their wrongdoing will be exposed in public’ (NLT)

Pr.8:13 ‘The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate’.

Pr.13:5 ‘The righteous hates falsehood’

Eccl.3:8 ‘a time to love, and a time to hate’

Eph.4:26-27 ‘Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil’.

As the words attributed to Solomon so wisely put it:

 ‘Open rebuke is better than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:5-6 ESV)

It is the equivalent of heartbreak warfare. Loving ourselves is hard, loving our enemies? Even harder. (Lk.6:20-45)


Sources:

Ambrose of Milan, Concerning Repentance Kindle Edition.

Barth, K. Church Dogmatics: A Selection With Introduction by Helmut Gollwitzer (Kindle Locations 1050-1051). Kindle Edition.

Calvin, J Institutes of the Christian Religion Eerdmans

Goodrick, E.W & Kohlenberger, J.R 1991 NIVAC: Strongest NIV exhaustive concordance Zondervan

Meier, P. & Wise R. 2003 Crazy Makers: getting along with the difficult people in your life (particularly chapter twelve) Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville

[1] Historically speaking, nowhere is this more evident than in British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s ‘’gift’’ of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler in the 1938 Munich agreement.

See also: Be a Good Hater: Righteous Anger & the Rule of Christian Love

©Rod Lampard, 2018

Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

(Originally published in 2013)

Here is a ‘note to self’ recently rediscovered. I wrote this back in 2011. Long before I’d even considered blogging as a means to connect, share, process, and improve on conclusions and thoughts I’d come to through my undergraduate days.

I’ll never know the privilege of having pride in my father; having a father’s loving advice, or an extended family, on my side, that through mutual reciprocity, enriches my own.

What was broken, is broken and the residue of the struggle to move beyond that remains. This has hindered me having confidence in myself, others, even in having hope for a future.

But through it, I have come to know and acknowledge that God, who in Jesus Christ, redeems even the chiefest of sinners, is greater than all this. Greater than words spoken in order to shame and therefore control.

Evident through Word & impossible changes becoming possible, I’ve seen God choose to step in and move me beyond it; to not let my past define my future.

Don’t let the world, friends, enemies or the past define you. God lives & speaks the same different word every time.

As the Apostle to the Gentile;the foreigner; the alien says, God in His freedom sets us up for freedom and empowers us to cry out ‘Abba Father’ (Romans 8 & 12); recognizing that God delivers on His promise to be the Father of the fatherless.

As the infamous African-American theologian, James Cone once said, ‘we are more than what has been defined for us by broken homes, sin and fatherlessness’ (Cone, p.11) [i]

Posting items and words like this on the internet can be treacherous. I recall Jesus’ wisdom when he talks about “giving to the dogs what is sacred and casting pearls before swine” (Mathew 7:6). Even with the context explained, it’s possible to misuse my words here. As I’ve mentioned plenty of times in the past, social media, when it comes to community, isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. It’s an ongoing conversation, that can bolster community, but it can never truly replace community; and in it’s current form, will only ever remain so.

[For more of my thoughts on this check out: Fake News Sells: Unfriending Ersatz Community ]

I say these things with confidence because community is best displayed by Christianity, or at least it should be. This is because Christianity is incarnational – where Word meets flesh; where Word meets both deed and attitude. It’s something, or rather, someone, who comes to us; not just pointing to the way, but making a way. God sets this standard and empowers it in Jesus Christ.

I was reminded of this the other day when I read these words from African-American, civil rights campaigner, John M. Perkins’ in his new book, ‘Dream With Me‘:

“I believe the human dimension of God;s work is very important. It’s not that He couldn’t accomplish anything He wanted to do without us, He chooses to [work] with human vessels.We are not the main force at work, yet we are involved. We are present. God uses us in one another’s lives.’ (Perkins, p.96)[ii]

Perkins follows this up with,

‘At a recent conference some of the young people I had met tried to convince me that they didn’t really need a preacher. They’re frustrated with traditional church leadership, [then they appealed to] the priesthood of all believers, which is all well and good. That they prefer a virtual church over a traditional one. I told them, “That’s going to be weak, because it’s going to miss the incarnation [the embodiment of Christ; Word made flesh]. It will not have a human touch (Hebrews 10:24-25).The active presence of other believers contributes to God’s work within us. Again, it’s not that God needs us to complete what He is doing – but He allows that human dimension to be a part of His redemptive work.’ (Perkins, p.97)[iii]

Perkins is right. If we don’t speak for fear of the swine or throwing what is sacred to the dogs, then our silence may be motivated by fear, not wisdom.

I’m all for responsible vulnerability; the need to refine what we’re going to say, and then saying that with precision, so as to both guard our hearts with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23). However, we also put on the ‘Armor of Light (Jesus Christ), casting off the works of darkness’ (Romans 13:12); ‘building up and encouraging one another, through endurance and the scriptures, so that we might have hope’ (Romans 15:2).

Posts like these display vulnerability, which is why some, such as Brene Brown, might consider it also an act of extraordinary courage.

Whether or not these are unwise or an act of extraordinary courage, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the raw truth contained it, and the Good News I wish to proclaim through it.

 


Sources:

[i] Cone, J. 1975 God Of the Oppressed, Orbis Books (1997 ed.) p.11

[ii] Perkins, J.M. 2017 Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, Baker Publishing Group

[iii] Ibid, 2017

Helmut Thielicke To Young TheologiansSome months ago I picked up Helmut Thielicke’s, ‘A little exercise for young theologians’ (1962).

In cautious sympathy with the church, Thielicke presents a range of caveats for theologians. His ultimate aim is to remind theologians-in-training that ministry and theology are interlaced and reciprocally connected[i].

This concludes with Thielicke lifting up the importance of ‘theological reflection’. Which is, simply put, the necessary tension between theory and practice; how what we think theologically {embedded theology}, is challenged by how, what we think is actually applied, or could have been applied {deliberative theology}.

These thoughts are reinforced by a preamble-like evaluation by Martin E. Marty in the introduction:

‘I have tried to think what are the enemies of theology in America.
First is the pervasive unbelief that makes its way into ecclesiastical circles.It motivates the counsel to avoid theology, counsel which says: the Christian faith cannot pass intellectual tests; therefore keep busy, do not subject Christian affirmation to analysis and scrutiny, and it may survive.
Second is an apathy or low imagination extended to many crucial ventures of the church.If something does not immediately seem to affect what goes on within the walls of my church tower, the confines of my parish, I do not often care.
Still another enemy is the idolization of the “doer” as opposed to the “thinker.” The Big-time Operator or the Good Joe somehow builds more buildings, raises more budgets, and preaches louder sermons than does the craftsman who pours over his Greek New Testament.
It is of little consequence to some that he contributes to a greater divorce between Christ and the meaning of life, between the faith and other verities. So long as his engines puff and his and his wheels roll, all is well.[ii]

Ministry in these instances is overshadowed by fear, inflated egos and jargon. As a result theology is abandoned, no longer seen as having anything to say to the Church or society.

As Marty outlines, Thielicke acknowledges the timidity (anxiety) of most Christians with regards to the theological task (read: anti-intellectualism). Balancing this criticism with the observation that the academy and its esoteric narcissism (read: academic arrogance) stiffens and hides the accessibility of theology behind a veil of self-importance, ironic ignorance, yardsticks and insensitivity.

For example:

‘If the theologian does not take more seriously the objections of the ordinary washerwoman and the simple hourly-wage earner, and if he then thinks that the spiritual proletariat is not aware of the delicate questions and must have nothing to do with them – {which is just the way of that esoteric club} – surely something is not right with theology.[iii]

For Thielicke, ‘theology has to do with life[iv]’. However, theology is threatened by what he identifies as “theological puberty”. Defined as the overbearing delivery (bulldozing) from young theologians towards non-theologians about theological concepts.

This problem occurs when pride (or insecurity) permeates good intentions. Overbearing corrections can ‘smother the first little flame of an inquirers own spiritual life and extinguishes a first shy question with the fire extinguisher of the young theologians erudition…For instance: the inquirer becomes too embarrassed ever again to launch into a “naïve” exegesis in the presence of those profoundly knowing ears’[v]

Thielicke is a little heavy-handed, still he shoots straight and for good reason. He is challenging young theologians to stop and think before they comment.

‘It is possible – and laymen have a very exact perception in regard to this – that theology makes the young theologian vain and so kindles in him something like gnostic pride. The chief reason for this is that in us men truth and love are seldom combined.
It is also possible to say precisely why. Truth seduces us very easily into a kind of joy of possession: I have comprehended this and that, learned it, understood it. Knowledge is power. I am therefore more than the other man who does not know this and that.’[vi]

In many ways this is Thielicke excavating Paul’s exhortation for us to rein in any ego built on cognitive ability alone; restraining ourselves from any association with special/scholastic – super spiritual – self-serving human ‘knowledge that over-inflates, and instead lean on the love (and truth) that builds’ (1. Corinthians 8:1).

In a similar way Barth touches on these same caveats in his discussion on the ‘Veracity of Man’s knowledge of God’:

‘Theology can of course, be sheer vanity. It is this when it is not pertinent, and that simply means – not humble. The pertinence of theology consists in making the exposition of revelation its exclusive task.
How can it fail to be humble in the execution of this task, when it has no control over revelation, but has constantly to find it, or rather be found by it?
…Our thinking, which is executed in views and concepts, is our responsibility to ourselves. Our speech is our responsibility to others’[vii] 

There is always going to be the danger of excessive introspection, however, by the willingness of God, though the aid of the Holy Spirit, with teachable hindsight, like good wine {or so I’m told}, Christian theology (and the theologian) can improve with age.

As Thielicke brilliantly articulates:

‘Whoever ceases to be a man of the spirit automatically furthers a false theology, even if in thought it is pure, orthodox and basically Lutheran. But in that case death lurks in the kettle.
Theology can be a coat of mail which crushes us and in which we freeze to death. It can also be – this is in fact its purpose! – the conscience of the congregation of Christ, its compass and with it all a praise-song of ideas.
Which of the two it is depends upon the degree in which listening and praying Christians stand behind this theological business.’[viii]

Christian theology does not belong to the museum of superfluous thought or singularly to the upper market echelons of Western society.

Thielicke’s final warning might thus read:

For the serious Christian theologian who becomes detached from a concern for responsible ministry, an “ivory tower” becomes a sterile and lifeless “padded cell”.


Source:

[i] Marty phrases this as Practical Churchmanship and Scholarly Inquiry. For example: ‘Thielicke argues that every minister of Jesus Christ must be both a disciplined theologian and a practicing churchman.’ in Thielicke, H. 1962 ‘A little exercise for young theologians’ Wm.B Eerdmans Press Kindle Ed. (Loc. 62-63)

[ii] Ibid, 66-70

[iii] Ibid, 112-114

[iv] Ibid, 97

[v] Ibid, 182-184 & Loc. 134-135

[vi] Ibid, 194-198

[vii] Barth, K. 1940 CD. II.2 The Limits of the Knowledge of God; The Hiddenness of God Hendrickson Publishers, 1957 (pp.203 & 211)

[viii] Thielicke, ibid, 332-335

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