Archives For Karl Barth

What people think matters; how people see us matters. We anchor ourselves to the opinions and values of others. Men and women latch their value to the people we see as giving us value. Our worth is then neatly packaged into the confined space of that other person’s thoughts and whims. This is all okay up to a point. Humans were built for community, we need good government and organisation; men and women, living in fellowship, not in isolation, are human together.[i]

That people tether themselves to the thoughts of others without caution is, however, a potential disaster. For example, when we get down to bottom line of Social Media, unless a person is selling something, the heartbeat of those platforms is either genuine sharing or sharing because of a fear of loneliness and isolation. What makes these platforms thrive is the role they play in anchoring one person to a community, whereby that person gains some form of self-worth, validation and completeness as a human. If none of this were true, there would be no rhyme of reason for social media.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether or not the foundation of that self-worth, validation and completeness is at its core faulty and dysfunctional.  If a person gets the feeling that they are accepted and wanted, that’s all that matters. Questions like, “What if that anchor isn’t locked in the right place? What if that anchor only has the appearance of providing safety and isn’t actually safe?” aren’t considered.

What doesn’t seem to matter is whether or not the opinions and values of others are valid, just or holy. These factors seem to be rarely considered. Questioning those who cross-examine us in such a way, is something very few are brave enough to do.

Few want to be a source of healthy conflict. Few want to cut loose an anchor for fear of getting tossed on to rocks and being carried away by violent seas.  Even when deep down they know that the anchor is dragging them down into the abyss, most don’t see it, or want to see it, for fear of losing the very thing that they think grounds them to a sense of worth, purpose, community and inclusion. Oblivious to the false security the unsecured anchor provides, when the storm hits, the ship goes down or gets carried away regardless of how they or others feel.

The reality is that people set standards and draw opinions about us behind our backs. People talk. We are looked at, measured, weighed, judged and then valued. Our position in any community is just as good as our appearance, and our last great performance.  Our worth in those communities is just as good as our silence, compliance and applause for those in positions of power. Sometimes this is done willingly because we want to appease those in power because they have the ability to thrust us into power.

The reality is this: the ambitious, conform. The covetous, charm. The selfish, betray. The prideful play power games; the greedy, lie, and the jealous, manipulate in order to gain. Social media platforms can be just another tool for anyone like this to gain superiority over others. If you can be used as a pawn in this process, you will be.

As stated by Jeremiah, the “weeping” prophet, who had a firsthand experience with rejection and abuse from within his community, the heart is deceitful above all things…who can understand it?’ (Jer. 17:9)

In a recent post to their Facebook wall, Sanctuary International Matrix posted the question:

“Dear Pastor Bob: I’m tired of trying to be a good Christian. As hard as I try, I still get criticized for what I do wrong. My Christian friends keep reminding me that I’m not a very good example. I’m considering leaving the faith. I’m just too miserable.”

I agree with Beeman’s response:

“Sometimes the best examples to me, have been the people who fight the hardest. That fall down the most and get up every time. Because I identify with them, and I want the hope that they have. That’s what the Bible says: First Peter 3:15, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

It’s worth stopping to think about what anchors us. It’s worth asking what our anchor is secured to; investigating to see whether or not our anchor is secure, or if our anchor only has the appearance of being secured. [ii] If it doesn’t, pull the anchor up and relocate it.

If I measured, or tethered my membership criteria in the Church by the standards of others, and not by what God had set for us all, in Jesus Christ, I’d have quit a long, long time ago.

The struggles are real, but keep both eyes on the prize because inhaled grace ignites.[iii]

‘…Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.’ (Hebrews 6:18-19)


References:

[i] ‘With the creation of woman God expected man to confirm and maintain his true humanity by the exclusion of every other possibility [of a partner].’ (Karl Barth CD. 3:1 p.294)

[ii] “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 6:21, ESV)

[iii] ‘there is no more intimate friend of sound human understanding than the Holy Spirit’
(Karl Barth C.D. IV.4:28).

Photo credit:  Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Easter speaks of human salvation and God’s embrace of humanity.

The Advent of the prophesied Jewish Messiah, who we celebrate at Christmas, points the way to Easter. The hope we get a glimpse of at Christmas, joins with the sadness and joy that surprises us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God has not abandoned Humanity. Though rebellious man and woman, betrays, breaks and beats God to a pulp, then puts Him to death through the cruellest of punishments, does not mean that God is forcefully and successfully overthrown. It is an act of grace that God gives of Himself in His son, who dies and is raised to life again, both in order to save and to show God’s salvation. This the embrace of Easter.

God brings life where there is death, exchanges joy for mourning, renews deserted places, heals broken hearts, rescues abused souls, and gives consolation to those long abandoned by their neighbours, loved ones and sadly, sometimes even by select churches. He does this on His terms.

By this, in this and through this, God comes to be for His creature. The Creator brings His creature into realignment – reconciliation and relationship with Him; whereby the creature finds the outstretched hands of unmerited favour; grace. God’s embrace of  humanity is grounded in Jesus Christ.

God is free and in His freedom He chooses to act in His Son for us, on behalf of us, in order to be with us and that we would be with Him [i]. Easter is about invitation to be with God, in spite of our best efforts to be or replace God. We see this thundering throughout history and we hear this resolutely spoken throughout the biblical witness and Judeo-Christian tradition:

“I will be your God and you shall be my people.”

In other words, life with God, begins with, God with us. Humanity doesn’t conjure up God. Although it can and does try to do this, any human attempt to create god will miss the mark every time. It was human minds, hands and hearts that built the Titanic, created the brutality of Blitzkrieg, called ‘greed, good’; slaughtered millions under communism and raised leaders to godlike status, only to find those leaders wanting, abusive; and mad with the power that was handed to them.

We are taught by this that all human attempts to conquer, mountain, monster and myth, fail if it includes the corrupted primal quest to supersede or conquer God.  We cannot make god in our own image, because it will always be a counterfeit god, a morbid light, an idol, empty of any real power. It will never be the God who speaks and steps in to save those lost in the freedom He granted that which He has made.

Cross Easter 25th March 2016

As it reads in the Gospel according to John,  ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word was with God and the Word was God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’

Easter teaches us that no matter how much His creature, who acts in rebellion against Him may will it, the Creator does not stay dead. ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ God is not devoured, will not be dissected, cannot be dethroned or surpassed. He makes Himself known to us on His terms. This is the embrace of the Resurrection; the events that unfold on the third day.

Will all that will be written over the course of this Easter weekend, grasp the weight of the events that Easter, outside its neo-pagan box, represents?

What if we trimmed off the fashionable arrogance of modern society, and for one moment stepped out of the encroaching neo-pagan fog, then took the time to hear, and see what, and who actually stood before ordinary men and women, who on a human level, were not all that far removed from ourselves?

This Easter weekend, what if we were to actually allow ourselves to read, hear and see what they witnessed? To see and hear, as best we can, who it was that actually stood before them, spoke to them, stood with and gave for them?

Can we truly claim to have superior insight over against those witnesses? Against those who not only found themselves swept up in those events, but came to give their lives for them? At what risk do we discount their voice, by detaching ourselves from their witness, choosing instead to live in ignorance under a de-constructed version of their accounts?

For the duration of this weekend we are called to give our attention to the remembrance of Jesus Christ. We remember the how, where and in whom, God, chose to speak and act in time and space .

The same God who rescued the Hebrews from the tyranny of Ancient Egypt, reaches to include all of humanity in His gracious emancipation. Just as our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the Passover feast in remembrance of that deliverance around the same time as Easter every year, we unite with them in the understanding that Easter is the embrace of Exodus. God liberates His creature from sin, from itself and ultimately from all that seeks its total and final annihilation.

For the duration of this weekend our minds are called to the attention of an historical event, agreed upon by the majority of serious historians. In this event our attention is held by the sound of nails slamming through the hands and feet of

‘Christ, [who] 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)

For the duration of this weekend, the world is called to attention. Not just to remember, but to anticipate and have faith in His answer and challenge, decisively spoken on day three.

He who will be, was. He who was, is. He who is, will come again.

Maranatha!


[i] Barth, K. 1942 CD.II/2 The Doctrine of God: The Election of Jesus Christ, Hendrickson Publishers.

The provocative quote of the week goes to, Charles Spurgeon, “Be a good hater”.

Which in context means: to abhor evil: to regard it with extreme repugnance. [In Latin, “abhor” is Odium: with hostility; “repugnance”: resist, be an adversary of evil.]

Our present age has an almost absolute fear of hate, yet most would agree that “let love be genuine. Hate what is evil, cling to that which is good“, is an admirable thing. One clear example which proves this is the often irrational hatred shown towards Donald Trump.

When discussing hating evil, clinging to the good, Calvin prefers to use the term “turning away”, saying it ‘corresponds better with the opposite clause, where Paul bids us to exercise kindness’ (Commentary on Romans 12:9)

This is displayed in the actions of real social justice advocates [by which I don’t mean the average internet variety, Social Justice Warriors]. Social justice advocates lay their claims against injustice on the very premise that an evil; an injustice; something to be abhorred; something repugnant has taken place.

The problem arises when the basis for those claims are centred on the ever shifting sands of subjective relativism. Akin to the great violation in the garden, that jettisoned God and made humanity the source of knowledge about good and evil; removing the Creator from His rightful place, and putting the creature at the centre of where, what and how that creature derives its definitions and subsequent redefinition’s of what is good and what is evil.

Once fluidity of truth is proclaimed and accepted. Competing truths then seek dominance.

From there lies can hide hatred and gain power behind the facade of truth:

“whoever hates disguises himself with his lips, and harbours deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart though his hatred be covered with deception.”  (Proverbs, 26:24-26)

Under this rule, all hate is justified by personal truths among a plethos (a great number) of personal truths. Tolerance for the hatred of the Marxists, White Power Neo-Nazis or the Islamist who chooses to force faith through fear instead of charity, and well reasoned argument, must unfortunately be allowed.

The ultimate conclusion is a clash of competing untruths, long paraded as truth. The consequences being, that lies and falsehood come to rule, where truth and facts once did.

When accompanied by humility, mercy and justice, hate is not evil. Hate in this sense is restrained pathos or righteous anger. This is pathos seeking to end the cause of pathayma (suffering), which is held within the limits of both ethos and logos.

To hate evil is to cling to that which is good. The negative side to this, of course, is, that any hate which doesn’t cleave to that which is good, leads us towards that which is evil. Thus hating evil is not a sin because the act has a just cause. One grounded in the precedent, criteria and command of God.

Does this justify any and all kinds of hate? No, this doesn’t.

The statement, “be a good hater” is a challenge to resist evil (James[i]). To resist the morality of the tyrant or the ‘crowd which has no hands’ (Kierkegaard, The Crowd is Untruth [ii])

Morality drawn straight from the whims of the human heart is the subjective morality of the tyrant. Subjective morality becomes immorality the further it disconnects itself from the external Word and Spirit of God. This is because morality is held captive to the subjective truth of a tyrannical king, who acting on the mood of the moment bans all unauthorised morality from his or her kingdom. This unauthorised morality is anything other than the one he or she seeks to own, in order to grow their grip on power.

It is, as C.S Lewis wrote, true that ‘hatred obscures all distinctions.’[iii]  What I think C.S Lewis is getting at here is any hatred that exists by itself and of itself, obscures all distinctions.

One way to speak of this could be to say that we need to be open about the things we intensely dislike, otherwise we are just lying to ourselves and others. Again we take Solomon’s words and apply them, ‘the one who conceals hatred has lying lips’ (Proverbs 10:18)

For the Christian, the ultimate grounding for hating evil, isn’t hate, it is love. Love motivates the Christian to speak out and proclaim the salvation brought to both the oppressed and oppressor alike.

This means continuing to act on the gifts that God gives, such as good government, the ability to teach, discern and speak in a gracious way to world hellbent on worshiping insanity. To achieve this we need to gain a better understanding about the close relationship between hating evil and being a “hater”.

Hating hate, and not evil, is the great twisted and misleading double negative of our age.

Nowhere in the bible does God command His people to hate hate. What we read is the imperative to abhor evil and cling to what is good. All of this raises a few more intricate questions that I haven’t got the room here to explore here,

1. How do we hate evil in a world that hates both hate, and hates anyone who proclaims that evil exists?

2. How do we as Christians respond to those who contradict themselves as they promote love, but preach hate against hate?

3. How can we keep the imperative to ‘hate what is evil’ from being misused and abused?

When we apply being a “good hater” to the Nazis, what is meant is that we hate the ideology of Nazism, not the German people who identified as Nazis. What is hated is the evil in the ideology that rules over the person and in the person, as if it were a lord without a Lord. The distinction between the German and the Nazi, if measured by Lewis’ criteria isn’t distorted.

Therefore, Charles Spurgeon’s ‘’be a good hater’’ is someone who acts in Christian love. Since love speaks both a “yes” and a “no”, to hate evil is to cling to the good; standing with, and in, God’s “no” to what is evil.

‘When you hate the man’s sins, you are not to hate him, but to love the sinner, even as Christ loved sinners and came to seek and save them. When you hate a man’s false doctrine, you are still to love the man and hate his doctrine even out of love to his soul, with an earnest desire that he may be reclaimed from his error and brought into the way of truth.’ (Spurgeon, 1858 Righteous Hatred)

It’s right then to conclude, that any Christian who falls in with the ‘untruth of the crowd’ when it comes to Donald Trump, may find themselves falling into hate that is absent of the rule of Christian love.  The Christian in this context fails to see that ‘the sinner hasn’t stopped being God’s creature’ (Karl Barth CD 3:2, p.31)

Grace finds the distinction between the love for the sinner and hatred of the sin, and moves in love towards the sinner with this particular order in mind. Barth again brings home the point, ‘if it does not spring from grace, it does not lead to grace.’ (ibid, p.36)

Grace governs the outcome and reorders, hate the sin, love the sinner[iv]. Love for the sinner is primary. Hatred of sin is secondary[v].

Just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said:

“Although we are not Christ, if we want to be Christians we must participate in Christ’s own courageous heart by engaging in responsible action that seizes the hour in complete freedom, facing the danger’ (Meditations On The Cross, p.26)

None of this means being slothful in our response to injustice, what it means is letting authentic Christian love, not the untruth of the crowd, govern that response. So it is that we return to the imperative, let love be genuine. Hate what is evil, cling to that which is good.


References:

[i] James 4:7

[ii] Kierkegaard S. 1847 The Crowd is Untruth sourced from CCEL.org

[iii] C.S Lewis, 1955 On Science Fiction in Essay Collection: Literature, Philosophy & Short Stories

[iv] See Bonhoeffer, D. 1954 Life Together p.111

[v] see Barth, K. 1960  Man as a Problem of Dogmatics, CD. 3:2 p.32 Hendrickson Publishers here Barth discusses the primacy of grace and the secondary place of sin in God’s attitude towards man.

Photo Credits: ‘Love Again’ by Kayle Kaupanger & ‘Old Vandalised Building – Vietnam’ by Peter Hershey on Unsplash

Define Your Illusions_RL2015_GVLWe the broken are far too easily ignored. We the abused are far too easily used. We are sold hope and guided by hands quick to speak of solidarity. We fall for blurred distinctions and ignore the price.

We are sold an empty comfort from mouths  that speak words of sympathy, but are absent of any real connectivity. They may promise salvation and deliverance from the deep sadness and pain we want so much to rip or be ripped out of us, but they cannot deliver what they promise. Sadly, some choose to keep us dwelling on that pain and sadness, in order to squeeze a dollar or two out of it.

In a way that pain and sadness become commodities.

In the church and world, if among the broken we are picked out as ‘charismatic, gifted, beautiful or anointed’ we are seized upon and raised up by the collective and individual alike.

Either to promote a cause or financial gain. Paraded on stage, our testimony is “validated”, our pain and healing seemingly put to good use. However, when the doors close and the next ‘big’ thing is promoted we realise that our pain and healing was paraded  in order to hype up the masses or sell politics, an opinion, idea or distorted theology. Here the veil falls and we see that interest in the One who saves, saved and will save was pushed to the background as we were adorned with adoration, idolised and syphoned for hope.

The essence of our contact with world, relationship and institution is easily manipulated. We the broken, guarded and sensitive to those things which have hurt us so successfully, are ironically attracted by those things that will hurt us. Buying into the false promises that control us as they promise remedy.

Sometimes, therefore, the broken become the prey of the fortunate. Then, sometimes the affected are thrown away like chaff by the disaffected.

This could be because the voices of the experienced are disruptive. Disputing certainty, and intellectual anxiety about meaning and purpose. Disrupting those firmly held inside a web of ideological conformity.

Our continuing survival discomforts their faith in empirical impassabilities. It challenges the surety of presuppositions that imprison the impossible to ignorance and the absurd. It challenges their claim to power. Examples here include the historical, Martin Luther and The Reformation, or the fictitious Katniss Everdeen and her role in ‘The Hunger Games.’

Those with higher opinions based solely on higher education or their association with certain institutions may comment, but it is clear that most are selective and set only on pursuing a particular narrative – often the one that will keep them popular.

Faith uninformed by reason ends in delusion; superstition. Worse still is reason detached completely from the necessary dualism of faith and reason – scientism. As proven by the 20th Century, is the grounding of gross inhumanity.

An evolutionary ethic demands the strong must resource their strength from the weak until the weak are no longer useful. The “elite” have no problem assuming, then, that the broken are ruined beyond repair. That we cannot think for ourselves or see through the shattered lens that pales in comparison to their presumed-to-be superior, unscarred monocles.

So, we are sold illusions and sadly, we buy into them. We are even convinced enough to vote for them.

Niceties and platitudes of human tolerance end in hypocrisy. Resulting in acts of kindness being abandoned and the real importance being place solely on the appearance of giving it.

Additionally, the beauty of an orthodox theological understanding of Christian love is deconstructed, then subsumed into an “absolute ethic of niceness.[i]” God’s mercy is, thus, distorted without any acknowledgement let alone recognition of His right and freedom to act in just judgement. [ii]

With all the brokenness and abandonment around me at the time. Growing up as a teen in the 1990’s. I found it easy to fall into the trap of self-medication. Weekends spent young, drunk (and/or stoned); finding my identity in the closest people or things that I thought were identifying with me.

Looking back on that time, it wasn’t  because I was being drawn to those people or things because they identified with me, but because I leaned towards whatever I could identify, understand or nullify my pain with.

We hear packaged in phrases that ‘such and such, really identifies with their audience‘. Terms of endorsement often found in movie and music reviews alike.

The important distinction not to be missed here, though, is that artists don’t generally identify with their audience. Rather their audience (the customer) identifies with them. It’s not reciprocal, even if the understanding is mutual.

The truth is that those people and things only identified with my money and my blind, happy applause.

Case in point is the band Guns n’ Roses.

I remember reaching for everything I could find or learn about them, to be them. Even up to the point of copying almost every riff and niche Marshal Amp sound I could squeeze out of my $150 second-hand electric guitar, which had a cracked head and the embarrassing habit of going out of tune after each strum, pick or bend.

I was more than a fan. I was a disciple flirting with a generalised, but similar inner darkness that they seemed to be wrestling with. Questing for the transcendent; looking to ascend the hole of despair that my existence had boxed me into.

This was poetry with guts.

Emotion and truth screaming through mic, five string, bass and drum. In short: a form of worship. Throwing up; ’emotional vomit’ (as Lacey Sturm from ‘Flyleaf’ brilliantly described it); a numbness screaming out for feeling. This was a reach for rescue-through-revolt. A desire to be heard and acknowledged; a potential revolution powered by real-anger, angst, amp and an “appetite” for definition.

The reality is that the men of Gn’R didn’t identify with me. They couldn’t. They didn’t know me. Yet, there is no blame that I can justly attach to them. What I was being sold hung on a blurred distinction.*

I identified with them, their craft, skills and lyrical aptitude. I related to what people were selling through them and bought-into it every time. It wasn’t and couldn’t ever be reciprocated.

Any healthy personal connection where I felt cared for or understood was an illusion; an estrangement caused by a blurred distinction.

Although tempted, I wouldn’t simply relegate this as ‘idol worship‘ hoping to avoid over-analysing things, but as something more complex propagated by the absence of key relationships in my life.

What I have learnt through all of this is that my identity must rest in and under Jesus Christ, not any man, woman or ideology. He is the one in whom God chooses not only to identify with us, but to free us, in order to be for us and with us. So that we can be free for Him; free from, in order to be for, each other**:

‘…when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons [and daughters]. And because you are sons [and daughters], God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but sons [and daughters], and if so, then an heir through God.’
– (Galatians, 4:3-7; see also Romans 8:15)


References:

[i] Elshtain, J. 1993 Just War Against Terror

[ii] (see Karl Barth C.D II:1 ‘Dues non est in genere’: God is not a species that can be categorised by us, outside that which and who He has chosen to reveal Himself to us).

*So that I am not misinterpreted, “Gunners” as-they-were, still are, in my opinion, musical giants. Lyrically, rhythmically and melodically they hit on truths with criticisms of society that no one else dared to speak in and from that kind of arena.

** Karl Barth, paraphrased. 

 

 

Karl Barth postulated that we must always reckon with the existence of teachers of the Church who exist, but are not presently evident or realised.

Packaged into the latter part of Volume 1.2 of his Church Dogmatics is an intense discourse with neo-protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives on Church authority, biblical exegesis, Revelation and reformation.

Within those pages Barth draws up a critique of the liberal neo-protestant trends (‘excesses’[i]) which included the hero-worship[ii] of the reformers Luther and Calvin, a complete “jettisoning” of tradition by rejecting the church fathers (pre-reformation) as irrelevant and the absolutism of the bible which pushed the view that “Christianity can only be constructed out of the bible alone.” (Barth referencing Gottfried Menken) [iii]

This was a practice, evident in modern Biblicism, which seemingly allowed 19th century neo-protestant theologians to assert a “new” authority. Therefore, allowing them the ability to assert themselves over the bible, as if they were masters of the text[iv].

Barth writes:

‘We need the guidance and correction afforded by the existence of the Church Fathers’[v]

In line with his overarching theme – Barth is advocating a ‘hearing and receiving of the Word of God’, in situ as the recollection and anticipation of its witness to the Revelation of God.For Barth, ‘we are the children of God and must walk as such’.

So far in this discussion I have found a man, a theologian and a Pastor not just looking for balance in the quest to fight back to a ‘unity of confession’[vi] in the church, but also arguing a strong case for it.

Evidence of this is found in Barth’s words from page 616:

A teacher of the Church is the one who in exposition of Holy Scripture has something to say which comes home to us. Many of those whom we no longer hear today will never be heard again. But there are others who, although they are not heard today, will one day be heard.What remains of their authority is in the first instance a memory: the neutral memory of a great name, bound up with facts, relationships, and reactions to them which is also neutral.Their authority is suspended, as it were. It would be a very arbitrary undertaking to try artificially to reassert them.
If they come to life again in the power of Holy Scripture which they are concerned to expound, Scripture itself will see to their authority.We have to reckon with this possibility. We cannot, therefore, ignore such recollections of former authority which have now become neutral. Their hour might suddenly come.Those who are silent might speak again, as according to the confession of the Church they once spoke to their age. The facts and circumstances in relation to which their names and reactions and word were once significant may suddenly return – for there is nothing new under the sun – and the decision which they demand may again be a relevant one.
We have perhaps overlooked something if this has not already happened.
In the modern period the Reformers themselves were for a long time only latent teachers of the Church. And it is to the Church’s good that it has not ceased to give them its attention. (Karl Barth, CD.1.2, 1938)

This is something made more significant by the “gathering storm” surrounding the era in which he wrote it.

Given certain divisive issues within Christian thought and practice in society and politics today, I read this as an encouragement to listen and receive. Not blindly hearing or receiving. Not without question or caution, but with gratitude, decision, appreciation, prayer, critique and respect.

“Those who are silent might speak again and the decision which they demand may again be a relevant one. We have perhaps overlooked something if this has not already happened” (ibid, p.616:1938).

‘For as the rain and snow come down and water the earth making it bring forth life, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’ (Isaiah 55:10-11, ESV)


References:

[i] Barth, K. 1938 C.D 1.2 Authority in the Church/under the Word Hendrickson Publishers p.605

[ii] Ibid, p.611

[iii] Ibid, p.607

[iv] Ibid, p.609

[v] Ibid, p.609 (see also his statement in p.610: ‘Pure neo-protestantism means a break with the Reformers)

[vi] Ibid, p.603

Image courtesy of [Nuttapong] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

[Originally published on May 17th, 2014]

A lot of people leave out the Christian part when it comes to Martin Luther King Jnr because they either don’t know, or don’t really wanna know. Like all, especially those who move from the position of spectator, to being on the field, he wasn’t without sin, but he was a man who knew that ALL sin is answered first and foremost by God, in and through Jesus Christ.

After posting this illustration from Vince Conard to Facebook, a friend pointed out that given the tone, aggression and disunity of our day, mention of Martin’s faith, is anathema on some circles within the West. The fact that he was named after a German theologian and reformer, in 1934, of all years, presents a challenge to those who rail against the West in the name of a mostly concocted cause, in ways far from King’s own.

Martin Luther King’s legacy is first of all 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 over others, including the sin of treating others, who are created in the image of God, differently because of the colour of their skin.

Martin Luther King’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 He chose and in exercising His freedom God hands to us freedom.

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 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 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.

“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)

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

To segregate Martin Luther King Jnr from this defiant Christian faith, is to fail to hear what it is that he had to say, what he set in motion, and what he hoped to see achieved.  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 of ideology-as-master and the reactionary political groups it controls. 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.

Paraphrasing Thomas F. Torrance from his book Atonement: ‘all self-justification is a lie’.

Beware the auctioneers.


References:

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

Epiphany marks what is technically the end of Christmas. The wise men, avoiding Herod and his schemes visit Mary, Joseph and Jesus. They mark the birth by way of tribute to the child born to be King.

Advent closes and the door opens to a new year and with it the remembrance of what Christ’s election means. Instead of being crowned a king, He moves past the crowds willing to crown Him as such. His response was wrapped in the fact that His kingdom was not of this world. His rule is like no other.

How we approach Jesus Christ, might be like that of the Shepherds, fishermen, tax collectors, Mary, Joseph, His cousin John, or the Roman and Jewish officials. How we come to Christ is nothing compared to how He comes to us.

As Karl Barth rightly saw it,

‘we live by the fact that God Himself willed to be the Bearer of our contradiction, that in the full mystery of His Godhead He so deeply condescended to us. We live by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by God’s own suffering and triumph, sorrow and joy, by His original participation in the twofold nature of our being. Enduring to be what we are and as we are, He bears us.’ (CD. 3:1:382)

That in the appointment of Jesus Christ,

‘as the Bearer of creaturely existence and its contradictions, God did not in the same way will and accomplish His humiliation and death on the one side and His exaltation and resurrection on the other […] He took to His own heart very differently in Jesus Christ the infinite hope of the creature and its infinite peril.’ (ibid, p.383)

Jesus Christ is the living action of God.

‘He sees the hopeless peril of the created world which He has snatched from nothingness but which is still so near to nothingness. He sees that it cannot and will not check itself on the edge of this abyss [therefore] God Himself willed to become man, to make His own the weakness and frailty of man, to suffer and die as man, and in this self-offering to secure the frontier between His creation and the ruin which threatens it from the abyss. God is gracious to man and woman.’ (ibid, pp.383-384)

Thus Barth adds,

‘we cannot stop at the suffering, death and burial of Jesus Christ. This is not the final word. The cross is followed by the resurrection, humiliation by exaltation, and the latter is the true, definitive and eternal form of the incarnate Son of God. This is the Yes for the sake of which the No had first to be spoken’. (ibid, p.384)

We stand in ‘defiant confidence’ not because we ‘cling to an idea of God, but because that confidence has its origin and object in God’s self-revelation’ (ibid, p.380). We don’t construct God, in Jesus Christ, He confronts us with the truth about Himself. Any response to this that is neutral or indifferent is, according to Barth, ‘of radical and genuine ungodliness’ (ibid, p.379).

For ‘Christian faith sees and knows what it holds. It does not need to persuade itself of anything. It has nothing to do with a tense clinging to the consequences of an idea or a laboriously constructed concept of God.’ (ibid, p.379)

Reason dictates that if God has revealed Himself to humanity, like those wise men, we should follow and respond in gratitude and obedience to that knowledge. As risky as the journey is, and as limited as we might be in being able to comprehend it completely.

For 2018 may epiphany mark for you a return to this defiant confidence, not because it proudly boasts of its own ideas or because it rests on human constructs of what and who we think God is, but because in the freedom given to us in Christ’s incarnation, under God’s grace, you find His “Yes” to you, and then by the light of that, your own “Yes” to the Him. The One who was, who is, and is to come.

‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

 


References:

Barth, K. 1945 The Doctrine of Creation, C.D. Volume 3 Part 1  Hendrickson Publishers, 1958

Photos excluding heading image: RL2018