Archives For Karl Barth

Jacques Ellul’s books have moved up on my ladder of reading priorities with an ever increasing pace. My acquaintance with his work began last year when, after reading Roger Scruton’s, ‘The West & The Rest’, I was prompted to dig further into the relationship between Islam and Judeo-Christianity. From there, I’ve continued to casually seek out Ellul’s work and study it. Since I voluntarily publish a lot of discoveries, and discuss their impact on my own theological study here, I thought it appropriate to introduce Jacques Ellul and explain my interest in his work.

Ellul was a student of Karl Barth[1]. This discovery was a bonus and it’s padded the desire to explore Ellul’s work. Out of particular interest is finding the point of contact between Ellul and Barth. (Political theology is ground zero, but the topic is large and best left for an essay solely dedicated to the subject.)

Ellul was a French theologian. He majored in philosophy and made a career out of lecturing on Marxism.

He was once involved in the French resistance, but unlike the equally fantastic breakaways from the Left, such as Simone Weil and Albert Camus, Ellul never appears to have been granted the same status (read: given the same time of day) by the predominantly Leftist French and Western academy.

I gather that the reasons for this dismissal come down to the fact that Ellul was a critic of Islam and wasn’t a Marxist[i]. In addition to this, he took orthodox Christian theology seriously.  Ellul wasn’t without his own criticisms of the institutional church or Christendom, but he never abandoned Jesus Christ for Karl Marx. The content and response to his works ‘Islam and Judeo-Christianity: A Critique of their Commonality’ and ‘Jesus & Marx: from theology to ideology’, present evidence of this.

Ellul worked with the understanding that every human, even if that man or woman wasn’t aware of it, has a theological viewpoint. Whether a person is agnostic or atheist, both hold to theological conclusions about the world around us, within us and beyond us.

For many, those conclusions are usually arrived at via loose information and deliberate misinformation. They have some basic knowledge of Christian theology, but this knowledge is limited, and often built on fragments, gossip or whatever ideological lens they’ve been taught is superior to all the rest.

Elluls work, so far as I’ve deciphered, sought to engage that inherent theological knowledge in conversation with relevant topics. So much so, that under the microscope placed over contemporary Western politics, it’s tempting to look at a good portion of his subject matter and consider it prophetic.  However, like Karl Barth, Ellul, was no prophet and so it’s a temptation that proves to be an unhelpful trivial speculative distraction.

Whilst Ellul took orthodox Christianity seriously, he wasn’t someone who was absorbed by any particular Protestant denomination. He wasn’t a puppet of the Left, nor a product of conservatives or sectarian dogma. He lived out his faith, and applied the science of dogmatics to his own theological viewpoints. Living out what he termed, Christian anarchism[ii], Ellul came to his own conclusions based on the bible and a working dogmatics.

As David W. Gill’s, (President of the I.J.E.S[2]), recent lecture pointed out,

‘Ellul was of the view that “we must come to Scripture asking “what does God wish to say to us through these texts? He insisted [as did Karl Barth] that the Bible should be read with Jesus [the revelation of God] at the Center. Any separation of a text from the totality of God’s revelation will inevitably cause us to distort the Bible.” (Gill, 2018. Words parenthesis are mine)

According to Gill,

‘the grounding of Ellul’s conversion was in reading Scripture. One day at the age of twenty-two, Ellul was reading the Bible, and “it happened-with a certain brutality.” Not a sermon in a church, not a celebration of the sacraments, not a mystical vision, bu the private reading of the Bible was decisive in Ellul’s decision to become a Christian.’ (Ibid, 2018)

Ellul wasn’t a blind follower of high-minded Biblical Criticism. Gill reports that Ellul ‘took biblical scholarship including historical criticism seriously, but was feisty in challenging its excesses’[3]:

  “I fail to see the justification for accepting as legitimate all the questions about the revelation while at the same time refusing to question those systems, methods, and conclusions from the point of view of Revelation.” (Jacques Ellul, Hope in the Time of Abandonment).

Gill concludes his lecture with two main areas of consideration for those being introduced to Ellul. First, not everyone will agree with Elull’s theology. Second, one area we will agree on is ‘one of Ellul’s most powerful points about the Bible: let it put us in question rather than for us to constantly put it in question.’ (Gill, 2018)

It’s here that Jacques Elull first finds some shared ground with Karl Barth. As a result, I’m keen to read more.

I think that Jacques Ellul picks up where Barth stopped (had to stop]). I wouldn’t go as far to say that Ellul finished what Barth started, only that, from what I’ve read so far, Ellul gives Thomas Torrance some serious competition for the top spot as Barth’s successor.


Notes & References:

[1] ‘After his conversion, Ellul was drawn to the Reformed Church and to the theology of Karl Barth.’ (David.W Gill, Scripture & Word In Ellul’s Writings, 2018)

[2] International Jacques Ellul Society

[3] Ibid, 2018

[i] This is a tentative conclusion I base squarely on Roger Scruton’s tenacious and meticulous research about the French and Western Academy in, ‘Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, 2015’.

[ii] At this point, Christian Anarchism is where I depart from Ellul. I need to read more about what he thinks Christian Anarchism is. His chapter in ‘Jesus & Marx’, whilst it explains some of his ideas about Christian Anarchism, I’m yet to be convinced that it’s a good thing.

Gill, D.W. 2018 Scripture & Word in Ellul’s Writings, IJES Conference, Vancouver BC Canada (Sourced 3rd July 2018 from http://ellul.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Scripture-and-Word-in-Ellul%E2%80%99s-Writings.pdf)

Parents can tend to place their kids on a pedestal.

It’s not that children take the place of God nor that parents deify their children. The pedestal is more akin to that of an illusion; a fog of false security which assumes our children are perfect, and if not perfect, at least better than we are.

In sum: without sin.

Of course, parents know deep down that it’s naïve to think children are excluded from a sinful world.

We know by our own childhood and teenage years that they aren’t. Those years teach us that we shouldn’t be complacent in thinking that our children are not prone to the affects of sin, in the same way that we are, and once were.

The condition of the human heart, as described by Jeremiah 17:9, says that we can expect ‘the human heart [to be] deceitful above all things’. This goes right back to the retro-prophetic witness in Genesis, whereby the archetypal humans, together as male and female, through temptation, broke humanity and at the same time, broke fellowship with God.

In the beginning was God and relationship with God. This relationship was initiated by God and nurtured by boundaries. By breaching those boundaries, man and woman broke fellowship with God. Having already outlined the consequences, God brings humanity to account: “Where are you? Why are you hiding? What have you done?” (Gen.3:8-13).

In a great act of love, God punishes the serpent, makes clothes for the man and woman (Gen. 3:21), then removes them from the Garden. Where, if they were to remain and eat of the second tree (the fruit of the tree of life), as they had the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, death – this break with God; its lifeless godlessness; the nothingness of the abyss[i] – would be forever.

The cherubim and flaming sword (Gen.324) are set in place to save humanity from the condition they now find themselves in. God doesn’t cut and run. He sees the consequences and redefines the relationship. He removes them from the Garden, but not from His fellowship. For ‘God does not flee to man for refuge – man flees to God and lives by God’s grace’ (Barth, p.187).

By removing man and woman from the Garden, God removes them from their own destruction. That God does this proves His love for His creature. He doesn’t separate the man from the woman. Any separation of male from female; man from woman, at God’s command, or any others, would bring about the same thing that God is protecting humanity from – its own absolute and final self-annihilation.

By choosing to help them, in the midst of God’s judgement, we see His wisdom and mercy. This decision helped humanity, it was never about depriving or hurting humanity.

God never stops being graceful, merciful or just. This is who He is. No where greater is this seen than in the constant care God shows towards His people, through His people, and with decisive finality, in His son. In Jesus Christ, the entire world sees His glory. Jesus Christ is God revealed; God in revolt against the disorder of the world. God, the light of the world, pushing back against eternal darkness; against the potential forever of lifeless godlessness, and the nothingness of the abyss.[1]

By choosing to help us, we see wisdom and mercy, in the midst of God’s judgement.

‘sin means that man [and woman] is lost to themselves, but not to their Creator’. That ‘true freedom is in the act of responsibility before God […] it is never the freedom to sin’ (Barth, pp.196-197)

Contrary to God’s parenting style, parents can tend to place their kids on a pedestal. One indication that we might have put ourselves, or our children, on a pedestal is thinking that “our kids can do now wrong”. This is dangerous because the pedestal is high. The inevitable falling-off can lead to a serious falling-out between mum, dad and children. One way that we can remove ourselves and our children from that pedestal, is by acknowledging human limitations.

It stands as a well established fact, that parents are limited in being able to protect their child from the consequences of their child’s rejection of parental advice or poor decisions. We cannot wrap children in cotton wool, nor completely protect them from the affects of a sinful world.

As much as parents may want it to be different, Children are not excluded from a sinful world. As much as parents fight for their kids; teach or desire to walk with them. Just as the archetypal humans did, children may choose to walk away. They will choose not to listen to advice. They will choose to run too fast on a slippery floor, deceive from time to time, and be reckless with a knife, boiling water or worse. When these things happen, the pedestal shatters and the child comes crashing down.

Parenting then is not about pedestals, but about recovery, joy and improvisation! Being there to nurture, correct, create with, love and empower those entrusted by God into our care. Giving a firm “yes” and loving “no”, and allowing wisdom and mercy to inform when to give them.

God has no grandchildren; just as we are children, our children are God’s children. Therefore, parents are caretakers (Gen.2:15). We are given a great gift, and entrusted with the ‘training up a child in the way he should go; [so] even when he is old he will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6). .

Parenting is a gift. There can be no pedestal for us or for them. There can only be protest and petition. Protest for them against the disorder of the world [ii]; prayer for them, as they walk with God against it and all that sets out to destroy them.

Ultimately, parenting is receiving what God has to teach us. Learning what God has done for us. Learning from what God does and will have us do, then doing our best to walk in that; to help pick up the pieces of our children’s poor decisions, when they make them; to pray like breathing [iii], to ‘love justice, love mercy, [and together], walk humbly with our God’ (Micah 6:8).


References & Notes:

Barth, K. 1960. Church Dogmatics III/2 Hendrickson Publishers

[1] ‘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, 1958 p.294) ; ‘Every supposed humanity which is not radically and from the very first fellow-humanity is inhumanity’ (CD. 3:2, p.228)

[i] As are the terms given to this breach by Karl Barth & Dietrich Bonhoeffer

[ii] I’m adopting Karl Barth’s phrase: ‘Prayer is a revolt against the disorder of the world’ from CD Fragments IV:4 

[ii] because to pray is to act. Prayer is action. Prayer is not stoic detachment.

©Rod Lampard, 2018

Photo credit: Liane Metzler on Unsplash

As part of our home-school English curriculum this year, I decided to tackle Twain’s, ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn‘.

I’ve read a few of the, for and against arguments on the internet, by writers who either have an higher opinion of themselves (than they do of Twain), or they raise Twain to a higher level, just because he’s Twain.

My conclusion is this: forget all the, “I’m offended therefore ban ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, because Mark Twain uses offensive language.” Then ditch the flip side which says, “I’m offended, because you’re offended, that Mark Twain didn’t consider your feelings, before he wrote the book”.

What should be deemed offensive is the fact that we’re told our children cannot be taught to discern for themselves; told that they cannot learn the difference between appropriate, and inappropriate language. Especially the term which Mark Twain contextually applies to Huck’s, African-American friend, Jim.

Such an ideological imposition goes against everything that my role as an educator involves. Such as teaching kids how to think for themselves and act responsibly with what they’ve been taught. I’m a facilitator, not a computer programmer; I facilitate the learning process, I don’t insert information into an object, in a certain way, in order to get a specific set of desired results on demand.

Although age and capability are factors for why filtering certain topics is essential to healthy nurturing, I don’t water down facts to appease feelings. With age and capability factors in mind, I present the how, and we discuss the what. Deep learning requires learning the hard stuff and how to digest the hard stuff. We read, learn and act, therefore does not equate to, “we install and stoically obey”.

Learning is a journey, a discipline from which we grow together. This is encapsulated in the whole meaning of reader beware (caveat lector) and it corresponds perfectly with buyer (consumer) beware (caveat emptor).

For example: my students know the difference between Niger (the Latin adjective for black, pronounced Nigh-jer), and the perversion of the adjective used to refer to African-Americans in a derogatory way. Our students understand that the name of the country Nigeria is not pronounced or used with that pejorative in mind.

They are capable of concluding that if a term has an historical significance and was used in such a way to control and abuse others, than that term is not to be used, but is to be left in the historical context where it once was applied. Whitewashing history in order to make it digestible isn’t conducive to education proper.

Take for instance the term ‘wandering jew’’. This is a common name of a pervasive weed in Australia. It pops up everywhere and is hard to get rid of.  But the term raises some important questions: a) is the name of the weed, “wandering jew”, a term of endearment, or is it a pejorative? b)  Can the term be understood differently?  Just because I think the phrase is potentially offensive, doesn’t mean that a Jewish person would agree. c) The plant is strong, hardy and persistent with okay flowers. Instead of disparaging Jewish people, does it stand as a compliment to them?

Instead of banning terms, we educate our children about them. We teach them that the term ‘wandering jew’ can be viewed as a slur on a people group, used in order to dehumanize them. We also take note of the possibility that ‘wandering jew’ could also be viewed as a term of endearment. As a result, while knowing that the phrase is common, we give them reason whether or not to insert weed, where jew once stood or keep it. The consensus has been to use ‘wandering weed’ instead of ‘wandering jew’. If, however, someone used the term ‘wandering jew’, our children would understand its reference, and if someone was offended by it, they would understand why.

We can teach this without demanding that all horticultural books or websites which use the term, “wandering jew” be banned. Just because some Jewish folks might be offended, or use the term, doesn’t mean we have to either ban it, or use it. Likewise, just because the African-American community might (and some do[i]) use the pejorative version of the word ‘Niger (Nigh-Jer)’, doesn’t justify our own use of it (no matter how hypocritical it may seem).

In the case of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, the student is taught to understand what the word means, how and why it was once used, and to whom it was once applied. Instead of having them repeat the word, the pejorative version of ‘niger (nigh-jer)’ is easily replaced by the reader with African-American. We acknowledge the complications, but chose to think for ourselves instead of having a censor do that job for us.

The genius of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ is that, when allowed to speak for itself, Twain confronts us with the harsh reality of how words have been used to dehumanize others.

In order to holistically educate our students about the slave trade and the abuses carried out under the banner of racism, they have to be allowed to be confronted with the truth. The truth and the words associated with it. Thanks to Mark Twain, our students are no longer spectators. They get to participate in, and experience, hard truths through the eyes and ears of Twain’s characters.

There is no reason to ban ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’. Any ban would teach students to steer around being confronted with the horror and tragedy of that era (especially white folks[ii]). It denies them empathy and understanding, and as a consequence, fails to recognise that one of the essential building blocks of effective reconciliation and responsible freedom, is education free of emotional bias and ideological interference.

Banning a book because of a word that it uses, is asinine and ignorant – the very basis of Hannah Arendt’s ‘’banality of evil’’; a phenomenon that leads to the mass tolerance and participation in totalitarianism by people who are blinded by an uncritical trust in the blind bureaucrats who lead them[iii]. Not only would a blanket ban on ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ disallow children access to an experience of the past, but such a blanket ban would have to be applied to many African-American rappers, and movies where the pejorative use of ‘niger (nigh-ger)’ is applied regularly; the quintessential example being, N.W.A.

When reading the text, Twain’s consistent use of the pejorative derivation of the Latin word for black, “niger (nigh-ger)”, is easy enough to switch with African-American. Children can clearly see that black slaves are the category which such a pejorative has been applied.

Why all calls for a ban on ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ ultimately fail is that they are based on fear. If we give in to this, we let the past determine the future; repeating the past. Fear underlines racial hatred as much as excessive ethnic pride does. It restricts us from seeing our neighbor, and having our neighbor see, us.

In addition, we shouldn’t fear words, we should continue the age of old quest of learning how, when, why and where to apply and respond to them.

Parents and educators need to push back against any technological society which tries to program our kids as if they were computers. Conveyor belt education as part of an industrialised education complex has been an attempt to produce a certain type of human; if not a certain type of voter.  Androids are programmed, humans aren’t. Yes, humans can be influenced by conditions, but humans can also learn to overcome those conditions. We adapt because the gift of reason, empowered by God’s grace, hope, faith and love, allows us to overcome. We read, learn and act, therefore does not equate to, “we install and stoically obey”.

What is, and should be deemed offensive, are attempts, through the media, to tell us all what to think. The education industrial complex, for example, tells us that it needs to create “safe spaces”. Sinless spheres which are empty of any opportunity to develop reason, faith and resilience.

The subliminal message is that today’s men and women can’t be trusted to process or understand the power of the words that encounters humanity on a daily basis; words that come to us as either comfort, confrontation, conviction or a combination of the three. In a nutshell, “experts” take the false view that the humanity cannot be trusted with the God-given permission to speak freely, therefore thought, conscience and speech needs to be controlled. The fact that actions cannot be justified by their consequences is ignored.

Free speech is vital to our humanity. We need it in order to exist, first, in order to be free for God, second, to be free for others. We encode – decode – then reciprocate responsibly. Without that freedom we fail, as Karl Barth astutely put it, to see our neighbour, and having our neighbour see, us:

‘Humanity as encounter is looking each other in the eye […] Humanity as encounter must become the event of speech. And speech means comprehensively reciprocal expression and its reciprocal reception, and its reciprocal address and its reciprocal reception. All these four elements are vital.’
(Karl Barth, The Basic Form of Humanity, CD 3:2:251)

 

Banning ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn‘ denies humanity by exalting the inhumanity Twain’s adventure story ultimately, so brilliantly decries.


References:

[i] This is so pervasive; I don’t really see a need to highlight any specific examples. However, for the sake of thoroughness, see the movie, ‘New Jack City’, a good portion of Ice Tea’s albums and the rappers N.W.A. (the abbreviation goes without spelling it out).

[ii] If I was to unpack this further I would say that, should the concept of “white privilege” actually exist, banning Twain’s book would only be feeding “white privilege”, not answering it, or having white people repent of it. If anything calls to ban the book, proves that “white privilege” is a myth.

[iii] Karl Barth (CD.3:2:252) : “Bureaucracy is the encounter of the blind with those whom they treat as blind.”

[iv] Barth, K. 1960. CD. 3:2, The Doctrine of Creation, The Basic Form of Humanity. Hendrickson Publishers

Encore edition. Originally posted April 30th, 2014

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 (εἴδωλον/Eidalon: phantoms of the mind), 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)

References:

[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

{Image sourced from:http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/}

See also, ‘Jesus is man for His fellows [neighbour/others], and therefore the image of God, in a way others cannot even approach, just as they cannot be for God in the [same] sense that He is [for God]…We are the victims of idealistic illusions if we deck out the humanity of man generally with features exclusive to that of the man Jesus. Man generally may mean and give a great deal to His fellows [neighbour/others], but he cannot be their Deliverer or Saviour, not even in a single instance.’ (Karl Barth, ‘Christology is not Anthropology, CD. 3:2:222). [Added, 20th May, 2018]

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