Archives For Aim to bless not impress

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.

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)


[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:}

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]

Five links3

I’ve come across some outstanding inspirational reading over the past two weeks.

Here are a few of them.

1. Iraqi Christians Weigh Taking Up Arms Against the Islamic State

This is long. However, it is well worth the time you’ll spend reading through it. I was surprised to find this attached to National Geographic.

2. “Archaeologists in Jerusalem have identified the remains of the Siloam Pool, where the Bible says Jesus miraculously cured a man’s blindness, researchers said Thursday — underlining a stirring link between the works of Jesus and ancient Jewish rituals….” (Via NBCnews)

3. Kevin from (After Existentialism, Light) pointed out the blog Just Genesis yesterday.  Although I only had a very brief read of it I like the content. It may not be your cup of tea. Then again if you’re interested in the historicity of Genesis 1-11 from an anthropological perspective this might just be the place for you. An added bonus is that it may offset those neo-atheist reductio meme-by-degree graduates running the S.M news circuit.

4. Aim to bless, rather than impress – I’m big on this topic: ‘The Fine Line Between Gracious Hospitality and Entertaining to Impress’  – People pleasing is an issue for the church. Paul addressed it and I think we do well to discourage it as lovingly as possible. For me that makes Mrs.C’s rundown on the topic a welcome one.

5. Respecting Women The issues concerning gender roles in identity politics or women in leadership can be a tough one for theologians. I think that Jenny’s article is a fair response in two ways – First, freedom to lead and second, freedom to respect (very close to Barth’s man for the woman, woman for the man, God for both):

‘As a musician, I understand this leadership idea well. When you play music in a group, there has to be one leader. One person who says when to start, who sets the tempo, who decides the song and we all listen carefully throughout the song to follow along. If there are two leaders, things get confusing quickly, there is fighting with the tempo and the chords aren’t strummed at the same time, and the singing isn’t together anymore. It quickly ruins a song when there isn’t one leader.
God didn’t set up this leadership idea because women were inferior to men, He set it up to establish order and harmony….I used to think respecting women was a way to keep women safe, that it was a hope we could hold onto in a dark world. But slowly, I’ve figured out our hope is not in ourselves, it’s not in fighting for respect or equality, it’s not in our beauty, it’s not in our ability to be strong like men, it’s not in being a perfect wife, or making enough money, or in how much we don’t need men. Our only hope is in Christ…’

Considering the latest icloud hacking scandal involving celebrities, most of whom are women, Jenny’s piece is well timed. The scandal presents itself as a practical example of where Jenny’s main argument goes. Men cannot perfectly protect or respect women. But, in Christ men can, and some of us try, to do our best to raise women up by setting the example set for us. In the case of the icloud scandal the best way to actualise this would be to refuse to view any posts claiming to host the images or anything like them. Irrespective of whether women chose to make themselves vulnerable by having those photos taken or not.

CIVA facebook post and quote_grace


Your tears can teach.

Don’t be ashamed of them.


Those feelings of failure do not compare with the reality of your success.

The reality of failure can never compare with the gift to overcome.


God has called you to this.

Reach beyond discouragement.


Towards the sacred, the creative, the hallowed.

Beyond the before, the hollow and the shallow.


{For my beautiful wife, who often reaches beyond the before, the hollow and the shallow.}