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Church leaders need to stop apologizing and step up in support of Biblical Christianity. It’s disappointing to watch key leaders betray theology, in a pacifistic appeal to the Left, for fear of being excluded by them from the table of discussion.

Appeasement never works. It didn’t work against the onslaught of fascism in the 1930s or during the Cold War, it won’t work now.

As Winston Churchill once said, ‘it would be wrong not to lay the lessons of the past before the future; noting that appeasement encouraged the aggression of the Dictators and emboldened their power amongst their own people.’ [1]

If John F. Kennedy had let appeasement permeate his decisions throughout the Cuban Missile Crisis, we may very well have been forced by totalitarian aggressors over the irreversible red line into global thermal nuclear war. Kennedy’s commitment to his people, grace and the firmness of his convictions was later echoed in Ronald Reagan’s ‘Peace through Strength’; Reagan’s unwavering commitment to build relationship with the Soviet Union from a position of strength, through a policy of mutuality, not fear and submission.

Furthermore, if Jesus had appeased the Devil in the desert or quit at the pain He felt in Gethsemane, His victory over sin would be non-existent; His actualization of the presence of the Kingdom of God, the Gospel itself would have been reduced to nothing more than a birthright from heaven, sold to the highest bidder.

Instead, Jesus stood firm. He didn’t retreat. His very presence triggered demons and He expelled them with a command; healed the wounded, called sinners to repentance, and taught with a veracity absent in the burdensome, stern, joylessness of the religious leaders of His day (Mark 1:22).

In recent weeks, we’ve heard attempts at diplomatic responses to the scripture Israel Folau posted on Instagram from John Dickson, Brian Houston and Simon Smart from CPX.

Their thermostatic diplomatic attempts might seem commendable, but it will not find its intended goal of peace in a conflict the Church didn’t start. At the core of their well-intentioned responses is appeasement.

Dickson and Houston may be appealing to Jesus’ command to love our enemies, which is honorable, but they appear to be clueless, underestimating the ferocity and ultimate goals of their opponents. These are opponents who have made it clear that they are not only determined to make Christians their enemy, but are determined to impose a convert, pay the fine, or face the consequences religious law on all those who dare to speak truth in love.

For the most part, appeasement is misguided neutrality. It reflects defeatism and surrender.

History again teaches us that few gains are made by giving up, what we can, should and therefore ought to defend. Appeasement in the guise of loving our enemies is a flawed approach. Appeasement often feeds retreat, encourages compromise, and cowers before the tyranny of false doctrine.

Anti-Nazi theologian, Karl Barth’s Second Letter to French Protestants written during 1940, makes this clear:

‘In the Germany after 1933, when she was overrun by the demonic power of National Socialism, [through compliance and an approved armistice], in order to maintain itself, Christianity in Germany retreated, no longer concerning itself with, or at least was not willing to fight and suffer for, the right form of the Church, let alone that of the State.’

Writing, as he did, Barth encouraged the French to see that

 ‘even if this is the judgement of God on the Church, His judgement does not cast us into a self-chosen neutrality […] Repentance will us lead us to watch and not to sleep; it will guide our steps to life and not to death […] It follows that prayer will not lead us away from political thought and action of a modest but definite kind, but will rather lead us directly into purposeful conflict […] The spirit of Christian repudiation of defeat, the spirit of a Christian approach  to a new and better resistance, the spirit of Christian hope will not leave the field  to the demons!’

The Church and Church leaders must reject a policy of appeasement that would force Christian theology into servitude to ideology, which demands appeasement and affirmation by only approving the words of false teachers, and false prophets.

The Church cannot on any terms surrender to any lord other than the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the reason for the existence of the Church, for from Him the Church was brought into existence, and in Him only will it find its end. The free Theos-Logos (the free Word of God) remains free to speak to humanity, and this fact will always mean that God’s grace is offensive and in conflict with a world determined to reject it.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, ESV)

Church leaders need to stop apologising for Israel Folau, and begin to show backbone and true leadership. Like Churchill and Barth, Kennedy and Reagan, and ultimately in Jesus Christ, we can seek an exchange of understanding that is metered out in order to establish mutual respect.

Appeasement, however, is an abdication of responsibility, it requires the perilous decision of abandoning the theological critique of ideologies, which are proving, and have proven, themselves to be treason against humanity of the highest order[2].

Israel Folau has every right to post what he’d like on his own personal Instagram account. That’s an issue between him and Instragam. If people don’t like that, then they should simply just unfollow him.

If a post-Christian society is to be as it claims to be: tolerant, open and inclusive, then the people who advocate it should be mature enough to practice what they preach, giving Israel Folau and Christians, the same space and understanding that they demand for themselves.


References:

[1] Churchill, Winston. The Gathering Storm: The Second World War, Volume 1 (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) . RosettaBooks.

[2] For example, Nazism, Socialism, intersectionality theory and Islamism.

Photo by Daniel Sandvik on Unsplash

(Originally published at The Caldron Pool 13th May 2019)

©Rod Lampard, 2019

 

Brennan Manning’s passing prompted this tribute-contemplation. I invite you to sit, and wonder with me, at the significance of what happens when, despite human opinion, the Glory that God deserves is given back to Him.

 ‘The ragamuffin Gospel’ is an impassioned critique of churches that worship doctrine, conceal God and betray grace. He states that ‘Jesus invites sinners and not the self-righteous to his table’[1]. This re-enforces his concern that the church can at times project a ‘watered down Grace’[2]. Consequently, what is demanded is an allegiance to doctrine rather than an alignment to Christ. This makes for a ‘twisted gospel of grace, and results in a religious bondage which distorts the image of God’[3]. For instance, ‘any Church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of Grace’[4].

Reputation is not character. Some of the current expressions of church value appearances over against substance. They are communities defined by ‘fatal narcissism of spiritual perfectionism’[5]. This is form of sophistry that begins with the individual Christian. Brennan Manning argues that anybody who focuses on a pious reputation over against character is wrong. This exists where ’fellowships permit no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal their sin from themselves and from their fellowship’[6]. It’s easy to see the pragmatic and contextual out working of Manning’s paradox, ‘our doing becomes the very undoing of the gospel’[7].

Consequently some churches become consumed with public appearance[8]. Putting on a show becomes God. This idol turns our conformity into a way to earn salvation, rather than a doorway for discovering salvation. For example: the impossible ideal of a perfect Pastor. Someone who looks great in a suit, has the newest model car, the castle sized mortgage, the beautiful smiling wife, the 2.5 well behaved scripture quoting children and an unblemished Church attendance record. Such standards are closer to the ‘strange paradoxes of the American Dream’ (King), which is only really mounted on the metaphor that, ‘castles made of sand fall…melt…and slip into the sea eventually’ (Hendrix, 1967). While modesty and self presentation is beneficial for every Christian, it does not make you a Christian nor does it necessarily reflect your salvation[9].

A dichotomy exists between being righteous and appearing righteous. Evidence of this is found in the ‘seeming good is better than doing good age’ (Bolt), which feeds self-righteous and Lordless ‘isms’ (Wright) . Those who propagate such ideology, reject the theological Trinitarian reality which acknowledges that grace is a gift  from the Father, transferred to us through Son and worked out in our lives by the Spirit. God’s ‘furious love’[10] for humanity funds dignity, grace and mercy.

This begins with the acceptance of grace, ‘for acceptance means simply to turn to God’[11]. This is an encounter where I am no longer removed from my problems, my sin and my inability to repent because I ‘accept the reality of my human limitations’[12]. In other words, Manning does not endorse a ‘fast-food-cheap grace’ Churchianity.

The Ragamuffin Gospel presents a relational God who reaches into the ragamuffin’s brokenness and provides rescue, ‘inviting us to be faithful to the present moment, neither retreating to the past, nor anticipating the future’[13].

I come to accept that through grace I am dignified and worthwhile. Deemed to be so by the actions, words and approach, of a loving Father towards His children. God isn’t obsessed with, or anxious about our ‘’epic fails’’. God desires the correction of the sinner, not the death of the sinner (Luke 5:32; Ambrose of Milan, ‘On Repentance’). God is not a manipulative father, nor is He like the pagan gods, who demand sacrifice to appease their anger. We do not serve an angry, distant un-relational God who is unconcerned with who we are, or what we do. 

Manning illustrates for us that God seeks out the ragamuffin. Manning’s own ministry and his journey through alcoholism exemplify the message which ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’ communicates.  The message of the Ragamuffin Gospel is about a freedom that is completely reliant on a view grace which does not abandon human culpability, in the name of ‘tolerance instead of love’ (Bill ‘birdsong’ Miller).

This freedom is found acquired through a response to grace that empowers a living relationship with the gift of Jesus Christ. This freedom stands as a warning to those who ‘accept grace in theory but deny it in practice’ [14].Manning writes that the ‘deadening spirit of hypocrisy lives on in people who prefer to surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus’[15]. Being honest and expressing the need for grace and not works begins with us, the Church.

Writing about Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Manning states:

‘written in the heat of the moment, the letter is a manifesto of Christian freedom. Christ’s call on your lives is a call to liberty. Freedom is the cornerstone of Christianity (see 2 Cor.3:17[16])…Freedom in Christ produces a healthy independence from peer pressure, people-pleasing, and the bondage of human respect. The tyranny of public opinion can manipulate our lives. What will the neighbours think? What will my friends think? What will people think? The expectations of others can exert a subtle but controlling pressure on our behaviour’[17].

Brennan Manning encourages Christians to let go of  demands which control us, by entering into step with the Spirit, and consequently stepping into a life of freedom that is accountable to God. This freedom ‘lies not in ourselves, who are by nature slaves to sin, but in the freedom of his grace setting us free in Christ by the Holy Spirit’[18]. Christians are living in ‘the presence of God in wonder, amazed by the traces of God all around us’[19], not just in a building or a doctrine.

In concluding, the merit of this book is that Brennan Manning provides a reflection of the human struggle with addiction and idolatry. At times, Manning may seem a little unforgiving in his harsh critique of the institutional Church. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Manning seeks to address practical atheism, by reassessing doctrines and expressions of church, that have by default, replaced God. 

In order to achieve this Manning asserts that the Christian walk is one of risk, founded on a dignity which is grounded solely in God’s intervention on our behalf. The Ragamuffin Gospel addresses the failure to live out independently the character of Christ without Christ. As a result Manning successfully reminds us that God is in fact consistent, fierce, loving and interested in redeeming us, even in the midst of the messiness of our lives.


References:

Manning, B. 1990 The Ragamuffin Gospel, Multnomah Books, Sister, Oregon 97599, USA

Casting Crowns, 2003 American Dream: from the album Casting Crowns
[1] Manning, B. 1990, The Ragamuffin Gospel p.7, Authentic Classics, Multnomah books, Sis. OR.

.
[2] Ibid, p.6
.
[3] Ibid, p.1
.
[4] Ibid, p.13
.
[5] Ibid, p.34
.
[6] Ibid, p.107 & p.115
.
[7] Ibid, p.39
.
[8] Ibid, ‘publicity’ p.1
.
[9] For example: Facebook memes that encourage us to ‘share if you’re saved’ or like ‘ if you want to be’. As if our spiritual status is determined by how many times we shared or liked such drivel.
.
[10] Ibid, p.19
.
[11] Ibid, p.24
.
[12] Ibid, p.31
.
[13] Ibid, p.35
.
[14] Ibid, p.117
.
[15] Ibid, p.110
.
[16] 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (ESV)
.
[17] ibid, pp.120-121
.
[18] ibid, p.129
.
[19] Ibid, p.72

If Australia’s Prime Minister is serious about fairness, he’ll preserve the right to a conscientious objection to SSM; the right for people to hold the view, and teach their kids that marriage is between a man and a woman; and that those children have a right to equal access to their biological father and mother.

As I have hopefully made clear in the written contributions I’ve made to this national debate, I see the issues as a matter of social justice. The “no” vote has been about defending truth, liberty, fraternity, science, and even equality, from unbalanced ideological servitude.

The State wants the church to stay out of politics, but the Church is being encroached on by the State. The people want the church to stay out of politics, but it paints their political slogans on church walls, violently interferes with gatherings and misuses the Bible to manipulate or bash Christians into submission. The people want the church to stay out of politics, but they bring politics into the church, demanding a pledge of allegiance to systems that perpetuate hatred and inequality, behind a veil of tolerance, love and equality.

None of this is new, it’s the very same thing that was perpetuated by Nazis and Communists, as French theologian and Marxist scholar, Jacques Ellul noted:

‘But I’ve heard such talk a thousand times, from fascists as well as Stalinists: “You have no right to judge from the outside; first you must join up, sympathize totally with our aims, and then you can talk.” BUT that is just when one can no longer say anything! The experience of those who looked horrified, in hindsight, on Hitler’s or Stalin’s time confirms this: “How could we have taken part in that?” they ask.’
(Ellul, Jesus & Marx 1988:146)[i]

It’s a clear double standard when the LGBTQ and their supporters can freely criticise and push others to refuse service to those who disagree, then turn around and deny those in disagreement, the right to the same free speech and freedom of conscience. That’s not equality.

The line is blurring. Christians who support SSM have confused love of God with love of neighbour, and as such have compromised their neighbour, through a false [Marxist/materialist] claim that says we should place love for neighbour over and above God.

This is what is called horizontal theology. It is grounded in the errors and perversity of natural theology; the implicit claim that by blindly loving  our neighbour we can reach God through our neighbor. This encourages me to treat my neighbor as though that neighbor was a second revelation of God. The kind of ideas that lead to the false worship of Kings, rulers, prophets and objects throughout history. In short, the creature is worshipped in place of the Creator, because the Creator has been confused with His creature.

We are to be Christlike in our treatment of our neighour; have Christ in mind when we go to serve our neighbour, but we are grossly mistaken if we think that Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40 “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me”, means that our neighbor replaces Christ.

This misunderstanding leads is to works-righteousness. It leads us away from the righteousness of God that is graciously placed on us by the dynamic love of God. Grace that is active, free and sufficient, in the work carried out by the obedience of Jesus Christ.

We reject grace, when we reject Christ and put our neigbour in His place. This is because we reject God’s invitation to relationship. It denies God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, “who is the way, the truth and the life”[ii] it denies the fact that life with God, begins with, God with us. Christless Christianity is an oxymoron.

Love is not love, God is love. That “they will know us by our love”[iii] is true, but that love involves the freedom to give both a reasoned “yes” and “no”. The alternative view confuses love with niceness, sloth and indifference.

What this does is turn Christianity into a numb universal ethic of niceness – a lukewarm empty shell; a stoic idol built to reflect and cater to the feelings of men and women.

The ethic of universal niceness is false and incompatible with a thinking faith that commands us to have no god before God; to “test all things, and hold fast to the good[iv]”; to discern and ultimately lean not “on our own understanding, but on God.’’ (Proverbs 3:5-7). To lean not on an abstract or vague idea of God, nor on a god created by human imagination, but on the tangible gracious grip of God, as the One who grasps us and testifies to us about Himself, in space and time, through covenant and in Jesus the Christ.

Faith seeks understanding.

Our response to this is found in prayer and gratitude. Actions; grounded in word, deed and attitude that reciprocates God’s selfless movement towards us, in covenant, manger, cross, empty tomb and beyond.

Being super nice has the veneer of Christian love, but it’s moral therapeutic deism at best, practical atheism (Christian in name only) at worst. This is the kind of thing that fed the blood and soil ideology of Nazism, and the Marxist ‘deification of the poor, over against THE POOR One’ (Ellul, 1988), through the dictatorship of the proletariat. Not that we should ignore the poor, but that we shouldn’t deify them to further the self-interests of those who take it upon themselves to designate who the oppressed and the oppressors are. For all have fallen short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23).

For those who voted “no” in 2017, there will be a need to take time to carefully consider the way forward.

If we are to be true to this “no” and the love behind it, this will involve having to rise and once again say to the world that we refuse to surrender or kneel before anyone but God, and His revelation in Jesus Christ.

To once again say to the world that love of neighbour is not love of God, nor should we confuse the two. For to do so is to make a god of our neighbour, and make love for neighbour, the means of salvation. Love of neighbour is grounded on and in our love of God, without the latter we are not free and therefore, we cannot truly do the former. We will be doomed to serving our own selfish interests.

Jesus is the way, tolerance isn’t. Jesus is the way, love is love isn’t. Jesus is the way, means that no man or woman, good work or intention, super niceness, or feeling is or can be. The true path to freedom, the only path to salvation is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This cannot be reversed. It is decisive. The path is set.  #bewaretheauctioneers

In light of the changes to come, Christians are to do what they are called to do, centre everything in Jesus Christ. To lay every issue before the cross, following Paul’s words in Romans 12, clinging especially to those which encourage us to ‘…rejoice in hope, be patient in trial, be constant in prayer.’

This is bolstered by Karl Barth’s reminder:

‘The Church is either a missionary Church or it is no church at all. Christians are either messengers of God [with or without words] to both Jew and Gentile, or else they are not Christians at all.’ [v]

Far too many churches, ministers and Christian scholars are staying silent, waiting to see who wins what society calls “the culture wars”, so that they can back the winner. That’s a coward’s gamble. It’s an action that they may one day come to regret. Now is the time. Speak life. Speak truth in love. Set your eyes towards Christ, because inhaled grace ignites.

Kyrie Eleison.


References:

[i] Ellul, J. 1988 Jesus & Marx: From Gospel to Ideology Wipf and Stock Publishers

[ii] John 14:6, ESV

[iii] John 13:35 & Matthew 7:16 ESV

[iv] 1 Thess. 5:21, 1 Corinthians 14:29, 1 John 4:1 ESV

[v] Barth, K. Church Dogmatics 3.3, The Divine Preserving (p.64)

(Updated and edited from an article posted in November, 2017, called, To Everything There Is a Season: Deifying Our Neighbour Isn’t One of Them. Also published on The Caldron Pool, 20th November, 2018.

Photo Credit: Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

©Rod Lampard, 2018.

Humility Wins?

March 15, 2018 — Leave a comment

Richard Foster once made three profound observations about humility. He stated:

‘…it soon becomes apparent that:

1. Study demands humility. Study simply cannot happen until we are willing to subject to the subject matter…we must come as a student, not teacher.
2. Not only is study directly dependent upon humility, but it is conducive to it.
3. Arrogance and humility are mutually exclusive’ (2008:82)

Here Foster is concerned with the polarised disconnect between arrogance and humility in the context of study, viewed as being one of four inward spiritual disciplines.

The process involves having a loving conscience, and being open to the possibility that other Christians may stumble. Over the years I have learnt the importance of humility. Primarily due to my own under-developed theological and socio-political understandings. (1. Cor.8:11). In the field of academia friends, including “brothers-in-Christ” can quickly become an enemy.

The reason why is pinpointed by Liberation theologian James Cone.

The reality is that ‘most theologies [and other academic disciplines] are in fact an, [advantaged class] bourgeois exercise in intellectual masturbation’ (1975:43, parenthesis mine)

The issue of pride in the academy is bluntly summed by Cone. By this damning metaphorical indictment, Cone issues forth a caveat, that I am in cautious agreement with. Only as far as this statement critiques pride and ‘disturbs the sinner in his or her sin’ (Karl Barth).

Paul illustrates this in 1 Cor.8-10 when he invites the Church to identify its idols because:

‘Idolatry exposes people to serious danger…the strenuous self-denial of the athlete…is a rebuke to half-hearted, flabby Christian service. The athlete denies themselves many lawful pleasures and the Christian must similarly avoid not only definite sin, but anything that hinders spiritual progress…however God is not simply a spectator of the affairs of life in this; he is concerned and active. He will always provide a way out…therefore our trust is in the faithfulness of God’ (Morris 1996:137, 141 & 142)

Zeal (whether it be labelled liberal, conservative, red-pill, blue-pill, extreme or otherwise) must not become arrogant, conceited, and over-empowering whereby it puffs up one person to dominate over another unjustly.

In other words, ‘do not become the dragon  you are fighting against’ (Nietzsche paraphrased by Phillip Yancey, 1997:232)[1].

Pride is, and can only ever be an enemy of grace –  pride is like a tool for the ‘nothing’ (Barth’s term for absolute evil) to corrupt God’s blessing and work. As a consequence pride becomes an enemy to freedom, and a threat to community, worship, marriage, family – progress.

For me this means that my response to pride must become ‘reflective instead of instinctive’ (Karl Barth C.D IV.4:182); putting off well-engrained, survival mechanisms that help me hide in bitter pride rather than heal in humility.

It may be too simple to suggest that humility wins. After all, rejecting pride is not an easy task and mantra’s themselves can become tired, meaningless ambiguity of phrases like ‘love wins’. Suggesting that humility wins, however, is not the same as saying ‘love wins’ because it is more specific. Humility doesn’t have the baggage attached to it in the way that love does.

Nor does it not mean allowing ourselves to become doormats or subjugating ourselves to indentured, unjust servitude. Humility drives us forward. Unifying us in our agreements and disagreements; forcing us to graciously acknowledge our own limitations. This promotes respectful dialogue and round-table discussion.

One area where this can be applied is identified in Paul’s call to work towards preventing the wounding of other Christians in areas of their lives where they are either exhausted or under-developed (1 Cor. 8:11). To this task the Church in its various expressions and forms, ‘works towards the glory of God’ (1 Cor. 10:31) rather than the glory of self.

The side point here is that when Paul talks about restraining from or eating forbidden food, he doesn’t then apply, this freedom under grace, to sexual immorality. The body, as John Calvin so brilliantly points out, ‘was made for food, not for sexual immorality’ (Commentary on First Corinthians).

By choosing to give room for the under-developed thought and limitations of others we practice humility. Humility in action involves the loving ‘act of consideration for limitations ’ (Morris, 1996:124-123, italics mine). The superiority of humility over pride is grounded in the fact that humility strengthens, pride tears down. In working towards humility those brighter than the rest, offer to build those under up, providing them with the light of even greater insight and participation in the community.


References:

Cone, J.1975, God of the oppressed  Orbis Books NY

Forster, R. 2008 Celebration of discipline (1980) Hodder & Stoughton UK

Morris, L. 1996 Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 1 Corinthians Intervarsity Press Wm. B Eerdmans publishing

Yancey, P. 1997, What’s so amazing about Grace? Zondervan Publishing House

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash


[1] The actual quote reads ‘the man who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you’ (Beyond good and evil, p.63) – This is not an endorsement of Nietzsche or his philosophy, it is a critical application of a controversial statement used in order to illustrate a point.

Landed on this quote this morning. Kinda made me smile on the inside.

 

Barth Quote p211 CDII_2

 

Have a great week.

Yours Sincerely

February 22, 2016 — Leave a comment

 

 

‘When politics is
            given over to the Devil,
with the diminishing authority
                              of any entity
that can be called “Church”
        in relation to the state,
                one ought not be surprised
that the Devil overtakes politics.’ [i]

 

Dear User 5

 

‘Finally be strong in the Lord
and in the strength of His might.
              Put on the whole armor of God,
that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
               For we do not wrestle
                                     against flesh and blood,
but
                                     against the rulers,
                                     against the authorities,
                                     against the cosmic powers
                                                     over this present darkness,
                                     against the spiritual forces
of evil in heavenly places.’ [ii]

 


Source:

[i] Elshtain, J.B 2008 Sovereignty: God, State & Self, Basic Books, (p.79)

[ii] Paul, Ephesians 6:10-12

[recommended reads]

Karl Barth Father_husband_Theologian and Preacher

Karl Barth: Father, husband, theologian and preacher. {Source: kbarth.org}

Concluding my notes on Karl Barth’s C.D I/II hasn’t been a simple task.

Part one and part two covered being called to decision. Both addressed Barth’s theology of the Word of God, discussing how in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, humanity is confronted with freedom, and how we are ultimately orientated towards fellowship with God by His revelation.

Church Dogmatics is translated from German into English. The text can be dense at times and has a tendency to come off a bit long winded. Barth goes to great lengths in order to state and then restate key concepts that could be (and are at times) easily misinterpreted, such as the Freedom of man for God, as it is realised in His revelation and election.

Despite these surface level limitations, the reader is confronted with the need to mine the copious amounts of ‘’gold’’ that can be found. These are rarely one-liners and appear more often than not in paragraphs that are too long to quote. As a result I have had to decide between the great and the good; a painful necessity.

I now appreciate the words of one lecturer who had stated something along these lines: “Barth is un-preachable. His work is great for exegetical questions and theological discussion, but of not much help to the person in the pew – you’re more than likely to leave them bewildered and confused’’

I disagree, however, with the inference which can be drawn from this, and that is that Barth’s Church Dogmatics are only suitable for a “particular” few; as if Barthian theology was for the private sphere because it’s not easy enough for the public to understand. There’s a “special” kind of wrong in this form of academic arrogance.

It is true that one does not just include Barth in a sermon without some consideration for the hearers. There is, as Barth notes, an ‘inseparable difference[i]’ between the ‘the task of dogmatics and the task of proclamation [preaching][ii]’; the former ‘furnishes the latter…because the the hearing Church has to be a teaching Church[iii].’

Nevertheless, during the earlier part of the 20th Century Barth was a preacher, first in Geneva, and then in Safenwil, Switzerland, holding that position for ten years.

Barth’s preaching was theological; perhaps viewed as an attempt at dogmatics in proclamation? Secondly, Church Dogmatics (from what I’ve studied and read so far) is, in sum, the administration and proclamation of the Gospel. (For more on this I highly recommend reading William Willimon’s introduction in ‘The Early Preaching of Karl Barth: Fourteen Sermons)

I/II, ‘The Doctrine of the Word of God’ isn’t any different.

Every fibre of Barth’s work is pointed directly at Jesus Christ. Its contents exist as if they were his own rendition of John’s proclamation: ‘behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World’ (Matthew, I:29 – to borrow an image from Barth C.D I/I:113).

Some highlights and a brief reflection.

The Holy Spirit, Prayer and the Responsive Sinner

On this Barth writes that:

  • At the focal point of the Church’s action the decisive activity is prayer and gratitude…because it is the decisive activity prayer must take precedence even over exegesis, and in no circumstances must it be suspended’[iv]
  •  ‘To pray is a free act of humanity. Certainly the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in prayer as we ought (Rom.8:26). Nevertheless this does not alter the fact that it is us praying when we pray…When we pray we turn to God with the confession that we are not really capable of doing it, but we also turn to God with the faith that we are invited and authorised to do it…We must remember that prayer is literally the archetypal form of all human acts of freedom[v]

Philosophy and Biblical Interpretation

Barth issues ‘warnings in regards to the use of philosophy.[vi]

Philosophy has to do with the human mode of thought; theology, the Scriptural mode of thought.

Affirming exegesis 101, Barth asserts that we must ‘allow the text to speak for itself’[vii]

This is because ‘everyone has some sort of philosophy i.e., a personal view of a fundamental nature and relationship of things – however popular, aphoristic, irregular and eclectically uncertain. ’[viii]

‘It becomes dangerous when we posit it [philosophy] absolutely over against  Scripture, expecting that by placing it, as it were, on the same high level as scripture, we can use it to control Scripture…Scripture is necessarily distorted – it leads to falsification of Scripture[ix].

Barth’s conclusion.

Barth finishes on four clear points,

First: the ‘sovereignty of the Word of God is unconditional.[x]’ God is God, we are not[xi].

Second:obedient faith…is the exercise of the freedom which granted to us under the Word.[xii]’ Finally, ‘we must speak as God speaks. We cannot do this if we are looking at ourselves instead of at Jesus Christ[xiii]

Third: ‘God exposes humanity as a sinner even as He is gracious to us, we are really only judged by the grace of God[xiv]’ ; ‘because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, we are transposed into the kingdom of God’s grace. This transformation us to be accepted as fact.[xv]

Lastly,even in the presence of divine action, man is still man, and although by the divine promise he is relieved of anxiety about the success, justification and sanctification if his action, he is not relieved of responsibility for it [xvi]

This includes an in depth breakdown of ‘Pure Doctrine as the Problem of Dogmatics’, ‘The Mission of the Church‘ and ‘Dogmatics as a function of the hearing church.’

For Barth doctrine is akin to discipline and not theory. Meaning that pure doctrine is about ‘teaching, instruction, edification and application – it is a deed; an event, not a thing.[xvii]

Pages 782-796 are full of arguments in favour of the view that ‘dogmatics itself is ethics’[xviii]. Later Barth draws on the importance of the dogmatic task, writing that it is ‘evangelical as understood as the one holy, universal and apostolic Church[xix].’ Here he notes that it is better to refer to Evangelical dogmatics as ‘Church Dogmatics’. Possibly due to misappropriated modern attachments that have made the word “evangelical” a loaded term.

According to Barth ‘there is no such thing as dogmatic tolerance. Where dogmatics exists at all, it exists only with the will to be a Church Dogmatics; dogmatics of the ecumenical Church.[xx]’  Dogmatics is a science.

It is difficult to pick one or two parts of this text that stand out as must reads. If I had to choose from between them my suggestion would be, begin with ‘The outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ and then move onto ‘The Mission of the Church’. These form an introduction of sorts to the contents on the whole.

This mammoth read is an outstanding analysis of the Christian and the Church; their mission, the individual and communal responsibility towards which we are called, aided and freed to participate in. Such as, responding to grace in the light and shadow of God’s revelation in Jesus the Christ.

There is still a more lot to take in. Reading Barth’s work is something of a journey that the reader revisits and is rewarded for doing so.

These three reviews are an important part of that adventure.

‘To engage in theology seriously means to awaken as a theologian to scientific self-consciousness – Exegesis and preaching involves maintaining the ‘tension’[xxi] between ‘practical theology and that of technical advice[xxii]

 


Sources:

[i] Or ‘distinction and unity’ thereof, (p.770)

[ii] Barth, K. 1938 C.D I/II: The Doctrine of The Word of God, Hendrickson Publishers, p.769

[iii] p.770

[iv] p.695

[v] p.698

[vi] p.734-735

[vii] p.726

[viii] p.728

[ix] ‘Every philosophy which is posited absolutely leads to the falsification of Scripture because to posit absolutely what is man’s own and is brought by him to the Word is an act of unbelief which makes impossible the insights of faith and therefore a true interpretation of the Word.’(p.732)

[x] p.739

[xi] p.750

[xii] p.740

[xiii] p.749

[xiv] p.755

[xv] p.756

[xvi] p.758

[xvii] pp. 763 & 768

[xviii] p.793

[xix] p.825

[xx] p.823

[xxi] p.805

[xxii] p.772