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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.


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,
                                     against the rulers,
                                     against the authorities,
                                     against the cosmic powers
                                                     over this present darkness,
                                     against the spiritual forces
of evil in heavenly places.’ [ii]



[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:}

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]



[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

tyranny the god of selfBefore you, is part two of three in a series of posts highlighting some points raised by Barth in Church Dogmatics I/II.

Riding on the wave of content mentioned in my post {here}, Karl Barth connects the authority and government of the Church to that of the Bible ‘as it stands’ in witness to the revelation of Jesus Christ.

He writes:

1. ‘The hearing in obedience is Christian faith and the sphere of Christian faith is the sphere in which God’s Word exercises its power’[i]

2. Another aspect Barth addresses here is how responsible understanding (interpretation) leads to responsible action (application)[ii].

Theologically these two items stem from prayer and exegesis, vital threads in the working out of orthopraxy. Both orthodoxy and orthopraxy can meet where thinking theology (embedded) meets doing theology (deliberative)  – one critiques the other in light of the necessary critique of God’s word.

3. Barth, possibly recalling his strong attempts to oppose the rise of fascism in the 1930’s focuses on the inevitable deception that results from natural theology, writing:

  • Who can exercise a worse tyranny over us than the god in our hearts? And what further tyranny does not this first and decisive one drag in its train?…
  • ‘It is inevitable that the man or woman who claims to be directly in communion with God, and free from all concrete forms of authority, will all the more certainly be delivered over to the powers of nature and history, to the spirit of the age and of contemporary movements, to the demons of his situation and environment.[iii]

4. Barth asserts that the Word of God creates the Church

  • ‘The Word of God is free, and exercises this freedom in the founding of the Church’[iv]
  • From the inner life of the Word, flows the life of the Church’[v]

Exegesis as more than a literary form of archaeology,
and to say that in the Word of God, we are spoken to,
acted upon and ruled by God, is no metaphor[vi].

  • ‘We understand Holy Scripture falsely, that is, not as Holy Scripture, if we regard it as a fixed, inflexible, self-contained quantity…just as by a dint of excavations many important and interesting conclusions are to be expected about the life of those who have lived by the fact that, however hard we try, more cannot be dug up than was originally there. But the investigation of the Bible does not have to reckon with this natural limitation’[vii].
  • To say that Jesus Christ rules the Church is equivalent to saying that Holy Scripture rules the Church’[viii]
  • ‘For the Bible is a living, indeed, in light of its content, an eternally living thing, so that from the study of it we can expect new truths to meet us’[ix]

 5. Although the Church has a social aspect to it, ultimately the Church is not a social club.

  • At the heart and basis, lacking that horizon, as is the case in all “religions,” he is his own master, the master of his own deepest impulses. In this type of religion the fellowship of religious people, what is called the Church, can be only a society with a particular object, a club, which individual believers join for certain enterprises and common endeavours.[x]

I once said to someone, that trying to hold Barth’s theology in your hands was like trying to hold water. It gets complicated and before you know it the water is gone. This is because there appears to be a constant movement of light, one that cannot be pinned down or tamed.

For me now, reading Barth is more like seeing someone you recognise while out on a stroll. You hear them calling out an invitation to stroll along. Then find yourself being pointed towards things that induce both warning and wonder.

Barth spots something strange and out of the ordinary. He sees things others may have failed to see or acknowledge at the time. As a result he calls us to hear and respond to the warnings of history, as well as to respond with prayer and gratitude for the wonder and the work of God, as He meets us in Jesus Christ.

In doing so Barth points us towards the uniqueness of Jesus the Christ; the Word of God who commits to enslaved humanity a responsible freedom that is a direct result of the God who chooses to act on our behalf.

Barth brilliantly wrote: ‘the Holy Spirit through the witness of the Word of God wins the heart of men and women.In the interval between the ascension and the second coming the believer is certainly responsible, but not autonomous’[xi]

We are not left alone.


[i] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics I/II Freedom of the Church; Freedom Under the Word Hendrickson Publishers p.687

[ii] Ibid, pp.696-697: ‘The Church is governed, maintained and created by the Word of God – the testimony to the revelation of Jesus Christ’ We must understand that this ‘testimony cannot be received unless those who accept it are ready and willing themselves to assume the responsibility for its interpretation and application’ (orthodoxy and orthopraxis).’

[iii] Ibid, p.668

[iv] Ibid, p.688

[v] Ibid, p.690

[vi] ‘It is no metaphor when we say that the Word of God speaks, acts and rules’ (p.684)

[vii] Ibid, p.683

[viii] Ibid, p.693

[ix] Ibid, p.684

[x] Ibid, p.692

[xi] Ibid, p.693


I was reading Kevin Davis’ post today about PCUSA’s recent decisions, which allows room for homosexual marriage[i]. Not too long after this I arrived at page 777 of CD.1.2, landing on these words from Barth.

‘Even behind the most insignificant deviation or obscurity or irrelevance, behind the apparently most harmless whimsicality, which someone or some circumstance may wish to employ in matters of Church proclamation, there may lurk error and falsehood by which the promise is annulled and the Church destroyed. In every menace to pure doctrine the question arises whether the Church, at the point where it now speaks, has not perhaps rejected grace and is, therefore, itself rejected. In our prayer for the Holy Spirit we commit it to the grace of God, and in so doing we confess that it needs divine grace, and must be continually rescued from death if it is to live.’[ii]

Barth is discussing the science of dogmatics as having a middle role to that of explication and application (or exegesis and practical theology).

In light of these words I found myself asking:

What kind of ‘dogmatic attitude  that is critical, but not sceptically negative’[iii]  towards this proclamation by PCUSA would be considered a healthy response?

How much of God’s Word is reflected purely through the human word?

Does God even exists in these decisions?

I also wonder if, in some aspects, Barth’s idea of preaching as being a ‘selfless word’[iv] is an indictment against this kind of proclamation. In this respect could such decisions rightly be considered as being a ‘selfish word’ and therefore false proclamation?

As with a lot of discussions about homosexual “marriage”, there are more questions than answers.

That said, we’ll know sooner or later how this all pans out for the Church. Simply because consequences determine the wisdom of our actions (Jesus, Luke 7:35 paraphrased)


[i] link:
[ii] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of The Word of God I.II Hendrickson Publishers 2010
[iii] Ibid, p.775
[iv] Ibid, p.764

Belonging Rom8_15_GVL_RL2013

This time of year is particularly difficult for those with family who are absent or who feel as though they don’t belong. Christmas can be seen as unfair, an unwelcome reminder of too much disappointment. The dreaded time of year when more salt is added to already aggravated, yet-to-heal wounds. When Christmas eve is spent ringing sometimes hostile and estranged family members to at least, albeit at a safe distance, meet and greet them in the hope that this year wounds will heal as prayers are answered.

Even in this reflection, I find that my longing to fit in where I think I belong is confronted by a new belonging, if it isn’t replaced by it completely. In the midst of this encounter I am reminded that I cannot remain absent in places where I have been given an invitation to be present.

This is because belonging when you don’t belong is a unique attribute of a Christian gathering, particularly pertinent at Christmas.

This idea lingers in the storylines of movies which narrate to us the wisdom that says our worth and identity exist outside of our possessions, work and social status. The music at this time of year reminds us of a homecoming even if the house or the family in it are not, or were not originally ours.

The gift of the gathering is to be recognised by those of us who encounter more sorrow than merriment during Christmas. Presuming that the gathering is an authentic gathering, we will discover, if we care to admit it, something special – unique. The bitter disappointment that enters your entire being; the taste of fallen Christmas’ past are slowly eroded by the loving merriment of those who were once strangers. An emptiness filled over time by people who consider your presence the most important present of all.

As time goes by, the echo of this response leaves memories that are generally filled with more Merry than “Meh-rry”. It is untidy at times and not perfect, but it is healthy, joyful and genuine.

Something, or rather someone who grasps us, even as we are gasping, trying to smile and not entertain thoughts about where ones own side of the extended family are this time of year.

Your heart may feel like it is being squeezed into your throat, but thankfully the sensation passes, even if the questions and contrasts increase the sense of inferiority and displacement. The pain of isolation and abandonment is not cancelled out or discounted by this strange, new belonging; rather it is answered by it.

This discovery uncovers lives grounded upon the reconciliation between God and humanity. We find ourselves in a different, strange and unique place of acceptance, a place where we belong even if we don’t truly think we do.

Out of the gathering we are reminded of the theological position that states, in Jesus the Christ we understand that our reconciliation with God happens through his movement towards us  – the answer to the paradox that we belong even though we don’t belong is exemplified by Paul Tillich’s imperative to ‘accept that you are accepted[i]’.

It may be only once a year, but in the gathering the melancholic and the introvert finds the gift of acceptance, the gift of being present, of being around people he or she doesn’t feel they even belong being around. It is then up to the melancholic and the introvert to respond. To accept that they are accepted if it is safe enough to do so.

This kind of gathering is a gift. The wonderful knowledge that being present is itself received as a gift.

This kind of belonging is driven by the acceptance of, and invitation to, those who don’t belong by those that do.

Men and women who may fail to understand the significance of your reticent manner, but still acknowledge that you’re being present is a worthwhile gift; a selfless offering made in spite of the pain, the brokenness and sorrow. In spite of the emptiness and the clear absence of anyone directly related to you.

This encounter with a new belonging cannot be purchased; neither does its impact dissolve into the atmosphere once the event has come to a close.

During Christmas and New Year, busyness and distraction are temptations too easily agreed to. However, agreeing to these only enable negative patterns of anxiety avoidance.

Alternatively accepting the invitation to gather lovingly confronts a soul-filled with sorrow by the gentle reminder that you will find less solace in the solitude of a glass of wine, than in a Christ led crowd of forty plus people who are genuinely pleased that you made the effort to show up. Matthew’s Gospel records Jesus as saying: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mt. 18:20, ESV)

Perhaps this might coincide with Paul’s reminder to the Church in Rome, as a potential reminder to us that we:

‘did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, as sons (and daughters) by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Paul, Rom.8:15, ESV)

[i] Tillich, P. 1952 The Courage To Be Yale University Press p.164
[ii] Video: [Official] Linkin Park, Somewhere I Belong from the album Meteora available @ itunes