Archives For Dean Stroud

There are a vast number of books that discuss Karl Barth’s theology.

So far some of the best include Gorringe, Busch, Bloesch and Webster.

Outside selected writings, which were core readings while I was at college, I’m yet to completely engage with William Willimon, Sung Wook Chung  or explore works from and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. This said, I may never actually get there because I’m passionate about primary and secondary sources.

It’s one thing to read what people say someone said; it’s another thing to hear what that person actually said. Some filters are necessary. Others mislead and can hinder this objective.

Given the amount of lecturer-directed reading we did of Barth and the student-directed discussions about his theology over those years, my focus since then (as some of you will know) has been on working through his Dogmatics; consulting ‘companion texts’ or sending off an email to mates for their perspective when I’ve found it necessary to do so.

Places to start actually reading Barth are Evangelical Theology: An Introduction’ and ‘Dogmatics in Outline’. These are almost always readily available and inexpensive.

As far as good, short accessible introductions to Karl Barth’s historical context and theology go, I reckon Dean Stroud’s (2013)[i] outline in ‘Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow’  is a serious contender:

‘In 1930 Karl Barth began teaching at the University in Bonn, and not long after that he was calling Christians to radical opposition to the “Thüringen {Nazi-conformist} German Christian movement.’’ (circa 1920’s-1938[ii])
But even before his arrival at Bonn, Barth’s commentary on Romans had caused a stir.
The first edition had appeared in 1919, which was followed by expanded editions from 1921 through to 1932. In his reading of Romans, Barth challenged readers to hear the epistle as God’s word directly addressing the present moment.
No longer was the letter a relic of the past whose message was more historically interesting than contemporarily relevant.
Heinz Zahrnt, whose history of Protestant theology in the 20th Century contains a lengthy discussion of Barth’s commentary, calling it ‘’a great explosion,’’ (bomb theology) in that Barth ‘’proceeds with the single assumption about the text ‘that God is God.’
For Barth, secular history was not an “idealized pantheistic” course of grand events so much as a record of “naturalistic” and “materialistic” forces.
In short, human history was nothing to brag about and certainly it was no hymn of praise to human achievement and progress, given recent events such as World War One.
As Zahrnt expressed it, Barth “turned 19th Century theology on its head” and then went “not from the bottom up but from the top down”. I.e.: we do not reach God by starting with humanity or human achievements and victories, but rather, God reaches out to us in revelation…
For Barth “God is the subject and predicate of his theology all in one”.
Barth and neo-orthodoxy sounded radical to those trained to view Scripture as a curious example of ancient history, not the sacred word of God.
According to Barth’s interpretation, no longer is the reader in charge of the biblical text but the text judges the reader.
And so when the “German Christians” insisted on inserting Hitler and racial hatred into the Scriptures or removing Paul and robbing Jesus of his Jewish identity, Barth was ready to object with a vigorous regard for biblical authority.
19th Century liberal theology had weakened biblical foundations, and “German Christians” has simply taken advantage of this human-centred interpretation.
Barth’s neo-orthodox interpretation of Romans repeatedly hammers away against idolatry of self-worship in human form, nation, or leader…
The gulf between humans and God is too wide for the human eye; only God in his revelation and his word may cross that divide. Hence every human effort to identify a leader, a nation, a fatherland, or a race with the divine always results in the worship of the “No-God.”
Barth urged future preachers in Germany to take the biblical text seriously, to submit themselves to it, and not the other way around.
By focusing on the text through exegesis, pastors would hold up and alternative rhetoric to the culture. From his lectures it is clear that for preachers in the Barthian tradition, the biblical text reigns supreme.
Without the preacher intending to be controversial or political, the Holy Spirit may make him so in the faithful hearing and proclaiming of Scripture. Barth issued a call to arms against the German Christian movement and argued against any marriage of Christianity with Nazism.
He warned that “what under no circumstances is allowed to happen is this, that we in zeal for a new thing we consider good, lose our theological existence.
God is nowhere present for us, nowhere present in the world, nowhere present in our realm and in our time as in his word; that this word of his has no other name and content than Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ for us is nowhere in the world to be found as new every day except in the Old and New Testaments. About this we in the church are unified or we are not in the church”
Theological existence today, for Barth, was being bound to God’s Word and to Jesus Christ alone and to no other name or race of land.’[iii]

On the whole I’m uncomfortable with labels outside just being called a Christian, so the term Barthian is not something I’m quick to apply to myself or others with any deliberate zeal.

I am, however, convinced that what The Word of God might say to the Christian through a Barthian lens has the potential to transform lives, beginning with their theology.


References:

[i] Stroud, D. 2013 (editor), Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of resistance in the Third Reich, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company

[ii] Ibid, p.23

[iii] Ibid, pp.31-33

Image: Storied Theology – On Loving Freedom

Originally published 14th September 2014 

©Rod Lampard, 2019

Of all the points of parallel relevance the past has with modern society, there are sometimes moments when historical parallels between past and present collide.

This nexus isn’t always clear or easy to acknowledge. The past may be misappropriated and misrepresented; hyped up to buttress a political agenda.

Key players manipulate the material in order to provoke a response, carefully steering reactions in a particular direction for political gain.

Throughout history the Christian Church has come up against this, battling forces within and without. Along the halls of Church History can be found the graffiti of false prophets, corrupt leaders, anti-Christs, and, the more surreptitious, pseudo-christs.

There have, for example, been a number of notorious examples of cults, false prophecies and dates given asserted to be the exact return of Jesus Christ and the end of days.

Like freedom, truth has to be fought for. Like freedom, the greatest threat to truth is the corruption of it.

One of the great positives of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, is that he provides an insight into the secularized church mindset. The, politically necessary fake-it-to-maintain-it, surface only profession of, in Machiavelli’s context, faith in Jesus Christ in order to maintain status, power, control and influence over the people.

‘There is nothing more important than appearing religious. In general people judge more by appearances than first-hand experience , because everyone gets to see you but hardly anyone deals with you directly. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few have experience of who you really are, and those few won’t have the courage to stand up to the majority opinion underwritten by the authority of the state.’ [i]

Social media provides the most poignant example of where a nexus between past and present exists. Just as Machiavelli, half mockingly describes politicians and the socio-political mix of his time, for a good majority, appearance is placed over substance.

Seeming to be something, or be doing something is part of the rule of the day. Today, it’s correct, politically incorrect, label is “virtue signalling”.

The nexus isn’t easy to see because it’s feared. Learning from the past empowers responsible action in the present. When allowed to speak freely, the truth of the past secures the future.

Either the truth of the nexus is too close for comfort, or what confronts us isn’t in line with political narratives that shape, and seek to shape, the way people think, act and speak.

Ideas that are deified, demanding an absolute pledge of allegiance to those, who by blurred distinctions, coerce the surrender of tried and trusted systems that ensure basic civic freedoms. Those who bind truth to lies with threats to deny those civic freedoms under the guise of treason.

God’s Word as law, given in grace is supplanted. Man’s word as law, given to enslave, is enthroned. Chiseled into existence with the arrogant proclamation, “God is dead”. This jubilant euphoria at man triumphant; God conquered, is, however, short lived.

The great evil committed in the Garden, now cemented in the creeds of an incorporated and thought-to-be newfound lordlessness. The regression towards a pre-Christ primal atheism strikes a devastating blow against humanity.Those this side of all of histories examples, say with lament, “man is dead”.

Human lords are divided,

‘no longer able so unambiguously to distinguish the light of Lucifer from the light of God […] Humankind has got what it wants; it has become creator, source of life, fountain head of the knowledge of good and evil […] it is the lord of its own world.’ [ii].

This was the case in Germany throughout the 1930’s: “To the good Nazi not even God stands before Hitler” [iii] Humanity becomes the source of good and evil; ‘living out of it’s own resources'[iv] in a rejection of God’s grace. The fickle motion of whim, feeling, and lust, combined with a reasoned insanity. Humanity strikes a devastating blow against itself.

Examples of this can be seen in how some modern proponents utilize Religion or ideology to justify their rejection of God’s Lordship in Jesus Christ. Via claims to superior, “inside” knowledge or the Darwinian excuse that the strong determine the treatment (mistreatment) of the weak.

Helmut Gollwitzer, in response to the so-called, reasoned insanity, of ‘Kristallnacht’ (Night of broken glass/crystal) preached:

”Those who cannot admit their guilt before God can no longer do so before men and women. Then begins the insanity of persecution that seeks to make the other person into the devil in order to make themselves into a god. Where repentance stops, inhumanity begins; there all common bonds shatter even while one tries to strengthen them through tenacious self-justification and self-pardon’ [v]
– (November 1938, Berlin, Sermon: ‘About Kristallnacht’ )

In the progressive quest to work for God, or alternatively ignore God, we find elements which seek emancipation from God.

Consequently, the biblical promise of a ‘newness of life’ (Romans 6:4) is replaced with a mystical fog or a reason induced cold pragmatism. Most often affirmed by an esoteric elitism who, hiding behind entitlement, choice, nature and good intentions, hypocritically end up forcing a tyrannical ‘denial of life’ upon humanity.

Ultimately, the charade is found wanting and sinful humanity is once again reminded of its tendency to parade darkness behind a veil of light.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot apprehend that which can only be given to us.

Humanity remains unfree in the ignorance and futility of its quest to be free from the Creator, who has and still does, have a right to His creation. By enforcing His right the Creator appears as powerless. In mercy, He lowers Himself in order to raise us up.

‘Freedom to be for God is not a freedom which we have taken, but a freedom which God has given to us in His mercy’ [vi]

Our lack of  sensitivity and response to God’s approach i.e.: our lack of ‘receptivity to revelation through gratitude and humble recognition’[vii], leads to a rejection of God and His freedom.

Humanity is triumphant only because God triumphed! Without God, nothing. For ‘God gives of God’s own life, of God’s Spirit. Human beings do not live as human beings apart from God’s Spirit.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation & Fall p.79)

“Extract us from sin, He Who dwells in the heavens
as the sun sets, call to those who pass through fire and water
Next Year in Jerusalem.” (source)


References:

[i] Machiavelli, N. 1532, The Prince Penguin Classics, 2011, (p.71)

[ii] Bonhoeffer, D. DBW 3:Creation & Fall

[iii] Julien Bryan, Henry Luce & Louis de Rochermont, 1939. March Of Time: Inside Nazi Germany

[iv] Bonhoeffer, D. DBW 3: Creation and Fall

[v] Gollwitzer, H. 1938 in Stroud, D. (ed.) 2013 Preaching in Hitler’s shadow: Sermons of resistance, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.120

[vi] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics I.II Hendrickson Publishers p.260

[vii] ibid, 1938

YouTube: Jerusalem (Swedish Band): ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ from the album ‘Prophet‘, 1993

Image: United States Holocaust Museum, Kristallnacht

paul-schneider-quote-2Arrested four times, Paul Schneider became one of the first theologians of the Confessing Church to be murdered by the Nazis, and the first protestant pastor to die in a Nazi concentration camp.

In a nut shell, Schneider was labelled a firebrand. Like a lot of the Confessing Church Pastors and theologians, his theological resistance was “politically incorrect”.

His defiance was a veritable revolt against ‘compromise with Nazi ideology, and the indifference of the people.’[i]

As a result the ‘terror state would forbid him to preach, and attempt to silence his opposition by enforcing a form of exile’[ii]. Schneider was later arrested and imprisoned.

His tenacity is evidenced by accounts such as this:

‘…few dared to risk as much as Pastor Paul Schneider in Dickenschied, who disciplined those parish members who were in the Nazi Party’ (Bethge, Bonhoeffer: A Biography. p.568)

Then,

‘in January 1939 two prisoners who tried to escape were hanged in front of the assembled inmates. Paul Schneider called out through his cell window: ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I witness against the murder of these prisoners…The response was another twenty-five lashes.’ (source)

Greg Slingerland narrates the scene brilliantly:

On a January morning in 1939 in the concentration camp of Buchenwald, two beleaguered prisoners who had attempted to escape were brought into the parade grounds of the camp. There they were mercilessly executed.  As the bodies of the two prisoners went limp, a voice rang out across the camp from the window of the punishment cell.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, I witness against the murder of these prisoners!”

Not quite six months later, Schneider, beaten and starved, was euthanized by the Buchenwald camp doctor. Schneider was survived by his wife, Margarete and their six children. (source [iii])

Along with Schneider’s outspoken preaching in prison, his theologically informed political defiance permeated his sermons.

The first in 1934, where he firmly asserts a theological critique against the ideology of the day:

‘we have tolerated the teachings of Balak (Numbers 22.6), of liberalism that praises goodness and freedom of men and women while minimising the honour of God and letting the seriousness of eternity fade away into a misty haze[iv]we cannot close our eyes to the high storm-waves we see surging toward our people in the Third Reich[v]

The other is in a sermon smuggled out of a Gestapo prison camp in 1937 entitled: ‘About Giving Thanks in the Third Reich’. He draws deliberately onBelshazzar, a poem written by Heinrich Heine, a 19th century German Jewish poet[vi].’

Schneider matches the attitudes of late 1930’s Germany with the attitude of ‘the Babylonian ruler, who fully ripened in his godless, proud, and wasteful misuse of God’s gifts, had drunk himself sick and mocked God’[vii] (Daniel 5:13-30)

‘…His face is flushed, his cheeks aglow, till a sinful challenge to God resounds.
He boasts and blasphemes against the Lord, to the roaring cheers of his servile horde…
“Jehovah, your power is past and gone – I am the King of Babylon”
But scarce the awful word was said, the King was stricken with secret dread.
The raucous laughter silent falls, it is suddenly still in the echoing halls.
And see!
As if on the wall’s white space, a human hand began to trace.
Writing and writing across the stone, letters of fire, wrote, and was gone
The King sat still, with staring gaze, his knees were water, ashen his face.
Fear chilled the vassals to the bone, fixed they sat and gave no tone.
Wise men came, but none was equipped, to read the sense of the fiery script.
Before the sun could rise again, Belshazzar by his men was slain.’(source)

 

Rembrandt_-_Belshazzar's_Feast_-_WGA19123

Dean Stroud notes:

‘Schneider no longer believed that ‘’our evangelical church” (read German Evangelical [Free] Church) could avoid direct conflict with the Nazi state’[viii]

For the Church in the West, these are still ominous words. As witness (marturion; martyr) they also point us towards the ‘storms that are not so much around us, but in our hearts.[ix]

Heard as they must be heard, Schneider joins the chorus of voices who cry out to us today against complacency, indifference, arrogance, and the unwillingness to face the danger posed by those who seek to be our ideological masters.

Dangers that we, in the West, as a multi-ethnic community, can still face up to together, or continue to ignore. The danger of continued indifference, though, may lead us to a place where we are bound together under those ideologies and their yoke of slavery.

“In regimenting German thought, all radio programs emanate from the – [state own broadcaster] – the Department of propaganda. Every newspaper prints only what the State wants its people to read and any letter in the German mail is subject to censorship. For in Nazi Germany any instrument that forms thought, communicates ideas; must be used to glorify the Nazi super state and its demigod”
(Henry R. Luc, Julien Bryan, Louis de Rochemont, March of Time: Inside Nazi Germany, 1938)

Each poignantly targeted at us today, Schneider’s words and example, are yet another loud theological indictment on the lifelessness of ideological servitude.

For:

“The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain.”
(Ronald Reagan, 1964. A Time For Choosing)

References:

[i] Stroud, D. (ed.) 2013 Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance, Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing p.75

[ii] Ibid, p.94

[iii] This website is in German, but can be translated via the Google toolbar. {the mechanic seems reliable}

[iv] Given the content, what he means here is a view of freedom without responsibility; power without accountability; denial of the transcendent.

[v]  Ibid, p.80 (Schneider)

[vi] Ibid, p.96 (Schneider)

[vii] Ibid, p.104 (Schneider)

[viii] Ibid, p.76

[ix] Ibid, p.82 (Schneider)

Image 1: Rembrandt, 1686-8 ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’

Image 2: Paul Schneider, graphic created using picmonkey

Updated 15th May 2017, from an article I originally posted on October 1st, 2014

Barth quote 3In the footnotes of his segment on Karl Barth, Dean Stroud comments that the first part of the quote pictured to the left, is ‘one of Barth’s great sentences – to be read slowly and enjoyed greatly’[i].

I agree with this, although it is not complete without the second part – which I’ve added from the text.

There Barth is talking about what it means to understand that God’s permission to pray is also an invitation to exercise our new freedom in Christ. That is as responsive sinners called to pray, we are called to take part in what Eberhard Busch rightly calls the ‘first act of Christian ethics’[ii].

The theme of prayer as an expression of freedom in Christ, comes alive in light of the context.

The sermon Stroud is referring to is called ‘A Sermon about Jesus as a Jew’. It was written and delivered by Barth in Bonn on December 10, 1933. According to Stroud, ‘copies were made the following day, and Barth even sent a copy to Hitler.’[iii]

What grabbed me, reading this for the first time today, is the connection Barth identifies between prayer, praise, discernment and confession.

Barth writes that ‘we discern the word we hear, in order to confess it to one another.’ However, we don’t achieve this alone; ‘not through the power of our minds but through the power of the Holy Spirit’[iv] – {in my opinion another one of Barth’s ‘great sentences’}

He strongly asserts that:

 ‘Our text tells us simply to pray for the church that it become a church of discernment and confession. If only we then would once again pray for this unanimously!
What does it mean then to pray? To scream, to call, to reach out so that what is true once and for all time might be true for us: Christ has accepted us.
Ecclesiastical discernment and ecclesiastical confession would indeed follow such a prayer, if earnestly offered, as thunder follows lightning.
In the mutual accepting of each other as Christ has accepted us, it must follow that in the church of Jesus Christ all joylessness is on the way to becoming joy, all discord is at least on its way to becoming peace, all distress of the present moment would somehow finally be engulfed by the hope for the Lord’s presence.
…The thoughts of many people are occupied in this particular time more seriously than before with what it is that the church misses and what we miss in the church.
Let us note that our text does not speak about this, but rather where it could speak of such things, simply prays and tells us to pray to this God of patience, of comfort, and of hope, who is the Lord of the church.
…Perhaps this time has come upon us in the church so that we might learn to pray differently and better than ever before and thereby to keep what we have.’[v]

Its form and content, as far as sermons go are standard Barth. In addition, considering its close proximity to the Barmen Declaration (May, 1934) of which Barth was a primary contributor, it is fair to say that the events are connected to some degree.

Unfortunately, other than some well placed footnotes, Stroud doesn’t provide a lot of commentary on Barth’s thought and context. What Stroud does provide though, is an excellent introduction outlining the historical setting and the role Barth took on as a ‘chief advocate for a non-compromising response to the heresies’ [vi] such as the ”German Christian” movement, Nazi ideology, anti-Semitism and “positive Christianity.”


Sources:

[i] Stroud, D. (Ed.) Preaching in the Shadows of Hitler: Sermons of Resistance Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.73

[ii] Busch, E. 2010 The Barmen theses then and now: the 2004 Warfield lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.47

[iii] Barth, K. December 10, 1933 A Sermon about Jesus as a Jew, in Stroud, D. (Ed.) Preaching in the Shadows of Hitler: Sermons of Resistance Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.64

[iv] Ibid, p.73 & p.74

[v] Ibid, pp.73-74

[vi] Ibid, p.63

See also Church Dogmatics 3:2 ‘On Thanksgiving’ … ”As thunder follows lightning, man knows God. Thanksgiving is a readiness to acknowledge.’ (p.176)