Archives For Discernment

Truth RL2016I like to read a book, then read what that author read before writing that book.

One thing we’re big on in theology [we have to be] is literary criticism:part of this scientific process is taking a statement back to its original source through questions, analysis, research and faith-filled dialogue about our reasoned conclusions.

It’s a sure guard against deception and ignorance. We want [or rather need] to be as sure as we can be that when and where God has chosen to speak, we are able to clearly hear and discern that Word.

A good reason for our focus on this is highlighted by Eric Voegelin in his 1968 book, Science, Politics & Gnosticism:

‘The deception of the reader occurs when a text or citation is separated from its context and is used in isolation from it’s original intended meaning.’ [i] (paraphrased)

Voegelin had just gotten through explaining how Karl Marx in his doctoral dissertation of 1840–41 misrepresented the statement, “In a word, I hate all the gods” , from Prometheus in Aeschylus’ ‘Prometheus Bound.’

Stating that, “anyone who does not know Prometheus Bound must conclude that the quoted “confession” sums up the meaning of the tragedy, not that Aeschylus wished to represent hatred of the gods as madness.”

‘In this confession, in which the young Marx presents his own attitude under the symbol of Prometheus, the vast history of the revolt against God is illuminated as far back as the Hellenic creation of the symbol.’ [ii]

From Genesis to Revelation on into Church History, the lesson is clear enough: not everyone who claims to speak for God is actually of God. We need to ask faith-filled questions, have a well-informed BS meter and in humility come to a conclusion about what is and is not genuinely of God. We do this by first establishing the what, where and to whom God has revealed Himself; what God has consistently revealed about Himself to humanity from outside of humanity.

Bonhoeffer, in his lectures on Genesis, recorded in DBW3: ‘Creation and Fall‘, substantiates good reasons for this process. According to him, in the Garden, God’s Word was used as a weapon against God. The result being a catastrophic fallout between the creature and its benevolent Creator.

The power to decree that which is right and wrong, good and evil, is now considered to have been taken up into the hands of humanity. Rather than a new day dawning [enlightenment], darkness descends [truth is hijacked] and humanity descends with it. The source that determines what good and evil is, is relocated; reassigned by, and lowered down to a Creatorless humanity. Humanity in its abstraction from God devours itself. Burdened with lust for dominion and power it seeks to overthrow God – “they want the kingdom, but they don’t want God in it” [iii]; which as we’re told in the Biblical accounts, is ultimately destined to failure and the overbearing governance of unjust, corrupt rulers.

‘Thus for their knowledge of God human beings renounce the word of God that approaches them again and again out of the inviolable center and boundary of life; they renounce the life that comes from this word and grab it for themselves. They themselves stand in the center. This is disobedience in the semblance of obedience, the desire to rule in the semblance of service […]’ [iv]

But this doesn’t happen without a decisive response from God. He isn’t wounded outside His own choosing  [e.g.: as He does for our sakes in Jesus Christ]. Neither is He killed off. Instead humanity is found to have mortally wounded itself.

However, God shows compassion. He acknowledges this and graciously intervenes, providing covering for nakedness, discipline (when necessary), direction and posterity. Despite its new rebellious claim-to-godlike knowledge and power. Its misuse of the divine-human relationship to oppress, deify self, murder and deceive. His creature is not abandoned. God remains God for us, even when He disagrees and takes a stand against us.

“Blessed is the man or woman who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They are like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when the heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

God chooses not to jettison His creature and instead chooses to heal and save it. Even though His creature is now so fused with, and consumed by the maddening effects of the primal Human act that deceptively puts God’s Word to use against Him.

‘That is the ultimate possible rebellion, that the lie portrays the truth as a lie. That is the abyss that underlies the lie—that it lives because it poses as the truth and condemns the truth as a lie.’ [iv]

Sources:

[i] Voegelin, E. 1968, Science, Politics & Gnosticism: Two Essays, (paraphrased). Kindle (Loc.492)

[ii] ibid, 1968

[iii] Johnny Cash, U2 ‘The Wanderer’

[iv] Bonhoeffer, D 1937, Creation & Fall, Fortress Press (pp.109-116)

[v] ibid, 1937

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)

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

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