Archives For Holy Spirit

A few years back I did an online retreat for a spiritual formations class I was taking. It was a core subject, with a large amount of flexibility in what classes you can choose from[1].

What was revealed to me during of one of these classes was the short but sweet statement, ‘aim to bless, rather than impress’. Recently, I found myself questioning it’s viability as a theological statement from which society can be critiqued.

I began wrestling with the question, is there ever an appropriate time to impress people? As a budding student theologian, I immediately started to critically work out a reasoned polemic.

The answer I came up with was no. There should never be a need to try to impress people, ever. If there is follow Paul’s advice and run, run far and run fast (2 Tim.2:22 ESV).

I’m a fairly confident guitar player, and I love a large variety of musical genres, so putting on a show is in my very westernized and socially engineered self-conscience. Throughout junior and senior high school, getting the latest riff right down to its semitone and crochet, determined a high level of social acceptance.

As a result I derived my sense of self-worth from how well I could play (i.e.: put on a show). In my pre-Christ alignment, this became an idol I obsessed over.

From hard learned experiences, for me appearance determined reputation and was therefore everything. The language of acceptance was, at least from my prespective, my musical ability.

The statement ‘aim to bless, rather than impress’ is counter-cultural. We know this because God’s standard is to ‘look upon the heart and not outward appearance..not as humans do’ (1.Sam.16:7).

This means that a statement like aim to bless rather than impress, is the ordained orientation for humanity, even if it is not always the reality. This statement appears on the ‘horizon of the possibility’s of grace’ (Leonard Ravenhill).

Father, Son and Spirit rushes towards us, not unlike the prodigal’s father running towards his son, undeterred by his “wasteful” public display of affection, joy, gratitude and forgiveness (Lk. 15:17) [2].

For now, I have concluded that humans are called to be bothered with how we bless people, as opposed to how we impress them. This does not mean I give up on performing, it means that I resist any area in my life where my performance, worth and acceptance is tempted to become about simply just ‘putting on a show’.

Today, I was reading my news feeds and stumbled across this relevant gem by Wendy Murray:

”Your worth, and mine, cannot–I dare say, must not — be reduced to “likes,” “retweets,” “shares,” and “mentions.” Your worth and, mine; your influence on others’ lives, and mine, have nothing to do with measureable algorythms. It is a lie…be who you are, before God. Do what God made you to do. Look people in the eye. Show up. That is enough’’

What that all means is this:

In order to express excellence we must only do our best! Outside simply giving our best, the contemporary ”virtue” of excellence and the quest for it can become an idol.

In doing so we live out of a darkened sense of self-worth dictated to us by others, instead of God’s idea of who we are. When we aim to bless, rather than impress, we set our feet on the Christological reality that says,

‘it is only from God that men and women know who they are’ (Bonhoeffer 1966, p.31).

This is the only measuring stick, and from it we ‘intuitively recognize that we, ourselves are more than what has been defined for us’ (Cone paraphrased p.11, 1975).

Give thanks, for “we are found”… (David Crowder)


Bonhoeffer, D. 1966 Christology William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London

Cone, J.H. 1975, God of the oppressed Orbis books, Maryknoll, N.Y

(Edited from an article originally posted in 2013)

[1] I plan to write on some of my experiences, if I get the time to formulate them into a coherent and linear framework.

[2] Luke 15:17 ‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (ESV)

Photo by José Martín on Unsplash

G.K. Chesterton noted that ‘an adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose.'[i]

The homeschool journey is no exception.

Field trips are by far the most interesting and adventurous aspects of all our educational activities. Whether its teaching kids or living life, God-given opportunities exist at almost every turn. All we need to do is tune into them. The world around us is vast. Knowing where to begin is daunting, but actively giving the Holy Spirit a role in our Homeschooling has the potential transform it.


Of course, in the long sustained fog of this epoch – fast, instant and time-poor – noticing God-given opportunities can be difficult. External expectations line up outside and beat on our door. They place stress on our internal expectations. Routine loses flexibility, meeting a schedule winds up meaning the worship of one.

Balancing this external and internal dichotomy becomes a grind, it runs us down and becomes a chore. Sometimes this has a paralysing or stifling effect. It hinders our ability to discover, wonder and let-go just enough so that God has room to surprise us.

This week our homeschool crew was blessed to participate in some living history. Lachlan Valley Railways brought one of their working locomotives and carriages to town. We’ve been doing this every time they visit our area. This year, however, we almost missed out because it wasn’t advertised as loudly as it has been in the past.


On a random nature walk, we heard the whistle and saw the black smoke. So, we booked some tickets, organised some other family to come along for the ride, and found ourselves traveling in a different direction to the one we had planned.



God is worthy of invitation. The presence of the Holy Spirit transforms the adventure. It’s Jesus Christ meeting the effort we put into our work, calling us to walk, rely and live. All we need to do is make room, acknowledge and be prepared to be moved beyond ourselves. Handing over our worry over external pressures, meeting inflexible schedules and pride.

Some of the learning outcomes covered by this hands-on history lesson: transportation, steam power, train safety, technology, fossil fuels, God’s grace and fun.

The adventure chooses us.

Veni, Creator Spiritus.


[i] G. K. Chesterton Heretics Catholic Way Publishing (p. 101).

Lachlan Valley Railway


Maturity moves forward through humilitySpeaking on Spirit and Truth in his 1996 book, ‘Flame of Love’, Clark Pinnock writes that ‘maturity’[i] moves forward through humility.

According to Pinnock, biblically speaking, Mary is ‘our example’. Like her, we need time to ponder ‘profound matters and make them our own’[ii].

Pinnock also writes that the ‘Spirit helps us develop our understanding’[iii].

He suggests that ‘revelation is not a closed system of propositional truths but a divine self-disclosure that continues to open up and challenge’[iv].

Pinnock looks at revelation in terms of the Spirit revealing truth; truth being Jesus Christ, the Word, who is presented to us and present with us, the former ‘’being’’ revealed in the Biblical accounts[v], the same and latter ‘’being’’, acknowledged by the God-who-is-with-us in the present activity of the Holy Spirit.

For example:

‘Divine activity enables believers to interact in the course of their Bible reading. The Spirit causes the Word to be heard and opens up the truth, helping readers experience and communicate it’[vi].

In similar terms, for Pinnock, the humility within our response to the Spirit is what allows us to see.

Having a teachable attitude (read: heart and mind) empowers our learning and becoming; this employs an idea of theosislike Christ. Those who have responded to the call of grace understand the call to repentance, as they embrace total accountability before God.

Simply put: ‘human responsibility’ is to learn what the ‘Spirit wants to teach us’. Pinnock writes: ‘if hearing and receiving are undisciplined, teaching may come to naught…The Spirit wants to teach us, but human responsibility is required if real learning is to occur’[vii].

Of importance to the Christian here is that Pinnock points us towards the value of humility in the Spirit led life of a Christian. Such as:

‘The Spirit, as the one who interprets the meaning of Jesus in the community over time’[viii].

For me this reading has been a reminder of the Holy Spirit’s ability to work through our humility in order to mature us. In sanctification the Holy Spirit develops within us an understanding of just-justification, and as a consequence, a full acknowledgement of how God’s grace is received, and how God’s grace is rejected.

Pinnock, in a similar tone to that of Ambrose of Milan states that ‘humility is fundamental for growing as hearers’ of the word; therefore ‘always be open to improved insight’[ix].

This consideration is not far from Karl Barth’s thought when he writes:

‘Revelation is a movement…This movement is the divine act of Lordship – God-present-with-us… here divine time is in the midst of our time. When revelation takes place, it never does so by means of our insight and skill, but in the freedom of God to be free for us and to free us from ourselves, that is to say, to let His light shine in our darkness, which as such does not comprehend His light’[x]

According to John, Jesus once said “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (Jn.12:48, ESV).

Could this only mean then, that those among us who reject grace, instead, earn for themselves just-judgement?

With this in mind, is it fair then to propose that we reject grace when we reject the opportunity to learn? And then if we reject the opportunity to learn, do we unwittingly reject the Holy Spirit?

One possible answer is that whether grace is received or rejected, it ultimately rests first in the Spirit. Secondly, in humility , and thirdly, in the response of gratitude for God’s movement towards us, as understood and taught by Barth.

If God is able and I am not, then:

‘Let us, with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’

(Hebrews 4:16, ESV).

[i] Pinnock, C. 1996, Flame of Love InterVarsity Press pp.218, 219
[ii] Ibid, p.219
[iii] Ibid, p.221
[iv] Ibid, p.221
[v] Ibid, p.242
[vi] Ibid, p.229
[vii] Ibid, p.244
[viii] Ibid, p.233
[ix] Ibid, p.222
[x]  ‘God’s time in our time’, Barth, K.1938 Church Dogmatics 1.2:65, Hendrickson Publishers & see Webster.J, 2000 Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, Cambridge University Press, p.13

Advent Day 6: Be like Simeon

Some weeks back I purchased ‘The Early Preaching of Karl Barth’.IMG_20131206_183405

A significant feature of ‘Barth’s Early Preaching’ is its contents page.  This maps out each sermon by date. Beginning with March 4, 1917 and finishing at December 26, 1920.

Published in 2009, with a commentary by William Willimon, the text is laid out in such a way that the reader is allowed to pick and choose from fourteen sermons. Although you could do it, this is not the type of book one would read from cover to cover. Like a good cup of tea or coffee, a reading like this is best savoured one page at a time; one topic at a time.

Of this compilation, Willimon wrote:

‘My image of the setting of these sermons is that of a young preacher, whooping it up in the pulpit, pouring forth a torrent of metaphor mixed with questions and declarations, in fits and starts, lurching from left to right but always with vision focused exclusively upon God who is rendered in Scripture’ (2009:xvii)[i]

Having read two of the fourteen sermons so far, and knowing a bit about Barth’s later life and work in theology, I can appreciate the suggested image.

The Early Preaching of Karl Barth is impressive. The context surrounding Barth at the time, sees Europe in ashes. World War One was in its final stages. The alluring kegs of optimism about human progress,  and the attached arrogance which had ignited such brutality began to be slowly extinguished.

Page 79 contains the heading ‘December 25, 1918: Luke 2:25-32’. There is no catchy title, no fancy alliteration or other literary frills such as a ‘word-on-target’. The title just holds the date and the scripture. He is here not to entertain, but to preach.

Barth seems happy to leave these literary tools to the body of the sermon. The first sentence reads:

‘To celebrate Christmas means to see salvation’[ii].

This is quickly followed by the words:

‘The shepherds could go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord had made known to them [Lk.2:15]. It was given to the aged Simeon to see salvation in the temple. This seeing too has to do with something present and tangible, with having and possessing something real’[iii]

To celebrate Christmas means to see that all that is old, petrified, and dry begins to move and flow, and that we too, after long-standing still, begin to move and develop in a new way. This is what the celebration of Christmas means: to see how God, with helping hands, takes the world and all of us on himself. And when God acts, how can we be mere observers?’[iv]

‘People like Simeon are those who can and may celebrate Christmas…Wherever there is a person like Simeon, that person stood certainly also in the light of God and was in some way given the gift of seeing salvation and celebrating Christmas. In most cases such persons will have been completely unknown and hidden from recognition by the world, as was Simeon himself’[v]

‘Simeon received information from God, and he had no choice but to keep to what it told him to do. Now for the astonishing content of this information: there will be a miraculous triumph over death’[vi]

Barth begins to thunder:

‘Perhaps we all live, far more than we are aware, from the fact that such persons-those for whom Christmas really can happen – have never been completely missing from the world’.

He continues:

‘Through them, in spite of all darkness, the divine and eternal has always remained to some small degree at home here on the earth. For their sake the angels have never completely ceased to sing of honor to God in the highest, of peace on earth, and of persons with whom God is well pleased [Lk.2:14]…there is joy because of those who have been given to say, ‘My eyes have seen your salvation!’

‘After looking forward in anticipation and expectation, something new enters in, namely what was expected, but only where it really was expected. There is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but only where the Spirit is able to come near to human being, as a friend comes near to a friend…How should God will to dismiss us in peace as long as we have not in the least been God’s servants,  but have rather short-sightedly and defiantly insisted on our own thoughts and our own ways?[vii]

‘God wills to begin with each of us exactly at the point where each of us now stands…Be like Simeon. Do not resist, when God wills to do a work in you too, and be mindful that God can do more in you than ever before..if we do not turn aside, God will not turn aside from us’[viii]

‘When the fire of Spirit comes near to us, may we not have deaf ears’(paraphrased)[ix]

– Karl Barth, Safenwil, 25th December 1918 {abridged}

In his commentary notes, Willimon, quoting Barth, observes:

‘For Barth, Christmas is not a feeling, a projection of the highest human aspiration. It is nothing less than a ‘factual and decisive transformation of all things.’’ An evocative aspect of Barthian theology of the atonement is that the incarnation fully contains the reconciliation of humanity to God’ (2009:87)

He then concludes:

Barth’s call is for us to not just remember Simeon, but ‘to be like Simeon-simply to receive the babe who is given to us.  As Simeon takes the babe in his aging arms, we are taken into God’s arms’ (2009:87, italics mine).[x]

It is easy to overlook the depth of Matthew and Luke’s birth narratives. The pace of Christmas, and the oversight by many, who either don’t know, don’t care, or forget the significance of the advent journey.

Far from being an empty ritual. To celebrate Christmas is to see God act, as He chooses to initiate the first steps of our participation, reconciliation, restoration and invitation. All of which is grounded firmly in Jesus the Christ.

Willimon has helped to make a resource of primary documents available for future study by those who seek to hear what Barth heard (Timothy Gorringe paraphrased). At first, I didn’t consider Willimon’s commentary to be all that useful. However, on a second reading I am seeing just how useful  these extra thoughts are going to be when I read on further.

Reading ‘The Early Preaching of Karl Barth’ is a privilege.It becomes one more valuable phase in a process towards better understanding our own theology and that of those who have gone before us. I am thankful for the opportunity.


[i] Willimon, W. 2009 Introduction in Barth,K & Willimon, W 2009 the early preaching of Karl Barth Westminster John Knox Press
[ii] Barth, K. 1918 December 25 in Barth,K & Willimon, W 2009 the early preaching of Karl Barth Westminster John Knox Press p.79
[iii] Ibid, p.79
[iv] Ibid, p.80
[v] Ibid, p.84
[vi] Ibid, p.83
[vii] Ibid, p.85
[viii] Ibid, pp.85 & 86
[ix] Ibid, p.82
[x] Willimon, W. 2009 Comments in Barth,K & Willimon, W 2009 the early preaching of Karl Barth Westminster John Knox Press

Advent Day 3: Waiting


The documented events pre and post-birth of Jesus the Christ are about expectancy. This is on display in Luke and Matthew’s historical record of Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, John, Herod, no vacant inns, Roman administrative customs, Shepherds, Wise-men, Angels, and a postnatal flight to Egypt (Mt.2:13).

A concept of waiting has a big part to play in the Advent tradition. However, this focus on “waiting” can hide from us the tremendous amount of movement found within both texts.Particularly the  activity of the Holy Spirit. This is primarily because of a thematic over emphasis on ”waiting” found in some (not all) advent reflections.

It is summer in the Southern Hemisphere. The traditional ideas of Advent which consider it a time of waiting seem out of sync, almost abstract. For example: there is more movement here because of the warmer days.

Having said this,  the summer also enhances our chances of appreciating the themes of waiting and anticipation. This is because of the anticipation of cooler temperatures which arise when clouds announce potential storms.

New Testament scholar, Joel Green, considers Luke’s record of the geographical and geo-political to be unique markers of significance; features, among others, that ‘contribute to the dramatic movement of the Advent story and to the sense of perpetual motion within the story‘ (1997:50)[i].

Perpetual motion is considered impossible in practice. So it is a term, that properly understood and applied in a theological context, helps to identify the paradox, the potential and the actual participation of God and those He called. There, heartfelt tensions must have shifted between an overwhelming mix of bewilderment with doubt, and the knowledge that these strange events was God fulfilling His promise. People whose feet appear to us covered in dust, as they embarked on a wild and nervous journey, became not only participants of the impossible, but also witnesses of that which has become possible.

As we enter a season that places more demands on our time and creativity, Advent should call to us to a remembrance of God’s freedom and invitation to relationship. In Jesus the Christ, son of Mary, step-son of Joseph we encounter Him as fully human, fully God. On the cross and outside the empty tomb, we encounter Him as Saviour.

Yet, before a manger, straw and the scent of farm animals we encounter Him as a baby, in a strange event that implies God became vulnerable and dependent for our sake. Displaying the length to which the Creator chose to go in order to rescue His Creation. As Karl Barth stated: ‘Jesus is not an idea. He is a person. It is the truth of the real the reality of the true which here enters the field: ‘God speaks. God acts. God is in the midst’ (CD. Outline 1949:58)

Hildegard of Bingen [ii] said, that by the Spirit we are:

‘awakened, called by the resounding melody; God’s invocation of the word’.

Like a fire pouring forth from God’s heart, bursting through our despair and obliterating it (1 Jn.5). Almost every reminder of this birth narrative brings with it a light that pierces the darkened areas of our lives (Jn.5:35).

For: ‘in His light we see light and in this light our darkness’ (Ps.36:9) [iii].

Over the next 8 weeks most Australians will slow down.

Schools will begin a 5 week summer break. Shops will trade until Christmas eve, opening Boxing Day, coming to life with fanfare, discounts and line-ups. Human activity is likely to distract from the meaning and purpose before us.

However, it doesn’t have to. Advent is a journey about embracing ‘the dramatic movement of the Advent story by, marking the event where the impossible became possible’ (1997:50). Any understanding of waiting as a kind of static stillness cannot be drawn from the texts. There is waiting, but there is also movement. Like Mary and Joseph who did their best to ”trust God without borders” (United, Oceans), we ‘look and march towards God’s appearing and revelation, the world’s redemption and God’s fulfilment of His promise in Advent’ [iv].

‘We are the object of divine compassion[v]


[i]  Green, J.B 1997 NICNT: The Gospel of Luke Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing US/UK
[ii] Hildegard of Bingen Selected writings, Penguin Books (London 2001) Kindle for PC Ed.
[iii] Barth, K 1949 CD Outline, pp.62 & 75
[iv] Barth, K. Church Dogmatics IV:3, Henderickson Publishers p.322 & CD Outline, 1949:62 & 75
[v] Barth, K 1949 CD Outline, pp.62 & 75

(I was introduced to the song ‘Oceans’ by the Blog, Found. The lyrics seemed fitting.)


I read the post I put up yesterday (link) hand in hand with Paul’s letter to the Colossian Church (Col.2:17). Here are some thoughts which came out of that reflection.

It helps to understand that Christian character and Christian identity – as individuals and as a group within the Commonwealth of Christ (Barth’s term for the Church), is qualified (Col.1:12) by the gracious “Yes” of God in Jesus the Christ. This doesn’t mean the Bible preaches a “forgive and forget” fallacy. Nor does it support abandoning the reality of our pain, or that we can write-off the pain we ourselves might have caused in our neighbour. On the contrary the bible is full of discussions and examples about how God’s mercy and judgement both meet the sinner.

For instance, Paul tells us both that ‘God has delivered us from the domain of darkness’ (Col.1:13-14), and yet ‘the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong done, there is no partiality’ (Col.3:25).

In one sense this means that:

‘what lies before the one whom God pardons is the forgiven sin, the sin recognised in the light of forgiveness, which drives one to repentance. The pardoned sinner’s thinking then is in accord with God’s reconciling yes to the sinner and God’s irreconcilable no to evil’ (Busch, 2008  Loc.1201-1980).

The world, identified as dogma; human opinion; ideology, informs rather than forms Christian identity. This distinction between inform and form is important to recognise. Primarily because the Holy Spirit, present and dynamic, is active in our formation. More precisely, the Spirit empowers us to conform our hearts and minds, to the heart and mind of God (Rm.12:2/1 Peter 1:13 & 14).

Not that we become God, but that through this process we become fully human, participants with God (2 Pet.1:4). Therefore the Church must not surrender its theology to ‘worldviews which take over the freedom of the Gospel and instead hold the gospel in critique of all ideologies’ (Gorringe, 1999:3 & 33).

One significant reason for this is that this Spirit empowered reformation is restorative. Viewed as such because ‘grace is the secret of ethics’ (Gorringe, 1999:63). It is a call, or as Barth puts it, a summons to relationship with the God who does not want be without us.

Barth rightly points out that this relationship is grounded in the reconciler who reveals himself as himself, the Father, Son and Spirit, three, yet one alone (CD 1.1 & Col.1:15 ‘the pre-eminence of Christ’).Our response is insisted upon by the life of, and the blood-spilt by the Christ. He invites us, as-we-are, to become who-we-are now in Him.

The opposite to this is, on its own, is a degenerative dehumanization.  This is because ‘pride distorts our appreciation of freedom, turning on the presumption that humanity is the sole and only ground of its own being’ (Elshtain,  2000:42, see also Proverbs 3:5-8).

One might consider here the arrogant reductionism found layered into the text on many a social media site. Such as the discounting of the Christian faith, thought and practise through the fallacy of ad hominem. The aim which Jean Bethke Elshtain points out, is to get people to engage in a ‘politics of displacement’ – identity politics which promotes and limits rhetorical boundaries in order to enslave us to an idea of who we are, what we can only ever be, and why change is deemed impossible by the majority who hold that opinion over us.

It is worth introducing at this point Paul’s words from prison to the Colossian Church, words which are also relevant to Christians today.

‘Let your living (word & deed) spill over into thanksgiving. Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly’ (Peterson Col. 2, The Message italics mine)

He adds:

‘Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted’ (Peterson, The Message)

Christ becomes our identity because in Him, ‘God made us alive together with Him’ (Col.2:13).

This suggests that whatever others might say about who, or what we are has been negated by the Cross of Christ. We can now choose to live differently and are empowered to do so (Col.1:14-15; 3:5-10).

Paul warns: ‘let no one disqualify you’ (Col.2:18, ESV) since ‘a corrupt mind may disqualify us’ (2 Tim.3:8).

Our pasts may haunt us, but if we are in Christ they cannot destroy us. Words may sting like a whiplash. They often do, but the covert put downs, the passive aggressive-snide remarks mean squat in light of the fact that ‘God qualifies you’ ( Col.1:12).

This example from the 3rd Century highlights my point:

Vibia Perpetua, a newly married woman of good family and upbringing. She was about twenty-two years old and had an infant son at the breast.
While we were still under arrest (she said) my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution.
 ‘Father,’ said I, ‘do you see this vase here, for example, or water pot or whatever?’130328161152-perpetua2-c1-main_Getty Images
‘Yes, I do’, said he.
And I told him: ‘Could it be called by any other name than what it is?’
And he said: ‘No.’
‘Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.’
At this my father was so angered by the word ‘Christian’ that he moved towards me as though he would pluck my eyes out.  But he left it at that and departed, vanquished along with his diabolical arguments.
(For more about Perpetua’s eventual martyrdom click here)

God’s acceptance of us presupposes our acceptance of Him.

We properly hear this and act. Or we don’t. Reacting against it. Wrongly leaning on the lies of self-justification (Torrance 2009:105).

A good example of response comes from something else I read recently:

Leah’s heart went from pain and suffering to praise. Somewhere along the way, she surrendered her will, her wants, her deepest desires and decided to praise the Lord.
May our eyes be turned to this God, praising Him for His amazing goodness.
Fall to your knees and spend the rest of your life rejoicing…
Saying: “This time. I will praise the Lord”…(Genesis 29:35)’ (DS, 2013 italics mine).

We begin to apply all of this when we hear in Paul, Perpetua and Leah’s words the call to acknowledge the God, who has made the painstaking effort to acknowledge us.

In sum, the world does not get to define the Christian. Christ does. Our substance belongs to Him (Col.2:17).


Barth, K. 1936 Church Dogmatics, 1.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God Hendrickson Publishers
Busch, E 2008 Barth (Abingdon Pillars of Theology)  Kindle for PC ed. Abingdon Press.
Elshtain, J.B 2000 Who are we? Critical reflections and Hopeful Possibilities Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Grand Rapids
Elshtain, J.B 1995 Democracy On Trial BasicBooks, Perseus Books Group
Gorringe, T.J 1999 Karl Barth: Against Hegemony Oxford University Press
Peterson, E. 2002 The Message: The bible in contemporary language NavPress Publishing Group
The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas sourced 29th October 2013 from
Torrance, T.F 2009, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, InterVarstiy Press
Unless otherwise stated, all biblical references are from the English Standard Version


This was one of four items that found its way onto my desk this week:

 ‘The Dungeon’ – Coleridge

And this place our forefathers made for man!
This is the process of our love and wisdom,
To each poor brother who offends against us –
 Most innocent, perhaps and what if guilty?
Is this the only cure? Merciful God!
 Each pore and natural outlet shrivelled up
By Ignorance and parching Poverty,
His energies roll back upon his heart,
And stagnate and corrupt; till changed to poison,
They break out on him, like a loathsome plague-spot;
Then we call in our pampered mountebanks –

And this is their best cure! uncomforted
And friendless solitude, groaning and tears,
And savage faces, at the clanking hour,
Seen through the steam and vapours of his dungeon,
By the lamp’s dismal twilight! So he lies
Circled with evil, till his very soul
 Unmoulds its essence, hopelessly deformed
By sights of ever more deformity!

With other ministrations thou, O Nature!
 Healest thy wandering and distempered child:
 Thou pourest on him thy soft influences,
Thy sunny hues, fair forms, and breathing sweets,
Thy melodies of woods, and winds, and waters,
Till he relent, and can no more endure
To be a jarring and a dissonant thing
Amid this general dance and minstrelsy;
But, bursting into tears, wins back his way,
His angry spirit healed and harmonized
By the benignant touch of Love and Beauty.

The other three being my careful reading of Elshtain’s ‘Democracy on Trial’, a brief discussion with someone about the freedom of the Holy Spirit and my recent attachment to a song from Canadian three-piece band, Thousand Foot Krutch.

This may all sound a little dislocated, as in all four genres are unrelated; if so it is because they are and yet they aren’t. The themes within each are similar and it is this discernible connection that has me intrigued.

I have settled on labelling this link ‘permission to speak freely’.  It is a loose category but one that seems to best fit the interwoven nexus observed here.

When I am encountered by something like this I generally make an effort to slow down enough in order to hear what is being said. Some readers will know right away that this repeated and discernible “voice” before us can be the Holy Spirit unveiling some truth, delivering correction or affirming a direction. Although I have some reservations I would agree with that conclusion.

Of course this means that we need to actively discern and then determine whether or not this “word” is free from the manipulation of others or that it isn’t just a construct of our own imagination. Something which might occur because of excessive anxiety or some other ailment.

To do this we examine content critically. Matching what we hear and the form of it with an authority such as the Bible, theology and community. Keeping in mind that: ‘scripture is the primary organ of the voice of God in the church. Thus, it will stand over-against the church; and the voice of God must not be confused with the voice of the church’ (2010:1752-1753, Kindle Ed.).

When we are being constantly made aware of a particular “something”; such as a discernible pattern, theme, consistent word or message, it is likely that God is whispering something sweet as well as potentially transformative into our lives.

The statement ‘permission to speak freely’ is itself to be regarded as being both political and theological. The former, because it is grounded in the promise of the democratic right to freedom of speech (classical liberalism), and the latter because the Christian understanding reveals a reconciliation affected by the incarnation of Christ, between a rebellious and therefore unfree humanity and our free creator.

Humanity can as a consequence, speak and approach Him freely. Realising a living relationship with God can exist, does exist and is one that God longs for. For example the covenant formula: I will be your God and you will be my people.

In sum, the four working theses which can arrived at here:

First: Gagging God may serve to fuel denial of His existence, but in the end it just perpetuates ignorance. This falls in line perhaps with Coleridge’s lament – Humanity ‘lies circled with evil, till his very soul, unmoulds its essence, hopelessly deformed
By sights of ever more deformity!’.

Second: Gagging God does not delegitimise the potency or reality of what He has spoken and still speaks today.

Third: Gagging God as he speaks to us through the Biblical documents is hypocritical and unscientific. Eliminating the possibility for us to hear God, as he speaks, serves a narrow political agenda in much the same way that name dropping Christ in the malicious service of confusing rights with wants does.

Fourth: In gagging God we fall prey to a ‘politics of resentment, the collapse of distinctions where we gradually lose the right to call things by their real names’ (Elshtain 1995:38).  There are multiple examples of this happening. Particularly from the 20th century where citizens in “free” countries have fallen victim to superstition, oppressive regimes, and mundane routines brought about by impersonal industrialization and excessive-sometimes-murderous consumption.

We must allow the God of the Scriptures the same permission to speak (His word) as freely as we allow ourselves to speak. Coleridge’s ‘benignant touch of love and beauty that heals and harmonizes an angry spirit – calls for confession – a bursting into tears’; (benignant: a kindness and warm courtesy from a King to His subjects). If `God speaks to us through communism, a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub, or a dead dog. We do well to listen to Him…the church in its commission must then seek to obey by listening and responding’ (Karl Barth, CD 1.1, 1936:55).

Do you agree with my tentative conclusions here? Rhetorically: If so is there any discernible evidence this week, where the Holy Spirit might have been or is perhaps still speaking to you?


Barth, K. 1936 Church Dogmatics 1.1: the doctrine of the Word of God , Hendrickson Publishers
Coleridge, S.T The complete Poems Penguin Classics
Elshtain, J.B 1995 Democracy on Trial, Basic Books Perseus Books Group
Jensen, M &  Wilhite, D. 2010 Church: A Guide for the Perplexed Kindle Edition.