Archives For Theology

kb-quote-cd-2-2-695-rl2016

 

Since reading the above quote, its been lingering in the back of my mind. So much so, that after posting it as a text on both Twitter and Facebook, I felt it needed more airplay. So, to really make it stand out, I decided make it into a bit of a meme.

My initial goal was to finish reading volume 2/2 at the end of last year. I still made significant progress and am nearing the end, but given other priorities that didn’t happen.

The journey through the text, overall, has coincided with some great opportunities to learn more about John Calvin and engage further in the controversial steps Barth took to place Jesus Christ in the centre of Calvin’s doctrine of election and pre-destination; what theologians call, a more definitive Christocentric view of election. Whereby Barth reforms and in doing so rejects the post-Calvin, hyper-Calvinist baggage attached to Calvin’s original intention and notably myopic [to be generous to Calvin, I lean more towards the word “incomplete”] doctrine of election.

For instance: our election is the election of Jesus Christ. This IS God’s electing. God’s will for us, that we should be with Him and He should be with us. As I’ve summed up this in the past, Jesus Christ, is God’s revolt against the disorder of the world.

Jesus represents all of humanity. There is no elite humanity. There is only grace and its command to follow. For all fall short of the glory of God and are raised to righteousness, and eternal life, in Jesus Christ. The distinction between unbeliever and believer remains. This distinction, though, is exactly as it infers, faith in Christ; those who call upon the name of the Lord – grace poured out upon us to empower us towards grateful obedience even in the midst of our ungrateful disobedience – this is the responsibility of our response to the irreversible election that God Himself has already lovingly decided and acted powerfully upon.

I could go on and probably will in a future post, but this, by itself, makes Church Dogmatics 2/2 one of the most interesting works from Barth.

However, while this part has sharpened of my own theological understanding, it’s the latter part of 2/2 that I’ve taken more of a shine to. What I’ve found interesting its Barth’s discussion on theological ethics; what it is; where it begins, and who it begins with. This is one of those specific areas where Barth’s political theology comes into a more obvious light. To justify that, it would require more room to explain it, than the 500 words I’ve aimed it here.

To fully understand what Barth means in the quote posted above, it’s helpful to look at where in his epic, Church Dogmatics, this falls.

Barth is talking about grace being both invitation and imperative, e.g.: Jesus calls us to follow. He goes on to discuss the responsibility of a human response to the grace of God, on the grounds of the Sermon on the mount and its close, affirming relationship with the Ten Commandments.

Ethics & morality as far as the biblical witness goes is grateful obedience; it is at its heart relational; it is lived out response to grace; to what has been done by the God who chooses to be for us. God commits to us, we are not only given the freedom to follow, but are commanded to do so.

It is not an idea that can be misconstrued by humanity and turned into a universal human principle and as such become a puffed up toxic human achievement empty of God.


Source:

Barth, K. 1942 The Command As The Decision Of God; The Definiteness of the Divine Decision, CD 2/2 The Doctrine of God, Hendrickson Publishers

blog-post-25th-nov-2016-rlWhen it comes to composing music there’s hits, and then there’s misses.

The lesson I’m learning from my own hits and misses is that nothing created is ever completely wasted.

Outside the perfectionist, the only mistakes that really matter in music are the ones that stand out. Those particular kinds of mistakes can break a song and an artist. It’s the ones that break with the rhythm or the melody; the ones that are heard by everyone, not just the person with a trained ear to the ground.

The potential for mistakes like these keep us fine-tuning our craft and tools for the job. They keep is in step with the beat, ensuring that one hundred percent of our attention is given to the composition at hand.

Through humility and a gracious attitude, mistakes can teach us. Through grace they can be made part of a disciplined life. They become fuel; the impetus to get better. Through grace mistakes can even become part of the song, or the beginning of new one.

In God, with God, through God, we are shown how this works. Shown that once humanity drops its facade of isolation, rejects it’s hubris-filled rejecting and grasps the grace that grasps us, nothing created is ever completely wasted. As Joseph said to his brothers,

“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen. 50:20, ESV).

Likewise, Paul tells us, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Rom.8:28).

Not even the scrappy three-minute melody that had way too much drums in the mix, or the muddy sound of an instrumental overdone with bass or a guitar solo.

Nothing created is ever completely wasted.

Every new melody, every new beat, every new sound is born from the lessons learnt by simply having the courage to put a hand in The Hand that enables us for the task.

“Courage, dear heart,” (C.S. Lewis) for ‘our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.’(2 Cor. 5:21-6:1, ESV).

Nothing created is ever completely wasted.

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for-sale_rl2016According to the Oxford Dictionary, a Social Justice Warrior is ‘a person who expresses or promotes socially progressive views.’

The online Urban dictionary offers a more substantial explanation:

“A pejorative term for an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation. A social justice warrior, or SJW, does not necessarily strongly believe all that they say, or even care about the groups they are fighting on behalf of. They typically repeat points from whoever is the most popular blogger or commenter of the moment, hoping that they will “get SJ points” and become popular in return. They are very sure to adopt stances that are “correct” in their social circle.” [i]

In case you’re doubting the credibility of the Urban Dictionary, take as further evidence, examples highlighted by The Observer in an article called, The Totalitarian Doctrine of Social Justice Warriors’.

Their standout point:

“Since new “marginalised” identities can always emerge, no one can tell what currently acceptable words or ideas may be excommunicated tomorrow.”

I’m not in full support of every claim made by The Observer in that article, but the majority of it makes sense. It’s a poignant observation and it draws a line in the sand between S.J.W’s, their bulldozers, and those they’re told it’s trendy to hate.

The Observer points out the monstrous maelstroms of confusion that S.J.W’s create.

Such as:

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We get that S.J.W’s like to protest. Their right to protest is respected, but what it is that their protests are trying to achieve? What is the end goal? Who benefits? If asked the majority probably couldn’t give an adequate answer.

Take the S.J.W’s support for a war on the rich; their counter-productive boycott of business. Movements such as Occupy Wall Street and the anti-Israel, Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS).

Poverty is to be challenged and real injustices responsibly corrected, but how does boycotting businesses, just because they don’t line up in total ideological conformity with something like same-sex “marriage” fight poverty?  Putting people out of work because they hold an opposing view on these issues seems to only create poverty, not remedy it.

There seems to be confusion in what and how S.J.W’s protest. For example, they’re either against poverty or for same-sex “marriage”. In the end one will trump the other. As we’ve seen in well documented court cases, where Christian businesses have been sued for making a conscientious objection to same-sex “marriage”. It’s logical to conclude that putting people out of a legitimate business, in order to support same-sex “marriage”, means supporting poverty.

Take, for instance, the costly interference in the long standing business relationship between Coopers Beer, and The Australian Bible Society.  S.J.W’s protested that relationship, simply because of the position the Bible Society took on same-sex “marriage”. The precedent that event set is this: businesses can only be friends with those whom S.J.W’s approve of.

The manufactured industrial process of “boycott, hashtag, hashtag… people lose their jobs. Company shuts down. Capitalism is blamed [24hrs passes]. Next victim”. Is a radical cycle that only pads ego, wallet and blog stats. It’s not only narcissistic, it’s exactly what fascists do.

What real purpose does this manufactured “outrage” serve, other than to boost approval ratings, celebrity funding drives or ignite social media with a feel-good fifteen minute hashtag movement, that may live longer if (and that’s a big if) it s attractive enough to go viral?

Is the real concern of S.J.W’s, the marginalised, the minority and the poverty-stricken, or is it their own personal level of “social media influence”?

The militancy of all progressive ideologies are not about “…and justice-for-all.” They stand above, over and against us. They raise themselves to a sinless plain of existence. Sinners are those who’ve been accused of opposing, are being a threat to the prevailing ideology.

Militancy like this rejects original sin. There is no recollection of the equality spoken about by the Apostle Paul when he said, ”for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24).

S.J.W’s forget that there is only one who is sinless, and His name is Jesus Christ. They raise themselves to godlikeness, and operate from within a sphere of sinlessness, and by doing so they place Jesus under humanity, and raise themselves up as saviours of it.

From within this sphere the S.J.W can feel justified in calling for the punishment of those they deem sinful. Failing to comply is an act of treason or blasphemy. Such is the pressure applied to State, Church, business or community groups, who are forced to sign onto the S.J.W agenda without question.

S.J.W militants hand justice over to pseudo-politicians who judge from people’s courts, controlling popular opinion with image, idea, internet, and an index-finger pointed in judgement against blasphemers who speak out against idiotic statements, double standards and the toxic ‘isms which encourage them.

The S.J.W therefore tends not to ask ‘…what can they do for their country?” (John F. Kennedy). Instead they demand that their country do for them what their free country tries to empower them to do for themselves. The power of state and church is wielded in whatever direction the S.J.W commands it to go.

It’s reminiscent of the Soviet leadership who, in the early 1980’s, sort to remind Poland’s Communist leaders that any hint of counter-revolutionary blasphemy among Poland’s largely Christian population, should be suppressed:

“…You should say openly that the law forbids any statements against socialism”
 (“Theses For Conversation With Representatives of the Polish Leadership“, 1980. Vladimir Bukovsky, 1995)

This was not affirmative action. It was bullying through fear, suspicion and threat. The type that coerced people to support the Nazis. It incites the same self-serving action as ‘Judas Iscariot, who went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver Jesus over to you?” Who in return paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment sought an opportunity to betray him.’ (Matthew 26:14-15/ Mark 14:10-11/ Luke 22:3-6) [ii]

The same ‘Judas who protested, after seeing Mary take a pound  of expensive ointment , anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair:

“Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the money-bag he used to help himself to what was put into it.’ (John 3:6)

The same Judas who, as the anti-Nazi theologian, Karl Barth wrote:

‘Perverted his office [of Apostle] into the exact opposite; placing Jesus under humanity, instead of humanity under Jesus – to deliver Jesus to sinners, not sinners to Jesus…Judas prepared for Jesus the fate of John the Baptist.’ [iii]

Because Iscariot thought that:

“Jesus was for sale.
He reserved to himself the right to decide for himself, in the face of Jesus, what the way of apostolic discipleship really involves.
It is an indication that his nature and function are those of the apostle who ultimately regrets his own devotion and the devotion of others to Jesus, who would prefer ultimately to use the power of this devotion for something which his own judgement considers to be better […]”
(Barth, [iv])

These statements form Barth’s critique of a people who, in their rejection of Christ, reject themselves; suffering a similar fate of self-destruction that consumed Judas:

‘The one who kills Jesus also kills themselves […]’ [v]

S.J.W’s, by placing Jesus under humanity, make Jesus a slave of ideology. There is no acknowledgement of His Kingship as LORD over all lords, the one who is and was, and is to come! In this way, the power of state and church is wielded in whatever direction the S.J.W commands it to go.

‘Neither man’s headship or humanity’s dominion (lordship) over the earth equals ownership of woman or creation. Humanity’s rule exists, as a gift. It exists in the light of God’s rule and therefore cannot be absolute.’ (Barth. [vi])

The Social Justice Warrior is in many ways the soldier for hire of the progressive ‘liberalist religion’, identified by Eric Voeglin in his 1968 work, Science, Politics & Religion. The Leftist ‘liberalist religion‘ preaches a gospel of ”self-salvation” through works-righteousness and blind allegiance to it’s sinless spheres.

The bloodshed of the 20th century shows that what lies behind this is pride. This coincides with the will-to-dominate, which is, today, masked by the veneer of social justice. This veneer hides the nature of its true intent.

Those who give in to pride, are determined to devour those who stand opposed to it. In this context, pride serves no one, and is guided by nothing, but its own lust for power. Its only interest in mercy, justice and love, is that which advances its own cause.

So goes the Social Justice Warrior and their banner: “peace, love and bureaucracy” [vii]. Preaching a confusing message between #loveislove and the more accurate, God is love.  Then moulding God’s throne of mercy and justice in their own image.

The late, political scientist, Jean Bethke Elshtain was on point when she stated that viewing Christianity As An Ethic Of Universal Niceness Misses The Point:

‘Misunderstandings of Christian teachings are rife. Christianity is not an exalted or mystical form of utilitarianism. Jesus preached no doctrine of universal benevolence. He showed anger and issued condemnations.
These dimensions of Christ’s life and words tend to be overlooked nowadays as Christians concentrate on God’s love rather than God’s justice. That love is sometimes reduced to a diffuse benignity that is then enjoined on believers.This kind of faith descends into sentimentalism fast.’ [vii]

As Paul the Apostle encouraged a young Timothy. Take heed, stand ready to answer with a loving “no”, those who would preach a different doctrine; a different Jesus Christ than the one the early Jewish Christians walked with, witnessed and spoke of:

‘If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.
He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.’
(1 Tm.6:3-5 & 20-21)

Jesus isn’t a Marxist rebel clad in olive drab. He isn’t a golden-haired, blue-eye, bearded, robe wearing guru, sitting on a cloud with rainbows coming out of His ears; sprinkling love dust, answering the lamp rubbing wishes of a group of “super-nice” people, who claim for themselves the moral high-ground [xx]*.

Any person who hands Jesus over to a corrupted, enslaving ideology; any person who chooses to measure Christian discipleship by allegiance to Leftism’s ‘liberalist religion’ , or any equivalent on the Right, are the brethren of Iscariot, not Christ.


References:

[i] Social Justice Warrior, sourced 29th August 2016 from urbandictionary.com

[ii] English Standard Bible, Crossway Publishers

[iii] Barth, K. 1942 The Doctrine of God: The Determination of the Rejected, Church Dogmatics, Hendrickson Publishers  (p.481)

[iv] ibid, 1942 (pp.462 & 463)

[v] ibid, 1942 (p.471)

[vi] Barth, K. 1958 Creation & Covenant: Creation as the External Basis of the Covenant, CD.3:1 Hendrickson Publishers (p.205, paraphrased)

[vii] O’Sullivan, J. 2006. The President, The Pope & The Prime Minister: Three Who Changed The World Regnery Publishing (p.4)

[viii] Elshtain, J. 2008, Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books Kindle Ed. (p. 100-101).

[xix] Voegelin, E. 1968 Science, Politics & Religion Regnery Publishing, Inc.

[xx] J. Gresham Machen: ‘The prophets said, “Thus saith the Lord,” but Jesus said, “I say.” We have no mere prophet here, no mere humble exponent of the will of God[…]Jesus here represents Himself as seated on the judgement-seat of all the earth[…] Could anything be further removed than such a Jesus from the humble teacher of righteousness appealed to by [the cult of] modern liberalism?’ (Christianity & Liberalism)

*Charles Spurgeon: ‘some two faced men are hypocrites by nature; slippery as eels, and piebald like Squire Smoothey’s mate. Like a drunken man, they could not walk straight if they were to try…They are born of the breed of St. Judas. The double shuffle is their favourite game, and honesty their greatest hatred. Honey is on their tongues, but gall in their hearts.’ (The Complete John Ploughman, p.115) [added, 23rd November 2017]

(Slightly edited 2nd Edition, updated 2nd November 2018)

©Rod Lampard, 2018

I’m close to three quarters of my way through Church Dogmatics 2/2 and I’ve got a lot to reflect upon. I can see the big attraction the politically left theologians and left leaning Christians have with this volume. It’s tempting to even say that Barth is ”on their side”, but that wouldn’t be quite true.

It certainly wouldn’t accurately describe the knife edge Barth walks between Christian Universalism and Calvinism, or the scriptural tension between the two that Barth plays like a musical genius. It’d be a premature surrender. Besides, I’m almost convinced that to conscript Barth into Leftism, is to selectively misuse and overlook his warnings about, and opposition to Nazism. Including jettisoning a large portion of his own theological position.

I plan to put together a few posts about this as time permits. It’s a great deal to discuss in one blogpost.

So, for now, I’m just dropping this right here: matching quote with verse; a sketch with both. I’ve rearranged the order in which Barth’s block quote appears in the text. This doesn’t take away from the integrity of meaning. There’s quite a few statements throughout 2/2 that contain the same calibre of that which is expressed here.

Karl Barth:

‘Jesus is the One who uniquely and in isolation represents man to God, and God to man […] For as such He is not merely the prophet and proclaimer of the good news of God’s covenant with humanity, nor does He merely call men to hear & receive this news, but in doing so calls them to active co-operation in its proclamation.
When Jesus calls the apostles to Him, He does not promise that He will make them Christians, or even that He will first make them Christians and then apostles; but He immediately promises that He will make them apostles; bearers to humanity of a commission that will be given to them, the commission to seek and gather [in the spheres of world and Church; He chooses them as they are, calling them out from where they are].’ [i]

Jesus:

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” {Matthew 24:9-13, ESV}

 

RL2016_multiple barbs SOLO2

 


(RL2016)

[i] Barth, K. CD 2:2, pp.445 & 444 (parenthesis, Barth paraphrased)

On Monday we traveled further into Genesis. Reaching chapter 28 we came to see through Jacob’s experiences that Genesis points us towards how God encounters humanity.

How He identifies Himself as Creator and gracious provider. How He chooses to act and guide humanity with the firm, but loving actions of a responsible parent. How God initiates real relationship; desires and invites participation, not ruling over a stage, strings or puppets.

We saw the constant invitation to be part of God’s life. Yet, witnessed the reoccurring [ontological] themes of deception, human self-will [the will to dominion], self-glorification, fear, people-pleasing, betrayal, the importance of community, the universal value of a family, and how that begins and is nurtured within the coming together in relationship of a man with woman; woman with man. This extends into a shared story of relationship as that is passed down to the men and women who follow them.

We read along, immersed in the stories of peoples lives. We moved with them as those stories became a historical testimony to God’s interaction with humanity from the very beginning of His creatures existence.

The overarching theme is God’s faithfulness in spite of humanities lean towards unfaithfulness.

‘But I call this to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.
(Lamentations, 3:21-24, ESV)

It’s in this place, to this place, from this place of understanding that we’re called into and commanded to go out from.

Summarized:

 Dare to hope.

 Dare to believe.

 Dare to trust.

 Dare to love.

 Dare to say “yes” & say “no”.

 Dare to pray.

 Dare to be grateful.

 Dare to speak truth in love.

 Dare to forgive.

 Dare to remember.

 Dare to firmly grasp God’s hand when He lowers Himself to stretch His out to you.

 Dare to make an effort.

 Dare to be.

 Dare to rest.

 Dare to learn and understand.

 Dare to humbly disagree.

 Dare to thrive, not just survive.

 Dare to see God’s love.

 


Notes: Video, image and arrangement is mine. Inspired by Jesus Culture, and with permission from our homeschoolers I used my iphone to record them playing and singing, Tom Lockely’s, ‘See His Love‘, during one of our ‘God, Life and the World around us’ morning lessons. As far as accompanying them, I’ve apparently trained myself out of a job. All I did here was add some lead, bass, keys and mixed it together.

#mypeople

June 18, 2016 — Leave a comment
Ambrose of Milan

 

 

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R NiebuhrAfter working my way through Reinhold Niebuhr’s ‘Signs of the times,’ and being encouraged by what I’d found there, I decided to invest time in reading ‘An interpretation of Christian Ethics.’

Upon finishing it, I was left with the feeling that the work was incomplete. Niebuhr seemed to become paralyzed by paradox.

Halted by an ‘impossible possibility’ [his reworking of an early 20th century dialectical term where that which is true as an “impossibility actually becomes a true possibility”] of humanity ever being able live what he calls the “Jesus ethic” or “law of love.”

Through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Niebuhr concludes that humanity cannot entirely live out the instructions of Jesus to “love our enemies and not resist evil.’’ As Niebuhr reads it, resistance to evil is a forbidden act. Any resistance to evil, whether it be through an orthodox restraint of evil via the limitations of just-war, or through a modern liberal lens of non-violent resistance to evil, is a breach of the “law of love;” a breach of Christ’s command to “love our enemies and not resist evil.”

For Niebuhr there is no better example than the impossible possibility of Christian forgiveness. Reducing things, he states that if we were to apply forgiveness in an absolute sense we would have to eliminate prisons.

If it sounds a bit reductio ad absurdum, it might be because it comes real close. What stops it crossing that line is the qualifier in the form of a question that Niebuhr raises: How can we live out justice and ‘preserve the indictment upon all human life of the impossible possibility, the law of love [?]’ [i]  Any action that seeks to restrain or limit our neighbour is resistance and a breach of the ‘law of love.’

‘As a matter of practical necessity and social responsibility, even the Christian is compelled to leave that ethic behind in grappling with the exigencies of a fallen world.’ [ii]

On this, Niebuhr stands alone. Both the pacifist and just-war positions disagreed:

‘Niebuhr’s claim that the ethics of Jesus commands absolute nonresistance to evil has been challenged, at least implicitly, both by Christian just war theorists and by Christian proponents of nonviolence.’[iii]

It might be a big call, but it seems to me that Niebuhr’s gloom smothers His exegetical work. What little there is of it is let down by a restless existential pessimism which seeps into every part of the later chapters.

There is no mention of a loving “no”, loving correction, or even of Jesus’ own blunt words to the Pharisees. Niebuhr frequently speaks of ‘the human spirit’, yet, there is little to no mention of the role of the Holy Spirit. The absence of which only deepens the dark, hopeless tone.

‘An interpretation of Christian Ethics’ was a disappointing read. In trying to contemporise a contextual relevance of a ‘Jesus Ethic,’ Niebuhr may have built a bridge no one can cross. The intention is there. The thoughts are good, they unfortunately don’t appear to move beyond Niebuhr’s pessimism.

In an attempt to redeem the text and restore my quickly fading new-found appreciation for Niebuhr, I went back to the start. After all, this was written in 1935. Perhaps the gloom reflected the impending doom at the time. So, I re-read through my notes, hoping to perhaps see where I might have misunderstood or missed a deeper poignancy. I sat on my response, gave it more thought and concluded that the echo of pessimism in the text was inescapable. Once I’d acknowledged this I was able to see the real value of the text.

‘An interpretation of Christian Ethics’ presents the view that no principle driven ethical position wins. All human attempts fail. No human on a human throne can claim absolute moral superiority. That belongs to Jesus Christ. Whilst Christian forgiveness may be an impossible possibility, in Christ, it is attainable.

The strength of ‘An interpretation of Christian Ethics’ is in how Niebuhr uses the incapacity of humanity to bolster God’s ultimate sovereignty and divinity – His merciful omnipotence and gracious Holiness. The incapability of humanity being able to put Jesus’ words into action doesn’t give humanity the right to dismiss the “Jesus ethic’’.

The ‘’law of love’’ will always remain a critique of the direction of human progress and regress. These commands from within humanity from outside humanity, Jesus commands, therefore, stand as an invaluable reminder of where humanity stands: God is God, we are not.

There is no escape from the responsibility that “Jesus Ethics’’ places on humanity. From Adam, to Jesus Christ, human responsibility is, as it has always been, held to account by its Creator.

I’m on board with the gist of Niebuhr’s arguments for as long as they exist as a critique of the spiraling self-absorbed existential crisis, in theology specifically, and in the West generally; the weakening of thought; the weakening of resolve; the numbing of the masses, seduced by self-congratulation, caressed by false achievement and lured by false security.

‘An Interpretation of Christian Ethics’ challenges this. It challenges any theology that supports selective labels. Arguing against anyone who might unfairly denigrate their neighbor as the oppressor. Where being offended or disagreed with ends with that neighbor being permanently labeled an oppressor, with a complete disregard for the history, situation, or reality of their own fallen humanity.

‘Ideally men seek to subject their arbitrary and contingent existence under the dominion of absolute reality. But practically they always mix the finite with the eternal and claim for themselves, their nation, their culture, or their class the center of existence. This is the root of all imperialism in man […] devotion to every transcendent value is corrupted by the effort to insert the interests of the self into that value.’[iv]

Although only implied, that “God is God and we are not” is Niebuhr’s unavoidable and most poignant take home point. This is what saves ‘An Interpretation of Christian Ethics’. Niebuhr brings forth the scriptural reminder that ‘no one is righteous, not one […] all have fallen short of the Glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.’ (Paul, Romans 3, ESV)

Niebuhr’s work is a challenge to the Cult of Self. It is a reality check for activism, such as Liberation theology. As such it adds to our understanding of Christian ethics because it recognizes the dangers and limits of non-violence, pacifist and just-war theories.

Which if applied generally as a critique of Western civilization in-it’s-current-state, might perhaps be summed up as:

On future’s battlefield, the Left will not fall because a positive optimism, but because of self-righteous naiveté; the Right won’t fall because they speak the truth, but because of the arrogant way in which they handle it.

 ‘He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.’
(Paul, Romans 2:6, ESV)

 


Sources:

[i] Niebuhr, R. 1935; Santurri, E. N. 2013 An Interpretation of Christian Ethics Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition. (p.59)

[ii] Santurri,  E N. 2013 An Interpretation of Christian Ethics Niebuhr, R. 1935 Westminster John Knox Press. (introductory essay)

[iii] ibid.

[iv] Niebuhr, R. 1935; Santurri, E.N. 2013 An Interpretation of Christian Ethics Westminster John Knox Press (p. 85).

Image: R. Niebuhr