Archives For Word of God

Unexpected Rescue

January 31, 2018 — 4 Comments

There are days when no matter how hard we try to realign our attitude, the overwhelming feelings we might encounter in our situation, become a flood that sinks us further into a feeling of pointlessness. We’re in too deep.

Days come and days go. We watch them pass by from sunrise to sunset. The pace of life smothers us. The things that we felt so qualified to do, no longer make us feel all that qualified.  Instead, we’re overcome by despondency, disillusionment and then despair. Almost breathless, all attempts to make sense of the place we find ourselves in fail.

Though people surround us, there is no one really near us. We hear the noise of those around us, but struggle to process the fact that when we speak, we only find ourselves contributing to that noise. From here we come to the point where we realise that no one can hear us because everyone is listening to the sound of their own voice, answering the applause or condemnation of the world that follows it.

Most are dealing with something, wrestling with their own fears, failures, excesses and successes.  Some give in and slip into a slow motion view of the world.  Faces and facts are distorted. The noise around them drops in pitch. Their world is turned from the sounds of bustling activity into a slow monotonous drone.  Some go faster, live harder, decide to medicate themselves and give their lives over to the consequences.

Surrendering their lives on the altar of human wisdom, both slide into oblivion. Trapped by the cave of their own existence, they refuse to hear any word spoken from beyond it. Creatures of habit, they lean on their own understanding and conclude that any such word is a lie. At best a figment of their imagination, at worst, a tool designed by others to control and deceive them. The word that penetrates the noise of the world around them is too strange, too much of a contradiction, too foreign for them to be comfortable in acknowledging it.

This word in its contradiction speaks of hope, of water in desolate places, of dry bones coming to life, of possibilities within impossibilities. This word contradicts their entire world. It is a word that challenges all human presuppositions about their situation. It is spoken and it speaks to the despondency, disillusionment, despair, and breathless uneasiness.

This word speaks and stands in the way of our own words, answering the applause and condemnation of the world that follows it. It is spoken and it speaks of liberation from both the world’s applause and its condemnation. It is spoken and it speaks of liberation for both the one living in slow motion and the one given over to the self-destructive consequences of their defeatist, live fast, die hard philosophy. This word is a contradiction to their sacrificial slide into oblivion.

They’re in too deep, but this word throws to them a lifeline. Supported in the midst of their impending drift down into the abyss, they are confronted by its strange rescue. This word and its rescue exist despite what they were told and in contradiction to what they were sold. It makes no sense to them. It doesn’t look the way human wisdom says it should. It is an unexpected rescue.

The world’s eloquent words that denied the simplicity of this word cannot save them. Their rescue by this word comes to them out of the act of the One who spoke it, not by the eloquence of the world’s wisdom spoken to them. They are summoned to grasp its grasp of them.  They are summoned to believe, not because human wisdom sold it to them at the “right” price, out of protest, through manipulation or well-crafted words and sugar coated rhetoric. They are summoned by this word to believe because this word is acted upon by the One who speaks it.

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.’  (John 1:1-4, ESV)

This Word became flesh and dwelt among us[i].  He now becomes the contradiction to all of our impossibilities and the foundation[ii] for all our possibilities. The Word of the cross is the testimony of God, Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This is a word testified to, as God testifies about Himself through it.

‘but neither human resources, nor imperial munificence, nor appeasement of the gods, eliminated sinister suspicions that the fire [of Rome] had been instigated. To suppress this rumour, Nero fabricated scapegoats – and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator , Christ, had been put to death in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus. But despite this setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief started) but even in Rome.’ (Tacitus, Annals circa 116 A.D)

Committed to His Word, God dived in deep to throw us a lifeline. Days may come and days may go. We may watch them pass by from sunrise to sunset. The pace of life may smother us, but the Word of God stands forever.  The possibilities that come with this Word stand as a living, breathing, defiant contradiction to the threat of oblivion and any despair the threat of irrelevance might throw at us.

In light of this Word, we can stand firm against all that ‘assumes to itself authority, and does not allow itself to be regulated by the word of God, reckoning as nothing all the applause[iii]’, and condemnation of the world. This is because it’s ‘light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:5, ESV)


References:

[i] John 1:14, ESV

[ii] 1 Cor. 3:10-15, ESV

[iii] Calvin, J. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3

Photo by Luke Besley on Unsplash

Freedom and Responsibility_BarthAs promised. So delivered.

This makes up part one of three, five point summaries. Each highlighting quotes from my recent reading of Barth’s closing chapters in Church Dogmatics I.II

A few things to note before I begin.

Firstly, I have edited this more than a few times in order to maintain the integrity of Barth’s meaning.

Secondly, I’m really only posting these as a resource for my own future reference.

However, having said that, if you, the reader, find them interesting, I’d welcome your thoughts and comments about anything that should stand out to you as relevant.

Barth’s C.D.I.II is largely a call to read the Word of God ‘as it stands’[i]. This call moves Christians beyond the inerrancy debate because the bible does not have to be one hundred precent empirically correct in order for it to be true.

1. The Bible is ‘movement fulfilled in obedience, it exists as witness to revelation’[ii]. He adds, that ‘verbal inspiration does not mean the infallibility of the Biblical Word in its linguistic, historical and theological character as a human word’.

  • It means that the fallible and faulty human word is used by God and has to be received in spite of its human fallibility[iii]…the work of God is done through this text. The miracle of God takes place in the text formed of human words[iv]
  • ‘It is a matter of the event/s of the actual presence of the Word of God…the free presence of God, defining our recollection as thankfulness and our expectation as hope[v]
  • ‘Certainly it is not our faith which makes the Bible the Word of God…although it does demand our faith, underlie our faith, and that it is the substance and life of our faith…We have to understand the inspiration of the Bible as a divine decision continually made in the life of the Church and in the life of its members[vi]

2. According to Barth

  • ‘We, (the Church) share in the movement in which scripture was born and in virtue of which even today Scripture is not mere writing but in its written character is Spirit and Life[vii]
  • We ‘live in light of the Word of God’s decision about us[viii]
  • Consequently, ‘the Church for its part must allow itself to be set in movement through Scripture.[ix]
  • We stand in Church history, therefore Church history is lived’[x]

3. Having anchored his defence, Barth embarks on an offense, directing our attention to the freedom and authority of God which gives life to the freedom and responsibility of both man and woman[xi].  For Barth

  • What is at stake, or so it seems, is God’s authority and freedom.  This leads into a discussion about the ‘infinite qualitative distinction (Kierkegaard)’ which holds that God is heaven and man on earth, that God rules and men and women must obey, that the Word of God makes a total claim upon humanity.[xii]
  • We have had to learn anew to accustom ourselves again to these simple truths, in contradiction to a theological liberalism which would have nothing to do with them…[xiii]

4.They (theological liberals) can attempt to jettison authority in a fight for freedom, but ‘neither the origin nor the essence of the Church is to be found in the blind alley where man would like to be his own lord and law.[xiv]

5. At this point Barth brings up the issue of the Church and the Freedom of the Word of God.

  • ‘The Christian is not a stone that is pushed, or a ball that is made to roll. The Christian is a person who through the Word and love of God has been made alive, the real man or the real woman, able to love God in return standing erect just because they have been humbled, humbling themselves because they have been raised up[xv]
  • Barth asserts that when we are ‘confronted by grace…. our pride annihilated and our sin covered. We are, therefore, addressed by the name we received in our baptism and not by the title which might be given to us by others as an indication of who we are as individuals (personality) [xvi]

With all due respect to lists on blogs, this is definitely not an average one. It is a culmination of important statements made by Barth in or just before 1938. Inside the details, or rather woven into them, is a firm grasp on the reality of the socio-political context of Europe and in particular the Church, as its people gazed upwards towards the darkening sky trying to find light in the vicious ideological storm, that was to rapidly move across Europe a year later.

Behind Barth’s words rests the knowledge that

‘the struggle against the authority of the Bible is really the struggle against the freedom of grace.[xvii]

Along with an awareness of the fact that:

‘Where there is no genuine authority, so there is no genuine freedom. There is only action and reaction between a despotic arrogance and an equally despotic despair.[xviii]

Source:

[i] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics 1.2: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Scripture as the Word of God Hendrickson Publishers, p.533

[ii] Ibid, p.671‘Freedom in the Church/The Freedom of the Word’

[iii] Ibid, p.533 (cont.)

[iv] Ibid, p.532 ‘Holy Scripture is also, in fact a human historical record’ (p.541); ‘God’s word comes to man and woman as a human word’ (p.699)

[v] Ibid, p.533

[vi] Ibid, pp.534-535

[vii] Ibid p.671 (cont.)

[viii] Ibid, p.704

[ix] Ibid, p.672

[x]  Ibid, p.595

[xi] This is not an ‘arbitrary freedom’, but a costly and decisive freedom ‘conferred by the Holy Spirit’ (p.667) and ‘worked out in obedience’ (p.661-662). Therefore the ‘Bible confronts us with the realisation our freedom’ (p.652)

[xii] Ibid, p.633 ‘Authority in the Church/Authority under the Word’

[xiii] Ibid, p.663 (cont.)

[xiv]  Ibid, p.668

[xv]  Ibid, p.662

[xvi] Ibid, p.704

[xvii] Ibid, p.559

[xviii]  Ibid, p.668 ‘The great defeats of the Church have been and are when it has wanted to honour its confession in theory but not in practice, when the living form becomes a mummy, and the mummy unnecessary lumber, and the gift of God is frustrated…the great danger in the inevitable conflicts against a confession of the Church is that it may be taken away from t if it yields to temptation and surrenders.’ (p.646)

 

(©RL2014)

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

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

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

In light of these words I found myself asking:

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

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

Does God even exists in these decisions?

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

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

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

 

[i] link: http://dogmatics.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/what-did-the-pcusa-do/
[ii] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of The Word of God I.II Hendrickson Publishers 2010
[iii] Ibid, p.775
[iv] Ibid, p.764

Word of God Speak

September 17, 2013 — 2 Comments

In their 2002 album ‘Spoken for’, MercyMe featured a song called ‘Word of God Speak’.

The words:

I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay
The last thing I need is to be heard
But to hear what You would say

Word of God speak
Would You pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see
Your majesty
To be still and know
That You’re in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In Your holiness
Word of God speak

I’m finding myself in the midst of You
Beyond the music, beyond the noise

All that I need is to be with You
And in the quiet hear Your voice

Reading through some material today, it occurred to me that when it comes to the Word of God: we either choose to hear what is freely spoken to us or we don’t.  This does not change the fact that God has spoken and continues to speak through His Word to us and for us in fresh and new ways.

The Word of God does not change, but instead initiates change – (James.1:16-18).

He does this by inviting us to see beyond the stagnated idolatry of human opinion – the kind that permeates religious and ideological “towers of Babylon”. Basically, when we place our ideology before our theology both fall into a trap. We enslave ourselves to a point of reference found in human words not in God’s. For example here one would agree with Paul’s assessment: ‘for now we see in a mirror dimly…Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known’ (1. Cor.13:12) .

God not only points us towards redeemed reason, He chooses to give it to us in His Word.Consequently we are moved from the ‘the light of nature into the light of Grace’ (Barth, 1936:155) [1].

Therefore we must listen to this Divine Word as proclamation, Scripture and revelation[2]. The Incarnate Christ who is ‘God-with-us ’ issued as a Divine act by the ‘God-in-Himself’ (Barth 1936:172), who chooses to move ‘towards humanity’ (1936:172) empowering us to go beyond the fog of ‘fallen reason’ (1936:166).  To go ‘’beyond the noise’’ (MercyMe). To see beyond certain ideologies and their poisonous progenies. The kind that misuse hope by employing it as a veil in order to hide stagnating dysfunctional paradigms [3].

Barth assures us that:

To speak of the ‘Word of God is to speak of God in His relation to Humanity. i.e: decision – divine act (157). Jesus the Christ, who speaks for Himself and needs no witness apart from His Holy Spirit and the faith that rejoices in His promise received and grasped. A promise heard as the revealed Word of God, fulfilment of what is written, recalled and then proclaimed (sermon and sacrament)’ (1936:55, 120,121 & 124).

Accordingly, the outcomes of our hearing will be grounded in whether we have ‘heard correctly or incorrectly’ (CD1.1:133).

Barth then states that ‘God’s Word means that “God speaks” (Deus dixit)…there is no Word of God without physical act and God’s speak is God’s act ‘ (Barth CD 1.1:133)…’this is a rational not an irrational event’ (1936:135)…‘We must know God as the one who addresses us in freedom’ (1936:172)…this ‘Lord of speech is also the Lord of hearing. The Lord who gives the Word and also gives faith’ (1936:182), this in turn means that God opens Himself up to the possibility of rejection since ‘a personal gift implies the possibility of its refusal’ (CD.1.1:98)

It is then right to understand that the “God who speaks” also expects and eagerly awaits our reply.

‘For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword…piercing and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:12-13, ESV)

Barth’s key dialogue partner throughout his CD 1.1 discourse so far has been Martin Luther, who he cites (1936:135) as saying that ‘Christ’s Kingdom is a kingdom of hearing, not a Kingdom of seeing’ (Luther 1545, W.A. 51:11, I.25).

In agreement Barth clarifies what Luther meant stating that ‘it is faith that hears, understands and obeys God’s speech’ (1936:135).In other words ‘we can only take up an attitude by repeating it as we think we have heard it and by trying to conform to it as well or badly as we can (CD.1.1:90)

The conclusion:

MercyMe are right, not just in the sense that we are spoken for, but because we are also spoken to.

As Barth so brilliantly put it: ‘the Word of God is God’s claim on Humanity’…therefore ‘no matter what may be said about me, I exist in correspondence to God’s Word’ (1936:161).

Barth can say this because he stands in light of the understanding that we are listeners before ‘the speaking God who spoke then, and speaks now. It is in Jesus Christ that we understand the Word of God as the epitome of God’s grace. This grace means simply that as humans we are no longer left to ourselves but are given into the Hand of God’’ (1936:149-150)

Thus Barth profoundly asserts:

‘God did not need to speak to us…we evaluate this free and actualised gracious Word [purpose]correctly only if we understand it as the reality of the love of the God who does not need us but who does not will to be without us’ (Barth, 1936:140, italics mine)

After highlighting the danger of putting our ideology before our theology. After establishing the how and who of God’s Word the question that remains for us is:

What is it that I hear and have I heard it correctly?

The answer may surprise you.

Source:

Barth, K 1936 Church Dogmatics Volume 1.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God Hendrickson Publishers Peabody Massachusetts


[1] This might otherwise be called ”a higher purpose”, although I am cautious of committing to this as a way of explaining what I mean by redeemed reason, as it has an attachment to the “oh he/she got religion” pejorative promoted by  popular culture.
[2] ‘God’s revelation is Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (1936:137)
[3] This is a concept I am working through and one I explained in brief here.