Karl Barth: Our Freedom, Home, & God’s Directing [QUOTES]


When looking through old seminary research, I ran across some quotes I pulled out from Karl Barth, my favorite theologian (hands down), and got to soak in the beauty of his words. I wanted to share them. Now, for people that don’t read academic theology, this is it. It’s circular, it repeats itself, and it’s unnecessarily complicated and unclear. I know. I get that. But I promise, if you can spend a few minutes, quiet yourself, and focus, the pay-off is huge. This guy stands as a tower over all of modern theology and deserves more mainstream attention than he gets. I’ve done slight edits to some of the wording and paragraph breaks for clarity. Enjoy.

* * * * * * * *

God’s direction is an all-powerful decision, His own divine act of lordship. By this means, too, God vindicates His honor and maintains His glory. By this means, too, He exercises authority….

God’s direction is the directing of humans into the freedom of His children. It is this which has taken place in Jesus Christ no less uniquely than the once-for-all fulfillment of the divine sentence on all humanity. In suffering in our stead the death of the old nature, and bringing in by His resurrection the life of the new, He has made room for the being of all humanity to be at peace with God.

On the basis of what we are and is not by virtue of the divine sentence passed and revealed in Jesus Christ… we have no other place but this—the kingdom in which God can be at peace with us and us at peace with God. Jesus Christ…is the all-powerful direction of God to us to occupy this place, to live in this kingdom. If we are told in Him who we are and are not, we are also told in Him where we belong, where we have to be and live.

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Terror, Rage, Hope & Christmas Lights


Flickr-Advent-Candles-rabasz

This Advent, we’re meditating on the idea of Hope by looking at quotes from Christians and talking about what they might say about our Advent Hope.

“It is precisely because the Christian hopes for the ultimate and definitive, that she also hopes for the temporal and provisional. Precisely because she hopes with joy for the dawn of the great light, that she hopes with provisional joy for the little lights, which may come and go, but which will not come and go in vain.

These little lights act as temporary illuminations that can help the Christian to look and move more properly towards that which they can only point to, but which in their proper time and place can in fact actually represent to us!

Because the Christian hopes for the Last Day, for the eternal year, he hopes for the next day and the new year, from which, whatever they may bring, he can always expect at least new indications of the coming of Jesus Christ.”

–Karl Barth, Church DogmaticsIV.3.2, p.938 (edited for clarity)

Read those words again. Slowly. We need these words, especially this year. As predators of consumerism, terrorism, pseudo-fascism, jingoism, escapism, and liberal idealism lie in wait to consume our souls, we need a light in the darkness. We need something to hold on to.

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Some Hopefully Not-Crazy Musings on Calvinism & Predestination


John_Calvin_by_HolbeinThe Christian family is large and diverse. The little corner of that family that I occupy is usually called “Reformed”, meaning they can trace a lot of their distinctive teachings back to John Calvin. Now, if theres one thing Calvin is known for (other than the burning a heretic thing) is a section of his teaching on Predestination–the idea that before everything, God “decreed” that only some people would be “saved”, and others would not be–they didn’t make the choice in that matter, He did.

Now, “Calvinism” wasn’t actually a thing until after Calvin had died, and he had a lot more to say about a lot of things other than Predestination. Nevertheless, having just recently re-read the portion of his magnum opus that deals with this issue, I can say that even the most caricatured, extreme articulations of Calvinism out there have a strong kernel of truth. Calvin was definitely a Calvinist, in all its untactful, harsh, unapologetic glory.

In college, I got super into Calvinism and took it way too far (Exhibit A; Exhibit B). I hurt a lot of people. Then I went to my first seminary and mellowed out on it. Since then, I’ve just been absorbing lots of different strands of thought around this issue, and haven’t really made a concerted effort to synthesize them. I’ve sort of been sitting in the Mystery of it all.

This seminary semester, though, I have to bring together all my thoughts on Predestination and its related doctrine of Election into some coherency. This means I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And today, I want to offer some of my random, contradictory, messy thoughts and get your responses and help. Imagine my brain on this topic as a big ball of yarn, with each strand of thought existing together all at once, not being able to distinguish where one thought ends, where the other begins, and how they can all fit together.

Strand 1

First, there really isn’t any such thing as “Free Will”. I can’t “choose” to have different parents, to fly, to shoot lasers out of my eyes, to breathe underwater, what color hair I naturally have, where I was born, etc. Arguably, the most formative, important, foundational things to who we are as people are unchosen. The point in saying this is to point out that our wills are not “free”, but are bounded by nature. All our choices are limited by our nature.
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What is the Proclamation of the Word?


pulpit-church-hdr-bibleFor a class recently, I had to read a bunch of items on the part of a worship service in which the Bible is front and center. This “section” of the service is called “The Proclamation of the Word”, or more generally, the “sermon” or homily”. I ran across this great quote:

The very act of preaching, in fact, sets up questions and problems.  Most people no longer understand the difference between preaching and other types of public speaking…. Many people think of a sermon as an occasion for being entertained, instructed, or inspired in matters of religion — hence the customary comment at the church door, “I enjoyed your sermon.”  Nowadays, it is only congregations who have been engaged in a new way of thinking for a long time who are going to sit expectantly waiting for the Word of God to be spoken — for preaching, properly understood, is the good news that God preaches through human beings.  Astonishingly enough, this is the method of communicating that God has chosen.  This is an offensive idea; there are a hundred complaints to be brought against it.  Most common is the objection, “How can anyone presume to speak the Word of God?”  Or to put it another way, “How can any human being be so arrogant as to think he is a mouthpiece of God?”  How indeed?  It is a very good question.  The validity or invalidity of preaching rests on such issues as these. (Fleming Rutledge, Not Ashamed of the Gospel)

I think Rutledge is right (and not just because she is an incredible preacher–all you complementarians could learn a thing or two from her!): people don’t seem to really see preaching as fundamentally different than any other lecture or other public speaking. Preaching is often (subtly and unspokenly) seen (or at least treated) as “mere” personal edification–similar to a book discussion or philosophical lecture or self-help conference.
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The Church: Being in Becoming (a Sunday pre-game)


church-philly-bw-cross-market-eastFor my Gospel, Culture, and Church course this past week, we had to read the opening chapter of this book on the Church as mission, rather than seeing the Church as something that does mission. We also had to read some mind-blowing pages from Hans Kung’s epic work The Church. It got me thinking a lot about what precisely the “church” is and how it is that thing. I just wanted to share some disjointed thoughts today.

Throughout the readings, the (perhaps over-used) term “Being in Becoming” kept coming to mind. (For my more philosophically-trained friends, forgive me if I’m simplifying this term too much; My main exposure to this has been cursory, in the context of the Trinitarian theology of Karl Barth and how he describes God).

In others words, the Church’s very Being is in its efforts to more faithfully “Become” what it is. It is not and cannot become a static entity into which we invite people. As we are caught up in the missional plan of the missional God, it propels forward into places where the old notions of Christendom and privilege are not relevant and are shown to be the anemic frameworks they are.
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On Not Following the Christian Blogosphere (a plea)


paul-blog-coffee

I pride myself on thinking that a large percentage of the readers of this blog have no idea of this odd subculture/alternate universe that is the “Christian blogosphere”. So for those that don’t know: there is a very large labyrinth of (largely evangelical) blogs and conferences and podcasts and websites that are dedicated to talking about “the” “Christian view” on any manner of things that (1) really don’t affect much of people’s real lives or (2) seem kind of weird to have a “Christian view” of.

It’s not simply talking about things from a Christian perspective (like this blog), but rather doing so with a particular reactive, evangelical, tribal “flavor”. I’m sure I fall into that at times here, but I’m not proud of it and I try to act against it.

the dangers of the Christian blogosphere

There are two primary things about the nature of these sites that more easily lend themselves to human weakness, I feel.
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Karl Barth: Our Freedom, Our Home, & God’s Directing [AMAZING QUOTES]


karl_barth crop

I’m writing this long paper on the ancient Christian Practice of Discernment. In my research, I pulled out some Karl Barth, my favorite theologian (hands down), and got to soak in the beauty of these words, and I wanted to share them. Now, for people that don’t read “real” and “proper” theology, this is it. It’s circular, it repeats itself, and it’s unnecessarily complicated and unclear. I know. I get that. But I promise, if you can spend a few minutes, quiet yourself, and focus, I promise the pay-off is huge. This guy stands as a tower over all of modern theology and deserves more attention than he gets. I’ve done slight edits to some of the wording and paragraph breaks for clarity. Enjoy.

* * * * * * * *

God’s direction is an all-powerful decision, His own divine act of lordship. By this means, too, God vindicates His honor and maintains His glory. By this means, too, He exercises authority….

God’s direction is the directing of humans into the freedom of His children. It is this which has taken place in Jesus Christ no less uniquely than the once-for-all fulfillment of the divine sentence on all humanity. In suffering in our stead the death of the old nature, and bringing in by His resurrection the life of the new, He has made room for the being of all humanity to be at peace with God.

On the basis of what we are and is not by virtue of the divine sentence passed and revealed in Jesus Christ… we have no other place but this—the kingdom in which God can be at peace with us and us at peace with God. Jesus Christ…is the all-powerful direction of God to us to occupy this place, to live in this kingdom. If we are told in Him who we are and are not, we are also told in Him where we belong, where we have to be and live.

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How We Prove God (a prayer by Karl Barth)


hands-pray-sepia“Dear heavenly Father, we ask you to give us all your Holy Spirit, and to give it continually, that it may awaken, enlighten, encourage, and enable us to dare to take the small and large steps of moving out of comfort with which we can comfort each other and into hope in you. Turn us away toward you! Do not allow us to hide from you! Do not let us do anything without you! Show us how glorious you are and how glorious it is to trust and obey you!

We would ask the same for all people, that the nations and governments may bow to your Word, and that they will be willing to work for justice and peace on earth, that your Word may be understood and taken to heart by all those who are poor, sick, imprisoned, troubled, oppressed, and unbelieving; that through word and deed it may be made known to them; and that it may be perceived by them as the answer to their sighs and cries; that all Christian churches and confessions may learn to recognize it anew and serve it with renewed faithfulness; that its truth may be and remain bright here and now in all of humanity’s error and confusion, until such a time as it shall ultimately enlighten all people and all things.

You are glorified, you who make us free in Jesus Christ, your Son, by confessing and standing on this: that our hope is in you. Amen.”

— from Karl Barth, “Pentecost” in Fifty Prayers

(Note: This was posted as part of a series of back-and-forths between an Atheist friend and myself. These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Barth: to Repent & Pray is to Die [QUOTE]


This post is part of my 2013 Lent series: Reflections on Repentance.

In the first book of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, as he is reflecting on God as Creator, Barth begins meditating on the fact that this Creating God is also our Father. He begins talking about what “Fatherly Lordship” might look like, and what impact this “Fatherly” dimension might have on how we look at his “Lord-ly” commands on us–like the command to “repent”. And so, as he is focusing on God’s Fatherhood in the Gospels, he writes these beautiful words on repentance:

Metanoien [the Greek verb for “repent”], to reverse one’s thinking, to think afresh, to think through to God and His kingdom, really means in the rest of the New Testament too, and here in the Gospels especially, to consider the fact that we must die. But it does not just mean this, but whatever else it might mean, it can mean only that if first and decisively it means this.

Further, note that “Thy name”, “Thy kingdom”, and “Thy will” are the objects of the first three petitions of the prayer directed to “our Father, which art in heaven” (Mt. 6:9f), and it is on these that the three which follow rest. In the context of the New Testament, then, the Thy makes these petitions absolutely equivalent to the saying : “Teach us to reflect that we must die.”

The Bible, Slavery, & Atheists{2b}: Theology & Ethics | Reform & Revive


By the time I finished the next article in the series, it was substantive enough and socially-oriented enough to warrant being posted on my webzine Reform & Revive.  The previous post was on on how secular Philosophy can inform our view of ethics and contribute to the discussion of Slavery, Atheism, and the Bible.  This one is about how Christian theological ethics can uniquely inform our ethics in modern times.  The article covers a LOT of ground and is the longest one I’ve written yet in this series.  Hopefully that’s not a turn off.  This article has more of my thought concerning truth and Biblical interpretation than perhaps any one article I’ve ever written contains.  Here’s the link:

http://reformandrevive.com/2009/12/22/a-theology-of-ethics-contemporary-applications/

It seems in light of my earlier post I’ve decided to pour more of myself into this series, rather than just quickly finishing it off.  Hopefully it’s helpful.

Lastly, I keep getting private emails, texts, and messages from Christians talking about how much they’re enjoying this series, and how helpful it is to them, but hardly any Christians are publicly commenting.  I’m getting tons of comments from my atheist friends, though.  Discrepancy?  I think so.  If you have a thought, please leave it.  It could be really helpful to get more input on this and diversity of thought on this.

Thank you all for your support and encouragement.  It means a lot.