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“Love our Country or Leave it”? (Moltmann)

 

I’ve been reading Moltmann recently, and just came across a quote bearing profound relevance for American politics today.

Moltmann begins: “The cross is the point at which Christian faith distinquishes itself from other religions and ideologies, from unfaith and superstition. … It should therefore become the beginning point and criterion for a Christian political theology.” 1

Moltmann quotes Adolf Schlatter, who aptly writes: “The vocation and work of Jesus consists in his destroying our idols, and the weapons with which he nullifies our false gods is his cross.” 

The Second Commandment, “You shall not make yourself a graven image…” is particularly relevant when we consider the political idols we create for ourselves. Luther wrote, “Whatever you set your heart on and depend on, that is really your god.” And this applies no less to religious idols than it does to political idols, whether these are called “America,” “Republican,” “Liberal,” or anything else. Political idols are not absent from America.

We often fail to recognizing ourselves as a “factory for idols” (Calvin), but it is an undeniable truth we must recognize. We create idols daily. And, according to Moltmann, the only destruction of all our idols, political or otherwise, is the cross of Christ. When we see the power of God in the weakness and suffering of Christ, we no longer have valid justification for a top down power structure. In other words, we no longer have ultimate justification for faith in a political power, in a country, in an ideology.

The only justified faith in the light of the cross is faith in the crucified God who takes the side of the weak, powerless, suffering, poor, and broken. In a world where success and achievement are the highest good, we, in the name of Christ, must protest against all cultural idols of power, no matter what name they bear.

If, for example, the idol of power goes by the name “America” or “nationalism,” then it becomes a Christian obligation to resist and protest against this power structure which tramples on the weak and idolizes the successful. Think of the recent controversy surrounding the NFL and their protesting athletes, taking a knee during the National Anthem. By giving a voice to the voiceless, to those who are forgotten and ignored in our success culture, these athletes stand on the side of the crucified Christ who suffered as an outcast for the cause of the outcasted.

Those angered by their protest feel their idols, and by extension, themselves, threatened. Moltmann writes with prophetic power and an eerie relevance:

“From a psychological point of view, the unfathomable anxiety of man causes him to create for himself symbols, idols, and values which then become identical with his self. Every attack against his idols therefore wounds his ‘highest values,’ and he reacts to this with deadly aggression. As long as his self depends on such idols and idolized realities, man is not free to accept the different kind of life of another along with his own life. He only accepts men who are like him. He only accepts men who value the same things and abhor the same things as he does because these men confirm him. Strangers put him in question and make him uncertain. Hence the attitude: ‘Love our country or leave it.’ This is the basis for xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and racial hatred. The liberation of man from the anxiety and the coercive force of such idols is therefore the presupposition for humanity and peace on earth.” 2

Liberation from this anxiety is only in the cross of Christ, when we recognize that this is God’s Christ suffering and dying as an outcast, as a political tool, in solidarity with the weak, poor, and helpless. The cross is the ultimate undoing of all our idols of success and power. Even if that idol is named “America,” we are obligated as Christians to protest in the name of the crucified Christ, who is triumphant in suffering and weakness, who is on the side of the poor and the outcasted.

To those of you angered by these protests, I want to ask you: Where is the cross of Christ? Do you see Christ on the side of the rich and the successful refusing to give a voice to the voiceless? Or, if you’re honest, don’t you see Christ in the eyes of those protesting in the name of the violence done to the poor and weak?

Few people groups suffer more violently and more often in our country than the African-American. By silencing their protests, be careful you are not turning a deaf ear to the suffering cry of Christ in solidarity with the weak.

May our idols of power come undone at the cross of Christ. And may we be attentive to listen to Christ’s cry of solidarity with the weak and the voiceless.

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Notes:

  1. The Experiment Hope110
  2.  Ibid., 112-3

The Best Writing Advice I’ve Heard in a Long Time

I recently discovered an excellent youtube channel called Storytellers. I found some of their video essays when I was searching around for an analysis of the Coen brother’s film, Fargo. Storytellers did an excellent analysis of the film, which you can check out here.

But a gem among their other movie-related videos is a profound study on the nature of creativity. This is without a doubt the best piece of writing advice I’ve heard in a long time, which borrows mostly from Steven Pressfield’s book The War of ArtI read Pressfield’s book a few years back, and this video reminded me of the brilliance of that book.

Pressfield’s book hits you hard with warning after warning against creative “resistance,” and offers bountiful motivation to overcome its snare. One of my favorite quotes from the book is from the first few pages:

 

“You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study… Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”

 

It’s certainly an overstatement to blame World War II on Hitler’s failure as an artist, but it illustrates Pressfield’s point exceptionally well. To be creative is to fight resistance day after day after day. Most people will give in and settle, but it’s possible to beat resistance and fulfill your creative potential.

Enjoy this excellent video:

 

 

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I Was “Born Again” 2,000 Years Ago (T. F. Torrance)

 

Shortly after becoming the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the esteemed theologian Thomas F. Torrance was asked whether or not he was “born again.” Naturally he said yes, he was born again. But then he was asked, “When were you born again?” Torrance startled his inquisitor with this reply,

 

“I still recall his face when I told him that I had been born again when Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and rose again from the virgin tomb, the first-born of the dead. When he asked me to explain I said: ‘This Tom Torrance you see is full of corruption, but the real Tom Torrance is hid with Christ in God and will be revealed only when Jesus Christ comes again. He took my corrupt humanity in his Incarnation, sanctified, cleansed and redeemed it, giving it new birth, in his death and resurrection.’ In other words, our new birth, our regeneration, our conversion, are what has taken place in Jesus Christ himself, so that when we speak of our conversion or our regeneration we are referring to our sharing in the conversion or regeneration of our humanity brought about by Jesus in and through himself for our sake. In a profound and proper sense, therefore, we must speak of Jesus Christ as constituting in himself the very substance of our conversion, so that we must think of him as taking our place even in our acts of repentance and personal decision, for without him all so-called repentance and conversion are empty. Since a conversion in that truly evangelical sense is a turning away from ourselves to Christ, it calls for a conversion from our in-turned notions of conversion to one which is grounded and sustained in Christ Jesus himself.” 1

 

This quote summarizes so well what attracts me to the theology of Thomas F. Torrance (and the same could be said for Karl Barth). The objective nature of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ is central for Torrance, but it is not central to the point of losing all subjectivity. Perhaps better than any theologian I’ve read, Torrance balances this exceptionally well. The objective work of God does not cancel out the need for a personal response. In Jesus Christ God has acted fully and completely on our behalf for our salvation, and apart from Him we would not be saved. However, this does not exclude our participation in Christ’s humanity, or response within His vicarious response.

Torrance would often say, “all of grace means all of man”. We tend to think that either “all of grace” means “none of man”, or that “some of man” means “some of grace”. Torrance rightly affirms both aspects, offering a profoundly evangelical presentation of the gospel in which salvation is wholly by God’s grace—but it is grace which does not destroy our human nature and response, but completes it.

Feel free to borrow Torrance’s reply the next time someone asks you when you were “born again”!

 

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500 Years of Outrageous Grace (R. Capon)

This month celebrates the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation. On the 31st of October, 1517, Martin Luther sent his famous 95 Theses to the Archbishop of Mainz. This sparked a movement that changed the world, putting the bible into the hands of everyday people, and revitalizing the doctrine of justification by grace alone.

In the spirit of this occasion I wanted to share one of my favorite quotes about the reformation, from an author who revitalized my own understanding of grace in a profound way, Robert Farrar Capon. Capon’s book Between Noon and Three remains one of the most shocking books I’ve read on the subject of grace. It impacted me tremendously and remains a favorite book of mine.

Capon writes about the reformation in wonderfully expressively language, calling it a time when people went “blind staggering drunk” with God’s grace. In celebration of the reformation may we all spend some time meditating on the grace of God which saves us “single-handedly”.

The Reformation was a time when people went blind-staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellarful of fifteen-hundred-year-old, 200-proof grace—of bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture that would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The Word of the Gospel, after all those centuries of believers trying to lift themselves into heaven by worrying about the perfection of their own bootstraps, suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home free even before they started. …Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, nor the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case. 1

A 1517 printing of Luther’s 95 Theses:

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Notes:

  1. Between Noon and Three, 109-110

Divine Interpretation by T.F. Torrance: a Review

Book: Divine Interpretation: Studies in Medieval and Modern Hermeneutics by Thomas F. Torrance (edited by Adam Nigh and Todd Speidell) (AMAZON LINK)

Publisher: Pickwick Publications (an imprint of Wipf&Stock) (PUBLISHERS LINK)

Overview: Released only this month, this collection of essays by Torrance is a valuable addition to his current body of work. While the two essays on Barth stood out as the high points of the book, each essay was a masterful piece of scholarship.


Undoubtably, the great benefit of this book is the republication of two important essays on Karl Barth written by Torrance and published in the now out of print (and therefore very costly) volume, Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical TheologianI’ve wanted to read this book for some time now, but the near $100 price tag has prohibited me from getting my hands on a copy.

The essays “Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy” and “Karl Barth, Theologian of the Word”, were naturally the high point of the book for me. Yesterday I posted an article examining several quotations from the first essay. Reading my article from yesterday will give you a taste of this essay, which you can do so by clicking here.

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T.F. Torrance on Universalism and Limited Atonement (as Dual Heresies)

I’ve been reading the newly released collection of essays by T.F. Torrance, Divine Interpretation: Studies in Mediaeval and Modern HermeneuticsWipf & Stock Publishers were kind enough to send me a review copy, and when I finish reading the book I will be posting my final thoughts here. But I wanted to share an important quote from the book before then.

I was excited to discover that this collection reprints an important essay Torrance wrote, which prior to this book was only available in the costly out of print study, Karl Barth: Biblical and Evangelical TheologianThis essay is entitled “Karl Barth and the Latin Heresy”, and includes some profoundly important remarks about how Torrance places Barth within the western tradition.

Especially insightful, however, is how Torrance explains the “dual heresy” of universalism on one side and limited atonement on the other. I’ll let Torrance explain more himself in this insightful quote. Comments in between quotations are my own, and bold text is also mo own emphasis. Enjoy! Continue Reading…

“Encountering Reality” by Travis M. Stevick: a Book Review

Book: Encountering Reality: T.F. Torrance on Truth and Human Understanding by Travis M. Stevick (AMAZON LINK)

Publisher: Fortress Press, emerging scholars series (PUBLISHERS LINK)

Overview: Stevick’s book was an interesting read, which engages Torrance’s epistemological developments with contemporary philosophy and science. This was undoubtably the strength of the book, alongside the clear and careful explanation of Torrance’s thought. Though more a book for the specialized, this is still an insightful critical study of Torrance’s central epistemological claims. Continue Reading…

Trinitarian Theology after Barth: a Review

Book: Trinitarian Theology after Barth (Princeton Theological Monograph) ed. by Myk Habets and Phillip Tolliday, with a foreword by John Webster (AMAZON LINK)

Publisher: Pickwick Publications (an imprint of Wipf & Stock Publishers), included in the Princeton Theological Monograph Series #148 (PUBLISHER LINK)

Overview: Like any collection of essays, there will always be those essays that hit a home run, those that intrigue great interest, and sadly sometimes also those that fall flat. In this collection there were far more home-runs and sparks of intrigue than in most of the collections I’ve read, and for that reason alone this is an excellent and thought-provoking book well worth your time. It will be of special interest for those wanting to study Barth’s Trinitarian theology, and particularly to examine the diverse streams of thought of those who have more or less followed after his work. Continue Reading…

“Trinitarian Grace and Participation” by Geordie W Ziegler: a Review

Book: Trinitarian Grace and Participation: An Entry into the Theology of T. F. Torrance by Geordie W Ziegler (Amazon link)

Publisher: Fortress Press (Emerging Scholars series), 2017 (Publishers link)

Overview: Ziegler’s book is quite an achievement, with clarity and precision he embarks on the difficult task of exploring Thomas F. Torrance’s complex thought. The book emphasizes what Ziegler calls “a deeper strata of Torrance’s theology: his theology of grace, in which all other doctrines find their interior logic.” 1 This is a highly commendable and insightful reading of Torrance, recommended for anyone interested in his work.

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Notes:

  1. Kindle loc. 200