All posts in “Theology”

Theology is the Business of All God’s People (Moltmann)

I am currently working on the next book in my “Plain English Series,” Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English. I expect it to be available within a few months. While I was doing some research I came across an illuminating quote I wanted to also share here.

This comes from Moltmann’s methodological book, Experiences in TheologyHere he argues that theology is the business of all God’s people, including both the trained and the untrained, but also of both men and women. It is not a pursuit restricted to specialists in the academy or to the ecclesiastical leadership. In truth, theology is centered around the congregation and is shared in the life of all believers. Moltmann writes:

Theology is the business of all God’s people. It is not just the affair of the theological faculties, and not just the concern of the church’s colleges and seminaries. The faith of the whole body of Christians on earth seeks to know and understand. If it doesn’t, it isn’t Christian faith. This means that the foundation for every theological specialization is the general theology of all believers, which corresponds to the Reformation’s thesis about the universal ‘priesthood of all believers’. All Christians who believe and who think about what they believe are theologians, whether they are young or old, women or men. […]

I should not like to let this universalization of the priesthood and of theology stand in such general terms, and so I would prefer to talk about ‘the shared priesthood’ and therefore about the shared theology of all believers too. On this common ground, not everyone has to do and think the same thing. The fellowship of all believers requires that differentiation of assignments and functions which corresponds to the multicoloured diversity of the Spirit’s gifts, or charismata. Even in the shared theology of all believers there are particular commissions and delegations. Academic theology is one of them. But the community of Christians must be able to identify with its delegations. Otherwise alienations arise which have an oppressive rather than a helpful effect. 1

 

Academic theology is nothing other than the scholarly penetration and illumination by mind and spirit of what Christians in the congregations think when they believe in God and live in the fellowship of Christ. By scholarly I mean that the theology is methodologically verifiable and comprehensible. Good scholarly theology is therefore basically simple, because it is clear. Only cloudy theology is complicated and difficult. Whether it be Athanasius or Augustine, Aquinas or Calvin, Schleiermacher or Barth—the fundamental ideas of every good theological system can be presented on a single page. It is true that Barth needed more than 8,000 pages for his Church Dogmatics, and even then they were still unfinished, so that kindly disposed critics said, ‘surely truth can’t be as long as that’. But as we know, theological praise of the eternally bounteous God is never-ending. So the length of a work does not necessarily detract from the simple truth of what it says. 2

While not everyone will become professors, write theology books, or even study the most challenging theological systems of the Church, every believer is a theologian the moment they begin to think seriously about their faith. This is a helpful insight, especially in the Church today which has often been dumbed-down by reductionistic answers and unchallenging sermons. The need for theological education in the Church (not merely somewhere else in the academy) is great, because average Church members often struggle with difficult theological questions but are seldom given permission to ask them freely in an educational setting. In this regard, the task of academic theology is only as a service to the Church, to help facilitate and encourage the theology of all believers. Highly specialized academic work is necessary, but we should no longer think that this is the only, or even the primary, expression of theology. Theology is the shared task of all believers, not merely the specialists.

(For a list of books written by and on Jürgen Moltmann, see my newly updated list of recommended reading)

Like this article? Share it!

St. Augustine VS Jürgen Moltmann (On Loving God)

Today we continue “Moltmann-March” with a quote contrasting Moltmann’s understanding of loving God as gladly existing, and Augustine’s understanding of loving God as rejecting existence and hiding in the innermost self. This quote comes from Moltmann’s excellent book The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of LifeFor other recommended books by Moltmann, check out last week’s article.

For now, enjoy this fascinating match-up between Jürgen Moltmann and St. Augustine on loving God!


“One evening I read the following passage in Augustine’s Confessions. Augustine says:

“‘But what do I love when I love you? Not the beauty of any body or the rhythm of time in its movement; not the radiance of light, so dear to our eyes; not the sweet melodies in the world of manifold sounds; not the perfume of flowers, ointments and spices; not manna and not honey; not the limbs so delightful to the body’s embrace: it is none of these things that I love when I love my God. And yet when I love my God I do indeed love a light and a sound and perfume and food and embrace—a light and sound and perfume and a food and an embrace in my inward self. There my soul is flooded with a radiance which no space can contain; there a music sounds which time never bears away; there I smell a perfume which no wind disperses; there I taste a food that no surfeit embitters; there is an embrace which no satiety severs. It is this that I love when I love my God.’ (X.6, 8)

And that night I answered him:

“When I love God I love the beauty of bodies, the rhythm of movements, the shining of eyes, the embraces, the feelings, the scents, the sounds of all this protean creation. When I love you, my God, I want to embrace it all, for I love you with all my senses in the creations of your love. In all the things that encounter me, you are waiting for me. 

“For a long time I looked for you within myself and crept into the shell of my soul, shielding myself with an armour of inapproachability. But you were outside—outside myself—and enticed me out of the narrowness of my heart into the broad place of love for life. So I came out of myself and found my soul in my senses, and my own self in others.

“The experience of God deepens the experiences of life. It does not reduce them. For it awakens the unconditional Yes to life. The more I love God, the more gladly I exist. The more immediately and wholly I exist, the more I sense the living God, the inexhaustible source of life and eternal livingness.”

(The Source of Life, p. 87-8 emphasis mine)

Like this article? Share it!

The Best of #Barth21 – My Favorite Quotes from CD II/1 (Karl Barth)

karl_barth_church_dogmaticsOver the last month I’ve been reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics volume II/1 and posting quotes with the hashtag #Barth21 on my Facebook and Twitter pages. I did this once before over the summer when I read Barth’s Epistle to the Romans (you can find the wrap up here). I hope everyone who follows me on social media enjoyed reading these short quotes from Barth’s brilliant volume.

Today as a wrap up I’ll share some of my favorite quotes from this volume. Enjoy! (Direct quotes are in quotations, personal reflections are indicated.)

#Barth21

“Here [in CD II/1] we have the basis upon which the whole of Barth’s teaching rests…” [Editors Preface]

“We can only understand how God is knowable from the way He actually gives Himself to be known.” [Editors Preface]

“The self-knowledge of God is the real and primary essence of all knowledge of God.”

“God never ceases to make continual new beginnings with men [and women].”

Lead us not into temptation…

14480724_1300177070001803_1819817399177288208_o

“The being of God is either known by grace or it is not known at all.”

The knowledge of God—theology—cannot take place in a vacuum. To know God is to be related to God in obedience and love. [My own personal reflections while reading, #reflections]

“God is known through God and through God alone.”

“When God speaks about Himself, He speaks about the fact that He is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

“God knows Himself… This is the essence and strength of our knowledge of God.”

“Our knowledge of God is derived and secondary. It is effected by grace…”

“It is by the grace of God that God is knowable to us.”

In natural theology “we are not dealing with God but at bottom with ourselves.”

Redemption “means that Jesus Christ is coming again. It means the resurrection of the flesh. It means eternal life…”

“None of the writings of Anselm are ‘apologetic’ in the modern sense of the concept.”

You know you’ve been reading a lot of Karl Barth when a single paragraph is five pages long and that doesn’t surprise you! [#Reflections]

“Man[kind] exists in Jesus Christ and in Him alone, as he also finds God in Jesus Christ and in Him alone.”

“Jesus is the knowability of God on our side…He is the grace of God…and therefore also the knowability of God on God’s side.”

“Our enmity, the enmity in which man as such stands against grace, is expiated and abandoned before God by God Himself.”

“The enmity of man against God is annulled, done away, obliterated.”

“In Jesus Christ God has taken man[kind]’s affairs out of his hands and made them His own affair.”

Christian theology “is wholly and utterly the prisoner of its own theme, namely, the Word of God spoken in Jesus Christ”

§27…

14715584_1312653918754118_7844834601396142919_o

What is the hiddenness of God?

14715563_1313649888654521_1655075682269772017_o

God cannot be spiritually appropriated…

14711107_1314145065271670_707730918201598840_o

The hiddenness of God “affirms that our cognizance of God does not begin in ourselves.”

“At best, our theology is theologia viatorum [theology ‘on the way’].”

“The Gospel rightly seen and understood is always the victorious Gospel.”

“God is who He is in His works.”

“Subject, predicate and object; the revealer, the act of revelation, the revealed; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

“God exists in His act. God is His own decision. God lives from and by Himself.”

“God is He who, without having to do so, seeks and creates fellowship between Himself and us.”

“[God] does not will to be without us, and He does not will that we should be without Him.”

“God does not exist in solitude but in fellowship.”

“Loving us, God does not give us something, but Himself; and giving us Himself, giving us His Son, He gives us everything.”

“The kingdom of God is not an independent reality… This kingdom cannot in any sense be separated from its King.”

“[God] loves us and the world as He who would still be One who loves without us and without the world.”

“God’s being as He who lives and loves is being in freedom.”

“We cannot get behind God—behind God in His revelation [Jesus Christ]—to try and determine from outside what He is.”

“The fundamental error of the whole earlier doctrine of God is reflected in this arrangement: first God’s being in general, then His Triune nature.”

“Grace is the very essence of the being of God.”

“The impassibility of God cannot in any case mean that it is impossible for Him to feel compassion.”

“God cannot be compared to anyone or anything. He is only like Himself.”

“God’s love is divine as the love which is free.”

“God is simple. …[which means] in all that He is and does, He is wholly and undividedly Himself.”

For Barth, God’s omnipresence doesn’t mean metaphysical “eternity”, but God’s triunity, God’s freedom to be present to another. [#Reflections]

“God can be present to another. This is His freedom. For He is present to Himself.”

“There is nowhere where God is not, but He is not nowhere. …He is always somewhere—seeking man[kind] and there to be sought.”

“There is no non-presence of God in His creation.”

“God is constant.”

“[God’s true] immutability includes rather than excludes life. In a word it is life.”

Because “immutability” often implies an immobile state of death, a state incongruent with the living God, Barth thinks “constancy” is a far better term whenever speaking of God’s being in freedom. [#Reflections]

“By God the world exists in God.”

“In the investigation and knowledge of the constant will and being of God we cannot go behind Jesus Christ.”

“God is ‘immutably’ the One whose reality is seen in His condescension in Jesus Christ… He is not a God who is what He is in a majesty behind this condescension, behind the cross on Golgotha.”

Divine omnipotence ≠ divine omnicausality. [#Reflections]

“God’s love for us does not simply mean that He knows us; it means also that He chooses us.”

“God is His own will, and He wills His own being.”

“Pelagianism and fatalism are alike heathen atavisms in a Christian doctrine of God.”

From the standpoint of the incarnation “we cannot understand God’s eternity as pure timelessness.”

“God is pre-temporal. God is supra-temporal. God is post-temporal.”

God “is in Himself, and therefore to everything outside Himself, relationship, the basis and prototype of all relationship.”

“God is the One who seeks and finds fellowship.”

“God is glorious in such a way that He radiates joy.”

“We can confidently say that [theology] is the most beautiful of all the sciences.”

“The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science.”

“If we deny [the Trinity], we have a God without radiance and without joy (and without humour!); a God without beauty.”

“To believe in Jesus Christ means to become thankful.”

“God gives Himself to the creature. This is His glory revealed in Jesus Christ, and this is therefore the sum of the whole doctrine of God.”


I enjoyed posting these quotes and engaging with readers along the way as I read Barth’s classic volume II/1 from the Church Dogmatics. Thanks everyone for reading, retweeting, and liking these posts!

Like this article? Share it!

4 Traits that Made Karl Barth a Great Theologian (According to T F Torrance)

bundesarchiv_bild_194-1283-23a_wuppertal_evangelische_gesellschaft_jahrestagungYesterday I began reading Thomas F Torrance’s book, Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931I first read Barth because I had read and enjoyed Torrance, so it’s an understatement to say I’ve been excited to dive in and learn what Torrance has to say about Barth. (So far it’s been a great book.)

Torrance writes of four traits (personal characteristics) which made Barth a great theologian. Today I wanted to repeat these traits to you, as they are all great traits we can learn from. Enjoy!

#1 An Inquisitive Mind

Torrance writes, “Barth has the most searching, questioning mind I have ever known.” 1 This would be apparent to anyone who has ever read, for example, in the Church Dogmatics, the pages upon pages of questions Barth asked. Torrance estimates that if you were to put only the questions asked in the Dogmatics into a book it would fill “hundreds of hundreds of pages.” Barth asked a lot of questions!

But Barth’s ruthless questioning is not the same kind as the questioning other theologians have done, such as the questions found in Paul Tillich’s method of correlation. (More on Barth and Tillich here.) Barth’s questions are a ruthless criticism for the sake of letting the Word of God speak clearly and positively to us. These questions seek to self-critically clear the way for God’s Word to speak.

Torrance writes, “This questioning is forced upon us because face to face with God’s Word we know ourselves to be questioned down to the very roots of our being, and therefore in response to the impact of the Word we are thrown back upon self-criticism, upon a repentant questioning and rethinking of all that we have and are and claim to know.” 2 We ask questions because God’s Word has confronted us to the core of our being. We must ask questions to make a way for the Word of God to speak clearly and positively to us, to rightly hear the content of this Word. These questions seek to remove our presuppositions (or at least limit them).

We ask questions forcefully and ruthlessly, then, not because God is bound to our questions, but because God has confronted us and this demands us to question our reality and make room for the Word of God to speak. This is the sort of questioning which is rooted in a deep humility before the truth of God, a truth which lies beyond our grasp and which meets us only by grace.

#2 A Childlike Willingness to Learn and Listen

Torrance writes, “Barth has an uncanny ability to listen which is accompanied by an astonishing humility and childlikeness in which he is always ready to learn.” 3 Torrance calls this “the secret of Barth’s hermeneutics, whether he is interpreting Holy Scripture or interpreting the thought of another theologian.” 4

Barth listened and listened well to the great theologians of the church, and his critical appreciation of their work always came first and foremost from this place of listening. But this is not only how Barth read other theologians; this is Barth’s method for biblical exegesis.

Torrance notes, “Biblical exegesis takes place therefore in a strenuous disciplined attempt to lay ourselves open to hear the Word of God speaking to us, to read what the Word intends or denotes and to refrain from interrupting it or confusing it with our own speaking, for in faithful exegesis we have to let ourselves be told what we cannot tell ourselves.” 5

This is a lesson we can all apply for reading not only the bible and other theologians, but even Barth’s work, too. Critics like Van Til have always failed in this regard, they have failed to listen to Barth on his own terms. We will always fail to understand the bible, to understand what God is speaking to us in the Word of God, and we will always fail to understand Barth, when we fail to listen.

#3 Creativity

Torrance writes, “Another typical characteristic of Barth which we must give attention is his sheer creative power, his ability to produce something new.” 6 Torrance likens Barth to Beethoven. Beethoven is a shocking composer who often merged together various themes which, at first, seem contradictory, but which ultimately enrich the whole symphony with a multi-faceted kind of beauty. Barth might not like this analogy (he preferred Mozart), but it aptly applies to Barth’s ability to create something shocking and beautiful in his Dogmatics. It takes a creative genius to do what Barth has done in the Church Dogmatics, and I doubt anyone who reads it with the care it demands would fail to see its genius.

Interestingly, Torrance writes here what he considers to be Barth’s main theological theme: “From first to last Barth’s main theme has been the turning of God in utter grace in incredible condescension to man to be man’s God, so that what we are concerned with in the Gospel is the sovereign togetherness of God with man and the exaltation of man to share in the divine life and love.” 7

I like that a lot! If I had to summarize what I have learned the most from Barth, personally and theologically, I couldn’t find a better summary than this.

#4 Joy

Torrance writes, “There is one other aspect of Barth, both as a man and as a theologian, which we must select for mention: his joy and his humour.” 8 One of my favorite quotes from Barth sums up this point well: “The theologian who labors without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.”

Torrance gives two examples of Barth’s joy and humor. First, he mentions Barth’s love of Mozart, and his elevating him to the status of “church father.” And second, Torrance notes a humorous comment from CD III/2, which says, “What a pity that none of these apologists consider it worthy of mention that man is apparently the only being accustomed to laugh and to smoke.” 9

Beyond these two points, Torrance notes that Barth writes with joy not because he is necessarily a joyful person, but because God is a God of supreme joy. It’s Barth’s doctrine of God, his enjoyment of the beauty and glory of God, which most establishes his joy as a theologian. Torrance calls Barth an exemplary theologian of the frui Deo, of the enjoyment of God. Joy is at the center of his theology, and anyone reading his work will find themselves confronted with the God of infinite joy.

Conclusions

There are a lot of theological insights we can learn from Barth, but Torrance reminds us that we can also learn from from how Barth practically lived and worked out his theology. Barth was not afraid of asking difficult questions, because God has first met us, at the core of our being, and questioned us in Jesus Christ. Barth was humble before the truth, and therefore willing to listen carefully to the testimony of the scriptures and to learn from other theologians. Barth was a creative genius, who worked tirelessly at constructing a new and innovative theology. Barth was a joyful and humorous person, because God is a joyful and humorous God.

In the spirit of Barth’s humanity, joy, and of his love for Mozart, I’ll leave you to enjoy three hours of Mozart’s Sonatas (or however long you want to listen). Cheers!

Like this article? Share it!

Notes:

  1. Torrance, Karl Barth, 19
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., 21
  4. Ibid., 22
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 22-23
  7. Ibid., 23
  8. Ibid.
  9. CD III/2, 83

Karl Barth on Tillich’s Systematic Theology

Paul Tillich on the cover of Time Magazine; March 16th, 1959

Paul Tillich on the cover of Time Magazine; March 16th, 1959

Paul Tillich is a theologian of interest for me, despite my partiality to Karl Barth. 1 Barth, Bultmann, and Tillich are often considered the three most influential names in 20th century theology (though I’d like to add TF Torrance to that list!), and so Tillich is certainly an important thinker worth reading and engaging with thoughtfully, if also critically.

Tillich interests me because I find his task commendable: to make theology, and God, relevant for the modern world. Tillich famously has said, “I hope for the day when everyone can speak again of God without embarrassment.” (Though I find his method in achieving this task less than commendable! Barth succeeds far more, in my opinion…) But I am also interested in Tillich because of his influence on modern theology. Tillich was an existentialist theologian whose insights have undoubtably helped many find the “courage to be”. But in a negative way many post-modern theologians have also drawn from Tillich’s thought, which at times borders on atheism. 2

I’ve read several of Tillich’s major books so far, including some of his sermons (The New Being), his famous Courage to Be, and his Dynamics of FaithI enjoyed The Courage to Be the most from these. But I have yet to dive into his three volume Systematic TheologyI am holding any definitive opinions about his theology until I’ve read this, as I’d recommend anyone do with any prominent thinker: be slow to make judgements and take up the important but slow task of reading and engaging with their work.

As a part of my interest in Tillich, I do plan to read his Systematic Theology, but first I am reading an analysis by one of Karl Barth’s students, Alexander J. McKelway; a doctoral dissertation under Barth’s guidance on his theology. His book The Systematic Theology of Paul Tillich looks very promising, but so far (I only began the book today) it has been particularly interesting to read Barth’s “Introductory Report”!

In this report Barth gives his own brief thoughts on Tillich’s theology, and asks some insightful questions  of his task which show quite well the differences between these two theological giants. So without any further introduction, here are some of Barth’s comments on Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology. 

Karl Barth on Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology

Karl Barth on the cover of Time Magazine; April 20th, 1962

Karl Barth on the cover of Time Magazine; April 20th, 1962

First Barth writes of the importance of engaging with a theologian thoughtfully, of not writing them off without ample and careful study.

“It was my great concern from the very beginning to restrain the students [in my classroom] from any immature or superficial critique of Tillich, and to require of them a careful examination of his underlying intention…” 3

Barth then commends McKelway in his efforts to this regard, that while he “reacts to the thought of Tillich with reservations and objections, he never simply rejects him.” 4 Saying further,

“Indeed, often enough [McKelway] expresses his appreciation for Tillich’s execution as such, for the breadth of his knowledge and interests, for the unfailing consistency of his thought, and for his great artistry which unfolds on every page. Tillich is not affirmed in this book, to be sure, but neither is he placed in some shadow; rather, he is brought to light as one who is in his own way a great theologian.5

What an incredible statement coming from Barth! These two men could not be any further apart in their theologies, but here Barth shows how respectful dialogue can take place between theologians, even amongst those who so passionately disagreed with each other.

I’ll be honest, I was shocked when I read this sentence. To hear Barth call Tillich a “great theologian” in his own way will certainly surprise anyone familiar with these two individuals and their work. But Barth does not stay in these positive spirits for long (though this fact does not discredit what he has said already). From here Barth begins to look at the content of Tillich’s Systematic Theology, especially Tillich’s (in)famous method of correlation, asking insightful questions to the validity of such a theology:

“Tillich’s methodology, already revealed in the title and concept of the system, proceeds in such a way that both successively and simultaneously the philosophical concepts of reason, being, existence, life, and history are set in correlation with the theological concepts of revelation, God, Christ, Spirit, and the Kingdom of God.

“The Problematic nature of this undertaking is obvious. Since Tillich’s theological answers are not only taken from the Bible, but with equal emphasis from church history, the history of culture generally, and the history of religion—and above all, since their meaning and placement is dependent upon their relation to philosophical questions—could not these answers be taken as philosophy just as well as (or better than?) they could be taken as theology? Will these theological answer allow themselves to be pressed into this scheme without suffering harm to what in any case is their biblical content? Is man with his philosophical questions, for Tillich, not more than simply the beginning point of the development of this whole method of correlation? Is he not, in that he himself knows which questions to ask, anticipating their correctness, and therefore already in possession of the answers and their consequences? Should not the theological answers be considered as more fundamental than the philosophical questions and as essentially superior to them? If they were so considered, then the question and answer would proceed, not from a philosophically understood subject to a ‘divine’ object, but rather from a theologically understood object (as the true Subject) to the human subject, and thus from Spirit to life, and from the Kingdom of God to history. Such a procedure would not actually destroy the concept of correlation, but would probably apply to is the biblical sense of ‘covenant.’ This application, however, is unknown in Tillich.” 6

The question, “Should not the theological answers be considered as more fundamental than the philosophical questions and as essentially superior to them?”, is perhaps the most critical difference between Karl Barth and Paul Tillich. Barth begins with God and works towards man, Tillich begins with man and his philosophical questions and works towards God. For Barth, this is a complete reversal of the entire task of theology! I found this question to be perhaps the best summary of why Barth takes issue with Tillich and the major differences in their theology; and it is also, in my brief and early understanding of Tillich, why I take preliminary issue with his theology (so far as I’ve read).

But I am excited to pull out the good in Tillich’s work from his Systematic Theology with help from McKelway’s analysis (endorsed by Barth!), though soon after by directly reading his work myself! If you’re are interested in Tillich and how a so-called “Barthian” might respond to his theology, I recommend you pick up this book. Once I’ve finished it I’m planning to write up more thoughts, but for now Barth’s introduction has provided plenty of food for thought!

For anyone interested in how these two men differ, here’s my advice (which someone first suggested to me when I asked about Tillich): in order to best glen the differences between these two men, read first Tillich’s sermon “You are Accepted”, and then immediately read Barth’s “Saved by Grace”. (You can read these online here and here.) Comparing these two sermons is perhaps the best way to see immediately how they differ in the practical act of preaching, because here we have an excellent example of how each of these two theologians understood the gospel.

Like this article? Share it!

Notes:

  1. Their theological projects are in some ways polar opposites!
  2. Some have argued that Tillich became an atheist himself, though that’s mostly to misunderstand his theology. See this article. Though he is also known to have rarely attended church or prayed. This fact is something truly difficult for me, personally, to overcome about Tillich.
  3. p. 11
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid pp. 12-13

Karl Barth on the Humanity of God

54549Karl Barth’s The Humanity of God was one of his first books I read. I loved it, but in retrospect I probably understood very little of it. So today I decided to read it once again, and since it’s a rather short book I’ve nearly read it all in one sitting! I’m reminded of all the reasons why I love the theology of Karl Barth as I read: not that Barth himself is the focus, but that I find myself time and time again drawn to worship God! That, for me, is the ultimate test for what “good” theology actually is.

I wanted to share a notable section from the book, probably it’s central part. It’s a rather long quote, followed by several shorter quotes to drive the point home and clarify what Barth is getting out. Here Barth is arguing what he refers to as the “humanity” of God, a rather difficult concept for those unfamiliar with Barth. But what he means by this is something I will simply let him explain for himself, though its worth noting how this is a development upon what Barth argues in CD IV/1 on the condescension of God in Jesus Christ and the exaltation of man in Jesus Christ (§59.1, “The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country”). If you’re looking for even further clarity into what Barth means, go read that section. It’s a revolutionary concept well worth taking the time to understand.

But without further ado, please enjoy! Bold text is mine for emphasis; italics are in the original.

(As a quick side-note: The Humanity of God is July’s free book of the month, which I always send to my Readers Group on the first of every month. When you’re a subscriber, every month you get a great free book, plus you get my book right away—Where Was Goda short and approachable introduction Moltmann’s theodicy! Don’t miss out! Sign up here.)


Who God is and what He is in His deity He proves and reveals not in a vacuum as a divine being-for-Himself, but, precisely and authentically in the fact that He exists, speaks, and acts as the partner of man, though of course as the absolutely superior partner. He who does that is the living God. And the freedom in which He does that is His deity. It is the deity which as such also has the character of humanity. In this and only in this form was—and still is—our view of the deity of God to be set in opposition to that earlier theology. There must be positive acceptance and not unconsidered rejection of the elements of truth, which one cannot possibly deny to it even if one sees all its weaknesses. It is precisely God’ deity which, rightly understood, includes his humanity.

“How do we come to know that? What permits and requires this statement? It is a Christological statement, or rather one grounded in and to be unfolded from Chrstology. […] In Jesus Christ, as He is attested in Holy Scripture, we are not dealing with man in the abstract: not with the man who is able with his modicum of religion and religious morality to be sufficient unto himself without God and thus himself to be God. But neither are we dealing with God in the abstract: not with one who in His deity exists only separated from man, distant and strange and thus non-human if no indeed an inhuman God. In Jesus Christ there is no isolation of man from God or of God from man. Rather, in Him we encounter the history, the dialogue, in which God and man meet together and are together, the reality of the covenant mutually contracted, preserved, and fulfilled by them. Jesus Christ is in His one Person, as true God, man’s loyal partner, and as true man, God’s. He is the Lord humbled for communion with man and likewise the Servant exalted to communion with God. He is the Word spoken from the loftiest, most luminous transcendence and likewise the Word heard in the deepest, darkest immanence. He is both, without their being confused but also without their being divided; He is wholly the one and wholly the other. Thus in this oneness Jesus Christ is the Mediator, the Reconciler, between God and man. Thus He comes forward to man on behalf of God calling for and awakening faith, love, and hope, and to God on behalf of man, representing man, making satisfaction and interceding. Thus He attests and guarantees to man God’s free grace and at the same time attests and guarantees to God man’s free gratitude. Thus He establishes in His Person the justice of God vis-a-vis man and also the justice of man before God. Thus He is in His Person the covenant in its fullness, the Kingdom of heaven which is at hand, in which God speaks and man hears, God gives and man receives, God commands and man obeys, God’s glory shines in the heights and thence into the depths, and peace on earth comes to pass among men in whom He is well pleased. Moreover, exactly in this way Jesus Christ, as this mediator and Reconciler between God and man, is also the Revealer of them both. We do not need to engage in a free-ranging investigation to seek out and construct who and what God truly is, and who and what man truly is, but only to read the truth about both where it resides, namely, in the fullness of their togetherness, their covenant which proclaims itself in Jesus Christ.

“Who and what God is—this is what in particular we have to learn better and with more precision in the new change of direction in the thinking and speaking of evangelical theology, which has become necessary in the light of the earlier change. But the question must be, who and what is God in Jesus Christ, if we here today would push forward to a better answer.” 1


“In Jesus Christ man’s freedom is wholly enclosed in the freedom of God.” 2

“God’s deity is thus no prison in which He can exist only in and for Himself. […] God’s deity does not exclude, but includes His humanity.” 3

“In Him [Jesus Christ] the fact is once for all established that God does not exist without man.” 4

“In this divinely free volition and election, in this sovereign decision (the ancients said, in His decree), God is human. His free affirmation of man, His free concern for him, His free substitution for him—this is God’s humanity.” 5

“If Jesus Christ is the Word of Truth, the ‘mirror of the fatherly heart of God,’ (Luther) then Nietzsche’s statement that man is something that must be overcome is an impudent lie.” 6

“On the basis of the eternal will of God we have to think of every human being, even the oddest, most villainous or miserable, as one to whom Jesus Christ is Brother and God is Father; and we have to deal with him on this assumption.” 7


Like this article? Share it!

Notes:

  1. The Humanity of God, John Knox Press, 1960, pp. 45-7
  2. P. 48
  3. P. 49
  4. P. 50
  5. P. 51
  6. P. 51-2
  7. P. 53

Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Book Review)

41VeAOoJsFL._SX296_BO1,204,203,200_I had the pleasure of reading Walter Wink’s short book Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way this weekend. It is on sale as a part of the Fortress Press eBook sale for only $3.99, so I figured it’s worth giving a try. I’ve heard of Walter Wink before, but this was my first time reading anything particular by him.

Since reading Brian Zahnd’s brilliant book A Farewell to Mars I’ve taken interest in the topic of nonviolence as an agent for social change. And Wink’s book, as I’ve now discovered, is a classic on the topic. I enjoyed reading it and found it to be refreshing.

The book is important in helping clarify, at least for me, the way nonviolence actually works. Brian Zahnd’s book was excellent in showing why violence is a problem (especially in America), but only briefly hinted towards a way forward. Walter Wink picks up almost immediately where Zahnd left off. He writes to show what nonviolence actually looks like and perhaps most importantly what it does not look like. It is not passive action, or neutrality. It is sometimes fierce and critical as an act of militant resistance. He shows, through the teachings of Jesus, what this “third way” is (Jesus’ way compared to passivity or violence).

I also really enjoyed how Wink uses an abundance of stories from around the world to show when nonviolence worked. He draws a lot from Martin Luther King Jr., but also from many other nonviolent revolutions from South America, Europe, India, and Africa.

The book definitely got me thinking more about nonviolence as a realistic means of social change. It helped me understand the particular way in which Jesus presented nonviolence. We often misunderstand him to be teaching a passive response, when in fact his third way was an active, though nonviolence, form of resistance.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in nonviolence. Especially if you think of nonviolence only as nice theory but an ineffective one in practice. This book proves quite well that nonviolence is the way forward for humanity and our movement away from injustice.

To give you a preview of the book, here are a few quotes I enjoyed:

Jesus did not tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. That would be absurd… A proper translation of Jesus’ teaching would then be, “Don’t strike back at evil (or, one who has done you evil) in kind.” “Do not retaliate against violence with violence.” The Scholars Version is brilliant: “Don’t react violently against the one who is evil.” Jesus was no less committed to opposing evil than the anti-Roman resistance fighters. The only difference was over the means to be used: how one should fight evil. There are three general responses to evil: (1) passivity, (2) violent opposition, and (3) the third way of militant nonviolence articulated by Jesus. 1

Jesus abhors both passivity and violence as responses to evil. 2

Loving confrontation can free both the oppressed from docility and the oppressor from sin. 3

Once we determine that Jesus’ Third Way in not a perfectionistic avoidance of violence but a creative struggle to restore the humanity of all parties in a dispute, the legalism that has surrounded this issue becomes unnecessary. 4

Love of enemies is the recognition that the enemy, too, is a child of God. 5

We identify someone else as evil and unconsciously project our own evil onto that person. 6

To be very frank with you, I don’t think that violence is Christian. Some may say that this is a reactionary position. But I think that the very essence of Christianity is the cross. It is through the cross that we will change. 7

Like this article? Share it!

Notes:

  1. pp. 10-11
  2. p. 13
  3. p. 26
  4. p. 51
  5. p. 59
  6. p. 79
  7. p. 85 (All quotation taken from the Fortress Press Kindle edition of 2003)

5 Great Quotes from CD I/1 (Karl Barth)

barth-reading-retouchedYesterday I finished reading Karl Barth’s first book (volume I/1) in his magnum opus The Church DogmaticsAnd as before, today I want to present a “summary” of this work in the form of five quotes taken from it. Though a summary is nearly impossible for Barth, due to the dense complexity of his thought. However, these quote are presented here with the hopes of giving a taste of the brilliance of this book. The main subject of this work is the Word of God. This includes Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity, the foundation of which Barth finds in the event of Revelation (a.k.a Jesus Christ).

Several things however have been exclude from this summary. These include the prolegomena (or introduction) Barth writes for the whole dogmatics, his doctrine of the “three-fold Word of God”, and finally his exposition of parts of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. These sections are highly complex in themselves and cannot possibly be summarized in a single quote, and for this reason they are excluded from this summary.

Essentially, therefore, all I present here is Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity, as it is worked out in terms of revelation. Barth saw revelation as the basis of the doctrine of the Trinity, and therefore understood the Triune God as the Revealer, the event of Revelation, and the effect of Revelation. Or, in other words, as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So without further ado, here are five great quotes from CD I/1 which present this doctrine: (All page numbers are from the Hendrickson version. Brackets are my comments.)

#1 “Revelation in fact does not differ from the person of Jesus Christ nor from the reconciliation accomplished in Him. To say revelation is to say ‘the Word became flesh’.” (P. 119)

#2 “God reveals Himself. He reveals Himself through Himself. He reveals Himself. If we really want to understand revelation in terms of its subject, i.e., God, then the first thing we have to realize is that this subject, God, the Revealer, is identical with His act in revelation and also identical with its effect.” (P. 296)

#3 “Thus it is God Himself, it is the same God in unimpaired unity, who according to the biblical understanding of revelation is the revealing God, the event of revelation and its effect on man.” (p. 299)

[or, in other words, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit]

#4 “The doctrine of the Trinity is what basically distinguishes the Christian doctrine of God as Christian…” (p. 301)

#5 “One may sum up the meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity briefly and simply by saying that God is the One who reveals Himself.” (p. 380)

Bonus quote: “We do the bible poor and unwelcome honor if we equate it directly with revelation itself.” (p. 112)

Like this article? Share it!

 

3 Reason to Read Theology (and Where to Start)

An-Open-Letter-to-Christian-TheologiansTheology has a bad reputation amongst Christians. While it’s a respected field, it also can seem like an impenetrable field reserved only elite scholars.

But Karl Barth once said that, “In the church of Jesus Christ there can and should be no non-theologians.” 

We’re all called to practice theology. Theology is not for the elite. So here are three reasons why you should read theology:

1. Theology is Worship

Jesus said to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.” (See Luke 10:27.) Theology is an act of worship.

As we disciple our minds and seek the truth we worship God because we place value on God. We apply “worth” to Him.

For me theology is one of the most devotional and personal forms of worship. To say that theology is not for you is to deny God your mind. God desires your intellect, and desires your intellectual pursuit of Him. Worship God with your mind! This is the essence of theology.

2. Theology is Challenging

Theology, as an intellectual pursuit, is a challenging pursuit. It requires you to wrestle with your ideas and beliefs. It puts stress on what you thought you once knew, testing everything. It’s challenging to welcome new ideas you’ve never thought into your world view. But it’s worth it.

Theology is hard. It is a discipline of the intellect. It will change the way you see the world, yourself, and your relation to God. But what good is your world view if it cannot stand up to a good shaking?

As theology challenges you, it grows you.

3. Theology is Practical

Theology is not just abstract thought games. Theology is practical. It has to power to change your life.

It may appear like a senseless act of repetition and detail, but don’t lose heart. Any journey into theology will eventually lead back to your every day life.

I began the journey to study theology about four years ago. It’s not been easy, and it still isn’t. It can be confusing, and disheartening. But at the end of the day I can say with certainty that studying theology has changed my life. It’s because there is some intrinsic power in theology itself. But because, like Jacob, wrestling with God is sometimes necessary. You may leave with a limp, but you’ll leave blessed. (See Gen 32:22-32)

Where to Start?

So where should you begin your journey? My favorite theologians are Karl Barth, Jurgen Moltmann, Thomas F Torrance, James B Torrance, C Baxter Kruger, and the early church fathers Athanasius and Ireneaus. From these theologians here are some good books to begin with, and where to go from there.

 

For Beginners:
Jesus and the Undoing of Adam, and The Shack Revisited by C. Baxter Kruger

Jesus Christ for Today’s World, and In the End—the Beginning by  Jurgen Moltmann

Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace by James B Torrance

On the Incarnation by Athanasius

Against Heresies book III by Ireneaus

Dogmatics in Outline, and Evangelical Theology by Karl Barth

Next Steps: 

The Mediation of Christ, and Christian Doctrine of God by Thomas F Torrance

Church Dogmatics II/2 and IV/1 by Karl Barth

The Trinity and the Kingdom and The Crucified God by Jurgen Moltmann

For more recommendations, check out 68 Books I Recommend

Like this article? Share it!

3 Amazing Truths About Jesus

Jesus is what God looks like. In Colossians 1:15 Paul writes that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.”

When we look at Jesus we are seeing what God is like. Which is a very profound thought.

If Jesus is what God looks like, then God is wildly different than we may have previously thought.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day thought they had God all figured out. So when Jesus declared His divinity, the Pharisees couldn’t stand for it. In their minds, Jesus was not acting like a proper God is supposed to act.

The life of Jesus is an ongoing reminder to me that I can never arrive in God. I will always be exploring, and discovering the depths of His greatness.

image-3God is bigger than we think, and He is certainly far better too.

Therefore, we should always seek to change the way we think about God. We are all on a journey.

When we look at what Jesus is like, we are seeing what God is like.

The profoundness of this is astounding. Here are three things Jesus did on earth that I find amazing.

1. Jesus hung out with the riffraff

Jesus spent a whole lot of time with the sinners, the tax collectors, and the losers of society. This greatly offended the religious leaders of His day. I love the way the Message Bible recounts their reaction:

“..The religion scholars and Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company and lit into his disciples: ‘What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?'” (Mark 2:16 MSG)

According to Jesus, God’s favorite people to hang around are losers, sinners, and riffraff.

I find it interesting that Jesus spent so much of His time on earth with these types of people.

To me this isn’t just an amazing fact, since I know that Jesus is what God looks like, but a profound revelation about God.

I was taught as a Christian growing up that God is deeply offended with our sin. But is that really true?

Christianity says that God is unable to look at our sin, but doesn’t the life of Jesus say otherwise

It has been said that God can’t even look at our sins, but doesn’t the life of Jesus clearly contradict that?

The life of Jesus does not reveal a God who is separate from sinners, and unable to look at their sin.

Nothing is further from the truth.

Instead, Jesus reveals a God who is present in the midst of sinners, and who actually prefers such a crowd!

The-Last-Supper-Da-Vinci-1495-98

2. Jesus healed the sick

It’s hard to find a single page out of the four Gospels that doesn’t record a miracle of Jesus. He spends much of His time going around healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons.

What does this tell us about God?

Well for starters, it tells us something profound about God’s relationship with pain.

For as long as I can remember, I have heard Christians teach that God gives sickness to teach us how to be better people.

But is that true?

According to Jesus it isn’t.

Jesus reveals a God who never causes sickness. And unless you can find me a verse that says otherwise, I will stick to this simple resolve:

God does not cause sickness.

The bible is bursting with stories of Jesus healing the sick. This is undeniable.

Which means that is what God is like. God is the God who heals sickness.

(For a more in depth look into God and His relationship with pain, check out my upcoming book “The God Who Solves Pain”.)

3. Jesus won by losing 

When we think about the almighty power of God tend to conjure up images of an unstoppable force that shoots lightening bolts, rains down fire, and moves mountains.

Jesus_Christ

Our understanding of the power of God often times looks more like Zeus, than Jesus.

But what does Jesus have to reveal about the power of God?

The ultimate triumph of Jesus, His greatest hit, is the cross. Which paradoxically is also His weakest moment.

When God set out to save the world He didn’t use the power of Zeus. He used the paradoxical power of Jesus.

He came and died a humiliating death. No other God in either mythology, or religion has ever done something like that.

It is a fact that is profound in it’s weirdness. What kind of a God does that?

In our minds, god’s don’t die.

But that’s what makes Jesus so profound. He wins the greatest triumph of all time by losing, dying, and laying completely dead in the grave.

We sometimes believe that God interacts with us through forcefulness, much like the mythical god Zeus. But here Jesus shows that Gods way of doing business is far more paradoxical.

He doesn’t use forcefulness to save the world. He uses weakness. Jesus becomes human, stoops low to save us, and dies a humiliating death. Paradoxical power is how God solves problems.

 

The life of Jesus is profound, and amazing. Through His incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension He reveals a God very unlike the god’s of our imagination.

What’s the conclusion then?

Is it true that God can’t look at sin? Or that God causes pain? Or that God is forceful in getting His way?

Amazingly, no. At least not according to Jesus.

Like this article? Help me expand my reach by sharing it: