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Posts Tagged ‘Barth’

What do I know but…

CALVIN:  Above all we must recognize that God stoops to reveal Himself.

BARTH:  Above all we must recognize that God stoops to reveal Himself.

CALVIN:  No but it’s a stooping revelation.

BARTH:  Yes but it’s a stooping revelation.

CALVIN:  But what we see is God in His condescension.

BARTH:  Amen!  We see God in His condescension.

CALVIN:  But we can’t know God except that He accommodates Himself to us.

BARTH:  Yes but we do know God as the One who accommodates Himself to us.

CALVIN:  In all humility we cannot presume to know God apart from His condescension.

BARTH:  In all humility we cannot presume that God is any other than the One who condescends.

CALVIN:  No but when He condescends He clothes Himself in a character foreign to Himself. (see here or here)

BARTH:  … And how do we know that it’s foreign to Himself?

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By the way, I love em both.  I love Calvin when he sounds like Barth and Barth when he sounds like Calvin.  But on this issue – if I’ve understood them both (which I may not have!) – I’m with Karl.

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Recently I quoted Dick Lucas on the duty of preachers to be waiters not chefs.  We don’t cook up its material, we serve it up.  Thus…

The Bible is not asking us to interpret it. The Bible is an interpretation.

Some might wonder at that statement.  Surely we’re always interpreting. Isn’t that what Kant taught us?

Well it’s interesting what Barth has to say about interpretation.  He sometimes gets tarred with a Kantian brush (bizarrely in my opinion).  But just listen to him blow away that kind of dualism in his Romans commentary:

Preface to First Edition:  ‘Paul, as a child of his age, addressed his contemporaries. It is, however, far more important that, as Prophet and Apostle of the Kingdom of God, he veritably speaks to all men of every age. The differences between then and now, there and here, no doubt require careful investigation and consideration. But the purpose of such investigation can only be to demonstrate that these differences are, in fact, purely trivial. The historical-critical method of Biblical investigation has its rightful place: it is concerned with the preparation of the intelligence – and this can never be superfluous. But were I driven to choose between it and the venerable doctrine of Inspiration, I should without hesitation adopt the latter, which has a broader, deeper, more important justification. The doctrine of Inspiration is concerned with the labour of apprehending, without which no technical equipment, however complete, is of any use whatever. Fortunately I am not compelled to choose between the two. Nevertheless, my whole energy of interpreting has been expended in an endeavour to see through and beyond history into the spirit of the Bible, which is the Eternal Spirit. What was once of grave importance, is so still. What is today of grave importance – and not merely crotchety and incidental – stands in direct connection with that ancient gravity. If we rightly understand ourselves, our problems are the problems of Paul; and if we be enlightened by the brightness of his answers, those answers must be ours.”

Preface to Second Edition:  ‘By genuine understanding I mean that creative energy which Luther exercised with intuitive certainty in his exegesis; which underlies the systematic interpretation of Calvin…How energetically Calvin, having first established what stands in the text, sets himself to re-think the whole material and to wrestle with it, till the walls which separate the sixteenth century from the first become transparent! Paul speaks, and the man of the sixteenth century hears. The conversation between the original record and the reader moves round the subject-matter until a distinction between yesterday and today becomes impossible. If a man persuades himself that Calvin’s method can be dismissed with the old-fashioned motto, ‘The Compulsion of Inspiration’, he betrays himself as one who has never worked upon the interpretation of Scripture. Taking Julicher’s work as typical of much modern exegesis, we observe how closely he keeps to the mere deciphering of words as though they were runes. But, when all is done, they still remain largely unintelligible. How quick he is, without any real struggling with the raw material of the Epistle, to dismiss this or that difficult passage as simply a peculiar doctrine or opinion of Paul! How quick he is to treat a matter as explained, when it is said to belong to the religious thought, feeling, experience, conscience or conviction – of Paul!’

Preface to Third Edition:  ‘The commentator is thus presented with a clear ‘Either – Or’. The question is whether or no he is to place himself in a relation to his author of utter loyalty. Is he to read him, determined to follow him to the very last word, wholly aware of what he is doing, and assuming that the author also knew what he was doing? Loyalty surely cannot end at a particular point, and certainly cannot be exhausted by an exposure of the author’s literary affinities. Anything short of utter loyalty means a commentary ON Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, not a commentary so far as is possible WITH him – even to his last word.’

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Unlike the scuttling basements of many a blog page, the comments section of Christ the Truth is its most redeeming feature.  For those who only get the RSS feed you are missing out.

I thought I’d give you excerpts from some of Paul Blackham’s comments which would otherwise languish in the blog’s underbelly.

Jesus – centre of all reality
…what if Jesus actually IS God? What if the prayer/holiness/sovereignty stuff is actually all about our relationship with LORD Jesus? What if Jesus is not the agent but the content, the substance and all these other things are ‘agents’ for Him? What if Jesus is the centre and substance of every creature’s relation to the Living God? What if the LORD God of the Scriptures is Jesus?…

Jesus – centre of our Doctrine of God
…what would happen if all the attribute/substance stuff was only described in a Trinitarian context? What if Jesus was allowed to be the centre and soul of the doctrine of God? Ok, I know that is just fantasy and it will never happen…. but wouldn’t it be amazing if Jesus was really taken that seriously!!!…

Jesus – centre of the Scriptures
…If the Bible reveals the Living God then it just has to be deeply connected to Jesus. The more I go on and realise just how completely Jesus surrounds us in creation then it makes more and more sense that He is present in the Scripture in a much deeper way than is often described. Too often the doctrines of Scripture spend all the time working at issues of inerrancy, when that might come a lot easier if the Bible is seen as the ever-living presence/clothing of Jesus…

Changing the world through love
…the ancient Christians changed the world when their gospel living, their sheer ‘unreasonable’ love for Jesus was so intense and so ‘impractical’ that it could not be ignored. By trusting the Spirit and obeying Jesus even when it seems impossible or foolish… By trusting the Spirit to really change the world to the pattern of Jesus… we aim for something much more than a re-adjustment of the furniture on the sinking ship… we join Jesus in aiming for a really new world where sorrow, injustice and death are illegal and impossible…

On Apologetics
…if we are trying to render the ‘concept of god’ as reasonable or if we are trying to ‘demonstrate’ that the Bible is the Word of God or if we are deploying philosophical arguments that never end up with ‘ergo, Jesus is the glory of God, the eternal Son of the Father’… then we are obviously trusting in the flesh. Of course we want to believe that if only we work hard enough or organise well enough or develop the best campaign or get the new ‘technique’ then we don’t really need to fast and pray, we don’t need to follow Jesus in sheer dependence on the Spirit on the way to crucifixion. Yet, the truth is that when the apostle Peter spoke of giving an apologia, he did so in a letter that consistently argues that the glory comes after suffering, that we will be thought strange for the way we live, that we should be living such good lives that people ask us about Jesus…

On engaging atheists
…The great temptation is to want to be ‘reasonable’ – i.e. to find a non-’religious’ foundation that will show us to be wise and the atheist to be foolish. The only foundation is Jesus. He is why we believe in God…

God’s glory – not the glory of Allah
…It is not arbitrary to say that God’s glory is His grace – because the apostle John makes it so very clear that God’s eternal glory is manifested at the Cross. The specific words of Jesus concerning His own glory have to be our starting point here. My most common conversation partners in theology these days are various Islamic theologians [especially those amazing guys from the 8th/9th centuries] – and their understanding of the transcendant glory of Allah is really serious. If you really want an exaltation of divine glory that is utterly, utterly opposed to human autonomy/glory then those are the guys you really want to be reading. However, is that what the Living God Himself said about glory when He walked among us? Where did He say that His glory was to be seen? Is the glory of Allah substantially different than the glory of the Trinity?…

On Christ Alone
Matthew 11:25-3o – Everything is in the hands of Jesus – whether revelation or redemption. We can know nothing of any god other than what Jesus chooses to tell us. How do we know that there is a Father other than what Jesus tells us? How can we prove the deity of the Father other than through Jesus? How can we find rest for our souls other than through Jesus?

Recently we were challenged to ‘get serious with god’ over the summer… but Jesus wasn’t mentioned. I imagined a follower of Odin heading home to get on his viking helmet and wielding his battle-axe with more passion and commitment or a follower of Baal putting aside his tiredness and heading out for some serious immorality after work.

If we are not dealing with Jesus then does it matter whether we get serious with Odin or Ra or Vishnu or Artemis or Allah or the Prime Mover.

Christ alone… in all the Scriptures… or else why bother at all?

On the Enlightenment
I think the Enlightenment brought a re-structuring of European thought generally – from specifics to universals. Think of the contrast between John Owen and John Wesley. Both are such amazing Christians, but they live on different sides of the Enlightenment fence. Wesley is a ‘global’ or universal man, thinking of a truth for all humanity. Think of the way that Wesley relates to the empiricist philosophers of his day, whereas Owen is related to a much older philosophical world. Wesley is ‘modern’ in a way that could never be said of Owen. Owen was still thinking in that more ancient mode where the universal vision was very much at the edge of his thinking… or perhaps it is more to do with the ‘universal’ being at the edge of ‘feeling’ rather than ‘thinking’. Wesley traveled around the world, around his global parish – but the Puritans didn’t really feel that need.

Is it possible for us to have the global heart of Wesley while rejecting the Enlightenment ‘objectivity’ that feels so shocked that we are condemned sinners? Of course, the very last thing we want is to dig up a scholastic zombie as if the missing ingredient is more Aristotle!

Jesus Himself, of course, is the glorious solution – a great love for everybody He meets but without that ‘objectifying’ train of Enlightenment thinking. He faces the chaos and suffering without any of the self-pity or bitterness… yet joy and hope pour out of Him. Glory! What a mess we make of our thinking and feeling… and we only realise what a mess we make as we look at His glory and maturity!

Sex
This is important. I’ve been reading some of the books and sermons on sex/virginity from the early centuries after the apostles. The contrast with especially modern evangelical thought is shocking. Today, in the church community almost as much as outside, sex is something to be simply ‘celebrated’ and enjoyed – and there are plenty of Christian sex manuals etc etc. Sex problems are seen as resolved through better techniques or losing repression or ‘communication’. The idea that a closer relationship with Jesus might be helpful is not a common solution. Of course, when the most intense experience of intimacy in the culture is ‘mind-blowing sex’… then of course sex is seen as an end in itself. To celebrate sex is seen as a big enough goal in itself and why shouldn’t the Bible be forced to have such a limited horizon? The deep damage that this kind of attitude has for single and LGBT Christians is frightening. How can we really hold sexual practice up as the most intense relationship/intimacy, constantly trying to pair everybody up, and also pretend to be so shocked when single and LGBT Christians believe the hype?

…The best sex help we can offer is to remind us/seduce us back to the Divine Romance. That is the full and complete and ultimate human experience of intimacy… and from that ecstasy we do begin to see both the joys and sorrows of our fallen human sexuality… not in hopeless frustration or obsession, but as a grace given to some of us in order to lead us to our true Spouse.

On Song of Songs as a love triangle
I think that there are two men after the bride – the wealthy and powerful king with his many lovers and the humble, rural Shepherd who has eyes only for His love. The bride is caught up into the king’s seduction/power… but her heart is always really for her true Love. Will she be one of many in the glittering palace… or will she be the ‘one, true love’ out on the mountains, in the shepherd’s home?…

On biblical masculinity
…think of the different kinds of men within the Bible. Would artistic, multi-media Ezekiel spend his free-time with Jehu?

Who is the proper man – Esau or Jacob, Cain or Abel, Joseph with his fancy clothes and fear of ‘sex’ or Judah with fairly ‘relaxed’ view of what’s on offer sexually speaking? Would bi-polar, zealous Elijah fit well with the very reliable/stable Daniel?

David himself is such a complex character. On the one hand he is a sorry figure, hunched over his roof-top porn… setting a destructive example to his sons… yet on the other hand he is capable of such profound and deeply masculine expression in the psalms; tremendous integrity and courage before Saul and Goliath.. but cowardice and stupidity before the Philistine king; passion for the LORD Jesus when enacting the ascension in transporting the ark, but the seedy and humiliating “hot-water bottle” of the latter years.

On Calvin and Barth
…Calvin begins with the utterly transcendent God before the world began… whereas Barth wants to always begin with the actual point of contact, the one mediator, Jesus Christ. I find that both theologians lead me to worship.. reading them both is like walking into a grand cathedral. Calvin carries me away to eternity, to divine counsels and the being of god in a more classical sense. Barth confronts me with the Word of God, Jesus Christ, here and now.

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CALVIN:  Above all we must recognize that God stoops to reveal Himself.

BARTH:  Above all we must recognize that God stoops to reveal Himself.

CALVIN:  No but it’s a stooping revelation.

BARTH:  Yes but it’s a stooping revelation.

CALVIN:  But what we see is God in His condescension.

BARTH:  Amen!  We see God in His condescension.

CALVIN:  But we can’t know God except that He accommodates Himself to us.

BARTH:  Yes but we do know God as the One who accommodates Himself to us.

CALVIN:  In all humility we cannot presume to know God apart from His condescension.

BARTH:  In all humility we cannot presume that God is any other than the One who condescends.

CALVIN:  No but when He condescends He clothes Himself in a character foreign to Himself.

BARTH:  … And how do we know that it’s foreign to Himself?

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Who do you like in this battle of the reformed giants?

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What do you see when you look up?

This?

or this:

ht Mark Meynell

A theological revolution occured early last century when Karl Barth turned from his liberal protestant heritage to jump with both feet into “the strange new world of the bible” (the title of an early book of his).

Have you jumped in, or only dipped your toe?  It’s a very hard thing to do.

It’s so hard, you might just need Mike Reeves, Michael Ward and CS Lewis as guides.  So if you haven’t listened to this brilliant podcast – do so forthwith.

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Here’s a great post on Christmas preaching.  Three points Barth emphasized about Christmas.

I’ll summarize them in my own way, but read the original:

1) The inclusion of Bethlehem, Caesar Augustus, and Quirinius in the Christmas narrative reminds us that this not a myth, a legend, or fairy tale, nor even a morality tale of “peace and goodwill to all men.

We don’t preach Christmas spirit but concrete fact, in the town of David a Saviour is born.  We must embrace the scandal of particularity.

2) Not only is Christmas a mystery of God with us, it is a miracle of God with us.

This is the in-breaking of God into the world.  A surprising and earth-shattering personal presence.

3) “The message of Christmas already includes within itself the message of Good Friday.” (CD II/2, 122.)

The crib and the cross are cut from the same piece of wood.

Read the whole thing here.

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Karl Barth died 41 years ago today.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes from him:

On his own theology:

My whole theology, you see, is fundamentally a theology for parsons. It grew out of my own situation when I had to teach and preach and counsel a little. (From a radio broadcast made shortly before Barth’s death. Quoted from William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching, Abingdon Press, 2006.)

On the reason for theology:

The normal and central fact with which dogmatics has to do is, very simply, the Church’s Sunday sermon of yesterday and to-morrow, and so it will continue to be.” (Church Dogmatics I/1, p91)

On theological method

Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death.  (Article 1 of the Barmen Declaration)


On the bible:

“The Bible says all sorts of things, certainly; but in all this multiplicity and variety, it says in truth only one thing – just this: the name of Jesus Christ… The Bible becomes clear when it is clear that is says this one thing… The Bible remains dark to us if we do not hear in it this sovereign name… Interpretation stands in the service of the clarity which the Bible as God’s Word makes for itself; and we can properly interpret the Bible, in whole or part, only when we perceive and show that what it says is said from the point of view of that… name of Jesus Christ.”  (Church Dogmatics I/2, p720)

At bottom, the Church is in the world only with a book in its hands. We have no other possibility to bear witness except to explain this book.” (God in Action, p107-8)

On creation and covenant

Creation is the outward basis of the covenant and the covenant is the inward basis of creation.  (Church Dogmatics III/1, ch41)

On church:

The essence of the Church is proclamation.  (Homiletics, p40)

On the Christian life:

“Ye shall be witnesses unto me” (Acts 1:8) – this is enough for the one to whom Christ speaks and who has heard Him. Whether strong or weak, willing or unwilling, successful or unsuccessful, the Christian is a witness, irrespective of whether the miracle occurs, or whether it occurs visibly or invisibly. In all circumstances and with the whole of his existence he is a responsible witness of the Word of God. He is called to be this. As such he is set at the side of God in the world, and therefore set over against the world.’ (Church Dogmatics IV/3, p609)

On proofs for God:

Note well: in the whole Bible of the Old and New Testaments not the slightest attempt is ever made to prove God. This attempt has always been made only outside the biblical view of God, and only where it has been forgotten with whom we have to do, when we speak of God. What sort of attempts were they, after all, where the attempt was make to prove a perfect Being alongside imperfect ones? Or from the existence of the world to prove the ordering Power? Or the moral proof of God from the face of man’s conscience? I will not enter into these proofs of God. I don’t know whether you can at once see the humour and the fragility of these proofs. These proofs may avail for the alleged gods; if it were my task to make you acquainted with these allegedly supreme beings, I would occupy myself with the five famous proofs of God. In the Bible there is no such argumentation; the Bible simply speaks of God simply as of One who needs no proof. It speaks of a God who proves Himself on every hand: Here I am, and since I am and live and act it is superfluous that I should be proved. On the basis of this divine self-proof the prophets and apostles speak. In the Christian Church there can be no speaking about God in any other way. God has not the slightest need for our proofs. (Dogmatics in Outline, 38)

On apologetics:

The great danger of apologetics is “the domesticating of revelation… the process of making the Gospel respectable. When the Gospel is offered to man, and he stretches out his hand to receive it and takes it into his hand, an acute danger arises which is greater than the danger that he may not understand it and angrily reject it. The danger is that he may accept it and peacefully and at once make himself its lord and possessor, thus rendering it inoccuous, making that which chooses him something which he himself has chosen, which therefore comes to stand as such alongside all the other things that he can also choose, and therefore control.” (Church Dogmatics II/1, p141)

On assurance (this is perhaps my favourite Barth quote):

“We might imagine the conversation…  The man to whom [the Word of grace is spoken] thinks and says that he is not this new, peaceful, joyful man living in fellowship. He asks leave honestly to admit that he does not know this man, or at least himself as this man.

The Word of grace replies: ‘All honour to your honesty, but my truth transcends it. Allow yourself, therefore, to be told in all truth and on the most solid grounds what you do not know, namely, that you are this man in spite of what you think.’

Man: ‘ You think that I can and should become this man in the course of time? But I do not have sufficient confidence in myself to believe this. Knowing myself, I shall never become this man.’

The Word of grace: ‘You do well not to have confidence in yourself. But the point is not that you can and should become this man. What I am telling you is that, as I know you, you already are.’

Man: ‘I understand that you mean this eschatologically. You are referring to the man I perhaps will be one day in some not very clearly known transfiguration in a distant eternity. If only I had attained to this! And if only I could be certain that even then I should be this new man!’

The Word of grace: ‘You need to understand both yourself and me better than you do. I am not inviting you to speculate about your being in eternity, but to receive and ponder the news that here and now you begin to be the new man, and are already that which you will be eternally.’

Man: ‘How can I accept this news? On what guarantee can I make bold to take is seriously?’

The Word of grace: ‘I, Jesus Christ, am the One who speaks to you. You are what you are in Me, as I will to be in you. Hold fast to Me. I am your guarantee. My boldness is yours. With this boldness dare to be what you are?’

Man: ‘I certainly hear the message, but…’

In this perplexed and startled ‘but’ we see the attack, and who it is that is attacked.” (Church Dogmatics, V/2, p250)

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Do you have a favourite Barth quote?  Why not leave it in comments.

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“My whole theology, you see, is fundamentally a theology for parsons.  It grew out of my own situation when I had to teach and preach and counsel a little.

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