Saturday, February 27, 2010

Theological Confusion.

I don't have much to report as I have slowly been trying to weave my way through the last section of 2.1 of the Church Dogmatics. One sentence struck me as especially powerful today. Here Barth is speaking of the "the Gratitude of Man" in relation to the possibility and reality of humanity being allowed to participate in God's revelation by obtaining true knowledge of Him:

"But this means, first of all, that does not have its necessity in itself; it does not happen on its own account; but it is evoked by an object. Nor does it have its necessity in us who do this work; we do it, not because we are forced by an inner compulsion or enabled by an inner desire, but because the demand for us to do it is imposed upon us from without, because God is God in His revelation, because it is His true revelation and because we are truly claimed by it. There is no other basis for the knowledge of God, for the undertaking of human viewing, conceiving and speaking in regard to Him. This undertaking has only this basis outside itself and outside ourselves." (CD, 2.1, 27.2.216)

The reason I continually appreciate Barth is that he has such a realistic understanding of humanity's existence in relation to the being of God. He realizes that without God's revelation, humanity would not possess an ounce of true knowledge about God (emphasis upon true). This corrective and needed truth is so essential for the Church today. Reading the Dogmatics is a constant reminder of my utter dependency upon God for any true knowledge of Him. As a philosophy major in undergraduate, this was a very radical concept for me to encounter (no pun intended! ... oh, man, I am so sad!).

Anyhow, I really wanted to write about my confusion regarding my current theological position(s):

-- I attend an Anglican Church (AMIA) in the city of Boston. I would like to be Presbyterian but I don't like the confines of most confessions. While I believe that the reformed tradition is most biblically accurate, I don't think it is an exegetical slam dunk. There are problem passages for my beliefs which lead me to hold my beliefs with humility and tension. Anything less leads to a fundamentalist attitude that I do not believe embodies the charitable spirit of Christ. As such, I like the freeing boundaries of the 39 articles and the book of common prayer. I need to be able to converse with those that do not hold my reformed beliefs - we both have Christ and as important as I think the reformed understanding of the gospel might be, I do not think it is some kind of requirement for salvation. This statement might seem to contradict what I am about to say next but it doesn't, I promise.

-- I am very reformed. I can not emphasize this enough. I believe that God is the efficient and sufficient cause regarding the doctrine of grace and the process of conversion. I don't think I could ever personally compromise on this belief unless Scripture led me to abandon such a position. To me, an Augustinian understanding of grace is the essence of the gospel. I know that is a radical statement, and I shouldn't even type that on this blog because I might get serious questions about what I just said and I might not still be able to defend it. But I think Luther was right - our will is in utter bondage and without God giving us the ability to choose Him, we will always choose death. We are dead in our transgressions.

-- I would say in some way that I am Barthian when it comes to natural theology, but I still haven't worked out my views of Scripture. I'd like to say I believe in the basic evangelical tenets of the doctrine of Scripture but I haven't given it enough thought and I won't just assent to a belief because it is evangelical or popular.

-- I no longer hold to a view of inclusivism like I did in the past. I have given up my flirtations with Rahner's understanding of the Anonymous Christian. It might be a hopeful desire of my heart for the unevangelized to be saved but I must remain agnostic on the issue. I don't find any warrant for such a belief in the text of Scripture.

-- I am a complimentarian. As much as I would like to say that my female friends who are seeking ordination are biblically sound, I can't find justification for it in the text. It would be pretty easy and more convenient for me, an overly opinionated, aggressive, and outspoken woman to be an egalitarian. I respect my fellow brothers and sisters that take this position. But I personally can't get on-board with this view of the gender. While I won't leave a Church because of female clergy, it does make me uncomfortable. This becomes a problem because I go to an Anglican Church and despite the fact that my pastor will not ordain women, the larger Anglican community doesn't find a problem with female ordination. However, more reformed traditions are so complimentarian that they will not allow women to be theology professors. I don't know what to do with this. Hence, I'm staying with the Anglican tradition.

-- I think the preaching of the Word of Christ is the single most essential aspect of the service. Even if you say the Eucharist is the climax of the service, historically the preaching of the Word has come before the breaking of bread because it prepares the heart of the individual to partake in His body and blood. I am at that point in my life where I believe that the preaching the Word is primary. This is difficult since the Eucharist is usually more valued above the homily within the Anglican tradition. Thankfully, my current pastor is truly a preacher of the Word. For this I am thankful.

With all of that said, I am somewhere in between Anglicanism and some reformed denomination. I find myself drawn to thinkers like John Webster, Bruce McCormack, Kevin Vanhoozer, JI Packer, Tim Keller, Alister McGrath, Richard Bauckham and I wonder what this says about my denominational sympathies. I think each of these men champions a type of theological orthodoxy while still maintaining a sense of humility and mystery regarding their beliefs. And I like that. So at this point, I have no idea where to go or what I would call myself. I know most do not find this important but I think categories and labels can be extremely helpful for interpretation and a deeper understanding of one's own beliefs. Call me modern, but I adore the freeing confines of theological categories.

I leave you with this awesome blurb from an interview from "The Christian Century" in 2008 with my theological hero, John Webster:

Karl Barth looms large in your writings. What aspects of his theology, or what accounts of his theology, do you especially seek to engage?

Barth's work is still in the process of reception (as might be expected from a corpus of texts of such range and depth). Many readings of him (especially hostile ones) are often not thoroughly acquainted with his work, and so tend to promote caricatures. I've tried to look at him whole, and to let him explicate himself before moving on to appraisal.


This post was more for me than for you, my faithful reader. Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Week One of the Church Dogmatics.

Disclaimer: This blog will be a stream of consciousness. Almost a diary of sorts. Please don't expect anything evenly remotely intelligent.

This week was the beginning. It was when the class was assigned to start reading the Church Dogmatics. After 3 books and multiple Barth essays later (in just 4 weeks), you think I'd be prepared for such a task. However, it has been painful. I have come to adore the fact that Barth repeats himself over and over and over again. For simple minds like myself, this is really helpful. He puts this dot on the page and takes you in this circle to explain the dot but eventually comes back to the original dot and also restates it in a different way. The part that makes me nauseous is the circular journey moving away from and back toward the original dot. But I see what he does it. This reading is sanctifying. Really, Barth loves the Lord. Everything that he writes is dependent upon the view that this is GOD we are talking about. This is GOD. The God who dwells in inapproachable light. That truth is intertwined in every sentence, phrase, and word. It makes me emotional at times, and at times it leads me to sit and worship. I never knew my mind could worship so deeply. This reading is sanctifying.

Sometimes I feel like I need to hide my excitement about Barth. I realize he isn't the most popular theologian in evangelicalism and the individuals who seem to adore him the most are also caught up in the post-liberal world of theology that couldn't be any less interesting to me. I want to take the Scriptures very seriously. I want to be faithful to the text and seek sound exegesis. However, I also want to go beyond that and talk about the implications, the conclusions, the logical connections, the synthetic statements that can be made about this God we worship in evangelicalism that sheer biblical exegesis can't offer. I need to zoom out from the page, from the one thread, to see the grand narrative, the whole beautiful tapestry of God's grace. I want the whole shabang! But that doesn't always sit well with people. Most think that if you go that far from the particular sentence in Scripture, you miss the trees for the forest. And if you go too far up, you won't even be able to see the page any longer. But can't you somehow take the page with you as you soar on the wings of synthesis?

Most would assume I'm pretty bias when it comes to Barth. Most people hear how I think he is cute (which is so true, ah, he is so endearing!) or how I rave about the beauty of his words. Most people read me quote him on facebook followed by a continual (!!!!!) and they roll their eyes and assume I have no objectivity whatsoever when it comes to this great theologian. They assume I can't see any of his faults, errors, or lack of objectivity. The reason I rarely ever discuss my issues with Barth is that I fear most people won't really take Barth on his own terms. We hear snippets about theologians (Augustine was obsessed with sex, Luther hated Jews, Calvin wanted everyone to burn in hell, etc.) and then we believe that we know exactly what they believe and exactly what they are going to say based on these small sound bites without bothering to read the theologians on their own terms. I will say that I am more guilty of this more than anyone else - especially when it comes to N.T. Wright. However, I will admit that if you do systematics enough, you can guess what a theologian will say based upon a particular doctrine. For example, I could make several prophetic statements about Wright's view of the law and justification based upon his theory of the atonement. And in some parts he was more nuanced than I expected but in most ways, he was right on point. Nothing is done in part, it is totally in unison with the whole. But I know that most people aren't talking about this when they make snide comments about Barth. I could only wish or pray for such. Most people hear he doesn't think Scripture is the Word of God - without fleshing out what that statement even truly means, mind you! - and therefore, he isn't evangelical in the modern American sense of the word so he can say nothing to me of value. Only a few public evangelicals have said anything nearly as bold and explicit as what I just outlined. But if people were honest, that is what they think. And you know, I can't blame them. So much of our theology is just another idol to comfort us in light of the reality that we have no control over anything.

But anyhow, rant! Sorry. I have issues with Barth. To be honest, I continually fear that he is a horrible exegete (see the Epistle to the Romans - I honestly forgot at one point that he was talking about the book of Romans). More, I fear he doesn't even have the same desire that most evangelicals do to be utterly faithful to the text. I fear he is sheerly a product of his time period, totally in reaction to the liberal methodology that nearly saw the death of Christianity in the 19th century. I see this in his writings on the German Church struggle - why wasn't he more outspoken against the Aryan doctrines of the German Church in 1932 to 1934? Why didn't he rebuke them openly and have the courage to shut down such antibiblical ideas? Why was he always writing more about his theological agenda than the most urgent issue at hand? Granted, he wrote those articles in 1932-1934, not 1945. As my professor stated, it is easy to point the finger in hindsight. But still, I expected more of such a brilliant mind.

And then we have those forbidden doctrines - universal election, the doctrine of the Trinity before Scripture, the absolute no to natural theology, the focus upon Christ to a default. I wonder if this is just a theological agenda and not a true grappling with the text. Is he asking the right questions? Is he asking questions that are fair of the text? Is he taking the historical settings of and influences upon the text seriously? Does he, as a theologian, have this duty in the first place? Is he wrongfully presupposing ideas about God? about methodology? about the task of theology?

Despite the sheer beauty found in his pages, these fears linger. Perhaps I'll be able to let them go so I can enjoy the experience.