Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Theologia Crucis.

I didn't always understand the hype of the photo above. I am embarrassed to admit that when I was initially introduced to this photo in my first theology class, I did not understand why my professor made such a fuss about it. He kept talking about how in this photo, God is most fully revealed yet at the same time God is profoundly hidden. He started preaching rather dramatically about those who observe Jesus Christ on a cross and exclaim "this is your God! He is dead! He has been conquered by the world, murdered by His accusers! What kind of God is this that you pledge allegiance to Him?" In my own sense of self-righteousness, I at once felt incredibly pleased with the fact that I knew that the true God was fully revealed here in the cross. Only the proud and ignorant can not see that this is God most glorified. This is where the Savior of the world defeated the power of Satan and bore the sins of the world as the lamb of God! I am a Christian! See me!

It would take three years to realize that I barely understand this painting or the truth found therein.

Let me explain. As someone who loosely identifies with the Reformed tradition, I believe it is important to have a high view of God's transcendence and sovereignty. This became all the more apparent when I took the Karl Barth seminar at HDS. I remember presenting my paper on the doctrine of election during my week to speak before the class. I specifically discussed Barth's extensive coverage of the historical intricacies between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. To my relief, Barth ended up on the side of supralapsarianism but he took a lot of the sting out of the traditional formulation. There was another student in the class who objected to Barth's sympathies with a (revised) version of supralapsarianism. As he began to argue continually for the importance of infralapsarianism, I realized that the problem of evil was subtly lurking in his mind. And he came to a point where he expressed reservations that anything more (less?) than infralapsarianism leads into some type of monism. Therefore, there can not be any genuine speech about the life and choices of Jesus Christ. And even worse, there was never anything at stake with the cross. Holy Saturday does not serve as any type of anxiety or questioning since there was never any other possibility except for resurrection Sunday. I was immediately offended in some sense by his suggestions. With my compatibilist sympathies, I responded by asking "does this mean that we have to believe that Jesus had the power of contrary choice in order to make sense of his suffering, temptation, and prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane? Surely not! What would that mean? Jesus Christ has the power to choose that which is not according to God's will? How is that even a genuine possibility for Jesus Christ, as fully God, to chose anything but that which is according to the character of God? If He could, that means that the Son would be able to rebel against the Father and the Trinity itself would be in opposition and then God would contradict God and everything would cease to exist and fall into infinite nothingness! Is that really what we want to say?" To this day, I am unsure what he would have said as a response since my professor took over the conversation and added something else that was more pressing to the specific section of the reading. But it really bothered me that someone would suggest that God's sovereignty need be tempted in order to rescue some sort of authenticity.

I say all of this because I realized how much I have changed since that moment in seminar. Today, I came across Jeremy's post regarding the tension found within the Incarnation and the cross of Christ (by the way, Jeremy has been and continues to be one of the best theological bloggers on the web - read him often). While I might not agree with his overall inclinations to ultimately go beyond Barth, I appreciate his questions more than I can say. I looked up the passage in the CD which he quotes and was amused to find it underlined with question marks in the margins. Here Barth discusses the tension between the sovereignty and transcendence of God in Godself and the lowliness and weakness of God in Christ:
The incarnation of the Word, the human being of God, His condescension, His way into the far country, His existence in the forma servi, is something which we can understand - this is (or appears to be) the first alternative - by supposing that in it we have to do with a novum mysterium (in the strict and literal sense of the expression of Melito of Sardis), with what is noetically and logically and absolute paradox, with what is ontologically the fact of a cleft or rift or gulf in God Himself, between His being and essence in Himself and His activity and work as the Reconciler of the world created by Him. It therefore pleased Him in this latter, for the redemption of the world, not to alter Himself, but to deny the immutability of His being, His divine nature, to be in discontinuity with Himself, to be against Himself, to set Himself in self-contradiction. In Himself He was still the omnipresent, almighty, eternal and glorious One, the All-Holy and All-Righteous who could not be tempted. But at the same time among us and for us He was quite different, not omnipresent and eternal but limited in time and space, not almighty but impotent, not glorious but lowly, and open to radical and total attack in respect of His righteousness and holiness. His identity with Himself consisted strictly in His determination to be God, our God, the Reconciler of the world, in this inner and outer antithesis to Himself. The quo iure, the possibility of the incarnation, of His becoming man, consisted in this determination of God to be "God against God," in His free will to be this, in His fathomless mercy as the meaning and purpose of that will.

- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV.1, 184, emphasis added.

When I first read this passage, I was incredibly adverse to any sentiments that there was any type of tension concerning the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and the divinity of God. Any such genuine tension would mean that God is not the God who I believe He must be in order to be worshipped. He is the God that you behold and scoff at and think, "this is your God!?" In a very profound way, I realized when I reread this passage that the God revealed in the cross and in the painting above really is the God that does not accord with the deepest expectations of humanity. He is a God that offends us if we witness Him most fully revealed. And even in His revealedness, He remains hidden continually. I wonder if I could ever truly claim to believe that God is revealed in the cross beyond some emotional sentiment that I had when I thought about Him suffering for me. I continually refused to see the identity of God in the suffering and humility of Jesus. The experience of the crucifixion was sheerly a utilitarian means to accomplish the ends of my salvation.

But then I find that I also experience the opposite offense in HDS classes through the apophatic theology found through the Early Christian Fathers Eastern Tradition class last semester and Negative Theology class this semester. I wrote these hesitations before but I will explain again because the same assumptions were reinforced in class yesterday. In apophatic theology, there is the idea that God is so incredibly transcendent, and therefore He is epistemologically unknowable for the human person. The only way to truly have any sort of genuine communion with God is through a spiritual experience through the various theories of language or meditation. Obviously this is a gross oversimplification, but the fact remains that within apophatic theology the line between the infinite (God) and the finite (humanity) is strict and is never overcome. One of my professors in Negative Theology yesterday gave a lecture about the negative theology of Anselm found within his understanding and use of language. It was a rather obscure lecture but he drew a diagram on the board and drew a line between the Divine with the term Infinite next to it and then the object with the term finite next to it. The two realms never meet. A student promptly asked if such a divide is putting unwarranted limitations upon the Godhead and telling God what is possible for Godself. The professor responded by saying that he is simply holding to the traditional understanding that God can not do anything that is self-contradictory. Therefore, God can not in any way step into the finite so to speak since this would contradict His very being and he would argue that Anselm is operating from the same understanding. But I immediately was offended by these human-imposed standards since I immediately wanted to ask him how this particular position makes sense of the Incarnation. In Jesus Christ, God becomes objective revelation when He chooses to unite Himself to human flesh. Post council of Nicaea, I do not understand how the Christian tradition can genuinely believe that God is epistemologically transcendent since He has fully revealed Himself in the human person of Jesus Christ. Even though God is always in control of the knowing event as the Subject of revelation, He truly became an object of knowledge. It seems that under this mindset of apophaticism, God is not truly and fully present nor revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So I find myself in this constant state of tension between offense when some want to have a robust sense of God's weakness and lowliness in the Incarnation and death of Jesus Christ. But I also find myself offended by those who champion God's transcendence at the expense of recognizing that which has been radically accomplished in the person and work of Jesus Christ. God is so transcendent that He has the freedom to determine to be the God for us. I am surprised to say that at this point in my theological development, I am more troubled by apophatic theological assumptions than by any understanding that speaks of God's lowliness and tension within Godself. But unlike Jeremy, I am satisfied to some extent that Barth stops where he does. I realize that this is a very crude example but it will serve my purposes: if God were truly able to "die" as Jeremy says, then this would mean that God is changed by His creation. If I have a disease and go to see a doctor for treatment, I don't expect the doctor to transmit the disease himself in order to believe that such a doctor is worthy of claiming the title or earn the label of "compassionate." Rather, I want the doctor to act in compassion by remaining healthy and treating my disease. Unless he remains free from disease, my doctor is not free to treat me. In this very pathetic example, I see the same principle applies to God - how can he rescue humanity from the death that comes through evil and sin if He dies in Himself? If we go beyond the tension and say that God dies within Godself, are we sacrificing the hiddenness of God in the cross?

But one thing is for sure. The truth revealed in the painting above demands a theologia crucis that God is glorified in His lowliness and suffering, not compromised because of it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Revelation as Miracle

"Theology, which is itself contingent on faith and proclamation while it is a human activity, is, Barth urges, one which is only possible at all because God has first spoken and given himself to be known: 'Theologians are people who speak about God' (GD, p. 46). But they dare (and find themselves compelled) to do so precisely and only because of this prior divine address apart from which knowledge of and speech about God is an impossibility for humans. Again, this must be seen as an a posteriori judgment: there are plenty of people who speak about 'God' and sense no presumption in doing so; but for the person who actually knows God, who has been drawn into the circle of God's presence, who has some sense of the reality to whom the word 'God' properly refers, the paradoxical impossibility and necessity of human speech about God is all too apparent."
- Trevor Hart, "Revelation" in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, 41.

This week at the Anglican Writer's Block, I am assigned to write a blog entry concerning the doctrine of revelation for the current series entitled "Dogmatics in Dialogue." I must confess that the task of writing about the doctrine of revelation is quite burdensome and overwhelming especially when such a goal is coupled with the desire to write in a way that is accessible to the laity. I have been thinking about the various issues that surround the doctrine and decided that the two most pressing questions are these: what is the doctrine of revelation? and why is the doctrine of revelation essential for the dogmatic task? In attempting to answer both questions, I am continually struck by the reality that the event of revelation is truly nothing short of a miracle. The impossible reality of creaturely knowledge concerning God becoming a reality within the life of the Church is cause for worship and adoration. The event of God's full self-disclosure in the person of Jesus Christ and the continual unfolding of His self-disclosure within the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit is the essence of the Christian life. Let's see if I can communicate all of that successfully.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

New England Anglican Studies Conference

I recently found out that the first annual New England Anglican Studies Conference will take place this Saturday, April 2nd from 8:30 AM-5:30 PM at Harvard Divinity School. Registration starts by 8:30 AM and the first welcoming session is in the huge Sperry Room starting at 9 AM. The official title for the conference is "The Open Body: Anglicans Dwelling In, With, and Outside the Tradition." The main session will include an address from Harvard's R.R. Niebuhr Professor of Divinity Mark Jordan (currently co-teaching Negative Theology this semester with Dr. Charles Stang) There will be multiple breakout sessions including one with my professors from both last and this current semester, Dr. Stang. I am especially looking forward to Elizabeth Anderson's (Yale University) talk entitled "Facebook, Blogging, and Embodied Ecclesiology." If you are near the Boston area, you should try to attend! The cost is only $15 dollars and the various sessions seem promising.

Monday, March 21, 2011


After what seems like a lifetime of questioning and planning, I have officially decided to accept an offer of admission to the Masters of Divinity (M.Div) program at Princeton Theological Seminary this fall. I am relieved that the decision-making process is finally over. Obviously, I am very disappointed that I will not be attending the University of Aberdeen. While I would like nothing more than to move to beautiful Scotland and work under the supervision of scholars like John Webster, the M.Div at PTS makes more sense for me at this time. I came home to Philadelphia this past weekend and had serious discussions with my parents about this decision. It became clear that despite the many positives about Aberdeen, PTS works better not only for me, but for my entire family. My parents have been encouraging me to live on-campus in an apartment next year instead of living at home and commuting. When I voiced concerns about saving money, they graciously offered to help me financially in this area. I am continually humbled by the faithfulness of God that sustains me in every way, including financially, as I seek to be obedient to the privilege of serving Him through higher academia. Apart from the obvious advantages of PTS (the Center for Karl Barth studies, the libraries, endless bookstores, aesthetic of the town, access to Princeton University), I am thrilled to study in a place that offers theological diversity. Even though I wouldn't trade my education at Gordon-Conwell for anything, I believe that the classes I took at Harvard Divinity were the most beneficial and challenging experiences that I've ever had during my graduate education. I realize that PTS is not as diverse as a place like Harvard Divinity (though some might make the case that it is less diverse than PTS), it will still offer a level of exposure to a variety of perspectives that I have not had through my largely evangelical education. I'd like to officially say that I am very grateful to the number of current students at both PTS and Aberdeen who have taken the time to converse with me about this decision. I am encouraged by the number of theology students in the Church and look forward to witnessing the Lord continually guide us all as we seek to order our speech after the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In short, I am excited about this next step!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Christoph Blumhardt

Someone showed me this book today that was published about a year ago by Continuum Books entitled Pneumatology and Theology of the Cross in the Preaching of Christoph Blumhardt by Simeon Zahl. If I am not mistaken, I do not remember this book being mentioned on blogs or even discussed much among academics. This troubles me for two reasons:

1. If Karl Barth's personal theological development was significantly influenced by Christoph Blumhardt, why would not more dialogue take place about such an excellent study? Anyone who has read Eberhard Busch's biography of Karl Barth's life and theology knows that Barth's exposure to the charismatic events surrounding Blumhardt's ministry significantly changed Barth's entire theological paradigm. The silence puzzles me.

2. As one who has experienced the best and worst of the charismatic movement and then continuing to embrace reformed doctrine (that statement needs to be qualified but I'll leave it for now), I personally find any study connecting Pentecostalism to the best of the classic Protestant tradition to be incredibly beneficial!

In short, despite my bewilderment, I am thrilled to begin reading this book.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jesus of Nazareth was God's Word or God's Son.

At the risk of sounding like a heretic, let me be very transparent for a moment: when one thoroughly studies the trinitarian and christological controversies throughout the first millennium, one might often wonder if the heretics were actually correct. Afterall, they do make so much sense! The Church continually pushes forward paradoxes that make the average person frustrated at some level. I personally understand why Arius believed based on pure exegesis alone that Jesus was not ontologically equal with God the Father. Many might throw a bunch of proof texts at me, or rather give me instances where "Jesus could not have done _______ or said _______ unless He was truly God!" But to be honest, I find those sorts of approaches very unconvincing. Afterall, there does seem to be speech about "sending", being "sent", "submission" to the Father's will, and language about Sonship ... not to mention the term "begotten" which has gotten the Church in a frenzy and still continues to cause controversy up to the present. While I struggle with the seeming lack of on-the-surface biblical warrant for Jesus' identity as fully God, I nonetheless believe and confess such doctrine every Sunday when I recite the Nicene Creed. Despite this, I still find typical approaches to "proving" or "providing account" for His full divinity rather porous.

In light of everything above, I was deeply comforted after reading the following passage from Karl Barth in paragraph 13 of the Church Dogmatics. Barth is very honest about the fact that sheer exegesis can't get one to the full divinity of Jesus Christ. But that doesn't mean the Church must abandon such a confession. In short, he reminds the Church of the necessity for dogmatics! Read and behold:
We come now, on the basis of the New Testament witness, to speak more specifically of this simple, once-for-all reality of Jesus Christ. The Word or Son of God became a Man and was called Jesus of Nazareth; therefore this Man Jesus of Nazareth was God's Word or God's Son. Before attempting to understand the content of this statement we have also, in view of its place and significance, to make the following points clear.

1. In regard to the exegetical question, it must be said that this twofold statement, whether as such or in its two constituent parts, is not very often found in so many words in the New Testament. As a rule, only one of its two parts appears at certain solemn climaxes in the New Testament witness, where it is manifestly the writer's business to gather up what has been said before coming to the ultimate fact, i.e., before coming to the name Jesus Christ itself. But this confession does not seem to come easily from their lips. Nor is it frequent. On the whole they prefer other ways of laying bare its truth to explicit articulation. There is, moreover, no single passage in which this confession is formulated with the dogmatic exactitude which we might like, or in which it is actually formulated at a later period. The christological dogma, like that of the Trinity, is obviously not the text but the commentary on the text. No where in the Bible is it found word for word. It must also be noted that this confession simply does not appear at every point at which its appearance might be expected. There are important passages in the New Testament witness where it is even lacking.

As a rule it is to be found between the lines and inferred by the reader or hearer from what is otherwise said directly or indirectly about the name Jesus Christ. It awaits, as it were, the reader's or hearer's own confession. These facts might weigh heavily upon a dogmatics especially eager for as clear, comprehensive and precise an answer to its questions as possible. They cannot surprise us. The New Testament is an instrument of proclamation and witness; it is neither a historical exposition nor a systematic treatise. The modest task of dogmatics it has left to the Church, to us. But it is possible that by the very reserve with which it handles the confession at this central point, it might direct us more forcibly to the twofold statement as being well-nigh the final import of its utterances.

- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, I.2, 13-14, emphasis mine.

Photo credit: here

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Recent Happenings.

Since more family and friends will eventually read this blog, I figured it would be a good idea to include a more personal post about recent events in my life. So these are the most important things that have been happening lately:

1. I have officially decided to become Anglican. I can't tell you how seriously I take this decision, especially considering my ecclesiological journey since my freshman year of college. I am excited to become a part of something much larger than myself and publicly confess among the other members of the Church that I am committing to this particular confession. From my days in the charismatic movement, to the house churches, to the Episcopal Church, then to the Orthodox Church and then back again to the Anglican Church, I am thankful that the Lord has brought me to a place where I can serve the Kingdom of God most faithfully. I appreciate so much about the Anglican Church despite its many flaws. But most of all, I think that the Anglican Church is truly the place where ecumenical dialogue can take place. My heart is not only for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be preached throughout the world, but also within the global Church itself. Our Lord and Savior prayed the night before His death that His people would be one. I genuinely believe that this prayer intends for both an internal as well as external reality.

2. I've begun to think through the possibility of becoming a permanent deacon within the Anglican Church. I have no desire to become a priest, but I do have a desire to tangibly serve the entire body of Christ on a regular basis. I am thinking through what this would mean and look like as a permanent office of the Church rather than using it as a means to become a priest (which is often the case). I often forget that while speech about the Gospel is crucial and should not be diminished in importance, the deeds of mercy, justice, and compassion are also essential for the Christian life. I can not explain how excited I am at the prospect of having a tangible and constant avenue for practicing my belief that I should serve as the Lord Himself served.

3. I was asked to be a regular blogger at the Anglican's Writer's Block which is an online theology resource for the entire Anglican Church. It seeks to cultivate theological conversation not only among academics within the Anglican Church, but rather among the laity for the sake of ordering the Church's words and deeds after the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I will be posting on the doctrine of revelation and the doctrine of election in the coming weeks, which will primarily be targeted for the common reader. The topics alone are daunting, not to mention trying to relate such crucial and often high-brow doctrines to the laity. But I am thrilled at the opportunity to connect these doctrines to the very heart of everyday life. What could be more beneficial? Go here to learn more.

4. I was accepted into the MTh program at the University of Aberdeen! I am still waiting to hear from Princeton Theological Seminary (I applied for the M.Div program). I am starting the application process for a few scholarships, but at this point, I am at an impasse. I feel the weight of my decision more and more everyday. Both institutions would offer exceptional resources to study the theology of Karl Barth. Princeton is close to my parent's home, so I would be able to live at home and spend those days with my beloved Grams before she eventually transitions into supervised living. But in terms of Aberdeen ... well, let's face it, we are talking about Scotland! There are positives and negatives to both decisions, and I have a lot more thinking to do. Regardless, I am thrilled for these opportunities (if PTS accepts me, obviously!).

5. I graduate in May with a Masters in Theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I am really excited about finally crossing the finish line after three wonderful, difficult, taxing, joyful years here at GCTS. I remember doubting whether or not I should attend GCTS, and now I can't imagine who I would be if I didn't choose to take the leap of faith. Before I came to seminary, I knew I felt "called" (whatever that means) to seminary, but I had my doubts (read: debt). But it was through my time at Gordon-Conwell, the life-shaping classes I've taken at Harvard Divinity, and the exposure to Karl Barth's theology that I realized I have a desire to pursue a place in academia. More than that, I can't believe how much the Lord has taught me through the past three years, especially about relationships. To say I've been broken on more than one occasion would not be an exaggeration. The Lord has graciously revealed so much to me about my own shortcomings and has given me grace through friendships and mentors who have reminded me that this is what the life of the Christian is all about. Despite everything, I can't say enough good things about GCTS and my time in seminary.

6. This is perhaps the most difficult thing to write, but I'm learning that part of the process in my formation is honesty. I have been a stutterer since I was 5 years old. I grew out of it eventually before the age of 10 (I believe). But around my junior year of college it had returned. I remember giving a speech in my Christian Political Thought class and I had tremendous difficulty forming sentences. I'm sure that everyone listening just chalked it up to nervousness since believe it or not the same impediment hadn't made its way into my daily speech at that point. Since attending seminary, I've noticed more and more that I've been struggling with my speech. Before this year only my parents ever knew that I had a stuttering problem since I was little outside the few individuals that witnessed it during my childhood. Most people, including my parents, assumed that I had outgrown the problem. So I silently battled with the problem finding more and more ways to conceal my struggle. Then I was asked to present my paper on Karl Barth's doctrine of election at the Gordon-Conwell Theology Forum. I remember reading the paper a dozen times aloud on my own (which is quite the task mind you, given the fact that it is 32 pages!) and hoping that with enough prayer I'd be fine. The moment came to read my paper in front of all my peers and professors. I had a tremendous amount of pauses before words and even skipped over certain words I knew would take me a considerable amount of time to say. When you are a stutterer, you learn to "word replace" so that you don't have to say a particular word that you know before you say it will be a problem. You become a walking thesaurus. But when you read a paper in front of people, you can't word replace any longer; you are exposed. Within a matter of two minutes, everyone in the room found out about my disability that I tried for so long to conceal. Most were shocked, and mercifully, my wonderful professor offered to continue reading for me. Needless to say, this was a very painful experience for me. I began to question why I even came this far, attended seminary, and considered higher academia. How can a stutterer teach seminars, let alone read papers in front of hundreds of people? I will spare you the details of the sadness and brokenness that came that evening. But the gracious Lord eventually makes all things for the good of those who love Him. I realized that night that it took something like the theology forum to humble me enough to make me realize that I need help. I ended up e-mailing a speech therapist and I will be going through a three week intensive speech fluency program this summer. Now I know most people that know me and have read this post are probably thinking, "what in the world?! I've seen The King's Speech and Kait does not sound anything like that, in fact, I never even knew she stutters!" But there are three types of stuttering: 1) The classic repetition (wo...wo...wo...word), 2) Prolongation (wwwwwwwword), 3) Blocking which are pauses (.....word). I suffer from the third problem with a bit of the second. After talking with the speech therapist during our initial consultation, she informed me that with most stuttering, the lines between the reality of the actual impediment and the mental barriers are very fuzzy. While I do have a speech impediment, there is also an incredible mental component. Therefore, the fluency program this summer will be holistic and address both the physical and mental aspects of speech. I am rather apprehensive to enter this program; I can not tell you how humbling it has been to finally admit to this problem. But my speech therapist assured me that not only is my particular case mild, but it is very manageable. While I will always struggle, it doesn't have to control me. And yes, I saw The King's Speech, and yes, it changed my life. I never knew that a film would be made that could capture the emotional and personal trials that I have suffered in private. Colin Firth moved me more than I can verbalize. So cheers to the Academy for recognizing such a spectacular film!

So there you have it, my exciting and rather eventful life as of recently! Thanks for reading such a long post. And pray for me if you think of it, because there is so much happening in the coming months; I need the grace and mercy of God more than ever.