Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Blogging Project.

My degree is complete (yes!) and I finally get the chance to blog without guilt. I intentionally tried to do nothing of substance since last night, but I (pathetically) can not keep away from my books. As a result, I realized that I never wrote a post to announce that I will be joining the 2011 Reading Project with Jeremy and Adam! They kindly asked me if I would agree to start reading along with them and write posts on particular readings about once every three weeks. I thought it would be a great way to read a lot of material that I (sadly) have not yet gotten the chance to read. I know I'd never get all this reading accomplished on my own this summer. The following is the list of the particular works I will be writing about. The project is currently underway, but I won't start writing until June. Be sure to check out the project at Jeremy's blog!

Here's my (ambitious) assigned reading list:

• Bonhoeffer, Ethics, "History and Good [1] and [2]" and "Commandment of God in the Church" (06/12)

• Pannenberg, Systematic Theology I, Chapters 5-6, (07/03)

• Pannenberg, Systematic Theology II, Chapter 10-11 (07/24)

• Pannenberg, Systematic Theology III, Chapter 13, Part III §3 - Chapter 14 §3 (8/14)

• Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology I, Chapter 9 -14 (9/4)

• Jungel, God as Mystery of the World, Chapters 1 - 10 (9/25)

• Torrance, Doctrine of God, Chapters 1 - 5 (10/16)

• Gunton, Brief Theology of Revelation (11/6)

• Hunsinger, Disruptive Grace, Chapters 8-15 (11/27)

• Lindbeck, Nature of Doctrine (12/18)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity

Be prepared for a host of future posts regarding T.F. Torrance. After Ben Myers, I call this my "binge reading" style. I have more books by him in my house right now from the library than I care to admit. But one secondary source I couldn't pass up purchasing was Paul Molnar's Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity. When it came in the mail today, I couldn't wait to dive in and start reading. This lead me to pace around the library with book in hand and devouring the first chapter. You wouldn't know I have to finish all my work to graduate by Friday!

What I am appreciating about Torrance is also what I appreciate so much about theologians like Luther, and Barth: there is such a strong existential component to their task as a theologian. Theology is not simply an investigation of another subject matter's object (though Torrance and Barth kept to this approach quite well), but it is the reflection and seeking of their Lord.

I was particularly moved by this following passage which I found to be as true today as it was during the early part of the twentieth century:

"[Torrance] relished ministering to soldiers in the front line and telling them of the Gospel. One particular incident stuck with Torrance for life. In October 1944 after an assault on San Martino-Sogliano during which he serviced as a stretcher bearer under fire, he came upon a mortally wounded 20-year-old solder named Private Philips who was lying on the ground and clearly did not have much time to live. As Torrance bent over him he said, 'Padre, is God really like Jesus?' Torrance assured him that he was and while he prayed with the man he passed away. But this question raised an important issue for Torrance himself: what had gone wrong in Christian theology that could lead someone to think in such a way that a wedge was driven between Jesus and God? This was the damage done by natural theology because it left the impression that there was a God 'behind the back' of Jesus himself. Years later, Torrance's wonderment was only confirmed once again when an elderly lady in his parish in Aberdeen asked a similar question to that of the solder on the battlefield: 'Dr Torrance, is God really like Jesus?' And again Torrance was troubled and asked, 'What have we been doing in our preaching and teaching in the church, to damage in the faith of our people the relation between their faith in Jesus Christ and God?'"

- Paul D. Molnar, Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity, 12.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mt. Athos

I've seen this CBS 60 minutes special covering the holy place of Mt. Athos circulating today. I decided to watch the videos for myself and became quickly enthralled with the content. I am thankful for the coverage since it is the closest I will ever get to seeing Mt. Athos considering they don't allow women to step foot on the peninsula. As a former EO catechumen, I sincerely admire these men; I had difficulty practicing the continual spiritual exercises that they carry out for nearly 21 hours a day. In a real sense, the one monk couldn't be more accurate when he says that there is a continual battle with the forces of darkness in the Orthodox spiritual way of life. Despite my decision to head back West, I can't really explain the longing and feelings of loss that occur when I view these majestic liturgies and formal times of worship. There truly is nothing quite like it on earth. Go here to see the videos:

Mt. Athos - Part 1

Mt. Athos - Part 2

Mt. Athos - 60 Minutes Overtime Bonus

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ayn Rand and "Objectivism"

David Bentley Hart's article in First Things, which heavily and negatively critiques Ayn Rand's philosophy, is quickly circulating around the internets. In case you think that Hart's representation of Rand's views is hyperbolic or bias from his own Orthodox Christian beliefs, behold these videos. I have little to say, for they truly leave me speechless:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Not the Gospel?

Someone recently brought this passage in Eberhard Busch's biography regarding some comments Barth once made about Billy Graham's method of evangelizing to my attention. I was hesitant to post this, but I will say that I have not been able to get this passage out of my mind since I read it. It is shocking, and well, quite interesting to say the least:
"The same frontier was evident in a conversation Barth had with Billy Graham, in August 1960. His son Markus brought them together in Valais. However, this meeting was also a friendly one. 'He's a "jolly good fellow", with whom one can talk easily and openly; one has the impression that he is even capable of listening which is not always the case with such trumpeters of the gospel.' Two weeks later Barth has the same good impression after a second meeting with Graham, this time at home in Basle. But, 'it was very different when we went to hear him let loose in the St Jacob stadium that same evening and witnessed his influence on the masses.' 'I was quite horrified. He acted like a madman and what he presented was certainly not the gospel.' 'It was the gospel at gun-point . . . He preached the law, not a message to make one happy. He wanted to terrify people. Threats - they always make an impression. People would much rather be terrified than pleased. The more one heats up hell for them, the more they come running.' But even this success did not justify such preaching. It was illegitimate to make the gospel law or 'to "push" it like an article for sale . . . We must leave the good God freedom to do his own work'."

Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts, 446.
On another but similar note, I read this "retweeted tweet" today (gosh, that sounds so ridiculous), and it really made me pause. It is from a fake Rob Bell twitter account and in an attempt to mock Bell's views of hell, the person wrote, "You know how hard it is to get on this stage at Mars Hill Church and tell people to start acting like they're saved w/ no threat of Hell? Hard." And I thought that ironically, this mocking statement (sadly) misses the point. I keep thinking that all of these little blurbs I hear or read about the necessity of God's eternal "No" to humanity misses the point. I also keep asking myself if I am missing the point, if I am sadly mistaken since isn't the common human experience to feel very alone in your thoughts, ideas, and struggles? But despite the doubt, I continually ponder the same questions: Do we preach judgment to motivate people from a place of fear in order to repent? Does the Apostle Paul not say that it is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance? What kind of repentance do you get when it is motivated by an image of eternal languishing?

I remember when I first watched the following video from Trevor Hart (I'm going to transcribe it since I can't post in here). When the positive content of the Gospel is truly preached to the hearer, does it not finally offer a word of grace? Is Karl Barth correct when he says that God's "word to man from and to all eternity was and will be Jesus Christ"? (CD, IV.1, 57) In the same vein, Hart offers these sentiments in an interview with Grace Communion International. When I first watched this video, I remember feeling as though I had heard the Gospel again in a fresh way. I remember at one point coming to tears at the reality that God is fully and truly revealed in Jesus Christ. Don't we all fear, in some very real place, that when we come face to face with God after death, His word to us will be "Depart from me, sinner!" Hart's words reminds me that the Gospel offers hope to drown out the constant fear of questioning God's identity. In my opinion, Hart's words capture my issues with everything I said above and offer a word to humanity that is first and finally one of grace. Here is what Hart says:

"[In Karl Barth's theology] there is the sense of the God from first to last who is for us and determined to be for us no matter who we are, no matter what we've done, and no matter what we amount to. [This is the God] who values us not for our achievements but for who He has called us to be and of course who He has made us to be in His Son. That is so completely foundational to Barth's thought that it covers absolutely every chapter of the story he tells. I think people catch that and even if they don't understand it at first and they don't understand how it plays out in the larger structure of the Christian faith, most of the people that I have met who have read Barth and engaged with him at any length actually find that very attractive immediately and they find it is something they want to hear more of and really, of course, that's because it is the Gospel. It is the story of the God who gives all for us and who is determined to be for us ... there is no point of Barth's theology that this doesn't come up again and again ..."

The interviewer in the video then responds by asking with that said, many Calvinists might ask how do you know that you are among the elect of God without the evidence of your works?

Hart responds by beginning to talk about Barth's revolutionary doctrine of election of which some Reformed folks don't agree: "What Barth saw and shows is that you can't formulate a doctrine of election or any other doctrine simply by lifting verses from the page of Scripture and laying them out and putting them in a logical order. That is not how it works. It never has worked like that; you have to go further than that and relate doctrines to one another and asks questions about certain themes that have theological priority over others. Barth's fundamental conviction is that the theme of election, God's choosing, God's deciding and God's sovereignty is fundamental for how Christians conceive of God and should conceive of Him in biblical terms. It is the person of Christ that the center of theological gravity falls in Scripture and therefore in theology too (it should be). His thorough going insistence of what it might mean that God chooses concerning a person's eternal well-being in the light of Jesus Christ and [Barth's] refusal of the meaningfulness of talking about any God who is hidden behind Jesus Christ forced [Barth] to a very radical rereading of the doctrine [of election]. It's [Barth's] fundamental conviction that it is not in the text of the Bible pure and simple as some work of literature that God reveals Himself finally, it is in a human life lived, a death died, and raised to life again that God has made Himself known fully and finally and all the rest needs to be worked out in the light of what that means and the significance of that fact. And as Barth sees it, the significance of that fact is that this is who God wills to be and what He has done for each of us and whatever we say about election or any other theme has to reckon with that fact. That can't be something we've come to after we work out the other things, it has to be where we start. That God's purpose eternally was to be the man Jesus Christ and to do what He does in Christ for us."

The interviewer then goes on to ask "why is it so significant about when Jesus says if you have seen me, you have seen the Father? What is so important about that?"

This is where Hart delivers one of the most freeing word someone can hear: "One way of answering that question is pastorally rather than theologically. I am differentiating between them for a moment, but I don't want to drive a wedge between them. Let's look at it pastorally. Most people, if they think of God at all, have a question mark about what sort of God they are dealing with ... and it seems to me that even Christians sometimes live with this lurking suspicion that God might turn out to be rather unpleasant or to have a grudge against them or a case against them. What Barth sees and says so clearly is that the Christian life ought to be based solely on the God we see and the face of God that we see in Jesus - that actually we can be sure that God turns out finally to be like Jesus. That provides a huge ground for assurance because what do we see in Jesus? We see God forgiving sins, we see God loving the sinner, rehabilitating the sinner. And once we realize that the Father is no different than that from the Son He sends into the world to do it, then it banishes any spectors we might have of a God who even though Jesus is like that, [God] might turn out to be rather different. On a pastoral level in terms of the God we pray to day and night or the God we hope to meet at the end of our lives, if we live with a question mark it seems to me that we are going to live finally with fear, guilt and a suspicion and possibly be driven to some form of seeking to secure ourselves by earning salvation through good works or some form of that. It is very hard to shake that off completely when you don't know the answer to the question, "What is God like?" Once you come to the realization that God is no different than Jesus, that God's character - the Father's character - is fully reflected in the face of His Son, that sets you free from all of those fears, guilts, and suspicions and enables you to live life in a liberated way. A life that is born of out gratitude and joy rather than fear and guilt. So on a pastoral level, it seems to that we can say when it comes down to it, when it comes to talking about God there isn't anyone there who isn't fully reflected in the face of Jesus and Jesus' dealings with us.

[When talking about the vicarious humanity of Christ] we are talking about something which most evangelical Christians anyway will be fully familiar with as a category in one certain respect. That is to say, most evangelical Christians will be happy enough to think that Jesus did something in their stead. Most of them will think that thing that He did for them in their place is die on the cross and of course that is absolutely right. What is captured in the phrase "vicarious humanity" is the realization that is doesn't stop there. Actually, in Jesus, God stands in for us at almost every point of our relationship with Him because we fail Him at almost every point of our lives no matter how hard we struggle and strive even though most of us are very good as struggling and striving. We don't do it. We're not very good covenant partners for God most of the time. In vicarious humanity God stands in for us in all aspects of life and it is not simply in His death that God does we can't do, but it is in His faith and obedience, too and in His responses to the Father. And at each point, God looks in Him and through Him and together with Him and we are not standing together isolated on our own ... we are clothed with Christ. When the Father looks at us He sees Christ - Christ's response, Christ's obedience, Christ's prayer, Christ's faith - and the biblical category is not vicarious humanity but priesthood. Jesus is the great high priest who mediates our human responses to God through Himself to the Father ... but the flip side of this and its a vital flip side is that it sets us free to do it for ourselves. It sets us free to do it because we are not afraid of falling. We are not afraid of getting it wrong. Why? Because our eternity doesn't hang on whether we get it wrong or not. Our eternity rests on His response made for us. So we can get on and do it! Because if we fall, He will pick us up, and in the mean time we grow more like Him so that our faith becomes more adequate, and our prayer becomes more appropriate and our obedience becomes more identifiable as the Spirit gradually makes us more like Jesus. But our relationship on God doesn't rest on any of that, our relationship for God rests once and for all not just on the cross, but from every point from his birth through to His resurrection."

And in a moment of true honesty, the interviewer responds by saying, "that is so radical in terms of the way people think. Why is it that something that good is so difficult to accept? Why are we afraid of it? It is as though we think if I believe that, and I accept it, then it is like saying that I don't have to do anything, and Christ has done it all. If I accept that God won't like me because I am assuming on His kindness. Some preachers even get angry about it and say don't listen to that kind of nonsense because God calls you to obedience!"

Hart responds: "One reason why someone might be uncomfortable with it might be that it could be seen to encourage the approach that if Jesus is seen to have done it all for me, I don't have to do it myself, do I? What we call in theological terms, "antinomianism." That is a worry - we can do almost anything with grace, can't we? We can reject it, we can turn it to what we think is our advantage. But of course that is not proper to the idea or the reality itself and that is why I said Jesus does it for us precisely so that we can do it for ourselves and the work of the Spirit draws us into the Son's work and brings it to fulfillment in individual lives. And that is one reason I can imagine a preacher being nervous because maybe he can imagine how his people won't try so hard anymore. Well, maybe they are trying too hard in the first place. Maybe trying is not what it is about. ... it probably is an irrational fear and isn't it itself a little bit of a resurgence of sinful pride in us as preachers or individual Christian men and women? Because, you know, grace has this one massive advantage which is also a big galling in that it says that God isn't taking your response in a certain sense as the most important responses. So it devalues the things we think we like to take to God to deal with Him. I bring my little bit of righteousness along to God and say, "Here God, I have something for you." Don't get me wrong, I think God delights when we bring righteousness before Him but what He doesn't like is when we try and make it the basis of a trade as if we have something to give to Him and now He can give something back to us. The Gospel of grace understood in this way and this category of vicarious humanity really robs us of that because it gives us nothing left we can give to God and say "God you need this and here I am giving it to you so now you give me something that I need." That's gone. Everything has to be predicated upon the idea that God gives everything freely. Even those of us who believe this Gospel still on occasion find ourselves thinking, I suspect, that I'd rather like it if I had something I could give back to God. Well, you can give it freely and joyfully."

You can watch the whole video here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Community

I probably should not admit how often I read Karl Barth's Evangelical Theology (ET). It has become more of an encouragement to me as I seek formal theological training than anything else I have read. Perhaps no one in the history of the Church has so clearly articulated the task of theology not only for the individual theologian, but more importantly for the community of believers. I have become increasingly weary of how easily the term "orthodox" is thrown around by various circles within the Christian Church. The lines of orthodoxy are increasingly drawn to include smaller and smaller circles. It can be very disheartening as the Church seems to continue to lose its purpose and vision which is the attempt to offer a true witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Moreover, recognizing this continual tragedy can lead the observer to embrace a genuine level of bitterness, self-righteousness, and cynicism. The requests for mercy and protection seem to have increased over the past few years and I am just starting in the theological world! In an attempt to find some sort of bearings, I turned once again to ET and found this lovely little gem that helps to clarify and reinforce the true and worthy goal of the individual theologian and the Church. It is quite the vision for the Church; one which entails both pain and joy. I hope it encourages you as much as it encouraged and comforted me:
"The question about truth, therefore, is not stated in the familiar way: is it true that God exists? Does God really have a covenant with man? Is Israel really his chosen people? Did Jesus Christ actually die actually die for our sins? Was he truly raised from the dead for our justification? And is he in fact our Lord? This is the way fools ask in their hearts - admittedly such fools as we are all in the habit of being. In theology the question about truth is stated on another level: does the community properly understand the Word in its purity as the truth? Does it understand with appropriate sincerity the Word that was spoken in and with all those events? Does the community reflect on the Word painstakingly and speak of it in clear concepts? And is the community in a position to render its secondary testimony responsibly and with good conscience? These are the questions posed for the community, questions that are really urgent only for the people of God, and with regard to which no positive answer can ever or anywhere be taken for granted. Even the most able speech of the most living faith is a human work. And this means that the community can go astray in its proclamation of the Word of God, in its interpretation of the biblical testimony, and finally in its own faith. Instead of being helpful, it can be obstructive to God's cause in the world by an understanding that is partly or wholly wrong, by devious or warped thought, by silly or too subtle speech. Every day the community must pray that this may not happen, but it must also do its own share of earnest work toward this goal. This work is theological work.

There is no other way. In principle the community and the whole of Christianity are required and called to do such work. The question to be unceasingly posed for the community and for all its members is whether the community is a true witness ...

Since the Christian life is consciously or unconsciously also a witness, the question of truth concerns not only the community but the individual Christian. He too is responsible for the quest for truth in this witness. Therefore, every Christian as such is also called to be a theologian."

- Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology, 39-40.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Theology of the Intellectual Life

I found out via Twitter (I guess it is useful for something) that John Webster will be giving a lecture tonight at 7:30 PM at Wheaton College entitled "A Theology of the Intellectual Life." I tried calling the supplied number to see if they will record the lecture, but no one was available. If you are in the area, you should definitely try your best to attend. Professor Webster is the greatest living theologian, in my opinion, and his scholarship has transformed my theological thinking. You will not only be deeply intellectually challenged, but there is always an existential component to his work which leaves the recipient in a state of worship. Don't miss it. For more information, go here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

O'Donovan: Begotten Not Made

In an attempt to procrastinate, I perused the new book section of the library again this afternoon. I stumbled upon Oliver O'Donovan's Begotten or Made?. Since I immediately thought that he was speaking to the Niceaen controversy, I almost lunged to grab this book off the shelf. Instead, O'Donovan deals with the issues of technology, medicine, and artificial procreation. The following excerpt from the first three pages (rather lengthy) were not only beautiful, but moving. While technology is nothing to be ashamed of or diminish (blogger bias, obviously), O'Donovan speaks about the subtle ways in which technological advances infects our thought processes. When everything in society can be made, why not allow such advances to infiltrate our understanding of human life? There is a sense in which O'Donovan wishes to encourage the romantic sentiment that human life is sacred and created by that which transcends us. His impulse seems to want to recover the essential aspects of that which makes us human and deny that everything can be created or made by human technology and machines. I appreciate that. Enjoy.
"When the fathers of the Council of Nicaea declared, in words familiar to every Christian who recites their creed, that the only Son of God the Father was 'begotten, not made', they intended to make a simple point. The Son was 'of one being with the Father.' He was God, just as God the Father was God. And to emphasize the point they used an analogy, based upon our twofold human experience of forming things other than ourselves. That which we beget is like ourselves. (I shall use the word 'beget', as the ancients did, to speak of the whole human activity of procreation, and not in the modern way, meaning especially the male side of the activity.) Our offspring are human beings, who share with us one common human nature, one common human experience and one common human destiny. We do not determine what our offspring is, except by ourselves being that very thing which our offspring is to become. Just so, the fathers said, the eternal Son of God who was not made, was of the Father's being, not his will. But that which we make is unlike ourselves. Whether it is made of matter, like a wooden table, or of words like a lecture, or of sounds like a symphony, or of colours and shapes like a picture, or of images like an idea, it is the product of our own free determination. We have stamped the decisions of our will upon the material which the world has offered us, to form it in this way and not in that. What we 'make', then, is alien from our humanity. In that it has a human maker, it has come to existence as a human project, its being at the disposal of mankind. It is not fit to take its place alongside mankind in fellowship, for it has no place beside hi on which to stand: man's will is the law of its being. That which we beget can be, and should be, our companion; but the product of our art - whatever immeasurable satisfaction and enjoyment there may be both in making it and in cherishing it - can never have the independence to be that 'other I', equal to us and differentiated from us, which we acknowledge in those who are begotten of human seed.

In making this contrast with reference to the eternal Son of God the Nicene fathers used an analogy. Like all analogies, it has its limitations. We cannot speak of 'begetting' in the divine being without making it clear what aspects of the analogy are not applicable to the life of godhead. At the same time, we cannot say that any human beings are 'begotten, not made' in the same absolute sense that we can say it of the Son of God. For all human beings begotten of other human beings are, at the same time, 'made' by God. Of no human being can it be said that he is simply 'not made', that he is at nobody's disposal, that no higher will acts as the law of his being. God's will is such a law for every human being, and every human being is at the disposal of God. Human beings, begotten of human seed, are also made; even Jesus Christ, considered simply as a human being is a 'creature' of God. Nevertheless, the ground of the analogy holds. A being who is the 'maker' of any other being is alienated from that which he has made, transcendent of 'begetting' is to speak of quite another possibility than this: the possibility that one may form another being who will share one's own nature, and with whom one will enjoy a fellowship based on radical equality.

In this book we have to speak of 'begetting' - not the eternal begetting of the godhead, but the temporal begetting of one creature by another. We have to consider the position of this human 'begetting' in a culture which has been overwhelmed by 'making' - that is to say, in a technological culture. And here we must stress a point that is often made by those who have taught us how to think about our technological culture - we may mention George Grant's Technology and Empire - and Jacques Ellul's The Technological Society - that what marks this culture most importantly, is not anything that it does, but what it thinks. It is not 'technological' because its instruments of making are extraordinarily sophisticated (though that is evidently the case), but because it thinks of everything is does as a form of instrumental making. Politics (which should surely be the most non-instrumental of activities) is talked of as 'making a better world'; love is 'building a successful relationship'. There is no place for simply doing. The fate of society which sees, wherever it looks, nothing but the products of the human will, is that it fails, when it does see some aspect of human activity which is not a matter of construction, to recognize the significance of what it sees and to think about it appropriately. This blindness in the realm of thought is the heart of what it is to be a technological culture.

Nevertheless, though thought comes first, there are implications in the realm of practice too. Such a society is incapable of acknowledging the inappropriateness of technological intervention in certain types of activity. When every activity is understood as making, then every situation into which we act is seen as raw material, waiting to have something made out of it. If there is no category in thought for an action which is not artificial, then there is no restraint in action which can preserve phenomena which are not artificial. This imperils not only, or even primarily, the 'environment' (as we patronizingly describe the world of things which are not human); it imperils what it is to be human, for it deprives human existence itself of certain spontaneities of being and doing, spontaneities which depend upon the reality of a world which we have not made or imagined, but which simply confronts us to evoke our love, fear, and worship. Human life, then, becomes mechanized because we cannot comprehend what it means that some human activity is 'natural'. Politics becomes controlled by media of mass communication, love by analytical or counseling techniques. And begetting children becomes subject to the medical and surgical interventions which are the theme of this book."

- Oliver O'Donovan, Begotten or Made?, 1-3, emphasis added.