Monday, December 10, 2012

Discipleship and pistis Christou

As I've been researching for one of my final papers, I came across a section in Charles Cousar's The Letters of Paul that discusses the more recent trend in biblical scholarship to define pistis Christou as "faith of Christ" instead of "faith in Christ." The latter was the chosen translation of the Reformation so that "Christ" became the object of faith.  Thus, the Reformers understood Paul to be "calling for trust in Christ rather than the carrying out of the law's commandments," which was entailed in the doctrine of justification by faith (130). In this revised reading of pistis Christou, "believers are justified not by their believing but by Jesus Christ's faithfulness in fulfilling God's redemptive purposes" (130). In anticipation that some might think replacing the preposition "in" with "of" means denying the importance of faith, Cousar offers three points defending why he believes this is not the case. In these three points, Cousar sees a reorientation of what faith means rather than the nullification of faith:

1. The essence of Paul's understanding of the Gospel supports the notion that "the salvation of 'those who believe' depends not on their knowing or believing but on the action of Jesus Christ who fulfills God's purpose. To put it another way, human faith is not the precondition for receiving God's grace, but the responding "Yes" to a grace already given in the Christ event" (131, emphasis added).

2. Human faith is not so much a response of the individual as much as "participation in the faithful obedience of Jesus. Believers claim their solidarity with him in his death, including fidelity to his divine vocation" (131). As far as I can tell, Cousar is not defining participation as some mystical union with Christ so that the individual believer is ontologically changed or somehow now shares in the divine nature of Jesus Christ. Participation is more in terms of sharing in the sufferings of Christ as an act of obedience that is carried out through the life of discipleship.

3. I found this point to be the most interesting. The response of the individual is "defined by the faith of Jesus. The Reformation understanding ("faith in Christ") has often resulted in a faith that is pure passivity, a "non-thing" that seeks only to avoid any taint of works. Jesus' faith, however, provides a pattern of response to grace that is active and aggressive, that risks much and becomes vulnerable to suffering. The believing community is drawn into the pattern of Jesus' faith ('conformed to the image of his Son' [Rom 8:39]), which is much more than the renunciation of works. Thus for Paul a bridge is built from justification to ethics" (131). Instead of negating the importance of faith, Cousar believes that the translation of pistis Christou actually opens up the individual and the community of believers to radical discipleship. And this takes the form of conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. And what do we witness in the life of Jesus Christ through the biblical witness? Radical solidarity with the least of those in this world. Faith defined in this way takes the disciple of Jesus Christ into the depths of this world's sufferings and death zones instead of some sort of escape from this present reality.

Whether or not some would find Cousar's presentation of the Reformed doctrine of justification by faith and the Reformers interpretation of "faith in Christ" to be sufficient (my guess is that some would not), I found it fascinating that Cousar seems to implicitly argue that faith means discipleship. Rather than faith as some sort of epistemic assurance of what Christ has done for me, faith is primarily an action. This, without doubt, has radical implications for how we can understand the life of faith for both the individual and the community of believers.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

An Alienating Antithesis.

Two of my friends have referenced this excerpt from Barth in the past couple of weeks. I finally looked it up for myself and deeply appreciated these words that are found in the "later" Barth:

"For Jesus, and as seen in the light of Jesus, there can be no doubt that all human orders are this old garment or old bottles, which are in the last resort quite incompatible with the new cloth and the new wine of the kingdom of God. The new cloth can only destroy the old garment, and the old bottles can only burst when the new wine of the kingdom of God is poured into them. All true and serious conservatism, and all true and serious belief in progress, presupposes that there is a certain compatibility between the new and the old, and that they can stand in a certain neutrality the one to the other. But the new thing of Jesus is the invading kingdom of God revealed in its alienating antithesis to the world and all its orders. And in this respect, too, the dictum is true: neutralitas non valet in regno Dei [There can be no neutrality in the Kingdom of God]. There is thus concealed and revealed, both in what we called the passive conservatism of Jesus and the individual signs and penetrations which question the world of human orders as such, the radical and indissoluble antithesis of the kingdom of God to all human kingdoms, the unanswerable question, the irremediable unsettlement introduced by the kingdom of God into all human kingdoms."

- Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV.2, 177.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Transfiguration of Politics

In an effort to forestall my sermon writing, I picked up a book from the library today that I've been meaning to read through for a while now. I really liked this:

"The Christ story is the story of the presence and power of Jesus of Nazareth in and over the ambiguity of power in human affairs. It tells in word and deed of the liberating limits and the renewing possibilities within which revolutionary promises and passions make room for the freedom to be and to stay human in the world. As the inaugurator of a "new age," the "age to come" in the midst of the "old age" the "age that is passing away," Jesus is a revolutionary, as surely as revolution and humanization, history and fulfillment, are inseparable from one another. The divisive, healing, transfigured, and transfiguring Christ is not to be despoiled as the model of a new humanity because of what has been made of him - pantocratic ruler, spiritual teacher and leader, demogogue, or social idealist. As the model of a new humanity, he involves us in the struggle for a new and human future. The way leads from a politics of confrontation to a politics of transfiguration and the transfiguration of politics."

- Paul Lehmann, The Transfiguration of Politics, 20.

I'm still working out what it means that Jesus "involves *us* in the struggle for a new and human future" without falling into some sort of understanding that human action brings about "the age to come" while we live in the midst of "the age that is passing away" despite the fact that the "new age" has already been inaugurated by Christ alone.  Lehmann says that revolution is "the lifestyle of truth" and nothing short of revolutionary action (whatever that might mean or look like, I don't know) is precisely what it means to "do" the truth according to the Gospel of John (5). So what does it mean to live in this way while still recognizing the distinction between divine and human action? I'm hoping he might answer some of these questions as I continue reading.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Advent and the Kingdom of God.

I'm assigned to preach a sermon today from a passage in the Hebrew Bible and orient the text to the Advent season. I chose Isaiah 65:17-25 where the Lord promises new heavens and a new earth in which "the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind." Given the apocalyptic aspects of this specific text, I turned to one of my favorite theologians, Ernst Käsemann, to see if he ever preached a sermon for Advent. I was in luck.

"At issue from now on till the end of days is that the kingdom of God is revealed on earth always and wherever the world has to do with this Jesus, and only where the gospel about him is preached and believed. This would not be possible if Jesus acquired no disciples whom he could send out as messengers and witnesses of his rule. To the messianic Advent of the kingdom of God essentially belongs that great mission in which people are called into service for this kingdom. The Lord is not without his community. The kingdom would be a utopia if it could not be visibly enfleshed on earth in members and instruments of his rule. Advent ties heaven and earth, ties the eternal God to his creatures, who continually seek to avoid him but whom he never leaves to themselves. When at Advent God's kingdom breaks into our world, it does so that, just as Israel at Sinai, we hear the first commandment with its promise and claim: 'I am the Lord your God ... you shall have no other gods before me!' The gospel is told so that it occurs where the poor, the sick, the despairing, and the possessed cry for help, where demons and tyrants play their evil game and afflict humankind, where in the midst of blindness, hate, scorn, blasphemy, and cowardice the cross of Golgotha makes visible God's rule as the self-humiliation of our Creator, that is, as love that seeks us out even in earth's inferno, sets itself alongside us, takes us in its supporting, comforting arms. As Israel once sensed the breeze or gale of freedom while in bondage to Egypt, so those who 'all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death' will sense it, and the redeemed will see the heavens above and the world around them opened to messengers of the gospel. This is what is taking place now if Advent is actually occurring among and for us."

- Ernst Käsemann, "Mark 1:16-20: On Discipleship of the Coming One" in On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene, 321.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Feminist Movement as Revolutionary Struggle

We've been assigned to read a considerable number of essays and articles for this term's Feminist and Womanist Theologies. I've been reading the current assigned material more closely because we are required to write a final paper on how these readings condition and influence our own personal theologies. One article by bell hooks stood out to me. With powerful prose, hooks argues how sexism, racism, and classism (a direct product of capitalism) are all inter-related and based upon fundamental concepts of oppression. As a white woman, I have to admit that it is quite difficult to know how to come to terms with the relation between sexism, racism, and classism. Are my own theories and modes of action taking into account the fact that I am deeply complicit in this system of oppression? How can I become more conscious of the ways in which my own struggle to resist sexism might also come alongside those who struggle to resist the systems and structures of racism and classism? These are incredibly difficult questions that take nothing short of a lifetime to begin to answer.

Once hooks recognizes this complicated connected character of these various forms of oppression and dominance, she calls the reader to nothing short of revolutionary political action. Only this sort of revolutionary struggle will offer hope in the midst of those who advocate feminism. As one who has become sympathetic to revolution through my engagement with apocalyptic theology, I deeply appreciated hook's omission that this struggle is far from safe. But then again, this is the sort of mode of action I think Christians are called into as they seek to be a disciple of the Crucified Nazarene.

"Often emphasis on identity and lifestyle is appealing because it creates a false sense that one is engaged in praxis. However, praxis within any political movement that aims to have a radical transformative impact on society cannot be solely focused on creating spaces wherein would-be-radicals experience safety and support. Feminist movement to end sexist oppression actively engages participants in revolutionary struggle. Struggle is rarely safe or pleasurable.

Focusing on feminism as political commitment, we resist the emphasis on individual identity and lifestyle. (This should not be confused with the very real need to unite theory and practice.) Such resistance engages us in revolutionary praxis. The ethics of Western society informed by imperialism and capitalism are personal rather than social. They teach us that the individual good is more important than the collective good and consequently that individual change is of greater significance than collective change. This particular form of cultural imperialism has been reproduced in feminist movement in the form of individual women equating the fact that their lives have been changed in a meaningful way by feminism "as is" with a policy of no change need occur in the theory and praxis even if it has little or not impact on society as a whole, or on masses of women."

- bell hooks, "Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression", 54-55.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My hopes.

Yesterday, one of my closest friends asked me quite directly why I continue to care about what very conservative parts of evangelicalism have to say about women and gender roles. My friend wonders why I continue to read certain blogs and leading male evangelical figures who constantly offer a patriarchal understanding of the relationship between men and women within the family unit, the Church, and society at large. I often feel this implicit pressure to simply "give up" on more conservative sects of evangelicalism that are insistent upon proclaiming a complimentarian view of gender. Afterall, I'm a feminist now. Why should I waste my time on preaching to those who refuse to engage with any understanding of the Gospel that is not directly tied to previous commitments of Calvinism (read: limited atonement), complimentarianism, and biblical inerrancy? Don't I know that the fight is useless and I am better to not waste my time on those who think I'm wasting their time with my liberal feminist anti-biblical views?

I want to give up sometimes. I am often so discouraged that I forget why I started on this road from the beginning.

But my response to my friend was finally this: I can't ignore these movements because I once believed this stuff. If it wasn't for the various witnesses in my own life that didn't waiver in their commitment to serve those within these conservative populations, I would have never come to believe what I do. I would still believe that to be a "faithful biblical Christian", I must be a complimentarian regardless of how much I hated it. Even more, I wished so often as I began to study this stuff more deeply in graduate school that I had female leadership and role models inside evangelicalism to model myself after. To be honest, I never once found an evangelical female theologian, ethicist or systematician to follow after. They didn't exist for me. Don't misunderstand me - I am so grateful for the male leadership that I found within evangelicalism that encouraged me to realize the freedom of the Gospel from traditionally conceived (and socially constructed) gender roles - but I really wish I would have found a female role model. So I had to be creative. I found a refuge in women like Judith Butler, Sarah Coakley, and then other individuals from different disciplines like Kasemann, Gaventa, Martyn, etc. And of course, there was Barth as well. Ironically, even though Barth is a complimentarian, it was Barth's overall theological vision that enabled me to read Barth against Barth and have a specific view of the Gospel that allowed me to reject his specific gender views. Slowly, I began to construct my own views of gender with all of these sources that were largely a direct product of my understanding of the Gospel.  It is also important to note that while I want to study and do theology for the rest of my life, Lord-willing, I see this sort of feminism as sort of a consequence of my theology, rather than that which constitutes my theology. Because in the end, even the notion of feminism itself rendered in a specific way, is indebted to a sort of essentialism that I think can not be sustained in light of the Gospel. All that is to say, it took years to form my beliefs about these issues, and I'm still figuring it out, but there was a definitive break with previously held views. And this is due in large part because of theological mentors that refused to believe that individuals like myself were simply a waste of time and hopeless causes.

I guess I keep telling myself that if I can encourage one woman inside of evangelicalism to see that they do not have to believe that fidelity to the Gospel must necessarily mean a commitment to certain views of gender, I will feel like all of my education and work has been worthwhile. Said another way, I hope women don't believe that embracing "feminism" (whatever that means) and saying no to complimentarian is not necessarily a denial of the Gospel, a rejection of the biblical witness, and an abandonment of faith. Because let's be honest, most of these complimentarian circles tell men and women that in order to take the Gospel seriously and to understand the Bible as authoritative, we must render a sort of complimentarian account of gender.

My hope is that such fear-tactics can be dismantled and exposed for what they are. My hope is that women within evangelicalism will realize that the Gospel proclaimed in the Scriptures is a liberation from these sorts of identity-markers that seek to define and ultimately divide us. My hope is that more women within evangelicalism will be encouraged to become whatever the Lord might be calling them to be including a preacher of the Word of God and an administer of the sacrament regardless of their biological sex. My hope is that more women who come to disagree and break with conservative evangelical conceptions of gender will not give up on these circles in this respect, but will remain committed to these people in order to encourage more women to see the liberation that is offered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ for all persons. I have so many hopes for evangelical women. And I refuse to allow the conservative evangelical male leaders who are yelling the loudest to silence me.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Final Insecurity.

I decided to finally visit the Princeton public library this afternoon in order to look around. I figured I would definitely check out the movie section to see if I could rent any documentaries. I ended up picking up a few, and decided to watch one entitled Children Underground. This incredibly somber documentary follows a group of homeless children who live in the subways of Romania. Decades ago, the Romanian government was concerned about the population decline and the subsequent effects of this upon the work force. They decided to outlaw all methods of contraception, and countless unwanted children were abandoned and left in orphanages as a result.

I didn't know how to process everything that I saw in this film. Your sorrow for these children feels meaningless as their lives are deemed utterly worthless by society. People pass them by like they are invisible. Few give them money if they choose to beg. They spend their days hooked on inhaling glue in order to fight off the pains of hunger. I even watched one girl get beaten by a total stranger because she wouldn't stop crying in the subway from being so hungry. Two of the children were taken back to their home and were reunited with their mother and stepfather. The parents were almost shocked that their children had returned and acted as though the fact that they were still alive was a burden too great to bear. They preferred their kids to stay in the country's capital so they had a greater chance of making money on the streets and getting food since the parents were laid off from their jobs.

These sorts of films are so raw with human suffering and hopelessness that you aren't quite sure how to react or what to think. It is this sort of senseless suffering that makes me ask countless questions about the Gospel and the Christian faith. Where is God in the lives of these children? What would it mean to tell these children that there is a God who exists who loves them? Would it even mean anything to them? Should it? Why do I get to sit here and view this film passively as these children are probably sleeping right now on cardboard boxes?

The questions keep coming with no answers. This sort of suffering makes you question if you can even discern in this life where God intentionally provides and where God does not. This film reminded me once again of the radical insecurity that comes at the heart of the Gospel. And it reminded me that the only place where the Christian can have faith that God can be found is in the event of the cross and the resurrection. I can't be certain or have faith that God moves anywhere else, though I hope God does and will work. And I think this lack of certainty and security is what it means to be a disciple and long for the Kingdom come that is not of this world. We don't hope for a renewal or restoration of this world. No, we hope for an entirely new world. A new creation.

I think Barth preached it best with this sermon he delivered on April 4th, 1920:
"Jesus places us in a final insecurity, not only in our relationship to ourselves and other people, but also in our relationship to the world and all that is. What is the world? What is nature? history? fate? What is the space in which we exist, and what is the time in which we live? What do we really know? What does it mean that we know only what we are able to know? As long as this final insecurity is not disclosed in us, we are still sleeping. But in Jesus we awaken. The insecurity is disclosed. The sure ground of our understanding begins to quake and sway beneath our feet. We may relate to Jesus as we wish, but this is completely clear; Jesus counts on God, and that means on an existence, a being, a power that is in no place and at no time. He stands in the service of a power that breaks through fate. He knows a history, and he himself is the hero of this history, but it is not world history. There flashes like lightning in him a nature that is on the verge of blowing away what we call nature, as dynamite blows away rock. He lives in a world that is not our world. "Heaven and earth will pass away!" [Mark 13:31 par.]. And even if the whole New Testament were a fable, this fable would have the highly remarkable meaning that in it a certainty emerges that makes everything else uncertain. "I saw a new heaven and a new earth" [Rev. 21:1]. That is Jesus. He is victor. And that is Easter."

- Karl Barth, The Early Preaching of Karl Barth, 135.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Cross Always Remains Scandal.

Photo Credit: http://tiny.cc/7cvmlw
"The cross also shows us that from the aspect of the question of salvation, true man is always the sinner who is fundamentally unable to help himself, who cannot by his own action bridge the endless distance to God, and who is hence a member of the lost, chaotic, futile world, which at best waits for the resurrection of the dead. Morality and religion do not alter this at all: they only intensify the forlornness by arrogantly or despairingly permitting attempts at the impossible - attempts, that is to say, to achieve salvation and transcend the world. The cross always remains scandal and foolishness for Jew and Gentile, inasmuch as it exposes man's illusion that he can transcend himself and effect his own salvation, that he can all by himself maintain his own strength, his own wisdom, his own piety and his own self-praise even towards God. In light of the cross God shows all this, and ourselves as well, to be foolish, vain and godless. For everyone is foolish, vain and godless who wants to do, without God and contrary to God, what only God himself can do. Whether it is the devout man who makes the attempt or whether it is the criminal is in the last resort unimportant. Only the creator can be the creature's salvation, not his own works. Salvation always means resurrection from the dead, because that is what God effects in all of his acts and gifts to us."

- Ernst Käsemann, "The Saving Significance of Jesus' Death", 40-41.

I wonder what it would look like if we really took seriously the notion that our own morality and religion did not alter the utter helplessness of humanity in terms of their own salvation and ability to transcend the reality of this world. Perhaps the problem is that we do not despair enough of our own helplessness and our existence in this world and therefore think that our morality and religion can achieve the impossible. I'm beginning to think that it is only in total despair of this world and all human possibilities that the Gospel can be heard.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Resurrection of Jesus.

"But Barth did have an answer to the question he had posed: where does the world of God have an opening towards society? God would not be God if the matter rested with the antithesis in which the world of God stands over against this world. There must be a way from there to here, since clearly there is no way from here to there. Everything which he had said up to this point rested upon a presupposition: namely, that in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead the history of God has cut through the history of this world at a single point, 'perpendicularly from above'. The movement whose power and significance has been unveiled in the resurrection of Jesus is a divine movement. The wholly other, eternal life of God has been revealed. That the resurrection was 'bodily' means that the profane world has been addressed at the very point of its subjection to the powers of death and destruction. When we know this, we can no longer live as if the laws which govern social relationships have an independent validity and significance. They have already been set aside in principle. In the light of the resurrection, we can no longer live under the illusions that we can overcome the world but we also know that God can and will. We live in hope of the coming Kingdom."

- Bruce McCormack, Critically Realistic Dialectical Theology, 198-199.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Revolution of the Christ-event.

I started reading Roy Harrisville's Fracture this evening to take a break from some gender material in which I've been immersing myself lately. I only finished the introduction, but Harrisville's project is really fascinating. He basically argues that the predominant belief concerning salvation history does not do justice to the revolutionary character of the Christ-event. Instead of Jesus Christ serving as this final capstone so to speak within a "process of revelation", the New Testament figures saw the life and death of Jesus Christ as something which transformed and defied all of their paradigms. Revolutionary is the only word that best describes the heart of what Harrisville is trying to communicate. This seems to accord with the sense I get as I've been studying Galatians for the past few months; that the crucified Lord in Jesus Christ means nothing less than the radical crucifixion of all that is. Galatians has been difficult to go through for a variety of reasons, not least because of this radicalness that I've been encountering. As I said in the post below, I often don't know what to do with the content of the letter. But I appreciate that Harrisville captures this understanding that something rather revolutionary is occurring for Paul in the Christ-event:
While it is true that the apparatus of the method, language, and concepts that Paul uses to proclaim his gospel are not at all unique to him, and that he scarcely uses a single device in argument of interpretation that has not already been used by others who never shared his faith, the focus - the concentration - of everything in his possession, whether of method, language, or conceptuality, on a single theme, a single event, a single person, represents a challenge to the application of the linear or cumulative notion of his experience. He says: "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14). According to Paul Minear, only when we give proper weight to the revolution that occurs in Paul's own religious world does this "triple crucifixion" of Christ, the world, and Paul make sense. Although the expression is clearly metaphorical, Paul was not playing with trivial figures of speech. The experience was so overwhelming that he was impelled to use figurative language to do it justice. First of all, the world that had been "crucified" to Paul was not a world he had hated. Its crucifixion assumed his prior intimate attachment to it: "He has been as far from hating this cosmos as he had been from hating himself as a son of Abraham." Second, in speaking of himself as crucified to the world, Paul signaled an event with cosmic, ontological proportions, something that was a world away from subjective experience; for, of whatever sort the world or existence might be, it was now all subordinated to the event that had effected the double crucifixion of the world to Paul and Paul to the world - "the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." 
- Roy Harrisville, Fracture: The Cross as Irreconcilable in the Language and Thought of the Biblical Writers, 3-4.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Marriage and the New Creation

This afternoon I picked up J. Louis Martyn's Galatians commentary to prepare for my sermon on Sunday. I flipped over to his section on Galatians 3:28 since I thought this might serve as a great foundation for the direction of my sermon topic. As I kept reading through Martyn's note on the verse, I was surprised to find him discussing marriage in light of this verse. I can't remember ever talking about marriage on this blog in the past, but Martyn's writing on the topic in light of the new creation really struck me as quite radical. I'm not sure what to do with it, but it simply can't be ignored. The excerpt is quite long, but I should quote it here before offering my thoughts and questions:
Pondering the matters of sexual differentiation and family, one recalls that the Jesus traditions in the synoptic gospels show a remarkable tension. One the one hand, when asked about divorce, Jesus uses the ancient and widespread argument based on the structure of creation. Drawing on the book of Genesis, he says:
From the beginning of creation [there was no divorce] God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mothers and be joined to his wife ... (Mark 10:6-7; NRSV; Gen 1:27; 2:24)
On the other hand, when told that his biological mother and brothers are outside the crowded house in which eh is teaching, Jesus is far from presupposing the creational basis of sexuality and marriage. On the contrary, he refers to what one might call the new-creational family:
And he replied "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and my mother" (Mark 3:33-35; NRSV).
The traditions about Jesus find him arguing both on the basis of creation and on the basis of the gospel's power to bring about a new creation - the eschatological family - and between these two kinds of arguments there is a discernible tension.
One can sense a similar tension in Paul's letters, if one takes them as a whole. In Rom 1:18-32 Paul uses an argument explicitly based on creation, drawing certain conclusions from "the things [God] has made" in "the creation of the cosmos" (Rom 1:10). In effect, Paul says in this passage that God's identity and the true sexual identity of human beings as male and female can both be inferred from creation.
What a different argument lies before us in Gal 3:26-29; 6:14-15! Here the basis is explicitly not creation, but rather the new creation in which the building blocks of the old creation are declared to be nonexistent. If one were to recall the affirmation "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18), one would also remember that the creational response to loneliness is married fidelity between man and woman (Gen 2:24; Mark 10:6-7). But in its announcement of the new creation, the apocalyptic baptismal formula declares the erasure of the distinction of male from female. Now the answer to loneliness is not marriage, but rather the new-creational community that God is calling into being in Christ, the church marked by mutual love, as it is led by the Spirit of Christ (Gal 3:28b; 5:6, 13, 22; 6:15).
A tension between new-creational argument and creational argument is not to be found, however, within Galatians itself. In writing to his church in Corinth, for example, Paul will negotiate the relation between new creation and creation by advising married people to be married as though not being married (1 Cor 7:29). For the Galatians he provides no such finesse. Indeed, in writing to the Galatians Paul avoids two things. He does not demonstrate the tension that can be seen between a creational argument and a new-creational one. And, correspondingly, he does not provide a way of relating the one to the other, as though in some manner new creation could be added to creation. Here he argues uncompromisingly on the basis of God's new creation.
The result of such a radical vision and of its radical argumentation is the new-creational view of the people of God harmonious with the one we have seen in Comment #37. Just as, in Galatians 5:13-14, the need to surmount loneliness is now met not by marriage, but rather by the loving mutuality enacted in the new creation, the church of God, so the corresponding need to belong to a coherent community is not met by the making of a people ethnically and religious differentiated from other peoples, but rather by the community of that new creation that God is calling into existence in Christ throughout the whole of the world. Thus, this corporate people is determined to no degree at all by the religious and ethnic factors that characterized the old creation (5:6; 6:15). This people is determined solely by incorporation into the Christ in whom those factors have no real existence (380-382).
I'm not even sure where to begin with my thoughts and questions, but I'll give it my best shot. First, I've given a lot of thought to my theology of marriage and what the covenant of marriage means in light of the Gospel. I'm convinced that in many ways, some of which I am probably not fully aware, my theology of marriage is more influenced by American ideals of romance rather than the reality of the new creation existing in Christ. I don't know if I will ever get married, but as a single person these questions are important for me to ask as I think it isn't appropriate for Christians to assume the norm is marriage and the exception is singleness in light of the Gospel.

Second, I was raised in the church and have attended various well-known evangelical institutions. Marriage is glorified, for better or for worse, in both the church and evangelicalism as a whole. I'm confident that most would not disagree with me when I say that it is not uncommon for Christians to believe that the norm for a theology of marriage is based upon a creational model as Martyn outlines above. And I always hear Christians trying to explain aware the radical elements of Paul that Martyn mentions in the Corinthians passage as if Paul was not really with the general ethos of the biblical witness and Paul can only be trusted for a theology of marriage when he speaks positively about it (Galatians 5, for example). So there is never even real discussion about a possible tension that Martyn talks about between a creational argument and a new-creational argument in relation to marriage. The tension between the two that you find in Jesus' words within the Gospel narratives and Paul in his epistles is bad enough when trying to think about what marriage might look like. What does marriage even mean when you have a tension between the two? And how are married people, if they are following Paul's teachings, supposed to act as if they are not married? Seriously?

But if you just turn to Galatians alone, as Martyn does here, that already seemingly impossible tension for the existence of marriage doesn't even exist anymore. There is no longer this tug of war between creation and new creation. In Paul's vision, there is now only new creation. And Martyn is right to call this "radical." So what would marriage look like in the new creation? Moreover, would it even exist? And for the community of believers who are in Jesus Christ and called to witness to the Gospel, are we not to witness to this new creation, however feebly, in our very lives? 

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about this.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Unconvincing simplicity.

I started reading Romerbrief again today in order to get as much reading finished for my Paul and Karl class before the fall semester begins. It is always amusing to read a book more than once and see what you overlooked or never found interesting the first or second time around. I can't quite articulate why I found this excerpt particularly interesting other than to say that the never-ending dialectic between profound simplicity and complexity that always exists within the message of the Christian faith resonated with me. I appreciate Barth's acknowledgement that nothing is ever simple when speaking about the relationship between God and humanity in light of the reality and depth of human suffering in the world.
For us neither the Epistle to the Romans, nor the present theological position, nor the present state of the world, nor the relation between God and the world, is simple. And he who is now concerned with truth must boldly acknowledge that he cannot be simple. In every direction human life is difficult and complicated. And, if gratitude be a consideration that is at all relevant, men will not be grateful to us if we provide them with short-lived pseudo-simplifications. Does the general demand for simplicity mean more than a desire - intelligible enough, and shared by most theologians - that truth should be expressed directly, without paradox, and in such a way that it can be received otherwise than by faith alone? I am thinking here of an experience in relation to that earnest and upright man, Wernle. As a modern man he is deeply hurt when I say, for example, plainly and simply - Christ is risen! He complains that I have made use of an eschatological phrase, and have ridden rough-shod over very, very difficult problems of thought. However, when I endeavor to say the same thing in the language of thought, that is, in dialectical fashion, he protests in the name of the simple believer that the doctrine of the Resurrection is wonderful, spiritual, and hard to understand. How can I answer him? He would be satisfied only if I were to surrender the broken threads of faith, and to speak directly, concretely, and without paradox. This means that the wholly childlike and the wholly unchildlike belong within the realm of truth, but that everything between must be excluded. I earnestly desire to speak simply of those matters with which the Epistle to the Romans is concerned; and, were some one competent to do this to appear, my work would at once be superseded. I am in no way bound to my book and to my theology. As yet, however, those who claim to speak simply seem to me to be - simply speaking abotu something else. By such simplicity I remain unconvinced (5-6).

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Solidarity as Discipleship.

For my summer pastoral internship, I was required to put together a four-part sermon series on the marginalized of society. I preached the first sermon in the series last Sunday, which provided a christological framework or orientation of sorts to begin the whole series. It was quite the experience. The only other time I have ever preached is as a chaplain in a psychiatric hospital. Despite these obviously unique experiences, I found the responsibility of preaching in front of a congregation to unexpectedly offer even more challenges and fears. I guess this is due to the fact that I'm faced more than ever with increasing doubts and questions. I'm constantly asking myself why any of this matters (or should matter) to the random person in my congregation. Preaching always provides the occasion to question the value and purpose of theological reflection, especially for the common layperson that rightly has no interest in the obscure and technical theological texts that I might find interesting. I keep asking myself what the Gospel has to say and must say to the single mother, the addict, the elderly, the recovering alcoholic, the low-income struggling and tired father, the average teenager, or anyone else who happens to show up in the pew. And I can't help but remember that the only thing that needs to be preached and constantly be proclaimed is a theology of the cross that has a singular meaning for all humanity regardless of one's particular life situation. This singularity of the Gospel is only possible because the Gospel proclaims one Lord, one revelation, and one message of liberation, redemption, and reconciliation for all.

So I'm preaching again in two Sundays on the third part of the series regarding what it means to have solidarity with the marginalized of society and if such solidarity is even possible. And questioning the possibility of solidarity becomes all the more pressing for myself as one who has only known privilege. As I prepare, I find myself repeatedly drawn to the sermons and lectures of Ernst Käsemann found in the extraordinary book On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene. It seems that Käsemann understands in a way that I have not found before the real urgency of the Gospel message and what this means for the suffering, forgotten, and marginalized. More than this, his work reminds me of something I recently read in Beverly Gaventa's book Our Mother Saint Paul where she writes that "Paul's theological horizon is nothing less than the cosmos itself which is in need of deliverance, not merely from human misdeeds but also from the grasp of the powers that are aligned against God" (x). Käsemann's work is written from this Pauline cosmic perspective that understands the Gospel as a word of liberation not limited to the individual, the church community, Israel, the marginalized, or even for all of humanity, but rather it is a reality that involves the crucifixion of the entire cosmos in the Crucified Nazarene. I'm coming to believe that anything less than this cosmic vision can't really have a word to say to the marginalized of society because anything less would fail to recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord over all earthly powers that continually enslave us. Here's some sections that were meaningful to me as I continue to write my sermon on solidarity (emphases mine):

"The righteousness of God intends and creates salvation for the poor, the oppressed, the misused, the dying. The utopia of balance between societal powers and interests, even under the aegis of earthly order, may not bring us to the point of existing and working against those for whom the Crucified died and to whom we must bring the gospel of salvation not merely with words but with our life and solidarity. As disagreeable as it is to say, the true church was never a fellowship in which decent people formed the majority. The church of Jesus is a new earth by the fact that, and insofar as, the masses scorned by upstanding citizens find room and asylum in it. Where we do not respect legitimate and necessary order, the earth becomes chaos. But where, for the sake of earthly rules of order, salvation and divine righteousness are not allowed to be the final measure of our service, we betray the lordship of the Crucified already begun on earth. Our political behavior does not recognize order as the last word, but rather love, which sets free" (26).

"It seems to me that a Christian in our days can only be a nonconformist, someone who resists the dominant powers in state, society, and economy and declares oneself in solidarity with the damned of the earth. It do not know how we can all help and do it together. But I know that we must revise our thinking, our habits, our conduct of life if our children and grandchildren, to saying nothing of the crucified Nazarene, are not one day to judge us as fellow travelers and as guilty. Today, everyone must declare for solidarity, voluntarily and consciously or not. The only thing up for debate is which side we are on. The entire Bible and all of Christianity become unintelligible to me if I do not hear the call with Abraham, the people of the wilderness, and Jesus' first disciples to move into an unknown future under the command and promise of our God. Currently, it is assumed to be realistic when we sue for and increase our own rights and privileges. Whether or not by doing so we have chased after illusions and idols is a question we may scarcely put or discuss if we do not want to be suspects as subversive and revolutionary. Christians dare not allow themselves to be intimidated by this. At least, to put this question loudly and sharply is their present duty and the expression of their solidarity with those who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, whom their Lord has sought and consoled.

... Our Lord became solidly united with his Father's creatures, and was so up to the cross. He descended from the glory given him into what had to appear to him and all the abandoned as a hell and thus became light and truth in the midst of earthly darkness, the Savior of the lost, the Liberator of the oppressed, the Revealer of the divine love. He says to us, 'Follow me.' Solidarity with all who need help is only another word for discipleship. We cannot be disciples of Jesus if we are not on the way to the other as the Master before us. ... No one who belongs to him lives and dies only for self. Because we belong to him, we belong to the others thrown at our feet that we might lift them up. In Christian terms solidarity means to be free for humanity, since God came to us in Jesus Christ in the solidarity of grace" (244-245).

"There is no more revolutionary book than the Bible, if only we read it with open eyes and alert minds. It proclaims as Lord the One who was most despised and died among criminals, derided by religious and respectable society. We must search for our God in earth's inferno before we meet him in his glory. It is not by accident that the Gospels report that he frightened off the demons and breaks into their kingdom to free their victims from their violence. How little we know of him who shapes his creation from out of chaos, promises resurrection to those who come from and return to dust, and descends to the lowest parts of the earth so that once and for all the humiliated and crushed see light in the midst of the darkness daily surrounding them! Whoever does not begin to study with the Nazarene what salvation means will never learn it. He will rather dance around the golden calf, be occupied with desire, greed, and the despising of neighbor, though wanting to be pious and to belong to respectable society. The history of Christianity ... has been defined by an exodus from Egypt that ended with dancing around the golden calf, imagining it serves our God, though all the devils rejoice over it. The Nazarene breaks into this bustle. He sets the enslaved and possessed free" (276).

Monday, July 23, 2012

The All-Embracing "No" of God.

I read this just now and was struck by how much I identify with these words this time around more than any other time I've read them:

"The Gospel speaks of God as He is: it is concerned with Him Himself and with Him only. It speaks of the Creator who shall be our Redeemer and of the Redeemer who is our Creator. It is pregnant with our complete conversion; for it announces the transformation of our creatureliness into freedom. It proclaims the forgiveness of our sins, the victory of life over death, in fact, the restoration of everything that has been lost. It is the signal, the fire-alarm of a coming, new world. But what does all this mean? Bound to the world as it is, we cannot here and now apprehend. We can only receive the Gospel, for it is the recollection of God which is created by the Gospel that comprehends its meaning. The world remains the world and men remain men even whilst the Gospel is being received. The whole burden of sin and the whole curse of death still press heavily upon us. We must be under no illusion: the reality of our present existence continues as it is! The Resurrection, which is the place of exit, also bars us in, for it is both barrier and exit. Nevertheless, the 'No' which we encounter is the 'No' - of God. And therefore our veritable deprivation is our veritable comfort in distress. The barrier marks the frontier of a new country, and what dissolves the whole wisdom of the world also establishes it. Precisely because the 'No' of God is all-embracing, it is also His 'Yes'."

- Barth, Epistle to the Romans, 38.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Gospel and Gender Identity.

Despite the fact that I'm taking five classes in the fall and I will be busier than I prefer, I have been looking forward to this upcoming semester more than any other during my time as a graduate student. I am most excited about my New Testament course entitled "Paul and Karl" co-taught by Bruce McCormack and Beverly Gaventa, which is an in-depth study of the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans and Karl Barth's Epistle to the Romans. In attempting to read ahead and start thinking about my research paper for this class, I started reading Gaventa's work on the apocalyptic gospel and gender. Her work is both deeply fascinating and refreshingly accessible. I told my friend the other day when discussing Gaventa's work on gender that I have never read anyone who captures my own thoughts, concerns, and beliefs so well on the topic. Gaventa's writings give me hope for the rich conversation about gender that can occur when critically engaging the apocalyptic gospel found in Paul's letter to the Galatians. Here's one of my favorite excerpts:
"What the gospel invades is more than this world of our individual and collective striving for achievement, as becomes evident when we return to the famous line "you are all one in Christ"(3:28). Returning to the analogy from physical laws as a way of understanding this passage, Paul here insists that those who are "in Christ Jesus" are baptized "into" Christ and even "put on Christ" (see also 2:19-20), which means that they cannot simultaneously be "in" or "under" the power of the Law. One's identity—one's place of residence—is in the gospel, because God has made it so. Despite the frequent and common-sense reaction that Paul cannot possibly "really" mean that there is no longer male and female, since manifestly there are men and women in the world, that is exactly what he means: that being "in Christ" brings life in the identity-conferring realm of "male and female" to an end. Like the other pairs in the verse, "male and female" functions as a metonym for places in which we live, the spheres in which we name ourselves and find our identity. Those who are "in Christ" cannot also be in the identity business of being first of all female or male.

On that reading, rendering Gal 3:28 as a declaration of equality is not only too little, it is distinctly beside the point. Those who find themselves "in Christ" are not also "in" the power arena that makes questions of equality necessary. Equality is a concept or principle invoked in order to insist that individuals or groups be treated uniformly, that they have the same access to decision-making, and that they have the same privilege or status. All those who are "in Christ," however, know that they all have only what has been granted them by the Spirit, and all have exactly the same standing in that God rescued all from "the present evil age." To be sure, the pairs reflect not simply spheres of identity but the privilege assigned to one member of each pair: the Jew, the free person, the male. Yet what Paul declares is not simply that the gospel brings these privileges to an end, but that the pairs no longer exist. The best paraphrase comes in 6:15: "there is neither circumcision nor uncir-cumcision but new creation."

- Beverly Gaventa, "Is Galatians Just a 'Guy Thing'?", Interpretation, July 2000, 275-276.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What Should a Student of Theology Do Today?

Yesterday evening, I sat down to read Bonhoeffer's essay "What Should a Student of Theology Do Today?" after it came highly recommended from a friend. I wasn't quite sure what to expect since I usually prefer to read and re-read Barth's Evangelical Theology for advice and reinforcement when thinking about the nature, task, and challenges of studying theology. But Bonhoeffer's short essay was a really great read:

"One should not think it necessary to wait for particular experiences of 'being called' to ministry. A student who is simply gripped by the subject matter of theology and cannot turn away from it can consider that a calling. But certainly, it must be what theology is really about that enthralls the student - a real readiness to think about God, the Word, and the will of God, a 'delight in the law of the LORD' and readiness to meditate on it 'day and night'; a real willingness to work seriously, to study, and to think. It is not the experience of a call but the determination to do sober, earnest, and responsible theology work that is the gateway to the study of theology.

One may bring to theological studies one's own passions, one's philosophical, ethical, pedagogical, patriotic, or social zeal. These belong to the student as a whole person, and one must truly enter into theology with one's whole self. The person who is not driven to theological study at least in part by these passions will certainly be a poor theologian. But theological students must then learn and know that the driving force in their lives and thinking, as theologians, can only come from the passion of Jesus Christ, our crucified Lord. The study of theology cannot be conquered by the overflowing vitality of one's own passion; rather, the real study of theologia sacra begins when, in the midst of questioning and seeking, human beings encounter the cross; when they recognize the endpoint of all their own passions in the suffering of God at the hands of humankind, and realize that their entire vitality stands under judgment. This is the great turnaround, which for the course of study means the turn toward theological objectivity. Theological study no long means revealing the passions of one's ego; it is no longer a monologue, no longer religious self-fulfillment. Rather, it is about responsible study and listening, becoming attentive to the Word of God, which has been revealed right here in this world; it is toning down one's self in the face of what is far an away the most important matter.

...Finally, one should know as a true theologian that, even where our knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its truth and purity keeps us away from false doctrines, we stand beside our brethen who have wandered and been misled, sharing their guilt, interceding and praying for them, knowing that our own life depends, not on our better knowledge or being on the right side, but on forgiveness."

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Berlin: 1932-1933, 432-433, 435.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Evangelicalism and Complementarianism.

I have been meaning to write a blog post about the recent debates concerning complementarianism that have been surfacing in evangelicalism lately for the last six months or so. Truth be told, I've been at such a loss as to what I really wanted to say. There is so much to say that it seems it is one of those topics where one doesn't quite know where to even begin. This post is a modest and short attempt to voice some of my main concerns and grievances that surround the entire debate.

Over the past however many months (perhaps even years now), Rachel Evans has been attempting to respond to the complementarianism popular within certain conservative groups among evangelicals most notably found in the Gospel Coalition. Evans has written far too many posts to discuss. But she has consistently shown that complementarianism, based upon certain supposed biblical notions of authority and submission, is a direct result of patriarchy. While I deeply appreciate Evans continual and unwavering courage to shed light upon the misguided assumptions of complementarianism and want nothing more than to support her efforts and goals, I remain dissatisfied with the entire ethos of the debate. Here are just two of my concerns:

It needs to be said from the beginning that it is fundamentally wrong that the burden of proof, at least implicitly, is laid upon Evans by these complementarians to show how women are given the freedom in the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be equal ministers to men in every way. The fact that Evans and women everywhere must continually defend and justify themselves as equal in Christ to serve in all roles inside of the Church and the home is simply demoralizing and humiliating. The reality that women must prove to these men that they should have the opportunity to preach the Gospel, administer the sacraments, and have a true partnership in marriage where submission is a mutual reality communicates to women that we are still not considered equal to men in Jesus Christ. Even after the repeated prophetic witness of Evans and countless other women, complementarians say that these women should realize their beliefs, concerns, and convictions about their full equality to men in the Gospel are utterly misguided. Why aren't more individuals speaking out about the utter scandal that this debate is even occurring in the first place?

Second, I grieve that egalitarians continue to play the same methodological game as complementarians. I fully support the understanding that the biblical witness serves as a methodological authority in the theological task. But is the best that we can do for women is to mine the Scriptures for all the instances where women are discussed in order to show that these examples are proof that women are fully equal to men in Jesus Christ? Is the best that can be done is that there was this female leader here once and then this female apostle here? Is that what our arguments about half of humanity are reduced to? Is the best that the Church can offer to women the reality that the Holy Spirit in Hebrew is a feminine word? Are these arguments really where we really want to invest our support for the full inclusion of women in the ministry of the Gospel? To me, it seems that evangelicalism has failed to take this opportunity to think anew about what it means that in Jesus Christ, there is no male and female. All humanity is one in Jesus Christ. What would it mean to begin thinking christologically about these issues? What would it mean to ponder the radical message of the Gospel that in Jesus Christ, there is now no distinction between any persons? What would it mean to understand these distinctions as belonging to the old cosmos that has been crucified in Jesus Christ? It seems that only when evangelical women begin to think only in terms of Jesus Christ when discussing these issues can we even begin to have the chance to receive the radical freedom that the Gospel brings by the grace of God to all persons regardless of gender.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Suffering God.

Hear, hear, Sir Jüngel (and Karl)!

"[God's being] is a being in a becoming threatened by perishing. For humanity in opposition to God is condemned to perish. And in the existence of Jesus Christ God suffers this very condemnation. 'The more seriously we take this, the stronger the temptation to approximate to the view of a contradiction and conflict in God Himself.' Barth takes the passion of God very seriously. 'The Almighty exists and acts and speaks here in the form of One who is weak and impotent, the eternal as One who is temporal and perishing ... The One who lives for ever has fallen a prey to death. The Creator is subjected to and overcome by the onslaught of that which is not.' But he categorically rejects that we must draw from this the consequence of a contradiction through which God would come into conflict with himself. For Barth this consequence is blasphemy. However, his rejection of this consequence does not lead to any toning down of his discussion of God's suffering, but conversely, to a critique of the traditional metaphysical concept of God, according to which God cannot suffer without falling into conflict with his being. In this critique, Barth's opposition to every kind of natural theology received its most pointed statement. No concept of God arrived at independent of the reality of Jesus Christ may decide what is possible and impossible for God. Rather, we are to say from what God as man in Jesus Christ is, does and suffers: 'God can do this.' For 'who God is and what it is to be divine is something we have to learn where God has revealed Himself and His nature, the essence of the divine. ... It is not for us to speak of a contradiction and rift in the being of God, to reconstitute them in light of the fact that He does this. We may believe that God can and only be absolute in contrast to all that is relative, exalted in contrast to all that is lowly, active in contrast to all suffering, inviolable in contrast to all temptation, transcendent in contrast to all immanence, and therefore divine in contrast to everything human, in short that He can and must be only the "Wholly Other". But such beliefs are shown to be quite untenable, and corrupt and pagan, by the fact that God does in fact be and do this in Jesus Christ."

- Eberhard Jüngel, God's Being is in Becoming, 99-100.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Patriarchy and Kenosis.

I'm currently writing my last term paper and it has been incredibly difficult to quite get my thoughts and ideas together. This blog post, I'm hoping, will serve as a way to think aloud as I am still trying to think through various issues related to the kenotic self-emptying of Jesus Christ and what this means for women, specifically for the ends of feminism. I consider myself a disciple of Jesus Christ and my identity as a disciple who has been liberated by the Gospel directly informs and conditions my feminism. While my theological beliefs as well as my anthropology are quite dynamic in nature and never as linear as I just articulated, for conceptual purposes, I first and foremost confess my identity in Jesus Christ as a new creation and my identity is directly informed by what has been accomplished in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The only reason, I believe, that I need and defend the cause of feminism is because anything that maintains distinctions and separations within society whether based on gender, race, disability, cultural or otherwise is man-made and ultimately denies the very freedom and liberation that comes in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, those cultural and man-made distinctions are torn down so that all are freed to serve and love one another as Jesus Christ first served and loved us.

At times it feels as though I don't identify with a lot of the language that surfaces in feminist circles. The language of "rights" and "empowerment" are difficult for me to fully grasp, let alone accept. In my mind, the Gospel has no room for language of "rights" since the very notion of what it means to be a disciple is to deny oneself, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus Christ as Lord in life and possibly into death. You can only find your life when you lose it. The Gospel promises liberation, but only once death occurs. Sunday comes after Friday. And so the language of rights creates this space of autonomy and control that the Gospel specifically calls me to forfeit and lay down for the sake of the Kingdom of God. But what does this mean, precisely, in light of the fact that male bodies have controlled, dominated, abused, marginalized, silenced, killed, raped, and humiliated women in various ways for centuries? Is kenosis and the example of Jesus Christ's self-emptying really a word for me as a woman? How am I supposed to empty myself for the sake of the Gospel when that same emptying has been used to convince women to submit to abusive relationships like Jesus Christ Himself submitted to abuse even onto death?

I don't have a lot of answers for these questions. In fact, I often don't feel as though there are any safe places to ask these questions because so often it feels as though you are either a Christian or you are a feminist. If you are a Christian, it seems that these feminist concerns are seen as selfish and utterly in antithesis to the Gospel. But if you are a feminist, it seems that the questions about self-emptying and denying oneself onto death is only a word for men and Jesus Christ could never possibly be a true example for women to model. It seems that somehow, patriarchy has robbed women of the space to truly grapple with what it means to be a servant of Jesus Christ because we live in fear that such service will mean our very oppression. So many feminists allow patriarchy, even when it comes to the very questions that should essentially define who women are as disciples of Jesus Christ, the standard for defining our faith. But I wonder if true freedom might mean saying that despite patriarchy, despite the abuse and despite the danger of oppression, women created their own spaces where they could truly believe that the example of Jesus Christ's radical self-emptying even to the point of death on a cross was truly a word for them. I want to create such a space. I want to be a Christian and a feminist. And truth be told, I don't think it is possible for any person to be the former without being the latter precisely because of the liberation that comes for all humanity in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The humility of God.

I have probably read this excerpt from Karl over ten times by now, but it never ceases to amaze me:
"Even in the form of a servant, which is the form of His presence and action in Jesus Christ, we have to do with God Himself in His true deity. The humility in which He dwells and acts in Jesus Christ is not alien to Him, but proper to Him. His humility is a new mystery for us in whose favour He executes it when He makes use of His freedom for it, when He shows His love even to His enemies and His life even in death, thus revealing them in a way which is quite contrary to all our false ideas about God. But for Him this humility is no new mystery. It is His sovereign grace that He wills to be and is amongst us in humility, our God, God for us. But He shows us this grace, He is amongst us in humility, our God, God for us, as that which He is in Himself, in the most inward depth of His Godhead. He does not become another God. In the condescension in which He gives Himself to us in Jesus Christ He exists and speaks and acts as the One He was from all eternity and will be to all eternity. The truth and actuality of our atonement depends on this being the case. The One who reconciles the world with God is necessarily the one God Himself in His true Godhead. Otherwise the world would not be reconciled with God. Otherwise it is still the world which is not reconciled with God."
- Karl Barth, CD IV.1, 192-193 (emphasis added).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On Finding One's "Calling"

I've been wrestling pretty seriously lately with the notion of my own "calling." I'm still genuinely trying to figure out what anyone means when they use the word "calling."As someone raised in evangelicalism, the word "calling" is thrown around pretty routinely often without much content given to the term. It leaves one trying to continually discern the will of God for one's life. This usually involves a level of anxiety and fear that one might somehow miss their calling. To make matters worse, there is always a lot of supernatural (and sometimes superstitious) language that couches the word "calling" in these sorts of conversations as well.

This notion of "calling" as typically construed includes a lot of pressure. Is this job, path, decision, or goal what I'm supposed to do? Is this what I'm good at? Does this utilize my gifts? And it is often assumed that there is one specific path to one specific calling. Given the fact that I'm presently trying to discern what my future holds in terms of studying theology, I've been asking myself these questions almost every single day. And at times, it feels like such a weight upon me and fear looms large that I'll simply miss it.

In some sense, this desire to "find the will of God" for one's life is the natural response of one committed to serving and following Jesus Christ. And in other ways, it is nothing short of narcissism (I'm speaking strictly for myself here and not pointing the finger at anyone). The process to discern one's calling can easily and quickly end up in patterns of thinking that feel as though the world will not continue orbiting around the sun unless you figure out God's specific plan for your life. And it also rests pretty heavily at times on thinking you are this particular and beautiful snowflake that God has predestined to change the world. There is always an element of pride involved in trying to figure out exactly what you are supposed to be doing for the Kingdom of God in this way that is wrapped up in mystical language of "calling." No matter the good intentions and motives, these dangers are ever-present.

All that is to offer some background for some relief I felt today. As I sat in the Barth seminar on this beautiful Tuesday afternoon, I was really blessed by a passage in Barth that denies the necessity for desire (eros) framed in a particular way. I realize that Barth was not speaking directly to the notion of finding one's own "calling." However, I think this specific passage is still very relevant to my current struggles and questions. Moreover, this passage highlights a theological understanding that is especially freeing about Barth's entire theology. I think it has to do primarily with the reality that reconciliation has already been accomplished and actualized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no possibility in the human subject to attain some new status, even in finding their own "calling." It is finished. Everything that can and should be said about me, any definition of who I am as a human being is already been spoken and achieved and defined in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In life, the Christian simply chooses or not chooses to recognize their true status and reality as one elected and reconciled by God in Jesus Christ. The truth that all has already been accomplished, and that there is no creative act for the individual offers a freedom from the burden of continually striving to figure out what God wants you to do with your life. I don't think this gives a person license for laziness or disinterest. Far from it. This posture of recognition offers the freedom to truly be the person that you actually already are -- a child of God who was elected by the free grace and love of God to be in communion with God and to offer a life of witness to the world that this is their same status. I don't think anything short of that can offer any sort of comfort as I continue to make decisions for the future and seek to follow the Lord in my speech and actions.
The truth is that he can never in all eternity find himself, his being as this self in the world before God and among his fellows, but chasing his own shadow, can and will only lose in all eternity, so long as he tries to will and desire and seek and strive after and achieve and maintain himself as the love in which man can respond to the love of God, in his liberation from this supposed necessity, his dispensation from this forward-seeking in need and desire, his release from the obligation of this chase in which he is both the hunter and the hunted and which for this reason can only be utterly futile. Man can cease from this self-willing, and therefore from all the frenzied activity in which he can seek, yet never find, but only lose himself. For if the only meaning of life is that man must seek himself to find himself, he can only lose himself in this seeking, and life is meaningless. Christian love is his deliverance because the one who loves as a Christian gives up trying to save himself, to be his own deliverer. In Christian love a man can finally leave that circle of destruction, which is in the true sense a vicious cycle. And not become himself? Quite the contrary! It is only in this way that he can and will become himself. To renounce that seeking, to leave that circle, is indeed a necessary condition of Christian love. But positively this love is man's self-giving to God (not for what He can give, nor for the sake of some purpose that can be achieved with His help, but for God Himself), and his self-giving to his fellow (again, not for what he can give, nor for the sake of some purpose, but for the man himself). As this self-giving, the Christian love which is from God is man's response to God's own love. It is in this way that God loves man. He does not seek Himself, let alone anything for Himself, but simply man, man as he is and as much, man himself. And God does not in any sense fall short of Himself when He loves in this way. In this self-giving to man He is God in all His freedom and glory. If the love of man, as his response to the fact that God loves him in this way, itself consists in his self-giving, this certainly means that there can be no more self-love, no more desiring and seeking the freedom and glory of the self. But why, and how far, is this really the case? Simply because he has already found himself in great freedom and glory. What he cannot win by desiring and seeking, he has already attained, not in the power of his renunciation, but in the power of the self-giving in which he may respond to the love of God. He himself is the one who is loved by God. He himself is the one to whom God has given Himself in His Son, and gives Himself as He gives Him His Holy Spirit. He is cut off from eros-love, and taken out of that circle, by the fact that, loving as a Christian, he is already at the place which he was vainly trying to reach in the Icarus-flight and self-assertion of eros-love. There is no further point in erotic love. Eros is made superfluous by the agape in which man may find himself and therefore has no more need to seek himself. He himself discovers himself to be secure in his response to the love of God."

- Karl Barth, CD IV.2, 749-750.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hope and Mental Illness

I was assigned to read a lecture entitled "Recovery and the Conspiracy of Hope" by Dr. Patricia Deegan concerning the existence of hope in relation to mental illness. For many reasons, I found this to be incredibly beautiful and meaningful to read. Deegan gave this particular lecture at the Mental Health Services Conference of Australia and New Zealand back in 1996. When she uses the word "we", she is referencing those who work in the area of mental health:

"Both individually and collectively we have refused to succumb to the images of despair that so often are associated with mental illness. We are a conspiracy of hope and we are pressing back against the strong tide of oppression which for centuries has been the legacy of those who are labeled with mental illness. We are refusing to reduce human beings to illnesses. We recognize that within each one of us there is a person and that, as people, we share a common humanity with those who have been diagnosed with mental illness. We are here to witness that people who have been diagnosed with mental illness are not things, are not objects to be acted upon, are not animals or subhuman life forms. We share in the certainty that people labeled with mental illness are first and above all, human beings."

This makes me wonder what kind of rich theology can emerge from a christocentric interpretation of mental illness. I want to resist language that affirms something of inherent worth inside the individual. Rather, I'd like to move toward understanding all humanity, regardless of their endless differences including mental illness, as valuable only due to their reality as being chosen and elected in Jesus Christ. I can't imagine how this would inform the message of hope that is spoken and embodied when interacting with those who endure mental illness.

Moreover, I think there are a lot of eschatological questions that need to be asked when we reference language of hope in relation to mental illness. Is there a "true humanity" that must be found underneath this mental illness? What does trying to find that "true humanity" underneath the illness mean for how we view and treat those with mental illnesses just as they are? Eschatologically speaking, do we see them as less than human until the future resurrection when they will no longer suffer from such illness? Is their illness an intimate part of their humanity? Do we want to support an eschatology that leaves no room for mental illness to exist in the future resurrection? If we don't want the future resurrection to include mental illness, is it possible to prevent treating those with mental illness as subhuman in this present reality?

There is one thing I would like to note: so often in academic theological discourse, we talk endlessly about the marginalized and the oppressed. And I fully support this focus more than I can express here. But I rarely, if ever, hear speech about those who suffer from mental illness. They are truly some of the most forgotten and abused members of society. To hope for these particular human beings and somehow pursue solidarity with those who suffer from mental illness is scandalously neglected. This might be due to the fact that results are so hard to tangibly measure most times. Progress is unbearably slow. Sometimes so much so that hope seems futile. Moreover, what does progress mean for specific types of mental illness like schizophrenia? Yet the places where progress seems impossible to measure are the exact places where hope must be born. These are the places for which theological speech should be directed. The psychiatric hospital is one of the main spaces for which we should be ordering our speech and actions after the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These are the places where the light of the resurrection must shine into the darkness. These are precisely the places where Jesus Christ meets us.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday.

"And it is not only legitimate, but obligatory, that we should think of the saying in Mk. 10:45 which tells us that the Son of Man has not come into the world to be ministered unto (like the supposed lords of this world), but to minister; and not to minister partially or occasionally, like many of those whose real aim is to rule, but totally and exclusively, by giving His life for many, for the liberation of many, by becoming their λύτρον [redemption]. This is the determination of His historical existence. His body and blood, as it is impressively repeated (however we may have to interpret the different texts in detail) in the thanksgiving and giving and receiving which took place at the Last Supper with the disciples ( Mk. 14:22 and par.). In order that others may receive from Him and appropriate what is active and revealed in Him, He will not and does not offer up anything less than Himself, His body and blood: This is my body; And this is my blood. And He does this with thanksgiving, as the great act of His εὐλογία [blessing] and εὐχαριστία [thanksgiving]. To the same context (understood either in relation to the Lord's Supper or apart from it) there belongs also the passage in Jn. 6:53 that if we are to have eternal life we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. We may also think of the very curious saying to the woman in Bethany about anointing His body for burial (Mk. 14:8). But perhaps the most eloquent individual testimony is the quiet fact that when He called the twelve to be with Him, and to go out proclaiming Him with power to cast out demons, He also called Judas (who betrayed Him, as is noted in all the accounts, Mk. 3:13 and par.). Notice that it was He Himself who called him. And as the Gospels see it, He does not do this naively or in ignorance. He is not surprised by what Judas does later. He knows very well what he will do. He calls him with this in view. He makes (v. 14) even this man His apostle. He could hardly have integrated His self-offering more clearly into His life's work than by bringing His παραδούς [betrayer] into this orderly association with Himself."

- Karl Barth, CD IV.2, 258-259.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Short Reflection.

The assigned reading for the Barth seminar today (II.2, 733-781) made clear once again why Karl Barth became and remains my favorite theologian. Barth never ceases to remind me with such clarity and boldness that the Yes of God's grace always precedes the No of God's judgment for all humanity. And the No of God's judgment is not that which exists in antithesis to God's Yes of grace, but actually the former is an outworking of the latter. God's judgment occurs in the revelation of God's love. It is judgment that occurs inside a decision to be the God for us (Emmanuel) from all eternity. So this judgment is finally never to be feared because of the Yes in Jesus Christ. And this knowledge of radical grace truly compels us to worship and obedience.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Racism and Fraternities/Sororities

I was assigned to write an "Anatomy of Racism" paper this past week for my Critical Race Theory class. As a white individual, I found one of the assigned books entitled The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege by Robert Jensen to be the most helpful and illuminating to read. Jensen's admirable lucidity and frankness made so many aspects of this book that much more powerful. This one excerpt about the problem of segregation among U.S. fraternities and sororities on college campuses was really very interesting. Maybe this is due to the fact that I attended an evangelical university where the Greek system was non-existent, but this segregated reality within fraternities and sororities never occurred to me before reading this book. The level of influence and power that is ensured through these particular social networks is deeply problematic not only for the inherent racism therein (as if that weren't enough), but also for the fact that it is a level of corruption in itself. Segregation within the Greek system is yet another (crucial) form of systemic racism that must be uncovered and unmade in order for any level of equality to be actualized within American society. Read on:
"On most U.S. university campuses with a Greek system, fraternities and sororities are segregated. Any Greek organization that enforced such segregation by official policy - a "whites-only" rule - would be bounced off campus. But the continued existence of overwhelmingly segregated fraternities and sororities on many campuses, as a result of traditions and practices that are not overtly racialized, runs afoul of no regulations. But two crucial questions arise.

First, how does the presence of virtually all-white Greek organizations affect the racial climate of the campus? It's reasonable to assume that on a campus where official segregation as abandoned only a few decades ago and non-white students still routinely report they do not feel particularly welcomed on campus, the presence of high-visibility and prestigious groups that remain exclusively or largely whites-only adds to the sense of the university as a white-supremacist institution. Also, the persistence of overtly racist parties at white Greek houses - such as "ghetto parties" in which attendees mock urban blacks, or fake slave auctions - adds to the sense of a campus as a white space. The existence of predominantly non-white Greek organizations, especially black fraternities and sororities, does not change this reality. When unwelcome and/or made to feel uncomfortable in white organizations, it's hardly surprising that non-white students would form their own groups.

Second, Greek organizations are more than just clubs for students while on campus. They create social networks that endure beyond college days and provide entree into business and politics. One study found that a quarter of chief executives at the 500 largest corporations in the United States were fraternity members and that 'once they've graduated, [members] can tap into the network of past fraternity brothers or sisters who litter all tiers of corporate America.' The conclusion: 'A mere 8.5 percent of full-time university undergraduates are members of either a fraternity or a sorority. Not only have fraternities been the breeding ground of those 120 Forbes 500 chief executive officers, they also have spawned 48 percent of all U.S. presidents, 42 percent of U.S. senators, 30 percent of U.S. congressman, and 40 percent of U.S. Supreme Court justices, according to data from The North-American Interfraternity Conference.' The vast majority of these people are, of course, white.

So, the continued existence of a segregated Greek system perpetuates white supremacy, not necessarily because those who support the system have an overt white-supremacist ideology or intend the organizations to have that function. But in a white-supremacist society, the failure to intervene to change the course of the institution means that the institution will perpetuate white supremacy. Racism is no longer official policy of the institution, but its practices are racist. If a university with a Greek system that has this character were serious about creating a truly nonracist university, one easy way to begin the process would be to eliminate the Greek system or enact policies that make desegregation mandatory within a limited time frame. In most universities, either policy is unthinkable" (Jensen, 20-22, emphasis added).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Liberation of the Gospel.

After a really amazing Barth seminar today due in no small part to David Congdon's fantastic presentation, I was inspired to continue reading J. Louis Martyn's Galatians commentary over dinner this evening. I simply wanted to note that I never cease to be amazed at Martyn's analysis of Galatians 3:28 where Paul declares that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Martyn helps to illuminate the radicality of the Gospel's liberation from these very categorical distinctions in Jesus Christ in the following excerpt with exceptional lucidity:
"In a word, Paul employs the ancient equation of the world's elements with archaic pairs of opposites to interpret the religious impact of Christ's advent. Following the baptismal formula, he applies that tradition not to the sensible elements, but rather to the elements of religious distinction. These are the cosmic elements that have found their termination in Christ. Specifically, the cosmos that was crucified on the cross is the cosmos that was founded on the distinction between Jew and Gentile, between sacred and profane, between the Law and the Not-Law. What we contemplate the identity of this crucified cosmos, it is not difficult to see how its departure could lead a Pharisee to speak of his own death (Gal. 6:14)" (405-406).
As Martyn notes just a page earlier, the old cosmos that was founded on the "creational pair of male and female" is also crucified in the cross (404). The reason that this is the essential good news of the Gospel is that these competing elements (Jew and Gentile, sacred and profane, male and female, Law and Not-Law) only lead to enslavement. But in Christ, these distinctions are put to death so that God has truly acted in Jesus Christ to liberate all humanity from such enslavement. This liberation is precisely what has been accomplished in Christ. And this is particularly important and revolutionary for me because I have personally felt the continual enslavement of such ever-present distinctions maintained and defended not only in the world but also in the Church, not least of which being the distinction between male and female. With the pervasiveness of complimentarianism in evangelicalism that violently surfaces every now and again through happenings like John Piper's assertions about a supposed "masculine Christianity", I am reminded of the need for the Church to hear again and again the freedom of the Gospel that Paul proclaims so fiercely all throughout the book of Galatians. To return to the distinctions listed above including those between men and women, one not only forfeits the liberation won for humanity in Christ, but one becomes enslaved once again to the dualities that separate humanity. My prayer is that the Church can hear anew Paul's radical call to recognize the death of such distinctions that completely and finally find their termination in our Lord Jesus Christ.