Archives For September 2014

I can’t be easy without my pen in my hand, yet I know not what to write.

(John Adams, 1774 The Letters of John and Abigail Adams (Kindle Ed).

@Luke 16:10

September 28, 2014 — Leave a comment

Reputation is not always a mirror of a persons character

 

Entitled ‘Gideon: God is my Lord’[i]  and preached in Berlin on February 26, 1933 ‘Bonhoeffer gave his first sermon’ since Hitler had been enshrined as chancellor 27 days prior.

Bonhoeffer’s decision to preach from the Old Testament was deliberate. In my opinion he couldn’t have picked a more controversial figure, at the time, to make a political point.

The choice of Gideon was a deliberate attempt to preach against Nazi propaganda by using inferences to Nazi propaganda.

For example: Larry Rasmussen suggests Bonhoeffer contrasted a ‘young man chosen by God to save Israel from their enemies and turn them away from the worship of false gods’ with ‘Siegfried, the unconquered Germanic hero figure (of the Nibelung saga), idealised by the Nazis.’[ii]

Expanding on this Isabel Best writes that Bonhoeffer sets out to ‘describe God’s power in contrast to human might, and finally from Martin Luther’s ‘A Might Fortress,’ to assure his hearers that even now the power, and the victory, are God’s alone[iii].’

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is someone I’d heard of, yet never read with any serious interest until five years ago. Since then I have made inroads into understanding his life, theology and influences.

I’ve even managed to pull together some blog posts about the subject. {Here, here and here.}

Most Christians who have heard Bonhoeffer might only know him as martyr; others will be able to match the name in more detail with the context and images of an era when Europe was consumed by an industrial military complex issuing forth blitzkrieg, and euthanasia; inciting euphoria through Darwinian Socialism in support of its progeny, Nazi dogma.

The latter was swarming the globe enraging some, and finding recruits in others through the promise of a new dawn for humanity – one embossed in the appearance of allegiance with Christianity, when instead it was firmly based on the survival of the fittest, racial supremacy, socialism, scientism, and pagan religion.

Gideon’s message is God’s grace to the Israelites and through the witness of Gideon this message is also about God’s graciousness towards humanity.

Bonheoffer’s Gideon expresses this clearly. This is nowhere more evident than when Bonhoeffer states:

Gideon, we recognise your voice only too well; you sound just the same today as you did then
Who would be willing to say that he or she has never heard this call and has never answered, as Gideon did: Lord, with what I am supposed to do such great things?
But Gideon is silenced; today as just in those days, he’s told to shut up. You’re asking, “With what?” Haven’t you realised what it means that this is God calling to you? Isn’t the call of God enough for you; if you listen properly, doesn’t it drown out all your “with what” questions?
“I will be with you” – that means you are not asked to do this with any other help. It is I who have called you; I will be with you; I shall be doing it too. Do you hear that, Gideon of yesterday and today?
God has called you, and that is enough. Do you hear that, individual doubting Christian, asking and doubting Christian? God has plans for you, and that does mean you.
Be ready to see to it. Never forget, even when your own powerlessness is grinding you down to the ground, that God has phenomenal, immeasurable, great plans for you. I will be with you.’[iv]

Faced with the uncertainty of the times, Bonhoeffer reaches for a tangible example from the Biblical text.

Some of us may find the times confusing, some see victims living without victory or want of it, and others witness a wave of chaos attempting to breach walls where restraint has remained the stalwart of freedom. In the midst of this, not only Gideon, but also Bonhoeffer speaks to us, reminding us to trust that: God, in His mercy will reign.


Sources:

[i] Best, I. (Ed.) 2012 The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonheoffer Fortress Press, p.67

[ii] Rasmussen, L in The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonheoffer, Isabel Best, (Ed.) 2012  Fortress Press, p.67

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid, pp.67-74 & Stroud, D.G. (Ed.) Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich  Wm.B Eerdmans Press, pp.51-61

West Germany

‘Photo from the early 1960s. Before the construction of the Berlin Wall West German soldiers stare down the East after a young woman makes it across the line to the West.’ – Drive Thru History.

An article entitled Will the bombing bring peace?’ authored by Johann Christoph Arnold, appeared on the Plough publishing blog feed on the 11th of this month.

Not long after that, Tim Costello, Uniting Church minister and CEO of World Vision Australia, authored a piece headlined: ‘Going to war no time for joy

The general flow of both articles advocates a caveat that falls just short of a protest in favour of non-involvement in military action against the self-proclaimed and militaristic ‘Islamic State movement’.

I appreciated the authors caution and respect the underlying pacifism expressed by their concerns.

However, I found both articles disappointing to read.

Whilst written well, they seem reactionary, unnecessary and  out of touch with what the majority really think about this subject. At least Costello rests his concerns on experience when he points out the devastating aftermath of war.

Still, no healthy individual or civilized community wants conflict. Neither do Christians, in the name of peace, have to walk blindly around propagating an ignorance about the true nature of a clear and determined enemy; particularly one that has already proven their hostile intentions towards Christians, Jews and the West in general.

Costello and Arnold’s historical comparisons are fair. However, I am yet to see the euphoria over the West’s involvement in this war, especially to the degree of enthusiasm that was on display in World War One.

What I do see constantly though is shock and disillusionment at the continued allegiance of the pulpit with ‘positive Christianity’ (those things which don’t offend or directly challenge left/right ideologies), and the alignment of the pulpit with the politically correct preaching of a Gospel emptied of its true content.[i]

To even suggest, something Costello seems to do, that people are celebrating the West going to War, is to overlook certain facts. First, there is a difference between a nation who enters a conflict boisterously and imperialistically, and a nation who enters a conflict in order to take action so as to assist others in a time of need.

Second, pacifist and evolutionary biologist, Vernon Kellogg, in his observation of Germans and their adherence to ideology in World War One demonstrates point one:

‘For their point of view does not permit of a live-and-let-live kind of carrying on. It is a point of view that justifies itself by a whole-hearted acceptance of the worst of Neo-Darwinism, the Allmacht of natural selection applied rigorously to human life and society and Kultur…I was never convinced. That is, never convinced that for the good of the world the Germans should win this war, completely and terribly.And this conviction, thus gained, meant the conversion of a pacifist to an ardent supporter, not of War, but of this war; of fighting this war to a definitive end.’
(Headquarters Nights (1917:23).

Third, we only need to look as far as the parable of the Good Samaritan and his choice to reasonably protect and provide, when and where he could (Luke 10:25) with complete disregard for his own personal approval ratings.

Finally, when conflict is imposed on us, a good percentage of the time it will mean being drawn into a position where most just “push backs” are twisted and used by aggressors, and spectators alike, as evidence of a ‘disproportionate’, ‘inappropriate’ and unethical response.

For example: it is well-known that loving enablers enable abuse. They do this through discounting the severity of evidence before their eyes, because they don’t want to get involved, have something to gain or fear retribution if they do.

In answer to Tim Costello and Johann Christoph Arnold: nobody wants a war outside those bringing war to us, and perhaps some fringe dwellers that see an opportunity to further their own ends.

Instances include Israel’s recent response to ideological belligerents in Gaza and the West. Israel had two fronts, Gaza and the internet, where the Israeli defence force had to fight off a constant stream of misleading information that was circulating on social media.

In the case of Australia, our involvement, as the Prime Minister has made clear, is to assist in the defence and provision of humanitarian aid to innocents. It is not to make war for the sake of war, or slyly create a police state while everybody’s distracted with petty first-world problems, such as how to remove a new free U2 album from an ipod et.al.

In response to Johann Christoph Arnold:

The abyss is opposed to love, yet frames itself as being the very epitome of love.

An abysmal situation cannot be held back by passivity, apathy, a will-to-power, appeasement or a poorly informed soft diplomacy.

Responsible action here requires faith, open communication, purpose, a unified team and the courage to dedicate a wide variety of resources to neutralize it.

That is love speaking in truth; proclaiming just mercy and merciful justice in word, deed and attitude.

When it comes to the old challenges of fascist imperialism, with its deification of society and sin, and the new masks it wears, we cannot apply the brilliant words of Martin Luther King Jnr without falling in servitude to an ideologically driven apathy, that thrives on the selective protests and permissions of the lords of neo-tolerance.

Like being unable to completely apply the exceptional content of John F. Kennedy’s  June 10 speech in 1963, where he calls the world away from believing in a “Pax Americana” towards striving for a peace-for-all, understanding and mutual respect.The West must be willing to recognize that the current context is different. We cannot so easily reconcile it with Kennedy or even with King’s protest “for a revolution of values that reconciles with wisdom, justice and love.” (‘Beyond Vietnam’, Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967)

With regards to the crisis in Iraq and Syria, “just war” advocates do not have to dig very deep to make their case.

The basics of which could be expressed, ironically, from the often quoted statement made by Kennedy who said: Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

Considering the atmosphere which surrounds us, illustrated as it is by flags of White script on Black fabric that march in the East, and the lined, multi-coloured flags that parade, in the name of pride down main streets in the West – where under one there is war and beheadings, under the other court rulings and re-education classes, I do not think that it is a stretch to say that the world is seeing the resurgence of fascism.

If, as Costello implies, there is any joy being taken in belligerency, we would do well to start our investigation there.

The path ahead is treacherous, but:

‘Not even personal safety excuse[s] timidity in the pulpit’ [or podium] [ii]

May we not get to the point where we hear the laments like this:

“It is not that I and all the rest of us have said too much in our sermons, but rather that we have said far too little.” (ibid)

It is not at all that surprising to see parallels between the now and the then. There is also some comfort in the fact that we can stand on the shoulders of Christian brothers and sisters, who out of the past speak to us and who, out of their mistakes, teach us to do better.

So we stand in agreement with Ezekiel, Clement of Rome and Ambrose of Milan:

‘As I live, says the Lord, I take not pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather [his correction]; that he should turn from his way and live’
(Ez.18:21-24)

But in doing so we also hear and act on the clear challenge of Clement:

‘Let us cleave, to those who cultivate peace with godliness, and not to those who hypocritically profess to desire it.’
(Clement, First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter XV)

 

Sources (not otherwise linked):

[i] I am paraphrasing a statement made by Dean Stroud in ‘Preaching in the Shadow of Hitler’ (2013, p.8).

[ii]Paul Schneider, the 1st Pastor to die in a Concentration camp, in a letter to his wife from his jail cell on Nov. 14, 1937 on Preaching in Nazi Germany’ – Stroud, D. 2013 Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p.47

IMG_20140919_181306

We were privileged to end term three on somewhat of a ‘grace note’.

Our home-schoolers presented poster projects, a history paper and an Italian project-in-progress during a BBQ lunch with their Great-Grandparents.

One of the poster projects was on transport and it just so happened that the day included some well-timed interaction with model locomotives and a large well crafted diorama.

I’m still in awe of how healthy, unforeseen opportunities appear and how they can significantly reinforce our journey.

 

Seeds and flower beds.
Gasps and “WOWs”!
Little additions worthy of greatness.

For Australians, spring is associated with bright mornings, longer days, and a slow re-acquaintance with the sweltering heat of summer.

Of all the seasons here, spring is in a way, THE penultimate pronouncement of them all; reminding us that Christmas is not all that far away, that the summer holidays are drawing near and that another year is coming to a close.

I’ve never been a big spring fan, but my perspective is changing.

The female satin Bowerbirds have been hanging around for a few weeks, and yesterday for the first time the (male) Regent Bowerbird  made an entrance.

Bower Bird collage

Left: Female Regent Bowerbird Right: Male Regent Bowerbird

 

It’s these kinds of encounters throughout spring that whilst not proving the existence of God empirically, are like metaphors that function as breathtaking reminders of His active creativity.

This is where the brilliance of Charles Spurgeon guides us when we read:

‘We have seen a hedge all thick with dry leaves throughout winter, and neither frost nor wind has removed the withered foliage, but the spring has soon made a clearance.
The new life dislodges the old, pushing it away as unsuitable to it. So our old corruptions are best removed by the growth of new graces.
It is as the new life buds and opens that the old worn out things or our former state are compelled to quit their hold of us.
Our wisdom lies in living near to God, that by the power of his Holy Spirit all our graces may be vigorous, and may exercise a sin-expelling power over our lives: the new leaves of grace pushing off our old dried-out affections and sinful habits.’[i]

The Earth, everything in and on it is far from being the residue of a cosmic incident whereby a Deistic creator steps aside, and becomes an indifferent, absent-minded spectator.

Through the seasons, God invites our applause.

Through spring, God welcomes new life.

Through Christ, God breathes it into us.

‘If anyone who is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to himself.’ (2. Cor. 5:17-18, ESV)

Source:

[i] Spurgeon, C. 1883 New Leaves Pushing off the Old in Flowers from a Puritans Garden, Funk & Wagnalls pp.97-98

 

Karl Barth

Karl Barth

There are a vast number of books that discuss Karl Barth’s theology.

So far some of the best include Gorringe, Busch, Hunsinger, Bloesch and Webster.

Outside selected writings, which were core readings while I was at college, I’m yet to completely engage with William Willimon, Sung Wook Chung  or explore works from W. Travis McMaken and Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

Given the amount of lecturer-directed reading we did of Barth and the student-directed discussions about his theology over those years, my focus since then (as some of you will know) has been on working through his Dogmatics; consulting ‘companion texts’ or sending off an email to mates for their perspective when I’ve found it necessary to do so.

Places to start actually reading Barth are Evangelical Theology: An Introduction’ and ‘Dogmatics in Outline’. These are almost always readily available and inexpensive.

As far as good, short accessible introductions to Karl Barth’s historical context and theology go, I reckon Dean Stroud’s (2013)[i] outline in ‘Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow’  is a serious contender:

‘In 1930 Karl Barth began teaching at the University in Bonn, and not long after that he was calling Christians to radical opposition to the “Thüringen {Nazi-conformist} German Christian movement.’’ (circa 1920’s-1938[ii])
But even before his arrival at Bonn, Barth’s commentary on Romans had caused a stir.
The first edition had appeared in 1919, which was followed by expanded editions from 1921 through to 1932. In his reading of Romans, Barth challenged readers to hear the epistle as God’s word directly addressing the present moment.
No longer was the letter a relic of the past whose message was more historically interesting than contemporarily relevant.
Heinz Zahrnt, whose history of Protestant theology in the 20th Century contains a lengthy discussion of Barth’s commentary, calling it ‘’a great explosion,’’ (bomb theology) in that Barth ‘’proceeds with the single assumption about the text ‘that God is God.’
For Barth, secular history was not an “idealized pantheistic” course of grand events so much as a record of “naturalistic” and “materialistic” forces.
In short, human history was nothing to brag about and certainly it was no hymn of praise to human achievement and progress, given recent events such as World War One.
As Zahrnt expressed it, Barth “turned 19th Century theology on its head” and then went “not from the bottom up but from the top down”. I.e.: we do not reach God by starting with humanity or human achievements and victories, but rather, God reaches out to us in revelation…
For Barth “God is the subject and predicate of his theology all in one”.
Barth and neo-orthodoxy sounded radical to those trained to view Scripture as a curious example of ancient history, not the sacred word of God.
According to Barth’s interpretation, no longer is the reader in charge of the biblical text but the text judges the reader.
And so when the “German Christians” insisted on inserting Hitler and racial hatred into the Scriptures or removing Paul and robbing Jesus of his Jewish identity, Barth was ready to object with a vigorous regard for biblical authority.
19th Century liberal theology had weakened biblical foundations, and “German Christians” has simply taken advantage of this human-centred interpretation.
Barth’s neo-orthodox interpretation of Romans repeatedly hammers away against idolatry of self-worship in human form, nation, or leader…
The gulf between humans and God is too wide for the human eye; only God in his revelation and his word may cross that divide. Hence every human effort to identify a leader, a nation, a fatherland, or a race with the divine always results in the worship of the “No-God.”
Barth urged future preachers in Germany to take the biblical text seriously, to submit themselves to it, and not the other way around.
By focusing on the text through exegesis, pastors would hold up and alternative rhetoric to the culture. From his lectures it is clear that for preachers in the Barthian tradition, the biblical text reigns supreme.
Without the preacher intending to be controversial or political, the Holy Spirit may make him so in the faithful hearing and proclaiming of Scripture. Barth issued a call to arms against the German Christian movement and argued against any marriage of Christianity with Nazism.
He warned that “what under no circumstances is allowed to happen is this, that we in zeal for a new thing we consider good, lose our theological existence.
God is nowhere present for us, nowhere present in the world, nowhere present in our realm and in our time as in his word; that this word of his has no other name and content than Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ for us is nowhere in the world to be found as new every day except in the Old and New Testaments. About this we in the church are unified or we are not in the church”
Theological existence today, for Barth, was being bound to God’s Word and to Jesus Christ alone and to no other name or race of land.’[iii]

On the whole I’m uncomfortable with labels outside just being called a Christian, so the term Barthian is not something I’m quick to apply to myself or others with any deliberate zeal.

I am, however, convinced that what The Word of God might say to the Christian through a Barthian lens has the potential to transform lives, beginning with their theology.

Sources:

[i] Stroud, D. 2013 (editor), Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of resistance in the Third Reich, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company

[ii] Ibid, p.23

[iii] Ibid, pp.31-33

Image: Storied Theology – On Loving Freedom