Archives For December 2015

Karl Barth CD II_1554Five key statements by Barth in C.D 2:1 help to deliver a better understanding of his belief that ‘sin can only ever be the impossible possibility’ (p.505)[i].

In God permitting us to respond to grace, the rejection of grace [sin] is made possible.  Essentially, this is the possibility of self-annulment; the rejection of our own existence, primarily attached to an outright rejection of God’s.

If I’ve heard Barth correctly, his idea of sin as an impossible possibility is formulated as follows:

First: ‘The fact that the creature can fall away from God and perish does not imply any imperfection on the part of the creation or the Creator.’ (p.503)
Second: ‘[It is an] incomprehensible fact that the creature rejects the preserving grace of God.’ (p.504)
Third: ‘It is not by His abandoning His opposition [to sin], but by His maintaining and exercising it that the world is saved from the evil of its own opposition [to itself and Him].’ (p.504)

Fifty pages on and the idea pops up again.

Fourth: ‘We may fall into sin and hell, but whether for salvation or perdition, we cannot fall out of the realm of God’s knowledge and so out of the realm of His grace and judgement. This is the comfort and the warning contained in the truth of the divine knowledge.’(p.554)

Finally, Barth claims that although God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, God is not the author of defects. He is not the author of sin. In creating the possibility of a human response to grace, God also grants us along with the answer to sin, the possibility to sin or not to sin. God is not, therefore, the author of sin.

God hasn’t changed: He wills to be with us and that we should not be without Him[ii].

God does not will that we should be puppets. Even though God in His power is capable of commanding puppets, for Him to do so would be inconsistent with who He is and has revealed Himself to be.  In His loving freedom and patience, He allows. This allowance is His will; a gracious permitting that does not desire the absolute rejection of Himself. Nor does He desire the total annihilation of His creature.

As Barth sees it, within God’s omnipotence and constancy we are summoned to walk away from sin. Here we are not abandoned. We are given an empowering permission, not to sin. More precariously, this permission also contains the potentiality to sin. However, God does not desire that we should sin willingly, thereby exchanging what Bonhoeffer termed as costly grace for cheap grace. Instead, God wills, as Paul Tillich rightly stated it, for us to “accept that we are accepted.”

According to Barth,

‘God has thereby done what we cannot do. He has made a distinction between the sinner and his sin. He has hated the sinner’s sin but does not cease to love the sinner (IV/ 1, 406).[iii]

The impossible possibility is a human paradox. The battle against sin is, in Christ, won. Sin has been answered by the holiness and grace of the free and loving God. Yet, sin still oppresses humanity.  In it a state of deceptive revolt exists against the omnipotence, knowledge and will of God.

Even in the grip of grace humanity is still held back by its own will-to-power. Sin is possible in that humanity acts on the gift of freedom God gives and rejects the very fact that in Jesus Christ, God ‘condescends and humiliates himself to befriend us’ (p.517-518)

The consequence of possibility rests on God’s omnipotence and constancy. God acts in freedom and in condescending gives humanity the gift of freedom[iv].

Put simply: That we have an empowered freedom not to sin, means we ought not to sin. That God has already acted means we can act. That we can sin, doesn’t mean we should give in so easily to it.

Barth’s use of the phrase “fall from God” should not be read as a “fall from grace.” As such, there is no “fall from grace,” but rather only a rejection of it; or the possibility of rejecting it.

In this volume of his Dogmatics, Barth outlines that God’s omnipotence and constancy is grounded in the fact that He is the one who loves in freedom. God is free. He gives freedom and that gift of freedom includes the principle of taking responsibility for that gift. The onus of responsibility in freedom falls on men and women, who are recipients of it.

 ‘Surrounded by His knowledge and His will, governed by His Spirit as by His omnipotence, they can have their creaturely independence and even the freedom of self-determination. But they can also be subordinated to the all-predestinating omnipotence of God as the concrete power which differentiates and judges.’ (p.544)

God’s gift of freedom means that humanity is held to account for how it employs and has employed that freedom.  Because of God’s act in freedom, he is not the cause of all things that contradict or seem to contradict Him; or contradict what God does or who He has revealed Himself to be.

What He allows and disallows is to be equated with who He is; ‘the one who loves in freedom’[v]. E.g.: what God does comes from who He is[vi]. On the other hand, what God allows and disallows is not to be equated with what He does. E.g.: God’s disallowing is not His disavowing. The creature in relationship with Him is granted the responsibility to act. Not just the responsibility to act responsibly, but the grace to do so.

Instead, we find ourselves contradicted. God’s grace shows us our sin and empowers us towards personal, communal, religious, political and ideological reformation.

As Busch noted:

‘We discover sin only in the encounter of divine opposition to it. We discover that we have evaded the knowledge of our sin by denying our existence as sinners[vii] […] God’s opposition to sin is also the command of the gracious God that frees humans to rise up from their sin, humans in their sloth do that which is almost “impossible . . . has no true basis . . . cannot be deduced or explained or excused or justified” (IV/ 2, 411).[viii]

Since, God has in His freedom lovingly and decisively chosen to save us from ourselves, the capability of rejecting the only genuine source of our true freedom becomes a potentiality, even under grace.

God is almighty. God is constant.  Humanity changes, the Almighty doesn’t. Humanity enslaves itself, God sets us free.

In Jesus Christ, God has chosen not to reject us. Yet, the possibility exists where the rejection of God is made a potentiality. This human rejection contains the possibility of self-condemnation; total extinction – (self-annulment). Any attempts made by humanity to save itself outside of God’s will, furthers this rejection by displacing God with false gods, false religion, false ideologies or idolatry.

In the wilful rejection of His grace and self-revelation humanity commits itself to the task of circumventing God and by doing so commits itself the reality and freedom of the impossible possibility.

God wills freedom for His creature.  This means permission. Risky, but all of this is encompassed within the sphere of God’s omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience. God is the full-stop. He knows what He is doing. Nothing passes Him. By allowing His creature the freedom to sin, God willed to make it possible for humanity to be free from sin. Subsequently, God desires that we act, in, through and on His grace. Working with Him in participation against that which seeks our’s and our neighbour’s total annihilation.

To be so convinced that true reality (or freedom) is existence without the One who birthed that existence, is to give in to an arrogance which rejects grace, and chains humanity to the Dark agenda of total extinction.


Sources:

[i] This is also a phrase repeated by Barth in, Prayer.

[ii] Barth, K 1940, CD.II.I p.274

[iii] Busch, E,  Barth (Abingdon Pillars of Theology) Abingdon Press. Kindle Ed. – This is also a distinction pointed to by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the final chapter of Life Together, 1938 (p.111)

[iv] ‘The truth is that both freedom and the necessity which belong to the creature exist only by the will of God.’ (Barth, p.563)

[v] Barth K 1940, CD.II:1 pp.328-350

[vi] Ibid, p.334

[vii] Busch, E, Barth (Abingdon Pillars of Theology) Abingdon Press. Kindle Ed.

[viii] ibid

Image is mine. The photo is of the Hunter Valley Gardens chapel in NSW.

 

Make It a Neon Navidad

December 24, 2015 — 1 Comment
 From my family to you and yours:

Merry Christmas drop shadow 2015 Rod Art NEWW_without drop shadow

In addition, here’s Toby Mac and Owl City’s, ‘Light of Christmas.’ As far as modern Christmas tunes  go, this is one of the best in that genre.

 

 

Christmas Cheer, 2015

‘We were once in darkness, in a kind of night, which was to be diminished by the growth of faith; that’s why, on the day we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the night begins to be encroached upon, and the day to grow longer. So, brothers and sisters, let us keep this day as a festival; not, like the unbelievers, because of that sun up there in the sky, but because of the one who made that sun.’
– Augustine, Sermon 190. 395 A.D

 


 

Source:

Augustine, Saint; Doyle, D & Hill, E  Essential Sermons New City Press. Kindle Ed. (p. 251).

Barth Final Filter 1I was reading through the final sections of Barth’s CD.II:I this afternoon and landed on this. With all the Star Wars hype throughout the past week, I found it kinda relevant:

‘In the Bible mysticism of an exousia (force; power) as such, the mystery of a natural force or an historical sequence, is from the very first attacked at the root. It is not worth considering. It can only be rejected. Israel can be impressed by this kind of divine power only when it falls back and away to the idols of Canaan, Egypt or Babylon. When it is obedient, it counts on God’s power and God’s power alone.’ (p.600)

Like his dislike for natural theology, Barth was not keen on mysticism. While he’d have taken to task anyone who tried to synchronize Jedi spirituality with Christian teaching, I don’t think he’d have rejected Star Wars as a whole. From what we know of him, if he ever was met with a, “may the force be with you,” it’s very likely he’d have smiled and jovially quipped, “Nein. The Omnipotence of God lovingly confronts us in God’s acts, accompanied by His divine knowing and His divine will. We are not given an ambiguous, “may the force be with you.” Instead, God has given us permission to speak and proclaim with more certainty and grounding, “May HIS force be with you!”


Barth, K. 1940 Church Dogmatics II:I The Doctrine of God Hendrickson Publishing

Augustine’s Bells

December 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

Two bells Smaller Canvas project NEW Large 2 with JESUS Final

 

‘Rejoice, you just (Ps 33:1); it is the birthday of the Justifier. Rejoice, you who are weak and sick; it is the birthday of the Savior, the Healer. Rejoice, captives; it is the birthday of the Redeemer. Rejoice, slaves; it is the birthday of the one who makes you lords. Rejoice, free people; it is the birthday of the one who makes you free. Rejoice, all Christians; it is the birthday of Christ.’ [i]
– Augustine, On Christmas Day. Circa 412 A.D.

 


 

[i] Augustine, Saint; Doyle, D. & Hill, E. Essential Sermons  New City Press (p. 244).

 

Risen PromoIf the trailers are to be believed, 2016 looks to be a big year for films.

These two, in particular, stand out. ‘The Young Messiah’, featuring Sean Bean – based on Anne Rice’s book ‘Christ the Lord‘ (Indie) and ‘Risen’, featuring Joseph Fiennes (Sony Pictures).

Joesph Fiennes’ performance as Martin Luther in ‘Luther (2003), buttressed by screen legend, the late, Sir Peter Ustinov, who played Prince Fredrich The Wise, was, in my opinion, outstanding. Whilst Sean Bean’s performance in the Napoleonic War series Sharpe endeared my wife and I to him as an actor, my theological curiosity leans me towards seeing how the story-line of the Fiennes’ film plays out. As a side note, the soundtracks for both films sound impressive. John Debney (Passion of the Christ) for The Young Messiah and Kai Rosenkranz for Risen.

Whether you’re fans of interpretations of Biblical stories on film or not, if you’re like me, they’ll at least kindle a cautious intrigue. Especially in how modern day (post-modern) storytellers provide artistic commentary on the context of the bible and the truths its authors painstakingly proclaim to have witnessed. In this case the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Along with seeing life being brought back into this genre.On a mainstream level, it’s encouraging to see well established actors willing to associate, accept and take an interest in playing such roles. That is as long as the filmmakers take the responsibility of their task seriously. Taking care in how they present the theology and handle the history; learning from past attempts, by doing their best to avoid the kitsch and questionable theology, that finds a good portion of these films being too easily labelled as the cheap propaganda of American Evangelicalism or a product of Hollywood’s nascent Christophobia [i].

It’s early days, but these two films show promise. They both suggest a thought-provoking and authentic perspective, thus avoiding the impression that they’re turning a serious message into simple fluffy religious entertainment.

The Young Messiah: Official FB Page

Risen: Official FB Page (worth a look)


[i] Term found in Marvin Olasky’s, ‘Standing for Christ in a Modern Babylon’ (p.66)

Barth meets Orwell 5

Barth’s context and history add weight to the vein of thought that connects him with the socio-political point of George Orwell’s, 1984. It isn’t that Barth is agreeing with Orwell or that Orwell is agreeing with him. I doubt if the latter even knew the former existed. Let alone whether Orwell read the 677 page monolith that is Church Dogmatics II:I.

Both, do however, hit on a sad, emerging reality.

In his long discussion on the Omnipotence and Constancy of God, Barth’s context shines through:

‘If we abandon and pay no attention to the question of obedience to God’s Word, but try to seek the limit of the possible in an absolutised system of relationships alongside or in place of God’s Word, we discover and imaginary God and an imaginary world, the fundamental dissolution of all systems of relationships and therefore complete sceptisim and anarchy in the realm of creation, the irruption of a Third Reich of madness.’    (CD.II:I p.537)

To further this, in ‘Hitler’s Traitors’, Susan Ottaway notes:

‘Karl Barth wrote a scathing criticism of German Christian Doctrine in which he stated that the source of their errors was that they maintained that in nationality, history and politics was a revelation that should be given equal weight with the Scriptures. This led Pastors to resign from the Church and annoyed Reich Bishop Müller so much that he issued a decree which became known as the ”Muzzling Decree”, which forbade pastors from criticizing the German Christian church or from discussing anything to do with it [politics; anti-nazism]. He insisted that the only thing they were allowed to speak of in the sermons was the Gospel.’
(Ottaway, 2003:81)

From here, the Confessing Church was born. Supported by Karl Barth and other Pastors-in-revolt, it ‘flourished and continued to spread the Gospel, attacking Nazi beliefs and persecution throughout the rest of the Third Reich.’ (ibid, p.82)

Adding more to Barth’s context, Ottaway continues:

‘Barth, who had refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Führer that didn’t include an additional clause addressing his religious beliefs [simply put: Jesus is Lord – the Führer isn’t] , was deported in the autumn of 1934. Many other Pastors and Church officials who had spoken out against the government were arrested and send to concentration camps without trial.’ (ibid, p.82)

There are nine years between Barth’s and Orwell’s books.Their genre’s are completely different. The first, a Pastor and Theologian. The second, a journalist and author. Their contexts don’t exactly match. Yet, this doesn’t halt the gravity of their shared themes. Such as legalistic coercion, control of the narrative, excessive political correctness, excessive shaming, blurred distinctions, a forced allegiance to false ideologies, gods, political systems and totalitarianism.

As Barth wrote:

‘It is only wantonly and irrationally that we can aspire to the statement that two and two are five.’ (CD.II:I p.538)

What makes Barth’s statements all the more striking is that he witnessed and wrote about the very thing that Orwell would later fictionalize.

 “Do you remember,” he went on, “writing in your diary, ‘Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four’?” “Yes,” said Winston.
O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended. “How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?” “Four.” “And if the party says that it is not four but five—then how many?” “Four.”
The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston’s body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O’Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased. (Orwell, 1940:261-262) […]
“You are a slow learner, Winston,” said O’Brien gently. “How can I help it?” he blubbered. “How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.” “Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”
“How many fingers, Winston?” “Four. I suppose there are four. I would see five if I could. I am trying to see five.” “Which do you wish, to persuade me that you see five, or really to see them?” “Really to see them.” “Again,” said O’Brien (ibid p.263) […]
“How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?” “I don’t know. I don’t know. You will kill me if you do that again. Four, five, six—in all honesty I don’t know.” “Better,” said O’Brien. (ibid, p.264)
(George Orwell, 1984)

 


Sources:

Barth, K. 1940 Church Dogmatics II:I, Hendrickson Publishers

Orwell, G.1949 1984,  Wildside Press. Kindle Ed.

Ottaway, S. 2003 Hitler’s Traitors, Leo Cooper, Pen & Sword Books U.K