Archives For November 2016

friedrich-schleiermacherReading the sermons of Friedrich Schleiermacher from two hundred years ago doesn’t happen without its challenges. It’s particularly challenging when it involves a dated English translation from a Prussian great-grandson of the enlightenment age, who was also a Pastor, romantic and continental theologian.

I’ve resigned myself to pursue this based on the fact that when these challenges are measured on the scales of hedonic calculus, the benefit out ways the cost.

I’m familiar with Schleiermacher, not so familiar with his work. I know of him. Have been drenched in Karl Barth’s quirky disappearing fondness for him as a teacher of neo-Protestantism, and joined in Barth’s reprimand of the pietism and liberalism which framed Schleiermacher’s theology.

Schleiermacher was raised in the Moravian church. Like most Christian movements, Moravianism, as nurtured into existence by Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf, was founded on solid biblical ground. It then moved towards extremes, finally finding its unique place in the Church Universal through much needed reform.

What stood out about the Moravians was their love of music, Christology and missiology. Their heavy focus on finding Jesus Christ at the centre of Church doctrine and a zeal for missions was equal to the zeal of a long existing list of Catholic missionaries.

Christology was also where the early Moravians almost found themselves shipwrecked. The excesses and early charismatic enthusiasms manifested themselves in their worship which bordered on the absurd. Such as the over-the-top mysticism infused language about Christ’s atoning blood.

“For seven years these Brethren took leave of their senses, and allowed their feelings to lead them on in the paths of insensate folly […] Since the year 1734,” he [Count Zinzendorf] said, “the atoning sacrifice of Jesus became our only testimony and our one means of salvation.” But now he carried this doctrine to excess. Again the cause was his use of the Lot. As long as Zinzendorf used his own mental powers, he was able to make his “Blood and Wounds Theology” a power for good; but as soon as he bade good-bye to his intellect he made his doctrine a laughing-stock and a scandal’[i]

Though the excesses of Moravian theology ended, Moravian theology didn’t. They humbly learnt from these mistakes and moved forward:

‘On this subject the historians have mostly been in the wrong. Some have suppressed the facts. This is dishonest. Others have exaggerated, and spoken as if the excesses lasted for two or three generations. This is wicked. The sober truth is exactly as described in these pages. The best judgment was passed by the godly Bishop Spangenherg. “At that time,” he said, “the spirit of Christ did not rule in our hearts; and that was the real cause of all our foolery.” Full well the Brethren realized their mistake, and honestly they took its lessons to heart. They learned to place more trust in the Bible, and less in their own unbridled feelings. They learned afresh the value of discipline, and of an organised system of government. They became more guarded in their language, more Scriptural in their doctrine, and more practical in their preaching.’[ii]

Further filling out the situation of Schleiermacher’s relationship with Moravian theology, Joseph Hutton tells us,

‘Though he differed from the Brethren [Moravians] in theology, he felt himself at one with them in religion.’[iii]

Schleiermacher left Moravian orthodoxy behind.

‘He called himself a “Moravian of the higher order”; and by that phrase he probably meant that he had the Brethren’s faith in Christ, but rejected their orthodox theology.’[iv]

Having a clearer view of Schleiermacher’s context eases the challenges of reading his work. He had a ‘scientific frame of mind, and also a passionate devotion to Christ […] The great object of Schleiermacher’s life was to reconcile science and religion.’[v]

Hutton points out, ‘of all the religious leaders in Germany, Schleiermacher was the greatest since Luther.’[vi]

In the reading I’ve done so far, it’s Moravian theology, this scientific frame of mind and his desire to reconcile science and religion that provides the key for hearing Schleiermacher in his context.

I’m curious about what we can learn from Schleiermacher. Curious about how much influence the Moravian Church had on his theology.  Keen to see how that early learning impacted his future learning and I’m interested in seeing, with a Barth’s crisp caution in mind, what Schleiermacher has to say to the socio-political and theological milieu today.


Sources:

[i] Hutton. J.E, 2014, History of the Moravian Church Heraklion Press. Kindle Edition. (pp.190 & p.189)

[ii] Ibid, p. 195.

[iii] Ibid, p. 295.

[iv] Ibid, p. 295.

[v] Ibid, pp. 295 & 294.

[vi] Ibid, p. 294.

Image: source

blog-post-25th-nov-2016-rlWhen it comes to composing music there’s hits, and then there’s misses.

The lesson I’m learning from my own hits and misses is that nothing created is ever completely wasted.

Outside the perfectionist, the only mistakes that really matter in music are the ones that stand out. Those particular kinds of mistakes can break a song and an artist. It’s the ones that break with the rhythm or the melody; the ones that are heard by everyone, not just the person with a trained ear to the ground.

The potential for mistakes like these keep us fine-tuning our craft and tools for the job. They keep is in step with the beat, ensuring that one hundred percent of our attention is given to the composition at hand.

Through humility and a gracious attitude, mistakes can teach us. Through grace they can be made part of a disciplined life. They become fuel; the impetus to get better. Through grace mistakes can even become part of the song, or the beginning of new one.

In God, with God, through God, we are shown how this works. Shown that once humanity drops its facade of isolation, rejects it’s hubris-filled rejecting and grasps the grace that grasps us, nothing created is ever completely wasted. As Joseph said to his brothers,

“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen. 50:20, ESV).

Likewise, Paul tells us, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Rom.8:28).

Not even the scrappy three-minute melody that had way too much drums in the mix, or the muddy sound of an instrumental overdone with bass or a guitar solo.

Nothing created is ever completely wasted.

Every new melody, every new beat, every new sound is born from the lessons learnt by simply having the courage to put a hand in The Hand that enables us for the task.

“Courage, dear heart,” (C.S. Lewis) for ‘our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.’(2 Cor. 5:21-6:1, ESV).

Nothing created is ever completely wasted.

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gardenia-2016One of the best ways to review how to identify syllables is with the traditional Japanese form of poetry called haiku.

It’s excellent for revision because it encourages students to work with vowels, adjectives, objectivity and themes.The basic principles of haiku writing makes this an excellent teaching tool.

Traditionally, haiku follows a non-rhyming syllable pattern of 5-7-5. This becomes a stanza of only three lines. The sentences tend to follow a theme, but it’s not necessary to have each sentence follow on from the next. As long as the general idea or topic is packaged well enough as a whole.

For our homeshooling haikus it’s been a lot of trial and error. None of that has been a bad thing. These hits and misses only make us work harder at refining our own personal style.

Each of the homeschoolers have a voice, its just a matter of coaching them to speak with it in writing. We’ve been doing these from time to time over the past couple of years and I’ve grown to value of the simple, reflective and calming process.

Our next project, when I can get to it, is to do some more work with Tanka, which is very similar to Haiku, only it allows for more syllables per line and usually contains five lines instead of three.

Tanka seems easier, given the extra room, however, when working with kids, I’ve found it to be harder to work with, than haiku. My hope is that since we’ve become more familiar with Haiku, Tanka will not be as daunting a task as it was our first time around.

Here’s a few I put together the other day. My themes were Spring and homeschool.
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From the storm emerges

the firm grip of sunlight

Clouds break open

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Dancing petals

Ride waves of air

Wind makes the melody

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Books swing open

The drowsy meet the dawn

And minds awaken

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(RL2016)

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“The Christian faith is a singing faith” – Cliff Barrows

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Notes:

The Cliff Barrows Memorial website: https://cliffbarrowsmemorial.org/

tony_evans_the_urban_alternativeAmerican author and Pastor, Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship gave this response to the recent elections in the United States.

Delivered in a fourteen minute address to his congregation, Evans’ hits home the reality of the responsibility of the Church, both universal and local.

Directing the Church to look towards the Kingship of Jesus Christ, Evans called Christians to practice honor in disagreement; to maintain kindness and seek to provide a reasoned voice in the midst of global and domestic, conflict and uncertainty.

His sermon stands as a noteworthy example, in an otherwise dreary week flooded with politics, overreaction, propaganda and opinion.

Here are five of his top points:

First:

 “So, let’s get something straight about elections.The bible says that God puts up kings and tears kings down. So your vote whoever you voted for is never the final say so. The final so-say is what God either causes or allows.Now, you are to vote. I am to vote. We are to participate, but heaven rules.”

Second:

“Regardless of which way you voted God has created a gap that the church needs to take advantage of. Because how do we expect them to get along out there if we can’t get along in here [the Church].”
 “However you voted, whether democrat of republican, or write in independent, God doesn’t ride the backs of Donkey’s or Elephants. However you voted you are bound to be living like a kingdom man or kingdom woman, for the advancement of the kingdom of God. So our job is to demonstrate what it looks like when  people of God represent the King. Not the president, the King. In how we act, react, talk. When you see some of the things people are saying. Some of the attitude being displayed and then attach God’s name to it! It’s a contradiction.”

Third:

“The bible says, honour the king and the King he told them to honour was Nero and he was horrible, but you honour the position even if you disagree with the person.
And just like President Obama was dishonoured in many, many ways and that dishonour should be rejected, any dishonour of the position, even though we must address individual issues with the person, is unbiblical, unchristian and is evil.So do not let anyone hear, coming out of your mouth, dishonour, even though you may express disagreement. You represent the King. You represent Jesus Christ. And do so as an individual in what you say and how you interact, and react. What you train your children to think and to do. You saw some of the violence out there, it’s just unspeakable.
We have the right to protest, but we only have the right to protest to the help of others, not to the hurt of others.

Fourth:

In our community people ought to see when you step out in your job or in your school, or wherever you are, that you are kingdom citizen. A kingdom citizen is a man or woman who is fully committed to Jesus Christ, and their commitment to Christ seeks to bring heavenly principles into earth’s concerns.That’s what we do, we bring heaven to bare on it.”

Fifth:

“We don’t just replicate what everybody else is saying. Presidents come and go, there’s only one King that stays on the throne. So it is absolutely critical during this day of chaos and confusion that you go out of your way, that we go out of our way.
The bible says, Galatians 6:10, “Do good to all man as you have opportunity, especially to the household of faith.” So rather than fuss and cuss, cry and create havoc, let our good works speak for us. Let people see that we represent God’s house. Cause, trust me God’s not going to skip the Church-house to fix the Whitehouse.”

In the interest of full disclosure, this is the first time I’ve heard Evans preach. I know little about his theology, or personal political position. This said, his sermon is, to me, balanced and not overly directed to one side over the other. There is no blame. No lamenting. No evasion of individual responsibility.

This first and foremost is a sermon to his church. It should be remembered that this is not a political speech directed at a wider audience or any particular political personality.


Notes:

PDF transcript up to 14:23 [link]

Image source: Wikipedia, Tony Evans, The Urban Alternative, Creative Commons.

john-martin-the-repentance-of-nineveh-with-borderWhether you’re soaked in the dye of the Left or the Right; politically branded and proud to wear it, or disinclined to bow before either.

No one is outside the sharp insight found within these words:

‘’…He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.’’ (Lk.18:9)

Prior to this Jesus had just finished speaking of a widow, who persistently came before a judge, pleading her case.

The judge is described as one ‘who neither feared God nor respected man.’ (Lk.18:2). We know little of the widow’s situation other than that, given her persistence, it must have been desperate.  As the parable goes, the judge, more out of irritation than compassion, grants the widow justice.

Jesus doesn’t finish there. Luke records the imperative, “…hear what the unrighteous judge says.” (Lk.18:6)

Jesus then makes it clear that God “will give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night … He will give justice to them speedily.” (Lk.18:7-8)

In a seemingly unrelated conclusion, Jesus poses a question about the future. Leaning on the distinction between the widow’s relentless faith despite her suffering, and what could be described as the judge’s militant atheism, Jesus asks: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”

It’s from here that Luke cements one of the most significant parables taught by Jesus: the Pharisee and the Tax collector.

We’re told that.

‘’two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.”

The Pharisee prays,

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; and give tithes of all that I get.” (Lk.18:11-12)

We’re to understand that the Pharisee considers himself more righteous than the tax collector. He is ‘asserting his own righteousness’[i]

To see the relevance of this, we need to go back to Jesus’ question about the future at the end of the last parable:

“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”

It’s a question that begs another: Do we have more faith in ourselves, than we do in God?

In 21st century terms, the Pharisee would be living out of an attitude that leads to a prayer like this:

“God, I thank you that I am not like that racist, bigoted, homophobic, xenophobic, or intolerant person over there; I’m socially “responsible” and unlike all those haters, and “deplorables.” Which, once again, thank you, I’m not!”

There is a keenness to point out what others are, readiness to shift the focus of sin, a readiness to parade a fashionable, Machiavellian, public show of righteousness.

There is no recognition or confession of the fact that ‘’all have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of God’’ (Rom.3:23). The sinner is whoever and whatever the 21st Century Pharisee claims not to be and yet, claims others are.

Accordingly, the righteous are those who adhere to the human rules and guidelines set by the modern Pharisee. In modern society this is imposed by the predominantly political and academic elite.

On the surface the 21st century Pharisee gives lip service to God, but underneath has become as God.

As identified by John Machen, in his 1923 book ‘Christianity Vs. Liberalism’, the majority of the Left, similar to that of the far-right, follow a faux religion. It’s a revisionism that fits the Bible and Christianity into a political box. The make up of which contains the extremes of modern liberalism, and is upheld by tea-straining theology through the lens of social justice; of feel-good activism and ideologically mandated politics, which is quick to damn anyone they’ve collectively deemed as having fallen short of the faux word of god.

These are built on the imperatives of the progressive, “social Gospel”, that has slowly replaced Jesus Christ as the Gospel, with loyalty to a political ideology, a faux Christ, faux gospel and therefore a faux god.

Evidence for this can be found in the uncontrolled emotional outbursts and reactions to the recent election in the United States.

The Right (extremes excluded), through its own issues with pride and fear, is dragged into this downgrade of the Gospel, (and along with it the downgrade of democracy.) Reacting against the temerity of modern liberalism, the Right builds its own ideological fortifications. Justified by the faux gospel taught by liberalism, the Right stands in a state of constant battle, brought about by the constant bombardment from the Left.

In its final form, though, this monster, this faux god, emerges, having control over both spheres. Still distinct in identity, both Left and Right worship, and conduct themselves under one faux religion. The difference is that one side, through compromise, jettisoned God, for the power it thought it would gain for having done so; whereas the other side, provoked into pushing back, finds itself slowly becoming that which it once fought against.

‘The warfare of the world has entered even into the house of God, and sad indeed is the heart of the man who has come seeking peace.’ (Machen, 1923*)

We come back again to the question previously asked: Do we have more faith in ourselves, than we do in God?

In contrast to the Pharisee, we’re confronted by the awkward timidity of the tax collector. He stands far off. He doesn’t even raise his eyes to heaven (Lk.18:13). He knows the job he has to do each day and wears the cost of it. His job isn’t easy and it’s not going to get easy anytime soon.

His only hope is in God. It isn’t in what he does, his nation gives or what others say he is.

Instead of seeking to out-do the Pharisee in self-praise, the tax collector “beats his chest [a sign of humility & shame][ii], saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Jesus finishes the parable, saying,

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”

The bible tells us that ‘none is righteous and the fool jettisons God.’ (Rom.3:10/Psalm 14/Psalm 53)

We are encouraged to be wary of wolves in sheep’s clothing, of false teachers; masked “believers”.

We’re warned that at the coming of the Son of Man, sheep will be separated from goats (Matthew 25). That the political games of deny, evade and blame that give power, will no longer serve to do so.

Both sheep and goats are strong metaphors. For justifiable reasons, whether right or left, liberal or conservative, Christians are summoned to trust and follow the Good Shepherd, not bleat expletives, or eat everything that comes our way.

As for the elect, mentioned in the first parable, we can say that they are, the broken and contrite. They are ‘those who call upon the name of the LORD…’(Rom.10:13 et.al)[iii]  They are, in the words of Karl Barth,

‘Jesus Christ and those He represents’ (CD. 2/2).

In closing, Jesus speaks:

 ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Lk.18:14)

Whether tax collector, Pharisee, liberal, or conservative, no one lives outside the parameters of these words.[iv]

The praise of God outdoes and outlasts the praise of self. May we follow the heartfelt and humble zeal of the tax collector, over-against, the self-righteous fanaticism[v] of the Pharisee.


Notes:

[i] Green, J.B. 1997 NICNT: Luke Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing, [Green also notes, ‘Luke’s purpose is not to condemn a particular group but to warn against a particular way of comporting oneself in light of the present and impending reign of God.’ (NICNT: Luke, p.646)]

[ii]  (Green, p.649)

[iii]  Romans 10:13, ‘For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ See also: Joel 2:32/Acts 2:21/Psalm 145:18 & my personal favourite Psalm 51:17.

[iv] As Green writes: ‘disciples always are in danger of Pharisaic behaviour’ (NICNT: Luke p.646)

[v] Keenness to issue blame, and bestow on themselves credit.

*Machen, J.G. 1923 Christianity & Liberalism: closing remarks

Artwork credit: John Martin, ‘The Repentance of Nineveh’ (19th Century)

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john-martin-paradise-lost-creation-of-light-with-backdrop-border

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The chamber reverberates,

“I’m no good at this.”

These broken sounds match darkened walls.

Thoughts smashed together, move like crashing symbols.

Whispers drip down blood lines,

“…no good at this. We’ve made sure of it.”

Each unchecked word, spin.

Each unchecked word, a win.

So the servants of the serpent mumble.

“Yesss, no good at all.”

Unsurrendered

Villainy employs the surrendered,

And the surrendered seek to make their mark.

But these foundations tremble.

Impossible cracks appear in the dark.

With sporadic veracity,

Light, like lightning, sparks.

Igniting intervention,

Trumpets sound,

As signs abound,

“kommen das Gott von Veritas!”

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(Poem: RL2016)

                             (Art: John Martin, 1824. Creation of Light, (Paradise Lost – Book 7)