Archives For Deliberative Theology

Here is a ‘note to self’ recently rediscovered. I wrote this back in 2011. Long before I’d even considered blogging as a means to connect, share, process, and improve on conclusions and thoughts I’d come to through my undergraduate days.

I’ll never know the privilege of having pride in my father; having a father’s loving advice, or an extended family, on my side, that through mutual reciprocity, enriches my own.

What was broken, is broken and the residue of the struggle to move beyond that remains. This has hindered me having confidence in myself, others, even in having hope for a future.

But through it, I have come to know and acknowledge that God, who in Jesus Christ, redeems even the chiefest of sinners, is greater than all this. Greater than words spoken in order to shame and therefore control.

Evident through Word & impossible changes becoming possible, I’ve seen God choose to step in and move me beyond it; to not let my past define my future.

Don’t let the world, friends, enemies or the past define you. God lives & speaks the same different word every time.

As the Apostle to the Gentile;the foreigner; the alien says, God in His freedom sets us up for freedom and empowers us to cry out ‘Abba Father’ (Romans 8 & 12); recognizing that God delivers on His promise to be the Father of the fatherless.

As the infamous African-American theologian, James Cone once said, ‘we are more than what has been defined for us by broken homes, sin and fatherlessness’ (Cone, p.11) [i]

Posting items and words like this on the internet can be treacherous. I recall Jesus’ wisdom when he talks about “giving to the dogs what is sacred and casting pearls before swine” (Mathew 7:6). Even with the context explained, it’s possibly to misuse my words here. As I’ve mentioned plenty of times in the past, social media, when it comes to community, isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. It’s an ongoing conversation, that can bolster community, but it can never truly replace community; and in it’s current form, will only ever remain so.

[For more of my thoughts on this check out: Fake News Sells: Unfriending Ersatz Community ]

I say these things with confidence because community is best displayed by Christianity, or at least it should be. This is because Christianity is incarnational – where Word meets flesh; where Word meets both deed and attitude. It’s something, or rather, someone, who comes to us; not just pointing to the way, but making a way. God sets this standard and empowers it in Jesus Christ.

I was reminded of this the other day when I read these words from African-American, civil rights campaigner, John M. Perkins’ in his new book, ‘Dream With Me‘:

“I believe the human dimension of God;s work is very important. It’s not that He couldn’t accomplish anything He wanted to do without us, He chooses to [work] with human vessels.We are not the main force at work, yet we are involved. We are present. God uses us in one another’s lives.’ (Perkins, p.96)[ii]

Perkins follows this up with,

‘At a recent conference some of the young people I had met tried to convince me that they didn’t really need a preacher. They’re frustrated with traditional church leadership, [then they appealed to] the priesthood of all believers, which is all well and good. That they prefer a virtual church over a traditional one. I told them, “That’s going to be weak, because it’s going to miss the incarnation [the embodiment of Christ; Word made flesh]. It will not have a human touch (Hebrews 10:24-25).The active presence of other believers contributes to God’s work within us. Again, it’s that God needs us to complete what He is doing – but He allows that human dimension to be a part of His redemptive work.’ (Perkins, p.97)[iii]

Perkins is right. If we don’t speak for fear of the swine or throwing what is sacred to the dogs, then our silence may be motivated by fear, not wisdom.

I’m all for responsible vulnerability; the need to refine what we’re going to say, and then saying that with precision, so as to both guard our hearts with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23). However, we also put on the ‘Armor of Light (Jesus Christ), casting off the works of darkness’ (Romans 13:12); ‘building up and encouraging one another, through endurance and the scriptures, so that we might have hope’ (Romans 15:2).

Posts like these display vulnerability, which is why some, such as Brene Brown, might consider it also an act of extraordinary courage.

Whether or not these are unwise or an act of extraordinary courage, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the raw truth contained it, and the Good News I wish to proclaim through it.

 


Sources:

[i] Cone, J. 1975 God Of the Oppressed, Orbis Books (1997 ed.) p.11

[ii] Perkins, J.M. 2017 Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, Baker Publishing Group

[iii] Ibid, 2017

learning-in-progressAs the year draws to a close, I find myself thinking about the past twelve months of blogging. I’m fortunate to have had many new interactions with some great thinkers, and some edge dwelling doers, in the active academic field of theology and ministry.

This year, however, I’ve also met with a different, darker side of that field.

I’ve studied theology and have a double degree to show for it. I’ve Read the books. Ticked all the boxes, met the requirements; even made some lecturers smile. Yet, the more I read and learn; the more I seek to participate in the world of academia, the more I see that I don’t fit easily into some of its neatly stacked bubbles.

For starters, my current occupation involves me being a homeschool teacher to my five kids. I don’t say all the “right things” or do what others do to get noticed. I don’t pad agreement on top of agreement. I haven’t written a book yet, and I don’t write blog posts that give an overly appreciative applause to something I’ve read or someone I know.

I write to benefit the reader; share a discovery and hope to learn something in the process. I don’t write for the approval of any who might read my post. I don’t write for others to see how brilliant my academic ability is, and as a result offer me a position on their team. Neither do I seek to invite insult, just to paint myself as a victim.

My focus is on how the theology I read and study, critiques what we are being sold in by society through the media, Hollywood, the Universities and in politics.

I’m interested in working out how that theology translates into ministry; how the Gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to the world today in its obsession with escalating the hostility between Left and Right.

How that theology brings a critique against the conclusions of academics who, all too often, appear ready to shoot down conservatives, or those on the right with tired rhetoric, slogans and labels.

For sure, some of that criticism in the past has been justified, but when does that criticism, itself become a whip or chain used to oppress new victims?

For instance, I’ve come to learn that any post that seeks to draw theologians like Barth or Bonhoeffer ‘’outside of the box’’ won’t be met with encouragement, let alone a smile. I don’t read the works of Karl Barth or Dietrich Bonhoeffer through the agreed upon traditional political filters; speak about them through a modern liberal theological lens.

For that I’ve been drawn into some heavy discussions with overly picky critics. I’ve even had someone go out of their way to politely warn me that if I want to move forward in my academic studies, I shouldn’t upset those in power on the Left, by rocking their boat [i].

But I’m not the kind of person who goes around stroking egos, my own or those of the people around me. I aim to proclaim the truth and do that in a loving way. Will it be a flawed communication sometimes? Yes. Do I do my best to take into consideration the blind sides and their inevitable limitations? Absolutely. With every fiber of my ability to do so.

The more I venture into this post-grad world, the more I see; the more I begin to understand that if you’re not politically aligned with what is considered to be the collectives authorised narrative, you’re more likely to just end up speaking to yourself.

The warning signs are clear, if you’re not ‘’on board enough,’’ you won’t succeed beyond what you may have already accomplished. For some, it doesn’t matter how well you write, draw, paint, sing, create or communicate. If you say something different that opposes the consensus of those in box, you’re viewed as a threat to the thrones of those in power within the box.

Even though I’ve worked hard all my life, am a certified four year college graduate; parchment-on-the-wall qualified theologian. The past twelve months have shown me that in the field of theology, I’m an insider forced to live on the outside.

And that’s okay. Here I stand. Introspectively speaking, I’m freed from having to perform to the same oppressive modern liberal tune I suspect many others feel they have to dance to.

I have questions about the appearances, sums and conclusions, so widely assumed watertight, honest and reliable. I’m not looking to rise to the top of the echo chamber. Not looking to outdo, or compete for a position in it. I’m seeking to make an honest contribution. Share what I’ve found and work on refining that as God’s Grace allows.

The past twelve months have opened my eyes to the fact that if I’m relegated to the sidelines because of this, than perhaps the problem has less to do with me, and more to do with those who pushing me, and others like me, there.


Notes:

[i] Yes this did happen. No I’m not prepared to reveal who.

A few days back my daughters came with me to a Doctors appointmentID-100259954.

He asked about how school and their classes were going. I casually told him that our children were homeschooled.

He paused. Looked at me and suddenly became angry and very agitated.

In front of my daughters, the following fifteen minutes became a mild to and fro. Me defending why we homeschool and him saying that homeschooling was a bad idea. From his perspective it was just plain wrong.

With some forthrightness our Doctor, who is originally from India, made the claim: “Kids need to learn from their peers about how to respond to people who are different. Parents cannot teach them this socialisation. Their friends teach them more about life than their parents can.”

The trigger for this seemed to be my daughters anxiety about being there. This was understandable for three reasons. First, we were in for vaccinations. Second, she did not respond with a great deal of enthusiasm to our Doctor’s request to listen to her chest  as part of the prep beforehand. Third, his hostile tone towards me and the idea of homeschool was very noticeable.

I was then told that we were being ‘’narrow’’, ‘’closed off to people who are different (race),” and “how our children should learn things other than Christianity” (referring specifically to his own religion, and then making the point that Jesus never hid himself away – like we were doing – he [Jesus] went out to the people). Subsequently, what we were doing was “inadequate because they were around the same kind of people all the time.”

I acknowledged his points and said that we “recognize the importance of understanding how we all fit in to the multicultural fabric of Australian society. That as homeschooling parents, we put a lot of effort into teaching our kids to be fair and balanced. For example: we aim to do homeschool-in-community.”

Conceding that all education formats have their limitations including homeschool, I explained that my wife and I do our best to compensate for them. Making the most of opportunities, where possible, to add “in-community’’ elements into their curriculum.

The response I received in return was that because we’re ‘’white’’, not a minority, and education is cheap, if not free [Australian, for taxpayer-funded and/or subsidised education], homeschool was okay for a select few, but that we had no real reason to homeschool.

I tried to explain that we have not always been homeschoolers. It took us three years of prayer and serious consideration to commit to it. I even attempted to give reasons, such as, my daughter running a race by herself at a sports carnival because she was the youngest in her class. I went on to suggest that socialisation may be more a problem for kids who are thrown into artificial groupings when they attend school.

Oddly enough, I’m sure he meant well. The whole event was surreal. It meant that the discussion didn’t move forward because I had to make a constant effort to distinguish between the professional speaking to me, and the passionate person sharing his strong personal opinions against homeschooling.

In the end I managed to steer the conversation back to the purpose for our visit. We agreed that, despite our disagreement on this issue, it was important to fight back to a position of mutual respect.

We shook hands and moved on.

In retrospect I think that pushing back to a place of mutual respect is part of the real content and value of seeking a respectful disagreement.

Forgiveness is part of the universal christian diplomacy.

It consists of us making an effort to find margin (i.e.: set boundaries) in our relationships to allow for a responsible “yes” and loving “no”.

Risking rejection, but doing so because in God’s revelation to us in Jesus Christ, and through the witness of Old Testament Israel, God spoke and still speaks His.

“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than that leads to wrong”
– Matthew 5:37 ESV/The Message

(Repost: Originally posted June, 25, 2014)

Image: courtesy of Stuart Miles “Post-it-notes: Opinion and Point of View” / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cor-kneel-i-us

April 12, 2015 — 1 Comment

Cor_Kneel_i_us

No matter how detailed or imaginative I might get. Being able to reconstruct the days and months after Jesus’ crucifixion would always be limited by my contextual lens. For example: I can only build up some rough idea of the jaded emotions, confusion and amazement of Jesus’ disciples at the time.

This is backed up by the fact that the judgement about whether speculation can serve our understanding of history is still to be decided upon. It can serve a purpose in the scientific method, but only as far as forming the question and creating a reasonable hypothesis are concerned. In other words conclusions based on speculation without parameters is shaky ground. If not down right dodgy.

{I have a ton of my own jaded emotions to keep in check and consequently need to be on constant guard against what theologians call eisegesis (an exegetical fallacy where a person reads their own ideas into the text).}

It’s worth adding that speculation can take us away from the meaning and message of the actual texts or equivalent oral history. Critical thinking gives way to assumption. Assumption gives way to murky conspiracy theories, unjustifiable anxieties, misunderstandings, mistakes, so on and so on.

Which is one of the reasons why being apprehended by God is not the same as comprehending God. We are, like the first Christians, grasped in the midst of our inability to grasp. Sometimes all we need to do is stop and listen.

As Karl Barth said it:

‘Put the question to God Himself and listen to the answer He gives’ (CD. II/1, p.321)

Take for instance the days after the resurrection: ‘Jesus came and stood among the disciples and said to them, ”Peace be with you.” When He had said this, he showed them His hands and side.’ – (John 20:19-20, ESV)

Or the post-apocalyptic[ii] allegiance of Cornelius: ‘a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.’ (Acts 10, ESV)

It is at this time of year the world is once again reminded that  ‘the “living hope” of Christians (1 Pet 1:3) is not the “coming” (parousia) of Jesus, but rather his revelation or apocalypse (apokalypsis; 1 Pet 1:7, 13).'[i]

Our hope is not solely resting on a when? It is resting on a who, why, what and how. A witness relayed to us not just by one witness, but by many.

All of which kneels squarely at the feet of Jesus Christ. Where we are confronted by what God freely chose to do and what God, in His good pleasure, promises to complete.

May we be more like Cornelius.

 

 


Source:

[i] Martin, R. P., & Davids, P. H. (Eds.). 1997 In Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[ii] As explained by Martin & Davis, apocalypse in koine Greek reads as ‘revelation’; unveiling or revealing. Even though it’s not complete in its definition, since we are still in a time of grace. Both meanings adequately fit the post-resurrection. Therefore, I consider the use of the term post-apocalyptic justifiable as long as it is done so with qualification.

Artwork is mine. Made using some old materials an airbrush & some paint.

Song: Newsboys, ‘Cornelius‘ from the album ‘Thrive’

Hashtags an all … Elshtain’s right.Elshtain quote 1

 


Source:

Elshtain, J.B, 2008 Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power In a Violent World Basic Books, Kindle Ed. (p.110)

Helmut Thielicke To Young TheologiansSome months ago I picked up Helmut Thielicke’s, ‘A little exercise for young theologians’ (1962).

In cautious sympathy with the church, Thielicke presents a range of caveats for theologians. His ultimate aim is to remind theologians-in-training that ministry and theology are interlaced and reciprocally connected[i].

This concludes with Thielicke lifting up the importance of ‘theological reflection’. Which is, simply put, the necessary tension between theory and practice; how what we think theologically {embedded theology}, is challenged by how, what we think is actually applied, or could have been applied {deliberative theology}.

These thoughts are reinforced by a preamble-like evaluation by Martin E. Marty in the introduction:

‘I have tried to think what are the enemies of theology in America.
First is the pervasive unbelief that makes its way into ecclesiastical circles.It motivates the counsel to avoid theology, counsel which says: the Christian faith cannot pass intellectual tests; therefore keep busy, do not subject Christian affirmation to analysis and scrutiny, and it may survive.
Second is an apathy or low imagination extended to many crucial ventures of the church.If something does not immediately seem to affect what goes on within the walls of my church tower, the confines of my parish, I do not often care.
Still another enemy is the idolization of the “doer” as opposed to the “thinker.” The Big-time Operator or the Good Joe somehow builds more buildings, raises more budgets, and preaches louder sermons than does the craftsman who pours over his Greek New Testament.
It is of little consequence to some that he contributes to a greater divorce between Christ and the meaning of life, between the faith and other verities. So long as his engines puff and his and his wheels roll, all is well.[ii]

Ministry in these instances is overshadowed by fear, inflated egos and jargon. As a result theology is abandoned, no longer seen as having anything to say to the Church or society.

As Marty outlines, Thielicke acknowledges the timidity (anxiety) of most Christians with regards to the theological task (read: anti-intellectualism). Balancing this criticism with the observation that the academy and its esoteric narcissism (read: academic arrogance) stiffens and hides the accessibility of theology behind a veil of self-importance, ironic ignorance, yardsticks and insensitivity.

For example:

‘If the theologian does not take more seriously the objections of the ordinary washerwoman and the simple hourly-wage earner, and if he then thinks that the spiritual proletariat is not aware of the delicate questions and must have nothing to do with them – {which is just the way of that esoteric club} – surely something is not right with theology.[iii]

For Thielicke, ‘theology has to do with life[iv]’. However, theology is threatened by what he identifies as “theological puberty”. Defined as the overbearing delivery (bulldozing) from young theologians towards non-theologians about theological concepts.

This problem occurs when pride (or insecurity) permeates good intentions. Overbearing corrections can ‘smother the first little flame of an inquirers own spiritual life and extinguishes a first shy question with the fire extinguisher of the young theologians erudition…For instance: the inquirer becomes too embarrassed ever again to launch into a “naïve” exegesis in the presence of those profoundly knowing ears’[v]

Thielicke is a little heavy-handed, still he shoots straight and for good reason. He is challenging young theologians to stop and think before they comment.

‘It is possible – and laymen have a very exact perception in regard to this – that theology makes the young theologian vain and so kindles in him something like gnostic pride. The chief reason for this is that in us men truth and love are seldom combined.
It is also possible to say precisely why. Truth seduces us very easily into a kind of joy of possession: I have comprehended this and that, learned it, understood it. Knowledge is power. I am therefore more than the other man who does not know this and that.’[vi]

In many ways this is Thielicke excavating Paul’s exhortation for us to rein in any ego built on cognitive ability alone; restraining ourselves from any association with special/scholastic – super spiritual – self-serving human ‘knowledge that over-inflates, and instead lean on the love (and truth) that builds’ (1. Corinthians 8:1).

In a similar way Barth touches on these same caveats in his discussion on the ‘Veracity of Man’s knowledge of God’:

‘Theology can of course, be sheer vanity. It is this when it is not pertinent, and that simply means – not humble. The pertinence of theology consists in making the exposition of revelation its exclusive task.
How can it fail to be humble in the execution of this task, when it has no control over revelation, but has constantly to find it, or rather be found by it?
…Our thinking, which is executed in views and concepts, is our responsibility to ourselves. Our speech is our responsibility to others’[vii] 

There is always going to be the danger of excessive introspection, however, by the willingness of God, though the aid of the Holy Spirit, with teachable hindsight, like good wine {or so I’m told}, Christian theology (and the theologian) can improve with age.

As Thielicke brilliantly articulates:

‘Whoever ceases to be a man of the spirit automatically furthers a false theology, even if in thought it is pure, orthodox and basically Lutheran. But in that case death lurks in the kettle.
Theology can be a coat of mail which crushes us and in which we freeze to death. It can also be – this is in fact its purpose! – the conscience of the congregation of Christ, its compass and with it all a praise-song of ideas.
Which of the two it is depends upon the degree in which listening and praying Christians stand behind this theological business.’[viii]

Christian theology does not belong to the museum of superfluous thought or singularly to the upper market echelons of Western society.

Thielicke’s final warning might thus read:

For the serious Christian theologian who becomes detached from a concern for responsible ministry, an “ivory tower” becomes a sterile and lifeless “padded cell”.


Source:

[i] Marty phrases this as Practical Churchmanship and Scholarly Inquiry. For example: ‘Thielicke argues that every minister of Jesus Christ must be both a disciplined theologian and a practicing churchman.’ in Thielicke, H. 1962 ‘A little exercise for young theologians’ Wm.B Eerdmans Press Kindle Ed. (Loc. 62-63)

[ii] Ibid, 66-70

[iii] Ibid, 112-114

[iv] Ibid, 97

[v] Ibid, 182-184 & Loc. 134-135

[vi] Ibid, 194-198

[vii] Barth, K. 1940 CD. II.2 The Limits of the Knowledge of God; The Hiddenness of God Hendrickson Publishers, 1957 (pp.203 & 211)

[viii] Thielicke, ibid, 332-335

Related post:

On Entertaining Angels & Academic Arrogance

Rembrandt_-_Belshazzar's_Feast_-_WGA19123Arrested four times, Paul Schneider became one of the first theologians of the Confessing Church to be murdered by the Nazis, and the first protestant pastor to die in a Nazi concentration camp.

In a nut shell, Schneider was labelled a firebrand. Like a lot of the Confessing Church Pastors and theologians, his theological resistance was “politically incorrect”.

His defiance was a veritable revolt against ‘compromise with Nazi ideology, and the indifference of the people.’[i]

As a result the ‘terror state would forbid him to preach, and attempt to silence his opposition by enforcing a form of exile’[ii]. Schneider was later arrested and imprisoned.

His tenacity is evidenced by accounts such as this:

‘In January 1939 two prisoners who tried to escape were hanged in front of the assembled inmates. Paul Schneider called out through his cell window: ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I witness against the murder of these prisoners…The response was another twenty-five lashes.’ (source)

Greg Slingerland narrates the scene brilliantly:

On a January morning in 1939 in the concentration camp of Buchenwald, two beleaguered prisoners who had attempted to escape were brought into the parade grounds of the camp. There they were mercilessly executed.  As the bodies of the two prisoners went limp, a voice rang out across the camp from the window of the punishment cell.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, I witness against the murder of these prisoners!”

Not quite six months later, Schneider, beaten and starved, was euthanized by the Buchenwald camp doctor. Survived by his wife, Margarete and their six children. (source[iii])

Along with Schneider’s outspoken preaching in prison, his theologically informed political defiance permeated his sermons.

The first in 1934, where he firmly asserts a theological critique against the ideology of the day:

‘we have tolerated the teachings of Balak (Numbers 22.6), of liberalism that praises goodness and freedom of men and women while minimising the honour of God and letting the seriousness of eternity fade away into a misty haze[iv]we cannot close our eyes to the high storm-waves we see surging toward our people in the Third Reich[v]

The other is in a sermon smuggled out of a Gestapo prison camp in 1937 entitled: ‘About Giving Thanks in the Third Reich’. He draws deliberately onBelshazzar, a poem written by Heinrich Heine, a 19th century German Jewish poet[vi].’

Schneider matches the attitudes of late 1930’s Germany with the attitude of ‘the Babylonian ruler, who fully ripened in his godless, proud, and wasteful misuse of God’s gifts, had drunk himself sick and mocked God’[vii] (Daniel 5:13-30)

‘…His face is flushed, his cheeks aglow, till a sinful challenge to God resounds.
He boasts and blasphemes against the Lord, to the roaring cheers of his servile horde…
“Jehovah, your power is past and gone – I am the King of Babylon”
But scarce the awful word was said, the King was stricken with secret dread.
The raucous laughter silent falls, it is suddenly still in the echoing halls.
And see!
As if on the wall’s white space, a human hand began to trace.
Writing and writing across the stone, letters of fire, wrote, and was gone
The King sat still, with staring gaze, his knees were water, ashen his face.
Fear chilled the vassals to the bone, fixed they sat and gave no tone.
Wise men came, but none was equipped, to read the sense of the fiery script.
Before the sun could rise again, Belshazzar by his men was slain.’(source)

Dean Stroud notes:

‘Schneider no longer believed that ‘’our evangelical church” (read Christian Church) could avoid direct conflict with the Nazi state’[viii]

For the Church in the West these are still ominous words. As witness (marturion; martyr) they also point us towards the ‘storms that are not so much around us, but in our hearts.[ix]

Each poignantly targeted at us today, his words and example, are yet another theological indictment on the lifelessness of ideological servitude.

 

paul-schneider-quote-2

 


Sources

[i] Stroud, D. (ed.) 2013 Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance, Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing p.75

[ii] Ibid, p.94

[iii] This website is in German, but can be translated via the Google toolbar. {the mechanic seems reliable}

[iv] Given the content, what he means here is a view of freedom without responsibility; power without accountability; denial of the transcendent.

[v]  Ibid, p.80 (Schneider)

[vi] Ibid, p.96 (Schneider)

[vii] Ibid, p.104 (Schneider)

[viii] Ibid, p.76

[ix] Ibid, p.82 (Schneider)

Image 1: Rembrandt, 1686-8 ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’

Image 2: Paul Schneider, graphic created using picmonkey