Archives For Church Dogmatics

IMG_20130627_191543I have long been a subscriber to the idea that hate is not a sin. However, I need to qualify this statement by firstly saying that: a) my alignment with this theory is a work in progress and b) my current theological understanding is that unless hatred is answered through confession with reconciliation as its goal, it will lead to sin.

For example: 1 Jn.3:15 in context would read ‘wherever hatred is, there is an inclination to do mischief’ (John Calvin, Institutes VIII:347).

Reconciliation and forgiveness are the primary spheres in which transformation is achieved, and it begins with the process of confession.

Ambrose of Milan stated that: ‘if you have confessed at the call of Christ the bars will be broken, and every chain loosed’ (Ambrose of Milan).

In a similar theological vein Karl Barth viewed confession as a referral and submission ‘to a higher tribunal confronting both partners with concrete authority’ (‘Church Dogmatics a selection’, Helmut Gollwitzer); to ‘lay our weapons down’ (John Mayer ‘Heartbreak warfare’, 2009 )

Unconfessed hatred is counter-productive. It leaves us like a ship lost at sea, left with only the stars to navigate by. Only then to find frustration with clouds that are constantly obscuring our efforts.

The outcomes of unresolved and concealed hate are inevitably confusion, anxiety, fear and rage – dysfunctional relationships – as such ‘no one really ever wins’ (John Mayer ‘Heartbreak Warfare’, 2009)

Consequently we become desperate for direction as our judgement increasingly becomes shrouded in fog.

We then abdicate our responsibility to speak the truth. We compromise on our Christian commitment to hope because our moral compass is exchanged for self-preservation, and we abandon the north star finding ourselves drifting deeper into a sea of brokenness and despair.

The counter to this is entering into a confession-that-seeks-truth. This is like choosing to drop the eggs instead of walking over them gently. Working on ways to help those around us ‘understand our pain’ (John Mayer, 2009).

If I say or act in love towards you, yet harbor hatred in my heart I conceal the truth. I am forced to lie in order to keep-the-peace. The problem with this approach is that appeasement tends to only ever benefit those who are appeased [1].

The strength in confession is when we confess our hatred, we can immediately be released from the burden the precarious nature of hatred brings, one which hangs around our neck like a rotting albatross. Confessing hate allows us to process and communicate reasons for such a response.

Only then can the movement towards resolution be enacted. Of course any confession requires being wise in how and who we express that confession to. Confrontation, context, tone and timing are also important considerations.

Sadly, Western society is increasingly being pressured from within to tolerate everything in order to appease post-modern politically correct sensitivities. How can falsehoods be confronted if it is not permissible to do so?

It is true that hate is a strong word that is loaded with emotion. Hate is defined by thesage as being an ’emotion of intense dislike so strong that it demands action’. Goodrick & Kohlenberger write that the Hebrew word for hate is:  שׂנא ‘sane’ which means to be unloved, shunned, disliked, an adversary.

That is why it has become a whip statement, a term utilised to shame and ridicule dissenters into silence with overly generalised terms such as Christians are ‘ignorant, anti-science, haters and bigots’. Such emerging social conventions should not be allowed to bind us into maintaining false appearances via restrictions on the freedom to confront falsehoods, be it society, science, left, right, church or state.

For the biblical authors the existence of falsehoods demand action.

Ps.119: 104 ‘Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Pr. 26:24-26 ‘People may cover their hatred with pleasant words, but they’re deceiving you. They pretend to be kind, but don’t believe them. Their hearts are full of many evils. While their hatred may be concealed by trickery, their wrongdoing will be exposed in public’ (NLT)
Pr.8:13 ‘The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate’.
Pr.13:5 ‘The righteous hates falsehood’
Eccl.3:8 ‘a time to love, and a time to hate’
Eph.4:26-27 ‘Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil’.

A few years back an estranged relative asked me the question ‘how can you be a minister with so much hate?’ Since then my response has been: “please don’t confuse telling-the-truth with hatred, tolerance with silence and silence with love.”

The act of confession is a compassionate and humble act towards others in grateful response to Father, Son and Spirit. Through ‘open confession’ (Ambrose) and humility, truth speaks through the community. For example Barth writes that `theology is impossible without humility because the truth at issue is a person who says : ”I am the truth” (Jn. 14); (Church Dogmatics, a selection).

Jean Bethke Elshtain puts it this way:

‘Our ideas have to meet the test of being engaged by others, far better than having people retreat into themselves and nurture a sense of grievance, rage and helplessness…thoughts must be tested in the public square where you have to meet certain standards…we must be careful not to confuse tolerance with complete and total embrace…total acceptance does not mean universal love’ (Maxwell School Lecture, State of Democracy 2013).

Therefore confess hate, speak truth and drop the eggs, watch the lies disintegrate. It may hurt, you may lose, but lose boldly with the hope that those who reject truth return to truth refined, renewed and rescued. Refuse to walk on egg shells, and instead clean up the pieces left behind, lovingly inviting others to do the same.

The truth is much more precious and valuable than any sugar-coated version of it we can create. There are never two sides to a story. There is only ever one story which evidently has multiple perspectives.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: ‘there is but one reality and that is the reality of God, which has become manifest in Christ in the reality of the world’ (Ethics, 195)

To love is not only to understand that Christians are called to speak truth-in-love but to also understand that love-speaks-truthfully. As the words attributed to Solomon so wisely put it:

 ‘Open rebuke is better than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:5-6 ESV)

Loving ourselves is hard, loving our enemies? Even harder. (Lk.6:20-45)


Sources:

Ambrose of Milan, Concerning Repentance Kindle Edition.

Barth, K. Church Dogmatics: A Selection With Introduction by Helmut Gollwitzer (Kindle Locations 1050-1051). Kindle Edition.

Bonhoeffer, D. Ethics Kindle edition.

Calvin, J Institutes of the Christian Religion Eerdmans

Goodrick, E.W & Kohlenberger, J.R 1991 NIVAC: Strongest NIV exhaustive concordance Zondervan

Meier, P. & Wise R. 2003 Crazy Makers: getting along with the difficult people in your life (particularly chapter twelve) Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville

[1] Historically speaking, nowhere is this more evident than in British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s ‘’gift’’ of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler in the 1938 Munich agreement.

(RL2013)

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

IMG_0456 I’m a big fan of Karl Barth’s wonder which is expressed in his teaching about the beauty of relationship, reconciliation and the seemingly paradoxical polar connectivity between a man and a woman.

Both equally unique, but finding a necessary limitation in freedom, in order that such freedom can remain true freedom.

How, ‘God sets us free to be free for Him and as a result free for each other – the man for the woman, the woman for the man, both free for God, who in Jesus Christ, chooses and has chosen to be free for both’ [i]

All of that can be summarised as: Love and responsibility; ‘freedom in limitation’ because humanity cannot have only one in isolation from the other, without destroying both.


Source: [i]  Barth, K. 1951, CD.III:4 (paraphrased) Tentative recommendation: Love & Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla [Pope John Paul II] Image is mine. Related post: When a Man Loves a Woman: Barth’s Freedom in Fellowship

One of THE defining references of my undergraduate introduction to the theological genius of Karl Barth. Haven’t been the same since.

 

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Image is my own.

See also: CD.II:1 p.671 ‘God befriends the creature…’

Advent days 17 & 18: Hearing and Seeing.

Shepherds1

I took this photo last night. It is of some solar baubles. Though cheap, there appears nothing cheap about the image reflected back. Reading my way through what is Karl Barth’s second book in the Church Dogmatics series, I was stopped by the phrase: ‘the Gospel is a light in an otherwise dark place’ (1938:55).  Not being completely content with just rushing through the text, and being cautious of overlooking, overstating or missing out completely on some insight. Sometimes when reading Barth, I wonder in awe at the concepts before me, which effectively slows my reading down to a complete stop. This happens to be one of those moments.

Barth writes: ‘the time of Jesus Christ takes the place of our time, coming to us as a glad message presented to us as a promise, to be seized and lived by us’ (Ibid, p.55). In Jesus Christ, God shows us ‘that he has time for us, a time which is right, genuine and real’ (Ibid, p.55).

Writing on some of the strengths of advent this week, it occurred to me that another one of Advent’s strengths is that it is not only a recollection of this fact, it is the declaration of it. God makes time for us. Like the shepherds we find ourselves bewildered by the message, fearful of the what, the who and curious about the where to. The declaration first made by an Angel must have been like and explosion of light. Perceptible by ear and visual by sight. Luke informs us that the shepherds followed. In faith and by way of reason, these shepherds confirmed what they had been told with what they would hear and see – they sensed, in real time, the God advent in the Christ event.

It is by no small, cheap, sun powered glow that God has time for you or me. It is by His son, given, vindicated and victorious. Mother Julian of Norwich(c.1342-c.1416) in ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, wrote:

‘out of love for us he wraps us around, fastens the clasp, and enfolds us in his love, so that he will never leave us. I saw that he is everything that is good for us…creation exists now and always because God loves it, made it, and looks after it’ (1987:13)

We are indeed graciously held above the abyss because of the fact that in Jesus Christ, God exhibited his love, care and creativity, making time to be for us and with us.

Gospel is a light_Barth_RL2013

 

I have begun reading a second book from Barth’s Dogmatics. Having, probably rather oddly, chosen to read the final book first I have become comfortable with the text. Although I am uncomfortable with some of the challenges that coincide with reading his theological work.

I am already floored by the encounter.IMG_20131010_234503_20131013084158133

The picture above is from a bike ride my kids and I went on over the weekend. Adding these words to the image of a tree stump is not entirely random. The tree was used to make a bridge nearby.

For a log bridge, it both appears and seems secure.  I would hazard a guess and say that without the structural integrity of the trees it would be a useless pile of environmental waste. This made me question how easily our own self-imposed limitations can enable others to cut us down.

Words have meaning and the power of those words to cut, tear or encourage rests in the integrity of the dialogue partners to create something grace-filled from their exchange. God grants us this freedom to speak freely, firstly to/for Him and secondly to/for others. One sets the standard for the other because the former empowers the latter.

Barth wrote that:

‘Prayer can be the recognition that we accomplish nothing by our intentions, even though they be intentions to pray…Prayer can be the human answer to the divine hearing already granted, the epitome of the true faith which we cannot assume of ourselves. We do not speak of true prayer if we say “must” instead of “can”…

(Karl Barth C.D. 1:1:23 ‘Dogmatics as an Act of Faith’)

…‘Faith, regeneration, conversion, existential thinking on the basis of preceding existential encounter, are no doubt indispensable prerequisites of dogmatic work, yet not to the extent that they imply an experience and attitude, a desire and activity, a knowledge and achievement of the theologian, so that his theology is a personal cry, an account of his biographical situation, but to the extent that they imply the grace of divine predestination, the free gift of the Word and Holy Spirit, the act of calling the Church, which must always come upon the theologian from the acting God in order that he may really be what he does and what his name suggests’

(Karl Barth C.D. 1:1:21 ‘Dogmatics as an Act of Faith’)

From grace we are called. From out of that call, so may we speak. (2 Tim. 1:9-10)

Why? Not because we must, but because we can and therefore shall (David McGregor, Tabor Adelaide).

Hallelujah.

I have been reading through Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics IV.4, easily, the smallest of his famous theological treatise.  CD IV.4 is the last in the series and discusses baptism in the light of the doctrine of reconciliation. A lot of his discussion here reflects his treatment of honour late in CD III.4. From what I have read so far he certainly does bring home the message that ‘only the existence of God constitutes the honour of humanity’ (CD III.4.56, p.651).

Humans may appear to be godless however, because God is both creator and Lord, ‘humans are never without God’. (CD III.4.56, p.652). I.E.: ‘Man can be godless, but God can never be manless’ (ibid p.652).

This raises the question, if God is the sole source of human provision and honour, how is it Western society seems to look for this “supply” solely from its elected Governments?

For Barth:

‘Christian ethics is the free and active answer of humanity to the divine work and word of Grace’ (CD. IV.4: ix).

What this means is that our free and active answer, not only invites God to participate in our decisions, such an act makes room for God.  We acknowledge that we belong to God and we recognise that He mercifully makes himself available to us. Considering this within a socio-political context leads to a list of questions: such as, when I vote, does God exist in my decision or am I rewarding a particular party, simply because they were the ones offering me the “shiniest carrot”?

Last night in Australia our Treasurer handed the Australian people his national budget. He rolled back some things and initiated others. Most could be considered beneficial, some a political play to gain re-election.

I concede that Government is an essential part of God’s provision for His people. We see this in the Joseph narrative within Genesis (46).

However, my enquiry doesn’t necessarily lie at the feet of Government. It resides at the feet of those who stand before Governments, those of us who look to them as the only source of provision. How much should we expect our Governments to provide in a budget that is made up of other people’s money, our taxes? Who benefits and who is burdened? How entrenched is the ideology which feeds a sense of entitlement, that it blindsides us into forgetting the theological imperative which states that God is the true source of our help?

Surely Psalm 121:1-2 and Philippians 4:19 provide the necessary corrective, if not the antidote, to my countries overtly misplaced trust and the subsequent slavery to fear that always attaches itself to our lives when we trust humans before God for our needs.

Barth wrote that:

‘the freedom of God is grounded in man’s becoming free to be faithful to God, as God is faithful to him’ (CD.IV.4:13)

Simply put, there is room for God in everything we do, not Governments. Right now, all I have are questions. The first of which is, does God truly exist in my decisions today?

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Image credit: RL2013