Archives For Practical atheism

In his discussion on ‘The Freedom of Man for God’, Karl Barth distinguishes between human triumphalism and ‘God’s triumph’[i]. Barth’s exposition asserts that human triumphalism stands against the God who triumphs.

Human triumphalism is both an active and passive denial of God.

Linked to works righteousness, it is a fanatical rejection of the Creators rights to His creation.

His Lordship is undermined, ignored and forgotten in order for humanity to assert their own. This act exemplifies itself in the form of ‘primal atheism’[ii]; humans reaching for God’s power whilst at the same time proclaiming that such a power only exists in a special few (mysticism) or does not exist at all (atheism).

In short, men and women seek to become lordless powers.

Examples of this can be seen in how some modern proponents utilise Religion or ideology to justify their rejection of God’s Lordship in Jesus Christ.

Via claims to superior, “inside” knowledge or the Darwinian excuse that the strong determine the treatment or mistreatment of the weak.

In the progressive quest to work for God, or alternatively ignore God, we find elements which seek emancipation from God.

Consequently, the biblical promise of a ‘newness of life’ (Romans 6:4) is replaced with a mystical fog or a reason induced cold pragmatism. Most often affirmed by an esoteric elitism who, hiding behind entitlement, choice, nature and good intentions, hypocritically end up forcing a tyrannical ‘denial of life’ upon humanity.

Ultimately, the charade is found wanting and sinful humanity is once again reminded of its tendency to parade darkness as light.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot apprehend that which can only be given to us.

Humanity remains unfree in the ignorance and futility of its quest to be free from the Creator, who has and still does, have a right to His creation. By enforcing His right the Creator appears as powerless. In mercy, He lowers Himself in order to raise us up.

‘Freedom to be for God is not a freedom which we have taken, but a freedom which God has given to us in His mercy’ [iii]

Our lack of  sensitivity and response to God’s approach i.e.: our lack of ‘receptivity to revelation through gratitude and humble recognition’[iv], leads to a rejection of God and His freedom.

Paul writes:

‘We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death He died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:10)

This in consequence means that ‘to be with God is to be in Christ’[v].

God’s triumph is God’s revelation which has been given in Jesus the Christ and is asserted in this time of grace by the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, and only in Christ, is God’s triumph reconciled to human triumphalism.

From this point we stand and say “Jesus is the Victor”. From this point we abandon all questions that concern ourselves with what we have to do to be in God’s will, or win his approval. From this point we take up our true concern: the invitation into participation with what God has already done and is doing right now on our behalf.

As Barth noted:

God’s continued  presence in us and for us means a ‘state or position in which humans may find themselves, but only with amazement, only with gratitude, only in humble recognition of an accomplished fact…an earlier state is one of self-glorification and self-will. Apart from the triumph of God it would still be the state of humanity today. Marked again by forgetting or denying the triumph of God by seeing (and calling) the power of God on us and in us as anything other than the Holy Spirit’[vi]

References:

[i] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics I.II Hendrickson Publishers p.260

[ii] Ibid, p.321

[iii] Ibid, p.258

[iv] Ibid, p.260

[v] Ibid, p.258

[vi] Ibid, p.260

Image credit: Tim Marshall, Unsplash.com

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Source: AWM // Commons

The English dictionary points out that the word remembrance has two primary definitions.

First: The ability to recall past occurrences

Second: A recognition of meritorious service [1].

Originally called ”Armistice Day”, the intent and purpose of this day was to remember the end of World War One. Today, at 11am Australia will stop for a minutes silence to reflect on the loss of life and sacrifices made to defeat ideology, militarily (G. Veith).

Historians still debate who fired the first shot of World War One. Tensions and technology were advancing at an unstoppable rate, empires had reached their peak. Words like aristocracy and colonialism were still part of the vernacular. With this the West, and parts of the East, marched into war with pride, song and the assurance of experts, who entertained the general notion that there was “no-need for God, through progress humanity can save itself”.

As horrific human toll of nations wielding sabre and sickle against nations began to tally, very few continued to hold onto the idea of the Bella-Epoque. It was no longer a period of history marked as quintessential proof that ”GOD was dead”. Indeed very few still held to those same romantic, anthropocentric perspectives, which drove men, and some women, naively into the atheist laced sunset of that era.

Karl Barth, who was a Pastor at the time wrote a theological critique with twin propulsion, one driving His theology into the theology of the day and another into its politics: “What we say is not so important, but rather what is being said to us” (2008:Loc. 71-74).

Today, 95 years on, at least 2.1 Billion people from the 53 member states of the Commonwealth of Nations, under God and Queen, will be encouraged to remember the battles of World War One and those like it, as a tragedy.

Today, because of the sacrifice of the few for the many, those citizens will freely choose to reflect for a moment on the problem of war, those affected by it,  the heights of human arrogant self-reliance and the cost accrued when blind ideas blind people.

National Collection

Source: AWM // Commons

…”It was the silence of the Gallipoli peninsula which most surprised and awed the survivors of the campaign who returned there after the war, the stillness of the cliffs and beaches where nothing much remained of the battle except the awful sight of the white bones of unburied soldiers and the rusting guns along the shore” (Moorehead, 1956:366)

Lest we Forget.

IMG_20131111_094403

Source: TL2013

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Source: CL2013

 

Why is the Red Poppy the flower of remembrance?

PDF link : create your own Poppy flower, courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

Sources:

Busch.E 2008 Barth (Abingdon Pillars of Theology) Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition
Australian War Memorial
Moorehead, A. 1956 The Classic Account of Gallipoli Aurum Press London
Veith, G. 1993 Modern Fascism
[1] Dictionary program called TheSage – great resource.

©RL2013

Cover of "The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good New...

Cover via Amazon

Brennan Manning’s passing prompted this tribute-contemplation. I invite you to grab a cup of coffee, tea or glass of water. Sit and dwell with me, pondering on the significance of what happens when, despite human opinion, the Glory that God deserves is given back to Him.

 ‘The ragamuffin Gospel’ is an impassioned critique of churches that worship doctrine, conceal God and betray grace. He states that ‘Jesus invites sinners and not the self-righteous to his table’[1]. This re-enforces his concern that the church can at times project a ‘watered down Grace’[2]. Consequently, what is demanded is an allegiance to doctrine rather than an alignment to Christ. This makes for a ‘twisted gospel of grace, and results in a religious bondage which distorts the image of God’[3]. For instance, ‘any Church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of Grace’[4].

Reputation is not character. Some of the current expressions of church value appearances over against substance. They are communities defined by ‘fatal narcissism of spiritual perfectionism’[5]. This is form of sophistry that begins with the individual Christian. Brennan Manning argues that anybody who focuses on a pious reputation over against character is wrong. This exists where ’fellowships permit no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal their sin from themselves and from their fellowship’[6]. Here it is easy to see the pragmatic and contextual out working of Manning’s insightful comment, ‘our doing becomes the very undoing of the gospel’[7].

Consequently some churches become consumed with public appearance[8]. Putting on a show becomes God. This idol turns our conformity into a way to earn salvation, rather than a doorway for discovering salvation. For example: the impossible ideal of a perfect Pastor. Someone who looks great in a suit, has the newest model car, the castle sized mortgage, the beautiful smiling husband or wife, the 2.5 well behaved scripture quoting children and an unblemished Church attendance record. Such standards are closer to the ‘strange paradoxes of the American Dream’ (King), which is only really mounted on the metaphor that, ‘castles made of sand fall…melt…and slip into the sea eventually’ (Hendrix, 1967). While modesty and self presentation is beneficial for every Christian, it does not make you a Christian nor does it necessarily reflect your salvation[9].

A dichotomy exists between being righteous and appearing righteous. Evidence of this is found in the ‘seeming good is better than doing good age’ (Bolt) which feeds self-righteous and Lordless (Wright) ‘isms’. Those who propagate such ideology, reject the theological Trinitarian reality that grace is a gift of acceptance from the Father, transferred to us through Son and worked out in our lives by the Spirit. God’s ‘furious love’[10] for humanity funds dignity, grace and mercy. This begins with the acceptance of grace, ‘for acceptance means simply to turn to God’[11]. This is an encounter where I am no longer removed from my problems, my sin and my inability to repent because I ‘accept the reality of my human limitations’[12]. In other words, Manning does not endorse a ‘fast-food-cheap grace’ Churchianity.

The Ragamuffin Gospel presents a relational God who reaches into the ragamuffin’s brokenness and provides rescue, ‘inviting us to be faithful to the present moment, neither retreating to the past, nor anticipating the future’[13]. I come to accept that through grace I am dignified and worthwhile. This is the description of a loving Father caring for His children. God is not a manipulative father nor is He like the pagan gods, who demand sacrifice to appease their anger. We do not serve an angry, distant un-relational God who is unconcerned with who we and obsessed with our ‘’epic fails’’.

Manning illustrates for us that God seeks out the ragamuffin. Manning’s own ministry and his journey through alcoholism exemplify the message which ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’ communicates.  The message of the Ragamuffin Gospel is about a freedom that is completely reliant on a view grace which does not abandon human culpability, in the name of ‘tolerance instead of love’ (Bill ‘birdsong’ Miller). This freedom is found only in a response to grace that empowers a living relationship with Jesus Christ. This freedom stands as a warning to those who ‘accept grace in theory but deny it in practice’ [14].Manning writes that the ‘deadening spirit of hypocrisy lives on in people who prefer to surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus’[15]. Being honest and expressing the need for grace and not works begins with us, the Church.

Writing on Paul’s letter the Galatians, Brennan Manning states:

‘written in the heat of the moment, the letter is a manifesto of Christian freedom. Christ’s call on your lives is a call to liberty. Freedom is the cornerstone of Christianity (see 2 Cor.3:17[16])…Freedom in Christ produces a healthy independence from peer pressure, people-pleasing, and the bondage of human respect. The tyranny of public opinion can manipulate our lives. What will the neighbours think? What will my friends think? What will people think? The expectations of others can exert a subtle but controlling pressure on our behaviour’[17].

Brennan Manning encourages Christians to let go of  demands which control us, by entering into step with the Spirit and consequently a life of freedom that is accountable to God. This freedom ‘lies not in ourselves, who are by nature slaves to sin, but in the freedom of his grace setting us free in Christ by the Holy Spirit’[18]. Christians are living in ‘the presence of God in wonder, amazed by the traces of God all around us’[19], not just in a building or a doctrine.

In concluding, the merit of this book is that Brennan Manning provides a reflection of the human struggle with addiction and idolatry. At times, Manning may seem a little unforgiving in his harsh critique of the institutional Church. Nevertheless what is clear is that Manning seeks to address practical atheism by reassessing doctrines and expressions of church, that have by default, replaced God.  In order to achieve this Manning asserts that the Christian walk is one of risk, founded on a dignity that is grounded solely in God’s intervention on our behalf. The Ragamuffin Gospel addresses the failure to live out independently the character of Christ without Christ. As a result Manning successfully reminds us that God is in fact consistent, fierce, loving and interested in messiness of our lives.

Brennan Manning

Author: Brennan Manning (Photo credit: Jordon).  1934-2013

Manning, B. 1990 The Ragamuffin Gospel, Multnomah Books, Sister, Oregon 97599, USA

Casting Crowns, 2003 American Dream: from the album Casting Crowns


[1] Manning, B. 1990, The Ragamuffin Gospel p.7, Authentic Classics, Multnomah books, Sis. OR.
[2] Ibid, p.6
[3] Ibid, p.1
[4] Ibid, p.13
[5] Ibid, p.34
[6] Ibid, p.107 & p.115
[7] Ibid, p.39
[8] Ibid, ‘publicity’ p.1
[9] For example: Facebook memes that encourage us to ‘share if you’re saved’ or like ‘ if you want to be’. As if our spiritual status is determined by how many times we shared or liked such drivel.
[10] Ibid, p.19
[11] Ibid, p.24
[12] Ibid, p.31
[13] Ibid, p.35
[14] Ibid, p.117
[15] Ibid, p.110
[16] 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (ESV)
[17] ibid, pp.120-121
[18] ibid, p.129
[19] Ibid, p.72