Saturday, December 27, 2003

Resolution #1

I know it's still a few days off from New Years, but I figure a headstart isn't a bad idea. Momentum helps with being resolved. Which is to say that I've decided to revamp this here blog.


Monday, December 22, 2003

Barth: The bottom line

Below I've posted a number of quotes from Dogmatics in Outline by Karl Barth that I wanted to review. The most influential shot I've gotten from Mr. Barth has definitely to do with the identity Barth makes with omnipotence and grace. He says, "The grace of God and the omnipotence of God are identical. We must never understand the one without the other." This places the center of the universe in the person of Christ. His lordship means that the One whom God has chosen is a man who stands for Himself and at the same time is a man who stands for all. And it is for this reason that Barth says we must come to "read the New Testament from the standpoint of this 'for us'." All of God's action from Creation to redemption to consummation are His mighty acts on our behalf; they are his powerful workings for us. Thus, when it comes to man's debt of sin, it is not that God delivers us from His wrath in spite of His righteousness, rather it is because of God's righteousness that He steps in for us. "Righteousness in the Old Testament sense is not the righteousness of the judge who makes the debtor pay, but the action of a judge who in the accused recognises the wretch whom he wishes to help by putting him to rights. That is what rightesouness means. Righteousness means setting right. And that is what God does... God's mercy and God's righteousness are not at variance with each other." And in another chapter he says, "In the Biblical world of thought the judge is not primarily the one who rewards some and punishes the others; he is the man who creates order and restores what has been destoyed."

We often loose sight of the fierceness of God's love in all of our theological terminology. And we get small minded and tidy and cranky. Yes, God is holy, yes God is righteous, and yes, God is just. And it is for those very reasons that He will seek us out, His people. He will overtake us with His kindness, and blow our minds with His brilliance. He is not an unbiased Judge. He is biased, in our favor. And He gives Himself for us.


Barth: Miscellaneous

"The Church is not 'of the opinion', it does not have 'views', convictions, enthusiasms. It believes and confesses, that is it speaks and acts on the basis of the message based on God Himself in Christ."

"God thinks it not robbery to be divine, that is, He does not hold on to the booty like a robber, but God parts with Himself. Such is the glory of His Godhead, that He can be 'selfless', that He can actually forgive Himself something... It is is the depth of the Godhead, the greatness of His glory which is revealed in the very fact that it can also completely hide itself in its sheer opposite, in the profoundest rejection and the greatest misery of the creature... Reconciliation means God taking man's place."

"What then is the meaning of man's life? It means hurrying to the grave. Man is hurrying to meet his past. This past, in which there is no more furture, will be the final thing..."

"The atheist is not aware of what Godlessness is. Godlessness is existence in hell... God's judgment is righteeous--that is, it gives man what he wanted."

"Where men may receive and possess the Holy Spirit, it is of course a human experience and a human act. It is also a matter of the understanding and of the will and, I might indeed say, of the imagination. This too belongs to being a Christian. The whole man, right into the inmost regions of the so-called 'unconscious', is taken in claim. God's relation to man includes the whole of him."

"It [the Church] cannot be formed by men's hands; that is why the zealous, swift founding of Churches, such as took place in America and also sometimes in Holland, is doubtful business. Calvin liked to apply to the Church a military conception, that of la compagnie des fideles. A company usually comes together on the basis of a command and not on that of a free agreement."


Barth: Freedom and Evil

"And creaturely freedom means, finally that there is a contigency of what is, a specific existence of the creature; and this specific existence, at any rate of the human creature, means freedom to decide, ability to act one way or another. But his freedom can only be the freedom appropriate to the creature, which possesses its reality not of itself, and which has its nature in time and space... it is limited by the existence of its fellow creatures, and on the other hand by the sovereignty of God. For if we are free, it is only because our Creator is the infinitely free. All human freedom is but an imperfect mirroring of the divine freedom."

"The creature is threatened by the possibliity of nothingness and of destruction, which is excluded by God--and only by God... I am speaking here now of this, in order to make it clear that this whole realm that we term evil--death, sin, the Devil and hell is not God's creation, but rather what was excluded by God's creation, that to which God has said 'No'... What is not good God did not make; it has no creaturely existence. But if being is to be ascribed to it at all, and we would rather not say that is is non-existent, then it is only the power of the being which arises out of the weight of the divine 'No'."


Barth: Time and Space

"Everything outside God is held constant by God over nothingness. Creaturely nature means existence in time and space, existence with a beginning and an end, existence that becomes, in order to pass away again. Once it was not, and once it will no longer be. And it is not one but many. As there is a once and a now, there is also a here and a there. The world, in this process, is called time, and, in this separateness, space. But God is eternal. That does not meant that there is no time in Him, but it is a different time from ours; for fundamentally we never have presence, and for us spatiality means apartness."

[On Jesus coming as the judge]
"First let me say something about the Christian concept of time. We cannot but realise that here a quite strange light falls upon what in the genuine and proper sense is called real time--time in the light of God's time, eternity. Jesus Christ's having come, all those past tenses, would answer to what we term the past. But how inappropriate it would be to say of that event that it was past. What Jesus suffered and did is certainly not past; it is rather the old that is past, the world of man, the world of disobedience and disorder, the world of misery, sin, and death. Sin has been cancelled, death has been vanquished. Sin and death did exist, and the whole of world history, including that which ran its course post Christum, right down to our day, existed. All that is past in Christ; we can only think back on all that.

But Jesus Christ sitteth beside the Father, as He who has suffered and has risen from the dead. That is the present. Since He is present as God is present, it already admits of being said that He shall come again as the person he once was. He who is today just as He was yesterday, will also be the same tomorrow--Jesus Christ yesterday and today and the same to eternity. Since Jesus Christ exists as the person He was, obviously He is the beginning of a new different time from that which we know, a time in which there is no fading away, but real time which has a yesterday, a today and a tomorrow. But Jesus Christ's yesterday is also His today and His tomorrow. It is not timelessness, not empty eternity that comes in place of His time. His time is not at an end; it continues in the movement from yesterday to today, and into tomorrow. It has not the frightful fleetingness of our present. When Jesus Christ sitteth at the right hand of the Father, this existence of His with God, His existence as the possessor and representative of the divine grace and power towards us men, has nothing to with what we are foolishly wont to conceive as eternity--namely, an existence without time. If this existence of Jesus Christ at the right hand of God is real existence and as such the measure of all existence, then it is also existence in time, although in another time than the one we know. If the lordship and rule of Jesus Christ at the Father's right hand is the meaning of what we see as the existence of our world history and our life-history, then this existence of Jesus Christ is not a timeless existence, and eternity is not a timeless eternity. Death is timeless, nothingness is timeless. So we men are timeless when we are without God and without Christ. Then we have no time. But this timelessness He has ovecome. Chrst has time, the fullness of time. He sitteth at the right hand of God as he who has come, who has acted and suffered and triumphed in death. His session at God's right hand is not just the extract of this history; it is the eternal within this history."


Monday, December 15, 2003


I'm fairly sure there were a few comments in the previous posts. Apparently the 'Shout Out' gods have deemed them unworthy of consumption. Many apologies.

But speaking of consumption, if you have not already made Dr. Leithart's blog the object of your daily blog consumption, then you are yet to breathe. Dr. Leithart is the interim pastor of Trinity Reformed Church which is my church, a recent church plant of Christ Church in Moscow. In addition, it should be added that Dr. Leithart wears cardigan sweaters. Word.


Kerr shoots, he scores

Kerr finally got to the goods in the last chapter of Theology after Wittgenstein. And not that the other stuff wasn't worth it. I was just worried he wasn't going to go in for the kill, but he does. Oh, he does.

Perhaps the most striking observation that Kerr makes is that a view of the self that emphasizes the body and community as far more fundamental than some sort of hidden, inner 'I' is one that can defend life more properly, particularly in terms of the imago Dei. Traditionally, the church fathers and reformers alike (to my knowledge) have placed the most emphasis on the image of God as being mental, rational, or logical, though some have gone so far as to say 'creative' albeit, creative in an 'inner energy' sort of way. But if life and the imago Dei in particular are rather seen in more physical terms I.e. the body and community, then an unborn child is a living human being by virtue of these things. The Cartesian ego has been so concerned with backing external reality with mental sensation, that mental sensation has become the standard of relevance. And as Kerr points out, paradoxically, the more animalistic, instinctual, habitual we view human life (as Wittgenstein would assert) the easier it becomes to defend life.

Based on these observations, there are of course other implications particularly for worship and liturgy. The modern fear of repetition or 'mindless' chattering of prayers and responses is completely unfounded. Meaning is not found in our heads. It is found in the world that God made. It is found in our actions and words and interactions with the world and other people. And it is not as though repetition and form prayers can be avoided, it's just a matter of how much thought is going into them, likewise bodily actions and movements. Whether we go to a straight laced old school Presbyterian church or a free-swinging Baptist church, our bodies are intimately involved and as Kerr (via Wittgenstein) would assert those movements, words, interactions are highly influential in creating and molding the people that we are. It's not whether; it's which and what.


Thursday, December 11, 2003

Advent Aroma

The season of Advent is the dinner guest who consistently (unexpectedly) arrives ten minutes early. There we are still licking the turkey off our fingers and finishing the Thanksgiving stuffing when the first Sunday of Advent is upon us unrelenting. I suppose this is a uniquely American dilemma. But alas here I am, as American as they come, and the third Sunday of Advent is on its way to the door.

I'm still trying to get the Advent "feel" down. Advent is not like Epiphany, Lent, Easter, or Trinity seasons which seem to have decided personalities. I know what Advent leads to, I know that all the lights and gifts mean something. But I feel almost joy, a bit of sorrow, nearly hope. Expectation is a word often used to describe Advent. It's the Old Testament in a month, like Greek in a week. It's an explosion in slow motion climaxing with a fury of wrapping paper on Christmas morning. My dog, Porter, doesn't even know how to feel about this whole tree business. Occasionally he's sympathetic lying near it, gnawing at his favorite cow femur. But other days he's outright antagonistic lunging into the Douglas Fir and coming away with a mouthful of needles and ornaments. I have to tell him 'no', but I understand his confusion.

Historically speaking, I understand that our season of Advent is the result of the collision of celebrations in northern and southern Europe. It was in Gaul where the season began as early as the beginning of November (St. Martins on the 11th usually) with a decidedly penitential character. It was a preparatory season, akin to our modern Lent, but it went under the title Quadragesima Sancti Martini which means something like "after this, we get to drink martinis". In the south, however, the mood was quite festive and was limited to the four weeks prior to the Nativity. Apparently, the Gallic Church began its celebrations as early as the Third century, while the Roman Church didn't have an organized tradition until the sixth century. At any rate, by the eighth century the differences in celebration were enough to cause a bit of tension, such that a compromise was struck over the course of the next few centuries, and the four week calendar was adopted from the Roman celebration along with the Roman liturgy, but from the Gallic Church a more penitential observance was added.

This, I would suggest, justifies my inability to come down on the Advent Aroma, the right feel so to speak. Historically, it simply is a time of deep expectation, almost joy, near hope, not quite sorrow. Related to this is also the fact that husbands have never wanted to have more than a full month dedicated to shopping and Christmas music.

So in the spirit of the Advent Season, a season of compromise and colliding ideals, we're seeking to celebrate with those very things in mind. My wife comes from a family that put the tree up and turned the lights on as soon as the last bite of Thanksgiving dinner is off the plate. I come from a family that put the tree up and maybe hung lights on Christmas Eve. We probably did it on Christmas day a few times but I don't remember; I'm scarred and I'm repressing childhood memories. But the short of it is that we're trying to celebrate gradually. We put the tree up for the first Sunday of Advent, but we're adding decorations as we go along. Lights will go up this week, gifts come out on the last Sunday. It adds a little drama to our lives and really makes us long for when we can put the next bits up, but nevertheless something wild and amazing is certainly in the works. I'm enjoying it, but by far the most enthusiastic supporter is the wee Sumpter. I can tell by the way my wife eats.


Wednesday, December 10, 2003

John-Revelation Project

For anybody interested in St. John's Revelation or eschatology in general, I would highly recommend the John-Revelation Project. I've only read a little, but the premises upon which the project is based seem quite sound, and its thesis offers an intriguing and exegetically defensible counter to various other attempts at understanding John's apocalyptic literature. The central attempt has been to shed light on the Revelation of St. John through a study of its literary connections with the Gospel of St. John.

One bit that was of particular interest was a foot note directed at recent attempts to responsibly study the book of Revelation, postmillenialists in particular:

"There have been several valiant attempts by postmillennialists to exposit Revelation. But postmillennialists have largely approached the book with a literary literalism similar to the hermeneutic of the premillennialists, having failed to appreciate the ironic character of the biblical understanding of victory (cf. Paul's claim that "we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered. But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us," Rom 8:36-37). This hermeneutical oversight is caused, as we shall argue, by the loss of a classical understanding of the possibilities of irony, the heart of the comedic imagination."

I'm intrigued by this critique. It is a challenge, in my mind, much needed. It is a challenge for a theological aesthetic, for seeing and understanding "the comedic imagination" of God, of which theology is always concerned, but to which theologians are not often quick to admit.


Monday, December 08, 2003

It Makes Us To Dance

With the jihad against Christ Church, Trinity Reformed, New St. Andrews, Bucers, Zume, et cetera showing no signs of abating, it is important to point out that we have been deemed worthy of the attacks. And with the tomatoes coming from every direction, it's probably a good indicator that we're right where we should be. As God boasted of Job to Satan and before the Sons of God, and gave a spirit of joy to Peter and the other disciples who were "counted worthy", so we here in Moscow must rejoice.

We have been counted worthy of slander for the sake of the gospel. What we need now is more celebration, more dancing, more laughter, and more peace. Do your worst; the Triune God deems us worthy.

"Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" (Job 1:8)

"So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name." (Acts. 5:41)



The bakery has the makings of a website. You can at least see a picture of the dining area. I only go in there when I want to see the Christmas lights. Downtown Moscow is beautiful around this time of the year.


Saturday, December 06, 2003

Global Warming

Imagining for a moment that what they say is true, I'm not so sure it's all that bad of a deal. From all we can tell, the world before the flood was a gigantic tropical rain forest, with moderate to warm temperatures. This climate apparently explains something of the prevelant giantism of the day. Men were large and lived long lives. There appears, if the fossil record is to be believed, to have been any number of supersized animals, both sea monsters, dinosaurs, mammoths, dragons, and just all around really big insects, lizards, birds, and plants. There is no doubt that the flood changed the climate of the world drastically. But what if we're on our way back? If a world wide flood can turn a rain forest into desert, so could YHWH turn our desert into the lush world it once was.

And in fact, that is what He has promised to do. Typologically speaking, rising water means judgment and salvation, as in the case of the flood, the exodus, the river flowing out of Ezekiel's temple, and baptism to which each of those historic/prophetic examples point. But since the rainbow, we fear no flood. God's judgment is our salvation. We have no cause for fear in any case, but the prospects of a warmer world may be just what we want. Perhaps the water levels will rise a bit, perhaps we had all better get used to warmth and humidity. Perhaps there is a hole in the ozone, and maybe God put it there. And maybe it was caused by the Incarnation; it's the scar caused by God breaking in to our freezing, sin filled world.

"Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, And the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, And the fruitful field is counted as a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, And righteousness remain in the fruitful field." (Is. 32:15-16)