The Lordly Word Contradicts: A Contradiction of the Evangelical Scripture Ethic

I am being impressed more and more lately with how important it is for us Christians to recognize God’s Lordly word which stands over and against us, but at the same time for us, which flows from the benevolent heart of Jesus. All too often, it seems, that we Evangelicals, especially, collapse God into our domesticated norms; wondering what Jesus would do, instead wondering at what Jesus has done and is doing. I think one symptom of this domestication of God is that we, as corollary, contextualize God’s voice (‘the living voice of God’) which is given to us in his triune speech act to us—or in scripture—into our own words, thus taking captive his sovereign Word which always contradicts ours, by making it a servant of our world instead of the Lordly voice of God’s world in Christ. Karl Barth, of all people, communicates this problem with the kind of salient tone that I think is timely for us to listen to in our here and now:

(1) First, the Word of God as directed to us is a Word which we do not say to ourselves and which we could not in any circumstances say to ourselves. Every human word, including that of proclamation and even the Bible, we could and can perhaps say to ourselves as such. Encounter with the human word as such is never genuine, irrevocable encounter, nor can it be. Encounter with the Word of God is genuine, irrevocable encounter, i.e., encounter that can never be dissolved, in union. The Word of God always tells us something fresh that we had never heard before from anyone. The rock of a Thou which never becomes an I is thrown in our path here. This otherness which is yet related to us and made known to us, though only in this way, stamps it fundamentally and comprehensively as the Word of God, the Word of the Lord, compared to which all other words, however profound or new or arresting, are not words of the Lord. Whatever God may say to us will at all events be said in this way; it will be said as the Word of the Lord. [Karl Barth, CD, cited by R. Michael Allen, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader, Nook version, 34-5.]

With the sentimentalism and emotionalism so prevalent in our Evangelical ghetto—and culture at large, which Evangelicalism, by and large, is a mimicking sub-culture—I think this word of knowledge from Uncle Karl (as Jason Goroncy might say) is needed! It is this reality, for me that is liberating; for far too long I have inhabited an Evangelical sub-culture that is more echo-chamber and less the chamber wherein the Lord of life in Christ is given space to actually encounter me in his otherness. It is suffocating to live in a Christian world wherein the Word of the Lord must first be given defense and posture by the words of my Evangelical sub-culture. What I mean is that whether it be because we are earnest in defending the reality of the Lord and Christ (apologetics), or we are zealous for finding answers to our every waking question (thus morphing God’s Word into a wax nose); all of this has the effect of, with all of its good intention, disarming what ought to be an arming and contradictory Word from the Lord. Contradictory in the sense that He is the Lord and I am not. This is the kind of encounter that I find the most loving and intimate, and an instance wherein I can finally rest; it is when I encounter the Lord in all of His Sovereign freedom from me (which is the space where he is finally for me [all of us]), in his Lordly Word that I can find solace and refuge.

We are not doing anyone any favors when we try to make the Lord and His Word, the Lord and His Word. Let’s stand in a repentant posture towards the Lord, and wait to hear His Word. The way we can usually know that it His Word and not ours, is that His Word will contradict ours; the cross of Christ is the ultimate analogy of this.amen.

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2 comments

  1. Of all the things, the American Ghettoization of the gospel and the consumerist christendom are utter blasphemies. I think I nearly threw a chair at my TV when I saw a christianmingle commercial saying “Here’s some Good News!”. The Scriptures are not though to contain the living word of God, and it is instruction manual. An instruction manual that needs contextualization! That’s why you’ll find marketing ploys like “Bibles for Firefighters” “Bibles for Teenage Boys” “Bibles for stay at home moms” etc.

    The Ghetto is Americana but dumber, it’s like the store-brand “chocolate O’s” instead of Oreos.

    Bobby, you been posting things that really get me going me! 🙂

    Cal

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  2. Yeah, I have lots of ideas that could probably get people going if I had the time to post them ;-).

    Yeah, consumerism and individualism and quietism are definitely problems amongst us Evangelicals. Navel gazing.

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