‘The Love of Many Has Grown Cold’: Bowing the Knee to the Lord Jesus as Our Life and Witness

This world is descending quickly; further and further into the abyss of chaos and destruction. It doesn’t seem to me, that what counts as Christianity today, in our Western enclaves of evangelicalism, has the capacity to cope with what’s going on anymore. It has lost any fortitude to stand in the power of God in Christ just as it has traded its birthright, won by the person and work of Christ, for the pottage of slop that the world has offered it in exchange. The pottage is filled with a God who looks nothing like the One we see in Jesus Christ, instead it looks like the person we stare at in the mirror every morning we wake up.

I was just involved in a thread yesterday, on Facebook, where I was ruthlessly belittled and vitriolically attacked simply because I offered an alternative position to the one that was being advocated for via satire. The audience in this group of people are largely “conservative evangelicals,” and yet their ‘love has grown very cold’; if in fact they’ve ever had that love. So, that’s one thing, but on the other hand we just are waking up to the horrific reality of the mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. The shooter is a self-proclaimed eco-fascist who would like nothing more, but to start a race and arms civil-war in the United States (thus triggering a global conflict); with the goal of thrusting us further into the cesspool this world currently lives in, even if it attempts to gloss it over through the various idolatrous facades we have available to us.

As you might be able to tell I am rather agitated. I am at a total loss. I am fully disillusioned by not only the chaos currently present in the world system, but in the chaos that is present in the evangelical churches. People are not being taught Christ and Him crucified; they are not being taught that Jesus is LORD, that Jesus is Lord and they are not! People have no fortification in themselves, because they seemingly are not being taught that God in Christ, the One who alone has an indestructible Life, is the esse or source of their life; and thus they simply cave into the most primal instincts of their fallen nature as they require resource to face the evil in the world out there; and the evil ‘in there,’ in their hearts. The Church is seemingly in full-on idolatry mode and have fallen for their fallen-selves rather than the One who has raised them from the dead in His new humanity. If Christians don’t know this, how are they to live this; how are they to be salt and light in a world that is in a flaming relationship with the devil himself? Christians, in the main, just as anyone, experience the fall-out that is currently ravaging this world; but if they cannot recognize the Shepherd’s voice among the many hirelings, then all they will really have left is their own voice who they will and do mistake for the Shepherd’s.

I am thoroughly agitated at the moment; and for good reason! Jesus say’s in Luke ‘will I really find faith on the earth when I return?’ Probably not. It doesn’t seem as if people understand that their voices only matter insofar as they are bearing witness to the reality of the living Savior; social media has falsely inflated the importance of all our voices. We have no voice without Christ’s! This is what Barth so eloquently fleshes out for us as he talks about the reality of the Church, and our reality in it; in Christ. He writes:

A second meaning of the description of the Church as Christ’s body is undoubtedly this: that the repetition of the incarnation of the Word of God in the historical existence of the Church excludes at once any possible autonomy in that existence. The Church lives with Christ as the body with its head. This means that the Church is what it is, because in consequence of what human nature and kind became in Jesus Christ, human nature and kind are made obedient to the eternal Word of the Father and are upheld by that Word. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion (fellowship) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 10.16f)? In and by this participation the Church lives. It lives by the fact that within it as the circumference nothing happens except a real repetition of what has happened in its midst, in Jesus Christ, to men and for men. It lives by growing up to him who is the head, Christ (Eph. 4.15), i.e. by receiving its whole existence, comfort and direction from Him and only from Him. He is always the subject of the Church. “What believest thou concerning the holy, universal, Christian Church? That the Son of God out of the whole human race gathereth, guardeth and sustaineth for himself an unworldly Church unto eternal life, by his spirit and word in unity with true faith from the beginning of the world unto the end, and that I am and shall eternally remain a living member of the same” (Heid. Cat. qu. 54). Our Lord Jesus Christ does not give us some instructions, like some-one teaching the alphabet to a child, and then gives him to a more excellent teacher. Our Lord does not speak to us in half-measures, but in complete perfection, such that both in life and death, he makes us persist in that which we have from Him, and to renounce that which comes from men. For there is no mixing without corruption . . . It is necessary that the Church be fortified such that Jesus Christ our head always has preeminence. For one wished to exalt men that Jesus Christ was thereby obscured, that would be a fearful construction, and which would bring only ruin and confusion. And in fact, if a man were to become as large as a pillar in this temple, and his head was like a fist, and it was concealed within his shoulders, that would be a monster. It would be much better that he keep the measure common to all (Calvin, Serm. on Gal. 1.11f, 1557; C. R. Calv. 50, 329 f.). “Asketh thou what the Christian Church thou must seek, not that it lie at Rome or at St. James or at Nuremberg or at Wittenberg or among countryfolk, townsfolk or nobility, but it saith, ‘the government shall be upon His shoulders’ … that a right Christian and true member of the Churches is he who believeth that he sitteth upon Christ’s shoulders, that is, that all his sins are hung on Christ’s neck, so that his heart saith, I known no other comfort save that all my sins and misdeeds are laid upon His shoulders. Therefore those who lie on Christ’s shoulders and let themselves be carried by Him, are called and are the Church and proper Christians” (Luther, Pred. üb. Jes. 9. 1 f., 1532. E.A. 6, 59 f.). Therefore, the right order of confession requires that the Church be subordinated to the Trinity, just as a house is to its dweller and the temple to God and state to its founder . . . Therefore neither the whole, nor any part of it should wish to be worshipped instead of God, nor should anything be God which belongs to the temple of God which was built by the gods, which the unmade God made (Augustine, Enchir. 56).[1]

If the Church, and its individual members (I Cor. 12.27) cannot come to terms with the reality that Jesus is Lord, and they are not, then we can count on our ‘love growing cold’ to the point that we seemingly are starting to see in our social-media culture. If Jesus were to come right now (please, Lord!), would He really find faith in His churches? In my experience the answer, in the main, is a resounding NO!

If Christians don’t realize that the source of their life is Christ, then how are they supposed to bear witness to this reality in the world; or even in the Church at large? The love of many has grown cold indeed. People have conflated the simplicity of the true Christ with a different Jesus (II Cor. 11) and called Him Lord. There is no love available there; only self-aggrandizement and the exaltation of the naveled-self as Lord. There is no power for “Christians” living under these sorts of anti-Christ terms, and as such there is no light to shed on the darkness we are plunging further and further into each day. The Church is to have a leavening effect on the culture; in this world system. It cannot nor will not till it starts to live in repentant-living; she isn’t, and probably won’t unfortunately. There is a corresponding relationship between the love of many growing cold, and the darkness we see on the rise as a result.

Pastors are responsible for proclaiming Christ and Him crucified to their congregants; this is a weighty responsibility for which there is stricter judgment coming. Pastors, and those of us who ‘teach,’ are responsible before God for the souls of those under our care. There is a general failure underway, especially in the evangelical churches, such that any ‘power of God’ we might participate in and with through Christ is absent. The absence of power in the Churches to live holy and bold lives before God in Christ, are directly corollary with our unwillingness to recognize that Jesus is Lord; in our unwillingness to live in obedience to Him.

My experience yesterday on Facebook, and now this shooting in New Zealand (not equating them, per se) has only illustrated to me once more how urgent things are! There doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency among the people of God. The churches seem to be stagnating with no real power in the world at large; or even in their own homes and personal lives. There seems to be a lack of living into and for the ‘Great Commission’ that our Lord has commanded we follow Him in as He seeks to save the least and the lost. Lord! Maranatha

[1] Barth, CD I/2 §16, 14-5 [italics mine — these are the Latin phrases in their English translation].

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Knowledge of God and His Holiness Brings Knowledge of Self: Learning How to Live a Counter-Cultural Life from the Culture of Heaven

I have been thinking lately about how easily we, as Christians, are seduced into the ways of the ‘world’; even when we are vigilantly attempting to live sanctified lives unto God. It is seemingly impossible to not be enculturated, at some level, to the point that our guard is taken down and the world system then seeps into the pores of our lives such that we become blind to the stark reality of God’s otherness and holiness; the holiness that He requires us to live into: ‘Be Holy as I am Holy.’ So what’s our hope? Can we have a daily knowledge of God which keeps us from being sucked into the ‘ways of the world,’ such that we have the capacity to not just resist, but discern the various snares set for us by the enemy of our souls?

John Calvin in the very opening of his Institute of the Christian Religion famously offers his thoughts on knowledge of God and knowledge of self. I think his words are a helpful way to think about our position before God, and how it is that we come to have a genuine knowledge of ourselves; just as we come to have a genuine knowledge of God through union with Christ. I want to suggest that it is as we inhabit this frame, on a daily basis, that we will come to have the proper perspective for doing ‘battle’ in a world system that seeks, at every turn, to take us captive to do its will rather than God’s. Calvin writes (in the 1541, French version of his Institute):

For this pride is rooted in all of us, that it always seems to us that we are just and truthful, wise and holy, unless we are convicted by clear evidence of our unrighteousness, lies, madness, and uncleanness. For we are not convinced if we look only at ourselves and not equally at the Lord, who is the unique rule and standard to which this judgment must be conformed. For since we are all naturally inclined to hypocrisy, an empty appearance of righteousness quite satisfies us instead of the truth; and since there is nothing at all around us which is not greatly contaminated, what is a little less dirty is received by us as very pure, so long as we are happy with the limits of our humanity which is completely polluted. Just as the eye which looks at nothing but black-colored things judges something that is a poor white color, or even half-gray, to be the whitest thing in the world. It is also possible to understand better how much we are deceived in our measure of the powers of the soul, by an analogy from physical sight. For if in broad daylight we look down at the earth, or if we look at the things around us, we think that our vision is very good and clear. But when we lift our eyes directly to the sun, the power which was evident on the earth is confounded and blinded by such a great light, so that we are obliged to admit that the good vision with which we look at earthly things is very weak when we look at the sun. The same thing happens when we measure our spiritual abilities. For as long as we do not consider more than earthly matters we are very pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, and flatter and praise ourselves, and thus come close to considering ourselves half divine. But if we once direct our thought to the Lord and recognize the perfection of His righteousness, wisdom, and power (the rule and standard by which we must measure), what pleased us before under the guise of righteousness will appear dirtied with very great wickedness; what deceived us so wondrously under the guise of wisdom will appear to be extreme madness; what had the appearance of power will be shown to be miserable weakness: so it is when what seemed most perfect in us is compared with God’s purity.[1]

Calvin’s thought here is a prescient word for our current moment in world history. As Christians, in the main, we have firmly planted our feet on the slippery slope of cultural appropriation to the point that genuine encounter with the living God has become fleeting; instead we typically end up encountering self-projections who we have conflated with divinity.

Some may read these words from Calvin, and read: Legalism or nomism. But if that’s the conclusion then Calvin’s point is only proven, not repudiated. Christians are so afraid of being legalists, that they’ve lost sight of the demand of God to be holy as He is Holy. Christians, unfortunately, have wrongly read legalism and God’s holiness and purity together; but this couldn’t be further from the reality. Legalism is a man-made standard, the very standard Calvin is attempting to marginalize and undercut, that elevates human-centered wisdom and righteousness to divine status, and then, if at all, attempts to live up to this artificial standard to achieve favor before God and men. But this is all wrong, as Calvin so insightfully identifies. God’s holiness is sui generis, it is of another sort; another world even. God’s holiness is set apart by His eternal Life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in interpenetrative union. This is the knowledge that sets us free to see ourselves as we are; this is the knowledge that undoes our artificial systems of right and wrong. It is a knowledge of God that sets us free to see the world as it is, as God sees it for us in Christ; a world that, in God’s economy has come to have a cruciform shape, such that to think God rightly first requires a daily reckoning of ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in and from Christ.

It is possible to maneuver the terrain of the current world system as a Christian, and not be fully sublimated by the seductive siren calls of its minions of “light.” But it requires the sort of knowledge Calvin alerts us to. It requires a daily battle that we ourselves have no strength to fight; so it requires that we actively recognize our passive posture before God, with the hope that He, in His mercy, will supply us with the grace sufficient for us to see as He sees. It seems that, by-and-large, the church, even the so called evangelical churches, is failing at this in radical ways. If we are going to be ‘saved’ we must have to do with the real and living God, not with a god who is a manifest destiny of our own making. This is the challenge that Calvin leaves us with: Are we going to battle to seek God while He may be found; are we going to wake up each morning, and reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ? It is only in this Spirit empowered mode of living coram Deo that the Christian will have the resource to be an ‘overcomer’ rather than someone overcome by this world system.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: 1541 French Edition, trans. by Elsie Anne McKee (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 24.

Pastors Will Be Held to a Higher Standard than Group Think; The Elder Said ‘God just is Wrath’: Miscellanies on FaceBook Posts

This post will attempt to expand and clarify upon two FaceBook posts that seemed to cause some people confusion and even consternation. I mean this is usually the case on such platforms, isn’t it? People share context-less anecdotes, or enthymemic notions that are usually sub a greater and more fulsome context of meaning. This post will attempt to provide some of that for these two little ‘posts.’ Here’s the first one:

Much theology is adopted for purposes of pastoral polity and expediency, not necessarily because it represents the best alternatives critically available.

What I had in mind with this one isn’t all that profound, but here’s the context of thought: Growing up as an evangelical Baptist Christian, particularly as a ‘pastor’s kid’, it has made me sensitive to trends in the evangelical churches; as I’m sure it has for many of us. As someone who has been trained formally to be involved in some sort of Christian ministry, and been involved in pastoral and evangelical ministry over the years, what I’ve come to recognize in the Free churches, is that they are largely driven by trends. Usually because of time and personnel constraints, which is almost always driven by fiscal issues, pastors and leadership teams in churches are simply attempting to stay afloat among the rigors of daily ministry. As a result, there isn’t seemingly a lot of time for doctrinal reflection or development, so they fall back on whatever their ‘denomination’ or ‘tradition’ has adopted or gravitated towards. In the baptistic oriented churches, if they are wanting some sort of doctrinal bases, they seemingly have looked to outlets and ministries like The Gospel Coalition, John MacArthur’s ‘Grace to You’, Mark Dever’s 9Marks, or even Paul Washer (so on and so forth); but something in this range of theological trad. What, of course, is common to these various outlets is that they are largely shaped directly by what I call soteriological (versus Federal/Covenantal) Calvinism. But this is what is expedient and in the air for those who want to be doctrinally astute, at least at some level. So, the churches are being fed this sort of theological fare, whether that be in a more aggressive or passive way, respectively.

This is really all I was getting at with my FB post. Most local churches, for mostly administrative reasons, and then the way that pastors are trained to think to be pastors these days, are caught in this doctrinal web. If not, then they’ve caught other trends, like: moralistic therapeutic deism, self-help, seeker sensitive, market-based churching. But my basic premise is: That churches, largely because of their pastor[s], end up going along with theological group-think, rather than being critically reflective on what in fact the Bible might actually teach; and then the attending theological grammar and thought that comes along with that. Pastors will be held to a higher standard than ‘group think.’

My second post was this (this one was more doctrinally focused):

We attended a church for a while where one of the elders, as he was going to lead us in prayer stated: we just thank God for His wrath. Everything has a theological background. Do you want to guess the theological background that would lead someone to say something like this, in an abstraction?

Knowing me, this one should be pretty clear already. The theological background I’m referring to is classical Calvinism, of the sort we’ve already mentioned in the last explanation. The stunning thing to me about this pronouncement, from this elder, was that there was no qualification. He just got up, and as a matter of fact, he simply stated what I’ve noted; I’d never heard, not even a Calvinist be so blatant in language like this before (that was actually our last Sunday at this church). Does God have wrath? Yes, but in the sense noted by Thomas Torrance:

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.[1]

Or in the Barthian sense that God in Christ is the Judge, judged. The point being that God’s first Word of wrath is one of love. He first loved us that we might love Him, and in this God’s wrath begins to make theological sense. To simply state that we thank God for his wrath without explicitly grounding that first in His life of triune love gives the impression that God just is wrathful, full stop. But we know that this isn’t the case. We know who God is first, as Athanasius says (paraphrase): as Father of the Son; we know Him filially, and familially, as a child knows their parent—but in a primal, ultimate way. To unhinge God’s wrath from His love, from His being that is shaped by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is to give the people a No-God; at least not a God who the Christian first has come to know as their Lord and Savior.

Clearly, there is an interpretive tradition this particular elder has been formed by; one that I’ve spilled much cyber-ink over. What this elder illustrated for me once again, is that theologies have consequences; of the sort that could potentially destroy people’s recognition of the true and living God; the God Christians only know, by definition, through the biblical reality who is the Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria.

 

 

[1] T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

Karl Barth is a Better Resource for Evangelicals Than Protestant Orthodoxy: Some Personal Miscellanies

I wanted to write a post on Karl Barth, off the top; which I like to do every now and then. Karl Barth for the evangelical has been a balm; at least for this evangelical. Some say that Barth, at least socio-politically, is more radical and progressive than many of us evangelicals; and this may well be so in some pointed ways (but not in general ways, I’d gather). But of course, that wasn’t the first hook for me when it came to Barth, the first hanger for me was and continues to be theological. It is here where I would argue, at great length!, that Barth’s theology is fitted to the evangelical impulse much better than what is being currently excavated by evangelicals today. I grew up in the Free church Baptistic (Baptist even) tradition, and in this tradition, we had certain contours of thought funding our conception of God and all things corollary. Primary of which can be captured in the children’s Sunday School song (which Barth famously responded with at a heady theological conference): Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. All the hallmark touchstones present in the Protestant Reformation are represented in that little song; i.e. the Bible, Jesus pro me, and God’s love (which implies a Trinitarian frame). Also present in the tenor of that song is the warm-hearted piety which funds much of the 20th century North American evangelicalism I was birthed into and formed by early on. Barth’s theology encapsulates and develops these sorts of themes in deep and theologically rich ways. These are some reasons why I was attracted to Barth’s theology, and why I would argue his theology is better suited for evangelicals than is the 16th and 17th century school theology of Protestant orthodoxy. It isn’t that the Protestant orthodox theology isn’t inextricably informative to Barth’s own theology, it actually is! It is just that Barth, in my view, does a better job of retrieving this theology, in constructive mode, in such a way that coalesces with the evangelical mood (that I’m aware of), than does the sort of repristination of that that is happening in the work of folks like Mike Allen, Scott Swain, Richard Muller et al.

Before this digresses into a polemical post, let me turn back to the positives of Barth’s theology, that have captured and captivated me for many years now. The primary hook for me—which I’ve mentioned before—is Barth’s reformulation of election/predestination. His, of course, is a Christ concentrated reification of double predestination wherein the eternal Logos, God’s Son, is not only the electing God, but the elected human for us. As such He assumes our humanity for Himself, and gives us His elect humanity which is realized in the resurrection and the ‘wonderful exchange’ (mirifica commutatio) II Cor. 8.9. There is more to unpacking Barth’s reformulation, but in a nutshell, this brought me into the influence of his theology. I could never accept the ‘classical’ idea of double predestination and election/reprobation therein; you know, the idea that God arbitrarily chooses particular individuals for eternal bliss, and the others (the majority of the world) he either passively or actively damns to an eternal hell (over their heads, without them even knowing any of this has happened before it’s too late). What allows Barth’s reformulation to work is that he eschews the Aristotelian metaphysics that funds the Protestant orthodox conception of double predestination, and the theory of causation therein, and opts for what came to be called ‘dialectical theology.’

Dialectical theology, or what can also be termed dialogical theology, is also another hook for me, when it comes to Barth’s theology. This mode of thinking moves beyond the typical boundaries set by analytical strictures, and allows the Christian thinker to think anew from the ‘rationality’ set down by the Gospel reality itself. This reality isn’t one that is ‘naturally’ discoverable in a pure nature, but instead it is sui generis, it is a ratio or logic that is recognized by faith; it is a ratio that comes with the Grace of the Gospel, as such it is relationally (analogia relationis) and thus dialogically oriented. Its orientation, in other words, is one that is grounded in God’s free choice to be for us and with and not against us in Jesus Christ. This sort of theology, grounded in the non-analogous reality of the Incarnation, necessarily is one that is driven by the event and ongoing encounter of this event of God’s life for us in the face of the risen Christ. In other words, it is a theology shaped by an I/Thou relationship; first and foremost, grounded in the eternal bond and singular person of Jesus Christ and the fellowship He has always already shared with the Father by the Holy Spirit. The character of this sort of theology, because of its relational nature, seeks to think its thoughts and articulate its words only after attentively listening to God speak; and only after the disciple has spoken to this God (in other words, it is a theology based in prayerful posture and life).

Another reason Barth’s theology is so significant to me is because of its Apocalyptical shape. In other words, Barth’s theology is grounded in the concept of God’s invading grace in Christ. As such, there is nothing stable in ‘this world,’ or ‘this creation,’ except for the fact that God’s Grace becomes present, afresh and anew in the encounter we (as Christians) have with Him in the parousia of Jesus Christ; something that for the intentioned Christian happens on a moment by moment and daily basis. Some might protest that this makes Barth’s theology a purely existentialist theology, but this would miss the definitive role that the doctrine of election plays in Barth’s theology; it would also misunderstand just how radical Barth’s overture was against the genuinely existentialist theology of his own day (and what he indeed was reacting against). Barth grounds His theology in the objective reality of who God is, as such, it is a theology from above, but one that is experienced from below as that comes to us in God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. It is this coming that grounds the new-creation through which the Christian can think God in the world; and at the same time recognize the fact that God is antecedent and thus distinct from the world He has come to reconcile unto Himself (thus honoring the Creator/creature distinction). But it is this sort of ‘apocalyptic’ in-breaking that shaped Barth’s theology; one that grounds theological reflection in the eschatos of God’s life in Christ, and keeps the disciple vulnerable to God’s voice and wit rather than their own.

These are some of the reasons Barth’s theology has been and remains attractive to me. This was all off the top and very quick; too quick. But these represent some of my unpolished thoughts, and thus impulses that subconsciously drive me on a daily basis as a Christian. In other words, I have so internalized much of this thinking that it plays itself out in my daily Christianity. In other words, I have tacit thoughts floating around in my head and heart that have taken shape over years of reflection that help fund my Christian life and well-being. And at one time these thoughts were only tacit impulses, indeed; it wasn’t until I ran into Barth that these impulses were given words and a grammar to think from in more intentional and articulate ways. Solo Christo

‘But this Father of His is God.’: The Evangelical Mind and Its Lacuna

18 For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.[1]

After writing bloggy theology for so many years you start to wonder who you are writing for. Personally, I have always really written for myself in an attempt to articulate unarticulated thoughts racing around in my head. Writing helps to provide a semblance to my thoughts, and thus blogging turns out to be a great outlet in an attempt to bring order where there is only disorder (in my head) in regard to the various themes and theological loci running wild in my personal universe.

The previous paragraph was simply a notation of how I often feel when I write a blog post. I usually (as you know) just reflect on whatever I’m reading at the moment. Often I refer to theological antidotes that require some sort of theological context in order for the antidote to be seen as an actual need. But because of space limitations (because of this medium) I don’t have the time or space to problematize things to the point that my posts come with the sort of gravitas they actually do have in their particular contexts. This said: this post has to do with Jesus’ deity and its significance towards understanding who God is, and how it is that we come to know who God is. I’m not really sure these sorts of issues press upon the evangelical psyche in North America these days. I’m not really sure doctrinal matters matter anymore; that the average evangelical really gets how significant sound doctrine is. I’m not sure evangelicals really grasp that they are supposed to care about sound theological reflection; I’m pretty sure most evangelicals don’t even realize that there is such a thing as sound theological reflection, or that they’ve even heard of such grammar. For the average evangelical the deity of Christ is a given, but because of the lacuna of doctrinal teaching in the churches I’m almost positive that even this ‘given’ is no longer understood as such (that is if you asked the average evangelical to explain why the deity of Christ matters in regard to salvation and other important things).

In an attempt to help assuage some of the evangelical absence, when it comes to being mindful of the most important doctrinal matter we could imagine, I wanted to offer a quote from Karl Barth (most evangelicals, these days, don’t even realize that they should be “afraid” of Barth) with reference to the significance of the deity of Jesus Christ and how that relates to his humanity. You will note in this quote that Barth is addressing some ancient Christological heresies, namely ebionitism and docetism, respectively. Barth is pressing home what is noted in John 5.18 (etc.), and grounding the Son’s relationship to the Father as the basis for appreciating the type of Revelation that occurs in the Son become human. Of note, at least by implication (in my mind), is the way Barth understands deity; you will see that it is necessarily trinitarian, and thus not a philosophical concept of the Divine reality. Here I am pressing against a methodological turn that has developed in the history of theologizing; viz. the way Christians have deployed philosophical imagination towards conceiving God (or not). I’d suggest, stringently, that we not rely on philosophical imagination as the primary means by which we think Godness, but instead rely upon God’s special Revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ as sufficient for imagining the verities of who God is. Barth writes:

Jesus is Lord—this is how we think we must understand the New Testament statement in concert with the ancient Church—because He has it from God whom He calls His Father to be the Lord, because with this Father of His, as the Son of this Father, as “the eternal Father’s only child,” He is the Lord—an “is “ which we deny if we are unable to affirm it with those who first uttered it, yet which cannot be deduced, or proved, or discussed, but can only be affirmed in an analytic proposition as the beginning of all thinking about it. In distinction from the assertion of the divinisation of a man or the humanisation of a divine idea, the statement about Christ’s deity is to be understood in the sense that Christ reveals His Father. But this Father of His is God. He who reveals Him, then, reveals God. But who can reveal God except God Himself? Neither a man that has been raised up nor an idea that has come down can do it. These are both creatures. Now the Christ who reveals the Father is also a creature and His work is a creaturely work. But if He were only a creature He could not reveal God, for the creature certainly cannot take God’s place and work in His place. If He reveals God, then irrespective of His creaturehood He Himself has to be God. And since this is a case of either/or. He has to be full and true God without reduction or limitation, without more or less. Any such restriction would not merely weaken His deity; it would deny it. To confess Him as the revelation of His Father is to confess Him as essentially equal in deity with this Father of His.[2]

Barth is making an unusually syllogistic case for the deity of Christ; typically it is more paradoxical (or dialectical sounding). But what stands out is the way Barth ties the deity of Christ to the Father-Son relationship. If the Father is God, and the Father is indeed the Father, then this implies a Son; if the Son is the Son of the Father, then like the Father the Son is equally God. This seems rather straightforward reasoning, except for the fact that we are thinking a primordial reality that stands behind and not after how we think Father-Son (or offspring) relations. What comes through most sharply is that only God can reveal God; as such it is significant to understand just what is taking place in the Incarnation. It isn’t a projection of God into the world; it isn’t a projection of the world into God; it is God revealing Godself in the eternal Son as the express image of the relation He has always had as the Son of the Father by the communion-ing of the Holy Spirit.

I have never ever heard such verities referred to from the pulpits of evangelical churches. I have heard such pulpits wax eloquent about how they believe that the Son is both God and Man; but I have never heard that explicated with depth from evangelical pulpits. The most I’ve heard from evangelical pulpits, in this regard, is when they have a special speaker come and offer a primer on how to engage with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons; but that is not what we are doing in this post with Barth. Christians need to understand the majesty of the God with whom they have to do. They need to have their minds blown by the concrete realization that their salvation and very breath is contingent upon the grace that God is and has become for them in His entrance into the fallen humanity of fallen humanity and from thence redeeming life anew in resurrection splendor. But evangelicals really have no time for this; at least most of the pastors don’t. If anything, evangelical pastors, if they are being tempted to think more deeply, are being shanghaied by the ‘retrieval’ movement wherein philosophy not Revelation serves as the bases by which they think they must think deeply about God.

[1] John 5.18, NASB.

[2] Barth, CD I/1 §11, 113.

Interrogating the Metaphor ‘Woke’ and its Social Justice Context vis-à-vis God: Some Reference to Johnny Mac and Oliver O’Donovan

There has been lots of talk lately about being “woke”; mostly in a derisive sense. Johnny Mac&company have been going after the so called social justice warriors; particularly as that has penetrated the halls of places like The Gospel Coalition, and other evangelical hubs (at least according to the MacArthur gurus). Is there a reason to be suspicious about the impact that social justice thinking might be having on the evangelical psyche? Yes, I think so; particularly because of the social component that underwrites the social in the ‘justice.’ So in this sense I might actually have some sort of non-gleeful sentiment towards the Macite concern; but then things quickly slide away as far as critique. I mean being woke is actually a biblical metaphor, and it is important that Christians be awake in regard to the inroads that social constructs have into the shaping of how the Gospel is received and thus presented.

I am of the mind that the Gospel does indeed have capaciousness all its own; as such, I believe it needs to be shown the shrift that Christians ought to give it as their birthright into the Kingdom. In other words, the Gospel has depth, and it has depth, in particular, in the sense that it alone can penetrate the outer wall of stone around the human heart and bring life where there is only death. This is the sort of awakeness Christians should be emphasizing. The Kingdom has its own set of spectacles that open the eyes to an in-breaking reality of freshness and liveliness that the society has no means to construct. If the Gospel is sui generis, if the Gospel has no analogy grounded in the socio-cultural imagination, then we must rely upon the Gospel alone to awaken the Christian mind to the Christian res (reality) who is indeed God enfleshed in the humanity of Jesus Christ.

Oliver O’Dononvan offers some interesting thinking with reference to the metaphor of woke. Let’s read along with him, and then close with some further reflection and comment.

Theology has a further task over and above that of conceptual ordering, which takes it beyond the scope of philosophy. A theological justification for the metaphor of waking will show how it leads moral experience back to its source in God’s purposes. It will account for experience in the light of what is told us of its causes and ends; it will situate it in the narrative of a God who, having made us agents, now redeems and perfects us. Theology has a special interest in the renewing of human agency. It has to tell of conversion, and of how our occasional moments of moral wakefulness may lead into and awakening that will be complete and final; “Awake, sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon you!” (Eph. 5:14). [1]

And further as O’Donovan gets into the eschatological character of what being ‘awake’ looks like for the Revelator:

These synoptic uses lie behind two calls to wakefulness in the Apocalypse (Rev. 3:2-3; 16:15), both on the lips of the risen Jesus and both referring directly to the parables from the synoptic apocalypse. Here the two parables have been conflated: the thief who will come in the night and the Lord who will return in the night are now one and the same, and are, in fact, Jesus himself, who says, “I will come as a thief!” Also from the synoptic context are the words about not knowing the time. The blending of these synoptic elements gives new force to the metaphor. Ignorance of the moment and thief-like suddenness of the Lord’s return are, for John, not merely the universal conditions within which faithfulness must be exercised; they are God’s judgment on unfaithfulness. It is the unwakeful servant who will encounter the Lord as a thief and who will not know the moment of his coming. A new illustrative feature develops this thought: one who stays awake will have clean clothes ready to meet his master (3:4) and will not be caught in an indecent state (16:15).

And so the command to wake is addressed in the New Testament chiefly to the church, which ought to be able to count, if any agent could, on being awake already. It sets the church in a moment of crisis, put on the spot, by relating the achieved past to the future of Christ’s coming and to the immediate future of attention and action. Wakefulness is anything but a settled state, something we may presume on, as we can usually presume we are awake as we go about our business. It brings us sharply back to the task in hand, the deed to be performed, the life to be lived. Waking is thrust on us. We do not consider it, attempt it and then perhaps achieve it; we are claimed for it, seized by it. That is why it is not just one metaphor among many for moral experience, but stands guard over the birth of renewed moral responsibility.[2]

Being awake is being made alive by the in-breaking reality of the Gospel. As O’Donovan emphasizes, being awake is an eschatological reality calling us back and forward to the reality of God. In this reality we are undone over and again by our own brokenness and then revived again by our new found awakeness in the Gospel. Of all people Christians are not only awake to the reality of God, but ought to thus live as those awoken in Christ over and again; afresh and anew.

The Macites are reacting to the whence of being ‘woke’ as it is a social construct non-derived from the contextual reality of God’s Holy Triune life. In that sense I think Mac and the Macites are onto something. But it is just at their observation that things start to come undone; they have a faulty understanding of God in important ways (we will have to get into those at another time). But insofar as woke is being appealed to by the mainstream of evangelical Christians this needs to be critiqued. Unless a robust account and development of what it means to be woke is appealed to in these circles what will be left is an empty hull of starting premises that received their genesis from anyone else but Theology Proper. In other words, as O’Donovan has alerted us to, to be woke, for the Christian, is indeed a Christian reality. Non-Christians cannot be awake by definition; thus they have nothing to offer a broken defunct world-situation. Non-Christians and the premises of their lives therein, are indeed what has brought about the social maladies wokeness is intended to bring remedy to. If the Gospel is sui generis then outwith the Spirit inhabiting someone’s mind and heart how can anyone claim to be ‘awake?’

What counts as being woke in the profane social constructs cannot actually be woke to anything except the incurved self; the self-possessed self. This is why the Gospel is so important; it is the only reality that can actually wake anyone up, and provide the sort of power and reality that people need to counter the forces of darkness that have plunged the world into the mess it is in. Being awake for the world, for the ‘society’ is something they have no resource to provide; just as the universe itself does not have the self-resource to explain its own origination, likewise, the profane ununited person to Christ has no resource to awaken itself to what is genuinely holy and straight (rather than crooked). The power of God is not a social construct; the power of God is the Gospel. The Gospel has the power to penetrate fallen hearts (Christian or non-Christian — one of O’Donovan’s points), and to bring to rights the wrongs of the world; even as the eschaton continuously breaks in upon the world in the face of Christ (the glory of God) by the Holy Spirit’s paracletic work.

[1] Oliver O’Donovan, Self, World, and Time: Ethics as Theology Volume 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013), 7.

[2] Ibid., 9.

Responding to “Hey, How is Being a Christian Academic Working Out For Your Spiritual Walk?”

Recently (and this is trendy among many evangelicals) I had an evangelical pastor, on Facebook, challenge me with this question (I paraphrase): “yeah, how is academic Christianity working out for you?” usually, he noted, “those Christians committed to academic Christianity fail at cultivating a healthy Christian spirituality in the process of being academic.” Beyond the typical and pervasive anti-intellectualism that this springs from I see more going on here. There is this constant repose upon a sort of mysticism among evangelical Christians in the main; a mysticism that is coupled with an American (or Western) individualism wherein someone’s Christianity is ultimately a private thing that is based upon their experiences of God that they come to through ‘quiet times’ or more collectively through corporate worship services at church on Sundays. To me this is a tragic posture!

Sometimes I wonder, when confronted with this attitude, especially as that has been directed at me, who these people think I am; or who do they think others (like me) are? Do they think we are some sort of special class or hybrid of Christian (in the negative)? Speaking personally, my drivenness into so called ‘academia’ comes from deep personal crisis. Without getting into the details of those crises (which I’ve done elsewhere) it is indeed such crises that have continuously pushed me deep into ongoing bible reading, ongoing theology reading, and the earning of degrees in these areas. Indeed, it is only in seasons of drought (which honestly these have almost become non-existent for me) where my Christian spirituality has suffered. You see, I believe, and I KNOW, that we are in a spiritual battle (cf. Eph. 6.12), and that the devil’s means are ideas (cf. II Cor. 10; Rom. 12; etc.). To stand fast in the power of the LORD (cf. Eph. 6.10) is not to abstractly name and claim the ‘armor of God,’ instead it is to actively be involved in an attitude and action of doxology (worship). To worship God with all that we are (as the dominical teaching calls for) means that we are actively involved, as part of the priesthood of all believers, in growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (II Peter 3). There is no growth without food, and the food we have been given is the Word of God. But I’m afraid that people have collapsed the Word of God into their mystical individualist experiences and made the Word of God an adjunct of their own petty wants. These accusers, because of their absolute individualism and other insecurities, have failed to recognize the Pauline teaching that the Word of God comes inclusive of teachers (cf. Eph. 4); this is what a proper understanding of sola scriptura entails.

For some reason, or for many reasons, these antagonists of Christian learning have absolutized their laziness and made it a spiritual virtue; and then they deploy this virtue over against anyone who isn’t equally lazy. There are academic Christians, not to be outdone, who have sort of lauded in this sort of classification only to reinforce their status as an academic Christian over-against the antagonists I’m referring to. But why would we do that; why as brothers and sisters in Christ would we accept this notion or classification of academic Christian only as that is based in a lowering of the bar for so called non-academic Christians? Why would we allow the majority of the body of Christ to languish in their individualism when the Lord of the Word calls for repentance for all who sleep? There is no gate-keeper here, but Christ alone!

Ultimately this is a spiritual warfare reality, and it needs to be identified as such and rebuked. Without the cultivation of robust Christian theological ideas in a doxological frame the devil will beat us as Christians to bloody pulps. We have armor, and it is only those who rigorously fight by putting that on through meditation upon God’s Word, making use of the teachers he has provided, who will actually have the possibility to walk in some modicum of victory over the principalities and powers. So I say to my antagonist: Repent! Or: Get thee behind me satan!

The No-God of Jordan Peterson: And the Conservative Evangelical’s Love Affair with Power in the Public Square

Credit: ZachDrawThings

Jordan Peterson, that lightning bolt of a character these days, even for many Christians, just recently tweeted the following on his Twitter account:

God is the mode of being you value the most as demonstrated or manifested in your presumption, perception and action. –Jordan Peterson, June 25th 9:13 pm (Twitter)

In some of my reading I’m doing on Barth’s theology (actually some rereading in this case) I came across the following quote from Harvard theologian, Gordon Kaufman:

The concept “God” arises formally as ground and limit of the concept of “world,” and materially it arises out of the richness of human experience: for example, the experience of creativity, but also that of need and desire. God must be the ultimate reference point for human cultural and moral concerns. The two functions of the concept of “God” thus are the relativizing and the humanizing of the world. Since the concept “God” is not a report on information, and since the concepts that theology scrutinizes are employed to help us solve problems of meaningful moral and cultural living, theology is a practical rather than a theoretical discipline.[1]

As McCormack notes “The influence of Immanuel Kant on Kaufman’s perspective should be clear.”[2]

I couldn’t help but see some similarity between what Peterson recently tweeted and the ethos distilled in the Kaufman quote. For both God is a human projection, something immanent within the processes of the world ‘spirit’ and experience. Which makes one wonder, in some ways, why so many conservative evangelical Christians have become fan boys of Peterson; there seems to be dissonance between what conservatives creedally confess, as Christians, and who they pragmatically affirm in the greater struggle of the culture wars. There seems to be this sense that Peterson represents conservative evangelical values, and as such is worthy of carrying the torch that burns all progressive and liberal opponents at the stake of all that is unworthy in the realm of ideas in the public square.

Yet, ironically, it strikes me as odd, at least, that the poster-boy for conservatives is, in regard to his thinking on God, as progressive and ‘turned-to-the-subject’ as the Progressive and Liberal theologians are; as Kaufman helps to illustrate. Sooner or later Peterson’s commitments, on no-God, will come back to bite the very conservatives who are currently giving him platform and voice.

 

[1] Gordon Kaufman, “Essay on Theological Method,” in Hans Frei, “Types of Christian Theology,” cited by Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 117.

[2] Ibid., 117.

A Critique of the ‘What Would Jesus Do Society’ In Light of the Border Dilemma

Here is a post I originally posted probably eight years ago. I have reposted it multiple times since. I can’t think of a more apropos time to repost this than the times we are facing right now. This current issue at the border is evincing something in the hearts of many so called conservative Christians that needs to be confronted. It is something that has been developing and cultivating for years. The border issue currently underway is now only revealing how deep this heart condition has become. I think the following post helps to confront the problem.

I really like how John Webster describes Barth’s understanding against the Liberal Protestantism of his day. Ironically, I think, that the way Barth understood the Liberal Protestants of his day, could (should) be the way (by and large) that we understand American Evangelicals of our day [please note: I am speaking in generalities, there are obviously many exceptions to this amongst American Evangelicals, just as there was exceptions to the Liberal Protestants in Barth’s day]. In fact, I think this dovetails nicely with the post I just posted on Occupy Wall Street. It gets to the question of how it is that “good” honest hard working (even Christian) people can be duped into thinking that the aformentioned attributes serve as the garb that justifies their place in society (i.e. as good honest hard working folk). There is always room for conviction and self-“criticality;” I know we don’t like this, and I know that much of this ultimately bothers our sensibilities; but we are Christians, people of  love and truth (insofar as we participate in God’s life in Christ).

As I’ve already alluded to, the following is Webster commenting on Barth and his critique of the Liberal Protestants (which I am lifting and applying to American Evangelicals). This is intended to decenter our trust in ourselves, and instead cause us to throw ourselves at the mercy of God in Christ. This is intended to turn our lights on so that we can more critically see how what counts as Christian and Ethical (in America and the West), probably is not as ethical and Christian as we think. This is intended to highlight how it is that “we” so easily become the standard for what is good and right in the world instead of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

[A] large part of Barth’s distaste is his sense that the ethics of liberal Protestantism could not be extricated from a certain kind of cultural confidence: ‘[H]ere was … a human culture building itself up in orderly fashion in politics, economics, and science, theoretical and applied, progressing steadily along its whole front, interpreted and ennobled by art, and through its morality and religion reaching well beyond itself toward yet better days.’ The ethical question, on such an account, is no longer disruptive; it has ‘an almost perfectly obvious answer’, so that, in effect, the moral life becomes too easy, a matter of the simple task of following Jesus.

Within this ethos, Barth also discerns a moral anthropology with which he is distinctly ill-at-ease. He unearths in the received Protestant moral culture a notion of moral subjectivity (ultimately Kantian in origin), according to which ‘[t]he moral personality is the author both of the conduct with which the ethical question is concerned and of the question itself. Barth’s point is not simply that such an anthropology lacks serious consideration of human corruption, but something more complex. He is beginning to unearth the way in which this picture of human subjectivity as it were projects the moral self into a neutral space, from which it can survey the ethical question ‘from the viewpoint of spectators’. This notion Barth reads as a kind of absolutizing of the self and its reflective consciousness, which come to assume ‘the dignity of ultimateness’. And it is precisely this — the image of moral reason as a secure centre of value, omnicompetent in its judgements — that the ethical question interrogates. [John Webster, Barth’s Moral Theology: Human Action in Barth’s Thought, 35-6]

The ‘Human culture building itself up’ was the German one (for Barth) that ultimately expressed itself in German bourgeois society, and ultimately Nazi Germany. For Barth, for the Liberal Protestant, because of the collapse of the Christian self into the self as the moral self, there no longer remained space for Christ to break in and speak a fresh word of holiness over and against the established norms of what the Liberal Protestant had come to already think of what counted as such. In other words, Barth was against a What Would Jesus Do? society.

I am appropriating this critique from Barth (a la Webster) for the American Evangelical in particular. We have come to think that what counts as moral is captured by the symbol ‘Conservative’. It is this absolutized ‘Conservative Self’ that presumes that what it means to be moral, and Christian is to ask, simply, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ This perfectly illustrates Barth’s critique of the German Liberal Protestant. For them, as for us, to be Christian, was to be nationalist, exceptional, and normal. It is this posture that negates any space for the Word of God to break in on all of these norms or the status quo; since the status quo is synonymous with being Christian. And it is this self-evidential situation which allows for atrocities to take place in the name of Christ; through the “absolute self.”

A Summary of the Issues at the Border by Immigration Lawyer, Scott Hicks: ‘The love of many will grow cold.’

I wanted to share a summary of what is taking place at the southern border. This is the best I have read after reading countless news stories from all the various “sides.” The following is written by an immigration lawyer who is also a Christian pastor, his name is Scott Hicks. He cuts through all the identity politics and identifies what in fact has taken place, and in light of that what indeed is taking place; things have changed. People can continue to dig their heels in, but what Hicks outlines for us, unless you’re an immigration lawyer who can counter, is definitive. He writes:

The Border and the Kids

I wish there was a one or two line explanation of what is going on. But the situation is complex because there are multiple layers and laws involved. Here is my attempt to simplify it enough to be understandable and be accurate.

A number of people are saying, this is an old law. They are correct to a point. Kids simply are not put in jail with their parents when the parent is taken into custody on a criminal charge. The old law point is also correct that crossing the border illegally is a criminal offense and has been on the books for ever. But the history of that law is important for this discussion. For first time offenders, the offense is a misdemeanor. It is only a felony if the person had been caught before or had been deported. Traditionally, the US Attorneys only went after felony charges, and even that was not a large number overall. It made no sense to clog the Federal District Courts with misdemeanors. Everybody understood that was a waste of time and resources.

The current administration though has adopted a zero tolerance policy and the AG has mandated that the US Attorneys prosecute every single misdemeanor case. That IS new. It also means that when these people are placed into custody their children are taken away (see above). The judges see the ridiculousness of this and are sentencing to time served in mass trials. So the criminal aspect is really accomplishing nothing.

Now, it must be pointed out that these people charged with crimes are still allowed to apply for asylum. But they will do so without their children and the children are on a separate track with their own immigration case, even though the case often needs the parent’s information and corroboration, or the parent is the one with the real claim and the child would be a derivative claim.

So, criminal wise, we are just chewing up resources. But that is not the point for the administration. They are using the criminal law to accomplish an immigration purpose. They want to scare people away from even coming. And that is where it truly gets insidious. Because in so doing, we are deliberately trying to scare people away who are trying to flee persecution and seek refuge here. (Of course some are coming just for economic opportunity,) but for many of the Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans, they have been threatened with terrible violence and are fleeing for their lives or the lives of their children. Our laws state that these people have the right to apply for asylum if they are on US soil or if they present themselves at a POE and ask for asylum. But we are routinely turning people away at the border and telling them they can not apply because we are too busy and full. So these desperate people who try to legally present will then often find another way in. There are numerous instances of people crossing over and then looking for a BP agent to turn themselves in to. Before, such people would just apply for asylum. Now they are criminally charged. And the kids taken away.

Not only that, but these people are now being told, if they will just take an order of removal (deportation) they can get their kids back within a day or so, but if they insist on applying for asylum they will be separated from their children for the duration of the proceedings and really, for an unknown time.

All of this is arguably “within the law,” but it clearly is a violation of the spirit if not letter of our asylum laws.

One final note – Obama’s administration also detained asylum seekers, but did so as a family, often for years, in what immigration lawyers referred to as “baby jails.” Also, you may have heard of the Flores Settlement- this applies to unaccompanied minors. So, if a child is without a parent, they can only be detained for a short time. The problem is that the administration is using Flores as a weapon. By criminally charging the parents, they can not keep the child with them. The administration then declares that the child is an unaccompanied minor. It is important to note also that the lawyer who was the lead litigator on the Flores case has come out and said all of this is clearly a violation of the agreement.

Hope this helps.

As always, feel free to share, but do so politely.

I appeal to you conservative Christian and progressive Christian don’t take your eye off of what matters in the midst of this whole scenario. Are there people who have been and are currently abusing the system? Yes. But you don’t punish the masses for the minority (the abusers in this case); more importantly you don’t punish children and their families for seeking a better life for themselves. You say: ‘well, they need to do so through legal means.’ Oh really? You say: ‘if they want asylum they need to do the proper paperwork or come to the border and properly request that.’ Oh really? You don’t think many of these people haven’t attempted to do it ‘legally’; you don’t think many of them don’t even have the proper resources to actually do the paperwork (education, access to transportation, access to communication, access to their local government officials etc.)? Or you don’t think that people haven’t come to the border and requested asylum that way only to be turned away (as Hicks underscores for us)?

Jesus said that in the end ‘the love of many will grow cold.’ He was right.