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As Christians we are commanded to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and along with this commandment–being freerangethe giver of good gifts that He is–the Lord Jesus has gifted his church with a multitude of teachers; these teachers range across various traditions and denominations, and provide unique insights that can only be obtained by inhabiting their respective theological traditions in their respective ways. If we look at this reality the right way we will thank Jesus for these gifts, and as particular persons particularly located in our own respective traditions we will avail ourselves to the riches available found in these various teachers whether they be in our tradition or not; whether we agree fully with them or not. We will be driven by a desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ in community with all of our brothers and sisters bound together by the singular reality that defines all of our existence as Christians; the singular reality of God’s life in Christ with us and for us.

Karl Barth echoes the sentiment:

In the Church there are fathers: father Luther, father Calvin, other fathers. Why should a free theologian not be their son and disciple? But why should he insist on complete agreement with them? Why should he artificially reinterpret their findings until Luther is in agreement with him and says what he himself so badly wants to say? Why should he not respect the freedom of the fathers and let them express their wisdom and then learn from them what in his own freedom he may and can learn from them?[1]

This is the way that Barth himself would want us to approach him among the other teachers that Jesus has gifted his church with. This is the way I approach Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, John Webster, John Calvin, and many other theologians who Christ has gifted the church with. I obviously have my favorites (like Barth, Torrance, and Webster et al), as do you, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to die for my preference for one theologian over the other; I go to certain ‘fathers’ in the Faith because they edify me, and point me to Christ. And I particularly like Barth because he is humble enough to point the church to various teachers within the body of Christ and not simply to trumpet himself as the best of the teachers.

But I don’t, in the end, want to make this post about Barth, I want to herald the idea that we as ‘free theologians’ ought to feel free to learn from a variety of theologians; insofar as these theologians help to pique our imaginations and draw us closer to Christ as they point us to him, not away from him. Barth says further about being open to other ‘fathers’ or theologians:

A free theologian works in communication with other theologians. He grants them the enjoyment of the same freedom with which he is entrusted. Maybe he listens to them and reads their books with only subdued joy, but at least he listens to them and reads them. He knows that the selfsame problems with which he is preoccupied may be seen and dealt with in a way different from his own….[2]

In short a free theologian is someone who is humble enough to learn from others; even if these others might be at odds with us in some ways, one way or the other.

Ultimately, the point I want to press is what motivates us; what motivates us to be willing to draw from various pools of theological thought and insight? I believe that it must be an insatiable desire to know Jesus Christ at all costs! If we are driven by this love (the love of Christ), if this love constrains us, then we will be open to learn from others, from other theologians (which we all are as Christians); we may not always agree, but usually this is where the best learning takes place, this is where the important doctrine surfaces.

[1] Karl Barth, Gift of Freedom: Foundation of Evangelical Ethics in The Humanity of God (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1978), 94.

[2] Ibid., 95.

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Hello my name is Bobby Grow, and I author this blog, The Evangelical Calvinist. Feel free to peruse the posts, and comment at your leisure. I look forward to the exchange we might have here, and hope you are provoked to love Jesus even more as a result. Pax Christi!

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A Little 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.” -T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

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“I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write.” - St. Augustine cited by John Calvin

“We must always keep in mind that the reason the Son of God came down from the hidden throne of the eternal Father and revealed heavenly doctrine was not to furnish material for seminary debates, in which the display of ingenuity might be the game, but rather so that human beings should be instructed concerning true knowledge of God and of all those things which are necessary to the pursuit of eternal salvation.” Martin Chemnitz, Loci theol. ed., 1590, Hypomnemata 9 cited by Barth, CD I/1, 82.

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