Jan 122010

I’ve been working through some reading for my first research essay and it’s starting to take shape in my head. Just need it to start taking shape on paper now. Anyway, it’s part of my overall investigations into the theology of emerging church (my research direction wandered off at a tangent and is now heading in a somewhat different direction from its original intent). This initial research subject is about ‘unity’. Its direction is somewhat set by having to consider the topic with more than a passing nod to Barth (as I opted to do the Barth course for credit rather than audit it). But that’s not a problem. Barth has more than enough to say on the subject of church unity.

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Nov 252009

The last ‘proper’ Barth class was today and, whilst the readings have often been heavy going, their challenge to faith and theology is very clear. There have been many quotable parts, but my particular favourite came with the readings for today. From Church Dogmatics IV/3, the context is Barth challenging how the church (or more accurately, the faith community) sees itself in the world. He has already challenged the notion that the faith community must hold itself apart from the world. Rather is must be utterly ‘for’ the world whilst holding on to its distinctiveness (holiness). Anyway, on the back of that comes an enormously challenging section on what being ‘for’ the world, and having solidarity with the world, means. He says:

Solidarity with the world means that those who are genuinely pious approach the children of the world as such, that those who are genuinely righteous are not ashamed to sit down with the unrighteous as friends, that those who are genuinely wise do not hesitate to seem to be fools among fools, and that those who are genuinely holy are not too good or irreproachable to go down “into hell” in a very secular fashion.

Barth CD IV/3, p774

Dec 102008

I have been doing some cramming for tomorrow’s exams and one of my topics was Barth’s take on Providence. I came across a comment about creation and it brought to mind a previous discussion on the goodness or fallen-ness of creation. Barth was making the point that creation was good enough – good enough to allow God’s grace to work and good enough to enable the lordship of Jesus Christ.

I liked that because it stood in contrast to some earlier reading on Augustine who was convinced of humanity’s utter depravity.

Both allow for God’s grace. In fact, for Augustine, it’s an absolute necessity otherwise there is no hope whatsoever for humanity. We are, without God’s aid, utterly incapable of choosing Him. Barth doesn’t diminish the need for God’s grace but there’s an overall more hopeful image from him. Perhaps that reflects his universalist leanings. I confess I don’t know enough about the rest of his theology. But I liked the idea that creation is allowed to be messy and untidy and imperfect, just as we are as individuals. And yet, despite this, there’s room for God to work. In fact, one might argue that without it, there’s no need for God.

But the other interesting thing about Barth is that God’s work of grace in this messiness is to turn us to Him and, in His creation, reflect something of His glory. I don’t get that sense of ‘improvement’ with Augustine. Ultimately all we end up doing in his scheme of things is avoid slipping back into the mire. With Barth there’s the sense of liberation not oppression. And there’s the true sense of Christian hope – that creation is being saved as part of God’s covenant promise as we see its outworkings in God’s providence.

The world isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. Just as well really.

Oct 092007

I know I said I’d probably blog about the pastoral care course but we’ve just been doing some Barth today and I feel an urge to share.

Actually, I got off to a bad start – I had a cold for most of last week and couldn’t get my head round any of the readings but thought I’d better go anyway. Even if I couldn’t contribute to the tutorial at least I’d learn from the discussions.

Anyway, we only scratched the surface of Barth’s writings (and there are rather a lot of them), concentrating on his Christology. To be fair, this is the very core of Barth’s theology. In Christ we have the full revelation of God, not a subset, not the ‘human’ bit, but God in entirety. We just don’t get it, because we can’t, we’re simply not able to grasp the enormity of God and what His revelation in Jesus Christ actually means. Barth is, first and foremost, a dialectical theologian. Everything is held in tension, there is no yes or no answers – everything has a yes and no answer. The prime example of this is Jesus Christ – a name that implies both fully man (Jesus) and fully God (Christ). This whole dialectic approach shapes the way we can speak about God in the sense that we can speak about God, all the while recognising that what we say is inadequate and, hence, we become unable to speak about God.

That’s all very fascinating but the one thing that caught my attention was his doctrine of election. It’s another area of reformed theology that I’ve always struggled with – the idea of some people being predestined to be saved, others not. The usual answer of, “Well, we just can’t understand God’s ways” always seems to me to be a simplistic cop-out. It just doesn’t square with a loving God. Especially with a loving God who sent His Son, knowing that He would die, in order to bring salvation to all humankind.

Well, I do like Barth’s approach. All humankind is ‘elected’ to be saved. Christ’s death on the cross did bring salvation to all of humanity, indeed all of creation and in all times. But, this is not universalism. It may be God’s desire for everyone to be saved and the cross was an event that made salvation available to all, but we still have the option to reject God. In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus speaks of the ‘unforgivable sin’ of ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which, when read in context, appears to indicate the denial of God’s acts through the Spirit. It is an act of ours to reject God and thereby deny our true self – one of God’s creatures, made in His image, made to be in relationship with Him. It is never an act of God to reject us. God has already rejected Jesus – in the bearing of our sins on the cross. And at the same time, welcomed Him in (there’s that yes and no). And in that denial of all that is God, we find hell – the complete absence of the good, of God (and I suspect we’re straying beyond Barth now). Hmmm… there’s those neo-Orthodox tendencies starting to poke through.

Anyway, interesting stuff and plenty to get to grips with. It’s even got me thinking about doing the Barth course next year (despite knowing that there’ll be a mountain of reading to do). I’ll do a blog on pastoral care next – honest.