Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Barth I.1. §6.1-2

This section of Barth deals primarily with the knowability of God's Word by humans.  That is, can humans know God's Word, and in what sense is this the case?

Barth answers this question in the affirmative.  In fact, he states that the knowability of God's word is the "presupposition" of the church.  For the church to exist, it is necessary that God's Word has come to humanity.  But, Barth is careful here not to classify God's Word as one among many objects of knowledge.  Instead, he says, "A result of the uniqueness of this object of knowledge [God's Word] might well be that the concept of its knowledge cannot be definitively measured by the concept of the knowledge of other objects or by a general concept of knowledge but that it can be defined at all only in terms of its own object." (CD I.1. §6.1 p. 190). So, as Barth has previously stated that God's Word is God's speech and God's act, but that it is unlike any other speech and any other act, so too, the knowledge of God's word is possible, but it is unlike any other knowledge known to humans.

The reason this is the case is that God's word is not based upon some "faculty" or "possibility" that is inherent in humanity.  Barth will have none of natural theology, none of the modernist or liberal theology that states that in humanity is a special capacity for knowledge of God.  No, God's word is not an object of knowledge that is generally available to humans.  Thus, the question: if humans have no innate capacity to know God's Word, then how can humans do so?  Barth's answer is that the Word of God creates this very capacity of knowledge when it comes.  Remember, for Barth, God's word is an event, a specific event, at a specific time, coming to specific men and women ubi et quando visum est Deo (where and when it pleases God).  When God chooses to speak, it is always at a specific time and to a specific man or woman, and this very speech of God creates that capacity in those men and women at that time to know, to hear and understand, God's Word.

The consequence of this line of reasoning is that God's word does not linger.  Once that specific man or woman has received the gift of the Word of God, it does not pass to them as a possession to be controlled.  God's Word remains free to speak when and where God wills.  Therefore, the Word of God is always grace, it is always a free gift to a specific man or woman at a specific time.

Page Proofs!

I just received my page proofs via email for my upcoming publication: Figuring Jesus: The Power of Rhetorical Figures of Speech in the Gospel of Luke, (Biblical Interpretation Series 107, Leiden: Brill, 2011).  It has an ISBN # and everything.  I feel like it is a real book now that it has an ISBN.  Now to proofing and indexing, woo hoo!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Barth I.1 §5.4

Just in case you were tempted, having read CD I.1 §§3.1-5.3, to assume that you finally had a grasp on what the Word of God actually is, in case Barth has been so clear in his presentation (dripping sarcasm) that you can finally stand with confidence and say, "this is the Word of God," Barth comes in §5.4 and crushes all of your certainty. 

Barth's concern in this section is to shore up the defenses of the fortress-like wall that defends the absolute freedom of God to speak ubi et quando visum est Deo (where and when it pleases God).  Barth refers to God's Word in this section as God's mystery.  That means that it cannot be defined, cannot be roped in and corralled, cannot be delimited or cordoned off and controlled by human understanding.  No, the Word of God remains free. 

So, even though in previous sections, Barth has spoken about God's Word as "speech" and "act," he is careful now to say, "God's speech is different from all other speech and God's action is different from all other action." (CD I.1 §5.4 p. 164).

There are three ways that God's Word is veiled in mystery.  1) God's Word always comes in the veil of the secular, by which I believe he means "worldly."  We only experience God's word through this world, which by definition, can never be the pure word of God.  According to Barth, the pure, unveiled Word of God would be "the end of us."  2) God's Word comes to us in its one-sidedness.  Now this was completely incomprehensible to me, since for the remainder of this sub-section, Barth refers to the Word always coming in two sides: veiled and unveiled, veiled in its unveiling, and unveiled in its veiling.  God's word is an antithesis, it comes in contradiction to itself, it reveals as it conceals.  3) Finally, God's word is mystery in its spirituality, that is, in its coming through the Holy Spirit.  Only through the Holy Spirit is God's Word heard and received in faith.  The consequence of this for Barth is that faith is a gift, it cannot be mustered up, worked for, prayed for, etc.  Faith is not a "work" that a human performs, but a gift that a human receives.

Once again, Barth is trying to protect the freedom of God's word, as if it needed protecting.  But, what he is really guarding against, or warning against, is human pride that would think it had grasped the Word of God.  I will end with the money quote from Barth on this issue:
"One cannot lay down conditions which, if observed, guarantee hearing of the Word.  There is no method by which revelation can be made revelation that is actually received, no method of scriptural exegesis which is truly pneumatic, i.e., which articulates the witness to the revelation in the Bible and to that degree really introduces the Pneuma, and above all no method of living, rousing proclamation that truly comes home to the hearers in an ultimate sense.  There is nothing of this kind because God's Word is a mystery in the sense that it truly strikes us spiritually, i.e., in all circumstances only through the Holy Spirit."  (CD I.1. §5.4 p. 183).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Barth I.1 §5.1-3

Having established in the previous section what the Word of God truly is, namely, that it is only to be equated with his revelation, that is, with the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Barth continues in this section to discuss the nature of the Word of God.  If the previous section dealt with "what" the word of God is, this section explores the "how" of the word of God.  "How" or "in what manner" does the Word of God come to us.

Because of other pressing concerns this week, I was able to read, but I feel like I have not fully digested this material.  Barth again seemed to be back to his old ways of rambling on, chasing rabbit trails, dancing around the real issue.

Nevertheless, several things stood out.  One, Barth continues to uphold the absolute freedom of the Word of God.  The Word is not constrained, grasped, or held captive by human words or human concerns.  God speaks freely, not out of any compulsion.  For Barth, God does not speak because he is lonely and in need of a companion.  No, he speaks freely.  One remarkable implication of this conclusion is that God speaks for us out of love.  God is not compelled to speak on our behalf, but he does so nonetheless.

Another thing that stood out is that God's word is also at the same time an act.  With God there is no division between speech and act as there is with humans.  For humans, speech must be followed with the corresponding act if it is to be taken seriously.  Hence the figures of speech: "you talk the talk, can you walk the walk," or "put your money where your mouth is."  Yet, for God, this dichotomy between speech and act does not exist.  They are one and the same.  When God speaks, he acts, when he speaks, something happens.

Another thing that struck me is the fourfold way in which God's word makes a claim on humans.  When God speaks to humans, they hear his word as the Word of the Lord, The Word of the Creator, The Word of the Reconciler, and finally, the Word of the Redeemer.  God's word is a word: God with us. 

Finally, at the end of §5.3, Barth talks about the Word of God as decision.  It is a decision about humanity, or about a particular man or woman.  It is a free decision, a decision that lays bare what a man or woman is.  Are they obedient in faith or disobedient in unbelief.  These are all God's decision, and a free decision at that. 

In this last section, Barth seems to be flirting with the doctrines of predestination and free will.  While he preserves the complete freedom of God to decide, he fails to be completely clear about the freedom of the human.  Here is one example where Barth seems to be ambivalent. Speaking about the decision of humanity in the face of God's word, Barth writes:
"this is really my own supremely responsible decision.  But it is not in my decision that it acquires the character of being a good choice on the one hand or a bad one on the other.  The implication of this decision of mine taken with my own free will, namely, the step either to the right hand or the left, the choice to believe and obey or the refusal to do either--this qualification of my decision is the truth within it of the divine decision concerning me.  In speaking to me God has chosen me, as the man that I am, to be the man that I am.  The new quality I acquire through the Word of God is my true and essential quality." (CD I.1 §5.3 p. 161). 

Is Barth clear here and I am just missing it, or does it seem to you also like he is speaking out of both sides of his mouth?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cover Proofs

So, I just got my cover proofs for my upcoming book, Figuring Jesus: The Power of Rhetorical Figures of Speech in the Gospel of Luke, Biblical Interpretation Series 107, Leiden, Brill, Forthcoming.  Very exciting for a first time author like myself.  Page proofs should be in later this month.  WooHoo.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

St. Augustine's Magical Exploding Head Trick

Reading Augustine makes my head nearly explode. Consider the following from Augustine:
Nor dost thou precede any given period of time by another period of time.  Else thou wouldst not precede all periods of time.  In the eminence of thy ever present eternity, thou precedest all times past, and extendest beyond all future times, for they are still to come--and when they have come they will be past.  But "Thou are always Selfsame and thy years shall have no end" (Ps. 102:27).  Thy years neither go nor come; but ours both go and come in order that all separate moments may come to pass.  All thy years stand together as one, since they are abiding.  Nor do thy years past exclude the years to come because thy years do not pass away.  All the years of ours shall be with thee, when all of them shall have ceased to be.  Thy years are but a day, and thy day is not recurrent, but always today.  Thy "today" is eternity. (Augustine, Confessions, 11.13.16)
This passage has always fascinated me.  Ever since I first read this passage in my senior year at Baylor, I was taken by the beauty of the passage, as well as the way that it takes my brain to the brink, leads me up to the point where I can almost grasp what he is saying and the implications of it.  It is like having a word on the tip of your tongue, but never quite getting it out.  Every time I think I understand this passage, it is like I try to grab it and it flits away like a phantom.

I think this is because in truth, humans cannot understand what it means to be outside of time.  If Augustine is correct, then human existence, by its very nature, is so conditioned by time that we cannot even comprehend what it might mean for God to live outside of time, to be truly unconditioned by time, to not experience the world as a succession of moments, one after another, only having access to one moment at a time.

The closest analogy I can think of is that of a line.  In the western view, history is a line.  Humans are moving on a line through time. They have access only to the present.  They can see the past, but only as one removed.  They can anticipate the future, but with no certainty.  Human sight is limited by time.  Yet, if the line is time itself, and God is outside time, then that truly is remarkable.  God stands above and outside of that line.  and it is not as if God just hovers above the line, moving forward in time as humans do.  No, God sees the whole line, beginning, middle and end, and he sees them all NOW.  I think this is what Augustine means when he says there is an "ever present eternity," and "thy years are but a day, and thy day is not recurrent, but always today."  According to Augustine, God views history, the creation and consummation of the world, and he views them all as present.  He does not experience them in succession as we do.  God has equal access to all moments of history ever present before him.

Now, I do not know if Augustine is correct in his view of God as being eternal.  Once again, since I cannot quite grasp this concept, I do not even quite know what the implications of it might be.  Anyone else have any thoughts on this matter?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Best Ad in a While

This is the best ad that I have seen in a while.  Enjoy.

HT to Peter Pope at Magnificent Vista.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Barth I.1 §4.2-4

Barth begins his Church Dogmatics slowly.   His argumentation seems to meander down rabbit trails, to wander here and there.  Sometimes he is hard to follow.  Sometimes it is hard to see where he is going (or for that matter, where he has been).  Yet, finally, in §4.1-4 his argumentation becomes crystal clear, his project becomes intelligible, and the importance of his work becomes undeniable (at least to me).

I.1 §4 attempts to lay out Barth's doctrine of the Word of God.  What is the Word of God?  Barth uses many terms that may be familiar to modern evangelicals.  He uses such words as "Bible," "Word of God," "Scripture," "Revelation."  For the modern evangelical, these terms are essentially synonymous.  To talk about the Word of God is to talk about the Bible, and vice versa.  To talk about Revelation is to talk, again, about the Bible, or Scripture.  All of these words refer primarily to one thing, the canon of the Bible.  Here, for the modern evangelical, is the battle cry of the reformation, sola scriptura.  Yet, Barth does not treat these terms as synonymous, and he adds one more, "Proclamation" or "preaching."  Thus, Barth lays out section four as follows: 1) the Word of God preached, 2) the Word of God written, 3) the Word of God revealed, and 4) the unity of the Word of God.

For Barth, these five terms (Revelation, Word of God, Bible, Scripture, and Proclamation) are all related, but not synonymous.  Barth's primary goal is to maintain the freedom of God and the freedom of God's Word.  No human medium, whether written or spoken, may contain, grasp, hold, control, the Word of God.  Therefore one cannot, as modern evangelicals often do, equate the Bible and the Word of God.  No, the Word of God only comes ubi et quando visum est Deo (where and when it pleases God).  God's freedom is preserved absolutely and will not come under the control of any human medium, be that the writing of the Bible or the teaching of the church.

So, God's Word is free, it cannot be equated with the Bible, or Christian preaching.  Then, where is it, what is it?  Is there something to which we can point and say: that is the Word of God.  Yes.  For Barth, God's word is always present in his "Revelation."  Yet, what is revelation?  For Barth, Revelation is God's act; it is his past revelation which is also a promise of future revelation.  So, again I say, what is revelation?  Please, tell me already.  OK, Barth says, I will tell you.  God's revelation is his decisive act in Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ, the incarnation, the Word made flesh, God with us, this is God's decisive revelation. As Barth writes:
"Revelation in fact does not differ from the person of Jesus Christ nor from the reconciliation accomplished in him.  To say revelation is to say 'The Word became flesh.'" (CD I.1 §4.3 p. 119).
Now, much of what Barth has been talking about since the beginning of the dogmatics makes sense.  Earlier when he spoke of the being of the church being Jesus Christ, this now makes sense.  It is this decisive revelation, the incarnation and work of Christ, that is central for Barth.  Nothing else in the Christian story or experience even comes close.  Yet, for this revelation to come to us, it must be preached.  And how is it preached?  Through the Bible and Christian proclamation.  The Bible and Christian preaching bear witness, attest, to this once for all revelation.  Insofar as the Bible and preaching truly attest and bear witness to this once for all revelation, they become the Word of God.

Therefore, the Bible and Christian preaching can be called the Word of God, but only insofar as they truly attest to God's revelation, and only insofar as God wills that they do so.  Yet, whereas Revelation is itself "God's Word," the Bible and Christian preaching are only derivative.  For again, as Barth writes:
"According to all that has been said revelation is originally and directly what the Bible and Church proclamation are derivatively and indirectly, i.e., God's Word. We have said of Church proclamation that it must continually become God's Word.  And we have said the same of the Bible: It must continually become God's Word." (CD I.1 §4.3 p.117). 
So, how do the Bible and Church proclamation become God's Word?  They do so by God's commission, judgment, and act, or as we have said before, when and where it pleases God.  God will not be encapsulated in human words.  He remains free.  Therefore, God decides when some passage of the Bible or some sermon becomes a true witness to his revelation, a true attestation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

If I could try to simplify this, at the risk of totally oversimplifying Barth's theology, then I would do it thus:

First, there is the Word of God with a capital W.  That is what Barth calls revelation, and is equivalent to the Incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and atonement of Jesus Christ. 

Next, there are two small w words of God, the Bible and Church proclamation.  These can become the Word of God, but only in a derivative sense inasmuch as they bear true witness to Jesus Christ.

Barth's theology of the Word of God becomes a powerful corrective to the evangelical penchant for equating the Bible with God's Word.  If the Bible is God's Word, if God's Word is contained in a book, then it can be used to beat others into submission to this or that theological or social program, and so it is often used.  Barth retains this "Word of God" for God himself.  It is as if he lets God say, "It's my word, I'll use it when I want and say what I want, thank you very much."

A couple of musings: here I might go beyond Barth, and perhaps he will clarify these things as I read on.

First, there is a similarity between Barth and Luther.  Luther had a canon within a canon.  That is, he thought that only scripture which points to Christ can be called scripture.  Thus, he relegated certain books to second class status, such as the books of Hebrews, Jude, Revelation, and most famously, James the "epistle of straw."  Barth also has a canon within a canon, and it is essentially the same as Luther's: Jesus Christ.  But that is where the similarity ends.

Whereas Luther wanted to find which books, or which parts of which books, pointed truly to Christ, Barth has no such illusions.  Barth is not trying to whittle the Bible down to the words which truly attest to Christ.  It is not about stripping away portions of the Bible that do not adequately point to Christ.  That would be to say that the Word of God can be contained in human words.  For Barth, the Word of God must retain its freedom.  Therefore, no amount of stripping away of superfluous words would ever attain to a set number of "true" Words of God.  Rather, the canon itself is left intact.  Then, any part of the Bible is free to become the Word of God as it pleases God. 

One interesting aspect to this for me is, if my conception of Barth is correct, that any word of the Bible can become the Word of God at any moment that God so desires.  Yet, at the next moment, the very same words might not be the Word of God.  It is not about the words of the Bible themselves, but rather about the decision of God to put his positive judgment upon it, to decide to shine through the words of the Bible to bear witness to the revelation found in Jesus Christ.

Waco Snow

This morning we woke up to a rare sight in Waco, TX: Snow.

We have been dealing with a horrible cold snap, at least for Central Texas. The last few days have refused to bring any temperatures above 25 degrees. Two pipes in my house froze, don't know if they are busted yet. Brooke mentioned to me a couple of days ago that we were getting the bitter cold without any of the benefits, namely snow. Well, last night and this morning we got the snow.

We both woke up early for work, only to receive a text message that work was postponed to be re-evaluated at 10:00. It is now 10:03 and we are still waiting to hear about work. We are bundled up inside, sipping hot apple cider, hoping that we don't have to venture out.

I know, it is only two inches of snow, not a big deal right. Well, to Texans, who don't know how to drive in the snow, it is a big deal. Sure, I grew up in Colorado, I know how to drive on the snow. But right now, my car tires are bald, and Brooke's car is rear wheel drive, so I am not looking forward to driving. Let alone that I know Waco's road clearing capabilities are next to nil and, since it has been so cold, the snow is certainly sticking to the roads.

Anyway, for now, we are enjoying being bundled up and looking out the window at the blanket of white that rests on the ground.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Heresy of Orthodoxy

I have picked up a copy of The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture's Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Michael Kruger.  Well, I don't know if I should say "picked up" as I purchased the book via the iTunes store for my iPad book reader.  I am looking forward to reading the book.  

Essentially the book attempts to overturn what it calls the Bauer-Ehrman theory of the development of earliest Christianity.  According to Bauer and Ehrman, earliest Christianity was a bastion of diverse beliefs about Christ, and only in the fourth century was this diversity crushed by the power of Rome which then imposed a rigid orthodoxy.  This theory has been popularized in recent years by scholars such as Ehrman and Pagels, and by writers such as Dan Brown with his wildly popular Da Vinci Code.

I don't know if I will do a full review of the book or not, but I hope to post some comments as I read.  One thing that I already know will be a problem is citation.  In iBook reader, there is no consistent pagination.  Because you can adjust the font size, the pages are constantly in flux.  Right now, at the font setting I have, I am on page 308 of 1540.  Yet if I go one font size bigger I am on page 421 of 2100, and if I go smaller, 170 of 836.  Has anyone come up with a way of citing a book in iBooks e-reader?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Trinity

In my Christian Heritage class today we discussed the first four ecumenical councils.  The discussion of these councils inevitably leads to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

Every year, before I launch into the lecture, I try to get the class to explain the Trinity from their conception.  What always becomes clear is that any positive attempt to describe the Trinity always leads to some heresy or another.  Take all of the modern examples and analogies and they fall into one of a number of forms of heresy.

For example, the analogy of H2O in three forms: Water, Ice, and Steam.  This is the heresy of modalism, one substance in three modes.  The same goes for the analogy of a person, say myself, as professor, husband, son.  One person in three modes. 

The egg is an interesting analogy: one egg, but divided into three parts, shell, yolk, white.  Yet, these substances can be separated whereas the Trinity cannot.  Once I separate the parts, I am not seeing the entire egg, only a part.  In the orthodox formulation of the trinity, when one views one person of the trinity, they view the entire godhead.  Hence, the egg analogy does not hold up. 

Thus, when one speaks of the Trinity, formulations must be negative, saying what it is not, not what it is.  Hence, when talking about the nature of Christ, Chalcedon could only construct its formula in negative terms, i.e., the Son is two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation (ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως). 

The Trinity, and the dual nature of Christ are mysteries.  They are mysteries not to be solved, but to be wondered at.  Not to be figured out, or brought under our control, but rather to be marveled at.  It is in the mysteries of Christianity, in the places where we cannot conform the reality of God to the finiteness of our mind, where we truly have the opportunity to worship, to stand in awe at a God who is so profoundly beyond our understanding, to rest in the fact that we are not in control.