Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Barth I.2 §14.2

This section of Barth was wonderfully written and organized, which I have found is a rarity for Barth. Barth really seemed to understand what he was talking about and was therefore easily able to communicate what he meant.  ( I have often found that my writing is the least clear when I do not have a good conception in my mind as to what I mean to communicate, though of course this is not the case for Barth.  Where he is unclear, it is clearly that I just simply can't understand him).

In this section, Barth is speaking about the Old Testament as the time of expectation, that is the time of expectation of the revelation of Jesus Christ.

As I began to read, I had a moment of trepidation.  There is so much abuse in "reading Jesus into the OT," that I feared the worse.  Would Barth find Jesus on every page of the OT, lurking behind every obscure prophecy or hiding in the guise of an angel of God or as a shadowy figure in the fire.  Not to fear, Barth did not do any of this.  Instead, he really did a great job telling the story of Israel and how that story is one of waiting and expectation.  The story of the OT looks for it's fulfillment, and read from this side of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, it is clear that Christ is that fulfillment.

Barth treated the OT expectation in 3 parts.

In the first part, Barth spoke of covenants.  The story of Israel is one of covenant, of God claiming a people for himself.  There are numerous covenants in the OT: Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, and others that exemplify this relationship between Yahweh and the people of Israel.  But these covenants are all awaiting their fulfillment.  These covenants bear witness to the their expectation of fulfillment, which the Christian believes happens in Jesus Christ.

In the second part, Barth speaks of the story of Israel as the story of the encountering God's hiddenness.  This hiddenness is found in God's judgment.  When God claims sinful humanity for himself, there is an inevitable judgment.  Because Israel is the chosen people in the Old Testament, it was inevitable that they would bear the brunt of God's judgment.  There were some very powerful quotes in this section about the judgment passed on Israel as necessary because of relationship of sinful humanity to a perfect God and Israel displaying that judgment to the world as God's chosen people. As Barth writes:

"The story of this nation is only too much a reptetition of the story of its tribal ancestor, who has to wrestle not only with man but with God, and though disabled by God  nevertheless wrestles with this one till dawning: 'I will not let thee go except thou bless me.'  This nation's decline and fall seems to be God's own triumph, and this nation's salvation seems to lie exclusively in the fact that, like a drowning man, it must clutch constantly at the hand, must constantly be saved by the hand, that smites it so frightfully." (CD I.2 §14.2 p. 87).
But, God's hiddenness and judgment does not get the last word.  Judgment is not the end for Israel, or for humanity. According to Barth, the last word is spoken in the fulfillment of God's covenant and with reconciliation:
"He who, because he is God in the assertion of His real Lordship, will not let His hiddenness be the last word--that makes it all the more impossible for man in his rebellion to retain the last word.  It must be so because there must be a Christmas, because reconciliation must take place in the event of God's real lordship." (CD I.2 §14.2 p. 92).
This quote is perhaps the first reference in the Dogmatics that I have seen that could be construed as Barth's leaning toward universalism, but that is a discussion left for another day.

Finally, in section three, Barth speaks of the eschatological nature of Israel's hope.  Barth finds in the main avenues of hope in the OT, in the promised land, in the temple, in the people and the covenants, and finally in the king, all of these objects of hope have a concrete referent, but all look beyond that referent to an eschatological fulfillment.  According to Barth, that fulfillment is found only in Jesus Christ.

Barth ends with a brief discussion of the present situation and relationship of the church to the synagogue.  This quote I found powerful:
"The mystery of revelation, which is the mystery of free, unmerited grace, includes the Church of the New Testament inseparably with the people whose blessing is attested for us in the Old Testament as expectation of Jesus Christ.  And this very mystery acts not only as a barrier but as a bond between Church and Synagogue which, like the impenitent sister with seeing eyes, refuses to see that the people of the Old Testament really expected Jesus Christ and in this expectation was graciously blessed." (CD I.2 §14.2 p. 101).
This quote gives a marvelous foundation for relations between the Church and the Jewish people that has been sorely lacking for much of Church history.  

What I liked most about this section, besides bring crystal clear, was that Barth followed the biblical narrative and demonstrated how powerful that narrative can be without delving into theological and philosophical speculation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Barth I.2 §14.1

Barth and time.  In this section, I believe that Barth has ceased to speak human.  I believe he ceased to speak German or English a long time ago, and now he has ceased to speak the human language.

That is not to say there were not some sections that I could understand, but I felt lost on the whole.

Perhaps this is because I have been so preoccupied with other things.  I am 4 days behind on this post as I am now returning from a visit to my future place of employment, Chowan University.  Trying to sell my house and looking for another, planning to officiate my Sister's wedding this Sunday, as well as all of the other matters of import in my life are crowding in, but I really want to try and keep up with Barth.

So, here is what I make of this section.  Revelation means "God had time for us." That is, God's revelation is an historical event that takes place in time.  But, lest you think that makes God's revelation somehow graspable as an object in time, think again because God's time is of course unlike any time you have ever experienced: it is real time while ours is just a vague imitation (did this strike anyone else as "platonic"?).

There are three types of time for Barth: time created by God at the creation of the world (he does not expand on this nor explain it), our fallen time in which we have past present and future, and "fulfilled time" which is the time of revelation, the time of Jesus Christ, the inbreaking of a fulfilled time, of the Kingdom of God upon humanity in the event of revelation.  This fulfilled time limits and determines our fallen time (not quite sure what this means).  Yet, fulfilled time does not fully subsume our fallen time.  Our time goes on.  Yet, fulfilled time announces the end of our time, it let's us know that we do not even really understand what time is.

I see here the "already/not yet of Paul, or the fact that the Kingdom of God is at hand, breaking in, but fully arrived, has not fully replace this aeon.

Here was a particularly perplexing quote in which Barth tries to explain this fulfilled time.

"And so it is a present that is not a present without also being a genuine perfect; and a perfect and a future, the mean of which constitutes a genuine, indestructible present.  Yet it is not any present, hopelessly collapsing into a 'not yet' or a 'no longer' like every other present in our time." (CD I.2 §14.1 p52).

So, can anyone help me to understand what is fulfilled time is?

Here were some quotes I found powerful, even though I was not quite sure how to incorporate them into Barth's larger argument.

"His genuine time takes the place of the problematic, improper time we know and have. It replaces it in that, amid the years and ages of this time of ours, the time of Jesus Christ takes the place of our time, coming to us as a glad message presented to us as a promise, and to be seized and lived in by us." (CD I.2 §14.1 p 55).

"It is really not laid upon us to take everything in the Bible as true in globo, but it is laid upon us to listen to its testimony when we actually hear it." (CD I.2 §14.1 p65).

"When revelation takes place, it never does so by means of our insight and skill, but in the freedom of God to be free for us and to free us from ourselves." (CD I.2 §14.1 p65).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What does it mean to be a Christian?

Over at Exploring our Matrix, James McGrath has an interesting take on this question of what it means to be a Christian.  I think his points are much needed during this time of theological strife in the Christian Church.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Barth I.2 §13.1-2

The Incarnation, the Word became Flesh and made his home among us.  Perhaps one of the greatest miracles of the Bible, greater even than the virgin birth, is the astonishing sentence: The Word became Flesh.  This was the real stumbling block for the Greeks.  Not the resurrection.  Not the Virgin Birth.  Not healings or exorcisms.  No, that God could take on human flesh. 

For Barth too, this is a miracle of the greatest magnitude.  He thus asks the question: how can God become flesh, flesh that is in total contradiction to God?  And Barth's answer: we don't know "how," but we believe the witness of the Bible that this did actually take place.  God, in a mode of being distinct from himself, yet still himself, took on human flesh as a means of revelation. 

For Barth, the witness of the Bible is twofold: 1) God's Word/God's Son became the man, Jesus of Nazareth, and 2) The man Jesus of Nazareth was in fact God's Son/God's Word.  This is the doctrine of the incarnation.  That this man Jesus was God's Word.

In this section, Barth tries to understand Jesus as God's Word by avoiding two heresies: Docetism and Ebionitism.  The Docetic takes a preconceived notion of divinity and then thinly masks it with the appearance of humanity.  Ebionitism on the other hand takes humanity and tries to elevate it to divinity in a sort of hero worship.  Neither of these will do for Barth or for Orthodox Christianity.  Barth writes:
"As the true humanity of Christ is ultimately dispensable for Docetism, so is the true divinity of Jesus for Ebionitism." (CD I.2 §13.1 pp. 20-21). 
In 13.2, Barth is concerned with investigating further what it means that Jesus is the Son of God, going beyond what the Bible has to say and ferreting out the meaning of this event of incarnation.

There were a couple of powerful sections in this discussion for me.  First, Barth notes that without the incarnation, humanity would not even know that it was blind.  It is like a blind man who does not really know what it means to be blind until he sees the light.  Without revelation, humanity would not even know what it was like to be without God.  Barth writes:
"Revelation itself is needed for knowing that God is hidden and man blind.  Revelation and it alone really and finally separates God and man by bringing them together." (CD I.2 §13.2 p. 29). 
Another powerful section was Barth's discussion of what it means that God becomes flesh.  God does not become flesh in general.  That is, human flesh is not generally capable of revealing God.  The fact that God becomes flesh is revelatory only in Jesus Christ.  As Barth writes:
"Really and originally, therefore, flesh as the possibility of the revelation of God is entirely and emphatically the possibility of Jesus Christ himself." (CD I.2 §13.2 p. 44).  
Yet, because God became flesh, humans are able to know God, because God has become familiar.  Yet even in this, God is still veiled in the same way that one human is veiled from another.

Now, I must say, I have been having frustrations with Barth recently.  I have not quite been able to put my finger on why.  Then this week, two blog posts unrelated to the Barth synchroblog caught my attention.  The first was A "Systematic" or "Ad Hoc" Theology over at Diglotting.  In this post, Kevin Brown shares his own discomfort with "systematic" theology because it attempts to impose a "univocality" on the text of the Bible, making it speak with one voice in all places.  As a biblical scholar, I am convinced that this is not the case. 

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I ran into Daniel Kirk's post about People of the Story of the Cross.  This is a post about how talking about the cross usually leads to discussion of atonement theory.  Yet, for Kirk, atonement theories are asking and answering questions that the NT itself neither asks nor answers.  For him, atonement theories (how the cross saves us) tell us that our vision of the cross as Christians is actually too small.  The cross is about much more than saving us.  The cross is about the Kingdom of God come to earth.  And this is best told not in the propositional statements of systematic theology (i.e., atonement theory), but rather in the context of story.  Here it is: here is why I find it hard to read Barth.  It is not because I see myself as smarter than Barth.  That is certainly not the case.  It is not even that I fully understand Barth and disagree with him, I often don't understand, and I often agree when I do.  My problem is that I think that most of the truths that the Bible is trying to communicate are best communicated through story, not propositional statements as necessitated by systematic theology.  

Well, that is all that I can say at the moment as my brain is full.  Go and read the posts by Kirk and Brown, they are much better than this rambling I am sure.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rejection, Acceptance, and the Whirlwind

As a Ph.D. graduate, I am not used to rejection, at least not in the academic world.  I was accepted at both undergraduate institutions to which I applied.  The same went for both Seminaries and the one Ph.D. program.  I have always excelled academically, have always been accepted heartily.  I had some hiccups with my dissertation, but it was accepted eventually.  I even got an acceptance for publication on my dissertation at the first publication house I submitted to.  So, I was not good at rejection.

Yet, the last 2 years have been a hard lesson in rejection.  At latest count, I have been rejected by somewhere between 45-50 schools in my search for a professorship, lectureship, visiting lectureship, etc.  I have had phone interviews, video interviews, and campus interviews, but still, rejections came flooding in.  They are always kind and cordial: "we had over 150 well qualified applicants and we are sorry to inform you..." "We assure you that you were a wonderful candidate, but..."

Life was getting tough, the prospect of the future of my career was fading.  I was contemplating other options: should I go into the pastorate, should I try to teach religion at private prep schools?  Should I change careers altogether.

Yet, with all of these rejections, it just takes one acceptance, and I am so pleased that I have been offered a position of Assistant Professor of New Testament and Theology at Chowan University starting this Fall, and I must say, that I am now thankful for all of the previous rejections.  Chowan is such a great fit for me and my wife.  I absolutely love it.  It is a small Christian school with a Baptist heritage.  It is in a small, quiet, and picturesque town.  The people are wonderful, the students are too, and I can't wait to start.  Herein lies the problem, the Chowan offer has set off a whirlwind in my life.

Actually, the whirlwind really began with their call for a video interview.  Three weeks ago, my life was quiet.  I was cruising to the end of the semester, preparing for Summer and perhaps a career adjustment.  Then came the call from Chowan, and since then things have progressed at breakneck speed. 

The video interview happened on a Saturday just over 2 weeks ago.  It was filled with technical difficulties and time was cut short. I questioned whether I really got to represent myself.  The following Tuesday I was invited for a campus interview with the caveat that I had to fly out on Easter Sunday.  An Easter flight, followed by an all day Monday interview and an all day travel back to Texas on Monday went by in a flash. 

I arrived home Monday to a house that had been broken into (bring on Murfreesboro, North Carolina with its low crime rate) and a literal whirlwind as my wife and I huddled in the guest room closet for protection from the tornado that touched down right outside of Waco that Monday night.  That week was furiously busy with work, and on Friday I received a call and an offer to come work for Chowan.  Ahhh, what a relief, what a blessing, what excitement.  I accepted the position that evening, and, as if the pace of life could have increased, now I have an even bigger whirlwind: figuring out how to pack, sell a house, move, prepare courses, transition out of life in Waco and into life in North Carolina.  It all seems overwhelming, but in that deliciously overwhelming sort of way.  I am stressed, but it is that good stress, the stress brought on by excitement.  Life is wonderful.  Now, off to packing for a trip to the Rio Grande Valley for Mother's Day.