1.1 §6.4

After having to take the last week off I am now back to comment on Bath’s last section that attempts to answer the question, “Is God knowable?” So far, his answer has been yes but no. No, that is, to the person who believes God is part of this creation and can be known like any other part of creation. He then went into explaining the that this is where the Church fits in to the whole scheme of things, that is, the Church is the place where God’s word is proclaimed. Obviously, then, if the Church is to proclaim God’s Word they must, in some sense, know God.

This is where faith, the much maligned word, comes in. For Barth, faith, “is the making possible of knowledge of God’s that takes place in actual knowledge of it.” (228) In other words, the only way that God may be known is through the path that is blazed between God and humanity by faith. But, don’t be fooled, faith is not simply believing God’s word to be true in the same way one may believe their spouse or parents. Faith, is the act that takes place when humanity acts on the Creator’s message, which is the word of Christ. The fact that faith is not naturally possible to humanity is non-negotiable to Barth and he makes this quite clear by saying,

“Faith is not one of the capacities of man, whether native or acquired. Capacity for the Word of God is not among these. The possibility of faith as it is given to man in the reality of faith can be understood only as one that is loaned to man by God.” (238)

He then goes on to say that it is only by keeping ones gaze fixed on God that this faith may be maintained. As soon as one begins to look at him or herself they loose the ability to trust God as their object has shifted from Christ to themselves. If one is able to stay focused on God, then faith becomes known as what it is, that is, experience. Faith is an act, not just thought, but thought that is followed by action to back up this thought about Christ. He says,

“The proof of faith is consists in the proclamation of faith…in faith and confession the Word of God becomes human thought and a human word.”

I have a couple of concluding thoughts about this section:

1) I really appreciate Barth’s emphasis on faith. Honestly, I am not sure that there is a way around the absolute fundamental value that faith plays on an argumentative and practical level. Faith is the thing I love and hate most about Christianity. It cannot be persuasively argued for. Any skeptic worth his salt will destroy faith because it proves nothing because faith, by definition, cannot be proved. Loftus’ Outsider’s Test for Faith is a good example of this.

2) Because of faith’s seemingly devious and malicious role in religion (you know, look at Benny Hinn’s followers who can’t even question the leader because it would be out of faith) it seems that Barth has followed the old line that faith must/have to be a gift of God. Humanity can’t know God or trust him without a miraculous intervention. This, then, leaves Christians off the hook for having to explain why some don’t encounter God and why some who ‘have’ don’t believe―it was the will of God. (I know, I know, the doctrine of Original Sin plays some part in this too, but I am not exactly sure what part yet.)

3) I just don’t buy that God has to provide the means to believe him. Sorry, really I am sorry, but I cannot find this claim to make sense. (Part of me wonders if Barth could either since I have heard his theology was headed toward universalism, but that is for another day.) Why can’t we believe? Do the Scriptures teach that humanity is that bad? One of the Issues that I have with Barth, so far, is that in an effort to equip the Church with a handbook he seems to smooth over the discontinuity in the NT so much that there is now only continuity. I really believe that the view he holds to can be found in the Scriptures but that is not the same a saying it is Scripture’s view (at least from my perspective!).

 

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1.1 §5.4-6.2

In this week’s section I finally get back to understanding Barth…uh, I think. What I have figured out so far is that Barth founds almost every theological thought on the understanding that God is so, so, so ‘other-than.’ He then, in this section, adds to that foundation the ‘personal’ aspect of God’s word. Put in another way, Barth’s understanding of the God’s Word is that God is completely unknowable unless God personally speaks to an individual (usually in the place of the Church). There is one caveat though, God is so ‘other’ when his word brings revelation it simultaneously brings concealment, or, what I’d like to call un-revelation. Here’s Barth’s words:

“Mystery is the concealment of God in which He meets us precisely when He unveils Himself to us, because He will not and cannot unveil Himself except by veiling Himself.”

God is so ‘other,’ that if we, as creatures were to come into contact with God or God’s Word it would be disastrous. Matter of fact, it seems that the Word of God’s double function as revealer and concealer is the only way it could work. He says,

“It is good for us that God acts as He does and it could only be fatal for us if He did not, if He were manifest to us in the way we think right, directly and without veil…It would not be love and mercy but the end of us and all things if the Word were spoken to us thus.”

In order for us to understand and perceive God through the Word we must hold the distinction between form and content and never allow the line to blur. With that being said, Barth is clear, we should never attempt to combine the two and get a holistic understanding of God’s Word, this actually is ‘unchristian.’ We must remember that our thinking will always be ‘idealistic’ or ‘realistic’ and while this is not perfect it is the best that we can do. So as to not leave us bewildered and despondent Barth has a word of hope for humanity. The reality of faith allows humanity to navigate this ‘impossible’ (at least this is what I think Barth is saying since he calls the Word of God a miracle) moment. Of course, for Barth faith is not something we can conjure up but is something only God can give us. He says,

“Hence believing means either hearing the divine content of God’s Word even though nothing but the secular from  is discernible by us or it means hearing the secular from of God’s Word even though ony its divine content is discernible by us.”

Barth, it seems in this section, really wants the reader to get the fact that God has revealed things about the divine identity but we must be humble. I got the sense through this section that God’s identity is like the law (or is it theory?) that state one may know the location of a particle but not its speed or speed but not location. We know because God has made known but we must understand we are only so capable on knowing God.

God speaking is predicated only on God speaking there is nothing we can do to manufacture the act; even studying the Bible. He says,

“Hence 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 revelation in the Bible to that degree rally introduces the Pneuma, and above all no method of living, rousing proclamation that truly comes home to the hearers in an ultimate sense.”

While there is something that I love about Barth, I could not get this thought out of my head while reading, “How does he know so much about God’s Word which is so mysterious? God must have told him, Lucky guy!”

 

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1.1 §5.1-3

Before I being begin this weeks post I have to admit that I forgot that this week (according to Dr. Kirk’s schedule) was almost twice the length as usual. So I was left with the arduous task of quickly reading Barth. I accomplished it, but, the results of my reading were less than desirable.

This reading section from chapter 5 is essentially concerned with the “nature” of the word of God and the “act” of God speaking. Unfortunately for me, Barth seems to have had a bit of a change of heart between the version that I am reading and the first edition. I say ‘unfortunately’ because he takes a lot of “small print” to do battle with a gentleman who apparently took issue with Barth. The ensuing response was, for me, a really good example of why I get nervous around such purely theological readers of the text. Neither Barth or his interlocutor we comprehensible to me, although I am sure I could have comprehended, but I didn’t have time to do research.

For me, theology tends to get overly theoretical, and in my opinion, this is why I shy away from such talk in my own life.

Here is a good example of what I am talking about: “Does God know the future?” I hear people (at school, church, etc.) talk about subjects like these all the time. But really, do we have any clue what God “knows?” Nope. I know, I know, someone will bring up 2Isaiah and use that as proof. But, of course, knowing what is about to happen is not the same as “knowing the future” in the strictest of senses. Just because I tell you that you are about to get wet, right before I throw water on you doesn’t mean I know the future in the same sense as always knowing the Powerball numbers before they are announced.

I said all that to say, this section felt like I was reading a good discussion about something that is purely conjecture. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love conjecture but to attempt to argue authoritatively from it is a bit more than I can stand. Here are two select examples from this section:

“There is no word of God without a physical event.”

“The existence of the world and our existence are in no sense vital to God, not even as the object of His love.”

Now I am not saying that these are statements I disbelieve, but, simply that I do not have any good authoritative reason to adhere to these statements. Barth’s understanding of the Word of God is, I doubt, light-years close to any understanding of said topic in the Scriptures. Of course, one doesn’t have to have the same understanding of the Scriptures but when you diverge from the path you ought to at least acknowledge that you are diverging from the path. I get the strange feeling that he is trying to give the “pure” or “timeless” understanding of the Word of God.

I doubt this. Just like I doubt Inerrantist because they (usually) insist on too much that is conjecture.

I did, though, enjoy his thoughts on the Word of God being an act. This makes sense to me and is helpful in some ways as it allows me to understand why I resist inerrancy. This concept causes the Church to be dependent on God and not on the teachers. But even in this concept he manages to loose me.

He distinguishes between three times that God speaks: 1) In Jesus Christ 2) Apostles and prophets 3) The Church period. Somehow he understands the time of Jesus to include the O.T. (he references John 9). Shockingly, he says that if we abandon this distinction in times then we abandon the word of God itself (147). Well then, there it is, I guess according to Barth I don’t agree with him because I don’t agree with everything he said.

I would like to say, though, that I do agree with the spirit that is trying to speak through him. I do agree God still speaks and that fact relegates the Scriptures to second place when confronted with God’s speaking a ‘fresh’ word to his church.

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Does God Have a Body?

I know. That is the dumbest question one could ever ask!

Of course God does not have a body! Haven’t you ever read John 4:24 that says, “God is Spirit?” If God is (a) spirit then how does he have a body. Spirits don’t have bodies!

Before I get into why I have begun to investigate this insane question I would like to make two things completely clear:

1) I am in no way attempting to take the O.T. references to “the hand of YHWH,” “the arm of YHWH,” or “the eyes of YHWH” in a concrete way. It has never occurred to me to take those phrases as referring to actual body parts.

2) My question is not, “Does God have a human body?” (Please, no comments about Jesus here.)

Over the last couple of months I have been investigating Philo and the Stoic’s for their understanding of πνευμα. While I cannot say I have gotten to far into Philo’s thought I have done quite a lot of reading in the Stoic literature and reading scholarly works about them. It appears that the Stoic’s thought that πνευμα was the animating force in the world that also took the two material forms of air and fire (of which there are two types of fire: one creative and one destructive). For the Stoic’s the πνευμα is material not, as in Plato, transcendent and purely a mind. The Stoic’s had the idea (called εκπυρωσις) that the world went through cycles  where the world would become incorporated into God through fire. Then the world would be brought forth from God again. If you are inclined to think this has nothing to do with the N.T. please read Troels Engberg-Pedersen’s book Cosmology and Self in the Apostle Paul: The Material Spirit or Gitte Buch-Hansen’s It is the Spirit that Gives Life: A Stoic Understanding of Pneuma in John’s Gospel.

I am not sure how I will structure the future posts on this but right now I have two things to say about this:

1) When Jesus says, “God is πνευμα” that doesn’t have to mean God doesn’t have a body. Especially if we consider that Jesus became πνευμα (or the pneumatic man) at the end of the book. (You know walk through walls but still eat fish.) To say God is πνευμα may mean he is completely composed of that substance and not in any way refer to his “body” (or absence thereof). In Paul and in John there are explicit references to being changed (two of the ref. are 1Cor 15:51; 1John 3:2) into a different substance (which is taken to refer to theosis). I suggest that substance in πνευμα.

2) As far as Trinitarianism goes I have always had trouble with the logic of God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. Here is one of the reasons why:

If God (the Father) is Spirit then why and how and why does God have a spirit that is distinct from the God? This logic seems to make no sense at all. A body has a spirit but a spirit having a spirit is ridiculous. Right?

(Also, let’s remember I am not trying to define God in reality but I am trying to ascertain the conception of some of the writers of the Scriptures.)

I would love to dialogue with anybody on this topic as this is a journey for me.

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1.1 §4.2-4.4

This has been the most satisfying week for me as I am reading through Barth ― at least 50% of his material was understandable. (Please hold the applause I am trying to be humble here.) No, really, this week was satisfying for me because I think I have finally found a view on Scripture that says what I have always wanted to say but my inability with language has prevented.

Since Storied Theology has already shined on 4.2 I will keep my remarks to a minimum on that section.

YES! YES! YES! The Scriptures stand over and above the church! Can I get an amen?! One of the most frustrating things I find about inerrantists is the way that they insist that the Scripture must be what they say they are even when the Scriptures do not make this claim. I believe Barth would say that they have forgotten who has authority over whom. We (the Church) cannot tell the Scriptures what they are, instead, they should tell us what she is.

I had never been able to conceive of the Scriptures “containing God’s word” before but I like the idea; even if I am a little hesitant to adopt wholesale his view of the “Word of God.”

I will my thoughts on this section with a quote that would be considered heresy at my school (DTS):

“Presupposing that we are right about the fact described, that by Holy Scripture the CHurch is summoned and directed to its proclamation and empowered for it, this implies that Holy Scripture, too, is the Word of God.

Now to section 1.1 §4.3:

While the previous section was good I really enjoyed this section the most.

In a nutshell it seems easiest to understand Barth’s concept of the “Word of God Revealed” as being essentially good works. Now I am not trying to say that this is only what he means but, just that, this is the most powerful way to understand his point. One of the things that I used to emphasize most in my preaching (before I took a break) was that good works are important because they are the main vehicle that God uses to reveal his nature to the world who either doubts his existence or is suspicious of his character. Good works are the means by which God acts in the world. Here is a good quote from that section that leads me to believe he and I are tracking together here:

“When the Canon, the staff which commands and sets moving and points the way, is moved by a living stretched-out hand, just as the water was moved in the Pool of Bethesda that it might thereby becomes a means of healing, then it bears witness, and by this act of witness it establishes the relation of the CHurch to revelation, and therewith establishes the CHurch itself as the true Church, and therewith its proclamation as true proclamation. By its witness! Witnessing means pointing in a specific direction beyond the self and on to another.”

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Bath §3.2-4.1

Well, I am finally able to get back to posting on Barth. The important things in my life (read Baby Girl, seminary and my job) had much to demand of me lately. This week’s section had me going yes, yes and yes to many things Barth had to say.

The initial portion of this week’s reading seems to interest me most and will probably be a section of Barth that I find myself quoting from in the future. Now, by that, I do not mean upon further reflection I will never have anything to add to what Barth says, just that, it appears to be a good foundation for understanding the relation of theology to ethics (that is how I best understand Barth’s use of proclamation).
After saying the previous I would like to start with a quote that I do not think I agree with:

“One cannot and should not expect to hear the content of proclamation from dogmatics. This content must be found each time in the middle space between the particular text in the context of the whole Bible and the particular situation of the changing moment. Dogmatics can only be a guide to the right mastery and the right adaptability, to the right boldness and the right caution, for the given moment when this space has to be found.” (79)

Now I am not exactly sure what he means by this quote so I will give what I think to be two options (one of which I disagree the other I don’t). 1) I think this statement could be understood to mean that theology can only understand a text in the context of the Canon. I think, I thoroughly disagree with this approach to theology. This approach, IMHO, assumes that the Canon is an authoritative context for the critical interpretation of Scripture and it makes me uneasy. Last year I read Brevard Child’s The Church’s Guide for Reading Paul which has this approach and I found that it explicitly distorts (if one is honest as Child’s is) what we believe to be the most likely meaning of the text into what the church thought it should mean. 2) He could mean (but I don’t think he does) that the “middle space” between text and “whole Bible” is the understanding not only of the text but also its historical situation. I am very okay with this as a definition of theology as it allows theology to be and explanation of the the truth no matter what the Church has historically thought.

So here I take Barth to understand theology to be something that must be done as a whole and I think that is wrong. It seems to me that the N.T. Is evidence that their is two types of instruction for Christians one set for the Gentiles and another for the Jews (especially living in the land).

Now on to what I agree with. He pauses for just a moment and gives a great summary of the differences between dogmatics and proclamation. He gives three points

1. The necessity of dogmatics is different from the necessity of proclamation.
2. Dogmatics serves proclamation.
3. The theme of dogmatics, since it is a responsible act, demands responsibility in the packaging of the proclamation, this is dogmatics.

About #1, I completely agree. God commands the announcement through faith and deed of the resurrection of Jesus. Our current times are proof of this truth. Does the resurrection nullify homosexuality, racism or abortion? It is theology’s responsibility to answer this in a way that is true to the Scriptures. The Church is made of up πνευμα-filled humans but we are still fallible. We must humbly approach this reality with a desire to be true to God’s Word.

About #2, also agree. Theology must never forget that it is the great service of the Church to proclamation. Theology must never, as it has in certain times, think more highly of itself than it ought. Proclamation is the assumption of dogmatics.

About #3, yep. I most clearly understand this to mean that our theology can never change the proclamation as ,say, Dominic Crossan does. The Scriptures and the Church understood that Jesus was raised bodily it was not a metaphor. Also, I think the discussion going on at Storied Theology is a the positive example of this statement. It is very uncomfortable in today’s time to say the proclamation does not include approval of homosexuality but if theology serves proclamation then we must stay true to it and it seems very clear that homosexuality was explicitly refuted (along, of course, with other things).

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Walk Much? Why you shouldn’t do what we all do!

Why does this not happen more?

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