Tag Archives: Christology

Question for Barthian Scholars

People of Barth,

I have had this nagging question that I am hoping some of you can help resolve.  I am well aware of Barth’s rejection of the ontological reality of satan & the demonic.  However, it seems clear that Jesus very much believed in the reality of satan & demons, probably more so than most of us are comfortable admitting.  In fact, from both liberal and conservative protestants come the persuasive argument that “spiritual warfare” was Jesus’ primary earthly ministerial activity.  So, the question:

How can Barth be committed to a Christocentric reading of scripture/understanding of revelation, and deny the ontological existence of satan & demons?

This is one of my main issues with Barth, & I look forward to everyone’s responses.

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Narcissism & Evangelical Piety

Narcissism 1

Being situated as i am in a mostly conservative evangelical setting, i have noticed an infatuation with the idea of understanding one’s “identity” as a means of spiritual formation.  In case some are not aware of it, here is a brief layout of the concept:

  1. A relationship with Christ makes one a new creation (eg one is “given a new identity”).
  2. Based largely upon Romans 12:1-2, much (all?) of one’s struggles in spiritual formation can be reduced to negative understandings of one’s self, a misunderstanding of their new identity.
  3. When one grasps their new identity, they are spiritually liberated/mature/in step with the Spirit, etc etc.

Although there are different nuances to this, that is pretty much it.  As (1) makes clear above, it is one’s connection to Christ that is the root of this new identity.  However, i see that often (1) is simply the instrument, the tool to get to the important stuff, which is who I am now.  In many ways, the discipleship process can be reduced to an almost anthropological journey of self-discovery.  It seems that one can fall into a sort of spiritual narcissism in their quest to unlock the awesomeness of their identities, ironically undercutting the fundamental needs for self-denial & an outward focus in the life of discipleship. 

To be fair, bright-minded women & men could respond that an outward focus & submissive life-style are also part of the identities which they must grasp.  Fair enough.  My question is if such a genuine grasping of these dimensions of discipleship is possible when there is a functional, instrumental Christology at work (an issue I recently wrote about here).  Did Jesus come only/primarily to give me a new identity?  Can the scope of the incarnation be reduced to this function, this need of mine?   I am doubtful; something seems fishy to me.  If the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection were only a tool to provide us with a new identity, how else can we understand these acts of God as anything more than just that, a tool for us?  If the Gospel is primarily about me & my need, how can i move beyond myself to genuine renunciation?   

Enough for now; bed time.  I hope to think more on this soon, but anyone have thoughts?  Am I just out to lunch here?

Easter Meditation

Therefore God has exalted him and given him the name above all names (Php 2:9)

Why does Paul add this and all that follows?  Only for the sake of dogmatic completeness, or in order to secure a comforting, triumphant end to the story of Christ descending into the depths?

There is good reason for what the ancient painters did when, in their representations of Christ ascending to heaven and throned in heaven, they left the wounds of the cross.

this is the Lord and Head of the church; there is where we stand en Christo Iesou; therefore God exalted him; it is as such-as the One who emptied and humbled himself-that Christ stands where we see him stand, in glory at the right hand of God.

There is no other Christ than this, God’s equal become man. 

{Source, 66}

 

Quaker Sacramentology: A Christological Critique

Tonight in class we discussed and experienced Quaker worship.  Although many Quakers have fallen in line with most current evangelical-protestant expressions of worship, there is still a significant amount of Quakers who worship just like they did when George Fox was around, by having “silent” or “unprogrammed” worship.

The Quakers (although i’m aware of the vast theological diversity in the Quaker church today, this post will focus on the Quakers who essentially line up with historic orthodoxy) take very seriously the theological truth that Christ is already present in their midst (through the Spirit).  They take it so seriously in fact, that they do not use any sacraments in their gatherings, not even communion or baptism.

For Quakers, the only baptism that matters is being baptized (and sealed) by the Spirit.  When it comes to communion, it is very interesting to note that for Quakers the focus is on remembering what Jesus has done for us, not the logistics of the elements.  In fact, Quakers have found the dissention caused by the elements, they view them as more of a hindrance than a help.  They would rather get to the “true, spiritual essence of communion.”

Their refusal to engage in Lord’s Supper goes back to their strong insistance on the ever available and present Christ, their Teacher.  They argue that they do take communion seriously.  In fact, they take communion more seriously than anyone else, because they don’t limit communion with Christ during church to being mediated through bread and wine.  Communion with Christ can and is an ever present reality in their worship gatherings.  His not limited to elements during a ritual.  They don’t condemn anyone who does perform these sacraments, but they see no use for them.  

Let me confess that in some ways i’m a “closet Quaker.”  I love their emphasis on silence in corporate worship, among other things.  I love how “counter-cultural” they are without needing to point it out to everyone else.  Despite my deep admiration and respect for their tradition, i must say i find their views regarding the sacraments to be disconcerting.

In my mind, part of what lays behind their view of communion and baptism is another example of falling into the trap of Greek dualism.  The form or symbol (eg, the water, bread and wine), is only a dim shadow of the real substance (the spiritual presence of Christ).  While they have a valid point that much needless division and violence has occurred due to sacramental minutiae, the idea that we have no need for the “baser physical aspects” like the sacraments betrays a basic disdain for the physical world which their Teacher created (Col 1). 

Furthermore, such a view can lead one unknowingly to a docetic view of Christ.  While I’m sure that they would readily affirm that Christ did indeed have a physical body, if what we are really after, and what God is really about, is the “pure spiritual essence” of things, then why is the Incarnation really needed (Perhaps this is why many Quakers end up being unitarian-universalists)?

Christ’s humanity doesn’t allow for us to have such an aversion to the physical world impacting our spiritual lives.  We are physical beings, and if God can condescend to the point of taking on flesh, surely we shouldn’t be surprised that our Lord used concrete, physical realities like water, bread, and wine to teach us and help us remember, nor should we reject them as less than the best of what God has to offer us.  The incarnation teaches us that we must reject such a physical-spiritual dichotomy approach to the sacraments, and humbly allow our Teacher to use what we would think unnecessary to teach us the depth of His love. 

An Argument for a Christologically-Centered Theology

god-and-man-1.jpg

So right now i’m reading James Torrance’s Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace.  In it he has one particular insight that serves as a reminder why all good theology, to use Paul Zahl’s phrase, is Christology.

Torrance points out that “our doctrine of God reflects our understanding of humanity and, conversely, our understanding of the human being reflects our view of God (37).”  This implications of this fairly apparent insight are significant for how we do theology.  It also serves as a critique of most (if not all) protestant theologies.

It seems to me that liberal theology (at least in the pre-WW sense) had such an (overly)optimistic anthropology that there was little room or need for God to be any more than a cosmic companion on our way to perfection.  In fact, the atonement was scandalous to the modern mind because of its implication of our deep, deep problem.  As Torrance points out, this view, championed initially by Harnack and now by John Hick, has no need of being Trinitarian, and is quite happy to be unitarian.  Just God and enlightened man were needed in this equation.  No need for atonement, salvation, etc.

Conversely, i think that much conservative theology is so concerned with “defending God’s glory” that they end up disrespecting the humanity that was created in His image.  While i wouldn’t want to claim that it is wrong to have a high view of God, i would say that much conservative theology allows their conceptions of God to be formed not by the Suffering Servant but by medieval Lordship.  Moreover, strong forms of determinism seem to fight against the notion of saying anything good at all about humanity, especially in their fallen state, and even in the redeemed souls and bodies of Kingdom people.  Thus, while conservatives are very good at proclaiming Christ as the way to salvation, his condescension to take on real humanity can be vexing.  This mindset is betrayed comically by how Jesus’ hair isn’t allowed to be swayed by the wind.  In more theological circles it reveals itself in escapist eschatologies, and in the refusal to take seriously the ontological implications of the atonement/salvation in our theological anthropologies.  Practically it can be discerned in our aversion to the “social gospel.”

It seems to me that while we can never completely escape the dialectical nature of our understanding of God and humanity, our only hope is to focus our theological endeavors on Jesus Christ.  Only He reveals the true nature not only of God, but of humanity.  He thus stands over and above the overly optimistic views of liberal theology and the drudgery of most conservative theology.  Jesus’ person and work critiques both the liberal theologians’ “enlightened man,” as well as a picture of God as a cosmic equal.  At the same time, Jesus called for, and expected, that a relationship with Him and His Father would lead to a radical change in one’s life.  Jesus reveals a God of redemption, not one who tells us to merely affirm that we are just “sinners saved by grace” who have to wait with folded hands to see personal or societal change.  If Jesus and those who followed Him do not have such a low view of humanity, then neither should we. 

May we walk in the narrow middle way, carved out for us by our incarnate Lord, submitting neither to a naive optimism nor a worthless worm anthropology.  Further, may we conceive of God as one who is not merely a cosmic hand-wringer, nor as a God who is so high above us that he can be of no real help here, but one whose Lordship is found in His servanthood.   

Barthian Meditation #1

barth-2.jpg

“In order not to be alone, single, enclosed within Himself, God did not need co-existence with the creature.  He does not will and posit the creature necessarily, but in freedom, as the basic act of His grace.  His whole relationship to what is outside Himself-its basis and history from first to last-rests on this fact.  For everything that the creature seems to offer Him-its otherness, its being in antithesis to Himself and therefore His own existence in co-existence-He has also in Himself as God, as the original and essential determination of His being and life as God.”

[Source]

The Ascension Revisited

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So it has been quite a while since i originally did my questionnaire regarding the ascension.  As promised, i wanted to follow up and offer my own take on the ascension. 

Yes Jesus did have ascend into heaven after the resurrection.  Many have rightly pointed out that this was necessary for the sending of the Holy Spirit (cf Jn 14:25-26, 16:5-16).

However, there is more than just this.  Jesus’ ascension was so necessary due to the fact of Jesus’ position at the right hand of the Father.  Here, according to Hebrews, Jesus intercedes on our behalf with prayers, which as a perfect, holy and blameless high priest is able to save us completely (7:24-26).

So here we see that it is not only Christ’s atoning death, but continual intercession on our behalf which makes our salvation sure.  However, the significance of Jesus’ position at the right hand of the Father cannot be understood apart from an understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role. 

According to the Torrance brothers, the Holy Spirit takes our prayers, muddied as they often are with self-advancement, vengance, and even sometimes with simply “groaning words cannot express,” the Spirit takes them back to the Son, where He is able to purify them via His intercession on our behalf, and presents them to the Father as “perfect prayers,” for lack of a better term.  So to answer my 3rd question in my original post, the ascension matters a great deal today in this paradigm, because it makes prayer possible.

While i think there is some merit to this view, i have some problems with it. Here is one initial struggle for me:  It seems like the integrity of “our” prayers are lost when Jesus cleans them up.  Can God not handle our struggles? 

However, i think the Torrance’s striving for a way to understand prayer as more Trinitarian in nature is to be commended.  Any thoughts on this?