Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lent Part 2

Continuing my posts about Lent (So far: Part 1), I read something earlier today by Bonhoeffer that I think would be beneficial for us to think about during this Lent season. On a section titled 'Meditation' he writes:

It is not necessary that we should discover new ideas in our meditation. Often this only diverts us and feeds our vanity. It is sufficient if the Word, as we read and understand it, penetrates and dwells within us. As Mary "pondered in her heart" the things that were told by the shepherds, as what we have casually overheard follows us for a long time, sticks in our mind, occupies, disturbs, or delights us, without our ability to do anything about it, so in meditation God's Word seeks to enter in and remain with us. It strives to stir us, to work and operate in us, so that we shall not get away from it the whole day long. Then it will do its work in us, often without our being conscious of it.
Above all, it is not necessary that we should have any unexpected, extraordinary experiences in meditation. This can happen, but if it does not, it is not a sign that the meditation period has been useless. Not only at the beginning, but repeatedly, there will be times when we feel a great spiritual dryness and apathy, an aversion, even an inability to meditate. We dare not be balked by such experiences. Above all, we must not allow them to keep us from adhering to our meditation period with great patience and fidelity.
It is, therefore, not good for us to take too seriously the many untoward experiences we have with ourselves in meditation. It is here that our old vanity and our illicit claims upon God may creep in by a pious detour, as if it were our right to have nothing but elevating and fruitful experiences, and as if the discovery of our own inner poverty were quite below our dignity. With that attitude, we shall make no progress. Impatience and self-reproach will only foster our complacency and entangle us ever more deeply in the net of self-centered introspection. But there is no more time for such morbidity in meditation than there is in the Christian life as a whole. We must center our attention on the Word alone and leave consequences to its action. For may it not be that God Himself sends us these hours of reproof and dryness that we may be brought again to expect everything from His Word? "Seek God, not happiness" — this is the fundamental rule in all meditation. If you seek God alone, you will gain happiness: that is its promise.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 83-4.

I particularly appreciated his last paragraph where he criticizes the notion that we think it is "our right" to always enjoy great times of meditation. Hopefully this short quote was helpful to you as it was to me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


We're just about half-way into Lent and as I was working through John 12 today for class, I was reminded of how pivotal the scene of the 'Triumphal Entry' was for all the Evangelists. I thought it would be interesting to see how each Evangelist portrayed the proclamation of "Hosanna." We often overlook this because of our familiarity with the Passion Narratives, but each Evangelist has a distinctive flavor that makes these readings worthy of reflection.

Matthew 21:8-9
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

Mark 11:8-10
Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

Luke 19:37-38
As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!"

John 12:12-13
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord-- the King of Israel!"

Of course the larger narrative should be read and understood before we can comment at length about these short passages, but I find it fascinating that even a small snippet of a scene of the triumphal entry reveals something about the viewpoint of each of the Evangelists vis-à-vis their understanding of the person of Jesus Christ and the role that he plays within the narrative of Israel and/or God's kingdom.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Quote of the Day: Bonhoeffer

In an earlier blog post (here), I alluded to multiple reviews of this biography of Bonhoeffer. Some of the reviews have been questioning just how "evangelical" Bonhoeffer was, and how some biographers might have in some ways "evangelicalized" Bonhoeffer to make him appear to be more palatable to the Christian Right. Personally, I don't think either labels are very helpful (whether he is "evangelical" or "not") because reading through his works shows a kind of depth in theology, ethics, philosophy, etc., that moves beyond simple categorical caricatures. I don't think I would label him as a "liberal" but I don't think I would straight label him as an "evangelical" (as the term is widely used today) either. Further, the term "evangelical" seems to change in definition from group to group, some using it almost pejoratively, while others wear it as a badge of honor, etc. It's just very difficult to pin down exactly what anyone means when he/she says "____ is an evangelical."

I'm currently reading through Bonhoeffer's Life Together, and he also has some words about what an "evangelical" is (not?):

"What we call our life, our troubles, our guilt, is by no means all of reality; there in the Scriptures is our life, our need, our guilt, and our salvation. Because it pleased God to act for us there, it is only there that we shall be saved. Only in the Holy Scriptures do we learn to know our own history. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God and Father of Jesus Christ and our Father. We must learn to know the Scriptures again, as the Reformers and our fathers knew them. We must not grudge the time and the work that it takes. We must know the Scriptures first and foremost for the sake of our salvation. But besides this, there are ample reasons that make this requirement exceedingly urgent. How, for example, shall we ever attain certainty and confidence in our personal and church activity if we do not stand on solid Biblical ground? It is not our heart that determines our course, but God's Word. But who in this day has any proper understanding of the need for scriptural proof? How often we hear innumerable arguments "from life" and "from experience" put forward as the basis for most critical decisions, but the argument of Scripture is missing. And this authority would perhaps point in exactly the opposite direction. It is not surprising, of course, that the person who attempts to cast discredit upon their wisdom should be the one who himself does not seriously read, know, and study the Scriptures. But the one who will not learn to handle the Bible for himself is not an evangelical Christian."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

GJohn and Anti-Semitism?

I saw this on my Twitter feed last week. Piper is currently preaching through the Gospel of John, and as Richard Hays is the dean of the school I'm at, as well as the fact that I'm currently taking a seminar on the Fourth Gospel, it piqued my interest. I downloaded the message from this past weekend and listened to it on my way to/back from school. The text that he preached on I think is from John 8:30-59, and in one particular section, he quoted from something Hays wrote (he doesn't acknowledge which book it's from and as far as I can tell, the website doesn't either). In a section of the sermon he titles 'Scholars Slandering the Word of God', Piper says [Piper in blue, Hays in brown]:

We should be ashamed of this part of our history. But unlike so many critical scholars, we should not lay the fault of this history at the feet of the Gospel of John, which is what so many do. I mention this now in our series on John because chapter 8 is the climax of what the critical scholars see as the problem. For example, concerning our text today, Richard Hays, Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, says:

Nowhere in John's Gospel does the superheated animosity toward the Jews come to more vigorous expression than in chapter 8. . . . The dialogue [of John 8:39–47] is the most deeply disturbing outburst of anti-Jewish sentiment in the New Testament. . . . John makes a fateful theological step: from the empirical fact of the unbelief of the Jews . . . . The Jews who do not believe must be children of the devil. . . . The conclusion of verse 47 articulates the chilling logic of this position: the reason they do not hear the word of God is that they are not from God. . . . One shudders to contemplate the ethical outworking of such a theological perspective on the Jews. . . . The Gospel of John really does adopt a stance toward Judaism that can only engender polemics and hostility.

This is a great sadness that ordained Christian teachers in the church should slander the word of God in this way. Let me mention four problems with this way of dealing with Jesus' very hard words in John 8—for though they are hard, they are especially offensive to modern, soft, pluralistic ears. Four responses, and the fourth one will launch us into an exposition of the text itself to let Jesus and John speak for themselves.

Someone could correct me but I'm guessing this is from his Moral Vision of the New Testament. Anyway, what Piper means as "this part of our history" is the often ugly animosity between Jews and Christians that have existed basically since the first century. The four responses that Piper has is this:

(1) If we want to excise from the Gospels any anti-Semitic language, we'll have to do far more than just John 8. Piper says, "Jesus' language toward the Pharisees is almost uniformly negative everywhere in all four Gospels, and often intensely so... If the Jesus of John has to go, so does the Jesus of all the Gospels."
(2) All unbelievers are labeled as "sons of the devil" by Jesus. Piper then quotes from Mt. 13:38-39 that describes the weeds as the sons of the evil one, that "Jewish people are not unique in their unbelief and their vulnerability to the blinding and distorting effects of the devil."
(3) Paul teaches that all unbelievers are under the "sway of the devil... [and that] the New Testament as a whole, not just John's Gospel, sees in the ongoing resistance to Jesus, whether in Jew or Gentile, the deadness and blindness of sin and the accompanying work of Satan. John 8 is not unique."
(4) Parallels in 1 John 3:8, that "sinning" is "of the devil."

I think on some levels, I commend Piper for his fierce convictions and willingness to go where the text may lead him, and while I'm definitely not a Piper-hater or a TGC-basher (do they go hand-in-hand?), I have a few comments:

First, it doesn't seem that Hays is commenting on anything beyond John 8 in the quotation. He isn't speaking about what does the rest of the NT say, or what does 1 John say, or even that we have to excise from our Bibles any seemingly 'anti-Semitic' texts. Hays' quote (unless Piper left out more of Hays' quote that actually touched on these issues) seems to be a simple comment on what is observable from the Gospel of John as it stands.
Second, Piper's statement that Jesus' comments toward Pharisees is basically negative is acceptable in the Synoptics, but it does not explain why the Fourth Evangelist decided to label them 'the Jews.' He is right to point out that everyone is technically 'a Jew', but if you read through the four Gospels, John by far outstrips the Synoptics in his use of the phrase οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι. By a quick scan, I would even venture to guess that John uses the term "the Jews" more than all three Synoptics combined. I appreciate how Piper urges his congregation to take the text seriously, and if that is the case, then I think we seriously have to account for this fact.

Anyway, that's just a couple quick thoughts I had as I was mulling over the sermon and the Gospel of John. What do you think? Is Piper right? Is Hays right? How do we locate the term 'anti-Semitic' on a given text?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fall 2011

In a few weeks, I'll be registering for my next semester of classes... here's a few that I'm interested in (grouped in respective categories):

Church History
Between Augustine & Anselm
Life & Times of the Wesleys
Eucharist in the First Eight Centuries of the Church

Historical Theology
Luther and the Reformation in Germany
The Theology and Ethics of Ambrose of Milan

Biblical studies
The Old Testament in the New
The Gospels & Historiography
Christian Ethics & Scripture

Christian Ethics
S. Kierkegaard

Christian Theology
Learning Theology with CS Lewis
Film & The Christian Life
The Thought of Augustine of Hippo

There's so many good classes to choose from! I guess that's a good problem to have... hope I can get into the four classes that I will decide on in a few weeks time.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Nature-grace model?

This week we had to read an excellent article from Alan Torrance titled, "Forgiveness: The essential Socio-political Structure of Personal Being." It's good to see continuity in our discussions as a lot of the things I read from Torrance sounds like conversations we've had with Dr. Campbell in class. Anyway, in this article, Torrance critiques what he calls the "nature-grace" model that has influenced Christianity in the West (for the worst). He defines this model as such:

"[it] interprets grace in terms of nature, where nature is understood by appealing to the categories of natural law as it is discerned by the light of reason and where reason is an independent capacity constitutive of natural man. Accordingly, it asserts the primacy of nature over grace and of (natural) law over grace. Grace presupposes and perfects nature and natural justice which provide the prior context, structures, and categories in terms of which alone grace can be understood. On this model therefore nature is interpreted separated and independently of Christ."

He then goes on to give some examples of how the nature-grace model has informed the church to its detriment. Here is an excerpt of those examples:

The theology of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa is grounded in the Federal Calvinist dichotomy between the sphere of Nature and the sphere of Grace. God has created some people white and some black and the distinctions and differences between these races are discernible by the light of natural reasons as having been ordained by God as part of the ordo naturalis. The judgements of the state grounded in these natural differences and distinctions can therefore be interpreted as reflecting the eternal purposes of God for these different orders of his creation - purposes to which nature itself testifies accordingly.
Consequently, in the theology of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa the relevance of who Christ is, his person and work, and also therefore the doctrines of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, are conditioned and restricted by the prior concept of the oroers of nature and of creation and has no place in informing its understanding of the state and its function. Its anthropology is governed not by the second Adam, the true man in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, black nor white, but by the nature-grace model which restricts the relevance of Christ merely to the spiritual realm of the redemption of the elect. The result is that free reign is given to man in his establishing, by appeal to his enlightened capacity for reason, some very "private Weltanschauung as a kind of papacy" (Barth) in determining what are and are not God's purposes in nature. Such a person's own individual, esoteric apperception becomes his or her authoritative hermeneutical key to theology, with the result that Christ who alone is the "second Adam", the eternal Logos and the one in whom the fullness of God with his purposes for Creation dwells bodily, is sacrificed on the altar of an anthropology grounded in a particular and unenlightened perception of nature. The result is that white Christians dehumanise themselves in their dehumanising of Christ and of their black brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Barth and godlessness

I've been trying to read as much Barth as my mind is capable, and in IV/2 §65 (The Sloth and Misery of Man), he talks a little bit about "godlessness" (I think it's appropriate to put it in quotes insofar as I understand Barth to be saying that such a thing really is not possible in the absolute sense). At this point in my venturing into Barth, some parts are still inexplicable to me, but today I read a little bit which I thought was very insightful (and true to Barthian form I'd say):

Without the knowledge of God, which the stupid man despises, there is no meaningful companionship between man and man, no genuine co-operation, no genuine sharing either of joy or sorrow, no true society. But work which is not co-operation is busy indolence. Joy which is not shared is empty amusement. Sorrow which is not shared is oppressive pain. The man who is not the fellow of others is no real man at all. And a society composed of men like this breaks up as soon as it is formed and even as the most zealous attempts are made to build and maintain it. But the stupidity of man calls for this. Even in its noblest forms humanity without the knowledge of God has in it always the seed of discord and inhumanity, and sooner or later this will emerge. From the vacuum where there is no “Glory to God in the highest” even the sincerest longing and loudest shouting for peace on earth will never lead to anything but new divisions. This is the first thing which all the concealment of human folly can never alter.

The line that struck me (if I understood him alright) is that in some way, an insistence on atheism is a betrayal (or even dehumanizing?) of our own humanity. That is an interesting take on atheism.