Musings: March 2018

In this month of serial snow storms, it’s been challenging to get into an Easter frame of mind. So often, resurrection is paired with images of new birth and sprouting things, but then, I was reminded amidst all the shoveling, blizzard warnings, and cancellations that resurrection springs forth out of death and THE resurrection was a complete surprise to Jesus’ friends and followers. Be encouraged, then, that God comes to us today in surprising ways:  in the midst of the hopeless mess or the routine of laundry folding or the deep disappointment that feels like a small death.

Hope in God is a confident expectation — not a cross-your-fingers aspiration.

Run! Let's live in power going forward in that sacred knowing.

On the Blog

It’s been a pleasure this month to focus on resurrection with one post of suggested Easter reading followed by another featuring a collection of poems I’ve written for celebrations of the past.

"When you choose anything, you reject everything else." G.K. Chesterton

 

In March, I continued in my conquest of Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton with a post on the consequentiality of our choosing and its impact on our parenting and every area of life.

“Every act of the will is an act of self-limitation” –even if you happen to be the Son of God.

 

 

The reading in March has been varied with two memoirs, a biography, and a work of fiction.

In How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Correcting the Soundtrack in Your HeadRelationships, and Learning to Be Myself, Amena Brown looks back over her shoulder with humility and gratitude to honor the resiliency and courage of the women who have contributed to her story’s formation:

“My great-grandmother picked cotton
and worked in a tobacco factory
so my grandmother could work at a hospital
so my mom could become a nurse
so I could become a poet.”

As I progressed through Holy in the Moment: Simple Ways to Love God and Enjoy Your LifeI found myself pausing and pondering over shimmering glimpses of wisdom that stand alone in their gracious beckoning toward truth:

“Aim for consistency but walk in grace.”

“You can choose the thoughts you will receive and the ones you will reject.”

“The faith way is to think,”I know my work is taxing, but Christ is my strength.”

“Far more than a doctrine to follow, holiness is a life to enjoy.”

“It’s important to understand that joy is not the absence of pain in circumstances, but rather the presence of God in the midst of them.”

Everyday choices build a life. Mundane moments of loving our kids, cherishing our husbands, and supporting our friends in ten thousand different ways over the course of a lifetime well-lived change us from the inside out. “Loving God whole-heartedly is choosing the life we were made for,” and one day, we discover that God is doing His work through us, and we shine with a glory that is not our own

In Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals, Mark Galli has The Life and Theology of Karl Barthextended a gift to the community of readers in the form of an accessible and balanced look at a well-known and yet inscrutable theologian. Whether we choose to argue that Karl Barth’s theology supported him in poor moral choices or that his theology was terrific and truthful, but he simply failed to live up to its ideals, he is arguably one of the greatest Protestant theologians of the 20th century. His story becomes a cautionary tale for any of us who teach and study Scripture, for we will never live up to all that we know, but may we find grace to live consistently with the remarkable message of the gospel with all its provision for forgiveness.

Can You See Anything Now?In her review of Can You See Anything Now?: A Novel, Jen Pollock Michel reminded her readers that they’re not picking up a work of Amish fiction when they read Katherine James’s debut novel. While it received Christianity Today’s 2018 award for fiction, it is a complicated read that requires believers to assess their willingness to read R-rated language in order to fully enter into a clear picture of the fractured human heart.

In the Snow

Yes, the snow gets its own category this month because it has played a major role in disrupting life on this country hill. Nonetheless, we’ve had some great moments for walking, enjoying the sunshine when it appears, and visiting with family.

Weekly, I have met in the church library with a group of women who take their Bible very seriously, and we are persevering in our study of Cynthia Heald’s Becoming a Woman of Grace.

The patient husband and I are continuing in our read through of the Bible out loud, and we even had the opportunity to do some teaching together at a Christian Education conference here in Maine.

Thank you for your encouragement that comes in the form of comments and dialogue. So many of you have become on-line friends and I look forward to your insights whenever they come. May your days be filled with meaning because of the gushing “river of resurrection” that flows just beneath the surface–sometimes washing over us when we least expect it!

He is risen indeed!

 

michele signature rose[1]


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And since this is the end of March, I’m joining the party over at Leigh Kramer’s place where bloggers gather for What I’m Into. Come on over for lots of book, podcast, and viewing recommendations.

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The Life and Theology of Karl Barth

It should come as no surprise when a brain that has been marinating for decades in North American evangelical culture has an immediate and visceral response to the names of  prominent historical Christians:

  • C.S. Lewis:  Green light and heart emojis (but, remember, he did smoke . . .)
  • Francis Schaeffer:  Amazing intellect, but too bad about those knickers.
  • Karl Barth:  Tornado sirens and a flashing inerrancy and Neo-Orthodoxy warning light!

Thanks be to God, we are occasionally given the opportunity to step back from our preconceptions and to look at historical figures through a helpful and forgiving lens. In Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals, Mark Galli has extended that gift.

A Rebel with a Cause

Born in Switzerland in 1886, Karl Barth entered the world at a time when liberalism was changing the way Christians worshiped and thought about God. Emphasis on human reason and experience led to a gradual abandonment of the primacy of revelation and to a detour around foundational truths such as the deity of Christ and the fallenness of man.

It was not until Barth  married and entered the pastorate that he began to question his liberal theological underpinnings. His heart for his working class congregation led him to seek answers in socialism, but when Germany declared war on Russia in 1914, and the falling dominoes led to World War I, Barth’s eyes were opened to significant cracks in the logic of liberalism. “If religious experience could give rise to such divergent and even contradictory conclusions, perhaps it could no longer be relied upon to provide an adequate ground and starting point for theology.” (34)

Barth was also a vocal opponent of National Socialism, writing articles that attacked right wing political dogmatism along with letters and pamphlets denouncing the heresy that blood or race had any bearing on church membership or acceptance before God. In 1935, Barth and his family were forced to return to Switzerland where his ministry was based until his death in 1968.

The “Godness” of God

Barth’s studies led him to conclude that the Bible was a “book not so much about men and women but about God,” (43) and that the only sound basis for our theology is the revelation of Jesus Christ in Scripture. In his career as a pastor, professor, and theologian, he became known for his commentary on Romans and a stalwart teaching of the complete otherness of God. By the time he reached middle age, Barth had become something of a rock star in his theological circles.

He was a strong proponent for church life even throughout the chaos of Nazi persecution of the Confessing Church, arguing that “we must not . . .hold ourselves aloof from the church or break up its solidarity; but rather, participating in its responsibility and sharing the guilt of its inevitable failure, we should accept it and cling to it.” (51)

Steadfast in Faith–and Steadfast in Adultery?

It is difficult to reconcile the utter strangeness of a man who lived in awe of a holy God while subjecting his wife and children to the indignity and inappropriateness of a live-in mistress, but this also was part of the mystery of Karl Barth. His research assistant, Charlotte von Kirschbaur, was a fixture in both his professional life and in his home.

In an article written for Christianity Today after the publication of this biography, Mark Galli expressed stunned distaste over the rationale Barth used to justify his moral failure. Barth’s dialectical approach to theology emphasized the contradiction between two truths in order to gain insight into the deep truths about God. For example, Jesus is both God and man. Barth’s stretch of reason was that he and Charlotte “had no choice  but to live in this dialectical tension between obeying God’s command about marital fidelity and what felt right to them. ” The ugliness of Barth’s sin is exacerbated by his blatant use of theological arguments to justify it.

Barth for Evangelicals

Whether we choose to argue that Karl Barth’s theology supported him in poor moral choices or that his theology was terrific and truthful, but he simply failed to live up to its ideals, he is arguably one of the greatest Protestant theologians of the 20th century. One of the most helpful features of Galli’s biography is his familiarity with evangelical culture as he “translated” Barth via two doctrines that are unique to his thinking and examined their usefulness to evangelical teachers and pastors:

  1. The Word of God–  Barth viewed Scripture as a three-fold reality: the preached Word, the written Word, and the revealed Word, Jesus Christ. This is helpful, but then he goes on to insist that “Scripture is God’s Word in so far as God lets it be His Word. Therefore, the Bible . . . becomes God’s Word” as we hear it.” (111) Evangelicals can join Barth in understanding that the Bible is not a magic book, but does indeed come alive for us through the work of the Spirit. However, his rejection of inerrancy is a problem, especially when he (illogically) sets Scripture as a means of revelation and then says that it contains “historical, scientific, and even theological errors.” (113)
  2. Universal Reconciliation–  In all the church’s wranglings over election, Barth has distinguished himself by taking a very unique stance, holding that “Christ is both the only one who elects and the only one who is elected.” Therefore, humanity is chosen only in a secondary sense, and all men and women are reconciled to God through the death of His Son. Judgment and pardon are both present in Barth’s soteriology, but pardon for sin “does not depend on one’s response to Christ. . . Instead, total pardon is objectively accomplished in Jesus Christ on behalf of mankind.” This, inevitably leads to universalism, but I appreciated theologian Oliver Crisp’s rendering of Barth’s thinking:  “The Reformers say, ‘If you repent and believe, you will be saved,’ while Barth says, ‘You are saved; therefore, believe and repent!'” I see the potential for error, but this helps me to sharpen my own appreciation of what’s going on behind the scenes when someone “prays the sinner’s prayer.”

On a visit to the United States during the year I was born, church lore holds that Karl Barth summarized his theology and his life’s work in one simple sentence: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It’s likely that this really happened, but it’s unfortunate that Barth could not have found that great love sufficient to enable him to love his wife and his children more than he did.

His story becomes a cautionary tale for any of us who teach and study Scripture, for we will never live up to all that we know, but may we find grace to live consistently with the remarkable message of the gospel with all its provision for forgiveness. May we stand before the mirror of the Word with earnest prayer for a searching and a knowing God to reveal our sins and to hold us close to His Truth.


Many thanks to William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company for providing a copy of this book.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase, Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Every blessing,