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 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.

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Every blessing,


Parenting After the Fall

The front-and-center project that’s consuming time and thought these days is a parenting workshop that my husband and I will be teaching in March. Preparation includes reviewing everything we’ve read about parenting in the past couple of years, remembering everything we’ve stumbled upon in the past two decades in the trenches of parenting, discussing all our shared memories of what worked and what-most-certainly-did-not-work, and then trying to wrestle it all into an outline that will carry the content toward a substantive conclusion in a mere 45 minutes.

Without sounding too negative, it has occurred to me more than once in this process that parenting keeps circling back around to the topic of sin management — the parents’ first of all, and then the child’s. Because of the Gospel, we are enabled to “put to death” our own selfishness, laziness, willfulness, impatience, and complacency long enough to assist our delightful offspring in stamping out the same qualities, all with a goal of following together our yearning for obedience to the law of God which has been written on our hearts.

What About Original Sin?

In the providence of words that arrive at just the right time,I found G.K. Chesterton’s theological ponderings on original sin in my reading of Orthodoxy, . Although he and his wife Frances were never able to have children of their own, I hear a latent understanding of kid-nature in this thought:

“Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”  (27)

Certainly, plenty of evidence has been amassed here in the Morin compound to prove the doctrine of original sin, and in conversations with other parents, I’ve finally realized that we aren’t the only ones with dented sheet rock from illegal indoor-baseball-throwing escapades and memorial corners where naughty chairs were placed on a daily basis.

Whether it’s the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon at work, or whether there’s been an ongoing conversation about original sin, and I’ve just finally tripped over it accidentally, I’m thankful for the moorings in orthodoxy that Chesterton’s writing provides. He laments a “fastidious spirituality” among his contemporaries who “admit divine sinlessness, which they [could] not see even in their dreams. But they essentially den[ied] human sin, which they [could] see in the street.”

For my money, Chesterton’s strongest argument for humanity’s fallenness has more to do with virtue than with vice:

“The vices are, indeed, let lose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity . . .is often untruthful.” (49)

The Tyranny of Wandering Virtues

Parents of adult children, beware the tyranny of free-wheeling virtues when your children begin to make poor choices. We are a generation of parents who will change our ethics to avoid offending our adult children, thinking that this enables us to empathize more fully with their moral floundering. When we value our relationship with our children over our children’s relationship with God, we circumvent the convicting work of the Spirit in their hearts.

And since our politics will follow our ethics, in an article in World Magazine called “Political Pelagianism,” Marvin Olasky references the optimism of policy makers on both sides of the aisle with Democrats assuming only the best of motives and intentions in those who benefit from government programs and Republicans tending to “glamorize the noble CEO.” With no allowances made for selfishness, greed, or opportunistic impulses, can we really view the world (and make laws?) with wisdom?

The Plight of Sinners Parenting Sinners

Tracing this topic back to its origin on a bad day in a certain garden, it’s not difficult to diagnose my most pressing parenting dilemmas. The challenge to live with a submitted will and to accept God’s “hands off” when He puts boundaries around something that “looks perfectly good to me” was the root of the first sin and all subsequent sins. Making an idol of my freedom and control mirrors the very same manifestation of original sin that I confront in my grandson when I refuse to honor his temper tantrums.

Sally Lloyd-Jones takes me back to the garden in plain speech with her description of God’s motive behind the Garden’s one rule:  “If you eat the fruit, you’ll think you know everything. You’ll stop trusting me.” And, of course, God was accurate in His prediction, for humanity has spent every spare moment since then trying to “make ourselves happy without Him.”

Chesterton frames the idolatry behind original sin along with our misdirected quest for happiness:

” How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it . . .” (36)

And this:

“. . . if a man would make his world large, he must be always making himself small.”

Yes, and amen. And this would seem to be a worthy goal of missional parenting — and of living our days in this following life.

Parenting After the Fall

Some of you have said that you’re laughing out loud at certain Chesterton-isms, and everyone confesses to the challenge of his writing. I hope you’ll share in the comments below some of the quotes you’re especially amused or flummoxed by, and if you happen to have a blog post bubble to the surface as a result of your reading, feel free to share a link to it in the comments. It will be fun to continue this conversation over at your place.

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Image by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

Treasuring the Uncomfortable Church

One of my reading goals for 2018 is to tackle Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. For a myriad of reasons, I need to absorb his hard won wisdom, but most of all I want to lean into his observations about Christian community in the crucible of “life together” in a secret seminary under the looming threat of Nazi persecution. Somehow, in the most challenging of historical contexts, Bonhoeffer was able to address the disconnect between the “dream of a Christian community” and “the Christian community itself.”

Waking up from his own dream church, Bret McCracken confesses that there are a good many facets of his own fellowship — and even about the Christian faith — that rub him the wrong way. In Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community  he analyzes, laments, and offers perspective on the struggle, for as the old saw goes, even if you are fortunate enough to find the perfect church, you will surely ruin it when you join. (Did you know this came originally from Spurgeon?)

Of course, all this insight doesn’t stop us from fantasizing about the ideal facility, the perfect constellation of ministries, a doctrinal statement and liturgical bent that fit like a glove, and the “perfect” Sunday morning music . . . alongside a good cup of strong coffee.  We are immersed in a culture that encourages us to inflate our wants until they take on the dimensions of a need. However, part of the amphibious nature of the Christian experience is that “what we think we want from a church is almost never what we need.” (Loc 302).

“Commitment even amidst discomfort, faithfulness even amidst disappointment: this is what being the people of God has always been about.”

Why the Church Seems So Uncomfortable

Devoting one chapter to each topic, McCracken explores the difficult aspects of following Jesus:

  • The uncomfortable cross that requires an embrace of suffering and sacrifice;
  • The uncomfortable call to be a set-apart people, pursing holiness and a set of values that set us at odds with the world around us;
  • A collection of counter-cultural truths around creation, hell, and sexual ethics that wreck our cool-factor and make for awkward conversational pauses;
  • The call to love outside our comfort zone and to worship beside people who annoy or puzzle us;
  • The controversial differences in worship that arise from different perspectives on God the Holy Spirit, the role of liturgy, music, prayer, and every other imaginable preference;
  • The multiple challenges around authority, unity, diversity, commitment, and even our understanding of what it means to be “comfortable” on a fallen planet.

The End of All Our Petty Preferences

One source of all this discomfort with the church and her people is a discomfort with God Himself. Author Adam McHugh describes the God we long for who “always agrees with us, . . . who always favors our nation or political agenda, [and] feeds us candy and never vegetables.” The God who sent prophets walking naked and barefoot through the streets of Jerusalem in order to make a point will not hesitate to require a modern day saint to walk a path of growth that puts comfort aside for the sake of something greater.

The call of God is a summons to embrace the discomfort of the cross and a counter-cultural call to holiness in spite of the cost to our dreams. The startling truth is that a comfortable Christianity without an instrument of torture at its center and without a message that sits us across the table eye-to-eye with an enemy and requires a loving response is not really Christianity at all.

Christ’s call to spiritual neediness, mourning, and meekness found in The Beatitudes captures the difference between comfortable Christianity and “a kingdom where worldly comforts are nothing compared to the power of the Comforter in us; where all manner of uncomfortable things are endured for righteousness’s sake.” As we look outside ourselves and assign greater value to Truth than to comfort, we find that worship is about God and not about us. We begin to value each other’s differences as we look toward the future assembly of people and nations and tongues and tribes that will one day surround us as we worship God — and as we look back on our petty preferences and wonder what all the fuss was about.

This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

UncomfortableI have begun to experiment with including an Amazon affiliate link here in my book reviews. If you should decide to purchase Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community, 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.

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Wait for the Spirit of Christmas

“Wait,” He said, and locked His gaze with eleven pairs of eyes brimming with question marks.

“Wait. I have been your constant companion for three years, walking long deserted roads, sharing our meager meals, sleeping under the stars. I have answered your questions and rebuked your faithlessness, and now it is time for me to return to the Father. But I tell you this: If you could choose and if you knew what I know, you would choose the Helper I am sending over my presence beside you. Don’t try to go forward on your own. Wait for the Gift.”

Imagining myself into the upper room, in the company of the Acts -One-Faithful, I wonder:  Could I have waited in faith for ten long days between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost? Is it possible that I would have persevered in the cloud of unknowing until the tongues of fire landed and the Wind swept in a new era of redemptive history?
Or . . .
Would I have waffled and sown doubt into the gathering, nervously rehearsing Jesus’ words, calling for conferences in which we’d put our heads together — wondering if we’d heard correctly, or if we had misunderstood His intentions.

“He said Jerusalem, right?”
“What was the word He used?”

The record shows they waited, and the promise was fulfilled. The power came down, but not merely as a force or a tingle of energy. Once again, God had sent a Person into time and space to accomplish His purposes and to reveal God-nature to the bumbling race of humanity.

Likewise, today, God the Holy Spirit is a Person Who comes to us, bringing power that holds us in the faith. When the Spirit comes rushing in at the beginning of our following lives, His mission is to initiate an ongoing love affair with God. Miraculously, we become little-Christs, and the Word becomes flesh once again, in our lives and in our deeds.  This is the Gift of Christ to those who “tarry” and are “endued with power from on high.”

A Celebration of Waiting Fulfilled

However, the sad truth that weaves its way through Christmas season 2017 is this:
We’re just fresh out of patience.
The idea of waiting for ten days for anyone or anything is unthinkable. We want to know the mind of God, discover our unique purpose in life, and celebrate Christmas wholeheartedly, dagnabbit, and we want to do it right now. In the impatience of our ceaseless striving, we forget that Christmas is a celebration of waiting fulfilled. It’s the vindication of Old Testament believers who spent long uncomfortable lives clinging to wispy words of prophecy and trusting in God’s good intentions toward them. It’s the season of Mary’s yes to a nine-month obedience and of open-ended journeys prompted by stars and visions.

When I forget the overshadowing Spirit and the power of the Most High, I have lost the Spirit of Christmas. The boundaries between who I am and Who God is become fuzzy and indistinct. It becomes easier and more tempting to arrogate to myself prerogatives that are not mine to exercise. The Christmas Spirit is reduced to a warm fuzzy feeling that can be duplicated by a serving of eggnog or an evening of gift wrapping by candlelight.

Living in “the Interim Time”

Make no mistake: when Jesus promised power from on high, it was a far-reaching offer that spanned the centuries. That’s good news, for we also live in a world of waiting. The only difference is that now Wi-Fi, CNN, the Hallmark channel, and our frantic pace distract us from our true situation, which A.W. Tozer describes as “the interim time”:

“We live between two mighty events — that of [Jesus’] incarnation, death, and resurrection, and that of His ultimate appearing and the glorification of those He died to save.  This is the interim time for the saints — but it is not a vacuum.  He has given us much to do, and He asks for our faithfulness.”

It is the Spirit of Christmas Who will bring about this faithfulness in His people. The same Spirit Who “hovered over the face of the waters,” also seeded life into Mary’s womb and empowered a motley crew of ragtag fishermen to turn the world upside down.   He will show up to guide present day followers as well, even in seasons when pursuing our calling feels as vague as following a star in the East. Our waiting is no more absent of activity and life than a drop of pond water.

Thank you, Spirit of God, for this season of hope in which we celebrate your exquisite timing.
Empower us to view our waiting and our wondering as an opportunity to receive your grace for that moment, to be “endued with power from on High” so that we may become fiercehearted women of Christmas like Anna and Elisabeth and Mary who waited in hope throughout their interim time. May we rejoice in anticipation as they did, knowing that patience is the bridge that joins time and eternity, and Your promised presence is a fresh offering every day.



Photo by Joanna Kosinska from Unsplash

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Jayber Crow: Welcome to the Discussion!

The house where I grew up is gone, and I haven’t returned to pay homage to the empty space.  For me, home — the place of belonging and permanence — is this country hill which has created in me a deep appreciation and understanding of the importance of place.  Expecting to live solitary and transient, I have been amazed to find that I’m content in a long-term zip code, but, as usual, I’m just catching up with what God has been doing all along.  He has always worked within a context of place, choosing a backwater Palestinian setting as ground zero for His arrival and as the backdrop for His earthly ministry. The incarnation brought dignity to the mortal body and to the notion of occupying a particular time and a beloved space.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry is a book about a man, but it is also a book about a place. Chapter 1 introduces Jayber as the barber in Port William, and then goes on to introduce the reader to the town he called home, employing six vignettes which feature various members of the Port William Membership.

Somehow, throughout the book, Jayber manages to sidestep the spotlight and to relate his tale through the observations of others.  However, he describes Port William as a place that “repaid watching,” (5) and clearly, Jayber saw plenty through his barbershop window.  It’s interesting that Berry makes his introductions in this order:  (1) Port William culminating in the first mention of Mattie Keith; (2) Jayber’s early years; (3) the Kentucky River which, we will see later, is so active in the plot that it nearly becomes a character in the story.

This is as good a place as any to address Wendell Berry’s curmudgeonly preface to Jayber Crow:


Persons attempting to find a “text” in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a “subtext” in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise “understand” it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.


This makes me smile, but you will recall (if you participated in the book discussion group around Till We Have Faces) how we acknowledged that Orual and her associates provided a wealth of material to deepen our understanding of God and His ways.  However, C.S. Lewis was primarily a story teller, and the story superseded all the themes and character analysis we discussed.  So . . . . lest we all find ourselves banished together to a desert island, let’s acknowledge once again that Jayber Crow is first and foremost a story about the barber of the Port William Membership.

If there is really such a thing as a “fictional memoir,” William Berry has mastered the craft.  Through Jayber’s musings, we will explore themes such as vocation and calling; the blessings and bane of change; the idea of belonging; and the unfolding of time in a particular place.  Writing from the perspective of 72 years of life, Jayber ponders the lay of the land:

“Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory.  Though I knew early of death, it still seemed to be something that happened only to other people, and I stood in an unending river of time that would go on making the same changes and the same returns forever.  And now, nearing the end, I see that my life is almost entirely memory and very little time.”

What Are Your Thoughts?

I hope that you are already beginning to fall in love with the people of Port William.  Have you noticed how Jayber describes in elaborate detail the characters’ background, temperament, and manner of living?  Some of these individuals will appear later in the story (or in other books that Berry has written about the Port William Membership), but some of them never appear again.  Even so, Berry has given gratuitous attention to them, like that of a painter to one tree in a landscape of forest.

I’d also love to hear your thoughts on Jayber himself.  I’ve never had a brother, but I think I love Jayber the way one would love an odd, errant brother who never quite lived up to his potential, BUT could explain every turn in the road to his own satisfaction, so was just fine in his own skin, thank you very much.

I hesitate to mention this at the outset, but I want to discuss it when it comes up, so I’ll front-load an observation from this read-through of Jayber.  Wendell Berry, in addition to being a poet and stunning author of fiction, is a farmer, an environmental activist, and a cultural critic.  I noticed several incidents in which Jayber’s monologues sounded as if maybe Wendell had jumped in front of the microphone for few paragraphs.  Not yet.  But bear this in mind as you read on.  I’m wondering . . . is it just my imagination, or do you notice it as well?

One of the reasons I have called Jayber my favorite fictional theologian is his ability to make observations about the faith which sound like an outsider and yet to be profoundly orthodox on so many points.  I’m hoping for some lively discussion on the state of Jayber’s eternal soul, but listen to this insight on God as Father from later on in the book:

“I imagined that the right name might be Father, and I imagined all that that name would imply:  the love, the compassion, the taking of offense, the disappointment, the anger, the bearing of wounds, the weeping of tears, the forgiveness, the suffering unto death . . . Divine omnipotence might by the force of its love be swayed down into the world.  Could I not see how it might, because it could know its creatures only by compassion, put on mortal flesh, become a man, and walk among us, assume our nature and our fate, suffer our faults and our death.”

And so . . . back to incarnation once again.

What are your thoughts on barber chair theology?
Is there a place in your history and memory that anchors you in the way Port William anchored Jayber?

Let’s Get Started

I would love to hear your thoughts as we read. If you do not blog, just share your insights directly to the comments, but if you have a blog, I hope that you will write a piece or two (or a post about each section!) and then share them here by copying the URL of the post into the comments section below.  It will be fun — and enlightening — to learn from each other’s insights.

Don’t feel as if you need to share earth-shattering observations.  Just write about what impressed you in the section we are reading. If something puzzled you, pose your questions to the group.  Let’s commit to reading the book and learning from it in community!

I’ll be here next Thursday (September 14) having read Chapters 4-6.  I’ll share a summary to get us started, mention some of my insights, and then throw the door wide open for your input.
How do you participate?
Simply get a copy of the book and read along.  You don’t need to register or commit to anything other than just reading the book!

In the meantime, are you planning to read with us?
Will this be your first time through one of Wendell Berry’s books or are you a repeat reader?
What else have you read by Berry?  Do you have a favorite?
Where are you, who are you, and what do you love?
Do you plan to blog about your impressions?
Let’s begin to get acquainted in the comments below!
And just in case you missed the schedule I posted last week, here it is again:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion
OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32


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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.

The Work of Home

Most days on this country hill are a blur.  With every line in my planner filled, there’s also the background music of laundry and continual cleaning.  In the winter, there’s a voracious wood stove; in the summer there’s a garden that needs constant attention.  Of course, at the far right side of this equation of work and home, there’s a family that knows they’re loved and a home that is well-lived in.

The steady thrum of activity is the glue that holds a home together, and it is one of the most startling discoveries of my life that it is possible to find a fulfilled and meaningful existence in the midst of mind-numbing routine.  It turns out that it’s not what you’re doing that makes a life.  It’s why you’re doing it.

The importance of home and the words of Scripture that shape a right understanding of home are reason enough to spend two weeks pondering Jen Pollock Michel’s Keeping Place.  Last week in Part I, we laid the foundation of God as Homemaker and the Bible as a story of homecoming, welcome, and longings fulfilled.  In Part II, Jen lifts her eyes from her own lunch-packing duties and makes this stunningly succinct observation:

“To love is to labor.”

She goes on to trace the connection between the routines of domesticity and the “quotidian mysteries” of spiritual practice.  Just as the swiping of crumbs off the dining room table will never be a once and done affair (at least at my house!), neither are the practices of spiritual formation.  In tending to the health and wholeness of our souls, every day there will be “crumbs” that need brushing away, and this is a good thing, for it keeps us mindful of our creaturely dependence on God.

In the parlance of Keeping Place, “housekeeping” corresponds to a term found in the Hebrew Scriptures:  ‘avodah.  It shows up in the contexts of “work, service, labor, duties, ceremony, [and] ministry . . . It is also the word that signifies the priestly work of the tabernacle and temple.  ‘Avodah reminds us that worship — and its attendant calls to vocation — can share the banality and ordinariness of everyday work.” (116)

Labors of Love

It is, therefore, possible to draw important conclusions about the nature of worship and the importance that hands-on housekeeping plays in the ebb and flow of a well-balanced Christian life:

1.  Just as Jesus is portrayed as the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, the believer is called to a life of “two -dimensional” servanthood, directed toward God and offered to our neighbors.

2.  The “yawning attention” (131) paid to the details of tabernacle construction in Exodus also points toward care and provision for worship — a house for God.  In referring to my “home church” for the past twenty years,  I have spoken truer than I realized.  The welcome and belonging that my family has appreciated there has strengthened us, and, furthermore, we do our fellow parents a huge favor when we reinforce the same messages that they are speaking to their young charges at home.  In fact, research is revealing that “the most important predictor of whether children from Christian families keep their faith into adulthood is the number of multigenerational connections they enjoy at church.”  This statistic should be on a billboard at planning meetings for youth ministries.

3.  Housekeeping is an act of generosity.  In the early church, one sure sign of a conversion to Christianity was a commitment to generosity and mission.  When Jesus put the spotlight on acts of service performed by the Good Samaritan, He underscored the truth that “a neighbor is the one who takes up the housekeeping.” (142)

4.  With marriage rates in the U.S. falling (In 2015, only 50.5% of adults were married), it’s time to look at the reasons why people marry and to equip prospective brides and grooms with tools for doing the routine work of marriage — frequent application of the words “I’m sorry” alongside the daily willingness to “keep choosing love’s bearing, love’s believing, love’s hoping, and love’s enduring all things.” (155)

5.  Keeping Place is a matter of being willing to welcome others into “our place.”  Gathered around the welcome of a prepared meal, no matter how simple, “the table is a burning bush.  Around the feast we are enflamed with the presence of God.” (163)  And is it not God’s way to spread a feast before His people?  We meet around a table and “the feast preaches” the gospel to our hungry and thirsty heart.

6.  The idea of Sabbath precedes the Ten Commandments in Scripture, and is connected from the outset with housekeeping: the provision of manna in Exodus 16 is scheduled to make room for Sabbath rest.  As the Author and Finisher of Home whose Son bore our homelessness, God has instituted practices of housekeeping that draw His children into the hands-on love.  Mercy, justice, and sandwich-making hold equal real estate in the values system of heaven, for the God who works and has worked on our behalf invites us to join Him in the Great Work:

“Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us,
yes, establish the work of our hands.”  (Psalm 90:16,17)

Let the work of housekeeping continue, and may we find fulfillment in the smallest task performed for the greatest worship of God.


This book was provided by InterVarsity Press in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Last week I spent time interacting with Part I of Keeping Place (click here to catch up) in which Jen laid a foundation with the history of home and the place home plays in Scripture and in our understanding of the gospel. I’ve so enjoyed Jen’s robust theology and elegant prose that it’s been a delight to linger over her words for two weeks.

If you are interested in hearing Jen’s voice and more of her story, check out this Q+A with Ashley Hales or this twenty-minute interview.

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.

A Theology of Home

Rootedness was always the thing that both repelled and intrigued me.  I left my parents’ home at the age of seventeen and pictured a life unleashed — no commitments.  I copied all my record albums onto small and portable cassette tapes (dinosaur alert!) and prepared for the unencumbered life.  With that resolve in my rear view mirror, no one is more surprised than I am to have lived (happily) at the same address for 23 years, making a home and being re-made by the challenges and joys of home.

In Keeping Place, Jen Pollock Michel examines her own history of home and the continual need to cherish change which her life circumstances have fostered.  She ponders the beauty of place, emphasizing that Scripture is “a home story” and that the truth of the gospel is best understood in terms of our yearning to belong, our struggle with homesickness, and the ache of all our longings.

History and literature attest to humanity’s desire for rootedness, and even the biblical narrative opens in a garden paradise and ends with the permanence, rest, and refuge of The New Jerusalem.  The journey from Genesis to Revelation is a story of wandering, of nostalgia for a settled place . . . until God enters history at a particular time in a particular place so that He could “seek and save the lost.”

“According to Scripture, home is shared human work.”

Church leaders, then, become the managers of God’s household.  Both male and female parents are given a role in the hard work of child rearing.  Routine chores become an offering and a valued means to the greater end of fostering a sense of security and belonging.

God’s work in creation and in redemption is clearly housekeeping.  He finds lost things, He prepares tables of abundance and blessing in hard places, He kills the fatted calf and invites the neighborhood to a party.  Therefore, engineering the comforts of home, taking on the mess in the bottom of the refrigerator, performing the domestic routines that preserve order and hold chaos at bay create a feeling of home wherever they are performed with love, and they pre-figure God in His role as Homemaker.

Homemaking is a work of welcoming and provision.

Just as the incarnation brought dignity to the mortal body and to the notion of occupying a particular time and space, God’s compassionate homemaking sets the standard for the work of His women and men who long to create safe and welcoming spaces for His glory.

“Stability” is a term that occurs early and often in Keeping Place.  Presenting as a spiritual discipline and as an opposite to rootlessness, it signifies a commitment to make a difference in a specific place and time.  The paradox of the Christian life is this need for full investment, wherever we are, whatever our calling — in stark contrast to the need to also hold it all loosely.

“There is no controlling what we keep or for how long, and an earthly home is no measure of stability and safety, not really — not when lurking in the background of every day is the possibility that the phone will ring and life will lurch toward death.”

To be human is to long for home.
To be mortal is to be plagued by the impermanence of all that we hold dear.

The truth of resurrection, expressed in the language of Home,  is that all the perished things will one day be restored, our need for belonging will be fulfilled at long last, and, in the meantime, the Word of God speaks truth into all of our longings and our losses, into all of our dreams of Home.


This book was provided by InterVarsity Press in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jen goes on to explore in more depth the shared labor of housekeeping and the truth that God’s welcome inspires our work.  Next Tuesday, I will be reviewing Part II of Keeping Place — The Work of Home.  I’ve so enjoyed Jen’s robust theology and elegant prose that I’m going to linger in this place for another week.

If you are interested in hearing Jen’s voice and more of her story, check out this Q+A with Ashley Hales or this twenty-minute interview.

Photo credit:  Gina Butz

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.