So this blog, minus my two rants the evening I discovered the Syracuse didn’t get into the NCAA Tournament, has basically been unused. Therefore, I feel compelled to write an update.
First, some of my posting has been focused on www.presbymergent.org. This is a new site that I am part of the editorial team for. So if you want to see a little of what I’ve been bantering about you can go check that out
Second, things at church have started to ease up and I feel like I’m back in control of my life again. Being the only pastor at a church with attendance of 400 people per week is not an easy task and one that I am extremely glad is over. It’s given me a chance to re-focus my efforts on turningpoint and the youth ministry, and that’s been nice.
Third, baby is progressing along well. We should find out the gender tomorrow and we’re over halfway through the pregnancy (well, Renee is anyway) and that’s very exciting. Right now, the general non-scientific consensus is that we’re having a girl – but again, that’s a completely non-scientific consensus. We’ll know tomorrow (hopefully) and let the world know on wallyandnay.net
Fourth, it’s my favorite time of year – NCAA Tournament time and the end of the NHL Regular Season. While I did pathetically poor early on, I did manage to pick 3 our of the 4 Final Four Teams (Georgetown, Florida and Ohio State). My Sabres are making a nice run toward the playoffs, with a few less than stellar games thrown in. We’ve always done well when playing from the bottom of the pile as a lower seed, now we’ll find out how we do playing from the top seed.
Finally, my reading of Karl Barth has continued. II.1 is as I expected, quite dense, but also quite enjoyable. It’s definitely helping to clear out some cobwebs.
Watch for the baby announcement tomorrow!
As noted earlier I’ve once again taken to reading Karl Barth, who I discovered my first year of seminary and has shaped me in a whole matter of ways. I’ve read the entirety of 4.1, 4.2, and 3.4 and a good chunk of 1.1. But I’ve wanted to read Barth’s Doctrine of God (2.1 and 2.2) for a while and decided that now was a good time to tackle it.
Under the heading of The Fulfilment of the Knowledge of God Barth first addresses “Man before God”. Barth first addresses is the issue of whether or not God is even knowable, and answers that question that by merely asking that question one is assuming the existence of God. Rather, the only two questions worth asking are (1) How far is God known? (2) How far is God knowable? Barth also limits all knowledge of God to that grounded within faith. For Barth, there is no knowledge about God that is not knowledge through faith. Barth gives this definition of faith:
“Faith is the total positive relationship of man to the God who gives Himself to be known in His Word. It is man’s act of turning to God, of opening up his life to Him and of surrounding to Him.” Barth also makes this statement, “But our first task is not to understand the knowledge of God as faith, but the knowledge of God as faith”
Having addressed the nature of the knowledge of God as faith, he turns his attention to the depth and nature of how this knowledge is revealed to us. Again in his own words:
God is objectively immediate to Himself, but to us He is objectively mediate. That is to say, He is objective directly but indirectly, not in the naked sense but clothed under the sign and veil of other objects different from Himself. His secondary objectivity is fully true, for it as its correspondence and basis in His primary objectivity. God does not have to be untrue to Himself and deceive us about His real nature in order to become objective to us
What Barth seems to articulate is something similar in nature to the position of “critical realism” that I have heard articulated in a variety of forms. It is not that our knowledge of God is complete as we do not know God unmediated. But rather God uses other objects and using those objects as “sign and veil” God reveals himself. Another word might be that God uses “icons” to reveal Himself to us. But Barth insists that despite this veiled revelation the secondary objectivity is none the less maintained. In other words, our knowledge of God, while mediated is none the less ontologically grounded.
Barth takes this belief to it’s logical conclusion in his discussion of the early church. “In their existence as apostles the secondary objectivity of the human appearing of Jesus Christ Himself is repeated. And hidden with this is the primary objectivity of God Himself, calling to faith, awakening to faith, establishing faith and renewing faith, and with faith the knowledge of God – not by these men’s own strength but by the power of the Holy Spirit communicated to them, in the freedom of grace”
If one follows Barth’s logic his belief in the “visible church” as the literal ontological incarnation (shall we say?) present throuth the power of the Spirit. It is not that the church is literally God, but God assumes the church through His Spirit in a way that the church points to and reveals the true and real knowledge of God to the world.
Talk about a daunting thought to think about when it comes to writing a sermon…
So the winter storm has rolled into Pittsburgh, and thanks to my laptop I am working from home today.
I finished the first section of Church Dogmatics II.1 and hope to post a reflection on it today. This is perhaps some of Barth’s most impressive work that I’ve read so far.
So for the past few months I’ve been away from reading Karl Barth. After taking Theology/Ethics of Karl Barth last year I ventured into some other areas but have really missed my time with the greatest theologians of the 2oth Century. So now I’ve returned to where I began… The Church Dogmatics, reading II.1.
I hope to post a little snipet with a comment each day to help keep myself accountable. We’ll see how I do!
A number of weeks ago I posted my list of “Top 20 books” and at the beginning I said I was going to leave the bible off the list because it was in a totally different category. One commentor asked what category I would put the bible in. So, here’s my attempt to answer that question:
The books on the list are all very good books – or I would not have included them. However, none of those books are “my book”. The bible is “my book” as it has become part of my story, or more aptly I’ve become a part of it’s story. I’ve had a long relationship with the bible, better at some points, not so good at others. There was the time when it was just intimidating, then the time when it began to open new worlds, then the time when it became a book of theological data, to becoming a living testimony to God’s work in the world. Lately, it’s become the later and now a story book. The bible is the story book of the Christian family – it’s not something you read once and then put away, it’s something you pull out and read often, because it tells the story of those who went before you. Like the old family stories you read them and tell them over and over again because reading them helps you understand who you are. What makes the bible more than just a story book is that our ancestors in the faith have taught us that God still speaks through these old old stories. For me the bible is something to be wrestled with, to be challenged by, and to see into new worlds with. John Calvin described the bible as the spectacles through which we see God, and I love that description. I do not “believe in the bible” nor am I a “bible believing Christian.” I put my faith in the one to whom the bible points – Jesus of Nazareth and his Father in Heaven and his Spirit poured out in the world. The bible helps me understand where as a follower of Jesus I’ve come from and where, as a follower of Jesus, I’ll be going in the future. The bible excites me, angers me, challenges me, and intruiges me all at the same time.
Even the genuius of Karl Barth cannot compare…
So Ben Myers has posted a top 20 list of the books that have most influenced him… so I thought I’d come up with my list of top 20 most influential books. I am going to exclude the bible from the top 20, not because it hasn’t influenced me but rather because it’s in a whole different category
- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics – IV/1-2 (These two books completely shattered my world during my first two years of seminary as they opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking theologically)
- Tony Jones, Postmodern Youth Ministry (The best book on Youth Ministry as it doesn’t offer a model, but rather things to think about as one does ministry)
- Andrew Purves and Charles Partee, Encountering God (I’ve only read it once but given that I took a total of 10 classes in seminary from the authors their thoughts have shaped how I think)
- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/4 (While not as influential as IV/1-2 this volume on ethics helped me understand how ethics can be intensely situational yet rooted in the command of God. It also reinforced my belief that in ministry its more important to teach people how to think, rather than what to think)
- Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology (I took the man for six courses… need I say more?)
- John Franke and Stanley Grenz, Beyond Foundationalism (I read this book during my last year of seminary and I finally felt that I had found my place in the theological spectrum. This book also helped me understand how eschatology integrated into the day to day life of the church as the “orienting principle” for the church’s mission)
- John Franke, The Character of Theology (Similar to the book above, this prequel of sorts helped me get a grasp on how to think about the theological task in a postmodern world)
- Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God
- Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom
- Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (I didn’t discover Moltmann until late in my seminary career, but two of the professors who I learned the most from in seminary were shaped by him. While often at odds with Barth, I found him challenging and enjoyed the fact that he stretched me to think of categories in different ways)
- NT Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (I’m actually in the midst of reading this one, but while I was in seminary and dating Renee long distance I used to spend hours in my car driving back and forth. NT Wright has more free audio available online than anyone else I know so I used to listen to his lectures off of my iPod. Wright helped me get inside the bible the world of the bible and to better understand Jesus’ intensely political message without simply collapsing it into either left wing socialism or right wing moralism)
- Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (I read this book at the end of my time in college and while now I probably wouldn’t get much out of it, I remember really be challenged and yet refreshed by the concept of the discipline of living in grace)
- Doug Fields, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry (I’ve read this book twice – first while I was just out of college and again while I was in seminary. While Doug and I aren’t on the same page on everything, it’s given me a helpful way to think about ministry
- Athanasius, Against the Arians (I haven’t read the whole thing, but read significant parts for classes and papers. Really shaped my understand of the atonement as Christ’s whole life, not just his death)
- Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be (I only read a short except from this book, but it’s a phrase that I’ve found so apt at describing the world that it’s become a hallmark in nearly every sermon I preach or lesson I teach)
- T.F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God (I feel bad putting Torrance down this low on the list because he should be higher, but alas. This book was my first serious attempt at working through the Doctrine of the Trinity)
- John Calvin, Institues of the Christian Religion (Ditto for Calvin, he shouldn’t be down this low. Once I left seminary I realized how much his understanding of the church and it’s sacraments had shaped my own)
- David Bosch, Transforming Mission (Read this book for Missiology and am still being challenged by it)
- Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (This book should be required for every person planning to do ministry in at least the United States)
- Brian McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy (McLaren, like Wright, has shaped me more through his lectures that I’ve listened to than his writing, but I read this book in the midst of seminary and came to a greater understanding of how he thought
- Stanley Grez, A Primer on Postmodernism
- Alister McGrath, Scientific Theology
- Dan Kimball, Emerging Worship
- The Book of Confessions of the PC(USA) – Particularly The Barmen Declaration and The Confession of 1967
So there you have it. The numbering isn’t really right – Bosch and Newbigin would definitely be higher on the list. But, what this list proves is that I’m (1) A total dork (2) Shaped heavily by the Post-Conservative/Neo-Orthodox Reformed tradition
When I set out on this short adventure of reading and blogging about a book I said that my comments and review would not be “ojbective” in any sense of the word because I am a fan of Barth’s theology and count John Franke as one of my friends… so take my comments with a grain of salt.
Overall, I really enjoyed Barth for Armchair Theologians. Its length makes it very digestible and it’s style, a cross between biographical story and analysis creates a nice balance to read. Particularly helpful is that this can be desribes as “theological-historical” biography as at every point John seeks to show how the historical content in which Barth was living and writing impacted what he wrote. My ability to tell whether something is accessible to the average chuch goer is completely shot, but my guess is that most people with an interest in theology would be able to handle it. I found the last part of Chapter 7, where John discusses the neo-orthodox/postmodern interpretations of Barth to be a little higher grade of discussion, but nothing completely over the top.
What the book helped me to was understand myself better actually. While my thinking has been shaped by Barth directly (via his books) my thinking has also been shaped by Barth indirectly through the people he has influenced such as professors that I’ve had and authors that I’ve read. At numerous points in the book I was reading and then went, “Ah ha! That’s where that came from!”
What did suprise me a bit was that there was no mention of Barth’s highly controversial assisant, Charlotte Von Kirschbaum. It seems that shortly after the discussion of Barth begins someone brings up the strange mysterious relationship between Barth and Von Kirschbaum and its something that wasn’t even mentioned in this book.
My final assessment is that Barth for Armchair Theologians is well worth reading, especially if one is interested in getting a grasp on his thought prior to diving into the Church Dogmatics which will literally take a person years to read….