Karl Barth and Good Friday

Christ of St. John of the Cross by Salvador Dali

“Man is faithless, but God is faithful. The death of Jesus Christ is not just God’s accusation against man, not just His condemnation of man. It is also — in fact it is first and foremost — the victory and establishment of the complete dominion of His grace.  God is righteous; He is not mocked. What man sows he must also reap. But God has taken it upon Himself to reap this fatal harvest. In man’s own place and on man’s behalf, God has sown new seed. God has placed Himself under the accusation and condemnation which stand over godless Adam and the fratricidal Cain. And God Himself, in their place and ours, became for us the true man from whose way we have strayed. God has thereby spoken. His word of forgiveness, His word of the new commandment, of the resurrection of the flesh and an eternal life. Here is the place where it becomes unmistakable that God’s grace is pure, free, unmerited grace. Yet even more important, here is the foundation and revelation of the fact that God’s grace endures, triumphs, rules, and is effective.” ~ Karl Barth, “The Christian Proclamation Here and Now” in God Here and Now, 9-10.

Announcement

I received word that I got into my top two choices for PhD programs. After much prayer and discussion I have accepted the offer of admission to the conjoint PhD program in Theological Studies at Wycliffe College and the University of Toronto. In my admissions research proposal, I expressed my desire to continue my research on Karl Barth, specifically looking at his lectures on the Gospel of John (In my MA thesis I looked at Barth’s exegesis of John 1:14 and compared his original exegesis in these early lectures to three places in the Church Dogmatics where he once again exegetes this foundational verse that gives shape to his entire Christological method). As a result of that proposal, my PhD supervisor will be Dr. Joseph Mangina. I am excited and thankful for this opportunity. It’s going to be an interesting season of life as I embark on this new adventure.

Prayers would be appreciated as plans and preparations begin. As well, pray that I may get adequate funding. I received a scholarship that will cover my tuition but I still need to fund my living expenses (dorm, meal plan, flights back to Saskatchewan, etc.)

Wycliffe College Here I come!


A Prayer for Sunday

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In Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community, February 1st is the day to remember Brigid of Kildare (450-523). Brigid was known for caring for the poor and hungry in her community. She is also known for founding a community of religious women at Kildare.

Brigid’s Feast:

I should like a great lake of finest ale
for the King of kings.
I should like a table of the choicest food
for the family of heaven.
Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith
and the food be forgiving love.

I should welcome the poor to my feast,
for they are God’s children.
I should welcome the sick to my feast,
for they are God’s joy.
Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place,
and the sick dance with the angels.

God bless the poor,
God bless the sick,
and bless our human race.
God bless our food,
God bless our drink;
all homes, O God, embrace.

The Experience of the Holy Spirit, Water Baptism and the Cornerstone of Our Faith

The Baptism of Jesus Christ, by Piero della Fr...

The Baptism of Jesus Christ, by Piero della Francesca, 1449 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once upon a time, a member of an evangelical church approached the pastoral staff about the possibility of getting baptized. This person had been baptized three times previously: as an infant, as a teenager, and as a young adult in her mid-twenties. Here she was, now in her forties, asking to be baptized yet again. Her rationale for getting re-baptized was that this way the Spirit could work powerfully in her life, as she had stopped feeling the Spirit’s presence in her life. The senior pastor agreed to do it, but the associate pastor found himself struggling to support this decision. He had already wrestled with the concept of re-baptism for those who were baptized as children and now as adults wanted to proclaim what the Holy Spirit had done in their life, and he was reluctantly okay with re-baptism in those circumstances (mostly because there was no tradition of confirmation in this particular church). But this was different. This multiple re-baptism was a way to manipulate the spiritual high that the member was so desperately seeking from the Holy Spirit, and the associate pastor knew, based on this person’s level of faith, that this fourth baptism would not be the last.

 

In The Source of Life, Jürgen Moltmann  writes about the experience a Christian has of being dead to sin and reborn through Christ’s resurrection. Moltmann argues that part of the problem of re-baptism (in this case, once as an infant and later as an adult) is that it opens the possibility of multiple baptisms, “to match corresponding experiences of the Spirit,”1 which is just what this member of the church was seeking in her fourth baptism.

Moltmann suggests that this approach to the Spirit is a form of re-incarnation, being born again, over and over. The New Testament, Moltmann argues, presents only one new birth that “is unique and eternal and never returns again.”2 It is “once-for-all” and “final.”3 This new life is not simply about restoration or renewal. It is completely new.4 And while there may be times of restoration and renewal through the life of a Christian, these are times of growth rather than times of re-birth. There was only one resurrection of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and through baptism, we enter into this one resurrection; this one new life.

Moltmann concludes, “it is important to make it clear to ourselves that it is not experiences that create faith, but faith that creates experiences. The firm lodestone of faith is not provided by the inner experiences of the Spirit…but by community with Christ, in the living and dying and rising again with him.6 Looking at the story above, Moltmann’s conclusion about the experience of the Spirit could be a useful way to facilitate a theological conversation between the pastoral staff and the church member about how Christians can experience the Holy Spirit in their lives and what practices can be used to facilitate appropriate responses of thanksgiving, repentance and transformation in a corporate worship setting.

1

 Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 27.

2 Ibid., 28.

3 Ibid., 28.

4 Ibid., 30.

5 Ibid., 31.

6

 Ibid., 32.

 

Post-Thesis Permissions

I don’t want to call these “commandments” but sometimes we need “permissions” so that we are not weighed down by guilt or stress or imaginary expectations that we or others have set for grad students. What follows is a little bit of post-thesis/dissertation therapy.

 

  • It’s okay to not pick up an academic book, article, or lecture for a season post-thesis.
  • It’s okay if you don’t even want to read “fluffy” fun stuff for awhile.
  • It’s okay to want to sleep more than usual, especially if you pulled multiple all-nighters over the course of your project.
  • It’s okay to want to get away and do something completely “other.” (new hobby, new sport, new place to vacation, even a new job).
  • It’s okay to hide from the world, but just don’t hide forever.
  • It’s okay to say “no” to writing projects, further study or the next grad school app.
  • It’s okay to cry and vent and cry some more.
  • It’s okay to put on your “happy face” mask and pretend like you’re okay, because sometimes in wearing the mask it actually begins to shape your face underneath.
  • It’s okay to binge watch the entire run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse as therapy.
  • It’s okay to find someone to talk to about how you’re feeling.
  • And most importantly it is absolutely okay, and vitally necessary that you tell the voice of guilt to go shove it.

#TBT Immersed By Scripture

The following is adapted from a post I wrote in 2012.

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It’s been an interesting transition from studying the Reformation to backing up fourteen hundred years and studying the Church Fathers. One thing that is common to both eras is how the writers from both eras used Scripture. In their writings, Scripture is quoted and when it’s not quoted it’s alluded to, and when it’s not alluded to it is fully exposited. It doesn’t matter if it is Marie Dentiere, Argula von Grumbach, St. Clement, Barnabas or Justin Martyr. These writers are immersed by Scripture.

If I wrote a paper the way they wrote their treatises, one of two things would happen:
1. The professor would inevitably charge me with proof-texting
2. The professor would inevitably dock me points for not citing enough “academic” sources

What if bloggers wrote like these writers from the Reformation or Patristic period? Would we even read the posts? What would happen if we allegorically interpreted Scripture to comment on the latest “mega-pastor says something controversial” video clip? Honestly, I don’t know that I would continue reading blog posts that were made up of nothing but a series of quotations, allusions and expositions of Scripture the way that some of the writings of Church Fathers are.

How bad is that?

I admire how Scripture immersed these writers. It informed everything they wrote, said, did, and prayed. And even though I am a seminary student, I can’t really say that Scripture so fully immerses me. Why is that? Is it symptomatic of our 21st century Christian culture? Is it because I’m lazy?

Wouldn’t it be interesting, if instead of arguing over whether the Bible is inerrant, inspired, infallible etc. our concern was whether and to what degree the Bible immerses us?

In our efforts to assign the Bible authority, by developing statements regarding inerrancy and infallibility, we still seem to keep the Scripture at arm’s length. We can talk about the importance of Scripture, but the discussion is almost abstract. So what if the Bible is inerrant? If it doesn’t transform us what does it matter that the Bible is “fully without error?”

The liturgy that is used at the church I attend is an example of this immersion. As it tells the grand narrative of God’s redemptive work, it continually quotes, paraphrases, or alludes to Scripture. And yet, I have had a conversation with a couple of different people who have been in this tradition all their lives, and yet do not recognize the references to Scripture. They are just words on a page, and as far as they know the editors of the liturgy drew them from thin air. So this then raises another question: if people don’t even realize that Scripture is being quoted, does it matter?

With immersion comes transformation. And with transformation comes passion, a new perspective and a new posture. And this is what the Holy Spirit does as he illumines the Scriptures to point us to the Risen and Exalted Jesus. And of course, as you will notice, I didn’t quote, allude to, or exposit a single verse of Scripture in this post. Oops.

O Lord, may Your Word immerse me.

Books on Spiritual Formation — A Few Recommendations

I am teaching THEO 112 Introduction to Spiritual Theology this semester in the college. And one of my goals is to give my students tools to help them to grow and flourish in Christ over the next four years at Briercrest. What follows is a few choice books from my ever-growing list of books that I would recommend if someone asked “Where do I start reading?” These books have been chosen based on their accessibility/readability.

 

bonhoeffer life together  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together/Prayerbook of the Bible. I am using Bonhoeffer’s book as the textbook for the course, and the students are doing two assignments based on it. First, they are reflecting on and constructing a theology of the Christian life in response to Life Together. Second, they are going to pray the Psalms and respond to Bonhoeffer’s thesis that the Psalms are the prayers of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

grenz created for community   Stanley Grenz, Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living. This book is a little dated (1996), but it is a book that is accessible while still being academic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

a-long-obedience  Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. You can’t talk about spiritual formation without referencing Peterson. This book is written to a lay audience. I would also highly recommend Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. (I contemplated adding Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places to this list, but it better fit in a seminary-level course on spiritual formation rather than in a college-level course/a small group study in a church).

 

 

 

 

forgotten songs  C. Richard Wells & Ray Van Neste, eds. Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship. This is a good complement to Bonhoeffer’s Prayerbook of the Bible. I would especially recommend this book for pastors/churches that do not currently incorporate the reading/singing of Psalms in their regular worship services. The introductory chapter opens with a fantastic quote from Willem VanGemeren on the Church’s neglect: “Though no Old Testament book has been more important in the history of the church than the book of Psalms, we are in danger of losing it, partly because of lack of use of the psalms themselves and partly because of lack of use of the skills required for understanding them.”

The Practice of Rest

The following is adapted from a paper I gave at a colloquium last spring entitled: Towards a Theology of Rest: Using the Language of Sacrament and Ordinance to Understand the Christian Practice of Rest. See also my earlier post: Enforcing Rest?

 

sabbath british

We live in a culture of busyness. Sometimes this busyness is constructed by the program-oriented ministries of the church, with families having some sort of church activity and obligation (kid’s club, Bible study, worship practice, not to mention Sunday worship) three or more days a week. Sometimes this busyness is constructed by life outside of church, and pastors have to recognize that very often families are too busy with work, extra-curricular activities and family obligations to participate in all (or even just one) of the activities in the life of the church. Congregations, eager to keep people plugged into the life of the church, have adjusted to the reality that Sunday morning services are competing with Sunday morning soccer practices in the summer and Sunday morning hockey games in the winter, and have begun to offer mid-week church services for those who are too busy on the weekend to spend an hour or two in corporate worship.

How does rest fit into this life of busyness? More specifically, why do we practice rest? Often, the primary answer is the pragmatic answer: because it is good for us. Rest is often framed within an individualistic context in the Christian literature; though couched in Scripture proof-texts, the thesis is still the same: practising rest is good for me, therefore I will rest. And of course, there are plenty of resources for Christians on how to practice rest, with suggestions and strategies for even the busiest of people.

But what if, in trying to address the necessity of practicing rest, and in exploring the reason why we rest, the theological answer is not framed around us and how it benefits us, but around God and how rest is his work, into which he invites us to participate?

I want to suggest that rest is more than a commandment or ordinance to follow; rest is sacramental. The activity of rest becomes an outward sign of inward grace that points us not only to our present rest that we find in Christ, but also forward to the future rest that is promised in the eschaton. It is the tension between the present reality of rest and the eschatological one, between the “now and not yet,” that Christians testify to, participate in, and give thanks for, in their regular practice of rest. Rest is a practice that pulls back the curtain of the heavens and reveals the reality of how and why God is at work in the world.

“Sacraments are material things that point beyond themselves to their creator. They are windows into divine reality.”[1] All of creation can be sacramental, as the material world points to and gives hints to the mystery that is behind it. To think sacramentally is to understand that creation, created things, and physical practices (like the Lord’s Supper or Baptism), point to something larger than themselves. To think sacramentally is to acknowledge that God’s working in creation is mysterious and that humanity “cannot fathom how [sacraments] work or trace the lines form physical element to spiritual power and action.”[2]

The physical practice of rest, in which Christians participate, points to the mystery behind the practical: that God created rest, not as negation of work, but rather as the fulfillment of work. Just as God resting on the seventh day of creation was a sign that God was satisfied with His creation,[3] so too the Christian practice of rest is a sign that we acknowledge that Christ’s work was and is sufficient. God’s salvific work of sending Jesus is more than sufficient, it is also good, and there is nothing that we, as humans, can do, through working or striving, to improve it.

The practice of rest, the visible action of spending time in ceasing to work, points to the promises found in Scripture. In God’s instituting Sabbath at the creation of the nation of Israel, the practice of rest became a visible sign to remind the people that God had indeed delivered them from bondage in Egypt.[4] Entering the Promised Land became a powerful promise and image of rest that God would bestow on Israel, historically, soteriologically and eschatologically.[5] This rest was not an abstract, impersonal reality, instead, it is His rest,[6] given by and owned entirely by God Himself.

It is also important to note that just as sacraments not only have a vertical dimension, but also horizontal dimension,[8] so to the practice of rest is not solely about reconnecting the believer with God, but also about the reconnection of the believer with other humans. The day of rest has built into it a chance not only for Christians to gather in worship, but also for families to spend time together in a way that does not happen during the busyness of the rest of the week. In the Old Testament, Sabbath days, Sabbath years (e.g., the Year of Jubilee) and Sabbath feasts were communal practices, drawing the nation of Israel together to celebrate the goodness of God, and to practice hospitality, to acknowledge and allow the land to lay fallow, and for debts (and indentured persons) to be forgiven (Leviticus 25).

[1] Leonard Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Recovering the Sacraments for Evangelical Worship (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 17.

[2] Vander Zee, 54.

[3] Pipa, 121.

[4] Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

[5] Kaiser, 138.

[6] Psalm 95:11; Hebrews 4:3.

[7] Hebrews 4:11.

[8] White notes that sacraments are inherently communal in nature, and “overcome corrosive individualism,” James White, The Sacraments in Protestant Practice and Faith (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 28.

 

The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Formation

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Jesus Christ was a man of the Spirit.” ~Clark Pinnock

We see the Spirit at work in Jesus’ life right from the beginning, “While Mary was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18).

We see the Spirit descend on Jesus at his baptism, marking the beginning of his earthly ministry (Matt 3:16). Immediately, after His baptism, Jesus is driven by the Spirit to the wilderness where he will face temptations from the Devil. Luke records that Jesus returned from the desert in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14), and upon going into the Temple, Jesus reads the words of the prophet Isaiah “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” and Jesus’ ministry includes mighty works through the power of the Spirit (e.g., Matthew 12:28).

While there is no direct reference to the Spirit at the Transfiguration, Eastern Orthodox theology suggests that the cloud that enveloped Jesus and his disciples on the mountain was the Spirit.

The Gospels make no mention of the Spirit at the crucifixion of Jesus, but the author of Hebrews says “by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins” (Hebrews 9:14).

Likewise, Paul sees the Spirit at work in Christ’s resurrection (Romans 1:4; 8:11), and the ascension of Christ is followed ten days later by a massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

If the goal of spiritual formation is to shape us in the image of Christ, then it would follow that we should look to Jesus for an example of a Spirit-filled life. And yet, as I map out a theology of spiritual formation, I am struck by the tendency to downplay the role of the Spirit in the Christian disciplines, even though Jesus’ life and work was and is so intricately connected with the work of the Holy Spirit.

Thus it is vital that any theology of the Christian life takes into account the work and power of the Holy Spirit in the process of spiritual formation.

That being said, there is still a distinction to be made: Jesus is the Messiah and we are not. Therefore, while Jesus’ life is paradigmatic for us, it is also something completely other. The Holy Spirit, working in our lives, helps us to become Christ-like but in no way will the empowering of the Spirit make us Messiah.

The Holy Spirit works in and through our spiritual disciplines, illuminating them. And so, even when it feels like our practices of prayer, reading Scripture, fasting, etc… are a chore, we should remember that the Holy Spirit is at work in and through those practices, sanctifying us so that we may be united with Christ.

JI Packer says it best: “The way to benefit from the Spirit’s ministry of illumination is by serious Bible study, serious prayer, and serious response in obedience to the truths that we have been shown already.”

The Practice of Prayer Beads

Today, for Throwback Thursday (#TBT), and continuing this week’s theme of spiritual practices, I’m posting a reflection I wrote in the summer of 2013 on the gift of a set prayer beads given to me while I was in the hospital.  Enjoy!

 

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The Lost Week.

The yellow sickly-sweet smell of jaundice, iodine and antiseptic.

The flurry of nurses, doctors, and diagnostic tests.

The haze of pain meds, sedatives and general anesthetic.

An ambulance ride from the local hospital to the big city hospital for a specialized procedure, and then back to the local hospital for surgery.

It wasn’t the plan for the week, but one trip to the emergency room changed everything.

The four walls of the hospital room were giant white walls that blocked out the world. Cut off from family. Cut off from life.

The dark shadows of fear and sickness and despair crept from the corners and overwhelmed the room.

God was an abstraction, blocked out by those impenetrable hospital walls.

There was no praying. 

There was no worship.

There was no seeing or feeling anything beyond those four white walls.

I was alone. And my faith was failing me.

And then, that mild Saturday evening, day three of my seven day sentence, the pastor arrived. She was quiet and sweet and kind-hearted, just as she was every Sunday at church. She came and she listened. She chatted. She told stories. The dark shadows began to recede back into the corners, held at bay, even just for a little while.

Can I pray with you? She said. And then she pulled out a present: a string of Anglican prayer beads.

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Prayer beads to give rhythm and structure to my prayer instead of flailing words lost and uncertain.

Prayer beads to help me pray the prayers not of my own creation, but the prayers of generations of faithful Christians. I could be carried on the strength of their prayers instead of trying to rely on the weakness of my own.

My God, my God why have you forsaken me. Christ’s prayer would become my prayer.

Prayer beads that, even if I couldn’t say any words, I could physically cling to the cross at the end of the circle of beads. I could hang on to the cross of Christ that for 18 years had been transforming my life.

And so, starting at the cross at the bottom of the circle of beads, I prayed.

 

O Lord make speed to save me. O Lord make haste to help me. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.

 

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden…

 

Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

 

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…

 

Around and around the circle I went for hours, the rhythm pushing back the shadows until dawn broke and the summer sunshine rose to wash over the white walls.

And then came surgery day. After being wheeled back into my room, in pain and groggy, I reached for those brown beads, and held onto them tightly as the sedatives worked on my weary body, calling me to sleep.

And that little circle of beads allowed my soul to rest in the knowledge that those four white walls did not have the power to hold out the Almighty One. There, in the very midst of pain and sickness and suffering, was the One who Suffered. There, in the midst of the doctors’ training, and the nurses’ gentle hands, was the Healer. There, in quiet and stillness of the white walls, was the assurance of Resurrection and Glory.

And that lost week that wasn’t planned turned out to not be such a loss after all.