#TBT Immersed By Scripture

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


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.

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


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!



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.


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.

The “Bath Water of Christ”

Our topic this morning in class was Union with Christ and we spent 75 minutes talking about how baptism is the thick practice that embodies, represents and points us towards the reality that we are united with Christ through the Spirit.

In response to the theological discussion, I opened up the floor and gave space for students to give testimony of their baptisms: when they were baptized, how they were baptized, why they were baptized, and what the significance of their baptism was/is now looking back on it.

We ended the class with a quote from Martin Luther’s fantastic sermon on the Baptism of Jesus. (Oh how I wish we could have read the whole thing!):


Thus, we should cherish baptism, viewing the baptized as newly made or newly created saints. To be sure, baptism is water. But today some are saying it is “plain water.”The devil take them! My dog Tölpel,a wild boar, and a cow know that. But what else is here? Without doubt, in baptism we get God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and all the angels! So, it is no longer “plain water,” but water in which the Son of God bathes, over which the Holy Spirit hovers, over which God the Father preaches….

So we should learn to understand baptism and cherish it, because it contains the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—or even just the name of Christ, as reported in Acts. It is sufficient to be baptized in the name of Christ, because the Father and the Holy Spirit are there [where he is]. So don’t separate the water from the word, but say, “The water is ordained by God to make us pure for Christ’s sake, for the sake of the Father and the Holy Spirit. They are there in the water to purify us from sin and death.” Whoever is in sin, stick them in the baptism[al water], and their sin will be extinguished. Whoever is in death, stick them in the baptism[al water], and death will be swallowed up.

For baptism has divine power, the power to break sin and death. That’s why we are baptized. If later we fall into error or sin, we have not thereby demolished our baptism; we return to it, and say, “God has baptized me, plunged me into the baptism[al water] of his Son, of the Father and the Holy Spirit. There I return, and I trust that my baptism will take away my sin—not for my sake, but for the sake of the man Christ, who instituted it.”


Martin Luther, ““This is My Son, the Beloved”: Sermon on the Baptism of Jesus,” Word & World XVI (1996): 9-10.

Enforcing Rest?

sabbath britishThis Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a dire preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs before-hand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (Westminster Confession of Faith 21.8)



Should “rest” be mandatory? The Ten Commandments include an exhortation to keep the 7th day holy, not only through an act of worship, but also through the act of ceasing (Exodus 20:8-11). Throughout history there have been repeated examples of laws and rules being created to ensure that the day of rest is observed. For example:

  • Pharisees – They were so focused on keeping God’s Law that they had created layers upon layers of rules of what exactly could and could not be done on the Sabbath, rules that were not originally part of God’s institution of Sabbath in the OT.
  • Synod of Elvira (Spain -306) – specific prohibitions about the day of rest that were grouped in 5 categories: no working the land, no judicial acts or public assembly, travel restrictions, no sales of goods, no hunting.
  • Council of Laodicea (363) – outlined expectations of Christians regarding the observance of the Sabbath. Even though Christians were to observe the Lord’s Day, it was not necessary for them to rest on the Lord’s Day. Instead, the council offered instructions focusing on which day (Saturday or Sunday) should be set aside for worship but rest was “only for those who are able to do so.”
  • Council of Macon (585) – all local businesses (not just Christian businesses) must be closed on the Lord’s Day to observe rest.
  • Ireland (9th century) – no writing, haircuts, bathing, baking or housecleaning on Sundays.
  • Reformation – For a brief time in England, Protestant churches specifically allowed and encouraged their congregations to work, so as to rebel against the edict by the Roman Catholic Church that outlawed work on Sunday.
  • 20th Century– Even Canada had rules in place banning stores from being open on Sunday in observance of the Lord’s Day, whether they were Christian or not. (Ontario abolished the Sunday shopping ban in 1992)

And while some (many?) of the rules noted above seem legalistic and even downright absurd, I wonder if the 21st century church, in its attempt to be relevant to a 24 hour/7 day a week culture, could learn from this. Not in a “let’s tell society that they must rest” kind of way, but in a “how can we as Christians practice rest in such a way that is a witness and light to a culture that is “on” all the time?” kind of way.

Of course, it would be helpful to define “rest” which I will do in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

Towards a Theology of Christian Practice

I’ve been collecting and examining “faddish” spiritual practices that have dotted the landscape of evangelicalism in the last 20 years (Prayer of Jabez anyone?). Somehow we’ve turned spiritual practices into fads. We market them to death and people jump on the bandwagon, but only until the next new and improved practice-system arrives:

This prayer program will change your life (until you get bored of it or until we tell you that we’ve got a new and improved one that is the must-have of the year)!

This fasting/diet plan will help you lose weight and gain a connection with God (and here is Christian celebrity 2015 to tell you why you can’t live without it)!

This all-new Bible reading plan is quick, easy and convenient (because heaven forbid the reading of Scripture take time, and make our lives slightly inconvenient)!

The criteria by which we have evaluated and attempted new systems has been primarily pragmatic. Sure we quote Scripture to back up why we do it, but at the heart of the motivation is pragmatism.

A better orientation, one that will help pilgrims connect to historic practices in the Church as well as stave off the consumerist impulse that screams “ooo! shiny new toy!” while having the freedom to find creative expressions, is theological. It anchors both the practice and our emotions in Christ’s command to the Church that we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

A theological orientation starts from God’s work. What has God done, how has He worked out our salvation, and in light of that, how might we respond? A theological orientation asks the “why” before it asks the “how.”

The theological orientation still allows us to participate and experience a variety of practices, because theology understands the tension between the past and the future, between the now and the not yet. The theological orientation to practices is primarily christological, but it is also ecclesiological. Our 21st century Church does not exist in isolation. Even when we do community well in the present day, our community is not merely limited to the present. We are united in Christ to a church that includes 2,000 years of saints, apostles, martyrs and servants. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel, or try to come up with something ad hoc. We can (and should) listen to the wisdom of our elders, those pilgrims who have journeyed the narrow path and who have marked the path so that we might know the pitfalls and dangers we will be facing.

And so, under the watchful and illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit, we have a freedom to to learn from both the liturgical and the low church branches of our faith. We can dip our toes, or dunk our heads, into various practices of prayer (be it prayerbooks, prayer beads, or tongues), into various practices of song (be it hymns, chants or choruses, in living or dead languages), or into various practices of seasons and rhythms (be it the seasons of the Church Year, and/or times of feasting and fasting).

Karl Barth Conference 2014 — Final Reflections


I have finally arrived home after getting stuck in Chicago and Denver due to storms and canceled flights.

George Hunsinger
George Hunsinger

The last event I was able to attend at the Barth Conference was George Hunsinger’s plenary address: “After Barth: A Christian Appreciation of Jews and Judaism.” Dr. Hunsinger proposed a “soft supersessionism” approach to the issue of Christianity, Judaism and God’s covenant with the people of God. Dr. Hunsinger introduced his paper by arguing that Christianity enters into a profound contradiction when it is anti-Judaic, that Christians cannot love Jesus Christ without loving the Jews, and that when Christianity does not love the Jews, it corrupts its love of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Hunsinger’s paper had two main sections: 1. Building a case for a soft supersessionism that is purged of any anti-Judaism, and 2. Proposing a template of God’s covenantal love. In the first part, Hunsinger suggested that Christianity cannot dispense completely with supersessionism, but a soft supersessionism emphasizes that the New Covenant does not replace the Old Covenant, but rather the New Covenant fulfills the Old Covenant. In other words, God’s covenant with Israel is fulfilled in Jesus Christ for the sake of the whole world by the grace of God.
Turning to Barth, Hunsinger noted that Barth discouraged all Christian missions to the Jews. Christian missions, according to Barth, purpose is to rescue people from idolatry. Jews already worship the One, True God, even though they reject Jesus Christ. As well, Jews are witnesses to the world, and therefore there should be no Christian coercion to covert Jews. What Jews need from Christians is not proselytization, but solidarity. In the second part of his paper, Hunsinger began to explore how the universality of God’s love and the particularity of Israel are related. The argument in the second part was a dense, nuanced and carefully crafted argument, that I cannot do justice without reading the manuscript slowly and thoughtfully.
In the Q & A afterward, Peter Ochs responded by saying that it is the theological children of Barth who have demonstrated love for the Jews.

imageOverall, the Barth conference was a fantastic experience. I am looking forward to next year’s conference: Karl Barth and the Gospels. (It’s too bad that they do not accept student papers, because I could very easily do a paper based on my MA thesis work on Barth’s early lectures on the Gospel of John). Plenary speakers for next year’s conference include: Richard Bauckham, Paul Dafydd Jones, Daniel Migliore, Jürgen Moltmann and more!

Karl Barth Conference 2014 — Day Two

Karl Barth Conference 2014 Day Two

Today saw 3 plenary sessions and one breakout session. In the morning, we had the privilege of hearing from Peter Ochs, Professor of Modern Judaic Studies at the University of Virginia, and from Victoria Barnett, Director of the Programs on Ethics, Religion and the Holocaust at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Dr. Peter Ochs
Dr. Peter Ochs

Dr. Ochs’ presentation “To Love OT/Tanakh is Love Enough for the Jews” set up a philosophy of language framework in which he compared the Dabru Emet statement on Jewish-Christian relationships with Barthian theology. Ochs suggested that Barthian theology (and he’s coming to Barth via the Postliberal theologians Lindbeck, Frei, and Hauweras) and Dabru Emet are examples of “reparative inquiry.” In light of this, Ochs posed a question to the Barth scholars in attendance at the conference: “Was Dabru Emet a Barthian exercise?” There were several responses from the audience, including Ellen Charry who affirmed that all theology should be reparative. She suggested that this idea of reparative theology in the Barthian tradition is seen not so much in Barth directly, but it is definitely a project taken up by Paul Van Buren (student of Barth, and Charry’s former teacher).

Dr. Victoria Barnett
Dr. Victoria Barnett

Following Dr. Ochs, was Victoria Barnett. Barnett presented on “Karl Barth and the Early Postwar Interfaith Encounters.” She did this by looking at the Seelisburg document of 1947 which was a statement issued by Christians after World War II. Barnett notes that 1945-1950 represented a remarkable period of transition for Jewish-Christian relationships as it became a time when many Christians began to rethink their teachings surrounding Jews, Israel and the Old Testament. Karl Barth was invited to Seelisburg, but was unable to attend due to scheduling issues. Barnett notes that in the 1940s there were two Christian thinkers who had “street cred” (her term) amongst the Jewish community: Karl Barth, and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple. Barnett also pointed us to the “Auschwitz Protocol,” (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auschwitz_Protocol) that detailed the atrocities that were occurring in the death camps. When the document was smuggled out, Barth signed his name to a cover letter attached to the Protocol in the hopes that his name and reputation would bring international attention to the document.

Dr. Mark Lindsay
Dr. Mark Lindsay

After lunch, we listened to the third plenary session of the day, presented by Mark Lindsay. He explored the question of whether or not Barth can be understood as a post-Holocaust theologian. Lindsay explored examples of short-sighted insensitivities in Barth’s writings which could suggest he was not a post-Holocaust theologian, but then turns to ways in which Barth can indeed be seen as a post-Holocaust theologian. Lindsay argued that, at the very least, Barth is not inconsistent with a post-Holocaust theology, and sees Barth’s understanding of the state of Israel, the passibility of God, and the reparative nature of his theology as being in synchronicity with post-Holocaust theology. Lindsay spent most of his presentation looking at the relationship between Barth’s and Berkovits doctrine of revelation, arguing that both emphasize the dialectic of revelation: that is, the hiddeness/presence and veiling/unveiling of God.

For the breakout session, I chose to attend Justin Roberts’ presentation on Barth and Abraham Heschel . Roberts, a PhD student at McMaster Divinity, suggested that Barth and Heschel offer congruent notions of revelation. This was my first introduction to Heschel and his theology, but I did appreciate this nugget that Roberts’ presented from Heschel: for Heschel, the Bible (Tanakh) is not man’s theology, but is instead, God’s anthropology.

The day concluded with a screening of the documentary “Weapons of the Spirit.” (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Sauvage#Weapons_of_the_Spirit )

Karl Barth Conference 2014 — Day One

Karl Barth Conference 2014 Princeton Theological Seminary

"Dean of Barth Studies" Prof. Eberhard Busch
“Dean of Barth Studies” Prof. Eberhard Busch

Attending the Karl Barth Conference was my graduation gift to myself. That’s right, I am celebrating the completion of a MA and a grueling year of thesis by going to an event that encourages more schooling, more grueling writing and lots of reading (I’m pretty sure there’s a word for this, but I digress).

The theme for this year’s conference is “Karl Barth, The Jews, and Judaism.”

Day one of the Barth conference saw two plenary sessions during the day, two breakout sessions and an “after dinner dialogue.”

The conference kicked off with a lecture by the “Dean of Barth Studies” Prof. Eberhard Busch. He looked at 3 historical encounters Barth had with the Jewish people. What was fascinating about Busch’s lecture was the personal stories he had about Barth. In particular, during the 7 Days War in 1967, Barth had a dream about being in Israel with a gun. The next day, he told Busch that he was too old to go fight for Israel with a gun, but instead went to the post office and sent money to help the Jewish army. Later, when Barth heard that Israel had won, he gave Busch’s wife a chocolate that had the word “victory” on it.

In the Q & A it was fascinating to hear David Novak (Chair of Jewish Studies at U of T) chime in and talk about the importance of covenant to the Jewish identity. In particular, he noted that in Jewish thought descendants of Abraham were “gentiles” in status until the covenant at Sinai. In other words, Novak argued that the “covenant made us the people that we are.”

Mark Edwards lecturing on Barth's exegesis of the Divine Name.
Mark Edwards lecturing on Barth’s exegesis of the Divine Name.

During the first breakout session, I attended Mark Edwards’ lecture on Karl Barth’s theological exegesis of the Divine Name in Exodus 3:14. For Barth, the revelation of the Divine Name establishes the identity of Israel, and for Barth, the Divine Name revealed in Exodus 3:14 is a theological parallel of Revelation 1:8. The Q & A after became very practical, as the key question asked from the audience was “can or should Christians use the term “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” to speak of God?” There was disagreement in the audience as to whether we can or can’t, but one member of the audience made this fantastic observation: when we say “Jesus” we are saying the Divine Name.

Ellen Charry
Ellen Charry

The afternoon plenary session was given by Ellen Charry. In the program, her lecture was to be on Ecclesiology. Dr. Hunsinger introduced her lecture as being about Karl Barth’s Israelogy. What actually ended happening is that Dr. Charry’s lecture was on Israelogy, generally, with a goal to constructing, specifically, a theology of spiritual friendship between Christianity and Judaism. What this meant was that her lecture was not on Barth and Judaism. Indeed, she only gave a quick (and I would argue at best cursory, at worst unsatisfactory or unfair) overview of Barth, as one small section of a more general overview of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Barth. During the Q & A Charry admitted that her paper was not about Barth, but that Barth was just a way into the topic for her. Her goal was to open the door to explore two questions: why does Christianity need Judaism, theologically; and why does Judaism need Christianity, theologically? A few interesting things came out of the Q & A: Charry stated that, even though she is looking to create space for Christian/Jewish friendship, she is not supportive of Messianic Judaism, because it is a third thing. From this, there was significant pushback from the Q &A for Dr. Charry with regards to how Christology fits in constructive theology of spiritual friendship. The best quote from a participant in the audience was “This Christology thing. It’s kind of a problem” [that is, for Charry’s presentation of a theology of spiritual friendship].

For the afternoon plenary session, I attended Rodney Petersen’s lecture, “Sabbath as Heart and Soul of Karl Barth’s Theology.” I was very excited for this paper because last semester I presented a paper on using the language of sacrament and ordinance to understand a Christian theology of rest, and even though I’m a Barth student, I did not, even once, turn to Barth in my paper (bad, bad Barth student. Slap my wrist). Petersen examined three ways Sabbath functions in Barth’s theology. For Barth, Sabbath is central to God’s purpose in creation; It is a template for the ordering of society; and it is eschatological in that it points to the general consummation of history. In the Q & A one of the best observations by an audience member was that Sabbath does, or should, shape our week, our life, because when it’s not Sunday we’re either coming from Sabbath, or we’re getting ready for Sabbath. In other words, our lives should be dependant on Sabbath.

Busch (L), Hunsinger, Novak (R)
Busch (L), Hunsinger, Novak (R)

The evening session was a dialogue between David Novak and Eberhard Busch, moderated by George Hunsinger. Questions posed to both men included:
In what sense do you believe that the Jews are the chosen people of God?
Is Christianity (in the case of Busch)/ Judaism (in the case of Novak) the one true religion or is it one of several?
In what sense do you believe the Gospels (Busch)/ Torah (Novak) to be divine revelation?
Do Jews and Christians believe in/worship the same God?
What is your view of natural theology?
What can we learn from one another?
What do you most appreciate, and most regret, about Karl Barth?
Was the Holocaust unique or simply the latest tragedy in Jewish history, and what impact did the Holocaust have on Judaism and Christianity?

The conversation took place in English, German, Hebrew and a smattering of French, and you could see that both scholars have wrestled with the relationship and tensions between Christianity and Judaism.

The conference continues tomorrow with three plenary sessions, one breakout session, and a showing of the documentary “Weapons of the Spirit.”