“Totally Involved, Seriously Engaged”

71wiJCVrghLAfter yesterday’s quote, in which he reminds us to keep our eyes on the purpose of theology, Barth counters it with some particular advice for the student. As one who has “flung himself beforehand into all sorts of Christian activities,” this is something to think about:

Theology is an enterprise in whose performance one question can all to easily be forgotten: For what purpose? Of course, this question may and should be set aside for the moment. Study is impossible when a student supposes he has to know and impatiently ask along every step of the way: Why do I need just this or that thing? How shall I begin to put this to use? Of what value is this to be in the community and the world? How can I explain this to the public, especially to modern men? He who continually carries such questions about in his heart and upon his lips is a theological worker who can scarcely be taken seriously either in his prayer or in his study. He who never lets himself be totally involved, or at least seriously engaged, by theological problems as such, but who concerns himself with them only in order subsequently to elevate himself by means of ready-made and patent solutions, will definitely not be able to say anything proper to the people. Much less will he be able to say the one thing that is fitting. The one right thing will be said only after the theologian’s first endeavor has been to make personal acquaintance with something that is relevant, right and proper. And he had better not immediately thereafter glance furtively at this or that practical application. The theological beginner should concentrate on his study in its own right during his few years at the seminary or university, for these years will not return. It is no doubt unwise, if not dangerous, when, instead of such concentration, the beginner flings himself beforehand into all sorts of Christian activities and ruminates on them, or even stands with one foot already in an office of the Church, as is customary in certain countries.

Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, pp. 186-7



“A Uniquely Fascinating Science”

71wiJCVrghLA warning from Karl Barth on forgetting the real purpose of theology:

The first thing to be said about the character of theological work as service is that it cannot be pursued for its own sake, in the manner of “art for art’s sake.” Whoever is seriously engaged in theological work knows that such a temptation lurks in many corners. Theology, especially in its form as dogmatics, is a uniquely fascinating science, since its beauty irresistibly elicits the display of intellectual architectonics. As inquiry into both the bright and the dim, or dust, figures and events of Church history, theology is at every point highly exciting, even from a purely secular point of view. And as exegesis, it is equally exciting because of the way in which it calls in equal measure for both minute attention and bold imagination.

The service of God and the service of man are the meaning, horizon, and goal of theological work.

Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, pp. 185-6


“We Ourselves are the Church”

71gdVElR+4LKarl Barth on the need for the whole Church in the theological enterprise:

To participate in this, and therefore to accompany even the work of erudite theology in the sticter sense, is the task of the community and therefore of each individual member. The Christian is not free to adopt any current religious idea, to espouse his own private philosophy, and then to urge this upon the community. On the other hand, he is both free and yet also summoned and obliged to reflect not he Word which underlies the community and is to be declared by it, and to give responsible expression to his reflections. No one will do this obediently unless he is prepared to let himself be stimulated, advised and guided by others, including professional theologians. No one will do it obediently if he is not in dialogue not only with God but also with his fellow-men and fellow-Christians. The freedom at issue is freedom int he community and not a foolish freedom on one’s own responsibility and on the basis of hopeful or defiant private inspirations. No one, however, can be content at this point to be a mere “layman,” to be indolent, to be no more than a passive spectator or reader. No one is excused the task of asking questions or the more difficult task of providing and assessing answers. Preaching in the congregation, and the theology which serves its preparation, can be faithful to its theme and therefore relevant and adapted to the circumstances and edifying to the community, only if it is surround, sustained and constantly stimulated and fructified by the questions and answers of the community. With his own questions and answers in matters of right understanding and doctrine, each individual Christian thus participates in what the community is commanded to do. If he holds aloof, or slackens, or allows himself to sleep, or wanders into speculation and error, he must not be surprised if sooner or later the same will have to be said about the community as such and particularly about its more responsible members. How many complaints about the “Church” would never be made if only those who make them were to realize that we ourselves are the Church, so that what it has or has not to say stands or falls with us!

Church Dogmatics III/4: The Doctrine of Creation: The Command of God the Creator, §55.3 p. 498


Modifying Career Goals for the Kingdom’s Good

41-utQ3519LDavid Clark, from his fantastic book on theological method. As a younger man at the front end of my life, thinking about goals and trajectories, the academy and the church, this was a very thought provoking quote. I wonder what ‘community-based scholarship’ looks like in practice. It also reminded me of this post and my follow-up on academia, amateurism, and envy.

It seems obvious that theology should access the personal and communal experience of many Christian believers. This means that actually retrieving the unity of theology is the work of the entire corps of evangelical scholars, pastors, and believers, not just of individuals. Vestiges of modernist academic values–the individual scholar, free of external constraint from bishops and creeds, protected by academic freedom and tenure, objectively viewing some small range of data–remain in evangelical academic contexts. But this model will not serve the church well. Actually achieving a unity of the theological disciplines requires a humble recognition of the various gifts within the body of Christ. No one person can read everything; no one person has all the best thoughts or insights; no one person has all the revealing experiences. When Christians with varied gifts and different areas of competence genuinely listen to each other in dialogue, their respective horizons can be pushed back and their perspectives unified. A community-based model of scholarship may require that those in the evangelical academy temper their individual quests for (academic) fame and fortune and modify their own career goals for the Kingdom’s good.

To Know and Love God p. 191


“A Certain Carefree and Joyful Confidence”

415fS1T7xfLKarl Barth with a fantastic metaphor for the main problem with 19th century theology:

The key problem arose from the conviction that the guiding principle of theology must be confrontation with the contemporary age . . . Obviously theology has always been to some extent open toward and related to the world. It should be so . . .

Theology, however, went overboard–and this was its weakness–insofar as confrontation with the contemporary age was its decisive and primary concern. This openness to the world meant (1) that through the open windows and doors came so much stimulation for thought and discussion that there was hardly time or love or zeal left for the task to be accomplished within the house itself. With all its energies captivated by the world, 19th-century theology achieved surprisingly little in terms of a new and positive understanding of Christian truth and truths in themselves, a primary necessity at all times.

The winds were enthusiastically welcomed and allowed to enter freely through the outside doors. This meant (2) that not a few doors inside were slammed which should have been kept open as well. Nineteenth-century theology ascribed normative character to the ideas of its environment. Consequently it was forced to make reductions and oversimplifications, to indulge in forgetfulness and carelessness, when it dealt with the exciting and all-important matters of Christian understanding. These developments were bound to threaten, indeed to undermine, both theology and the Church with impoverishment and triviality.

The outside winds brought not merely fresh air, but also notoriously foul air. This meant (3) that fatal errors blew in, were admitted, and made themselves at home. These errors, far from being simply tolerated, enjoyed birthright, even authority. Countereffects to be sure were not lacking, but there was no fundamental agreement about the absolute primacy of the positive tasks of theology in and for the Church, over against the secondary tasks of relating to the various philosophies of the times.

Finally, we miss a certain carefree and joyful confidence in the self-validation of the basic concerns of theology, a trust that the most honest commerce with the world might best be assured when the theologians, unheeding the favors or disfavors of this world, confronted it with the results of theological research carried out for its own sake. It did not enter their minds that respectable dogmatics could be good apologetics.

“Evangelical Theology in the 19th Century” published in The Humanity of God, pp 18, 19-20


“The God Who Scatters Beauty Profusely”

91P3kogTi2LThe question may be asked, Why should the gifts and capacities just mentioned be thought of as belonging to the image of God? The answer is that in all of these capacities man is like God, and therefore images him. Man’s rational powers, for example, reflect God’s reason, and enable man now, in a sense, to think God’s thoughts after him. Man’s moral sensitivity reflects something of the moral nature of God, who is the supreme determiner of right and wrong. Our capacity for fellowshiping with God in worship reflects the fellowship that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have with each other. Our ability to respond to God and to fellow human beings imitates God’s ability nd willingness to respond to us when we pray to him. Our ability to make decisions reflects in a small way the supreme directing power of him “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”. Our sense of beauty is a feeble reflection of the God who scatters beauty profusely over snow-crowned peaks, lake-jeweled valleys, and awe-inspiring sunsets. Our gift of speech is an imitation of him who constantly speaks to us, both in his world and in his word. And our gift of song echoes the God who rejoices over us with singing.

Created in God’s Image p. 71


“Not to Contrast Men with Animals”

91P3kogTi2LAnthony Hoekema on what it means for man to be made in the image of God:

Since Christ was totally without sin, in Christ we see the image of God in its perfection. As a skillful teacher uses visual aids to help his or her pupils understand what is being taught, so God the Father has given us in Jesus Christ a visual example of what the image of God is. There is no better way of seeing the image of God than to look at Jesus Christ. What we see and hear in Christ is what God intended for man.

If this is so, then the best way to learn what the image of God is is not to contrast man with animals, as has often been done, and then to fine the divine image to consist in those qualities, abilities, and gifts that man has in distinction from the animals. Rather, we must learn to know what the image of God is by looking at Jesus Christ. What must therefore be at the center of the image of God is not characteristics like the ability to reason or the ability to make decisions (important as such abilities may be for the proper functioning of the image of God), but rather that which was central in the life of Christ: love for God and love for man. If it is true that Christ perfectly images God, then the heart of the image of God must be love. For no man ever loved as Christ loved.

Created in God’s Image p. 22


“Not Mere Static World Maintenance”

John Webster, on “the Christian specificity required of a Christian doctrine of providence”:

91p7cWW0ZOLAt each point, the cogency of the presentation [of the doctrine of providence] depends upon deployment of and governance by the Christian doctrine of God and its economic entailments. A Christian doctrine of providence is only derivatively a theory of history, a cosmology or an account of divine action in the world; most properly, it is a representation of how the Father’s plan for the fullness of time is set forth in Christ and made actual by the Holy Spirit among the children of Adam. In other words, the identities of the agents in the history of providence — this God and his creatures — are fundamental to determining its course and character. Barth’s insistence on providence as God’s ‘fatherly lordship’ is surely the most extended modern attempt to account for this. Again, Christian specificity about the ends of providence is crucial to grasping its nature, for providence is not mere static world maintenance but teleological, the fulfillment of the ordered fellowship with God which is the creature’s perfected happiness. The key questions are not cosmological but theological, and their answers derive from specifications of the enacted name of God.

On the Theology of Providence“, pp. 161–162


For That Very Reason

277738If God is totally sovereign over all things, then do our choices and actions have real meaning? If God is in control, aren’t we all just puppets? Bavinck explains two extremes, Deism (in which God is totally removed and only creatures have meaningful action in the world) and Pantheism (in which God is the only one doing anything at all), and then spells out the wonder and glory of the Christian doctrine of God’s providence:

Always to be a theist in the full and true sense of the word, that is, to see God’s counsel and hand and work in all things and simultaneously, indeed for that very reason, to develop all available energies and gifts to the highest level of activity — that is the glory of the Christian faith and the secret of the Christian life.

Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2 p 605

What Are the Chances . . . !


I love footnotes (and I hate endnotes – why are you making me flip to the back every time I want to check a reference?)  I want to see where a particular argument is elaborated in more detail, I want to see the proof, I want to see the “work” that lies behind an assertion. I want to read for myself the sources that have led an author to his conclusions.

I had seen an article by N.T. Wright referenced in several different works: “‘Constraints’ and the Jesus of History” in The Scottish Journal of Theology, from 1986. I could not track it down anywhere: not on ntwrightpage, not as a pdf anywhere, not even in the particular collection of journals on EBSCO. Just today I looked at a top shelf in the school library where I am attending and saw a little box of periodicals with “Scottish Journal of Theology” written on it. There were a half dozen print copies — what are the chances they would include the 1986 edition? Sure enough, a couple from the 1950s and a few from the mid 1980s, including 1986, and the exact article I was looking for.

How cool is that? Can’t wait to read ‘Constraints’ and fill a gaping hole in my understanding of the quest for the historical Jesus.