Monthly Archives: May 2015

“Resolve to be Known for Gentleness”

Carson on gentleness (nailed me again):

What do m41jbjfe--sLost of us want to be known for? Do you want to be know for your extraordinary good looks? Do you want to be known for your quick wit, for your sense of humor, for your sagacity? Do you want to be known for your wealth, for your family connections? Or perhaps you are more pious and want to be known for your prayer life or for your excellent skills as a leader of inductive Bible studies. Many a preacher wants to be known for his preaching.

How appalling. The sad fact is that even our highest and best motives are so easily corroded by self-interest that we begin to overlook this painful reality. Paul cuts to the heart of the issue: Be known for gentleness.

The “self-sins” are tricky things, damnably treacherous. In one of his books, A.W. Tozer writes:

“To be specific, the self-sins are these: self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them. The grosser manifestations of these sins, egotism, exhibitionism, self-promotion, are strangely tolerated in Christian leaders even in circles of impeccable orthodoxy… Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice.”

That was written almost a half a century ago. What would Tozer say now? He goes on:

Self can live unreduced at the very altar. It can watch the bleeding Victim die and not be in the least affected by what it sees. It can fight of the faith of the Reformers and preach eloquently the creed of salvation by grace, and gain strength by its efforts. To tell all the truth, it seems actually to feed upon orthodoxy and is more at home in a Bible Conference than in a tavern. Our very state of longing after God may afford it an excellent condition under which to thrive and grow.” (The Pursuit of God, 45-46)

Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 107

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“Motivated by Humility”

This cut me to the core:

Jesus was the perf61vLALqkIHLect Servant. His greatness is seen in the lowliness He was willing to experience in order to serve the most basic needs of His twelve friends.

“So when he had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a swerving is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)

With astonishing humility, Jesus, their Lord and Teacher, washed the feet of His disciples as an example of how all His followers should serve with humility.

In this life there will always be a part of us (the Bible calls it the flesh) that will say, “If I have to serve, I want to get something for it. If I can be rewarded, or gain a reputation for humility, or somehow turn it to my advantage, then I’ll give the impression of humility and serve.” But this isn’t Christlike service. This is hypocrisy. Richard Foster calls it “self-righteous service”:

Self-righteous service requires external rewards. It needs to know that people see and appreciate the effort. It seeks human applause–with proper religious modesty of course… Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. It eagerly wants to see if the person served will reciprocate in kind…The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition. It will devise subtle, religiously acceptable mans to call attention to the service rendered.” (Celebration of Discipline, 112, 114)

By the power of the Holy Spirit we must reject self-righteous service as a sinful motivation, and serve “in humility,” considering “others better” than ourselves (Philippians 2:3)

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 121-22

Karl Barth: Integrating the “Theology of the Cross” and Deus Absconditus

From a paper I recently wrote on Luther’s “Theology of the Cross”:

“No theologian receives a longer entry in the index volume to Karl Barth’s Chruch Dogmatics than Martin Luther… It suggests that Luther was a towering figure in Barth’s mind.”[1]In this article, George Hunsinger details several aspects of Barth’s theology that are heavily influenced by Luther. “Theology of the Cross” is one of the specific areas of influence, but the other areas are directly related to it as well: Christocentric theology, primacy of the word of God, simul iustus et peccator, and grace and freedom. In fact, Barth’s most distinctive theological notes can be seen as a transposition of Luther’s theology of the cross: “The christocentrism for which Barth is so famous would hardly have been thinkable without Luther’s reformation breakthrough.”[2] He follows Luther in using paradox to explicate this: “This One is the true God… the One whose eternity does not prevent but rather permits and commands Him to be in time and Himself to be temporal, whose omnipotence is so great that He can be weak and indeed impotent, as a man is weak and impotent.”[3] Yet, Barth refuses to follow Luther into his “hidden God” dilemma:

What is not so obvious, however is how far Luther really thought he could overcome this difficulty by his advice that we should worry as little as possible about the Deus absconditus and cling wholly to what he called God’s opus proprium, to the Deus revelatus, and therefore to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. For how can we do this genuinely and seriously if all the time…there is not denied but asserted a very different existence of God as the Deus absconditus, a very real potential inordinate in the background?[4]

The cross is “the deepest revelation of God’s being, not its contradiction.”[5] Barth is able to avoid this because he relativizes all of theology, including the cross, to the person of Christ himself: “The articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae is not the doctrine of justification as such, but its basis and culmination: the confession of Jesus Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”[6]Christ is the starting point of all doctrine, not merely one aspect of his work, whether justification or his accomplishment on the cross. By shifting theology from a cruci-centric to a Christo­-centric theology, he is able to include the absolutely necessary piece which is “Theology of the Cross” within a framework in which it can do its best work. “In a way that was foreign to Luther, he integrated the hidden God and the revealed God, making them two different aspects of the one God taken as a whole… yet such powerful themes as substantive christocentrism, the theology of the cross, the primacy of God’s work… are no small legacy for one great theologian to have bequeathed to another.”[7] In seeking to appropriate the Theology of the Cross, Barth, and not the Lutherans seems to be our best example.

[1] George Hunsinger, “What Karl Barth Learned from Martin Luther.” Lutheran Quarterly XIII (1999), 125

[2] Ibid, 132

[3] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/1, The Doctrine of Reconciliation (ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance, trans. G.W. Bromiley; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 129

[4] Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. II/1, The Doctrine of God , 542

[5] Hunsinger, “Barth,” 135

[6] Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/1, 527

[7] Hunsinger, “Barth,” 147

Barth on Luther; Luther on Aquinas; myself on neither

Karl Barth, in preparing for his discussion of Calvin’s theology, sets the historical stage with reference to “The Middle Ages”:

An even more striking example is the way i71IhRVGCeNLn which both Luther and Calvin avoided the man in whom they must have recognized, even if he was not then the most widely read author, and whom they ought to have fought as their most dangerous opponent, the true genius of the Catholic Middle Ages. I refer to Thomas Aquinas. We have in his case a demonstration how often even the greatest among us, precisely in fulfilling their deepest intentions, often do not know what they are doing. The reformers engaged in close combat with late scholastics of the age of decline, about whom we say nothing today, when all the time behind these, and biding his time, stood their main adversary Thomas, in whom all modern Roman Catholicism has come to see more and more definitely its true classic; and apart from a few inconsequential complaints by Luther [here Barth footnotes Seeberg, Lehrbuch Der Dogmengeschichte, 74 and n. 2], they left him in peace, apparently not realizing that their real attack was not on those straw figures but on the spirit of the Summa, on the Gothic cathedral and the world of Dante. How could it be possible that in the first half of the 17th century a Lutheran theologian from Strassburg could write a book entitled Thomas Aquinas, veritatis evangelic confessor! All this shows strikingly, however, that the reformers did not see their work in the context of a great philosophy of history but in a fairly relative pragmatic context. Perhaps it is precisely the manner of truly creative people to take this view

The Theology of John Calvin, 22

Luther in “Against Latomus”:

His [Latomus’s] discussions of penance and of indulgences are worthless, for he proves everything from human writings. Neither Gregory nor any angel has the right to set forth or teach in the church something which cannot be demonstrated from Scripture. I think I have sufficiently shown from their own writings that scholastic theology is nothing else than ignorance of the truth and a stumbling block in comparison with Scripture. Nor am I moved when Latomus insinuates that I am ungrateful and insulting to St. Thomas, Alexander, and others, for they have deserved ill from me. Neither do I believe that I lack intelligence [to understand them]. This Latomus himself will admit, and it is certainly not difficult to see that I work hard. My advice has been that a young man avoid scholastic philosophy like the very death of his soul. The Gospels aren’t so difficult that children are not ready to hear them. How was Christianity taught in the times of the martyrs when this philosophy an theology did not exist? St. Agnes was a theologian at the age of thirteen, likewise Lucia and Anastasia–from what were they taught? In all these hundreds of years up to the present, the courses at the universities have not produced, out of so many students, a single martyr or saint to prove that their instruction is right and pleasing to God while [the ancients from their] private schools have sent out swarms of saints. Scholastic philosophy and theology are known from their fruits. I have the strongest doubts as to whether Thomas Aquinas is among the damned or the blessed, and would sooner believe that Bonaventure is blessed. Thomas wrote a great deal of heresy, and is responsible for the reign of Aristotle, the destroyer of godly doctrine. What do I care that the bishop of bulls has canonized him? I suppose that my judgment in these matters is not entirely ignorant, for I have been educated in them and have been tested [in debate] by the minds of my most learned contemporaries, and I have studied the best writings of this sort of literature. I am at least partly informed concerning Holy Writ, and besides I have to some extent tested these spiritual matters in experience, but I clearly see that Thomas, and all who write and teach similarly, have neglected this. Therefore I advise him who would fly to take warning. I do what I must, so with the Apostle I again admonish you: “See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit”–this I confidently and emphatically apply to scholastic theology–“according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe”–these are the laws of the bulls and whatever is established in the church apart from Scripture–“and not according to Christ” [Col. 2:8]. Here it is clear that Paul wants Christ alone to be taught and heard. Who does not see how the universities read the Bible? Compare what is read and written in the Sentences [Peter Lombard] and on philosophy with what they write and teach about the Bible–which ought to flourish and reign as the most important of all–and you will see what place the Word of God has in these seats of higher learning.

found in Luther’s Works, vol. 32, 257-59

Might Barth have misread Luther, slightly? Might Luther have misread Aquinas, ever so slightly?  I’m not up for adjudicating this one, but I find the material fascinating.