Thursday, May 19, 2016

It Took the Night to Believe: Weathering the Storm of Faith & Doubt - AUDIOS

Part I. Encountering the Silence of God
Jack Holloway

Part II. Who's afraid of the Historical Jesus?
Jack Holloway

Part III. Faith & Doubt
Matt Brake

Thursday, April 28, 2016

My Summer reading list

Summer has begun! (Not really, but for me it has.) Thus, Summer reading has begun. This is what I will be trying to get through this Summer:
Emil Brunner and Karl Barth, Natural Theology

Katherine Sonderegger, That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew: Karl Barth's "Doctrine of Israel"

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Karl Barth, The Word of God & the Word of Man

Roland Boer, Criticism of Earth: On Marx, Engels, and Theology

Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts

Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism

Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans

George Hunsinger, How to Read Karl Barth

Isolde Andrews, Deconstructing Barth: A Study of the Complementary Methods in Karl Barth and Jacques Derrida

Karl Barth, Epistle to the Philippians

John D. Caputo, Against Ethics

George Hunsinger, ed., Karl Barth and Radical Politics

William Stacy Johnson, The Mystery of God: Karl Barth and the Postmodern Foundations of Theology

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Vol. II.1, The Doctrine of God

Timothy Gorringe, Karl Barth: Against Hegemony

Saint Augustine, Confessions

Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology

Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament

What are you reading this Summer?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

I don't believe in Heaven

Samantha Muljat, Bloodbankdesign
Full disclosure: my last blog, "I don't believe in God," was really just a set-up for this one. I realized that the things I wanted to say here needed to be prefaced by the things I said there.

So, now that you've read the last one (because of course you read every single thing I write--of course!), you can properly understand what I really want to be saying this week.

Like most weeks for me, this one has come with a somber reflection on death. I think about it a lot. Wow, I am actually going to die. What does that mean? Is there something after death? I can't be certain that there is. It could just be nothingness. But, my god, what is nothingness like?! I don't want to cease to exist! I love life! But I could die at any minute. I make plans, but I could die today, or tomorrow. There's no guarantee that I will live a long life. And even then, I'm still eventually going to die.

This is usually the point where I almost start crying and I feel the need to change the subject. That happened this week. But then I thought, No, I need to come up with an answer to this problem. I can't just be ignoring it forever. I need to console myself, to, like David, encourage myself in the Lord (I Sam 30:6).

So here is my modest attempt at a kind of self-consolation.

Starting where I left off in the last blog, I'll reiterate that we as Christians makes ourselves vulnerable and sensitive to the in-breaking of God, to the moment of God's revelation. We anticipate God's revelation, and orient our lives around that anticipation. In this, we don't believe in God, but God happens.

I don't believe in the afterlife the same way that I don't believe in God: I can't.

Just as we tend to think of God as someone finite, we tend to think of the afterlife as something finite. Yes, we understand it as lasting forever and so infinite, but we still conceptualize it as more life, or more temporality. It's that thing we experience now, just longer.

Additionally, in the church's imagination, Heaven is basically just the fulfillment of human desire. Everything will be covered in gold. All our dreams will come true. We will be constantly happy, and whatever. (You can begin to understand why some people think of heaven simply as wish-fulfillment.)

But, unfortunately, as with God, we have no real reference point for Heaven. In order to believe something, we have to know the object of that belief, but we don't for Heaven. We've never experienced anything like eternity. All we can say is that when we die we will experience eternal life, whatever that means.

And so, just as we should live our lives making ourselves vulnerable to the happening of God's revelation, we should orient ourselves around the anticipation of eternal life. Believing in eternal life is really just saying Yes to surrender, to the mystery of death.

Death is ultimate surrender, even if uninvited (and oh, how it is uninvited). It is also ultimate mystery. What happens after death is, for us, an entirely unanswerable question.

The Christian orientation toward death, then, is submission to that surrender. In other words, trust God. "Let God be true and every man a liar" (Rom 3:4).

I don't believe in God; I surrender to God's revelation. Likewise, I don't believe in Heaven; I surrender to death's mystery.

All of this, however, cannot provide any certainty. My thought about Heaven is summarized perfectly by Walter Brueggemann:

“There is no assurance or announcement of hope; there is only yearning that is admittedly hope-filled, but it stops short of knowing too much or claiming too much.”(1)

Am I certain? Absolutely not. I'm not even certain that I have any hope. I can only, like Abraham, hope against hope (Rom 4:18). I have only a glimpse of hope. But, ultimately, hope is better than the despair. At least, that's the dumb thing that I believe.

(1) Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 54.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

I don't believe in God

Samantha Muljat, Bloodbankdesign
Ok, so you've read the title. And now you've clicked. And now you may be wondering if the title was some kind of misleading click-bait. Well, not exactly. I don't believe in God. Although, I mean this not in the sense you might be thinking. So let's break the statement down, in Seinfeld fashion.

Is it, I don't believe in God? This would imply maybe I have hope that there is God, or I act as if there is a God, but maybe I don't actually believe there is a God.

Is it, I don't believe in God? This would imply a negation of the reality of God, as if to say, There is no God.

I am happy to say that it is neither of these options. No, what I am saying is, I don't believe in God. Now, what do I mean?

I don't believe in God because I can't. I can't believe in God because I have no reference point for God. I, among many ungodly things, am human, am finite. I have no concept of eternity, of true divinity. I only have physicality, temporality, and humanity. I can observe the outside world, but my observation of the outside world is limited, and the outside world is not what constitutes God. Thus, I have no substantial frame of reference for God. Thus, I can't believe in God. Thus, I don't believe in God.

You may be thinking, "Is it that simple?" No, it's not. So let me go on.

I cannot bring about the revelation of God. As Barth says, only God can reveal God's self, and so humans can only believe in what is revealed to them, in what penetrates their world and is put within them and before them.(1) Only by the movement of God are we faced with the revelation of God. As Ephesians says, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast" (2:8-9).

Even our faith is only possible because of the work of God, because of God's grace. It is only through our obedience to the Word of God that we come to have faith. Barth even goes so far as to say, "Grace is obedience."(2) We do exercise a measure of freedom in surrendering to the grace of God in obedience, but even that freedom is a gift from God, and so we cannot properly find the origin of our belief in ourselves.

Furthermore, even when we have made the leap to faith in obedient surrender to God's grace, we are not met with a crystal clear, unmediated, direct communication from God. We tend to think of God as just another finite being, one who speaks to us directly, one we get to know like we get to know another person, but to suppose so is to commit idolatry. God remains hidden even while revealed. Jesus reveals the God that is hidden. God is forever in a cloud of mystery. We still have no frame of reference for God.

Our belief in God is only our surrender to God's revelation, our submission to God's work in the world, manifested in moments of revelation. Our belief is really only a making ourselves vulnerable to the work of God, opening ourselves up to God's possibility. We let ourselves be happened upon by God, exposing ourselves to the in-breaking of God.

As John Calvin said, "True knowledge of God is born out of obedience."(3)

So, no, I don't believe in God. I succumb to God's revelation.

1) See Karl Barth, "The Word of God and the Task of Ministry," in The Word of God & the Word of Man, trans. Douglas Horton (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957), 183-217.
2) Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6th ed., trans. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 229.
3) I cannot find the origin of this quote. I assume it's in the Institutes somewhere, but no one who quotes it cites it, so........

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Karl Barth's Indictment of Theology

I recently wrote on Karl Barth's theology for the Hill City Church blog. Below is a section from the blog:
Barth’s desire was to cultivate a theology in which God’s revelation was understood as transcending culture and calling humankind into question. In this, the revelation brought to us in Christ does not give us all the answers about God. It is not the moment when we understand who God is perfectly and clearly. On the contrary, revelation introduces us to God’s mystery. 
Uncertainty follows faith. The hidden God is the revealed God (ER, 422). 
 “In [Jesus Christ] God reveals Himself inexorably as the hidden God who can be apprehended only indirectly.” (ER, 369)
What we get, then, in Barth’s theology is an indictment of theology itself.
“What men on this side of resurrection name ‘God’ is most characteristically not God. Their ‘God’ . . . is the complete affirmation of the course of the world and of men as it is.” (ER, 40)
“God Himself is not acknowledged as God and what is called ‘God’ is in fact Man.” (ER, 44)
In our efforts to adapt God to our present culture, we end up compromising God’s essential divinity and settling for a “human contraption in place of the divine handiwork” (OR, 57). In other words, theology becomes idolatry. Theologians, he said, forgot that their concern was God (WGWM, 245-246).
Read more at Hill City Church

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

To my Regent friends,

I am eager to get back to Virginia Beach and spend time with you. A lot of time and distance separates us now which I hope to remedy by a visit sometime soon.

Generally speaking, you are much more conservative than I am, which I know makes what I am about to say much easier for me to say than it might be for you. I recognize our differences, even as I don't think they should take away from my central point.

Donald Trump appeals to all the qualities in us that are against Christ. As bold as this statement is, I find it inescapable.

His worldview has rightly been described simply as Trumpism. At the end of the day, he cares only for himself. He spends much of his speeches talking about how well he's doing in the polls, how many people come to his events, how much he boosts the ratings of whatever network he's on, etc. If he's not talking about that, he's berating people who have called him into question, or challenged his views, or have leveled harsh judgments against him. He is easily insulted, and cares more about attacking his opponents than representing the American people--let alone the poor and needy.

When he's not talking about how awesome he is, or attacking people, he is appealing to people's fear, hatred, and ignorance. I have no doubt that his wide success is mostly due to his ability to pinpoint fears, frustrations, and fallacies that creep up in people's minds, and then magnify them.

Let Christ be the standard by which you measure Trump's integrity and good-will. Let your opinions of him be determined by how the Bible describes good leaders. King Josiah was righteous because he "defended the poor and needy" (Jer. 22:16). Jesus "did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant . . . he humbled himself" (Phil 2:6-8).

I don't see Trump defending the cause of the poor and needy. I don't see Trump making himself nothing to serve others. I don't see Trump humbling himself. I do see Trump egotistically claiming superiority and exploiting his status for his own gain. In this, Trump's ethic is the antithesis of Christ.

I don't buy at all that he is a Christian. Anyone with a teaspoon of suspicion can see that his piety is a facade. The way he waves the Bible and talks about it shows that he is trying to pretend like he's a Christian, and it's difficult for me to imagine Christians being that easily fooled.

He says his favorite book is the Bible, but he says it like he's talking to toddlers in Sunday school. Guess what his second favorite book is: The Art of the Deal, the one he wrote! The only reason he's even saying the Bible is his favorite book is because it is beneficial to him, it supports his agenda.

Don't let Trump magnify the un-Christian qualities within you. His way is the way of idolatry and injustice. Attune your minds to the teaching of Christ, and look to Scripture for the characteristics of a just leader. I am certain (and many of you know how much I hate that word) that if you do so, you will not find any justification for supporting Trump.