Barth’s clarity

November 22, 2009

Barth’s clarity is not something for which he is particularly known, but I think these comments from Joseph Mangina, in Karl Barth: Theologian of Christian Witness, make sense of the sort of clarity Barth sought:

While acquaintance with the structure of the Dogmatics is useful, it does not prepare one for the actual experience of reading the text. A main reason is that Barth does not adopt the familiar persona of the impartial academic. He writes not impartially, but as a partisan; he writes as one who is passionately engaged in the very subject matter under discussion. Barth seeks to foster this kind of engagement in the reader as well. He draws the reader into a movement of reflection, examining a theological puzzle from different angles, at times leading him or her down false roads (only so will we understand why they are false), always pressing us forward to some resolution of the problem at hand. Barth will never say in the manner of textbooks: ‘Here are two ways of looking at the topic, take your choice.’ The nature of what the church proclaims demands clarity. If anything frustrates him in modern theology, it is the tendency one sometimes sees to celebrate doubt and ambiguity for their own sake. Barth believes the Word of God to be an ultimate mystery, but he does not see it as opaque. Because God has spoken clearly in Jesus Christ, we can actually arrive at answers to theological questions. To be sure, our answers — being human — are always contestable; but the best way to see where we have gone wrong is to express our thinking as clearly as possible. This is a key reason why Barth wants to embrace the modern term wissenschaftlich, ‘scientific’, for Christian theology. All this makes for the curious blend of passion and objectivity one finds in his writing. As Hans Urs von Balthasar writes, Barth is ‘passionately enthusiastic about the subject matter of theology, but he is impartial in the way he approaches so volatile a subject. Impartiality means being plunged into the object … And Barth’s object is God, as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, to which revelation Scripture bears witness’ (The Theology of Karl Barth, Ignatius, p. 25).

pp. 22-23

“The Outsiders”

November 21, 2009

Yes, I tend to promote the same bands over and over.

Here is the opening track to Needtobreathe’s latest (3rd) album, The Outsiders:

It’s nice to see a band that can actually play live in a studio and it comes off just as good as the final album cut.

Here are a couple presentations by Dr. Karen Kilby (Nottingham) on the theological work of Hans Urs von Balthasar:

Click here for a list of all seven volumes of The Glory of the Lord and the rest of the trilogy (beauty, ethics, reason).

Brunner and his family

Brunner with his wife and their first son

In The Mediator (1927), Emil Brunner has an excellent discussion on the similarities and differences between the Greek concept of Logos and the Christian/Johannine usage of Logos. He faults Ritschl for going too far in his criticism of Greek metaphysical intrusion into the pure moral positivism of the Gospel. Against Ritschl and his followers, Brunner recognizes a valid aspect of the Greek conception, namely the necessity for an “unconditional” from which our reason has its bearings and from which our language has meaning (“the principle of all meaning of intelligible speech” and “the principle through which alone we are able to distinguish invention from truth,” p. 207). But, as a principle of logic, the Logos is a mere Law standing outside ourselves — an impersonal Idea, unable to elicit or demand obedience. Invariably, this lack of “moral depth” avails the prejudices and laxity of each individual, who forms, rather than is formed by, the Logos. The Christian usage of Logos, however, includes a personal address by Christ, the Logos. There is a call and a response. The Word stands over-against us as the true form, for our understanding of God and of ourselves, received in faith (obedience). This is Brunner’s characteristic “I-Thou” emphasis, similar to Martin Buber’s Ich und Du and Friedrich Gogarten’s Von Glauben und Offenbarung, both published in 1923.

Here is Brunner’s contrast of the Greek-philosophical Logos (including Moral Law) with the Christian Logos of personal address and assent:

In the very nature of the “Law” or of abstract thought lies the impossibility of its ever becoming actual and personal. The speculative character of thought is opposed to the concrete character of personal volition. This shows its connection with objective thought. Even the moral idea of the Good is a mere idea; it is no real imperative. The Moral Law conceived as an a priori, as a principle of immanence, does not create a real sense of responsibility. I am still alone with myself. I am still engaged in a monologue. Conversation has not yet begun. For in true conversation — in real responsibility — it is essential that I should receive something from without: a real word, the Logos as a Logos which is altogether apart from my own thought, something over which I have no control. This means, however, that the Logos comes to me in an irrational way, along the path of actuality, as a word that is given. Otherwise even morality is only intercourse with oneself, Icheinsamkeit (solitude of the self), as Ferdinand Ebner so aptly puts it; it is self-love, self-regard. Nothing save a real relation to a real “Thou” can dispel this solitude of the soul; only a real conversation, in which we are actually addressed by another person, can make us responsible; this alone would be absolutely timely, personal, and therefore wholly serious. (pp. 208-209)

And there is this gem:

The abstract, a priori Moral Law addresses us as though our minds were still unsullied by experience of any kind. Hence, although it speaks of duty, it fills us at the same time with an inspiring sense of freedom and autonomy. Thus it deceives us, and we do not perceive that our minds are no longer like blank pages in a book; we do not realize that we are not free. The moral superficiality of the Moral Law from the point of view of Immanence is this: that it does not permit us to realize that we are real human beings, but that it regards us as hypothetical “subjects,” or as individuals who are still free to deal with the claims of the Good as they please. This assumes that we possess a dignity which in reality we lost long ago…. (pp. 209-210)

I think this serves as a compelling argument against the validity of a non-theistic moral realism, such as found in Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good (an otherwise excellent little book) and, of course, in Kant’s deontological basis for a universal imperative.

[Quotations are taken from the translation of Olive Wyon, first published in 1934 by Lutterworth Press in England and later published in the United States by Westminster Press in 1947.]

Francis Chan

November 5, 2009

Normally, I couldn’t care less about young, charismatic, hyper-extroverted, hip, West Coast preachers — which Francis Chan totally is — but it seems that he actually read his Bible, with humility. This is what mega-churchianity looks like when it apprehends obedience.

Hear, O Israel

November 1, 2009

“Hear, O Israel” and “Come, People of the Risen King”

by Keith & Kristyn Getty, from Awaken the Dawn (2009)