I so love this:

Tullian Tchividjian (Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church) has been under a lot of criticism for not sufficiently warding off antinomianism in his presentation of the gospel. I see Tchividjian as basically a Barthian, not because he is influenced by Barth (he isn’t) but because he reads the Bible without illusions of his own “victorious” life. God bless him. Tchividjian really emphasizes that Christ has done everything, and he is excited about it! He thinks introspection is looking in the wrong direction.

He also dared to challenge the American moralism of his predecessor at Coral Ridge, D. James Kennedy, who spent his waning years using the American founding fathers as his (by far) most frequent sermon illustrations — yes, I’m serious. That’s one more reason to love Tchividjian.

charles_spurgeon

Here is Charles Spurgeon preaching on “the trial of faith”:

…who am I, and who are you, that God should pamper us? Would we have him put us in a glass case and shield us from the trials which are common to all the chosen seed? I ask no such portion. Let me fare as the saints fare. I only wish to have their bread and their water, and love their Father, and follow their Guide, and find their home. We will take our meals with them, whatever God puts upon the table for them, will we not? The trial of our faith will be all our own, and yet it will be in fellowship with all the family of grace.

It will be no child’s play to come under the divine tests. Our faith is not merely jingled on the counter like the shilling which the tradesman suspects, but it is tried with fire; for so it is written, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” (Isa 48:10). The blows of the flail of tribulation are not given in sport, but in awful earnest, as some of us know who have been chastened sore, almost unto death. The Lord tries the very life of our faith; not its beauty and its strength alone, but its very existence. The iron enters into the soul; the sharp medicine searches the inmost parts of the belly; the man’s real self is made to endure the trial. It is easy to talk of being tried, but it is by no means so simple a matter to endure the ordeal.

…”Oh,” you have said, “I wish I had more faith.” Your prayer will be heard through your having more trial. Often in our prayers we have sought for a stronger faith to look within the veil. The way to stronger faith usually lies along the rough pathway of sorrow. Only as faith is contested will faith be confirmed. I do not know whether my experience is that of all God’s people; but I am afraid that all the grace that I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable. What do I not owe to the hammer and the anvil, the fire and the file? What do I not owe to the crucible and the furnace, the bellows that have blown up the coals, and the hand which has thrust me into the heat? Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library. We may wisely rejoice in tribulation, because it worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope; and by that way are exceedingly enriched, and our faith grows strong.

…when affliction comes into the soul, and makes a disturbance and breaks our peace, up rise our graces. Faith comes out of its hiding, and love leaps from its secret place.

[“The Trial of Your Faith,” in 12 Sermons for the Troubled and Tried, Baker Book House, 1975, pp. 12-13]

I love that last line: “Faith comes out of its hiding, and love leaps from its secret place.”

Poverty_Series_2__900_million_by_liseva

Barth is not as other worldly or anti worldly as may be supposed, given his strident and comprehensive rejection of natural theology. While the grace and love at the foundation of creation is hidden, unknown and unknowable to natural reason, it is nonetheless there, even outside of the church, not floating in some ethereal other realm. Barth elucidates this at a number of points in volumes III and IV of the Church Dogmatics (the doctrines of creation and reconciliation, respectively), yet he is ever cautious for fear of introducing some other norm for theology than Jesus Christ.

In particular, his discussion of “little lights” in IV.3 contains only large hints, no concrete examples, of how these lights are manifest outside the church. He explains his reasoning for this in a small excursus, wherein he states:

None of the concrete phenomena which arise in this connexion is as such the matter under consideration. All such phenomena are doubtful and contestable. What is not doubtful and contestable is the prophecy of the Lord Jesus Christ and its almighty power to bring forth such true words even extra muros ecclesia and to attest itself through them. [135]

Nonetheless, the “large hints,” as I call them, are indicated throughout his discussion and can basically be summarized as the joyful discovery of genuine love and mercy and forgiveness outside of the church, all of which are the word and work of Jesus Christ in the world. Barth even goes so far as to say that there are prophets and apostles “in different degrees” outside of the particular history with Israel and the church:

We recognize that the fact Jesus Christ is the one Word of God does not mean that in the Bible, the Church and the world there are not other words which are quite notable in their way, other lights which are quite clear and other revelations which are quite real. We may think of the prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles in the New. We may think of the genuine prophecy and apostolate of the Church. And why should not the world have its varied prophets and apostles in different degrees? …Nor does it follow from our statement that every word spoken outside the circle of the Bible and the Church is a word of false prophecy and therefore valueless, empty and corrupt, that all the light which rise and shine in this outer sphere are misleading and all the revelations are necessarily untrue. …the whole world of creation and history is the realm of the lordship of the God at whose right hand Jesus Christ is seated, so that He exercises authority in this outer as well as the inner sphere and is free to attest Himself or to cause Himself to be attested in it. [97]

Carl Braaten, a Lutheran dogmatic theologian, has a clear and helpful commentary on this passage:

Barth has usually been known to restrict the witness to the Word of God in Jesus Christ to the Bible and the church. Now he clearly speaks of another circle of witnesses, including words and signs and lights and revelations in the world of non-Christian religions, apart from and not dependent on the Bible or the Church. Barth’s christological thesis is not shaken by this acknowledgment of a third circle of witnesses beyond the Bible and the church. None of them can replace or supplement the one Word of God in Jesus Christ. …All other words and witnesses outside the wall of the church (extra muros ecclesia) must be measured by this one Word of God in Jesus Christ; and yet Barth is sincere about these extramural words of other religions and systems, including modern neopaganism and secular humanism. [No Other Gospel: Christianity Among the World’s Religions, Fortress Press / Wipf & Stock, p. 58]

These other words are “parables of the kingdom” to which the church must listen in its dialogue with other religions or secular thought, finding their material source and center in Jesus Christ as attested in Scripture, “although from a different source and in another tongue” (IV.3, 114-115). I like the way Braaten contrasts Barth’s approach with natural theology: “Natural theology always relies on the capacity of human reason to reach truth about God; but Barth counts on the capacity of Jesus Christ to create human witnesses wherever he pleases, even against their knowledge and will, and certainly beyond the limits of the Bible and the church” (No Other Gospel, 59).

_______________

Image: “900 Million” (Poverty Series 2) by Liseva. In light of Mt. 25, it seems that world hunger may be a good place to see Christ both within and outside the walls of the church.

Calvin window at Rundle United Church, Canada

Barth generally likes to treat the “subjective side” at the end of his volumes in the Church Dogmatics, after rightly hammering us over the head, for hundreds of pages, with the objective side: Jesus Christ. These evaluations of the subjective “correspondence” to God are some of my favorite parts. For example, in IV.2 he closes his doctrine of sanctification, which is definitive in Christ, by (finally!) looking at “The Act of Love” (783-824), which is a beautiful and devotional study of our graced capacity to love.

In IV.1, which I have been reading through, he treats justification by faith alone toward the end of his multi-layered account of “the Lord as servant,” which includes such marvelous moments as “The Judge Judged in Our Place” (§59.2) much earlier in the volume. He begins his treatment of faith as the “human work” acceptable to God, not because of any “intrinsic value” to our act of faith but only because God has chosen to accept it as the “counterpart and analogy to God’s own action” (615-616). Man’s faith as such does not justify him: “He needs justification just as much in faith as anywhere else, as in the totality of his being. In relation to it, considering himself as a believer, he cannot see himself as justified….” (616). He follows this paragraph with a short excursus on John Calvin’s own clarification that faith is not a virtue, as in his exegesis of Abraham’s faith. I thought it was worth posting as a whole. I have provided the translations from the study edition of the CD (in italics below), assuming that most of my readers do not read Latin and French:

Of the Reformers Calvin made this distinction with particular sharpness. Faith as such cannot contribute anything to our justification: bringing nothing of our own to procure the grace of God (Inst. III, 13, 5). It is not a habitus [disposition]. It is not a quality of grace which is infused into man (on Gal. 3.6; C.R. 50, 205). Faith does not justify by virtue of being a work which we do. If we believe, we come to God quite empty, not bringing to God any dignity or merit. God has to close his eyes to the feebleness of our faith, as indeed He does. He does not justify us on account of some excellence which it has in itself; only in virtue of what it lacks as a human work does He justify man (Serm. on Gen. 15; C.R. 23, 722 f.). For that reason there is no point in inquiring as to the completeness of our faith. Exegetes who understand the reckoned of Gen 15.6 as follows: Abraham has been reckoned righteous, and that belief in God was a virtue which he possessed are condemned by Calvin quite freely and frankly: those dogs must be an absolute abomination to us, for these are the most enormous blasphemies which Satan could vomit forth (ib. 688). As if there were nothing worse than this confusion! And, indeed, according to the fresh Reformation understanding of the Pauline justification by faith there could not be anything worse than this confusion. It is clear that if faith was to be a virtue, a power and an achievement of man, and if as such it was to be called a way of salvation, then the way was opened up for the antinomian and libertarian misunderstanding, the belief that a dispensation from all other works was both permitted and commanded. And the objection of Roman critics was only too easy, that in the Reformation sola fide this one human virtue, power and achievement was wildly over-estimated at the expense of all others. Even at the present day there is still cause most definitely to repudiate this misinterpretation, for which the Pauline text is not in any sense responsible. [CD IV.1, 617]

The “most enormous blasphemies which Satan could vomit forth” are the attempts to qualify faith as a virtue or disposition acceptable to God. Nothing worse than this confusion! And the upshot, of not making this confusion, has significant practical consequence: “There is no point in inquiring as to the completeness of our faith.” Amen. The “experimental” Puritans, and their heirs today, could benefit from that. Edwards could have kept his job at Northampton!

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Image: Calvin window at Rundle Memorial United Church in Banff, Alberta

Who Can Be Saved?

December 30, 2013

Who Can Be Saved

I am half-way through Terrance Tiessen’s 500-page tome, Who Can Be Saved? (IVP Academic, 2004). I was waiting to write a short review about it, until after completing it, but Kevin DeYoung published a post this morning defending exclusivism. This is the belief that a conscious, explicit faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. Those who were unfortunate enough to live before the reach of missionary expansion, the millions who have never heard the gospel, are out of luck. For a strict, old-school Calvinist, this is sometimes defended as evidence of their reprobation. Not kidding. Unless the unevangelized person receives a miraculous vision or communication of some sort, they are damned for eternity.

Given that this is such a momentous claim, I want more than just an inference from some proof texts, which are invariably directed at those who are confronted with the gospel (as in Jn 14.6, DeYoung’s proof text, or in Rom 10.14-21, the locus classicus). We need some rather explicit scriptural instruction. And if Tiessen’s work has demonstrated anything, this explicit scriptural teaching is far from forthcoming. A closer look at the biblical attestations about salvation are actually rather varied, and even exclusivists admit as much when they consider the Old Testament saints, both before the Abrahamic covenant and thereafter, and the righteous among the other nations.

Tiessen argues for a new taxonomy, beyond the standard categories of (1) exclusivist, (2) inclusivist, and (3) pluralist. Depending upon the theologian, inclusivism can be articulated as affirming other religions, viewed as God-ordained instruments in awakening the unevangelized to faith, even if Christianity is privileged (contra pluralism) as the only complete manifestation of God’s revelation. Other inclusivists would reject this approach, including Tiessen himself. So he argues instead for “accessibilism” — all persons in all times and all places have access to sufficient revelation, through which the Holy Spirit can utilize to quicken the hearts of man. I won’t give Tiessen’s manifold approach to defending this thesis — you will have to read the book.

Tiessen is himself a Calvinist, and he dedicates a whole chapter to defending monergism, which is a straightforward account of particular election and efficient grace that would make Sproul or Packer proud. (I really don’t have a problem with this, despite my Barthian leanings.) This has some strategic advantage, because the most zealous defenders of exclusivism today are among the “new Calvinists” such as Mohler, Piper, DeYoung, et al., though it is certainly widely held among other evangelicals. The revision of the Southern Baptist Faith & Message, in 2000, added the line, “There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.” This was directed, of course, at inclusivism of any sort.

My only quibble with Tiessen’s book is how it is organized. It follows a question-based format for each chapter: Who needs to be saved? Whom is God trying to save? To whom does God reveal himself? By what standard are people judged? Why should we send missionaries? and so forth. This gives the book the feel of an apologetics handbook, whereas I would much prefer a more linear progression through the appropriate dogmatic loci. As a result of Tiessen’s approach, you will find yourself needing to jump forward and backward for further elucidation of, say, certain biblical passages. However, this is a minor complaint on my part, and I am sure that many others will appreciate the question-based format.

This is an easy-to-read book, directed at a fairly broad audience of evangelicals. Technical terms are kept to a minimum or thoroughly defined (e.g., monergism), so it is a good book to recommend to your Christian friends who are struggling (as we should) with this question.

Allen-Justification

R. Michael Allen (Knox Theological Seminar) is known to some readers of this blog for his publication last year, Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics: An Introduction and Reader (T&T Clark), an excellent tool for classroom use. Prior to that, he published Reformed Theology in the T&T Clark series, “Doing Theology.”

His most recent monograph is a study of the doctrine of justification: Justification and the Gospel: Understanding the Contexts and Controversies (Baker Academic). He recounts his journey at the publisher’s website, as a once enthusiastic critic of the Protestant doctrine under the sway of the New Perspective. Things changed as he studied history and dogmatics:

But now I have written Justification and the Gospel: Understanding the Contexts and Controversies, arguing that the Protestant doctrine of justification is exegetically defensible and theologically essential to filling out catholic teaching on God’s relations to creatures in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This book manifests something of the journey I’ve been on now for a decade. I found that rising familiarity with the exegetical riches of the great teachers of the church (from Irenaeus and Gregory to Thomas and Bonaventure to Luther and Calvin) shows their brilliance as aids and our own limits as modern researchers. I’ve also seen that too often protests regarding the Reformation stem from really bad understandings of what it actually involved, too frequently based in reading of poor secondary sources rather than in careful study of primary texts. I hope this book serves as a useful prompt to further reflection in these two conversations: how do we think well of justification in light of the wider gospel of Jesus? And how do we go about the task of Christian theology and of a faithful Christian reading of the Holy Scriptures today?

At CBD, you can read an excerpt of the book’s first chapter. It appears that he is fruitfully borrowing from John Webster.

Also, the publisher has an excerpt on Barth’s “sense of proportion and order”: Barth, Justification, and the Gospel.

I do find it fascinating and encouraging that Allen teaches at a seminary (Knox) that is owned and operated by a PCA congregation, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, now pastored by Tullian Tchividjian. Needless to say, a friendliness toward Barth is not exactly commonplace in the PCA orbit.

calvin-luther

As is often noted, Calvin rarely gave autobiographical reflections. He was busy thinking about God. But, one such autobiographical moment appears in his letter to Jacopo Sadoleto, a bishop in France who had sent a letter to Geneva, appealing for their return to the Roman fold.

Calvin’s response to Sadoleto’s letter is wide-ranging. Much of it deals with Sadoleto’s — obviously hypocritical — charge that the reformers were in it for self-aggrandizement (honor, prestige, wealth)…you know, the sort of thing that Rome had fully institutionalized! For all of his rhetorical finesse, Calvin is livid at this calumny. Elsewhere, Calvin deals with the doctrinal issues that Sadoleto had touched upon, in his touting of the holiness and purity in the way of salvation which Rome had shepherded souls for centuries. Toward the end of the letter, Calvin gives a brief statement of his own Catholic upbringing and what chiefly brought about his evangelical conversion.

I call this his “Luther moment” for the similarity to Luther’s own crisis of conscience in regards to works-righteousness. Often Luther is accused of being overly preoccupied with such matters (doctrine of justification), which may be true, but I am inclined to think that Calvin and Luther are far more similar than not in their view of justification (against N. T. Wright et al.). Here is an excerpt from the letter:

I, O Lord, as I had been educated from a boy, always professed the Christian faith. But at first I had no other reason for my faith than that which then everywhere prevailed. Your Word, which ought to have shone on all your people like a lamp, was taken away, or at least suppressed as to us. …

I believed, as I had been taught, that I was redeemed by the death of your Son from liability to eternal death, but the redemption I thought of was one whose virtue could never reach me. I anticipated a future resurrection, but hated to think of it, as being an event most dreadful. And this feeling not only had dominion over me in private, but was derived from the doctrine which was then uniformly delivered to the people by their Christian teachers. They, indeed, preached of your clemency towards men, but confined it to those who should show themselves deserving of it. They, moreover, placed this desert in the righteousness of works, so that he only was received into your favor who reconciled himself to You by works. Nor, meanwhile, did they disguise the fact, that we are miserable sinners, that we often fall through infirmity of the flesh, and that to all, therefore, your mercy behooved to be the common haven of salvation; but the method of obtaining it, which they pointed out, was by making satisfaction to You for offenses. Then, the satisfaction enjoined was, first, after confessing all our sins to a priest, suppliantly to ask pardon and absolution; and, secondly, by good to efface from your remembrance our bad actions. Lastly, in order to supply what was still wanting, we were to add sacrifices and solemn expiations. Then, because You were a stern judge and strict avenger of iniquity, they showed how dreadful your presence must be. Hence they bade us flee first to the saints, that by their intercession You might be rendered exorable and propitious to us.

When, however, I had performed all these things, though I had some intervals of quiet, I was still far-off from true peace of conscience; for, whenever I descended into myself, or raised my mind to You, extreme terror seized me — terror which no expiations nor satisfactions could cure. And the more closely I examined myself, the sharper the stings with which my conscience was pricked, so that the only solace which remained to me was to delude myself by obliviousness.

(John Calvin, “Reply to Sadoleto,” in A Reformation Debate, pp. 87-88)

Calvin continues to recount his hesitation at such “novelty” as was the evangelical doctrine of Christ’s complete satisfaction. But,

I at length perceived, as if light had broken in upon me, in what a style of error I had wallowed….Being exceedingly alarmed at the misery into which I had fallen, and much more at that which threatened me in the view of eternal death, I, as in duty bound, made it my first business to betake myself to your ways, condemning my past life, not without groans and tears. And now, O Lord, what remains to a wretch like me, but instead of defense, earnestly to supplicate You not to judge according to its deserts that fearful abandonment of your Word, from which, in your wondrous goodness, You have at last delivered me.

(p. 90)

There you have it: Calvin’s terrors of conscience, profound self-examination, the fearful judgment of a holy God — all the makings of a Luther crisis! This is rudimentary for understanding the Reformation and the confessional theology that arose from it. Moreover, the sacramental process — by which the devout are transferred back into a state of grace after mortal sin — is still unequivocally taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, under the auspices of Pope John Paul II.

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addendum

Just to be clear, I have no problem with designating the Roman Catholic Church as “Christian,” and I certainly do not question the salvation of Catholics…who will, statistically speaking, far outnumber Protestants in the hereafter. One of the silliest developments in Presbyterian history is when Southern Presbyterians in the 19th century rejected Catholic baptisms!

Nevin

In the previous post, we looked at Charles Finney’s rejection of Protestant theology — reorienting his theology around the capacity of man to change his own heart, prompted by God’s use of “motives” to entice us to himself. The most strident critic of Finney’s “New Measures,” as they were called, would come from the Reformed theologian, John Williamson Nevin, at the German Reformed seminary in Mercersburg, PA. Alongside the famous church historian, Philip Schaff, Nevin would introduce the riches of continental Reformed theology to the American church, which had been heavily dominated by Puritan thought and revivalist fervor.

Nevin’s theology is characterized by a “high church” emphasis on the catholicity of the Reformation — as an ecclesial, sacramental, catechetical phenomenon. This was in contrast to the individualism (“me and my Bible and my personal Jesus”) that swept America. His most extensive criticism of Finney’s pietism, and revivalism in general, can be found in his essay, The Anxious Bench (1844, 2nd edition). The title refers to the “altar call” method used by Finney. Nevin holds nothing back in his hostility to the New Measures, which he designates as “justification by feeling rather than faith.” Here are some excerpts:

The general system to which the Anxious Bench belongs, it may be remarked again, is unfavorable to deep, thorough and intelligent piety. …A system that leads to such a multitude of spurious conversions, and that makes room so largely for that low, gross, fanatical habit, which has just been described, cannot possibly be associated to any extent with the power of godliness, in its deeper and more earnest forms. The religion which it may produce, so far as it can be counted genuine, will be for the most part of a dwarfish size and sickly complexion. …

They involve little or nothing of what the old divines call heart work. They bring with them no self-knowledge. They fill the Church with lean professors, who show subsequently but little concern to grow in grace, little capacity indeed to understand at all the free, deep, full life of the “new man” in Christ Jesus. Such converts, if they do not altogether “fall from grace,” are apt to continue at least babes in the gospel, as long as they live. …

A low, shallow, pelagianizing theory of religion, runs through it from beginning to end. The fact of sin is acknowledged, but not in its true extent. The idea of a new spiritual creation is admitted, but not in its proper radical and comprehensive form. …The deep import of the declaration, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, is not fully apprehended; and it is vainly imagined accordingly, that the flesh as such may be so stimulated and exalted notwithstanding, as to prove the mother of that spiritual nature. …

Religion involves feeling; but it is not comprehended in this as its principle. Religion is subjective also, fills and rules the individual in whom it appears; but it is not created in any sense by its subject or from its subject.

(John W. Nevin, The Anxious Bench, in Issues in American Protestantism, ed. Robert L. Ferm, pp. 171-174)

Nevin then continues with his antidote to the Anxious Bench — the “system of the Catechism,” which is his catchall term for the entirety of genuine Reformed doctrine and piety. This antidote includes attending to the institutions ordained by God, namely the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. As he puts it, “Hence where the system of the Catechism prevails, great account is made of the Church, and all reliance placed upon the means of grace comprehended in its constitution, as all sufficient under God for the accomplishment of its own purposes” (178). As for catechetical instruction, the Heidelberg Catechism holds the highest place of honor in the continental stream of Reformed Christianity — and rightly so.

I am actually not quite as anti-revivalist/anti-pietist as Nevin and his colleagues. But, the problems endemic to the revivals, and the theology that attends it, should be a concern for any Reformed evangelical. It is also worth noting that Karl Barth, easily the greatest Reformed theologian of this past century, also held to some similar criticisms of pietism: see his lectures on the Reformed confessions, especially his criticism of the English Puritans, and the study by Eberhard Busch (which is only $1.99 right now!).

For more information on Nevin, there is a biography by D. G. Hart. And there is a new series by Wipf & Stock, The Mercersburg Theology Study Series:

The Mystical Presence by John W. Nevin (W&S, Amazon)

Coena Mystica – the Hodge/Nevin debate on the eucharist (W&S, Amazon)

I wrote these reflections for members of my church. Now I offer them here:

Greetings Westminster friends,

I’m sending this as a feeble attempt to offer some reflections on the Newtown tragedy. I trust many of your hearts have been overwhelmed with emotion — sadness, anger, tears. I was reminded of the French mystic and philosopher, Simone Weil. Here is an account from a classmate of hers at the Sorbonne (early 1930’s):

She intrigued me because of her great reputation for intelligence. [But more so…] A great famine had broken out in China, and I was told that when she heard the news she had wept: these tears compelled my respect much more than her gifts as a philosopher. I envied her having a heart that could beat right across the world.

A heart that could beat right across the world! That was Weil’s greatest gift, and it deepened as she discovered the love of Christ for the first time, while observing the destitute peasants in a small Portuguese village. She saw that Christianity was not for the strong but for the weak, and she among them. This discovery of dispossession invariably compels us to our knees, where the strange love of God takes the form of a Cross. With that in mind, I offer these thoughts that I wrote this morning:

Prayers are ascending from Newtown. And with the prayers are the questions, the uncertainties, the perplexities, the anxieties — in short, the vulnerabilities of naked and weak beloved of the Father who have been cast to and fro by the brute force of an evil that speaks the tempting word of despair. The killer drank this despair — it became a part of his descent into the nothingness, the void, into which he attempted to bring twenty defenseless children with him. This is the despair in which we have forsaken the love of the Father — a forsakenness that the Son bore on the Cross as a final demonstration that we, in turn, have not been forsaken by the Father. I say that the killer “attempted” to bring his victims into this nothingness — a nothingness where the love of God is not heard and not received with joy and thanksgiving. It is only an attempt, for we have heard, we have received — thus, our prayers are the definitive protest against this attempt and all such attempts. We know the void has been overcome, filled with love. Death is not subject to the whims of absurdity, of this wickedness; it is defeated. The Cross falsifies the tempting word of despair — as death is illumined by the Resurrection light. We approach this mystery with no confidence in ourselves. This Word of love is not something we can speak to ourselves — the death of these children is too real, too painful for such human conjuring. It is spoken to us, from the Cross, entering our drama, our crosses, as a certain hope of new creation. In this way, beyond our grasping, the love of God is found even here, in Newtown, perhaps more than anywhere else right now. These children belonged to God. He won them on the Cross. They belong to him now, and He is now delighting in them, in their play, in their joy.

Blessings,
Kevin

God glorifies mankind

October 3, 2012

I once had a discussion with a conservative Calvinist pastor, at Starbucks where great ideas proliferate, and I made the point that God glorifies man. He was taken aback. We were discussing the “young, restless, and reformed” movement, and I was claiming that there was a serious deficiency in its one-sided exaltation of God, a God who exits for himself, whereas the gospel is about a God who has chosen to exist for man. That didn’t compute with this pastor. He was tutored in John Piper’s view of God as, in the words of Halden Doerge, “a self-directed center of power whose ‘glory’ consisted of simply asserting and imposing his own supremacy and domination.”

So, I was pleased to come across this bit from Karl Barth, in his commentary on Calvin’s catechism:

We must stress — even if it seems “dangerous” — that the glory of God and the glory of man, although different, actually coincide. There is no other glory of God (this is a free decision of His will) than that which comes about in man’s existence. And there is no other glory of man than that which he may and can have in glorying God. Likewise, God’s beatitude coincides with man’s happiness. Man’s happiness is to make God’s beatitude appear in his life, and God’s beatitude consists in giving Himself to man in the form of human happiness.

The Faith of the Church, p. 26

Re-read that last line: “God’s beatitude consists in giving Himself to man in the form of human happiness.” This is an ontological claim — that’s who God is! Amen.