Life Together – Extras

life togetherFor Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work. At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him. Therefore at the beginning of the day let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to him to whom our whole life belongs. ‘Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light’ (Eph. 5.14).

From Life Together  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1949.

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Life Together

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The death and the life of the Christian is not determined by his own resources; rather he finds both only in the Word that comes to him from the outside, in God’s Word to him. The Reformers expressed it this way: Our righteousness is an ‘alien righteousness’ a righteousness that comes from outside of us (extra nos). They were saying that the Christian is dependent on the Word of God spoken to him. He is pointed outward, to the Word that comes to him. The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. If somebody asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him salvation and righteousness. He is as alert as possible to this Word. Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word. And it can come only from the outside. In himself he is destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside, and it has come and comes daily anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek him and find his living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, a Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.

And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation. As such, God permits them to meet together and gives them community. Their fellowship is founded solely upon Jesus Christ and this ‘alien righteousness’. All we can say, therefore, is: the community of Christians springs solely from the biblical and Reformation message of the justification of man through grace alone; this alone is the basis of the longing of Christians for one another.

From the chapter called ‘Community’ by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together, 1949.

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The Humanity of God

God’s divinity rightly understood includes his humanity. Where do we learn this? How is this statement justified and what indeed demands it? It is a Christological statement, or rather a statement based on and to be developed out of Christology. … One thing is certain, that in Jesus Christ, as we know him from the witness of Holy Scripture, we have not to do with humanity in the abstract… Nor, on the other hand, with God in the abstract… In Jesus Christ there is no barrier on the human side upwards nor one on God’s side downwards. Rather, what we have in him is the history, the dialogue, in which God and humanity meet and are together, the reality of the covenant concluded, kept and completed by them mutually. In his one person Jesus Christ is at once as true God humanity’s faithful partner, and as true human being God’s faithful partner, both the Lord abased to community with humanity, and the servant exalted to community with God, both as the Word spoken from out of the highest, most glorious Beyond, and the Word heard in the deepest, darkest Here and Now: both unconfined, but also undivided, wholly the One and wholly the Other. Thus, in this unity Jesus Christ is the Mediator, the Reconciler between God and humanity. Thus, demanding and awakening faith, love and hope, he acts for God before humanity – and, representing, atoning, interceding, for humanity before God. Thus he attests and guarantees to God free human gratitude. Thus he establishes in his person God’s right vis-a-vis his humanity, but also humanity’s right before God. Thus he is in his person the covenant in its fullness, the close at hand Kingdom of Heaven, in which God speaks and humanity hears, God gives and humanity receives, God commands and humanity obeys. God’s glory shines in the highest – but also from the highest into the depths – and peace on earth eventuates among the people of his good pleasure. And just in this way, as this mediator and reconciler between God and humanity, Jesus Christ is for both revealer. Who and what God is in truth, and who and what humanity, we have not to explore and construct by roving freely far and near, but to read it where the truth about both dwells, in the fullness of their union, their covenant, that fullness which manifests itself in Jesus Christ.

Karl Barth, The Humanity of God, (1956) quoted in ‘Selected Writings of Karl Barth: Theologian of Freedom’, ed. Clifford Green, 1989, p.52-53.

 

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What’s the value of the Old Testament?

creake.jpgI’ve been wondering recently about the importance of the Old Testament. I think it’s become quite popular to harp on about how all of Scripture speaks of Jesus, and so we should teach and preach the whole Bible. I don’t disagree – I just wonder what everyone means by that.

Because there’s more than one way of understanding an Old  Testament passage. Do we attempt to read the text understanding what would’ve been understood at the time? Do we make allowances for the later revelation we have in the New Testament? Do we look to the New Testament to interpret the Old for us? Do we expect the Old Testament to be a shadow of what only the New Testament fully reveals?

Given that the Old Testament comprises around three quarters of the Bible, finding answers to these questions seems worthwhile!

But something I’ve noticed – and I’ll admit, am often frustrated by – is a lack of interest and clarity in understanding and teaching the message of the Old Testament. Which begs the question ‘Do we really believe that the Old Testament speaks of Jesus?’

I’ve been told that ‘Of course, the Old Testament saints didn’t understand the gospel hope of resurrection’ (which seems surprising when you read passages like Job 19, or about the Sons of Korah, or Isaiah 26 or Daniel or Jonah…) and that many of the Old Testament prophets ‘spoke better than they knew’…

Where has this bizarre, chronological snobbery come from? Hebrews 11 describes faith as ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ This cannot mean that the Old Testament saints, heroes of the faith, were clueless about what lay ahead of them! They had ‘things’ to hope for, with assurance! They had conviction of vague shadowy, meaningless-at-the-time ideas… No! They had conviction of things not seen, not things utterly beyond their ability to comprehend or know. Let’s allow the Old Testament to speak for itself. When the LORD himself spoke to His people to give them promises and pictures to hold on to, until the day would come when all these hopes would be fulfilled, let’s start by assuming He spoke with clarity and sufficiency. If there’s shadows and confusion, let’s be humble enough to assume that this begin with us.

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On Mozart & Creation

Karl Barth (1886-1968) was known to start each day listening to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In writing about the influence and importance of the man’s music, particularly in light of the tragic historical events that loomed large in Mozart’s day, he noted that

…In face of the problem of theodicy, Mozart had the peace of God that far transcends all the critical or speculative reason that praises and reproves. This problem lay behind him. Why then concern himself with it? He had heard, and causes those who have ears to hear, even today, what we shall not see until the end of time – the whole context of providence. As though in the light of this end, he heard the harmony of creation to which the shadow also belongs but in which the shadow is not darkness, deficiency is not defeat, sadness cannot become despair, trouble cannot degenerate into tragedy and infinite melancholy is not ultimately forced to claim undisputed sway. Thus the cheerfulness in this harmony is not without its limits. But the light shines all the more brightly because it breaks forth from the shadow. The sweetness is also bitter and cannot therefore cloy. Life does not fear death but knows it well.

Doctrine of Creation, Church Dogmatics: III/3; p.298.

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Luther on Genesis 5

“This is the rule, that cross and affliction always precede comfort. God does not comfort any unless they are sad, just as He also does not give life to any unless they are dead and does not declare any righteous unless they are sinners. For He creates everything out of nothing.” 

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God is love

I came across this in Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Bible, in reference to 1 John 4:14-16. I’m going to quote the whole section because it’s well worth pondering on.

The history of the Lord Christ is the history of God’s love to us; all his transactions in and with his Son were but testifications of his love to us, and means to advance us to the love of God: God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, 2 Cor. 5:19. Hence we may learn,

1. That God is love (1 John 4:16); he is essential boundless love; he has incomparable incomprehensible love for us of this world, which he has demonstrated in the mission and mediation of his beloved Son. It is the great objection and prejudice against the Christian revelation that the love of God should be so strange and unaccountable as to give his own eternal Son for us; it is the prejudice of many against the eternity and the deity of the Son that so great a person should be given for us. It is, I confess, mysterious and unsearchable; but there are unsearchable riches in Christ. It is a pity that the vastness of the divine love should be made a prejudice against the revelation and the belief of it. But what will not God do when he designs to demonstrate the height of any perfection of his? When he would show somewhat of his power and wisdom, he makes such a world as this; when he would show more of his grandeur and glory, he makes heaven for the ministering spirits that are before the throne. What will he not do then when he designs to demonstrate his love, and to demonstrate his highest love, or that he himself is love, or that love is one of the most bright, dear, transcendent, operative excellencies of his unbounded nature; and to demonstrate this not only to us, but to the angelic world, and to the principalities and powers above, and this not for our surprise for a while, but for the admiration, and praise, and adoration, and felicity, of our most exalted powers to all eternity? What will not God then do? Surely then it will look more agreeable to the design, and grandeur, and pregnancy of his love (if I may so call it) to give an eternal Son for us, than to make a Son on purpose for our relief. In such a dispensation as that of giving a natural, essential, eternal Son for us and to us, he will commend his love to us indeed; and what will not the God of love do when he designs to commend his love, and to commend it in the view of heaven, and earth, and hell, and when he will commend himself and recommend himself to us, and to our highest conviction, and also affection, as love itself? And what if it should appear at last (which I shall only offer to the consideration of the judicious) that the divine love, and particularly God’s love in Christ, should be the foundation of the glories of heaven, in the present enjoyment of those ministering spirits that comported with it, and of the salvation of this world, and of the torments of hell? This last will seem most strange. But what if therein it should appear not only that God is love to himself, in vindicating his own law, and government, and love, and glory, but that the damned ones are made so, or are so punished, (1.) Because they despised the love of God already manifested and exhibited. (2.) Because they refused to be beloved in what was further proposed and promised. (3.) Because they made themselves unmeet to be the objects of divine complacency and delight? If the conscience of the damned should accuse them of these things, and especially of rejecting the highest instance of divine love, and if the far greatest part of the intelligent creation should be everlastingly blessed through the highest instance of the divine love, then may it well be inscribed upon the whole creation of God, God is love.

You can read Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary over at Bible Gateway.

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The Good God

I owe much of my understanding of the beautiful doctrine of the Trinity to Mike Reeves, author of ‘The Good God’, a book I am currently re-reading for the umpteenth time for a church training day coming up in a couple of weeks. In this book, Mike Reeves takes us on a tour of hundreds of years of church history and draws out faithful, orthodox teaching on the Trinity and presents it to us in an accessible (but don’t read that as simplistic) style. I don’t mean this to be a standard sort of book review – “this was insightful, I got bored at this bit, and I think this bit was off the mark…” Partly because I don’t think I can fault the book – it’s even got pictures in it!

The reason I’m writing this post is because I think you should be shocked and deeply unsettled by this book.

I have grown somewhat numb to the scandal of it in recent years, but picking it up again I’ve noticed once more how radical and unsettling this book is. Reeves presents a Christianity that is markedly different from that often spoken about and written about in current church culture. And I don’t think that’s because he’s reading church history wrong…

What was God doing before creation? Why was anything created? What is sin? How does sanctification happen? These important questions are not new – the church has been asking and answering them for centuries. What has changed, though, is how un-Trinitarian our answers have become. And we’re the poorer for it.

I’m told that in recent years there has been a renewed interest in the doctrine of the Trinity in theological seminaries and colleges. Some of this interest has trickled down into churches and songs and our terminology – it’s not unusual now to hear people speaking of God as a father. But that’s not what Reeves is promoting – a mere change in our language or a renewed emphasis on an aspect of God’s character. The point is not so much that he is a father, but that the deepest, most fundamental thing we can say about God is that he is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This changes everything. Yes, everything – I’m even using bold, italic and underline to impress how revolutionary this is! Want to know why? Ha – you’ll have to read the book!

So – the book review-y bit….

If you’ve not read ‘The Good God’ yet, pick it up and start now! It will delight you, surprise you and humble you, as you see how much more glorious our God is than you previously thought. Learn to re-frame your thinking and questions so that we’re not speaking of an abstract deity but of the Living God who has revealed Himself through His Son and has drawn us into fellowship with Christ by His Spirit.

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An Extended Quotation from Colin Gunton writing on Martin Luther

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

– Martin Luther, The Freedom of the Christian

img_0004“Luther’s famous paradox can form our starting point, if only because it is in such manifest contradiction of the wisdom of our age, which in truly dialectical fashion prefers to accept the first without the second, and, indeed, that without its basis in the gospel. We prefer to find freedom grounded in ourselves rather than lying in the gift of the creator. Beneath the surface of Luther’s formulation, however, there lies far more than an appealing paradox: there is a theology of human life under God. It has at least two dimensions. The first is to be found in another much quoted dictum, that we are not born for freedom,: we must be slaves either of God or of the devil. Freedom, that is to say, is not an innate possession – quite the reverse – but has to be given. The gospel is a gospel because it is a setting free, from the slavery that is indeed slavery to the slavery which is the freedom of the Christian. There is for Luther no freedom without redemption through grace from the law, sin, death and the devil.

The second dimension is that in which the liberation is spelled out…Christian liberty is, so to speak, completed by its orientation to the neighbour.”

Colin Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, p118.

Theology gold, eh?

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Celebrating Rest

There has been a running theme to how I have answered the question ‘How are you?’ in recent weeks. ‘Tired’ usually features within the first few sentences. Perhaps you can identify with that.

There is so much to be done – work, seeing friends, church, volunteering, household chores, planning ahead, catching up with family, having time to read, cook, try new things and visit new places. Some of these things feel like hard work, some of them feel refreshing and energising. I’m not going to dwell too much at the moment on what counts as work and what counts as rest – my bigger concern is this: in the midst of all the busyness (whether technically ‘work’ or not) why do I not rest?

Two things have brought this to my attention: first, a simple tweet that said something along the lines of ‘It’s hard to imagine Jesus answering the question ‘How are you?’ with ‘Busy’.’

Secondly, reading this article – Let’s Celebrate Those Who Rest.

God rested as a sign of completeness in his creation, while we get no such thing. We rest with many incomplete tasks all around us. We create, we study, we build, we write, we parent, we cook, we clean, and we do all sorts of work all throughout our days, and so often we get to the end of a long day only to be met with the disappointing reality that it’s not finished. It never truly is. All of this drives us to him, the one who doesn’t need rest and who always gets his to-do list done. When I put the to-do list down, or walk away from the project, or shut down my computer, I am declaring with my rest not only that I am not God, but that I need him to strengthen the work of my weary hands (Ps. 90:17).

I am rushing about frantically trying to get my list of jobs done – seeing people, doing good work, serving others (all good things) but with a stubborn and an alarming reluctance to admit this simple point: I cannot do everything.

There are a host of reasons as to why I find that so tough. But the reasons, though important, are not the solution. I am not going to find a way to rest by looking at all the reasons I have to keep going. I need to listen to the God who has made me to need rest.

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