Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Election time...

Came across this timely little gem in a used book discarded from the Vancouver School of Theology, the first English printing of a little book called Last Testimonies, by Karl Barth.  The quote below is from an interview and the discussion topic is liberalism in the classical sense, not the political sense.  After appropriate distinctions are made, including Barth's warning to always beware of anything that becomes an "ism", the interviewer asks about political liberalism and Barth's involvement in politics.  Barth describes himself as pragmatically, though not ideologically, socialist.  Then this exchange comes, which may or may not provide small comfort to my American friends. 
Interviewer:  Socialism and liberalism are presented as opposites, at least in Switzerland and just before elections.  I think this antithesis has become historical, to put it guardedly.
Barth:  Yes, at election time and when party leaders speak.  So there are in fact no longer any genuine or clear alternatives.  No great and basic ideas seem to be in conflict any more.  I am always at a loss as to which party to vote for, if any. *
Interviewer:  Would you say that being liberal has nothing or not very much to do with political liberalism but that it is more a human attitude which cuts across all parties?
Barth:  Yes, I could accept that if we are to use the term.  But I do not set much store by the word.  If it is to be used at all I would prefer that it be used, as in our discussion, for basic style, a human posture.  What is called and calls itself liberal today, as here in Basel, could just as well...
          Interviewer:  ...be called conservative?

          Barth:  I am glad you said it and not I.  We know whom we have in mind and
          what paper, don't we?  ...But let them go their way in peace.

 * Emphasis mine

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Faith seeking understanding...

"I do not seek, Lord, to reach your heights, for my intellect is as nothing compared to them.  But I seek in some way to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves.  For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but rather to believe in order to understand."
                                                                           - Anselm of Canterbury

Sunday, 9 October 2016

God's goodness amidst evil and suffering

From Iain Provan's book, Seriously Dangerous Religion: What the Old Testament Really Says and Why it Matters:
The author of [Psalm 73] is certainly struggling to hold onto his own faith in God's goodness: "But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (vv. 2-3). When the wicked prosper, it is all too easy to interpret their prosperity as indicating a deficiency in God's goodness; it is all too easy to feel foolish about continuing to trust: "surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence" (v. 13). The psalm does not ultimately take this view, however, and it is designed to help others who read it and pray it likewise not to take this view. As we move toward its conclusion, we find that in the course of his prayer the psalmist had processed his doubts, and has arrived at a renewed confidence: "my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (v. 26).
     This kind of prayer, often referred to as a "lament psalm," is one of the ways of rightly relating to God in biblical faith. God is good, yet his goodness appears to be absent in human experience right now. What is to be done? The answer advocated in the lament psalms is neither to give up on the goodness of God nor to pretend that things are better than they are. In the lament psalms, we see honest confrontation of the fact that there is a gap between theology, on the one hand, and experience, on the other. This gap is brought to God in prayer, and trust is renewed in God's goodness through the process of prayer. The psalms of lament are, therefore, regarded in biblical faith as being just as important for right relating to God as the psalms of praise. In these compositions, lament and trust go together; they are not alternatives. The challenging circumstances of life are neither ignored nor taken as a reason for turning away from God. They are fully described before God, and they issue characteristically in the prayer of those who still trust in his goodness: "turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love" (Psalm 6:4).
                                                                                       - pp. 175-176, emphasis mine

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Update on Canadian atheist "pastor"

A while ago I talked about Gretta Vosper, an atheist pastor in the United Church of Canada.  That post can be found here.  If you are so inclined, here is an update on the denomination's investigation of her and whether or not she should be allowed to retain her ordination in what is (only nominally, in my opinion) a Christian denomination. 

In a nut shell, the majority of the Toronto presbytery that was examining the matter decided that no, in fact, she ought not be able to retain her ordination.  There was a minority in the presbytery who believed that she ought to be allowed to continue to pastor since the United Church's doctrine has still not been fully decided upon.  I would tend to think that issues like whether there is such a person as God ought to have been sorted out by now at least, but perhaps I am being too hasty for these four minority voices.  [This gives a whole new meaning to "process theology."]  Reasons given by the presbytery committee for why Vosper's ordination should not continue:  such things as the fact that she doesn't believe in God or that she doesn't believe the Bible has any sort of authority in the church's life.  Minor things, to be sure, if you're an atheist.  But if you are a Christian Church, these do seem like non-negotiables.  Apparently Vosper considers such things debatable, even for a Christian denomination.  The article states that she plans to continue the debate with the help of her lawyers. 

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Alexander Schmemman on children in church

Over the last dozen or so years I've read a few works about family worship and training children in the faith as well as works geared toward guiding families in worship or Bible study.  I have also read works about whole-family worship in churches and why we ought not segregate or remove younger children, or other age groups for that matter, from the worship service of the church (by this I don't mean that it is never appropriate to have a space to take young children to look after them during the service - like a crying room or nursery).  I am convinced of the importance of both family worship in the home and the inclusion of children of all ages in the Lord's Day worship service of the church.  Now, just because I am convinced of these things does not mean we implement them nearly as well or consistently as we ought to, either at home or at church.  However, as Chesterton said, "anything worth doing is worth doing badly." In other words, if it is an important thing, don't wait until you are perfect at it before you begin doing it.  And when you fall off, get back on right away.


When speaking of culture, society, the work force, consumer markets, the future of a nation, political view points, and many other things, I have often heard people say that "children are the (fill in the blank) of the future."  Children are the leaders of the future.  Children are the citizens of the future.  Children are the hope of the future.  As true as this may be to a degree in other areas, I have seen this same train of thought in the church as well.  I have often heard Christians and Christian leaders say that children are the church of the future.  This is true in a certain sense:  Lord willing, when we adults have fallen asleep and are awaiting the resurrection, our children will still be part of the worshipping community of God's people on earth, the body of Christ, the temple of the Spirit, the Church militant.  We want our children to grow up and hold fast to the faith and some of them to become leaders in the church.  But there is another sense in which "children are the church of the future" is profoundly untrue.  In fact, in the way this sentiment is often expressed, it is very dangerously wrong.


When his disciples were preventing little children from approaching Jesus, even parents brining their infants, the disciples believing as they did that Jesus was already busy enough with important adult ministry, Jesus rebuked them:  “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”  (Luke 18:16-17)  We often read this as meaning that only those who receive Jesus and his gospel of the kingdom with childlike faith can truly be his disciples and that is certainly part of what Jesus is saying.  But that is not all he is saying here.  He also says that the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, belongs to little children.  And if that is the case, there is no good spiritual or biblical reason to pull children out of the worship service, the service in which God's covenant community enters into his presence through the blood of his Son and in the indwelling presence and unity of the Spirit and speaks to God and hears from God and worships God and is blessed and built up by God in the communion of the saints.  They are already citizens of the kingdom; don't forbid them a place with the citizens who only happen to be more chronologically advanced than they. 


If Sunday Lord's Day worship was primarily a teaching time, at least in many churches much of the teaching would not be aimed at young children and so they would miss a fair bit of it (though not nearly as much as we sometimes think).  But Lord's Day worship is not primarily teaching time, even thought teaching plays an important part.


If Lord's Day worship was primarily an entertainment time, admittedly the type of entertainment would not be the most effective for engaging young children.  But Lord's Day worship is not entertainment.  It is interaction.  God's people go not only to receive, and certainly not to be passive observers.  God's people go to be in back-and-forth conversation with their God, to speak to him and be spoken to by him.


Lord's Day worship is a time of conversation between God and his people, of interaction between the King and the citizens of his kingdom, between a loving Father and his children, between a husband and his bride.  The Lord's Day worship service is where God's people are formed through teaching, yes, but also and much more through the pattern of covenantal interaction with our Lord of the covenant.  The Sunday morning liturgy is a family ritual, not unlike a dinner time routine, wherein God's children, no matter their age, all come into his house and gather together to converse with, be blessed by, share a meal with, and to ascribe glory to their Heavenly Father.


Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox theologian and liturgist, has some good thoughts on children and church here.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Kevin Vanhoozer on John Webster

Kevin Vanhoozer has written a tribute to John Webster (1955-2016) and his contributions not only to theology but to how theology is conceived.  This appreciative reflection can be found here.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Listening for the still, small voice.....is there an ap for that?

Alan Jacobs has written a great article on Christian habits of the mind in an age of constant distraction due to technologies that allow us to be always "connected".  When we are constantly connected to each other, to our audience or community of social-media friends, we can seldom experience the stillness, the quiet and the healthy alone times that allow us to search our hearts or to quietly seek, speak with or hear from God.  Often our connectedness on social media creates an idolatrous technological omnipresence that masks or scrambles our ability to commune throughout the day with the truly omnipresent God.  And the idolatry of constantly being connected on social media through our manifold devices is joined by or enables another form of idolatry, indeed a far worse one:  self-validation.  Instead of looking to God and what he says for our worth, our security, our value, we find our self-image and self-worth in the fact that we are constantly connected to other people.  Many people never want to be in a place where they are alone with their thoughts.  Many people never want to find themselves in a position where the only person they are connected with is their creator. 
Our "ecosystem of interruption technologies" affects our spiritual and moral lives in every aspect. By our immersion in that ecosystem we are radically impeded from achieving a "right understanding of ourselves" and of God's disposition toward us. We will not understand ourselves as sinners, or as people made in God's image, or as people spiritually endangered by wandering far from God, or as people made to live in communion with God, or as people whom God has come to a far country in order to seek and to save, if we cannot cease for a few moments from an endless procession of stimuli that shock us out of thought.
You can read the entire excellent article here.