Monday, 13 February 2017

Soul formation and care in the Psalter

"...the anatomy of all the parts of the soul, for not an affection will anyone find in himself whose image is not reflected in this mirror.  All the griefs, sorrows, fears, misgivings, hopes, cares, anxieties, in short all the disquieting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated, the Holy Spirit hath here pictured exactly."

                           - John Calvin, from the preface to his commentary on the Psalms

"The canonical shape of the Psalter assured the future generations of Israelites that this book spoke a word of God to each of them in their need.  It was not only a record of the past, but a living voice speaking to the present human suffering.  By taking seriously the canonical shape the reader is given an invaluable resource for the care of souls, as the synagogue and church have always understood the Psalter to be."

             - Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 523

"...the psalms have much to say about behavior, about what actions please God and what he hates, so that anyone praying them is simultaneously being taught an ethic.  Those who use the psalms as prayers are often not aware of this aspect, but...this is one of the most potent forms of ethical indoctrination."

         - Gordon J. Wenham, Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically, p. 2

"In the other books we are taught by both precept and example what we ought to do.  This book not only teaches but also gives the means and method by which we may keep the precept and follow the example."

                                                     - Martin Luther, from his Preface to the Psalter

"Whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill."

               - from "The Letter of St. Athanasius to Marcellinus on the Interpretation
                          of the Psalms," in On the Incarnation

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Bonhoeffer for our cultural/political moment

"Through all this [his resistance to Nazism and the compromising German church], Bonhoeffer wrote theology - sermons, lectures, circular letters, and books.  In a very great degree his writing is characterized by beautiful iterations of doctrine, a sort of visionary orthodoxy:  'History lives between promise and fulfillment.  It carries the promise within itself, to become full of God, the womb of the birth of God.'  To understand his method, one must remember his circumstances.  He is asserting the claims of Christ in all their radicalism in order to encourage and reassure those drawn to what became the Confessing Church.  At the same time, he is chastising those who use Christianity as an escape from the evils of the world and from the duties those evils imply, and he is chastising those who have accommodated their religion to the prevailing culture so thoroughly as to have made the prevailing culture their religion.  His object is to make core beliefs immediate and compelling, to forbid the evasions of transcendence and of acculturation.  He is using the scandal of the cross to discover the remnant church among the multitudes of the religious."

                                            -   Marilynne Robinson, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer", from
                                         The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought,  p.115-16

Who is doing this today?   How are they doing it?   If no one is, who will and how ought it be done?

Saturday, 28 January 2017


“Post-Christendom is the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as the institutions that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in influence.”  
                                                                                                             - Stuart Murray

I would add a potential alternative reading:

Post-Christendom is the culture that emerges as the Christian beliefs and convictions upon which a society was based are consciously rejected, even while that society retains the institutions built by Christianity and even many (or most) of the moral presuppositions of Christianity, but retains them at such a subconscious level that they are not apparent to that society.  The post-Christian society consciously reacts to and rejects the Christian foundations upon which their functioning society was built and to which they ultimately and originally owe their existence, but doesn't see that what they are replacing that foundation with won't support the weight of their society.  Something like an angry teenager yelling at their parents, "I don't need you", but continuing to receive an allowance while they live in the security of the house their parents built.  Its only a matter of time before the teenager leaves home or the parents die and the brutal truth dawns upon them:  homes like that don't build themselves. 

Friday, 20 January 2017

Darkness and Light

"There is sufficient light for those who wish to see, and sufficient darkness for those of the opposite disposition.  Enough clarity to illumine the elect, and enough darkness to keep them humble.  Sufficient darkness to blind the reprobate, and sufficient clarity to condemn them and make them inexcusable."
                                                                                     - Blaise Pascal

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: 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