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Archive for May, 2012

In Section 25 of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, we looked at the fulfillment of the knowledge of God. In Section 26, Barth delved into what it means for God to be knowable. Now in Section 27, Barth discusses the limits of that knowledge–namely where it begins and ends. He seemingly starts by reiterating where we left off in the previous sections:

“God is known only by God. We do not know Him, then, in virtue of the views and concepts with which in faith we attempt to respond to His revelation. But we also do not know Him without making use of His permission and obeying His command to undertake this attempt. The success of this undertaking, and therefore the veracity of our human knowledge of God, consists in the fact that our viewing and conceiving is adopted and determined to participation in the truth of God by God Himself in grace.” –Karl Barth (CD II.1, p.179)

While this opening remark is well rooted in the discussions of God’s revelation being a gift of His grace, Barth’s develops each word as part of an even more well defined picture. Barth confirms that the starting and ending points must be contained within God, but he also intends to show how it is that we can know anything about God on this basis. (more…)

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John 1:1-5
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Shedding Light on the Old, Old Story
Most people when starting a discussion about science and faith start with Genesis. That makes sense since it is a book about beginnings of Creation and culture. But John reinterprets all of that and then some. In five short sentences, he renews the whole story of Scripture.

We know from Genesis that God created by His own Word. “Light be. Light was.” From John, we learn that the Son of God was that Word. That Word created all things and has now “moved into the neighborhood” (The Message by Eugene Peterson). The Word is not just heard, HE is visibly and even tangibly revealed to us.

In Genesis, we also learn of the beginnings of humanity, sin and death. The Word has provided light for all people and now reveals Himself personally. He is Light that will not be extingished, but will overcome all darkness including our self-willed ignorance.

A Better Light to Read By
Dr. Carl Sagan begins his book Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark with the inscription of a Jewish proverb. “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” As the subtitle explicitly states, for Dr. Sagan, science is that savior that will overcome all means of ignorance including religion. (more…)

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In my third year of InterVarsity staff, the New York / New Jersey region required all new staff to finish their three-year training by developing a thesis of sorts. This study would then be the basis of a specialty for speaking to students on campus. Most picked typical themes for a general college audience such as multi-ethnicity, social justice, and gender roles. The work of my colleagues represented everything that made me proud to be part of InterVarsity.

Given my background in science, I thought it important to use my experience to further discussion of these issues. Dr. Sagan’s basic premise for critical thinking and how we learn was outlined in Demon Haunted World as being “wonder” and “skepticism”. This epistemolgy (how we know what is true) was deliberately meant to image “chance” and “necessity” as basic to his evolutionary understanding of science and the nature of the “Cosmos”.

Previously, I had read dozens of books across the spectrum of Christian understanding. It was a tortuous process in which I rejected view after view for various reasons. Finally, through this project, I would find a theologian who made sense of the science and faith chaos for me. But more on that in a moment… (more…)

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An “apologetic” is not an attempt to say “I’m sorry”. It actually means to “give reasons why” you believe something is true. I guess that would make this post an “apologetic on why I don’t rely on apologetics”.

It’s not that I don’t think Christians should think deeply about their faith. Quite the opposite. Sometimes, apologetic thinking masks the deeper issues and prevents us from getting to what truth in theology is all about: faith thinking and faith acting.

The Comprehensive Nature of Truth
I’ve been involved in a number of online chats about faith, skepticism and other issues. Each time I find myself frustrated because no one issue or discussion can capture the breadth of why I believe as I do.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I believe in God like I believe in the sun, not because I can see it, but because of it all things are seen.” It’s not that I believe one thing, but many things in every area of life which point to God. There isn’t a single focus or even a particular set of arguments that lead me to believe as I do. I see the fingerprints of God everywhere. It all fits together because it originates in God and finds its purpose in Him.

At Best a Starting Point
At their worst, an apologetic just creates a circular argument. While we may frown on people who use simplistic circular arguments, the most intelligent among us simply use bigger and more well-constructed circular arguments. (more…)

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In Section 25 of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, we looked at the fulfillment of the knowledge of God. Here in Section 26, Barth delves into what it means for God to be knowable.

“The possibility of the knowledge of God springs from God, in that He is Himself the truth and He gives Himself to man in His Word by the Holy Spirit to be known as the truth. It springs from man, in that, in the Son of God by the Holy Spirit, he becomes an object of the divine good-pleasure and therefore participates in the truth of God.” –Karl Barth (CD II.1, p.63)

In large part, his target is to discredit natural theology as a means to knowing God from every direction he can imagine. Barth will settle for nothing outside God’s own gracious self-revelation as the only means to knowing God. Later, we will see why he is so insistent on this stance, but for now we will review his argument at face value.

Without God, there is no revelation. It is an act of grace or good will toward humanity that he reveals Himself at all. There is no necessity that He do so, but He chooses to do so. (more…)

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I’m speaking tongue-in-cheek, of course. However, I have long been annoyed by both Christians and atheists who imply or even outright state that science is an inherently atheistic process–that somehow “theistic scientists are actually practical atheists”. Though if we truly believe that faith or lack thereof is inherently assumed in the scientific method, then my question is at least as legitimate.

Again, both Christians and atheists have suggested that Christians either need to reinvent their own form of science or reinvent religion to be more like science. Dr. Carl Sagan once went so far as to say, “‎If there was a church that was based on the truth, then it would be indistinguishable from science.”

I talk more about my experience with Dr. Sagan here. For those not familiar with Dr. Sagan, the following clip may be helpful. This is from one of his last interviews about his book The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark with Charlie Rose.

It may be easy for us as Christians to spot the arrogance of an atheist who would dismiss, or at least reinvent, the whole history of religion. However, it is equally arrogant for Christians to set out and develop their own special “science”.

As Christians, we should start by remembering that God created all things and that absolutely nothing was created apart from God. Any study of any part of the universe is a study in what God has made and continues to maintain. We cannot reinvent the object, nor can we reinvent the proper method of study. It must be engaged on its own terms–studied according to its nature. (more…)

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For some reason, I like to play with fire. Spending time with thoughtful skeptics is one of my favorite pastimes. By way of example, I was at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) one night and followed up with a student who wanted to know the differences between Jesus and Spinoza. He happened to be looking at a summary of Spinoza’s key positions on his laptop computer. After asking him to scroll through I said, “There’s the problem! In Christianity, God isn’t definable by a propositional statement.”

He stood up, flushed and agitated, bursting out loud, “What do you MEAN God is not definable by a propositional statement?” The result was a very late night and one of the best conversations I have ever had about God.

For those who don’t know me, I was one of the last undergraduate students to sit under the teaching of Astronomer, and well-known skeptic, Dr. Carl Sagan of Cosmos fame. If you are younger than me, then you may be more familiar with his best selling novel Contact which later became a motion picture starring Jody Foster. Dr. Sagan also won a Pulitzer Prize for The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence.

Our class was simply called “Critical Thinking”, but there was nothing simple about it. Admission to the course was by essay only, and it became more challenging from there. With over 25 books on the syllabus, we were expected to read at least 2 each week. The final project was an open debate against a classmate, with Dr. Sagan jumping into the discourse at will! At times, he read from a manuscript of his as part of the lesson. This manuscript later became one of his last published books The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

I wish I could say that I came out of the course unscathed, but I can’t. I definitely can’t! (more…)

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A hendiadys (hen-DAHY-uh-dis) is simply a grammatical construction where two words linked by a conjunction express a single complex idea; such as “sound and fury”. In fact, the word itself is a hendiadys as the literal Greek is “one through two”. There are many such constructions in the Bible, sometimes even incorporating a third word. Neither word is dissolved in the other, as the picture they provide is greater than the sum of its parts. Words themselves can form a community with a bigger vision for life.

Grace and Peace

It’s been said that some of Jesus’ best teachings were not told, as much as lived out. This real life dynamic exists in Paul’s classic salutation of “grace and peace”. Linguistically, it is not a hendiadys, because Paul takes the words from two different languages. At least initially, the phrase is not a stock expression in any culture. His reason for doing this was straightforward. As the early Christian Church grew rapidly, it quickly went from being a marginalized Jewish sect to a faith that crossed all cultural barriers. The common language for the Roman Empire at the time was Greek. The common Greek greeting was “charis” or “grace”. The common Hebrew greeting, of course, is “shalom” or “peace”.

The resulting idea was much like that of a hendiadys, but in ethnic terms. Paul’s greeting reflected that the Church was something much bigger than law abiding Jews on one side and pagan Greeks on the other. Paul now taught that they were all “one body in Jesus Christ.” In time this salutation would become Paul’s standard greeting. The dynamic is further intensified by the fact that both words have a passive and an active sense in how they benefit the individual and the community: (more…)

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Reading has long been important to me especially when it comes to theology. We need to see other views across various times and viewpoints to more fully appreciate the majesty of God. Unfortunately, time and motivation have come harder for me since my transition from InterVarsity which encouraged reading as part of the job. Even the ability to finish a thin book has been elusive.

So, of course, I jumped right in this Christmas by asking for an infamously voluminous set of theological tomes known as the Church Dogmatics by Karl Barth. The main content is in the first 13 volumes containing over 6 million words. There is also a 14th volume for a Scripture index to connect every reference to specific verses in the set. It’s often noted that he died while writing the last fragment of a volume. So, it was, indeed, intended to be even longer!

I have long appreciated the work of Barth, especially after reading Dogmatics in Outline which follows the structure of The Apostles’ Creed. He is also know for writing the Barmen Declaration which was written in opposition to liberal theologians who pledged support to Adolph Hitler. My more recent inspiration came from reading the blog “Storied Theology” by Daniel Kirk which reviews readings of the Church Dogmatics according to a schedule.

Last year, Kirk read through the first two volumes on “The Word of God”. I am jumping in on year two with volume II.1 about “The Doctrine of God”. The entire set is further structured into almost 75 sections. As you can see, I’m starting with Section 25 and will look to give a few highlights each time I finish one. Fortunately, you can start just about anywhere in Church Dogmatics as every part references the others in some way.

One of the great things about Barth’s writing generally is that he starts each section with a concentrated statement summarizing everything he is about to say. Section 25 begins as follow:

“The knowledge of God occurs in the fulfilment of the revelation of His Word by the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the reality and with the necessity of faith and its obedience. Its content is the existence of Him whom we must fear above all things because we may love Him above all things; who remains a mystery to us because He Himself has made Himself so clear and certain to us.” –Karl Barth (CD II.1, p.3)

(more…)

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So let me introduce you to Perichoretic Theosis!

Early Christians wrestled to find language that would describe their experience of the triune God working in Christ through the Spirit. Quite often they would chose a word with weak meaning and fill it, or create an entirely new word.

One such word creation was “perichoresis” which quite literally means “to dance around”. Early theologians wished to convey that the Father and the Son and the Spirit not only embrace each other; but also enter into each other, permeate each other, and dwell in each other. One in being, and yet also eternally one in the intimacy of their relationship.

So what contribution does “theosis” add to the mix?

Greek Orthodox Christians use the word “theosis” to describe our spiritual pilgrimage. From the moment of baptism, the goal is to continually draw nearer to God throughout our lives participating in the life of the Spirit. This process is also sometimes referred to as “deification” in which we seek to become more holy and more “Christ-like” within Jesus Christ. In fact the word Christian means “little Christ”. A well known quote by St. Athanasius reflecting this belief is, “God became man so that we might become gods.”

Faith thinking changes all of life. My goal in writing is to discuss how this same creative intimacy is at work in our theology and daily life. God in Christ through the Spirit calls us (vocation) to join this same dance in an effort to transform our thinking and our lives. His dynamic One-ness creates fresh integrity to be in relationship with Himself, to know ourselves truly, to be at peace with our neighbors, and to understand more of the universe we inhabit beyond what we can see.

These are my reflections with the help of other theologians and guides as part of a collective journey to find signs and parables which tell of Grace and Peace in a land largely obscured by shadows. These are deeper meditations with the goal of holiness.

Please sit with me and add your own reflections along the way.

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